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

Un Ispettore Depta Adventure; L’occhio Che Non Dorme Mai …

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Mile End, Emotions & Morals (Prima Parte)

One cannot help but to feel oneself spiritually elevated, elevated! By the Boticelli and Titian works that hang upon these walls, though of course, this being Mile End, the works are mere fraudulent copies; bequeathed to the Artistic Museum by the Bow Street Detective force in one instance (The Venus) most regretfully!  

But, let us not dwell on that but rather let us note, dear reader, the most prestigious Curate of the Mile End Artistic Museum, as he most surreptitiously guides his elegant guests  betwixt the many rich and lyrical works that grace the walls of this ninth wonder of the British Empire.

“Little is known of Domenico Venziano the master of Francisco De La Pella, but what little remains of his work has a most lyrical beauty as you may see here. Note, the carefree yet harmonious study of design, the manner in which he depicts the naked Judas Iscariot, an image not of ignominious shame as in the mediaeval mind, but of elegance, of grace” and having so noted, his guests, the infamous Baron Montaperti, Lord Orlando Ottoline and his muse, the stage actress Mrs Madeline Drang, move on.

“I am told that the best art is always true to the great, glad, aboriginal instincts of our nature. Never representing disease in the guise of health, many sided without being unbalanced, and forcible! Yes forcible! Without ever losing the fine sense of proportion!”

Lord Orlando Ottoline is quite in agreement,

“Yes, quite exquisite and most extraordinary!”

“The painting?”

“The sum paid for it. I am told Mr Disraeli paid some five hundred British Pounds?”

“Five hundred sterling and hundred shillings and fifty pence, is the correct sum, I should know having brokered the deal”

“Why?”

“The good lord knows, though one must confess it hangs as handsomely within Mile End Art Gallery, as the brigands do without! Haw haw haw!”

Baron (lately Lord) Montaperti is most taken with his own sense of humour though his companions are at a loss as to why they have been invited to peruse copies of paintings hung in some East End haunt, when they might be perusing the latest painting by Edward Lear at the Royal Academy of Art.   

“Though it may be said that the dead soil of art grows ever richer with the addition of new works, it is to be observed that there can be no improvement on the ancient works we have hung here, and that (copies though they are), they are a worthy and most enlightening addition to the culture of Mile End”

Wonder at the elegance of the curate of the Artistic Museum, his dignified presence and the cut of his jib, as glossy as that of a new bought gelding. What shapely legs! What an elegant figure! What costly attire and all of it most graciously provided by the Society for the Suppression of Mendacity!

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Mile End’s Depths! Christoffer Harlow’s London! (Seconda Parte)

Trees that live long grow slowly, and like a mighty Oak, that highly prized jewel of many an English Forest, London has been fought over again and again; indeed she has been so brutally captured & so thoroughly ravaged that t’is a wonder she is able to arise time & again untainted & unpolluted by the dank & dismal deeds of her direst (and most sinistrous) conquerors. To such infusoria (the historically deranged & the lunatick) history pays little heed, and so the earliest rulers of London have passed away like the beasts they fought and slew, and their very names and heinous legacies have passed on with them.

Save one such legacy (most sinister & also sinistrous) well hidden some six feet beneath a graveyard in Mile End. Very likely it is hidden even deeper than that, for it is a fragment of a much earlier London, a muddied and fossilized place resonant of a vicious savagery born of frenzied spiritual ardour.In that place lie tombs, keys, weapons and roughly hewn statues of he whose most glorious essence (one dare not utter his name!) lingers still over our England (though his most ardent followers have lately fallen into scandal).

Mile End is a place of little import famed only as the home of Reverend Unctuous, he who having lately fallen from grace, abides infrequently at the chaplaincy of St Mary Produndis. St Mary Profundis, whose graveyard is now the burial place of one Master Hemphill-Skinner; he whose most unfortunate end at the hands (some say) of The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe (lately committed to Bethel Asylum), has since passed into the lore of the Bow Street Detective Force.

But I digress, dear reader, for Mile End’s depths harbour a secret of much portentous and direst import. A secret (post-pagan and Pre-Christian) buried so long and only lately resurrected beneath that vast ocean that is London, that one must bear in mind the words of that infamous playwright Christoffer Harlow ‘the refined gent is struck with Mile-End as comprehending all that is most intriguing about London life at it’s most exhaustively principled, and inexhaustibly depraved’.

