The Curious Case of Billiards – Part One

by cunningstuff

The Curious Case of Billiards and Backstabbing  or How I Saved the Best Art

Although not generally known, for my reputation as a drinker and a rascal is far better known, I, John Babtiste Spiker Handrow Thronton, am a barrister. I tend to be the man, who in certain circles, takes on certain delicate cases. Basically anything you want to hear about the rich and the powerful, their proclivities, their sins, their moral dilemmas, I am the one who has to cover their assets from loss and public derision. I am a modest man, modern and self made, my background is a bit dubious, because I come from the country and have made myself known in the city. My mother died at childbirth, and my father doted on me, using his money to insure that I became something grand. I hated life in the country, and loved the city, so I fell prey to his motivations, far better than he ever expected. As soon as I entered the city, I began my schooling in the practice of law, but I did so only at person request. I made it known that I could be had for a price, to take the law and make it perform certain loops and circuses for the rich. I first just had certain papers signed, but over the years I was known to be the man who you could take problems and conceal them, children who did naughty things and have them rescued from public indignity, family who was not to be shown in public and have them properly put into the country, and other similar and delicate situations.

I also had a to keep a certain reputation, one I rather enjoyed, so that people would not be embarrassed to approach me with their problems. I had to play the hedonist, you see, I had to know certain madams, and I had to have a list of  doctors, people who could get things done. I had to show my indulgences as well, it had to be known I could have drink, or a tonic, and perhaps absinthe or laudanum. I had to show knowledge of rascals, folks down by the harbor, people who could do things. Keeping such a reputation is the most wonderful way of life I could condone, I suggest it for every man. This lifestyle has so many advantages for a man in the city of London, that many have followed me trying to get into my shoes. I however, being the barrister I am, never allowed a school of bullies to gather around me, instead always following my own personal order, and seeking ever the higher company of people in the proper circles. My hedonism keeps them from being so close to me as well, and most younger fellows and their children are the main company I keep.

I was called on the summer of ’88 by Richard and Hampton Surry, to come and give legal advisement on a certain piece of art that was being delivered. One must understand this predicament usually meant being served the finest scotch available, usually stuff that was made before the war. I ate a hearty meal, and prepared myself for a night of indulgence. I find the two brothers spiteful and arrogant to the extreme, but their table is always filled with the finest liquors, and I am always called on to tell them my distinct ideals on whatever they have in mind. I basically keep them out of trouble of their own make and decision, advising them on when to use servants or people of the village or when they should get their own hands dirty. My fee of 50 pounds per visit keeps things nice tidy for me, as well. The complication of this visit was evident before I ever arrived however, because the visit was over a piece of art. That could only mean one thing, the art was from their mother, and they needed to know what to do about it. Perhaps it was embarrassing and they wanted to hide it, or maybe they found it uncouth and wanted it destroyed. I knew that it would be of extremely personal nature however, I had no clue how dirty the evening would get.

I arrived in my own carriage, dressed richly but simply, this was not a night for women and public reports, but a quiet night between friends, if the indulgences overran or not. I wore a green felt jacket, with a doubled button vest in black silk. I had felt top hat and pocket watch as well, in case I needed an excuse I could say I had a later appointment for dinner. I stepped out of my carriage on to the main entrance at Surrey Manor. I loved their courtyard, the Roman columns standing straight and tall, the marbled steps clean and white. I was escorted through the Main Hall and into the new glassed in Library. Richard and Hampton both stood and greeted me like proper gentleman. The library was amazing, made of this new modern sheet glass, you could see the whole of the gardens right outside, and the entire top 4 feet of the walls were open to allow fresh air in. They showed me the intricate mechanism, made of beautifully cast iron, full of swirls and cusps, that with no effort at all, even a woman could crank the tons of glass up and down, to shut out the cold, or let in the warm fresh air like to day. I do think this Library more an Arboretum than a place for books, for there were exotic plants from all over the world. I was shown various orchids of delightful colors, amazing foliage plants whose leaves were of the brightest greens and yellows, and the most colorful birds in golden cages, whose noise might be a bit much for most, but as the whiskey was in my hand almost immediately after our introduction to each other, I had no complaints.

After a half hour though, I begged that we move on to some business, before the whiskey took me away from my knowledge and left me bare and unexplained with my calling. We walked over to a corner closest to the old walls of the house, but still plenty of room around it. Sitting there in the darker corner, was one of the most glorious things I have ever had the privilege of seeing. A billiards table, made by the artistic mother, sat under a beam of light that peeked in from the setting sun.  She made a beautiful table, an artists interpretation, which is now on display in the British Museum of Fine Art, you can go see it yourself, called The Table of Fruit and Fowl. An amazing, impressive piece, the table of the finest slate, greenish with dark streaks of marbled silver, like marble, but proper slate, like a good table should be. The balls are of the 9 known planets, in this modern time, and each ball is a vegetable or fruit that represents the god name of the planet, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, ect. There is a group of markers, the size of a ten-pence  each hand carved and exquisite, that you may place for each planet, carved of the same stone. Each planet itself is carved of different stone, so that the colors and texture remind one of what we can see in our telescope. Finally for the exquisite joke that rounds the table out, and brings it down to our human level, the cylindrical fowl, designed to roll straight into the carved balls. and the sticks carved of ivory, telling the history of man’s discovery of the planets, and how chicken we really are.