Tag Archives: Alt history

XII. Report

Classified report on the Taipang Kingdom of Heavenly Peace, Department of Naval Intelligence, declassified 1984

Name: Kingdom of Heavenly Peace
Also known as: Taipangs
Leader: His Divine Majesty the Heavenly Emperor Hong Xiuquan
Threat level: High

The Taipang Rebellion began in Southern China in 1850 against the ruling Manchu dynasty. It was started by Hong Xiuquan, a failed bureaucrat with ill health who, while convalescing, came to believe he was the younger brother of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Xiuquan became convinced he was to lead a rebellion to free China of the Manchu dynasty. Aided by an an American Baptist, Issachar Jacox Roberts, the Taipangs soon rose to prominence and outright rebellion. This proved successful, and soon Guangxi province was captured by the Taipangs, who proclaimed themselves an independent Christian Kingdom, ruled by Hong Xiuquan at Nanjing.

To date, the Taipangs have been a major force in a civil war that has rent China asunder. We estimate casualties on both sides have approached 20 million souls, and has seen Taipang power expand far beyond mere rebels. They successfully used dirigibles and Greek fire to attack and defeat the ‘Ever Victorious Army’ under independent volunteers Frederick Townsend Ward and Charles Gordon, and have cemented themselves in control of Southern China.

The Taipangs view Great Britain as a brother Christian nation, but have designs on expanding their power through the ports of Shanghai and Hong Kong.


UnChristian, despite their claims. The Taipangs believe that Hong Xiuquan is Jesus’ younger brother and has command of a host of angels, whom he uses to slay his rivals. The chosen of the Taipangs have their bowels replaced (by divine intervention) with a new, blue set, and rituals often involve knives dyed with Prussian blue stain to create this effect.

Hong Xiuquan and his generals all claim to regularly commune with God, and their word and command is beyond question.

<<Added report March 21: Recently the Taipangs have become involved in body modification rituals, inserting machine parts into their own flesh. These appear at first to be cosmetic jewellery, but are in effect bypasses to human venous circulation: two needles are used to enter into veins, forcing blood to flow through a chamber in the jewellery. Inside this apparently ornamental piece (typically a brooch or concealed piercing) are small cogs, which are turned in a manner similar to a water wheel. In effect, these devices are powered by the Taipang’s own blood. It is not known what purpose these devices hold.>>


Many and pernicious. The Taipangs have agents in both the Chinese populations of Great Britain and Her Majesty’s possessions (notably in Hong Kong and Shanghai), but also in Western converts to their beliefs (typically missionaries).

<<Added report March 21: Division believes the Taipangs intend an act of hostile atrocity in London within the month, followed by an attack on Hong Kong later in the year. Intelligence rated 1 (Highly trusted) B (Probably accurate).>>


Any attack on the sovereign territory of Great Britain would result in Her Majesty’s formal declaration of war, and thus it is highly unlikely the Taipangs would risk such a manoeuvre. Instead we suspect their motive is to cause a disruption that would be of such significance as to allow them to freely attack Hong Kong or Shanghai with impunity. This disruption is likely to involve unofficial agents and to occur in London.

<<Added report March 21: Likely to occur imminently.>>


X. Mr Truelove

The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger


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.

IX. Monty

From Prosper or Perish in the Attempt: A Gentleman’s Journey to Music Hall Stardom, the collected letters of F. Montgomery Skaldon, Hardaker Press

1868 fashion.4

F. Montgomery Skaldon, demonstrating his trousers

Dear Bunnie,

What holds, good fellow? I trust you’re capital? I sold the family some gammon about the coin incident, but I’m up for a little more lark if you get my meaning, and would appreciate your advice. Funds are flowing, the music is free, and my muse is ignited by the most wonderful companion I’ve encountered. I feel like Orpheus in the grip of Eurydice! Romance has worked its way under my skin, and the splinter of love is burrowing to my heart!

