Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Anansi-Libre!

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The sun has risen and set and risen and set yet again ere the carriage ferrying Lady Hesketh-Elderberry reaches St Bacchanalia’s Asylum. As it passes through Grodden Parnock, the evening has fallen into its dotage and a scarlet tinged twilight has fallen.

“Lift the shutter Anansi, what is it you see?”

 Anansi does as Lady Hesketh bids him, receiving an utmost thrill in the doing.

“Heathland Missis Hesketh! Miles and miles of it, all brown and yellowish! Tis sickly looking!”

Lady Hesketh-Elderberry’s eyes are full of fearful misgiving, so! They were almost there! Grodden Parnock, home of Iron-Slitting and Mole-Trouser-Stretching bade them welcome; with its howling winds and vast tracts of sickly looking heathland.

“We are but half a mile from St Bacchanalia!” whispered Lady Hesketh as the carriage rolled on, all has sunk blooding to sleep upon the heathlands, and yet Anansi and Lady Hesketh sense they are being watched.

“Missis Hesketh” whispers Anansi his eyes wide with fear, “It feel like we being watched” Lady Hesketh nodded, she had heard of the sinister practices of the brotherhood, “Tis the Goveen way, the roads to and from St Bacchanalia’s are watched day and night by the guardians of the asylum!”

The vast tracts of heathland grow darker and more oppressive looking by the minute. Darkness glowers over the swamplands of Brume Polder, tis the place where dozens of apprentices drowned, and hundreds contracted Scarlet Fever. Twas this appalling scandal that prompted Lady Hesketh-Elderberry to open a dozen or so ragged schools. To think that her nephew, the villainous ingrate, intended to close them all! Oh that she were back in London and able to fight for her schools tooth and nail! Twas all she asked! Tears welled up in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, how fortunate that Anansi should be there to comfort her with his much used hanky!

Evening having tumbled away into darkest night the carriage rumbles ever onwards, whipped on by the ferocity of the driver and the efforts of the near exhausted horses. Till at length the carriage halts and a gruff voice calls out, 

“Who goes there?”

“Tis I Brother Adam, I have another loon bound for the asylum!”

“Pass in peace brother! May the essence of St Gove be with thee!”

Peeking out of the window Anansi espied the great wrought iron gates creaking slowly open, now he spied his chance!” Now Missis Hesketh” he whispered as he gently patted the stricken noble lady’s hand, ” Don’t struggle none with them! Jus do as they say I gon be right there wid you!” after placing the gag back over her mouth and binding her hands Anansi slid out of the carriage, passing through the carriage gates as quietly as a crocodile gliding through the waters of a New Orleans Bayou.

A lesser boy would have blanched at the notion of entering such a terrible place, but Anansi was born and bred of a Hoodoo mother, an ill-fated soul unlucky in love, and he did not frighten easily. You must believe me dear reader, when I say that this child had seen things that would have made the blood of the average churchgoer run cold!

Now lingering a little behind the carriage as it passes swiftly through the gates and now running alongside it crouched low, Anansi follows it closely till it stops at the rear of the asylum, where vast ebony wood doors are thrown open and a tall ornately robed gentleman strides forth.

“Ho there Brother Daedalus!What is this we have here?”

“Tis the Duchess of Albermarre your reverence!”

“What? Another Hesketh-Elderberry to join our happy band! Good, good! Have the loon brought forth!”

Father Cicero, for that is his name, is so delighted with the asylum’s latest acquisition that he dances up to the carriage calling loudly for Brothers Beneficio and Jean-Baptiste to ‘please attend upon the patient’. This they duly do, shuffling swiftly towards the carriage and manhandling the terrified philanthropist with as much delicacy as is due a lunatic member of the English aristocracy. 

Anansi watches all of this with rapt attention until, with their backs turned fully upon him, he is able to step nimbly across the grounds and swiftly through the doors of the asylum. How many well-written tomes may suffice to explain the horrors resident within? How to convey the despair and desolation of aristocratic kith and kin bound up in this place? Dear reader, I cannot, and as to the revelatory experiences Lady Hesketh-Elderberry found herself exposed to therein, suffice it to say that she who believed herself cabined and cribbed, soon found that much good may be done for others, in the midst of most dire and distressing circumstance.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Of Begging, Pauperism & The Salvationists

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The Rookery of St Giles finds itself without the slightest pretensions to architecture and very curious to behold as a consequence. The crumbling crowded tenements lean one against the other like a group of old friends nursing a too long enduring hangover after the inebriation of the night before.

T’is the playground of the rich, hence no expense has been spared, alleyways darkened by towering tenement blocks abound and vast maze-like houses of such intricacy that not even Lewis Carroll’s pens could conjure them in existence! For these are vast rat-like warrens filled with the rookery’s gentleman rats; rats whose agility and strength has garnered them many a purse, watch and ring. Who may count, dear reader, those gentlemen most richly endowed of purse who have ambled drunkenly into such residences, never to wander back out again. These are the risks at night and yet my! The scandalous pleasures!

As the sun rises brilliantly over the hills and lush pastures of Molten Tussock Minor, so it rises but dimly over the rookery estates; indeed were it not for the children playing rough and tumble in the streets and the women gossiping on tenement steps one would think it still night. Theresa Ward wrinkles her nose at the sight, and the stench, which so many have grown up in, and thus grown used to.

She considers the gin wagon still lying on its side in the middle of Dorset Lane, and those carting off its fragments to use as firewood. Why to be stuck in a place such as this, and for life, she will have none of it. But having fallen for Lord Henry Pembroke and being left with child what else is there?

“Theresa! Theresa I say!”

“Yes ma!”

“T’is I who call for you! Not your ma! Ye scandal raising devil!”

See then what Teresa Ward’s life has shrunk most unmercifully to, t’is he whose inebriate breath has glowered over her since ere she was an infant. He whose drunken, leering, violent, cursing ways, have tainted every day she has spent in this accursed room, and in that accursed place. A drunk he may be and prone to a most irreligious outlook, but Cain Ward prides himself on never having strayed from hearth and home, and this has been his blessing and his family’s curse.

