Friday, April 07, 2006
Thursday, November 18, 2004
She moved her fingers gently throught the hair on his chest and kissed him again. “No, I want to talk – at least I want to listen to you talk. Besides, after I start work at the Juttisons’ school, I don’t know when I we can have another night together – just the two of us. I don’t think I could sleep anyway with you so close.”
“Let me know if you get bored.”
“Don’t be silly. You won’t bore me. Aren’t you awfully young to be in the legislature?”
“I suppose so, but I’m qualified I think. I have a bachelor of arts degree from LSU and I’ll finish law school in another year.”
“Still, that doesn’t seem like enough to get you elected – not at twenty-four.”
I guess it wouldn’t be for someone who wasn’t a Beauxyeaux. I was actually elected when I was 22. My father, Clement Beauxyeaux held the seat for 20 years, until he died. Being his son was enough to get me elected to replace him.”
“What do you do for a living? I mean, the legislature doesn’t pay well enough to live on what they give you – and you seem to live pretty well – not that it’s any of my business.”
He smiled. "I have enough to live on without working actually, although I’d go crazy–and maybe fuck myself to death – if I didn’t have something to keep me busy – besides the plantation that is.”
“Belle Fourche. It’s on the west bank between here and New Orleans.”
“It belongs to you?”
“Well, to my family, but I have control of it although I share part of the income with my mother – as long as she lives – and with my sister Camille and her family.”
“Not with Denise?”
“She’s not part of the family–at least not that side of my family.”
“What do you mean? I know she has a different mother, but she had the same father didn’t she? How does she get left out?”
“Her mother was my father’s mistress – at least one of them – but they were not married although they had three children together. My father provided for them separately.”
“What about Pierre in Baton Rouge. Is he one of their children? No, wait, I already know he’s not. Denise told me he had a different mother from both of you.”
“Yes, that’s right. You see, my father was born in a time when it was common for a white man to have a mistress among the demimonde. Do you understand what that is?”
“I think so. They are light-skinned colored people. I’ve heard they have a very exclusive society in New Orleans.”
“That’s right. My father had mistresses both here and in Baton Rouge. Pierre’s mother was the one in the capital.”
“It sounds very complicated. How did he manage to keep it quiet.”
“There was not much need to keep it quiet. It was so common, no one thought much about it and certainly it was not something we talked about – at least not around my mother.”
“But she knew about the other women – and their children?”
Andre shrugged. “It’s just the way things are–or rather the way things were. Times have begun to change.”
“I don’t think I’d like know that my husband had families and children with other women.”
“Perhaps it would have been different if men and their wives had the same freedoms in making love that they had with their mistresses.” He touched one of Claire’s breasts and gently cupped it with his hand. “If they really wanted wild sex, they had to find a mulatta woman to indulge it,” he said.
“Then Denise is colored? That’s seems hard to believe. She’s dark, but she doesn’t look like a black woman.”
“She’ got very little black blood. Her grandmother had a black father, so she’s only one-sixteenth colored. That’s not enough to make much difference if she lived anywhere except New Orleans. She could pass for white if she wanted to anywhere else.”
“Then why doesn’t she move?”
“I think she rather likes her life here and is quite happy with her place in society. She’s at the very top of her world. Why should she go somewhere else and be a nobody.”
“She certainly lives well. Is she rich? She said something about a patron. I think she said he was your mother’s brother. Is she your uncle’s mistress?”
“Yes, but he’s very old and infirm now. I think all he does is visit her from time to time for a drink and a chat about old times.”
“If he supports her, what will happen to her when he dies?”
“Oh, don’t worry about Denise Dettonville. She has plenty of money already and Uncle Gaston will leave her with plenty more. My father left her the house on Burgundy – actually he had already given it to her mother – plus rent property in Faubourg Marigny. She’s well taken care of.”
“How does she have the last name Dettonville? Is that your uncle’s name?”
“Oh, no. It doesn’t work like that. Her mother’s last name – and her grandmother’s – was Dettonville. She doesn’t have our family name.”
“But Pierre in Baton Rouge, isn’t his last name Beauxyeaux like yours?”
“Aha,” Andre laughed, “You’re quick my dear. That’s a matter of great friction between him and the Beauxyeaux family. He started calling himself Beauxyeaux when he was a boy – as soon as he found out who his father was. It caused quite a stir with mother and her friends.”
“Because it violates one of the rules of the custom. The children a man has by his mistresses – especially his mulatta mistresses – are never acknowledged legally. They’re taken care of financially as a matter of honor, but they are not claimed as heirs.
“Do you care that he claims to be your father’s son?”
“I did once, but now it’s an asset for me to have a brother like him. Politics is a strange business – at least it is in South Louisiana. His friendship is of great value to me during an election.”
“You’re on good terms with Denise as well.”
“She’s one of my very best friends. I depend on her help, especially with my sexual adventures. Without her help, how could I continue to see you?”
