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

Chapter 7: Sardines & Nederhiwi Red Herrings!

These many weeks the hunt for Professor Powell had occupied my thoughts and filled my waking moments. I who set out upon this dark and shudderingly terrifying adventure, full of all sorts of nightmarish fears and wild apprehensions, have now reached my journey’s ruinous black end. The Professor Powell I knew at New College is a man greatly changed! So preoccupied has he become with the protection of his ever increasing mounds of glorious Ivory, that he has become remiss in his duties towards the Empire.

The West Africa Company (who commissioned his research) have received not a single consignment from the Nederhiwi Ivory Outpost . What is worse, he has left off wearing the starched shirts and linen suits indicative of his imperial standing amongst the natives, adopting the native garb with all the resolute enthusiasm of a degenerating heathen.

Why even now a ferocious tribe of head shrinking savages, intent upon collecting their share of the Ivory have joined him in dance-combat!. For two days now the drums of the Kon-Kon-Safwo-Redwoods have rung out savagely, and as a blood red sun sets shimmeringly on the horizon and the day draws to a close, I cannot help but to wonder what the outcome will be.

 “Have you had a bite to eat?” enquired Captain Dunrudy as he partook of tinned Sardines delicately mingled with fried Nederhiwi Red Herring. I could not help but to marvel at a man who having imbibed enough whisky rations to have inebriated an entire army, now sat contentedly chewing upon a plateful of pungent smelling fish served up for him by a voluptuous plum skinned Umbongoan maiden, who grimacing broadly offered me some native victuals.

 

From the jovial manner in which Captain Dunrudy chewed upon his food I assume it was most palatable for him. My English constitution I fear is not as robust, for I found the mere smell of the cooked victuals surprisingly repellent, and was forced to fall back upon the remainder of some Kitchener Dried Mule Jerky I had purchased several months ago at the Umbongo Nefertiri Outpost. I soon completed my spartan meal, washing it down with several Gin and Tonics, before wandering off in the direction of that eccentric structure to the left of the Ivory mounds which I’m told was the main headquarters of the outpost. 

“Umbwaaga na butu! Believe me!” Captain Dunrudy declared as he chewed his fish, washing it down with yet more whisky. “He’s built a graveyard behind that lot, and what you’ll find there scarce bares imagining! The natives say there’s at least a dozen imperial administrators buried back there. Right alongside the half a dozen missionaries what thought they’d make civilised Christian Englishmen out of the Nederhiwi, well! They soon learned a thing or two!”

As I walked towards the towering structure from time to time I would glimpse out of the corner of my eye occasional glimmerings such as would suggest the swift, furtive movements of dark skinned savages. Not that I let that put me off my mission which was to acquire what insight I could as to the precise nature of Professor Powell’s barbarous lunacy.

As I approached the wooden structure which alone seemed to tower over that corner of the compound, I was overcome by a sudden desire to mutter the Pater Noster under my breath, and I could not resist crossing myself several times as I entered into the soul-less dark interior of Professor Powell’s home. A ponderous and weighty silence filled each oak panelled chamber, whose tables of sparkling cut-glass and crisp white linen, whose walnut cabinets full of intricately painted bone-china, silver plate and scrimshawed Ivory had been dusted and polished to perfection, t’was most disturbing. 

Travelling deeper into the cavernous interiors of Professors Powell’s home I came upon a chamber whose earthen floor had been polished to such a high shine that one could almost see one’s face in it. An ornately carved chair had been placed in the centre of this room and upon it sat a poor creature in a state of parlous anguish. Her matted hair was loose and lay dishevelled upon the shoulders of a tattered gown and it was impossible at first to discern whether she was of civilisation or merely a tribeswoman of the Wahiri Hiri.

There was an air of tainted purity about her , an aura of almost imperceptible light and as she raised her head from off her chest I saw that she bore a gold crucifix upon it. Could this be an English woman and a missionary?! T’was a terrible shock to perceive an English woman shackled and chained like a savage to a chair owned by the good professor (who had once partaken joyously of high church), and in a room festooned with grotesque Nederhiwi statues, which I took to be representations of the local deities. 

