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Loosely based on “The Memoirs of Fanny Hill by John Cleland”
Hertfordshire, North of London, 1833.
The stagecoach rattled noisily over rough bridleways and through shady country lanes, cutting through the early morning mist. Jenny could hear the horse’s leather harnesses jingling and their hooves thudding noisily against dry, compacted earth baked hard by a long, hot summer that had stretched all the way to October. The sun caught her face and she briefly caught the reflection of her pale, youthful face in the window. She ran a hand through her lustrous dark curls, easing it away from the pale skin of her forehead, tucking a loose strand behind her ear as the seemingly endless fields and hedgerows rolled past them.
It was her first time away by herself and she felt both nervous and excited at the thought of being truly free for probably the first time in her life. She’d been sent away to school for a few years when she was younger, and yet even then someone there was always a responsible adult to look after her, a teacher or a house mistress. She could still picture the worried look on her brother Harold’s face as he waved goodbye back in York. She knew he’d worry about her, but someone had to go and make sure her uncle had heard the sad news about her parents, and they’d decided it would be best if he stayed to look after the family business.
As they passed another signpost, the miles to London steadily counting down, she felt other emotions too: excitement at the thought of seeing the city for the first time, relief at not having come across any highwaymen, but also the uneasiness when she thought of the news she was delivering to her aunt and uncle.
“Do you mind if I open the window a little?” the man opposite asked her. He was short and rotund with a thin moustache and dressed in a neat dark grey suit, his gold-coloured waistcoat stretched tight around his rounded stomach.
“If it pleases you Sir,” she answered with a nervous smile, briefly glancing his way as he slid the window a little lower.
“Nearly there now,” he said conversationally, the cool morning air entering their carriage carrying the earthy scent of the hard-working horses mixed with a touch of freshly mown hay drifting in from the fields.
“Yes, I suppose we must be,” she replied, her voice barely audible above the sound of the wheels rattling over the rough track. She briefly glanced at him before returning to stare out of the coach’s window where the green of the countryside was slowly surrendering to the grey of the city, the roads becoming less lumpy and scattered with shops and houses as they slowed and passed through another small village.
“So, have you been to London before?” he asked, putting out his hands to steady himself as the coach lurched over a particularly large pothole.
“No, it’s my first time, I’m going to see my aunt and uncle,” she replied. “Although I confess, I’m not entirely sure where they reside now.”
“Yes, the last we heard they were running a public house in Fulham.”
“Ah, Fulham, I know it well.”
“I believe they were running a hostelry called the Pear Tree. Have you heard of it?”
“As a matter of fact I have,” he said. “They do a rather good meat and potato pie if memory serves. Is that your destination?”
“Well, I’d be pleased to show you the way, if you wish.”
“That’s very kind, but I wouldn’t like to impose.”
“Not at all, not at all.”
“Thank you Sir, you’re very kind.”
Tobias (as Jenny had learned he was called) was as good as his word, gallantly insisting on carrying her valise as he led her through a tangle of confusing, crowded streets to the pub’s door, before going on his way. Unfortunately, the owner of the establishment informed her that her uncle had left some time ago, to run another local pub although he couldn’t remember which. And so Jenny spent the next few hours navigating the bustling streets, being directed from one pub to the next, her disappointment growing a little more at each blank face she encountered.
As afternoon became evening, she found herself entering the Queens Arms, pushing way through a thick, heaving crowd of men laughing raucously at some anecdote. She dropped her compact travelling valise at her feet and leant heavily on the bar, waiting for the barman to finish serving. The little leather ankle boots she wore were very fashionable back in York, but not designed for the harshness of London’s cobbled streets and her feet felt hot and sore. Of course, a woman of her background wouldn’t normally dream of going into a public house without a chaperone, but these were extraordinary times and she felt increasingly desperate. She’d lost count of the number of public houses she’d visited since she arrived here in London around midday and as she left each one, she’d felt a little less confident of finding her long lost relatives.
Somewhere on the long journey from York, she’d lost the little bahis firmaları scrap of paper that Harold has pressed into her hand as she’d left, on which he’d scribbled the address of a friend that she could stay with in case of emergency. It must have fallen out of her pocket, and must now be lost somewhere on the damp streets along with any hope of finding her relatives tonight. She was beginning to wonder if it would be best to find somewhere safe to stay for the night, and begin her search again in the morning.
