A man with elaborately curled mustaches sat down close to Callie. "What's the matter, sweetheart? Can I be of assistance?" The man yanked on the edge of his bowler hat and winked at her.
She rose from the park bench at once. "No, thank you, sir," Callie murmured and tugged at the leash to wake Mauschen.
She strode off, pulling along the reluctant little dog. She supposed the men in the park who spoke to her were probably kind, but she did not like the familiarity they employed. "Sweetheart," indeed.
Callie had fled Mrs. Lucien's house to indulge in misery somewhere other than her own room. She didn't need company as she contemplated her potentially bleak future.
In the middle of the path, Mauschen sat in protest. "Fine, I'll slow down," Callie told the ragged little dog. She reached up and yanked out the hatpin to adjust her straw bonnet that had tilted slightly during her quick-march.
She had spent such little time in the city--she and her grandmother had only visited a few times. And since Grandmama's death, Callie had had little leisure time. Perhaps she should stop moping and enjoy the stroll through Washington Square.
She watched the throngs of students, professors, artists, organ grinders, businessmen and vagrants strolling or rushing through the park about their business. A boy on roller skates zoomed past. Marvelous how fast they could go. She smiled after the boy.
A man's gloved hand wrapped around her arm. "Why, hello. I've been watching you for the past few minutes."
Callie considered using the hatpin she still held until the man spoke again, "Miss Scott, isn't it?"
The tall thin man with a top hat and a dark waxed moustache let go. He doffed his hat and bowed. "I never forget a pretty face and yours is exceptionally pretty. I knew your father, my dear. Very good friend of mine."
"Oh." She smiled, unsure of what politeness dictated. "How do you do, sir?"
"Allow me to say how sorry I am for your loss." He stuck out a hand encased in a dazzling white glove.
She thrust her hatpin in place and shook his hand, feeling slightly guilty for accepting his sympathy. She'd barely known her father. "Thank you."
The man's thin, very red lips stretched into a smile. Callie reminded herself she must not judge him by his appearance or by the strong scent of his violet hair oil. "Thaddeus Panz," he reminded her. "We met at a party held by your father."
Now she recalled. Good gracious, he meant the party. "Of course," she murmured. The last time she'd stayed with her father. Her grandmother had come in during the party and told off Callie's father. Her grandmother had never been so red-faced and shrill.
Mr. Panz might have been reading her thoughts. "How is your grandmother?" He chuckled. "She is quite a character."
An odd description. Her Grandmama had rarely shown strong emotion but when she did, the results had been memorable.
"She passed on a month before my father's death." Callie pressed her lips tight.
This time when he expressed his sorrow she didn't feel like a fraud accepting his sympathy.
A nanny pushing a perambulator walked past them on the path and Mauschen, who was afraid of carriages, shivered and whimpered. Callie leaned down to stroke the dog.
"How are you coping?" Mr. Panz asked. "I hope you are well? Not worrying about making a living?"
"I am doing well," she lied. "I have a position. I work as a companion."
"For whom, if you don't mind my asking?"
"A lady named Mrs. Lucien."
He wrinkled his nose. "That would-be renowned hostess? The old biddy who lives off the north side of Washington Square?"
She nodded hesitantly. An apt description but she wasn't sure she should agree with it.
He laughed, a startlingly high whooping noise. "You are joking. She would hire you? Scott's daughter?"
A few days earlier, Callie would have been insulted. Now she understood. This very morning, Mrs. Lucien had revealed the reason she loathed Callie's family.
"Yes..." She bit her lip and stopped the attempt to put the best face on it. "She was kind enough to hire me though she is not very pleased with me."
He nodded solemnly. "Of course not. She resented your parents. She's just the sort to blow on the coals. Likes to keep a grudge alive."
She resisted the urge to ask if he knew the horrid story of the dog.
"You must have been quite young when your mother died--do you remember her?"
"Barely," Callie admitted. "I went to live with grandmother when I turned three."
"Molly called ladies like Mrs. Lucien 'over-dressed fire-breathing toads'." He snickered. "Quite a spirited creature, your mother. Wonderful girl."
And if Mrs. Lucien had heard gossip about that insult, it provided another reason for her to dislike the Scott family.
Mr. Panz reached for Callie's hand and before she could protest, had tucked it into the crook of his arm. He patted her hand genially.
"Come along, Miss Scott. A girl like you shouldn't be working for a gorgon like her at any rate. Walk with me to my establishment and we will talk about what I can do to help you."
