Her tummy growled like a tiger. Her limbs were getting weaker by the day. Soon enough, she wouldn’t be able to walk at all. If she’d only had her employment at the big house still, she wouldn’t have to starve out on the streets in the rain. If she’d only had her employment at the big house still, she wouldn’t have to fear not waking up at all the next morning. People walked past her without caring. A young woman, still in her teenage years, was starving and no one could be bothered to even mind. They refused to look at her, that’s how much she was worth to them—nothing. A woman even scoffed at her for sitting there, just sitting there. From the shadows that surrounded her came muted whispers of scorn.
The gaslight flickered. Ethel looked up from her spot against the wall. The woman who had scoffed at her was a fancier lady, walking arm in arm with a gentleman, away from Whitechapel. She saw a velvet pouch hanging from the woman’s arm and before she really knew what she was doing, she had risen from the ground, sprinted past the couple, grabbed the pouch and then ran away from the scene as fast as she could.
“Thief!” the woman cried after her. “Help! Thief!”
There was a commotion, but Ethel didn’t turn to look. She kept running, pushing the little power she had left in her frail body. She diverted into an alleyway, zigzagged between buildings and scaffoldings, slipped a bit in the mud but kept her balance. In the corner of her eyes, she saw a shadow; for a split second, it appeared as a figure from her past. I raised you better, said a faint voice inside her head and she managed to push herself further, if not to escape her hunters, then to escape the shadow. Just as she thought she had outrun them all, she was brutally tackled to the ground. The pouch slipped from her hand and a few shillings were exposed in the night. She wailed as she was pinned down in the mud by her hefty attacker.
Soon, the weight lifted and she was forced onto her feet by a strong grip. In the dim light from the gaslight a few feet away, she could see that her attacker was none other than the notorious leader of the Rooks, Mr Jacob Frye. She knew, in the back of her mind, that he was often chasing down petty thieves, but she wasn’t a thief! Not really! He looked absolutely furious.
“Thieving, are we?” he growled. “I don’t particularly like that.”
Ethel felt the tears burn behind her eyes. She was so hungry, she could barely think. “Please, sir,” she managed to croak before bursting into tears. “I’m so hungry!”
Bewildered, he searched her eyes for understanding. Ethel had nothing more to give, and his face softened. “Hush now, girl,” said he. “I’ll buy you some food. Just don’t go stealing again. Is that clear?”
Ethel nodded and nearly collapsed once his grip that was holding her steady disappeared. She watched him pick up the money from the ground and place them back into the pouch.
“You’ll return this,” he said and placed the pouch in Ethel’s hand before grabbing her arm and dragging her along. “I hope this isn’t a habit of yours?”
“N-no, sir,” Ethel said, struggling to keep her legs from buckling underneath. “I’m no thief! I’ve never stolen a thing in my entire life! I don’t know what came over me. I… I just need something to eat.”
“Come on, then. Let’s get you dry as well.”
Ethel didn’t know if she should feel relieved or horrified. She certainly felt ashamed—thieving was beneath her, she had been raised better. Being pulled along the road like the criminal she was, muddy and wet, was humiliating. The couple she had stolen from stood underneath an umbrella, talking between themselves, rapidly in hush voices. They glared disdainfully at her when they saw her, and Ethel fastened her gaze at her muddy boots.
“Go on,” Mr Frye said as he gently jerked her forwards.
Ethel staggered, her shame now almost as great as her hunger. Slowly, she handed the pouch over to the lady. “I… I’m so sorry, ma’am.” She felt her faint voice shaking. Soon enough, she would be sobbing. “I just needed the money… to get some food.”
“Insufferable!” the woman scoffed. “Thank heavens you were near, Mr…?”
“Frye, madam,” said he and tipped his hat. “Jacob Frye.”
“Mr Frye!” said the woman. “What would we do without someone like you cleaning up these filthy streets?”
Ethel looked up just in time to see Mr Frye’s jaws flex in annoyance. “Well, madam, we all need to do what we can to survive. Not everyone can be so fortunate as to have food on the table, a warm bed to sleep in and someone else washing the piss out of the chamber pots every morning.”
While the woman seemed utterly speechless, the man puffed up his chest and spat, “I beg your pardon! How dare you speak to my wife in that manner?!”
Mr Frye didn’t need to answer. One menacing glance from under the brim of his hat was enough to make the couple refrain from further argument. Ethel wanted to scoff at them; they clearly didn’t know who Mr Frye was at all, otherwise they wouldn’t have argued with him to begin with. The gentleman and the lady hurried away and Mr Frye chuckled scornfully.
“Well, leave it to posh bastards to give you a laugh. Now, come on. Let’s get you into some dry clothes.”
The clothes he put her in were simple enough, but they were dry and warm. She had engulfed two bowls of chowder and had had a whole pint of warm ale and was now enjoying the high spirit of the pub. Mr Frye had kept her company all night and despite his rough manners, he had proved to be a gentle soul at heart. He was witty, humorous, and bold, but a keen listener.
“So, tell me, Miss Ethel,” he said and leaned forwards. “How come you, not yet twenty, are living out on the streets? Don’t you have a family?”
Ethel smiled briefly before looking down on her lap. “Mother died when I was just a girl, and father… well, he is a drunkard who could just as well fall into Thames one day as far as I’m concerned… he might already have, I truly don’t know. Neither do I wish to know. Both of my younger brothers died from cholera and just a few years after, I got a position in one of the fine houses in the city. I was a maid for… the Westboroughs. I have worked there since I was twelve years old.” She smiled and looked back up. “Mrs Westborough saved me from the workhouses, you see. It was good having a nice home and a fine position.”
Once again, Ethel diverted from his gaze. “I’d… rather not say. Thank you, Mr Frye, for everything you have done.” She readied herself to rise, but a hand quickly grabbed hers.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so nosy. And by the way, it’s Jacob.”
Ethel was astounded—panicked, almost—and remained seated.
“You said you worked as a maid?” he asked, his hand still atop of hers.
“Then how would you like to come and work for us?”
She was positively shocked. “What?”
“Well,” he said as he shrugged and leaned back, releasing her hand, “you need a job and a roof over your head. Agnes and Nigel could surely use a hand, Agnes could use the company, and I think my sister would appreciate more… well, refined female company. So, what do you say? We’ll pay you, of course. You’ll have to share sleeping quarters with Agnes—we’re a bit short on room for the moment—but she is a good sport.” He looked her dead in the eye. No wavering, no second thoughts. “Well?”
“I…” Ethel tried to find the right words, but she seemed stunned.
“It isn’t as fancy as I expect the Westborough House to be, but it’s warm, it’s high spirited and you get to see all of London.”
Apart from not quite understanding the ‘see all of London’-bit, she was overwhelmed. When she woke up that morning, hungry, dirty, and miserable, she would never have guessed that by the end of it, she would be offered a job by Mr Frye himself. Knowing his occupation wasn’t that of gentlemen, but of criminals, she understood that her position would be quite different as well. Nevertheless, what better place to be when the rest of the world hated you than with the outcasts of society? “Well then, I accept your offer.”
He smiled devilishly and tipped his hat slightly to the side. “Then we’d better be off if we want to catch the train at the station.” He offered her his arm as he stood, and Ethel took it.
“Catch the train?” she asked. “Where are we going?”
“Oh, you’ll see.”
When they returned outside, the rain had stopped and the stars had come out for the night. They spoke a bit on the way, but mostly, they walked in silence. A few Rooks greeted Mr Frye as they passed and one or two Blighters whom had dared set foot in Whitechapel quickly dispersed when seeing Mr Frye. For a moment, Ethel felt awfully self-aware; her dark hair was a great mess and her cheeks were quite dull. What would people say when seeing such a simple girl on Mr Frye’s arm? Only a few months prior, no one would have known his name. Now, half of London feared it. The girls were giggling when speaking about the young, handsome, and roguish Mr Frye, and sighing in deep admiration when speaking about his sister, Miss Frye. Their endeavours around London had become almost like fantasies for the common folk, tales like those of Robin Hood—sometimes Ethel thought the Frye twins weren’t even real, that they were nothing but phantoms. The first time she saw any of them was when she witnessed how Evie Frye singlehandedly struck down a Blighter twice her size for terrorising a poor old lady in the streets. A mere week later, the whole borough was in the hands of the Rooks. The phantoms were flesh and blood, and Ethel was to be their maid.
She could hardly wait.
The station was oddly abandoned. Perhaps it was normal for such a late hour, but Ethel had scarcely been at a train station at all. Moreover, she had never boarded a train before. There, on the platform, stood a black locomotive, steaming from its wheels. She had seen it before, and people often spoke of it as a ghost train; it ran around London, day and night, but never picked up any passengers.
“Well, here we are. This is Bertha,” said Mr Frye with a grin. “This is where you’ll work.”
Ethel couldn’t hold back a smile. “I’ll be working on a train? This train?”
“Well, since Kaylock bet his train on the fight between him and me, I won a train.”
“And you named it Bertha?” Ethel giggled.
“I didn’t,” Jacob scoffed. “Agnes did. It’s her train.”
“I thought it was yours.”
Mr Frye smiled, as though he was a bit ashamed. “Well, it’s… partly mine. Mine and Evie’s. You know, we sort of… rent it. Anyway, let’s just get on it.”
Ethel nodded and let Mr Frye help her atop the ledge.
“Welcome home,” said he lowly as he opened the door and let Ethel enter a carriage that was fully furnished like a study with heavy curtains, bookshelves, a sofa, a messy desk, a board, and a safe.
“Jacob, good you’re back, I need to—” A burly woman with a thick Scottish brogue stepped into the carriage from one end but stopped in the middle of her sentence when she saw Ethel. “And who might this be?”
“Agnes,” said Mr Frye, “this is Ethel. She is going to help you.”
“Well, I’d say,” Agnes huffed. “I didn’ know I needed help.”
Ethel felt her cheeks redden and she quickly let her eyes drop to her boots.
“I thought it might be good for you, having someone else than Nigel to talk to. And, to be fair, we don’t have a maid.”
“Very well,” Agnes sighed. “Ethel, was it?”
She looked up. “Yes, miss.”
“Have you worked as a maid before?”
She nodded. “Yes, miss.”
Agnes put her hands on her hips. “Where?”
“At Mr and Mrs Westborough’s, miss.”
Agnes knitted her brows and a curious worry stirred inside Ethel’s belly. Then, Agnes shrugged her shoulders. “Never heard of ‘em.”
“Well, now that the interrogation is out of the way, why don’t you show Ethel around?” Mr Frye said with a smile. “I have somewhere I need to be.”
With that, he tipped his hat and left the train.
Agnes looked at Ethel with her hands on her hips. “Well then. First things first, you need a bath. Wha’ have you been doin’? Rolling in mud?” Agnes showed Ethel around, and it didn’t take very long. The train had six passenger carriages: one each for Mr and Miss Frye, one kitchen, one diner, one for tools and gear, and one for Agnes—and now also Ethel. Agnes was a nice woman with a wonderful sense of humour. She reminded Ethel of a lady she knew back in her childhood, and Ethel knew she would feel right at home.
Do you fear God and promise to repent you sins?
Time was a peculiar thing, in Ethel’s mind. In the right places, a month could feel like a day—and in the wrong places, a day could feel like a month. And sometimes, it felt as though time did not exist at all. Only two weeks had gone by since Ethel had been employed by Mr Frye, but the Rooks’ train already felt like somewhat of a home to her. In a way, she had never felt more at home anywhere. Agnes was a sweetheart, and despite being surrounded by criminals, Ethel felt safe. Now and then, a redheaded child appeared to her, as if to reassure her that everything was good.
The Frye twins were good leaders and good employers. They came and went as they pleased—they had important things to attend to—but Mr Frye would often sit in his carriage, staring at his board with portraits on, brooding and mumbling. Ethel used to watch him from afar while cleaning the windows or sweeping the floors. When others were around, he was often in a light mood and unencumbered—witty, boyish even, telling vigorous stories. When alone, however, he was often brooding and creases would appear between his brows. At times, when he didn’t know Ethel was looking, she caught him observing her almost as intensely as he was his board.
Mr Frye was indeed very observant, but Miss Frye was even more so. Ethel seldom dared step into her carriage, afraid that she would interrupt Miss Frye or in some other way upset her. Miss Frye wasn’t an angry or even moody person—it was her piercing gaze that frightened Ethel. It was so bright, so intelligent, she feared it could gaze straight into her soul, scrutinising her.
Mr Frye was much more forgiving. He often smiled at Ethel, a charming and dangerous smile, but a smile nonetheless. His gaze was often more inquisitive than evaluating—he was more intrigued than he was sceptical. Ethel knew that gaze, for it was a man’s gaze. It was innocent enough, and raised no alarm, but it was nevertheless a man’s gaze and she had seen that before. She couldn’t pretend that the way he so ardently observed her from time to time wasn’t flattering; Mr Frye was indeed a handsome young man with many fine qualities. Ethel, however, knew better. She wasn’t so naive as to believe that a sought after man like him would take a particular liking to a girl as simple and plain as Ethel—hence, his attentions must have been nothing but curiosity.
Being used to be under such scrutiny, she enjoyed when she could watch others from the shadows, unnoticed. People looked so different when they thought no one was looking. One night, while peering at Mr Frye from behind a corner, he had been perceptive enough to notice her.
“I don’t know about you, Ethel, but I think that window is probably the cleanest window in England by now,” he said amusedly.
Ethel felt her cheeks redden violently as she fumbled to stand straight when the train came to a sharp turn. “I’m sorry, sir,” said she as she stumbled out from the shadows. “I didn’t mean to linger.”
Mr Frye looked up with a devilish smile. “Don’t you worry, the war against stains is an amiable one.”
Ethel smiled shyly. “I’ll leave you alone, sir.”
“No,” he said. “No, stay. Come join me.” He padded the seat next to him.
She hesitated, knowing it was not her place, but he insisted. So Ethel sat down.
“I could use a good conversation,” said Mr Frye as he leaned back. “These aren’t really listening.” He gestured at the large board he had on the wall, the one with all the portraits.
“You have been staring at that board for a while now, sir,” said Ethel. “May I ask you what it is?”
Mr Frye snickered. “It’s…” Then he sighed. “Well, sod it, you might as well know. The Rooks, as you know, are fighting a war against the Blighters. My sister and I, on the other hand, are fighting a war against their masters, the Templars. These… are the ones to eliminate.”
Ethel stared at the board. She understood what ‘to eliminate’ meant. The eyes from the portraits were staring blankly at her—some had already been crossed over with red paint. She had looked at the board many times before, knowing exactly what it meant. The red crosses had always been ominous—it was common knowledge that many of the well known people on the portraits had been murdered. This, was a death list.
From the corner of her eye she saw Mr Frye’s lips move. “Are you alive?”
She spun her head and stared at him. “What did you say?”
Mr Frye seemed surprised, and a bit wary. “I said, are you alright?”
Ethel’s eyes flickered and she took a sharp breath before nodding. “Yes. Forgive me, sir.”
But Mr Frye had a serious glare. “You do realise what I’ve just told you, don’t you?”
Ethel nodded. “Don’t you worry, Mr Frye, it’s not my place to tell anyone.” She meant it; it wasn’t her place to judge. The Frye twins and the Rooks was a dangerous crowd, indeed, but they had never done her any harm. Whatever reason Mr and Miss Frye had to eliminate these people, Ethel knew better than to question them. In fact, she owed them, for far more than they would ever know. She didn’t mind their darkness—in a way, she had never met more decent people.
Mr Frye smiled as he shook his head. “I’ve told you, it’s Jacob.”
She smiled bashfully. “Jacob.”
There were many small interactions like this between Ethel and Mr Frye. Each time, Mr Frye insisted they would speak to each other as equals. Although it was an amiable idea, Ethel simply found it unacceptable. She would humour him, of course, by calling him by his first name when he asked her, but she never dared to think about him that way. It was easier with Miss Frye. She never insisted on being called anything else and seemed to understand and respect the dynamics between employers and employees. Agnes and Ethel got along just fine, and even the curious fellow Mr Wynert was most entertaining. The Rooks were mostly jolly, though rowdy, but between them all, the life on the train was continuing rather smoothly.
Days turned into weeks. Soon enough, Ethel had worked as a Rooks maid for little more than a month. It was a long time since she had felt this happy. She felt like her old self again; her face was fuller, her cheeks were rosy and her hair was healthy again. She had plenty to eat and had managed to fill out her nearly emaciated form; she had new frocks, new boots and new coats. She felt like an entirely different person. It was quite different from working at the big house; it was certainly more eventful. The gang wars conjured up injuries and grief; people were crippled or killed, and families were prosecuted. Yet, the Rooks never lost hope. The Fryes worked day and night to liberate London, to make it a better place, but their struggles did not come without cost.
