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Chapter Eleven

In which I unmask a rake


There is a time in the lives of all good folk when we must account for our deeds before the Lord our God. Though I do truly believe this to be the case, I do believe that some are called to account for their deeds before they reach Heaven if, that is, Heaven is their final destination. So it was with Lord Appleby, though I must say, he rendered me a good deed on a later occasion, but I must not get ahead of myself, for that would be the undoing of my story.

True to Polly’s word, I gained entrance to his box with ease. He was not alone, having brought a gentleman with him, whom I did not recognise. He was scarred on the face and wore no wig. His eyes flashed brightly such that I thought a fire burned inside him. This man, being aware of the etiquette of a liaison such as that I might offer his Lordship, absented himself from our presence with all haste. In other words, he knew I was a whore and departed to allow the deed to be done. Lord Appleby nodded for me to sit. 

Polly began her soliloquy over the audience’s continued murmurs. I watched Lord Appleby’s face as she faltered on a phrase. He was enraptured, it was true, and I thought I had never seen a man such as he so in love. Yet, I could not rely on appearance alone, for men are fickle in love and I was an expert.

“Oh, but she is a Venus made flesh, is she not?” he said to me.

“She is,” I said.

He watched a moment longer, and when Polly ceased to speak and took up position again in the wings, Lord Appleby turned his roguish eye on me. I did not doubt in that moment that here was a man who could be easily turned from his lady love and that if I so desired, I could have him this very evening. 

Lord Appleby had about him the look of a charming man about town. He was dressed à la mode. It is true, he was not a particularly good looking man, yet he had a charismatic way about him that I knew would draw women as bees to honey. I could not think how Polly had managed to keep him at arm’s length for a whole two weeks and to promise him nothing until such time as she was safely ensconced in her Mary-bone home.

“You are sir, in love with her?” I said. I made no attempt to flirt. I did not lower my eyes, nor act coy. I merely stated a fact and waited for his reply. He, on the other hand, pursed his lips. A smile lit up his face.

“I am in love with love,” he said, moving his chair closer to mine. He brushed my hair with the back of his hand. “You are the friend. I have seen you about Covent Garden.”

“I keep company with Mother Shadbolt,” I said. 

I looked out over the heads of the assembly and thought I saw Mr. James Boswell. He roared with laughter and then slapped his companion on the back. I remembered my conversation only that morning, with Daisy. I would have a discussion with Bozzy, but how to catch the little man alone?

“Ah,” said Lord Appleby. “Then you are available. Tell me the whereabouts of your Mother’s establishment.” 

“Sir, I am not here to advertise my services. We are however, situated in the Little Piazza, above Bradley’s on the corner of Russell Street and the Garden.” I must be mindful of business.

“I know it. You are not here to advertise and yet, you tell me the exact whereabouts?” He frowned.  “Why did you agree to meet me?”

“I came to make sure you are faithful in your declaration of love to my friend, Polly,” I said, indicating the stage. I glanced back over the crowd. I hoped dear Bozzy would remain for the whole of the play. 

“Polly does not have to know everything,” Lord Appleby whispered, drawing me back into the enclosure of the box, which was not so very private that we could not be seen by any who wished, on making closer inspection. He kissed my cheek and turned my face to his with his hand, kissing my lips, eyelids and neck.

“No sir. Not here. Come to me, if you wish, at my address, but not here.”

“My dearest Polly will not allow me to touch her,” he said, sadly. “She would have me marry her before we… Ah, but I may not marry another.” His voice was soft, his breath warm and damp. I tried to push him away, but he had me off-balance and I could do nothing without creating a commotion.

“She is the mistress of my heart, but not my loins,” he said. 

“Sir. She is my friend and you have answered her fears by acting in an unseemly way towards me.” 

I tried to squirm out from under him, but he pressed in close to my seat and I must say it was increasing hard for me to resist his attentions. Oh but the gross nature of such an act as this in public would place me as low as the gutter tripe. I know this appears somewhat hypocritical, given the nature of my business and my treatment in the hands of Jim Craddock, but please understand; the theatre is a spectacle and all in attendance food for the gossipmongers. I prayed that I would have the nerve to tell Polly and that she would not think ill of me, but I knew that she would be mortified by Lord Appleby’s actions and that it may be better if I kept countenance and told her simply that she should be wary of giving her heart to this man.

“Please, sir. Think of your reputation.” I did not doubt that he thought little enough of mine. He continued to press home his advantage. I continued to resist.

“You must forgive me,” he said suddenly, and drew away from me sharply. “I have misrepresented myself to you. I am not a bad man. I am simply overcome with a lust I cannot satisfy until I give my darling a home and a name.”

“Sir,” I said. I touched my hair and feigned indifference. “She tests you.”

“She does.”

 “You know she is already married, as are you?”

“She is? But she never told me this.”

“Her husband perpetrated a great misdeed and she had no recourse but to leave him,” I said. “It has affected the way in which she views all relationships. She is a virtuous woman.”

“Oh, but pray tell. What misdeed do you speak of?”

“I am not sure I ought to speak of it. Particularly to you. Your own wife abandoned the marital home, did she not?”

“I am starved for want of Polly and would know why it is she holds me at arm’s length, when all I wish for is to be joined with her, in body, if not in name.”

I gazed on Lord Appleby’s pathetic countenance and considered. I must admit I have a penchant for shocking people with the absolute truth, though I am fully aware there are times when the truth does little to further good opinion. It is a failing of mine.

“Her husband tried to sell her. He raised five hundred pounds, but she refused to go and her husband was forced to run from the angry purchaser.”

“But this is terrible,” said Lord Appleby. “Yes, well, you understand now why she is careful and why she would hold out for a love match.” I thought I had shocked him, but he was not a man to be so easy affected by the ‘truth’.

“But she wishes to be sure of my intentions? What of hers?”

“Hers? She asks only for proof of your love.” 

Lord Appleby held his head in his hands. 

“But, I do love her and if what you tell me is true, then she is ever more in need of my comfort.”

I stayed his words. 

“I know only that whilst you say your heart is with Polly, your loins are elsewhere inclined.” 

“Twas ever thus and you have unmasked me. Will you tell her? Oh but I implore you to keep it from her. I will do anything, pay anything, though I have little enough left of what was once a fortune. Here, take what you want.” 

He reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled forth a folded banknote. I placed my hand over his. 

“If you promise that, should I come to you for assistance in any matter, any matter at all, you will render it unto me, then I will say nothing of your lascivious desires.” I was aware, that whilst I said this, I could not, in all honesty, make such a commitment to him. To do so would betray my friend, yet what is a whore to do? I must think of my purse, after all. 

“I will. Anything. Anything you ask.” He was already besotted with me. Poor soul. 

“Good,” I said, and smiled. “Treat Polly with kindness and she will reward you to the best of her ability. I am sure.” 

It must be said, I doubted his affection for my friend. He was a man who, when faced with a woman he may not have, wishes for her all the more. I took my leave of him then and made my way through the crowd towards Mr. Boswell.

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