Charlotte paced the floor of the room. She stopped, only once, and looked into the mirror. Her long hair spiraled down in rivulets of reddish-brown and stopped just above her tiny waist.
She turned, examining her reflection with a worried eye, and then raised a frail hand to her head. She tied back the long, flowing curls with a white ribbon.
Today was the day that she’d begin working for Jonathan Wilkes. She would be waiting tables… It was an odd job for her—seeing as how she was clumsy and none too interested in serving strangers. But it was a job that she was expected to do. So, she prepared herself for it.
She was provided with a white blouse; dainty, embroidered flowers danced across its plunging neckline; the sleeves slithered down her shoulder and rested about her upper arm.
The blouse disappeared into an emerald green peasant skirt which she was given to wear with it.
It billowed down to her ankles. Its empire-waist clung snugly to her ribcage. On her feet, she wore nothing.
There came a knock at the door. She looked up worriedly and slowly made her way over to it.
She opened the door and let Mr. Wilkes inside. He walked in, a certain air of importance following quickly behind, and shut the door.
He paused and looked at her, almost seeming to forget what he had prepared himself to say.
“Nothing,” he said, smiling wryly. “I—I didn’t expect that red to go so well with… everything else.”
Charlotte puckered her lips curiously and clasped her gaunt fingers about her neck.
For a short moment, she examined him… He looked much different than he had when she had first met him. Though it was only a day ago, he seemed more mature—the wrinkles in his smile could attest to that.
Of course at the time, she wasn’t really paying close attention… But now that she was more attentive, she noticed his willowy-but-sturdy build and his determined face.
She noticed how his dark hair, now smoothed back, appeared shiny and wet. And she noticed sparse, dark bristles of hair present upon his chin and cheek. He needed a shave.
Since you’re new, you’ll be taking orders from me tonight. If I’m not near, get another girl to show you the ropes. Got it?
He opened the door and made a sweeping motion with his hand, encouraging her to step out in front of him.
She made her way out into the hallway and to the top of the stairs. She looked down from the staircase; bunches of men flooded the tiny parlor. Busty women, wearing far more revealing clothing than she, paraded around gaily with waist cinchers and corsets loosely done.
Slowly, eyes from down stairs turned upward to look at Charlotte. She stiffened and felt Mr. Wilkes’ hand at her back.
“Go on,” he said, gently pushing.
She moved forward, one foot after the other, descending the stairs with Mr. Wilkes’ only seconds behind.
When they reached the bottom, he wrapped one arm about her waist and held her firmly against him. Charlotte’s soft body grew rigid against the pull of his strong arm.
He shouted and waved a hand—to gather everyone’s attention—and then he began.
“This is my newest girl. Her name is Charlotte.”
There was a sudden, noisy uproar of excited banter; Charlotte’s eyes swept the crowd once then listlessly fluttered down to the floor.
“She’ll be waiting tables here every night. So, treat her well!”
With that, he let her go and everyone—almost simultaneously—cheered excitedly. Charlotte, eyes wide and heart-rate quickened, ambled towards the barkeep.
Mr. Wilkes turned to his right and found that a man, one that he knew to be a regular, well-paying customer, stood at his side.
“Nils,” Mr. Wilkes said, a wry smile snaking across his face, “—what can I do for you?”
“I wanted to ask you about the girl,” Nils said, putting a curious hand to his magnificently full beard. “How much for her?”
Mr. Wilkes paused.
“She’s not for touching—” he answered, his wry smile slowly receding into an unamused grin.
The man, Nils, pulled out his coin purse and grabbed Jonathan’s hand.
“You don’t understand,” he said, placing the bag in Mr. Wilkes’ palm. “I’m willing to pay handsomely for her.”
He paused for a moment, staring solemnly into his palm at the large-sized pouch. He thought minutely of what a consistent profit of this amount would do for him and his business… Then, he thought of Charlotte—
She was indebted to him, and she couldn’t refuse if he told her to go along with whatever Mr. Nils Lewis had to offer. After all, there was a rather large sum of money in question…
Jonathan tightly clasped the bottom of the bag and slowly lowered his hand.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Nils smiled faintly and looked across to a busy Charlotte.
“I know you will,” he said and tipped his hat.
Then he turned around and went back to his table.
© Copyright 2016 Jennifer Brighton. All rights reserved.
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