“Theresa! Theresa! You! Wee bairn!” says he pointing to the youngest of ten,

Fetch yon harlot forth! If I have birthed a fiend under my roof I will know it, and have words with it! Theresa! Theresa I say! Come forth!”

“Leave her be, the poor creature!” cries Theresa’s mother a woman looking as old as Old Testament’s Abraham’s Sarah was ere she bore Isaac, but with neither the brightness of visage nor the plumpness of cheek that accompanies a bright hope.

“Shut your cake hole!” comes the vicious reply, “I’ll have nought out of such as birthed this harlot wot has brought such crushing disgwace down upon this family!”

“But ave mercy upon er! Is she not flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood?” her mother never yet having learn’t the benificent wisdom of silence now finds herself set upon yet again by the gentleman styling himself pater-familia.

“Oh have mercy, have mercy!”

“Raise a slut and a hussy in my house would you? Have my name tarnished by a petticoat lifting harlot? Nevah!” each assertion accompanied by a viciously administered slap and a swift kick. Fair wages and meaningful employment might have softened his manners a little, but fair wages and meaningful employment has never been the way of the Spitalsfield’s bosses. Which is to say that such vigorous domestic interactions where hardly exceptional within Spitalsfield’s households, if anything, such beatings and curses had become the distinct norm.

“Oh have mercy!”

T’is those pitiful wailings alone that draw Theresa forth from the sanctuary of the grimy streets, to face the baleful glare of the man who calls himself her father.

“Why you’d think t’was the Duchess of Monmouth come to keep us company, but it ain’t! T’is the Whore of Babylon!”

“Father!”

“Don’t you father me! I’ll ave none of ye! Where’s me sherry!”

He sucked at the quarter bottle till the noxious fluid ran in small rivulets down his beard yet it did not calm his mood any. Ten shillings a month from a scullery maid’s wage is nothing to be sniffed at, and she had contributed much of it to the upkeep of the family and now where was it? Gone! And in its place lay the pervasive stink of bad luck and ill-fortune! Did the little fool not know what happened to such as were got with child by a member of the aristocracy? T’was the stuff of nightmares and he would ave it nowhere near his house!

“Well, and wot has you decided? We have nine left to feed, nine as do their fair share of earning, there’s nowt as live and eat for nothing in this house!”

Theresa’s eyes flashed with anger for now she was fallen she had grown exceeding reckless,

“An don’t I know it? The gin money was welcome enough when it was flowing! Cast me out in the streets would ya? Well you’ll not have the pleasure! I’ve means enough to see me through, and I’ll not plead for a roof over my head from such as you!”

Cain Ward grimaced, t’was the most he could muster by way of a smile,

“So it’s settled, you’ll be on your way then?”

His smile grew low and crafty,

“You’ve had three nights at least under this roof that’s worthy of a shilling apiece at least before you depart”

“Oh lord ave mercy! That it should ave come to this! Me own husband casting our child out on the streets! Oh have mercy! Oh show pity! cried the wife

“Oh leave off!” replied the husband,

“Ere! Ave it! There’s your three shillings!” Teresa cried vehemently, gathering her shawl and her carpet bag together she swept to the door in a fury, for she was every inch her father’s daughter, passionate and intemperate to the point of moral ruin!

“If me own kin won’t shield me in me hour of want I’ll to the Salvation Army!”

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Uncategorized

The Lady & Planchette

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Darkness has fallen and now stars dangle in the sky like a row of pearls around an Ethiope’s neck. The Bald Faced Stag will do a roaring trade straight into the early hours of the morning, but our concern is not with the beer that will be drunk, nor with the imbibing of sherry as stolen silverware changes hands. Nor do we concern ourselves with the destiny of the hapless monk who now lies trussed up in the Tavern’s cellar. To have kidnapped one of the few to display an abiding and benevolent interest in the affairs of London’s working poor, to have trussed her up like a turkey, to have made off with her mercilessly! No we shall not reflect long on the fate of this mad monk, any more than we should. Instead let us turn to that which lies beyond the Bald Faced Stag Inn.

 Darkness has fallen dear reader, though the deer still gallop across the lush green grounds of Richmond Park, t’is a darkness that is rich with the sounds of wild geese and swans and lush with royal deer. Indeed such is the abundance of fowl to be found within these grounds that many a poacher has made the mistake of assuming such meat was to be had for free, alas then that the grounds should have been seeded with mantraps! For the lady to whom the house and the grounds have been gifted is as possessive of her property as she is of the royal bloodline and she will brook no interference with it. This lady rarely leaves the grounds of her house, rarely walks through its gardens and goes abroad only to attend weddings, christenings, births or deaths. She has no interest as such in affairs of state but as to affairs of the royal bloodline that is another matter.

“Has that man arrived?”

“The minister of domestic affairs? Yes, your grace, where shall I place him?”

“The Grey Room”

“Not the Green Study?”

The merest tilt of her handsome head, the slightest gesture of her elegant fingers, is sufficient to halt Planchett in his tracks. Observe as she paces to and fro with her elegant be-ringed fingers clasped in front of her. Such soft, strong hands! 

“The Grey Room Planchett”

“Yes your Grace”

As immoveable as a Caryatid pillar, as immutable in her determinations as Medea, observe the lady as she moves soundlessly towards the leather bound documents which take up all of her attention. Page after page of significant family trees which she has had a hand in significantly altering. There are two such volumes of these documents the official record of lineage and the Book of Occitan. Tonight, on this most dark and most heinous of nights, she seals the clasps of both books, reverentially returning them to their place. 

It is with a sense of overpowering duty and with increasing ire that the lady proceeds to the Grey Room where Lord Rucklesmoot awaits her. 

 “Your Grace”

“Lord Rucklesmoot” his Lordship bows gravely

 “T’is late in the day for a visit such as this and most inconvenient”

His Lordship smiles weakly,

“When it comes to affairs of state there is no such thing as inconvenience your grace”

“Is there not? T’is a little cold in here Ruckle-Smoot, do you know why that is?”

“No, your grace” he replies warily,

“I have the windows opened and the rooms aired several times a day, every day. I can scarce abide tainted air sir!” 

“No your grace” 

“Several of my most treasured servants have fallen ill as a consequence, three have even had the temerity to die, but I will suffer no pollution in the atmosphere of this house!”

