“See there, the six shot revolving cylinder and there the small striking pin?”
Lord Wilberforce is enraptured by the little steel signet ring to which the miniature revolving gun cylinder is affixed.
“T’is a ‘Petit Protector’ invented by Master Casimir LeFracheux, I am told Lord Everard Hesketh-Elderberry wore this one on the night he shot his steward! Apparently the old scroat denied him access to his own money!
“Lord Everard was hung wasn’t he? Hung for want of good manners and a full purse?” “Dear nephew” replied Lord Wilberforce, “They made a servant the trustee to his master’s finances! A servant put in charge of his master’s purse strings? A parlous state of affairs! Was he to have shared the marital bed too?”
“Lord Everard was a rabid epicurean whose dissipation threatened to ruin the entire family, his children fled the family home as soon as they could walk, and his wife died a piteous wreck, addicted to the Whisky she had learned to imbibe from the profligate who married her. I am told the hanging was a scandalous affair, no remorse, no apology, he made a riotous end, and that in front of his inferiors! T’was a repugnant mater from start to finish!”
“Twas the stuff of legend! The servants certainly gossiped and laughed over it a great deal when I was a boy!”
“But were not you raised in the Dowager’s household? I can’t think she would’ve allowed such talk?”
With what dark look of triumph is that remark greeted!
“The old goat sought moral probity in all things, she sought to get the better of me and rear me according to her expectations but in the end” said he,”I got the better of her”. Lord Elderberry had not the slightest idea what he might mean by that, but so sinister was the import that the hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end. An elderly man with elegant streaks of gray in his shoulder length hair and the hawk like profile of an aristocrat, tis scarce to believed he is a loon, tis most perturbing. A family loon at that, tis beyond imagining!
Yet, here he and the loon sit, smoking Cuban Cigars and quaffing Port!
They had spent the better part of the morning admiring the retributive qualities of England’s Criminal Courts, they had seen a hanging or three handed down at sentencing at the Old Bailey Courts. They had watched as the condemned swore, shrieked. One, a Portuguese dock worker, fell into a swoon as if the rope were round his neck already, all these distressing sights and sounds Lord Wilberforce absorbed and enjoyed avidly.
Lord Elderberry on the other hand, found the surroundings seedy, the inmates of Newgate Prison offensive in manners and smell, and the hysteria of the dockworker most tawdry. It had been his uncle’s request that they visit Newgate and he assented merely to keep him from visiting the Seven Dials instead.
“Remarkable! Most remarkable! See how he tears at his hair with tears in his eyes! Real tears my boy as if for all the world he were generally sorry! A remarkable performer!”
“Can such a one be capable of duplicity when faced with the prospect of death? Should he not be thinking of what punishments lie beyond this life and await him in the next life?”
Lord Wilberforce rolled his eyes, he recalled perfectly the hour in which he confessed to his papa his part in the demise of the Dowager Hesketh, he had sobbed and wrung his hands like a true penitent, even so they knew he had not meant it, genuine remorse had been beyond him, it still was.
“One may cry out to the very heavens for forgiveness and truly not wish to be forgiven! See how he sobs and berates God to intervene on his behalf, and yet his eyes are as dry as the Deserts of Sinai! Does he regret that he robbed and murdered? I think not, does he regret that his life must be so precipitously ended? Of course he does!” Lord Wilberforce chuckled as the Spaniard crying out for mercy received none and instead was hoisted down to the cells which lay below the court.
They had dined at Lord Elderberry’s club where Lord Wilberforce had engaged the head waiter in conversation and asked if he still served Filet of Turkey Twizzler done in a brandy sauce,
” Tis forbidden M’Lord, not since the Grid-Iron Riots have we served such a dish!”
“The Grid-Iron Riots?” Lord Wilberforce was nonplussed, had Lord Grid-Iron fallen into scandal then? Coughing gently Lord Elderberry moved the conversation on to that of Roast Pheasant,
“We have a plentiful supply of Roast Pheasant M’Lord, for two?” he looked questioningly at Lord Wilberforce whose face seemed very familiar to him for some reason.
