You have 4 free member-only stories remaining for the month. Subscribe now for unlimited access



Anybody who has sufficient self-assurance to set up as a “beauty specialist” will never want for clients as long as there are middle-aged and ugly women in existence and vanity continues to be one of the most common weaknesses of humanity. But when Rachel Leverson, an unscrupulous London Jewess, claimed to have discovered a process by which she could make members of her own sex beautiful for ever she struck out into a new line, and one that proved eminently successful until the police intervened.

Madame Rachel, as she called herself, had no pretensions to good looks. She was, to tell the truth, repulsive in appearance, being stout, with a greasy skin, irregular features, eyes that repelled, and a manner that was generally familiar and always irritating. But just as men will buy a hair-restorer from a bald-headed barber so will women flock to an ugly creature to learn the secret of beauty. Madame Rachel was ugly in mind as well as in body; she was rapacious and unscrupulous, and yet for years she prospered as a “beauty doctor.”

It was a very risky business that Madame Rachel brought into existence, but, despite her audacious frauds, it was not without difficulty that she was convicted in a court of law and punished for her crimes.

Before starting as a “beauty specialist” Rachel Leverson had tried fortune-telling, but the profits had been too small and clients too few, and she quickly retired from it to strike out on new lines, and she did not have to wait very long before her bank balance justified her enterprise.

The woman’s headquarters were in a house at the corner of Maddox Street and New Bond Street, and were, therefore, right in the heart of fashionable London.

Her methods were a mixture of quackery, blackmail, subserviency and bullying, and, realizing that most people do not value anything which is not costly, she charged enormous fees. Whenever she quoted them she did so in a reluctant manner, as if to suggest that she personally got nothing out of the business, and was, in fact, really a philanthropist. Of course, she relied principally on her knowledge of the weaknesses of her sex, and those would-be clients whose financial position obviously precluded them from adding to her profits she skilfully used to advertise her merits.

On one occasion the widow of a Civil Servant, a lady in the fifties, who had lost her good looks many years earlier in the hot suns of India, applied to Madame Rachel to be made beautiful for ever, being unaware that the Jewess charged a hundred guineas for the preliminary treatment only and that she required a thousand guineas for the full course. But as the lady was in society Madame Rachel did not drive her away with contumely, as she had persons of low degree. She merely surveyed her caller, and then announced that she could not accept less than five hundred guineas “on account.”

“You should understand,” said Madame Rachel, leaning back in an arm-chair, and speaking in an impressive manner, “that the process I have discovered is known only to myself, and that it is a very expensive one to work. I have to charge high fees not only for that reason, but to make sure that only ladies of rank and fortune will patronize me. Ladies will keep my secret, I know. If they didn’t I should be out of work”—here she laughed—”in a month. I am sorry that you cannot afford the course of treatment, for I am sure that it would do all you require. Still, it can’t be helped.”

The widow went off to tell her acquaintances, and, incidentally, to get half a dozen friends to lend her sufficient money to undergo the expensive treatment. In return she promised that as soon as she had discovered the secret process she would reveal it to them, and then they could make themselves beautiful without having to spend another penny or consult the beauty doctor.

A week later the widow paid Madame Rachel the five hundred guineas, and at once began the treatment. It continued for a month, during which time the victim drank all sorts of medicines, had innumerable baths, sat in dark rooms for hours, and painted her skin with vile concoctions. Instead of becoming more beautiful, she got even uglier, and at last she came to the conclusion that she was being trifled with. As soon as she realized this she demanded the return of her five hundred guineas.

Madame Rachel, who had hitherto acted the part of the sleek, half-obsequious, half-familiar friend, burst into a roar of laughter when the request was made, and, towering over the widow, with her greasy face distorted with passion, and her heavy thick hands clenched, she cursed, threatened and jeered.

“I will not give you more than a minute to leave my premises,” she shouted, in conclusion, and she looked capable of murdering her dissatisfied client. “I suppose you think that because I am an unprotected woman trying to earn an honest living that you can bluff me? I have spent the whole of your fee on the treatment and haven’t made a penny profit, and now—”

“That’s a lie,” cried the courageous widow. “Don’t shout at me, woman. I am going straight to my solicitor to instruct him to issue a writ against you.”

Madame Rachel laughed horribly.

