“Barker sent me,” I said, letting him go. He ran around the corner, but a moment later he came back again.

“Why didn’t you say so?” he asked.

He was a villainous-looking tyke, malnourished as they all were, his hair untouched by any brush.

“The Guv wants Soho Vic. He’ll be in the Green all night. A girl’s gone missing.”

“’E’s in the West End. Gimme cab fare and I’ll get ’im ’ere that much sooner.”

“No cabman would give you a ride, and if he would, you’d still pocket it and hop one from the back for free. The district might be green, but I’m not.”

He muttered a string of foul words before catching the coin I tossed.

“There’s a bob for your troubles. Now off with you. You’re wasting daylight.”

Five minutes later, we were walking down Whitechapel Road, heading toward the heart of the quarter. Barker stepped into a doorway, filled and lit his pipe, and then we pressed on.

“Bethnal Green,” he explained as we walked, “is the factory of the East End. The product of that factory is children. You’ll seldom find a family here that does not have more than three of them. The average age of marriage here is sixteen, and young girls are not encouraged to live at home after that and drain the family’s resources. After marriage, the new husband goes off to grind his life away in one of the local factories, while his bride stays in their new flat and scrimps every penny. A child is expected once a year for the next five years. For the successful families, the young boys grow up and learn a trade or help support the family and the next generation of girls are out the door at sixteen. All members of the family shall work together for one another’s benefit, so that the parents can enjoy some degree of comfort in their later years. As for the unsuccessful, which includes the majority, there are coal-and-blanket charities like the C.O.S. and the Salvation Army. These families shatter and each goes his own way. The average age of death here is the lowest in London.”

“That is terrible, sir.”

“Aye. Commingled with this family atmosphere is every kind of vice you can imagine. The bawdy houses are studded all through the Green, like currants in a scone. Whitechapel wears its evil openly, but while Bethnal Green has an air of respectability, it is no less vice ridden. Small wonder the constables walk their beat here in pairs. Turn here.”

We walked northward. It seemed like every other road and possibly better than most. I saw a cab pull up and disgorge a gentleman, who passed into some sort of private club.

“We are in the most disreputable area in all of London. I’ve always wondered why God does not destroy it with fire and brimstone, as he did Sodom. Even Vic’s boys avoid it.”

We headed into Cambridge Road and soon saw Green Street again. As we neared it, we passed a building covered in turrets until it fairly bristled into the sky.

“What is this, an annex to the church across the street?” I asked. It looked very old and somewhat ecclesiastic.

“It is the Lunatic Asylum. The district grew up and around this building and the church. Ah, look. There is the C.O.S.”

“Shall we stop in and see if anything has changed?” I asked.

“No, we shall return here in the morning. Before then, I wish to acquaint myself with every street in the area.”

Six o’clock passed, and seven o’clock, and still Barker called no break. Would we not eat? I wanted to save Gwendolyn DeVere as much as he, but my body was crying for food and my energy was flagging. We laced the streets of Bethnal Green as if it were an old boot, and still he would not stop. Seven thirty stretched into eight o’clock. Was he fasting? I’d been raised a good Methodist, and watched my mother fast on rare occasions, but I had never done it myself. I wasn’t certain I could, but I did not want to be found wanting by my employer. So I said nothing, though my stomach rumbled and twisted in discomfort. Finally, at eight thirty, according to my watch, I could be silent no more.

“Sir, are we going to have dinner tonight?” I asked.

As it turned out, I picked the worst street in London to say it. Barker stepped up to a vendor just beginning to pack up and ordered one of whatever it was they sold.

“We’re shuttin’ down for the night, sir,” the man said. “I can’t guarantee they be as ’ot as they was.”

“No matter,” Barker said. Apparently it wasn’t, to him.

“Very well, sir, but I won’t charge you. You can help yourself to what’s left.”

The Guv turned and put dinner in my hand, a lump wrapped in soiled newspaper. I opened it and found a potato that had been roasted in bacon grease. Then he handed me a drink, a tin cup of lukewarm tea. It was connected to the stand by a stout chain. Goodness knows how many people had drunk from that cup since it had last been washed. The night before, we had dined on pheasant and lobster and a rare bottle of wine, for our butler, Jacob Maccabee, was attempting to establish a wine selection in his room. Such is life, I told myself. Philosophy always goes well with poor food. I bit the potato once, twice, three times, then washed it down with the stewed tea. The author George MacDonald said that a potato is enough of a meal for any man. A Scotsman, perhaps, I thought. I offered the rest to my employer and when he refused, I tossed it into the gutter.

The sun had vanished like the light of a spent match. Bethnal Green was not Mayfair; such light as there was brought out the fallen women displaying their cheap finery, attracted to the light the way a candle draws moths. Barker showed them the photograph and questioned them as readily as anyone else in the district, though it brought nothing but ribald comments from their lips.

There was a flash of ghostly white at my elbow and a more corporeal clatter of hooves on cobblestones, and before I could do anything, Major DeVere had sprung from his horse. He was in mufti.

“Anything?” he asked.

“We have secured a photograph of your daughter,” Barker replied, “and have been questioning people. We have been taking each street systematically, but nothing has turned up so far.”

“She’s really gone. I can’t believe it,” DeVere said, shaking his head. “My girl in the hands of filthy white slavers. I mean, some part of me still clung to the hope she was off playing somewhere and would return in my absence.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Just keep looking.”

“We must stop at midnight in order to be ready to search again at eight.”

“Very well, carry on,” he stated like the officer that he was. He climbed back onto his gelding and rode off.

“There goes a soul in torment,” I said, watching the ghost horse as it disappeared into the night. Barker made no comment. I turned to see he was not there to make one. Somehow between the time the major had jumped onto his steed and ridden off, my employer had disappeared.

“Oy!” Barker suddenly bellowed down one of the passages at a pair of shadowy figures. He plunged into an alley off Globe Road so narrow his shoulders nearly scraped on both sides. We shot out of the alleyway into the next thoroughfare, narrowly avoiding being run down by a cart, then plunged into another across the street. I could make out some movement ahead of us but no more than that. The Guv was advancing swiftly, however, and in a minute or two he seized his quarry.

“Got you!” Barker said, lighting a match against the rough brick. Our quarry were two large women in their late fifties, perhaps, so unattractive as to conjure the word “hags” in my mind. “Why, it’s Mum Alice. And surely this cannot be Dirty Annie. I thought you were both in the stir.”

The first began to mewl a sort of answer to my employer, but her moniker was due to an unfortunate disfigurement that made her nearly unintelligible. The explanation was taken up by her friend, who was so porcine it was a wonder to me how she had traversed the alleyway. Her hair hung long, gray, and greasy down her back, and the dress she wore looked like a tent.

“Alice just got out of Holloway Prison a month ago, yer worship, and I left work’ouse Tuesday last.”

“How are you mudlarks getting by? Still doing the kinchin lay?”

Kinchin lay? I wondered. I wasn’t familiar with a great deal of thieve’s cant, but a lay was a crime, a dodge, some sort of trick to be played at someone else’s expense.

“No, sir, ’pon my honor. We learnt our lesson, hain’t we, Alice? Just scrapin’ by like. Doin’ some rag pickin’. Caught a few rats for the ratman, enough for a pint and a pasty twixt the two of us, but we hain’t made so much

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