The Trumpet Inside the Warehouse
by Dwight Krauss
part 1 of 2
Your Worships, I gives testimony on these recent, sad events with great sorrow, great sorrow. It is my feeling that much of what happened is my own fault; iff’n I’d been more attentive, more keen, then could I’ve said or done something that woulda stopped it all. I sorrow we lost these two fine men, especially Mr. Otten. I sorrow more to think a little more brightness on my part coulda prevented his terrible death.
I have your repeated assurances that I am not to blame. I am most appreciative of Your Worships’ sympathy and support, but I was in a position, very early on, to realize the misintent of Sir Belyard. Had I done a better job connecting the odd goings-ons about the Cousen Lane warehouse with his final purpose... well, I am greatly pained by it, greatly pained.
You see, sirs, I ha’ beadled the All Hallows parish for almost thirty years now and I kin the smallest thing out of sorts there like a tiny splinter itching me palm. I spy a new buzzman like he dressed in mufti and wore a sign, and I am very, very proud of the ones I’ve run off and the ones I’ve caged. It’s not an easy labor, I tell you sirs, to keep our streets safe and our people unmolested.
So when I sees the young man carrying the shiny brass trumpet, I was intrigued. I was standing on the corner off Cousen’s, idling a bit as is my wont at the midday, when things have slowed considerably, sirs. I was not completely at ease for I was speaking with a Metropolitan, a good Peeler I have had the pleasure of working the waterfront with before, sirs, and indeed it was he, Cardle being his name, who pointed out the young man.
Now I am not a music hater, sirs, and it was not the trumpet that raised suspicion but the person who had his hands wrapped about it. He was a street wretch named Pennington that both Cardle and I pinched on several occasions afore. He was a cut-purse, sirs, and a snatcher, one familiar to you gentleman. Golden tongued, he avoided transport and the gallows three times to me knowledge, sirs. A wily one, a wily one. I do not mean to impugn your honor’s acumen in letting him go previously, but whenever he was about, something no good was about, also.
So Cardle reaches out and grabs the boy by the arm as he walks by us, bold as you please, as if we were no ones to account. “Here now!” Cardle says, “what have you gone and lifted this time, Penny?”
“Off me, copper! I’m a law abiding citizen!” he yells to us both and, naturally, we are taken up by much laughing over that.
“Why, so the Saints have marched on the Vatican, have they? A monkey’s got the throne, and you’re law abiding!” I says back and I have to say that is the way of us out there, sirs, this rude talk among the cons and cuts; it is the only language they speak and I do not mean to offend. Anyways, me and Cardle are both laughin’ now rather hardy and we have the boy darbied and he screechin’ and flailin’ at us the whole time about mindin’ his own business and doing some work for a ‘gennlmen’ and gone legit and we’s just harassin’ good innocent folk and it’s startin’ to get a bit testy and I am lowerin’ me staff when he says, “I can prove it, I can prove it!”
“Then prove it, ya whelp,” Cardle says to him.
“I can, I tells ya!” he says, “You just take me over to the 3rd Alley warehouse and see Sir Belyard. He’ll tell ya he sent me to fetch the trumpet.”
“Sir Belyard, is it?” I says, “A baronet? More likely a gypsy king!” And Cardle and I are laughin’ some more.
“Just take me there,” Pennington cries, so we did, we marched him straight over between us, kicking him forward the whole time and tellin’ him how much worse it’s gonna be for his lyin’.
Well, sirs, we get there and there is some comin’s and goin’s as you’d expect but not so much at the 3rd Alley, because that’s a night port and the packets are still down river and I was half expectin’ part of Penny’s gang to be laying there for us. I don’t mind tellin’ you gentleman that I fancy a bit of the staff work from time to time.
I know the Peelers aren’t much for it and prefer to court and judge, but we beadles have our own traditions. I’d just as well break a few heads and leave them bleedin’ in the street and save the Crown a crown or two. I see some of Your Worships are in some agreement, so you can then know I was ready for it. Cardle had his stick and he was ready, too, but it wasn’t a gang that came out to meet us, no sirs.
It was a gentleman, sirs, at least that’s how he appeared to us then. We know different now, but you wouldna thought otherwise, had you been there. He was dressed in all white, sirs, coat and pants, with a ruffled shirt and a black cummerbund and cravat to set off the whiteness, even a red kerchief peeking so lightly out of the coat pocket He had on a white topper, too, sirs, and was carrying a silver wolf’s head cane.
