“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.