TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
ADAGIO - STAVE XXI
S T A V E
January 1778 – Philadelphia
My Dear Sir,
I Have the Satisfaction to Inform, that the City of Philadelphia is in His Majesty’s Possession: Lord Cornwallis with the British & Hessian Grenadiers having in usual form Enter’d it on the 26th Inst. (Sept) and Hoisted the Royal Standard.
Lt. Will’m Keugh
44th Regiment of Foot
Black News: Burgoyne defeated in two desperate engagements. Carlton in Montreal failed to come to his aid. Clinton had sallied out from Newport and had opened the Hudson Highlands for Burgoyne’s escape only two days march away. But Burgoyne at Saratoga, unaware, surrendered – 8000 troops. And Billy on his Thumb in Philadelphia.
Dirty weather without, but within they spooned under a blanket in the new barracks, she against him and his hand on her belly. She cradled that hand, stroked it with her thumb. She could crush him. Did she know? How could she not – he dies in her and on her chest that Flush of Idolatry. God must be jealous. That it always be so. Beloved Heretics and next to her, nothing could stand – not the Coat or the Colours, Country, Brothers-in-Arms . . . She dozed safe in his arms – such security, and the Victualers finally in – salt, bread, and liquor . . . She nuzzled. A good man, Geordie . . . But ain’t they all good, these someones’ sons? Just gone a little Mad after so much battle. War do make you crazy. Like Dilworthtown, the good sons holding down women to take turns, then cut their throats for the fun of it . . . And Billy hung the ones he caught. “If they act like dogs, they shall be executed like dogs. Better that they should’ve died on the field.” Is Geordie one? One what? Murderer? Rapist? War do make you crazy . . .
Elliot strode past the Burial Ground at Christ Church heading for the Stews. Dead leaves swirled and he imagined the single ghost, said to watch over its graveyard, nickering past the tombs. Maybe a child in a rage, a little Tyrant, cut from life before it could start. Some Dead haunt their own adult souls so that a man Sixty-and-Four is harried from Youth; they nettle and act out their bloody secrets; in Elliot his own Imp like a guiding hand, taking him from here to there without thinking. Many suffer. He looks at the graves and nods – ten from Cholera, four from Consumption, wives in Childbirth, old men in their Drink. Eighty years. Fifty years. Twenty. Women and Children. The Famous and Unnoticed – how splendid their stones. The worms don’t care. We hold these Truths to be self-evident, all in the Grave are Equal. Equal when we blast them, he muses – White and Black torn to bits and the different parts mixed together . . . Artillery – the King of Battle. Such a drubbing, Fort Mifflin, last of the Delaware river forts to fall; beef and bone in the slaughterhouse. Nothing left to storm . . . And they were ready to storm it, the Grenadiers of the Guards, a fearsome assault so the Victualers could sail through. Billy’s Boys in rags from the hard campaigning. Elliot in rags as was his fellows, stitched together like corpses. Starving. Elliot hears his steps on the pavers, feels the cold in his nose. A smell? Always a smell in America, something rotting. In his mind, the Fort Mifflin bodies – sees them as he sees the churchyard, the peach and apple trees . . . To the Stews, his prick burns . . . And God didn’t take him at Brandywine. Ain’t He just? Don’t He Care? Maybe He don’t see. In War they all blend in, everyone an Elliot. God would have to kill ‘em all and then where’d He be? No winning side to be on . . . Elliot kills, what soldiers do invariably. What he’d surely do if they’d stormed Fort Mifflin as ordered. Send the Guards! Even better, their Grenadiers! Crush it, not for Victory, but for Food. They’d watched through the night the pre-assault bombardment, ready to go from their perch on Providence Island. Fort Mifflin on a pile of Mud out in the Delaware, blocking off the City, ready to cannonade any frigate or Victualer within range, damn thing designed by the British in ’71. Thank Christ the pre-bombardment pounded them. Pounded them again at dawn. It wouldn’t surrender and the Grenadiers set to go. Would half survive the assault? Billy held them. Lord Howe brought his 64s up. One last battering within pistol shot. It was dead and abandoned when they finally went over. Bloody carnage. Barracks and pavers all red. Fifty dead outright. Eighty still dying, torn in two. Some quivered near their severed limbs. Creatures without faces. Heads without brains . . .
