Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, The Hearthlands of Darkness

Chapter 4: Cavortings Midst The Shell Of A Cracked Coconut

The savagery, the utter savagery of it all consumed us; death lurked everywhere, it preened, it shimmied, it pranced, pranced with the frenetic energy of a Neder -Hiwi Witch Doctor! Death leered at us through the darkened windows of every deserted village hut we passed, it lingered midst the grimy foetid rags covering the strewn bones of the village’s former inhabitants. Above us the skies were black, so black that I fancied we might find ourselves swept up and devoured by the vast darkly ominous storm clouds, which now roiled tumultuously overhead. 

We’d ventured on for many miles now, passing the abandoned ruins of a deserted outpost the Umbongoan natives called ‘Na-Wango-Bretagne’. Na-Wango-Bretagne had been a trading post till it had been burnt down by a treacherous Italian scout the staunch English traders had mistakenly invited into their midst. 

During the monsoon season the Nederhiwi Flatlands were overrun by Hysterius Ukippus whose slippery hides-once plucked and scoured clean-might be sold for ten pounds sterling a piece (according to the natives). If this were true I conjectured that two seasons spent in these lush hinterlands could render a man as rich as Croesus; if he survived the cannibalism of the Riba Kiba natives, the unrelenting heat, and the ravages of Yellow Fever. Such was the price one was apt to pay in pursuit of riches, such was the world we’d stumbled into. 

“Tis a country plagued by many djinn” muttered Parshar Arshad looking about himself watchfully. “Strong, lusty, red eyed spirits of mammon are rampant here! See! The destruction they have left in their wake!”

“Nonsense!” I coolly replied “Umbongo Umbongo is under the protection of the British Empire”.

“So was the Sudan!” cried Parshar Arshad despairingly “And look what happened there! Oh that I were still in the service of that great martyr of Britannia, General Gordon of Umbongo!”.

“Indeed. Shall we onwards? According to this map (bequeathed me by Captain Jamieson), the Nederhiwi Ivory Station is just over that hill”

“That hill?!” cried Umbutu savagely

“Just so” I replied raising a stern eyebrow, for if our remaining porters had had their way, we’d have turned back several times along our route. Fortunately I had taken care to deploy a pistol about my person, and through infrequent use I had managed to keep us fixed upon our journey. 

“That hill?!” Umbutu cried once more turning his terror stricken gaze upon the other porters “That hill is accursed! Like the village and the outpost before it! We will go no furdah! Umbwaaga na butu! Naaah butu!”

On such occasions as this an abrupt rebuke from the Pashar would have silenced this dissent, but he had blithely unrolled his prayer mat and now proceeded to pray whilst mayhem unfurled around him. “Umbwaaga na butu! Naaa butu!” cried all the other porters dropping our cargo midst the lush grass and taking flight. I am afraid to say I had much recourse to the pistol I normally kept holstered at my side, and so we continued onwards with our journey.

Paths, paths everywhere, muddy half-botched affairs they were, leading up the hill through the long grass and down it through the sickly yellowish mounds of low grass. Near the top of the hill I almost fell into a vast hole from which arose a near suffocating rancid odour.

“The rotted remains of many wild boar” declared Pashar Arshad peering over the edge of the hole into the vast maw of that wild darkness. “I am told that wild boar tusks are as valued by the Germans, as elephant ivory is by the French”.

 “German hunters carried out this wasteful carnage?” I cried, Pashar Arshad rolled his eyes.

“They are one of the few nations discerning enough to have no liking for the cooked flesh of Wild Boar! Of course they are German, but the more pressing question is what were they doing here, so close to the Nederhiwi Ivory Station?”

We did not have to wait long to find out, for as we descended the sepulchral mound a swarthy devil who had gone on ahead jabbered excitedly “Umbwaa bwaaa Nederhiwi!!!”.

We had finally reached the Nederhiwi Ivory Station, but before we could descend the primitive mound, we discerned the growing sound of murmuring voices and stamping feet. How best might we describe the emotions that swept over us as we, carefully making our descent, observed the frenetic dancing of the lanky brutes who, festooned in Resig-Nata-Smithus hides, stomped and swayed to and fro afore the barred gates of the Ivory Station. Leaping high in the air and uttering primeval screeches that made my skin crawl, they seemed grotesque to the point of moral indecency. “T’would seem they object to the presence of the Ivory Station” observed Pashar Arshad calmly. 

“T’would seem they’ve objected to a darn sight more than that!” exclaimed Captain Dunwoody pointing to the hairy objects each bellicose dancer had tied to their grass skirts. Hairy objects which on closer observation (through my Acme patented binoculars) appeared to resemble shrunken human heads.  

“How barbarous!” I cried “How are we to gain entry to the Ivory Station now?!”

” With great care” replied Pashar Arshad strumming his prayer beads ruminatively. Captain Dunrudy nodded in agreement, taking little nips of whisky from a pewter flask he pointed towards the savage leaping forms . “These are not Umbongoans indigenous to this region, nor are they Wahiri Hiri or Riba Kiba. What we have here is a tribe of Kon-Kon-Safwoah-Redwoods and they is an altogether diff’rent kettle of fish!! We must tread carefully or wind up like them Germans, shrunken and dangling from a grass skirt!” he sipped ruminatively on his whisky, lit a slightly shabby looking cigar and settled back in the low grass for the time being. Glancing with great fear in the direction of the Ivory Station, the native porters murmured ominously amongst themselves, but then taking one look at my pistol they too dropped our cargo (delicately) upon the low grass and prepared to dig in for the night.

The gibbous moon hung low in a pitch black sky that was as frightening to behold as the gaping maw of a panther. Whilst down below us my sharp eyes (aided by binoculars) observed the grotesque visages and the contorted bodies of the Kon-Kon-Safwoah-Redwoods prancing savagely through the impenetrable dark. “You’ll ne’er meet a more monstrous tribe than that lot! ” declared Captain Dunrudy as he too observed their barbarous prancing. ” Twelve year I’ve bin here on the river mostly doing a bit o’ trade with the Europeans. Umbongo (plagued as it is by indigenous tribes) is a devilish hard place to make one’s living, devilish, dangerous and fiendish”. Could I nay say him? For here we lay, hidden in the low grass half a league away from the only remnant of civilisation we’d laid eyes on in eighty days of travel. 

We had traversed the wildernesses of Umbongo Bongo and survived the treacherousness of the Lualaba River; only to find ourselves kept back from attaining the pinnacle of our adventure. As the meagre wretches below us continued to screech and to dance wildly I felt a surge of hatred arise in my Christian breast, and almost reached for my pistol, but a sardonic glance from Captain Dunrudy stayed my hand.

A paroxysm of quiet sobbing convulsed me momentarily, but I soon suppressed it and settling into the mobile cot which one of the natives had thoughtfully carried on his head from Na-Wango-Bretagne I soon fell asleep.

 

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Inspector Depta & The Mystery Of The St Swithin’s-Bird Murders……A Prologue

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Morning has broken, like the first morning, and pert, well-fed Blackbirds have tweeted like the first birds. Ah! Did ever the Gardens of Eden seem more blessed than this? T’is a bright dawn, clear and bracing and awash with promise; ideal then for the Prince’s brisk cantering jaunt, through the heather strewn grounds of his newly constructed Scottish home, Balmoral.

