IV

"A ROSE WITHOUT A THORN SERVES MERELY AS AN ILLUSION"

-as narrated by William-

A few days ago, I was an uninspired writer holding a pen in his hand, desperately trying to find the perfect words, lacking passion, ambition, motivation, and beauty on top of all. Today I am the same uninspired man, holding a silly, half-withered rose to his nose and trying to savour as much as I could of its fragrance. The pages are still empty, but I could not care less. I have found beauty in this grotesque town, a beautiful rose, pristine and untouched by soil or sins, and I shall make it mine. The artist in me now claims his muse.

Since the charming Miss Evans dropped the crimson flower on the marble staircase of Theatre Royal, I have smelled it without cease, even in my dreams, I think. There is a subtle fragrance in them, something so specific of her and elusive that I could sense. Naturally, not everybody would agree with me. Henry, for instance, would never find any scent in the morning dew, nor music in the blow of the wind, and much less beauty in subtleness, but I could — it was in my nature of aesthete to search for resplendence everywhere.

Truth be told, I was too beatified by Miss Evans's existence that my senses, exalted to the full, could even make up fragrances. Eventually, when the flower died, I placed it between the files of a book and preserved it, withered as it was, as a future reminiscence of what my eyes have been blessed to behold.

Most of my time was now spent at The Royal Opera House; it was the only place where I could see her every so often. I knew that she was going there on a daily basis. By and large, she was present, almost every time in the loge, and I — inches away, from where I could nearly never admire her, much less speak with her. The seats next to Miss Evans, it appears, were always reserved for somebody who never came. It took me a while until I understood the trick. She did the reservations herself, as I came to know, perhaps to avoid the company of others. Was it that she wallowed in loneliness? I found it hard to believe. No woman of her age and beauteousness could possibly find solace in desolation. The fair sex was created for love. Blondes, brunettes, coloured or fair-skinned, women like her are made to be loved, treasured, and hold dear. The greatest mistake one of these women could commit is to take away from all of us, men, the pleasure of admiring them. Let there be beauty, and those who have eyes shall see it, and those who haven't... well, theirs would be the greatest loss.

Mayhap she was indeed expecting someone — someone who never came. That somebody who did not show up must be either a fool for deceiving Miss Evans, or an inexistent person. I still had an eye for beauty (one I feared that I had lost when I arrived in London), thus I could not be at loss but what if it was my company that she did not desire either?

Regardless, once I solved the mystery, I found a solution: I would pretend that I am her companion. My manoeuvre worked well, and I was sold a ticket in the third loge, right beside her. I arrived at the theatre earlier that evening and occupied my seat, wickedly laughing to myself while I envisaged the brilliant scenario of what was going to happen.

I glanced around the auditorium from time to time, waiting, fussing, anticipating, consulting my pocket watch every five minutes at first, but afterwards from minute to minute. What if she would not come, especially today when I have made my puckish move?

Thirty minutes later, my eyes spotted something familiar in the crowd. The same pretty little face I was acquainted was now glancing at my loge. She took notice of my presence, but didn't yet know who the man intruding on her personal loge was. I turned my glance away from her right away, and remained calm and patient (if not on the inside, at least on the outside), silently counting the seconds left until she would make her presence known.

...Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two... and aha! It only took mere seconds until her silhouette materialised before my eyes. She demanded an argument from me right away, her arms crossed in a defensive, impersonal attitude until I, although not willing to accept her presence so easily, had to give in (such a sweet necessity that I had to perform!) when she called out my name. "Mr. Hale —"

"Miss Evans, what a pleasure to meet you here!"

"The pleasure is, and shall remain forever yours. What in the world are you doing here?"

"Why, enjoying the theatre as you are."

"But from here? Can you not enjoy the theatre from further?"

"I prefer the view I have from here, particularly now, when you are a part of it."

"Grand words have never moved me, Mr. Hale; grand deeds on the other side... Shed some light on this mystery and tell me how you got here."

"Perfect synchronization and coincidence, Miss Evans. I happened to know that you have reserved the seats yourself, and somebody who sold me the ticket happened to mistake me for your companion."