No doubt he was trying to be friendly, but he sounded very much like the man who'd just called her sweetheart. "Help me? I'm not sure, that is to say..." Not wishing to appear rude, she allowed her words to die away.
Mr. Panz gave her a kindly smile. "Don't look so worried, my dear. Recollect, I knew your father."
Not a fact that she found particularly reassuring.
"My dear girl, do I see doubt in those pretty eyes?" He pulled at her arm and she was reminded of her own tugs on Mauschen's leash. "You shall work for me. I will find you a job."
"A job." Wonderful--though she felt she must be honest. "You are very generous, sir. I ought to tell you that before Mrs. Lucien hired me I looked for work and discovered I lack the skills or experience necessary for most employment."
He laughed again. Whinnied, more like. "Why, I'm certain we'll find the perfect position." He moved closer--so near she could smell his perspiration under the strong cologne.
"Excuse me, but my dog. Such a slow walker, you know." Using Mauschen as an excuse, she managed to extricate her hand from his grip.
She gathered up the ugly, nearly naked creature, the only item she'd been allowed to keep from her father's possessions.
Mr. Panz watched and asked, "One of your father's attempts at a new breed?"
She scratched behind one of Mauschen's large bat-like ear. "Yes. She is the last."
"I suppose the world wasn't ready for Le Petits Singes, eh?" He rubbed his gloved hands together. "Ha! That reminds me. You know French, don't you?"
"Perfect. I am in need of a translator. Would that suit you?"
"Yes, indeed, sir." Translating had to be an entirely unimpeachable job for a young lady. Her heart lightened. After months of bad luck, perhaps her life had taken a turn for the better.
Mr. Panz led her away from the square to a less fashionable row, not far from Broadway. He stopped in front of a towering marble and brownstone palace of a house, a new gothic structure.
"Here we are," he announced brightly as he led her up the steps.
Callie put Mauschen down and, indecisive again, cast a furtive glance at the great brute of a butler who opened the door and stood eyeing her. Certainly the shivering pathetic dog at her feet offered no protection--should she require it. The butler was capable of squashing Mauschen between two fingers.
Nonsense. Butlers didn't kill pets. Still, she rather regretted saying yes to Mr. Panz. Her feet hurt and she wished she could simply return to Mrs. Lucien's house. After all, she hadn't lost her job. Yet.
In Mr. Panz's large office, she shifted her eyes from the gaze of her smiling host to study the picture of Leda and the swan that hung on the wall.
He indicated a lady's chair for her, and took a seat behind the elaborately carved mahogany desk, which was strewn with papers and books. The tension in her stomach eased. Mr. Panz was a businessman and would conduct this interview in a business-like fashion.
"Well now. Let us get to the point. How much do you wish to be paid?"
She would have to find a boarding house if she left Mrs. Lucien's. "Perhaps five dollars a week?"
He again examined her top to bottom, side to side, just as her grandmother had once instructed her to examine a work of art.
His thin smile spread wider. Uncomfortable, she looked up at the painting of the swan, which had the same sort of beady stare as Mr. Panz.
"A nice girl like you could make very good money keeping gentlemen company in our club." Something in his gentle voice alarmed her. She liked people, but she wasn't sure she wanted a job that forced her into constant contact with the opposite sex. Even though she would be protected--she hoped, by her father's friend--Callie could almost hear Grandmama's disapproval. Such a situation would be entirely inappropriate for any modest young lady.
Callie straightened her shoulders and tried to smile. "You said something about translation, sir. Did I mention I speak some German as well? I'd rather--"
"Of course, of course." Mr. Panz winked and nodded, as if indulging a little girl's silly fears. "We're getting more material from France these days. More than I can handle. I've got some special books you could take a look at, translate for me. German ones, as well." He cleared his throat. "And maybe after you've read through a few of those, you'll want to reconsider my offer."
He chuckled. "Entertaining gentlemen."
Oh, dear. "Mr. Panz, thank you, but I think I shouldn't--"
"I'd pay four dollars a day. Starting at once. Perhaps you would soon be ready for more... interesting work. You will earn even more then."
Such a tremendous sum. In her surprise, Callie involuntarily yanked at the leash and Mauschen protested with a grunt.
