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!”
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!”
“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!”
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!”
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?! 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….