The sun has risen and set and risen and set yet again ere the carriage ferrying Lady Hesketh-Elderberry reaches St Bacchanalia’s Asylum. As it passes through Grodden Parnock, the evening has fallen into its dotage and a scarlet tinged twilight has fallen.
“Lift the shutter Anansi, what is it you see?”
“Heathland Missis Hesketh! Miles and miles of it, all brown and yellowish! Tis sickly looking!”
Lady Hesketh-Elderberry’s eyes are full of fearful misgiving, so! They were almost there! Grodden Parnock, home of Iron-Slitting and Mole-Trouser-Stretching bade them welcome; with its howling winds and vast tracts of sickly looking heathland.
“We are but half a mile from St Bacchanalia!” whispered Lady Hesketh as the carriage rolled on, all has sunk blooding to sleep upon the heathlands, and yet Anansi and Lady Hesketh sense they are being watched.
“Missis Hesketh” whispers Anansi his eyes wide with fear, “It feel like we being watched” Lady Hesketh nodded, she had heard of the sinister practices of the brotherhood, “Tis the Goveen way, the roads to and from St Bacchanalia’s are watched day and night by the guardians of the asylum!”
The vast tracts of heathland grow darker and more oppressive looking by the minute. Darkness glowers over the swamplands of Brume Polder, tis the place where dozens of apprentices drowned, and hundreds contracted Scarlet Fever. Twas this appalling scandal that prompted Lady Hesketh-Elderberry to open a dozen or so ragged schools. To think that her nephew, the villainous ingrate, intended to close them all! Oh that she were back in London and able to fight for her schools tooth and nail! Twas all she asked! Tears welled up in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, how fortunate that Anansi should be there to comfort her with his much used hanky!
Evening having tumbled away into darkest night the carriage rumbles ever onwards, whipped on by the ferocity of the driver and the efforts of the near exhausted horses. Till at length the carriage halts and a gruff voice calls out,
“Who goes there?”
“Tis I Brother Adam, I have another loon bound for the asylum!”
“Pass in peace brother! May the essence of St Gove be with thee!”
Peeking out of the window Anansi espied the great wrought iron gates creaking slowly open, now he spied his chance!” Now Missis Hesketh” he whispered as he gently patted the stricken noble lady’s hand, ” Don’t struggle none with them! Jus do as they say I gon be right there wid you!” after placing the gag back over her mouth and binding her hands Anansi slid out of the carriage, passing through the carriage gates as quietly as a crocodile gliding through the waters of a New Orleans Bayou.
A lesser boy would have blanched at the notion of entering such a terrible place, but Anansi was born and bred of a Hoodoo mother, an ill-fated soul unlucky in love, and he did not frighten easily. You must believe me dear reader, when I say that this child had seen things that would have made the blood of the average churchgoer run cold!
Now lingering a little behind the carriage as it passes swiftly through the gates and now running alongside it crouched low, Anansi follows it closely till it stops at the rear of the asylum, where vast ebony wood doors are thrown open and a tall ornately robed gentleman strides forth.
“Ho there Brother Daedalus!What is this we have here?”
“Tis the Duchess of Albermarre your reverence!”
“What? Another Hesketh-Elderberry to join our happy band! Good, good! Have the loon brought forth!”
Father Cicero, for that is his name, is so delighted with the asylum’s latest acquisition that he dances up to the carriage calling loudly for Brothers Beneficio and Jean-Baptiste to ‘please attend upon the patient’. This they duly do, shuffling swiftly towards the carriage and manhandling the terrified philanthropist with as much delicacy as is due a lunatic member of the English aristocracy.
Anansi watches all of this with rapt attention until, with their backs turned fully upon him, he is able to step nimbly across the grounds and swiftly through the doors of the asylum. How many well-written tomes may suffice to explain the horrors resident within? How to convey the despair and desolation of aristocratic kith and kin bound up in this place? Dear reader, I cannot, and as to the revelatory experiences Lady Hesketh-Elderberry found herself exposed to therein, suffice it to say that she who believed herself cabined and cribbed, soon found that much good may be done for others, in the midst of most dire and distressing circumstance.
“See there, the six shot revolving cylinder and there the small striking pin?”
Lord Wilberforce is enraptured by the little steel signet ring to which the miniature revolving gun cylinder is affixed.
“T’is a ‘Petit Protector’ invented by Master Casimir LeFracheux, I am told Lord Everard Hesketh-Elderberry wore this one on the night he shot his steward! Apparently the old scroat denied him access to his own money!
“Lord Everard was hung wasn’t he? Hung for want of good manners and a full purse?” “Dear nephew” replied Lord Wilberforce, “They made a servant the trustee to his master’s finances! A servant put in charge of his master’s purse strings? A parlous state of affairs! Was he to have shared the marital bed too?”
“Lord Everard was a rabid epicurean whose dissipation threatened to ruin the entire family, his children fled the family home as soon as they could walk, and his wife died a piteous wreck, addicted to the Whisky she had learned to imbibe from the profligate who married her. I am told the hanging was a scandalous affair, no remorse, no apology, he made a riotous end, and that in front of his inferiors! T’was a repugnant mater from start to finish!”
“Twas the stuff of legend! The servants certainly gossiped and laughed over it a great deal when I was a boy!”
“But were not you raised in the Dowager’s household? I can’t think she would’ve allowed such talk?”
With what dark look of triumph is that remark greeted!
