Sarah finished gathering the receipts turned in from last night's transactions, but her mind was on Roger's friend with the silver eyes. Sighing, Sarah put him out of her thoughts, knowing in was useless to even consider that she might see him again, and went into the kitchen for breakfast.
It was a warm cozy well-lit room. A long table with benches on each side stood near a fireplace, and on the other side of the room, was a huge iron stove with an assortment of kettles and pots on it. The smell of simmering, mouth watering, aromas lingered in the air. At the back of the room beneath a row of narrow windows, was a service table, already laden with bowls of fruits and vegetables to be cleaned.
From a side door leading to a pantry, a wiry little man, came out carrying a heavy sack of potatoes. He stopped when he saw her, and stared with his mouth open, at the same time Sarah heard Mrs. Kirby's voice behind her, saying "Ye best close yer mouth, Toby, before something flies in it," she chuckled. "This 'ere's our new gel, Miss Sarah, that'd be working in Miss Lilly's office. Miss Sarah, this be Toby, cooks' 'elper," she said as she came into the room.
"I 'm pleased to meet you, Toby," Sarah said with a smile.
Putting down the sack, he pulled at his forelocks and bobbed his head. "Mornin', Mum," then picked up the sack again, and carried it to the service table, where he began peeling potatoes.
"Toby is a shy one, Sarah," she said noticing Sarah's quizzical look. "Why don't ye sit right 'ere while I fix you a plate. Would ye like coffee or tea?" she said as she went to the stove and started to fill a plate from the various pots.
"I'll have tea please," Sarah answered.
After getting Sarah settled with the food, she went to the oven and pulled out a pan of ginger muffins. Carrying that and the pot of tea to the table, she sat down across from Sarah.
"No one else will be around 'til this afternoon, so ye will 'ave the place to yerself, except for Enrique our cook, or Toby, and the servants that'll be in to clean. If ye feel like tea or anything jest ye help yerself like the rest of 'em, fer this be yer 'ome now. The others will be down sometime a'fore one o'clock, when there'll be a buffet style brunch served. You will most likely meet them at that time," Mrs. Kirby said, pouring a cup of tea for herself.
"Oh, one thing ye should know.....iffen someone knocks on our front door . . . don't ye be answerin' it. No one opens the front door except our Karl. Miss Lilly is very strict 'bout that. Sometimes customers come at all hours of the day, insisting we let 'em in. The nobility seems to think they can do what they want and when they want," she said shaking her head in disgust. Then looking at Sarah with chagrin, she said "Beg pardon, Miss Sarah, I surely meant no insult to ye iffen ye be one o'them."
"Well, fa . . . uh . . . a relative was an Earl, but I do not consider myself in their category, for I have no parents and as poor as a church mouse."
At that moment the cook walked in, and stared at her in surprise. He was a big man, in his late sixties, with black hair streaked with silver. He looked like anything but a cook who had made these delicious meals.
"Enrique, I would like you to meet Sarah Prescott, she is the new records' keeper for Miss Lilly," said Mrs. Kirby.
An apparent sign of relief crossed his face. Looking at this refined young lady, he could not believe she would consent to being another second floor woman.
With a smile, he gave a quick bow, and said, "Welcome to our establishment, Miss."
"Well, so formal! How be it ye never treat me to such grand manners?" Mrs. Kirby said with mock indignation.
"Ah, love, you know you always have my respect," he said with a more pronounced bow to her.
"Go on with ye!" she said flustered, as she got up from the table to leave. "I'll be seeing ye later, Sarah. Enjoy yer day."
Sarah looked after her with concern, as Mrs. Kirby hurried into the hallway.
"Do not let our little sparring upset you, we do this quite often," Enrique laughed. "We have been working together for more years than I can remember. We had worked for Miss Lilly's uncle until his death, then came here when she opened her business. A fine lady is Miss Lilly. You could not find a better person to work for."
"Everyone I have met so far has been very nice. Also, you are a wonderful cook, I have enjoyed everything I have eaten," she said sincerely.
"Nothing a cook likes to hear more, than praise for his cooking. Thank you, and you are welcome to stop in anytime you need refreshments, and a break from your work," he said smiling.
"Speaking of work, I should definitely get started on it!" she laughed, as she got up from the table. When Sarah reached for her plate to clear it from the table, Enrique stopped her.
