The whistle screamed every time the train came to a tunnel.
I had never been on a train before. I rather thought that I should be nervous or excited, but I wasn´t anything. Nothing at all. I puzzled over that for a second or two, and then the Reverend patted my hand and offered me a humbug. The peppery sweet filled my mouth. It was quite rough against my tongue, and so big that I had to purse my lips to stop it popping out.
By the time I had finished it, I was sleepy again. I put my head on the Reverend´s shoulder and he stroked my hair, leaning back into his seat to give me support. The carriage was warm, and the Reverend´s shoulder quite plump; it made a good enough cushion. I had almost nodded off when the rhythm of the train changed entirely, forcing me awake.
We had the carriage to ourselves, and for a moment I wondered who the Reverend was talking to. Not me; he would never speak to me in that petulant voice. Then I realized he was talking to himself and I sighed and waited drowsily for the train to move again. I had got quite accustomed to the rattle of the giant wheels flying along the track; I found it quite soothing.
It was all very odd. One second I was curled up next to the Reverend, and the next; why, the next, all hell was let loose.
I felt the Reverend moving me; not very gently, I must say.
“Just sit up, Judith dear, would you? We seem to have stopped in the middle of nowhere, and I want to see what´s going on.”
I felt as limp and floppy as a rag doll without his support. As he got to his feet, the carriage gas lights dimmed to nothing more than a glimmer. I heard the Reverend say “Aaah”, and then the noise of the carriage window sash being jerked up. At exactly the same time, the outside carriage door crashed back and the small space we had had to ourselves was suddenly crowded with bodies.
My head swiveled from side to side with lazy interest. The gas light flared – so brightly I had to scrunch my eyes tight shut to stop them hurting – and somebody trod on my foot. It hurt, so I gathered my feet underneath me and sat cross-legged on the upholstered seat. That worried me a bit, truth to tell, as I thought it might not be allowed. Still, nothing I could do about it. There was no room for me to put my legs down, anyway. The carriage was full of big men. At least three of them were rozzers; no mistaking the greatcoats and helmets. Not good, that. Rozzers were never good news. Another man wasn´t wearing a uniform, but I guessed he was in charge. He was shouting loudly at the Reverend. I concentrated, and then giggled, putting my hand politely in front of my mouth.
Naughty, naughty man! Using words like that to the Reverend!
“Oy, you! Bleeding clergyman, I don´t think! Grab the bastard, before he gets that door open and legs it.”
The Reverend was halfway through the window. I bit my thumb nail in worry. I had seen how high off the ground the train carriage was when we had climbed aboard at the station. If the poor Reverend fell out, he would break something, for sure. I tugged at the coat hem of the nearest rozzer.
“You look after the poor Reverend.” I said. “He´ll have you in charge if he hurts ´isself.”
For some reason, the blue bottle seemed to find that funny. His lips twitched, anyway.
I noticed that the rozzer without a uniform had got hold of the Reverend´s topcoat, and was hauling him back in to the carriage. Well, that was alright then. As soon as he got his breath back, the Reverend would give this lot what for.
“Arthur Sidney Smallbone, I am Detective Sergeant Lestrade of the Metropolitan Police and I am arresting you for the offence of trafficking in abducted persons for felonious purposes, together with the lesser charge of impersonating a clergyman.”
That made me laugh, that did. Fancy the Reverend having a moniker like that! I glanced at the rozzers, expecting them to be laughing as well, but they were all dead serious. So I looked at the Reverend, and sod me! He wasn´t so much laughing, as nearly in tears.
“I can assure you officer, this is all some sort of mistake. I am a respectable lay preacher. This young lady was, until I rescued her, on the verge of starving to death on the streets. I am taking her to the good Dr. Purefoy´s refuge for indigenous children in Dover, where she can learn a trade. Isn´t that so, Judith? Please dear, do tell the nice policeman.”
I blinked a bit at that, and no mistake. The Reverend was nodding away at me as if he had the palsy or something. I bit my nail a bit more. I hadn´t got the faintest idea what he wanted me to say, or I would have chirped up right away. The Reverend had been good to me, he had, and I wanted to please him. But I didn´t get the chance, as it turned out.
“Me arse and Peggy Martin, Smallbone.” The head blue bottle, again. Naughty man, using language like that to the Reverend! “Let’s have a look at you, love.”
He leaned forward and tilted my head up to the light. Pulled up my eyelid quite gently, and peered right into my eyes.
“The poor lass is drugged to the eyeballs.” He glared at the Reverend. “She´ll sing a different song when we get whatever it is out of her system. What you given her, Smallbone? Come on man, spit it out. There´s no way out of it for you. We´ve been watching out for you for the last six months. Where´s this one bound for? Paris, eventually, I suppose?”
The Reverend´s mouth opened and closed a couple of times, and then he just sort of … crumpled.
“Brussels.” He said briefly. The Sergeant rubbed his hands together.
“Thought we´d lost you, you know. We were intending to get you when you changed trains this afternoon, but you slipped through the net nicely. It took me all my time to persuade the railway company to stop the train here, and let me on. If it hadn´t been for a sharp-eyed ticket man at Deptford, who thought there was something amiss with the lass, you would have got away with it. What you doped her with?”
“Nothing nasty. Just the odd bit of cocaine. She´s in seventh heaven, happy as you like. She is well over the age of consent, you know.” He added with a bit of a whine in his voice.
I put my head on one side, proper curious. The Reverend´s voice didn´t sound like him at all. I was used to him talking really nice, not rough like this.
“Just as well for you if she is. How old are you, love?”
I realized he was talking to me, and thought about it. Not easy that one, not easy at all.
“Fourteen, or thereabouts. I think.”
“Told you.” The Reverend sounded grateful. “I wouldn´t touch anything under twelve. Never.” The sergeant grunted, seemingly unimpressed.
“Get the derbies on him, lads, and get him out of here.”
The Reverend held out his hands obediently and one of the rozzers snapped a pair of derbies on his wrists and clicked them closed. They must have been a tight fit, as I heard the Reverend gasp.
“Right, love. Judith, is it?”
I nodded obediently and waited to be told what to do.
“You come along with me, now. You´ll be safe and sound with the long arm of the law.”
He held out his hand and I stood and took the single step it needed to be next to him in the narrow carriage. My legs were oddly unsteady and I was glad to lean against the Sergeant to keep myself upright. He didn´t seem at all comfortable, though. He coughed and put his shoulders back; one of the other blue bottles grinned and the Sergeant glared at him.
“Something funny, Short?”
“No sir. Not at all sir.”
But I could see he was dying to laugh, all the same. I peered up into the sergeant´s face and tried the effect of a smile. It didn´t help, not one scrap. He grabbed my arm and held me away from him as he handed me down out of the door and into the waiting arms of another rozzer below. At least this one seemed quite happy to hold on to me. In fact, he held on to me that tightly I was almost gasping for breath as they handed me into a waiting carriage.
And that was the last I ever saw of the Reverend Smallbone, and his missus.