In my younger days I was lucky enough to have seen Godfrey Kneller's portrait of master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons. That was long before the Internet, and I could never find a reproduction of the painting, but finally I located an image online.
So I looked on the Net to find out more about Gibbons and discovered: of the few things known, nobody can agree on any of them except that his wife's name was Elizabeth, he had some connection to Holland, and he started his career in Deptford, just southeast of London.
So I decided to create a life for him and Elizabeth—well, a love life at least. The underpinnings of the story have some historical basis, but the plot (if you want to to call it that) is complete fiction.
As far as the dialog, please note that seventeenth-century people did in fact use contractions, and that "yard" was an actual slang word for penis.
Thanks to AchtungNight for going over this story!
I WAS SENT to Deptford that spring because of Henry Brownshaw. I was nineteen, too old to be fooled by his suavity but young enough to want to be fooled. That was enough reason for my parents to decree that I would spend the next months with my cousin Mary. It was on a humid afternoon with a great furl of clouds in the sky that we passed the workshop as we walked the countryside. Through the door came the rhythmic tap of a chisel and a spangle of sawdust.
Inside, the shop was flooded with light from the back windows; the light was slanting and gray from the clouds. Bent over the worktable was a man a little older than me, his shirt stained, his breeches covered with sawdust. He straightened up when he saw us and lay his tools down by his carving.
"Well, then," Mary said, "Mister Gibbons, this is my cousin Elizabeth Lowe. Cousin, this is Grinling Gibbons, the carver."
"Grinling," I said as he bowed and I curtseyed. "That's an odd name."
"It's not odd, it's Dutch," he said, then looked as if he wished he hadn't. In those days, being Dutch wasn't a good thing. There had been war on and off for years, and religious refugees from Britain had been raking up discord by smuggling in publications from Holland. Still, Grinling Gibbons couldn't very well hide his origins; he had a bit of an accent and the blunt face of a Dutchman.
"What are you working on?" I said. He flushed a little and cast a sideways glance at the table before managing to say, "Only a panel."
"Can we see?"
He looked chagrined, then motioned toward the carving. We stepped closer, and I drew in my breath. The work wasn't finished, but what there was of it, how wonderful! It was a scene of a congregation leaving a church. Right now the crowd flowed into a sea of splinters, but the people were so vividly carved—each with individual features, like a portrait—that I half-expected them to move. I wanted to look at it for hours, but I heard Mary shift from one foot to the other and knew she was bored.
I looked up and said, "Mister Gibbons, this is splendid."
He smiled a little, and our eyes met. His were gray, but not dreary like most gray eyes. Rather they were gray like the ocean, which is always alive, the shades of its colors always in motion.
"Could I come again and see this when you've done more work on it?" I asked, and he nodded and said, "Aye."
Grinling Gibbons didn't neglect his work, but he didn't neglect me either. I went to the shop regularly to see the panel take shape, and each time we became closer, until one day I realized I thought his blunt Dutch face handsome, and that when I was near him I felt like I was being infused with fire. That was only a few days before he gave me the wooden flower, carved so delicately that the leaves could be made to tremble on their stem. I held it carefully, and it seemed to take years for his face to come to mine, and he kissed me. My lips felt like they were being singed by a shower of sparks, and when he held me—lightly, with the flower at our center—the world seemed to fly from its moorings and align itself at a completely new angle.
It was a week and probably seven hundred kisses later that I knew we would soon be unable to stop ourselves. I should have felt sinful about that, but in fact I was eager. I had enjoyed flirting with Henry Brownshaw, but I wanted Grinling the way a woman wants a man. There was no more room for half-measures; the time had simply come.
It was hazy that day, and the shop was filled with mild light. Grinling was working at buffing some of his carving. When he saw me he threw the cloth aside and we rushed toward each other. He smelled like the wood, and my mouth burned in anticipation till his kiss covered my lips. A thousand pins seemed to be pricking me from the inside, and when he touched the tip of his tongue to my lips I opened them and let him slide his tongue along mine in a flow of silk.
