Hypocritical Cant

Reflections Upon The Milk Of Poor Law Kindness

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T’is a little after one in the afternoon (that is approximately three hours before tea-time) and  precisely seven hours before Mr Ethelbert-Smythe must find himself in attendance at the home of the eminent politician. T’is only three sleeps before Christmas but a’las the poor are ever with us, for they line the alleyway leading up to the Spitalfield’s workhouse as if the mills and the match factories scattered through London had no vacancies!

Some slouch against the grimy walls of the workhouse alley as if those were the only props that might keep them standing. Others appear to have heaped themselves one upon the other, a heap of damp, muddied, half-filled clothes on the equally muddied, cobbled, path. All form a ragged queue straggling down the length of the alleyway,through the narrow entrance way, and into the workhouse stable yard (known to the poor as the casual ward). Some will be lucky enough to spend their first night in the workhouse itself, the rest will sleep here,in their undergarments (the rules of the workhouse do not permit otherwise), amongst bales of hay.

T’is festive enough for the destitute is it not? After all did not Our Lord spend his first night in a cow shed? Safely swaddled and laid a-bed by sweet Mary in a cow’s crib? And attended by no fewer than three eminent sages? Now step forth the guardians of the gate-way, Billy, Gilly and Alfie Croft, known to all as knows them as ‘The Croft Brothers’ and to their betters as the work house porters. At a glance they can tell who can be touched for a sovereign (ere they be let through the gate) and who is likely to be bringing in opium pipes or gin and will thus need throwing out again. “What? You ‘ere is you Milty? Still on the swell I takes it? Well my boy you ‘ad better hook it! And fast! We ain’t feedin none as is destined for Newgate! Hook it proper!” the brothers advancing as one muscular force, their hint is at once taken.

In they advance as one, the wretched armies of the poor, exposed to the brutal unflinching gaze of porterhood. In staggers Queenie McKillen with her baby, little Ellen, clutched to her scrawny chest. Oh she has tried her best to dress herself appropriate for the scrutiny of them that governs who is fit to enter the workhouse; but it is not these pitiful efforts which gain her entrance. Gilly Porter takes in her fragile, heart shaped face and the worn once-costly garments she wears. ‘Whore’ thinks he and visibly bridles with righteous indignation; but then his hard unflinching gaze takes in the child carried close to her bosom. The child whose pitiful pain-wracked whimpers send chills down his spine, though the heart rending cries are as nothing next to the faint reek of vomit emanating from the shawl she is wrapped in.

Gilly Croft stops her as she reaches the entrance and is about to slide through the iron gates. “Where is thy ‘usband gel?” he enquires but she does not hear him, raising a pale trembling hand to her brow Queenie pitches forward, the child falling out of her hands and into those of Gilly Croft who looking with dismay upon the child, cries out for the infirmary nurse to be sent for right quick. The nurse, or rather such as may be named one, arrives in due course. A gin bottle hidden none too discretely in her pocket, she weaves her way through the stable yard until at length she reaches Queenie, now dragged to one side and propped against the iron -gate “Cholera is it?” she enquires loudly squatting down in the mud to examine the face and hands of the half-conscious mother, “Cholera no doubt” mutters Gilly gently clasping the babe in his hands “She’ll be dead by the morn, t’is Bobbish Todger’s woman”

The nurse rises abruptly she does not look at him, but he can see that despite the gin, a rosy red flush grows on her cheek that is indicative of anger. Bobbish Todger as laid his hand to any work he could for the sake of wife and child and now lies dead; hanged by the neck at Newgate.”She’s gawn! Bury er, an gie the babe to me” gently Gilly hands the child over to the nurse who clasping the swaddled babe to her, staggers back toward the infirmary. There is room for four more in the workhouse, besides the child who need never suffer the scrutiny of the workhouse committee.

Alfie Croft looks over the worn and weary souls that have passed through and now lie slumped in the yard. A handsome man of average height, rippling with muscle, soberly dressed, is never likely to know the suffering and hardship that has assailed and assaulted the destitute souls sitting on the ground before him or so one would think. “Felicia Tarpin! George Wedum! Luke Crudd! Amelia Fard! Get ye in through that door right quick! You’re to stand before the committee this eve!”

“And who is he as ‘eds the committee?” one brave soul loudly asks, “Ethelbert-Smythe!” Alfie replies glancing at the expressionless faces of his brothers, “The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Ruddy-Smythe?!” Alfie nods his head. There is much dark muttering all around at this, for was it not he who shut down the Spitalsfield Orphanage, on the grounds that the toddlers nurtured and nourished therein was fit for work? And was it not he ‘as shut down the Infantrymens’ Rest-Home for the Disabled and then forced men as had next to no health onto the streets a-begging? “Tell us true Gilly! Tell us true!” everyone cries in panic,”Is there any as makes it  through that door into the workhouse?” Gilly glances at Alfie who in turn looks across to Billy, “Some do” they declare in unison, “Now!” bellows out Alfie Croft. “The rest of you kit orff! And into the stables you goes!” this time another brave soul cries out, “I say! Is the straw heated?”

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Academy status, Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant

The Hunt Is A-Foot!

