-as narrated by Rose-

When does the story of my life begin, I wonder? That is a silly question, I expect you to think, but for me it did not started with the day I was born. There have been times in which I merely existed, and hollow days I cannot claim as being part of the life I've lived.

But let me begin with the day that changed my life forever.

About eight winters ago, I was a girl of no more than twelve years, roaming around the streets of myhometown with nothing more than a pelisse over my dress and a shawl wrapped around my head. I can barely recall that day now when I am so far from being what I was then. What I remember, though, is that this was the day I lost my father, and with him, my entire family, for my mother died when she had born me.

How that dreadful day started is one thing I still picture in my mind every now and then, even if the present makes the past seem so distant. We most of the time forget the beautiful things in our life, but often recall the worst of our memories. The day of January 29th, 1885 had been one of the most frightening moments in my life, and this I cannot easily unlearn.

I woke up as usual very early in the morning, for my father was a man of the working class — a tailor — and, although he never put me to work, I would always help him as much as my little fingers permitted me. You see, we were poor, and I, even though little, could understand the seriousness of our situation at that small age. Whenever our landlord, Lord Brimwick, came to collect the rent at the end of the month, I could hear my father's lamentations in an attempt to postpone the payments he had to make, and the other's warnings that he would someday throw us in the street and leave us to die of hunger. Papa was a good man, a pauper with a heart of gold, but he was never able to pay all of his debts. This was the burden he had to carry upon his shoulders until his last day of life. I, too, inherited this from him. The fear of being poor for the rest of my life has been haunting me since I was little.

That day, however, even though it was the last Monday of the month, I did not hear my father's cries, nor the landlord's growling voice. Nor did I find any fabrics, sewing threads or scissors in the room. Instead, I was given the bad luck of being greeted by the same frightening figure of a tall, grumpy man.

I knew from the instant I heard him talk — since he was so huge that I could barely see his face —, that this mountain of body belonged to the landlord. "I have no money," I hurried to assure him, but this was not the answer he was expecting from me. In fact, he did not demand any answers from me at all. In a short discourse which for me seemed to last an eternity, he informed me, very briefly and in a formal manner, that my papa died from what I understood to have been consumption. I cannot comprehend, (I could not then, and never will), how could somebody be as cold and cruel as Lord Brimwick that day; although now that I think it over, I have met other men who were just as inhumane, if not even twice as inhumane as him.

After being given the horrible news, the man — that beast in the form of a man — hurried to throw me outside in the cold, but he did not succeed, not before I ran to my room to take the roses my father had bought me for my birthday the day before, and a small music box he had given to me that same winter for Christmas. Then, as simple as that, he brushed me away from the house and locked the door behind me. To no avail did I scream, cried my heart out and begged him to open the door and let me see my father for one last time; the door never opened. As the wind grew stronger, and the day turned into evening, I understood that house was no longer my home.

For hours, I had been wandering among the streets of London with the bouquet of red roses in my hands, and the music box hidden in one of my pockets. Soon, the flowers withered and I (how naive of me!) buried them in my pockets, thinking that if they did not feel the cold, they'd remain forever as red and fresh as they were then.

By midday, I had gotten tired of walking, of dragging my tired body through hills of snow, and stopped in the middle of the road. Looking up around me, I found myself surrounded by shops and buildings of all sorts. Needless to mention how many trials my heart, and my stomach especially, had to go through while I glanced at the glass windows and what was behind them, yearning for the multitude of sweets and other comestible goods that showed before my eyes, and which I could not have. But I soon ignored my physical needs, for in front of me was the most beautiful, blood-red satin dress I had ever seen till then.