"No, the servants will be in any time now, and will do the cleaning. You just run along and take care of our accounts," he said admonishing her.
"Thank you, Enrique, and I will see you later," Sarah said, smiling as she left the kitchen, pleased by the way they made her feel at home.
Back in her office on the third floor, Sarah diligently brought the accounts up to date with the figures from last night. Intrigued by the various games of chance that were played, Sarah wondered if Madame Monainge had a book on the rules, so that she could learn more about them. She could tell which games were the most popular by the amount of activity produced at a single table, and the percentage of winnings the house won on each of them.
Shuffling through the copies of the credit markers that had been turned in, she was amazed that so many of the men had that much money to bet, or that Madame Monainge would trust them with the credit. These she filed with other vouchers from previous nights. She will have to keep track to see how long it would take them to pay back the money they borrowed, for apparently they did not win enough to retrieve their credit slips last night.
Putting down her pen, she stretched and stood up for a while, looking out the window. There wasn't much of a view, except other buildings, and she could hear the noise of vendors shouting their wares, and the horses and carriages on the street. Her thoughts again drifted to this morning when Lord Townsend surprised her by putting his arms around her. She could still remember how it felt, and the tantalizing smell of sandalwood about him. Then when he looked at her with those silver grey eyes . . . she shook her head as if to banish the thought.
This is the first man to impress her since Richard. At the thought of that failed romance she made a face. How she had loved him, and thought he had loved her. Her youthful romantic thoughts at seventeen would naturally presume that he would propose marriage. After courting her and showing such marked attention at all the assemblies and parties, she took it for granted. Then when his marriage was announced to Lady Emily, the only daughter and heiress of Lord Bentley, Sarah was stunned.
This announcement came right at the time her mother passed away, and Sarah had felt that her world had collapsed. Richard sent her a letter of an apology for not informing her before the announcement, but assured her he was only following his parents' orders as a dutiful son, for the marriage to the Marquess's daughter was an extremely favorable alliance.
She had torn the letter to pieces and burned it. Since then Sarah devoted her time to managing the estate, giving up her social life and not letting another man get close to her . . . until now, when she thought of the man with the silver grey eyes.
"I haven't time to think of him . . . or any man. Besides, what's the use? I am penniless, and without a dowry, no man would want me anyhow. I need to learn my job, and learn it well, so that I can stay at the end of the thirty days," she muttered as she went back to the desk.
Just before two o'clock Lilly walked into Sarah's office. She watched Sarah for a moment as she concentrated on the figures in front of her.
"How are you doing?" Lilly asked when Sarah had looked up.
"It's amazing, simply amazing! What an interesting business this is! It is much more fun keeping these accounts than the one's on my father's estate," Sarah answered cheerfully.
"Well, I'm glad you are enjoying it," Lilly laughed. "I certainly could never get up any enthusiasm over a bunch of numbers," as she handed Sarah a stack of papers.
"Here are the banking slips, and the current modiste bills. The dresses the ladies wear in the evenings are paid for by me, and you will probably find it listed under uniforms, along with the men's apparel. I insist that all my employees on the gaming floor dress befitting the elaborate entrance fee that is charged. The customers expect it. Oh, and I should mention that the food and liquor are complimentary, which is something else they expect. We are not losing money by doing that, for at the price of one person's entry fee in a single night, they could probably have fed their family for a year."
Sarah thought that was so, wondering if they indeed were taking the food from their family for the privilege of entering this exclusive club. She was thankful her father had never succumb to the gambling habit. Sarah took the bills and laid them on a neat stack she had organized on a side table.
Glancing at the bank receipts, Sarah mused, "I was wondering how you handled all that money that is taken in during the night. I should think you would worry that someone might try to rob you!"
Lilly laughed, "I do not worry, as long as I have Karl. You see, he takes care of it until the bank opens in the morning, and then he makes the trip to the bank."
"You trust him that much?" Sarah asked surprised, imagining the amounts he must be entrusted to handle.
"Oh yes . . . you see, Karl was with my father until he passed away, and now devotes his loyalty to me. My father was a courier for a diamond merchant in Antwerp, and traveled constantly with enormous amounts of cash and gems. Karl was his bodyguard for almost twenty years."
