Born in a brothel in Paris in the early 1700s, Madeleine's future had been decided by her courtesan mother and Madame Claudine. Her innocence at age fourteen would be sold to the highest bidder. She’d be treated as a usable and disposable toy to fulfill her patron’s every perverted desire until he tires of her. Then she’d become a courtesan to entertain anyone who visits the brothel.
Madeleine dreams of a better future. She runs away and finds temporary refuge in a convent, but she doesn’t have too many options when she turns eighteen. Either going back to the brothel, becoming a servant with an uncertain future, living her life as a nun, or becoming a filles à la cassette, one of the King’s Casket Girls, since no reputable man would marry her in France with nothing to her name. To escape her gloomy future, she sails to the New World with hopes for a better life.
What will her future hold? Will she find happiness?
Madame Claudine, proud of her establishment checked everything in the parlor before turning the red light on by the entrance which signaled that the house was ready to receive guests. She fluffed the pillows, adjusted the freshly cut flowers in the vases, and made sure there were cigars, pipe tobacco, and clean ashtrays on every small table next to the invitingly comfortable chairs. The high-paying guests of her brothel were used to comfort and having their dreams fulfilled, even those of the devious nature.
Her fluffy, floor-length silk gown made satisfying swishing sounds as she walked around touching and adjusting every doily on the headrest of the chairs and paintings on the walls. In her early fifties, she was a stunning woman with streaks of white in her dark hair, and her masterfully applied makeup hid the fine lines around her eyes. She gave up entertaining clients in her late thirties when her long-time patron passed away leaving her a small fortune. Having been a sought-after courtesan since she was fourteen years old, she’d saved up enough money to open her own brothel. The inheritance and savings had been enough to purchase a three-story building in the better part of the district that housed discreet entertainment businesses. The former hotel housed a large salon, kitchen, storage rooms, and servant quarters on the ground floor. The second floor had twenty comfortable guestrooms and the third floor consisted of ten additional rooms with a wide dayroom.
Business was booming, she had the best-looking and most experienced girls in her employment among the most reputable brothels of Paris. Her twenty working girls were discreet and obedient when entertaining the richest men of Paris and occasional visitors referred by her steady clients from the countryside.
The satisfied smile on Claudine’s lovely, oval face turned into an expression of rage when she heard loud screams coming from upstairs and echoing throughout the house. “Mon Dieu!” she shouted and hurried toward the staircase. “What’s going on up there?”
A plump, older woman in a white apron covering her simple black gown, leaned over the staircase landing rail on the third floor. “Marie is in labor, Madame!” she called down. “It’s almost over, she’s at the last stage.”
“I hope so!” Claudine yelled back. “I’m opening the door in half an hour, and I don’t want a peep from upstairs that would disturb the clients.”
“I’ll make sure Marie and the kids will stay quiet, Madame,” the plump woman offered and retreated to the room that was used for the courtesans of the house when giving birth to the “side effects” of their profession.
The rest of the rooms on the third floor housed the children born out of wedlock. The women never knew who fathered their children, or if they knew because of the resemblance to the clients they entertained, they were discreet about it by following Madame Claudine’s strict rules.
The future of the children had been decided when they were about three years old. The pretty girls were pampered, taught to play the piano, dance, and sing. They were educated in how to carry conversations with men, learning to be good listeners, and how to fain interest to fan the fragile ego of the clients. Their virginity was well protected until auctioned and sold to the highest bidder when they reached the age of twelve to fourteen. After that, the man who bought the rights to deflower them became their patrons.
The feminine-looking boys were sold to men who didn’t show much interest in the female body. The boys were made available to men from age five until their voice and body started to change brought on by puberty. After that, they serviced the female clients who made an appointment with Claudine and were let in through the back door by a trusted servant.
The stocky built boys were trained to be bodyguards to protect the working girls and control the occasional unruly guests. The not-so-pretty girls became servants who tended to the courtesans, cooked, cleaned, and did the required work around the house.
Did Claudine care about the miserable future of these children? In her heart, she cared for them. However, it didn’t prevent her from using them. In her mind, she justified her actions by providing them with a comfortable life and relative security. This was the only life she knew.
The madams of other brothels laughed at Claudine at first when she forbade her pregnant girls to follow the usual practice of calling the midwife or doctor to get rid of the side effects of their profession. Claudine was well aware of the danger of this shady, unsanitary practice. She saw way too many girls suffer and die from complications and infections. Instead, she let her girls still work during pregnancy, which was received with delight by some of the clients, and care for the children—the future cash cows of the business.
One of Claudine’s courtesans, a petite young woman, skipped down the stairs and out of breath and she announced, “It’s a girl! She’s healthy and pretty already.”
“Oh, good!” Claudine smiled. “We love the pretty ones, don’t we? They bring lots of money when they come of age. Now get ready, I’m opening the door in fifteen minutes, I want everyone down here by then.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the young girl replied and turned toward the staircase. “I’ll alert everyone to get ready.”
Merely minutes after Madeleine Adélaïde Dupont took her first breath on that cold evening of January in 1710. Her fate had already been decided; her future was clear, she was fated to become a courtesan. Just like her mother.
Madame Claudine walked toward the kitchen with a satisfied smile on her face. She’d found her staff finishing dinner. They stood when she walked through the door. “Claire and Julie,” she pointed at the older women by the table who became nannies after they were too old to continue entertaining. “Go tend to the children, but make sure the rooms are locked. We can’t allow them wandering down to the second floor, and besides, I want the virgin girls to stay virgins until it’s their time to bring in money.” She grinned.
“Yes, ma’am,” the nannies replied in chorus and hurried out of the kitchen.
Claudine inspected the prepared bite-size hors d’oeuvres and motioned to a maid to carry the trays to the parlor. “Is everything prepared in the rooms of the girls? Do they all have enough clean towels and cleansing solutions?” she questioned the maids. “I don’t want my girls to catch any of those awful diseases spreading among the cheap prostitutes on the streets,” she added, frowning.
“Yes, ma’am. Everything is in order.” the four middle-aged women in maid uniforms replied.
Madame Claudine scanned the group of burly men standing by the table. “Jean, you guard the backdoor, Paul and Pierre, you’ll station in the salon tonight,” she instructed. The three men obediently nodded. “Joseph and Louis, you will be guarding the second floor. Keep your ears open!” she warned. “If you miss the signal from any of the girls and they get hurt…” She didn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t have to. They knew the punishment, they’d be thrown out of their easy, comfortable jobs and would be forced to do heavy labor if they’d be lucky enough to find employment.
“Everything seems to be ready, so let’s get to work and make loads of money tonight,” Claudine clapped her hands. Everyone hurried to their designated stations.