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Jenny’s arm ached as she vigorously polished the mahogany sideboard in the dining room. After breakfast, Cook had given her an old rag and a large tub of beeswax, and instructed her to dust and polish all of the downstairs furniture. Jenny hadn’t realised just how many tables and chairs and sideboards there were until now. It was tiring work, although perhaps not as bad as jobs like hauling in coal from the bunker outside or clearing out ash from the house’s many fireplaces.
After a month of living here, she’d quickly fallen into a routine, cooking and cleaning and sewing in the mornings, and going out for long hopeful walks in the afternoon, somehow hoping to bump into her aunt and uncle. She still kept looking for her relatives, exploring public houses further and further from Argyll Street, but as the days had turned into weeks, and the weeks had quickly coalesced into one month, and then two, her enthusiasm had waned a little, and she’d found herself being increasingly distracted by the London’s many attractions: the coffee shops and theatres, the parks and markets.
She stood back and examined the table in the thin light filtering through the lace curtains. Madam had been clear about the depth of shine she expected to see, and Jenny sighed, her biceps burning as she decided that it needed a little extra polish to meet Madam’s high standards.
She still wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to do next. She’d written a letter to Harold explaining her difficulties but being deliberately vague about where she was staying. He’d replied, suggesting she return to York, but somehow she couldn’t picture herself returning to her hometown where, no doubt, he’d already lined up a number of potential suitors. She still often felt the elastic pull of her hometown, but it now seemed so provincial and dull compared to London, with its bustling streets full of people from all backgrounds and cultures.
The truth was that she was enjoying her liberty and seeing this different side to life, the hustle and bustle of living in the very centre of the empire. Still, her conscience kept nagging at her; although she was making herself useful, she knew that the other girls were the ones bringing in the money, and she couldn’t help feeling guilty, a parasite living off their hard work.
It wasn’t that the girls were mean to her, in fact they’d all been most welcoming. Except for Beth, who either made snide comments or ignored her entirely. She did wonder about Beth, Angel and Cath. Instead of going upstairs with customers, those three went downstairs to what she assumed was a cellar, but whenever she asked what they did, Rose or Daisy would only say that they entertained men with ‘very particular needs’.
The more they evaded her questions, the more curious she became, and she often found herself drifting down the short corridor that lead to the cellar, although she had no reason to be there. There wasn’t really any furniture down there that needed polishing, for example, but that hadn’t stopped her earlier. She’d loitered outside the door, pretending to sweep the floor, then looking around cautiously before trying the handle and finding it was locked. Kneeling down she found the keyhole was blocked, presumably with the key so instead she pressed her ear against the rough wooden door.
After a few seconds of silence, she heard the low rumble of a man’s voice, pleading and urgent. It was followed by the throaty chuckle of a woman who sounded like Cath, then a few languid unhurried words over the sound of boots echoing on a hardwood floor. Then the distinctive sound of leather slapping hard against bare skin, followed quickly by a sharp male gasp and more pleading, although she couldn’t make out the words. Then Cath’s voice again, detached and amused, perhaps contemptuous. A picture formed in her mind, of the man, naked and erect, perhaps suspended from the ceiling, as Cath ran a riding crop up and down his bare skin, teasing him, mocking him as he begged for mercy, begged for release.
She lingered there, until she slipped a little, her shoulder bumping against the door. When she heard footsteps approaching the door, she quickly scurried away, back to the safety of upstairs.
She’d paused for a while, hiding inside the doorway, holding her breath as she listened for the sound of Cath’s boots before getting back to her work.
“There,” she muttered to herself, running a hand through her dark chocolate curls, brushing them away from her damp forehead. Now she was able to see the pale, ghostly reflection of her face in the glossy, dark polish of its surface.
It was the last piece of furniture in the dining room, so she made her way down the corridor and tapped on Madam’s office door.
“Yes?” came the voice from within.
Opening the door, she saw that there was a tall man, perhaps in his late fifties, sitting across from Madam. He had a lean, hawkish face with deep-set, slate grey eyes, his thinning hair swept back from his lined forehead. bahis firmaları He was dressed in a smart, black suit, and was hunched forward, resting his hands on a silver-tipped walking cane.
“Begging your pardon, I didn’t realise you had company, Madam,” Jenny said.
