“This is absolutely ridiculous!” he shouted from the foyer, and the nanny and her wards raised their heads from the playroom on the second floor.
“Just a moment, children.”She rose and walked to the stairs, finding Pricilla emerging from the room next door.For a moment she hesitated, not wanting to make a spectacle in front of his wife.Nevertheless, she could not resist, and she headed down the stairs.“Is there a problem, Mr. Kenyon sir?”
“A problem?Is there a problem?Oh no.No.No, no, not at all.Just that my son and daughters are now no longer allowed to be educated in my own home!”
“Mr. Kenyon, what on earth do you mean?” snapped Pricilla, coming down into the lobby.
“Look at this!”Channer was wildly waving a piece of paper in his hand over his head, and Marguerite could discern the official Setag seal on the top of it.“It says here that,” he cleared his throat, “beginning on September the first all students will begin going to state schools.Tutors are to be liquidated before that time and all children being home-schooled regardless of station shall begin enrollment on that day.This is not a request.All children will be enrolled in state schools by the first of September.Sincerely, Onofre Setag.”He looked up and his face was purple with rage.“It’s obscene!I have been using my money and my influence as best I can to keep my children out of those death schools!My money can’t save them now.No amount of money can.Maybe there’s no point in fighting it anymore.”
“What…what do you mean by that?” asked the only woman that could really understand.
“Thomas came to me yesterday and said…Oh, God!I can’t repeat it, it’s a travesty, I say!I won’t have it, I won’t…and yet I can’t stop it.”He sighed.“Perhaps I’d best write her a letter explaining…No, no, that’s too cowardly and it deprives those poor dears of seeing her one last time.I must go dictate a letter to Mrs. Iman.When she finishes tutoring them on Tuesday I must speak with her.I must let her go. The poor thing.And with her husband Jewish, I can’t imagine how they’ll make their living.”He sighed again.“This is a sorry, sorry day.”Now he disappeared into the dining room and closed the doors behind him.
When Marguerite returned to the playroom Sylvia and Ruthie were brushing a doll’s hair while Thomas looked out the window, his wide, clear eyes seeing far beyond the misted mountain ranges.The air caught in her lungs as she realized how grown up he looked.He was ten, now.Ten years old.Had it really been two years since she’d arrived there?And how soon he would be out of her care!Suddenly she had a violent urge to crush his little curls to her lips.Instead, she gave him a gentle peck on the top of the head and sat beside him on the windowsill.He looked up at her, his eyes still far away, remote from her, and he smiled faintly.She was thinking of what Channer had said earlier.It seemed to make more sense now.There was something on young Thomas’ mind.Marguerite rubbed his back soothingly.“Are you alright?You seem… preoccupied.”
Thomas smiled up at her – Channer’s smile.“Oh, I suppose you’re too clever for me, Kassy.You know me like a book.”Then his face became composed.“Actually, I think I’d rather like to talk to you more than anyone else about this.Mother is too busy to listen and Father…”All at once the lad looked shamefaced.“Father would… I thought he would utterly die of shame when I told him.But you!You’re a fine, middle-road lady.Besides, you’re paid to listen to and advise me.”
“What cynical tommyrot you talk, Thomas Kenyon!”But her eyes were laughing.“Come, my darling, tell me what’s on your mind.”
He cleared his throat and turned pink before beginning.He wasn’t sure whether he should lead up to it gently or just blurt it out.While he debated, Marguerite had to break up a fight that had erupted over the doll, and she placated the girls with some figures and their dollhouse.When he looked at her gentle, understanding face, so unlike his mother’s, so unlike any he’d ever seen, he knew he had to tell her and all the forthright blood of his father rushed to his face as he stated: “I want to join the SYO.”
She sat down hard on the window bench in shock, one hand to her heart and her chin nearly on her chest.
“You’re doing exactly what Father did.You’re disappointed in me too, aren’t you?Oh, God!”He turned his scarlet face away, glaring at the wall and battling furious tears, bringing his knees up and crossing his arms on them.
Her heart broke to hear him think she was disappointed.“My darling you haven’t let me down at all.You could never disappoint me!”She put a hand on the one of his nearest to her.“But…my dear, the Setag Youth Organization…I can well see why your father was distraught.You must see that, too.You know that it is against his beliefs.”
“I know!” he snapped, his voice breaking as he forced his tears back.
