The cell door slammed shut behind me with a clang that sounded like my death knell.
A most unsavory large wretch lying on a cot smirked as he looked me up and down like a housewife examining a fish of doubtful freshness. He was unshaven. He wore the grimy clothing of a cattle herder. He emitted an odor comprised of sweat, cattle, horses, dust and bad whiskey.
“Why are you in the lock up?” he asked.
“My dear fellow, I doubt that you would find it edifying.” I replied.
He stood and walked toward me.
“I ain’t good enough for the likes of you to talk to?”
“You are of course.”
“So start eddie-flying me.”
“You see, I am the third son of a Baron with a very small barony in England. My elder brothers are both frightfully healthy. I am most unlikely to ever inherit the title. While other men in my position join the army or the church, I did not find either option appealing. I stayed in the family manor after coming of age. I went abroad to seek my fortune only after a spot of trouble in the village. A serving wench in a pub completely misunderstood what I said to her. To avoid having even the slightest hint of impropriety blot the family name, I took the quickest available conveyance away from England. I ended up in your country.”
“Serving wench gave you a bit of service, did she?” The ruffian pounded my shoulder with his fist.
It hurt. I attempted to lapse into a dignified silence but he was not through with me.
“Keep talking, Limey. I like the way you sound.”
“Ah. To continue, sadly, my classical education proved to be of little or no assistance in obtaining employment in your uncivilized country. For example, I found I was ill suited to instruct uncouth little beasts in school. I attempted to become a correspondent for a newspaper, but the editor did not understand proper English. He said he required a translator for everything I wrote. No one was interested in taking lessons from me in Latin or Greek. Nobody wanted to hear my commentary on Alfred Lord Tennyson and contemporary poetry.”
The rogue smiled. “No kidding.”
“Sir, I am not being facetious. My search for a position was in vain. One finds washing dishes and mopping floors quite tedious. I admit I also lacked sufficient experience with those tasks. My employers found me to be a slow worker. They were not satisfied by the result. After I failed at many jobs, I was finally engaged as what in my country would be called a gentleman’s gentleman.”
“I became a personal servant to a forty-niner. He made a fortune as a prospector and a miner. Against all odds, he managed to keep most of it. Like you, he was entertained by my manner of speech. I knew he would tire of my presence eventually. I intended to save my salary and depart without a backward glance. However, my plan came to naught.” I sighed.
“Another wench, no doubt,” said my cellmate. He cackled.
“In other circumstances, sir, I would be forced to protest your description of the lady and demand satisfaction.”
“If you want to fight, I am ready and willing.”
He spat into his hands and rubbed them together. He had broad shoulders. The muscles in his arms and chest bulged out. He looked as though the gods had chosen him to be their champion in battle.
“Sir, I said in other circumstances. I recognize that you are only repeating my words. I cannot object. I will say I never saw true beauty till I saw the forty-niner’s young wife. She was many years younger than her husband. Like me, cruel necessity had forced her to accept a position in life which, in better times, she would have shunned.”
“So the two of you planned to get shut of the old man and to live off his money.”
“It sounds crass, Sir, the way you expressed it, but in essence—yes. However, we had a problem. Her husband was a massive man. As Sir Isaac Newton put it in his first law, ‘a body at rest tends to stay at rest.’ The two of us together could not generate the force needed to move his body. We wanted him to disappear, but we could not alter simple physics. Knowing his body would be present at the scene of his demise, my darling came up with a wonderful alternate plan. We would make it appear he was accosted by bandits who killed him.”
“But that didn’t work.”