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Story Of London

The Adventures of James Batson: II


This is the autobiography of a 17th century rogue with a most idiosyncratic family (his mother died of a longing for mushrooms when there were none). He was born in 1603 and died in the year of the Great Fire of London (1666). Chastened by his first brush with the law , our hero becomes a peddler, is rescued from this lowly existence by a famous actress who liked his looks and employed him as her jack-of-all trades. Losing heavily at cards, he pawned one of her best petticoats but loses again and is forced to flee. Joining a recruiting sergeant, he travels with him to Barcelona and Alicante where, having killed a fellow soldier in a brawl he is condemned to death.

NewgateFrightened at this last disaster, I was resolved to associate myself no more with anyone, but went about the streets selling wash balls, toothpicks and tooth powder. I played the merry-andrew myself, cried up my rubbish, extolled the virtues of it, and sold very dear. For whoever has a mind to put off his trumpery, and make a good hand of it, must pretend his trash comes from Japan, Peru or Tartary, because all nations undervalue their own product and workmanship, though never so excellent, and set a great rate on foreign trifles.All my ware tending to make fine teeth and white hands, the ladies were my best customers, but especially the actresses. There was at that time one of the best companies of players that ever diverted England, and a man at the head of them famed for his excellency that way. By virtue of my scurvy ware I became acquainted with his imaginary queens and pretended princesses, one of whom, about eighteen years of age, and married to one of the actors, told me one day that she had taken a liking to me, because I was a confident, sharp, forward youth, and therefore if I would serve her, she would entertain me with all her heart; and that when the company went strolling I might beat the drum and stick up the bills. I fancied that was an easier sort of a life, so consented at first word, desiring only two days to sell my wares off, which she courteously granted; and to encourage me gave me a crown.Having sold off my trumpery, I waited on my mistress, who appointed me four several employments: the first was tiresome, the second uneasy, the third sluggish and the fourth dangerous. At home I was her valet de chambre, folding and laying up all her clothes. Abroad I was her porter, fetching and carrying her clothes to the playhouse. I was her gentleman usher in her attiring room, and her trusty secretary and ambassador in all places. My master quarrelled with her every night about me, because he supposed I was no eunuch, saw I had a tolerably good face, and thought me not so young but that I knew what was what; for which reason he was looking out for another servant, that he might turn me off. Such a multitude of young beaux resorted daily to my mistress’s house that it looked like a fair. They all told me their secrets, and acquainted me with their sufferings. Some made me presents, others promised mountains, and others delivered me copies of verses, which being gathered in the morning on Parnassus, were buried at night in the necessary house. [Note: the toilet.] I played the part of a Prime Minister, and Secretary of State and War, receiving those memorials and the fees, promising every one my favour and interest. Some of them I dispatched with my mistress, and many more, considering she was so dilatory, I answered of my own head, after this manner: If the petitioner was poor or niggardly, rejected. If he was a young spark near coming to his estate, he shall be heard another time. If rich and generous, granted. Thus I kept them all in hand, absolutely dismissing none, but rather feeding them with hopes.When I happened to lose at play – for it is impossible a scoundrel should ever be wise – as I took out or laid up her clothes I filled my pocket with ribbons and garters, and giving them, in her name, as favours to the gallants, they requited me so plentifully that I could make what I had filched, and enough left to game all the week after.The devil, who they say never sleeps, so ordered it that, my master and mistress being gone a visiting, and I left at home, two of the servants belonging to the playhouse and the wardrobe keeper came to call me out to take a walk, it being a leisure day. I went away with them. We dropped in to a tavern, drank six bottles of the best, played at cards for the reckoning, and that falling upon me, I was so nettled that I challenged the wardrobe keeper to play with me at putt; and he, being no fool at that sport, soon stripped me of all I had. This provoked me so highly that I told him, if he would but stay, I would go fetch more money. He consented. I ran home with all speed, took out a rich laced petticoat my mistress had, and carried it to a pastrycook I was acquainted with, desiring him to lend me three jacobuses upon it, pretending they were for my mistress, who wanted so