Downy Blows

The House of Sinister Intentions by Esther Mobley

By Esther Mobley

The Home for Fallen Angels and Scarlet Ladies in Middlesex has long boasted a reputation of success and compassion when dealing with prostitutes and the other disgraced ladies of our society. Indeed, many young women have emerged from the Home reformed and refined to re-enter society as respectable ladies. But what of the ones who have not? Could this organisation really be home to a sinister underbelly? Several young women have come forward to reveal the true nature of this organisation. Accusations of slavery and human trafficking are among the claims made by these young women. “I was taken in the night from my bed by a man who called himself ‘The Earl,’” says one such young woman, who wished to remain unidentified. “I was stuffed into a carriage with some other girls.” The young woman, whom we will call Matilda, states that they travelled for many hours in the dark until they reached a seaport where a large ship loaded with human cargo awaited. The Earl and his assistants attempted to guide the ladies onto the ship, but Matilda, being “light of foot and quite quick” freed herself of her captor’s grasp, escaping to a nearby pub where she was promptly taken in by an older gentleman of fair fortune. “I only just got away,” Matilda says. “The other girls weren’t so lucky. They are likely to be shipped off to the Indies or Arabia to be sold as slaves on the black-market.” Another young woman who spent time in the Home claims she was sold right out of her bed to a wealthy gentleman. “He beat me daily for pouring his tea wrong and locked me in a pantry at night,” the young woman, who wished to be referred to as Anne, stated. “I was expected to perform vulgar acts on his whim, and my body was used in ways unimaginable to the faint of heart.” Anne claims she escaped her vile subjugator by passing a message to a young baker, who sent the police to the wealthy gentleman’s home. Anne was released from her captivity, but the gentleman was not taken up on charges of abuse or false imprisonment. “Coin changed hands, if you ask me,” Anne says to this. “I am lucky to be alive. If I had my way I’d see the old [removed] hanged for what he did to me.” In response to these accusations of human trafficking and slave-trading, Edna Crane, director of the Home for Fallen Angels and Scarlet Ladies said, “That is preposterous. We here at [The Home] treat our ladies with the utmost care and respect and are dedicated to teaching them poise, grace and righteousness so they can live decent, virtuous lives. Not all these ladies are willing to change, however, and are merely looking for a warm bed and a hot meal. It is not our policy to retain the irredeemable riff-raff when ladies truly desperate to change their circumstances are still on the streets in need of our compassion and education. This slander is merely an attempt by the rejected few to exact vengeance upon our good Home for refusing to enable their vagrancy.” Upon hearing these contradictory accounts, this reporter decided there was only one thing for it. Posing as a prostitute in search of redemption, I approached the Home for Fallen Angels and Scarlet Ladies, and I was taken in immediately on account of my “disreputable air” and the “stench of sin and spirits” about me. The house servants were extremely kind and gentle, showing me to a meagre but clean and comfortable room. After a very nice meal and a restful night’s sleep, lessons began. Along with nearly a dozen other ladies of varying degrees of ill repute, I was taught etiquette and appropriate social behaviour. The curriculum even included tutorials in household management and cookery. I instantly established myself, incensing the tutors and fellow fallen ladies within days of my arrival with my disruptive antics and apparent inability to be taught. After a regrettable incident with a bottle of spirits and a young, fine-looking doctor, the poor doctor was dismissed, and I was sent back to the beginning stages of the training, as was my intent, though I did lament the dismissal of the doctor, with whom I had spent an enjoyable evening [removed]. But I digress. I watched many ladies arrive and depart over the next several days. Some took to the teaching and were sent into society with a pocketful of shillings or the promise of a job at one of the local businesses that are known to employ the Home’s renewed ladies. Some ladies received gentleman callers, and several left the Home engaged to be wed. However, some disappeared in the night without a word and were never seen again. It soon became apparent to my tutors that I was not improving or becoming a “refined lady of demure and sophistication.” I could see the disappointment and disapproval in their eyes and hear them lament my dismal progress in whispered tones. I became increasingly certain my final lesson was fast at hand. Three weeks after my arrival at the Home for Fallen Angels and Scarlet Ladies, I was visited in the night by a woman of whom I had never previously heard tell or seen in the Home. She instructed me to call her Madame le Bone. She was a handsome woman in a fine frock of ivory silk and a flowery bonnet, but she appeared severe and formidable. She led me outside by means of a winding stairwell I had not discovered in my investigation of the grounds and