A/N: Ok, people, I really needed to re-write this story, so here it is. As I do not have many fans, you probably haven't read the original story, so let me tell you what's it about. "The Red Rose" is a story of a courtesan, told from three points of view: the two lovers' POV, and occasionally Rose's best friend's POV (by "occasionally" I mean really, really seldom). The main characters (and quite the only characters) are William (a writer that moves to the capital in order to make some money) and Rose (a courtesan and a retired actress, well "retired" is not the best word, as she gives up acting). Some others that appear in the novel are Scarlet (Rose's best friend, an opera singer) and Ralph (a count that's about 40 years old, Rose is about 20, William is, let's say, 25; anyway, back to the count: he is the one that bought Rose the house she's living in, and he is supporting her financially, all these with a price, of course).
Now you probably wonder where and when all these take place. I can answer you the second question: at the end of the 19th century, somewhere around 1880-1890. As for the place, it is up to you. I initially thought of it taking place in England, but you know what? It is entirely up to you, as I've said. That is one of the reasons I did not use the term "earl" instead of "count". I do research before writing something that's inspired by history, you know! And for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, in England the term "earl" is used instead of "count". But since I do not intend to give any geographical details, you decide whether this takes place in England, Germany, Italy or France, or whatever. The names I've used are British, though.
I hope you find this story a pleasant read, reviews are always welcome!
CHAPTER ONE: "A Red Rose among the Others"
It was the night of premieres at The Royal Opera House and Theatre. The building had just been re-opened to the public. The interior I had known before the renovation was nothing compared to the new stage – almost twice as the old one, the columns seemed taller and more details could be seen on the carvings. I imagined the Queen's palace would have looked as elegant and luxurious as this, but I knew nothing about architecture, so I should not make any comparisons and further commentaries on the topic.
Once again, The Royal Opera House and Theatre was to host the most popular opera shows and theatrical plays. Tonight, as it could be read on the huge poster outside, was the night of the grand contemporary composer Verdi. And what play could have been more famous than La Traviata? I remember hearing that it had been a failure when it had been played for the first time, around thirty or forty years ago, but ever since, it had become a success worldwide. Violetta Valéry, a role that every girl at the opera wished to play. I was, luckily, part of the talented singers that were going to have a role in La Traviata. Having been rehearsed for weeks, I still had cold feet, even though I had not been given the honour of playing the main role.
When we had given the auditions, Mister Alfred Wright, the director of both the theatre and of the opera, did not care for my ambitus, nor my coloratura, and offered this main role to the attractive redhead Giulia Crissi and I, somehow disappointed, but mostly jealous, was bitterly left with the secondary role of Annina's. I had always dreamed of becoming known, of being a star… the best opera singer in the world. All of the girls I knew had had their moments of fame. There was Giulia, whom I just mentioned above, then there was Lucy Blue, named after her irresistible eyes, of the most intense blue colour, and there was also a friend of mine, whom everybody called Rose, "the red rose of the theatre", who, for some reason, gave up acting all of a sudden, in order to dedicate her life to a selfish count that was twenty years older than her, a man that had absolutely no humour, and no looks.
They were all young girls just like I was; ready to conquer the stage, and even the world, especially the world of famous men, for they were something more… something they call "courtesans". The Royal Opera House and Theatre was well known for its young talented and practiced seducers. Some were poor and had no other choice, as was the case of my friend, others were so vain that they could not care less for morals. The women at the theatre envied them, but men desired them, and that was all that mattered in the end, since it brought them fortune and fame.
I sometimes wondered if being a courtesan would've brought me the main role in Verdi's opera that night. I have to admit that I had been tempted when I was younger to enter their apparently perfect world, but did not have the charm, or the physical aspect that drives a man mad. Being half an Indian, my skin was far from being fair, my hair and eyes too dark and dull to stir anybody's interest.
