TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
ADAGIO - STAVE XXIX
S T A V E
18th May, 1778
Monday, could there be a more glorious Monday? The morning storms dissipated and the air with a celestial metallic – God’s good will. Amnesty this day. America to be granted a fixed Constitution that may not be infringed upon by either side, the Peace Commissioners guaranteed it, everything the rebels want except Independence. Even more, this day gave rise to a finer celebration – Mischianza. A day of Billy and all things Billy. A love letter tongue-in-cheek. Carnival. Spectacle. Charade.
The citizenry turned out, the favoured ones invited and the rest a hooting crowd. Traffic streamed into the Northern Liberties. Lines of soldiers held back the crowds. Elaborately clad celebrants parading to Knight’s Wharf: officers, wealthy gentlemen and their wives, young and vivacious belles.
“How insensible,” said a wife to her Tory husband, watching from the throng. “Is this Rome and here, Caesar? What’s he actually done?”
“Not lost an army like Burgoyne,” her husband answered. “America has a way of gobbling them up. He hands the army to Clinton intact and the rebels have not won.”
“So we rejoice in non-defeat.”
“He would’ve been shot by German George,” she said. “The country’s suffering and look at this? How does it justify?”
“They love him, my dear. How many generals can claim that victory? Popularity assuages a multitude of sins; his vanity is their vanity.”
“Nonsense,” she sputtered. “And the cost?”
₤3220, a baronet’s per annum, contributed by 23 officers, and to Philadelphia’s merchants who benefited from the purchases, capital well spent with an additional ₤12000 when all said and done.
At the wharf, revellers showed their tickets to a Captain of Grenadiers and then walked down the long jetty wide-eyed as they laughed and gossiped. Music sounded as a regatta drew near, a Handel allegro from a Band of Musick in a barge festooned with banners and bunting and sprays of garlands. If one closed their eyes, they’d be on the Thames awaiting the King’s barge. But no king here. Just Billy, grand fellow he is.
He arrived last in the grand barge, Hussar, the Star of Bath upon his breast with beautiful Betsy in polonaise of greens and pinks – Jupiter and Juno – she with her hair up high in the British fashion, ornamented with semi-precious gems and toy military gadgets, and Billy in his best red frock, his hair washed and fluffed, powdered and queued with a black silk bow. And on his face a droll little smile from the Madeira he had drunk in the carriage, and Betsy beaming before Society and the generals, for this too her last hurrah. Champagne was imbibed liberally.
Among the entourage, Henry Clinton, Lord Richard Howe, Wilhelm Von Knyphausen with Betsy at the center of compliments and quips, which she returned with her American directness from brain to lips, which they thought, in context, enchanting – innocently American and capable of nothing else. Thank God she was there otherwise they might tip their true opinions about the war and the festival. Yes, pretty little ape with her manners, but American girls do charm. Like Beaujolais, they’re best had young. It takes a certain type to marry, but on campaign they’re just the type to bed, simple and willing. Chat them up and the petticoats fall. A gentleman must labour for English girls. And yet the time comes when a gentleman needs an exit as Billy does now.
None knew this more than Lord Howe; Betsy Loring was of little advantage.
Sir William, he, snug as a flea,
Lay all this time a snoring,
NOT dreamed of harm, as he lay warm,
In bed with Mrs. Loring
Billy needs Lady Howe, Lord Richard thought – dear Frances with her 5000 a year. And for all her own liaisons, she will, no doubt, venture a great deal more than ‘opinion’ when not on her back. If she’d not been childless, might they’d been more domestic? They’re devoted in all things but sex, which they do enjoy together, but also with everyone else. What union does not have its shams? It is the ideal marriage that fails the test. Love burns out – the bigger the blaze, the shorter the conflagration. This fete is the log’s last raw side turned to the fire, soon to be gone and forgotten. Billy will be a name on the list: “from ’75 to ’78, Sir William Howe was Commander, he neither won nor lost”. A poor epitaph. Yet, what old soldier will not tout to his grandson that he served in America with Billy Howe?
He comes, he comes, the Hero comes:
Sound, sound your trumpets, beat your drums.
From port to port let cannon roar
Howe's welcome to this western shore . . .
“To home,” Lord Richard toasted. “And to Custom and Place.”
