Thursday 22 October 2020

8 RUE CHABANAIS - John Baxter's story of the Parisian landmark



Sidonie Seguin clicked along the third floor corridor, careful not to catch a heel in the uneven parquet flooring and risk tipping the covered silver chafing dish she carried so carefully in both hands.

        Anyone watching her coming towards them would have seen a pert, petite girl of about eighteen whose  skin, a pleasant cafe au lait,  suggested, correctly, that she was metisse  of mixed-race parents,  probably from one of France’s overseas colonies – in her case Ile de Reunion. 

As for what she wore, though they might have looked askance at her red patent leather shoes with their very high heels. the classic maid’s uniform of a white lace apron tied in a bow behind her neck would have appeared, though perhaps a touch abbreviated, entirely appropriate to a domestic about to serve her master his evening meal, 

The illusion of discretion and good taste would not have survived a glimpse from behind, and the revelation that Sidonie wore absolutely nothing else.

         “What are you doing here?” someone hissed as she passed the staircase leading to the lower floors.  

Julien stood on the next landing down. To look at him in his well-cut three-piece suit with the watch chain and the carnation in his buttonhole, you’d never take him for a whoremaster – more like a vendeur in an upper-class retail establishment; perhaps one of the couturierswhose salons lined Avenue Montaigne.

         Sidonie showed him the dish. “For M. le Ministre.”

         “Oh, yes. I forgot.” He climbed the remaining stairs and lifted the lid of the dish. “You’d better heat it up before you serve it. You know how finicky he is about his food. After him, though, you’re needed in the Moorish Room.”

         “But I’ve got a rendezvous tonight, M. Julien! Madame said I could leave at five.”

         “This is more important. It’s the Bey of Tunis. And he particularly asked for you. Now go and serve the minister.” 

For emphasis, he slapped her lightly on the bottom and pushed her towards the end of the corridor – technically a misdemeanour under the house rules, which forbade any of the staff laying hands on the girls, for pleasure or otherwise. Not that she was likely to report the favourite nephew whom Madame Kelly had put in charge of day-to-day management of the best maison close in Paris. This was too good a job to lose.

Reaching the end of the corridor, she lifted one knee to support the dish, and gently tapped on the door.

Entrez”,  said a deep male voice.

Sidonie turned the knob and stepped into what looked, to the same casual eye that saw nothing unusual in her attire, a conventional middle-class salon,sumptuously but rather conventionally furnished in the style of three decades earlier. A large red velvet chaise, piled with pillows and over-burdened with gilded fringe, stood along one wall, and, along the other,  an elaborately carved but quite hideous bureau. In a large canvas of the Barbizon school, cows drowsed in the shadow of willows beside a lazy stream, while from the opposite wall a portrait of a fiercely bearded gentleman, robed like an arab, stared in the general direction of the chandelier, as if averting his eyes from the activities it illuminated. 

Otherwise, the principal piece of furniture was a mahogany dining room table, at the head of which sat the distinguished gentleman currently honoured with the post of France’s Minister of State for Colonial Affairs.  The table was set only for one, which was just as well, since his scrawny figure was quite naked – a sight sufficiently unappetising to put anyone off their dinner.

Sidonie lit the spirit burner of the silver food warmer on the bureau and placed the chafing dish on top. She had a soft spot for the old boy, odd as he was. So she gave him more than his money’s worth, pottering around the bureau with her back to him as if looking for silverwear, and even bending over and crouching, all of which showed off her tight brown buttocks and shapely legs. But when she turned back with the now-warm dish in her hands,  he wasn’t even looking her way - just sitting and staring at that painting of the Arab.

Well, if the minister preferred a mouldy old portrait to her pretty ass, tant pis. But irritation at his lack of appreciation made it easier to carry through her performance.

 “M. le Ministre est pret?” she enquired.

The elderly man looked at her fondly. Oui, mon enfant.”

Sidonie walked to the table and lifted the lid. Steam plumed up from the omelette, glistening with butter and now sizzling slightly from the re-heating.  

Approaching, like any well-trained waitress, from the left, she paused, looking down into his lap, and the feeble erection poking indecisively towards the ceiling from its nest of grey hair, like a fledgling bird wondering if it had the courage to fly.

“M. le ministre est servie,” she said, and flipped the dish. 

No precise terms exist to describe either the sound of a hot omelette landing on the naked genitals of a minister of state, nor of those made by the minister as, hands whitely gripping the arms of his chair, he moans, writhes, twitches, and ejaculates into the hot egg. 

Standing politely behind his chair, Sidonie waited for the paroxysm to subside, then handed him the first of three large linen napkins with which he cleaned up the mess.  After that, she helped the old gentleman hobble, wincing, to the screen, behind which a bidet waited, with warm water, soap,  and  ointments. 

“Is there any other way in which I can assist M. le ministre?” Sidonie asked.

“No, my child,”  He patted her on the arm. “You have been more than obliging. You may run along now.”

As usual, he had left three jetons beside his plate – customary payment for the omelette trick. Each jeton, made of cardboard covered in thin metal, resembled a gold louis, and cost about the same when you bought them from Madame when he arrived. Regulars kept a dozen or more hidden in hollow canes, with a real louison top, to fool their wives. They were meant to make sure the girls didn’t get their hands on any cash. But since the Minister was always generous, Sidonie looked under his plate. 50 francs!  

As she tucked the note into the front pocket of her apron, she looked more closely at the portrait of the Arab (actually a mediocre likeness of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, discoverer and first governor of the Congo). What made him more  interesting to the Minister than her shapelyfesses

Might he be, she wondered,the Bey of Tunis? She tried to recall His Excellency’s last visit, but it had been a bit of a galere, with sand all over the floor, Eloise and Marie-Claude, both near-enough naked, shaking their foufounes in a rough approximation of a danse du ventre,  while Pierre and Jean-Marc stood just out of sight, holding up the painted backdrop of the desert, and His Excellency Muhammud VI al-Habib knelt behind Sidonie, fucking her in the cul

From a minister of the Republic to a man who was virtually king of a whole African nation – and in the same afternoon! That was the wonderful thing about working in a top-class house like Le Chabanais, reflected Sidonie excitedly as she hurried to the dressing room and swapped her maid’s apron for the transparent silk harem pajamas and loose bolero jacket of a Moorish houri. You only met the best sort of people.

EDIOR'S NOTE: Publication of this tale was provoked by John Baxter's thoughts on Bertrand Bonnello's L'APOLLONIDE/HOUSE OF PLEASURE (France, 2011) which you can find if you click here

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