“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.