Morgan's Runby Colleen McCullough
In a novel of sweeping narrative power unequaled since her own beloved worldwide bestseller The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough returns to Australia -- this time with the story of its birth.
At the center of her new novel is Richard Morgan, son of a Bristol tavern-keeper, devoted husband and loving father, sober and hardworking craftsman. By the/i>… See more details below
In a novel of sweeping narrative power unequaled since her own beloved worldwide bestseller The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough returns to Australia -- this time with the story of its birth.
At the center of her new novel is Richard Morgan, son of a Bristol tavern-keeper, devoted husband and loving father, sober and hardworking craftsman. By the machinations of fate and the vagaries of the 18th-century English judicial system, he is consigned as a convict to the famous "First Fleet," which set sail, bearing, as an experiment in penology, 582 male and 193 female felons sentenced to transportation, in May of 1787 for the continent that Captain Cook had discovered only a few years earlier.
The word "epic" is overused, but no other word can do justice to one of the most grueling and significant voyages in human history or to the courage of the convicts whose sufferings were not ended but had only just begun when they set foot on Australian soil at Botany Bay on January 19th, 1788.
Of those convicts, Richard Morgan stood out, not only for his strength and his calm determination to let no man bully him, but also for his intelligence, his fair-mindedness, his common sense, and his willingness to help others. To these qualities must be added a certain innate dignity that hinted, even in the most terrible conditions, at a life marked by tragedies that would have broken most men.
In Richard Morgan, Colleen McCullough has created one of her most compelling characters. We see through Morgan's eyes the two worlds in which the story takes place: that of 18th-century Bristol, where Morgan was born and expected to live out his life, and that of a convicted felon sent to settle a hostile new world.
When the book begins, Richard Morgan is a contented man -- happily married, with a child he adores. Then, piece by piece, his idyll crumbles until he finds himself led into an ambiguous relationship with a beautiful young woman, whose dissolute protector seeks vengeance on Morgan to protect his own skin.
He endures the agonies of bereavement and financial loss, incarceration in prison and aboard the notorious "hulks," then the horrors of the journeys to Botany Bay and Norfolk Island, where he finds against all odds a new love and a new life.
Richard Morgan's story is true, but in making Morgan the central figure of her novel, Colleen McCullough has created a hero whom no reader will ever forget; she has written not only a great adventure and a powerful love story, but also a book that combines the elements of Tom Jones and Mutiny on the Bounty.
Morgan's Run is great fiction, full of drama, passion, history, love, and hatred, full-blooded and totally engrossing, a stunning work that is at once rich entertainment -- and a revelation.
The Washington Post McCullough really shines.
People Compelling....A stirring saga.
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Read an Excerpt
August of 1775
October of 1784
"We are at war!" cried Mr. James Thiftlethwaite.
Every head save Richard Morgan's lifted and turned toward the door, where a bulky figure stood brandishing a sheet of flimsy. For a moment a pin might have been heard dropping, then a confused babble of exclamations erupted at every table in the tavern except for Richard Morgan's. Richard had paid the stirring announcement scant heed: what did war with the thirteen American colonies matter, compared to the fate of the child he held on his lap? Cousin James-the-druggist had inoculated the little fellow against the smallpox four days ago, and now Richard Morgan waited, agonized, to see if the inoculation would take.
"Come in, Jem, read it to us," said Dick Morgan, Mine Host and Richard's father, from behind his counter.
Though the noonday sun shone outside and light did diffuse through the bullioned panes of Crown glass in the windows of the Cooper's Arms, the large room was dim. So Mr. James Thistlethwaite strolled over to the counter and the rays of an oil lamp, the butt of a horse pistol protruding from each greatcoat pocket. Spectacles perched upon the end of his nose, he started to read aloud, voice rising and falling in dramatic cadences.
Some of what he said did penetrate the fog of Richard Morgan's worry snatches, phrases only: "'in open and avowed rebellion...the utmost endeavors to suppress such rebellion, and bring the traitors to justice...'"
Feeling the contempt in his father's gaze, Richard genuinely tried to concentrate. But surely the fever wasbeginning? Was it? If so, then the inoculation was definitely taking. And if it did take, would William Henry be one of those who suffered the full disease anyway? Died anyway? Dear God, no!
Mr. James Thistlethwaite was arriving at his peroration. "'The die is now cast! The colonies must either submit or triumph!'" he thundered.
"What an odd way for the King to put it," said Mine Host.
"It sounds as if the King deems a colonial triumph possible."
"Oh, I doubt that very much, Dick. His speech writer some scurvy undersecretary to his bum boy Lord Bute, I hazard a guess is fascinated with the balances of rhetoric ah?" This last word was accompanied by a gesture, forefinger pointing to mouth.
Mine Host grinned and ran a measure of rum into a small pewter mug, then turned to chalk a slash on the slate fixed to his wall.
"Dick, Dick! My news merits one on the house!"
"No it does not. We would have heard sooner or later." Mine Host leaned his elbows on his counter in the place where they had worn two slight depressions and stared at the armed and greatcoated Mr. Thistlethwaite mad as a March hare! The summer's day was sweltering. "Seriously, Jem, it is not exactly a bolt from the blue, but these are shocking tidings all the same."
No other voice attempted to participate in their conversation; Dick Morgan stood well with his patrons, and Jem Thistlethwaite had long enjoyed a reputation as one of Bristol's more eccentric intellectuals. The patrons were quite content to listen as they imbibed the tipple of their choice rum, gin, beer, Bristol milk.
The two Morgan wives were there to move about, pick up the empties and return them to Dick for refilling and more slashes on the slate. It was nearly dinner time; the smell of new bread Peg Morgan had just brought in from Jenkins the baker was stealing through the other odors natural to a tavern adjacent to the Bristol quays at low tide. Most of the mixture of men, women and children present would remain to avail themselves of that same new bread, a pat of butter, a hunk of Somerset cheese, a steaming pewter platter of beef and potatoes swimming in rich gravy.
His father was glaring at him. Miserably aware that Dick despised him for a milksop, Richard searched for something to say. "I suppose we hoped," he said vaguely, "that none of the other colonies would stand by Massachusetts, having warned it that it was going too far. And did they truly think that the King would stoop to read their letter? Or, even if he had, yield to their demands? They are Englishmen! The King is their king too."
"Nonsense, Richard!" said Mr. Thistlethwaite sharply. "This obsessive concern for your child is fast addling your thinking apparatus! The King and his sycophantic ministers are bent on plunging our sceptered isle into disaster! Eight thousand tons of Bristol shipping sent back unloaded from the thirteen colonies in less than a year! That serge manufactory in Redcliff gone out of business and the four hundred souls it employed thrown upon the parish! Not to mention that place near the Port Wall which makes painted canvas carpets for Carolina and Georgia! The pipe makers, the soap makers, the bottle makers, the sugar and rum makers for God's sake, man! Most of our trade is across the Western Ocean, and no mean part of that with the thirteen colonies! To go to war against the thirteen colonies is commercial suicide!"
"I see," said Mine Host, picking up the sheet of flimsy to squint at it, "that Lord North has issued a a 'Proclamation for Suppressing Armed Rebellion.'"
"It is a war we cannot win," said Mr. Thistlethwaite, holding out his empty mug to Mag Morgan, hovering.
Richard tried again. "Come now, Jem! We have beaten France after seven years of war we are the greatest and bravest country in the world! The King of England does not lose his wars."
"Because he fights them in close proximity to England, or against heathens, or against ignorant savages whose own rulers sell them. But the men of the thirteen colonies are, as ye rightly said, Englishmen. They are civilized and conversant with our ways. They are of our blood." Mr. Thistlethwaite leaned back, sighed, wrinkled the nobly grog-blossomed contours of his bulbous nose. "They deem themselves held light, Richard. Put upon, spat upon, looked down upon. Englishmen, yes, yet never quite the bona fide article. And they are a very long way away, which is a nettle the King and his ministers have grasped in utter ignorance. You might say that our navy wins our wars how long is it since we stood or fell by a land army outside our own isles? Yet how can we win a sea war against a foe who has no ships? We will have to fight on land. Thirteen different bits of land, scarcely interconnected. And against a foe not organized to conduct himself in proper military mode."
"Ye've just shot down your own argument, Jem," said Mine Host, smiling but not reaching for his chalk as he handed a fresh mug of rum to Mag. "Our armies are first rate. The colonists will not be able to stand against them."
"I agree, I agree!" cried Jem, lifting his gratis rum in a toast to the landlord, who was rarely generous. "The colonists probably will never win a battle. But they do not need to win battles, Dick. All they need to do is to endure. For it is their land we will be fighting in, and it is not England." His hand went to the left pocket of his greatcoat; out came the massive pistol, down it went on the table with a crash, while the tavern's other occupants squealed and shrieked in terror and Richard, his infant son on his lap, pushed its muzzle sideways so quickly that no one saw him move. The pistol, as everybody knew, was loaded. Oblivious to the consternation he had caused, Mr. Thistlethwaite burrowed into the depths of the pocket and produced some folded pieces of flimsy paper. These he examined one by one, his spectacles enlarging his pale blue and bloodshot eyes, his dark and curling hair escaping from the ribbon with which he had carelessly tied it back no wigs or queues for Mr. James Thistlethwaite.
"Ah!" he exclaimed finally, flourishing a London news sheet. "Seven and a half months ago, ladies and gentlemen of the Cooper's Arms, there was a great debate in the House of Lords, during which that grand old man, William Pitt the Earl of Chatham, gave what is said to be his greatest oration. In defense of the colonists. But it is not Chatham's words thrill me," continued Mr. Thistlethwaite, "it is the Duke of Richmond's, and I quote: 'You may spread fire and desolation, but that will not be government!' How true, how very true! Now comes the bit I judge one of the great philosophical truths, though the Lords snored as he said it: 'No people can ever be made to submit to a form of government they say they will not receive.'"
