April 15, 2011

Issue 4: April 2011

April 2011 Cover

History books that contain no lies are extremely dull.
~Anatole France


Bride of the Water by James Lecky
The Elder Brother Washing His Hands by Adrian Van Young
Anne Boleyn to the King by Jean Hollander
Newgate Jig by D. J. Cockburn
Edgar Cayce by Jack Peachum
Centurion’s Choice by R. S. Pyne
The Painting Called Love Victorious by Gabriel Malloy
Ethel Rosenberg on her Trial and Execution for Treason by Liz Dolan
Ben Johnson Day by Ricky Ginsburg


A Penny Always Has Two Sides by Steffie Steinke
Day of Revenge by Deanna Poach

Questions, comments, or concerns may be e-mailed to the editor at markenberg[at]yahoo[dot]com. If you are interested in submitting fiction, poetry, or nonfiction to Lacuna, please see our submission guidelines.

Bride of the Water


Bride of the Water
by James Lecky

That I knew Abramo Della Casa may come as a surprise to many. That I alone know the true circumstances surrounding the great artist’s disappearance may be even more unbelievable.

You would not think to see me now that this grey, bent old man with rheumy eyes and withered hams fought under the Duke of Terranova at Pavia or that by the end of that terrible day in 1525 my sword, armour and even my very hands were stained with blood. Abramo Della Casa was there too, my comrade in arms and sword-brother until a Spanish arquebus ended his military career and, almost, his life. A blessing in disguise, perhaps, since it turned him from the way of sword and pistol to the path of chisel and brush.

I was in the prime of my life at Pavia, a swaggering condottiere with sharp wits and an even sharper blade, able to drink all night and fight all day when the situation demanded. It was a different time, of course, not like the pallid age we now live in, where the pen not the sword has become the chief instrument of politics and the young men have become peacocks rather than hawks.

And even though almost twenty years have passed since Abramo Della Casa vanished, I still remember every detail with stark and terrifying clarity.

* * *

The Year of Our Lord 1546 found me in Venice in the employ of Alessandro Tocatti, a merchant of the city and staunch patron of the arts. Fanciso Donato had been elected Doge and Venice herself was about to enter a time of peace and wealth. But even so there was work to be had for a skilled swordsman since not all quarrels between the merchant houses were settled through talk alone.

Abramo Della Casa had found his way to the City of Masks some years before I arrived there, and quickly gained a fine reputation for his work. We met but rarely since his time was occupied by sculpture and painting and mine with the task of protecting the interests of the house of Tocatti. Still, on those occasions when we had time to drink a bottle or two of Montefalco Rosso our talk invariably turned to times gone by and past triumphs. One such conversation remains foremost in my mind since it was the precursor to all that followed, although I did not know it then, when we sat with our wine in the Locando della Luna watching the high, sluggish water of the canal.

“You were a holy terror in those days, Teodoro. There were moments when you even frightened me.”

“If I did you hid it well, old friend,” I said. “And, in truth, I spent most of my time trying not to piss my codpiece with fear.”

“A little fear is good for a soldier, it keeps him sharp.”

“For a soldier? Yes. But for an artist? What good is fear to an artist?”

He smiled enigmatically and I noticed for the first time how haggard he had become even though at forty he was five years my junior. The pain of his old wound, perhaps, from the shattered thighbone that caused him to walk with a pronounced limp and gave him the nickname of ‘Più Molle’ with which he signed his canvases.

“Fear?” he said. “Everyone should know a little fear, for without the darkness what good is light.”

“A philosopher now as well,” I said, only slightly mocking him.

“Every man is a philosopher after the first glass of wine.”

“And a fool after the fifth.”

“That is so.”

Even by the standards of the day, Abramo Della Cassa was considered to be something of an oddity. Although not exactly reclusive he was withdrawn by nature and given to morbid subjects in his work. You have seen, no doubt, his painting La Carica A Pavia with its strange, skull-faced riders and misshapen carrion birds amidst the pageantry of battle. Or perhaps you have been one of the few privileged to view La Sposa Delle Acque – The Bride of the Waters – and seen for yourself the esoteric skill he brought to his work in marble. Despite his solitary ways, he was nonetheless in high demand and even my master had expressed an interest in commissioning him. But when I mentioned it Della Casa dismissed the notion with a curt shake of his head.

“I will paint no more portraits of fat merchants or ugly dowagers,” he announced, and poured another glass of wine.

“Why so?”

“I have found myself a muse.”

I almost laughed, but the look on Della Casa’s face curtailed me. “I thought the city herself was your muse.”

“Once. But no longer.” He took a sheaf of papers from his doublet and spread them on the table before us. They were a series of drawings, quickly but expertly rendered in charcoal, showing the squares of the city, her canals and palaces, rendered in that particular style that characterised Della Casa’s work, the angles somehow wrong, as though the subjects had been viewed through a prism of warped glass. And in each one, sometimes in the background but more often the focus of the drawing, there was the image of a young woman, her face a study in melancholy.

“Who is she?” I asked.

