Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Miscreants,Murder & A Member Of That Luckless Tribe

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How can one describe that first day of the siege of Newgate? Deepest, darkest, night has stolen over the Newgate in a serene and imperturbable manner. It is a night lit up here and there by the gas lamps carried to and fro by prisoners as they tend to their business in the confines of the gaol. It is a night filled with fierce expectation and for some thick with dread. The cells and wards are empty, for all have spilled forth from the bowels of the prison to man the walls and gates against the enemy without. There is not a prisoner (nor a gaoler), that is not manning some point of exit or entry, against the fierce onslaught of the owners of the means of production! For they have all heard tell of the dreadful consequences of such uprisings, of the hangings and transportations that must surely follow.

Unless, that is, the Union Rep can force the hand of Aberdeen’s government bringing them to a position of negotiation. A dozen bonfires have been lit providing some warmth and light for the men and women clustered around them. The comforting blaze cheers the hearts and lightens the conversations of those who sit cleaning their rifles before the open fires.

“Do you think they will give us what we ask?” whispers Nathaniel to Bart Tobin who shrugs and replies, “Did they do so before? But then what choice do we have? T’is this or  a hanging!”

“They’ll not hang me!” replies Aggie Brandt aggressively twining together two sticks of gelignite, “If you ain’t more careful with them explosives they wont have to!” retorts Nathaniel as she thrusts the bundled sticks of dynamite into her waistband. “I’m waiting for one of those politicians to pass a little closer to them walls so I can drop a tidy parcel of fireworks on em!” she replies.

“Just one tidy parcel?” asks Nathaniel Spate whose eldest son has been transported to New Zealand already, and whose wife and children must now throw themselves on the mercy of the Spitalsfield Workhouse. “And us bound for the long drop already! What’s the point?” muttered another as he wrapped his jacket more tightly about him.

“What’s the point?” exclaims Bart Tobin, “What’s the point? When ye little ones was staggering abowt with nowt but a rotted piece of bloater to eat, did ye ask then what the point was? When you and yours warmed yourselves by a candle whilst the bosses family set all snug and comfy by a roaring fire, did you need to ask then what the point was?”

Nathaniel shook his head in agreement, “Come man! There’s stories amongst us that should make a mill owner cry for shame but they will not! An as should make them politicians negotiate a compromise but they will not!”

“Oh but they will!” replied another, set close by the fire his face covered in bristle and part obscured by shadow, “Or we shall blow their precious Bastille up and mingle our blood with theirs in the doing of it!” and so the talk continued loud and ferocious for a spell before lulling into silence broken only by the sound of weapons being disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. But in the midst of all this industriousness and brooding introspection, there drifted hither and thither two men. Cloaked mostly in shadow, though, from time to time, their earnest faces were lit up by crimson flame, they walked amongst the workers stopping to talk briefly with first this one and then that one. Like ephemeral spirits they appeared to float from the grounds of the prison to its walls, their heads pressed close together. Until at length one of them cried out,”Yes I see it! I have it! Come with me!”.

The eyes of the silk mill workers follow the brisk quick steps of both men with something akin to hope, for it is none other than the Union Rep and an intrepid reporter lately returned from the Crimean War and t’is of this they are talking. “We can have no reason to regret our military losses against such a brutal and savage enemy. The war went hard against our men but they fought valiantly, most valiantly sir! T’is my only regret that as out numbered and out-gunned as we were, we could not carry the day and many brave lives were taken”.

The Union Rep shakes his head grimly and puffing hard on his pipe catches the eye of the newspaper reporter. There is neither humour nor anger in that gaze but it is cool and steady and it makes the intrepid reporter swallow, hard.

“We have talked at length of the strike and the riots and this siege of Newgate prison and yet always, always, you draw our conversation back to the charge of the Light Brigade. Out with it! What has the Crimean War to do with this strike?”

And so the intrepid reporter tells him of his sea voyage on the Resurgam and of his arrival at Sebastopol. He speaks of the pride and valour of war, of the desperate courage of the soldiers as they fought back wave after wave of Russian infantry. “They were like lambs to the slaughter! Done to death by the hissing fire of cannon, struck down by the murderous onslaught of grapeshot and cannister! Oh! They were heroic in battle! But they had not a chance, the Russians were too well equipped with cannon and gun!”. The reporter’s face was expressionless as he stuck his hand inside his shirt and pulled out a little brass gun plate and with it a photograph, these he handed to the Union Rep who stared at them hard in the half light of a camp fire.

Is it possible dear reader to describe the emotions that flitted in rapid succession over the Union Reps face? First, horror that a representative of the crown could be guilty of such heinous treachery. Then disbelief at the very notion of a politician profiting from the deaths of men he himself had helped send to war! Finally, triumphant glee for now he has a winning hand and there will be no more hangings nor transportations! Not after this! “Grid-Iron armaments?! Lord Grid-Iron supplied the cannon and guns the Russians used at the Crimea? Lord Grid-Iron?! But they say the man has gone missing!” he looked sharply at the intrepid reporter,

“Who else knows of this?” the young man blushed with rage, his eyes lit up with a dangerous fire, “Why only the man who put me here in this prison, till I should agree to change my story” the Union Rep smiled grimly, “Let me guess, it was Lord Palmerston? Then we have him at the rattle! If this story gets out it’ll bring the whole government down! Nathaniel Spate & Aggie Brandt to me!”. As if from nowhere the two silk mill workers materialise, weapons at the ready, “Aggie Brandt, I need you to get a message across to Lord Molesworth’s housekeeper! Nathaniel I need you to cut across to James Fitchett and here’s what you are to say”. He divulged his information to these trusted scouts and watched them closely as like him they first displayed horror and then implacable rage.

