For those who read The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, you know of the ‘brats’. They had consisted of Johnnie, who was 18 when the book started, Bobby 16, and Alexander 19. A feisty and troubled little trio of ragamuffins who Jacky unofficially adopted, took under his wing, and soon even Chance came to love. I won’t spoil the end of Chance’s book for you in case you haven’t read it, but by the end, you learn a tiny bit about Hawthorne Manor–Jacky’s home, and his dream of helping other young men like Johnnie, Bobby, and Alexander, who had been mistreated and discarded. A place where gay young men could be safe with a family who cared for them and looked out for them, where they could become strong, steadfast, and ready to face the world.
Well, it’s 1934 and the trio is all grown up. In Johnnie’s book we have a whole new generation of ‘brats’. The Manor has been taking in boys for 7 years now. As far as the outside world is concerned, Hawthorne Manor is simply the estate of an eccentric American war veteran with English roots who resides there with his carer, war buddies, and the strays he takes in.
What Jacky and the fellas do has to be kept secret, for the safety of these young men and themselves. As much as they would love to open their doors and shout out a welcome out to all the young men who need them, it’s far too dangerous. No matter the good deeds they do, the law and society are not on their side, now more than ever before. So the boys who end up living there are boys Jacky and the fellas have either come across themselves or heard about and taken in. Each one has a heartbreaking story to tell, most of which are covered in various degrees throughout Johnnie’s book. They’ve each suffered terrible heartaches, but with Jacky, Chance, Johnnie and the fellas, they’ve been given a chance at a better life. I won’t reveal everything about them as you’ll get to meet them all properly in Johnnie’s book, but just enough for you to get to know them a little.
The new “Brats”
Gideon Brooks was the first of the ‘brats’ to arrive at Hawthorne Manor in 1927. He was 12 years old at the time, and the way in which he and Johnnie met, changed Johnnie’s life forever. He helped Johnnie go from an insecure, petulant teenager to a strong and determined young man, making Johnnie realize the importance of a place like Hawthorne Manor and the sort of good folks needed to care for boys like Gideon.
After Gideon’s arrival, all the fellas were put through their paces and then some. They had to sleep in shifts so there was someone keeping an eye on him at all times. He was a force to be reckoned with, his moods swings treacherous, and his nightmares heartbreaking. It was Johnnie who finally managed to get through to him, so it’s no surprise Gideon developed more of a bond with Johnnie than anyone, despite his unrelenting quest to drive Johnnie crazy. Gideon is now 19 years old, loud, foulmouthed, has anger issues, trust issues, but has come a long way from the destructive and frightened young boy he had once been. He’s brutally honest, enjoys sports–especially boxing, and is fiercely protective of his adoptive family.
Rori Curtis is 17 years old and the second to be taken in by the fellas in 1928 when he was 11 years old. He was from a classy family, disowned when he was exposed by a classmate who had it out for him for being “a pansy and odd”. Rori is hyperactive, though he’s doing much better now than when he first arrived. He’s cheerful, always chatting, and the most empathetic of the boys. He loves dime novels and penny dreadfuls, movies, and adventure. He’s creative and generally as happy as any teenager in his position can be. Unlike Gideon, Rori internalizes everything, hiding behind a smile and a joke. He’s close to all the fellas, though on the rare occasions when his mood shifts and he’s feeling particularly vulnerable or sad, he seeks out Jacky who was the one who took him in when Rori ended up on his doorstep asking for food after walking in the pouring rain from the next town over. He’s very protective of Aubrey.
Aubrey Jepson is 18 yrs old and was the third to be taken in at Hawthorne Manor during the winter of 1929 when he was 13 years old. Aubrey is closest to Chance who found him beaten and left for dead. Due to the trauma he suffered, Aubrey doesn’t speak. He does, however, whisper to people, but only certain people. He’ll only “talk” to Chance, Rori, and Henry. Aubrey is shy, sweet, and very perceptive. He loves listening to radio programs and music. He has a connection with Rori who seems to be the only one able to read him and understand him easily. He also suffers from mild agoraphobia, sometimes making it difficult for him to leave the house and causing panic attacks when situations appear to him to be out of his control.