Miss Frye was lucky to have the calm and intelligent Mr Green to seek solace with, someone who preferred to be in the background instead of being in the midst of fighting. Mr Frye, however, seemed rather lonely. He was a restless soul, Ethel could sense that, and if he didn’t stagger onto the train with an empty bottle in hand, he had a busted lip or severely bruised knuckles. It had many times fallen upon Ethel to tend to his wounds. He was always grateful, but Ethel knew there was an ache inside of him that she could not mend. Perhaps Mr Frye believed that she could, for he always seemed to want her to linger. He wanted to converse with her, about insignificant things, and each time their conversation seemed to run out, he changed the subject. One time, he even asked her to sing for him. Ethel was far too mortified to humour him—she often sang to herself when she thought no one was looking, but the thought of singing for an audience horrified her.
“Our blackbird,” he had said with a crooked smile. “A blackbird as a Rook… how ironic.”
“Don’t be silly,” she had answered him while trying to hide her blushing cheeks. “I’m no songstress.”
“You’re far too modest for your own good, Ethel! You can afford to brag a bit!”
“Nonsense. I find it better to lower people’s expectations than raising them, for I know not which I can live up to.”
“You live up to mine.”
“You’re far too kind, sir.”
She would mostly appreciate their playful banter, but knew she had to rebuff his verbal advances lest she might send him signals she did not want to emit. One night, Mr Frye wobbled onto the train with a fortune in hand, but he certainly looked as though he had fallen flat on his face.
“Oh, dear!” Ethel breathed and hurried to fetch the medical kit. Mr Frye had slumped down in his sofa, his hat still on. Gently, Ethel removed it from his brow and placed it beside him. “What has gotten into you, sir?!”
He grinned, reeking of whiskey and blood. A foul smell. “I won, Ethel. In Westminster, no less! Six hundred pounds!” He seemed utterly pleased with himself as the girl sat down next to him. “I beat the bastards. Sing it out and let the whole of London know!” He flung his arms out in a grandiose gesture. “Jacob Frye is the greatest fighter of them all!”
“But at what cost?!” Ethel was rather cross. It was the same with all boys and men—sticks and fists, knives and pistols. Their worth lay in violent conquests; land, wealth, women… nothing was done with thought, nothing was done with care! Instead, they beat each other senseless in the hopes of achieving something. Mr Frye had indeed a very athletic and brawny build, and Ethel understood that his disposition made it imperative to him to physically defend his territory, but to seek such violence as a form of entertainment? That was pure madness. “Reckless!” she muttered under her breath as she gently dabbed his swollen brow with some alcohol. When Mr Frye hissed in pain, Ethel spat, “oh, you deserve that!”
Mr Frye chuckled. “What would I do without your gentle touch, Ethel?”
She glared at him. “I’m fairly certain you’d keep on with your ridiculous brawling whether or not I’m here, sir.”
“Well, if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t be hit as much,” Mr Frye teased. “There would be no gain to that, now, would there?”
“You may try to pin your recklessness on me, sir,” Ethel sighed and took another clean cloth and drenched it with alcohol, “but we both know—” She pressed the cloth at the wound on his cheek and he hissed again. “—that you might just be a poor sportsman.”
He snorted a laugh, catching both her wrists in his hands. “You’re a cheeky one, aren’t you?!”
Ethel froze, heart beating thrice as fast. She felt as though all blood disappeared from her face even though it might have been the opposite, and cold fear spread through her body. You know how it starts. The world was still, but her eyes flickered. You know what happens next. Time disappeared—stopped entirely. You know how it ends.
From a complete stand still, the world started to spin uncontrollably and the only thing that kept her grounded were the hands that held her wrists tightly, the hands that shackled her and burned through her skin and into her bones.
“You little wench! Don’t walk away from me when I’m speaking to you, come here! Who do you think you are, you whore?!”
They all flickered before her eyes, the memories, like ghosts in her mind. She stared into his hazel eyes in an attempt to beg—she wanted the spinning to stop. As a bold and last resort, she snatched her wrists away, out of his grip, and the world stopped spinning. She stared at him in shock, by what just happened and by what she just did. Mr Frye looked rather surprised.
“I… I’m sorry,” he slurred out, but Ethel had already risen. “It was only a joke. Ethel! I meant nothing by it.”
She left the carriage. Her body was shaking and she cursed under her breath as she headed towards her quarters. “Damn it all!” she spat as she closed the door behind her. Agnes was fast asleep. She had been drinking, and the smell of whiskey filled the carriage. Ethel put her hand to her mouth. Such a foul smell.
I told you. You will never be free.
Defeated before even attempting a fight, she broke down into soft sobs.
She avoided Mr Frye as much as possible after that particular incident, which was difficult since he continuously sought her company. Of course, he was innocent and she didn’t blame him. He could not know what ghosts he stirred up from her past. Perhaps her methods of overcoming her own demons were unfair and irrational, but it was the only way she knew how to do it. It pained her, because she realised how much she did enjoy their talks, but she could not risk tainting her image of him as good and kind. Mr Frye was however determined—he would not let her avoidance last. He seemed to return to the train more often than before, and in much better conditions. At times, he seemed to be waiting for her, and on a train, there were only so many ways one could go. He followed her, almost to the point where he was pestering her, just to get a chance to speak to her.
One day as she entered his study, in the belief that he was out it the city, she froze once she saw him sitting on his couch. She quickly turned, hoping he had not seen her, but it was too late.
“Please, Ethel!” he said as he swiftly apprehended her and shut the carriage door, hindering her from leaving. “You can’t avoid me forever. Say something!”
“You’re in my way, sir.”
He groaned in impatience. “Whatever I did, I’m sorry. You’ve been avoiding me for a week now! And for what? What did I do?”
Ethel didn’t dare look at him. She kept her gaze on the floor as she shook her head.
“Come on,” he urged desperately, but then softly said, “please? I was drunk and stupid, I never meant to upset you.”
“I’m not upset.”
“So why don’t you want to look at me?”
She stood close to him, close enough to feel the heat from his body, and she didn’t feel threatened. There was a strange ache in her heart—she wanted to tell him everything and explain to him that he wasn’t the villain. Not really. She didn’t know what compelled her to do it, but in the spur of the moment, she quickly planted a chaste kiss on his bearded cheek, right across his scar, which seemed to make him rather speechless.
“I’m not cross with you, I promise,” she whispered. Seizing the moment, Ethel slipped through the door and hurried through the train back to her quarters. She couldn’t hold back a smile, however small it might have been, despite the slight panic that rose in her chest. She still didn’t know why on earth she did what she did, and she knew not what consequences awaited. There was however a feeling inside of her, a feeling that told her that things would not happen as they usually did. Foolish girl, things always do!
She clenched her jaw tightly. “Leave me alone!”
“You seem to be in a foul mood, I hear?”
Ethel turned around, only to see Agnes whom had just entered the carriage. “I—I’m sorry, Agnes. I didn’t see you.”
“Then who were you talkin’ to, lassie?”
Feeling her heart sink, she dropped her gaze. “Myself, I guess.”
“There is something about her, Evie.”
Evie Frye groaned as she rolled her eyes. It was far from the first time she had had to listen to her brother’s ravings about the girl he so impulsively hired as a maid a little less than two months prior. It was always Ethel this and Ethel that. There was seemingly nothing that girl could do wrong in Jacob’s eyes! Evie didn’t disapprove—she adored Ethel—but she didn’t want to hear about her every single day! She had seen her brother smitten many times before, but she had never seen him this love-stricken before.
“I can’t figure it out, and it drives me insane!”
“Jacob!” Evie snapped and tore her eyes from her book she was trying to read in her chair. “Stop being such a child! You have an infatuation. That’s what you can’t get through your thick skull.” She saw her brother furiously form his lips around words that never escaped his mouth. Instead, he scowled and threw himself on Evie’s bed with his hands behind his head. Evie was outraged. “Get your filthy boots off my bed!”
“Well,” he muttered, clearly ignoring her comment, “it doesn’t matter now since she clearly doesn’t feel the same way.”
“Have you asked her?” Evie scoffed impatiently while rising from the chair to push his feet off her bed.
Her brother frowned. “No. I don’t have to, it’s rather clear.”
“Oh, so you mean that her battering eyelashes and her flushed cheeks are clear signs that she doesn’t like you?” Evie spat and sat back down.
Jacob glared at her.
Evie rolled her eyes again. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Jacob! Just tell her!”
“Alright,” Jacob scoffed. “I’ll tell her, when you tell Greenie.”
Evie almost choked. “What?”
“You have feelings for Greenie,” said Jacob and shrugged. “It’s a bit sad, really, but there it is.”
“What?! I don’t—” She stopped herself before she lost control and took a deep breath. “Look, you do whatever you want, Jacob, as always. Tell her or don’t tell her, but please, stop pestering me about it! Now, if you excuse me, I have better things to do than listening to your childish love tantrums.” And with that, Evie crossed her arms over her chest and waited for her brother to leave her be.
Jacob stared sluggishly at her, as if he hadn’t understood a word she’d said. Of course, that wasn’t the case and she knew that—he just wanted to get on her nerves. That was seemingly his absolute favourite thing to do.
Finally, Jacob rolled his eyes and huffed before rising from the bed. “Fine. Go ahead and act like you’re a cold-hearted wretch. Soon enough, I’m sure Greenie will believe it and then you’ll have no more problems.”
“Except for you,” Evie muttered under her breath.
Jacob laughed scornfully, “oh, sister dear!”
When he had left the carriage and closed the door, Evie growled loudly. She hated when Jacob was right! It didn’t happen very often, but she hated when it did.
“’Stop being such a child, Jacob! I am so much cleverer than you, Jacob! Stop wasting my time, Jacob!’” He threw his hands about in the air. “Well, you’re wasting my bloody time!”
He huffed, feeling how his anger slowly slipped away, but he was still rather annoyed. He couldn’t figure out why Ethel was so peculiar, even if his life depended on it, and Evie refused to help him. He thought that when she had kissed him on the cheek that day, everything would go back to normal. After all, he only did call her cheeky. He thought that she would talk to him again, and tend to his wounds with those wonderfully soft hands of hers; she would sing again, with that sweet voice he often heard in his dreams, and she would laugh again with that same smile that could melt even the coldest of hearts. But she shied away from him still. It wasn’t as determinedly as before, but she still kept from looking at him and seemed to converse as little as possible. He had tried to encourage her, he had tried to convince her that he was listening to her if she felt the need to talk about anything, but she kept silent. What was even worse was that Jacob couldn’t help but to adore the girl. He couldn’t help but to watch her whenever he could, and he couldn’t help but to be entranced by those silver eyes of hers. He couldn’t help but to imagine the taste of her lips and the feel of her in his arms. He simply couldn’t help it; Evie was right, he had an infatuation—or even more than that, he was in love. Oh, how he hated when Evie was right!—which she practically always was.
Jacob wasn’t the sort of man to pine over a girl; he knew how to address ladies and he knew how to flatter them. He never found it difficult to show his admiration for a woman, nor did he find it particularly difficult to read a woman—he had a way with women, and they certainly had a way with him. Ethel was, however, a different matter. She was fickle, and sometimes a bit odd. It seemed as though she didn’t have any sense of self-worth whatsoever, as if she’d never heard a kind word spoken about her in her entire life. She had a strange obsession with titles and would stubbornly continue to call him Mr Frye, no matter how many times he told her that Mr Frye was his father. He knew she’d been working as a maid since she was very young, but her bearings were more that of a slave. It was as if she had no own person—she was just a maid.
It angered him, not only because he had a fundamental hatred against social classes, but also because to him, she was so much more than just a maid. He had felt it the moment he’d looked her in the eyes that rainy night in Whitechapel. From that first moment, he had been intrigued by her. Bewitched, even. She was like every other girl in London, and yet she was like none he’d ever met. It was all so very curious. She was mysterious about her past and said as little as possible about it—Jacob knew nothing more than that her mother and two brothers were both gone, and that her father was a drunkard she hadn’t seen in years. Everything else about her past was shrouded in mystery.
He sat down in his sofa and pondered, long and hard, about the conundrum that was Miss Ethel Smith. Her surname had been pried from her clutches; after grovelling and endless flatter, she had finally revealed it to him. Her past, he then realised, was probably something she did not wish to remember. She carried her secrets and her demons alone.
From then on, he tried to show her respect by keeping his distance. He still observed her with vigour and he still tried to make her speak to him, but he was careful. Soon—though not soon enough in Jacob’s opinion—Ethel came about, like a cat that needed to feel trust before letting its guard down. She began smiling again, much to Jacob’s delight, and she dared to actually converse with him again. Finally, she was once again singing while doing her chores. Whatever hardship she had been going through, Jacob thought, had finally passed.
Slowly, Jacob dared to be a bit bolder. She didn’t shy away—on the contrary, she would even blush and smile from time to time at his flirtatious remarks.
“Didn’t you get the floor clean enough last time you were here, or did you come back just so that I could enjoy your… alluring presence?”
“Why should I listen to a word you’re saying? You’re only trying to flatter me.”
“Yes. Does it work?”
All in all, Jacob’s heart soared.
There was, however, the tiny predicament of him not being able to concentrate on missions. He could hear his father’s words, through his sister’s mouth, echoing inside his head about not letting personal feelings compromise the mission, but for the time being, he couldn’t care less. Blighters and Templars were still Blighters and Templars no matter how he ended their lives, may it be stealthy and quick or brutal and chaotic.
One day, barely three month after Ethel’s arrival, Jacob had managed to start a joyful conversation between the two of them about his eventful night with the Prime Minister’s wife.
“I swear, I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life!” said Jacob with a deep huff.
Ethel giggled. “Well, at least you got her dog back.”
“A mutt that hates me, no less.”
She giggled even sweeter and it chimed like music in Jacob’s ears. “Well, you know, it is said that animals can detect things about people that most people can’t. Perhaps the dog knew you’re a brute.”
Jacob smirked. “Oh, trust me, so did its mistress. She seems to have a strange fascination with… well, brutes. Why else would she want me to escort her?”
“I’m sure there are many reasons.”
Jacob grinned. “Well, of course, I am handsome and charming, and I just happen to be a great escort, and she could sense that.”
“Now you’re flattering yourself, sir!”
“Well, why don’t we find out?”
Ethel hesitated for a moment. “What do you mean, sir?”
“Let me take you out,” said Jacob hopefully.
Ethel smiled bashfully. “Don’t be silly. Why would you take me out—I’m the help?”
Rolling his eyes while slumping down against the back of the sofa, he sneered, “fine. Then I won’t. I just thought you’d like to look around a bit. Sightsee, if you will. Buckingham Palace, the parks, the—”
“The parks?” Ethel squealed breathlessly.
Jacob nodded in fake innocence. “They’re beautiful this time of year, you know… or so I hear.”
“And you would take me there?”
“Of course.” Then he sighed dramatically. “But, you’re right, you’re only a maid. If you go too far from the train you might catch fire.”
Ethel scoffed and tossed a dust rag at him. “Stop that.”
Jacob chuckled and took the rag in his hand. “So, how about tomorrow?”
He could see how her cheeks started to glow lightly as she suddenly fumbled with her apron. “But I don’t have anything fancy to wear, sir! I cannot walk about Westminster looking like this!”
“Why not? You look perfectly fine to me.”
Ethel rolled her eyes. “You’re too kind, sir.”
“It isn’t kindness if it’s the truth.” Then he sighed. “Come now, Ethel! If anyone looks at you sideways, they’ll have to deal with me.”
Her face was suddenly violently flushed as she quickly snatched the dust rag back from Jacob’s hand. “Well…” she said as she kept her gaze steadily at her feet. “Tomorrow then.” She quickly curtsied before hurrying from the carriage.
Jacob was stunned by her sudden mood swing, but was pleased about the turn-out. Tomorrow, it would be just him and Ethel on a romantic stroll through St James’s park and he could barely wait.
Ethel stared at her own reflection in hers and Agnes’s carriage. She had stared at her own image many times before, and all she had ever seen was a plain girl with no prospects—she was nothing special, nothing extraordinary. She was a maid, a girl whom had nothing else to show for than her skills as part of a staff. Now, however, she saw herself in a different light. The way Mr Frye spoke to her, as a person and as an equal, was unlike anything she had ever experienced from a man. His patience, though he was known for being quite an impatient man, was astounding and he seemed to care for her in ways no man had ever cared for her before. She knew that Mr Frye wasn’t a gentleman; he was a scoundrel, a criminal… he was the kind of man no respectable woman should ever even dare to look upon—but he was also the kind of man every woman turned to look at anyway. Despite all that, he was kind and fair. A feeling that had been growing in her belly for the past few weeks was stirring violently and she couldn’t help but to smile. She could barely believe that someone like Mr Frye would have such an ardent and genuine interest in her—never, not even in her wildest dreams, would she have thought something this heavenly would happen to her. She observed her reddened cheeks in the mirror and noted that it suited her rather well.
