The King Of London
Go buy a hat,” he told them. “If the King wishes to collect tax on our hats, we shall wear them with pride when he arrives and we will not, I repeat, we will not pay a single dime on them.”
Deodulus Malefix (and that was his name) was the most popular person in the city of Westminster. By the word ‘popular’, one might imagine a dandy noble who stood out in balls and dinners with his fashionable clothing; or a young widow who inherited the wealth of her late merchant husband and was now the topic of discussion amongst all aspiring bachelors in the city; or, even, one of the King’s ministers who was well revered by the London people.
Deodulus was none of that. Deodulus had become popular by being the most employed workman in the city. At such a time, in the yore of the 18th century, men with Deodulus’ skills were hard to find. The King who ruled at this time (though I cannot mention the King’s name—for fear of my life—I can only say that he was of German descent, and he was the third to rule with that famous name of his) made London a hard place to live in. Most people either starved, idle, or became a laborer out of necessity but none were quite as devoted as Deodulus was.
But it wasn’t always like that. As a child, Deodulus had lived a somewhat enjoyable life. His father, Wilhelm, had been an avid member of parliament in the House of Commons, and such was the case that he enjoyed the boon of his father’s position; until—yes, of course—the reign of the imperial King (the third of his name) when the powers of parliament waned terribly.
Men with humble beginnings such as Deodulus’ father had suffered greatly from this sudden imperial monarchism; so great that they were forced to resign from parliament and look for other means of livelihood. A few succeeded in this regard but not Wilhelm, who took to the bottle, and soon found himself in a pool of debt. Soon enough, Wilhelm was thrown in a debt prison, and a year after, when gin (which had been taxed by the King) was denied him, he committed suicide. Deodulus’ mother, more or less, died from grief.
Poor Deodulus, at the young age of eighteen, was forced to repay his father’s debt.
So he became, not of his own accord but of the unjust inheritance of his father’s debts, a workman—and a good one at that. In fact, Deodulus was the best workman in London. There was not a person in that city that hadn’t employed his services. Deodulus had worked as a farmer, tailor, tinkerer, cobbler, newspaper printer, blacksmith, haberdasher, tradesman, courier, and even a shoeshiner. Because of this, he was the most sought-after person in London. Very soon, “Fetch Mr. Deodulus” became the most popular utterance on the lips of everyone.
For instance, when a person needed his shoe mended, he would say to his errand boy, “Go fetch Mr. Deodulus”; or when someone more important, like the Prime Minister’s daughter needed a new hat she would say to her handmaids, “Please fetch me Mr. Deodulus”; or even when the old widow, Madam Harper, who lived across Westminster Bridge needed help pursuing cats lounging on her windowsill, she too would say, to anyone who attended her, “Go fetch Mr. Deodulus;” and Mr. Deodulus, ever dutiful, would show up at once. It wasn’t as if Deodulus was capable of performing every task he was given—he couldn’t possibly—but he always referred his employers to someone who could do a job that he couldn’t.
We mustn’t mistake Deodulus as a very well-paid man; he really wasn’t. In fact, the major reason people employed his services was because they were cheap. And so it wasn’t until Deodulus turned thirty-one that he finally settled all of his father’s debt.
Thirteen years a slave to debt and now, he was finally free. It was a new phase of his life and struck by this new development, Deodulus wondered for days where his life was headed. But for the lack of money, his plans ended at an impasse. And so, one morning, Deodulus woke early from his little home at Palmer lane—did little but straighten his hair; don his grey coat, his black breeches; and bid Madam Clover (who lived across the street) a fine morning—and decided to saunter to Bale’s Coffeehouse at Flemings Avenue. He arrived there in hopes that he might see his longtime friend, Mr. Cromwell, who was a lawyer in London. Unfortunately, after two long hours of waiting, Cromwell didn’t show.
I shall pay him a visit then; he decided and walked the quarter of an hour journey from Westminster to the City of London, where his friend resided.
Mr. Cromwell’s residence was a small townhouse at the extreme of West London, where the ructions of Londoners were at its highest—Cromwell was the sort of man who loved being in the fray of the hustle and bustle. Like all townhouses in London, Cromwell’s was squeezed in between other townhouses of its size, and seemed, to all who live in them, to be too small and choky. Although Cromwell was not a man to be fancied by serene environments, his front yard was rather pristine and immaculate, which was, without a doubt, the work of Cromwell’s wife, Anna.
As Deodulus made to knock, the oaken door swung open and would have, if not for his quick reflex (for it swung outwards), given him an elaborate wooden smack to the face. He staggered back to see who exited in such haste. Two of Cromwell’s clients had come to visit (well, one wouldn’t call it visiting because Cromwell’s home was also his workplace) and at that moment, were leaving, dissatisfied. The first was a wiry old man who Deodulus knew as Mr. Herbert, a well-known tailor in Westminster, and the other, a woman, just as old, holding a black umbrella, which dubiously looked grey. The woman made her displeasure clearly known by hitting the head of her umbrella, vehemently, on the ground, tutting and shaking her head as she left. They simply ignored Deodulus who was so nice as to greet them.