The Grey Room is palatial in its proportions with it’s vast heavily curtained windows, ornate carpeting and richly upholstered furniture. A delightful room then, in the exquisite residence of the coveted keeper of the royal bloodlines. So why, does Lord Ruckle-Smoot feel as if he has fallen through the portals of hell? For since he has taken up this post feelings of deep unease have gripped him. Memorising his descendants from the nursery onwards, he had thought the royal lineage unimpeachable, he’d no notion of its needing protecting.

“It seems that we have been remiss Lord Ruckle-Smoot”

“Your Grace?”

“We have lost a vessel, Lord Ruckle-Smoot, a vessel bearing a most important piece of the royal bloodline”

“Your Grace?” 

“It was last espied weeping beside the tombstone of the most recently deceased eminent politician”

 “Your Grace?”

“Planchette! It’s far too cold in here, stoke the fire!”

“Yes your grace” the butler (having never left the room) finds this an easy task to accomplish, stoking the fire can be done in no time at all, but on this occasion Planchette takes care to demonstrate the breadth of his skill with the ornate fireplace poker, this causes Lord Ruckle-Smoot to consider how fireplace pokers, when handled in such a dexterous manner, can have potentially lethal consequences. 

“Your family has served mine honourably for centuries, it was the reason you were appointed, indeed, it was the only reason you were appointed”

My Lord Ruckle-Smoot finds himself caught between the ravening panther that is Planchette and his mistress the she-wolf, hungry, remorseless, and clad from head to toe in Chantilly Lace!

“The vessel you speak of was seen last in the company of a pick-a-ninny child and has not been seen by any since”

“Certainly not by any in your employ, Planchette?”

“Your Grace, I have it on good authority that Ethelbert Hardy-Smythe has er”

“Which brings me to my next problem Lord Ruckle-Smoot, what should one do with a politician who suddenly develops a conscience?”

“My lady, The Right Honourable Hardy-Smythe has honoured his duty to Queen & country most indubitably

“Planchette?”

“I ave it on good authority from Fitchett iz butler, that he is az of late been suffering nightmares of a most audible kind, nightmares about a Master Hemphill-Skinner

Caught betwixt a panther and a she-wolf with royal patronage, what is a man to do?

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, The Hearthlands of Darkness

Master LeFevre Takes Matters In Hand!

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Oh the privileges of a safe criminality! Of places where one may safely rob someone of a purse or cut a gentleman’s throat! Such places are as rare as the proprietors that manage them, once The Bald Faced Stag was such a place, but no more. Though on an occasion such as this, the mistress of this reputed establishment is more than willing to make an exception. As fond as she is for the beer Boodoo and Bert cultivate and deliver she has little fondness for the men themselves, scarce redeemed arsonists as they are. But the Hesketh-Elderberry School is another thing entirely,

“Abducting Lady Hesketh is they? An thought to stop by my pub wot as served her ladyship and er kin all the days of me gran-fader’s life and me fader’s life? Half my kin attend her schools, little Charlie is to graduate from thence to Worth Chilliministers Esquire! Kidnap Ma Hesketh? Wot woz they thinkin orf?”

“Them? They’re Goveen spawn! Wots thinkin got to do with it? Can I do it?”

Mistress Dormers glanced over at the Goveen Monk who was now so merry in his cups that his plump face was flushed, Lucinda, her most comely serving wench leant forward as if to replenish his beer and that was when it happened, the gas lights dimmed momentarily and flickered, once, twice, on the thrice turn they resumed their normal brilliance. But when they had, the plump faced monk had disappeared and another had taken both his seat and his beer.

“She’s a one with that club our Lucinda, never hired a wench like that afore! Only fourteen that one but my what a wrist!”

Insensible to the world, the unfortunate monk is quickly dragged into the snuggery, which just as speedily empties of customers once they realise that some skullduggery is afoot. A robbery is a rarity at the Bald Faced Stag the mistress of the tavern rarely permits it, thus upon sighting her husband laying about the Goveen Monk the customers took it that this particular robbing was very well deserved.

“On with that cassock Anansi! Quick now!” Boodoo looped the rope-belt around Anansi’s waist and tied it three times with three Lark’s Head knots, just as he had seen the Goveen Monks do when he had been an initiate at St Bacchanalia’s Asylum. “Pull the hood further down over your face, remember ow Bert walks when e’s ad a few? Show me” Anansi tottered and swayed drunkenly, t’was a most convincing performance and Boodoo didn’t doubt that he’d acquit himself most admirably on the ride to Grodden Parnock.

“The ride down will be swift my child and the journey into that hell hole terrifying! Make sure you keep yer wits about ye! Find owt where they place her, report back to me!”

“Pa, wot if I can’t get owt?”  Boodoo hated to see Anansi’s face pinched up so with worry,

“Think on Barley Plimsoll my cove! What’s she to do without her mama? Think on her my lad!”

Anansi’s little face seemed to glow with a most unnatural light, his eyes were awash with an affection that made Boodoo almost envious,

“Barley!” oh with what yearning that sweet child’s name was uttered! Truly a lover’s confession!

“Sweet Barley! I must save Barley’s mama! I will save Barley’s mama!” now Anansi’s eyes lit up with much fervour and determination as he strode forth like St George going to slay the dragon.

“Are you certain about what it is that you do ere Boodoo?” Michael Dormer wasn’t known for his softness of heart, but he had seen much that was good enter Boodoo’s life as a consequence of his having a son. He dreaded the notion that any harm should come to the child that might unman his friend.

“I az no choice, do you fancy your Daniel attending an Industrial Academy?” Michael Dormer swore a whole slew of curses,

“Let me burn in hell first and my son with me!”

“Exactly, now where’s Barley Plimsoll?”

“Upstairs having a bit of dinner, fair tuckered owt the child was, t’is a terrible state of affairs!”

“For them at St Bacchanalia’s it is! He should never have took her!” Boodoo’s deep brown eyes seemed alight with the very fires of hell, “I’ll make him regret he took her!”

“Now Boodoo…” cautioned Michael watching the colour drain from his friend’s face,

“They stole my Emily from me, but they’ll not take Lady Hesketh!! Now where’s Barley?”

