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Historical fiction by Erika M Szabo
Madeline had a happy, carefree early childhood until she became aware of her surroundings around age six and started listening to stories of the older girls about what’s was going on in the salon and on the second floor. In her childish mind, she associated the sound of music and laughter she’d heard every night, with happiness. But soon she learned that a lot of emotions could be faked and under the happy exterior people hid pain, suffering, and despair.
Madeleine had to learn to fake obedience after a few serious and painful beatings by her mother when she questioned life in the brothel and dared to show her rebellious side. “I hate to beat you, but it’s your fault. Your restless heart gets you in trouble all the time!” Marie would often shout at the young girl. “You must do as I say and be a good girl.”
Marie rarely visited the third floor, she left raising her son and daughter to the older courtesans who were in charge of the children. She didn’t display much emotion toward her children, other than disciplining them if the nannies complained, during her short visits. She mostly ignored her short stature, stocky boy, and treated Madeleine as if she was valuable property.
As a teenager more aware of her situation, Madeleine considered herself to be lucky compared to children of poor families who often went hungry and wore hand-me-down clothes. She always had enough food, pretty dresses, and a comfortable, warm room, yet she loathed her mother’s lifestyle of entertaining many different men every night. Although she’d been thankful for her comfortable life, she’d felt the degrading side glances from even the poorest people when she accompanied the servants to the market or visited a dress shop or bakery.
She was also lucky to be educated, unlike most girls in the early 1700s, even the daughters of rich families. Claudine hired private tutors to teach the children to read and write as well as useful knowledge of history, politics, fashion, and art. Necessary knowledge that the courtesans used to entertain their more sophisticated guests. The girls also had a music and dance teacher. The more dexterous children learned to play the harp and piano, others played flute and other instruments that didn’t require fine movement of their fingers.
Madeleine’s bright mind absorbed everything faster than a thirsty sponge. The middle-aged plain-looking spinster, who was in charge of the education of the children, had been delighted by her eagerness to learn and gladly taught her everything she knew. The teacher’s father was a physician, and her grandmother taught her the use of medicinal herbs. She was happy to give Madeleine extra lessons. Moreover, she gave lessons to the bright girl in English and Spanish as well. “You never know where your restless heart will take you in life. You might find it useful to understand other languages,” she told her, and Madeline happily agreed, eager to learn everything she could teach her.
By the time she was fourteen, Madeline knew how to set broken bones, which knowledge proved to be useful, to the delight of Madame Claudine, with a household of rowdy boys getting into fights all the time. The young girl had saved a lot of money for Madame Claudine by treating common respiratory and digestive ailments of the members of the house, money otherwise would’ve been spent on doctors and healers.
Madeleine’s slender figure, the charming porcelain smooth complexion of her oval face, and striking blue eyes drew many admiring glances. On her fourteenth birthday, the cook baked her a cake, and everyone gathered in the kitchen to wish her a happy birthday. Am I happy? No! I want more! I deserve more! Bitter thoughts swirled in Madeline’s mind as she blew the candles on her birthday cake. I want a better life. I want to be respected just like other people who weren’t destined to live in brothels.
Claudine gave the beautiful young girl a calculating look and motioned to the girl’s mother to follow her out of the kitchen. Madeleine noticed the silent exchange between the women and having a foreboding feeling, excused herself to use the bathroom. She tiptoed after the pair to the sitting room. Hiding behind the half-closed door, she listened to their hushed conversation.
“It’s time, Marie,” Claudine said tapping the handsome woman’s arm. “You’re still desirable, but soon will be reaching the age when men would request your services less and less. It’s time for your daughter to be groomed, and when the time comes, to take your place.”
“But what will become of me?” Madeleine heard her mother’s sob. “I don’t have enough money saved, and I have nowhere to go.” Marie cried out.
“Don’t worry about that!” Claudine softly murmured. “The cook is getting too old and soon will retire, you can take her place. Start working with her a few hours a day for now and learn how to run the kitchen.”
“Thank you! You’re so good to us,” Marie sobbed.
“Eventually, when the time comes, Madeleine can take your place,” Claudine spoke. “The two of you can save up enough money in a few years to buy a nice house in the countryside. You’ll see!” she promised.
“What’s your plan?” Marie asked, with hope in her voice.
“Well, I’ll put the word out among our regulars that her virginity is for sale. We’ll sell her to the highest bidder with a contract that will assure his patronage for at least four years and secure a monthly income for her. When she turns eighteen, if her patron decides to take a younger girl, she can take your place to entertain guests.”
“How much would I get from the sale of her virginity?” Marie’s calculating side surfaced.
“You’ll get half of the price, and two-thirds of her monthly income.”
“Sounds good.” Marie agreed. “When will it happen?”
“As soon as I’ll find a suitable patron.”
Madeleine heard the rustling sounds of their skirts as the women stood up after agreeing on the deal. They would sell me like cattle, to the highest bidder. Boiling anger made the bile rise to her throat. She turned and ran upstairs to her room where she sobbed her despair into her pillow. Is that it? She cried without words, in her mind. Am I to become a courtesan just like my mother? No! I rather die! Feeling desperate, she’d cried herself to sleep.
After a short, restless sleep, she weighted her options with a clearer and more rational mind. At the tender age of fourteen, she’d been forced to age years within a short few hours.
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