The barges, each with their set of Knights and Ladies in Turkish costume and loaded with the guests, pulled away from the pier in their turn. The lucky 400 out on the Delaware looking back at the masses on the shore – lucky to be invited and lucky to afford it. Banners. Bunting.
Streamers on the wind undulating like wanton fingers. HMS Vigilant at anchor decked out like a whore as the Band of Music set the mood. When all lay out in the river, Vigilant fired a signal gun and off the fleet went in three divisions rowing under a canopy of music. Jollies and skiffs filled with gawkers crowded the waterway while gunboats pushed them back. The crew of the sloop, Fanny, shouted huzzahs from the tops and spars, while onlookers from the riverbank shouted back even louder.
The regatta pulled south, water beading off the oars like flashing diamonds and Philadelphia, from the river, a wonder of church steeples and broad lanes – Anglicans, Calvinists, Quakers, Jews and Catholics. Universities. Societies. Learned men. Straight lines. Right corners – Religion, Science, Commerce. The Tories saw it as a stranger might see it, as if to catch one’s reflection in glass. But they knew what it was and what it would be without Billy, without Britain or the King. God help them.
After a course of a mile, they docked at the old Association Battery. Amidst a fanfare, the revellers disembarked and promenaded up the lawn to the first triumphal arch on whose pediment reclined the figure of Neptune, his iconic trident in hand and ship of the line cradled in his arm. They then walked up the lane through an avenue of grenadiers to the second arch through which they passed to the meadow and the grandstands on the tiltyard. The bleachers were caparisoned with scallops of painted hemp and drapes of bunting. Two pavilions stood on opposite sides of the field, reserved for the Ladies of Beauty and Grace in gowns of silk and matua and crowned with spangled turbans of gauze adorned with pearls and spun gold. On one side the damsels of the Blended Rose: Miss Auchmuty, Miss Craig, Miss P. Chew, Miss Redmond, Miss Bond. Across the field were the ladies of the Burning Mountain: the vivacious Miss Franks, Miss White, Miss Redman, Miss Smith, another Miss Bond, a second Miss Chew. Deserved or not, Ladies of Reputation.
Billy and Betsy took the place of Honour in a pavilion with every make of chair from the finest houses; no doubt they might be found on shipboard for a trip to England despite collateral put up and assurance of their return. Billy plopped on a well-batted seat, took Betsy’s hand and kissed her knuckles. Etiquette be damned for as long as he would have her.
A blare of light infantry trumpets to open the Ceremony of the Carousel. A herald, the imminent Loyalist, Dr Beaumont, with seven trumpeters marched to the center of the field and sounded a clarion call. “Hear ye! Hear ye!” Beaumont cried. “Comes forth the chevaliers of great valour to win honour for the fairest roses in all of America in Pas’d armes. Nos pallens ut singulus! Les Chevlier de Rosier Mélangé – the Knights of the Blended Rose!”
Out cantered seven knights and squires, Lord Cathcart in the lead with sword unsheathed, his cavalier’s great hat sporting ostrich plumes in many colours and his long hair down the length of his back tied off with a flowing silk ribbon. Puffed striped sleeves and pantaloons. A padded jerkin with a white satin face gleaming like a pearl. A large pink scarf fastened to his right shoulder, a white bow across his breast and from his back, a pink cape silver trimmed. His mount draped with braided wool garlands. Squires, Captain Hazard and Captain Brownlow, in equally gaudy fashion, bore his lance and his shield, while a Negro boy, head crowned with flowers and naked from the waist up strode beside the horse, holding the knight’s cup.
The knights broke away to display in formations, cantering to the strains of military music while their fair ladies in the venue imagined them naked. Some, from experience, imagined quite well: “Oh, see Captain Homeck – he hangs left”, “Lieutenant Bygrave’s – a nubby little thing, but he so wants to please”.
After a charge down the field, the knights formed line before their ladies and a second herald, Lt. Moore, accompanied by his own trumpeters marched into the arena. With equal fanfare and verbosity, he brought on the competitors, the Knights of the Burning Mountain.
Out rode Captain Watson in gilded satin of orange and black – the very Devil on St George’s Night. How he capered, and every eye upon him including the damsels entrusted to the other side.