"Did you pass off as my companion? That is an awful thing to do, mister. Please, do not do this ever again! Have you any idea of what trouble you could bring into my life? These seats... they... are reserved... for someone... someone who will not accept to see me... ah, never mind..."

"Someone who never bothers to accompany you. Whoever that person is, he could not possibly care if you are with him or not."

"Save your remarks for yourself! There is somebody who will join me, and she is one of my... friends? "Friend" is too much a word. Someone to whom I could not be so impolite as to tell her I do not need her presence tonight. She will arrive here in a blink of an eye. What am I going to tell her now? You cause me problems, Mr. Hale, serious problems. You will please pretend that you do not know me and never interfere in my conversation with Miss Thompson. Will you agree? Say you will!"

"Miss Thompson? Linda Thompson? Why, I would gladly pretend anything for you, Miss Evans, but does Miss Thompson have such short a memory that she will not recall me?"

"How come? Have you met her already? Oh it cannot be! I hate you so much, Mr. Hale, for doing this to me. She will take notice of everything you say and spread the news in the entire town. But why am I telling you these, you will not believe me. You must be thinking that I am unreasonable, and, of course, you doubt that she would ever do this to me. Everybody adores Miss Thompson; you cannot make an exception..."

"Oh but I can! I am everybody's exception, Miss Evans, and I have to agree with you. There is something of her I do not like either."

"Truly? I am so glad to hear this! It means you will take my side."

"Possibly. What do I have to win from doing this?"

"Nothing more than a tiny part of my respect for you, but mind you, this is something few men have gained. You should consider yourself lucky if... Oh, but whisht now, here she comes! Pray do not say anything foolish!"

Indeed, Miss Thompson's excessively gleesome presence was to be made known very soon. When she called out my name, I nearly jumped from my seat. She possessed a voice so sharp and loud, that it gave me chills. I even complimented her on how she could easily outmatch the opera singers. It appears I touched her pride when I said this, for she took my words for granted and insisted that it would be her pleasure to perform a lied for me especially, if I were to attend Miss Jones's parties ever again, which she begged that I do.

"You do remember with how much virtuosity I play piano, do you not?" she even presumed to ask.

"Why of course... Your performance was... how should I say it?"

"Beautiful, memorable... was it not?"

"Not at all."

"Pardon me?" she blurted out. Miss Evans could not help but laugh softly at her companion's excess of self-confidence. Unfortunately for us and for her, we both could recall her desperate attempts to impress the guests at Miss Jones's manor.

"What I mean to say, Miss Thompson, is that it was more than the words you enumerated. For what is 'beautiful'? A simple song that one has written, before it is sung by a voice as divine as yours. And 'memorable'... too weak a word. If something stays in my memory, it must be either awful, which cannot be your case, or excellent, but you need a word which can only describe your performance. Awed, there you are! I was awed by your singing."

"You're flattering me, Mr. Hale."

"But tell me, does your friend play piano as well as you do, Miss Thompson?"

Miss Evans was absently playing with her fan, her eyes settled on her lap, when suddenly she jumped out of her seat at the hearing of my question, and flushed right away. "Oh, no, she prefers to remain in the shadow... right?" said she, turning to her companion, who was already embarrassed by the queer circumstances and barely looking at either of us. "Oh but wait... Don't tell me... you haven't yet met Mr. Hale!"

"I... well..."

"And neither you — her!"

"No, I have not," added I awkwardly. Miss Evans startled, smiled at me discreetly, and regained her usual absent attitude.

"How strange, I could have sworn I saw you two talking at Scarlet's place!"

Miss Thompson's exclamations, clanks, sounds — whatever they were — continued with another remark on my quietness, another comment regarding Miss Jones's soirée and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

I looked back at Miss Evans for reassurance and motioned a discreet wink. She returned me a cordial smile, by which she signalled me how grateful she was to me for maintaining the appearance of a stranger. Miss Thompson went on with her clavering, which I won't bother to reproduce in these lines. Whenever the circumstances were of such nature that they reminded us of our secret scheme, Miss Evans and I shared a quiet laugh, but no more than this.

