I pity Nineveh, that great city,
in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not
know their right hand from their left.
gentlemen have the strangest of fancies; lewd and unnatural, whilst others just
want a hand to hold and a sympathetic ear to listen to their woes; I never
minded what they wanted just so long as they paid their two guineas and did not
cause me hurt.
cove who approached me through the mud and squalor of Covent Garden, appeared
to be of the gentle sort, but alas he caused me more pain than all the Bullies
and Gallants who only had their fists to beat me with and who had no access to
my heart. This gentleman was tall and appeared uncertain and nervous, and his
hand shook as he put a pile of coins into my hand (more than he needed to). I
took him over to my room; him a step or two behind me, so that he could pretend
that he had nothing to do with the harlot in front of him, although nobody was
been a respectable girl, poor but good, and when I was twelve I was sent as a
servant to Bridgnorth House in Shropshire, I worked hard and did as I was told,
but as I got older my Lord started to notice me and wanted to have his fun.
What can a poor, friendless girl do? Him big and fat and smelling of pigs, I
loathed him with his large hands pawing all over me and his red face puffing
away as he tried to trap me in a quiet corner and steal kisses and take other
liberties. I was not the only target for his affections, but I was the youngest
and freshest, and the other maids were happy that he had somebody else to
satiate his lusts upon. His lady was not much better; all paint and stays; she
called me Deborah, although that isnt my name, and left me to the tender
mercies of her husband.
came to me one night as I was undressing; he had done it before and he had
conquered me by brute force, but this time I was tired and cross and I had a
knife in my hand for trimming my hat, clean and sharp, so when he came at me,
with his, come hither my dear I took a breath and stabbed him hard
in the top of his leg. He squealed in shock and anger and the blood stained his
turquoise trousers and dripped onto the bare floor.
You bitch, you whore, he
shouted, clutching his leg and trying to reach for me at the same time; if I
was a whore, it was because he made me so, but I grabbed my few belongings
whilst he cursed and banged hard on the floor. Oh, the smell of him and his
noise; his stench filled my room, so that I almost vomited. He tried to grab me
again as I made to go past him, but I trod on his hand and he squealed even
louder, with his wig askew and his member exposed, fat and pink like the rest
of him, he looked a most contemptible sight. The butler and housekeeper watched
me sternly as I walked down the main staircase and out of the house; refusing
to run, refusing to weep, well not until I was down the drive and out of that
to my brothers cottage, my parents being dead, but fortunately Peter was
out and my sister Ruth, his wife, gave me some money and food, she kissed me as
I left and told me to be careful. My brother did well to marry such a one as
her; kind and clever and so far having avoided being big with child; I saw her
watching me as I left the cottage and headed for the highroad, and I felt her
yearning to come with me, but she did not ask and I did not offer, and I think
she would have regretted it if she had.
found Covent Garden, a mistress and a new name, calling myself Molly. Miss
Aberdine gave me money for clothes; only a loan my dear. Just till you
get on your feet. But a fresh young thing like you should have no
didnt, I lived with Miss Aberdine and a handful of other girls in a Bawdy
House and for five years I plied my trade; two abortions and five beatings when
I didnt know if I would live or die, but I repaid Miss Aberdine and
resisted her overtures for more loans and got my regulars. Sometimes a Lord or
a manufacturer would be generous, and as I did not eat much I saved, and
eventually I rented a room of my own off Petticoat Lane, where I felt safe and
comfortable and where there were other girls in the same building so that we
looked after each other if a gentleman became unpleasant, and lent each other
money or clothes when necessity called.
loved London, so much better than the tiny village where I was born, and which
I had hated for its smallness and tedium. When I wasnt working, I walked
the city streets exploring and pretending I was an ordinary young woman out for
a jaunt or off to meet her beau. I loved the busyness of it, the fact nobody
knew who I was, not like Shropshire where everybody knew your name and seemed
like everything about you, I especially enjoyed exploring Mayfair with its new
houses for the wealthy, on occasion I would recognise someone from Covent
Garden, now looking all respectable and constrained; but we all have our needs,
even the primmest and most Christian of gentlemen, and who am I to
The gentleman must have been in
his thirties, and his accent was strange.
