In Which Mr. Varney Becomes Most Unpleasant and the Prince Enjoys an Unusual Repast
Excerpt from A Hussy’s Progress, the Autobiography of Moll Daggett
Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued
Now sure, after all the traipsing about and hullaballoo of that long day in Philadelphia and traveling to the crossing, I welcomed a good sit down and a drink at McConkey’s. But, ‘Truth, there is nothing so disheartening as to have your first chance for a tipple spoilt by a blood-sucking prince of the undead.
At the time, I did not realize what Mr. Varney was and there twas much talk afterwards about who or, more as like, what he was. Now, lest ye think my education lacking, the Good Sisters told many a fine tale about nasty creatures that preyed upon silly girls who fell ill of the green sickness, to wit, getting their gowns stained by a roll in the Greenwood, and these supposed dangers included pate-addling blood-suckers. After events of that evening, I wished I had paid more heed but I was far too ramshackle in those days.
Still, the good Reverend seemed to know all about these terrible things. Doctor McCleane, who is a queer sort of quack-salver even for a Scotsman, gave lively discourse on the sundry nature of the undead including these claimed vampires, and other risers from the grave, and them what drinks the blood of the living and so forth. E’en greedy-guts Zagloba added a thing or two, when he wasn’t trying to get his paws on my heavers, for vampires are apparently as common in his part of the world as body lice in an army camp. By the end of it all, I began to wonder what sort of misadventure I had fallen into.
But, as I said, this twas all after the fact. When we arrived, Mr. McConkey gave us a hearty welcome, especially as we seemed a flush gaggle of culls. The McConkey who greeted us was the son of an Irishman, so I played up the Colleen to a terrible extent hoping for a better cut of joint and perhaps a dram on rum guttler. McConkey proved to be accommodating, e’en though he was a shard-borne Scots-Irish Protestant whose father no doubt stole the food out of tenants’ mouths and kidnapped kinchins for chimney sweeps.
Far less accommodating was the gleeking Mr. Varney. Oh he was pleasant enough to the grand folk, inviting the good Reverend and other worthies to share his table but when I expressed a slight word of thanks for his welcome, the bastardly gullion looked down at me with much disdain. Servants should not speak unless spoken to was his motto, I suppose, the plume-plucked maggot-pie that he twas.
So there was I forced to stand and wait upon table whilst the rest supped and drank, and fell to high discourse. All that is except the Prince who regaled the crowd with a skimble skamble on the most trivial things, including how pleasant the weather was here abouts as compared to his homeland that in winter would apparently have been pleasant to an Esquemeax.
Worse still, I must bear the company of that spleeny pignut, Zizendorf, when he returned from tending the horses and oxen, and tying up the Prince’s hunting dogs which had take up quite a evil humor, barking and howling awful when we first arrived.
I noticed that the Reverend and Sergeant Fennimen seemed particularly wary of Varney so I endeavored to attend closely to the conversation. One queer thing I saw was that while Varney plied ‘tothers with hot brandy flip, he himself touched neither bread nor bowl.
Also, a right bilious, pompous double jug Mr. Varney was. He pried greedily into the purpose of our travels at this time of year. Now much to my surprise, I was treated to the good Reverend spinnin’ quite the yarn of our purpose, claiming, of all things, that we were on our way to the village of Crosswicks to rescue MY family and bring them out of Harm’s Way. It surprised me how easily such a flying pasty sprang from his lips.
The Reverend having played this poor taw, I saw immediately that this ‘twas not the tale to tell such an arrogant clack dish. He could not hide his suspicion and commented on how large and unusual a party was taking on this humble task, and with so many soldierly men of rank.
The Reverend, perhaps seeing his error, passed off the questions by saying that the largeness of the party was due to the dangers of the disturbed state of the country. Further, the Prince and his party, who were upon their parole prohibiting them service with Washington’s Army, volunteered for this chivalrous task. He then quickly changed the conversation to Mr. Varney’s history.
That vainglorious prevaricator said he was from London, a member of the Royal Society, come to America two years ago to study natural philosophy, especially the flora and fauna of this extraordinary continent. Flora and fauna? More like talliwags and thomases, ye rump-fed puffer, thinks I.
