Welcome to my turn on the blog tour for Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass
Black Drop was published on 14th October 2021 by Viper books.
This is the confession of Laurence Jago. Clerk. Gentleman. Reluctant spy.
July 1794, and the streets of London are filled with rumours of revolution. Political radical Thomas Hardy is to go on trial for treason, the war against the French is not going in Britain’s favour, and negotiations with the independent American colonies are on a knife edge.
Laurence Jago – clerk to the Foreign Office – is ever more reliant on the Black Drop to ease his nightmares. A highly sensitive letter has been leaked to the press, which may lead to the destruction of the British Army, and Laurence is a suspect. Then he discovers the body of a fellow clerk, supposedly a suicide.
Blame for the leak is shifted to the dead man, but even as the body is taken to the anatomists, Laurence is certain both of his friend’s innocence, and that he was murdered. But after years of hiding his own secrets from his powerful employers, and at a time when even the slightest hint of treason can lead to the gallows, how can Laurence find the true culprit without incriminating himself?
* * * * * * * *
5 November 1794
St Dunstan’s clock strikes twelve, and in the following hush I hear Gog and Magog thud back to rest in the clock tower, empty-eyed, hammers in hand. Curious to think they do this mechanical duty even in the depths of the night, when the lamps have died, a fine sleet falls, and the watchman is the only one to observe them. Even thus will I perform this last task, with no witness in the quiet darkness except God and Mr Gibbs, my old dog, who looks likely to outlive me after all.
I betrayed myself tonight at five and twenty minutes to ten, left immediately, vomited in the gutter, and fled home on foot. It was a poor sort of flight – near two hours’ trek from Kensington through mud and icy rain – and by the time I reached Fleet Street I was limping. I felt dazed, as if I’d drunk a bottle of brandy. I wished I had that gentlemanly recourse at hand – knocked up Jeb Turner at the Cock Tavern – but he was abed, and only cursed me out of the window. So, I have resorted to more Black Drop, which has a similar effect at a fraction of the price.
There was no pursuit, not then, and in my right mind I would not expect it yet – the hammering at the door, the rush of officious feet on the steep staircase. It was past dawn when they roused the shoemaker, Hardy, threw him in the covered cart, and bore him off to prison.
I am unclear as to the true conditions to be found in the Tower. I imagine a medieval dungeon, with poor devils hang ing from chains, pulled out of shape by the rack and the screw. I do not think this a likely picture, in these enlightened times, but you can tell by Hardy’s sallow, bony face that he has suf fered. In court he is clean and decently dressed, but if he is found guilty of treason, the Ministry is determined he shall endure a medieval punishment. He will swing, see his guts burned before his face, and be chopped in four quarters for the edification of the crowd. There is no need for torture when he must live that walk to the scaffold, each night, in torment ing dreams. In France, even Robespierre broke at the prospect of the tumbril, the jeering crowd, the waiting blade. For a man so expert in killing others, he made a sad fist of suicide. Only blew off his own jaw, and went to the guillotine alive, but in agony and degradation.
But it is not arrest, or the block, I most fear tonight, as I flinch at the settling of an old floorboard on the landing out side my chamber. I wish I still had the pistol, but it is gone to the bottom of the Thames by Blackfriars Bridge, and only my own dulled wits can save me from the soft footstep I listen for, the swift blow meant to silence me for ever.
If I am taken tonight – whether by law, murder or the devil himself – these papers must speak for me. Being in my right mind, despite the Black Drop and the terror, I will give you, reader, ‘The Confession of Laurence Jago, clerk to the Foreign Office’, the truth and the whole truth, as best I recollect it.
Though time is pressing, I will write down everything I remember, for it is only in such details that you will under stand my story.
I light a new candle from the stump of the last, warm wax clotting on my fingers, and gaze for a moment into the yellow flame which spits in the damp draught from the window. Where and when to begin? The first cause for my involvement in the following tale lies in my birth, but I have no time for that tonight. Instead, I will begin with the coming of John Jay from America, in the hot days of June. It was that event which drew me down from my stool in the Foreign Office garret, and made me, at last, a person of interest.
To follow the blog tour……
About the Author
Leonora Nattrass pursued her enthusiasm for late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century literature and politics to PhD level, and lectured in English for nearly ten years.
She now lives in a seventeenth-century Cornish farmhouse with seventeenth-century draughts, writing historical fiction and spinning the fleeces of her traditional Ryeland sheep into yarn.