“But isn’t the prison being guarded?” asked the intrepid reporter, though in truth had he been a member of the under-classes he would have known,” The Bow Street police, the silk mill workers and the prison guards all have one thing in common, they’re all union. Nathaniel and Aggie will pass as easily through their ranks as if they were ghosts in the night!”

The Union Rep puffed on his pipe once more and chuckled for it seemed to him that the sweet smell of liberty was within his members grasp!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ACCESSIBILITY, Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, The Hearthlands of Darkness, Transported

A Visit To Master Turple-Sleath

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“Is that all?” silence met by a stolid face and a worst than indifferent demeanour,

“I say again is that all? Pray tell what do you stare at? Dommy Woodbine was an idle boy, an insolent lazy wretch not fit to dredge the streets let alone clean chimneys! D’you know how much I paid for that indolent swiveller? Two shillings! He has a sister you say? Mayhap I’ll be able to recoup my losses from her!”

Francis Page eyes the man as keenly as he has Lord Grid-Iron, for if ever there was a companion piece to him this man is it. A slaver of children, worst yet an educated slaver of children. Francis lets his eyes drop on the book case nearby the fireplace in which are lined up the works of Marx, Plato and Aristotle. The works of Shakespeare lie on a nearby wooden table with the page marked and open at the tale of ‘Timon of Athens’. Once a man of culture and of feeling then, now reduced to being nothing more than an ill-natured, alcohol soused, ruffian. Above the fireplace a plaque has been nailed to the coarse stone wall, it bears a coat of arms that is scarcely familiar to the gathered company, though Francis thinks he knows whose it is.

“That is the Elderberry coat of arms?” the master chimney sweep nods, a bitter look rests upon his face. “I was a Latin master once but no more, no more! I that taught the works of Homer and of Plato must now stuff brushes and boys up chimney stacks!”

“Latin master or no, at least you are alive!” Francis snarled,

“Alive? Alive? You call this living? Would a gentleman used to being master of his own fate and now mastered by it, think so? Would one used to having his opinions on the works of Cicero deferred to, say so? Living call you this? How I wished I had descended into the fires of hell that devoured that foolish boy!”

Bert, who had been sitting all the while in a murky corner of the lodgings, smiled grimly at Boodoo who with a curt nod got to his feet and left the room. Francis watched his departure then turned his attentions back to Master Turple-Sleath,

“So you admit to having stuffed young Dommy  Woodbine up a burning chimney?”

“T’weren’t burning when he climbed up it! T’was his laziness that rendered him into the crisp remnant that he became! Let us hope that his soul abides presently in heaven as mine can never hope to” throwing himself down upon a roughly hewn stool he drew up a tankard of gin, throwing his head back he bolted down its contents. He swiped his hand roughly across his mouth, reached once more for the earthen jug of gin on the table, filled his tankard to the brim and laughed. A series of hoarse, staccato sounds that made the hair on the nape of Bert’s neck stand on end. Is the man mad? Thought Bert, and if e is mad how can we justify murdering the varmint?

Francis Page pulled up a stool calmly and seated himself upon it, he pulled out his pistol, dismantled it and calmly cleaned it before putting it back together. He pulled out pristine bullet after bullet slowly and carefully loading his gun with them. When he had finished he looked up and saw that the villain now sat brooding in front of the fire. Glancing at the hunched ( and sobbing) figure of the Master Chimney Sweep, Francis had this to say,

“I have seen men reduced to brute beasts by their masters, but I don’t ever recall hearing of a child being burn’t alive by a master or even, by his own kind. Nor of a master deliberately withholding the means of his escape” he looked coldly at Master Turple-Sleath,”There is simply no profit in it” he whispered as he re-holstered his revolver. Seated there with his slender brown fingers clasped elegantly in front of him he waited, neither drinking nor smoking but simply observing the implacable, silent antagonism of Bert and the sullen man sat by the fire. The indomitable Francis Page would sooner have been at dinner, waiting hand & foot on the cursed Grid-Iron. For he had no love of blood-letting for blood-lettings sake, but as a Pinkerton agent it seemed clear to him that justice should prevail here.

But now, what was this? A series of sharp blunt knockings at the ill-hewn door till at last the door shudders, buckles inwards and a flood of begrimed, sooty faced boys tumble through the splintered wood and into the room. Indeed dear reader, one could think oneself mired in the cold depths of hell! What with the sooty begrimed faces of these belligerent beings, the gleaming, sharp edged chimney scrapers being held threateningly aloft, and worst of all that coarse and unbridled language, most foul in its utterance! Dare one sympathise with Master Turplesleath, who upon sighting these foaming mouthed imps cries out “No!” and then again “Oh God no!” before staggering back into a fetid corner of his room? Ah! But he tries to make his escape! Clambering up the chimney nook and reaching towards a recess carved into the side of the chimney, but like the hounds of Siberius they drag him down, falling upon him like a pack of wild dogs,for like Master Francis Page they too are ravenous for justice!

