The sun has risen and set and risen and set yet again ere the carriage ferrying Lady Hesketh-Elderberry reaches St Bacchanalia’s Asylum. As it passes through Grodden Parnock, the evening has fallen into its dotage and a scarlet tinged twilight has fallen.
“Lift the shutter Anansi, what is it you see?”
“Heathland Missis Hesketh! Miles and miles of it, all brown and yellowish! Tis sickly looking!”
Lady Hesketh-Elderberry’s eyes are full of fearful misgiving, so! They were almost there! Grodden Parnock, home of Iron-Slitting and Mole-Trouser-Stretching bade them welcome; with its howling winds and vast tracts of sickly looking heathland.
“We are but half a mile from St Bacchanalia!” whispered Lady Hesketh as the carriage rolled on, all has sunk blooding to sleep upon the heathlands, and yet Anansi and Lady Hesketh sense they are being watched.
“Missis Hesketh” whispers Anansi his eyes wide with fear, “It feel like we being watched” Lady Hesketh nodded, she had heard of the sinister practices of the brotherhood, “Tis the Goveen way, the roads to and from St Bacchanalia’s are watched day and night by the guardians of the asylum!”
The vast tracts of heathland grow darker and more oppressive looking by the minute. Darkness glowers over the swamplands of Brume Polder, tis the place where dozens of apprentices drowned, and hundreds contracted Scarlet Fever. Twas this appalling scandal that prompted Lady Hesketh-Elderberry to open a dozen or so ragged schools. To think that her nephew, the villainous ingrate, intended to close them all! Oh that she were back in London and able to fight for her schools tooth and nail! Twas all she asked! Tears welled up in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, how fortunate that Anansi should be there to comfort her with his much used hanky!
Evening having tumbled away into darkest night the carriage rumbles ever onwards, whipped on by the ferocity of the driver and the efforts of the near exhausted horses. Till at length the carriage halts and a gruff voice calls out,
“Who goes there?”
“Tis I Brother Adam, I have another loon bound for the asylum!”
“Pass in peace brother! May the essence of St Gove be with thee!”
Peeking out of the window Anansi espied the great wrought iron gates creaking slowly open, now he spied his chance!” Now Missis Hesketh” he whispered as he gently patted the stricken noble lady’s hand, ” Don’t struggle none with them! Jus do as they say I gon be right there wid you!” after placing the gag back over her mouth and binding her hands Anansi slid out of the carriage, passing through the carriage gates as quietly as a crocodile gliding through the waters of a New Orleans Bayou.
A lesser boy would have blanched at the notion of entering such a terrible place, but Anansi was born and bred of a Hoodoo mother, an ill-fated soul unlucky in love, and he did not frighten easily. You must believe me dear reader, when I say that this child had seen things that would have made the blood of the average churchgoer run cold!
Now lingering a little behind the carriage as it passes swiftly through the gates and now running alongside it crouched low, Anansi follows it closely till it stops at the rear of the asylum, where vast ebony wood doors are thrown open and a tall ornately robed gentleman strides forth.
“Ho there Brother Daedalus!What is this we have here?”
“Tis the Duchess of Albermarre your reverence!”
“What? Another Hesketh-Elderberry to join our happy band! Good, good! Have the loon brought forth!”
Father Cicero, for that is his name, is so delighted with the asylum’s latest acquisition that he dances up to the carriage calling loudly for Brothers Beneficio and Jean-Baptiste to ‘please attend upon the patient’. This they duly do, shuffling swiftly towards the carriage and manhandling the terrified philanthropist with as much delicacy as is due a lunatic member of the English aristocracy.
Anansi watches all of this with rapt attention until, with their backs turned fully upon him, he is able to step nimbly across the grounds and swiftly through the doors of the asylum. How many well-written tomes may suffice to explain the horrors resident within? How to convey the despair and desolation of aristocratic kith and kin bound up in this place? Dear reader, I cannot, and as to the revelatory experiences Lady Hesketh-Elderberry found herself exposed to therein, suffice it to say that she who believed herself cabined and cribbed, soon found that much good may be done for others, in the midst of most dire and distressing circumstance.
