Book Title: Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon
Author: David Lawrence
Publication Date: February 21, 2023
Publisher: Broadbound Publishing
Page Length: 245
Genre: Historical Fiction / Queer Fiction / Romantic Comedy
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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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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NOTE: This chapter brings Billy to Marathon Moll’s bawdyhouse, where he worked in years past but from which he had been thrown for stealing. At present, he has been kicked out of his luxurious West End apartment and has not had much success trying to get his life back on track. Moll has already refused to let him return to her house once before, but here is again on her doorstep after having had a run-in with a trick.
Bob Ken, or Brownmanken
a well-furnished house
“Well, well. And what have we here?”
“Let us in, Moll. I’ve a beast of a bloodied nose, and nowhere to go…”
Billy swooned, his eye swelling, the bridge of his nose a busted dam through which a red torrent was flowing. Drowning under his tearing vision stood Marathon Moll, folded arms in a silk banyan, appearing as just another wall into which his face must be driven.
Yet, somehow, something was different. It seemed he had an arm stretched across someone’s back, stretched taut so he wouldn’t fall, stretched until the tendons might snap. Looking down, a tanned arm protruding from a workman’s smock was gripping him tightly about the waist. A thumb previously broken and reset was cradling him across the belly. The man was speaking, and as he did, the strength left Billy’s body and he sank toward the opened collar of the workman’s smock. Into the smell of sweat and clinging sawdust. Into the smell of deep, clean strength until it was all he could do to keep his fractured, bleeding beak from taking refuge under that wing.
A casement window creaked. Chatter from over their heads.
“But do you know him, Moll?” the workman was saying. His large, coarse hand came forward to draw aside Billy’s matted hair. “William, is it?” he asked, holding him up as though it was merely an uncertain identity preventing his admission.
At which point Billy turned to the house and, praying that Chandler was within, bellowed for the youth at the top of his lungs. He bellowed lusty as a new-born, bellowed so that Moll held her ears, bellowed until at last the boy appeared. With a shriek of horror, Chandler squeezed around his unmoveable mistress to assist the blood-soaked wretch. Next to appear: a large black man who set Moll to one side. Lifting Billy from the arms of the stranger, the man swept him onto a flying carpet, to an island far from all noise, harm, and distress: the first floor. Here were the boys’ bedchambers, and in one, under a canopy of pink clouds, within a forest of fat mahoganies, Billy was stripped of his soiled garments and deposited into a feather bed.
Chandler’s face drew close, came into focus. Biting his lip, he dabbed at the bleeding nose with a scrap of cotton, the fringe at his forehead, short as it was, still managing to appear utterly dishevelled. Then at a shouted order to come downstairs Chandler withdrew, handing the cloth to the other attendant, asking him to tend Billy while he tended to Moll. Then he hurried downstairs, his footfalls in the stairwell like bubbles rising from the seafloor where the monster lay.
“Out!” shouted the monster.
“Moll, I have asked Caligula to guard him, to assure you that—”
“—and shall vouch for anything that goes missing from the house—”
“—of which there shall be nothing, as theft simply will not be possible. As a favour to me. Your best, most loyal employee, as you have said yourself many times…”
A broken, attenuating response. A long pause. Another word from Chandler. Then a wail of surrender – music to Dempsey’s ears. From the soft, dry bed, Billy observed the bedchamber door close, sealing out the subsequent noisy exchange from downstairs.
Caligula approached the bed. He loomed over him under a sky of pink parasols suspended upside-down from the ceiling. Blinking his vision clear, Billy saw the forest of mahogany had been felled, shaped, and polished into functional furnishings – a wardrobe, an escritoire, a nightstand. Mezzotint portraits of David Garrick, the stage actor, crowded the walls around a ceramic sock and buskin. And upon every surface: perfumes, breath-sweetening tinctures, and cosmetic washes.
“William Dempsey,” said his guard in a reproving tone. Billy opened his eyes, unaware that they had closed, to observe Caligula, house heavy in Moll’s for many years. Bald, six-foot, a cotton waistcoat left undone over a rippling, ebony torso. “What you doin’ in this house again and looking like this?”
“I got nowhere to go, Cali—”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Cali – like you was used to do. Makin’ me consider the passage of time, and how you was one bird flew out this cuckoo’s nest wasn’t never supposed to return. But now here you come landing in the Yard like some gentleman’s been out snipe shootin’.”
Billy grabbed for his hand and put it to his heart. “I’ve missed you, Cali.”
“Don’t do that.” But the man’s warm hand closed over Billy’s. After a long moment, he sighed. “Well, who was it?”
“Who was what?”
“The one smashed your nose and busted your eye; the one I gotta kill now. Loiterin’ about outside?”
“Long gone,” said Billy. Then he paused, understanding for the first time he had achieved his goal: he was back in Moll’s. With its leaky windows, its scent of lavender stirring about the heart-chambers of the house, breaking from some deep part of himself memories from earlier and, somehow, what felt like more innocent times. “Anyhow, I reckon he’s done me a favour if Moll’s to let me stay on a while.”
“A favour?” Caligula drew closer. “You tell me what happened now and why you seem ta’ have lost what little sense ya’ever did have.”
Billy shrugged. “The cash; I needed some. Round about dusk, I snagged a bit of trade at Savoy Gate.”
“Mighta guessed as much. But went bad for you?”
Billy exhaled. Then closed his eyes.