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His boot heels rang against the cobblestone street, which glistened in the light rain. Street lamps did little to ward away the shadows of the evening, leaving his countenance unreadable beneath the brim of his hat. Only when the cheroot he smoked glowed did it light his features enough to reveal a pair of gray eyes.
The gentleman slipped a miniature portrait out of his pocket and inspected the face of a young woman no older than sixteen. It was not a beautiful face, for it was too narrow, the cheeks too prominent, and the chin too pointed. But that was easily substituted by the restrained animation which seemed to brim over in her clear brown eyes and the arch of her lips. Finally, after all these months, he had found her.
Reaching the threshold of the brothel, he carefully tucked away the portrait, and glanced up. The small letters above the door read Harleton House.
"She should be two-and-twenty by now,' he thought, and dropped the cheroot. Its stub hissed in a puddle before he ground it out with his heel. He raised his fist and knocked on the door of what he'd been told was one of the best houses in Brighton. It was soon opened by the keeper of the establishment who, upon seeing how well the stranger was dressed, favoured him with a fawning smile. "Good evening, sir."
He gave her a curt nod. "I'm here to inquire after a young woman."
The open door left a picture frame which allowed him a better view of the woman's voluptuous body, her powdered face, decorated with a patch at the corner of her lips, and the crowd of harlots and drunkards behind her. His eyes returned back to the Madam, as she asked:
"Of who, pray?"
Instead of replying, he pushed against the door; the woman at once opened it. When he stepped in the laughter and cajoling that had filled the brothel sank into hushed murmurs. The debauched creatures stared at him as he walked past, the Madam sauntering behind. Before he got far, a plump hand grabbed his arm, dirt lining the crescent of the nails.
"Oh, look at "em legs," cooed the woman, eyeing his figure. "Never saw such long "n lean ones in the whole of me life. I wouldn't mind a pair of "em wrapped around me."
He glanced at her yellow teeth encased by her smiling red lips. He peeled her fingers off and walked on. "Good lord," he muttered, realizing that this was not the finest house in Brighton. His journey here would indeed prove cruel if Amanda had turned out like this lot. Frowning, he looked around, searching for the face from the portrait. Seeing no one similar, he turned to look at the Madam.
"I'm looking for an Amanda Hollingworth-‘" and he added, that nothing should hinder his scheme "-‘I took an interest in her."
"Amanda? She may be a sweet lass, but she's only a maid, sir. We've got girls who know how to properly please a man," she replied, grinning, even daring to nudge him with her elbow. But the grin faltered when she was subjected to his indifferent stare.
"No, I've come for Amanda, no one else," he replied, and to nullify any suspicion, he offered her a bag of coins. "Now, where is she?"
The Madam snatched the coins from his hand. Her brows rose high as she stared into the bag. With a smile, she declared him to be the best gentleman that ever breathed! And then she called out in a stentorian voice, "Amanda! Amanda!" A pause. "Amandaaaaa." Another pause ensued before it was followed by a sudden: "Ah! There she is. D'you see her, sir?"
He scanned the crowd. In the far corner of the brothel, he saw the face from the portrait: the common brown eyes, the brows which were oblique, dark slashes across her white skin, her long cascade of brown hair. She wore a vulgar dress and white threaded stockings. Her countenance no longer held the vigour and sparkle which had so defined the girl in the painting. Whatever had stolen the youth from her had transformed her features to sharp angles.