The Good Missionary´s Wife

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Chapter 2

That to-do with the Reverend was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me, at the time. In fact, it was just about the only thing that had ever happened to me at all.

I told him my name was Jude when he asked. That was what everybody called me, so why he decided to change it to “Judith” was beyond me. Fine, old, biblical name was Judith, he said. I tried to explain to him that I wasn´t Jewish or anything, but that just made him laugh.

In any event, I´m getting in front of myself. As my old mate Polly used to say,

“Don´t put the cart in front of the moke. Start at the beginning, why don´t you!”

She was a lovely lass was Polly. Very dark and tiny, but bonny! And her Ma being a seamstress, she was always turned out fit to kill when she went out. She lived on the floor above us; but there, I´m doing it again, jumping the gun. Sorry, Poll!

“The floor above us” was in a ramshackle old house in St. Giles. If I do say so myself, the best bit of St. Giles, in so far as the biggest rookery in the whole of London town could be said to have a best bit. But there were many and many houses that were a lot worse than ours. At least our windows mainly had some glass in them, and the place had a front door that closed enough to keep the wind and rain out. Most of the time, anyway. For St. Giles, that was luxury.

We – to begin with, Ma and me and the Fosters´- had a room on the second floor. Polly and her Ma and her little brother Algie had the garret all to themselves. I never had a Pa, as far as I knew. I suppose I must have had one at some time, to have actually got here, but I could never remember him being around. I did ask Ma, but she was a bit vague about it.

“He was a foreigner, love.” For a long time, I thought that meant he didn´t come from London. All of us who were born and bred in St. Giles shared the same idea; anybody who didn´t come from London was foreign, and could neither be understood nor trusted. But Ma explained eventually that he was a lot more foreign than that. “He was a sailor. He did tell me where he was from, but it didn´t mean anything to me. I couldn´t get my tongue round it, so I never remembered it. He had hair nearly the colour of new milk – just a tad lighter than yours, but without that lovely, silvery sheen yours has got - and the same blue eyes.”

I wasn´t at all sure about my hair having a silver sheen. Ma insisted I brush it for five minutes, twice a day, every day. And she would never, ever let me have it cut. But silver sheen? More like old pewter, in my opinion! Anyway, I loved listening to Ma rattle on about times and things that happened long ago, and now I stopped scraping at the length of wood in my hand to listen. Jed – half of the elderly couple whose room we shared – stood it for half a minute or so, and then shoved his oar in.

“If you want owt to eat today, you´d better bustle on with those spills, gel.”

I bit my lip and carried on whittling at the stick, throwing it on to the pile and reaching for another quickly. None of us made much at all with the spills. By the time Jed and Biddy had bought the wood to make them, and we all spent hours scraping them into shape, we were lucky if we made two or three bob a day between us. Still, it was enough to pay for the rent on the room, and to feed us, after a fashion. After Ma died, Jed said I could stay on with them, so long as I paid my way, which was very generous of him. It was just a shame that I couldn´t carry on with the spills; with just the three of us going at it, it meant that there was no profit at all at the end of the day so for a while I gave it up and went out and had a go at collecting pure.

In those days – the late 1830´s – it wasn´t a bad way to earn a living. It all went to pot a few years later, when the Irish came over in hordes and took it up and as a result – if you´ll forgive the awful pun – the bottom fell out of the market. Too many collectors, and not enough dogs, that was the problem. But back then, when I was younger and very quick, I could work two ways. With my basket on my arm, I roamed the street looking for any pure that a passing dog might have left already. As well as that, if I saw a likely looking dog out for a walk – and the bigger the better, of course – I could saunter along behind it and keep hopeful that it might dip its arse for me. Funnily enough, dogs seemed to like me and I got quite a nice harvest most days.

There was a tannery around the corner from our gaff in St. Giles. Somebody told me that they only made the fanciest of stuff; fine quality purses for ladies and wallets for the gentlemen and the like. It always struck me as funny that it took dog shit to turn out the best leather. I wonder how many of those stuck up tarts had any idea how their pretty reticules had been made? Not that it mattered to me, of course, as long as I got my bob or so a day, I was happy enough.

Although I have to admit, I was often tempted to go gay, like Polly upstairs. Not that I would ever call her gay to her face – I made that mistake once, and she nearly took my skin off with her tongue.

“I´m not bleeding gay. I´m not a fireship nor even a dollymop, and never will be, so get that into your stupid head, Jude.”

