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Story Of London

The Adventures of James Batson: III


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). Pleading sanctuary because he was taken from the safety of a church, our hero escapes the death penalty and a spell in the galleys. He enlists in a new regiment and soon finds himself in Germany fighting the French. An elaborate fraud on both his captain and the rich merchant on whom they are billeted is soon discovered and our hero is sent to the front line. He lurks in he rear and survives. His captain is killed and leaves James a legacy of a horse and fifty ducats and with these riches our hero once again finds himself free to set off in search of another adventure.

NewgateIn short, as if it had been a thing of nothing, or but a matter of pastime, they gave sentence that I should be led in state along the streets, then mount upon a ladder, kick up my heels before all the people, and take a swing in the open air, as if I had another life in my knapsack. I was made acquainted with it by a public notary, who was so nice a Christian that he never asked any gratuity for the good news, nor any fees for the trial. It was impossible to avoid making some wry faces when I heard it; some sighs broke loose in spite of my manhood, and the salt tears trickled down my cheeks. The jailer bid me make peace with God, without the least supply from Bacchus to raise my spirits; and I, considering what I had to go through, gently squeezed my throat with my hand; and though it was done very tenderly, I did not like the test, but said to myself, “If the hand, which is soft flesh, hurts so much, what will it be when a hard hempen rope is there.”I kneeled down, and cried to Heaven for mercy, solemnly protesting, if I regained my liberty, that I would do penance for my sins, and begin a new life; but these were like vows made in storms. The news was quickly spread, and several friends came to see me, others to condemn me. Some said it was a pity I should lose my life in the prime of my age; others that I looked like a rank knave; and some, that I was not come to that for my goodness.At last, in came a Franciscan friar, all in a sweat, and full of zeal, asking, <“Where is the condemned person?”
I answered: “Father, I am the man, though you don’t know me.”
He said: “Dear child, it is now time for you to think of another world, since sentence is passed; and therefore you must employ this short time allowed you in confessing your sins, and asking forgiveness for your offences.”
I answered: “Reverend Father, in obedience to the commands of the Church, I confess but once a year, and that is in Lent. But if, according to human laws, I must atone with my life for the crime I’ve committed, your reverence being so learned must be truly sensible that there is no divine precept which says, ‘Thou shalt not eat or drink’; and therefore, since it is not contrary to the law of God, I desire that you will give order that I have meat and drink, and then we will discourse of what is best for us both; for I am in a Christian country, and plead the privilege of sanctuary.”The good father, much disturbed to hear me talk so wildly at a time when I should be serious, took a small crucifix out of his bosom and began to make a sermon to me on the text of the lost sheep and the repentance of the good thief; and this with such an audible voice that he might be heard all over the arsenal. I turned pale, my heart failed me, and my tongue was numbed when I heard the charity bells, which ring when criminals are executed. I cleared my apartment and, kneeling down before my ghostly father, disgorged a wonderful budget of sins, and cleared my storehouse of iniquity; and having received his blessing and absolution, found myself so changed, that it only troubled me to die because I thought myself so truly contrite that all the bells would ring out of themselves, the whole city would be in an uproar, and the poor people would lose their day’s work to come and see me.In the height of this fright, which I would freely bestow on anyone that could be fond of it, the Marquis D’Este, then commanding officer, ordered me to be brought before him, I having got a petition presented to him. He, like a merciful man, being informed that I pleaded the privilege of sanctuary, ordered the execution to be respited, the sentence of death reversed, and me sent to the galleys for ten years. My master was so much my friend that he opposed it, alleging my constitution was too dainty to make a water thresher, and therefore it were better to send me out of this wicked world, that I might serve as an example to all the army; and that it would have been never the worse had it been done three or four years sooner.Not withstanding all this, I took a little courage, finding myself backed by some friends, and told the marquis it was malice, spite and hatred made my master so much my enemy, that he had detained my pay, upon which I threatened to complain, and he vowed revenge, and now would have it by my death. The general said it was strange that two country men could not agree; that he would not trouble himself with my complaints, but ordered me to be immediately discharged without paying any fees. I threw myself at his feet for the kindness he had done me, to the disappointment of the mob, and the loss of the executioner. I presently departed the palace, and went to be blooded [That is, he went to a leech to have blood let.] to prevent any ill consequence of the fright I had been in.When the bodily fear I had been put into was over, the danger I had escaped forgotten, and the blood I let out recruited in a tavern, I went out one day to take a walk upon the Mole, and understanding there was a new regiment to be raised, I inquired after the officers, and by accident met one of them, who asked me to list. I easily consented for the sake of a little ready money. My new master seemed to take a fancy to me, and ordered me to his own quarters, where it was not long before I got a new place; for the cook going away, I was asked if I understood anything that way, and I, always resolved to answer in the affirmative, declared I did understand cookery to