“For two Boodle,accompanied by your most excellent roast parsnips”
“M’Lord” Master Boodle bowed gravely but not before he’d favoured Lord Wilberforce with a sharp look, to talk of Filet of Turkey Twizzler in this gentleman’s club was not the done thing.
Lord Elderberry had consciously chosen to lunch at that time of the day when few other gentleman members would be present, indeed the fewer the better.
“I have endured a time of much trial but now I trust my woes are over and I may, in part, return to the life I once knew”
“In part” replied Lord Elderberry duplicitously,
“I do not mean that I wish to enter into society as I once did” continued Lord Wilberforce “a dozen scandals bearing my name have long since barred that path to me, but to be able to enjoy the company of a select few.
To have the freedom to indulge those few hobbies with which I am acquainted” a peculiar expression crossed Lord Wilberforce’s face as he said this, an expression that so far as Lord Elderberry was concerned could only bode ill. Meant Lord Wilberforce to resume his murderous taxidermy practices?
“I trust that you will avail yourself of my hospitality for at least as long as it will take Montaperti to discretely lease appropriate property on your behalf?” replied Lord Elderberry.
“Discretion is key” said Lord Wilberforce glancing at his nephew with a keen eye “To be able to discretely entertain one’s friends and indulge one’s proclivities, yes, discretion! I count myself fortunate to have a nephew such as you, and I most gladly accept the hospitality you offer”
Lord Elderberry shuddered, Sweet Gove! Discretion!The man was the very antithesis of it! To have only recently escaped from a lunatic asylum, and then to demand a tour of Newgate Prison and the Old Bailey?! Why only now did he (Lord Elderberry), rue having committed his sane aunt to an insane asylum! But for the two million sterling, he’d have her brought back and let her manage the scandal-smirched loon who was his uncle! But t’was too late now, and he must keep hold of his nerve long enough to place his uncle in the hands of the Goveen Brotherhood, whom he desperately hoped would dispatch him swiftly from this world and pitch him mercilessly into the next (wherever that was!).
“Shall we drink to the end of all trials and your excellent prospects uncle?”
“Indeed we shall! To my excellent prospects and your good health!” Lord Wilberforce exclaimed as he wondered whom he would murder and taxidermy first, Lord Elderberry or the smug, self-righteous prison librarian.
The sky was clear and the sun rose brightly and most placidly. T’was a time of wisdom, t’was an age of stubborn recklessness (drenched in gin!). T’was a period of unbridled villainy (accompanied by the most intransigent iniquities!), t’was an era of most shocking and depredatory calumnies. T’was an epoch of base depravity, t’was the season of iniquitous and unremorseful degeneracy!
T’was the semblance of the template of outer darkness (that which is referred to in the Revelations of that good book which the Goveen Brotherhood has so obdurately cast aside). That outer darkness in which there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth in repentance, t’is the interior of Newgate Prison. Only recently has hanging ad nauseum been done away with, and a much more humane treatment of the prisoner advocated.
Hence the imposition of voluntary solitary confinement and the introduction of studies in literature. In their beneficence the prison board have even employed a librarian, a Florence Nightingale of Culture, to deliver much received cultural wisdom (as well as the books) to those inmates requesting it and to those who have not.
“If you would but walk this way sirs, you will see a most excellent example of that which a few leaves of a leather bound copy of Plato’s Republic can achieve”
T’was ever the face of his lordships guide more pure of purpose and so all the more radiant? One wonders what could have come over the prison governor, to have allowed a damsel as pure and untainted as this, unfettered access to those whom some would liken to the denizens of the fifth inner circle of hell.
“Galahad! Galahad come forth!”
Galahad does indeed come forth sullenly at first and most eagerly once he discovers who it is who has called him forth, she of the patented boots and dainty ankles! Was ever Vulcan, blacksmith to the gods, more powerfully wrought? With muscular arms ending barely above the knees, and a sinewy back massive enough to obscure terrors most horribly wrought upon his victims in the dead of night, who could think that here lay a scholar of Plato? Of Pericles? Of Homer even? But he has read these and more.
