The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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Unplanned Reunions; The Living, with the Dead.

Full fathom five . . .

Mr. Grundy quickly scanned the smoky room and saw others’ glances at him turn shiftily away. No one in that environment easily made eye contact for longer than the briefest moment of time, especially as he was escorted by and was under the care of a capable-looking individual. He saw the man who interested him, and studied him for a few moments before he walked over to him.

He knew the place. It was a typical den of thieves and cutthroats whose history would never be fully written other than in St. Peter’s scrolls, or his opposite in that other place; but by then, it was too late to change one’s course in life, if one ever could. Most of those there couldn’t. Few of the choices in a man’s or a woman’s life in that part of town were of their own choosing. A man (as well as a woman) often became what he was born into and knew, with few ever able to break that mold, though a few did. He had, when he had been plucked from that same tavern forty years earlier. He had been a scrawny brat, chosen from that miserable place for his likely ability to squeeze into a selected house and unbolt the door, except he had not done as had been planned. His life had changed at that moment. Others had been interested in him for his size relative to chimneys in fashionable houses, but as luck would have it, he not only fell into Ned Crucklesham’s hands first, but had also fallen into the cellar of the modest house to be burgled and had broken his leg. From that inauspicious and awkward beginning, his life had changed for the better. He had been taken in by the man he would have helped rob, and had grown apace with good food and an education. With the passage of time, he had also fallen in love with and married his benefactor’s youngest daughter. His life after that had taken but one turn for the worse, and that had been when Matthew Stavely had decided that the man who walked the docks early in the morning with his dog could unknowingly help him further his own goals by giving up his life. Mr. Stavely was now about to pay for that failed effort of some seven years earlier.

Grundy’s sharp eyes began to smart from the thickness of the choking atmosphere. He began to agree with King James’s long-winded and circuitously pompous bombast—his “Counterblaste against Tobacco” of almost two hundred years earlier, but long forgotten:

'First, it is thought by you a sure aphorism in the administration of medicine that the brains of all men being naturally cold and wet, all dry and hot things should be good for them of which nature this stinking suffumigation is, and therefore of good use to them. Of this argument both the proposition and assumption are false, and so the conclusion cannot be void of itself. For as to the proposition that because the brains are cold and moist, therefore things that are hot and dry are best for them; it is an inept consequence. For man being compounded of the four complexions (whose fathers are the four elements) although there be a mixture of them all in all parts of his body; yet must the divers parts of our microcosm, or little world within ourselves, be diversely more inclined some to one, some to another complexion according to the diversity of their uses that of these discords a perfect harmony may be made up for the maintenance of the whole body.'

The air inside was almost as rank as the air outside, though the tobacco smoke hid so many of the other personal stinks about the place—the stink of unwashed and otherwise careless bodies. He shivered, remembering the discomforts of that earlier time that went with the smells, and realized he would need to take care that he took no other irritating companions away with him when he left. He could almost feel them moving on his skin even then, and could see others scratching in their hair.

He saw the one he had expected to see; Matthew Stavely, and walked over to him, followed by his burly companion. He would stay just as long as needed and put up with any discomfort to achieve what he needed to do. “I’ve been watchin’ you for some little time now once I learned you were here, and you are not what you seem to be; playing bopeep in dark corners and out of sight like a hedge bird, and in this nunnery of all places.” Mr. Grundy fitted his voice and his language to the rough company in order to not attract the wrong kind of attention, though any stranger in that place would stand out. His occasional lapses back into his usual educated manner of speaking would likely not be noticed too well. Mr. Stavely looked startled at the man addressing him who had sat down opposite after flicking at the seat with a handkerchief. There was another larger individual that had accompanied him into that hellhole of vice too, to discourage any closer attention to one dressed better than most others there, which was always sure to attract attention, especially as he also carried a quite heavy bag with him.

