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Chapter One: Gomes
Gomes woke at exactly ten minutes before dawn, just as he always did. His first action, also his daily habit, was to drive from his bed the girl who had shared it with him in the night. There was always a girl without her presence, whoever she might be, Gomes found it difficult to sleep. Last night he had used the new one, Doroteia, a skinny wench who thought she was aged thirteen or fourteen, she wasn't sure, who had arrived in the city from the Trás-os-Montes a couple of weeks ago. Gomes whose duties as head clerk in the firm of Hanaway's also encompassed the supervision of the household preferred to hire new serving girls from that or another part of the kingdom distant from Lisbon. This pretty much removed from the realm of possibility the danger that he would be visited by irate masculine relatives, demanding satisfaction or reparation for the loss of their daughter's or sister's innocence.
Last night's wench had pleased him very much. There was a quality of outraged modesty about her, and an unavailing resistance to him, that had excited his ardor and caused him to perform prodigiously upon her body. Bartolomeu Gomes had an iron rule that none of the serving girls was allowed to stay with the household for more than two or three months. He was too aware of the danger that sloth and slovenliness, both at her housework or in bed, could easily infect a little puta who felt herself too secure in either part of her employment. So after two or three months, she was invariably shown the door and left to shift for herself thereafter. The same thing ought to happen with this Doroteia. But lying in bed, waiting for dawn to finally break, Gomes thought seriously that he might allow this wench to stay well beyond the usual time. Even as long as four, five, even six months. So much had she pleased him in the night, as she had wept for him to desist, not to do that, oh please, senhor, don't do that...
The one flaw in his arrangements was that his master, old Felix Hanaway, was starting to show signs of curiosity lately at the steady stream of young provincial girls that passed through his house. Last time Gomes had reported with regret that the latest was failing in her duties and would have to be replaced, the old bugre had said, "My goodness, we have no luck at all with our servants, do we?"
Gomes, after experiencing a moment of unease, had pointed out that indeed their other servants Inês, who supervised in the kitchen; Sebastiana, the housekeeper; Álvaro, who used to drive Old Felix's coach-and-four in more prosperous days when the household had boasted such a luxury had all proved most satisfactory for several years.
"It's just these girls, sir," Gomes explained. "They come off their fathers' little farms where they've been worked like mules all their lives, and they get to Lisbon and think they will take it easy from then on. At our expense," he complained righteously.
"Well, that will never do." Old Felix had nodded. "Carry on as you see fit, then, Bartolomeu. D'you think you can find a replacement soon? Mrs. Hanaway will be staying here a couple of nights next week and I should like to see that we have a full complement of staff by then."
"I'll do my best, sir," Gomes promised.
As he had told the old fool, it was only the serving girls that always had to be replaced. Gomes had no intentions of dismissing any of the upper servants. Each in his or her way was of use to him. Inês, a fine, big woman of thirty, knew it as part of her duties to come to his bed when they were between serving girls, or whenever he had a taste for riper flesh and more experienced love craft than the average girl in her teens could offer. Sebastiana, though too old and fat herself to excite any man's appetite, had excellent connections among the stews and brothels of the Remolares district next to the water, and was the conduit by which these country girls were diverted from beginning a whore's life for a couple of months, at least and sent to the Hanaway house to become servants.
As for Álvaro: By rights, having lost his occupation as coach driver when the coach had to be sold, he should have been dismissed and the few trivial tasks that remained to him turned over to a boy who would do them for a fraction of what he earned. But he had come to an agreement with Gomes whereby, in return for being allowed to stay on in Old Felix's employ and household, and to spend his days in near complete idleness at the tavern next door, he turned over a quarter of his wages to the head clerk.
Gomes turned on his side as the first rays of light came in through the window that he always left unshuttered. He wanted to see dear São Bartolomeu his own, his name saint first thing and give him thanks for his easy life, and for the new girl, and everything else. But this morning the saint, in the shape of the woodcut in its golden frame which he had purchased for half a moeda off a stall under the arches of the Rossio, regarded him not. Only the back of the frame which, too late, Gomes had discovered to be made of tin, lightly covered with gold paint was on view from its perch on top of the chest of drawers.
For a moment he panicked, thinking that somehow the beato Bartolomeu had become angry with him and had in the night turned himself around so that he would no longer have to look at Gomes. Perhaps he had witnessed once too often his child's favorite way with the serving girls, his preference, as it were, for the less traveled path. Gomes wanted to assure the beato Bartolomeu it was only with the bitches that he diverted himself in this way. He was not a damn maricão, a queer, a dirty sodomita even though it was a man, the Captain Merriweather, who had introduced him to the practice years ago, forcing his long English cock nightly into Gomes's youthful hindquarters.
