Thursday, August 28, 2014

Maidens in the Night

By Mark Morey
Historical, 569 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
ISBN 978-1-61309-201-9 $4.99
ISBN 978-1-61309-807-3 $11.95

It is Whitechapel in London, November 1888. Young, attractive prostitute Mary Kelly is stalked by someone, but who? Former client Joe Flemming, the serial killer Jack the Ripper who has murdered four or five prostitutes already, or someone else? She knows any man she meets could kill her, but she has no choice other than to work the streets.

A beautiful Sunday for the walk to Saint Peters in Eaton Square. A lovely, sunny autumn morning. Michelle, Brett and Julia headed to Belgravia’s church, surrounded by nobility, aristocrats and ladies. Hypocrites, every last one of them, Michelle thought. It was the one thing about living in Belgravia she didn’t like. They closed on neighbours from the same terraced block, but not surprised they were heading in the same direction at the same time of day. Mr. and Mrs. Thurland and Mr. and Mrs. Folkes were walking rather slowly as was the way with many women. Michelle overheard Mrs. Folkes say “it’s quite inappropriate for a woman in her position to go outside dressed like that.” Mrs. Thurland responded, “she looks like a servant dressed in black with a white apron; barely a hat and no gloves.” Mrs. Folkes said, “If she wants to be a servant she cannot wear gloves.”

“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Thurland; Mr. and Mrs. Folkes,” Michelle said firmly but nicely.

“Ah, Mrs. Finlay,” Mrs. Folkes said. “It’s good to see you. How is Mr. Finlay these days? It’s been a while since we have seen him.”

Michelle smiled. “I don’t know about Mr. Finlay but Mr. Price here is feeling particularly fine. Are you not Brett?”

“Indeed I am,” Brett replied.

Michelle glanced at her now walking companions having slowed to their pace. She smiled sweetly at them.

“How are you this morning, Mrs. Finlay?” Mr. Folkes asked.

“I am well although I have been very busy these past weeks and months,” Michelle replied. “You may have seen me dressed for work at our charity refuge.”

“I can’t say that I have.”

“I wear East End attire: a black dress with a white apron, a simple white bonnet and no gloves of course. I find such an outfit works well in Whitechapel.”

“Is that right?” Mrs. Thurland asked.

“Indeed it is,” Michelle said. “East-enders don’t trust us; they see us as wealthy hypocrites. To go there dressed as we are now would be a waste of time.”

“But surely they can see that we’re all the same regardless of the clothes we choose to wear?”

“I don’t truly know.” Michelle pondered a retort. “We could show by example. I could arrange several dozen former prostitutes and other inhabitants of the slums to attend our lovely church next Sunday. There’s room for them and they would add colour, I feel. Then they would see that we’re all the same, more or less.”

Michelle glanced at Mrs. Thurland who was bright red with either embarrassment or rage. “Do you think we ought to invite several dozen to share the Lord’s Day with us Mr. Price?” Michelle asked innocently.

“I’m sure the inhabitants of Whitechapel would find sharing our church to be most uplifting, Mrs. Finlay,” Brett replied.

“Then it’s settled.” Michelle smiled at Mrs. Folkes and Mrs. Thurland. “I am so glad we had this little chat this morning and I am sure that next Sunday will be interesting indeed.” They reached the steps. “Well, here we are, Mr. Price. If you shall excuse us, Mr. and Mrs. Thurland; Mr. and Mrs. Folkes.”

They paused just inside and allowed their upper-crust neighbours to seek out similarly upper-crust friends.

“That was rather cruel, Michelle,” Brett whispered.

“They started it,” Michelle said. “Let’s sit at the back where we belong.” They took a pew at the rear of the church.

“Will they come from Whitechapel?” Julia asked.

“No, never,” Michelle said. “The working-class labour twelve hours a day, five-and-a-half days a week, and Sunday’s the only time they have to themselves. Church is their last priority.”

The vicars appeared way off in the distance.

“We should pray,” Michelle whispered, changing her mood to reverence as best she could. She dressed like an East-ender at times but she was still middle-class. The service was uplifting while the organ and choir were magnificent. It was one thing about living in Belgravia that Michelle adored. Few churches brought their congregation closer to God than Saint Peters.

The reverend climbed the steps to the pulpit and looked down on the congregation. “Let us pray,” he said. Michelle closed her eyes and bowed her head.

“Dear God, bless the souls of the two women tragically murdered in Whitechapel this very morning. Show them Your mercy when judgement time comes, and remember the opportunities denied to them in this life. Amen.”

Michelle raised her head and looked at the reverend way off in the distance. One part of her cried ‘no’ but she bit her lip to keep it inside. No, not again. Not two! For three years Whitechapel had been part of her and she had been part of Whitechapel. The people of Whitechapel suffered every day and they didn’t deserve it. Nobody deserved it but least of all those people. When would it end? Michelle sat through the sermon in a daze; not a single word registered. She had to get out of church, get home, get changed and get to the people she truly cared for.

Michelle strode to her home with Julia while Brett went to buy a newspaper. They met at the front door and went inside.

“The reverend was right,” Brett said. “At one this morning the body of the first victim was discovered in Dutfield’s Yard in Berner Street. This victim had her throat cut but was not mutilated. Forty-five minutes later the body of the second victim was discovered in Mitre Square behind Mitre Street. This victim had her throat cut and was badly mutilated. Both were middle-aged and of the unfortunate class.”

“Do you wish to go to Whitechapel, Mother?” Julia asked.

“Yes, of course. You should come.”

“I will.”

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