TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
SCHERZO - STAVE L
S T A V E
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Tildon slapped the pianoforte. “You’re singing it wrong! I keep telling you not to force the ending, and you keep singing it the same idiotic way!”
Obedience preoccupied. “Sorry.”
“I don't care that you’re sorry,” he scolded. “I care that you pay attention so not to waste our time. Mistakes I tolerate, but you’re not even trying.”
“You’re croaking like a tavern singer." He waved her off. “I can't stand to hear any more. Your voice needs rest. What’ve you been doing? Take care of yourself, Mrs. MacEachran. I will not work with singers who do not take care of themselves.” He measured her. “You’re now going to cry?”
“You think me unfair?” A rare solicitation.
“I think you’re an ass,” she blurted.
He smiled, though not triumphant. “Mrs. Briddly,” Tildon shouted. “Mrs. Briddly.”
“Yes, Mr. Tildon,” the maid called up the stairs.
“Bring up some tea.”
It was served at an arrangement by the window, a tall casing for a New York house. That it was saved from the blaze no one could figure for the vista it looked upon was ragged buildings like rows of broken teeth; he gazed at her while she looked at it.
He studied the line of her neck. “Anything different ‘bout the lesson,” he queried, “other than your lack of attention?”
“That you’re more an ass today than you are other days?”
He nodded. “May be – my charm and prerogative; I am hard on you because you have promise. I also believe you’re intelligent to view it as care.”
“I do,” she confessed, grudgingly.
“But I’m referring to something else.”
She sat with hands in her lap, the tea growing tepid. “Where is he?”
“Away,” he said with a modicum of discretion.
“‘Away’, well that’s a pity. Away with who? Away from what?”
“Just away,” Tildon said.
“Good for them. How nice to be away. Somewhere pleasant?”
“On some duty – nothing so powerful like a General of Brigade when he wants something done.”
“And what’s that to me?”
“General Howard thought it best . . . With my encouragement . . .”
“Your encouragement? Why your encouragement?” she said.
“I too thought it best.”
“Best for what?”
“Your best,” he said.
“Why thank you for your concern. Am I now some town nuisance?”
“Mrs. MacEachran,” he said with forbearance. “I’m trying to be your friend – old ass that I am. You cannot suffer another Indiscretion. You’re too much of a Talent for that to be allowed. Afterall, you must rely on others’ Good Graces.”
She flushed bright as the Coat. He motioned to take her hand, but thought better of it.
“I’m to keep you in a bandbox,” he said. “I wanted you to know – out of respect. You deserve at least that. I think it fair to the both of us there be no deception.”
“You’re being paid for it?”
“I see. Am I so public?”
“Very public,” he interrupted, putting up his hand, “as you must know. You are, for the moment, a most Public Person O’ the Town.”
“A cruel thing to say.”
“I meant no hurt.”
“I am no whore.”
“But you must know these things.”
“I am not a whore,” her register rising.
“But you wear the Uniform . . .” He paused and took a breath. “Mrs. MacEachran – Obedience – the world is not a reflection in a mirror; it observes what we say and do no matter how reticent we feel. A Reputation is more than a Persona put Forward.”
“And what of you men?” she spat. “Dirty Dogs. What of your Reputation? You abandon your wives and your children without a care and ruin young girls. Damn you to Hell. If there are whores, they’re of your making. And what does the world really know or care. . .”
“Yes, but who is really innocent; it’s more bitch and hound, I think, but Society is civilized by Convention. Besides, everyone knows . . . Mrs. Briddly knows . . . The entire town knows. And it doesn’t matter if no one cares . . . Howard cares and that makes all the difference.”
She sat back from the table.
Tildon dipped his chin like a barrister. “And Mr. MacEachran? What of him?”
“That is private between him and me.”
“Rather public if you ask me, seeing he’s up for a thousand lashes.”
“Don’t you know?” he said.
“Drunkenness and striking an officer, for pissing on the officer’s tent. How could you not know? It’s the Talk, least in army circles. Why’d you think Dalrymple’s gone?”
“I’ve been in my room all night and day and left it only to come here,” she said. “Was it Dalrymple? Geordie struck Dalrymple?”
“No, that would’ve been too comic; Diphilus couldn’t have writ it better.”
“A thousand,” she repeated, an unfathomable number.
“They were set to hang him, but Howard and Hyde interceded.”
“When’s it to happen?”
“Why, today, I think.”
“My God,” she said, remembering Elliot’s lashing. “I’ve killed him.”
“Mrs. MacEachran.” Tildon reached out to her. She pulled away. “Mrs. MacEachran, it’s time for a cool head. What’s done is done. All this love and passion . . .”
“I love no one,” she said.
“A wise position.”
Least of all myself.
Geordie crossed the ground – a Notable Character. Acclaimed by some. Derided by others. A Foot Guards Private Man abused egregiously by a common officer over a pretty wife whom they tagged as Molly Lungs. Colonel Cosmo Gordon, so incensed, hoped he not survive the day – a stain on the Third Guards. Not so, Hyde and Howard – Mitigating Factors and a Good Record – a Husband’s Right; a Good Fellow and the true crime, a naiveté of Passion. A notion Geordie rejected; “Something happened to me,” he said, a thing he could not fathom. And if owned, then owned gladly and would go to Hell for it. Could he blame her? She warned him feven as their love-making was Sacramental. And what was it like with Dalrymple? If he could’ve found the lobcock, he’d a pissed on him drunk or not and cut out his heart. But didn’t, and he was here ‘bout to have his back flayed off, and Obedience was still Howard’s protégée in her Room, and Dalrymple ‘seconded’ to the Barbados.
A good thing, his mates hazarded, or all three’d be dead. Yet, Bess said Obedience done noth’n to Geordie that fate hadn’t done to them both. An equal suffering. But not like Geordie in the next few moments.
His eyes closed, he stumbled at the poles. The drummers tied his wrists without malice. He tried to swallow but caught in his throat. They cinched on the kidney pad, him shaking. A drummer from 4th company with a hand on his shoulder – “God bless ye, son.” The Parade Officer read the punishment – One Thousand Lashes to be met out in Total. A thumping in Geordie’s ears – his heart. Could they hear across the field?
Elliot heard, his own in syncopation. Bile on his tongue. His hands cold and tingling . . .
He looked over to the women – of course she’s not there, and him, a fresh piece of canvas. A rare flash of pity.
“Proceed with the punishment,” the parade officer ordered.
The whirl. The crack. “One.” Whirl. Crack. “Two.”
West Hyde, next to the court’s Chief Justice, noted the drummers holding back. Howard noted it. The Parade Officer noted. The whole battalion too. A Conspiracy. But Geordie bled.