Book Title: Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon
Author: David Lawrence
Publication Date: February 21, 2023
Publisher: Broadbound Publishing
Page Length: 245
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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NOTE: This scene describes a house ‘wedding’ in Marathon Moll’s bawdyhouse. 18th century criminal records indicate that such weddings did take place between men, though it seems to have all been tongue-in-cheek and few details survive. Here, then, is my idea of what one of these weddings may have been like, and I’ve incorporated actual details from 18th century records where I could (such as the Cheshire cheese)
Until recently, weddings had been performed in an empty bedchamber on the first floor called the chapel. Now with a full staff, and with the increasing popularity of the weddings, the front and back parlours, along with the intervening corridor making to extend the aisle, had been transformed to contain the ceremony. Lending itself best in the endeavour was the back parlour, with its tall, dramatic windows unobscured by curtains and a back bay suggesting a holy enclave. The intervening passage was rather dark with scarcely enough room for chairs. The front parlour, with its Roman urns and statuary, too much an altar to the men who had persecuted the Saviour to be a very fitting monument to him. Moll placed a portrait of Jesus on the wall and beneath thisa large bowl of punch tasked with the remainder of the convincing.
Wedding themesvaried according to the tastes of the couple and remained a closely guarded secret until the ceremony. As this was not the first wedding of Miss Irons to Dip-Candle Mary, it was widely believed there would be less of romance and more of spice than on previous occasions. As such a flood of guests, of all sizes, descriptions, and combinations, milled about the rows of hard-backed chairs in high good humour. Some were single, some couples, all with house names but for the newcomers who would receive theirs at some point during the evening.
Libation flowed. Manners: somewhat worse than Sunday-best. Billy appeared with Chandler, each habited in white robes, which were tugged at and tossed up as they passed by. Next to emerge was Hardware Nan, always dependable for duty as master of ceremonies. He was followed by the Tower Princes, each swinging what appeared to be thuribles at the end of chains, but which were in fact decanters of brandy – for a small contribution the Princes would sit on the lap of a donor and tip a bit down a thirsty gullet.
Once Billy and Chandler had taken their places on either side of the pulpit, Nan directed the revellers to take their seats. He was a few minutes into a sermon of John Wesley’s, performed with pomp in a carrying baritone, when a shriek from upstairs signalled the commencement of festivities. The Princes, having already made conquests of hearts and other parts, threw arms around their new beaux and waited with bated breath for what was to come.
First down the stairs, with hands bound behind his back, was Miss Irons. In an apron and wielding a rolling pin, Moll was hustling him forward. “Scoundrel! Villain!” she was shouting, red-faced, hair askew even more than usual, and in particularly fine form: “Stop the service Reverend! You must perform a marriage ceremony this instant. We cannot delay!”
From the back parlour Nan set Wesley aside, then boomed: “A marriage, my child? Do you wish to marry this wretch?”
“ME, marry the footman?” shrieked Moll, then struck Irons across his beefy shoulder with her pin. “My daughter – the little hussy – must marry him! BRING HER DOWN, OSTLER!”
Upon which a terrible cacophony tumbled down the staircase, across the vestibule then arrived at the back of the chapel. The parishioners, all of whom had turned round in their chairs, were rewarded with a strange and heavenly sight: the doubled-over form of Dip-Candle Mary and, towering above him, the house’s newest treasure – farm fresh from County Meath, Óengus, the God of Love, Summer, and Youth, though known in his London incarnation as Cat-o’-nine-tails!
O’Donnell stood apprehensively but radiantly in taut riding breeches, smock opened to his waist and brandishing a horsewhip. When audible gasps, even a bit of applause, were heard his eyes leapt across the chapel to find his instructor. Oh William Dempsey, he seemed to say, you never said there would be applause. And with this every ounce of his former trepidation fell away. He tugged to a standing position the slumped over Mary, who was holding a weight at his middle which threatened to tear through his loose-fitting shift.
Cried O’Donnell: “Your footman, Moll!: The blackguard has bragged to every member of the staff of his villainy! And hark,” tugging Mary up by the sleeve, “your daughter approaches her time!”
