The second in the series of W.T. Stead's sensational articles, first published in 1885 in The Pall Mall Gazette and the basis of my own novel, The Eighth Circle of Hell:
I described yesterday a scene which took place last Derby day, in a well known house, within a quarter of a mile of Oxford-circus. It is no means one of the worst instances of the crimes that are constantly perpetrated in London, or even in that very house. The victims of the rapes, for such they are to all intents and purposes, are almost always very young children between thirteen and fifteen. The reason for that is very simple. The law at present almost specially marks out such children as the fair game of dissolute men. The moment a child is thirteen she is a woman in the eye of the law, with absolute right to dispose of her person to any one who by force or fraud can bully or cajole her into parting with her virtue. It is the one thing in the whole world which, if once lost, can never be recovered, it is the most precious thing a woman ever has, but while the law forbids her absolutely to dispose of any other valuables until she is sixteen, it insists upon investing her with unfettered freedom to sell her person at thirteen. The law, indeed, seems specially framed in order to enable dissolute men to outrage these legal women of thirteen with impunity. For to quote again from "Stephen's Digest," a rape in fact is not a rape in law if consent is obtained by fraud from a woman or a girl who was totally ignorant of the nature of the act to which she assented. Now it is a fact which I have repeatedly verified that girls of thirteen, fourteen, and even fifteen, who profess themselves perfectly willing to be seduced, are absolutely and totally ignorant of the nature of the act to which they assent. I do not mean merely its remoter consequences and the extent to which their consent will prejudice the whole of their future life, but even the mere physical nature of the act to which they are legally competent to consent is unknown to them. Perhaps one of the most touching instances of this and the most conclusive was the exclamation of relief that burst from a Birmingham girl of fourteen when the midwife had finished her examination.
"It's all over now," she said, "I am so glad."
"You silly child," said the procuress, "that's nothing. You've not been seduced yet. That is still to come." How could she know any better, never having been taught? All that the procuress had told her was that if she consented to meet a rich gentleman she would get lots of money. Even when an attempt is made to explain that there will be some physical pain, the information is so shrouded in mystery that in cases that have come under my own personal knowledge if the man had run a needle into the girl's thigh and told her that she was seduced, she would have believed it.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE MOTHERS
The ignorance of these girls is almost incredible. It is one of the greatest scandals of Protestant training that parents are allowed to keep their children in total ignorance of the simplest truths of physiology, without even a rudimentary conception of the nature of sexual morality. Catholic children are much better trained; and whatever may be the case in other countries, the chastity of Catholic girls is much greater than that of Protestants in the same social strata. Owing to the soul and body destroying taciturnity of Protestant mothers, girls often arrive at the age of legal womanhood in total ignorance, and are turned loose to contend with all the wiles of the procuress and the temptations of the seducer without the most elementary acquaintance with the laws of their own existence. Experientia docet; but in this case the first experience is too often that of violation. Even after the act has been consummated, all that they know is that they got badly hurt; but they think of it and speak of it exactly in the same way as if it meant no more for them than the pulling out of a tooth. Even more than the scandalous state of the law, the culpable refusal of mothers to explain to their daughters the realities and the dangers of their existence contributes to fill the brothels of London.
RECRUITING FOR THE HOUSE OF EVIL FAME
People imagine that the brothel fills itself. That is a mistake. It is recruited for as diligently as is the army of her Majesty, which is perhaps one of its greatest patrons. "Business is very bad," said Mrs. Jefferies mournfully, a short time before her conviction. "I have been very slack since the Guards went to Egypt." The house of ill-fame is a reservoir of vice fed by a multitude of tributary rills. Possibly one-half of its inmates voluntarily elected to take to the streets as a means of livelihood. But although they are volunteers, they are not left to find their way to their destination by natural selection. Every brothel-keeper worth her salt is a procuress with her eyes constantly on the look-out for likely girls, and she is quite as busy weaving toils in which to ensnare fresh women as she is to command fresh customers. When a keeper has spotted a girl whom, she fancies will be "a good mark" she–for in most cases the creature is of the feminine gender–sets to work to secure her for her service. Decoy girls are laid on to tempt the girl with promises of dress and money. The ordinary formula is that if you come with us you will live like a lady, have plenty of fine clothes, have your own way in everything and do as you please. If the girl listens, she is lost. The toils close round. She calls upon her friends. Some night she stops out after the time her mistress locks the door. She is obliged to return to seek shelter, and before morning she is done for. That is the story of thousands, and it is much the most innocent form of procuration. Almost every house of ill-fame in London is the centre of a network of snares and wiles and "plants," intended to bring in fresh girls. That is part of the regular trade. But there are other methods of procuration much more objectionable. "Gentlemen" who seduce girls under promise of marriage and then desert them are probably not responsible for more than 5 to 10 per cent. of our prostitutes, but so long as it is thought honourable and gentlemanly to ruin a girl's life in order to enjoy half an hour's excitement, it is no use saying anything about that mode of recruiting "the Black Army" of our streets. A small proportion take to it from sheer poverty and absolute despair of evading destitution. Many more adopt it occasionally as a means of supplementing scanty wages.
But that to which I specially wish to direct attention are the arts by which the keeper secures unwilling victims for her house. The simplest and by far the commonest is to engage a girl for the country by advertisement or otherwise to help in the housework. The child–she is seldom more than fifteen or sixteen–comes up from her country village with her box, and is installed in service. At first nothing is said. Every artifice is used to make the unsuspecting girl believe that she is in a good place with a kind mistress. After a time some smart dress is given her, and she is encouraged to be willing and submissive, by promises of greater liberty and plenty of money. The girl is tempted to drink, and by degrees she is enlightened as to the nature of the house. It is a dreadful awakening. What is she to do? In all London she knows no friend–no one to whom she can appeal. She is never allowed to go outside alone. She dare not speak to the policeman, for he is tipped by her mistress. If she asks to leave she is told she must serve out her term, and then every effort is redoubled to seduce her. If possible she is made drunk, and then when she wakes she discovers her ruin has been accomplished. Her character is gone. Hopeless and desperate, without money, without friends, all avenues of escape closed, she has only one choice. "She must do as the others do"–the great formula–or starve in the streets. No one will believe her story, for when a woman is outraged, by fraud or force, her sworn testimony weighs nothing against the lightest word of the man who perpetrated the crime. She sees on one hand leisure, luxury, on the other blank despair. Thus the brothel acquires a new inmate, and another focus of sin and contagion is added to the streets.
