TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
ADAGIO - STAVE XXVI
S T A V E
West Hyde, his hatt-cap jaunty, his wounded arm slung, walked with exuberance toward Smith’s Tavern. Behind him, Geordie, with a Masonic robe in a painted canvass bag having just come from the lodge, rather, Hyde from the lodge; Geordie outside, waiting.
“Where are you going?” Obedience had asked after she had spent hours mending soldiers’ shirts.
“He wants me to attend him out on the town.”
“What’s he need you for?”
“His wing, he says.”
“Ridiculous,” she huffed. “Five months ago he was sleeping out on some cornfield. He had no one then.”
“His prerogative. Besides, I must protect our benefactor; what if he gets into another duel? Where would we be then?”
“No. He’ll get drunk and layup with one of these Philly girls and send me back.”
“You come back.”
Send me back, Geordie in his thoughts, but Hyde did not care to notice. Whatever the amusement, it must be had, and Hyde would have it whether crippled, drunk or broke. His Prerogative indeed, and so it should be – officers out front exposed to all danger – felled more than private men. That too, a Prerogative of Class.
Hyde bounded up the steps, scraped his shoes on the boot scrape, unfastened his cape and held it behind for Geordie to be there, as Geordie was, like so many of the objects in Hyde’s privileged life. Then his hat atop the cape, and without a glance, up the stairs.
Geordie in the smoky taproom – long tables, tobacco and beer – the lower class in the lower level, subject to the main door draft. Little did it matter, the frolickers made their own heat with chorus after chorus of drinking songs. Overhead the ceiling creaked. Muffled voices just as rowdy, male and female. And so above them to the highest floor, in private rooms, until the whole proud strata seemed to groan and in a moment might collapse. Not a chance, all in order.
Geordie pushed to the bar and threw down fourpence. He looked at the ceiling with grim eyes. The night would be long.
“Catullus, Johnny!” shouted a young Guards ensign from a cluster of tables in the center of the upper room as the cadre laughed and hooted.
Captain Watson, thespian, stood one foot upon a chair like Zeus upon Olympus to hurl poetry like a thunderbolt.
“Catullus, Johnny! Give us Catullus!”
“No, no, no,” Trelawny groaned next to him. “Eld, you puppy, Catullus is a bore – ‘let us kiss with a thousand kisses and we shall kiss more’ . . .”
“That’s not how it goes,” protested young Eld, glass in hand. “Let Johnny do it.”
“God,” Trelawny said, “must we go back to Eaton? Someone fetch a pig that Eld may run it down and beat it.”
“Let Eld put a rebel on his head,” Captain Archer cried from the corner, a girl upon his lap. “The boy can fight. Watson, give him Catullus if he wants it. You’ll do the old Roman good.”
Watson raised his hand in a grand gesture when West Hyde walked in, and with an affected inebriation, Watson flicked his wrist as with a sabre parry. “La!”
West Hyde, come not only from the lodge, but dining with friends in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers – Saint David’s Day and drams of Wisgi Cymreig – was cheery ‘til Watson spoke.
Trelawny thrusted a glass into Hyde’s free hand. “Now friends, are we not gentlemen? Brothers in arms?”
Hyde tipped his chin and with a backhand wave, announced: “Indeed we are. Johnny – Brothers in Arms.” Then perused the ladies along the wall with their silk fans.
“‘C'est l'etiquette’,” Trelawny beamed. “Bygones be bygones. Good spirits, good company, liberal drink. And I tell both of you, neither one sits at cards. Find another vice this evening. Gambling will be the death of this army. Poor Cain – lost everything the other night. Sold his commission and title. And still in debt. Bullet to the brain; they found him this morning. Goes to show – never engage in a contest you can’t stand to lose.”
“And I was so hoping Westy and I could engage in some sort of fete,” Watson said.
“To celebrate what,” Hyde asked.
“Brothers in Arms,” Trelawny reminded them. “All of you, Johnny will give a little Catullus . . .”