See first the abundance of corn blonde hair, pinned this way and that so poorly that stray bits of it drift upon her face, see then those eyes, little black buttons that twinkle from time to time with mirth and are now filled with copious tears. How the child trembles, how she clutches Master Boodoo LeFevre’s burly fist with both of her tiny palms. “Must Anansi travel up to that place Master LeFevre? Can we not spirit ma away here?”

“Er nephew will be looking for er my love, nah there’s nuffin for it, but we shall soon ave er back me love” Boodoo was silent for a spell for now he must propose something to this child that was most unusual,

“T’is alms-giving day tomorrow at St Tobias-in-the North”

“Alms-giving? How can I think of that on such a day as this?”

Master LeFevre looked at the child most intently, more hair and boundless petticoats than anything, and those eyes, twinkling and glistening with such feeling!

“At an alms-giving any petition may be asked of the queen, any at all”

“Any?” said the child thinking on it,

“Any, even the freeing of your mama!”

“But how?” Boodoo shrugged,

“I feel certain you’ll think of something”

The evening has turned cold and blustery, and as Boodoo seats himself once more upon his beer wagon his expressionless gaze alights upon the Brougham now swiftly exiting the yard of the Bald Faced Stag Inn. Darkness, all is darkness, with only two gas lamps hung either side of the wagon to light Boodoo LeFevre on his way back to St Giles and the Sapphire of Jhansi Pub. An autumnal moon hangs low in the sky and Anansi hid in the shadow of the carriage travels up with Lady Hesketh. He has wiped the tears from her eyes with his most treasured ragged school hanky and now he reassuringly strokes her wizened hands,

“Don’t you worry Ma Hesketh, don’t you worry”

Darkness, all is darkness dear reader, though they do say t’is when it is darkest that you may see the stars.

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, The Hearthlands of Darkness, Uncategorized

A Northern Crisis At The Bald Faced Stag Inn

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The Bald Faced Stag Inn is as reputable in certain circles as the House Of Lords is in certain others. The favoured haunt of Jerry Abershawe the highwayman, t’was there he would sate his thirst, conferring at great length with roguish fellows who like himself roamed far and wide twixt Portsmouth and London, robbing the rich for the thrill of it. T’was there he met his match when Jacob Du Plessis and his constables stormed the taprooms of the inn, muskets in hand, wounding Abershawe twice in the shoulder and so laying him low. Not for long, for the ebullient highwayman ascended the gallows of Tyburn as cheerfully as he had robbed his victims, cracking many a joke as they laid the hangman’s noose around his neck.

Aaron Dormer had been the landlord of the inn then, a fiercer looking cove there had never been and such meanness of temperament, a man feared by many but a true friend of Abershawe’s, and the only man to shed a tear at his hanging (t’is said). Bess Dormer his grand-daughter now palms the taps of the inn, with a delightful delicacy of grasp and tug such as only a master publican could muster. They do say she is tiny of foot, though from the manner in which she has booted many a drunk through the tap room door, none would guess it!

“Wah? To handle my bar maids incommodiously, to importune them as though they were nought but bawds and blowens! Even as they shave the foam off your beer? I’ll not have it! Out wid ye! Out! Out!”

With what vigorous flash of elegant boot did she thrust and propel the inebriated miscreants into the streets (and their gutters) beyond! With what a flash of green eyed rage did she cause the offender to flinch and quail! T’were few who could match her propriety skills and even fewer who dared to, for commerce must have its sway, though the Bald Faced Stag did a roaring trade with all those who frequented her. Small of stature, some would say most petite but fierce of disposition unlike her husband who was as tall as he was broad and as mean spirited as her grand papa had been. If Michael Dormer had a passion, t’was his wife whose buxom tiny waisted figure made him blush fiercely if he fixed his sights on it too long. He had a yen for her that was like an addiction with him and he’d broken many an amorous bludgers head because of it.

T’was a puzzle to Boodoo, having never been embroiled in the throes of passion, though the care of his son evoked emotions in him, which many would have recognised as love. The solicitous manner with which Boodoo LeFevre undertook the education of his adopted child, weedling him out of dancing and singing worthless miscreants into their death throes, then enrolling him in the Hesketh-Elderberry Ragged School in Spitalsfields. The boundless patience with which he educated him in the mechanics of setting and laying fires, when to set a charge, when to lay the fuse, and how best to improvise when your tools went missing. Disturbing skills these to pass on to any son and heir, yet passed on with such loving attention to care and detail that one doubted not that Boodoo did love his child and had only his best interests at heart.

With what anxiety then did he contemplate that which he was about to do! Since the day he had drifted out in Bert’s boat along the Thames, hooking and then drawing in the wooden crate in which he found Anansi, they had not been parted! No, not even for a day! Oh how his heart had gone out to the emaciated child cast adrift upon the River Thames, levering open the water logged box and spying its contents it never once had crossed his mind to throw it back into the river. Anansi took one look at the stocky shaven headed man with the brooding gaze and oversized sea jacket and decided he wanted to be like him, Boodoo took one look at him, turned to Bert and declared, “God az not forgot me, now at last I ave a son!”. But now he must part with the child who had become more dear to him than his own life, for the sake of another who was in naked danger!

“Iz you sure it is ‘er Anansi?”

“T’is, papa, t’is Missis Hesketh-Elderberry bound up and gagged papa! Dat man in the tap room got her tied up and gagged and he drinkin his self silly! I gon fix him papa! I gon fix him good!” Anansi’s eyes blazed with anger, his little face became positively pinched with evil intent, he started clicking his fingers and twitching his little booted feet.

“Do that and I’ll spank you to hell and back my child! Calm down and think! Think! What’s the best way to go about this? If you kill him where everyone can see it, the driver will flee the scene and drive away post-haste with her as his captive! Think!”

Calming himself down with an effort Anansi thought and thought, poor Missus! Trapped in a carriage with that plump, rosy cheeked, devil of a monkish man! Poor missus! Why he had bin to church with her and all the other ragged children only yesterday, and he had eaten Sunday lunch at her house too! Poor, poor Missuss Hesketh! Poor Barley Plimsoll! For Barley had been the one he had spotted as he went to water the horses in the stables, Barley clinging desperately to the undercarriage of the Brougham in which Lady Hesketh-Elderberry was being kept prisoner!