He was a tall man, sirs, a good head above me, and I stand three cubit, and a dark one, seemed a lot of the French in him but with real blue eyes, Saxon like. A strong one, too, I could tell. Something about the set of his shoulders spoke trouble and I hefted me staff as he walked up. I thought at first the set came from soldiering, but we know now what it was.
“Mr. Pennington,” he addresses our prisoner, fine spoken tones, too, “what seems to be the trouble?”
“I cannot tell you, sirs, how astonied I was at these words. It seemed Pennington was right and he began looking very satisfied while both Cardle and I shared a rather different expression.
“I’ll tell ya the trouble, Sir Belyard, these two nithings...”
And here, sirs, Cardle cuffed Penny good, as he deserved for that and I was thinking of adding a bit of staff work when the gentlemen steps between me and my intended target. “Here, officers,” he says, “there’s no call for that. This young man works for me.”
“For you, sir?” I asks, “doing what?”
“He was to fetch a trumpet from the brokers off Cousen’s, where I presume you officers saw him?” Sir Belyard was calm and refined, but, still, sirs, there was a thing in his voice that begged at me right off. I can say now what it is, but then it was that splinter in me palm. Something was not right and the presence of a nice suit is no surety against wrongdoing, so I kept my staff loose and aimed because I was not so sure it weren’t needed.
“And why would you be using the likes of him?” Cardle asked with his stick ready, too, and it eased me quite a bit to see we was sharin’ a thought.
Sir Belyard must have seen that, too, because he smoothed back and put on a most disarming smile, “I understand your suspicions. But I have come here to give unfortunates like Mr. Pennington,” and he gestures at the wharf rat, “an opportunity for a better, productive life.”
“This thief?” Cardle again, which elicited a yelp from Pennington about slander, “how ya proposin’ that?” So Sir Belyard leaned into us, conspiracy like, “Can you officers keep a secret?” he asked.
Now me and Cardle are not blabbermouths and, when it has nothing to do with the public safety or good order, we are not ones to be tellin’ business of others, what gentleman is visitin’ what discreet location, what Lord has trouble walkin’ out of his Club, what Lady is steppin’ out of a carriage where she shouldn’t be, sirs. But to be asked straight like that were a warnin’ to us both of something untoward and we both looked at Sir Belyard, ready to brain him for anything unsavory. So we were both taken back a bit when he whispered one word to us, “Music.”
“Music, sir?” I was a bit bewildered.
“Yes, music, Beadle, the universal language that soothes the savage breast, as Mr. Congreve so charmingly put it. I am forming a band, officers.”
“Yes, officers,” he says back, “a band that these unfortunate street gypsies will play in and so make their way back into society’s good graces,” and he leaned back and looked at us with a truly satisfied smile.
Cardle and I both took to guffawing over this, the idea of Pennington or Ward Lucy or Gin Bucket Jack tootin’ and a blowin’ to the delight of an audience. Most mirthful. Pennington and Sir Belyard stood there and watched us and took no offense, which I should have seen at the time that they, the authors of this story, had no more faith in it than we. But I supposed then that Sir Belyard was one of those reformers who, God Bless their simple spirits, are convinced some kind of activity is all the criminals and cheats and bad hearts of the world need to reform.
“I didn’t say it would be easy,” he allowed to us with a smile, which made us both laugh all the more. “Indeed, officers, it will take much time and practice, which is why I have acquired this warehouse,” and he points back at it, “and why I have asked Mr. Pennington to bring the trumpet. You see, officers, it is not my wish to offend the public while my new band begins its long, torturous journey into the realm of Aoede, so we will practice in here.” And he slapped the high wooden wall. “I asked for the trumpet to see if it could be heard in the street.”
He made a gesture at Mr. Pennington, who shook off Cardle, gathered up the trumpet, smirked at us and went inside, the double door coming to a ponderous close behind him. We stood there, me and Cardle, pop-eyed at the whole idea while Sir Belyard stood facin’ us with a sincere grin. About a few minutes of that, and Pennington comes back, lookin’ a bit red. “Well?” he asks all of us.
Sir Belyard’s grin becomes a triumph and he holds his hands out, “Not a sound. Perfect!” I thought he would clap hands like some school girl and it was odd, most odd, sirs. Pennington beamed around but there was the splinter diggin’ at me, “How do we know you played it?” I asked him.
Pennington took himself a breath the likes of a man bigger than him to start some kind of screechin’ when Sir Belyard raised a hand. “Fair question, Beadle,” and he turned to Pennington, “Why don’t you take the Beadle inside and blow the horn and the Metro man and I will wait out here to listen,” and he swept his hat off at the idea and there was nothin’ for me to do then but follow.
