The Astrologer and The Maid

The Astrologer and The Maid

by

Andrew Prentis

September 1986

William Bones snored fitfully, his grey-bearded chin resting on the worn leather waistcoat, stained with spilt ale. His thatch of dark, unkempt hair was partly concealed by a black conical hat perched on his head at a rakish angle, somehow defying gravity and clinging to his head as it bobbed in response to his snoring.

The sounds of bustle from the street outside were muted within William's upstairs den, although the all pervading smell was undiminished. To be truthful on this warm afternoon, the stench was overpoweringly strong, made up of the scents of decaying rubbish dumped in the street, as well as the open sewer of a river not far away which carried some of the muck down to the Thames. London was not the most fragrant of locations on a warm July afternoon in 1651.

None of this bothered William Bones in the least. He had lived in London for some years now and his sense of smell had accordingly adapted to the daily assault. He had been in these rooms for only a few of those years, ever since he had discovered his ability to `predict' fortunes - for a price of course. The trappings of his profession were scattered about him: the astrological charts and the tarot cards as well as a few gaudy trinkets of no significance which simply added to the `mystic' atmosphere of the room :- a stuffed owl, sadly moulting with age and a shrunken head, eye-sockets staring emptily, a leering gap-toothed grin of decay on its features. The remains of his midday meal lay on the patched, velvet covered table, next to the crystal ball he used to impress his customers.

Balder, a mangy wolfhound lay sleeping at his masters feet, snoring almost as loud. A noise in another part of the house woke the dog suddenly and he responded with a startled woof.

"Ugh, whatsit? Balder, can't you keep your trap shut?" William snapped, poking the dog harshly in the ribs with his toe. "And there was me dreaming about Mary, that pretty little servant girl of the moneylender." he smiled leacherously to himself, stretching mightily. Balder, sensing his master's displeasure, crept out quietly to find a convenient wall to urinate against.

"Master William?" came the shrill voice of Rose, the wife of the tailor who rented the rooms to him. "Are you ready to receive visitors?" she cried, knowing that he normally had a nap after the meal she had brought to him earlier.

"Yes, yes of course my good woman, I am always ready to receive visitors." he replied, dusting the crumbs of his dark cloak, poorly embroidered with stars and crescent moons - more of the trappings of his calling. "Especially if they are here with money!" he muttered to himself. His fortune-telling never promised to make him rich, but provided a continual, if somewhat erratic, income. He was always hoping to find some rich patron whom he could impress with his tricks and `prophecies'.

He heard footsteps on the stair. Judging the size of the person by their lightness, William hazarded a guess that they were made by a girl. He smiled hopefully at this thought, glancing across the room to where the door to his bedchamber stood half open. There came a timerous tapping on the door as his visitor reached the top of the stairs.

"Enter my dear." he said, deepening his voice to a low rumble to impress the visitor. The door opened slowly and the first glimpse he had of his visitor was of a linen bonnet over long, jet black hair. As the door opened further, his smile grew wider as he recognised Mary, the servant girl he had been lusting over for the past few days. Her dark eyes regarded him nervously for a second before she modestly lowered them to the floor before her. Her olive skin gleamed with youthful vitality and her low-cut bodice drew his eye to the expanse of tanned breast, an enticing, but not too immodest display.

She daintily moved over to the high backed chair opposite him and curtsied. "I hear that you tell fortunes, Master William?" she said, keeping her eyes lowered and clasping her hands before her modestly.

"That is so - I am widely known all across this great city for the accuracy of my predictions." he nodded, exaggerating his reputation slightly.

"Would you tell me mine sir, please?" she said breathlessly, meeting his eyes again eagerly.

"Well of course my dear, without a doubt." William replied smiling again. "But I'll need some sort of payment." He licked his lips in anticipation and glanced towards his bedchamber. "Would you come through to the back room with me?" he said. The girl's eyes widened.

"Oh kind sir, I fear I cannot do such a thing." she said, her voice low and tremulous. "My maidenhood forbids me in all modesty."

He pursed his lips and gazed at her. "You need not be worried my dear," William smiled reassuringly at her, "for I have seen the past in your eyes and I know that it was just the other day that you laid with your master, so how can your maidenhood hold you back?" he said. The sudden revelation devastated the girl.

"How dare you say such an evil thing!" she cursed him. "You are a foul-mouthed liar sir. If you do not take back your words now, I shall go to my master and bring him to vouch for me!" her eyes blazed with a fury born of terror at the thought of her secret becoming public.

"My pretty maid," William said soothingly, "you need not swear and curse, you can only make the deed the worse. How can you deny it to be true, as in your purse you carry the crown piece he gave you - a princely sum which I well believe you earned." She was no longer surprised at the unexpectedness of this further revelation.

"Indeed," Mary sighed, lowering her gaze once more to the floor, "you can tell fortunes sir. Indeed you have told me min. I did not believe it before, but I do now." She slipped her hand into her bodice and pulled out a leather pouch. Untying the drawstring, she pulled out a silver crown. "Here, here is your reward. A good day to you Master Bones!" She tossed him the coin and departed without a backward glance.

William caught the coin and quickly tested it between his teeth, watching the girl's slim back retreating down the stairs. He sighed regretfully at his failure with the girl, but brightened at the prospect of all the ale and wenches the silver crown would buy.

Turning his gaze toward the window, he smiled at the spyglass resting on the ledge, through which, if he tried, he could just make out the moneylender's bedchamber...


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