TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
SCHERZO - STAVE XLVI
S T A V E
It is as it always should have been, thought Sir Henry, vindicated as the rebel army marched out from the Citadel in surrender. Charlestown fallen. They came at the slow step in spit and polish, drums muffled and fifes playing a dirge – so much better they appear formidable, their General Lincoln would have no rag-tags under his command. And no pushing them off as Billy had done – a complete surrender – over 5,000 and fine rebel troops, many had fought at Freehold, this and 15 regimental Colours, 400 cannon, 6,000 muskets, 376 barrels of black powder, 33,000 cartridges, four frigates (three American, one French) and a polacre of sixteen guns – marvelous. If only “His Excellency” had been among them, wouldn’t that have been a catch? But Lincoln would do, a stiff-necked Massachusetts man who helped defeat Burgoyne, and to make the victory sweeter – three signers of the Declaration of Independence. It would’ve ended the war if in ’76. And Clinton did it, the key to the South now in his pocket, and did it without the great ‘L.C.’ whom he kept out in the swamps to cut off any retreat.
The schemer, Cornwallis, always jockeying, riling up junior officers. Give him his command then; he can have the South, pacify the backcountry. Keep him out of trouble. Whip the Loyalists up . . . I’m to New York and the French. Graves is coming over, and between his fleet and Arbuthnot’s, we’ll bag the lot. The South’ll peel like an orange. The Mid-Atlantics follow. New England will be done. And if L.C. fails, it’s all his fault.
Obedience, in the library, waited for her cue, another singer in the adjoining room, a voice of talent. Mistakes to be sure, but sweet, very sweet, Theodosia Burnham, bright as her ingénue self. The pretty young thing, and Obedience positively old by ten years – the way she demurred in Obedience’s presence, her cheeks blushing cherry. Grandame. Idol.
She tried not to listen, white powder sprinkling off her wig’s tight curls. A velvet choker to warm her throat along with sips of hot water with lemon and honey. Butterflies – always. Dalrymple had come in to embrace her. She’d pushed him away.
“You know better.”
“Nonsense.” He kissed her ear.
“Devil.” She bapped him with a Chinese fan.
“She’s in good voice tonight,” he said, listening.
He chuckled. “You’re jealous.”
“I am not.”
“She’s worked hard these past weeks. She admires you. You’re her inspiration.”
“As she admires you.”
“You’re jealous. I would not think it so.”
“Leave the girl alone.”
“What have I done?”
“It’s what you will do.”
“You needn’t worry.”
“For her sake, not mine.”
“That’s a compliment. And what makes you think she has sights on me?”
“She’s a poor actress.”
“A tulip,” he dismissed.
“A Girl of Spring – there and gone. I prefer a rose that lasts the summer.”
He kissed her hand. “Nothing to smudge here. To your flop, my dear.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Now leave me to warm up.”
“Everything about you is warm, my dear.” He bowed with a smirk.
The Shit. What’s to see in him, she thought. He’s abominable when his clothes are not off.
She pressed her stomach and took a breath. Theodosia, she thought, an Unspotted girl . . . As she had once been. Not that Theodosia hadn’t the urge, though at fourteen, Obedience had experienced more than Theodosia could imagine. When she was first Plucked, another sip of the warm water, then a touch to her throat, painful as it was. Why on Earth she singing that? And what Appetite followed. The piece is too much for her. She could never be sated. She’ll crack. The time they held her down. A song of Love. They needn’t do it. Aren’t they all? Such with gin – all the laughing – a game – then the burning and bleeding. Are all Love songs about Swiving? Stop. Some about Pain. Can’t recall how many. Such a Drunk. Two? Five? Ten? Some about God. Certainly not ten . . . But two to hold her down. Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend – Her father’s voice. Had they held her down? Hadn’t she embraced them? That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend . . .
What fun. Wasn’t it Fun? Didn’t they love her? . . . Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. Never drink that way again . . .
I’ve sinned. That she should think such a thing. With Dalrymple. With – She wouldn’t think it. Not him. Not really . . . I sinned . . . Against Whom? Against what? MacEachran? Not in her heart. He’s a separate issue. An army marriage, if a marriage at all, and of his making – one of Convenience, an Economic situation. Such, the mechanical universe. Does an aloof God care?
