This is Chapter Twenty -- "Madame Benet's Salon"
The other stories in the "Wayfarers" series.
Features Brian Kinney, William Reynolds, Yvonne Benet, Madeleine Remy, Yves Girard, Pascal Leclerc, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian makes his debut. New Orleans, December, 1843.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
"Guess who is expected to make an appearance here tonight, Madeleine?" Yvonne Benet asked as her closest confidante, Madeleine Remy, came into the room for Yvonne's Friday evening salon. The drawing room was decorated in red, green, and gold in honor of Advent, but the temperature in New Orleans was decidedly warm and un-Christmas-like. Many of the most colorful and exciting members of the New Orleans demi-monde were already present -- gamblers and sporting men, mistresses and actresses, but there were writers and artists as well. Madame Yvonne was as interested in promoting culture and the arts as she was in offering a carefree atmosphere for people who were not exactly part of the accepted Society of New Orleans.
"You are such a tease, Yvonne," Madeleine pouted. She knew that she had a most winning pout and used it whenever she could. "You know that I am hopeless at guessing games!"
"Who have we been wondering about ever since my old friend William Reynolds brought him into the city?" answered Yvonne, raising her curving black eyebrows. Yvonne was technically a person of color, but the women in her family had been the free mistresses of wealthy white men for so many generations that the only trace of Africa left within her were her snapping black eyes. Yvonne Benet never forgot her origins, nor did she allow anyone else to forget them.
"La!" exclaimed Madeleine, opening her fan. "The Boy! Of course! I should have known that Monsieur Reynolds would bring him here first." Madeleine laughed slyly. "Have the two of you renewed your acquaintance, Yvonne? If you have do not let Maurice catch wind of it. I think he is getting jealous in his old age!" Madeleine was always tweaking her friend about the advancing age of Yvonne's lover, Maurice Lamarque. Madeleine was proud of the fact that the man who kept her, an American planter, was barely in his 30's and as robust as a stallion.
"No," Yvonne admitted. "When William called on me he was decidedly cool. But it is probably just as well. You are right that Maurice has been touchy lately. It is because his wife is in poor health and has been rather demanding on his attention. So he imagines that I am having affairs with all of his friends behind his back."
"Aren't you?" asked Madeleine with feigned innocence.
"Hush! You will get me into trouble, you minx!" Yvonne loved Madeleine dearly, but she was also an untrustworthy cat. "I had been longing to see William again and revive our affair, but -- alas! -- he seems absolutely fixated on his new possession."
"I had never thought Monsieur Reynolds to be one for Boys," Madeleine sniffed. "He seems so manly." Like most of the ladies of the demi-monde, Madeleine believed that only a man who was somewhat less than virile would resort to Boys when there were so many beautiful women in the world.
"He is very manly indeed!" Yvonne insisted. "But I believe he has had this inclination within him for a long, long time. William spoke to me once of a person he knew in New York when he was a very young man. The way he talked I could tell that he was in love with this person but that it ended badly. He never said that it was another man, but that was the impression I received." Yvonne frowned, thinking of the last time she had seen Reynolds, over two years before. "Besides, this Boy is said to be quite beautiful. Never underestimate the power of beauty to turn a man's head, even a man as practical and resolute as William Reynolds!"
"I don't care how beautiful the Boy is, Yvonne!" replied Madeleine. "I would be quite put out to think that my lover preferred some callow youth to me! And I certainly would not welcome the two of them into my salon with open arms!"
Yvonne shrugged dramatically. "What I cannot change, I must accept. That is the way of the world," she said philosophically. "My dear, here they are now. And don't say anything that will make the child ill-at-ease. This is his debut, after all."
When William Reynolds ushered Brian into the drawing room of Madame Benet's house, it was so full of candles and mirrors that it seemed to Brian to be as bright as day. It wasn't like a room in an ordinary house or even a hotel like Madame Heloise's Paradise, but more like a public ballroom or gambling palace. There were elegantly dressed people mingling, drinking from delicate glasses and eating tiny pastries from silver trays held by solemn black servants in scarlet jackets with the Benet Family emblem embroidered on the sleeve. In the corner another black gentleman, also in the Benet scarlet livery, was playing the harp.