“I hope you don’t resent there being others.”
“Not especially. I’ll have to wait and see how much they interfere with my getting what I want from you.” She let her hand stray to the patch of hair between his legs.”
“You have not worries there, I assure you.”
“I wasn’t talking only about other women, either.”
“You don’t mind my taste in other men?”
“Mind? No I don’t mind at all. I enjoyed that night in Baton Rouge with Bart very much. I wouldn’t want it to be the last time I – that is – we enjoyed ourselves that way. I wonder if sometime we might try it with another woman too.”
“I adore you, Claire,” Andre said kissing her. “You are rare – truly rare in this world – at least for someone with tastes like mine.”
“I think we are very similar in our tastes,” Claire said. “I find you exciting in many ways, and not just sexually. You are smart and someone with a future. I could learn to love you – in good time of course – but not too much and not too soon. ”
“Let us make a pact then,” Andre said. “Let’s open ourselves up to each other. Let’s have a relationship of adventure – taking pleasure were we can find it – and a relationship of trust. Neither of us will be dishonest with the other.”
“I would like that,” Claire said. “And now, I’d like a change to be honest with you.”
“Always, mon cher.”
“To be honest, I’ve not quite satisfied my lust for you tonight. I’d like to feel you deep inside me again so I’ll have something to remember when I’m alone. We may not be able to be alone together again soon and who knows, next time we may not prefer to be alone.”
“My dear,” Andre said. He took her in his arms and when both were satisfied, they fell asleep
Dubby brought coffee and a breakfast tray to Claire’s room and pulled aside the drapes to let light into the room.
Claire woke and stretched under the sheet Andre has spread over her when he got up and left before daylight. As he was leaving, he kissed her and told her he had business at Belle Fourche and then later in Baton Rouge, but that he would send her a message through Denise to the École Juttison as soon as he could return to New Orleans.
“What time is it, Dubby?”
“Just seven, Miss Crane. Shall I draw you a bath?”
“Yes, please.” She looked at the clothes she had worn yesterday hanging in the armoire and wished she had brought a change.
As if she were reading Claire’s mind, Dubby told her that Denise wondered if perhaps she would like fresh underwear and – Denise thought – she also had a summer frock that might fit her well enough to wear home.
“That would be wonderful, Dubby.”
At exactly nine o’clock, Mme. Dettonville’s carriage arrived at the École Juttison and deposited Claire on the sidewalk. She was dressed in a simple beige dress, a bit short by conservative standards, but quite respectable for a young woman of Claire’s age.
When she was inside, Claire set out to find Miss Ophelia. She found out that the woman was again occupied, but that Claire should wait in the parlor and Miss Ophelia would join her at ten.
Promptly as the hall clock finished striking ten dull strokes, Miss Ophelia opened the door and came in. The pucker of her lips was quite pronounced.
Claire stood up and wished the older woman good morning, but Miss Ophelia did not return the greeting.
“We begin our day at Juttison School quite a bit earlier than 9 o’clock, Miss Crane,” she said. She sat down on a straight-backed chair that was placed near the door. She did not ask Claire to sit down, and because there was not another chair near the one Miss Ophelia had chosen, Claire remained standing.
“We did not set a time to meet this morning, Miss Ophelia, and I assumed you would have other matters to attend to before you were able to see me.”
“Don’t be argumentative, Miss Crane. I do not permit my staff to make assumptions about my affairs. I expect them to be available anytime I desire to see them.”
“Of course, ma’am. I’m sorry if I seemed argumentative. I assure you I had. . .”
Ophelia waved her hand dismissing the rest of Claire’s sentence.
“Staff are expected to be out of bed and fully dressed by 4:45 in the morning. They should have checked on the girls assigned to them to be sure they are out of bed at five and have finished their toilets in order to be at their places in the refectory at six – precisely.”
“Is that so?” Claire said. “Then may I ask if you intend to offer me a position on the staff?”
“I believe that’s what you came here seeking, is it not?”
“Yes, ma’am, I had hoped to find a position, and I am flattered that you seem to be considering the idea positively, but we have not discussed my duties or my compensation.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Miss Crane.”
“I hope I did not give you the impression that I was begging, Miss Ophelia. Of course, I need to find employment, but I hope that it will be satisfactory both for me as well as my employer.”
“I believe yesterday when my sister Susan interviewed you, you said something to the affect that if you did not find employment you did not know how you should get on. I believe she said you would were quite desperate, and that you did not know to what extremes you might have to go in order to survive.”
Claire felt a flash of anger, but she quickly suppressed it.
“Yes, I did say something along those lines, but I at the time I was feeling a bit of panic. Miss Susan appeared to dismiss me after our. . .” Claire paused for just a minute to give a hint of emphasis to the word Ophelia had “. . .our interview and she had not mentioned employment. That’s why I brought up the subject. I suppose I did sound rather concerned, but I thought I was being dismissed without any discussion of a position here at the school.”
