#8 stand –alone story
The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler
An Illustrated journal of amusement, adventure and instruction
‘A Rotten Borough’
The first time I laid eyes on Lord Linsey Woolsey he was scrambling from the first floor window of Mother Claps Molly House. Dressed in a fetching turquoise tea gown and boa, he slithered and slid to the wet cobbles and, avoiding the young blue bottle on lookout, as whistles peeped and voices squealed, heels clacked and wigs flew, he made for the carriage door held open invitingly.
Doppler and I had been on our way to the Crystal Palace for a concert, when our Hansom cab had been held up. An accident involving a horse and an electrical tramcar or something. Watching the Black Maria arrive and coppers spill out had occupied some time, but when I espied the figure I thought Handel could wait. Throwing him a blanket and deftly circumventing the questions of another officer our carriage finally moved on.
“I say, awfully decent of you to help a chap out.” Gushed the damp face with make-up smeared about.
We trotted through the rain soaked London night until eventually arriving at a four story townhouse in Kensington. Twenty minutes later, we were ensconced in an elegant, yet cosy study with brandy snifter in hand, Doppler had Crème de Menthe, a small fire popping and crackling joyously when the door swung open and in stepped Woolsey, suitably attired in smoking jacket of velvet and brocade. He flopped into a nearby Howard armchair that had seen better days. I suppose some would call him handsome, in an unconventional way, his chin was slightly lengthy and his hair fell straight from crown to collar without a ripple. Holding a foreign smelling cigarette betwixt two fingers, he gently rolled brandy in a bowl in his other hand, a lily adorned his buttonhole (rather excessive, but, it looked right on him).
“…and so, if we’d had a Particular, all would have been a lot simpler.” He was saying, “But then along came you two delightful fillies and here we are. I am indebted to you ladies.”
Doppler and I spent a few days mooching around the art galleries, salons, music halls and coffee shops of London Town. Paid a visit to Rosie Lee, who was running our London branch of Lockhart’s Ladies (a little something I had set up to train suitable women in the arts of self-defence, Bartitsu and fencing, the Northern branch was doing very well thank ye). In Holland Park we strolled along in our newly acquired finery, ladies and gents trotted by on gleaming chestnut mounts, carriages moved leisurely along allowing the passengers to view and be viewed, when a sudden cry of alarm went up. We turned and turned about, as did our fellow perambulators to discern where the sound had come from. Then people were running in our direction, trees shook, women and men alike screamed.
Doppler and I began making our way against the flow, never could resist a bit of disorder. A carriage came flying past, its occupants straining to look behind, the driver lashed his beast as if the Devil were after him – and then we saw it, and it was horribly familiar– crashing between the birch saplings was what looked like a giant deep sea diver, eight feet tall, its left arm levelled going tak-a-tak-a-tak-a-tak without apparent aim.
We dropped to the ground as a policeman close by shouted for people to remain calm, he put his whistle in his mouth and waved his arms at the clunking figure as if directing traffic. A man ran into him as he dashed forwards looking over his shoulder, the copper fell hard on his back, the whistle disappearing into his mouth. He made a wheezy trill as he gasped for air, clawing at his collar and thrashing like an upturned turtle. We watched as his face changed from pink to purple and when the mechanised man continued unawares, Doppler, unexpectedly began a low crawl to the desperate man, despite my protestations. I followed. Between us we managed to get him sat upright, Doppler behind him, put her arms about his stomach she pulled tightly and sharply. Nothing happened, except the constables eyes bulged scarlet looking like they were about to burst. She tried again, nothing.
“Get him upright!” I commanded
We heaved him to his feet, the chirruping, whistling becoming fainter. Doppler held onto his belt and collar, staggering slightly. And I punched him in the stomach as hard as I could. A slimy, silver cylinder shot out of his mouth and he fell to his knees gasping. I turned to watch the giant man crunch through flower beds and ponds. A couple of elderly military types had set about it, their decorative blades making little if any impression;
“Have at you monster!” bellowed one.
“That’s it Sir! Let us quell the beast together!” called the second through bristling tache.
“I shall quell the beast Sir! You Sir are nothing more than a pop-wallah!”
“Ha!” ejaculated the moustache, “I Sir have engaged more than ye’self, Sir!” And with that they began swinging their steel towards one another.
The metal man was now making the sound of a bicycle wheel when a child puts ‘clackers’ on the spokes. As the left arm lowered, empty, the right raised and a flame shot forwards, over the heads of the pugnacious ancients. I whipped my skirts off and began running towards the clumping great ‘monster’. As it strode forwards I used its own leg as a launching point and propelled myself up the back of the cool casing. The last time I had seen one of these things was at the home of one Honourable William Ridley (deceased), he had an army of them in a storage shed on his property up in the Borders. I knew vaguely how the thing operated and attempted to open the access door on the front. As I clung on to tubes and cables around the shoulder joints with one hand and reached for the release mechanism with the other, I became aware of Doppler arguing with the old soldiers;
“Damned Frenchie I’ll wager!”