“The Signorina Velia Pellame. She is beautiful, is she not?” Despite his words I knew it was not a question. Moreover, I had witnessed Abramo Della Casa’s temper at first hand on more than one occasion and was aware that he sought confirmation rather than an opinion.

“She is comely enough,” I said, although, in truth, her features were a little too sharp for my tastes, her eyes too large and her figure lacked curves.

“My muse. And soon to be my wife.”

“Congratulations, my friend,” I said, and raised a glass. “When is the happy day?”

“Soon,” he said. ”I have yet to ask her formally for her hand, but I know she will not refuse me.”

“I wish you good fortune,” I said. “For a home is poor without a woman.”

“Indeed so.”

We parted we a promise to meet again soon and I made my way back to my home close to the Campo dei Frari. The waters were high that season, bringing with them the threat of plague and cholera, but the City of Masks was well used to disease and life continued much as it had always done.

For my part, my days and nights were kept busy with what we called il lavoro della limierina – the work of the blade – and only rarely did I see Abramo Della Casa, limping through the Rialto markets with his beloved by his side, a man blind to the world, and to the appearance of an old friend.

I did not resent his happiness, but I confess that the charms of the Signorina Velia Pellame were lost upon me. On our first, somewhat hurried, introduction I found her cold and aloof; hardly the portrait of a woman in love. Still, a man must find joy where he can.

Late one evening, returning home after a scuffle with the bravos of Gianluca Contarini, my master’s fiercest rival, I was surprised to find the Signorina waiting for me in the doorway of my house.

“Teodoro Zangari.” She spoke my name in no more than a whisper and at the sound my stiletto was half way from its scabbard.

“Stay your hand, Captaino, I mean you no harm.” Her accent, foreign to those parts, was flat and harsh, utterly unlike the musical speech of Venice or my own native Lombardy.

She moved from the shadows and I saw her clearly. Her sharp face the colour of parchment, shadows marking the hollows of her cheeks, and eyes burned with a feverish intensity.

Despite myself I took a step backwards. My first thought – plague.

As though she read my thoughts she said:

“Do not concern yourself, Captaino, there is no risk of infection. Unless heartbreak is contagious.”

“What has happened to you?”

She shook his head. “Not here,” she said. “May we go inside?” As she spoke she glanced down at the waters of the canal and her right hand made an involuntary gesture which may have been a blessing or a protective sign.

Once inside she sat primly in a chair and I poured her a measure of sweet malvasia which she drained in two large gulps, holding out the glass for more. The second draft revived her somewhat, and the fire dimmed in her eyes, though her skin remained pallid.

“You are Abramo’s friend,” she said. And the way she said it, without inflection, left the meaning clear – his only friend. “I do not mean to trouble you,” she continued, “but I do not know who else to turn to.” Her gaze strayed to the shuttered window of the room. “We are secure here?”

“As secure as anywhere in Venice.”

“Good,” she said. Then, as though the thought had just occurred to her: “You must keep Abramo away from me, I cannot marry him.”

My spine stiffened. “So you would toy with his affections, Signorina.”

She rose from the chair and crossed the room to me. “You misunderstand me, Captaino Zangari,” she said. “I love Abramo with all my heart.”

“Then you have a curious way of showing it.”

“Please,” she said, and for the first time there was genuine emotion in her voice. She placed her hand upon mine, her skin was cold to the touch, faintly clammy. “I am promised to another and have been since the day of my birth.”

“Is Abramo aware of this?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said.

“You did not think to tell him?”

“Because I did not think to fall in love.”

“And the man you must marry, what does he think of this?”

She inclined her head slightly and the lamplight caught her eye, the pupil somehow too large. “He does not know, nor would I have him know. He is…. a lord of the sea.”

I knew the kind of man she spoke of, a Dalmatian pirate, no doubt, seeking legitimacy by marrying into a Venetian family. Such marriages were common then – and for that matter they are common still – yet another way for the City of Masks to protect herself and her interests.

“This will break Abramo’s heart,” I said.

“Do you not think I know this?” she snapped. “I have no choice in the matter. The bargain was made a long time ago.”

“I will do what I can,” I promised. “When do you marry?”

“Tonight,” she told me.

“So soon?”

“It has been arranged,” she said, as if that were an end to it. “Afterward, I leave Venice on the midnight tide.” She crossed to the door and opened it, allowing frigid night to spill into the room. “Abramo will never find me. In time his heart will heal, even if mine will not.”

And with that she was gone

I waited for a while, mulling over a glass or two of malvasia , then made my way to the Saca Della Misericordia and Della Casa’s studio there.. The tide was high that night – higher than I have ever known it before or since – spilling out from the canals and onto the walkways, the lower storeys of houses, covering the city squares.

Della Casa’s studio was situated on the upper floor of what had once been a grand house now sadly fallen into disrepair. The courtyard outside was under nearly two feet of filthy water, for we were close to the lagoon here and there was little to stop its ingress.