Where are you from sir? I
Manchester, but I live in London
A thriving city I
But poor, very poor. And unholy. I
do not miss it.
could not place him; respectable, and despite his barbarous accent well-spoken
and polite, but with something strange about him, nor was he a rake or a
youngster out on a spree, and he look frightened, but not of me, as if he was
expecting something horrible. And he did not seem to enjoy our congress;
usually I make them forget everything, at least for a few minutes, and for that
short time I am their true love, but he did not forget himself not for one
comfortable with him, lying together in my bed, but I could not help picturing
the room through his eyes; the squalor and the dirt, and I felt
What is your
Deborah I told him, which is
the name I give to the more respectable gentlemen, he seemed to expect me to
ask his, but that is something I would never do.
Call me Amos he said, but I
knew that I never would, but actually I was proven wrong about that, but
dont let me anticipate, I have a story to tell, and will do so in my own
way and at my own pace.
Anyway, he awkwardly kissed me on the
cheek and left, giving me some more money as he did so, which I hid away in my
box. My friend Hannah came out of her room and gave me a smile as we watched
him stumble down the rickety staircase, which was slippery with mud and water,
and most likely blood. After cleaning myself up I went back out and forgot
about call me Amos, just another piece of business, one of so
yet he came back again and again. I never knew which night he would appear,
because if I had done I would have waited for him as he was so gentle and kind,
and more importantly he paid well. Sometimes he had evidently missed
I came last night, but you
nodded in agreement and he flushed.
chatted of this and that; he asked about me, and I told him some of it without
mentioning my Lord Pig and the knife that I had left in his leg. And sometimes
he sang to me, ayres from the opera and other songs; he had a lovely voice and
I joined in with him, and we made a passing good harmony, although I wondered
what Hannah and the other girls thought of the noises we made.
then he invited me to a concert at The Hanover Square Rooms, to hear a Mr
But that is not for the likes of
me; I will just shame you.
Nonsense, you are no worse than
the ladies I see every day in the city.
gave me some money for clothes and insisted that he would take me, and whilst
part of me knew it was the wildest folly my heart moved with excitement. I am a
good observer of clothes and dressed the part; easy on the face paint and
wearing my most respectable dress, whilst Hannah helped me look clean and like
call me Amos and I walked in, I imagined the screams and terror if
all these ladies knew who was amidst them; a wolf disguised as a sheep; albeit
a very expensive sheep, and yet nobody noticed, I could dissimulate, and these
nobs and their ladies were none the wiser. I was entranced by the beauty of the
people and the smell of Cologne and perfumes; the parties that My Lord Pig had
held at Bridgnorth were as of nothing compared to this. And then I saw a face I
knew; Isabella from The Garden on the arms of an elderly gent, and she smiled
at me and made such a pert face that I had to cover my own face to hide my
the glorious music; I forgot my surroundings, the beautiful music room and
call me Amos sitting beside me, everything but the sound and the
group of people creating it. The music, so regular but with beauty as if the
notes had been out there, come from heaven just needed somebody to write them
down and play them. Every so often people clapped, but that seemed so pitiful
to express what I felt in my heart, so I just sat and stared.
Are you not enjoying this
Deborah? he whispered, sounding sad.
Beyond words Amos, beyond
words. Which was the first time that I had called him by his name, but he
had given me this extasie so he deserved something in return.
then, even when in Hanover Square or when we promenaded along the River, he
seemed scared, eyes always looking everywhere. And he avoided churches, would
hurry past them as if they contained some evil being. I did not dare ask him
what scared him so, but I knew there was something out there. Perhaps that is
why he spent so much time with me; a distraction from his fears and from his
I have rooms in Gower Square
he told me, I smiled politely, and wondered why he was telling me this. He
stopped and waited for me to say something; we were in bed and I was in his
arms contemplating his arms which were pale and yet surprisingly
What do you want me to say?
