Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

The Trials of Little Bertha

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“Please sir can you tell me how to get to Corinth Street?”

“I can but it is a very long way away from here my child, tell me, where have you come from?”

“I cannot say sir, t’is a secret” she replied most earnestly, looking up at me.

I must confess that I was most surprised to find myself addressed so in the early hours of the morning, when so many are scarce awake. I myself having found the idea of sleep an anathema, betook myself to walk at leisure and at length through the numerous byways, and highways, that comprise the rookeries of St Giles. It is my profession, and though I was at present, not on duty, I betook myself to walk them still, knowing that I would do so undisturbed by the usual terrors that might befall a more innocent passer-by. 

“Where are you headed my child?” for indeed an innocent child she was, though her dress was sparse for this season and somewhat meagre. “To the old curiosity shop sir, is it far from here?” I indicated that it was not, though in truth it was quite some distance from the street on which we were standing. For you see the child having inquired so softly and so sweetly of me reminded me of a sweeter, far purer time and place and I was desirous of extending that brief pleasure a little longer.

Looking earnestly at me once more, the little girl placed her tiny frozen hand in mine and we continued on our way.

“Pray child what made you inquire your way of me? What if I led you astray?”

“But you will not do that sir” she replied, “For you have a look of kindness and gentleness about you and besides” she added,”I know you to be Inspector Depta, my papa pointed you out to me before sir, as you passed our shop window. He said t’was you who rescued Lyca McKillen and returned her to her uncle sir”

“Did he?”

“Indeed yes”

The little girl trudged along beside me, her little figure trembling from time to time because of the cold and the wet (for it had been raining). As we passed through street after street drawing ever nearer to her home, she became by degrees more at ease with me, skipping along by my side and chattering away merrily all the while. Once we arrived at streets which were familiar to her, she let go of my hand skipping merrily ahead, until she reached the steps of a crooked wooden door, set into an impoverished looking shop front. Waiting for me to join her she knocked thrice upon that door, and then presently a faint light was seen to appear in the shop window, it was soon joined by the wizened face of an elderly gent leaning upon a gnarled walking stick. T’was a wonder how he came to the door so quickly, for as he opened the front door and hobbled away through the shop, I perceived that he had a wooden leg. A startled look of pleasure crossed the old man’s face at the sight of me which quite surprised me, since most impoverished inhabitants of Pater London greet my presence with either looks of grim foreboding or outright belligerence mostly.

“Well and good morning Inspector, pray, come in, come in!I was worried about the lateness of my little girl but I see she had you to keep her safe! I cannot thank you enough! Please sir, take a seat, will you partake of a little breakfast?”

The old man placed a chair by the fire and bade me sit in it, whilst the little girl having warmed her hands at the fire proceeded to skip to and fro preparing my breakfast. I enquired of the old man whether he mightn’t have taken more care with his grand-daughter’s safety, informing him that it was at such times as these that kidnappers of little girls were abroad.

“I would have made the journey to the loan shark myself” he replied, “Only you see that I am incommoded by my disability,my little Bertha is all the world to me, I would sooner cut off my other leg than to lose her”

“T’is a source of much displeasure to myself” I continued, “When I see children forced to embrace the miseries of adulthood at so young an age. To taint a child’s innocence and purity so young, t’is unconscionable!”. The old man looked a very picture of sadness as I said this, but he did not have time to respond to my assertions. For at that moment there was a brutal knock at the front door and a brusque voice cried out, 

“Master Snickersby! Master Snickersby! Is you in? Open that front door or by Sweet Gove I will kick it down! Master Snickersby!” looking towards the front door the old man shuddered, he looked towards little Bertha, “Did you give him the money as I bid you?”

“Yes grandfather” the little girl tearfully replied, the timidity and the terror in the child’s face confirmed all she said. As she tremblingly placed my bread and butter on the table before me, I resolved to secret myself in a little nook of the shop and take a closer look at this loan shark. Seeing how the very sound of his voice brought terror upon the old man and his little charge, I resolved to catch him unaware as he entered the shop and then have at him!

Hobbling to the front door the old man soon opened it and another swiftly entered the shop and without bothering to look around took up my seat before the fire. “Well, well” he said looking slyly at the little girl,”If it ain’t little Bertha,you got home quick my girl! Look at you all warmed up! Ain’t you and your papa all nice and cosy in your little shop!”. A more ill-favoured cove I don’t believe my eyes ever alighted on, for his hard little face and currant bun eyes bespoke a gentleman whose graceless ways had put many an unfortunate soul behind bars.

“Bertha put your night dress on!” said the old man grimly and the little girl, trembling from head to foot, disappeared from the shop. “Do you remember me sir?” enquired the beady eyed miscreant, darting a quick glance towards the nook in which I was hiding the old man nodded,”Do you remember our arrangement sir?” again the old man nodded.

