Excerpt: The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander (Tenderfoot - June 2014)
Chapter 1: Salstead
In which Calumny Spinks carelessly provokes Mistress Ramage
I was born to a raging Frenchy slugabed mother, sired by a sulking silk-weaver with a battered box of secrets under his floorboards. From her I got my flaming hair, so red that the scabfaced villagers of Salstead spoke of the devil’s seed, spitting in the dust for salvation when I walked past. From my father came my sharp tongue, the quick wits to talk above my station, and the shoulders to take the blows that followed.
I was the lowest fellow in Salstead. I had not even been apprenticed by this seventeenth sweaty June of my life. I had to greet men by “Master This”, and “Mister That”, thumbing my forelock. To them I was but “Boy”, a long-limbed red-haired Frenchy gawk, spinning and twisting silk like a halfwit.
The goodwives laughed behind their tippets when they passed me at the wayside, where my father Peter made me sit outside to work. “The silk must be spun in the fresh air, but woven in the dry dark,” he said. If he had his will, I would rot in that village like Squire Salstead, whose bones hung in the rusty gibbet at the crossroads.
I should have been in London, not in this Essex midden swirling with pigeon-chest men and their gossiping dry-venus wives. I was no fighter, could not read or write; but by Christ I had the smooth tongue to fool any man. And so I dreamed of becoming a city gentleman by the power of my own wit. But London was a forbidden, fading memory: of dazzling lights, the broad river bristling with sails, of laughter and scented wealth.
We once had land-title in the city, so my father was known as Mister Peter Spinks then. But he weakly let merchants cheat him from his property and his title, and now he was merely a craftsman.
My own apprenticeship had been delayed so long that in little more than two months, on my seventeenth birthday, I would lose the right to learn my craft and be called Master. And without a trade, I would never have the coin to buy my own land-title, to rise up and become Mister Calumny Spinks.