You don’t love him (Dalrymple). There’s the sin. Nothing to sanctify . . . And what a fool if you did. You’d be doomed. Thank God, you can’t conjure the Feeling. Nothing but the banging of hips and he knows how to Do It – can’t pass on such Skill. And five thousand a year, it’s him you should marry. If to be enslaved, have money for it. Cuckold him with Deorsa as my lover . . . Would you have him as a lover? She shook her head. You warned him.
Theodosia sang of love.
Bet she’s never seen a Horn much less touched one. He’s mine, little bitch, and imagined knocking Theo down and by the hair, whipping her across the floor. She drained the cup. And tearful Theo in a heap like a young Obedience in need of safeguard. She sighed – if only someone had protected me . . . Theodosia, a virgin, but not too long; the wolves will eat her. Let it be tender by a boy she loves. Even better on her wedding night, but no doubt she’ll come hiding a bump, Green Girl . . . But that she’s never held down . . .
Brisk applause from the adjoining room and comes the majordomo to usher her in – Mrs. MacEachran, to everyone’s surprise, especially the men, not knowing she’d be singing. She smiles. The usual faces: in the center, Colonel Howard beams as when his prize 2 year-old is walked onto the track. None awed more than Theodosia with Dalrymple at her side, grinning with fascination.
“Not yet a note and she has them.” Theodosia touched his arm. “She’ll have them eating out of her hand.”
“The complete package,” he said.
“Indeed – someone to emulate, though I wonder if she were of a comparative age, would she be your rival? She is certainly what you might become, if not more.”
Theodosia fluttered her Chinese fan.
The Quartet played – an introduction – Violin One. Violin Two. Viola. Violonchelo. Tildon had worked them hard, stretching them beyond all bounds and costing Howard a fortune – all for a Papist-Dago tune – Vivaldi. Mournful. Haunting. And as the Strings drew the last note, Obedience’s voice emerged, soft and controlled as if Tildon had found in her another creature. Filiae maestae Jerusalem . . . He made her sing of Christ . . . Rex universorum, Rex vester vulneratus et spinis coronatus . . . For a Castrato . . . ut maculas detergat peccatorum (Mournful daughters of Jerusalem, behold the King of all, your King wounded and crowned with thorns; to clear the stain of sin . . .) How cruel, her voice voluptuous as claret.
In the midst, the Royal Governor, General Robertson, an elderly man declining in faculties, turned to the proper Von Knyphausen in the front row. “Has Harry sent you instructions?”
Von Knyphausen, a look at Obedience as if he didn’t hear, but then nodded to Robertson.
“He’ll sit on his backside now he’s got his victory,” Robertson nearly chortled.
Von Knyphausen remained reserved.
“He’ll use the French fleet as an excuse to do nothing.”
She nearly faltered, but Von Knyphausen, hands in his lap, raised a subtle finger to still her . . . unda amata, frondes, flores non satientur (the flowers and leaves will not be drenched with the water they love). She turned and there, Dalrymple and Theodosia, the Lover and the Admirer; in his face all the men that had ever kissed her, all the pricks ever pushed inside; in Theodosia . . . in Theodosia . . . At dum satis non possumus dolere tu nostri bone Jesu, miserere (But while we cannot grieve enough, you, good Jesus, have mercy on us). Her chest tightened and there, Von Knyphausen, with his approving smile. See your mouth shaping the notes – Tildon’s instruction – Feel the muscles in the jaw making them. She took a great breath, pushed the air over her lower cords, climbing with control to the top of her register . . .
And cracked, an ugly tumble, but quickly recovered. Still, everyone heard, made crueller by the fact she had handled the song beautifully. The air went dead. If one were to drop a feather, it would plummet like a stone leaving only Obedience’s voice, now void of Magick.
She finished to kind applause and curtsied to Generals Robertson and Von Knyphausen, then a glance at Dalrymple, which, if a pistol shot, would’ve struck his head dead center. She exited, though no Retreat, as General Mathew would say, but advancing to the rear. She pulled the library door behind her not intending for it to slam, though slam it did, and threw herself to the settee. And Theodosia singing again, made louder by Dalrymple entering the room.
