Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

A Very Modern Substitute For Whipping

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There are odd corners in the brains of many of us, corners which are suffused with queer fancies, and thus should be kept well out of sight. But should these slight, queer, fancies -which some might choose to call ‘an attack of consciense’-be deemed madness? Nay dear reader, for if some of us were used according to our desserts in that way, who then should ‘scape the modern substitutes for whipping?

Consider the most estimable Ethelbert-Smythe MP, who upon having seen Lady Clarence to her carriage and the Reverend Farthengrodden to his, now stumbles fearfully towards his study. The vast empty corridors of the workhouse echo beneath his feet, its interiors are as dark and dank and forbidding as any empty house would be, for the wards of this supposed sanctuary are half full. Many have whispered that it is his intention to do away with the workhouse and keep only the casual wards, this despite the poor who daily clamour at his doors for want of hearth and home.

His richly furnished study is the only part of the  workhouse supplied with a vast well lit fireplace, and comfortably upholstered furniture, yet the guardian enters his domain with a most unexpected timidity, with a degree of apprehension and agitation one would not expect of he who had so dramatically shrunk the population of a workhouse, from nigh on seven hundred to a hundred and fifty. 

Indeed, as guardian of the workhouse his first act was to ensure the creation of a well stocked study and office, a warm and comforting place, where prodigious amounts of Claret might be consumed, cigars smoked and business conducted. His second was to extend the horse barns considerably, transforming them into the casual wards of the workhouse. Consider dear reader, a practice which when first suggested, horrified Miss Peepy the elder,

“What?!” cried she indignantly, “Are we to debase the poor still further, since they have no employ, by likening them to horses and what pray tell, shall we be feeding them? Hay?”

“If they’re berthed for the night, and sent out to look for work during the day is there any need to feed them?” the right honourable Ethelbert-Smythe observed coolly. On hearing his reply Miss Peepy felt an impending sense of looming disaster, was it possible that the poor would allow themselves to be lodged as horses and starved without there being consequences? And of the direst sort? She suggested this to the indefatigable workhouse guardian whose reply was this,

“Consider the Scottish fir-”

“The Scottish fir?!” cried Miss Peepy disbelievingly, ” Now we are to liken human lives to lumps of wood? Take Care Ethelbert! That you summon not up the hordes of vengeance! Remember the Grid-Iron Riots!”

Remember them? Why it had taken him six hours to reach his his home! The selfishness of the poor! The sheer wanton, violent, selfishness, it was positively Malthusian! Indeed it has proven most Malthusian once the fatalities (his lordship included) were counted.

“Rioting within the rookery? My dear, the environment has been favourable for so long, that the populace of this slum, have begun to mistake Spitalfield’s Workhouse for a tavern, in which an abundance of provisions may be devoured, and nought paid for them. They are far too comfortable to consider rioting! T’is time we discomfited them!”

And so his suggestions were considered by all the workhouse trustees, voted upon and passed. This included the apprenticing of all children past the age of four to apprentice masters of the direst sort. Why, Master Turple-Sleath had apprenticed and near killed a dozen chimney sweeps, before he lit upon Dommy Woodbine, the child whose cindery death had provoked the Grid-Iron Riots! Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe braved out the death and since he had taken charge workhouse commerce had flourished, and the costs of keeping the workhouse poor had diminished to a most inconsequential amount. On the whole his reforms had been feted, though not by Miss Peepy. Miss Peepy being unmarried and therefore prone to frequent misdirected tendernesses of heart.

Yet in the early hours of each morning he felt himself plagued by nameless and terrible fears, and he suffered increasingly from nightmares, such terrible nightmares! T’was as if he were being mercilessly, sharply, prodded by the stern finger of god, and yet he knew himself to have committed no sin, no obvious act of wrong. Perhaps he had been a little tardy in his prayers, a little lethargic in his recitations of The Goveen Creed, perhaps that was it.

Fatigued and a little overwrought from long working hours (and ever shortening nights of sleep) he slumped into his favourite study chair, but oh horror of horrors! A clammy hand firmly grips his own, holding it fixed beneath its hairy grip. Shrieking fearfully his gaze alights on that place where the phantasm that touched him should be, but there is no one, nought but him, pale and trembling before a roaring fire.

Sitting down once more, he pours himself some brandy in an effort to calm his nerves and after several quick gulps it appears to do the trick, but then he espies something wrong with the fireplace. Indeed he fancies that something or someone is moving amongst the flames, and frighted well past all his previous allayed terror, he leaps out of the armchair, only to be held fast by a grimy hand that has slithered out of the flames and snaked itself around one of his ankles.

“Have you forgot me?” croaks the face that accompanys the hand, it glares up at him out of the flames with a degree of malice that does not bode him well at all, “T’is I! Master Hemp-Hill Skinner!” the soot covered visage staring up at him seemed goatish and crafty and its eyes! It’s eyes!

“Aaargh! Aaargh! Cthulu fd’aarghen!!!!” Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe screams as though a nameless terror has clutched him by the throat and is now in the process of tearing him limb from limb. He screams as if the very hounds of hell are gnawing and gnashing at his ankle, he screams until he is hoarse with screaming and then he faints. Outside, on the streets the sun is shining ,and those poor who have been allowed into the workhouse, go about their daily labours with pure hearts and a clear consciense.

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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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ACCESSIBILITY, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

A Forgotten Child Found (Part 1)

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T’was a mild autumnal day when Inspector Depta first happened upon the scandal brewing at Spitalfield’s Workhouse. Now the rain falls heavily upon the filthy cobbled streets, washing the mud and grime into the broken gutters. A brisk wind whistles through the trees sloughing the leaves off the gnarled branches. T’is a day conversant with all the murderous, predicatorial intent, a woman such as Birthe-Rugge could muster. What of her moral duty eh? What of that? He couldn’t prove it, but it had been whispered abroad frequently that an apprenticing with the woman, was akin to a month spent with the worst St Bacchanalia’s Asylum had to offer.

