The weakness of men…
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by Andrew Lee Hart




“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.”


Part One

Some 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.


The 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 fooled.


I had 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 isn’t my name, and left me to the tender mercies of her husband.


He 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 accursed place.


I went to my brother’s 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.


I 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 trouble.”

And I didn’t, 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 didn’t 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.


I 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 wasn’t 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 judge?


 The gentleman must have been in his thirties, and his accent was strange.

“Where are you from sir?” I asked him.

“Manchester, but I live in London now.”

“A thriving city I hear.”

“But poor, very poor. And unholy. I do not miss it.”

I 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 moment.


I felt 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 ashamed.

“What is your name?”

“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 don’t 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 many.


And 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 me.

“I came last night, but you weren’t there.”

And I nodded in agreement and he flushed.

We 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.


And then he invited me to a concert at The Hanover Square Rooms, to hear a Mr Bach.

“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.”

He 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 a lady.


As “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 laughter.


Oh, 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.


Even 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 Melancholy.


“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 strong.

“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 woman?”

“If that is what you want to call it.”

“Fancy woman, mistress, whatever you like.”



Part Two

It was 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 morning.

“Twas in the merry month of May/ When green buds all were swelling.”

And then his voice would appear from nowhere.

“Sweet William on his death bed lay/ For love of Barbara Allen.”

And we 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”.


And he 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.


We had 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 Marie?”

“When have I called you that?”

“This morning, when I washed your back, you seemed happy, your face was less tight and you called me Marie.”

He looked embarrassed and ashamed.

“She is my wife.”


“I am sorry Deborah; I left her in Manchester. She doesn’t know where I have gone; she will be looked after by my father. She will not want, and I have two children; James and Peter.”

I made to go, and he held me by the shoulder, his hand cold and unyielding.

“I will not go back to them. Not ever.”


“Why did you leave them? Did you warn them?”

We were naked in bed, but apart.

“Oh I had to flee.”

I 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 father’s 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 fled.”

“You fled from God?”

“Yes, I ran, and came to London where nobody could find me.”

I lay 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.”


Later, he turned to me.

“I am sorry Deborah, it is hard to explain.”

“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 surely.”

“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 you.”


I prayed one morning in Church, St. Adolphus’s, 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.


I 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.


As I 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 Lord’s 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?


He 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 asked.


“Your children, your wife.”

“Sometimes. I wonder how they are.”

“Am I your punishment then?”


For 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.”


We 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 the moon.

“I think you must be mistaken sir.” Amos replied, transparently upset and on his guard.

The 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.”


I came in one evening, late after visiting a friend close to Covent Garden. Liza looked at me intently; “Master is speaking to a gentleman.”

I 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.


That 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 end.

“Who is he?”

“I don’t 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 can’t do that.”

“Is he from your wife? Or your father?”

“No not from them.”


That 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 more worthy.”

I lay there next to him, smelling his sweat and fear, Amos’s 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.


This 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 me?”

“Yes, I have to go back to Manchester. Please believe me, I am sorry.”

He 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 wouldn’t stay with me.”

“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 Deborah.”

“My name is not Deborah.”


I did not beg; I wanted to go with him, for him to offer, but he didn’t 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.



Part Three

He was 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 called Deborah.

“She used to work here, five or so years ago.”

Five 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 promising.


He 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 Deborah?”

He 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.”

He smiled slightly, and they stood in a corner, away from bustle and shouts.

“She left for America. She couldn’t settle and wanted to make a new life for herself. She had money saved and off she went.”

“Did she leave a message for me?”

“She said that she was happy, and not to worry.”

He 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 don’t remember her at all.”

Gill 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 fools.”


And 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?”

I sat 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.




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