(Lewrie – 06)
For my father,
Lt. Comdr. Dewey Lambdin, USN
to the U.S. Naval Institute for many reference works; to MacKenzie of the Maritime Information Centre, at the Iain National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England; to Doug Cantrell at Nashville Tech Community College for his excellent map of Toulon; to Genevieve and her books Merde and Merde, Encore where I garnered such wonderfully feelthy phrases; and thanks to Genoa and Foozle, who cat-napped long enough for me to get a good day's work in, now and then.
Quid facial laetas segetes, quo sidere terrain
vertere, Maecenas, ulmisque adiungere vites
conveniat, quae cura bourn, qui cultis
habendo sit peccori, apibus quanta
experientia partis, hinc canere incipiam.
What makes the crops joyous, beneath
what star, Maecenas, it is well to turn
the soil, and wed vines to elms, what
tending the kine need, what care the
herd in breeding, what skill the thrifty
bees-hence shall I beginmy song.
Georgics, Book 1,1-5
Ooh, sir, wawtch out f'r the…"
Wherever I go lately, Alan Lewrie mused, rather resignedly, I seem to be arse-deep in shit. Oh, well.
He waved off the towheaded young "daisy-kicker" at the Olde Ploughman Public House's hitching rail, who stood with silent offer to towel the offending matter from his glossy top boots.
"No use, lad," Lewrie said as he swung up into the saddle. "There's plenty more where I'm going."
"Oh, aye, sir, so they bel" The lad chirped, letting go the reins he held. Lewrie dug ha'pence from his wash-leather purse and flipped it to the daisy-kicker, who whooped with glee, as if the coin were the first he'd ever earned, as if Lewrie did not reward his chore each time he departed from the Olde Ploughman.
" 'Ta, yer honour, sir!" the boy called as Lewrie turned his horse west on the High Street." 'Night, Squire Lewrie!"
Lewrie touched the wide brim of his hat with a riding crop in reply as he clucked his tongue and kneed his mount to a brisk walk.
Squire, Alan sighed with a snort; not exactly true, was it? Squires were freeholders who rented land to others, while he was only a tenant, a rent payer himself. Now if I sublet, he thought: perhaps to a well-off hermit (and was there such a creature as an eremite with the "blunt," he wondered?) who wished half an acre down by the creek, where he could pile himself up a grotto and become Lewrie's tenant. Performing, perhaps, the odd Jeremiad-thrice on Market Days-talking in tongues or dancing like a Dervish, or old St. Vitus, would I then be a squire at last? Or even less welcome in the parish? Might be worth doing, at that-it'd drive Caroline's uncle Phineas batty!
His horse paced through the village of Anglesgreen, heading west for the vale between the rolling hills, hooves clopping on the icy earthen road, as candles and lanterns were lit in the windows of the homes alongside, and lights were extinguished as shopkeepers at last shut, after long hours of sparse winter trade. Very few villagers were out now that the brief stint of cloud-occluded sun had all but gone, and the winds blew foul and cold. Without the casual labourers of the sowing or harvesting seasons, Anglesgreen was an even more tedious and empty a place than ever he had experienced, now Christmas and Epiphany were come and gone. And cold. As cold as Parish Poor's Rate charity. And about as unattractive.
Arse-deep in it, he told himself again, glum with rum and ennui. Up to my nose in acres of it… and that, so bloody boresome!
There were, to Alan's lights-much like the descending levels of Hell in Dante's Inferno-distinct gradations to the shit existing in the world. And the quality and quantity of it a body had to abide. Uncle Phineas, his lessor, for instance; his sternal, sneering, stultifying monologues, his miserly few suppers or "dos" (which formed the bulk of a bleak Lewrie social life)-now there was shit from the lowest Nether-Pit itself! And totally unabidable, in quality and amount.
In contrast, the literal item (such as the horse droppings le'd just stepped in)-some of those he didn't mind half so Mich. Horses were noble beasts, beautiful in form and notion. Their stalings were abidable, for they bore convivial folk together, astride or by coach, eased a traveller's burden, jleased with their speed, heart and endurance, livened hunts, "airs, social occasions… or elated one with the order of their inish at a race.
No, truth be told, Alan Lewrie, like all good English gentlemen, rather enjoyed horse poop. It had a redolence of lospitality, of congeniality, of freedom, excitement… and far lorizons!
The by-products of the lesser beasts necessary to a farm, hough; even his inept, clueless style of gentleman farming, of vhich folks said he did little but raise his hat-now they were)dious in the extreme. He knew little after four years, and was forced to depend upon the knowledge of Governour Chiswick, his brother-in-law, or of the vile old Phineas Chiswick; they both dropped their jaws and whinnied at his questions, making him feel as out of place, even after four years of applying himself, as he had aboard Ariadne back in '80 on his first day as a callow midshipman.
Or, even more discouraging, to have to "talk things over" with dearest Caroline in private, being coached on what orders to give that particular day to the few permanent farmhands, or the hired day workers. To be such a humble know-nothing in his wife's eyes!
Truth be told again, Alan Lewrie thought the life of the rural gentleman farmer stank, in more ways than one, no matter it was the fondest wish of every successful man to make his pile, get acres and aspire to the squirearchy. It was… shit! Of the most unabidable sort! And fast as he strove to shovel it away, here came more.
