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A very singular guild, p.1
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       A Very Singular Guild, p.1

           Catherine Jinks
 
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A Very Singular Guild


  ALSO BY

  CATHERINE JINKS

  The City of Orphans series

  A Very Unusual Pursuit

  A Very Peculiar Plague

  The Paradise Trap

  The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group

  The Reformed Vampire Support Group

  The Genius Wars

  Genius Squad

  Evil Genius

  Living Hell

  The Pagan Chronicles

  Pagan’s Crusade

  Pagan in Exile

  Pagan’s Vows

  Pagan’s Scribe

  Pagan’s Daughter

  www.catherinejinks.com

  CATHERINE JINKS

  This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

  First published in 2014

  Copyright © Catherine Jinks 2014

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

  Allen & Unwin

  83 Alexander Street

  Crows Nest NSW 2065

  Australia

  Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

  Email: [email protected]

  Web: www.allenandunwin.com

  A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the

  National Library of Australia

  www.trove.nla.gov.au

  ISBN 978 1 74331 309 1

  eISBN 978 1 74343 137 5

  Cover and text design by Design by Committee

  Set in Stempel Garamond 11/17 pt

  To Reka Simonsen and

  Jeannette Larson

  CONTENTS

  1 UNDERGROUND

  2 THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE

  3 THEATRE FOLK

  4 PLANS

  5 ALL IN FAVOUR?

  6 BACKSTAGE

  7 THE TUNNEL

  8 OFFICIAL BUSINESS

  9 THE LOWEST LEVEL

  10 THE PRIVY-BOGLE

  11 HUNTED

  12 A VERY STRANGE PLACE

  13 THE SNARE

  14 MEETING MOTHER MAY

  15 THE BLASTING ROD

  16 AN EVENING PERFORMANCE

  17 BEHIND BARS

  18 TESTING

  19 ‘MURDER!’

  20 POLICE BUSINESS

  21 A BOGLE FOR HIRE

  22 MR DAW’S DISPLEASURE

  23 AN UNEXPECTED GUEST

  24 BOGLE BAITING

  25 MR CLUNY’S MONSTER

  26 MUDLARKS

  27 THE HIDDEN LABORATORY

  28 THE VIEW FROM THE TOP

  29 BIRDIE’S DEBUT

  30 AN EMERGENCY MEETING

  EPILOGUE

  GLOSSARY

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  1

  UNDERGROUND

  Newgate Market was an empty, echoing shell. Doors hung askew. Windows were smashed. Iron hooks were rusting away. The market clock was no longer ticking, and the stalls were silting up with rubbish.

  All of the butchers had long ago moved to Smithfield, taking their sides of beef and saddles of mutton with them.

  ‘I don’t know why this place ain’t bin torn down long since,’ Alfred Bunce remarked. He stood hunched in the rain with his bag on his back, gazing across an expanse of muddy cobbles towards the central pavilion. Water dripped off his wide-brimmed hat and trickled down his long, beaky nose. Even his drooping moustache was sodden. ‘Ruined buildings breed every kind o’ strife, from coining to murder,’ he added. ‘Bogles would be the least o’ yer problems, round here.’

  Beside him, a brown-eyed boy was scanning the shops that fronted the square. Some of them were boarded up, and those that remained in business were for the most part seedy-looking taverns or coffee houses.

  ‘I don’t see Mr Wardle,’ said the boy, whose name was Ned Roach. He was dressed in a navy-blue coat with brass buttons, very worn about the elbows, and a pair of buff-coloured trousers, damp and soiled. A flat cap sat on his springy brown hair. Despite his missing tooth and scarred hands, he looked respectable enough. ‘Which o’ these here establishments would be Mother Okey’s?’

  ‘Ask Jem,’ Alfred replied. ‘He knows the neighbourhood better’n I do.’

  ‘Jem!’ Ned turned to address another boy, who was lagging behind them. ‘You bin here once. Which pub is Mother Okey’s?’

  Jem Barbary didn’t answer. He was too busy peering at the dark silhouette of someone skulking on a nearby doorstep. Ned didn’t blame Jem for being nervous. This was John Gammon’s territory, and Gammon was a dangerous man.