I have met the most remarkable girl. Found her on my sojourn to Limehouse (Fat Chen’s for a spot of the dragon, then on to Mayfair for a totty-chase). Shapes in all the right places, with blessed puddings that makes a chap wish to bury his head and go ‘burrrrr’! Red of hair but won’t hold it against her, for there’s nothing so spirited as a ginger minx when you return to chambers, what? Cherubic face, with high cheekbones and Roman nose, and the most impudent pillowed lips you could imagine. I suspect she’s a slave to the dragon too, for she was in a tizzy when we met, and (after we decided to venture to a gin palace instead) matched me drink for drink as I tried to get her to slip into something a little more comfortable. No luck so far, but the finest game is always worth the hunt!

She’s got a mouth on her, and that’s part of the attraction. Told me her name was Charlotte, and giggled when I took to calling her Charlie. But just when you think you’re charming her toward the Turkish Two-step, she pulls off like a teasing minx. It was in minutes I found myself spouting the most sentimental thoughts in the hopes she’d keep me company. Why, I’ve even demonstrated the fine pattern of my trousers to her, and she still acts oblivious to my intentions!

I think I’ve caught a fine bit of scrumpet, and know just the activity to encourage her surrender in this game of love. Do you remember the Bishop’s Arms off Holborn? Gaff right in the heart of London, but untouchable from law because of a quirk of ownership? She’s hinted she’d like to go there, as she hears the poppy’s sweet. Well, who am I to refuse a lady? We’ll be visiting next Wednesday.

Which brings me to my line of enquiry. I know you visited there, and said it wasn’t just a poppy den; that something queer was taking place in the back rooms? Some religious rot about jewelry, and so forth? Let me know if I should keep my wits while there, or at least take some form of armament. The creatures of the Establishment are circling for my blood, and I’d much prefer to keep my nose out of affairs of state.

Please give my felicitations to all other acquaintances in the vicinity of your homestead,


VIII. Lydia

The Wrong Way To Build A Bridge, or The Memoirs of Lady Lydia Parker-Wright, artificer and explorer

Vol IV. March 24th

Lady Lydia Parker-Wright

Lady Lydia Parker-Wright

Our visitor arrived promptly 9am, and was a most unwelcome interruption to morning tea. I was seated, as was my habit, in the parlour of our London residence, with mother and Aunt Maude, discussing matters of gay triviality, when we heard the commotion outside, and we rang for a servant to come and gaze out the window to identify its source.

“Two Coppers, milady, beggin’ your pardon, by which I mean the automata of the Metropolitan Police. They appear to be accompanying a naval officer heading to our front door.”

“Well, tell the officer to leave a card, and to take his monstrosities elsewhere.” Mother was most particular on these matters. Since my fortunate intervention in the flight of the Sacramento some days prior, we had been visited with regularity by most of society, and it was a fair assumption that the officers of law wished to interview me.

Mother, as was her right, acted as gatekeeper to these intrusions into our private existence. She had rebuffed a most insistent fellow with a kinetoscope who wished to make a moving picture of my likeness, and agents of at least two papers who had inquired after lines of comment. Others who failed to pass Mother’s strict guard included a Presbyterian who wished to pray with me, several members of society without title, and a man of questionable morality who – sporting a gammon colonial accent – enquired if I were willing to model my plight in a most objectionable state of dress. I believe Mother set the hounds on him, followed by the ever-loyal Sykes and his weathering staff.

Conversely, several did make it through Mother’s strict appraisal. This included a visit the Lord Boston; brunch with Duchess Teague; and several visits from Viscount Carlingsteed, who (with no thought or desire for scandal) requested to chaperone me in a turn around Hyde Park once my fame dispersed.

My thoughts lingered on these previous guests, who I confess were most admirable in my esteem, until I was interrupted by the maid’s return some minutes later.

“Excuse me, milady, but the gentleman downstairs is most insistent he speak with Lady Lydia. He says it is a matter of national import.” She curtseyed at that, and hurried meekly to mother to leave the gentleman’s card.

Mother eyed it with suspicion, then passed it back to the maid. “Very well, he may attend us. Though he shall leave his gastly contraptions outside. I shall not have a brass creature roaming freshly laid linoleum.”

