Blood’s Revolution: the lost chapter

This blog is basically a deleted chapter from my forthcoming novel Blood’s Revolution (out October 2018 in hardback). One of the villains of the book is a fictional 17th-century gangster called Patrick Maguire, who runs a criminal empire in the Liberty of the Savoy, an area of London south of the Strand, between Charing Cross and Temple Bar. Maguire is a horrible man, who rules by fear and violence and who takes a tithe off all the other criminals living in the Savoy. I wrote this chapter as a way of setting up Patrick Maguire’s character but my very clever and talented editor at Bonnier Zaffre, Katherine Armstrong, said she though it was unnecessary, detracted from the main thrust of the story, and therefore should be cut from the book. I agreed with her, so I cut it. But I’m loath to let it go to waste. So, here it is, a lost chapter from Blood’s Revolution, which was partly inspired by George MacDonald Fraser’s wonderful, brutal and evocative book about bare-knuckle boxing: Black Ajax (see book cover above). This chapter will only see the light of day on this website. I hope you enjoy it!


The lost chapter
If a magistrate had asked him his profession, Robert Boswell would have politely pulled off his hat, humbly ducked his dark head and said, “Ostler, your honour”. Although God forbid that a person like that should take such an interest in him. In fact, Boswell had worked for a dozen years in his youth at the White Hart Inn near Guildford, caring for the horses of travellers, giving the animals food and water, fresh straw, brushing them down, making them comfortable in their stalls for the night. 

He had a genuine gift for horses and, despite his large size, his clumsiness and uncommon physical strength, he was always gentle with his equine guests. He liked and understood these beasts and they instinctively trusted him. He had lived at the White Hart with his mother, who served in the tap room, since he was small and for many years they both thought themselves content. But that placid, comfortable, dull life had not been enough for young Bobby – he had a wandering spirit inside him, his mother always said, which she attributed to Robert’s Romani blood from his father, Lash Boswell. And that spirit would not allow him to bide anywhere for very long.

One day, a few weeks before his eighteenth birthday, Robert Boswell fell in love. Not, as might be expected, with a girl. But with a horse, a jet black, beautiful and haughty three-year-old mare that a gentleman from Southampton left his care.

When the inn guests had settled down for the night, Boswell, without thinking at all about what he was doing, saddled the horse, who he renamed Daisy, led her out of the stables and rode her off into the night, cantering away along the main road. He had no clear idea where he was going and no plan for what he might do when he got there. He just knew that he had to possess Daisy. So he got on her back and rode.

Sometime about the middle of the next day, soaked by a rainstorm, exhausted, saddle sore, and finding himself far to the east of Guildford in the lush county of Kent, Bobby came to his senses. He was appalled by his actions. And terrified. He knew that even if he were to bring Daisy back to the White Hart right away, even if he were to confess his mistake, blame it on a brain convulsion, he would still be arrested for theft and thrown into Guildford gaol. He’d been away too long. He could not imagine the magistrate handing down any other penalty except the ultimate one.

Bobby rode on, and by now he had fallen out of love with the equally exhausted, mud-spattered and sulking animal that bore him. But he finally arrived at a plan. 

He would go to his father. He recalled from Lash’s infrequent visits to the White Hart that there was a seasonal gypsy encampment near Maidstone, not far he believed from where he was now. He dismounted in a wood, rubbed down Daisy and tied her to a tree and then he slept for a few hours. The next day, by luck and by asking several suspicious Kentish locals, he managed to find the encampment, and though his father was not there at that time, he was known, and Bobby Boswell managed to establish his credentials. Daisy, even dirty and unkempt and behaving badly, was admired by all in the gypsy camp, more than admired, lusted after even, and the headman asked Boswell if she might be for sale. And hour or two later, Bobby had sold that beautiful creature for sixteen shillings, more money than he had ever held in his hand, and the young man was launched on his new vocation as a horse thief.

Bobby Boswell had made his living so ever since. He had made a home for himself in the Liberty of the Savoy – because that made it far less likely that he would ever be asked his name or his profession by a magistrate in that lawless parish. He lived in a single cold and draughty room above an abandoned stable down by the river, where he sometimes briefly kept the animals he had stolen while he worked on changing their appearances, with dyes and shears, before selling them on to his Romani friends. 