Once all were on the field, Dr Beaumont issued the challenge. “The Knights of the Blended Rose, by me their Herald proclaim and assert, that the Ladies of the Blended Rose, excel in Wit, Beauty and every Accomplishment, those of the world, and, should any Knight, or Knights, be so hardy as to dispute or deny it, they are ready to enter the lists with them and maintain their assertions, by deeds of Arms, according to the laws of ancient Chivalry.”
Lt. Moore with his reply: “The Knights of the Burning Mountain enter these lists not to contend with words, but to disprove by deeds of Arms the vainglorious assertions of the Knights of the Blended Rose and to show the Ladies of the Burning Mountain as far excel all others in Charms as the Knights themselves surpass all others in prowess.”
The trumpeters sounded Parlay. Lord Cathcart threw down his gauntlet. Captain Watson hissed in disdain and his second squire, Lt. Lyttleton, picked it up. Again the trumpets. The knights retired to their end of the field and one by one in single combat charged with lances striking shields; the crowd could feel the ground thunder. Horse pistols next in the second pass with a double blank charge; the report beat on the skin. Then all attacked with sword in a choreographed melee unnervingly real. They clashed and released only to lock again until two combatants remained – Watson and Cathcart.
They danced on horseback – now Watson with a sweeping ‘Cut Six’, Cathcart with a ‘Sword Arm Protect’, the pass and the turn, and Cathcart with a ‘Cut One’ and Watson with a ‘Thigh Protect’, ‘Give Point and Left Parry’, using the full ground, here a clash in the center, gallop to a corner and clash, then fight their way down to Pavilion of the Burning Mountain, cross its front down to the other end and ride diagonally to the southeast corner and display cross the front of the Blended Rose. The crowd gasped, steel ringing one and two, one and two. Surely there’ll be blood. The spectators stood with applause. Watson and Cathcart gave them more.
It ended as planned, the referee interceding. Doubtless all were brave, especially the champions, and would not shame their Ladies with retreat. Therefore all must be powerful and all must be fair. Watson and Cathcart, sweating, extended to each other a congratulatory hand. And with this, the Knights rode to their respective pavilions, dismounted and greeted their Ladies as they exited from the stands.
In a great procession from arch to arch, through the Avenue of Grenadiers, they formed their receiving line at the end of the promenade. The Bands of Musick took place at the end of the row. Billy and Betsy with the high command led the guests to the Walnut Grove Mansion. A ceremonial guard stood at the gate, the steps and the door – picked soldiers from the Guards Brigade.
Geordie presented his arms at the gate.
Hundreds of townsfolk lined the edge of the grassy plain beyond the festival, watching the guests file down the Avenue of Colours. Mingled in were Women on the Ration and soldiers off duty from barracks and camp. On a rise, Guards women with their husbands clustered on blankets with a picnic of cold beef and a treat of mustard, butter and bread and buckets of ale from a local sutler.
“MacEachran’s down there,” Obedience exclaimed on her fourth cup of beer. “He’s down there. He was picked. You know that?”
“For god sake,” Jaruesha huffed. “You don’t have to keep telling us. And you can’t see him from here. You know that.”
“Bitch,” Obedience said under her breath. Bess Waddley gave her a wink.
“I wish we were going home,” Bess said. “All this celebration: Christ, what would they do if Billy’d actually done something?”
John Waddley gave her mouth a backhand flick. Bess spun on him, ready with a fist. “What was that for?”
“Stupid woman,” he said.
“Stupid? Stupid man, I say. You want a row? Try that again.”
“Nobody asked you to speak your mind in public.”
“I speak my mind when I please. None of you Johnnies have the nerve to say it.”
“What do you know?” he said.
“I know what I see.”
John Waddley clenched his fist.
“Raise that hand, John Waddley, and you’ll lose it . . .”
“You two,” Grace scolded. “Have the decency to beat each other in private.”
Obedience stared at Waddley’s bony hand. Her cheek flushed with the sting from the memory of Billy Gill’s. Not that she felt it at first, but then the tingle and then a queasiness. Bad beef, she thought as she touched her cheek. Most were not hard. Not that she couldn’t take them
. . . At least those earned . . . Were they ever earned? Some – many were baps more at an object than at her. And what of it? She’d never hit him back. Her gut began to churn and she calmed it with beer. Hit him one time first though. Just the one time. He deserved it. All the men, she thought, those she’d used, those that had used her, none of them hit but Billy. Would MacEachran if she gave him a reason? She drained her cup and stood.
