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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Standard
Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

The Scandal Of Mother Birthe-Rugge

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“Has ever the like been seen?”

“Not this side of Spitalsfield I’ll be bound!”

“T’was Ethelbert-Smythe enlisted her aid”

“Ethelbert-Smythe the workhouse guardian?”

“Aye, he! Folk dying left and right of starvation and him boasting of them  six hundred empty beds up at the workhouse!”

“Empty beds? At Spitalfields? But the infirmary there is overflowing with Cholera patients!”

“On certain days of the week aye! But at night…”

“At certain times of the night?! Not him too!”

“Aye! The devil! The fiend!”

“Has no one thought to report him?”

“Aye! As many as have thought to report her! And az little has come of it! Remember Bethilda Coram?”

“Er az had er eyes blacked for nigh on three months?”

Master Fluttock nodded,”The very same! Black an blue she were after Birthe-Rugge ad done with er”

“What? She as run orff?”

Master Fluttock smiles sadly, “Took sanctuary with the Foundling Hospital & they sent er back!”

“Back to Madame Birthe-Rugge?!” exclaims Billy Croft, for he cannot well believe that a woman such as she would be allowed one apprentice, let alone the dozens who’ve disappeared whilst under her roof.

“After much moral ‘suasion from Master Birthe-Rugge she agreed to come back, moral ‘suasion is a potent unction I’m told” replies Master Fluttock,

“Where else ad she to go? T’is a deplorable predicwament! Deplorable! She still ere?”

Master Fluttock shrugs, a troubled look crosses his face, for in truth he had never seen a maid look so terrified as Bethilda was, when first she crossed over the threshold to Mother Birthe-Rugge’s lodgings, and since then?

“Seen neither hair nor hide of ‘er since she entered their establishment an that t’were three week ago” another troubled look flits across his drink-raddled features; for in truth he had heard the girl though he had not seen her. In the dead of night as he patrolled through the workhouse keeping a close eye on male and female wards (and an even closer eye on the goings-on at the infirmary). At such a time of night, when nought stirred save the wind whistling through the trees, then might such piteous wailings ,and frantic scratching sounds be heard, t’was terrible. And such laughter! Dark,fiendish, and hysterical! T’was the likes of which he hoped never to have heard outside of St Bacchanalia’s Asylum.

“I’ve heard er!” he whispered nervously,

“eard who?”

“Bethilda”

“What ave you eard?”

“One night some fierce sobbing and a desperate scrabble at the front door, another night cries of ‘let me go let me go!’,and then the fierce cracking of a whip and even fiercer cries of ‘we’ll ave none of that ere! Back into the coal grate with yer!! Followed by more fierce sobbing, devilish laughter and then silence!”

“Where’s Ethelbert-Smythe?”

Master Fluttock patted his coat pocket, “Asleep, at his desk” said Master Fluttock smiling contemptuously, “I left him nipping a gin and Laudanum toddy!”

“But it’s barely past morning! Troubles at home I don’t wonder”

“Wonder all you likes! E don’t do something there’s a scandal in the orffing! Oi oi!”

They barely have time to compose their features before Madame Birthe-Rugge is upon them, resplendent in dove grey silk ,with a vast white apron tied round her midriff, and sparkling white cuffs bunched up to her forearms. A gentle smile ,a slight nod and a curtsey and then,

“Masters Fluttock and Croft a good day to you”

The two gentlemen glance expressionlessly at each other then at her,”Good day Mistress Birthe-Rugge” they mutter darkly, t’is a commonplace greeting, wrung dry of warmth, and stuffed full of suspicion. Ignoring their dark looks the lady is soon on her way, head held high and feet striding purposefully towards the Spitalfield’s infirmary. She has a prodigious number of patients, for the poor you know breed like rabbits. They are lucky to have her, for Mistress Birthe-Rugge is an excellent midwife (having birthed sixteen children of her own), and her services (for now) are very much in demand. Indeed, t’is almost a pity that (the poor being as they are), the lady is not given more credit for the gentility of her manner, the cleanliness of her dress and the orderliness of her domestic establishment.

 But now let us wander across the road from the Spitalsfield’s workhouse, to that pristine establishment known to all and sundry as the business premises of Deacon’s Bakery. Presided over by one Mr Deacon senior, a taciturn gentleman of high moral principle and rigid social arrangements. Master Methuselah Deacon esquire, baker extraordinaire (having served his apprenticeship out in the once esteemed household of Lord Tobias Grid-Iron). Ardent and most loving father to Lucius and Lucinda Deacon (twins), dutiful husband to the shrewd and staunchly intractable Mistress Deacon.

