T’is late at night and the rowdy, brisk, hustle and bustle of London street life has dimmed to a barely audible hum. The streets are pitch dark and mostly empty; save for Inspector Girdy, pristine in his midnight blue uniform, fashioned from garbardine and replete with several well polished brass buttons. He is patroling Berkeley Square in as leisurely a manner as possible taking in every polished and gleaming cul-de-sac and lamp post. He would be about as likely to meet a thief, here on these streets, as he would be to meet an Irish nun, drunk and dancing a jig. And so, humming a cheery tune and waving a lantern before him, he waddles gently on his way. T’is late at night and the streets gleam and are damp with gently downpouring rain as two slender figures slip out of the tradesmen’s entrance to Lord Grid-Iron’s estate, and hurry off into the night.
“I know t’is better to give than to receive Emily, but I can’t help thinking that this game pie would be better off placed back in the pantry”
“Now Maggie, think of them little ones with their bellies all nice and full, and their cheeks all flushed with joy as they wash that pie down with some beer. Won’t that warm thy heart Maggie?”
They hurried on through Clothilde Avenue where sparkling white lace curtains parted, to reveal candles glimmering on the window sills and Oleander Square where gleaming cobble stones lay bathed in the glow of rows of street lamps. Faster they walked as the downpour grew heavier, glossing the slimy cobblestones which lay half disintegrated beneath their boot-clad feet, and causing the soot encrusted bricks to gleam darkly in the amber half-light radiated by lanterns hung from doss-house doors. Faster and faster, past the darkened doorways in which little children huddled over their tiny slates, on which were inscribed the tenets of St. Gove. Past the sallow faced, haggard looking door men perusing copies of Milton’s Paradise Lost, in-between ejecting surly customers soused on tax-free beer.
Down Young Gilly’s pass they travelled, pulling their bonnets still lower over their brows and averting their faces from lascivious sights, which might other wise have accosted them, as they travelled past one dimly lit side street after another. “Homer’s Odyssey” whispered Maggie as they walked into St Giles Square “What?” replied Emily her mind intent upon what lay ahead, “The last alley we passed where the prosser were beating up a customer, it were Homer’s Odyssey she had in her hand” Emily frowned,”Maggie Settleworth, you would do better to focus thine eyes on the words of St. Gove inscribed upon thy heart, to err is human, but to achieve is divine! We’re almost home child, hitch up thy skirts”
Carefully they picked their way amongst the various heaps of wet clothing piled up at the front door, making their way down the steps that led into the basement that had once been Maggie’s home. As quietly as possible Maggie pulled the makeshift door to, signalling to Emily not to say a word, behind the ragged door lay the family hearth wreathed in smoke from the guttering fire, which had barely heated the room. Quickly Maggie turned to the window restuffing the fragmented glass with the damp rag that had fallen onto the floor. Reaching into her pocket, she removed the lump of coal she had stolen from Lord Grid-Iron’s coal shed. Quietly uttering a pray of penitence to St. Gove she tossed the lump of coal onto the fire, stirring it back to life.
“Your ma’s not here” Emily commented as she unwrapped the vast woolen shawl she’d packed into the bottom of her basket and covered the little boy asleep on the hearth with it, he stirred briefly, opening one sticky glue-rimed eye, “Maggie” said he, “Is that you?”
“It’s me” she murmured gently tousling his hair “sleep” she said “sleep” and for a little while she lay down beside him, wrapping her cape tightly around her whilst she stirred the fire back to life. Gradually the room warmed and as Maggie fell asleep Emily laid a clean napkin on the ricketty wooden table in a corner of the room, on it she placed the game pie wrapped in a linen hanky, and the two bottles of beer which she had also purloined from the larder. Emily stepped delicately over the damp & grimy floor boards towards the huddled form tossing restlessly on the dank floor in the far corner of the room. Digging deep into the pockets of her gown she pulled out a bottle of Dr Purkleberry’s Laudunum, much as she loathed it she could little doubt it’s medicinal properties, having administered it so frequently at St Bachanalia’s asylum. She administered it now and at once observed its quietening effect on the restless form of Maggie’s mother. Nudging Maggie awake she got to her feet, her last act before leaving the room was to move the baby’s cot a little further away from the fire, one family member with tuberculosis was more than sufficient she reasoned. ” Maggie” she asked as they made their way back to the Grid-Iron residence, “Who is thy family’s landlord?” Maggie bit her lip, “Lord Tobias Grid-Iron” she murmured.