London, September 1888
Whitechapel was different at night.
Elizabeth Ainsworth was used to spending her days surrounded by the district’s noise and crowded bustle—the chorus of costermongers calling out their offerings, rickety drays bearing their burdens across cobblestones, and the chatter of bedraggled children that followed her, and every other passerby, begging for a coin. But the night noises of raucous laughter, angry shouts, and the music of a distant squeezebox weren't as familiar. Even the streets she was accustomed to walking in London’s daylight haze felt foreign and unfamiliar in the dark fog of night. Every aspect of the place stoked her anxiety.
The smells were much the same though, putrid but comfortingly familiar. Over time Lizzy had grown used to the noxious combination of refuse and horse manure that seemed to overflow half the gutters. Fog and smoke filled the air most days, and when the sun did shine on the East End, it only highlighted the layer of grime that seemed to coat the buildings and clothing of those who inhabited the teeming streets. She never expected to emerge clean from a visit to Whitechapel. As she preferred walking to any other form of transport, her practical boots and the hem of her skirt always took the worst of it.
Her mother read the newspapers and believed criminals and ruffians were all that was left in the crowded district. Lizzy was not blind to its dangers, but she had been fortunate to meet mostly downtrodden, hardworking people during her time as a teacher at the charity school on Rutland Street. The young men and women who came to Tregard School, or sent their children to attend, were hungry for knowledge and eager to improve their lot in life.
Volunteering her time at the school was challenging, bone-wearying work filled with long days spent on her feet and long weekends engaged in marking work and planning for the coming week, but it made her feel useful. And with a police inspector father and a mother who had served with Miss Nightingale in the Crimea, how could they blame her for wishing to find purpose in her own life? Now that she had found her niche, that purpose she sought, nothing would deter her from it. She could not imagine an endeavor more satisfying than teaching others to read or calculate sums and observing the joy and confidence they found in achieving the skills.
As she continued walking, Lizzy lifted the collar of her cloak higher, covering her bare neck against the crisp autumn air. She’d walked Cannon Street a hundred times, in rain and sun and the thickest of fogs, to seek out her father at the H Division police headquarters on Leman Street. But now, on a nearly moonless night, she found it the darkest street she’d ever traversed. The gaslights seemed to shed no light here, as if they’d never been lit at all.
Fear chipped at Lizzy’s resolve, yet it wasn’t a fear of the night or the crime-infested streets of the East End. It was fear of what he might say when she asked him. Fear he would laugh in her face. And a shiver of dreadful anticipation at the possibility he might agree to her scandalous bargain. The thrum of need that thoughts of Inspector Ian Reed inspired kindled with every step she took.
She couldn’t turn back and face a lifetime without passion. This was her only choice. He was her only choice. Her only chance before she succumbed to spinsterhood, gave in to it like some women capitulated to loveless marriages. It was far better to be a spinster than a miserable wife. And with her work to keep her busy, she was certain she would not miss the companionship of a husband. It was only the thought of a lifetime without passion, the notion of never experiencing it even once, which had given her the courage to sneak out of her father’s house this night and seek the man she desired.
If she could have one night of passion with Ian Reed and still maintain her independence, she would be luckier than any betrothed miss. Did not some of her suffragist friends eschew marriage altogether? After leaving their fathers’ homes, they argued, why invite another man to control their comings and goings, to relegate them to household duties and prevent them from being useful to society at large.
YOU ARE READING
Scandalous Wager (a Whitechapel Wagers novella)Romance
Victorian era historical romance featuring a wanton spinster and a Detective Inspector working in Whitechapel against the backdrop of the Ripper murders. The full book is also available FREE at all e-tailers. Amazon link: http://amzn.com/B00I1HVPXA