TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
RONDO - STAVE LX
S T A V E
She wandered the city, a habit taken to, walking the edge of Holy Ground. A district to avoid, though no more treacherous than Old Pye. Something about the Danger.
Evening come and the Academicians waved to Cullies from open windows. Mild for February compared to last winter – an exact year since her sleighride. On the pavement, little Cut Purses, escorting Cullies up, only to lead to Dark Corners – that they leave ‘em a penny for a fuck.
“Up here,” called a Tail from a second story window, her voice young for her painted face. On the sill her pregnant belly; no doubt Cullies’ll be poking the little bastard’s head, and if a girl, better she get used to it. “You there,” she calls a longshoreman, “Come up and get warm. Too cold for a Three Penny Upright.”
How practiced the young voice, Obedience observed. If she’d the fortitude, she’d go up and reclaim the girl. Just what the doxy wants she’ll bet – some Gentlewoman saving her soul – like the bloody Great Awakening. Obedience imagined being tossed out the window. Maybe not, sensing the pain behind the makeup. Yes, reclaim the girl . . . so she could be hanged later for thieving. No, my love, you’re better as you are, using your Industry. All sing for our supper. No sin in Commerce . . . But to God, I pray you come out.
I pray to God . . . It set her to weeping. She cried now at the oddest things: a mother plaiting her daughter’s hair, when she passed a bakery, when she saw Colours on parade . . .
Pray to God – a sudden impulse, like a vice, itching.
She’d passed by churches, tempted to step in, but all too dry – none of their appearances satisfied. No, she wanted one of Magick, something Popish to lose herself in. But there were none; unlike Philadelphia, New York forbade the building of Catholic chapels. Keep them Out.
Keep them Down. Catholics ruin everything.
She headed back to Grisham’s, thinking on Old St Mary’s and then the make-shift chapel off Old Pye, a hole-in-the-wall with two bits of art. She’d come to sit when Billy was on his ear and stare at a copy, rendered not too well, of the Sistine Madonna. In Mary’s face she saw herself, sad and trapped. Never much noticed the Child, whose look was one of horror. But this supposed Jewess, she thought, this Dago Milk Girl, what had they done to her? What had God put on her head? If Mary could endure, so could Obedience.
Mary in her mind now, whose soft eyes would not look at her. But there, the Child, staring.
She pressed her stomacher, her body out of sorts. She would not think on Mary long. But the crucifix next to her picture – Jesus on the Cross, somehow an easier image – one of Flesh. If she was there, she’d sit with him right now, at his tiny wood feet and the suggestion of blood. Odd, she’d never had use for Jesus, and what use for him now? But the crucifix drew her, with his arms splayed and nailed down. She’d seen different kinds – ones of suffering, eyes entreating heaven, but she liked the ones Slumped and Dead.
But You’re not dead, her thoughts said to him. Just silent and will lift up Your head any moment. You’d do that, wouldn’t You? And take on my sin. Then do it. I can bear them no longer. She shook her head. Outrageous.
Up ahead, a ragged beggar against a wall. License around his neck, he held his cup with fore finger and thumb, the rest missing. On his other arm, no hand at all. “There’s my lady.” He raised his cup as an excuse to talk. “Never fails me.”
“Good Eve, Mr. Dingman. Standing rather late. I should think you’d be in already.”
“Waiting for you, ma’am.” She threw in a penny. “God bless ye.”
“Am I so regular?”
“Regular as me, ma’am.”
She’d come across him a month ago, wretched creature. Wretched indeed. She turned the other way. Could smell him within ten feet, and when she’d see him up ahead, she’d cross the street. Till one day, when around the corner, there he was in an unexpected place. “Charity, ma’am,” he said, holding up his cup. “Never!” And marched off. “Ye needn’t be cruel about it, ma’am – a simple ‘no’ and I mind my business.” Her cold back growing small. “I’m God’s child too.” She stopped and marched back. “Are you now?” she huffed and tossed two ha’pennies for his cup. “And what do I get for my pense?” “Ye save three souls,” he said. “Yours, my own, and some poor fool I’d lay low and steal from.” “Then you should hang.” He chuckled, “We all should hang, Providence knows, just my Crimes ain’t secret.” “Not good at them, I see.” “Indeed. You should teach me.” “Damn you, dog.” He grinned. The next day she met him on a different street. “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse,” he called, her eyes shocked to see him. “‘God bless ye’ for a penny; ‘God forgive thee’ for two.” Ugh – she rolled her eyes and turned. “You ain’t afraid,” he called, “Can’t fool me. I hear it, ye know, for all that finery – Great Peter . . .” It stopped her. She came with a penny. “No need to shut me,” he said, “We’re the same.” “I was never like you.” “Oh ma’am, yes – wanderers.” How dare him? . . . Didn’t see him for days . . .Then there he was again. Is he a phantasm or something?. . . She demanded his name, said she should at least know the name of the Establishment she was supporting. Isaac Dingman – topman in the King’s Navy twenty years. “Old Pye,” she said and she tossed in a coin, feeling better for it. “God bless thee,” he said. God bless thee – it laid on her like balm.
Today she required his prayer – two pennies and a superstition. Small price. And wouldn’t ye know God would hear ‘em. A ‘God bless thee’ from Isaac Dingman, like that of a Prophet.
Holding her breath, she stepped closer. In his cup, a number of pennies. “Well done, Dingman. You must be out of blessings.”
“Not for you, ma’am.”
“New York is generous today. Who’d a think it?”
“The mild weather, ma’am – lifts the Humanity.”
“Careful you don’t get robbed.”
“Pity the fool.” Then looked at her up and down. “Ma’am,” he said, always free with her. “You’re changing.”
“Off your drink, Mr. Dingman? What could you mean by that?”
“Nothing much I miss.”
“Maybe I should just buy you liquor.”
“Oh no, ma’am, the pense will do. God bless thee, ma’am.”
She walked away. Found out? She’s not showing. Are others too discreet? She touched her stomach – still flat, mostly. Twelve weeks – she could still wear a stomacher. And who sees better than an ‘invisible’ beggar? The Grishams knew, so did Binah – bringing MacEachran in that night. Mrs. G. approved heartily. Binah silent. Not that it much mattered; Howard had not only granted permission to go off with Geordie, but procured Tildon as her manager and provided for a year. That should be sufficient, he said, the war will be over either way: if won, she’d return to London as his Client and further her career, if lost and him with it, her engagements would enable her to secure another patron. Either should be satisfactory.
Satisfactory, she thought. I am alive with life in me.
“Who’s child is that?” Binah dared say when they were alone.
“MacEachran’s,” allowing the brass.
“How convenient he showed up . . . You keep’n it?”
“I’m carrying it . . .”
“Then what will you do?” Binah asked in spite of herself. “What will you do if it looks like the Devil?”
“If it looks like the Devil, then it’s because of me. I told you, it’s MacEachran’s.”
“And you’ll keep it?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Don’t expect me to wet nurse. Besides I’m too old. Does your man know?”
“No, I cannot write him. God knows where he is, if even alive. I’ll tell him when he returns.”
“And that other one,” Binah shuddered. “He’ll always come back . . . Mistress?” Binah paused, but compelled to ask. “What happened in that alley?”