The Gentlemen's Club Ch. 02byBane©
— The Letter —
I've just received the most astonishing news: I've been made Senior Clerk. This means my dream of home ownership is near at hand. As well, now that my means have increased, I can begin to pay proper respects to the Ministry.
Naturally, I am prepared to return and begin my new duties, at the firm and under my roof. Our separation forces me to endure and permits my full understanding of our Father's plan for me.
Until we are joined together again,
P.S. I shall especially look forward to my return next Tuesday."
Sarah, having finished reading the letter for the second time, excitedly crumpled it between her fingers.
'Senior Clerk,' she thought. For the first time in nearly a week, she felt a small rush of joy. 'Senior Clerk!' She could hardly believe it.
At least her ordeal had not been in vain. Mr. Brown had more than kept his word.
The next day Sarah sat, holding a pail. She gargled, cleaning her mouth vigorously with a potent hygienic tonic she had purchased for a penny from the street barker days before. She swirled the foul concoction around thoroughly before spitting it into the pail. No matter what she did, she could still taste the remnants from five nights past, could still detect a slightly bitter, salty substance trapped between her very teeth. Surely she imagined it; this far removed, all aspects of young Master Collins ejaculate should be forever gone. Still, she continued gargling and rinsing, three times a day.
There was a knock upon the door. 'Another letter from Robert?' she asked herself excitedly.
Placing the pail on the floor, she stood and rushed to the door, pulling it open with a flourish. She was extending a hand for the letter she was sure to receive when a voice she knew very well said her name:
Douglas Brown stood, hat in hand, at her threshold, leaning on his walking cane. Today he wore a slate colored suit with a double Windsor deepest crimson tie. As always, Mr. Brown was immaculately dressed.
Sarah flinched, ready to slam the door, but of course that would be most rude. She had refused three separate messages from Mr. Brown in the last three days; there was nothing at all untoward about that. Slamming the door in his face, however, was something altogether different. Decorum must be maintained.
She realized how plainly she was dressed, in a flat brown cleaning dress with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and began to close the door. It was her intention to leave it cracked a sliver; however, Mr. Brown was taking no chances as he thrust his cane between door and jamb.
"Mr. Brown," she said breathlessly. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Brown smiled. "Charles was right, you are polite to a fault."
Of course, she blushed mildly at his compliment—then, realizing her small blush was genuine pushed her into a full-blown coloring of chest, neck, and face.
She recovered quickly. "I really don't have time for this, Mr. Brown. If you would kindly remove your cane."
"Then I shan't waste any more of your time. I trust you've received word from your husband?"
"Then you understand we've decided to reward certain, ah, behaviors."
"Reward as a dog, mastering a difficult trick? A horse's reward, perhaps, for having run an especially grueling stakes race? Or maybe it's a child's reward, for having just learned a most impractical and unfortunate life lesson? Which reward is it, Mr. Brown?" Sarah asked all of her questions with just the slightest amount of bitterness; again, she was treading the line between outright disrespect, so unbecoming for a proper Southern lady, and genuine disdain for that which had been perpetrated on her person. It was a very thin line indeed.
In that moment (and not for the first time), Brown failed utterly to notice anything she said and was instead nearly lost in her light blue eyes; having never stood this close to her, however—at least, in this much light—this was the first time he become aware of the tiniest flecks of dark blue that seemed to flutter around their very center.
"Sarah, the reward is for your husband. Robert Higgins is a valued employee at the firm; it would be a terrible shame for him to lose so quickly that which he has only just recently come into. I assure you, life station can be fleeting indeed."
Sarah stood quietly.
"That said, your part in this was well played. Understanding your role and fulfilling it is part of your duties as wife. Every Southern wife, so we are told, honors and obeys their husbands."
"Obviously, Mr. Brown."
"Perhaps, then, you can understand my predicament. Your appearance the other night caused quite a stir about The Visum. It would seem that I must again prevail upon you for a night's accompaniment."
Sarah looked down her nose upon him, searching for the sarcasm or scorn she was sure must accompany such an outrageous request. Instead, she saw only Mr. Brown, plain spoken and simply represented.
