Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Story: Her Most Remarkable Performance. Prologue.

At long last I have enough material to start publishing this lady-to-maid opus magnum. I am still working on it, but I thought I'd start sharing what I have with the blog readers to get some constructive feedback. It's really embarrasing to admit how long it's been sitting semi-finished on my hard drive so I've decided to gauge readers' interest in this project that has been dear to my heart. A teaser for now, to be followed by several chapters in coming weeks. Looking forward to your feedback.

Her Most Remarkable Performance

By Camille Langtry

Prologue


New York. 1894.

“Are you sure it is here, Harris?” a young lady looked outside the carriage window in apparent disbelief.  The pouring rain has thankfully ended, the sky was almost clear and Mulberry Street, with its shabby brick tenement buildings, wooden shacks and lopsided sheds, surrounded by heaps of garbage, was now perfectly seen in all its dilapidated glory. This was New York’s notorious immigrant underbelly, considered by many the most dangerous part of the entire city.

“Yes, Ma’am,’’ Harris replied respectfully, opened the black carriage's door and held out the hand to his mistress. He was in his late 50s and sported a greying handlebar moustache that made him look like a retired cavalry officer. The lady, dressed in a stylish hat and an elegant light blue suit with oversized leg-o-mutton sleeves, stepped out, careful not to place her polished shoes in the puddle on the muddy, manure-covered sidewalk. On her delicate shoulders she wore a light fur boa with long tabs hanging down the front.

A group of barefoot children, playing at a small distance near a pile of overturned barrels, paid the fancy couple very little attention. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given Harris’s menacing look: a thick long cane in his hand, he was clearly ready to come to his mistress’s defense if someone posing a potential threat came too close. However, apart from the kids and a couple of street vendors, standing by their carts a block away, there was no one else in sight.  

“It’s over here, Ma’am,” Harris respectfully pointed at a narrow back alley a few yards away. The lady leaned against his arm, trying not to dirty the hem of her long, bell-shaped skirt, as they walked toward a dingy two-storey building. It was a laundry by the look of things: in the small window one could see large mechanical wringers and mangles, that were constantly hissing and making metal banging noises. The wooden back door swung open, releasing clouds of heavy steam, just as Harris was about to knock.

Two young dark-haired girls, their faces and hands red from the heat and the humidity, exited the building and looked at a well-dressed woman and her older companion with barely contained surprise. Indeed, the contrast between the exclusively-attired lady and her run-down surroundings could not have been greater. Indeed, it wasn’t too often that such regal creatures were seen on the streets around The Five Points. That is, unless said creatures were looking to part with their wallets, watches and other valuables.

“We are looking for Susan Brown. Is she here?” asked Harris.

“You mean Suzie?” responded one of the girls with a thick Italian accent, as her friend, her hands crossed at her chest, silently continued to study the lady’s exquisite outfit with great interest: her fitted jacket that clung to the tightly laced, impossibly narrow waist, her maroon straw hat with a brim that was fashionably turned in the back and was trimmed with a wide white bow and flowers, her wide boa, resting on her shoulders, the sparkling silver rectangular buckles of her high-heeled black leather shoes.  

“Yes, Suzie Brown. Can you call her?” Harris responded impatiently.

“Suzie! Come on out, there’s a lady to see ya!” the first girl shouted into an immense, fog-filled room, where one could barely make out long rows of dozens of working washerwomen, several large boilers and washtubs, and shaking machines, that were periodically spitting out clouds of hot steam.  Following that the two of them went about their business, but not without giving the strange visitors another suspicious lookover.

A minute later a very tired-looking, overworked woman dressed in a grey skirt, a striped shirtwaist with rolled-up sleeves and a dirty colorless apron that has seen better days, came out. Her face and muscular reddish arms were moist with perspiration and her hair was dank and out of order. The washerwoman wiped the sweat from her forehead and rubbed her work-roughened, calloused hands against the sides of her skirt to dry them. She was probably in her early 40s, a full decade or more older than the fashionable lady that came to see her.

“Harris, thank you very much, please leave us,’’ the lady said and lifted a scented batiste handkerchief to her beautiful face: the strong smells of soap, dampness, wet soil and human sweat were becoming unbearable.

“Are you sure, Ma’am? This is a rough neighborhood,” Harris replied, obviously concerned for the rich lady’s security.

“I don’t think Susan will attack me, Harris. Wait for me at the carriage, please,” the lady insisted.

“Very well, Ma’am. If anything, I’d be just a few steps away,’’ he said and dutifully went back to the carriage, which, much to the coachman’s displeasure, was now fully surrounded by the neighborhood’s dirty-faced boys, dressed in short pants and rather sad-looking shirts and caps.

Susan just stood there in silence, staring at the well-dressed lady in front of her.

“Do you recognize me, Susan?’’ the lady finally broke the lingering silence, but before Susan could even utter a word in response the door swung open again and a fat, angry-looking woman flung out.

“Suzie, ‘ere you are, lazy woman. Is yer duty over? Don’t tell me ye left yer iron face down again!” she began shouting in an unpleasant, rusty voice that almost sounded like a man’s. “We not payin’ ya to stand round doin’ nothin’. Get back to work this instant!”

She squeezed Suzie’s left arm, determined to drag her back into the building, when she finally saw a lady in a light blue walking suit and turned her attention to her.