“You will please note ze outstanding characters common to the Genus Suidae known commonly as ze Black-Legged Wild Boar. Low on the limbs, with eyes which are small but quick and shrewd in expression, and a sense of hearing that is most acute. See how it romps blunderingly midst ze undergrowth! Note the lower jaw which is strong and deep, the wide mouth bristling with blonde hairs, and perpetually open, to a degree almost unparalleled among terrestrial mammalia.”

“Indeed?” 

The wild boar has an extraordinary manner of tackling his antagonists, striking obliquely upwards with his lower tusks, jerking his aggressor first right and then left and then throwing the sorry fool off at a distance with his large wedge shaped head.”

“Most horrible!”

“Oh most glorious!” replies Prince Albert,”For it is from this terrifyingly indomitable genus (with its extraordinarily thick hide), this primitive remnant from the dawn of time, that our domesticated pigs are bred! Imagine, the fossilized relics of the Genus Suedae Black-Leg have been found by Professor Owen, in fissures from the Red Crag of Brume Polder, near zee village of Molten Tussock Minor!”

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“Are you saying that this dire looking beast’s antecedents were of prehistoric origin?” asks Lord Ponsonby, who in reality is bored beyond tears by the topic.

“Ja” replies the prince excitedly “according to Monsieur Jobert, zee prehistoric remains of Black-Legged Wild Boars were discovered in the Miocene and zee Pliocene Deposits, of zee tertiary system of Lyell!”

“Extraordinary!” exclaims Lord Aberdeen with as much good humour as he can muster on so early a morning’s ride as this. Why, the last time he’d been pulled out of bed so early London’s mill-workers had been in riot!

“Ja! A singularly remarkable instance of indomitable resilience! I am told Lord Molesworth has a fine litter of piglets, bred of an African Boar and a Hampshire Hog this Winter, time will tell whether zay will again bear a litter! We must journey to Lord Molesworth’s Estates and observe zem!”

Yes, Your Highness”

“Ja,wait! Wait!”

“Your Highness?”

“Over zer! Something is lurking in der undergrowth!Tis a stag think you?”

“Possibly Your Majesty, though it appears to be rather smaller than that”

A fawn perhaps? Separated from its mother and terrified by the sound of galloping hoofs, for as the noblemen gain speed it scampers into the woods, darting through them faster than a coursing hare.

“We’re losing it, faster!” cries the Prince, as Lords Ponsonby and Aberdeen exchange a sneaky glance. Faster, so fast that Lord Aberdeen wonders whether the manner of luring His Majesty into addressing this thorny constitutional problem is worth the loss of life or limb.

“Ha ha! We have you at the rattle keine fawn! Ha ha ha! Oh?!”

But what have we here? The Prince having cornered his prey finds himself at a loss! A child barely seven years of age at a guess, clad in a tartan shawl and with a most disconcerting likeness to Victoria’s Uncle ze Duke of Cumberland!

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“Lord Henry, on whose land are we?”

“The Countess De Fox-Pitts,Your Majesty.”

“This child hails from Lochnergarruld?!” His Highness is horrified, gott in himmel! Would zis horror nezah end?!!!

“Yes,Your Majesty”

“Er sind von Lochnergarruld Village?!!”

“Nein, Your Majesty, er sind von Abbey Lochnergarruld, situated in the mountains”

“Mein Gott! Is he the only one?”

“Nein, there are many, many, more”

The child (for it is indeed a boy, as tall as a fawn and looking to be around seven years old) continues to back away in fear of the Prince, a fine figure of a man, astride a ferocious looking stallion. Unable to find a place to escape to midst the bramble covered undergrowth, the child hisses at the king in some incomprehensible language (Scots Gaelic most likely).

“This Abbey,how close by is it?” asks the prince, staring at this miniature facsimile of the King of Hanover with a kind of horrid fascination.

“It stands at the foot of Mount Lochnergarruld, Your Majesty”

Ze mountain on which the duchess-“

“That mountain precisely sir” replies Lord Ponsonby glancing at Lord Aberdeen who had already notified the Abbey of the prince’s intended visit, and its motives.

Would Your Majesty care to visit it it? The abbey I mean? The child is doubtless lost, we could return him to his guardians there.”

“Ach so, let us visit!” and with that Lord Ponsonby dismounts, and talking at some length to the child in that foreign tongue (Scots Gaelic), persuades him to ride with them to that most unfortunate place. That prodigious Gehenna from whence many a ‘defective’ aristocratic child left to the mercies of howling Scottish Gales, had been fortuitously rescued, rescued and raised by the Brotherhood of The Penitent Confessor at Lochnergarruld Abbey.

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Satire

Faber Est Quisque Fortunae Suae

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O happy day! When political events fall out as one would wish,with the mutiny imperiously crushed India now bowed it’s head (and back) submissively to the British Empire. Whilst the swift re-opening of war with China (which the British Navy would promptly win), mean’t that the possibilities for Opium free trade in the Far East were now limitless.

Let the Chinkies kidnap British Sailors and hold them to ransom now! They would rue the day they tangled with Britannia!! Lord Smarsby Rucklesmoot smugly perused the list of diplomatic accomplishments his office had successfully concluded (in India and South Africa). His department had without a doubt acquitted itself most honourably. Puffing happily on his Cuban Cigar he availed himself of a pair of softest kid gloves, and carefully opening a glass display cabinet into which he dipped his hand, he removed a cockroach. The elegantly attired gentleman sitting before him cringed at the sight and blanched visibly, but Lord Rucklesmoot suffered no such disquiet, he quite liked cockroaches.

“When one reflects upon the evolution of those organisms classed as Articulata, one must recognise that what is being examined is an organism of extreme perfection and extreme complication. Consider, the centipede an organism in which the optic nerve cannot be detected and yet they are able to discern the light from the dark! Now let us consider the cockroach Lord Ponsonby, also a member of the Articulata class of organisms, also able to distinguish light from dark and yet with an entirely disparate pair of eyes! T’is a wonder is it not? Why the very cockroaches of St Giles yearn towards the light, they scuttle towards it Wendell and why? Darwinian Evolution!”

“Oh? And what are we to make of the Right Honourable Member of Richmond and Sitterworth who has scuttled a-top the spire of Christchurch Cathedral? There is talk of him firing upon a Goveen Monk, who I’m informed had murdered three women and was on the cusp of murdering a fourth ere he met his end”

“Informed you say? who informed you?

“Who do you think?”

“Dear God! Not him! What else is there to this business? If he is here (and so soon after the last debacle) there must be something else. Something tawdry, injuriously shameful and all too capable of blowing the government to smithereens! Tis a matter of tawdry dissipation I take it? A serious scandal?”

“The Duchess de Fox-Pitt commissioned the mad monk to commit the murders or so it is said, she passed away in the night I am told”

You were told? Who told you? Him again? No one told me! Dear God! The Duchess dead?”

“I’m also told that the manner of her passing was suspicious. Lamentably, there is proof that she was poisoned, an empty bottle of Laudanum and Arsenic was discovered under her pillow, worse still the bottle was issued from the Royal Dispensary at Windsor Castle”

“The bottle could well have belonged to her”

Lord Ponsonby shook his head, ” Baroness Von Astrian requested the drought and the Duchesses’ servants last saw the bottle in her possession. This sudden demise has all the hallmarks of a ‘Lehzen Intervention’ ”

“Oh?”