“How are you this good morn?” the lady asks the domesticated soul most gently, as gently as if she were communing with her mother. Galahad’s small brown eyes rest upon those dainty ankles (barely to be seen above the boots) of his enquirer as gently as a set of light fingertips. T’is most disconcerting for Lord Elderberry to behold but Lord Wilberforce finds himself most entertained.
“I am good this morn miss, much better than I was the night afore last” he would say more, eager as he is to form a more intimate acquaintance with this angel of the Newgate wards, but the prison guard close armed with a most hefty bludger deters him.
“How do you find Plato Galahad?”
“I confess myself to be rather like Polemarchus missis” says Galahad looking anxiously at the prison guard close by him “I cannot eat I cannot drink for the scarcity of charmed conversation”.
The Florence Nightingale of Newgate Prison smilingly exhorts Galahad to continue on with his reading, for much study of Plato elevates the soul, and so the reformed Galahad is led sullenly back to the dark interior of his cell.
“I have heard tell of this inmate, is he not the Kennington Counterfeit?” asks Lord Wilberforce
“I heard when he was taken they found enough counterfeit coins under his bed to have stocked the counting houses of Lloyds!”
“T’is he” affirmed the prison guard morosely, ” But that t’weren’t all they found! There was pairs and pairs of patented ankle boots and of course” he looked disapprovingly at the librarian who stood a vision of radiant, petticoated womanhood “What was in em, but they couldn’t prove as he was the culprit and so they done him for counterfeiting”.
Took for murder but done for counterfeiting and now studying Plato! Lord Wilberforce glancing at the face of his host, a vision of innocence if ever there was one, suppresses the urge to roar with laughter. His host glancing suspiciously at him, continues her tour.
“Many arrive here in a most brutal and savage state, they display little if any remorse for the cruel deeds they have perpetrated against their victims. It can take many, many months of rehabilitation and indeed much study before they can be made to see the error of their ways.”
The cell they arrive at next contains a gentleman whose tall slender form and placid face fit well the notion of reformed criminality. There is an air of grandfatherly benevolence about him that is further reinforced by the horn rimmed spectacles perched a-top his nose. Once he was a most shocking example of the depths to which a life mired in depravity will drag you, but now he is reformed.
“Lucius a good morning to you, what is it you have their in your hand?”
“Good morning to you miss, tis a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy”
“This copy was sent to you? Tis not to be found in the prison library”
“T’was sent missis by a very old friend”
“Which part is it you read?” the librarian is intrigued, for one who has spent a decade in solitary confinement Lucius has selected very sophisticated reading material,
“Canto Six, of that part titled, Paradise, Miss”
“And what do you think of it?” she enquires loudly, for tis often the case that those who have spent any measure of time in solitary confinement, complain of deafness.
“I think it is all very well for literary folk to talk of paradise and yet avoid talk of duty and honour! I think that they know not by what ends paradise is achieved.”
“The book is six centuries old Lucius, and well worth the perusal, I am certain that you will find something there you approve of”
“I feel certain I shall, in time” replies Lucius and with a courtly bow he retreats into the sanctuary of his cell. The prison guard glances at him doubtfully, for if ever there was a denizen of hell tis he.
“Gentlemen if you would with me?” like the cherubim of God the librarian casts pools of light about her, as she travels each corridor of the prison, bestowing here a smile and there a copy of Homer’s Odyssey or The Decameron, of Pericles Speeches or Plato’s Republic. Rarely are any of the books returned with the muttering of an oath or flung back at her accompanied by a curse. In part this is because of the vicious beatings which must accompany such displays of ungentlemanly behavior and in part it is the maternal grace with which the prison librarian liberally bestows her gifts. Lord Elderberry finds himself much taken with this angel of grace whose slender form bound up in a navy blue gown makes her even more alluring to him.
“Do they keep you here all week? Have you no recourse to sunlight to fresh air?”