I asked puzzled.
Come and live with me
Deborah, he pleaded, I have money for the both of us, and I will
not hurt you.
Become your fancy
If that is what you want to call
Fancy woman, mistress, whatever
most strange living with this man, and at first I was not sure I liked it;
having someone so constantly close to me, so intimate, so that I had no time to
take my ease and think my thoughts, or just go out on a whim. And yet
oftentimes I would sing as I did domestic tasks or dressed myself in the
Twas in the merry month of May/
When green buds all were swelling.
then his voice would appear from nowhere.
Sweet William on his death bed
lay/ For love of Barbara Allen.
would harmonise and I would forget what I was doing, and he would laugh, and
for the briefest of moments he sounded very happy and he would kiss me, and
call me his love.
did not want me; not every night. We shared a bed, but some nights we would
just talk and then he would roll over and go to sleep. Is this what being
married is like? And yes I did not want him between my thighs all the time,
whether I would or not, but I could not help but feel hurt and unwanted when he
did not turn to me and caress my body. But watching him dress in the morning
and helping him shave made me very happy, and I could watch him forever getting
himself ready; becoming a respectable gentleman.
a young maid, Liza, who came in everyday, I tried to be kind to her, as I knew
what it was like to be a servant, but alas she saw through me, knew what I was.
She was respectful and polite, never a word out of place but sometimes I saw
the way she looked at me and I had to leave the room, because she was weighing
me and finding me wanting. And at the same time I felt sorry for her; a young
girl in this world of avaricious and greedy men who think nothing of despoiling
a maid and tossing her away when she was no longer fresh.
Why do you call me
When have I called you
This morning, when I washed your
back, you seemed happy, your face was less tight and you called me
looked embarrassed and ashamed.
She is my wife.
I am sorry Deborah; I left her in
Manchester. She doesnt know where I have gone; she will be looked after
by my father. She will not want, and I have two children; James and
to go, and he held me by the shoulder, his hand cold and unyielding.
I will not go back to them. Not
Why did you leave them? Did you
were naked in bed, but apart.
Oh I had to flee.
looked at him; clean shaven, smart although not handsome exactly, he was never
that, but loveable.
God called me he said
eventually, he called me to go out on the streets of Manchester and
preach repentance. I worked in my fathers mill, and God told me to give
it all up and to preach on street corners and tell the people to come to him. I
tried to ignore it, I think my wife would have understood, she was a believing
woman, she went to chapel regularly, but I could not do it. So I
You fled from
Yes, I ran, and came to London
where nobody could find me.
there, in part bemused and wondered if I was lying with a madman.
It is easier here, I feel safer,
and when I am with you I feel distracted.
he turned to me.
I am sorry Deborah, it is hard to
What do you mean God called you?
Did you hear him? Did he come up to you in the street?
Someone did come up to me; outside
church, called me a hypocrite.
Just a lunatick
But other people said things, and
in my dreams. God invaded my dreams and my musings. He was always there calling
me to give up everything and preach the wrath to come. He is still here now,
calling out to me, through the fog and the noise of the city. I long to escape
from it, from his voice, from this calling.
Will you succumb?
No, not now that I have
prayed one morning in Church, St. Adolphuss, a rich, ornate building
where all the nobs go, not far from Gower Square. There was somebody praying at
the front, and I could hear them weeping and talking out loud, and when they
got up I realised that it was a lady, finely dressed, but desperate; I wanted
to say something to her, offer her some comfort, but already her eyes were
becoming harder and she was becoming again the woman she normally was when out
in public. I had witnessed something intimate between her and her soul but that
did not give me the right to talk to her or to be her friend.
