TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
ADAGIO - STAVE XXV
S T A V E
Colonel Hyde into the morning paper at a piecrust table, his legs taunt. Mrs. Edmonds in and out with breakfast plates, and Geordie at the mahogany server holding up the wall. Never had Hyde read so closely.
“Let them come!” Hyde smacked the newsprint. “Best to finish it.” And looked about for affirmation. “What can they pose? Hasn’t been the same country since. Finally bring the rebels out . . . What do you say, MacEachran?”
“I think little of France.”
“Of course you do! The French are the French. Fat king and a fat court. All fashion. The good men they had died in the last war. They may come over, but they’ll sit on their arse. One fight – one good fight and they’ll be through. My guess is they’ll try for the homeland. Strike where they think us weakest. Mark my words, the Brigade’ll be called home.”
“You think so, sir?”
“No doubt. You’d like that? Fight the French in traditional battle, no running across a field? In truth, I’d miss it. It’s a fine way to fight. Dash and fire. What would the Monkeys do?”
“Look for the Germans?”
Hyde laughed. “Good, MacEachran. Well said. You Scots love to race in battle. It’s in your blood. That’s why you’re the company champion. You know of Major Ferguson of course; if he had his way he’d take away firelocks from all Highland troops and give them back their traditional arms. Let the flank battalions rake the rebels with fire and send in the Highlanders on the run with pistols and broadswords; the grenadiers and lights would rush in support with the bayonet.” Hyde laughed. “Imagine that, and afterwards we’d pass the Quaich and fuck sheep.”
Geordie smiled. Sassenach.
“Yes – ‘the Monkeys’.” Hyde scanned the paper “. . . Eh, you and Mrs. MacEachran enjoyed yourselves?”
“Indeed, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Have you a guinea left?”
“And how did you find Farquhar?”
“And your pretty wife?”
“She thought it grand. Beyond expectation. We’re most grateful to you, sir.”
“My pleasure, MacEachran.” He drained the cup and stood. “Now on to a regular schedule.” He rattled off a list without pause ‘til finally – “I practice with the fusil every morning when possible. Give it a cleaning first and replace the flint – a new flint every morning and fifteen good shots, MacEachran.” He held out his arm for his great coat, waiting for Geordie to put in on him, and then down the stairs without word.
At the closing of the front door, Mrs. Edmonds up and grumbling. “Shooting guns in the house,” she spat. “And you – I expect you to keep him leashed.”
Geordie with a shrug. “I’ve no say. We’re both his victims.”
“I give you a choice: him or me?”
“Him or me. You don’t choose right, I’ll make you miserable and you’ll beg to go back to the barracks.”
“Well . . . You, of course.”
She glared. “Wisest words you ever said. Where’s your wife?”
“To the barracks to pick up shirts.”
“Keep her away from him.”
“Colonel Hyde? He don’t have interest.”
“Listen to me. You may know him by day, but I see him at night – all these officers and the innocent girls they trap.”
“He’s a good Englishman, Ma’am.”
“Then you’re a fool.” She frowned and considered him. “You’re no Englishman.”
“No Ma’am.” His brogue grew thick. “I am not.” He smiled.
“Very well then.” She took the tray. “And keep your fingers off my firewood . . . except that that you pay for.”
“Tell your wife too.”
She started down. “Tell her to come to the kitchen when she gets back – some coffee left.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
Mrs. Edmonds nodded.
“Oh . . . Ma’am . . . Mrs. Edmonds . . .”
“You take a pipe?”
She saw him as she would her son at the top of the stairs, trying to earn her good graces.
“I’ve got a twist of Virginia Bright. Got it yesterday.”
“All right, you may come too.”
Elliot worked brick dust across the length of the barrel, buffing off the rust as if they were sins. No firelock gleamed like his, its beauty fierce – the brass like gold, the stock oiled and burnished to a satin. But the blood she’d took – in her pipes and down her barrel, shanked into guts; broke teeth with her polished brass and wood; how fragile she looked in his coarse fingers –
He’d not swived since Jenny Rose . . . Not frigged in two weeks; the last time in a corner of the State House barracks imagining Obedience naked with a dildo. A self-imposed abstinence – that God might see. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. See – it’s true, the Devil knows Scripture. He itched to frig, rubbing the barrel, imagining her breasts’ rise and fall as he’s down on her.
No man is so far away – maybe closer for him than the man of Clean Conscience.
On Race Day, he’d watched them go with Crookshank. He should get drunk, but no – clean the Kit over and over and listen for Providence. That It speak now as he held up the perfect firelock. Speak now. Obedience – his other – lost. Speak now. Speak now –
The Quaker girl.