I found a shelter under the roof of that shop, where I remained, admiring the lustrous fabrics and beautiful embroideries for hours, until I was discovered. Soon, the establishment was enlivened by customers who went out as fast as they entered. From time to time, one of them would throw scornful glances at me, but I refused to leave. Shyly, I stepped away from the entrance, not daring to step forward; I felt intimidated — at first, by the fact that it was a place where I could not be alone. Then, seeing the contrast between my humble dress, torn at the hem line, and the excess of gold and satin, velvet, and other expensive fabrics that were worn by these aristocrats, I grew shy and humble, and retired behind a wall. Among the wealthy gentlemen and well-bred ladies that entered "Taylor's Garments Shop" (for that was the name, as I came to learn later), I was a dirty beggar with no penny. Looking down at my dress, I realised I was nothing more than a piece of broken glass in a pile of diamonds, a stain of dirt over some colourful brocade.

Had it not been for that beautiful dress I could not stop from admiring, I would have probably left, and God knows where I would've gone. I would have never been what I am now. Though, in a place like that, I felt like home. The pile of materials, the scissors and threads I saw inside reminded me of my home, the home that I had just lost.

The moment the crowd of aristocrats noticed me — this stain of dirt at their feet — they brushed me away quickly as if I were a thief, a vagabond of the lowest social status. "I am no beggar!" I shouted, but in vain, for all I got in return were outraged exclamations, the type of remarks that Lord Brimwick or any other noble would have uttered if a slave tripped over his expensive cloak. In my eyes, all wealthy men had the same wicked heart as that beast of landlord.

"You filthy thing, get out of my way!" I heard one woman saying, brushing her skirt as if it were touched by plague.

"I tell you, my dear, these beggars are spreading nowadays faster than the Great Fire(1) in the time of Charles II," followed the voice of the man who accompanied her.

One's first contact with reality is most often an acute, bitter twinge in the heart, a sudden annihilation of his dreams. So was mine, but even though, I refused to make my departure. I waited there, enduring the bitter insults and comments, until the crowd dissipated a trifle, and I was found.

"Who are you, lass?" called a voice behind me. Within seconds, I saw the shadow of a silhouette behind me, and before I could run away, a strong hand grabbed me by the shoulders with a sudden gesture, and forced me to make a few steps until we reached a secluded corner, where nobody could find us. I was horrified, my whole body shuddered from fear, and I would've cried as loud as I could have, had it not been for the hand at her mouth that was forcing me to be silent.

"Don't worry. I ain't gonna hurt you. Mrs. Miller shall do you no harm," I heard the woman behind me whisper. Feeling the huge hand letting go of me, I pulled back forcefully and turned around to look up at the woman. I noticed she was wearing humble clothes just like mine, and she did not resemble a noble at all, thus I calmed down. In my mind, I only found wealthy men frightening; I was not scared of poor people or of those of the middle class.

Still I asked, just to be sure, "Are you… are you a wealthy woman, Ma'am?"

The woman glanced at me with confusion, and suddenly burst out in laughter. "Who? I? Look at me! What kind of question is this? You are a strange kind of child, did you know that? Trying to make fun of an old woman…"

"I apologize, Mrs. Miller, it is just that wealthy men scare me."

The laughter upon that wrinkled face was so warm, that I had a feeling that I had known the old woman for a long time. Later on, when I tried to picture how my mother looked like, I always imagined how Mrs. Miller would've looked like if she were younger. So familiar was the feeling I encountered, that I even dared to call her by her name.

"Listen, young girls like you shouldn't be allowed to wander by themselves on a weather like this! Where are your parents?" No answer came from my mouth, but the old woman's eyebrows frowned when she saw me shrink back, a tear falling down my cheek. "Oh, poor child! You have none?" the woman persisted.

"Not anymore, ma'am," I hissed through chattering teeth. I was still trembling, a trifle more now that that the memory of that day came back to me. The woman cringed at my words, and asked me with a voice in which I sensed a bit of sympathy and kindness:

"Your name then... What's your name?" I remained silent, for I did not really know what my name was. I knew my papa used to call me 'Ellie', but was it my true and only name? Hastily, I dug my hands in my pockets and fished out the small music box with a name — my name — carved on it. Memories came and went like a storm, catching shape in my mind, but I could not decipher the letters. I hid the music box back in my pocket, where it remained until I learnt to read.