Cromwell was next at the door, attempting, just then, to call after his angry clients but seeing Deodulus standing below the porch steps, he stopped himself short.
“Deodulus! What a surprise! My God! Did you walk here? You’re covered in sweat!”
In truth, Deodulus had only let down one or two drops of sweat but Cromwell was one to exaggerate even the tiniest incidents—maybe the trait was common to all lawyers.
“You weren’t at the coffeehouse,” said Deodulus, “so here I am.”
Cromwell ushered him inside the house impatiently. “You must forgive my absence, friend. The Herberts paid me an unexpected visit. I couldn’t leave the house as I planned. Look! I’ve been dressed since seven!”
It was true! Cromwell was fully clothed in coat, shirt, trousers, hat, and leather shoe; and looked as though he was ready for a dinner with ministers.
“What if I wasn’t home when you came? You should have sent a letter, Deodulus.”
“No money,” was Deodulus’s reply.
“Well, you shouldn’t have walked. Why not take the public coach—oh, yes, right. No money. Sit. Sit. Anna! Deodulus is here, and I bet he’s hungry.”
Anna, Mrs. Cromwell, was Deodulus’s maternal cousin, and as soon as she saw him, she greeted him blithely. Poor thing hardly went out, and the chance to converse with someone, who wasn’t her husband, had completely overwhelmed her. Anna was a petite lady who had the timidity of a child. She was in stark contrast to her husband who was a broad-chested man with the face of a bull. Their house was an even bigger contrast. It was a small home packed with foreign antiques, which Cromwell had bought in an effort to rival the beautiful homes of rich nobles.
After they had conversed a while, about trivial things, Anne left them to talk politics. The second she was gone, Cromwell began bothering Deodulus about the attitude of his clients. “They want me to write to parliament as if it’s a mere cinch that can be accomplished by simply thinking it. Who will take the letters? Hmm, will you? No? I wouldn’t myself. It would be a waste of time. The letters would never get to them. Even if they did, why would they care what’s in it? Anyways, how’s work?”
Deodulus reminded Cromwell that he was done being a workman now that his father’s debt was settled.
“Ah! Good choice friend. The future can only be bright. So, tell me, what next for you?”
“I don’t know. I have no money,” said Deodulus.
“Nonsense! I can lend you money.”
Deodulus said he didn’t settle debts just to jump right back into it.
“Well, why don’t you marry that baron’s daughter? Lady Gwen, is it? I hear she brings a handsome dowry—fifty pounds, I think.”
This would not prove difficult because Deodulus was a handsome man, and all his life women had effortlessly tried to woo him. “You forget, Cromwell, that, the Lady Gwen wedded a year ago.”
“Indeed? England is truly a hard place to succeed. Do you know that the King has added a new tax policy; a tax on hats.”
“Top hats actually. It seems to be the trend these days and the King, I suppose, is trying to buffer his coffers by levying tax on them. Anyways, don’t let this daunt you, I’m sure you’ll find gainful employment soon enough.”
I hope so, thought Deodulus.
Suddenly, Cromwell reclined in his chair and sighed. “Sometimes I wonder why we all can’t be Kings.”
Deodulus left Cromwell’s house feeling no more inspired than he had arrived there. As soon as he stepped off the front yard, a little boy ran up to him and told him the old widow who lived across Westminster Bridge needed help with the cats again. He could have easily refused (as he was no longer a man for such work) but he decided to respond to the old lady’s call.
The old widow lived alone in the highest floor of her own inn, right beside the bridge. The inn had been her late husband’s property and she, being too old to handle the business, left it to her grandsons to run it. So she stayed alone at the topmost part of the inn which overlooked the roofs of the other buildings, alone and forever nagging as cats idled around the neighboring roofs. When Deodulus arrived, he found her pent up in the corner of her room watching, somewhat irritated, as cats frolicked on the roof across her window. For the hundredth time or so, Deodulus climbed out the window, shooed the cats away and waited for them to disappear. They always returned but it wouldn’t be for another week and a half. At least the old widow would find solace in their short absence.
The widow began lauding Deodulus, as she was wont because she never paid for his services (not because she didn’t want to, but she couldn’t because her grandsons hogged the inn’s income). “Thank you Deodulus, you`re brave man,” she uttered with much effort for she was weak, frail and stiff. The ragged mantle she wore, which could easily pass for a maid’s shift, did little to brighten her; neither did the dimly lit claustrophobic room that she lived in, which had an abundance of dustmotes and cat hair.
But if there was one part of her laudations that struck Deodulus, it was this: She said to Deodulus, “I only wish you could be King and not the madman who rules us now.”