“What is this place?” I asked not wishing to hear what I guessed would be an answer most shocking to my Christian sensibilities.

“T’is the Twerking Chamber of Professor Powell!” she replied “A most barbarous and impious sight you are unlikely to see in any other imperial district! I have been imprisoned for some months merely for seeking to turn the Nederhiwi back from the wilderness of vicious corruption that, that devil (turned heathen!) has urged them to embrace! I have been chained up to the Throne of Ululations for exhorting them to be good Christians! Professor Powell proclaimed that I shall not leave here till I relinquish my faith and twerk!”.

Raising a delicate and trembling milk white palm to her pallid face she tilted back her head and fell to laughing hysterically till she howled with anguished tears, finally she let loose such a stream of terrible invectives that it seemed as if she had succumbed to that impenetrable darkness some call Africa. But at last she recovered her composure and I, having stifled my horror and gathered my resolve, drew forth a Maxim Pistol and firing off several shots, freed the unfortunate lady from her chains.“Praise God!” gasped she, her face contorted with joy,

“An Englishman has come! An Englishman has come!”

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

Chapter 6: Of Ivory & Panama Plums!

Of Commerce & Industry!

Ivory, lots of it, heaped up in vast glistening piles everywhere we looked. Enough riches to buy the City of London many times over. How remarkable that in the midst of this vast and desolate marauding wilderness such riches should exist! Was this why men journeyed fearlessly into the dark inhuman reaches of a jungle infested with Tarantulas, Scorpions and legions of Red Ants? Was this why they came, braving this hotbed of Yellow Fever and Dengue Flu and dying in their legions raving and foaming in the Nederhiwi Bush? All this to secure one’s financial position in English Society indefinitely? 

What monomanic affliction (I wondered) bade the Professor horde up prodigious supplies of that for which men gladly drove themselves mad? Even as I speculated as to what sickness drove my poor friend’s embrace of barbarism and avarice, Captain Dunrudy surveyed the gleaming mounds of Ivory and giggled quietly to himself. He glanced at the Chief Porter whose swarthy visage lit up at the sight of the white tusks and he too giggled,”Moribund moribund tee tee!!” he declared lifting his hands to heaven and giggling some more. Captain Dunrudy clearly agreed with him for “Moribund moribund mayhem gazulu tee tee!” was his guffawing reply “Small wonder the Kon-Konsafwo-Redwoods are on the warpath! “. 

I looked at Captain Dunrudy questioningly, but he merely laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks and pointed towards the dozen or so tethered vultures kept in bamboo cages, nearby the gargantuan mounds of Ivory. “Look at those cages” he said, “If I’m not mistaken those are West Africa Company Carrier Vultures” he chuckled “They only gets sent to the Ivory outposts when Ivory cargoes stop coming altogether!”.

He guffawed so heartily that his face turned redder than usual and his eyes streamed with tears. His humour proved so infectious that the natives were soon rolling around on the ground alongside him clutching their sides. I must confess that I could not see what humour there was in our predicament. The vast heaps of gleaming Ivory should have been despatched to the West Africa Company’s imperial outpost in Nefertiri Umbongo, but for whatever sinister reason, that had not happened. 

Ashar Parshad alone shared my dismay and unease “This is very very bad Mr Stanley, very bad indeed. Professor Powell has taken up arms against that fine bulwark of Englishness, the West Africa Company. Why, they own all the Gold, Gari and Palm Wine Reserves and most of the Ivory Reserves of Umbongo! To go against them is to brave the wrath of the Governor-General of Umbongo Umbongo, and the legions of Glorious British Grenadiers sent to safeguard the Empress of India’s booty!”

“A parlous state of affairs and a puzzling one” I admitted for the Professor Powell who mentored me as a boy at New College in Oxford, professed no interest in the business of Ivory. His had been an anthropological fascination, what lunatick epiphany could have propelled him from those scientific realms he so loved into the very depths of tawdry nativism he had embraced? Why, it hardly bore thinking on and yet as I bit into a Panama Plum I found myself obliged to think on it.

To be continued……

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

Chapter 5: Pioneers of Progress!