"Well," the woman continued, upon noticing that her questions brought back painful memories in my soul, "you must have one, everybody has... But you are not like everybody, are you? You don't even have a name... Then I must give you one. Let me think about it..."

And so the woman gave me the name of the flowers I held in my pockets.

I was called 'Rose' for one year or so, until I learnt how to write and read, and discovered that my name, the one carved on the music box, was 'Eleanor Evans'. I was still known as 'Rose' to most of the people around me, therefore I bore this name for the rest of my life.

Mrs. Miller was kind enough to take care of me, as much as she could, for the following years. My hands were, it seemed, gifted with some sort of talent when it came to sewing and stitching, a talent I had probably developed from when I used to help my father. Thus, I worked as a seamstress at the garment shop for five years or so, and Mrs. Miller's kindness was soon paid back by my hard work.

There, I met a few people who shaped my future. There were some women who sympathised with me, and since I was the youngest of them all, they did most of the tailoring and stitching themselves, saving the easy work, such as fixing the buttons or sewing the hem lines, for me. Seeing me starved and with no money, they often shared their food with me during lunch breaks.

There was also a young man of my age, a poor carpenter just like me, who apparently developed some sort of attraction towards me. He was the first boy who made me blush, his were the first pair of eyes that glanced at me with something else than scorn or hate and, at the same time, with something more than simple kindness.

"I tell you Miss Rose, these eyes of yours won't pass unnoticed in the world. I can see your future. You were not born to be a seamstress, but to shine, to have the world at your feet; one day you will, I can bet on it. Did you know, Miss, how beautiful you are?" Thomas (for this was his name) once told me. It was the first compliment I received, and yet from a handsome boy of my age.

I was only eighteen years old when this happened. Afterwards, when the evening came and the work had been finished, I left the shop with blushing cheeks and headed for my humble dwelling in a hurry. I spent the night thinking about Thomas and his curly blonde hair. He was so mannered, so kind to me that it had become inevitable that I would not lose my head a little over him. Since then, I kept on receiving the same compliments many times.

Perhaps the broken piece of glass was beginning to turn into a diamond. Still, my hands were the hands of a worker; they were dirty and dried. Maybe I was not supposed to be what I was, but I would've gladly remained a seamstress for the rest of my life if Thomas had asked for my hand.

How silly was I, with all these absurd thoughts crossing my mind! Soon I realised, though, that I was too poor to be accepted by his family, and he — too much a pauper to be allowed to marry a girl of his status. "Get your mind off of him, young girl," the women at the shop often told me. "He will not marry one of your status. What will you do, die of starvation? This ain't the world you think of. One doesn't marry of love, but of hunger."

As soon as suspicions began to arise, the boy left the shop and I never got to see him again. Initially I thought that his family forbade him to see me ever again, but in truth, the shop was soon to be financially ruined. Me and Mrs. Miller moved in search of work to another shop. Nevertheless, it turned out that my passion for that young boy was only a silly, fancy dream of mine. I quickly put him out of my head, but this experience has implanted in me some sort of vanity.

Led by this strange feeling that I encountered for the first time, I bought — Lord knows with what money, because I can't remember how I could save that much! — some red taffeta and tulle and stayed late every night to sew and stitch until I finished what was meant to be my first evening gown. Short after, I saw a beautiful pair of silver earrings shaped in the form of two roses, and with a tiny red stone in the middle, in a window shop. So much did I want these pieces of jewellery that I kept on saving money until I could finally buy the earrings.

At first, I never had the chance to wear them, nor the gown, in public, since I was working all day long, but every night, before I went to sleep, I would grab a mirror and, attired in my beautiful elegant dress and with a rose pinned in my hair, I would imagine I was inside a ball room, dancing with gentlemen, making conversation with mannered ladies. I imagined I was a princess having the world at her feet.