Alarm bells clanged through Callie, though she was not sure why more than enough money should disturb her. "I do hope that I will be able to stay with Mrs. Lucien. And I--"
"See here, why don't we do a little trial?" Mr. Panz interrupted. "I have a copy of Le Monde. You can begin with that. And then I think you should look at one of our special volumes. I would be glad to recompense you for your time today, even if you choose not to work for me. Let us say a dollar for a couple of hours' work?" He toyed with one of his large diamond and gold cuff studs as he waited for her reply.
Even her grandmother would not have quibbled at his offer. And she had planned to stay away from Mrs. Lucien's until close to the dinner hour. "Yes, please, I suppose that I can try, sir."
"Good." He went to his messy desk, gathered a stack of papers that looked like a list of addresses, carelessly bundled them and thrust them into a drawer.
Mr. Panz reached for a bottle of ink and pen, scribbled some words on a blank sheet, frowned again, scribbled some more and then looked down at the list with happy smile.
He waved the paper to dry it then folded the piece of foolscap and handed it to her. "You'll likely find these words if you decide to work for me. We can discuss them after you've translated for a while, perhaps?" His dark eyes shone. "We should toast our happy meeting."
He moved to a mahogany sideboard. A carved cherub held up each corner and an ostentatious display of decanters and crystal glasses gleamed across its surface.
"Wine? This early in the day, sir?"
Mr. Panz laughed and handed her a full glass. "It is a pleasant light vintage. Perfect for the ladies. And my dear Miss Scott, you sound as if you've had a rough time of it."
He settled in an armchair near her and poured himself a glass as well.
After her walk through the park, she felt hot and thirsty. She held her breath against the strong scent and sipped. He was correct. The flavor was not nearly as strong as she recalled most wines. It tasted sweet, rather like one of her grandmother's tonics.
She managed a real smile for him. "I do not wish to be in your way while I work. Perhaps I could take the newspaper and book with me?"
He did not answer right away; instead he refilled the goblet she'd set on the small table next to her chair.
"I recall your father had an excellent library. Come see our collection of volumes."
"You can do your work in our library." He rose to his feet, decisive again. "Don't forget your list and your glass. I shall give you a tour."
She resisted the urge to say goodbye and no thank you and run back to her employer's house. But then she remembered how even before her outburst today Mrs. Lucien hissed whenever she caught sight of Mauschen, and glared nearly every time Callie opened her mouth to speak.
She would not be surprised to find a note of dismissal and her portmanteau and hatbox sitting at the kitchen door when she returned to Mrs. Lucien's house. She only wondered why the woman had hired her in the first place.
Mr. Panz waited at the office door so Callie stood and allowed him to escort her toward the back of the house. They passed a large and alarming statue of a nude, grinning Venus. Distant female laughter drifted down the mahogany stairs which were covered in plush, deep burgundy carpet. Callie walked faster.
At the end of the leash, Mauschen skittered over the polished bare wood floors between the plush Turkish carpets.
Mr. Panz opened the double doors to the library stood back and motioned for Callie to enter.
"Thank you, sir." She smiled in relief. The room at the back of the house was exactly what a library should be: large, attractive oak paneled and with a huge frosted skylight. Several armchairs were set among the stacks, and a large desk stood near the back, where French doors opened onto a small overgrown garden.
"It's wonderful." She moved toward the far wall of books, hand outstretched.
Mr. Panz stepped in front of her. "No, no my eager young friend. We'll save those special books on the back shelves for later. Certainly after you decide to work for us. Although the book I'll give you is slightly... heated. The French have such a way with imagery."
He gave her a wide closed-mouth smile. "That part of our library is like a very hot bath. One must dip in a toe before plunging in up to the neck. Otherwise it can be a shock to the system, especially to a female."
She frowned at the odd analogy, but she was too well bred to ask impertinent questions and perhaps might soon be too poor, as well.
This was her father's friend, she reminded herself. Never mind the fact that grandmother had frequently hinted that respectability and Eustace Scott were not synonymous. And the truth was Callie had barely known her late Papa. When she and Grandmother made their yearly visit to the city, he seemed to spend all his waking hours avoiding Callie. When she'd sought him out in his library one night to ask him why she never saw him, he'd said, "It's not you I stay away from, girl. Not you. But go on back to bed now or she'll be after me again. Horrible."
She'd had some sympathy for her father. Yet it did seem funny that her father, a grown man, was frightened of Grandmother. The old lady had been fierce when upset, but hardly horrible.