“Spanish invasion Sir!”
“No, no, she’s trying to stop it!”
They continued to argue about where my allegiance lay whilst I grappled with locks and pistons, leads and connexions. The front of the huge diver was loosed and swinging open and shut in rhythm to its steps. I tried pulling the man inside out by his clothing but he was strapped in firmly and strangely oblivious to my presence. I decided gravity was going to be my friend.
“Double time! Move it!”
A small military contingent was quick marching across the begonias. I began pulling and leaning alternately.
“Section. Halt!” screamed the Sergeant, “Left turn!”
A row of four red uniforms was directly in front about five hundred yards away. I swung frantically, the giant diver rocked, left foot, right foot.
“There’s someone on it sarge.”
“Get back in line you ‘orrible little man!”
A gush of flame spurted out of the mechanical fist, singeing ornate shrubs in the process as the figure tipped.
“Take aim!” came the screaming command.
I leapt off the thing as it began its slow topple sideways.
There was a mixed congregation around the felled giant. Members of the public, military and police. I was getting some odd looks, standing there in my jacket and bloomers.
“I say, that lady has her … unmentionables on show!”
“Cover yourself madam!”
When I began to explain that I had removed the unwieldy skirt for the purposes of saving their sorry arses, there were gasps of horror and outrage at my colourful speech.
“You people are unbelievable” I began, “A rampaging oddity is brought down and all you can think about is my attire and language, well next time...”
“What do you mean, “next time” Ma’am?”
My upper arm was held. I looked down at the dark blue serge.
“I think you’d better come with me.” Said the copper.
“A damned French spy I’ll wager sir!” called one of the old soldiers.
“Why don’t you…” I began, turning to look menacingly at the old boy.
“That’ll do ma’am. Now…”
A thundering of hooves caused the copper to halt and turn. The smart set scattered as a wildly driven, open-top caleche charged towards us, Doppler sat up front, reins in hand. She heaved back causing horse and carriage to turn violently, throwing up clods of grass, tearing through the green and pleasant lawns of Holland Park. I yanked myself free and leapt for it. On the rear seat sat an elderly lady.
“Oh my word. Oh my word.”
She exclaimed over and over, tossed about the seat as Doppler sped us through the park onto Holland Park Avenue, up the Bayswater Road and into the Mayfair district where she slowed down and finally came to a stop. I had my skirts back on by now and we hopped out, abandoning the lady in her driverless carriage. We began sauntering along as if we had been doing nought more than taking the air. In due course, we found ourselves taking cover in a chocolate box theatre listening to a lecture on Astronomy and its place in the New Mechanised World. The narrative was influenced strongly by natural theology with moralistic overtones and religious sentiments. I found my mind drifting to the anomalous appearance of the giant mechanised soldier, which is how I now thought of the diving suit person. Later, we had dinner at a mediocre establishment then headed back to our rooms.
I came fully awake and alert in the wee hours, sitting bolt upright. Something the astronomy lecturer had said about certain planets coming into alignment, phrases like military funding, private philanthropy and moral instruction of man crept to the fore of my mind. And I remembered the look on the face of the man in the machine – asleep with his eyes open.
The following day I returned to the theatre to enquire about the lecturer. It seems he had moved on. To where, they did not know. Outside, hastily pasted to the wall, I saw a notice proclaiming; ‘No Landlordism No Monopoly’.
“Have you seen the papers?” queried Doppler over lunch.
“Look here.” She pointed.
In amongst the ads for male corsets, violet rays and electric belts for weak men and weak women was one that was at odds, not an advert as such; ‘ Ladies. Do you know where your housemaid is tonight?’
“Odd, I’ll admit. But meaningless really. How can anyone know where their staff go unless they’re in bed or working?”
Doppler pointed at the back page of another paper a middling chap was reading.
“But check that out.”
I tried to look without appearing to and saw a similar sized box amongst the cricketing results with the comment; ‘Gentlemen. Do you know what your butler does on the weekend?”
“They’re the same, except aimed at different gender and their staff. They aren’t ads. When did you last see a comment like that in the rags? I mean, yes, who cares what staff get up to, I know I don’t care what Mrs McClivity does in her spare time, but, if someone was of a suspicious nature, they might suspect it was a strategy to cause them to question what their staff, their subordinates were up to.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to Doppler’s interpretation of the public notices. She was a member of the Blue Stocking Society but rarely went to meetings. She abhorred inequality, yet we had a housekeeper.
“La piece de resistance.” She flourished the front page.
Park PandemoniumAutomaton Attacks on Sunny Afternoon
The piece went on to tell how a giant mechanoid went on the rampage in Holland Park severely injuring several ladies and gents, luckily no-one was killed. Two veterans of Assaye, one police constable and five of her Majesty’s Royal Military Dragoons finally brought the mechanical man to a halt, although some individuals contest that it was a semi-clad female who brought it tumbling down. Authorities would like to interview the female in question who was spirited away in a speeding carriage.
