‘It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.’
– Edgar Allan Poe
It is well past midnight when the eminent politician’s Brougham pulls up outside Ah Tack’s Lodging House in Pennyfields. The mood of his driver is baleful for has he not spent the greater part of two hours travelling through every iniquitous den and dive in London, being made to wait in the cold (and the pouring wet), outside many a strike-ridden nunnery? There is hardly a dive in London where his Lordship has not tried to threaten or admonish proprietor after proprietor. And now, here they are at last, forced to canter down into ChinaTown to Ah Tacks, where, much to the suspicion of his Lordship’s driver, the eminent politician is welcomed with open arms by none other than the voluptuous Canton Katey ‘erself. “Oh lor! My Lordship! After all these years! Well I nevah! What brings you ere?! You ave not deigned to sample our wares in some time!” she winks lewdly, chuckles raucously and at last his lordship starts to relax. Sliding a plump arm around his waist she whisks him into the utter darkness of her rookery.
Lit just well enough for its denizens to find their way deeper still into its nooks and crannies but not lit too well. Led by the plump well-rounded hand around his waist, the eminent politician travels deeper still into the lodging house that Canton Katey calls home. It is like fumbling one’s way through a dense London fog, for the air is suffused with the heady aroma of opium, thick and dense and intoxicating. All around him he can hear the pain filled groans and unearthly sighs of men awash on the ethereal shores of opium addiction. The pragmatic, principled side of his nature is horrified. What in God’s name is he doing here? But his fleshly and more carnal impulses prevail, he has no wife, he has no fiancee and there are certain entirely natural impulses which must be sated if he is to remain sane and by God! Sate them he will!
“Off with that hat my Lord! Make yourself comfy! Ah Tak! Attend ‘is Lordship! Ang Sing? where’s Ang Sing? There’s a gent ‘ere needs soothing and no mistake! Fetch Ang Sing!”
Ang Sing, the command is uttered by one mouth, and then another, until the room his ‘lordship’ is in resounds with that name wondrously spoken and until at length, Ang Sing appears. His Lordship is uncloaked, his cravat loosened, he reclines easefully on Canton Katey’s chaise longue and Ang Sing, a prodigious beauty of not inconsiderable girth, materialises and lies beside him. Gone is his irritation at being nay-sayed by a professed leader of the lower classes, one whom he has consigned to Newgate (along with all those intellectually challenged fools who followed his lead). His irritations soothed, his natural impulses sated, he slides into slumber like one drugged.
“Poor Sot! A fine time he’s had of it!”
“Who? Him?” the eminent politician’s driver jerks his thumb towards his Lordship and raises an enquiring eyebrow, Canton Katey displaying genuine affection for a gent? Well he never! Smirking, Katey shook her head, “The union rep ye dolt! Him as called the mill workers strike! What I should like to know is why ‘im as has the best interests of all at heart should be destined for Botany Bay!” Glaring down at the supine figure of the eminent politician she let rip a mirthless chuckle, “As for him? Such as he should know by now that when we calls a strike we means it!”
“Oh calm down won’t you! It’ll be at least a month before the symptoms show, plenty of time for you to find other employment”
“He’ll do for you!”
Now Katey cocks her head at an angle and stares at him hard and direct, the smoke has cleared, all the dreamers have gone and a cold wind whistles through a broken, rag stuffed window pane. “He’ll do for me will e? What? Like e’s done for the sons and daughters of the ‘fallen women’ he’s so fond of ‘avin? Get im out of ere!”
And so, dear reader, the driver departs with an eminent politician in tow and a dark foreboding in his heart. Driving back through the near empty streets of London in the glistening, glittering dark, hunched low in his seat he reflects grimly on this night’s doings. All unionised girls were clean, it therefore followed that the girl Katey had given to his Lordship wasn’t unionised and therefore hadn’t yet been given a clean bill of health.His Lordship had always been a man of probity where his natural impulses were concerned, he’d always made sure he’d indulged them with the very best. How could he have fallen so low.
“Terrible! Simply terrible!” the driver utters these words aloud and in the same breath curses his luck. Whipping his horses into a dreadful frenzy so that the Brougham quickly gathers pace he departs the hinterlands of ChinaTown and heads back to the plush surroundings of the eminent politician’s residence in Sloane Square.