"You said it would be just the one time, Mr. Brown. I assure you, I have no intention of ever repeating that performance."
"Of course, Sarah. And yet, there are other forces at work here. It would seem that your husband—Robert seemed so very pleased with his promotion, based on the message I received just this morning, he can hardly wait to come back and demonstrate how deserving he is—is very excited about gaining new accommodations. This," he continued, rapping the doorjamb with his knuckles, "is no place for a woman of your caliber, no place at all. What I bring to you is part offer and part reminder, plus a dash of reassurance.
"The reminder is that your husband fails to own his position. If he is found unworthy or, worse, his religious views become too onerous, his tenuous position can disappear overnight. The reassurance is that neither Collins nor his son shall be in attendance at The Visum; therefore, I believe you will find your experience much more acceptable. The offer is a new domicile for you and your husband, a noble goal by any objective measure. Two nights at The Visum should secure building rights, which will close immediately upon your husband's return.
"All of this is predicated on loyalty to your husband, your willingness to ensure his diligence is not in vain. As before, only you can do this."
Sarah was blown away by the magnitude of what was just spoken. There was entirely too much to digest, she needed time to think this through. One thing, however, was clear: she was being manipulated.
"Why don't you meet me at my office tomorrow morning? We can hash out any details or, should you refuse, make whatever amends may be required," he said, brushing a particle off of his shoulder. "I'm sure we can reach an agreement."
When he spoke in his lawyer's voice, Douglas Brown could be very persuasive. Sarah agreed to meet the following morning.
She had most certainly NOT agreed to any of his terms.
Sarah arrived at 9:47 AM, wearing one of her Sunday dresses. A modest, full length garment leaving everything to the imagination, the green and gold dress was nevertheless more than presentable and seemed to have been designed specifically to contrast the flowing red hair arranged delicately about the wearer's collar, an inverted halo of sorts.
At least, that was what Brown thought when he laid eyes upon her. The symbolism of the inverted halo did not escape him.
"Sarah," he said, gesturing to the chair she had sat in exactly one week before.
Mr. Brown did not sit. He walked behind the desk and over to a large paned window, staring out briefly at the hubbub that was Main Street before pulling the curtains. He walked around his desk and leaned back, resting his weight on it as he peered down at Sarah.
For her part Sarah might have been a picture-perfect copy of last week, seated on the very edge of her seat, back straight, clutching her small purse for dear life.
"Have you considered my offer?"
All the conflicting emotions again ran through Sarah's mind.
Robert's new position potentially hung in the balance—would they truly terminate him having only just promoted? And a house of their very own! That thought alone sent her mind spinning wildly, images of children and furniture, their own personal belongings, never again having to board, borrow, or accept favors from any one. A powerful vision, to be sure.
And then another vision took shape: The Visum, a week before, buck naked about her knees while a young man she had known, ages ago, thrust his manhood crudely in and out of her mouth before expending a heavy load into the back of her throat. The memory of it lingered, a week on, a taste daily gargling couldn't remedy. But it wasn't just the hot cream that seared her throat that stayed with her; Sarah also felt the itch on her chin, today as then, as the man's hairy testicles swayed forward, striking her each time he leaned forward. The entirety of the event represented an indignity at the hands of Master Collins that would never be forgotten.
"Mr. Brown, I have given this much thought indeed. I must regretfully—"
She was interrupted by a knock on the door. Brown appeared agitated.
"Not supposed to be interrupted," he mumbled under his breath as he stormed towards the door. "This better be good."
Swinging it open revealed none other than Charles Winthrop. Winthrop peered in at Sarah.
"Morning, miss," he said quickly, as if he didn't know her, before turning his attention to Brown.
"Douglas, I had to give you this news personally. I've just received word. He did it! They've signed!"
Agitation instantly forgotten, Brown broke open an ear-splitting smile. Sarah, for the first time, realized that Mr. Brown was not entirely unattractive—and immediately blushed at the thought.
"Very good. That leaves only one, then. I'll send word to the clerk, have him go over and attempt to work his uncanny magic."
