Birdsong
cool, quiet house, hoping to hear voices. Eventually he heard the sound of feet and he turned to see Marguerite going into the kitchen.
    "Have you seen Madame Azaire?"
    "No, Monsieur. Not since lunch. Perhaps she's in the garden."
    "And Lisette?"
    "I think she's gone into town."
    Stephen began to look in all the rooms downstairs. Surely she must have known that he would return. She could not have gone out without leaving a message.
    He turned the handle on a door that led to a small study. Isabelle was sitting inside, reading a book. She put it down and stood up as he came in. He went over to her, not sure if he should touch her. She put her hand on his.
    "I was in the cathedral. I lost track of time."
    She looked up at him. "Is it all right? Is everything all right?" He kissed her and she pressed herself close to him. He found his hands at once searching beneath her clothes.
    Her eyes looked up into his. They were wide and enquiring, full of urgency and light. Almost at once they closed as she let out a little sigh of excitement. They were leaning against the wall of the room and he had slipped his hand through the fastening at the back of her skirt. He could feel the satin under his fingers, then a round soft swell beneath. He felt her fingers on the front of his trousers.
    "We must stop." He pulled himself back.
    "Yes. Lisette has gone." Isabelle was breathless. "But Marguerite."
    "The red room?"
    "Yes. You go first and go up to your room. Give me ten minutes before you come down."
    "All right," he said. "Let me kiss you good-bye." He kissed her deeply and she began to sigh again and rubbed herself against him. "Please," she said, "please."
    He did not know if she meant him to stop or to continue. He had lifted her skirts as she stood with her back to the wall and now had his fingers between her legs. "Come to me," she whispered, her breath hot in his ear. "Into me, now." He removed her fumbling fingers from his trousers and freed himself. His shoulder was next to the polished wood of a glass-fronted bookcase. Behind Isabelle's head was a framed picture of flowers in a terra-cotta pot. He had to lift her a little, clasping her behind with his hands, until she slithered on to him and wrapped her legs around his waist so that he could not move but had to bear her weight. The flowers moved a quarter turn on their hook as her shoulder nudged them.
    She opened her eyes again and smiled at him. "I love you." She covered his face with kisses, keeping his body captive by her weight. Then she put her feet on the ground again and gently pulled him out of her. His flesh was rigid and swollen with blood. She ran her hand up and down it until he began to pant and give way at the knees, then spurted on to the floor, then against her dress, before she could take the last three or four spasms in her mouth. She appeared to do this from instinct, almost from a sense of tidiness, not because it was something she had known about or done before.
    "The red room," she said. "In ten minutes."
    Her clothes had fallen back into place. She seemed unaware of any mark on the front of her dress. Stephen watched her as she moved from the room, her walk, as always, a modest sway beneath the skirt. He felt awkward, half-undressed; it was as though she had treated him like a boy and taunted him, though he did not dislike the feeling. He rearranged his trousers and shirt and took his handkerchief to the polished parquet.
    He walked briefly in the garden, trying to cool his head; then as instructed, went up to his room. He watched the minute hand crawl round on his pocket watch. If he added three minutes for the garden, that gave him only seven to endure. When it was time, he removed his shoes and went silently to the first floor. Down the main corridor to a narrow passage, down again and through a little arch... He remembered the way.
    Isabelle was waiting inside. She wore a robe with some oriental pattern in green and red.
    She said, "I was so afraid."
    He

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