I could scarce disagree, for Mile End’s inhabitants are so multifarious that to touch upon the accomplishments of the good and the great, is to inadvertently lean upon the heinous doings of that other sort. Those whom we deign to refer to as the bludgers & buttock twangers, the sneak thieves and coves of the British Empire’s great proletariat, race.

To be continued…….

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Alas! The Iniquity of Mammon! (Parte Terza)

How desolate & cold the Mile End Graveyard is, above stairs & below stars where cold stone tablets commemorate the abode of the dead! Yet it is colder & still more desolate below ground, there, where, a secret monastery (centuries old) nests, & hellish intrigues newly bred, abound, simmer & brood. A phantasmagoria of shadow-studies flickers against the algae covered walls of that ancient, pungent & putrid abode, of secretive worship. Half worn candles trickle tallow till the grimy sconces in which they have been placed brim over with wax, whilst the secretive, cowled gathering sits in disapproving counsel. For they have, one and all, sanctified themselves to the advancement & exalting of the essence of Gove, but there is one standing in the midst of them who has fallen beside the way.

“Is it to be wondered at that I covet money? I am beset by misfortune ! By the head of Gove I am maimed, crippled, by usury! The debts I carry (out of sheer necessity I own) are a monstrous thing! I stand tormented by creditors!”

“Many of whom you beleaguer with threats of physical assault? Yes brother, so we have heard”

“Tell me brothers is there nothing you can do? I must needs have funds, there is a necessity for me to have moneys!”

“From what place soever, and from whomsoever brother?! Would you have the brotherhood pile infamy on top of infamy now that, the other scandal has scarce abated? Why, Master Ethelbert-Smythe has scarce been confined a year in Bethlem Asylum & we must needs find a means of silencing that embarrassment! Would you add to our woes still further, brother?”

Lord Elderberry’s face is flush with anger but he suppresses it, his uncle has been peremptorily returned by the brotherhood to a French mental asylum (St Bacchanalia’s Asylum having been torched to the ground) & his aunt has been reinstated as the rightful heir of the estate. As a consequence his position financial is most precarious & he must needs throw himself at the feet of those who, though they despise him, still have most extensive need of his services.

“Brother I stand before you now sanctified as to the essence of Gove, for is it not in his name that I have denied myself & embraced that reckless devotion to self-ennoblement some deign to call politics? It it not as a consequence of this that I now stand here before you, teetering on the brink of ruin? I tell you I must have money!”

With chubby hands clasped gently a’fore his cassock Father Domitius glares calmly at the inveterate fool stood before him. Had the sweet essence of Gove come to this? Driven from polite society, estranged (temporarily) from the sweet embrace of empire? Forced to extend the palm of help to those it would have (previously) summarily jettisoned? Was this the fate awaiting them all? Darwinian annihilation by the hands of the brotherhoods most dissipated & inebriated members? What then of Father Malthus? What indeed. Surveying the hard faces of those around him, & the trembling figure of the one before him, Father Domitius smiled, sweetly, “Come, come Lord Elderberry,your interests would be best served if you were to couch your current predicament more gently, you may need money but we are under no pressing unction to provide it!”. Pressing his pale & sweaty palms against the arms of his stone throne the eminent Father Domitius raised himself out of his seat & shuffled a few steps toward Lord Elderberry who flinched & took a few steps back. “Nevertheless we have already spoken to your creditors who, at our command, have agreed to absolve you of your debts”.

“Oh Sweet Gove! Oh my Lord! My Lord! Sweet, sweet Father Domitius!” did ever a one as treacherous as this, clasp the plump hand proffered coldly towards his person so gratefully? Dear reader one could almost sob with pity! For in the matter of the needless granting of moneys the brotherhood shows no remorse, no, not even to its own.

“Sound or unsound there is our decision” Father Domitius glared at all around him,”There is however one caveat to our decision” and the good father stooping towards the ear of his most degenerate acolyte, whispered his request.

