In the early hours of January 1826, she creeps out of the gin house not daring to look back. Earlier that evening Samuel Rigby used his charms to cajole the young girl into selling him a jar of gin for a half-penny. She laughed and called him cheap, but the proprietor hadn’t seen the funny side and walloped Mary across the ear. This was her third beating in a week and the familiar rage erupted.
In the alley the wind bites and ice pelts her face. She knows she must quicken her step. Deep in her apron pocket her hand feels for the half-penny. With numb bloodied fingers she eases the coin out, Mary Smith Aged 20 1826 is inscribed in the copper.
As the light breaks through the night sky she sees him; he is waiting at the end of the ginnel. Towards him she goes, she skids from one patch of ice to the next avoiding the scurrying rats.
She steps into the doorway, the thrum of men’s voices hum in the distance. She straightens her skirt. At twenty-years old she feels like an old woman. Mary’s freckled face is lined and her moss green eyes are jaded. She was a kitchen maid in a grand house in London but something terrible happened.