TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
SCHERZO - STAVE LI
S T A V E
Her body off kilter – Obedience sweating despite the open window.
Root it out . . . Not so unconscionable. It’s done. So’s birthing Bastards . . . Some have grown to Persons of Significance . . . Many do not. Most are impoverished and their mothers held in Shame. She’d be lucky if only that occurred. If MacEachran lives, he might kill her. And if he didn’t, then Crotty . . . Elliot would for his own sake.
Deorsa, in your grave? If so, that your spirit forgive me. And if not, forgive me still. I never meant to cause you pain.
Never meant to cause you pain? How absurd . . . That he throws me out . . . Best for us both . . . No, the fool will take me back – me and the brat. Weakness . . .
‘Guilt is a chemical released in the blood’, she’d read. ‘Guilt is never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human Mind, it perverts them, and leaves one no longer in the free use of Reason’. She had no reason – Who she was and what she was . . .Who she was and what she was . . . And God? Stop it! God’ll do you no good. He’s long past you . . . Retrieve Reason. Reason’s not an Urge. She’s compelled by Urge. Blind with Impulse. Racing Feelings. Racing Thoughts. Her insides gallop . . . A Physician would do it . . . and look down his nose. Would he keep his mouth shut? At the barracks, Bess would help. But the gossip . . . And MacEachran – he must’ve lived. God, let him live –
A knock on her door. She jumped.
“Mistress,” Binah from the hallway. “Mrs. Grisham sent me up to see if you want sweet milk tea.”
“No, no thank you,” her voice fluttered. “Wait, Binah. Come in.”
Binah found her on the bed, eyes swollen.
“Have you midwifed?” A pleading question.
Binah on guard. “What you want?”
“Help me get rid of it.”
Binah shrunk back the way she’d done in youth. “Mistress, why you do this to me?”
“You’re the only one who knows.”
“Not fair.” Her voice rose in spite of herself and never so loud in a white person’s presence.
“Help me, Binah!”
“Army Woman,” she spat as an insult. “No better than me. I said it. A scab in fine linen. I said that too. Think you own me? Some mule to unhitch? A Magick Negro to make you right? Stay clear of White, Mother said. Goddamn right, stupid, weak doxy. What if you start bleed’n and don’t stop? What do you think they’ll do to me? You won’t care, you’d be dead. What are you gonna do to me now? What lies you going to tell? You lie about everything else.”
Obedience, eyes red in the sleet of Binah’s words. And Binah merciless – a flogging, till she stopped, as if taking the lash herself, and looking up to heaven with a shake of her head – “Am I not human?”
This, Obedience didn’t hear, filtered out as she looked in the dressing mirror. Dirty. Filthy. Foul. A Hag in her later years – turning nose and long chin. And there, here – now.
On the table – candle scissors. Sharp enough with its point. She lunged. Binah, in reflex, after her. Obedience stabbed through the board of her stomacher, but Binah on top of her with her strong hands. They struggled in silence, their faces twisting and blood pooling up from the wound in her belly.
“Jesus,” Binah gritted. “Listen, listen to me.” And with a grunt, jerked the scissors out of Obedience’s hand.
Binah held the shears, heaving, looking at the bloody tip, then slapped Obedience. “Stop!” her command. “Stop it now, or I’ll scream and bring the house down on you.” She pushed Obedience back on the bed. “You’re bleeding. Look at your skirt.”
Obedience pulled down her dress and there a puncture below her navel. She rubbed it. “Didn’t go in very far.” Rubbed it again, but gentle. “It hurts.”
“Good. I should fetch a doctor.”
“No.” Obedience said. “I can dress it.”
“You go straight to Hell if you kill yourself.”
“Will I?” Obedience said bitterly.
“Try that again, they put you in the Madhouse. Try that again, I put you there myself.”
“I’m going to do it.” A fierce determination.
“Get rid of it.” She looked at her belly. “Dalrymple’s little beast.”
“Bastards are born all the time,” Binah said facetiously.
“Not by me.”
“So what if you go back to the barracks?”
“I’ll do it with or without your help . . .”
“I won’t help . . .”
Obedience stared at the bed sheets. “I’ll use a knitting pin.”
Binah cringed. “I saw a woman bleed to death. Blood on the floor . . . On the walls. Awful way to die. Better to fill you up with rum and lye – wash it out. Good seawater work too. Or boiling water with hot peppa and laurel. Mother said you can climb up and down a smooth tree letting your belly rub hard against the trunk. I heard an old Mohawk woman say if you jump real hard up and down, it make it come out. You could stuff a ball of tobacco up as far as it goes. That takes a couple of days, but works.”
“I want it out now while I have the will.”
Binah waved her leathery hand and headed for the door. “Alright. Alright. God help me.”
“Where are you going?” Obedience asked.
“Get some rum and seawater. Lye’s too strong – burn you out,” she said. “And don’t go using no knitting pin. When everyone’s asleep, come to my cabin.”