“Sorry.” I mumbled. I had a mouthful of meat pie at the time, courtesy of Polly, and I would have said anything to stop her taking it away from me. Without Poll being free-handed with the lovely food she bought, I rarely got anything but kettle broth from one day to the next. If Biddy and Jed was a bit flush, we sometimes had a bit of fat bacon or an onion to go in the kettle broth, but on most days dinner and supper was day-old bread mashed into hot water – kettle broth – and a cup of tea made from leaves that were expected to last a week. If Jed had no money to buy a bit of coal for the fire, we just ate the bread as it came and did without the tea.

Anyway, I must have sounded proper contrite, as Polly carried on eating her own pie, and explained what was what to me.

“I don´t go all the way, like. None of ´em actually gets their Nebuchadnezzar into my cunny, you know. Not for all the begging and pleading I get from some of the buggers. But I still don´t do so badly out of it. I get a tanner every time I bring one of them off, and a bit more if I let them have a good grope inside me.”

I chewed my pie – veal and ham it was, I can remember that glorious golden crust and the slippery jelly around the meat to this day. And it still makes my mouth water to think of it.

“Shouldn´t it be the other way around?” I enquired. “I mean, if I was a cove, I´m sure I would want a bit of satisfaction, like, rather than just copping a feel.”

“Dunno. You´d think so, wouldn´t you?” All business, Polly shrugged. “But that´s the way it goes, and that´s all there is to it. And don´t you go blabbing to my Ma about what I get up to, either.”

“Doesn´t she know?”

“Well, mebbe she does.” Polly pursed her lips and sucked a stray crumb or two into her mouth. “But we don´t talk about it. I just hand over most of what I make, and she´s pleased enough to get it, no questions asked.”

We both fell silent, occupied with our own thoughts. Polly looked at me suspiciously, and gave me a poke with her toe.

“Don´t you go thinking you might like to give it a try, young Jude.” I blushed and shrugged.

“I wasn´t thinking nothing.” I protested. But Polly knew me better than that.

“Yes you were. I could see what you were thinking, plain as glass. Well let me tell you, it´s not a lot of fun. In the first place, there´s at least a week every month when I´m no good to anybody, if you get my meaning. And if the weather´s bad, especially if it´s raining or proper cold, then there´s not a customer to be had. And bear in mind, you can´t be fussy. If a cove fancies you, then you smile and take his tanner or so no matter how old he is or what he looks like. I tell you, Jude. There´s times with some of the buggers when I have to close my eyes – and hold my nose, sometimes – to go through with it.”

I nodded wisely, as though I agreed with every word she said.

“Anyway, I´ve no option, have I? Ma would never make enough at piece work to keep us all with a roof over our heads, never mind about fed, no matter how fast she sewed. And let´s face it, little Algie´s never going to be any good to anybody, is he? So it´s down to me to bring the bacon home, as they say.”

Poor Polly sounded so fed up, I reached for her hand and we sat and cuddled for a few minutes in silence.

She wasn´t being nasty about her younger brother, you must understand. Algie was a sweet little boy, who tried not to be any bother, but he just couldn´t help it. He´d been born wrong. He had these funny eyes; no colour to them at all, just white all over. People who didn´t know him tended to take against him for those eyes, but there was nothing to be done about them. And they meant he was completely blind, as well. Couldn´t even tell dark from light. And his ears weren´t a lot of use, either. If you spoke slowly and quite loudly, he picked up what you said, but it wasn´t a right lot of good as he couldn´t talk properly either. Now Polly and her Ma and me, we knew what Algie was saying, but other people either got angry with him or made fun of him, saying he was half-gotten. And he wasn´t, not at all. Bright as a button was Algie, as long as you gave him a bit of time and listened to him properly. And handsome! If you didn´t worry about those eyes, he had the most beautiful face I had ever seen in a boy, either then or since.

I often wonder what became of Polly and Algie. Although I don´t suppose I´ll ever know, now. I like to think that Polly married a nice young man, and took Algie with her. It could have happened. Why not? Stranger things happen at sea, as they say.

And God knows, I should know.

But there, I´m getting ahead of myself yet again. And you might be wondering why I´m going on about Polly and Algie? Well, the fact is, if it hadn´t been for Algie, I would never have met the Reverend Smallbone. And if that hadn´t happened, I wouldn´t be where I am and telling my tale now. So bear with me, if you will.