“Yes, milady.” She headed off again, quiet flushed by my mother’s suggestion that she had permitted an automaton inside a private dwelling, though not willing to deny it. Mother had a most efficacious effect on the serving class.

Our visitor did not delay in attending the parlour. He was a bold young man of some thirty years, black hair slicked in modern fashion, with the clean-shaven visage of a nautical fellow. His uniform made him look most spendid, with the golden epaulettes and neat, anchor-stamped buttons of the Royal Navy. He entered with his cap tucked under his arm, his shoes, gleaming with polish, halting at the edges of the Persian rug.

Commander Kyle Dale, R. N., was a most brisk fellow of Scotch blood, at once both charming and forceful. He paid us the compliment of being blunt, and did not for a moment consider us weaker or wearisome because of our sex. Instead he politely requested to interview me alone, and proved so deliberate in his purpose and design that Mother actually relented (an astonishing feat in itself). He then interviewed me with regard to my inconvenience, but did so with such perspicacity that I felt as if I were confiding in him. Only once did his manners lack, when he exclaimed the tea was “d—-ed fine”, and at once apologised for his sailor’s tongue.

After discussion of the incident, Dale’s topics seamlessly moved on. He discussed my upbringing, and where I had gained my knowledge of the mechanical (he also ventured to entertain certain concepts of natural science, though theory is far less engaging than practical engineering). I explained my father’s fascination with the artificers, and my own natural inclination toward the machinist’s art.

It was, in the absence of Mother’s disapproval, a most liberating conversation, and one which the Commander manipulated most expertly. Indeed, it was only after our third cup, a full two hours later, that it suddenly occurred to me that he had not once stated the purpose of his visit. And, charmed though I was, I felt it only proper to enquire his interest in my case.

“You no doubt appreciate Her Majesty’s dirigibles are under the command of the Fleet Air Arm? And the Admiralty is based at Tower Hill, your destination. So, you see…” at this, the Commander trailed off. I watched with polite restraint as he selected his words. Then, with a sigh and shrug of his epaulettes, he relented his secrets to me.

“D’y’know,” he continued, “I can’t say I have the patience for obsfuscation. Not a boon in my line of work. Why am I interested in you, m’am? I shall tell you. I work for a branch of Naval Intelligence that is singular in its defence of the British Empire. You know of the customs of the hindoo, of the Japanese, of the African nations? Superstitious rot and the like? Well, madam, just because we consider it guff don’t mean the natives do. Quite the contrary. The Indian Mutiny sparked because some swami linked biting bullet cartridges with the end of the world, and that virtually drove John Company off the subcontinent.”

“I am familiar with these legends,” I replied, trying to be reserved in my commitment.

“Good. Well, that’s my business, m’am. I learn of these prophecies, stories and high tales, and nip ’em in the bud before they blossom to harm the Empire. If a swami says Queen Victoria is the Devil and tries to stoke up a rebellion, why we take action to see such problems are removed.”

“Is that not the role of a Witch Finger?” It was a remarkable revelation, but I was determined to probe for deeper explanation. After all, I had been educated, as had every child, of the celebrated Witch Finger’s unique role in society. The men and women of the Witch Finger, under sponsorship of the Church of England, held it as their solemn duty to enforce the Witchcraft Act of 1735, and crack down on any vagabond or charlatan that claimed to have powers of prophecy, wizardry or other irrational transmutation.

Dale shook his head.

“Not a bit of it, m’am. A Witch Finger is concerned with the act, we are concerned with the consequence. A Witch Finger cares about the supposed supernatural on our sovereign soil; we are concerned with threats foreign and domestic. And, despite capturing the public’s imagination, in his day of modern invention the Witch Fingers are a vanishing breed.

“Automata have made their roles difficult, you see. Should a Witch Finger smash a fortune-telling machine? Or clap in irons a futurist predicting the next great invention? Of course not. Although the Witch Fingers are popular in lore and the Penny Dreadfuls, in truth there are only four left in England, and only one in the capital. And, may I say it madam, that while Truelove – that’s the chap’s name – is a worthy sort, he’s entirely of the wrong breeding for a role in the Empire’s service.”