“Not all week, I am an employee of the British Museum I am lent here three days a week”
“Oh” replies his lordship surreptitiously,
“Well, well!” cried Lord Wilberforce once they were through the prison gates “Hardly enlightening but most entertaining!”
and so both lordships entered their Brougham Carriage thoroughly stimulated, and yet none the wiser as to why men impoverished by their position in society, ought to consider Pericles more palliative, than the improvement of the prison environment. T’is the era of obfuscation, tis the age of incorrigible disinclination, tis the season of vain pretension, tis the century of cretinous presumption.
“The Greek Historian Dion, observed that when Caractacus was shown the public buildings of Rome, his reaction was to ask why a people of such magnificence should envy him his British tent!”
“Perhaps they were poor?”
“My dear Montaperti, poverty isn’t only about empty pockets! Though I agree, poverty can result in the leading of a life that is culturally meaner”
Lord Elderberry is at lunch in the Tompion Room, the room is named after a Bedfordshire tradesman, who fashioned intricate timepieces for the new scientists of the Royal Society, and who grew rich thereby.
She (Lady Hesketh-Elderberry) named her tea room after a tradesman, in fact she has named nearly every room in the house after tradesmen. It irks him that she has done this, that having blemished the family name with her excessive philanthropy, it should have been tarnished further by the naming of every room in the house after members of the trade class. By now he thinks, she will be chained to a bed on some ward for imbeciles at St Bacchanalia, the thought gives him some satisfaction.
“Is that a Knifton?” Lord Montaperti has risen from his seat and now he tours this eccentrically named room and espies a seventeenth century brass lantern clock of an age and make he admires.
“A what?” Lord Elderberry has not had time to price all of his aunt’s gee-gaws,
“A Thomas Knifton, see the verge escapement has a circular balance, but without a balance spring under the bell. The gentleman who made this exquisite piece worked for the reputable Cross Keys Watchmakers in Kent”
He lifts the lantern clock up as delicately as he would a piece of lace, so that Lord Elderberry may take a closer look, but his lordship waves it away, he has little interest in aught but its value on the auction block.
Clocks! This particular room is full of them! Several are ranged on the mantle-pieces which grace either end of the long room, a Charles Gretton Grandfather Clock stands by the maplewood door and all the walls are ornamented with a variety of watches invented by the Dutchman Froumanteel.
“Here are enough English watches to grace a thousand public buildings and this piece” Lord Montaperti restores it to its perch carefully, “Is priceless! Why to be in ownership of a piece such as this, an emblem of the true greatness of British craftsmanship, t’is beyond my imagining!”
“T’is not beyond my auctioning” replied Lord Elderberry whose mountainous debts were well known. “Do Whitehursts and Finnemore auction clocks? I feel certain they do”
Lord Montaperti took note of his young friend’s intentions and inclined himself to visit the auction rooms of Whitehurst & Finnemore once he was certain Lord Elderberry had indeed sold the clocks.
Lord Montaperti notes several other clocks besides the Knifton which have taken his fancy, several other timepieces that will join the vast menagerie of materialist wealth that he chooses to refer to as his ‘town house’. A banker by name, an unscrupulous businessman by any other, t’was he who brokered the sale of British arms to the Russians during the Crimean war, Russia fought valiantly and viciously against the British and won. But this did not deter Lord Montaperti, for one t’was not he who had signed the contracts of manufacture, and though the British sought to put him on trial for high treason, he was so woven into the imperial economy that his execution would have led to the downfall of the government,which went on to fall anyway!
“I am told that Lady Hesketh-Elderberry is not herself?” said he slyly, for t’was known that she had been committed to St Bacchanalia’s,
“I extend my condolences” he added, noting the look of discomfort on Lord Elderberry’s face and enjoying it richly, “Now onto business!”
The discussion of money whilst one is consuming Lobster Salad in a room such as this, would be considered lacking in delicacy, but by what means may one go on consuming Lobster Salads?