“The old goat sought moral probity in all things, she sought to get the better of me and rear me according to her expectations but in the end” said he,”I got the better of her”. Lord Elderberry had not the slightest idea what he might mean by that, but so sinister was the import that the hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end. An elderly man with elegant streaks of gray in his shoulder length hair and the hawk like profile of an aristocrat, tis scarce to believed he is a loon, tis most perturbing. A family loon at that, tis beyond imagining!
Yet, here he and the loon sit, smoking Cuban Cigars and quaffing Port!
They had spent the better part of the morning admiring the retributive qualities of England’s Criminal Courts, they had seen a hanging or three handed down at sentencing at the Old Bailey Courts. They had watched as the condemned swore, shrieked. One, a Portuguese dock worker, fell into a swoon as if the rope were round his neck already, all these distressing sights and sounds Lord Wilberforce absorbed and enjoyed avidly.
Lord Elderberry on the other hand, found the surroundings seedy, the inmates of Newgate Prison offensive in manners and smell, and the hysteria of the dockworker most tawdry. It had been his uncle’s request that they visit Newgate and he assented merely to keep him from visiting the Seven Dials instead.
“Remarkable! Most remarkable! See how he tears at his hair with tears in his eyes! Real tears my boy as if for all the world he were generally sorry! A remarkable performer!”
“Can such a one be capable of duplicity when faced with the prospect of death? Should he not be thinking of what punishments lie beyond this life and await him in the next life?”
Lord Wilberforce rolled his eyes, he recalled perfectly the hour in which he confessed to his papa his part in the demise of the Dowager Hesketh, he had sobbed and wrung his hands like a true penitent, even so they knew he had not meant it, genuine remorse had been beyond him, it still was.
“One may cry out to the very heavens for forgiveness and truly not wish to be forgiven! See how he sobs and berates God to intervene on his behalf, and yet his eyes are as dry as the Deserts of Sinai! Does he regret that he robbed and murdered? I think not, does he regret that his life must be so precipitously ended? Of course he does!” Lord Wilberforce chuckled as the Spaniard crying out for mercy received none and instead was hoisted down to the cells which lay below the court.
They had dined at Lord Elderberry’s club where Lord Wilberforce had engaged the head waiter in conversation and asked if he still served Filet of Turkey Twizzler done in a brandy sauce,
” Tis forbidden M’Lord, not since the Grid-Iron Riots have we served such a dish!”
“The Grid-Iron Riots?” Lord Wilberforce was nonplussed, had Lord Grid-Iron fallen into scandal then? Coughing gently Lord Elderberry moved the conversation on to that of Roast Pheasant,
“We have a plentiful supply of Roast Pheasant M’Lord, for two?” he looked questioningly at Lord Wilberforce whose face seemed very familiar to him for some reason.
“For two Boodle,accompanied by your most excellent roast parsnips”
“M’Lord” Master Boodle bowed gravely but not before he’d favoured Lord Wilberforce with a sharp look, to talk of Filet of Turkey Twizzler in this gentleman’s club was not the done thing.
Lord Elderberry had consciously chosen to lunch at that time of the day when few other gentleman members would be present, indeed the fewer the better.
“I have endured a time of much trial but now I trust my woes are over and I may, in part, return to the life I once knew”
“In part” replied Lord Elderberry duplicitously,
“I do not mean that I wish to enter into society as I once did” continued Lord Wilberforce “a dozen scandals bearing my name have long since barred that path to me, but to be able to enjoy the company of a select few.
To have the freedom to indulge those few hobbies with which I am acquainted” a peculiar expression crossed Lord Wilberforce’s face as he said this, an expression that so far as Lord Elderberry was concerned could only bode ill. Meant Lord Wilberforce to resume his murderous taxidermy practices?
“I trust that you will avail yourself of my hospitality for at least as long as it will take Montaperti to discretely lease appropriate property on your behalf?” replied Lord Elderberry.
“Discretion is key” said Lord Wilberforce glancing at his nephew with a keen eye “To be able to discretely entertain one’s friends and indulge one’s proclivities, yes, discretion! I count myself fortunate to have a nephew such as you, and I most gladly accept the hospitality you offer”
Lord Elderberry shuddered, Sweet Gove! Discretion!The man was the very antithesis of it! To have only recently escaped from a lunatic asylum, and then to demand a tour of Newgate Prison and the Old Bailey?! Why only now did he (Lord Elderberry), rue having committed his sane aunt to an insane asylum! But for the two million sterling, he’d have her brought back and let her manage the scandal-smirched loon who was his uncle! But t’was too late now, and he must keep hold of his nerve long enough to place his uncle in the hands of the Goveen Brotherhood, whom he desperately hoped would dispatch him swiftly from this world and pitch him mercilessly into the next (wherever that was!).
“Shall we drink to the end of all trials and your excellent prospects uncle?”
“Indeed we shall! To my excellent prospects and your good health!” Lord Wilberforce exclaimed as he wondered whom he would murder and taxidermy first, Lord Elderberry or the smug, self-righteous prison librarian.
The sky was clear and the sun rose brightly and most placidly. T’was a time of wisdom, t’was an age of stubborn recklessness (drenched in gin!). T’was a period of unbridled villainy (accompanied by the most intransigent iniquities!), t’was an era of most shocking and depredatory calumnies. T’was an epoch of base depravity, t’was the season of iniquitous and unremorseful degeneracy!
T’was the semblance of the template of outer darkness (that which is referred to in the Revelations of that good book which the Goveen Brotherhood has so obdurately cast aside). That outer darkness in which there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth in repentance, t’is the interior of Newgate Prison. Only recently has hanging ad nauseum been done away with, and a much more humane treatment of the prisoner advocated.