“Are you willing Master Deacon?”

“Most indubitably dear wife, and would be so, though, the very hounds of hell should nip at my heels! the skylight is open you say?”

“The Birthe-Rugges have flung the roof asunder, for the sake of a pig my dear! A mere pig!”

“And the girl? You are sure she was kept there last?” a thunderous look passes over Mistress Deacon’s face, she, who, having birthed two children (twins) and trained several seamstresses, now stands trembling with rage. For the stern, impeachable character of the neighbourhood has been steadily corroded by the presence of the Spitalfield’s Workhouse, and by hook or by crook Mistress Deacon would have that reputation restored.

Inspector Depta is at the ready, “We ave yet to spot the gel my luv, but Lucius is certain we shall see er! Inspector Depta are you partial sir?”

“Always Mistress Deacon, always, she’s kept in the attic you say?”

Mistress Deacon nods and from somewhere behind her a lone sob arises, followed by a wailing shriek,descending once more into a tremulous series of sobs.T’is Bethilda’s grandmother who, having expended both time and money to visit her grand-daughter, caught herself a glimpse of the child much bruised and beaten, before being driven out of the workhouse by the fiendish Birthe-Rugge.

“A devilish time the child as ad of it and we’ll ave no more of it! We will ave er outta there this very morning or so gawd elp me!” Mistress Deacon is overwrought.

“There, there, Ma Deacon!, Inspectah Deptah is ere now, and we looks to him to do is duty!” Baker Deacon winks at Inspector Depta who, having been offered a little sweetener on account, winks back. He has discarded his jacket and now leaning out of the attic window he peers down through the uncovered skylight into the yard below. He espies a hog rooting around in the muddy yard and something else, a begrimed arm flailing about in the mud and two legs bundled in muddied skirts,still, and unmoving. Inwardly Inspector Depta groans for this is a blooming scandal and no mistake! One of Madame BirtheRugge’s apprentices dead? Hardly news, word had it she’d been murdering them for years, but an apprentice killed under the supervision of Mr Ethelbert-Smythe izself? It didn’t bare thinking about.

“I can see er! She’s on er back in the yard, she ain’t moving! Master Deacon! Hand me your rolling pin!” clasping the rolling pin Inspector Depta narrows his eyes, and taking good aim drops the rolling pin through the open skylight, and into the Spitalsfield’s workhouse’s backyard. The rolling pin falls fast, dropping through the skylight ,and then bouncing off the prone legs, and rolling away into the muddy yard. A loud groan floats up through the rafters from the prone body below, greeting his ears, the inspector sighs with relief, beaten bloody no doubt, but the apprentice weren’t dead, not yet.

“Master Deacon! Send for the Bow Street Police! The girl’s alive!”

Standard
Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Weighed In The Balance & Found Wanting

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“By reason of some defects in the law, the poor used not to be restrained from travelling from workhouse to workhouse; taking up residence in those poor houses which provided the largest bowls of gruel and the comfiest pallets of straw”.

“Shameful!” declared the Countess De Lacey and the gentleman accompanying her (the Reverend Farthengrodden) looks similarly shocked. But the Right Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe smiles reassuringly, “the Poor Law Amendment Act soon put paid to that criminal practice, as a result we have far fewer workhouses and those we do have are much more efficiently managed”. He ushered his guests into a poor ward where four dozen women sitting on wooden stools were stooped low over wooden pails peeling potatoes. Heaps of unpeeled potatoes lay piled on the floor beside them,”You see that here on this ward the time of the poor people is well spent. Here, dissipation and depravity are discouraged. Once they were steeped to the neck in vice but now their energies are redirected to the betterment of themselves and their fellow man”.

“Pray tell, what is it they are doing?”

“Preparing dinner for the brotherhood”

“The brotherhood have a monastery here?” Ethelbert-Smythe beams with pride,

“The Spitalsfield monastery was established in the first year of my guardianship and, by the end of this year, the Spitalsfield Industrial School will open. As is usually the custom it will be staffed by two dozen novitiates of the Goveen Brotherhood”. Countess de Lacey looks awed and Ethelbert-Smythe feels certain that her donations to the workhouse will increase as a result.”With the aid of the brotherhood we hope to turn the eyes of the poor people ever toward heaven and their revered benefactors, St. Gove be praised!”

“Sweet Gove!” clutching his prayer beads tightly the Reverend Farthengrodden whispers the blessing in such a way as to cause the hackles to rise up on the back of the workhouse guardian’s neck. “If you would come this way you will see how we correct that degeneracy so syptomatic of indolent living”.

