21st November, 1888
Abram Kosminski walked through St. James Street, his head bowed, surrounded by hundreds of his fellow Eastenders. The upper-class population belonging to the West End of London watched the procession pass through their opulent streets with a mix of displeasure and disapproval on their faces. The absolute temerity displayed by the riff-raff of their fine city galled the gentlemen dressed in their fine Norfolk jackets and woollen breaches. Muttering under their sneers, they watched, puffing their pipes.
Abram was a butcher, a shochet to be accurate. He killed animals, according to the shechitah, the Jewish law of slaughtering. A survivor of the Russian pogroms in his native Poland, Abram, was one of the many thousand Polish jews who had immigrated to London in search of a better life. Although, one wouldn’t say that life in the poor and dangerous Whitechapel was not an upgrade over his life in Gdansk. Abram lived with his family–a loving wife, sons, daughters and grandchildren, in their ancestral home. That was before the Russian-instigated antisemitic movement swept over their peaceful neighbourhood like the tendrils of a ravenous fire. Gone was his house and his family and all he had when he walked, weary and desolate, into the slums of London, were the clothes he wore and his trusted chalaf, a long-bladed knife used in his profession.
The East enders marched along, shouting their slogans and waving their fists and placards at the snooty faces of their pompous upper-class audience. Abram moved along, his eyes transfixed on his destination–the unremarkable white building with a Victorian interpretation of a Palladian façade. The building housed one of the, if not most, notoriously exclusive private gentlemen’s club in the country–White’s.
The list of White’s members included the who’s who of the elite of London. One had to be of proper upbringing and education to be even considered being accepted. Even then, the waiting period for new members went up to almost ten years before they decided on the applications. Abram was interested in meeting one of White’s esteemed members. Of course, it was an impossible endeavour for someone forming the scum of London to come within hailing distance of a person like Abram’s quarry.
Yet, the protest organized by the vigilance committee of Whitechapel proffered him an opportunity, hitherto he thought was unthinkable. He was a patient man, just like the man he sought, waiting to grasp that sliver of possibility. All he needed was to find a spark; the downtrodden and ill-treated mass of his East end brethren would provide the kindling to burst into a raging wildfire. And then he remembered the wager.
The members of White’s were not beneath placing a jolly old wager. In fact, they relished placing heavy bets on mundane things just for the thrills. These obscenely rich gentlemen craved one thing and one thing only in their otherwise opulent and mundane lives–excitement. Someone had mentioned that a particular patron had placed a bet of three thousand Pound Sterling on which of two raindrops would reach the bottom pane of a window.
Three thousand pounds! And poor little Mary sold herself for six shillings to her johns. Thinking about Mary made Abram’s blood boil. But he managed to maintain a calm visage and focussed on his surroundings. Two men, dressed in fine woollen cloaks, were at the gates of White’s, pointing and laughing at the procession, while talking within themselves. Abram’s brain went into overdrive. He knew what they were doing.
They were placing a wager!
A wager, precisely what he needed. Abram pushed his way through the crowd to reach a burly man who was chanting in a boisterous voice. The man was George Lusk, the head of the vigilance committee of Whitechapel.
“We deserve our right to live!”Lusk shouted.
The crowd chanted, “We are not scum!”
“We deserve to be treated as humans!” bellowed Lusk.
“We don’t deserve to die in the streets,” the crowd replied.
Abram tapped the man’s shoulder and whispered something in his ears. Lusk’s eyes went round like saucers under his hat and his moustache quivered with anger and indignation.
“Wagering on us, are we?” he roared and turned around to address his fellow East enders. “Oi! Hearken to me words, you wankers. It seems like the fine fellows of that mighty fine establishment are placing wagers on us. On us!”
Lusk spat in the direction of White’s and said, “Like, how many of us are gorn git thrown into the jail? How many of us might end up brown bread? The bloody berks in their fancy bodices think we are nothing more than Cockney scum. Let’s show them how much of scum we are. Up the apples and pears, lads.”
That was all the crowd needed. They started heading towards the fine establishments on St. James Street with unbridled anger in their eyes. Abram followed the men and women, making a beeline towards White’s. The Police Constables realized what was about to occur, but they did nothing beyond blowing their whistles and asking the crowd to disperse, while waving their batons. All their actions did was to further fuel the fire. The mob, roaring like a famished lion, fell upon the haberdasheries and other assorted businesses, letting their rage boil over. Soon, St. James Street was littered with broken china, paintings, and furniture as outraged and terrified upper-class men and women ran away from the carnage.
Abram slipped away from the mob as soon as they entered White’s and made his way towards the stairs. The smallish bar of White’s was the first to feel the wrath of the East enders. Costly alcohol bottles were passed around as the poor got to savour what the rich drank. Abram swept through the upper floors of White’s methodically, never pausing too long at any door to see if his quarry was behind one of them. The rooms were mostly deserted and the few patrons who had been socializing in the banquet halls had long fled. Yet Abram knew his quarry would stay back. The man was not the type to get startled easily. He’d be waiting for unexpected visitors.
Abram had seen the man once before in his life, just for a few moments in the corridor outside Mary Jane Kelly’s door. Of course, he did not know who he really was until the next morning, but then it was way too late for him to do anything. Also, the man did not evoke any suspicion because of the way he appeared then. No one in their right minds would have spared a second look at him, nor would they have fathomed the depths of evil hidden behind that plain face and pale green eyes.