Winthrop, beaming as well, extended his hand. Brown accepted and the two men shook enthusiastically before parting ways.
Still smiling, Brown went behind his desk and took a seat. He sat, lost in his own thoughts, for nearly a quarter hour. During that time, Sarah again ran through all the scenarios in her mind, all the promises and opportunities (and, perhaps, the not-quite-subtly veiled threats) on one hand, with the deplorable experience on the other.
Still, perhaps this time would be different. Currency, even in a woman so dutiful, can be a very powerful motivator.
"Mr. Brown," she said uncertainly, wringing her hands.
"My, ah… that is…" She struggled with the words. "I shall accompany you," she said quickly, before she could change her mind. "But I shall maintain my Virtue."
"Your virtue?" Brown asked, puzzled. "Ah," he sighed, understanding, "Sarah, I assure you, only one's husband can claim Marital Rights. They may request it at The Visum—certainly, some do—but that is the one request you can deny."
Relieved, Sarah exhaled rather forcefully.
Not only continued service but also a promotion for her husband, higher income, and a home of their own—she had earned all of this already, without giving up that which only belonged to her husband. Sarah; sweet, pious, innocent Sarah, was prepared to do a little more in order to receive a bigger piece of the pie.
Only a little more.
She had done so much already.
As before, the carriage arrived exactly on time. Sarah, receiving no other instructions, wore the same garment as before (this time without undergarments), carefully arranging the shawl about her upper body such that she was shielded from prying eyes.
Soon enough they were under way, she scrunched into the far corner.
Minutes later, they stopped for Brown, who entered the carriage quickly.
"Very good, Sarah. Your appearance is most exemplary."
Sarah nodded, lost in thought. She was having some difficulty, now that she was actually in the carriage, reconciling her action tonight with what had occurred the previous week. How could she willingly put herself again into this situation? And yet… and yet, Mr. Brown had given assurances—he was always giving assurances, not to put too fine a point on it—that neither Collins would be there and that her Virtue was not in question. These two conditions were of paramount concern.
There was, however, a larger question, one she couldn't stop rehashing: could a woman who performed services, even so benign as companionship (assuming that was all there was) to a man not her husband, consider herself anything but a trollop if she accepted payment? This, of course, to say nothing of the week prior, whose services most assuredly went well beyond mere companionship… and yet, here she was, again, in a carriage, as if her actions tonight carried no further consequences whatsoever.
"You appear lost in thought," Brown said, interrupting her reverie.
"I'm fine, Mr. Brown," she said.
"Douglas, please. At least," he added hastily, "while we are outside of The Visum. There, decorum and respect command a certain conduct."
"Of course, Mr. Brown."
"But we aren't yet there. So tell me, Sarah Higgins, what is your passion?"
Sarah turned her head, searching his face for derision—or worse. Instead she found what appeared to be an honest question, to which she gave an honest reply: "I should very much like to have children one day. We've tried for years now; I fear I may be barren." An awkward silence followed, after which she continued. "Still, we persevere. Perhaps the Lord will bless us, one day."
"Perhaps. As you know…"
What followed was the most interesting half hour of conversation Sarah could remember having in a very long time.
Having picked up Mr. Winthrop and his escort, Jennifer, the four-some continued on to The Visum. The conversation changed abruptly when Sarah and Mr. Brown were joined; Sarah, having commanded Douglas' full attention, failed even to register to Mr. Brown, who was engaged in wide-ranging appraisal of all matters firm-related with Mr. Winthrop.
The dramatic shift put her off-guard. Which was the real man: the thoughtful, eloquent, even charming bachelor who sympathized with her quest for children? Or the dispassionate, even-keeled Proprietor of the most prestigious law firm in the southern half of the state? Could they both be the same man?
And then there was Jennifer. Sarah gazed at her, Jennifer's blond hair (almost as rare as her own) prominent tonight over a surprisingly understated outfit that revealed very little of what lay beneath. If Sarah didn't know better, she would have thought Jennifer was out for a perfectly normal social gathering. As they realized each was appraising the other, their eyes met. Jennifer appeared almost jealous, no small amount of shock mixed with anger evident on her face; Sarah, on the other hand, tried her best to keep her features even, giving away nothing of what she felt inside. Her intuition told her to withhold everything from this girl, that Jennifer would spare no expense to make anything having to do with her as unpleasant and regrettable as possible.