“Six shillings a month was the arrangement sir, six mere shillings and you sir have only paid four. Do you recall the penalties of our arrangement sir?”

“Six shillings, to be paid on the first day of each month or you will foreclose on my business”

The old man looked singularly distressed and as his pale blue eyes filled with unspilt tears I felt my fists tighten by my side, but worse was to follow. For the gnarly-faced malignant lashed out with his foot catching the old man’s wooden leg and knocking him to the ground,”If it weren’t for me you’d be taking up a berth at Spitalsfield Workhouse, as it is you’re barely earning minimum wage working ere! Make no mistake you old todger! Give me my money or leave the shop!”

There was an indomitable look of pleasure on his face as he watched the old man crawl away sobbing. I don’t believe my eyes have ever alighted on a more worthy case for a beating but reining myself in I stepped forth from the shadows and clearing my throat audibly I said, “Good morning Mr Whilp!”

“Is it?” replied the loan shark savagely, “I can’t say either way at present and I ain’t broke no law either! So I’ll bid you farewell and see you on your way officer!”. The greasy haired scoundrel made as if he didn’t know who I was, so I refreshed his memory a bit, jerking him up by the scruff of his collar I dragged him towards the front door. He had previously entered that front door of his own free will but now I shoved him through it so roughly that he stumbled and fell onto the cobblestoned pavement. “The name is Inspector Depta! Of the Bow Street Police!” said I, “An a more iniquitous scoundrel I don’t think I ave ever laid eyes on! Expose that poor sweet child to your brutish inclinations will you? Turn er out onto the street will you?”. I waved my bludger threateningly in his face and though he cast around for some human protection there was none, it was too early in the morning for that. Clambering away from me and to his feet he dusted off his grimy morning coat, replaced his crooked top hat and scampering off he said,”I’ll be back!” and I didn’t doubt that he’d try.

I re-entered the little shop in time to see the old man helped to his feet by the little girl,”Now then” says I, “Where’s my breakfast?”.

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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!”

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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, ACCESSIBILITY, Hypocritical Cant

An Odyssean Education

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The fangs of the serpent are hid in the bowl,
Deeply the poison will enter thy soul,
Soon will it plunge thee beyond thy control;
Touch not the cup, touch it not….

– A Temperance Hymn

And as he stared at her intently he was struck afresh by her beauty, for it seemed to him that he had never seen her so attired. For her extraordinary yellow and black outfit was so befitting her handsome figure, and serene countenance, that she ought always to dress in this manner (weather and police constables permitting).

“I” she declared, “Am an ant! Indeed” said she fastening her bright yellow souwester firmly under her chin, “I am one of a legion of constituent ants! I ” she said, pointing one pale tapered finger heavenwards, “Am part of a veritable spiritual hive of battle-ants! Invulnerable to fire and impervious to flood!”, she buckled her yellow sailor’s waterproof tightly around her waist, pulled on a vast pair of black, oil-skin breeches and stepping nimbly from the boat anchored to the docks, waded into the shallow waters of the River Thames. Almira Fielding was not alone, for upon hearing of the Toolley Street conflagration, the entire temperance society (armed with yellow souwesters and oil skin waterproofs),hailed several hackney cabs, and sped round the corner from the ‘The Sozzled Maidshead’, to the source of the roaring conflagration. Indeed, they would have buckled on their waterproofs and sallied forth much sooner, had it not been for the river engines rendering the waterways around the back of the Tooley Street warehouses impassable.

“What does they thinks they is doing?” exclaimed Jakes Monmouth, the owner of the Rye Street distillery, “Don’ts they knows that there’s a fire a-roaring out of control but seventy yards in front o them?! They’ll be burn’t to a cinder crisp if we ain’t careful! Gilly! Gilly! Get afta them! Bring ’em back or so God elp me we’ll swing for it! There’s five amongst em at least listed in Lord Swansby’s who’s who! Get after them!”

Gilly Croft shrugged, there was blazes sprouting up all over the shop, his hands were full, besides which them temperance ladies could be marvellous spiteful if they was messed with, he’d near lost a toe on more than one occasion round them! “You seem them axes they’s carrying? Ever seen them in action over a bar? I ave and I ain’t touchin em!”

“Sister ants! Fix thy courage to the sticking place! And let us march forth!The Parnham Industrial schools lie just ahead! Our little charges lie in the path of a monstrous, devouring conflagration with none to defend them! ” drenching his cloak in the foul waters of the Thames, Lord Harry Pembroke wrapped the heavy garment around his head and shoulders and followed in their wake. In truth Lord Harry had meant to risk what little vestige of reputation he had at the Nag’s head, but the beauteous ferocity of Miss Fielding had left him smitten. He would have followed her to hell and back, indeed he was about to…..