“It couldn’t be helped,” he said. “How completely rude, the codger – Everyone heard it. Senile old fool – made him the governor to keep his hands off the troops. Pull yourself out of it.”
“Must you talk?” she tried not to snap. “I understand what happened.”
“Just to comfort.”
“No comfort from you.”
Theodosia’s voice, a smooth wave, rose and fell. Obedience rolled her eyes.
“Something warm to drink?” he asked.
“No – let me prepare for the duet.”
“As I must do,” he reminded her.
“Basta,” she said. “Find your own room. I shall meet you out there.”
She paced. They know not how it feels, thinking about men. It doesn’t hurt me. It’s them who surrender. I make them. I seduce them.
She returned as if they’d never seen her. Theodosia was making her way to the back, the audience pleased by her performance; Obedience quickly filled her space – Mrs. MacEachran flawed is still richer than Miss Burnham pristine.
The music began, Dalrymple her foil, and Obedience, sensual and revealing, sang. And the audience, rapt – here, a Woman-on-the-Ration. Her real condition? Nay, Incognito. The daughter of a great artist or a powerful lord escaped to America. A ruse, her marriage. She must be running.
She held the last note – the way of lovers parting, Dalrymple a counterpoint.
Applause. Obedience held them. Dalrymple with the good sense to bow and withdraw. How it will be for her, no matter the disaster, she’ll triumph by sheer Will. That, and Luck. More by Luck – Providence . . . sitting on her shoulder.
Officers brought her punch and cake while chairs were cleared. The Gentlemen close, exchanging witty banter, touching her arms, her hands, her bare shoulders. Double entendres. She laughed, Theodosia on her coattails, both courted and danced.
“Aren’t you pleased, Mrs. M?” Theodosia asked.
“You’ve conquered,” Dalrymple said from behind.
“Weary, you? Who marched to Freehold with the baggage?” Dalrymple said too loud and then to Theodosia, “To be successful, Miss Burnham – a stint with the Army. Toughens the lungs. Marry yourself to a private man; your father must permit it. Then you too can be ‘discovered’.”
“Better that,” Obedience said, “than to be tethered to a chinless fop. You can then have a variety of lovers rather than the one at hand.”
“Oh – ‘La’,” Dalrymple spouted.
“And where’s Mr. MacEachran?” Theodosia asked.
“In the lines,” Obedience said.
“Where all privates should be,” Dalrymple said.
“The brigade occupies Fort Knyphausen.”
“How fortunate you are here,” Theodosia said. “You must miss him.”
“I do,” she said, looking at Dalrymple.
He took her arm and gestured toward General Robertson conversing with officials at the end of the room. “He wants to meet you.” And took Theodosia in the same manner. “Both of you.”
“I prefer not,” Obedience said.
“He asked specifically I fetch you up.”
“Here they are, sirs,” he said to the General and Lieutenant Governor, “Miss Burnham and Mrs. MacEachran. Ladies – General Robertson and Mr. Andrew Elliot.”
Theodosia curtsied. “I know Mr. Elliot. He’s an acquaintance of my father.”
“Well,” Robertson exclaimed, his eyes on Obedience. “You’re as pretty as your voice. I hear you’re a soldier’s wife.”
“And it is Dalrymple here scooped you up and now you’re the talk of the city. Amazing – one hears such stories, but rarely sees them first-hand. And you and Captain Dalrymple are making plans I hear.”
“For your arrangement,” the old man said.
“Captain Dalrymple is my musical partner.” .
“Of course,” Robertson said.
“Colonel Howard is my benefactor,” she said. “Colonel Howard nurtures me in the Arts. He calls me his Investment.”
“Well, he should and a good investment too, Mrs. . . . Maceachran. And this one here has the benefit.” He grinned at Dalrymple. “Lucky fellow. And Miss Redburn, here.”
“Your pardon, General,” Theodosia said, “Burnham.” Robertson blinked.