Mr. Grundy looked him in the eyes. “You don’t know me, though we did meet once, some years ago under difficult circumstances. Very difficult, perhaps even more difficult than you seem to ’ave landed in at this moment, if your face is any teller of tales.” His glance moved to the plate of questionable fare in front of him that he had hardly touched. “I see you ’ave not yet learned about the food ’ere. Hard to keep down, but the dogs will thank you, either way—them as is stupid enough to be in here!”

Matthew had not liked to be approached, or spoken to by a stranger, and was visibly nervous. He did not like the man’s curiosity about him. “I don’t know you. I’d like to be left alone.” He spoke softly. It was always wise to be polite with those one did not know in this kind of place. He did not trust anyone who might know more of his situation here than they should, considering he had arrived barely a few hours earlier, himself. He gave it no thought, but Matchett had felt exactly the same way when he had unexpectedly approached him, that night, not so long ago, and in a similar setting.

“I’ll leave you alone in a short while if that’s what you really want”—he looked about the room—“though why anyone might wish to stay ’ere when rescue is close at hand, I do not know.” He smiled at the pathetic, and wary figure sitting opposite him and saw that he should continue. The word rescue seemed to have caught his interest. “I believe . . . no, let me correct that. I know that your name is Matthew Stavely.” There was a look of alarm on his listener’s face, lest anyone else might overhear that name. It had not been the one he was going by. “I ’ave something that belongs to you, which I promised I would see was returned to you when you showed your fizzog.” The old man could not hide his suspicion, except that he had said something was being returned to him. One did not look a gift horse in the mouth, not even in such a place as this where such a gift might be turned to an immediate profit.

Mr. Grundy brought a pair of shoes up onto the tabletop and placed them before the older man, who said nothing for a few moments, but he could not take his eyes off them. He knew them well, but he had never expected to see them again. They were well looked after and had that large silver buckle in the shape of a letter S for his name—Stavely. They were his son’s shoes, right enough. The older man could not hide some alarm in his face and in his eyes as he looked about, seeing others interested in them too. “Where’d you get those?” He had spoken quietly and then waited for an answer.

They disappeared below the table again. Others saw what had happened, but it was a common-enough event in that place, as stolen goods were brought out briefly for inspection. “I thought you might reco’nize ’em. They once belonged to a young gen’leman who had lost all inclination to wearin ’em in ’is new life, lest they might tell a tale of who he was.” The older man signaled that they be brought up to view once more. He looked more closely at them. They were certainly his son’s shoes of some years earlier, just as well looked after as he remembered them. “I made a promise that I would see ’em returned to the family as originally owned ’em, claim my modest reward, and see that they learned of the story behind ’em.”

“I have no money.” He made sure his voice was heard by others close by.

“I know you don’t, but it ain’t money I’m arfter. I ‘ave a different reward in mind. I have a coat you may know too, belongin’ to that same young gen’leman, and a satchel to convince you, if these didn’t.” He showed him his son William’s coat, in that monogrammed satchel, out of sight of others, just below the top of the table. The same thing happened many times each night.

Others became curious. The old man could not be in that line of work so soon after coming here, and it began to attract curious attention. The letters WS were clearly visible, embossed into the leather of the satchel, and impressed with gold leaf. The old man was suddenly attentive. “Very fine coat, it is.” His listener was still cautious but had suddenly felt as though all of his prayers might be being answered. He recognized his son’s belongings. Rescue might indeed be at hand. If he were out of sight, like his son, he would soon also be out of mind.

He looked up at his would-be benefactor, wondering how much he might believe of what he was hearing. “I know them. Why are you here? What trouble are you trying to cause for me?” He sensed the sudden interest of others in what was happening.

“No trouble, sir. I am returning ’em to you. I’ve been well paid, in a way, so you needn’t fratch on that.”

“You have seen this man, the one who had these?”