The day would have begun serenely were it not for the throbbing drums below us and the low, ominous mutterings of the natives. T’was a fitful night we spent, slumbering in the low grass, whilst grasshoppers chittered and Pashar Arshad kept watch through the night. T’was an unrelentingly ominous yet sunny day we found ourselves awaking to. I could not help but to recollect Pashar Arshad’s reminisces about the fall of the heroic city of Khartoum to the massacring Mohammedan hordes of the Mahdi;it had been a scorchingly hot day then too, Pashar assured me. Looking up into the vast empty soul-less sky I cursed the gods that had trapped us between the roaring waters of the Luabalaba and the Nederhiwi Ivory Station. Not for the first time I questioned what dark primeval forces had lured me out of merry old England during cricket season and into the darkest reaches of dimmest Africa. Why on such a morn as this, I should have been drinking chocolate out of a delicate china cup and slowly devouring a plate of Turkey Twizzler Kedgeree.

“Oi oi!” cried Captain Dunrudy “There’s movement down below! The gates are being opened, somebody’s coming out!” I looked down upon the Irish man who had crawled halfway down the hill on his belly with a cigarillo dangling from his lips and a telescope extended in front of him. His begrimed britches were partially split around the back, so that the stark white linen of his undergarments shone through, as he wriggled farther down the hill to get a closer look. “Oh ho! It’s a party of natives and that looks like-is that Professor Powell?!” he handed the telescope to me and as I looked a gasp of unsuppressed horror escaped me. 

The burnt low grass scratched my cheeks, and tickled my lips, as I wriggled still further down the hill to more closely view what Africa had wrought upon this once civilised Englishman. For it was clear to me that the most esteemed Professor Powell had gone native. Here was an Englishman-who had been the founder of the New College Drinking Club, a fellow of the Royal Archaeological Society and a lay preacher at Canterbury Cathedral-clad in a grass skirt, fashioned it appeared from Palm fronds. Elephant tusks had been tied to either side of his head beneath a crown of Hysterius Ukippus feathers. Gold and Ivory bracelets adorned his wrists, his chest alone was bare and tanned as dark as a beech-nut. 

“Oi oi! He’s addressing the Kon-Kon-Safwo’s with dance! He’s clearly gawn bonkers!” exclaimed Captain Dunrudy disbelievingly as he crawled still further down the steep stark hill with us crawling along behind him. The drumming had increased in intensity as the Kon-Kon-Safwo-Redwoods shimmied and shook in time to its rhythm. Not to be outdone in aggressive ferocity, Professor Powell shimmied and shook his own lean body with twice the speed and ferocity. 

He twisted, he leapt, he skipped ferociously in a circle with a band of similarly garbed Umbongo Umbongoans dancing sombrely beside him. It seemed to me that some unearthly discourse was taking place, one such as no civilised Englishman could possibly comprehend. Even as we had travelled inland from the outer regions of Umbongo Umbongo we had heard rumours of the godless depths to which he (Professor Powell) had plummeted. The devilish rites to which it was rumoured he had been party, but I had not thought to witness a display so swinishly heathen, for he grimaced and rolled his eyes back in his head broodingly as though he were Umbongoan born and bred, twirling the ivory handled fly swatters in his swarthy hands with joyous abandon.

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“Have you visited the Kalahari desert?” whispered Pashar Arshad ” The Bushmen of the Kalahari perform such heathen feats as these, they call it ‘ungah-wiri’ “

“Tis the Umtargatie-Yaw-Yaw” replied Captain Dunrudy chuckling quietly to himself as he watched the good professor performing a bellicose strutting skip with his sunburned paunch thrust out, and his hands jerking spasmodically at his sides. “The Professor is attempting to perform the Umtargatie-Yaw-Yaw, tis the tribal way of marking out one’s territorial boundaries”

“By God! He’s an Englishman! Can he not simply have the brutes shot and mark out his territorial boundaries that way?” I exclaimed in horror. The Kon-Kon-Safwo-Redwoods seemed terribly excited by the presence of an Englishman in their midst, for the drum beat picked up its pace and now the brutes shook their spears and their grass skirts savagely, so savagely that the grotesque little shrunken German heads attached to them bobbed up and down. 

