Sneak peek at THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS, Book Two of the Berkeley Trilogy.
They had six children in all, Billy and Lydia, and, despite Berkeley's handouts, gave the impression of being on the edge of penury. Billy's role as Clerk of the Peace for Gloucestershire to Edward Bloxsome entailed little more than title and fee. The attorney was in no position to protest and any failing in duty which had to be made good by that gentleman, or a third party, his lordship knew, would be charged to his account under one heading or another. When the Tudors lived on Admiral Sir George Cranfield Berkeley's doorstep at Chichester, it was hard to see how Billy could supervise beyond token appearances.
Despite an education at Vincennes Academy under his lordship's aegis, Billy was still uncomfortable among the nobility. The elevation in status had been thrust upon him and arose from neither striving nor strength of character. Nor had an empathy with the French forsaken him. He recognised that he was a tool to facilitate Berkeley's schemes and the rewards were poor. Berkeley was the worst offender in slighting him to his face, but Lydia had grown fat and peevish in latter years.
The hard grind of bearing and rearing children on a paltry income, with next to no help, had embittered her. She had risen from being Susan Cole's maid to that lady's closest companion back in the early nineties. They had been good days, full of laughter and entertainment, shopping sprees in Old Bond Street, and an expensive toilette. Lydia's parental home had resembled her present household, milling children, a running sequel of ailments and an income that could barely be stretched to cover their needs, let alone the finer things for which she had developed a taste. She'd had to go into service at fourteen and Susan was her first mistress. She'd admired Susan, her wit, her good-natured exploitation of men. Susan knew how to play to the gallery. It rubbed off on everyone around her. Susan had the power to create pleasure. Lydia had wanted Billy because he was Susan's brother, convinced that no real harm could come to her under the umbrella of Susan's charm. In a way, she had been right. When Susan had become Mrs Heyward and gone her ways to America, Lydia's lot had turned decidedly sour. Her husband whined that Berkeley was a thorough-paced cad and spent many hours a week under a cloud of morose anger.
“Time you stood your ground, Billy,” she declared. She was flushed as a Blenheim Orange from the kitchen fire where their jacket potato supper lodged among the coals. “The sacrifices we've made for them!”
Billy was leaning on the table, poring over the Weekly Political Register in a lacklustre fashion. Listening to Lydia, he was persuaded that, left to themselves in the first place, they'd have made a decent fist of things. He couldn't go around citing his noble connections when he could not live the part. The whole farrago was a rat's nest.
“The price of silence,” he grumbled.
“They've every reason to be grateful to you. High time they showed a bit of respect!”
“Can't tilt with the Upper Ten. They make the laws. Berkeley's a powerful influence. He saw Farren in jail to get hold of my sister!”
“He wouldn't have needed to if she hadn't insisted on being a plaster saint!”
“That's Mary for you. And she didn't want to upset Ma.”
“It never bothered Susan. Or Ann, come to that.”
“Is Aunt Mary a proper Lady?” asked Adolphus as he steered his toy schooner between the creamer and the sugar bowl. His expression of wry perplexity seemed to speak volumes. “This is a revenue cutter,” he said. “It can cut through all the revenues in the A'lantic.”
“Susan took life by the horns!”
“I'm going to be a pirate,” interjected Adolphus. “I'm going to America to see Aunt Susan.”
“Good for you, son, but if that creamer capsizes, you'll get flogged around the Fleet.”
“Billy!” cried Lydia “I mean it!” The hair had fallen down from her topknot and was frazzled by steam from boiled hocks and lentils, a smell he associated with pecuniary disadvantage. He sometimes wondered why he had married her, but vaguely supposed he had wanted to do the right thing when she had surrendered her virtue so hospitably. “Ady, take yourself off. Keep a watch on the baby. The kitchen's a perilous place for tackers.”
“Little pitchers have big ears,” said Billy. “You should mind what you say in front of the children, else we'll all be garotted with cheese wire.”
“I'm not jesting!”
“What can I do, woman?” he shouted, smartly pushing back his chair and standing up. “We risk our necks or the Poor House! Berkeley's our meal-ticket!”
Subdued, Lydia put down her wooden spoon. After a moment's reflection, she said pointedly: “I won't be garotted. I had nothing to do with it.”
He caught her eye in a split second of mutiny. It was the first time he was conscious of a fissure in the framework. He had a mental image of breaking glass.
“Susan taught me a lot,” Lydia said. “She knew how to get what she wanted. We've put up with a basketful of trouble from the Berkeleys.”
“But you seem to forget,” he retaliated, “you're canaille and so am I!”
“I've told you before, Billy, I don't understand French words.”
“It means the Quality still have the whip hand. The Revolution hasn't reached this island.”
“Susan never thought that way. She was worth a thousand of them.”
“I have the greatest affection for my sister, but she was always a law unto herself.”
“She knew how to ape the Quality and play them at their own game. But we don't have money for tippets and tiffany.”
Billy promptly found his seat again. “No,” he responded in a sinister tone, “I'll swear that's exactly what that blackguard wants. He intends to keep us in our place lest we speak out of turn to someone of consequence.”
Lydia considered the darkening sky. “I often wonder what the Admiral thinks about it all. Perhaps you should have a private word. It could do wonders behind the scenes...coming from him.”
“And place us in jeopardy! I can't do that.”
“Why not? He has a right to know the truth, fair and square. You can be sure he won't speak of it abroad. It'll show him that you weren't a willing accomplice. You were acting...what is it they say...under duress?”
“Lydia! To petition him would be blackmail. Anyway, he's in some remote outpost.”
“No, he's not, then. I know something you don't.” Lydia was balancing on tiptoe like a child who couldn't wait to grow. “I ran into Mr Stickler in Eastgate the other day...”
“...and what do you think? That fellow Ferryman's turned up like a bad penny. I recollect you mentioned meeting him at the Castle...”
“That was donkey's years ago. Sailed off with Sir George after some contretemps with the Earl.”
“Well, he went again, a twelvemonth ago, but the Admiral's been ordered home from North America. He's at Bosham right now, has been for months.”
Billy's heart beat a little faster. “I can't do it, Lydia. I'll not go telling tales.”
“What you'll not go doing,” retorted Lydia acidly, “is letting him know you don't have the gumption to earn a decent living!”
That day brought home to Billy that he and his wife could no longer be considered comrades-in-arms against the world.
That day brought home to Lydia that her fortune was in her own hands.
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...