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The Perils of Pleasure
Of all the myriad ways Colin Eversea could have met his demise—drowning in the Ouse at the age of six, for instance, or plummeting from the trellis leading up to Lady Malmsey's bedroom window some twenty years later—somehow he'd failed to consider the possibility that he might hang. In fact, when all was said and done (admittedly, there was an awful lot to say and do), Colin had always thought he'd breathe his last breath lying next to the beautiful Louisa Porter of Pennyroyal Green after having been married to her for three or four decades.
Never, never did he imagine he might spend the last few hours of his life in a damp Newgate cell with a flatulent thief called Bad Jack.
And now Colin and Bad Jack sat in the pews of the Newgate chapel while the prison's ordinary railed vividly about the tortures of eternal hellfire awaiting the two of them once their souls had been choked from their bodies. Next their shackles would be struck, their arms bound, and they would be strung up from the scaffold erected outside.
Bad Jack seemed bored as a schoolboy trapped inside on a sunny day at school. He picked his fingernails. He belched, and thumped his sternum with his fist to help the belch out. He even leaned back and yawned grandly, treating the ordinary to a view of his dark and mostly toothless maw. All in all, it was a bravura performance, but it was lost on the audience who had paid for the privilege of watching the condemned tortured by the pregallows sermon.
For it was Colin they had come to see.
They peered over the railings up above the chapel, eager tocompare the actual man with images on the broadsheets rustling in their hands. Mere ink did not do justice to the reality of Colin Eversea, to his height, his loose-limbed grace and vivid eyes and strong elegant features, but myriad lurid images had abounded for weeks in the broadsheets. The English loved nothing more than a criminal with dash, and if he was gorgeous, so much the better.
Colin's brother Ian had brought one of the most popular broadsheets to him: on it he was depicted with Satanic horns and a pointed tail and wielding a ridiculous knife—more a scimitar, really—dripping blood into a pool.
In a rare note of authenticity, the artist had seen fit to sketch him in a Weston-cut coat.
"Looks just like you," Ian had told him. Because that's what brothers were for.
"What bloody nonsense." Colin handed the broadsheet back to Ian. "My horns are considerably more majestic."
Ian began to smile, but it congealed halfway up. Colin knew why: "majestic horns" reminded both them of the first time Colin had pulled down a buck—in Lord Atwater's Wood.
But neither of them said anything aloud. There were too many memories; every one of them, the smallest to largest, was painful as a stab now. Airing just one seemed to somehow give it more importance than the others. They never reminisced.
They exchanged inanities about broadsheets instead.
Colin handed the broadsheet back to his brother. "Will you have this framed? Something in gilt would suit."
He'd said this more for the benefit of the warden, who hovered near him as often as possible to make note of his comments to sell to the broadsheets. Those broadsheets had become both cherished mementos and valuable investments. For Colin Eversea was not only a legend now—he was an industry.
There was even a popular flash ballad, sung in pubs, on street corners, on theater stages, and in amateur musicales:
Oh, if you thought ye'd never see
The death of Colin Eversea
Come along with me, lads, come along with me
For on a summer day he'll swing
The pretty lad was mighty bad
So everybody sing!
Jaunty tune. Before things began to look so grim, back when their confidence had been unshakable, back when the Everseas' petitions for Colin's freedom were still crisp in the hands of the Home Secretary, his brothers had even written their own verses. Most of them concerning his sexual prowess, the size of his manhood or the lack thereof.
Because again, that's what brothers were for.
It was all very ironic, Colin thought, given that he had spent much of his colorful life attempting to stand out from his forest of impressive brothers and earn his father's admiration, even going so far as to join the army. But he'd managed to come home from the war entirely intact, whereas Chase, for instance, came home with a heroic limp, and Ian had been wounded. Then again, his father, Jacob Eversea, had always treated him with a sort of bemused detachment. No doubt because he was the youngest of the boys and had always been by far the biggest handful. Perhaps his father thought it wouldn't pay to become too attached to him, because he'd known he was bound to do himself in inadvertently in a duel or a horse race or plummeting from the trellis of a married countess.
The ironic part was that Colin had at last managed to achieve what no Eversea in history had so far managed to do:
This made him the most legendary Eversea to date. The other irony, of course, was that he was entirely innocent of the crime. Then again, when the Charlies had found him with his hand on the knife protruding from the chest of Roland Tarbell, and when the sole eyewitness to the crime—Horace Peele, the man with the three-legged dog called Snap—had vanished into the ether, and when the only witness to the witness's vanishing claimed fervently to have seen Horace Peele taken away in a fiery winged chariot . . .
Well, in all fairness, it was rather difficult to blame the jury.
The Everseas had found their petitions to the Home Secretary for Colin's freedom mysteriously thwarted at every turn. Even negotiations for transportation instead of execution had been oh, so regretfully denied.The Perils of Pleasure. Copyright © by Julie Long. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.