“Bloody Hell!” exclaimed I as I folded the paper onto the nearby seat.
“I know” replied Doppler, “Do you think we should keep low for a while?”
“Hide!?” I shot “No, it’s those bloody uniforms that have taken the credit. I took the thing down. Me! I stopped its rampage and what do I get, a big fat accusation of being a French spy! I should have let it kill them all!”
Doppler was quiet, she peeped at me over the top of her teacup.
“You didn’t read the rest.”
I reclaimed the rag, eyes searching the bottom of the text. A hand written note had been found on the body of the man operating the mechanism, it stated; the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society. It seemed to chime with the newspaper notices about master and servant. As I was outraged at the slight to my heroics, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the plight of either the bourgeoisie or the workers – what would I gain from it? Not my problem I reckoned.
But over the next couple of days there appeared more instances of discontent; mutterings in bars, Parliament debated back and forth and flyposting in the West End; a sequinned dancing troupe rose up against their manager and high kicked him into hospital.
Then I met Lord Linsey Woolsey again. I was attending a performance at the Dreary Lane theatre alone, Doppler having decided she had no interest in seeing Mr Elton in tights affecting some Scottish laird disguised as a Nubian. I bumped into Woolsey during the interval and we decided to forego the second part and have drinks in the adjoining restaurant.
“Father’s being a bore again. Wants me to follow him into politics, get a little ninny of a wife and produce a brood.”
“And that’s not the life for you?” I stated more than asked.
“Absolutely not. Thinks I’m going through a phase or…I say! Look at the haunch on that!”
I looked across the room to see what he was observing. A very attractive, tall young man had strolled in with a gaggle of girls and chaps. He was overflowing with the self confidence that only comes with a huge amounts of dosh. He was broad of chest and long of limb, he wore the latest fashion and hair brushed forwards a la Napoleon. The females looked adoringly up at him. He did make heads turn, he was a magnet for the human eye.
“Splendid.” I remarked, eyeing his haunch as he moved about the table seating the females.
“You little tart!” smirked Woolsey,
“Takes one to know one.” I shot back.
“Not for you though dearie.” He was almost licking his chops.
“Why you cheeky young pup!”
I was affronted that he thought I would be, ahem, too mature, for the colt.
“Are you insinuating something about my age?!”
“Gosh, no!” said Woolsey, tearing his eyes away from the man’s buttocks to stare at me.
“Absolutely not! What I mean is, he’s not you’re type if you catch my meaning!”
I looked back at the fetching figure, his ease with both females and males, the way he shook out his serviette, how his index finger found the stray curl at his temple and repositioned it and the swift, fleeting glances he shot at the waiter and other males in his eye line.
“Give me a few minutes with that and I’d have him playing blanket hornpipe in no time.” Whispered Woolsey.
We eventually exhausted the possibilities with the young dandy and moved on to other topics. There was little love lost between Woolsey and his father Lord Richard Russell Woolsey, who had a place in the House of Lords. Lord Richard was chums with Lord Stanhope Orange who had a vitriolic hatred of the underclass, calling them ‘feckless’ and ‘unsanitary’, the ‘residuum of society’. Nice chap.
“Got a bee in his bonnet about finances draining away to support criminals. Chaps a flim-flam merchant, nothing but lies and deceit, mind you, Pa’s not much better. But he’s got a dashed handsome wife. No, not Pa, Orange, his missus is quite the eyeful, especially when she’s wearing her glass.”
My ears pricked up.
“Glass?” queries I like an innocent.
“Aye, y’know, glass, baubles, diamonds.”
“So they’re wealthy then?”
“Gods yes, rich as Croesus. And likes us all to know. Mind you, last time I attended one of their functions, she nearly blinded me with her display. Disgusting if you ask me, like a whore with her apple dumplings on show. Old Orange used to go up North regular like and bring back little trinkets for his rib.”
“Do you have to go to those things often?” asks I.
“Only when Orange has some new paper he’s trying to foist on everyone, or Mrs O gets a new sparkler. He and pa are always trying to set me up with some simpering maid with nothing between her ears and nothing of interest between her legs. Now if that fine young fellow over there were to simper at me…”
I had an idea brewing. But it would mean taking Linsey some way into my confidence.
“Listen Woolsey. I was wondering if I could get a look at those, baubles.”
“Hmm? Baubles? Oh, Lady Oranges’, what for? I mean,” and here he looked me up and down,
“You don’t strike me as the sort who goes in for diamonds and such like. You ain’t wearing much jewellery now and it’s evening, but I could find out when she’s next displaying her wares, sure to be some event she’s attending if you’re that desperate.”
“I was hoping for an invite to her home.” I pressed.
Woolsey shifted in his seat, turning to face me, his brow furrowed slightly. He narrowed his eyes and leant forwards and in hushed tones asked conspiratorially;
“What are you up to Ms Lockhart?”
We stared at each other for seconds. Lord Linsey Woolsey let his eyes work their way from the top of my head to my polished boot toe unabashed and undisguised.
