When the last leaf has fallen from the very last tree, when the very last Nightingale has flown the nest in Grid-Iron Square, when the endless hangings at Newgate prison have been suspended (due to it’s hangman having contracted pneumonia, of the extremely debillitating sort). T’is then that men cease to venture out, choosing instead to sit close by their loved ones, their faces and hands warmed by a well-lit fire. So Emile Grid-Iron would have believed to be the case, were it not for the abundant and profuse ‘invitations to treat’ he had turned violently away from the doors of the Nunnery, on this, the eve of a brand new year.
“There’s ne’er a thought for hearth nor home in the bosoms of some men” opined Madame Le Breton as she tallied up the takings from the Nag’s Head. Business was down and had been for the last four months, “Avin second thoughts maman?” Madame Le Breton glanced shrewdly at her son’s face, it was smooth and pale as alabaster, like his father’s, with that high forehead denoting either expansive intellect or low cunning (depending on which side of the sheets you came from). His eyes crinkled shut as he puffed hard on his cigar, he was hiding something, something he had yet to share with her.
” Mais oui! But I am a daughter of zee revolution! I will starve before I let zee aristo-crazee ave de las word!” she locked the night’s takings away in the Acme safe, right alongside the copper coloured keys to the Nunnery chastity-belts.
“I’ll be going out shortly” Emile growled, tossing the remains of his cigar into a brass spitoon, “This striking business ‘as cost us dear Ma, but for all that we’ll not starve” he pulled out his fob watch and checked the hour, “In fact, we may finish well ahead a’fore this business is done” Madame Le Breton poured herself a stiff brandy and pulled out her knitting. She thanked her stars daily for the man that her little Emile had become, Madre de Dieu! If he had taken after his father what then?!
“Be careful son” Emile smiled and it was like a ray of sunshine piercing the dark to his maman, “Always am Ma” and with that he was gone. Madame Le Breton uttered a quick rakat before swiftly knocking back her brandy, Francis the Page Boy’s habits could be very catching…
“Free beer and carrots,
Free beer and carrots,
That’s the stuff for your “Derby Kell”,
Makes you fit and keeps you well.
Don’t live like vegetarians
On food they give to parrots,
Blow out your kite, from Morn ’til night,
On free beer and carrots.”
Wendy Woodbine belted out the tune with a relish none would have believed possible had they observed her in harness at the Bryant & May match factory. She tossed her glossy brown curls first one way then the other, twirling her little red umbrella and swishing her crimson and gold coloured skirts in time to the music.
“Without a doubt the gel has a prodigious talent” murmured Arty McGoot as he perused the beaming faces of the audience, “Quite so, how goes it tonight?” asked Madame Guacamoley noting with smug satisfaction the dearth of upperclass faces, and the profusion of working class ones at the bar. “We does a roarin trade ma’am! A roarin trade! Why we does more bizniss nah than a’fore the mill workers’ strike!” Arty’s eyes twinkled with malicious pleasure,”T’is a pity, I did miss the dissipated furniture breaking ways of the upper classes so! T’is rumoured that the eminent politician has taken to ‘is bed?” Madame Guacamoley stifled a smile, “Has he?” it was common knowledge all over St Martins that the man in question had sought ‘shelter’ at Canton Katey’s and come away with more than he’d bargained for; once that scandal broke amongst the upper classes who could say what concessions might be made?
Meanwhile, there were other difficulties that needed solving. Tapping her shoulder briskly and jerking his head backwards Arty McGoot uttered a low whistle,”Oy-Oy!” he murmured, Madame Guacamoley’s gaze followed his own to where three gentlemen and two ladys stood waiting,almost in the shadows, “Have them sent up to my rooms”
“I opes you knows wot you’re doing my darling?” Arty inquired a little fearfully,Madame Guacamoley laughed, such laughter as tinkled merrily like church bells and could lighten the heaviest heart,”Arty” said she,”I always knows wot’s rite and I always does it. Wot of heart an’ social consciense Arty? For want of a fair wage and a full belly there’s folk ‘as, ‘as been slung in the workhouse, hung, and been transported to Botany Bay and who is to answer for that? An answer me this, ‘ow did a cold blooded Gombeen such as e, a man unelected by those as lights ‘is street lamps, an’ puts food on his plate, get to ‘ave all of this power? We as no choice in this matter Arty my love, none. If e’s found alive in a carpet bag people will hang and if e’s found dead in a carpet bag people will hang” Arty chewed on his cigar,”This Francis, is ‘e to be trusted?” Madame Guacamoley nodded,”He carries a steel calling card my luv” Arty raises an eyebrow at this, a Pinkerton no less! “Does wot you ‘as to my luv! Does wot you ‘as to!” Madame Guacamoley’s large grey eyes brimmed with grateful tears, “Thank you my love” .
Wendy Woodbine’s performance draws to a close and with a swirl of her scarlet tinged petticoats and a flirtacious flash of her azure blue eyes she exits the stage to the roaring applause of the audience. “Look sharp my gel!” exclaims Arty a-twirling his moustachioes “The next act is coming on!” Wendy looks crestfallen at the lack of compliment on her performance but Arty smiles gently at the child, pats her softly on the shoulder and tells her “You sparkled like a dymond! My girl! A weritable dymond! Dommy wud ave bin proud!” at that Wendy Woodbine lights up, skipping off to her next costume change for the finale performance.
Madame Guacamoley’s rooms lie just above the main music hall and it is here, in the parlour, that she welcomes her guests,”Well well!” says she a look of surprised pleasure upon her face,”Well! If it isn’t Maggie Sitwell!, come here my petal! La! How you’ve grown! You are quite the lady now!” blushing with pleasure Maggie steps forward taking the be-ringed fingers of Madame Guacamoley lightly in hers, “T’was ever a pleasure to be taught by you ma’am, t’is a pity you ave given up teaching” Madame Guacamoley patted her small hand, “T’is ever the way child! There’s little room for one’s own inclinations in a revolution!” she turned to Lady Grid-Iron, her eyes glittering,”Kitty Warne! Ever a pleasure ma’am!”
Kitty smiled grimly, “Once you’ve heard our proposition you may think differently, Mr Geraghty?” Madame Guacamoley held up a palm, she shook her head,” There’s no need for you to speak ma’am, we knows, the whole movement knows, the mill workers are up for it, the chimney sweeps will give you all the help you need, as will the East India Company porters. The question is, how best to transport such a load, without falling foul of badgers, bludgers or the police, where’s it bound?” Seamus Geraghty looked troubled,”We’re not sure as yet, the good father is still a-praying on it, he says he’ll have an answer by the morrow” Francis rolled his eyes at this but said nothing “Ah well!To the drawing board ladies and gents!” she gestured to her guests who gathered round the parlour table upon which had been laid a very intricate and precisely crafted map,”T’is as you asked Kitty, drawn up by the hand of Isambard Kingdom Brunel no less! A map of Paddington train station!”