The Charred Tree

Bound By Silence: Rage


The following story contains mature themes and situations that some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.

Faithe slapped the table and the burgundy tinted wine glasses danced. The lamplight refracted through the cut glass danced around the place settings. Her outburst had accomplished what she wished—her younger brother froze halfway between sitting and standing.

“Arthur! Thomas had good reason to leave when he did. You may disagree but I’ll not have you turn this dinner into a brawl.” Faithe hoped the combination of command in her voice and her brother’s respect for her would be enough to diffuse the confrontation.

Arthur held the grease-smeared knife from beside his plate in a fist and glared at the priest across the table from him. Thomas set down his own knife and fork beside his plate and stared back with sad eyes. The clock on the mantle ticked away several seconds.

Robert stood at the head of the table. “Please put the knife down, Arthur. I cannot allow violence or the threat of violence against a guest in my home.” He folded his napkin and placed it next to his plate. “If you cannot control yourself I’ll ask you to leave.”

Arthur looked at Faithe and then Robert. His gaze returned to Thomas before he pointed the knife at him. He turned his hand and opened the fingers. The knife clattered to the tablecloth.

“Aye. ’Tis best I leave before more is said or done. I wouldn’ want the betrayin’ priest to haf’ta face the consequences of ‘is choices.” He turned to Faithe. “I’m sorry, Faithe. I tried because you asked it of me, but I canna’ abide the bile of hypocrisy tha’ rises in me bein’ in th’ same room with ‘im.”

Faithe nodded and looked at her lap. She had helped Arthur learn to speak properly when Mr. Franklin had been considering making him a partner. Arthur was proud of his proper speech. Faithe had not heard him fail to use it for several years. His use of the street dialect evidenced how upset Thomas’s return had made him. For the first time in her life, she feared her younger brother.

“Roight. I’ll be leavin’ then. Through the kitchen so’s I can say g’bye to Mags.” Arthur stalked around the table to the kitchen door and pushed through. The door swung closed behind him. Faithe covered her face with her hands.

“I’m sorry this dinner did not work out, Faithe” Thomas spoke softly.

Robert reseated himself. “You’ve nothing for which an apology is necessary, Thomas. I think it is obvious that Arthur had no intention whatsoever to be reconciled to you. His behavior was out of line.”

Faithe lowered her hands from watery eyes. “Robert’s right, Thomas. I should have known this was a bad idea. If there is one thing Arthur can do it’s hold a grudge.” She pushed food around her plate with her fork. “Let’s try to enjoy the meal despite Arthur’s bad manners. Please.”

They turned their attention to the meal despite their lack of appetite.


“Does us a favour an give us’a bit o’ gin, Ollie.”

“Coin first, Polly. You knows da rules. No credit. ‘Speci’ly to da likes of you.” Oliver Lachlan drew on his pipe and added to the tobacco smoke that hazed The Frying Pan public house. He made no move toward either bottle or glass.

Polly Nichols pushed herself upright at the bar and straightened her black straw bonnet by the velvet trim. “Ain’t got no coin. I got sumthin’ bettah. Sumthin’ you wants, luv.” She shot him a coy grin and wiggled her hips. “The place ain’t busy what with all the riffraff out watchin’ th’ dock fires. Gimme a drink an’ then we can step in back an’ I can pay you on yer cot.”

Oliver smirked. “There’re cleaner trollops ’n you aroun’, Polly. Heard Doc Llewellyn tellin’ da boys that Ole Black Tom’s fin’ly mould’n in a grave. ‘e was yer man for a bit ‘while back, yeah? You da one that gave ‘im da pestilence? ‘e get it from yer dirty quim?”

Polly’s face burned and she lunged at Oliver across the bar. “Tha’s a dirty lie, ye beef-witted gimp! I’m as clean as th’ day I was birthed!” Several of the men drinking at the tables turned at the commotion. A woman sitting on a workman’s lap laughed.

Oliver leaned to avoid her reaching talons and upset a bottle on the shelf behind him. It fell to the floor, its contents gurgling into the sawdust. He stooped over with his bad knee stretched to the side and replaced the gin bottle on the shelf. Polly leaned over the bar and screeched curses at him. Oliver levered himself to his feet. He pulled the ash bludgeon from beneath the bar and slammed it down on the scarred surface.

