11 February 2010

the evening before

August cooked the East End streets at mid day bringing labourers and market traders to the alehouses for refreshment. A different clientele emerged from the shadows as the late summer evenings shortened and an ominous coolness descended. Tall hats, sailors' caps and high collars, grubby aprons and furtive glances lent Whitechapel a dramatic air. Those who made their living preying on the lost and the lonely flowed in and out of public houses, loitered in archways and slipped barely noticed through lodging house doorways.

In the George the Fourth a tall woman stood over an empty gin glass, sliding two bright pennies on the wet bar. She didn't have the price of a bed tonight and she was still sober. The door swung and a crippled woman lurched in, trailing her club foot. She squinted around in the lamplight then banged out into the gloom. Almost immediately three men crashed in shouting and barging each other with the earnest voices of the drunk.

Liz Stride hawked and spat on the floor. She stowed the coppers in her pocket and pulled her cardigan over her thin shoulders. One of the drunks swayed at her as she passed and she side-stepped him but he turned and grabbed her hand, grunting and leering at her through slit red eyes. His friends slammed their mugs on the bar and crowded round, jeering and mocking. Liz Stride was in trouble.

The door opened slowly and a low voice snarled, “Leave her alone.”

Liz turned to see a tall figure blocking the doorway. In a second he was right beside her pushing the drunk roughly into his mates. The whole trio lost balance, sprawling in the sawdust. She locked onto the stranger’s arm and steered him out onto the street. This life was a game she played by instinct.


C.J.Duffy said...

I have no idea where you are going with this either but I am enjoying the ride where everit takes me.

Little M said...

You have genuine affection for this era don't you? You and your coins and your stamps and your stories.

I like it.

And I like to see you writing again!

Perfect Virgo said...

CJ - thanks for tagging along, I think you'll enjoy it. On the Ripper front, many indisputable facts and events are known. But for all the press reports, coroner's reports and witness statements we know little or nothing about the killer.

I am trying to fill in the gaping void with some speculative thoughts. I envisage a dozen of these vignettes, perhaps acting as a kind of movie trailer - little snippets of action to whet the appetite.

Little M - I love the period. I am amazed that people actually managed to thrive under such harsh conditions: no advanced technology, no electricity, no central heating, a primitive police force, horse and cart transport... I think the people who lived and bred through this era and earlier were more "real" than today.

With hundreds of London ancestors in my Genealogy files I have a personal interest in the social history of Victorian London as it fleshes out the bare bones of my research. As you know, I have several coins in my collection dated 1888. They would have been newly minted at the time of the Whitechapel murders and I love to imagine whose pockets they may have been in!

C.J.Duffy said...

The odd thing that I find of personal interest is that my paternal grandfather and his wife were both born in 1878. He in Bow and she in Poplar. Now Bow was the East End even then but Poplar wasn't, it was Middlesex!. But all that to one side, by 1888 Granddad would have been a ten year old lad living very near to where those awful murders were committed. He was a nice, gentle man (Granddad not Jack) and one who would have grown up with coal fires and coaches, gas light and bathing once a week. Within such a short time, less than one hundred years, seventy six to be precise, the world had moved on. Moved on that is except for man's arcane ability to brutalise his fellow man. That has remained constant. The only connection between that time and mine was my parents generation and they too seem a million miles away from those Victotian’s.

C.J.Duffy said...