“Miss Susan defers all questions about staff to me.”
“I believe she said as much at the end, but I did not know that until I brought up the subject of employment. I suppose I was confused about the purpose of my – my chat – with her.”
“The purpose of your “chat” with her, as you call it, is none of your business. We are not in the habit of explaining our methods to those we interview.”
Claire began to realize that defending herself to the woman was a fool’s errand.
“Yes, ma’am,” she said, hoping that was a sufficient reply to Miss Ophelia’s complaints and the woman’s need to dominate the conversation.
“I believe you said you had some facility in French and arithmatic.”
“Yes, ma’am. I believe so.”
“I am prepared to offer you a position as an instructor in French and in mathematics. You will teach two French classes each day; one for beginners and the other for more advanced students. In addition you will teach advanced arithmetic to the senior girls.”
“Advanced? Do you mean algebra?”
“Why no, of course. Only basic figuring – multiplication and long division – what a lady needs to know to run a household. Any further knowledge is not ladylike.”
“I will also expect you to join with the other teachers in teaching the girls sewing as well. These classes are more informal and take place in the evening and on the weekend–except on Sunday of course–which is a day of rest and devoted to reading scripture and other uplifting texts.”
“For the time being you will share a room with Miss Greenbirch.”
“Miss Greenbirch will also provide you with suitable cloth and a pattern to make yourself some suitable clothes. The costs will be deducted from your wages. We expect our teachers to dress modestly. The dress you are wearing now and the one you wore yesterday are quite unsuitable.”
“Indeed. Although I think they might serve for someone in a different social position, they are entirely too fashionable for a teacher. They give quite the wrong impression.”
That will be all for now. Your first French class meets directly after luncheon. Miss Greenbirch will show you where to meet the class and introduce you to the girls. I’ll send for you later in the day. I’ll have other things to discuss at that time. You may go now.”
The woman got up from her chair to dismiss Claire but Claire stood awkwardly where she was and did not move.
“I said you may go.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Claire said, “But if I would like to know something more.”
“Well, what is it? I’m quite busy.”
“I would like to know what I will receive as compensation. I would also like to know if I will have any time off from my duties during the day, and at what time I will be free in the evenings. I am also anxious to know about my day off. I’m quite new in the city and would like some opportunity to explore.”
Miss Ophelia stared for a long minute at Claire with a lowered brow that, combined with the pucker on her mouth, gave a forbidding visage. “You will be provided room and board and a stipend of $5.00 per month.”
“Five dollars?” Claire asked. The amount was much lower than she had hoped for.
“Yes, five dollars, half in cash and half will be kept aside for you in a savings account.”
“In a savings account? In a bank?”
“Of course not. It will be in an account here at the school administered by Miss Susan on your behalf.”
“Will I have access to the account?”
“From time to time, but not until it has a sufficient balance to cover any charges you may incur.”
“Charges? What sort of charges?”
“For breaking things. Being wasteful of the supplies we provide. Damage to books and equipment by your students. That sort of thing.”
“Will I receive interest on the account?”
“Certainly not. We keep it entirely at our expense and trouble as a convenience to you. Interest is not appropriate.”
“When will I be at liberty at the end of the day?”
“If by ‘at liberty’ you mean when will your duties end, then you may assume that you can retire when the girls assigned to you for supervision have finished their evening studies and have gone to bed. We insist that all lights are out for the girls at ten o’clock. The staff members are expected to be in bed by eleven, unless they have permission to stay up after that to attend to duties, such as preparation for your classes and grading papers. Because you days will begin quite early, we encourage the teachers to retire as early as is consistent with their duties.”
Claire was stunned at learning what would be required of her at the Juttison school, and she stood speechless as she listened.
“If, however, by ‘at liberty’ you mean will you be allowed to leave the school at the end of the day, then I can tell you that you will have no such liberty at all. Juttison school must be very jealous of our reputation and that includes the reputation of each of the staff members. We can not have our teachers wandering the streets of New Orleans – certainly not in the evening and certainly not alone.”
“Surely I will have some free time away from the school – for shopping – to visit friends.”
“I know of no call for you to shop. The school will provide whatever you need. That’s another reason we will retain part of you stipend–to cover expenses we incur on your behalf. As for your visiting friends, we are quite particular about our teachers’ associations away from the school. Your acquaintance Mme. Dettonville, for instance. I know of her only slightly, but I am not impressed that she is a suitable companion for you.”
“Surely I will be able to leave the school sometime.”
“You will be allowed to leave, in the company of another teacher one afternoon each month. You will not have a regularly set time. You must apply to me in writing for permission to go out at least one week in advance and you must already have arranged with someone else to go along with you when you make the request. I will then decide if I can spare both you at the time you request. Now, I really must go. Find Miss Greenbirch right away. Perhaps she can loan you something suitable to wear for your first class.”
Claire followed the woman out of the room with a heavy heart.