"Oh that old count drives me crazy, Scarlet, I swear it! I told him so sweetly, so impossibly affectionate that I wish so much to retire in my room after the end of your show, and that I promise to make up for it tomorrow night, but he still insists that I have dinner at his place. Can anybody be more stubborn than this?" Rose complained to me while she helped me get prepared for my appearance.
"Rose dear, you know it very well that you don't have to come."
"I want to go, Scarlet, you know I do. It is the count's place that I do not wish to visit. I am certain that he will insist that I should stay at his place for the night as well. For heaven's sake, how much attention do these men need? I swear I could never love one of them that much!"
"That is because you've never loved one of them either," I said, closing my eyes as Rose applied my make up.
"What is there to love in them except for their money?" my friend replied, and then turned around to comb my hair.
"This you say now… but wait until you find the one."
"This I'll always say. I don't change my mind so easily. You're too much a dreamer, Scarlet, and…" her voice trailed off as she finished my elaborate coiffure, "you're done! As Mister Wright would say, you look 'magnifique'!"
"Thank you, Rose, for taking your time. You must've had other important things to do." At this, she hurried to contradict me, saying that it was a pleasure for her to spend time with such a good friend. She had always been a good friend to me; in spite of what other people thought about her, she was somebody who had never betrayed me. "Are you sure you wish to come, though? My role is not so important after all."
"What are you saying? A role is a role, Scarlet, and it means very much. I can't believe that you've worked so hard, and still that stubborn, Miss Has-them-all*, got to play Violetta instead of you! And she even dared to criticise me, for handling too many* at the same time. But I shouldn't bother you with my own ramblings…"
"Rose, can I ask you why you're still with the count? You obviously don't care for him, and… well, look at you, you could have anybody else instead…" These matters were of no concern to me, but it was true. Rose was indeed, a beautiful woman. Her hair, long and golden, somewhere between blonde and ginger, falling in loose curls, was framing her face perfectly. Here eyes were of a pretty bright blue colour, her lips as red as blood… she looked as if she were drawn from a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painting, Lady Lilith** in person.
"It's not that I completely dislike him, either. It could be worse anyway. What good to leave him, Scarlet? At least I have a future with him; he is too old to look at other women. I can't be happy with anybody, so why would it matter with whom I spend my life?"
"These are your personal matters, I will not interfere; I was just saying, though, that you have a choice. Perhaps you should allow yourself to fall in love, and how could you, when you choose men that are old enough to be your fathers?"
"He is not that old, though." I considered that I should stop my conversation here. I did not wish to judge my friend for her choices, and it was none of my business either.
"Oh well," I uttered while standing up and looking at my reflection in the mirror, "the costume looks all in place, I think it's time I go to the rehearsals."
"Good luck, I'll be in the first rows, and I'll bring Catherine and Linda as well. Oh, and," she added before we both left the dressing room, "we'll take you home after the show's over. I'll wait for you at the entrance." I approved with a nod then disappeared into the crowd of people that were waiting for me.
I beheld the view from my window. The town was crowded and rain was quite a usual element. The noise that came from outside when the windows were open was disturbing. I figured that it would be difficult to concentrate or to find inspiration in this room.
This place was going to be my home from now on. It was a small apartment inside a terraced house… simple, but tidy; there was nothing extravagant about it. Though it seemed like a cosy place to live in, but also lonely. There was only one man I knew in this town, two if you counted the old woman who was to come every month to collect the rent.
I had finished my studies five years ago and ever since I had been trying to become a prestigious writer, but with no luck. Having been born in a small town near the countryside, far from the society of high-class artists and aristocrats, I assumed that this could have been one of causes of my failure. Thus, I moved in the capital to finish my manuscripts, hoping that I would meet influential people, and eventually find somebody to publish my works.
At the same time, there was a company that my father owned here, so I decided to take responsibility of it, together with an old family friend. In case I could not make it as a writer, I would dedicate my life to management and business, a field that I personally detested.
