It is impossible for a Scotsman to open his mouth without making some Englishman hate or despise him. I reflected on this as we dealt with the latest difficulty to our plan.
“Now listen carefully, your Majesty,” said Walker. “‘Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously. Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses, as Moses supposes his toeses to be.’”
“Moses s’poses his toeses is rrrroses, but Moses s’posen errrrrrrrroneously. Moses he ken that his toeses ain’t rrroses, as Moses s’poses his toeses to bein’,” brogued the Dauphin.
Walker sighed, and turned to me. “‘Tis hopeless. Utterly hopeless.”
“If I had a shilling for every time I had heard the words ‘hopeless, utterly hopeless’ before the successful completion of some scheme or other, I should be a very wealthy man,” I said. “Still, you do have a point. Why, I imagine I could turn young Gus from a ragamuffin into a proper gentleman before you can turn the Dauphin from a Scot into a proper Englishman.”
“Not a bet I would consider taking, your Lordship,” said Walker. He turned back to the Dauphin. I released a sigh, and then excused myself from the small room we had rented. Making my way down the stairs, I exited the slaphouse deep in the heart of Southwark, where refuse spilled into the streets and tired beggars clamoured for alms. To think, I was scant alleyways from my room at the Tabard.
Avoiding mud puddles, I walked with a slow and forlorn pace down the street, passing the looming bulk of Marshalsea. From their barred windows, the denizens of that awful place called out piteously, begging for release. In more normal times, I ignored such entreaties, but sunk in such despondent mire as I was, when a grey-topped old duffer called in stentorian tones to me from a ground-level window, I stopped.
“Your lordship!” he called. “Your lordship, clearly a man of probity and prosperity such as yourself could see fit to release me from my bonds!”
“What is your name, old relic?” I asked, for his face was deeply lined from years of suffering and neglect. Almost ecstatically, he reached through the bars to me.
“The Right Reverend William Dunn, is I. Billy Dunn, of the little chapel in Aldborough Hatch, ask any man there, they know me!”
“A man of the cloth?” I asked, intrigued. “What brings you to such mean estate?”
“Oh, alas, alas,” he wailed. “Is it not true that all men can be criminals, if tempted, but also that all men can be heroes, if inspired? Were that such an opportunity were given to me!”
“At your ease, fellow. What troubles you? Why have you alighted here? What business is it?”
“A fifty-pound business,” he sobbed. “A grave weakness, done only for reasons of strength. Strength, I tell you!”
“Go on,” I said.
“My rectory lacked for funds--what a tragedy befalls the church! But a young man of my acquaintance--of handsome and trustworthy visage, from a good family, and most reputable--told me of a horse race to be held outside the city. This horse race, he vouchsafed--most surely he did, in the kindest and most honest words--had already been decided, even before the horses had been run. He allowed that were I to place my coin upon a certain horse--a most high-spirited stallion by the name of Beadlebomm--I should win back ten times my original wager.”
I smiled sadly. “And this stallion came in last, and you lost everything.”
“Everything!” cried Dunn. “Fifty pounds of the church’s money, which was to go to the upkeep and maintenance of my parish, and some shillings of my own! O what misfortune! In time, the bill-collectors and the county sheriffs came for me--honourable men, every one of them, and I will hear not a word against them--and locked me away here in this prison. Why, oh why did my luck turn bad? Why could not my horse have won?”
“My friend,” I said, “you have been subject to a most unkind trick. This fellow told you that this horse would win, when in fact he knew it was certain to lose. You were marked to lose before you even placed your wager.”
Dunn’s face coloured a deep red. “That...scoundrel! How dare he? How dare he?”
“This gaol you reside in...comfortable, is it?” I said idly.
“Comfortable? Do not be foolish! I moulder away here, as a result of the unconscionable actions of an unscrupulous charlatan!”
“Truly, it is unfortunate that this fellow has escaped justice. If there were some way of punishing him, would you be amenable?”
His face screwed up tight, Dunn managed to snarl, “Impossible. He has ventured overseas, indeed, came and visited me prior to his departure!”
“Such men must not go unpunished.”
“No, no indeed! May God’s own fist fall upon them!” he thundered, and gripping the bars tightly, rattled them in their sockets.
“How inexpressibly fortuitous of you to say so,” I said, “For I have just such a rogue of my acquaintance that needs punishment.”
Dunn’s eyebrows shot up. “You say so?”
“Indeed,” I said. “A slaver, and a dealer in slaves.”
“Quite so. If I pay your debts, would you be willing to work with me to malign this fellow?”
His aged face set with determination, he nodded. “I am your man.”
“I shall return.”
I whistled cheerfully as I returned to the rented room to extort fifty pounds out of Walker. Dunn’s words had inspired some theological reflection in me. God provides, I decided, and God loves tricksters. Jacob, David, Solomon--noble men all, and men of my party. Now I had my old priest. Yes, I thought, God most certainly provides.
The Life, Times, and Misadventures of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount of Stokington, Soldier, Gambler, Diplomat, Scoundrel, Notorious Rakehell, and Lord of Menacing House, in his Own Words.