“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!”
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!”
“Is e dead?”
“Has hell frozen over? Pour that Claret down iz throat! Gently, gently! He’ll come round soon enough!”
“Oh am I glad you iz ere! What a to do!”
“Iz he often like this?” asked the inspector looking down at the semi-conscious politician, Master Fluttock favoured the inspector with a grim look.
“E’s bin like this ever since Hemphill-Skinner died, he weren’t too bothered about the death of that chimney sweep, the one what burn’t to death up that chimney, but when Master Hemphill-Skinner croaked it, well, its a fine day when he ain’t reeling rown’ the workhouse reekin’ of Claret!”
“What he die of?” Master Fluttock scratched his head,
“Well that’s the puzzle of it, he was put on the Cholera ward but that t’aint wot he died orff”
“What did he die orff?”
“They said it was an Opium overdose, but iz neck woz broke!”
“You sayin t’were neglect?”
Master Fluttock glanced slyly at the politician who now ran the workhouse, “Something’s amiss that’s wot I’m tellin ye! Though there’s no provin of it! ”
“Ere ere! He’s come round!”
When on a case there’s nothing the inspector likes better than a compliant suspect, for when a predicator is thoroughly themselves they are disinclined to say what they ought. Let a little vulnerability, a little weakness, creep in and the tale unfolds altogether different. And so like a tender-hearted nursing mother the inspector delicately helps the workhouse guardian into his armchair, whilst Gerty Fluttock administers little sips of Claret. The inspector notes the intermittent shuddering and the tremulous lip, the occasional tear (a form of suppressed repentance for something though he didn’t know what as yet), and the death-like clamminess. Now what form of crime (as yet unconfessed) could e’ ave committed to make him take on so?
“Come, come” says The inspector, “You’ve had a fright that’s clear”
“A terrible fright” the workhouse guardian confesses, “A most terrible fright! I thought he was alive you see, but he can’t be, he’s dead! I should know”
“Who’s dead?” asks the inspector
“Hemphill Skinner! Hemphill!”
“Be calm sir, be calm, ere, take another nip of Claret” the Right Honourable politician takes several, whilst the inspector tries desperately to recall Master Hemphill-Skinner. He recalls a man with a fondness for Madame Ah-Tak’s Opium Den, a pallid looking man with tiny pallid hands but what had he to do with the guardian of the workhouse?
“Hemphill-Skinner…..” the inspector mused, he knew of some scandal linked to that name, but in what capacity he couldn’t fathom, but t’was too late to enquire further of Ethelbert-Smythe, for he had recovered his composure sufficiently enough to rise from his seat. The inspector noticed how Fluttock quickly donned his customary subservience, noticed how he stooped over and shuffled to and fro seeming much older than his forty or so years. He took a powerful bit of notice too, of the well fed gentleman who, whilst others starved and died of cold, sat in his well heated study having nightmares about a man of no social standing, t’was most curious.
“You must forgive me for incommoding you inspector”
“T’is nothing, I am glad to see you are yourself once more and yet I fear that I must add to your griefs, by bringing to your remembrance one whom you consigned to Bethelem Asylum over a year ago, a Master Doyle”
“What of him?”
“T’would seem he has been released”
“Highly unlikely, he has been in the medical care of Dr Garrick for much of the time”
“Nevertheless one fitting his description has been seen in certain parts hereabouts”
Inspector Depta smiled the smile of a disinterested cynic, one who was ever used to the rich poring over the deeds of the predicatorial, only as they pertained to their own safety and well-being. Why the same murderer that would be wrestled to the ground and near strangled for ambling along Downing Street, could drag his prey into the back streets of any impoverished neighbourhood (save St Giles or Bow Street) and have near murdered his victim ere help would arrive.
“T’would appear Master Doyle az bin seen in certain quarters of the rookery…St Giles Rookery”
“Impossible!” the master of the workhouse declared none too convincingly. Oi oi! Thought the Inspector though he darest not exclaim it, so all was not well at the Bethlehem either? Small wonder since it was clear that the gent had other distinctly criminal matters on iz mind, matters which the inspector doubted not he would need to look into, very closely.
“Well, if you say the mad miniaturist is still confined, then still confined e must be”
God help you if he ain’t, he thought but didn’t say, god help you and the rest of us! The inspector recollected the last occasion he’d been called on to attend one of Doyle’s murders, the putrid stench and all them body parts, whose idea was it to put the idle rich in charge of asylums and such? He’d have a word with him if he could! He could list a dozen murders his men needn’t have investigated save someone had forgotten to lock a ward door, and out a murderer ‘ad wandered! And always the same polite enquiry.
“Excuse us yer lordship, but we az a murder your lordship, what we is certain could nevah ave bin committed your lordship, coz we locked the codger wot normally does it, in your gaffe!”
“Really?” the dimwitted peerage holding asylum trustee would reply,
“So far as I know my insane asylum is reputably run and most humane, he can’t possibly have escaped, it must be some other you seek!” it must be some other you seek. The inspector who had spent so many hours walking across, over and beneath London, that there was no corner of the city his eyes didn’t know. Show him a break-in and the tools used and he could tell you which quarter of London the robber hailed from. Recount to him the manner in which a cove had been robbed and the weapon he was threatened with and he would tell you what rapscallion had done it. It must be some other you seek, these were words you used with one as had never worked the Seven Dials nor Bow Street. If he sought a man he was the man, oh these idle rich who knew the cost of everything and yet the value of nothing!
