The third article in W.T. Stead's Maiden Tribute series, first published in The Pall Mall Gazette of July 1885 and the basis for my novel The Eighth Circle of Hell.
The advocates of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill are constantly met by two mutually destructive assertions. On one side it is declared that the raising of the age of consent is entirely useless, because there are any number of young prostitutes on the streets under the legal age of thirteen, while, on the other, it is asserted as positively that juvenile prostitution below the age of fifteen has practically ceased to exist. Both assertions are entirely false.
There are not many children under thirteen plying for hire on the streets, and there are any number to be had between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. There are children, many children, who are ruined before they are thirteen; but the crime is one phase of the incest which, as the Report of the Dwellings Commission shows, is inseparable from overcrowding. But the number who are on the streets is small. Notwithstanding the most lavish offers of money, I completely failed to secure a single prostitute under thirteen. I have been repeatedly promised children under twelve, but they either never appeared or when produced admitted that they were over thirteen. I have no doubt that I could discover in time a dozen or more girls of eleven or twelve who are leading immoral lives, but they are very difficult to find, as the boys of the same age who pursue the same dreadful calling. This direct evidence is by no means all that is available to show the deterrent effect of raising the age of consent. The Rescue Society, of Finsbury-pavement, which has an experience of thirty-one years, has kept for twenty-five years a record of the ages at which those whom they have rescued lost their character.
The following are the numbers of the rescued who were seduced at the ages of twelve and thirteen for 1862 to 1875, when the close time was raised to thirteen–33, 55, 65, 107, 102, 103, 77, 60, 78, 62, 40, 43, 30: total, 855, or 66 per annum between the ages of twelve and thirteen. From 1875 to 1883 the figures are as follows: 22, 24, 19, 20, 16, 14, 15, 10, 7; total, 147; average, 16 per annum. Allowance must be made for the fact that the total number rescued in 1883 was only half that rescued in 1867, but even then the number of children seduced at twelve and thirteen would have been reduced by one-half owing to the raising of the age. All those who have the best means of knowing how the law would work, gaol chaplains and the rest, are strongly in favour of extending the close time. The preventive operation of the law is much more effective than I anticipated, for it is almost the sole barrier against a constantly increasing appetite for the immature of both sexes. That this infernal taste prevails is unfortunately beyond all gainsaying, and for proof we need go no further than the reports of the numerous refuges and homes for children which have been opened of late years in the neighbourhood of London. But in the ordinary market the supply is limited to girls who are over thirteen.
THE RUIN OF THE VERY YOUNG
There is fortunately no need to dwell upon this revolting phrase of criminality, for it is recognized by the law, and the criminals when caught are soundly punished. My object throughout has been to indicate crimes virtually encouraged by the law; but it is necessary to refer to cases where even penal servitude has not deterred men from the perpetration of this most ruthless of outrages, in order to show the need for strengthening the barrier which alone stands between infants and the brutal lust of dissolute men. Here, for example, is a portrait of a tiny little mite in the care of a rescue officer of our excellent Society for the Protection of Children. Her name is Annie Bryant, and she is now just five years old. Yet that baby girl has been the victim of rape. She was enticed together with a companion into a house in the New Cut on May 28, and forcibly outraged, first by a young man named William Hemmings, and then by a fellow-lodger. The offence was completed, and the poor little child received internal injuries from which it is doubtful whether she will ever entirely recover. The scoundrel is now doing two years penal servitude, but his accomplice escaped. A penny cake was the lure which enticed the baby to her ruin. As I nursed her on my knee, and made her quite happy with a sixpence, the matron of the refuge where the little waif was sheltered told how every night before the baby girl went to sleep she would shudder and cry, and whisper in her ear. And not until the poor child was solemnly assured and reassured that the door was fast, and that no "bad man" could possibly get in, would she dare to go to sleep. Every night it was the same, and when I saw her it was nearly three weeks since her evil fate had befallen her!
This instance of a child of such tender years being subjected to outrage is not an isolated one. A girl of eighteen who is now walking Regent-street had her little sister of five violated by a "gentleman" whom she had brought home. She had left the room for a few minutes, and he took advantage of her absence to ruin the poor child, who was sleeping peacefully in another corner of the room. The man in this case escaped unpunished. As a rule the children who are sent to homes as " fallen" at the age of ten, eleven, and twelve, are children of prostitutes, bred to the business, and broken in prematurely to their dreadful calling. There are children" of five in homes now who, although they have not technically fallen, are little better than animals possessed by an unclean spirit, for the law of heredity is as terribly true in the brothel as elsewhere. One child in St. Cyprian's was turned out on to the streets by her mother to earn a living when ten. At St Mary's Home they do not receive any children over sixteen. Sister Emma has at present more than fifty children in her home in Hants. She receives none under twelve. In only four cases was the man punished. The proportion of victims among the protected is, however, comparatively small to those who have passed the fatal age of thirteen. If Mr. Hastings, who would fix the age of consent at ten, or Mr. Warton, who was in favour of even a lower age than ten, was allowed to have his way, we should probably have to start homes to accommodate infants of four, five, and six who had been ruined "by their own consent." What blasphemy!