You probably wonder, though, who is the second person I said I knew in this town.
As I placed my manuscripts on a desk, I heard a knock at the door. "Come in," I answered. Within seconds, a man I immediately identified as being an old friend of mine came into sight. "Good day, William."
"Henry, good day to you too," I greeted on a friendly tone as we shook hands. "Long time no see." Henry was the second person that I mentioned above. I had known him for some good time. He owned his personal company, ran his own business, as well as an important part of my father's company. Henry was also the one that promised to help me with signing contracts and papers… I think it is obvious that I had no idea of anything related to business. The only thing I was good at were words. I did not have the slightest idea of how to run a company. My friend was the expert, and he was here to give me a helping hand. "Please, take a seat. How's it going with your business?"
"Forget about my company," he said while leaning against an armchair, "are you ready to run your own company? When shall we sign the papers?"
"There is no hurry, my friend. I need a rest first, a good rest. It has been a long journey."
"Long indeed… I see that you have settled in already," he commented as he looked around the room. "How do you like the capital?"
"I suppose I like it. I haven't had the time to see too much of it. It is not inspirational in any way, though."
"Inspiration? What for? Oh," he added after a while upon seeing my papers on the desk, "So you still haven't given up that dream of yours?"
"Of course not." I felt the need to change the topic of our small conversation. Henry was a rather practical man, a realist, as he called himself; he did not see any point in doing something that would not bring him money immediately, thus did not show his consideration towards literature, theatre, art in general. "Shall I serve you something to drink? Perhaps some brandy?"
"Of course, how could I refuse?" Upon hearing his answer, I left the room for a few seconds then returned with two glasses and a bottle of fine brandy in my hands and took a seat once again.
"Say, Henry," I spoke while pouring the beverage in his glass, "what can a man do in this town after the sun has set?"
"Oh," he laughed. "I find it unusual that you are asking me such a question. This is the city of night, William. Nobody ever sleeps here after the sun sets. You can do anything you want, my friend… but supposing you're not the adventurous type of man… you can go to the opera, theatre… For instance, there is a theatre and opera house not very far from here. I happen to be going this evening to the opera to meet an old friend, would you care to come?"
"I would like to. To tell you the truth, I do not intend to start our business so soon."
"As you wish, my friend," he spoke between sips. "I should go now," Henry said after finishing his drink, while standing up. "I will see you at six o'clock at The Royal Opera House and Theatre. It is a famous place in the middle of the town; I trust you will not have any trouble finding it."
"Have no worries, I shall see you there." We shook hands once again. Then I was left alone with nothing else to do then writing. I looked up at the clock that hung up the wall. It was still early, so I decided to finish one of my literary works. This was my dream – to become a famous writer and I was aware of the fact that I had to work hard to make it come true.
"My lady, you have a visitor awaiting for you in the main hall," my housemaid announced as she entered my bedchamber, after having previously knocked at my door.
"Did I not tell you, Annette, to inform anybody who wants to have a word with me, that I am utterly tired and in no mood for visitors?"
"Indeed you did, my lady, but His Lordship insists to accompany you to the opera tonight."
"Oh, the count?" Annette bowed her head in approval. "No, not him again!" I uttered with irritation, yet not too loud, knowing that walls might be thin and my words could easily get through them. "There is no way he will, I am meeting Catherine and Linda exclusively tonight." I brought my hands to my mouth, pacing from a corner to another, trying to make up an excuse inside of my mind. "Does he seem upset, is he in a bad mood?"
"I could not tell, my lady." Ralph could be easily fooled when he trusted me. He was easy going, quite generous, that I, from time to time, indulged myself in little white lies. Sometimes, they were so innocent that I lost track of them. It was an entertaining game we played, as long as my lies were credible, and as long as he did not had any other problems on his mind.