He stared about, nodding. "That is why I say that all the battles we will win can be of no use and can have little effect upon the outcome of the war. If the colonists endure, they must win." His eyes twinkled as he folded the paper, shoved the quire or so back into his pocket, and jammed the horse pistol on top of them. "You know too much about guns, Richard, that is your trouble. The child was not endangered, nor any of the other folk here." A rumble commenced in his throat and vibrated through his pursed lips. "I have lived in this stinking cesspool called Bristol for all of my life, and I have alleviated the monotony by making some of our festering Tory sores in government the object of my lampoons, from Quaker to Shaker to Kingmaker." He waved his battered tricorn hat at his audience and closed his eyes. "If the colonists endure, they must win," he repeated. "Anybody who lives in Bristol has made the acquaintance of a thousand colonists they flit about the place like bats in the last light. The death of Empire, Dick! It is the first rattle in our English throats. I have come to know the colonists, and I say they will win."
A strange and ominous sound began to percolate in from outside, a sound of many angry voices; the distorted shapes of passersby flickering unhurriedly across the windows suddenly became blurs moving at a run.
"Rioters!" Richard was getting to his feet even as he handed the child to his wife. "Peg, straight upstairs with William Henry! Mum, go with them." He looked at Mr. Thistlethwaite. "Jem, do you intend to fire with one in either hand, or will you give me the second pistol?"
"Leave be, leave be!" Dick emerged from behind his counter to reveal himself a close physical counterpart to Richard, taller than most, muscular in build. "This end of Broad Street does not see rioters, even when the colliers came in from Kingswood and snatched old man Brickdale. Nor does it when the sailors go on the rampage. Whatever is going on, it is not a riot." He crossed to the door. "However, I am of a mind to see what is afoot," he said, and disappeared into the running throng. The occupants of the Cooper's Arms followed him, including Richard and Jem Thistlethwaite, his horse pistols still snug in his greatcoat pockets.
People were boiling everywhere at street level, people leaned from every penthouse with necks craning; not a stone of the flagged road could be seen, nor a single slab of the new pedestrian pavement down either side of Broad Street. The three men pushed into the crush and moved with it toward the junction of Wine and Corn Streets no, these were not rioters. These were affluent, extremely angry gentlemen who carried no women or children with them.
On the opposite side of Broad Street and somewhat closer to the hub of commerce around the Council House and the Exchange stood the White Lion Inn, headquarters of the Steadfast Society. This was the Tory club, source of much encouragement to His Britannic Majesty King George III, whose men they were to the death. The center of the disturbance was the American Coffee House next door, its sign the red-and-white flag of many stripes most American colonists used as a general banner when the flag of Connecticut or Virginia or some other colony was not appropriate.
"I believe," said Dick Morgan, on fruitless tiptoe, "that we would do better to go back to the Cooper's Arms and watch from the penthouse."
So back they went, up the shaky crumbling stairs at the inner end of the counter and thus eventually to the casement windows which leaned perilously far out over Broad Street below. In the back room little William Henry was crying, his mother and grandmother bent over his cot cooing and clucking; the hubbub outside held no interest for Peg or Mag while William Henry displayed such terrible grief. Nor did the hubbub tempt Richard, joining the women.
"Richard, he will not perish in the next few minutes!" snapped Dick from the front room. "Come here and see, damn ye!"
Richard came, but reluctantly, to lean out the gaping window and gasp in amazement. "Yankeys, Father! Christ, what are they doing to the things?"
"Things" they certainly were: two rag effigies stuffed quite professionally with straw, tarred all over with pitch still smoking, and encrusted with feathers. Except for their heads, upon which sat the insignia of colonists their abysmally unfashionable but very sensible hats, brim turned down all the way around so that the low round crown sat like the yolk blister in the middle of a fried egg.
"Holloa!" bellowed Jem Thistlethwaite, spying a well-known face belonging to a well-known, expensively suited body, the whole perched upon a geehoe sledge loaded with tall barrels. "Master Harford, what goes?"
"The Steadfast Society saith it hangeth John Hancock and John Adams!" the Quaker plutocrat called back.
"What, because General Gage refused to extend his pardon to them after Concord?"
"I know not, Master Thistlethwaite." Clearly terrified that he too would be lampooned in some highly uncomplimentary way, Joseph Harford descended from his vantage point and melted into the crowd.
"Hypocrite!" said Mr. Thistlethwaite under his breath.
"Samuel Adams, not John Adams," said Richard, his interest now fairly caught. "Surely it would be Samuel Adams?"
"If the richest merchants in Boston are whom the Steadfast Society mean to hang, then yes, it ought to be Samuel. But John writes and speaks more," said Mr. Thistlethwaite.
In a nautically oriented city, the production of two ropes efficiently tied into hangman's knots did not present a difficulty; two such magically appeared, and the stark, bristly, man-sized dolls were hoisted by their necks to the signpost of the American Coffee House, there to turn lazily and smolder sluggishly. Rage spent, the throng of Steadfast Society men vanished through the welcoming, Tory-blue doors of the White Lion Inn.
"Tory pricks!" said Mr. Thistlethwaite, descending the stairs with a nice mug of rum uppermost in his mind.
"Out, Jem!" said Mine Host, bolting the door until he could be sure the disturbance was definitely over.
* * *
Richard had not followed his father downstairs, though duty said he ought; his name was now joined to Dick's in the official Corporation books. Richard Morgan, victualler, had paid the fine and become an accredited Free Man, a vote-empowered citizen of a city which was in itself a county distinct from Gloucestershire and Somersetshire surrounding it, a citizen of a city which was the second-largest in all of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Of the 50,000 souls jammed within its bounds, only some 7,000 were vote-empowered Free Men.
"Is it taking?" Richard asked his wife, and leaning over the cot; William Henry had quietened, seemed to doze uneasily.
"Yes, my love." Peg's soft brown eyes suddenly filled with tears, her lips trembling. "Now is the time to pray, Richard, that he does not suffer the full pox. Though he does not burn the way Mary did." She gave her husband a gentle push. "Go for a good long walk. You may pray and walk. Go on! Please, Richard. If you stay, Father will growl."
A peculiar lethargy had descended upon Broad Street as a result of the panic which seemed to wing citywide in minutes whenever riots threatened. Passing the American Coffee House, Richard stopped for a moment to contemplate the dangling effigies of John Hancock and John/Samuel Adams, his ears assailed by the fitful roars of laughter and spleen originating among the dining ranks of the Steadfast Society inside the White Lion. His lips curled in faint contempt; the Morgans were staunch Whigs whose votes had contributed to the success of Edmund Burke and Henry Cruger at the elections last year what a circus they had been! And how miffed Lord Clare had been when he polled hardly a vote!
Walking swiftly now, Richard strode along Corn Street past John Weeks's fabulous Bush Inn, headquarters of the Whig Union Club. From there he cut north up Small Street and emerged onto the Key at the Stone Bridge. The vista spread southward was extraordinary. It looked as if a very wide street had been filled with ships in skeletal rigging, just masts and yards and stays and shrouds above their beamy oaken bellies. Of the river Froom wherein they actually sat, nothing could be seen because of those ships in their multitudes, patiently waiting out the days of their twenty weeks' turnaround.
The tide had reached its ebb and was beginning to flood in again at a startling rate: the level of the water in both the Froom and the Avon rose thirty feet in around six and a half hours, then fell thirty. At the ebb the ships lay upon the foetid mud, which sloped steeply and tipped them sideways on their beams; at the flood, the ships rode afloat, as ships were built to do. Many a keel had hogged and buckled at the strain of lying sideways on Bristol mud.
Richard's mind, once over its instinctive reaction to that wide avenue of ships, returned to its rut.
Lord God, hear my prayer! Keep my son safe. Do not take my son from me and from his mother...
He was not his father's only son, though he was the elder; his brother, William, was a sawyer with his own business down along the St. Philip's bank of the Avon near Cuckold's Pill and the glasshouses, and he had three sisters all satisfactorily married to Free Men. There were nests of Morgans in several parts of the city, but the Morgans of Richard's clan perhaps emigrants from Wales in long ago times had been resident for enough generations to have gained some standing; indeed, clan luminaries like Cousin James-the-druggist headed significant enterprises, belonged to the Merchant Venturers and the Corporation, gave hefty donations to the poorhouses, and hoped one day to be Mayor.
Richard's father was not a clan luminary. Nor was he a clan disgrace. After some elementary schooling he had served his time as an apprentice victualler, then, certificated and a Free Man who had paid his fine, he struggled toward the goal of keeping his own tavern. A socially acceptable marriage had been arranged for him; Margaret Biggs came from good farming stock near Bedminster and enjoyed the cachet of being able to read, though she could not write. The children, commencing with a girl, came along at intervals too frequent to render the grief of losing an occasional child truly unbearable. When Dick learned sufficient control to withdraw before ejaculating, the children ceased at two living sons, three living daughters. A good brood, small enough to make providing for them feasible. Dick wanted at least one fully literate son, and centered his hopes on Richard when it became apparent that William, two years younger, was no scholar.
So when Richard turned seven he was enrolled at Colston's School for Boys and donned the famous blue coat which informed Bristolians that his father was poor but respectable, staunchly Church of England. And over the course of the next five years literacy and numeracy were drummed into him. He learned to write a fair hand, do sums in his head, plod through Caesar's Gallic War, Cicero's speeches, and Ovid's Metamorphoses, stimulated by the acid sting of the cane and the caustic bite of the master's comments. Since he was a good though not shining scholar and owned into the bargain a quiet attractiveness, he survived the late Mr. Colston's philanthropic institution better than most, and got more out of it.
At twelve, it was time to leave and espouse a trade or craft in keeping with his education. Much to the surprise of his relations, he went in a different direction than any Morgan thus far. Among his chief assets was a talent for things mechanical, for putting together the pieces of a puzzle; and allied to that was a patience truly remarkable in one so young. Of his own choice, he was apprenticed to Senhor Tomas Habitas the gunsmith.
This decision secretly pleased his father, who liked the idea of the Morgans' producing an artisan rather than a tradesman. Besides which, war was a part of life, and guns a part of war. A man who could make and mend them was unlikely to become cannon fodder on a battlefield.
For Richard, the seven years of his apprenticeship were a joy when it came to the work and the learning, even if a trifle on the cheerless side when it came to physical comfort. Like all apprentices, he was not paid, lived in his master's house, waited on him at his table, dined off the scraps, and slept on the floor. Luckily Senhor Tomas Habitas was a kind master and a superb gunsmith. Though he could make gorgeous dueling pistols and sporting guns, he was shrewd enough to realize that in order to prosper in those areas he must needs be a Manton, and a Manton he could not be outside of London. So he had settled for making the military musket known affectionately to every soldier and marine as "Brown Bess," all 46 inches of her be they wood of stock or steel of barrel brown as a nut.