Weeping, Mary embraced Patrick tightly about the waist, nuzzling his face against the musculature of the young man’s chest. “Oh save me! Save me, Cat-o’-nine-tails…”
“You scoundrel!” wailed Moll at Irons. “I trusted you to be my footman and now look what you have done! You must make an honest woman of my girl before it is too late!”
“Bring the sinners forward,” commanded Hardware Nan from the pulpit. “I shall marry them as man and wife, the girl cannot be long for her lying in.”
“Marry her?” laughed Irons, pulling violently free from Moll’s grip, in the process overturning an empty chair at the back of the chapel. “I shall never marry the wench, though she was a fine piece to tumble in the hayloft – aye, and once, there was even a delicious romp in her own virgin bed…”
At this Moll collapsed in a heap in a hardbacked chair, fanning herself and declaring her entire family had been undone.
But stepping forward, O’Donnell declared, “Fear not, madam. All is not lost. Not if I can help it.” Then, addressing Irons: “Strip to the waist, villain!”
The attendants stirred in anticipation at this dramatic turn of events. Some moments were required to strip and move aside a few chairs, so Billy took the opportunity to parcel out mugs of alcoholic punch while Chandler passed around a tray of biscuits, grapes, and orange wedges.
Miss Irons, shorter and stockier than O’Donnell, when stripped to the waist displayed a blacksmith’s powerful upper body. Unlike his smooth adversary, he was covered in dazzling runs of black hair, front, back, and down his arms to the tops of his hands. He waited in a crouched position as O’Donnell strutted up and down the aisle flexing his muscles, pausing to be admired, which for the young man was so intoxicating he nearly lost the thread of the narrative. Once he returned to the back of the chapel, Irons reached forward and slapped him lightly across the cheek.
At which point O’Donnell lost the thread entirely, and Moll almost all control of her wedding ceremony, as during the ensuing scuffle a genuinely enraged Hibernian overturned a good number of the chairs, some containing guests, in an effort to seize hold of Irons. O’Donnell slapped Irons. Irons slapped O’Donnell. Then jumping forward, Irons took the younger man into his powerful embrace. After rubbing their bodies together a good long while, much to the satisfaction of the onlookers, Irons brought them crashing to the floor in one heaving bundle of testosterone.
Guests began shrieking as the rolling men hazarded their seats, Moll hustling Dip-Candle Mary up the aisle to the pulpit. At last Irons cried, “I surrender!” after O’Donnell had pinned him to the floor with one arm twisted behind his back. “I shall do anything! I shall marry the wench! Only leave off brutalising me, for love of God and Country!”
O’Donnell jumped off, tugging Irons to his feet and, turning to his audience, bowed deeply to receive a wild round of applause. Upon retrieving his horsewhip, he marched Irons down the aisle to join Mary at the pulpit. Guests were by now shrieking with mirth, one elderly gentleman nearly fainting from excitement while Applegate, supine upon the floor, struggled with a guest who had grown intent upon discovering what lie beneath his white robe.
Hardware Nan performed the ceremony. Billy brought forth the rings and kissed the bride. At which point Moll glanced with some trepidation toward O’Donnell, for at Irons’ hesitation at saying “I will” her new protégé was to apply the horsewhip, just once, across his back. But all came off without a hitch – at the crack Irons shuddered quite pleasantly and burst forth his compliance.
Overjoyed, Dip-Candle Mary fell backwards into the arms of guests in the front pew. And in all his emotion and with the help of Moll, he was safely delivered of a fine Cheshire cheese, which until then he had been struggling to maintain beneath his shift. Chandler promptly brought the cheese to the sideboard where he began slicing it for his tray of appetisers.
Miss Irons kissed his lovely, slimmer bride, who appeared very much to stoke his fire again now he had lost his cumbersome burden. Moll pushed a flushed and sweating Patrick O’Donnell toward the loving couple. “See he does right by my girl, now.”
Mary reached forward to grip O’Donnell’s wrist –his pulse now visibly quickened, eyes dilated, dizzy with anticipation. At which point O’Donnell betrayed a moment’s hesitation. But after partaking of a nearby thurible, and with an approving look from Moll, he directed the glowing couple down to the cellar bedchamber which had been prepared for them.
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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