"Hear tell Miss Malone is some kinda saint. What that nice lady does for orphans over at North Street Asylum sure beats all hell."

Oh, lovely...

As the saintly Miss Malone under discussion, I rubbed my gloved hands together, my glee figurative, of course. Eavesdropping on private conversations was one of my few amusements in life. Particularly amusing if those conversations involved me in some fashion, as this one promised to do. Be the portrayal good, bad, or indifferent mattered not, I still made for a captive audience. And, save to my conceit, already in short supply, where was the harm?

Well, in getting caught, I supposed. The possibility of apprehension had yet to stop me, however. So what? I might possibly be found out. Would my snooping forever banish me from society?

An unlikely event given my wealth and esteemed Boston Brahmin lineage.

As to maliciously spreading what I overheard about others - such pettiness was beneath me. I was too conscious of my own failings to poison the well of public sentiment for anyone else. Furthermore, even in the best of circumstances, chattiness was not my forte. Passing the time with small talk, pleasantries bandied back and forth about the weather and so forth, was completely over my head. But...and this was a large exception...if the remarks happened to be about my orphans and those remarks proved unflattering, then I would act.


Certainly not by challenging the slanderer to a quick-draw duel, a la Wild Bill Hickok. I had other means of getting even. And those ways need not always involve attorneys, courts of law, or pistols drawn at twenty paces.

Since this present conversation had all the earmarks of the kind of juicy melodrama I utterly adored, I hunkered down for a long listen.

The first speaker - a man sporting a bushy handle-bar mustache - drew my full attention right out of the gate. How could he not with his drawl?

He was definitely a fish out of water here tonight. Fancy dress boots, the tooled kind commonly seen on the Texas frontier, encased ridiculously enormous feet and reinforced my assumption about his place of birth.

I was rarely mistaken about a person's character. Or their origins. Back Bay was not this man's usual stomping ground. Obviously of Western extraction, he was a man of honor, I could tell, and I liked him immediately.

"Are you referring to last week's article in the Boston Daily Globe?" inquired the second speaker.

Now him, I despised. This second speaker was a slick double-dealer of the worst variety, and a letch on top of it. Having seen the scoundrel in action prior to this evening, I knew all about his predilection for debauchery.

And had I not been privy to that information?

I would have known the type of man he was anyway. He positively leered at the ladies in attendance at tonight's soiree. It pained me to think this, but his manner could only be called predatory.

I let that thought go. The Texan was about to speak again...

His facial hair waxed and unmoving - ew - he confided to the letch, "Doggone it! Now that you mention it, reckon it was the Globe I saw that piece on Miss Malone. The missus pointed out the story to me only last week. Since we came back east, my Clementine peruses all the society pages, laps 'em up like a cat with cream. Miss Malone seems to be featured in most."

His roving eye stalling on a bosomy matron, the letch said, "Miss Malone would be better served touring Europe or sailing down Newport way, not bothering with a bunch of parentless whelps."

"If you say so, pardner." The Westerner twirled his moustache's stiff handlebars. "But I 'spect my kindhearted Clementine will be kickin' in to Miss Malone's orphanage fund before we head out the door tonight regardless."

"Waste of damn money. You know what I think, cowboy?"

The Texan took a backward step. "I ain't no cowboy, sir. Got me a 200-acre spread in Texas and that qualifies me as a respectable rancher. And furthermore..."

The letch, who by this point had worked up a full head of steam, kept rolling, refusing to consider anyone's point of view but his own hateful one. "I think that dried-up prune Miss Malone needs to mind her own damn business instead of patrolling the Red-light District like a one-woman crusading vigilante. Someone needs to stop her from sticking her nose in other people's private affairs. Someone needs to tell her to keep her big fat mouth shut."

I rolled my eyes. In the course of my charity work, I often encountered virulence directed at me. Let him rave! Strong arm tactics would get the letch nowhere. He owed me money, and I was collecting this evening.

Or else.

"I tell you, cowboy, that damn woman has no life of her own. No husband. No family to speak of. Miss Malone needs something to keep her occupied - like getting herself good and laid."

The letch was entitled to his own opinion. He could say whatever he wished. His vulgarities in no way offended me. So long as he generously donated to the asylum's building fund, this spinster lady, the dried-up prune with no life of her own, the one who needed to get herself good and laid, would keep her big fat mouth shut about what she saw him do a week ago last Wednesday.

Buying a child-whore, indeed! And on North Street no less, three steps removed from my favorite charitable cause.

He was not getting away with it.

Hush money, I believed it was called. Should the letch refuse to pay up tonight, this one-woman crusading vigilante - by far one of the loveliest backhanded compliments I had ever received - was marching her bustle over to a certain brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue. There I would drop a few ladylike words in the ear of the letch's wife. Nothing spelled out. Too impolite. I would merely allude to the fact that her loathsome husband solicited under-aged prostitutes in the Red-light District. The wife would take care of the rest.

Society matrons avoided scandal at all cost. Here, the cost would be high. That bastard would pay handsomely for his peccadillo.

Yes, indeed! I would get that new wing built on the North Street Asylum yet...

...even if I had to consent to more human interest stories written about me.

I hated interviews. Too many questions of a personal nature.

No matter. I dodged them all. Never gave anything away, fed readers only what they wanted to hear.

And why should I not?

The sentimental drivel I spouted brought in scads of donations. Society page stories were some of my best earners. But, good Lord, if one more staff writer described me as a "saint" devoted to the plight of orphan children, I would positively gag...

