Authors: Vicki Hopkins
THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE
The Price of Innocence
Published by Holland Legacy Publishing
Copyright 2009 by Vicki Hopkins
Kindle Edition, License Notes
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Work of Fiction
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
The Legacy Series
To God, my faithful mentors, supportive friends, loving family, and departed English grandfather, whose name and lineage inspired me to leave a Holland legacy.
Paris, France – 1878
Suzette nervously watched Madame Laurent take one last assessment of her appearance before leading her up the grand staircase of the opulent Chabanais. Her hand brushed a stray curl from Suzette’s cheek and then arranged a few other strands strategically on her plump breasts spilling over her bodice. Unfortunately, it was too late to do anything about the red blotches creeping up her porcelain neck.
“As I stated earlier, I’ve procured Lord Holland for this evening. You shall not be disappointed. He’s one of the more satisfying and kind patrons we have.” Madame Laurent grasped Suzette’s cold hands in firm reassurance, before announcing her final instructions.
“I know you’re apprehensive, Suzette, but this is your job. I have done my best to provide for you. Do your best to satisfy him, in spite of your obvious fright. After all, this is a business. If my customers are not gratified, I will not be happy.” Madame Laurent released her hands and turned to ascend the stairs ahead of her employee. “Come along now. He’s waiting.”
Suzette sighed, reluctant to follow the austere brothel mistress. She was dressed as a French queen and heading for the Louis XV Chambre to lose her virginity. Her legs could barely climb the red-carpeted path to hell. Her deflowering had arrived, and Suzette was terrified.
As she laboriously placed one foot in front of the other, her mind drifted to the events that had cruelly driven her to this moment. Tears filled her eyes as Suzette painfully recalled the last day with her loving father. Everything had changed in her innocent life—everything.
“Papa, can I get you anything else?”
Edgar saw his daughter glance warily across the table at his tired, wrinkled face. He lifted the last piece of bread to his mouth, chewed it slowly, and then swallowed. No doubt he looked pale and exhausted, and he noted the concern in her eyes.
“Did you have a hard day?”
“No more than usual, angel.”
He dabbed his mouth with his napkin, and then smiled at his daughter. “Thank you for dinner. Very good, as usual. You never disappoint, Suzette.”
“You’re welcome, Papa.”
Suzette gloated over his kind approval. Each night, without fail, he thanked her for dinner. Edgar knew that she enjoyed doting over him whenever possible.
Satisfied and full, he watched his daughter stand to her feet. Suzette removed the empty plates and dirty utensils. As she passed by his chair on the way to the kitchen, she bent down and gave him an affectionate peck on his cheek.
“I’m glad you liked it. You should go and rest now. You look exhausted.”
Edgar Rousseau exhaled a long, drawn-out sigh. His daughter had correctly sensed his weary state of mind and body. He felt drained after spending the entire day lecturing. His feet pounded, and his backed ached with every move.
He had a solid vocation as a professor at the University of Paris, and for the most part, he enjoyed his job. However, his day had been filled with arguing students debating the New Republic. Traditions, family roots, and passionate views were deeply inbred in the student body, most of whom came from aristocratic and bourgeoisie families.
Confrontation went against the grain of his good, mild-mannered nature. He had discovered that as he grew older, it had become harder to handle the daily stress of work. Unfortunately, retiring was impossible to consider. He had a daughter to marry off, and financial matters that needed to be settled.
Suzette headed for the kitchen, and Edgar rose from the table, silently cursing his aching joints. He felt old and decrepit. His hair had turned noticeably gray over the past year, and he had gained a considerable amount of weight around his belly.
He meandered over to his favorite overstuffed chair, flopped into the seat, and embarked on his usual after-dinner routine of reading the newspaper. The words blurred before his tired eyes, and his disordered mind refused to concentrate on the articles. He squinted at the paper for some time, and then lifted his gaze toward the kitchen.
Edgar peered over the rims of his reading glasses to watch his petite, auburn-haired daughter performing her chores. A pang of nostalgia stabbed his heart. She had grown into the beautiful likeness of her mother. The resemblance was uncanny, and each time he considered their similarities, sadness swept over his soul. He couldn’t help but think of his dear, departed wife, Marie. When he did, grief clutched his heart. It had been twelve years since his wife’s death, yet the wounds were as fresh as the day she died.
After the passing of his wife, Edgar had naturally become extremely close to his daughter. Though he had brought on a governess to care for Suzette during her young, tender years, he had dismissed the woman upon his daughter’s sixteenth birthday. Suzette insisted that she was more than happy to assume the responsibilities of running a household. Edgar’s modest salary forced him to agree.