looked up at picture of Jesus, sombre and pitiful above the altar; I could not
feel anything at all and yet for Amos and for the lady he was something strong
and vital, a power that urged them on and brought out the strongest of
emotions. As far as I was concerned people could go to church and that would
help them live good lives and be kind; but would I give up my life for this
God, or do something that seemed unreasonable or foolish? Not ever.
sat there; the seat hard against me, I tried to pray but in the place of
something more heartfelt all that came to mind was the Lords Prayer, but
I was aware all the time that I was in a frowsty building with the smell of
humanity and candles. I thought of Amos and wondered how long I would be with
him before his madness took him off; oh, the foolishness of men, their
certainty and their drive, their urge to change things and make everything
upside down. This lack of content, and the looking for something new; when does
it stop? Or will they keep pushing forward and forward, until the world is a
wasteland and their women and children are left alone to die of despair?
disappeared every day, a friend of his owned a bookshop near Whitehall and he
worked there selling books and doing the accounts. He left home early in the
morning and returned late, slumping exhausted into a chair, sometimes he would
read to me; essays from The Spectator or The Tatler, which he had
had bound, and which he read as if they were scripture. I would sit next to
him, feeling his warmth and tiredness seeping into me. And sometimes we would
sing, but he would often break away, perhaps we had chanced upon a song he sang
with his wife or his children, or it had brought to mind something that upset
him and which he forbore to talk about.
Do you miss them? I
Your children, your
Sometimes. I wonder how they
Am I your punishment
turning your back on God? Did you try to find the lowest of the low, someone to
soil yourself with?
No Deborah. I wanted to lose
myself in vice, but when I met you, I met someone beautiful, a light and when I
am with you I feel very happy. You have kept me from Bedlam.
walked in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens one evening; arm in arm through the shadows
and the shouts and screams of young blades and their prey. We could hear music
and walked to the bandstand and listened to something jolly and ribald.
This is lovely I whispered
as the music came to a close.
Let us find something to eat
and we bought oysters and he fed me like a child.
Mr Jones a voice said
quietly, and there was a man in front of us, come from nowhere, he was
well-spoken and above medium height, and smelt of perfume; I could not see
clearly, just his hair which was blonde or white, picked out by the light of
I think you must be mistaken
sir. Amos replied, transparently upset and on his guard.
man shrugged, I am sorry to have disturbed you
. and your
wife. And he disappeared into the dark.
Do you know him?
No, but it is late let us go. I am
in need of sleep.
in one evening, late after visiting a friend close to Covent Garden. Liza
looked at me intently; Master is speaking to a
waited and eventually the two of them emerged from the parlour, I was certain
it was the man from Vauxhall Gardens, the man Amos claimed not to know. They
shook hands, Amos pale, his companion inscrutable, he nodded at me as he left,
and when I peered out of the window, to discover in which direction he would go
he had disappeared, not a trace of him. Amos shut himself up in the dining
room, claiming to have work to do, but when I looked in before going to bed he
was staring into space, the table empty in front of him.
night he came to me with passion but afterwards I heard him crying, and when I
awoke the next morning he looked pale and ill as if he had not slept.
Everywhere we went after that the gentleman was there; urbane and polite but
Amos was cowed by him, as if he was mesmerised or under a spell. Soon he
refused to leave the house except for work, but even then he was not safe; I
guessed the gentleman met him on his way to the bookshop and on many an evening
there would be a knock on the door and there he would be, polite and
determined, and then he and Amos he would speak together for hours on
Who is he?
I dont know, he is a
messenger, that is all.
And why do you let him in? He
upsets you, tell Liza not to give him admittance.
I cant do
Is he from your wife? Or your
No not from them.
night I heard him talking out loud; was he troubled by dreams? And yet he
sounded fully awake and frightened.
Spare me this? Please find someone
there next to him, smelling his sweat and fear, Amoss pleading going on
and on, as he argued with whatever haunted his sleep. And yet I could feel the
presence of somebody else, somebody as close as a heartbeat, and when I
listened intently, I could hear the murmur of a voice, relentless and firm.
