Archibald Nemesis, fourth son of the Duke of Dimmerage, awoke to the pleasant sound of servants performing their duties, to the merry tune of sizzling bacon and curtains opening wide.
Aided by his valet, Rudolphus, who was always magically there when needed, Archibald tumbled out of bed and into a dressing-gown. Having bedecked his toes with pink slippers, he was escorted to the dining-room, where the Duke had already begun to peruse an immaculately ironed copy of The Times.
‘Hmphff,’ the Duke mumbled as Archibald seated himself on the opposite end of the extremely long dining-table.
For some time there was no sound but that of Archibald quietly munching toast.
Then, disaster struck.
Archibald almost choked on some bacon, and was saved only by a passing scullery-maid, who fortunately knew the intricate details of the Heimlich maneuver.
This time Archibald had wisely abstained from putting any food in his mouth, and thus a second application of the afore-mentioned Heimlich maneuver was not needed. He was driven to speak out somewhat forcefully (for the Duke was somewhat deaf):
‘Father! Yes! What is it?’
‘You’re a disgrace!’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I see here that you were hanged for embezzlement and forgery earlier this morning!’ the Duke shouted back, shaking his newspaper vigorously. ‘Here it is: ARCHIE N. E. MESIS HANGED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT AND FORGERY EARLIER THIS MORNING!’
‘But — ‘
‘If that were but all, I could perhaps forgive you, my son!’ the Duke went on. ‘But behold this obscenity! ARCHIBALD N. EMESIS ARRESTED FOR HIGH TREASON AND PIRACY!’
‘Father, look, I am clearly not either of these men, the names aren’t even the same — ‘
But the Duke was now red with fury. ‘How dare you deny these awful crimes? And that is not even all! BALD ARCHBISHOP FOUND NAKED AND INTOXICATED IN CANTERBURY BROTHEL!’
‘This is frankly beginning to be quite ridiculous, Father — ‘
‘And look! Here, in black and white, as plain as day: ARCHIBALD NEMESIS, FOURTH SON OF THE DUKE OF DIMMERAGE, FINED 5 SHILLINGS FOR BOARDING AN OMNIBUS WITHOUT A TICKET.’
‘Well,’ Archibald said somewhat awkwardly, ‘my chauffeur was ill that day. But how was I to know that you needed to buy a ticket for — ‘
‘Fiend! You then confess! You are no son of mine! I’ll disinherit you on the spot! Lawyer!’
The family lawyer, looking somewhat dusty, carefully crawled out from a closet, and put on his spectacles. ‘Yes, my Lordship?’
‘I want this slimy mollusk of a bastard son disinherited at once.’
‘Very well. Sign here.’
And in spite of Archibald’s protests, the deed was done. And before an hour had sped, poor Archibald was cast out into the cruel, unforgiving world with not a penny to his name.
His first act, upon becoming a tragically misunderstood victim of Fate’s slings and arrows, was to attempt suicide by throwing himself in the lake. The local constable, however, fished him out and fined him 5 shillings.
His second act was to run away from an irate constable who wanted him to cough up five shillings, in spite of Archibald’s explanation that at present he was sadly out of luck and could not pay the fine any more than he could make gold magically appear from the constable’s rear end.
His third act was to jump onto a moving train which was heading towards London, leaving the local constable far behind.
A few days later, Archibald emerged from the dank underbelly of society and decided to find his way to the nearest employment agency.
‘So,’ said the squinty-eyed manager of this agency, ‘I see you are in search of a job.’
‘Well, I possess an intimate knowledge of Greek and Latin. I have thoroughly misunderstood most of philosophy. I have oft been a student of chemistry, and possess enough knowlegde to blow up a gardening shed.’
‘I see. Was the gardener inside the shed?’
‘Yes, it was truly appalling.’
‘I should imagine so. Was that why you were hanged earlier this morning?’
‘For the last time, that was not me!’ Archibald expostulated.
‘Very well. Let me see, would you be willing to work as a secretary?’
‘Is there a position open?’
‘Many,’ the manager said, pulling up a drawer filled with papers. ‘How about this: “Lord Huffington requires competent secretary. Must be acquainted with Bible. Ability to speak Latin backwards a plus. Salary: 10,000 gallons of blood per annum.” Sounds like an excellent position, if you ask me.’
‘Blood? Oh, God, no. Isn’t there anything more suitable?’
‘Let me see… “Sir John Puffington has lost his secretary to bubonic plague, requires a replacement at once”– Oh, not for you, is it? Very well, how about this, instead: “Lord Skellington in dire need of capable secretary. Previous incumbent has unfortunately died of hunger. Salary: 10 £ per annum.”‘
‘These all sound awful.’
