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FROM THE DIARIES AND NOTEBOOKS OF PRESTON PIMLEY
Stephen Wade

 

Jan. 2nd., 1870 

My noble resolutions have eluded me but once again, the aching in my skull prompts thoughts of redemption. Indeed, my soul is in need of reclamation to the Higher Sphere. Let me come down to earth, and state the facts clearly for some future literary aesthete who may perchance stumble upon Pimley's diary.

Who am I? Dear reader, I am no more than your earnest Victorian gentleman, spurned by our dear, damned distracted century, this age of doubt when freethinkers roam and seek innocents in our broody streets. I am Mr Preston Pimley, youngest son of Harold Pimley, chemist, of Richmond on Thames, but hailing from the county of Lancashire in his roots. I am dept Preston as I was the last of ten, and my dear pa named me after his birthplace. My dear Mamma thanked the Creator that her birthplace had not figured in this process, as she first opened her eyes on this Vale of Tears in Biggleswade.

My past is darkened by gloom and rejection, and I find myself orphaned at the age of thirty-three. The goddess of matrimony has not claimed me, nor has that frosty taskmaster, Vocation, collared me to toil in his host. I am a free spirit with a modest income from the estate of my deceased parents, who perished in a boating accident on Windermere.

I have enough to live plainly, as I fill my days in single, harmless bachelor pursuits, penning sonnets, walking far into town and country, indulging my spirit of scientific enquiry, and appearing to be, in the eyes of my suburban neighbours, an ordinary chap.

All my siblings but one have also fallen to the sickle of Death. Only poor Septimus lives on, roaming Africa in search of game and women, or game women, as he jests on his rather chirpy visits home to leach off me for a while. I love him dearly but he is quite mad, and I have resolved to measure his head in the interests of science. But wait! What mysteries lurk within this common soul? What restless seas of passion stir the inner spirit of he who walks with cane and bowler, notebook in hand? It is the Great Work: the pursuance of that opus of scholarship on the Compendium of Global Sexuality and Beliefs, which will establish a Pimley in posterity, ensconced with Mr. Darwin, Mr. Lyell, Mr. Mill and the rest.

Therefore, what do I resolve? Tis a new year, begod. I have squandered the last year, the supposed annus mirabilis; it went sour, wasted away by my lazing, my damned procrastination and weaknesses of the flesh.

But you, kind Reader of the future, you do not wish to know the lusts of my flesh. Or do you? For we are a species that thrives on curiosity; hence my Great Work. Readers will indeed wish to know the various weaknesses of the various flashes strewn about the Vale of Tears. The current chapter, for instance, concerns the onanism of the Gatopsis of Owasaybo, a people sadly unstroked by the Christian Hand of Salvation, or indeed any other Hand from our dear land.

So, I digress. Back to the New year. This Year, this open meadow of delight, must yield these items:

1.            The Compendium must be completed by June.

2.            The Pimley name must find its home in a new species of horse-fly.

3.            Lord Pupwell will become a friend, will get my feet under the table in his dining-room if I die in the attempt.

4.            My humorous sketches and dramas will burst upon the London stage.

5.            Septimus must settle down. I shall find him a suitable spouse.

I know, dear Reader of the future, that the above appears to be a list engendered by dilettantism. Superficially, this is so, but in truth, Pimley's credo is that of the Renaissance scholar-gentleman. I wish to give to history the sequence Da Vinci, Newton, Hume, Pimley. This is not arrogance, nor Insanity: it is the aspiration of a noble mind in an age of dullards and cramping mediocrity.

n.b. Complain about the young rascal from Borridge's Bibulosity -he was pert in the extreme. If I had not been eager to stock up on the claret, I should have boxed his ears. The interchange at the door went something like this:

Boy: Two boxes of claret, Sir.

Pimley: Erm  this is the front door, young man.

Boy:       I can see that Sir. I have two eyes here see (he points to bright orbs and smiles).

Pimley:  Indeed, but there is a tradesman's entrance around the back, and you are a tradesman.

Boy:       Only in my appearance Sir. In my spirit I am as good as you or the great Mr. Borridge himself.

Pimley:  Begone, you scoundrel. I shall report your manner to the aforesaid Mr. Borridge.

Boy:       He won't listen, Sir. Says you should pay your bill before I bring these boxes in.

Pimley:  Pay my bill! Good Lord! That's the final insult. I shall take my debts elsewhere.