THE STORY OF AN ESCAPE
Within the last month I made the acquaintance of a girl of seventeen, who escaped at the eleventh hour from just such a trap. I interviewed her, as I have interviewed many others, but her story is so striking an illustration of the kind of work that is going on all round us that it is worth while giving it just as she gave it to me, merely premising that I have been able, by independent inquiries at Shoreham and Pimlico, to verify the complete accuracy of her statement:–
My name is A––; I am seventeen years old. Last year, about May, I was living with my grandparents who had brought me up at Shoreham. They were poor people, and as I had grown up they thought that it was well I should go to service. I saw an advertisement of a situation: "Wanted a girl to help in the general work of the house." My grandmother wrote about the situation, and as it seemed satisfactory, it was decided I should go. My mistress had to meet me at Victoria station and take me to my new home. I arrived all safely, and at first I thought everything was going to be all right. Mrs. C–– was very kind, and let me go to bed at ten. After a time, however, I began to see something was wrong. The ladies in the house used to drink very much and keep very late hours. Gentlemen were coming and going till three and four o'clock in the morning. I began to see that I was in a bad house. But when I mentioned it to my mother, who is living a gay life in London, she scolded me, and said she would give me a good hiding if I left my place. Where was I to go to? Besides, I thought I might be servant in a bad house without being bad myself. By degrees Mrs. C. began to hint that I was too good to be a general servant; she would get another girl, and I might be a lady like the others. But the girl who had been there before me used to cry very much and tell me never to do as she had done. "Once I was as good as you, Annie, but now there is my baby, and what can I do?" and then she would cry bitterly. The other two girls, when they were sober, would warn me to beware and not come to such a life as theirs, and wish that they had never taken to the streets. And then they would drink again, and go and paint their faces and prepare to receive visitors. I used to be sent with money to buy drink for them, and many a time I wondered if I might run off and never come back. But I had to bring back either the money or the drink or be taken for a thief. And so I went on day after day. One night Mrs. C. brought me a red silk dress and a new hat, and said she was going to take me out. She got into a cab with me and took me to the Aquarium. There she walked me about and then brought me home again. This she did several times, never letting me get out of her sight, never allowing me to go out of doors except for drink and when she took me to the Aquarium. She became more pressing. She showed me a beautiful pink dress, and promised me that also if I would do as the others did. And when I would not, she called me a fool, and used awful language, and said what pleasure I was missing all from stupidity. Sometimes she would tell the gentlemen to take liberties with me, but I kept them at a distance. One night after I had come in with her from the Aquarium, a gentleman tried to catch hold of me as I was outside the bedroom. I ran as hard as I could downstairs. He came after me, but I got into the kitchen first, and there I barricaded the door with chairs and the table, so that he could not get in. I was nearly distracted and did not know what to do, when I found in my box the back of an old hymn-book my grandfather had used. It had on it the address of General Booth, at the headquarters of the Salvation Army. I thought to myself Mr. Booth must be a good man or he would not have so many halls all over the country, and then I thought perhaps he will help me to get out of this horrible house, as I never knew what might happen any night. So I waited quietly all that night, never taking off my clothes. It was usually four o'clock before the house was quiet. As soon as they all seemed to be asleep, I waited till nearly six, and then I crept to the door, opened it, and stole softly away, not even daring to close the door. I only knew one address in all London–101, Queen Victoria-street; where that was I did not know. I walked out blindly till I met a policeman, and he told me the right direction. I walked on and on; it was a long way; I was very tired. I had had no sleep all night, and I feared at any moment to be overtaken and brought back. My red silk dress was rather conspicuous, and I did not know if, even after I got there, whether Mr. Booth would help me. But I felt sure he was a good man, and I walked on and on. The bad house was in Gloucester-street, Pimlico, and it was nearly half-past seven when I got to Queen Victoria-street. The headquarters were closed. I stood waiting outside, wondering if, after all, I might have to go back. At last some one came, and they took care of me, and sent me to their home, and then took me back to Shoreham, where I am now living.
On inquiry at the Salvation Army I found this story, so far as they were concerned, was strictly correct. They give the girl a good character, and say that her grandparents are very respectable, honest people at Shoreham. They sent to the brothel after hearing her story, and insisted on receiving her box. At first the woman demurred, but on being threatened with exposure reluctantly gave up the box, wishing "the little hussy had broken her neck in getting out of the window when she ran away in that fashion." The girl is now engaged to be married, and, so far as one could judge, seemed a thoroughly modest, respectable young woman. But for the accident of the hymn-book, there is little doubt that she would months ago have been a regular prostitute.
It is significant of the tenacity with which these procuresses cling to their prey, that at the time of Brighton races, when Mrs. C–– and her establishment migrated to the seaside, her old mistress came over to Shoreham to try to hire Annie by bribes and threats to return to town. The frightened girl fled to her grandmother, and the woman had to return empty-handed. I have full particulars of names, addresses, dates in my possession, and there is not the least doubt of the substantial accuracy of her story.
TWO STORIES FROM LIFE
In melancholy contrast to the story of Annie is the story of another Annie, a London girl of singularly interesting countenance and pleasing manner. This child did not escape. I met her in one of the innumerable foreign restaurants which serve as houses of assignation in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square.
She was about fifteen years of age, and at the time when I saw her had only been on the streets for a few weeks. Her story, as she told it me with the utmost simplicity and unreserve, was as follows:–
It was about two months since I was seduced. A friend of mine, Jane B––, met me one evening in the street near our house, and asked me if I would go for a walk with her. I said yes, and she proposed to come and have an ice at the very restaurant in which we are now sitting. "It is such a famous shop for ices," she said, "and perhaps we shall see my uncle." I did not know her uncle, nor did I think anything about it, but I walked down to Leicester-square to the restaurant. She asked me to come upstairs to a sitting-room, where we had some ices and some cake. After a time a gentleman came in, whom she said was her uncle; but I found out afterwards he was no more her uncle than I was. He asked us to have some wine and something to eat, and we sat eating and drinking. I had never tasted wine before, but he pressed it on me, and I took one glass and then another, until I think I had four glasses. My head got very queer, and I hardly knew what I did. Then my friend said, ."Annie, you must come upstairs now." "What for?" I said. "Never mind what for," she said ; "you will get lots of money." My head was queer; I did not care what I did, but I remember thinking that it was after no good this going upstairs. She insisted, however, and I went upstairs. The man she called her uncle followed us. She began to undress me. "What are you doing that for?" Isaid. "You shan't undress me. I don't want to be undressed here." I struggled, and then everything went dizzy. I remember nothing more till I woke and found that I had been undressed and put in bed. The man was in bed with me. I screamed, and begged him to go away. He paid no heed to me, and began to hurt me dreadfully. "Keep quiet, you silly girl," said ––––, who stood by the bed; "you will get lots of money." Oh, I was frightened, and the man hurt me so much! But I could do nothing. When it was all over the man gave her £4. She gave me half and kept the other half for herself, as her pay for getting me seduced. I do not know who the man was, and I have never seen him since.