“He did not attend Oxford or Cambridge?”


“And may I enquire why your role brings you here?”

“Simple enough, m’am. The dirigible was not faulty. It was sabotaged.”

I blanched. It was a most terrible suggestion that someone would contemplate such a murderous act, let alone carry it out. “Sabotaged?” I asked, repeating his words in, I confess, a moment of shock.

“Yes. Oh, not to kill you, m’am. Another passenger was the target. And if not for your timely intervention, the plot would have succeeded.”

It was an astounding claim, and I completely forgot propriety. “Who? The dear reverend? The Colonel? What rotter would do such a thing! And my second favourite petticoat! It was ruined! The scoundrel!”

“Indeed, m’am,” Dale said, taking another sip of tea. “My purpose here was, I confess, to determine whether you were involved. It is plain to me that you were not. And furthermore, it is plain that you have a certain skillset most useful to your country. Artificers are all to often lost to their creations; a woman of such skills and blessed with the independence to take on commissions as required would be a valuable asset. It therefore falls upon me to extend to you a warrant of service.”

This, I confess, was most improper. However, I admit a deep excitement was sparked within, and I felt the delightful giddiness of passions stirred.

“And what is that, sir?”

“Lady Lydia. I have resolved to recruit you in service of your country for a matter most pressing. Should you accept my proposition, I promise you only two things. First, that you shall be privy to work on some of the most miraculous devices of our age. And second, that you shall know whose sinister hand almost caused your demise. I urge you to accept, though I will not compel you. Some countries press gang their agents, or tickle their feet until submission. But I am an agent of Her Majesty, and I shall accept your decision with good grace.”

The Commander need not have been so concerned. It was not an offer I was inclined to refuse.

VII. Gideon

Extract from Remembrances of a Gutter Press Hack by Gideon Pound, published Hardier-Walt, 1923

unnamed (4)

Tea clipper-catamaran coming in to dock

The Patterson suicide played on my mind for five days straight. It was a neat little worm, always burrowing away at the back of my mind as I filed copy, to the point that it drove me to distraction.

The news that week had been dominated by the balloon farce. Some posh madam with a fine, double-barrelled name (not Welsh, thank heaven) had landed a dirigible in the East End, and every column inch was consumed with supposition about her actions. Everyone from the Times to the lllustrated News got involved, extolling her virtues or admonishing her for ridiculous faults; one leader, penned by some lofty editor who presumably only ever entered the real world to dine, even complained that a woman should have not been allowed to pilot a dirigible. Presumably he preferred the Sacramento‘s passengers (and assorted bystanders below) all to die in fiery conflagration than breach protocol. As I’ve said, there’s nothing society likes more than a scandal, even when there’s no scandal to be found.

Balloons did not interest me. Nor did the rest of the ‘news’, which consisted of the usual Northerners going on strike about their coal mines, the usual Royal Navy squadrons departing from Scapa Flow, and the usual white-whiskered gufftraps blathering about in parliament. And thus I found myself returning, again and again, to that platform at Fenchurch Street.

I pride myself having a nose for a story, and there was something queer wafting in the tale of Emily Patterson. According to the information I could garner (a little too easily, I felt), she was 24 years old and a governess by trade, and had recently returned from Madeira where she had been engaged in private capacity. All of this was perfectly proper for superficial inspection. But as you dug your nails in to the flesh of her story, a strange mask began to peel off Ms Patterson.

Her place of birth was listed as Rochester. Very well. But her school was given as ‘Lowood’. As any simple sleuth knows, Lowood is the school from Jane Eyre, whose heroine falls in love with Mr Rochester. If that were not a strange enough coincidence, Jane herself is a governess. The details seemed as though they had been conjured up at short notice, and the lowest hanging fruits in the mind had been harvested.