“Are you from the Washington Inn?” the fat woman charged, without introducing herself. It was clear she was either the owner or the forewoman of the place. “I already told Mrs. White we’ll pay ‘er for them linen that Suzie ruined. I am keepin’ her next week’s salary to pay for that! Just cause I always nice to my girls, others would have thrown her out on the spot, I am tellin’ ya!”

“I assure you I don’t have anything to do with the inn. I am here to see Susan - Suzie - in another capacity. Will you please give us some time, it is rather urgent,’’ the lady responded in a soft, conciliatory tone even as the fat woman was hardly the kind to give in to politeness.

“What are ye, a relative or somethin’? Ye from England too?” the laundry-owner replied suspiciously and carefully inspected the lady’s expensive outfit up and down. “Ye don’t look like ‘er at all!”

“No, we are not relatives,” the lady replied sternly. She was quickly losing patience with the obese crone. “Here, perhaps this can help you change your mind?’’ She took out a silver coin from a silk purse and gave it to her. “We only need five minutes.”

The fat woman unceremoniously snatched the shiny coin and smiled, showing her yellow teeth.

“That a different story then. Five minutes it is. But no more. Suzie, I need yer arse back at the boiler in five minutes, is that understood?” she said and, without waiting for the response, turned her back and loudly slammed the door behind her.

The lady, the batiste handkerchief still in her gloved hand, made a small step toward Susan.


“Hello, Georgina, I’ve finally found you,’’ she said quietly. The laundress remained silent for a moment and then spat out brown saliva - no doubt she was chewing tobacco - and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. Her front teeth were chipped, the lady couldn’t help but notice.

“Listen, lady, I think you mistaked me for someone else, you did. You ‘eard ‘er, I don’t ‘ave no time for no fancy talk. We ain’t got nobody called Georgina ‘ere,’’ she responded bruskly and reached for the door handle.

“Wait,’’ said the lady and extended her hand with a small rectangular card. “I am performing in New York for another week before I move to Philadelphia. Perhaps you would like to see me? I am at the Waldorf Hotel. It’s very new. Here is my address if you change your mind. We need to talk.’’

Susan took the card and with some hesitation put it into the wide pocket of her apron.

“Will I see you?” asked the lady, but Susan just turned her back, opened the door and disappeared in the stifling, steamy confines of the laundry. A moment later she joined the other women, who were busy ironing, sprinkling, starching and folding clothes.

22 comments:

  1. Interesting concept.It's hard to read at certain parts though. I had to go over the part when that fam woman wants to drag Suzie away several times in order to determine who says what and why.

    Good work though, keep it up.

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    1. Thanks. As I said this is still a work in progress. So it may be a bit rough around the edges. I apologize for that and hopefully it doesnt prevent you from enjoying the story.

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  2. An Appreciative ReaderNovember 22, 2016 at 11:23 AM

    Great teaser! It does it for me, a hint of mystery and wonderful contrasts between the haves and the have nots (description of place and clothing and appearance is so important I think). And who is due for the fall? Georgina has obviously fallen from a height but will the lady in the carriage join her? Or replace her? Yes you should be pleased with this chapter!

    Therefore hope you forgive me pointing out a slight typo in the first paragraph?

    "The pouring rain has thankfully ended"

    I think should be the pouring rain thankfully ended. I only put that because I think you have done such a good job so want to pass on!

    Good luck and looking forward to further chapters :)

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    1. An Appreciative ReaderNovember 22, 2016 at 11:25 AM

      Grr it missed my correction because I put it in brackets, I put HAD thankfully ended (rather than has). Still great chapter!

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    2. Thanks you so much. There will be a lot more contrasts and descriptions in the following chapters that I hope you will like even more.

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    3. Yes, and thanks for the correction, will fix that along with a few minor things I only spotted after publishing. The perils of not getting a second pair of eyes as an editor!

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  3. Looks very interesting...
    Hope that you will toss out a few more chapters very soon to get the ball rolling.

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    1. Do not worry, there is a lot more waiting in the wings.

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  4. A very interesting start to the story and I'm looking forward to reading more!

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  5. Great start characters well described lots of questions that will no doubt be answered when the story progresses.

    Eagerly await your next chapters

    Hugs
    Jackie J
    XX

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  6. Liking the start of the story, please continue.

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  7. Reads likes a wonderful and interesting story in the making. Will wait patiently for more. =)

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  8. Thank you so much dear. Not only for this story who has been startet wonderful and will continue even more better!
    For myself I prefer the different between the rich who owns everything and the poor who nothing but to work and serve for the rich.
    You have been startet the Story perfect in this context.
    However who will the mistress I would to read about a very posh and elegant lady who will dressed, being bathed and groomed by her always perfect uniformed Ladys maids. The mistress takes this service for granted, never even to waste any thougth about dressing herself or to lift any finger in this matter.

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    1. You are welcome. Let's see how it goes. The story will start off slow initially.

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  9. Definitely a promising opener. The time period and the lady's position (an actress, I take it?) suggest many interesting possibilities.
    I am tempted to speculate on who these women are and whom they have been, but I will refrain until I have read more of it.

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    1. Let's hope I end up surprising you with how the story goes! I am glad you like the beginning.

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  10. Brilliant writing. Love all the exquisite details.

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