“Well, well, where have you been hiding this pretty young thing, hmm?” the man said, stroking his chin as he twisted in his chair. His voice was unhurried and as thick as molasses; the voice of someone who was wealthy and enjoyed the power that it gave him.
“Perhaps I should come back later,” Jenny continued.
“What’s the hurry, hmm? Come here, girl,” he said, rather sternly.
Jenny hovered in the doorway, unsure of what to do. She glanced over at Madam.
“This is Samuel Clerk, an old friend of mine,” Madam said, giving her the briefest of nods.
“That’s it, come closer, so I can get a good look at you,” Samuel insisted, leaning towards her and extending a hand. “Oh yes, you’re very pretty, aren’t you, very sweet and innocent-looking.”
“This is Jenny, she’s not one of our regular girls, she’s just staying with us for a little while,” Madam explained as she watched Jenny reluctantly step closer.
“So you’re just a guest here, young Jenny?” he asked, looking up at her.
“That’s right, Sir,” Jenny replied, as he gently tugged at her hand till she was standing right in front of him. She felt her cheeks flush under the intensity of his gaze, those cool grey eyes coolly appraising her, cutting straight through the dark house dress she wore for cleaning.
“Well, well, that is a shame,” he said, squeezing her hand tightly, his eyes glittering darkly as he took in her slender frame, taking in the waspishness of her waist, the youthful swell of her bosom. “Let’s have a proper look at you, eh?”
Jenny shuddered as she felt his hands sliding over her back, then over her the flare of her hips.
“Oh yes, she’s perfect for what I have in mind,” he purred, his hands briefly squeezing her buttocks as they slid over the curve of Jenny’s pert derriere.
“I’m sorry, Samuel, as I say, she’s not…”
“Yes, yes, she’s not for sale, so you said,” he snapped, as he pulled her closer once more. “A great shame. I had a fancy for someone new, and young Jenny here is certainly very comely.”
“Well, as I say Samuel, we have plenty of other girls that can entertain you.”
“If you say so, Madam.”
“That will be all Jenny,” Madam said.
“Thank-you Madam, a pleasure to met you Sir,” Jenny said politely, performing a brief curtsy before turning to leave, but finding Samuel still clasping her hand.
“The pleasure was all mine, my dear,” he said, winking at her before finally releasing her hand.
Madam ran a hand over her dark, neat hair as she considered his proposition. Samuel’s offer was very generous, and she knew that sooner or later the girl would have to earn her keep. On the other hand, although she looked the part, Jenny probably wasn’t the kind of subservient, meek girl that would suit him. She knew that with her education and good manners Jenny would make an excellent courtesan or mistress, or perhaps a companion for an older gentleman. The girl simply wasn’t the type who would be suited to make a living like Rose or Daisy, not in the long run.
“Well, it’s a reasonable offer, I suppose,” she said.
“Come now Chloe, it’s more than reasonable!” Samuel insisted, leaning forward and tapping his cane against the floorboards impatiently.
“But I’m going to have to decline.”
“Well, then ten guineas!” he snapped.
“It’s not a question of money…” she started to say, but was interrupted by a brief snort of a laugh.
“Ha!” he exclaimed. “Well, I never thought I’d hear you say that, Chloe. Come now, we both know that everyone has their price.”
“Sorry, Samuel, as I said, she’s not available. However, I do have some other girls, who are just as young and comely …”
Jenny felt her heart thumping against her chest as she escaped Madam’s office and made her way into the kitchen. She felt quite flustered, and stood by the open backdoor for a few seconds regaining her composure as she felt the cool morning breeze on her face. She thought Madam would be out, and had been intending to polish her desk.
It wouldn’t do to have Cook catch her standing around idle, so she looked around the kitchen and decided to clean some of the silverware. After a few minutes, she heard the tapping of a cane in the hallway as Samuel left then the sharp, clear voice of Madam.
“Jenny? Would you come in here please?”
“You wanted to see me?” Jenny said, returning to her study.
“Yes, dear, have a seat,” Madam said, indicating the chair where Samuel had been sitting.
“Thank you,” Jenny said, tucking her skirt of her house dress neatly beneath her. Madam didn’t usually invite her to sit.
“Now then, young Jenny, I’ve been meaning to have a little talk with you. How are you getting on here, kaçak iddaa my dear?”
“Very well, Madam, the girls have been most welcoming. You’ve been very kind to look after me whilst I search for my uncle; I really cannot thank you enough.”
