Book One: Journey to the East

Taken from The Unusual and Most Celebrated Murders in London and Canton, Anonymous

Horrible Murder

The Fenchurch Street Horror

It is deep night, and ill moonlight falls on the platforms of Fenchurch Street Station. The bells of St Olave Hart Street sound the quarter hour along Crutched Friars as the last train pulls in to the station. Smoke billows and puffs from its engine, steam hisses from its whistle, and, as it comes to a halt, carriage doors open and a steady stream of passengers emerge. The night porter, a ruddy, round fellow with his hand lantern gripped proudly as though it were a badge of office, oversees the passengers’ departure in to the London smog.

Soon he is all that stands on the platform, the smoke drifting around his feet. The shadow of the Tower of London sends a chill down his spine. The Tower is already locked for the night, but gas lamps burn the windows of the ancient fortress, and the ghosts have begun to walk. He turns his head away from that silent shadow by the Thames, and instead looks East, out along the tracks to the poor and squalid mire of London.

Fenchurch Street rests on the frontiers of Whitechapel, the blackened canker of London’s impovrished East End, a world full of noise and shadow. Yet the noisiest of places also hold the most unnatural quiet and greatest sense of isolation.

There is a sinister magic haunting his movement as he walks along the platform to check the train is abandoned and passengers alighted. Four times this month he has had to rouse some ruddy-faced vagabond from the third class carriages, and pack the man off to his home for the night. Tonight, he feels, is different. The air seems to hang with an eerie perfume.

Hairs prickle on the porter’s back. Sweat seeps across his brow. Composing himself, the veteran railwayman draws a breath rich in courage and directs the hand lantern’s beam along the train’s carapace.

The lantern’s beam halts on the fourth carriage. Something lurks behind that beads of condensation that cloud the pane.

He takes a step forward. Again, that strange, creeping sense of silence washes over him. He dismisses superstition to the pit of his stomach, a shaking hand mustering false bravado as he pulls out a whistle and tucks it into the fold at the corner of his mouth. He calls out to the silhouette, narrowing his gaze, trying through the breathy fog that smokes the glass.

“All change, please. All change.” He is answered only by his echo.

He calls again. “Is anyone there?”

Still no reply. He takes another step, and another, and another…

The light reveals the foul sight waiting in the gloom and the lantern slips from the porter’s horror-stricken grasp. The desperate man fumbles to his waist, snatching up his silver whistle and forcing it upon on his quivering lip. He cannot muster the spit to blow. He forces out only dry air as he tries to summon aid, still unable to move his sight from the object in the carriage.

Finally, thankfully, the whistle’s shrill noise shatters the mystery of the night. He keeps blowing. He blows until his cheeks are red and he lungs burn, he blows from fear and desperation, he blows to escape being the sole witness to the horrific sight inside.

A corpse hangs from the carriage roof, illuminated by the steady light of the fallen lantern. A woman in a petticoat, her hair tangled and torn, a thin sliver of silver cord round her neck. Her eyes are rolled back, staring upward to the carriage luggage rail that acts as her gallows. As the noose swings, her tragic frame twists in an ethereal waltz, drifting as if directed by an unseen hand. She is elegant and graceful in her sleep, a face defined in death by ivory-white skin and a defiant jaw. There is no breeze, so she hangs straight down, hands to her sides and legs resting against each other. She is a beauty, frozen in this moment between life and corruption.

Her name is Emily Patterson. And her death marks the opening of our tale.

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