Just when I thought I could not possibly feel any worse, the universe has found a way. I never thought that any of my paramours – my clients, I mean – my “friends from the club,” I call them, might have wives at home. Nor that they might confess to those wives. I don’t know why the thought didn’t occur to me. Surely I am not so naive as to think all or even most husbands are faithful. It just seemed irrelevant. Until yesterday, the club was a world unto itself. Wealth, privilege, and beauty were there for the taking – for a price. So was I.
Today, whilst wandering on the beach, I found myself accosted by a female acquaintance of mine. I feel that the contents of our conversation should be private for her sake. Suffice it to say that her husband had confessed our arrangement and the lady was none-too-pleased. I know these people! I have attended dances and balls with them. The gentleman speaks often of his love and esteem for his wife. So why did he come to me the other day? And why on earth did I accept him? Has this behavior become so ingrained in me that I act as if by rote?
I offered this lady the only thing I had to offer her: the truth. I told her that I find myself in a delicate situation. She asked very direct questions about the father and his whereabouts, about how I had ended up in that predicament, and about the options available to me. As a woman, she seemed to feel a sisterly kinship beyond her obvious sense of hurt and betrayal for what I had done. I showed her my utmost respect and regard, answering her questions truthfully and apologizing sincerely.
In a strange twist of fate, I found myself encouraging her not to abandon her marriage over what had happened. “He loves you,” I assured her. “You are his world. I am just his friend.” Those words ring hollow to me, now, but they are true. When she pointed out that her husband might have declined, I defended him. I am a courtesan, after all. I earn my living by reading the subtlest of cues and then transforming myself and my actions into exactly what they want. I earn my living by convincing them to take what they want and more. I never thought about it that way, but it is true. Clients who may just wander through the door, I entice until they accept my offered charms. No wonder the courtesan has so strange a place in society. We are elegant temptresses, sirens in disguise. Perhaps we truly are the devil’s handmaidens, bedecked with fine clothes and jewels, fine of face and form, and skilled in all the feminine arts and allurements of our trade. We look genteel and respectable on the outside. But on the inside, we are deeply flawed. Perhaps the fault was mine, then. The man is no innocent, but he may be less guilty.
The lady and I parted ways without finding any resolution. Strangely, I believe we may have parted on decent terms. I offered to take full responsibility for what had happened. I offered to leave the social groups that we share in common. She told me not to do that, believing, it seems, that it had taken two of us to commit the wrong, so it was not right to punish one. I worry for the state of their marriage. I do not wish to wreck a happy home. Still, I think I admire and respect her even more for the mature and dignified manner in which she weathered her heartbreak.
I feel I can write little more on the subject. I do not wish to provide details that might identify my friends, if I may still call them that. This, my uncle’s arrival at the club, and my current delicate condition all conspire to strengthen my resolve to sail away. I think I must leave. The good doctor advises against extended travel in my state, but I think it is the only way.
–Miss Palabra Puddlegum–