Of course it is obvious that this story rests solely on the authority of the child herself. But there was no reason to question its accuracy. She told me her story very simply in the presence of a friend. It was perfectly natural, and the girl's remembrance of the way in which she had been ruined was very clear. She seemed a girl of excellent disposition, a Sunday scholar, and of refined manners, and with a sweetness of expression unusual in her class.
Her companion, a young girl of thirteen, was a child of much greater character and resolution, who, I am glad to say, is now in good hands in the country. Her story was as follows:–
One night a girl I knew came and spoke to me. "Will you come and see a gentleman?" she said. "Me see a gentleman–what do you mean?" said I. "Oh, I forgot," she says; "will you come and take a walk?" I had no objection, so we went for a walk. After a while, she proposed we should go into a house in P–– street and get something to eat. We went in, and after we had been there a little time in came a gentleman. He sat down and talked a bit, and then my friend says, "Take off your things, Lizzie." "No, I won't," I said. "Why should I take off my things?" "Don't be a fool," says she, "and do as I tell you, you will get lots of money;" and she began to undress me. I objected, but she was older than I, and stronger, and the man took her side. "Now," she said after she had undressed me, "get into bed with you." "What for?" says I, "for I had no idea what she meant." "Do as I tell you, you little fool, or I will knock you[r] head off you. This gentleman will give you lots of money, pounds and pounds, if you are good; but he won't give you a penny if you are stupid." And she half forced me, half persuaded me, to get into bed. Then the gentleman got into bed. I did not know what he wanted. I was very frightened, and was crying bitterly. Then he began to hurt me, and I yelled at the top of my voice. Madame who kept the house heard me scream, and she came running up. "Vot is you a doin to that von leetle girl ?" she asked. "Nothing," said the man; "she has only run a pin into her foot;" and my friend whispered, "Only keep quiet and you shall have it all. I will give you all the money. But mind you won't get off, no matter how you scream." Madame went away, and the man finished me. He gave me £3. 10s.
Lizzie, who told me the above story, is a mere child, thirteen years old last June. Her mother was dead. Her father was a foreman in a City warehouse. She is a girl of great energy and restlessness, affectionate, and I believe she is now doing well. Both of these girls, after being seduced, went on the streets occasionally. It is the first step which costs, and after having lost their virtue, they argued that they might now and then add to their scanty earnings by the easily acquired gold to be earned in the brothel.
PROCURATION IN THE WEST-END
The price of maids is much higher in the West-end than when the virgins are picked up in the East. But the purveying of maidens is done systematically enough. Prices, I should say, rule as follows:–From the wholesale firm of Mdmes. X. and Z., of which I shall speak shortly, £5, at an East-end brothel £10, at the West-end £20. These quotations are actual figures, and have been given me by those who were perfectly willing to fulfil the contract. In all cases they include the maiden's own fee as well as the commission paid to the purveyor. In no case was the slightest objection made to the stipulation that the virginity of the girl should be certified by a doctor before delivery–a fact which entirely disposes of the cry that no business is done excepting in harlots vamped up as virgins for that occasion only. I had a good opportunity of an inside view of procuration as practised in one of the most select and respectable houses in the West, where I had commissioned the mistress to procure me a maid at £20. She told me, of course–as they all do–that she never did such things, that she never had a maid seduced in her house in her life, and would not for the world, even for her oldest customer, consent to allow her house to be used for that purpose. In fact, she went so far as to say that if a girl was seduced in her house she would feel as if she were bound to provide for her in an afterlife. The value of these preliminary assurances may be gauged from the fact that she subsequently undertook to provide me with a maid, and offered me the choice of any room in her house for the purpose of seducing her. She incidentally described a considerable number of girls who had been seduced in her house, and then let me so far into her confidence as to say that she had three procuresses in connection with her house whose duty it was to pick up girls for her customers. I was offered the choice between a nursery governess, a nursemaid, and another girl. I selected the nursery governess, who, I was told, was in a good situation in a gentleman's family near Victoria station. Unfortunately the day when we had to meet her mistress sent her with the children to Hurlingham, and she could not keep her appointment, much to the disappointment of the procuress, who paid no fewer than three visits to the house. Another appointment was made, but they brought a housemaid instead of the governess. I saw her in company with the procuress, a motherly old lady, whose profession was that of charwoman. I had a long and interesting conversation with her, which need not be detailed here. The salient feature of it was the complacency with which the good lady regarded her occupation as procuress. To begin with, she had the excuse of poverty. She was a widow with a large family, and must do something for the children. Her second justification was the assumption that the girls whom she procured would inevitably be seduced, and, said she naively, "If a girl is to be seduced it is better she should be seduced by a gentleman, and get something for it than let herself be seduced by a boy or a young fellow who gives her nothing for it" These two excuses not only satisfied the old lady's conscience, but made her feel that she was quite a benefactor to her sex.
The maid whom she procured for me (although I cannot speak positively as to her virginity, as, owing to the delay of a telegram, my doctor failed to arrive at the trysting-place) was a pretty young girl about fifteen, a very sweet face, and immature figure. She had been crying because Mrs. –– had scolded her for dressing like a butterfly instead of wearing black. Her story was that her mother was ill, which I subsequently discovered was true, and she wanted to get £10 to help her in her trouble. She was perfectly willing to be examined by a doctor, for, as the old lady said, "if she is going to be seduced she need not mind seeing a doctor," and her readiness to submit to the examination was at least prima facie evidence of the reality of her claim to be regarded as a maid. The scene with the procuress and the girl was very striking. The old lady trotted out the child, made her stand up, smile, and generally put her through her paces, and showed off her points. The motherly fashion in which she put her arms round the girl's neck, and urged her with kisses and encouragement not to be timid, but to please the gentleman, was sickening beyond expression. It was with great difficulty that I got a few moments alone with the girl. "Why do you want to be seduced?" I asked. "Tell me the truth." "For the money," she. replied, quite simply. "Would you rather have £5 and not be seduced, or the £10 and be seduced?" "Oh, £5 by all means," she said, "and not be seduced." And then the old procuress returned. The girl seemed timid, but whether she was really a maid or not I do not know. When the doctor turned up a second time she did not come, and I have reason to fear that she is no longer likely to pass the ordeal of an examination.