‘Have it your way. Oh, there’s a good one: “Lady Slutttington-Toplessy requires male gigolo capable of speaking Greek.” The salary’s quite promising.’
‘I said I knew Greek, not that I could speak it.’
The manager grew tired and glanced at the clock on the wall. Clearly lunch weighed heavily on his mind. ‘One last chance, take it or leave it: “Lord Parsley needs a new secretary. Minimal wages. Bed and board included. No qualifications needed. If applicant possesses qualifications, however, they will not prove in any way detrimental. This vacancy recently opened up due to perfectly natural demise of previous secretary, who was nowhere near the Lord’s manor when he died, and his death was entirely a consequence of the many diseases that he, the secretary, had suffered since early childhood. The manor itself is not, I repeat, not subject to rumors involving eldritch monstrosities from another world, nor is it haunted, nor is there any ghastly conspiracy surrounding it with an air of mystery. Lord Parsley is perfectly sane and of the most genial disposition. The local peasants are not demented, nor do they worship some abominable incarnation of the Devil…”‘
‘Stop! I’ll take it,’ Archibald cried out.
Here, the gentle reader must forgive the narrator for not wishing to dwell too long on how Archibald Nemesis made his way to Parsley Hall. Such trivial details would lower the tone of this tale. Let us therefore skip ahead in time to the moment when Archibald met the butler at the gate:
‘Hello! Is this Parsley Hall?’
‘Yes, it is, sir. You must be his Lordship’s new — ‘
Upon second thought, that part of the narrative is not as interesting as one would have hoped for. Let us therefore skip this and move on to the moment when Archibald met Lord Parsley.
‘Hello! Are you Lord Parsley?’
Lord Parsley, who had been facing the fireplace while tugging frantically at his mustache, now turned a malevolent monocle upon poor Archie. ‘It is I, Lord Parsley!’ he said in a low whisper.
‘I’m not Lord Parsley, I’m Archibald Nemesis,’ Archie said nervously. He had not expected to be greeted in such a peculiar manner.
‘Fool! It is I, Lord Parsley!’
‘Please stop calling me that!’
‘No, Lord Parsley.’
‘At last, we are on the same page!’
‘Are we? I suppose we are,’ Archibald said, perspiring anxiously. ‘Anyway, what I wished to know is, what are the duties I must perform? This is the first time I have ever been employed in any capacity.’
‘And it shall be the last!’
‘Oh, jolly good,’ Archibald said, ‘job-seeking is so tiring and awkward, you know. If I can just hold on to this position for the rest of my life, I’ll be very glad indeed.’
‘Your wish shall come true! Heheheheh.’
Archibald felt it was part of his duties to laugh at the Lord’s jokes, and so he did.
The next few days at Parsley Hall were somewhat odd. Archibald began to sense that all the servants looked upon him with mingled pity and sadness. It was almost as if they felt sorry for him. Which was uncanny, come to think of it, because his job so far had been rather pleasant. Sorting letters, making paper biplanes (Archibald had a knack for those), dilly-dallying in the rose-gardens with the parlour-maid — it was almost as though he were back at home.
But all good things must come to an end, and on Monday disaster struck. He had gotten up in the morning and gone to have breakfast with the servants, and he noticed that for some reason his plate of eggs and bacon were covered in fried mushrooms.
‘How I detest mushrooms,’ he said aloud. ‘The beastly little things with their floppy hats…’
‘Swap with you?’ Bertie the dim-witted footman said, jogging him in the elbow.
‘Jolly good idea.’ Archie brightened up at this act of kindness.
They swapped plates. No sooner had Bertie taken a mouthful of mushroom than he was suddenly seized with a sudden desire to dance around like a lunatic, screaming like a lunatic.
‘You must regain your composure, Albert! This is most improper!’ the butler said sternly. Bertie stabbed him with a fork and then proceeded to hurl himself out the window and into the rose-bushes. That was where they found his corpse, arms splayed out in a most grisly but oddly hilarious fashion.
Lord Parsley seemed oddly annoyed when he heard the news of the footman’s demise, and locked himself in his office for the rest of the day.
On Tuesday, Archibald was descending the spiral staircase carrying some office equipment in his arms — these consisting of some extremely heavy dictionaries and a bronze paperweight — when all of a sudden he glanced down and saw a masked figure carefully layering the steps below with banana peelings.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he shouted at the masked figure.