THE CHILD PROSTITUTE
It has been computed, says the report of a Hampshire Home, that there are no less than 10,000 little girls living in sin in Christian England. I do not know how far that is correct, but there is no doubt as to the existence of a vast and increasing mass of juvenile prostitution. The Report of the Lords' Committee in 1882 says:–
The evidence before the Committee proves beyond doubt that juvenile prostitution from an almost incredibly early age is increasing to an appalling extent In England, and especially in London. They are unable, adequately to Express their tense of the magnitude, both in amoral and physical point of view, of the evil thus brought to light, and of the necessity for taking vigorous measures to cope with it.
Unfortunately the evil, instead of being coped with, is in the opinion of the chaplains of our gaols rather on the increase than otherwise. The victims are for the most part thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen years old.
At West end houses of the better sort, that is to say, houses where nothing can be done without a preliminary expenditure of a sovereign in a bottle of champagne, and where the ordinary fee, without allowing for tips and wine, is £5, they are very timid in purveying very young girls. I should have had much less difficulty in establishing the fact but for the awe that has fallen upon the unholy sisterhood since the chief among them all was compiled to plead guilty in order to save her clients from exposure. Houses French, Spanish, and English in fashionable localities where, according to current report, you might either meet a Cabinet Minister or be supplied with any number of little children, are now indignant at any application by a stranger for the accommodation which they only extend to their old clients. But at one villa in the north of London I found through the assistance of a friend a lovely child between fourteen and fifteen, tall for her age, but singularly attractive in her childish innocence. At first the keeper strenuously denied that they had any such article in the house, but on mentioning who had directed us to her place, the fact was admitted and an appointment was arranged.
There was another girl in the house– a brazen-faced harlot, whose flaunting vice served as a foil to set off the childlike, spirituelle beauty of the other's baby face. It was cruel to see the poor wee features, not much larger than those of a doll, of the delicately nurtured girl, as she came into the room with her fur mantle wrapped closely round her, and timidly asked me if I would take some wine. Poor child, she had been out driving to the Inventories that morning, and was somewhat tired and still. It seemed a profanation to touch her, she was so young and so baby-like. There she was, turned over to the first comer that would pay, but still to all appearance so modest, the maiden bloom not altogether having faded off her childish cheeks, and her pathetic eyes, where still lingered the timid glance of a frightened fawn. I felt like one of the damned. "She saw old gentlemen," she said, "almost exclusively. Sometimes it was rather bad, but she liked the life," she said, timidly trying to face the grim inexorable, "and the wine, she was so fond of that," although her glass stood untasted before her. Poor thing! When I left the house as a guilty thing, shrinking away abashed from before the presence of the child with her baby eyes, I said to the keeper who let me out, "She is too good for her trade, poor thing." "Wait a bit," said the woman, with a leer. "She is very young –only turned fourteen, and has just come out, you know. Come again in a couple of months, and you will see a great change." A great change, indeed. Would to God she died before that! And she was but one.
HOW CRIMINALS ARE SHIELDED BY THE LAW
This frightful development of fantastic vice is directly encouraged by the law, which marks off all girls over thirteen as fair game for men. It is only in the spring of this year that a man was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for indecent assault upon a child. It was shown in evidence that he had violated more than a dozen children just over thirteen, whom he had enticed into backyards by promises of sweetmeats, but though they did not know what he was doing until they felt the pain, they were over age, and so he escaped scot-free, until one day he was fortunately caught with a child under thirteen, and was promptly punished. The Rev. J. Horsley, the chaplain at Clerkenwell, stated last year:–
There is a monster now walking about who acts as clerk in a highly respectable establishment He is fifty years of age. For years it has been his villainous amusement to decoy and ruin children. A very short time ago sixteen cases were proved against him before a magistrate on the Surrey side of the river. The children were all fearfully injured, possibly for life. Fourteen of the girls were thirteen years old, and were therefore beyond the protected age, and it could not be proved that they were not consenting parties. The wife of the scoundrel told the officer who had the case in charge that it was her opinion that her husband ought to be burned. Yet by the English law we cannot touch this monster of depravity, or so much as inflict a small fine on him.