  ‘What’s that feller doing there, lurking like a cracksman’s crow?’ Jem hissed. He was smaller and thinner than Ned, with so much thick, black hair that his head looked too big for his body. He wore a bedraggled suit of speckled brown tweed. ‘D’you think he works for Salty Jack?’

  ‘Mebbe he’s sheltering from the rain,’ Ned offered.

  But Jem scowled. ‘I don’t trust him. I don’t trust no one hereabouts.’

  ‘Which is why we should pick up our pace.’ Alfred spoke in a gruff, impatient voice. ‘Wardle said to meet at Mother Okey’s. Any notion where that might be?’

  Jem considered the half-dozen public houses scattered around the market square. ‘T’ain’t that ’un,’ he announced, pointing. ‘That there is the Old Coffeepot. I spoke to the barmaid last time I passed through.’

  ‘And that?’ Alfred nodded at the nearest tavern. Although it had a sign suspended above its front door, none of them could read the lettering.

  ‘There’s a cat on that sign,’ Ned observed, ‘so it’s more likely to be the Cat and Fiddle. Or the Cat and Salutation . . .’

  ‘Here!’ Jem suddenly clutched Alfred’s sleeve. ‘Ain’t that Mr Wardle?’

  It was. Ned recognised the man who had emerged from the old-fashioned alehouse to their right. He was large and middle-aged, with fuzzy side-whiskers and a slight paunch. Though respectably dressed, he had an untidy look about him – almost as if his clothes were buttoned askew. Wisps of wiry grey hair escaped from beneath his bowler hat. His necktie was crooked. There was a crusty stain on his waistcoat lapel, and an unshaven patch on his chin.

  Even when he spotted Alfred, his worried expression didn’t change. The anxious lines seemed permanently engraved across his brow.

  ‘Mr Bunce!’ he exclaimed. ‘You found me!’

  ‘Aye,’ said Alfred, touching his hat.

  ‘I was afeared you might have taken a wrong turn.’ Mr Wardle’s small blue eyes swung towards the two boys. ‘I see you brought your apprentices with you.’

  Alfred gave a brusque nod. ‘Can’t kill a bogle without bait,’ he growled.

  ‘Yes, of course.’ Mr Wardle blinked uneasily at Ned, who wondered if the Inspector of Sewers could even remember his name. They had first been introduced to each other only a week before, at the Metropolitan Board of Works, where they had all sat down at a very large, round table to launch the Committee for the Regulation of Subterranean Anomalies.

  But more than half-a-dozen people had been present at that meeting, and a lot of business had been discussed. And since neither Ned nor Jem had made much of a contribution, it seemed likely that Mr Wardle had forgotten who they were.

  ‘This neighbourhoo
d ain’t safe for Jem,’ Alfred continued. ‘There’s a butcher as runs all the rackets hereabouts, and he’s got a grudge against the lad. We ain’t bin troubled thus far, since the butcher don’t know where I live. But the longer we stay, the more likely it is we’ll be spotted by one of his cronies. And I don’t want that.’

  Mr Wardle looked alarmed. ‘No, indeed,’ he said.

  ‘So you’d best tell me about this here job, and then we can set to it,’ Alfred finished. ‘Back at the Board o’ Works you mentioned there’s three young ’uns vanished, and one sighting in a sewer. Which sewer, and where was the kids last seen?’

  Mr Wardle hesitated for a moment. ‘Perhaps it’s best I show you what was shown to me,’ he finally suggested, before heading across the cobbled square towards the central pavilion. Alfred hurried after him, with the two boys in tow. As they approached the dilapidated structure that had once sheltered row upon row of hanging carcasses, Ned felt uneasy. There was no telling what might lurk in that labyrinth of dark, rotting wood. As Alfred had so truly said, bogles might be the least of their problems.

  ‘You don’t think this is an ambush, do you?’ Jem whispered, as if he was reading Ned’s mind. ‘You don’t think Mr Wardle is in John Gammon’s pocket?’