“Then why are you so upset with him?Surely – ”
“I’m not upset with him!I just…”He unbent his legs and turned to face her, unashamed in spite of his red eyes and blotchy face.“You can’t understand how hard it is for me.I mean…yeah some of my other friends have Progressive families like mine, but none of them are like Father.He’s so damned stubborn – ”
“I’m sorry, Kassy, but you know it’s true.”This she had to admit.“And ever since they instated the SYO all my other friends have joined.Even the ones with Progressive families!There’s not a kid in Shendleigh that’s not part of the SYO but me.The other kids say they learn interesting things and they learn more about Shendleighan history than they ever did from school or their tutors.But it isn’t even that.Not really.It’s that…all the other boys get to be in it.And…well…They all get to do it and it gets really lonely.All my friends are there and they go off to their clubs and things.But because it’s Setag’s group I can’t join or else Father will shun me.Yet because I don’t join them all the kids laugh at me and they shun me.I haven’t anyone anymore because no one likes me no matter what I do.”
Marguerite was silent, meditative, contemplating the boy but giving him a soft yet searching look.They were awful things, children; she was still young enough to remember her childhood but rarely did since it displeased her so.Of course the boy absolutely worshipped his father and would hate to dissatisfy him.But a boy had to have friends and he was beginning to hit that age where friends took precedence over the family, and it would devastate him to be ostracized so early.None of the money in the world would protect him, just as Channer had said.But Channer, despite loving his boy very much, didn’t seem willing to pay for the boy’s pleasure at all if it didn’t align with his views.Hurriedly she removed herself from her far away thoughts as Thomas continued.
“They tease me all the time.They say that I’m not a real man because I haven’t been training like the rest of them.”
“But, darling, none of you are real men.You’re all still boys, why should you want to – ?”
“You’re just a stupid girl,” he spat, “you could never understand.”
“I was your age when I began the work I will probably be doing until the day of my death,” she began quietly.“I was younger than you when I began training for it.I’ve never had family or friends like you have.Whether I’m female or male is irrelevant.I know how it feels to grow up too fast.Boy or girl, Thomas, that is something no one should squander.”
“See?I told you, you don’t understand.The younger ones tease me and the bigger ones hit me.They say I’m a pansy ‘cause I won’t fight.”His red, swimming eyes looked up to hers and he lost the good breeding of his family as he sneered.“I ain’t a pansy.No sir.So I him ‘em back, but they’re bigger than me and they laugh.No one invites me to parties anymore because they think I’m weak.I haven’t left the house except with you and the girls for three weeks.My old friends don’t talk to me because I’m not in SYO with them.”Now the tears really were beginning to slide down his cheeks and manifest in his voice.“And they say they’re going to report my family to the SARs because we’re not Traditionalists and we don’t act like proper Traditionalists.They say they’ll turn us all in so we all go to jail and rot because we’re Progressive scum.”He began to sound gruff as he choked.“I don’t want my daddy to go to prison, Kassy.But I don’t want to offend him either!”
He began full-on wailing and Marguerite scooped him up in her arms. Sylvia and Ruthie looked over, interested in their weeping brother.She put a finger to her lips.They mustn’t speak to Thomas now; he mustn’t even be reminded of their presence.At the noise, Pricilla arrived, poking her head in.Marguerite shushed her, too, and sent the girls out with her as Thomas’ weedy body heaved weakly against hers.Even in her myriad of pity for this little boy whom she loved deeply, she couldn’t help but hate Pricilla for not being interested enough in her child.
“Tommy my boy…” she shushed him tenderly.“I don’t want you to fret a minute more.”
“What will I do?Father will hate me, but the boys will hate me too.”
“Nonsense.Your father has never hated you for an instant in his life and you know he never will.”
“He will now.”
“You don’t think he’ll let you in?You don’t think he’ll pay the few fees involved?”
“How’d you know about the fees?” he enquired, lifting himself from her arms in surprise.
She lied, “Just an assumption.I’m smarter than I look you know.”He laughed at her and sat up, wiping under his nose with the back of his hand.He was clearly still quite concerned.“Well, you’re right.He probably wouldn’t pay it.Not for anything Tag – nothing SAR related.”The eyes in his miserable face close and she put a mollifying hand on his, smiling in a mischievous way he couldn’t understand.“But all hope is not lost.You have your own special savings, don’t you?The one you keep in your room.”At long last his eyes held a faint glimmer of hope.“And you get allowances too, yes?”He nodded rapidly in a frenzy of pleasure, sure he knew where his nanny was leading him.“So perhaps if you offered to pay yourself he’d allow it.”
