Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Transported, Uncategorized

The Forsaken Brother

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T’was a long, wearisome night, dear reader and a fraught one. For had not Montaperti abandoned his ward in the midst of a raging fire, which he himself had set? And so, half-dragged to the docks, and then hauled aboard a longboat, the venerable Headmaster and Abilene Montaperti make their escape. Lying prone in the longboat they drift along, steering wide of the burning wax and tallow floating in patches upon the waters of the River Thames.

Oi oi! Look sharp Anansie! Peelers overhead! Sink low! Sink low all!“. The Headmaster does as he is bid, covering Abilene with his damp linen dressing gown and wrapping his arms around her to keep her warm. Little Anansie sliding as low as his little height (and seaman’s jacket) permits continues to helm the boat, steering it as near to the shore as he dares, given the burning wharves and the tallow. Anansie isn’t afraid of the little white men on the bridge, in their serge-blue uniforms with their shiny brass buttons, Anansie is afraid of no one. But he appreciates that his newly adopted father might not appreciate their interest in either him or their strange cargo.

“Helm left! Helm left mah boy! We’re almost home!”

“Yes’m Pa!”

Overhead, the London Bridge gleams almost as brightly as the waters below, in this hellish light it is possible to make out tiny figures running about and swinging their tiny beacons to and fro. Fire! They scream as infernal clouds of it blossom and bloom along the river banks. Fire! The likes of which has never been seen by Boodoo, let alone dreamt of by this sombre arsonist! Fire! And he perceives it not, yearns for it not! “Helm left Anansie! Left I said! That’s it my cove! Just so! Just there!” the boat slips quietly under the bridge and into the inky black darkness of the waters, travelling up towards Vauxhall.

“My mother bore me in the southern wild” whispers the Headmaster uneasily, observing the Negro child who in turn is observing him intently through glittering green eyes. He is not a little perturbed by the little black boy steering the boat. Given the circumstances, he ought not to give voice to his concern, and yet he can’t contain himself from asking,

“Where is its mother?”

“It matters not” replied Boodoo, keeping a lookout for river-rats, the water borne thieves littering the muddy shores of the River Thames, “e iz my son! Had it not bin for him you would have fallen foul of greater evil than ‘e is capable of! Steer rightwards mah boy!

“Yes’m Pa!”

“Quite so dear Boodoo, quite so” it has grown quiet on the river, so quiet that the esteemed Headmaster can hear only his own breath, mingled with the quiet sobbing of his sweet Abilene. The Scovell Warehouse fire is soon behind them and as Boodoo reaches down into the inky waters, pulling the longboat towards the shore and tying it to a private quay below, the Headmaster utters an audible sigh of relief.

“Anansie! Get them ashore!”

“Yes’m Papa!”

Clambering ashore, the strangely garbed child extends a hand to first one and then the other of the passengers flipping them dextrously ashore. “Follow me!” he cackles as he trails off the wharf and up the wooden staircase at a run. They follow, permitting him to lead them past a cluster of crumbing, tottering buildings, former silk mills brought to ruin by their owners abject refusal to agree terms with their workers. Down narrow begrimed alleyways they sidle, Anansie in front and Boodoo behind. And all the while around them, in the pitch dark, the industrious to-ing and fro-ing of Gonophs and Badgers; creeping in and out of the abandoned mills, and down to the river at speed. Carrying bundles of wax and tallow, brass and linen goods ‘purloined’ from the Thames.

“Tooley Street is a-flame!” they whisper excitedly, ”Tooley Street a-flame! Look to it my coves! Move fast!”

Picking their way amongst the silent, bustling crowds (who part like the red sea for Boodoo and his party), they find themselves standing in front of a lodging house.

“Where are we pray tell?”

“The Sapphire of Jhansi, Anansie lead on!

“Yes’m Papa!”

Down a wooden staircase they climb, and into a warm, brightly lit cellar, a freshly lit fire is burning at the rear of the room and in front of it, to an angle, lies a love-seat. The Headmaster and Abilene stagger towards it collapsing wordlessly into its plush embrace.

“Boodoo! Boodoo mah boy you’re back!” Bert is at once grateful for Boodoo’s reappearance. For news has reached him of the Tooley Street fire and he wondering if Boodoo has gone back to his old ways, knows by the look of him that this is not so. Bert notes the mingled look of concern and of rage on his face, as he glances towards the mucky looking gent and lady on the love-seat.

“Sinister goings-on?” he asks with misgiving, Boodoo nods glancing towards Abilene Montaperti and her beau,”The Scovell Warehouse is a-flame and Tooley Street with it!”

“T’was it you az set the fire?” Boodoo shook his head,

“Iz Lordship!”

“Iz lordship?! What Lord Montaperti?!” at the mention of that sinister nom de plume a moan arises from the love-seat, and such as threatens to evolve into a hysterical shriek. “There, there, my love” murmurs the Headmaster throwing a warning look toward Bert and Boodoo. “The Scovell Warehouse?” Bert whispers, “But the whole of Tooley Street is a-flame!” Boodoo shook his head sorrowfully, “Never seen a fire so badly set and with iz ward smack in the middle of it!”

“His ward? So its attempted murder then? ” Bert chuckled, “We need to pay him a visit!”

Boodoo grimaced; he had hoped that that part of his life was over,

”Anansie! Orf to bed with ye!”

“Yes’m Pa! Nite Mr Raddle-man!”

“Nite nite Anansie!” replies Bert watching the departing child with something akin to horror mingled with a growing fascination. For e knew not from whence the child had sprung, nor from whom. Save that one day he had gone out gonophing, and had returned to the lodging house to find Boodoo dandling a Negro child on his knee whom he declared to all and sundry was his son.