“Oh yes. I saw ’im. I met ’im once, just . . . it feels like just yesterday to my mind, though it could have been longer than that. A man loses track of time too easily about such things. I’ll tell you honestly, sir, I was never so pleased to see anyone in all my life as I was to see ’im that time as I did, relaxed as he was”—he referred to the lad, William, that he had seen laid out on the deck after he had been subdued by his young cousin’s blow to his face, but the man before him would not know that—“and now you. Who said that there was no power in prayer? I made myself a solemn promise at that moment that I would do all I could to see the family reunited once more, but it’s taken some time, for you to show up again like this, for me to find you.” He saw the man’s eyes dart about the room to see who else might still be interested in what was going on. He might expect no help in this place.

“I was away abroad for some years and have been in ill health, but the individual who owned this satchel—where is he? Is he safe?”

“As safe as he was seven years ago, when you last saw ’im. He missed you, but you know that, and you left wivout ’im. There were good reasons he could not join you as you both intended. He had a welcoming bosom enveloping him about then. Not as cozily warm, nor as safe and friendly as a man might like”—he cast his eyes about the room, conveying some of his meaning—“but welcomin’ nonetheless.” He could have been referring to any one of the dozen or so hard-bitten women in this hostel with that description. It seemed that his father’s suspicion about William having been ensnared by some enticing wench at dockside, showing him her cupid’s kettle drums or her man trap to distract him from what he should have done, had been correct. “A cruel parting, I’m thinking. He couldn’t rejoin you then, as he’d hoped, as things happened a bit too fast at the end, with that ship taking off as it did with you in fast pursuit, and ’im dealing with that other snug situation.” He winked suggestively.

“Aye, I told the captain to put on less sail until later, but he protested how he needed headway, so William never did rejoin us as he should have done. He didn’t listen to me and wait on that ship as I told him too, so he got left behind. Serve him right. I told him I’d come back to the ship for him before we left, and I did, but he wasn’t there. I hoped he’d be able to stay out of sight in London and look after himself after that with all of the . . . interest in the family after that.”

“He did that right enough. Well out of sight. To them as knew ’im then, I doubt ’e’d be reco’nizable today. Time is kind to some, but not to others—you, for example.” He smiled at the contusions on the man’s face and his somewhat blackened eyes and marks about his throat. “But to answer your question, ’e’s as safe as any man can be in this stinking ’ell’ole, and well out of trouble, but Lunnon’s a big place, and a man can get lost in it easily enough. Last I saw of ’im he was not two miles from here.” He said nothing of him being at the end of a rope and heading downriver behind that same ship his father was heading for. “Well settled in by now, I warrant, I can assure you of that. Truly at peace, and not a care in the world.”

The nuance of what the speaker might have been saying was lost on him. A man often heard only what he wanted to hear in the usual Delphic confusion.

“So he is doing well! Thank God for that! Can you take me to him?”

“Of course I can, gaffer. Not right to ’im, mind you, but close enough to where he’s settled. That’s why I’m ’ere. I remember his last words to me, as him and me talked, as though they were spoke just his mornin’ and still fresh in my mind. Most attentive I was at that time with so much ridin’ in the balance. It was a difficult time for me, choked up as I was wiv emotion, and I swore I’d do all I could to see you join your son and to bring that particular family reunion about, and now I shall fulfill that promise if I can, wiv your ’elp.”

Stavely’s eyes darted about. “But I dare not leave this place, especially not carrying anything like that. I’d be robbed before I’d gone ten paces, and besides, others might learn of it.” Indeed, he saw others taking an interest in their conversation and eyeing up the relatively well-dressed man and his burly companion, and then gave up any ambition of learning more of him as his glance was met by cold gray eyes, which did not waver.

“You say you dare not leave this place, but for the likes of me, I cannot understand how you dare stay here, risking having your throat cut for little more than the change in your pocket. No, you can leave it with me and ‘Orace here accompanyin’ you to see you to a better lodging place, free from the likes as inhabit this place.” He dropped easily into the language he remembered from many years ago, as others seemed to try and eavesdrop on what was being said, but had to be careful not to overdo it. “You don’t need noffink wiv yer, and there’ll be no need to fink of coming back to this thieves den eiver. No one will try to stop us or be any trouble to us wiv ‘Orace lookin’ after us, and you need have no fear of others botherin’ yer once we are safe out of ’ere.” Mr. Stavely could believe the truth of that. ’Orace had the look of a bruiser who could look after himself.