Hence the imposition of voluntary solitary confinement and the introduction of studies in literature. In their beneficence the prison board have even employed a librarian, a Florence Nightingale of Culture, to deliver much received cultural wisdom (as well as the books) to those inmates requesting it and to those who have not.
“If you would but walk this way sirs, you will see a most excellent example of that which a few leaves of a leather bound copy of Plato’s Republic can achieve”
T’was ever the face of his lordships guide more pure of purpose and so all the more radiant? One wonders what could have come over the prison governor, to have allowed a damsel as pure and untainted as this, unfettered access to those whom some would liken to the denizens of the fifth inner circle of hell.
“Galahad! Galahad come forth!”
Galahad does indeed come forth sullenly at first and most eagerly once he discovers who it is who has called him forth, she of the patented boots and dainty ankles! Was ever Vulcan, blacksmith to the gods, more powerfully wrought? With muscular arms ending barely above the knees, and a sinewy back massive enough to obscure terrors most horribly wrought upon his victims in the dead of night, who could think that here lay a scholar of Plato? Of Pericles? Of Homer even? But he has read these and more.
“How are you this good morn?” the lady asks the domesticated soul most gently, as gently as if she were communing with her mother. Galahad’s small brown eyes rest upon those dainty ankles (barely to be seen above the boots) of his enquirer as gently as a set of light fingertips. T’is most disconcerting for Lord Elderberry to behold but Lord Wilberforce finds himself most entertained.
“I am good this morn miss, much better than I was the night afore last” he would say more, eager as he is to form a more intimate acquaintance with this angel of the Newgate wards, but the prison guard close armed with a most hefty bludger deters him.
“How do you find Plato Galahad?”
“I confess myself to be rather like Polemarchus missis” says Galahad looking anxiously at the prison guard close by him “I cannot eat I cannot drink for the scarcity of charmed conversation”.
The Florence Nightingale of Newgate Prison smilingly exhorts Galahad to continue on with his reading, for much study of Plato elevates the soul, and so the reformed Galahad is led sullenly back to the dark interior of his cell.
“I have heard tell of this inmate, is he not the Kennington Counterfeit?” asks Lord Wilberforce
“I heard when he was taken they found enough counterfeit coins under his bed to have stocked the counting houses of Lloyds!”
“T’is he” affirmed the prison guard morosely, ” But that t’weren’t all they found! There was pairs and pairs of patented ankle boots and of course” he looked disapprovingly at the librarian who stood a vision of radiant, petticoated womanhood “What was in em, but they couldn’t prove as he was the culprit and so they done him for counterfeiting”.
Took for murder but done for counterfeiting and now studying Plato! Lord Wilberforce glancing at the face of his host, a vision of innocence if ever there was one, suppresses the urge to roar with laughter. His host glancing suspiciously at him, continues her tour.
“Many arrive here in a most brutal and savage state, they display little if any remorse for the cruel deeds they have perpetrated against their victims. It can take many, many months of rehabilitation and indeed much study before they can be made to see the error of their ways.”
The cell they arrive at next contains a gentleman whose tall slender form and placid face fit well the notion of reformed criminality. There is an air of grandfatherly benevolence about him that is further reinforced by the horn rimmed spectacles perched a-top his nose. Once he was a most shocking example of the depths to which a life mired in depravity will drag you, but now he is reformed.
“Lucius a good morning to you, what is it you have their in your hand?”
“Good morning to you miss, tis a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy”
“This copy was sent to you? Tis not to be found in the prison library”
“T’was sent missis by a very old friend”
“Which part is it you read?” the librarian is intrigued, for one who has spent a decade in solitary confinement Lucius has selected very sophisticated reading material,
“Canto Six, of that part titled, Paradise, Miss”
“And what do you think of it?” she enquires loudly, for tis often the case that those who have spent any measure of time in solitary confinement, complain of deafness.
“I think it is all very well for literary folk to talk of paradise and yet avoid talk of duty and honour! I think that they know not by what ends paradise is achieved.”
“The book is six centuries old Lucius, and well worth the perusal, I am certain that you will find something there you approve of”
“I feel certain I shall, in time” replies Lucius and with a courtly bow he retreats into the sanctuary of his cell. The prison guard glances at him doubtfully, for if ever there was a denizen of hell tis he.
“Gentlemen if you would with me?” like the cherubim of God the librarian casts pools of light about her, as she travels each corridor of the prison, bestowing here a smile and there a copy of Homer’s Odyssey or The Decameron, of Pericles Speeches or Plato’s Republic. Rarely are any of the books returned with the muttering of an oath or flung back at her accompanied by a curse. In part this is because of the vicious beatings which must accompany such displays of ungentlemanly behavior and in part it is the maternal grace with which the prison librarian liberally bestows her gifts. Lord Elderberry finds himself much taken with this angel of grace whose slender form bound up in a navy blue gown makes her even more alluring to him.
“Do they keep you here all week? Have you no recourse to sunlight to fresh air?”
“Not all week, I am an employee of the British Museum I am lent here three days a week”
“Oh” replies his lordship surreptitiously,
“Well, well!” cried Lord Wilberforce once they were through the prison gates “Hardly enlightening but most entertaining!”
and so both lordships entered their Brougham Carriage thoroughly stimulated, and yet none the wiser as to why men impoverished by their position in society, ought to consider Pericles more palliative, than the improvement of the prison environment. T’is the era of obfuscation, tis the age of incorrigible disinclination, tis the season of vain pretension, tis the century of cretinous presumption.