"My dear!" cried a beautiful woman in a green dress. She swept over to the newcomers and Reynolds took her small hand in his and kissed it. Madame Benet had dark reddish hair elaborately dressed in red, green, and gold ribbons to match the Advent wreaths that decorated the room. She spoke to Reynolds in animated French that Brian couldn't even begin to follow -- but her dark eyes were riveted on Brian, drinking him in from head to toe.
"And may I present my ward, Brian?" said Reynolds when Madame Benet paused. He glanced at the Boy and nodded.
"Enchanté, Madame Benet," said Brian. He hesitated, then made a small bow, as Reynolds had instructed him. But the words to his hostess that Brian had diligently rehearsed were flying out of his head. The lights and all the excitement had frightened them away. "Vous... you are tres belle, madame. And your house is... tres grand," Brian said, blushing bright red.
"You are very welcome to my salon, Master Brian!" Yvonne Benet exclaimed in only slightly accented English. She kissed the Boy on both cheeks. "You are utterly charming! You must have something to eat and drink now." Madame Benet turned to Reynolds. "You are still fond of champagne, William?"
"Extremely, Yvonne," said Reynolds, gallantly. "And so is the Boy here. But anything you serve is sure to be a delight."
"Oh, this man is a smooth talker!" Madame Benet confided to Brian. "I never believe a word he says, even when I know he is telling the truth -- especially then! All gamblers are born dissemblers!"
"You are too wise, Yvonne. You'll betray all of my secrets," admitted Reynolds. His eyes were scanning the room, taking in who was present. And also who was attending to their conversation.
"And this is a very handsome coat," Madame Benet said to Brian, fingering the fine detailing on his new blue velvet coat. It was a copy of Reynolds' own favorite dress coat.
Brian puffed up proudly. "It was made for me here in New Orleans!"
"Of course, my dear. Where else?" Yvonne's long fingers touched the line of the Boy's jaw, then his long, slender neck. His skin was white and flawless and he smelled sweet and compelling. Yvonne recognized a new scent created by Monsieur Saint-Etienne's conjure woman, Berthe. Yvonne herself wore such a perfume, a mixture of jasmine flowers and amberwood, and she knew its power. The Boy's eyes were as green and alert as a cat's. He was no stupid little piece to be used and tossed lightly aside. But then Yvonne knew that William Reynolds would never waste his time -- or his good money -- on inferior goods.
But what was Reynolds planning to do with the Boy? If he'd wanted to turn a quick and healthy profit he would have sold the Boy the day he arrived in the parish. Instead, William was dressing him, grooming him, introducing him into the sporting world. And as his ward, of all things! When everyone had already heard the story of the poker game in some crude frontier brothel where Reynolds won the Boy. Yet the gambler was shepherding the little whore around town like a visiting prince. Yvonne was truly puzzled.
Madeleine Remy flounced over, glass of champagne in hand, and batted her blue eyes at William Reynolds. She'd always found him darkly handsome and dangerous. Madeleine liked dangerous men. Her planter lover was not in the city for the Christmas season, and if Madeleine could entice Reynolds to visit her then she would have something to flaunt in her good friend Yvonne's face. Madeleine glanced at Reynolds' Boy with scorn. She had been expecting something younger and much more shocking -- a chubby little blond catamite, perhaps, but certainly not this skinny youth with the shaggy brown hair. He was altogether common and well beneath Madeleine's notice.
But although Madeleine Remy was flirting with him outrageously, William Reynolds would barely even speak to her! He greeted Madeleine politely -- but then he leaned over and openly caressed his Boy! It was like a slap in the face to all of the ladies there! Yes, the Boy had a sweet expression, but nothing more! He was artless and gauche, with his long legs and arms. Madeleine didn't even understand completely what a man would do with a Boy. She couldn't imagine a gentleman kissing one -- and yet, that's exactly what Reynolds was doing! Openly kissing and petting the brat. As if he were sending them all a message! And it was an insulting message as far as Madeleine was concerned. If she were Yvonne, she would put the pair of them out of the house immediately!
"What is the trouble, Madeleine? You look like you have something caught in your lovely throat." Yves Girard and his compatriot, Pascal Leclerc, were gathered around the punch bowl when Madeleine retreated there. "Isn't Monsieur Reynolds biting tonight?"
"Shut up, Yves. YOU might have better luck with that stupid man than I am having!" Madeleine tapped her foot, waiting until one of the dandies finally offered her a cup of punch.
"Reynolds is too much the man for my taste, cheríe! But that Boy... I would like to catch a few moments with HIM behind Madame Yvonne's velvet curtains!" Yves drawled. His friend Pascal guffawed loudly. They were enjoying Madeleine's obvious discomfort.
"You she-men and your Boys! You are afraid of a female, that is it!" Madeleine spat. "I would expect such behavior from you two scented poseurs, but William Reynolds seems so... so masculine! It must be a new disease that is causing this outbreak of Boy Love, if even Monsieur Reynolds is affected!"
Pascal Leclerc sniffed a pinch of snuff off the back of his lace-cuffed wrist. "Perhaps the American has simply come to his senses! A delectable youth such as the one he has acquired makes a tired wench such as yourself seem about as enticing as last year's Christmas pudding!"
Madeleine considered throwing the remnants of her punch in Pascal's face, but she was afraid it might splash on her new frock, so she merely stormed away, leaving the pair to smirk at her retreat.
"He IS a pretty fellow, isn't he Pascal?" Yves commented as they watched Reynolds lead his Boy around the room, introducing him to everyone and making their relationship more than clear. "Such red lips!"
"I can picture those lips doing things to my prick that I will not be describing to my confessor!" Pascal replied. Pascal Leclerc was infamous in the local Boy houses. Monsieur Henri, who owned the finest male brothel in the city, had banned Pascal from the place because of the way he had used one of Henri's best whores, leaving marks on him that took weeks to fade completely.
But Pascal dismissed such details. What were the Boys for but to be made use of? And this Reynolds' Boy -- he was Irish. They had such fine white skin, the Irish. And long limbs, just the way Pascal liked them.
"Reynolds keeps this lad close to him, does he not, Yves?" Pascal mused. He licked his lips.
"You are not thinking of...? Be very careful, mon ami!" said Yves in alarm. "William Reynolds is famous for his temper -- and for his perfect aim!" Yves shuddered.
"If I manage it correctly, Monsieur Reynolds will never even know that I have, er, taken an apple off his tree," Pascal smiled smugly. "Don't fret. I'll pay the Boy for his time and trouble. He's not about to tattle to his master about it afterwards if I make it worth his while."
"I think you are very mistaken about this Boy, Pascal," Yves warned. "Please reconsider this!"
Pascal waved away his friend's fears. "The Boy is a whore. A few coins in his pocket is all he is interested in. Perhaps you would like to join me, Yves? I've seen that slave you keep for your personal amusement and he cannot hold a candle to this creature. We can share him -- it will be my treat."
Yves blanched. "Leave me out of your schemes, Pascal! I wish to be alive to enjoy the NEXT Christmas season. But I fear you will not be if you persist in this venture."
But Pascal Leclerc could not take his eyes off of Reynolds' Boy. His words to Yves began as a joke, but the more Pascal thought about it, the more the desire to actually possess this Boy was growing within him. And he WOULD have him. William Reynolds was a man of the world. He wouldn't make a fool of himself over a whore. That is, if he even found out about it. And Pascal was not about to let Reynolds find out about it.
After the other guests had departed, Reynolds lingered on the settee in the drawing room, drinking a cognac and smoking a Havana cigar. Brian, exhausted from the excitement of the evening, lay with his head in Reynolds' lap, as sound asleep as only the young and innocent can slumber, Reynolds thought.