The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe ushers his guests from the ward and down the corridor encountering an attendant cradling a babe in the crook of one thin arm. “Thanks to the poor law amendments the number of bastards born to unwed mothers has significantly decreased. For those which remain we supply wet nurses at modest cost”. He gestured dismissively toward the wet nurse smiling with approval as she produced a tiny bottle of laudanum administering a dose to the child in her arms. “Once children are of age they are sent to the industrial schools for morning instruction and from thence to work”.

“At what age are they sent out to work?”

“Why as soon as they are out of swaddling clothes and are lucid enough to be able to talk! Most commonly at the age of four, at the age of three if they seem able bodied enough.”

“But at that age they are so diminutive!”

“Quite, making it extremely easy for them to move amongst the cogs and wheels of mill machines for lint cleaning and such. Once they are eight they are released from our care unless they have decided to take up holy orders, in which case they are received into the brotherhood and trained as novitiates”.

The smell of the workhouse is as turgid as it is cloying and it is almost with relief that his guests enter the workhouse gardens. For there the burgeoning, ripening tomatoes and turnips, elderberries and apricots, give off an appetizing fragrance. In fact the aroma of this abundance of hanging fruit and flourishing vegetables seems to nullify the lingering unpleasantness of the gloomy workhouse interior. It is as if the gardens were a bridge transporting them from grimy pauperism to fragrant affluence. “Are all these for the consumption of the poor?” inquires the countess and a raised eyebrow is her reply,

“these are for the consumption of the guests at the Midland Grand Hotel under an arrangement which we have with the cook there. Any profits generated are ploughed back into the work, the consent of the guardians permitting”.

“M’lud” a wizened looking man has shambled up to the Honourable Ethelbert-Smythe and is now ferociously plucking at the sleeve of his tailored jacket with his gnarled, grimy fingers,”M’lud”

“Yes Master Fluttock, what is it?”

“You’re needed in the infirmary sir”

“Is Doctor Garrick not in attendance?”

“Nurse says he is somewhat indisposed and to call on you to come diwectly sir”

“And what of Master Wisteria?” Master Fluttock flinches at the mention of that name and a look of dread marrs his worn face,”Looked for him but couldn’t find him sir”

“Tell nurse I shall be along shortly” tugging his greasy forelock the elderly gent slowly shambles back the way he came. As he passes her the Countess wrinkles her nose for the old man smells more strongly than any item or person she has yet encountered within the Spitalfields poor house. “Are there many old people here?” she asks, if there were what should we do with them? He thinks. “Precious few” he replies,”The profligacy of debauched living, of drunkeness and unbridled vice mean that precious few endure old age here. No, our inmates range from the age of three months to forty years”

“And how old is Master Fluttock?” inquires Reverend Farthengrodden

“Forty two years or so, he might well be younger” replies Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe carelessly, he has long since ceased to be amazed at the weary, wizened appearances of the Spitalsfields inmates. Perhaps if they had been inclined to live lives less steeped in gin, and if they had taken more care over their observance of the Sabbath, theirs would have been an old age radiant with vibrant youthful promise as his had been.

“Forty two years old!” declares the Reverend disparagingly “and wholly dependent upon the largesse of the workhouse? How so?”

“He stated that he had broken his back in an accident at a Montaperti Silk Mill but it later transpired that the accident had been due solely to his own drunken negligence”

“And yet you permitted him to remain?”  Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe shrugged,

“The poor are ever with us and Master Fluttock is an excellent gardener”.

 

 

 

 

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Academies, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire

Two Kindred Spirits Harassed By Fate

Punch_-_Shaw

‘Iti domum impasti, domino iam non vacat,agni (go home unfed, lambs, your shepherd has no time for you now)’

– Epitathium Damonis (Milton)

The former Headmaster of Raven Industrial Academy having newly returned from the countryside, now skips merrily along Hayes Wharf. A crown of wilted flowers sits snugly upon his head and though his nightshirt and dressing gown are sodden and bedraggled he has never been more at peace. Not so Bernard Montaperti, whose pale and slender fingers tremble and shake as if he had the ague or the palsy. His investments in the Imperial Bank of Kamchatka have failed. The British government has withdrawn its reserves of gold from his counting house and transferred them abroad. And as if that were not disaster enough his munitions factories have been shut down. Montaperti teeters on the brink of madness and ruin, all it will take to push him over the edge is the striking of a Bryant & May match upon a tinder box.