“Out! You get your drunkard arse out of my house right now, Polly Nichols, an’ don’t ever come back!” Everyone in the alehouse was silent and looking their direction.

Polly stepped away from the bar. “‘’ow dare you raise yer stick at a lady, Ollie Lachlan!”

“Wi’ a mouth like yours? Ain’t no ladies ‘ere. Now get out!” He brought the stick down on the counter a second time and pointed it at the door.

“Well, I never! Jus’ you wait ’til word gets ‘round ‘ow you’ve treated me. You’ll be out beggin’ wi’ that broke leg of yours. You wait an’ see!” She turned and stumbled to the door.

“Yeah you do, ye dirty bitch! Several times a day!” he called to her retreating back.

Polly slammed the door behind her. “Bloody prick! As if I was a nobody.” The low hanging clouds were dyed red from the fire at the docks. She considered going to the docks but she had seen fires before. Maybe it was best to go home and look for work tomorrow. She staggered down Thrawl Street and the bed that waited at the lodging house.

When Polly had arrived at the lodging house the front door was barred. She went around to the kitchen entrance only to find the inner door locked as well. She curled up next to the fire. “I’ll find work in th’ morrow,” she whispered as she fell asleep.

“Wake up, Mrs. Nichols. You can’t sleep in th’ kitchen.” A gentle kick to her boots followed by a rough shake of her leg roused Polly.

“Wha’? Oh, right.” It was the nightman, Mr. Pence. “Someone locked me out is all. Let me in an’ I’ll be off to bed.” Polly climbed to her feet.

“Give me your doss and I can open the door.” The old man reached into his pocket and fished out a ring of keys.

Polly brushed straw and dust from her brown frock. “Well, that’s the rub, Mr. Pence. I don’ exactly have me doss money for t’night.” She chuckled.

Mr. Pence stopped halfway to the door and faced her. “No money, no bed. You know that. And you can’t stay in here either.”

“But I can pay you twice the amount tomorrow. I promise.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Nichols. Bring me the money and I’ll let you in. Until then, out you go!” He moved to take her arm and usher her out.

Polly brushed away his hand and stood to her full height. “Never mind! I’ll soon have me doss money. See what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now. Save me a bed. I’ll soon be back.” She fluffed the velvet trim of her bonnet as she set it in place and strode into the night.


Polly staggered down Osborn Street. She focused on the light from the lamp post ahead at Whitechapel Road. Wainwright’s Grocery was there on the corner but it was closed for the night. There were a few dark doorways and alleys nearby, though, and Whitechapel Road was always busy with workmen from the docks coming and going. She pulled her dirty red coat closer around her shoulders against the chill of the night. A light fog mixed with smoke from the fires settled low on the street. Polly stumbled on an uneven cobble and fell heavily against the wall of the grocery.

“Polly? Is tha’ you?” a woman’s voice fell flat across the gloom.

Polly looked in the direction of the voice but saw only a woman’s form silhouetted against the street lamp. The shadow danced through the mist as she approached. “Aye. ’Tis me. Who goes there?”

“It’s me, dear. Emily Holland. I’m surprised you aren’t asleep by now. Or were you watching the Shadwell fire, too?” The woman came close and helped Polly stand.

“Nah! I tried to go to the room earlier but that miser has locked me out. Said I couldn’t stay there ’nless I paid ‘im. I’ve ‘ad me doss money three times already today but I drank it away.” Polly’s gestures made her sway and Emily thought she would fall again. A church bell began to toll.

“Come back with me to the our room, Polly. It’s half past two. I’ll pay your doss and you can pay me tomorrow.” She laid her hand on the drunk woman’s elbow to steady her and began to turn her up Osborn Street.

Polly blocked Emily’s assistance. “No. I’ll get it. See my pretty new bonnet? Tha’s real velvet there I tell ye. I’ll find some custom out on the ‘Chapel Road and get me own doss money. You go along and tell that bloody Mr. Pence that it won’ be long before I’m back so he best keep that key handy!” Polly laughed. “B’sides, if I don’ get the means I’ll go over to the place on Flower and Dean Streets. I c’n stay the night there in a man’s bed and trade ‘im a good romp for doss.”

“Polly, let me help you. Come with me.” Emily again tried to turn her friend toward their lodging.