I eventually gave him two pence to go away and leave the claret in my vestibule. There was indeed a bill, attached to a lid, with the words, 'Begging your honours attention, but this bill of thirty pounds is long overdue. Cough up or else I'll get the Law. Borridge.' I mean, the very impudence of it! A tradesman! A very soiler of the digits, addressing a GENTLEMAN so. I shall tell Lord Pupwell of it, and Borridge shall be ruined.

 

Jan 8th.

Went into the City, into the fog, to reclaim the fallen. As a member of the Brethren of the Bond, it is my duty. Waifs must be brought back into the Lord's light. But the evening was fruitless. The only young vagabond I saw was truculent to say the least. I placed a loving hand on his starveling shoulder and he turned to me and spat. 'Leave 'orf, you boss-eyed spunker!' were his words. I noted them down particularly, as Lord Pupwell's friend, Rev. Clutterbuck, is a scholar of language. The waif scampered away into the jungles of Finsbury.

Some cheer, though. Received a copy of the new issue of the Repository, Lord Pupwell's journal, with my sonnet to Greece on page 52. My line, 'Oh Hellas, home of stout fellas, Oh Greece, home of Peace' is now in print for future literary coves to ponder.

 

Jan. 10th.

A little lackadaisical with the old diary. Time trots by and I seem to sip sherry and dream. Daytime reveries consume me, chiefly when trying to write my chapter on the penis for the Compendium. Indeed, the human penis is a mystery, with its stippled mushroom crown and blue-coursed stiffness forming the simulacrum of a tool, it presses a scholar to find descriptive words of beauty at all. Yet it can be done. I must persist. Perhaps I have studied only a limited range of rods. One needs to scrutinise the great and goodly ones in order to write with authority. I shall attend the boxing match at Twickenham and watch the packets wobble in the ring.

My correspondents in the far reaches of the globe have been helpful. I have been endeavouring to locate the people with the largest, most impressive penis, and several missionaries and scholars have been informative here. The Rev. Harry Stain in the Congo writes that he saw 'a whopper, perhaps sixteen inches' and this was during some awesome ritual in the back of beyond, but he continues, 'However, I had been plied with considerable blandishments of palm oil spirit and other potent delectables, that I had not my full wits about me.

The Rev. Dullich from Australia insists that an aboriginal gentleman who runs a prophecy business in ChooggamaGorra ' Possesses a wondrous banana of over a foot when in slack state' and he goes on to speculate, 'Heaven knows to what length the thing extends when Mrs. Braccagooni excites the fellow.' He helpfully includes a sketch.

 

Feb. 2nd.,

Fine sermon by the Rev. Moody on this chilly sabbath. He was in excellent form on his text of 'despair' - a subject with which I am intimately acquainted. Despair has been my twin since my arrival in this Vale of Tears and all those I loved, save Septimus, were snatched from me. I was led to sit down and write an account of the fates of these beloveds when I returned home from the service.

Mamma and Pa: drowned while rowing an unsafe craft in Windermere.

Harold: Swallowed a cupful of Pa's Essence of Arsenic.

Albert: Trod on a nail in pa's workshop and the wound went septic.

Ethelberta: Perished on the slopes of Saddleback while on a picnic with Pa.

Lancelot: Broke neck while playing rugger with Pa on the lawn.

Evadene: Went in childbirth. Can't blame Pa there. (Unless... no, surely!)

Germanicus: Lost while taking a holiday in Albania. Pa looked for hours in all the hostelries in the one settlement we found.

Hereward: Wandered into a blizzard, wearing only his nether pants. Found frozen to an animal of some kind. That was in the Levant.

Gaspard: Died in the Indian Wars. Found in a drinking-house, raving.

Felicity: Gang-raped while walking with Pa in Scandinavia. Pa found new species of butterfly that day, and was in raptures.

 

Feb. 6th.

Had Dyker, the phrenologist to inspect me today. He had pestered long enough, and I finally yielded while buying chitlings for lunch. This was part of the new Pimley health regime. Mc.Fadgeon had given me perhaps two years to live if I continued in the present state of what he called 'wine poisoning' and I resolved to change my life. Dyker's skull measuring, I innocently believed, could do me no harm, and so I invited him for afteroon tea, with crumpets and chitlings.