He went on with the tale, that being more or less stranded by the outbreak of the current hostilities, he made a virtue of the enforced stay and was traveling throughout the colonies in furtherance of his studies. He said he had hoped to go into Jersey to make a study of the Great Pine Barrens.
“What in particular do you hope so to study?” The Reverend inquired.
“I have an interest in the larger of God’s creatures. I have hopes of examining the bears and wolves that dwell in these famous woods. Wolves are an especial interest of mine.”
At this point, the motley-minded Prince suddenly entered the realm of the cognizant and examined, “Wowves! Why we can hewp you find them as soon as we find that pony-headed dwagon we are looking for!”
Zagloba quickly interrupted this terrible slip, and said, “The Prince jests, for we have heard many travelers’ tales about outlandish creatures that are said to be found in the more remote places of this land. As I am sure you have heard.”
The Reverend joined him, citing chapter and verse of all the various improbable creatures that are told of in Indian legend.
Fortuitously, or perhaps because he had expended such an unusual amount of his wits coming up with a thought, the Prince exclaimed, “Zagwoba, fetch my chambew-pot, I have a need fow a piddwe!”
To which the fat Major, who for once was able to extract that bulbous snout of his out of his flagon, responded, “I fear your chamber-pot was left in Philadelphia, now to be honored above all things at the weekly gatherings of the Bucks County Committee of Safety. But have no fear, my Prince, for these colonist do know how to treat royalty. Why just beyond the door at the rear of this establishment, they have prepared for you a separate building, a veritable throne room, wherein you might have your seat of ease.”
“Weawwy! That is most accommodating. I feew honowed.
“I am sure the honor is theirs, Highness,” said Zagloba, then turning to their vicious postman, he continued, “Yap, please escort the Prince to his substitute throne in a manner to which he is accustomed.
To which the Oriental rider glared and mouthed a curse at the paunch gut.
A few moments later we heard from the yard at the back of the tavern, a royal exclamation, “Why wook, they put cown cobs in hewe. How considewate to weave me a snack!”
Zagloba buried his face in one of his fat paws and shook it in despair.
I thought that all this had distracted Varney from the Prince’s revelation. But how wrong I was for soon Varney excused himself from the table. He then went languidly to the front doors to the tavern, barred them shut, sauntered to the rear and barred the door by which the Prince had just exited.
I saw that all of our party had watched in silence as the glib princox had performed his doormanly duties.
The Reverend, who now had one hand in his coat pocket, clutching something therein, spoke up, “Why do you bar the doors, Mr. Varney?”
Varney was silent and merely turned to face us. His eyes were a deep glowing red. He snarled and hissed and I could see that his teeth were fanged, like a beast’s.
A cry escaped my breast at the sight and there was a collective gasp at such a display.
Fennimen was the first to recover from this shock. He snatched up his half league barking iron and fired it, point blank, into Varney’s chest. The force of the shot knocked the horror back a foot or so but caused no other harm save a small, bloodless hole in Varney’s silk shirt.
More surprisingly, the shot brought a crash to the door at the rear of the tavern and there was the Prince bursting through it. For he was a roaring big rioter for his age and most like he used his head to break it down, thus sparing any injury to a vital organ. He was crying “Wampeew Wampeew! I knew it was a Wampeew, the doggies said so!”
He had in his hands, a large, sharp splinter from the wrecked door and thrust it at Varney, who agilely stepped out of the way.
This presented an opportunity for the Reverend and he ran up to Varney, flinging a vial of liquid on him. It turns out this was blessed holy water but where a good Presbyterian found the like I did not have occasion to ask. Varney flung an arm up to protect his face and I could see his hand begin to burn where the water had struck him.
However, this wound was trifling and only seemed to enrage him. He grasped the Reverend in his hands and flung the good soul doctor across the room as if he was an old rag doll. The Reverend struck hard against the fireplace and collapsed on the floor.
Varney then lifted up his head and called out with a wolfish howl. Of a sudden, four great grey wolves hurled themselves in through the windows. I could hear several more still outside.
