TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
ALLEGRO - STAVE XIII
S T A V E
Flight of geese in a piebald evening sky. Below, a sea of tents in neat rows on the pastureland framed by maples, oaks and ash at the peak of Autumn colour. Lazy columns of smoke rising white and gray from dancing fires. The snap of green wood licked by flame. Oblations to Providence for keeping them safe. An orderly, leisurely city. Fiddle tunes and voices. Hands clapping. Singing. Laughing. Somewhere off a farmer burns bundles of dried cornstalks. In an orchard the perfume of fallen apples and from the cider mill the sweet ferment of pulp. Messmates ‘round firepits smoking pipes, drinking beer, playing cards. America with her Charms. Is it real or just some artist’s fancy? Never had light been infused with such Colour. And them in their Red. Mr. Gainsborough must’ve painted it.
Geordie lounging on an open knapsack with a full belly, watching embers fly to heaven, and there Tim and Dan Burrows and George Harrison in a hand of Loo. Our merry war. He leaned back against a log. What more could a soldier ask for? How he loved the Coat. God help him if he’d not taken the shilling on the Kirkcaldy fairground.
The log knocked against his head. Someone stepping over, tugged by a petticoat’s hem. Before he could look up, Obedience plunked down next to him. No smile, no greeting, just a look.
Tim turned from his hand of Loo to give Geordie a rope of tobacco. “Keep this or I’ll lose it.” And there – Obedience. “Just let me fill my pipe when I need to and we’ll split the winnings. Don’t give it back whatever I say . . . Mrs. Gill,” he acknowledged. She nodded warily. “See to him, Mrs. Gill,” Tim stammered. “Don’t let me sway him.” Her eyes narrowed. Tim looked at his cards and said to Dan Burrows, “I’ll have you naked tomorrow save your shirt – that I’ll leave ye.”
“Kiss my arse, bogtrotter,” Burrows guffawed. “Listen to him.”
Geordie held the tobacco, his ears glowing red, and said to Obedience, “Don’t let him sway me.”
She took his hand. “Come on.”
“There goes your keeper,” Burrows said to Crotty as they left.
Down the rows they went. The camp streets filled – soldiers, women, children. Faces turned to see. Looked them up and down, MacEachran and Mrs. Gill. What are they about? What Notton said must be true. Willcock got choked for it. And Elliot, Five Hundred. Will he live?
Obedience, undaunted, pushed past the marquees and dining flies, the camp kitchen with its smells of baked pumpkins and boiling beef, past the cords of wood, some logs sour and some green. Then up the rise past the wretched latrines and out toward the tree line. But not too far. Don’t want to run into the pickets. Certainly there should be a clump of bush, a large rock or a stand of trees. Even the tall grass.
But there – a lone sycamore. The very thing – old and wise, holding out its branches.
She pulled him under its canopy and took him on top of her in a slow fall back, her lips in a rapacious kiss as both their hands worked down his trowsers. They tussled up her skirts and he paused, tight and stiff, burning to see her Secret Spot as auburn as her head. Then took her. Or so he tried, poking her high on the mons, then off on the left and off on the right, battering her labia, till she grabb’d it. Almost cracked it, jamming it down and in. And there he was . . . fucking Mrs.
Gill. The beguiling, the unattainable Mrs. Gill – like the press of two silk pillows . . .
She peered up at the ancient tree; its massive branches in their twists and turns, mimicking the writhe she hoped to feel. She grappled his head for another kiss, then mashed her cheek against his. He came in an instant and she lunged too late at the splash inside her. No matter, she kept pressing. Then a final, furtive plunge.
And it’s done.
He didn’t move: his arms still about her, pressing her flat, trying to stay inside her, his prick in retreat. “Forgive me,” he said.
She jockeyed her hips. “Forgive you for what?”
He held her still, but a stone beneath her hip and her legs splayed in a way they’d not been for months.
“Geordie, I need to get up.”
She lurched her buttocks off the rock.
Her eyes glint. “No.”
“Marry me, please.”
She kissed him. “No Geordie.”
“I mustn’t do anythin’. The war will soon end. If not, winter is coming and we’ve New York now. Grace says the army will be garrisoned and many of the officers will go back for the season. Colonel Osborn said he’d send me home. Besides, now things are easier.”
He looked like a child denied a toy. “And what should make things easier?”
“Certain persons are no longer here.”
He pressed on top of her, her skirts above her naked hips with the heat of skin on skin. His weight assuring and she nestled back into the soft earth, looking up through the old sycamore with its dappled patches of bark. She nudged him with her mons to see if she could start him up again.
“Protecting my virtue? So I won’t be some Camp Wife?”
She studied his face, different now. Better. Pleasing. Did he know he had such a face? He looks at you. He looks at you. Looks through you.
“You think me a whore?”
He kissed her between the eyes.
She turned her face toward camp. “They think it. And that they think it makes it true. They’re certain I’m swiving you. I might as well. I want to . . . I am a whore. But not what they say . . .” She considered him again – she’s talking. Why’s she talking? “So, MacEachran, still want to marry me?”
She brushed his cheek sweetly. “I know you from somewhere.”
“Please marry me.”
“No.” She pushed him. “Up Mr. Geordie, the dirty deed’s done. We should not go back to camp together.”
“I want you on my arm. I don’t care what they think.”
“I do . . . I know what I said, but I’m no fool to rub their noses in it.”
She got up and squatted, holding her skirt above her ankles. “Go on,” she said with a backhand wave. “You have to leak out of me; you must not have swived in months.”
He walked amidst the canvas, a soul out of its skin. There – his squad around the firepit, still at cards; he’d suffer no nasty talk or jesting, and made for his tent. The sun almost gone now and the camp still with lazy voices.
He sat outside the flaps leaning against the tent pole, behind him his coat, hanging from the finial. On his fingers, her still pungent scent making him restless. An imprint. A withdrawal. Why'd they not lay with each other afterwards? He touched his cheek as she had touched it. Instant dependence. He grabbed his coat sleeve behind him and examined the cuff with its three buttons of the Thistle and St Andrew’s Cross. He must have it.
“Still want to marry me?”
He looked up and there she was, standing in the twilight, her face in shadow.
He stood so quick as to knock her over. “I do.”
“Ask me again.”
“Will you marry me?”
A pause – infinitesimal. “Yes.”
He took her in his arms, her head neatly under his chin. “We’ll need permission from Colonel Osborn and then General Mathew, but they’ll not refuse. Save Osborn the –
She felt a change of his grip. “MacEachran?”
Four figures down the street – Crookshank, Notton, Willcock, and a ghost dropped by on his way to Hell.
“See him,” Geordie said and she turned.
Not dead – Thomas Elliot. Crookshank giving him papers, Notton and Willcock shaking his hand. Even so, an ordinary fellow would not be out of bed. An exceptional one ‘be on light duty about the hospital grounds. But never discharged, not yet.
“I’ll seek permission to speak with Osborn tomorrow. May take some time ‘til we’re in a town long enough to procure the license.”
“Do it,” she said.