Sunday, January 25, 2009
Chapter Twelve, The Leatherman's Journal - April 6, 1872
Something has happened.
I have, out of necessity, become a creature of habit. I wish to speak to no one, so I do not. I have found my meals with friendly folk, who, at first required me to perform some odd job, some task in order to earn the day's fare. I've returned to these kind folk again and again, until they grow to expect me, until they no longer require of me the chore, the task, for the mouthful. These folk respect my silence. Yes, some try to speak with me, but none require me to speak back. Some ask me questions. Questions that touch my heart. But none expect an answer. Some sit with me while I eat, and they watch. Others have given up on even that simple exercise.
A few have prodded me further. Asked questions and have held the food out as threat. Answer or you will not eat. From those tables I have risen and fled, never to return again. I crave no attention, though I get my share, and those who would give me too much attention, I avoid. I do not want to be a spectacle. I have always found another friendly door, which will provide me with food.
Most will put out food without any fuss, and leave me to eat in peace, and silence.
Ah, silence. When I am alone, I stretch my voice. Sometimes in song. Sometime in conversation with the shadows who walk along side me in the forest glade, and down rows of crop laden stalks.
And what I hear in return is nothing.
Too often my angels torment me. For months they will leave me be.
When I left France, they seemed washed away by the ocean, but they followed me to these shores, did Beliel and Adoneil.
Beliel, who calls himself the tormentor reminds me that the world is at my fingertips.
“Take the purse,” he hisses, as I sit at table on the porch of a woman who has fed me for two years.
“Look at this home,” he sneers. “She needs not these pennies, that would make you feel a rich man.”
It is Beliel, who reaches through my flesh, and rouses passions which I resist.
“Touch it,” he laughs. “Touch it, for no one else will. Now or ever again.”
And Adoneil, for all his righteousness, reminds me of my failings, again and again.
“Walk,” he curses me, as if I knew not better than to walk.
“Walk, until your feet bleed, and your legs shout for mercy. Walk that your sins may be forgiven.”
And so I walk.
I have determined the most efficient route between houses. I am able to walk about five miles from the time I get up to midday dinner, and another five before it gets dark. I can walk at a steady pace, not quickly, not slowly, but steady. Steady. I arrive at my destination on a timely basis. I walk without looking right or left. I do not want to peer into the shadow, to see the faces there ready to mock and cajole. I walk without raising my hand in greeting, or raising my eyes in recognition. I walk as do the mendicant monks of France, from town to town begging their living.
I have stopped taking shelter in barns and sheds, and prefer the rock shelters that rise up at the ends of the farm fields where I walk.
These shelters are usually boulders leaning one upon the next, or great slabs of cliff that have fallen from their vertical perch and now lean against the cliff which mothered it. These shelters provide me cover from the rain and wind, and all are large enough to contain a small fire. Many have natural flues, from which the smoke and bats escape.
I have found myself walking, each cycle of the moon, in a great circle. On the east and west borders are great rivers which I cannot ford without ferrying, and they naturally enough define boundaries which I need not cross. On the south is a salty spit of ocean, a large natural inlet that the local people here call a sound. At the north is a line I have drawn in my imagination, along a series of ridges and roadways. There is little settlement above this border, and few chances for a meal.
I walk these paths now without thinking which way I must turn. For it has been more than twelve winters that I've traveled. I've learned the byways and need not search, as I have in the past, for landmark or direction. My feet pull me forward like the hands of a fiddler will dance across the instrument as if beckoned by the tune.
I have found it necessary to circumvent the bigger towns, New Haven, Bridgeport, and I've not returned to the great port of New York since I landed in this country. In those towns, I am not considered a curiosity to watch quietly, but rather a curiosity to taunt.
On my last trip through New Haven, I was careful to travel on side streets. I passed a tavern filled with young men. They were not workers. They had not the swarthy color, the untrimmed beards, or the worn clothes of dockers or ditch diggers. In fact they wore matching waistcoats with the letter Y embroidered on the front pocket.
A few of these young men held tankards of ale and drank outside the tavern as I passed. I kept my head low, kept my eyes averted, and walked steadily. I had not passed the door of the tavern when one of the young men spied me.
"Stop." he shouted.
I kept walking, hoping he'd return to his beer, and his friend, and forget about the poor tramp walking by.
"I said stop," he ran a step ahead of me and blocked my path. I'm sure he stared hard on me, but I kept my head lowered, altered my course and continued to walk.
I felt the hand on my shoulder, and spun around, half on his power, half on my own. This time I looked at him. His teeth were clenched in a grimace, and his beer mug dangled from a fist propped on his hip.
"I told you to stop you insolent old bum," he said, rather drunkenly.
I turned to walk away, but once again I felt the hand on my shoulder, and once again I was spun around to face him, but this time I raised my walking stick over my head as I turned. It was a sturdy stick of maple, stripped live from a tree along my route, just at a joint so there was a heavy knob at the top about the size of a big potato. When swung, I imagined it could crack arm bone or skull, though I never had the opportunity to test it on a human. I sent angry dogs whining with their tails betwixt their legs. But I had never before even raised my stick to a fellow man.
I swung now, aiming to miss the man's head by a generous margin, and with his ducking, I missed by a few yards. He bounced back to his feet and staggered back several paces. I turned and began to walk away.
Before I could get to the end of the street, and I had now altered my speed to get as far as I could, I heard a commotion behind me, I didn't turn to look but kept my head low, and rounded a street corner.
"There he goes," a familiar voice shouted.
I heard heavy footfalls move from walk to run, and I realized that I too must run. Something I had not thought of doing. Something I had never attempted in heavy leather boots, coat and trousers. I did what I could, but even the kindest judge would not have called it running.
The footfalls behind me were very close now. I turned to face my attackers. And in turning, I found that they were surprised that I stopped. I did not raise my stick, for though I knew if I could easily drop one or two of them, I would, as a result, make certain my own fate at the hands of those who could avoid my swings.
They were, like most mobs, fearless and chattering. Full of uncertain energy and undefined hatred. They were, like most mobs, uglier as a group. More likely to do harm.
They stopped running when I turned, and seemed uncertain as to what to do. I did not recognize my original tormentor amongst the men who faced me. There seemed to be ten or twelve of them. A row of soiled moustaches and crushed derbys. As it turned out, the man who stopped me first was, like me, a slow runner. He pushed his way to the front, breathing heavily.
"So you want to make trouble, do you tramp?" he asked, braver now for his fellows, who grew uglier by the moment.
I turned again, and began to walk.
"Not so fast old timer," he called, stopping me more with the appellation than the command, for I was probably not much older than he. I know I did not look true to my age.
I knew I was not going to be able to simply walk away. I faced him, and he moved toward me with a smile on his face.
"What have you got in the pack, old man?"