Dyker has the most peculiar body I have ever looked on. I could include a full chapter on him in the Compendium if I could but proceed scientifically to scrutinise the dimensions of his cheek bones. The man is square, solid as a bull, with the broadest head and neck of any man I have noted. His hair is curled in such a way that it protrudes in spikes all around his knoll, and his smile is as sincere as a letterbox being opened by the push of a package.

'Just remain utterly stationary, dear Pimmers'... he muttered, as he calipered my cranium. Then he was silent as he busied himself putting chalk-marks onto some bizarre notepad on the table. He breathed in a laboured way, attempting to suck air in as he clenched his lips full together. The result was like a steaming kettle, and all the while he prodded my head, measured every bump, and tutted.

At last he sat down and said, 'Done. Measured up. Oh dear. Tut tut old chap.

'What is your cause of concern Dyker?'

'The occipital relief undersized....'

'Meaning?'

'Meaning, old buffer, you have a fevered cerebral ultra-function which may impair the ratiocinatory faculties if the imbibing of potent liquors does not abate.'

'Meaning?'

'Meaning, you'll have the most boring great headaches if you continue supping that red plonk. And  you perhaps have syphilis!'

At this last remark, I threw him out and hurled a bottle of milk at him. The jackanapes was out to insult me, simply because I beat him at billiards the other week.

n.b. Remain in the cellar tomorrow. The tip-off is that the duns are coming.

Evening. Received a knock on the door and who was there but Dimpel, beaming.

'You are to accompany me to the meeting, reviews editor....

I was delighted. I could barely hold my wits together, and it was some ten minutes by the time I had changed into my artistic suit. I reserve my bottle green aesthete suit for poetry readings, recitals and lectures on the Italian Renaissance. There are no wine-stains on that suit, and I sprinkle it with pot pourri once a week.

The evening was serene, radiant, triumphant! By eight thirty I had haggled my way into being allotted two pages of reviews.

I have a heap of tomes awaiting review, and I here append them as a milestone In my progress as literary man and scholar:

Domestic Manners of the Gokohupas by Sir Augustus Wippitt.

Excursions among the Heathen by An Enlightened Gentleman

Phineas Finn by a certain Anthony Trollope

Natural History for Little People by Thomas Pratt, Bart.

A Garland of Lyrics for the Oppressed by Lucinda Crapper.

They seemed a pretty decent crop, with the exception of the trivial novel. This Trollope chap will never make it. No idea of structure. He'll never get very far if he insists on leaving African safaris out of his fictions.

I also inherited a postbag. Lord Pupwell had apparently received several letters 'To the editor' which had accumulated for some months now, and he passed them on to me to deal with.

'You write in a nice hand.' He said, and poured me a glass of sherry. He's SO VERY CULTURED, dammit.

Had a few measures of claret and then sat down to answer the letters. They were rather peculiar, so I include them here for posterity, hence some understanding of the very heart of the London literary scene of 1870 may be appreciated by the future historian of letters (ha, a pun, I believe!)

The first is from Mr. Armageddon Brown of Mablethorpe:

Sir,

As a devoted reader of the Repository for the last year, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that you have rebuffed me and my poetic efforts no less than eighty times in that period. I now demand an explanation. You clearly have not the slightest inkling to whom you address your curt note of, 'The editor regrets that the enclosed submission is not of sufficient merit to warrant a place in our quality arts publication.'

Well Gad man, pardon me for breathing! I am Professor (emeritus) of Greek at the University of Oxford, and I only dwell in Mablethorpe because I had the misfortune to develop a swelling on my posterior, which distracted the scholars and made my lecturing on Pindar risible in the extreme.

Consequently, I write collections of verse, in Greek measures, here in my retreat by the gently lapping North Sea. I fish, I meditate and I compose lines of such beauty that your publication does not understand them. I wish to ask you two simple questions. 1. Are you able to read Greek Sir? and 2. Do you wish to meet me at dawn on the eighteenth instant, with pistols on Clapham Common?

And from Mr. Algie Hawberry, a note of frustration:

Sirs,

It is with deep regret that I withdraw my subscription to your journal. After long deliberations with my conscience, I have decided that no gentleman may continue his literary connections with a publication which refers openly and without blushes, to the word 'appendage'.

Yours etc.