“When the inspector sought an audience with Baroness Von Astrian, she could not be found, and since he could not broach the matter with Her Majesty himself, he requested an audience with the Baroness who sent word she was indisposed, he then requested audience with me

“Where is Von Astrian?”

“She boarded a ship bound for Germany, late last night I’m told, the ship sailed early this morning”

“Some good news at last! The Bow Street Detective Police have no office in Germany, she’ll have died peacefully in her sleep ere they’re granted a warrant for her arrest”

Lord Rucklesmoot chuckled to himself, scandal averted! Lord Ponsonby held up a warning finger.

“There is however, the matter of the records of Royal Lineage which have not gone missing”

“Oh Sweet Gove,where is he?”

 

“Who?”

“The deuced Inspector Depta!”

“Where you’d expect him to be sir, at your pleasure”

“Quite! Have him come in!”

Would that this were a discrete conversation taking place within some place of dank seclusion such as St Giles; but, alas, the rank debauched taint of scandal sired there, has reached him here, in the Houses of Parliament. Lord Rucklesmoot is momentarily bereft, but then he recalls the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (lost to a civil war in the Americas apparently),and the good inspector’s part in that escapade and suddenly he finds himself cheered, this scandal couldn’t be as bad as that surely?

“Good day Inspector”

“I cannot say much as to what day it is minister, though I do trust that in the end the day may turn out to be quite temperate. Though I must confess that on this morn I find myself feeling not a little like Fra Lippo Lippi!”

“Fra Lippo Lippi?”

“That good Christian monk who painted the last supper, terrible shook up by the experience he was…apparently” the inspector smiled quite innocently at the Foreign Secretary, who noted that shark’s grin and shuddered.

“Indeed. I take it some crimes of which you are cognizant-and have ample evidence-have been committed by certain persons whose station in life would normally have precluded them from such predicatorial leanings?”

“I do”

“And that these matters could well lead to certain aspersions being cast upon certain significant members of society, in ways which would do no one any good, and many a great deal of harm?”

“Is that a cockroach you hold in your palm minister? A St Giles Cockroach?”

“Stick to the matter at hand inspector!”

“Yes sir” says he unbuttoning his silk waistcoat and exposing its royal blue lining as he reaches for a Lincolnshire Cigarillo “T’would seem so, tis a most unfortunate case and one that could occasion a great deal of scandal. But then a scandalous case can be made to….disapparate as it were. For on the strength of it what do we have here?” he continued as he lit his cigarillo with a narrowed gaze and puffed on it leisurely, 

“A poisoned Duchess, poisoned (by whom no one can tell). A discrete little poison bottle, easily lost amongst the prodigwous quantities of evidence we as police officers are apt to amass. A homicidal butler garbed as a monk (which religious order he might belong to is debatable, since no public records of his ordination are known to exist). Then of course there is the honourable Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe MP who has publicly broached these matters and in the hearing of my officers. But since he is atop the Christchurch Cathedral seeking sanctuary, tis merely a case of forcing him back to earth and then reasoning with him

“Indeed but what if he does not see reason?” Lord Rucklesmoot checked his pocket watch “Reason is always the key and they do say that Bethel Asylum has room to spare for another inmate

“Of course momentous decisions such as these come with a measure of risk and since my men Constables Qwinty and Come-Hither, have conducted themselves so admirable and so discretely in this matter, it might be a good idea to elevate their standing as it were considerably

“Considerably?” Lord Rucklesmoot watched his little cockroach scuttling swiftly over first one kid gloved palm and then the other, always veering towards the sunlight emanating from the window he was being held up to.

“What I mean is that a little promotion, say to the rank of inspector, might not go amiss, they are good men and we could do with men who have good brains and a little more clout”

“Quite so and with yourself elevated to the rank of Deputy Chief Inspector?” 

“Lor blimey!”

“Quite, it shall be done, good day Inspector!”

Send Lord Henry back in!”

 

“Yes sir, as ever it is a pleasure to do business with you” and with all current scandalous matters resolved the inspector departs. 

Ah the continuing pleasures of a morn well spent, and so much good news to pass on, two seats to become vacant and in the next month! Oh Darwinian exultation!

“Well Lord Ponsonby I have spoke with the inspector and the matter is settled and there is now-thanks to him-no matter. However, you will need to inform The Royal Prince of Baroness Lehzen’s role in that scandalous matter, which is now no matter. We may thereby ingratiate ourselves with him, and so further increase our good standing with Her Majesty

“There is also a matter of illegitimacy?

“Whose?

“A child Ethelbert-Smythe was lately in possession of, and who he has said is the daughter of The Eminent Politician!”

“But the man died a batchelor! For shame! He was a founding father of our party! The ill-intentioned slur alone will put us on a very poor footing with Her Majesty and society in general, pray, where is the child?”

“The inspector has delivered her to the care of the Coram Orphanage, where he says she will be well taken care of”

“Would not Bethel Asylum have been a better choice?”

“For a child Home Secretary?”

“We usually commit any who would disturb the queen’s peace there, there are wet nurses a-plenty in Bedlam!”

“For mercy’s sake! She is an infant child, not a pistol wielding madman!”

“Why even an infant child may have the power to overthrow an empire! Consider our saviour!”

“I frequently do so, but what is to be done about the Goveen Brotherhood?”

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Satire

Hors De La Loi & The Dawn Of Obstinacy

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How lonely Christchurch Cathedral seems-save for the body of Monsieur Planchette soon to be carted off to the coroner in a Black Mariah – a bleak place of sinister import, its presence looms oppressively over St Giles, exuding a dark, malevolent influence, that draws devotees to it still. The cathedral has stood on this spot for nigh on a decade, but the churchyard has been here for centuries. It is not comforting to see (on a closer inspection) the decaying, mouldering aspects of the marble mausoleum that lurks close by. Nor the gnarled and twisted silhouettes of the cherry trees extruding the cold morning light. Crumbling tombstones engraved with strange symbols nestle amongst the withered pastures whose sickly green hue attracts only the snarling rats and feral dogs of the Seven Dials.

Tis a bleak and desolate place frequented only by those churchgoers naive as to the true purpose of that sinister house of worship, or those eager to redeem their faltering aristocratic lineages in the dead of night!

” Well a fine time we’ve had of it I must say! Carting off dead murderers and fending off half the lunaticks of St Giles! What did I a-do-thin to wind up on guard here, outside this accursed chapel of the ruling classes?”

“Could not agree more sarge, I’ve taken more peaceful strolls through the worst rookeries in London!”

“But look you at the respectable Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe, him now clinging to that spire” he jerked his thumb up towards the cathedral’s peak, where the unfortunate politician might be dimly observed clinging on for dear life. 

Sergeant Slaughter sneered, “Cock a snook at im, the infant-kidnapping-ingrate! Starving the poor what ave turned to the workhouse for succour and shelter, then turning em owt-a doors in Winter if they can’t find work! Who voted him into parliament?”

“MP for Richmond and Sitterworth ain’t he? That’s fourteen houses with 23 voters living in em, voters whose landlord is The Reverend Unctuous, Archbishop of The Parish of St-Mary-Profundis, Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe’s patron and his Uncle”

“Why the man has less wit than a country yokel! Clutching at that church spire thinking he can dodge a spell at Newgate! That may well be the case in Southwark, but not ere mate!”