"I can see now why you would trust him. He is indeed a formidable looking bodyguard," Sarah agreed.
"Yes, and a wonderful friend," Lilly answered.
"Oh . . . before I forget, do you have a list of inventory of the premises? I will need that also to keep an accurate account of your business," Sarah said.
"I have one with the papers in my safe. I will get it for you later, and you can make a copy of it for your records, but I keep it in the safe in case of theft, so I would know what is missing."
"Thank you. Also, I was wondering if you have any books on gaming, so I might learn them?" Sarah asked.
"Of course . . . we have books on all of the games. After all, there are rules for everything . . . even the games of chance, and we would not want anyone doubting we are not playing by the rules," Lilly answered smiling. "You will find them on the bookshelf in my office. You can read them anytime you like. In fact, any books you wish to borrow you are welcome to, for I would imagine there will be times you may be wishing for a good book to read in the evenings.
"Now, I think you should stop for lunch, and also meet my other employees. Come, we will go down to the first floor," she said, taking the quill pen out of Sarah's hand, to stop her from continuing. Lilly thought the poor girl was pushing herself too hard.
As Sarah followed Lilly into the buffet area next to the gaming room, she was surprised at how many people worked in the establishment. All of the women were beautiful, and the men attractive, if not handsome. She had never thought that work would depend on how you looked, but apparently it was important here. She felt plain, and unfashionable, after seeing the women.
All eyes turned toward the door as she walked in, each appraising the new addition to their domain. They were alert to any sign of disapproval or disdain in her countenance, and were relieved to see only an expression of shy friendliness. All had the same thought . . . a naive, pretty, country girl.
"Everyone, I would like you to meet Sarah Prescott," Lilly said with a smile, then continued, "I might as well start on this side and work around," as she looked at the person on her left, and started introducing by indicating each person as she went along.
"Sarah, this is Spencer, Jacques, Beth, Rose, Tony, Sally, Julie, Lance, Barry, Jason . . . Jason just started last night . . . Nicole, Gayle, Alan, Rachel, Paul, Maribelle, Anne, Carla, and Marcus. I doubt that you will remember all the names at first, but I am sure you will get acquainted," said Lilly reassuringly, as everyone smiled and nodded to Sarah.
"Fill a plate, Sarah, and come have a seat," Sally said, as she waved her hand to a chair near her.
Relieved that the introductions were over, and everyone seemed friendly, Sarah moved toward the table to fix a plate from the buffet.
As she ate, Sarah listened to the idle chatter around her. The men discussing boxing at Jackson's, the fresh stock of horses at Tattersall's, and the races at Newmarket. The women talked of fashions, the latest gossip regarding the Prince Regent, and the shopping they would do this afternoon. She was surprised that it was the same ordinary conversation you would find at any social gathering, although she was not sure what she had expected. By the time the meal ended, Sarah had become better acquainted with all of the employees, especially Gayle. Gayle, petite, with dark brown hair, and golden brown eyes, was an intelligent woman in her mid-twenties, eager to know how Sarah obtained the job doing accounting.
"I wish I had tried something like that," Gayle said wistfully, when Sarah had finished her story. "I was a governess before I came here, and I have a good education. But due to an ugly confrontation involving my employer's eldest son . . . if you know what I mean . . . my hopes for obtaining another position ended. You see, after he . . . well, after it happened, his mother blamed me and threw me out of the house without a reference or even the pay due to me. If it wasn't for Lilly, Lord knows where I would be now," Gayle sighed.
"It is hard to imagine that people can be so cruel. Still, I do not see why that would have anything to do with your qualifications for employment. I mean, if you were to apply for a job like mine," Sarah answered, blushing when she thought of Gayle's current employment.
"Probably it wouldn't, except I never thought anyone would hire a woman in what is considered a man's domain," Gayle said dryly.
"I admit I have been very lucky," Sarah answered, thinking it was all do to the misunderstanding of her name, and she was very fortunate indeed that Lilly hired her.
Sarah liked everyone she met, and felt better about her situation, knowing she did not have to worry about being safe, as Sir Roger was prone to think. At the thought of him her mind flashed to his friend with the silver grey eyes. Her musing was interrupted by Lilly appearing in the archway of the room and calling for their attention.