  ‘No.’ Ned was sure of that. John Gammon was a ‘punisher’ who liked to threaten local shopkeepers with bodily harm if they didn’t pay over a portion of their earnings to him. But Eugene Wardle wasn’t a local shopkeeper; he was a municipal officer who hailed from Holloway. ‘Ain’t no reason why Mr Wardle should know Salty Jack Gammon. I’m just concerned them missing boys is all a hum. Mebbe Jack’s bin spreading tales, to lure us into a dark, quiet corner—’

  ‘It ain’t no tale.’ Jem cut him off. ‘There’s at least one kid gone, for I heard it from the barmaid at the Old Coffeepot when I were here last.’ After a moment’s pause, he added, ‘She said the lad passed a bad coin at the inn, then legged it into the market cellars. No one’s seen him since.’

  ‘. . . chased a printer’s devil into the cellars, after he passed a counterfeit coin,’ Mr Wardle was saying, as he led Alfred through the gloomy depths of the central pavilion. There was a rank smell of old blood and manure. Water was pooling under leaks in the roof. Here and there a rat would skitter out of the way, frightened by the crunch of broken glass underfoot. ‘The second child was a young thief who went down to look for scrap metal,’ Mr Wardle continued, ‘and never returned to the sister he’d left waiting above. The third was a coal merchant’s son who used to play in these stalls, though no one can be certain if he found his way beneath them.’

  ‘And the sighting?’ asked Alfred.

  ‘Ah,’ said Mr Wardle. ‘Well, that didn’t happen up here.’ He stopped suddenly, having reached a kind of wooden booth, behind which lay the entrance to a wide room with an opening in its stone floor. ‘You see, the heads of four sewers meet under Newgate Market. They used to be flushed out regular from a big cistern fitted with iron doors, though it’s not much used these days. I had a team of flushers down there last week, oiling the screws and checking the penstocks. They caught a glimpse of something that scared the life out of ’em. And when they alerted me, Mr Bunce, I thought of you.’ The inspector stamped his foot, as if marking a spot. ‘That cistern’s close by, and one of the sewers runs beneath the cellar – which used to be a slaughterhouse, or so I’m told. They had to wash down the floors—’

  ‘And the dirty water had to go somewhere,’ Alfred concluded with a nod. ‘There’ll be drains, then.’

  ‘I believe so.’

  Alfred dropped his sack and began to rifle through it, pulling out a box of matches, a small leather bag, and a dark lantern with a hinged metal cover. ‘You boys stay up here till I call you,’ he told Jem and Ned as he struck a match to light his lantern. ‘I need to look downstairs, and don’t want no bogles lured out ahead o’ time.’

  Jem grimaced. Ned couldn’t help asking, ‘You think there’s more’n one of ’em, Mr Bunce?’

  Alfred shrugged and said, ‘Ain’t no telling, in this part o’ the world. That’s why I had to risk bringing Jem.’ He appealed to the inspector. ‘I’d be obliged if you’d mind the lads for me, Mr Wardle. I don’t favour leaving ’em up here by themselves.’

  ‘Yes, of course, Mr Bunce.’ Mr Wardle sounded more anxious than ever. ‘If that’s what you’d prefer . . .’ ‘I’ll not be gone long,’ Alfred assured him, before disappearing down the cellar stairs. For a minute or so the others stood mute, listening to his footsteps recede underground. Then Mr Wardle said, ‘You boys can’t be very old, I’m persuaded. Are you?’

  Ned and Jem exchanged a sideways glance.

  ‘I’m eleven,’ Jem volunteered. ‘And Ned, here – he’s just gone twelve.’

  To Ned’s surprise, Mr Wardle shook his head in bewilderment. ‘Why would any man of sound mind be nursing a fatal grudge against an eleven-year-old boy?’ the inspector wanted to know. ‘What kind of offence could you possibly have committed to merit such bad feelings?’

  ‘It weren’t me as committed the offence!’ Jem spluttered. He went on to explain that John Gammon, the butcher, had tried to feed him to a bogle only a couple of weeks before – and was therefore afraid of what Jem might tell the police. ‘Which I ain’t about to tell ’em nothing, since they’ll not believe me in any case,’ Jem finished. ‘But Gammon don’t know that, and is likely not to care.’

  ‘Villains like him don’t never take no risks,’ Ned murmured in agreement.

  ‘But why wouldn’t the police believe you?’ asked Mr Wardle. ‘I don’t understand.’

  Again the two boys exchanged a quick look. Jem flushed; he seemed unable to speak. It was Ned who finally answered, ‘It’s on account o’ Jem used to steal for a living, and wouldn’t make a good witness in a court o’ law.’