“Splendid,” she cried, clapping her hands. “Nothing would please me better. I should revel in such a law case, and so would your friends. Wouldn’t they laugh when they heard that the ugliest woman in England was so stupidly vain as not to know that only a miracle could make her beautiful! How they will jeer at you! You’ll be the laughing stock of London! I can imagine how the papers will report the case. And the headlines! It will be a treat to listen to the cross-examination by my counsel, who will know all that has passed between you and me. Oh, by all means go to your solicitor, and as a personal favour I implore you to bring an action against me. It would be the best possible advertisement for my business.”

The widow went, but the writ never came, for on second thoughts she decided that it would be better to forego the luxury of revenge than to hold herself up to ridicule. Madame Rachel had anticipated this, and it was the real reason why she dealt only with persons of good social position who would not dare to invite publicity.

Another victim was the wife of a man who was a prominent member of the Conservative Party. She had heard a lot about Madame Rachel, and she decided to seek her advice as to the best method of improving her skin, which was unpleasantly sallow. The swindler pretended that she had an infallible remedy for this, and when the statesman’s wife called she did not hesitate to guarantee a cure, provided her instructions were followed. Madame Rachel advised daily baths and the use of certain cosmetics, and for these a very stiff fee was paid in advance. Three times a week the lady came to the establishment to undergo the treatment, and Madame Rachel was always in attendance, with a huge smile and plenty of flattery.

It happened that in the course of conversation Madame Rachel had learned from her client that she was taking the treatment unknown to her husband because she wished to give him a pleasant surprise. Husband and wife were as deeply in love with one another as they had been on their wedding day, and the lady lived only to please him, and she thought that if she suddenly presented herself before him with a beautiful skin he would be enchanted. The information greatly interested the swindler, whose greedy eyes had noticed that the lady wore on her fingers diamond rings which could not have cost less than a thousand pounds.

During the first week of the treatment, which mainly consisted of taking baths, the client wore her rings all the time. But Madame Rachel pretended that they hampered her process, and so she insisted upon the lady discarding them with her clothes before entering the bath. The request was complied with—the “beauty specialist” had a wonderful power over her customers—and as a result the “patient” never saw her rings again. When she missed them after returning from the bath, she immediately rang the bell and complained to the maid. The next moment Madame Rachel burst into the room in a rage and began to pour a stream of filthy abuse upon her client, who saw at once that the “beauty specialist” was the thief, and taxed her with the crime. Instead of repudiating the accusation, she retorted by declaring that unless the lady went at once and gave no more trouble she would declare that she had been to her house to meet a gentleman by appointment who was not her husband.

“You never told your husband that you’ve been coming here,” she screamed triumphantly, noticing the look of dismay and fright on her client’s face. “It’s been a secret to him. What would he say if I told him, and my assistants confirmed me, that you’d been keeping clandestine appointments with a lover? Go and let me hear no more of your alleged losses, or it’ll be the worse for you.”

That lady was not very wise, for she did not tell her husband at once how she had been tricked. Had she consulted him immediately he would have taken steps to recover the jewellery, but it was too late to do anything when she admitted how she had allowed herself to be robbed.

All the time there was a steady flow of clients who paid enormous fees and solemnly went through the farcial programme which Madame Rachel guaranteed would confer everlasting beauty upon them. They were mainly middle-aged widows and old maids, who fancied that certain distinguished men of their acquaintance had grown “interested” in them, and would propose if only they were a little more attractive or appeared just a few years younger. When clients were without eligible male friends the “beauty specialist” undertook to supply them with husbands for a consideration. Indeed, there was nothing she would not promise in return for a substantial sum of money.

Her strongest protection was the knowledge that her patrons feared ridicule more than the loss of their money. Dissatisfied clients occasionally created scenes at the beauty shop, and then Madame Rachel treated them to language which sent them scampering from her premises. But the majority took their disappointment quietly, not even registering a protest when after months of “treatment” they found themselves worse than when they had started.

Meanwhile, the money rolled in, and Madame Rachel, who had once told fortunes in vile public-houses at a penny a time, now sported a carriage and pair, and was frequently seen in the most fashionable restaurants. When strangers saw her they invariably inquired as to the identity of the vulgar creature, and the usual answer was, “She’s the famous Madame Rachel, who is the greatest beauty specialist in the world. She has accomplished miracles, I am told.” Thus was her fame extended.