ushered me into a small, cramped carriage in which three ladies I knew from the Home and four others I did not recognise were seated, each with expressions of apprehension and curiosity. Though I suspected the unfamiliar girls had joined us from similar boarding-houses, Madame le Bone did not permit us to converse with one another, and I was unable to question them. We travelled a long distance, and a number of the ladies dozed. I feigned sleep, hoping either Madame le Bone or one of the attendants would speak, revealing our destination, but this was in vain. Clearly this was a well-travelled road, and the driver needed no instruction. At length we arrived, and Madame le Bone roused us un-gently and ushered us out of the carriage. I was shocked to discover our surroundings. We stood outside an enormous, brilliant white mansion. The attendants led us inside, and we were shown to separate rooms along an extensive corridor on the third floor. Mine was lavishly decorated in rich hues of maroon and gold. I was immediately attended by a young maid who delivered to me a selection of exquisite pastries and spirits. Though she was kind enough, she would not speak to me when I questioned her. In fact, it seems each of the house-servants was ordered not to speak to me at all. I dined, bathed, and was dressed in a lovely silk dressing gown. Once left alone, I made note of certain peculiarities in the room, which I discovered was locked from the outside. There were no clocks or communication devices in the room, but there was an assortment of books, and I amused myself at length with the works of Poe whilst I waited to ascertain the nature of my predicament. An indeterminate amount of time had passed when I heard the lock turn, and the door opened. A man entered the room. He had the look of a gentleman of class and asked to be called Mr Winter. I knew this was not his real name. (For the purpose of this piece I will not identify him, but rest assured he has been given to the authorities.) Mr Winter offered no explanation for his presence or what was expected of me, but the answer became quite clear when he attempted to lay hands on me. Well, this I would not tolerate, for Mr Winter was as unsightly as a well-used dollymop in the Chapel before the drinking hour. Thus, I beat him about the head and neck with the bedside lantern and escaped my lately lavish cell. The corridor was mercifully empty, thus I seized my opportunity to investigate. There were nearly a dozen doors resembling mine; behind nearly all the unmistakable sounds of pleasure and fornication could be heard. I became quite certain that this was, in fact, a jemmy bawdy house and Madame le Bone, its abbess. I was dreadfully unprepared for such an occasion and thus had no camera on my scantily appointed person. Before I was able to further investigate the area and gather additional evidence of this wickedness, a servant girl, whom I had met earlier in the evening, entered the hall and spotted me. She raised the alarm, and I was forced to flee through the veritable labyrinth of halls and rooms. Finally, reaching the kitchen on the first floor, I cut a path through the startled kitchen staff with a large baker’s pin. Being quick of wit, I took note of my surroundings and the numbered address on the heavy, iron gate, which I was compelled to scale most ungracefully in my pretty, silk dressing gown, providing an astonished and grateful gentleman passing by with an illicit view of my conspicuous lack of petticoat. Thus liberated from my erstwhile gaol, I came upon a constable on his nightly patrol. He was utterly flummoxed by my appearance, and even further gobsmacked by my account. I was taken to a local precinct wherein I was asked to recount my fantastical tale. “This is a highly imaginative fantasy,” claims Edna Crane, director of the Home for Fallen Angels and Scarlet Women. “I have no knowledge of Madame le Bone being involved in any such treachery. I release the more difficult ladies to her care for further instruction when their needs surpass that which we at the [Home] are able to provide. This is utter rubbish.” No one at Madame le Bone’s residence corroborated my account. Inspectors on the scene found evidence of recent illicit activity, and Madame le Bone claimed she was entertaining a house of high society guests (who wished to remain unnamed). “I am merely a hostess who provides a comfortable atmosphere for her friends to dally as they see fit. What my consenting guests choose to do at my parties is their concern. I do not judge my friends and acquaintances  for their preferences. This is my home, however, and not a common brothel. This disgraced child is merely stirring up trouble and waging a senseless war against the innocent Home for Fallen Angels and Scarlet Ladies and dragging myself and my friends through the muck to do it.” No charges have been filed at this time, and despite this reporter’s continuing efforts to blow the whistle on this nefarious conspiracy, the villainy continues unabated. This reporter therefore cautions young ladies looking to the Home for Fallen Angels and Scarlet Ladies for relief. Unless, of course, that lady is looking for a career in the illicit arts. As for this reporter, after my narrow brush with such an appointment, I’ll stick to the reporting.





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