The whore wants freedom, freedom from prostitution, the freedom to travel the world and see fresh sights and sounds. The freedom to give her body to whom she likes, to a man who would honour and cherish it, and not just try and get his money’s worth. She wants solitude and the vast open expanse of the countryside, she wants to end her days as her own mistress subject to the whim of nobody.
The whore contemplates death; her own and others. Another girl died last night; a botched abortion. The mistress of the brothel didn’t want to waste even one single silver guilder on her, “Why waste good money?” she complained as the back street doctor drew the bloodied sheet over the dead young girl’s face, “she would not have been able to work for at least a week anyway, but she would still demand her share of my food and my drink you can be sure!”
Some Mistresses and Madams of brothels could be kind, even motherly to their whores but not Madame van de Berg. She was a cold and hard woman, her grey hair was tied back into a tight bun that matched her firm and equally tight lips that were permanently set into a semi-snarl. The whore hates her even more than the worst and lowliest of her clients. A fellow woman should be sympathetic to some degree to their plight, some deep motherly instinct might come out to call when a girl gets into trouble and her belly swells or to some new girl, freshly brought in to pay some debt or when the orphanage will no longer take them. But not Madame van de Berg to the crying new girl who is scared by the cries of the women and the groans of the men, of the smell of sweat and stale beer and worse, only a thrashing Madame van de Berg gives as consolation with a cry of, “Quiet girl! You scare away the customers with your tears and your runny nose!”
Soon they become dead eyed like the rest of them, living out their existence day after day, night after night, gaunt, sleeping when they can in the day, and in the night closing their mind to the ravishes their bodies bear witness.
She didn’t know when she decided to do it, it could have been the sight of the dead young girl being carried to a pauper’s grave beyond the city walls. Or it could have been the sight of the young girl, no more than thirteen, being dropped off late at night by her father who wept silent drunken tears as he explained where drink and poverty had driven him, reminding the whore of her own father and of how she had once been. Or the sight of that same girl being thrashed until the blood poured out of wounds on her head, dyeing her blonde hair in a dark sticky red that soon crusted over into black. And then again later that same night seeing her emerge from the room where she had dealt with her first customer, her face now drained of all hope of joy. Instead there lay the mask of hardness, of cold indifference that the whore knew oh so well, and she knew also that something must be done, that out of this horror a heady freedom could be experienced if only for a day, to say that justice had been served and that she had lived as free as any person could do on this earth.
It was in the early hours, just as the pink rays of dawn were beginning to light Madame van de Berg’s bedroom, that the whore struck. A hatchet, such a brutal weapon. She had found it in the basement of the brothel where she had been sent to fetch more wine for that evening’s customers. A fear of being caught overwhelmed her initially when she lifted the hatchet up, a sickening sense that reached down to her stomach, but with it also the beginnings of the intoxicating sense of freedom she had long sought out. She had tucked and wrapped the hatchet in the folds of her dress, such large dresses with many frills that Madame van de Berg made them wear to excite the men. A dress that took a long time to take off excited them beyond measure, like children at Christmas or on a birthday, they took off the layers of her clothes with pure delight and anticipation at what hidden treasures lay beneath.
The hatchet was still clutched in her hand, dripping blood softly onto the old floorboards of Madame van de Berg’s bedroom. She looked around the room, at anywhere but the mangled corpse of her former mistress and that is when she found what she was subconsciously looking for, though the act of murder had temporarily driven it from her mind; a medium size, old and battered, wooden chest. The whore knew that in there was enough money for her to escape and for her long held dream to come true. She looked around the room for a key, walking across the floorboards as carefully as she could, eager not to make them creak too much lest she wake up the rest of the house. After searching for a couple of minutes, through battered chests of drawers, in cupboards and even under the bed that was now dripping dark red blood onto the floor, the whore eventually forced herself to search the battered corpse of Madame van de Berg. A small glint of gold reflected off Madame van de Berg’s chest in the early dawn rays of the sun. Pulling the key violently off Madame van de Berg’s neck, breaking the small silver chain that it was attached to, the whore quickly went over to the money box and opened it. Inside, piled neatly as if each coin had been carefully counted and savoured, were silver guilders and even old gold ones, each bearing the head of the King on one side and the coat and arms of the house of Orange on the other. Without making too much sound the whore transferred all the money from the box into a large leather pouch she had on her for such a purpose before sealing it up tightly.