“Ooooh that don’t look good. If they keep that up he will have to shoot them.” observed Captain Dunrudy uncapping his flask and knocking back a long hard slug of whisky.”Still” he continued, “his loss will be our gain; them gates to the outpost are wide open”. Death lay skulking in the air and if we were not careful it would eat its fill of us,the wide open gates were akin to a luminous flash of hope in that heathen darkness.

Conferring quietly with Pashar Ashad (who in turn instructed the head native-porter) I unholstered my pistol and crawling deeper into the low grass, I made my way carefully downhill. Sweat trickled down my face and neck staining my only remaining pure white bespoke shirt. The ground beneath my dirty fingernails throbbed savagely with the frenzied thud of savage feet on the sun-baked, my head ached so fiercely from the searing heat that I feared I would betray my Britishness by swooning. Still, I made my way onwards, wriggling along the stony ground on my belly till at length I was at the gates of that sparkling sanctuary from barbarism, the Nederhiwi Ivory Station ………

 

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Hypocritical Cant, Satire, Social Justice

The Union Rep Takes Up A Righteous Cause!

The Union Rep MP

The Union Rep MP

Come dear reader, let us avert our eyes for a time from the bewildering hideousness of St Bacchanalia’s Asylum. Let us purge our souls and lustrate our hearts of its base and pernicious influence. Let us wander instead over croit and dale, over tulach and hillock, until at last, to the north of the village of Molten Tussock Minor, we come upon the town of Molten Tussock Major.

The northernmost fount of all fortifying commerce concerned with the mastery of iron; it is here the Goveen initiates abide, mastering the art of iron-puddling. T’is here the Goveen initiates abide, mastering the art of Iron-Puddling. T’is here they study and train for much of the day, within the sanctum of a newly opened Hesketh Ragged School. Once they were apprenticed Iron-Slitters, manacled and bound over in heart and mind by the sinister Reverend Tout-Puissant but no more! No more the terrors of an Industrial Academy long since burned to the ground! They are Iron Puddlers now and soon to be apprenticed if the Machiavellian hindrances of Master Eccles may be overcome.

“Master Eccles says as he’ll take none recommended by such as thou, thou rabble-raising loon! T’was thee as brought mayhem to the streets of London an he says he’ll have none of thee!”

“T’is the lads that need apprenticing not me, I wonder that he’d stand against such fine lads as these

apprenticing themselves to a living as would put bread in their families mouths!”

The Union Rep stands bemused and indignant,

“I’ll not regret those actions that have raised the wages of thousands and improved their working conditions to boot!”

Were it not for the melancholic results of Molten Tussock Major’s council elections all would be well. The Iron Reformer’s Party would hold the majority of council seats; Master Eccles hold over all iron commerce in the town would be broken, and the boys might apprentice with whom they wished. But, if ever democracy held sway in Molten Tussock Major, it has long since fled, chased out by the impious machinations of Master Eccles and his Tory Coalition.

A town council election was held, the first in which a viable (and popular) opposition has stood in in nigh on two centuries, but what of the outcome? The mayor is still a Tory, the bulk of councillors (bar Master Benjamin) are still Tories, yet all and sundry swear that they had cast their votes for the Reformer’s Party!

T’is often said that England’s peaceful governance lies in the English genius for compromise, in the stolid ability of all its politicians to agree a middle way. Alas then, that this impeccably flawless talent has long since been discarded in Molten Tussock where a vote may be cast only with the unction of Master Eccles!

“Will Master Rynders say nothing? Will he not intervene?”

Master Parnham and Master Knowham look to Master Benjamin of Polder Brum, who must give his report,

“Master Rynders has suggested we approach Gabriel Sydenham, im as runs the Elysium Iron Foundry. T’is well known that he cares not a brass farthing for Eccles. This I gladly did and was told to inquire of Lord Douglas at MacGregor House.”

