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Chapter One

From my single room flat in the Belgrave Mansions, located between Buckingham Palace and Victoria Station, I strode confidently down Victoria Street toward the Thames River. Normally a single female would never have such an ostentatious residence, but these were modern times and the influence of Queen Victoria upon the male perception of what a woman could do was changing rapidly. Besides, my father had substantial influence himself. In 1829 the Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel created the first London Metropolitan Police Service and its members became known by his nickname – ‘bobbies’. The responsibility for this force fell to my father, Colonel Charles Rowan, earning him considerable respect among nobles and gentry alike. In my adolescence I learned that the mere mention of his name would turn most any adult’s favor toward my inclinations.

Approaching the Thames, I rounded the corner with an air of confidence uncharacteristic of almost any woman on the streets alone. Around me along the street were only men, wearing worn and dirty work clothes. Despite my rather drab brown skirt and high-collared shirt, I was the focus of nearly every man. Assaults were now less common along this stretch of the waterfront, however these men could not be counted upon to act as gentlemen. While it was unlikely that these rampsmen would assault me with their sticks, a pickpocket would consider me an easy mark as none of these men would come to my aid. Doubtless my confidence grew in part from the safety afforded by the Derringer pistol that I carried in my bag. I shifted my bag to feel the pistol’s comforting weight and to make it more accessible to my right hand. Thus, the attentions of these ruffians were no concern to me as I turned my back to them and resumed my travels north along the avenue known as Whitehall.

Somewhere along this street the Palace of Whitehall once stood, providing the street with its namesake. My boots were walking over the very grounds where kings trod and jousted, and Anne Boleyn was queen. However as the palace was destroyed by fire in 1698 these notions did not concern my thoughts on this day. On this day, one hundred and fifty-four years later, the street was lined with modern houses built upon those palatial foundations of ancient times.

Quickly the character of the populous changed. Though I was still the only female walking along the street, and I was walking unescorted, these men were indeed gentlemen, each wearing dark coats over grey trousers and top hats that they would tip to my favor as I passed. Whitehall had become synonymous with the idea of government because most of the houses along the street were now seats of individual government ministries. By way of example, this summer day in 1852 it was the central office of London Detectives at Number Four Whitehall Place that drew my attention. The purpose of the bobbies was to prevent the occurrence of crimes and in 1842 my father began hiring consulting detectives to operate as plainclothesmen to investigate crimes after their commission. Charles Field was the first chief of detectives and upon his retirement a few months ago, my father’s longtime friend Captain William Stuart took up the post. This inauspicious building provides both the residence and the office for Captain Stuart, the Chief of London Detectives.  

Public entrance to the house was from its backside. During medieval times that land along the bank of the Thames had been used by Scottish royalty when in attendance for the London royal court hence the street was known at this time as Great Scotland Yard and this building housing the Chief of London Detectives quickly acquired the moniker ‘Scotland Yard’ among the city’s population.

My admittance through the private entrance for those employed by the ministry was immediately granted following my customary knock. The silver-haired doorman recognized me with a polite greeting, “Mrs. Rowan.” And without my affording a word toward him, he took my hat and kidskin gloves – I did not carry a parasol – and ushered me into a small sitting room.

Before my pacing could begin, a slender man of mild demure and fifteen years more in age than I entered the room and politely bowed. His intense eyes scanned me from head to toe and, as always, his gaze affected a quiver through my belly as though a tickling apparition had entered the room and found its way under my skirt. I offered him a polite curtsy. Taking my hand he presented me to a chair and bade me to sit with a swish of his other hand. Adjusting his monocle he studied my presentation yet a second time. This widely respected man’s deception was well known to me. Quick as a fox and strong as an ox, this man was not the mild gentleman as he presented himself. The only thing sharper than his eyes was his wit. The only thing stronger than his grip was – well there was nothing that could assume to be comparable. Captain Stuart took my small hand into his and greeted me, but not with the bone crushing grip that he might employ to intimidate male subordinates. I, being his one female employee, he did attach some restraint to his greeting.

“Sit down, Miss Rowan,” he directed as though his clues of a moment earlier had been insufficient for me to discern his purpose. Everyone else in the ministry referred to me as Mrs. Rowan not because they thought I was married, but rather they used the ‘missus’ title as a symbol of respect. However, Captain Stuart always called me Miss Rowan when addressing me on professional matters or simply Margaret when advising me on personal matters. While my professional connection with the captain had been of a short duration, my knowledge of him spanned my entire life for he had been a personal assistant to my father. Having never known my mother as she passed when I was born within this very house, this man, who himself had never sought a wife, conspired with my father to raise me into the keenly observant detective that I am today. Following the death of my father early this year, I had been left with no living relatives closer than a third cousin and this man had guided me in the disposition of the family affairs having taken upon himself – my complaints as an adult notwithstanding – the role of my guardian. Captain Stuart was my best friend and, in effect, my only relative.

I sat as directed and observed the gleam in his eye that always followed my instant obedience. Being of a youthful twenty-six years, I had been in the employ as a female detective for only three years and I ever strove to preserve the commendation of this superior man. I conducted my business affairs from my personal living space, as did all the consulting detectives. My pay was a stipend dispensed by the captain in return for my efforts to capture the criminals that haunted the law-abiding citizens of the city. Therefore, I only attended the captain in his office when receiving assignments and dispensing my reports. However, he frequently escorted me to the theater and other social gatherings, as I had no suitors.

I patiently waited to be instructed as to the purpose for which I had been summoned. The air between us remained tense as our last meeting had ended on a rude note and that bad air had yet to be cleared.

“There is a serious matter before us,” he began without further delay. “I have determined that this case will be best entrusted to your reasoning. While I do not intend to demean your achievements, I must say that this case requires a woman’s touch and, although there is no other woman available for the task, I still conclude that there could be no woman more competent.”

“I am always pleased to be in your service and do appreciate your approval. However, any guidance you care to present will receive my utmost attention.” Most of my cases involved working with other detectives when the need to approach women privately was required. For my last case I had been a solo detective and, while I had been pleased with its outcome, Captain Stuart had not.

“Of course,” he chuckled, “I will present all I know and much of what I suspect without concern that you might take any offense at my statements. Yet, little is suspected and even less is known in this case. I will be depending on your common sense and acute reasoning abilities to bring this criminal to justice.”

The subtle meaning behind this collection of precisely chosen words was that each of us was in effect apologizing to the other for what had been an embarrassing argument following my last assignment. The superior captain had vigorously chastised my actions, though their effect had been the successful capture of a jewel thief. However, the captain considered that I had negligently exposed myself to potential physical harm. ‘Miss Rowan,’ he had begun his argument, ‘you are lacking discipline in your decisions. You do not think before you act, specifically with regard to your personal safety. There is no motive for you to personally apprehend potentially dangerous criminals.’ By way of my reply I curtly said, ‘Sir, you are not my father and you cannot reprimand me concerning my personal choices. You are my employer, yet have no say concerning the manner I chose to complete my assignments.’ He continued his argument making his attack more personal, ‘Indeed, Margaret, I am most certainly not your father, but rather one who cares deeply for your well being. Your father had been much too gentle with your upbringing and now I fear you will suffer from his lack of teaching you with proper discipline.’ He then used a few loud, rude words to pronounce me – in effect – a brat. The conversation had concluded with my rapid departure from the building. Now, his words ‘common sense and acute reasoning abilities’ were a clear statement that he required only my intellect on this assignment and not my bravado.

Fortunately, he had not observed that I had chosen to walk through the waterfront, as this would clearly have raised his ire once again. I did resolve to respect his concern and hire a cab for my return trip.

“And what is the crime at hand?” I asked. With cooler heads we had apologized and placed the unfortunate conversation into the past and I now wished to move forward to the new assignment.

“A delicate issue concerning the Dowager Countess Barnet. I presume you are acquainted with her in name, yet hopefully not in person.”

“Isn’t she the lady who throws those dazzling parties for the London elite and spends what must be an immense fortune on diamonds and jewels? But, in full answer to your inquiry, I have not had the pleasure of her invitation and thus have not in person met the Lady Ann Barnet.”

“The very woman,” the captain asserted. “And it is the issue of her wealth that is of interest. Upon the death of her husband, Earl Randal Barnet, the bulk of his estate and title passed to his eldest son from his first wife. The new Earl Barnet quickly surmised that the estate was predominately non-income producing property with virtually no cash. Apparently the previous earl died insolvent. The dowager countess, being the earl’s second wife and having no children of her own, was afforded only the house in London and a small stipend. However, as you have observed, money flows through her fingers as though it were sand.

“Conjecture establishes that she is employed in an unlawful endeavor. The new Earl Barnet has concluded that the Lady Ann Barnet stole away the family’s fortune before her husband’s death. However, we have been unable to identify any banker holding her deposits. Thus, you are commissioned to determine the means and location of her wealth.” He observed my composure as I assimilated this information and then he repeated, “The purpose for which I am employing you is to discover the manner in which Lady Barnet obtains her lavish funds.” Again, these carefully chosen words were to clearly specify that I was to observe and report only. I was not to attempt to apprehend the woman. We continued to discuss the particulars for half an hour.

“I shall begin at once and promise to bring you details of my discoveries in short order,” I established my purpose with conviction as our conversation reached its conclusion.

“Haste is unnecessary, but do find the means to advise me of your progress from time to time.”

With that the captain dismissed me to contemplate the order of my investigation. The following summary of my investigation formed the basis of my final report to Captain Stuart. I removed the references to my frequent bare bottom spankings at the hands of Mrs. Davenport and Sir Anthony from the final draft of my report to the captain, although I have included them in this draft of the report.

 


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