“Oh my dear Sirs! In what raptures I was, when first I came to Molten Tussock!” cried Monty Eckard, clutching the Testimonies of St Gove to his worsted frocked chest. “T’was as though the very ether of Sweet Gove had fallen upon my senses! The first time I heard Sweet Gove’s voice I was in the Iron Slitting pond, wading through the muddy waters sorting mud from Iron slit. T’was on a day when all seemed heavy and burdensome, t’was before the days of the Reverend Tout-Puissant”.
The Bow & Bromley Education Board, listening with ever increasing ire, to the wan faced child’s ‘religious’ experiences, remains silent. T’is more out of practicality than inclination, since they are moving at break neck speed along bumpy country roads and, must therefore concentrate their efforts on remaining upright. But one there is who, seated outside the carriage, alongside the carriage driver, leans forward into the oncoming wind like a Greyhound sniffing out his prey. His greying hair flies loose in the wind, his blue eyes are narrowed to mere slits and his lips, bluish with the cold, are pursed thin with foreboding.T’is none other than the Union Rep, or should I say the Member of Parliament for Bow & Bromley,”Dare’st we go no faster comrade? The greatest evil ever to befall man has befallen the Iron Slitting Apprentices at Molten Tussock! I know not what disaster we shall find ere we reach there!”
“My little Obed Plum is apprenticed at Molten Tussock Sir, as well you know! Any faster and the wheels may fall off the carriage! Were the fiends of hell at my horses’ heels I darest not gallop any faster than I do now Sir!” And so the coach and its glossy coated stallions gallop on, over hill and dale and tussock. Light fails and yet ever onwards they speed,through mire and mud, and the nefarious mists oozing forth from the marshlands that surround them. “Where is this?” asks the Union Rep, a fierce and sullen look clouding his brow, “T’is the swamplands of Brume Polder” replies Master Knowham with an equally fierce look. “Thats not the place where?” Master Knowham nods his head,”The same, nigh on twenty apprentices drowned tanning moleskin leather trousers in the bogs, and the rest, struck down by the Scarlet Fever, t’was a terrible scandal Sir!”
“And who, pray tell, was held responsible?” asks the Member of Bow & Bromley but he thinks he already knows the answer,”T’was the most Reverend Tout-Puissant! He as had the boys worshipping and meditating on the testimonies of Gove for so many hours that, their constitutions being quite run down, t’is a wonder any of them survived the onlaught of the Scarlet Fever. And now you may answer me Sir! How such a one as he came to be made Headmaster of Molten Tussock!”
“I know not! And t’is to my shame to say that! Can ye not go faster comrade?” and suddenly having recalled the tragedy of Brume Polder, Master Knowham finds he can. Faster than the speed of light, faster even than the frigid breeze caressing their faces, so fast that the horses’ hooves seem scarcely to be touching the ground they pass over. And so as the miles pass the spectre of Molten Tussock looms ever nearer.
So, dear reader, let us turn our attentions back to Master Parnham. He whom we left venturing forth from the Slitting Iron Tower, hand-in-hand with little Obed Plum. Into the twilight evening they slip, limbs a-tremble and hearts beating so fiercely within their narrow chests, that t’would seem as if the fierce palpitations warned against their imminent entry of that fearful heathen sanctuary known to all apprentices as ‘The Chapel’. T’is twilight but the skies above are alight with colours seldom glimpsed in this world or the next. For t’is twelve hours since the slitting works was last attended to. “All is not right Master Parnham” wails Obed, his eyes widening with fear at the sight of the scarlet tinged blue flames belching forth from the cavernous mouth of the overheated slitting furnace.
“Worry not child, I am with thee” murmured Master Parnham patting little Obed’s tiny, calloused palm with his wizened hand. Master Parnham is serene, indeed murderously so, and as a thunderous rage courses through his blood he rediscovers a burst of youthful energy he believed had long since fled his weary bones. With one swift, wiry, kick the oak doors are flung open and the incense wreathed scandal within is piteously revealed.Pew after pew of weary starved looking apprentices turn to look at him, their faces etched with exhaustion their trembling fingers nervously clutching at their leathern testimonies. And all the while as he draws ever nearer to the altar that terrible unearthly singing,
“Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Up on the mountain Sweet Gove spoke,
Out of his mouth came fire and smoke!
Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray! “
The Most Reverend Tout-Puissant is deep in meditation, so deep that he does not see the outraged Inspector wrenching at his cassock until it is too late. To be one minute caught up in the ecstasies of Sweet Gove, and the next fending off an enraged School’s Inspector, well dear reader, is it possible to convey the degree of ignominious shame and humiliation which stole none too sweetly over the Reverend? I think not. But more was to follow for all of a sudden the ground beneath their wrestling bodies shook and trembled and a thunderous roaring noise ensued. “Look fast Master Parnham! Look fast! The furnace has blown!” bellowed little Obed his pale face a grim mask of horror. But looking up from the aisle floor Master Parnham smiled, leaping to his feet nimbly he grasped hold of Obed Plum shouting “Nay lad! But I have been here before! Apprentices of Molten Tussock to me!”. And so it t’was that the aged Mole-Trouser-Stretching Master rescued the apprentices of Molten Tussock.
To be continued…..