Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Flash for Freedom - Chapter 7

After a couple of fairly lack lustre chapters which I felt kind of trod water, and I’m convinced Chapter 6 only existed to introduce Abraham Lincoln into the narrative things pick up in Chapter 7, the narrative starts to move again and a new character is introduced, one of my favourites actually.

Although Harry thought Baltimore would be the ideal place to head for home I think New Orleans, or ‘Awlins as the locals call it, is better. As soon as his navy escort takes their eyes off him he simply melts into the crowd, and in New Orleans in the 1840’s a crowd was a very easy thing to disappear into. Flashman confesses to liking the port town. He rates it in his top 3, after London, which is his home, and Calcutta, which is his home away from home. I’ve been to New Orleans and I can see the appeal for someone like Flashman, wonderful town, lively, exotic place with an exciting history.

The first thing Flashman does he alter his appearance subtly. He’s grown a beard during his time at sea, so he has that removed, although he keeps his ‘tart catchers’ (those are his magnificent moustache or cavalry whiskers), and I love that name. Makes me giggle every time I read it. He also outfits himself impressively in a very European style and he even goes far enough to order some calling cards made in the name of Count Rudi von Starnberg, again a laugh out loud moment. It amuses Harry to think that somewhere down the track Rudi may get stuck with the bill for a stack of calling cards. Unlike many of Flashman’s innocent victims Rudi is a murderous, black hearted bastard, who deserves that and more. It also struck me here that Flashman isn’t great at coming up with aliases. He does the character well, just not the name. So far readers have seen him use people they’re already acquainted with. Thomas Arnold in Royal Flash and now Rudi. It’s kind of interesting, because he’s an accomplished liar, a large part of his life is a lie and he carries that off with style, but he can’t think up plausible sounding names. He basically sets himself up as an Austrian nobleman.

A large part of his resources have been used in altering his appearance and outfitting himself, he’ll need most of the rest to get passage back to England. He also doesn’t want to stay at a hotel, it would be the first place to look. He remembers the words of Italian soldier of fortune Avitabile, who he met in Flashman. If you find yourself short of funds in a city and need a place to stay for a bit, find a bawdy house and romance the madam. In New Orleans at the time, you would find it harder to find a normal house than a bordello. Flashman has concocted some wild story about a missing sister to get himself entrance and introduction to the madams. He discards the first few because he doesn’t much like the look of the ladies running the place until he lobs at Susie Willincks. Susie is from England, Flashman describes her broad accent as pure Bow Bells, which immediately aids Harry’s cause. Although she’s well past her prime and is fighting a losing battle with her weight, Susie is still a handsome woman and must have a beauty when younger. She takes to Flashman immediately, although she sees through his Austrian nobleman disguise, she does accept that he’s a British naval lieutenant called Comber.

Despite what she does for a living, and presumably always has, Susie is a bit of a soft touch. She’s a nice lady and has genuine feelings for Flashman, although she never finds out his real name, only knowing him as Lieutenant Beauchamp Millward Comber. Flashman has a soft spot for her too, but as is the case with many of his partners, she’s a means to an end, and sure enough as soon as he thinks he can he leaves the bordello and doesn’t look backwards. Next to Elspeth, Susie is my favourite of the never ending parade of women that float in and out of Harry’s life and adventures. Flashman thinks he’s home free, just get to the docks and the ship he’s arranged passage and off he goes. He never makes it that far. He’s accosted by two armed men who don’t seem inclined to listen to him. Just what has he walked into now?

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