“The Greek Historian Dion, observed that when Caractacus was shown the public buildings of Rome, his reaction was to ask why a people of such magnificence should envy him his British tent!”
“Perhaps they were poor?”
“My dear Montaperti, poverty isn’t only about empty pockets! Though I agree, poverty can result in the leading of a life that is culturally meaner”
Lord Elderberry is at lunch in the Tompion Room, the room is named after a Bedfordshire tradesman, who fashioned intricate timepieces for the new scientists of the Royal Society, and who grew rich thereby.
She (Lady Hesketh-Elderberry) named her tea room after a tradesman, in fact she has named nearly every room in the house after tradesmen. It irks him that she has done this, that having blemished the family name with her excessive philanthropy, it should have been tarnished further by the naming of every room in the house after members of the trade class. By now he thinks, she will be chained to a bed on some ward for imbeciles at St Bacchanalia, the thought gives him some satisfaction.
“Is that a Knifton?” Lord Montaperti has risen from his seat and now he tours this eccentrically named room and espies a seventeenth century brass lantern clock of an age and make he admires.
“A what?” Lord Elderberry has not had time to price all of his aunt’s gee-gaws,
“A Thomas Knifton, see the verge escapement has a circular balance, but without a balance spring under the bell. The gentleman who made this exquisite piece worked for the reputable Cross Keys Watchmakers in Kent”
He lifts the lantern clock up as delicately as he would a piece of lace, so that Lord Elderberry may take a closer look, but his lordship waves it away, he has little interest in aught but its value on the auction block.
Clocks! This particular room is full of them! Several are ranged on the mantle-pieces which grace either end of the long room, a Charles Gretton Grandfather Clock stands by the maplewood door and all the walls are ornamented with a variety of watches invented by the Dutchman Froumanteel.
“Here are enough English watches to grace a thousand public buildings and this piece” Lord Montaperti restores it to its perch carefully, “Is priceless! Why to be in ownership of a piece such as this, an emblem of the true greatness of British craftsmanship, t’is beyond my imagining!”
“T’is not beyond my auctioning” replied Lord Elderberry whose mountainous debts were well known. “Do Whitehursts and Finnemore auction clocks? I feel certain they do”
Lord Montaperti took note of his young friend’s intentions and inclined himself to visit the auction rooms of Whitehurst & Finnemore once he was certain Lord Elderberry had indeed sold the clocks.
Lord Montaperti notes several other clocks besides the Knifton which have taken his fancy, several other timepieces that will join the vast menagerie of materialist wealth that he chooses to refer to as his ‘town house’. A banker by name, an unscrupulous businessman by any other, t’was he who brokered the sale of British arms to the Russians during the Crimean war, Russia fought valiantly and viciously against the British and won. But this did not deter Lord Montaperti, for one t’was not he who had signed the contracts of manufacture, and though the British sought to put him on trial for high treason, he was so woven into the imperial economy that his execution would have led to the downfall of the government,which went on to fall anyway!
“I am told that Lady Hesketh-Elderberry is not herself?” said he slyly, for t’was known that she had been committed to St Bacchanalia’s,
“I extend my condolences” he added, noting the look of discomfort on Lord Elderberry’s face and enjoying it richly, “Now onto business!”
The discussion of money whilst one is consuming Lobster Salad in a room such as this, would be considered lacking in delicacy, but by what means may one go on consuming Lobster Salads?
“I have a proposition for you” Lord Montaperti said blandly,
“One which may serve your interests or not”
Lord Elderberry is intrigued, when it comes to the matter of making money he frequently is,
“You will appreciate that I am a man of business, and that as a man of business, I lack the pressing delicacy that must oft accompany these matters. You will therefore take this into account as I touch on matters which might otherwise merely concern you, such as the Hesketh Elderberry Genealogy.”
Lord Elderberry is perplexed, he was conceived, he was born, what more to the matter can there be?
“You have an uncle”
“Your Aunt’s twin” continues Lord Montaperti, noting the dawning horror on the face of Lord Elderberry with thoughtful pleasure,
“Yes, her older brother who would, had he not turned loon, have inherited all your aunt has inherited. This gentleman has taken his leave of St Bacchanalia’s, he has escaped”
“Indeed, please bear in mind that this is a business interest I relate to you, your uncle had a trust in perpetuity held by Polders and when they fell into bankruptcy the responsibility passed to me”
“Me, I had assumed that in time arrangements might be made to have it pass to you but, there is a complication”
“A complication?” Lord Elderberry looks first bewildered and then perplexed,
“A very little one, before the trust can pass to you, it must be signed over by Lord Wilberforce Hesketh-Elderberry”
“But he’s a fugitive from the law!”
Lord Montaperti chuckled, “ His committal to the lunatic’s asylum was most discretely handled, one cannot say the same about his escape!”
“But he’s a criminal!”
“Not that I am aware of, although I must own that he has a most singular disposition and I doubt that St Bacchanalia’s would care to admit that they have been so remiss as to lose one of their charges”
“From all I’ve heard of the Dowager (God bless her soul! ) she will not have committed him without just cause!”
“Quite so, I am told that several most unusual murders were committed in St Giles”
“The victims were murdered and then stuffed!”
“Taxidermy” replied Lord Montaperti looking unperturbed,”Your uncle was an avid taxidermist!”
Lord Montaperti examines his pocket watch most closely, fashioned by Estienne Hubert from 48 carat gold, encrusted with emeralds, diamonds and rubies. It is an exquisitely expensive timepiece, in reckless bad taste.
“That aside, Lord Wilberforce is worth a million pounds and most importantly, he is a bachelor.”