One of the slavering creatures landed close to Fennimen, who was in the process of reloading his night-long squirrel-slayer. The woodsman drew out a large hunting knife and plunged it into the back of the beastie what died with a whelp.
Now I had myself recovered from my pucker over these strange, unnatural occurrences and I plucked out the small cutlass that I had hid in my traveling cloak. I lashed out at a second beast. I was pleased to see that my months of domesticity had not spoiled my game for I slew the beast with one blow, near to severing its head.
Then I grabbed a bottle of brandy and candle from the table.
Now I should relate that among those acquaintances I met while I lived in London were several circus performers. One of these, a self-proclaimed Gypsy who called herself Zela but who was really from Birmingham with a real name of Clementine. She was what is called a fire-eater, and this not referring to that type of famous duelist, but rather one that can swallow flames as well as act as a sort of human bellows with aid of a slog of some strong noggin-pop. I should also mention that fire-eating was also much in fashion in Ireland at this time, especially among the university set. Not that I was ever part of that class but I suppose it might mean that we Irish are inclined as a nation to the sport, mayhaps due to all the whiskey and cabbage that we partake in that gives us the talent. In any event, I had Zela teach me the art since you never know what tricks, either as a burglar or a bawd, that will be needed.
Thus, I took a strong pull of brandy, held the lit candlestick to my lips, and spewed the burning liquid in a great stream towards the foul Mr. Varney. He proved to be a most limber walking corpse for he ducked the fire. As did the Prince, for Fortune favors the dim. The big flame caught a stairway and walls near the rear door alight, preventing Yap from coming to his master’s aid.
Whilst I was so engaged, Dr McCleane produced a device he later called a fleam. It was a sort of a sling shot wherein a lancet was loaded and then struck by a bent stick. This is used in the art of bleeding a patient, the speed of the cut being so as to reduce the pain. The Doctor being a good Scotsman, realized that ‘twould also make a most excellent instrument of mayhem if he released the pinion on the lancet. Thus, he rose with the device in his hands and called out, “Take ye this, ye demon from hell,” and let fly with the lancet.
The Doctor being more articulate than accurate, the lancet flew directly into the Prince’s arm, from which a strong gout of blood flowed.
His Highness protested, “Ow, that weewwy huwt! I mean, weawwy, who thwows a wancet?”
At this point, the Reverend had recovered from his fall. He plucked out a poker that had been in the fire for preparing the flip. He flung himself upon the creature, plunging the flaming point into Varney’s chest. Varney cried out in pain and fell to his knees.
An uproarious pistol shot then went off behind me. There stood Zizendorf, standing perfectly straight as if on a shooting range with a smoking horse pistol in his mangy paws. I then realized he had shot down a wolf that had been about to pounce upon me. Before I could offer thanks, he coolly remarked, “Well, Madame Daggett, it is lucky for you that I felt I needed some practice with my pistol. Of course, I see now I did not since it was as usual a perfect shot such as I did in the Prussian Army.”
So rather than thanks, he was served with, “Sail it up ye windward passage, ye piss-proud twiddle poop.”
Another wolf went for to bite the Prince but it was felled quick by Sergeant Fennimen, who was more at home at murthering dumb beasts than their master, hell-wrought though they be.
At this point, the Froggy mort, de Bauffremont, produced a vial of foul smelling nostrum and approached the laid-out Varney. I could see his eyes pucker in fear for he must have recognized the scent of the brew and a fine tot of Knock-Me-Down it must have been. She flung the stuff onto him but, at the same moment, the creature transformed, and his body disappeared, having turned, by his own evil magics I was later told, into a mist. The liquid fell onto the floor, sizzling and burning.
A thick white mist hung about the room over where Varney had lain. The Prince’s face took on an odd, unfamiliar look.
“Oh no,” Zagloba cried out, “I think he’s getting an idea.”
The Prince then bent over and drew in a deep breath, and inhaled a large part of the misty cloud.
“Good Lord,” Zagloba said, “He might actually be on to something.”