Suzette had done well in taking over the management of their residence. He had no doubt that she would make a splendid wife, mother, and caretaker one day. Although he believed his daughter deserved better, Edgar allowed her to cook and clean, because Suzette assured him that she enjoyed such tasks. He hoped that when she married, she would live comfortably enough to assign such menial jobs to the household staff instead.
The newspaper no longer held his attention. He set it down and stood from his chair. His wobbly feet shuffled over to his daughter’s side. An odd sense of discomfort pressed heavily upon his chest. He needed rest.
“I think I’ll retire early tonight, Suzette. Would you mind?” He placed his hand gently upon her shoulder.
Suzette encouraged his decision. “No, Papa, of course not. Go and rest. I’ll be fine.”
Edgar smiled at his daughter, and with a tender kiss on her cheek, he bid her goodnight. As he slowly lumbered toward the fireplace, he briefly stopped to look at a picture of his wife on top of the mantel. Silently, he prayed that she would visit him in his dreams. He needed her comfort for his weary and lonely heart.
A moment later, he retreated down the hall to his bedchamber. Edgar entered and then closed the door behind him, hoping to find respite and solace after a long day.
* * *
Suzette watched with concerned interest as her father retreat down the hallway to his bedchamber. After hearing the door close, she returned her attention to the pile of dirty dishes. She smiled thinking about his pause at the fireplace to look at her mother’s picture. His nightly ritual touched her heart.
For years, Suzette hoped that his mourning would subside, and he would remarry. It was another unanswered prayer to add to her list. When her own grief subsided over the death of her mother, she fervently prayed for someone to fill the void. Eventually, as God’s silence grew harder to bear, she stopped asking and refused to hold onto silly hopes.
Obviously, her father did not want to remarry, even though Suzette longed for a mother’s tender embrace and female wisdom. Now, at the age of eighteen, she ached for female companionship even more. She had no confidant to ask the many questions about womanhood that beset her mind.
After finishing her chores, she removed her stained apron and hung it up on the back of the kitchen door. The quiet apartment gave her a chill. She walked past her father’s door, stopped, and heard the sound of snoring coming from the other side. Thankful that he had quickly fallen asleep, she smiled with relief and made her way to her room.
She closed the door and walked to the window, parted the heavy curtains, and looked at the street below. Snow flurries danced about like white butterflies. The view sent goosebumps up her spine. It had been a long winter, and she was tired of the cold. She hoped this would be the last trickle of snow, because Springtime was just around the corner. It wouldn’t be long before new life bloomed from the barren earth. It was by far her favorite time of the year.
Suzette pulled the curtains tightly shut to keep out the cold draft, and then walked over to her chest of drawers. A small wooden jewelry box, with a variety of compartments, sat upon a white-laced doily. She pulled out a little drawer at the bottom of the case and retrieved a folded piece of paper. A smile brightened her face. It was time for her nightly ritual.
Suzette walked over to her bed, sat down, and then carefully unfolded the precious document. Lovingly, she lifted the ragged corners of the white parchment and read the words. Her fingers traced along each stroke of the quill until they reached the end of the message. When finished, she brought the note to her lips and kissed it reverently. Her eyes sparkled.
Suzette folded the parchment carefully into the same creases, stood up, and walked back to her dresser. She returned the paper to its hiding place. Tomorrow night, she would resurrect it once again, read it, and kiss it goodnight, just as she had done for months on end since its arrival.
Cold and tired, she yawned, and then undressed to slip into a beige, cotton nightgown. She turned out the oil lamp and climbed between the cool, crisp sheets. The cold made her shiver, and she pulled her wool blanket up to her chin.
After closing her eyes, she faithfully mumbled her nightly prayers, blessing her father and those she loved. Within a few minutes, Suzette fell asleep and traveled to a world of troublesome dreams, where she found herself lost and filled with fear.
The cold night passed, giving way to a rude morning awakening. A small sparrow chirped as it sat on Suzette’s windowsill. She rolled over, pulled the pillow over her head, and moaned as she tried to decide whether to shoo the bird away or get out of bed. Unable to fall back asleep, she sat up and swung her pillow to the side heaving a sigh of frustration.
For a few moments, her dark and convoluted dreams haunted her, but she shrugged them off. She raised her arms above her head and stretched. The ice-cold wooden floor greeted her toes as she climbed out of bed.
“Burr,” she moaned. Suzette grabbed her white robe off a nearby chair. She slipped it on, tied the sash, and then headed out her door down the hallway. She stood by the bath chamber and noticed an eerie silence permeate the air. Usually at this time of the morning, her father would be in the kitchen boiling water for his tea.
Suzette glanced around. The only sound her ears detected came from the chirping bird perched on her windowsill. She walked down the dark hallway toward her father’s door and leaned her ear against the wooden barrier, expecting to hear his snore. The silence persisted.