Save me he suddenly
screamed, and I held him tight, feeling him against me, but all the time I knew
that other presence was there, looking down upon us and laughing.
carried on night after night; but I dare not speak of it, and I pretended that
all was as it should be, it became a barrier betwixt us, so that part of me was
relieved when eventually he succumbed, as I knew that he would. He came home
late; he had been weeping and he looked exhausted. I discovered that he had not
been to the bookshop, but rather into the city.
I have left you some money; all I
can afford, and the rent is paid for the next three months.
You are leaving
Yes, I have to go back to
Manchester. Please believe me, I am sorry.
stood before me, a bag of coins in his hand, looking forlorn and ashamed,
refusing to meet my eyes.
Back to your wife and your
children. Well I knew it would come to this. I knew you wouldnt stay with
No not back to them. Back to
Manchester, to preach, to proclaim the word of God. To rage against the
injustice of mill owners like my father and his friends. I will live on the
streets but God will provide.
Was that who the messenger was
from? From God? and I laughed.
I am sorry
My name is not
not beg; I wanted to go with him, for him to offer, but he didnt and next
morning I could not abide it and went out and walked the streets, thoughts of
what I could say to him, to persuade him to stay going round and around in my
head, but when I returned he was gone.
I am sorry mistress Liza
said, you deserved better.
You can stay for awhile I
told her, but she was courting and would live at home until she was married,
she kissed me as she left, and I wished that I had made a confidant of her.
That night I lay alone and wept and then when I had to come to myself I began
to make plans.
well-dressed and had an air of authority about him, but there was also a sense
of shame that revealed itself in his cautious movements and his apologetic
mien; his accent was northern, and the girls guessed he was a wealthy
manufacturer out to have his fun, away from prying eyes. But when he approached
the myriad harlots who vied for his attention all he did was ask after somebody
She used to work here, five or so
years was a lifetime, she would probably be too old for that business now;
either dead in an unmarked grave, or if she had been clever and saved, owned an
inn or public house somewhere, or had become a bawd. He asked girl after girl,
but they all shook their heads or, when they realised that he did not want
them, walked away with an oath and looked for someone more
looked old and lonely as he traipsed around Covent Garden, but he clearly was
familiar with the place as if he had known it once, and his eyes hungrily
searched each girl that he came across. Eventually a woman called Gill came up
to him, old for a harlot he thought, and weary looking, whilst her dress looked
grubby and dull. Her stared at her as she approached; she looked familiar as if
he had seen her before once, just fleetingly.
You are asking after
nodded and after a moment gave her some money.
I remember her, five years ago
just as you said. She mentioned you once or twice, a rich man from the North,
who deserted her.
smiled slightly, and they stood in a corner, away from bustle and
She left for America. She
couldnt settle and wanted to make a new life for herself. She had money
saved and off she went.
Did she leave a message for
She said that she was happy, and
not to worry.
looked at her curiously but his need to be assuaged winning out over his
suspicions, and he gave her more money before making his way back to the hotel
where his wife and children were waiting for him; his guilt appeased, at least
for the moment.
Did you really know Deborah?
her friend asked her, I dont remember her at all.
laughed bitterly and shook her head.
Nah, she is probably dead or a
drunk, if Deborah was her name. But we need to give a gentleman what he wants,
you know that as well as I do. He can forget about her now and go back to his
wife. And then in an undertone, men are such
then I walked off back to my rooms; wondering what Amos would have said if I
had told him who I was.
Do you not recognise me Amos? What
did you expect? That I would be the same fresh young thing you abandoned those
many years ago?
in my rooms and wept for a moment and then I adjusted myself and tried to make
myself look younger and fresher, and set out once again to try and earn some
money for food and for rent, and hoping against hope that Amos would realise
that it was me and would come back, and take me back to Gower Square where we
could sing and kiss, and forget the stupidity of life, and the weakness of men.