Mr. Panz showed Callie a large dusty closet with a window, a chair and a desk equipped with paper, pen and ink. "Here is your office. I apologize for its condition."
"It is perfect, sir. May I keep the dog with me?"
He studied the panting white lump, which had already settled onto the carpet to sleep. "Probably best if you tie it up in the garden. It won't bother anyone there."
"Yes, sir," she said, though she doubted that Mauschen would bother anyone, unless they had food. "Would this be where I would work if I take the job?"
He gave a hearty laugh and ignored her question. "I have some work of my own to attend to. But I will come back and check on you soon, Callie. Might I call you Callie?"
She nodded, though she did not like his informality.
"You settle into work and enjoy some more wine." He took the nearly empty glass from her, and ignoring her protest, filled it. "No, do not be such a silly girl. Of course you'll have some more wine as you work. I shall be back in an hour or so to talk. We might discuss those words on your list."
He sauntered off, whistling. As soon as he left her, she took Mauschen outside, tied the dog up in a shady spot near a fountain for water. The day was already growing hot.
Back in the tiny room of the library, she wedged open the window and began with articles someone had circled in Le Monde. Very dull stuff, but she was pleased at how much she understood.
A short hand-written letter had fallen out of the newspaper. She picked it up and began translating it. It had no salutation, yet otherwise seemed like a perfectly normal business missive: "The items shipped on Thursday via the usual courier." But then the writer changed the subject. "I have been contacted by R, who I understand is your coordinator. He is bent on gathering other New York addresses. You must understand that I am not willing to allow my patrons to be intimidated."
What an odd letter. She smoothed the paper nervously. Surely Mr. Panz was not involved in anything illegal or even her father would not have counted him as a friend.
She thrust the newspaper and letter aside for she had grown quite thirsty. No, she did not want to venture out to the main part of the house in search of something else to drink, so she sipped more wine and commenced work on Mr. Panz's special book. Or rather, she opened the book, read, and soon realized that she did not know many words. This was difficult to understand. Good heavens. The words she did know were... used so oddly. She stared and reddened. The pen in her fingers rarely dipped into the inkwell on the desk.
The characters frequently spoke of love in this story. But. Oh, gracious. The things that they described here. Oh, my. Callie blinked and flipped ahead a few pages.
She spotted the word Licencieux... licentious--the word she'd overheard her grandmother use about Callie's father when she thought Callie wasn't listening.
Her mouth went dry and she reached for her glass--and perhaps the wine would drive off her instinct to flee the place. She sipped and reminded herself how she might soon desperately need Mr. Panz's money.
The room grew far too warm.
She wondered where Mr. Panz had gotten to, though she did not mind his absence. Grandmama had occasionally vaguely hinted at gentlemen's dark impulses. Long ago Callie had stopped taking the old lady's warnings seriously. When Callie thought of the men in the park and Mr. Panz, however, Grandmama's indistinct cautions seemed less silly. And that party at Papa's house...
No more woolgathering. She turned her attention back to the book.
The woman had offered up something to the man. In a tremulous voice, Therese begged Michel to partake of her rich bounty. She parted her pretty legs. Callie blinked, hoping she was reading this wrong. Surely no woman would spread her lower limbs as she talked to a man...
She frowned and skimmed the next page. Oh dear, now this was peculiar. The staff of love stood out, proud and vigorous, ready to be worshipped.
She stopped and read ahead. This couldn't possibly refer to the male attributes that she and her friend Izzy had discussed in whispers. No.
She understood that Michel and Therese were extremely naughty, but this? The flowery language... Surely that description of a decorative ivory staff was some sort of symbol that Therese planned to worship? Rather like a maypole. One hoped.
She most definitely did not want to ask Mr. Panz about this book.
Yet what if she required his employment? This silly squeamishness must cease; she would brace herself and face the peculiar prose. She sipped the last of her wine.
When the glass was empty, she still could not face the book and rose from her seat. Just a short break. Callie opened the door and looked out over the spacious library.
Such a lovely room. The wine washed through her, soothing her. She forgot about her troubles, and Mrs. Lucien's angry fit. She even forgot the Therese's peculiar conversations with her dear friend Michel.
Breathing in the lovely scent of leather bindings and paper, she looked over the shelves and spotted an edition of Tennyson's poetry. Her heart lifted. As she made her way to the book of poetry, the urge to hum or even sing came over her. She began to hum one of her grandmother's favorite hymns.