Release Blitz: Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon by David Lawrence

Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon | David Lawrence

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Release Date: February 21st, 2023

Universal Link: https://geni.us/bluebillysroguelexicon

Add to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/78688504-blue-billy-s-rogue-lexicon

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Blurb

William Dempsey was a wonder among wonders.

By 18, he had risen from a gang of London street rogues to be the personal plaything of the Marquess of Argyll. Maintained in splendour, celebrated at masquerades – with everything he could wish for.

Now all has come crashing down. He is put out in the rain without patronage, his West End apartment, or a place among the ton.

So on a stormy night, he arrives at a house in Southwark. Marathon Moll’s in the Mint – the bawdyhouse he worked in during his ascent and where he earned the name Blue Billy.

But is Marathon Moll’s a place from which to rise again? For there is one in the crowd, who catches his eye. Who takes his hand and promises something better.

Or does Moll’s signify a return to his roots? For one day, a second and very different young man raps on the door. Takes his hand and asks him to return to his past.

To the cat language of vagabonds. The canting dialect of thieves.

To the schemes, and the dreams, of his youth.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Abram Cove

among thieves signifies a naked or poor man; also a lusty strong rogue

“And what have we here?”

“Let us in, Moll. Beast of a storm tonight, ain’t it?”

“Aye,” returned Moll, cinching her silk wrap while maintaining a hand behind the front door she’d opened just an inch. “Stormy for some by the look of it.”

The wind sent rain barrelling into this secluded yard in the Mint, taking the standing, shiftless dregs of chamber pots for an airy jaunt. Souls Yard, a misshapen cul-de-sac of three freestanding abodes consisted of a squat, squalid cottage, from which no light entered or emerged. A converted barn with modish ventilation in every wall and door, the slope of its gambrel roof rather like hands praying for intervention. And the jewel of the Yard, Marathon Moll’s: a double-fronted, two-story block tethered at east and west with slender chimneys touched with scoliosis.

“Have you lost your way tonight, Billy?”

With a look of wounded indignation, William Dempsey said, “Ain’t it enough to wish the company of an old, dear friend? ‘Old’ meaning previous-like,” he added, “nothin’ more.”

The door remained unmoved; Billy was left to shiver on the tilted stonework of the front elevation. Wiping the endless stream of August rainwater from his face, he pressed himself against the opening until their faces nearly touched. Moll’s – with its native jaundice, like dirty lemon juice upon features which arrived at too many points. Billy’s – a canvas of creamy white, flushed with health and whose boyish pout Moll herself had often declared a criminal provocation.

“‘Old’ you have defined, Billy, but how do you define ‘dear friend’?” said the bawd, pushing up her aquiline nose. “That term implies paying calls of friendship, or at least of courtesy (which are not calls to steal from my house, mind you), and I’ve not seen your pretty face these two years.”

“That Blue Billy outside?” came a second voice from within. “Let him in out the rain, for God’s sake.”

Recognising the voice of one of the house’s most devoted patrons, Dempsey said, “‘Dear friend’ I define as Dip-Candle Mary there behind you, who I hear’s set to be married next week, so I come to bestow my congratulations.”

All around Souls Yard, eyes were opening within cracks in the ramshackle barn and, one sensed without ever quite knowing, at the darkened front window of the cottage. For though a code of honour kept the inhabitants of each from inquiring into the business of their neighbours, scenes in the Yard were fair game for all.

After a moment, and a great sigh from Moll, the door withdrew just enough to allow into the vestibule Dempsey’s small, slim form. Mary hurried forward to embrace him. He was a tallow chandler from Shoreditch, Dip-Candle Mary being his house name. Such names were customary in these houses, which referenced either one’s profession or physical appearance. Indeed, Billy had never known him by any other, though the man had always been sweet on him. Sweet enough to forgive the trinkets Billy had lifted from his dressing table when staying the night. That silver-handled comb the man really didn’t need seeing as how he kept his hair so short. That errant bit of coin taken from coat pockets…

From the dark vestibule, Billy looked toward the glow of the front parlour. The room was filled with claret wallpapering before which replicas of Roman forms thought or gloried or sported in alabaster relief. Chintz upholstered sofas and settees of various conditions reclined before the fireplace, currently cold, its salt shelf crammed with crucibles of scented oil waiting to ignite on crackling nights. The parlour was lit by two fat beeswax candles stuck into halves of an antiquated urn hung over the mantle. The widely cast light lifted a glow from the gold threading of the furniture and, for a moment, a glow in Billy himself as he recalled the handful of good times he’d enjoyed while living here.

No question, Moll had come up in the world. When his eyes returned to hers, pride shone in her face as though to say: only observe all I have accomplished since I got rid of you. When Billy took a tentative step forward she held up a thin finger, forbidding him to take another step, dripping like a rainforest. He began to undress.

“You keep those sodden clothes on ‘til we fetch you a robe,” said Moll, ordering the house fiddler, presently dozing on the chintz sofa, to grab an old, dirty robe from the back of the parlour cupboard – “the one Lord Chesterfield died in whilst having a frisk with Sook Stockings.” Then she reached forward to slap at Dempsey’s hand, which, despite the injunction, had continued to open his fine Holland shirt to his navel. “Sook Stockings, Billy. The boy I discovered after I kicked you from this house despite your prediction that I could never replace you. Well, let me tell you – he not only replaced but has indeed outshon’d you.”