Still, pleasantries must be observed. Sarah smiled primly and nodded her head before looking away.
That should do.
— The Visum —
This time Sarah knew exactly what to do and followed Mr. Brown quickly out of the carriage. She stepped, ten paces behind, never taking her eyes off the back of his shoes. She noted that when he walked, Mr. Brown's feet flared slightly, the toes about two inches outside the heel, not unlike a duck. His shoes made very little sound as he walked this way, nearly rolling over the floor's surface. His walking cane—he didn't need it, pretension kept it at hand, the crafted teak beautifully carved into an instrument none could avert their eyes from—made the only sound, ticking the floor every other step. There was a certain—the thought made her stomach flutter as if a thousand butterflies were attempting to take flight at the same time—pride in following Mr. Brown. Yes, pride was the right word. His was the most extravagant attire, although she was sure Mr. Winthrop (if not all, for that matter) possessed more personal worth. Mr. Brown's gait, confident and sure, seemed without affectation. Everywhere he went, the path seemed to widen, competence and dignity emanating from him in waves.
There was no parading about this time; rather, they immediately went to their table in the preferred corner. Brown, as before, pulled back a chair for Sarah, paused, and eased it in, all while looking as if he had absolutely no interest in who or what might be sitting there. After taking his own seat, and noting Winthrop's having done the same, he gestured for the meal to begin.
"Douglas, this latest bit of news does raise a concern," Winthrop began.
"Don't tell me—where do we go from here?"
"Clearly, we have a significant workload representing interests in Augusta. The state's business, such as it is, can be used to our advantage. Of course, that sort of representation isn't very lucrative."
Winthrop's eyes crinkled as he smiled. "I agree, Douglas. State government may offer a certain intrigue, but there's little profit in it."
"Well said. I've been speaking to an outfit from New York City recently, interested in the red clay Georgia possesses in such abundance. It seems they are prepared to develop a series of brick-building operations, if appropriate options can be secured."
"Ah, very good."
"I knew you would approve, Charles. Standard Oil is always in the market, though I fear we have little to offer in our neck of the woods. Still, some prospectors are making claims that must be investigated. The most exciting possibility is power and telegraph."
"There's already a line between the coasts," Winthrop noted.
"Yes, but not yet up and down the eastern seaboard."
Brown looked around The Visum. "There seems to be a packed house tonight."
Indeed, the dozen or so tables were almost all filled, fully forty-six in attendance. "Evans, of course," Brown said, gesturing to a fat man three tables away, "I knew he would be here."
"He hasn't stopped speaking to me of it, Douglas. He's beside himself."
"Indeed. Sarah," he said, cocking his head sideways.
"Er, yes, Mr. Brown?" she replied, looking up.
"Hand me your shawl."
Sarah had been dreading this. Thinking it best to simply be done, she quickly pulled the shawl from her shoulders and handed it over, making no attempt to cover her breasts, exposed as they were underneath the gauzy material of her thin white dress.
It was as if a switch had been flipped; suddenly The Visum was abuzz with conversation, nearly all of it centered about Brown's table.
The fat man almost immediately stood and ambled over, leaving everyone at his table still seated. He walked around the table and stood between Sarah and Mr. Brown. There he crouched low, balancing himself with one hand on the back of Sarah's chair. "Mr. Brown," he said; his words may have been directed to Brown but his eyes were facing the opposite direction, less than a foot away from Sarah's plump melons. He leaned in, absorbing in full detail the crinkled nipples at the tips of Sarah's breasts.
She felt his hot breath on them and realized coldly that they were shriveling and hardening, becoming much more pronounced than normal. They resembled an especially juicy piece of fruit, ready to be plucked and sampled.
"Mr. Evans," Brown replied. He was amused that the fat man should be so taken with Sarah but was sure to allow none of his fascination to enter his voice. "How are you this evening?"