This was enough to make me wonder why Patterson would have been on the train; she had no registered abode in London, and besides trains from Rochester run to London Bridge, not Fenchurch Street. An examination of the timetables showed the train ran from Shoeburyness via Southend, and out through Pitsea, Vange and Horndon and so to Fenchurch. It so happened that these final three stations (through the bumpkin countryside and far from true civilisation) had short platforms, and thus no one would have ventured to the final carriage. Shoeburyness was a nothing station too, only used to alight holidaymakers, which suggested she had boarded at Southend.

Why would a governess have been at Southend? The ‘recent return from Madeira’ could have been a good reason; many steamers chose to anchor at the mouth of the Thames than venture deep up its blackened waters. Indeed, the entire nation’s tea supply relied on the clipper-catamarans from the Orient, which habitually docked at Southend or Gravesend. Yet I suspected Madeira was false, too; in Jane Eyre Rochester’s mad, attic-bound wife is from that tropical port. This forced me to travel there myself, and check the harbour records.

Here my hunch proved sound.  Only one ship had docked that day, and not from Madeira. The Fiery Cross had been collected by steam tug and brought to Southend docks at 9pm that eve. She was still in harbour, too, and a magnificent sight: a four-master tea clipper-catamaran, built in the latest design of smooth lines and soaring sails. Sail had surrendered to coal fire years before, but the clipper fleet were the apotheosis of an age, and their fine lines still beat the salt-caked smoke stacks of the heavy steamers given good weather. Fiery Cross had made the passage from Hong Kong to England in only 80 days, which was about as fast as any ship could muster.

The Cross proved the final nail in Ms Patterson, too. For I found the mate in a nearby sailor’s stew, a swarthy chap of calloused complexion, and slipped him a bob to talk of passengers. His response was clear.

The Cross had a passenger, yes, and she fit Ms Patterson’s description. And yes, come to think of it her name was Patterson, though she kept to her cabin much of the time.

“And she disembarked that night?”

“‘Course,” says the salt. “Her and the tea chests.”

“Tea chests?” The plural struck me. One chest for a travelling governess would be reasonable. But two was an extravagance of personal effects.

“That’s right. Two. Sent ’em to the Dog’s Face, where she took up board.”

“She did not go to the station?”

“Not that I know of squire.”

“And was there anything strange about her behaviour?”

“Nah, mate,” he said, taking out a pipe and beginning to suck on it, lifting a match to its bowl. “Though it was a night of strange things.”

“Such as?”

“As we came in to dock, there was a hoot. Like an owl, only bigger. More strained, like a throttling, hollow sound. She didn’t seem bothered by it, but I confess it sent a chill down my britches. It was a portent, so it was: an evil omen. And sure enough, later that night we get the horror, clear as a picture. It was the call of the banshee.”

“How so?”

“One of the dock hands vanished. One of the foreign workers, little yellow chap brought over by the tea magnates. Drowned no doubt, twisted up in the bow lines. Must have slipped and caught himself between ship and the dock while unloading the crates. Not a pleasant way to go, if you get my meaning; the Devil claims anyone who slips in such a gap, and all it takes it one wrong foot on the gangplank to end up there.”

“Is that common?” I baulked a little at the grisly discovery, and wondered if the Gazette‘s readers might revel in the dangers of longshore work. The mate shrugged and pulled on his pipe.

“Common enough not to be worthy of mention in a busy port. It was only the hoot that makes it memorable, chum. The banshee. It was callin’ the fellow to his doom. Aye, and when I hear it again, I’ll make sure I say a prayer to God and hope he’ll take a sinner yet.”

I returned on the first train to London, bamboozled. The Dog’s Face (yes, I did visit that dockside den) proved a dead end, for no woman had taken lodgings that night, and the trail of Emily Patterson vanished into the aether.

Still, the death of the dock worker convinced me I was on the right scent. A woman returns from China; a Chinaman dies in strange circumstances; the woman is found dead on a train that very night.

My nose smelled the fresh ink of column inches in this tale. And I knew the answer lay waiting for me in the Southwark Morgue.

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.

IV. Telegram

Telegram sent to Commodore K. Dale, R.N, March 20th