"Sorry to intrude on you, but we have another group of charity workers here to address the ladies. Please, everyone, when I show them in, I hope you will give them your attention with the utmost courtesy."
Sarah looked at Gayle quizzically, and Gayle leaned closer and in a low voice said, "Every so often, a bunch of well-meaning people come to the various establishments to talk the women into leaving these places of . . . uh . . . ill-repute. They want to give them a better life by training them to work in a morally acceptable atmosphere. Well, 'tis fine for some . . . as the places are so atrocious that the women are well blessed in leaving them!
"The only trouble is, these rich charity ladies seldom continue with the work they start. They will get the girls into some home that is sanctioned and paid for by the government to take in the poor wayward girls, and then forget all about them. The girls are to be taught menial jobs that we all know are the only ones available. Just ask Rose how it turned out. Rose had been picked up at the coaching station when she arrived in London by a seemingly nice old woman wanting to give her a job. Well, Rose had jumped at the chance and found herself drugged and forced into the life of prostitution, working in a terrible place that was dirty and overrun with rats. When these do-gooders came around, Rose jumped at the chance to get away, and found herself not only scrubbing floors, and doing laundry, but the so-called gentleman running the home had been taking advantage of the girls by using them as his own personal . . . uh . . . mistresses. Fortunately Rose, ran away, and by sheer luck had run into Karl when he found her wandering around on Jermyn Street one evening. He brought her to Lilly and well, you can see she is much better off now."
Sarah turned to look at Rose as she sat with Carla in animated conversation. Both girls were different as night and day, but exceedingly attractive in their own way, for Carla was petite, with brown hair and eyes, an olive complexion, and of Spanish origins, while Rose was tall, willowy, with flaxen hair, ice-blue eyes, and decidedly Scandinavian. Both girls looked exceedingly happy. The more she heard of the girls lives, Sarah could only be thankful that her life had been so protected when her parents were alive.
Sarah looked up when Lilly returned, this time escorting a tall, lanky pious gentleman and three well-dressed women following close behind. The women were nervously clutching bibles to their breast as if to ward off evil.
An awkward silence fell over the room as Lilly introduced them as representatives of Mother Charity's Home for Lost Souls. The gentleman cleared his throat and announced that his name was Brother Ignatius, then launched into a short sermon on sinful behavior and his concerns for the ladies' welfare. He finished with a command for those who wished to save their souls to step forward and come with them. He paused and held out his hand. "Follow me sisters, follow me to a better life."
His three companions peeped around him and gawked wide-eyed at this house of ill-repute's inhabitants. The employees sat quietly, not saying a word or acknowledging his invitation.
Brother Ignatius, let his eyes rest on each of the female employees, daring them to step forward. Each one had looked away as his eyes fell on them. When he came to Sarah, she looked startled at the intensity of his gaze, a gaze that seared into her and reminded her of her cousin, the new Earl of Cranleigh. Misinterpreting her reaction as one of guilt and fear, he pounced at the opportunity of gaining a recruit to take with him.
"You my child, come! Come now before your soul is forever lost. Come and confess your sins and you will be saved," he commanded, holding out his hand to Sarah.
Shocked at the attention he focused on her, Sarah looked around at the others staring at her, waiting to see what she would do. Some of the girls were hiding smirks behind their hands while the others were sympathetic to the position he had put her in, especially since she was not in their league. The male employees watched amused, ready to step in an escort these do-gooders out the door if Sarah couldn't handle the situation.
While everyone waited, Sarah had been mentally thinking about the word "sins" and could not find any that applied to her as she had always been thoughtful and considered to everyone . . . even to her odious cousin until she slipped away in the middle of the night. Finally gathering her wits about her, she pushed back her chair and stood up to answer his question.
"I beg to differ with your opinion, sir, but I have not committed any sins," with that he gasped in disbelief. And a snigger went around the table. "Thank you for your kind offer, but I cannot come with you, for you see, I have just started working. It is an honorable occupation that I have, and I was very fortunate to be hired. I am very happy here," Sarah said firmly, amidst muffled laughter from the other employees.
Remarks of being in the devil's clutches were uttered in a shocked exclamation by Brother Ignatius and his three companions before they hastily retreated, leaving Sarah standing with an embarrassed look.
"Oh dear! I must have said the wrong thing," she said anxiously as she watched them leave.