In the course of conversation I found that charwomen are regarded as excellent procuresses. They have the entry into private houses and into shops where many girls are employed. Coming day after day, early in the morning, before the mistress or the manager is about, they have ample opportunities, of which they make the most, to entice young girls to destruction. They make it their duty to allay the fears of the girls as to the consequences of seduction. The old lady was quite eloquent and emphatic in assuring me that a girl never need fear having a child as the result of a first seduction. That is the way in which the descensus Averni is smoothed. "No harm will come the first time" helps the girl to consent, and after she has lost her maiden estate the argument is, "You can go a second time." "It is only the first step that costs," and so the girl gets fairly launched on an immoral life. But in justice to this establishment I must say that they stoutly refused to deliver the girl over to me altogether. "I must restore her to her mother's arms," said the old lady, who in this case had fortified herself with a written certificate from the mother declaring her assent to her daughter's seduction.
A FIRM OF PROCURESSES
The recruiting for the brothel is by no means left to occasional irregular agents. It is a systematized business. Mesdames X. and Z., procuresses, London, is a firm whose address is not to be found in "The Post Office Directory." It exists, however, and its operations are in full swing at this moment. Its members have made the procuration of virgins their speciality. The ordinary house of ill-fame recruits its inmates occasionally by purchase, by contract, by force, or by fraud, but as a rule the ordinary brothel keeper relies for the staple of her commodities upon those who have already been seduced. To oblige a customer they will procure a maid, in many cases passing off as virgins those who had long before bade farewell to the estate of maidenhood; for the tricks of women are innumerable, and the contrivances by which this can be done are numerous and simple. The number of vamped-up virgins which Mrs. Jefferies is currently reported to have procured for her aristocratic clientele in the neighbourhood of the Quadrant is regarded in the profession as one of the most remarkable achievements of the great Chelsea procuress. These are, however, but the tricks of the trade, which in no way concern the object of the present inquiry.
The difference between the firm of Mesdames X. and Z. and the ordinary keeper of an introducing house is that the procuring of maids (which in the case of the latter is occasional) is the constant occupation of their lives. They do nothing else. They keep no house of ill-fame. One of the members of this remarkable firm lives in all the odour of propriety if not of sanctity with her parents; the other, who has her own lodgings, nominally holds a position of trust and of influence in the establishment of a well-known firm in Oxford-street. These things, however, are but as blinds. Their real work, to which they devote every day in the week, is the purveying of maidens to an extensive and ever-widening circle of customers. The office of the firm is at ––, ––place, the lodgings of the junior partner, where letters and telegrams are sent and orders received, and the necessary correspondence conducted. Both partners are young, the senior member of the firm being really younger than her partner. The business was started by Miss X––, a young woman of energy and ability and great natural shrewdness almost immediately after her seduction in 1881. She was at that time in her sixteenth year. A girl who had already fallen introduced her to a "gentleman," and pocketed half the price of her virtue as commission. The ease with which her procuress earned a couple of pounds came like a revelation to Miss X., and almost immediately after her seduction she began to look about to find maids for customers and customers for maids. After two years, business had increased to such an extent that she was obliged to take into partnership Miss Z., an older girl, about twenty, of slenderer figure and fairer complexion. At one time Miss Z. gave all her time to the business, but one of their customers suggested that it would look more respectable, and besides increase her opportunities, if she resumed her old position as head of a sewing-room in the establishment alluded to. She accordingly went back to her old quarters and resumed the responsibility of looking after the morals and manners of some score young apprentice girls who come up from the country to learn the business. I am thus precise in giving details not only because the firm is only one of several which have hitherto escaped the attention of the social observer, but because the very existence of such an organized business for the procuration of virgins has been stoutly denied by those who are believed to know what is going on.
HOW ANNIE WAS PROCURED
I heard accidentally of the operations of this famous firm in conversation with a bright-looking young girl about sixteen who was telling me the way in which she was first brought out. "Oh, Miss X. brought me out," she said, "nearly two years ago. I was at that time, as I still am, in a situation as nurse girl. I used to go with the perambulator and the baby to St. James's Park every day. When wheeling the perambulator a nicely-dressed lady used to pass me nearly every day. She used to say, 'Good morning,' and pass on. One day she stopped a little to talk about the baby. 'What a fine child,' says she. 'And are you its nurse?' And then she gave the baby a halfpenny and me a penny, and I thought her a very kind lady indeed. After that she always used to stop and talk, and I used to tell my mistress what a pleasant lady Miss X––– was, and how much she liked the baby. 'I would like to see Miss X–––' said my mistress. 'Would you not invite her to tea some time?' which I did. Miss X––– was, oh! so polite, said, 'Yes, ma'am,' and 'No, ma'am,' and quite pleased my mistress. After that, one day when I was in the park, she came up and said, 'Nance, have you ever had a man?' I did not know exactly what she meant, and said so. She then asked, 'Would you not like to get such a lot of money?' Of course I said, 'Yes.' Then she said, 'I know several girls who have got pounds and pounds, and I can help you to do the same.' 'Can you?' said I, 'that would be very kind.' 'Yes,' she said, 'it is very easy; you only need to have a little game with a gentleman.' 'Oh,' I said, 'I don't want to see a gentleman. What would he do with me?' 'Oh, nothing,' she said. 'But never mind; if you don't like the chance we'll say no more about it.' And then she went away, and I did not see her for some time. I thought a great deal about what she said. I wanted some new clothes. I had not much wages, and she said pounds and pounds could be got quite easily. I did not know what she meant about having fun with a gentleman. One day I saw her again, and she came up to me and said: 'Nance, I am going to give you another chance. Will you go and see a gentleman friend of mine, and you will get pounds, and you can buy new dresses, new hats, and nets, and all kinds of things?' 'But what for?' I asked. 'Never mind what for, you silly girl: he will only have a game with you, and you will be none the worse for it. But look you,' she said, speaking quite sharp, 'I don't want to fool away my time over you. There's that other girl will jump at the chance I've offered you. Say you won't and I'll take her.' And then I said, 'Oh yes, I'll go, I'll go,' and she took me. It was somewhere in the country. We went by train. Miss X–– took me. The first time I was very frightened, and when the gentleman began to undress me I cried, for I did not know what he was going to do. So he did nothing that day, but said I must come another time. He was a very kind gentleman, who lived in a fine house and played on the piano. He gave me £5 that time. Miss X–– brought me another day, and that time he seduced me, and gave me another £5. I did not cry when he undressed me the second time, but afterwards I screamed. 'Let me go, let me go,' I shouted, all in a tremble, 'and I'll go and work for my living,' and I struggled to get free. 'Child,' said he, angrily, 'don't dirty my shirtsleeves. Don't dirty my shirtsleeves There is a danger of course that the last phrase may be held apply to Candahar, but we prefer to believe that it refers sole to Quetta, whatever you do,' for I was tearing at them to get free. It was of no use, and I was done for." "Who is this Miss X–– ? "I asked.