That night, she could barely sleep. She was too nervous and too ecstatic. She had been out and about town plenty of times with Agnes, running errands and going shopping, but she had never even set foot in Westminster. Not only was she getting to see the beautiful parks of Westminster, but she was seeing them together with Mr Frye. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his devilishly handsome smile, and she curled up in a fit of silent giggles. The child stood by her bedside, with fiery hair and brilliant eyes. She giggled together with Ethel, but said nothing.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way, Minnie,” whispered Ethel before closing her eyes, still with a smile on her lips. When morning arrived, she did not know how many hours she had managed to sleep but she still felt rested. She hurried with her morning chores before heading back to ready herself for the day out. Her frock was clean enough, though plain, and she shined her shoes as well as she possibly could. She carefully fashioned her hair in a neat bun, letting a few strands curl over her ears, and pinched her cheeks and lips to give her some colour. When she was done, she still wasn’t an extraordinary beauty, but she figured that it was as good as it was ever going to get.
“Be thankful for what God has given you,” she said, “for leaves are just as pretty as petals.”
Suddenly, a looming darkness grew behind her, like a storm cloud brewing in the distance.
It’s good enough for your purpose.
Her heart sank deep into the pit of her stomach. “Stop it.”
The shadow grew larger. You know how it ends.
You know how it always ends.
The shadow crawled along the walls, the floor and the ceiling, reaching further and further into her soul. It’s the natural order and you know it. The room started to quiver as a strange and dark sound resonated from within the walls. It was like a shriek from the deepest pits of hell that grew louder and louder as the shadow engulfed her whole.
“Leave me alone!” She flung her hand over her ears and sank down on the floor with her eyes tightly shut. “Leave me alone.”
Suddenly, the noise stopped, as if reversed. When opening her eyes and removing the hands from her ears, the morning light once again spilled through the windows and the faint shuffle of the train was all she could hear.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
The train would be arriving soon at the Victoria Station. Jacob had carefully dusted his hat and his coat as best as he could—he didn’t necessarily have to be covered with blood and dirt on a nice day out with the woman he was so desperately trying to court.
When he was joined by Ethel in his study, he was struck by how much care she seemed to have put in her appearance that particular day; her hair was nicely laid, her dress looked so different without the pinned apron, and she had even shined her shoes. There was, however, something not quite right about her. Her face was strangely pale and her eyes seemed wary. Whether it was worry or nervousness, he did not know. He smiled in an attempt to reassure her and said, “are you ready come away with your dashing escort?”
Ethel smiled carefully. “Must I ask you to be civil, sir?”
Jacob smirked. “So you don’t like my charming remarks?”
But Ethel huffed and threw a shawl over her shoulders just as the train came to a halt. “Charming or narcissistic? It’s impossible to tell.”
Jacob couldn’t hold a surprised, but impressed, grin back. “Cheeky…” He followed Ethel onto the platform. The girl seemed rather lost in the crown, and Jacob offered her his arm. “Shall we?”
“Thank you, Mr Frye.”
“Ethel,” Jacob chuckled, “could we please put all formalities away for today?”
The girl on his arm chuckled lightly—a delightful sound!—and said, “as you wish, Jacob Frye.”
He was surprised and absolutely thrilled about how chatty the girl was that day. She seemed to light up with the sun and the sights, and he had never seen her that happy. When she laughed, the sounds travelled through Jacob and into his very core. The feeling was like a drug, an obsession, and he couldn’t get enough of it. He would do silly things just to hear that delicious laugh of hers, and once they had found a comfortable spot by the lake at St James’s Park and Ethel had—surprisingly enough—started to sing, Jacob knew that if he didn’t do anything about his feelings, he would explode.
As soon as she had finished her hymn with a smile, Jacob seized the opportunity and grabbed her hand. “Ethel,” he started, but knew not how to continue. He sighed. “I know… I know I’m not a Prince Charming—although I am rather charming…” He sneered but gathered himself. “Look, I can’t stop thinking about you. I haven’t been very discreet about my feelings, I know that. I don’t want to seem too imposing.” He didn’t want to be forceful, he knew she was delicate, but he wanted her to know. He wanted her to know what she meant to him and how much he cared about her.
She seemed to be in shock, and said nothing.
Jacob leaned closer. “Ethel, let me kiss you.”
She just stared at him with doe like eyes while her cheeks turned scarlet. It was the smallest nod, but a nod nonetheless, and it was all Jacob needed before letting his lips reach hers. He tried to be gentle, tried to be civil, and pulled back before he couldn’t be civil any longer.
Ethel looked rather terrified.
“You didn’t like it?” Jacob was smirking, but he was suddenly quite unsure of himself. He had been told that he was a very adequate kisser, but her silence worried him—he hoped he hadn’t scared her off again.
She then looked down on the grass while trying to speak. “I… it…”
Jacob gently took her face in his hand and yanked her chin upwards. “It’s just me, Ethel. Simple old Jacob. Tell me, did you like it?”
Again, the nod was barely there at all, but he saw it. He leaned in again, his breath short. “Tell me if you don’t want me to kiss you again. Tell me, and I’ll stop.” But she said nothing, did nothing, and so he went in once again for a kiss. This time, he was even gentler. He wanted her to understand that he didn’t want to threaten her or make her feel uncomfortable. But she didn’t seem to be. In fact, she parted her lips—only slightly—as Jacob touched them with his. She didn’t exactly answer him, but she didn’t pull away, so Jacob dared to deepen the kiss. He moved his hand to the back of her neck and he thought he felt her lean closer to him. Jacob could barely think straight. All he could think about was her sweet lips, her smooth skin underneath his fingertips, and the jolts of electricity and that spurred throughout his body.
Perhaps he grew too demanding, or perhaps she had changed her mind, for she suddenly pulled away and put her arms out as to keep Jacob at a distance.
She seemed out of breath as she said, “I-I’m sorry, sir, but this isn’t proper!”
Jacob scoffed. “Who cares about proper?!”
“Jacob!” Ethel cried as she straightened and fixed the skirts of her dress.
He chuckled. “Oh, you are cold!”
Ethel didn’t look at him, but he could spy the ghost of a smile upon her lips.
He stole a few more kisses during that day, and even though Ethel never truly answered him, she didn’t object—at least not in a serious manner. She would playfully push him away and then smile bashfully. They were the definitions of a pair of love birds, and Jacob could certainly live with that.
They stayed out until dark because Jacob wanted to show Ethel St James’s Park by gaslight. As the night turned colder, Jacob offered her his coat. It was big on her, but she seemed relieved though slightly embarrassed.
“Aren’t you cold, then?” she asked him quietly.
Jacob smirked. “Oh, my blood run hot, so don’t you worry about me. Besides, what swine I’d be if I let a lady shiver in the cold!”
Ethel smiled, and then Jacob felt her soft lips against his cheek again. “Thank you, Jacob. For everything.”
The way she said his name was like magic. He let out a suffering groan as he leaned closer to her. “Look what you do to me, Ethel Smith!” He looked into her silver eyes, deeply and longingly, and she did not look away. He slowly raised his hand to caress her hair and cheek, surprised that he would find someone he would grow to care so much about in times as these; sadness suddenly weighed him down as he realised that while Crawford Starrick was still alive, he could not give her all that she deserved. He could not give her a home, a sanctuary, a place of peace. “If I was a gentleman,” he said lowly, “I would marry you in a heartbeat.”
She smiled sweetly, but her eyes could not hide the confusion that clouded them.
Jacob suddenly realised what he had said and quickly apologised. “I—no… I didn’t mean that. Well, yes, but…” He sighed. “If circumstances were different…”
But Ethel smiled wider and leaned into his hand on her cheek. “We are allowed to dream, just a little.”
“One day,” said Jacob and cupped her face with his other hand as well, “it might not have to be just dreams.” He then chuckled. “When I’m at the very top, when I have liberated this city, I might be good enough to marry you myself.”
It was at that moment Ethel broke into a fit of laughter that made her eyes sparkle like winter stars before she reached up to press her lips against his. “I’ve never met anyone sillier than you!”
Jacob knew not how to act—as of this moment, every kiss had been stolen by him. He thought that even though she had not actively refused him, her feelings might not be equivalent to his. Now, however, he dared to hope.
She smiled at him, her eyes gleaming in the gaslight, and grabbed his arm and tugged him along. “As wonderful as today has been, I’m spent.”
Jacob took a deep breath. “Ready to head back, then?”
“Yes!” she chuckled.
They walked amongst the wealthy people of Westminster and Jacob saw how Ethel was looking at the women’s pretty dresses while discretely tightening the coat around herself. He also saw how the fine ladies looked down their noses on Ethel and himself, causing the girl on his arm to look down on her feet. He clenched his jaw and felt the anger rise in his chest. He couldn’t care less about people’s opinion of him, but Ethel cared about their opinions of her. She cared, and they were judging her harshly.
He pulled her closer and said, “come, let’s take a shortcut. These people make me nauseated.”
Ethel did not answer, but seemed relieved as they turned into an alley. The next street wasn’t as busy, and Jacob spotted some Rooks with a carriage further down.
“Wait here. I’ll get us a ride back to the station.” He moved her into the light before hurrying along the street. Two Rooks stood by a carriage, smoking cigars. He recognised them as Thatcher and Jet, two brothers he recruited from the Blighters. They were a brutal pair, but reliable enough.
“Oi, Jacob!” Thatcher called.
Jacob tipped his hat. “Hello, boys! You mind taking me and Miss Ethel back to the train?”
Jet set his cigar between his lips, flipped his hat back and grabbed the reins.
“No problems, gov,” said Thatcher. Then he raised his eyebrows as his eyes landed on something behind Jacob. “Does Miss Ethel usually gob with bobbies?”
Jacob furrowed his brows in confusion before turning around. He could see the girl cornered by two policemen. He narrowed his eyes; it seemed innocent enough, but before he knew it, one of the constables had grabbed hold of her arm and was trying to take her away.
He didn’t hesitate before striding into a sprint; like a rushing bull, not even the harsh impact of one of the constables’ bodies against his own could slow him down. The constable flew several feet forward and the hard knock ended in a bad fall. While the one was groaning on the ground, the other objected loudly and pushed Ethel aside. Jacob straightened, his chest heaving violently from anger and adrenaline.
“Are you mad?!” the policeman shouted.
Jacob turned to face him. Ethel was on the ground, crawling away from the scene as quickly as she could, but the constable reached to grab her collar.
“You’re not going anywhere, witch!” he spat and pulled his pistol.
“Oh, you should get your hands off of that woman,” Jacob sneered and swaggered confidently towards them. “If you want to get out of this alive, that is.”
The constable quickly aimed his weapon at Jacob. The pistol cocked and the shot echoed deafeningly, mingled with Ethel’s blood hurling scream. Jacob leaned left, just slightly, before grabbing the hand holding the firearm and using it as a lever to drag the constable to him before letting his forehead brutally smash against the policeman’s brow. The bobby helmet was knocked to the ground and the man was reeling. Jacob returned to bury his hidden blade into the constable’s throat. The pistol hit the ground and when the echoes faded, the sudden silence was accompanied by the gurgling sounds of a dying man. Jacob stared into his eyes, watched as the life disappeared from them, before retracting the blade into his gauntlet and letting the dead body fall onto the ground.
He exhaled deeply before reaching down for Ethel’s hand. She was shivering violently and couldn’t keep her terrified eyes from the dead body on the ground. Thatcher and Jet rushed to their side with their carriage and Jacob ordered Ethel to get inside. Turning to Thatcher and Jet, he said, “get out of here. Someone must’ve heard the shot.”
“Wha’ about you, gov?”
“Don’t mind me, I’m not done here.”
The carriage rushed off and Jacob then returned to the constable he had rammed and turned him onto his back. He was still alive, but his nose was badly broken from the fall and he was probably missing some teeth. Terrified, he looked up at Jacob.
“P-please,” he wheezed, spitting blood as he spoke. “Please, don’t kill me!”
“Why were you arresting her?”
He shook his head—painfully, it seemed. “I don’t know. It was Johnson! He said he knew her! He said she should be dead! Please, sir, I have a family!”
Jacob huffed before clenching his jaw tightly. “They all have.” The blade opened the constable’s throat and within seconds, his life had slipped away. The familiar whistle of the police was heard from not too far away and Jacob quickly launched himself atop the rooftops with his zip line and watched as the two bodies were found by the police. Jacob gritted his teeth. He could just hear Evie’s merciless scolding of him once she learned of his actions. It didn’t matter, though, because his head was filled with questions about why that constable had known Ethel and why she was supposed to be dead. He slipped into the shadows and made his way towards the hideout.
There was a commotion in the diner carriage—Thatcher had evidently told the extravagant story of how Jacob Frye had taken down two bobbies like a rampaging locomotive—but despite their cheers as Jacob entered, he continued through the train. He knocked at the door to Ethel’s carriage, but Agnes’s voice was the one to answer.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, wha’ is it now?!” she growled as she flung the door open. “Jacob? Do you know what time it is?!”
He clenched his jaw. “My apologies, Agnes, but I need to talk to Ethel.”
Agnes’s face suddenly turned sour. She sighed and lowly said, “I think she’d had enough for tonight. Leave the poor lass be, Jacob.”
“Agnes, I need to talk to—”
“Well, then you’ll have to do that in the mornin’. Good night, Jacob.” The Scottish woman slammed the door shut, leaving Jacob quite speechless. He was just about to bang on the door once more, but stopped himself and decided that it might be best for him to calm down and clear his mind properly before doing anything he might regret in the morning.
She had heard the locks on that door open and close more times than she could remember. The sound of the hatch sliding open to reveal hungry eyes echoed in her mind like an ominous cry from the distance. The feel of restrictions was still tearing at her wrists and sometimes when she closed her eyes, she could feel the peculiar and faint smell of burning air, and feel the familiar and unsettling prickling in her fingertips. Sometimes, when the dark was as thickest, she could feel their poisonous touch. She was afraid that the shame would never wash away. She remembered the pain as if it was still an open wound and she remembered the foul smell and the terrifying sounds, like wild animals, or like electricity. She thought that part of her life was over, that she had managed to escape it, but when she saw that constable’s face, the memories came rushing back like a freight train. They came to her like shadows against the walls, laughing at her, grabbing at her.
Mingled with her horrifying memories were the recollections of the deafening sound of a gunshot and the wheezing of a dying man. The day had been so perfect, almost unreal, but ended in catastrophe. She should have known; no day could be that perfect without punishment. Agnes had tried to comfort her while they both were getting dressed for the day, saying that chaos should be expected when socialising with the likes of Jacob Frye. However, it didn’t comfort her at all—their day in Westminster had made her realise that she had feelings for the man, feelings she never thought she would be able to feel ever again. He was not the reason for the catastrophe; he was her saviour, albeit a rather explosive and chaotic one. Ethel was dreading what would have happened had it not been for his timely intervention, yet, she feared he had been too late still.
Everything she thought she had escaped had caught up with her, finally. Everything.
It never left you, and it never will.
Jacob never expected Evie to be impressed by his actions the night before. Her scolding him for being indiscreet was so familiar to him, he rarely listened to her. This was no different.
“Jacob,” Evie spat angrily as she demanded his attention. “You are impossible! You’re reckless, you’re irresponsible, and you’re—”
“They were going to arrest her.” He had never felt the need to justify his deeds before, but this fuelled his anger still and he knew himself enough to know that he was capable of doing almost anything if provoked. He knew that Evie knew it as well.
His sister fell silent and started at him.
“They were going to arrest her. They said that she should be dead.”
“What do you mean?”
Jacob sighed impatiently. “I mean what I say! Ethel was being arrested. I stopped them. End of story.”
“No,” Evie exploded. “Not end of story! The police—the police, Jacob!—said that Ethel should be dead! What does that mean to you, Jacob?”
“Nothing,” he said as he shrugged. “It means nothing.”
“It means,” Evie corrected, “that we know nothing about Ethel. We need to find out more about who she is.”
Jacob clenched his jaw. He knew she was right, but he felt as though Ethel’s life was her own—if she wanted to tell her secrets, it should be by her own free will. “And who’s going to ask her? What’s your grand plan?”
“My plan,” Evie sighed impatiently, “is that you take responsibility for once and do what you should have done a long time ago—learn to know the people who work for you.”
Jacob snorted. “Well, then I’d have to learn to know half of London’s underground network, and that’s just too much work.”
“Oh, poor you. If you haven’t spoken with her about this until tomorrow, I will.”
He crossed his arms. He knew his sister would never be vicious to the girl, nor would she intentionally hurt or humiliate her… but she could certainly be stern and intimidating—Lord knows Jacob had grown up with that fear. He sighed. “No. Let me talk to her, but it might take a bit longer than until tomorrow.”
“Just…” Evie flexed her jaw. “Just promise me, Jacob. Promise me that you’ll speak to her?”
“Trust me,” he muttered, “I’ll get to the bottom of this.”
It was obvious that Evie wanted to give him a sharp response, but bit her tongue, raised her palms and left the carriage. Jacob sighed deeply and leaned back in the sofa. Sooner or later, he thought, Ethel would come in. He hadn’t seen her all morning, which was a bit odd.