“A batchelor? But what of my aunt’s two million? How am I to have access to that if he is still alive?”
“You shan’t whilst he lives, but he shan’t live long” replied Lord Montaperti with an inscrutable look on his face.
Observe the delicate hands and those tapered fingers folded calmly upon his lap, those piercing eyes so dark as to be almost black, absorbing all radiance, all light, and exuding none. Observe the cold calm regal face and the scarlet slash of a mouth, for here reclines a man bred with no philanthropic notions, and no inclinations towards mercy where those who are deficient in genes (or merely impoverished) are concerned. Behold the majestic product of generations upon generations of flawless aristocratic evolution!
“Shan’t he live long? Why on earth not?” Lord Elderberry an innocent abroad? He who had his own aunt, she who had nurtured and nourished him from birth trussed up like a turkey and committed? He a babe in the dark arts? His pale milk weed complexion and sly green eyes denote the demeanour of one who, once nourished affectionately in one’s bosom, is apt to lunge and bite too swiftly.
“I? Stoop to murder? Am I who have risen so high to sink so low?”
“Murder? Nonsense! T’would taint your bloodline! The Goveen Brotherhood will take care of it!”
The Rookery of St Giles finds itself without the slightest pretensions to architecture and very curious to behold as a consequence. The crumbling crowded tenements lean one against the other like a group of old friends nursing a too long enduring hangover after the inebriation of the night before.
T’is the playground of the rich, hence no expense has been spared, alleyways darkened by towering tenement blocks abound and vast maze-like houses of such intricacy that not even Lewis Carroll’s pens could conjure them in existence! For these are vast rat-like warrens filled with the rookery’s gentleman rats; rats whose agility and strength has garnered them many a purse, watch and ring. Who may count, dear reader, those gentlemen most richly endowed of purse who have ambled drunkenly into such residences, never to wander back out again. These are the risks at night and yet my! The scandalous pleasures!
As the sun rises brilliantly over the hills and lush pastures of Molten Tussock Minor, so it rises but dimly over the rookery estates; indeed were it not for the children playing rough and tumble in the streets and the women gossiping on tenement steps one would think it still night. Theresa Ward wrinkles her nose at the sight, and the stench, which so many have grown up in, and thus grown used to.
She considers the gin wagon still lying on its side in the middle of Dorset Lane, and those carting off its fragments to use as firewood. Why to be stuck in a place such as this, and for life, she will have none of it. But having fallen for Lord Henry Pembroke and being left with child what else is there?
“Theresa! Theresa I say!”
“T’is I who call for you! Not your ma! Ye scandal raising devil!”
See then what Teresa Ward’s life has shrunk most unmercifully to, t’is he whose inebriate breath has glowered over her since ere she was an infant. He whose drunken, leering, violent, cursing ways, have tainted every day she has spent in this accursed room, and in that accursed place. A drunk he may be and prone to a most irreligious outlook, but Cain Ward prides himself on never having strayed from hearth and home, and this has been his blessing and his family’s curse.
“Theresa! Theresa! You! Wee bairn!” says he pointing to the youngest of ten,
Fetch yon harlot forth! If I have birthed a fiend under my roof I will know it, and have words with it! Theresa! Theresa I say! Come forth!”
“Leave her be, the poor creature!” cries Theresa’s mother a woman looking as old as Old Testament’s Abraham’s Sarah was ere she bore Isaac, but with neither the brightness of visage nor the plumpness of cheek that accompanies a bright hope.
“Shut your cake hole!” comes the vicious reply, “I’ll have nought out of such as birthed this harlot wot has brought such crushing disgwace down upon this family!”
“But ave mercy upon er! Is she not flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood?” her mother never yet having learn’t the benificent wisdom of silence now finds herself set upon yet again by the gentleman styling himself pater-familia.
“Oh have mercy, have mercy!”
“Raise a slut and a hussy in my house would you? Have my name tarnished by a petticoat lifting harlot? Nevah!” each assertion accompanied by a viciously administered slap and a swift kick. Fair wages and meaningful employment might have softened his manners a little, but fair wages and meaningful employment has never been the way of the Spitalsfield’s bosses. Which is to say that such vigorous domestic interactions where hardly exceptional within Spitalsfield’s households, if anything, such beatings and curses had become the distinct norm.
“Oh have mercy!”
T’is those pitiful wailings alone that draw Theresa forth from the sanctuary of the grimy streets, to face the baleful glare of the man who calls himself her father.
“Why you’d think t’was the Duchess of Monmouth come to keep us company, but it ain’t! T’is the Whore of Babylon!”
“Don’t you father me! I’ll ave none of ye! Where’s me sherry!”
He sucked at the quarter bottle till the noxious fluid ran in small rivulets down his beard yet it did not calm his mood any. Ten shillings a month from a scullery maid’s wage is nothing to be sniffed at, and she had contributed much of it to the upkeep of the family and now where was it? Gone! And in its place lay the pervasive stink of bad luck and ill-fortune! Did the little fool not know what happened to such as were got with child by a member of the aristocracy? T’was the stuff of nightmares and he would ave it nowhere near his house!
“Well, and wot has you decided? We have nine left to feed, nine as do their fair share of earning, there’s nowt as live and eat for nothing in this house!”
Theresa’s eyes flashed with anger for now she was fallen she had grown exceeding reckless,
“An don’t I know it? The gin money was welcome enough when it was flowing! Cast me out in the streets would ya? Well you’ll not have the pleasure! I’ve means enough to see me through, and I’ll not plead for a roof over my head from such as you!”
