“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!”
How unlike the paradise of which Sweet Gove spoke is this place! Heaps of smouldering iron litter the school grounds like the litterings of that hound of hell, Cerberus. The fragrant countryside air has long since fled and in its place? Dense smoke billowing out of the Iron-Slitting furnace and wreathing the cold grey stone of the chapel in it’s choking embrace. The grounds of Molten Tussock Academy may be likened to the very bowels of hell wherein that great beast – the spirit of Mammon- is said to abide, mired in the slough of despond, that place which impoverished Iron-Slitting apprentices are said to endure.
A second beast has arisen from that selfsame pit dear reader, but he is not as the first. For this one is a half-burned facsimile of a reverend of the Goveen Brotherhood, and one whose unbridled love for the tenets of Sweet Gove have unmanned him! Goveen adulation has altered him dear reader, and now here he stands,transformed from a spritely but naive youth to a pitiful ego fixated degenerate! Hunched over and limping towards the bell tower in his soot covered cassock, the far-from-saintly Reverend Tout Puissant is the very embodiment of vindictive malice…
Indeed, one doubts not that once he has climbed the bell tower and surmounted its pinnacle, all who have forsworn Goveen Matins will rue the day they were born!
“Bar the door Obed Plum! Bar it! Quickly now! The rapscallion is almost upon us! Can ye not hear him?” they all can, for t’is the bellowing, braying, rage of a crazed fanatic intent upon first seizing and then punishing his prey! T’is a scandal dear reader,a scandal and a disgrace! But once humility has fled (dragging reason along with it) who may say what will take its place?
Now rocked from pillar to post by one violent explosion after another and now choked savagely by the vast plumes of smoke wreathing the chapel like a shroud the Iron-Slitting apprentices are terror stricken. But amongst them there is one who is not swayed, and dropping to his knees in a newly acquired attitude of prayer he speaks these words,
“I am not nor ever was a churchgoing man but if ever we need thy help god, t’is now! HELP!!”
By the standards of the tenets of Sweet Gove, his, is a succinct prayer (mercifully!), and is soon joined by dozens of others “Help us God! Send swift deliverance!”
Help is not long in coming, indeed it is almost at hand for look you, here is the UNION REP! Wrapped loosely in a cloak that has been drenched in water and struggling valiantly across the school grounds he stops just short of the tower, looking up he cannot see ought through the smoke, but he can hear the dim cries of Master Parnham and the apprentices.
“If ever we’ve needed thee Jehovah it is now!” the faint strains of mournful singing float down from that dismal place and in such a place as this! Where the fires rage and burn at every crevice and corner of the chapel, except at this one where the bell tower lies. Time wasted,thinks the Union Rep, is souls lost!
“Master Knowham! Have you the grappling hooks and the ropes!”
“Aye! I have em! Dear God we have arrived just in time!”
“Then let us begin!!”
Throwing off their sodden cloaks and rolling up their shirt sleeves the men throw up their grappling hooks until the hooks are fast secured upon the wall of that great bell tower. Their climb is an arduous one, many times are they tempted to turn back as the flames leap high beneath them and grey smoke billows above. But the desolate wails issuing forth from the tower compell them to tighten their grips on the soot blackened ropes and keep climbing,
“How goes it Master Knowham!” the Union Rep yells though his voice can scarce be heard over the raging flames,
“Climb sir! Climb!” comes the reply, “There is no time to waste, climb or the boys are for it!” roars Master Knowham as he climbs fist over fist, doing all within his power to reach the top of the bell tower and his son before the flames do.
How best to describe the infernal vista Molten Tussock had become, best not to describe it, but to give thanks to the farmers of Molten Tussock minor, that humble village on the outskirts of Molten Tussock major. For on spying the smoke some distance from their village, the alarm bells are rung and the fire wagons rushed out speeding towards Molten Tussock as if for all the world the devil is at their heels. Oh how the flames sought to drive them back as they rushed to and fro in a frenzy seeking well water and pump water with which to put the fires out!
And all the while the terrible sound of braying issuing forth from within the chapel, “Ere but don’t that sound like-” says one farmer as he fills his bucket at the pump for the upteenth time, “The madman whats burned down iz own school with them poor kids in it?” replied another glaring balefully at the chapel door,”best to let mad men lie if you ask me! We’ve enuf to be going on with,more water?”
“Drive that wagon closer to the chapel! Man the pump boys! Man the pump!” the more the fire crackles and rages, the faster the men move, driving the wagons up against the base of the church and streaming water up and around till the ground is sodden and the bricks give off a vaporous mist.
