Lord Wilton – Wiltie to his many friends, though whether they are fair-weather or not is up for discussion, but not perhaps during this story – lifts his head and looks at his tormentor. He cannot see very well, as one of his eyes is fully closed and blood runs from a wound at his scalp into the other. His face is a mess, and the blood has dripped onto his smart evening wear, his white shirt has turned pink. Yes, admittedly he wept, who wouldn’t under the circumstances? He is bound and sitting in a chair. His tormentor kicks the chair with a booted foot and then comes nearer and pushes it over, whereupon it falls to the ground with a thud. Lord Wiltie’s head bounces off the hard floor and he moans.
The man pushes the chair over so Lord Wilton III of Devonshire – to give him his full title, poor lamb – is kneeling on the ground with the chair on his back. The tormentor cuts the ropes that bind the prisoner, and when he is free from the chair the man pushes a knife into his back, slowly. He pulls it out just as slowly, and the Lord weeps again in pain, head bowed and blood dripping onto the floor, spittle the colour of the gown his mistress Harriet was wearing when he saw her last, Summer Sunrise Blush it was called he reminisces tiredly. Marvellous dress, showed off her blancmange-like bosoms to perfection. What he wouldn’t give to have his sore head buried between their magnificence right now.
The tormentor takes the knife and cleans the blade on a clean white handkerchief. He beckons another man over and together they pick the Lord up, and holding him under the arms pull him backwards into another room, just as bleak as the previous.
Lord W – the moniker the staff at his country mansion bestow on him below-stairs – starts to try to back-pedal as soon as he sees what is lying on the floor of the room, the man hits him hard on the head to quieten him. His wildly expensive dress shoes, only the best for our Lord and buffed to within an inch of their lives just that morning by his valet, keep their lustre though they are mired now to be sure with a drop or three of his own bodily fluids pass by a shiny wooden structure. The men let Wiltie drop to the floor and there is a noise, a tinkling of a bell.
They pick Lord W up and drop him into the coffin, richly upholstered in purple velvet. For some reason, his brain is focusing on a frayed thread, thinking how well it would complement the pink of Harriet’s outfit.
Lord Wilton whispers, though if you were in the room with your ear to his mouth you would still be hard-pushed to make out what he is saying, and he passes out. The man slaps him hard across the face to wake him and takes a glossy black rat from his pocket, holding it by the tail. The rat squeaks indignantly. He throws it into the coffin with Wiltie and the other man closes the coffin lid quickly before the rat escapes. The men look at each other and are distracted by the mad ringing of the bell that is attached to the coffin lid. It stops and all is silent.
Then it starts up again, but with less intensity, much like a rat is passing by the rope on the inside of the coffin that is attached to the bell.
‘Distinct touch of the Gothic to this, wouldn’t you say?’ the tormentor strikes a match on the sole of his boot and brings it to the cigar that is hanging out of the corner of his mouth.
‘When is that bell going to stop? Not helping my headache.’
‘Quit your whining, you big nancy, look the job’s a good one, and you and me and a juicy purse have a date this evening, eh?’
‘Oh would you look at that? Head has stopped hurting.’
‘That’s the spirit old man! Now, I say again, distinct touch of the Gothic to this one, wouldn’t you say? And I hurt my toe kicking that well-fed bastard.’
‘I have some salve in the back room?’
‘A distinct whiff of Poe you might say.’
‘Our Lord and Master does seem to be a Well Read Fellow.’
‘Quite agree old chap.’
Their Lord and Master, ah now, should they see him, giggling, reading from a newspaper that has been recently ironed by his Gentleman’s Gentleman so the print won’t stain his hands – we’ll call him G – slapping his hairy thigh.
‘Ho ho haaa!’ his breath leaves him and G comes over to slap him on the back.
‘Thank you G, perhaps a little drink, maybe my opium pipe? Was just reading about the children who found Wiltie, here let me tell you what the London Particular says:
Blah blah waffle waffle delicate disposition, oh yes, “our man on the scene say that two ragged children rummaging around in the mud on the banks of the River Thames, young and determined, spotted something in said mud and went to investigate.
Whereupon out scuttled a Chinese Mitten Crab that had been gorging itself on a fat white hand, at first thought to be a new species of maggot, but on second glance was definitely digits as affixed to one was the ring showing the family crest of the Wiltons.” Bloody marvellous G, I rather think a bottle of champers is in order!’
‘Quick as you like, I’m rather eager to get started on the next chapter of our little adventures. That Lord Archie was deliberately cheating at Bridge, I’m quite sure of it. And his scrawny titless bitch of a sister wouldn’t even return my gentle flirtation. I think she’s frigid you know.’
‘Quite. But if I may venture, sir, you will have no friends left if we continue on with our little spree. And as for the police force…’
‘Oh really G! I am disappointed. The force is a joke. Besides, the people that matter are in my pocket. And well, we’re only in the P section of the library.’
‘As you say, sir.’
‘I’m not sure that I understand how Lord Wilton III was found in the Thames.’
‘Well, sir, it’s like this you see. After the D for Dickens cram fat old Lord Pilkington up the chimney debacle, his corpse is still to be unearthed, pardon the pun. And you like reading about your former friends in the newspapers, do you not? Adds spice, you said.’
‘Gosh G, the laudanum and liquor must be doing their job rather too well. More I say, more! Otherwise we shall fall down in our creative endeavours.’
‘As you say sir. As you say.’