Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon
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.
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Enjoy an Excerpt:
NOTE: this is a pivotal scene early in the book in which Billy, at long last, approaches the man who helped him after he was knocked around by a trick, a confrontation which left him with a bloodied nose and swollen eye. Tom is a carpenter who occasionally does odd jobs at Marathon Moll’s bawdyhouse, where Billy is now staying. Billy has been told he is quite handsome and wishes to thank him for helping him. At last meeting Tom in this scene, however, it seems like perhaps more might be happening between them than Billy intended.
When Tom turned, his lean, tanned face was rather a continuation of his movements. Harmonious. Introspective. Lovely. After a moment to take in the newcomer, he leant his modelling board against the sawhorse, set the saw beside it, and stepped forward.
From under the shallow brim of the workman’s cap each iris shone as though light had been brought to points under glass. It was a fixing gaze, something in it attempted to fasten an object. When he took up the water he looked away, and Billy experienced a singular feeling of having been himself set down.
His eyes returned to Billy’s. Then to his bloodied nose and the discolouration around his eye, the continued sight of which upsetting what had seemed a contented layer of formality. It was a serious countenance, a man of about thirty-two, who had seen much and internalised all of it. The only relief was a certain impishness around an unusually full upper lip, which appeared perched with a tart reply for a schoolmaster. In it one could see the boy that had been before he had been shed like so much inefficient fat.
The words subsequently exchanged were like pebbles into a riptide. Words bought the time to study the other, neither entirely hearing what the other was saying. Billy was certain it was the same for Tom, and that it was his injury which somehow enthralled him. His injury which excused his continuing to look, which compelled his attention just as he’d been compelled to help him stumble to Moll’s door.
Then Tom replied, “…so you know carpentry.”
Billy tried to recall just what he was replying to. “Well. One or two things. Measure twice, cut once. That is one thing I know. Words to live by, I reckon.”
“Did you come outside just to speak to me?”
“Give you my thanks for services rendered. You needn’t have helped me.”
Tom’s expression sought to assure him he would not ask what had happened, but Billy also understood he was not to inquire too much into himself. That Tom prized nothing so much as privacy, that he might be pleasant and engaging but only if one maintained a respectful distance. After giving Billy a moment to understand this, he said, “A man isn’t much of a man who cannot assist a brother in need.”
The thought was somewhat grander than what Billy was used to engage, and he said, “Maybe I deserved that smack on the nose. Maybe my opponent was left in worse shape than myself, and he was the one needed assistance.”
“I’ve a good sense for people.”
“So do I, occasionally.” Billy waited, hoping Tom understood the compliment. “I been through a bit lately, as you can see. Mostly self-inflicted wounds. But still you helped me so there we are.”
“Where are we?”
“Arrived at my invitation. There’s a wedding tomorrow, in this house, four o’clock. I’m in the damn thing to please one of Moll’s patrons but I’m a bloody horror to regard so I’ll likely be relegated to a corner. If you come, I’ll have someone to speak to like decent folks and I promise I’ll show you a good time.”
There was a long, to Billy inexplicably long, pause before Tom said, “Another time.”
“Won’t be another time, unless you are free tonight.”
“I am working.”
“There’s your chance, then, gone. Moll’s letting me stay only ‘til the wedding. Then I’m out.”
A brief twitching of the lip betrayed amusement. Nevertheless amusements did not control Tom Baker and as though reciting his curriculum vitae he declared: “I don’t attend parties. Soirees, routs, whatever you call them, I don’t go to them. Nothing but a mess of babbling fools and the drunks are only marginally better. I have nothing in the way of small talk, a failing often condemned but which should be to a man’s credit.”
“Ask me about my nose.”
“‘Hey fella, how’s the nose mending?’ It’s an instant conversation piece. I reckon more people should get such-like embellishments, makes everyone else in the room feel better about themselves.”
Tom pushed his mouth to one side, but a short, clipped laugh broke through anyhow. Billy laughed as well and, grinning, took his hand.
It was a coarse hand. And though just moments before so intimately engaged in work, Tom seemed, momentarily, to have no connection to it whatever. As though it was no more than the sleeve of his smock. Once he understood he withdrew the hand. He looked at it, then with an odd gesture seemed to set it aside. Continuing to look away he remained silent.
Billy was a long moment waiting for him to look up again. When he did his eyes remained slightly averted as he said, “Are you recovering then?”
“I––” but Tom left the thought unfinished.
“You… will see me tomorrow at four,” said Billy, happy to complete his thought for him. While attempting to catch his eye he thought, Good Lord, he is a bit shy. What kind of ninnies are working here anyhow who can’t get past a bit of shyness in this lovely man?
Tom nodded somewhat uncertainly. At last, somewhere under his breath, he said, “I shall be the most miserable wretch in the room.”
“Come after the ceremony. Four-thirty, when everyone is too drunk to care about small talk.”
David Lawrence is the author of two queer historical novels – ‘Hugh: A Hero without a Novel’ and ‘Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon’. As a writer, he loves taking a deep dive into the politics, social norms, and events of 18th century England while presenting humorous and unique coming-of-age tales.
A native of the American Southwest, David has spent much of his life in Great Britain, France, and Finland. He now lives in the American Northwest – Helena, Montana – with his Finnish partner.
By day he loves hiking under the Big Sky of his beautiful adopted state.
By night, however, he prefers wandering the byways of 18th century London…
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