“MacGregor House? T’is strangely named!” replied the Union Rep

“It has been renamed” replied Master Benjamin

“T’was known as Brume Polder Folly in the days of his ancestors, but his Lordship has proclaimed to all and sundry that he would sooner cut his own throat, than have his country seat hold a name that has been sullied by the taint of the brotherhood!”

At this news the Union Rep is elated,”Anti-Goveen?”

“Anti-Tory as well! He’ll have none of them! Why he took a bullwhip to the last Tory councillor to set foot on his land!”

“Terrible behaviour! When shall you approach him?”

“Tomorrow, the settling of farmers wages takes place then, I shall make inquiries of the estate steward, t’is certain he’ll agree to speak to the master on our behalf, his brother-in-law is a member of the Iron Reformers Party”

The matter settled, to his mind, Master Benjamin cheerfully took his leave of the company, heading off for the school stables whence his horse was being most wondrously shod, by an Iron-Puddling apprentice who had also seen some degree of training as a blacksmith, ere he had been palmed off onto the Iron-Slitting Academy.

Master’s Knowham and Parnham wonder that an entire town’s democratic liberties should be kidnapped and held captive by a solitary Iron Merchant such as Master Eccles.

“T’will not do!” declares Master Knowham

“T’is a less than farrantly state of affairs” agrees Master Parnham

“T’will cost a pretty penny or two to correct” exclaims the Union Rep with a steely glint in his eye,

“How much of a pretty penny?” asks Master Parnham, who in truth ought to know better than to encourage one who as the newly minted MP of Bow & Bromley has only recently embraced a genteel respectability.

“The kind of penny that only Lord Douglas might care to spend!”

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Anansi-Libre!

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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?”

 Anansi does as Lady Hesketh bids him, receiving an utmost thrill in the doing.

“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.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Of Begging, Pauperism & The Salvationists

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The Rookery of St Giles finds itself without the slightest pretensions to architecture and very curious to behold as a consequence. The crumbling crowded tenements lean one against the other like a group of old friends nursing a too long enduring hangover after the inebriation of the night before.

T’is the playground of the rich, hence no expense has been spared, alleyways darkened by towering tenement blocks abound and vast maze-like houses of such intricacy that not even Lewis Carroll’s pens could conjure them in existence! For these are vast rat-like warrens filled with the rookery’s gentleman rats; rats whose agility and strength has garnered them many a purse, watch and ring. Who may count, dear reader, those gentlemen most richly endowed of purse who have ambled drunkenly into such residences, never to wander back out again. These are the risks at night and yet my! The scandalous pleasures!

As the sun rises brilliantly over the hills and lush pastures of Molten Tussock Minor, so it rises but dimly over the rookery estates; indeed were it not for the children playing rough and tumble in the streets and the women gossiping on tenement steps one would think it still night. Theresa Ward wrinkles her nose at the sight, and the stench, which so many have grown up in, and thus grown used to.

She considers the gin wagon still lying on its side in the middle of Dorset Lane, and those carting off its fragments to use as firewood. Why to be stuck in a place such as this, and for life, she will have none of it. But having fallen for Lord Henry Pembroke and being left with child what else is there?

“Theresa! Theresa I say!”

“Yes ma!”

“T’is I who call for you! Not your ma! Ye scandal raising devil!”

See then what Teresa Ward’s life has shrunk most unmercifully to, t’is he whose inebriate breath has glowered over her since ere she was an infant. He whose drunken, leering, violent, cursing ways, have tainted every day she has spent in this accursed room, and in that accursed place. A drunk he may be and prone to a most irreligious outlook, but Cain Ward prides himself on never having strayed from hearth and home, and this has been his blessing and his family’s curse.

“Theresa! Theresa! You! Wee bairn!” says he pointing to the youngest of ten,

Fetch yon harlot forth! If I have birthed a fiend under my roof I will know it, and have words with it! Theresa! Theresa I say! Come forth!”

“Leave her be, the poor creature!” cries Theresa’s mother a woman looking as old as Old Testament’s Abraham’s Sarah was ere she bore Isaac, but with neither the brightness of visage nor the plumpness of cheek that accompanies a bright hope.

“Shut your cake hole!” comes the vicious reply, “I’ll have nought out of such as birthed this harlot wot has brought such crushing disgwace down upon this family!”

