31 October 2013

Excerpt Thursday: Agents of Reason by John Issitt

This week, we're pleased to welcome one of our newest contributors, author John Issitt, whose latest novel, AGENTS OF REASON, is set in the 18th century. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of Agents of Reason to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

Jeremiah was a London radical. He and his associates gave themselves to the cause - a cause that was always dangerous and compromised. This is his story. Whilst his efforts received no dividend in his lifetime today we are in his debt - we enjoy the freedoms for which he risked his life.
When the Bastille fell in 1789 English radicals like Jeremiah saw the promise of freedom but by early 1793 the French Revolution had turned into madness as Robespierre and the guillotine produced a blood bath of self destruction. In England the fear that the revolution might spread across the channel provoked reactionary responses and the years of William Pitt’s terror began. Radicals were hunted down. Some found themselves in Botany Bay, others charged with sedition or treason, languished in Newgate and the Tower.

**An Excerpt from Agents of Reason**
Early on Monday morning Jeremiah received a letter from Earl Stanhope. All it said was:
Dear Joyce,
Please come to see me at nine on Tuesday.
The address, Mansfield Street off Cavendish Square, was printed on the back. The Monday post had not yet arrived and the letter had probably been waiting in the front lobby of the college since Sunday night. Jeremiah knew that Kippis was currently resident in college and deduced that he and Price would have seen Stanhope over the weekend and Kippis had brought Stanhope’s letter himself.
Jeremiah stared at it. It left no room for him to say he wasn’t willing or able to come. It also presumed he would be available at a time when he would normally be in class – indicating that permission for absence had already been given.
He went to the library to think. He knew that once he met Stanhope the future course of his life would be cast, indeed the tone of this letter suggested it was already cast. The completeness of the feeling of being directed along a path he couldn’t step off suddenly hit him. He felt sick and faint at the same time. He clutched the table in an effort to steady himself. He thought of going to see Kippis to have it out with him, throw a few home truths and chastise him for assuming he would act out their plans as a mere servant to their bidding. But there seemed little gain in that. Besides, he knew that once in an argument Kippis would get the better of him and he would probably end up with his tail between his legs.
He was struck by a fear he had never encountered before. ‘Is this what men feel when they go into battle,’ he thought. ‘Is this what Christ felt when he knew his fate?’ Somehow he knew he had no choice but to comply with their plan but he also knew that he couldn’t be a mere passive player in the action. In order to cope he would have to gain some control. For the rest of the day he attended classes in body alone somehow just making his legs carry him along. He withdrew emotionally and intellectually and presented a social persona that gave nothing away.
The following morning he didn’t ask anybody’s permission or inform anybody. He left at six and walked the eight miles to Cavendish Square which he knew well having fitted panes of glass there only four years previously. He arrived early and passed time by walking the nearby streets and watching the servants coming and going taking provisions and coal into the enormous houses. He encountered a group of workmen, a couple of whom he recognised although thankfully they didn’t recognise him. It crossed his mind to speak to them and catch up on their lives but he knew they would ask what he was doing here dressed in the black of a Puritan cleric and he would probably have had to lie to get out of the situation. He moved on quickly still feeling sick.
He decided that if he was to be Stanhope’s secretary then he would enter by the front door – a thing he would never have dreamed of doing in his previous life. He knocked loudly twenty minutes early partly as a way of stating that he was not a mere lackey. A maidservant opened the door but Stanhope was standing in the entrance hall. Jeremiah presented himself with a measured coolness but was completely disarmed by Stanhope’s warmth and genuine welcome.
Stanhope was a tall thin man with a large and even thinner nose. The lines of his face all ran in a pronounced vertical direction, but a huge and very horizontal smile cut laterally across producing an implausibly large and elastic head that was instantly humorous and winning – leaving Jeremiah no option but to reciprocate and smile back.
‘Thank you for coming early. May I call you Jeremiah?’
‘Yes of course and what do I call you?’
Stanhope sensed frost in the quickness of Jeremiah’s reply yet somehow he understood and dispelled any lingering sense of Jeremiah’s resentment with another generous smile. In that second Jeremiah knew, as Stanhope did, that he would be working with him for a long time.
‘In private Charles, in company Earl. Listen, I have to be in the House shortly so can we do our business quickly?’
They entered his study which was surprisingly untidy. There were papers everywhere as well as cups and plates strewn on the furniture and even on the floor.
‘Sorry about the mess but the family and nearly all the servants are down in Chevening and I don’t let anybody in here – I am always afraid I will lose something. One of your tasks will be to keep me in better order! Will two hundred guineas a year be sufficient? You will live as one of the household. There are plenty of rooms here and at Chevening. We can give you a study and you can have use of the libraries. Is that agreeable?’
Jeremiah nodded. Two hundred a year! He would never have earnt that in four years as a painter of glass.
 ‘Right then. Ideally I would like you to start now but Price said you should start just after the new year. The family spend January in the country but we will all be here from about the 25th and I may well be here before then so we might get a chance to get to know each other without the children around. I know that Price wants to introduce you to some people and to prepare you a little for the rigours of tutoring my children.’
The slightest lift of his eyebrows suggested an anticipation that teaching his children was not going to be a particularly easy task.
‘So let’s say you will start with me on the 25th January. I look forward to working with you Jeremiah. Life is quite wild around here at times but I am sure you will enjoy it. We have a lot to do! Right then. I must get on. We can leave in-depth discussion until you arrive.’
He disappeared. The servant was nowhere to be seen so Jeremiah let himself out. It was now only a little past nine o’clock so he delayed going back to the college and went to tell Joshua what had gone on. A feeling of euphoria came upon him as he walked down to the Strand. He could look forward to a considerable income and a mission in the service of the Lord. ‘What more could I possibly want?’ he asked himself.

Agents of Reason is available on Amazon as paper and ebook http://www.amazon.co.uk/Agents-Reason-John-Issitt/dp/095737710X 

John Issitt just about to talk about Agents of Reason at Conway Hall - one London's historical centres of ethics, humanism and religious dissent.