He looked up. Yvonne was smiling at him. She had removed her ribbons and her long auburn hair was hanging loosely on her shoulders.
"Come," she said, reaching for his hand. "I will have Jacques carry the Boy to a guest chamber. He will be very comfortable there. And tomorrow we will have a fine breakfast, the three of us."
But Reynolds didn't take her hand. "Thank you, but no, my dear. If you will have your man call for a carriage, we shall be on our way." The gambler moved slightly and the Boy sighed, but didn't awaken. Reynolds stroked the golden brown hair and marveled at how soft it was.
"Do not be absurd, William. Come now. It will be like old times," Yvonne said, frowning.
"Old times are long gone, Yvonne," he replied. "That is what makes them old and not new."
"And what is new is this silly Boy? Is that what you are trying to say to me? Because I do not believe that you, William Reynolds, have lost your taste for women! It is inexplicable to me what you are trying to prove to yourself!" Before Yvonne had been amused, but now she was truly annoyed. Her bedchamber was waiting and tonight she had dismissed other men who would have been only too glad to share it with her.
Reynolds sighed and held the Boy a little tighter. "I'm not attempting to prove anything to myself, Yvonne. The one thing about living life freely is that you are truly free to do -- or not do -- exactly what you wish. I am sorry if you take this as a rejection, because I am not rejecting your offer. I... I am simply not inclined to it at this time."
Yvonne sat down next to Reynolds on the settee. She looked over at the Boy, lying on his other side, breathing lightly and steadily. "What are you going to do with this child, William? Tell me the truth."
"Softly, Yvonne. You'll wake him up," whispered Reynolds. "I am going to do just what it appears I am doing. I am teaching him to be my apprentice. My partner. Once he is comfortable in the casinos and among people, then he'll help me work the marks. He's extremely bright and very winning. He can get information out of people before they even know they've given it. When I'm finished with him, he'll be the flashest confidence man on this continent -- perhaps beyond it." Reynolds smiled. "And he'll be entirely my own creation. My beautiful creation."
"So, this Boy is simply a means to uphold your vanity? That is why you keep him? Then why buy him scent at Monsieur Saint-Etienne's?" Yvonne lightly touched the bracelet on Boy's wrist and then the diamond glinting in his left ear. "And jewelry, too? Like a mistress?"
Reynolds shrugged. "He likes pretty things. Most pretty creatures like other pretty things. What's the harm?"
"Because he is not your mistress, William!" said Yvonne in frustration. "He is merely some grubby Boy that you stole away from a squalid brothel in the wilderness. You know nothing of his people or where he came from."
"Au contraire, Yvonne," Reynolds returned. "I know as much about him as I need to know. More than anyone knows about ME -- including you, my dear."
Yvonne flushed. "And you do not mind that people are pointing at you -- laughing at you? Saying that William Reynolds has become a Boy-lover? That is a despised thing, William!"
"If it is true that people are laughing, then it doesn't bother me," Reynolds said calmly. "No man is going to refuse to sit across from me at the card table because of it. That is all that matters in the end. And I'm willing to bet that plenty of females will continue to make kind offers to me -- much as you have done this evening -- even when I am obviously, as you say, a despised Boy-lover."
"You know that I did not mean it like that, William!" Yvonne retorted, her black eyes flashing.
Reynolds felt that he owed it to his former lover to speak candidly. "This is nothing against you, Yvonne. As I have said, I am just not inclined to women at this moment. Or inclined to anyone else, male or female, for that matter. And I haven't been since I took the Boy away with me. I simply haven't felt the need."
Yvonne was taken aback. "Do you mean to tell me that you have been with no one else since... how long since you picked up this creature?"
"Last June," answered Reynolds, puffing on his cigar. So much had happened in that short time, it hardly seemed possible.
"Six months!" Yvonne blinked. "With no one else? I do not believe it! I cannot imagine that a vigorous man like you would be satisfied merely to indulge yourself on the body of this child for six months. That is not the William Reynolds I am acquainted with!"
