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The Subsequent Life and Opinions of Thomas Haxby, Chapter 1

September 20th, 2018 (09:22 am)
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It's ages since I've posted any writing here, so I've decided I'll gradually add a few of the Draco/Hermione stories I've written recently, plus the story I'm currently writing (and have been for over a year!), The Subsequent Life and Opinions of Thomas Haxby.

Harlots is a tiny fandom; I'm the only person on AO3 writing this pairing in English! The TV series is set in 1750s London, where one in five women, it says, makes a living from sex. It follows the adventures of a group of prostitutes, and its message is that, although women are always at a disadvantage in 18th century society, if they're willing to use their sexual assets, with skill and with some luck, they can still have agency. The women refer to themselves as 'harlots' as a positive alternative to 'whores'.

This story is a sort of spin-off, giving two of the characters their own adventure, which starts in the middle of an AU season two. It's called 'subsequent' because, in canon, poor Mr Haxby suffers a disastrous 'change of circumstance' at the end of season 1 (and doesn't appear in season 2).



Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Thomas Haxby/Charlotte Wells
Summary: Mr Haxby is obsessed with God, eternal damnation, and Miss Charlotte Wells—though not necessarily in that order—and Miss Charlotte Wells is looking for a man she need not pretend with.
Author's Note: The entire story so far is already posted here.

Chapter 1: In which I experience another change of circumstance.

When Lady Caroline dismissed me, and then proved steadfast in her determination to be rid of me, I used part of my savings to secure a room near the Inns of Court, and found employment as a scrivener, copying documents for members of the legal profession.

The work is time-consuming, tedious, and poorly paid, but it permits me to pay my rent in advance, eat regularly, have my linen laundered, and allow myself the occasional visit to Greene's chocolate house to read the news sheets, enjoy a cup of chocolate, and...

My life would be quite tolerable were it not for my nightly torments.

Day and night, I dream of her.

Awake, I am distracted by memories of her voice, her face, her body; sleeping, I see her in my nightmares, naked, tempting me, until I fall and awaken utterly degraded, drenched in sweat and soaked in my own emissions, and still aching for her.

I have seen the corporeal Charlotte Wells only twice since the night she and I fought our last battle and she emerged victorious. Once, walking past Greene's, I spied her entering on the arm of some foppish fool I could see she despised. The second time, my work having taken me early to a certain part of the Town, I saw her returning, tired and dishevelled, to the house of one Lydia Quigley, a bawd who, my subsequent enquiries discovered, is notorious for her ill treatment of whores...

I try to banish Miss Wells from my thoughts, and return to my work.

...some men feel their lust as hate,” she whispers.

“Leave me in peace, woman!” I cry.

But Miss Charlotte Wells does not know the meaning of mercy.

Tonight, I have a different dream.

I dream that Miss Wells knocks at my door and asks to be admitted.

She does not explain why she needs shelter.

She sleeps on my bed whilst I work. We share my supper. And then she takes my hand and, bringing it to her bosom, she says, “This is all I have to give you in return, Mr Haxby,” and...

I am summoned to the chambers of Lewis and Lewis, Solicitors, by 'young' Mr Johnson, the ancient clerk.

“His Grace has asked to see you,” he says.

“His Grace?”

“His Grace, the Duke of Malmesbury, whose affairs we are honoured to manage,” says Mr Johnson, enunciating the words as though speaking to a Bedlamite. “I trust you know how to behave in the presence of a peer of the realm?”

I nod.

“Good. Then comb your hair, straighten your neckcloth, and try to make a good impression.”

There is nothing wrong with my hair, but I run a hand through it to appear willing, re-tie my neckcloth, and tap on the door of Mr Lewis senior's office.

“Come,” he calls.

I enter, diffidently, and Mr Lewis performs a formal introduction.

His Grace, the Duke of Malmesbury, is a slight man of advanced years, dressed tastefully but unfashionably in a plain suit of chocolate-brown silk, his one extravagance being a cravat of sumptuous Flemish lace. Like me, he wears his own hair, tied neatly in a queue. His face is roundish and has a regularity that might make a fool think him foolish, but his dark eyes sparkle with intelligence, and with mischief in equal measure.