It was getting dark outside now, and through the open door she could see the thin grey drizzle glistening as it passed in front of the recently lit gas lamps. If she couldn’t find news of her aunt and uncle here, she just didn’t know what she’d do. Even though it was her first time in the capital city, she knew that the streets of London were not the kind of place a young lady should be walking alone at night.
“Good evening, Sir,” she said as the barman walked towards her, sliding a damp cloth along the smoothly varnished surface of the long mahogany bar, his sleeves rolled up, revealing thick, hairy arms.
“Evening, Miss. What would you like?”
“Actually, I’m looking for someone, a Mr Richard Wright. Or his wife, Louisa Wright. I’m lead to believe they own a public house in this area.”
“Richard or Louisa Wright? Sorry, I don’t know ’em, love.”
“Oh,” Jenny replied, her heart sinking. “Are you sure? They’re my uncle and auntie you see, and the last I’d heard they were running a pub around here.”
“I’m sorry Miss, I know all the pub owners here in Fulham, and I don’t know of anyone by that name.”
“Oh, I see,” Jenny repeated, unsure of what to do now. This was the last pub on the street, and she found herself pondering what to do next.
“Wait a minute, Miss, let me ask my brother,” he continued, turning and beckoning his fellow bartender. “Oi, Billy! Billy! Do you know of a Richard Wright? The young lady says he used to run a pub ’round ‘ere,” he bellowed in his thick cockney accent.
“Richard Wright? Nah, don’t ring a bell,” his brother said, as he strolled down the bar towards them.
“This is one, or possibly two years ago,” she said hopefully.
“Nah, we’ve been here for years, never heard that name, sorry Miss,” Billy said.
“Oh dear,” Jenny said, her feet already protesting at the thought of carrying on her search tonight. When she’d planned this journey back in York, it had seemed like such a simple plan. She’d get the stage coach to London, make her way to Fulham, find her Uncle Richard and after sharing her sad news of her parent’s deaths, she’d stay and perhaps work for him whilst she visited the sights of the capital and looked for employment, perhaps as a seamstress, nanny or housekeeper. But she’d quickly found out that London was so much bigger than York, and the more pubs had turned her away, the more she realised that she hadn’t heard from her uncle in years. He could be anywhere in this huge metropolis, or perhaps somewhere else entirely. She seemed to remember her father saying his brother was in Fulham, but the more she thought about it the more she wondered if he’d said Clapham or Peckham. Once again, she leant heavily against the bar, feeling a little faint.
“Are you alright Miss? You look a bit pale,” Billy asked.
“I’m just a little tired, I’ve been searching all afternoon, you see. Do you rent rooms here?”
“Well now, not usually, but I suppose we could make an exception to help a young lady in distress, couldn’t we Edmund?” Billy said, glancing at his brother.
“Yes, of course. I mean, it’s not safe for a young lady to be roaming the streets of Fulham at night,” Edmund said, as he ran his wolfish grey eyes over Jenny’s slender body, taking in the way her modest yet fitting red velvet day dress emphasized her trim waist and the swell of her bosom.
“I’d be willing to pay you of course,” she added quickly.
“Well, no need to worry about that now. I mean I’m sure we can work somethin’ out,” Billy said, aiming a sly grin at his brother.
“You’re very kind Sirs, but I really must insist…” Jenny started to say.
“Yer, don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, I’m sure we can think of something that’s mutually beneficial, eh Billy?” Edmund said, smirking at his brother.
“Now perhaps you’d like a drink,eh?”
“Everything alright ‘ere, Billy?” a young woman said, suddenly appearing beside Jenny at the bar.
“Fine, Rose. Just helping out a young lady in distress. No need for you ‘ladies’ to get involved,” Billy said, pronouncing the word ‘ladies’ with much sarcasm.
“Evening Miss, I’m Rose and this is my friend, Daisy,” the young woman said, extending a hand towards Jenny. Daisy was short and curvy with bright blond ringlets escaping from an elaborate emerald green hat, her plump boobs barely contained by the plunging neckline of her matching dress. Rose was taller and slimmer, her dark red hair twisted in a complicated-looking kaçak iddaa braid, and wearing a scarlet satin dress, that shone in the dim gas light. Both women wore heavy make-up: their lips plump and red, their cheeks rouged, eyelashes thick with kohl.
“Good evening, I’m Jenny,” she said, briefly squeezing her hand. “I was looking for an inn to spend the night, and Billy and his brother have been kind enough to offer me a room.”