Alas, dear reader, the candles nestled in their sconces having all but guttered we must leave this unpretty scene much as we entered it, shuddering and with much apprehension. Above the graveyard of Mile End the skies are emblazoned by dawn? But what is this lurking in the shadowy doorway of the tiny chapel with his ebony cane clepted close to hand? Could that be the newly minted Detective Inspector Qwinty?

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Doth Not He That Pondereth The Heart Consider It? (Parte Quarta)

The time has come when it should be said that those responsible for our country now stand on the very threshold of eternal glory or eternal shame. The wages of sin is death: What are the wages of those who fail in an hour like this?”

The mistress of 5 Gulliver Place is at home & breakfasting a most singular gent,  the maid (an adolescent child new blossomed into womanhood), serves her mistress silently, her eyes alighting from time to time on the handsome looking cove whose twinkling gaze from time to time flickers toward her bustle, alights on the gabled window and then flickers back.

“Are they not sick of the sight of the battlefield with its poor suffering wounded, for I myself confess that victory has no charms for me when purchased at such a price!”

“You’ve lost a mere ten guineas by it, why ponder the consequence?”

Mrs Fard fingers a slip of toast which she has elegantly buttered with a mere sliver of a knife, ponders it then lets it fall uneaten upon a a beautifully wrought porcelain plate (recently brought to her from Florence), she has her figure to think of after all. Why is he here at this time? It is so early in the day that not even twittering of larks may be heard. His consciense can’t be troubling him can it? Why the man has sundered many a lake incarnadine to get this far & now, on the cusp of governing the Thames itself will he lose nowse? She doubts it, there must be some other reason for his sitting here, relating the latest humiliations brought on by the Crimea War.

“You err Amelia! So certain was I that we’d defeat the blighters I wagered thirty!”

“More fool you Lauri, finis origine pendet, the end depends wholly on the beginning, I forget which lord told me that, save that he was a-tween the sheets when he did so. Why are you here dearest?”

“An officer of the law was spotted at Mile End Chapel, I thought you had them under your control dearest?”

“As I speak two slumber upstairs, I’ve boarded many an officer in my time, but the Mile End Peelers? My dear they are beyond the pale! Who was it sighted an officer taking the air in a graveyard my darling? Mayhap he was in his cups when he did so!”

Amelia snorted with derision, she’d been a bawd for twenty five year (a brothel madam for ten of those) and she’d yet to meet an officer worth his salt save one, and his kingdom lay at Spitalsfield’s gates.

“Tush dear! Careful with that mouth! Az you forgot what you crawled from to come so far? Them as brought you thus far on the wings of their bedsheets can as easily toss you back az you forgot that? Az you forgot what we iz ‘melia? I ain’t! There’s not an inch of this matter left uncovered by me, not one!”

“Who was spotted? I know all there is!”

“Aven’t I tole yer? Aven’t I said? An officer! A Bow Street officer!”

To be continued……

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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!”

1957.13.2 002

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

Lupus Est Homo Homini

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There is much to be said for dark, flowing locks and large dark eyes with a hint of the gypsy about them, And what maid will not swoon at the sight of one whose masterly gaze complements their muscular and athletic build?

Alas, then, that this gentleman’s eyes are set far too close together, and though they are a most striking azure blue, their gaze is so eerily transfixing that one might fancy oneself a specimen in some zoo.

Shorn of head, with a powerful muscular build, the gent is impeccably dressed, from the dapper midnight blue suit to the grey kid-skin gloves upon his delicate fingers. So impeccably is he dressed that he has drawn the attention of that estimable inspector of the Bow Street Force who fancies that he recognises that face and the criminal history tied to it. The gent stands out and now the inspector, lurking in a nearby doorway observes him closely as he enters his lodgings.

“T’is im beyond a doubt! The miniature portraitist extraordinaire! Well I nevah! But e’s locked up ain’t e? What calumny is this?!”

The inspector knows not as we do dear reader, that the vicissitudes of life are many. For who in their right mind would entrust the care of lunatics to attendants thriving solely on a diet of gin, rum and porter? Danny Doyle’s attendant at Bethlem Asylum was more sober than most, and with her ‘most pleasing’ physical attributes she soon succumbs to Danny’s charms. Using what few oil pigments he had secreted about his person he readily painted her portrait in miniature, and so striking was his rendering the poor girl burst into tears, and that was her mistake.