“Climb damn ye! Keep climbing! We’re almost there!” hauling themselves over the wall of the bell tower the two men seek those pitiful souls whose wailing cries have urged them onto the rescue. See there huddled fast against the hot bricks, two dozen tormented apprentices pleading so loudly for deliverance that they can scarce believe their eyes when it arrives. Bundling them towards the wall and over it, Master Knowham tries to rescue Master Parnham, but just as he is about to do so the bell tower door buckles inward, and the Reverend Tout-Puissant staggers out of the smoky darkness.
“Where are they? Where are my charges?” but his apprentices have been swiftly bundled up in warm blankets and the wagons carrying them gallop as far away and as fast away as the stamina of the horses will allow!
“It’s you! T’is your infernal inspections that have unravelled all my good work!”
“Not I sir! Look roundabout you!” the farmers have done all they can, the blackened ruins of a farmhouse, the dying embers of the iron furnace, these are all that remain. The fire has swept over all, devoured all, all but the Goveen chapel towering oppressively over the bleak landscape.
“What should I do? What will I do? They are gone, all gone! My darling ones!” and with that the Reverend, staggering towards the bell tower wall, hurls himself over it.
“Shocking simply shocking!” declares Master Parnham who was as he has said, deeply troubled and shocked.
“Shocking and scandalous!” opined Master Knowham as he prepares to descend the bell tower once more.
“A ruinous waste of a perfectly good school, the Bow & Bromley Board shall hear of it!” declares the Union Rep gleefully.
For the Bow and Bromley Education Board had accompanied him on the journey down from London. So that they might inquire as to the disappearance of Master Parnham, however as soon as the coach entered Molten Tussock village they had observed the blaze. And desiring to avoid all association with yet another Goveen scandal, they had retired to the village inn for the night. How appalled they would be once they’d heard all that had transpired, and how eager they would be to redeem their reputations by funding another Hesketh-Elderberry-McTavish Ragged School!
T’is more than eight years since the Silk Mill Riots of Grid-Iron Square and the overthrow of Lord Montaperti and his cronies. T’is less than five years since, at the urging of its constituents, the Union Rep was first elected Member of Parliament for Bow & Bromley. In that time he has scaled many a mountain of Tory opposition and with the help of his enraged Liberal comrades righted many a wrong. And by god if there isn’t such a wrong to be righted here in the midst of this education board, if he might but be allowed to sniff it out! Clearing his throat and getting to his feet the Union Rep examines the placid countenances of the men sat before him.
The air is redolent with the fragrant smoke of their Cuban Cigars, paid for by the blood and sweat of their workers no doubt. And yet for all that, when it comes to the proliferation of Industrial Academies for the training of their workers’ children, these education board members have plainly shown they have a conscience.
“Gentlemen, I would speak to you all on the matter of Molten Tussock Academy”
A look of puzzlement alights upon the flushed faces of the Bow & Bromley Education Board. Molten? Tussock? Would that be the name of one of their schools? Glancing across the table on which sit several decanters of port and the remains of a prodigious luncheon,the Union Rep can make out the indolent face of Lord Elderberry who yawningly replies,”Molten Tussock Industrial Academy I think he means. Yes and what of it?”
And at this, this acknowledgement that such a school exists the Union Rep feels his heart skip a beat, so far so good. “T’is ten months since Molten Tussock Industrial Academy was inspected and nigh on twelve since Master Parnham’s inspection report was due; where is it and where is Master Parnham?”
“Master Parnham? The Mole Trouser Stretching Master? T’is hard to say, I’m told that from time to time he resides at Bethlem Asylum”
“Bethlem Asylum? He has not been seen there for some time, in fact since he undertook to inspect Molten Tussock he has not been seen at all”. Does the smile on Lord Elderberry’s gaunt face seem a little strained? Or is that just the Union Rep’s impression? He continues,”Indeed it is almost as if Master Parnham has fallen off the face of the earth and I could almost believe this to be the case, were it not for little Monty Eckard”
“Monty Eckard?” replies Master Dimmott a concerned look on his face, for the child’s parents and grandparents are some of his best Iron Slitters.
“Aye! The poor child has travelled many miles (and in fear of his life!) over Bow Creek Way and Bromley Marsh on foot and with much troubling news of Molten Tussock”.
“T’would be best if I allowed Master Eckard to recount his experiences to you all” he looked at all gathered there balefully,”Mayhap thou mightst decide what t’would be best to do…in the circumstances. Lydia?”.
“Fetch in Monty Eckard will thou lass?”
“Yes Sir” curtseying smartly the serving maid leaves the room for a moment,briskly re-entering with a little pinch faced boy trailing in her wake and loudly singing an infamous little ditty.
“Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Up on the mountain Sweet Gove spoke,
Out of his mouth came fire and smoke!
Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray! ”
Master Dimmott’s gentle inebriation is soon dissipated by a surge of anger,of outright indignation that only the singing of such a song can provoke. Other board members are disturbed by the sight of this eight year old child swaying hypnotically from side to side, his eyes half-closed his left hand clasped to his be-jacketed breast as if he were swearing an oath to some unknown deity.
“Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Everytime I feel the plumb-line moving on my heart I pray!
Up on the mountain Sweet Gove spoke,
Out of his mouth came fire and smoke!”
The Union Rep fixes Lord Elderberry with a sour smile, his Lordship squirming uneasily in his seat daren’t speak. Reaching down to the child swaying gently at his feet Master Dimmott seats him carefully upon his lap encouraging him to partake of the slice of pie left untouched upon his plate.”T’is Master Dimmock! Gove be praised! Thank ee Master Dimmock!” but the poor gentleman is more dismayed and more horrified than when the child had first begun to sing! The Union Rep sitting down alongside him and in front of the child disingenuously asks,
“T’is a beautiful song that you sang for these gentleman here, pray child what is it called?”
“T’is called the litany of Sweet Gove sir”
“And who taught it thee?” he asked,
“Yes Sir, t’was the litany what we sung to Master Parnham as he was running into the Slitting Iron Tower”
“Why was he running child?”
“Reverend Tout-Puissant called him an unpatwi’otik heathen and tried to shoot him!”
“The litany of Sweet Gove! Heaven forfend!” declares Master Dimmock clenching his right fist,and he is not alone for several other industrialists at the table are similarly incensed. Lord Elderberry however, seems as one struck dumb and the Union Rep favours him with a fierce look. “Molten Tussock is non-denominational is it not gentleman?” the Bow & Bromley Education Board nod vigorously,
“Then gentleman t’were time it were paid a visit and I know just the gentlemen to send!”
T’was a freezing cold day outside St Paul’s Cathedral, though the dark and gloomy interior burned with all the fervour and passion that only the presence of St Gove could engender. Sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows alighting on the shabby clothing of the supplicants and bathing their upturned faces in an ethereal glow.
“Oh Gove!” the congregation murmured,
“Oh Gove” Reverend Unctuous replied,
“Oh Gove!” they groaned turning 90 degrees and tugging their forelocks,
“Sweet Gove” Reverend Unctuous intoned, opening his copy of the Gove Testament, special Wendy Deng Edition, as approved & sponsored by the ‘CarpetRight’ Tsar Lord Harris. The tatty well thumbed pages were potent evidence of his total devotion to the Govean path to improvement as the congregation well knew.
“From bite-sized learning and superficial knowledge deliver us St.Gove”
“Oh deliver us, deliver us” throwing up their biro stained palms and swaying first to the left and then to the right the congregation tugged their forelocks anxiously. For they sensed rather than saw that there was one amongst them who was not chanting from the same ceremonial testament. Madame Guacamoley, once of Sibyl Vane Academy, glared at Reverend Unctuous, her lips rearing back from her teeth.
“A bridge too far is never far enough! Grant us clarity St.Gove, deliver us from the common sense of the age. Aid us in reshaping the academic bell-curve, grant us the succour of your goodness & greatness,the vigour & rigour of your moral purpose!”
Shuffling as one to the centre aisle, the congregants clasped their ink stained hands to their bosoms singing
“We do not expect children to know their place, but we know our place St. Gove! We know our place!”
Reverend Unctuous smiled at all those anxious faces, all those tear-stained cheeks. But there was one amongst them who filled his heart with grim foreboding, aberrant that she was. With her raven locks piled sumptuously upon her head and that infamous scarlet gown, she was the antithesis of suppressed creativity,Reverend Unctuous pitied her.
“Bow to the king of nip, tuck, retreat? Never! This is wrong so very wrong! Listen to yourselves!”
Hitching up the skirts of her scarlet gown Madame Guacamoley sprinted down the aisle snatching a copy of the blessed testament out of the hands of a sleepy novitiate. The congregation gasped with horror, as one they lurched forward, but before they could stop her she raised the book high above her head her bosom heaving, throwing it to the ground, she jumped up and down on it vigorously. Some members of the congregation screamed, others fainted, the rest rushed forward as one grabbing hold of her and hustling her aggressively out through the church doors. Her hair unloosed (Reverend Unctuous noted that it hung most appealingly on her shoulders), and gown torn, Madame Guacamoley remained unrepentant, “It’s wrong I tell you! So wrong! Academic brilliance is a marathon not a sprint! Our children deserve better!”