“Drawn from the fires of hell?” remarked someone and a good laugh would have been had all round, had not that ‘someone’ suddenly choked to death on a remnant of Turkey Twizzler. Similar accidents were had from time to time (the occasional heart attack and in one case instantaneous lock-jaw), as the residents of St-Martins-in-the-Fields acclimatized themselves to the fact that Boodoo had borne a Negro child. From thereon in the occupants of the lodging house took that as a marker, Boodoo the infernal arsonist had a son and nobody valuing their-selves dare say otherwise. But come dear reader, let us row ever backwards against the streams of time and pause to reflect upon that world which birthed such a child as Anansie LeFevre….

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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 

 

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ACCESSIBILITY, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

A Tale of Two Cities

dinner-party-henry-coleBaroness Heskett-Elderberry is at table and the most esteemed of her acquaintances, indeed of her society, with her. The dining table is festooned with glistening silver and glimmering crystal, with bowls of fragrant rose petals and Ivy intertwined with fresh picked Lilies and festooned with bunches of grapes. It is a gathering many a gossip-monger and scandal-sheet-writer would wish to attend, for the Baroness does not sit alone. Close by her bare, wrinkled shoulder, sits the Baronness’s most intimate confidant, Auley McFadden the Head Ostler. They say she means to marry him? But who can tell? That a servant, a Scottish Ostler, should be seated high up table, comfortably ensconsed amongst the aristocracy of this sceptred isle is scandal enough. But Auley McFadden is not phased, he has sat at table amongst the great and the good of the land many a time. He did not blanche with fear the first time his lady insisted upon his presence, and he does not do so now, the Baroness amuses him and for the sake of her company he will gladly endure a legion of fools.

“She means to marry the blaggart!” mutters Lord Elderberry, he has passed on several delicately fragranced platefuls of of rabbit, duck and boiled ham (the Baronesse’s favourite dish) and now plunging his knife into the porcelain dish before him,he aggressively slices and dices his steamed turbot into tiny inedible pieces. His furrowed brow is darkened by a steadily building cloud of thunderous rage, such as to make the ragged children at his elbow tremble and shake and edge subtly away from him. Benjamin Disraeli, seated directly opposite him at table, raises one carefully delineated eyebrow, but Elderberry does not see him, intent as he is upon her ladyship’s prodigious fortune falling into the hands of one of the great unwashed again.

“Does she mean to marry the man?” enquires Doctor Livingstone who is somewhat bemused to find himself seated alongside a sooty faced child happily tucking into Salmon poached in a Gooseberry sauce. “M’Lady is patron of London’s ragged schools and the Temperance Society, I think not” opines M’Lord Palmerston,”Pass the Raspberry Fool!” Towards the top of the dining table M’Lady smiles and nods, her sharp. shrewd, eyes fastened all the while on the ragged school children positioned most conventionally toward the lower end of the dining room table. Near burned to death in the Tooley Street fire they were discretely deposited on her doorstep at the tradesmen’s entrance in the dead of night; because,quite simply, she is their patron and in her eyes the next best thing to a mother they have. Her behaviour is most scandalous in a society as hierachical in it’s moral character as hers is. Nonetheless here the children sit enjoying her ladyship’s largesse and here they are tolerated, for her ladyship is worth two million pounds at least, and she may do as she pleases.

“Is not this truly touching?” Lord Stanley smiles gently at the child who has impulsively seated himself upon his knee taking up his dessert spoon and plunging it into the plum pudding a servant has only just placed before his lordship. Indeed there are several children perched on various aristocratic laps and munching everything from roasted apples to slivers of pheasant. “Their school has been burnt down and since they must eat and sleep somewhere her ladyship has determined it should be here” whispers the Butler as he quietly uncorks a bottle of champagne, “Here? At Osbourne House?” placing the champagne at table alongside his Lordship the Butler discretely nods. Glancing up table Lord Stanley meets the needle sharp gaze of his favourite aunt and chuckles as she salutes her most favourite nephew with a glass of gooseberry juice.

“Is that not Lord Stanley?” asks the Marchioness of Frangebere gazing closely at the handsome young man four guests up, “It is” replies her husband frowning at his wife’s prodigious bosom (she has taken up her pince-nez and is peering through it intensely). “What’s he doing here? I see the musical presence is attendant also”  the Earl of Frangebere pauses mid-bite, turning to coldly examine the haughty profile of his wife,”The musical presence as you call it,formerly Miss Woodbine, is now Lady Stanley”

“I hear that alliance cost him a packet! Ten thousand pounds!” the Marquesse Frangere smiles sweetly across table toward Lord Stanley and just as sweetly inclines her head, the Earl of Frangere rolls his eyes, extraordinary! How on earth does she do it? “The Baroness has awarded him a considerable allowance…not that he needs it! Pass the Plum Pudding” the Marquesse flinches and thinks longingly of that most esteemed murderess (in her eyes) Mrs Manning.

“A toast! A toast!” exclaims the Scottish Ostler his brandy glass held aloft for the upteenth time, ” A toast to that generous purveyor of horse flesh! To the Baroness!”

“To the Baroness!” exclaims Doctor Livingstone, Mrs Livingstone, Benjamin Disraeli and fellow philanthropists, “To ‘er ladyship!” roar the servants and shriek the ragged children. Lord Stanley gets to his feet like everyone else but instead of raising his glass he sidles up the dining table toward the Ostler. For he senses from experience,that the toast is a mere precursor to some social embarassment and indeed he is not wrong for the drunken Ostler disappears speedily beneath the dining room table. The Head Footman is there first (along with the Butler) and as they swiftly ferry him from the celebrations Lord Stanley just as quickly takes his place. The Baroness appears not to note the disappearance of her old friend, everybody else pretends not to, after all she is worth two million pounds and she may do as she pleases.

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