He waited for a long while, but still no Ethel. Eventually, he grew impatient and searched the train for her. No one seemed to have seen her at all that day and when he asked Agnes about her, he was scolded once again by the Scotswoman.
“Oh, bloody hell, Agnes!” Jacob exclaimed. “I just want to talk to her!”
“After wha’ you put her through last night, young man, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Agnes bellowed. “One does not spill blood in front of a lady!”
Jacob clenched his hands into fists in an attempt to calm himself. “I know, Agnes. That’s why I need to talk to her. I want to apologise.”
“Well, it’s probably goin’ to take more than that, ‘casue the lass hasn’t left her bed yet. She is in shambles, Jacob!”
He frowned and stormed past her to their carriage. He tried to plan what he should say to her, but nothing seemed appropriate. He had killed a man right in front of her eyes—while he was used to the gruesomeness, he could never expect her to be. He let his knuckles fall in a soft rapping on the door, still loud enough to be heard over the train noise. “Ethel, would you let me in?”
There was no answer from within.
He rapped again, this time a bit harder. “Ethel? Would you please let me in? I’m sorry for what happened last night.” When there was, once again, no answer, Jacob signed impatiently and said, “Ethel, I know the door in unlocked. If you don’t answer me, you give me no choice but to enter uninvited.” Yet again, there was no answer. The rapping turned into bangs. “Ethel, are you in there?” Still no answer. Jacob didn’t know whether to be annoyed or worried; Agnes had said that the girl hadn’t even risen from bed so if she wasn’t in her carriage, then where could she be? He drove a hand through his hair and hesitated for a moment before putting his hand on the handle. “Ethel, I’m coming in now.”
Ethel, he’s coming in now. How sweet, he graces you with a warning. None of the others ever did.
She had begged it to stop. She had cried and begged and wailed, but it had not stopped. If anything, it had become more malicious. She was exhausted, spent, and felt as though she had nothing more to give. Her tears had long dried out and her will had vanished as though it escaped out the window. She barely moved when she heard Mr Frye enter, but her insides screamed with the little vigour she still had left—for what it was worth, she didn’t want him to see her like this.
“Ethel?” His voice was soft, but worried. “Are you unwell? Ethel?”
Her mouth was dry and her body was stiff. Had she not been so tainted, so damaged, she would have begged him to hold her and comfort her and tell her that everything was going to be alright even though she knew it wasn’t. She could hardly move, and part of her didn’t even want to.
“Ethel!” Her body was like a ragdoll as his strong hands pulled her up into his arms. “Answer me, damn it!” He slid his body underneath hers to support her on the bed, and he held her face in his hand, shaking it as if he was trying to wake her up. She let her eyes roll to meet his and her slow blink seemed to cause a terrible relief in Mr Frye’s handsome face. “Oh… you’re alive. You really gave me a fright there!”
She thought she had no tears left to cry, she really did, but as she felt his comforting touch and saw his caring gaze, her cheeks were once again wet. She tried to coax up an explanation, but nothing but a weak sob escaped her. It was a most curious feeling, being able to completely relax in his embrace as though she knew in her core that he would never hurt her. She let him pull her closer and she sobbed even harder as he hushed her calmly.
“I’m so sorry, Ethel,” he said against her hair. “I shouldn’t have put you thought what I did. I ruined a… perfect day.”
“No,” she snivelled against his chest. “You didn’t ruin it.”
He sighed. “I know it must have been a gruesome sight… I’m sorry, no lady should have to see that.” He then sighed again, troubled. “Ethel, if there’s anything on your mind, you can talk to me. Why did that constable know you?”
What will he do once he finds out the truth, Ethel? He is no gentleman…
She wanted to tell it to stop, to shut its mouth once and for all, but the voice spoke words of truth—indeed, not even gentlemen were truly gentle.
“Ethel?” he asked softly. “Why did he know you?”
“I don’t know,” she lied. “I don’t know… oh, it was h-horrible!” A wave of sorrow came flushing over her again, causing her body to shiver violently while she sobbed against him. He held her tighter, as if he’d never let her go, and she didn’t want him to. She clung to him like a child, and soon his warmth had lulled her to an exhausted sleep.
He didn’t want to loosen his grip, afraid that the frail little bird in his arms would wake from her slumber. She looked so serene, so calm, but her cheeks were still wet and reddened with tears. It was a conundrum that he couldn’t figure out—was she lying? Was she telling the truth? Was she traumatised by what she had witnessed or had the event stirred up repressed memories? He didn’t want to force anything out of her, especially not in her current state. He gently caressed her black hair. It was so soft underneath his fingertips and smelled faintly of lavender and lemongrass. Her dark eyelashes curled sweetly over her lids and her reddened cheeks were almost glowing against her creamy skin. She was indeed plain and ordinary, but at the same time, she was nothing of the sort. Her beauty was subtle, yet blinding. She had a sweet and kind disposition, frail as a baby bird, yet he knew she had a sharp tongue and a stubborn will.
He could watch her for hours, but he had some pressing matters to attend to. He needed to seek out Abberline. Carefully, he scooped her up and slowly laid her down next to him. She whimpered softly in her sleep, but didn’t wake.
Jacob sighed and said lowly, “you will be the death of me, Ethel Smith.” He then carefully planted a kiss on her forehead before leaving the carriage to fetch his coat, hat and gauntlet. He climbed onto the roof of the train and down onto the ground before launched himself off with his zip line to a nearby building. He watched as the train disappeared along the railway before joining the buzzing crowds in the streets. Abberline wasn’t the easiest person to find, but Jacob had a knack of finding people. It didn’t take him more than a few hours to sniff the man out in Southwark, dressed as a factory worker.
“Freddy!” he cheered with open arms as he approached the sergeant.
The man quickly squared his shoulders and looked around. “For God’s sake! Keep your voice down! What do you want?”
“Is that really how you greet a friend?”
Abberline rolled his eyes. “What do you want, Jacob?”
Jacob snickered. “I need a favour.”
“Oh, how original.”
“Don’t be so cynical, Freddy!” Jacob sneered. “I need to know if the police department is looking for a girl named Ethel Smith. Young woman, dark hair, grey eyes, a maid.”
Abberline furrowed his brows. “Jacob, there must be hundreds of girls in London named Ethel, and Lord knows how many of them are criminals!”
“Well,” Jacob grunted, “this is very… specific. She worked in a big house in the city, for the Westboroughs.”
Abberline seemed to ponder for a moment before shaking his head. “That name doesn’t sound familiar. But, I will look into it. Why do you want to know, if you don’t mind me asking? How does this help your cause?”
“Come now, Freddy,” Jacob said, “you know better than to be nosy.”
Sighing in frustration, Abberline crossed his arms over his chest. “Jacob, sooner or later you’ll have to give me some insight to what it is you are doing if you want my help. I can’t keep covering for you. The Rooks are everywhere in the reports I get on my table, and I know you’re involved with them! My superiors are getting suspicious!”
Jacob grinned confidently. “Don’t worry, Freddy. You’ll get to know what you need to know.”
“That’s not—look, I’ll do this for you, and you have to promise me to keep your boys in line with the law. Blighters are one thing, but keep it clean, yeah? I do not want to help you create a criminal empire.”
Jacob chuckled and tipped his hat. “As you command, sergeant. I’ll see you in a few days.” He then turned his heel to leave the factory. “Don’t let me down, old chap!”
“Don’t have unrealistic expectations, Jacob!”
“I believe in you, Freddy!”
Have you been a good and God-fearing girl, dear?
“No, mother… I’m sorry I failed you.”
Several days had passed since the horrific events, but images still flashed before her eyes now and then, reminding her of all that she tried to forget. The grin on that terrible man’s face once he recognised her, the foul touch of his hands, the smugness in his laughter when he dragged her away… the gunshot ringing like church bells in her ears, echoing in the night… it was all horrible. The voices grew louder as well. She thought she could fight them, control them, but they had grown demanding. They kept telling her to end it all, because that would be the only way out for her. She resisted, always, but had it not been for Mr Frye’s relentlessness, she was not certain she would have been able to stand against them. He was so gentle and caring, even though she was sure he knew she didn’t deserve it—but it kept her from plummeting into the depth of her blackened despair.
She tried to smile and pretend like everything was gone and forgotten, but the whispers and shadows followed her. They made her feel degraded, tainted, and even on better days, she still felt their influence. At times, she felt the rage burn through her like wildfire. While her attempts to keep her torment in the dark somewhat tricked Mr Frye, Miss Frye was much more difficult to fool. She was, however, much kinder than Ethel had imagined. There was a look in her eyes that told of understanding and she had begun asking for Ethel’s assistance in situations when she never had before. It was everything from small tasks to big favours. One day, she wanted Ethel to help her with her hair—Evie Frye has such beautiful hair, Ethel could brush through it forever—and another day, she wanted Ethel’s opinion on a conundrum she had been thinking about, that happened to involve Mr Green.
One day, in the green midst of July, Miss Frye required Ethel’s help in something much more serious.
“Ethel,” said Miss Frye that day, “are you busy? I’m on the search for a very important artefact, you see, and I need some help.”
“Help with what, Miss Frye?” Ethel asked. “I’d be happy to assist.”
“I need to speak with the maids in the Kenway Mansion back on Queen Square,” said Miss Frye. “I’m planning to dress as a maid myself, but I’m afraid I know very little about the life as a maid and I don’t wish to alarm them.”
Ethel smiled and nodded. “You can borrow one of my frocks, if you’d like, miss, so you can look the part.”
“That would be much appreciated, thank you.”
“But of course! Come with me, and we’ll sort you right out.”
Miss Frye let out a sweet chuckle and followed Ethel through the train to the last carriage. Ethel was worried; Miss Frye was much taller than herself, she was well fed, and very strong for a woman. She was afraid that her gaunt frame wouldn’t do Miss Frye much justice. But she had no problems fitting into one of Ethel’s larger frocks. It was a bit shorter in the hem and the sleeves, but it fitted well enough. With an apron and a simple cloak, the fashionable Miss Frye had transformed into a humble maid.
“Will I fool women in the profession, do you think?” she asked as she gave a twirl.
“Undoubtedly,” Ethel smiled.
“You’ll come with me, won’t you?” Miss Frye suddenly asked.
Ethel felt her heart pound faster in her chest. “I’m not sure I’d do much good, miss—”
“Oh, please! I insist! I don’t know anything about being a maid, they’d discover the fraud in one minute! I need a chaperone.”
“What is it that you’re after, miss?”
Miss Frye sighed. “I need to know about the layout of the house for a mission, and I just so happen to know that the house staff has frequent exchanges with other big houses for tours. We claim that we come from a Mr Cutler, a wealthy gentleman in Oxfordshire, who is planning on purchasing an estate in the city. The housekeeper couldn’t, for obvious reasons, leave her duties so you go in her stead and bring me as company.”
Ethel swallowed. “Are you sure that will work, miss?”
“Of course,” said Miss Frye. “I’ve already sent a letter as the housekeeper, Mrs Potter.”
“You had this planned already?”
“Initially, I planned on bringing Agnes to occupy the staff while I concentrate on the house, but you are a much better option.”
Ethel felt her cheeks redden; if it was out of flatter or worry, she did not know.
“Now,” said Miss Frye, “we’ll have to hurry up if we are to arrive at two in the afternoon.”
“What? Is it today?”
“Well, obviously,” smile Miss Frye. “Come on, let’s catch a hackney at the next stop.”
Lacking more reasons not to help Miss Frye, Ethel sighed as she put on her cloak and followed Miss Frye as the train rolled into Waterloo Station. They caught a hackney as planned and travelled into the city centre. Ethel felt her heart in her throat the whole way. She had tried to keep away from the city as much as possible, afraid what memories might stir from the sights.
“Why are you going to this mansion again?” she asked.
“I’ve been there once before,” Evie answered. “Then, I was focused on something else. Now… well, let’s just say I need to know where Miss Thorne feels safe enough to hide something invaluable.”
Ethel didn’t ask what she meant by that. She kept from looking out of the windows and when they arrived at the glorious mansion, she kept her gaze on the ground as they walked.
Miss Frye muttered under her breath, mostly to herself, it seemed, “Two at the door. Two patrolling. Two at the windows.”
Ethel saw mean looking men and women dressed in leather coats stand stoically around the house, gazing around with watchful eyes. All of them wore armbands adorned with the iron cross, the mark of the Templars. “Miss Frye,” she whispered. “Are you sure they won’t recognise you?”
“I’m sure of it,” said Miss Frye. “My brother is the one who likes to put on a show. I keep to the shadows. Oh, and call me Annie.”
Ethel nodded nervously and the two women continued on to the staff entrance at the back.
There, a man in a leather coat stood leaning against the wall, picking his teeth with a sharp pocket knife. When he saw the two women, he straightened. “State your business,” said he.
Ethel nervously cleared her throat. “We’re here for the… well, the staff tour.”
Before the Templar could answer, the door opened and a crooked old man, clearly the butler, greeted the women. “Yes?”
Miss Frye gave Ethel an encouraging look before diverting her gaze to the ground.
Ethel took a deep breath. “Yes, hello sir, how do you do? W-we’re here for the… tour.”
“Very well. St—” He let out a grunt as he beckoned the Templar to move. “Sodding menace… please, step inside.”
They did as told, and was then led into a narrow corridor where a busty woman came rushing towards them with a scowl on her face.
“You must be the girls Mrs Potter sent, is that right?”
“It is, ma’am,” said Ethel and gave a quick bow.
“And which of you is Mrs Watts?”
Ethel looked at Miss Frye in panic, and Miss Frye gave her a slight nod before returning her gaze to the ground. Ethel cleared her throat. “That’ll be me, ma’am. This is Annie, our kitchen girl.”
“Well then, let’s not dilly-dally. My name is Mrs Treadwell. Let’s begin in the kitchens.”
Mrs Treadwell was very stern and thorough. Ethel listened to what she said only with half an ear—she was far too busy with trying to keep unpleasant memories from appearing in her mind when seeing the familiar surroundings of a big house. The chattering cooks, the whispering maids, the laughing footmen… everywhere, she saw faces that were familiar to her, like ghosts from her past. She wanted to imagine that some of the memories were keen ones, memories that she liked to hold on to—like her memories of Eliza McDenna, a kindred soul who was stationed at the house for only a short period of time, or those of old Nellie Mills, the lady that raised her to be a young woman, or her memory of when she was old enough to finally join the staff to the master’s hunting lodge up in the Highlands. Some memories were indeed pleasant, but they were sadly enough outnumbered.
They left the servants’ hall and walked into the main house. For Ethel, it was as though she was stepping back in time; the walls and the carpets, the paintings and the windows, the chandeliers and the tapestry… they were all like in the big house. For a second, she thought she could spy a child with raven hair run past her and disappear around the corner. She knew where that twelve-year-old girl was running towards—or rather, away from. She tightened her jaw; she felt sorry for that little girl, the one who had to find work all too soon, the one who had to live through ordeals no child should have to live through. Her heart ached for that little girl who thought she’d had come to a good place, away from something dark and troublesome, a place that turned out to be more nightmarish than anything a twelve-year-old girl could ever conjure up. A chill ran along her spine; the rooms and corridors they passed were all too similar the ones she had worked in herself, and in the pit of her belly she knew she should run as far away from it as she possibly could. She kept her gaze down and her shoulders squared while tracing on behind the housekeeper.
They were just about to hurry through one of the sitting rooms when a maid rushed passed them, crying.
Mrs Treadwell halted and demanded the girl to do the same. “What has happened, dear?”
“Miss Thorne, ma’am,” sobbed the girl. “She was very displeased with me, she was yelling so… and I don’t know what I’ve done.”
“Ethel, why was my chamber pot still full this morning? Perhaps you think you’re too good for that kind of work?”
“No, mistress… Belinda always empties them in the mornings!”
“Belinda? Don’t be daft, girl, she has other things to do.”
“But—it’s not my task to—”
“What insolence! Your task is to do what I order you to. If I wanted you to, you would have to get on your knees and lick the filth off my boots. You are a servant in this house, a house I am the mistress of. Now, empty my chamber pot and clean it properly.”
“Now, now, girl.” Mrs Treadwell’s voice pierced the memory. “Pull yourself together! If the mistress is displeased, you’ll have to work harder. It’s as simple as that. Go on!”
The girl gave a quick curtsy before hurrying away, still in tears.
Mrs Treadwell shook her head. “That girl… I don’t know what to do with her. The mistress probably caught her flirting with one of the guardsmen again, she always does that.”
“Forgive me, madam, but I don’t understand. What did I do to anger you?”
“Don’t play innocent, wench. You know very well what you have done! Keep your hands to yourself from here on or I’ll have them cut off!”
“—he came at night,” she whispered into the darkness of her mind.
“Mrs Watts, are you quite alright?”