Of all the children she alone had espied the burly monk tossing her mama into the carriage and making away with her, she alone! And who oh who to call to? From whom to get help? The children and their tutors were all at school! Bunching her skirts and tucking them into her bloomers she had slid under the carriage and clung on for dear life. The carriage sped on from pillar to post at the most ferocious speed and still she had clung on. She sobbed till the feeling had left her fingers and her cheeks throbbed with cold, yet still she clung on and then, finally, they had reached the Bald Faced Stag Inn and the carriage had drawn to a halt. What good fortune bade Anansi to travel out to the now empty wagon and catch Barley sliding out from under the carriage and scuttling into the shadows! What good fortune he alone should catch her! Her whose every wish was his desire!” comforting his dear sweet Barley as best he could, Anansi swore with his hand on his valiant heart that he would save Missis Hesketh.

“But first I gon fix that nasty man! See if I don’t! Barley say he takin her to St Bacchanalia!” Boodoo face darkened,

“Taking er where?”

“St Bacchanalia Asylum!” St Bacchanalia’s?! But adn’t he, Boodoo the master fireman, burn’t that place down?!

“Right then” said he fixed in his resolve,”Ain’t nothing for it! We’re kidnapping the monk! You’ll take his place, lawd knows iz robes is big enuf, you’re to accompany Lady Hesketh to Grodden Parnock, straight into St Bacchanalia’s, find owt which ward they put her on and git yerself back to London post haste! An Anansi?”

The child’s face positively glowed with attentiveness, “Yes’m papa?”

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

“Yes’m papa!”

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Inspector Depta – Contrapasso

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“Is e dead?”

“Has hell frozen over? Pour that Claret down iz throat! Gently, gently! He’ll come round soon enough!”

“Oh am I glad you iz ere! What a to do!”

“Iz he often like this?” asked the inspector looking down at the semi-conscious politician, Master Fluttock favoured the inspector with a grim look.

“E’s bin like this ever since Hemphill-Skinner died, he weren’t too bothered about the death of that chimney sweep, the one what burn’t to death up that chimney, but when Master Hemphill-Skinner croaked it, well, its a fine day when he ain’t reeling rown’ the workhouse reekin’ of Claret!”

“What he die of?” Master Fluttock scratched his head,

“Well that’s the puzzle of it, he was put on the Cholera ward but that t’aint wot he died orff”

“What did he die orff?”

“They said it was an Opium overdose, but iz neck woz broke!”

“You sayin t’were neglect?”

Master Fluttock glanced slyly at the politician who now ran the workhouse, “Something’s amiss that’s wot I’m tellin ye! Though there’s no provin of it! ”

“Ere ere! He’s come round!”

When on a case there’s nothing the inspector likes better than a compliant suspect, for when a predicator is thoroughly themselves they are disinclined to say what they ought. Let a little vulnerability, a little weakness, creep in and the tale unfolds altogether different. And so like a tender-hearted nursing mother the inspector delicately helps the workhouse guardian into his armchair, whilst Gerty Fluttock administers little sips of Claret. The inspector notes the intermittent shuddering and the tremulous lip, the occasional tear (a form of suppressed repentance for something though he didn’t know what as yet), and the death-like clamminess. Now what form of crime (as yet unconfessed) could e’ ave committed to make him take on so?

“Come, come” says The inspector, “You’ve had a fright that’s clear”

“A terrible fright” the workhouse guardian confesses, “A most terrible fright! I thought he was alive you see, but he can’t be, he’s dead! I should know”

“Who’s dead?” asks the inspector

“Hemphill Skinner! Hemphill!”

“Be calm sir, be calm, ere, take another nip of Claret” the Right Honourable politician takes several, whilst the inspector tries desperately to recall Master Hemphill-Skinner. He recalls a man with a fondness for Madame Ah-Tak’s Opium Den, a pallid looking man with tiny pallid hands but what had he to do with the guardian of the workhouse?

“Hemphill-Skinner…..” the inspector mused, he knew of some scandal linked to that name, but in what capacity he couldn’t fathom, but t’was too late to enquire further of Ethelbert-Smythe, for he had recovered his composure sufficiently enough to rise from his seat. The inspector noticed how Fluttock quickly donned his customary subservience, noticed how he stooped over and shuffled to and fro seeming much older than his forty or so years. He took a powerful bit of notice too, of the well fed gentleman who, whilst others starved and died of cold, sat in his well heated study having nightmares about a man of no social standing, t’was most curious.

“You must forgive me for incommoding you inspector”

“T’is nothing, I am glad to see you are yourself once more and yet I fear that I must add to your griefs, by bringing to your remembrance one whom you consigned to Bethelem Asylum over a year ago, a Master Doyle”

“What of him?”

“T’would seem he has been released”

“Highly unlikely, he has been in the medical care of Dr Garrick for much of the time”

“Nevertheless one fitting his description has been seen in certain parts hereabouts”

“Whereabouts?”

Inspector Depta smiled the smile of a disinterested cynic, one who was ever used to the rich poring over the deeds of the predicatorial, only as they pertained to their own safety and well-being. Why the same murderer that would be wrestled to the ground and near strangled for ambling along Downing Street, could drag his prey into the back streets of any impoverished neighbourhood (save St Giles or Bow Street) and have near murdered his victim ere help would arrive.

“T’would appear Master Doyle az bin seen in certain quarters of the rookery…St Giles Rookery”

“Impossible!” the master of the workhouse declared none too convincingly. Oi oi! Thought the Inspector though he darest not exclaim it, so all was not well at the Bethlehem either? Small wonder since it was clear that the gent had other distinctly criminal matters on iz mind, matters which the inspector doubted not he would need to look into, very closely.

“Well, if you say the mad miniaturist is still confined, then still confined e must be”

God help you if he ain’t, he thought but didn’t say, god help you and the rest of us! The inspector recollected the last occasion he’d been called on to attend one of Doyle’s murders, the putrid stench and all them body parts, whose idea was it to put the idle rich in charge of asylums and such? He’d have a word with him if he could! He could list a dozen murders his men needn’t have investigated save someone had forgotten to lock a ward door, and out a murderer ‘ad wandered! And always the same polite enquiry.

