“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”.