As he walked past Christ Church, he could smell them, just as he had days later when robbing their graves – the Dead don’t need shoes and tobacco. And not just him. Damn that MacEachran, as bloody as me.
Elliot touched his nose – it’s still on his skin. He looked at the doors of Christ Church. It’d be good to get Clean. Salvation. Would Jesus do it? . . . Not as well as a Pretty Face – that Come-Hither Look . . . And don’t Love expunge Sin? He smiled. Sometimes they even kiss him. A good Fuck, a good Drunk, in that order – more truth in them than in Providence’s conventions.
Cold whipped down the narrow lane as he made onto High Street crowded with townsfolk coming back from the country markets. Warmer to be out and about. Too few chimneys belched smoke, firewood a premium. Fences disappeared, out buildings vanish, wood cribs themselves are burned. But Elliot, come from his Job, would thaw soon enough. Elliot, the Tanner, in Cash. God knows Army Life don’t pay enough. What soldier, when in garrison, don’t seek outside Work? Besides, he loves the Hides and don’t mind the piss, loves to scrape ‘em down ‘til they’re soft and thin like Lavinia’s skin. He felt for the coins in his waistcoat pocket. May prick or purse never fail ye.
A commotion stirred down the street – catcalls, laughter, angry shouts, and one voice rising above the rest, soldiers and townsfolk all in front of the popular Indian Queen Tavern. Some fool Patriot, no doubt, seeking martyrdom, but no official hauling the man down. Officers passed by with little concern to enter a Masonic lodge across the street.
“We should so work as if we were to be saved by our works; and so rely on Jesus Christ, as if we did no work!” proclaimed a Methodist on Indian Queen’s stoop.
“Preach away from the bloody door Reverend so a man might go in and have a drink and get warm.”
“There’s warmth here, Brother.” The young preacher, thumb to his heart, noting every Jab as an opening for Christ Jesus. “The Lord Jesus Christ bid you come in. Be Warm. Be Justified. ‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit’.”
“My intention, Reverend, to be filled with much spirits.”
The crowd laughed as the fellow pressed into the tavern.
“You lost that one Reverend,” a soldier cried.
“That man is not so far away. No man is so far away though his Sins put him at the Ends of the Earth. All men seek Him in their divergent ways; they run to Him or run from Him, but He is at the Center of it all. They are busy. What are they busy with? What path do they tread in their Search? Do they lose themselves in the Mechanics of this World? Do they strike the key of the piano forte, measure its Volume and Length and then by mathematical equations Beauty is engineered? It is so with tables and chairs. With cities and governments. Even Society is to be engineered. As if Knowledge can replace the Holy Ghost and direct men’s minds upon the proper line? Direct the mind, not the heart – the false gospel of Right Thinking, that adherence to Principles will liberate the World. That is Old Law sighted by Paul, the Law that condemns us, not sets us free. Where is the Cross in their calculations? Where is Christ Jesus? The Mind has replaced Him. Good is Mechanical. Good is Reason. We are so enlightened that God’s miraculous Intervention is deemed a Myth. We are no longer to heed the Prophets, but the Philosophers. And though they preach a Golden Age, the Ascent of Man, their paths will lead to undo consequence: for every one Benefit – two Ills and then Ruin . . . But I speak to you common folk, you practical folk, farmers and tradesmen who know the Angles of this World, who know in every case that 1 + 1 = 2, but that God can bend it whenever He wishes. That when you plant a seed, science may tell you the Mechanics of Germination, but not the Power that moves Nature to bless or curse that year’s growth – you know it is from Heaven. You know it is from God. You know that any good fortune, for all your Plans and Calculations, is a Gift from the Lord. So to you I say, be Light and Salt, submit to His Kingship. You never know what soul is depending upon your response. And to you Lost, I say put not your trust in the promises of this Age, not in your Strength or the power of Arms . . .”
Elliot walked by. No man is so far away. Were it true. May prick or purse never fail ye . . . No man is so far away. Then wash me of my sins, he said to God. I dare You. Then thought about fucking. I dare You.
He waited. And waited, knowing somehow God waited for him.
“I take You then,” he said.
And waited again. Was something supposed to happen?