“T’is not far my love! We are almost there!” Abilene Montaperti is euphoric, her cheeks are flush with love or the warmth of the swirling conflagration that is the Tooley Street fire, it is hard to tell. Her thin blonde tresses flutter wildly in the wind which only serves to urge the growing flames around them to ever greater heights. The ragged besmirched hem of her ivory coloured gown has seen better days but, in the arms of her beloved, she is as radiant a flower as ever graced the fields of England. Turning into a damp alley which, though swirling in smoke is free of flame, Hector and Abilene find themselves standing in front of the Scovell warehouse.”We travelled far my dearest, but mayhap here, mongst the soft cotton bales we may find some rest”. Her smile is tremulous and her eyes heavy with shadow but she is jubilant. Hector has spent many weeks opening her eyes to the beauty of this sceptred isle. Together they have travelled as far as Tintern Abbey on the Wye where she wove him a crown of daffodils, the very same he now wears upon his silvered brow.

Hand in hand like two innocent babes entering a sinister forest the lovers tiptoe into the Scovell Warehouse. It is a vast store of petre and salt, silk bales and cotton. T’is a damp and murky place to some  but to the two former inmates of Bethlehem Asylum it is a veritable cathedral of love. Never before have two hearts been so completely joined in mutual passion. There’s is an avid, all consuming desire and short of murder there is little that Abilene’s Hector would not valiantly accomplish on her behalf. Alas! That they should ever have happened upon the devilish Montaperti! Who, with one abrupt stroke of that fatal match against that hapless tinderbox, proceeds to seal his fate.

“Uncle Montaperti!”

“Abilene!”

 Lord Montaperti seems as one astonished, for the apparition that stands before him is such as would appal a lesser scoundrel. Though wasted and thin Abilene his niece newly escaped from Bethelehem Asylum is very much alive. But it can’t be, he had left express instructions with that fool Ethelbert-Smythe! “I am come home Uncle! I am come back to see thy loving face! I am come home Uncle for refuge!”. Hector clutches his head and tugs at his hair with both hands, he knows that face, has heard of that name. And then at last as with a thunderbolt of lightening, enlightenment strikes.”It is you! You villain! You leech upon the face of good fortune! I know you! You are the one who stripped my precious love of her inheritance! You are the one who had Lady Hesketh-Elderberry declared insane!”. In one bound Hector thinks he has him but Bernard Montaperti is slippery as an eel and fleet of foot. For as Hector lurches forward he slides easily out of his grip and smiles,”No doubt I deserve to be shot but that should be the least of your worries, look around you”.

Fire! Everywhere! Tongues of crimson coloured flame leap upon the bales of cotton eagerly consuming them, tearing at them like the eager fingers of a courtesan. For the first time Hector recognises the pungent smell of phosphorus mingled with flax. And for the first time in a very long time Hector feels a slender ray of hope suffuse his emaciated being.

“Aaargh!” Abilene moans clutching at her ball gown and gathering it to herself in vain reassurance.”Uncle Montaperti!” But he is gone, having fled his crimes at the very first opportunity, leaving them to the fate he had hoped they would discretely encounter at the asylum. “Uncle Montaperti!” all are deaf to her sorrowful cries, all except Hector. Wrapping her in his damp dressing gown and taking her fragile hand he leads her gently through the gathering flames. With a joyous skip and, a lightness in his heart such as he had not felt since  being appointed the Headmaster of Raven’s Industrial Academy, Hector attempted to lead his beloved towards safety. But alas the doors towards the back of the warehouse have been nailed shut and as the flames rushed towards them Hector thinks he sees the glint of a jet-black hobnailed boot and the swish of a brilliant white nightshirt. No! It could not possibly be, after all these years?

“It is coming Abilene!” clasping his beloved’s waist with one arm and covering her eyes with the other, the longsuffering Headmaster strives to brave the fiery onslaught of death. And as he prepares to meet his maker, a wondrous surge of happiness sweeps over him…

Your hapless master now to you is lost! 
To whom my bosom shall I now 
confide .
At whose soft voice will now my cares subside ? 

Who now will cheat the night 
with harmless mirth. 
As the nut crackles on the 
glowing hearth. 
Or the pear hisses, — ^while 
without the storm 
Roars through the wood and 
ruffles nature's form ? 

Return unfed, my lambs; by 
fortune crost 

Your hapless master now to you is lost! 

