“I believe your wife has been reading too many sensational newspapers,” the Guv pronounced.

“No, sir,” the major responded. “I spoke to a family this morning who’d had their daughter taken. Poor family but respectable. The girl had been their pride and joy and just twelve. She’s been gone close on to a year now. And now the monsters have my Gwendolyn. I’ll kill them, I will. I’ll track them down and skewer every last one of them if it is the last thing I do in this life!”

“Let us do the tracking,” Barker said. “We are experienced man hunters, after all. When was your daughter last seen?”

“About nine o’clock this morning.”

“And what does she look like?”

“Beautiful, sir. Long blond hair, blue eyes. She’s small for her age and has a smile that goes straight to the heart.”

Barker cleared his throat. “For what agency does your wife work?”

“The Charity Organization Society.”

“Obviously you have been on parade. How did you learn of your daughter’s disappearance?”

“Hypatia sent a telegram.”

“And what did you do then?”

“I rode off to Bethnal Green, of course. I questioned Hypatia and all the staff. Then I spent an hour riding about the area. After that, I thought to tell Scotland Yard, so I rode back here. A fine lot of good that did me. They claimed Gwendolyn must be missing for twenty-four hours before they would lift a finger! Damned incompetence!”

“Their hands are tied by regulations, Major. You must not blame them. What brought you to my door?”

“Well, sir, I thought if the official detectives won’t do it, perhaps a private one will.”

“Why did you choose me, if I may ask it?”

“Your door had the shiniest plaque.”

Barker and I looked over at Jenkins, who favored us with a smug smile. Five years developing a reputation as one of the best private enquiry agents in London and many pounds sterling outlaid for advertisements in The Times, and someone came to his door on the strength of the shine of the brass.

“Very well, sir. I shall accept your case and begin searching for your daughter. Have you brought a retaining fee?”

“Uh, no, sir,” the major said, abashed. “I didn’t think of it. I don’t carry money in my tunic.”

“Then Mr. Llewelyn here shall collect it later.” Barker cleared his throat. “Major, most guardsmen do not ride independently about the city in full regalia. Did you have leave to hunt for your daughter or have you in fact deserted your post?”

DeVere lowered his head. “I did rather ride off, I’m afraid. I shall be in a spot of trouble when I get back.”

“Then I suggest you cross the street to your barracks, take your medicine like a man, and leave the case in my hands. I cannot believe Her Majesty’s army would be so callous as to demote you under the present circumstances, though you had better prepare yourself for a sharp reprimand.”

Major DeVere slowly rose to his feet. “You are correct, of course, Mr. Barker. I must return to my duties.”

“Yes, but you look a fright. I have a mirror and comb in one of my back rooms. Come this way.”

Barker led him down the passage to one of the rooms behind his chambers, and Jenkins followed, leaving me alone to think. It seemed to me I’d read something in the newspapers about the white slave trade, girls forced into prostitution and boys into hard labor in mines and foundries. I’d seen women in the East End, pursuing their occupation boldly in the light of day, but it had never occurred to me that they might not have come to the work willingly or were below the legal age of consent, which was thirteen years.

DeVere came back into the room. Barker was tugging at the bottom of the fellow’s tunic as Jenkins brushed his shoulders. I got the absurd notion we were all seeing him off to a dance instead of a reprimand. His face was still red, but his mustache was combed.

“When shall you call upon me?” the major asked anxiously.

“Immediately, if she is found. Otherwise, tomorrow.”

DeVere clanked out, sword swinging and the rowels of his spurs clanking at the expense of our floor. We crossed to the window and watched him mount a gray gelding unsteadily before turning toward the direction of his barracks.

“Do you think she has really been abducted?” I asked.

“I scarce can say,” Barker answered. “The newspapers are full of dire warnings, but I have never heard of those who traffic in white slavery brought to the dock. But, come. Every minute we waste increases the odds that we won’t recover Gwendolyn DeVere alive.”


We were in a Hansom on our way to the East End. Normally, my employer sat back and viewed the town. Just as a physician monitors a patient’s health by counting his heartbeat at the wrist, Barker watches the faces and actions of passersby and infers London’s health thereby. He was in a hurry now, however, and had offered the driver a double fare if he got us to Bethnal Green within twenty minutes. He was perched forward in the cab with his arms thrown over the doors, beating on them to some tune in his head.

“Blast this traffic,” he complained. “London is becoming far too crowded. It is not healthy for millions of people to be pent up within just a few square miles.”

He said that, but I knew he loved cities. He needs to be in the thick of things where important events are occurring. I could no more picture him in some bucolic lane than I could a London tram.

“To tell the truth, I didn’t believe the white slave trade really exists, sir,” I called out over the clatter of the horse and the creaking of the cab. “I thought I read somewhere that it is a myth!”

“It’s no myth,” Barker bawled in his low, harsh voice. “Hundreds of girls go missing in England each year, couriered to Belgium or France and bound for brothels on the Continent.”

“Girls this age? She is but twelve.”

“Aye, this age. They traffic in maidens exclusively, and it is a lucrative trade.”

“Then why does not the government put a stop to it?” I demanded.

“You want the truth, lad? Because the girls are poor. Their fathers expect no help from the government. The major, however, is middle class. He feels the cost of the government is square upon his own shoulders and that is why he is angry that Scotland Yard would not help him. But it will, it will. No middle-class girl can go missing in this town, mark my words, Thomas.”

I felt the jolt as the brake was engaged and the wheels slid to a stop at the curb. Barker bolted out with a jiggle of springs while I passed the driver the double fare through the trapdoor above me. I stepped down to the pavement and looked around at the site of Miss DeVere’s disappearance.

Bethnal Green is not as infamous as Whitechapel, its sister to the west, nor does it have the exotic reputation of Limehouse to the south, but it is fully the equal of both in terms of squalor. The Green gathers about itself a tattered and musty shawl of respectability and the illusion that it is a nice, safe place to raise a family. Tens of thousands of parents have done so, after all, moving here from small villages or larger towns. They came looking for work in the great capital and thereby condemned themselves and their children to this bland, seedy quarter, choking daily on the reek of factories and dust of dung-covered streets. It was an economic trap that, once sprung, secured them for generations to come, never to breathe fresh air or to wander in country meadows.

There was nothing green in Green Street where the Charity Organization Society stood, and no birds twittered overhead, though underfoot thin and molting pigeons pecked in vain among the rubble of shattered paving stones for sustenance. All the people I saw here had what Shakespeare called a lean and hungry look. It was a natural place for charity work but not one I would have let a wife of mine go into, and certainly not a child.

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