I held tight to my leather satchel, but with the help of his friends he pulled it away from me, and emptied its contents onto the street. They seemed surprised that it held no riches. A handmade ax and knife, a pair of scissors that I purchased on my first day in New York, likewise a spider, a tin filled with cigar stubs that I would crumble later and smoke in my handmade pipe, some leather scraps, a sturdy leather awl and needle, a tin cup, and this, my journal.
They ignored everything but the journal, which one of the young man picked up and began to fan in front of his eyes.
"What's this?" he asked in a general way.
He held the book up to show his conspirators, then pulled it to himself and began to turn pages again.
"What are these scribblings," he held it to my face. "This is not any language I understand. Pardon my ignorance friends, but for a moment here I thought this good man might be a very literate person. Full of native genius. A border poet like the great MacPherson. But I'm afraid he's a scribbler, a scrawler, and worthy of the beating he's about to get.
"Let's just leave him alone Martin. He's done us no harm. Let the poor beggar go. Let’s go find a nigger to torment."
It was a voice from the back of the crowd. A bespectacled young man, whose voice demonstrated a gentleness not evident in his rough and well-formed figure.
"He was about to brain me with his rod," the original tormentor, who now had a name, Martin, complained.
"Then he deserves a drink," another of the men said, and they all laughed.
"All right then, a drink," the first man said. "Jimmy, run and fetch a bottle of whiskey for us to share."
Martin then turned to me with a smile on his face quite unlike his original menacing grimace.
"We've been unkind to you my good man. We offer you an apology in an upturned bottle.”
With that, the entire congregation cheered good-naturedly. I stared at the cobblestones.
When the bottle arrived it was passed noisily from hand to hand, each man taking a long pull of the amber liquid. When all but a quarter of the bottle was gone, it was offered to me. I kept my head lowered.
"Come now, my good man. You escaped a beating, it's time to celebrate."
I stepped back, but felt the brick wall behind me. I shook my head violently, making it clear that I wanted no part of the whiskey.
"What. A tramp who doesn't like the taste of whiskey. Old man, what are you, some kind of holy man?"
I shook my head again, and looked the man in the eye pleadingly. He smiled broadly again, and this time there was some of the ugly anger back in his expression. He addressed his fellows again.
"What we have here boys is a holy wanderer, like they had in the Old Testament. You remember. Anyone cite me chapter and verse?"
There was a general mumbling in the group, but no ready reply came. I myself knew quite well a passage about a famous wanderer.
"We'll make his soul new again. What say boys. We'll baptize him. Welcome him into the fold. Christen him. He'll be born again."
He stepped toward me and this time I raised my walking stick. He held for a moment and then shouted.
"Get him men."
The assault was quick and complete. I was brought to the ground without swinging my staff. I was pummeled. Beaten in the face and body until I resisted no longer, and then, with two men holding tight to each limb, and another clamping my nose shut, they waited until I gasped for air, and forced the neck of the bottle into my mouth. I gagged, and spit back what I could, but they would have none of it, and I would have choked to death had I continued to struggle, and so I drank a measure. Truth be known, I recalled the taste, and it did not taste badly. I forgot how much I missed the fire from the bottle, as it lit my throat and stomach with a familiar warmth. I was limp. Within minutes it began to light my mind with the same fire. The next two days are gone from memory. I feel that I spent the time with my tormentors, but the facts of those days are as lost as my soul.
I awoke sometime days later groggy and injured.
Adoneil whispered to me, “Worthless.”
The skin on my face and body felt taut, and sore to the touch. All my limbs ached, and my recollection of how I was able to make it to this shelter, miles into the countryside, and up a rather treacherous trail, were obliterated by the fermented liquid. I had strange tastes in my mouth that reminded me of my life in Lyon, and I had trouble focusing my eyes when I first woke.
I had boiled some coffee, and drank it while it was still steaming, and dunked my head in a nearby spring. Only then did I began to feel more like myself. I know that the liquor made me drunk, and I knew that I probably enjoyed being drunk , but I was fortunate that God was kind enough to keep the remembered pleasure from me.
More or less refreshed, I checked my belongings. They were intact. My pack was neatly arranged, and my journal was amongst my belongings still, and all my clothing and my walking stick were tucked into a corner of the small rock shelter.
I took from my pack a small piece of smoked jerk meat that I carried from a meal the day before, and began to eat. The food did not stay with me long. I retched up great puddles of liquid.
I slept for several more hours, and when I awoke I walked all afternoon, not stopping where I usually did for a noonday meal, but walked at a quickened pace so as not to miss my evening meal.
I felt tired, but much more clearheaded after my brisk walk, and though I knew that I must look frightful with my swollen face and fresh wounds, the family I visited for a meal that evening did not turn me away.
The wife, a sturdy woman of about forty-five loved to serve me fried chicken and muffins smothered in a salty gravy. And this she did again, but not without asking me several times if I was all right. She wondered aloud if I could continue on my journey, or if I needed to stay the night at their farm.
As was my habit, I did not acknowledge her questions, but when finished, I lifted my hand in a flourish of thanks and walked down the path.
Before I was able to leave the boundaries of her farm, heading as I was for a shelter I kept in the hills beyond New Haven in the town of Trumbull, she caught up to me in her horse and wagon. She had a package wrapped in old newspapers. I looked at it and at her.
"It's liniment, the vet gave it to me to use on the horse, but I find it makes my rheumatism feel a might better too. Lord, I work like a horse, why wouldn’t it work on me,” she laughed kindly. “It might ease your muscle aches too. And there's a hunk of pie in there. You'll need a good breakfast tomorrow."
That's all she said, and pulled her horse up and headed back toward the farmhouse.
It was late by the time I reached the shelter, and the air was brisk with a hint of winter. My teepee of kindling was in place from the last time I stayed in this shelter, and I lit the kindling with one of the matches I carried. I boiled some coffee, and sat and read a newspaper I found by the side of the road, using the light of the fire to illuminate the words.
When I was through with the news, I used it as a wrap for some of the old cigar tobacco I picked up off of the road that day. I rolled an ungainly cigarette and lit it in the fire. The printer’s ink burned in the back of my throat, but the tobacco was enough to make my lids heavy. Though I was alone, it made me feel happy that I was full, and had a roof, such as it was, for the night.
When the fire burned down, I swept it, ashes and all from the flat rock where I had built it. I lay my ragged blanket on the spot where the fire had glowed, and the heat from that flat rock kept me warm through much of the night.
Posted by Ed McKeon at 6:43 PM No comments:
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Chapter Eleven - Flights
It was a week after my sixteenth birthday that I left McKinley's leather goods and tannery for the last time. I moved from scraper to hide bearer, and cleanser and by the end I could make a nice piece of leather. Old man McKinley, before he died, said I would have made a good tanner too.