Dressed in that gown, I could be whoever I wanted. At least, I could pretend to be a high-class lady, the girl I had never been before. My father, I guess, would have been proud of me if he saw me like that.

Then, one evening, after a hard day's work, I happened to see a group of three women, each of them accompanied by a man holding them by the arm, and hear their conversation.

"Gentlemen, I declare this night a success! Don't you agree?" one of the women said, fluttering her fan frenetically. There was something in her appearance, in her manners that reminded me of the snobs of aristocrats I had seen seven years ago at the opera house. Next to her, there stood another gentleman whom I had previously not noticed, and who was not holding any of the women's arms. He was the only one standing in the shadow, thus I could not see his face.

"And I thought that this was merely the beginning of it! What a shame, I would have never come if I had known the end from the start! Why did you not tell me from the start, Lucy?"

"You said you wouldn't have come if I did tell you," replied the one called 'Lucy', "would've you, 'Mister Insatiable'? I wonder if you ever get enough."

"Well I, for one," said the man in the shadow, "would have come." His voice was low and calm, and had some kind of roughness in it. I stretched my neck in an attempt to catch a glimpse of him, but did not succeed. His position behind the woman with the fan did not allow me to see his face.

"Hush, now speaks the 'artist', as he calls himself," the noisy woman whispered to his companion, moving her fan to her sides continuously, making it even harder for me to solve the mystery.

"Will you excuse me, ladies," the man 'of arts' continued, his face still hidden behind that woman's silhouette, "for interrupting, I wish to announce my leave. I have better things to do. Not that I find your company not worthy of my time... however, my time is precious to me. I daresay tho'... that your time is what is not worthy of my company."

"Oh, I see he has a way with words! He sure knows how to make up his excuses. Are you as good with women as you are with your words, Mister Hale?"

"I most certainly am, Miss Dickinson. However, I prefer to perfect in the latter."

"How artistic of you!"

"And pretentious!" exclaimed the one with the fan. "I fear, my dear Lucy, that this man does not find us 'artistic' enough for him! I tell you, an artist is a courtesan's most feared enemy. They never sleep with women, they go to sleep with their ideas in their minds, and make love to the words in their dreams." At this, her partner in conversation pulled her by the sleeve and gestured her to shut up.

The man in the shadow moved, as if to leave. My eyes wide open, my curiosity stirred at its most, I moved my head a little to the left to behold this mysterious figure, but all I got to see was half of his profile, for the 'insatiable' one hurried to stop him. "Oh come on, William, you are always the one ruin the party!" protested he. The mystery had been partially solved. His name, it seemed, was William Hale.

"How can I ruin the party, when I am not part of it? Now if you excuse me, Henry, I do have to return to my small apartment..."

"... On Oxford Street, number 51. See, I know where you stay," the woman I did not like replied, playing with her fan.

"I trust you will not follow me when I am gone. Let me live with the illusion that you are truly a charming, graceful presence, Miss Grace, — if your name says anything at all about yourself. Now, if I may have your leave, gentlemen, I wish you a great evening — what is left of it!"

"Wait, William, don't leave!"

"Let him go, Sophie," insisted the man called 'Henry', "can't you see, this is not his place?"

"Yes, I can see that. I see that it is not my place either." With a sudden gesture, the blonde woman broke apart from the group and went after the mysterious man. She followed him, and called his name, causing him to stop right under a gas lamp. I hid behind the shop again, as if afraid to behold him. But then I peeked out my head and watched them from behind the building in secret. Standing where I were right then, I could see his face almost perfectly. From what I could deduce, he appeared to be a tall man, perhaps taller than myself. His stature was somehow intimidating, but his smile was of the warmest type of smile, his lips a nice curve among the rough lines of his jaw.

"You played Mozart very beautifully tonight, William," I heard the woman tell him. "You are a great piano player."