“Why, when thy uncle is a lord who rides to hounds in the House of Commons you may call yourself Jack the Ripper and still receive a knighthood!” both officers laughed heartily at this, afore absorbing the gloom of their surroundings afresh and falling silent. Silence, all is morose silence, save for the savage trilling of the Whipporwills those harbingers of death, the insane titterings of a gravedigger, and the despairing shrieks of a dissolute politician…..

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

A Warfare of Tricks & Contrivances

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Chapter 5: A Warfare of Tricks & Contrivances

“Gawd elp us! Elp! Elp! Oh Gawd, elp!”  

“Silence! Trollop!!!”

“Awww Gawd! Mercy sir! Have mercy! I have a child!”

“Silence I sayyyy!!!!” 

The last word is bellowed so loudly that even the Whipporwills (those Psycho-Pomp harbingers of the netherworld) perched in the branches of the cherry trees fall silent. The sight of the monstrous monk struggling to make away with the chambermaid is at once a sight so piteous and so foul, that it takes all of Sergeant Come-Hither’s restraint, to remain hid ‘mongst the branches of the near-most tree. 

“Oh, oh ma gawd!”

It is not possible to see the face of the cowled monk struggling hideously with the distraught woman whose swaddled child lies scarce a foot away, but beyond any doubt t’is the mad monk Planchette.

“We can’t take him yet, the inspector says we needs the other to turn up a’fore we can!” mutters Sergeant Slaughter, his great fists clenching and unclenching upon his truncheon, which he would most surely bring to bear upon the crown of the monk if given half a chance.

“Have a little patience Slaughter, look at the muscles on er! Ooer! Oh he’s having a hard time of it! Dear Gawd, what a struggle! You’d think he’d know better than to grapple with a kitchen maid!”

“Oi oi take a gander at this, here comes another miscreant! What ave we ere?” whispers Constable Take-Fast espying another figure lurching forth into the church yard. 

T’is the Member of Parliament for Richmond and Sitterforth, but my what a change! Gone are the finely trimmed lustrous locks of certainty, and the blue eye of  righteous indignation, all gone! Did ever a gentleman look more dishevelled, more felled by tawdry calamity, more slain by depravity and smitten by rampant degeneracy than this? The right honourable Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe MP has at last been discovered clutching a Moses-Basket in his hands, and the officers little doubt that therein lies the downfall and the shame of the man.

“Planchette! Brother Planchette you devilish occulted spawn unhand the lady! Unhand her I say! Monsieur Planchette, you will desist sir! I have you in my eye sir!” 

Alas for Planchette’s nimble ferocity! In one fell swoop both hands are wrapped around the victim’s neck who, resist him as violently as she might, can scarce free herself from his grip. Exulting in his impending ascendancy, Planchette fails to note the manic gleam in the eye of the outraged (though dishonourable) Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe. The fervour of the monk’s fanaticism has caused him to ignore the resolution of the MP for Richmond and Sitterforth, who, depositing the Moses-Basket (containing the evidence of his shame) on the churchyard lawn, draws forth a pistol and fires roundly upon the mad monk.

“Now!” bellows Sergeant Slaughter blowing hard upon his whistle and following close upon the heels of Constable Take-Fast who, wielding his truncheon violently bids all and sundry to “Halt! In the name of the law!” 

What now of high reputation and unblemished honour? The Goveen Monk whose lunacy has been thwarted by a pistol shot lies mortally stricken, clept in the pitiless arms of Sergeant Slaughter, and what of the pistol wielding politician? Gone! Fled into the sanctum of Christchurch Cathedral taking the Moses-Basket with him.

After him and the basket! The inspector will not countenance another death, look to him Constable Qwinty! Sergeant Come-Hither! To arms sir! To arms!”

The wailings of the infant continue unabated, but the fevered politician hurries on, traversing the floor of the church, dodging the pews and throwing himself afore the sanctified altar.

“Pottering about on the sneak and with a child in hand! T’is an outrage!” roars Constable Qwinty “Hand over the basket!”

“I will not!”

“Give that basket ere!” growls Constable Qwinty inching himself ever closer.

“I will not! I claim the sanctuary of Christchurch Cathedral!”

“Sanctuary? With someone else’s child in thy hands?” replies Sergeant Come-Hither “You shall not! Come away from there! You’ll make things worse on yerself if you don’t!”

“Ha!”

“Ha? Ho! I’ll will ave you, you godless, murdering rapscallion!” and with that Sergeant Take-Fast sprints forward and makes ready to seize his man.

“Halt Sergeant Take-Fast! Halt I say and hark! Do you not hear it? That howling?” cries Constable Qwinty halting himself and turning towards the wide open cathedral doors, “Sounds to me like something’s a-thin outside”. 

Something is indeed a-thin dear reader! T’is the lesser people, the common herd who, their bosoms surfeit with rankling passion, have called themselves to arms, and made their way to the cathedral where (rumour would have it) the homicidal guardian of Spitalfield’s Workhouse is to be found. With breasts bared, teeth gnashing and hair streaming, with cudgels, bludgers and butcher’s knives stuck in make shift belts, the howling mob would do away with a man who has brought untold misery to thousands in Spitalfields.

“Where is he? Where is Ethelbert-Smythe? Bring him out to us, we’ll show him what it is to go a-murdering!”

“Carve up our women & steal our babes? I’ll carve HIM up!”

“Leave us to starve and freeze to death in the alleyways of the Seven Dials would he?”

“Bring him out, the Goveen lickalspit!”

“Bring him forth, the spring-lamb munching ingrate!”

The bells of Christchurch strike two and not for the first time this night Sergeant Slaughter wishes he were abroad patrolling London Bridge in peace. Indeed were it not for the luminous presence of Inspector Depta he and his men would have quit the heathen churchyard long ago.

“My, my! Well, if this don’t beat all hell!” roars the inspector holstering his pistol and holding up a police lantern so as he may address the members of his flock. 

“Ho! You!” suddenly the inspector thrusts his lantern afore him into the ferocious seeming mob and espies Bert Marsh, co-owner of The Sapphire of Jhansi, “Well and if it ain’t Bert! Come for’ard! Don’t be shy! And Is that Nat Spate? Cheat the Old Bailey out of an execution didn’t ya? The Newgate hangman had wind of you near enough!”.

“He did, he did near enuf!” the ferocious horde of vigilantes murmur cheerfully, waving their pitchforks to and fro in solidarity with the inspector’s fine opinions.

“Here we iz nabbing them warmongering members of the aristocracy wot don’t know to keep them murdering ways to themselves an ere you are stopping us! Is that fair I ask you? Well, is it? Is that you Bert Tobin crouching behind that tombstone? Come forth! Right out into the light where we can all see you! Well, and there’s a face to conjure with!” the crowd who know Master Tobin well chuckle quietly amongst themselves.

“Afore you descend into a riotous disorder! Look afore you and see the ailing mother whose poor neck is sore in need of medical attention!” the inspector says reminding them of their duty towards their own. Quick! somebody fetch Father Fitzpatrick! He doctored in the America’s did he not? Fetch Father Fitzpatrick! The murmured request ripples through the crowd swiftly, and a little boy scarce tall enough to be holding a pike makes off and a way to fetch the good father. 