“How do I know I can trust you? What do you expect to get out of this? I should tell you I have nothing. I’m a pauper, and even a pauper’s pauper, fallen on hard times.”

“I know that, sir, and I’d like to see yer free of that heavy obligation. I would say we found you at just the right time. Having nothin’, then you can be sure that no man will bother you for it. What will I get out of it? Why, my sole reward from you will be nothin’ more than satisfaction for a job well done, sir, and long overdue, nothin’ more—a debt paid off, and a sacred promise completed—me being a religious man an’ all, and findin’ comfort in those simple things that cost a man nothin’—to see a family brought together in restful peace and ’armony once more, and few of us ever gets that satisfaction in our lives. I saw your son settled, and I promised that I would see you and him brought togever after that. It is now within my reach to do that. That will be my Christian reward.”

He leaned forward and whispered, “You don’t have to worry about leaving this place behind, sir. Even the rats are glad to get out of here in one piece. Rumor ’as it that his meat pies ’as quite a few of ’em in ’em, as well as other savory morsels.” Matthew’s nose wrinkled. He had suspected as much himself in the short time he had been there. “Even the dogs know enough to keep away from here. Most of ’em.” He chuckled. Horace had confided in him about some of the goings-on in the place. There was a big shed out back where the landlord brewed his beer in big open vats. He paid a lad to fish out those rats and mice that had drowned there overnight—sometimes ten or more—clean them up, skin them, and deliver them to the kitchen. Some of the bigger rats were as big as a cat and had a lot of meat on them. Tasty too. The lad soon learned to make sure to grab them at the back of the neck and see that they were well and truly drowned before he fished them out, or he might lose a finger when the rat turned on him. Horace had been that lad. “Well, the less said of that, the better.”

“I’ll have a gun with me, I’ll have you know that, and I know how to use it.” He had his hand deep in his pocket as he said that, clutching at his pipe.

“Of course you will, and of course you do. You’d need one to survive in a place like this.” He was not believed, but if others believed it, it might keep him safe for a while. “Very wise in this neighborhood. A man should not go to bed wivout one by him in ’ere, or a good watchdog, or a woman that a man might call wife, albeit for just an hour or two. However, that will take more gelt than you ’ave, even for a fast lift of a skirt, and a brief visit to Eve’s thatch yard, and they know it, though with the contents of this ’ere satchel . . .” He left the rest unsaid. He saw one such woman across the room with her skirts hitched high about her, like a public ledger or a receiver general—open for public view, and advertising her readiness to take on him, or any other of those others there, rash enough to be interested. She smiled at him, revealing gaps in her teeth—knocked out or fallen out from disease. He averted his eyes quickly. She would cause any man to think twice about entering the same room with her in occupancy, unless he was expected and wanted to be there. Even then, he might not get out unmarked or even alive if he was slow to pay or thought to shortchange her after engaging in, if not fully enjoying Moll Peatly’s Gig with her. His stomach churned at the thought, and he itched to get out of there as soon as he could and back to his clean and loving wife and the one daughter, Rebecca, still at home. Itched was the right word. An unwise visit there would be likely to leave a man discomforted with more than just Cupid’s itch, as they called it. He might feel as though he were being torn apart by a pack of ravening wolves feasting upon his privates.

“What of those shoes?”

“I told you. They was my credentials, my ’alf-a-David to you, along with that coat and satchel, all of which I knew would be well known to you so that you would know who I was, and might be inclined to believe what I’m tellin’ you.” Mr. Grundy found it difficult to drop back into the careless language of his childhood for any length of time, but he tried. His listener would not notice. “My intent, and reward, is to see them returned to their rightful owner and to see a family togever once more. It’s nobbut a short walk if you can make it on those shaky toothpicks of yours. Close by Lunnon Bridge is where we need to be, and where them as don’t intend to be discovered—or are safely hidden away from prying eyes—can stay that way. Not a good place to be after dark, but then in daylight, there are other difficulties for the likes of you.” He waved the server away before she might put a tankard of questionable brew in front of him or engage him in conversation to let him know what his welcome would be like with that other woman, still smiling at him. His nose wrinkled at the smell of her unwashed proximity. Thought of either the women or the beer was enough to temper any wish to stay there for any longer than he needed to.