Ethel was snatched back to the present and she quickly shook her head. “Do forgive me, ma’am, I was so… astounded by the beauty of this great house.”
“Yes, well, this house is quite special, but I am sure you are used to a grand house yourself?”
“Yes… the—Cutler Estate is a fine house, ma’am, but it fades in comparison to the splendour and grandeur of this one.”
Mrs Treadwell smiled faintly before they continued on.
It took about an hour and a half to finish the tour and once they said their goodbyes—and promised to give Mrs Treadwell’s regards to Mrs Potter—the two women left the mansion to catch another hackney coach.
“Well, that worked ever better than I’d imagined!” said Miss Frye in the carriage. “You did fantastic! What an actress!”
Ethel smiled, but only half-heartedly. “Thank you, miss.”
“Please,” said Miss Frye, “call me Evie. I understand titles are important to you—Heaven’s, you’ve been a servant girl since you were a child!—but my brother and I aren’t nobility or anyone of great importance. We’re just twins from Crawley.”
“It’s… unnatural for me, that’s all, calling my employers by name.”
“Of course it is. Just know that we are equal, you and I, whether you believe so or not.”
“I will try to remember that, miss—I mean, Evie.” Miss Frye seemed pleased, and Ethel was left alone with her thoughts and troublesome memories.
Jacob was a man on a mission. He trusted Abberline to do his job well enough, but Jacob was running out of patience. Not that he had very much patience to begin with, but he felt the little he had disappearing like a very small puddle on a very hot day. He simply couldn’t get Ethel out of his mind, and somehow, he knew she was lying to him. She knew why that constable wanted to arrest her, and she knew why that constable wanted her dead. He didn’t blame her for lying about it, she wasn’t exactly a talker. Jacob wasn’t really someone who stuck his nose into other people’s business, but whatever reason that constable had to arrest Ethel, it was hurting her and he simply could not have that.
Infiltrating the police was hardly something Jacob wanted, but he felt it was necessary. Abberline was taking too long doing it his way, so Jacob knocked out a constable in an alley, nicked his uniform, and turned himself into a man of the law. The uniform was a little tight over the shoulders and the helmet strap was exceedingly uncomfortable—oh, what wouldn’t he do for love?
He was admittedly a bit worried that he would be recognised at Scotland Yard, but he tried to change his posture and his voice and called himself Constable Mullins. He arrived at the station when most of the constables were on a break, giving him plenty of chances to get the information he needed and get out before anyone might recognise him.
He joined a table in the yard, filled with young constables who laughed and chatted as they drank tea. They all went silent as Jacob joined them, but a young, ginger lad reached out his hand.
“You must be one of the new recruits. I’m Tully. This is Richards and this is Wilkins.”
“Mullins.” Jacob shook the outstretched hand.
The slightly older constable Wilkins furrowed his brows and looked dangerously suspicious. “Have we met?”
“No, mate,” said Jacob. “I’ve just been transferred from Crawley. Chief said it’s riddled with gang violence here, is that true?”
“Occupational hazard,” chuckled Richards.
“Aye,” said Wilkins. “About a week ago, two of us were murdered in the middle of the street in Westminster.”
“A bloody execution, it was,” said Richards.
“Blighters or Rooks?” asked Jacob.
Tully shrugged. “No one knows. Members from both gangs had been spotted at the scene by witnesses, but my money’s on Blighters. The Rooks haven’t claimed that part of London.”
“Yet,” muttered Jacob under his breath.
“What?” Wilkins asked.
“Nothing. So, who were the poor sods?”
“New recruits, like you,” smirked Richards.
Tully shook his head. “One of them, Ellington, was fresh out of training. Poor lad, his wife just had a son. The other one, Johnson, worked as a guard before coming here. Nasty sort of bloke. I never really did like him… word has it, he used to work at Lambeth Asylum. I bet you’ve got to be a special sort of person to be able to deal with that.”
Jacob narrowed his brows, deep in thought. He sighed deeply before rising. “Sorry, lads, I need to go.”
Wilkins narrowed his watchful eyes. “Hold on a minute… I thought you looked familiar—you’re… my God, you’re that Frye bloke!” He pointed angrily at him and rose from his chair.
The rest of the officers looked half in shock, half in doubt. Apparently, his name was well known amongst the Bobbies and caused quite the stir.
Jacob stopped for a second to assess the situation; twenty officers had their eyes on him, and at least half of them were ready to do whatever it took to arrest him. He chuckled. “Well, that’s my cue.” Before anyone could react, he flipped the table, causing Wilkins, Richards, and Tully to fall to the ground. There was a commotion as he tossed a smoke bomb, slipped past the coughing and blinded policemen, and swiftly scaled the building. When the smoke had lifted, all the officers found was a helmet and a police jacket laying on the ground.
Thank you all for the comments and the kudos! I'm sorry I haven't answered all the comments and that I haven't updated for a while, I've been quite busy at work.
I send all my love to you!
“Lambeth Asylum?” Evie had listened with care, and even though she wasn’t thrilled about her brother’s recklessness of waltzing into Scotland Yard just like that, she had to admit that it was rather clever—even though it ended as one could have expected. “But are you certain that constable worked at Lambeth Asylum? And why would that have anything to do with Ethel?”
Jacob rolled his eyes impatiently. “How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t know! But it’s the only lead we have, isn’t it? That other policeman… what’s his name—Ellington! He didn’t know why she was being arrested, and they were both new in the force. Hence, Johnson knew something that Ellington didn’t. The asylum is our only lead to sort this fellow out. The more we know about Johnson and his character, the closer we get to knowing why he wanted Ethel dead and if there are others who want her dead. What if she’s been targeted by the Templars?”
“Why would she be of any interest to the Templars, Jacob?”
“I don’t bloody know, do I?” Jacob clenched his jaw. “It could’ve been the family she worked for, I don’t know! All I know, is that Johnson wanted Ethel dead, and someone at the asylum must have known Johnson.”
Evie raised her palms in surrender. “Alright, alright. I have an acquaintance at the asylum, I’ll speak with her and see what I can figure out about him.”
Jacob nodded. “Thank you.” He then muttered to himself before leaving the carriage.
Evie sighed deeply and pinched the bridge of her nose. Cleaning up Jacob’s messes… sometimes, she felt as though that was the only reason she was put on this earth. Or rather, it was the only reason Jacob was. She had every possibility when she was born to become something great, and four minutes later came her downfall in the form a brother. Now she would have to clean up another one of his messes. It didn’t matter what her brother did, he always came in like a tornado and disappeared without looking back at the carnage he had left behind. This business with the killed policemen was very much like him, and the only reason for the reckless killings was that Jacob had finally found a person he cared about more than himself. In a way, she couldn’t be angry with him. Actually, for once, she could understand him. Although she would never have done what he did, she could nevertheless understand him.
She left the train immediately. She was all spent thinking about the Shroud anyway and needed something else to occupy her mind with. Her mind was working constantly, trying to piece together all the loose ends that were dangling mockingly in her head. Starrick Crawford, Lucy Thorne, Templars, Assassins… her brother… Ethel… Henry… everything was muddled in her mind and she hated that. She tried to put everything away for the moment except her current mission—to find out more about this Johnson character.
Lambeth Asylum was a terrible sight. She knew it had been a hospital and that it had been deemed necessary, but she knew too much about the nightmares that had taken place behind those walls. Despite her brother’s clumsy and chaotic assassination of Dr Elliotson, she was grateful she didn’t have to do it. It had, however, left the place an abandoned shell with only a few brave nurses left to operate the massive building. They were still struggling with counterfeit serums, but at least they had managed, with Evie’s help, to successfully reopen a practice. She took a deep breath before rapping on the door. A young nurse opened it ever so slightly.
“Yes, miss?” said she.
“I’m looking for Miss Nightingale.”
“Follow me, miss.”
Evie stepped inside. Their heels echoed eerily in the empty halls. There was a peculiar smell inside the asylum; sterile, stale. Despite it being rather abandoned, screams and hysterical laughter seemed to resonate from the walls as if they had absorbed the horrors that had taken place within them. She walked wearily through the corridors and was relieved to be lead out the door to the garden in the back. Miss Nightingale was sitting with a patient, one of Clara’s girls, and was released by the nurse who had accompanied Evie.
“Miss Frye!” Miss Nightingale smiled. “What a delightful surprise! What can I do for you?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you like this,” said Evie, “but I have a few questions, if you don’t mind, concerning a man that, as I understand it, used to work here. Are you familiar with a man named Johnson?”
“Yes,” Miss Nightingale nodded, “he just recently left us. Why?”
“He… was one of the officers who were murdered in Westminster not too long ago.”
Miss Nightingale’s face fell. “Oh… well, that’s rather unfortunate.”
“Indeed. Do you remember the man?”
“Yes. I remember him.”
“Could you please tell me a bit about him?”
Miss Nightingale looked at her in horror. “I’m very sorry, Miss Frye, but I will not speak ill of the dead.”
Evie nodded. “I understand, but I would be most grateful if you could just… describe his character. Just briefly.”
Miss Nightingale seemed to gather herself before speaking. “Mr Johnson was one of Dr Elliotson’s most loyal employees.” She looked around before lowering her voice. “I will not lie and say that I liked the man. Quite the contrary.”
“Why is that?”
The nurse pursed her lips. “Some men are given too much power, too much leeway, and they use it to do terrible things. You, as a woman, I’m sure would understand.”
Evie felt a slight worry grow inside her belly. “Indeed.”
Miss Nightingale, now looking rather uncomfortable, straightened her skirts. “Now, is there anything else I could help you with, Miss Frye?”
Evie raised a hand. “Forgive me, but do you whether Mr Johnson was involved with anything… suspicious? I mean, do you think he was involved with criminal activities?”
Miss Nightingale snorted. “Hardly. Do forgive me, but there is a reason he decided to become a police officer. Men like Mr Johnson thrive on power and authority.”
Evie furrowed her brow. “Do you know if he had a wife? A sweetheart?”
“I know nothing of the sort,” said the nurse, “and if he ever had one, I would feel deeply sorry for the poor girl. Judging by what he used to do to the girls within these facilities, I do not wish to know what he did to those outside of it.”
“Was he capable of killing, do you think?”
Miss Nightingale seemed taken aback by the blunt question and had to regain her posture before answering. “He… he was a bad man, that much I know, but killing? I don’t believe he would do something like that deliberately. Why do you ask that?”
Evie shook her head. “I just… want to get a clear picture of him, of his character. I am… aiding the police in investigating his death, and I’m trying to understand what sort of motive his killer might have had.”
The nurse nodded. “Of course.”
“You’ve been a great help,” Evie smiled.
“Oh, yes, I do hope my knowledge will help you.”
“You’ve given me more than enough.”
“Well then,” said Miss Nightingale and smiled. “Don’t be a stranger, Miss Frye.”
Evie smiled again and nodded before turning to leave. She only took a step or two, however, before turning back with furrowed brows. “Miss Nightingale… before I leave, I must ask if you’ve had a patient here within the last year or so, named Ethel Smith? A young woman, black hair and silver eyes?”
Miss Nightingale seemed to wonder for a moment before shaking her head. “I can’t say that I recall a Miss Smith with that appearance. Smith… Smith… No, I can say that I remember. Not at the moment, I’m afraid.”
“Well, I knew it was far-fetched. You have my thanks.”
If someone were to ask Ethel if she could wash blood out of a tweed jacket a few months ago, she would have laughed at them. Washing blood out of petticoats, she was used to, but a tweed jacket? You’d have better luck making silk out of a potato sack. Now, however, washing blood out of jackets, shirts and trousers was part of her daily chores. Agnes and Ethel had grabbed a basket full of blood stained clothes and walked to a washing well in Whitechapel. There was a time when the sight of blood made Ethel queasy; she never had any problems with her own monthly blood, but that was something different entirely. Now, the toughest stains made her furious more than anything, as they were nearly impossible to remove. Agnes sang Scottish songs while rhythmically washing away as though she’d never done anything else in her life.
“Agnes,” Ethel muttered, “would you please hand me the soap again?”
“Of course, love,” said Agnes. “Stubborn stain?”
“Aye,” said Agnes, “it’s surprising how much blood a mouth can bleed.”
“It’s surprising that no matter how many times these people get into fights, they keep getting into fights. Sooner or later, they’ll punch all sense out of themselves.”
“Lassie, I’m not sure they ever had any sense to being with! Don’ try to understand them, love.”
“Why, are we really so mysterious?” Mr Frye appeared from nowhere. He smiled charmingly and tipped his hat to the ladies.
“You misunderstand me, Jacob,” said Agnes. “You’re predictable to a fault.”
“Well, at least you know what to expect from us,” said he and leaned against the well.
“Wha’ are you doin’ here?” Agnes sighed.
“Is my company really that horrible?” He pretended to be offended, but he couldn’t hold back a smirk.
“It is when you’re disturbin’ us.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m off. I just came to get Ethel.”
Ethel looked at him in surprise and irritation. “I—can’t you see that I’m working, sir?”
“I’m sure Agnes can spare you for a bit,” said Mr Frye.
Ethel looked at Agnes who gave her a nod. “Go on, lassie. Best do as this man-child says, lest he’ll have a fit. I’ll beat some sense into these clothes for you.”
“Have I ever told you how much I love you, Agnes?” Jacob smirked.
Agnes barked a laugh and continued singing.
With a sigh, Ethel rose and dusted herself off. Mr Frye smiled and led the way into narrow alleys, zigzagging between the houses. “Mr Frye, where are we going?” He didn’t answer. “Mr Frye?” She knew he could hear her—he was just in front of her—but he did not respond. “Jacob!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, did you want something?” He turned to smirk childishly at her, and she clenched her jaw tightly.
“Where are we going?”
He shrugged his shoulders as he let her pass him. “I don’t really have a plan. I just thought we could stroll through town… just you and I.”
“So you come fetch me whilst I’m working, for a stroll? Sir, it’s as if you’ve forgotten that you actually pay me!”
He smiled charmingly. “Oh, don’t be like that! I just figured, since you’ve been quite down in spirits, that I’d take you out again. We had a good time last, didn’t we? I mean, except for the, well, incident.”
“You’re very kind, sir, but I do not wish to take up your time.”
“Ethel,” he chuckled and gently grabbed her shoulder. “I want you to take up my time. Damn it, woman, you already take up all my time!”
She felt her cheeks redden as she swept her arms tightly around herself.
“We’ll stroll around here in Whitechapel. It might not be the parks of Westminster, but it’s home. Wouldn’t you agree?”
She chuckled softly, unable to deny the spell he put on her. “Yes. Yes… it’s home.”
They walked about Whitechapel for a while, chatting about all sorts of things, but nothing of consequence. He stole a kiss or two from her, but she was ready to admit that she gave them away willingly. Her belly fluttered each time her lips touched his, and every time he looked at her with his beautiful hazel eyes, her heart melted; whenever he was with her, the voices were subdued and the memories kept away; whenever he was with her, she could breathe. She would never dare to admit it to him—or even more so, herself—but she wanted to believe that this, was love.
She wanted to believe he felt the same. His behaviour had proved nothing else and he had already admitted, multiple times, that he thought of her often. She feared, however, that his attentions were just an elaborate plan to get what all men wanted eventually. But why would he go all this length for something he could just take? How could she ever be certain?
They had found a nice patch of greenery at the churchyard, where they sat in the sun, just holding each other. The sounds from the horses and carriages and people disappeared into the background as they existed only for each other. In that moment, Ethel was as happy as she had ever been and wished that it would never end. If she could choose a moment in her life in which she would remain forever, she would have chosen that very moment. The redheaded girl peeked out from behind a tombstone and smiled at her.
“I know, Minnie,” said Ethel quietly.
“What was that?” Mr Frye asked.
“Nothing,” said Ethel. Mr Frye was gently stroking her hair while she had her head leaned against his body.
“What if we didn’t go back to the train?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“What if we just… disappeared, you and I? We could leave everything behind, go anywhere we wanted.”
Ethel chuckled. “You wouldn’t leave your sister.”
“You’re right,” Mr Frye sighed. “She’d have to tag along, of course. And wherever she goes, I’m sure Greenie would follow… and then it wouldn’t be just you and I, would it?”
“No,” she giggled and looked up at him.
They looked at each other for a long while before they kissed. It was a true kiss, a kiss between lovers. It was more passionate than ever before—no longer sweet and innocent—and Ethel suddenly felt very shy.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled as she pulled away. “It’s just… it’s going awfully fast, sir.”
“Please, Ethel, I beg you!” he sighed. “Enough with the ‘sir’!” He pulled his brows together in a dissatisfied frown. “I’m not your master, and I’m not your superior!”
“But you are my employer.” Bull-headed or not, she would not let herself be foolish and naive enough to believe that he and Miss Frye were her equals. They were far above her lowly station; they were leaders and entrepreneurs—feared and admired by all. Ethel was no one of consequence and would never be. She knew her place, for she had been reminded of it far too many times to ever forget it.
