As I got into the carriage, my mind was preoccupied with thoughts of my application to the House of Lords. Had it been accepted? Refused? I was on my way to find out.
A while into the journey, the carriage master explained that we would have an unexpected delay. Apparently a horse had gone and died in the middle of the road, and we would have to take the route through the Peasant Quarter. As we drove, I started to tuck into the meal that the servants had prepared for me. Cold fillet of lamb, a selection of cheeses from Europe and our finest dairies, and a bottle of brandy to keep me warm, and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the Peasant Quarter. The buildings to either side grew smaller and smaller, wooden beams covered in mould. People crowded together in the streets, and the putrid smell of sewage was accompanied by the unmistakable odour of festering flesh. The cobblestones grew larger and rougher, and could be felt through the voluptuous leather seats of the carriage. Peat fires burned all over the place, its smell wafting in through the driver’s window. By now we had reached the heart of the Peasant Quarter, and nearly all of the buildings had boarded up windows and doors which hung off their hinges. The centre, though decrepit and deserted, was the most crowded area I had seen so far. Merchants hawked their wares, selling the usual scraps of food, ragged clothes and hocus pocus. Rats crawled everywhere, simply everywhere, hindered only by squat old spinsters with brooms. As we pressed deeper and deeper into the fold, the lethargy that held these people was almost tangible. Beggars roamed the streets, banging against the four walls of the carriage and spilling my brandy in the process. The smell of sewage was momentarily replaced by the ever more putrid stench of desperation. Here was a different world, a world that had never heard of Stilton or Champagne, a world apart from mine. Here was a corporeal hell.
As the House of Lords loomed in the distance, I began to realise that my not joining the House was the least of London Town’s problems. That was dangerous thinking, and if I had any hope of becoming something in this world, it had to be squashed. Eliminated. As I climbed the steps to the House those thoughts had already been banished by ambition.