“So, we’ll be going then” says Bert dispassionately watching the chimney sweeps meting out that justice which they themselves had so plentifully experienced at the hands of their brutal master. “Yes indeed” replies Francis pulling on grey kid gloves and tilting his bowler hat upon his close shaven head. But Boodoo does not move, he has seen buildings crumble to dust midst a fire he has set, he has seen workers desperately flee a dynamited blaze. But he has rarely seen a sight such as this, enraged poverty devouring one of its oppressors, it makes him sad just as it makes him feel elated. Francis Page feels no sentiment what so ever, for there is still a terrorist conspiracy to be thwarted and an abduction to be carried out,”If we might be on our way gentlemen” whispers he, as he calmly steps through the shattered front door,”We still have much to do”.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Monsieur Hulperte

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“Singularly pleasing! Most, singularly pleasing!” commented Monsieur Hulperte as he inspected the kitchens of the Grid-Iron establishment and then the servants standing to attention in the middle of them. “You will please observe Mademoiselle LeFevre, that I operate a system in these kitchens, a system that is both singular and pleasing. It is most eagerly embraced by all who wish to continue to work here”. Monsieur Hulperte is Chef par excellence to Lord and Lady Grid-Iron. Being most notably the former cook to Lord and Lady Font-Le-Noy, he is considered the supreme font of all Haute Cuisine wisdom.

“Without this system, the world, our world, would fall apart, would cease to exist. And since we do not wish our world to fall apart we must adhere strictly to the system” Monsieur Hulperte smiles grimly and narrowing his eyes until they are almost slits he calls out,

“Madame Fluttock!”

“Yes, Monsieur!”

“What is that you are cooking?”

Sautéed Kedgeree if you please sir!” replies the good lady who had once herself been head cook at the Grid-Iron establishment.

“Kedgeree?! And what pray tell is that you are ‘sautéing it with?”

“Lard, sir” replies the cook nonchalantly taking a large dollop of the worker’s condiment and stirring it vigorously into the contents of the copper pan.

“Lard?”

Turkey Twizzler Lard, Sir” the servants glance at the former head cook and then at Monsieur Hulperte’s outraged expression, they try hard to stifle the grins which must needs keep popping up first on one face and then another, before being extinguished (on pain of losing one’s employ) altogether. “Where pray tell did you find it?”

“What?”

“The lard!”

“In the pantry sir, right alongside the butter!”

Monsieur Huppert lets out a horrified groan, a pale cream coloured palm flutters to his breast, he staggers against a marble work surface, “Kedgeree smothered in Turkey Twizzler Lard? For Brunch?”

“Tiz wot iz lor’ship asked for and what he asks for he gets!”

Madame Fluttock continues to briskly whisk the eggs, Kippers and lard, emptying the contents of the pan onto a tastefully ornamented plate, which she then covers with another plate and then a beautifully embroidered linen napkin. She hands the dish to Maggie Sitwell,

“Up to his lor’ship quick gel! Quick! Quick!”

“Ave you not heard of the system Mrs Fluttock?”

“Iz lor’ship asked for Kedgeree!”

“I ‘ad prepared a Poisson and Pea Amuse Bouche followed by a Chien Fettiere!”

“His lor’ship wanted Kedgeree!”

Madame Fluttock, the former cook to Lord Grid-Iron wipes her plump hands on a greasy apron. She folds them resolutely over her equally plump and formidable bosom. Her face is as calm and expressionless as Monsieur Hupperte’s is enraged and florid.

“This is unbearable, you are inconceivable! That you should countermand my wishes! Defy my system! And serve up Turkey Twizzler basted-“

Sautéed-”

“Basted! KEDGEREE!!!”

Snatching up first one plate and then another he hurls them with all his might at Madame Fluttock who ducks instinctively. Mademoiselle LeFevre, watching with mounting horror, wonders whose kitchen she has wandered into. Madame Fluttock meanwhile is too busy ducking out of the way of flying plates, to notice the kitchen door opening, and Mr James silently observing the unfurled mayhem.

“Foux! Gourmande! S-“

“Mr Huperte! You will compose yerself sir! Or you can find yerself a berth at the Spitalfields Workhouse! Mrs Fluttock! His lordship sends his compliments on yer Kedgeree; it’s the best he’s tasted yet! Back to bizness all of ye! Wots ye paid for?!”

I cannot stand this! I will leave!”

“You will not!! We’ll ave no scandal in this house Monsieur Hupperte! Back to work!”

Monsieur Hupperte contemplates sweeping out of the kitchens and up to his rooms, but then he surreptitiously eyes the bludger fastened to Mr Jame’s belt and thinks better of it.

“Mademoiselle LeFevre to me!” he shrieks tremulously and thus her first working day at the Grid-Iron establishment is begun. First the boiling and peeling of eggs, then the slow pouring over of Bechamel Sauce (after the egg yolks had been most tastefully arranged upon a bed of shredded egg white), then the delicate arranging of puff pastry leaves atop the sauce and finally, a systematic fine sprinkling of Parsley.

“Alors! Eggs a La Tripe finis! Her ladyship is fond of simple fare! Mademoiselle Sitwell! Take this upstairs please! Quickly! Now, let us prepare the Almond Soup! You are conversant with this dish are you not Mademoiselle LeFevre?” asks Monsieur Hulperte smiling contemptuously at Madame Fluttock, for it is obvious to him if not to everyone present, that she knows nothing about such cultured dishes.

“T’was a favourite at my previous establishment Monsieur Hulperte” replies Emily nervously, “Mace, Almonds and milk I think”

“Cloves, Almonds, Mace and cream! This is an upmarket establishment my dear! Now, we shall commence to prepare the dish like so…” He commences to add the ingredients to the beef stock with a degree of speed and adeptness that leaves the kitchen staff enthralled and gobsmacked. Dear reader with what elegance and eloquence, with what skill the Almond Soup is briskly prepared and surreptitiously set to one side. With what speed and attention to detail the Omelette L’herbe, Veal Cake and Asparagus Sauce are prepared. It is almost a mercy for Emily to be left alone to cook a simple cream custard to accompany the Almond Tarte. My! Such an abundance of food and an abundance of ways to cook it! The rich are ever with us! T’is the crowning miracle to crown all miracles, that the rich may reside (and even dine) cheek by jowl with the poor in the realm of haute cuisine. For half the kitchens in dear old London are populated by ‘French’ chefs born in the impoverished ‘rookeries’ of St Giles.

