The King's Privateer
(Lewrie – 04)
"Go, mount the western winds and cleave the sky;
Then with swift descent, to Carthage fly:
There find the Trojan chief, who wastes his
days in slothful riot and inglorious ease -
bid him with speed the Tyrian court forsake;
with this command, the slumb'ring warrior wake."
Aeneid, Book IV
"Shortest damned commission in naval history, I'll be bound," Alan Lewrie commented to his dining companions at Gloster's Hotel and Chop-House in Piccadilly.
"Oh, God, is he on about that one again?" The Honorable Peter Rushton, one of his old friends from his brief terra at Harrow, almost gagged. "Give it a rest, will you, Alan? There's a good fellow. It is a wonder you don't still wear blue exclusively."
"Can't dine out on yer little bit o' fame forever, ye know, Alan," Clotworthy Chute, Rushton's constant companion, agreed round a bite of steak, and sloshed a sip of wine into his mouth to clear his palate to go further. "Bloody war's been over nigh on a year, don't ye know. You're home, well set up, got oceans o' chink to spend. Oceans o' mutton to bull. What man has need of anything more?"
"Well, it's not exactly oceans of guineas, Clotworthy," Alan pointed out. "More like a trickle of 'yellowboys' than a proper shower."
"But didn't Granny Lewrie just finish visiting?" Peter Rushton asked. "I'd have thought she'd have refilled your coffers to overflowing."
"So that's why you two bade me dine with you this evening," Alan said with a leery expression. From the first time he'd met them, neither Rushton nor Chute had had two pence to rub together. Chute's parents had gone smash and only provided him a miserly hundred pounds a year. Rushton's poppa, Lord George Rushton Baron of Staughton, had scads of loot and rents, but limited The Honorable Peter to a mere thousand guineas a year-it should have been enough for anyone, but young Peter had always spread himself a bit wider than most, and loved the gaming tables a bit too much. Both of them could be downright abstemious with their own funds, but could happily spend some other young fool's money in the twinkling of an eye.
"You use me ill as so many bears, sir!" Peter shot back ' as if he had been stung to the uttermost limits of his personal honor, but then gave a sardonic bark of amusement. "The thought had crossed my mind, damme if it hadn't, Alan, but we'll go equal shares on the reckoning tonight, so there. I believe we're flush, hey, Clotworthy?"
"Flush up to the deck-heads, as our Alan would say," Clotworthy agreed, smacking like a contented porker over some recent change in his fortunes. "And how was old granny? Still prosperin'?"
"Nigh onto seventy, and spry as a hound," Alan marveled. "And none too fond of my living arrangements, let me tell you. Spent most of my time over at their lodgings getting preached at."
"Glad my father's off in the country most of the time, too," Rushton commiserated. "Leastwise, there's my younger brother should I have a bad end. Title's safe. Lord, parents do have such vaunting expectations, don't they, though? Wasn't enough I got through Harrow and Cambridge, now he wants me to amount to something! I ask you, me amount to anything? Just let me inherit."
"And who were those rustics I saw you with on the Strand, Alan?" Clotworthy teased. "New companions?"
'The cousins, damn 'em." Alan winced. "I'd hoped no one would know me. Had to take them everywhere, see and do everything. Except anywhere near a good tailor or dressmaker. Following fashion is sinful extravagance to their lights. Just about everything back in old Wheddon Cross is perfection, to hear them tell it, and everything in London is like a German wood-cut engraved Hell."
"Wheddon Cross. Wherever the devil's that?" Clotworthy asked.
"Devon, near Exeter."
"Ah, damn dreary, I should think." Peter Rushton shivered.
"You'd think right," Alan agreed. His post-war visit had been the most boresome two weeks of his life. The Nuttbush cove his granny had married to transfer the Lewrie estate to his coverture, so his father Sir Hugo couldn't lay hands on it, was a dour old squire, not much taken with him from the first, no matter his repute as a sailor-hero, and had made it perfectly clear than Alan should harbor no hopes of getting his sinful little paws on a farthing of the new Nuttbush estate. He'd also made it pretty clear that the farther such a rake-hell was from his own kith and kin the better, no matter what his grandmother wished.
"Old granny still dotes on you, don't she?" Clotworthy asked further. "He hasn't turned her off you, has he?"
Clotworthy was one person Alan would never discuss money with. He'd started out school days a living sponge, just borrowing at first, but had graduated to a higher calling of criminal endeavor lately.
"Aye, she slipped me a little on the sly. Not much, mind." Alan lied. Actually, his grandmother had done him rather proud: a purse of bank notes worth an hundred extra pounds above his two hundred a year remittance. And she'd gone shopping and had outfitted his suite of rooms with a new Turkey carpet, a handsome wine cabinet and desk, and a new set of chairs for his second-hand dining table. She'd also provided a new lock-box for his chocolate, tea, sugar and coffee, and, while strolling with him through one of the Academy exhibits at Ranelagh Gardens, had purchased a nautical painting he'd taken a fancy to which now hung over his sitting room fireplace mantel.