The gore-bellied foreigner then grasped a bellow from near the fireplace and sucked in more of the mist. He then tried to run back to the fireplace but having the agility of a rhinoceros, he tripped and fell. Fortunately, the vampire-filled bellows flew into the fire.
Then Dr McCleane produced a glass cupping bowl. He too took a deep breath and drew in the remainder of the mist into the device but, unlike the Prince, he was careful not to take any of the stuff into his own mouth.
We could see that, after a moment, the mist within began to coalesce and spilled onto the floor, forming a shattered body that quickly turned into dust.
Outside the tavern, we could hear that a struggle continued. I could see Yap through the broken and flaming doorway. He was crouched low, facing one of the remaining wolves. With movement like lightening, he flung what appeared to be three letters at the remaining wolf. These nearly severed its head.
Zagloba seeing my surprise at this method of combat, noted, “Never underestimate the damage that may result from a paper cut.”
One wolf remained and it was crouched in a corner, readying itself to pounce upon the Reverend.
Suddenly, the door burst open and several dragoons and a host of riflemen charged in. They leveled their pieces and riddled the wolf full of holes.
One looked over at the Sergeant and a sight of recognition passed over his eyes.
“Fennimen, is that you? I had thought you were dead.”
“Well, Colonel Hand, iffen you and the boys been any later to this here dance, I reckon I mighta been.”
Except of Letter to Lieutenant Jonathan Longwynde from the Reverend Samuel Longewynde
Before any reunions could be celebrated, Colonel Hand ordered his men to douse the fires and clear the room of the killed wolves. No sign of Varney remained.
The wounds that Prince Leopold and I suffered were dressed by Doctor McCleane and Mrs. Dagget. I did, with some difficulty, dissuade Doctor McCleane from attempting a dissection of the Prince’s brain to determine the effects of ingesting vampire. I thought this a poor and dangerous idea despite Major Zagloba’s assurances that the loss of the brain was of little note to a Radziwll, far more difficult would the finding of such a small item.
A search of Varney’s possession revealed nothing inconsistent with the character of a philosopher of the Royal Society and one who had been in this country for a considerable time. There was a correspondence from a Lord Ruthven but I could find nothing sinister therein.
Once this was settled, Colonel Hand reported that General Washington, who had just crossed over, was inquiring as to the cause of the disturbance at the tavern and so we were directed to be taken tom him. I did explain to Colonel Hand that Fenniman, by special order of the Congress, was upon a detached duty with us and so would not be rejoining the regiment just yet.
We found General Washington observing, from the shelter of a stand of trees, the boats bringing the last of his army into Pennsylvania. He was a very tall man of impressive dignity in the full prime of life. His face was grimly set and it appeared he had not sleep in some considerable time.
As we approached, his visage softened somewhat when his eyes fell on Prince Leopold.
“Why Prince, how happy I am to see you again. I must say how gratified I was when I heard that the wounds you had on Long Island were not serious and that you have been set at liberty. But what is this, you seem to have been wounded anew?”
“So I have.”
Major Zagloba fortunately spoke up, noting that the Prince was being humble, for he had his wounds from fighting against a clandestine agent of the Crown.
With this as a prologue, I informed the General about Doctor Franklin’s commission to us and the plot to bring a demon out of the woods of New Jersey to the detriment of the Revolution. I told him of our adventure this night in McConkey’s Tavern and my belief that the individual we fought was an agent of the Crown, a member of the infamous Hellfire Club, who was assisting the plot and had meant to murder us all using his infernal powers.
I could tell that General Washington was skeptical of my account but did take the commission from Franklin seriously enough. After a moment of thought, he called for a boat to take us across. When he observed my carriage, he called for a large Durham boat to be readied for our crossing. When saw the great wagon belonging to Mde de Bauffremont, he looked at me silently. When I shrugged, he called for several Durham boats to be made available to us.
He cautioned us to be wary in the vicinity of Trenton for General Cornwallis’ army was hard upon the heels of his own troops, perhaps no more than a single day behind him. Cornwallis was bringing with him near to 10,000 men.
Thus, with much apprehension, we crossed in the middle of the night into New Jersey.