Elsie greeted Dr Watson rather coolly but was nonetheless a sublimely courteous and impeccable servant during his visit at Christmas, her happiness at Helen's return overwhelming her suspicion of him. He was to his credit, a consummate gentleman and it became apparent to everyone as the years passed that despite his intense affection for Miss Helen, he otherwise intended to remain a bachelor.
Elsie was however far less obliging to the odious Mr Druitt, an imposing figure of a man for all his gentility. Elsie supposed he was pleasant enough, possessing grace and wit so as to appear perfectly charming, if Elsie were the type to be charmed by a man. There was something about him nonetheless that she did not like, not least of all the wickedness of his eyes whenever he looked at Helen. On the evening that Helen had announced their engagement Elsie had knocked a steaming jug of port sauce into his lap as she served him at dinner and although she had apologised she nonetheless found herself now the unhappy object of Helen's ire.
"You have excelled yourself this time, Elsie" Helen ranted. Elsie stood with arms crossed glaring at her hotly.
"Begging your pardon, MISS," she sneered. "I don't know what you mean."
"Your behaviour is beyond improper!" Helen snarled, pacing up and down the kitchen.
"Improper! Oh Miss, you are a gem, you are an absolute diamond!" Elsie chuckled bitterly. "You come in here and lecture me about propriety, the things that go on in this house!"
Helen froze, her hands clenching into fists at her sides and her chest heaving as she took a few deep breaths. "What I do in my own home is my business and I'll thank you to remember that," she said darkly, stepping so close Elsie could feel her breath on her face and she shuddered, pressing back against the counter as Helen glared at her hatefully.
"What has become of you?" she gasped, trembling and Helen flinched as though she'd been struck. Her face softened and she dropped her gaze, seeming to come back to herself somewhat as she stepped back a way.
"I'm sorry," she uttered, her eyes darting about the floor. "I...I..."
Elsie's face screwed up and she sniffed a breath through her nose, tears pricking at her eyes. "No, no I'm the sorry one, really I am. I don't know what comes over me!" she explained, stepping forward and tentatively placing her hand on Helen's shoulder. Helen slouched and gripped the back of a chair, her eyes falling closed as she let out a tired sigh. "I'm just concerned for you. You know I can't help it."
"There's no need, Elsie, really," Helen assured her in an exasperated voice, reaching up to squeeze her fingers gently before she walked away.
But how could she not be concerned? For all the locked doors and secrets in the place, you didn't need to study at Oxford to know that something was amiss in the Magnus house. Elsie changed the bedsheets after all, scrubbed the bloodstained clothing, sat patiently in the kitchen lovingly mending the tears in Helen's clothes. She was all too familiar with the hitch of breath and the shuddering gasp that drifted along the corridor only to wake in the morning to find the salon in disarray, a pungent stale odour hanging in the air and the ashtray overflowing. More and more the evenings were filled with quarrels and the sound of breaking glass, with Helen's sobs. Whenever Elsie tried to comfort her Helen pushed her away and retreated into the solitude of her room, locking the door behind her. Sometimes as she lay in her bed at night she could swear she heard screams from the hidden rooms under the house and would bury her head under the pillow and imagine she was far away on the beach at Holbiton.
Even Michael began to look pale and harried. He began to talk of going away, of getting out of the city or sometimes even further. "What is the world coming to Elsie, I ask you?" he said one morning, the newspaper spread across the table, full of stories of the most grisly goings on in the east end. Elsie sat in his chair after he went out, the wood still warm beneath her and read every repellent detail before screwing the paper up and throwing it onto the fire.
That evening she found a dishevelled looking Mr Druitt slouched in a chair in the salon, his huge feet propped on the mahogany table and clutching a decanter in his hand.
"El-sie, my dear," he drawled in a low rumbling voice. She froze halfway between the door and the window and gripped the side of her skirt in her hands as she met his cold stare.
"How did you get in here?" she asked around the lump in her throat. Druitt tilted his chin at her.
"Well isn't that quite the warm welcome. Aren't we are going to be like family soon Elsie?" He chuckled and the sound made her heart thump in her chest. She glanced towards the door nervously, dropping her eyes to the carpet as he slowly got to his feet and moved closer. "Come now, what's all this?" He dropped his arms to his sides in a gesture of humility and dipped his head, his face contorted in a mocking pout.
"I shall just be closing the curtains if you don't mind sir, then I'll be getting on my way," Elsie stammered, screwing up her courage and walking briskly to the window to tug on the heavy drapes, relief washing over her as she saw Michael driving the horses through the gate. She turned her head to find Druitt smiling at her but the grim set of his jaw and his dead eyes belied the benevolence of the gesture.
Some weeks later she stood outside the old man's study listening intently to Dr Watson's low voice as he spoke.
"...good luck. Yours Truly Jack the Ripper. Don't mind me giving the trade name. PS Wasn't good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands, curse it no luck yet. They say I'm a doctor now ha ha." There was a long pause followed by a sharp tapping and a hard sniff. "What does he want me to see Helen?"
A shadow fell across the hall and Elsie met Helen's hard eyes for a moment before the door shut abruptly in her face. Mournfully she retreated back to the safety of the kitchen, standing for a long time at the top of the stone steps that led to the cellar, peering down the winding stairs with a terrible sense of dread until she could bear it no longer. She ran all the way to her room and sat shivering under the old quilt as the doctor's words echoed around and around in her head.
Michael stood outside the kitchen window one evening, smoking and talking to some fellow he knew. Elsie quietly folded undergarments into a basket and turned to glance through the glass and Michael raised his eyebrows at her, his collar pulled up around his ears against the cold. She was just hoisting the basket onto her hip as he entered.
"I might go out for a jar, if you don't mind," he said breathing into his palms and rubbing them together briskly. She huffed out a breath, shaking her head at him playfully and he grinned at her mischievously.
She climbed the main stairs and walked along the landing to Helen's room, setting the basket on the bed before turning to light the gas lamp on the wall. Stepping up to the dresser she pulled open a drawer and began to carefully put the clothes away, reverently laying each item inside until the basket was empty. When she was done she picked it up with one hand and stepped towards the door, bumping into something tall and dark.
"You!" she gasped and staggered backwards in surprise.
"Hello Elsie dear," Druitt drawled, that same sinister smile on his face. "So nice to see you again."
"Miss Helen isn't here if it's her you be wanting. I'm sure she'll be back soon," she told him sharply, clutching the basket and brushing past him and out of the door. She had only taken a few steps along the landing when she raised her head to see Mr Druitt standing in front of her. "What the devil?" she muttered, her eyes wide as she stared at him.
"I'm flattered, really Elsie. I've been called far worse by much better people," he chuckled as he stepped towards her. Elsie retreated along the hall, clutching the basket in front of her. "Whatever is the matter with you Elsie, I only wanted to say hello."
"This isn't quite proper I'm sure you'll agree, Mr Druitt, sir," Elsie explained, swallowing hard as he moved closer.
"Oh come now my dear girl, let's not stand on ceremony."
"No, really sir I must insist. You shouldn't be upstairs, it's not decent," she said and Druitt let out a loud belly laugh and wiped his eye with a finger.
"I really find it quite amusing to hear you talk this way, my dear girl." Elsie felt the hard panelling of the wall at her back and glanced to the side down the corridor. "You? Decent? I think not." Elsie turned and took a step forward intent on walking briskly away down the hall towards the back stairs when Druitt wrapped his hand around her throat. The basket fell from her hands and tumbled to the floor with a dull thud as he shoved her hard against the wall.
"Let me go!" Elsie cried, grimacing with fear, her eyes darting down the landing towards the stairs.
"Hush hush hush," he told her softly, pressing a finger to her lips and exhaling a ragged breath of pleasure at the feel of throat quivering beneath his palm. "You know, she told me about you," he said in a low voice, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he smiled. "About the wicked, wicked things you'd do."
Elsie screamed at the top of her lungs and Druitt's smile morphed into a look of pure hate. He slammed his palm across her mouth, knocking her head hard against the wall behind her and she squealed, her breath damp against his hand. She thrashed violently in his arms and Druitt began to pant rapidly, a mild chuckle turning into a loud laugh as he held her fast. "Oh yes, I like it when you struggle!" he told her menacingly, rubbing his nose against hers and inhaling deeply. Elsie's eyes rolled back in her head and she fell still and Druitt felt a surge of panic for a moment that she might already be dead. He pulled his hand away from her mouth and instinctively she gasped, sucking in a deep breath, her eyes flying open and darting about frantically.
"You monster, let me go!" she sobbed and Druitt pulled her close against him, his fingers digging into her hair as he yanked her head back.
"However could I do that Elsie? I can't let you go! What kind of man would I be to let a filthy little slattern like you continue to live under my roof?" Elsie cried out as her hair twisted painfully away from her scalp. "No!" Druitt snarled, shaking her hard. "No, I have to purge this depravity out of my house!" Elsie staggered as he released her hair, gripping onto his coat as she slumped down and Druitt grasped her wrists tightly in his hands. She heaved in a great breath as he pulled her upright and began to laugh, raising her chin to stare into Druitt's confused face, his lips curling back over his teeth in disgust.
"Oh, Mr Druitt, sir!" she chuckled, a warped deranged sound in his ears. "And what about you? Are you going to purge yourself are you?" He clenched his jaw and shook her hard.
"Shut your filthy mouth! Shut up!" he barked but she flopped about in his arms and laughed some more.
"I seen yer you know, I know about yer!" she taunted. "You an' 'im in the drawin' room." She took pause to draw breath. "On Christmas Day, I seen yer. Kissin' him." Druitt glared into her eyes and she felt a surge of victory at the look of hurt on his face. "You filthy! Disgusting! Pair!" she breathed into his face.