I was sad, when he passed on. He worked me hard, but he was good to me. His family needed the money, so they sold the tannery to a man named Titus Baher, then they moved off to Ohio where some cousins had settled in the Western reserve. Baher was a mean man. Every penny was dear. He was so tight that he refused to have the name of the tannery changed because it would have cost him a few dollars to change the signs. For years people called him McKinley, though there was no confusing the two, and even though most knew his real name. It drove him mad. But not mad enough for him to change the signs, or be committed to the Insane Asylum.
I gave my notice when he wouldn't give me a nickel more a day. It was a deal I had with McKinley. Every year on my birthday he gave me a rise in pay, a nickel a day. So when I turned 16, I approached Baher and asked for the nickel.
He laughed at me and wondered aloud if I thought hides cost nothing. Of course I knew exactly what a hide cost, but I also know how much sweat and muscle I used to make those damn hides into leathergoods so that Mrs. Baher could sell them in the shop on Main Street, and to the merchants who traveled upriver to buy them.
¬ I asked again two days later.
He laughed again, and told me to get back to work.
Two days later I asked one last time.
He didn't laugh this time. In fact he got angry and told me that there were hundreds of boys who would jump at the chance of learning the tanner's trade.
I told him he should hire three or four to take my place, and I left.
I collected my things. There wasn't much. An old pair of boots that I used when tanning, some trousers and shirts. A winter coat that I wouldn't need for several months yet, and an old tin pipe that old man leather left behind on one of his visits. Sometimes I'd fill it with tobacco and lean against the barn at night watching the swallows swoop low through hovering clouds of gnats.
I put all my things in an old onion sack and headed toward town. When I reached McDonough's Palace, I walked down the alley and up the back stairs. The stage door was locked so I put down my belongings and pounded the heavy door.
Such a pounding, I knew, was the only way for me to get the attention of anyone who wasn’t within spitting distance of that door. I waited a moment for a response and getting none began to beat the door again.
I stopped when a heard the metallic click of the lock being thrown back.
McDonough pulled the door open and looked at me without the slightest hint of recollection. His eyes seemed unfocused. His hair was a stormy sea of unkempt waves and his shirt and trousers, usually impeccable, even for such a large man, were a mass of wrinkles and stains. His shirttail was untucked and a ghostly white patch of flesh showed where a button had popped and left a breach in his shirt front.
"McDonough," I announced. "I've come to join the theater."
He looked down at me without comment, turned and walked unsteadily away. I followed.
He climbed the stairs to his cramped office on the second floor of the building and when I entered, he was sitting in an oversized oak office chair pouring himself a drink from a bottle of Kentucky mash whiskey that held but one final ounce of amber liquid.
"Want a drink?" McDonough asked.
He spilled some whiskey on his pants as he thrust his drinking arm forward to offer me an empty bottle.
"It's like medicine to me, McDonough. No thanks."
"Medicine to me too," he chortled.
He sunk into a morbid silence again, an unusual condition for a man who never seemed to be at a loss for words.
"I've come to join the troupe," I announced again.
"I heard you the first time," he said, speaking into his fist as he stifled a belch.
"Get tired of leatherhide?" he asked, laughing.
"Had an argument with Baher," I explained. "He's tightfisted and won't pay a man what he's worth."
"How do you know I will?" he asked me.
"Because I know you McDonough. I've seen you spend money. It means nothing to you."
"It means everything to me, boy. Do you think I run a theatre because I love art? Do you think I peddle song and dance because I want this damned river town to be cultured? Do you think I give a good goddamn about laughter? Or tragedy? Or beauty? All these people want is a quick chorus and a glimpse of ankle."
He drained the glass and reached for the bottle again.
"Be a good boy and fetch me some more of this from the tavern."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out some silver, tossing it toward me. The coins never reached me with his wild toss and I bent to the floor searching for them. When I finally found them all I stood up and moved toward the door.
"Back so soon? There's a boy. Hand me the bottle." McDonough spoke without even opening his eyes.
I went through the door and down the stairs to fetch the whiskey before he realized I was gone.
It didn't take much to convince the barman to sell me a bottle of good whiskey. This wasn't the first time I had made such a trip for McDonough. To be truthful, the barman hadn't hesitated but for a beat the very first time I came down to buy a bottle. It seems I wasn't the first boy to be sent on such a trip for the theatre management.
"He's in his pints again," the barman chuckled.
"I think he's in his gallons now."
I took the bottle and ran back toward the theatre. I'd seen McDonough drink enough to sing opera aloud. I'd seen him drink enough to ask each and every one of his dancers to marry him in an evening's time. I'd seen him drink enough to challenge the biggest blacksmith in town to fight, knowing full well that no roomful of men would let any harm come to the man who brought them such a regular parade of female pulchritude.
McDonough hadn't stirred since I left. His great bulk covered the chair in an ocean of black gabardine. What muscle control he had when he was awake, disappeared when he was asleep and his flesh was as soft, and likely, as pink, as that of a mother sow about to birth a litter.
"McDonough," I coughed.
"Boy, you back so soon. Got the bottle?"
I handed it to him.
"Like a snort?" he asked again, but not before putting the bottle to his lips and pulling a draft of about a quarter of the bottle's contents.
He squinted his eyes, and a sweat broke out on his expansive forehead, and he made like to stand.
"Stay put, McDonough. Stay put."
He would hear nothing of it. He rolled out of his chair, and realized before he could get to his feet that he truly wasn't able to stand. He ended up, hands and knees on the floor, rolling back and forth like some bear in a swollen river searching the current for shad. He even growled a time or two.
"Give me the whiskey," he hollered.
I grabbed the bottle and ran for the window. Thrusting the bottle into the open space over the alley, I upended it. I heard McDonough scream as if he'd been stuck with a hot poker. Then, I felt his hand grab at my pant leg and pull me hard enough to toss me off balance.
I ended up, head facing down towards the hardpacked sand and gravel of the alley two floors below, and above me, at my foot, now grasping desperately at my pant leg was a red faced McDonough whose concentration on the task at hand was written across his deeply furrowed brow.
"Don't drop me," I shouted up.
"I ought to," he replied.
He inched me up toward the window, but was having great difficulty passing his hand from the fabric of my trousers to the bony grip of an ankle without losing hold altogether and dropping me to sure death into the alley below.
"Will you run for another bottle?" he asked.
"I'll run for two."
"Then come in and rest awhile."
With that he leaned his entire girth backwards and pulled me gasping into the room. I landed on him, on the floor. He was once again unconscious.
When he woke up, a full eighteen hours later, I was there, having spent the intervening time on the great sofa he kept in the lobby, reading the latest editions of Harpers.
"Jack," I heard his call through a solid sleep, and woke in an instant and was running up the stairs.