Cain Ward grimaced, t’was the most he could muster by way of a smile,
“So it’s settled, you’ll be on your way then?”
His smile grew low and crafty,
“You’ve had three nights at least under this roof that’s worthy of a shilling apiece at least before you depart”
“Oh lord ave mercy! That it should ave come to this! Me own husband casting our child out on the streets! Oh have mercy! Oh show pity! cried the wife
“Oh leave off!” replied the husband,
“Ere! Ave it! There’s your three shillings!” Teresa cried vehemently, gathering her shawl and her carpet bag together she swept to the door in a fury, for she was every inch her father’s daughter, passionate and intemperate to the point of moral ruin!
“If me own kin won’t shield me in me hour of want I’ll to the Salvation Army!”
Darkness has fallen and now stars dangle in the sky like a row of pearls around an Ethiope’s neck. The Bald Faced Stag will do a roaring trade straight into the early hours of the morning, but our concern is not with the beer that will be drunk, nor with the imbibing of sherry as stolen silverware changes hands. Nor do we concern ourselves with the destiny of the hapless monk who now lies trussed up in the Tavern’s cellar. To have kidnapped one of the few to display an abiding and benevolent interest in the affairs of London’s working poor, to have trussed her up like a turkey, to have made off with her mercilessly! No we shall not reflect long on the fate of this mad monk, any more than we should. Instead let us turn to that which lies beyond the Bald Faced Stag Inn.
“Has that man arrived?”
“The minister of domestic affairs? Yes, your grace, where shall I place him?”
“The Grey Room”
“Not the Green Study?”
The merest tilt of her handsome head, the slightest gesture of her elegant fingers, is sufficient to halt Planchett in his tracks. Observe as she paces to and fro with her elegant be-ringed fingers clasped in front of her. Such soft, strong hands!
“The Grey Room Planchett”
“Yes your Grace”
As immoveable as a Caryatid pillar, as immutable in her determinations as Medea, observe the lady as she moves soundlessly towards the leather bound documents which take up all of her attention. Page after page of significant family trees which she has had a hand in significantly altering. There are two such volumes of these documents the official record of lineage and the Book of Occitan. Tonight, on this most dark and most heinous of nights, she seals the clasps of both books, reverentially returning them to their place.
It is with a sense of overpowering duty and with increasing ire that the lady proceeds to the Grey Room where Lord Rucklesmoot awaits her.
“Lord Rucklesmoot” his Lordship bows gravely
“T’is late in the day for a visit such as this and most inconvenient”
His Lordship smiles weakly,
“When it comes to affairs of state there is no such thing as inconvenience your grace”
“Is there not? T’is a little cold in here Ruckle-Smoot, do you know why that is?”
“No, your grace” he replies warily,
“I have the windows opened and the rooms aired several times a day, every day. I can scarce abide tainted air sir!”
“No your grace”
“Several of my most treasured servants have fallen ill as a consequence, three have even had the temerity to die, but I will suffer no pollution in the atmosphere of this house!”
The Grey Room is palatial in its proportions with it’s vast heavily curtained windows, ornate carpeting and richly upholstered furniture. A delightful room then, in the exquisite residence of the coveted keeper of the royal bloodlines. So why, does Lord Ruckle-Smoot feel as if he has fallen through the portals of hell? For since he has taken up this post feelings of deep unease have gripped him. Memorising his descendants from the nursery onwards, he had thought the royal lineage unimpeachable, he’d no notion of its needing protecting.
“It seems that we have been remiss Lord Ruckle-Smoot”
“We have lost a vessel, Lord Ruckle-Smoot, a vessel bearing a most important piece of the royal bloodline”
“It was last espied weeping beside the tombstone of the most recently deceased eminent politician”
“Planchette! It’s far too cold in here, stoke the fire!”
“Yes your grace” the butler (having never left the room) finds this an easy task to accomplish, stoking the fire can be done in no time at all, but on this occasion Planchette takes care to demonstrate the breadth of his skill with the ornate fireplace poker, this causes Lord Ruckle-Smoot to consider how fireplace pokers, when handled in such a dexterous manner, can have potentially lethal consequences.
“Your family has served mine honourably for centuries, it was the reason you were appointed, indeed, it was the only reason you were appointed”
My Lord Ruckle-Smoot finds himself caught between the ravening panther that is Planchette and his mistress the she-wolf, hungry, remorseless, and clad from head to toe in Chantilly Lace!
“The vessel you speak of was seen last in the company of a pick-a-ninny child and has not been seen by any since”
“Certainly not by any in your employ, Planchette?”
“Your Grace, I have it on good authority that Ethelbert Hardy-Smythe has er”
“Which brings me to my next problem Lord Ruckle-Smoot, what should one do with a politician who suddenly develops a conscience?”
“My lady, The Right Honourable Hardy-Smythe has honoured his duty to Queen & country most indubitably”
“I ave it on good authority from Fitchett iz butler, that he is az of late been suffering nightmares of a most audible kind, nightmares about a Master Hemphill-Skinner”
Caught betwixt a panther and a she-wolf with royal patronage, what is a man to do?
Oh the privileges of a safe criminality! Of places where one may safely rob someone of a purse or cut a gentleman’s throat! Such places are as rare as the proprietors that manage them, once The Bald Faced Stag was such a place, but no more. Though on an occasion such as this, the mistress of this reputed establishment is more than willing to make an exception. As fond as she is for the beer Boodoo and Bert cultivate and deliver she has little fondness for the men themselves, scarce redeemed arsonists as they are. But the Hesketh-Elderberry School is another thing entirely,
“Abducting Lady Hesketh is they? An thought to stop by my pub wot as served her ladyship and er kin all the days of me gran-fader’s life and me fader’s life? Half my kin attend her schools, little Charlie is to graduate from thence to Worth Chilliministers Esquire! Kidnap Ma Hesketh? Wot woz they thinkin orf?”