“Fascinator with hat pin?! Jacket and skirt; not the latest style, although very fine quality. Recently acquired I’d say. Practical, no hoops, stays or bustle. Boots fine, but not evening wear, unless your evening involves much walking. De Sade belt with accessory loops. Not a clutch purse, too large. Double welt pocket on side of skirt, very unusual. Madam, I’d say you’re either a Sapphic rambler, or…”
He threw up his hands,
“You ain’t dressed right, is all I know.”
“That was quite amazing, how you could see what was absent or additional.”
“I know fashion darling.”
He indicated his own sartorial elegance.
“Well, you know how you have a hobby?” he looked momentarily puzzled, then,
“Being Jemima is not a hobby, let me make that perfectly clear.”
“Whatever you call it, I bet your father doesn’t know.”
“Good Lord no! Old P would disinherit. Probably lose his place at Lords.”
“No, cricket my dear, cricket. Crikey. Never be forgiven. Time in jail, all that. I can’t go to prison, imagine what they’d do to me, with my looks! No, old P simply hates Mandrakes.”
Woolsey was suitably alarmed by the prospect of being cut off from his inheritance, more so than doing time behind bars that I decided it was a good time to put forward my proposition.
“You want to lift a Lady Orange necklace? How marvellous!”
Well that was easy.
So the plan was; wait for another function or encourage another function at the house of Lord and Lady Orange. Doppler and I would accompany Linsey with Doppler posing as prospective wife for Linsey and me, her mother. His father would be delighted, Lord and Lady Orange would approve and lots of celebrating would be done, whilst I infiltrated the Lady’s’ boudoir and collection. Later the engagement would be called off with his fiancé accusing him of philandering with another women – thus, ensuring he had a ‘manly’ reputation and I got the jewels! Woolsey was quite delighted with this arrangement;
“Absolutely tip-top, my dear. Give me a little time to plant the suggestion into fathers mind regarding an evening at the Orange mansion, oh yes, they have a mansion for certain parties, on the border of Belgravia don’t ya know. Lady O reckons she can see the Palace from her bedroom window. Any hoo, he has a paper he has been working on for some time and I’ll convince him to present it to Orange before it goes to Parliament.”
We parted ways after Woolsey insisted on getting roaring drunk, leaving the waiter a card with an address on it I couldn’t see (probably another Molly House) and then striding to the table with the party of the handsome young man and declaring his undying love for him. Then he turned smartly on his heel, chin high, cane over his shoulder, leaving them gaping after him.
I made arrangements. Between us, Doppler and I scouted out the area surrounding Ranelagh House, residence of Lord and Lady Orange. Estimating journey times from the mansion to the Chelsea Bridge, and discovered the Chelsea Madhouse in the process. We contacted the Lockhart Ladies and designed for three members to be at strategic points on the day; a ‘flower seller’, a ‘Pankhurst promoter’ and a ‘nanny’.
A day finally arrived. Doppler had been rehearsing her role as Miss Emma Ayre, daughter of Mr and Mrs Nathaniel Ayre. Mrs Ayre suffered from arthritis and walked with a silver and citrine topped cane. Linsey Woolsey picked us up in a hired cab and we three drove off to Ranelagh House. We progressed up the drive between impeccable lawns and box hedges, the twinkle of a river could be seen not too far away. We were dropped at the front door whilst the cab continued on to make way for the numerous vehicles following. There were already a fair number inside when we entered.
“May I take your shawl ma’am?”
An attendant proffered his arm for my item.
“I think I’d like to keep it for now young man, feeling a little chill this evening.”
I squinted through the circular spectacles in a manner guaranteed to add at least a couple of years. He took Dopplers travelling coat and Linsey’s topper, gloves and cane, then ushered us onwards into the ballroom.
A chunky, mature fellow was bearing down on Linsey, paw outstretched. I recognised him from the newspapers, Lord Stanhope Orange was loud, over-bearing and getting on my nerves already. He kept a firm grip on Linsey’s hand, his other placed on his upper arm whilst barraging him with questions of support in the next vote off. He finally glanced at Doppler and myself.
“And who’s this?” He stepped round Linsey to be introduced.
“Lord Orange, may I present Mrs Nathanial Ayre and her daughter Emma.”
“Good evening ladies, welcome to my humble abode,” he bellowed, “I don’t believe we have ever met before?”
He knew we hadn’t, he was attempting to work out why we were here, and most of all, were we of any use to him politically.
“Good evening Lord Orange, I have been an admirer of your views for some time. My husband, God rest his soul, was more interested in merchandise than politics.”
“Nothing wrong with the mercantile ma’am, I’m sorry to hear your husband has passed on, very difficult being a, hum, young widow, I am sure. What was his particular interest Mrs Ayre?”
“Tea sir. And please, call me Janet.”
“Tea eh? What would one do without tea? Keeps the lower orders working and the rest of us rested, eh?”
“Indeed Lord Orange.”
I aimed for politeness, but was unable to keep the chill from my tone.