Things started to go awry at the end of autumn. Autumn 1840, that was. I was a bit down on my uppers anyway, as either the dogs in London had suddenly decided to pooh less, or the competition was getting more fierce. It seemed to me that within the space of that summer I had gone from getting my basket full every single day to being lucky if I got a basket half-full every other day. And even worse, the tannery was getting choosy. It was take it or leave it; if I didn´t want the price they were prepared to pay, then there were plenty more pure collectors who would be happy to take my place. So I took the few pence they threw at me. What else could I do?

And Jed began to make noises about me not pulling my weight. If I couldn´t bring enough money into the place to pay for my share of the rent and the food…. he shrugged and pulled a face. No need for words, I understood perfectly.

And then poor Polly got what she had always dreaded; a customer who wanted to go too far, and wasn´t having any of it when she told him what to do with himself.

“On bleeding Westminster Bridge, of all places.” I had to listen carefully to make sense of her slurred words. Her poor mouth was swollen until her top lip almost touched her nose, and she had lost a tooth at the side. “I´d told the bastard what he could expect from me; Walter, he said his name was. And he said that was alright, but when he´d had a good grope he got his Nebuchadnezzar out, and he had my skirts around my waist in no time. I screamed my head off, of course, and that slowed him down a bit, but when nobody came to see what was to do, he carried on.”

“What did you do?” I breathed. This was better than the Penny Bloods; or at least it would have been if it hadn´t happened to poor Polly.

“I kneed him in the balls. Hard as I could. Though I´d got away with it when he folded up, but no chance. He grabbed my skirts before I could leg it, and punched me straight in the face.”

She touched her cheek and winced. I could see why, the indents of the man´s fist were still visible in her puffy flesh. One eye was almost closed, the other was black. “Never thought I´d see the day when I was pleased to see a blue bottle, but I was. He swung his rattle and the bastard who had hit me ran off. I would have run off myself, if I could, but it turned out it was alright. The copper said he would let me off, but if he caught me again he would take me into charge. So that´s me out of the way for a while.”

Polly tried to laugh, but nothing came out except for a hiss of pain.

And just when you think that things couldn´t, possibly, get any worse, they did.

A couple of days after Polly got her dewskitch from her customer, her Ma pricked her finger on a needle. I was up there with Polly and Algie at the time, doing my best to keep the little ´un amused, and I jumped when June cursed and waved her hand about.

“Oh, Christ. I´ve got blood on the sodding skirt.” Ignoring her punctured finger, she pushed the stained cloth in her mouth and sucked at it. “What do you think? Have I caught it in time? Will it stain?”

We both looked carefully, and nodded.

“Don´t think so. Should be alright when it dries.” I reassured her. June blew her cheeks out in relief, and carried on sewing. The next morning, her finger was sore around the nail. By the

afternoon, her whole finger was thick and shiny, and a nasty, red line was beginning to move down the back of her hand.

“You need to see the quack, with that.” Polly opinioned. June snorted with laughter.

“Oh, aye? Maybe he could take a look at your face, at the same time? Where we going to get money from for a doctor, then?”

We all looked at each other in silence. Eventually, June agreed to me going to the apothecary, with strict instructions that whatever I got for her throbbing hand was to cost no more than sixpence. And that meant no money for tea for a couple of days.

I explained the problem carefully, and the man behind the counter nodded. He had the most wonderful mutton chop whiskers that inspired confidence on their own without so much as a glance at his framed certificates. Not that I could read them, but they certainly looked impressive. He came back quickly with a stoneware pot of salve.

“Seamstress, you said she was? The wound should be reasonably free of noxious material then.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but it sounded reassuring enough. “Your friend must spread this thickly wherever there is inflammation, at least twice a day. It should show signs of healing within three days. If it doesn’t, then come back and see me again. And is there anything I can do for you, young lady?”

I shook my head vigorously. I had come across his sort before. Skinner, he was. The type who could look at you and see the skin and flesh beneath your clothes. And have them off your back just as quick, given half a chance. Nasty. I was so busy trying to stop my lip curling at him that it took a second for his advice about the salve to penetrate.

“Three days?” I asked. “You mean it’s going to be more than three days before she can use her hand properly?”

“Oh, good heavens, yes. She’ll be very lucky if she can sew within a fortnight.”

I snatched the pot and got out of the shop before he could upset me anymore. Mind you, that was nothing to what Polly had to say.

“A fortnight? Two bloody weeks?” She shrieked. “We’ll starve to death long before then.”

“Keep still.”