A CLOSE TIME FOR GIRLS
Before the 14th of August it is a crime to shoot a grouse, lest an immature cheeper should not yet have a fair chance to fly. The sports-man who wishes to follow the partridge through the stubbles must wait till September 1, and the close time for pheasants is even later.
Admitting that women are as fair game as grouse and partridges, why not let us have a close time for bipeds in petticoats as well as for bipeds In feathers? At present that close time is absurdly low. The day after a girl has completed her thirteenth year she is perfectly free to dispose of her person to the first purchaser. A bag of sweets, a fine feather, a good dinner, or a treat to the theatre are sufficient to induce her to part with that which may be lost in an hour, but can never be recovered. This is too bad. It does not give the girls a fair chance. The close time ought to be extended until they have at least attained physical maturity. That surely is not putting the matter on too sentimental grounds. Fish out of season are not fit to be eaten. Girls who have not reached the age of puberty are not fit even to be seduced. The law ought at least to be as strict about a live child as about a dead salmon.
Now, what is the age of puberty with English girls? A medical man, Dr. Lowndes, who was recommended to me by Mr. Cavendish Bentinck as a leading surgeon of Liverpool and a great supporter of the C. D. Acts, says:–"I should like to tell you why so many members of the medical profession, including myself, would wish to see an extension of the age in females under which it should be a misdemeanour for any male to have carnal knowledge. It is because so few girls are really aptae-viro, physically and medically, till long after thirteen years of age. My colleague has a girl in the Lock Hospital who is nineteen years old, has been a prostitute for some time, and yet has only just attained puberty. All the cases of abnormal precocity we have heard of, such as mothers at eleven, &c., are very exceptional, and it seems to me that carnal knowledge of any female under puberty is a cruel outrage." That "cruel outrage" is not forbidden by the law. It can be perpetrated and is perpetrated constantly, with perfect impunity to the man, with horrible consequences to the girl. It is also the fact that such children are far more likely to transmit disease than a full-grown woman. Scientifically, therefore, the close time should be extended until the woman has at least completed sixteen years of life. The recommendation of the Lords' Committee was that the close time should last for sixteen years. That was the age accepted by the House of Lords in two successive years, and that is the age which the late Home Secretary promised to insert in the present bill, which legalizes consent when the girl is fifteen years old and a day.
JUVENILE PROSTITUTION IN THE EAST AND WEST
In the East-end of London vice is much more natural than in the West I have made the casual acquaintance of some score of the youngest prostitutes whom the West-end experts could procure. The Congregational Union gave a supper to some seventy young prostitutes in Miss Steer's Bridge of Hope. So far as I could judge, there are very few much under fifteen. Down Ratcliff-highway, and in the parts adjacent, there are plenty at about fifteen or sixteen, but the taste for extreme youth does not seem to have developed in the crowded East. Here and there there are cases, and there are vast strata where the children cohabit from preposterously early years, but that is quite distinct from prostitution. In the most fashionable houses of ill fame, such as Mrs. Jefferies's, Mrs. B –– 's, J ––– 's, and others, any stranger ordering young children of very tender age would be looked at askance. These things are only done for old customers. In the Edgware-road, two keepers of houses of accommodation were found virtuous enough to refuse admittance to a girl of fourteen and her companion, but they were watched by a vigilance committee. In one of the fashionable houses in Park-lane, where inquiry was made whether any objection would be made to receiving a very, very young girl who was expected with an old gentleman, the reply was: "Of course not. Do you think we insist on the production of the baptismal register of all the ladies who visit us?" I was assured I might bring whom I pleased, as many as I pleased, and no questions would be asked.
In and about the Quadrant and Regent-street I have taken or caused to be taken repeatedly to houses of accommodation young girls from thirteen and upwards who have been picked up on the streets: no objection was ever raised by the keepers. These children were in no sense mature. They usually professed to be fifteen, but did not look thirteen; they usually go in couples, piding their earnings, and as a rule the child is accompanied by a friend who is older than herself. Their story is pretty much the same all round. They were poor, work was bad, every crust they ate at home was grudged, they stopped out all night with some "gay" friend of the female sex, and they went the way of all the rest. Occasionally they say that a gentleman took them to his chambers and ruined them, for consideration received. More of them are patronized by old men, and early initiated into the worst forms of elaborate vice. Many of them are at work in the day, and most of them have to be at home at night at ten or eleven. They have the entry to coffee shops and other houses of call. It was not necessary to prosecute this branch of the subject to any great length. Lest any doubt should still prevail as to the reality of this description of the traffic, I may say that I have at this moment an agreement with the keeper of one of the houses near Regent-street to the effect that she will have ready in her house, within a few hours of receipt of a line from me, a girl under fourteen. I have only tested it once, but I should not have the least hesitation in trusting her to fulfil it again.
THE RUIN OF THE YOUNG LIFE. – "THE DEMON CHILD"
"These young girls," says the Report of the Rescue Society for 1883, are more difficult to deal with than women, because they are made familiar with sin while so young that the modesty that is so natural to a woman they never attain." The matron of a Lock Hospital, a good, kindly, motherly soul, assured me that, according to their painful but almost invariable experience, they found that the innocent girl once outraged seemed to suffer a lasting blight of the moral sense. They never came to any good: the foul passion from the man seemed to enter into the helpless victim of his lust, and she never again regained her pristine purity of soul. The physical consequences are often terrible. Here is the story of a child-prostitute who, at the age of eleven, had for two years been earning her living by vice in the East-end. My informant says:–
Emily.–Short of her age, broad and stout, with a pleasant face with varying expression; sometimes a fearfully old look, and sometimes with the face of childhood; she told me she had never had a toy in her life or ever been in a garden. I found her to be fearfully diseased and sent her to the Lock Hospital. She was there about six weeks. Returned looking fat and well, but odd in her ways, her mind fearfully fouled by the life she had led, and which she liked to talk about. Some one called her "the Demon Child," and it was an apt name for her. Offended, she would scream as if she was being murdered if no one touched her; only a look from some would set her off: no one seemed able to pacify her; if possible she would get away from everybody and lie down close to a large bed of mignonette, and put her head amongst it and become calm, "Just an excuse for idleness and wickedness," some would say, but I saw her do it dozens of times, and gave directions that she should not be prevented from going into the garden, she was such a child. One day I saw her as usual tear shrieking along the broad walk and away to the path by the greenhouse, sit down under an apple tree, and burying her head in thick grass bloom, subside from shrill screams to sobs and low cries and then to a perfect calm, so I went down and said, "Why do you always run to this corner, little one; does the sweet mignonette do you good, and cure you of being naughty?" "It's the devil makes me so bad," she answered in a moment, "and I think the nice smell sends him away;'' and down went her head again.
Strange that the fragrance of the mignonette should calm the shattered nerves of the demon child, who had probably never before enjoyed the smell of a flower. Alternate imbecility and wild screaming are too common among the child victims of vice. Well may they scream–far worse their lot than the little slaves of the loom of whom Mrs. Browning says :–
Well may those children weep before you,
They are weary ere they ran;
They have never seen the sunshine, nor the glory
Which is brighter than the sun.
They know the grief of man, but not the wisdom;
They sink in man's despair without its calm;
Are slaves without the liberty in Christdom,
Are martyrs, by the pang without the palm–
Are worn, as if with age, yet unretrievingly
No dear remembrance keep
Are orphans of the earthly love and heavenly.
Let them weep! let them weep!
HOW THE LAW FACILITATES ABDUCTION
It is sometimes said that these children ought to be looked after by their parents, but those who resort to that argument forget that the law plays into the hands of the abductor. Suppose a child of thirteen, either in a fit of temper or enticed by the bribes of a procuress, once gets within the precincts of a brothel, what is the parent to do? The brothel-keeper has only to keep the door locked to defy the father. If she had stolen a doll he could have got a search warrant for stolen property, but as it is only his daughter he can do nothing. It is true that there is a mode of procedure by Habeas Corpus, but that is so cumbrous and so costly that it is practically unavailable for the poor. Counsel's opinion was recently taken by the abductor of a boy as to what steps could be taken to prevent the father obtaining possession of his son. The answer was as follows:– Refuse father admittance. You can keep the boy until Habeas Corpus is obtained. At the very earliest this can not be secured until after twenty-four hours at least. The hearing of the case to show cause will wait about a week for a turn. The costs are uncertain, from £30 to £50.
What is the use of a remedy which at the earliest cannot be brought into operation in less than twenty-four hours, even if it could be had for nothing? A girl may be ruined in ten minutes. By habeas corpus a father has a means of gaining his end, but he could no more raise the £50 needed than he could fly. A remedy that involves a preliminary expenditure of £50, and can then only get into action in a week, is virtually non-existent for the poor.
