Well, since I've been writing a lot about Sylvie St. James, I'll use her. :)
Sylvie was glad she had taken Merlin with her on this long trip. Merlin was a strong horse, a Peruvian Paso that stood sixteen hands high. He glided easily over the rocky terrain, and Sylvie trusted him completely. This was going to be a long journey, and she was glad to have a friend with her, even if he was of the equine persuasion.
She gently patted Merlin's neck and the horse slowed to a stop. They were near a creek, and Sylvie was thirsty. She gathered that Merlin probably was, too. They had been riding for two days and Sylvie's canteen was now empty. She led the horse to the creek, and he lowered his head to drink.
"Fine morning, eh?" Sylvie jumped. There was someone standing near the end of the creek, a woman. She stood there, looking at Sylvie with narrowed eyes. Her dress was peacock green, and her hair stood on her head in a messy, red pile. As she walked toward them, Sylvie could see that her heavily lined face was painted with rouge. An old lady, dressing young...what Mother might have called a 'woman of ill-repute.'
"Oh...yes, it is." Sylvie turned her attention back to Merlin. She may have been on the run, but she wasn't so sure she should be talking to this woman. Mother's influence still dug into her, like claws.
The woman walked toward them and put a hand on Merlin's neck.
"Beautiful horse ya got there," she said, her voice a low, smoker's croak. "almost ethereal. He's a Peruvian, right?"
"Yes, he is."
"Ah, that's what I thought. I know quite a lot about horses. Used to ride a lot when I was a girl."
"I bet you did." Sylvie clamped a hand over her mouth, hoping to cram the words back in, but it was too late. The woman laughed.
"You're no dummy," she chuckled. "you know exactly what I am, don't ya?"
"I don't- "
"Oh, drop the act, girl," she croaked. "My name is Bertie Beltrand, but you can call me Madam." She extended her gloved hand, and Sylvie shook it. So, it was true. Madam was a "working girl".
"What are you doing here by the creek?" asked Sylvie. "don't you... work ...in town?"
"Town's not that far away," she said. "I come out here every morning for some peace and quiet, to get away from it all. However, this morning, I wasn't alone. You're running from something, aren't ya?"
Sylvie turned crimson. "How did you know?"
"Gal doesn't travel by herself unless she has a damn good reason." Madam took a cigarette and a match from her wrinkled cleavage and lit up. Sylvie turned away.
"I am running," said Sylvie, breathing slowly. "I was married off to a horrible man, and I had to get away. He was old enough to be my father. He drank. He hit me. I know it's wrong, but I couldn't stay."
Madam exhaled a billow of smoke and said nothing.
"I used to have a housemaid, a friend who left with me," she went on. "but she...she's gone. Dead. I don't know what to do." With that, Sylvie started crying. She buried her head in Merlin's neck, her face growing hot while the tears she held back for so long were finally released.
Madam clucked her tongue.
"Oh, stop," she said. "things aren't that bad. You happened upon me, didn't ya? I can help you, but only if you stop blubbering."
Sylvie stifled her sobs. She looked at Madam, her eyes wide with horror.
"Oh, no, I can't do wh- what you do," she said. "I just can't. My husband was so rough with me, I- "
"Relax," said Madam. "I'm not talkin' about whoring, I'm talkin' about cleaning the place up. My girls leave it an awful mess, and I need a housemaid of my own to keep it neat, presentable. Now, I know you're probably not thrilled at the idea, but since you're on the run and have no place to go, you have very few options. Will you come work for me?"
"I wouldn't have to do... that ?"
"You make it sound like goin' to the toilet!" Madam erupted in a gale of choked laughter. As she doubled over, hacking, Sylvie pat her on the back. Finally, she stood up.
Sylvie thought it over.
"Well, I think I should tell you I never worked a day in my life," she said. "I was waited on, hand and foot. I can't lie to you."
"It ain't hard," said Madam. "you dust, you sweep, you clean some dishes, you wash laundry...a kid can do it. You'll learn the ropes."
"What will you pay me?"
"Food, shelter, a couple of decent petticoats," said Madam. "and some of the best apple cider this side of the Golden State. One of my girls gets it from some bigshot in town, and let me tell ya, it's heaven."
This is how it ends? thought Sylvie. I go from being one of the wealthiest girls in town to being a maid who works in a whorehouse for apple cider?
She said nothing. Instead, she nodded and pulled on Merlin's reins.
"Attagirl," beamed Madam. "I knew you weren't no dummy." The old woman gestured for Sylvie to follow her. The two of them made their way down the creek and toward town. It was a new chapter for Sylvie St. James.
"An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way."
This message was edited by the author on November 27, 2011 at 9:12:31 AM