Dis’ll be the end o’ me! The rain is fallin’ hard, yet I can still smell the wine through the wood o’ the barrel as I send it rollin’ down the pier to the two lads at the carriage. I gots the easy job. They gutta lift them up on the carriage, then make sure they stay secure for the trip to the West End. Poor sods. Two men had broken backs from that job; they got let off by the big wigs. I ‘spect those two are gonna be the same after a week of doin’ that.
I hear sum hollerin’. We hear the lads o’ the day shift comin’. We roll the last barrel down and make our way out, down the dock towards the gate. Then across the frog‘n’toad and make our separate ways. I ‘spect it’s not far from dawn, night is still hangin’ round but there’s sum faint glimma comin’ from the east. Wish I had meself a coat, anythin’ to keep out this cold rain!
The feelin’ of burden released from work is one that makes me soul thankful to God. It’s an emotion of his creation, trainin’ for when we part ways from dis world.
But I feels dread too. Ol’ Toby’s emotion. One to make you blind and afraid. The night still lives on, as I head back to the city o’ dreadful nightfall; ma home of Whitechapel.
Them founders gave it such a nice name! Its deceivin’, it is. There’s plenty sinister going on underneath that cloud o’ miasma. ‘Specially at night, when us boys from the dock come to spend our gold on wine, women and song. And I’m headin’ that way too. First to Ten Bells, me local pub, then hopefully I has me regular appointment with Black Mary, named for her hair.
All folks from the colonies share Whitechapel. The Gunga Dins. The Naffas. The Yiddies wit their beards and funny hats. Every time I saw Yiddies, I heard them say: “Is dis London?” Maybe to them, dis city was ‘sposed to be sumethink beautiful. What a disappointment. Centre o’ the empire? Pah!
I hears them Irish boys hollarin’ near the pub, dancing like lepricorns. The Irish sector of Whitechapel always had the rowdy alehouses. I’m a local though. Grew up in Dublin from an Irish Mudda I dun know and an English Fadda. Fadda took me when I was young back here, and he raised me with the ol’ faith in the Isle o’ Dogs. He helped built Brunel’s ship as a basher. Despite bein’ poor, he managed to get a hand on books in the shipyard main office. Special rights for those buildin’ the ship. He tawt himself and me how to read. He said that the books and papers were the future. I fell in love wit them books.
Cholera took him when I were twelve. ‘Bout then I couldn’t afford lodgins’ and the only place I coulds afford was a room on Whitechapel Main Street above a bakery, sharin’ with seven Irish fellas. Was glad I get lodgins’ on the high street. If I got a room in one o’ them cobbled side’ streets, I woulda already been done up by a sinister sort.
Especially Dorset street. The worst street in London. You dun go down there, or the ripper’ll get ya. Often they found drunkards and harlots pegged out on them side streets. Gone to the nemesis o’ neglect, they say. Lot o’ people would be.
And since then, I’s been here. Workin’ the docks. Luggin’ barrels o’ spice and wine from the colonies. Them barrels go to the bellies o’ the West End. All for the good o’ the empire, those west end upstarts would say. For them maybe. I’d neva been to the west end, but they dun know us. Their streets are probably paved wit gold! They dun know what we deal with. I’m here. Always poor. Going round and round, spendin’ ma bread’n’honey till one day, I ‘spose I’ll join them drunkards in the street, down‘n’out. Dis is me world!
Mary’ll slap me outta this. I get worked up over nothin’, she says. She lives on Dorset Street, at Millers Court; but in good, safe lodgins’. She charges tuppence for her time, but often she takes stale bread that I half-inch from the bakery.
Even afters, sometimes we’d talk. I dun know much about her, only that we are both from the ol’ faith, that she gots a gentleman, an’ she was a wig too. She told me she came to London to be a singa’ on the stage. I told her I wants to work in the papers. For them London Illustrated News, or sumfink. Papers were the future, Fadda said. Mary is a realist; she says we’ll have little chance ‘cause we’re wigs. The English dun like us. But she is one to dream. That’s when she’d sing. She often sings for me; Her emerald eyes shining in the oil light, and her voice: She is me ray o’ light in Whitechapel.
Stuff dis! Ten Bells can wait. Is only across from her lodgings. I hopes to see her tonight; if her services haven’t been taken, o’ course. She’ll put me right. Whenever I often got a bout of Todd Sloane, she’d get me back up.
I hear Big Ben off in the distance through the haze of rain; she chimes four times. I make me way into Dorset Street. I dun wanna stick round here long, I’s drenched to the bone!
I past them drunken brawlers outside Ten Bells. And the harlots. A few men give me sinister butcher’s hooks.
I go down Millers Court. Looks like there’s a light in Mary’s lodgings from her candle. She either got a client, or she’s nightcapping. Unlikely the second one.
I reach her door. The windows are bolted shut to keep out sound; them sounds can be unfavurable. But the candle light through her curtain makes me knock.
There’s a heavy iron smell hangin’ in the air. Even above the smell of rain, it’s there. Almost like the smell you get in a butcha. A lady screams “Murder!” sumwhere. I ignore it. Usually, its nothin’. Just the brawlers or a man comin’ home to his trouble ‘n strife in a pissed state. If it were two months past, I mighta been worried, but the Ripper’s been silent for a while.
Mary ain’t openin.’ I knock again. Still nothin.’
I dunno why, but sumthinks tellin’ me to snoop at the door. I put ma ear up. It’s hard to hear above the rain. But I’s listen. It’s quiet.
Then a thump comes. Like sumethink was hit. Then some iron scratches on sumfink. Sumfink soft. A hilt squeaks. Sounds like sumone’s cuttin’. Or it could be a man removin’ his belt.
Somethunk clicks, like a small razor knife. Or it could be a buckle.
The rain is too loud; I cannot hear properly.
I fink she’s busy tonight. I put me head away from the door. The one thin’ I want tonight, and I cannot have it. Suddenly, it’s not the rain that’s makin’ me cold. I shut ma eyes and let meself be soaked. God, I hate being with Todd Sloane!
I still feel that iron smell in the air. I turn tail and head back, I been outside here long enough as is. When I can’t be with me Mary; there’s only one thin’ to make that betta.
The brawl outside Ten Bells has wound up as I head in. A drunkard lies where the brawl was, his face the colour of brown bread. I heads to the bar and have ma first pint o’ ale.
I hear sum hollerin’. I thinks I only been nightcapping for an hour or so. Two o’ them Irish boys I lodge with, Jimmy and Aiden, are talkin’ loudly and causin’ an uproar. Sumfink about the nemesis o’ neglect again. Nothin’ unusual, nemesis is always round. Then I hears them say words I dread.
“The Ripper’s back. He done up another harlot,” Jimmy says.
“Where?” Aiden says.
“Dorset Street. Where else would it be?” Jimmy laughs.
I sits up from me bed. My head throbs, sweded from the hours spent at Ten Bells.
“The Ol’ Bill’s lookin’ for sumwun to identify her at Shoreditch mortuary. That’s what London Illustrated said” Jimmy says. Him and I were the only ones who could read.
“Good luck to ‘em. She’s only a whore.” Aiden scoffs.
I gets outta bed and sling on ma work vest. Please, don’t be Mary. Not me Mary.
It’s a short walk to Shoreditch. I dun remember much o’ it. I’m only thinkin’ ‘bout Mary; till I come upon the police station. I’s never been to Ol’ Bill’s home before. A mob is hollarin’ outside it as the rain keeps fallin’ down. The Ripper had worked his spell again.
I hear sum people shouting at the Yiddies in the crowd. One of them cuts up a ruckus, and a brawl breaks out. Whistles start blarin’ everywhere as the coppas swarm in to try break up the crowd. I sees an officer; lookin’ on helplessly. I goes and speaks to him, an’ tells him I finks I know the victim. He leads me into the station.
I’m waitin’ outside the mortuary. I’m just finkin’ ‘bout Mary. About the sounds I heard last night. What if that was the Ripper? I heard what he did to the other harlots. Insides were out, parts removed. I’s used to seein’ blood on the street, but nothin’ like that. Accordin’ to the coppas pictures were taken, and they normally use that to identify victims, but they aren’t here. So I has to see the body meself.
The crowd is vibratin’ the walls. I looks over at three coppas, waiting with me. One of ‘em is shakin’, the others have their heads to the groun.’ I heard em talkin’ earlier. Apparently the police station in Whitechapel got overrun by a throng. The crowd there thought Ol’ Bill had caught the Ripper. I asks the coppas if they had. They didn’t say anyfink.
I hope it isn’t me Mary. Not her. She wanted to be a singa. Dis can’t happen to her. Me head goes to ma hands. Whistles blare through the wall. Cor! That brawl be kickin’ on outside.
Is this me world forever?! Living under nemesis o’ neglect forever, waitin’ till it takes away what matters to you most.
Stop it! Mary’ll snap me out of—
I knows what she’d say. She’d say we gots jobs, we got livin.’ We gotta make the most of what we got. That’s all we do for the future.
What future?! I’s poor! That’s all the world sees us as! Poor! Pathetic! Harlots! Drunks! Murderers! Winks! Dis is me world! Whitechapel is one God awful shitty shambles. Why does God put me ‘ere?!
I know what Mary would say.
“We must appreciate what we got, Conall. Them west enders may fink we’re nothing. We are more than what they say we are” she says.
That’s the power o’ God. She truly is an angel. I know I’ll appreciates her more when I sees her next.
The door opens and the coppas lead me in. The victim lies on a slab, small doors from floor to roof surroundin’ us. There’s a heavy iron smell hangin’ ‘n the air. Almost like the smell you get in a butcha. The surgeon looks at me and warns of what I am to see.
I’s ready. I nod. He removes the blanket.
I’s never see a sight like this. I look past her exposed bones; past her sliced neck. Her head stares out to the left at me. I can’t see her chin, her mouth, is just bits. I can’t see her nose, is just bone. Her black hair streams out behind her. But I sees her eyes. Her beautiful, cold, emerald eyes.