“Catullus?” West Hyde smirked. “Rochester’s your style.”
“Rochester indeed,” Watson quipped, holding his smile. “You know me, Westy. I’d think he’s your man too. A challenge.” Watson raised his hand to Trelawny. “And not a word from you. I am first. Westy second. The rest of you – chorus. In the lists we ride, two gallant knights with verse. There Westy,” Watson tossed down his lace nose rag with embroidered initials. “The gauntlet is down.” The girls tittered. “We must contend for their honour. Are there two of you game? A scandalous contest. West Hyde and me to battle for your modesty. The loser will be the talk of the city. Your Quaker fathers will beat you if they learn.”
“Pick me!” “Pick me!” they squealed.
“Well, Colonel Hyde?”
West Hyde picked the rag up.
“Ahhhh!” officers cheered, hoping for something special.
“Now we’re to it,” Watson said. “I will pick your lady. You will pick mine. They’ll be our Captives. We’ll joust to Johnny Wilmot, and whoever muffs his verse . . .” Watson looked about for a waiter and called, “Has this place any gin? Whoever muffs his verse must take a drink of Old Tom and the lady he defends removes an article of clothing.”
The officers howled, slapping tables, the girls squealing all the more. Both Watson and Hyde stood before the young ladies, picking the ones they’d most like to bed. Trelawny, as majordomo, flipped a coin. Heads – Watson chose the verse. Tails – Hyde.
The combatants mounted atop the center table, their damsels behind them standing on chairs.
“Silence,” Trelawny demanded. A bottle of gin and two glasses brought in. “That door have a lock?” he asked the server.
“It does not, sir.”
“You stand outside then and let no one in.”
The waiter wagged his chin. “Can’t sir, I’ve many rooms to serve.”
“My man’s downstairs,” Hyde said. “Tell him to come up and guard the door. ‘is name’s MacEachran.”
“You know the rules.” Trelawny said with the door shut. “Very well then. Watson’s advantage –”
John Watson Tadwell Watson cleared his throat with Madeira.
“You ladies of merry England
Who have been to kiss the Duchess’s hand,
Pray, did you not lately observe in the show
A noble Italian called . . .”
And the room shouted, “‘Signior Dildo!’”
West Hyde puffed his chest.
“This signior was one of the Duchess’s train
And helped to conduct her over the main;
But now she cries out ‘To Duke I will go,
I have no more need for . . .”
“At the Sign of the Cross in St. James Street,
When next you go thither to make yourself sweet
By buying of powder, gloves, essence, or so,
You may chance to get a sight of . . .”
West Hyde turned to his Lady and smiled apologetically. “Prepare yourself, my dear –
“You would take him at first . . . for . . . no person . . .
no person of note . . . Because he appears in a plain coat . . .”
“Hit!” Watson cried and corrected, “‘in a plain leather coat’”.
“For certain,” confirmed Trelawny. The crowd hooted. Trelawny poured the gin. “First blood. At once,” Trelawny instructed Hyde, “no sipping.”
“Might I have some sugar?”
“Sugar for Colonel Hyde’s gin!” Trelawny ordered. And then he turned to the girl, a buxom, raven-haired beauty. She smiled demurely and removed the ribbon from around her neck. The officers sighed, disappointed.
Eld cried, “Drink more gin, sir!” All laughed.
“I continue,” Watson said:
“My Lady Southesk, heaven prosper her for’t,
First clothed him in satin, then brought him to court,
But his head in the circle he scarcely durst show,
So modest a youth was . . .”
Outside, Geordie pressed the doorframe. Downstairs, fiddlers bowed a lively tune. Pipe smoke drifted up in the corridor. He grew cold away from the packed room with its hearth fire. Still, warmer here than the State House barracks – what private man would not long to take his place? But Geordie thought on the Old St. Mary’s – the candle burns. Hoots and laughter behind the door, the dirty little sayings, inane quips.
