“Can I speak to you, m’am?”
“What is it?”
“You have just left 9 Durley Road?”
“I’m a detective officer. I’m engaged in watching the house. Have you any complaint to make?”
“I don’t wish to, thank you.”
“We know all sorts of things go on, but it’s difficult to get evidence.”
“I don’t care to give you any because—because—”
“I understand, ma’m,” said the man kindly. “I know what trouble is.”
Mavis was feeling so physically and mentally low with all she had gone through, that the man’s kindly words made the tears course down her cheeks.
She wiped them away, resettled the baby in her arms, and walked sorrowfully up the road, followed by the sympathetic glance of the plain-clothes detective.
Mavis found a resting-place for her tired body in the unattractive district of Pimlico, which is the last halting-place of so many of London’s young women before the road to perdition is irretrievably taken. Mavis had purposed going to Hammersmith, but the fates which decide these matters had other views. On the tedious underground journey from New Cross, she felt so unwell that she got out at Victoria to seek refuge in the ladies’ cloak room. The woman in charge, who was old, wizened, and despondent, gave Mavis some water and held her baby the while she lamented her misfortunes: these were embodied in the fact that “yesterday there had only been three ‘washies’ and one torn dress”; also, that “in the whole of the last month there had been but three ‘faints’ and six ladies the worse for drink.” Acting on the cloak-room attendant’s advice, Mavis sought harbourage in one of the seemingly countless houses which, in Pimlico, are devoted to the letting of rooms. But Mavis was burdened with a baby; moreover, she could pay so little that no one wished to accommodate her. Directly she stated her simple wants, together with the sum that she could afford to pay, she was, in most cases, bundled into the street with scant consideration for her feelings. After two hours’ fruitless search, she found refuge in a tiny milk-shop in a turning off the Vauxhall Bridge Road, where she bought herself a scone and a glass of milk; she also took advantage of the shop’s seclusion to give her baby much-needed nourishment. Ultimately, she got a room in a straight street, flanked by stucco-faced high houses, which ran out of Lupus Street. Halverton Street has an atmosphere of its own; it suggests shabby vice, unclean living, as if its inhabitants’ lives were mysterious, furtive deviations from the normal. Mavis, for all her weariness, was not insensible to the suggestions that Halverton Street offered; but it was a hot July day; she had not properly recovered from her confinement; she felt that if she did not soon sit down she would drop in the street.