I require some more butter for the Feuilletage! Mademoiselle LeFevre, if you would be so kind?”

“We’ve plum run out of butter Monsieur Hulperte” Monsieur Hulperte rolled his eyes, imbecile la!

“Did they teach you nothing at your last establishment? The cold pantry mademoiselle, it is where milk, eggs and butter are stocked! Mademoiselle Maggie! Show er!”

“Yes Monsieur!”

To be freed from the torment of precise and systematic French Cuisine; to be able to walk though somewhat briskly, down a cool and draughty corridor what bliss! Or at least it should have been had Maggie not fainted on the way there.

”I can’t gawn like this I can’t! Up at the crack of dawn, cleaning out them fire places, scrubbing down them kitchen floors and scrubbing out them copper pans! I ain’t ‘ad a bite to eat since last night dinner time!”

She sobbed hysterically into her handkerchief as if her world was at an end, “There, there” murmured Emily sympathetically, ”Don’t go on so, you sit there for a bit, I’ll be back shortly” and having found and sliced off an adequate amount of butter, Emily LeFevre made her way back to the kitchen and to Monsieur Hulperte. Maggie sat there for some time, sobbing freely into her handkerchief and contemplating the great misfortune of sitting in a well-stocked pantry, whilst her family were starving to death at home. In fact the more she pondered this fact in her highly fraught state, the more unjust this seemed. Till, at length she found herself taking up a game pie and stuffing into her petticoats. In fact it is safe to say dear reader, that if Emily had not happened upon her desperately trying to rearrange her skirts around the pie things might have taken a distinctly nasty turn.

“Put the pie back my gel! If you get dismissed from your place who will feed your family?”

“Who’s feedin ‘em now? T’aint no use, they’re better orff without me!”

Maggie’ large eyes dwelt on the sobbing maid for some time, her face grew pale and then stern, putting a hand into her apron pocket she pulled out her well-thumbed Goveen testimonies, First my gel” she said,” you will have something to eat, and then you shall tell me what is wrong”.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Transported, Uncategorized

The Forsaken Brother

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T’was a long, wearisome night, dear reader and a fraught one. For had not Montaperti abandoned his ward in the midst of a raging fire, which he himself had set? And so, half-dragged to the docks, and then hauled aboard a longboat, the venerable Headmaster and Abilene Montaperti make their escape. Lying prone in the longboat they drift along, steering wide of the burning wax and tallow floating in patches upon the waters of the River Thames.

Oi oi! Look sharp Anansie! Peelers overhead! Sink low! Sink low all!“. The Headmaster does as he is bid, covering Abilene with his damp linen dressing gown and wrapping his arms around her to keep her warm. Little Anansie sliding as low as his little height (and seaman’s jacket) permits continues to helm the boat, steering it as near to the shore as he dares, given the burning wharves and the tallow. Anansie isn’t afraid of the little white men on the bridge, in their serge-blue uniforms with their shiny brass buttons, Anansie is afraid of no one. But he appreciates that his newly adopted father might not appreciate their interest in either him or their strange cargo.

“Helm left! Helm left mah boy! We’re almost home!”

“Yes’m Pa!”

Overhead, the London Bridge gleams almost as brightly as the waters below, in this hellish light it is possible to make out tiny figures running about and swinging their tiny beacons to and fro. Fire! They scream as infernal clouds of it blossom and bloom along the river banks. Fire! The likes of which has never been seen by Boodoo, let alone dreamt of by this sombre arsonist! Fire! And he perceives it not, yearns for it not! “Helm left Anansie! Left I said! That’s it my cove! Just so! Just there!” the boat slips quietly under the bridge and into the inky black darkness of the waters, travelling up towards Vauxhall.

“My mother bore me in the southern wild” whispers the Headmaster uneasily, observing the Negro child who in turn is observing him intently through glittering green eyes. He is not a little perturbed by the little black boy steering the boat. Given the circumstances, he ought not to give voice to his concern, and yet he can’t contain himself from asking,

“Where is its mother?”

“It matters not” replied Boodoo, keeping a lookout for river-rats, the water borne thieves littering the muddy shores of the River Thames, “e iz my son! Had it not bin for him you would have fallen foul of greater evil than ‘e is capable of! Steer rightwards mah boy!

“Yes’m Pa!”

“Quite so dear Boodoo, quite so” it has grown quiet on the river, so quiet that the esteemed Headmaster can hear only his own breath, mingled with the quiet sobbing of his sweet Abilene. The Scovell Warehouse fire is soon behind them and as Boodoo reaches down into the inky waters, pulling the longboat towards the shore and tying it to a private quay below, the Headmaster utters an audible sigh of relief.

“Anansie! Get them ashore!”

“Yes’m Papa!”

Clambering ashore, the strangely garbed child extends a hand to first one and then the other of the passengers flipping them dextrously ashore. “Follow me!” he cackles as he trails off the wharf and up the wooden staircase at a run. They follow, permitting him to lead them past a cluster of crumbing, tottering buildings, former silk mills brought to ruin by their owners abject refusal to agree terms with their workers. Down narrow begrimed alleyways they sidle, Anansie in front and Boodoo behind. And all the while around them, in the pitch dark, the industrious to-ing and fro-ing of Gonophs and Badgers; creeping in and out of the abandoned mills, and down to the river at speed. Carrying bundles of wax and tallow, brass and linen goods ‘purloined’ from the Thames.