“Excuse us yer lordship, but we az a murder your lordship, what we is certain could nevah ave bin committed your lordship, coz we locked the codger wot normally does it, in your gaffe!”

“Really?” the dimwitted peerage holding asylum trustee would reply,

“So far as I know my insane asylum is reputably run and most humane, he can’t possibly have escaped, it must be some other you seek!” it must be some other you seek. The inspector who had spent so many hours walking across, over and beneath London, that there was no corner of the city his eyes didn’t know. Show him a break-in and the tools used and he could tell you which quarter of London the robber hailed from. Recount to him the manner in which a cove had been robbed and the weapon he was threatened with and he would tell you what rapscallion had done it. It must be some other you seek, these were words you used with one as had never worked the Seven Dials nor Bow Street. If he sought a man he was the man, oh these idle rich who knew the cost of everything and yet the value of nothing!

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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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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, The Hearthlands of Darkness

Lupus Est Homo Homini

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There is much to be said for dark, flowing locks and large dark eyes with a hint of the gypsy about them, And what maid will not swoon at the sight of one whose masterly gaze complements their muscular and athletic build?

Alas, then, that this gentleman’s eyes are set far too close together, and though they are a most striking azure blue, their gaze is so eerily transfixing that one might fancy oneself a specimen in some zoo.

Shorn of head, with a powerful muscular build, the gent is impeccably dressed, from the dapper midnight blue suit to the grey kid-skin gloves upon his delicate fingers. So impeccably is he dressed that he has drawn the attention of that estimable inspector of the Bow Street Force who fancies that he recognises that face and the criminal history tied to it. The gent stands out and now the inspector, lurking in a nearby doorway observes him closely as he enters his lodgings.

“T’is im beyond a doubt! The miniature portraitist extraordinaire! Well I nevah! But e’s locked up ain’t e? What calumny is this?!”

The inspector knows not as we do dear reader, that the vicissitudes of life are many. For who in their right mind would entrust the care of lunatics to attendants thriving solely on a diet of gin, rum and porter? Danny Doyle’s attendant at Bethlem Asylum was more sober than most, and with her ‘most pleasing’ physical attributes she soon succumbs to Danny’s charms. Using what few oil pigments he had secreted about his person he readily painted her portrait in miniature, and so striking was his rendering the poor girl burst into tears, and that was her mistake.

“Ain’t no one never thought to have me physical aspect painted save you” she sobbed disconsolately.

Danny was dismayed, streaming tears left her grimy face most disconcertingly streaky looking. He glanced irritably at the maid then back at his rendering of her, now it looked imperfect. He decided there and then that his talents had not yet reached the height of their perfection; a little something extra was needed. And so another fell victim to the dismembering lunacy of Master Doyle. How he escaped, and to what end will become readily apparent as our story unfolds, lupus est homo homini my friends!

“Nah” muttered the inspector watching the lit candle upstairs, “That ain’t right, there’s something very amiss” and strolling across the street he knocked briskly on Mrs Byers front door, she was not long in answering, “Yes?”

“Mrs Byers is it?”

“None other, and you are?”

“Inspector Depta of the Bow Street Force, you az a new lodger az you not? I spied im comin in?”

“Az I? I’m at a loss as to who you mean?”

The inspector grimaced at this for there’s nowt so vague as rookery folk when they’ve a mind to be.

“Az you a gent wot goes by the name of Master Doyle, Master Danny Doyle?”  the inspector watches her reply closely; for there’s many a lodging house lady who has been romantically ‘took’ by a murderer or housebreaker. Even to the point of joining in the crime themselves! He should know, he’d collared his fair share of em!

“Wot? E az painted iz landlady’s portrait, and afore he chopped er to bits?” she replied looking suitably outraged, “ I opes not! So far as I know I’m boardin none like that ere!”

Abundans cautela non nocet dear reader, the finality with which Mrs Byers spoke, the air of innocence she cultivated as she spoke, these things made the hackles on the back of his neck rise and he knew she was lying. 

“My mistake dear lady” he crooned a shark-like smile flitting across his handsome face,

 “You’ll not take it amiss?” he added,

Mrs Byers smiled, her eyes a-glitter with malice,

“ A member of the detective force rolls up on my highly respwectable doorstep, wot ain’t been disgwaced in this way before, and I not to take it amiss? You may find such as that down at the workhouse, but not ere, I cater to a different sort!” and with that she slammed the door. The inspector, stepping back from the front door looked up at a first floor window where he saw the lace curtains faintly twitch, and behind them a shifting shadow. 

“I see’s you my lad, I see’s you and in time I’ll nab you!” he mutters as though each word Inspector Depta mutters can’t be heard by one and all as if he had spoke it aloud. A murdering miniaturist in the Seven Dials? Just down the road from Saffron Hill? Ain’t e suppose to be in Bethlem Asylum? I’ll wager Master Ethelbert-Smythe don’t know e’s gawn!

“E’s there! Upon my honour t’is im! What the devil’s e’ doin owt? Does Ethelbert-Smythe know e’s owt?” but the truth of it was that what with the death of Donny Woodbine on his consciense, and the scandal of Mother Birtherugge’s trial and hanging, would he have noted his escape? For beyond doubt this was an escape.

“Master Doyle weren’t expected to be owt this soon, he weren’t expected to be owt ever! Well nah ere’s a to do! But I’ll ave you my lad” he declared quietly and firmly looking up at the chamber window once more. “I’ll ave you eventually, the ole Bailey ain’t nevah bin cheated yet and neither ave I!” and with that he sauntered off.

Inspector Depta of the Bow Street Police traversed cobbled street upon cobbled street and all of them were quiet. Folks intent upon gonophing slunk back into the dark of the alleyways, girls plying their trade and mingling it with a bit of badgering, scuttled off to the Sapphire of Jhansi for a dram. The partakers of Tom Gin wiped their mouths carefully and reluctantly travelled back to the tottering tenements they were obliged to call home.

“What a gent! What a handsome gent!T’is the courageous Inspector Depta is it not? Detective par excellence of the Bow Street Constabulary!”

