T’was a Mid-Summer’s Eve at the Molten Tussock Industrial Academy, but the glorious dawn has long since made it’s escape;and now a purgatorial twilight has stolen over that unhappy place. To the outsider t’would seem as if the vast and shadowy grounds of the school had been abandoned, as if the inhabitants were asleep.
But t’is not so,come closer dear reader, and behold the undulating waves of incense carried from the windows of the Goveen Chapel, on a gentle breeze. Behold the flames of crimson and violet that swirl around the grounds as the sun sets on the horizon! And the smoke! For the iron smelting furnaces belch such an abundance of flame as t’would cause Hephaestus, that blacksmith to the gods to leap and dance. See there in the distance cowelled heads bowed in deep contemplation and little feet walking in single file to chapel. And at the vast oaken doors thrown wide for their admittance, stands one whose burning gaze sweeps over them all with grim satisfaction. Father Tout-Puissant,who having satisfied himself that all are safely ensconsed within the chapel pauses only to glance skyward at the Iron Slitting Tower (where sits imprisoned one errant schools inspector) before slamming the doors shut.
But whilst the novitiates of the Iron Slitting Mill sit pondering the sweet testimonies of their deity, one in error, has slipped away from the tender path of enlightenment. One , who, having grown disgruntled with the unceasing prayer, undaunting praise and Iron-Slitting, has determined to overthrow the regime of Father Tout-Puissant come hell or high water. And so, disguised as a tender serving wench from the master’s household he has slipped into the the Iron Slitting Tower; seeking the aid and succour of Master Parnham. He, who having first fled into the tower in a frantic and terrified bid to save life and limb; is now pondering the malignant storms of life that have seen him tossed from spiked pillar to post, and then back again.
“I have been buried here for how long?”
“I can’t tell sir, almost eighteen days I think”
“Shall I let you out sir?”
“Is it secret, is it safe?”
“Out in the courtyard? Yes sir, but I can’t say for how long”
“Where have they gone?”
“To chapel sir t’is choir practice sir!”
And indeed t’was as the child had whispered, for the sweet, simple, strains of young melodious voices could be heard midst the churning racket and bellowing smoke of the Iron Slitting Mill. “Oh every time I feel the plumb-line moving on my breast I pray!” the mill apprentices uttered each note of the Goveen hymnal with such melodic yearning, that it made his flesh crawl.
“Sweet Mother of God! I had abandoned all hope of getting free! Choir practice?!”
“Each evening sir, after Father Tout Puissant has cried out to Sweet Gove on our behalf, we utter such songs of praise and thanksgiving as would cause the saints themselves to weep if they heard it”.
“Such as would cause your mothers to weep if they could hear it! I’ve heard ye sing aye, and seen ye sway maniacally to and fro, with nowt but pitch forks in one hand and a hunk of bread in the other!”.
“T’was ever the Molten Tussock way sir, we donts welcome strangers easily”
“What? Not even your own mothers?”
“Father Tout Puissant says they are heretics sir, back sliders from the Goveen path, cunningly cloaked denizens of hell and as such, have no share in the pleasures of Sweet Gove”.
“And those pleasures would be?”
“To move fervently from goodness to greatness by trusting the good and the great! To avert our gaze from the visceral horrors of blobbish decay and embrace subservient matyrdom to his great name!”
“Whose great name?”
“Dear me!The Creed of Gove spread under our very noses! The Bow and Bromley Education Board shall know of this! I must escape! Is there no way out of here?”
A sly look has crept over the face of the mill apprentice, for like any shrewd and cunning soul he knows that once Master Parnham has escaped it may be some time before he returns and in that time any number of undescribable horrors might commence.
“There is a way…”
And now Master Parnham glances at the grimy child clad cunningly in bonnet and apron, barely five years old, though with his sooty, stiffened hair and raddled face, looking considerably older. He stares and stares at him until it dawns upon him with horror that some negotiation might be required. And when he sees the yearning hope growing in the child’s face he cannot help but to reel back in horror.
“No, child! You can’t ask that of me! You can’t!”
“Nowt but you can save us sir! We’re for them Iron Slitting Mills at Grodden Parnock unless you free us!Slitting and shaving iron day in and day out, no rest but for the creeds of Gove uttered in chapel till the early morn and the constant singing!I cannot bare it sir! None of us can!”
Clambering up onto the window sill the little boy leaned out of the window in such a way as to cause misgiving to rise in the breast of Master Parnham, who taking hold of the grimy child and clasping him firmly to his bosom, asked,
“Child what is thy name?”
“Obed Plum sir” came the muffled reply,
“Then come Obed!” cried Master Parnham valiantly, clenching his wizened fists,
“Let us to chapel!”
To be continued…
Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?
Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!
And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill’d with thorns.
It is eternal winter there.
For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.