Friday, November 22, 2019

Free Friday!

Thanks to everyone who has already been reading and reviewing my new book, The Adventures of Tom Finch, Gentleman. I've been so excited to finally be able to share this with all of you, who can appreciate a handsome, capable, independent blind guy. Since no one else seems to be posting today, I will share chapter two, in which Tom goes on a bender, not unlike this scene from A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth.

William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Tavern Scene.jpg
By William Hogarth -, Public Domain, Link

Read on for Chapter Two: The Labor in Vain

After the rehearsal, Tom Finch and Jem Castleton departed arm in arm to a chophouse in Covent Garden not far from the Rose to take their supper, where Tom generously offered to pay, in celebration of his recent employment.
“And how is old Purcell?” Jem asked around a huge mouthful of roast beef.
 “Wretched and dull as ever. But we are to have a new Dido, the most remarkable change! She seems a bit unsure of herself but I think she is a promising talent.”
Jem shrugged, uninterested, but Tom mistook his silence for encouragement. “A fine clear voice, full of character, and a firm, lively hand. I’ll wager she is a rare beauty…” Tom trailed off in a reverie, and Jem snorted in derision. “Mark my words,” Tom said, coming back to himself. “In a few seasons, she’ll be the toast of the beaux.”
“Never mind all that,” Jem said as they were finishing their meal. “Now we really must make a proper night of it. Say, where is Sal?”
“I haven’t heard from her in weeks. I thought perhaps she had gone to Bath.”
“Never! Ain’t you heard? She’s been seen all around town with Ned Ward. Think they’re going into business together, then?”
Tom sat up straight in alarm. “That infamous thief! Whatever is she thinking? She’s already been burned in the hand for lifting a packet of lace from that mercer’s shop in Southwark.”
“Hmm, yes, if she’s taken up for housebreaking, she’ll be hanged as an old offender for sure,” Jem agreed with considerably less concern.
“Then we must find her!” Tom declared, thumping the table with the flat of his hand.
Jem sighed, regretting opening this topic of conversation. He found Tom’s sentimental attachment to Sally Salisbury, a common, thieving trull, rather foolish, if not downright dangerous. Jem certainly held no moral qualms about intimacies with whores but as one who considered himself an expert on the professional ladies who plied their trade around the Piazza of Covent Garden, he found it best to keep the more adventurous type at arm’s length. He had been endeavoring for some time to convince Tom to give over his hopeless infatuation. He had no desire to see his friend throw himself away on Sal.
Smacking Tom on the back, Jem cried, “The devil take her! Let’s go see Betsy Careless instead, hey?”
Tom agreed, if only because the two were sisters in the trade, as it were, and Betsy was likely to know where Sal was to be found.
Mistress Careless was passing the evening at the Labor in Vain, a public house in Crown Court. The main room was not very large, decorated only haphazardly with a few paintings of famous demireps on the walls near the low ceiling. The floor was unfinished and smoke from the fireplace hung in the air. Jem guided Tom through the crowd, around the dirty plates and goblets dropped on the floor, to a large round table. A number of women sat around the table, all in lace caps with ribbons, with a great many black patches affixed to their faces. They toasted Tom and Jem familiarly as they sat down. Betsy served them each a pint, which they downed gratefully, then seated herself impudently on Jem’s lap.
“Say, Betsy, have you seen Sal?” Tom inquired as Jem wrapped an arm around her waist.
Betsy put a finger to her dimpled cheek. “Now that you mention it, no, I ain’t seen her this age.”
“D’ye suppose she’s given up the trade?”
Betsy gave a bark of laughter, revealing a mouthful of crooked teeth. “Not her! If she’s given up whoring, it’ll only be for some worse crime, ha ha!”
Jem was ready to put aside this talk of Sal and pass the time with Betsy, but as he had no money of his own this evening, she had no use for him. As she departed, two ready bawds approached them and attempted with great persistence to offer their company in place of the absent Mistress Careless and Mistress Salisbury, but Jem looked them over and saw clear evidence of the pox, while Tom declared they seemed to be of the thieving sort, for he had already caught one trying to reach into his pockets. They left the place feeling even more dejected.
Tom was in favor of going over to the Duke’s Bagnio in Salisbury Court to look for Sal, but Jem countered that it was too far, and instead suggested the Essex Serpent on King Street, which was much closer. They argued it back and forth heatedly for some time, but in the end Jem won out when he reminded Tom that they might find a posture moll at the Serpent, that is, a girl who would take off her clothes for a shilling, which was enough to distract him for the moment from Sal.
It was already quite late by this time, and the Serpent was filled with a noisy, riotous crew. Jem found them a seat in a corner, where they downed one pint after another in quick succession. They soon found a wench who was willing to join them, but after stripping off her outer gown, she stopped and declared that to remove any more would cost them extra. Unwilling to pay more, Tom attempted to reach into her petticoats by means of jesting and tickling, while Jem looked on, slightly bored. It was so dark in their corner that he could hardly see any better than Tom, and there were no upper rooms to which they could retire. The girl proved adamant, so they sent her away, downed one last pint, and quit the place.
Once out in the street, Tom admitted defeat in his search for Sal, and with arms flung about each other’s shoulders, they staggered the short distance back to number eight Maiden Lane, just off the Piazza of Covent Garden. Tom fumbled for a long time with the key. When he at last flung open the door and they stumbled up the stairs, Jem found that Tom’s only servant, Stinson, had long ago closed the shutters and gone to bed, leaving the whole house shrouded in darkness.