Take another case. In Hull last August a man kept a child's brothel, locally known as "the Infant School." He kept no fewer than fourteen children there, the eldest only fifteen, and some as young as twelve. The mothers had gone to the house to try and claim their children, and had been driven off by the prisoner with the most horrible abuse, and had no power to get the children away or even to see them. Fortunately, the old reprobate had sold drink without a licence. For this offence, and not for his stealing children, the police broke into his house and secured his conviction. By law abduction is no offence unless the girl is in the custody of her father at the time of her abduction.
How easy it is for a man to seduce a child with impunity the following record taken from the report of a case heard in Hammersmith police-court last March will show:–
Walter Franklin, who lived in North-avenue, Fulham, was summoned for unlawfully taking Annie Summers, an unmarried girl, under the age of sixteen, out of the possession of her master, and against the will of her father. Mr. Gregory said he appeared on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Young Girls to support the summons. The girl, who was fourteen, was in service, and met the defendant while on her way to her father to obtain a change of linen. He invited her to his house, where he kept her all night, and turned her out in the morning. She was found by her father in Chelsea. Mr. Sheil referred to the case of "Queen and Miller," and thought no charge had been disclosed, as she was not in the custody of her father. The case fell in with the decision in "Queen and Miller." In that case it was the converse. The girl had left her father, and was on the way to her mistress. Mr. Gregory: Yon think she was not in the custody of either? Mr. Sheil replied in the Affirmative. The summons was then withdrawn.
ENTRAPPING IRISH GIRLS
I have already spoken of procuring children and silly London girls. Of a deeper shade of criminality is the system of trapping innocent girls by inveigling them into houses of ill-fame which are represented as respectable lodging-houses. A few years ago, when great numbers of Irish girls used to arrive in the Thames, they formed a constant source of revenue to the brothel keepers of Ratcliffe-highway. The modus operandi was very simple. The moment the steamer touched the landing it was hoarded by men retained by the brothel keepers to bring girls home. Sometimes they accosted the girl, saying that if she wanted a cheap respectable lodging they could take her to exactly the kind of place she wanted. More frequently they seized her box and marched off with it, assuring her that they were taking it to the place where she had to stop. The Irish girl, being innocent and inexperienced, setting foot for the first time in a foreign city, without friends and not knowing where to go, followed the porter, and was soon safely housed A highly respectable Irish girl in the service of one of my friends had the utmost difficulty in extricating her box from the grasp of one of these harpies. As, however, it was the second visit, and as she knew the address where a situation awaited her, she succeeded in compelling him to leave her box, and let her go to the place. A less experienced girl, who had no address to which to go, would have fallen an easy prey. When the girl is once within the brothel she is about as helpless as a sparrow when caught by the falling brick of the schoolboy's trap. The method of her gaoler is very simple. The object being in all cases purely mercenary, the first thing is to strip her of all her scanty store of money. This is done not by theft, but by running up a bill for board and lodgings, and to this end every impediment is placed in the way of finding her a situation. The mere fact of her lodging in such a house stands in the way of her success, even without the many simple but effective expedients which can be employed to prevent her engagement.
The next thing is to get her into debt, and this also is easily accomplished by the same means. All the time the bill is running up, the girl is insidiously tempted. She is plied with drink, significant hints are dropped as to the money she might make if she would "do as the others do;" possibly a lover is found for her, no stone is left unturned to sap her virtue. If she is obdurate to the last, two things happen. Her box containing all her worldly goods is seized and she is turned penniless into the street, late at night, without a friend or acquaintance in the whole world, and with dire threats of being handed over to the police for not paying her bill. What is she to do? A country girl of seventeen or eighteen without a penny in her pocket in Ratcliff-highway at midnight is marked down for destruction. The very contemplation of such a position is sufficient to coerce the girl, if not into complying at least into considering her captors' proposals. Forlorn and desperate, she is tempted to drink, some snuff is put in her beer, she becomes unconscious, and when she wakes with a splitting headache in the morning, the girl is lost. This is no fancy picture. Priests and harlots both agree that it is the simple truth. Cardinal Manning assured me that so terrible was the havoc among these immigrants that one notorious procuress in those parts boasted that no fewer than 1,600 girls had passed through her hands. That, however, was some years ago. The Irish immigration has almost ceased.