“Ain’t no one never thought to have me physical aspect painted save you” she sobbed disconsolately.

Danny was dismayed, streaming tears left her grimy face most disconcertingly streaky looking. He glanced irritably at the maid then back at his rendering of her, now it looked imperfect. He decided there and then that his talents had not yet reached the height of their perfection; a little something extra was needed. And so another fell victim to the dismembering lunacy of Master Doyle. How he escaped, and to what end will become readily apparent as our story unfolds, lupus est homo homini my friends!

“Nah” muttered the inspector watching the lit candle upstairs, “That ain’t right, there’s something very amiss” and strolling across the street he knocked briskly on Mrs Byers front door, she was not long in answering, “Yes?”

“Mrs Byers is it?”

“None other, and you are?”

“Inspector Depta of the Bow Street Force, you az a new lodger az you not? I spied im comin in?”

“Az I? I’m at a loss as to who you mean?”

The inspector grimaced at this for there’s nowt so vague as rookery folk when they’ve a mind to be.

“Az you a gent wot goes by the name of Master Doyle, Master Danny Doyle?”  the inspector watches her reply closely; for there’s many a lodging house lady who has been romantically ‘took’ by a murderer or housebreaker. Even to the point of joining in the crime themselves! He should know, he’d collared his fair share of em!

“Wot? E az painted iz landlady’s portrait, and afore he chopped er to bits?” she replied looking suitably outraged, “ I opes not! So far as I know I’m boardin none like that ere!”

Abundans cautela non nocet dear reader, the finality with which Mrs Byers spoke, the air of innocence she cultivated as she spoke, these things made the hackles on the back of his neck rise and he knew she was lying. 

“My mistake dear lady” he crooned a shark-like smile flitting across his handsome face,

 “You’ll not take it amiss?” he added,

Mrs Byers smiled, her eyes a-glitter with malice,

“ A member of the detective force rolls up on my highly respwectable doorstep, wot ain’t been disgwaced in this way before, and I not to take it amiss? You may find such as that down at the workhouse, but not ere, I cater to a different sort!” and with that she slammed the door. The inspector, stepping back from the front door looked up at a first floor window where he saw the lace curtains faintly twitch, and behind them a shifting shadow. 

“I see’s you my lad, I see’s you and in time I’ll nab you!” he mutters as though each word Inspector Depta mutters can’t be heard by one and all as if he had spoke it aloud. A murdering miniaturist in the Seven Dials? Just down the road from Saffron Hill? Ain’t e suppose to be in Bethlem Asylum? I’ll wager Master Ethelbert-Smythe don’t know e’s gawn!

“E’s there! Upon my honour t’is im! What the devil’s e’ doin owt? Does Ethelbert-Smythe know e’s owt?” but the truth of it was that what with the death of Donny Woodbine on his consciense, and the scandal of Mother Birtherugge’s trial and hanging, would he have noted his escape? For beyond doubt this was an escape.

“Master Doyle weren’t expected to be owt this soon, he weren’t expected to be owt ever! Well nah ere’s a to do! But I’ll ave you my lad” he declared quietly and firmly looking up at the chamber window once more. “I’ll ave you eventually, the ole Bailey ain’t nevah bin cheated yet and neither ave I!” and with that he sauntered off.

Inspector Depta of the Bow Street Police traversed cobbled street upon cobbled street and all of them were quiet. Folks intent upon gonophing slunk back into the dark of the alleyways, girls plying their trade and mingling it with a bit of badgering, scuttled off to the Sapphire of Jhansi for a dram. The partakers of Tom Gin wiped their mouths carefully and reluctantly travelled back to the tottering tenements they were obliged to call home.

“What a gent! What a handsome gent!T’is the courageous Inspector Depta is it not? Detective par excellence of the Bow Street Constabulary!”

Some might be heard to whisper as the inspector’s muscular physique swaggers its way along Martyrs Lane and up Saffron Hill, or mayhap not, t’were all one to him. This was his kingdom,these were his streets.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

A Fortuitous Convergence of Natures

Gin-Lane-by-William-Hogarth

“Is this not truly moving my dear? Perceive how they help each other climb over the overturned wagon, that they may equally partake of the spilt gin!

T’is a bright, sunlit day in London and some of that light and euphoric bliss has lit upon St Gile’s Rookery. For a much inebriated Master Scroggins has upturned his wagon in the rookery’s cobbled streets, smashing several barrels of gin and creating much unintended cheer as a consequence.

“What a debauch!” declares The Headmaster, “ Why they sup as if their very existence depended on it!”

Abilene Montaperti is not so quick to condemn, she has visited the Salvation Army outpost here and has seen first hand the abject miseries of the rookery.

“As well they might my love, observe those gaunt and sallow faces! The docks have placed all their workers on short hours and there’s little enough work to be had at the mole trouser stretching plant on Saffron Hill! Let them sup to their hearts content!”

“T’is both a shame and a disgrace nonetheless! Are there no workhouses? Drinking in the streets is a most regrettable past-time, are there no prisons for them?” enquired The Headmaster, who, but for the efficacious intervention of Master LeFevre would have wound up burnt to a cinder during the Tooley Street Warehouse fire.

“Oh there is a workhouse and there are also prisons, though I’ve frequented neither meself” replied Master LeFevre nonchalantly, “I’m told the Spitalsfield Workhouse services all who live here, though the place is barely filled. They ain’t letting no one in.”

“A workhouse failing in its duty towards the poor? What nonsense!”

But Boodoo merely smiled, “There’s but a hundred souls rattling around on them wards! The rest his lordship packs into the stables in their underwear, like cattle!”

Abilene Montaperti paled at the mention of the workhouse whose infamy had spread through the rookery like cholera.

“They gets given their clothes the following morning! Master LeFevre continued, “So as they can look for work!”

“But there is no work!” Abilene wailed,

Boodoo shrugged, so long as he could remember the ways of the exacting rich had ever been thus, imperiously demanding the impossible, whilst the poor, deeply mired in the gutter, strove to meet the exacting commands of their masters.

“If there’s no work they spends the following night in the stables, not the workhouse”

“Outrageous! Who, pray tell, is the workhouse guardian?”

“The most honourable Ethelbert-Smythe” Master LeFevre sneered “They do say he is most loved by the workhouse patrons, he has saved them so much money”

“Ethelbert-Smythe say you?”

“You have heard of him sir?”

“I have buried nigh on a dozen persons whose relatives blamed him for their deaths! There is talk of dark goings-on, of things most sinister in that place!”

“In that place?”

“The Cholera ward of Spitalsfields they say takes many in, though few come out”

“Few say you?”

“Indeed, and the tales they bring with them…most terrible so they say”

“That would follow” replied Master LeFevre looking curiously at the Headmaster and then at the Spitalsfield’s Workhouse whose rooftop loomed over every other tottering  edifice in St Giles,

“They do say he runs a tight ship, but he has of late taken on Dr Garrick and iz reputation, is devilish, I wouldn’t trust that one administering a dose of Laudanum!”

The Headmaster, who had of late taken up grave digging as a means of earning his keep, looked on at the Bacchanalian liquid feast. A healthy flush and expressions of radiant joy could be seen upon the faces of all. Mothers stooped down to douse their linen handkerchiefs in the clear liquid and squeeze the potent droplets into the toothless maws of the elderly. Children little older than ten soaked their scarves in vaporous pools of gin sucking on them as they staggered off in search of work. The dusty, dirty streets reeked of it , the cobbled streets glistened with it, parents wafted the vapour into the nostrils of their infants. For the earlier the introduction of gin, the happier their working lives would be.

“Shocking my dear!”

Disgraceful, yet wholly understandable!” replied Abilene

“Never did agree with lazy thieving!” was Master LeFevre’s reply

“Anansi! Anansi my son! Where is you! We’ve a load on!”

and off he wandered in search of the child he had of late adopted. Observe, dear reader, the starvation and want  seeping from the very pores of the gin sodden poor! Why, the rats scurrying about their streets, the cockroaches nestled in their slums, indeed the tics buried in their mattresses, ate more palatially than their owners the residents of Saffron Hill in the rookery of St Giles!

“Where is you my boy? Anansi!”

“Here papa! I is here! Over by the Saffron stall!”