“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!”
Darkness has fallen and now stars dangle in the sky like a row of pearls around an Ethiope’s neck. The Bald Faced Stag will do a roaring trade straight into the early hours of the morning, but our concern is not with the beer that will be drunk, nor with the imbibing of sherry as stolen silverware changes hands. Nor do we concern ourselves with the destiny of the hapless monk who now lies trussed up in the Tavern’s cellar. To have kidnapped one of the few to display an abiding and benevolent interest in the affairs of London’s working poor, to have trussed her up like a turkey, to have made off with her mercilessly! No we shall not reflect long on the fate of this mad monk, any more than we should. Instead let us turn to that which lies beyond the Bald Faced Stag Inn.
“Has that man arrived?”
“The minister of domestic affairs? Yes, your grace, where shall I place him?”
“The Grey Room”
“Not the Green Study?”
The merest tilt of her handsome head, the slightest gesture of her elegant fingers, is sufficient to halt Planchett in his tracks. Observe as she paces to and fro with her elegant be-ringed fingers clasped in front of her. Such soft, strong hands!
“The Grey Room Planchett”
“Yes your Grace”
As immoveable as a Caryatid pillar, as immutable in her determinations as Medea, observe the lady as she moves soundlessly towards the leather bound documents which take up all of her attention. Page after page of significant family trees which she has had a hand in significantly altering. There are two such volumes of these documents the official record of lineage and the Book of Occitan. Tonight, on this most dark and most heinous of nights, she seals the clasps of both books, reverentially returning them to their place.
It is with a sense of overpowering duty and with increasing ire that the lady proceeds to the Grey Room where Lord Rucklesmoot awaits her.
“Lord Rucklesmoot” his Lordship bows gravely
“T’is late in the day for a visit such as this and most inconvenient”
His Lordship smiles weakly,
“When it comes to affairs of state there is no such thing as inconvenience your grace”
“Is there not? T’is a little cold in here Ruckle-Smoot, do you know why that is?”
“No, your grace” he replies warily,
“I have the windows opened and the rooms aired several times a day, every day. I can scarce abide tainted air sir!”
“No your grace”
“Several of my most treasured servants have fallen ill as a consequence, three have even had the temerity to die, but I will suffer no pollution in the atmosphere of this house!”
The Grey Room is palatial in its proportions with it’s vast heavily curtained windows, ornate carpeting and richly upholstered furniture. A delightful room then, in the exquisite residence of the coveted keeper of the royal bloodlines. So why, does Lord Ruckle-Smoot feel as if he has fallen through the portals of hell? For since he has taken up this post feelings of deep unease have gripped him. Memorising his descendants from the nursery onwards, he had thought the royal lineage unimpeachable, he’d no notion of its needing protecting.
“It seems that we have been remiss Lord Ruckle-Smoot”
“We have lost a vessel, Lord Ruckle-Smoot, a vessel bearing a most important piece of the royal bloodline”
“It was last espied weeping beside the tombstone of the most recently deceased eminent politician”
“Planchette! It’s far too cold in here, stoke the fire!”
“Yes your grace” the butler (having never left the room) finds this an easy task to accomplish, stoking the fire can be done in no time at all, but on this occasion Planchette takes care to demonstrate the breadth of his skill with the ornate fireplace poker, this causes Lord Ruckle-Smoot to consider how fireplace pokers, when handled in such a dexterous manner, can have potentially lethal consequences.
“Your family has served mine honourably for centuries, it was the reason you were appointed, indeed, it was the only reason you were appointed”
My Lord Ruckle-Smoot finds himself caught between the ravening panther that is Planchette and his mistress the she-wolf, hungry, remorseless, and clad from head to toe in Chantilly Lace!
“The vessel you speak of was seen last in the company of a pick-a-ninny child and has not been seen by any since”
“Certainly not by any in your employ, Planchette?”