The opera ended with no more words exchanged between us. Miss Thompson dominated the whole conversation, preventing me from saying much, which I was grateful for anyway. When they parted, though, I tried to catch up with her, but she was already gone. Nevertheless, this was no reason to be disappointed. I returned to my place satisfied, with a feeling that I might've finally conquered a tiny part of her heart.

This happiness was short-lived, however, because soon it bechanced that I saw her with a man. It is not necessary, I trust, to explain what was happening inside of me every time I saw her arm in arm with that man (whoever he was). I was burning, itching to make her mine. I felt a pang of jealousy in my heart whenever I saw them together. Beside this jealousy, there was bitterness that I had to endure. She never looked me in the eyes and if she did, she never smiled, but instead turned dead-pale. Miss Evans was terrified to see me so close to her; yet I was so far from her. She was afraid that I might ruin her reputation, her life, perhaps. It did not take me much to see who that man was, and once I understood this, I realised it would be most desirable not to make my presence known.

My spirit of conqueror urges me to persist, my venturesome side as well; the artist in me cannot resist her beauty. But more than this, there is my pride I cannot get over. I refuse to accept the idea of being defeated. Everything I had set as a goal, I have achieved; it is impossible to lose precisely now, when I am on the verge of succeeding, and all because of a woman. There is nothing that can make me give up so easily.

I found a cooperative ally, willing to provide me with valuable information, in Miss Jones. She told me nearly everything about her friend. The most precious detail I obtained from her, however, was about her friend's relationship with that man. Apparently, he is a wealthy man, and is supporting her materially. He even bought her the manor she is living in, which I have been told that is a truly impressive building. From all the facts Miss Jones has entrusted me with, there is no trace of doubt that their relationship cannot possibly be something more than a façade.

I convinced Miss Jones to divulge me her address and commenced writing a brief letter to her at firelight. There is something about the dim light of the evenfall that makes us more inclined to indulge in fantasies and daydreams. No matter how cold the feelings, we all become warmer at this time of the day. Thus, I wrote my letter guided by high ideals and great aspirations, and the expectancies I had were of the same degree.

"Dear Miss Evans,

I assume that right now, as you read these lines, you have no idea of what you have done to me. You have put my heart on fire, but it would mean nothing, for I can make abstraction of my feelings easily, but you have done it to my mind too.

After what I have done for you, you should be certain that there is nothing I would do to ruin you. It is my least intention to disgrace your person, or reputation. All I ask of you is to spare some consideration for this miserable man who cannot endure your ignorance towards him.

How should I feel now, that I have seen you with another man in the loge, in the same place I have occupied last week, when I did not pay attention to the opera itself, just so I could watch you from closer? Do I not at least deserve a reason for your cold attitude?

W. H."

This is only one of the many letters I have sent to Miss Evans, and the first that has been returned by its unimpressed receiver. The following became more and more elaborated, filled with grand, fervent words, and therefore, served as a simple object of persuasion, rather than a means of expressing my true feelings. I penned the rest of my letters in the morning, under clear broad light, when I was more awake than lost in idylls. Driven by great ambition, and by an itch to win this battle in which my pride was threatened, I continued to send her missives and attend the opera house until one day, when I did not see her in Loge number III.

Eventually that day, Miss Jones informed me that she was not feeling well. "It is nothing serious," she hurried to assure me. "I am going to visit her tomorrow. Do you want me to deliver any message from you to her?"

"Only tell her that I apologise if I offended her in any way, and that I hope she gets well soon."

Upon returning home, I took my pen and started another letter, but ceased as soon as my words turned into passional confessions. I could not be such a brute so as to torment her with my insistence anymore. For the time being, I quitted sending her letters, but continued to go to the opera house daily, hoping to see her again soon. A week of agony and doubt has passed with no trace of her. Days were flying and I was beginning to worry. Was her sickness something serious?

I bought a bouquet of red roses and asked Miss Jones to send them to her friend. She then informed me the next day that Miss Evans was feeling better and that she thanked me for the flowers. I could not help but smile at such good news.

