Category Archives: Rutter Truelove

XIV. Mr Truelove

The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger

Patrons visit the Bishop's Arms

Patrons visit the Bishop’s Arms

Proselytisin’ ain’t much of my style, but it serves its turn when you’re in the gristle and garber of a stew. So I cried out me profession, and a few choice words o’ the vernacular, if you get my meaning, when the door caved. I stepped in to that doxy-hole palace snortin’ the Lord’s justice, and lifted my bobbyknocker to me shoulder so my meaning would be clear.

“Witch finger, you sinnin’ bastards,” I recall barking, summonin’ up a dollop of spit with the words. The whole room burst into activity then, half-clad cads and shaunty-sister girls scramblin’ out of my path like I were Moses himself. The truth be told, Rutter Skitch Truelove is not a pious man, but my office is bestowed by the clergy, and a little holy water serves to quench any tempers. That’s as why I met no resistance on that first floor, only a rush of people tryin’ to make clear of the doors.

The barman looked at me. He was penned in, stock fast behind his wooden run, so couldn’t scarper like the rest of the serving staff. I gave him a smile, and rapped the bar with my bobbyknocker.

“Where’s the pagans, ay?”

The man looked at me with a queer stare. Half-glassed eyes, as if he were assaying me, determining size and temperament.

“I don’t know what you mean, sir.” It was a placid response, now I think on it; too quiet, and all the queerer for it.

“I mean the knife. I mean the witchcraft under your roof. An’ you best me waggin’ your tongue with both alacrity and veracity, ’cause I ain’t in a mind to argue.”

He shook his head, and dropped his hands to the bar, knuckles blisterin’ white from the pressure. “I can’t,” he said.

“Oh, I think you’ll find you can.”

He drew breath. A judderin’ sort of suction from his lung, like a reverse hiccup. Sweat dripped on his brow.

“I…can’t.”

“Tell me, or it will be the worse for you.” True enough, though you don’t stay on the side of law and order for long if you sent every resistin’ barkeep to Tyburn. He was goin’ to get a rappin’, but no more. Of course, I didn’t say as much.

He swallowed. “Upstairs. Go upstairs.”

I can be most persuasive when give opportunity. But there was something queer about the way he said it. When you stick your neck into the chopper, or grind your way through the detritus of a Whitechapel slumyard, you get a sense of when danger lurks. There weren’t danger up those steps, but I knew there weren’t nothing of use, neither. I smiled, scooped up the cudgel in my hand… and brought it crashin’ down on those dainty digets.

It was a cruel blow ‘n’ no mistake; I’d delivered it hard and true enough to crush a few bones to fine powder. Not mortal in itself, though dicin’ with the Devil when it came to settin’ it right and preventin’ the sweats. He should have screamed in agony, should have cursed me in a whimperin’, pleading cry. But the barkeep did neither. He just looked at me, his face turning pallid.

Then he began to sob. Quietly, pitably. When you strike a man, he howls in pain, but it’s a throttlin’, primal yell, like the roar of a beast. This was a gurgling whimper, a noise of utter self-pity. He looked at the stairwell, eyes transfixed on the downward passage.

“Down there,” he finally said. And, at the moment he did so, his eyes widened in a sudden flash. It was as if he had suffered a jolt of electricity, somehow both surprising and expected.

“You’ve killed me,” says he. Then he keeled over, face rubbing against the bar, and slipped into death.

I admit, I hadn’t been expectin’ that. And nor had I expected the gunshot that followed seconds later.


X. Mr Truelove

The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger

drurmap

Holborn and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Ely Court is to the extreme right.

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.


VI. Mr Truelove

The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger

Only known image of Jennifer Bellows, drawn upon her arrest for prostitution 1882

Only known image of Jennifer Bellows, drawn upon her arrest for prostitution 1882

T’was a guttin’ hook what she gave me that night, down Duckett’s Passage under the gas lamp. Proper sharp it were too, like what you’d use for slicin’ under the gristle-belly of a pig to rake out the gizzards and fill the bags o’ mystery sausages what’s sold on Eastcheap.

Ah, Jenny Bellows was a proper strumpet, all pale skin and wild hair like an Irish minx. She was a bit o’ jam, an’ I was sweet on her an’ no mistake. The poppet knew it, too, for she flashed her ankles from under the crimson petticoat, and looked at me saucy as she passed the tool over.

“And what’s you askin’ for?” I said, taking the parcel from her grasp. It’d come wrapped in a stained cloth, but she’d shown me the blade before passin’ it over. It was curved right cruel, like the Sikh kirpans old Company men sold in pawn shops. The markings were wrong though. Symbols were etched on the blade in crude cuts, not the flowing lingo of the Punjab. The colour, too, was all wrong, for the blade held dark blue stain, almost midnight. I smelt slinkamalink on it, of the ritual kind.

“A bull an’ its yours.” She smiled at me. Still had most of her teeth, bless ‘er, which helped me loins stir a bit toward her price – not that’d I’d pay the best totty in London five shillings for a blade.

“Oh, shut your sauce-box, luv. Half a crown? What do you think you’ve got, the bleedin’ crown jewels?”

Her eyes lit up right fierce at that. “I gots something I know’s precious, Rutter, and I wants what’s fair.”

“Fair? Where’d you get it, hey?”

“That’s information, what is confidential and privileged.” She said each word with an affectation of grandeur, which felt right rum out of her over-painted lips.

I scratched a merciless itch botherin’ me scalp. “Big words for a ‘ditch girl born in a cunnywarren. Smells like you chanced on somethin’ out’a blind luck and fancy makin’ a bob for it.”

“Can smell of what you want, as far as I cares. I’ll call the price at a half-crown, if that’s more agreeable. Two and six.”

“Two shillings and you name the spot you filched it.”

“I never filched it! I ain’t never filched nothing.” She bristled, tryin’ to peacock her way to seem offended. “Two and a thrup’ny an’ it’s yours.”

I relented at that, and slipped the coins into her mitts. She counted em in her palms, testin’ each one to make sure it were proper. I wrapped the guttin’ knife tighter in its rag an’ slipped it under me overcoat. She flashed me a smile and a half-courtesy, and turned heel toward the Dog’s Head. It was easy enough to see where the thrup’ny would go.

“Not so sharp,” I said, grabbing her shoulder. She looked offended, but I held my grip firm. “You ain’t told me the spot, Jenny Bellows. Where’d you get it?”

The annoyance slipped off that painted face of hers, and she gave a smile.

“Saw it stuck fast in the mud, right under the new bridge at Blackfriars. Scooped it up from Father Thames ‘imself.”

I let her arm go, and watched her thighs shimmy as she made off down the passage. Blackfriars Bridge would be a bad bit o’ business an’ no mistake. For the only thing under the bridge was the entrance to the Fleet Sewer.