[A/N. I am reposting this story so far because I made a few changes. Originally I had Nellie been given a gold coin from the King because it sounded more romantic, however I realised that 1867 was during the reign of Queen Victoria, and therefore I've made a few changes. For example, the coin now came from her husband Prince Albert. I've also added a few more references to Victorian attitudes, beliefs, clothes, poor, passtimes etc throughout this chapter and the next one. I'm not planning on changing any more of it now, so I can get on with writing the rest of the story, but I'm something of a perfectionist so I wanted to convey the Victorian era as best I could. Anyway, enjoy the story.]

London, 1867.

I pressed my face to the grimy window of my small bedroom and looked down on the dirty street below. The street wasn't particularly short, but the fact that the houses crowded over it made it look smaller than it really was. Many of the houses had broken windows patched with rags and paper, and in some families lived in one or two rooms only. There were some houses, which weren't like this, but the majority were. All I ever wanted was to get out of this damp, dirty house and into the country, but I knew that for people like me miracles didn't happen. And a miracle was what it was going to take. When you don't have any money you never get anywhere in life. Once, when I was barely five, we'd had a procession not far from here and the Queen and her concierge had rode through on their beautiful white horses. With the rest of the neighborhood children I had scrambled for the gold coins her late husband Prince Albert had thrown, and to my great delight my grubby hand had closed on one. Rather than taking it home to give to my mother, or to spend it like some of the other children, I kept that gold coin. To this very day I still have it, and to me it symbolizes a different life, one where people don't look down on me, where rich people don't cross to the other side of the road to avoid me; a dream life. For I know perfectly well it's a dream, and that I'm never going to get out of this place. I'll die here surrounded by dirt, terrible smells, and darkness, like all the other poor folk of this city.

There was Mother opening the front door, and letting the man out. He stood for a moment on the step looking around him- probably hoping none of the scum who lived in this part of Whitechapel recognised him from when he was frequenting Mother's fine establishment. Then he took a few steps away so I could see him more clearly. I squinted, trying to imagine what my life would have been like had I accepted his offer, his generous offer Mother kept reiterating, but I didn't think it all that generous. There was no denying he was a handsome man, but I thought that old Ned next door could probably look like that if he had the same money, if he'd been given the same chances and opportunities in life that this man had received.

"Thank yer fer coming Adam." Mother said politely, and I leant further over so I could see the expression on her face from the window. She was smiling, but her eyes were hard and cruel and her lips were so thin I wondered how she could even speak! When the girls who worked for her saw that look on her face they were terrified.

"My pleasure Eileen." Adam replied, and he doffed his cap to her. "It's a shame though. She really is a pretty girl despite her circumstances.. I would have looked after her."

"I know yer would have." Mother said, and she sighed and leant against the door in a manner of someone about to have a cosy chat with an old friend. "It's a shame, I've tried three times and she's refused every man I bring."

Her confiding tone irked me. It made it sound like she was a loving, generous mother who only wanted the best for her daughter. What she really wanted was to get rid of me, and gain a son-in-law who had prestige and wealth, and would therefore, in the long run be obliged to help his wife's mother, no matter how discreetly he did it.

Adam shook his head. "You'd think she'd be grateful wouldn't you? I mean, normally a man like myself wouldn't think of taking a girl like her for a wife, but for you of course I considered it." He said, and he flicked at a speck of dust on his waistcoat with his nose wrinkled in disgust. "She's acting like she's something special, like she's beyond her stature in life."

From my spot above the action I made a face. He sounded like he was doing her a favor, which, I admitted reluctantly, Mother probably thought he was. And I never acted as though I were better than I really was. Although I had overheard one of the neighbors saying it once when I walked past them, and my face had gone red, but I'd held my head up high. Having pride in yourself was not a bad thing. Caring about how you looked and acted was not a bad thing. What would have been a bad thing was losing your sense of self, and acting just like everyone else in these slums.