“I have a proposition for you” Lord Montaperti said blandly,
“One which may serve your interests or not”
Lord Elderberry is intrigued, when it comes to the matter of making money he frequently is,
“You will appreciate that I am a man of business, and that as a man of business, I lack the pressing delicacy that must oft accompany these matters. You will therefore take this into account as I touch on matters which might otherwise merely concern you, such as the Hesketh Elderberry Genealogy.”
Lord Elderberry is perplexed, he was conceived, he was born, what more to the matter can there be?
“You have an uncle”
“Your Aunt’s twin” continues Lord Montaperti, noting the dawning horror on the face of Lord Elderberry with thoughtful pleasure,
“Yes, her older brother who would, had he not turned loon, have inherited all your aunt has inherited. This gentleman has taken his leave of St Bacchanalia’s, he has escaped”
“Indeed, please bear in mind that this is a business interest I relate to you, your uncle had a trust in perpetuity held by Polders and when they fell into bankruptcy the responsibility passed to me”
“Me, I had assumed that in time arrangements might be made to have it pass to you but, there is a complication”
“A complication?” Lord Elderberry looks first bewildered and then perplexed,
“A very little one, before the trust can pass to you, it must be signed over by Lord Wilberforce Hesketh-Elderberry”
“But he’s a fugitive from the law!”
Lord Montaperti chuckled, “ His committal to the lunatic’s asylum was most discretely handled, one cannot say the same about his escape!”
“But he’s a criminal!”
“Not that I am aware of, although I must own that he has a most singular disposition and I doubt that St Bacchanalia’s would care to admit that they have been so remiss as to lose one of their charges”
“From all I’ve heard of the Dowager (God bless her soul! ) she will not have committed him without just cause!”
“Quite so, I am told that several most unusual murders were committed in St Giles”
“The victims were murdered and then stuffed!”
“Taxidermy” replied Lord Montaperti looking unperturbed,”Your uncle was an avid taxidermist!”
Lord Montaperti examines his pocket watch most closely, fashioned by Estienne Hubert from 48 carat gold, encrusted with emeralds, diamonds and rubies. It is an exquisitely expensive timepiece, in reckless bad taste.
“That aside, Lord Wilberforce is worth a million pounds and most importantly, he is a bachelor.”
“A batchelor? But what of my aunt’s two million? How am I to have access to that if he is still alive?”
“You shan’t whilst he lives, but he shan’t live long” replied Lord Montaperti with an inscrutable look on his face.
Observe the delicate hands and those tapered fingers folded calmly upon his lap, those piercing eyes so dark as to be almost black, absorbing all radiance, all light, and exuding none. Observe the cold calm regal face and the scarlet slash of a mouth, for here reclines a man bred with no philanthropic notions, and no inclinations towards mercy where those who are deficient in genes (or merely impoverished) are concerned. Behold the majestic product of generations upon generations of flawless aristocratic evolution!
“Shan’t he live long? Why on earth not?” Lord Elderberry an innocent abroad? He who had his own aunt, she who had nurtured and nourished him from birth trussed up like a turkey and committed? He a babe in the dark arts? His pale milk weed complexion and sly green eyes denote the demeanour of one who, once nourished affectionately in one’s bosom, is apt to lunge and bite too swiftly.
“I? Stoop to murder? Am I who have risen so high to sink so low?”
“Murder? Nonsense! T’would taint your bloodline! The Goveen Brotherhood will take care of it!”
Natural selection in microcosm, the estimable Darwin perceived that which the ruling classes had practiced for centuries, and was astounded by it. T’was the process by which our great empire and its worthy custodians had ruled the world entire!
Alas, little did they realise that whilst nature may be trusted generally to do its work, at times a vicious whimsy causes things to go astray. Hence the tragic demise of Lady Edina Pembroke, who upon sensing a genetic deficiency in Lord Henry, deemed it expedient to abandon him at birth on a Cornish cliff top.
Alas that her sacrifice resulted in her own premature death from Pneumonia and the rescue of the child! The family of Lord Hesketh-Elderberry was far more discerning. Lord Wilberforce bore a most sadistic disposition and a minor physical defect, but this wasn’t deemed so debilitating as to necessitate his demise. His sister however, nursed an obsessive fondness for her servants, their children and their grandparents.