Thomas’ gloom was totally alleviated as he jumped up.“D’you think so?”
“It’s worth a try.Why don’t you go count up how much you’ve got.It’ll make your point more persuasive.You’re your father’s boy, you can argue anything.”He grinned, hugged her tight, and then ran off eagerly.
Meantime, Marguerite stood and checked that the girls were still with their mother.Sewing lessons, it looked like.They would need that.It would be important when Setag and his men decreed that women belonged in the kitchen at all times and not out in the work force.She shook her head and ignored herself; she had to find Channer.She checked his office first, but he wasn’t there.She searched all around the house before nearly walking into him in the living room.“There you are!I’ve been looking for you.”He wrapped his arms around her and she turned her head when he tried to kiss her.“Darling, we really must speak, it’s urgent.”
“Alright,” he sighed regretfully.“What’s it about?”
“Oh, God.That little traitor.You know that he actually said to me –”
“I know.He just told me.Come outside with me; we’ll have more privacy out there.And he won’t overhear.”They slipped out into the back garden and they sat on the grass beside the pond.They looked like teenage lovers having a tiff, faces sullen and withdrawn yet their bodies close and intimate.
“So you want to talk about my backstabbing son?”
“Channer Kenyon, stop it!I won’t tolerate that kind of talk and I wish…oh I wish I could kill you!Do you have any idea how badly you’ve made him feel?Do you know what you’ve done to him?”
“What about what he’s done to me?My son, my own son, wants to be a member of the Future Murderer’s Associaton!It’s a travesty, I say!Sabotage!God, it kills me to think of my own flesh and blood turning over to the other side, to trade politics and ruin his life!”
“You don’t know anything, do you?Did you even listen to his explanation?” Channer was sulky and silent.“Did you even let him explain?”Another petulant silence.“Oh, Channer…”
At seeing her head shake in shame he exploded.“What explanation do I need?It’s treachery and sedition, that’s plenty enough for me.”
“Nothing less than what you do on a daily basis,” she snapped furiously, and Channer flushed, embarrassed.“I talked to him.I listened to him.”
“Aren’t you shocked?” he demanded.“I’m absolutely appalled and I can’t stand it!”
“Of course I’m upset.But what good will it do the boy to show it?It doesn’t help him any.Did you know that those other little brutes torture him because he isn’t one of them?They tease and torture him, they hit him because you won’t tolerate his inclusion with the other little boy – ”Her voice broke frantically in terror and she clutched his arm desperately, speaking as fast as she possibly could to stem his words short.“Channer they tell him they shall tell the authorities on his family if he doesn’t join.They shall round up every last one of us and send us…I can’t go back there, I can’t!Holy God, no!”She upbraided herself mentally for letting her cowardice overshadow her mission to protect Thomas.“His life is miserable now, intolerable for your only son because you made it so for him.Because of your own pettiness he has now lost you and his friends and his security…Channer, please!”
“If the friends are so fair-weathered that they’d leave him over piddling garbage like Setag then let them go!The boy’s better off alone.”
“Channer, please!”She grabbed both of his arms urgently, raising to her knees and shaking him, peering into his eyes with a wild fervor.“Channer do please listen to me!If you love your son at all you’ll let him do this.You can’t imagine the heartbreak in his eyes, afraid to upset you and afraid to be winnowed out from society.If you’d just let him join the stupid group – ”
“And make myself look like a fool?Go back on my own standards, just so he can be accepted by a few sniveling brats?Rita, are you mad?”
“You fool it isn’t just those worthless children, it’ll be everybody soon.Your son will have no friends, no job, no wife, Channer he may be killed if you don’t let him do it.Or you may be killed.Besides, just look at what happened today, will you?The Taggies are eventually going to make it mandatory to be a member of the SYO so why not just let him go now as later?It’ll save a lot of undue hassle and grievance.”
“Are you suggesting acquiescing to those sons of bitches without a fight?Marguerite Kassirer, where is your pride?Have I taught you nothing at all in the time I’ve known you?”
“You’ve taught me that…” her voice was slow and pained, struggling to bring words to the surface.“You’ve taught me that you feel it’s right to sacrifice human’s lives and happiness for the good of the state and for the upholding of standards.But if that isn’t a Traditionalist ideal, I don’t know what is!”