And from Mrs. Cholmondeley Gubble:

Sirs,

To what depths has the world of letters fallen? You refuse to consider my narrative concerning Ethel Dolbert, an Englishwoman made concubine to an Albanian bandit? And on what grounds? You actually object to scenes of explicit passion? Really, I must protest. Even in the works of the Bard you will discover offensive phrases, particularly in the coarse manner, as in the 'wind instrument' reference in 'As You Like It', and in Hamlet's 'Country matters', so what in the name of Hades is wrong with, 'Her white limbs were firmly bound with dog's intestine and the dove-white sex-slave was lodged in a cavern to await their pleasure'? Tell me what is offensive and I shall edit out the nasty words.

Yours brigandly, etc.

My first onerous duties as literary chap were therefore rather astonishing, as you see. But a veritable wedge of poetry had to be waded through before bedtime.

 

Feb. 7th.

A most disturbing experience must be recounted to you today, Dear Reader. It was an encounter with the Watcher. Am I going insane! I never actually SAW him, in any substantial sense, but he was there. It was indeed the Unknown who scrutinises me. But let me begin at the beginning.

I had been urged by Chief Brother Ronald to venture into the depths of the Great Wen and reclaim a soul. It began with the Chief Brother's visit at about ten in the morning. I was snipping cigars when he arrived. There was the usual massive shadow blocking out the sunlight from the hall, so large is the man.

I admitted him into the parlour and offered him tea, but he chose to remain standing.

'I am a man with a mission, Pimley.... He smiled in that unconvincing way that really means 'I have a task for you.' He is tall, square and very solemn. I shiver at the sight of him, for he is every inch the undertaker. That is his profession, but he fulfils the role of Chief Brother at our Brethren Councils and is looked up to by all. His beard is menacing and the cragged head under the tall black hat is most unsettling to a chap trying to concentrate on toasting crumpets by the fire.

'You carry on with your sweetmeats,' he says, blocking out the light at the window. 'I shall deliver your chore.'

'Yes, yes.... do.'

The task is very simple. You are to find Smithers.'

'Smithers? Butter runs down my chin and I blush.

'Indeed. A lost youth, almost brought into the Fold but now relapsed and in the grip of Sin. Go seek him, Brother Preston.'

'Seek him. Where?'

'In the Depths, young man, the very lowest depths of despair.'

His yellow teeth quite put me off my tea, and I felt a strange power emanate from him. His eyes seemed to compel attention.

'We had him within salvation's reach.... just two days ago, but the lepers heaved him back to the hells of London. Bring him back to us, Pimley, bring him back, and the highest rewards shall be thine....'

'H... Highest rewards?

'Quite.'

He turned and left, without another word. All he did was place a scrap of paper on the table. I read this: 'Smithers, The Crescent, Little Crack, Soho.' It was all Greek to me, but one thing was clear: I stood to gain the ultimate esteem of my Brethren - the Indigo Scimitar of the Creator. I would find this young man and reclaim him.

 

Feb. 8th.

I never recorded the encounter with the Watcher yesterday. After Ronald had left, I went to purchase some provisions for the journey into the depths, and I had just spoken the words, 'aniseed balls' when the shopkeeper told me that a young man was gesticulating at me from the doorway. I turned, and I saw only the disappearing foot and cape. I knew that it had been the Watcher. My sprint to the door entailed crashing into several displays of Althrup's Patent Elixir and I was later to be billed for eighty-two bottles of the stuff.

But I saw only a dark figure in the distance, turning into a side-street. Once again, I had missed a direct confrontation with him. Nevertheless, I regained my composure and went down the checklist of essential gear for Going Under as the Brethren called a hunt for souls in the Wen:

Sword-brolley malt whisky long coat

galoshes

ham sandwich fresh fruit

aniseed balls

I felt prepared for anything that the pits of degradation could offer me, and returned home well-stocked, but profoundly troubled by the persistent presence of this mystery man. It was clearly time to consult Harry Hever and enlist some assistance in the matter.

Harry and I share the same enthusiasm for horse-flies, and at first, I could not turn the conversation to the subject of mysterious watching chaps.

'Ah, Pims. I've something to show you.'

He scuttled off into an antechamber, and returned with a bowl of wriggling maggots. 'See.... diptera  and they shall, when mature, have a thorax of larger extension than any other horse-fly! Yes, I'm certain of it.'

'You mean, YOU are going to win?

'Sorry, but I'm afraid so, old boy. There shall be a Heverae fly! Shake my hand like a gentleman.'

I did indeed, but felt mightily peeved inside. The cad was revelling in his victory. I was so abashed that for a minute or so I was reluctant to ask his help, but necessity drove me to yield.

'Harry... I've come to ask some advice.'