Polly was smearing the salve thickly on her Ma’s hand, rubbing it in gently. All three of us stared at the throbbing fingers hopefully, willing the ointment to start working as soon as it was applied.

“It’s alright, Ma. I been thinking.” Algie broke in on our thoughts loudly. June managed a smile.

“Have you love? Well, that’s nice. But I don’t think there’s a lot you can do to help.”

“There is.” Algie insisted. “I been listening. Ma and Polly might be bad, but there’s nothing wrong with me or Jude.”

We all looked at each other, and Poll mouthed a silent “Bless him!” that was no more than we were all thinking. But Algie was rattling on, and once started there was no stopping him.

“If Jude will look after me, I can go out on the Shivering Jemmy lay for a week or two.”

I saw June’s face clamp shut.

“Like hell you can.” She snapped. “I’ll go out on the streets myself, before I have any of my kids begging.”

Now that was an uncomfortable moment, alright. But I could see the sense in what Algie was saying and I joined in, siding with him.

It took a while, but eventually even June came round to our way of thinking.

And that was how, next morning, me and Jemmy tramped over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was dressed as normal, but poor little Jemmy wore nothing but a pair of trousers and a jacket he had outgrown years ago. We’d added a few extra rips in strategic places, and Polly had taken it on herself to rub a few cinders down the front of the jacket, so he looked the part, and no mistake.

It was Polly who had come up with the idea of sitting outside St. Paul’s.

“Gets a lot of toffs round there.” She explained. “And a lot of visitors from all over the place. Not much good for me,” she lowered her voice to make sure June was out of earshot, “but perfect for a go at the shivering Jemmy. It must be something to do with it being a big church and all, but sometimes the punters come over all sentimental and willing to throw a bit of lush at a deserving case.”

And if Algie, with his sweet smile and white eyes, wasn’t a deserving case, I didn’t know who was. He didn’t even have to pretend to be cold either. The weather took a turn for the worse, and in his few bits of clothes he must have been proper freezing, and no mistake.

I was dead nervous the first day, and did nothing but sit next to Algie with my head down. But we got a good handful of coppers, and after that I took to looking appealingly at any likely punter who walked past. By the Friday, I reckoned we had made enough for all of us to hold body and soul together until June could sew again and Polly had got her looks back.

Algie, bless him, was cock a hoop at the idea that he was the man of the house, and fetching the dosh in.

So come Monday, there we were again, propping the wall up and looking as sorrowful as we knew how. The money had only stretched to kettle broth and a drink of tea, so I wasn’t surprised that my poor stomach was rumbling loud enough to be heard in Lambeth.

And that was when Reverend Smallbone swam into my ken.

“Is this your little brother, child?” I nodded and managed a wan smile for the Choker who was looming over us, the white bands around his neck fluttering in the stiff breeze. Probably something to do with St. Paul’s, I thought, and had a pang of alarm that he might be about to move us along.

“Yes, sir.” I said as nicely as I knew how. “He’s blind, and can’t speak nor hear proper either.”

Algie obligingly stared straight into space.

“Ah, poor child. Such a handsome little chap, what a shame.” Well, thought I. This seems to be going well. So I held my cupped hand out hopefully, and sagged as the Choker shook his head.

“I’m afraid it’s against my religion to give to beggars.” Aye, I thought sourly. You and every other well fed cove who doesn’t know what hunger means. But it turned out I was wrong. Sort of, anyway.

“Do your parents know you are begging?”

“Haven’t got any.” I sniffled. “Never knew my … I mean, our …. Pa. And Ma died just after Christmas.”

I was that carried away by my own performance, I had tears in my eyes. But I could still see the reverend gentleman nodding, thoughtful like.

“And are you hungry, sweetheart?” I nodded, on behalf of both of us. The Choker hunkered down and reached into a leather satchel he had slung across one shoulder. He groped about a bit, and then came out with two packages, wrapped in paper. Gave one to me, and unwrapped the other and fastened Algie’s hands around it.

Algie had half his sandwich stuffed in his mouth before I could get the wrapping off mine. And when I did, I just stared at it in disbelief.

“What’s wrong, dear? It is fresh, I assure you. My wife made them both herself, this morning.”

My mouth was watering too much for me to speak, and my belly was singing for its supper all on its ownsome. I took a little bite off one corner, knowing if I gulped it down I would throw it straight back up again. At my side, I could hear little Algie making contented noises as he swallowed almost without chewing. I took another nibble and swallowed and then another and another. It was beef in the sandwich. I hadn’t tasted beef since Ma died, and not often at all when she was alive. It was wonderful. I’ve never tasted anything as good, before or since.