much to make up a sum to pay for a ring she had bought, assuring him of his money when my master returned home, with something for the favour. The pastry cook, finding the pawn sufficient, delivered me the money, with which I hurried back to play, and lost as I had done before. I got one jacobus back again off the winner, by way of wrangling with him as if he had not played fair, with which I turned out into the street, full of vexation that I had lost so beneficial a place. I went to an inn, where I supped and lay that night, but with little rest or satisfaction. As soon as ever I discovered the first dawn of day I got up, full of sorrow to think what a base return I had made my mistress for all her kindness; and, considering the danger I should be in when she missed her petticoat, I left London, directing my course towards Colchester.Travelling somewhat hastily, for fear of being followed, I overtook two of those sort of soldiers called decoy ducks, who serve to draw in others when there are levies. After some discourse, they told me they were going my way, being informed that at Colchester there was a captain raising men, and that none who listed under him would ever want. I travelled on with them very fairly, every one paying his club by the way. The next day we got to that town, and being kindly received by the captain, and listed, we lived in clover for a fortnight, making our landlords furnish us with dainties, and demanding impossibilities. At last we received orders to march, and having left the town, our captain moved like a snail, still leaving the quarters appointed us on one side, and taking the contrary way, because the towns paid him to be exempted. He continued this cheat three days; but on the fourth, as we were passing by a wood, all his men, about thirty in number, left him with only the colours, drum, sergeant and ensign, and five wenches, who went with the baggage; for he is not likely to keep up a company who contrives only how to make his advantage of them, without considering that it is very easy to find a captain, and no less difficult to get thirty soldiers.However, I liked my captain well enough, for he was civil to me. I stuck by him, and came to London with him, where he was so laughed at that he resolved to quit the kingdom, and, having a good estate, intended to go abroad a volunteer, and desired my company. He embarked for Barcelona, and in a little time got a company, which was ordered, with several others, to sail for Alicant. I being a good accountant, and writing a fair hand, stuck close all the while we were at sea to the steward of the ship, to help him deliver out the allowances to the sailors and land men. He, to keep up a good old custom, and avoid being blamed by others of his trade, gave the soldiers all the broken biscuits, and kept that which was whole; and so for the fish, they had what was rotten. As for the bacon, he stuck a knife into it, and if it stunk, the soldiers had it; if other wise, he put it up carefully. However he took care to make much of the officers, which made them all keep council and see nothing; and whilst the poor soldiers fared hard, we lived well. At length we arrived at Alicant, where we were quartered, and had a mixture of good and bad; for as soon as they had shown us any favour they were over us with a Cap de Dieu! – which is that country’s oath and out came two or three cases of pistols. My captain and I were at variance, because he had cheated me of my pay, and I had made my complaint to recover it. For this reason he bore me ill will, there being nothing so certain as that if a soldier does not put up with any wrong in point of interest, but pretends to complain, or to stand upon terms with his officers, all that he says, though never so true, will pass for a lie. He will never be advanced, but rather slighted and hated. My quarters were in a tavern, where I was one day drinking with a soldier, and happened to fall out about a lie given, and my sword unluckily running into his throat, he kicked up his heels, through his own fault, for he ran upon my point; so that he may thank his own hastiness.To prevent my captain’s taking revenge, or giving him an opportunity of satisfying his malice, by taking upon him self to make an example of me, I went away to Barcelona, and took refuge in a monastery. My captain, as if I had murdered his father, stolen his goods, or taken away his mistress, sent after me to have me secured, and a little whippersnapper of his, who was the tale carrier of the company, followed his business so close that, in despite of the fathers, and in contempt of the Church, he had me taken out of the sanctuary and cast into the prison of the arsenal. They put me into irons, bolted my hands and feet, and so left me. I was prosecuted as a murderer, deserter and raiser of mutinies; and without any regard to the pain my mother endured when she brought me into the world, they put me into a fright with these terrible words: ” You shall return to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution,” etc.