A Chapter by Michael R. Barnard

1915. A businessman and a prostitute find love. And hate. This is a segment from of a chapter from the novel. It is written as of 1915, so language is sometimes offensive to today's sensibilities.




Nate passes the Placer-Nevada Counties Joint Tuberculosis Sanitarium along the dirt road that becomes Main Street in downtown Clipper Lakes, lined with a few wood buildings. As he passes Clipper Lakes Livery, he hears a woman’s voice behind him.
“You look like a fine, upstanding young man.”
Nate, surprised, turns. The woman is beautiful, with exotic good looks, not much more than perhaps four inches shorter than himself. Her lips were painted scarlet, her cheeks dead white, her eyes blue. She was surprising in her fashion, appearing as the girls at the Rotonde, as he had seen when visiting France. She has a little round hat, black hair cut short, low-throated waist and long cape down to her feet, the ends tossed over her shoulder Spanish-fashion to keep it from the dirt of the street. And a parasol, of course. She seems young, perhaps 20, but she also seems old, or rather, older, with an air of wisdom as one who has lived more years than she should have and been around more people than she should have.
“Ma’am, good day,” he says to her.
“Are you travelling alone today?”
“Ma’am, I am, yes.”
“May I accompany you?”
Nate notices that she is undeniably and unabashedly promenading down the thoroughfare. He saw lots of promenading in San Francisco, even with the approaching crackdown on brothels and cribs, but is a little surprised to see it in a small town.
“Ma’am, I’m afraid not. I do not prefer the company of prostitutes.”
“Well, thank God for that, sir. I myself do not prefer the company of big city dandies.”
Kelly is offended, of course, but being that she is a prostitute, she is only mildly offended. Her comment catches Nate off-guard; his pace suddenly slows while he thinks about her reaction.
“Ma’am, I assume you know, and I hope you will direct me to the hotel?”
She points further down the road.
“Keep going, mister, and you will hit it. The Clipper Lakes Inn, just down the road a bit.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Nate keeps walking. Kelly continues her promenading. Nate glances back toward her, confirming that she is, indeed, beautiful.
The concept of prostitution annoys Nate, and, again, his unique attitude is another thing he learned from his father, as neither prudishness nor Puritanism, but as a matter of human dignity and equality. Whether his attitude serves him well or not, he does not know, but suspects not. He thinks it to be a scandal that the Gold Rush brought a scent of legitimacy to the profession in higher society, when women arrived in the Bay area to service the throbbing throngs of gold miners, who were so smitten by their lonely pursuit of greed that they considered women to be nothing more than another tool for their endeavors. Ten thousand men arrived in San Francisco for the gold rush, and only a couple hundred women. It was often said, ‘There were some honest women in San Francisco, but not very many.’
It seemed to him to be a nasty remnant of a low society, where the common lower-class women rarely had any choices other than to be the wife of a husband, a household domestic who earned less than the cost of a pair of shoes, or a prostitute. It was especially nasty for this day and age when women were beginning to have success in their fight for the right to vote.
Further, the endeavor of prostitution was purely slavery for some races, particularly for Chinese girls, who were stolen or sold to be brought here for profit, held as slaves just as surely as Negroes had been, and so horribly mistreated that few lived past the age of 20 years. A few right-minded citizens undertook the rescue of these stolen souls, even while their customers continued to assure profits to those who procured and enslaved them.
Not long ago, Nate was shocked to learn that three Chinese slave girls made their escape to the Presbyterian Mission House at 920 Sacramento Street, near the Expo, where Superintendent Donaldina Cameron and her staff now care for them. The slave owners made efforts to recover them, but they will be held and educated. The leader in the escape, Suey Lin, is about 12 years old and seems very bright. She made her way to the Baptist church in Chinatown, and was there found by Mrs. Lake of the Methodist mission, and told that she would be protected. The girl could speak no English, but a Chinese minister from the Presbyterian Mission House talked to her and told her she would be safe at that place. She was taken there and made welcome, but soon departed, and Donaldina Cameron supposed that she had gone back to her owners. However, she soon returned, bringing with her two other girls, Ah Young and Ah Lon, each about 14 years old. They all said they were slaves and were badly treated and asked to be taken in. Suey Lin said that her mother had sold her, and the man to whom she belonged beat her cruelly and otherwise abused her, and was making preparations to sell her to another man to be used for prostitution. The 12-year-old girl knew she could not resist and protect herself, so she was determined to make a break for liberty, and went to the church, hoping to find help there.
Nate had studied in school about the racist rantings of demagogues, claiming anti-immigrant issues three decades ago that led Congress to pass Chinese exclusion acts which prevented all but a few privileged classes of Chinese men from sending for their families in China and forbidding single men from marrying non-Chinese wives. Now in San Francisco, Nate sees how this helped a uniquely horrible market of rampant prostitution fester in the Chinese areas of the great city, fed by kidnapping and coercing girls from China. They would be presented with fraudulent papers claiming they were wives or daughters of the few privileged classes allowed to send for family. Once in San Francisco, the Chinese girls were sold. They were pressed into brutal prostitution, where most died from horrible mistreatment within a few years. The little Chinese girls, when younger than 12 or so, were sold for household servants known as “Mui Tsai’s.” A Mui Tsai performed heavy labor and endured severe physical punishments. When a Mui Tsai became about 12, she was sold into prostitution as well. Nate admired Superintendent Cameron for rescuing and protecting the Mui Tsai and the Chinese prostitutes.
Nate thinks it is fortunate, for all prostitutes of all colors, that there are new red-light abatement laws that are beginning to close down the brothels and cribs.
As is common, given the complexity and political diversity of the United States, Nate is, however, uncomfortable about some of these efforts because right-minded actions are also paralleled by the nefarious who prey upon and manipulate the emotions of followers, driving them to reactionary self-serving presumptions rather than reasoned and compassionate evaluations.
Those nefarious persons attack the prostitutes themselves, but not their owners or their customers. They forced the closure of the one medical clinic that served and protected the ‘fair but frail,’ claiming it was an endorsement of sin to protect the women’s health. The need for a clinic for streetwalkers was desperate but hidden from society. In most newspaper offices, the words syphilis and gonorrhea are still tabooed, and without the use of these terms, it is almost impossible to correctly state the desperate need. They also wanted to dispose of the prostitutes without allowing them any alternatives for survival. The Reverend Paul Smith of the Central Methodist Church at O’Farrell and Leavenworth streets refused to consider provision of opportunities for the women, and even suggested sending them off to a far-away ‘farm’ for internment. Such loud people seized upon the collision between respectable women and their fair-but-frail sisters, and ignored those critics of Rev. Smith’s crusade who argued that closing down the houses would merely spread the individual prostitutes, whose options for survival were few, around the city while also closing down the clinic will increase the spread of the unmentionable diseases.
Nate opposes prostitution as an affront to humanity and morality, applying a commerce value to human beings and an abuse of power by those with money.
“Nothing is more phallus than the dollar bill,” Nate thinks.
Yet, he does not embrace the attacks on prostitutes, separate from attacks on prostitution, since it is men who are the paying customers. It is men who usually turn women into a profitable business (such as, he sadly recalls, Jerome Bassity with his hundreds of prostitutes). It is men who refuse women other opportunities to earn a living. It is men who deny women the right to vote on the laws that affect them.