She had stood and made to walk away in a huff, but he held her wrist tightly.As he stood close to her she gave him a look of stony rage, hating him then.“Oh Marguerite…do you know, I believe that you’re more bullheaded than I am?”Marguerite was taken aback by the tenderness of his tone, his light, jesting mood after their confrontation.“I could never make you understand what I mean.You feel just as passionately as I do, and in favour of the same things, but…my dear, you have a gift I don’t think I could ever share.”She cocked her head to one side, confused by his prattle.“You can adapt your mind to changing scenarios.I’m afraid I may just be some simple old man stuck in his crotchety ways.”
“Old and crotchety?” she laughed, finally allowing herself to be taken in his arms.“No, not that.Never that.It’s just that sometimes you see the world as black and white without any room for gray.You must leave room for gray matter, dear.As a lawyer, surely you must know that.”
“At court I do.At home…Good Lord, my own son!”
Then she remembered, and she brightened some.“Listen dearest…might it not be so bad if the lad…paid his own way?He has money saved on his own, and he’d feel like such a grownup if you let him.Just think, there’d be no guilt on your soul for pouring money into a Taggy institution, and the boy could be happy with father and friends.”
“But it would still be on my conscience, don’t you see?His money is my money!”
“You gave it to him to do with as he wished.Frankly, you can’t stop him.”
Channer sighed gruffly.“Come on back to the house.We mustn’t stay away too long.”He wrapped his arm about her waist and neither of them spoke as they headed back into the house.While walking through the door, back into the dining room, Thomas’ treble voice reached them calling for his father in sheer delight.Channer released Marguerite as Thomas entered and he silenced his son’s ravings before they’d begun.He gave the boy a weak, defeated smile and patted his head gently.“Alright, son.You can join the…the SYO.I’ll even let you pay.”
“Oh, thank you Father!” Thomas cried, gripping his father tightly around the middle.Marguerite smiled contentedly behind him, and as the boy ran out again at breakneck speed she put a hand to her lover’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry.You’ve raised him right.The Taggies won’t be able to corrupt him.”Naturally, though he didn’t say it, Channer didn’t believe her.
But a wry smirk crossed his face a week later when the boy ran home from one of his SYO meetings happy and resplendent in his SYO uniform.“They’re all so impressed with me, Father!They say I’m the sharpest looking lad they’ve got and all the other boys are so impressed that I pay my own way.Thank you so much, Father!”Marguerite smiled at Channer, but it did nothing to assuage the painful feeling in his gut, which was no match to the terror Marguerite felt at daily seeing a purple uniform and shining boots marching about the house.
“What are you going to do now?” asked Marguerite, panting.
“Margot, don’t you read the papers anymore?”
“No.They’ve become too depressing.The man in charge of the country I live in dictates too heavily on my actions.I can’t stand it.Look at you, for example.You have talent like no one I’ve ever met, and it’s going to waste here because it’s forbidden for you to even sketch.No.I read no papers.”
With a bitterly short sigh, Marguerite threw the paper onto the table in front of her friend.The headlines blazed that Setag announced he would be cracking down on prostitution and women of low morals.
With a laugh even bitterer than the preceding sigh, Margot looked into Marguerite’s eyes.“You’re just as in trouble as I am in that, my friend.A woman of good morals would never sleep with her married employer.Face it, Marguerite; they’re just searching for ways to destroy every person under their rule.And one day they will get rid of all they feel undesirable in a country and by the time they do…there will be no one left to rule.”Margot stood, and Marguerite was again, just as every time, struck mute by the stunning dress she wore, at the height of fashion and that accentuated her body in just the perfect manner to hint at promises of the eve but never, ever, give them away.Suddenly Marguerite wondered if perhaps Margot had ever been a loose woman as those she domineered over.“Excuse me, Marguerite, darling.I have to go and check up on the girls.”
The trip had been long and she’d hoped for an extended visit.Now she had to make the long walk back to the Kenyon house, and while she didn’t mind being alone, it gave her too much time to think.