It was a most peculiar place to be startin’ a band, was my first thought. Dark inside, too dark, with no windows, not even high ones for a breath of air and the planking particularly thick, doubled, I was thinking and I was wondering what the need for such strength. I know the ’house, of course, seeing it part of my parish for these years, sirs, but never been inside. It seemed to me that whoever commissioned it, before my time, sirs, was thinkin’ of precious cargoes, jewels or silks or some such, because the ’house was a fortress. The breakers would have a whole night’s work to get in, and there’s not enough ambition in the whole lot to see it through. Good place if you want to muffle the sounds of your new band, I was thinkin’, but a dreadfully stuffy place for them to do it.
Pennington took me to the main room, which was as dreary and airless as the passage, and I was a bit startled by the size of it. Very tall ceilings with many beams crisscrossed and supporting each other, allowing many weights to be dropped there. Pennington began a blatting and twirping on that trumpet enough to call Lucifer’s own sons to see what the bellowing was about. I clapped my hands over my ears, almost losing my staff and endured about a minute of it before I yelled “Enough of this!” and marched myself outside.
Cardle and Sir Belyard looked at me and, no doubt, sirs, no doubt, could tell from my disturbed air that Pennington had indeed blown the trumpet and called the dead. Sir Belyard smiled at us both and almost went into that girlish dance again. “It works, it works!” he cried happily and begins to jig Pennington around. Cardle and I had enough of this and we took ourselves off, but not without some rude words from Pennington that Sir Belyard made no attempt to smother.
Sirs, as you have told me, Sir Belyard being an odd one was not out of line for some long blooded families that have wearied themselves with intrigues and dissipations of the kind we usually do not mention. Such families are entitled to their eccentrics and their half mads, and what I had seen of Sir Belyard certainly convinced me he was a bit of both. But he bothered me still, and I don’t just say that because of what we now know. That he was a large hearted do-gooder bent on reformin’ the criminal mind I was sure, but I was equally sure he had a shade of it himself.
So I made it a point to take the extra long stroll when I was warding to see what hijinks was stirring about that alley. I full expected, at best, to find Pennington’s gang takin’ vantage of Sir Belyard’s innocence and usin’ the warehouse for new kinds of mischief. At worse, they’d be smugglers plying black trade between Irishers and Dutchmen, with Sir Belyard overseein’ the lot. One, t’other, or somethin’ between.
But I did not see that. I did not see much of anything, sirs, and I was right puzzled by it. Just in the normal course of commerce, you’d expect such a stout ’house to be busy. But, sirs, I saw the place dark and deserted more than I saw anything. After awhile, I fell into a complacency about it, shortin’ my strolls as new events vied for me attentions.
I could be forgiven for that, I s’pose. Then I would have a clear conscience with Your Worships about what I should have known and when. Exceptin’, sirs, there were two strange events in those weeks that shoulda, by themselves, roused me to a greater concern. I shoulda let others bear me out; maybe they’d see what I couldn’t. But I did not, and I remain in apology for that, sirs, in apology.
The first of these was the delivery of chains and buckles to the warehouse during the dark of new moon past. I had attended to a body nearby and was, just by accident, makin’ my way through the alley. I was interested when a wagon pulled up, and made more so when I saw the carters strugglin’ with the boxes. When they dropped one and I hear the clinkin’ of metal, I thought they was haulin’ coinage of some kind, maybe from the Dutchers, and we had a bogus set up inside. So I made way, staff ready to give a headin’ to them all. “Here now!” I called, “wot’s all this?”
Can you, sirs, imagine much of my startlement when one of the carters turns to me and is Sir Belyard himself? He was done up in dungarees and the worker’s jacket, a brim hat, too, and him as dirty as the wharfers he had with him. I was feelin’ the need to admonish the gentleman about his get-up, so unseemly, when he says, “Beadle, I am most surprised to see you.”
“I am certain that you are, sir,” I says back, “as astonished as I, you.”
He looks down at himself and laughs, “Have to indulge me, Beadle,” he says, “I am an idle handed man and sometimes feel the need to do some true work. Sometimes, rather than ordering ones about, I like to be ordered.”
That seemed in keeping with my opinion of the man but still did not shake my concerns about the heavy, coin clinking boxes, so I step up, bold as I can, and says, “ I am wondering of your cargo, Sir Belyard.”
Copyright © 2008 by Dwight Krauss