My impression is of a man who charms because he can command.

I bow, and rise to find him studying me. There is something unsettling in his regard; it is as though I were a prize animal he hopes to breed...

“Are you the Haxby,” he says, “that lately served Lord Howard and his widow?”

“I am, Your Grace,” I say, hoping he will not enquire too closely into the circumstance of my dismissal.

He appraises me again, and I begin to wonder if his tastes are natural.

“Mr Lewis tells me that you are the man responsible for copying my papers so meticulously, Haxby,” he says, “and that you recently drew his attention to a mistake in one of the originals.”

“I had that honour, Your Grace,” I reply, with a slight bow.

“Then I have a proposition for you, Haxby,” he says. “I have a library of several thousand books—some ancient, most of them recently acquired—family papers, maps of my estate, and so on, and I need a man to put them in order. I believe you would find the stipend generous”—he has obviously noticed my worn cuffs—“and there could well be another advantage associated with the situation.”

This last part convinces me that His Grace's tastes are not natural, though I fail to see why a man who could, presumably, afford to keep an entire house full of catamites would have an interest in me.

“You need not give me your answer immediately, Haxby. Consider my offer for a day or two, and make your decision known to me by way of Mr Lewis.”

“If I may, Your Grace,” I say, because, on balance, I would rather spend my time fending off unwelcome advances—God knows, I have successfully ignored, save once, invitations more appealing than a Duke's—than face a life of drudgery and slow starvation in a garret in the City of London, “I do not need time to consider. I accept your generous offer, with thanks.” I bow deeply.

“Wonderful!” says His Grace. “Mr Lewis, make the necessary arrangements. I trust that Haxby, here, can be released from any copying-work he may currently have in hand.”

The next day, I arrive at Mereworth House, the seat of the Duke of Malmesbury, having spent the morning packing up my few possessions and quarrelling with the landlord over the return of the rent I had paid in advance, and having travelled in His Grace's carriage, which he kindly sent for me.

My box and bag are whisked away by the House boy, and I am shown to the Estate Office, where I am welcomed by the Steward, Mr Bowles, who tells me I am to join His Grace in the Orangerie for tea.

I enter the Orangerie cautiously. My previous master, Lord Howard, often confided in me, and could sometimes be inappropriately familiar, but he never went so far as to drink tea with me. I find His Grace sitting beneath an orange tree. With his small stature, and his plain suit of a peculiar purple-grey colour, he looks for all the world like a benevolent satyr, waiting for a nymph, or perhaps a shepherd, to enter his grove.

“Welcome, Haxby! Take a seat!” He gestures towards a chair and, nervously, I sit down. “We are just waiting for the lady of the house—ah, here she is!” he adds, with genuine delight.

I hear the rustle of silk accompanied by light footsteps, and then: “Mr Haxby...?”

I would know her voice anywhere and, I am so surprised, I not only turn my back on His Grace, I cry: “Miss Wells!”

In all of my imaginings she has never appeared so lovely. She is dressed in a gown of sea-green silk, which contrives to be both modest and yet not quite, she is neither painted nor patched, but her cheeks have a natural flush, and her luxuriant hair, though uncovered, is arranged neatly, in a soft, simple style, with rolls that fall over one shoulder.

Like a simpleton, I turn to His Grace for an explanation.

“I gather, Haxby,” he says, “that you are already acquainted with Miss Wells?”

“He is,” Miss Wells answers and, knowing her as I do, I can see that she is as surprised to see me as I to see her.

“Haxby is to be our librarian, my dear,” says His Grace to Miss Wells. “And, in addition to sorting and cataloguing the books, he will assist you in your demonstrations. I shall leave it to you to instruct him.”

“Demonstrations, your Grace...?” I look from His Grace to Miss Wells. She has the most peculiar expression on her face; we are both aware that the boot is now on the other foot.

“Demonstrations of a philosophical nature, Mr Haxby, for His Grace's friends,” she says, as though that makes my fate any clearer.

“I hope you will be a good boy,” says Miss Wells, the moment she and I are alone together, heading for the Library, “and learn your lessons well, Mr Haxby.”

“Will you birch me if I do not, Miss Wells?” I find myself replying.