Striding this way and that, the inspector continues to work the crowd,“What you are there are you Alice Marsh? Ain’t ad enough of it yet? What of you Milty? Ready for ten months more my boy? Mrs Becca Hayes! Business slacking is it? That you should be out ere with a carving knife hid in yer corset and poorly by my reckoning! (there is much hilarity at this assertion). Plot a dalliance with sedition and murder on my turf would you?” the inspector roars belligerently “Well, we ain’t having it, hook it! Go on! Justice is reaching it’s close an any as interfere will find themselves come orff worse! Hook it the lot of yer, get orff home!”

What a sight to behold! A more angry looking mob the inspector had not laid his eyes on

for some time, nor could he blame them.

“To hell with yer!” yells one straw haired fellow (a chimney sweep) waving a scythe aloft “To hell with all of yer! A fine world this is, where politicians and monks may ravage our women, and gammon us out of our children. Where milliners and dockers as are starved for work may be starved again of vittles, by such as Ethelbert-Smythe! Out of my way! I will carve my fill of him so gawd elp me I will!” and with that the straw haired denizen, scythe held aloft, leaps forward, and is promptly knocked to the ground by the butt of Inspector Depta’s pistol. 

“Sergeant Girdy! Clep him in irons! Well, and who else shall we be collaring and taking afore the assizes on this morn?”

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Marked For Death! Inspector Depta & The St Swithuns-Bird Murders…

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It is almost midnight; cold, damp, still raining, yet throughout London there oozes a slumberous peace. There is a new fashion initiated by royalty, a fir tree freshly hewn from some forest or another and erected in one’s drawing room. Live trees lit with tiny candles and sugar ornaments placed in them and tiny glass baubles hung upon them. A new idea initiated by His Majesty Prince Albert and soon to lead to an outburst of conflagrations across half of London.

T’is the night before Christmas when parents labour tirelessly, putting glasses of Sherry and dishes of Plum Pudding out for St Nicholas, and making sure that the children are a-bed and the servants hard at work. 

T’is the night before Christmas and one must make sure that the goose, the turkey, and the pheasant, have all been plucked and basted ready for roasting. That the vegetables have been peeled and the mulled wine readied.

Half past midnight and Fanny Ethelbert-Smythe is still hard at work preparing pie dough and steamed apricots. It is almost one, when she, at last, ascends to her chamber where surely she will fall asleep? But she does not. The master of the house is away and she suspects that he is still at the workhouse. There is some sinister business a-foot there that wearies him, leaving him more bereft, more haggard looking by the day.

When home he barely sleeps, pacing to and fro in his study and barely acknowledging his own children. Then there is the child he carried home with him one night, demanding she place it in the children’s old nursery (one floor down from the attic).

Alas, the child did not come alone! A shabby, foul smelling creature came with it! A denizen of some tawdry netherworld she suspects, yet curiously she senses a contradiction between the appearance of this man and his manner, and then there is his voice which perversely seems very familiar to her.

Who is this child? She knows it cannot be her husband’s so to which rapscallion does it belong? T’is almost Christmas and she has given shelter to a child of disreputable parentage, the spawn of dubious moral congress, kept near the attic where the servants sleep! Unconscionable! Worse still, her husband will brook no talk of bequeathing the child to the Coram Orphanage nor of returning it to the workhouse! It is almost two in the morning before Fanny Ethelbert-Smythe’s mind is at peace and herself asleep.

Time flows as swiftly as a river, as swiftly as the flood-waters beneath the Thames Bridge or within the fetid walls of Ah-Taks. With an Opium Pipe in one hand and with the other wrapped around a blowen, who is to say how quickly time may pass? The shabbily clad gentleman ensconced in his grimy berth is certain that he has been in this Opium Den many days now and that he may not venture back to Bow Street again without a nugget of gold. Nuggets of valuable information is what he’s out collecting, far more precious and harder to draw out of a river than ‘panned’ gold dust. A string of peculiar criminal occurrences followed by a series of unpleasant events have led to his presence in Ah-Tak’s Opium Den. T’is a Frenchman they are after but it’s an Englishman they find and in a most remarkable state of liberty!

“Ello what ave we ere?” asks Inspector Depta on spying Lucius Favreau, avid reader of Dante creeping into Ah Taks. Master Favreau had once been butler to a disreputable rapscallion, who, having fallen into penury with the wrong sort of gentlemen, was shot whilst out hunting.

“Funny thing is Lord Brockley-Burnett was a crack marksman! My Uncle served under his command during the Mafeking Battles of Zulu Land! Lord Rucklesmoot’s brother e woz.”

“Perhaps Mr Favreau has received a Queen’s pardon, that might explain why he has been let out of Newgate sir” suggests the innocent Constable Qwinty.

Rolling his eyes Inspector Depta snorted,

“Wot im? Nevah! Lord Brockley weren’t wise like the rest of iz sort! Wouldn’t touch nunnery girls with a barge pole but he wouldn’t keep off the ladies neither, there wasn’t a scullery, chamber or parlour maid that was safe round him! He kept on aving kids out of wedlock and they (and their mothers) kept on disappearing. In the end we collared iz butler for the most prodwigious infanticide of all them kids. The only evidence we had were a dozen birthing robes, we discovered not a single corpse! Lucius the Butler would not talk, faithful to iz lordship to the end! T’was a terrible scandal! The queen wouldn’t pardon him even if her life depended on it! It’s Planchette the Butler we’re after and I suspect we may nab him yet if we keep our eyes on Favreau, get close to him Constable Qwinty! Stay on im till you gets yer nugget of gold! An when you do be quick about getting it to me! There’s promotion in it for you!” In no time at all Constable Qwinty finds himself a berth at Ah Taks sips infrequently on his Opium, lets his mind drift and waits, and waits, and waits, till at length the Newgate Prison inmate most importunately freed, begins to talk. ” I won’t do it I tell you! I won’t!I can’t, me conscience won’t let me!” a most prodwigious consumer of Opium is this Favreau and a most prodwigious talker when full of it!

“I won’t do it I tell ye! I can’t! Me consciense won’t let me!”

Hunched up in his berth and clasped in the heartless embrace of his addiction an shuddering! Shuddering as though the devil hisself had him in his grip! Inching closer, Constable Qwinty hears more,

“God will damn my soul for this! Oh, oh, I can’t! I won’t!” and then those final damning words, “She’s my wife damn you! Tis but a year since we wed! I will not I tell you! What? You question my loyalty to the creed of Gove? I who have done more for the glory of his essence than all of you? Ask Master Skinner and he’ll tell you! Few have embraced the brotherhood as I have!” and here the Opium drenched wretch raises his eyes imploringly towards heaven, clasps his muscular fists together, and proceeds to pray “May the good lord forgive me!”. But Constable Qwinty ain’t in a forgiving mood, the arm of the law is the arm of the law, and inching still closer he takes a gander at Favreau’s exposed ankle, an ankle with a dagger gartered to it. A dagger of a type that tells Qwinty three things, it is made of forty eight carat gold (like the last three they found), it is ornately inscribed with the insignia of Gove and it could not belong to the man who has it (himself being working class and Anglican).