"Miss X–," said Nance, "is the one who gets nearly all the young girls away from here. She is a very clever woman, and persuades girls to meet men." "Do they always know what they are going for?" I asked. "Oh, no," she said; "some do, of course, but others don't." "And these others–when they find out do they get away?" "How can they?" she replied; "Miss X. would knock their heads off if they tried. 'I am not going to have you make a fool of me and of my gentleman,' she says. The girl cannot get away, then–it is too late–and if they make much trouble she says, 'You will be seduced all the same whatever you do, but if you make much row you shan't have a penny.' "And so the girl gives in."
"YOU WANT A MAID DO YOU?"
All this was said with such perfect good faith and simplicity, and without the faintest tinge of animosity towards the procuress, that I was curious to make the acquaintance of so accomplished and vigorous a lady. An interview was arranged without much difficulty for the transaction of business. Unfortunately the senior partner was engaged, but Miss Z––– was at liberty. I explained my business. "Oh, you want a maid, do you?" she said. "I will bring one to-morrow night. The price will be about £5, including commission." "But," said I, "she will have to be certified by a doctor or a midwife as really a maid, otherwise I will not look at her." "All right," she said, "that is not very usual; and you will have to pay the doctor. But I have had to do it before now, and there will be no difficulty about that."
THE ORDER EXECUTED
Next night, promptly at the appointed time, Miss Z––– arrived with her maid. The child was about fourteen, dark, with long black hair and dark eyes. She was not fully grown, and promised if well cared for to develop into a woman of somewhat striking appearance. She was a Birmingham girl, and the London sewing-rooms had not yet robbed her cheeks of the rural bloom. Her story was soon told. She had been sent to –––, in Oxford-street, to learn dressmaking, as an apprentice from the country. She was to serve three months in return for board and lodgings. She received no wages, and was illiterate–reading with difficulty, and not writing at all. She had only been in London three weeks, and she had no pocket money, nor was she able to buy the clothes or boots which she wanted. Miss Z––– had noticed her on her arrival as a likely girl, and suggested that she might make a few pounds by meeting a rich gentleman. Every one did it, she said, and she would get the money she needed without any trouble. The girl, with only the vaguest idea of what was involved in meeting a gentleman, naturally consented, and she was brought to me as willing to be seduced. It was on the Monday that I saw her. On the previous Saturday her mother had died. She was to be buried on the following Tuesday. The idea of the mother lying dead at home while the daughter was being brought out for seduction struck me as so peculiarly ghastly that I could not resist mentioning it to the procuress. "Yes, poor thing," she said, " it is a pity. But stopping in would not bring her mother to life again, so I told her she had better come out." I sent the girl to a midwife. It was this case in which the remarks made by the child after the midwife concluded the examination, to which I have already referred, proved her innocence. The child actually imagined that the seduction had been accomplished when the midwife made her smart. Yet that girl was between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and in the eye of the law had been for nearly two years fully competent to give legal assent to her own ruin.
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE FIRM
I had a long conversation with Mesdames X. and Z. on a subsequent day, as to their business–the way in which it was carried on, and the facility with which they were able to procure subjects. The members of the firm were very sociable and communicative, and in the course of the evening they gave me a good idea of the whole art and mystery of procuration, as practised by its most skilful professors. The following is a report of an interview almost unique in its way:–
"I was told the other day," said I, by way of opening the conversation, "that the demand for maidenheads has rather fallen away of late, owing to the frauds of the procurers. The market has been glutted with vamped-up virgins, of which the supply is always in excess of the demand, and there are fewer inquiries for the genuine article."
"That is not our experience," said the senior partner, a remarkable woman, attractive by the force of her character in spite of the ghastliness of her calling, compared to which that of the common hangman is more honourable. "We do not know anything about vamped virgins. Nor, with so many genuine maids to be had for the taking, do I think it worth while to manufacture virgins. I should say the market was looking up and the demand increasing. Prices may perhaps have fallen, but that is because our customers give larger orders. For instance, Dr. ––, one of my friends, who used to take a maid a week at .£10, now takes three a fortnight at from £5, to £7 each."
"What!" I exclaimed; "do you actually supply one gentleman with seventy fresh maids every year?"
"Certainly," said she; "and he would take a hundred if we could get them. But he is so very particular. He will not take a shop-girl, and he always must have a maid over sixteen."
THE PROCURESS LEARNED IN THE LAW
"Why over sixteen?" said I. "Because of the law," she replied; "no one is allowed to take away from her home, or from her proper guardians, a girl who is under sixteen. She can assent to be seduced after she is thirteen, but even if she assented to go, both the keeper of the house where we took her, and my partner and I, would be liable to punishment if she was not over sixteen. Hence my old gentleman, who is very careful, will not look at a girl under sixteen. That diminishes the area from which maids can be drawn. The easiest age to pick them up is fourteen or fifteen. At thirteen they are just out of school, and still more or less babies under the influence of their mothers. But at fourteen and fifteen they begin to get more liberty without getting much more sense; they begin to want clothes and things which money can buy, and they do not understand the value of what they are parting with in order to get it. After a girl gets past sixteen she gets wiser, and is more difficult to secure."