"Jack," McDonough called again. "Whiskey. Bring me more whiskey."
I opened the door to find McDonough up at at the mirror, half of his great black beard was shorn. He turned when he saw me enter the room in the mirror's reflection. He was smiling.
"I'm a new man, Jack. I want a bottle of whiskey just to show you I can pour it out of the window without desiring a drop. Just like you."
He smiled again and returned to the mirror with his shaving brush. He soaked the remainder of the beard that he already trimmed short with a scissors. Then he worked up a mighty lather and dug his straight razor into it.
He worked at the beard like a lumberman at a thick log. He swiped and sawed and scraped, and didn't raise a single drop of blood. Looking at the white flesh that appeared beneath the beard, I realized for the first time that McDonough was a real man. Flesh. Lots of it for that matter. Until this moment, I always saw him as someone larger than life, like, even in life he was someone stalking the board of the stage. But that glimpse of white skin, now I was sure he was flesh and blood.
Maybe it was the theatrical way he spoke, his diction, his broad gestures, or his measured step. Or maybe it was the way that he always seemed to carry a prop, something to turn, and examine with his hands in a meaningful way, as he spoke philosophically about the current topic of the day.
Without the beard he seemed younger by eight or ten years. I realized that he was probably not old even enough to be my father. And suddenly it became clear that he was very young to be the owner of his own theatre.
He was his own man, and he wasn't a man of thirty yet. And I suddenly wondered how it was that he achieved so much in so short a space of time. I made a determination, then and there, to find an answer.
"We're leaving town my young friend." McDonough said, spraying lather as he did.
"I'd like to stay with you," I began my explanation, but before I could ask for a job, McDonough repeated his assertion.
"I don't understand what you're talking about," I said.
"I'm a new man Jack. I almost gave up. They almost had me. They thought they did, and I almost did give up. But I didn't. I'm a new man Jack."
"That didn't help much, McDonough."
"You remember how Merilee’s father shot her, and nearly shot me."
I explained as how I was unlikely to forget something like that.
"O'Day?" I asked.
"The very. Well, he's sheriff now. He got let off by a judge who said he was justified shooting his any daughter of his if she turned out to be a whore. Didn't matter by whose word she was a whore. But her old man said she was, and the judge believed him and let him off."
"And then he made him sheriff?"
"No, then the good people of our humble town elected him to be sheriff. He ran as a Republican, his father was an abolitionist in his day. The whole ticket won. Not a mugwump amongst them. First thing he done was shut me down. Completely. Said I was corrupting the young folk of town. I told him I was worried, and when he asked me why, I said that if the people in my theatre night after night were the young folk, then there was a plague of baldness going around."
"But he shut you down."
"For a day or two. then the "young" people of the town began to long for their entertainment. Sheriff came in the first night I was open and got me alone in a back room. He said he'd shoot me first chance he had, for no reason at all. He said, "I'd shoot you right now, but I want you think about what you got coming to you for awhile, just like I thought about my baby daughter up there on that stage showing her ankles to the world."
"Why don't you tell somebody?"
¬ "Tell who? He's the sheriff."
"Tell Chief Boyle, the coppers will help you."
"The sheriff or me, who would you believe if you were Chief Boyle?" McDonough asked me, wiping the last traces of lather from his face.
I was silenced. Not because I thought McDonough's fate was sealed and hopeless, but because I had given up gainful employment at the tannery to join McDonough on the stage at his Palace.
"It's grand, isn't it boy?"
"You're still drunk McDonough."
"I'm not drunk Jack. It's the opportunity I've been waiting for. Here I was, a renowned talent moldering away in this dusty old theatre, in this two-bit town. I've deprived the world of my talents for far too long. It's the road for me Jack. Fame, wealth, women. I'll live my life out of a trunk, at least until this town cools down, or that sheriff takes a hoof to the head."
McDonough did not yet see my dilemma. Surely he heard me tell him yesterday that I'd left my job at McKinley's. Surely he had some notion that I was left without a steady income, and that I'd eat through my meager savings in a few week's time. But surely as all that, he was two bottles into a bender when I told him.
"Sounds terrific, McDonough. But where will you perform?"
"I've got contacts from here to Manhattan. I know every theatre owner in every borough from New Haven to Albany."
"But what will you do?" I asked McDonough, realizing that the only thing I had ever heard him do was introduce other acts from the cramped stage of the Palace.
He responded to my question with a song in some foreign tongue. It sounded Italian to me, and I had no idea what he was singing about, but he sang so loud, and he shaped those notes like they were doilies for your granny's table. And before he was done he had tears in his eyes, and I had tears in mine too.
"The best response a singer could hope for, tears. Thank you Jack."
"I'm not crying for your song McDonough. I'm crying for me."
With that I explained to my friend how I had bailed out of my job at the leatherworks hoping to find work in the theater with him, and that now I felt hopeless, and resigned to taking a laborers position that would pay me far less than the money I made tanning hides. I could see myself, filthy and pitiable, hands raw and bleeding, dodging chunks of brownstone over in the Portland quarries.
"None of it," McDonough said. "You'll be riding with me. I need accompaniment. Can't sing without a little squeezebox to back me up."
"Elizabeth," I suddenly remembered.
"Now Jack, she's a grown woman and don't need you to look after her. Fact is, she probably spends a lot of her time worrying over you, preparing extra meals and such. You're a burden to her, sure."
The way McDonough put it, I guessed he was right. Lately I noticed Elizabeth didn't tear up at all when I called on her.
"I suppose you're right, McDonough.”
"You can handle a horse better than I ever could. And you near squeeze the life out of that old German box. I need you, Jack."
"I'll come," I said. "What have I got to lose. But what about the theater?"
McDonough pulled an old carpet bag from behind a steamer trunk and knocked his hand against it several times. The room filled with a cloud of dust. He opened the bag and proceeded to stuff it with undergarments. I never saw anyone with so many undergarments, though I knew that women were said to have far more then men. McDonough filled the bag until it stood on the floor of its own weight and girth like a small multicolored animal.
"The theater will be run by Ann Barton."
"The singer?" I asked.
"The same," McDonough responded. "She manages the dancers now anyway, and knows how to add a column of numbers. I'm letting her use the theatre rent-free if she'll set aside a quarter of the profits. She thought it was a good deal. So do I. Ready, Jack?"
McDonough had a carriage prepared, and we packed his belonging in under an hour.
By six that evening we were halfway to Manhattan. McDonough called it the gateway to the world. He described streets crowded with people. Buildings of five and six stories. Stores where you could buy silk stocking from France, and carpets from Persia. Great poles strungs twenty deep with telegraph wires. Gaslights on even the most insignificant street. And Broadway, one vast cascade of theatres, each filled every night with audiences calling for music, dance and drama.
I was frightened.