Mr Frye, however, rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Then don’t work for me at all! Marry me and be done with it!”
A sudden wave of fury flushed through her and she rose from the ground. “You are quite rude sometimes, did you know that?” She felt the tears burn behind her eyes, but would not let the through; she would not give him the satisfaction. “Why do you say such things when you don’t mean it?”
“I do mean it!” he barked and stood. “Damn it, Ethel, I—” He sighed in frustration and drove a hand through his hair. “I do mean it.” He then looked deep into her eyes. “Ethel, marry me. Sod this! Sod all of this! Marry me and forget about titles. Forget about waiting. Why wait? We’re young, we’re alive!”
She wanted to cry. Out of anger or relief, she did not know, but she felt like crying. She never thought anyone would ever want to marry her and she found it hard to believe that Mr Frye truly wanted it rather than just saying it in the heat of the moment. She took a deep, ragged breath. “Last time you spoke of marriage, you said that you would marry me if you were a gentleman—which you’re not.”
“No.” He shook his head without taking his eyes off hers. “I’m no gentleman, but I’m a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to make you happy.” He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. “Seeing you unhappy makes me unhappy, but when you smile… Ethel, you undo me completely.”
Ethel tried to think straight even though her thoughts were raving about her mind like ants. The look in his eyes told her that his words were true, but how could she be sure? Indeed, the thought of being his wife was sweet and tempting, but did she dare to even dream it?
Certainly sensing her insecurities, he said, “you don’t have to answer now if you don’t want to. Think about it, long and hard. I won’t take it back, I want to marry you. Don’t know if you want to marry a crook like me, but at least you know the offer stands.”
“Do you love me?” The question sprung out of her before she could stop it, but once it was out she realised that she truly wanted to know. Was this love? Did he love her? Did he truly love her?
He seemed puzzled at first, as if he didn’t understand her question. Then, he chuckled. A hint of pink appeared on his cheeks as he cleared his throat. “I… I do, love you, Ethel. If I haven’t made that clear by now, I… honestly don’t know what to do to make you believe it.”
It was a strange feeling for her, hearing the words out loud. He loved her? In a sense, it was everything she wanted to hear, while, at the same time, it was somehow the last thing she ever wanted to hear. She knew the world could do all sorts of horrors to her—God knew it had!—but it could never take her heart from her unless she gave it willingly, but was she willing? Was she willing to expose it, beating, weeping? Carefully, she placed a hand over his chest. “Right here, right now,” she said, weighing her words, “I love you. What awaits us tomorrow, no one knows.”
“Well then,” said he and cupped her hand with his. “Ethel Smith, will you marry me, right here, right now?”
Ethel couldn’t hold back a giggle. “What, without a minister?”
“Who needs a minister? At least we’re at a church. Close to God and all, that’ll do.” Mr Frye descended to his one knee and enclosed both his hands around the small hand on his chest. “Jacob Frye, do I promise to take this woman, to love and to hold, until death do us part? I do! Now, Ethel Smith, do you promise to take this poor sod, to love and to hold, until death do us part?”
Ethel blushed but laughed out loud. “You’ve gone completely mad!”
“Well, do you?”
She tried to swallow another fit of giggles, but found it difficult to do so. “Fine! Yes, I do.”
“Well then,” he smiled and rose, “I now pronounce us unofficially man and wife! Jacob, you may now kiss the bride. Oh, well, thank you, Jacob.”
Ethel couldn’t stop laughing at his silliness, not even as he kissed her. “Oh, but we don’t have any rings!”
“Right,” Mr Frye mumbled and plucked a grass straw from the ground and twisted it to a circle before gently placing it on her finger. “Now we do, and I give you this promise: when you’ve made up your mind, I will heed by it. Either you accept my hand or you don’t, but if you do, I swear that I will do all I can to make you happy.”
She smiled as she looked down on the make-shift ring on her finger. Despite its simplicity, it was the most beautiful gift she had ever received.
Evie had read from the same book for hours without finding anything interesting. There was nothing; nothing about the Shroud, nothing about where it could be, or even how one might find it. She had spent her day with her nose buried in a book, from dawn until dusk, and felt her head spin. She couldn’t, however, bring herself to put the book down on her own. When Henry entered her carriage, she groaned in relief and could finally throw the book aside. “Please, tell me you’ve found something useful!”
Henry chuckled. “No, I’ve come to tell you to stop. Stop reading for tonight, it won’t do you any good.”
Evie sighed. “You’re right. This is pointless.”
“Just give it time, Miss Frye,” said Henry as he sat down on the side of her bed. “Sooner or later, we’ll find it.”
“We’ll just have to hope it’s sooner rather than later,” Evie muttered. “I bet Lucy Thorne is on its tail.”
“How could she be?” Henry asked. “We have her notebook.”
“Yes, I suppose,” said Evie. “Oh, Mr Green, would you please entertain me so I don’t have to think about this blasted matter anymore?”
Henry chuckled sweetly. “Very well… how are things progressing with your brother and Miss Smith?”
“No, please, anything but that!” Evie exclaimed. “I’ve had enough of that already!”
“They seem to get along splendidly,” Henry continued, ignoring Evie’s desperate cry for mercy.
“He’s too proud and she’s too timid to ever admit to any feelings,” Evie muttered.
“Well…” Henry shifted. “Perhaps he is proud, but perhaps he is more sensible than you give him credit for; a woman is a complex being, one would not want to overstep any boundaries.”
“Boundaries?” Evie straightened in her chair. “Is a man overstepping his boundaries when proclaiming his love to a woman he’s been… well, flirting with?”
“He might be if the woman in question is elusive.” Henry shrugged his shoulders. “What if he isn’t sure about her feelings? What if he believes that by proclaiming his love, he will push her away?”
“Well,” Evie huffed and felt a slight frustration rising inside of her, “perhaps she is waiting for him to tell her how he feels because she is afraid that he might feel emasculated if she gets to it first!”
“Why would he feel emasculated by that?” Henry asked and frowned.
“Because he is a kind and sensitive soul, and she might not be entirely sure how comfortable he truly is with such a modern and controversial woman!” Evie suddenly bit her tongue.
Henry raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure we are still speaking about Jacob and Miss Smith?”
“Of course, who else?” she mumbled and shrugged, but her cheeks flushed vexingly. She felt Henry’s burning eyes on her, but she pretended she didn’t. “Now, if you excuse me, I have things to do.”
Henry nodded and rose. “I’ll tell you if I find anything.” He said goodbye and left the carriage and Evie collapsed in her chair with her heart beating hard against her chest.
“Damn it!” she muttered. “Damn it all!”
The straw twisted around her finger had darkened, but was still on her finger. She kept looking at it, kept imagining it to be a real golden ring, and found herself smiling more often than not. Jacob. Everything felt so good with him, so right. She could scarcely believe it, that she had found her way to him, after everything she had gone through, after every hardship and anguish. She smiled again. “I shall call him Jacob from now on, I think he’d like that.” Agnes was sleeping soundly in her bed, but the redheaded girl sat beside Ethel with a smile from ear to ear.
“Oh, Minnie,” whispered Ethel, “it’s even better than what we thought it would be! Yes, I know, I know, I’m not married yet. Not really. I know that. But it feels real… I mean, I know we aren’t married, not truly, but it feels wonderful. I love him, Minnie, I really do. But of course, you know that… oh, Minnie, how come I don’t see you more often? I enjoy our little chats.”
The red-headed girl smiled.
Ethel reached for her, but the girl had gone. She sighed heavily and closed her eyes. “Good night, Minnie.”
That night, she dreamt of a beautiful green meadow. Everyone she had ever loved sat in that meadow, waiting for her. In the middle, she found Jacob smiling at her. He had blood on his hands and it wasn’t until she approached the gathering that she realised that her loved ones had had their throats cut. She felt a profound sadness, but she wasn’t angry at Jacob for killing them. In fact, she knew he had no choice. He reached for her, blood dripping from his hands. She hesitated, afraid that she would get bloodstains on her beautiful white wedding dress.
“Are you alive?” he asked her.
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Then come with me.”
“But where are we going?”
That word sounded so beautiful when he said it, but she didn’t truly know what it meant. Where was home? She had seen so many versions of home, yet she knew not what home truly meant. She had never felt safe, never felt at peace. She had never had a home. She took his hand, felt the warm blood run down her arm and stain her dress, and followed him into the dark that surrounded the green meadow. Her loved ones wailed behind her like wraiths, so she hurried along. She had to let go of his hand to lift her crimson skirt not to trip over roots and stones and the greedy hands that reached for her while she tried to follow Jacob though the thick darkness.
“Jacob!” she cried after him as he disappeared. “Jacob, where are you?”
“I’m here, love, don’t worry!”
“Jacob, I can’t see you!” The hands reached at her, tugging and tearing at her dress. She tried to pry them off, but as soon as she touched them, they were set aflame. Soon, the whole darkness had been engulfed by the raging fire and she petrified. The flames licked her naked skin, crawled along her limbs and up her neck. In the flames, a face appeared; a face she had tried to forget, a face she so often saw in her nightmares. It was him. It was the Devil himself in his fancy suit, a London gentleman with looks and fortune—but the Devil was shown in his eyes; hellfire burned in them, vigorously.
“Jacob!” she screamed as the flames crawled up her face. “Jacob!” She was jerked awake, his name still fresh upon her lips. Her brow was covered with droplets of sweat and it took her a few moments to recover from her terrifying dream. The carriage was dark and still, the train was stationed somewhere—it was no longer in motion, silent as the grave. The only thing that broke that silence was Agnes’s light and blissful snores.
Carefully, Ethel snuck out of bed and grabbed the lamp beside her bed. She threw a shawl around her shoulders before gently unlocking the carriage door. She moved through the train as silently as she could. The dinner car was silent and empty. She made herself some warm milk and sat down by a window to gaze out into the dark night. London never seemed to sleep; gaslights lit up the streets below the rails they stood on; window lights flickered in the distance; not far away, she could spy the dancing lights from a barrel fire burning. She pulled the shawl tighter around her. While parts of her dream were familiar, some things were new, and they frightened her. The blood on Jacob’s hands, the slit throats of her loved ones, and all that blood… she was uncertain, was it a warning? Was it a way for her soul to accept the fact that the man she had chosen was indeed a criminal and a killer? She knew his world was violent and dangerous, but neither violence nor danger were strangers to her. She took a sip of the warm milk and let it soothe her; in truth, she missed the motion of the train, the rhythmic rattle often set her at peace.
She sat in the carriage for a long while. The sun was slowly rising in the east and the gradient sky painted a wonderful picture with London in its foreground. The door suddenly slid open and Miss Frye entered with drowsy eyes.
“Oh, sorry,” she mumbled. “I thought everyone was asleep. Why are you up?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” said Ethel in surprise. “Why are you up so early, miss?”
“We talked about this, Ethel. Call me Evie.”
Evie. She bit her tongue. Of course. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, it’s not the end of the world,” Evie chuckled and sat down opposite her. “I’ve had some trouble sleeping as well.”
“Would you like me to make you some warm milk?”
“No, thank you, that’s not necessary.” Evie smiled, but then her sharp eyes caught something on the hand atop the table and Ethel quickly hid her hands underneath it. “What is that? Around your finger?”
Blushing, Ethel raised her hands again and fiddled a bit with the straw. “This? Oh, it’s… it’s nothing. Just a silly game.”
“Did someone give that to you?”
“Yes, but it was more of a joke, really. Nothing serious.”
“A cruel joke, if that’s the case.”
Ethel let her gaze fall upon the fading straw. Of course, the thought had hit her that he wasn’t serious at all, but she wished so badly that he was.
“Still,” said Evie, “it’s very romantic.”
Ethel smiled. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
“I didn’t know my brother had it in him.”
Ethel blushed violently. “I… it’s not… I don’t…”
Evie chuckled softly. “You don’t have to hide it, Ethel. I know my brother has feelings for you. It’s nice to see that it’s not unrequited.” She then narrowed her eyes. “It is Jacob who has given it to you, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” Ethel gasped. “Yes, of course—I mean… yes.”
Evie nodded. “Well, I’m glad for you. It’s good to see that love actually does exist for some.”
For a second, Ethel thought she spied sadness in Evie’s eyes. She shifted awkwardly. “I don’t wish to pry, but I thought… I thought that you and Mr Green were… well, involved, I suppose.”
“Well, I thought so too,” muttered Evie. “At least, I hoped so. I dared to dream it, but now it seems as though perhaps I am my worst enemy when it come to love.”
“How do you mean?”
Evie smiled apologetically. “Don’t mind me, I’m always at bit melancholic when I can’t sleep.” She furrowed her brows. “I suppose that’s why I can’t sleep, and then it just gets worse and goes round and around. It’s funny when you think about it, how mysterious our minds are and yet we pretend to know so much about it.”
Ethel said nothing. Her philosophical ideas would surely seem simple and frivolous to someone as knowledgeable and intelligent as Evie Frye; she knew one thing, however, and that was that the mind was a dark place and that demons resided deep within.
“I’m really happy you’ve found love,” Evie said. “I just hope my brother is treating you with respect.”
“Oh…” Ethel blushed. “He is, indeed.”
“Good.” There was a peculiar look in Evie’s eyes, one that Ethel could not understand. It was that scrutinising gaze that she had seen so often, the one that tore through flesh and soul, but there was also burning anger, and a deep sadness. “You know,” Evie then said, “being a woman is a difficult matter, and we have to endure things no person should ever have to endure. We are expected to tolerate certain… things, but we shouldn’t. Do you know what I’m speaking of?”
Ethel suddenly heard her heart thudding loudly in her ears and her mouth was suddenly very dry. “I… I don’t—” As if the Heavens had heard her screaming soul, she was disturbed by singing and chanting outside the train.
Evie frowned deeply and leaned forwards to look out the window and then groaned loudly. “Oh, Jacob,” she muttered and leaned back and crossed her arms.
The door swung open and five drunken Rooks stumbled onto the carriage, followed by Jacob himself. He was singing, quite loudly, but stopped the moment he saw the two women. “Well,” he said, “what a surprise!”
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” Evie snapped.
Jacob huffed. “Who cares?! Why don’t you live a little, sister dear?” He then settled his drunken eyes on Ethel and his face cracked up into a smile. “Oh, look at you… my little blackbird.”
Ethel smiled back, but only half-heartedly. She didn’t particularly like drunkenness and although she knew Jacob had never been hurtful or vicious when under the influence, she knew what that poison did to respectable men. At least she could find some solace in the fact that he didn’t look as though he had bashed someone’s face to pieces this time.
“Everyone!” Jacob suddenly shouted and pointed his hand at Ethel. “This lovely creature, this woman, is now my wife.”
“We’re not actually ma—” Ethel’s voice was drowned by the Rooks’ cheers. She glanced at Evie who did not seem very impressed.
“It’s time for the weddin’ night, then, eh?” said one of the Rooks.
“Oi!” Jacob growled. “Behave!” He slid down next to Ethel and said, “sorry ‘bout these tossers, love.”
“Jacob,” Evie snapped, “we were having a lovely conversation, and you ruined it.”
Jacob made a silly face. “’You ruin everything, Jacob!’, ‘You’re a disaster, Jacob!’” He imitated his sister with an even sillier voice and turned lazy-eyed back to Ethel. “Sorry ‘bout my stuck-up sister as well.”
Ethel sighed heavily and placed a hand atop of his. “Perhaps you should get some sleep, Jacob?”
He smiled sheepishly. “You said my name. Say it again. Please…”
Ethel rolled her eyes. “Jacob. There, I said it. Now, go to bed and sleep it off.”
Evie nodded and looked about at the other Rooks. “That goes for all of you.”
While the Rooks grunted disapprovingly—but respecting Evie too much to argue—Jacob stayed put next to Ethel with a silly grin across his face. He had neither a threatening nor possessive look in his eyes, looks that Ethel knew all too well—he was just like a puppy dog, wishing to have his belly rubbed.
“Jacob!” Evie snapped at him. “Go to bed, for God’s sake!”
He finally gave in and rose. “Yes, mother dearest,” he muttered sarcastically. “Well then, good night, ladies.” He took his hat off for an unstable bow before wobbling away through the carriage and, though not without certain difficulties, opened the door to cross over to the next carriage. Once the two women were alone again, they both chuckled lightly.
“I’m so sorry for my brother,” said Evie and shook her head. “He’s been insufferable ever since birth. Not even his own mother could stand him!” Her face suddenly turned sad as she looked down onto the table. “Forgive me, that was unkind.”
Ethel tipped her head to the side. “What do you mean?”
Evie sighed. “Mother died shortly after she had given birth to Jacob and me. I’m afraid I kept that against him for quite some time during our childhood. I’m four minutes older than him, you see.” She then quickly shook her head as if she was trying to shake something off. “But that was a long time ago now. It’s better we look forwards instead of backwards. Oh well, I think I’m going to attempt a few more hours of sleep before morning. Thank you for the conversation, Ethel. I quite enjoyed it.”