When I had eaten it all, I licked the wrapping paper clean. I would probably have had a go at eating that, as well, if it wasn’t for the fact that all at once I was feeling a bit odd. In spite of the cold, I was suddenly warm. And not just warm, but sort of bathed in a warm glow, from the inside out. And I was sleepy. And happy. It was lovely.

“Did you enjoy that, dear?” What a nice voice the reverend gentleman had. I thought I could sit and listen to it all day. “Would you like some more?”

Would I! I managed to nod.

“Yes, of course you would. Now, you just stand up and come with me and we’ll get you fed and seen to properly.”

He was holding his hand out to me, and I just took it, and let him pull me to my feet. I looked down at Algie, and he seemed to be a long, long way away from me. He was smiling, I remember.

“Algie.” I said. “Can’t leave Algie on his own.”

“Don’t worry. Algie will be fine.”

He spoke very firmly, and I believed him. Algie would be fine, if this nice man said so. Of course he would. The Reverend was still holding on to my hand, and once I was up on my plates, he tucked my hand in his arm and tugged me gently away from St. Paul’s. I can vaguely remember him hailing a cab. A growler it was, not even just a hansom. I was well impressed. But then I fell asleep and it was only when the cab stopped and the Reverend shook me awake that I got even a mite of my senses back. And then not enough to stop me following him into a handsome villa. A lamb to the slaughter, that was me.

“Irene, dear heart. I have a visitor for you. The girl I told you about the other day.”

I stared around a hall that I thought was big enough to take the whole of our gaff in St. Giles. And not just big, it was that clean I felt like trying not to put my feet down on the polished floor. That idea made me giggle, and the Reverend turned and smiled at me.

“Happy, are you?” I nodded.

“Excellent. Ah, Irene. What do you think?”

A tall woman, probably about June’s age and nicely dressed without being what you could fashionable was staring me up and down. I beamed back at her, trying not to sway. Trying even harder not to touch anything, for fear I either got it dirty or broke it. There seemed to be bits and pieces of china and silver on every surface that I could see.

“Come now.” The Reverend was coaxing. “I know it’s difficult to tell, under all that dirt, but I really do think we could have something here.”

“How old are you, child?” I didn’t like the woman’s voice at all. It was brisk and cold, and I cowered against my nice Reverend. He seemed to be amused. I could feel him trying not to laugh.

“Tell my wife how old you are, dear. And tell us both your name.”

“Jude.” That was easy enough. But as to how old I was, that was a different matter. I thought about it carefully, as it seemed he really wanted to know. Polly was sixteen, and she was older than me. Algie was twelve next, and I could vaguely remember him being born. So that would make me, what? Fourteen? That sounded about right to me, so that’s what I said. “Fourteen, Missus. I think.”

I turned my head and watched as the reverend gentleman nodded at his wife. He seemed pleased. That made me happy, so I smiled at both of them, anxious to please.

“She’ll do, I suppose.” Mrs. Reverend seemed less sure of me than her husband was. That upset me; after all, she had made that wonderful sandwich. If I got on the right side of her, there might well be more. “Come this way. What did you say your name was?”

I mouthed the word “Jude” silently. If she didn’t like it, I was willing to answer to anything.

“In future, you will be Judith.” She said crisply. I turned that over in my head. Jude, Judith. All the same to me. Not as nice as Polly, but a lot better than Dorcas or Edith, say.

I had hoped, of course, that she was going to feed me again, but no such luck. I was led through the hall, my hands clamped firmly by my side for fear I knocked anything over, and up a flight of stairs. Carpeted stairs. Blimey, who would have thought of it!

Most of that evening is little more than a blur, with odd bits that stick out with strange sharpness. Meeting the Reverend’s missus, and being asked my name. And having a bath, by God! The Missus soaped and scrubbed me and then did it all over again. She took no notice at all of me mewing when the soap got in my eyes, nor when she nipped me quite fiercely in the region of my private parts. And even more brightly than being bathed burns the recollection of standing in the middle of the bathroom (and fancy that – having a whole room just to get washed in!) naked as a new born lamb and having the Reverend and his wife both prowling round me.

“Told you.” He crowed. “Do I know how to pick ’em, or what?”

“I daresay.” His missus sounded less impressed. “But she’s rather tall, isn’t she? And remarkably well endowed for fourteen. You know most of the customers like their chavies to look like little dolls.”