Jem was accustomed to this, however, and as Tom felt his way easily to an armchair in the front parlor, he followed after with slightly more difficulty, for there was as usual a great deal of clutter on the floor. Jem cursed loudly as he collided with a chair and knocked it over. At last he discovered the box of candles and flint he kept on the mantelpiece for just this purpose. After lighting two candles and stoking up the fire, he then found another bottle of rather decent claret on the sideboard in the dining room, which served well enough between them to blunt the sting of a disappointing evening.
They awoke the next morning to find themselves still in their armchairs by the fireplace. Stinson was creeping about the house like an aged, slow-moving shade, opening the shutters to let in the sun. The rays of light pierced through Jem’s swollen eyelids like a knife and he groaned loudly. In the chair next to him, Tom stretched stiffly.
“What, is it daylight already?” Tom asked, yawning hugely.
In response, Jem only groaned again and let his aching head hang back limply. At last he sat up sharply and gave his companion a close stare.
“By God, Finchy, you look a dreadful sight.”
“I do?” Tom asked with some alarm. He struggled to straighten his shirt and stockings, and ran his fingers over the sleeves and front of his surcoat. He had to admit it was unpleasantly sticky in several places. “But Stinson assured me he brushed it just yesterday,” he said woefully.
Jem shook his head. “That jacket is far beyond brushing, my lad. Now that you is flush in the pocket, it’s time you had new togs.”
It was Jem who kept Tom rigged out in the first stare of the mode, and Tom trusted his sartorial judgment above all others. Call it vanity, but Tom had no wish to be pitied on account of his appearance, and went to some lengths to be certain that he was at all times dressed as other men.
“Very well then, let’s be off,” Tom said, standing up with a great show of vigor, then sinking immediately back down in his chair, looking greenish, with his mouth turned down. A moment later, he jumped up again. Kicking aside empty bottles, he dashed downstairs to the jakes, to flay the fox, as they say, leaving Jem laughing uproariously in the front room. He was gone a considerable while; in the meantime, Jem found one of the bottles of claret was not quite empty, which answered well enough for the purpose. Just as he was considering looking for more, Tom at last returned, declaring himself quite empty and ready for breakfast.
After a heavy meal at the White Wig, a tavern hard by, they headed down the Strand and over to Temple Bar, from whence they boarded a wherry to take them over to Southwark. There may have been tailors closer to Covent Garden, but Tom was in the habit of visiting this one in particular, which found he served his needs to a nicety.
They spent the better part of the morning debating cuts and colors, fabrics and finishing, but just as Tom was beginning to find their errand intolerably wearisome, Jem and the tailor came to an agreement and the order was placed. And since they were there together, it seemed only right to add two new shirts, silk stockings, and a pair of breeches for Jem to the order as well, as thanks for his assistance and companionship. As he counted out the reckoning, feeling each coin carefully to be certain of its value, Tom discovered that between this and the night before, he had spent the money he had got from the Rose entirely.
“I say!” he exclaimed. “How the devil did it all go so quickly?”
Jem did not answer, but offered to pay for the wherry back across the river, which was not exactly generous of him, considering it was the first of his own coin he had laid out since they had met the night before. Still, they parted on very good terms, for Tom was far too good-humored to allow the small matter of cash to come in the way of friendship. And as it was Jem who had convinced Betterton to hire him, Tom was pleased to be able to share this new windfall. Tom knew very well that Jem might have kept the position for himself, and that his friend had argued rather strenuously on his behalf to convince Betterton to employ a blind man as music master. Tom found the necessity of such an argument tiresome, but he was grateful to have a friend willing to make his case on his behalf. A night of drinking and a few new articles of clothing seemed trifling in return.
When they reached Aldwych, Jem bade him farewell and returned to his lodgings in Broad Court by Drury Lane, a considerably less respectable residence than Tom’s, which is to say, a rather low place indeed, and left Tom to find his own way back to Maiden Lane. An outside observer might have found this strange, but Jem knew very well that Tom was perfectly capable of walking about town on his own. Jem never hovered nor fussed over him but treated him as an equal, the same as any sighted person, and it was this easy attitude which Tom valued in his friend above all others.
As Tom strolled along the cobbled street, he held his walking stick not out to the side like the fashionable beaux, but close against his body at an angle. Every few steps, he struck it hard against the ground, listening with a cocked ear for the echoes from the buildings all around him. At times he was brought up short by a carriage whizzing by, or stumbled over a loose cobble, but he knew the streets around Covent Garden as well as the inside of his own home, and his progress was slow but unerring.
He tried to put aside his concern for Sal. She would reappear when she wanted to be found, and not a moment before. He knew she would only scorn him for his worry.
The purchase of his new clothes gave Tom an idea for another verse to the song he had been composing the previous day. As he tapped along Bow Street, he sang to himself:

There’s your beaux with powdered clothes
Bedaubed from head to shin,
Their pocket-holes adorn’d with gold,
But not one sou within.

Back home, Stinson prepared him for rehearsal. After Jem’s comment, Tom was feeling quite anxious about his appearance, and his new clothes would not be delivered for some time. Discarding the dirty surcoat, which he had thought of as his best, he ordered Stinson to fetch the second-best, a coat of bottle-green broadcloth (so Jem had assured him) without gold trim, but, he hoped, at least cleaner.
“And give it a thorough brushing, for God’s sake,” he added to Stinson as he changed his stockings and breeches. Tom loved the old valet but he was getting on in years and perhaps not keeping house as well as he might. But Tom could not bring himself to reprove the old man, and in any case the disorder of his house rarely troubled him, unless someone else drew his attention to it. After Stinson shaved him and retied his queue, and he had exchanged his cravat and waistcoat, Tom at last felt more himself. He never wanted it said that he neglected his appearance.
Just as Tom was thinking of leaving, there came a knock at the door. His valet was fetching water from the cellar to clean his shaving things. Not being one to stand on ceremony, he answered the door himself, thinking it might be Jem come back for a pint before rehearsal.
He was very glad he had answered, for the moment the caller spoke he realized it was his landlady, Mrs. Bracegirdle, a middle-aged widow, on the whole a decent sort, but given to haranguing him on the disordered state of his household. “Bachelor’s Hall,” she called it, and Tom had rather not let her in if he could help it. He held the door tightly against his side, only his shoulders and head protruding.
“Ah, Mrs. Bracegirdle, what an unparalleled pleasure.” He gave her a disarming smile. “I regret I cannot receive you at the moment, as I am about to depart on business. Perhaps you might call another time?”
Mrs. Bracegirdle took a step back. She was never quite sure what to make of this odd tenant, and vacillated between solicitous charity for his affliction and stern disapproval of his dissolute and slovenly ways, more so when he was in arrears on the rent, which was not infrequently, as indeed was the case today. Something about the blank look in his opaque eyes was disquieting, particularly when she stood so close to him. She rather felt like she was talking to a shut door.
“Th-the rent,” she stammered, not sure where to look as his eyes would not meet hers. “Mr. Finch, may I remind you the rent was due last week.”
Tom’s smile never wavered, “Ah yes, indeed. My deepest apologies for the delay, but I must ask you to wait another week.” She started to protest, but he cut her off. “I assure you the delay is only temporary. Have I ever failed to deliver the money to you in full?”
She conceded that while that was true, the lack of punctuality was a trial to her spirits. He countered that was he not the most steady, reliable and upright of her tenants, which in truth he was not, but neither was he the most disreputable. She was loath to turn him out and risk a worse tenant, and they both knew it. Tom plied her with more assurances, and she at last departed.
After he was certain she had gone, Tom took up his walking stick and departed for the Rose, although perhaps with not quite as light a step as the day before, for would not receive his salary again for another two weeks. There might be, he reflected, a few shillings lying about the house that had gone undetected by him. It might do for dinner, but would not come close to paying the rent. As for that, however, he put it out of his mind. Something would turn up; something always did.

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