"You are most wrong, Miss Whittaker," he said, maintaining the same smile on his face. That woman was possibly the only person he had smiled at since I had been watching them. "It just happens that I enjoy his piano sonatas very much."

I gulped, a strange feeling taking hold of me. I did not know why, but I felt a strong urge of walking to them both just to see him closer. Maybe it was the connection to music that gave me this urge, or maybe it was only my curiosity, but right then I put my shawl over my head and brushed my dirty hands over my cheeks, trying to hide as much as I could from my face. Then I removed the rose bud from my tresses — for I always wore one in my hair — and stepped into the light. And so I did something I never thought I would. I turned into a beggar, only to have a chance to speak to that man. The words slipped from my mouth, my hand holding the rose bud extended to him, and before I could realise what I was doing I was already in front of the pair, asking for money. "A penny for a rose, Sir? I am dying of hunger," I said, secretly cursing myself for what I had just done.

Upon hearing my words, the man showed a scornful expression, one that was a mix of snobbism and arrogance. He inspected me from head to toe, then uttered in an angry, but indifferent manner, "Go away, you tramp."

"Don't be so cruel, William. She's just a poor girl," his companion said to him. I looked up at the woman with shame. She was so beautiful and well-dressed, compared to me.

"A poor girl! And miserable too! Sophie, I have grown tired of this city and its dirt. We should've never come to London. Now come, dear Sophie, let us return home. This is no place for ladies like you."

I could understand now what a huge mistake I had done. They were not people of my rank. This man was most likely one of the nobles whom I detested so much, and in that instant I turned into the dirty stain at his feet. What was in my head, I do not know. What could he have thought of me in that moment? What was I, with my miserable appearance and dust all over my face, compared to the beautiful blonde woman who was with him?

I returned to my dwelling with tears in my eyes. I felt weak, not worthy of anybody's attention. I did not have a wink of sleep that night. I was ashamed of myself. What did I hope — that the man would look at me and smile as he did to his companion? Such things happened only in fairytales; life was bitter, and left no room for hopes and dreams.

The next day, some of my friends at the shop noticed my swollen eyes and proceeded to inquire me about the cause of my sorrow. Although at first I showed reticence in disclosing a secret that I was embarrassed by, in the end Mrs. Miller's intuition and the trust I had in her won, and I eventually told her what had happened. "You suffer from heartbreak, I know it. You can't hide this from me; I've been through many in my life. You set your heart on some wealthy man, didn't you? Child," she said with a sigh, "you are not meant to be a pauper, but one of those women. Wouldn't you like to be a wealthy girl like them, admired by the others, beautiful and educated, and, most important, free?"

"Me? But that is not possible. I was born in poverty..."

"And you can change that. You know what those girls were? Mistresses — kept women. They are paid to entertain men with their beauty and charm. You could become one of them. I was one of them in my youth..."

"Who? You? I can't believe —"

"No, you can't, can you? But I was beautiful once, you know..."

"Oh, but, Mrs. Miller, that's not what I meant to say."

"I know; I know what you meant to say... But never mindme. The question is... would you want to become a mistress?"

"I..." replied I, a little hesitant at first. "I don't think... No, surely you don't want me to... Wouldn't it be wrong?"

"Wrong? Oh, this again! Morality! What is immoral and what is not? Immoral is to take somebody's life, to hurt somebody, to cheat on somebody. But you would not do these. A mistress does not pretend, they all know what her business is and never expect more than this from her. Would you hurt anybody by doing this? No! Of course, there would be a price you'd have to pay, but think about all the advantages... You could be with whomever you love, you could be free... Wouldn't that be a small price compared to the freedom you could gain? You were made for love and beauty, my child, be it the mortal kind of love, if not that spiritual, divine love that comes from God Himself."

"Mrs. Miller, I... I doubt that I could ever do this..."

"Of course you could. You have the beauty needed, you know how to write, how to read; you have a charming presence. You could become an educated, refined young woman and retire whenever you wish, like I did. Would you not like to be loved by that man you met yesterday?"

