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An Innocent at the Gentlemen’s Club

Written by Christine Merrill

Chapter Three

She had fainted.

Très embarrassant. She had never been so frail at home. She must learn to be braver, if she was to survive in this country. And she must learn to manage without the help of the big Englishman. No matter what Mr Gregory said about him, Mr Snyder was dangerous.

Paulette had seen the look in his eyes as he had roused her from her swoon. His words had been polite. But the thoughts in his head were far less so. He wanted to bed her. There had been men like him in Paris, calling what they offered protection, when what they’d intended was to take advantage.

When she asked the other girls, she would likely find that Mr Snyder had his favorites: the ones who paid in affection to stay safe from the guests they did not like. Those that did not give him what he wanted would be left to fend for themselves.

Her own feelings were far more disturbing. She’d been drawing the attention of such men by the age of thirteen and had learned to put them in their place. How was she to keep a cool distance from this one, now that she had felt how nice it was to be held by him?

She must hope that the other girls who shared her dressing room would disabuse her of any romantic notions about him. Much as she missed her old home, Paulette had to admit that the backstage at Vitium et Virtus was larger than the one in Paris had been. Even with two dancers sharing the room with her, there was space for Rose, the seamstress, to sit in the corner, sewing beads onto the bodice of the dress Paulette would wear for her debut.

Now that she was safely away from the men in the hall, she could ask them to tell her the truth. She searched for a way to ask the question that had been on her mind since the embarrassing incident in the entrance hall. ‘Tell me about…’ she searched for a word to describe the man who had held her so gently ‘…le monstre?’ She pulled a frown to imitate his expression and stood on tiptoe.

‘Monster?’ Rose looked at her in confusion for a moment, and then smiled. ‘You mean Ben Snyder?’

‘Mr Gregory said he is here to keep us safe. But…’ Paulette shrugged helplessly. ‘Are we not safe without him?’ By the looks on the faces of the other girls she must have said something terribly foolish, but was unsure what it might be.

‘We are in less danger here than we might be in the rest of London,’ the dancer named Marie replied. ‘The lords and ladies who come here are usually too busy sporting with each other to bother us. But if there ever is trouble, Mr Snyder will sort it out.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said the other girl. ‘The night of the auction, he was right at the center of the matter. He allowed it to continue until Mr Challenger came and put a stop to it.’

‘An auction?’

‘Some foolish girl tried to sell her innocence,’ Marie said, frowning. ‘Mr Snyder was on stage with her. He is normally so careful of us. It was strange that he did not stop it.’

A virgin.

It was not an uncommon thing at places like this for a woman to trade her body for money. But selling a maidenhead was quite another matter. It was wicked of men to encourage it. What would happen to her if Mr Snyder realized that, unlike the other girls here, her innocence was still intact?

Rose interrupted her thoughts. ‘Ignore them, Paulette. They are embroidering the truth. I was there that night, as well. No harm was done.’ She glanced around to be sure no one could overhear. ‘And I saw the girl without her mask. There is more to the story than they know. It was all some sort of harmless game.’

‘If you know so much, then tell us who she was,’ the dancer taunted.

To this, Rose gave nothing but a shake of her head. ‘It is not my secret to tell. Nor will Ben Snyder say anything. I am sure he knew all and was sworn to secrecy.’

She turned back to Paulette. ‘You are new to our ways, and afraid. But you have no reason to be. The owners are honourable men and mean you no harm. And Mr Snyder is just what he appears to be.’

Perhaps Rose saw something she did not. But to Paulette, the enormous porter looked like trouble. And that was likely what he was.

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About the author

I live in rural Wisconsin, about ten minutes outside of pizza delivery...

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Christine Merrill

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