“That’s right, so if you’ll just mind your own business darlin’,” Billy said, casting a frosty glare towards Rose.
“Oh yes, and what kind of rent are they chargin’?” Daisy asked knowingly.
“Well, we hadn’t really discussed the price, Billy said we could work something out,” Jenny said innocently.
Rose gave a brief snort of a laugh as she exchanged a look with Daisy: “Oh, is that right? You can work something out with this young lady can you Billy Hawkins? Yer, I’ll bet you can!”
“Come on, dearie, you’ll not want to pay Billy’s rent. Why don’t you come and stay the night at our place?” Daisy said, taking Jenny’s hand.
“This is kind of you, but I have money, I could stay here,” Jenny said, allowing Rose to take her hand and lead her out onto streets slick with rain.
“Yes, well I don’t think it’s money that Billy Hawkins was interested in,” Daisy explained.
“Come on, dearie, we don’t want to dilly dally. There’s no end of blackguards, brutes and pickpockets round ‘ere at this time of night,” Rose added.
They hurried down the darkening streets, ignoring the lewd catcalls and wolf-whistles of men loitering on street corners and staggering drunkenly out of the local hostelries.
“Alright, Rose love, ‘ow about a little slap and tickle, eh?” a large, bear-like man said, as he lurched out of the shadows, swaying unsteadily.
“Hands off! Don’t touch what you can’t afford, Joe Sampson!” Rose shouted, slapping a large man’s hands away.
“This really is very kind. Do you live nearby?” Jenny asked, as her two new friends hurried down the dark streets, clasping her arms a little tighter as they abruptly turned right onto a large residential street, and she nearly lost her balance as her ankle boots slipped on the wet cobblestones.
“Yes, don’t you worry, we’re nearly there,” Daisy said reassuringly, raising her voice as a carriage rattled past noisily, the thudding of the horse’s hooves echoing loudly off the buildings crowding the narrow street.
“And you can spare me a room?”
“Well, you may have to share with one of us, but don’t you worry, you’re a dainty little thing so I’m sure we’ll be able to squeeze you in somewhere,” Rose added, as they came to a gap in the black railings and ascended a series of smooth, grey steps together.
The girls swept Jenny through the large front door and she found herself in a spacious wood-panelled entrance hall where a peal of loud laughter attracted her attention. She paused whilst her new friends hung up their coats, and looking to her right she could see into a large drawing room where a large group of men were collected around a piano, singing along to a jaunty song. Women in various states of undress were draped around them, some sitting in their laps as they sang.
Just inside the door, a young man in uniform sang along with the rest, the gas light glinting off the brass buttons of his smart navy blue tunic. He clutched a glass of red wine in one hand, the other wrapped around the slender waist of a buxom young women who was seated in his knee.
“Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,” he sang, bouncing the women in time with the music. “To see a fine lady upon a white horse.”
The woman wrapped an arm around his neck, smiling and hanging on as he jigged her up and down. She laughed loudly, winking at Jenny before throwing her head back as he nuzzled her slender neck.
“Oh, is there a party going on? I do hope I’m not intruding,” Jenny said, watching as the girl’s pale breasts bulged against the front of her low-cut dress.
“No, no, course not, dearie. Come on, we need to see Madam,” Rose insisted, tugging at her arm and leading her down a long, dark hallway and into a small office at the rear of the house.
“This is Madam Chloe,” Rose said, as they led her inside.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Madam,” Jenny said politely, extending a hand towards the severe-looking woman behind a large mahogany desk. She was leaning low over its surface, peering at columns of figures in a ledger over a pair of half-moon spectacles.
Madam took off her spectacles and got to her feet, moving with a smooth, feline grace around to the front, her feet invisible beneath her long, dark skirts. She ignored Jenny’s outstretched hand as she looked her up and down. She was a tall, stern-looking woman, perhaps in her fifties, standing stiff and upright in a dark indigo-blue dress with a tight corset, long, satin skirts, embroidered bodice and lace sleeves. Her glossy jet black hair was greying at the edges kaçak bahis and scraped back into a tight bun.
“Well, well, what have we here? I thought you girls were going to the Queens Arms in order to drum up a few extra customers, and she doesn’t look like a customer to me,”
“This is Jenny, Madam. We overheard her talking to Billy Hawkins at the Queens Arms, she don’t have nowhere to stay,” Rose replied.
