Lovey Heart and the Whitechapel Murders
YA Mystery and Suspense, and some Horror, Romance, Love...
Lovey put her shabby green suitcase down on the pavement next to the wall, and sat on it. Holding onto her straw bonnet she arched her neck to read the sign on the tall brick building across the street. She mouthed the words, Herbert Sherbet, Esq. Sweet Artist. No one knew she had taught herself to read. It had been her secret weapon in the orphanage.
She wondered what Mr Sherbet wanted with a thirteen-year-old orphan. A cold wind whistled down Whitechapel Road.
Shivering, she recalled what the dreadful Mrs Fudge had said to her at the orphanage in Mile End Town this morning.
‘Came the other day he did.’ Mrs Fudge leaned over. Bloodshot eyes in a crimson face glowered at her, hair sprouting like seaweed, and breath that could shrivel cabbage. ‘Said to send you to his place of business bright an’ early on Friday.’
Cowering, Lovey turned her head away from Mrs Fudge’s awful breath. ‘What does he want with me, Mrs Fudge?’ she whimpered.
‘Never you mind what he wants with you, Lovey Hart,’ the old woman said, grabbing Lovey’s shoulders and shaking her. ‘You’re to live there. Paid me handsomely he has. So don’t go gettin’ any ideas ‘bout runnin’ away, or I’ll send Dib Dab to hunt you down. If he catches you, gawd help you.’
Dib Dab gave her nightmares. She’d heard some of the tales the other kids told of the beatings that Mrs Fudge’s son had given them. She’d put her hands over her ears when they spoke about the other things he did to the children. She didn’t want to know.
Mrs Fudge gave her directions and pushed her out in the cold at six-thirty. She’d been worried in the dark.
No sooner had she started walking than a man with a top hat and billowing black cape came rushing towards her. Something hard hit her on the shoulder sending her reeling onto her backside. Mumbling something like ‘sorry’, he put a black bag down on the pavement, helped her up, and then picked up the bag and hurried on. Frightened to her soul by his staring eyes, she felt like knocking on the orphanage door to ask Mrs Fudge to let her back in.
She had sat on the suitcase to catch her breath and stop the thumping in her head. Scavengers, cleaning the horse dung from the road, came past. She saw something sparkle on the pavement from the glow of the naphtha light on their barrow. Leaning down, she picked it up. A silver ring engraved with intricate flowers nestled in the palm of her hand. She wondered if the man had dropped it. She slipped it on the third finger of her right hand – it was as if it had been made for her.
It had taken her ages to walk the mile and a half. She had to keep stopping to rest. Now, her hands and arms were throbbing from carrying the heavy suitcase. It wasn’t as if there was anything in it, just a few old clothes and her keepsakes.
In awe, she gazed open-mouthed at the fine ladies walking by in their flowing ruffled dresses. Twirling parasols, they hung onto the arms of shiny soldiers and smart gentlemen in the morning sun. A man in a red crimson waistcoat edged in lace turned a tune on a barrel organ. The stalls were set up between the church and Mile End gate. Men bawled themselves hoarse, eager women bartered with them to get the most from their farthings. Large horses with riders clip-clopped along the cobbled street. Smoke belched out of Mears and Stainbank’s bell foundry and made her cough. Boys with bare feet and dressed in rags thrust newspapers at passers-by shouting, ‘East London Observer – get your daily newspaper – only one penny – another horrible tragedy in Whitechapel.’
It was all new to her. Mrs Fudge had let some of the children out to work in the factories, up the chimneys, or in the homes of rich people to pay for their keep, but she’d never let Lovey out. She had been forced to clean and cook in the orphanage, said she was saving her for something special. She never said what.
People thronged out of the dark side streets into Whitechapel Road. Shops were opening, women gossiped in twos and threes. Public houses opened their doors to let the night’s foul air out. A woman leaned out of a second floor window in a row of gloomy houses and bellowed, ‘Watch yerselves.’ People scampered every which way, as she heaved out the contents of a brimming chamber pot onto the pavement.
A boy, probably a little older than her, with a grubby face, sparkling brown eyes and dirty blonde hair stood in front of her, blocking her view. A black dog, tail wagging and tongue lolling sat on the pavement at his feet.
‘Hello milady,’ he grinned, showing bright white teeth.
Her stomach lurched.
‘Can I interest your ladyship in the East London Observer of the thirty-first of August 1888? It describes the sickenin’ and revoltin’ details of the woman that was murdered in Buck’s Row this mornin’. She wore a black straw bonnet just like you.’
Lovey’s face turned the same colour as Mrs Fudge’s bloodshot eyes. She looked at the worn shoes on her feet, and mumbled, ‘I ain’t no lady, mister. And I don’t want to read ‘bout no grizzly murder.’
‘And I ain’t a mister milady, so it makes us even. Shove up,’ he said nudging her arm with his elbow. The dog jumped up at her and licked her hand. She stroked its head. ‘That’s Liquorice, on account of him bein’ all black. He’s a bull terrier and comes all the way from Staffordshire.’
She shuffled along the suitcase. ‘I hope it’ll hold us both,’ she said.
‘Course it will. Made of canvas and wood, it is. Good little case, worth a bit at the engineers and stokers.’ He put his stack of papers down on the pavement, leaned against the wall of the building and turned to look at her. ‘You’re a real tooty frooty, what’s your name?’