Well, in time he had paid the captain in full for that service. What he had done to him certainly ought to have been enough to have convinced the saint that he was serious in his hatred for the foul congress of men with men. But perhaps it hadn't been sufficient punishment after all, as Gomes had begun to fear? Really, he was growing frantic. He was on his knees. He even thought of promising the blessed one that he would take no more serving girls to his bed, or at least if he did he wouldn't use them in the way the saint obviously disapproved of. Fortunately, the words did not pass his lips, for Gomes knew that it was a habit he'd have had much more difficulty giving up than, say, the drinking of wine, or the smoking of charutos, and abandoning it would have placed a great strain on his affection for São Bartolomeu. He was saved from this rash step by a sudden memory, which must have been temporarily expunged by the pleasures of the night, that it wasn't the saint who had turned his countenance away from Gomes, but Gomes who, as a punishment, had turned the saint around himself, so that he would no longer have the luxury of gazing upon a pleasant room, decent furniture, and a window that looked out onto a tree-shaded courtyard, but was forced every hour of the day to stare at a blank wall.
Gomes got to his feet. He felt such relief at remembering this, and gratitude too that he had not pledged himself to give up a practice he loved, that he was almost moved to relent toward the beato Bartolomeu and turn him to face the room again. But then the memory of why he had punished him in the first place returned and hardened his heart. The saint had a long way to go before he earned his remission, for the offense he had committed the bringing of the young Englishman, another fucking, snooping Hanaway, into Gomes's life was very serious.
Today was Wednesday, the day appointed by Felix Hanaway for the young man to return to the house and this time be permitted to see his uncle. Gomes still had no idea what the result of that interview would be. It was true that Felix still bore a great deal of ill will toward his late brother and because of him towards all his family. And why should he not? Gomes thought piously, for had not the older brother through his folly and misrepresentation made substantial inroads into the younger brother's fortune too? Gomes felt personally involved in this disaster. For Felix's being so much less wealthy today than he was eighteen months ago meant there was that much less available for Gomes to steal.
Knowing Old Felix's current aversion to the London-based Hanaways and all their members, living or dead, Gomes had confidently expected him to show anger when, last Saturday, he had brought his master the news that a runner waited below with a message from his nephew, this Adam Hanaway, who had apparently fetched up in Lisbon after all. One might have hoped that since previous letters to Felix from the same source had been ignored, the little filho da puta would have got the idea that he would not be welcome here.
Old Felix had certainly frowned and blown out his cheeks, and had shaken his head.
"Shall I tell the man to go away, sir?"
And for just a moment Gomes was certain that this was what he would hear, and so he would go back down and dismiss the runner with the words "No message," and the whole threat would be blown away in a moment.
But Felix said, "No, I can't do that to Adam," and Gomes's heart sank.
His master had turned and strode across to his own room. He was in there for forty minutes by the office clock. At one point, curious as to what he could be doing, Gomes had walked past the open door and looked in. Old Felix had the office Day-book open on his desk and was studying it with furious concentration. It didn't bother Gomes much. He had learned his craft from good masters, and the first rule of business the thieving business was that there were always two sets of books. Old Felix could study the Day-book before him as long as he liked. Reality was in the other book, and that was the one Gomes always kept to himself.
At last the old man had quitted his office and had said to Gomes not exactly the words the clerk had absolutely dreaded to hear, not an order to write out an immediate invitation for the nephew to appear in this house, but that he should send instructions for the boy to attend him in a few days' time. In other words, young Hanaway still had his chance to worm his way into his uncle's favor that is, if he was feeble enough not to resent this discourteous, almost contemptuous treatment.
"Try and make the invitation as kind as may be," Felix asked of him. "As far as the circumstances permit."
"I'll do what I can, sir."
And Gomes went into his own office and wrote out the message, made it as cool and unwelcoming as it could be short of outright rejection, and took it downstairs to the runner, who was growing pretty restless and clearly expected he should be compensated for his time of waiting. Gomes advised him to seek any such favor from the fellow who had sent him hither and dismissed him from the premises. And between that hour and this morning, Gomes had not been able to do much to affect the situation one way or another. He had done what he could in bringing to Old Felix's attention certain hitherto unnoticed costs and losses in the accounts which could be directly traced to the disastrous influence of his chief's late brother, father to this unwanted new arrival. Gomes had sat up till late at night inventing these transactions and working them into the office Day-book and Ledger. But when he showed them to his employer the next day, the old bugre had hardly glanced at them. It had been a waste of time and skill.
Other than that there was only one more thing Gomes could come up with. But it was a serious step and he had to think hard and long before doing it. In the end he could see no alternative. The beato Bartolomeu had never hesitated to do Gomes wrong if he was displeased with him. Now that the shoe was on the other foot, it would be weak of him not to show the same stern countenance to the saint. Having come to the right decision, the job was done in a moment. Which was why São Bartolomeu was now staring at the wall, in which posture he was able to contemplate his cruelty toward his beloved child, without any distractions at all.
Copyright © 2005 by Peter Prince