...all the way to the bank.

Ha! And here was another trip to The Provident now.

The letch had broken off his conversation with the Texan and was heading for the donation box, stuffed envelope in hand.

I sighed in satisfaction. A few more generous contributions like that one, and the orphanage's expansion project would finally break ground.

Naturally, I would still reveal all to the letch's wife. Tea next Thursday should do it. No name specifically mentioned during my visit. I had my reputation for niceness to consider. Mine would be a ladylike character assassination done by carefully dropping a bug in my hostess's ear, enough details for her to surmise to whom I referred.

Was it my fault if she kicked her reprobate husband's arse six ways from Sunday as soon as I departed?

While smiling to myself at that imagery, I hunted down my next victim, an old geezer standing by a well-used spittoon, when into the crowded room waltzed a certain prominent Boston Globe society writer whom I knew personally.

Lord, how I wished that personally was a little more personal!

I had developed a bit of a fascination for Nathaniel Osborn during an interview the reporter conducted on me for his paper. Alas, mistaking his professional attention for a quest for further intimacy, I had made the usual fool of myself and botched things rather badly, going all tongue-tied and shy.

Striking looks, a full bosom, stately stature, a gift for convivial conversation...all those attributes had passed me by. Jaunty hats might take the curse off plain features, padding could fill out a flat chest, heels compensated for a deficit of inches, but bashful?

There was no cure for shyness. Dullness like mine was a terminal affliction.

In avoidance of putting my foot in it again with the reporter, I ducked behind a potted fern over in the corner.

Granted, this was not the most seemly of ideas. Still, with any luck, the plant's green fronds would hide me until such time as Mr. Osborn left. As a repeat social bungler, I simply could not risk making another humiliating spectacle of myself with my heartthrob. Too, too terribly painful...

In my life, there had been many such moments of situational ineptitude. And I recalled every one of them, repeating the faux pas in my mind again and again, raking myself over the coals as it were. My lack of wit might be forgiven, but not my gaucheness when in public.

Ah, well. Life went on. From behind the plant, I could still enjoy a clear view of the object of my affections while he need not suffer any of me. Something of a recluse, I kept most people at a distance anyway - a bit of a trick when seeking publicity for my charitable causes.

As a compromise, I consented to interviews, but refused to have my photograph taken. Ghastly things! I never submitted to them, unlike some disingenuous society bitches I could name...

And did, on the sly, without a qualm.

More bugs dropped in receptive ears. Those who curried favor while neglecting the plight of city orphans deserved to be dropped from the best guest lists in town.

Goodness, but my heart was racing. Could anyone hear it? Could Mr. Osborne?

To subdue the cacophony, I placed a hand directly atop the pounding, applying a firm pressure to the area of my bosom, all the while resisting the urge to sneeze. The plant's foliage tickled my nose something dreadful.

When would the coast clear so I could leave the damn plant behind?

Shoo Mr. Osborn, shoo!

As I stood there - mooning over the reporter, sniffing at the plant, squeezing my bosom - a fair-haired gentleman at the cut-glass punch bowl winked at me over his drink.

His spiked drink.

I caught him at it! After removing a monogrammed - M.I. were the initials - silver flask from his waistcoat's inside pocket, he hastily added a liberal splash of the devil's brew - presumably whiskey - to his otherwise wholesome lemonade.

This would never do! Drinking went counter to the purpose of this evening's soiree, namely the collection of money for charity.

Drunkards were notoriously clumsy. They fumbled about, they lurched, they staggered. In an intoxicated stupor, they could hardly find their own two feet, never mind their money pouches. Hence, they rarely dropped so much as a dime in the collection box. Which was why, among other personal reasons, the serving of hard spirits at charitable soirees I sponsored was expressly forbidden.

By me. I was paying for the damn party, why should I not get a say in which libations were served?

That wink! Try as I might, I could not get over it. The degenerate had made an advance on me, a staid and respectable lady. The nerve of him! Did he think me a tavern floozy?

Evidently so. As I stared over at him, still attempting to still my pounding heart by cupping my bosom, he had the absolute gall to hold a finger to his lips.

Wicked, wicked, man. The wink had been quite outrageous enough. Now this! No exaggeration, I was in quite a state from it all.

He was rather dashing though, I mused, clutching my breasts now.

What to do?

As I was presently hiding out from Mr. Osborn behind a potted plant, I was in no position to reprove the charmer for behavior smacking of poor form, plus...

Good Lord! His teeth. My, but they were straight. And white. And altogether catastrophic when used against a shy woman like myself. He smiled at me with those gorgeous teeth as if he and I were co-conspirators in some dastardly crime. His dazzling smile bedazzled me. That he had sent his bedazzling smile my way was almost too much to accept. No one, particularly a male, ever paid any attention to me.

And, by all that was proper, he should not have either. That smile proved him a renegade. No worse! A society desperado.

Taking the required steps toward me, he whispered across the plant fronds, "Avoiding a lover, eh?"

Striking up a conversation with me...and we had not even been formally introduced...nailed my bad opinion of him.

As no lovers or anything remotely answering to that description lurked in my background, I shook my head in vigorous denial. Despite my saintly reputation, I was not above bribery...or the occasional bald-faced help my orphans. But tell an untruth about myself? Particularly about a non-existent suitor?


To my way of thinking, lying for one's own benefit was unacceptable behavior. I paddled or floundered based on my own legitimate merits and faults.

I sank like a stone here.