The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger
You may think from my appearance I’d be daft enough to go traipsin’ through a bleedin’ sewer, but Rutter Skitch Truelove ain’t fool enough to risk the miasma. The grime on me hat’s from hard graft, not fool’s errands down the filth-pipes o’ the Smoke. So when Jenny Bellows tells me ‘er knife comes out new a sewer floe, the first task that comes to mind is to grab out the maps and trace its route.
Now, I’m goin’ to assume you ain’t recently had a ganders at a map of London. People think the Thames flows west to east, and true enough it do, but central London is a bend, like a lead pipe snapped in twain. Blackfriars Bridge is the centre of that bend, and the Fleet river, an underground stream turned into a sewer, runs almost directly South into it. The end result of this spot o’geography is that everything from the Parish of St Giles-in-the-fields to St Paul’s and Ludgate Hill runs into the sewer, and the knife could have come from any of the thousand buildin’s on that route.
That bleedin’ obvious statement ain’t worthy of a Witch Finger, though, so I applied some rationalisation to the problem. First off, London back then were a den o’ shitbrooks, by which I mean only a handful of establishments had a flushin’ bog. So, takin’ out me ink and quill, I marked where I knew someone could pop a turd into the sewer.
This was still a fair old trudge. So next I pondered the hook itself, which weren’t no cutpurse’s stabber from Europe. More like that not it was tied in with some mischief from further afield So I used me knowledge of the doxie-holes o’London to plan out where you’d get such foreign fare. Most boltholes like that are further down the river (Rotherhithe and Limehouse way), not shovin’ up against the respectable buildin’s of the Inns of Court or Paternoster Square.
The end result was that I could think of only one location that dagger could have come from. Only one blemish, one blight, on the face of Holborn. It was the establishment of ill repute that called itself, flauntin’ its blasphemy with pride, The Bishop’s Arms.
Oh, it sounds pure, but the Arms was a den of vice and villainy the like of which even the Pre-Raphaelites avoided. A cunnywarren upstairs, a needle’n’pin haunt full of natty-narking whooperups on the ground level, and in the cellars an opium den. Worst of all, it were totally out of reach of The Beak, and the constables couldn’t touch it.
London’s jurisdictions work on property, see. The Metropolitan Police, its Lovelace Coppers an’ the beadles, are free to patrol the streets owned by The Corporation of London. But three realms lie out of their reach. First off, no constable can affect an arrest in Parliament, which means the blackguards of Westminster are safe to bugger up life for the rest of us. Second is the Clink, the stretch along the South Bank of the Thames, which is ruled by the Bishop of Winchester and his heavies. And finally there’s a small spot, a pustule on the face of Holborn, called Ely Court, which lies under the rule of the Bishop of Ely. And wouldn’t you know it, but the Bishop’s Arms takes up one side of the square.
For the thief-takers that’s a problem, because they can’t go in to the square – on technicality it’s out of their juristiction. And as for the scalliwags, well, the Arms offers amnesty, an oasis free from warrants in the heart of the city. There’s no one that knows the law better than a career scoundrel, and the rogues had soon got wise to the boundaries of law. Ely Court were a festerin’ mess of robbers, murderers and pox-strewn strumpets, and exactly the kind of place occult mystery would take seed.
‘Course, what they failed to reckon upon is that a Witch Finger upholds the Witchcraft Act by the power of the Church of England, with liberty to enforce all issues pertinent to my charge. I could venture into any territory of Her Majesty and enforce the law, includin’ a viper pit like Ely Court and the Bishop’s Arms.
That’s why I found myself stalkin’ through Holborn a few nights later, me iron-capped bobbyknocker ready to crack skulls, with a scheme to raid the Bishop’s Arms on me own.
If I knew what I’d find inside, I’d have brought the bleedin’ army.