An excerpt from Fortunate Son


Lord Arthur Annesley, the Sixth Earl of Anglesea, was slopped. He had been sitting alone at his oak table in the dark back corner of the Brazen Head Tavern since half-past ten that morning. Now, nearly five in the evening, he could hear fresh rain blowing across Dublin’s Merchant’s Quay, tapping the tavern’s windows, dripping heavy in pools along Bridge Street. He was floating, his white wig askew, his fat fingers tracing the blood groove of his gold-hilted rapier lying on the table. “He’s mine, he is,” he muttered to no one. “B’god, James is mine! So he is. She’ll never take him to England.” He glanced up with his one eye, the other having been long ago shot out by his wife’s cuckolding suitor. “My son’s mine,” he boomed. “Damn you all!” A violent cough overtook him until finally he lowered his chin, rivulets of perspiration trickling down his brow.

“‘Tis well known, me lord, James is yer son,” the tavern keeper offered. “Would ye like another?”

“Ney!” Arthur shook his head, muttering, “No more boys.”

“Ach nay, me lord—would ye like another pint?”

“Ha! Ney, Keane. Best be on m’way.” He stood shakily, steadying himself on the dark wall, sheathing his rapier.

“Well den, g’night sire,” the keeper said, gesturing with his bar towel.

Arthur tapped the wrinkles from his blue, Italian cocked hat. “Keane?”

“Aye, m’lord?”

“What be the cure….” He stumbled sideways, trying to buckle his sword sash. “What be the cure for a hangover? I’ll wager you don’t know.”

“Sleep, most likely,” Keane answered, moving across the small room, delivering a dram to a large man sitting alone. “What do ye think, sir?” he asked the man.

“I have no reckon,” the man muttered, his Scottish brogue rumbling low. “Leave me be.”

“I suppose a pinch o’ snuff might do ye, Lord Anglesea,” Keane guessed, wiping his hands on his apron.

“Ney, goddamn you, Keane!” His words a lather of grumbled mush, his arm a terrier in a fox hole, fumbling through the twisted coat sleeve. He spun, shoving his hand through. “I knew you didn’t know, you damn thievin’ Irishman. ‘Tis t’ drink again!” He staggered backward to the door. “That be the cure, b’god!”

“Aye, me lord,” said Keane. “So I’ve heard.” Now the Scotsman was standing too.

“T’ drink again!” Arthur bellowed, throwing his arms up. “T’ drink again, ‘tis all you need!” Turning, he careened through the doorway, along the rickety boardwalks, lurching into the muck of Bridge Street. “‘Tis all I need!”

A large hackney coach pulled by six horses was crossing the Father Matthew Bridge, gaining speed in the pelting rain. The horses snorted against the driver’s whip as he yelled from the box, his cloak flailing in the wet wind. “Up with ye curs! Now! Up! Up!” Again and again he cracked the long leather across their backs. The loud roar and stirring commotion of the coach and six easily cleared traffic from the bridge, opening a wide swath up Bridge Street beyond, like a plow cleaving mud. When the horses reached the quay on the far side of the River Liffey they were pulling so hard and running at such a blaze that all four wheels left the ground before crashing back to earth to spin in the slurry sludge. Galloping past the Brazen Head Tavern, with nostrils flared and eyes mad wide, they would not and could not stop for anything in their path.

Against the whir of voices the ale had loosed in his head, Arthur heard charging hooves, people shouting, and through the stinging rain, he saw a maniacal blur rushing him. But he couldn’t move. A black surging wall, yet he stood, stammering something about God. Finally one step toward the side, but it wasn’t enough—the violent impact threw him back and down. Twenty-four hooves thundered over him, snapping his right leg like straw, driving it into the thick mud. Another hoof trampled his gut, his ribs shattering. Instant fire. Then the coach hit him, the splinter bar catching his chin, the front axle crushing his larynx, cracking spine, whipping his head into the path of the rear wheels which slammed over him, mashing his face into the filth and black ooze.

His one eye fluttered open, stinging, but he couldn’t breathe. To one side he saw muddy boots and spurs—some standing, others moving away. His bloody mouth sagged, convulsing for air. He felt warmth trickle from his ears. Life abandoning him. Then, between the clamoring shouts and splashes, he heard the massive bells of Christ Church Cathedral begin their solemn peel, announcing the time. He stopped moving, and there in the shadows of his mind he saw James, no more than five, standing on a rocky hill, laughing, the sea air tousling his auburn hair. Suddenly James sprinted off, through an emerald field, clambered over a low stone fence, then raced on, away, toward a man who was waiting, watching—a man Lord Arthur Annesley, the Earl of Anglesea had never been.

on February 15 • by

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