“Lucia, You are such a sweetheart to have this all written out for me. I can tell you have read some of the other girls and know the areas I would hope to cover with you.” Margaret looked down the page noting, “You seem to have covered everything. You can sit with me while I write or if I have additional questions or clarifications, I shall find you.”
“Miss Hale as you read that, you’ll find I do know how to read and write, so I feel confident in what is written there, but call if you need me.”
“Thank you, Lucia.” Margaret could not help but wonder what she felt like having John Thornton as a client. Was he passionate, lustful or want to be a primeval animal? If all the words said that night in Grace’s carriage ever came to pass, how was she ever going to feel about sharing John with Lucia?
“My parents were hardworking grocers who owned a small shop in a middle-class part of this city. Until the age of fourteen, I grew up in a sheltered environment, dividing my time between my lessons and helping out with the shop. Mama never had a second child but she was always pregnant, at least, for what I was able to perceive. From time to time, she would be “indisposed” as Father called it. Then, she would be confined to her room with Maeve, our Irish maid, tending to her. Those spells, whom I now know to have been miscarriages, usually held her away from the shop for several weeks. Every time she came out of them, she had grown a little thinner and paler. Mama died when I was fourteen. My life changed then.
“Father was devastated to the point of drinking himself into oblivion. Little wonder that the shop fell to ruin in six months. We battled with debtors and the law for some time but eventually, Father was taken by the police and locked up in one of the Royal Prisons, where he died of hardship soon after. I have no family left except my maternal grandfather and he doesn’t know I exist.
“ Maeve and I were evicted from the house after the shop had been taken over by the creditors. We tried to find work at any of the local stores and businesses but we were not good at it. Maeve soon packed her things and went back to her brother, who runs a farm in Ireland, though she did offer to take me with her to County Clare. I refused, of course. What would I be doing in Ireland, other than picking up potatoes and milk cows for some struggling farmer? I eventually found a couple women of the night, they called themselves. They took pity on me and took me in and taught me the trade. I learned the trade and with my young years and face was popular with the men. I hated it until the Madam discovered me. She’s given my decent shelter, food, and a way to ply my trade in a sophisticated manner with very nice men.
“I can read and write. I speak French, German and Italian which comes in handy when foreign gentlemen visit the brothel. I never show them I actually understand all their prattle. Thanks to my education, little as it was, I am able to provide the Madam’s customers with attractions other than sexual ones, such as playing the piano and singing. My reading has brought me some nice littlevariations of the usual sexual encounters, too. I love it when the client wants us to do role playing. Some want us to be dressed like schoolgirls or governesses or princesses. Others want us to be tied to the bed naked and the more we wriggle, the happier they are! Some want us to tie them to the bed and spank them or torturethem. That’s usually ugly . . . I am good at what I do and I love it. It pays well enough and I have a very comfortable roof over my head and plenty of food in my belly. The Madam selected me to work with a very fine, honorable and handsome man as his first client. I heard him ask for me again, not long ago. I would love to become his mistress. As for other clients, some are interested in my being pleasured as they are. There are many very experienced men out there.
“The worst are those who only have their pleasure by inflicting pain on you. Madam usually doesn’t allow it but sometimes it is too late and we are forced to go along with it anyway. The first time you experience it, it is horrible but you get used to it. You have to. Getting myself tied up and being whipped with a silk rope isn’t that bad. Most of the gentlemen like to do that. Some of them can beat you rather hard. Sometimes it does really hurt, for example, when they start burning you with their cigars. Madam never allows those men back when she discovers that. One time, I had a client who was a pharmacist and he brought little bottles with him that contained burning acids. He wanted to do some experiments on me while I was tied hands and feet to the bedposts. Fortunately for me, Madam came to my rescue before he could begin.
“The best are those who take their time with you, you know, make you feel as if you were not a prostitute. They woo you and tease you in a way that makes you feel very special. I think some of them really do know that you are just an ordinary girl. Some of them are really, really sweet and generous afterwards, too.
“I get along with all the girls for the most part. Some of the girls are vain and get jealous when a certain regular ask for someone else. For the most part, I can live this life because I have to. It is better than the workhouse. However, I would never suggest that any woman or man, for that matter, work this way by choice. I am lucky to be here as opposed to the streets or other, so called, sophisticated places. We are treated well here. The future is grim for us indeed and unless we find a gentleman that wants a mistress, we face a lonely existence in our advanced years. I am thankful our Madam is setting aside some of our wages for that time to come.”
Margaret sat on the edge of her cot thinking of all the similarities among their lives. Besides the sexual abuse as mere children the one strand that ran through consistently seemed to be either education or the ability to know how to work with what they learned with their education. Most of them were thrown to the gutter quickly never having a chance of finding decent work to support them. With the size of the growing city of Milton, there certainly must be a need for clerical positions and private secretaries. Margaret planned to change each of their lives with the money she had received from his Lordship. That part would be easy. But she wanted to start up an advanced school for women, so they could learn higher education and not find themselves with only the streets as their home. She wanted to find jobs that the city was looking for and start training classes for her pupils so they could go on to better lives. Not all women were beautiful and curvy and caught a man’s eye early in their life. Where did they turn as those years began to pass them buy. She now had the means to help those who would take advantage of it. She wanted to start with expanding the bookshop, leaving as much of the original as possible for the sake of esthetics and expand the entire downstairs to shelves. Bookstores needed a certain feel, a certain smell and she wanted to dedicate a large area to books that women would enjoy. Somehow, she knew John would understand and maybe even participate since he was such an avid reader.