At nineteen Richard was certificated and moved out of the Habitas household, though not out of the Habitas workshop. There he continued, a master craftsman now, to make Brown Bess. And he married, something he was not allowed to do while an apprentice. His wife was the child of his mother's brother and therefore his own first cousin, but as the Church of England had no objection to that, he wed his bride in St. James's church under the auspices of Cousin James-of-the-clergy. Though arranged, it had been a love match, and the couple had only fallen more deeply in love as the years rolled on. Not without some difficulties of nomenclature, for Richard Morgan, son of Richard Morgan and Margaret Biggs, had taken another Margaret Biggs to wife.
While the Habitas gunsmithy had thrived that had not been so awkward, for the young pair lived in a two-roomed rented apartment on Temple Street across the Avon, just around the corner from the Habitas workshop and the Jewish synagogue.
The marriage had taken place in 1767, three years after the Seven Years' War against France had been concluded by an unpopular peace; heavily in debt despite victory, England had to increase her revenues by additional taxes and decrease the cost of her army and navy by massive retrenchments. Guns were no longer necessary. So one by one the Habitas artisans and apprentices disappeared until the establishment consisted of Richard and Senhor Tomas Habitas himself. Then finally, just after the birth of little Mary in 1770, Habitas was reluctantly obliged to let Richard go.
"Come and work for me," Dick Morgan had said cordially. "Guns may come and go, but rum is absolutely eternal."
It had answered very well, despite the problem with names. Richard's mother had always been known as Mag and Richard's wife as Peg, two diminutives for Margaret. The real trouble was that save for quirky Protestant Dissenters who christened their male progeny "Cranfield" or "Onesiphorus," almost every male in England was John, William, Henry, Richard, James or Thomas, and almost every female was Ann, Catherine, Margaret, Elizabeth or Mary. One of the few customs which embraced every class from highest to lowest.
Peg, deliciously cuddly and willing Peg, turned out not to conceive easily. Mary was her first pregnancy, nearly three years after she had married, and it was not for want of trying. Naturally both parents had hoped for a son, so it was a disappointment when they had to find a girl's name. Richard's fancy lighted upon Mary, not common in the clan and (as his father said frankly) a name with a papist taint to it. No matter. From the moment in which he took his newborn daughter into his arms and gazed down on her in awe, Richard Morgan discovered in himself an ocean of love as yet unexplored. Perhaps because of his patience, he had always liked and gotten on famously with children, but this had not prepared him for what he felt when he beheld little Mary. Blood of his blood, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh.
Thus his new trade of victualler suited Richard far more than gunsmithing now that he had a child; a tavern was a family business, a place wherein he could constantly be with his daughter, see her with her mother, watch the miracle of Peg's beautiful breast serve as a cushion for the babe's head while the tiny mouth worked at getting milk. Nor did Peg stint her milk, terrified of the day when Mary would have to be weaned from the breast on to small beer. No water for a Bristol child, any more than for a London one! There was not much intoxicant in small beer, but it did have some. Those babes put to it too young, said Peg the farmer's daughter (echoed by Mag), always grew up to be drunkards. Though not prone to espouse women's ideas, Dick Morgan, veteran of forty years in the tavern business, heartily concurred. Little Mary was over two years old before Peg commenced to wean her.
They had run the Bell then, Dick's first tavern of his own. It was in Bell Lane and part of the tortuous complex of tenements, warehouses and underground chambers in control of Cousin James-the-druggist, who shared the south side of the narrow alley with the equally rambling premises of the American woolbrokering firm of Lewsley & Co. It must be added that Cousin James-the-druggist had a splendid shop for local retail on Corn Street; he made most of his money, however, in manufacturing and exporting drugs and chemical compounds from corrosive sublimate of mercury (used to treat syphilitic chancres) to laudanum and other opiates.
When the license of the Cooper's Arms around the corner on Broad Street had come up last year, Dick Morgan had leaped at it. A tavern on Broad Street! Why, even after paying the Corporation £21 a year in rent, the proprietor of a tavern on Broad Street could not help but see a profit of £100 a year! It had answered well, as the Morgan family was not afraid of hard work, Dick Morgan never watered down his rum and gin, and the food available at dinner time (around noon) and supper time (around six) was excellent. Mag was a splendid cook of plain food, and all the petty regulations dating from the time of Good Queen Bess which hedged a Bristol tavern-keeper around no bread to be baked on the premises, no animals killed to avoid buying from a butcher were, thought Dick Morgan, actually benefits. If a man paid his bills on time, he could always get special terms from his wholesalers. Even when things were hard.
I wish, God, said Richard to that invisible Being, that Thou wert not so cruel. For Thy wrath so often seems to fall upon those who have not offended Thee. Preserve my son, I pray...
Around him on its heights and marshes the city of Bristol swam in a sea of gritty smoke, the spires of its many churches wellnigh hidden. The summer had been an unusually hot and dry one, and this August ending had seen no relief. The leaves of the elms and limes on College Green to the west and Queen Square to the south looked tired and faded, stripped of gloss and glitter. Chimneys gouted black plumes everywhere the foundries in the Friers and Castle Green, the sugar houses around Lewin's Mead, Fry's chocolate works, the tall cones of the glasshouses and the squatter lime kilns. If the wind were not in the west, this atmospheric inferno received additional fugs from Kingswood, a place no Bristolian voluntarily went. The coal-fields and the massive metalworks upon them bred a half-savage people quick to anger and possessed of an abiding hatred for Bristol. No wonder, given the hideous fumes and wretched damps of Kingswood.
He was moving now into real ship's territory: Tombs's dry dock, another dry dock, the reek of hot pitch, the unwaled ships abuilding looking like the rib cages of gargantuan animals. In Canon's Marsh he took the rope walk through the marsh rather than the soggy footpath which meandered along the Avon's bank, nodding to the ropemakers as they walked their third-of-a-mile inexorably twisting the hempen or linen strands, already twisted at least once, into whatever was the order of the day cables, hawsers, lines. Their arms and shoulders were as corded as the rope they wound, their hands so hardened that all feeling had left them how could they find pleasure in a woman's skin?
Past the single glasshouse at the foot of Back Lane, past a cluster of lime kilns, and so to the beginnings of Clifton. The stark bulk of Brandon Hill rose in the background, and before him in a steep tumble of wooded hills going down to the Avon was the place of which he dreamed. Clifton, where the air was clear and the dells and downs rippled shivers as the wind ruffled maidenhair and eyebright, heath in purple flower, marjoram and wild geraniums. The trees sparkled, ungrimed, and there were glimpses of the huge mansions which stood in their little parks high up Manilla House, Goldney House, Cornwallis House, Clifton Hill House...
He wanted desperately to live in Clifton. Clifton folk were not consumptive, did not sicken of the flux or the malignant quinsy, the fever or the smallpox. That was as true of the humble folk in the cottages and rude shelters along the Hotwells road at the bottom of the hills as it was of the haughty folk who strolled outside the pillared majesty of their palaces aloft. Be he a sailor, a ropemaker, a shipwright's journeyman or a lord of the manor, Clifton folk did not sicken and die untimely. Here one might keep one's children.
Mary, who used to be the light of his life. She had, they said, his grey-blue eyes and waving blackish hair, her mother's nicely shaped nose, and the flawless tan skin both her parents owned. The best of both worlds, Richard used to say, laughing, the little creature cuddled to his chest with her eyes his eyes upturned to his face in adoration. Mary was her dadda's girl, no doubt of it; she could not get enough of him, nor he of her. Two people glued together, was how the faintly disapproving Dick Morgan had put it. Though busy Peg had simply smiled and let it happen, never voicing to her beloved Richard her knowledge that he had usurped a part of the child's affections due to her, the mother. After all, did it matter from whom the love came, provided there was love? Not every man was a good father, and most were too quick to administer a beating. Richard never lifted a hand.
The news of a second pregnancy had thrilled both parents: a three-year gap was a worry. Now they would have that boy!
"It is a boy," said Peg positively as her belly swelled. "I am carrying this one differently."
The smallpox broke out. Time out of mind, every generation had lived with it; like the plague, its mortality rate had slowly waned, so that only the most severe epidemics killed many. The faces one saw in the streets often bore the disfiguring craters of pock marks a shame, but at least the life had been spared. Dick Morgan's face was slightly pock marked, but Mag and Peg had had the cowpox as girls, and never succumbed. Country superstition said that the cowpox meant no smallpox. So as soon as Richard had turned five, Mag took him to her father's farm near Bedminster during a spate of the disease and made the little fellow try to milk cows until he came down with this benign, protective sort of pox.
Richard and Peg had fully intended to do the same with Mary, but no cowpox appeared in Bedminster. Not yet four, the child had suddenly burned with terrible fever, moaned and twisted her pain-racked body, cried in a constant frenzy for her dadda. When Cousin James-the-druggist came (the Morgans knew he was a better doctor than any in Bristol who called themselves doctors) he looked grave.
"If the fever comes down when the spots appear, she will live," he said. "There are no medicaments can alter God's will. Keep her warm and do not let the air get at her."
Richard tried to help nurse her, sitting hour after hour beside the cot he had made and artfully fitted up with gimbals so that it swayed gently without the grind of cradle rockers. On the fourth day after the fever began the spots appeared, livid areolae with what looked like lead shot in their centers. Face, lower arms and hands, lower legs and feet. Vile, horrific. He talked to her and crooned to her, held her plucking hands while Peg and Mag changed her linens, washed her shrunken little buttocks as wrinkled and juiceless as an old woman's. But the fever did not diminish, and eventually, as the pustules burst and cratered, she flickered out as softly and subtly as a candle.
Cousin James-of-the-clergy was overwhelmed with burials. But the Morgans had kinship rights, so despite the calls on his time he interred Mary Morgan, aged three, with all the solemnities the Church of England could provide. Heavy with exhaustion and near her time, Peg leaned on her aunt and mother-in-law while Richard stood, weeping desolately, quite alone; he would not permit anyone to go near him. His father, who had lost children indeed, who had not? was humiliated by this torrent of grief, this unseemly unmanning. Not that Richard cared how his father felt. He did not even know. His bubba Mary was dead and he, who would gladly have died in her place, was alive and in the world without her. God was not good. God was not kind or merciful. God was a monster more evil than the Devil, who at least made no pretense of virtue.
