My name is Jacob Derrar, or Sir Jacob Derrar, if one wants to be precise. I write these words to you, reader, from a grand balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I have marble at my feet and silk at my fingertips; I am what would be considered a rich man.
I am not a remarkable man, however; I have simply led a remarkable life; the course of which has led me to my fortune through a series of remarkable circumstances and events.
I have lived in eight different countries; I speak nine different languages. I have been a man of different identities; different nationalities. I have experienced seas and lands; love and lust; blood and money; cruelty and kindness. None of which have tainted me; all of which have nurtured me into the man I am now.
These are my memoirs.
We begin our journey on a cold, wet cobbled street in Whitechapel, London in the year of 1797. Dirt, smoke and pollution of mind and matter linger in the stale, wintry air as women in corsets and stockings hover seductively under the moonlight; awaiting the attentions of gentlemen who approach to seek their services. It was on this night, while about to accept an offer from such an esteemed gentleman, that my mother went into labour. I was born into the gutter in front of a fishmonger's; the smell of fish guts and blood almost certainly being the first aroma to grace my senses.
I looked neither like my mother nor my older brother, Billy. They looked Irish, with their red manes and freckled complexions. I had a decidedly tar-brushed appearance, as it is known. Whoever my father was, he can't have been English; perhaps some wild, wayward traveller from distant shores, stopped off in London for a night or two. Whoever he was, I most certainly had the look of him. My arrow-straight, black hair was his; as was my dark-bronze complexion. The only feature I was sure I could attribute to my mother was my eyes. They were a glaring, steely blue and did not suit the rest of my colouring, for certain. Their dark surroundings made them starkly noticeable; Irish eyes on an outlandish face.
I remember my mother very little; my brother too in fact. I remember small details; Billy's crooked left index finger; the feel of my mother's bristly, Celtic hair against my neck as I sat on her lap at dinner and ate fish heads. But in every memory, their faces have disappeared. It is as if time were a stone-mason, who had chiselled and picked away at them, leaving them as mere featureless figures who wander through my faded thoughts.
We were poor, but not so poor that we did not eat. When I was around four or five years of age, I remember my mother obtaining a place in what would be described as a brothel. It is not as detestable as it sounds; they were a much safer alternative to the open streets for the working girls. The three of us were given boarding and meals as long as my mother worked sufficiently enough to earn her keep.
I remember its owner clearly, Madame Celeste. As French as the name sounds, I assure you, she had not even stepped a foot upon the shores of Normandy during her entire life. She possessed an East-London brogue that could cut glass. She was a mighty woman; she would have to have been while running such a business in such a place. I remember she would strike me frequently if I even irritated her in the slightest and she would unintentionally shower one in saliva as she spoke. It's awfully amusing what one remembers from childhood.
As any shepherd with her flock, Madame Celeste defended her working girls to the hilt. If any dastardly character entered whose intentions were of an unsavoury nature and beyond the parameters of the business in question, she did not think twice about expelling them, most spectacularly, from the premises. She used a long, wooden cane for the purposes of this, and men who attempted to resist her once, never did so twice.
"Gerrout o' my house...and gerraway from my girls!!" she would scream as they were less-than-dignifiedly ejected through the door onto the street.
Do not be fooled, reader, into thinking that this was an act of compassion, however. Madame Celeste was a businesswoman, an adept businesswoman. She knew that damaged girls, beaten or quivering with fear, were of no use to her.
I do remember the brothel fondly, because those early years of my life were the last for some time when I would be fed, clothed and loved as all children must be. I was doted upon, as one of the youngest of the brothel's children, by all the women who worked there; and I have fond memories of those times in the evenings when all the women were working, and the children would run and play games in the large laundry room. It was a room filled with bars that swung from ropes that attached them to the ceiling. These were used to hang clothes normally; but while unsupervised in the evenings, we would swing from them and pretend we were monkeys in the jungle. It was a happy, steady era of my life; although ultimately short.