I found him in his workroom, slumped on a divan, his attention fixed upon the figure that stood in the centre of the room – a life-sized figure rendered in marble. I recognized it at once as the Signorina Velia Pellame. But it was not the woman I had seen only an hour since. Rather it was a strange travesty of womanhood, the cuts in the marble made only recently to judge from the chips that littered the floor at her feet.

The sharp face had been altered making it more angular, giving it a somehow piscine aspect; a hint of scaled skin, the merest suggestion of gills marring an elegant neck. It was beautiful and terrible all at the same time.

“La Sposa Delle Acqu,” Abramo Della Casa said. “The Bride of the Sea.” Despite the brandy his voice was steady and level, only the shining vacancy of his face betraying the agony of his soul. “It is how I see her now.”

“So you know of her marriage?” I said.

A bitter smile twisted his lips. “Of course I know,” he said. “Venice holds no secrets from me. Do you think me a complete fool?”

“All men in love are fools,” I told him.

“Do not mock me, Teodoro.”

“I am sorry, my friend,” I said. “I meant no disrespect.”

“She marries her sea lord tonight on the Lazzaretto Nuovo – a fitting location , don’t you think?”

“The Signorina came to me this evening and asked me to keep you away,” I told him. “She fears for your safety.”

“It is not my safety she should fear for. Do you have your sword and pistol?”

“Always,” I said.

He looked up. “Velia loves me,” he said, and the pain was evident in his voice and face. “This man, this sea lord whoever he is, is not worthy of her. He will never love her as deeply and completely as I do.”

“So what do you propose to do?”

He rose, his crippled leg making his movements akward, and strapped a sword to his waist. “I propose to put a handspan of steel through the bastard’s liver and claim my love back again. Will you stand beside me?”

I thought of the Signorina Velia Pellame and of her parting words to me- his heart will heal, even if mine will not’ Had they been a tacit plea for help?

My whole life has been governed by the work of the blade, I am a man for whom action has always been easier than words. Moreover, Abramo Della Casa was my friend and comrade, there was nothing I could say that would stay his hand and I was not prepared to keep him at the point of my blade. How could I?

“I will stand beside you,” I said.

* * *


* * *

There are few who visit the Isola del Lazzaretto Nuovo willingly, even now. In times of plague the sick were taken there in droves. Not so hellish, perhaps, as the Lazzaretto Vecchio where the hopeless cases found themselves, but hardly the place for a wedding.

We rowed there in Della Casa’s little skiff, through waters as black as the sky above us. A mist had risen, thin and acrid, dulling the lights of the city behind us and blurring the outline of the Lazzaretto Nuovo as it loomed out of the night. We hardly spoke to each other – old soldiers have ways of communicating that do not always require words – but I believe that each of us knew the folly we embarked upon.

“What now, Abramo?” I asked when we had beached the skiff and stood on the shingle beach.

“Now we find Velia.”

Then, from somewhere in the darkness, we heard a voice, distant but still intelligible.

“Lord of the Sea, I beseech you to come. To accept this offering and bestow your protection upon our city. Keep us from the waves, o mighty Dagon.”

It was Velia Pellame’s voice, strangely high and sibilant, rising and falling as if in the words of a litany. I thought again of that strange blessing she had delivered to the waters of the canal earlier that night.

“Take me as your bride, mighty Dagon, that the sea may be kept from us.”

Something roared in reply.

Della Casa set off at a hopping run, dragging his crippled leg behind him. He did not turn to see if I followed. But I did not follow. At least not at once.

Something in that sound, in the utterly inhuman timbre of the voice that made it, kept me rooted to the spot. It was more than fear - for I am no stranger to fear and have faced it before and since – rather it was deeper than that.

Think of the awe the first man to make fire must have felt; the unleashing of a primal force capable of transforming the world. Or destroying it.

The roar came again, and this time it seemed to call directly to me. So I followed in Della Casa’s wake. As I crested a small hummock of sandy soil I saw something that will stay with me until my dying day, haunting my nights and plaguing my days.

The Signora Velia Pellame was there, standing in the misty shallows where the Adriatic lapped at the shores of the Isola del Lazzaretto Nuovo. She wore her wedding gown – white velvet with a speckled bodice –her hair held in place with a garland of dying flowers. She should have been beautiful, all brides should be beautiful on their wedding day, but her face had changed somehow, in response to that terrible call, resembling nothing so much as the statue that stood in Della Casa’s studio. The dull moonlight played across her mottled skin, accentuated her opaque eyes, the marks on her throat. Again, I thought of gills and scales and a dreadful thought struck me, that the woman known as Velia Pellame did not belong to the land on which we stood. Rather she belonged to the sea and to this sea lord, this Dagon, who claimed her as his bride, transformed by the arcane power of that dreadful roar.

Abramo Della Casa limped towards her, his rapier drawn. I could not see his face, but his breath came in great ragged gasps and at each step his leg threatened to give way beneath him.


She turned at the sound of his voice and for a moment she was the same frightened woman who had come to me earlier that night.

“Abramo! Dear God, you should not have come.”

He splashed through the water and fell at her feet, already drained by his exertions.

“Return to me,” he said.