We stopped the evening in Bridgeport, a port town three times as big as Middletown, and twice as big as New Haven.
We ate in a tavern filled with rough-talking sailors, and I asked one or two if they had seen Vinny. And none could remember him, but with my description they recommended that I stop at the Barnum house. Someone there might have heard of him.
McDonough was not at all interested in visiting the home of the famous circus man P. T. Barnum. After all, McDonough had no stake in finding Vinny. But he suspected that we'd land in jail if we even tried to approach the imposing brick mansion that we'd passed on the way to the rooming house where we were staying.
"You're a stranger in this town, Jack. He's a great man. The police are watching him all the time. What makes you think you can get anywhere near his front door."
"Even a great man's got to walk with his feet on the ground, McDonough," I replied.
"Have it your way. But don't expect me to follow you, or wait, if you get thrown in the hoosegow. I'll be heading to New York tomorrow morning, and if you're not in the wagon, I'll leave without you."
I pondered the choices, but not for too long. I was sure Vinny would not join the circus, as an attraction, but that he might have used his appearances to land some other kind of job. After all, a man like Mr. Barnum, who had hired men who looked like dogs, and women with beards, would not be put off for a minute by the appearance of a man with a simple defect like Vinny's.
"I'll be in the wagon at seven," I said to McDonough as I stood from my stool and headed for the door. On the way out I grabbed a hunk of roast beef and a pickled egg from the free buffet.
"You can leave without me if I'm not there, but you've got to promise that we can take Vinny along if I find him."
McDonough, with his face attached to a beer mug waved his approval casually then turned toward the bartender with an empty glass to offer.
I made my way through streets that were genuinely dark. I asked a man sitting on a stoop smoking a pipe where the lamps were.
"Right in front of you sonny," he answered.
I turned to find that he was indicating an iron lampost.
"I mean the light," I explained unneccesarily.
"Where you from?" he asked.
I looked around to see if this was some cue to an army of marauders who would attack me and take what little I had left.
"North of here," I said.
"Shelton?" he asked.
"Well then maybe you didn't hear about our lamps in Bridgeport. You see, the mayor wanted the finest lamps. So he bought these. The salesman said they would burn with a very bright flame because they drew more oxygen. Well what it means is that they have larger vents, and when a strong wind blows in off the sound, it blows these lamps right out. Some mornings you wake to the smell of gas in the street and you're afraid to strike your pipe lest you be blown to kindgom come."
He would have told me more about the lamps, had I let him, but I asked him for the quickest path to Barnum's house.
"It's straight up this street toward town," he answered. "But he ain't in this month. "He's got three troupes out now. One in Ohio or Illinois. One up in Maine, and the other in Europe. He's in Europe. Want to join the circus, do you?"
"No sir, I'm looking for a friend who disappeared over a year ago."
With that I described Vinny to him. He hadn't seen him, but he had seen just about ever other manner of man and women. Men with two heads, women with elephant trunks, men with rubber faces, women with horse faces, men with scales, women with fins. Women who were half-men, and men who were half women. He'd seen men with tails, and women with beaks. Women with four legs and men with four arms. But he hadn't seen Vinny.
"You won't get anyone home at the Barnum house," he warned. "But go and take a look at it anyway, it's better than the circus.
I walked the five blocks to the house without further incident, and stood in front of it looking at the darkened windows. It was clear no one was home, and I was about to start back to the rooming house when a policeman rounded the corner and asked me my business. I told him I was hoping to find Mr. Barnum at home, and in turn try to discover if my friend had come and joined the circus.
"I hate the circus," the policeman said.
"I don't think I ever met anyone that felt that way," I replied.
"And I hate Barnum too."
"It's really very simple, lad. Every day, I walk this street and see human misery and suffering. Starving babies, misshapen cripples, orphans, beggars, the beaten. It's terrible."
"But can't the circus bring joy into their lives."
"A bit of food and money would bring a lot more joy. Sure a clown can make you laugh. Barnum makes his gold off the backs of those more miserable than him. Those who have nowhere else to turn for a decent living. Those who were going to be stared at cruelly for all their lives, for nothing. And he tells them how to turn that cruelty to cash. That's why I hate him and his circus. And your friend is better off on his own.
"Barnum is a businessman. His business is cruelty. And he makes us all the worse for saying it's all right to focus our eyes on the suffering and smile."
Posted by Ed McKeon at 6:11 PM No comments:
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Chapter Ten - The Leatherman's Jounal, September 27, 1869
Before long, I found that I would not be able to keep myself in cotton pants without begging money for the cloth.
And the leather coat has proven so resilient that I decided to fashion a pair of trousers in the same way. A hat followed shortly.
This was also the time when I found my wanderings to be taking a rather regular course. I am, I will admit, a man of habit.
The angel and the devil have found me. I thought I had left them in Lyon.
They accompany me once again. But Beliel, the devil’s messenger, makes himself known most frequently.
"Useless," he will whisper from the shadows of the forest. "Pitiable," he will his through the fog. "A walking disease," he says when I hear his footsteps near behind.
While the angel Adoneil, calms me. "Walk," he says. "Walk, and ye shall be cleansed."
And I walk.
I am, again, a man of leather as I was a man of leather.
My father's scent hangs about me, each day, as I walk, and I find, with my suit, unique as it is, that I gain the attention of nearly everyone I pass. Suddenly I am no longer just another tramp. I have become old man leather. I’ve heard it on the lips of more than one.
Old, eh? Quite a distinction for a thirty-two year old.
Yesterday I walked through a town where I had passed about a month ago. Last month the children and dogs seemed to single me out from the other tramps. I noticed others pointing and speaking amongst themselves.
"Old man leather," it was the voice of a child of about ten.
I turned and looked at him.
"Maw wants to know if you'd eat a sandwich."
He pointed to a great white house with a woman standing in the doorway. I followed him up the walk and to the door. The woman held out a thick plate stacked high with bread, ham and hard cheese. I took the plate without emotion. I nodded.
I must keep the agreement I made with myself and my demons. A smile is as much language as word. I will walk through this world without acquaintance.
I sat on a bench in the yard and began to eat. It was more than a day since my last meal. I finished the entire plate in minutes, only stopping once to look up at the door where the boy and the women, and now two more children stood to watch me eat.
They didn't provided me anything to drink, and the salty ham and cheese, and the ten miles I walked this parched my aching throat. I turned to the door, and almost before I could hold an imaginary cup to my lips the children were bouncing up and down, arms stretched in the air, hoping to be the one chosen to fetch me something to drink.
I waited minutes, and began to pick up my bag. Despite the flurry of interest, I felt I was forgotten, when through the door burst a blond-headed girl of about fifteen. She carried a pitcher, and when she bumped against the door, white beads of milk flew into the air.
