Around Sloane Square all has ground to a halt, all is quiet and although it has been a most busy day for Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe, he cannot help but to look back upon it with a degree of tremendous satisfaction. Three hundred ragged dependants sought the refuge of Spitalfields workhouse today! Three hundred! And of those sifted through by Willoughby Croft and then presented to the board of guardians, only twenty could in all good consciense be admitted. The casual ward held two hundred more, the rest being tainted by their association with the Grid-Iron Square riot, were turned away. Most workhouses in the poorer neighbourhoods were burgeoning with those who were supposedly destitute, Martin-in-the-Fields was one such example, but Spitalfields had a surplus of places. Only those he deemed truly deserving where admitted to the main building, the rest (whose claims were dubious at best) were consigned to the casual ward, where they might either survive the night or freeze to death, depending on the state of their health, and the life choices they had previously made.
Yes, all is quiet throughout the home of the Right Honourable Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe, the Ethelbert-Smythe children are all a-bed, Edwina curled around her brand new doll’s house as though it might grow legs and leave her. And young Thomas, his thumb in his mouth, wears the astrakhan trimmed dressing gown his mama bought him to keep him warm in the dead of night. Downstairs in the hallway the grandfather clock lets out a steady tick-tocking that serves as an undercurrent to the warmth and stability of that happy home environment. The servants all lie fast asleep in their attic rooms, worn out by the days ministrations to the wants of the right honourable Smythe and his guests. Being as it is the festive season, they have barely been off their feet since five in the morning, indeed not till twelve past midnight were they permitted sufficient peace, to be able to disrobe and take to their beds. The hours served in this household are many and hard, the times laid aside for rest few and far between, staff turnover is high, still, nobody dare complain, t’is either this, the mills or the workhouse.
Tick-tock! Tick-tock!The clock strikes three and at the foot of the stairs the household guard dog barely stirs in its sleep. Three thirty and a gust of cold air drafts through the narrow gap between cherrywood panelled front door and hearth, it is a dim, grey nebulous breeze that wafts up the spiral stair case pausing for a moment at each bedroom door until at last it reaches that of Mr and Mrs Ethelbert-Smythe and slips over the threshold. The Ethelberts being most comfortably esconsed in a four poster bed carved of ebony wood, replete with an immensity of linen bed sheets and woollen blankets, over which have been thrown two goose feather stuffed quilts (for it is deadly cold at this time of year). The most honourable Ethelbert-Smythes are deeply and tranquilly asleep or should be, but except that there is much tossing and turning beneath the comfy load for that pater familia,Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe.
“Let me in sir, it’s me sir. let me in! Let me in sir!” a little voice cries out, surprisingly it touches the heart of Hardy so that on mere paternal instinct he leaps out of bed , strides to the bedroom door, and opens it believing the distressed voice to be emanating from one of his children, but as he opens the door peering out into the darkness he spies no one their. Uttering an irritated sigh he clambers back into bed, smooths the covers over his side and closes his eyes. “T’is I sir! T’is Dommy! Dommy Woodbine! Let us in sir! I’ll be good I swears! Let us in sir, please!” at this Ethelbert-Smythe leaps out of bed for now he is certain that there is indeed somebody (other than his wife), present in the room. T’is pitch dark and so he spies them not, but he is certain that somebody (something) of that workhouse ilk, has broken into his home. He might be enraged at the fact where it not for the hairs standing up on the nape of his neck, and the goose pimples springing up all over his body. “Let me in sir! Let me in!” two little cold, damp hands fasten themselves around his neck, two little damp legs around his waist,”Don’t sends us there sir! Don’t sends us to Master Turple-Sleath! I swears I’ll be good! Honest I will sir!”
“Let go of me and I will let you in” replies the right honourable gentleman who upon being freed leaps for the bedroom door, forgetting that having left his wife in bed and asleep she may be in some danger. All at once the workhouse child whose face he has yet to see leaps upon him, wrestling him to the ground with a prodigious display of inhuman strength, Crying out in a frenzy of terror Hardy rolls frantically to and fro, to and fro in a desperate attempt to dislodge the pint-sized monster. “Let me in sir! Let me in!” the child cries hysterically until his cries and the screams of Ethelbert-Smythe mingle as one and are indistinguishable, “Aaargh! Dear God! Help meeee!” crying out to the very god his daily actions refute, Ethelbert-Smythe awakens, chilled, clammy, but still very much esconsed in his plush and comfy bed.
Of course there is no child assassin present in his room there is merely him and his wife, a lady grown expertly accustomed to feigning sleep whilst her husband works his way through his night terrors; something he has consistenlty done ever since taking on responsiblity for poor law relief in their parish. These night terrors are the one thing that have prevented her from leaving him; they assure her that though he may not be a true Christian he does at least have something reasembling a consciense and is therefore still human.