“You can’t see from here,” Jaruesha grumbled.
He’s not like them, she thought. Why’s that?
“Obedience?” Grace said.
“I know, I can’t see from here.” She wandered through the rows of onlookers, her continence distant.
He’s not like them . . .
“Obedience.” A voice behind her. So many voices. “Obedience.”
Elliot. She caught her breath. God, he shows up like the Devil. “You frightened me,” she said in spite of herself. “Mr. Elliot.”
“‘Mr. Elliot’?” and a wicked smile.
“Tom,” she said with a flutter. For an instant his hard face succumbed. She stepped back. “What do you want?”
“I saw you walking . . .” His eyes on her cleavage. “ . . . alone. Might not be safe.”
“I’m not alone. I’m with the women over there and their husbands.”
“And where’s yours?”
“Over there.” She motioned to the festival. “I was trying to get a better look.” His eyes did not move. “I have to be getting back.”
“Oh yes, one of the Chosen . . . I’ll walk you.”
“No need.” She retreated with eyes to the ground; if she not see him, he might go. Thank God for the crowd. The one time MacEachran’s gone, and there he is. Can he hear her thinking? Smell her fear?
He kept pace off to the side the way a predator shadows.
“Grace!” she called, seeing the gathering.
“What is it, my dear?”
“Is he there?” Obedience cried, rushing into their company.
“What she done now?” Jaruesha jumped in.
“Give her some rum,” Grace said to her husband and then to Obedience, “What are you talking about?”
Grace caught sight of his broad back moving away.
Jaruesha smirked. “What’d he do? Give you a wink?”
“He was there,” Obedience said.
“So?” Jaruesha spouted and knocked back her sixth beer. “Don’t he have a right to be there like any other?”
“Enough from you,” Grace said.
“Ain’t he give enough blood like any other?” Jaruesha slurred. “He some dog to be locked in a kennel so he don’t soil delicate you?”
“Tom Tree,” Grace said. “Take charge of your wife.” Tom Tree, a tall, wiry fellow with a scar lining his chin, gave her a hard eye.
“Grace, will you and Mr. Price see me to Mrs. Edmonds’ tonight?”
“And what she going to do when she has no fancy house?” Jaruesha mumbled.
“She’ll do just fine,” Grace said. “We’ll walk you, dear.”
Elliot pressed through the crowd, fingers cold and chest pounding, and not noticing who he pushed about. It was on him – what he wanted to do, what he had to do. She brought it out – she did – she did – not by intention, but did nonetheless; he could see it, dancing ‘cross his squinting eye and growing stronger the more he tried to shake it. Yet, it would not take him outright, but sup on his conscience as a spider its victim’s life. Sights and sounds fell away, and himself, vanishing.
No man is so far away, his Conscience whispered.
“I’ll not do it,” he said. “I refuse.” But in his mind – Obedience and the dead girl without her finger with blood between her legs. He saw where he put it. He jerked to shake the image away. Give me battle, cleansing battle. The girl with the finger stared. Find an academician, or frig yourself off . . .
No, the voice countered, no man is so far away. Obedience said your name. ‘Tom’.
Billy and Betsy, the generals and the rest, strolled on a promenade of crushed stones behind Walnut Grove through a menagerie of sculpted arborvitae. Chamber music filled the air in the magic hour between day and night, a charming liar that makes beautiful any scene. A muffled ‘foomp’ and a pinpoint mounting the sky, then a pop and a burst into a chrysanthemum of sparkling lights. Ooooh. Aaaah. Applause. Foomp, foomp, foomp. Pop, pop, pop. Starbursts overhead – emerald, ruby, silver.
Behind the gardens stood the pavilion constructed for the event, a Renaissance hall of singular effect: spermaceti candles lined the sponged panelled canvas walls painted to imitate Sienna marble, the floor – an expanse of green baize, tables of light buffets, platters of cakes and pastries, crystal bowls of sangaree, wine and punch. The upstairs – festoons of flowers and Rococo paintings – eighty-five mirrors in custom made frames decked with rose-pink silk ribbons and artificial bouquets. In the corner was the Band playing an air. The Knights and Ladies, in character, worked the room with shifting tableaus.