Her speed didn't slake until she finally realized that she was going to have to deliver the milk to me. I looked toward her anxiously, thirsty.
She slowed from a run to a walk, and from a walk to a stuttering saunter. She turned once toward the door, unsure.
"Ma," she said pleadingly.
"Go, now. You're the one who wanted to fetch the milk."
The girl looked back at me. She was as frightened as the forest animals I encountered in my journeys. She turned again toward the door. Then back to me. The she made a determined change of mind and she strode confidently, if stiffly, toward me, pitcher held outstretched at the end of a trembling arm.
I held my expression the entire time. I did not want to scare her, but I did not want to betray myself, or allow the temptation towards conversation that even a single smile would allow.
When she was close enough, I lifted my hand, slowly, and took the pitcher from her. As soon as she was relieved of the burden she rushed back to the safety of the doorway, and her mother's skirts.
I put the pitcher to my lips and emptied it. I placed it on the bench next to the empty plate, put on my hat, pick up my satchel, nodded to the doorway, and I left.
As I reached the gate I looked down the long row of white pickets and saw two boys, undoubtedly part of this brood watching me intently. I reached for the gate and noticed two shiny copper pennies on the fence post.
I looked back down at the boys and saw them whisper excitedly.
I placed my hand over the pennies and picked them up. I looked at the boys and saw they were about to burst with excitement. I put the pennies in my pocket and continued down the fence row.
As I neared the end, and the boys, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a nickel and a tarnished ten cent piece. I kept the dime, but I deposited the nickel on the last fence post I passed.
It was perhaps the finest investment these two boys had ever made. I didn't turn back to see them revel in their good fortune, but I knew by the delighted squeals that they found the five cent piece.
Today, while walking on a road between Westport and Cos Cob, a stylish carriage wheeled in my direction. By now I was used to people looking at me, and talking about me, as if I were invisible. They seemed to marvel at my leather outfit, made of scraps shingled atop one another. My leather cap completed my uniform, and I usually carried a length of branch to ward off stray dogs and snakes.
The couple in the carriage, a man and women, as stylishly bedecked as the carriage itself, began motioning toward me at some distance. The day was overcast, and close, and for some reason the sound travelled a long distance.
"Old man leather," she said.
"One misty, moisty, morning," he laughed.
I looked up, for just a moment, and thought I saw Marie in the stranger's face. And since I never let my gaze rest long, I looked again, and Marie was gone, replaced by the stranger.
It's strange that I saw Marie in this woman. For I rarely saw Marie dressed in such fashion. Here was a woman of means, dressed in the high style of the day with a dress bought, perhaps in one of the salons of Manhattan, and worn here, in the country to impress the neighbors.
For much of the time that I knew her, Marie did not own such fine clothes. Until I bought them for her, and then, she took them reluctantly, and wore them with little pleasure.
The russets and crinolines felt false and uncomfortable to her, and she professed greater comfort in a cotton smock and wool apron.
For my eyes, she looked more beautiful in the clothes of her choice. They fit her beauty, and her strong, work-hewn character. She was her own woman, that much of her which wasn't devoted to her father, and she truly didn't need me to survive.
She told me so herself on more than one occasion.
I first saw her at market.
I was in the commerce district, in Lyon, at the noon hour. I just left the docks and was headed back toward my father's office. I stopped to buy an orange to eat along the way.
I remember arguing with the vendor over the price, and him finally selling me three for the price of one.
I spied Marie at the adjacent stall. She was holding a bolt of dyed cotton up to the sun, counting the weave. It looked like clothe of India to me. It was of a bold pattern, and she smiled. Her smile was like the sun in a clear summer sky to me.
She glanced over and saw me watching, and averted her eyes.
She dropped the cloth and hurried away.
By the time I made my way through the crowd, she was gone.
Though I had no business there, I visited that market, and that stall, each day for the next fortnight without spying that beautiful face again. I walked the streets around the market hoping to find her, but without luck. I carried on the search when my business would allow. But I did not see her until she walked into my life again.
Weeks passed, and I resigned myself to thinking that our chance encounter would never recur. That she was a visitor from a neighboring village, or a distant port. That she was a gypsy.
Then she walked into my father's leatherworks on the Lyon docks. I didn't see her at first. I was called by the foreman to come to talk to a man who sold metal scraps. I was told he had enough silver for us to produce a shipment of belts with silver buckles that we would export to England and America.
I walked to the front of the warehouse and easily spotted the scrap metal dealer. He was dirty and unkempt. He wore a ragged kerchief around his head, and his arms were filled with cuts and scratches.
"It's four years' work" he said to me, pointing at the small pile of bent and twisted metal that glowed with a dull gleam.
The scale read thirty-two pounds. It would earn him six hundred francs.
"Why haven't you sold this to a jeweler before?" I asked.
"Could not get my price," he answered.
"Could it be that some of this silver has been stolen from the very jewelers to whom it would have to be sold?"
"Monsieur, you accuse me falsely. This is waste I found in scrap heaps, in kitchen middens, in the shallow waters of the river’s edge."
"Thirty-two pounds is a great deal of lost silver even for a large town like Lyon."
"Take it or leave it," he said, gathering up the ends of the canvas rag he carried it in.
"We'll take it," it was my father's voice. He had crept up behind us and heard the dealings.
I said nothing to him there, or later. It would do me no good, but he knew how I felt about dealing with thieves, and I knew how he felt about making a profit.
He ordered one of our men to carry the silver to the melting pot, and called for his valise.
"What have you promised?" he asked me.
"Six hundred francs," the scrap dealer replied.
"As scrupulous as you are my son, you still know how to drive a bargain,” my father whispered to me.
My father left for other matters without taking his leave, and when the valise with the money in it arrived I began to count.
"Wait," the scrap dealer ordered. "I cannot count higher than twenty. You must allow me to get my daughter."
He ran into the alley and returned with the woman I had seen in the marketplace.
I could have counted him six times six hundred dollars that afternoon, and I would not have known. My thoughts, and my eyes were on his daughter. I handed her the money clumsily when I was through counting, just so I could feel the touch of her hand.
"Six hundred, there you are," I said to the old man.
"Merci," she said to me.
She didn't give me even a glance but set right to counting the francs. It took her a good five minutes to complete the task. I used every moment to investigate every angle of her face, the color of her eyes, the wisps of hair that fell randomly from the bundle she had gathered with a ribbon on top.
"It's all here," she said, looking at her father, and taking his arm to leave.
"Thank-you," the old man nodded to me.
She was not going to address me again, but gave me a brief glance, and a smile like a torch to the volatile fuel of my soul.
"Won't you have tea?" I asked just before they reached the door.
The man and the girl stopped, understandably puzzled at my request. Neither answered, and if I asked again, they would probably not admit to hearing my request clearly. But I asked again nonetheless.