Margot had the most profitable whorehouse in the entire town.Everyone over the age of twelve knew that it existed; while it would be hard for Setag himself to have any direct influence over Margot and her business (because, no matter what you sell, it’s a business), she couldn’t help but wonder how quickly the local authorities would be on her tail and demanding to close her down.Margot would have to leave.What would become of her then?Despite being mildly stunning, charming, vivacious, open-minded and unapologetic, Marguerite had only one friend because of her working position – the Madame of the local whorehouse.Nella and Patricia and Jay were her friends, that was true, but only one person in the universe knew of the relationship between she and Channer and that was Margot.Margot was trustworthy, and even more than that she understood.Anyone else would have surely fainted upon hearing what she had to say.“My employer and I…Mr. Kenyon and I…” Marguerite shuddered.Horrendous.And she could never tell the rest of the people with which she worked.Imagine the looks on their faces.They could never face Mr. Kenyon with respect again!But Margot was a woman of ill repute, and she had done and experienced so much, lived in a world where relations with men were most commonly on the base level, that to her the fact that a wealthy man and a poor nanny were frequently sharing a bed for carnal reasons surprised her not at all; the fact that on a deeper level they were intensely passionate about each other stirred something nostalgic and fanciful.Some of the decades of bitterness could wash away when Marguerite would visit and there would be that fire in her eyes; calm but raging; contained but explosive.Margot was her best friend.And now Setag was going after her.
But Margot’s voice spoke to her teasingly as well. “You’re just as in trouble as I am in that, my friend.A woman of good morals would never sleep with her married employer.”What if Margot was right?What if they did come after her?It seemed unlikely.After all, only three people knew, and it was critical to all that it be kept a secret.While there were Margot’s oft teasing remarks that Marguerite would make a charming little trollop for her, that wasn’t even an option anymore.“I don’t care how old you are, darling.Whenever being a servant to a child stops holding appeal, come work for me.I promise it will be fun!And just think of the payment you’d get, being gorgeous as you are!”How they had laughed, the pair of them together, drinking warm brandy until they were buzzing and pleasantly tipsy, picturing Marguerite’s future as a whore.But in the eyes of this law, this maddening regime, she was already a whore.True she wasn’t paid for her exploits, she was given free room and board and the adoration of a man she couldn’t have loved more if she tried.She loved him so desperately, wouldn’t the authorities understand that?Never.This was the law that had no ears and no sympathy for those who had no ears but large hearts.And if she was in trouble, whatever would they do to Channer?And what would become of Pricilla and Thomas and Sylvia and Ruthie?Would the government try and destroy them for being related to him?Somewhere out there in the vast land Channer had a brother; could he get roped in as well?
“Government,” she said, aloud and loudly.Her body stopped dead in the center of the road without any awareness that she had stopped at all.“What government?There is no governing going on.It’s just bossing people around, telling them how they can and can’t live, and if the people don’t respond properly, it’s death for them; what kind of a state is that?And this so called citizenry, I’ve never heard of anything so stupid!”Channer’s talks of politics came back to her, eavesdropping late at night to the sound of his voice condemning that which she loathed.His eyes on her – he knew she was watching, listening, perhaps he knew she was loving, but that was later – his words spoken with passion.Ah, but that was to the group.What of alone with her?“He didn’t really want to take over the world!And if he did, he’d never really do it, he’s not that way!A jester he is, a mocker and a cruel son of a bitch more often than not, that’s true.But he’d never deny the populace art, he’d never kill innocent people, never condemn a race, creed, religion, he’d condemn no one, and I doubt he’d ever deny his chums the pleasures of loose women.More loose than I.He knows what’s right and wrong, he understands the role of politics and government in a nation is not to treat its populace like this.”She ran home to Channer at once.
Marguerite had to wait a week before returning to Margot’s.She wanted to go sooner, but Channer advised her that it might not be safe.“If they are going to be closing establishments like hers, then you can be sure the whole area will be swarming with Taggies for a while.”
Because she trusted his judgment she listened.Of course, waiting a week was far from what she wanted.Every day she wondered what had become of her best friend, every day she wondered what had happened to the girls or the house.And every day when she saw the olive green coaches drive slowly past she wondered if one of the troop was in there.She watched them roll past the park while the children played tag, and she couldn’t help but choke a bit.They might all be dead now and she might not know for another week!