Her reputation for midwifery was impeccable, but when it came to apprenticing, why he had seen some of the worst bludgers in Spitalfields spit in the road, at the mention of her name. A woman that has successfully done away with so many, must be as cunning as she is devious. But Inspector Depta, undaunted by the challenge, instructs the Bow Street Officers to enter the workhouse from the rear. Master Deacon has agreed to accompany them and lead them to where he believes the girl lies. The Inspector has entered through the wrought-iron gates at the front, and had a quiet word with Billy Porter, who with a curt nod and a contemptuous sneer leads him to the offices of the Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe.

Inspector Depta of Bow Street yer Lordship! By your leave! Dapper and congenial keeper of the gates to the corridors of power. Treasurer of unpleasant truths and certain non-negotiable facts. Bearer of the scales of justice, shifting them this way and that, as an arbiter of laws, just and unjust. A reciter of statutes (when it suits him), and font of all matters pertaining to the unwritten principles of policing. Primum principium, never ever arrest a politician, unless you know  why you come and who it’ll inconvenience. Inspector Depta has nabbed many a starving gonoph, and hauled off any number of worn out blowens in his time. And the rules is always the same, t’is the politicians what az made the laws of the land, and t’is the job of all and sundry (saving the politicians), to be importuned by em.

The Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe sits calmly behind his mahogany desk, with his hands clasped loosely in front of him. His stony gaze sweeps haughtily over the Inspector, who notes with much satisfaction how very exhausted he looks. Behold those tiny bead-like eyes set in their hollowed out sockets! The heavy shadows beneath each eye! Oh that haggard face is haughty enough, but from time to time a lost look passes over it like a scudding cloud. He had heard from the butler that his Lordship was avin difficulty sleeping, that he seemed unduly troubled by the death of an orphan he’d leased out to Master Turple-Sleath (now deceased). A Whig politician labouring under a guilty conscience, fancy that! Removing his crisp kid gloves with some care the Inspector benignly proffers his card,

“Inspector Depta of Bow Street at yer service my Lord’

“Oh?” replies the Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe fingering the calling card gloomily,

“I am here with regards to the disappearance of an apprentice bound over to Mistress Birthe-Rugge your Lordship, one Bethilda Coram”

“Bethilda Coram?” the workhouse guardian affects an air of indifference, but the Inspector is quicker off the mark than he, and leaning forward so that his shoulders bunch impressively in his tailored coat he continues,

“Such matters as these (and there are so many such matters!) are normally left in your capable hands I know, but this matter is a little different”

“Different?” now the workhouse politician wavers between haughty indifference and alarm. He may not know Inspector Depta personally, but he knows of him, the man only materialises when there is scandal present.

“The girl is an orphan ward of the Foundling hospital Mi’Lord and has lately been apprenticed to a midwife here, a Mistress Birthe-Rugge”

“Indeed? Mistress Birthe-Rugge is principal midwife here, ministering to the peculiar wants and need of some sixty five pauper-women and doing so with admirable skill I might add. What is it you require of her?”

“The whereabouts of Bethilda Coram your Lordship, for it seems that t’is here she was seen last”

“Here?” asks the startled, workhouse politician, clutching nervously at his cravat, Inspector Depta smiles benignly once more and gets to his feet,

“Mayhap, the girl has ditched her apprenticeship and fallen into bad company, but since she is a ward of the Foundling Hospital, I must needs make my enquiries my Lord.”

His Lordship is dismayed, he feels distinctly importuned, nevertheless this is Inspector Depta of the Bow Street Police. “I will have somebody escort you to the infirmary” says he rising to his feet and pulling on a dusty bell rope. The Inspector notes that his eyes are red and bleary and also notes the smell of gin and Laudanum about his person, a man on a downward slope and no mistake!

Master Fluttock enters and they are soon on their way, past sparsely furnished pauper wards filled only with the smell of mildew and damp. Past one poorly lit fireplace after another, where the dense smoke smothers the warmth of the two or three pieces of coal meted out for each fire. Past the nursery (the only warm place in the building), where the elderly nurses totter to and fro, babes in their arms. Silence is what Inspector Depta notes here, the slumbering silence that only Laudanum can induce. Casting his mind back to the Foundling Hospital, he can think of no instance when the children there seemed drugged.

“You’re looking for Bethilda you say?” Looking quickly around him Master Fluttock mutters these ominous words but the Inspector ain’t impressed,

“You ever been to the Foundling Hospital?” he asks, for the hospital lies not far from the dung heaps of Spitalfields. Master Fluttock shakes his head, spent most of his life growing up in the rookery.

“T’is an orphanage and a school for babies what’s been thrown on dung heaps”

“There’s women as would throw their nippers on dung heaps?!”

Inspector Depta looks at him sharply,”There’s women as would murder their apprentices without so much as a by yer leave, and with the whole world looking on, you have such a one living here if I’m not mistaken!”

With shoulders bowed the raddled old man recounts his tale of midnight screamings and scratchings, of beatings and sobbings so audible they plum gave him nightmares. And still the Inspector ain’t impressed,instead halfway to the infirmary he stops, lights a cigar and lounging against a poor ward door he smokes and he waits, until,

“Oi! Oi! Here they comes!”  t’is two of the Bow Street Constabulary, handsome and smart of dress, and all of them grey of face,

“Well my lads how goes it?” the Inspector thinks he knows and calculates how much cleaning up this little scandal will cost his ‘Lordship’.

“We think she’s dead Inspector!”

 

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