June 21, 1868; 7:30 am
The plaza commonly called “Executioner’s Square” outside Newgate Prison teemed with life, noise and the stench of the unwashed masses. Lord Henry Verney, 18th Baron Willoughby de Broke sneered down at a few ruddy youths as they dashed past his carriage, whooping boisterously. The unmitigated jubilation with which they viewed the upcoming hanging turned his stomach. Such base delight in the loss of human life only proved that which Lord Verney had always thought; the lower classes were but dogs. No, indeed, they were worse than dogs, for a dog will very naturally love and obey Man, his natural master. The poor were always miserably discontent with their lot in life, and seemed to blame their betters for it. Lord Verney could feel nothing but disgust for them as he slipped on a pair of kid gloves, carefully insuring that no part of his skin would come into contact with anyone unworthy. Without further preamble, Lord Verney stepped out onto the dirt ridden cobblestones and made his way to stand a few meters in front of the gallows.
His cool gaze never wavered from the condemned, one Michael Barrett, even as the crowd around him gawked in surprise to see such a lordly man among the riffraff of the streets. At first, his presence cause a visible change in the crowd. People pulled away, leaving Lord Verney to stand in a rough circle of uncertainty. They whispered and pointed, wondering what his presence might mean. When a woman of a certain reputation, ‘Madam’ Eunice Fergusson, sashayed right through that open space and placed a hand on his arm as though they were the oldest of friends, the crowd seemed to let out a collective breath. Clearly, his lordship was slumming today, and would be of no real bother to the good people of London. Lord Verney barely concealed his sneer of contempt before the two were swallowed by the surge of human bodies jockeying for position closest to the front.
Meanwhile across the plaza, a once grand coach-and-four driven by a surprisingly seedy man in a scruffy black bowler and worm-eaten greatcoat slowed to a stop. The position of footman was taken up by a large, muscular man with a tall frame and slightly stooped shoulders dressed in a stiff white uniform. The livery on the coach suggested a baronet, but had been heavily modified. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that the London house of a former noble family had been given over to what was now known as the Feversham Estate Hospital.
With practiced and sincere affability, the driver swooped out of his place and pulled open the coach door. He doffed his hat and made a small bow as a dapper,elegantly dressed man stepped out of the coach. This gentleman made a cursory glance around the square before turned to assist a woman with a handsome face and modest, business-like dress out of the coach. She too gave a swift, mildly curious look around the square, before moving out of the way to allow their third companion, a quiet, thin woman in a well-to-do nurse’s uniform, step down onto the cobbled street.
The five of them, standing there together, made for a strange little picture: a gentleman of some apparent standing, a lady of obvious good breeding with an air of detached superiority, a second woman of equal breeding to the first and a sharp-eyed gaze, a street tough that looked mildly out of place in his crisp white linen, and an underworld conniver with a crooked smile and child-like excitement; each one at ease with the other as if there were absolutely nothing unusual about their acquaintance.
‘James,’ the gentleman said to the driver, ‘be a good man and hitch the horses. I believe we intend to stay for a while.’
‘Yes, your Grace, sir. Right away!’ James’s bow was all exuberance and pleasure. With surprisingly nimble feet, he waltzed a few steps to the driver’s seat and lightly deposited his bulky frame upon it. With a click of his tongue and a snap of the reins, the horses moved off at a brisk trot to the nearest hitching post. Once there, James gave a wink and a nod to a small urchin lurking in the shadows. The boy child nodded with all the sagacity that the streets can teach an enterprising young soul, caught the small coin flipping through the air from James’s fingers, and crawled up into the drivers seat to watch the proceedings, as well as the coach.
A brisk walk, skip and a twirl later, James found himself back with the group as they surveyed the momentous historical event unfolding upon the gallows before them. As a herald for the court stood forward and began to read a list of the accused’s crimes, Mr. Doyle, better known as Bargain to his intimate acquaintances, leaned over and whispered to James.
‘See there, James, just through that break in the crowd?’ Bargain made a subtle gesture with his cane, indicating the back of Lord Verney.
‘Oy! Strange, tha’, idnit?’ James cocked his head to one side as his grubby fingers found their way under the back of his bowler to scratch his scalp in contemplation. ’Wha’s more intriguin’, if ya see wha’ I sees, is tha’ there strumpet on ‘is arm. Seems more than strange, don’ it?’ Bargain and James exchanged a look, and then turned to the remaining members of their group. Somewhat surprised to find Doctor Voras and Nurse Jameson rather deeply engrossed in a conversation on the health implications of execution by hanging as opposed to the use of the new electrical chair, Bargain returned his attention to James.
‘It would be a shame to interrupt such a deeply philosophical and progressive debate, would it not James?’ Bargain’s smile grew a fraction of an inch.
‘Wha? ..Ohhhh, yes your Grace, ’twould indeed be a right shame,’ the coachman said with an answering grin.