“So did I,” said Ethel and smiled. “I’ll save you a breakfast plate in the oven.”
“Thank you,” smiled Evie before she left the carriage, leaving it eerily empty.
Ethel knew not what to make of this peculiar morning. In a way, it was as though she was still dreaming. Everything had felt so odd; all the burning fires, the cryptic conversation she had had with Evie, the look in her eyes, and the strange encounter with Jacob… for a moment, she felt terrified that her dreams had come chasing her further than her sleep once again. Sitting by the table with milk still in her cup, she wondered if there had truly been anyone at all with her that morning. Had she just woken up? Was she still asleep?
The sun had risen high enough for Agnes to wake and begin her work and Ethel was relieved when she was joined again by another living soul.
“What are you doin’ up, love?” Agnes asked surprised.
“Oh, Agnes!” Ethel exclaimed and grabbed her arm. “Please, tell me this isn’t a dream! Please, tell me this is real, that I am awake!”
Agnes frowned deeply. “What are you bloody talkin’ about, Ethel?”
“Please, Agnes!” She felt her eyes well up as panic rose inside her chest. Dreams at night, she could handle, but dreams during the day? While she was up and about? She would rather die than live through that horror again.
“Pull yourself together, lass!” Agnes grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “It’s morning! Go and get dressed, we have work to do today.”
Ethel hurried away, relieved that the harsh words from Agnes somewhat persuaded her that she wasn’t sleeping, but terrified that the thought even appeared to her. Still, she couldn’t entirely trust that whatever happened that morning was indeed reality. In a sense, it had been all too mundane to be strange and yet it felt all too strange to be mundane. She stared at herself in the mirror after getting dressed. Dark circles had formed around her eyes and her face was drained. She then saw how her lips moved, but she could not remember truly moving them.
“Are you alive?” whispered her reflection, her own voice ringing clear as day.
“Do we have any laudanum?” Jacob muttered while rubbing his temples.
“Perhaps you should have made sure you had what you needed before getting so drunk you can barely walk?” Evie sneered.
Jacob sighed deeply. He really didn’t need her snide remarks at this particular moment. What he did need, though, was something for the pain in his head.
“Oh, and by the way, a grass ring? That’s ridiculous, even for you.”
Jacob snorted. “You don’t think I’m going to replace it?”
“I don’t even expect you to keep your promise.”
“Well, isn’t that a lovely sentiment.”
Evie rolled her eyes. “Jacob, how many girls have you promised to marry? Five? Ten? And how many girl have you actually married? To my knowledge, none! To be fair, I think they all got away in the nick of time.”
“It’s different with Ethel,” Jacob muttered.
“I know it is,” Evie sighed. “That’s why I’m asking you, please, don’t do what you always do. If you lose interest, be gentle with her.”
Jacob scoffed and sat up in the couch, but immediately regretted it as pain shot through his head like a lightning bolt. “I won’t lose interest. Christ! What did you find out at the asylum, anyways?”
Evie shifted and cleared her throat. “Nothing of consequence, really.”
“No?” Jacob narrowed his eyes. “You’re hiding something.”
She shrugged. “He was Elliotson’s most loyal employee, that’s all I found out.”
“So it is related to the Templars!” Jacob exclaimed.
“Or,” Evie said, “it’s completely unrelated!”
“Look, just be gentle, alright? You might love her now,” said Evie, “but only until someone else comes along, as usual.”
“Is that how you look at your feelings for Greenie?”
Evie seemed offended. “That is not the same!”
“Oh, so it’s different for you then, is it?”
Evie sighed. “You know what? Let’s not talk about this right now.”
“You’ve got a letter.”
“A letter?” Jacob sneered. “For me?”
Evie huffed and handed him an envelope. He ripped it open without much thought, thinking it wasn’t anything of consequence. Either it was rich men trying to bargain with him, or wives of rich men trying to plead with him. Either way, he knew that the contents would be just as useless. As he skimmed through the letter, however, he felt confused.
“What is it?” asked Evie.
“It’s a dinner invitation,” muttered Jacob. “From Maxwell Roth.”
“The leader of the Blighters?” Evie gasped. “You’re not going!”
“Of course not!” Jacob lied; his curiosity was rising dangerously high.
“Please, father, no! I have nowhere to go!”
“Shut it, you whore! Now, get out, spread your legs and get some money! And don’t you dare run away—if you do, I’ll find you and do you for good!”
She stared at the doorstep. The child of another family was sitting on it now, polishing his father’s boots. Ethel shivered. The sting of his hand on her face; the bruises on her back; the marks from the belt… it all came back in one big ache. She never went back and he never came after her. She knew not what had become of him and even though it was un-Christian of her, she did not want to know it. Had it not been for the little boy that sat on the doorstep, staring suspiciously at her, she would have spit on the door and cursed that shack of a house for all eternity. Instead, she continued on to where she had seen Agnes disappear behind a corner.
It was a terrible slum, but Agnes had contacts that could give them cheap wares. She drove a hard bargain, that woman, and bought them fresh fish, potatoes and turnips for half the price.
“Poor sods livin’ like this,” Agnes muttered as they made their way back towards the station. “I mean, just look at them! Filthy, sick, starvin’… they deserve better!”
“Some of them might,” Ethel muttered. “But some have gotten exactly what they deserve.”
Agnes gasped. “That’s awful of you, Ethel! Bad people are everywhere, that much is true, but we have to rise above them. The true monsters are those rich bastards living life as though there are no such thing as poverty and misery.”
True monsters? Oh no, Agnes, don’t you understand? “Real monsters aren’t lurking in shadows or riches. They’re hidden in plain sight, calling you ‘dear’ and ‘pet’ and pretending to want what’s good for you.” They’re the ones we love, the ones we lust for, the ones we would do anything for. They’re the ones we are most vulnerable to, the ones—“we trust with our lives.” The words echoed in her mind like looming darkness, followed by an ominous silence.
“Ethel, love.” Agnes’s mumbles broke the void. She put a hand on Ethel’s shoulder, making her jump. “Are you well? Is something wrong?”
For a moment, Ethel felt the ground sway beneath her feet. She frowned. “Did… did you hear all that?”
“Aye, and you barely sounded like yourself there for a while!” Agnes said. “Come lassie, you don’t look too well. Let’s sit for a moment.”
“No,” Ethel mumbled, feeling slightly unnerved. How could Agnes possibly have heard the voice that whispered? Was the voice… real? She had to pinch herself to make sure she was awake.
“Yes, we should sit. It’s quite a walk back to the station and you are not yourself. Come, I know a pub we could stop at.”
“The Old Cod,” Ethel nodded.
Agnes scoffed a laugh. “Aye! You a regular?”
Ethel quickly shook her head. “N-no! I just… saw the sign on the way here.”
Agnes chuckled and led the way into the pub. There were plenty of people inside despite it being early afternoon. Agnes and Ethel claimed a table by a window and ordered in a pint of ale each. Ethel kept a watchful eye out for her father’s face.
“I was born in Garnkirk,” said Agnes as she took her first sip of her ale. “Lived in a place not unlike this. My father—bless him—worked with trains, and that was all I ever wanted to do. I thought I would stay there my whole life, gettin’ married and havin’ plenty of scrawny wee bairns. But I met a scum who beat me whenever he felt like it, and got pregnant before my eighteenth birthday, poor and unmarried. That bastard beat the child out of me.” She took a large swing of her ale. “The scum should’ve hung for it, but there is apparently no justice for loose women. Love, I know all about the monsters.” She then gave Ethel a look she did not like; it was scrutinising, seeking. “I have a feelin’ you know a great deal about monsters too.”
Ethel shook her head. “No.”
Agnes hummed. “Very well. I respect your secrets. Just trust me when I tell you this; secrets can eat you up from the inside. It’s better to let them go than to bury them.”
Ethel swallowed and looked down on the faded straw on her finger. “I’m going to Hell for mine,” she croaked.
Agnes placed a hand atop Ethel’s. “Don’t you worry, love. Whatever you’ve done, I’m sure God will forgive you.”
Ethel’s eyes welled up, and as she looked at Agnes she felt a pang of sorrow hit her chest. The Scotswoman’s face warped; her eyes turned grey and her hair turned chestnut. The lines in her face grew different, and no matter how many times Ethel blinked, the vision remained.
“Will God forgive you, child?”
She stared at the spectre before her, the mother she had missed for so many years, knowing that it was not her mother sitting in front of her. She knew it was Agnes, and yet, the vision did not disappear.
“Will God forgive your sins?”
She took a deep chug of ale before closing her eyes hard.
“Are you alright, love?”
When she opened her eyes again, Agnes was there. Sweet, sweet Agnes. Ethel nodded and took another sip. “Everything is fine.”
Maxwell Roth was very unlike the person Jacob had expected. There was indeed something odd about the man, but also something deeply intriguing. He was articulate yet had a distinct Cockney accent; he was smartly dressed yet not fancy; he was graceful yet blunt. He was chaos incarnate, and Jacob knew not what to make of him.
The bravest man in London. That was what he had called Jacob, the very words. Was it just something he said to draw Jacob in? Perhaps. But Jacob could take care of himself, and he loved flattery. He knew it was probably a terrible idea to make alliances with his enemies, but he truly felt as though Roth had no true enemies. He was an opportunist, someone who did things purely because it benefitted him, and Jacob could respect that. He wasn’t above that himself; surely, he had used people and situations for his own good. He did feel somewhat strange, however, seeing the tail of Blighters boarding a train he had stolen for them. The look in those Blighters’ faces as the train left the station should normally have infuriated him—now, they puzzled him. In a way, he didn’t recognise himself. Any other day, he would have shot a Blighter looking at him like that, but today he was preoccupied with pleasing Roth. What had happening to him? Who was he turning into?
“You seem troubled.” Evie had just returned from whatever she had done in her search for the Shroud.
Jacob looked at his sister, wondering whether or not to tell her of his meeting with Roth. She did tell him not to go, after all… not that he expected her to think he’d actually listen to her. He sighed and confessed: “I went to see Roth.”
At first, Evie said nothing, but Jacob could hear her gathering strength. Then, she crossed her arms. “Can’t say that I’m surprised. What carnage did you cause this time, brother?”
Jacob rolled his eyes and leaned back in the sofa. “You wound me, sister.” He then huffed. “It may be difficult for you to believe me when I tell you that I kept a low profile. No casualties.”
“Then what did he want with you?”
“He wanted to help us bring Starrick down.”
“Ha!” Evie exclaimed. “As if that weasel would ever help us bring down the one feeding him money?”
Jacob clenched his jaw. “Ever thought it might be true?”
“True?” she spat. “Jacob, be serious! This is Maxwell Roth we’re talking about, the leader of the Blighters! He doesn’t want to help us. He has his own gain, I’m sure of it, and I can assure you that it isn’t to our benefit.”
“Well, you didn’t talk to him!”
“No, and neither should you!”
Jacob rolled his eyes again. “Here we go again. Are you going to tell me how immature I am? How impulsive I am? How utterly useless I am and how little I care about the mission?”
“Well, do you?” Evie’s tone was dark, menacing almost. “Care about the mission, I mean.”
He glared at his sister. “I care about freeing London from Starrick. That’s my mission.”
“That, and Miss Smith, it seems.”
Jacob sprung up from the sofa with a scolding finger shooting out at his sister. “Don’t drag her into this!”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Evie spat, “but waltzing straight into the police station, posing as one, would not have happened if you cared about our mission! Killing two officers would not have happened if you cared about our mission!”
“You mean your mission!” Jacob growled. “I was never even a part of it anyway, was I? Just nuisance like always. But, you know, it’s all right. You can go on and continue father’s legacy.”
Evie sighed. “Jacob—”
“No.” He raised his hand to silence her. “It doesn’t matter. You do it your way, and I do it my way—just like we always do.”
“Save your breath, Evie.” He left the carriage before she could respond. Enraged, he even left the train as soon as he could. He could stand a great many things his sister said to him, but he had had it with her scolding, her arrogance, her viciousness. She didn’t trust him, it was as simple as that. But of course, she thought that she was better than him. More worthy of love. More worthy of honour. More worthy of their father’s respect. More of an Assassin. More loyal to the Creed. At this particular moment, however, Jacob didn’t mind. To Hell with the Creed, he thought. To Hell with everything. The only thing he agreed with was that nothing was true, and that everything was permitted.
He flung the doors open to the nearest pub and seated himself by the bar. The chatter quieted down, eyes staring wide at him. “What’s the strongest you’ve got?”
The bartender stared at him through small, round glasses.
Jacob glared back from underneath the brim of his hat; this was a new pub he had never been to before. Otherwise, he would never be questioned. “Well?”
The bartender quickly cleared his throat. “We’ve got some fine whisky, if that’s to your liking, sir.”
“That’ll do.” Jacob was handed a glass of the purest golden liquid he’d ever seen, but devoured it in one go before even letting the taste touch his tongue. “Keep it coming.”
“Well, well, if it isn’t Jacob Frye ‘imself.”
Jacob had just finished his second glass before turning to face however addressed him. It was five Blighters standing by the doors, sneers across their faces.
“Wha’ you doin’ ‘ere?” said the Blighter in the middle—a small man with beady eyes and a frightfully large and untamed moustache. “This isn’ your territory.”
Jacob raised his palms. “Just havin’ a drink.”
The Moustache laughed. “Aye, in our pub.”
Jacob sighed. “Look, I’m really not in the mood.”
“Oh,” the Moustache sneered, “little Rook’s out o’ spirits, eh!”
Jacob clenched his jaw.
“An’ I ‘eard you ‘ad a temper. Guess I must’ve ‘eard wrong, then.”
“Guess so,” Jacob muttered, his hand tightening around his glass of whisky. He tried to keep calm, tried to just have his bloody drink without anyone stirring a fight.
The Moustache and his goons approached the bar, and the Moustache leaned in next to Jacob. “I’ve ‘eard rumours you’re deep into Roth’s pocket, too,” he said lowly, and Jacob clenched his jaw so hard he thought his teeth might crack. “You a backgammon player then, eh? Roth usually finds sissy boys to play with…”
Jacob could stand it no longer. In a swift movement, he smashed his whisky glass straight into the Moustache’s temple. He fell to the floor, his hands covering his bloody face and the brawl was imminent. Jacob spared no strength and as the rest of the guests slipped out of the pub as quickly as they could, he was alone against four brutes, but they were slow and sluggish. Jacob was fast, strong, and in an absolute foul mood. More Blighters were however pouring in and no matter how many bones Jacob broke, he was soon simply outnumbered. His brow cracked, his knuckles bled, but he kept fighting, showing them why Jacob Frye was a name to fear. His brass knuckles had much work to do, tendering lots of meat for the grinder.
Then he heard the familiar whistle and he could see flashes of green coming to his aid. Fighting was everywhere, and Jacob felt more alive than ever. He slashed through flesh and broke bones, letting himself conduct all the anger he was carrying, so much that he didn’t even notice when police whistles started to echo down the street.
“Oi, boss!” he heard as someone was tugging at him.
He stopped and looked up. The man he had let his knuckles work on was no longer recognisable. He didn’t even look human any longer. Jacob’s hands were covered with blood and his face hurt, but he was thrilled. His chest heaved as he exclaimed, “let’s wreak some havoc, boys!”
“Blimey, no!” the Rook tugging at him said.
Jacob stared at him. He tried to remember his name. Was it John? Or was it Jake? Or Jerry? “Why not? I want blood! Where are we? The Strand? Let’s take it!”
“Christ, Jacob! The coppers are on their way!”
“Well, let’s let them taste our iron clad, then!” Jacob cheered.
“Come on, you lunatic!” said another Rook, Ulysses—a brute of a man—and grabbed Jacob’s coat to drag him out of the pub.
He finally gave in and hurried out into the evening. Officers were running towards them, batons brandished and whistles blowing. The Rooks scattered. Jacob, Ulysses and John darted down an alleyway, forcing people out of their way. Whistles started sounding everywhere, it seemed, and Jacob wondered for a split second how many Rooks and Blighters there had been in that pub. How big was the brawl?
They stopped for a minute, to catch their breaths.
“We’ve got to get you back on the train, boss,” said Ulysses. “Coppers find you here, you’re smoked.”
“Aye,” Jacob sneered, “Evie would kill me.”
They hijacked a carriage and tried to keep a low profile until they spotted the train quietly resting along the railway in Whitechapel. A few of the fighters had already reached the train while some were still afoot. In the dining car, injured Rooks were catching their breaths, licking their wounds, and drinking some well deserved ale.
Jacob greeted his fighters, but in the back of the carriage, he met a pair of disappointed silver eyes. Ethel stood with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders and her dark hair was laid in a loose braid. Jacob sighed heavily and mouthed, “I’m sorry,” but Ethel only shook her head and picked up the medical kit.
