“There…there is the very girl that was made for you. If she had been made to your order she could not have suited you better”
“Indeed, sir, is not that young woman white?”
“Oh no sir! She is no whiter than you see!”
“But is she a slave?” asked the preacher
“Yes” said the trader,”I bought her in Richmond, she comes from an excellent family”.
– Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine
T’is almost autumn and as the leaves start to turn yellow and drift delicately down from the trees, Inspector Depta walks briskly towards Gulliver Place. Five Gulliver Place sits at the end of a pristine street; it is an elegant Dowager of a house, clad in Ivy, with a sparkling white door and an old fashioned wrought iron gate barring the way to all but the most influential, the most affluent, and therefore the most worthy. Across the road from the house is a small park encompassed by a wrought iron-fence on which perch Starlings and the odd Blue-Tit. Lush, Rose Bushes squat in the rich, green, grass of this park and squirrels gambol to and fro, from time to time they clamber up the Elm Trees and along their branches to the squealing delight of the children skipping along the paths beneath the trees. T’is a thoroughly lovely location for an apprenticing into the oldest profession in the world or at least it was. But now the Inspector finds himself ascending the steps to this infamous address with heart in mouth and the Union Rep (now turned MP), close on his heels.
The front door glides open and as a maid bows smartly before him her pretty wide eyed face framed by a linen cap, he thinks himself one of the most fortunate men in all of England. To have stepped where so many eminent men have also trod,and to have profited so graciously thereby! To have served the great, the good and the wealthy and have obtained two promotions (and his own Brougham Carriage) as a consequence! “Is your mistress at home?” the girl nods, “Here’s my card” for in establishments such as these he says precious little that would endanger his credibility as an officer of the law. The maid seeks out her mistress and Inspector Depta at once notes how serenely quiet this esteemed environment is. One could almost fancy that one were present in a domestic establishment. A beautifully furnished, plushly carpeted domestic sanctuary of a type he might well create for himself once he has put by sufficient.
At length the girl returns and escorts him into Mrs Fard’s morning room, a light and airy place, facing onto a small carefully tended garden, well hidden behind layer upon layer of lace and taffeta curtaining. Mrs Fard is a slender woman, bright of eye and handsome of carriage, a slaver of children though she claimed to have seen better days (once). He has heard tell that she has connections, though in truth he has yet to meet a nunnery keeper who boasts otherwise. He had also heard tell that she came from aristocratic stock, though Constable Qwinty (who’d arrested her several times in her youth) had said different.
“Well, and what may I do for you Inspector? They’re no gentleman here to speak of this morning and the girls are all a-bed as I was till you called”
“Indeed, will you take tea?” Inspector Depta blushes slightly, he coughs politely,
“Whisky ma’am if you please”
“Whisky? At this time of the day? What ails you Inspector?”
“A discarded child” he replies sombrely,
“A discarded child?” says she, a cold smile alighting upon her handsome face,”There are no discarded children here, there are only workers, all wanted, all welcome!”
“This child” he continues, “Was lately orphaned and has drawn the attention of two influential men…two politicians”
A curve to those lips that one could easily mistake for a delighted smile if one did not know the woman, “Oh.Which worker?”
Inspector Depta knocks back his whiskey and rubs his gnarled fist over the back of his head,”Lyca McKillen”
A thinning of the lips accompanied by the narrowing of those fine brown peepers and the Inspector thinks he can breathe a sigh of relief,
“Lyca? The little runt I bought off of Billy? A pretty penny I paid for her! Why without my intervention she would have been nought but a societal encumbrance and what’s my thanks?The girl will do little for me and even less for the custom I place her with! Why I’ve had to give back twice what I paid for ‘er and soothe the custom into the bargain! She’d do better at the bottom of the Thames that one! Who are the men?!”
And here the Inspector knows he must be very careful, say the wrong word and the child may well end up a footnote on the page of some London Bridge Obituary.”Men of high reputation and unblemished honour, she was took from them and they want her back,is she ruined?”
Mrs Fard doesn’t answer straight away, she’s too busy pouring Assam tea into a translucent china tea cup,”We’re a busy establishment I’ve not had the time!! Would they have her drugged or drunk?” says she taking a nip of tea. For Mrs Fard’s prestigious establishment is famed for the compliant disposition of her ‘apprentices’ and she will not have that hard earned name tarnished.
“What was she when you last took hold of her?”
“Drunk” she declares nonchalantly,”But dressed (alas!) in a manner thoroughly in keeping with taste and delicacy”. The Inspector proffers a wry smile, aren’t they all to begin with? Now to cut to the chase,”Where is she?”
During the day they’re always asleep, he knows this from previous visits when both he and his men have had to dispose of the body of some poor girl, brutalised by a misbehaving customer. Mrs Fard’s Gulliver residence, a place where victims can scream to their heart’s content and not be heard, where the murdering is always prodigwous quiet and the witnesses always fast asleep!
(to be continued)