TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
RONDO - STAVE
E P I L O G U E
London – July, 1783
She watched with young George as the battalion paraded before the barracks, the last to come home. Absent were the cheering crowds as the average Londoner did not notice. They’d slipped in without ceremony, only the beat of a single drum. And if there were cheers, it was the London Whigs wholly pleased with the war’s outcome – good for you, America; now if we can follow suit and disestablish these Royals.
After Yorktown, the Brigade marched north to York, Pennsylvania, a dreary town of German and Scots-Irish, where it remained in confinement for one and a half years, at least the private men. The officers, compliments of their aristocratic Captors, were out and toured the new America as if on holiday. Sir Henry and Lord Charles blamed each other and made their grievances Public.
Though Congress and Parliament still wrangled, hostilities came to a halt for the most part with a preliminary treaty in November. The brigade was paroled and sent to New York, and delivered home in two detachments, the first having arrived in January; Obedience and young George came with them though on a separate packet. She had the money and knew, for continued success, she must follow the Gentry.
Popular as ever, she was a Mature beauty at 31, with a Rags-to-Riches legend. She beat away the suitors – Physicians, Lawyers, Military men. And due to her clique of ‘old American Friends’, she mixed in Society on the fringes of le bon ton.
She watched them parade in the morning sun; her eyes shaded by a fashionable hat with ribbons and feather. Was there anyone she knew? Not a one. She’d hoped to see Bess, but all were strangers.
With the inspection complete and all were Formed and Correct, the battalion major ordered Mourn firelocks. Bayonets unfixed, the firelocks reversed and every Guardsman bowed his head. Astride his mount, the major read the Rolls of the Dead.
“. . . Thomas Howard, Lieutenant-Colonel, 1st Regiment of Foot Guards . . .”
Obedience remembered, General Howard’s brother killed on ship coming home when attacked by privateers.
“. . . Francis Hall, Lieutenant-Colonel, Third Regiment of Foot Guards . . . John Finch, Captain, 1st Regiment of Foot Guards . . . John Stuart Bourne, Captain, Coldstream Guards . . .”
Captain Bourne, her surrogate father, on his arm to Geordie. She could hear his consoling voice – ‘Mrs. Gill – a sad Predicament.’ How distant. Was she ever Mrs. Gill?
Name after name, the list went on. “. . . Thomas Crookshank, sergeant, 1st Regiment of Foot Guards . . .”
Crookshank, she thought, with his round Yorkshireman’s head. A bittersweet smile. Round shot must have killed him. How Geordie had hoped he lived.
“. . . Thomas Elliot, sergeant, Coldstream Guards . . .”
She refused to shutter. If she could stand up to him in Life, she could do so in Death. No ghost to haunt her. What’s dead is dead and so’s the name, to be buried like his body and never uttered again. And a pull on her bodice. He had let her go . . . Is he saved for it?
More names: George Harrison, Thomas Tree, John Waddley, Daniel Burrows, Timothy Crotty . . . He never liked me, or am I wrong? I’ve been wrong about so much. Jaruesha didn’t, but she changed. Where’s Bess? Why isn’t she here? I must find her. No women’s names. An Injustice. The Names – women who washed for them, darned for them, robbed for them, nursed them back to health in spite of those surgeon butchers; they’re every bit in the Guards’ family. I’ll say them: Mrs. John Price, Third Regiment of Foot Guards; Mrs. Thomas Tree, Third Regiment of Foot Guards . . .
She dabbed her eye.
“. . . William Gill, private, Coldstream Guards . . .”
She wiped her eyes again. An urge to leave. Leave before the major says it. But she, herself, said it every day –
“. . . George MacEachran, private, Third Regiment of Foot Guards . . .”
“‘Geordie MacEachran’,” she whispered. “Deorsa.” A flutter and a tear.
With the last name, the major ordered the firing of three rounds. A Third Guards piper played a lament. And the battalion’s shoulders seemed to melt.
“Shoulder –” the major ordered. “The Brigade of Guards on American Service will disband and return to their regimental companies . . . Three cheers for the Brigade of Guards: Hip-hip . . .”
“Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!”
Obedience turned with young George and there, an awaiting carriage and with it, a kind-eyed gentleman . . .
And AMERICA rolls on, alone with Herself. Kicking and Screaming. To Be what she will Be with her evolving Narratives. No longer British. And no one else to Blame.
‘T I S D O N E