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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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Hypocritical Cant

Reflections Upon The Milk Of Poor Law Kindness

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T’is a little after one in the afternoon (that is approximately three hours before tea-time) and  precisely seven hours before Mr Ethelbert-Smythe must find himself in attendance at the home of the eminent politician. T’is only three sleeps before Christmas but a’las the poor are ever with us, for they line the alleyway leading up to the Spitalfield’s workhouse as if the mills and the match factories scattered through London had no vacancies!

Some slouch against the grimy walls of the workhouse alley as if those were the only props that might keep them standing. Others appear to have heaped themselves one upon the other, a heap of damp, muddied, half-filled clothes on the equally muddied, cobbled, path. All form a ragged queue straggling down the length of the alleyway,through the narrow entrance way, and into the workhouse stable yard (known to the poor as the casual ward). Some will be lucky enough to spend their first night in the workhouse itself, the rest will sleep here,in their undergarments (the rules of the workhouse do not permit otherwise), amongst bales of hay.

T’is festive enough for the destitute is it not? After all did not Our Lord spend his first night in a cow shed? Safely swaddled and laid a-bed by sweet Mary in a cow’s crib? And attended by no fewer than three eminent sages? Now step forth the guardians of the gate-way, Billy, Gilly and Alfie Croft, known to all as knows them as ‘The Croft Brothers’ and to their betters as the work house porters. At a glance they can tell who can be touched for a sovereign (ere they be let through the gate) and who is likely to be bringing in opium pipes or gin and will thus need throwing out again. “What? You ‘ere is you Milty? Still on the swell I takes it? Well my boy you ‘ad better hook it! And fast! We ain’t feedin none as is destined for Newgate! Hook it proper!” the brothers advancing as one muscular force, their hint is at once taken.

In they advance as one, the wretched armies of the poor, exposed to the brutal unflinching gaze of porterhood. In staggers Queenie McKillen with her baby, little Ellen, clutched to her scrawny chest. Oh she has tried her best to dress herself appropriate for the scrutiny of them that governs who is fit to enter the workhouse; but it is not these pitiful efforts which gain her entrance. Gilly Porter takes in her fragile, heart shaped face and the worn once-costly garments she wears. ‘Whore’ thinks he and visibly bridles with righteous indignation; but then his hard unflinching gaze takes in the child carried close to her bosom. The child whose pitiful pain-wracked whimpers send chills down his spine, though the heart rending cries are as nothing next to the faint reek of vomit emanating from the shawl she is wrapped in.

Gilly Croft stops her as she reaches the entrance and is about to slide through the iron gates. “Where is thy ‘usband gel?” he enquires but she does not hear him, raising a pale trembling hand to her brow Queenie pitches forward, the child falling out of her hands and into those of Gilly Croft who looking with dismay upon the child, cries out for the infirmary nurse to be sent for right quick. The nurse, or rather such as may be named one, arrives in due course. A gin bottle hidden none too discretely in her pocket, she weaves her way through the stable yard until at length she reaches Queenie, now dragged to one side and propped against the iron -gate “Cholera is it?” she enquires loudly squatting down in the mud to examine the face and hands of the half-conscious mother, “Cholera no doubt” mutters Gilly gently clasping the babe in his hands “She’ll be dead by the morn, t’is Bobbish Todger’s woman”

The nurse rises abruptly she does not look at him, but he can see that despite the gin, a rosy red flush grows on her cheek that is indicative of anger. Bobbish Todger as laid his hand to any work he could for the sake of wife and child and now lies dead; hanged by the neck at Newgate.”She’s gawn! Bury er, an gie the babe to me” gently Gilly hands the child over to the nurse who clasping the swaddled babe to her, staggers back toward the infirmary. There is room for four more in the workhouse, besides the child who need never suffer the scrutiny of the workhouse committee.

Alfie Croft looks over the worn and weary souls that have passed through and now lie slumped in the yard. A handsome man of average height, rippling with muscle, soberly dressed, is never likely to know the suffering and hardship that has assailed and assaulted the destitute souls sitting on the ground before him or so one would think. “Felicia Tarpin! George Wedum! Luke Crudd! Amelia Fard! Get ye in through that door right quick! You’re to stand before the committee this eve!”

“And who is he as ‘eds the committee?” one brave soul loudly asks, “Ethelbert-Smythe!” Alfie replies glancing at the expressionless faces of his brothers, “The Right Honourable Ethelbert-Ruddy-Smythe?!” Alfie nods his head. There is much dark muttering all around at this, for was it not he who shut down the Spitalsfield Orphanage, on the grounds that the toddlers nurtured and nourished therein was fit for work? And was it not he ‘as shut down the Infantrymens’ Rest-Home for the Disabled and then forced men as had next to no health onto the streets a-begging? “Tell us true Gilly! Tell us true!” everyone cries in panic,”Is there any as makes it  through that door into the workhouse?” Gilly glances at Alfie who in turn looks across to Billy, “Some do” they declare in unison, “Now!” bellows out Alfie Croft. “The rest of you kit orff! And into the stables you goes!” this time another brave soul cries out, “I say! Is the straw heated?”