“But ave mercy upon er! Is she not flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood?” her mother never yet having learn’t the benificent wisdom of silence now finds herself set upon yet again by the gentleman styling himself pater-familia.

“Oh have mercy, have mercy!”

“Raise a slut and a hussy in my house would you? Have my name tarnished by a petticoat lifting harlot? Nevah!” each assertion accompanied by a viciously administered slap and a swift kick. Fair wages and meaningful employment might have softened his manners a little, but fair wages and meaningful employment has never been the way of the Spitalsfield’s bosses. Which is to say that such vigorous domestic interactions where hardly exceptional within Spitalsfield’s households, if anything, such beatings and curses had become the distinct norm.

“Oh have mercy!”

T’is those pitiful wailings alone that draw Theresa forth from the sanctuary of the grimy streets, to face the baleful glare of the man who calls himself her father.

“Why you’d think t’was the Duchess of Monmouth come to keep us company, but it ain’t! T’is the Whore of Babylon!”

“Father!”

“Don’t you father me! I’ll ave none of ye! Where’s me sherry!”

He sucked at the quarter bottle till the noxious fluid ran in small rivulets down his beard yet it did not calm his mood any. Ten shillings a month from a scullery maid’s wage is nothing to be sniffed at, and she had contributed much of it to the upkeep of the family and now where was it? Gone! And in its place lay the pervasive stink of bad luck and ill-fortune! Did the little fool not know what happened to such as were got with child by a member of the aristocracy? T’was the stuff of nightmares and he would ave it nowhere near his house!

“Well, and wot has you decided? We have nine left to feed, nine as do their fair share of earning, there’s nowt as live and eat for nothing in this house!”

Theresa’s eyes flashed with anger for now she was fallen she had grown exceeding reckless,

“An don’t I know it? The gin money was welcome enough when it was flowing! Cast me out in the streets would ya? Well you’ll not have the pleasure! I’ve means enough to see me through, and I’ll not plead for a roof over my head from such as you!”

Cain Ward grimaced, t’was the most he could muster by way of a smile,

“So it’s settled, you’ll be on your way then?”

His smile grew low and crafty,

“You’ve had three nights at least under this roof that’s worthy of a shilling apiece at least before you depart”

“Oh lord ave mercy! That it should ave come to this! Me own husband casting our child out on the streets! Oh have mercy! Oh show pity! cried the wife

“Oh leave off!” replied the husband,

“Ere! Ave it! There’s your three shillings!” Teresa cried vehemently, gathering her shawl and her carpet bag together she swept to the door in a fury, for she was every inch her father’s daughter, passionate and intemperate to the point of moral ruin!

“If me own kin won’t shield me in me hour of want I’ll to the Salvation Army!”

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Uncategorized

The Lady & Planchette

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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.

 Darkness has fallen dear reader, though the deer still gallop across the lush green grounds of Richmond Park, t’is a darkness that is rich with the sounds of wild geese and swans and lush with royal deer. Indeed such is the abundance of fowl to be found within these grounds that many a poacher has made the mistake of assuming such meat was to be had for free, alas then that the grounds should have been seeded with mantraps! For the lady to whom the house and the grounds have been gifted is as possessive of her property as she is of the royal bloodline and she will brook no interference with it. This lady rarely leaves the grounds of her house, rarely walks through its gardens and goes abroad only to attend weddings, christenings, births or deaths. She has no interest as such in affairs of state but as to affairs of the royal bloodline that is another matter.

“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. 

 “Your Grace”

“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”

“Your Grace?”

“We have lost a vessel, Lord Ruckle-Smoot, a vessel bearing a most important piece of the royal bloodline”

“Your Grace?” 

“It was last espied weeping beside the tombstone of the most recently deceased eminent politician”

 “Your Grace?”

“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

“Planchette?”

“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?

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

Master LeFevre Takes Matters In Hand!

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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.

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

A Northern Crisis At The Bald Faced Stag Inn

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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!”

“Yes’m papa!”

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Inspector Depta – Contrapasso

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“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”

“Whereabouts?”

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!

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