And then, one day, it happened that I saw her again at The Royal Opera House. Miss Evans was more beautiful than ever before my eyes that moment when, glinting at me, her eyes met mine for one split second. I was already seated when she passed just by my side and threw me a furtive glance, and then unexpectedly dropped a folded piece of paper just at my feet. My temper was exhilarated to the full; we now had a secret to share. That piece of paper was something of whose existence only the two of us knew.

I unwrapped the confidential note with eagerness and read it in a hurry. Inside there was an address, written with almost unintelligible letters. Below I could read the words: "Meet me this evening, after the show, at the address I see you know so well. Nevertheless, I will write it once more. Please do not talk to me until then."

I searched her through the crowd and when our eyes met, I bowed my head in approval, so as to let her know that I agreed. She smiled at me for a second, and then ignored me for the rest of the show. From time to time, that man whispered something into her ears, and she put on a fake smile (or at least that is how it seemed to me right then). There was no doubt: a pretty young woman like her was too beautiful, too graceful for such a man who, it appears, could have been old enough to be her father.

It is well-known, though, that the judgement of an enamoured man can suffer drastic changes in perception, but was I that close to being infatuated? I could not lose my mind so fast and easily.

I rubbed my hands nervously all of the time, playing with that paper until I almost crumpled it. My patience underwent serious trials and turbulences; I could barely wait until the end of the last act. Curiosity has been something I could never resist.

When the show finally ended, I rushed outside and hid in a corner, waiting for Miss Evans and her companion to make their departure. They summoned two separate coaches, one that led to St. James Street, which was the street mentioned in her address, and the other (in which that man climbed) followed the opposite direction. I took a post chaise myself and hurried to the destination, but not before I bought her another bouquet of red roses to compensate for the rose bud she dumped on the stairs of Theatre Royal.

In less than an hour, I was standing in front of a grand hall, surrounded by a tall gate. The building was impressive; it almost looked like a palace from the outside. For a split second, I wondered what on earth was I doing at her door, with a simple bouquet of roses in my hands? I was a silly man, daring to think that she would consider my gift. She must've been used with expensive presents. I did not have enough time, however, to think about it, and dispose of the flowers. Within seconds, familiar auburn hair and red lips came into sight; blue eyes met mine. It seems that my presence had been made known.

"At last, you have arrived. What took you so long?" I greeted her politely while handing her the bouquet of flowers. "Oh how nice of you! But do come in; it is already late and I cannot let you stay after nine o'clock." She extended her arm — a thin, porcelain-white limb on which she wore a delicate golden bracelet — to me and I placed a kiss on the back of her hand.

After she thanked me, Miss Evans led me through an infinite number of corridors to her parlour. The chamber was huge, decorated with curtains and tapestry of a dark, royal green. The framings of the mirror and of the paintings that hung on the wall were made of gold. The style was exuberant, but at the same time elegant. There wasn't a single colour that did not match the rest, every piece of furniture being in perfect harmony with the others. Every little corner of the room proved that she must've had a fine, cultivated taste.

And there was a sweet floral scent so pleasing to my senses, a fragrance that dispersed around the room when, drawing the heavy curtains, she opened the window. "Much better now, is it not? My parlourmaid, Martha, always closes the windows. She says that cold air is not good for my health, but fresh air always makes me feel better."

"You do feel better, I hope."

"I do, thank you for your concern. Oh but do not stand there, please be seated. You are quite surprised by my manor, I saw you staring at it for a while..."

"I am... it is an impressive work of art, after all; you have a very fine taste," commented I, absentmindedly.

"And you, a strong predilection for beauty, I suppose."

"Of course, after all it is you whom I laid eyes on." My input was a bit out of place and did not have the effect I expected. Instead of feeling embarrassed, or vexed, Miss Evans evinced her satisfaction, but remained silent, and caused me to do the same. Suddenly there was a feeling of intimacy between us I found uncomfortable. I looked around the room for a while, making a few remarks on the interior. When my comments came to an end, and we both were reduced to complete silence again, I sank in an armchair, and proceeded to study the paintings that hung on the wall. My gaze was now settled upon a vase of red roses. "I see you like the flowers I gave you. Are these the ones I sent to you...?"

