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«The Repentant Rake», Edward Marston

Edward Marston

'The pleasure past, a threat'ning doubt remains,

That frights th'enjoyer with succeeding pains.'

A Satyr Against Mankind: Lord Rochester

 

Chapter One

'London is a veritable cesspool!' he said, banging the table with a bunched fist. 'A swamp of corruption and crime.'

Christopher shrugged. 'It has its redeeming features, Sir Julius.'

'Does it?'

'I think so.'

'Well, I've never seen any of them. A capital city should be the jewel of the nation, not a running sewer. The place disgusts me, Mr Redmayne. It's full of arrogant fools and strutting fops. Babylon was a symbol of decency compared to it. Immorality runs riot in London. Whores and rogues people its streets. Drunkards and gamesters haunt it by night. Foul disease eats into its vitals. And the worst villains of all are those who sit in Parliament and allow this depravity to spread unchecked.'

The tirade continued. Christopher Redmayne listened patiently while his host unburdened himself of his trenchant views. Sir Julius Cheever was not a man to be interrupted. He charged into a conversation like a bull at a gate and it was wise to offer him no further obstruction. Sir Julius was a wealthy farmer, big, brawny, opinionated and forthright. Now almost sixty, he bore the scars of war with honour on his rubicund face but it was his wounded soul that was now on display. The oak table was pounded once again. Eyes flashed.

'Why, in the bowels of Christ, did we let this happen?' he demanded. 'Did we spill all that blood to end up with something even worse than we had before? Has there been no progress at all? London is nothing but a monument to sin.'

'Then I am bound to wonder why you wish to build a house there, Sir Julius,' said Christopher gently. 'Given your low opinion of the capital, I would have thought you'd shun rather than seek to inhabit the place.'

'Necessity, Mr Redmayne. Necessity drives me there.'

'Against your will, by the sound of it.'

'My conscience has subdued my will.'

Christopher found it difficult to believe that anything could subdue Sir Julius Cheever's will. He positively exuded determination. Once set on a course of action, he would not be deflected from it. Evidently, his obstinacy and blunt manner would not make him an easy client but Christopher was prepared to make allowances. The commission appealed to him. In the interests of securing it, he was prepared to tolerate the old man's rasping tongue and uncompromising views.

'Let me explain,' said Sir Julius, legs apart and hands on his hips. 'I'm an unrepentant Parliamentarian and I don't care who knows it. I fought at Naseby, Bristol, Preston, Dunbar and Worcester with the rank of colonel. You can see the results,' he added, indicating the livid scar on his cheek, the healed gash above one eye and the missing ear. 'The Lord Protector saw fit to reward me with a knighthood and I was grateful. Not that I agreed with everything he did, mark you, because I did not and he was left in no doubt about that. I favoured deposition of the king, not his execution. That was a cruel mistake. We are still paying for it.'

'You spoke of conscience, Sir Julius.'

'That is what is taking me to London.'

'For what reason?'

'To begin the process of cleansing it, of course. To root out vice before it takes too firm a hold. I'm not a man to stand back when there's important work to do, Mr Redmayne. I have a sense of duty.'

'I can see that.'

'Parliament needs people like me. Honest, upstanding, Godfearing men who will lead the fight against the creeping evil that has invaded our capital. I will shortly be elected as one of the members for the county of Northampton and look to knock a few heads together when I get to Westminster.'

Christopher smiled. 'I wish that I could see you in action, Sir Julius.'

'Fighting is in my blood. I'll not mince my words.'

'You'll cause quite a stir in the seat of government.'

'The seat of government deserves to be kicked hard and often.' Sir Julius gave a harsh laugh then stopped abruptly to pluck at his moustache.

They were in the parlour of the Cheever farmhouse in Northamptonshire. It was a big, sprawling, timber-framed structure, built with Tudor solidity but little architectural inspiration. The room was large, the oak floor gleaming and the bulky items of furniture suggesting money rather than taste. Christopher suspected that the place had looked identical for at least half a century. Sir Julius Cheever belonged there. He had the same generous dimensions, the same ignorance of fashion and the same hopelessly dated air. Yet there was something strangely engaging about him. Beneath the surface bluster, Christopher detected an essentially good man, given to introspection and animated by motives of altruism. He could see that Sir Julius would be a loyal friend but an extremely dangerous enemy.

Christopher was seated in a high-backed chair but his host remained on his feet. Stroking his moustache, Sir Julius studied his guest carefully before speaking.

'Thank you for coming so promptly, Mr Redmayne,' he said.

'Your letter implied urgency.'

'I make decisions quickly.'

'And are you firmly resolved to have a town house in London?'

'Now that I am to sit in Parliament, it is unavoidable.'

'There may be some delay, Sir Julius,' warned Christopher. 'Houses are not built overnight. When you first come to London, you will have to find other accommodation.'

Sir Julius waved a hand. 'That's all taken care of,' he said dismissively. 'My daughter, Brilliana, lives in Richmond with her dolt of a husband. I'll lodge with them until my own abode is 'complete. The sooner it's ready, the better.'

'I, too, can work quickly when required.'

'That's what I was told.'

'Does that mean you are engaging me to design your new house?'


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