Billy returned to Dip-Candle Mary. The man smiled and kissed him, tugging at the stubborn tie in his long, drenched hair before venturing one large hand over his narrow belly. “Tremulous as a new calf from that chill rain,” said the tallow chandler. “Upon my word it is lovely to see you. They tell me you are kept by the Marquess of Argyll these days – he is a lucky man.”

After taking Mary’s hand for a kiss, Billy slipped from his shirt and into the filthy robe presented to him which smelled of all shades of nastiness. Stepping wide to leave his shoes, knee breeches, waistcoat, and frockcoat in a steaming pool in the vestibule, he took Mary to the spot on the crimson sofa previously warmed by the fiddler. Then, hitching up his robe, he bid the man unfasten his garters so they might peel away his silk stockings. “But do it ever so carefully. They’re my best vampers.”

As Mary reached tentatively up his thigh to begin the operation, the lady of the house entered the room, cinching her wrap violently across jutting hip bones. “Moll is my dear friend too, despite her abuse,” continued Billy. Then, addressing the man directly: “Not in a hundred years would I begrudge you another attraction; I wish you ten pairs of Sook Stockings if they fetch the cash. And now, while my Marquess tends to some important business in France for a few months, I’ve decided to make myself available to you again.”

At which point Dempsey squirmed and, touching his attendant’s shoulder, said, “Mary, a lad don’t tie garters that far up his leg.”

“Get your bloody hand outta there!” shouted Moll, and after an imposing look from his hostess, Dip-Candle Mary withdrew in a cloudy frown to the opposing end of the sofa.

At this point, footsteps descended the stairs to produce the slight, slightly bandy-legged youth known in the house as Sook Stockings – a very small, effeminate youth, airy in a long cotton smock which extended to his knees. This landed angel had only just appeared when the front door opened to allow in Miss Irons, a beefy blacksmith from further up the Borough Road and Mary’s betrothed. After bringing Irons beside himself upon the sofa, Mary said, “We’ve an old friend in the house. From before you knew me, my love, but no doubt you’ve heard us speak of Blue Billy.”

After glancing at the boy of about eighteen tugging off wet stockings, Irons turned to his companion and said, “Blue Billy, the thief?”

Mary hesitated. “Yes… that’s the one. But you know Harry, those accusations have never been proved––”

“They was your own accusations.”

Mary smiled at the tactlessness of his big fella, then said expansively, “That was, what, two and a half years ago now? A regular lifetime. I for one am delighted to welcome him back. He’s a great success now, in high keeping for two whole years. A year and a half under the protection of no less than the Marquess of Argyll.” Turning to Billy, “I don’t wonder you’ve waited until he leaves the country to come see us again. Everyone says His Lordship is wildly possessive and never allows you out of doors.”

“That’s not quite true, is it Billy?” interjected Moll, bringing to her side the wisp of a youth in the long smock. Her new pet had an open face centred around a large nose, a head of chestnut hair cut into a Caesar and crowning a somewhat bulbous head. Moll pinched a speck from his shoulder and said in her story-hour voice, “I have it on good authority, darling, that the Marquess very generously gave our Mr Dempsey an airing one day a week. Friday, to be precise. Which was the very day a certain Mr Evans––”

“You Sook Stockings, then?” interrupted Dempsey, shocked to hear that the miserable old biddy, though always known to be a famous snoop, had even learned about Evans.

The boy turned to the visitor. “I am. But unless you are a client, I prefer Sukey Chandler.” His small, brown eyes assessed Billy, as though bringing into focus the double image of this visitor and the dastardly scoundrel who had been thrown from the house for stealing before he’d arrived.

“Hired to replace me. I suppose Moll told you that.”

“Moll has employed many in her house.”

“And always has a house pet, a favourite: what used to be me and now it is you. How do you do on the trapeze?”

With a furrowing brow Chandler said, “The trapeze…?”

“Friday,” continued Moll, stepping forward. “The very day a certain Mr Evans, a silly man with a taste for dirty, lying, thieving little punks also found himself at liberty…”

Turning to Moll, Chandler said, “The trapeze. Moll, he is joking?”

“Don’t worry yourself over that, my darling. Billy has fallen from the dazzling heights he knew before: the heights of his days as a popular boy in this house. The heights of a wealthy and powerful Marquess. All the way down to a lowly Mr Evans. Mr Evans, Sukey, is the trapeze to which our visitor refers: a thing to catch him during his fall. But, alas, I hear even his tenuous grip upon Mr Evans has faltered…”

“It has not faltered,” said Billy, for the first time with a slight tremor in his voice. “Anyhow, there is no Mr Evans. I continue with my Marquess as the toast of the town. I am treated with turtle soup and claret wherever I go.”