Thomas_Arnold_by_Thomas_Phillips 

 

Standard
ACCESSIBILITY, Hypocritical Cant

Let The Right One In

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Around Sloane Square all has ground to a halt, all is quiet and although it has been a most busy day for Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe, he cannot help but to look back upon it with a degree of tremendous satisfaction. Three hundred ragged dependants sought the refuge of Spitalfields workhouse today! Three hundred! And of those sifted through by Willoughby Croft and then presented to the board of guardians, only twenty could in all good consciense be admitted. The casual ward held two hundred more, the rest being tainted by their association with the Grid-Iron Square riot, were turned away. Most workhouses in the poorer neighbourhoods were burgeoning with those who were supposedly destitute, Martin-in-the-Fields was one such example, but Spitalfields had a surplus of places. Only those he deemed truly deserving where admitted to the main building, the rest (whose claims were dubious at best) were consigned to the casual ward, where they might either survive the night or freeze to death, depending on the state of their health, and the life choices they had previously made.

Yes, all is quiet throughout the home of the Right Honourable Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe, the Ethelbert-Smythe children are all a-bed, Edwina curled around her brand new doll’s house as though it might grow legs and leave her. And young Thomas, his thumb in his mouth, wears the astrakhan trimmed dressing gown his mama bought him to keep him warm in the dead of night. Downstairs in the hallway the grandfather clock lets out a steady tick-tocking that serves as an undercurrent to the warmth and stability of that happy home environment. The servants all lie fast asleep in their attic rooms, worn out by the days ministrations to the wants of the right honourable Smythe and his guests. Being as it is the festive season, they have barely been off their feet since five in the morning, indeed not till twelve past midnight were they permitted sufficient peace, to be able to disrobe and take to their beds. The hours served in this household are many and hard, the times laid aside for rest few and far between, staff turnover is high, still, nobody dare complain, t’is either this, the mills or the workhouse.

Tick-tock! Tick-tock!The clock strikes three and at the foot of the stairs the household guard dog barely stirs in its sleep. Three thirty and a gust of cold air drafts through the narrow gap between cherrywood panelled front door and hearth, it is a dim, grey nebulous breeze that wafts up the spiral stair case pausing for a moment at each bedroom door until at last it reaches that of Mr and Mrs Ethelbert-Smythe and slips over the threshold. The Ethelberts being most comfortably esconsed in a four poster bed carved of ebony wood, replete with an immensity of linen bed sheets and woollen blankets, over which have been thrown two goose feather stuffed quilts (for it is deadly cold at this time of year). The most honourable Ethelbert-Smythes are deeply and tranquilly asleep or should be, but except that there is much tossing and turning beneath the comfy load for that pater familia,Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe.

“Let me in sir, it’s me sir. let me in! Let me in sir!” a little voice cries out, surprisingly it touches the heart of Hardy so that on mere paternal instinct he leaps out of bed , strides to the bedroom door, and opens it believing the distressed voice to be emanating from one of his children, but as he opens the door peering out into the darkness he spies no one their. Uttering an irritated sigh he clambers back into bed, smooths the covers over his side and closes his eyes. “T’is I sir! T’is Dommy! Dommy Woodbine! Let us in sir! I’ll be good I swears! Let us in sir, please!” at this Ethelbert-Smythe leaps out of bed for now he is certain that there is indeed somebody (other than his wife), present in the room. T’is pitch dark and so he spies them not, but he is certain that somebody (something) of that workhouse ilk, has broken into his home. He might be enraged at the fact where it not for the hairs standing up on the nape of his neck, and the goose pimples springing up all over his body. “Let me in sir! Let me in!” two little cold, damp hands fasten themselves around his neck, two little damp legs around his waist,”Don’t sends us there sir! Don’t sends us to Master Turple-Sleath! I swears I’ll be good! Honest I will sir!”

“Let go of me and I will let you in” replies the right honourable gentleman who upon being freed leaps for the bedroom door, forgetting that having left his wife in bed and asleep she may be in some danger. All at once the workhouse child whose face he has yet to see leaps upon him, wrestling him to the ground with a prodigious display of inhuman strength, Crying out in a frenzy of terror Hardy rolls frantically to and fro, to and fro in a desperate attempt to dislodge the pint-sized monster. “Let me in sir! Let me in!” the child cries hysterically until his cries and the screams of Ethelbert-Smythe mingle as one and are indistinguishable, “Aaargh! Dear God! Help meeee!” crying out to the very god his daily actions refute, Ethelbert-Smythe awakens, chilled, clammy, but still very much esconsed in his plush and comfy bed.

Of course there is no child assassin present in his room there is merely him and his wife, a lady grown expertly accustomed to feigning sleep whilst her husband works his way through his night terrors; something he has consistenlty done ever since taking on  responsiblity for poor law relief in their parish. These night terrors are the one thing that have prevented her from leaving him; they assure her that though he may not be a true Christian he does at least have something reasembling a consciense and is therefore still human.

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