Obedience, with a vivacious smile, touched the general’s hand. “Thank goodness I’m not the only one, I’ve been confusing names all night. Must be the wine or the liquored punch . . .”
Robertson’s eyes twinkled. “Treat her well,” he said to Dalrymple. “She’s a treasure. Watch out or someone might steal her. Maybe you should marry her all the same.”
“My husband would object,” Obedience said.
“Well, the man’s a fool to let you loose and clearly over his head. Can’t be good enough for you. Woman like you deserves Income and Property. Leave the brute and marry Dalrymple here. He loves you, you can see it in his face. And if he’s not good enough, tell me and I’ll have him horse whipped. Look around and pick any in the room. They’d follow on your heels.”
“And you, my dear,” He turned to Theodosia. “What fine officer has snapped you up?”
“None yet, General,” Theodosia said and giggled.
“Youth is blind. Here I am, an old man, with the two beauties and a room full of dolts. No wonder we’ve not yet won. They’ve yet to get the dust of America from their eyes.”
“And you have, General?” Obedience asked.
“Indeed, I know the country well. One need not be born here to be American, one must only claim himself so and one is, and by doing so he is typically American. The reverse is true: one may live here all his life and not be part of it – like religion don’t you think – a baptism into the fold. Sir Henry knows it. Grew up here. You’ve met Sir Henry? You must sing for him when he returns. He’s a musician too – fair with the violin.”
“I have entertained when he’s present,” Obedience said.
“You’ve heard him play then. Never misses a chance. Yes, marvelous. But it’s one good tune and he’s finished. He’s like that in other things. Habit, I guess.”
“A brilliant victory,” Dalrymple said of Charlestown.
“Isn’t it? I’m sure he’s planning another and will pull it from his sleeve in another year.”
“Some prefer Cornwallis,” Andrew Elliot said.
“Most of the army,” Robertson said.
“There’s not a chance we won’t win the war?” Theodosia asked.
The old general looked at her as if she was some fairy just appeared. “Chance of winning? There’ve been many chances. Could’ve been won many times over. There’re chances now. Could be over in a month . . .” His expression froze, the thought-train lost. “Have . . . have you ever been to Britain, my dear? Every Briton should see their Country. That’s the problem with this land – too far from its heritage. No concept of what molds their thinking.”
She stared at the candle, naked in bed, Dalrymple kissing the nape of her neck. She raised her shoulder. “Not tonight.”
His eyes narrowed. “Something wrong?”
“Nothing” – dismissive.
He kissed behind her ear. She squirmed.
“You’re angry. Is it me?”
“I am not angry.”
“You were beautiful tonight.” He touched her flat nipple.
“Not sulking, are you?”
“Why shouldn’t I? Wouldn’t you?”
“Good, but it has nothing to do with now.”
“Does anything have to be wrong for me to not want Sex?”
“Suppose not.” He scooted back to the headboard, but could not take his hand from her shoulder, how beautiful her back and rump, like a fiddle.
“My head’s clogged. The evening was excruciating. I want to sleep. That’s all.”
He pulled her down, she didn’t much resist, and lay at her side, fiddling with her nipple.
“I said, no.”
He rolled on top of her. She could feel him stiff, pushing between her legs. She stared into his eyes. He pushed harder, but she would not open.
“Doesn’t matter to you what I’ve said?”
He gave her lips a peck and smiled with devilry. Separating her thighs, he pushed in.
“Don’t mean to hurt you,” he said.
“Can’t, my love. The horse’s out of the barn.”
His movements were slow and he smiled as if he knew better, but she lay like a fish, her eyes closed, until she startled. “Don’t hit me!”
“My dear?” And he kissed her, pumping on without effect. He sweat, the perspiration hitting her cheek. She closed her eyes again and began to grind just to get him off.
“Ah,” he said, vindicated.
She grasped him like a person drowning. He buried his face in her neck and she opened her eyes to look at the blank ceiling, images like lightening in her head. He lurched and went limp.
“There now.” He stroked her cheek and rolled off, a thread of semen coming out of her.
And there it was, the ugly, flaccid thing with blood about the tip, still leaking. Her blood.
“Good night, my love,” he said, tapping her belly.