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The Hand that Feeds Her

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Prudence sprays a whiff of her newest, now most expensive perfume onto both her wrists, followed by another whiff applied to her elaborate design of dark hair. The fragrance is a gift from Gaston – the naughty boy, that! He knows her tastes for the exquisite and although he is neither a duke nor a count, he provides as best he can. She appreciates him, though, doesn’t she? Despite his lack of a title. Seeing how he adds a great deal of amusement to her nights and isn’t silly enough to exhibit any possessive streaks in the aftermath. Not like…

Glancing out the window of her dressing room, towards Marguerite’s apartment that has been left empty – all but deserted since her little fallout with the Duke, Prudence fixes her dress into place and puts on her beautiful, white silk gloves. Herself? She has no duke to look after her. Instead she must make do with the men who do take an interest, in spite of her age. Of course no woman wants to be a courtesan, especially not an old one, although Marguerite needn’t worry about that yet. Probably never shall --

Prudence wanted to be an actress, once. Why Marguerite came to Paris originally, God only knows.

However, Prudence refuses to believe that it was for anything as noble as the pursuit of love. True love. Over the girl’s obvious passion for riches; fine jewellery and all the aromas of the Orient. None of which you find in some rural, little town miles and miles from civilisation. The kind of town from which she came and the kind of town to which she’s returned now, living in Bougival with her lover who’s too demanding in his affection and not generous enough by comparison. Prudence thinks about these things only because they annoy her. In all honesty, she cares little about Armand’s and Marguerite’s passionate romance. It isn’t jealousy, least of all! No, but when you reach her age, in her position, you have to take certain precautions. She knows that it’s only a matter of time before Gaston’s interest will wane, like the moon in the night sky. Similarly, all her other admirers who keep her comfortable in life.

At that time, she will have to rely on her younger and more beautiful friend to uphold her livelihood, won’t she? And Prudence deserves it! Marguerite owes it to her, after all. Who was it that introduced her to this lifestyle with its gold and its glitter? Was it not Prudence? Who ensured that a tutor saw to her in all discretion, so that this simple peasant girl could learn how to spell her own name? Was it not Prudence? Who taught Marguerite all the dances and showed her the way around the city, from one theatre to the next? Was it not Prudence?

So it’s not that she’s jealous of their love. She has seen many men “love” women like Marguerite. Women like herself. Oh, Prudence has been loved many times throughout her life, indeed – but never for long and never truly. A man may be willing to throw himself into the gutter for a beautiful courtesan, but he will never respect her and if Marguerite thinks it will be any different this time, that Armand’s love is a kind and respectful one, she will be sorely disappointed. Armand is twice as jealous as the foolish Count N. and thrice as likely to eventually make a scene of his jealousy. It will hurt Marguerite horribly, naturally. At that time…

One can only hope that the time comes before all hope of returning to the Duke has died out. Or, if not, before Count N.’s pride has been too deeply wounded that he shall still consider taking Marguerite into his most tender care. And, most importantly, that Marguerite will be wise enough to not bite the hand that offers to feed her. The hand that will soon be feeding Prudence as well.

Gaston appears in the doorway, the salon a warmly coloured backdrop behind him and Prudence gets up from the low stool in front of the dressing table – a sharp, coquettish smile forming on her lips. “Oh no, my dear,” she says, laughing, “am I so slow tonight?” For all her annoyance and her troublesome worries, she is secure for the time being and she shan’t give Armand’s and Marguerite’s little vacation another thought. Not tonight. When Marguerite eventually experiences her brute awakening and returns to her senses, Prudence will be here for her, of course. To help her pick up the pieces. Like a true friend, yes?

For now, however. Her profession demands another night on the town. The scent of her perfume clinging to its many opportunities.