“Tooley Street is a-flame!” they whisper excitedly, ”Tooley Street a-flame! Look to it my coves! Move fast!”

Picking their way amongst the silent, bustling crowds (who part like the red sea for Boodoo and his party), they find themselves standing in front of a lodging house.

“Where are we pray tell?”

“The Sapphire of Jhansi, Anansie lead on!

“Yes’m Papa!”

Down a wooden staircase they climb, and into a warm, brightly lit cellar, a freshly lit fire is burning at the rear of the room and in front of it, to an angle, lies a love-seat. The Headmaster and Abilene stagger towards it collapsing wordlessly into its plush embrace.

“Boodoo! Boodoo mah boy you’re back!” Bert is at once grateful for Boodoo’s reappearance. For news has reached him of the Tooley Street fire and he wondering if Boodoo has gone back to his old ways, knows by the look of him that this is not so. Bert notes the mingled look of concern and of rage on his face, as he glances towards the mucky looking gent and lady on the love-seat.

“Sinister goings-on?” he asks with misgiving, Boodoo nods glancing towards Abilene Montaperti and her beau,”The Scovell Warehouse is a-flame and Tooley Street with it!”

“T’was it you az set the fire?” Boodoo shook his head,

“Iz Lordship!”

“Iz lordship?! What Lord Montaperti?!” at the mention of that sinister nom de plume a moan arises from the love-seat, and such as threatens to evolve into a hysterical shriek. “There, there, my love” murmurs the Headmaster throwing a warning look toward Bert and Boodoo. “The Scovell Warehouse?” Bert whispers, “But the whole of Tooley Street is a-flame!” Boodoo shook his head sorrowfully, “Never seen a fire so badly set and with iz ward smack in the middle of it!”

“His ward? So its attempted murder then? ” Bert chuckled, “We need to pay him a visit!”

Boodoo grimaced; he had hoped that that part of his life was over,

”Anansie! Orf to bed with ye!”

“Yes’m Pa! Nite Mr Raddle-man!”

“Nite nite Anansie!” replies Bert watching the departing child with something akin to horror mingled with a growing fascination. For e knew not from whence the child had sprung, nor from whom. Save that one day he had gone out gonophing, and had returned to the lodging house to find Boodoo dandling a Negro child on his knee whom he declared to all and sundry was his son.

“Drawn from the fires of hell?” remarked someone and a good laugh would have been had all round, had not that ‘someone’ suddenly choked to death on a remnant of Turkey Twizzler. Similar accidents were had from time to time (the occasional heart attack and in one case instantaneous lock-jaw), as the residents of St-Martins-in-the-Fields acclimatized themselves to the fact that Boodoo had borne a Negro child. From thereon in the occupants of the lodging house took that as a marker, Boodoo the infernal arsonist had a son and nobody valuing their-selves dare say otherwise. But come dear reader, let us row ever backwards against the streams of time and pause to reflect upon that world which birthed such a child as Anansie LeFevre….

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Provehito In Altum or A Hanging At Newgate

BarnabyRudge“Hurrah for murder! Hurrah and I’ll say it again hurrah!”

“T’is a sign of the times of day when one may cry hurrah for ten shillings and a Newgate hanging Mr Marwood!”

“Oh! But did you examine her neck? Have you examined it Constable Qwinty?”

“Examined it?” asks Constable Qwinty,  for he is in the profession of collaring necks not examining them, and is hard pressed to recall exactly what Mistress Birtherugge’s neck looked like ere he arrested her for Bethilda Coram’s murder. “Examined it? Can’t say as I did or have since, is it prodigious long?”

Mr Marwood’s eyes roll back in his head, he clasps his hands to his chest and a brilliant smile lights up his face, as if he were caught in the throes of most joyous ecstasy. “Prodigious long? Prodigious long? Why sir it has the slender length and elegance of a swan’s neck! T’is a graceful neck, a neck ripe for stretching!”. There is a strong length of rope in his hands which he has carefully knotted, and which will be fitted to the gallows in due course. “See these hands sir? See their strength? That come from tying bunches of Broccoli at Spitalsfield’s market sir! If ever there was a neck I was born to stretch this is it sir! This is it! Oh hurrah for murder! Hurrah! Hurrah!”.

Constable Qwinty is shocked for whilst he can well see why ten shillings in these straitened times would give rise to such joy, he cannot comprehend how execution for execution’s sake might hold one in such a thrall, t’is nigh on degenerate!

A’las, then, for the festive atmosphere attending this sombre event,

“Well, this is a grim pleasure! A festive day out complete with a hanging! Turkey Twizzler Fricasee Master Fluttock?” asks Billy Porter looking cheerfully about him at the festivities on view but Master Fluttock shakes his head. He casts a mournful look upon the gallows from which, in the next hour, Mistress Birthe-Rugge was sure to hang. T’was a grim state of affairs to be sure, a Foundling  Hospital orphan who had managed to survive being thrown on a garbage heap at birth, yet had fallen foul of the depravities of a lunatic midwife. T’was a terrible, terrible, state of affairs to have taken place in the sanctuary of the Spitalfield’s Workhouse.

“Oh Sweet Birthe-Rugge don’t you cry for me! I’ll prance in the sun once yer neck is hung & so go in to tea!” chants one ruffian swinging a giggling, rosy cheeked damsel round by her waist.”Ooooh Milty you are a card!” cries another clapping her hands with delight at the humour of it all. A sweet natured damsel no doubt on any other day than this, but now the crude humour vaunted at her by various grimy predicatorial types and her bawdy ripostes, seem indelicate. The sun is up on this cold winter’s day as if in celebration at the impending demise of one who had ushered in new life with much cold hearted precision. Would that she had applied the same sentiments (or lack thereof) to the nurturing and nourishing of her apprentices!