“I cannot. My duty will not allow it.”

And again the roar that drove all thoughts from my head, that caused Abramo Della Casa to cry out and clasp his hands to his ears, that wiped the last vestiges of humanity from Vellia Pellame.

Somewhere in the misty night the water heaved, sending a vast wave rolling towards the shore, and I saw – or thought I saw – the creature that caused it.

Vast and dark it was, made more terrible by its resemblance to a man; long arms swept the waves, eyes as large as shields glittered with malevolent idiocy, a great crest that decorated its skull and back; row after row of yellow teeth in a cavernous mouth.

Dagon. Lord of the sea.

As the wave crashed against the shore I saw Della Casa and Vellia Pellame knocked from their feet then dragged further into the water as the wave retreated. They clung to each other, lovers after all, as the tide took them, pulling them towards that nightmare shape as it reached out with weed-mottled hands.

It plunged back beneath the surface and the last I saw of Abramo Della Casa was the silver flash of his rapier as the water dragged him down.

* * *

Of my return to the city proper and the journey in that little skiff back from Lazzaretto Nuovo I will not speak of overmuch, other than to say that each ripple, each tiny wave filled me with terror. With each stroke of the oar I expected the water to erupt beneath me and long, scaly arms to drag me into the depths. But in time I reached Venice and the relative safety of her bridges and walkways, falling into a deep sleep the moment I collapsed upon my bed: I had supped too much of horror and my mind sought oblivion.

It was not to be, for in my dreams I saw Della Casa once again, his face fish-belly white beneath the water of the Adriatic and beside him Vellia Pellame, transformed utterly into a thing of the sea, still holding her lover’s hand. Yes, she was the bride of the water now - the bride of the thing called Dagon, sacrificed that mighty Venice might live in harmony with the sea – but her heart still remained true to Abramo Della Casa.

Although it was the cause of much gossip for a month or so, few people cared to analyse the artist’s disappearance. Some posited that he had simply moved to another city – to Florence or Rome perhaps – at the insistence of the Signorina Vellia Pellame, others that he had simply slipped and fallen into the canal whilst in his cups.

For my part I offered no explanation, preferring to keep my own counsel on the matter lest I be thought mad.

In the years since his disappearance, Abramo Della Casa has been called a genius by some - his paintings and sculptures grace the halls of many fine and noble houses - the mystery surrounding his final days adding to the allure of his work

For my part, the passing of time has treated me well enough, I am a man of substance and if I have been known to quaff a little too much wine of an evening it is merely as an aid to sleep.

But sometimes, when a thin, acrid mist rolls in from the Adriatic and the waters of the lagoon wash over the streets and squares of the City of Masks I sometimes believe I can hear a faint roar in the distance. More than that, there are times when I swear that I can see faces in the dark waters of the canal, pallid creatures with large eyes, their shape vaguely human. The children of Vellia Pellame and the sea lord Dagon, perhaps, or merely the drunken fancies of an old man who has lived too long and seen too much.

* * *


* * *

James Lecky is a writer and actor based in Derry, N. Ireland where he lives with his wife and cat. His short fiction has appeared in various publications both online and in print including Mirror Dance, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and Innsmouth Free Press as well as the anthologies Emerald Eye, The Phantom Queen Awakes, Arcane Whispers 2 and Through Blood and Iron.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

Enjoyment, pure and simple. I love to wander around in new worlds. I love language and the way words fit together. The thing that draws me back to the page or the keyboard again and again is that sense of the infinitely possible, the way that sometimes a word or a phrase can send a story in a completely unexpected direction.

The Elder Brother Washing His Hands


The Elder Brother Washing His Hands
by Adrian Van Young

In the early hours of morning, in the State of Virginia, in the summer of 1862, a light could be seen on a dark staircase as a brother and sister ventured down. The brother’s name was Grady. He was thin and wire-strung. His pale, thin face was crowded with freckles. He went ahead of his sister down the stairs laden with a tangle of her things: valises, petticoats, strops hung with shoes, a leather-bound brace of books. The sister, who was younger, held a candle in a dish, which lit the stairs for only her, and she picked her way down one step at a time lifting the hem of her dress out before her, while the brother, up ahead, had to toe his way down, weaving for balance between the banisters, leaning on one to adjust his load and going blindly on. From a distance she appeared to descend alone, enclosed in a private haze of light, making small sounds of surprise or hesitation when her feet got ahead of her eyesight. Her brother was waiting for her at the bottom in a tight atoll of travel-things.

You walk as if you’re made of glass, the brother called up through the dark to his sister.

So what if I am? she said, concentrating. Leastways I won’t knock my head.

When he had her situated among her things, the brother told the sister he’d return in a minute. Going into the parlor, he left her to wait beneath a huge portrait of their great-grandfather, a pale, whiskered man decked in serge and epaulets who surveyed the front hall with a tragic intensity. The girl made a game out of whipping around to catch the painting unawares, or raising her candle to the height of its chin and turning away in horror.

Devil take you, Grandpappy, she said with a giggle, awaiting her brother’s return.