the greatest perfection; so that I was both soldier and cook.After several voyages by sea to Rosas, and other places, we were ordered to succour Alsace, and for our winter residence had the woods of Bavaria. My master took up his residence in the house of one of the richest men in those parts, though he pretended to be very poor, because he had driven away all his cattle, and removed the best of his goods. This contrivance did not serve his turn. I got information from the servants. With this, in a very stately manner, I acquainted him that I was my master’s steward quarter-master and cook, and as such must inform him that he had a captain of horse in his house, who was a person of considerable quality, and therefore must take care to make very much of him and his servants; that my master was very much fatigued, and it was dinner time, and he must order all things that were necessary. He answered I need only tell him what provision I wanted for the kitchen, and he would order his servants to fetch it immediately.I told him we always kept three tables, the first for the gentlemen and pages, the second for the butler and under officers, and the third for the footmen, grooms, and other liveries; for all which tables he must furnish one ox, two calves, four sheep, twelve pullets, six capons, two dozen pigeons, six pounds of bacon for larding, four pounds of sugar, two of all sorts of spice, a hundred eggs, half a dozen dishes of fish, a pot of wine to every plate, and six hogsheads to stand by. He blessed himself, as if he had seen all the devils in hell, and answered:”If all that your worship speaks of be only for the servants’ tables, the whole village will not be able to furnish the master’s.”
I replied: “My master is such a worthy person that he had rather see the servants made much of than please himself; and therefore he and his friends never put their landlords to any more charge than a dish of imperial stuffed meat, with an egg in it.”He asked me what that stuffed meat was made of, and I bid him order me a new laid egg, a squab pigeon, and two loads of coals, and to send for a cobbler with his awl and ends, and a gravedigger with his spade, and then he should know what else was wanting, that he might provide it whilst we were at work. The landlord went and fetched what I demanded except the two loads of coals. I took the egg and the pigeon, which I gutted, and cutting it open enough with my knife (for I had all my tools about me) I clapped the egg into the belly of it; then said I to him: Sir, take notice this egg is in the pigeon, the pigeon is to be put into a partridge, the partridge into a pheasant, the pheasant into a pullet, the pullet into a turkey, the turkey into a kid, the kid into a sheep, the sheep into a calf, the calf into a cow; all these creatures are to be pulled, flead and larded, except the cow, which is to have her hide on; and as they are thrust one into another, like a nest of boxes, the cobbler is to sew every one of them with an end, that they may not slip out; and when they are all fast sewed into the cow’s belly, the gravedigger is to throw up a deep trench, into which one load of coals is to be cast, and the cow laid on top of it; the other load upon her, the fuel set on fire to burn about four hours, more or less, when the meat being taken out, is incorporated, and becomes such a delicious dish that formerly the emperors used to dine upon it on their coronation day; for which reason, and because an egg is the foundation of all that curious mess, it was called the imperial egg stuffed meat.”The landlord, who stood listening to me with his mouth open, and no more motion than a statue, gave such entire credit to all I said, because I spoke so seriously, and was very earnest to have the ingredients, that, squeezing me by the hand, he said, “Sir, I am very poor”; and I, understanding what he would be at, answered, “Fear nothing.” Then leading him into the kitchen, we agreed the matter very well between us, and I told my master he was very poor indeed, and ruined by our troops, having had all his cattle stolen. My master ordered he should not be oppressed, and left the management of him to me.The other servants, observing that I had plenty of wine in the kitchen, and was supplied with choice bits, suspected the fraud, and informed my master, who upon inquiry found just the contrary to what I had told him. He sent for my landlord and discovered all my roguery. My master upon this paid me a visit in the kitchen and, taking up one of the nearest cudgels he found about it, dusted my jacket so furiously that he wanted a cook for a fortnight.During our stay here we were attacked by a parcel of French scoundrels. My master ordered me out with the rest, but I kept back, fearing a chance bullet might mistake me for somebody else. But when I heard the French were beaten, I ventured into the field with my drawn sword, hacking and hewing the dead carcasses in a furious manner. It happened, as a special instance of my valour, that as I came up to one of the enemies to give him half a dozen good gashes, thinking he was as dead as the rest, at the first stroke I let fall he gave such a dreadful groan that I was quite terrified, and thinking he made a motion to get up to be revenged on me, I had not the courage to stay so long to draw my sword out again, but faced about, and ran as fast as I could to the place our baggage was, looking back a thousand times for fear he should overtake me. I bought a good sword of one who had been in the pursuit, and some other booty, boasting all about the army that I had gained it in the fight. I met my master, who, being brought along desperately wounded, and past all hopes, said to me: “You scoundrel! why did you not do as I ordered you?” I answered: “Because, sir, I was afraid to be in your condition.” He was carried into the town, where he soon ended his days, for want of being so discreet as I. He left me, rather out of his own innate goodness and generosity than for any good service I had done him, a horse and fifty ducats. God grant him fifty thousand ages of bliss for his kindness, and double that term to anyone who shall hereafter so far oblige me as to do the like.