Welfare of the Dead

Overview

Lee Jackson's second Inspector Webb novel once again guides readers through the dark alleys and gaslit parlours of nineteenth century London.

“Her arms were bare and milk-white, her hands dainty and graceful; her smileas sweet as any I have ever seen. An awful shame . . .”

In the disreputable dance-halls and ‘houses of accommodation’ of 1870s London, a boastful killer selects his prey. His crimes seem like random acts of malevolence, but ...

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Lee Jackson's second Inspector Webb novel once again guides readers through the dark alleys and gaslit parlours of nineteenth century London.

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Overview

Lee Jackson's second Inspector Webb novel once again guides readers through the dark alleys and gaslit parlours of nineteenth century London.

“Her arms were bare and milk-white, her hands dainty and graceful; her smileas sweet as any I have ever seen. An awful shame . . .”

In the disreputable dance-halls and ‘houses of accommodation’ of 1870s London, a boastful killer selects his prey. His crimes seem like random acts of malevolence, but Inspector Decimus Webb, promoted to the Detective Branch at Scotland Yard, is not convinced.

Webb begins to suspect a connection between the terrible murders, a mysterious theft at the Abney Park Cemetery, and a long-forgotten suicide. His investigations lead him, in turn, to the Holborn General Mourning Warehouse, devoted to the sale of ‘Mourning for Families, In Correct Taste,’ and its proprietor, one Jasper Woodrow, a seemingly respectable business man.

As Webb delves into Woodrow’s life, he uncovers layer upon layer of deceit. But can he unearth Jasper Woodrow’s darkest secret, in time to prevent another tragedy?

The Welfare of the Dead is a suspense-filled gothic mystery with the Victorian celebration of death at its morbid heart.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Victorian London is vividly brought to life . . . for an atmospheric picture of the period it’s hard to beat.”
Sunday Telegraph

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780434012480
  • Publisher: Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.67 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Jackson lives in London with his partner Joanne and works at the London School of Economics. His first book, London Dust, was nominated for the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award. He is fascinated by the social history of Victorian London and spends much of his time on the ongoing development of his website.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the chill, fog-bound air of a November evening, a carriage descends the slope of Pentonville Hill, its twin lamps gleaming in the mist. It is a small, black brougham, a very ordinary conveyance, with a ruddy-faced coachman in the driver's seat and two passengers within. Upon the outside, the coachman shivers in his great-coat, even as he flicks the reins and mutters words of encouragement to his horse; inside, the two passengers, a young man of twenty-five years or so, and a woman some ten or fifteen years older, appear just as uncomfortable. They sit in silence, side by side, rugs draped over their legs. The man rubs his hands together, in a vain effort to fend off the cold. The woman, meanwhile, keeps her arms close to her body; her hands are concealed deep within a rabbit-fur muff.

'An awful night, Mr. Langley,' says the woman at length, as their carriage pulls past King's Cross station. Her breath is visible in the cold air. 'Can you make out the time?'

'I believe,' says the young man, peering towards the clock-tower of the station, 'it is just past the hour. Although I cannot be utterly certain.'

Richard Langley looks apologetically at his travelling companion. Mrs. Melissa Woodrow is an attractive woman, her face plump but not fat, her eyes a deep hazel, complemented by the autumnal colours of her clothing. Even under several layers of clothing and a heavy dolman mantle, she visibly shudders, unaccustomed to venturing out in such temperatures.

'You should have stayed at home, ma'am.'

'That,' she replies emphatically, 'would never do. What would Miss Krout make of us, if neither my husband nor myself were to greet her?'

Langley nods and looks out of the window. The carriage rattles on, and he can just make out the Gothic grandeur of the Midland Grand Hotel.

'It is awfully cold, though, is it not?' he says, breaking the silence between them. 'Even for the season.'

'It was good of you to accompany me, Mr. Langley, really it was. I was so glad you happened to call.'

'I will catch the train home from Euston Square. It is no matter. It saves me the expense of a cab.'

'Still. I really cannot imagine where my husband might have got to, truly. And now we are late for the train.'

'The trains are never on time, ma'am. Not in this weather.'

'Yes,' she replies, 'I suppose that is true.'

The brougham turns right, cutting across the Euston Road, and round the gas-lit perimeter of Euston Square. It is a peculiar place in the fog, the great Doric columns of the monumental Euston Arch half-visible, resembling the portico to some lofty Peloponnesian temple, transplanted into the heart of the metropolis. The driver directs the brougham through the gates, and pulls to a halt upon the asphalt fore-court. Patting the horse's flank, he gets down from his seat and taps on the carriage window. Mrs. Woodrow pushes down the glass.

'Pardon me, ma'am,' says the driver, 'but I can't get down to the platforms; it's blocked solid. I think the train's in already.'