“Them? They’re Goveen spawn! Wots thinkin got to do with it? Can I do it?”
Mistress Dormers glanced over at the Goveen Monk who was now so merry in his cups that his plump face was flushed, Lucinda, her most comely serving wench leant forward as if to replenish his beer and that was when it happened, the gas lights dimmed momentarily and flickered, once, twice, on the thrice turn they resumed their normal brilliance. But when they had, the plump faced monk had disappeared and another had taken both his seat and his beer.
“She’s a one with that club our Lucinda, never hired a wench like that afore! Only fourteen that one but my what a wrist!”
Insensible to the world, the unfortunate monk is quickly dragged into the snuggery, which just as speedily empties of customers once they realise that some skullduggery is afoot. A robbery is a rarity at the Bald Faced Stag the mistress of the tavern rarely permits it, thus upon sighting her husband laying about the Goveen Monk the customers took it that this particular robbing was very well deserved.
“On with that cassock Anansi! Quick now!” Boodoo looped the rope-belt around Anansi’s waist and tied it three times with three Lark’s Head knots, just as he had seen the Goveen Monks do when he had been an initiate at St Bacchanalia’s Asylum. “Pull the hood further down over your face, remember ow Bert walks when e’s ad a few? Show me” Anansi tottered and swayed drunkenly, t’was a most convincing performance and Boodoo didn’t doubt that he’d acquit himself most admirably on the ride to Grodden Parnock.
“The ride down will be swift my child and the journey into that hell hole terrifying! Make sure you keep yer wits about ye! Find owt where they place her, report back to me!”
“Pa, wot if I can’t get owt?” Boodoo hated to see Anansi’s face pinched up so with worry,
“Think on Barley Plimsoll my cove! What’s she to do without her mama? Think on her my lad!”
Anansi’s little face seemed to glow with a most unnatural light, his eyes were awash with an affection that made Boodoo almost envious,
“Barley!” oh with what yearning that sweet child’s name was uttered! Truly a lover’s confession!
“Sweet Barley! I must save Barley’s mama! I will save Barley’s mama!” now Anansi’s eyes lit up with much fervour and determination as he strode forth like St George going to slay the dragon.
“Are you certain about what it is that you do ere Boodoo?” Michael Dormer wasn’t known for his softness of heart, but he had seen much that was good enter Boodoo’s life as a consequence of his having a son. He dreaded the notion that any harm should come to the child that might unman his friend.
“I az no choice, do you fancy your Daniel attending an Industrial Academy?” Michael Dormer swore a whole slew of curses,
“Let me burn in hell first and my son with me!”
“Exactly, now where’s Barley Plimsoll?”
“Upstairs having a bit of dinner, fair tuckered owt the child was, t’is a terrible state of affairs!”
“For them at St Bacchanalia’s it is! He should never have took her!” Boodoo’s deep brown eyes seemed alight with the very fires of hell, “I’ll make him regret he took her!”
“Now Boodoo…” cautioned Michael watching the colour drain from his friend’s face,
“They stole my Emily from me, but they’ll not take Lady Hesketh!! Now where’s Barley?”
See first the abundance of corn blonde hair, pinned this way and that so poorly that stray bits of it drift upon her face, see then those eyes, little black buttons that twinkle from time to time with mirth and are now filled with copious tears. How the child trembles, how she clutches Master Boodoo LeFevre’s burly fist with both of her tiny palms. “Must Anansi travel up to that place Master LeFevre? Can we not spirit ma away here?”
“Er nephew will be looking for er my love, nah there’s nuffin for it, but we shall soon ave er back me love” Boodoo was silent for a spell for now he must propose something to this child that was most unusual,
“T’is alms-giving day tomorrow at St Tobias-in-the North”
“Alms-giving? How can I think of that on such a day as this?”
Master LeFevre looked at the child most intently, more hair and boundless petticoats than anything, and those eyes, twinkling and glistening with such feeling!
“At an alms-giving any petition may be asked of the queen, any at all”
“Any?” said the child thinking on it,
“Any, even the freeing of your mama!”
“But how?” Boodoo shrugged,
“I feel certain you’ll think of something”
The evening has turned cold and blustery, and as Boodoo seats himself once more upon his beer wagon his expressionless gaze alights upon the Brougham now swiftly exiting the yard of the Bald Faced Stag Inn. Darkness, all is darkness, with only two gas lamps hung either side of the wagon to light Boodoo LeFevre on his way back to St Giles and the Sapphire of Jhansi Pub. An autumnal moon hangs low in the sky and Anansi hid in the shadow of the carriage travels up with Lady Hesketh. He has wiped the tears from her eyes with his most treasured ragged school hanky and now he reassuringly strokes her wizened hands,
“Don’t you worry Ma Hesketh, don’t you worry”
Darkness, all is darkness dear reader, though they do say t’is when it is darkest that you may see the stars.
The Bald Faced Stag Inn is as reputable in certain circles as the House Of Lords is in certain others. The favoured haunt of Jerry Abershawe the highwayman, t’was there he would sate his thirst, conferring at great length with roguish fellows who like himself roamed far and wide twixt Portsmouth and London, robbing the rich for the thrill of it. T’was there he met his match when Jacob Du Plessis and his constables stormed the taprooms of the inn, muskets in hand, wounding Abershawe twice in the shoulder and so laying him low. Not for long, for the ebullient highwayman ascended the gallows of Tyburn as cheerfully as he had robbed his victims, cracking many a joke as they laid the hangman’s noose around his neck.