"I... I do not know."

"This you say. But I think you know the answer already. Think about it. In fact, you would be a rarity, with this red hair and blue eyes. You would be quite a precious gem among others like you."

After my conversation with Mrs. Miller, I returned home with many heavy thoughts on my mind. I was still having second thoughts; I was doubtful, and not sure of my future.

I pulled a mirror out from a drawer and stood in front of it. One by one, I took off my garments, examining my body carefully with every part of it that was revealed. I was, indeed, an unusual kind of beauty, with my ivory skin and coloured hair — a mix of golden blonde with a touch of ginger —, my dark blue eyes that reminded of the evening sky. I imagined that some men would've found me attractive. Of course, I was not as beautiful as the blonde woman I had seen the day before, but I knew that if maintained a pleasant appearance and cultivated a strong education, I could become more than a seamstress.

For months, I had been reading books, learning how to act and lead a pleasant conversation like a well-bread woman. I spent hours learning how to apply my makeup and how to arrange my hair so as to bring out my beautiful eyes and frame my face perfectly. I tried on every dress I had (for now I had two or three more) and took every dress off in front of the mirror, until I learnt how to do it seductively, so as to hide my imperfections and give my body the shape that flattered me the most. In the end, I eventually succeeded in mastering the secrets of beauty and seduction.

Soon after, I started to attend The Royal Opera House. The first time I entered that magical building is one thing I remember very clearly, as if it were yesterday. Seen from the outside, the grandiose edifice was just a block of white, tall Corinthian columns with a symmetrical, elaborately ornamented façade — a beautiful, but unanimated work of art. But inside... inside there were gold carvings, curtains made of burgundy velvet and a staircase made of marble! It was a marvellous place filled with music and vivid colours.

Then it was the music I heard, that divine sound of music, coming from those little colourful figures on the stage! How could that sound come from a human body? Singers, as I thought then, were not human beings; they were angels, messengers of the music of God.

The whole room was alive, and so was I, for I recalled, for the first time in a long time, something so familiar, so well known — a voice so warm and gentle, the voice of my father, when he had given me the music box. Now I know that what I heard that night at The Royal Opera House was the music of 'Die Zauberflöte'(2), and what my music box played was its beautiful aria, 'Der Hölle Rache'.

Papa told me once that my mother had a beautiful voice, but was too poor to become an opera singer. When he had given me the music box, he said to me, "My dear Ellie, this was your mama's favourite opera song. She loved music, especially Mozart, very much, just like you do. You like this melody, don't you? I used to hum you some tunes when you were little, but you can't remember them now, can you,my girl? I promise you, one day I will teach you how to sing and we'll make your mother happy and proud of you!"

Father once wanted me to become a singer, would he still be proud of me if he saw me from up there, if he knew what I have become now? But what could I have done? I have no voice, nor talent. I did learn to play the piano, for the sake of his memory, but that is, I am afraid, the extent of my talent.

However, since the music reminded me of unpleasant matters of my past, in the end I chose the theatre over the opera house. Encouraged by the director of Theatre Royal, who believed in my beauty a little more than in my talent, I pursued another dream. I wished to become an actress, a star of the theatre. In less than one year, I even achieved this success. I soon became known as 'the red rose of Theatre Royal', and this was the moment when I quit working as a seamstress. Still, I visited Mrs. Miller, who in time had become my adviser and my greatest friend, the one I confessed to and whom I ran to whenever I was in trouble, and in need of help and support. She was also the one who made me new dresses, and even gave me a part of her jewellery and her clothes, saying that she did not need them anymore. As soon as my success brought me fame, I was introduced to the high-class society and eventually became what was known as a 'courtesan'.