Mrs. Woodrow peers out of her window. The approach to the platforms is crowded with a line of vehicles, not least an endless parade of cabs, both hansoms and clarences. Around them, black-suited, peak-capped porters tend to all forms of luggage, with heavy suitcases and hat-boxes flying hither and thither. The cab-men themselves, meanwhile, seem to sit back in their seats, above the hurly-burly, watching the procedure with great disinterest. They certainly pay no heed to the third-class passengers who appear in straggling groups, dragging cases, small children and other encumbrances, searching for a cheaper means of transport. There is little hope for them: only a shifting wall of fog and not an omnibus in sight.

'Oh! It is no use,' exclaims Mrs. Woodrow, 'I shall have to go and look for her.'

'Please, ma'am, you will catch your death,' replies her companion. 'Allow me.'

'Are you sure, Mr. Langley? I do have a photograph of her, if you are sure you do not mind?'

'Positively, ma'am.'

'You are too good, Mr. Langley. I will make sure my husband hears of this. Now, one moment-'

Mrs. Woodrow breaks off from speaking, producing a russet-coloured plush reticule from under her coat, and delving inside it. After a few seconds of confusion, she pulls out a small photograph and hands it to Langley.

'I am sure I will only be a minute or two, ma'am,' he says, peeling off the rugs from his legs, and opening the carriage door.

**
• *
• *

Richard Langley walks to the station building, colliding with several confused ladies and gentlemen who seem quite unaccustomed to the opacity of a 'London particular'. At length, finding the entrance, he proceeds through to the Great Hall, which serves both as the station's concourse and waiting-room. Here, at least, the atmosphere is a little more transparent. In part, it is the gas-lamps that project above and below the first-floor balcony; in part, it is the sheer size of the hall, an airy chamber some sixty feet in height, and twice as long. It is, moreover, light enough for him to look at the photograph entrusted to him by Mrs. Woodrow. It shows a bright-eyed young woman of about twenty-one years, with light-coloured hair, tightly chignoned, standing in her day-dress before a forest clearing, albeit one of the painted-canvas variety. He takes a look around the hall, but cannot see any likely girl. He proceeds, therefore, to the platforms and asks advice from a guard. He is informed that the Liverpool train has already arrived. Worse, it is plainly almost empty, except for an elderly couple engaged in a heated debate about the cost of porterage.

Langley returns to the Great Hall where, after several minutes of fruitless searching, he sees a woman, surrounded by a dozen or more bags and cases, standing by the marble statue of Stephenson that dominates the far end of the chamber. He takes another look at the photograph, and walks over to her.

'Miss Krout?'

She smiles a brief, nervous smile. 'Yes. I was expecting . . . I am sorry, but you are not Mr. Woodrow?'

'Ah, no. My name is Langley. Mr. Woodrow is detained elsewhere, I am afraid. But your cousin has a brougham waiting outside.'

'Does she? Oh, how good of her!'

'I fear your luggage will have to go separately. Can you wait, while I find a porter?'

'Of course,' she replies. 'You must excuse me, I should have arranged something myself.'

'No need,' says Langley, looking round the hall for an attendant. 'I confess, I thought I had missed you.'

'I do beg your pardon,' she says earnestly.

Langley smiles. 'No, no. We are late - do not apologise. I imagine you are exhausted, Miss Krout. It is a long way from Liverpool.'

'Even further from Boston, sir.'

'Indeed! Well, you are safe and sound now, rest assured. I expect you are looking forward to seeing London?'

'Yes, sir. Truly, I-'

'Ah, hang on, here's our chap. Boy - over here!'

*
• *
• *

The 'boy' who takes charge of the despatch of Annabel Krout's luggage is barely three or four years younger than Richard Langley. Nonetheless, he does not object to the description, and the business in hand is soon dealt with. In consequence, it does not take long for Langley to guide Miss Krout back outside to her cousin's waiting carriage. A few polite words are exchanged, and he cordially takes leave of the two women.

As for Mrs. Woodrow and her cousin, the cold night air forbids the customary ecstasy of greetings and exchange of affectionate familial bulletins, until they are both ensconced inside the brougham and wrapped in several layers of blankets. As the vehicle begins its slow ascent of Pentonville Hill, however, a litany of American relatives 'send their love', via the medium of Annabel Krout. In turn, Mrs. Woodrow replies with a host of family members 'dying to meet' Miss Krout, a veritable hospital ward-full of aunts, uncles, first, second and third cousins upon the brink of metaphorical extinction, scattered throughout the kingdom. It is only as they approach the Angel at Islington, the famous public house barely visible in the enshrouding darkness, that the conversation turns to other things.

