by Adam Johnson
Monsieur was an important man. He told himself so. Nine-tenths of his thoughts, like most men, were on the topic of self. He was a man of business, affluence, and reputation. To the modern observer he would appear as a clown: to his contemporary mid-nineteenth century fellow, a personage of unequalled deportment and distingue. He was as magniloquent as he was parsimonious, as contumelious as he was opulent. He was a skilled hunter, horse-rider, and faro-player. He was, beneath his great coat and gold rings, a picaresque mountebank. But we do not fault Monsieur, for it is not genteel to slight the dead. And Monsieur is dead now.
Monsieur lived in a town of not indecent proportions in the southwest of France. There, he had enriched himself as a mercer, a banker, and speculator. He treated his retinue of employees, his aides-de-camp as Monsieur called them, as any nineteenth century man of sense. Monsieur only did them violence in the mornings and afternoons, and every time he saw them. Thus, Monsieur considered himself a progressive man of society, and was talked of in the papers as such. In his time, Monsieur was a true vainqueur de dames, but now was an aging man of fashion. He kept a mansion that received a regular obeisance from the townsfolk, and maintained a bevy of servants in yellow and gilt liveries. He had all the coveted habiliments of wardrobe, an excessive stock of jewelry and port wine, a grampus bull terrier of a wife with aging features and a mistress with newer ones, a regular plague of rheumatism in his knees, chalkstones in his toes, waxed mustachios, Monsieur was, entre nous, an old viper. But he got along fine for his part, and enjoyed his fashionable intelligence and pipe as much as any great man in Paris or London.
Monsieur was a man of money, and to other men, it bespoke of an unequalled virtue in character. Monsieur was obsessive over his money, and counted it on the minute. He counted it in the morning, noon and night, at each meal, and whenever the hands on the clock pointed at any of the numbers. He documented everything, and knew his assets to the half-gram of silver. And although he was flush of coin, he was never flush enough.
And you see, Monsieur’s mind was troubled. A substantial debt was owed him by an Englishman who had taken out much credit with Monsieur’s bank and boycotted the payment. Monsieur had never met the man: the transaction was overseen by one of Monsieur’s clerks since fired. Monsieur feared a non-satisfaction of the debt, and had employed a substantial posse to locate the debtor in and around town. The enterprise was unavailing, and Monsieur stood to suffer an extreme loss.
Monsieur had many eyes about town, but none had spotted the Englishman, whom Monsieur knew as Jonathan Cox. He knew nothing else of the man. “If I had seen him, Monsieur,” said his fellows, “I’d have shot him dead on the spot.” Monsieur thanked his compatriotes. Bedad, Monsieur wanted Jonathan Cox’s head. But Monsieur was a lawful citizen. He respected the law greatly, finding that it often worked to his advantage when manipulated with care. And Monsieur had close confidants in the law, as most businessmen are in the habit of keeping.
Now it must be owned, Monsieur would hardly object in private to the designation that Monsieur was quite a wine-bibber. Despite his station, he could be found toasting the most rustic fellow seven nights in seven, and he frequented the town taverns with all the tenacity of a tax collector, taking his alms in cup and his chances at the farobank. He was generally agreeable when in liquor, and was liberal with his purse if brandy was involved. He fought a man only once, in a water closet, over who was next for the mirror.
Thus we may find Monsieur of an evening, situated quite comfortably over a tall goblet of Sauterne, talking to no one and contemplating the aforementioned debt, and putting his mind any place but at ease. The public house “The Lion Heart” was busier than its custom, and the bandy of the town’s gentlemen was rambunctious. Monsieur eavesdropped on his fellows, as was his wont. The talk was mundane, and caused in Monsieur a certain familiar ennui: there was a lowly equerry wheedling his master for milk-punch, a small environ of financiers discussing trades, some sentimental remarks on the cholera epidemic by a quack doctor far gone in whiskey-and-water, and some general coquetry by several groups of young dandies led on by tankards of small beer. And then through the idle chatter, a voice broke through to Monsieur’s ear. The voice betrayed an English brogue and captivated Monsieur instantly. Monsieur located its owner some feet from his place at the pump, and made his way to the man, who was talking assiduously of a transaction with a business fellow with whom Monsieur was acquainted.
“Monsieur,” said the acquaintance, “what a pleasant juncture, to be sure.” Monsieur wished the man good evening, and extended his hand to the English stranger for introduction.
“Why, yes indeed Monsieur. I’m pleased to introduce you to.”
“Jonathan, cut in the stranger, pleased to make your acquaintance Monsieur.”
“Your reputation precedes you, sir.” began Monsieur to the stranger, convinced he had his man, and relishing the moment.
“How be that?” inquired the stranger.
“You are quite the clever rogue, sir. Did you think you could elude your obligation by frequenting public houses sir?” Monsieur teetered on the brink of eruption.
“Forsooth!” exclaimed the stranger in his native tongue, “What charges make you of me?”