“Yes, but just look at her! She is whole? You checked?”

“I did. And she is.”

I stared at my feet, beyond embarrassment. When it was hot, I had slept naked in the same room as Jed and Biddy, untold times. But that was different. They were more or less family. The Reverend and his Missus were strangers.

And then a flannel nightgown was being pulled over my head and the next thing I remember is waking up in a strange bed. Strange in more ways than one; I had never slept in a real bed before. Normally, I bedded down on a heap of rags in the corner of the room. When I woke up now, I was in a lather of panic. The blankets had heaped themselves around my face and I thought somebody was trying to suffocate me. I dragged myself free and sat bolt upright, cold and terrified and confused, all at the same time. I just sat for ages, trying to understand where I was and why. Eventually, vague memories of the Reverend and being washed and inspected crept into the bewilderment, and I was out of that bed and tugging at the door before you could say “Jack Robinson.” Whoever he was, when he was at home.

The door was locked. I hunkered down and squinted into the keyhole; yes, the key had been left in the door, on the outside. I almost grinned. Did the Reverend think I was as green as that? There was nothing I could find that looked useful, so eventually I tugged back the mattresses and found a bit of loose wire in the bed bottom. It took a while, bending it back and forward, but it snapped eventually and a minute later I was waggling it gingerly in the key hole. The key plopped out nice as you I like, and the same bit of wire – bent into a hook – made short work of dragging it under the door. I blessed those carpeted stairs as I tip-toed down into the hall.

If it hadn’t been for thoughts of poor little Algie, left all alone propping up St. Paul’s, I wouldn’t have been worried. I could look out for myself. But Algie! The more I thought about him, the more frantic I got. I nearly shook the front door key loose in my hurry to get it turned, and when it finally did and I still couldn’t open the door I was close to crying. It was bolted, of course, as I realized eventually. By the time I got the damn thing open, I was trembling fit to burst.

And what was the point? I just stood in the nice little porch, my jaw dropping. I hadn’t noticed on the way in, but there was a high, stone wall all around the villa. And a hefty iron gate, which I could see had an even heftier lock in it. And there was not a sound. Nothing. I was used to the row of London. No matter what time I woke up in St. Giles, there was noise. People shouting, traffic lumbering past, dogs barking. Somebody screaming, more often than not.

I made a small noise in the back of my throat, and jerked with shock as it sounded so loud.

And it was cold. So very cold. I stared down at my bare feet, and realized I was wearing nothing but a nightgown. Still, I tried. I went to the gate and peered out. There was a rutted, earth lane running past, with high grass growing on each side. A few trees. And that was it. No other houses. Not a sign of a cab or even a cart. Nothing.

I laid my head against the bars and wept. And then turned back and made my way back into the house, locking and bolting the door behind me. I took the wrong turn on the landing, and stood, dithering outside a door that looked like the one I had come out of. I actually had my hand on the knob, ready to turn it, when I heard voices from inside. I nearly wet myself with terror.

“She’ll fetch a decent price, Irene. Paris or Brussels will love her.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it. With that hair and colouring, she’ll do very well. But she has to be the last one, husband. Promise me! It’s getting too dangerous. Even the newspapers are starting to comment on it. If you get caught, we’ll both be transported.”

“You worry too much.” The Reverend, his voice soothing. “But yes, I promise. She will be the last one.”

I heard his Missus sigh, and then the rustle of sheets. I walked away carefully, barely bending my knees in my efforts to be silent. Once in “my” bedroom, I locked the door from the inside and poked the key back under the door, being careful to let it fall askew, so it would look as if it had fallen out if I had rattled the door.

No matter what the Reverend thought, I was neither stupid nor naïve. I understood, now. I was intended for the continent, bound for some children’s brothel or other. The age of consent was much higher in foreign parts, and everybody knew that there was good money to be had, taking orphan girls and boys – or even kids whose mothers were so poor they were happy to sell them for a few quid –from England abroad, to be sold to the flesh trade.

I thought about it carefully, and decided things could be worse. Polly knew we had been bound for St. Paul’s, and when we didn’t get back at the right time, she would set out and look for Algie. He would be safe enough, thank God. The Reverend must have put something in my sandwich, to knock me out. Well, I was wise to that dodge, now. If I pretended to be meek and mild, he would have no need to slip me a sleeper.

But then, what did I know?

Nothing at all, as it turned out.

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