the little lady

Posted: February 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Fiction | No Comments »

There once was a little girl named Sara who was aged ten; she lived with her mother and father in a little cottage right outside of town. It was a meager existence cept for the love of her mother. Her father worked in a factory and would get home late every night after her mother had already tucked her in, kissing her head sweetly. She would often be woken up by her mother and father fighting; she could never make out what was being said so she would just put her blanket over her head and try to go back to sleep. Sometimes though, she would hear the sound of breaking glass and when she woke the next morning for breakfast she would notice they had one less bowl or one less cup in the cabinet. Her father didn’t talk much so she wondered what her mother and father could possibly have to say to each other that would break glass so. Everyday Sara would go to school and return home sharply at four o’clock and her mother would be there waiting for her with bread and gravy, sometimes a little piece of hard candy or two.
“Sara, welcome back, how was your day? I am so happy to see you.”
“It was good mommy, just like any other day.”
Sara didn’t know why her mother was always so happy to see her. It was like her mother only really lived when she was there and relished in her return.
One day Sara came home from school and her mother was not at the door to greet her. She went inside and found her mother lying in bed with a cold sweat, hardly breathing. Sara was terribly worried and brought her mother water and stayed by her until her father came home. The next day while Sara was at school she could hardly focus on her studies. When the school bell rang she ran home and found no one there, not even her mother in bed. When her father returned home he told Sara her mother had died and would never return. That was all he said and he left shortly after. Sara was in bed asleep having a fitful dream when her father returned. Her mother had come to her saying, “Leave, leave, leave my child.” She woke to hearing her father knock over a table in the main room. She ran out to see what the matter was and found her father lying on the ground, smelling like alcohol, musing to himself, saying again and again, “Now I can do it, now I can do it!” She went back to her bed and laid there waiting for morning to come. She woke up, and without eating breakfast went to school. When she returned home it was her father that was there at the door waiting for her with candies and cakes and a fake loving smile. He said that the next day Sara was to go live with a family in town where she would have a proper education and plenty of food to eat. She would be a real lady with fancy dresses and never have to come back to this cottage again. Sara was happy to be leaving her father; she never really talked much to him. He felt more like a stranger than her own father though she sensed that he loved her. The next day a very handsome, if not snooty man came to pick Sara up and take her to her new home. It was a beautiful estate with a large gate. Inside there were more flowers than Sara had ever seen in her life. The smell was so sweet and she was happy for this unexpected change in her life, though she missed her mother so. She was ushered in, given a hot bath, proper attire and feed food she had only ever dreamed about in the past. After dinner she was led into the library where an older gentleman was there waiting for her. He said she would be brought up with the best home schooling, taught to play the piano, and would never want for anything she couldn’t have. This thrilled little Sara to the core. She was then taken to her new room, where she undressed and got into the big comfy luxurious bed. She was fast to sleep only slightly thinking of her mother. At about midnight the same gentleman from the library came into her room, threw the covers off of her and had his way. He let her scream, even seemed to like it. After a few minutes though his large soft hand pressed down on her face using her for leverage, pumping violently with his own perverse screams. With one final thrust he collapsed onto Sara’s trembling tiny body, almost crushing her under his weight. After, he got up, dressed and left the room silently.
Her virginity and life had been sold by her father to a well-to-do man living in town. She was to live there for life receiving a proper education and being taught to be a lady.


Child prostitution flourished under the Victorians, and the trade in virgins was especially profitable. In 1885, the age of consent for a girl was 13 years and there were brothels in London that openly catered for men who liked very young girls. Neither those who bought nor those who sold saw anything wrong with taking the virginity of a child – indeed, in the days before antibiotics, having sex with virgins was one way of avoiding sexually transmitted infections. Virgin trade follows the controversial campaign of reformer William Stead to stop rich men from preying on impoverished young girls.

A lucrative trade
Bought or abducted from her parents, a young virgin could be worth a high price. Rebecca Jarrett, the reformed prostitute who helped Stead expose the trade in children, said of one client whom she had provided with a young virgin: ‘A gentleman paid me ?13 for the first of her.’ That would be the equivalent of more than ?900 in today’s money. Such sums gave the men who could afford to pay them total power over the girls. In response to his critics, the Conservative MP Cavendish Bentinck said, cynically: ‘It is nonsense to say it is rape, it is merely the delivery as per contract of the asset virginity in return for cash down.’

The campaigning editor
But the privilege of powerful men like Bentinck was being undemined. The increasingly influential middle classes were beginning to rebel against the idea of child prostitution. Reformers such as the Salvation Army were lobbying for the Criminal Law Amendment, which would raise the age of consent to 16.

One such campaigner was William Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. He took his crusade into the heart of the Victorian underworld. He talked to prostitutes and said: ‘The deep and strong impression which I have brought back is one of respect and admiration for the extraordinary good behaviour of the English girls who pursue this dreadful career.’

Investigating the underworld
Stead then concocted a daring plan. Helped by reformed prostitute and procuress Rebecca Jarrett, he arranged to buy a 13-year-old girl, Eliza Armstrong, from her mother. He and Jarrett maintained that the mother knew she was selling her daughter into prostitution.

Jarrett took Eliza to a local midwife to have her examined and certified as a virgin, then delivered her to a London brothel. Posing as a rich libertine, Stead went to the brothel and had the girl drugged and brought to him, supposedly so he could rape her.

Hero or martyr?
Stead published the story in a series of articles, entitled ‘Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, in the Pall Mall Gazette. There was immediate uproar. The presses rolled day and night as people clamoured for copies of the paper, paying up to 10 times their face value. Thousands of people joined the moral reform movement. A petition was sent to the House of Commons and there were rallies all over the country.

For a while, Stead was the hero of the hour, the champion of England’s young girlhood. But he had powerful enemies, including Cavendish Bentinck. Soon the tide turned. Stead and Jarrett were arrested on a charge of abduction and indecent assault, and sent to prison. But the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was passed.

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