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3. Offy's Ditch

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Dr. Barrieuw keeps a charity hospital in Houndsditch in a vile part of London for folk whom the rest of society chuses to forget – and for anyone else who needs his services.  On one of his occasional forays outside his dark world, he meets a rich spinster, Theophilia, who runs her own affairs and is used to kicking into shape everyone who dares cross or disobey her.  Yet Barrieuw’s hospital is becoming perilously short of space, and his own private fortune is running out … with cameo appearances by William Hogarth and others!

309,639 words

 First Page...


Anne Hauden ©


                        It was not especially busy yet, though the premises were growing busier, for still was it early in the day, as far as stomachs that needed dinner were concerned at least, but then, much depended on the habitual hours kept, and one’s habituation to an hour of feeding.  Thus, patrons were already finding their way to the sign of the Cross Keys Inn and entering through its doorway into the welcoming warmth, which provided much relief from the cold damp of the air without, as the moisture lifted from cobbles and flagstones and gutter and gravel alike, and caused the pedestrian to feel as shiversome and wretched as he might were it raining, and the dull, leaden, dreary sky, laden with curling shifting cloud, lent substance to that discomfort.  Here and within, however, a fire burned, set deep in a hearth and sheltered by a rail, so that customers could warm themselves and not be burned, for in recent years there had been a real danger of that, what with the wide coatskirts of menfolk, which some had worn even stiffened with wire, but there was less of that now; and here, in the City, one hardly saw it at all any more.  At any rate, one was not to stand before the fire for too long, and not merely because of the risks à la mode; no-one objected if a newcomer hurried thither to shed the cold shudders from his person or dry his damp self as soon as he was come in off the street, but were he to loll there awhile, a fellow patron might ask him to move a little, for the fire served the whole room, a large one at that, divided into bays like wooden pews or booths with tall screens, each supporting a settle on either side, and when two settles faced each other, there was a trestle table with a pewter candlestick in between.  The very middle of the chamber was occupied by loose tables and chairs, with the tapster’s counter ahead, aside whereof were doors from whence pot-boys and waiters emerged with the patrons’ orders.

            The scene, with men about their tables, in their wigs or not, some unpowdered, in their suits of broadcloth, Holland, stuffs and English worsted, some with tankards, some with the coffee-pot, and most with a platter or twain, afforded some pleasure to one of the clients, as did the mixed aroma of roast meat, coffee, and hearth smoke, for, though there was some noise, the place was relatively peaceful, upon which he did comment.

            “I mark,” he added,” how on these benches, no-one resorts to the pipe, and that those who do will sit nigh doors or windows.”

            “’Tis an unwritten law of the house, or o’ most houses, “ quoth one of his table companions, who was a big, long, dark man of substantial good looks, and affecting a rather novel fashion whereby folk wore their own hair, albeit that hitherto, only members of the lower orders might so have done.  “Nevertheless,” he appended, “if it doth happen that a fellow will come into this column and fill the atmosphere wi’ tobacco funk, there will inevitably be a hurly-burly, sometimes resulting in Tower Hill play (lit.: ‘a slap on the face and a kick in the breech’) if the booby attempts to stand on his pantables  (stand on one’s dignity) – assuming that folk with such habitudes, who indulge ’em where they should not, have any.”

            “I like my clay pipe after a good feed,” mused the third fellow, a man of comfortably robust appearance and in middle age, clad in a full suit of Norwich crepe bearing black laces at his cuff-buttons, button-holes and waistcote, as he indicated the younger and bigger of his fellows, before turning to the first of their party, “but when I dine wi’ our good friend Barrieuw here, who gave up the tobacco habit long ago, I will refrain therefrom, and it costs...

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Grateful thanks to The Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut,
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,
Michael Judkins, at Pexels.