But when Ralph was starting to doubt my fidelity, then his jealousy could trigger bitter quarrels and stupid arguments, and that was when I was feeling that I was the most undeserving woman, one that was not worthy of anybody's love or sympathy. That was when I was beginning to be frightened by his hands, those that used to touch me with tenderness at times, but were ready to hit me in moments like these.
"Oh, fine," I ordered, "send him in!" Before I had the chance to take my mind off these consuming thoughts, and as soon as Annette left my room, I heard a knock at the door. The count came, lasciviously creeping behind my back. "My dear countess…" His hands around my waist made me feel uncomfortable.
"Oh, my dear count," I whispered as I slowly tried to escape from his embrace, "you're flattering me, but I am not yet a countess."
"No, you are not, and neither are you willing to see me at such an hour of the day, I assume."
"Of course I am," I stated while returning in his arms, "but you see, your love is consuming me little by little, for I am so exhausted that I am afraid I will not present any interest to you and would rather not bore you with my dull company. But I am certain that Scarlet's performance will eventually cheer me up for the night we will spend together."
"Shall I take this as an acceptance of my invitation then?"
"I believe you should take it as a promise."
"Very well, then. I am positive that you will not meet any other man at the opera."
"Of course not. A few hours at the opera are not enough for the passion to ignite between a woman and a man. It would merely serve as teasing," I said on a playful note. "You should know that by now, my darling. And I am completely yours tonight. Why would I want to see somebody else and choose to end the day with you, instead of that somebody?"
The count let my question unanswered, but made sure that I understood what was that he expected from me that night with an intense kiss at the base of my throat. "I will see you after your friend's performance," he muttered into my ears – his warm breath making my skin tingle. "I can hardly wait."
"All good things come to those who wait, Ralph," I replied, waiting for him to loosen his grip on me. His hands gradually let go of me, the sound of his pace growing fainter until I heard the door closing and I could finally sigh with relief and prepare myself for going out.
Once again, as I applied powder on my breasts and perfume on the wrists of my hands, I was feeling guilty for what was going to happen that night. I had to pretend, as always, I was to act, and the part I was playing was a burden that's difficult to bear. I could not help but envy Scarlet. God had given her a gift, a wonderful voice, and a supporting family, one that I had never had during all those years.
As for me… God had taken the family I had, and I had to give up my dreams of becoming an actress before I had the chance to shine.
When the time had come, I put on an elegant black overcoat and a top hat, and hurried to the opera. Henry met me outside and we both entered, searching for our seats.
We sat down, taking off our coats and hats as we waited for the show to begin. I noticed three young ladies passing right before my eyes. They took a seat one row before us. Two of them were constantly talking so loud, that by the beginning of the show I already knew their names. One was "Catherine", and her partner in conversation was called "Linda" or something close to that, beginning with "L". The other one, on the other hand, was silent and reserved, and she captured my attention for a few seconds. I could not figure out who she was, whether the three of them were sisters or just acquaintances.
In the instant that she turned her head to one side, I caught a glimpse of perfect red lips, the upper one curved boldly upwards. As my eyes ascended, I noticed curly hair locks that framed her face in a way that made her seem young… and feminine. Then she quickly turned her head to the stage and all I could see was her pretty amber hair tied up in an elegant bun and her bare round shoulders as she removed her coat, revealing a red dress with off-the-shoulder sleeves that exposed her pale skin.
"Henry, who is that woman in front of us?" I asked my friend before the show started.
"You mean the one with fair hair?" I studied the three girls again, because I could not recall the other two. "Take your mind off of her, my friend, she is a courtesan. She will not bring you any luck, only misery. They steal your money, then forget your name."
"Is that so?" I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. "The one dressed in red, with her hair tied up, is she really –" I emphasised, forcing myself to believe that Henry had not just described the same girl I had in mind.
"Oh, I thought you were speaking of the other one," followed his words.
"Is she her friend, a courtesan too?" I insisted, as curious to find out more about a person as I had never been before.