In the parlor, the brother climbed up on the couch and parted the curtains on the drive. His father and the houseboy Aloysius were loading up the family coach, the young Negro holding a lantern to see by while the father overburdened the luggage train. The brother’s older sister and mother stood near in pale but ill-considered dresses, fanning themselves against the heat like fey refugees of the season in Charleston. The Negro tracked the father at an uncertain distance and his lantern fell short of the axel-tree. The father had to feel the suitcases into place, wrenching them out when they would not fit, cursing Aloysius and vanishing again beneath the raised hood of the train. When he’d found a good geometry he stood, gulping breath, and let his gaze wander up the house’s façade, but the thick parlor curtains had since swayed to and the rest of the windows were blind with night.

Back in the foyer, the brother found the sister peering up at the portrait between her fingers. He put a hand on her shoulder and she startled around with the fingers still raised in front of her face.

Go on outside. It’s safe, he said.

Aren’t you coming?

I ought not to.

What do you mean you oughtn’t?

I can’t.

What do you mean to prove?

He did not answer.

Then where are you fixing to go? she said.

Up north, I guess.

To the war?

No ma’am.

Don’t ma’am me, Grady, she said. I’m a Miss.

He smiled at her pluck and smoothed her hair.

All right, Miss. Around it then. I figured I’d shimmy on by just for fun.

She stared at him intently in the dark of the hall. I do insist you write me, Grady.

I will, he said. I’ll write you silly. Now get out there before you’re stranded.

She took a couple steps towards the door, then turned. What would the rest of them say if they knew?

Nothing good, he said. But you can tell them if you want.

I won’t, she said. But they might ask.

He smiled at her again but did not speak.

What about all my things? she said.

Pa’ll get them, he said.

I’ll ask Aloysius.

No, he said. Ask Pa.

All right.

He opened the door and stood behind it, but she dawdled in the doorway with the candle in her hands.

Did the rest go to fight in the war with Cal?

Cal didn’t go there to fight. He’s a doctor.

Well maybe they’re doctoring too. Helping folks.

I don’t reckon so. He urged her forward. They’ve got enough trouble just helping themselves.

Can niggers be doctors like white folks can?

It’s looking that way, said the brother. We’ll see.

She appeared to consider this for a time. Her face was long and dull with sleep.

Go on, he said. You hear that whistle? You’ll want a window seat on the way out to Auntie’s.

He gently nudged her through the door and she tottered outside with the candle still lit. She looked back once, then twice, over her shoulder, and turned around as if to speak, but a voice called her name and she began to run towards it and her candle extinguished as she ran. A thin reef of smoke hung over the drive. The brother closed the door.

He’d roped a bindle sack full of food and loose matches to the upper brickwork of the hearth. At once he went to fetch it down and rushed through the house with it cocked on his shoulder, the rest of the rooms as dark and still as the stairway and hall had been. As stricken.

He walked outside through the kitchen’s back door to a shrill explosion of cicadas, allowing its springs to bend only so far and muffling the clap of the wood with the sack. Between the kitchen door and the old slave-quarters was a stretch of twenty yards or so and the brother went half-sized through the dark, stopping sometimes on all fours in the grass to investigate the way ahead, his face oddly feral in the haze of moonlight and his spine knuckled up beneath his shirt. Near the slave-quarters, he stopped again while an instance of shadow evolved on the grass. Voices came too growing steadily louder, voices the brother recognized, and five large men emerged from the alley that ran between the shacks. Each of them carried an unlit torch. The brother knew this by the smell of lampoil and the sheen of the wicks in the moon. The men talked back and forth in unhurried tones, though what they said he could not hear. Cyrus nudged Tom and Tom nudged back and carried the motion down to Jim and Jim, at the end, clapped Simon beside him, who muttered, Lawd, lawd, and craned to see Tom. At the back gallery of the house, they stopped. A match was struck and passed among them. One by one the torches fired and hunted along the house’s trellises, showing the woodwork higher up where a Secessionist flag hung limp from the gables. But the brother did not wait to see. He had risen from his crouch and was weaving through the buildings. He turned down the alley where the men had emerged, pursued by the light of the burning porch.

Near the final outbuilding where the property sloped and tended away into limitless trees, the brother saw a figure sitting high on a stump busy with something in its lap. He approached with his hand fumbling at his waist for the knife he’d brought to skin his food.

I know where you going, said the figure.

Who’s that?

Yessuh, it said. I sholly do.

The stump was chest high on the brother and thick, with a bole at its center and squid-like roots. The legs of the figure swung down in his path, scooting the air around. They were shoeless.

Stokely? said the brother.

Yessuh. It’s me.

What you doing crouched up there like a bobcat?

Biding my time, said the figure. Hounddogging. Hate to be the Negro to tell you suh, but in case you ain’t noticed your house is on fire.

I know it, said the brother. I saw them coming.

Well suh, I awful sorry, but yonder she burn.

You still haven’t answered my question, said the brother.

I ain’t got a answer but the one I done told.