There are odd corners in the brains of many of us, corners which are suffused with queer fancies, and thus should be kept well out of sight. But should these slight, queer, fancies -which some might choose to call ‘an attack of consciense’-be deemed madness? Nay dear reader, for if some of us were used according to our desserts in that way, who then should ‘scape the modern substitutes for whipping?
Consider the most estimable Ethelbert-Smythe MP, who upon having seen Lady Clarence to her carriage and the Reverend Farthengrodden to his, now stumbles fearfully towards his study. The vast empty corridors of the workhouse echo beneath his feet, its interiors are as dark and dank and forbidding as any empty house would be, for the wards of this supposed sanctuary are half full. Many have whispered that it is his intention to do away with the workhouse and keep only the casual wards, this despite the poor who daily clamour at his doors for want of hearth and home.
His richly furnished study is the only part of the workhouse supplied with a vast well lit fireplace, and comfortably upholstered furniture, yet the guardian enters his domain with a most unexpected timidity, with a degree of apprehension and agitation one would not expect of he who had so dramatically shrunk the population of a workhouse, from nigh on seven hundred to a hundred and fifty.
Indeed, as guardian of the workhouse his first act was to ensure the creation of a well stocked study and office, a warm and comforting place, where prodigious amounts of Claret might be consumed, cigars smoked and business conducted. His second was to extend the horse barns considerably, transforming them into the casual wards of the workhouse. Consider dear reader, a practice which when first suggested, horrified Miss Peepy the elder,
“What?!” cried she indignantly, “Are we to debase the poor still further, since they have no employ, by likening them to horses and what pray tell, shall we be feeding them? Hay?”
“If they’re berthed for the night, and sent out to look for work during the day is there any need to feed them?” the right honourable Ethelbert-Smythe observed coolly. On hearing his reply Miss Peepy felt an impending sense of looming disaster, was it possible that the poor would allow themselves to be lodged as horses and starved without there being consequences? And of the direst sort? She suggested this to the indefatigable workhouse guardian whose reply was this,
“Consider the Scottish fir-”
“The Scottish fir?!” cried Miss Peepy disbelievingly, ” Now we are to liken human lives to lumps of wood? Take Care Ethelbert! That you summon not up the hordes of vengeance! Remember the Grid-Iron Riots!”
Remember them? Why it had taken him six hours to reach his his home! The selfishness of the poor! The sheer wanton, violent, selfishness, it was positively Malthusian! Indeed it has proven most Malthusian once the fatalities (his lordship included) were counted.
“Rioting within the rookery? My dear, the environment has been favourable for so long, that the populace of this slum, have begun to mistake Spitalfield’s Workhouse for a tavern, in which an abundance of provisions may be devoured, and nought paid for them. They are far too comfortable to consider rioting! T’is time we discomfited them!”
And so his suggestions were considered by all the workhouse trustees, voted upon and passed. This included the apprenticing of all children past the age of four to apprentice masters of the direst sort. Why, Master Turple-Sleath had apprenticed and near killed a dozen chimney sweeps, before he lit upon Dommy Woodbine, the child whose cindery death had provoked the Grid-Iron Riots! Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe braved out the death and since he had taken charge workhouse commerce had flourished, and the costs of keeping the workhouse poor had diminished to a most inconsequential amount. On the whole his reforms had been feted, though not by Miss Peepy. Miss Peepy being unmarried and therefore prone to frequent misdirected tendernesses of heart.
Yet in the early hours of each morning he felt himself plagued by nameless and terrible fears, and he suffered increasingly from nightmares, such terrible nightmares! T’was as if he were being mercilessly, sharply, prodded by the stern finger of god, and yet he knew himself to have committed no sin, no obvious act of wrong. Perhaps he had been a little tardy in his prayers, a little lethargic in his recitations of The Goveen Creed, perhaps that was it.
Fatigued and a little overwrought from long working hours (and ever shortening nights of sleep) he slumped into his favourite study chair, but oh horror of horrors! A clammy hand firmly grips his own, holding it fixed beneath its hairy grip. Shrieking fearfully his gaze alights on that place where the phantasm that touched him should be, but there is no one, nought but him, pale and trembling before a roaring fire.
Sitting down once more, he pours himself some brandy in an effort to calm his nerves and after several quick gulps it appears to do the trick, but then he espies something wrong with the fireplace. Indeed he fancies that something or someone is moving amongst the flames, and frighted well past all his previous allayed terror, he leaps out of the armchair, only to be held fast by a grimy hand that has slithered out of the flames and snaked itself around one of his ankles.
“Have you forgot me?” croaks the face that accompanys the hand, it glares up at him out of the flames with a degree of malice that does not bode him well at all, “T’is I! Master Hemp-Hill Skinner!” the soot covered visage staring up at him seemed goatish and crafty and its eyes! It’s eyes!
“Aaargh! Aaargh! Cthulu fd’aarghen!!!!” Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe screams as though a nameless terror has clutched him by the throat and is now in the process of tearing him limb from limb. He screams as if the very hounds of hell are gnawing and gnashing at his ankle, he screams until he is hoarse with screaming and then he faints. Outside, on the streets the sun is shining ,and those poor who have been allowed into the workhouse, go about their daily labours with pure hearts and a clear consciense.