Who was he, gentleman or criminal? Montmorency or Scarper? Or was he both?
Dr. Robert Farcett was preparing a paper for the Royal College of Surgeons on treating complex injuries and the man lying before him was the perfect specimen for him to experiment on. In spite of the damage, the man’s body was young, strong, and healthy, well able to withstand the multiple procedures the doctor would perform in an attempt to save the man’s life and enhance his own knowledge. He expected the prisoner to die, but if he lived, the doctor’s reputation would be made.
It was humiliating for the prisoner, being shown like an animal in a zoo, but he took advantage of the time and the setting to commit to memory every detail of each lecture, completely ignored as he learned of major advances in medicine, engineering, mathematics, and philosophy. He’d always been a thief, but now it was facts and ideas that he stole. He had no use for them, but they gave him something to think about in his cell, or in the prison hospital where he recovered from the doctor’s surgeries. It was not until he heard the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works talk about London’s new sewer system, and saw the huge map of the hundreds of tunnels running below London’s streets, that Montmorency suddenly realized what direction his future career as a criminal would take. The tunnels were a new and secret way around the wealthiest parts of London, the ones with the richest pickings. He could come up through a manhole cover, smash and grab what he wanted and disappear underground, leaving the police to deal with how to catch a burglar who seemed invisible. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he had lots of time in prison to think about how to work out all the details of his scheme. By the time he was released, Montmorency had figured out how to live two lives, both supported by crime. As Montmorency, he would be a gentleman, wealthy, cultured, privileged. As Scarper, he would be a sewer rat and a burglar, and Montmorency’s servant, who crept out at night to steal and vanish, only to steal again.
This booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart.