Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Transported

Of Triumphant Emancipation From Waged Slavery!

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Of all the righteous deeds that ever took place beneath the sun this was the best, of all the pleasures that from justice should ever transpire this was the most enduring.  To see now the gates to Newgate Prison opening slowly and the prisoners both dazed and bemused stumbling forth. T’is a clear, cold, day my friends and one as will be etched in the memories of those who reluctantly did the liberating for some time to come. To have made reparations for a great social wrong and to have been made to do it, for fear of blossoming scandal! Why, even the bells of St Sepulchre ring out exultant over this triumph!

Look there my brothers and sisters look there! T’is the Union Rep! Valiant yet shrewd, heroic and yet longsuffering! Borne away upon the bowed shoulders of the silk mill workers, they whose reputations once smeared and sunk in calumny, now stand vindicated. An open cart stands a’fore the prison gates and as they place him down in it there he stands, waving his arms aloft and waiting for silence. All necks are stretched eagerly in his direction, all starved faces upturned. So many earnest faces, so many hope filled gazes from those who have braved the workhouse and prison for this victory.

“My Brothers and sisters! I stand before you as a man humbled by your sacrifices! For whilst I have slept comfortably upon a prison bed, many amongst you have braved the charity of Mr Ethelbert-Smythe and his workhouse!”.

Hearing the muttered curses and surveying the scarce hidden rage of the workers the Union Rep smiles inwardly, he continues “Ours has been a great sacrifice, family members transported to the colonies ne’er to be seen again if our masters had their way!”. Here and there loud sobs and howls of rage may be heard and still the Union Rep speaks on,”We have lost much my brothers and sisters, so much and yet in the end, they as called themselves our masters were forced to defeat! The eight hour day is ours my friends! It is ours and with it decent pay!”

“How much?” cries first one soul then another, for though word has reached them all, they will not believe it until he as has led them says it is so.

“Five shillings a piece for every adult, two shillings for every child”. Silence and something worst than silence, a thousand faces struggling betwixt faith and disbelief, five shillings? Five? They glance at each other, they look up at the stolid face of a man who has never yet lied to or misled them. Five shillings? Can it be true? After all this hardship and heartache? To return to work with improved wages and working conditions? Without further transportations or hangings? Can it be so? The adults struggle with this good news, but the children roar exultantly,“Hurrah for the Union Rep! Hurrah Hurrah for the Union Rep!”. And soon their cheers are joined by their mothers and fathers, their aunts and uncles, their brothers and sisters and grandparents, in short all the vast, grimy forest of indigent poor bearing London aloft on its shoulders. “Hurrah for the Union Rep!” the cart makes its way through the crowds that throng it and is soon lost amongst them as it is driven back to that place from whence it came,St Giles.

“Can it be true? Are they indeed freed? It seems but a dream! Would that my brother were here to enjoy this sight!”

Wendy Woodbine tilts her beribboned bonnet at the cart as it passes her, “T’is certainly strange” remarks the young man with her, tilting his hat with one hand, whilst the other, gloved in grey leather, rests upon an elegantly carved cane, “One would think he was royalty!”

Not since the funeral of that venerable fireman Master Braidwood, have such crowds lined the streets and thronged the byways of London. Not since the hanging of Mother Birthe-Rugge has there been such high spirits and good humour. See there calmly marching the chimney sweeps, red scarves tied around their necks, their scarlet banners held aloft for all to see. The music hall entertainers trail behind them, armed with musical insturments and waving their bowler hats in the air, whilst the ladies twirl their skirts and dance to the tune ‘Oh Susannah!’.

All the traders along the way have shut up shop, and now they also line the streets cheering and waving their caps in the air,”Hurrah for the silk mill workers, hurrah, hurrah and down with the rich!”. Hurrah and down with the rich! What a cry to freeze the heart and chill the bones of the aristocracy were it to be taken seriously! But only a few of its members are present and they are wholly disinclined to attend to the brayings of an impoverished mob. See there that glossy black carriage with the Westminster Palace coat of arms emblazoned upon it. But pray who is seated within it? None other than the Prime Minister and Palmerston!

“Is all in order?” asks the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston nods,

”Yes, but there were complications”

“What complications? How hard can it be to make off with a carpet bag?! Don’t tell me its still here! Lord Grid-Iron cannot still be in England!”

“A robbery was attempted by American secessionists and foiled by the Bow Street Police”

“By whom?!” The Prime Minister looks horrified but Lord Palmerston smiles,

“Mr Thickett-Kane whom we now have under arrest, fortuitously Inspector Depta was on hand with his men and so was able to take matters in hand”

“But what would he want with Lord Grid-Iron? Please tell me they shot the ingrate! The carpet bag, where is it now?”

Lord Palmerston pulled out his pocket watch, glancing down at it he said, “At this precise hour he’ll be aboard the Resurgam and on his way to the Americas, I don’t expect we shall ever lay eyes on him again

“But what if he should think to return?”

“He will already have been apprised of how much the government knows, about his business dealings in the Crimea, t’is an act of high treason he has committed. I feel sure that once he comes to his senses he will consider his imposed exile a mercy!”

“Excellent! Now tell me, how goes our venture in the Crimea?”

One hundred and eighty dead from the failed Light Brigade charge in Balaklava, five hundred dead at the Battle of Inkerman…in fact this ‘venture’ fares not very well at all. Truth be told with statistics as inconvenient as this mounting up like the bodies of the dead, t’is a relief that such as Lord Tennyson exist. “Why such soaring prose as his stirs the patriotic and urges us on to further bravery, for ours is a just cause!” declares the recalcitrant Palmerston. The carriage glides on through the crowds with its politicians deep in discourse and wholly oblivious to the power of the poor that will, in due course, bring about the downfall of the cabinet, if these politicians but knew it!

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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

Who Is This Who Comes?

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In honour of M.R James, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, nine years before the start of the First World War and, Provost of Eton, three years after the Great War’s end.

The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe is a-bed, nightcap firmly fixed a-top his flaxen pate. His has been a long and eventful day, what with the escape of Raven Industrial School’s former Headmaster from Bethel Asylum, and as if that were not bad enough he had taken the niece of Lord Montaperti with him. The reading of her father’s will was to take place three days from hence and if the girl were not retrieved by then…but she would be found he was certain.

Snugly a-bed beneath his goose feather quilt (and the astrakhan fur trimmed singlet thrown on for extra warmth), Hardy reflects smugly on the near empty state of the Spitalfield’s Workhouse. Other workhouses are brimming over with whey faced miscreants wholly disinclined to work for a living. Why at St Martins in the Fields nigh on half a million had been fed and clothed at extensive cost to the government purse. Not so Spitalfields, where no discordant note of inebriation, nor of slovenliness or slothfulness can be permitted. And where more modest amounts of food and clothing are permitted as will fuel and warm the body for purposeful work.

Propped up in bed, the Testimonies of Gove perched snugly on his lap, Ethelbert-Smythe soon falls asleep. Only to be rudely awakened by the sound of something he knows not what, something moving about in the hall beyond the sanctuary of his bedchamber. “Have I not thrice instructed Parkin to lock the servants in their rooms when they are done for the night?”. As tired as he is his sense of outrage requires that he don his dressing gown and venture out of the bedchamber. Silence. His abrupt appearance in the dimly lit hallway occasions no abrupt movements in the opposite direction by furtive, frightened servants. There is no one there, it is merely a figment of his imagination. And so he clambers back into bed and having at once snuffed out his candle falls fast asleep.

The sensation of a cold and clammy hand tenderly stroking his brow awoke him once more for accompanying it, was the pungent sweet aroma of Opium smoke. His eyes flew open at once and the sight which greeted them propelled him out of his bed and onto the floor. “What’s wrong with him Skinner? What’s wrong with him?” the face is greying and hollow around the eye sockets, the ragged clothes half burn’t and the hands? Oh horror of horrors! The hands once fleshed out and delicate, have become mere withered singed claws the end result of being set a-flame in a chimney fire.” What ails thee Mr Ethelbert-Smythe? Art thou burning in the fires of hell as I am? Art thou burning in the everlasting fires?”. Hemphill Skinner chuckles as he reclines upon that selfsame spot where Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe had until that very minute lain.”Nay Lad, he is not set a-flame where we are, he is very much alive enjoying hearth and home and family!”.

Crawling across the Astrakhan fur singlette (pipe in hand) Hemphill Skinner chuckles and grins and that sight terrifies Ethelbert-Smythe more than any other. “You can’t be here! You can’t be! You can’t be! You’re dead! Dead! I was at your funeral!”. Now Skinner crawls across the floor toward the rapidly retreating Smythe who has scuttled up across his dressing table and now sits crouched upon the windowsill. “Oh?” smirks Skinner pausing to inhale a puff of opium smoke through the gash in his neck,”Was you at hers?”.

And now fear, cold and clammy as the night shirt that clings to his back, snakes it’s way around his heart. Panic,bewilderment and mounting terrror sweep over him and then he sees it, hovering in a corner of the room and creeping slowly, ever closer, ever closer to where he crouches. A stark white linen bedsheet twisted around some sub-human form he cannot clearly see. And, oh horror of horrors! It is stained with clots of some putrid substance, he knows not what. ” I waited for hours to see yeah” it whispered, “waited, and waited. The little ones was so cold for waiting, but we’re not cold no more! We’re not cold no more!” scuttling slowly towards him on its haunches it growls and then springs towards him suddenly, knocking him off the windowsill and back onto the floor. “Help!Help help!Help!”  scrambling to his feet he lurches towards the door opens it and is about to hurl himself through it but alas! Too late! Hands grabbing hold of the tail-end of his nightshirt tug him violently back into the room, and he is once more left rolling to and fro upon the velvety carpetted floor.

“We can bide here no more!” whispers Hemphill Skinner his Opium pipe firmly tucked away. “We can bide here no more, but we’ll not go empty handed!” gripping Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe firmly by the throat, whilst Dommy Woodbine grabs tight hold of one leg, he tugs him back onto the bed and towards the back wall. Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe espies first a crack and then a fissure in the plaster. Opening, slowly widening, until his face is lit up with the belching flames and suphurous smoke of some hellish netherworld. “Oh God! NO! Not me! Not me! Sweet Gove! Save me!” nought but silence greets his pleas for his (as many a pauper would agree) has never been a merciful God. “Help me!” but t’is too late and as Hemphill Skinner tugs him feet first through the fissure his last words are,”Think of my children!”.

Fanny Ethelbert-Smythe is up with the larks, first having breakfast (Kippers and scrambled eggs).Then she  quietly descends to the drawing room where the servants await her for morning prayers. The household has not always been run this way, but of late the master of the house has not been himself. And so it has fallen to her until he recovers himself sufficiently, to see to it that things go on as they should, indeed as they always have. Sweeping her skirts behind her with one elegant hand, her ladyship descends to her knees and with a stern eye exhorts all the servants to join her. “Dear Lord, we beseech thee, aid us in serving our fellow man and soften our hearts towards those who abide enduringly in dire misfortune, amen”. A resounding amen is uttered by all present and so the servant’s work day has begun.

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