The masked figure looked up, saw Archibald, and then proceeded to flee the premises by throwing a smoke bomb and vanishing through a secret passage. Startled and angered, Archibald began to run down the steps towards where the stranger had disappeared, and slipped on the banana peelings.
Only by dropping everything he was carrying was he able to catch on to the railing and prevent himself from a certain demise (there were several flights of stairs below him). He watched in horror as the dictionaries and the paperweight fell straight down onto the butler’s head (the butler had heard Archibald shouting and was looking up to see what was going on, being the sort of butler who strongly disapproved of inappropriately improper behavior).
It took a good deal of time to scrape the butler’s remains off the priceless carpet that adorned the main hall, and everyone looked somewhat warily at Archibald from then on. Archibald thought this was extremely unfair. How could he be blamed if some silly prankster in a hood and mask kept startling him at inopportune moments?
On Wednesday, nothing happened. Well, except for that one moment when Archibald was admiring an old painting in the main hall and all of a sudden a knife flew past his ear and embedded itself into the afore-mentioned priceless work of art.
On Thursday, ominous thunder rumbled in the distance. Lord Parsley made Archibald run a few errands, such as ordering a large quantity of dynamite. The dynamite, the Lord explained, would be helpful if a large fire broke out in the local village. Archibald nodded, finding this somewhat eccentric.
On Friday, Archibald took a stroll around the manor’s gardens with a rather pretty parlour-maid in tow, chatting idly about nothing at all, when tragedy struck. More precisely, tragedy struck two o’clock as it fell from a window on the second floor and onto the poor parlour-maid’s head, in the shape of a grandfather clock. Archibald was deeply upset by this turn of events, and began to consider the possibility of resigning in order to become a nun.
However, he remembered in time that one of the prerequisites for becoming a nun was being a member of the gentle sex, and so he was able to dismiss this absurd idea from his mind.
On Saturday, Archibald awoke to find that someone had littered his bedroom with bear traps. ‘Not another one of those silly pranks!’ he said aloud with a deep sigh. He called for the servants, forgetting that he was technically one of them himself, and they all came to his rescue — well, they tried, at least.
After the last bear trap had snapped shut, Archibald stood atop his bed, aghast at the sight of all those gruesomely mangled servants. Being pragmatic, however, he used their dead selves as stepping stones to escape the confines of his bedroom, and after informing what remained of Parsley Hall’s resident staff of the unfortunate situation, he went straight to work , typing up all the letters that Lord Parsley wished him to type.
The Lord seemed to display a manly sadness at the news that Archibald was still alive. ‘Have you thought,’ he mused out loud as Archibald banged away at a rusty old Olivetti, ‘of writing a will?’
‘A will? What for? I have been disinherited, alas,’ Archibald said sadly. ‘And I have no heirs, no fortune, no property.’
‘What would you like to have written on your tombstone?’
‘Something not too gloomy, I hope,’ Archibald replied innocently, ‘like “Here lies Archibald Nemesis, who was nobody’s archnemesis”‘
‘Ah! Are you sure?’
‘Well, not really.’
And on Sunday, Archibald awoke in the winecellar, tied to a barrel. Looming over him like a postern of fate, Lord Parsley grinned maniacally.
‘Your final hour has come, my Arch-Nemesis!’ he chuckled evilly.
‘But I haven’t even had breakfast!’
‘See this!’ the Lord continued, pulling a stick of dynamite with a very long fuse from the inside of his abominable pink dressing-gown. ‘The barrel is filled with its brothers and sisters!’
‘The one to which I have ignominously bound you hand and foot, fool!’
‘Oh, that one,’ Archibald said, glancing around. ‘There are plenty of barrels here. You couldn’t possibly blame a fellow for being a tad confused.’
‘You must wonder,’ the Lord went on, ‘why you have been singled out for a horrible demise at my hands. You may not know me, but I know you. All shall be revealed!’
‘Before or after you blow me to bits?’
‘Before, of course, you impertinent knave! And now for the devastating truth: you are the third son of the Duke of Dimmerage!’
‘Actually — ‘ Archibald began.
‘Do not interrupt me! You seduced my daughter and then ran off with my mother! You fiend! Long have I awaited this moment –‘
‘Actually, I’m the fourth son of the Duke of Dimmerage,’ Archibald said, suddenly seeing clear for the first time since the beginning of this sordid affair, ‘and you must be talking about the third son of the Duke of Dimoorage.’
‘Oh, it’s a mistake everyone makes. Dimmerage, Dimoorage, they sound almost the same. With all due respect, Lord Parsley, you have made a huge blunder.’