  ‘Though I ain’t prigged nothing since last summer,’ Jem blurted out, ‘and won’t never hoist so much as a twist o’ tobacco ever again! I’m done with all that now – ain’t I, Ned?’

  ‘You are,’ Ned confirmed. Though he’d seen Jem’s eyes latch onto many a passing watch-chain and snuffbox, the former pickpocket had never once given into temptation – not while Ned was around. ‘Besides,’ Ned added, ‘most beaks don’t believe in bogles, and wouldn’t credit any claims to the contrary, no matter who made ’em.’

  ‘I see,’ said Mr Wardle. He studied Jem for a moment, as if wondering how they’d ended up on the same committee. Then he turned to Ned. ‘And you? Are you a reformed thief?’

  ‘No, sir,’ Ned replied stiffly. For six years he had been supporting himself, and not once had he stolen so much as a dirty handkerchief. ‘I were a mudlark until Mr Bunce took me in. I used to scavenge for scraps along the riverbank.’

  ‘Indeed.’

  ‘’Twas a dirty job, but it gave me a good knowledge o’ the East-End sewers,’ Ned went on. He’d been interested in Mr Wardle’s description of the cistern under the market, and wanted to know more. ‘Could you tell me what a “penstock” is, sir? For I ain’t never heard the word afore this.’

  Mr Wardle opened his mouth, but all at once Alfred’s voice hailed them, echoing up from the chamber beneath their feet. ‘Are you there, Mr Wardle?’

  ‘I am, Mr Bunce.’

  ‘Could you send them lads down? And I’ll have me sack along with ’em.’

  ‘Yes, of course.’ As Ned picked up Alfred’s sack, Mr Wardle cleared his throat and said, ‘I take it you’ve found something of interest?’

  ‘Oh, aye. This here is a bogle’s lair, make no mistake.’ Alfred appeared suddenly at the foot of the stairs, his lantern raised, his long face grim. ‘What I don’t know is how many of ’em might be a-lurking down here. For I ain’t never seen no den more suited to a bogle’s taste, nor better laid out for the trapping o’ children. If you ask me, Mr Wardle, there’s more’n three kids has met their doom in this rat’s nest.’

  And he motioned to Ned, who reluctantly clumped downstairs with
Alfred’s sack on his shoulder.

  2

  THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE

  Ned had explored a few sewers in his time. He’d spent years digging through river mud, and had more than once been forced to sleep in a coalhole. But when he arrived at the bottom of the cellar stairs, he felt his heart sink.

  It was the most unpleasant spot he’d ever seen.

  The ceiling was low and slimy, the floor caked with filth. Iron hooks hung from the ribbed vaults overhead, stained black with old blood. A great wooden tank, topped by a grill of metal bars, was slowly disintegrating in one corner. The whole place stank of corruption.

  ‘Where would you like me to stand, Mr Bunce?’ asked Mr Wardle, from the top of the stairs. He spoke a little too loudly, and Alfred immediately shushed him.

  ‘The fewer folk is on hand, the better,’ Alfred softly replied. ‘One thing you could do is keep others from coming down here.’

  ‘By all means,’ said Mr Wardle, in a much quieter voice. ‘I’d prefer to stay up here. For this stench is worse than any sewer I’ve ever flushed.’

  His silhouette vanished as he withdrew. Alfred, meanwhile, was gesturing at the ring of salt he’d laid down near an open drain in the middle of the cellar floor. There was a gap in this circle, directly opposite the drain. But when Ned glanced from the salt to Alfred, the bogler shook his head.

  ‘Not you. You’re over there.’ Alfred jerked his chin at another, smaller ring of salt positioned across the room. Ned realised that Alfred had appointed him as decoy, in case more than one bogle should appear. While Alfred polished off the first monster, Ned was supposed to distract any others that might show up unexpectedly.

  It was a technique that Alfred had used only once before, as far as Ned knew, because normally bogles were solitary creatures. For most of his bogling career, Alfred hadn’t needed more than one apprentice. But a recent plague of bogles around Newgate had prompted him to change his methods. And though the source of the plague was now gone, no one yet knew whether the bogles gathered in the neighbourhood had begun to drift away since Jem’s former employer, Sarah Pickles, had stopped feeding babies to them.

 
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