“Flayed to bits and whipped to ribbons! I eard er Billy! Bethilda Coram! I eard er cryin out, weepin and blubberin and I did nothing! T’will stay with me till the day I die! That poor soul! That poor, poor soul!” Master Fluttock is grief stricken, tears stream down his cheeks in spite of the sun glinting on with gleeful relish, in spite of the festivities that surround him. Billy Porter raises an eyebrow, checks his pocket watch, nibbles on his cured Turkey Twizzler Stick, says nothing. For what is there to say?

“She died as she had lived, a villain, a lie was in her mouth, piece be to her ashes, we war not with the dead” So says a reporter from the Triune Observer, a most fastidiously moral paper. Inspector Depta off duty on this one instance, observes the celebrations proceeding apace around him and wonders who it was that said, ‘Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes emollit mores nec sinit esse feros’. For they’d find no adherers to that tenet here! Gradually the numbers surrounding the gallows increase as does the hubbub of jocular conversation. Barbecue Twizzler sellers move amongst the people packing their pockets with profits and the mobs mouths with food. Blowens half-drunk on prodigious quantities of gin stagger hither and thither kicking up a riot with their gin-fuelled raucous cries of ‘Oi Mistress Birthe-Rugge save a seat for me in hell!”. One has slipped sideways in the crowd and now lies with her skirts over her head and her colourful bloomers on display. Whoops of delight soar through the air at the sight, the Inspector finds himself reaching for his bludger and coshing a distasteful todger (who has attempted to dive beneath her skirts) on the head,

“Oi! You!” he bellows, “We’re ‘avin none of that in ere! You want to do that find a bawd’s rookery! This, mate, is a public hangin, orf with ye! Go on! Hook it!”

The would-be amoureuse staggers off, a look of mingled hatred and fear on his face and a rising bump on his head. Inspector Depta is pleased, he ain’t expecting to be loved, not as a member of the detective police. He does expect though that the general public, his general public should abide by the etiquette of public hangings! “Make way! Make way! Coming through!”. Mr Marwood nimbly clambers a-top the scaffolding platform, sturdy rope in muscular hand. Once there he struts to and fro before the crowd, he smiles, he bows. Slender and wiry and most elegantly dressed in crow-black, his morning jacket gleams most expensively. Inspector Depta perceives there is a great deal of money to made out of a hanging…for some. Bethilda Coram’s Grandmother has received her butchered corpse, the commiserations of the judge and little else. Indeed were it not for the generosity of  Master Deacon, the child would have lain in a pauper’s plywood coffin, tossed carelessly in a pauper’s grave.

“Good eve Inspectah Deptah! T’is a terrible morning” moans Master Fluttock, twisting and untwisting his hands most mournfully,”Indeed” replies the inspector unmoved.

“Oh how I wish, how I wish I could ave done something!”

“Indeed” replies the inspector again before adding coldly, “The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe ain’t ere is e?” Master Fluttock shakes his head. “T’is a dreadful pity being as we found five more corpses buried deep, in that pig yard, where we found Bethilda’s body. she’s ad wot, one apprentice every three years? Two this year? That’s seven apprentices disappeared over the entire fifteen years Ethelbert-Smythe has been in charge”. A light goes on in the old man’s head and he starts to look a tiny bit more cheerful, “You saying he knew something orf it?”

The inspector proffers a wide shark like grin,”He must have known, even if he didn’t there is still the matter of them disappearing Cholera patients to consider. Fancy a tipple of Gin and a flambéed Turkey Twizzler? She ain’t coming out to be hung for some time yet!”. The old man jerks his head in reply, and arm in arm with the Inspector wanders off through the crowds and down to the ‘Sapphire of Jhansi’ Tavern.

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

The Trials of Little Bertha

Guy_Seymour_Joseph_The_Crossing_Sweeper

 

“Please sir can you tell me how to get to Corinth Street?”

“I can but it is a very long way away from here my child, tell me, where have you come from?”

“I cannot say sir, t’is a secret” she replied most earnestly, looking up at me.

I must confess that I was most surprised to find myself addressed so in the early hours of the morning, when so many are scarce awake. I myself having found the idea of sleep an anathema, betook myself to walk at leisure and at length through the numerous byways, and highways, that comprise the rookeries of St Giles. It is my profession, and though I was at present, not on duty, I betook myself to walk them still, knowing that I would do so undisturbed by the usual terrors that might befall a more innocent passer-by. 

“Where are you headed my child?” for indeed an innocent child she was, though her dress was sparse for this season and somewhat meagre. “To the old curiosity shop sir, is it far from here?” I indicated that it was not, though in truth it was quite some distance from the street on which we were standing. For you see the child having inquired so softly and so sweetly of me reminded me of a sweeter, far purer time and place and I was desirous of extending that brief pleasure a little longer.

Looking earnestly at me once more, the little girl placed her tiny frozen hand in mine and we continued on our way.

“Pray child what made you inquire your way of me? What if I led you astray?”

“But you will not do that sir” she replied, “For you have a look of kindness and gentleness about you and besides” she added,”I know you to be Inspector Depta, my papa pointed you out to me before sir, as you passed our shop window. He said t’was you who rescued Lyca McKillen and returned her to her uncle sir”

“Did he?”

