WARNING: It is a Charlotte story, beware the sex references.
Missed any of Charlotte’s previous adventures? Find them listed in publication order on the Weekly Serial page.
London – 1838
The opera was dull. There was spectacle and loud singing but far as I could see no-one cared what was happening on stage they were all too busy watching each other. To see and be seen was the byword, of the opera and I was fairly sure that most of them had as little idea what was going on as I did, I had to keep getting Bran to tell me what they were singing about, some sort of tragic romance as it turned out. There seemed to be a lot of that going around in operas, or perhaps that was just Bran’s taste in operas.
So I excused myself and went for a bit of a wander, what I really wanted was to go home and get the bloody corset off. I was sure his housekeeper, Mrs Stapleton, was trying to suffocate me with it, I was the wicked harlot that had corrupted her employer after all.
I wandered down the corridor, painted deep red with heavily stylised plasterwork, until I found the back stairs and a service door. I opened it to let in the cool night air but I couldn’t suck in a breath so I had to fan it at my face instead.
Footsteps on the stairs drew my attention. I glanced up and put one hand behind my back, finding the knife hidden in my bodice. The fashion was short sleeves in evening wear so the only other place was under my skirts and getting anything out from there was like digging a mineshaft through all the layers.
A young man appeared around the corner and came down the last few steps towards me. ‘A fellow sufferer?’ he asked with a grin, he was handsome, I supposed, in a delicate featured sort of way and perhaps only a few years older than me.
I took my hand off my knife. ‘My husband enjoys it.’
‘Your husband?’ he said. ‘Oh yes, I saw you with the old paddy.’ He leaned against the doorframe opposite me and fished a snuff box out of his jacket pocket. ‘My mother is trying to catch me a rich wife.’
‘Oh,’ I said without bothering to feign interest.
He turned the little enamelled box over in his hands and it flashed blue when it caught the light. ‘You’re very lovely, you know. Where did the old man find you, I think I’d remember a girl as pretty as you.’
I suppressed a sigh, wondering if that kind of talk worked on all the women he met. ‘Well, I’d better get back or Brandon will be wondering where I got to.’ I made to ascend the stairs.
He put his arm across in front of me. ‘How much?’
‘How much for a go?’
I slid my gaze along his velvet sleeve to his face.
‘How much does the old man pay for a pretty tart like you?’ he asked again.
‘If I was you I’d get out of my way,’ I said, calmly.
‘What’s he going to do? He wouldn’t say boo to a goose, he’d not going to begrudge me a flourish.’
I turned to face him. ‘I think he would. The terms are exclusive.’
The man smiled. ‘Well, at least you don’t play coy about it. Not like some.’ He put his hand on my breast. ‘How much?’
‘Too much for you,’ I replied.
He put his face close to mine, I could feel his hot breath against my lips. ‘Try me.’
I traced a finger along his jaw. ‘You’re very pretty yourself.’
‘Good gir –‘
I head-butted him.
He stumbled against the wall, hands cupping his face, blood trickling between his fingers and dripping on his pristine white shirt. He slid down the wall until he was sat on the floor looking like he’d survived his first naval battle.
I stepped off the stairs and put my foot to his groin. He tried to scamper back but had no room to manoeuvre.
I applied a little pressure, to make sure he got the message, and he whimpered. If he’d seen the muscles in my legs he might’ve considered himself lucky.
‘Bother me again, shit-sack, and a rich wife won’t do you any good. Understand?’ I asked.
He glared at me.
I pressed my foot down harder.
He squeaked. ‘Yes. Yes.’
‘Good boy.’ I took my foot away and stepped aside for him to squeeze passed.
He scrambled to his feet, one hand still holding his nose. ‘I could ruin you, bitch,’ he spat thickly. ‘I could tell everyone you’re a cock-sucking whore.’
‘Isn’t that why you followed me?’ I asked.
‘Please, give me a reason to cut off your balls.’
He stared at me for a second then ran up the stairs, stumbling at the turn and a moment later the door slammed behind him. I had no idea what he’d seen in my face but I supposed he must’ve believe me. Perhaps he was smarter than I gave him credit for.
The little snuff box was open on the floor. I tipped out what snuff was left in it and pocketed the box, it was valuable and I was still a thief.
The door opened again and Bran’s familiar step preceded the man himself. ‘I wasn’t sure if you needed some help until Grosvenor ran to his mammy with a bloody nose.’
‘I’ve met worse than him.’ I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him deeply. ‘Sweet of you to think it though. Did I ruin your opera night?’
‘It sounded like I ruined yours.’ He touched his forehead to mine. ‘Maybe…’
‘Maybe I had a disappointing fight and would like to go home for a fantastic fuck?’ I suggested.
He flushed and looked away.
‘Oh, I’m not joking. I could right here.’ I put my hands on his backside and squeezed. ‘What d’you say, chuckaboo?’
He glanced towards the stairs and tugged my hands away. ‘Maybe we need to make an exit before Mrs Grosvenor comes for your head. You ruined her pretty boy’s face.’
I shrugged. If Mrs Grosvenor thought that a broken nose ruined her son’s face she needed some perspective; I was fairly sure his personality was more of a problem than a crooked nose.
He took my hand in his and I allowed him to tug me towards the door. I was fairly sure I’d just committed social suicide but I couldn’t care less, I didn’t put up with behaviour like that when I was on the street, I wasn’t going to put up with it simply because Grosvenor was dressed better.
‘Slow down. Some of us need to breathe,’ I said, as we hurried down the alley that ran along the side of the theatre.
He slowed to a quick pace I could keep to in my heavy dress and corset.
‘What would you have done?’ I asked when we were out on the main thoroughfare and crossing the street away from the theatre. ‘If I needed you.’
‘A broken nose would’ve been the least of his concerns,’ Bran replied, without looking at me.
Aw, he said such sweet things.
For more short fiction try my short story archive.