There is that feeling of destiny when a person hears the same words from the lips of two entirely different people, and it is this same feeling that Deodulus bore within him. He decided, there and then, that he must be King; But how? He had no idea. Even, he thought, it would be treason to dethrone the King even if he could. But what if he became a King in his own rights? Not King of England but of somewhere else.
What if he became the King of London?
Cromwell thought Deodulus mad when he was told. “You’ve gone bonkers, friend. As mad as the King himself, I should say. Talk like this is treasonous! Sssh, you don’t know who’s listening.”
They were in the coffeehouse now and had to speak in hushed tones. At the table where they sat were two good friends of theirs, Mr. Andrew, a doctor in Winchester and Mr. Whitmore, a mortician in Hampshire. Both were good friends of his, and he felt safe sharing his ideas with them. Like Cromwell, they thought him mad, but when they discovered that they could not deter him from this mad quest, they held their fingers crossed and hoped he succeeded.
“How do you intend to go about it?” asked the ever ponderous Mr. Andrew who never went anywhere with his gloves on—for fear of contagious diseases.
“Well, there are a few requirements,” said Deodulus, as he slipped them a piece of paper.
After Mr. Whitmore, a humorous fellow, read it, he laughed and said, “This might actually work! But what do you need a hundred pounds for?”
“And why do you need a will?” asked Cromwell.
Deodulus stated that all would become clear.
Cromwell gave further resistance but after much pleading from Deodulus, he agreed to hold on to his will. “I warn you though; I shan’t open it for I think it unnecessary.”
The money, however, Cromwell had no problem giving. Perhaps, he thought, Deodulus would put the money to good use rather than embark on this mad scheme.
A week after, news passed that the King would parade the streets of London the following day, to show he had recovered, completely, from his mental illness. The news was greeted with disinterest and people secretly wished the King hadn’t recovered at all. It was at this very moment, Deodulus put his plan into motion. He went to the largest coffeehouse in all of London and radically reprimanded the King’s policies. He sympathized with the lower class who struggled, immensely, to pay tax. By the time he was finished, everyone in the coffeehouse was openly singing his name. He didn’t stop there. He went into all the streets of London and rallied the poor, giving as many as he could a pound.
“Go buy a hat,” he told them. “If the King wishes to collect tax on our hats, we shall wear them with pride when he arrives and we will not, I repeat, we will not pay a single dime on them.”
When the King began his parade the following day, he was met by an angry mob of hat-wearers. Children, women and men alike showed up in assortments of top hats. Those who couldn’t afford to buy one had sewn for themselves. Some wore hats made of nylon, feathers and even wood. In the end, everyone was wearing a top hat, however strange it looked.
The King and his entourage were so shaken by the mob that they turned at once and returned to Buckingham Palace. The King’s soldiers remained and dispersed the crowd. In the heat of the chaos, they arrested a hundred conspirators and Deodulus was one of them.
The King decreed that the conspirators were to be hanged for treason, without trial. But Deodulus absolved every conspirator of blame and revealed himself as the main conspirator. When he was brought before the King, they had a rather interesting conversation.
“You are to be hung by evenfall, have you anything to say for yourself?” said the King.
“I only wished sire,” said Deodulus, “to be King, not of England but of London.”
The claim was so outrageous that the King demanded they hung him immediately. And so, at the center of Tyburn gallows, Deodulus was hung. He died a quick death—two seconds fast. A doctor—who other than Mr. Andrew?—was called forth to make certain of Deodulus’s death. Andrew declared that Deodulus was indeed dead, not by the hangman’s rope but by a foul disease; and that if his body was left outside for one more second, an epidemic would spread across London. The King, at once, ordered Deodulus corpse to be cut down and granted permission to a certain mortician (Mr. Whitmore of course) to bury Deodulus.
Riots ensued after Deodulus’s death; riots so tumultuous that the whole of England shook with terror. Radicals campaigned under the name ‘Deodulus, King of London’, and for the first time in the history of England, the crown was truly under threat.
England didn’t know peace until the King lost his wits again and the Kingdom had a Prince Regent. The ministers forced the hand of the Regent to satisfy the wishes of the people of England. Ridiculous tax policies were abolished; and parliament sought to curtail further insurrections by rewarding the efforts of late Deodulus. A manor was built in his name and a title of nobility was granted to his heritor. The people of London hung a plaque on the great gates of the manor which read: ‘The King of London’.
Mr. Cromwell was called forth by the ministers, to read out Deodulus’s will, and they discovered that Deodulus had just one inheritor; a man with the name: Augustus Malefix.
But Augustus Malefix never came to claim his inheritance. For nearly half a decade, the manor of the King of London stood abandoned; until one day when a queer man, garbed in a grey coat, black breeches and, most notably, a fine top hat, showed up on the front yard to claim what was due to him. Only a few saw the man, and they swore that it was Deodulus they espied.
If indeed it was Deodulus Malefix, he lived, as he had wanted, the King of London.