Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(3)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(3)
Author: L.J. Smith

"I'l tel you what," George said, leaning in toward me conspiratorial y. "I'l bring you to my tailor, buy you some suits, and you can impress the hel out of your relatives."

"No, th - " I stopped myself. "Yes, I'd like that," I said firmly. After al , Damon was always so concerned with appearances that I wanted to beat him at his own game. I wanted him to see me as a man who'd made a proud life. Damon could lie and cheat his way into any social circle, but it took hard work to develop trust with humans, and I had done just that. Maybe I could even serve as a good example, a subtle reminder to Damon that he didn't have to live a life devoid of meaning.

"It's the least I can do, son," George said, before we lapsed again into silence. The only noise in our cabin was the rhythmic chugging of the train and the smacking of George's lips. I sighed. I felt suddenly constrained in our cabin, and wished I were in the barn on the edge of the Manor, alone with my thoughts.

"Quiet today, aren't you? You were last night, too," George said, breaking the silence. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and pul ed the newspaper onto his lap.

"I suppose I am. I have a lot on my mind," I began. That might wel have been the understatement of the year. This morning, al I'd been able to think about was Katherine. And now, the idea of Damon being so close was driving me to distraction.

George nodded, an understanding expression in his watery blue eyes.

"You don't need to tel me about it. I know al men have secrets, but please know that you have a friend in me," George said seriously. Although he knew only a skeleton of my history - that I'd left my father and America because I didn't want to marry the woman he'd chosen for me -

something about his countenance made me want to open up to him a little bit more than I had.

"Of course, I'm not prying about your personal affairs," George said as he hastily rearranged the newspaper on his lap.

"No, you're not prying at al , sir. I thank you for your interest. The truth is, I have felt unsettled recently," I said final y, choosing my words careful y.

"Unsettled?" George asked in concern. "Is the job not to your liking? I know that it's a bit below your former station in America, but do know that I'm watching you, and I think that you real y do have promise. Grow into yourself, get a few years under your belt, and I could see you going far.

Perhaps you could even buy a piece of property yourself," George mused.

I shook my head quickly. "It's not the job," I said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity, and am pleased to be on the farm. It's . . . I've been having nightmares about my past. I sometimes wonder . . . whether or not I can ever truly leave that part of my life behind. I sometimes think of my father's disappointment," I explained nervously. It was the most I'd ever opened up to any human except Cal ie. And yet I felt relieved saying the sentences, even though they didn't nearly explore the chasm-like depths of my problems.

"Growing pains." Mr. Abbott nodded sagely. "I remember having them, too, when my father was urging me to fol ow in his footsteps, eager to have someone carry on the name, his legacy. He was the one who told me that I'd marry Gertrude and that I'd run the farm. I did it, and I don't regret it. But what I do regret is that I never had a choice. Fact is, it's the life I would have chosen. But I think al men need to feel they're masters of their decisions." At this, Mr. Abbott smiled wistful y. "That's why I admire you, Stefan. Standing up for your principles and setting out on your own. This is a remarkable age. We're no longer a society based on who we are, but rather what we do. And everything I've seen you do has been exemplary," he said, taking a large bite of his scone, causing crumbs to scatter al over his shirt.

"Thank you," I said, feeling better than I had in a long time. Even if he didn't know everything about me, maybe there was truth in what George was saying - that what I chose to do was far more important than who I was or who I had been. As long as I continued to live like a productive member of society, then my Power would continue to ebb, until it was a nearly inaudible thrum in the background of my being. Meanwhile, I'd have so many other things to concern myself with: livestock, property, industry, money. A smal smile played on my lips.

The train lurched forward, and tea splashed al over the front of George's jacket.

"Oh blast!" he murmured. "Would you mind holding this?" he asked, passing me his pages of the newspaper as he pul ed his handkerchief out of his pocket to dab at the stain.

The bold font and exclamation points printed on the page immediately caught my eye.

Murder! screamed the headline. Underneath the text was a line drawing of a woman, her bodice ripped, blood seeping from her throat, her eyes half-open. Even though it was just a drawing, the image was gruesome. I leaned in for a closer look, as if compel ed.

"Isn't that terrible?" George asked, his gaze fal ing on the paper. "Makes me glad to live far away from London." I nodded, barely listening. I took the paper, the grimy newsprint smearing on my hands as I hastily scanned the article.

Woman of the night meets creature of darkness. The body of Mary Ann Nichols was found on the cobblestones of the Whitechapel area of London. Her throat was torn out and her innards removed. Could be connected to other deaths in the area.

More details, from those who knew the victim. Page 23.

Not even caring about the curious way George was eyeing me, I turned to the page, the newspaper shaking in my hands. Yes, the murder was gruesome, but it was achingly familiar. I stared back at the line drawing on the front page of Mary Ann. Her blank face was tilted toward the sky, unimaginable horror evident in her unblinking eyes. That wasn't the work of a jilted lover or a desperate thief.

It was the work of a vampire.

Not only that, it was the work of a brutal, bloodthirsty vampire. In al my years, I hadn't seen or heard of any murder so gruesome - except for twenty years ago, when Lucius had massacred the Sutherland family. Damon had been there, too.

A shiver of fear ran up my spine. Wherever there were people, there were vampires. But most kept to themselves, and most, if they drank human blood, did so as quietly as possible: in shantytowns, from drunks on the street, simply compel ing their friends and neighbors so they could regularly feed without anyone sensing a thing. But then, there were the Originals. Rumored to be descended directly from hel , the Originals had never had a soul, and thus had no memories of what it was like to live, to hope, to cry, to be human. What they did have was a relentless thirst for blood and a desire for destruction.

And if Klaus were here now . . . I shuddered to think of it, but just as quickly brushed the idea off. It was my overactive imagination at work. I was always assuming the worst, always assuming my secret was seconds away from being revealed. Always assuming I was doomed. No. More likely, this had been the work of a blood-drunk Damon who needed to be taught a lesson he should have learned a long time ago.

After al , Damon wasn't only bloodthirsty; he was fame hungry. He loved the society pages. Would it be that far of a leap for him to want to suddenly appear in the crime pages, too?

"Don't let that story scare you off from London," George said, laughing a bit too loudly. "This al took place in the slums. We won't be anywhere near there."

"It won't," I said firmly, my jaw set. I set the paper next to me. "In fact, I think I wil take your offer and take the entire week off."

"As you wish," George said, leaning back into his chair, the murder story already off his mind. I glanced back down at the picture. The line il ustration was gory and gruesome, the il ustrator having clearly gone out of his way to vividly draw the innards fal ing out of the girl's body. Her face had been cut, too, but I kept glancing at her neck, wondering if two smal , shodding nail - size holes were hidden underneath the gore.

The train whistled and I could see the vast expanse of London out the window. We were entering the city. I wanted the train to turn around and take me back to Abbott Manor. I wanted to run away, back to San Francisco or Australia, or somewhere where innocent people didn't get their throats ripped out by demons. Around us, porters bustled to get trunks and suitcases from the overhead bins. Across from me, George placed his hat on his head, glancing down to the paper.

"Can you imagine, that poor girl . . ." George trailed off.

The trouble was, I could imagine it al too wel .

I could imagine Damon, flirting, al owing his hand to graze the woman's bodice. I pictured Damon, leaning in for a kiss as Mary Ann closed her eyes, ready for the brush of his lips. And then, I imagined the attack, a scream, her desperately clawing toward safety. And final y, I saw Damon, blood-drunk and sated, grinning in the moonlight.

"Stefan?"

"Yes?" I said gruffly, already on edge.

George eyed me curiously. The porter was holding open the door to our cabin.

"I'm ready," I said, steadying myself on the armrests as I stood up.

"You're shaking!" George said, laughing loudly. "But I promise you, London's in no way as frightening as the Ivinghoe woods. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you end up loving it. Bright lights, plenty of parties . . . why, if I were a younger man without responsibilities, I wouldn't be able to tear myself away from the place."

"Right," I said. His words had given me an idea. Until I'd found out who - or what - was loose in the city, London was where I was going to stay.

No matter what came, be it murderer, demon, or Damon, I was ready.

Chapter Three

Afew hours later, my feet ached while my head kept spinning. My sense of duty kept me with George as we spent the morning shuttling between appointments and tailor fittings. I was now wearing linen pants and a white shirt from Savile Row, and had several more bags on my arms.

Despite his generosity, I was desperate to escape George. Al I could think about while trying on various clothes was the girl's blood-soaked, ripped bodice.

"Can I give you a lift to your relatives? You never did say where they lived," George said as he stepped off the street corner to nod his head at a passing carriage.

"No, that's quite al right," I said, cutting him off as the coach pul ed up to the curb. The past few hours with George had been torturous, plagued with thoughts that would make his hair turn white and stand on end. I blamed Damon for poisoning what was supposed to have been nothing more than a day of pleasant persions.

I glanced away so I wouldn't have to see George's bewildered expression. A few blocks away, I could just make out St. Paul's Cathedral. It was a structure I remembered sketching when I was a child and dreamt of being an architect. I'd always imagined it as being white and gleaming, but in reality it was constructed of a dingy gray limestone. The entire city felt dirty, a thin layer of grime coated my body, and the sun was covered by gray clouds.

Just then, the sky opened up and fat drops of rain landed on the pavement, as if reminding me this was my narrow chance to fol ow my instincts and flee from George.

"Sir?" the coach driver on the curb urged impatiently.

"I'l find my own way there," I said, sensing George's hesitation at leaving me. The coachman moved to escort George to the sleek black carriage.

"Enjoy yourself," George said, clambering up the steps of the coach. The coachman whipped his horse, and the carriage took off down the rain-soaked cobblestone streets.

I glanced around me. In the few minutes that George and I had been talking, the streets had become almost deserted. I shivered in my fine shirt.

The weather perfectly matched my mood.

I raised my hand and hailed a coach of my own.

"Whitechapel," I said confidently, surprised as the words left my lips. I'd thought of going to the Journeyman to find Damon. And I would do that, eventual y. But for now, I wanted to see for myself where the murder had taken place.

"Of course," the coachman said. And instantly, I was trotted into the maze of claustrophobic London streets.

After much back and forth with the coachman, he dropped me on the corner where the Tower Bridge was being constructed. Glancing around, I could see the Tower of London. It was smal er than I'd thought it would be, and the flags on its turrets didn't wave so much as droop in the constant trickle of rain. But I wasn't here to sightsee. I turned away from the river and onto Clothier Street, one of the many twisting, dirty, dank al eys that webbed through the city.

I quickly realized this part of town was vastly different than what I'd seen with George. Rotting vegetables cluttered the rain-slicked cobblestones. Thin, slanted buildings were shoddily thrown up almost on top of each other. The scent of iron was everywhere, although I couldn't tel whether the concentration of blood was from murder or simply from the mass of people forced to live in such close quarters. Pigeons hopped along the al eyways, but otherwise the area was deserted. I felt a shiver of fear creep up my spine as I hurried around the park and toward a tavern.

I walked inside and into nearly complete darkness. Only a few candles burned on the rickety tables. A smal group of men were sitting along the bar. Meanwhile, several women were drinking in the corner. Their brightly colored dresses and festive hats were at odds with the gloomy surroundings, and gave them the look of caged birds at the zoo. No one seemed to be talking. I nervously adjusted the lapis lazuli ring on my finger, looking at the rainbow of refracted light the stone created on the gritty oak floor.

I sidled up to the bar and perched on one of the stools. The air was heavy and damp. I unbuttoned the top button of my shirt and loosened my tie to counter the stifling atmosphere. I wrinkled my nose in disgust. It wasn't the type of establishment I'd envision Damon frequenting.

   
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