'Well bat on, old chipper... anything I can do?

'Hope so. The fact is, I'm being followed by a young chap.

'Oh dear.... bad business. The man's a Hello Gordon.... probably accosts you near the Drury Lane spot eh?

'No... no. You're mistaken. This is more serious. I think he's been paid to fill me with terror by persons unknown... and he's succeeding.'

'Oh come, not my chum Preston! No terror there surely?

'Afraid so, old cove... I'm rather letting the side down.'

Tut tut.... but how do you know he's a thug?

'Well he's either a thug or a ... .a phantom!'

Harry brought me a gin and tonic. That was a fatal move, because it led to another, and another and another.

By the time I hinted that I should be on my way, I tried to move and couldn't. True. I could not move a limb. Harry confessed that he, too, was stone-still inebriate and we tried to speak further, but only the following conversation ensued:

Me. Arahaaa canathacac?

Harry. Oh ablitotly ooools breenie.

Hence, this mom, as the blackbird twittered, I awoke, supine on his sofa. He was in a heap on the floor.

 

Feb. ?

Bit bloody evil today. Only managed to spit into the fire and then slept again. Gittins, my servant, must have changed my pants. Awful smell everywhere.

 

Feb. 13th.

Ready for the London excursion. studied the map and packed the survival bag. Harry came around and delivered my nether garments. Said he'd had them washed by an old crone who owed him a favour.

Bless the old vomit-sack, he offered to accompany me, and brought his grubs with him to pass the time. I feel the Scimitar on my flesh already. Smithers, we seek thee!

 

Feb. 14th.

Felt better today, and resolved to do the job. Set off with Harry at nine of the evening, into the putrid cellars of the underclass. We fortified ourselves with some three pints of mixed and a dram or two before finding a spot in a corner where we could lie down and await a contact. Sooner or later, a pander was certain to come, plying his or her trade. Sure enough, at one in the morning, in the cold well after lights out, a hairy hand lay upon mine, and a voice said, 'I heard you seek a little 'un.'

'How do you know?

'I was listening in the pub.... you seek Smithers?

'In faith I do Sir.'

'Madam.'

'Pardon?'

'Oh, I am a Madam. I am of the female variety, good sir. Harriet Clacket to be precise.'

Heaven forfend! How could such bushy hirsuteness belong to any feminine soul? I peeped into the ochre light and saw a grizzled face, ravaged by hard times, cold weather and the thump of a broad hand.

'At your service, m'Lord   Harriet Clacket always delivers...'

She cackled in a way that made your bottom shiver and whispered for us to follow her. Harry gathered his wits and cloak and came along. Unfortunately for him, however, he had been toying and gloating over his grubs and the Clacket woman saw this. No sooner had he emerged into the light than she grabbed them and poured them into her ample mouth.

'Stop.... the Devil take you woman... that's larvae of Heverae flies.'

'Ruddy good.... imagine them on toast, young sir!'

'You damned heathen. There goes my immortality!' He almost wept.

Oh dear reader, if you have stayed with this horrendous narrative so far, then bear with me. I went, running from that dreadful crone, into the abyss.

Zeus on high, and all Olympus! I wandered from the narrow road. The Wen has torments to ruin the firmest corset. It was like a dream of death: a stagger into Hades, my brother. How can I convey to one who sits reclined in comfort, in domestic bliss with fair cherubs around his knees and the wifely presence in evidence by stroking his brow.... how can I, I say, draw in words the dank, sorrowful pit of human detritus which meets the unwary down Pestilence Court.?

Imagine if you will a floating cesspit, with towering wooden scaffoldings projecting through the stink and rats into the grey firmament above the Thames. Picture a seething maggot-mass of semi-human shapes, groaning with the weight of sin. Brethren, what more could I do but hail them and give them heed of hellfire?

In faith, I print here the homily I shouted at the crawling simian groping dirt-crusted trollops.

You are the lost, ye children of the stews. Drop to the earth now and beg forgiveness for your sins which have brought you to this. Woman - take the babe from your dugs and take up the gin bottle. I mean, turn that around, and you'll get my gist. And you, labourer - scowl not at your sodden undergarments and cease your noisome farting!

Hell awaits you all. The Lord of Thunderbolts will forgive, even unto the last intake of breath.

That is as far as I got. Two burly chaps grabbed me and dumped me into a boat full of tripe and chitlings bound for the Groat and Liver tavern