He slipped away from the dining car and into his study. It was quiet and empty, a silence that was almost deafening in his ears. He removed his hat and his coat and sat down on the sofa, waiting for Ethel. She entered just a few minutes later, her lips tightly pursed.
“Don’t be cross with me,” said Jacob. “You know me, can’t say no to a good fight.” He gave her his most charming smile, but her face was just as stern as before.
She said nothing as she sat down next to him and reached to dab his brow. Jacob hissed but Ethel did not stop dabbing. He didn’t want her to and leaned into her touch. He studied her hard set face. Had she not been eating? Had she not been sleeping? He cheeks seemed lacking in colour and she had dark circles around her eyes. “Are you unwell?”
She did not answer him.
Carefully, he reached for her knee, to touch the fabric of her dress, but she pulled away.
“No,” she muttered. “You have blood on your hands, you’ll stain my nightgown.”
“I just want to touch you.”
She sighed bitterly and turned her attention to his knuckles. They were cracked and bruised, but that was nothing new, neither for him nor her.
“They started it,” Jacob said. “I warned them not to test me. They should have known better, really.” He snickered, pleased with himself.
Still, Ethel said nothing.
“Please, love,” he sighed, “say something.”
She clenched her jaw and looked at him, but remained silent.
Jacob did not divert his gaze, challenging her. He wanted her to speak, to shout at him, spit at him, call him names—anything! “If you won’t speak to me, then will you at least kiss me?”
Her cheeks flushed—in anger or embarrassment, he did not know—and swiftly and angrily, she pressed her lips against his. Victoriously, he caught her mouth with his and dared to be bold enough to sneak his hands around her waist. He wanted her, and his very being screamed for her.
“No!” she growled against him and determinedly removed his hands from her body. “You’ll stain my gown.”
Jacob’s chest heaved, his lips still slightly touching hers. Rage was still inside him, still wanting to slip out, and this was another annoyance. “Don’t be a tease,” he let out.
She pulled away, decidedly.
“Ethel, no, I didn’t—”
“Tend to your own godforsaken wounds,” she muttered. “We shall speak when you’re civil again. Good night, sir.” She curtsied before leaving, and Jacob groaned in frustration, pain, and dissatisfaction.
At times, she found it difficult to determine what was real and what was not. The voices would not let her rest, not in her sleep nor while awake. She was often in foul moods, snapping at people, bursting into tears. Her own reflection taunted her, her own shadow frightened her; at times, she even wondered whether or not she’d be better off at the bottom of the Thames.
Jacob was her lighthouse, guiding her through the storm. He was, however, often preoccupied with a new ally of his and didn’t spend that much time on the train at all. It was partly because of his work, and partly because he and Evie had been on quite bad terms lately. Their bickering often led to an angered Jacob, which in turn led to bloody knuckles and an even angrier Jacob. Ethel wished they could just take a stroll one day, just the two of them, but he had no patience for such activities nowadays. When they were alone, he wanted intimacy and would get agitated when she denied him that.
Her lighthouse was fading.
The voices grew louder. They told her to give in to Jacob’s wishes, to give up her integrity and her independence. At times, she almost gave in to the voices’ seduction, believing what they said to be true; why would God have given men desire if women were to deny them it?
She never gave in. Knowing she had to fight it—always fight it!—she never gave in. She would wait until she was married, until she was a respectable woman. Even then, she knew she would be afraid; the voices wouldn’t stop merely because she had entered a holy matrimony, but she might feel less fear of the act itself once she knew it would not be condemned in the eyes of God—or the populace—once the hands were those of her husband.
She would be married to Mr Frye, the most feared man on the streets of London. She would be Mrs Frye. Sometimes, when the voices grew too loud, she tasted the name on her lips. Ethel Frye. She would have no more ties to her father’s name and the voices would have no power over her any longer. They could only taunt her for her past, but she was well aware that the past could not be changed. It could only be forgotten.
Working with Roth was proving to be a challenge for Jacob. Not because he found the work particularly difficult, and he got along well enough with Roth himself. No, it was the mockery from the Blighters that got to him. The pub brawl had turned almost legendary, not because it was a large fight that claimed the lives of five men—men that Jacob himself killed—but because the rumour quickly spread that Jacob Frye was a “sissy”, Roth’s plaything.
In general, he didn’t really care. What other people did and what other people preferred was none of his business; if Roth did prefer men, then who was Jacob to judge? What was his business, however, was his reputation. As the leader of the Rooks, and as the arch nemesis of the Templars, he couldn’t afford being called… a “sissy”. Evidently, it didn’t matter how many faces he punched or how many throats he cut, he was still licking the filth off of Roth’s boots in the eyes of the Blighters.
If they could only see themselves, was a thought that often crossed Jacob’s mind, for he knew that any Blighter was more inclined than Jacob to do Roth’s bidding. They feared the man, and so they should.
Roth was clearly a madman, unbothered by any sort of societal rules and regulations. He was an anarchist, an opportunist, and as eccentric as he was sinister.
“Jacob, my dear,” said Roth while they were on the hunt for a constable named Chester Swinebourne, “snitches are snakes in the grass. You’ve gotta cut their ‘eads off before they bite you.”
“As much as I like that analogy,” said Jacob while trying to steer the horse and coach, “I have to wonder—what did he do to you?”
“Nothin’!” Roth exclaimed with a barking laugh. “Cut ‘im off, and Starrick loses ‘is ties to the police. It’s a simple equation, Jacob.”
“Yes, but what will you do to him?” Jacob looked at Roth. “What will you do to all of them?”
“That, my boy, is best left a mystery.” Roth displayed a sinister smirk, one that Jacob did not like.
He felt no qualms with having either of them killed—no, it was a soft voice inside his head that caused him doubt. It was Ethel’s voice; her sweet, sweet voice asking him why. Why trust someone like Roth? Why trust someone who would, so easily, betray his own? Yes, why, indeed. Trust was a fickle matter and it was no wonder he heard Ethel’s voice echoing in his head instead of Evie’s; she seemed to trust no one. Not even him. But perhaps Ethel was right in doing so—he hadn’t been himself lately. In fact, his anger had been fuelled, not only by his vexing sister, but also by his growing confusion concerning Maxwell Roth. They were enemies once, though unknowing of each other. Then, their relationship transformed into what could be described as a strange sort of friendship. It was a partnership, an agreement between kindred souls; they both wanted to free London from tyranny and oppression. But Jacob began seeing Roth in a different light—Roth praised Jacob, encouraged him like no other. In a sense, he was like the father Jacob always wanted but never had. Roth was the complete opposite of Ethan Frye, the Master Assassin, and while being the scapegoat in his real father’s eyes, Jacob was Roth’s Golden Boy. The tantalising sensation of confirmation had won him over more times that he would like to admit, so much that he accepted being called a sissy, or a plaything. But lately, Jacob found it hard to justify the things he did for Roth—despite them all done in the name of freedom. That sinister smirk of his was as terrifying as it was intriguing, but was the sweet seduction of freedom and chaos worth the toll it took on Jacob’s soul?
As if sensing his doubt, Roth sighed. “Come now, Jacob. What’s botherin’ you?”
Jacob shook his head. “Nothing. No bother. None at all.”
He felt Roth’s eyes burn through him before the man spoke. “I hope you’re not lyin’. I will know if you’re lyin’, you know.”
Jacob sneered. “Why would I be bothered? We’re bringing down Starrick, all according to plan.”
“Yes,” Roth hummed, “all accordin’ to plan.”
A letter had come for Evie that day. It was placed neatly on her desk and her name was written with an elegant hand, clearly that of a woman. Intrigued, she opened it.
‘Dear Miss Frye,
I am very sorry for my behaviour last time we spoke, but I am not used to speaking about the dead in such a manner. I hope my knowledge has helped you, however, on your search for the perpetrator. I also recall you asking about a young patient—black hair, silver eyes. Although I have not found that particular name you mentioned, I do remember a patient that closely resembled your description, a patient that indeed suffered cruelly at the hands of Mr Johnson. I hoped I never had to think about this particular case again, but seeing how it might help you in your search for the murderer, it would be foolish of me not to share the story with you.
If it is of any interest, you are most welcome to see me at the asylum.
A crease had formed between Evie’s brows. She thought the whole ordeal with the asylum was over, but apparently, she was wrong. A bad feeling was stirring in her belly; she could not ignore the feeling that perhaps Jacob hadn’t been so wrong killing that officer after all, because perhaps he had been much more wicked than any of them could have imagined.
She hummed to herself, deep in thought. A soft rapping landed on her door and soon after, Henry stepped into her carriage. Her heart fluttered, but she tried to ignore it.
“I just wondered if you need me for anything before I head back to the shop?” said he.
She furrowed her brows. “I have a conundrum I need help with.”
“Is that so?” Henry crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.
“It’s this Johnson fellow,” Evie said. “I did tell you that Jacob, foolishly enough, infiltrated Scotland Yard, did I not?”
Henry snickered. “Oh yes. And even if you didn’t, such a stunt is hard to miss.”
“Well, he found out that Johnson had worked as a guard at Lambeth Asylum, so I went there to speak with Miss Nightingale.” She sighed. “I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but that man knew Ethel, and one has to wonder, from where? So, I asked Miss Nightingale if there had been a patient there recently named Ethel Smith.”
“You believe Ethel has ties to the asylum?” Henry did not sound convinced.
“No. Or… well, I might have suspected it. Now, I don’t think it’s true, but there is something strange about this Johnson. I received this letter today.” She gave Henry the letter and he read it with a deep frown.
“That is peculiar,” said he.
“What do you think it means?”
“My guess is as good as yours. We know nothing of what Johnson did to that girl Miss Nightingale mentioned in the letter."
“I have an inkling,” Evie muttered darkly.
“Well then,” said Henry. “Ethel might have suffered the same as that patient. The only question is, when and why?”
Henry pulled his brows together. “Didn’t Ethel use to work as a maid at a fine house in the city?”
“Yes. The Westboroughs. She has been very secretive about it, however, but seeing how she was starving on the streets when Jacob found her, I suspect that she had been given her notice.”
“And that raises the question why,” Henry nodded.
Evie concurred. “Would you try to find her employer at the Westborough House? Perhaps Johnson had some sort of connection to the family, or to someone who worked there.”
“You don’t think it is possible Ethel’s acquaintance with Johnson began after she had been given her notice? Perhaps she was…” He almost seemed ashamed as he lowered his voice. “Perhaps she was a… well, lady of the night, while out on the streets?”
Evie scoffed. “Ethel? Have you seen the girl? She’s terrified if you just look her in the eye! No, indeed, she has not been a prostitute, Henry.”
A shade of pink flushed his brown cheeks. “No, of course not. I’m sorry.”
“No… something doesn’t feel right about this.” She knitted her brows and gently caressed her chin. “Miss Nightingale described Johnson as someone who admired the law, so my guess is that he abused women who, for some reason, broke the law. Or, at least, broke the law in his eyes.”
“Didn’t Jacob catch her thieving?”
“He did. But she said it was the first time she’d stolen anything.”
“Well,” Henry sighed, “she was indeed very fragile when she came here and must have been desperate. Perhaps it wasn’t the first time?”
Evie looked at him. “So, he abused her for stealing pennies?”
“Well, his interpretation of rules could have been very… personal.”
“But we’re just grasping at straws,” Evie sighed. “I’ll go back to talk to Miss Nightingale, first thing in the morning.”
“And I’ll find the Westborough House.”
“Jacob, darlin’!” Roth exclaimed and raised his glass. “Let’s ‘ave a toast for out delightful partnership! A match made in Heaven—or Hell—wouldn’ you agree?”
Jacob chuckled and raised the pint he was holding. The stage at the Alhambra was lit, but the chairs in the salon were empty. This was the domain of actors, actresses, dancers and entertainers, with Roth at the very centre of it all—and tonight, he was hosting a feast. He was a peculiar man, Roth—as light and feminine as the dancers, but as brutal as the thugs.
Jacob felt out of place. Here, he knew neither what to converse about nor what to respond when conversed with. The actors and actresses were elegant but rowdy, intelligent but simple-minded. Roth seemed to fit right in, this was his kind. Jacob joined in where he could, but all they seemed to speak about were themselves. Vanity tainted the walls, the wood, the very floor they walked on, while jealousy and spite shrouded their eyes. They tried to outshine one another by singing, dancing, and playing the piano, all wanting to impress Roth, but he was having none of it.
“Oh, for fuck sake!” he spat. “Would you all just shut up? We’re borin’ my friend Jacob ‘ere.”
Jacob raised his palms. “No, no. I’m entertained!”
One of the actresses—a beauty with curly, strawberry blonde hair and strikingly blue eyes—swayed towards him with a self-assured smile. She elegantly sunk down on a chair next to him, leaned against the back of it, and lighted a cigarette. She exhaled a rich puff of smoke before eyeing Jacob up and down. “It’s not every day I enjoy the company of a renowned fighter.”
Jacob scoffed and smirked. “Don’t know if I’m renowned.”
“You’re a name frequently mentioned at fight clubs, at least.”
“You hang about fight clubs?” He gestured their surroundings. “You?”
She smiled. “The theatre and the stage are my everyday routine, darling. I don’t come here to get entertained, I come here to work. Now, at the fight clubs, on the other hand… I can relax.” She took a deep puff from her cigarette. “I had the pleasure of seeing you fight once, in Westminster. Brutal, but strangely elegant.”
Jacob chuckled. “I don’t think elegant is the right word.”
The woman chuckled too, and leaned forwards. “Fascinating, then.”
Jacob formed his lips around words that never seemed to escape his mouth. Instead, he lowered his eyes and tried to hide the heat on his cheeks.
“My name is Leila Sinclair. You might have heard of me.”
“Sorry,” said Jacob. “I’m not at the theatre much.”
“Well,” said Leila, “we need to remedy that.”
“Yeah?” Jacob said. “And you’ll guide me, I take it?”
A small hand slithered onto Jacob’s knee and the actress leaned even closer, so close she could almost whisper into his ear as she said, “I’ll guide you to many things, if you’d like.”
He cleared his throat and gently removed her hand. “Tempting… but no.”
Leila straighten, slightly insulted. “So the rumours are true, then?”
Jacob clenched his jaw. “I have someone special.”
“Someone special? Who is she?” Leila asked. “Or is it a he?”
Jacob rolled his eyes. “Does it matter?”
“I should know if I have any fair chance at all.”
Leila stared at him boldly. “That was fast. Either you do prefer men, or this someone is very special.”
Jacob was getting impatient and this woman was getting on his nerves. “You’re not used to men turning you down, I take it?”
Moving her open jaw, she scoffed. “They usually don’t, no. Neither men, nor women.”
Jacob sneered and leaned forwards across the table. “Better learn, then.”
Leila’s face twisted, but she took a deep breath and raised her brows. “Perhaps you don’t have that much experience with women.”
“Oh, I have plenty.”
The corners of her lips curled into a smirk. “Is that so?” They stared at each other challengingly for a few moments before she scoffed and leaned back against the chair. Her lips pressed around the cigarette before she let out a cloud of smoke. “Tell me, what’s so special about your dearest sweetheart?”
Jacob leaned back as well, taking a chug of his beer. “Everything.”
“So she’s nothing short of a goddess, then?”
“Oh no,” he said, “she’s anything but. Plain, shy… prude…”
“Doesn’t seem like much fun to me.”
“But marvellous in every way.”
Leila’s face softened, and she smiled. She cleared her throat and straightened her skirts. “Ah, well… love is a marvellous thing, indeed.”
Jacob knew not what to answer, but drank of his beer instead.
“Wha’ are you two chattin’ about?” Roth appeared behind them, his scarred face twisted in a grin. “Are you keepin’ this young lad all to yourself, dearest Leila?”
“Oh, indeed not,” said she. “We, my dearest Maxwell, are talking about love.”
“Ah!” Roth exclaimed and sank down on the chair by Jacob’s other side. “Love! I just love love! I even like the word: love! Love… it has a ring to it, don’t you think, Jacob?”
Jacob raised his brows and took a sip of his beer. “Haven’t thought about it.”
“Sure you ‘ave!” said Roth and leaned towards him. “We all hear it from when we’re tiny cods, love. You ought to love your mother, love your father, love you country… love thy neighbour!” He rose from his seat, his hand spread out like the wings of an eagle, majestically, as he dramatically faced the heavens. “Oh Lord, I love thee… ardently…” He then moved a hand to his crotch in a vulgar gesture and growled, “while givin’ me cock a proper tug on a Sunday mornin’!”
“Maxwell!” Leila exclaimed. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“Oh, I kiss all sorts of things with his mouth, Leila dearie,” Roth sneered and pressed his lips against hers.
Jacob laughed, but only half-heartedly. It was all a bit too strange, all a bit too… flamboyant. He felt out of place, now more than ever, but there was nevertheless a seductive sense of freedom in their eccentric ways.
When he left the theatre, drunk and miserable, wobbling back to Whitechapel, he felt more alone that ever before.