“Your Grace, I have it on good authority that Ethelbert Hardy-Smythe has er”
“Which brings me to my next problem Lord Ruckle-Smoot, what should one do with a politician who suddenly develops a conscience?”
“My lady, The Right Honourable Hardy-Smythe has honoured his duty to Queen & country most indubitably”
“I ave it on good authority from Fitchett iz butler, that he is az of late been suffering nightmares of a most audible kind, nightmares about a Master Hemphill-Skinner”
Caught betwixt a panther and a she-wolf with royal patronage, what is a man to do?
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!”
Source: The First Appearance of a Peculiarity or the abduction of Lady Hesketh-Elderberry!
Natural selection in microcosm, the estimable Darwin perceived that which the ruling classes had practiced for centuries, and was astounded by it. T’was the process by which our great empire and its worthy custodians had ruled the world entire!
Alas, little did they realise that whilst nature may be trusted generally to do its work, at times a vicious whimsy causes things to go astray. Hence the tragic demise of Lady Edina Pembroke, who upon sensing a genetic deficiency in Lord Henry, deemed it expedient to abandon him at birth on a Cornish cliff top.
Alas that her sacrifice resulted in her own premature death from Pneumonia and the rescue of the child! The family of Lord Hesketh-Elderberry was far more discerning. Lord Wilberforce bore a most sadistic disposition and a minor physical defect, but this wasn’t deemed so debilitating as to necessitate his demise. His sister however, nursed an obsessive fondness for her servants, their children and their grandparents.
To forestall this abhorrent and degenerative progression the family sent her to a Goveen Priory at the age of five. However having entered holy orders Wilhemina was hastily sent home for stealing the Abbess’s treasure chests. She had been caught in the middle of Molten Tussock Minor tossing the Abbess’s gold into the grimy hands of the poor. T’was obvious the child was not cut out to sit at the feet of Gove and so a family conference was called to discuss her fate. The Dowager Hesketh-Elderberry suggested the family watch the girl closely and wait. Mayhap further imbecilic traits would surface obliging them to consign her to St Bacchanalia’s Asylum, mayhap not.
A decade passed as both children evolved and their intellects burgeoned and flourished and then, one summer’s eve, the Dowager Hesketh-Elderberry disappeared. T’was a moonlit night, the night of the village ball, when the aged Dowager was escorted up to her rooms never to be seen alive again.
The estate would have passed to Lord Wilberforce in time, were it not for one inescapable fact, his deranged and obsessive devotion to taxidermy. Many such gory specimens of his flawless talents were to be found, scattered throughout the rookeries of London. Though, to be sure, the police were a little confused as to who to attribute his murderous handiwork to. The Dowager Hesketh-Elderberry’s cadaver was discovered a little after the rookery murders had mysteriously ceased. There she sat, propped up in a rocking chair in a corner of Lord Wilberforce’s study, unsmiling, grim faced as ever, decidedly dead and pristinely stuffed. Upon this discovery Lord Wilberforce’s manservant turned pale and fainted, the chamber maid ran off to fetch her ladyship who in turn sent for the Reverend Unctuous.
“Natural selection” he sombrely declared, “Has accomplished its work! Consign the loon to St Bacchanalia’s Asylum! Rest assured his further degeneration will be kept in check!”
Alas then that fifty years later he should have made his escape! And L’eauregarde with him! Oh calumny! Oh perturbation! But worse was to follow, for even amongst the aristocratic breed there is a tendency to revert back, to that most base and avaricious character lost during some former generation.
“Think what it is you do Edmund! Untie me!”
“You have strayed beyond the bounds of reason! I shall not!”
“Recant your philanthropy!”
“Recant your beliefs! They are heresy Edmund! Direst heresy!”
Lord Elderberry chuckled softly to himself, a deliciousness stole over him at the sight of his aunt trussed up on the bed. Lady Hesketh-Elderberry sobbed quietly, the sheer devilishness of him daunted her. There was an unnatural gleam in his piercing gaze that betokened madness, t’was the same look his uncle had if he but knew it! A vicious whimsy urged him on to this, but she, in her naivete was to blame! She had welcomed him into her home and her heart, and the brute had seized his chance to depose her!