From there my concentration wandered to the rest of the street. It was deserted as it usually was on Sundays when everyone dressed in their best and made their way to church. Everyone except us that is, Mother once told me she was already going to hell so she didn't feel the need to placate the lord like everyone else in London. Mother, you see, owns a brothel. Not just any brothel, but a very big one, which she boasts services only the very rich. Adam, it turned out, was one of her customers and he also happened to be the third one she'd convinced to ask for my hand in marriage. Normally someone of his stature would balk at having anything to do with someone like me, but Mother's influence extended far beyond the brothel.

"I don't know what d' with her." Mother said, shaking her head.

"Why have you not considered letting her work for you? A pretty girl like that would have no trouble getting customers." Adam said, and I saw him smile at that. I frowned angrily- I was glad I'd refused his offer if that was his attitude. There was no way that I would earn my money that way- even if I were starving and homeless like many of Mother's "girls" are when she finds them.

"Because she'll open 'er mouth." Mother said. "She wouldn't be like t'others, just lying there and letting the man get 'is pleasure, she'd talk. Has a bloody opinion on everything tha'one."

I felt my frown deepen. Mother had told me on more than one occasion that women were not meant to have opinions, not even ones like me. She'd also told me that if it weren't for the fact that she was one of the highest regarded madams in London I would have been in the workhouse long ago. She was right there, and I knew it, but I wasn't grateful to her. Why should I be? She tolerated me, and that was it. Her new plan, which hadn't been working very well, was to get me married. Take today for example, she'd explained how Adam was going to tell his parents I was a country girl, a nice clean country girl. Admittedly with no money, but he was sure they'd prefer a girl with no money, than someone like me. I'd been affronted: "You want me to lie?" I'd demanded. "Don't start with that houlier than thou attitude." Mother had snapped. "Yer not as innocent as yer like everyone to think. And I was the one who organised fer Mrs. Maudlin to come here, so I know damn straight what yer really are." "And what am I Mother?" I'd asked. Her eyes had gone colder than usual, but she hadn't replied.

My eyes caught someone else's. The old lady across the street, who was crippled and therefore unable to go to church like everyone else. I gave her a tentative smile, but her lip curled in distaste and she looked away. I had no bones about how the rest of the street viewed Mother and I. To these people we were even lower on the social rung than they were. Mother was a fallen woman, and by association, so was I. As if it were not bad enough that we'd chosen that terrible path our money, our clothes (of which most were good since Mother was big on dressing up) were all tainted. I'd offered to help people out before and they'd looked down their nose at me. When I was younger the taunts of the other children had sent me home in tears, but Mother had just shook her head. "They're jealous of you." She'd told me. "Look at the clothes you can afford- they'd have to save for their entire lives just to buy one dress not made out of a rag." Of course, even as an innocent child, I knew there was more to it than that. And it didn't take me long to realise that people like Mother were viewed as the scum of the earth, dirtier than the dirt poor people we were surrounded by.

"We'll talk very soon Adam. I think yer understand me, do you not?" Mother asked.

I was puzzled at the smile on Adam's face as he replied "I understand you just fine. Good day."

I quickly withdrew from the window, knowing Mother would be less than pleased if she thought I'd been spying on her. I sat down on my hard, small bed which groaned as I did so despite the fact that I was not particularly fat, and awaited my mother's arrival in my room. The bed was an old one, made out of iron, and the cover was gray from having been washed so many times.

The door slammed open behind her. "What did yer do that fer?" She demanded her accent thicker than usual. "Yer could have ruined everything."

"Mother I am not marrying some man who thinks I'm scum. Did you see the look of disgust on his face when he came in here? Did you see him wrinkle his nose at the smell of the place?" I demanded equally as angry.

"The smell?" Mother looked confused. "I can't smell anythin'."

"That's because you're used to it." I said softly. "The whole area smells. We're living in a hovel."

Mother frowned. "A hovel? I provide yer with a roof over yer head, and food in yer belly and yer still not happy? Sometimes I have ter wonder 'bout you my girl."

I sighed and said nothing. I knew it was better to let Mother say her piece and get it over with. She didn't hit me anymore, like she had when I was a child, but her words could pierce anyone as effectively as a dagger could. Most of the children- and a fair lot of the adults- in our neighborhood were well aware, and afraid, of Mother's sharp tongue.