"Ah, well," Clotworthy sighed in slight disappointment, knowing he couldn't hit Alan up for a loan, not right then, at any rate. Alan was surprised Clotworthy Chute had even agreed to go shares on their supper. Usually he lived on someone else's dole like a Roman client, when he wasn't bamboozling some idiot out of some ready pelf.
Must have found a new fool to bilk, Alan decided.
"They were the most peculiar lot, Peter," Clotworthy said, laughing.
"So tha'ss t'Strand, coozin Alan?" Alan mimicked. "Go' blessus, hi'ss wide, ahn't eet? However ye geet 'cross t'street 'ere in Loonun, me dear?" Which caricature set his dining companions off in mirth. "I tried to take 'em to my usual haunts, but they weren't having any of it. Coffee houses were nests of idleness. They'd be happier in a counting house, where people do productive work. Covent Garden, Drury Lane, I do believe shocked 'em to their prim souls. Got an hour's rant about sin, fornication, the low morals of theatre people…"
"They're right on that score, thank the Lord," Peter said, giggling.
"Lord's Cricquet Grounds… that was acceptable to 'em. The banks, the palace; the 'Change you'd have thought was Westminster Abbey," Alan went on. "Couldn't even get 'em enthused about a raree-show. Suggested watching a hanging; thought that'd buck 'em up, but it was no go."
"Speaking of actresses and such," Peter Rushton sighed. "How does a run over to Will's Coffee House in Covent Garden sound? I feel like putting the leg over some nubile young thing."
'Topping idea, Peter," Clotworthy said in his best toadying style. Evidently, Chute had gulled some other young wastrel earlier, and for once had his own cash to go on a high ramble.
"And just who was it this time, Clotworthy?" Rushton asked him, much amused by his schoolmate's new trade as a "Hoo-Ray Harry," one of those "Captain Sharps" who could decy-pher to the penny how much someone's inheritance was worth at first sight, and could also discern to the shilling just how much of it he could abscond with in his role of guide-amanuensis to the pleasures of London life.
"The Right Honorable Mathew Jermyn, Viscount Mickle-ton," Clotworthy boasted. "Poor little shit. Twenty years old, just down from the country. Rich as Croesus now he's inherited. Must have led a damned dull life up to now. Like Alan's cousins, he wants to go everywhere, and do everything. So far, I've shewn him a decent tailor… you can't believe how 'Chaw-Bacon' he looked when he got down out of his coach. Had suiting I'd not give a starving Irishman. With a tricorne on his head, don't ye know, haw haw haw!"
"That wouldn't be your own tailor, would it, Clotworthy?" Alan asked, pouring mem all another glass of burgundy and waving for the wine steward to fetch another bottle.
"Made the man an easy three hundred pounds in an afternoon, with enough overage to pay my bills off. And finagle a new suit for meself out o' the bargain!" Clotworthy tittered. "Oh, we've had some fine times, I tell you. The old family equipage just wouldn't do, so I steered him to a carriage maker of my acquaintance. Over to Newmarket for four fine horses. New hats at Lock's, and a brace for me as well. I've got him ensconced in a town-house of his own in Old Compton Street, close to all the action. There was an extra two hundred for me on the deal. Introduced him to all the people who matter, don't ye know. Got him invitations to just about everything."
"What's he worth, do you reckon?" Alan asked, grinning in spite of himself. Clotworthy could sell roast pork to Muslims, and convince them to eat it with avidity.
"There must be fifty thousand pounds a year due the young clown. And if I don't end up with ten percent, I'm a bare-arsed Hindoo."
"He'll tumble to you sooner or later, you know," Alan said.
"Aye, but by then I'll have got mine, so what care I?" Clotworthy boasted. "Ah, another bottle, just in time, too. Peter, you must meet him. He knows nothin' about cards. You could skin him for a few hundred to tide you over, I should think. And you, as well, Alan. You cut a dashing figure about town."
Lewrie preened a little at that remark. Poor as his purse was, he had his stolen guineas from the French War Commissary ship Ephegenie to call upon, plus his two hundred pounds a year, and what the Navy laughingly called half-pay, which with the various deductions came to a miserly eleven pence a day. But he could still afford to wear the outer attributes of a stylish young gentleman about town with the best of them.
Styles had changed drastically since he'd been dragooned into the Navy in 1780. Cocked hats and tricornes were out; wide-brimmed, low-crowned farmer's styles or narrow, upwardly rolled brimmed hats with truncated, tapering crowns were in. Long waist-coats were horribly passe; short, double-breasted styles were all "the go" now. Sensible shoes with sturdy heels and soles had been replaced by either two-toned high boots or thin-soled slippers little more solid than a ladies' dancing shoe. No one carried a sword anymore unless out after dark in the worst neighborhoods. Now one had to sport a cane or walking stick with an intricately carved handle.
And suits: the finery of a long, full-skirted coat had been out for some time and those of Society with the proper ton now favored those coats drastically cut away from the legs in front
Alan was sure he looked as acceptable as any other follower of popular fashion. It was dangerous in London to look too odd; the Mob had been known to throw dung at people who looked foreign or too out of style. Following fashion was cheaper than the cleaning bills!
"Think there's a penny in your cully for me as well, Clotworthy?" Alan smirked. "You know I don't gamble deep anymore."