With a starched cap and apron, at the start of a new day,
Upstairs to see the mistress, to hear what she’ll say,
I’m in there a while, as she smiles sweetly at me,
We discuss the day’s menu and she asks me for tea.
Back in the kitchen I clap my hands at those I see chat,
I demand chops for lunch, but easy on the fat.
I hear kitchen maids, Dora and Sal, giggle with glee,
They are often like sisters, it comes naturally.
Fish for this evening, steamed and served on a platter,
Slightly over done, Dora shouts, ‘Does it matter’?
Morris the footman gives her a wink,
But he’s already taken, it makes her heart sink.
Sitting around the large table, when our work is complete,
Mr Johnson, the
, now takes his seat, Butler
He tells of the gossip that surrounds those upstairs,
Then it’s back to our rooms for a nightcap and prayers.
There is something about the River Thames at night which chills the soul. Eric Mathews looked down into the dark, sewage ridden water, remembering the last time he was about to jump in.
Eric had known there had been no point in living, not after everything that had happened. He had loved Eliza, but she had told him that she had wanted to be with someone else, and he would have jumped in the river, if the old man hadn’t come whistling along through the arch.
Archie Pollock had whistled on purpose knowing that it would distract the young man he had spotted in the distance, a young man who was about to do something that was common place, amongst the desperate and wretched of London.
That night, Archie persuaded Eric to return with him back to his humble home. Archie knew it would be better for his new acquaintance to stay the night with him, rather than paying for a lodging house, and in Eric’s state of mind, he wouldn’t want to be surrounded by a lot of strangers. No, Archie would make sure he was alright; he could offer him shelter, at least for one night.
Archie lived at the end of a long terraced street; his abode was a run down place with a battered front door which was coming off its hinges. Inside the room, a single bed with an iron bedstead stood underneath the window. A pile of old blankets lay bundled in the corner next to two wooden chairs. The ceiling and walls were cracked, one of the walls was blackened with soot, and underneath it was a cold fireplace.
After picking up the two chairs and placing them by the fireplace, Archie picked up half a bucket of coal from beside the door and threw the contents into the grate.
Soon the fire was giving off warmth. Archie walked over to a cupboard at the side of the room and took out the remains of a loaf of bread. Coming back to the fire he offered Eric a piece. Eric took it gratefully.
‘It’s an awful thing when a man doesn’t want to see out his natural days and considers destroying himself,’ Archie said.
‘Yes,’ Eric replied quietly, staring into the fire and watching the flames flicker.
‘Homeless…?’ Archie asked.
Eric nodded, chomping on the bread.
‘Well, you can stay `ere as long as you like.’ Archie told him.
‘You mean it?’ Eric asked, surprised.
‘Course I do! I only have a daughter who lives near Whitechapel, so she might come round, but apart from her visits, I’m here on my own, I could do with the company,’ Archie told him.
Eric couldn’t imagine growing old with grown up children, although he would have liked children with Eliza. He had even been ready to propose marriage to her when she had lashed out in frustration at his lazy ways, and told him that she had met someone else. She had met someone who was more capable of putting food on the table, and clothes on her back. Then she had told him to get out, and never to come back. He had lost his temper then, he had used his fists on her before, but not like that.
Archie poked the fire a bit more.
‘There`s some blankets over there,’ Archie said, pointing to the corner of the room, ‘Make yourself comfortable, and get some sleep.’
Eric got up, picked up the blankets and brought them back to the fire while Archie made his way over to his bed.
As Eric lay there, moved by the kindness of an old man he had met only hours before, he thought about the terrible thing that had driven him to feel the compulsion to take his own life. After beating the woman he loved, he had put his hands around her neck and squeezed. She had dropped to the floor slowly, still staring at him in disbelief. No, even Eliza couldn`t have guessed that he would be capable of anything like that. Eric closed his eyes, he could see her face, he knew he would always see her face. He had wanted to end his own life so that her face wouldn’t haunt him for for the rest of his days. He had just wanted it over with.
Eric was taken out of his own thoughts by heavy footsteps coming through the front door.
‘Archie…Archie!’ A man’s voice shouted.
Archie jumped out of bed and grabbed his clothes off the bedstead.
Eric also jumped up to see three large men, all holding Bull’s-eye lamps in one hand and long sticks in the other. They had a look of anger on the faces.
‘It’s your Eliza, Archie, she’s gone Archie…murdered…strangled!’ The whole of Whitechapel are lookin` for her killer!’
Archie’s face grew red with fury. One of the men handed him a large stick. Then, followed by the other men, Archie ran towards the door in pursuit.
Eric looked stunned. His stomach began to churn and his body got ready to flee. He ran from the house, and headed back down to the
Thames, this time, determined to face his fate in the river.