I must go, his thoughts. Go home to her . . . home to her . . . On this land I am home. In this house I am home. In these arms I am home. In this heart I am home. Time slipping. Foolish Geordie. Stupid Geordie. Mawkish Geordie.
He heard Watson:
“Our dainty fine duchesses have got a trick
To dote on a fool for the sake of his prick
The fops were undone did their graces but know
The discretion and vigour of . . .”
West Hyde’s lady down to her bodice and chemise. Watson’s girl had lost her stomacher.
West Hyde slurring and Watson all smug – Signior Dildo not the only prick in the room.
“Concede?” Watson demanded.
“If you concede, the lady must reveal all her charms,” Trelawny said.
Hyde would like that, but he would keep in the fight to see the other girl naked.
“Courage, Westy,” called Colonel O’Hara of the Coldstream Guards.
“How the deuce do you know what’s right or not?” Hyde asked Trelawny.
Trelawny smiled. “By my prerogative.”
“Wonderful,” West Hyde sarcastically. “And I’ve been trying so hard.” He looked at his lady. “Get ready to show yer Diddleys.” She flashed one out and the room cheered; she too had been drinking. West Hyde took a preemptive shot of gin. “‘The Countess o’th’Cockpit (who the hell knows her name? She famous for killing the dames), when all her lovers leave her, I trow, she’ll plug up her hole with Signior Dildo.”
“The bodice,” Watson cried, but Trelawny shook his head. “What?” Watson protested.
“Sounds right to me.”
“He should at least take the gin.”
“One or the other,” Trelawny said to Hyde in concession.
“Your choosing, ma’am,” he said to his lady. She pulled down her bodice and pulled out her breasts to stay. “Good choice,” West Hyde said. “Do you concede?” he asked Watson.
Watson then recited:
“Tom Killigrew’s wife, that Holland fine flower,
At the sight of this signior did fart and belch sour,
And her Dutch breeding the further to show,
Says, ‘Welcome to England, Mynheer Van Dildo’.”
“I think there’s some error,” Trelawny said.
“Not one error,” Watson protested.
The onlookers crowed and Watson’s damsel released her great Dumplings.
“Gin! Gin! Gin!”
Watson knocked back a tot.
West Hyde’s next verse:
“He civilly came to the Cockpit one night,
And proferred his service to fair Madam Knight.
Qouth she, ‘I intrigue with Captain Cazzo;
Your nose in my arse, good Signior Dildo.’”
Trelawny threw up his hands, appealing to the crowd. Not that it mattered, both girls were naked.
Coffee ordered while the Ladies dressed and the door thrown open.
Geordie saw West Hyde, his lady, still exposed, leaning on his shoulder. Surely Hyde would take her to a room and send Geordie home.
A group of Highlanders from down the hall stuck in their heads. “Noisy bunch of blackguards,” a drunken captain said. “Could hear ye three rooms down . . . Ugh, Guards. Well, that tells.” He spied the girl on West Hyde’s shoulder. “Well, my dear, why waste your time on foppy actors? Especially this one. What’ya do, me lord, sprain it frigging?”
Watson, recognizing an officer in the hall. “Peebles, find your friend here a cage and tote him off.”
The captain fawned, “O’ the Great Garrick. I have you in my eye, sir.”
“Do you sir?” Watson said without a care.
“I do, sir.”
“That’s a comfort. Have we met?”
“We meet now.” He bowed. “Codwell – at your service. Have a drink with me, sir.”
“You’ll excuse me,” Watson said, “but I am engaged.”
Captain Codwell rested a hand on his ceremonial dirk –
A tide of onlookers rushed out into the hall, in their center – Codwell and Watson. West Hyde with his Lady and two bottles in his good hand, waved to Geordie. “Hat. Coat.” They stepped into the icy street, the entourage encircled them; Watson stripped his coat and dropped it.
“You may use a sword,” Codwell slurred as he too removed his coat.
“I need no sword for you,” Watson said and looked about. “Private – your bayonet,” he said to Geordie and West Hyde nodded. “I don’t know your problem, my friend,” he said to Codwell, “but it’ll soon be over.”