Aaron Dormer had been the landlord of the inn then, a fiercer looking cove there had never been and such meanness of temperament, a man feared by many but a true friend of Abershawe’s, and the only man to shed a tear at his hanging (t’is said). Bess Dormer his grand-daughter now palms the taps of the inn, with a delightful delicacy of grasp and tug such as only a master publican could muster. They do say she is tiny of foot, though from the manner in which she has booted many a drunk through the tap room door, none would guess it!
“Wah? To handle my bar maids incommodiously, to importune them as though they were nought but bawds and blowens! Even as they shave the foam off your beer? I’ll not have it! Out wid ye! Out! Out!”
With what vigorous flash of elegant boot did she thrust and propel the inebriated miscreants into the streets (and their gutters) beyond! With what a flash of green eyed rage did she cause the offender to flinch and quail! T’were few who could match her propriety skills and even fewer who dared to, for commerce must have its sway, though the Bald Faced Stag did a roaring trade with all those who frequented her. Small of stature, some would say most petite but fierce of disposition unlike her husband who was as tall as he was broad and as mean spirited as her grand papa had been. If Michael Dormer had a passion, t’was his wife whose buxom tiny waisted figure made him blush fiercely if he fixed his sights on it too long. He had a yen for her that was like an addiction with him and he’d broken many an amorous bludgers head because of it.
T’was a puzzle to Boodoo, having never been embroiled in the throes of passion, though the care of his son evoked emotions in him, which many would have recognised as love. The solicitous manner with which Boodoo LeFevre undertook the education of his adopted child, weedling him out of dancing and singing worthless miscreants into their death throes, then enrolling him in the Hesketh-Elderberry Ragged School in Spitalsfields. The boundless patience with which he educated him in the mechanics of setting and laying fires, when to set a charge, when to lay the fuse, and how best to improvise when your tools went missing. Disturbing skills these to pass on to any son and heir, yet passed on with such loving attention to care and detail that one doubted not that Boodoo did love his child and had only his best interests at heart.
With what anxiety then did he contemplate that which he was about to do! Since the day he had drifted out in Bert’s boat along the Thames, hooking and then drawing in the wooden crate in which he found Anansi, they had not been parted! No, not even for a day! Oh how his heart had gone out to the emaciated child cast adrift upon the River Thames, levering open the water logged box and spying its contents it never once had crossed his mind to throw it back into the river. Anansi took one look at the stocky shaven headed man with the brooding gaze and oversized sea jacket and decided he wanted to be like him, Boodoo took one look at him, turned to Bert and declared, “God az not forgot me, now at last I ave a son!”. But now he must part with the child who had become more dear to him than his own life, for the sake of another who was in naked danger!
“Iz you sure it is ‘er Anansi?”
“T’is, papa, t’is Missis Hesketh-Elderberry bound up and gagged papa! Dat man in the tap room got her tied up and gagged and he drinkin his self silly! I gon fix him papa! I gon fix him good!” Anansi’s eyes blazed with anger, his little face became positively pinched with evil intent, he started clicking his fingers and twitching his little booted feet.
“Do that and I’ll spank you to hell and back my child! Calm down and think! Think! What’s the best way to go about this? If you kill him where everyone can see it, the driver will flee the scene and drive away post-haste with her as his captive! Think!”
Calming himself down with an effort Anansi thought and thought, poor Missus! Trapped in a carriage with that plump, rosy cheeked, devil of a monkish man! Poor missus! Why he had bin to church with her and all the other ragged children only yesterday, and he had eaten Sunday lunch at her house too! Poor, poor Missuss Hesketh! Poor Barley Plimsoll! For Barley had been the one he had spotted as he went to water the horses in the stables, Barley clinging desperately to the undercarriage of the Brougham in which Lady Hesketh-Elderberry was being kept prisoner!
Of all the children she alone had espied the burly monk tossing her mama into the carriage and making away with her, she alone! And who oh who to call to? From whom to get help? The children and their tutors were all at school! Bunching her skirts and tucking them into her bloomers she had slid under the carriage and clung on for dear life. The carriage sped on from pillar to post at the most ferocious speed and still she had clung on. She sobbed till the feeling had left her fingers and her cheeks throbbed with cold, yet still she clung on and then, finally, they had reached the Bald Faced Stag Inn and the carriage had drawn to a halt. What good fortune bade Anansi to travel out to the now empty wagon and catch Barley sliding out from under the carriage and scuttling into the shadows! What good fortune he alone should catch her! Her whose every wish was his desire!” comforting his dear sweet Barley as best he could, Anansi swore with his hand on his valiant heart that he would save Missis Hesketh.
“But first I gon fix that nasty man! See if I don’t! Barley say he takin her to St Bacchanalia!” Boodoo face darkened,
“Taking er where?”
“St Bacchanalia Asylum!” St Bacchanalia’s?! But adn’t he, Boodoo the master fireman, burn’t that place down?!
“Right then” said he fixed in his resolve,”Ain’t nothing for it! We’re kidnapping the monk! You’ll take his place, lawd knows iz robes is big enuf, you’re to accompany Lady Hesketh to Grodden Parnock, straight into St Bacchanalia’s, find owt which ward they put her on and git yerself back to London post haste! An Anansi?”
The child’s face positively glowed with attentiveness, “Yes’m papa?”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”