The brother picked a match from the box in his bindle and dragged it to life down the side of the tree. Within its flare, the Negro sat, wood-shavings piled in his lap. He’d been whittling.

We a sorrowful whip scarred lot, said Stokely. Can’t blame us much for the houses we burn.

I don’t, said the brother. I believe it’s your time.

Stokely laughed softly. Yessuh. It seem so.

The matched had burned down to the brother’s finger-pads. He shook it dead and let it drop.

So where do you think I’m headed? said the brother.

You on a dark path, Lawd bless you, suh.

And you’re on the path to freedom, I reckon?

Stokely gave a whistle and kicked his legs. Close as I can get, he said.

Well aren’t they the same but dressed up different?

Young Marse got notions of his own, he do.

I’m going where I’m needed, said the brother. And you?

You going where you think you is needed, said Stokely.

And who’s to say I’m not? said the brother.

I know for a fact you ain’t.

They were silent.

Moving on tomorrow, I expect? said the brother.

Moving on something fierce, said Stokely.

Best loot the house before it goes, said the brother.

He could feel the Negro searching out his eyes in the dark.

Yessuh, he said. I’ll pass the word.

Good luck to you, Stokely, he said and reached out.

But the Negro had moved down off the stump and stood out of range of the brother, staring at him. He stared at him a moment more and then he walked away.

The brother walked to Maryland because he knew that the war would be there to greet him. He forsook the state road where his family had gone and where his eldest brother had gone before them, a road that ran north and then forked east up the kindly plateaus at the hem of the mountains, and one that would have brought him across the state line with a minimum of danger. He was for the mountains that would cradle him up to the top of the state as far as Leesburg, and there, at the mouth of the Potomac River, he could follow the fighting north. They were thin and ragged mountains, like the spine of a lizard, and riddled with spruces peak to base. The brother gained a ridge where he crouched chewing bread and watched his birthright smolder in the valley below, the wind drawing huge bloats of smoke up the cut that broke against the base of the mountains. In the blueness of dawn, the fire burned brighter; an island of flame, impossibly orange. He could see figures milling in the field, among the shacks, and within sparking distance of the fire, in three groups. No one there came on with water. Pity the man who would have tried. The last potential water-bearers had quit that place the night before.

Then the brother noticed a trio of figures who were walking away from the fire, right toward him. They were as dark and anonymous as the shrubs that grew downgrade of the ridge where he crouched, and they moved in a processional, one by one, in a manner ceremonial and militant both. He watched them make across the fields and across the plateaus to the mouth of trail, but did not wait to watch them climb for fear of being spotted. He shouldered his bindle, stretched, and went on, up the rock-studded spine of the mountains.

* * *


* * *

Night of her birth, a violent storm. Rain sluicing off the eaves, down the gutters. Wind full-throated in the trees. The moon reticent behind the rain like a fortuneteller’s face behind a curtain of beads. Old Negro spirituals carrying up from the glowing doorways of the shacks, contrapuntal to the cries of a difficult labor and the drumline of the falling rain. Then sudden silence among the shacks. Hallelujah’s and Hosannah’s from the birthing room, new clamor. The stooped Negro doctor emerging in his shirtsleeves, treasuring the newborn aloft to the storm.

* * *

Roundabout dawn he stopped to rest in a meager plot of grass by the side of the trail. He had not been eating nor had he been drinking in accordance with the strain that his travels took on him, and his decision to rest, just one day out, was one that his flesh had made out of necessity. He fell into slumber so complete it seemed refined of even dreams, and when he awoke in the bright afternoon it was only with considerable effort. But scarcely had he forced his eyes than dust from the trail convulsed them shut. A confusion of horses’ hooves stormed past; he rolled over sneezing to hide his face. When at last he was able to see again, a horseman sat above him, tin-stamped against the sun.

He was one of a company of six, the other five waiting ahead in the trail. He was grizzled, red-eyed, unwashed to negritude. His hat looked like something that had died in the road.

What’s your company?

I’m not enlisted.

Want to be?

No, but I thank you.

All right.

The horseman spit, removed his hat, and clawed his fingers through his hair.

We’re going to rendezvous with Lee. Most of us just joined up this morning. What’s your business round this way if it ain’t with them blue-suited mott-lickers North?

I’m hunting somebody, said the brother.

Blue or grey?

He’s an independent agent.

No such thing these days, said the horseman. Every man’s got to take a side.

Well, technically he’s blue, said the brother. He’s doctoring under McClellan.

How’s that different, to your thinking?

Not much different, I guess. It’s complex.

Sounds pretty simple. Your man’s a backslider.

It’s personal business between him and me.

Well, said the horseman. My offer stands. If you’ve a mind to, you can ride on with us.

The brother nodded sharply. I thank you, but no.

The horseman regarded him for a moment. How are you for food and drink?

I’ve still got a couple of mile’s worth yet.

The horseman grinned and shook his head in a kind of wondrous disbelief. He withdrew his canteen, dislodged the rubber stopper, and reached it to the brother, who nodded his thanks.