Codwell laughed and pulled his dirk. “You’re on a different stage now.”
He feigned a lunge. The women startled. Watson jerked, but recovered his cool. Codwell thrust again, this time in earnest, and Watson pricked his forearm with the bayonet.
Codwell shook his arm in pain and charged. Watson dodged awkwardly and backhanded Codwell’s ear with the bayonet socket. Codwell fell.
“You’re too drunk, Archie,” Captain Peebles called. “Give it up.”
But before Codwell could rise, Watson stuck him in the shoulder. Codwell yelped as blood flowed. Trelawny and O’Hara grabbed Watson.
“Don’t ruin yourself over a drunken fool,” Trelawny told him. Blood everywhere, on Watson, on Trelawny, the ladies, Geordie.
“Let go of me,” Watson shouted. “By God, let go of me!”
“He’s undone,” O’Hara said, “better than killing him. And if you do, there’ll be a trial and a scandal.”
“Yes, a trial,” West Hyde slurred, a jet on his waistcoat. “That would be fun.” He suddenly bent and retched on Geordie’s shoe, then onto his knees vomiting into a patch of Codwell’s blood. Geordie picked him up and Watson chortled – Victoire Complète.
“I’m dying,” West Hyde moaned. “Get me back to Edmonds’.”
Geordie pulled him down the street, hugging close to the buildings, stopping from time to time as Hyde cooled his head against the bricks.
“Slow down, MacEachran, for God’s sake.”
“There’s the door, sir.”
“God, man, let me die here.” He heaved against Mrs. Edmonds’ outer wall.
“Have you a key, sir?” Hyde continued to vomit. Geordie banged on the door. When Mrs. Edmonds came, they staggered past her. “Excuse us, Mrs.”
“What’s this?” Mrs. Edmonds circling them. “Good God, he’s wounded!”
“No, ma’am,” Geordie out of breath.
Mrs. Edmonds threw up her hands. “I’ll not allow him to die in this house!”
“He will not die, ma’am.”
“He should, I think . . . Get him up the stairs. Mind how you walk, Mr. MacEachran; you pay for anything you knock over. Such a gentleman – Next time, I turn him out – occupation or no. General Mathew shall hear of this.”
Geordie dropped him on the landing and dragged him to his room.
“You clean him up, Mr. MacEachran. Hot water and soap. Bloodybacks,” she grumbled down to the kitchen only to come back with water, soap and rags.
“Thankee, ma’am,” Geordie said exhausted.
“When you’re done, clean yourself and come down.”
“Please, ma’am, all I want to do is go to the summer kitchen and my wife.”
“Mrs. MacEachran is in the house with me,” she said. “I’ve mulled some wine. We’ve been . . . talking.”
“Geordie?” Obedience called up from downstairs.
“He’s here,” Mrs. Edmonds replied.
“Deorsa?” she said coming up and her face twisted at the blood.
“I’m fine. I’m fine,” he said.
She couldn’t hear. Mrs. Edmonds grabbed her. “Take hold. He’s not injured.”
“I’m fine,” Geordie assured her. “Another duel.”
“He fought another duel?”
“Not him, Captain Watson. Hyde’s drunk on Tom gin.”
“Lucky for you your Wife is here,” Mrs. Edmonds said. “She’s a civilizing creature once you talk with her. If not, you and that animal would be on the street.” She shook her head. “You both . . . Well . . . this one night, stay in here. Up to room in the attic. And see that he’s quiet.
I’m off to bed.”
Side by side on a rope bed, staring at the small lit hearth.
“Never leave me,” she said.
“I’ll never leave you.”
“I saw the blood and thought you would die – God punishing me.” She sipped hot wine.
“Why would God punish you?”
“If I died, would you remarry?”
“I would not.”
“If you were on campaign, miles and months away, would you be faithful?”
“Yes. And you?”
“. . . I wasn’t to Billy.”
“Who was he?”
“‘Who were they?’ . . . I think I went a little mad . . .”