"You seem to know the law," said I, "better than I know it myself."
"Have to," said she promptly. "It's my business. It would never do for me not to know what was safe and what was not. We might get both ourselves and our friends into no end of trouble, if we did not know the law."
"But how do you get to know all these points?" I inquired.
From the newspapers," she replied. "Always read the newspapers, they are useful. Every week I take in two, Lloyd's and the Weekly Dispatch, and I spend the great part of Sunday in reading all the cases in the courts which relate to this subject. There is a case now going on at Walworth, where a man is charged with abducting a girl, fifteen, and it was laid down in court that if she could be proved to be one day over sixteen he was safe. I am watching that case with great interest. All these cases when reported I cut out and put in a book for reference, so that I know pretty well where I am going."
THE SPECIALITY OF THEIR BUSINESS
"Then do you do anything in the foreign trade?" I asked. "Oh, no," she said. "Our business is in maidenheads, not in maids. My friends take the girls to be seduced and take them back to their situations after they have been seduced, and that is an end of it so far as we are concerned. We do only with first seductions, a girl passes only once through our hands, and she is done with. Our gentlemen want maids, not damaged articles, and as a rule they only see them once."
"What comes of the damaged articles?" "They all go back to their situations or their places. But," said the procuress reflectively, "they all go to the streets after a time. When once a girl has been bad she goes again and again, and finally she ends like the rest. There are scarcely any exceptions. Do you remember any, Z.?" The junior partner remembered one or two, but agreed that it was very rare girls ever went straight after once they had been seduced.
"Do they ever have children?"
"Not very often the first time. Of course we tell them that it never happens. Girls are so silly, they will believe anything. That silly little child we brought you, for instance, thought she had been seduced when the midwife touched her. But of course sometimes they get in the family way the first time."
And then," said I, "I suppose they affiliate the child?" "On whom, pray?" said the senior partner, laughing. "We make it a special feature of our business that the maid never knows who is her seducer, and in most cases they never know our address. How can she get to know? I have to take a cook, for instance, next Sunday at church time to Mr.––, who has a place in Bedford-square, and three other places at least all about where maids are delivered. I take the girl in a cab. We drive through, street after street. Then we stop opposite a door and go in. The cook will see a gentleman who maybe with her a few minutes, or he may be with her half an hour. During that time she is naturally somewhat excited and suffers more or less pain. As soon as she is dressed I take her away in a cab and she never sees that gentleman again. Even if she noticed the house, which is doubtful, she does not know the name of its owner, and in many cases the house is merely a brothel. What can she do?"
THE FORCING OF UNWILLING MAIDS
"Do the maids ever repent and object to be seduced when the time comes?" "Oh, yes," said Miss X., "sometimes we have no end of trouble with the little fools. You see they often have no idea in the world as to what being seduced is. We do not take much trouble to explain, and it is enough for us if the girl willingly consents to see or to meet or to have a game with a rich gentleman. What meaning she attaches to seeing a gentleman it is not our business to inquire. All that we have to do is to bring her there and see that she does not make a fool of the gentleman when she gets there."
"You always manage it though?" I inquired.
"Certainly," she said. "If a girls makes too much trouble, she loses her maidenhead for nothing instead of losing it for money. The right way to deal with these silly girls is to convince them that now they have come they have got to be seduced, willing or unwilling, and that if they are unwilling, they will be first seduced and then turned into the streets without a penny. Even then they sometimes kick and scream and make no end of a row. You remember Janie," she said, appealing to Miss Z. "Don't I just," said that amiable lady. "You mean that girl we had to hold down?" "Yes," said Miss X. "We had fearful trouble with that girl. She wrapped herself up in the bed-curtains and screamed and fought and made such a rumpus, that I and my friend had to hold her down by main force in bed while she was being seduced."
"Nonsense," I said, "you did not really?"
Didn't we, though?" she replied. "I had to hold one shoulder and she held the other, and even then it was as much as we could do to keep her still. She was mortally terrified, and didn't she scream and yell!" "It gave me such a sickening," said the junior partner, " that I was almost going to chuck up the business, but I got into it again."
THE PROFITS OF A PROCURESS
"It pays, I suppose?" "Oh yes, there is no need for me to go to work. It is only for appearance sake and opportunities. I can leave when I like," said Miss Z., "after I get them started in the morning. We are paid by commission."
"Fifty per cent.? "I asked.
"That depends," said the senior partner. "Taking the average price of a maid at £5, we sometimes take £1; but sometimes we take it all, and merely make the girl a present. It depends upon the trouble which we have, and the character of the girl. Some girls are such sillies."
"How do you mean?"
We'll take Nance, for instance. She was a lightheaded girl who had never fancied money. We got £10 for Nance. If she had got half that, or quarter, it would have turned her head. She would have gone and bought no end of clothes, and her mistress and her mother would have found it out, and Nance would have got into no end of a row. So for Nance's own sake we only gave her a pound, and as we made her stand treat out of that, she had very little left out of her money to play the fool with. But we have been good to Nance, afterwards. I gave her a bonnet, a dress, and a pair of shoes. I should think we have spent £2 over her."
So that she had altogether £3, and you had £7?"
Just so," said Miss X––, "and girls are often like that; we have to save them from themselves by keeping most of the money out of their reach;" and the good lady evidently contemplated herself with the admiration due to a virtue so careful of the interests of the young sillies who place themselves in her experienced hands.
"Tell me," said I, reverting to a previous subject, "when these maids scream so fearfully does no one ever interfere?"
"No; we take them to a quiet place, and the people of the house know us and would not interfere, no matter what noise went on. Often we take them to private houses, and there of course all is safe. The time for screaming is not long. As soon as it is over the girl sees it is no use howling. She gets her money and goes away. We do not need any specially prepared room. Any quiet room in a house where you are known will do. I have never known one case of interference in the four years I have been in the business."
WHERE MAIDS ARE PICKED UP
"Who supplies most of your maids?" "Nurse-girls and shop-girls, although occasionally we get a governess, and sometimes cooks and other servants. We get to know the servants-through-the nurses. Young girls from the country, fresh and rosy, are soon picked up in the shops or as they run errands. But nurse-girls are the great field. My old friend is always saying to me, 'Why don't you pick up nurse-girls, there are any number in Hyde Park every morning, and all virgins.' That is when we have disappointed him, which is not very often."