“You have tainted the sanctity of this family’s reputation with your incessant hankering after the poor! The honour of the Hesketh-Elderberry name is sacred to me! As sacred as my loyalty and duty to England! The ragged schools you have funded shall all be shut down and the poor returned (by force if need be) to their slums!”
“You are heartless Edmund!” sobbed Lady Hesketh-Elderberry “Heartless!”
“I’m pragmatic!” replied Edmund, “The family coffers can only stretch so far, I have my inheritance to think of! I am tightening the purse strings!”
“But you cannot!”
Edmund nestled up to his elderly aunt who had been forcibly tied into a strait-jacket. The sadistic gleam in his deep-set eyes seemed to blot out all sane and moral reason. Lady Hesketh-Elderberry flinched, she averted her eyes and tried to wriggle away, but like the relentless serpent he was he wriggled closer.
“In the event of your sudden descent into lunacy the inheritance the family bequeathed to you, passes to me”
Suddenly he leapt off the bed and enquired of one perturbed (a doctor no less),
“In your most considered opinion could it be said that Lady Hesketh-Elderberry is mad?”
“Yes, indeed, I do believe she is M’lord. If you might be so kind?”
The banks of St Bacchanalia’s Asylum are deep solitudes, places of dark and sombre reflection. Yes dear reader, places in which many a Goveen monk, pondering the marshes of Grodden Parnock , whilst lifting his heart to the thunderous heavens, has leapt head first towards the essence of Gove and out of the abbey’ windows. Indeed the boglands of St Bacchanalia’s Asylum lie surfeit with the rotted skeleton of these devotees, who have, they say, ascended unto the essence of Gove! Sweet Gove! Oh that these acolytes might have found more prepossessing ways of embracing thy exalted munificence!
Here scuttle two such initiates now, red-eyed, cassocked and manacled. Manacled?! Manacled! Stumbling over bog and marsh, grunting and panting profane utterances, moving at such a speed that one might think the hounds of hell to be at their backs. As indeed they might be for hark! The alarums of St Bacchnalia’s Asylum shriek maniacally in the distance, t’is certain the farm dogs are not far behind!
“Faster damn you! Move faster Horace! Molten Tussock lies ahead, t’is but half a league I tell thee!”
“Mah Lord I cannot! Me legs won’t take me much further, I’m tuckered aht!”
But Lord Wilberforce will not be thwarted, for murder most foul, accompanied by utter incompetence, has now thrust this angel of the apostasy forth upon this world and he will not be thrust back! Had anyone but Horace L’eauregarde hampered his progress! But t’is Leauregarde, co-partaker in his crimes and sufferer-in-kind of the horrors of St Bacchanalia.
T’was he who had freed them from that vast maw of madness! T’is he whom he regales with tales of murders past (bestial and depredatory)which they have committed and intend to commit. Murders which led to the abrupt termination of the life of debauchery they had so vigorously enjoyed! Shocking crimes which, whilst staining the family honour irrevocably, provoked no more than a languorous yawn of pleasure from his Lordship Wilberforce, hence St Bacchanalia!
Leauregarde, his strength renewed, hobbles on and soon finds himself entering a well-worn graveyard on the outskirts of Molten Tussock. Ah! Molten Tussock! Lately home of the deceased Reverend Tout-Puissant who now lies in that part of the graveyard reserved for unhallowed deaths. But now here lies a sight for which the wit of man cannot conceive an explanation, a boy, cherubic in appearance kneels before a gravestone, a worn copy of the Testimonies of Gove clasped to his little breast, a lone, forlorn presence in in this solitary place, he alone mourns the passing of the Reverend.
“Oh, but look your Lordship!Look!” dishevelled and devilish, Leauregarde his face awash with murderous glee, advances but the cold grip of Wilberforce Hesketh-Elderberry stops him.