"I do not know her," he confessed. So the one named "Catherine" was a courtesan, and her friend most probably as well. Short after, the play began and we ended our small conversation. Although I was staring at the stage, my mind was in some other place. My attention was completely focused on the lady in red that stood in front of us.
I beheld from the corner of my eye the two women that were sitting next to her. I felt pity for the one that I had been told earlier that she was a courtesan. There was something unwomanly about her. The way she moved and acted, she was too daring and unnatural, compared to her.
She was too feminine, too beautiful to be one of them. There was something mysterious about her presence; she was there, although she did not seem to be. I watched her in secret until the end. She seemed quite captivated by the show.
I stared at her all of the time. I had no idea of what happened on the stage. On the other hand, I knew what happened inside of my mind. Never before had I been so eager to meet a person. I wanted to find out everything about the elegant lady before my eyes. I wished to know everything that had happened on the stage, so that I could find out what was that impressed her so much about the opera. From time to time, she put on a smile that quickly faded from her lips with every dramatic act, a smile that entirely disappeared at the end of the last act I could even swear that I saw a tear rolling down her cheek, but she quickly wiped it away. I could even swear that I saw a tear rolling down her cheek, but she quickly wiped it away.
"La Traviata" ended sooner than I expected. The three ladies rose from their seats and vanished into he crowd. Henry remained in the hall to greet one of his friends, a singer at the opera that, as he told me, performed on the stage that night. I wouldn't know, though, as I had not been paying attention to the actual show.
"Henry, what a surprise to see you here."
"Scarlet, I did not know you had such a precious voice!" Henry spoke to the woman that appeared before us.
"Oh, you are flattering me."
"This," he said while turning to me, "is my friend, William. William, this is Scarlet, a very talented opera singer. She interpreted Annina's role tonight, remember?"
"Of course," I lied. "Pleased to meet you, Miss. Your performance has been truly charming."
"Oh, my role tonight was not so important, but I thank you both for the compliments."
"Scarlet, are you ready to go? The count is here to take us home," a soft voice came behind. Within seconds, the same figure that had previously stirred my interest crossed my sight. "Henry, William, this is Rose, a dear friend of mine," the woman introduced her to us.
"Pleased to meet you," Henry said.
"Pleased to meet you, Rose," I greeted. She extended her thin arm – on which she wore a delicate golden bracelet – to me and I placed a kiss on her hand… as a gentleman that I was. She was shorter than me, the top of her head barely extending to the height of my eyes. However, the way she looked at me was somehow intimidating… beyond the apparent shyness and refrain that I thought was characteristic for her.
"She is also an actress. You might have heard of 'the red rose of the theatre' before."
"That was a long time ago," the petite girl hurried to emphasise. "I am not an actress anymore, Scarlet."
"You know you are the only one who knows all lines in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' You are perfect for Titania's role. Mister Wright has asked me to insist that you –"
"Absolutely not, especially not this role. I could never play it," she firmly refused.
"Are you an actress?" I asked her daringly. "I trust you would make a suitable character for any role, especially this one."
"Thank you," she said, somehow vexed by my interference. "But it is my decision whether I play this role. We should leave now. Scarlet?"
"Yes, I believe so. Goodbye, Henry, I hope to se you again." Turning to me, she spoke, "William. Forgive my friend; she can be a little too bold sometimes. You are always welcome at the opera, or the theatre. And," she whispered to me, "you can come tomorrow. Even though I will not persuade her into playing this role, I am sure she will come as a spectator."
"I see." I stopped for a moment to watch the two ladies leave, staring blankly ahead. I wondered who was that count they were talking about.
"Yes." I startled.
"Let us go now." I nodded in approval then we made our way out of the building, red lips and blue eyes engraving upon my memory. Little did I know that the paths of our lives would cross and overlap one day.
* them and too many here refer to the word "men";
** Lady Lilith is a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. (just search it on google)