“And, considering that ”/characters/georgie-underbridge" class=“wiki-content-link”>our orderly is of most use guarding the ladies from common and uneducated riff raff…’ Bargain continued as they both glanced at the orderly who was examining a nail with an air of complete boredom and indifference to his surroundings.
‘Right again, your Grace! …Maybe we could just…’ James allowed his words to slip into silence even as the two of them stepped a bit further into the crowd and left their companions behind. Taking all precaution to seem as interested in the proceedings as possible, they neared the strange couple until they could just make out their murmured conversation.
‘Surely, I do not need to press the issue? I would be.. quite cross, if I found it necessary to actually stop by and close the Lily, myself.’ Lord Verney’s face held a hint of cruelty as he sneered at Madam Fergusson. ‘Your girls will simply have to, ’make their quota’, before the specified time. This is all much bigger than your vulgar need for coin, woman.’ The Madam made as if to speak, or perhaps pout, if the look on her face was any indication, but the Lord Verney took her forcibly by the arm, his fingers digging into her flesh and holding her rigidly in place. ‘It is Phase Two, woman!’ he shook her slightly as if to emphasize his point. ‘Phase Two!’
‘Oh! Milord! Finally!’ The Madam’s face lit with an unholy glee as she shook off Verney’s grip. I’ll notify the girls at once!’ As she simpered at her company, her entire attitude flashed from discontent to sickeningly toadyish in an instant. ‘When should the boys come round? ’Bout minigh’ then?’
‘Fool! Hold your tongue. They must be in place before the appointed time, lest God himself be unable to save you!" Verney seethed, causing a flash of panic to dance behind the madam’s eyes. To cover, she tossed her head and scoffed.
‘God himself ain’ got no use for th’ likes o’ me ‘n’ my girls, else we wouldn’ be turnin’ tricks, now would we?’ She sneered back, but could not completely disguise the lingering unease she felt. After another moment of hesitation, the woman turned and made her way through the crowd without another word. Lord Verney watched her go, and then moved away towards another street.
Bargain and James eyed each other in a moment of silent communication, and then Bargain followed swiftly after Madam Fergusson. Staying several meters behind her on the street, he watched as she casually stopped to talk briefly with several women, some carrying laundry baskets or bundles of dirty linen, some standing on street corners and in the mouths of alleyways. When she reached a particular woman with fiery red curls and surprisingly beautiful porcelain skin, she remained several moments longer than with the others, prompting Bargain to sneak closer in order to hear their exchange.
‘Early nigh’ tonigh’ girl. Tell ‘im wha’ fancies a go a’ ya affer dark, that the Lily’s closed fer repairs an’ll be open again by tomorrow nigh’. Tell them what’s regulars ‘n’ muscle tha’ Phase Two starts tonight. Make sure they know t’be in place early ‘nough, or our Lords ’n’ Masters’ll ‘ave our ’eads fer sure.’
The girl nodded in acknowledgement, fire burning in her green eyes. ’They’d ‘ave t’catch me first, Eunice! ….all the same, I’ll tell the boys. Them Fenians be burnin’ fer a chance t’show London who’s what an’ where, if ya get me meanin. specially considerin’ the mornin’.’ Her teasing chuckle rang out throaty and carefree before the madam shushed her and hurried her on her way.
‘You just have a care,Red Margie, or thems what’s payin for this li’le venture’ll find a new use fer you girl. Word on the vine is, it ain’t near so much fun as turnin tricks, and we all know just wha’ kina fun that is.’
The two women parted ways, and Bargain chose to follow Red Margie to her destination. She seemed blissfully unaware of his presence as she casually flitted from street corner to street corner, humming a playful Irish reel. It quickly became apparent that her path followed along the same streets as the new sewer system construction sites. Every so often, she would smile in a particularly pretty fashion at a worker, drop a sarcastic curtsy in response to a wolf whistle or touch a young worker on the shoulder in passing. Each one returned a nod or wink of acknowledgment; satisfied, Red Margie left the construction lines and moved deep into the East End, traveling down Bethnal Green Road until she reached the Three Ponies Tavern.
After a long moments consideration, Bargain squared his shoulders and walked purposefully inside the Three Ponies. In the moment or two it took him to size up the room and locate Red Margie as she wove her way to a table in the back, complete silence fell on the common room. It was instantly obvious that his gentleman’s attire stuck out like a sore thumb in this common laborer’s tavern, and the welcome was not particularly warm. Despite this reception, Bargain remained supremely confident in his ability to bluff his way through any situation, he walked straight up to the bar. Behind the counter, he came face to face with another Changeling formed entirely out of the bleached bones of ship hulls.
‘We need to talk, my good man!’ Bargain began. ‘Plans are moving ahead. Phase Two happens tonight at midnight. I have been sent to make sure all the men will be in the correct location. Where will you and your men be posted?’
The barkeep continued to polish the counter carefully for a long moment before responding, ‘Don’ believe I know wha’ yor on abou’ gov’nor. Best if ya move along, if ya catch m’ drift. There’s those in here who ain’ gonna take too kindly to seeing someone o’ yor …standin’ … in this place.