"I'd like to seal our agreement with tea, and cakes."
I thought to myself that I must be going mad, inviting a thief and his beautiful daughter into the parlor for tea.
They looked again at each other, then the girl at me.
"Certainly," she said softly, and they followed me to the business parlor located in the back of the warehouse, on the second floor, overlooking the rivers where they intersected, and the docks.
"I must say, I've sealed an agreement with a glass of port, but never with tea," the old man grumbled.
"I have port," I replied, turning toward the liquor cabinet.
"Tea will be fine," the girl replied.
I called for the young kitchen girl to brew us a pot, indicated that our guest should sit in one of the oak chairs, and sat myself.
"You are Monsieur Bourglay?" the girl asked. "The younger Monsieur Bourglay," I answered. "My father owns this business. I've worked with him since I was sixteen. Ten years ago. Though I've been around the business since I was a child. And you are?"
"René Brilliard," the man answered. "Scrap dealer. This is my daughter Marie. She keeps the books. I deal in anything that is waste to some men, and treasure to others."
The girl seemed cowed in her father's presence. She smiled politely, and when we finished drinking the tea, she stood at her father's signal, and left.
"You're a fool to even think this way," my friend Etienne said to me when I told him about my beautiful visitor. "You are from a different class. Your father would disown you if he saw you with her. Her father would probably kill you. Perhaps you could have a discreet affair with her, yes..."
"My friend, this is love. I've not felt this way about any woman in my life. And I think she feels something for me."
"You told me she wouldn't speak to you."
"But her eyes told me everything I needed to know."
"You've always been beset by delusions, my good friend. You'll have to give up everything. Maybe your life. Is it worth it, Jules. There are thousands of pretty faces here in Lyon, all your equal. And if not here, Paris."
As he spoke he spread his arms indicating the dozens of women passing the cafe on the Rue de Ste. George. And he was right, these were beautiful women. I had met them. I had accompanied them to dances, and to dinner, to concerts and parties. None of them left me a memory of anything, even the next morning.
But this common flower, this Marie, would not flee my thoughts. She was there when I woke, and with me all day. And if I was lucky she inhabited my sleep too.
"I will make her part of my society."
"You will be a society of two," Etienne said as he finished the last of a wine and called to the waiter for another bottle.
"It will be all that we need."
"To live the life you lead, you will need every cent that your father gives you."
Etienne's cynicism had a way of penetrating through the fluff of an argument and striking the rusty knot of truth.
I gave his argument some hard thought. Indeed, I led a life that was to be envied. A large house, servants, fine clothes, carriages, the finest food in the parish. Though we were merchant class, my father was a very successful merchant, and was much wealthier than many of the old aristocratic families whose estates dotted the countryside.
But I was in love. I had not been in love before. Or if I had, I could not remember the feeling. Love made me feel brave. Love made me feel invincible. Love made me know that I could endure anything, even poverty.
"I can earn a living," I protested to my astute friend.
"A living and a life are two different things my friend. You see the workers on your floor every day. They earn a living. They support families. What do you pay them?"
"Four francs a week."
"Ah, you are right then. Of course. Why should I have doubted you. Jules, you most certainly could earn six francs a week."
"I know this business, I could make my fortune, as my father did."
"Competing against your father? Think my boy."
He was right. My father was a ruthless competitor. He was my father. He would not allow me to succeed. He would not allow me to compete. He would turn merchants against me. I wouldn't be able to turn to him for rawhides or finished wares. I might just as well try to sell ceramic pots. And when he heard about Marie, he wouldn’t allow me to exist in Lyon.
It did not take me long to discover where Marie lived, in a small loft, above a large open shed where her father kept most of his scrap. What struck me was the openess of the shed. Either the man trusted his neighbors, or he was right, scrap is merely scrap, except to those who have the eyes to behold it as treasure.
I didn't have the courage to walk up to the apartment and ask to see Marie. I don't know what kept me away. But I watched her from a distance for many days, standing for hours beneath the window, at the end of a day.
I was there so frequently that I began to be recognized by the neighbors. For some reason they called me Richard, to which I began to answer.
On one of these evenings, I stood so long that I became exhausted, and I sat on the step of a bakery and fell asleep. I was awakened in the morning by the baker who swept me off his step like a I was a malingerer.
I was brushing the dust and flour from my trousers when Marie emerged from the doorway next to the scrap heap. She walked toward me. Perhaps she had seen me standing all night long.
As she walked, she neither looked directly at me or away. I stood, frozen, not knowing whether to smile or speak, tip my hat or turn away. She had nearly passed me when I spoke up.
"Good morning," I said.
She turned, startled, I was sure.
"Why Monsieur Bourglay," she said. "You are a long way from the leathergoods."
"My work takes me to all parts of the city."
"I see. Well, good-day. I must get a bread for my father's coffee."
With that she brushed past me and into the bakery.
I didn't leave, but instead waited outside and tried to plot a strategy that would allow me more than a "good-day" with the lovely Marie.
She was out of the shop before I had arrived at any firm plan. I smiled at her, and she at me as she left the shop and headed back across the street. I followed and she turned when she saw me.
"Monsieur Bourglay," she smiled. " Is there something more I can do for you."
I gurgled, and bumbled a few syllables before a complete sentence would emerge.
"I wonder, if you would take a carriage ride with me to the country, come the weekend."
She smiled again, and look up at the apartment window. I looked as well, half expecting to see the scrap dealer frowning at my effrontery.
"I don't know what to say," she said. "I've not been to the country, and I don't expect I'd know what to do once I got there."
"Why there's nothing to do," I explained.
"Well, then, what is the point of going to the country, Monsieur."
"Why to relax. To be away from the strain of the city. To enjoy the trees, and the sun and the wind."
"Are these trees and sun and wind different then our own in Lyon?"
"Well, no," I answered tentatively.
"Then why drive all the way into the country to see them?"
"There are many more of them. Why the trees grow in……"
"Forests?" she laughed.
"Yes, forests. Of course, so obvious. Why there are so many
trees, you would not have time to see them all."
"Why not study the ones we have here more carefully. Appreciate their beauty."
"You misunderstand me. It's peaceful in the country, there are birds singing, and lambs bleating, and cows calling to be milked."
"It doesn't sound peaceful to me Monsieur Bourglay. And as I have work to do, even on the Lord's day, I must refuse a ride in the country with you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have coffee to prepare."
I lifted my hat, but she did not see me. Nor did she see the heart she had dashed. For it was as crushed as surely as if the horse and carriage that was now passing had trod on it.
I was not to see Marie for more than six months. And in those six months I tried my best to forget her, but I could not.
When I saw her again it was just as well.
Posted by Ed McKeon at 6:08 PM No comments:
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Chapter Nine: The fat man's resurrection
When I woke up I knew two things.