On the frozen mud sidewalk, walking the same direction, a young woman in a cloak and hood carrying a basket. Odd that she should be unescorted in an occupied town. She must be of Privilege, a Tory no doubt, assuming her Loyalties will guard her. Maybe some officer’s tart.
He watched; something immediate about her figure. Obedience? He looked again. If not Obedience, then her sister. Had God put her there? The wind blustered, knocking back her hood and cap – copper hair. She struggled with the basket and Elliot came up to lift it by the handle.
“Allow me, Miss.”
She turned and raised her chin. Obedience’s twin though younger, 18 maybe, not as pretty, but the resemblance clear.
She stepped back as it was well known of soldiers to rape girls in doorways. “Thank thee not, sir.” She looked him up and down. “I am near my father’s house.”
“Please, Miss, I mean only a Christian kindness. Soldiers do roam about and can be up to Mischief. I could see you to your Father’s door safely.”
“Thank thee, but no.”
“I could not harm you with my hands full . . .”
“You’d steal it.”
He gave it back. “I could’ve run, but didn’t,” he said shamefaced. “Your pardon, Miss.” And walked away.
She watched. In the background the young preacher proclaimed: be light, be salt, you never know what soul is depending upon your generous response. And she of the Society of Friends. Besides, it was cold and the basket heavy. But he’s a cruel looking one. Yet, that too was appealing.
“Soldier!” He did not respond. She stepped forward. “Soldier! Forgive me.”
“I would be grateful,” she said.
He came back and took the basket and they walked. She’ll run away, he thought. They all run away. But she accepted his company.
“What is thy name?”
“Thomas Elliot, Miss.”
She puzzled at his soft voice. “Mr. Elliot, I have not seen thy likes since the King’s troops have come.” He smiled. “Did I say something foolish, Mr. Elliot?”
“No Miss. I’m from London and don’t have occasion to converse with Quaker folk.”
She turned her head. “I find soldiers just as queer.”
“No insult intended, Miss. A statement of my ignorance.”
She nodded. “No insult incurred. Thou hast an education; thou do not talk with ‘aints’ as other soldiers.”
“You have acquaintance with other soldiers?” Her brow pinched. “Forgive me, Miss,” he said, tripping over his words. “I’m certain you do not. Clearly not. I would not think you’d know anything about soldiers.”
“I do not. I hear them talking in the streets with their vulgarity.”
“It’s true, Miss. Regulars are course. Your pardon, please.”
Taking a breath, she looked down the street.
“Thy pardon, Mr. Elliot; it is I who have been rude. Thou are the one doing me a kindness. As there is no one to introduce us properly, I am . . .”
Don’t, Elliot thought.
“. . . Miss Elizabeth Coffyn. My father is Linus Coffyn of Elfreth's Alley.”
“My pleasure, Miss Coffyn. But, your pardon again, it is not wise for a young woman to be out alone in an occupied city.”
“I was uncertain of thee.”
“No harm from me. You are, at this moment, the most guarded young lady in Philadelphia.”
Their heels clicked against the brick.
“I must say,” she exclaimed. “I imagine no harm could come to me in thy company. Thou are fearsome.”
Elliot measured his gnarled hands carrying the basket. “A compliment, Miss Coffyn. I am no common soldier, but a grenadier in his Majesty’s Coldstream Guards – Lt. Col. Rainsford’s company.”
“Indeed. I have no knowledge of the Service.”
“We are the oldest and the finest of the Household Regiments – Monck’s Men.” He swelled with pride. “We acknowledge none should march out before us. Nulli Secundus – Second to None. Why common regiments draft our privates to become their sergeants.”
“Oh,” she said in a placating manner.
They walked to Second Street and made the turn at the newly constructed Smith’s Tavern where officers and business men went in and out.
“The Smith Tavern,” she said impishly. “Has thee ever been there?”
“Too much for a Private Man. Only officers and gentlemen can afford it.”
“But thou are a soldier in the King’s Guard.”
“I could stand in the taproom. But private men get drink from the sutlers in the square. Always a grog shop to be found.”
“General Howe has his officers put on plays,” she said. “How grand to have some gaiety again.”
“Are Quaker girls permitted to attend theatrical entertainments?”
“Not all Quaker girls are alike, Mr. Elliot.”
A breeze kicked up again.
“Allow me to walk before you, Miss Coffyn. I might block the wind.”
