Yesterday was one of the most trying days of my life. I feel so humbled. So ashamed. Most of all, I feel selfish. I seriously begin to question every decision I have ever made. I think I have given my child a very poor mother, indeed.
It all began at the club. We have recently renovated. The house is entirely new and entirely lovely. My favorite room is the library. Comfortably appointed in red leather and rich burlwood, its book-lined walls offer a peaceful retreat from the cares of daily life. I sat with my nose buried in a book when a new gentleman arrived. I heard his arrival, but I left another lady to give the tour. I grow weary of giving tours. When they entered the library, I stood to offer my curtsy and welcome. Who do you think the man should be? My uncle!
I have never seen Mr. R. behave in a manner so civil, so retrained. He politely inquired of the other lady as to whether or not I made my living at the house. When she answered in the affirmative, he requested my companionship, and she cheerfully withdrew. He let me squirm on a pin, asking me questions to see how I might answer:
What sort of events do we hold, he wanted to know.
Dances and balls, game nights, En Garde tournaments and the like, I replied.
And if he chooses a companion for the evening, she would then be required to be his partner in the amusements of the house?
Not only the house, I informed him. If he wanted to take a refined lady to a formal ball, or sailing, or to some other social engagement, that would be perfectly permissible.
Ah. He swirled his brandy. How nice that was to know. Did the house offer any more private accommodations?
I gulped. We offer private rooms for rent, I answered truthfully. I daresay I could not meet his eyes.
Really? And might I show him these rooms so that he could decide upon his evening’s entertainment.
I believe I sat still for several seconds. Perhaps a minute. Eventually, however, I calmed my racing heart enough to clear my head and stand. I led him across the hall and down to the wine cellar, where the keys to the private rooms are located alongside photographs for each. There is the burlesque room, where a lady might put on a private performance for a gentleman or even for a number of his guests. We have a bedroom suite, in case a guest prefers to relax for the evening. The Harem Bath, which is done up in the Arabian style, is also a rejuvenating retreat. For those with more exotic tastes, we provide a dungeon, but I have never been there. Adventure seekers may choose to borrow our Steampunk Airship, decorated inside with a touch of the orient, and equipped outside with the latest technology in Gatling guns and other defenses against the fearsome air kraken. Finally, we offer a private, walled garden in the Austrian style for those who prefer to revel in the splendors of nature. Although it is technically outside, we call this the Alps Room. I stood by meekly while he made his choice.
He chose the Harem Baths. I breathed a sigh of relief. That is my favorite room. I have always been a great lover of water. My own home includes the new plumbing and a well-appointed wc. This one, of course, offers luxuries I could never afford in a private home. The steamy air is scented with jasmine. As soon as one enters, ones pores are opened by the heat and humidity so that one’s body begins to cleanse itself. Guests may bathe, of course, but they may also lounge together in quiet repose or be treated to a massage. We offer refreshing teas in Middle Eastern flavors. It is very much like the Turkish Baths or the older, more English mineral baths at the aptly named Bath, but these delights are reserved privately and enjoyed away from the general public.
Once inside, he asked me to stand upon the platform on which the main bath is located. His voice held a peculiar tone, an eerie calmness that I did not like one bit. He asked me to strip, slowly, and then to bathe. The man himself stood a fair distance away. “You have to pay me, first,” I murmured softly, thinking that would put an end to this farce. Much to my dismay, he produced a large sum of money, which I reluctantly placed in my pocket. I turned by back. It took several long moments for my trembling hands to unfasten my gloves. Several times, I begged for him to put an end to my torment. “Go one,” he would say, soft yet firm. “Pretend I am not even here. Pretend you are only taking a bath.”
That was impossible, even the most talented actress would have a difficult time, I think, of stripping herself bare and bathing as though no gentleman’s angry eyes watched. He helped me with my buttons, his touch feather-light and his breath hot against my neck, but he always withdrew. He stood, his hands at his side, until I had finally wriggled out of all of my many layers. Except for the occasional instruction or encouragement, he was silent. My own voice croaked hoarsely as, several times, I exhorted him to “please, don’t do this.” He stood resolute in his intentions.
Finally, I stepped into the water, sinking my body into what little shelter the soap and steam provided. He moved to the platform, where he stood above me and watched. I could not meet his eyes. He bade me bathe myself thoroughly, until I was fresh and clean all over. Of course, I have never felt so dirty. Of course, he knew that. He forced me to take extra care with those parts of my body most likely befouled by my profession, threatening lowly that if I did not, he would do it for me. Spurred on my that threat, I did as I was told. “This is a symbol between us,” he told me. “No more secrets. You are bare and clean to me now.” At least, his words were something to that effect. For as long as I choose to earn my living in this manner, he assured me, this would be the price. Once a week, I will have to submit myself to his humiliating scrutiny. Oh, Diary. I don’t know how I shall bear it!
“Keep the money. Go and buy yourself something nice,” he said before leaving the room.
Never have I wanted to spend money less.
My secret is out, Diary – at least part of it. I am shocked that I did not die of shame. As it is, I do not know how I shall face him when he comes home. I hardly feel able to look at anyone ever again.
–Miss Palabra Puddlegum–