An excellent thing, Dick and Mag Morgan agreed, that Peg was about to birth another child. The only anodyne for Richard's grief was a new baby to love.
"He might turn against it," said Mag anxiously.
"Not Richard!" said Dick scornfully. "He is too soft."
Dick was right, Mag wrong. For the second time Richard Morgan was enveloped in that ocean of love, though now he had some idea of its profundity. Knew the immensity of its depths, the power of its storms, the eternity of its reaches. With this child, he had vowed, he would learn to float, he would not expend his strength in fighting. A resolution which lasted no longer than the frozen moment in which he took in the sight of his son's face, the placid minute hands, the pulse inside a brand-new being on this sad old earth. Blood of his blood, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh.
It was not in the province of a woman to name her babies. That task fell to Richard.
"Call him Richard," said Dick. "It is tradition."
"I will not. We have a Dick and a Richard already, do we now need a Dickon or a Rich?"
"I rather like Louis," said Peg casually.
"Another papist name!" roared Dick. "And it's Frog!"
"I will call him William Henry," said Richard.
"Bill, like his uncle," said Dick, pleased.
"No, Father, not Bill. Not Will. Not Willy, not Billy, not even William. His name is William Henry, and so he will be known by everybody," said Richard so firmly that the debate ended.
Truth to tell, this decision gratified the whole clan. Someone known to everybody as William Henry was bound to be a great man.
Richard gave voice to this verdict when he displayed his new son to Mr. James Thistlethwaite, who snorted.
"Aye, like Lord Clare," he said. "Started out a schoolmaster, married three fat and ugly old widows of enormous fortune, was er lucky enough to be shriven of them in quick succession, became a Member of Parliament for Bristol, and so met the Prince of Wales. Plain Robert Nugent. Rrrrrrrrrolling in the soft, which he proceeded to lend liberally to Georgy-Porgy Pudden 'n' Pie, our bloated Heir. No interest and no repayment of the principal until even the King could not ignore the debt. So plain Robert Nugent was apotheosized into Viscount Clare, and now has a Bristol street named after him. He will end an earl, as my London informants tell me that his soft is still going princeward at a great rate. You have to admit, my dear Richard, that the schoolmaster did well for himself."
"Indeed he did," said Richard, not at all offended. "Though I would rather," he said after a pause, "that William Henry earned his peerage by becoming First Lord of the Admiralty. Generals are always noblemen because army officers have to buy their promotions, but admirals can scramble up with prize-money and the like."
"Spoken like a true Bristolian! Ships are never far from any Bristolian's thoughts. Though, Richard, ye have no experience of them beyond looking." Mr. Thistlethwaite sipped his rum and waited with keen anticipation for the warm glow to commence inside him.
"Looking," said Richard, his cheek against William Henry's, "is quite close enough to ships for me."
"D'ye never yearn for foreign parts? Not even London?"
"Nay. I was born in Bristol and I will die in Bristol. Bath and Bedminster are quite as far as I ever wish to go." He held William Henry out and looked his son in the eye; for such a young babe, the gaze was astonishingly steady. "Eh, William Henry? Perhaps you will end in being the family's traveler."
Idle speculation. As far as Richard was concerned, simply having William Henry was enough.
The anxiety, however, was omnipresent, in Peg as well as Richard. Both of them fussed over the slightest deviation from William Henry's habitual path were his stools a little too runny? was his brow too warm? ought he not to be more forward for his age? None of this mattered a great deal during the first six months of William Henry's life, but his grandparents fretted over what was going to happen as he grew into noticing, crawling, talking and thinking! That doting pair were going to ruin the child! They listened avidly to anything Cousin James-the-druggist had to say on subjects few Bristolians or other sorts of English people worried their heads about. Like the state of the drains, the putridity of the Froom and Avon, the noxious vapors which hung over the city as ominously in winter as in summer. A remark about the Broad Street privy vault had Peg on her knees inside the closet beneath the stairs with rags and bucket, brush and oil of tar, scrubbing at the ancient stone seat and the floor, whitewashing ruthlessly. While Richard went down to the Council House and made such a nuisance of himself to various Corporation slugs that the honey-sledges actually arrived en masse to empty the privy vault, rinse it several times, and then tip the result of all this activity into the Froom at the Key Head right next door to the fish markets.
When William Henry passed the six-months mark and began to change into a person, his grandparents discovered that he was the kind of child who cannot be ruined. Such was the sweetness of his nature and the humility of his tiny soul that he accepted all the attention gratefully, yet never complained if it were not given. He cried because he had a pain or some tavern fool had frightened him, though of Mr. Thistlethwaite (by far the most terrifying denizen of the Cooper's Arms) he was not in the least afraid no matter how loudly he roared. His character inclined to thoughtful silences; though he would smile readily, he would not laugh, and never looked either sad or ill-tempered.
"I declare that he has the temperament of a monastery friar," said Mr. Thistlethwaite. "Ye may have bred up a Carthlick yet."
Five days ago a whisper had surfaced at the Cooper's Arms: a few cases of the smallpox had appeared, but too widely dispersed to think of containment by quarantine, every city's first and last desperate hope.
Peg's eyes started from her head. "Oh, Richard, not again!"
"We will have William Henry inoculated" was Richard's answer. After which he sent a message to Cousin James-the-druggist.
Who looked aghast when told what was required of him. "Jesus, Richard, no! Inoculation is for older folk! I have never heard of it for a babe barely out of his clouts! It would kill him! Far better to do one of two things send him away to the farm, or keep him here in as much isolation as ye can. And pray, whichever course ye choose."
"Inoculation, Cousin James. It must be inoculation."
"Richard, I will not do it!" Cousin James-the-druggist turned to Dick, listening grimly. "Dick, say something! Do something! I beseech you!"
For once Richard's father stood by him. "Jim, neither course would work. To get William Henry out of Bristol no, hear me out! to get William Henry out of Bristol would mean hiring a hackney, and who can tell what manner of person last sat in it? Or who might be on the ferry at Rownham Meads? And how can we isolate anybody in a tavern? This ain't St. James's on a Sunday, lively though that can be. All manner of folk come through my door. No, Jim, it must be inoculation."
"Be it on your own heads, then!" cried Cousin James-the-druggist as he stumbled off, wringing his hands, to enquire of a doctor friend whereabouts he might find a victim of the smallpox who had reached rupture-of-the-pustules stage. Not so difficult a task; people were coming down with the disease everywhere. Mostly under the age of fifteen.
"Pray for me," Cousin James-the-druggist said to his doctor friend as he laid his ordinary darning needle down across a running sore on the twelve-year-old girl's face and turned it over and over to coat it with pus. Oh, poor soul! It had been such a pretty face, but it never would be again. "Pray for me," he said as he rose to his feet and put the sopping needle on a bed of lint in a small tin case. "Pray that I am not about to do murder."
He hastened immediately to the Cooper's Arms, not a very long walk. And there, the partly naked William Henry on his knee, he took the darning needle from its case, placed its point against against oh, where ought he to do this murder? And such a public one, between the regulars sitting in their usual places, Mr. Thistlethwaite making a show of casually sucking his teeth, and the Morgans looming in a ring around him as if to prevent his fleeing should he take a notion to do so. Suddenly it was done; he pinched the flesh of William Henry's arm just below the left shoulder, pushed the big needle in, then drew it out an inch away by its point.
William Henry did not flinch, did not cry. He turned his large and extraordinary eyes upon Cousin James's sweating face and looked a question why did you do that to me? It hurt!
Oh why, why did I? I have never seen such eyes in a head! Not animal's eyes, but not human either. This is a strange child.
So he kissed William Henry all over his face, wiped away his own tears, put the needle back in its tin to burn the whole thing later in his hottest furnace, and handed William Henry to Richard.
"There, it is done. Now I am going to pray. Not for William Henry's soul what babe needs fear for stains on that? To pray for my own soul, that I have not done murder. Have you some vinegar and oil of tar? I would wash my hands."
Mag produced a small jug of vinegar, a bottle of oil of tar, a pewter dish and a clean clout.
"Nothing will happen for three or four days," he said as he rubbed away, "but then, if it takes, he will develop a fever. If it has taken to the proper degree, the fever will not be malign. And at some time the inoculation itself will fester, produce a pustule, and burst. All going well, 'twill be the only one. But I cannot say for sure, and I do not thank ye for this business."
"You are the best man in Bristol, Cousin James!" cried Mr. Thistlethwaite jovially.
Cousin James-the-druggist paused in the doorway. "I am not your cousin, Jem Thistlethwaite ye have no relations! Not even a mother," he said in freezing tones, pushed his wig back onto his head properly, and vanished.
Mine Host shook with laughter. "That is telling ye, Jem!"
"Aye," grinned Jem, unabashed. "Do not worry," he said to Richard, "God would not dare offend Cousin James."
Having walked for much longer than he had prayed, Richard arrived back at the Cooper's Arms just in time to give a hand with supper. Barley broth made on beef shins tonight, with plump, bacony dumplings simmering in it, as well as the usual fare of bread, butter, cheese, cake and liquid refreshments.
The panic had died down and Broad Street was back to normal except that John/Samuel Adams and John Hancock still swung from the signpost of the American Coffee House. They would probably, Richard reflected, remain there until time and weather blew their stuffing all over the place and naught was left save limp rags.
Nodding to his father as he passed, Richard scrambled upstairs to the back half of the room at their top, which Dick had partitioned off in the customary way a few planks from floor to near the ceiling, not snugly tenoned and joined like the wales of ships, but rather held together by an occasional strut and therefore full of cracks, some wide enough to put an eye to.
Richard and Peg's back room held an excellent double bed with thick linen curtains drawn about it from rails connecting its four tall posts, several chests for clothing, a cupboard for shoes and boots, a mirror on one wall for Peg to prink in front of, a dozen hooks on the same wall, and William Henry's gimbaled cot. There were no fifteen-shillings-a-yard wallpapers, no damask hangings, no carpets on the oak floor so old it had gone black two centuries ago, but it was quite as good a room as any one would see in any house of similar standing, namely of the middling classes.