"But how do you manage to pick up so many?"
The senior partner replied with conscious pride, "It takes time, patience, and experience. Many girls need months before they can be brought in. You need to proceed very cautiously at first. Every morning at this time of the year my friend and I are up at seven, and after breakfast we put a shawl round our shoulders and off we go to scour the park. Hyde Park and the Green Park are the best in the morning; Regent's Park in the afternoon. As we go coasting along, we keep a sharp look out for any likely girl, and having spotted one we make up to her; and week after week we see her as often as possible, until we are sufficiently in her confidence to suggest how easy it is to earn a few pounds by meeting a man. In the afternoon off goes the shawl and on goes the jacket, and we are off on the same quest. Thus we have always a crop of maids ripening, and at any time we can undertake to deliver a maid if we get due notice."
I ORDER FIVE VIRGINS
"Come," said I, in a vein of bravado, "what do you say to delivering me five on Saturday next?"–It was then Wednesday–"I want them to be retailed to my friends. You are the wholesale firm, could you deliver me a parcel of five maids, for me to distribute among my friends, after having them duly certificated?" "Five," she said, "is a large order, I could bring you three that I know of; but five! It is difficult getting so many girls away at the same time from their places. But we will try, although I have never before delivered more than two, or at the most three, at one place. It will look like a boarding-school going to the midwife."
"Never mind that. Let us see what you can do."
And then and there an agreement was made that it should be done. They were to deliver five at £5 a head all round, commission included. But as I was buying wholesale to sell again it was agreed that they would find the girls at a commission of 20s. a head for each certificated virgin, and deliver to me a written pledge, signed with the name and address of each girl, consenting to come at two days' notice to be seduced at any given place for a certain sum down. I had to pay the doctor's fee for examination and make an allowance for cabs, &c.
THE VIRGINS CERTIFIED
The bargain was struck, an arle-penny was paid over, and the procuresses set about preparing for the delivery of their goods the following Saturday. At half-past five o'clock, at a certain point in Marylebone-road, not far from the very fashionable brothel kept by Mrs. B––, I awaited the arrival of the convoy. A few minutes after time I saw Mesdames X. and Z. coming along the streets, but with only three girls. One was tall, pretty, and apparently about sixteen, the other two were younger–somewhat heavy in their build. Two of them were shop girls, being employed in different departments of the well-known firm of – –, the other was learning some milliner's work at another shop. The procuresses were profuse in their apologies. They had been as far as Highgate to make up the quota of the five, but two of the girls could not leave their places on Saturday. They would bring them on Monday without fail. In fact, to atone for their inability to bring five on Saturday, they would bring three on Monday, making six in all. Perhaps also it was better not to make a sensation by having seven women tripping all together into one doctor's. It was safer to have three at a time. They looked hot and tired and had already spent 6s. in cabs. The tall girl had given them a great deal of trouble, but they had got her at last. We went into the doctor's.
None of the three girls knew each other. They were not allowed to speak to each other or even to shake hands. As for knowing my name, the procuresses themselves did not know it. We went into the doctor's. The maids one by one went in to be examined. They made no objection. After their examination was done they signed a formal agreement for their subsequent seduction. To the unutterable disgust of the girls two of them were refused a certificate. The doctor could not say that they were not virgins; but neither of them was technically a virgo intacta. I then gave them 5s. per head for their trouble in coming to be certificated, paid Mesdames X. and Z. their commission on the one certificated virgin and expenses, and departed armed with the following set of documents:–
_____ _____ W.,
June 27, 1885.
This is to certify that I have this day examined –– D––, aged 16 years, and have found her a virgin.
–– ––, M.D.
I hereby agree to let you have me for a present of £3 or £4. I will come to any address if you give me two days' notice.
Name –– D ––, aged 16.
Address No. 11, –– Street, H––
Both the non-certificated signed a similar agreement, differing only in the name, age, and address. Nothing could be more simple or more businesslike than this transaction, which only differed from the regular operations carried on every day by the firm of firm of Mesdames X. and Z., because for the seduction there was substituted a doctor's examination, and the signature on a slip of paper, giving me the right to call up my virgins at two days' notice.
The doctor, I should state, was in the secret, and consented to undertake the examination solely in order to expose the system of procuration in which less unscrupulous medical men sometimes play a leading part.
The procuresses were much upset at the rejection of two-thirds of their consignment. The girls were very indignant at the reflection upon their chastity–which after all may have been entirely unfounded. But like sensible business people the firm determined to execute their order without more ado. On the following Monday the nursemaids were delivered at the doctor's. Both were virgins. I hold the following certificates and agreements:–
–– ––, W.,
June 39, 1885.
This is to certify that I have examined –– W––, aged 17 years, and –– K––, aged 17 years, and have found them both virgins.
–– ––, M.D.
I hereby agree to let you have me for £ , and will come to any address you send me at two days' notice.
Name, –– K––, aged 17.
Address, 24, R–– Street.
I hereby agree to let you have me for £ , and will come to any address you send me at two days' notice.
Name, –– + (her mark), aged 17.
Address, 318, S –– Street.
The sum for which they agreed to sell their chastity was left blank in the original. Thus in six days I had secured three certificated maids and two uncertificated. The tale was still incomplete, and although I was satisfied, the firm insisted upon holding me to my bargain. Five I had ordered and five I should have, but they must have a day or two's grace. Last Friday morning they arrived at the doctor's with no fewer than four girls–three fourteen years old, and one an under-cook of eighteen, from one of the first hotels in the West-end. They had brought four, they explained, lest any of them should fail to pass their examination. Singular to relate, all the younger children were rejected. Only the eighteen-year-old was certificated. "I never saw anything like these young things," said Miss X.; "it is always the young ones who are unable to stand the doctor's examination."
The certificated maid stood out for £5. Here is her certificate and her agreement:–
This is to certify that having examined ––– D ––– , I have found her to be a virgin. –––– ––– , M.D., &c.
I hereby agree to let you have me for £5. I will come to any address if you give me two days' notice.
Name, ––– D ––– , aged 18.