“Indeed yes”

The little girl trudged along beside me, her little figure trembling from time to time because of the cold and the wet (for it had been raining). As we passed through street after street drawing ever nearer to her home, she became by degrees more at ease with me, skipping along by my side and chattering away merrily all the while. Once we arrived at streets which were familiar to her, she let go of my hand skipping merrily ahead, until she reached the steps of a crooked wooden door, set into an impoverished looking shop front. Waiting for me to join her she knocked thrice upon that door, and then presently a faint light was seen to appear in the shop window, it was soon joined by the wizened face of an elderly gent leaning upon a gnarled walking stick. T’was a wonder how he came to the door so quickly, for as he opened the front door and hobbled away through the shop, I perceived that he had a wooden leg. A startled look of pleasure crossed the old man’s face at the sight of me which quite surprised me, since most impoverished inhabitants of Pater London greet my presence with either looks of grim foreboding or outright belligerence mostly.

“Well and good morning Inspector, pray, come in, come in!I was worried about the lateness of my little girl but I see she had you to keep her safe! I cannot thank you enough! Please sir, take a seat, will you partake of a little breakfast?”

The old man placed a chair by the fire and bade me sit in it, whilst the little girl having warmed her hands at the fire proceeded to skip to and fro preparing my breakfast. I enquired of the old man whether he mightn’t have taken more care with his grand-daughter’s safety, informing him that it was at such times as these that kidnappers of little girls were abroad.

“I would have made the journey to the loan shark myself” he replied, “Only you see that I am incommoded by my disability,my little Bertha is all the world to me, I would sooner cut off my other leg than to lose her”

“T’is a source of much displeasure to myself” I continued, “When I see children forced to embrace the miseries of adulthood at so young an age. To taint a child’s innocence and purity so young, t’is unconscionable!”. The old man looked a very picture of sadness as I said this, but he did not have time to respond to my assertions. For at that moment there was a brutal knock at the front door and a brusque voice cried out, 

“Master Snickersby! Master Snickersby! Is you in? Open that front door or by Sweet Gove I will kick it down! Master Snickersby!” looking towards the front door the old man shuddered, he looked towards little Bertha, “Did you give him the money as I bid you?”

“Yes grandfather” the little girl tearfully replied, the timidity and the terror in the child’s face confirmed all she said. As she tremblingly placed my bread and butter on the table before me, I resolved to secret myself in a little nook of the shop and take a closer look at this loan shark. Seeing how the very sound of his voice brought terror upon the old man and his little charge, I resolved to catch him unaware as he entered the shop and then have at him!

Hobbling to the front door the old man soon opened it and another swiftly entered the shop and without bothering to look around took up my seat before the fire. “Well, well” he said looking slyly at the little girl,”If it ain’t little Bertha,you got home quick my girl! Look at you all warmed up! Ain’t you and your papa all nice and cosy in your little shop!”. A more ill-favoured cove I don’t believe my eyes ever alighted on, for his hard little face and currant bun eyes bespoke a gentleman whose graceless ways had put many an unfortunate soul behind bars.

“Bertha put your night dress on!” said the old man grimly and the little girl, trembling from head to foot, disappeared from the shop. “Do you remember me sir?” enquired the beady eyed miscreant, darting a quick glance towards the nook in which I was hiding the old man nodded,”Do you remember our arrangement sir?” again the old man nodded.

“Six shillings a month was the arrangement sir, six mere shillings and you sir have only paid four. Do you recall the penalties of our arrangement sir?”

“Six shillings, to be paid on the first day of each month or you will foreclose on my business”

The old man looked singularly distressed and as his pale blue eyes filled with unspilt tears I felt my fists tighten by my side, but worse was to follow. For the gnarly-faced malignant lashed out with his foot catching the old man’s wooden leg and knocking him to the ground,”If it weren’t for me you’d be taking up a berth at Spitalsfield Workhouse, as it is you’re barely earning minimum wage working ere! Make no mistake you old todger! Give me my money or leave the shop!”

There was an indomitable look of pleasure on his face as he watched the old man crawl away sobbing. I don’t believe my eyes have ever alighted on a more worthy case for a beating but reining myself in I stepped forth from the shadows and clearing my throat audibly I said, “Good morning Mr Whilp!”

“Is it?” replied the loan shark savagely, “I can’t say either way at present and I ain’t broke no law either! So I’ll bid you farewell and see you on your way officer!”. The greasy haired scoundrel made as if he didn’t know who I was, so I refreshed his memory a bit, jerking him up by the scruff of his collar I dragged him towards the front door. He had previously entered that front door of his own free will but now I shoved him through it so roughly that he stumbled and fell onto the cobblestoned pavement. “The name is Inspector Depta! Of the Bow Street Police!” said I, “An a more iniquitous scoundrel I don’t think I ave ever laid eyes on! Expose that poor sweet child to your brutish inclinations will you? Turn er out onto the street will you?”. I waved my bludger threateningly in his face and though he cast around for some human protection there was none, it was too early in the morning for that. Clambering away from me and to his feet he dusted off his grimy morning coat, replaced his crooked top hat and scampering off he said,”I’ll be back!” and I didn’t doubt that he’d try.