'I trust the journey was not too awful?' says Mrs. Woodrow. 'Now, Mr. Langley said he found you all alone? Did I hear right? I do not know how things are done in Boston, my dear, but that is rather foolhardy for a young lady. I thought you had a chaperon, a friend of your dear father's?'

'Yes, ma'am, indeed, Mr. Johannsen and his wife; but I told them there was no need to wait on me, once we were off the train. They have rented rooms in a place called Bayswater, I think - is that far?'

'Not too far, my dear. Perhaps we may call on them in a day or two, if you think that would be agreeable. But please, do call me Melissa, won't you? We are flesh and blood, after all.'

'Yes, ma'am . . . Melissa,' replies Miss Krout.

'Good. Now, I only hope Jasper has returned home - we were delayed by waiting for him. You will have to forgive my husband, Annabel, he is so devoted to the business that he sometimes forgets all social ties. He is an awful beast, and I will tell him so when I see him.'

'Please, not on my account, cousin,' replies Miss Krout, anxiety in her voice. 'I would not want to start off on a bad foot.'

'Oh, Annabel, he will adore you, I am sure. Ah, now here we are at last.'

The brougham turns left, into Duncan Terrace, a narrow street just off the City Road, flanked on one side by lofty Georgian houses, and on the other by neatly kept public gardens protected by iron railings. The coachman pulls to a stop and, once a man-servant appears by the side of the vehicle, the two women are swiftly ushered into the hall of the Woodrows' home. Coats are hung upon the coat-stand, the blankets taken away and despatched to some secret location. Mrs. Woodrow, meanwhile, acquires a few items of evening post, left waiting for her upon a side-table.

'Come up to the drawing-room, my dear,' says Mrs. Woodrow. 'You may as well see us at our best.'

The drawing-room, upon the first floor, boasts a roaring fire and a pair of comfortable armchairs arranged before it.

'Mr. Woodrow is still not home, Jervis?' asks Melissa Woodrow, addressing the man-servant who awaits instruction by the door.

'No, ma'am.'

She sighs with exasperation, placing the envelopes upon the mantel, and extending her hands towards the fire, rubbing them vigorously. 'He has sent no message?'

'No, ma'am.'

'Very well. Ask Mrs. Figgis to make some tea and toast, if you will. We'll take them here.'

'Very good, ma'am.'

Mrs. Woodrow watches the butler depart, and turns her attention to her guest.

'Jasper will be home soon, my dear, I am sure; then we can eat properly. Do sit down. And I expect your luggage will arrive shortly. But the cab-men are a law unto themselves, you may take it from me. They should know Duncan Terrace, mind you. It is a thoroughly respectable road.'

'It is much the same in Boston, with the cabs, ma'am.'

'"Melissa", my dear, please. Will you forgive me if I open these?' she says, gesturing at the pile of envelopes. 'It is just that Jasper likes everything to be dealt with immediately. He can be very particular in some things, when it suits him.'

'Of course,' replies Miss Krout.

'I know it is awfully rude of me, Annabel dear. I won't be a moment.'

Annabel Krout looks idly around the room as her cousin takes the envelopes to a small writing desk against the far wall, and slices into them with a paper-knife. It is a pleasant parlour, with a marble fireplace, and a great gilt-edged mirror hung above the mantel-piece. The furniture is a little gloomy perhaps, all dark mahogany and walnut, a little old-fashioned. But it is a comfortable, well-upholstered sort of room. There is even, Annabel notes with some satisfaction, a piano-forte. But as she looks about her, she happens to notice a peculiar frown upon her cousin's face as she opens her post or, at least, one particular item. Indeed, if she were more familiar with Melissa Woodrow, Annabel Krout would express some polite concern about the contents of the letter in question; but it is too early in their acquaintance for such confidences. Instead, she waits patiently while Mrs. Woodrow replaces it in the envelope, and continues with the remainder.

'Annabel, I think I might go and change,' says Mrs. Woodrow, once her task is done. 'I do believe these clothes positively trap the fog. Would you mind awfully?'

'Why, not at all.'

'The tea will not be a moment - do begin without me.'

Annabel denies that she would ever dream of doing such a thing; more exhausting smiles and pleasantries are exchanged, until she is left alone in the room. She sits still for a moment or two, and then gets up, idly running her hands upon the keys of the piano, taking care not to depress them. Looking at the pictures upon the wall, a number of prints of famous personages and painted rural scenes, she passes by the writing desk in the corner. The post is still lying there, and she recognises the small manila envelope that so perturbed her cousin.

It is perhaps indicative of a certain strain of Annabel Krout's character that she cannot resist snatching it up and opening it. The contents, however, surprise her considerably, both in their brevity and sentiment:

YOUR HUSBAND IS A FRAUD

It is so distracting, that she visibly jumps when the door opens behind her.

Fortunately, it is only the maid-servant, with a tray of tea and buttered toast.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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