The influx of Irish immigration is comparatively small, but some girls still arrive in London from Liverpool. The snaring of these girls is accomplished with more art than by the lassoing method that used to prevail in Ratcliff-highway. One of the most ingenious, but most diabolical methods of capture is that which consists in employing a woman dressed as a Sister of Merry as a lure. This I have been assured by ladies actively engaged in work among the poor is sometimes adopted with great success. The Irish Catholic girl arriving at Euston is accosted by what appears to be a Sister or Mercy. She is told that the good Lady Superior has sent her to meet poor Catholic girls to take them to good lodgings, where she can look about for a place. The girl naturally follows her guide, and after a rapid ride in a closed cab through a maze of streets she is landed in a house of ill fame. After she is shown to her bedroom the Sister of Mercy disappears, and the field is cleared for her ruin. The girl has no idea where she is. Every one is kind to her. The procuress wins her confidence. Perhaps a situation is found for her in another house belonging to the same management, for some broth-keepers have several houses. Drink is constantly placed in her way; she is taken to the theatre and dances. Some night, when worn out and half intoxicated, her bedroom door is opened – for there are doors which when locked inside will open by pressure from without – and her ruin is accomplished. After that all is easy – except the return to a moral life.
Vestigia nulla retrorsum.
DECOY GIRLS AND THEIR ARTS
It is by no means only Irish girls who are the prey of the procuress. English and Scotch are picked up with even greater facility. There are decoy girls in every great thoroughfare – agents of the procuress in almost every railway station. Children as they go to and from day school and Sunday school are noted by the keen eye of the professional decoy–waited for and watched until the time has come for running them down. "Baker-street station," said a female missionary," is regularly haunted by an old decoy, who entices little children to a place in Milton-street. Watch has been kept for weeks at a time, but she is wary, and when the watch is on the decoy goes elsewhere. As soon as the watch is removed we hear from children whom she has tempted that she is back at her old haunts." Most respectable little girls of the middle class are sometimes accosted when looking into shop windows by pleasant-spoken, well-dressed ladies, who offer to buy anything they take a fancy to in order to win their confidence and get them away.
One fine child of fourteen in the Brompton-road was promised by "such a nice little lady" rides on her beautiful quiet pony as often as she liked, if she would only go home with her. The thing is not done impromptu. It is a carefully organized system, worked by professionals, whose earnings are large and whose risk is small. Of 3,000 cases of which particulars have been taken in Millbank nearly 900, or about 30 per cent, attributed their ruin to decoy girls. When once a child is enticed away she is often too much ashamed to go back, and even if she wished, good care is taken to keep her in the toils. As for tracing her, a needle in a bottle of hay is as easily found as a child among the four millions of London. Some years ago an old procuress enticed away the daughter of a city missionary. The girl disappeared for six months. The police were put on the alert. Handbills were printed and circulated broadcast. Everything was done to track the girl, and everything was done in vain. Her mother almost lost her reason, and all hope was abandoned when the girl turned up one day at a refuge. It was then discovered that she had never been out of London, that at one time she had been in the workhouse, and that she never had made any attempt at keeping out of view. She was simply lost in the Babylonian maze.
RUINING COUNTRY GIRLS
The country girl offers an almost unresisting quarry. Term time, when young girls come up to town with their boxes to seek situations, is the great battue season of the procuress. To such a pass has it come that when a member of the Girls' Friendly Society comes to town to a situation, the society deems it indispensable to send some one to meet her to see that she does not fall into bad hands. In dealing with English girls the woman is sometimes dressed as a deaconess instead of a sister of mercy. "It makes one's heart bleed," said a porter at one of the Northern railway stations," to see these poor girls snapped up by these bad women." Even if they escape from the railway station they are often trapped in the street. Here is a case which came under the personal knowledge of the chaplain at Westminster prison, A country girl arrived by the Great Northern Railway at King's Cross. She put her boxes in the left-luggage room and went out, as thousands have done before her, to see what London looked like, and to inquire her way about.
After some little time, being hungry and tired, she asked an apparently respectable woman where she could get something to eat. The woman took her to a refreshment house, where they had some food. The drink was apparently drugged, for the girl remembered nothing until several hours after, when she came to consciousness in a police cell. She had been found lying, apparently drunk, in the street, and had been run in. On recovering herself she found that her purse had been taken, the tickets for her luggage carried off, most of her underclothing had been taken away, and that she was very sore and scratched about the thighs. Apparently disturbed before they were able to proceed to the last extremity, the criminals had hurriedly dressed her in a few clothes and deposited her in the street, where she was found still unconscious by the policeman. On inquiry at the Left Luggage Office, it was found that her boxes had been removed by some one who had produced the ticket, but who he was no one has ever been able to discover any trace. The girl was proved to be very respectable. A place was found for her, and she has done well ever since. Mr. Merrick, who saw her repeatedly and questioned her closely, has no doubt whatever that she gave a truthful statement of what actually took place, and but for an accident she would have been outraged as well as robbed. Others less lucky are now on the streets; but their stories of course are easily dismissed.