My first experience of intercourse was not a pleasant encounter, but thanks to the advice that Mrs. Miller always gave me, it was a successful one, nonetheless. In all truth, I do not know exactly what that man found attractive in me that night. He, who was a cultivated baron — the type of sophisticated aristocrat that would've never tainted his reputation by sleeping with a harlot and would've never worn fake jewels as buttons to his expensive shirts —, confessed to me that it was my particular, distant way of being that had turned me into his target, and that he had always manifested some sort of passion for all the females around him who showed opposition. That, I have been learning, was the key to success in controlling the mind of a man. Since then, they have been attracted to me like crazy, and I eventually got to earn enough money so as to give me a sense of stability, and the opportunity to choose between my clients.

I met some other people who influenced my life, and found a new friend in Scarlet Jones. I met Scarlet at the theatre and upon learning that she was a soprano, a singer of The Royal Opera House, I started to attend that place once again. This change provided me with more clients, since the opera house was the main attraction of London for all the nobles and gentlemen in the city.

Since that day of January 29th, 1885, my life had been in a continuous change. I, who had once made such a contradictory contrast against the crowd of aristocrats, was now part of the tableau, of the whole that made up the audience of the opera house. Surrounded by barons, viscounts and dukes who were my clients, by two girls who at first appeared to be my friends, but in truth were nothing else than my foes, and by my true and only friend Scarlet Jones, I attended the opera house in Covent Garden daily, almost always in the same formula, wearing my mask in the form of irresistible red lips and expensive red dresses.

What was to become of me later on, I had no idea. Some of the girls who belonged to the same world of which I was a part had led a prosperous life, living their young years tremendously, and choosing to retire in the countryside in their late thirties, supported by some noble or another, others met failure as soon as they achieved success and died of poor health. And there were some who fell in love against their bitter fate. Unfortunately, nineteenth century London was a crazy world, and we were all poor creature being a part of it.

And still, I still did not have the chance to meet that man again. What would he have thought of me now — he, who had called me a 'tramp'? Would I see him again someday? Would he recognize me, if we were to meet again?

I did not know yet what was written in my fate when I met Ralph, a wealthy duke of thirty-nine years. My career as an actress was at its highest peak that night, when I first saw him. Me and the rest of the girls were behind the scene, preparing for the show and peeking through the curtain from time to time, making up silly questions about our dreams for the future.

"Say Rose, if you were to choose one gentleman of all... whom would you choose to throw flowers at your feet tonight?" asked one of the actresses.

"That one over here, in the first row... I bet he is very rich!" I said, locking my glance upon the man who was to be my next client.

"Oh he is! He is a duke, from what I've heard. Do you think he'll be your admirer tonight?"

"I hope he will be my new source of funds."

Indeed, when the show ended, I had the pleasure of watching the gentleman from the first row stand up and throw a large bouquet of flowers at my feet. It did not take much until he became acquainted with my name, and soon he instilled into my life until he became a part of it.

Very courteous at first and more mature than I was at twenty, the duke apparently made the perfect match for me, at least that is what I believed at that time. He even bought me a luxurious manor in the centre of London, and hired a maid who was also my cook — on her name Martha, and a coachman whom I called Jim. I was impressed by the attention Ralph manifested towards me, by his gentleness and maturity. Being the first man I ever felt something for, I thought I was in love with him. But was I, for real? Was love meant to be expressed in expensive gifts that fed my vanity?

1 Reference to the Great Fire of London in 1666.

2 'The Magic Flute' by W. A. Mozart.

A/N: Hello, fellows! If you read this, you've probably read my first draft of this novel. For those of you who already know the novel, I've been making some great changes to it. I really work hard to make it better and as you might know, I've had some issues with the first chapter that didn't seem to attract readers very much. Well I hope this stirs your interest. I've also decided to avoid mixing two narrative voices in a chapter, I think there will be one point of view in a chapter, and the other one in the next chapter and so on. For my new readers: please don't read my other draft. It will confuse you. I'm trying my best to update this as often as I can, so don't spoil it and wait for my update on this version of my novel.

Thank ya all, and please, R&R! :) I will most likely review your novel/stories, too.