“Well, good, good. And the girls have explained the nature of our business?”
“Yes, Madam,” Jenny said, feeling her cheeks flush.
“Well now, you’re an educated young lady. I am sure you’ll be aware that the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the coal for the fires. These things all cost money, money that is generated by the services we provide.”
“Of course, Madam, and if I may be so bold, I think I know what you are going to say, and you are right, if I am to stay I should perhaps be doing more to help out with the finances.”
“You’re quit sure? I mean, a girl of your upbringing…”
“Yes, Madam, if it’s good enough for the other girls, it should be good enough for me.”
“And do you also know that it’s customary to charge a premium for a girl who’s untouched, as it were?”
“Yes, Madam, I understand some men prefer that,” Jenny replied, briefly wondering whether she could still call herself ‘untouched’ after all the nights she’d spent with Rose.
“Very good, Jenny, I knew that you would understand. Now, you also know that you are not a prisoner here, you can leave at any time, perhaps go back to York and continue your life there. Or perhaps gain a position as a nanny or housekeeper with a well-to-do family here in London.”
“I understand that, but I have made so many friends here, I wish to stay, and am prepared to do my bit, as it were.”
“Very good. Well, you are a pretty young thing, and I have had plenty of generous offers. Samuel would certainly be happy to pay a premium to spend a little time with you, although I take it, you would not be interested?”
Jenny shook her head. Although she’d only met him briefly, she instinctively felt that there was something cruel and dark about Samuel.
“No Madam. I understand that you don’t always have a choice in your business, but I’d rather not…”
“Well, no matter, there are plenty of others who have expressed an interest. I shall introduce you to some of them at our Christmas party next week. As it is your first time, you shall not be rushed into your first experience.”
Madam’s Christmas parties were well known to the gentlemen of the area and always
much in demand, but she reserved invitations for only the most generous and loyal of her clients. Tonight she’d hired a string quartet. They were seated in the little minstrels’ gallery that overlooked the dining room, and the sound of traditional waltzes, minuets and jigs floated up through the floorboards as Jenny finished writing the letter to her brother.
She’d received his letter a few days ago, and along with the usual updates from back home, he’d written that he’d got engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Julia. As always, he was eager to make sure she was safe and had insisted she tell him where she was staying, forcing her to lie and tell him that she was lodging with the family of a girl she’d known in school, someone he hadn’t met. He’d threatened to come and visit, but so far she’d managed to put him off, telling him that all was well and that it would be better to wait till Spring when the roads weren’t a muddy quagmire and the coach trip would be so much easier.
She put the quill down then stood and started brushing her chestnut brown hair with long, slow strokes as she examined herself in the mirror. The dress that Rose had lent her was much more fitting and lower-cut than she’d usually wear. The bodice hugged her slim figure making it slightly difficult to breath, and as she took a deep breath she noted how her pale breasts swelled, emphasizing her modest cleavage. She straightened the ankle length skirts and drifted over to the diamond-paned window.
Outside, thick flakes of snow floated down out of the night sky, settling in a thick, white blanket on the pavement and roofs of the houses opposite. Below and on the other side of the street, a shivering prostitute touted for business, calling out to passers-by. She was the kind of girl that Rose would call a ‘thrup’ny upright’, a young woman who’d have sex up against the wall of an alley for a few pennies. It reminded Jenny of how lucky she was to have ended up in Madam’s house. She watched the girl propositioning a group of men hurrying past as she tied her hair back with a forest green ribbon that matched her dress, took a final deep breath to compose herself and headed downstairs.
The salon was crowded and noisy, the men well-dressed in dark suits, mostly smart, three-piece suits with elaborate waistcoats. The ladies were even more elegant, dressed in colourful, fitting gowns, expertly styled to emphasize their best assets. It was noisy, the sound of a dozen conversations competing with the string quartet seated on the gallery. Just as Rose had predicted, several men turned to kaçak bahis stare as Jenny made her entrance. A tall, lean man with dark curly hair caught her eye and winked roguishly, flashing her a mischievous grin.
“That’s Jack Wilding, a wine importer and something of a rake,” Rose said, suddenly appearing at Jenny’s shoulder and handing her a glass of port.
“Oh yes, have you been with him? What’s he like?” Jenny said, looking away then back and finding him still openly staring at her, causing her to blush and look away.