True to the barkeeps word, Bargain became aware of several men from Red Margie’s table moving towards him purposefully. ‘Now see here, sir!’ Bargain tried to protest, but the barkeep gave a short nod to the three men now standing behind Bargain and they seized him by the arms and scruff of the neck. He was half dragged, half carried out the front door and placed none too gently upon his feet in the middle of the street. The biggest of the three men roughly dusted him of with a mocking sneer.
‘There ya go milord. None th’ worse fer wear. Have a …nice evenin’ milord.’ With that, all three of the men turned and made their way back inside, and firmly shut the door in Bargain’s face. With a scowl, he examined his suit for signs of grime and dirt, then brushed himself off in disgust. Without further ado, he stalked back down the street to rejoin his friends.
Back in Executioner’s Square, James watched Bargain’s retreating back for a moment, then turned and followed Lord Verney at a reasonable distance. His stride seemed purposeful, despite the meandering path he took, farther and farther into the East End. It was an odd move for a man so openly disgusted by the filth and squalor of the slums. With every step he took deeper into ‘terra incognita,’ James could easily see the look of utter disdain on Lord Verney’s face becoming harder and more set.
It was, therefore, even more astounding when the English peer ahead of him stopped suddenly and assumed the most pleasing and charmed expression his narrow face was capable of. James frowned and stepped farther into the fog of London, wondering what exactly the man was up to. In a few minutes, a small girl-child of seven or eight came wandering onto the street corner opposite with a basket of slightly ragged nosegays, posies, and tussie-mussies, all tied with raggedly colored bits of grimy string. The dejected slump of her shoulders, and her low-cast gaze suggested a young soul far too downtrodden by the world to be carefree. Her basket was quite full, despite the momentous occasion of a hanging, and she poked through its contents and gnawed at her lip simultaneously.
Just then, Lord Verney called out with a calculated warmth, ‘If it isn’t young Miss Fergusson, first rate procurer of the finest flowers in East London, and purveyor of the finest nosegays in town!’ He strode across the street and stopped just in front of the child, bowing low with a sweep of his top hat and a gallant wink. The change over little Emmie’s face was instant and complete, as though a ray of sunshine had chosen that exact moment to alight and grace her small, upturned face.
‘Allo, milord Baron!’ she dropped into her best wobbly imitation of a curtsy, and then gazed shyly at him through her eyelashes. ‘I am please to see you, sir, on this very fine mornin,’ she pronounced with careful effort. Her gaze faltered and dropped as her countenance began to sag.
‘Here now! What’s this?’ Lord Verney tucked a finger under her chin and lifted her eyes to his. ‘Sad, on a beautiful day like today? Whatever is the matter, sweet Emiline?’ he queried with a deeply concerned expression. Beguiled, the child offered him a half-hearted smile.
‘I ain’t sold no posies, milord. My mam ain’t gonna like tha’ none. I was ta sell this an’ another whole basket by tonight, which means I gots ta sell all of ‘em well before morning is over, so as I can pick some more.’ Lord Verney gave every appearance of pondering the child’s quandary with the utmost seriousness, before making an entire gold sovereign appear like magic from within her ratty hair.
‘I will buy a posy, sweet Emiline.’ Lord Verney reached within in her basket, plucked out a small twist of dandelions with a faint smirk, and placed the coin in her free hand. ‘In return, as a special favor to me,’ his smile widened, make sure and tell her that Phase Two is ready. Do you understand? You must say that very specifically. Phase Two is ready.’ He waited a moment till he had her answering nod, then ruffled her hair lightly. ‘Run along home now, girl. Your mother will want to see the fortune you’ve made!’ The girl grinned, dipped a curtsy, stumbled up and clutched her basket and coin to her chest.
For a moment, James looked and felt just as stunned as little Emmie Fergusson. Where was the sneering disdain Lord Verney had shown towards his surroundings throughout his long walk into the East End? What was this rather loathsome interaction which he, James, had just witnessed? It seemed strange and uncouth – a blantant lie amongst the squalor and filth of honest Truth. Life was not kind and neither was Man. So why the brazen act on Lord Verney’s part? James scowled suspiciously at the noble’s back.
After a moment or two longer, Lord Verney tossed the posy into the gutter and started after the girl. His expression suggested that transcendent smugness of a cat recently glutted on cream and fine fish; James felt as tho his faith in mankind was restored to its former certainty. The noble was merely using the waif to get something he wanted, it only remained to find out what.
The strange little procession continued on, winding a bit here and there as little Emmie avoided bad neighborhoods or suspicious characters, never once suspecting that she was tailed the whole way. Eventually, the child’s steps lightened and she skipped up the steps of a shoddy townhome which had seen better days a few decades ago.
‘Mam! Mam! Lookee ’ere, Mam!’ Emmie’s voice rang out bright and cheerful as she raced into the house, holding her gold sovereign aloft like a standard of victory. ’Lookee wha-