In life, there is love and in love there is life. Jacqueline Claville had the perfect life. In love with her husband Frederick, a reputable medical practitioner, she would do anything to maintain her perfect life, but in the autumn of 1888, their marriage ran into problems.

West London was bathed in an opulent charismatic dusk as summer was coming to an end. The wealthy streets were far less crowded. People hurried a little more, eager to get home as the evenings began to cool and the season turned the leaves from green to brown falling in the traditional manner to carpet the drab sidewalks. Street sweepers continuously removed the debris from the pedestrian paths, it was the right of the rich.

Jacqueline patronized the windows of their drawing room and studied each of the carriages that passed along the avenue, eager for one to stop and deliver her husband home from his practice. As each clip clop of horse hooves reached her ears, she peered into the street looking up from her delicate needlework. A floral sampler lay in her lap, the fine stitches lined up perfectly like soldiers with their arms crossed in front of them. It was the ideal craft to fill in the long boring afternoons which were becoming frequent.

Frederick had been working late at his practice more often and Jacqueline was left to fill the evenings with her own activities.  When a partnership was offered to the young doctor, it was like a dream come true for the couple. Opportunities like this one didn’t come along very often, so he wisely accepted. Sadly, Jacqueline hadn’t realised that the practice hours would stretch so late into the evening and she was beginning to regret her husband’s decision. Lonely hours were tedious. A child could fill the void, there was plenty of room in their spacious home, but working long hours was taking its toll on Frederick and he was far too tired to join in the amorous activities they normally enjoyed.

Jacqueline’s sister Connie had not yet married and provided some company, but the single girl’s social life thrived. The young woman’s bubbling spirit ensured her popularity, and evenings at soirees with handsome bachelors were regularly on offer. Many afternoons were spent shopping for fancy clothing to wear out to her numerous social events, and sipping tea with friends who liked to gossip about the goings on in the social scene they frequented. On a rare afternoon visit, Connie served a slice of gossip to Jacqueline that seemed unlikely, but still quite possible.

On that very evening one week prior, Connie had attended a party.  When she left the event, the carriage that had brought her home from the event had traveled through Whitechapel and Connie had spotted a man who resembled Frederick Claville cavorting with some women of ill repute outside a public house. At first, Connie wasn’t sure whether she should tell her sister, but Jacqueline had noticed a difference in her and forced the information from the girl. The truth was revealed and after extracting every tiny crumb from Connie, she started to wonder if this were the reason her husband was out so late.

“Are you sure that it was him?” Frederick, the man she had promised to obey, the man she had given herself to, was he fraternising with the lowest of the low? It didn’t seem quite right. “He told me he was working.”

“Well, I’m almost certain it was Frederick, but it was late and I did drink a lot of champagne. The party was fabulous,” Connie told her.

Jacqueline listened to her sister as Connie revealed the festive gossip from the night. But she didn’t care about Lord Whatshisname or Lady Thingamabob, it was the news about her husband that she was interested in.

When left alone, her thoughts turned to Frederick. A well-respected Harley Street doctor wouldn’t be seen in a cesspool such as that, surely her sister had been mistaken. But if he had been there, then why? A thousand reasons swirled through her head like a whirlwind, but not one of them feasible. If Frederick were questioned, would he deny it? There was only one way to find out for sure, she would have to visit the scene and investigate for herself. Arranging a carriage, the journey began. The journey towards the truth. Jacqueline needed to gather the information herself.  If he had been there once, then he might return. Perhaps she could find the women he had been talking to and question them about the incident that her sister had witnessed. The thought made her shudder.  The East London area wasn’t nearly as attractive as West London and thinking that she may have to leave the carriage and speak to people scared her. Society’s doomed wandered the streets looking for the faintest hope of a better future. Drabness and the smell of cooked offal drifted into the carriage and almost made her heave. A faint spike of courage jolted inside her and she remembered why she was taking the trip to begin with. 