"Oh, no. You are not the first one, nor the last one to send me roses," she added while placing the bouquet I have just bought for her into the same vase, "and for some reason everybody thinks that they are my favourite flowers. I think it has to do with my name," said she, laughing softly. "Not that I do not like roses or appreciate when somebody offers me flowers, but I am not quite fond of gifts."

"Very well, Miss Evans, I shall not buy you roses anymore. It was not a gift anyway, but rather an act of compensation for what I have done. Even now, I feel bad for stealing the bud you've dumped on the stairs that night and even guilty for admiring it every now and then..."

"You were still there when I...?"

"When you threw it? Aye, and I picked it up. I see you do not wear roses in your hair anymore since then..."

"Oh, that! I grew tired of them. Once, I threw away my earrings because I wore them for a whole week."

"You are quite an extravagant, Miss Evans, but when will you let me call you by your first name? Will you not grow tired of the formalities as well?"

"No, I will not, and now that you have reminded me of it, I invite you, in the same conventional spirit, to have some tea. Martha makes the most delicious génoise cake and the best tea in London! It has such an uncommon aroma. She must have a secret ingredient, something oriental, I guess! Try it yourself!" she said while pouring some into a porcelain teacup and handed it to me. Indeed, it had a pleasant taste. It was sweet at first, but after a while it tasted spicy and fresh as mint, and that savour lingered in my mouth for a long time.

"Very peculiar indeed... and addictive. Have you asked me to come to this palace of yours to bewitch my senses with oriental aromas and perfume? Whatever that fragrance you wear is, it is intoxicating. The whole room is filled with it."

"What can I say? I like to live in high-style, surrounded by good music, reading good books, and wearing the finest perfumes and fabrics. But to charm you, Mr. Hale, is the least of my intents. By the end of our conversation you will have wished to never have met me anyway; I assure you of it. I have asked you to come because there is one thing we should clarify regarding yourself..."

"Regarding myself? And I was hoping that my letters elucidated it all! Were my letters not eloquent enough?"

"Regarding your income, more precisely, Mr. Hale. Tell me, what do you do? How do you earn your money? Forgive me for being so straight to the point..."

"No, no, it is not a secret that I am a writer — one who is not yet starving, thus less genuine, but nevertheless… still a writer."

"A writer?" she asked with surprise, a hint of disappointment in her voice, as I predicted. "So you did not lie when you told me that you are not a wealthy man."

"No, I did not."

"And you know what I am?" I shook my head. "Do you wish to find out?"

"I trust it would not make a difference..."

"Oh," said she with a wry smile, "so you say now! Would it still not make a difference if I told you that there have been dozens of men before you who have courted me, and that you are not the first one to send me such passional letters, and most likely, you will not be the last either? Would it not hurt your ego if you knew that you are speaking with a demimonde, a paramour? You must know that this is what I am."

I was shocked, to the point that I could not say anything. Her blunt confession benumbed me, left me speechless. She laughed to herself at my silence, beholding me with haughtiness. "What, has your interest in me dropped? All of a sudden, has it not? I am not surprised."

I did not answer. Instead, I watched her pouring herself some tea in a cup and sipping it seductively. Afterwards, she proceeded to make a long list of her 'acquisitions'. "All the things you see in this place have been bought especially for me by dukes, counts, viscounts, barons… that painting there, for example, has been ordered just from Paris for me by a baron, and that mirror, the one with gilded framing, has been bought for my birthday recently. Before it, in the same place, I used to hold another mirror, a present from a viscount. He said it belonged to Harriet Wilson(1) once, but I did not believe him. I got rid of it soon; I did not particularly like how my face looked in it..." She paused for a moment, smiled to herself, and then added, "I am certain that right now you must be thinking that I am an immoral woman."