Good luck to you, then, said the horseman, while he drank. I’ll commend your stupidity on to the General.

The brother stopped the canteen and handed it up. I’ll commend it to him myself, if I see him.

Long live the south, said the horseman.

All right.

And long live brothers of the cause. The horseman gave pause. Are you at least one of those?

I’d be hard-put to decide just yet.

Well, come on to Maryland when you do. We’ll skewer some Union boys together.

He tipped his hat, toed his mount and rode double-time to gain his fellows, who were now advancing in single-file along the bluffs to the east.

The brother surveyed the country round. His legs had done well for him thus far. The staggered rock-faces, the spruce-choked gulleys, and the narrow mountain passes of the land he had crossed, looked ugly and fierce, inconceivably treacherous. Yet there were the figures, ranked and solemn, sure-footed as goats on the lower escarpment, making across the ground he’d covered with a grace that suggested their feet never touched. A family of Negroes who had not stayed to watch their prison fall to ashes, or perhaps refugees from the languishing guard, old knights of the South who had traded their linen for a penitent’s cloth befitting the hour. And the brother could see now it was day that they were cowled from head to toe, and that the one in the middle was shorter than the others, its vestments dragging on the ground. They seemed to be walking in remembrance of something, though what this was he could not say.

I see you, the brother said. Can whoever it is you are see me?

* * *

Congruent upbringings, his and hers. He in the house, and she in the shacks. Butterfly chases and firefly hunts throughout the milder of the seasons, he among the trellised bougainvillia and wisteria, she among the kudzu and the weeds between the shacks. Mason jars and corkboard squares, perched in like arrangements on their windowsills and bedsteads. She of the explosive hair, skin cooked smooth like exposed saddle-leather. He of the cowlick, unaccustomed white hands, well-fed rolls above the belt. Aunt Berenice, his soft Negro Mammy, making out the limits of his play on the lawn. Sometimes Margaret with him too, driving her shadow abreast of his, while Cal sat collected and strange on the porch, learning his anatomy. She with her mother Antoinette in whatever hours the woman was afforded for this office, her little brother Stokely capering through the tall grass, clapping his small cushioned hands. Hemispheres aligned but separate. The old questions mounting between them like song. One light, one dark, observing each other, across a field of nascent cotton.

* * *

That night he came into a dry, wooded valley that lay in the void between two mountains. A place where the moonlight could not reach, and by the look of it, the sunlight neither, for the trees were arthritic, the shrubs desiccated, the ground as featureless as a pan. Mindful of the local character, he found himself drawing in shallower breaths. The trees were more tangled the further he went, growing all which ways but up, and in the absence of moonlight a soft phosphorescence seemed to radiate from the ground itself. Up ahead, a sort of throne made by two embroidered oaks, from the low boughs of which hung a cast-off robe that the brother only noticed when it brushed along his forearm. He stopped in the darkness, fingered the robe, and made to pass between the trees, but the voice of a woman spoke his name from the black recesses of the throne. He froze.

Grady Earl Coontz, the strange voice said. Rest your bones a while with me.

Show yourself, he said. Who’s there? I’ve got a knife here, and it’s needing some work.

Now the voice did not respond. He approached the wooden throne with his knife at the ready. An ancient woman sat cross-legged, faintly luminous, like an idol in a niche. She was totally nude, very pale in the ground-light. Withered paps and ropy arms. White hair parted either side of her face like a thicket she’d emerged from. Behind her long and knotty head, a colossal armature of spine, as if she possessed the bone structure to fly great wings now shorn from her body. A foul archangel cursed to walk, or was he cursed to walk with her.

He asked the canopy above him, Am I asleep by any chance?

But the woman was real, for the woman was speaking.

The Vengeful are ugly, in thought and in deed. Share we this, in spite of age, in spite of origin and sex, in spite of sundry opposites that present circumstances vex, and thus am I disposed this night to speak to you of what may come that you might come yourself, and soon, to curse the day or see it won. For Vengefulness will take you far, from mountains high to valleys low, through heat unholier than hell’s and darkness darker yet than death, across doldrums where no winds blow, and through limbos of life bereft. Despite dead men laid in your path, and war-scarred regions in your wake, where fires burn and structures lean such as the fire could not break. Against the omens of we three, your vengefulness will drive its prow, and trammel too your soul’s unease, or such of it you will allow. But be you vehicle of hate, or architect of just design, I cannot say, for know I not. This shall you yourself define.

You could just as well save me the trouble, he said. Or the headache of listening to you, at that. He scrubbed at his face with his palms and stepped back. Now I’m going to blink my eyes.

When he opened his eyes, the hag was gone. Likewise the tree-branch of her robe. He was crouched absurdly in the alcove, scarring the wood of the tree, like a lover, when suddenly the moon appeared to show him where he was.

* * *

He walked through the night and through the coolness of the morning until the land greened and then leveled out, and he slept off the hottest of the day in a sheltering thicket of spruce, undreaming. He woke as the last of the afternoon sun was threading itself between the trees, and rose with the sweat still drying on his face. Leaves and dirt clinging to his cheeks. Sore feet. He ate a bleak sandwich of white bread and chocolate, rationing sips from his canteen to chase it.