“You lend wings to my feet, sir, and I can keep up with any man not aboard a horse after that piece of good news.” He clambered noisily to his feet and spoke softly, “I just came into here this morning, but I’ll not be sorry to leave this hellhole behind. Everything I own or value is on my back or in my pocket; the rest does not matter, so I can dare leave this place for a better one, for I doubt there’s any worse.”

“That’s the spirit! I can assure you it will be for a better place. Warmer too from what I heard—warm even the cockles of your heart, it will, and the company will be warmly welcoming and a damn sight cleaner than anything left in here!”

No one dared think to impede them as they set out, with Horace trailing behind them to see they were not followed. He had a cudgel in his hand, and he knew how to use it. They walked for some time toward the river, with Mr. Grundy holding a handkerchief to his face, though the sprig of lavender that it contained did little to help keep out the smell. The stench was more powerful the closer they got to the river. It was slack high tide, trapping all of the evil-smelling human refuse, but would soon turn if it had not turned already. The air was also thick with the choking, acrid fumes of sea-coal fires—still used despite John Evelyn’s redolent description of their effects upon a man’s lungs, and better written than King James’s effort against tobacco:

'.. . shows that ’tis the sea-coal smoke, That always London does environ, Which does our lungs and spirits choke, Our hanging spoil, and rust our iron. Let none at Fumifuge be scoffing, Who heard at Church our Sunday’s coughing.'

The small party stopped along the narrow way, when the guide identified a particular house. “Here were are. We’re close now.” He lifted the latch and opened a door leading into a darker space and led the way. Their feet echoed off planking. “I know my way here, sir, where you don’t, so you should stay close, with your hand on my shoulder, and make sure you don’t fall, as there’s stairs that go down here. I’ll go slow, and I’ll keep talkin’ so’s you’ll know where I am. Best if we move slowly so you don’t lose your footing. It wouldn’t do to have others hear us or follow us or know where we are going, which is why we needed cover of darkness for this, and Horace with us.” Mr. Stavely was too excited to pay attention to how Mr. Grundy’s speech had reverted back to a more educated style.

“Why is it so damp, and why can I hear rushing water?”

“It’s damp because we’re getting close to the river, and you can probably hear the waterwheels turning on the falling tide, as they pump water for the city. It’s nobbut a short ride to where your son waits. We might be followed through those streets up there, but not on the dark river so easily.” It seemed that a boat might be waiting for them. They walked out of a door at the bottom of the stairs and into the cooler and damper night air by the river. Not only was there the sound of rushing water but also droplets of it whipped about by the wind (though it might not be the usual water droplets from the rushing river where they were standing, an awkward place to be at the best of times with houses and their privies jutting out from the buildings above them, even public toilets) could be felt upon the face. It would have been refreshing, but for that thought, and that reality. There was a stink about the place from more than just the river. One needed to be careful where one stepped. “Here you are, sir, I’ll give you back this satchel now, and the coat and shoes, so the one who waits for you to ferry you across to that other place, if you follow my meaning, will know it’s you.” It was just as well he did not follow his meaning. “It’s just a short trip downriver with that current. Better this way, as you’ll not be seen and nobody the wiser about where you went.”

“Aye, then no one can follow to find out where I am going, and in the dark too. Clever of him. Just like my William to be careful like that.”

“Yes, sir. Just a short trip downriver, and I can assure you, others will certainly not see you. I almost didn’t recognize you myself, and I know full well you wun’t recognize him with all that’s changed about him in the intervening years. He’s lost a lot of flesh from him since you saw him, but I would say that he will look just as he should, to my mind. I’d better give you this to take with you, sir. It does belong to you. Don’t want to lose it, do we?” He held his crutches and helped him shrug into the heavy satchel and saw it settled on his shoulders in the dim candlelight streaming from the building rising far above them.