Slipping quietly off his berth and sneaking out of Ah Tak’s Constable Qwinty heads back to Bow Street, where his nuggets of information are sure to be well received by Inspector Depta. t’is four in the morning as he shambles slowly along, passing through every cold and lonely alleyway he knows, places awash with the dross of London society, places where things were well begun only to end badly. Places leading ever upwards to the Bow Street Police Force and (incontrovertibly for some) to the assizes of the Old Bailey. By the time he has reached Drury Lane he is an altogether different creature and his progress from hereon in is much swifter. At Bow Street he is himself once more, an impartial and proper arbiter of English Law and one of the multitudinous limbs of that scarce slumbering beast, the Bow Street Police Force.

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Part Two: The Curse of Gove-Us!!!!

If there is an image of calm repose it does not favour Inspector Depta in the slightest. Rather he resembles the imitation of that mysterious and mythical creature the Sphinx. So rapt and so enthralled is he by the tale that Madame Le Breton has told him.

“Marcus Planchette is the child of Gabrielle Du Planchette, the wife of Le Comte Du Planchette. A devout Christian woman who had the great misfortune to ave the devil incarnate for a uzband! Cor ad loquitur, heart must speak to heart! He was an andsome fiend, er usband, and I am told that she was as beautiful, delicate and fragrant a flower as any maiden born to France. Monsieur Le Comte fell in love as passionately as any man, indeed more so since e was between mistresses!”  

Madame Le Breton laughed mirthlessly, 

“At fifteen they married er off. Mon Dieu! To ave married so young and then to find oneself locked in the embrace of a diabolical fiend, a heartless villain! To be bound in marriage to such a one as Le Comte Du Planchette! Quel desastre! Er family had not just sold er to ziz diabolus lock, stock, and barrel, they ad pitched her into the very jaws of hell and thrown away ze key!” 

“He was a faithless husband?” Madame Le Breton rolled her eyes and hissed, 

“Faithless? The scoundrel cheated…at everyzing he could! Cards, horses, he borrowed money from homicidal ruffians and worse still he procreated!” 

“Procreated?” 

“All over Bordeaux! Iz children were said to litter the entire countryside of France! From Scullery Maids to duchesses no one was safe from his advances! T’is said he debauched so many that the convents of Bordeaux had two year long waiting lists for those women longing to escape their disgrace! His behavior was a terrible scandal to bear, but there was worse to come!” 

“Worse?” How much worse could things have gotten he wondered, Madam Le Breton wrinkled her face with disgust and disdain, 

“The rapscallion demanded that she take the head footman for er lover!” 

The Inspector emitted a low whistle, he’d heard of many practices in his time and seen them too, but he had yet to encounter any predicatorial practices that could rival those of the ruling classes once they took lunatick,  

“The poor woman”  

Hearing this Madame Le Breton permitted herself a tiny sour smile. 

 “T’was one humiliation too many, a disgrace no good Catholic girl could have borne, t’was beyond the pale! To yield oneself to a member of the lower classes?! Desperate for a way out La Comtesse Du Planchette took the only path she could. She threw herself at the mercy of L’ordre Goveen. They consented to aid her and she and her four children fled the family home and took sanctuary with them.”

Now Inspector Depta smiled sourly,”Those scoundrels don’t give something for nuffing, wot she give em?” 

Her eldest child, a boy, François Planchette!” 

“Bloody hell! The Butler Planchette is a Goveen Monk?! How’d you come by this information?!” 

She gave no reply, instead, she replenished his glass with brandy and then continued to tell her tale, 

“François Planchette trained at Le Monastere Malhorreurs in Bordeaux, later, when the revolutionary purges took place, and L’ordre Goveen fell out of favour with the republic, he fled with them to England and here they have been ever since.” 

“Where exactly?” 

“François Planchette has served for twenty years at the Christchurch Cathedral in Spitalsfield” 

“Impossible!” exclaimed the Inspector, “There’s only one cathedral in Spitalsfield and that’s Anglican!”  

Madam Le Breton smiled sourly “Is it?” her dark eyes and grim face told him otherwise, 

“Impossible!” he declared once more, but then he considered the tall looming building, it’s shadowy recesses in which, on more than once occasion, strange events had transpired. The sinister looking gargoyles that clung to the Tuscan Columns outside the church, and the strange hieroglyphic designs inscribed upon the altar and the bowl of the baptismal font. 

Could it be true? That the church was a Goveen stronghold? On more than one occasion he had glanced upon the baptismal font with it’s strange and yet familiar inscriptions, with a sense of grim foreboding.  

“Master Porter could tell you a thing or two about that church, things that you could scarcely countenance” Inspector Depta raised a stern eyebrow at this, crime afoot in a place he had mistaken for a divine sanctuary and he had not known it? What a shrewd yet handsome woman Elodie Le Breton was! T’is a brazen pity she ain’t married, he thinks but darest not utter. A lady wot runs a discrete little place were the Birch canes were always kept fresh and clean and well hidden. T’is a pity she was a blowen and that one of er blowens had been implicated in a most sinister affair involving the aristocracy to boot! 

“Mademoiselle Amelie is lucky to be alive! Pregnant and by Ethelbert-Smythe? Wot possessed the girl?” 

Madame Le Breton blushes with indignation for if she has told the girls once, she had told them twice, nevah ezah be with child by a member of the British aristocracy, the Germans most certainly and you might chance it with ze French, but ze British? Sacre Bleur!  

“Monsieur Ethelbert said he loved er, that he could not live without er, and the silly girl believed him and now Planchette az found er he will not stop until the girl is dead, and the child handed to the brotherhood!”

Madame Le Breton is so distraught that her prodigious bosom heaves with suppressed ire “Aristocratic pregnancies? Mon Dieu! I would sooner feed my girls to a pack of rabid dogs! You remember Molly Norris?” 

“Do I eck!” the good inspector’s eyes twinkle with the recollection, he remembered her alright, Lord Rucklesmoot couldn’t get enough of her!  

“Ze instant I knew she was wiz child I did not wait for Le Planchette to turn up! I ad er spirited away to France. She is married now, to a farmer in Brittany!” 

“Birch rods and all?” the inspector looks aghast, t’weren’t many who’d bear the scandal.  

“As far as he is concerned the child is his own. It broke my heart to lose Molly, she had such a masterful way with her!” 

“What of Amelie?” 

“Quel desastre! Now le monstre Planchette has broken cover who will take her? She is marked for death and the brotherhood will be watching the place day and night! Most murderers are consigned either to the penal colonies or to Newgate, but zis one? Zis spawn of Gehenna? He is protected by the crown!” 

Inspector Depta finishes the last of his brandy quietly placing the delicately engraved brandy glass on the table. His is a strong and muscular hand as capable of delicately palming a piece of evidence as it is of gripping a predicatorial neck as brutally as the behaviour of it’s owner warrants. Why the hands of this valiant member of the Bow Street Force have gripped many a thief and predicator as intractably as the laws of the British Empire would allow! Is he now to blanch at the prospect of collaring the devil Planchette? Nevah! Heaven forbid that such a monstrous imbalance of justice should occur and himself be the author of it! 

“Fear not madam! By this night’s end Francois Planchette shall be in my hands or I’ll know the reason why!” 

Madame Le Breton knows he will do his best, “Poor Amelie! Who will marry her now with that scarred face? Those Goveen Devils! They show mercy to none that are not made in their image!”  

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Part Three: The Affliction of St Swithuns-Bird!