‘I don’t know who you are,’ Lovey mumbled without looking at him. ‘What do you want?’
‘I’ve come to ask for your hand in marriage, milady.’ He took her hand in his. ‘Me ‘art is breakin’ with love for you.’
Lovey didn’t know what to say. Nobody had ever spoken to her like that before. She pulled her hand away. ‘Never mind all that fancy talk. What do you want? I’ve got somewhere important to be.’
‘I’m just bein’ friendly, milady. So what’s so important you can’t spend a few minutes talking to a city gent?’
‘I’ve got an appointment with Mr Sherbet across the road. I’m goin’ to live there.’
‘An appointment! Well, I ain’t never had one of them before. You must be rich and famous if you’re goin’ to live with Mr Sherbet.’
‘Have you got somethin’ wrong with your eyes?’ Lovey said, turning to look at him. ‘Look at what I’ve got on. Rich people wear fancy clothes with buttons, and no holes.’
‘It’s a bit better than what I’ve got on.’ He stood up and twirled around, showing off his tattered shirt and trousers. ‘I ain’t never had me a pair of church pews.’ He balanced one foot on her suitcase.
Lovey looked down at the filthy foot with broken toenails. Pinching her nose with her thumb and forefinger, she said, ‘Pooh, it stinks. Take it off my suitcase.’
He lowered his eyes. ‘Yeah well, compared to me you’re rich.’
She chuckled. ‘I suppose I am. What’s your name then?’
‘Is that bein’ your first or your last name?’
‘What, Fizzer Fizzer?’
He threw his head back and laughed. Lovey giggled and her heart fluttered. ‘No milady, just one Fizzer will do. Weren’t never called anythin’ else in the workhouse as I recall.’
‘What, you live in the workhouse?’
‘I used to. Me mum left me on the doorstep for them to look after me, but not now. Soon got outta there when they started beatin’ and starvin’ me cause I wouldn’t toe the line.’
‘I don’t know who me ma and pa were either.’ Her voice was barely above a whisper. ‘Mrs Fudge said me ma died givin’ birth to me. Said nobody knew her name, and she was buried in a pauper’s grave.’
They sat there silent for a short time. Then Lovey stood up. ‘Well, I have to go now. It was nice meetin’ with you and Liquorice.’ She bent and tickled the dog behind its ear.
‘I’ll walk you over there,’ Fizzer said, picking up his newspapers in one hand and Lovey’s suitcase in the other. ‘Make sure you get to your appointment in one piece.’ He turned to the dog. ‘Stay here, Liquorice.’ The dog sat.
‘You don’t have to do that, Fizzer,’ she said.
He smiled. ‘Ain’t got nothin’ better to do than escort beautiful ladies to their appointments.’
‘There you go again with that fancy talk. I ain’t beautiful.’
A horse and trap clattered down the road leaving a trail of foul-smelling dung in its wake. Dropping the suitcase Fizzer grasped Lovey’s arm, as she was about to step off the pavement. ‘Be careful, lots of kids have been trampled to death crossing Whitechapel road.’
Her heart raced. ‘Oh, you saved my life, thank you. I’m not used to crossing busy roads.’
Fizzer swapped the papers over into his left hand, and picked up the suitcase with his right. ‘Put your arm through mine,’ he said. ‘I’ll get you across without losing your life.’
Lovey gripped his arm. Fizzer set off dodging through the horses and traps coming from both directions, until they stood on the opposite pavement outside Mr Sherbet’s establishment.
‘We’re like a real couple,’ he said, putting the suitcase down and winking at her.
Pulling her hand away she said, ‘Don’t go thinkin’ you can be takin’ liberties just ‘cause you helped me cross the road.’
‘Liberties! I don’t even know what they are.’ Fizzer grinned. ‘So what you goin’ to do for this Mr Sherbet then?’
She brushed a brown curl from in front of her eye that had escaped the bonnet. ‘I don’t know. I just got told to come here by Mrs Fudge at the orphanage. I had to walk the whole way. It took me most of the mornin’.’
Fizzer’s brow creased. ‘You ain’t half lucky to still be alive if you walked here. There’s strange folk in Whitechapel.’ He picked up one of the newspapers and waved it in her face. ‘You could’ve been on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. I’d ‘ave been tellin’ people how you was murdered, had your throat cut from ear-to-ear.’ Making a squelching sound, he drew his finger across his neck.
Lovey’s eyes opened wide. ‘Don’t say that, Fizzer. I ain’t been murdered.’
‘Well you just make sure you call Fizzer next time you want to stroll about Whitechapel, beautiful lady.’
Pouting, she said, ‘Stop calling me a beautiful lady. I ain’t neither of those things.’
‘You’re the most beautiful lady I ever saw,’ Fizzer said. ‘Don’t let anyone tell you different. When I make me fortune, I’ll be askin’ you to marry me for real.’
Lovey blushed. ‘You don’t mean that, Fizzer.’
‘As gawd is my witness,’ he said putting his hand over his heart. ‘What’s your name? You know mine, so it’s only fair I know yours.’
‘Lovey… Lovey Hart.’ She lifted up her suitcase and started through the large wrought-iron gates of Mr Sherbet’s business establishment, which was set back from the rows of other buildings.
‘Remember,’ he called after her, ‘I’m here everyday makin’ me fortune Lovey Hart, so don’t you go forgettin’ me.’
She turned and smiled at him. ‘I won’t, Fizzer.’