It was difficult to go about her business with this idea looming over her head.Channer tried to make excuses for her but it got very difficult.She was behaving abnormally, running to the window at every sound of carriage wheels, hoping it was Margot’s; hoping it wasn’t olive green.And the children offered her no solace, for Marguerite couldn’t help but wonder wherever poor Thomas would go if he tired of his wife, or if he wanted female attention in his bachelorhood.She hoped for his sake, with a wry smile, that he had a charming nanny to occupy himself with.And she was jealous with every friend that the children went to visit, jealous that they had the opportunity when she didn’t, jealous that their friends were safe with their money and their Traditionalist standing, while hers were in jeopardy of becoming nonentities.
Once or twice Marguerite took a stroll out towards where Marsh Lane was, at least in the general direction of heading toward the street.But each time she was checked by a cadre of SARs standing guard somewhere, watching her suspiciously, admiring her beauty but wondering why a young pretty maiden would be wandering around the streets on her own.Always she lowered her eyes and turned around, heading home hurriedly, anxious to be away.Purple uniforms meant death and purple uniforms meant fear and when she saw one it was the automatic instinct to flee.But fleeing gave them cause to catch you, to search you, or end your life.So she ducked her head so that they could not see the fear in her eyes and she walked at a higher speed so that they would not be curious at her running.Each time she ran back to Channer and held him tightly, weeping, anxious as always at the sight of the deep purple and trembling with fear.But he held her in his large arms and hushed her, kissing tumbled hair and squeezing her.Because of her incarceration he’d worked harder than he ever had in his life; every breath he took since her return was devoted to bringing down the people that had ruined the life of the woman he loved.Once upon a time she had been so fearless and so spirited, and now at the sight of a man in purple she could reduce to trembling and tears.Marguerite worked harder too, for the same purpose, but it was a different matter for her; for her it was vengeance for her own soul.But if they took Margot and Valerie and the others…she swore she’d work for them as she worked for Alex and Mary Beaugest.
Finally the children were in bed and Pricilla was sitting in the lounge sewing.Channer was smoking in the foyer, somewhat nervous but showing it in no way save for the hurried puffing.Marguerite was donning a wide-brimmed hat.Margot had given it to her upon their first visit after her release.She was tying the ribbons under her chin and her lover was watching her, remembering the lines of her body and face just in case…just in case.“Are you sure you want to do this crazy thing?I can bring you down there, you know; it’ll be safer if we went together than if you go alone.And in the dark!”
“I’ll be fine.I can take care of myself.I can.Besides, if you went with me then heaven knows how bad it would look for you.What if someone were to think you frequented that place?Dreadful for your reputation.And I heard…well, I heard that they’re also looking for the men who frequent there, not just the women who work there.And if they saw you going in there…well, it wouldn’t be good.”
“Why ever would I need to go there?I have all I need here.”He took her in his arms and kissed her neck, muffling his nose in her flesh.She squirmed at his warm breath and held him back, wishing she could be in his arms forever, feeling his broad back against her palms and loving to feel him.He inhaled deeply of her scent and squeezed her tighter.“I’m so sorry,” he muttered.
Marguerite laughed.“What for?”
“For having to live like this.For…living here, in this way.I think, if I could have anything in the world…I’d take you away from here.I don’t know where I’d bring you. Anyplace else, I guess.”
“Don’t be silly.I’m having fun here.”He pulled away and looked at her incredulously.“Oh, yes, it’s a little harsh or inconvenient now and again.Certainly it’s oppressive once in a very great while.But there are some lovely people here, and there’s nothing so bad we can’t live through it.We’re strong people, nothing can keep us down.”
Channer smiled.“What a poor liar you are.No vivacious falsities are going to convince me.”He sighed.“You’d better go.It’s getting late.”
“Yes.”She kissed his cheek quickly.“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”She walked out the door and looked around carefully, straining her eyes through the dark, then skimming down the grand stairs to the street.The banister was cool and damp under her fingers from the rainstorm earlier in the afternoon.
It was easier to evade the SARs in the dark.Of course, it was more difficult to run across them, too.Dark purple uniforms didn’t show up very easily in the evening.But any form that moved in the darkness she hid from, pressing her back to the closest wall and squinting at the shape until it moved away.Then she continued on her way, carefully avoiding every person on the sidewalk and making sure she wasn’t seen.When she reached Marsh Lane she took a deep breath and strode as if she owned the world itself, with Channer’s love and power behind her…not to mention Edward’s money.