Is the night bleak dear reader? Is it dank & dismal? Does it throb with evil expectancy? Do those gleaming cobblestones glazed with spilt gin and Jamaican rum resonate with the unresting, unhasting, menacing, presence of vicious iniquity? So devoid of rectitude and so hellishly vicious that there’s scarce a gentleman (let alone a lady) devoid of profligacy and sin, that dar’st be seen abroad clad in it’s dour vestments. 

Hark! The raucous, shivery tinkle, of the Christchurch bells! Mark how the bells of Christchurch in Spitalfields, scarce heard above the crazed hustle and bustle of Saffron Hill on a market day, now echo insanely through the cold streets and grimy alleyways of the Seven Dials! Tis enough to wake slumbering drunks and pummel them into fearful sobriety. Tis sufficient to prompt sneak thieves to cross themselves sombrely, uttering a quick prayer as they do so. For the sound of those bells on such a night as this can bode no good. Tis a harbinger of eldritch portent, of hidden savageries, of deeds beyond imagining! St Giles’ clock strikes midnight, and in some alleyway whose walls run leprous with evil, insane titterings commence. But let us away from here and wander (swiftly) towards that bastion of moral probity, the Bow Street Police Station.

Where is Sergeant Haughton?

“He watches the home of the Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe, sir.”

“Sergeant O’ Reilly?”

“Walking the grounds of Richmond Park with Sergeant Cabot.”

“What of Constable Slaughter?”

“He keeps watch within the grounds of the workhouse, Sergeant Take-Fast walks with him. They’re keeping a particular close eye on those who go in & out of the casual ward sir, as you suggested.”

Who watches the Christchurch Cathedral? Heaven forbid any holding exalted rank should elect to commit an offence there! Aristocratic murders midst a Goveen stronghold – masquerading as a bastion of Anglicanism?!- the Prime Minister will ave our heads on a platter, you may be sure of that! What of Ah-Taks?”

“No need to waste a man there,” declares Constable Qwinty cheerfully, “Favreau the butler has returned to his prison cell!”

“When was this?” asks the Inspector

“A carriage came for him nigh on two hours after I’d departed.”

“You have this on credible authority?” the Inspector, notes his reply closely.

“Rufus Fletchett noted his departure. Master Porter noted his arrival and re-incarceration at Newgate and both men will swear to that which they noted a’fore the courts!”

All safely locked up and snug a-bed as if he’d never been a-murdering!” exclaims the Inspector, his face flush with indignation.

“But he has been out a-murdering!” declares the naive Constable

“No he ain’t!” retorts the inspector jabbing at the air twixt him and Qwinty with his cigar,”He ain’t bin owt murdering till our betters say so. If he’d bin owt murdering blowens off his own account we’d ave clapped him in irons soon enough, but to be owt and about knocking em off on behalf of the crown? This case is trickier than a virgin’s corset! One false move on our part and we’ve ad it!”

Inspector Depta, stands afore a blazing fire, chewing on his cigar meditatively, his eyes are alight with spurious speculation and dire conjectures. A little trouble midst the fleshpots of St Giles he could manage easily, but what he had here was a full blown scandal.

“This’ll need very delicate handling Qwinty, very delicate. Lord Ponsonby, where iz he?”

“Deep in conversation with Sergeant Breadalbane, sir.”

“Well, fetch him in, fetch him in!”

Sergeant Breadalbane of the Bow Street Police has known Master Ponsonby for much of his life, having spent his childhood growing up on the Ponsonby Family Estate. Master Ponsonby (the younger son of Lord Aspinall Ponsonby), well remembers the many kindnesses shown him as a child by Sergeant Breadalbane’s mother who served as his nanny for many years. Indeed Master Ponsonby’s weak blue eyes, still well with tears, as he recalls the many sleepless nights she spent tenderly nursing him through severe bouts of influenza.

“She cared for me as if I were her own, which I wished I was.” He said wistfully, Sergeant Bertram Bredalbane doesn’t doubt that. The Ponsonby’s were well known for their love of vigorous pugilism and deer hunting midst the bracing fresh air of Hampshire. Hence the fatal horse riding and hunting accidents three of their sons had succumbed to. Fearing for his life Master Ponsonby had fled the family estate at the earliest opportunity, taking refuge in the position of senior librarian at the British Museum.

“Pray tell, how is your mama Sergeant Bertram Breadalbane? Tis nigh on two months since I visited her last”

“She fares well sir, she nurses my youngest, Abel, I will tell her you asked after her.” Master Ponsonby’s eyes well up once more and his pale cheeks flushed with remembered pleasure. 

Alas, then that Constable Qwinty should request his presence midst the Inspector’s sombre sanctum sanctorum!

“If you’d come with me sir?” clutching a large, well worn book, a tattered scroll and a velvet purse, the senior librarian of the British Museum follows the Bow Street officer into the heart of the police station, till, at length, he enters the comfy, well-lit chamber that is Inspector Depta’s office. Inspector Depta famed for his brutal discretion by some (and infamous to others) smiles warmly at the sight of Wendlebury Ponsonby, whose expansive intellect (as indicated by his unusually high and broad forehead) has proven most efficacious in unravelling the intricacies of some of his more sinister cases.

“Well young man? What have you found? Tell me you have at least a partial answer as to what it is here that we have.”

“What we have here” replies Master Ponsonby “Is a most parlous state of affairs, brought on by that brooding zealotry bordering on hysteria, that so characterises those who would seek after the forbidden ecstasies of Gove. If you wish to know what evil bred afore the dawn of man could drive a secret league to such heinous acts , then pray, look within that purse”

“What is it?” asks the inspector tipping the contents of the purse into his palm,

“T’is a sixteenth century sacrificial dagger marked with the insignia of St Swithuns-Bird The Martyr, who, having been found lurking in Dorset was arrested, tried for treason at the Winchester Assizes, and then hung, drawn and quartered. Ah! I see that you are familiar with the design?”

“I am, we’ve come upon three such inscribed daggers in the past week, all of em buried up to the hilt in the bosoms of ladies ejected from service, ladies whose bodies were come upon at the crack of dawn and whose infants have gawn missing!”

“Upon St Swithun’s death and at the crack of dawn (mark that!) a young female devotee to the path of Gove made off with a quarter of the saint’s cadaver nestled beneath her cloak. That quarter was carried to the monastery at Rheim in France and there cremated, converted into four relics, (and it is rumoured) buried within the monastery grounds. There his remains remained, till that spiritual revival amongst the aristocracy which some call the Cambridge Movement.With the emergence of a more fundamentalist strain of this movement, and its increased popularity, it was decided that the four relics should be disinterred and freshly buried within the grounds of four churches, St Peters, St Tobias-in-the-North, St Pauls and Christchurch.You found the bodies of these three women where?”

One at St Tobias-in-the-North, another in the churchyard of St Johns,a third hid behind the altar of St Pauls.”

“Then you will find the next bloodied corpse at Christchurch! The brotherhood keeps the fourth relic hid there since t’is there that the newborns stolen from their unwed mothers are baptised, before being handed onto aristocratic families!”

“Handed on? You talk as though they were discarded clothing! Them as ad them, bore them for nine months in calumny, ere they woz murdered and their wee bairns took by a murdering minister!” Constable Qwinty is shocked and Wendlebury Ponsonby knocks back some of the Inspector’s brandy with a trembling hand. What he has discovered frightens him badly. “T’would seem that we are privy to acts of minor genocide” he continues meeting the Inspector’s glare. “Babies born to the upper classes and deemed defective by the Duchess De Fox-Pitt, replaced by offspring born of illicit unions twixt their fathers and members of the lower classes, positively Darwinian.

“Darwin may go to the devil! What of the defective newborns?”

On this Wendlebury is silent, for who would be so bold as to openly conjecture what had happened to those unprotected infants accursed with too high a social position? O horror of horrors! That the Prime Minister might be the son of the daughter of a sneak thief! O direst calumny! And what of Lord Rucklesmoot whose penchant for milking cows had been deemed most odd by those privy to the hauteur of the rest of the family?

“The Duchess De Fox-Pitt I’m told owns a residence midst the highlands of Scotland, a residence whose grounds encompass the icy peaks of Mount Lochnergarruld!”

“She wouldn’t!” cries Constable Qwinty

“Oh but she has” is Lord Wendlebury’s quiet reply “The question is how may one prove it?”.

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Part Four: Of Cuckoos & Lehzen!

Consider the wiles of the Australian cuckoo, a most unremarkable bird but for the fact that it teeters on the brink of homicidal lunacy. A bird that builds no nest of its own. It is content instead to peck the eggs of other species to pieces afore replacing the ruined fragments with its own eggs. Oh,that such monstrous behaviour should take the place of natural instinct! Oh that the moonlight in which the leprous limbs of the goddess Lillith were laved, should have lit upon such base trickery, lit upon it, shuddered and averted it’s gaze! For when one teeters on the brink of extinction, one may find dear reader that there are dissipated depths to which one will not cease to stoop, and that survival is everything. 

The Duchess Orphelia De Fox-Pitt, sits at an open window overlooking the grounds of Richmond Park, with an ermine shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders, see now how she paces to and fro her pale, slender, fingers clenching and unclenching, grasping fruitlessly as some invisible thing. Watching her through heavily lidded eyes the Baroness Von Erastrian crochets and calmly reflects upon the living calamity the Duchess de Fox-Pitt has become. To discard defective offspring to the betterment of one’s family line was nothing new, St Bacchanalia’s Asylum had benefited from that aristocratic practice for centuries. But to resort to murder in order to further improve the royal bloodlines and to implicate the queen in such sinister goings-on! Had the duchess taken leave of her senses? 

The Baroness is mortified, mortified and aghast with horror, but her face, as smooth as cold alabaster, portrays nothing of what she feels. 

Instead her cool gaze falls upon a tiny glass of brandy into which she has discretely poured a little chemical preparation granted her from the royal dispensary, courtesy of the Baroness Lehzen. The duchess at her most tender urgings has partaken of the little glass of brandy, tipping it down her swanlike neck as if it were nectar from the gods, if she but knew! The full import of her circumstances have fallen most brutally upon her and who may she turn to? Planchette has fled Richmond Park closely pursued by the detective police and Lord Rucklesmoot does not deign to call upon her. 

The grounds of her home have been quietly overtaken by the Officers of the Bow Street Detective Force who now prowl through the park and unbeknownst to her have been granted permission to search the lower floors of the house.

Will you not sit down liebechen? Close zi windows! Close zem!”

Baroness Von Erastrian, lately Royal Governess in Residence to Victoria Saxe-Coburg-Gothe, has come to visit. On this her last night in London she is the guest of her former pupil. Tomorrow she will take a carriage to the Royal Docks, and from thence she will board ‘The Valiant’ never to be seen again. There is however, one duty she has promised the Baroness Lehzen she will perform and now having done her duty she is content.

“Come thither, sit by me, warm your bones by the fire dear girl!” 

The Duchess de Fox-Pitt takes her seat, but her limbs are a-quiver and her eyes (such wild eyes!) gleam with violent emotions, by turns racked with passionate grief and set a-flame with anger. Tis hardly British the baroness thinks, for one born to so dignified a position to flaunt the emotions of the inferior classes!

“The English weather contains many purifying qualities” the duchess declares mournfully, drawing her shawls ever closer. The Baroness Von Erastrian watches her with a heart devoid of any emotion save distaste. She notes the slovenly state of her hair and the stains be-smattering her dove grey gown. At an early age (and from a phrenological point of view) the baroness had deemed the duchess ‘below par’ . T’was a pity she thought (and had said at the time to Baroness Lehzen), that the queen considered it a ‘kindness’ to bestow the role of Royal Genealogist upon one so easily overwrought (and prone to outbursts of Darwinistic instability). Still, who would have thought that this vengeful Procne, would fall prey to the excesses of the Cambridge Movement and start whimsically murdering the defective offspring of her peers! Had she forgotten her own breeding? With lips firmly compressed the baroness calls for the butler, who in turn calls for the lady-in-waiting.

“Her ladyship is overwrought” the baroness declares peremptorily, “kindly take her to her rooms”

Raving still about the English weather the duchess is carried forth, past walls decorated by French interior designers and hung with the rich oil paintings of her multitudinous ancestors. The De Fox-Pitts were men of high renown and good reputation, kidnapping and ransoming only those French kings who deserved it. Their duchesses were women of unimpeachable ferocity and modest renown. Why at all times their piety and chasteness had been unimpeachable! Alas then that an honoured and distinguished family name should have fallen to ruin!

Her ladyship passing into her bedchamber and half in and half out of a delirium (induced by the poisoned brandy), fancies she espies the figure of her lover, the monk Planchette, lurking behind a bed post.

“Francois, Mon amour! Mon coeur! Is it done? Is it done? Oh Gove be praised! A little water clears us of the deed my love!” the baroness nervously following her gaze, and seeing naught but shadow in the corner of the bedchamber, shudders. Ah! such passionate effulgence! That would undo one’s reputation for moral probity and pitch one head first into scandal and perdition! Such baleful looks are cast betwixt the baroness and the Lady-in-Waiting (Narcissa) assigned to the task of ‘retiring’ the duchess. Oh horror! That the unregulated nature of a De Fox-Pitt should (unintentionally) have been given free rein to dishonour the crown! Oh pity! Pity! But there can be none! Avaunt thee looming scandal! 

“Narcissa”

“Yes baroness”

“Remove the corset of ze duchess, do it carefully, the garment still reeks of Atropa Belladonna”

Pulling on a pair of kid gloves Narcissa swiftly unlaces the garment which she has spent several months carefully dusting with the noxious powder and carries it away.

“Burn it in the scullery yard dear girl, Parker will show you where”

Carefully lifting each slender, cold, limb the baroness undresses Orphelia De Fox-Pitt and with the help of the lady-in-waiting puts her to bed.

“How like her namesake she looks!”

“If that were true she would have drowned herself and saved us the bother of poisoning her! ” retorts the Lady Narcissa.

“Zere are two things of a sort that will produce merciless destruction to all we hold dear should it get the upper hand” replies the baroness as she carefully arranges the bedsheets around her former pupil (now almost deceased). “one is a raging fire and ze second iz ze lesser people, ze common multitude, for once enraged zay will not be stopped by either reason or discipline! If zis scandal is made known revolution will ensue and that Frau Lehzen dare not countenance!” 

“Yes maam”

“Duty my child” admonishes the baroness waving a wizened finger “Duty! First to God, and then to the crown and only then may one think of oneself!”

To be continued…..

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