But suddenly the number of patrons began to diminish perceptibly, greatly to the alarm of the swindler, whose great ambition was to provide such handsome dowries for her two daughters as would win for them titled husbands. She had already saved thousands of pounds, but she required much more for her purpose, and it was quite by accident she discovered how to improve upon her swindle.

A certain woman of thirty, plain and uncouth, came to her to be changed into a beauty. She had the money to pay for the process, and Madame Rachel took her in hand. Alice Maynard was one of those women who never attract men, and she was fully conscious of the fact. When she confided her griefs to the “sympathetic” sharper she was at once promised a husband with a title on the condition that she would reward her benefactress for her trouble. Miss Maynard cheerfully promised anything, and from time to time handed over various sums, ranging from ten guineas to a hundred.

When informed that the woman’s savings were exhausted Madame Rachel introduced her to a man who called himself the “Hon. George Sylvester.” He proposed at once, was accepted, and married the girl shortly afterwards. Then the “Hon. George,” having borrowed fifty pounds from his bride, disappeared, and it was only when the weeping woman consulted a book on the peerage with a view to communicating with her husband’s relatives that she discovered that there was no titled family of the name of Sylvester. Later a solicitor elicited the information for her that the man she had married was a bookmaker’s tout, who had escorted other ladies to the altar, and for whom the police were searching.

Alice Maynard, broken-hearted and ashamed, retired to the country, to die within a few months, leaving Madame Rachel in peaceful possession of the seven hundred pounds she had had from her. Madame had paid the “Hon. George Sylvester” five pounds to pose as the son of a peer and marry the forlorn young lady, and, as she anticipated, it proved a cheap method for getting rid of her.

The success, from Madame Rachel’s point of view, of this affair caused her to develop it on a larger scale, and very soon another victim presented herself for the purpose of being plucked. As this deluded creature seemed likely to yield thousands of pounds, the “beauty specialist” prepared to reap a rich harvest.

One evening a thin, spare, scraggy little woman with yellow hair, obviously dyed, painted face and eyebrows, and the affected giggle of a schoolgirl, called at the beauty shop in Bond Street. She introduced herself as Mrs. Borradaile, the widow of Colonel Borradaile, and she asked that she might be made beautiful for ever, because, although fifty, she had the heart of a child, and she wished to marry again, if possible.

Even Madame Rachel, with all her experience, had the greatest difficulty in preventing herself from laughing at this human caricature, but as Mrs. Borradaile made no secret of her strong financial position she entered seriously into negotiations. Her first question was about the amount the widow wished to spend, and the answer was that she did not want to pay more than a hundred pounds.

Madame Rachel pretended to be satisfied, and there and then she accepted ten pounds on account, a sum she had often before refused with scorn. But she knew that Mrs. Borradaile could be bled if properly treated, and she proved the correctness of this view by getting from her in the course of the first month four hundred guineas.

The widow was crazy to become beautiful, and, when chance enabled the swindler to get Mrs. Borradaile completely in her power, the rest was easy. The two women were discussing the treatment in Madame Rachel’s private room when a maid entered with a card.

Madame Rachel read the name on it with surprise.

“Lord Ranelagh!” she exclaimed, and her astonishment was genuine, for she did not know the peer. “I wonder why he has come! It can’t be that he wishes to be a client.”

Mrs. Borradaile was greatly impressed by the rank of the visitor, and during the quarter of an hour the “beauty specialist” was absent from the room she thought of nothing else except the exclusiveness of her visiting-list. Evidently the woman’s oft-repeated claim to be in society was true.

Mrs. Borradaile knew nothing of Lord Ranelagh’s reputation. He was an idler of doubtful habits, who, with advancing years, could not lose the delusion that he was a lady-killer. He spent his time running after women, and his call on Madame Rachel was simply inspired by curiosity. He did not know the woman, but he wanted to hear something of her wonderful method, rightly guessing that he would not be repulsed on account of his social position.

Madame Rachel received him with flattering cordiality, and invited him to come again. The peer accepted the invitation, and in that moment the “beauty specialist,” who knew how to take advantage of an opportunity, evolved quite a brilliant scheme for the discomfiture of the widow who was waiting her return.

Affecting enthusiasm and surprise, she sank into the chair beside Mrs. Borradaile, looked at her meaningly, seized her hand, and pressed it between her own.