Reynolds lowered his eyes at Yvonne. "I do not merely 'indulge' myself on the Boy. He is a fully capable and also extremely willing partner. More so than many females that I have had the pleasure to know. He's quite precocious, in fact."
"Do tell me more!" snorted Yvonne. "He sounds like a veritable wonder!"
"I believe he is a wonder. Once Brian is fully grown, he'll be quite a man to reckon with," continued Reynolds. "And when he's a little older I may even allow him to fuck me."
"Good Lord, William!" Yvonne exclaimed in horror. "Do not say such things, even in jest! People will mistake you for a true sodomite!"
Reynolds looked at the woman seriously. "I am not jesting, Yvonne. I am hitched to this team for the long haul, as they say. I didn't understand that at first, but I do now. And if you wish to remain my friend, then you had better understand it, too."
"You cannot tell me that you are in love with this Boy? Because you have always told me that you do not believe in Love and other such foolishness. That you believe in pleasure, not in Romance. Surely you have not changed your philosophy for this... this Irish guttersnipe?"
"That is my business alone, Yvonne," said Reynolds. He had finished his cognac and his cigar had gone out. And he was sick of Yvonne's badgering. He was ready to wake the Boy and return to the hotel. "If you will please summon a carriage? It's getting very late."
Yvonne stood and tossed her long auburn hair. "I will have my own carriage brought around. It will be a few minutes." And then she swept from the room.
Reynolds shook his Boy gently until he opened his eyes. They blinked up at the gambler, all green and golden.
"Is the party over?" Brian yawned but he didn't sit up. He was too comfortable lying on the settee with his master's hand gently rubbing his head. All of the noise and the lights and the people talking at him had given him a headache. And that champagne he'd drunk -- that made him tipsy and sleepy. The sporting life was exhilarating, but it was also exhausting. It would take Brian a while to get used to its fast pace.
"It is time to go back to our room, Boy."
"Are all the other guests gone?"
"All but us," said Reynolds. "Even the servants have finished putting away the food and drink."
"Where is Madame Benet?" Brian asked, glancing about the room.
"She's seeing to our conveyance back to the hotel."
Brian settled on his back and gazed up at Reynolds. Some of the guests at the party had been nice to him, but others had snubbed Brian. Reynolds had warned him to expect that. And some looked at Brian as if he were a true curiosity. And a few others -- a few of the men -- had looked at Brian in a very different way. One especially had taken hold of his hand and stroked it in a manner that made Brian cringe. He didn't say anything to Reynolds because he knew that his master would be angry about it.
"I don't think Madame Benet likes me," Brian confessed. "And that Mademoiselle Remy was downright rude to me. Those ladies don't think it's right for you to have a Boy."
Reynolds laughed. "That is because they do not care for the competition."
"Competition?" Brian sat up and put his face against Reynolds'. "Do I have to compete with Madame Benet? Because she's so beautiful!" Brian hesitated. He knew that Reynolds mocked any displays of jealousy -- unless they were his own. But Brian didn't want to go back to the hotel alone knowing that his master was lying with that woman. "Are you... going to stay here with her tonight?"
"She asked me to," admitted Reynolds. "But I told her that I was not interested. Yvonne is a lovely female -- but I'm quite well taken care of. I see no reason to visit her bed simply because it is available. Especially when I have no desire for what she is offering."
"You don't?" Brian whispered. "Not at all?"
"No, not at all," answered Reynolds. He pulled Brian onto his lap and wrapped his arms around the Boy, savoring his long neck, which smelled of vanilla and cinnamon, then his soft, pink ear with the diamond stud, and then his ripe, red mouth. Reynolds could still taste the champagne the Boy had been sipping on his tongue. They were both slightly intoxicated, but not drunk. Just lubricated enough to stir the blood, but not enough to stifle the performance. "I have what I want right here."
"And so do I," Brian breathed. "I have what I want forever!" And Brian knew in his heart as Reynolds held him tightly that it would always be this way and that he would always be happy and loved. Always. Forever.
Continue on to "Honor".
©Gaedhal, January 2004.
Posted January 1, 2004.