The Charity Organization was housed in an old mansion that must have seen many guises over the years. Now a hoarding stood over the door that announced its name to those who could read. There were a handful of idlers in front of the building, reminding me of a Dore illustration I’d seen of the East End, all charcoal-gray beggars and rubbish-strewn streets.

Once inside, we passed through a hall containing more idlers, into what had once been a ballroom but which now contained several desks. There was an attempt at gentility here, with a recent coat of paint on the old walls and vases of flowers here and there, but the atmosphere was depressing all the same. A pair of young women listened to a litany of troubles from a stout applicant for aid, while a doctor investigated the state of a few juveniles’ throats.

“I beg your pardon,” Barker said, stepping up to the two young women. “Might we see Mrs. DeVere?”

“Are you the police?” one of them asked sharply. She was an attractive girl with black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. Her companion, I noted, was equally pretty.

“We are private enquiry agents engaged by Major DeVere,” my employer supplied, doffing his hat.

Both women were small, and Barker towered over them. He is a capital fellow and one cannot fault his tailor, but though he was doing his best to diminish himself in this largely feminine environment, his appearance was formidable.

“I will take you to the director,” the girl said. “Please come this way.”

It seemed natural to me that the organization must have a man at the helm to steer it, but as is often the case, I was wrong. The director, it turned out, was also a woman.

“Thank you, Miss Levy,” she said, after our guide had entered and explained our appearance. “I am Octavia Hill. Won’t you gentlemen come in?”

“Cyrus Barker at your service, madam. This is my assistant, Thomas Llewelyn.”

Miss Hill was a handsome woman in her late thirties, who might have sat for a Renaissance painting of the Virgin Mary. There was nothing at all about her in the way of artifice, and I doubted that anything could ruffle her air of solemn grace and caring. She seemed capable of attracting idealistic young maidens to her work.

“I am glad you have come,” she said. “I have been trying to comfort Mrs. DeVere.”

Hypatia DeVere was in great distress, as one would expect. She sat in a chair in front of Miss Hill’s desk, bowed down. Much of her blond hair had escaped its chignon, her eyelids had swollen from much weeping, and her slender neck had given up all effort to hold her head erect. There is a point beyond which one cares nothing about one’s appearance before strangers, and she had flown past it earlier that day.

“Hypatia, these gentlemen have come to speak to you.”

“Police?” the woman asked huskily, wiping a tear from the end of her sharp nose with a handkerchief and pushing a strand of hair out of her face before giving up on it.

“We are private enquiry agents, madam, hired by your husband.”

“Trevor hired you,” she murmured almost to herself. She cleared her throat and then looked at us through pale, watery eyes. “Was he…well? He was agitated when he left.”

Barker must have thought it best to reassure her. “He was quite well, yes. He explained the situation to us, secured our services, and returned to his duties.”

“Good,” she said, hiccupping into her handkerchief. “I’m sorry. This has been rather a strain. But surely Gwendolyn has just wandered off, and this fear of white slavers is merely a f-fantasy.”

“It is imperative that we start searching immediately,” Barker said. “Does anyone recall young Miss DeVere speaking to anyone today, either a girl or boy her own age or an adult?”

“No, sir,” Miss Hill stated firmly. “Gwendolyn preferred to read or amuse herself than to play with the local children.”

“Has she ever wandered off by herself?”

“Once with a girl named Ona,” her mother said shakily.

“Can you tell me what Miss DeVere was wearing?”

“A blue sailor dress with a white collar. It has a stripe around it, very pretty. She was wearing black hose today and high boots of brown patent leather. I wanted her to wear the black boots, but she said they pinched.”

“Thank you, ladies. We must not tarry any further.” Barker looked over at the distraught woman. “Do you have a photograph of your daughter that I might borrow, Mrs. DeVere?”

“Not here, I’m afraid.”

“What about Mrs. Carrick?” Miss Hill asked. She turned to my employer. “We have a volunteer whose husband is a photographer. I believe Gwendolyn was in the photograph he took of us all just weeks ago.”

“It would be most helpful to see what she looks like,” Barker said.

Octavia Hill came around her desk and opened the door. “Rose!” she called.

I hoped it was Miss Levy’s attractive friend, and felt a jolt of disappointment when a plain-looking, dowdily dressed woman answered the summons.

“Rose, these gentlemen are detectives searching for Miss DeVere. Do you recall if Gwendolyn was in the photograph that your husband took a few weeks ago?”

I looked at Barker. It was on the tip of his tongue to correct her, preferring to be called a private enquiry agent. He swallowed it back.

“I believe she was, miss. I developed it myself.”

“Would it be possible for you to take Mr. Barker and his assistant to the emporium to get the photograph? It would aid them in their search.”

“Certainly, Miss Hill. Come this way, gentlemen.”

The woman turned and led us between the rows of desks in the outer room. She had narrow shoulders and, though she was in her twenties, already had the look of a matron. I passed some of the more winning young ladies on my way out and suppressed a sigh.

“Do you really think the girl has been taken?” she asked as we stepped outside.

“Don’t you?” Barker countered.

“I couldn’t say. To tell the truth, I don’t know her very well. I’m in and out all day. I heard she run-er, ran away once or twice.”

“Mrs. DeVere said she had merely gone exploring.”

“Did she?” Mrs. Carrick asked. Her dark brows gave the remark a skeptical look. “She dotes on the girl. Turn here, gentlemen.”

We turned north on Cambridge Road, passing the Bethnal Green Church.

“You think she might have run away?” Barker pursued.

“I didn’t say that, did I?”

Rose Carrick was of average height for a woman, five foot one or two, but she kept both Barker and myself working hard to keep up with her. Barker let out those long limbs of his, while I bobbed along behind.

“What exactly do you do at the organization, Mrs. Carrick?”

“I deliver charity cases to their destination. It’s not easy work. Sometimes it is old men that are going barmy to the lunatic asylum or boys and girls to orphanages. I’ve been kicked so many times I have permanent bruises on my ankles. But I get them there every time.” She stopped abruptly. “The emporium is up near Victoria Park. Come!”

She doubled her speed again, if such a thing were possible. I began to feel sorry for the barmy old men she escorted. Finally, in the Old Ford Road, she turned and led us to her husband’s shop.

CARRICK’S FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHIC EMPORIUM was stated on the placard above a set of bow windows. The windows advertised PORTRAITS, POSTAL CARDS, AND CARTES DE VISITE on one side and REASONABLE RATES upon the other. It was a cut above the other shops in the street and looked relatively new. Mrs. Carrick opened the door for us and stepped inside, the bell on the door ringing as we entered.

“Stephen!” she called.

From within the next room a baby cried. I thought perhaps it was their child, but a harried-looking man in his shirtsleeves stepped out from behind a beaded curtain.

“Hallo, darling. I’ve got a real wailer this time. Can’t get the little chap to calm down.” He raised his brows when he saw us. “Who are these gentlemen?”

“They are detectives. You remember Mrs. DeVere? Her daughter, Gwendolyn, has gone missing.”

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