I took another agreement from one of the fourteen-year-old uncertificated children for £4, and assured the firm that I was content. They had brought me altogether nine girls in ten days from the receipt of the order, four of whom were certificated as maids and five were rejected. I have now in my possession the agreement for seduction of all the certificated maids and of three of the uncertificated, of the virginity of whom I have very little doubt. In all, I have agreements signed by seven girls varying from fourteen to eighteen years of age, who are ready to be seduced by any one when and where I please, provided only that I give two days' notice, and pay them altogether a sum not less than £24, nor more than £29. Fees, expenses, &c., incurred in procuring these girls cost, say, £10 or £15 more. Altogether I was in a position to retail virgins at £10 each, and make a handsome profit on the transaction.
DELIVERED FOR SEDUCTION
The firm of Mesdames X. and Z. had, however, no intention of allowing me to call up my virgins without their intervention. They had carefully instructed all the girls to give false addresses, in order that I might be compelled to obtain them through the firm. This was a breach of contract on the part of the firm which I had good reason to resent, especially as I only discovered it incidentally by sending a summons to call up some of the girls. The reason for this breach of faith was, they allege, that if I had communicated directly with the girls I might have alarmed their parents or employers, and that it was necessary to do it through them. The real reason was the desire of the firm to make quite sure that they received the fifty per cent, commission which they charged the unfortunate victims of their benevolent intervention. Finding that I could not help myself, I ordered the delivery of two of those whose agreements I held on Saturday night last. They only had six instead of forty-eight hours' notice, but they were punctually brought to Mdme. Tussaud's at seven o'clock. Mdmes. X. and Z. were both in attendance, and at first insisted upon accompanying their charges to the place of seduction. This, however, for obvious reasons I would not permit, but I had to pay another pound a head before I could get the girls out of their clutches. My friend drove off rapidly in a cab in an opposite direction to the house in which I awaited them, and then doubled back when the procuresses were out of sight. They stipulated, however, that they had to be returned to Mdme. Tussaud's at nine o'clock. The two virgins, both certificated, were among the older girls. One, Bessie, the cook, had been destined for Dr. ––. who takes three maids a fortnight. He was out of town, however, and she was brought on to me, to be handed over to an imaginary friend, to whom I was supposed to have resold her. She was eighteen years old. Her father was dead. Her mother was given to drink, and she was in a good situation as under-cook at a first-class hotel. She came perfectly prepared to be seduced, apparently believing it was the proper thing to do, although her ideas were somewhat hazy. I told her before I could take the responsibility of handing her over to my friend I wished to be quite sure, first, that she knew what she was going to experience, and, secondly, that she had calculated the consequences. "I suppose I must go through with it now," she said, "whatever it is." "Oh, no," I replied; "that would be the case in most places; but here you have only to say you would rather not, and you are free to go at once." In conversation I found that the idea of being seduced never occurred to her until a month or two before, when it was proposed by Miss X–– as a thing every one did, and a convenient method of raising a little ready money. At first she was indignant and somewhat frightened; but an old school friend who had gone through the ordeal assured her that it was not so very dreadful, and the procuress, to use her own phrase, "so poisoned her mind that she felt she must go through with it," and she consented. She was to have £2. 10s. as her share, the rest would go to the firm. She did not mind the pain, and she would chance the baby, for Miss X. had told her that girls never had babies the first time. She knew it was wrong, her mother would not like it, and if she had a baby she would either get it put away or she would drown herself. But, on the whole, except for one trivial detail, she thought she would prefer to be seduced. "There are very few virtuous girls about now, they say," was the remark by which she apparently soothed her conscience. But the triviality appearing to weigh with her, I sent her into another room to a lady friend, and turned my attention to the second maid, who had been waiting below.
She was a nice, simple, and affectionate girl of sixteen, very different from the other, but even more utterly incapable of understanding the consequences of her act. Her father is "afflicted"–that is, touched in his wits; her mother is a charwoman. She herself works at some kind of millinery, for which she receives 5s. a week. Until a month or two ago she had attended Sunday school, and to all appearance she was a girl decidedly above the average. She was to have £4, of which the firm were to have £2. The poor child was nervous and timid, and it was touching to see the way in which she bit her lips to restrain her tears. I talked to her as kindly as possible, and endeavoured to deter her from taking the fatal step, by setting forth the possible consequences that might follow. She was very frank and I believe perfectly straightforward and sincere. The one thing she dreaded about being seduced was having to be undressed. Poor child, it was the only thing she could realized Her lips quivered and her eyes filled with tears as she pleaded to be allowed to escape that ordeal. What being seduced meant beyond the formula that she would "lose her maid" she had not the remotest idea. When I asked her what she would do if she had a baby, she started, and then said, "But having a baby doesn't come of being seduced, does it? I had no idea of that." "Of course it does," I replied; "they ought to have told you so." "But they did not," she said; "indeed, they said babies never came from a first seduction."
Nevertheless, to my astonishment, the child persisted that she was ready to be seduced. "We are very poor," she said. "Mother does not know anything of this: she will think a lady friend of Miss Z.'s has given me the money; but she does need it so much." "But," I said, "it is only £2." "Yes," she said, "but I would not like to disappoint Miss Z., who was also to have £2." By questioning I found out that the artful procuress had for months past been actually advancing money to the poor girl and her mother when they were in distress, in order to get hold of her when the time came! She persisted that Miss Z. had been such a good friend of hers; she wanted to get her something. She would not disappoint her for anything. "How much do you think she has given you first and last?" "About 10s. I should think, but she gave mother much more." "How much more?" "Perhaps 20s. would cover it." "That is to say, that for a year past Miss Z. has been giving you a shilling here and a shilling there; and why? Listen to me. She has already got £3 from me for you, and you will give her £2– that is to say, she will make £5 out of you in return for 30s., and in the meantime she will have sold you to destruction." "Oh, but Miss Z. is so kind!" Poor, trusting little thing, what damnable art the procuress must have used to attach her victim to her in this fashion! But the girl was quite incapable of forming any calculation as to the consequences of her own action. This will appear from the following conversation. "Now," said I, "if you are seduced you will get £2 for yourself; but you will lose your maidenhood; you will do wrong, your character will be gone, and you may have a baby which it will cost all your wages to keep. Now I will give you £1 if you will not be seduced; which will you have?" "Please sir," she said, "I will be seduced." "And face the pain, and the wrong-doing, and the shame, and the possible ruin and ending your days on the streets, all for the difference of one pound?" "Yes, sir," and she burst into tears, "we are so poor." Could any proof be more conclusive as to the absolute inability of this girl of sixteen to form an estimate of the value of the only commodity with which the law considers her amply able to deal the day after she is thirteen?