“Oh, he’s a man of the world is Jack. Dipped his nib in many an ink well. Certainly knows ‘is way around a woman’s body,” Rose said, smiling wistfully.
“Hmm, what about that gentleman?” Jenny replied, nodding towards a tall, fair-haired man chatting to a friend, but occasionally stealing a glance in her direction.
“Oh, that’s Ben, he’s quite new. I haven’t been with him, but I’m told he’s sweet but a bit inexperienced.”
A loud wave of laughter caused them to turn to their right where a slim man in his fifties was telling an elaborate and very rude joke to a small audience. He caught Jenny’s eye and raised a glass towards her as he chuckled at his own joke.
“That’s Horace, although everyone calls him ‘Horsie’ partly because he owns a stables and riding school in Surrey,” whispered Rose. “He’s quite a joker, the girls love him. I’m told he’s quite energetic, despite his age.”
“I see,” Jenny said, taking a sip of her port.
“So what d’you reckon? I hear all three of ’em have expressed an interest in spending a little time alone with you and are ‘appy to pay for the privilege.”
“I’m not sure…”
“Don’t look now, Ben’s making his way over,” she whispered, leaning in close as she looked over her shoulder.
“May I have this dance Miss?” he asked.
“It would be my pleasure, Sir,” she said, turning and offering her slender hand.
“You look quite beautiful tonight,” he said, running his eyes over her slim curves as he slipped an arm around her slim waist, and lead her in a slow waltz.
“Thank you,” Jenny said. “So what do you do for a living Ben?”
“I’m a bank clerk,” he replied.
“And you visit here often?”
“Oh no, not often.”
He danced reasonably well, leading her around the floor in tight circles. Jenny kept trying to engage him in conversation, but he seemed nervous. Whenever she caught his eye, he blushed and looked away as if overcome with shyness. As the song drew to an end, she noticed the man Rose identified as Jack Wilding hovering at the edge of her vision.
“I wonder if we might, well, you know, perhaps…” Ben said, blushing furiously.
“Yes?” Jenny prompted.
“Well, if we might perhaps continue, um, upstairs…”
“Mind if I cut in?” Jack said, stepping forward.
Ben stepped back, offering a brief bow towards Jenny before heading off, looking a little relieved as he sought another drink. Instinctively she dropped into a low curtsy and when she straightened, Jack stepped closer, drawing her into a tight embrace.
“So, I finally get to dance with you, young Jenny. You’re usually serving drinks at these little soirees,” Jack said as he whisked her around the room. He seemed much more confident than young Ben, sweeping her smoothly around, his feet gliding lightly over the wooden floor.
“Yes Sir, Madam’s kindly allowed me to participate tonight,” she replied.
“Well, I must say, it’s good to see you in a dress. It’s very fetching, if you don’t mind me saying,” he said, lifting her hand above her head.
“Thank-you Sir,” she said, pivoting on the heel of her ankle boots, feeling his dark eyes lingering over the slim curves of her figure as she performed a neat pirouette.
“Yes, very fetching indeed. Tell me, is that a Northern accent?”
“It is Sir, I come from…”
“No, no, let me guess,” he insisted. “Leeds? Harrogate?”
“Close. I’m from York.”
“Ah, lovely city, York Minster is quite beautiful.”
“You’ve been there?”
“Oh yes, many times, I travel a lot for my work.”
“I hear you are a wine importer,”
“Yes, so I spend a lot of time visiting customers like your Madam here in London and places like York. And I also travel a lot abroad, to see vintners in France and Italy and Spain.”
“Oh, you are lucky Sir. I should love to go to France. I dream of seeing Paris one day.”
“And I should love to take you, I’d like to take you very much,” he said, his eyes twinkling mischievously as he tightened his arm around her waist. “Tu es un jolie jeune fille.”
“Merci, Monsieur, tu es tres gentil,” she answered modestly.
“Ah, tu parle Francais?”
“Un peu, j’ai appris à l’école mais je n’ai jamais été en France,” she replied.
“Well, well, pretty and well educated. And a good dancer. Madam was right, you really are something special, aren’t you?”
“You really are too kind,” Jenny replied, noticing Ben starting towards them as the final notes of the waltz ebbed away.
“Perhaps we could continue this little tete-a-tete upstairs. I have some rather special dance steps I’d like to show you, mademoiselle,” Jack whispered, leaning in close so that his lips brushed her ear.
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