Here is another case, the accuracy of which is vouched for by a lady engaged in rescue work at Pimlico. A young girl, aged sixteen or seventeen, coming from the country on a visit to her uncle, a wealthy tradesman, was looking after her boxes at the railway station, when a woman, addressing her by her name, asked her where she was going. "To my uncle, who lives at –––." The woman replied, "I have been sent to fetch you." She took the girl in a cab and landed her in a brothel, from which she was not rescued for some time. The woman had read the girl's name in the address on her boxes.
These malpractices are by no means confined to London. Here is a tale for the truth of which Mr. Charrington is ready to vouch:–
A young lady applied to the proprietor of a provincial music-hall for an engagement, and as the photograph showed a very pretty girl of some eighteen Summers, a favourable reply was sent, and respectable (?) lodgings were procured for her. He allowed her to sing one night, but ere the second night was passed he had drugged her, seduced her, and communicated to her a foul and loathsome disease. My friend (who told me her story) found her literally rotting on some straw in an outhouse where the proprietor had left her to starve. At first he thought there was no hope of recovery, but her life was saved, although her beauty and her eyesight were both gone.
In a report on the social condition of Edinburgh drawn up by Mr. Fairbairn, a city missionary in 1883, he says:–
Some houses which are nominally temperance hotels are in reality brothels (they take the name of temperance hotels because they are thus open to receive people, and at the same time escape police supervision, having no licence). Into these places girls are entrapped as servants, and drugged or made drunk, and then seduced, and tempted to abandon themselves to prostitution. In two such cases known to the missionary, the keepers have been sent to prison. At a famous brothel at Liverpool, country girls were frequently trapped–excursionists and cheap trippers being the favourite prey.
IMPRISONED IN BROTHELS
It is easy enough to get into a brothel, it is by no means easy to get out. Apart from the dress houses, where women are practically prisoners, forbidden to cross the doorstep and chained to the house by debt, cases are constantly occurring in which girls find themselves under lock and key. Every now and then fervid Protestantism lashes itself into wild fury over the alleged abduction of some girl who is believed to have been spirited away from convent to convent. These abductions and imprisonments are constantly going on in the service of vice, but no one pays any heed. The labyrinth of London, like that of Crete, has many chambers and underground passages; the clue that leads to the entrance is easily broken. Here, for instance, is one case in which a girl who is now in a respectable situation was imprisoned until her ruin was effected.
K. S., a nursemaid, under fifteen, was once asked to take tea by a woman whose acquaintance she had made. She entered and was not allowed to go out. She was detained in the house, but kindly treated. One night she was drugged, rendered unconscious, and when in that condition she was ruined, it was said, by a nobleman. He kept her there for some months, when at last she succeeded in making her escape. The house is in a street near the Marble Arch, kept by Miss––, who pretended to keep a dyer's shop. The girl was sent to Cheshire from the Lock Hospital, and is now doing well.
Here is another case reported by a Westminster Rescue Home:–
Fanny F., fifteen, was imprisoned in the brothel. Her father was denied all access to the house. He was in great trouble, but at last he got her out by help of other girl inmates, who had heard of the father's grief.
Even when they do escape the brothel keeper seizes possession of their things. The case of Esther Prausner, a Polish girl, which came before the Thames police court at the end of June, is–
She came to England from Germany a few months since, for the purpose of getting a livelihood. After she had been over here a few weeks she was persuaded to live at Poplar in a house of ill fame, and the unfortunate girl while there was compelled to lead an immoral life. At last she declined to stay any longer in the house, and left. When she demanded her box, containing all her things, and also those of a young man whom she intended to marry, the landlady refused to give them up, saying that she should not have them at all. The girl had paid not only the rent for all the time she lived in the house but also a week's rent in advance in lieu of notice to quit. Still her box was not given up. She asked the magistrate's advice as to what she should do to recover her property. Mr. Lushington having directed one of the warrant officers to go to the house and try and obtain the box, was informed, later on in the day, that the woman would not give it up. He then directed a summons, free of charge, to be issued against the person referred to for illegally detaining the things. The young girl, who was nineteen, and appeared in great distress, then withdrew.