As the carriage approached the public house on the road that Connie had described, she looked for a group of women that might be able to help her, and when she spotted them, her heart sank. Jacqueline saw him. Her beloved husband laughing with the rats that nosed around in the filthy east end of the majestic city. The offensive women of the night. She watched as he walked off with one of them, arm in arm. How could he do that her. Seething with anger, Jacqueline returned to her home. Confronting him in public would only embarrass them both and it might mean the end of her marriage. A more discrete conversation was necessary on this occasion. 

Heartbroken, as the evening drew to a closed, Jacqueline once again retired alone. Unable to sleep, she waited for him thinking about what she had seen and decided that there was one definite solution to the problem that had developed. Frederick kept several medical books at home and as she read until she could no longer concentrate, she assembled the information that would help return him to their bed and hopefully keep him there. All sorts of instruments were listed and she found recipes to brew remedies and potions that would quickly place their drinker in a deep sleep. Jaqueline had always been a quick study and as she read the text, the scheme evolved.

Fredrick slipped into bed in the early hours of the morning, she could smell the lewdness of the East End. The cheap drink and stale cigar smoke had accompanied him home. Jacqueline lay quietly, mapping the plan in her mind, the plan that would stop her husband from straying. Her love for him far outweighed anything else and although he had been unfaithful, she was willing to forgive him. But for now, the knowledge of the situation would remain unsaid and Jacqueline would take matters into her own hands.

Throughout the day she worked away at her strategy and when evening approached and Frederick arrived home at the expected hour, she prepared a night cap for her husband with warm brandy and a special concoction that she had read of in one of his many medical text books. Her feelings towards him grew into despair and Jacqueline felt the heartache inside.  It bubbled and boiled away and she found it difficult to contain her feelings. But nothing would take her love away. As Frederick slept, Jacqueline slipped out into the evening to clear her head.

Sluggishness appeared to render Frederick unworthy for work when morning arrived, and he conceded that it must be a cold of some sort that had confined him to his bed.  Jacqueline doted on her husband persuading him to stay warm and comfortable, and waited on him to help him regain his strength, knowing fully well that she was responsible for his false ailment. When he felt as though he was over the imaginary illness, he returned to his practice.  Once again, she waited up for him, but he did not appear for dinner and as the clock struck midnight, she went to bed alone.

Once again it was apparent that the use of the sleeping draught was needed. After the evening meal on the following day, Jacqueline slipped it into her husband’s nightcap and stumbling into bed he plunged into a deep sleep. Night turned to day and Frederick slept well into the morning, a result of the strong drug that he had taken without consent.

“Frederick, it’s almost noon.  Are you going to wake up at all today?” Jacqueline nudged her husband gently.

Opening his eyes, he gazed at the pretty face of his young wife. His head was heavy and his mind a blur as if he had had too much to drink the night before. Lifting his head from the pillow was difficult and the light was blinding. Lethargy invaded his body holding him down. Perhaps he had returned to work too early.

“Maybe you’re unwell again. Go back to sleep. I’ve given the cook the afternoon off, I’ll make you some sort of meal. I’m sure it will help with your recovery.”

Jacqueline prepared the stew.  An onion, two carrots and the special cut of meat that she had procured the evening before, a different blend of ingredients for her one true love. “Darling, I’ve made you some supper all by myself,” Jacqueline announced as she lay the tray on the cabinet beside the bed. “Now sit up and I’ll feed you. You’re very ill.”

Frederick struggled to a sitting position with the help of his devoted wife. With his pillows fluffed and strategically positioned, she picked up the tray and placed it on his lap. Lifting the silver cloche, she unfolded the napkin and tucked it into the front of his night shirt. Jacqueline smiled as she stirred the bowl of thick meaty stew with a spoon and commenced feeding her weakened husband.

“Interesting flavour,” he said after swallowing a few bites. “What meat is this?”

“I don’t recall. Why one would bother I don’t know. I just wanted to cook something nice for you considering you’re so unwell,” Jacqueline said as she spooned some more of the stew into her husband’s mouth like a mother feeding her child.

“Is it from our usual butcher?” he asked her wiping some of the gravy from the corner of his mouth. “It’s rather unusual.”

“No, I was recommended another place. But what does it matter Frederick, I made it myself to make you feel better.”

Mopping up the gravy with bread that had been baked in their own kitchen that morning, Frederick finished the meal.  He drank some tea and she kissed him lightly on the cheek before tucking him in and removing the tray from the bedroom. Frederick once again fell into a deep sleep and while he slept, Jacqueline carried on with her plan.

London buzzed across the entirety of the city. A story that was covered in the newspapers sparked a fearful interest and a feeling of uneasiness stretched throughout the community. Women had been murdered in the east end and the culprit, Jack the Ripper, was described as the murderer with a sinister expression in his eyes. Whispers on the street mentioned he had the look of the devil. Jacqueline knew if that were the truth and if somebody had seen this assassin, the police would have made an arrest by now. But nobody could provide them with a definite description and the killer remained at large.

Continuing to sabotage her husband’s evenings, each time she drugged Frederick, Jacqueline added a little more of the draught, knocking him out for longer and sending him into a deeper sleep than the dose before. The love which matured in her heart made her determined to keep him by her side and every time a murder hit the paper, she sat by him and read the article aloud, hoping that it would deter him from visiting the east end in the future.

As the weeks progressed the charade came to an end. Frederick sat up in an armchair by the window one afternoon reading the paper.  He was feeling more like his old self as Jacqueline had stopped giving him the sleeping draught a few days before. Now she perched nearby with her needlework on her lap sewing the finest of stitches into the luxurious fabric. The drawing room scene was a picture of happiness.

“The papers are calling this fellow Jack the Ripper, there are suggestions that he may be a surgeon. It seems that the killer has taken body parts of the victims,” Frederick told his wife. “Apparently some killers do that. They like to keep a sort of souvenir of the event. I can’t imagine any of my colleagues doing something like this. It’s preposterous.”

“I don’t know why you’re bothering with that, I recall reading the articles to you myself. Now eat your stew,” she urged, as she put down her sewing and moved the plate of food closer to him. “You’ll be back at work soon and we don’t want you to relapse like the last time.”

“Would you like some?” he asked her as he stirred the stew with a spoon looking carefully at the contents of the bowl. Frederick examined the meat on the spoon closely. “I say, this is very delicious, I wish you could remember the name of the cuts you use.”

“I’m not really keen on stew, but some say it’s like a tonic when you’re ill,” she said quickly. “I cook it for you because I love you Frederick and the next time I visit the butchers, I’ll ask about the cut.”

He finished the stew, and poured another cup of hot tea from the pot. Smiling with the contentment that a satisfying meal provides, he continued to read the paper and Jaqueline carried on with her sewing. A few days later Frederick felt as though he was ready to return to his practice.

Life was as once, normal again, and Frederick came directly home from work, steering well away from the deadly Whitechapel area of London. The romance and intimacy had returned to their life but there was a difference about his young wife that Frederick was noticing, a doting streak that he had never seen.  Jacqueline had nursed him back to health and spent almost every waking hour by his side. She had even asked him questions about different instruments that he used, genuinely showing an interest as a devoted spouse should. It refreshed his feelings towards her.

Jacqueline couldn’t have been happier with the result of her work. In the evenings, they dined together and the stew was a meal that had been left in the past, she never cooked it again.  There was no reason to fear losing him any longer.  Glasses clicked, candles burned and contentment had once again found her.

“I’ve noticed a difference in you, you seem more nurturing, yet at times you drift away into the distance,” Frederick said, as they sat drinking a nightcap by candlelight before retiring.

“I feel as though I could do anything for you Frederick. I love you with all my heart and if actions speak loudest, I’ve proved it of late. But,” Jacqueline hesitated, burdened by a guilty conscience.

“You have something more to tell?” he asked feeling slightly confused.

“No my love, all is well.” Jacqueline longed to tell her husband of the tale that Connie had shared with her, the sleeping draught that she had concocted and administered and her late-night rides in the carriage that helped put their life together back on track. But somethings are best left unsaid.

Jacqueline and Frederick had rekindled their love for each other and the following year a baby boy graced their home.  The secrets that they kept from each other, they took to the grave, because love can make you do strange things and even the best relationships have secrets.

© Sandra1963 2023
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Holy hints of Mrs Lovett without the pies! Well written Ripping yarn with only a few minor typos. I enjoyed it.

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