"Not quite what I was thinking of," I contradicted her, "but quite close to it. I must admit you have shocked me." This woman in front of me was not a fragile, delicate young lady as I had previously hoped she would be. She was a practiced devourer of men. I had no reason to act with gentleness while in her presence, so I decided to be straight to the point with her. "Miss Evans, I am positive that you have already guessed my interest in you. If I am not too plainspoken, I would like to see you again, most preferably in an intimate context, as we are now."

"That is next to impossible. I do not befriend strangers. We, women of the half-world, do not have time for this. Our feelings would interfere with business. And I assume that it is some sort of friendship that you seek for, as you have mentioned in your letters, not some other sort of adventure or —"

"Absolutely not. But what if I were a duke? A nobleman?"

"Then I would pretend to be interested in your person. My life is an entire play, Mr. Hale. I've had one year of acting on stage. Throughout the rest of my years, life itself has been my stage. You see, I am not the kind of woman who can starve herself just for the sake of morality. You do notice that I can only live in luxury, I hope."

"Very pretentious, Miss Evans... very pretentious indeed. But then you must only pretend to love that man…"

"The duke? Of course."

"Hence while he is gone you bring other lovers of yours in this place," I immediately concluded.

"Yes, you understood it very well."

One question was still haunting me, and I feared the answer could have been one that I did not wish to hear. "Did you hope that I would be one of your high-class aristocrats too?"

"Do you prefer the truth, Mr. Hale?"

"Always," I firmly replied.

"The truth most often hurts." She paused, and then carried on, "I did not intend to profit from your company tonight, but I shall not lie to you. I hoped that you would be my client. It is awfully tiresome to spend the night with old men, I must admit. It bores me to death." I was practically left without any words, shocked to disgust. I did not know whether I should have taken it as a compliment, or an offence. Obviously though, it was an insult for me, one of the most injurious affronts that I have ever received.

"Madame," concluded I when my pride was wounded, "I believe you have just delivered me an insult by revealing your true intentions."

"I know, I hurt your ego, did I not? All men are the same, you do not make that exception; I assume you give yourself so much credit, that you would rather admit to yourselves that you have never loved, than having loved a woman that has previously had other affairs," she pointed out ironically. "But you said you wanted to hear the truth, did you not?"

I looked over my shoulder and saw the crystal vase in which my flowers were placed, among others of the same kind. Was I, just as those roses, one entity among many of my kind, a man just like her other favourites who did not make a difference to her? "I believe I have heard enough truths. You do not know anything about me, much less about my pride."

"Neither do you about my person. I have built an image of you by what you have said, as you did with me just before."

"Let us end this conversation here. I feel not sorry for coming, though. Otherwise, I would have lived an illusion of how you truly are."

I stood up right away, preparing to leave. She followed me, I thought, to stop me. In my dreams, she was begging me to stay. However, this was nothing but a short-lived illusion. Instead, she led me through the corridors and opened the door, candidly inviting me to leave her place. I realised that the image of her I had in my mind was unreal. If I, by chance, had been on the verge of falling in love with her, then I have been attracted by nothing more than a delusive image of my ideal.

It is time to face the truth; and reality's hit me in the form of a grand disappointment. It is unlikely that she present any interest in me, even less probable, since I am nothing more than a plain writer. There is nothing I could possibly offer to this extravagant, pretentious woman, nothing we have in common and no way in which she can meet my ideals.

I left her manor somehow disgusted, but mostly disappointed. I should have learned a long time ago not to have high hopes. The more modest the expectations, the lesser the disappointment that comes afterwards.

I tried severely to forget about Miss Evans, thus spent most of the time writing poems, one after another, until there was no more ink left. I thought that it would make me forget about her. The more I drown myself in work, the less time I have to think about her, I came to reckon. And it works perfectly fine as long as I have inspiration. My hands do not stop for hours and I sometimes lose good hours of sleep, but as long as I can keep my mind focused on anything else, it is worth it. However, there are times when I run out of ideas... And it is in those times when I tear up the papers and throw them in the bin, don my black redingote, put on my top hat, and roam along the streets of West End London like a stray man.

Today, on the other side, my feet carried me to an old pub on Oxford Street. I saw Miss Jones enter British Oak and I followed her, and eventually invited her to join me.