Once again, Nate knows himself to be a rare man with his intentions and attitudes. Many of the men he knows, and even many women, mock him for thinking women could exercise wisdom in the control of their lives, their avocations, and the logistics of modern life. Those strong anti-women attitudes come out against the suffrage movement. A suffragette march in Washington, D.C., was attacked by onlookers a couple years ago, while police just stood by. Secretary of War Stimson had to order troops from Fort Myer to restore order. Of course, those are the same types of experience and popular attitudes that are prominent against colored folks and that were used to thwart the fight against slavery. Thankfully, some progress is being made to allow women the right to vote.

People who cling to the worst and most unjustified of bigotries tend to be the loudest, shouting down legitimate discourse as the way of cloaking their evil motivations and straining to appear to be right. Intelligent discussion is anathema to narrow-minded reactionaries. They prefer to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater rather than allow discourse.

Ironically, Rev. Smith’s rants and raves against the prostitutes’ practice of promenading down the street to attract customers is considered by many prostitutes to be much more effective for bringing them customers than their own promenading does.

Now, here is Nate, in this small town far from San Francisco, a target of a promenading prostitute.

A beautiful one, at that.

© 2011 Michael R. Barnard

Author's Note

Michael R. Barnard
This is the first half of Chapter 12 of NATE AND KELLY, an historical fiction novel set in 1915. Nate has fled San Francisco and finds himself in a small town in Central California at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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Michael R. Barnard
Michael R. Barnard

New York City, NY

Author Michael R. Barnard grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, then moved to Hollywood to write scripts for film and TV. He now lives in New York City. “NATE and KELLY” is his first novel. I.. more..