She honoured him with a smile.
“I’ve never seen such a land,” he said with a rare surge of happiness. “It is its own country. No wonder the sons-a-bitches want to break . . .”
She blushed and stepped away. He thought to grab her.
“Please, Miss. I’m not use to be out walking with a real lady . . .”
“Thou are not walking out with me, sir.”
“It’s just a phrase. What I meant is that soldiers are hard men and keep to their own.”
“Thy profession is unholy and against the Laws of God. If both sides would embrace the teachings of Jesus, there would be no need for soldiers at all. My father says this war is not based on liberty, but greed. He says the King is an over bearing father and the rebels are anarchists. Neither side will hear the other. Is this not true?”
“No, Miss,” Elliot said despite himself. “The Howes have given the rebels every chance to come to the table. I, and much of the Army, think the problem with this war, from the beginning, is that we’re not fighting to win.”
“Is that so, Mr. Elliot? And what do thee think is right?”
“In truth, Miss, I care not much about right. I care not to be disgraced – that is my ‘right’. My regiment is my home. Right or wrong, no man will disgrace my home.”
“Most enlightening, Mr. Elliot,” her tone clipped. “I have never talked with a soldier before. I find it disagreeable. Tell me, Mr. Elliot, hast thee ever killed a man?”
“How many is many?”
“One is too many,” she said, then looked him in the eyes as few dared. “What does it do to thee when thee kills another human being?”
He saw himself shoot a man . . . Nothing . . . He could throw her down now and pop her quim so she bleeds over the bricks . . . No man is so far away.
“Here.” He gave her the basket. “You’re almost home.” And again walked away.
“Mr. Elliot . . . Mr. Elliot,” she found herself calling. “ . . . Thee are a good man . . . I see it.”
He stopped, his eyes suddenly misting. “I’ve come to Christ,” he said.
“Have you?” She dropped the Quaker-speak. “When?”
“Just before we met – the preacher speaking at the tavern. He said no man’s sins put him so far away. So as I walked by I said to Christ I would take Him . . . And then, there you were. I think He put you in my way.”
She mused then tittered so queer. “Indeed He did, Mr. Elliot.”
“Indeed He did.”
On Elfreth's Alley, snow piled up against the brick houses narrowing the already narrow lane. Loose shutters banged in the wind. Candle lights could be seen through the sooty windows. Negro and Caucasian servants lowered barrels into a cellar through an open bulkhead. On the snows mounds beneath windows were soup bones, broken pottery and glass.
“My father’s house,” she said pointing to the largest on the block and scurried to a gated alleyway near the front door. “I must confess,” she said before opening it, “I have gone down to the Common behind the State House and watched the companies parade. I find it most colourful. I like the Germans best. I like the colour blue.” She smiled. “My father doesn’t know.”
“You should see the changing of the Guard. Nothing more splendid than Guards Musicians with our Neger Bandsmen in turbans and silk – they caper rather than march, toss their drum sticks and tambourines in perfect time to the music – nothing so regal as a Negro Drummer Boy.”
They walked down the narrow corridor, low and dark like a cave. Elliot imagined pinning her against the wall.
They came into a private yard hemmed in by brick buildings. The back door opened and there stood two women: one in her 40s like Elizabeth grown, the other, a Black girl Elizabeth’s age.
“Libby,” her mother said. “Thee should not have gone alone. Thee should have taken Rachel . . .” and then blinked at the soldier standing with her daughter.
“I’m fine, Mother. Rachel was in the kitchen and thee needed her more than me.” She saw her mother gaping. “This is Mr. Elliot, who helped with the basket some blocks from here.”
“He did,” she said to imply that was all he did, “and with his protection. Mr. Elliot, may I present my mother, Mrs. Linus Coffyn.”
“Mother, may I present Mr. Thomas Elliot of his Majesty’s Coal . . .”
“Coldstream Guards, Ma’am.”
“Peace to thee, Friend,” Mother said coolly. Rachel stared on. “Thank thee for helping my daughter.” A snarl wind twisted ‘round the yard and raised the women’s skirts.
Elliot did not wait for her to say more. “My pleasure, Ma’am,” he said in his calm high voice and walked out of the yard.
“Come into the house, Elizabeth,” Mother said.
“We should offer Mr. Elliot some hospitality. It was more than some blocks he carried the basket.”