His father had been helpful in his first months as a horse-napper – before Lash Boswell’s sudden death of apoplexy in Greenwich after a three-day drinking bout at the Crossed Keys – and he had introduced kindly him to several clans of travelling folk who were eager to buy his beasts and sell them on in other parts of the country.

In the three years that Boswell had been engaging in his trade, he had honed his art. He had begun by sneaking into the stables of remote inns and stealing any horses he could get his hands on from under the noses of the inn’s ostlers, then riding off faster than pursuit could be organised. Or by using his strength to waylay drunken riders, haul them off their mounts in dark alleys, overpower them and ride away on their beasts. But over the years, he had developed systems for identifying expensive horses and stealing only those likely to make him a decent profit. He now had a network of ostlers all over the inns of London and its outlying town who, in exchange for a cut of the sale money, sent runners to inform him when fine horses were stabled with them. They also ensured that stable gates were left unlocked and that blind eyes were turned where necessary. Everyone was making good money, and Boswell was amassing a small fortune in coin that he hoped one day to be able to use to buy a horse farm all of his own. But Bobby Boswell was a greedy man, and for all his skill with horses, a rather stupid one. With his increasing prosperity, and with the nearing prospect of being able to afford the farm land of his dreams, resentment grew at the tithe he was required to pay the Lords of the Liberty for every beast that he stole. 

His resentment stemmed from the value that the Maguire family placed on the stolen horses. They calculated their cut based on the value of the beast in an open, honest market. So, if a spirited three-year-old was worth five pounds at Newmarket, the Maguires wanted ten shillings as their tenth. In fact, Boswell could only sell such a stolen beast to his gypsy friends for two or three pounds at best. Accordingly, he felt he was paying over the odds for the Maguires’ protection. It was most unjust.

He had raised this with Michael Maguire in a friendly fashion, appealing to his sense of fair play, when the man came round to the stable with his collecting bag and list. He was paying far more than a tenth to the family, Bobby complained, he was in fact paying twice as much as he should. Michael, a squat, round-faced man with a deep knife scar along the line of his left cheekbone, laughed in his face. 

“Your tithe has been set by the big man himself, Bobby,” said Michael. “There’s a feeling that you don’t work so hard for your bread as some of the other filching coves hereabouts. So pay up, man, smile like a good ’un, or face the consequences!”

Boswell then made his first mistake. He was a young man, impulsive, unusually strong and his success as a horse thief had made him cocksure. “I will not pay you another fucking penny, Mickey Maguire,” he said, anger singing in his veins. “I don’t need your so-called protection – I’ll look after myself,” and he seized the smaller man by the throat and lifted him off his feet, then shook him like terrier with a rat. “You and your brothers best stay out of my way, if you know what’s good for you.”

That had been three months ago.  A day later, calmer now, wary of retaliation, and warned by everyone he knew in the Savoy that he was inviting catastrophe, Boswell hired two Romani hard men, experts with knives, to watch his back in the Liberty and guard his home when he was abroad on his business in London and elsewhere. But these men were expensive – indeed, they cost almost as much as paying off the Maguires. After three months with no response from the overlords of the Savoy, Boswell felt they had taken his point. He sent a boy, a neighbour’s son, to Patrick Maguire, the patriarch of the clan, with a fat pouch of silver and a message of conciliation and said he would be happy to pay them a tenth part of his earnings from now on, but only on the amount he received when he sold the stolen horses – not their legal value. The boy returned with word from the Maguire chieftain that this would be acceptable. Let bygone be bygones, the message said. So Boswell dismissed the two Romani knife-men, thanked them, and continued in his profession.

That was his second mistake.

They jumped him three nights later, when Boswell was coming out of The Grapes after a skinful of Barbados rum. He had stolen a lovely thoroughbred gelding from a stables in Cheltenham, taken it far north to sell at a horse fair in Cumbria and made himself a nice pile of silver, and now home in the Savoy, he was celebrating with some friends. It was long past midnight when he reeled out the The Grapes and began to stagger down the street towards the river and his draughty little home above the stable, just along from the free school that Father Palmer had set up in the spring. 