“I congratulate you, my dear,” she whispered, to Mrs. Borradaile’s unfeigned amazement. “You have achieved a wonderful conquest.”

“I—I don’t understand,” Mrs. Borradaile stammered, thinking that Madame Rachel had gone mad.

“Lord Ranelagh!” she replied, with another pressure of her hot, fat hands. “He really came to see you. He’s been following you to my establishment every day, and he called just now to inquire about you.” She giggled, and her large black eyes twinkled. “Lord Ranelagh is the wealthiest bachelor peer in England,” she whispered. “I congratulate you, Mrs. Borradaile, for when the treatment is finished, and you have satisfied his lordship’s standard of beauty, he will make you Lady Ranelagh. He told me so in confidence, and you must never let a soul know that I’ve imparted the secret to you. What a great future is yours!”

From that moment Mrs. Borradaile was Madame Rachel’s body and soul. The foolish woman actually agreed to pay three thousand pounds to be made beautiful, and she paid six hundred pounds on account. She was too vain to entertain the slightest doubts as to Madame Rachel’s truthfulness, and when she was introduced to Lord Ranelagh at her own request, and a few commonplace remarks passed between them, she was absolutely convinced that the peer had fallen in love with her, and that when the “beauty specialist” had finished with her she would become the “Right Hon. Lady Ranelagh.”

It was a very remarkable “courtship,” and it is sometimes difficult to believe, judging by her part in it, that Mrs. Borradaile was quite sane, although later she recovered sufficiently to start the criminal proceedings that brought the “beauty shop” to an end. But during the period when she was daily undergoing baths and using up a large amount of cosmetics she swallowed every story the adventuress told her, and allowed herself to be led by the nose.

No courtship being complete without love-letters, the ingenious Madame Rachel had not the heart to deprive Mrs. Borradaile of the pleasure of hearing from her lover. It was true that Lord Ranelagh had no intention of marrying Mrs. Borradaile, for he was only interested in her because he was curious to see whether the “beauty doctor” could succeed in transforming the ugly little widow into a handsome woman. However, Madame Rachel had her own way of producing love-letters, and she showered them upon Mrs. Borradaile, who believed that they all came from the peer who had fallen in love with her at first sight.

Many of the letters were published in the papers subsequently, and created astonishment and mirth. It was never actually proved who wrote them, because Madame Rachel always insisted upon taking the originals from the widow, though allowing her to keep copies.

One specimen of the curious correspondence will suffice to show the sort of stuff Mrs. Borradaile was willing to swallow. The term “granny” applies to Madame Rachel, who bestowed this endearing term upon herself:

“My only-dearly beloved Mary,

“The little perfume-box and the pencil-case belonged to my sainted mother. She died with them in her hand. When she was a schoolgirl it was my father’s first gift to her. Granny has given the watch and locket to me again. Your coronet is finished, my love. Granny said you had answered my last letter, but you have forgotten to send it. I forgot yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Let old granny arrange the time, as we have little to spare.

“My dearest one, what is the matter with the old woman? She seems out of sorts. We must manage to keep her in good temper for our own sakes, because she has to manage all for us, and I should not have had the joy of your love had it not been for her. Darling love, Mary, my sweet one, all will be well in a few hours. The dispatches have arrived. I will let you know when I hear from you, my heart’s love. Bear up, my fond one. I shall be at your feet—those pretty feet that I love—and you may kick your ugly old donkey. Two letters, naughty little pet, and you have not answered one.

“With fond and devoted love,

“Yours, until death,


All the letters, inspired, it is certain, by Madame Rachel, were in this strain, and each one contained a warning not to offend her.

The letters the peer was alleged to have written also dropped hints that the woman’s monetary demands were to be met without hesitation, and by way of compensation he was made to promise a fortune as well as a title for his bride. Sometimes Lord Ranelagh’s letter requested Mrs. Borradaile to settle certain debts he owed Madame Rachel, and so artfully interspersed were his epistles with criticisms of her that Mrs. Borradaile never guessed that they were all forgeries, and very likely had been dictated by “granny” herself to her daughters.