She breathed hard now; she had achieved the first stage of her plan. It had been quite easy really but now came the hard part; she had to leave the house and get on the train to Berlin without raising any suspicions. She tip toed out of Madame van de Berg’s bedroom and closed the door silently. She could see through the grimy windows of the upper landing, where Madame van de Berg’s bedroom lay, that the sun had already begun to expel most of the night’s darkness, and out in the street those whose business began at first light were already leaving their houses. Heading down the numerous flights of stairs in the brothel the whore headed towards the pantry where an old and rotten door led to the outside world. It had been locked, like the rest of the doors and indeed the windows in the house, to stop the girls from escaping. However the whore had broken this lock the day before, reasoning that nobody would notice, so long had it been since someone had used it that it was now regarded as part of the wall itself. The door creaked open, its rusty hinges cascaded orange rust onto the floor, the whore feared the entire door would break apart in her very hands but she managed to open it wide enough to slip out into the cold streets of Haarlem.
She walked at a fast pace now, her head bowed down and covered by a large brown and ugly looking bonnet that she had found in the brothel’s laundry. She zig-zagged her way through winding cobbled streets, feeling the cold air of dawn around her but with the pleasant warm light of the sun on her back. Suddenly she came out of one of the side streets and entered into the Grote Markt which was dominated by the St. Bavokerk protestant church. Glancing quickly up at the church she prayed to God and to St. Bavokerek to look after her in the days ahead and to forgive her all her sins. The thought of what she had actually done that morning hit her so suddenly that she stopped in her tracks. She was a murderer. Whatever justified reason she had the fact still remained that she was a murderer. A sudden urge to confess, to lay down in the street and cry at the top of her lungs, ‘I am a murderer! I killed the Madame of the Pieterstraat brothel!’ overwhelmed her. She fought it down with a grim resolve; nothing must get in the way of her and her dream of freedom, not even her conscience. She hurried out of the Grote Markt leaving the early vendors and stallholders who were setting up their wares in preparation for a busy day’s trading. She crossed the river Spaarne and headed towards the Amsterdamse Poort, the great medieval gate built out of red brick with Teutonic looking spiral towers. Just beyond the Amsterdamse Poort lay the whore’s destination; Haarlem’s railway station. She approached the neo-classical facade and entered into the station seeing before her two steam trains. Looking up at the large notice board which dominated the platform she could see that one was the 9.00 to Amsterdam whilst the other was the 8.45 to the grand central terminus in Berlin. Around her milled a few early travellers, some men clearly on business of one kind or another, whilst dotted around were a few families dressed in suits and dresses with the women wearing traditional travelling clogs, packed and ready for a rare summer holiday. Their numerous children meanwhile, having grown bored waiting, now ran up and down the platform squealing at each other in their make believe games, pretending the two giant engines were fire breathing dragons, their thick black smoke already rising above the station as the stokers began to heat the engines. The whore paused at the large notice board, before her lay two momentous decisions; she could either board the Amsterdam train and from there catch a train to western Europe; Paris, Rome, even catch the boat from Calais and onto London, or she could get the train to Berlin which incidentally also passed through Amsterdam. From there the whole vastness of the east was open to her; she could travel north to the frozen lands of Norway, Denmark or Sweden, or even further east to St Petersburg and the wilds of the Russian steppe. The idea of the emptiness and vastness of the east appealed to her, she could always get off at Amsterdam anyway if she changed her mind, she reasoned to herself. She bought a ticket for Berlin and waited patiently, watching the running children and their scolding mothers with a slight smile, already feeling much happier than she had felt in years despite the horrific events of that morning.
Before long the time came to board the train. She had booked a second class ticket; to book a first, though she could now afford it, would have raised too much suspicion and she felt she deserved a nice and pleasant start to her life, so third class too was now out of the question.
Soon enough the train started to chug and leave the station, the smell of coal now filling the air of the carriage, let in by the open window to bring relief from the ever increasing heat of the summer sun. As the train raced through the Dutch countryside, passing idyllic scenes of tulip fields and windmills the whore sat back in her seat and turned to looking lazily at the passing scenery. She started to smile to herself and then giggle before finally a violent bout of laughter hit her, overcoming all her senses so that she wept with tears of joy and relief. Her dream was at last a reality; no more would she have to spend night after night degrading herself for money that never even touched her hands. Whatever would happen now she would never have to go back to that brothel and that thought alone filled her happiness.