“Oh Sweet Gove! Mystery of mysteries! Oh! Tueri of my soul! Have mercy upon me!” cries out Monty sobbing so quietly (that even these two fresh escaped inmates must creep closer to hear him) Monty Eckard plucks a sparkling white handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his flushed face with it.
So bereft, so heartbroken, once plucked like a brand from the burning and now plummeting back into that vast maw of Malthusian catastrophe some called London, for now his Iron-Slitting apprenticeship is past where else is he to go? The Union Rep had promised him a berth at the most prestigious ragged school in all of London, run by the most estimable Lady Hesketh-Elderberry, but what mean’t that to such as he? Severed from the succulent vines of the Goveen priesthood he must surely perish!
The poor boy sobbed and sobbed as if his little heart were as broken as his little neck might well have been, had Leauregarde (and not Lord Wilberforce) grasped it.
“Keep still you little devil or I’ll cut your throat!!”
“Oh don’t kill me sir! Don’t hurt me! You are a Goveen are you not sir? Does it not say in the Testimonies of Gove that none are so deserving as the poor?”
“Which sonnet?” asked Lord Wilberforce as he tightened his hold on the boy’s shirt front,
“The Patriarcha! As composed by Brother Filmer!”
“Recite it to me!” said he loosening his grip and the child did so, hand upon his shirt front as he swayed hypnotically from right to left and back again reciting the Sonnet of Patriarcha in the sonorous tones of the late deceased Tout-Puissant. T’was wondrous to behold and Lord Wilberforce little doubted that, with Leauregarde kept in check, the child would prove a most affable companion on his long journey back to London.
“Cor ad loquitur my child! Your utterances have flooded my spirit with such joy!”
Clasping the child’s small, cold palm in his, his eyes rolled heavenward and he sighed,
“The blue light?”
“The bluer light my child! So smitten was I by his holiness that I prayed that he might take me up to the third heaven. To that exulted paradise whence sit all those who have attained a degree of spiritual perfection!”
“I’m hungry child, have you something I and my companion, Brother Leauregarde, may eat?”
“I have a little bread and some cheese sir, and a cold chicken stuffed with Turkey Twizzler compote”
And as the two men fell upon the victuals ravenously was ever a boy more rapt with joy? Alone no longer, no longer bereft, but rapt! Rapt with joy and no longer alone! Seated upon the gravestone of the Reverend Tout-Puissant, swinging his dainty legs to and fro, he observed his two companions. He noted for the first time their manacled feet and hands and hesitantly asked,
“Shall I fetch an iron file from the blacksmith’s forge? Then you may cut your chains and we may be away to London!”
L’eauregarde favoured the child with a calculating look, does he mean to report them to a constable? But Lord Wilberforce clasped the child to his muddied cassock and bestowing kisses upon his head, sent him off with the unction “May Gove go with you!”
“Sweet Gove” replied the poor, deluded, acolyte, for acolyte he had become and to one whose fiendish crimes once sparked riots through half the slums of London!
“T’is most unnatural” murmured Caleb Flaherty,
“Indeed” replied Gabriel O’Hara ” Did you note how the winds bearing us to salvation did abate, once that accursed bird was loosed from its cage!”
They both glance uneasily at the albatross now perching upon its master’s chest, and now hopping blithely across the quarter deck. These courageous stalwarts who, have been unmanned by historic dangers, and now suffering a psychological perturbation, have impressed upon their minds that the way of their deliverance lies in the slaughter of that harmless bird.
Are there any seasons which may account for it? For they do say that change of seasons has a notable effect on the social habits of the predicatorial. Which is a shame, for the long, weary, dismal night has passed, day has come, and all (save the unfortunate shantyman) are alive. The Resurgam has fought her way through the raging waters of the Atlantic Ocean and survived! Helmed by a dauntless and valiant captain, a man whose steadfast tenacity at the wheel has helmed all to safety. The ship has swept through shark infested waters , weathered a tumultuous storm, and now limps on towards her final destination. The sea is becalmed so that the Resurgam may be likened to ‘a painted ship upon a painted ocean’ so little progress has it made in these waters over the last three days.