With that remark the others broke into laughter again, but this time it was not stifled.
"Well, I do believe we will not be hearing from them for quite some time . . . if ever again!" Lilly said laughing.
"I only told them the truth," Sarah answered, still disconcerted at the undue attention.
"You may have been telling the truth about not sinning, but undoubtedly the good Brother thought that you were in our line of work, and he was terribly insulted you would not confess and would prefer this to his saving your soul," Sally explained.
"Yes . . . I see . . . I guess I wasn't thinking. He just stared so intently at me, with that fire in his eyes," She answered with a shudder.
"You'll get used to them, they come around ever so often," Beth said nonchalantly.
The conversation turned to lighter subjects and Sarah relaxed, musing over this unusual and interesting new life she has entered into, when a loud plop, interrupted her thoughts. Looking across the table, she saw that Paul had dropped a poorly wrapped article on the table next to Julie's elbow.
"There my girl, I almost forgot to give it to you. If you only knew the trouble I had in finding a copy! I ended up near the docks at an old bookseller. My nervous groom would not wait with my rig until I armed him with a pistol," he laughed. "You owe me big for this, Julie girl, it cost double what you paid me, and I think I'll add on extra for the fright to my groom!"
With a squeal, Julie unwrapped the book. "Never mind. You'll get it. When my gent sees this on my table, he'll pay me the extra. He's been after me for the longest time to get a copy we could read during his visits."
Surprised, Sarah watched the excited Julie with the book. It never dawned on her that the girls were into literature, and how thoughtful of Julie to want to share it with her gentlemen callers.
Naively Sarah asked, "Is it a rare book, Julie? I too like to read. My father had an extensive collection of some rather fine editions, and I tried to read as many of them as possible before . . . well, before he died. May I see it?"
A silence fell on the room, and then Julie, with a twinkle in her blue-violet eyes, smiled broadly as she pushed the book across the table toward Sarah, ignoring Paul's squeezing of her shoulder in an attempt to stop her.
"Certainly you may look at it, Sarah. You might tell me what you think of the author's work. Although there are not many printed words to read, you'll find it is more on the order of a book of illustrations," Julie said sweetly.
Sarah smiled back, not realizing everyone was watching her intently as she gazed at the title "A Garden for Eros" and thought it must be about mythology.
Opening the book, she perused the first drawing of a tropical garden, with a profusion of vibrant exotic flowers. She thought it was quite good as she viewed the expressive faces of the man and woman, sitting in the garden. Admiring their colorful silk brocaded clothing, Sarah's eyes moved down the page, then froze when she noticed the man's hand on the women's bare breast hanging out of the neckline. Quickly she turned the page, knowing that occasionally artists were a little bold in their depiction.
When her eyes fell on the next page, Sarah noticed that this time the couple was in a different position. There was no doubt as to what activity was illustrated in full color, and very detailed, if not an exaggerated detail, of part of the male's anatomy. Sarah's eyes widened and she sat stunned for a moment before hastily closing the book and staring at the cover, afraid to look up at the others. For the first time she was aware that it was deadly quiet and she could feel their eyes on her. Sarah felt her face grow hot, and knew she must have turned a deep shade of red.
Knowing they were all waiting to see what she would do, especially after that exchange with the good Brother Ignatius, Sarah, took a deep breath, and with a nervous chuckle said, "Well, I do not think my papa had a copy of this book in his collection!"
With a burst of laughter and an ease of tension, the others agreed, admiring the graceful way she handled the situation.
Sally was the first to speak up, still laughing while wiping the tears from her eye, "I'm sorry Sarah, I couldn't help but laugh, the look on your face was priceless!" she said, reaching over to give Sarah a hug, "Eventually, though, you'll find there are quite a few artists who dabble in that form of art."
"Yes, but Julie could have kept her artwork to herself!" said Rachel, with a toss of her chestnut hair. Julie's monopoly on the better paying customers, brought out a streak of jealousy in her. Now Rachel knew why the clients liked Julie so much. It wasn't because she was any prettier than the others. Julie's room was probably full of those books.
"How would it have looked, if I said no . . . you cannot see my book? I would have seemed terribly mean and selfish!" Julie pouted, brushing back a wisp of raven hair.