To forestall this abhorrent and degenerative progression the family sent her to a Goveen Priory at the age of five. However having entered holy orders Wilhemina was hastily sent home for stealing the Abbess’s treasure chests. She had been caught in the middle of Molten Tussock Minor tossing the Abbess’s gold into the grimy hands of the poor. T’was obvious the child was not cut out to sit at the feet of Gove and so a family conference was called to discuss her fate. The Dowager Hesketh-Elderberry suggested the family watch the girl closely and wait. Mayhap further imbecilic traits would surface obliging them to consign her to St Bacchanalia’s Asylum, mayhap not.
A decade passed as both children evolved and their intellects burgeoned and flourished and then, one summer’s eve, the Dowager Hesketh-Elderberry disappeared. T’was a moonlit night, the night of the village ball, when the aged Dowager was escorted up to her rooms never to be seen alive again.
The estate would have passed to Lord Wilberforce in time, were it not for one inescapable fact, his deranged and obsessive devotion to taxidermy. Many such gory specimens of his flawless talents were to be found, scattered throughout the rookeries of London. Though, to be sure, the police were a little confused as to who to attribute his murderous handiwork to. The Dowager Hesketh-Elderberry’s cadaver was discovered a little after the rookery murders had mysteriously ceased. There she sat, propped up in a rocking chair in a corner of Lord Wilberforce’s study, unsmiling, grim faced as ever, decidedly dead and pristinely stuffed. Upon this discovery Lord Wilberforce’s manservant turned pale and fainted, the chamber maid ran off to fetch her ladyship who in turn sent for the Reverend Unctuous.
“Natural selection” he sombrely declared, “Has accomplished its work! Consign the loon to St Bacchanalia’s Asylum! Rest assured his further degeneration will be kept in check!”
Alas then that fifty years later he should have made his escape! And L’eauregarde with him! Oh calumny! Oh perturbation! But worse was to follow, for even amongst the aristocratic breed there is a tendency to revert back, to that most base and avaricious character lost during some former generation.
“Think what it is you do Edmund! Untie me!”
“You have strayed beyond the bounds of reason! I shall not!”
“Recant your philanthropy!”
“Recant your beliefs! They are heresy Edmund! Direst heresy!”
Lord Elderberry chuckled softly to himself, a deliciousness stole over him at the sight of his aunt trussed up on the bed. Lady Hesketh-Elderberry sobbed quietly, the sheer devilishness of him daunted her. There was an unnatural gleam in his piercing gaze that betokened madness, t’was the same look his uncle had if he but knew it! A vicious whimsy urged him on to this, but she, in her naivete was to blame! She had welcomed him into her home and her heart, and the brute had seized his chance to depose her!
“You have tainted the sanctity of this family’s reputation with your incessant hankering after the poor! The honour of the Hesketh-Elderberry name is sacred to me! As sacred as my loyalty and duty to England! The ragged schools you have funded shall all be shut down and the poor returned (by force if need be) to their slums!”
“You are heartless Edmund!” sobbed Lady Hesketh-Elderberry “Heartless!”
“I’m pragmatic!” replied Edmund, “The family coffers can only stretch so far, I have my inheritance to think of! I am tightening the purse strings!”
“But you cannot!”
Edmund nestled up to his elderly aunt who had been forcibly tied into a strait-jacket. The sadistic gleam in his deep-set eyes seemed to blot out all sane and moral reason. Lady Hesketh-Elderberry flinched, she averted her eyes and tried to wriggle away, but like the relentless serpent he was he wriggled closer.
“In the event of your sudden descent into lunacy the inheritance the family bequeathed to you, passes to me”
Suddenly he leapt off the bed and enquired of one perturbed (a doctor no less),
“In your most considered opinion could it be said that Lady Hesketh-Elderberry is mad?”
“Yes, indeed, I do believe she is M’lord. If you might be so kind?”