‘I never make blunders!’ Lord Parsley fumed.
‘There’s a first time for everything, you know.’
‘Perish the thought! Perish, vile Don Juan!’
‘I’m not even Spanish –‘
But the Lord had already grabbed the end of an extremely long fuse and lit it. And he left the cellar, closing the door behind him and plunging our innocent hero into darkness.
Darkness? Archibald, seized with a sudden thought, looked around to see if the light from the fuse was there.
And then he realized what had happened. ‘Oh, dear — ‘
The Lord, striding out into the garden with the firm intention to perform a victory dance, all the while giving the rising sun the glad eye, never even saw this unexpected twist coming. With a tremendous boom, he was blown sky-high as the dynamite in the inner pocket of his dressing gown suddenly exploded.
In his haste the Lord had lit the wrong fuse, much in the same way he had been attempting to kill the wrong man from the very start. And thus the awful events of Parsley Hall drew to an explosive close.
Some time later, with a barrel of dynamite still tied to his back, Archibald was walking across the countryside, with the full intention of throwing himself upon the mercy of his father, the Duke.
He made it up a hill that stood at the limits of the Duke’s lands, and from its heights he saw home in the distance. For a few moments, he looked at the beautiful mansion, in whose bosom he had been wont to frolic in younger days.
Melancholy and fatalism struck him there and then. ‘Alas, I cannot be forgiven for my sins,’ he cried out, altogether forgetting that he hadn’t done anything wrong at all. And so he turned his back on the scene.
This was the exact moment that the ropes binding him to the barrel finally gave way, and the barrel (still filled with dynamite) began to roll down the hill at great speed. And it so happened that the Duke had chosen this particular day to go riding, along with his second and third sons.
‘I think that’s a fox!’ the Duke said, excitedly (for, in addition to his afore-mentioned deafness, the Duke was somewhat blind)
‘Indeed!’ said the second son.
‘I don’t believe it,’ said the third.
Then the barrel rolled straight into the Duke’s horse and exploded, sending all three of them to Heaven without a return ticket.
Some time later, at the funeral, the gloomy Archibald and his somewhat jubilant brother Jeremy (who was, of course, the first son and thus was naturally the heir apparent) approached by the family lawyer, who shook his hand and said:
‘I have most distressing news to impart to the two of you.’
‘Oh, no!’ said Archibald.
‘You remember that Archibald here was disinherited, not long before the late Duke’s death?’
‘How could I forget?’ Archibald exclaimed. ‘It was the darkest hour of my life! Excluding this one, of course,’ he added hastily, for the sake of propriety.
Jeremy merely frowned, unsure what the lawyer was driving at.
‘Well, on that fateful day, I made a most awful mistake,’ the lawyer went on, wheezing asthmatically. ‘I gave the late Duke the wrong forms to sign!’
‘In an unprecedented blunder — well, of course, there was that other mistake I made when writing up your aunt Agatha’s will, which lead to her entire fortune being used for the creation of a chain of brothels across the East End of London — ‘
‘Get to the point, you blathering idiot,’ Jeremy said menacingly. Archibald thought this rather rude of him.
‘Well, in layman’s terms, instead of disinheriting Archibald, the late Duke had in fact disinherited you. By mistake, of course.’
‘WHAT?!’ Jeremy exploded. (Not literally, although one would be forgiven for thinking that this sort of thing ran in the family.)
‘And another thing: the Duke’s death was not an accident,’ said the private detective as he suddenly emerged from underneath the table. ‘In the light of the evidence, the only one who had a motive was you, Jeremy Nemesis! You have heavy gambling debts and are being blackmailed by Russians who know of your many sexual misdeeds and your involvement in plots to blow up Parliament!’
‘The jig’s up, murderer,’ the police constable said, emerging from behind another conveniently-shaped piece of furniture. ‘You’ll swing for this!’
‘I’ll never surrender! All hail Satan!’ Jeremy said, and then he proceeded to slip and fall as he stepped on Archibald’s untied shoelaces. This allowed for a swift and efficient capture.
And, some time later, Archibald Nemesis, newly anointed Duke of Dimmerage, was eating his bacon and eggs while reading the Times. He raised an eyebrow at the headline: ‘JEREMY NIMESES HANGED FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’.
‘Poor fellow,’ he sighed, ‘they couldn’t even get his name right. Ah, well, flesh is as grass and whatnot.’
The sun was shining through the bay windows, and Archibald was grateful. All his misfortunes had been but stepping stones to greater things. And who knew what further adventures the future held in store for him?