Peg was by the cot, swinging it gently back and forth.
"How is he, my love?"
She looked up, smiling contentedly. "It has taken. He has a fever, but it is not burning him up. Cousin James-the-druggist came while you were walking, and seemed very relieved. He thinks William Henry will recover without developing the full pox."
Because his left upper arm was sore, Richard assumed, William Henry lay sleeping on his right side with the offending limb drawn comfortably across his chest. Where the needle had passed through the flesh a great red welt was growing; his palm almost touching it, Richard could feel the heat in the thing.
"It is early!" he exclaimed.
"Cousin James says it often is after inoculation."
Knees shaking from the sheer relief of learning that his son had survived his ordeal, Richard went to a hook on the wall and plucked his stout canvas apron from it. "I must help father. Thank God, thank God!" He was still thanking God as he bounded down the stairs, it having slipped his mind that until he saw William Henry's pustule developing, he had quite given up on God.
For places like the Cooper's Arms the relaxed atmosphere of long summer evenings brought benefits in its wake; the tavern's regular clientele were respectable people who earned a better than subsistence living tradesmen and artisans in the main, and accompanied by their wives and children. Between threepence and fourpence a head bought them plenty of palatable food and a big pitcher of small beer, and for those who preferred full beer, rum or gin or Bristol milk (a sherry much favored by the women), another sixpence would see them merry enough to tumble into bed and sleep the moment they got home, safe from footpads and the press gangs because that extended gloaming kept darkness at bay.
So Richard descended into a social club still golden-lit as much from the westering sun outside as from the oil lamps fixed to the exposed beams of walls and ceiling, black against the brilliant pallor of whitewashed plaster. The only portable lamp burned at Mine Host's place behind his counter, at the far end of it from Ginger, the tavern's most famous attraction.
Ginger was a large wooden cat Richard had carved after reading of the renowned Old Tom in London a distinct improvement on the original, he prided himself. It stood diagonally across the boards with its nether regions closest to the drinkers, an orange-striped cat with jaws open in a wide smile and tail at a jaunty angle. When a customer wanted a measure of rum, he put a threepenny coin into its mouth and rested it upon the flexible tongue, which flopped down with an audible click. Then he held his mug beneath the two realistic testicles at its rear and pulled the tail; the cat promptly pissed exactly half a pint of rum.
Naturally the older children present were its greatest users; many a dad and mum were wheedled into drinking more than they ought for the sheer pleasure of putting a coin into Ginger's mouth, pulling his tail, and watching him piss a stream of rum. If Richard had done no more for the Cooper's Arms than that, he had vindicated his father's generosity in taking him into the business.
As Richard crossed the sawdust-strewn floor with wooden bowls full of steaming broth distributed precariously up both arms, he exchanged conversation with everybody, his face lighting up as he told them of William Henry's optimistic prognosis.
Mr. Thistlethwaite was not there. He came at eleven in the morning and stayed until five, sitting at "his" table under the window, which bore an inkwell and several quills (but he could buy his own paper, said Dick Morgan tersely), composing his lampoons. These were printed up by Sendall's bookshop in Wine Street and sold there, though Mr. Thistlethwaite also had outlets on a few stalls in Pie Powder Court and Horse Fair, far enough from Sendall's not to affect its market. They sold extremely well, for Mr. Thistlethwaite owned a rare ripeness of epithet and was apt into the bargain. His targets were usually Corporation officials from the Mayor through the Commander of Customs to the Sheriff, or religious entities addicted to pluralism, or those who presided over the courts. Though quite why he had it in for Henry Burgum the pewterer was a mystery oh, Burgum was a dyed-in-the-wool villain, but what precisely had he done to Mr. James Thistlethwaite?
And so the supper hour wore down amid a general feeling of repletion and well-being, until promptly at eight o'clock by the old timepiece on the wall next to the slate, Dick Morgan rapped: "Settle up accounts, gentlemen!" After which, his tin cash box satisfyingly heavy, he shepherded the last toddler out the door and bolted it securely. The cash box went upstairs with him and was deposited beneath his own bed with a string tied from its handle to his big toe. Bristol had more than its share of thieves, some of them most artful. In the morning he transferred the mass of coins to a canvas bag and took it to the Bristol Bank in Small Street, a concern headed by, among others, a Harford, an Ames and a Deane. Though no matter which one of Bristol's three banks a man patronized, it would be Quakers looking after his money.
William Henry was sleeping soundly on his right side; Richard lifted the cot closer to the bed, took off his apron, his voluminous white cotton shirt, his linen breeches, his shoes and thick white cotton stockings, and his flannel underdrawers. Then he donned the linen nightshirt Peg had draped across his pillow, untied the ribbon confining his long locks and fitted a nightcap securely over them. All this done, he slipped into bed with a sigh.
Two very different snores emanated through the gaps in the partition between this room and the front one where Dick and Mag slept, but not like the dead. Snores were the epitome of life. Dick produced a resonant rumble, whereas Mag wheezed and whistled. Smiling to himself, Richard rolled onto his side and found Peg, who snuggled up to him despite the warmth of the night and began to kiss his cheek. Very carefully Richard pleated up his nightshirt and hers, then fitted himself against her and cupped a hand around one high, firm breast.
"Oh, Peg, I do love you!" he whispered. "No man was ever gifted with a better wife."
"Nor woman with a better husband, Richard."
In complete agreement, they kissed down to the velvet of their tongues while she nudged her mound against his growing member and purred her pleasure.
"Perhaps," he mumbled afterward, his eyes unwilling to stay open, "we have made a brother or sister for William Henry." He had barely uttered the words before he was asleep.
Though as tired as he, Peg yanked at his nightshirt until it shielded his body from the bottom sheet, then adjusted her own with a dab of its tail to blot the moisture from her crotch. Oh, she thought, I wish Dad and Mum did not snore! Richard does not, and nor, he tells me, do I. Still, snores mean that they sleep and do not hear us. And thank you, dearest Lord, for being kind to my little boy. I know that he is so good You must want him to adorn Heaven, but he adorns this earth too, and he should have his chance. Yet why, dearest Lord, do I feel that I will have no other children?
For she did feel this, and it was a torment. Three years she had waited to fall the first time, then another three years before she fell the second time. Not that she had carried either child poorly, or been unduly sick, or suffered cramps and spasms. Just that somewhere inside her soul she sensed a womb leached of its fertility. The fault did not lie with Richard. Did she so much as look sideways at him with an invitation, he would have her, and never failed (save when a child was ill) to have her when they went to bed. Such a kind and considerate lover! Such a kind and considerate man. His own appetites and pleasures were less important to him than those of the folk who mattered to him. Especially hers and William Henry's. And Mary's. A tear fell into the down pillow and more followed, faster and faster. Why do our children have to go before us? It is not fair, it is not just. I am twoscore and five, Richard is twoscore and seven. Yet we have lost our firstborn, and I miss her so! Oh, how much I miss her!
Tomorrow, she thought drowsily, her spate of weeping ended, I will go to St. James's burying ground and put flowers on her grave. Soon it will be winter, and of flowers there will be none.
Winter came, the ordinary Bristol gloom of fog, drizzle, a damp coldness which seeped into the bones; untroubled by the ice which often pocked the Thames and other rivers of eastern England, the tide in the Avon rose its thirty feet and fell its thirty feet as rhythmically and predictably as in summer.
News from the war in the thirteen colonies trickled in, far behind the events it chronicled. General Thomas Gage was no longer His Britannic Majesty's Commander-in-Chief, Sir William Howe was, and it was being said that the rebellious Continental Congress was courting the French, the Spanish and the Dutch in search of allies and money. The King's retaliation had been much as expected: at Christmastide the Parliament prohibited all trade with the thirteen colonies and declared them beyond the protection of the Crown. For Bristol, hideous news.
There were those among influential Bristolians who wanted peace at any price, including granting the American rebels whatever they demanded; there were those who deemed the rebels sorely wronged, yet who wanted the perpetuation of English imperium because they feared that if England abandoned a thousand miles of naked coast, the French would return with the Spanish hard behind them; and there were those whose outrage was colossal, who cursed the rebels for traitors fit only to be drawn and quartered after they were hanged, and who would not hear of the smallest concession's being made. Naturally this last group of Bristol's mighty had the most power at the Court of St. James, but all three groups cried woe in the drawing rooms of the best houses and huddled grimly over their port and turtle at the White Lion, the Bush Inn and the Plume of Feathers.
Beneath the thin crust of influential Bristolians lay the vast majority of citizens, who knew only that work was getting hard to find, that more and more ships sat permanently along the quays and the backs, and that now was not the time to strike for a raise of a penny a day. Since Parliament knew how to spend money but did not dole it out to the needy, care of the swelling numbers of jobless devolved upon the parishes provided, that is, that they were genuine parishioners entered in the register. Each parish received £7 per annum per dwelling of the Corporation's rents, and out of this came relief for the poor.
In one respect Bristol differed from all other English cities, for no reason easily explained; its upper crust tended toward an impressive degree of philanthropy, during life as well as in testamentary bequests. Perhaps one reason might have been that to have almshouses or poorhouses or hospitals or schools named after their endower lent their endower a second kind of immortality, for his name was never aristocratic. When it came to birth and lineage, Bristol's upper crust was utterly mediocre. Lord Clare, who had been Robert Nugent the schoolmaster, was about as much of a nobleman as Bristol high society could produce. Bristol might was soundly vested in Mammon.
Thus 1776 arrived like the kind of brooding shadow seen only out of the corners of the eyes. By now, everybody had assumed, the King's Navy and the King's Army would have stamped out the last ember of revolution between New Hampshire and Georgia. But no news of this glorious event came, though those who could read a large number in education- and charity-conscious Bristol had taken to frequenting the staging inns to wait for the coach from London and the London flimsies and magazines.
The Cooper's Arms was doing its share of drawing in the belt; and sad it was, too, to find with every passing week a new gap in the ranks of the regular patrons. Expenses kept time with shrinking custom, however; Mag cooked less, Peg carried home fewer loaves from Jenkins the baker, and Dick bought more vile cheap gin than rich aromatic Cave's rum.