Druitt let out a long, low rumble, bellowing at her as he brought his palm down across her face before hurling her roughly away. Elsie cried out and spun across the landing, clutching at the banister madly as she went. She grasped the railing and hauled herself up, staggering backward a few steps before turning to dash haphazardly down the hall. As she reached the top of the stairs there was a strange crackling sound, like a lunge whip and Druitt appeared suddenly beside her. Elsie let out a gasp of terror and confusion and he reached out, wrapping his hands about her neck. She wheezed and choked as he squeezed, her legs giving way beneath her as she clawed at his wrists. Druitt glared at her, a look of pure hate on his face and she felt her heart constrict, the finality of the moment becoming utterly clear. Her eyes went wide and she glanced towards the staircase briefly before her gaze came to rest on his face once again. Druitt breathed hard through his teeth and kept his persistent grip like a vice around her throat as she went limp, flopping heavily in his arms until he released her, her body toppling sickeningly down the stairs.
Helen clutched the mantelpiece with both hands and stared blankly into her own reflection, trembling so hard she dare not let go. Michael sat on a chair behind her, his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands as he tried not to sob. Each gasping breath he took was like a knife in Helen's heart. From the hallway she could hear the low murmur of voices and a moment later James met her eye in the mirror.
"Helen," he murmured and she turned to face him. Michael raised his head and looked at James, his eyes puffy and red from his tears. James' gaze flicked about the carpet and he took a slow breath before he continued. "Mr Lestrade is convinced it was an accident, that she fell," he said very quietly. Helen licked her lips, her mouth like cotton.
"And you?" she asked, her mouth turned downward sourly. James chewed on his lips for a long moment and did not reply but the look on his face told her enough.
Some days after the funeral, Helen sat in her father's study, staring over the desk and through the window at the branches swaying in the wind outside. She would never be able to remember how long she stayed that way but the fire had gone out when she heard Michael's quiet cough. She turned her face towards the door to see him dressed in his greatcoat and twisting his hat in his hands.
"Begging your pardon, miss, might I have a word?" he asked politely.
"Of course, Mick, come in," she uttered in a breathless voice, rising from behind the desk.
"No, no don't get up," he said gently, raising his palm. He would not meet her eyes as he approached the table..
"What is it?" Helen asked softly, regarding him with a sad expression.
"If you please, Miss Helen, I'll be taking my leave of you now," Michael told her meekly. Helen stared at him agog.
"Taking your leave? Why Michael?" she stammered, rising from her chair.
"I can't stay here no more, Helen. Not now."
"How...I don't know what to say," Helen replied, tears pricking at her eyes and she stepped out from behind the table.
"If you will, don't say anything. There's nothing needs to be said anymore." Michael rubbed his hands together, inhaling a sharp breath through his nose as he clenched his jaw against the welling up of sorrow within him.
"Where will you go? What will you do?" Helen exclaimed, moving close to stand beside him. Michael turned to her and licked his lips before continuing.
"To Holbiton miss, just to say goodbye."
"And then?" Helen shook her head in disbelief.
"To Bristol," Michael said, his voice firm and certain.
"The colonies, Michael?" Helen drew her chin back in shock and turned to stare into the distance with wide eyes.
"Aye, to Canada."
"Canada! Whatever will you do in Canada!" Helen cried. "It's the bloody wilderness! God knows what kind of monsters there are!"
"If you don't mind me saying Helen, but they can't be worse than as you finds closer to home." Helen turned her head to look at him and he held her gaze for a long moment.
"Have you enough money?" she said after a while and Michael nodded.
"I've some saved," he answered.
"You must let me help, Michael. You must let me take care of you," Helen told him firmly and he shook his head, short abrupt movements. "Please," she breathed, tears rolling down her cheeks as she grasped his hand. His breath hitched and he wrapped his arms around her and sniffed loudly into her hair.
"I shall miss you Helen, my love," Michael told her but Helen could not speak, just held onto him as though her life would end if she let go.
"What will I do without you?" she sobbed. Michael pulled back and lifted her chin with his finger.
"I think Helen...that you shall do just fine."
Michael promised her that he would write to her when he had got to wherever it was he was meant to be going and Helen was in the kitchen, months later, eating her breakfast at the rough wooden table there when James brought in the post.
"One for you," he said, dropping the rumpled envelope in front of her.
"It's from Michael," she told him, a smile breaking out over her face as she turned it over in her hands.
"Oh yes," James replied curiously, lifting his coat tails as he sat down opposite and opening out the broad sheets of the paper before him. "Wherever did he end up then?" He peered over the top of the page to see Helen grinning idiotically at the letter in her hand.
"Some place called Gastown," she told him, meeting his raised brow with one of her own.
"Sounds perfectly hideous," James said, shaking the paper firmly before leaning back in his chair to read.