I re-entered the little shop in time to see the old man helped to his feet by the little girl,”Now then” says I, “Where’s my breakfast?”.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

An Enchantress Of Indelicate Blood

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‘Ah! Light lovely lady with delicate lips aglow

With breast more white than a heavy-laden branch of snow,

When my hand was uplifted at Mass to salute the Host,

I looked at you at once and half of my soul was lost’

-Anon

One can no more describe the effect the sun’s rays have on the fragile petals of an Anthurium. Than one can the effect of two handsome women, at leisure and walking arm in arm through Kew Gardens in the early morn. The Arboretums are lush and fragrant at this time of year and the alluring scent of the Magnolia trees, causes them to wander wistfully through its drooping blooms. Garbed in wine coloured velvet and lace, Lady Grid-Iron is a vision to behold, small wonder then that she has caught the eye of many a perambulating gentleman. Mrs Cassiopeia-Thickett, with her demure manner and graceful carriage, is a regular feature of the gardens at Kew. Famed for her riveting performances as Orphelia in Hamlet and Calpurnia in Julius Caesar; Rose Cassiopeia-Thickett is that improbable event, an adventuress of impeccable reputation.

“I am followed, flattered and caressed. I am most certainly the taste of the other sex in London. I have flowers, cards and compliments in profusion and yet, alas, only one devoted lover”

“Only one?” replies Kitty Grid-Iron hanging on her every word,

“A Mr Reuben Gantry, a most singular and devoted beau. I am presented with his calling card at eight in the evening, he dines with me till nine and by ten he is gone”

“Two hours stay each time?”

“Precisely two hours on most days”

“Most days?”

“Yes, Thursday past being the exception to that rule”

“Did you find out where he’d gone?”

“By degrees,on that day he went to Turkles, wherein he spent the better part of the morning, before paying a visit to Mr Geraghty”

“Seamus Geraghty’s uncle? He’s the Manager of the Theatre Royal, so I’m told”

Rose Cassiopeia-Thickett, American spy and Pinkerton detective, files her weekly report on the comings and goings of Reuben Gantry to and from the Kane-Thickett household. But it would not do to phrase her report in such clear terms, after all one never knows who may be listening.

“We perform Monsieur Boucicault’s work at the Theatre Royal on Friday week”

“A theatrical production of The Octoroon? Here? In London?”

“It will be a most grand affair my dear, so au courant! T’is rumoured that Queen Victoria will be in attendance and that she in turn will be accompanied by the American Ambassador and one other, an Illinois gentleman, a lawyer, of sorts, an Abe Lincoln?”

Lady Grid-Iron looks singularly pleased, Jedidiah Kane-Thickett’s sudden flight to England had been greeted with much suspicion by Mr Pinkerton. For no more could a secessionist leopard change it’s spots than a Molly Maguire his political convictions! It had come as no surprise to him to learn that this barbarous slaver of men, this errant plantation owning southern rabble rouser, should conspire to blow up the Theatre Royal. What intrigued Mr Pinkerton was why and now Kitty Grid-Iron knew, an execution was a-foot! The attempted murder of a fervent abolitionist, an Illinois gentleman of sorts. That the Empress of India’s life might be in danger was regrettable; but that would be as nothing to the hell on earth that would be unleashed if Kane-Thickett worked his evil will.

“So, the conspiracy thickens! What of Mr Cochrane?”

“He and Mr Breeze watch over Gantry with more care, more solicitude than a mother weaning her child. Why, had I a newborn child I could not wish them in better hands! No matter the schemes my brother has embroiled himself in, we shall surely learn of them a’fore the game is afoot!”

Rose Thickett’s brown eyes glitter fiercely and her heart shaped face, beautiful in repose, takes on a harsh aspect. Her olive coloured complexion makes all who know her, mistake her for a European of Mediterranean descent. But she is American, a daughter of the revolution, a skilled agent provocateur, a native of the wild, uncharted slave-free frontiers of Kansas. Her mother, Lucia Furste, borne a slave, had fallen passionately in love with James William Thickett, plantation owner and beloved elder son of Caleb Thickett. But alas! There’s was an ill-fated match! Once Caleb Thickett found out who his son had married, he drew upon his revolver, flying into a rage so murderous James was lucky to have survived it. Under cover of darkness and via the underground railway, the girl was sent north to Kansas where she would in time give birth to Rose.

“And how does married life find you?” Rose was curious for though she had spied on men for political advantage she had yet to marry a man in order to abduct him.

Lady Grid-Iron rolled her eyes, “I find I manage it tolerable well” she said, “we are together at brunch and if I am lucky dinner. The rest of the time he is the solicitous obsession of Mr Page who would abduct him tomorrow if he believed it would bring an end to his self-enforced servitude”

“Are you certain Lord Grid-Iron had a hand in arming those secessionists?” chuckling mirthlessly, Lady Grid-Iron makes her reply,

Are you certain that Jedidiah Kane-Thickett aims to blow the Theatre Royal to smithereens, in order to murder one Illinois lawyer?”

Rose Cassiopeia-Thickett smiled but the smile was without humour, “A man who sponsored the massacre of Marais de Cygne because its people were opposed to the barbarous inclinations of the south? Such a man, held in thrall to the depravities of such a barbarous institution as slavery is capable of anything!”

As they glide on towards the Victoriana hot house, Rose thinks she espies a stocky figure ducking behind the trunk of a Magnolia tree. It could be her imagination except that she senses that she has twice espied that same silhouette, once on her way into the gardens and again as they had passed down Victoria Way and into the Arboretum.

“We’re being followed”

“Yes, he’s been with us for some time”

“Have you a pistol?”

“Don’t think there’s a need, for one, it would draw needless attention to us and for another the aimless fool appears to be Mr Fitchett, my butler”

“What? Following us? Is he mad?”

“No, he’s a fool, I think he means to save Tobias from undisclosed scandal by keeping an eye on where I roam”

“But who is running the household while he’s away?”

Kitty Grid-Iron laughed loudly, indeed her laughter was so thunderous that she startled many a perambulating personage and drew many disapproving stares.

“Who do you think? The workers run themselves my dear, they always have!”

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