Billy held a plate: Bourbon Balls atop a white cake with sherry icing next to a fudge cake slathered with rice pudding and heavy cream, which he would wash down with hot coffee and a glass of lemonade.
“Look at that,” Betsy scolded him before his generals. “Eat all that and you’ll barely move.” Before he could reply, up came Lt. Sloper, a knight of the Blended Rose, and in pantomime, proclaimed his heart in courtly love for the beautiful Mrs. Loring. He kissed her hand. “A rival,” she said to Billy with a sly grin.
Billy chortled. “Away, Sir Knight. Miss Chew is over there.”
Betsy fluttered her silk fan. “And to imagine Sir William a-once spry Captain like this, scaling the heights to the Plains of Abraham.”
“Sprier now than you think,” he replied.
“With this ballast and baggage?” She stared at the mound on his plate.
“Fuel for the dancing. We shall dance into the night, you and me, Mrs. Loring. And when one dance is finished, we shall dance the next, and do so again and again and again until you beg for mercy.” And with that, the majordomo banged the floor with his staff to announce the ballroom open. Billy turned to her and smiled. “Again and again and again ‘til you beg me stop.”
Elliot lay on the meadow grass, the sky above cut by rockets, hands behind his head floating under the flashing lights, staring into space for an Eternal Moment.
He’d said No.
Not from expedience. Not from fear. That he wanted to – at the height of the Assault, at his weakest condition – he said no to the Devil. How’s that possible? Had the Demon gone and hid? Not this time, for what’d followed was non-sensation . . . Tabula Rasa . . . Purity. A new birth? He held up his hand and touched it. Time pushed in. He resisted. Elation pushed in. He resisted that too. Washed by the Blood, a notion chorused.
He sat up, encircled by strangers watching the display, they’d settled around like butterflies. It’s dark and they cannot see – his old way of thinking, but his clean soul would not have it – it’s a Sign. Above him flowers of glittering light and the faint sound of music. He couldn’t help but smile. All had been made right . . . That in a moment, the miraculous can happen. It does happen. It has happened. No man is so far away.
Again Elation, and with it, an awakening, and then, Passion. The music paced with his heartbeats. Dark and Light with the bursting rockets. Faces flashing in and out. Dark and Light. Dark and Light. Elliot watched them. And then a face, one he knew – Libby, pretty Libby, innocent, chaste, sitting not ten yards away. Of the hundreds on the field, how is she sitting ten yards away? Another Sign. He must Believe – all in the Great Order, so confirmed the baroque aria advancing across the field, falling into place like puzzle pieces – passion, dark passion, juxtapose to light.
Tabula Rasa filled, in his mind the soft full swell of a youthful breast. And he fell from Heaven on cue even as he delighted in redemption. He drank in Libby’s face, that beauty he must touch – that which is real. Grace in Flesh – Flesh is Grace.
It rose like a separate being, up from within and yet outside of himself, willing him to look. He could not turn away. Then a barrage, rocket upon rocket in the grand finale, a great cascade holding Libby in the light, the skin on her neck and shoulders aglow. Down on the lawn before Walnut Grove at the Military Arch a figure of Fame burst into luminous fire. A shell and flaming winged heart sent forth a fountain of sparks. Twelve rockets exploded in the sky simultaneously. And in an instant, all was black and from that black came a cheer. Elliot, for a moment could not see, but then moonlight with its cold blue bathed the field. The onlookers rose, taking up their blankets.
Libby brushed grass off her flounce skirt as Rachel gathered up what they had brought. She took Rachel’s hand and walked with the crowd. They did not talk, the hour late.
They hurried across the open fields, the city in silhouette with window lights winking in the dark. As they came onto Second Street their pace eased; under the lamplight they could distinguish their fellow travellers. The crowd thinned as people entered their houses. By the time they reached Second and Spruce, nary a soul in sight.