The sun sweeps down upon the drowsing crew, cossetting all in her balmy embrace. They are two days away from drowning as the ship continues to take on water and yet they care not! Is it any wonder then, that the two most desperate, most murderous sailors aboard ship, have taken it upon themselves to expedite matters, by falling upon the albatross and slitting its throat? Ah! But freedom will reign inspite of earth and hell! The albatross upon seeing the murderous glint of sharpened steel takes flight, and nestled safely amongst the main sails, looks with a sharp eye upon its would-be slaughterers, who, howling with thwarted intent , clamber swiftly up the main-mast towards it. But the albatross is not stupid and cawing as loudly as its soft voice will allow it, wakens its master to its plight!
“What ho?” Lord Grid-Iron’s first act upon awakening is to reach for the comforting solace of the albatross, which had been nestled snugly against his breast, but she is gone! What ho! Jumping to his feet and looking up towards the crow’s nest he espies Elspeth and the murderous profligates inching their way towards her , with daggers in hand. Ne te quaesiveris extra! For how can one remain virtuous in the face of such evil? With a deliberate calm borne of mild derangement, Lord Grid-Iron seizes the sleeping Methuselah’s crossbow, takes aim and fires! The arrow sped on its way with startling accuracy, hurtles towards its intended victim. It would have hit its mark, were it not for the sudden tilt in the ships hull causing the ill-starred bird to swerve into the path of the arrow’s trajectory! A pain filled sqwark and the albatross is sent plummeting toward the ship!
How accurately dear reader,can one convey the sheer horror contained within that hollow cry? What heart rending grief lies encapsulated in that word! What good fortune then that a hale and hearty breeze has sprung up, brawling its way through the sails of the ship and nudging her forwards! That as the ship picks up speed one and all spring to life, manning the rigging for all they are worth. None have time to glance upon the piteous sight that is Lord Grid-Iron, indeed none would think to empathise as he grieves miserably over the jinxed albatross that brought the fog and mist.
Faster and now faster the ‘Resurgam’ moves, flying through the waters as though borne on the wings of destiny. Whipped savagely about by the winds which bluster and billow about her sails the ship glides swiftly along as though the devil himself were at her back.The crew strain to hold her in check but she moves like an unbroken stallion straining at the leash, give her liberty or death! With each pulsing blast the ‘resurgam’ is thrust forth till at length a lone cry arises from the crow’s nest.
“Land ahoy! Land ahoy!” t’is a cry echoed joyously by the crew,
“Land ahoy! Look fast! Look fast! Land ahoy!”
“Look on it! Look on it! We’re almost home!”
“New York Harbour ahead!”
Have any of us the tolerable notion of the depth and skill required to become a ships captain? To know that all eighteen souls-for the Hindoo Fakirs had also taken passage to the Americas-look to you to steer them to safety? With what agility with what skill and speed a captain must do his work and navigate his ship to safety in waters such as these. Even now to see the vessel attempting to steer it’s way towards a wavering sliver of light, even now to cling on for dear life as the iron-clad hull battered itself upon the savage rocks.
“A ha ha ha! You have us at the rattle!” Lord Grid-Iron chortled midst the crazed turmoil of boiling sea foam,
“Will you be quiet? T’is unnatural behaviour when our souls are in peril! Stop it! Will you stop it? Seamus make him stop it!”
“A ha ha ha! We shall all drown!” chortled Lord Grid-Iron his charcoal locks plastered flat against his skull and his watery blue eyes darting to and fro.
“Oh gawd! Gawd save us! Hail Mary……” screeched Gabriel clutching the ropes which tied him to the ship’s main mast. He had slung his mother’s rosary beads around his neck, now he clutched at these tightly and prayed fervently that the storm might abate, and the ship not break apart upon the bestial rocks.