"Well go on. Speak up." Mother snapped.

"Mother, you earn enough money for us to move to a better part of the city." I said hesitantly. We'd been where we were for as long as I could remember and I was sick of being there, was sick of being poor, and was sick of life itself.

Mother snorted. "Right, could you imagine how some of them folks would feel havin' people like us livin' next door to them?"

I didn't disagree. At that time in London class divisions were greater than they had ever been. Rich people no longer viewed the poorer people as people that needed help, or who deserved a hand out, but more as blights on the city. As the world opened up and foreign visitors began to venture more and more to other countries the poor people of this great city were viewed as a nuisance. And imagine how those rich people would feel if they found out they were living next door to not only poor people, but also poor people who owned a brothel. This despite the fact that many of their menfolk were probably customers of Mother.

"'An besides most of it goes right back inter the business." Mother added. This was one of the reasons we were regarded as lower than the rest of the poor people around us- Mother took pride in her business, and in fact the building which housed the business was large and well furnished. And Mother, who prided herself on being able to afford proper clothes for the two of us, was usually dressed in what people around us referred to as "garish" and "disgraceful." Not that Mother cared.

"Now, tell me, why didn't yer like him?" Mother demanded her tone softer. I knew her well enough to know that rather than caring about my feelings she had another agenda and there was no way I was going to give her any ammunition.

So I muttered simply "There was no connection."

"No connection?" Mother cried. "He'd of happily connected with yer, had yer let him."

I'd long grown used to Mother's crude comments and I ignored the implied meaning. "I read this book-" I began, but Mother interrupted me.

"Romance novels." She snorted. "Do yer honestly think real life is like them?"

I looked down at my hands. The romance novels I managed to get my hands on were usually discarded from the homes of women with a lot more money than we had. And in the novels the woman were usually rich, or at the very least, employed in a good position in a house where they would then fall in love with the young master or something. Mother saw no point in reading, but I learnt early on in life to escape into fiction. When I was reading a book I could pretend I didn't live in the one of the poorest areas in the city, and that people didn't think I was the scum of the earth, even people of the same economic means as me.

"Yer honestly think I'd let yer go inter the service?" Mother asked me, tilting her head on one side so that the large hat she was wearing almost fell off. She quickly righted it, and made sure the pink feather sticking up from it was still all right. Seeing my mother, dressed as she is, inside the dank surroundings of our small house often amused me. It was, as one of my neighbors had mentioned to me once in spite, a source of amusement to everyone.

"Mrs. Macguire is letting Kitty go soon, and she's two years younger than I am." I argued.

"I don't think yer'd get a place at yer age even if I let yer." Mother said. "And Mrs. Macguire is only doin' it because she can't afford to keep Kitty no more. Nope, my girl, yer not goin'."

I sighed again and said nothing.

"For heavens sake Nellie, come 'ere." Mother demanded, and she reached over and grabbed my hand and pulled me to the small, cracked mirror which was hanging on the wall. "Look at yerself, yer a good lookin' girl. Any man should be proud ter have yer on his arm."

I looked in the mirror. A pale face stared back at me, with gold-brown curls tied up in a tight bun and green eyes which showed their feelings only too well. But to me, what was more telling, was the plain clothes I wore and my workworn hands. No matter how I looked the truth was I was nothing more than just another poor girl. Although I had allowed myself on more than one occasion to daydream and imagined myself in the lovely silk layered clothes of a lady.

"Now, I'm going downstairs ter burn that trash ye've been reading." Mother said. "I think perhaps yer better stay outta' my way until I go out."

I didn't argue, and I heard her storming back downstairs. It was only then I wondered about something she'd said at the very beginning of our conversation: She'd said you could have ruined everything. What was she talking about now? Shaking my head to rid the unwelcome thoughts and concerns, I got up and went over to where the loose floorboard could be pulled up. From beneath it I withdrew the gold coin I'd gotten from the Prince so long ago. I had to have my dreams, because without them, I had nothing.