Five men came out piling of shadowy doorways and seized him, two battening on to his arms, two on his legs, and the last man smashing him over the back of the head with a lead-weighed cosh, knocking instantly him out of this world. His last thought, before everything went dark, was: “I’m a dead man”. So it was with some surprise that he found himself regaining consciousness half an hour later, when Mickey Maguire dashed a freezing jug of muddy river water in his face. 

Boswell was tied to a chair, very securely, and although he strained with all his might he was unable to move more an inch or two. His head was throbbing badly from the rum and the crack on the skull, pulsing quickly and painfully in time to his own racing heart. He was in an empty warehouse beside the river, he recognised the place, not three hundred yards from his own little stable – but very far from home.

There were three other men in the darkling warehouse with him, he could just make them out by the yellow light of a single lantern hung from the ceiling. Jacob Creech was there, a swift, silent, cadaverous man with long greasy hair, who was one of the Maguires’ closest associates, Mickey himself, and a third figure, bigger than either of the other two, on the far side of the warehouse, half hidden by the gloom. Boswell was surprised to find that his coat, boots, shirt, breeches, indeed, all his clothes had been removed, and he was wearing nothing but his old linen drawers.

He started to talk: “Now, you listen to me, Mickey Maguire, just listen to me for one moment. I thought we had a deal, I thought we had come to an arrangement that was satisfactory to us all . . . but if you are unhappy, I am sure we can find a better solution. I’m sorry that I was rough with you, Mickey, very sorry. It was the heat of the moment, like, a mistake. But no harm was done and I’m willing to make amends. Why don’t you cut me free now and we’ll talk it over, all friendly-like.”

Mickey smiled at him. It was a horrible expression, no friendliness in it, just an overbrimming of joyful menace. He was wearing a periwig, an expensive blond item that didn’t quite fit him, no doubt stolen from a gentleman’s head. It looked incongruous with the rest of his grimy, shabby attire. Beyond Mickey, Boswell could see the big man approaching from the far side of the warehouse, and he was quite taken aback to see that, Patrick Maguire was half naked too. He had stripped off all his own clothes, save for a pair of tight linen breeches and his thick-soled leather boots. The man was truly massive, a giant slab of muscle and fat, six foot five inches tall, his naked torso thickly furred with wiry black hair, but his lumped and misshapen head was shaved down to a grey stubble. His eyes, small, glittering, black as sin, looked from under a thick ridge of brow. His nose was a squashed, broken lump in a face battered by decades of battle.

“Mister Maguire, sir, there seems to have been a bit of misunderstanding here. And I am truly sorry if I have caused you any trouble or offence or . . .”

“Be quiet, son,” rumbled Patrick Maguire. “Don’t rile me with your jabbering.”

Boswell immediately shut his mouth.

Patrick Maguire looked at his younger brother. “Take that absurd thing off. Now. You’re no gentleman, never will be. I don’t want to see you wearing that stupid item again.”

Mickey Maguire hurriedly pulled the ridiculous wig off his head and shoved it into the pocket of his shabby coat. Patrick nodded, then turned his gaze on Bobby.

“You have challenged me,” he said, his voice was slow, deep, rich as molasses. “I hereby accept your challenge. The contest will take place here. Now. Tonight.”

“I meant no disrespect, Mister Maguire, if I have somehow offended . . .”

“I said be quiet. Hush your mouth, son, and listen to what I have to say.”

Boswell fell silent again.

“You said you did not need my protection in the Liberty. That you could look after yourself. Well, tonight, son, we will find out if that is true. The contest will be fair and proper and will have the usual rules. You must keep your foot on the scratch line at all times. No butting, no biting, no gouging, no kicking, no groin punching. We fight with our bare fists till one man cannot come up to the scratch. That’s it.”

“I don’t want to fight you, sir. I just want to go home. I’ll pay you whatever you think is fair, sir. I’ll give you a full half of what I make, how does that sound . . .”

“Too late. You challenged me and I accepted. We will fight now. But I am a fair man. And this will be a fair contest. If you beat me you will go free and no Maguire, nor anyone else, will ever ask you for anything again. You’ll be free to pursue your trade in the Savoy, without fear, as long as you choose.”

“Sir, Mister Maguire, sir, I don’t wish to fight . . . I’m sorry, so very, very sorry.”