“Come into the house.”
“He said he came to Christ.”
The doxy stamped her cold feet on the quay. An hour since her last Player and she debated about retreating to the shack not thirty paces forward. She shivered. Where are the Regulars and Tars? The wharf’s always good for ‘em. She’ll lasso the next to walk by, and no bend-over-bangtail, but a lie-down in the shack properly naked and under a blanket . . . And if he’s sweet, give him an extra Huffle so they might cuddle awhile and stay warm. And if he's a Devil, cut some buttons off his coat to sell, lift his purse and he’d never know.
How many today? Fourteen Regulars and five labourers, most of them a bend over behind the shack. A hand jack for a penny, a bangtail for two, thruppence for a Bagpipe, and a lie down for four pennies/two, six – with a kiss . . . That cocky bi-blow in the scarlet coat like he was doing her a favour. They’re all bastards – White and Black with their little Cash and the little they can do. When asked what position she favoured, she replied, “My open hand for Money.” She moans and squeaks what she thinks is convincing; but can't mimic a pleasure she’s not known – it’s work. Stupid fish – men, but she wears her wig, red lips and her beauty spots (she thinks she’s pretty) never knowing who might show to change her life forever.
Elliot rounded the corner; Elfreth’s Alley two blocks behind and Christ back in His kingdom.
“Do a girl a kindness, soldier?” Her voice sweet, not far out of her teens.
“What’ll it cost me?”
She smiled. “This is America, soldier – the Pursuit of Happiness . . .”
He pulled back the blanket from her head – a young face, not so pretty, but he’d seen worse – better than the camp followers with cheeks like leather. She wore a bedraggled gown that should've been ballooned by a hooped petticoat. And a scar ran from earlobe to jawline. Clearly no frigate, but will do.
“Five pennies,” she said, noticing he was another scarlet coat.
“Take my arm and I’ll show you.” She came no higher than his shoulder and tugged him over to the weather-gray shack.
Hay, wet and soiled, matted the uneven floor of the single dim room. An oversized ticking lay upon the raw wood planks, sunken from her and customers; the cum on that mat, dried and cracking . . . Next to it, a three-legged table with a short tallow candle in hardened wax.
She stepped back and took off the blanket, undid the bodice of her gown and pulled out a full and youthful breast. It stared at him with its hypnotic eye and he was gone. She took off the bodice and there was its twin. The dress and chemise next and she stood naked, shaped like a lawn pin and white like a corpse. Elliot stared at her pubis. And she watched him watching her and thought, stupid fish.
“Soldier,” she cooed, “you ain’t going to leave me freezing here now?” She bent down to fluff the mattress, showing him her crack.
Elliot unbuttoned his breeches and up popped the snake out its hood.
He put her on the ticking, which crackled under their weight and enfolded them until there was only a thin layer between them and the floor. Elliot unbuttoned his waistcoat and pulled up his shirt to feel her naked skin, and then did the oddest thing – he kissed her. Not a peck or a mash, but a tender press. She turned her head. He froze and then lifted off, but she grabbed him by the prick and stroked it. “Where you going?” Then opened up and put him in. That brought him down and she eased back, her hips on automatic, thinking about the beer she would have when they’re done, that, and boiled meat in broth; to be off her feet, to be off her back, sitting at a table in a taproom with a warm fire. She put her hands on his back.
He’s a bloody one, she thought – slashes, punctures, scars. He’s been flayed more than once.
She ground her hips faster to bring him off while reaching under the mattress for a knife. She jolted; Elliot had speared her then paused. She looked up to see him glaring.
“What’s wrong, love,” her lame purr. “Keep going.” He didn’t move and she thrust her hips. “Come on, love.” She wriggled and massaged him with her breasts, her hand on the knife. “I want it.”
He slapped her.
“All right, all right. Just don’t hurt me.”
He speared her again shoving her off the mattress, her head knocking into the wall. Up flashed the knife; he grabbed it. She punched him with her other hand, but he pinned her. Her eyes glazed from terror to hardness, commanding herself to get her wits.
He started banging her. On and on. His face without pleasure and hers in pain.
He stopped suddenly and pulled out with a cruel nod. And there she lay naked and angry.
She grabbed the knife, which he let her take. “Get out.”