Elliot closed, watching Libby in moonlight and in streetlight, block by block, and as he did, the softer and prettier she became. Rachel, whom he did not consider with her own petite frame and exotic face, faded to the periphery, an object to be gotten through or around or discarded, yet, on some other day might be prized. Somewhere down a side street, the lazy clip-clop of horses – dragoons on patrol. Elliot crouched in a shadow and waited for them to pass. He looked down at the walk – had he lost her? There she was. He passed a small urban flowerbed bordered with round stones. He picked up one the size of a grenade, his heart pounding. His prick burned.
Rachel began to lag, her new hand-me-down shoes worked up blisters. Libby waited when a blur caught her eye. A sharp crack like the break of pottery and Rachel slamming to the ground. Libby stared aghast at Rachel on the walk, her form in the shadow and trying to crawl. Another horrific crack again and Rachel lay still. Libby whiffed the iron smell of blood. Then arms wrenched about her head, covering her nose and mouth, the smell of wool sleeves soured by sweat and smoke. She was lifted off the ground with a stretch of her neck. She struggled, suffocating. Then a snap. She jerked, her right arm limp, but shaking.
Elliot laid her down, her gown wet from pissing herself. He turned to Rachel, pulled off her skirt, tied it around her bloody head, and put her in an alley. He wrapped Libby in the blanket Rachel had carried and holding her tight to him, headed toward the wharfs. Amidst the rows of barrels, dodging the lamps of the ships, he knew just where to go – the shed of Jenny Rose.
The old room smaller than he remembered, but nowhere near as cold. The moon showed through the window. He sat on a barrel and leaned her against the wall, her face a pale indigo from moonlight. Taking the blanket, he fashioned a bed on the dank straw and laid her down gently, making sure she not touch the rough, weathered floor and pillowed her head with his coat. In his pocket, a small candle, which he lit with his flint and steel, and stuck it on a barrel. Libby, her lips parted, stared him down with lifeless eyes.
He stopped – the New Elliot released from his chains, suddenly and cruelly. The Old Elliot stepped away. There was Libby. And his choice. His sin. He touched her breast through the bodice; still warm. Lost, always lost, before the impulse is even conscious. What sin is greater than her murder? She feels no pain. She’ll not struggle, nor have shame.
He disrobed her. Positioned her. God help him. God damn him. He breathed his breath into her. It returned icy on his face.
Supper was announced after the dancing. The guest strolled to the next salon. Clocks rang midnight in a tintinnabular chorus. Two long tables ran the length of the gallery with settings for two hundred. Twenty-four Negro men in turbans and kaftans served spiced chicken, roasted veal and lamb. Once all were seated, Dr Beaumont cued his trumpeters, and after the fanfare raised his glass. All stood with the sound of scraping chairs. “To his royal Majesty – long live the King!”
“Long live the King!”
The orchestra played and they sang:
God save our gracious king,
Long live our noble king,
God save the king.
Send him victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the king.
They’d thought it finished, but the orchestra played on:
O Lord and God arise,
Scatter his enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save the king.
Thy choicest gifts in store
Oh him be pleased to pour,
Long may he reign.
May he defend our laws
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the king.
Nor on this land alone,
But be God's mercies known
From shore to shore.
Lord, make the nation see
That men should brothers be,
And form one family
The wide world o'er.
A toast. A cheer. They sang again.
Elliot pressed into a corner, arms about his face, making himself small. Libby naked on the floor and the blanket a tussle, engorged from the Angel Lust and leaking. Her dead face mocked him. Something sharp in his brain. He grunted. What’s this? What’s this, as if he’d just stumbled on her. Abomination. That he could weep, but his Conscience refused him. He jumped up and closed her legs. Outside, voices. He blew out the light and covered her lips. Could they see through the dirty little window? They passed by and then he wrapped her and roped her like a spider---
A ship bell rang 3:00. The river lapped the bank. No one in sight. Hoisting Libby on his shoulder, he scooted from shadow to shadow up to Knight’s Wharf and deep water. Dropping her to the bank, he picked up four heavy stones. With his knife, laid her open like a fish and tied rocks to her with her cotton hose. At the end of the long pier, in his stocking feet to make no noise, he sank her in the river, but not before cutting a lock of her hair. She went down quick.
Obedience, eyes open in the dark, sweating. A dream – those images – Geordie not there to save her. His affection does no good. She’s safer on her own, she thought, reeling from the beer. Leave the army? Go back home? . . . She loved Geordie.