In an attempt to break away from us, he looked around and saw someone else he just had to greet. He made some remarks to Linsey about standing for a seat then marched across the room to a more wholesome crowd. Lord Richard Russell Woolsey and Lady Woolsey came to greet their son.
“Darling, are you eating properly? You don’t look like you’re eating properly.”
“Stop fussing him woman! You’re always fussing him, that’s what’s wrong with the boy!”
“Evening to you too father.”
Linsey gave his mother a peck on the cheek.
“Mother, Father, I’d like to introduce you to someone.”
And here he turned to take Dopplers hand. She smiled demurely, gave a little curtsy and proffered her lace gloved hand. Lady Woolsey beamed as she took it in both of hers, and looking from Doppler to her son she chirruped;
“Oh Linsey! At last. And such a pretty little thing.”
“’Bout time I should say!” his father huffed, then took Dopplers hand and kissed it.
“Delighted to meet you Miss Ayre. I hope you can put some backbone into my son, had my doubts, but, well, all behind us.”
“Hmm.” Said Linsey, “All behind us, as you say.”
His father flashed him a look, harrumphed and asked Miss Ayre about her family, at which point I stepped forwards and gave him the spiel of successful tea merchant, sudden death, moneyed widow and daughter and so forth. When Linsey said he wanted to tell them something important, Lady Woolsey pinked and clapped her hands in anticipation.
“Ma, Pa. I wish to take the hand of Miss Ayre in marriage, yes, I have asked her mother’s permission and she is agreed. She is, as you realise, financially secure and will prove to be a delightful companion, I’m sure you’d agree.”
Lord and Lady Woolsey were very much agreed to their son marrying Miss Emma Ayre and made an informal announcement. The assembled throng raised their glasses and gushed praise. As music began to play and dancing was encouraged, a slim figure made its way toward the couple, dressed in dark jacket and pants with silver-grey waistcoat and cravat. He didn’t so much walk as glide, slid between the guests, his eyes fixed firmly on Linsey.
“Good evening Woolsey,” His smile was not a friendly one.
“Nelson.” Linsey looked uncomfortable, but held his ground.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” he purred.
“Mrs Ayre, Emma, allow me to introduce, Lord Nelson Orange.”
The young Lord paid me barely any heed – just as I liked it – instead, he took Dopplers hand and kissed it whilst maintaining eye contact. She played her part beautifully, fluttering her lashes, a coy little Miss not used to the attention of one, let alone two gentlemen.
“Charmed, I’m sure. May I have this dance?” then as a quiet snide to Linsey, “I thought you danced at the other end of the ballroom.”
And before waiting for her reply, he had whisked her into the middle of the floor. Linsey reached for a glass of champagne and began eyeing the room.
“You twit!” I hissed, “She’s your fiancé remember? You should be bothered. Stop looking at the waiters arse, really Woolsey!”
“Oh. Yes. Ahem.”
He made a suitably cuckolded face. Some of the guests looked at Lord Nelson Orange dancing with Lord Woolsey’s fiancé with shock or embarrassment on his behalf.
I left them to it…
The hallway off the ballroom had small clusters of ladies and gentlemen simpering and massaging each other’s egos. An opening showed a large room with tables laid for a buffet, servants moved swiftly, arranging, placing, pouring and polishing. Two man sized Chinese vases stood either side of the foot of the grand staircase – Chin Qing dynasty I’d say. There was a wide passageway leading alongside the staircase, kitchen at the farthest end I guessed. Halfway along a well-oiled humming revealed itself to be a lift, descending. I hovered about, rummaging in my reticule. The ornate cage door slid open revealing an elderly lady in a wheelchair. She was able, by a small lever on the handle of the chair, to move the conveyance herself. It whirred forwards, puffing short bursts of steam behind her, almost colliding with my shins.
“I do apologise.” She quavered.
Her watery eyes were dim as she peered at me. As I pretended to release my skirts from her wheels, I made a quick, simple adjustment to the wire that I saw leading from the armrest to beneath the seat. Then she pootled on, for a few feet then ground to a halt. She pressed and pulled, then hit the switch becoming agitated. I offered my services to wheel her about, she greeting the guests and I was ignored. The Duchess, Lord Stanhope Orange’s mother was easily tired, especially when persuaded to imbibe three flutes of champagne. Did she want to go to the ballroom to see her son? No! See enough of the swine day to day. Did she want to see her grandson? Definitely not! Little shit! I was warming to her. I wheeled her to a place we could talk and by engaging her in reminiscences of her life before Ranelagh House, gained her confidence. A small snifter of some of Doppler’s concoction made her sleepy yet garrulous. And so I offered to wheel her to her room.
I took the elevator and the drowsy Lady down to the next level. She had revealed to me that there were a number of rooms below the house, including her son’s study where the “stupid man” kept “that silly woman’s precious stones”. Using the chair bound Duchess as my cover, I discovered a second kitchen, full of sweating, red faced staff. Beyond this were the servant’s quarters. The elevator took us to another level lower where we wandered through a large private gallery, a wine cellar and finally, the study. Lady Orange had made weak protestations initially, but seemed to have dozed off. Leaving her in the passage, I knelt before the heavy oak door and began to poke about.