I missed seeing the old man Leatherman, and missed the chance of earning some of his luck.
I also knew that someone had hit me on the head again. I had that same miserable feeling like I was tired, but tired of sleeping. And my head throbbed.
"What day is it?" I asked the old man staring into my face.
"Wednesday," he said. I smelled whiskey's sweet words.
"Wednesday of what month," I asked.
He looked puzzled, then turned toward a calendar on the wall, to check himself.
"November, still, I suspect. Was this morning when I got up."
"What's the day?" I asked again.
"Didn't lose no days this time, praise."
"No, you didn't lose a single day, son. But you pretty near lost your life. See, what you done, was either durn brave, or damned stupid."
"He was brave all right."
It was McDonough's voice. I recognized it right off. His face, red and bewhiskered, leaned over my bed and into view. His voice had sounded as happy as usual, but his face talked a different language altogether.
"You was shot," I accused him.
"I was nearly shot. Seems that damn squeezebox is good for something more than music. Bullet lodged in the reed chamber. Key of A, far as I can tell."
"What about Merilee?" I asked.
He pulled his head quickly from my view and I heard the giant blast of grief he blew into his handkerchief.
"Girl is dead," the other man said. He strapped a reflector on his forehead and began pulling my eyelids apart, then stared intently into my eyes. "Bullet tore a hole in her heart."
"In mine too," McDonough sobbed in the background.
Even with a dull ache in my head, McDonough's sorrow struck me as a bit melodramatic, though I had no real reason to doubt his sincerity. He spoke as if he were standing illuminated by footlights.
"And you, my young man, are the hero of the day," the other man said.
Only now did I begin to recall what he meant. After I saw McDonough and the girl fall to the stage, I stared at them for a long, hard, terrifying moment, then looked into the audience for the man with the gun.
He was gone, but the rear doors swung back and forth, letting the sunlight play hopscotch on the back row of seats. I leapt over the edge of the stage and ran to the back of the theater. I burst through the rear doors and caught a glimpse of the man as he turned the corner in the alley, heading toward Main.
I was on him in seconds, because he was walking, calmly. He was trying hard not to attract the attention of the crowds shopping nearby. I ran with all the force I could muster and jumped on his back, throwing my arms around his neck, and then leaning back.
I knew right off that he was a strong man, for he didn't fall. In fact, he never lost stride. But he did reach around for my hair and began to pull.
That's when I started screaming. I never could abide my hair being pulled. So I screamed some more, and grabbed a hold of his face like it was a piece of cowhide I was about to scrub.
I learned, at that moment that I had some muscle, from all the cowhides I scrubbed, because he screamed near as loud as me. Then he got hold of my jacket and flipped me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I hit the ground with the same kind of dull noise, too.
It knocked the wind out of me. And I fainted.
The man who was now ministering to me finished the story. Doc Gordon who was coming out of a local tavern after noontime dinner.
He saw me hanging on the shoulders of the man with the gun, and he saw the man throw me to the ground, and he saw the man draw the gun from his holster and point it at me.
Doc also saw the four bricks rain from the sky. It seems he was not the only one watching the goings-on. Four bricklayers on the building above had followed my pursuit from the door of McDonough's Palace. And in the moment when the man would have ended one more life, these bricklayers dropped what was left in their hod on my assailant.
None hit the man on the head, but at least one hit his arm, and broke it, leaving the assailant on the ground next to me.
"Who was he, McDonough?" I sat up now, risking my ability to keep objects in the room in focus, and the contents of my stomach where they belonged.
"His name's Tracy. James Tracy. The judge'll want him hung," Doc Gordon said.
"The judge won't hang him. He shot his own daughter. The judge will think Tracy was justified in ridding the town of another harlot, " McDonough countered.
"You're probably right McDonough."
“What about justice,” I said.
Both men shuffled a bit. Then the doctor spoke.
“Justice, hmmph,” he said. “You’re just a boy. You’ll find how little justice there is in this world.
There was a silence for several moments.
"I'll kill him myself," McDonough said as he burst out the door and down a flight of stairs to the street.
I jumped off the table and followed.
"Boy," Doc Gordon called after me. "I won't be responsible if you fall down dead. You'll kill yourself."
"Then the graveyards will be full today," I answered, as I hit the stairs and flew after McDonough.
I caught up with him easily, he hadn't even made it down to Court St., and he was stooped and huffing as he stumbled along.
"McDonough, it won't do you any good to kill him. The girl is gone."
"She wasn't just any girl, Jack," he looked genuinely grieved.
"What about the melodeon? Can it be fixed?"
For whatever reaon, my simple, and silly question, distracted him completely. He stood straight up. His eyes seemed to clear. He pulled a hand slowly through his long, black, curly hair, and he began to talk about the squeezebox.
As we walked, and he talked about what might be done to plug the violated chamber, I headed him away from the police station and back toward the Palace. As we passed the congregational church, the bells began to strike.
"A good carpenter can repair the face," McDonough said.
"I'll leave the shot where it is so whenever I hit that note I'll think of Merilee."
"I owe my life to that damn German squeezebox."
"I'll write a song for her. I'll put it in the review."
"Four," I shouted, looking up at the clock in the steeple.
McDonough pulled out his pocket watch and confirmed the worse.
"Four. I should've been back at the tannery before three. Goodbye McDonough. I've got a smithy to see."
The smithy's shop was closed when I got there, but I banged on the door that led into the house next to it. He answered.
"I thought you probably got tired of waiting and went back home," the smithy said to me. A napkin was tucked into his shirt top. "Your pulley wheel's in the wagon. The wagon's in the barn."
My own trip back to the tannery was not half as careful as my trip into town. And that had been reckless. By the time I reached the tannery, the horse was steaming and wet.
"Who're you racing?" McKinley asked me as he lifted the pulley wheel from the wagon with the assistance of one of the other men.
"My own bad luck, I guess." I said. "Old man leather came and went?"
It was Ben, he walked hurriedly out of the barn.
"And Petit was here to plan for next time."
"The photographer Jack. Next time he's going to get old man Leather to pose. Maybe we can pose with him."
"Only if it will bring me better luck."
It was then that I told Ben and Mr. McKinley about my afternoon in town. Mr. McKinley drove me home to his house that night, and had Mrs. McKinley, who smelled like a cinnamon stick, check the bump on my head.
We ate a roast that had been cooking all that day. The meat was tasty and seemed to melt in my mouth. That night I was sent to sleep in a bed so soft that I couldn't readily get to sleep for fear I might drown. At some point I dozed off and I must have rolled off the bed and onto the floor, for that's where I found myself when I woke in the morning.
Posted by Ed McKeon at 3:46 AM No comments:
Labels: chapter nine, jules bourglay, old leatherman, road between heaven and hell, the fat man's resurrection
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