Marguerite knocked hurriedly, her eyes searching.The door opened slowly.Behind the door stood a weaving man, tall and imposing, wearing a deep purple uniform and shining black boots.He stared down at her with cold impertinence, eyeing her with an interested hostility, one hand on the doorknob and the other behind his back.She swallowed hard when he wobbled on his feet, and said in a voice that came clear yet awkward, “I…I request entrance into this facility.”
The Taggy laughed.“What would a woman want at a whorehouse?” he laughed, a condescending sound that rang through the entrance hall and out to her.
She lifted her chin and said firmly, “I’m looking for my husband.He hasn’t come home and I demand his audience.”
“Madam, I don’t know who your husband is and I promise I don’t care.Why don’t you wait for him to come back and scold him then?”
“Listen to me you impertinent – ”
“Hold it, hold it!” a voice shouted from inside, and Marguerite’s eyes glowed with happiness at the sound of a familiar voice, crass and deep and coarse.“I’ve been waiting to talk to this one for a while.Dragging away my fine customers with her endless nagging to her husband…ruining my good business…Get in here!” shouted Margot, grabbing Marguerite by the arm and pulling her inside past the drunken Taggy, who stared after them in surprise, taking a large gulp from the bottle in his hand.
It was all very convincing; Margot shouting to her as she brought Marguerite down the hallway, fairly dragging her up the stairs and throwing her into her office, locking the door behind her.“You know, if I didn’t know better I’d think you really were angry with me,” Marguerite said, rubbing the spot on her arm where Margot’s fingers had left red marks.
“Well, I do rather wish that you’d come a bit earlier.I was starting to think you’d tired of the whorehouse scene.”Margot laughed.“Where’ve you been?”
“Channer told me…told me that I ought to keep away for a week.He didn’t know if there’d be Taggies roaming around.If I went to visit you, he thought I might get picked up again.”
Margot smiled softly.“He’s a good man, Channer.He cares a lot about you.And he was completely right.The first few days, after you showed me the paper, we were covered in purple uniforms from here to both ends of the street.We fought up hill and down to get them out of here.Of course, they didn’t want to go and we struggled like mad against them.Finally we reached an amicable agreement; they get the pleasures of the house for little to no payment, and they don’t persecute the men who patronize me besides themselves.Frankly I don’t like it, but what can I do?A few of the men feel they have enough dignity left over from their previous lives to pay the girls or me for whatever they’ve taken.It brings in enough revenue outside of the other men to keep us afloat.”
“So business is going well, then?”
“I can’t complain.”
“And the girls?Are they alright?”
“I can promise you that they’re not happy about having to handle the whims of dozens of government workers a day, but they’re alive.No one’s been rounded up, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Can I see them?”
“Maybe another day.As you can see we’ve been having some company and I don’t want you to get mixed up in it.You’ve had more than enough interaction with those horse’s asses to last you a lifetime.”
“I’m not finished with them yet.Channer and I…we’re not done.”
Margot put her hand on Marguerite’s arm.“You’re good people.You work hard.”
“We do what we can.”
“Alright.I ought to get you out of here before they start wondering why I’m keeping you here.”Her tone changed entirely.“And I don’t want to ever see you on my property again!Get out of here!There’s nothing I like less than an over-protective wife.Go on, away with you!”Margot opened the door and steered her out of it.In a whisper she added, “You might try from now on coming back in the mid or late afternoon.There aren’t many Taggies then.It’d be safer for you.Unless Channer has some more jobs for you.Remember, you can always come here and get the information out of us.We know things.Your Deborah Coalnell is no match for our regular girls.”Margot gave her a wink, and then shouted, “If you can’t keep your husband properly satisfied that’s no concern of ours!You can either improve yourself or hush up your complaining.”It was much more frightening being pulled down the stairs than it had been being dragged up.“Once you learn to keep your place maybe your husband will like you better.”
From behind closed doors and soft rooms with music and brandy, female faces emerged, interested to see who Margot was lashing so.“It’s Magpie!” a few said, happily surprised, but they understood that there was much at stake and so they kept quiet and returned to stroking the egos of the soldiers who thought them scum.
“Now you keep away from us, do you hear, or else I’ll get the law on you!”Margot shoved her out the door, whispering as she did, “Try Wednesday while the kids are being tutored.It won’t be so crowded.”Then the door slammed closed and Marguerite stood on the porch, staring dully at the door, wondering how she’d do that when Mrs. Iman was now gone.
© Copyright 2016 Lina Leigh. All rights reserved.
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Short Story / War and Military
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