She was running late. Abigail Chantry quickened her pace. Her
half day off, and though it was damp and squally and cold outside,
shed taken herself off as usual to continue her explorations
Truth to tell, if
her employers had lived in the bleakest, most remote part of the
Yorkshire moors, Abby would still have removed herself from their
vicinity on her fortnightly half day off. Mrs. Mason believed
a governess should be useful, as well as educational, and saw
no reason why, on Miss Chantrys half day, she should not
do a little mending for her employer, or better still, take the
children with her on her outings.
What need did a governess,
especially one who was orphaned, after all, have for free time?
Miss Chantry did not agree. So, rain, hail or snow, she absented
herself from the Mason house the moment after the clock in the
hall chimed noon, returning a few minutes before six to resume
Having spent most of her life in the country, Abby was loving
her forays into this enormous city, discovering all kinds of wonderful
places. Last week shed found a bookshop where the owner
let her read to her hearts content without pressuring her
to buyonly the secondhand books, of course, not the new
ones whose pages had not yet been cut. Shed returned there
today, and had become so lost in a storyThe Monkdeliciously
bloodcurdlingthat now she was running late.
If she returned even one minute after six, Mr. Mason would dock
her wages by a full day. It had happened before, and no amount
of argument would budge him.
She turned the corner into the Masons street and glanced
up at the nearby clock tower. Oh, Lord,three minutes to go. Abby
picked up speed.
Abby Chantry? A young woman, a maidservant by her
garments, limped toward her with an uneven gait. Shed been
waiting opposite the Masons house.
Abby eyed her warily. Yes? Apart from her employers,
Abby knew no one in London. And nobody here called her Abby.
I got a message from your sister. She spoke with a
rough London accent.
Her mouth was swollen and a large bruise darkened her cheek.
My sister? It wasnt possible. Jane was
hundreds of miles away. Shed just left the Pillbury Home
for the Daughters of Distressed Gentlewomen, near Cheltenham,
to take up a position as companion to a vicars mother in
She told me where to find you. Im Daisy. The
girl took Abbys arm and tugged. You gotta come with
me. Janes in troublebad troubleand you gotta
Abby hesitated. The girls bruised and battered face didnt
inspire confidence. The newspapers were full of the terrible crimes
that took place in London: murders, white slavery, pickpockets
and burglars. Shed even read about people hit over the head
in a dark alley, stripped and left for dead, just for their clothing.
But Abby wore a dull gray homemade dress that practically shouted
governess. She couldnt imagine anyone wanting
to steal it. And she was thin, plain and clever, rather than pretty,
which ruled out white slavers. She had no money or valuables and,
apart from the Mason family, she knew no one in London, so could
hardly inspire murder.
And this girl knew her name, and Janes. And Abbys
address. Abby glanced at the clock. A minute to six. But what
did the loss of a days wages matter when her little sister
was in London and in trouble? Jane was not yet eighteen.
All right, Ill come. She gave in to Daisys
tugging and they hurried down the street. Where is my sister?
In a bad place, Daisy said cryptically, stumping rapidly
along with an ungainly gait. Crippled or the result of the beating
shed received? Abby wondered. Whichever, it didnt
seem to slow her down.
What kind of bad place?
Daisy didnt respond. She led Abby through a maze of streets,
cutting down back alleys and leading her into an area Abby had
never felt tempted to explore.
What kind of bad place? Abby repeated.
Daisy glanced at her sideways. A broffel, miss!
A broff Abby broke off, horrified. You
mean a brothel?
Thats what I said, miss, a broffel.
Abby stopped dead. Then it cant be my sister; Jane
would never enter a brothel. But even as she said it, she
knew the truth. Her baby sister was in a brothel.
Yeah, well, she didnt have no choice in the matter.
She come ere straight from some orphanage in the country.
Drugged, she was. She give me your address and arst me to get
a message to you. And we aint got much time, so hurry.
Numb with shock, and sick at the thought, Abby allowed herself
to be led down side streets and alleyways. Jane was supposed to
be in a vicarage in Hereford. How could she possibly have ended
up in a London brothel? Drugged, she was. How?
They turned into a narrow street lined with shabby houses, and
slowed. Thats it. Daisy gestured to a tall house,
a good deal smarter than the others, with a freshly painted black
door and windows curtained in crimson fabric. The ground-story
windows were unbarred, but the higher ones were all barred. To
keep people in, rather than out. She didnt have no choice.
As she stared up, she saw a movement at one of the highest windows.
A glimpse of golden hair, two palms pressed against the glass
framing a young woman the image of Abbys mother.
Abby hadnt seen her sister for six years, but there was
no doubt in her heart. Jane!
Someone pulled Jane back out of sight and closed the curtains.
Her sister was a prisoner in that house. Abby hurried across the
street and started up the front stairs. Daisy grabbed her by the
skirt and pulled her backward.
No, miss! Her voice held so much urgency it stopped
Abby dead. If you go in there arstin questions now,
itll only make things worse. You might never see your sister
Then Ill fetch a constable or a magistrate to sort
out this matter.
Do that and for certain sure youll never see your
sister again. HeMorthim who owns this place and all
the girls in it nowshe jerked her chin toward the
upstairshe pays blokes to warn him. Before any constable
can get here your sister will be long gone.
Abby felt sick. But what can I do? I must get her out of
I told you, misswe got a plan.