A case which came more immediately under my personal knowledge was one which occurred only last year in St. John's-wood. Although I have not been able to see the girl herself I have received from two trustworthy and independent sources narratives of her adventure which are substantially identical. It is as follows:–
Alice B., a Devonshire girl of twenty years of age, came to London to service on the death of her father. She was seduced when in service by a doctor who lodged in the house; but after he left she kept company with an apparently respectable young man. She was engaged to be married, and all seemed to be going well, when one Sunday afternooon (sic), as they were enjoying their Sunday walk, he proposed to call and see his aunt, who lived, he said, at No. – Queen's-road, St. John's Wood. This house, local rumour asserts, is a fashionable brothel, patronized among others by at least one Prince and one Cabinet Minister. Of that she knew nothing. Together with her sweetheart she entered the house and had tea with his supposed aunt. After tea she was asked if she would not like to wash her hands, and she was taken upstairs to a handsomely furnished bedroom and left alone. She first discovered her situation by hearing the key turn in the lock. For three weeks she was never allowed to leave the room, but was compelled to receive the visits of her first seducer, who seems to have employed her sweetheart to lure her into this den. She implored her captor to release her, but although he took her to the theatre and the opera, dressed her in fine clothes, and talked of marrying her abroad, he never allowed her to escape. When he was not with her she was kept under lock and key. When he was with her, she was a captive under surveillance. This went on for six or seven weeks. The girl was well fed and cared for, and had a maid to wait on her; but she fretted in captivity, dreaming constantly of escape, but being utterly unable to get out of the closely guarded house. At last one morning she was roused by an unusual noise. It was the sweep brushing the chimney. Her door had to be opened to allow him to enter the adjoining room. She rose, dressed herself in her old clothes -which fortunately had not been removed–and fled for her life. She found a little side door at the bottom of the back stairs open, and in a moment she was free, She had neither hat nor bonnet, nor had she a penny she could call her own. Her one thought was to get as far away as possible from the hated house. For three or four days she wandered friendless and helpless about the street, not knowing where to go. The police were kind to her and saved her from insult, but she was nearly starved when by a happy inspiration she made her way to a Salvation Army meeting at Whitechapel, where she fell into good hands. She was passed on to their Home and then to the Rescue Society, by whose agency she found a situation, where she is at the present moment.
It would be painful to discover how many girls are at this moment imprisoned like Alice B. in the brothels of London.
A LONDON MINOTAUR
As in the labyrinth of Crete there was a monster known as the Minotaur who devoured the maidens who were cast into the mazes of that evil place, so in London there is at least one monster who may be said to be an absolute incarnation of brutal lust. The poor maligned brute in the Cretan labyrinth but devoured his tale of seven maids and as many boys every ninth year. Here in London, moving about clad as respectably in broad cloth and fine linen as any bishop, with no foul shape or semblance of brute beast to mark him off from the rest of his fellows, is Dr,–––, now retired from his profession and free to devote his fortune and his leisure to the ruin of maids. This is the "gentleman" whose quantum of virgins from his procuresses is three per fortnight–all girls who have not previously been seduced. But his devastating passion sinks into insignificance compared with that of Mr. –––, another wealthy man, whose whole life is dedicated to the gratification of lust. During my investigations in the subterranean realm I was constantly coming across his name. This procuress was getting girls for –––, that woman was beating up maids for –––, this girl was waiting for –––, that house was a noted place of –––'s. I ran across his traces so constantly that I began to make inquiries in the upper world of this redoubtable personage. I soon obtained confirmation of the evidence I had gathered at first hand below as to the reality of the existence of this modern Minotaur, this English Tiberius, whose Caprece is in London.
It is no part of my commission to hold up individuals to popular execration, and the name and address of this creature will not appear in these columns. But the fact that he exists ought to be put on record, if only as a striking illustration of the extent to which it is possible for a wealthy man to ruin not merely hundreds but thousands of poor women, It is actually Mr. –––'s boast that he has ruined 3,000 women in his time. He never has anything to do with girls regularly on the streets, but pays liberally for actresses, shop-girls, and the like. Exercise, recreation; everything is subordinated to the supreme end of his life. He has paid his victims, no doubt–never gives a girl less than £5–but it is a question whether the lavish outlay of £,3,000 to £5,000 on purchasing the assent of girls to their own dis-honour is not a frightful aggravation of the wrong which he has been for some mysterious purpose permitted to inflict on his Kind.
'Tis not vain fabulous,
Though as esteem'd by shallow ignorance,
What the sage poets, taught by the heav'nly muse,
Storied of old, in high immortal verse,
Of dire chimeras and enchanted isles.
And rifted rocks whose entrance leads to Hell;
For such there be, but unbelief is blind.
The blindest unbelief must admit that in this "English gentleman", we have a far more hideous Minotaur than that which Ovid fabled and which Theseus slew.