John was sitting at his desk thinking about the week to come. It was going to be busy. Meetings with his foreman about the possible downturn in business, meetings with the Machine Manufactures to finalize all the information from the Exhibition, and the final preparations for the Charity auction were part of his long week. Dissolving his relationship with Amber and still holding himself as a gentleman was a course he had to chart before seeing her, but the most sumptuous of all his time this week was going to be seeing Margaret somewhere soon.
“Good morning, John. For once you are ahead of me to work. Did you sleep at all? I could tell how keyed up you were on the train. I hope you can tell me a bit about it now,” Higgins chided.
“I want to do that. I cannot keep it inside anymore now that I am sure. First though, today we see the foremen. Tomorrow we get the maintenance people, including the woman, started on the inspection of all the machinery. Wednesday is the day the loom manufacturers come to finalize the Exhibition. During those days we finish off any charity auction business so that’s all ready to go. We better do that this afternoon after the foremen meeting,” John rattled on as his nerves started to take hold of him.
“Yes, John, I know all that. You do not seem to have your feet on solid ground this morning. I can tell you have other things on your mind at the moment so they might as well get spoken so you are some use to our business this week,” Higgins laughed. “You are starting to appear like a John I have never seen before. So c’mon, out with it!”
“I am almost certain that Miss Hale is the one. Yesterday, I turned a corner in my life and I am holding my breath and walking above the ground.” John proceeded to tell Higgins about the unfortunate meeting of the two women at the dining hall . . . unfortunate for them, that is. It made the decision his whole life he had been waiting for. He told Higgins about the rape. That had been the deep dark secret above all the others. That was her reason for feeling unworthy and not of his world.
Nicholas Higgins could only shake his head in sorrow for what the poor young woman had been through. “Did you ever find out about how she lost her financial standing?”
“No, we haven’t gotten to that. Whatever it is, it cannot be any worse than the rape, I believe, in her mind. Neither matter to me. I am sure I am falling in love with her and for the first time ever, I am afraid of rejection.”
“How about the noble and the red book?”
“Oh, I haven’t told you about the other book I caught her with, did I? I am wondering if she has an interest in medical studies. First the red book, all about the female genital area and how it responds and then I found her reading a male medical book when I accidently caught up with her at the library. I am not certain that I am going to question her about that. I like the mystery of it. Maybe she will tell me in her good time. As far as the noble, I believe he is the one who caused the rape. We did not go into details as we had such a short time but that’s what Amber alluded to, trying to embarrass her in front of me in the dining hall.”
“And Amber,” asked Nicholas.
“She is part of my week. I shall sever all ties with her. I was so remarkably deceived. Lust or hope or something blinded me for awhile. As I told you, I felt unsettled and I am glad I followed my instincts. I have told you what her Father said and yet last night she still continued to insist about her relationship with him. She tried to belittle Miss Hale when they met but Margaret held her own which seemed to rile Amber. Amber probably thought that Margaret had told me about her past. Margaret left and Amber started to talk about Margaret, warning me about her not having her innocence, thinking I should know that before I got more involved. I told her I did not want to hear anymore about that and she backed off. She apologized for speaking out of turn and left. So, I still have that conversation to finish this week. And then there is Margaret. “
“Take the time you need, John. I can handle everything except the loom people,” Higgins stated.
“Oh, I shall be around for all of it. I am sure you will be as happy as I am when I finally settle my life into a loving marriage. You have been picking up my slack for several years now and I have rarely returned the favor.”
“John, all favors were paid in advance when you promoted me to partner. I owe you my whole way of life now.”
“Do not feel that way, Nicholas. You worked hard and earned your way to my partner. Do not ever think I gave you that small partnership out of friendship. You more than earned your share and you were the catalyst in the old days that pulled us through that wage crisis. You did it yourself, my man. We are even. Do not ever feel beholden to me for anything.”
Every once in a while they had these heartfelt conversations and John would forever point out Nicholas’ worth in earning his way there. Someday, John hopped Nicholas would really believe it.
After the foreman meeting at Mill #2, John returned to his office and desk. Pulling out a piece of paper, he began.
I have done nothing but think about you since last Saturday evening. I respectfully ask that you attend a dinner at my home this Wednesday at 7:00 pm. My coach shall pick you up. We have a lot to discuss, so tell Miss Leeds not to wait up for you. I may not be able to let you return home until our details are settled.
John smiled as he folded the note wondering how she would take these words. He tried to look past his own future happiness and see things from her perspective. Where would her hesitations be? What mountains would he gladly climb? When they were alone now, she seemed more at ease with him but he would have to engage his attention more on her attitude in public. Would she feel she was going to be an embarrassment for him? There could be nothing in her financial fall that could matter and John felt that would be an easy hurdle once she could pass the words through her lips. His Lordship, the noble, figured heavily into her life, it seemed. Her avoidance of him far surpassed propriety at any level. That was still there for him to comfort her. John was haunted by the reason for the noble’s visit, now that he knew somewhat of the story. How had that affected Margaret? Then there was Lucia, who he had visited at the brothel. What could Margaret find in her imagination to worry there. He would resolve that at their next visit. The red book was like a present under the tree. It had been many years since he was a boy at Christmas. There was a magical gift out there waiting to be unwrapped and cherished. He had decided not to delve into that with Margaret and let it blossom on its own. Many men learned a lot from that book, why shouldn’t an innocent woman have the same questions and interests. He laughed to himself at his modern thinking . . . but she was living in a brothel. Surely, she was hearing words and whispered deeds that had sparked her interest and she was too embarrassed to ask. Margaret with the red book, someday . . .