“Yes, but you know very well we can’t take in every waif and stray wandering the streets of London,” Madam Chloe said with a weary sigh.
“Sorry Madam, but we just couldn’t leave ‘er at the mercy of Billy and his brother Edmund, you know what kind of reputation they ‘ave,” Rose added. Jenny noted once again how strong Rose’s accent was, pronouncing ‘brother’ as ‘bruvver’.
“Hmm, well let’s have a look at you Jenny,” Madam conceded, taking her hand and drawing her closer towards the warm amber glow of the gas lamp hanging above her desk.
“So where are you from, my dear?” the older lady said as she clasped Jenny’s chin, angling her face towards the soft, amber light.
“From York, Madam. My parents died recently, and so I’ve come down to find my uncle and auntie to make sure they’ve heard the news. We wrote to them a while ago but never heard back. I’ve been looking for them all day.”
“To find your relatives, hmm?” Madam said, still examining her face.
“Yes, and perhaps to seek my fortune,” Jenny added.
“Seek your fortune, eh?” she said as she stepped back, her thin lips twisting into a tight smile.
“Indeed Madam, I’ve always wanted to come to London, to visit the capital of the Empire, to see the sights, to see if the streets really are paved with gold.”
“Paved with gold!” Rose snorted. “More like paved wiv ‘orse-shit!”
“Rose, language!” Madam snapped.
“Begging your pardon, Madam,” Rose replied, bowing her head as Daisy, put her hand over her mouth, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a loud giggle.
“Well now Jenny, you seem quite well-spoken,” Madam Chloe continued, tugging her by the hand and encouraging her to perform a pirouette as she looked her up and down.
“In better times, my parents were able to send me to a private girls’ school, where I learned to read and write, and do my sums. They taught me a little Latin and French too.”
“French, eh? And you’re in good health?”
“Very good, and you’re, what, about twenty-two?”
“Twenty-one, Madam. Twenty-two in May, next year.”
“I see. Well you certainly look the part, young Jenny, although I wonder if a girl with your refined upbringing will really fit in here.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean,” Jenny replied.
“Well, never mind, that’s for another day. You may certainly stay for a few days whilst you continue the search for your elusive aunt and uncle. All that we ask in return is that you help out a little with the household chores.”
“Yes Madam, thank-you Madam,” Jenny said, and something about Madam Chloe’s strict demeanour compelled her to perform a brief curtsy.
“Very good, girls can you take Jenny to the kitchen and find her something to eat and drink? Jenny, you can spend the night in Rose’s room. Rose, I’m putting young Jenny in your hands, I trust you’ll explain and perhaps even show young Jenny what’s expected of the young ladies of this house,” Madam Chloe said, casting Rose a meaningful glance.
“It will be my pleasure, thank you Madam,” Rose replied, with a knowing smile.
“Very well then, off you go girls,” Madam concluded, returning to her seat and dismissing them with a casual wave of her hand. “We’ll talk again in the morning.”
Rose’s room was right at the top of the house, with a little window cut into the sloping ceiling. It was basic and functional, with bare floorboards, plain white walls and a small wooden cross hanging over a double bed with a brass frame. At least it was warm and dry though, Jenny thought to herself. Outside, the wind changed direction and the rain rattled against the window noisily, causing her to shiver as she stepped out of her dress.
“That’s a fine-lookin’ dress,” Rose said as she lay in bed and watched Jenny carefully folding it over a chair. Although both Daisy and Rose had strong cockney accents, Jenny noticed that Rose’s accent also had a tinge of Irish in it too.
“Yes, I’d hoped to make a good impression on my uncle and auntie. I haven’t seen them in years,” Jenny explained as she placed a foot on the end of the bed, rolled her white silk stocking down over her ankle, then draped it over the chair’s arm on top of her dress.
“Well never mind, dearie, we’ll ‘elp you look again tomorrow, eh? Those are fine stockings too.”
Jenny had hoped Rose would be asleep when she returned from the bathroom. She was tired and her feet still ached from all that walking. But Rose was still wide-awake, seemingly keen to chat as she watched Jenny undress. She felt her cheeks flush pink as she eased her petticoats down over her legs, leaving her in just her long, white cotton chemise over her linen drawers.
“Aren’t you going to take that off? You’ll be too warm, I reckon,” Rose said as she tugged back the blanket.
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