She must have slept for quite some time for when she awoke it was mid-afternoon and the train was slowing down. Looking out of the window she could see that the train was gently making its way through the suburbs of Amsterdam. She reached the train station ten minutes later, passing over the first of Amsterdam’s famous canals and into the gothic looking Amsterdam Willemspoort train station. Stepping out of the carriage she inquired about the train to Berlin to a bored looking platform guard who told her that it would leave in two hours and travel overnight, arriving in Berlin sometime in the afternoon, if there were no delays of course, he added darkly. She nodded and headed over to the ticket office where for a few extra guilders she managed to book an overnight berth.
With two hours to spare, and not having eaten for a whole day, the whore left the station to stroll along the abundant cafés that dotted the banks of the equally numerous canals of Amsterdam.
Becoming slightly dizzy with lack of food, and being ravenous with hunger, she quickly chose a nondescript cafe, set away from the more glamorous ones that lined the canal, at the beginning of an alleyway. She took a seat and waited to be served, soon becoming absorbed in her own thoughts. Though she had booked the cabin on the train to Berlin, with the amount of money she had on her now, she knew she could afford to change her mind and decide to travel west if she wanted. But she knew, in her heart of hearts, that to truly be free and escape the crime she had committed she needed to be as far from Haarlem as possible. By now they would surely have found the body and would have realised she was missing, it would not be long before the police were informed and her name and description was sent over the electric telegraph all across the Kingdom of the Netherlands and possibly beyond.
A waiter appeared suddenly at her side, breaking the rhythm of these thoughts. Glancing at the menu she knew what to order. Half an hour later she was to be found eagerly sipping at a hearty pea soup followed by rookworst sausage with stamports, the taste of which brought silent tears to her eyes as she reflected on the last time she had eaten them. It had been at her house with her mother and father at their last meal together, though she had not known it would be their last at the time, before her father had taken her out of their kitchen with its warm fire, and into the night streets of Haarlem in the direction of the Pieterstraat brothel. The memory of it made her shiver even in the warm and pleasant air of the July evening and she quickly banished that memory along with all the other dark memories of her life to the back of her mind.
She paid for her meal and quickly walked back to the train station, her belly warm and full for the first time in years and she felt content with the world. When she arrived at the station the train to Berlin was already there waiting. Checking her ticket to see where her cabin was she squeezed passed other passengers in the narrow corridors of the train’s carriages, all of whom were looking to see where there cabin was. One man however was arguing with the train guard that his reserved cabin wasn’t even on the train, blocking the narrow corridor of the carriage for ten minutes causing much frustration to other passengers. Finally a red faced Prussian with a large blonde Teutonic moustache pushed the arguing man against the carriage windows so that he and the other waiting passengers could pass, whilst all the arguing man could do was stutter red faced in indignation.
The whore soon found her cabin, which was small but expertly decorated in polished oak, with cushioned seats on one side that would be turned over into a bed for the evening by her steward. Along the wall were gas lamps and a painting set above the seats showing a steam training passing through some mountains.
She sat down but suddenly felt extremely anxious as thoughts raced through her mind; if she could manage to get to Berlin without being captured she could exchange her Dutch guilders for Prussian Vereinsthalers. She could then perhaps stay in Berlin for a day or two, buying new clothes, and thus changing her appearance from a common whore to the wealthy woman she now was. From there she would travel to St Petersburg changing her Prussian Vereinsthalers for Russian roubles and then she would head out into the wild heart of Russia, to Siberia perhaps or maybe to the south, to the remote Caucasus. There amongst the mountains and the sea she could perhaps truly find peace and freedom.
Suddenly the train jolted and began leaving the station, interrupting the whore’s thoughts. She breathed a sigh of relief and began to close her eyes. However she could hear cabin doors being knocked further down the carriage and men with officious voices making enquiries, though what sort of enquiries she could not hear. Panic began to size her now and she snapped her eyes wide open, fiddling nervously with her hands as the officials began to make their way along the carriage, knocking on cabin after cabin, the noise of the train obscuring their words to the whore’s listening ears. They were in the cabin next to hers now, she could hear the door sliding and the occupant murmuring in reply to their question. She felt sick as a wave of hot terror ran through her body, she got up to open the window and with her back to the carriage door she heard it slide open.