“No,” said Moll, “no, you are not. I have followed your career and you have at last done yourself in with your wretched deceitfulness. Now you must beg a return to old Marathon Moll’s in the Mint. Well, the answer is no. You insisted on coming into my house to request it of me, so I have the pleasure of telling you, to your face, as you sit in a filthy robe and before my loyal and cherished guests: no! Now return to my vestibule, pull up the puddle of clothing you left there – for I do request the immediate return of my robe – and exit once more into the dark, dreary night from whence you came.”

His eyes widening, William Dempsey said, “I know other bawds keep houses like yours—”

“And in each one the name Blue Billy is synonymous with infamy – hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so you may be sure I have warned my sister brethren about you.” Then Moll summoned the house fiddler, who served as well as a footman and who knew what else, to come forward. He seized Dempsey by the arm and hoisted him to his feet.

“Moll, I beg ye!” cried Billy, “I haven’t a place to go. Really and truly I have not. There is much more to those stories of the Marquess and Mr Evans, and I have not one blessed farthing to my name.”

“I believe that. And I can add you haven’t much of a name either, leastways what anyone would call a good one.”

“Moll, I beseech your mercy…”

“Try returning to the alley outside that tavern in Holborn. What was the name? The Hook and Crook – where you ended up the last time you were ejected from this house. No doubt you recall it, and your lures for snagging those dead-drunk punters stumbling out the door. Though I must say, eighteen is a bit old to pretend to be a linkboy anymore. ‘Tis a tragedy to grow old, Billy, isn’t that what you said to me once?”

“Moll, I shall faint…”

“Then a spot out in the rain shall revive you,” said the lady of the house, then gestured to the fiddler: “Out.”

“Oh God!” said Dempsey, turning to Dip-Candle Mary, who was now fully engrossed in his blacksmith and studiously looking everywhere but at the scene before him. “Mary, I have no choice but to beg a place at that accursed tavern. A place I vowed never to go near again. Perhaps only to sleep in the alley outside, and for even that I must beg…”

“Then fall to your knees and beg,” said Moll, following him to the door. “Where else can one ever expect to find you but on your knees, for one reason or other, in the alley outside the Hook and Crook? There we may always discover London’s one and only Blue Billy.”

The door closed. The rain came down. William Dempsey stood amidst the muck of Souls Yard. The squalid cottage withdrew into its burrow of night. The hands of the lofty barn prayed to the blackening sky.

A flash of lightning lit his flight into Red Cross Street. He jumped over rising pools until, coming into Finch’s Grotto Garden, he huddled under an evergreen to consider the wreckage of a ship broken upon too many hostile shores.

The Marquess.

Mr Evans.

Now even that old bitch Marathon Moll.

But for pursuing that milk-sop Mr Evans, he might be snug in his West End apartment tonight. Welcoming his Marquess. A mutual laugh as they embraced at the door. A touch of sherry; the Marquess reclined upon the sofa as he patted Billy’s knee. Talk of his day and his abhorrence of all the Lords, Ladies, and Earls of his acquaintance.

Then three days ago, all that had ended. But could it have ended? Could a life change so quickly and so dramatically? A person was meant to climb ever higher. And so he had done. Graduating from back-alleys and bawdyhouses to Mr Sallow, who had kept him well, if not lavishly, for half a year. Then a year and a half with his Marquess – the apex of any boy’s dreams. And Billy had done right by him. So many romantic nights spent just the two of them, lavishing the man with affection and praise. Then to dinners hosted by discreet intimates. Or riotous masquerades, the man occasionally withdrawing Billy’s masque to the praise and scandal of the room. Then he would sweep Billy off his feet and order his chariot to return them home…

A few more days, then. Give it a few more days. Then he would approach the man with tears of remorse. Charm him, flatter him, and win back his place. Then he would never, ever go behind his back again…

But just now, he needed a place to shelter. And Billy was not so long risen as to forget he had started life as a vagabond boy from Wapping. Of a den of thieves, shifting from one hovel to the next for most of his childhood. This, if nothing else, had taught him to be resourceful.

So under the old, sagging bed of Hardware Nan did Billy crawl for the night. Nan had been a friend of Moll’s from time out of mind. And from time out of mind, Nan had passed Monday evenings ragingly drunk and carelessly fastened his front door. As he was too repulsive to be invited into anyone’s bed, and too cheap to lure anyone back to his own, Nan was by ten that evening snoring in solitary splendour, one arm dangling off his narrow bedframe.

Closing the front door, Billy tip-toed across the creaking floorboards of Nan’s single-room hovel. He stripped off every stitch of clothing, hung them up to dry. Then, below the lifted toll gate of the protruding arm, Billy shimmied with one of Nan’s blankets to a warm, dry place beneath the bed.

Naked as the day he was born.

About The Author

David Lawrence 1

A native of the American Southwest, I have spent much of my life living and traveling in Great Britain, France, and Finland.

​I now live in the American Northwest – Helena, Montana – with my Finnish partner.

By day I love hiking under the Big Sky of my beautiful adopted state.

By night, however, I prefer editing lost manuscripts and wandering the byways of 18th century London…

Social Media

Website: https://www.davidlawrenceauthor.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/people/David-Lawrence-Author/100076409556304/

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