The child pondered wonderingly over the presence of such wondrously scented flowers, perched in abundant profusion, upon a rickety stall outside his home, the Sapphire of Jhansi Pub. The deep purple flowers reminded him of the African Violets his mother had kept and tended at home, before the dispersal of retribution.  Her flowers had oozed an almost suffocating scent, these smelt more like lush hay. 

“Six pence a bunch”

“Why six pence and not a shilling”

“The rich use Saffron to flavour what they eat. Down ere they use it to keep down the stench of the sewers, and the rotting plaster as it peels away from the walls. I do better trade down ere than I do in Covent Garden!”

“Anansi hook it! Them beer barrels can’t wait all day and I ain’t liftin em by meself! ”

“I’se comin papa!”

T’is a wonder to all as inhabit London, that one such as Boodoo LeFevre, at one time the very devil incarnate when it pertained to setting unwanted and unwarranted fires, should now be pater-familia and of such a child! Hazel of eye, walnut skinned, and ferociously protective of his doe eyed father whose intense love of fire in all its forms, made him the terror of half of London (the other half kept themselves most diligently insured against unsolicited fires as a consequence). But our attention dwells not unduly upon them as yet, but upon the shaven, bow legged and well turned out gentleman who has lately taken up residence at Mrs Byers guest-house.

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

A Visit To Master Turple-Sleath

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“Is that all?” silence met by a stolid face and a worst than indifferent demeanour,

“I say again is that all? Pray tell what do you stare at? Dommy Woodbine was an idle boy, an insolent lazy wretch not fit to dredge the streets let alone clean chimneys! D’you know how much I paid for that indolent swiveller? Two shillings! He has a sister you say? Mayhap I’ll be able to recoup my losses from her!”

Francis Page eyes the man as keenly as he has Lord Grid-Iron, for if ever there was a companion piece to him this man is it. A slaver of children, worst yet an educated slaver of children. Francis lets his eyes drop on the book case nearby the fireplace in which are lined up the works of Marx, Plato and Aristotle. The works of Shakespeare lie on a nearby wooden table with the page marked and open at the tale of ‘Timon of Athens’. Once a man of culture and of feeling then, now reduced to being nothing more than an ill-natured, alcohol soused, ruffian. Above the fireplace a plaque has been nailed to the coarse stone wall, it bears a coat of arms that is scarcely familiar to the gathered company, though Francis thinks he knows whose it is.

“That is the Elderberry coat of arms?” the master chimney sweep nods, a bitter look rests upon his face. “I was a Latin master once but no more, no more! I that taught the works of Homer and of Plato must now stuff brushes and boys up chimney stacks!”

“Latin master or no, at least you are alive!” Francis snarled,

“Alive? Alive? You call this living? Would a gentleman used to being master of his own fate and now mastered by it, think so? Would one used to having his opinions on the works of Cicero deferred to, say so? Living call you this? How I wished I had descended into the fires of hell that devoured that foolish boy!”

Bert, who had been sitting all the while in a murky corner of the lodgings, smiled grimly at Boodoo who with a curt nod got to his feet and left the room. Francis watched his departure then turned his attentions back to Master Turple-Sleath,

“So you admit to having stuffed young Dommy  Woodbine up a burning chimney?”

“T’weren’t burning when he climbed up it! T’was his laziness that rendered him into the crisp remnant that he became! Let us hope that his soul abides presently in heaven as mine can never hope to” throwing himself down upon a roughly hewn stool he drew up a tankard of gin, throwing his head back he bolted down its contents. He swiped his hand roughly across his mouth, reached once more for the earthen jug of gin on the table, filled his tankard to the brim and laughed. A series of hoarse, staccato sounds that made the hair on the nape of Bert’s neck stand on end. Is the man mad? Thought Bert, and if e is mad how can we justify murdering the varmint?

Francis Page pulled up a stool calmly and seated himself upon it, he pulled out his pistol, dismantled it and calmly cleaned it before putting it back together. He pulled out pristine bullet after bullet slowly and carefully loading his gun with them. When he had finished he looked up and saw that the villain now sat brooding in front of the fire. Glancing at the hunched ( and sobbing) figure of the Master Chimney Sweep, Francis had this to say,

“I have seen men reduced to brute beasts by their masters, but I don’t ever recall hearing of a child being burn’t alive by a master or even, by his own kind. Nor of a master deliberately withholding the means of his escape” he looked coldly at Master Turple-Sleath,”There is simply no profit in it” he whispered as he re-holstered his revolver. Seated there with his slender brown fingers clasped elegantly in front of him he waited, neither drinking nor smoking but simply observing the implacable, silent antagonism of Bert and the sullen man sat by the fire. The indomitable Francis Page would sooner have been at dinner, waiting hand & foot on the cursed Grid-Iron. For he had no love of blood-letting for blood-lettings sake, but as a Pinkerton agent it seemed clear to him that justice should prevail here.

But now, what was this? A series of sharp blunt knockings at the ill-hewn door till at last the door shudders, buckles inwards and a flood of begrimed, sooty faced boys tumble through the splintered wood and into the room. Indeed dear reader, one could think oneself mired in the cold depths of hell! What with the sooty begrimed faces of these belligerent beings, the gleaming, sharp edged chimney scrapers being held threateningly aloft, and worst of all that coarse and unbridled language, most foul in its utterance! Dare one sympathise with Master Turplesleath, who upon sighting these foaming mouthed imps cries out “No!” and then again “Oh God no!” before staggering back into a fetid corner of his room? Ah! But he tries to make his escape! Clambering up the chimney nook and reaching towards a recess carved into the side of the chimney, but like the hounds of Siberius they drag him down, falling upon him like a pack of wild dogs,for like Master Francis Page they too are ravenous for justice!

“So, we’ll be going then” says Bert dispassionately watching the chimney sweeps meting out that justice which they themselves had so plentifully experienced at the hands of their brutal master. “Yes indeed” replies Francis pulling on grey kid gloves and tilting his bowler hat upon his close shaven head. But Boodoo does not move, he has seen buildings crumble to dust midst a fire he has set, he has seen workers desperately flee a dynamited blaze. But he has rarely seen a sight such as this, enraged poverty devouring one of its oppressors, it makes him sad just as it makes him feel elated. Francis Page feels no sentiment what so ever, for there is still a terrorist conspiracy to be thwarted and an abduction to be carried out,”If we might be on our way gentlemen” whispers he, as he calmly steps through the shattered front door,”We still have much to do”.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Transported, Uncategorized

The Forsaken Brother

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T’was a long, wearisome night, dear reader and a fraught one. For had not Montaperti abandoned his ward in the midst of a raging fire, which he himself had set? And so, half-dragged to the docks, and then hauled aboard a longboat, the venerable Headmaster and Abilene Montaperti make their escape. Lying prone in the longboat they drift along, steering wide of the burning wax and tallow floating in patches upon the waters of the River Thames.

Oi oi! Look sharp Anansie! Peelers overhead! Sink low! Sink low all!“. The Headmaster does as he is bid, covering Abilene with his damp linen dressing gown and wrapping his arms around her to keep her warm. Little Anansie sliding as low as his little height (and seaman’s jacket) permits continues to helm the boat, steering it as near to the shore as he dares, given the burning wharves and the tallow. Anansie isn’t afraid of the little white men on the bridge, in their serge-blue uniforms with their shiny brass buttons, Anansie is afraid of no one. But he appreciates that his newly adopted father might not appreciate their interest in either him or their strange cargo.

“Helm left! Helm left mah boy! We’re almost home!”

“Yes’m Pa!”

Overhead, the London Bridge gleams almost as brightly as the waters below, in this hellish light it is possible to make out tiny figures running about and swinging their tiny beacons to and fro. Fire! They scream as infernal clouds of it blossom and bloom along the river banks. Fire! The likes of which has never been seen by Boodoo, let alone dreamt of by this sombre arsonist! Fire! And he perceives it not, yearns for it not! “Helm left Anansie! Left I said! That’s it my cove! Just so! Just there!” the boat slips quietly under the bridge and into the inky black darkness of the waters, travelling up towards Vauxhall.

“My mother bore me in the southern wild” whispers the Headmaster uneasily, observing the Negro child who in turn is observing him intently through glittering green eyes. He is not a little perturbed by the little black boy steering the boat. Given the circumstances, he ought not to give voice to his concern, and yet he can’t contain himself from asking,

“Where is its mother?”

“It matters not” replied Boodoo, keeping a lookout for river-rats, the water borne thieves littering the muddy shores of the River Thames, “e iz my son! Had it not bin for him you would have fallen foul of greater evil than ‘e is capable of! Steer rightwards mah boy!

“Yes’m Pa!”

“Quite so dear Boodoo, quite so” it has grown quiet on the river, so quiet that the esteemed Headmaster can hear only his own breath, mingled with the quiet sobbing of his sweet Abilene. The Scovell Warehouse fire is soon behind them and as Boodoo reaches down into the inky waters, pulling the longboat towards the shore and tying it to a private quay below, the Headmaster utters an audible sigh of relief.

“Anansie! Get them ashore!”

“Yes’m Papa!”

Clambering ashore, the strangely garbed child extends a hand to first one and then the other of the passengers flipping them dextrously ashore. “Follow me!” he cackles as he trails off the wharf and up the wooden staircase at a run. They follow, permitting him to lead them past a cluster of crumbing, tottering buildings, former silk mills brought to ruin by their owners abject refusal to agree terms with their workers. Down narrow begrimed alleyways they sidle, Anansie in front and Boodoo behind. And all the while around them, in the pitch dark, the industrious to-ing and fro-ing of Gonophs and Badgers; creeping in and out of the abandoned mills, and down to the river at speed. Carrying bundles of wax and tallow, brass and linen goods ‘purloined’ from the Thames.

“Tooley Street is a-flame!” they whisper excitedly, ”Tooley Street a-flame! Look to it my coves! Move fast!”

Picking their way amongst the silent, bustling crowds (who part like the red sea for Boodoo and his party), they find themselves standing in front of a lodging house.

“Where are we pray tell?”

“The Sapphire of Jhansi, Anansie lead on!

“Yes’m Papa!”

Down a wooden staircase they climb, and into a warm, brightly lit cellar, a freshly lit fire is burning at the rear of the room and in front of it, to an angle, lies a love-seat. The Headmaster and Abilene stagger towards it collapsing wordlessly into its plush embrace.

“Boodoo! Boodoo mah boy you’re back!” Bert is at once grateful for Boodoo’s reappearance. For news has reached him of the Tooley Street fire and he wondering if Boodoo has gone back to his old ways, knows by the look of him that this is not so. Bert notes the mingled look of concern and of rage on his face, as he glances towards the mucky looking gent and lady on the love-seat.

“Sinister goings-on?” he asks with misgiving, Boodoo nods glancing towards Abilene Montaperti and her beau,”The Scovell Warehouse is a-flame and Tooley Street with it!”

“T’was it you az set the fire?” Boodoo shook his head,

“Iz Lordship!”

“Iz lordship?! What Lord Montaperti?!” at the mention of that sinister nom de plume a moan arises from the love-seat, and such as threatens to evolve into a hysterical shriek. “There, there, my love” murmurs the Headmaster throwing a warning look toward Bert and Boodoo. “The Scovell Warehouse?” Bert whispers, “But the whole of Tooley Street is a-flame!” Boodoo shook his head sorrowfully, “Never seen a fire so badly set and with iz ward smack in the middle of it!”

“His ward? So its attempted murder then? ” Bert chuckled, “We need to pay him a visit!”

Boodoo grimaced; he had hoped that that part of his life was over,

”Anansie! Orf to bed with ye!”

“Yes’m Pa! Nite Mr Raddle-man!”

“Nite nite Anansie!” replies Bert watching the departing child with something akin to horror mingled with a growing fascination. For e knew not from whence the child had sprung, nor from whom. Save that one day he had gone out gonophing, and had returned to the lodging house to find Boodoo dandling a Negro child on his knee whom he declared to all and sundry was his son.

“Drawn from the fires of hell?” remarked someone and a good laugh would have been had all round, had not that ‘someone’ suddenly choked to death on a remnant of Turkey Twizzler. Similar accidents were had from time to time (the occasional heart attack and in one case instantaneous lock-jaw), as the residents of St-Martins-in-the-Fields acclimatized themselves to the fact that Boodoo had borne a Negro child. From thereon in the occupants of the lodging house took that as a marker, Boodoo the infernal arsonist had a son and nobody valuing their-selves dare say otherwise. But come dear reader, let us row ever backwards against the streams of time and pause to reflect upon that world which birthed such a child as Anansie LeFevre….

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