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 God rest ye merry gentlemen

Christmas Eve is a mere three sleeps away and Thomas Holton’s meat cleaver has never been busier. For last year goose was all the rage but this year it is turkey, and Holton’s farm breeds these in prodigious quantities. Polished and sharpened to within an inch of it’s life, the sliver thin edge of Holton farm’s meat cleaver sparkles joyously, and in readiness, for that ceremonious occasion which is yet to come. “Mrs ‘Olton! I says Mrs ‘Olton! Is you ready ma’am?” Mr Holton cries out for today is a big occasion, the offering up of the Holton Farm prize turkey, to be slaughtered and bled out; plucked fastidiously and proffered at great expense to the royal kitchens and no lesser. Mrs Holton shuffles forward, clad in her Sunday best (a silken black worsted gown), with a leather apron fastened tightly around her waist, “Mr ‘Olton I says Mr ‘Olton sir! There’s no need to take on so! The turkey shall in due course be plucked, and singed, and scrubbed, and then sent on it’s way to ‘er Majesty’s kitchens! Only don’t take on so sir! T’will make you ill! T’will never do sir!”

“T’will never do? T’will never do? Why t’is the Queen, ma’am, we serve! And if we serves er well and serves it up well we may be rich ma’am! Acknowidged as a farm of ‘igh repute and with the monies we makes we may does as we wish!” cleaver in hand Mr Holton marches briskly out of his parlour through the kitchen and into the backyard, immense wealth is to be his! He espies it hung around the neck of Holton Farm’s prize turkey!T’is but a short walk to the barn but oh! Horror of horrors! Upon entering that dark and foul smelling place Mr Holton and Mrs Holton observe a most disturbing thing! The turkey has fled! For in the farthest corner of that damp slaughter quarter lies an empty nest. Mr and Mrs Holton marshall the servants; the servants search both far and wide, but the much prized bird is in no place they can find. Oh tragedy! Oh ignominy! But, dear reader, let us become airborne with the turkey, as in prophetic anticipation of its imminent demise it takes flight and wings it’s way over field, and dale, and hill, till it comes to rest, at last, on the roof top of a certain house, overlooking a little scene, being played out on the corner of Ponsonby Street in the heart of London.

“Bonjour Monsieur, l’argent ‘sil vous plait!” a begrimed old lady holds out a shaking hand, Hardy Ethelbert-Smythe glancing down at the hand, grasps it gently in his gloved one and examines it in minute detail. Although decidely filthy, it is a soft hand, unused to hard work, in fact unused to work of any kind, Mr Ethelbert-Smythe sighs, “Parlez Anglais?” she nods, “My Anglaise” she whispers clasping her flimsy, ragged, shawl to her painfully thin chest, “It iz not very good” Mr Smythe nods, he smiles brightly. A French speaking gentlewoman fallen into disrepute no doubt, he knows exactly the palliative that would cure her of her ills. “Connais vous le workhouse? Vous tournez a gauche et allez tout droit, eh voila! Le workhouse!” stooping forward and tipping his hat towards the horrified woman he wishs her a hearty “Good day!” he places his hat back on his head and strides off.

“Madre de Dieu! As ‘e no shame?” whispers the shocked petitioner for alms (who incidentally hadn’t eaten a thing in two weeks), “A curse on ‘im!” mutters the elderly gent across the road from her who has had the great misfortune of being privy to this cheerfully conducted verbal exchange, “Such as ‘im wouldn’t give you the scrapings orffa ‘is quill pen! The work ‘ouse?! I’m waitin on the day of judgement as it says in them revelatiunns orff of King James! For then such as ‘e will be toasted broww’ner than an overdone turkey twizzler!!”

Unaware of the ire he has provoked Mr Ethelbert-Smythe continues merrily on his way to the Spitalfield’s Workhouse, wherein lies the greater part of his business for the day for he is senior guardian there. First, however, he must stop at the the pie shop on Petticoat Lane, there he orders a a game pie such as Messrs Hobson & Flynd are held in renown for, to be delivered to his house in Sloane Square, freshly baked on Christmas Eve. Then to the butchers, Tarquin and Pettership, to order the Christmas goose and finally to Master Redwood’s toyshop whereat he purchases a cherrywood rocking horse for his son, Thomas Ethelbert-Smythe and a Georgian doll’s house for Edwina Ethelbert-Smythe (his daughter).

Hypocritical Cant

It’s Not What’s Under The Tree That Matters

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