Oliver Darling is 15 years old and was taken into Hawthorne Manor in 1931 when he was 12. He’s closest to Johnnie who was in Covent Gardens when he saw Oliver being chased by a couple of bigger kids. Oliver had tried to exchange certain favors for food and the kids decided to beat him up. Johnnie intervened and after discovering Oliver was an orphan, convinced him to come to Hawthorne Manor. Despite always being up to some mischief, his temper, and stubbornness, Oliver is very grateful to Johnnie and the fellas, and usually does his best to keep the peace, even if at times he ends up making things worse. He likes to pretend he’s tougher than he is, loves animals–especially horses, and is always dragging Edmund around with him, much to Connor’s dismay.
Elliot Young is 6 years old. He was found when he was 5 by Henry and Johnnie in 1933 wandering Liverpool Street Station barefoot and in a terrible state. When Henry asked him where his mother was, Elliot took Henry and Johnnie outside and around the back. His mother–a prostitute, had been dead for days among the rubbish. Elliot not understanding, stayed with her until his hunger had him sneaking into the station and a near cafe when he heard Henry and Johnnie laughing together. Liking the sound and his interest piqued, he approached them. After sorting things out with the police, and explaining to Elliot that his mother was gone, Elliot clung onto Henry, and the two formed an immediate bond.
Elliot is the only one of the boys legally adopted by one of the fellas: Henry. As both Henry and Johnnie took care of Elliot, and watching the two interact, Elliot decided since Henry was now his daddy, Johnnie would take the place of his mummy. When Johnnie explained he couldn’t be Elliot’s mummy, Elliot then decided Johnnie would be his second daddy. He’s very protective of Johnnie and Henry, getting jealous when the two spend too much time with any of the other boys, thinking they’re going to take Henry and Johnnie away from him. Despite numerous attempts to make him understand that Johnnie isn’t his parent, he refuses to accept it and goes out of his way to get Johnnie and Henry together. Elliot is sweet, quiet, small for his age, sometimes stubborn, mischievous, and far more clever than any of the fellas realize.
Connor Grey is 20 years old, and along with this younger brother Edmund, they are the latest additions to Hawthorne Manor, arriving in 1934. They’re mentioned briefly as new arrivals at the end of Chance’s book, though not by name. Connor’s story, like the rest of the fellas is a tragic one, but his love and fierce protective streak for his younger brother gave him the strength to get them away from their horrible stepfather and save his brother from suffering as he had at the hands of the vile man. Connor is quiet, well-mannered, smart, and an excellent cook. He has a strong sense of justice and will stand up when he sees someone being mistreated. He’s forever arguing with Gideon who he has a love/hate relationship with, and is very protective of Jacky whom he looks up to and respects.
Edmund Grey is 13 years old, and the younger brother of Connor. He’s sweet, happy, and has been spared a great deal of suffering over the years by his big brother, who stole him away from their home just in time. Edmund’s aware of what his brother sacrificed to keep him safe even if he doesn’t truly understand and is too frightened to ask. He has very little recollection of his mother or father. His mother remarried shortly after his father died in France during the war, and as his stepfather was a horrible man, the only real family Edmund has known is Connor. Desiring a family more than anything else has helped Edmund quickly adapt to life at Hawthorne Manor and he’s the only one of the boys who gets along with everyone. He likes to play games, doesn’t like it when any of the fellas fight, and loves cuddling. He can usually be found around Jacky who is his hero.
At Hawthorne Manor, the fellas take it one day at a time. Some days are great, some are crushing, but no matter what happens, Jacky, Chance, Johnnie, Henry, Bobby and Alexander are committed to giving these boys a chance at a better life, and in return have been gifted with a loving–albeit challenging, family.