Eliza's story was one of a thousand; good family, prospective husband in the form of a neighboring farmer's son. Along came a handsome soldier, with every intention of keeping her, whether as wife of mistress we will never know. Having run off with him in the dead of night, and succumbed to his charm and his uniform, she soon found herself stranded in London lodgings when his regiment was posted overseas.
There were no positions anywhere. The city was overcrowded, filled with ex-soldiers, ex-shopgirls, ex-maidservants, subsisting on gin and what adulterated foodstuffs could be had for pennies. The gaols were filled with "disorderly girls" awaiting Transportation To Parts Beyond the Seas or death for stealing the master's silver.
Eliza was determined not to join the ranks of the prostitutes, currently being driven like cattle by peace officers from the city into the outskirts and back again. To lift her skirts in a filthy alley - no, she would rather seek solace in the Thames with the others who washed up with unremarked regularity. With the little money remaining, Eliza determined to win her way back into the world by the one avenue which remained - turning the tables and compelling a man to succumb to her charms instead. A trip to the linendrapers produced enough goods (both bought and secreted beneath her petticoats) to fabricate an emerald-shaded gown worthy of looks, sighs - and with any luck, invitations.
The current craze for all things green (particularly Scheele's)* suited Eliza admirably, with her brilliant red hair swept high and a few loose ringlets fetchingly arranged so as to draw the eye to her bosom. When she appeared at her cousin's birthday ball, every woman's tongue wagged and every man's gaze was fixed on her luminous eyes - or perhaps, a smidgen below. All were willing to to dance, of course, but most attempted to take liberties with the fallen woman so happily appearing in their very dull midst. It appeared that the only invitations forthcoming would be in secret gardens rather than back alleyways. The dress was successful in one respect; it worked its vengeance upon the male guests (although exacting its toll on the wearer as well) while they danced together in a poisonous cloud. As Eliza swooned in the heat and disappointment, the men's eyes reddened and their heads pounded. An early departure was in order for most; they wrapped up well, sealing in the arsenic particles for their families at home to enjoy.
As for Eliza, she and the dress were welcomed and soothed to sleep by Father Thames, who gathers all of his children to him no matter what their station in life, and renders them all equal in the end.
* The colour green was a craze in Victorian England, and was used in clothing, wallpaper, paint, beauty compounds, toys, and other everyday objects. Scheele's Green contained arsenic, a highly toxic compound; painted on surfaces, or used to dye fabrics, it gave off dust particles that could be inhaled.
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