Monday, November 3, 2008

Chapter 4: Houses of Ill Repute

Chapter 4: In Which Chip Hyland Comes to the Rescue

Would that Abigail had truly gone to the theater, I would not have been as mortified as I was when I ultimately found out the truth of her evening. Juliet, shocked and angered by the fisticuffs that had occurred at the debate, was much too preoccupied with her own disappointment to object to Abigail’s outing. Abigail’s curious adventuresome steps led them to one of the gambling casinos for which New Orleans is notorious. It disturbs me, I must admit, to report such unladylike behavior of my charge and her friend. The gambling house was obviously not the place for polite young women. I must confess, on the other hand, that I currently view the scenario a little more lightly now than before, and have, over the course of this narrative, forgiven my niece several indiscretions, for she has proven herself to be worthwhile in spite of them. However, at the time, I was as mortified as you are, gentle reader, that my niece would abandon herself to New Orleans in this most coarse fashion. Besides, above all the social disgrace, I was sure undead were lurking around every corner, attempting to swallow her whole.

At least Abigail had the common sense to choose an elegant gambling casino. Chandeliers dripped from the ceilings like elaborate fountains, the booths and chairs were covered with plush velvet, and the bar was carved from rich oak. Lions’ heads perched on the corners of the bar, roaring courageously at the bar’s patrons. Abigail noticed she and Juliet were not the only women in the establishment. The other ladies were, as Abigail called them, painted ladies, probably burlesque women or singers, or the New Orleans equivalent of saloon girls, or something else polite women don’t write in their accounts of their adventures. I assume these women were the reason Abigail and Juliet were allowed admission into the casino. No doubt the patrons assumed they were, despite their differences in dress, the same as the young ladies of the establishment.

Abigail ordered two sherries from the bar and gave one to the sulky Juliet. She sat down next to her crestfallen friend and put a comforting arm around her shoulder.
“Isn’t this lovely?” Abby said, trying to sound concerned, but only sounding giddy because of her freedom. “Look at all these lovely gentlemen! Forget about Broadstead! You’ve got lots of choice right here.”

Juliet groaned.

“Ah,” Abby said petulantly, “not the right subject. I can’t help it though! Just take a look around you. Now, see that man over there?” Here Abby motioned to a blond man with a thick mustache, six foot of pure frontiersman. His hair was parted in the middle and slicked on the sides. The mustache was carefully waxed into sharp little points. All in all, he looked capable of wrestling wild animals, in spite of the elegant surroundings and his somber black suit. “Now that’s a man,” Abby sighed.
“Abigail Raintree, how can you think of men at a time like this?” Juliet drained the last of the sherry from her glass.

“Just because your Romeo’s fallen flat doesn’t mean I can’t look.”

Juliet slammed her glass on the table. “I need another drink.”

Five sherries later, Juliet was reduced to a giggling mass of hysteric depression. Abby feasted on the rugged males of the establishment and made flirtatious eye contact with several gentlemen. The frontiersman himself placed his hand to where the rim of his hat would have been normally and smiled broadly at her, then continued on with his poker game. Eventually two gentlemen did approach Abigail and Juliet.

“May we join you?” one of the gentlemen asked Abby. Abby smiled at his dark, foreign looks. She nodded her head and batted her eyelids. Juliet used the little presence of mind she had left to realize something was not right about inviting unknown men to sit at your table. She stared at the gentlemen, her eyes glassy, trying to formulate a refusal. They took her silence as acquiescence and sat down. To her credit, Abby maintained a proper sitting distance.

“How long have you ladies been in New Orleans?” the first man ventured.

“Not long,” Abby gushed. “Well, Juliet here has been in the city longer than myself, but not long enough to meet fine young men such as yourselves.”

The young man sitting by Juliet smiled at her. “Juliet. What a lovely name.”

“I’m Abigail,” my niece interrupted, returning attention to herself.

“I’m Claude,” said the first gentleman. “My friend is Henry.”

Somewhere in the back of her conscience, Juliet’s thoughts coalesced. She felt that both she and Abby were doing the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. She stood up quickly, upsetting the glasses on the table. “Abby, we must leave!”

Henry pulled her back down beside him. “Why would you wish to do that, Mam’selle? We were just beginning to become acquainted.” He flashed Claude a knowing look.

Abigail had seen that look before, and contrary to her reputation, she always drew the line with young men when they looked like that. She smiled pleasantly at Claude. “I think I’d best take my friend home. She’s had a tad too much.”

Claude stood up as Abby did. “There’s nothing we’d like better to accompany you ladies home.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Abby attempted to get out of the booth, but Claude blocked her way.

“We insist.”

“Let me pass, please!”

Claude grabbed her arm firmly. “No, Abigail. A woman like you cannot send the signals that you are open for business, then reject me. That is a bad way to build clientele.”

Abby frowned. “Sir, I resent what you are thinking.”

“As all women of your profession profess to do.”

Abby spoke lowly. “Sir, if you do not release my arm, I will make a scene.”

“I’ll bet.”

Abby laughed politely, cleared her throat and screamed. My niece is not prone to much screaming, but when she does scream, it pierces the noise of the most crowded room. A lighthouse beacon could not cut a clearer path through fog. The room riveted its attention to the foursome in the booth. At that moment, Abigail made the acquaintance of Mr. Chip Hyland.

No comments: