Thursday, May 2, 2024

Back to Hell

 ‘Back to Hell’    

~ It is my wish, my literary friends, to finally bring to completion a mystery that has fascinated, beguiled and mystified mankind around the globe for well over a century. Is the following tale true? It is but a figment of this author’s wild imagination, but, know that the origins of this story are found in history. Also a story is never satisfying, never really finished without an ending. So I have given you what history has so cruelly withheld and I hope that you enjoy pondering the possibilities.  Faith McCann

Chapter 1 Whitechapel – East End of London 

November 1st, 1888

The bitter winds, whipping the thin colorless scarves from around her head and arms, creeping in, chilling her skin to the very bone. She tightened her grip on the sack of meager items and hurried her steps bringing her to the alleyway. ‘Ha’, Mary thought, her thoughts more bitter than the wind. ‘Angel Alley! What a name for such a pitiful, unholy place. If God himself only knew. He probably did, an’ it’s why he had turned his back on them, all of them in the East End.’

She breathed a sigh of relief, as she turned into the darkened alley, grateful to be out of the direct wind. Even though it was but in the cruel shelter of the harsh alleyway. She slapped her hand against the rough wooden door as she walked past it. Bam! Bam! Bam!!! She continued past, and kicked aside a crude stack of rough lumber, seemingly thrown against the wall, as if forgotten and unwanted. It was a ruse. Underneath was a small cast iron cauldron. She pulled it out and set it up with a few sticks underneath, setting it up for a fire. She kept it away from the wooden walls of the building, and was thankful no windows looked out into the alleyway.

She looked up as she heard the wooden door creak open. The sight of her children made her smile and she held out her arms. They peeked around the door and seeing no one else, came running out to her. Everything about the woman appeared colorless. Her dress, her cloak, her hair, all but her eyes. They sparkled a golden green with flecks of amber and they lit up her face as she looked at her children and smiled.

After a quick hug, she asked “Jennie, do you have the matches?” her oldest daughter, long, light brown hair, her frame thin to the point of worry for any mother, nodded and handed Mary a packet she had secreted inside her dress.

There was a sharp strike, spark and flare of bright white light, and soon a small yet decent fire was burning cheerily under the heavy, squat cauldron. The small family worked silently and quickly to prepare for their evening meal. 

The two thin boys, one taller and obviously older than the other, had worked to screen off the bright flames from anyone who might peer down the alleyway, with flat pieces of old discarded ship’s planks they had found just a couple of streets over. All that was visible, should anyone glance down the alleyway as they passed by on the street, was a dull orange glow against the rough darkened wooden walls of the building they lived in. 

As long as one couldn’t see the flames, the smoke would not give them away.  London was known for it’s thick continuous bank of wood and coal smoke, especially the East End

The need to be invisible was paramount at night as the streets of London’s East End were dangerous even to those who lived there. But most especially during these last few months. As a mother, Mary was more stressed as all the mothers and women in Whitechapel were. A right scoundrel was afoot on the streets of Whitechapel and the surrounding streets and had been since early August of this year. Murdering women right out on the streets! 

She shook her head silently and settled herself in front of the cauldron, the building's wooden wall at her back. From the stories she heard, the sun would set and by sunrise one never would know if another poor soul would be found dead. Only last time, it was two, God in Heaven, two women found dead on the same morning! So far it had only been poor women, who walked the streets at night, too poor for any other type of life.  Mary didn’t care as far as she was concerned; anyone in Whitechapel was at risk, and none deserved such treatment. 

Mary reached down and opened her sack. As she and her three children, Jennie age 12, Davie age 10 and Patrick, they called him Lil’ Pip age 6 sat around the fire, she placed in the pot a small bottle of fresh water. She took another bottle of water which she used to pour over her hands, sparingly and she took a clean cloth and dried her hands. Jennie took the bottle and cloth and did the same for herself and her younger brothers. Mary realized anyone she knew would consider her practice of washing her hands and her children's before they ate would be wasteful and foolish, but she had done this since she had been taught as a small child. She did not know if it had religious, superstitious or practical purposes but it gave her a sense of ‘putting things right’. 

Into the water she placed a small cabbage. She was especially glad to have been able to acquire that. Then she put in three small parsnips, some chives she had seen growing along the roadway that she was lucky enough to pick with no one giving her a hard time of it. Then she took out a few small potatoes, just about one for each of them, and unwrapped a paper sack with fresh eel in it. She dropped everything into the soup. She knew she had to get some nourishment into her children’s bellies.

The children started to chatter quietly, but excitedly when they saw the fresh eel. It was not often they had any protein at all. Mary smiled, thinking of the extra sewing she had brought home, tucked into her skirts, to do for Lady Sherbrooke while the children slept at night. Her employer liked her tiny, perfect stitches so she gave her an extra coin for her labors. That’s how she was able to buy the eel for dinner tonight. She also had left over for the rent for the stairs. She sighed as she thought of their living situation, but at least they had a roof over their heads.

Jennie had opened the family sack she carried with her always. It contained their few belongings, and she took out the small cups they each ate out of. There was one bent pewter spoon. And a couple of wooden spoons Davie had carved out of wood and a short, blunt pewter knife Mary used to spear her food. She then supped the liquid from the rim of the cup. It was a crude manner of dining to be sure, but they didn’t need to eat with their hands, and she was grateful for that. They each sat on the ground, around their warm little cauldron, feeling in a small way as if the cruel mean world was far away from them and none could get into their special sphere. 

Soon the smells of the cooking food filled the air and their stomachs rumbled with hunger. Mary tasted the broth and sighed, wishing she had some spices, or seasoning. Even a touch of salt. She would ask cook if she could have a few pinches when she went to work tomorrow. Cook seemed to take kindly to her.

Mary watched with a smile as she saw each child eat their supper, slowly savoring each spoonful. Slowly chewing, closing eyes and allowing the taste to fill their mouths, and then they swallowed. They allowed warm food to fill their bodies, fill their spirits. In the meanest of times, having another to hold onto, and warm food can make one believe in hope. Mary smiled, it wasn't much they had, indeed they had less than most but she was keeping her small brood together, after . . . the tragedy that took their father.

She felt a creeping along the back of her neck which quickly took her thoughts away from unpleasant memories and she glanced up and looked towards the end of the alleyway. She saw a lone figure, which wasn't so odd. Many people would come to a slight halt and peer down the alleyway but after a moment would continue on their way. This one though, a black silhouette of a man, simply standing there. As still as a statue. Mary didn't say anything to the children, but she squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again and still he stood there. Not moving.

He stood holding a long walking stick with a blood red crystal knob as the top. He wasn’t holding it as one normally would hold a walking stick, at the top while the bottom rested on the ground while it assisted one in walking. Instead he grasped it along its shaft, so she could see the bright flash of the deep red ruby in the gaslight. He was holding it as one would a club, perpendicular at an angle upright to the ground, as if he had just struck something. 

While his tall top hat gave him unnatural height, he was of medium height. His cape fluttered around him making him look thin one moment and billowed out to make him look portly the next. The gas lamp shone off his polished boots but somehow only succeeded in casting all of his features into the deepest of shadows. He never moved, not a twitch. He simply stood there and stared down the alleyway. Mary couldn’t see his eyes, and while she knew they all were almost completely hidden by the screen the boys had constructed, she felt like she was caught in the stare of a deadly cobra. Unable to move, to breathe.  .  .  The coldest chill ran through her body and she felt a fear unlike any she had encountered before.

Mary said quietly “Children, it’s time to clean up and go inside to bed now. Finish up the last of the soup. I’ve saved away bread to break our morning fast. She smiled down at them, thinking she would harm herself before she would bring fear to her children. They had enough hardships in this life already at their young ages.

They scooped the last of the fish soup out of the cups and Mary helped Jennie wipe the cauldron out with sand. They turned it over the fire and placed it on top of the coals to allow them to burn out while cleaning  the inside of the pot. They stomped on the fire, after kicking it thin.

When Mary looked up again the man in silhouette had gone. He was nowhere to be seen. She still didn’t feel safe until they had finished putting things aright outside and opened the door to their building and went inside. 

On the landing and staircase between floors three and four the small family worked with military precision as each took the sack and took out a cloth for themselves and laid it down, passed the sack to the next. Mary gave the flat surfaces of the landing to her children where they could squeeze up against the wall and sleep with less fear of being stepped on by the residents who had rooms. She sat up on the top step next to the landing and with her back against the wall, her legs on the step below, to give clearance, slept sitting up. Before bed each night she and the children said their prayers.

“Why do we give thanks mum?” Lil’ Pip asked.

“Because God gives us all we have. And we are grateful.” Mary replied.

Jenny and Davie exchanged glances and with frowns looked down.

“We don’t have very much.” Lil Pip replied.

“We have much more than many people do, right now, tonight. We had a good meal, it was warm and filling. We will sleep tonight without pains in our bellies from hunger. It is getting very cold outside. We will sleep inside tonight and not outside in the cold, or worse in the dangerous poorhouses. I have a good job with Lady Sherbrooke, and Cook in the kitchen is kind and gives us bread and root vegetables for our dinner. We each are healthy and we have each other. My goodness! What more could we want!?”

“What more could we want!?” Lil’ Pip parroted!

"A room of our own? And no longer sleep on dirty stairs?" Jennie said aloud and then closed her lips tight and thin as if shocked she had said the words that she had been thinking.

Mary could feel the pain deep inside her stomach, the ball of ice she felt every time she felt as if she had let her children down. As if she didn't give them everything. "I know. One day, we won't be living on the stairs. I promise." She smiled and prayed a silent prayer that she would never have to break that promise.

They were all falling asleep, the gas lamps were sputtering low and Jennie  asked “Mum, how will we get off the stairs now that da is no longer here?”

“Ah Jennie, this is temporary."

"Was tempowary?" Lil Pip asked with heavy sleep in his voice.

"Just for a little bit. I ask God every day to send an angel to us, to guide us. To help us find a way for a better life for all of us. He will. We must be patient and in the meantime do everything we can do to make our way. God gave us breath and life, ability and intelligence. Perhaps, just perhaps,  one of us is our angel, and if so, we will save ourselves! Now sleep my sweetings. Tomorrow is another day, and anything is possible."

"Is possible, . . . posssible." Pip muttered before falling off to sleep.


Chapter 2

Mary had fitfully fallen asleep when an upstairs tenant lumbered up the stairs stumbling as his heavy feet caught on the stairs. He kicked her hard and she winced awake. She quickly came fully awake and threw herself against her children with her entire body, to shield them as the great oaf glared down at her. Spittle glistening on his ugly, thin cruel lips and gray stubble bearded chin. He reeked of cheap gin and stale grease from leftover food which stained his clothes. She glared back and actually hissed, like a cat!  She felt a stabbing of shock run through her! Did she actually just hiss at him? Her anger at the potential threat to her children made it easy to push the hilarity of the situation away. 

The tenant jumped back and his face grew white and he made a rude gesture she could only think was meant to be a cross over his chest. Already on the ground, she started to crawl on her hands and knees slowly towards him. Why not she thought, the low gas lighting made for a ghostly scene, and she always fancied theater. She let out a low growl, deep in her throat. 

The drunkard tenant yelped, a high pitched, scared whimper and he scampered away so fast he slammed into the wall before turning and running up the stairs to his floor with the speed of an athlete. Mary stayed in her crouch on the floor of the landing, her entire body poised and ready, waiting.  .  .  while she heard running footsteps fading down the corridor above. . . slam! He had obviously made it through his apartment door. 

She sank back down against the wall and sat down next to Jennie and sighed, enormously relieved, then she realized she had a rapt audience! All three children were wide awake and were looking at her wide eyed and mouths agape! 

“Oh goodness, children, it’s alright. Back to bed.” After assuring no one was around they all had a good laugh and after promising they could talk more about it in the morning she got the children back to bed. She finally heard them sleeping, breathing deeply. She lay awake thinking of how many ways, means and methods a woman, especially a single woman with children, needed to employ in these dark days to not merely live day to day, but to stay alive. She knew few could understand how she, with her entire family living on the stairs, all of their belongings in a sack, could feel blessed. But she knew women who had to sell their bodies for the doss to sleep in a room for a night. Most were in such pain, in such suffering they spent any coin they made on drink. 

If any were brave enough to go into a workhouse, few came out again. Poorhouses were even more dangerous, more vile, more deadly. They separated the mothers and children, she couldn't bear the thought of that. Many children died, in horrific conditions and dangerous work environments.

When she had first come to London, they had been so fortunate. She and her husband had come from Ireland at the end of the famine to seek out a better life. He had a good job in a factory. They had a small rent, a small place with two rooms and a small plot of land outside for a garden for herbs and turnips and cabbage.

He was gone now. She could still see the black, greasy smoke and the orange flames higher than the other buildings, but no! STOP! She firmly told herself, she could not think about that, or else she would become numb with grief. She often marveled how heavy grief somehow robbed a body of it's ability to breath. She had trouble getting back to sleep. Though she knew the Missus expected her shortly after daybreak. 

The next morning Mary awoke after a couple of hours of sleep. She went quietly down the stairs and got the old bucket they had hidden away behind the pile of rubble with the cauldron. She used it for her morning needs and using a bottle of river water, washed her hands, while grimacing. She saved some water for the children, then went to wake them. Mary had put aside some bread the cook had kindly given her last night before she left for home. She said a silent prayer. If it weren’t for the kindness from people like Cook her children would have starved long ago. 

While she conducted her morning prayers she took a moment to pray extra hard for help. She asked for some relief from the misery she now found surrounding her and her children. She truly believed something would come to help her. She only needed to be ready when it did. She could not shirk nor turn away when it did. She had to be strong. With a new determination she gave the last of the bread to the children. And brushed the crumbs off of her hands. 

“Mum, you didn’t eat any!” Jennie sounded concerned. 

“Don’ ye worry, luvs’!” Mary drew them all close for a tight hug. “I’m fine, not hungry at all! I can still feel full with that eel last night, if I think hard about it. I am sure I can talk the cook into giving me some scraps today, she likes me. Now, let me go. I have to get to work, afore the Missus gets in a twaddle.” 

Pip giggled “Bye mum, bye, bye!” 

“Watch the boys Jennie. There’s been bad men around here, you hear me? Do not let them outta yer sight.”

Mary grabbed them close, and got down on her knees, and looked them in the eyes. She was serious and they became serious also. 

“Boys, please listen to me. All three of you, Jennie. I want you all three to stay together, wherever you go, do you understand? There’s strength in numbers. If anyone tries to grab ye, ye scream, as loud and as long as ye can! You tell anyone who will listen yer mum works for Lord and Lady Sherbrooke, say Lord and Lady. They’ll let you go, fast enough. Then run like the wind to where I work, okay? If I’m not there, ye hide in the back gardens amongst the bushes, be sure no one sees ye’ and I’ll be right back to fetch ye.” 

“I promise mum, promise.” Jennie's eyes grew big and she looked at Davie, he looked at Mary and nodded seriously. He knew he was the man of the house. He would take care of his siblings.

“Mum, is something wrong? Are we in trouble?” Davie asked. He was only ten years old but already a wise, serious soul. She sighed deep inside, sad at the knowing that children in the East End grew up far too fast. 

“Nah, Davie” she stroked his cheek. “ye are never in trouble, there’s been more crime about in these parts, but only after dark. Best that you keep a lookout all around ye’. I can’t be with ye during the day. Yer’re the man, ye’ help your sister keep all safe. Yea?”  

She looked down at Lil Pip, “and you too Pip, ye’ help keep your brother and sister safe for me, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am!” he said with his thin chest puffed out with pride. 

“I’ll be home by dark, or shortly thereafter. Be indoors, on the stairs, when the sun sets. Don’t get in anyone's way. Be good.” She left them and taking the bucket they had all utilized walked to the streets and tossed it’s contents into the gutter. They had all heard the rules many times before but there was a bit more urgency in their mother’s tone. The children looked at each other seriously and nodded their heads. 

She walked the bucket back and hid it under the rubble pile. As she was exiting the alleyway to head to work she encountered her landlord. 

“Aye! You there! Where’s my doss? For last night?” Mr. Pickering came hobbling up, one arm wrapped around an old wooden crutch. His bad, right leg cut off shortly under his knee. He was sweating with the exertion and came to stop in front of her. His fetid breath stunk of rum, tobacco, and rotten teeth yet to be extracted by the barber. 

“Good Morning Mr. Pickering, Sir” She put her hand in the pocket of her skirts and felt for her last coin. But it was a gold coin and she knew she could pay for a week's rent with it. She had been expecting to meet up with him.

“I have an entire week's rent Mr. Pickering.” She said the words and waited. For his reaction. She had been cheated by this scoundrel before. Having once before handed over a gold coin, he had pocketed it so fast by the time she mentioned it was a gold coin he insisted it was a mere six pence and pulled out of his pocket an assortment of coins and there was no way to prove her coin was hers. A dirty trick indeed. So, having learned what an unscrupulous gutter rat he was, she wasn’t about to take any chances. 

“Well! What are yer waiting for girl? Where’s my rent?” he snapped at her with his hand out, waiting impatiently. 

“Did ye hear me, Mr. Pickering?” She raised her voice. As if he were hard of hearing. “I have a whole week's rent for ye’. A gold coin, I do.”

She slowly took the coin out of her pocket and as she did she took a step backwards. She held it up and out of his reach. It glittered in the dim morning sunlight peeking through the fog which was just starting to burn away.  

He sputtered as he needed to shift his weight with his old heavy crutch to try to get closer to her, “Give me the rent girl, are ye slow?” 

“I need you to say it, Mr. Pickering. Especially after ye’ cheated me out of the last gold coin I paid ye. This is no sixpence and ye need to say it! A whole week's rent. From today till next week, this time tomorrow.”

“What?! NO! Tomorrow? No, no, no! Next week, this time today!” he stated with emphasis! 

“Mr. Pickering how many days in a week, Sir?” She asked calmly and quietly, like a school teacher asking a student. 

“Seven, everyone knows that!” “Harumph!” he scowled

“Yes! Very good, Mr. Pickering! Seven is indeed correct. So if you count seven days from tomorrow, we come to next week tomorrow. You are exactly right Mr. Pickering. You have always been a very smart man. I tell my children all the time. Grow up to be like Mr. Pickering, he is a very smart man, indeed.” 

“Well, you do? That’s very kind of you.” he stammered and turned red. He smiled and looked a bit embarrassed at the pretty woman, aged years before her time standing before him. Most people didn’t spare him a glance let alone a smile. 

“Yes, I see that’s a gold coin. Yes, Indeed a week, from tomorrow. Thank you. Thank ye indeed. Well done, well done. Smart indeed. I didn’t even go to school, no me father put me in the landlord business, ye see.” 

She placed the coin in his greasy gloved hand, smiled and said “Have a good day, Sir. I thank ye’ for your kindness.” She turned on her heel and walked sharply away. She remembered to keep her spine straight and not turn back to look, not even a little bit. Keep looking forward Mary, always forward. Never back. She knew she had tricked him into eight days, rather than seven but he was a deceitful man and she had at least that much credit coming to her. 

Chapter 3 

November 8th, 1888

The days were getting colder and colder, as winter grew closer and closer. Mary was up and out early this day and she had an excited kick to her step. She was just barely a street away from her own, heading towards London to work at her employers, the Lord and Lady Sherbrooke when she saw a dear friend, Mary Jane Kelly. Mary Jane was another Irish girl like herself. They had met one day at the fruit stand and hearing the same lilt to each other’s voices recognized a countrywoman and had become fast friends. 

“Mary Jane! Mary Jane! Oh, how have you been?” The two women embraced and Mary noticed her friend shivering in a thin dress and no shawl. 

“Oh my dear friend, you are cold in this mean weather. Come, out of the wind, I have grand news for us both!” They both moved to stand out of the direct wind and huddled against a corner that jutted out providing some shelter and a bit of privacy for their chat. 

“Here Mary Jane, take my shawl.” Quickly Mary took her shawl off and swung it around her friends shoulders, and she could see the relief as the warm cloth enveloped her. 

“No, no Mary! You need this every bit as much as I do! Your freezing doesn’t make much sense, now dun it?” Mary Jane tried to remove the shawl but Mary’s hand stayed hers. 

“Wait! Let me tell you my news! The Missus, Lady Sherbrooke has told me that today I am to take a great load of old clothes to the ragman and get rid of them. She has tasked me with taking three or four great sacks of all sorts of unwanted dresses, shawls, cloaks and other material she has no need of! Isn’t this grand news! She is just throwing them away." 

“Did ye ask ‘er for em’?” 

 “Na, the likes of the rich, don’t even think of our kind. No matter, it ain’t like I’m stealin’. So, ye and I will be dressed warm this winter to be sure. My children also! I only need a needle and I can make as many pieces of clothing as we need. Oh, goodness, I’ll be late, but I will come looking for ye tonight with some nice warm pieces. A cloak ye need, heavy for winter, with a fancy bonnet! And some new dresses. It may help you find a . . . um, a job you may like better? If you've a mind that is. They're yours nonetheless”.

“Oh Mary, I can’t believe what yer are saying! Yes, meet me at my place. I’ve a new place this week. It’s 13 Miller’s Court. Let’s hope it’s a lucky number, aye?  But luv, mind if I’m otherwise occupied, you know I’d love to see you! But I need to pay my landlord my doss or else I’ll be out on the street.”

Mary smiled and hugged her friend, “Of course, I understand, I’ll keep an eye out.”  Mary Jane hugged her friend back, hard. 

 “Oh joy!! Clothes from a proper Lady, how fancy I will be! Thank you love, you’ve always been so good to me. Here, take your shawl back, I can wait till this evening.”

“No, I’ll be indoors, warm all day. And I’ll have plenty of clothing to keep me warm on my way back. Please, keep it. It warms my heart knowing you aren’t shivering out here. And Mary Jane, please luv, be careful. They haven’t caught him, .  .  .  yet.'' Her voice dropped to a whisper and both women clasped each other's hands, shivering from another type of cold.

The evil, threatening specter that loomed over Whitechapel caused everyone to feel an unholy chill to their very bones.

"Don't yer worry dearie, I can tell an evil man from ten paces, I can. I got me regulars and a gent or two. I'll be just right. You be careful, walking these streets coming home after dark. Be sure to keep a look out, hurry home, be safe. Luv you." They embraced again. Then with a smile and a goodbye Mary hurried on her way to her job at Lady Sherbrooke’s. 

“I will see you tonight Mary Jane” her voice echoed as she ran swiftly down the cobbled street. 

- - -

‘Why is everyday such a mystery?’ Mary wondered. She never knew when she awoke in the morning if one day would be impossibly difficult or would it be a lucky, blessed day? Today for instance. It seemed to be one lucky turn after another! 

Her employer had allowed her to leave a few minutes early, as the Missus and his Lordship were going to a fancy ball and she was not needed. Lady Sherbrooke was adamant about her taking the sacks of old clothing out of the house and discarding them. Mary knew as long as she was careful about stripping any dresses of lace, flounces, bows and ribbons and didn’t choose any flamboyantly colored or patterned dresses, Lady Sherbrooke would never realize she was wearing her castoffs. The pieces she didn’t share with Mary Jane or make into clothing for her children right away she could bundle up in the cloth sacks and all of them could have a makeshift mattress to sleep upon on the stairs. She was so excited to get home. 

During these times in the East End of London, not only were they deep in the Victorian Age where the class system was strongly and irrevocably established but the second Industrial Revolution was underway. There were few organizations established for the betterment of the lower classes, except for the workhouses and poorhouses which teemed with criminals, diseases, unimaginable dangers for women and children and almost unanimously early death for all inhabitants thereof. Sleeping on the streets, if not found out by constables, or in the parks or woods were safer options except for the natural elements and predators.

Having a position was an enormous advantage for her. She presented clean and well kept. She had simple clothing and her skin was unmarked and she was comely enough. An advantage in these days of smallpox and other ailments which sadly the rich tended to turn away from, which only caused a wider rift in the social classes. Not having to subject herself and her children to the poorhouse was another blessing she was grateful for everyday.

She arrived at work a bit early, so she first stopped by the kitchen and begged Cook for some bread and she was given two loaves of fresh white bread! Mary couldn’t believe her luck? At first she thought it was a mistake. And it was! It was a mistake but not for her. Apparently the newest baker's apprentice in the kitchen had made a mistake in a recipe and the Cook did not want him disciplined as he was her nephew. To get rid of the evidence, she wrapped the incriminating loaves in a paper sack and put that sack in a larger cloth burlap sack, and she left with no one the wiser. Mary didn’t see anything wrong with the bread loaves, they smelled divine and a secret nibble didn't reveal an overabundance of salt. It was sweeter than normal. Like an Easter bread, and she suspected that over use of an expensive ingredient as sugar would be frowned upon by the Lady of the house. 

Indeed a lucky day today! Cook also gave her a slab of cooked roast beef, a few days old and too small and tough to reheat for the family. A few root vegetables and some millet. She left with the sacks of clothing and the food tucked under her outer skirts. 

She took the paper sack with the fresh bread out and tucked it in a large apron pocket of her skirts. She secured the sack with the meat and vegetables inside of her cloak the same way. It was a typical mode of transporting goods and supplies. Having ties and deep pockets fashioned within one's garments to secure pouches and bags so one could walk along, as unencumbered as possible. It also dissuaded thieves and brigands from possible attack if the victim had empty hands and appeared to carry no belongings. Her steps moved quicker as she approached Whitechapel. 

With this in mind, as she could only hide so much this night, she went out along the roadway, keeping a sharp eye out on the setting sun, for she had heard the stories. The latest horrible, awful stories. Of the four, maybe more women from these very roads who in the last few months had been brutally attacked and then found dead the next day! 

She didn’t know if it all the stories were true. Oh! She knew the women were indeed dead, no one makes fun of such horrors, not in these hard streets and alleys. But there was a new rumor that had been circulating for about a month. The morning papers had a name for him now. Some called him The Ripper and some said he calls himself Jack. Mary cared more about keeping such stories from her children but she knew they played and explored the streets of Whitechapel all day, so they must have heard the news. She only hoped it kept them cautious and reminded them of her warnings. 

She worried about her friend Mary Jane as he seemed to favor ladies who worked for their doss on the streets at night, but who's to know what a madman would do next? That didn’t mean there were no threats to others. Everyone could be a victim, she figured. 

Mary was hurrying along, each hand holding tight to two large sacks of clothes. Finally after a mile or so, she stopped and decided to adjust her load. She tied the ends of two sacks to each other. After securing that each double sack was secure she swung one over her shoulder so a sack hung down in back and one hung down in front. The other two she hefted with her arms and carried as one would a toddler. In this manner she made it home to her alley with all of her bounty. 

She let herself into the tenement alleyway door and up to her third floor landing. Jennie was there with Davie and Lil Pip. They were laughing and telling stories. She stopped for a moment and wondered at how she was blessed with such wonderful children, who suffered so, yet were so good tempered. 

“Children, look! Look what we have. Here, take as many clothes as you can wear to keep warm and fill up the sacks to make your beds. No hard floors this night!” 

“Jennie, here take these sacks of food. Keep them safe and out of sight. We can prepare them when I get back home. Don’t start the fire ‘till then. I donna want ye all outside on this cold night alone. We’ll do it together, yah? An keep an eye out. I won’t be long. I have a friend in need. I’ll only be a few moments, not long at all.”

 She smiled as to not cause concern “If anyone comes along, push all the clothing against the wall and lay on it. But try to gather it into the sacks as soon as you can. We can go through it carefully tomorrow. ” Mary picked through the large pile of clothing the children were rummaging through and chose three pretty dresses and two shawls and a heavy cloak made of dark green velvet. She knew Mary Jane would love these. She reached for the sack with the loaves of bread. She took out a loaf, and hesitated. "Jennie, can I have my knife, please?"

Jennie quickly handed Mary her eating knife and she stopped for a moment, feeling guilty. She had two large loaves of bread, and she felt it was only right on one hand to simply give Mary Jane a whole loaf. But as she held the loaf in her hand she thought of the four mouths she had to feed and Mary Jane was just one person, who preferred her gin to solid food. Mary didn't judge, but she didn't want the bread to go moldy or worse to be left uneaten, unwanted. Pushing down the feelings of self contempt she cut the loaf into as equal halves as she could and chose the larger and wrapped it in a small cloth.

Mary tucked the half loaf into her skirt pocket and picked up the clothing and draped them over her arm and slipped out the alleyway door. It was already full darkness. Hopefully Mary Jane wasn’t entertaining a gentleman and she could drop off these gifts for her. What did she say? 13 Millers Court. Yes, she knew where that was. It was just a street and an alleyway over. 

She had chosen a dark blue, almost black cloak for herself. It was a bit long, but she could always hem it. It enveloped her body and was two sizes too large but it kept out the cold and that’s all that mattered. Perhaps she could cut it down and make a cloak for Jennie out of it also, and still have one for herself. There were enough winter items for all of them. 

How her luck had changed. Food, from loaves of fancy fresh white bread, was something those of her station never dreamt of, not even for Christmas. Along with meat, vegetables, what a dinner it will be for all of them when she returned to the stairs. They could never have the luxury of saving food for a special day. They must eat what they had when they were fortunate to have it. Clothing and makeshift bedding! Even enough for a friend! Her heart felt ready to burst. Happy thoughts filled her mind as she hurried along the streets, careful not to trip on the uneven cobblestones. 

Mary Jane’s room would be around the next turn if she was correct. Wait! Was that her? Up ahead with that gentleman? Oh goodness, Mary slowed her step. She backed up against a wooden wall of the Ten Bells pub and even though she was in shadow she used her free hand to pull up the hood over her hair and face. 

Mary sucked her teeth, ‘drat!’ She watched as her friend flirted and giggled and smiled up at the gentleman who had his back to Mary. They walked slowly along, away from where she had secreted herself. She looked down at the pretty dresses and felt a tinge of disappointment as she had so hoped to share her good fortune with her friend this evening. Well, if Mary Jane could make her doss for her room and the gentleman looked like a fancy, rich bloke, then good for her! Oh no, the fresh bread! Maybe she should call out . . . stop her, but Mary Jane had asked her not to do so. Hopefully since he looked wealthy they had already supped?

The gas lights had already been lit by the gas man with his long taper. As Mary watched her friend and the tall man walk away she could hear her friend chattering and sounding seductive. Mary Jane placed her hand on the man’s jacket arm, and as Mary made her decision to go home, as she didn’t want to embarrass her friend or interrupt her opportunity to make a living, she froze and stifled a gasp at what she then saw! 

The gentleman had grasped Mary Jane’s hand roughly and threw it off of his coat’s arm. He then grabbed her by her arm and pulled her sharply and quickly towards her room. He opened the door and pushed Mary Jane inside. Mary was frozen still, not sure what to do. Then right before the man entered the room, he turned to look out at the street, looking both up and down the vacant street and the gaslight fell fully upon his face and Mary’s next gasp died in her throat! She felt her eyes grow wide as she moved her head ever so slowly back into the shadows of her hood and the blackness of the alley she had stepped back into. Mary covered her mouth with her gloved hand, but knew she couldn’t have uttered a sound if she had to. He was a face known to just about everyone in London. If not all of Britain. A powerful man, not royalty but in Government and many whispered that he wielded more power than the Queen. 

Oh my! Mary Jane! To have such a man, of such power and wealth? Oh my friend, I hope it goes well for you. While she knew he was a married man, it was common enough for men of high social status to have a Mistress and Mary Jane was only five and 20 years of age. Sure, she had had a difficult life, Mary thought to herself as she roused herself from the wall and turned to go home. She gave one last look at the little door, and decided she would leave a bit early the next day to drop off the clothes. Especially now that Mary Jane had such a fancy suitor, she would be so happy for the pretty dresses! 

She stopped for a moment, an unsettled feeling bothering her. She turned to look back. Mary Jane's door was shut tight. She listened closely, but heard not a sound except for the sounds of the East End. A drunkard offering a rousing chorus as he stumbled home along a distant street. A dog barking in the distance. The rattle and jangle of horses bridles and the clip clopping and snorting as carriages and their steeds rode by. Mary thought back. The gentleman handled her friend a bit rough, but Mary Jane had been laughing, giggling even and had been smiling up at her suitor.

Realizing she very well did not know what such an encounter may look like, and that she could very well ruin an evening for her friend, but what if Mary Jane needed her? What if he was too rough? But . . . Mary started walking back to Mary Jane's small room and stopped in the blackest shadows and shook her head. 'Think Mary!'

'Every woman kilt has been murdered in the streets. They say he's a butcher. Some say he's an immigrant.' She didn't like to believe it was anyone until one was found out to be guilty, but the gentleman with Mary Jane was a rich and powerful man of government! And none had ever been done in, inside. No, Marry you'll just make her lose her doss for this evening and you'll have a friend living on the stairs with ye and the children. An angry friend indeed. Stop your wild imagination and go home, ye can give her her things on the morrow.

She turned to go home. Her thoughts continuing. She felt it was the only thing she could do, returning home. She knew she didn't know anything about that life, but she respected her friend to make her decisions as she did with her life and her children.

Mary also knew she needed to keep silent about the identity of the gentleman. She stopped for a minute, on her way, and thought.  .  .  Was it possible that Mary Jane didn’t even recognize him? She seemed to be treating him like any other bloke. She had only been here for a year or so from Ireland, and Mary herself only recognized him from working in such a high society home. Best to wait, and see what Mary Jane tells her. It wouldn’t do to get her hopes up, if he never returns. He may indeed already be a regular of hers. She said she saw a few gents.

It’s not like such a wealthy man could be the Ripper! Someone that depraved had to be a monster of the ugliest, lowest, most evil sorts. This man was handsome, rich and very influential. She was happy to know her friend was safe for this night. Yes, she convinced herself she had been overreacting.

That night, as she prepared the bread with a small bit of old jam she secreted away for their supper, and heated the beef and the other few items  she had. Making a hot meal of parsnips, onions, a bit of cabbage and the beef she sliced thin to make it go further, Mary was happy for her friend. She didn’t mind that her friend worked on the streets. She wished that her life were easier, for all of them. But she didn’t feel at all different about her for the work she did. 

She tucked the children in, comforted in the knowledge that they were sleeping on a ‘bank’ of clothing, cloth and bedding that would have cost more than ten years wages. As the children slept, she sat up, by the light of a short, squat candle, under the dim gas light and sewed pants for the boys, after having ripped apart some larger garments. She was careful, so she could reuse the thread. 

Yes, her thoughts continued on about Mary Jane. It made Mary so sad, that so many people felt so righteous, sitting in high judgment on others, yet never once giving a thought nor any other solution on how a young single woman could keep from starving. With no man, no family, no possessions, no title, no name. Nothing. You were exactly that, nothing. Equal to refuse swept along the streets by an errant wind. Only useful for those with wealth to throw disdain and condemnation at. Or if you appeared clean enough to be servants in their homes. Women were not allowed higher education or the ability to learn skills other than being servants or farm hands. Those who ventured into the factories faced hazards and working conditions and long hours, seven days a week.

So a woman who has the courage, the strength and the wit to use her gifts to keep herself from dying a sad, lonely death on the streets? Good for her, Mary said loudly in her thoughts! Good for you! 

She felt ashamed. Not at all sure that she could do such a thing herself to save herself or her children from dying. Then immediately grateful that for now, this moment she didn’t have to consider such a thing. She had a job, and .  .  .  she looked around her, the stairs. 

It was almost morning when she finally nodded off to sleep. Needle still in hand. 

Chapter 4

November 9, 1888

Mary was roused from a deep sleep when she felt a tug on her blouse. She opened her eyes and saw Jennie’s face and a bit lower as they were on the stairs, Davie and Lil Pip’s faces. 

“Good mornin’ mum!” 

“Mmmm. Good Morning, ducklings! Oh my, I slept so deeply. I must have been so tired. Oh no! What time is it? I’ll be late!” She threw off the blanket and quickly got to her feet. 

“Oh no mum! You have time, the bells just rang, it’s only past 8. You have time for a bit of bread and to get to her Ladyship’s house. I’ll take care of the bedding.” Jennie smiled wide, proud to be in charge of such a luxury for the family. 

“Thank ye sweetheart.” Mary ruffled her hair. But she knew, though she would have been typically on time, she wouldn’t have time to stop by Mary Jane’s this morning. She would just have time to get to work if she did what needed to be done this morning, and headed off as usual. She was a stickler for not being late. She would leave the dresses and bread behind and come back after work and run them over to her friend later in the early evening. 

Mary was occupied all day in the library at Lady Sherbrooke’s request. The missus wished for the books on some of the upper shelves to be relocated lower for her Ladyship’s ease of access when she was alone in the library. She didn’t mind the work, though she did tread carefully going up and down the library ladder as thin and fragile as it appeared. Which was one obvious reason the substantial Lady Sherbrook didn’t use it herself. Nor would a Lady of her status typically do so. 

The library was one of the quietest rooms in the mansion. Walls covered with thick tapestries, deep red burnished wood, rows upon rows of leather bound volumes and tables scattered about with reading lamps, surrounded by overstuffed chairs and ottomans for the ultimate in reading pleasure. 

Mary liked to imagine she lived in such opulence. And relished the quiet and solitude, for the afternoon. But she knew enough not to tarry in her task. She would have it completed by the time she needed to go home. 

She found she had a good hour or so before sundown as she left work to head home. She had not seen nor spoken to anyone after she finished in the library, except for saying goodnight to cook as she exited the kitchen. Cook asked if she could take a sack out to the trash for her. With a sly wink of her motherly eye. 

Agreeing, with a thudding heart, Mary opened the sack as she got outdoors and closed her eyes and took a grateful sigh. “Bless good people Lord, for they are indeed angels on earth.” Cook had put in a thick meaty slab of roast beef, a packet of what smelled like roasted vegetables, and another loaf of bread. Oh my goodness, Mary thought! If we are very, very careful, with last night’s leftovers from dinner, carefully wrapped up and left in a cold corner, we could eat for two, maybe three more days with this!” 

"Cook, you are so kind to me. I don't know how to thank you." she approached and with a voice so low, Cook had to bend slightly to hear. "If not for you, my children would know the pain of starvation. God bless you."

"Shalom my dear" Cook took her hand and patted it.

"In my people's tradition it is a necessity to save a life if we can. I am a cook. I feed people. You and your children need to eat, to live. These people here, have more than enough. So, before food is wasted, thrown to the pigs or dogs I make sure a life is saved. A family in this case. You are doing me a mitzvoh."

"I don't understand." Mary smiled.

"You are helping me. By taking the food and feeding your family. But, the Sherbrook's would not be happy, so we will keep this amongst us, yes? Their swine and hounds have enough food." Mary smiled, a bemused smile and suddenly hugged the old woman, her arms not making it around her ample frame but she hugged her as tight as she could. Then she turned and hurried away. Both women dashing tears away from their faces.

Mary was almost home when she first heard the sound. She stopped. Looked around. What was it? It was a sound like a roar !? She felt a terror like she had never felt before rush through her. She clutched the sacks close to her, then rethought and put it under her cloak. She found the tie and tied it tightly around her waist, securing her precious cargo and coming to the corner of the next building at a cross street, she inched to the edge and peered around. The sight which she beheld was terrifying in its enormity! She was looking at a sea of people! So many people! 

She was only a street away from her building, what was going on? Oh my God! The children, she must find out!? What was it? Was it another factory fire? Oh God no! She couldn’t lose her children this time! She looked up but could see no smoke, no flames. The yells of the people were getting louder.

She came around the corner and ran up to the nearest person, an old woman dressed in old, moth eaten mourning clothes. Her bonnet rimmed with black tattered lace, framing her wrinkled ancient face like an old wizened apple. A long clay pipe sticking out of her lips, brown with tobacco juice.

“Missus, missus, what is it? What’s happening?” 

“The bloody bastard did it again! Kilt another girl, he did!” she spit tobacco juice on the ground in disgust. 

Mary covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh my God! No! Who? Someone was killed? Who did it ye say?” 

“They are saying that damn Jack the Ripper! Kilt another girl, he did!” The girl from right over ther.” The old crone pointed a gnarled, knobby finger in the direction north of them. It was so hard to even discern the direction of where they were, there were so many people. Mary was losing her sense of place and direction. Then she saw the buildings towering over the crush of people. She started to recognize the places from this morning and last night. She was almost in her alley. Just a street or so away.

She immediately thought of Jennie! Oh God no! Not Jennie! Not her child! 

“Did you know the girl? What was her name? How old? Who was she?” Mary pleaded with the old woman, almost in tears of worry and concern. 

“Her name was MaryJane Kelly, an Irish lass. Worked the streets. Common one. Yet, no one deserves what he did to her.” 

The war of emotions that tore through her, of realizing it wasn’t Jennie was washed over by the realization that her friend, her dear, dear friend was the victim! No! No! No! Her mind screamed, not Mary Jane! There’s a mistake! There has to be! She was with a rich, fancy man just last night. No. There was a mistake. Her friend cannot be gone.

Calm down Mary, she told herself. Get home, wait. Get home, let everything settle down and see what is determined to be. They will find out soon enough they have the wrong girl. Mary Jane will be on the street tomorrow, she’s out here somewhere. There’s so many people of course they couldn't find her. So many people. Go home, take care of your children. Get some rest. You can give her the dresses tomorrow. When all these people go away. 

November 10th, 1888

Mary got up as early as the sun. She crept out of the building when she heard the first paper boys yelling about the headlines. She took a copper and bought a paper. She had to know for sure. She bought the STAR morning newspaper from a news boy on the street.

She steeled herself to not look at the paper, not even a word until she was back in her alleyway. She dragged out the cauldron, made a fire and put in some water to boil. She dragged an old wooden box over and with her back to the wall, she took a deep breath and unwrapped the paper. There in large type ‘Ripper’s latest Victim at 13 Miller’s Court Mary Janet Kelly’ 

Mary felt her blood replaced with ice water. She read the story, which basically screamed that the police knew nothing. This one was worse than any of the previous murders. He had plenty of time to do damage. The others he did quick on the streets, but Mary Jane, oh Mary Jane! You let him in, as sweet and innocent as a lamb. Oh my dear and look at what that monster did to you. 

The papers of the day would be difficult for a modern day reader to read over morning coffee and breakfast. Along with graphic detailed drawings of victims, the 'journalists' took great care in describing every minute detail of the murder scenes and the Victorian media reading public couldn't get enough of it! All crimes and tragedies were written in as much descriptive detail as possible. Such journalistic style succeeded in selling papers at an unprecedented rate.

She tried to scan quickly over the description of the murder scene but came to a line, which detailed the clothing that were identifiable by not being saturated with blood and read of a woolen shawl, a blue woolen shawl. Laid over a chair next to a table in the room, where . . . and she knew, without a doubt it was Mary Jane. That was the shawl she had given her friend. A blue woolen shawl.

After reading of the murder of her friend, Mary was unusually quiet that morning, speaking sharply to the children and instructing them to stay close by home. They were good children and listened especially when mum was so serious. She went to work early and stood for a while along with the crowds outside Mary Jane’s room. She just stood and scanned the crowds, before she realized she was looking for him. 

She knew the shock was still laying on her as if it were a shroud, but she welcomed it’s numbing quality. She went on to work and all through the day just let the thoughts, the ideas as crazy, as outlandish as ordinary as sad, as mad as they wanted to be to race one another as if they were squirrels chasing each other around a large oak tree in the garden. She would let every and any thought that wished to enter her mind until the right ones came and then, then .  .  .  she would do what was right by Mary Jane, and the others who still lived in Whitechapel. She felt a fire rise up within her. 

The monster would be vanquished. 

Chapter 5 

November 11, 1888 

The Campbell’s who lived on the stairs awoke early as it was Sunday and Mary wanted to get to the church early so she could get a good seat, as the minister was to say a few words about Mary Jane. It wasn’t her funeral yet, her body was still in the possession of the authorities, but the unrest in the area was palpable.  

After tucking their belongings under the stairs in a darkened alcove, Mary, Jennie, Davie and Lil Pip went out and walked down the alleyway to the street down the way. They got to the little church and found it already starting to fill up. Mary had her children file into a rear section pew and they squeezed in so they didn’t take too much space. 

The minister conducted a monotonous sermon, expounding on the evils that men do, the sins of the flesh and the darkness of the souls of humans on a good day! My goodness, Mary, as much as she believed in God, didn't want her children growing up to believe in such doom and gloom, and that God hated us and only sought to punish and make us suffer. 

But she bowed her head and remembered her poor, poor friend Mary Jane. She hoped that she was in a better place, a warmer place. She remembered the last time she spoke with her, and was doubly glad she had insisted that she take her shawl. It was the last kindness she could do for her friend. She hoped she was warm where she was. She felt tears start to fill her eyes. 

Mary happened to look up at that moment. The service was coming to an end. Communion was being offered and she looked up to see when she could lead her children, to follow her into the center aisle to go to the front of the church when she saw a face. It was just a side profile, but she froze. She put her hand back and motioned for the children to stay where they were. The man was rows ahead, seated towards the front. Was he really here? Would he have come to this poor, modest, little church? Would he be that craven, that callous, that bold? 

“Sit children.” Mary sat down again in the pew, and opened her small bible and began to read. 

“But mum, we didn’t get our wafer?” Davie said in a whisper. 

“That’s okay, Davie. Please, son. Be seated. We must pray for our dear friend Mary Jane. She bent her head, whilst peeking out of the side of her eye at the man in the front row of the church. She could only see the back of his head from here, but she knew, it was him! If she said anything, if she uttered a word, aloud of what she saw.  .  .  Mary imagined the crowd going into a mad frenzy and ripping the rich, smug gent into pieces as if wolves devouring a freshly killed deer. Ah, but then she was hit with the realization that between his word and hers, no one would believe her and she would put her children in danger. 

She felt a shiver course down her spine and his face flashed in her mind from that night. The gaslight shining on his angular, sharp features. His dark eyes as they looked quickly up and down the street, making sure he wasn’t seen. If only she had known! She had only thought her friend required privacy .  .  .  Stop Mary! She said loudly in her head. She was gasping and knew her children were peeking out from under their bowed heads at her, wondering if she were alright. 

She hadn’t slept, hardly a wink. She couldn’t get the knowledge that she knew! Knew who he was! The Ripper! But she couldn’t tell a soul. If she did, she could be a target. Her children. No one, no one would believe a servant woman, not against one of the most powerful men in London! She was Irish no less. Many would be glad to see her gone. She knew, if a man such as he found out about what she knew, she could quickly find herself floating in the Thames. 

Wait! He was in church! Could he be regretting his evil actions? Perhaps asking for forgiveness? She heard the front rows rise and the rustle of clothing as parishioners started to head down the aisle to exit the church. In  two rows opposite from Mary were some Dollys, working women like Mary Jane. Friends of hers, who came to hear the sermon and remember their friend as well as get off the street for a bit, into some warmth. Mary felt, more than saw the tall man in the front row, stand up and he seemed enveloped with a large dark woolen cloak. He held his top hat against his waistcoat as he slowly moved with the crowd as they moved through the church. As he approached where Mary was, he looked  across from her at the dollys and one of them, a small, dark haired young woman saw him and smiled up at him. Mary felt her blood freeze in her veins as he smiled just slightly as he took in the young woman, and reached for her hand. Mary watched his lips, soundlessly say a few words of condolences but his gaze was like a raptor as he looked deep into her eyes and Mary knew! She absolutely knew what she was witnessing! He was hunting again! He didn’t pick them out at random! 

Well, he might have initially, but now he has upped his game and was specifically hunting for his next victim. What better place than where her friends and coworkers would likely show up.  

 Mary made a fuss about turning her back and crouching down, pushing Davie back into the pew and snapping sharply at Jennie to help her put Lil Pip’s coat on and to find all of their gloves, and scarves before they headed out. 

She could feel ‘him’ pass by her as the wind grew cold as it does when evil is near. She kept her back turned, crouched low as she made extra effort to put on Lil’ Pip’s coat, tugged on his gloves and looked into his bewildered face. 

“I can do it mum. I know how!” 

“I know luv, I know. Mummy just wants to help today. Davie come near. Jennie, help me.” 

The children huddled close by Mary and instinctively placed their arms around her shoulders protectively. They didn’t understand what was happening, they only knew they needed to band together as a family. As they have had to do so many times since their Da went away to work one morning to the factory and never returned. 

Jennie, being the eldest at the ripe age of 12, thought she knew what was upsetting her mum. 

“Mummy, we’re in church, we’re safe. No fire can get us here. See, no smoke. We’re okay. Don’t be scared. We can go home now.” She patted her mother’s shoulder and looked at Davie with a knowing look. It had been a while since their mum had had a bad moment. Falling into despair at the loss of their father. The factory fire where the small community had lost over 30 men and their father was now over two years ago, but it still affected so many in the town. 

Mary stilled her movements, hung her head for a moment and took a deep breath. Then she heard the crowd move behind her through the church doors and out into the street. She could feel the cold wind come flowing into the street and then she rose to her feet and smiling down at her children, said “right! It is time to go. We have a stop to make first.” 

“Where! Somewhere else?” “Where are we going mum?” The children chattered on, happily. Excited to be going someplace other than the dingy stairs, especially as the ever colder weather required them to be indoors more and more each day. 

Mary led her children out of the relative safety of the dim church, into the bright light of the late morning and she stopped outside to scan the streets, as far as she could see in one direction and then the other. She couldn’t see any sign of him. She sighed with resolute relief. 

“Come, let’s go get something to eat.” Mary took off at a smart pace. The children looked at each other in surprise and for once were silent as they couldn’t believe their ears. They kept looking at each other as if perhaps mum had finally lost her mind, completely. There was food hidden at home, but they were going in a different direction.  **

The small troupe walked along, crossing a few streets until they came to a large, old, wooden and stone building. It smelled of horses, manure, hay and the children looked dubious. “What is this place mum?” 

“The city has opened a new place where they serve food to those who are hungry. It is run by a Christian charity. I heard on the street that we should be able to get some warm soup and bread. Some for each of us. We needn’t share from the same bowl. I don't want to get your hopes up, but let’s go inside and see. Stay close by me children. Do not talk to anyone.”

Mary took a deep breath, pushed her pride down hard, and walked into the building. She entered a large room, with long plank tables and plank benches set up. Enough to seat a hundred people! The place was teeming with the hungry, homeless, the sick, the old and infirm. She quickly scanned the room and saw where a line had formed near a long table with chipped crockery, pewter trenchers, and steaming cauldrons of food being ladled out to the people in need. 

She walked in, with her children following as ducklings follow the mother duck and Mary took her place at the end of the line. She took a bowl and spoon and handed it back to the children until each had one of their own and took one for herself. Soon they were seated at the end spot at a plank table, Mary with Lil’ Pip next to her and Davie and Jennie across from her. 

The ‘soup’ was little more than warm water with plenty of salt, bits of eel, trace bits of green herbs, probably picked from outside this building. There were little cubes of potatoes and turnips, and small pieces of cabbage leaves. But the bread was surprisingly fresh and each chunk had a swath of butter on it! 

“Mum, if we each share a piece of bread, we could save the others and have them tonight before bed.” 

Mary looked at the line waiting for food and realized asking for more bread was most likely futile. But she had an idea. 

“That’s a grand idea Jennie, yes let’s do that.” Mary took a clean kerchief out of her pocket. “Wrap the bread in this and take care as there’s butter on each. I’ll be right back.” 

She went up to the food table and walked up to the old yet kindly looking woman who seemed to be in charge. Although the place, by its very nature, was wont to attract the lowest that society had to offer, she reminded herself that there were precious few places in her world that offered safety and security. A place like this could be safer than most. 

“Excuse me ma’am.  May I have a word with ye?” Mary smiled at the cook. 

“Aye?” She looked harried and as if waiting for a complaint about the meager food. Free as it were. 

“Thank you for the food today. It is very appreciated, and we haven’t had a hot meal in so very long. My children and I. I wanted to thank you personally.” 

“Well! Isn’t that a welcome sound to me ears! No one does much but complain that the food isn’t good enough for the Lords and Ladys that frequent this establishment. Har har har!!” The cook started spitting with her own joke, showing blackened teeth and smelling a bit of sour wine. 

“So, what is it ye want? More food?” I only have enough for everyone to have one bowl, per day. That’s the allotment. I’m sorry. Ye’ll have to wait again till the ‘morrow.” 

She looked at Mary, then over to where Jennie, Davie and Lil’ Pip were sitting looking at them. Her face softened and her voice lowered a bit.

‘I’m sorry I am. Come a bit earlier tomorrow and I’ll put a bit more on ye plates, aright?”

“Well, ma’am, I was hoping I could help ye out. Ye see, my three children. They are good children. No trouble and hard workers. They can sweep, wash plates, help prepare food, any work ye have for them. Please ma’am. Ye wouldn’t have to pay them.”

“What! No pay? What are ye on about?” “I’m not one for any sort of con or cheat. So don’t be trying nothin’.” She raised a brow in suspicion.  

“I work during the day for a fine Lady and Lord. My children are well behaved but are alone during the day and they wouldn’t need any more pay than some bites of food each day. This place can be a safe haven for them. Would you please consider it, ma’am? Please?” 

Cook hesitated, glanced again at the table at the young ones and then sighed. “Oh, aright, bring them back tomorrow morning. I can have them help me here. They seem clean, polite, good sprites. They will work hard, but I never hit. I don’t allow any abuse and I feed everyone who helps me. They won’t go home hungry. And if ye come by before nightfall, I’ll save a bowl and a bit of bread for ye too. But I ain’t got no coin for any of ye. So don’t get yer hopes up. Understood?” 

“Yes, ma’am. Thank ye, ma’am” She smiled and turned and after they finished their soup and bread, ushered the children out of the alms house and towards their home. She felt relieved, still frightened but determined. The first step of her plan was set. The rest was starting to congeal, as if it were a pudding of pigs trotters. She keenly hoped in the end it would turn out to be far more satisfying and nourishing to her soul. 

Chapter 6

November 12, 1888 

Mary dropped the children off at the almshouse the next morning, over an hour earlier than was necessary. She told the children it was to set a good example  on their first day and they were excited. Each child was wearing new clothing Mary had stitched, and each wore a clean apron to keep food stains off of their clothing. 

She sat with the children before she left them and gave them clear, specific instructions. To listen to Cook, do as she asked. To be respectful, say sir and ma’am to all adults, no matter their status. She wanted her children to learn that all humans deserved respect. But most of all she pressed into them the importance of never leaving the almshouse with anyone except her. If anyone tried to grab them, give them gifts or promises of treats to go with them, for them to run to Cook immediately and tell her. To stick with her and never leave her side if they felt unsafe. She was wise enough to know the foolishness of sugar coating the real world. That telling them the truth may scare them, but a scared child is more cautious, more wary, less trusting and more likely to survive. 

She finally left them in Cook’s capable hands. Jennie was helping by peeling potatoes, while Lil Pip was placing out bowls, spoons and tankards and Davie was pushing a broom and straightening the benches. With one last look behind her, her eyes met Cook’s and the older woman nodded and smiled, making a shooing motion with her hand. Mary turned and with  steel in her eyes, she headed off to fulfill her promise to Mary Jane. 

Hyde Park London 

Mary stood outside the gates of a huge golden mansion. The bricks were a pale yellow, outlined with white marble. The entire building gleamed in the morning mist. She marveled at how even the morning air smelled cleaner, seemed brighter in this part of town as she had walked down the pathway past the park with the elite out for their morning ride in the park. 

Marquesses and their Ladies, Barons and Baronesses, even the Prince Regent was out this morning. Yet she wasn’t worried about her reason for  being in this part of town. That he may be out of his home, riding in the park. He may very well be. All the elite went out in the late morning to ride, to show off their prize steeds, their newest carriages and phaetons. Stopping every now and then to share a bit of gossip. The ladies came to show off their expensive day dresses, the men to show off their beautiful women. 

The heavy gate swung open silently on well oiled hinges and she walked unencumbered to the servants entrance. But instead of ringing the bell she simply opened the door, just as she did a thousand times at the Sherbrooke’s. No one gave her a second glance. She knew, from the world she lived in, that those of her class status were seldom noticed, seldom ever considered.

She hurried along, taking off her coat as if she were late for work. Brushing her hair away from her face and straightening her collar. She made her way up from the servants level to the first floor level. She opened a door, and finding a sitting room closed it and continued. She finally found the room she was looking for. The office looked very masculine. The decor was dark burnished wood. With leather covered furniture and acres of thick rich red carpeting. The room was empty of anyone, but she knew he would be here before long. It was a common practice for the Lord of a home to attend to correspondence, handle accounts and deal with business in the late morning hours. She was pleased he wasn’t here yet. She thought of sitting nonchalantly in one of the chairs in front of his desk. But then thought to walk to the windows to look out, to see if she could see him. She grasped her gloved hands together to still their trembling. 

While Mary’s back was to the room, she heard the door open. She stiffened her spine and knew that this was it. Everything she had planned for the future she was putting into this plan to work. She didn’t turn around, but kept looking out into the garden. 

“I don’t believe I have an appointment. It is customary to be announced by the butler. Does anyone even know you are here, Madam .  .  . ?” 

“Campbell” She turned slowly, her eyes hard as she looked directly into the eyes of evil. He was looking a combination of bored and amused, as if hoping this game proved to be of entertainment.  

“Madam Campbell, I’m very pleased to meet you. How may I help you.?” His tone was quite cordial. But she wasn’t fooled. She didn’t move any closer, but held her small purse close to her waist. She kept one hand slid inside, holding a long sharp thin blade, while her other hand covered it. His eyes swept over her as if determining how exactly he could benefit from this encounter.  

“Mary Jane Kelly was my friend.” 

The room was suddenly struck loud with silence. 

His Grace had moved to be standing behind his desk. He broke from his frozen stance to nonchalantly look over his correspondence as if the name of the Ripper’s last victim meant nothing to him. His long gloved fingers causally picked up a calling card and flicked it away with barely a glance. He then seemed to discard any sense of pretense, as his eyes turned dark and a scowl darkened his features. He leaned on his fists on his desk and glared at Mary. 

“What .  .  .  do .  .  .  you  .  .  .  want, Madam Campbell?  I’m starting to lose my generous nature. I think you need to go.”

“I saw you.” Mary said the words with defiance and she swallowed hard as she looked him directly in the eyes. Her chin raised just slightly. She would not let him beat her down. 

He moved so fast from behind the desk to stand in front of her in mere seconds. He stopped within a breath from her face and she didn’t even flinch. His breath stank and she narrowed her eyes but didn’t back down. Not even when he grabbed her blouse and pulled her hard and roughly and gave her a jerk in frustration. 

She saw the fire of evil and deadly intent in his eyes and before he could do anything else, she said louder “I wrote it all down!” She was breathing hard, trying not to panic, but knowing she had to follow through with her plan. 

“What do you think you saw, aye? What kind of lies did ye scratch down? Can ye’ even write?” Her eyes grew big as his grammar grew more coarse. She took a barely perceptible deep breath and steeled herself. She didn’t flinch. She was thinking quickly, he spoke like a proper gentleman when he was calm, composed .  .  .  but when angered he spoke like one of the blokes down by the fishing docks. His grips was just as rough. 

He grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her. Her hair fell out of her pins and tumbled down her back. 

“Mary Jane Kelly! I saw you! I know! I can make it all go away! Just give me what I want!” She cried out as she balled her fists and struck him on the chest, futilely, but in desperation.  

He let go of her like she was a hot iron! He stumbled back against his desk. Breathing heavy, looking at her like she would be one of his favorite victims. 

“What!? What do you want! And you better not be shaking me down. I can easily rip you too! Why even think you’ll leave this room alive?” 

“It's all written down and given to a trusted party, and should anything happen to me, that person or persons will bring the written document to the police! Scotland Yard is looking for ye!” Her words came flying out quickly, as if she were an auctioneer in the frenzy of a bidding war. 

The gentleman with the twisted face, grimaced in anger, stopped as if frozen. He pushed Mary away, in disgust. He stumbled back against the desk, breathing hard and turned his back to her, splaying his hands against the blotter. His fingers arched, the bones straining against his thin skin. A snarl on his lips. He could feel his fingers around her thin neck, he imagined squeezing her neck until the skin blackened. The red mist overtook his mind, and his thoughts darted to and fro! He felt like a mouse caught in a maze looking desperately for an escape. 

His mind raced. His servants could never be trusted. He knew better than to trust anyone. He had never been caught and he vowed never to be caught. No, he had to think of another way to rid himself of this nuisance. He would play for time. See what she had, what she wanted. 

“Yet, you haven't given your witness writings to the police. You have come here instead. At great risk to yourself, I might add.” 

He flicked a thumb and forefinger of one hand over the cuff of his other wrist. Casually straightening the creases his anger had caused. He waited, whilst looking down. Waited. Patiently for her purpose. 

“I want . . . “ her voice had a slight waiver to it. She swallowed, cleared her throat and started again,  stronger this time. 

“I want a small house, a cottage with a small acreage. I don't mind if it's on the outskirts of town. I've no home. It's.  . . only me. I am all alone in this world.” 

Suddenly she was scared for her children, so she realized protecting them was in her best interest. 

“Take a bit of your fancy paper and write out a land transfer with a deed for a house. And a thousand pounds sterling!” In her head she gasped at her nerve and audacity! She honestly didn’t think she truly knew how much buying power, in reality a thousand pounds sterling had. But the words flew out of her mouth before she could stop them. ‘In fer a penny, in fer a pound’ her dear ol’ mum used ter say. Or a thousand pounds. 

Gaaah! Why did she always think funny quips at the absolutely wrong times and then have to force herself not to smile or laugh? She could die! Right now, at the hands of Jack the Ripper! 

“Once I have it, I will give you the written witness account. If you do not, I'll go to the police. You could indeed kill me, but you will be exposed and my death will have you hung for all the deaths you've done! I thinks all of London would be excited to come out and see a fancy gent the likes of ye hung from the gibbet. An exciting holiday morning that wilt be!”

He had been looking down while listening to her breathy speech, only now realizing she had quickly moved and when he looked up she had come to stand near the bell ringer cord, and her hand was grasping it tightly. 

They stared at each other, an impasse. He knew, she knew, no matter how quickly he reacted, how fast he traveled across the distance she would have summoned his servants before he could stop her. 

It seemed like an eternity, they stared at each other. Her green eyes staring into his dark, cold, lifeless eyes. Neither daring to blink, neither daring to move. 

‘Check’ he thought, arrogantly assuming she was too uneducated to play let alone understand a strategic game like chess. But the game was far from over. Let her think she has won, for now. 

He kept his eyes locked on hers, and his hand moved slowly across his desk. He slid a piece of fine vellum towards himself. He fixed an inscrutable expression on his face, and raised an eyebrow. He glanced down and back at her, indicating he would give her what she asked. 

She grasped the bell pull tighter and with a tilt of her chin, she silently urged him on. 

He pulled out a chair. A grand, high back, Chesterfield style desk chair and sat down. His long hands reached for the quill and ink bottle. He dipped the quill and after a long pause, he started to write. After what seemed an interminable time, as her arm was starting to go numb, he finished. He set down his pen, powdered the paper, brushed it off with a fox hair brush and picked it up. 

He read “I agree to gift, without any recompense, or future stipend the property of mine, located at 32 Foxgrove Alley, Dorset Green, London, to one Mary Campbell. To be her lawful and permanent address from this day forward to live there or to dispose of how she sees fit. All assets therein transfer to her immediately.”

“Now for my signature and date” he finished those with a flourish and after again dusting the paper with a powder to dry the ink, he brushed it off and looked the document over carefully. 

“Here, now take it and get out. I never again want to hear from you or anything about this situation again as long as I live.”

He held it out for her. The paper folding from gravity as it hung from his fingertips. He looked at her, standing still, still clutching the bell pull. She looked at the paper then to his face. She didn’t move. 

“Well, what are ye waiting for? Do ye want it, or no? I haven’t all day for the likes of you.” He waggled the paper in the air. Impatiently. 

“The thousand pounds.” It wasn’t a question. She knew if she could carry through with this and should she succeed, then her children would be finally off the stairs and into a better life. She kept her hand gripped tightly around the bell pull. She knew what she was doing was blackmail, yet on the other hand she was forcing an evil murderer to stop killing. She would let God sort out the details. 

His eyes narrowed and then he slowly pulled open his desk drawer and took out a carved wooden box. It was carved with stags, birds of prey and outdoor scenes. He removed the top and counted out several bills. He again held the paper and bills out to her. This time not saying a word, as his eyes spoke promises of what he would do to her when they next met. 

She suddenly moved across the room and snatched the paper and bills  from his hands, and was back against the wall, near the bell pull as if it were her only life line. She quickly scanned the page, saw the address, a small cottage it said, with a small acreage. With her name, Mary Campbell. She kept glancing up at him, afraid he would somehow be in front of her, his knife at her throat like poor Polly. 

Mary moved across the room, never turning her back to him. She backed to the door. She was almost through the door when “Wait.” She stopped, her breath caught in her throat. Her heart was beating hard in her chest. 

“I believe you have something for me.” She saw him extend his hand. 

How many lives has he taken with those delicate, soft, cruel hands? They looked so white but she could see them stained with bright red blood in her mind. She knew she made no mistake as to his crimes, his real identity. 

“The witness testimony, are ye daft? I want it. After your blackmail, I now want what yer is holding out on me.” 

“I’ll give it to you. Later tonight. At the bridge, the old one. Across from the Whitechapel foundry. No earlier than midnight. I’ll give it to you then.” She folded up the parchment around the bills and tucked the packet into the folds of her dress, deep in a hidden pocket. 

“I’ll be there. You had better be there too, or the Ripper will be making a special stop. To the woman with three children who lives on the stairs.” 

She could hear his evil chuckle as she felt as if ice-water trickled down her spine, as all color left her body and she felt as if she couldn’t breath! How could he know?! She moved across the room, never taking her eyes from his. She opened the large glass doors opening into the side gardens and slipped from the house. 

She soon found herself, unseen, in the outer rear garden, well away from the house when she stopped and sat on a bench deep in the shade of a boxwood shrub. She felt sick. How could he know!? How? 

Her children,had she put them in unnecessary danger? She only wanted to assure their future and try to provide for them while stopping a mad man. The magnitude of what she had started overwhelmed her and she bent over and held onto her stomach afraid she would vomit from the fear and uncertainty. 

A solution started to form. She knew now he would never honor their agreement. No, he would only add to his list of innocent victims. She stood up and straightened her skirts. Now she knew. When this ended one of them would be alive and one would not. Her children would not be victims of Jack the Ripper. This she vowed. 

Chapter 7 

Later that afternoon, Mary was again able to beg off of work early by telling Lady Sherbrooke of her children working at the alms house, and wanting to look in on them on their first day. 

Lady Sherbrooke was impressed as she saw nothing wrong with small children having to labor as hard as any man or woman, thus losing out on a childhood. She, as many in the aristocracy only saw children in their role of securing land and fortunes by way of marriage alliances with certain families for when they had grown. Or if the children were of the poorer classes as a readily supply of servants to serve them. Even their own children were seen less, spent time with less often and Mary suspected loved less than a poor family’s children. She couldn’t imagine not seeing her children as little as the rich saw theirs. 

After work, with her Mistress’s approval for being a stern and wise mother, Mary walked into the Crown and Pig Pub down a side alley in Whitechapel. She was not the type of woman to ever walk into such an establishment, but desperate measures called for desperate acts.

 She inhaled the heavy smoke before she saw it, andlooed around trying not to cough. The air was thick. Cigar smoke, musky body odor, wood smoke from the fireplace, roasted meat, and the sharp, fermented tang of spirits competed with the smell of hundred year old lumber, aging in old planks, beams, posts and floorboards.  

She found a table, dirty and sticky, but sat in a chair, nonetheless. Her back against the wall, she scanned the dim room. She carefully looked over every sad, angry, vacant face. A buxom barmaid came over to take her order. 

“Tea, please. Thank you.” 

“Ha! That’s a card! Hahaha! Tea, is it? Okay dearie, tea it’ll be. Like a right fine lady.” The barmaid turned away, then as if having a second thought turned back and scanned Mary’s face. She leaned over 

“Are you sure I can’t get you anything else, dearie?” 

“My friend Mary Jane Kelly used to come here, at times. Did you know her?” 

“You? You were friends with Mary Jane?” skepticism was apparent on the barmaid’s face. Then she smiled and shrugged as if anything were possible in this world. 

“Sure, a right goodun, she was.” She sat down in a chair across from Mary, heavily and the smile was replaced with sadness. “Terrible times, to lose ‘er, and those afore ‘er. No matter what they do for a pence, no one deserves tha’, eh?” 

“Liza! Get yer dead arse up and back te work. I ain’t payin ye to socialize, eh?” 

Liza, the buxom barmaid, narrowed her eyes and gave a deadly side eye to the large, greasy, very hairy barman leaning with both hands on the counter glaring at them. 

“I’ll be back lovie. Don’t ye fret. Shaddup,Shamus!  I’m tending to me customers. Not that ye know anythin’ aboot business.” her red hair flowed and shook down her neck and back as she sauntered over to the bar. 

She soon returned with a cup and a pot of tea. She also put down before Mary a small glass with a clear liquid in it. “A dash o gin, will fix ye right up. On me. Ye look like ye can use it, eh?” 

“Thank you. Is anyone here .  .  .  that knew Mary Jane, I mean, that was a good friend to her? Perhaps a gentleman friend?”

Liza looked at Mary a little confused, “Um Luv, ye knew what she did yeh?” 

“Oh yes, yes! No, no I mean a real friend, not a .  .  .  customer?” She hoped that would be a delicate way of phrasing it, without offense. 

“Oh, ye mean one of her chums, like you! Sure, we're all friendly, we have to be, these days. There Johnny ore’ there, with Dickie, and Sam. They were all thick as thieves with Mary Jane.” Liza gave up a shriek of laughter.

“What I mean is, tis funny, cause they’re really thieves! The boys that is. Not Mary Jane, she was a goodun. She was.  Ah, just cause we have it rough, more than some doesn’t make us bad people, no.” 

“No, I don’t believe that it does. I meself, have seen evil. Seen it dressed in fine silks and having more privilege than anyone in the East End.” She looked down, but sipped her tea, not interested in the gin. She needed her wits about her. 

“Hey, Miss” Liza bent down and whispered. “Ye wanna I call the boyos over? They’re good lads. Do ye need help wit somein’?”

Mary shook her head, worried her plan may fail. She looked down, then back up and over at the three young toughs and sighed, looking dejected. 

“What is it Luv? You can tell me.” 

Mary suddenly said out loud, though quietly, urgently as she grasped Liza’s work roughened hand laying upon the table. “I know, I know who hurt our Mary Jane! I know, and he’s an evil, evil man. I .  .  .  I .  .  . simply thought, maybe .  .  .  “ her words cut off as she looked at the three men laughing and swilling their beers. 

“How, can I ask anyone to.  .  .  . I’m a mum, with little ones. I can’t. An’ he will keep hurtin’  others. I don’t know what to do?” She jumped to her feet and dropped a pence on the table 

“I must go, my children will be alone and I need to be there. We don’t ‘ave much, at least we have each other. Thank ye for listening.” She wiped the tear trailing down her face, a bit embarrassed and smiled at Liza in gratitude, and tugged her thin, worn gloves straighter on her wrists and turned to leave the pub. 

She glimpsed Liza’s sympathetic smile as the barmaid swiped the coin off the sticky table. Mary felt the chill winds as she swept through the door into the cold outdoors. It was getting colder. It would be dark soon. She heard the door slam shut hard behind her as others also left the pub. 

Mary flipped her hood over her head and bunched up her thin cloak around her neck to try and keep the wicked wind out from under her covering. Head down she moved quickly along the uneven cobblestones. 

She almost tripped and cried out in alarm when her arms, both were hauled up and she was carried, so quickly from off the street into an alley where none could see. Her mouth opened to scream, was roughly covered by a hand and she immediately thought of her children and prayed to see them once more. 

Everything happened so fast, before her mind could tell her brain to kick out in self preservation, her feet were again on solid ground and her back was against the wooden wall of the building forming the wall of the alley. The hand was still over her mouth but she could see the three men she had been watching in the pub. 

“Do Not Yell! Then everything was silent. Nothing moved. How could everything have gone so quiet? 

“Ye understand me? Ye will not make a sound? No?” He shook his head slowly, the boy with the bright red hair, freckles all over his nose and cheeks. 

Mary shook her head slowly in mimicry of his, her eyes wide and serious. Her breathing, barely perceptible. She felt him slowly, so slowly taking his hand from her mouth. 

She very much wanted to bite his hand, but she knew better than to try to fight three men, and she had to remember her children were waiting for her. Perhaps they would be kind and just let her go when they realized she had no money. ‘Oh God no, she had the thousand pounds the Ripper gave her. She had not had time to put them in the bank.’ She felt sick, she had been so close, now it was all for naught. 

“Mary Jane Kelly” One of the other two said. Mary gasped, the look in her wide eyes went from fear to surprise to a hopeful realization. Oh maybe, just maybe, could her prayers be within grasp? 

“Mary Jane was my friend” she whispered, afraid to speak too loudly. She saw the third man keeping an eye on the alleyway opening and blocking her and his companions from the view of the street. 

The red haired man grimaced “yea, she was a lovely girl. Me and me mates, we walk these streets, looking. . . Looking for im. The Ripper. We ‘ear ye know somein?” 

“He’s evil. Pure evil. Worse than the devil. Tis not enough to know it’s im, it’s so hard knowin’ he’s out there. Out there, livin’and breathin’, hurting others, not carin’ just hunting and enjoying others' pain! But being a good god fearing woman, I can’t ask anyone to hurt another. How can I? An’ live with meself?”

She sobbed “It’s cruel, I’ve blackmailed him, I have. Into given’ me the keys to a better life, but the next time he sees me, my children and I will be dead. I can’t stop the likes of ‘im.  Ye see, it’s as if I’m damned?”

The lookout turned and asked “So what is your plan? Just let this devil kill ye? Be another victim of the Ripper?” 

Mary wiped her eyes and her nose, on the back of her glove. She was so tired of being scared for her life, her childrens, not knowing what tomorrow will hold. It was so hard!

“NO!” She pushed the red haired young man away with a hard push on the chest with her two hands. “NO!” sobbing still, she raised her chin defiantly. “I’m going to get my children. He is expecting me at the bridge, over by the Whitechapel foundry at midnight. I have .  .  .  a paper he gave me. It’s worth money. I was hoping to sell it for coin, then we will hire a carriage and take our belongings and before midnight be long gone from London. I know it’s not right, it’s fraud. But my children and I will be alive and maybe my threat of having an eyewitness account of his activities will keep him from harming another? It may make him think twice.” She said it hopefully, looking at each boy, desperate for them to agree with her. She didn’t mention the money, as she didn’t know these men and she had to think of her children and getting them off of the stairs. 

She knew she would feel like a coward as she fled the city. Leaving so many innocents alone with a monster. Maybe in the future she could send her witness statement to Scotland Yard? She was so tired of thinking, but she couldn't stop now. 

“Lady, listen. Sshhhh. Listen to me. My name is Johnny.” the red haired young man introduced himself. This here is Dickie and that one,” the “lookout” “is Sam. We loved our Mary Jane, she was like our big Sis. Always sharing what little she had wit us. She was from my hometown in Ireland. Will you hear what I say, now?” he fell quiet and looked deep into Mary’s eyes. And waited. 

She saw his stare, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her brain processed his words. They wanted to help. How? Just listen, she told herself, just listen. She opened her eyes and sighed. She was still alive, albeit shaking so hard she couldn’t stop. 

“Okay, right. I’m listening.” 

“We want you to go home now. Right home. Keep whatever you have that grants you a better future. It will. Go home, gather your little ones. Stay inside. You say now, he was meeting you at the bridge by the foundry, in Whitechapel, tonight by midnight? Sleep well lady. . .  friend of Mary Jane Kelly. Now a friend of the Whitechapel Boyos. Tomorrow at sunrise your problems will be over. 

Mary couldn’t believe her ears, and truly thought they were simply being kind. She smiled but it was halfhearted as she was still scared. But she would wait until daybreak. 

“Dickie, go walk the lady ‘ome. Then come back, righto. Meet Sam and me in our nest. Bye now, Lady Mary Campbell, all is well.” 

The two men watched as their third walked Mary down the alleyway and onto the main street. 

Johnny looked at Dickie “Midnight eh? Well, the Whitechapel boyos will be at the bridge long afore that.”

Chapter 8

November 13, 1888 12:01 a.m.  

‘Click, click, snap’. ‘Click, click, snap’. The well dressed gentleman, with a black tall tophat walked down the stone path until he came to the wooden bridge. Clunk, clunk, thud, clunk, clunk, thud sounded his boots and his walking cane. 

The cane he carried for looks and for self defense. It cleverly concealed his hand fashioned weapon of torture and murder, sealed within the casing of the cane itself. From the outside it appeared a simple wooden walking stick. But the top popped off, with a tight seal allowing the user to withdraw a wickedly sharp, thin and lethal blade from within. It was also very convenient for the evil murderer to then hide the murder weapon back within the obscurity of the simple ordinary looking cane and walk right by authorities.  

He walked to the center of the bridge. He had been early and had waited in the bushes several yards off the path from the bridge. He wanted to scope out his hunting area, as a hunter sets up a blind where he then waits for his prey to come innocently into his sights. 

There had been the occasional drunkard, stumbling along home across the bridge after a night out drinking and carousing. Earlier came a couple, lovers holding hands and smiling up at each other. My how he’d relish ripping a couple apart, that was something he’s never done before. Yet this damnable woman! With her witness testimony, on paper! Against him of all people! How dare she! When she had given him the paper, he would be sure to do her slow and painful. 

 This was his entertainment, his enjoyment! And a lowly maid, a servant, dared to interfere! She was as low as the whores he enjoyed ripping. Most of his ilk simply carroused at the Hellfire Clubs during their raucous events. He was proud of himself for taking his debauchery to a new and unprecedented level! The papers called him insane. He was a genius! He needed to end this servant and her brats before he could go onto a life of ripping and .  .  .  where was everyone? He felt the spittle drooling down his chin. If he could have seen himself, his eyes wild, his sneer, his entire countenance dark with hatred and insanity. 

He took out his pocket watch. She was late. Where was she? He looked down the bridge, one side and the other. The fog, that damnable London fog was creeping up. He looked over the side, he couldn’t see the water below any longer. The fog was getting dense. Good, he thought. No one to see him clean up his little mess. He needed to be a bit more careful in future, be extra sure there are no witnesses. 

What was that? He peered over the side of the bridge. The fog swirled white and thick. Was that a face? No, simply swirls like shapes in clouds. No! Yes, there was someone, someone over the side? A woman, a woman’s face and body, wait it was rising, coming up higher and higher! It was too high up to be in the water. He backed up quickly, what was it? What was happening? 

He swung at the shape with his cane! “Back, back! What are you!? Get back!” As the woman’s swirling ghostly shape came closer he could see her covered with blood! It grew bigger and bigger! He quickly turned away and grabbed the other side of the bridge’s rails. He kept saying “It’s not real. Ghosts are not real. Not real. Not real.” He felt himself calming down, his breathing slowing down. 

He slowly opened his eyes and another woman, a different one this time came flying at him, her mouth open and contorted in a scream, eyes blazing as she flew right through him and he felt the icy cold as it enveloped him with dread and fear. The dread and fear of his victims. It was like a virus that you could get no comfort for, a fever you could not relieve. 

He stumbled backwards to the center of the bridge, his top hat falling to the ground. He splayed his legs and his cane seemed the only thing keeping him upright. 

“STOP!” He screamed with rage and frustration, panting heavily. He looked down towards one end of the bridge and saw not a soul! 

“Hahaha well, well mates, what ave we ere? Eh? Are ye okay gent? May we be of service to ye SIR?” Johnny came close enough to the gentleman that his bright red hair glowed in the gas lights lit along the bridge. 

The frightened man, spun around and swung out with his cane, sneering at the young man who had come up behind him a silently as a ghost. 

“No! I’m waiting for someone, go away” 

“Oh, yea now. Would tha’ be a young lady?”

“No lady! Get!” he growled

Johnny’s easy going grin turned dark and serious.

“Let me be more specific. Were ye waitin’ on a special bit o’ paper, gent?” 

“Paper!? Paper ye say? You have it? Give it to me, now!”

“I need to be sure, ye see. Lots of thieves in these parts. Who exactly was the bit o’ paper from agin? A name, please Sir”  

The gent would have done well to take close notice of Johnny’s cold look and steely demeanor as he calmly asked the question with a rakish grin. But his anxiety to have the paper from what looked like a simple street tough, tall, but poor and young, caused him to vastly underestimate him. His arrogance found Johnny to be obviously no match to a gentleman who regularly practiced his pugilistic skills at his gentleman’s club.

“Mary um .  .  .  Campbell, that’s right Mary Campbell.” 

He also would have done well to watch closely, Johnnys eyes. As they quickly shifted their glance to slightly behind him at Dickie who had crept up silently while Johnny kept him talking. With the slightest blink a heavy wooden bat came down on the gents' now bare head with a resounding crack. His eyes went wide and then white as his pupils rolled back and he crumpled to the floor of the bridge. 

“Sam, come er! Give us a ‘and!” Footsteps rushed up and the three of them started to hoist the gent over to the railings 

“Wait! The icy water could damn well wake im! Especially if he is the devil like they say! We better be sure. We only ‘ave one chance, this is it.” All three looked at each other and after a few seconds nodded in agreement. They let down their heavy load. 

“Did ye hear boyos? The coppers from Scotland Yard, theys got a letter from this here bloke, saying “From Hell, the Ripper. An’ that he done ate some poor woman’s kidney!” 

“Fuckin ‘ell ye say! Nah, nah, nah, nah! Ah! Damn my eyes! Johnny, you telling the truth mate?!” Sam looked like he was going to puke. 

“Now why in ‘ell would I lie about somein’ like that, Christ! Sam! Of course it’s true! I have friends inside who heard this right from the coppers from Scotland Yard.” 

Sam went over to the edge of the bridge and vomited over the side. 

Johnny stripped his shirt and had the other two take theirs off too. Dickie took his pocket knife. They slashed a couple of  strips of cloth from the shirts. They tied up his hands, legs and covered his mouth. Then satisfied with what they accomplished, They dressed themselves, and the three stood over the crumpled body of the unconscious? Dead? body on the bridge. 

For those you’ve murdered, our loved ones an’ loved ones of others, the innocent, the women who could not protect themselves, for no good reason cept you are one sick bastard, we, The Whitechapel Boyos, along with Mary Jane Kelly’s spirit and ‘er friends ‘ere on earth sentence you back to ‘ell!” 

The three bent down and hefted the body up and the dense fog swirled close around them, covering them and concealing all of their movements from any prying eyes. All that could be heard was a muffled splash and bubbling as the now corpse sunk to the bottom of the river. 

The boys stood there for a time, silent. Then looking up, Dickie pointed, not saying a word. All three saw the smiling face of Mary Jane, swirled into the fog, looking at them in love and gratitude. Johnny blew her a kiss and knew he would see her again one day. 

Together all three turned and walked across the bridge to go home for the night. 

They didn’t see the lone, cloaked thin figure standing on a rise on the far walkway that followed the edge of the river. The figure that had stood stock still, like a shadow, watching everything. Not a sound, not a gasp. The figure that didn’t move until long after the Whitechapel boyos had long left the bridge and the bubbles and ripples had long since smoothed away on the water's surface. 

Chapter 8

November 13, 1888 

The next morning Mary woke up and sat up on her mattress and wondered what the day would bring. She saw her children were not on the stairs so she quickly got up and made her way downstairs and outside into the alley. She was relieved to see them, and surprised to see the Whitechapel Boyos. Everyone was sitting around the cauldron, a cherry fire burning and soup cooking. 

She took a seat, and ran her fingers through her tangled hair with a grimace. She didn’t say anything. 

‘Have some tea missus?” Sam was acting the proper host. Mary smiled. When the warm liquid started to warm her inside, she felt a bit stronger and her thoughts started to come together. 

“Children. We are not too far away from Christmas. How about we move from the stairs to a proper house?” 

This announcement was met with gasps of shock, squeals of disbelief and shouts of excitement! 

“No! Mum, you’re making fun! Telling us a joke! Can this be true! What?” 

Even the Whitechapel Boyos looked at each other in surprise, as they had known that Mary had something from the evil one they quietly and secretly dispatched the night before but they didn’t know exactly what she was holding. 

“Johnny, Sam, Dickie, I could use your help, once again.” She said with a sigh. Johnny patted her arm. “We’d be ‘appy to ‘elp, mum. Any friend of Mary Jane is a friend to us.”

“You see children” she raised her voice in a happy, cheerful tone. “A kind, um, elderly relative, um,  whom I knew only as a baby, has sadly passed on.” 

She looked sideways at the Boyos who took their hats off and solemnly looked down at the ground, respectfully, but glanced at each other silently wondering if she could know, truly know what had occurred on the bridge last night. 

“He was very kind and remembered me, and left me a small house, a cottage with a small lawn to play on, all ours. It’s located at 32 Foxgrove Alley, Dorset Green, London.” 

As she said the words, the very address, she felt as if it were hard to breath, could it really be true? 

“But mum, her littlest said, that’s not in Whitechapel.”

“No, it’s not. But we can come visit. But we need help. Moving our things, especially our cauldron. And boyos, I have the property deed, but I seem to not have received a key?” 

Johnny, Sam and Dickie started to laugh! Which started all of them laughing, but Mary wasn’t quite sure why. 

Then Johnny said “That’s the easiest task I’ve ‘ad to do all week, mum! Why I could break into Buckingham Palace if I wanted to!” Everyone continued laughing. 

Mary knew, she simply knew as certain as she knew the Ripper had killed his last victim, she would never, ever live on the stairs again. 


Dear Readers, While the above story is indeed a figment of this author’s imagination, the parts of the story regarding a woman named Mary who lived on the stairs in London is indeed true according to a census in the late 1800’s. The hardships suffered by many in Victorian Era London, few safe social programs and rampant poverty caused so many to have living conditions we would find inconceivable today. Since I read her story I have always wanted to write her story’s end where she gets off the stairs and her life improves. As well as make her the heroine she was for existing in such hard conditions and raising children while doing so. Her name was simply Mary McCann. No relation. 

 As for the story of ‘Jack the Ripper’. Two questions have always been paramount regarding the Ripper. Who was it, and why did they stop? After 135 years, I personally find the identity irrelevant, and something that we will never know with absolute certainty. Why they stopped killing, has far more intriguing possibilities and my story intended to combine the two stories to bring to my mind a satisfying ending to both. I hope you enjoyed my version of events. Faith McCann 


Back to Hell

  ‘Back to Hell’     ~ It is my wish, my literary friends, to finally bring to completion a mystery that has fascinated, beguiled and myst...