Still kissing me, he swung around and bolted the door. When he caught me into his embrace, I went almost queasy with excitement. His chest and arms were solid and strong; and now he brought my whole body up against his and I felt his yard, stiff, arched high in his breeches. All the heat in my body pooled in my pelvis, and I leaned my hips into him, to feel the pleasure of his cock pressing against me. We were breathing fast, and his fingers were at the top of my dress, running across my breasts and then pushing lower. His touch turned my soft nipple hard, and then he pulled the fabric away and brought his mouth down where his hand had been.
I watched him lick and suck there, grasping his brown hair in my fingers. Finally I worked my hand down between his legs, resting my palm against his yard, then fondling softly. He made a deep grunting sound and caught my hand with his, encouraging me to rub harder. My throat was hot, my body was begging for him, and then he came up and kissed me and whispered into my mouth, "Will you come to bed?"
I had no voice save the little air left in my lungs. All I could do was breathe "Yes," but that was all that was needed. He swooped me into the small room where his bed was, and pulled his shirt out and put my hands under it. I ran them up over his chest, feeling the soft hair bend under my touch and beneath that, the warmth of his skin.
"Aye," he said and yanked the shirt over his head, throwing it into the corner. He was there for me to have, so I tried what he had done to me, tickling my tongue over a nipple. He gasped and buckled forward, head hanging down over mine, cock springing higher.
"Will you do that to my yard?" he murmured into my ear. I licked harder, feeling him begin to convulse against me, then mouthed the nipple. He moaned out loud.
"Will you do that to my cunt?" I said slyly.
I unlaced my dress, he unbuttoned his breeches, and soon our clothes were in piles on the floor. Now I could touch him anywhere I wanted. I lay my hands on his waist and started to move them down, rubbing my belly over his yard smooth and hot and long. He pulled me up and let his shaft slide the length of my lips, and when he grazed the little tender bud I clenched my thighs around him.
"Oh, so wet," he said, straining harder against me. Then he pulled me to the bed and cast us onto it, coming up on top of me. I couldn't wait for him—I spread my legs and let him kneel between them. He took his cock in his hand and leaned forward, running the head lightly along the narrow cleft. Little chills laced over my skin, and then he came down to me and slowly urged himself in, and I rose up to let him. I had all of him filling me, and the solid weight of his body on mine, and I began to move with him. He went slowly at first, but there was a searing ache building in my groin that needed him to do it harder. I grabbed his hips and pulled him toward me, and we rode faster, tighter, until I felt myself dissolve, then shatter in blinding sweetness. I rocked under him, and then he was on all fours again bucking into me, crying out passionately. His shoulders stiffened under my hands, and as he threw his head back I felt him surge inside me, pulsing, flooding me with his pleasure.
When we came back down to the bed, he cradled me to his side and kissed me, and I lay my thigh across his. "Elizabeth," he said softly, and I kissed his face.
We lay there in silence for a while; then he said, "I think I have a buyer for the panel."
"That's wonderful! You'll sell many more."
"It's just wood," he said, smiling dryly. "If it were marble..."
"Oh, really? Carvers of marble abound. Sculptors in wood do not." My hand was on his belly, and I ran my thumb over his navel, making him shudder and giggle. He shifted his weight slightly, and I felt his yard nudging upward. "I'm sorry," he said.
He looked downward at his hardening cock. "I don't want you to think I'm not satisfied."
Slowly I smiled. "Well," I said, "as for me, I could be satisfied more than once."
It was soon fall, and we had been doing everything we could imagine to do. I had taken his yard in my mouth, and he had licked me between my thighs, and I had let him bend me over and have me from behind. My parents had written that I should leave Deptford the next week, but I knew I wouldn't go. In fact, I didn't even tell Grinling about the letter.
We lay there quietly after we made love, rubbing our feet together, and finally I looked up at him and said simply, "Grinling, you have a baby on the way."
He looked astonished for a second, then elated, and hugged me tight. "Then," he said, "It seems I have a marriage on the way too."
"Yes," I said, and realized how it was that one could cry with joy.
Sculptors in wood do sometimes get their due. Grinling sold much more work, and even to royalty at that. But he would laugh if I were to call him famous, and maybe he'd be right, because even after all these years it's still love that's his masterwork.