His sheep, for instance. He squirmed on the cold saddle as he contemplated them. The farm (the rented farm, he reminded himself) was awash in the smelly things-most of Surrey was these days-unutterably stupid, messy, foolish… and shit-bedaubed. Even a goat could manage to keep a reasonably clean nether end, though they did stink like badgers.
Swine-there's chapter and verse for you, too, he thought. And chickens! Lord, what a foetid reek the henyard bore. It was a wonder a self-respecting fox would have to go at 'em, 'thout holding his nose! And cattle, I ask you, he grunted, his neck burning with revulsion. Fat, shambling, lanky-hipped, floppy beasts, capable of veritable broadsides of loose, flat, disordered ordure, shot off by the barrico, whenever and wherever they wished. Stinky his city of London might be, brassy and corrupt a warship might become, but it was never a tenth as bad as a working farm. Sweet as hay and clover were in the spring, the gardens' romantic aromas, soon as one inhaled a restoring lungful of bucolic bliss, here came some reek from things best hung in the curing house as meat, revolting one! Or plopped all over one's best pair of top boots.
It was tempting to think that now his Granny Lewrie had passed to Her Great Reward and had left him quite well-off in her will, he and Caroline could move to London, and use the farm as a spring and summer retreat; hire an estate agent to look aiter it for them. It did, in spite of his ignorance, turn a pretty penny or two, enough to qualify him as a voter. Then he could nod and smile on his rare visits, chortle over the books when they showed profit and call out "Carry on!" to some experienced and knowledgeable underling, leaving him leisure time for horses, for amusements. For a real life!
Lewrie hitched his heavy wool cloak closer about his neck as he rode near the Red Swan Inn. Late as it was, as close to suppertime for the revelers inside, whom he could espy through the cheery diamond-paned windows, there was quite a merry crowd gathered there. A fair number of horses were hitched outside, blanketed against the cold, under the now bare but towering oaks. The richer patrons had theirs temporarily stabled in the warmer barn behind. He thought he spotted Gov-ernour's tall gray gelding, and beside it, two hunters he knew as belonging to Sir Romney Embleton, Bt, and his whey-faced son Harry.
Now there's shit for you, Lewrie thought with a rueful grin. For a mad fleeting moment he thought of going in the Red Swan for a stirrup cup of hot gin punch, or a mug of mulled wine to warm his journey home. Just on a lark, to see the looks on their phizes for daring to show his own in the more refined, high-gentry squire-ish Red Swan!
For just a moment, he envied his brother-in-law Governour, too. He was married to Sir Romney's daughter Millicent, long before Lewrie had come to Anglesgreen and wed Caroline, upsetting all the plans of seven years before. Governour and Millicent could socialize when and where they might. Bad as blood was between Lewries and Embletons, and because of them between Chiswicks and Embletons, Governour had welcome still at Embleton Hall, and at all the parish and county's doings. Though it was sometimes a trifle thin. His and Caroline's, however, was nonexistent. And looked fair to being nonexistent far past the advent of the coming new century.
Truth, even further, be told, since they'd returned from the Bahamas in '89 when his last ship Alacrity had paid off in Portsmouth, they'd been treated bad as leprous Gypsies by those locals who walked in dread of Embleton disapproval, or fawned on Embleton largesse. Considering Embleton influence over the area, it was a wonder the Lewries even had benefit of clergy at mossy old St. George's. And with rural social life revolving 'round the local fox hunt-and that hunt's Master of Hounds none other than Sir Romney-they might as well have been turbaned Turk horse thieves for all their welcome.
Well, not by all, Alan qualified, as he drew his horse to a halt at the turn-in gate. The hot rum punches he'd downed through an afternoon of war talk and genteel arguing at the Olde Ploughman were working on him something hellish, and the idea of riding in to 'front the bastards direct was rake-hell, damme-boy appealing. No, not all treat us shabby, he snorted. There were a few of the minor gentry, the younger folk, and most of the common sort who thought the Lewrie saga romantic beyond words, and sympathized with them in their banishment.
Lovely and sweet Caroline Chiswick, the poor Loyalist emi-gree home after the Revolution, being "buttock-brokered" by her Uncle Phineas to wed rich, so he could get even more acres by her, her parents almost helpless in their penury to help her. Four suitors: two very old widowers and a sheeper-tenant-all vile beyond belief-and the Hon. Harry Embleton, an MP and heir to untold wealth and power, and next-door acres, the most favoured.
Then, along came Lieutenant Alan Lewrie, RN, and swept her away. Not only rescued her, but came within a hair of dueling Harry for her!
Well, it never came to that, Alan gloated, warmed against the cold as he savoured that long-ago triumph. Harry learned we'd posted banns, and went lunatick at a fox hunt. Took a whip to my treed cat, took his whip to me-'bout as public as it gets! And I flattened his nose and made his bung sport claret. Make matters worse, he goes and whines to Caroline 'bout her choice, goes off again, calls her every vile thing he had in his little mind, and damned if she don't whip him 'cross the field with her reins, too! Bang on his busted nose in front of damn near everyone in Surrey that matters! Lord!