“A ha ha ha!” cried Lord Grid-Iron once more making the hackles rise on the back of Seamus’s neck, for t’was plain that terror had made the Gombeen fiend take leave of his senses!
“Hand me a grapple hook Seamus!” cried Methuselah O’Houlihan, “I’ve a mind to join Captain Keeler-Breeze at the wheel! Sure he’ll need prodigious help saving the Resurgam from certain doom!” as wave upon violent wave breaks across the deck, Methuselah loses himself from the mast and with grappling hook in wizened hands hacks his way across the sodden deck, toward Captain Keeler-Breeze. He arrives not a moment too soon for the poor captain can scarce clasp the wheel in his frozen claws and that look, such a look! As t’would say I teeter on the precipice of desolate surrender! But Methuselah is full of pluck, with several aggressive tugs on the ship’s wheel he has her turned aft towards that broadening shaft of light, so that her hull scrapes hard against the smaller rocks, narrowly averting collision with the worst of them.
“The storm is abating!” cried Methuselah
“But the waters are infested with sharks and the hull may have sprung a leak!” the good captain cried desperately,
“Take heart! We’ll not drown! Helm there!” replied Methuselah with a salty twinkle in his eye “There! Towards that chasm of light! I’ll check what damage is done!”
With grappling hook held aloft the ancient mariner hurls himself length by length across the deck, hammering the hook into its wood and then hauling himself along, in several strides he is back alongside Lord Grid-Iron, who, clutching fiercely to Elspeth the albatross continues to cackle the crew’s impending doom,
“We shall all drown! Drown! I tell you! HA!”
Not for the first time Methuselah O’Houlihan wonders what degree of hatred could possibly have possessed the Molly Maguires, to have abducted such a one as this, bereft of all the good sense that would have made him a decent tenant landlord to his people. But he has not much time to conjecture, for soon he has bypassed the masts and now slipping below deck he spies a dim light toward the helm of the ship and thinks he hears singing.
“Om trayambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam Urvaarukamiva bandhanaan mrityor muksheeya maamritaat. We worship the three-eyed One.Who is fragrant and Who nourishes well all beings; may He liberate us from death for the sake of immortality even as the cucumber is severed from its bondage”
This exotic song he has heard many a-time, sung above deck by the Hindoo fakirs as they clambered up the ropes and unfurled the sails and as he gets closer to the helm the singing continues gently on, though their voice is joined by another far less gentle and patient.
“Bismillahi! Bail faster! Faster! Hand me those croker sacks!” deftly catching sack upon sack Francis skilfully stuffs the hull breach which has rapidly filled with water, then over the padding he nails several planks of wood, torn off a storage crate of rum.
“T’is done!” he declares
“But she’s still awash!” cried Methuselah
“There’s a larger tear towards the bulkhead!That will take some repairing, come with me!”
Murky dank and cold like an underwater tomb, the ship tilts abruptly to one side and Methuselah and Francis with it, but they abruptly steady themselves against the hull and continue on, sloshing their way through the briny overflow towards the back of the ship. There is the oddest contrast between this ancient stalwart of the sea and this sombre lithesome land lugging warrior, whose dextrous skills swiftly heal the breach in the ship’s side. Plugging it with with croker sacks and several planks of wood from the abundance of rum crates (whose contents he has, sadly, tossed overboard eager to thwart the desire of the crew to immerse themselves in befuddled depravities and at such a time as this!) stored below deck.
“Will she hold do you think?”
Francis shrugged, “We have been travelling for six weeks, the storm blew us off course costing us four days, it should take us another five days to reach port”
“New York is five days away?”
Francis nodded,”At least, if she springs a leak before then? We drown…..slowly…”
Are there words to describe the stark esteem in which Francis the indefatigable is now held by this worthy old dog of the high seas? Stripped to the waist and rippling with the lithe wiry muscle of a woodsman he has not the air of your average gentleman. So dauntless so valiant in a storm that has shaken many a courageous soul! Methuselah harbours a sneaking suspicion that Francis was not always a Pinkerton agent….
To be continued…..