"I do not like to sound disloyal," said Peg on a January day when the threat of snow found the Cooper's Arms empty, "but surely some of our folk would find it easier to eat if they drank less."
The look Dick gave Richard was wry, but he said nothing.
"My love," said Richard, taking William Henry from his mother, "it is the way of the world, and we have managed to put a little aside because it is the way of the world. So hush, and do not think of disloyalty. Men and women are free to choose what they want to put in their stomachs. Some can bear the pain of doing without a daily half-pint of rum or gin, but some find the pain of doing without too hard to bear." He shrugged, ruffled William Henry's dark ringlets and smiled down into those amazing eyes, amber flecked with deep brown dots. "Pain is different for everybody, Peg."
As January crept onward, the tally of ships failed to reach expectations. From sympathy with the rebel cause, the feeling within the city was turning to increasingly bitter resentment. The Union Club at the Bush Inn, once engaged in inundating the King with petitions to cease taxing and trying to govern the colonies from afar, was stumbling into mortified silence; at the White Lion the Tories were roaring ever louder, inundating the King with formal avowals of allegiance and support, contributing to the cost of raising local regiments, and starting to ask questions about the two Whig Members of Parliament for Bristol, the Irishman Edmund Burke and the American Henry Cruger.
There, said the Steadfast Society, was Bristol, bleeding from almost a year of war already, with a Whig parliamentary team composed of a golden-tongued Irishman and a leaden-tongued American. Sentiments were changing, feelings were souring. Let all this business three thousand miles away get itself over and done with, let the chief business of the day be proper business! And damn the rebels!
On the night of the 16th of January, while the tide was at its ebb, someone set fire to the Savannah La Mar, loading for Jamaica on the Broad Quay not far from Old Nick's Entrance. She had been daubed with pitch, oil and turpentine, and luck alone had saved her; by the time the city's two firemen had arrived with their forty-gallon water cart, several hundred shaken sailors and dock denizens had dealt with the blaze before serious damage had been done.
In the morning the port officials and bailiffs discovered that the Fame and the Hibernia, one to north and one to south of the Savannah La Mar, had also been soaked with incendiaries and set alight. For reasons no one could fathom, neither ship had so much as smoldered.
"Barratry in Bristol! The whole of the Quay could have gone up, and the backs, and then the city," said Dick to Richard the moment he returned from the scene of this shipboard arson. "Low tide! Nothing to stop a good blaze leaping from ship to ship Christ, Richard, it might have been as bad as London's great fire!" And he shivered.
Nothing terrified people quite so effectively as fire. Not the worst the colliers of Kingswood could do could compare, for the angriest mob was a nothing alongside fire. Mobs were made of men and women with children tagging behind, whereas fire was the monstrous hand of God, the opening of the portals to Hell.
On the 18th of January, Cousin James-the-druggist, ashen-faced, ushered his weeping wife and those of his children still at home through Dick Morgan's door.
"Will you look after Ann and the girls?" he asked, trembling. "I cannot persuade them that our house is safe."
"Good God, Jim, what is it?"
"Fire." He grasped at the counter to steady himself.
"Here," said Richard, giving him a mug of best rum while Mag and Peg fluttered aro und the moaning Ann.
"Give her one too," said Dick as Mr. James Thistlethwaite abandoned his manic quill to join them. "Now tell us, Jim."
It took a full quarter-pint to calm Cousin James-the-druggist enough to speak. "In the middle of the night someone forced the door of my main warehouse you know how strong it is, Dick, and how many chains and padlocks it has! He got at my turpentine, soaked a big box in a vat of it, and filled the box with tow soaked in more turpentine. Then he put the box against some casks of linseed oil, and lit it. The place was deserted, of course. No one saw him come, no one saw him go."
"I do not understand!" cried Dick, quite as white as his first cousin. "We are right on the corner of Bell Lane, and I swear we have heard nothing, seen nothing smelled nothing!"
"It would not burn," said Cousin James-the-druggist in an odd voice. "I tell you, Dick, it would not burn! It should have burned! I found the box when I came to work. At first I thought the broken door meant someone after opiates or badly needed medicines, but the moment I got inside, I could smell the turpentine." His grey-blue Morgan eyes shone with the light of the visionary. "It is a miracle!" he cried. "It is a miracle! God has been good, and I will give St. James's a thousand pounds for its poorbox."
Even Mr. Thistlethwaite was impressed. "That is enough to make me wish I wrote panegyrics, Cousin James, and could hymn ye in print." He frowned. "But I smell something fishy in the city of Bristol, so I do. The Savannah La Mar, the Hibernia and the Fame all belong to Lewsley, which is an American firm. Lewsley is right next door to you in Bell Lane. Perhaps the arsonist broke down the wrong door. I would tell Lewsley if I were you this is a plot by the Tories to drive American money out of Bristol."
"Ye see Tories in everything, Jem," said Richard, smiling.
"Tories are in everything dastardly, at any rate." Mr. Thistlethwaite sat down at his table again, rolling his eyes at the clutch of hysterical women. "I do wish ye'd shoo them home, Dick. Leave Richard there with one of my horse pistols here, take it, Richard! I can defend myself with one. But what I insist upon is silence. The muse has beckoned, and I have a new subject to write about."
No one took any notice of this, but as the regular patrons started to drift in for a noon dinner and the flow of enquirers into what had happened at the Morgan drug warehouse steadily increased, Richard decided to do as Mr. Thistlethwaite had suggested. One of the horse pistols in his greatcoat pocket and a dozen paper shot cartridges in the other pocket, he escorted Ann Morgan and her two dismally plain daughters back to their very nice house in St. James's Barton. There he sat himself in a chair in the hallway to repel invading arsonists.
Within the space of two days, Thursday to Saturday, all Bristol had spun into a helpless panic. The wardens and specially appointed constables actually put some effort into their exertions, the lamps were lit at five in the afternoon in those few places lucky enough to have street lighting, and the lampmen got busy with their ladders to refill the oil reservoirs, something they rarely did. People hurried home early and wished that the season were not winter and therefore redolent with the smell of wood smoke. Hardly anyone slept during that Saturday night.
On the 19th, a Sunday, all Bristol save for the Jews were in church to beg that God be merciful and bring this Hellhound to justice. Cousin James-of-the-clergy, an excellent preacher even when not on form, gave of his best in a manner some slightly startled members of the St. James's congregation described as positively Jesuitical and others as alarmingly Methodical.
"For myself," said Dick, to whom one such remark was addressed, "I care not whether the Reverend sounded Jesuitical or Methodical. If we are to sleep soundly in our beds, the arsonist must be kicking his heels at the end of a rope. Besides, the Reverend's papa was a regular fire-and-brimstone preacher, do you not remember? He gave sermons in the open air to the colliers at Crew's Hole."
"The Steadfast Society blames it on the American colonists."
"Hardly likely! The American colonists look more the victims," said Dick, ending the subject.
In the small hours of Sunday going into Monday, Richard woke with a start from a restless sleep.
"Dadda, Dadda!" William Henry was saying loudly from his cot.
Out of bed in a trice, Richard lit a candle from the tinder box and bent over him, heart pounding, as the child sat bolt upright. "What is wrong, William Henry?" he whispered.
"Fire," said William Henry clearly.
Only his obsession with his son's health could have stoppered his nose the room was full of smoke.
In an emergency he was neat and quick, preserved his presence of mind; Richard woke his father with a shout even as his hands worked at his clothes and pulled on his shoes. Ready, he did not wait for Dick, but ran down the stairs with his candle, grabbed two buckets, unbolted the tavern door and slid across the pavement, slippery in a little rain. Others were stirring as he ran around the corner into Bell Lane and there came to a halt, aghast. The warehouse complex of Lewsley & Co. was ablaze, flames licking through gaps in the slate roofs, the narrow and dirty confines of Bell Lane pulsing red. A noise of roar and huff filled his ears; the Spanish wool, the grain and casks of olive oil inside were soaking up the fire and the fire was feeding upon them as it had not fed upon tow and turpentine.
Men armed with buckets were coming from all directions and multiple lines of them strung themselves from the Froom at the Key Head to Lewsley & Co.'s warehouse. Though the tide was not all the way in, nor was it out; a fairly easy matter therefore to dip the buckets into the water and send them on their way. This frenzy of activity confined the fire to Lewsley & Co. and half a dozen ancient tenements; Cousin James-the-druggist's complex right next door escaped without a mark. No one died apparently the arsonist was more interested in destroying property than taking lives. So the occupants of the lost tenements had fled in time, their scant belongings clutched in their arms and their children wailing.
Filthy with soot, Richard went back to the Cooper's Arms as soon as the Sheriff and his minions pronounced Bell Lane out of danger. Both his buckets had gone, only God knew where or to whom. His father and Cousin James-the-druggist were seated together at a table, both showing signs of wear and tear; they were a generation older, had tried to keep up, then gratefully turned their buckets over to younger men as they flocked in from more outlying districts to do their bit.
"There will be a great demand for buckets tomorrow, Richard," said Dick, drawing his son a tankard of beer, "so I intend to be at the cooper's as soon as dawn breaks to buy a dozen more. What a world we live in!"
"Dick," said Cousin James-the-druggist with that same look of exaltation on his face, "for the second time within a day, God has spared me and mine! I feel I feel as Paul must have done on the road to Damascus."
"I do not see the comparison," said Richard, drinking thirstily. "You have never persecuted the faithful, Cousin James."
"No, Richard, but I have undergone a revelation. I will give every prisoner in the Bristol Newgate and the Bristol Bridewell a shilling as thanks to God."
"Huh!" grunted Dick. "Do so, by all means, Jim, but be aware that they will spend it on booze in the prison taproom."
Their speech had permeated to the upper floor; Mag and Peg came down the stairs well wrapped, Peg with William Henry in her arms, her eyes glowing.
"Oh, it is over and you are safe!"
Richard put his tankard down and crossed to take the child, who clung to him. "Father, it was William Henry who woke me. He said 'fire' as if he knew what it meant."
Cousin James-the-druggist stared at William Henry thoughtfully. "He is pixilated. The fairies have claimed him."
Peg gasped. "Cousin James, do not say such things! If the fairies own him, one day they will take him away!"
