“Is his Mibs doing the rounds tonite?”
“Just turned down Cobblers Row get a move on girl! You’ll catch him yet!”
Skittles plucks up her already too short skirts till her crisp white bloomers show almost to the knee and streaks down Bell End Rd turning into Cobblers Row. Hobbling along on his walking stick his Lordship has paused midway on his journey, to have congress with a drunken street walker and two little girls. Another eye rolling situation so far as Skittles is concerned, for his Lordship has an unnerving habit of taking up causes that he would do better not to trifle with, and this is such a one.
A drunken whore wending her way down an infamous street in the dead of night? And with two young silk mill workers? There can be little guessing what she has in mind for them! And has iz Mibs checked the darkened alleyways for lurking pimps? Az e eck! Blowing shrilly through her fingers so that his Lordship twitches and his back stiffens she shrieks “Oi! Oi! Lord Gladstone! Iz Lordship oi!”
There are many back roads to be found from the gates of the Houses of Parliament to Soho and this is his favourite. The Turkey Twizzlers are a delight to smell and taste, and the countless conversations he has had with bloater sellers, market stall holders, cabmen and road sweepers have proved highly informative. Particularly when formulating policy in the Palace of Westminster. The only poison tainting his unbridled joy at the highways and by-roads of London is that overflow of unbridled misery, prostitution. And tonight is no exception,”You would sell these children? And for what purpose?” he poses this question (with his hands softly clasped upon his cane) as gently as if he were talking to a fellow member of the house.
“Would you buy them? I can’t feed them no more, they’ve been laid off orf the mill, I needs must eat”. A cunning look passes over her raddled features as she says this for it is clear that she has not eaten in some time, gin being her staple diet. “Why you could live like a prince off their earnings…once they’ve been fed,will you take em?” asks the child-seller, her words afloat on a vaporous sea of cheap gin, “Thruppence for each of em!There’s plenty of work in em you won’t be disappointed!”. The Right Honourable William Gladstone, Member of Parliament for Newark shudders inwardly and, rummaging in his trouser pocket soon comes up with the ‘two sets of thruppence’ requested. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, the two children are his. Sold to him with less warmth than an African slave upon an auction block.
“A distressing occurence!” he mutters to himself, “And what to do about it? They are too young to be taken to the House of St Barnabas and I don’t see how I can welcome them into my home with out inviting scandal, what to do, what to do, what to do…”
Skittles observing his dilemma thanks god for a cove as soft in the head as this one, she espies a large meal and a warm bed in the offin, if she’s congenial enough.
“How old is they? They looks to be about ten to me” asks she, staring intently at the drugged countenances of the newly purchased children. “Is the age of relevance?” inquires the naif-like politician as much out of irritation as ignorance. “Younger than ten and they’ll arrest you” she states matter of factly, “you may do as you wish if they’s older”.
“Dear God!Thrust by the tidal wave of degeneracy, into the ocean of depravity, at so young an age? We must save them! Quick! Take them down Bottle Alley and up Bell End Road, I have a hansom cab waiting”.
“For ow much?” she replies, “Creepin roun them back roads with them two they’ll be wonderin’ what I’m a doin thin! There’s risk in it” and she that has spent many a night down in the police cells as punishment for iniquitous wanderings should know.
“Two shillings, a good meal and a lengthy talk against the dangers of prostitution once we arrive home”
It had been a warm summer’s night when first he had strolled out of the Palace of Westminster and headed in the direction of Soho. And yet it feels to him, as if all possible joy and warmth had leeched out of that part of the world that is Soho. “To be reduced to selling one’s children, how terrible!”
Skittles shakes her head angrily,”Hark at you! Sellin one’s children! What makes you think them kids is ‘ers? What makes you think this life is so terrible? I’ve known more Gonophs transported fore they was twelve, than I have Blowens imprisoned for plying their trade. T’is not nearly so bad as you’d make out!”.
“But why must the choice always be thieving or whoring? There are positions a-plenty in London why must the choice always be so morally bleak!”
“I goes to confession every Sunday morn at St-Tobias-in-the-North! I ain’t so morally bleak as you think!”
They walk on in silence tugging the two young girls along behind them down squalid streets awash with sewage; past half dressed women tugging drunken men in through half-open doors. The dark streets are lit up by open pub doorways in which affable customers lounge, they sparkle with the strewn shards of smashed beer glasses. Skittles and Mr Gladstone hurry on, stepping carefully around stinking puddles of gin and the various cross-eyed brutes immersed in beating rogue ‘customers’.
They walk quickly through the dark averting their eyes whenever it is expedient to do so, for there are only so many sin steeped souls a man can redeem on any given night. Striding quickly down Bell End Road they are soon safely esconsed within the Hackney Carriage that will ferry them to a neighbourhood of clean, well-lit streets and respectable homes full of vast well-stocked pantries. Mr Gladstone is elated, that is till he catches himself gazing a little too long at the laced up bows on Skittles begrimed ankle boots, there will he thinks guiltily, be more than one confession to make in his diary tonight.