Some might be heard to whisper as the inspector’s muscular physique swaggers its way along Martyrs Lane and up Saffron Hill, or mayhap not, t’were all one to him. This was his kingdom,these were his streets.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

A Fortuitous Convergence of Natures

Gin-Lane-by-William-Hogarth

“Is this not truly moving my dear? Perceive how they help each other climb over the overturned wagon, that they may equally partake of the spilt gin!

T’is a bright, sunlit day in London and some of that light and euphoric bliss has lit upon St Gile’s Rookery. For a much inebriated Master Scroggins has upturned his wagon in the rookery’s cobbled streets, smashing several barrels of gin and creating much unintended cheer as a consequence.

“What a debauch!” declares The Headmaster, “ Why they sup as if their very existence depended on it!”

Abilene Montaperti is not so quick to condemn, she has visited the Salvation Army outpost here and has seen first hand the abject miseries of the rookery.

“As well they might my love, observe those gaunt and sallow faces! The docks have placed all their workers on short hours and there’s little enough work to be had at the mole trouser stretching plant on Saffron Hill! Let them sup to their hearts content!”

“T’is both a shame and a disgrace nonetheless! Are there no workhouses? Drinking in the streets is a most regrettable past-time, are there no prisons for them?” enquired The Headmaster, who, but for the efficacious intervention of Master LeFevre would have wound up burnt to a cinder during the Tooley Street Warehouse fire.

“Oh there is a workhouse and there are also prisons, though I’ve frequented neither meself” replied Master LeFevre nonchalantly, “I’m told the Spitalsfield Workhouse services all who live here, though the place is barely filled. They ain’t letting no one in.”

“A workhouse failing in its duty towards the poor? What nonsense!”

But Boodoo merely smiled, “There’s but a hundred souls rattling around on them wards! The rest his lordship packs into the stables in their underwear, like cattle!”

Abilene Montaperti paled at the mention of the workhouse whose infamy had spread through the rookery like cholera.

“They gets given their clothes the following morning! Master LeFevre continued, “So as they can look for work!”

“But there is no work!” Abilene wailed,

Boodoo shrugged, so long as he could remember the ways of the exacting rich had ever been thus, imperiously demanding the impossible, whilst the poor, deeply mired in the gutter, strove to meet the exacting commands of their masters.

“If there’s no work they spends the following night in the stables, not the workhouse”

“Outrageous! Who, pray tell, is the workhouse guardian?”

“The most honourable Ethelbert-Smythe” Master LeFevre sneered “They do say he is most loved by the workhouse patrons, he has saved them so much money”

“Ethelbert-Smythe say you?”

“You have heard of him sir?”

“I have buried nigh on a dozen persons whose relatives blamed him for their deaths! There is talk of dark goings-on, of things most sinister in that place!”

“In that place?”

“The Cholera ward of Spitalsfields they say takes many in, though few come out”

“Few say you?”

“Indeed, and the tales they bring with them…most terrible so they say”

“That would follow” replied Master LeFevre looking curiously at the Headmaster and then at the Spitalsfield’s Workhouse whose rooftop loomed over every other tottering  edifice in St Giles,

“They do say he runs a tight ship, but he has of late taken on Dr Garrick and iz reputation, is devilish, I wouldn’t trust that one administering a dose of Laudanum!”

The Headmaster, who had of late taken up grave digging as a means of earning his keep, looked on at the Bacchanalian liquid feast. A healthy flush and expressions of radiant joy could be seen upon the faces of all. Mothers stooped down to douse their linen handkerchiefs in the clear liquid and squeeze the potent droplets into the toothless maws of the elderly. Children little older than ten soaked their scarves in vaporous pools of gin sucking on them as they staggered off in search of work. The dusty, dirty streets reeked of it , the cobbled streets glistened with it, parents wafted the vapour into the nostrils of their infants. For the earlier the introduction of gin, the happier their working lives would be.

“Shocking my dear!”

Disgraceful, yet wholly understandable!” replied Abilene

“Never did agree with lazy thieving!” was Master LeFevre’s reply

“Anansi! Anansi my son! Where is you! We’ve a load on!”

and off he wandered in search of the child he had of late adopted. Observe, dear reader, the starvation and want  seeping from the very pores of the gin sodden poor! Why, the rats scurrying about their streets, the cockroaches nestled in their slums, indeed the tics buried in their mattresses, ate more palatially than their owners the residents of Saffron Hill in the rookery of St Giles!

“Where is you my boy? Anansi!”

“Here papa! I is here! Over by the Saffron stall!”

The child pondered wonderingly over the presence of such wondrously scented flowers, perched in abundant profusion, upon a rickety stall outside his home, the Sapphire of Jhansi Pub. The deep purple flowers reminded him of the African Violets his mother had kept and tended at home, before the dispersal of retribution.  Her flowers had oozed an almost suffocating scent, these smelt more like lush hay. 

“Six pence a bunch”

“Why six pence and not a shilling”

“The rich use Saffron to flavour what they eat. Down ere they use it to keep down the stench of the sewers, and the rotting plaster as it peels away from the walls. I do better trade down ere than I do in Covent Garden!”

“Anansi hook it! Them beer barrels can’t wait all day and I ain’t liftin em by meself! ”

“I’se comin papa!”

T’is a wonder to all as inhabit London, that one such as Boodoo LeFevre, at one time the very devil incarnate when it pertained to setting unwanted and unwarranted fires, should now be pater-familia and of such a child! Hazel of eye, walnut skinned, and ferociously protective of his doe eyed father whose intense love of fire in all its forms, made him the terror of half of London (the other half kept themselves most diligently insured against unsolicited fires as a consequence). But our attention dwells not unduly upon them as yet, but upon the shaven, bow legged and well turned out gentleman who has lately taken up residence at Mrs Byers guest-house.

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Provehito In Altum or A Hanging At Newgate

BarnabyRudge“Hurrah for murder! Hurrah and I’ll say it again hurrah!”

“T’is a sign of the times of day when one may cry hurrah for ten shillings and a Newgate hanging Mr Marwood!”

“Oh! But did you examine her neck? Have you examined it Constable Qwinty?”

