Monday, July 13, 2009
Chapter 1 : England
Lieutenant Peter Thorton did not want to get up. The sun, if so dark and dreary a thing could be called a 'sun,' had risen, but the change from night to day was nearly imperceptible due to the cold rain falling. Moreover, Thorton had been sick in bed for several days and the habit of indolence had acquired a certain appeal. Yet he was a naval officer and racked with guilt that it was now after seven of the clock in the morning and he was still in bed. Guilt warred with illness, but the bed was warm and the room was cold, so guilt alone was not sufficient to haul him out of his berth to get under way. Yet he felt that, if only the room were not so cold, he was recovered enough that he could very well get up and about. Which meant he would have to. Rising compelled him to wash and shave, which was followed by donning his least dirty linen shirt, a fresh stock, a shabby wool coat and thin breeches, freshly darned wool socks, worn out shoes, and gloves with holes in the fingers. He clamped his battered tricorn on his head, and thus properly attired, went down two flights of stairs to the privy.
Coming in from that errand he passed through the kitchen where a thin cook was at work. A thin cook is never to be trusted and the runny eggs and scorched oatmeal she gave him were proof why. "Your friend is in the breakfast room," she told him.
He gladly took his plate into that mean room with its remnant of coal-fire and exclaimed, "Perry! I didn't hear you come in last night." He set his plate down and took a seat opposite his friend and fellow lieutenant. The two, being lieutenants without positions, were on half-pay and sharing a garret room at the top of a narrow house to save on expenses.
Perry smiled and said, "I didn't come in. I had agreeable female company last night." He flicked his fingers across the lapel of his coat and raised his eyebrows for emphasis. Thorton noticed that the coat was fine and new, a good thick dark blue wool shiny brass buttons stamped with the Tudor rose. It was double-breasted, but he wore it with fastened with hooks and the lapels buttoned down flat. The skirts were ample and the white boot cuffs deep. "She gave me this and much more yesterday. Of course I spent the night."
Thorton momentarily envied his friend's good fortune, but he realized how he had acquired it. Perry was a fine looking man with curly brown hair and dark eyes. He cut a very dashing figure in his brand new frock coat. And there, on the table, next to his breakfast, was a brand-new tricorn. "She must like you very much. Who is she? A rich widow?"
"Almost as good. She is a butcher's wife. She's going to send round some mutton for you and I tonight, which Cook will happily ruin for us." His tone was jovial.
"A married woman?" Thorton was scandalized.
Perry waved his fork at him. "I see you haven't entirely given up your plan to become a preacher. Ten years of service with the British navy ought to have taught you that many a woman is married to a cuckold."
Thorton eyed his friend's fine coat. Many things chased through his mind, not a few of which were the sordid transactions he had endured in the middle deck in the days before he became an officer. He sighed and stirred his congealing mass of disagreeable oatmeal. "I couldn't do it, Perry. But if you and she are content with the arrangement and her husband doesn't find out, I suppose that's the way things are."
Lieutenant Roger Perry grinned at him as he lounged over the remains of his own breakfast. "I plan to go up to the Admiralty today and see if there are any orders. There won't be, but if there are, I'll beg them to give me yours since you've been sick. Which they won't, but maybe we'll get a piece of luck and find a new clerk that hasn't yet had his humanity crushed by the British navy." His tone was cheerful. "There's no reason for you to go out in this rain when you aren't well."
"I'm much better, thank you. And I'm bored and restless. I'll walk up with you and you can tell me all about Madame Butcher and her mutton. I wouldn't mind a pair of mutton chops tonight."
"Are you certain? 'Tis powerful cold and windy and the rain is coming down in needles."
Thorton smiled across at his handsome friend and said, "Yes, I'll come." His hair was a sandy blond and his face had paled over the winter, but there was a slight blush of color in it.
"You are looking better, you're getting your color back," Perry replied, unaware of anything more than the obvious state of his friend's health.
Thorton realized he had gazed a little too frankly and started shoveling oatmeal. "Let me finish, then we'll go." He kept his eyes down and tended to his food. He couldn't taste it which was just as well.
Perry said, "I'll get your cloak then." He ran lightly up the stairs to their mutual room.
Thorton sighed. He wished for orders. To room with Perry and never betray his true feelings was an ordeal he didn't think he could withstand much longer. At first it had seemed like a delightful opportunity: share a room, a bed, a day, a week, a month . . . But while close quarters had lead to certain confidences, those confidences included Perry's reports on his successes and failures with various women. So Thorton had taken to rolling over in bed with his back to his voluble friend and saying crossly, "I'm tired Perry. I can't run about all night like you do," then lie there pretending to sleep.
Perry for his part did his best to inveigle his friend to loosen up and enjoy himself in the public houses, but Thorton was a man who could make a pot of small beer last all night. He was exceptionally parsimonious with his money which Perry attributed to having been raised by an equally parsimonious parson with the same career in mind for his stepson, but in truth, money came easily to Perry and just as easily went, thanks to his charm and good looks. Never was this more on display than this wet soggy morning as the two young gentlemen went along the street.
A girl was standing in the door of a bakery looking out and when she saw them, sang out, "Lieutenant Perry! My goodness! Why are you out on such a rainy morning?"
Perry swerved over her way and stood under her door's awning to say, "Why Sissy, you know I'm an officer in the King's Navy. And this is my friend, Lieutenant Peter Thorton. We're going up to get our orders. You never know what adventure His Majesty is going to be sending us on. I might not see you after today!"
"Oh!" Her blue eyes widened and her hand went to her mouth. "Will it be very dangerous?"
"I'm sure it will be. It always is," he replied solemnly.
She wrung her hands. "Oh dear, oh dear. To think you're going away! Maybe to be killed!"
A sharp voice came from inside. "Matilda! Don't be blocking the door! Let the gentlemen in, girl!"
So she stepped aside and they entered. Perry surveyed the buns and cakes and other treats with a very judicious eye. "Can I have a sample of that? If it is good I'll recommend it to Admiral Throgmorton when I see him." Instantly the case was opened and the girl handed over the hot cross bun. Perry took it and waved to Thorton. "What do you think, Thorton, what else might the Admiral like?"
Thorton had never heard of an Admiral Throgmorton and wondered who Perry was talking about. But he was an officer and that meant never admitting when he was lost. "Maybe some of those crescent rolls? I hear they're all the rage in France, thanks to their alliance with the Turks," he ventured. So a crescent roll was handed over to him, very moist and tender and flaky.
Perry expressed his approval with his eye on Sissy's bosom. "Excellent. I will recommend you to Admiral Throgmorton when I see him. I'm sure he will be most pleased to patronize your shop."
The girl tittered and was very pleased; she was not at all adverse to the compliment he paid her wares.
The two went on their way. They'd gone about ten paces down the street when it dawned on Thorton what his friend had done. "Perry! You can't just go off without paying! That poor girl will be in trouble if the pastries are missing!"
Perry kept walking and Thorton had to hurry to catch up. He grinned at his friend. "But I was completely honest. If I ever meet an Admiral named Throgmorton I will be sure to recommend the shop to him."
Thorton stood stock still, then ran after him. "You're horrible. That poor girl!" But he was laughing all the same.