Strip that of its fanciful rustic superstition, Cousin James-the-druggist reflected, rising slowly and painfully to his feet, and it means that William Henry's mother recognizes his strangeness. For the truth is that he ought never to have survived inoculation.
* * *
The arsonist did not stop with the destruction of Lewsley & Co. During the Monday after the fire, other torches similar to those which had set the American firm alight were found in a dozen other American-owned or American-affiliated warehouses and factories. On the Tuesday, Alderman Barnes's sugar refining house went up in flames; its owner had strong American ties. But by now the whole of Bristol was hopping up and down in expectation of fire, so the conflagration was snuffed out before too much damage was done. Three days later, Alderman Barnes's sugar house was torched again, and again saved.
Politically, both sides were striving to make capital out of the business; the Tories accused the Whigs and the Whigs accused the Tories. Edmund Burke put up £50 for information, the Merchant Venturers contributed £500, the King a further £1,000. As £1,550 represented more than most could earn in a lifetime, Bristol turned detective and soon winkled out a likely suspect though, of course, nobody got the reward. A Scotchman known as Jack the Painter, he had lodged at various houses in the Pithay, a tumbledown street which crossed the Froom along St. James's Backs; after the second attempt to burn down Alderman Barnes's sugar house, he suddenly disappeared. Though no real evidence existed to link him physically to the fires, all of Bristol was convinced he was the arsonist. A hue and cry went up, fueled by London and provincial news gazettes clear across the country. From the Tyne to the Channel, no one wanted a fire maniac on the loose. The fugitive was apprehended in the act of robbing a nabob's house in Liverpool, and upon the payment of £128 in expenses by the Corporation and the Merchant Venturers, he was extradited in chains to Bristol for interrogation. Where an unexpected obstacle reared its head: nobody could understand a word the Scotchman said apart from his name, James Aiten. So he was shipped to London on the theory that in such a vast metropolis there would be some who could understand the Scotch dialect. As indeed proved to be the case. James Aiten, alias Jack the Painter, confessed to all the Bristol fires and to one in Portsmouth which had burned the Royal Navy rope house to the ground. This last crime was heinous in the extreme; ships could not function without miles upon miles of rope.
"What I fail to see," said Dick Morgan to Jem Thistlethwaite, "is how Jack the Painter could have done both Bristol and Portsmouth. The rope house was set afire in December, when he was definitely living in the Pithay for all to see."
Mr. Thistlethwaite shrugged. "He is a scapegoat, Dick, no more. It is necessary that England rest easy, and what better way to ensure that than to have a culprit? A Scotchman is ideal. I do not know about the Portsmouth fire, but the Bristol ones were set by the Tories, I would stake my life on it."
"So you think there will be more fires?"
"Nay! The ruse has succeeded. American money has fled, Bristol is washed clean of it. The Tories can recline comfortably upon their laurels and let poor Jack the Painter bear the blame."
Bear the blame he did. James Aiten, alias Jack the Painter, was tried at the Hampshire Assizes for the Royal Navy rope house fire, and convicted. After which he was conveyed to Portsmouth, where a special gallows had been built for the well-attended occasion. The drop was a full 67 feet, which meant that when Jack the Painter was kicked off a stool and launched into eternity, coming to the end of his tether chopped off his head neater than an axe could have. The head was then displayed on the Portsmouth battlements for all to see, and England rested easy.
Jack the Painter had assured his interrogators that he alone was responsible for all the fires.
"Not," said Cousin James-the-druggist, "that I am satisfied by such an assurance. However, Easter has come and gone and there have been no more fires, so who knoweth, as a Quaker might ask? All I know is that God spared me."
Two days later Senhor Tomas Habitas the gunsmith walked into the Cooper's Arms.
"Sir!" cried Richard, greeting him with a smile and a very warm handshake. "Sit down, sit down! A glass of Bristol milk?"
"Thank you, Richard."
The tavern was empty apart from Mr. Thistlethwaite; prosperity was declining rapidly. So this unexpected visitor found himself the center of attention, a fact which seemed to please him.
A Portuguese Jew who had emigrated thirty years ago, Senhor Tomas Habitas was small, slender, olive-skinned and dark-eyed, with a long face, big nose and full mouth. About him hung a faint aura of aloofness, something he shared in common with the Quakers; a knowledge, perhaps, that he was too different ever to fit into the ordinary Bristol mold. The city had been good to him, as indeed it was to all Jews, who, unlike the papists, were permitted to worship God in their own fashion, had their burying ground in Jacob Street and two synagogues across the Avon in Temple parish; Jewishness was less of an impediment to social and economic success by far than Roman Catholicism. Mostly due to the fact that there were no Jewish (or Quaker) pretenders to His Britannic yet Germanic Majesty's throne. Bonnie Prince Charlie and 1745 were still fresh in every mind, and Ireland not very distant.
"What brings you so far from home, sir?" asked Dick Morgan, presenting the guest with a large glass (made by the Jewish firm of Jacobs) of deep amber, very sweet sherry.
The narrow black eyes darted about the empty room, returning to Richard rather than to Dick. "Business is bad," he said in a surprisingly deep voice, only lightly accented.
"Aye, sir," said Richard, sitting down opposite the visitor.
"I am very sorry to see it." Senhor Habitas paused. "I may be able to help." He put his long, sensitive hands upon the table, and folded them. "We have this war with the American colonies to thank, I know. However, the war has brought increased business to some. And to me, very much so. Richard, I need you. Will you come back to work?"
While Richard was still opening his mouth to answer, Dick butted in. "On what terms, Senhor Habitas?" he asked, a little truculently. He knew his Richard too soft to insist upon terms before he said yes.
The enigmatic eyes in the smooth face did not change. "On good terms, Mister Morgan," he said. "Four shillings a musket."
"Done!" said Dick instantly.
Only Mr. Thistlethwaite was looking at Richard, and in some pity. Did he never have a chance to decide his own destiny? The blue-grey eyes in Richard Morgan's handsome face held neither anger nor dissatisfaction. Christ, he was patient! Patient with his father, with his wife, his mother, the patrons, Cousin James-the-druggist the list really had no end. It seemed the only person for whom Richard would go to war was William Henry, and then it was a quiet business, steadfast rather than choleric. What does lie within you, Richard Morgan? Do you know yourself? If Dick were my father, I'd give him a bunch of fives that knocked him to the floor. Whereas you bear with his megrims and his fits and starts, his criticisms, even his too thinly veiled contempt for you. What is your philosophy? Where do you find your strength? Strength you have, I know it. But it is allied to resignation? No, not quite that. You are a mystery to me, yet I like you better than any other man I know. And I fear for you. Why? Because I have a feeling that so much patience and forebearance will tempt God to try you.
* * *
Oblivious to Mr. Thistlethwaite's concern for him, Richard returned to the Habitas workshop and settled to make Brown Bess for the soldiers fighting in the American war.
A gunsmith made a gun, but not its component parts. These came from various places: the steel barrel, forged into a tube by a hammer, from Birmingham, as did the steel parts of the flintlock; the walnut stock from any one of a dozen localities throughout England; and the brass or copper fittings from around Bristol.
"You will be pleased to know," said Habitas when Richard reported on his first day, "that we have been commissioned to make the Short Land musket a little lighter and easier to handle."
At 42 inches, it was 4 inches shorter than the old Long Land still employed at the time of the Seven Years' War, and a distinct improvement as far as an infantryman was concerned. Though its fire was quite as accurate, it weighed a half-pound lighter and was less unwieldy.
When Richard sat down at his bench on a high stool, everything he needed was distributed about him. The polished stocks with their long, half-moon barrel supports were turned in one piece, and stood in a frame to his left. To his right were the tanged barrels, each with pierced tenons on its under side. In receptacles on the bench were the various parts of the flintlock itself springs, cocks, sears, frizzens, triggers, tumblers, screws, flints and the brass bands, tubes, flanges and supports which bound the gun together. Between all these receptacles he spread out his tools, which were his own property and carried to and fro each day inside a hefty mahogany box bearing his name on a brass plate. There were dozens of files and screwdrivers; pincers, metal snips, tweezers, small hammers, a drill brace and assorted bits; and a collection of woodworking tools. Having been properly taught, he made his own emery papers out of canvas, sprinkling the abrasive black particles onto a base of very strong fish-glue, and used the same technique to fashion different sizes of emery sticks, some pointed, some rounded, some blunt and stubby. Filing parts down was at least fifty per cent of gunsmithing art, and so expert was Richard that his sawyer brother, William, would let no one else sharpen the teeth of his saws when it came time to set them anew.
What Richard had not realized until he picked up the first barrel to polish off the rust and then brown it with butter of antimony was how much he had missed practicing his craft. Six years! A long time. Yet his hands were sure, his mind enchanted at the prospect of assembling the pieces of a puzzle designed to kill men. A gunsmith's reasoning processes, however, did not progress far enough to come to this ultimate conclusion; a gunsmith simply loved what he did and thought not at all about its destructive outcome.
The largest part of the work concerned the flintlock itself. The stock had to be carved delicately to fit it, then each spring and moving component had to be filed, adjusted, filed, adjusted, filed, adjusted, until finally mechanical harmony was achieved and it came time to put the flint in. Those in Norfolk and Suffolk who knapped the flints were craftsmen too, chipping away until the blocky chunk was faceted at its business end to precise specifications. Richard's job was to line up the angle at which the flint struck the frizzen, a leafy-looking, inch-wide, L-shaped piece of steel whose base covered the powder pan. As the cock snapped forward and the flint struck, they forced the frizzen up and off the powder pan, at the same moment producing a shower of sparks. When the flint was properly positioned in the jaws of the cock, this shower of sparks was great enough to set off the powder in the pan; it flashed through a small touch hole into the breech of the barrel, and here in turn ignited the powder packed beneath the missile. In the case of Brown Bess, the missile was a lead ball .753 inches in diameter.