“Examined it?” asks Constable Qwinty,  for he is in the profession of collaring necks not examining them, and is hard pressed to recall exactly what Mistress Birtherugge’s neck looked like ere he arrested her for Bethilda Coram’s murder. “Examined it? Can’t say as I did or have since, is it prodigious long?”

Mr Marwood’s eyes roll back in his head, he clasps his hands to his chest and a brilliant smile lights up his face, as if he were caught in the throes of most joyous ecstasy. “Prodigious long? Prodigious long? Why sir it has the slender length and elegance of a swan’s neck! T’is a graceful neck, a neck ripe for stretching!”. There is a strong length of rope in his hands which he has carefully knotted, and which will be fitted to the gallows in due course. “See these hands sir? See their strength? That come from tying bunches of Broccoli at Spitalsfield’s market sir! If ever there was a neck I was born to stretch this is it sir! This is it! Oh hurrah for murder! Hurrah! Hurrah!”.

Constable Qwinty is shocked for whilst he can well see why ten shillings in these straitened times would give rise to such joy, he cannot comprehend how execution for execution’s sake might hold one in such a thrall, t’is nigh on degenerate!

A’las, then, for the festive atmosphere attending this sombre event,

“Well, this is a grim pleasure! A festive day out complete with a hanging! Turkey Twizzler Fricasee Master Fluttock?” asks Billy Porter looking cheerfully about him at the festivities on view but Master Fluttock shakes his head. He casts a mournful look upon the gallows from which, in the next hour, Mistress Birthe-Rugge was sure to hang. T’was a grim state of affairs to be sure, a Foundling  Hospital orphan who had managed to survive being thrown on a garbage heap at birth, yet had fallen foul of the depravities of a lunatic midwife. T’was a terrible, terrible, state of affairs to have taken place in the sanctuary of the Spitalfield’s Workhouse.

“Oh Sweet Birthe-Rugge don’t you cry for me! I’ll prance in the sun once yer neck is hung & so go in to tea!” chants one ruffian swinging a giggling, rosy cheeked damsel round by her waist.”Ooooh Milty you are a card!” cries another clapping her hands with delight at the humour of it all. A sweet natured damsel no doubt on any other day than this, but now the crude humour vaunted at her by various grimy predicatorial types and her bawdy ripostes, seem indelicate. The sun is up on this cold winter’s day as if in celebration at the impending demise of one who had ushered in new life with much cold hearted precision. Would that she had applied the same sentiments (or lack thereof) to the nurturing and nourishing of her apprentices!

“Flayed to bits and whipped to ribbons! I eard er Billy! Bethilda Coram! I eard er cryin out, weepin and blubberin and I did nothing! T’will stay with me till the day I die! That poor soul! That poor, poor soul!” Master Fluttock is grief stricken, tears stream down his cheeks in spite of the sun glinting on with gleeful relish, in spite of the festivities that surround him. Billy Porter raises an eyebrow, checks his pocket watch, nibbles on his cured Turkey Twizzler Stick, says nothing. For what is there to say?

“She died as she had lived, a villain, a lie was in her mouth, piece be to her ashes, we war not with the dead” So says a reporter from the Triune Observer, a most fastidiously moral paper. Inspector Depta off duty on this one instance, observes the celebrations proceeding apace around him and wonders who it was that said, ‘Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes emollit mores nec sinit esse feros’. For they’d find no adherers to that tenet here! Gradually the numbers surrounding the gallows increase as does the hubbub of jocular conversation. Barbecue Twizzler sellers move amongst the people packing their pockets with profits and the mobs mouths with food. Blowens half-drunk on prodigious quantities of gin stagger hither and thither kicking up a riot with their gin-fuelled raucous cries of ‘Oi Mistress Birthe-Rugge save a seat for me in hell!”. One has slipped sideways in the crowd and now lies with her skirts over her head and her colourful bloomers on display. Whoops of delight soar through the air at the sight, the Inspector finds himself reaching for his bludger and coshing a distasteful todger (who has attempted to dive beneath her skirts) on the head,

“Oi! You!” he bellows, “We’re ‘avin none of that in ere! You want to do that find a bawd’s rookery! This, mate, is a public hangin, orf with ye! Go on! Hook it!”

The would-be amoureuse staggers off, a look of mingled hatred and fear on his face and a rising bump on his head. Inspector Depta is pleased, he ain’t expecting to be loved, not as a member of the detective police. He does expect though that the general public, his general public should abide by the etiquette of public hangings! “Make way! Make way! Coming through!”. Mr Marwood nimbly clambers a-top the scaffolding platform, sturdy rope in muscular hand. Once there he struts to and fro before the crowd, he smiles, he bows. Slender and wiry and most elegantly dressed in crow-black, his morning jacket gleams most expensively. Inspector Depta perceives there is a great deal of money to made out of a hanging…for some. Bethilda Coram’s Grandmother has received her butchered corpse, the commiserations of the judge and little else. Indeed were it not for the generosity of  Master Deacon, the child would have lain in a pauper’s plywood coffin, tossed carelessly in a pauper’s grave.

“Good eve Inspectah Deptah! T’is a terrible morning” moans Master Fluttock, twisting and untwisting his hands most mournfully,”Indeed” replies the inspector unmoved.

“Oh how I wish, how I wish I could ave done something!”

“Indeed” replies the inspector again before adding coldly, “The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe ain’t ere is e?” Master Fluttock shakes his head. “T’is a dreadful pity being as we found five more corpses buried deep, in that pig yard, where we found Bethilda’s body. she’s ad wot, one apprentice every three years? Two this year? That’s seven apprentices disappeared over the entire fifteen years Ethelbert-Smythe has been in charge”. A light goes on in the old man’s head and he starts to look a tiny bit more cheerful, “You saying he knew something orf it?”

The inspector proffers a wide shark like grin,”He must have known, even if he didn’t there is still the matter of them disappearing Cholera patients to consider. Fancy a tipple of Gin and a flambéed Turkey Twizzler? She ain’t coming out to be hung for some time yet!”. The old man jerks his head in reply, and arm in arm with the Inspector wanders off through the crowds and down to the ‘Sapphire of Jhansi’ Tavern.

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