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There is rest, dear hearts, at the end of all terrible strivings and endeavours, at the end of all heart breaking struggles there is a slumber filled peace and there is rest. Come with me dear hearts, take my hand and let us travel to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the ‘warriors of promise’ languish and groan in a ward assiduously and none too discretely guarded by the forces of law and order. Here lies Milty, a blood stained bandage wrapped neatly around his head, being fed beef broth by a kindly nurse, it is the first mother’s love he has ever known, it is the first hearty hot meal he has ever had occasion to enjoy. And over there in that corner by the Christmas tree sits Wendy Woodbine being comforted by a one legged match girl, each holds a rag doll smoothing their fingers wonderingly over the delicately painted dolls’ faces. These are the first toys they have ever been given, donated by no less a philanthropist than Lord Shaftesbury himself.

And see here, the kindly face of the Reverend Arthur Farquar, as he delicately and most sonorously intones the testimonies of Gove,

“And Moses came down the mountain of Gove, and he saw that the people rose up to frolic, and to play, before the golden sacrificial calf of equal pay and conditions they had fashioned for themselves, and behold the spirit of Gove was grieved, and he was filled with wrath”

“Bloody hell! He do go on don’t ‘e?” whispered one silk mill worker to another

“I’d swing for ‘im any day of the week…if I had a bludger handy, why don’t someone shut ‘im up?” replied his comrade, his eyes roving wildly around the hospital ward looking for something, anything to hurl at the Reverend Arthur Farquar, as he patrolled his flock, reading all the while from the sacred testimonies.

“I wouldn’t lay a finger on ‘im if I was you” replied another, “e’s a friend of Bodoo’s”

“Wot im?! I didn’t know Boodoo ‘ad any friends…”

There was much exchange of surprised glances at this little tit-bit of information,

“Well e’ has. That’s ‘im. So lay orfff!”

The silk mill workers who had been privy to this conversation, stare with pop-eyed amazement at this disciple of Gove. For his sombre dress and stern demeanour give no hint of his prestigious connections, he seems lucid though obsessed, he looks sane though a little lacking in warmth, he clutches at his worn copy of the testimonies of Gove with the characteristic fervour of an abstemious true believer.

“Sought ye to to throw off the shackles of St Gove without his most reverend & sacred consent! And without my benediction! Cursed art thou amongst the flock! And lo Moses did smash the stone tablets on which he had inscribed the mos maiorum of St Gove. And lo, he did grind the stone into powder and bade the people eat of it and yeah, verily, verily, did they choke”  

As he intoned these words Arthur Farquar’s gaze swept over his flock, most of whom lay prone on hospital beds, groaning in pain. He felt his heart surging with love for these fallen mill workers whose murderous rage and destructive actions had taken them so far from the glories of Gove.  It was his duty now to lead them back to the straight way and it was a duty from which he would not flinch!

“When’s Mrs Seacole happening by? I could do with a shot of gin after him!” muttered Bert, his back hurt something awful, his head was throbbing and he counted himself lucky to have been sneaked onto the ward by Lady Grid-Iron (Lor bless ‘er!). But having to listen to all this preaching with out so much as a drop of ‘by your leave’ it was too much! The only thing keeping him here was the fear of winding up in Newgate, at least here he had a chance of escape.

Most of the patients lie snug a-bed, warmed throughout for the first time and permitted their first ever experience of indolence, a state the rich know only too well. Some sleep with smiles flickering ocasionally on their faces, all frowns washed away in a sea of warmth. A great fire has been lit in the fireplace at the end of the ward and many of the wounded chimney sweeps have clustered around this, toasting freshly cooked turkey twizzlers in batter. As they chatter and chortle, their faces all flushed and greasy, an old woman limps towards them,

“Ere! You can’t smoke that in ere! This is a ‘ospital!” piped up one of the freshly washed boys,

“An a very nice ‘ospital it is too, but Jaesus! It’s cold out and I can barely warm me bare bones with a pipe and a smoke, so if it please yeh I’ll be muddling off in a while but I jus thought to ask whether my Toby was amongst you?”

“Toby?” said the chimney sweep surreptitiously eyeing the trousers he could glimpse from time to time beneath the worsted dress, “Ain’t never erd of him” the old lady fiddles with the inside of her bonnet, drawing forth a sovereign. And as she does so the chimney sweep glimpses some stubble on her chin,them Molly Maguires! He narrowed his eyes,

” We didn’t go to war with the likes of Tobias Grid-Iron for the sake of money! Put your sovereign away! I knows what you is and I knows what you want and I ain’t blaming ye but we don’t knows where he is, he should be swinging from a gibbet outside a Newgate, but that’s only for the likes of us!” he opined bitterly, turning back to the fire and his friends. The old lady (who is not an old lady), turns away clutching her shawl to her bosom and singing all the while quietly to herself she leaves the ward and shuffles down the corridor. The old lady shuffles past hospital ward after hospital ward, each closely guarded by an officer of the law,finally she/he halts before a stall at the end of the corridor where sits an apothecary, an administer of medicines. The apothecary, Mr Scroggins no less, of Muck Lane, looks a little surprised and dismayed when he spies the bristle chin and those rattle-snake eyes hidden beneath the brim of a be-ribboned bonnet; but the surprise is only momentary and he submerges it quickly,

“Get the word out” the bonnet laden insurrectionist whispers, “Fifty pounds goes to the man that’ll tell us where Lord Grid-Iron is hid”

“Fifty pounds?” Scroggins whispers back,

“Fifty pounds alive, ten dead”

Scroggins chuckled,”Much more like it!”

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