“Son, you will fight me, you will fight me right now, in a fair fight, according to the rules – or I will have Creech here cut your miserable throat for cheating me of my due, not to mention laying hands on my little brother. And then we’ll throw you, chair and all, into the river. So get up, son, toe the line and raise up your fambles.”

Boswell found he was shaking with fear or nerves or maybe just plain rage, as Mickey undid the ropes that tied him to the chair. He watched Jacob Creech scratch a single straight line in the wooden floor of the warehouse with the tip of his knife. He stood up and stretched his long arms. The Maguire bastard was big, all right, but Bobby Boswell was no weakling. He had had his share of fights over the years, won most of ’em too, and this shaven-headed bully sorely deserved a thrashing.

He stepped forward and put his left foot on the scratch.

Patrick Maguire did the same, and adopted his stance, torso leaning slightly back, both fists curled out in front of him at chest height.

Boswell swung, a lovely, quick, round-house right, which smashed into the side of Maguire’s head below the ear and rocked his opponent back, leaving the bigger man blinking in pain and surprise. Bobby immediately followed it with a straight smash with his left, directly through the centre, which landed squarely in Maguire’s face, a powerful punishing jab. With a leap of joy, he saw that blood was beginning to flow from Maguire’s already distorted nose. He swung again with his right, hard, strong, another big roundhouse – and Magure stopped it dead with his left, a solid block, then the bigger man powered in a low right that sank in above his navel.

Bobby Boswell felt as if he had been kicked in the belly by one of his stolen horses. All the breath left his body in a long, loud whoosh. His nervous system was shocked to a standstill. He was paralysed, unable to move a muscle, even to breathe. 

Then Patrick Maguire ripped him apart. 

A rib-crushing blow to the left side, then the right. And two more of the same. A hard right jab to the face, and another from the left, a right, a left jab, both crashing into his cheek, two feints from his right fist and then a big, over hand clubbing left that smashed his jaw and left it hanging loose and off centre. Bobby, barely able to stand any more, staggered away from the scratch, tottering on jelly legs, and was brutally pushed back in by Mickey, shouting, “Toe the line, matey, toe the line!”  

Bobby struck out feebly, brushing Maguire’s shoulder, and it was the last blow he landed on his opponent. The two men came together in a clinch, Bobby heaving his wet breath into Maguire’s neck. The King of the Savoy shoved Bobby away and then, with a leisurely ease, he smashed punch after punch into the man, battering his face and belly and ribs at will. Bobby reeled back, knocked here and there by the blows he could barely see, let alone stop. Maguire kept on punching at him, fists battering out like pumps, bam, bam, bam, the bigger man working his victim over in a methodical, systematic way, spreading the punishment all over Bobby’s red raw body.

Whenever, Bobby’s knees failed beneath him or he stumbled away, Creech and Mickey were at his shoulders, supporting him, lifting him, pushing him back towards the big man with the huge curled fists, urging Bobby to toe the line, toe the line. 

When he was knocked unconscious by Maguire’s big overhand left, they revived him with a bucket of water to his pulped face, and forced him back up to the scratch. 

The beating continued until Bobby Boswell could no longer be revived, with water or slaps, or the screamed exhortations of the two non-combatants. He lay curled on the floor, very nearly dead, in a pool of piss, blood and dirty water, his face raw meat, his belly and chest and sides swollen, bruised and bloated. Patrick Maguire stood over him, looming like a cliff, looking down contemptuously at his opponent.

“I thought he’s have a little more fight in him than that,” he said. The big man was barely even breathing hard. “Weak ale. Weak as piss. I’m sorely disappointed in this fella.”

“What d’you want to do with him? Into the river?” said Mickey.

“Not this time,” said Maguire. “I want the folk to see him.”

They dragged him, still half-naked and bleeding, the three hundred yards down the street to his house, and there they nailed him to his own stable door. A six-inch iron nail in each wrist, outstretched like Our Saviour, one nail in above each knee and one in each ankle. Bobby came to when they were hammering and he screamed for a good ten minutes before he was swallowed up again by his own darkness. By the morning he was stone dead, but still hanging there, pinned like an insect to the stable door, as the children went past, goggling, on their way to attend Palmer’s free school. Those of them who could already read, made out the crude letters painted in red on the wood above the corpse: “I don’t need any protection now”.


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Nick Brett
Nick Brett
5 years ago

Enjoyed that, thank you!