“I say. That’s a private room.” She began.
“Have some more lubricant grandma.”
I said, pushing a hip flask into her fragile hands. As she took greedy gulps I popped the lock and wheeled her in. Turning on the electric light, I made a visual sweep of the room; huge desk (was he compensating for something?), white marble fireplace with an armchair either side, glass fronted cabinets filled with books and papers, black lacquer and ormolu commode, seventeenth century French mantel clock, hideous family scenes by some obscure little scribbler and a Turkistan rug that almost covered the whole floor. The tea-leaf in me could see plenty of potentials here, but I wanted the big money in small, manageable pieces. After searching for some minutes my eye found an inconsistency in the fire mantle, a dirty, smudged section where a finger might leave its mark over time. I depressed the carving and a narrow panel slid open nearby. Hastening in, I discovered the masters’ real study.
The walls were adorned with etchings of nubile ladies in various provocative poses, I peered up close to one, crikey! (I made a mental note of one or two attitudes!) There was a small desk in here its drawers and cupboard on the underside elaborately locked. This was the safe. I assumed that his Lordship would carry the key on his person so set about them with my lock-picks. But eventually I had all his drawers loosed –as it were – I scooped out leather rolls, pouches and jewellery boxes. There were diamond necklaces, rings of sapphire, ruby and emerald. Seed pearls in white gold settings and a tiara of turquoise and silver. Loose pearls, uncut sapphires and more to boot. I eagerly and meticulously pocketed everything, then turned my attention to the small cupboard secreted beneath the desk. Inside were private papers, rifling quickly through I discovered a selection that did more than pique my interest, these too I took.
Then relocking everything I returned to the outer study where the Duchess was gently hiccoughing through an alcohol and drug infused slumber. Together we made our way back out into the corridors of the underground quarters. Staff seeing us assumed that because I was with the old dear then everything was above board. I took her to the upper floor, deposited her in a likely corridor and headed back to the party.
Doppler and Linsey hastened to me immediately.
“Well?” asked Linsey.
“Done, and done.” Replied I, smiling at a passing gent and companion.
We spent a short while socialising, sipping champagne and being introduced to more tediously dull political types. I could see Nelson Orange sliding amongst the guests; smiling, oiling the wheels of politics, smarming his way through the ranks of power. I decided it was time for me to take my leave and asked a footman to bring the carriage round.
I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. A sound behind made me turn. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;
“An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”
“You know, at first I wasn’t sure what it was about you that drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”
Damn! I thought.
“Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”
“Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.
“Nelson! What the deuce!?”
Over his shoulder I could see Linsey approaching, Nelson didn’t move, he kept his eyes firmly glued to me.
“Oh, the prospective son-in-law, this should be interesting. I suppose you’re oblivious to all this Linsey.”
“All what man, dammit stop pointing that weapon at Mrs Ayre.”
“Mrs Ayre, as you call her, is a common thief my lovely young Molly, oh yes, I know what you are Linsey, I make it my business to know about those who mix in our circle, and once a mandrake, always a mandrake, no, don’t bother to deny it, it’s obvious to all except your own mother who so dearly wants for her son to be normal.”
“You rotter, I ought to box your ears!”
And here, Nelson made a strange noise that I realised was him laughing,
“Run along now like a good fellow.”
“How bloody dare you!”
Linsey stepped in front of Nelson, putting himself between the weapon and me. And blocking both mine and Nelsons view of each other. He placed his hands on the ray gun,
“Now let’s all calm down and discuss this like lady and gents. I’m sure there has been some sort of misunderstanding, eh, Mrs Ayre?”
He glanced over his shoulder and made motions with his eyes. I began to move away slowly,
“Stop right there Mrs Ayre!”
Nelson turned to match my direction. Linsey stepped aside, calmly lit a cigarette and relaxed, smiling. I legged it. Nelson pulled the trigger and the gun went – fzzzt. I heard it flung after me with a yell of outrage,
“Linsey! I shall kill you myself one of these days.”
“Oh, I doubt that very much darling” he yawned.
And then the shouting were lost behind me as I ran through the gardens and to the road. At the corner of the Ranelagh estate I gave my first package to the flower girl there, she secreted it beneath the lavender and strolled on. I could hear the distant calls that could only mean Nelson had given chase. I needed to get across Chelsea Bridge where transport awaited me. I strolled along Cardigan Place, trying not to draw attention but losing time, I turned into Lower Drawers Street and sped up hearing calls. A carriage came pelting along with Nelsons head thrust out the window,
I nipped into a narrow roadway that would be too difficult for the transport to navigate, ducked into a doorway and removed my skirts, beneath I had on trousers, and began running. I cut through a bakers knocking floury buns and assistants left and right, then found myself against a high wall. I began scrambling up and over. Dropping down the other side I viewed a huge expanse of green lawn. A stately building stood in the middle distance. Here and there were pale clad figures wandering in pairs or standing gazing at nothing. It was the Chelsea Madhouse.
A clatter of hooves and shouts of “Whoa!” on the other side of the wall started me off again. I ran to the nearest figure. A woman dressed completely in white, with a wan face, golden curls and wide eyes, stared in building fear as I ran.
“Help me!” I cried when near enough, “Help me, they are after me!”
Her eyes darted to what I saw was the main entrance where three or four men were striding purposefully through, shoving the gates and gatekeeper roughly aside. She looked at me with her huge, frightened eyes;
“Would thine husband cause thee to be incarcerated?”
Her voice was hushed and gravelly as if unaccustomed to speech.
“What? Oh, yes! He wishes me to be incarcerated. Please, help me, hide me.”
She dutifully pointed to a boathouse a small distance away. I took off for it. Almost the second I reached it, I heard screaming. I peeked cautiously through the wooden slats of the structure and saw the woman in white, arm outstretched, finger pointing towards the male intruders. She was shrieking as loud as her poor lungs would allow. Like a tipped domino, other patients began wailing, howling, and some pointing as warders rushed from all parts of the gardens and building to see what had so upset their patients.
Nelson was apprehended by a burly man in white uniform. After a very brief and angry exchange, the burly man grasped Nelson and flung him to the floor. Nelson shrieked in fury. Soon there was a pitched battle with staff and inmates shouting or fighting with Nelson and his companions. I charged out of the boathouse in the opposite direction.
Before Chelsea Bridge, I gave my second package to the nanny wheeling her perambulator on her way home from a brisk walk with her charge. I crossed the river and found the follower of Emmeline Pankhurst with a small crowd of women listening to the right to vote speech she had prepared. Offering her my support and cash, I deposited the third package with her then headed off to the waiting carriage. I directed the driver to my lodgings. Finally home I heaved a sigh of relief. Then studied the remaining package. The letters and papers.
It seems that Lord Orange had connections with William Ridley (see #4 Howay the Lads) up in the Border country and had been a major backer for Ridleys mechanical army. He had also been the instigator of the posters, leaflets and newspaper ads that related to working class discontent. The mechanical soldier in the park had been ‘contained’ by Orange’s men, they were studying it with the intention of making more for public protection – of course he owned it, but its origins would be placed elsewhere. Orange was planting a false seed in the minds of the public, primarily the middle and upper class public and his fellow politicians; that the underclass was rising up against them, that there would be extreme violence and that it should be quashed as swiftly and firmly as possible. He was proposing a mechanical army to keep the disorderly in order. He was proposing an immediate closure of the ‘dens’ and ‘dives’ that were habitually used by them. He was proposing ‘fumigation’ of the Rookeries. He was proposing the ‘discontinuation of persons who were of least use to society, ergo; the lunatics, the indigent, the deficient and disenfranchised.’
He wanted class genocide.
Doppler did not return home that night. The following day I contacted Linsey and discovered she was still at Ranelagh House – Nelson was holding her hostage. Linsey arranged to meet Nelson at the Royal Albert Hall to discuss her release.
The Hall was closed to the public this night. Special dispensation given to the son of Lord Orange, Member of Parliament, generous donator and of course, member of the Board of Directors. I snuck in early by the back door and installed myself in one of the seats. Half an hour later I heard movement and cursing, Doppler as she was led up the aisle by a thug following Nelson Orange.
“Will you stop squeezing my arm!” she snapped. At least she was still alright.
Nelson strode to the front of the stage then lithely hopped up and spreading his arms, cane in one hand, surveyed his world. He indicated for his henchman to bring Doppler up too.
““All the world's a stage”, Miss Ayre. “And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances,” we shall have to see who exits tonight shall we not?”
A door closed.
“Ah, Lord Linsey Woolsey, our Titania.”
Here he gave a dramatic, flourishing bow, a curl of jet black hair falling onto his forehead. He caught Woolsey’s eye before straightening.
“Then you shall be cast as Iago, my lovely lout.” Woolsey cast back. “Let Miss Ayre go and we can speak like civilised persons.”
“I rather fancy that I shall keep her, unless that is, the jewels are returned.”
And he faced the auditorium,
“Can you hear that Mrs Ayre? I know you’re here somewhere, don’t believe me fool enough to think you would not attend your daughter’s fate – if she even is your daughter.”
I did not respond. I was sunk deep into the velvet shadows of the loggia box closest to the action, stage right.
“Bogan, the persuader if you please.”
The thug produced a simple service revolver and placed the muzzle against the side of Dopplers head. She scowled sideways at him. Ah, thought I, how precious. He hasn’t got a clue.
“Take that gun away from my fiancé!” cried Linsey.
Nelson made his strange laugh.
“My, my, you are a diamond Linsey, in fact, you’re a Queen of Diamonds.” Then with deadly seriousness, “Don’t play me for a fool.”
I lay my arm across the velvet balcony before me, the small crossbow rested on top. Gently I inserted a short bolt.