“I said no. Mary Ann Nichols ‘as been takin’ care of ‘erself for quite some time. Jus’ let me be and I’ll be back before long.” Polly lurched toward the glow of the lamp.

Emily Holland watched her friend weave her way to Whitechapel Road and disappear around the front of Wainwright’s Grocery. She admired that Polly wanted to take care of herself but sometimes you needed to accept help when it was offered. The fact that she spent almost all of her money on gin only made matters worse. Polly was probably right that she could get her doss money rather easily, but it saddened Emily to see her go off alone into the night. She shrugged to herself and turned up the street that lead to her waiting bed.


“Oh you’re a fine one, you are! I bet ye’ve got a plugtail on you to please any woman. Let’s find a dark spot and I’ll find out for meself.” Polly held the man’s arm and laughed at her own bawdiness. Most of the men she found this time of the night responded well to flattery and she had learned to make the most of it. His shoulders were wide and she could feel the muscles under the sleeve bunch and slide with his movement. She had spotted him walking among the crowds on Whitechapel Road and marked him as having money. At first he had feigned disinterest but a coquettish grin and a wink changed his mind. She lead him to a doorway and dickered before settling on six pence. He escorted her down the dark street and away from the light of the busy thoroughfare.

“Where’re we goin’, luv? You got a place in mind?” She looked up at the chiseled jaw visible from the deeper shadows under the brim of his hat.

“Buck’s Row is dark an’ quiet. Won’t be disturbed down there.” His voice growled low from the broad chest. “Don’ want to rouse the neighbors, so stays quiet.” He lead them to the right into a shadowed street. Row houses lined one side of the street and faced a warehouse on the other. A single street lamp glowed golden in the fog far ahead.

“I think this’ll do,” Polly whispered and pulled the man to her under the eaves of the warehouse. She reached to unbind him. His hands were on her shoulders, caressing and moving up to her neck. She reached into his trousers and felt his stiffness. “I was right,” she murmured. “You got bawbles to match yer stature.”

Her giggle ended when his hands clamped around her throat. Polly grasped him harder and looked up at his face; he wasn’t the first man she’d had who liked to play rough and she knew how to handle them. After all, he was giving her more than the usual rate. “Go easy there, mister. Bruises’ll make it harder to earn my trade on the morrow.”

His eyes glinted in the dark. She was sure there was no smile on his lips…and there should have been. He was hard and she knew her trade. The smile fell from her own face as his fingers closed. Her hands went to his, trying to force the constricting fingers away. No! Too tight! This ain’t how it’s done. She tried speak but could get neither air nor sound through her throat. He lifted her from her feet.

“Filthy, dir’y whore. Tha’s what y’ are. Ruinin’ so many people’s lives. Killin’ so many wi’ your vile diseases. Peddlin’ your flesh to whoever has th’ coin.” The voice cut through her panic. He pulled her close and drew in a long breath through her hair. He hissed in her face, “You disgust me.”

Polly quailed and redoubled her efforts to free herself. She tried to kick but his body pressed her against the warehouse wall. One of the hands moved to over her mouth and nose and she felt thumb and finger dig into her throat. Red and purple burst across her vision. She passed out and went limp.

Polly came to when her body hit the cobbles. She coughed once and struggled to draw breath into her burning lungs. The hand returned to her mouth and nose and viced her head to the roadway. A weight pressed on her stomach and the stones dug into her shoulders. She opened her eyes and saw the man sitting on her chest, straddling her. He held a knife in front of her eyes with his free hand.

The voice was a quiet rumbling. “Don’ worry, my fine little moll. You won’t have to worry about such things anymore.”

Searing pain pierced the left side of Polly’s throat and sped around to below her right ear. She tried to scream but was answered with a thick gurgling. A warm mist spread across her face. Her eyes opened and she saw the shape looming over her. The faint light of the distant lamp reflected off his teeth. She wanted to breath—needed to breath—but could not because of his weight. The gloom of the street was swallowed up by an impenetrable blackness.

Author’s Note: The word “doss” is used here and in the documents I used for research to refer to the money needed to rent a bed for the night. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a verb meaning “to sleep or bed down in a convenient place” but sources indicate usage as an adjective for money for that purpose.


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2 thoughts on “Bound By Silence: Rage

  1. Steven Atwood on said:

    Reblogged this on S.D. Atwood's Blog.

  2. Pingback: Facing the darkness… « The Charred Tree

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