Madame Rachel’s constant advice to Mrs. Borradaile was to persevere with the treatment, and to start to collect jewellery, because Lord Ranelagh loved diamonds and pearls. The coronet mentioned in the letter quoted never had any existence, although the swindler was given eight hundred pounds to pay for it. She told Mrs. Borradaile that she was minding it for her, and the deluded woman accepted her assurance that it was quite safe.

The beauty shop in New Bond Street became Mrs. Borradaile’s second home, because Madame Rachel insisted that she should not do anything without consulting her. The widow was a gold mine to the adventuress. She parted with her money readily and cheerfully. Once Madame Rachel required two hundred guineas for a certain purpose, and, as she did not wish to draw a cheque on her own account, she told Mrs. Borradaile that she must purchase a carriage for her wedding, and have the Ranelagh arms painted upon it. The simple-minded and trusting widow did as she was told, but, of course, the carriage was never bought, Madame Rachel utilizing the cheque for her own needs.

It was the same with her trousseau. Mrs. Borradaile chose it, and gave Madame Rachel the money to settle with the tradespeople. Certain of the articles, having been delivered, had to be paid for, but the creature promptly pawned them all because they were of no use to her.

In the course of some months Mrs. Borradaile had bought and paid for jewellery, clothes, some choice pieces of furniture, a coronet and a carriage, and she was under the impression that Madame Rachel was minding them all for her. That was not surprising, seeing that when the swindler informed her that she and Lord Ranelagh were to be married by proxy she unhesitatingly accepted that extraordinary way of becoming a peeress. But Mrs. Borradaile was so delighted to think that some one had fallen in love with her that she was eager to believe anything.

However, a worm will turn, and when Madame Rachel had bled Mrs. Borradaile of nearly four thousand pounds as well as securing promises in writing to pay as much again, the widow suddenly woke up and consulted her solicitor. That hardheaded man of the world had no difficulty in proving to her that she had been the victim of a scandalous swindle, and he counselled an appeal to the law. Accordingly Madame Rachel was arrested on a charge of having obtained money by false pretences, and was committed for trial at the Old Bailey.

The trial was a notable one, and attracted crowds to the court. Lord Ranelagh was given a seat on the bench, and when called as a witness he denied having met Mrs. Borradaile, and laughed at the idea that he had written the letters, copies of which were exhibited by the prosecution. Counsel for the defence cross-examined severely, and Mrs. Borradaile had a rough time at their hands, and as Madame Rachel noticed that the case was going favourably for her she began to assume a haughty attitude, reclining in the dock like a tragedy queen, and sniffing scornfully whenever any damaging statement was made by a witness for the other side.

Considering the overwhelming nature of the evidence for the prosecution it was a remarkable feat on the part of Madame Rachel’s counsel that they should succeed in preventing the jury coming to a decision. The twelve good men and true took five hours to argue the case amongst themselves, and then had to announce that they were unable to agree.

Madame Rachel’s smile of triumph when the trial was declared abortive was remarkable, and when the judge ordered a new trial at the next sessions, and assented to admitting the prisoner to bail, two sureties at five thousand pounds each, the “beauty specialist” had no difficulty in obtaining the necessary backing.

Her freedom, however, was destined to be short, for the second trial—which took place on September 21-25, 1868—ended disastrously for her.

The prosecution, represented by Mr. Sergeant Ballantine and Montague Williams and Douglas Straight, advanced no new facts, relying upon a repetition of the proof they had given at the first trial. But Madame Rachel’s clever array of lawyers—Digby Seymour, Q.C., headed a legal team of four—were unable to hoodwink a jury again. On this occasion the twelve men had no difficulty in arriving at an adverse decision, unanimously finding the prisoner guilty after an extraordinary summing-up by Mr. Commissioner Kerr. She was white to the lips and shaking with fear when she stood up to receive sentence of five years’ penal servitude, and she could not leave the dock without the aid of the wardresses. The last the packed court saw of the ugly old hag was a deathly white face and a pair of black eyes gleaming unnaturally.

She served her time, and soon after her release, with amazing impudence, started business again as a “beauty specialist.” Undeterred by previous experience, she sought for another victim of the Borradaile type, and, finding one, swindled her with cynical effrontery until the dupe turned against her. Then followed another trial for obtaining money and jewels by false pretences, and again the sentence was five years’ penal servitude. Madame Rachel was convicted on April 11th, 1878, and she died in prison.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Classic Literature, Mystery/Thriller, Non-Fiction, True Crime