Linsey began to move towards the stage,
“Stay exactly where you are Linsey, as you see, Bogans weapon is a simple one, though not to be trifled with, once bitten and all that.”
“I wouldn’t think of touching Bogan’s weapon darling,” quipped Linsey, “not my type y’see.”
I lowered my eye to the sight, adjusting my chin.
“No, I prefer something more, stylish, more tasteful shall we say.” Continued Linsey.
I could clearly see the three figures on the stage. I placed my finger on the smooth curve of the trigger.
Nelson had a sneer of disgust on his face. Linsey lit a cigar and leant nonchalantly on his cane, he drew in deeply and blew his smoke up at Nelson. I pulled the trigger. I watched as if all had slowed down to less than half speed; Linsey, chin up, lips pursed as if blowing a kiss up to Nelson who scowled down at him, Bogan in his flat cap watching the exchange with boredom and Doppler, frowning, lips tight looking outwards towards the darkness of the theatre seating.
The bolt hit home. Ploughing through skin and bone and brain, leaving a mere inch protruding from the oblivious forehead. The figure fell and time rushed back. I stood up folding and pocketing the crossbow. Nelson turned as a flat cap rolled past him and off the edge of the stage.
“About bloody time.” Cursed Doppler, bending to retrieve the pistol.
Linsey climbed up onto the stage only to come face to face with the steel that Nelson had swiftly drawn from his cane. He held the sword before him and the stick part behind and slightly out. He looked like he had martial training.
“Drop it!” commanded Doppler
“We have papers you might be interested in.” Linsey said at the same time.
“Listen to him Nelson,” I called, making my way down to the stalls then the stage. He flickered his eyes about, trying to contain us all.
“Give us the girl and the jewels and you can go free.” I said moving closer.
A look of incredulity on his face, Nelson scoffed,
“Go free?! I am free madam and you will return my mother’s jewels or I shall run this sad excuse for a man through,” looking pointedly at Linsey, who merely raised an eyebrow. “And you dare not shoot me, imagine how it would look in the morning papers; prominent Lords son shot by floozy parading as a Mandrakes fiancé, whilst her apparent mother shoots and kills his footman. Madam, you are already for the hangman’s noose. How can you set me free?”
And so I told him; all about his fathers’ attempts to create a specious atmosphere of trepidation against the underclass. I showed him the papers I had found. I told him I was no blackmailer and had no interest in becoming one, I also denied having taken the family jewels. However, Linsey said he had no such qualms as regards blackmail. He would retain the papers in safekeeping and keep quiet, so long as Nelson walked from here right now. Nelson was shaking, I could see his whole body trembling, though not with fear as I initially supposed, he was filled with rage. He stepped towards Linsey thrusting at him with his sword. Linsey to my surprise neatly blocked the steel with his cane then parried the stick as it whipped round towards his head with speed, he side-stepped a second attack of the stick but then halted mid stride, mouth open,
Who had cried out? I ran towards the two men. Nelsons thin steel was through Linsey’s side and out the back. Doppler cocked the revolver and as she pulled the trigger I lunged on top of Nelson, knocking him to the floor, pulling Linsey with us. She fired, the shot missing.
“Lockhart?” Doppler shouted.
“We can’t kill him!”
“We can’t.” I looked into his smirking face, “We just can’t.”
I pulled the loosed sword from Linsey and made to check him. I indicated for Doppler to help him. Nelson began righting himself, I spun swiftly and punched him in the face,
“That’s for Linsey!”
Nelson sat back down, I punched him again,
“That’s for your Grandmother!”
Nelson looked startled and confused, I punched him again,
“That’s for the poor bastard in Holland Park.”
Nelson didn’t understand, I punched him again,
“And that’s for you, you little shit!”
I grabbed him by both lapels,
“Your father was planning to wipe out half the population of London, he paid thousands, if not millions to some guy to build that machine that was in Holland Park and many more besides. Your father is a warmonger, a liar and a viperous traitor to all that makes this country great, worst of all, he is a Tory! You and your family will be ruined sir, if we reveal what is written in these letters, you shall lose your home, your status, your wealth –everything! You, shall, have, nothing! And when the people of the streets find out who you are, they will tear you limb from limb until Nelson Orange is no more than a stain on the pavement!”
I threw him away from me, panting heavily. His face had taken on a sickly pallor as I ranted, now the slackness began to disappear as he regained his composure. Slowly, he stood. He picked up his swordstick and cane, replacing one inside the other. He brushed himself down, ran his hands through his hair and collected himself.
“Fine. I shall not speak of this. I know not what happened to the jewels.”
I nodded. Doppler looked up from where she knelt besides Linsey, hand pressed over an improvised dressing. Nelson dropped down off the stage and walked up the aisle into the shadows, but before he reached the end he turned and speaking through a fat lip warned,
“I shall forgo the theft, I shall be silent about the fake engagement, I will forget what my father has done, but I will never forgive this violation of my person, and I will never, never, Ms Lockhart, forget your name.”