There was nothing Richard did not know about Brown Bess. He knew that she was useless at any range exceeding 100 yards, and of best use when the range was 40 yards or less. Which meant that opposing sides were very close before Brown Bess was fired, and that a good soldier would get in two shots at most before either engaging with bayonets or retreating. He knew that it was a very rare battle in which a man fired his Brown Bess more than ten times. He knew that her powder charge was a mere 70 grains less than a fifth of an ounce and he understood every aspect of gunpowder manufacture, for as a part of his apprenticeship he had spent time in the gunpowder works at Tower Harratz on the Avon in Temple Meads. He knew that there was a strong likelihood that only one in four of the Brown Besses he made would ever be fired in combat. He knew that her caliber was close enough (the ball was two sizes smaller than the smooth interior of the barrel) to French, Portuguese and Spanish caliber to enable cartridges from those three countries to be fired from her. And he knew that if one of her balls did strike a human target, the chances of survival were slim. If a man were chest- or gut-shot, his insides were a butchered shambles; if he were limb-shot, his bones were so fragmented that amputation was the only treatment.
It took him two hours to craft his first Brown Bess, but after that the rhythm came back, and by the end of the day he was making one musket an hour. For him, fabulous money at four shillings a gun, but for Senhor Habitas, far more. After deducting the costs of parts and Richard's labor, Senhor Habitas made a profit of ten shillings a gun. There were cheaper gunsmithies, but a Habitas product fired. In the hands of a trained fusilier, no hang fires and no flashes in the pan. Senhor Habitas also made sure that he was present to watch his gunsmiths test fire the guns they made.
"I am not," he said to Richard as they strolled through to the proving butt while there was still light enough to see, "putting on any apprentices. Just qualified gunsmiths, and preferably those I have schooled myself." He looked suddenly very serious. "It will end, my beloved Richard, do not think otherwise. I give this war another three or four years, and I cannot see the French emerging from it in any state to fight us yet again. So we have work aplenty now, but it will cease, and I will have to let you go a second time. One reason why I am willing to pay you four shillings a gun. For I have never seen work as good as yours, and you are quick."
Richard did not reply, which was so much his habit that Tomas Habitas had not expected a reply. Richard was a listener. He took in what was said to him with illuminating intelligence, yet would make no comment for the sake of talking. Information went aboard and straight into the cargo holds of his mind, there to stay until events required that he unload it. Perhaps, thought Habitas, that is why, even apart from his work, I am so fond of him. He is a truly peaceful man who minds his own business.
The ten Brown Besses that Richard had made were standing in a rack, fetched there by the ten-year-old lad whom Habitas employed as a menial. Richard picked up the first one, removed the ramrod from its pipes beneath the part of the stock supporting the barrel, and reached into a bin for a cartridge. The ball and powder lay inside a little bag of paper; Richard produced a mouthful of spit, sank his teeth hard into the base of the paper to rupture and moisten it, tipped the powder into the barrel, screwed up the paper and jammed it after the powder, then pushed the ball in. A deft thrust with the ramrod and the lot was snug in the breech at the bottom of the barrel. As he swung the musket up to his shoulder he rapped it smartly over the firing pan to clear powder out of the touch hole, and pulled the trigger. The cock, chunk of flint in its jaws, came down and struck the frizzen. Sparks, explosion and a huge puff of smoke seemed to happen all at once; a bottle forty yards away on a shelf in the range wall disintegrated.
"You have not lost your touch," purred Senhor Habitas while the lad, barefoot, swept up the glass with a broom and put another dull brown, Bristol-made bottle up.
"Say that after I have fired all ten," said Richard, grinning.
Nine behaved perfectly. The tenth needed a little more filing of the frizzen spring not a major task, as it lay on the outside of the lock mechanism.
When Richard walked into the Cooper's Arms he snatched William Henry from his high chair and held him tight, curbing his impulse to squeeze and hug until the child could scarcely breathe. William Henry, William Henry, how much I love you! Like life, like air, like the sun, like God in His Heaven! Then, leaning his cheek against his son's curls, his eyes closed, he felt a fine convulsive trembling right through the little body. It was as invisible as a cat's purr; he found it only by way of his fingertips. A vibrating anguish. Anguish? Why that word? His eyes snapped open, he held William Henry out at arm's length and looked into his face. Secret, shut away.
"He did not seem to miss ye at all," said Dick comfortably.
"He ate every scrap on his plate," said Mag proudly.
"He was as happy as a lark in my company," said Peg with a sly flash of triumph.
His knees began to buckle; Richard sank into a chair near the counter and cuddled his son close again. The fine tremor had gone. Oh, William Henry, what are you thinking? Did you decide that Dadda was never coming back? Until today Dadda has never been away from you for more than an hour or two, and did anybody remember to tell you that Dadda would be home at twilight? No, nobody did. Including me. And you did not cry, or refuse to eat, or display concern. But you thought I was never coming back. That I would not be here for you. "I will always be here for you," he whispered against William Henry's ear. "Always and always."
"How did it go?" asked Peg, who could still, after eighteen months of watching Richard with William Henry, find herself amazed at her husband's weakness? softness? It is not healthy, she thought. He needs our child to feed something in himself, something I have no idea of. Well, I love William Henry every bit as much as he does! And now is my chance to have my son for me.
"It went well," said Richard, answering her question, then looked at Dick, his gaze a little remote. "I have earned two pounds today, Father. A pound for you and a pound for me."
"No," said Dick gruffly. "Ten shillings for me, thirty for you. That much will see me through even when the day brings no custom at all. Pay me two shillings more for your family's board, and bank the other twenty-eight shillings for yourself. He means to pay ye every Saturday, I hope? None of this by-the-month business, or when he is paid for the goods?"
"Every Saturday, Father."
That night when Richard turned to find Peg and carefully roll up her nightgown, she slapped his hands away nastily.
"No, Richard!" she whispered fiercely. "William Henry is not asleep yet, and he is old enough to understand!"
He lay in the darkness listening to the rumbles and wheezes from the front room, weary to the bone from an unaccustomed kind of labor, yet wide awake. Today had been the beginning of many new things. A job at work he loved, separation from a child he loved, separation from a wife he loved, the realization that he could hurt people he loved all unknowing. It should be so simple. Nothing drove him save love he had to work to support his family, to make sure they did not want. Yet Peg had slapped his hands away for the first time since they had married, and William Henry had trembled a cat's purr.
What can I do? How can I find a solution? Today I have unwittingly opened up a chasm, though for the best of reasons. I have never asked for much nor expected much. Just the presence of my family. In that is happiness. I belong to them, and they belong to me. Or so I thought. Does a chasm always open up when things change? How deep is it? How wide?
"Senhor Habitas," he said as dawn broke on his second day of work, "how many muskets do ye expect me to make in a day?"
Not a blink; Tomas Habitas rarely blinked. "Why, Richard?"
"I do not want to stay from dawn to dusk, sir. It is not as it was in the old days. My family have need of me too."
"That I understand," said Senhor Habitas gently. "The dilemma is insoluble. One works to make money to ensure the comfort and well-being of one's family, yet one's family needs more than money, and a man cannot be in two places at the same instant of time. I am paying you per musket, Richard. That means as many or as few as ye care to make." He shrugged, an alien gesture. "Yes, I would like fifteen or twenty in a day, but I am prepared to take one. It is your choice."
"Ten in a day, sir?"
"Ten is perfectly satisfactory."
So Richard walked home to the Cooper's Arms in mid afternoon, his ten muskets completed and successfully tested. Senhor Habitas was pleased; he would see enough of William Henry and Peg as well as bank enough to make that house on Clifton Hill a reality. His son was walking; soon the allurements of Broad Street would beckon through the open tavern door and William Henry would go adventuring. Better by far that his footsteps led him along paths perfumed with flowers than paths redolent with the stench of the Froom at low tide.
But it was neither Peg nor William Henry who reached him first when he walked in; Mr. James Thistlethwaite leaped up from "his" table to envelop Richard in a massive hug.
"Let me go, Jem! Those pistols will go off!"
"Richard, Richard! I thought I'd not see ye again!"
"Not see me again? Why? Had I worked from dawn to dusk and as you see, I am not you would still have seen me in winter," said Richard, detaching himself and holding out his arms to William Henry, who toddled into them. Then Peg came, smiling an apology with her eyes, to kiss him full upon the lips. Thus when Richard sat down at Jem Thistlethwaite's table he felt as if his world had glued itself back together again; the chasm was not there.
When Dick handed him a tankard of beer he sipped at it, liking the slightly bitter taste but not desperate for it. The son of a temperate victualler, he too was temperate, drank only beer and then never enough to feel it. Which, had he realized, was why apart from natural affection Senhor Tomas Habitas prized him so. The work called for steady, skillful hands properly connected to a fresh, sharp mind, and it was rare to light upon a man who did not drink too much. Almost everybody drank too much. Mostly rum or gin. Threepence bought a half-pint of rum or, depending upon its quality, as much as a full pint of gin. Nor were there any laws on the books to punish excessive drinking, though there were laws to punish almost everything else. The Government made too much money from excise taxes to want to discourage drinking.
In Bristol more rum was made and consumed than gin; gin was what the poorest folk drank. Chief importer of sugar to the whole British Isles, Bristol quite naturally made itself the capital of Rum. As to strength, there was little difference between the two spirits, though rum was richer, lasted longer in the system and was more bearable the morning after.
Mr. Thistlethwaite drank rum of the best kind, and had settled upon the Cooper's Arms as his home-away-from-home because Dick Morgan bought from the rum house of Mr. Thomas Cave in Redcliff; Cave's rum was peerless.
So by the time that Richard walked in, Mr. Thistlethwaite was well away, more so than usual by three o'clock. He had missed Richard, as simple as that, and had assumed that from now on Richard would never be there before five and it came time for him to leave. That five was his inflexible rule represented a last instinct for self-preservation; he knew that were he to stay for one minute more, he would end lying permanently in the gutter which ran down the middle of Broad Street.
Delighted that Richard was still going to be a part of each tavern day, he righted himself unsteadily and prepared to take his leave. "Early, I know, but the sight of you, Richard, has quite overcome me," he announced, weaving his way to the door. "Though I do not know why," came the sound of his voice from Broad Street. "I really do not know why, for who are ye, save the son of my tavern-keeper? It is a mystery, a mystery." His head, battered tricorn at a rakish angle, appeared around the jamb. "Is it possible that the eyes of a drunken man can plumb the future? Do I believe in premonitions? Hur hur hur! Call me Cassandra, for I swear I am a silly old woman. Ho ho ho, and off into the Beotian air go my Attic lungs!"
"Mad," said Dick. "Mad as a March hare."
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