“These sir! That you are a scapegrace sir! You villainous Sirrah! You rascally crimping, coxcombing, vagabonding, paramour of indecency!” broke out Monsieur.
“Now hold your tongue.” exclaimed the stranger.
But Monsieur had been rehearsing the lambast in his head for the moment he should meet his man. “You blacklegged, beggarly hangdog! You perfidious tipstaff of vice, sir! You raffish lazzarone! You indolence-loving, bog-trotting, indigo-smuggling, blind-hookey-playing, not-worth-powder-and-shot blackguard, plague take you!” And here Monsieur took the Englishman by the collar. All the eyes of the place were on Monsieur and the stranger. “You yokeling bumpkin of contrariness! You squid!” Monsieur coughed. “You slattern-vamping, trollop-chasing, dog-eared scoundrel! You unvariegated bastard of hangmen lineage! I spit on your boots sir!” And indeed Monsieur did. “You mawkish spadassin of contracting! You swashbuckling, jailbirding, reprobating, milksopping miscreant!” Some of the men in the tavern began to gather round. “You Silenus-looking, decency-jooking, dudgeon-inducing, Fleet-bound cad! You beggarly good-for-nothing, ne’er-do-well, toad-stinking hound of riffraff wretchedness! You gentlemen-swindling, not-worth-kindling, frivolous ghost of a man! Egad sir, look at you! You whiskified charlatan! You humbugging, curse-crowing, soul-defying rustic scalawag! You deuce-honoring, bawdy-dancing, ninnyhammering, Englishified cacafuego, a pox damn you sir! A drunken withered old chicken you are! You barmy barmpoting Billy no-mates! Look around you sir, have you a single ami in the place? Hold your tongue sir, and acknowledge the corn! You gormless, pikey-fied, scrubber-goading wally! You hornswoggling, balderdashing, crimpified codfish! You mudsilling, fiddle-playing, snuff-box-spilling, Queen-and-King-crying knave! If I had my saber sir, I’d gift you a most warranted silver-hilted end! Justice, sir, would back me. You malefacting jack-n-apes defaulting outlaw! Barkeep, alert a justice of the peace! Let it be known that Monsieur has caught a criminal!”
“But Monsieur!” bellowed the English stranger, raging in red hues and checking the contents of his coat pocket.
“Silence vagabond!” thundered Monsieur. “You starchified lichieres pautonnier! You wheedle-browing, venom-guzzling, glum little Victorian poltroon! You sham-perfumed – you reek of it sir – glazed-pump-worshipping, sub-linkboy! You fractured phantom of lawful transacting, a mark upon your soul sir! A mark upon your very soul! You rascally pirate of honest men’s purses! I spit on your very riding gaiters, sir!” And again Monsieur did. He assayed the man from toe to tip and continued his lampoon. “You scoundrel! You skulldugging scoundrel! You prodigal tramp! You dandified wastrel of rowdy ruffianism, you bad egg! You are a bad egg sir I tell you! You redcoat-cheering dreary little skunk-fellow! You hail-stoning, maiden-shaming, shoe-grime-tasting, King John-quoting, malignant mustard seed! You pumpkin-throwing serpent!”
“Enough sir!” ejaculated the stranger, diving into his breast and producing a pocket pistol. A shot rang out between the walls, and the gentlemen in the tavern made a great scrambling for the exit and the kitchen. The English shooter flew into the street, leaving only Monsieur, who was shot dead on the floor planks, his face transfixed in outrage as the rigor mortis set in beneath his shirtsleeves.
The English shooter was found out, convicted and divested of his head. At 9:00 a.m. on March 9, 18–, Jonathan Bowdry received a swift death by that wretched blade that took so many. He had murdered Monsieur, a complete stranger to him and vice versa. He happened to be an Englishman named Jonathan, and now he and Monsieur had both died because of it.
At the moment the guillotine fell on Jonathan Bowdry’s neck, in a Palladian styled mansion in Greenwich, London, there could be found two English greenhorn aristocrats making a game of billiards and toasting each others’ health. There stood the master of the estate, Jonathan Cox, Esq., bedecked in an amaranth velvet waistcoat, starched neckcloth and a brilliant corazza-shirt with sham frills, smoking a cigar and putting on severe airs while his friend, F. Walton BlitzAce, M.P., made movements of his cue preparatory to striking the ball. They were discussing, as they always did, money.
“You know, Ace, I’m in debt on the continent. A most unintentional thing you must know.” began Jonathan Cox. “The poor fellow. I was traveling through from Spain and took up a grand bill with a gentleman in the town. I say I almost ruined the man! What was his name. Bailey!” And at that utterance, Mr. Cox’s servitor and traveling man came running.
“Bailey, what the deuce was that man’s name in Mont-de-Marsan whom we dodged? I should like to satisfy my deficit plus interest. And send the man some champagne.
“On my life sir, I know not his name. I knew him only as Monsieur.”