“Thank you.” He could not believe his luck might have changed so well. “It’s heavy.”

“That it is, sir. Heavy! There’s more than just a coat and shoes in there. We had to leave that hostel ’cause I could see that there was a growing suspicion from one or two of the cruisers in the room that there might be other interesting things in there with its weight—likely gold, they thought, and more than enough to see a man settled firmly into a new life, as it certainly will do for you.” The possible alternative meanings were lost on the old man who, like most desperate folk, heard only what he wanted to hear. “Good job we had Horace with us, or we might have been robbed. Be careful, sor, for it’s slippery here, and none too pleasant a smell either where we are with those houses above us on the bridge and their stream of Pilgrim’s salve likely to drop out of the sky and onto us at any time after their evenin’ victuals, so we should not delay being here. We should not stand here for too long and invite trouble.” No one in their right mind would choose to be where they were at that moment and exposed to all of that, but he could put up with that difficulty for a short while to achieve what he intended to see done. He brought a length of cord and fastened the two shoulder straps together across his chest, as the crippled man held tight on to his crutches. “So’s you won’t easily lose it, sir, or see it taken from you. Can’t ’ave that ‘appenin’ now, can we?”

“No. I have my knife to guard against that.” His knife was like his pistol, a figment of his imagination, and spoken of only to invite caution in those who might have other intentions upon him. “And what name might I tell my son, sir, so that we both might thank you as an honest-dealing man, and where do I go from here? I can see little in this light, in fact, I can see nothing at all. There is no boat that I can see.”

“Oh, my name ain’t important, sir. I doubt you ever heard of it, but I’ll tell it to you anyway. I’m Basil Grundy.”

The elder Stavely puzzled for a moment or two trying to place a once familiar name, and failing. “And what is this place where we are?”

“Where we are is on one of the piers on the bridge not too far from the waterwheels, and we are standing on the rocks and wood; good English oak, with good English rocks anchoring it to the riverbed and held together with pilings of good English elm, as they have been for six hundred years, sir. It’s slippery with the constant wetting and it might be icy as well, so be careful how you move. He’s waiting for you downriver, over there, round a couple of the bends, nobbut a short trip on this falling tide, and well hidden away from prying eyes.” His arm pointed off into the darkness where anyone could have been waiting, but not wanting to be seen; but how they might get a boat up to them in that outflowing current was not at all obvious, as there was no obvious rope to pull it in. No man might row against that rush of water now that the tide had turned.

“I don’t understand. Where is the boat I am to take?”

“Oh, it’s simple enough, sir. But I’m afraid there ain’t no boat this time around.” He grasped Stavely by the long hair at the back of his head so that he could not go anywhere or do any injury to the speaker on such a slippery footing, and took both of his crutches into his other hand. He leaned in close to him and then disclosed what had been burning in his heart for several years, and for their next meeting, which he had never expected to happen. “Your own shoes are also in that satchel, along with those of your son. I held on to ’em for seven years waiting for you to come back. They was once on my feet after you and your son had knocked me over the head dockside, as you kicked my little dog away, and then trussed me up like a chicken on the deck of that ship, with ropes about my feet and legs, and another about my neck—all leading off to that far ship, the Perry.” He felt a start of recognition. “Yes, I thought you might begin to recall me, if not my name. As you can see, I’m still here. I imagine that might be a bit of a puzzle for you.” The older man was indeed confused by what he was hearing.

“Those other shoes, your son’s, came off a dead man’s feet when the Perry went off downriver and dragged your son’s weighted body and not mine over the rail of that other ship, the Bellerophon, leaving his feet behind for you to untie. You didn’t know that, though, did you?” He could see, and feel by the way he tried to struggle free, that it was all coming back into his mind. “Your nephew Henry, a young lad then, but a man nonetheless, found me tied up beneath that canvas and had wit and compassion enough to set me free. Your son took my place to suffer the fate you had intended for me. You looked for him, you shouted for him, and you cursed him for not being there, and we heard every word, but he couldn’t hear you, and he couldn’t come—not with his ears stoppered with water about then. Those legs you found on the deck were your boy’s legs, not mine.” He let his words sink in, as those interludes from all of those years gone by came back into Mr. Stavely’s mind. Mr. Grundy felt the older man stiffen beneath his grip, but he could not do anything to break free and was unable to turn to grasp hold of him with his feet sliding around on the wet timber.

“I didn’t know what you had planned, though you tried to make it look as though you had been the one kidnapped or killed. There’d be no one looking for you after they thought you had died. I thought about it for some time after that and felt that I could at least try and undo what you hoped to achieve, in one direction at least. After you had gone, I went back aboard and took the shoes off those feet and tossed the legs overboard.” Mr. Grundy felt him try to twist around to take a hold of his captor, but could not.

“Aye, I thought you might recall a bit better once you knew more of it. Happen that lad of yours will be pleased to get his shoes back again, though they’ll be little use to him now without the feet to wear ’em, wherever they might be. I doubt he revived enough to know what happened to him on that final journey downriver, and I shed no tears over that. But you will know what is happening to you for all of about a minute or two, depending as to how long you can hold your breath.” He leaned in closer and told him more that would be sure to disturb him in his last conscious moments, if what he had already told him did not.

“Henry Stavely”—he felt the old man try to turn—“Aye, him again, sent me a letter just this morning and told me where I might find you. As for your son, he’s waiting for you out in the channel, if you hadn’t guessed it already, and has been resting well in the mud there for the last few years or so, as you soon will be, with that weight of good English cobblestones on your back to anchor you to the riverbed too!”

The older man struggled desperately to untie the cord, as recognition of what faced him became evident, but it had been well tied. “A lonely existence out there with his bones picked clean by now and whitening under that mud.” He felt the older man try to turn and to struggle against him, but he had no footing to do so. “Oh, it’s a bit too late to protest, struggle, or even beg, sir. We’ve gone well beyond that. A man reaps what he sows. Now, off you go, sir, like a nice gentleman, and give your long-dead son my compliments—Basil Grundy, mind you—when you meet up with him in that other place at the bottom of the river. Rest assured that where you are going, no one will ever willingly pursue you. I’ve played my part to see you two offspring of the devil brought together at last, and I did, after waiting seven years to do it.” He gave him a gentle nudge as he held on to the crutches, let go of his hair, and saw him slip over the edge from the slimy footing with a cry and flailing arms, trying to recover his balance as he might, as he cursed at the men left behind. His cries would not be heard over that steady roar or the constant swish, swish of the waterwheel, now turning fast in the outgoing torrent somewhere nearby. His crutches followed after him. They watched him carried out of sight almost instantly beneath the racing current flowing downriver between the piers at that point. There would be no one else see what had taken place, and no boats shooting the current at that state of outflow, in the dark, and risking being smashed up against the sparlings in those narrow channels between the piers. Wise men go by London Bridge. Fools go underneath it”—and not just because of the current between the piers—was a saying ignored only by fools.

His voice suddenly took on the refined accents of a more educated man. “Come, Horace. Let’s get out of here before we tempt our good fortune any further in this shit-storm of a place, and let us go and have our dinner, though I fear we may have to burn our clothes and bathe in the yard outside before missus’ll let us into the house after this night’s work here, but we shall tell her nothing. That was a job long overdue. He’ll not be found until the second coming, along with his son, and no one but you and me and the fish in the river any the wiser about it.” He laughed with some satisfaction over what he had done. “Though come to think on it, I should write a letter to Mr. Henry Stavely and let him know some of it, and that there are now no loose ends to be tidied away, and to thank him for what he told me. You can take it tomorrow. I feel as though I might not be as much in his debt for what he did for me seven years ago, leaving my wife with her husband, and my daughters with their father.”

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