Someone was singing in one of the adjacent rooms and Abram froze on hearing it. The song was one that he had heard before all those long and lonely nights in the small cubbyhole-sized room in Dorset Street he now called home. It was one of Mary’s favourite songs. Sweet, young Mary. Abram had liked the girl in an almost paternal way. The girl was just twenty-five and had her whole life ahead of her. Tall, fair and with a headful of shockingly red hair, the young Irish lass always treated Abram with kindness when the other men and women of Miller’s Court eyed him with suspicion. He had heard words like the snively old Jew, and the vile immigrant bastard thrown behind his back.
Not young Mary. She had always reserved a smile and sometimes a song for Abram. He had sat on his rickety bed on many a cold, bitter night nursing a cup of hot, black coffee in his hands as he listened to Mary singing songs like Oh! Let me Dream, Lament of an Irish Emigrant, One Lovely Name or Sit-Down Sad Soul. The girl’s voice would reach all the way through to the listener’s soul. But his favourite of the songs Mary sang was A Violet from Mother’s Grave.
Scenes of my childhood arise before my gaze,
bringing reflections of bygone, happy days.
When down in the meadow in childhood, I would roam,
No one’s left to cheer me now within that good old home,
Father, mother, they have passed away.
Sister and brother now lay beneath the clay,
But while life does remain, in memoriam I’ll retain
This small violet I plucked from mother’s grave.
Whenever Mary sang that song, Abram would end up sobbing, remembering all he had and all he had lost. “Oh, come off it, ye old rascal,” Mary would call out to him through the thin walls of the doss house, “Don’t yer git all teary-eyed on me. Lemme sing a gay tune then.” Now, she was gone, plucked away viciously, leaving him all alone once again.
Abram made his way towards the closed door at the end of the corridor on the fifth floor. He steeled himself before entering. Clasping his chalaf, he kicked the door open and came face to face once again with the man he was seeking. The man sat on a red-leathered, high-backed chair. His eyes, the same pale-green eyes, held a hint of mirth to them as he sang A Violet from Mother’s Grave in a clear voice. He was dressed in a grey three-piece suit and wore boots made of the finest leather in the land. On seeing Abram, he stopped singing and said in a soft voice.
“Took you long enough, Sir. By jove, I thought no one would come for me for a while yet.”
Abram’s eyes lit up with anger as he walked towards the man. “Why?” he asked.
The man shrugged and said, “I cannot, in my complete conscience, ascertain to why I did what I did and what I might continue to do, depending on the outcome of our, ah, conference. Yet, I’m no monster, kind sir. I’m not a vile being. I’m just the way God made me.”
Abram sneered at the man and said, “It takes a special kind of evil heart to not own up to one’s crimes. You are no man, but a fiend from the fiery depths of hell.”
“You flatter me, Sir,” the man said. “Much as I would love to accept your platitudes, but with the greatest humility, do accept my apologies for not doing so. I do have one question for you, sir. How did you track me down?”
Abram sighed and said, “I saw beyond your disguise. I’m from a place where the Russian soldiers removed the clothes of nuns just to find out if they were Jewish men in disguise. Your masquerade as a midwife might have fooled others, but not me. Your eyes and your face were imprinted inside my brain and when I saw your picture in the newspaper article about this club, I came to know your real identity.”
“Ah,” said the man, standing up. “My real identity! Would you say that this is but a costume and the absolute version of me was whom you witnessed that night?”
Mary had sung A Violet from Mother’s Grave the night she was killed. An involuntary shudder ran through Abram’s body when he remembered the gruesome sight that greeted him when he had stepped into her house on the morning of the 9th. To say that the girl was killed would be rather kind to her, given the amount of savagery she had been subjected to before the beast was satiated. Young Mary had been butchered and her heart had been taken by the killer as a souvenir. The young girl’s pretty face was mutilated to such an extent that she was barely recognizable and her abdomen had been ripped open and the viscera was displayed as if the killer was putting out an exhibit for an anatomy lesson. It took a severely wicked soul to inflict such cruelty on a fellow human. No wonder the killer called himself Jack the Ripper.
“Killing those women made you feel like a real man, did it not?”
The man just shrugged and said nothing.
“It ends now,” Abram said, and moved with a swiftness that belied his advancing years. Before Jack could realize what was happening, he felt the sinister bite of steel on his neck. The chalaf had found its mark. In one swift movement, the deed was done.
The killings stopped with Mary Jane Kelly.
- Shochet – a person officially certified as competent to kill cattle and poultry in the manner prescribed by Jewish law.
- Shechitah -slaughtering of certain mammals and birds for food according to kashrut, Judaist regulations that prohibit the eating of certain foods and require that other foods be prepared in a specified manner
- Chalaf -The knife used for shechita is called a Chalaf
- Gorn – (slang) going to
- Brown Bread – (Cockney slang) end up dead
- Apples and Pears (Cockney slang) – Stairs
Place: Whites gentleman Club
Thing: A riot
This Post Has 3 Comments
I have some questions for u…how long have you been writing?… do you write daily?… what kind of books do you read?… your writing is impeccable!… answer if you feel like this piece was amazing… very good command over the language and well researched
I’m speechless! I’m awed! It felt like I was watching some movie version of Jack The Ripper. Everything from your plot, to your narrative was perfect. Bravo!!
You got a tough set of prompts but the way you plotted them, the prompts seem to me made for each other. Kudos to you for this briliant plotting. This was a sensitive read, yet it had its dark humour, making it a very good reading experience for me. The wagers, the cockney vocab, and later, the twist – each speaks of the depth in this story’s brilliance. Loved this one. ❤️