We started to talk over various matters and slowly our conversation switched from unimportant things to her friend. She inevitably asked me about Miss Evans and I, having in front of me a trusted confidant, told her what happened at her place. For some reason, Miss Jones believed in me, in the honest aims that guided me in the seduction of her friend. It did not take her much to realise my infatuation with her friend, and since then she's encouraged me to pursue this ambition of mine.

"So you finally found out... I hope you do not despise me for hiding the truth, but I honestly could not interfere between you two. Are you disappointed?"

"I suppose I am, Miss Jones. Should I not be?"

"Mr. Hale, you should not think so low of my friend. If you permit me, I think you might have been misled by your temper. Rose did the right thing by telling you the truth right from the start. She could have hidden this aspect of her life from you; still she preferred sincerity. We are not saints, Mr. Hale, we all have sins. Who is to tell which sin we should forgive and which not? Have you never been ashamed of something you did in your past? And trust me, she did not choose to live her life this way without having a solid reason."

"Miss Jones," I quickly contradicted her, "I understand that you are her friend, but do not attempt to change my mind. I cannot despise her, but I cannot grow fond of a person like her either. It would be against my principles."

"Well sometimes we need to act against our principles. I know her for a long time. She's led a tumultuous life until she met the duke, but since then her affairs had come to an end. She dedicates her life to that brute of a man who treats her as if she were a tramp."

"I find it hard to believe you. She appeared so vain before me the other day... Could it be that she feels at least a trace of repent?"

"Of course she does! But what kind of woman do you think she is? If there is something you should not judge her for, that is the reason why she chose to be what she is. When I first met her, she was an orphaned waif; she has no family. What do you expect of her, to die of hunger, to end her life in a monastery?"

"She does not have a family?" said I, quite surprised. "I did not know."

"Oh, so now you pity her. She would hate you for this, Mr. Hale."

"It is not that like that..."

There followed silence, time in which I reflected upon those that Miss Jones had told me. Have I been a brute too? Was I too full of pride, too harsh with Miss Evans when I attributed her unchaste values and rejected the other facets of her individuality? After all, could one's character be defined by a definite number of predetermined traits, which society itself imposes? Was I dim-witted in my judgement?

"Miss Jones, I think I might have been mistaken, and I admit it shamefully. She will never agree to speak with me again."

"You are being too harsh on yourself... in the long run, she will understand you, and forgive you. I'll tell you what! Why don't you drop by my place tomorrow night? We are having our usual Saturday evening gathering. Rose and I will be the hosts. I will tell her that you are my guest. She can't possibly avoid you all evening."

Indeed, this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to apologize to her and, eventually… to seduce her. Hah! I allowed myself to fantasise with the idea. Seducing the seducer, how ironic! On the other hand, this was a challenge that has just been thrown at my feet, and I could not step on it. I had to accept it, embrace it and in the end accomplish everything I have set as a goal.

"You have helped me a great deal, Miss Jones. Can I ask you why?"

"My friend needs somebody like you to guide her through the right path of life. I don't know why, but I trust you. I think you could be that 'somebody'. I hope, though, that you will not disappoint me or my friend..."

"I will do all that's in my power not to meet your hopes, Miss Jones. But will that duke interfere? Will he be there too? He would make my tries useless."

"I do not see the reason why he should be. But let me tell you, Mr, Hale, if there's anything you should get rid of, that is your potential jealousy. Should you be together someday, it might drive you insane. My friend has a free mind; she does not want to be confined between any walls, much less within those of love."

After all that I have learned about Miss Evans, I did not know what to think anymore. There have been many facets of her that I have gotten to know. What was her true identity? She appeared to be a complex person, a woman of many sorts. When I accepted Miss Jones's invitation, I was hoping to find her real character. But what if there is no typology in which I could include her? What if I find no thorns on the inside of this beautiful, not yet full-blossomed rose? I can easily resist an illusion, but when the illusion becomes real, I am afraid I will be willing to yield to it.


1 Famous courtesan of the Regency period.