T’was a terrible day at Raven’s Industrial Academy, for indeed it had been a terrible night, t’was a night and a day of progressive betrayal.”Will the Headmaster be okay?” asked little Emily LeFevre her large brown eyes brimming with tears, her little nose all smeared with soot from cleaning the kitchen grate. Master Farquar eyed her sympathetically, “I shouldn’t wonder but he’ll recover eventually, they always do” as for the rest of them that remained to be seen. Discovered as they had been, attempting to fake year four’s mole skin trouser assemblage course work. But then who could have foreseen the reckless dedication to duty of the Slop Work Exams’ Inspector, who having clambered five floors up towards the Leather-Work Department (with the help of the infamous Boodo), using naught but a climbing rope from his expeditionary days,proceeded to break through the fifth floor leaden casement window.
They had all been thoroughly scared out of their wits by this sodden apparition clad in black, none more so than the Headmaster, who with an ear puncturing shriek and his hands outstretched, attempted to throw himself upon the recalcitrant Boodo. Alas the Exams’ Inspector got the better of him, thrusting Boodo behind his back with one hand and the Headmaster to the floor with the other. The Headmaster, reaching out to steady himself with one hand, knocked over a table on which had been placed a gas lamp, which in turn shattered, creating a sudden conflagration of gas & flammable liquids which had been carelessly strewn on the floor earlier that night. The resultant bonfire would have done for them all had it not been for Boodoo, and the Exams’ Inspector.
Hefting the Headmaster onto one of his soaking wet shoulders, the Exams’ Inspector descended the rope. Boodoo meanwhile, made for the back office whereupon he clasped hold of Master Parnham, dragging and yanking him ferociously away from the course work he was attempting to fabricate, and towards the exit,followed closely by Arthur Farquar. Master Farquar had little time for Boodoo, but that night Boodoo displayed such mettle, such steely character, that Arthur’s estimation of him rose, and he determined to do all in his power, to see to it that Boodoo was successfully apprenticed.
St Bacchanalia’s Fire Service arrived in no time at all, however, there was no little confusion as to exactly when they would be permitted to put the fire out; being as they were on strike and all. “Should we put the fire out?” asked the Chief Fireman, “You asking me?” said the Union Rep, his yellow souwester dripping with rain water, “I’m asking you. Though from what I can see there is no fire as such, just a gradual smoking deterioration of the external fabric of the building, accompanied by the occasional flaring spark” he glanced at the Union Rep who nodded, “Brother” said he “I am in perfect agreement” and so it was that Raven’s Industrial Academy burned ever so slowly to the ground, in a sputtering series of occasional flaring sparks.
T’was on a midnight dreary whilst I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of St. Govean lore,that all at once I heard a tapping as of someone gently rapping, whilst I lay there nearly napping, rapping at my chamber door.
“Who is it?”
“T’is I, Sir Nicholas, come to warm thy sheets”
Little Emily LeFevre shuffled meekly through the door, both tiny hands clasping the bed pan. Staggering towards the bed she managed somehow to slip it between the sheets. I couldn’t help but to reflect upon her prodigious fortitude. Rescued from a Lint Tweaking apprenticeship at St. Bacchanalia’s cotton mill, she was adapting to her new position as a scullery maid marvellous well.
“Is cook still awake?”
“Have her send something up. I shan’t be falling asleep just yet”
She made a deep curtsey, turned and left the room. Sighing deeply and reaching for my dressing gown I pondered the events that had led up to this distressing night. Who would have thought it? Our famed academy teetering on the brink of ruin, and all for a pair of moleskin britches. Slipping my feet into a pair of velvet slippers and taking care to wrap a thick woollen shawl around my shoulders before knocking back the remains of my brandy, I left my bed chamber and climbed the staircase leading to the Faculty of Leatherwork and Tailoring.
“St.Gove, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, Warrior-King ‘gainst the enemies of promise I come to thee for aid…”
The higher I climbed the heavier my foreboding. Master Farquar had been there all night, Master Parnham by his side (the devil take him!) but I myself could see no way through this disgrace.Higher and higher I climbed, as the rain beat hard against the leaden window casements and the thunder boomed overhead, I clutched the shawl tightly around my neck and hurried on the creed of St. Gove upon my lips.
“Master Parnham” his eyes slid sideways, he lifted a tiny pallid hand to hide a half-smile. I loathed the man and would gladly have opened a casement window and booted him head first out of it, were it not for the impending visit of the exam board, the reputation of the academy lay in the hands of this plebeian ingrate.
“It won’t work sir”
“Won’t?” in an effort to ease the throbbing in my head, I massaged my temples,
“We’ve tried and tried but it’s no use sir, the britches won’t come right, no matter how much we stretch ’em”
My eyes fell upon a heap of mangled silken leathery garments.Oh dear Gove! My throbbing temples! “But they’ve been studying leather work for at least a year! They should be able to stitch in their sleep! It’s hardly rocket science!”
Master Parnham coughed politely,
“Beggin’ your pardon sir but there is another way, remember 1847? Hemphill Skinner was Master of Leatherwork then, very fond of his opium pipe was Master Skinner”
I shook my head, my headache was easing somewhat,
“We’re an academy now Parnham. A cut above all the rest, spurning the onslaught of ignorance. Why last year we were rated as an Industrial School of outstanding reputation.”
“The written work’s no good ‘edmaster, not since they banned the phonics. If they fail the moleskin britches evaluation there’s no telling what might happen. There’s scarcely a garment to be made but what l makes, leave it to us sir.”
Tugging his forelock Master Parnham limped towards the back office leaving me alone with young Master Farquar who hopped nervously from foot to foot looking sheepish all the while, as well he might. For were it not for his own shortcomings, his students might have been considerably more able.
Lightning crackled overhead and out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a tiny boot-clad foot and then a flash of white rather like the tail end of a night-shirt, just outside the window casement, but in this weather? No, it couldn’t be. Surely not?
“Master Farquar” I inquired, massaging my throbbing temples as I did so.
A look of unease stole across his face and that is when it happened..