"You're right, Julie. I would have been hurt that you didn't think I was worthy of sharing your . . . uh . . . literary interest," Sarah answered, then added hastily, "But you need not feel that you should share future additions to your collection!" This produced another burst of laughter from the others.
Deciding it was time to retreat to her office to work, Sarah bid the others a friendly good-bye until tomorrow, and headed for the stairway.
The shock from viewing the obscene book was wearing off, and she contemplated how nonchalantly the others had regarded the sexual art. Sarah wasn't so naive as not to understand the mating act, for she had witnessed the animals on the estate during the mating season. This was the first time though, Sarah was aware that human mating was entirely different, and now she had to acknowledge the fact that those girls she now considered friends, as well as co-workers, depended on their livelihood by doing exactly what those illustrations depicted.
Sarah smiled when she thought of her previous sheltered life before with her parents, then later with Mrs. Hartley, that calm easy life in the country, not knowing that other's lead such a totally different existence. Well, she now knew of that existence, along with other facts she had unwittingly learned . . . and in only one day!
Sarah spent the rest of the afternoon rechecking her figures and going over the past four months of the business. Her father had always praised her on her astute knowledge of mathematics, wishing she had been a boy, so that he could have sent her to university to become a mathematician. She had a sixth sense when it came to spotting the unusual, and she had noticed something odd in last night's activity that had not been present in any of the figures of previous entries that she had brought up to date.
Last night's entries had a slight dip in the house intake at each table but not at the same time. It would be at one table, then the next table later on, and so on throughout the night. She would check tomorrow and see if it happened again. Since she was not sure how the games were played, it was hard to say if it was important.
Putting that worry aside, Sarah turned her thoughts to the credit markers she had found with Richard's name. She had never known that he was a gambler, and was surprised to see the large amounts of money he had borrowed while gambling here, and wondered if he had done so at other gambling establishments. None of these markers have been paid back, and he seemed to be getting deeper in debt. She wondered if he had gone through all of Lady Emily's fortune, otherwise he would have been able to pay these off. Sarah began to feel relieved that her romance with Richard had not worked out and he had not married her five years ago. What a terrible thought at the possibility of having children and then watch your husband gamble away their future . . . poor Emily!
As the employees dispersed to go about their own business for the afternoon, before it was time to return for work, Jason sauntered down Jermyn Street to Duke Street, then turned toward Piccadilly where he quickly got into a carriage that was waiting. Leaning back against the squabs, Jason ran his fingers through his sun-bleached golden hair, and nodded to the other occupant.
"Any suspicions aroused?" Sir Vincent Hargrave asked.
"None in the least. I told you not to worry, I know what I'm doing, this isn't the first gaming hell I've worked," Jason answered coldly, as his ice-blue eyes surveyed the appearance of the bloated man. He could never understand why anyone would let themselves get in such bad shape. Sir Vincent's jacket was stretched to the breaking point at the buttons. He was always mopping his flushed face from the sweat, which was no doubt caused by his excessive drinking. Automatically Jason straightened his own jacket that was immaculate, as was the rest of his attire. He knew he was an attractive man, and he did everything to emphasize his good looks.
Handing Jason a leather pouch, Sir Vincent said, "Here is your share from last night. I should think by the end of a month we should see quite a profit. It is much more comfortable gambling when you know the outcome," he smirked.
"That it is . . . and I should think our profits will continue to rise. Lilly has hired a very naive young girl, named Sarah, to be her accounts manager. She's a pretty, redheaded country girl, who has never been to London before, and does not know the least thing about gambling," he laughed.
"Your joking!" Sir Vincent said in astonishment.
Jason shook his head, still chuckling, "Another thing, I was standing near the housekeeper when she was talking to the cook, telling him that Sarah is a relative of an Earl."
"Which Earl?" Sir Vincent asked with interest.
Jason shrugged, "I'll keep my ears open and find out."
With his cane, Sir Vincent tapped the roof of the carriage for the driver to stop. "I will see you tonight."
"Until tonight," Jason answered, and looked both ways to see if anyone he knew was near before descending from the carriage. Then, turned back, looking at Sir Vincent thoughtfully.
"Better come in another hour later this evening, last night was too
early, and it wasn't crowded enough," he said, then disappeared into the
pedestrian traffic of Piccadilly.
* * * *
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