On a ledge of limestone by the side of the trail he stood to watch the sun’s decline, and the valley below seemed a volcanic waste in the brilliance of the moment when it dropped behind the hills. Going across the lower climes was the band of pursuers diminished by one; a twosome now, one tall and one short, their staggered shadows gliding across the rocks and stretching out in front of them like taller, leaner selves. The hag was no longer among them, it seemed, if hag there had ever been at all, for when the brother tried to fasten on last night’s events they seemed more plausibly ones he had dreamed. And indeed, sometimes, the figures wavered, grew closer to him and then more distant, seemed solid enough to block the light that wrought their shadows on the ground and yet other times seemed shadows themselves, projected up slant from the earth of their making. He wondered again if they were real and then he wondered did it matter.

I’ll be waiting for you, the brother said. A few pebbles skittered down the grade; he had kicked them. I’ll be waiting for you. He was shouting it now. The cliffs to either side pitched his voice back.

* * *


* * *

Tragedy in his fourteenth year when his Bay, Thurgood, tore a hole in the fence, half-disembowling itself in the process. The ragged edges of its belly where it had failed to clear the jump. Eyes rolling white and muzzle frothing for him to deliver it peace. But he could not. Him sitting down among the leakage, smoothing its fearful ears flush, crooning to it. She emerging from the shacks, not eleven years old, but attuned to his misery. A harrow cradled in her arms, sharp edge shining down the furrows. ‘Are you all right?’ ‘My horse is done for.’ ‘I can see that, but are you all right?’ Now she was there, he was, and he said so. Inordinate beauty for just one soul. Hair a mist above her head, copper in the afternoon. Her eyes seeing him and yet through him at once. ‘I brought this here for you. He’s hurting.’ ‘I don’t think I can do what you’re saying I should.’ ‘You’ve got to do it. It’s only what’s right.’ ‘I know,’ he said, ‘but I can’t.’ ‘ Then I’ll help you.’ Handing him the harrow. ‘On the count of three,’ she said. ‘Maybe the count of ten.’ ‘No, three. You’re not the one losing blood by the quartful.’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m twelve,’ she said. ‘You’re keen for twelve.’ ‘So I’ve been told.’ Eyes meeting for an instant, then shying away. ‘Where am I supposed to strike?’ ‘Right about here,’ she said. The horse’s temple. Skin twitching gently with the soft engine of it. He brained the horse quickly, and it lay still. ‘That was even harder than I thought it would be.’ ‘But you did it,’ she said, ‘And now it’s done.’ ‘What’s your name?’ he said. ‘It’s June.’ ‘I’m Grady,’ he said. ‘I know your name.’ ‘Well, now we know each other’s.’ ‘So we do.’ And he was hers.

* * *

In the higher altitudes, things greened. Creepers, kudzu, weeping willows, Japanese wisteria. It was the middle of the night but it might have been noon for all the unique smells and birdcall. Lilies-of-the-valley by the side of the trail like diminutive ghosts in the moonlit haze, not unlike the ground-fog in the valley of the hag, but with something frenetic, unhealthy, unnatural. Hares and foxes streaked the path. Owls interrogated from on high, looking famished. Rodents tunneled through the bramble, fleeing from death on the wing.

After a while he came into a clearing which was just a slim crescent among the trees. At the opposite end, with its back to him, a figure rooted in the dirt. About the size of a child were it not for its head, which was, at a glance, twice the size of his own. It appeared to be digging something up, digging something under, or maybe just digging. The muscles of its naked back were dense and electric with strain.

The figure noticed him, and turned. An odd feral jerking of the head, waist twisting, hands curled up at the chest, like a lizard’s. He thought that it would spit at him but then it drew upright.

The child stared at him for a time. The brother stared back, a bit sick in his stomach. Its head was so huge that it might have belonged to a heftier child who now went around headless. Below the neck it was hairless, and below the waist sexless, with thin, double-jointed-looking legs, like a foal’s. Its eyes were coin-sized pools of black without any iris to speak of.

The thing made a dash for a nearby tree and scurried up among the boughs. It took up a crouch, staring down the brother, with its long toes twisted around the branch. The mouth in its face, when it opened to speak, was a perfectly black and toothless hole.

I was never born, but am. And I follow on the heels of the Vengeful, for she made me.

Well, I’m sorry to hear that, said the brother, and started to approach the tree, but the child disappeared in a chaos of leaves and emerged through a parting five feet higher up.

Vengefulness will take you far and long sustain you with its heat. So far have you come, Young Coontz, and two of us yet chanced to meet. But Vengeance is a second savored, perpetrated in half that, so weigh you carefully its merits before you serve it, tit for tat. But alas where Vengefulness propels, Vengeance must needs issue forth, so who are we, mere agents three, to reroute you upon your course? Which brings us to the hour of Vengeance, verily, an hour of death, though in your case, midst war and waste, death, like blood, will call to death. Indeed, Vengeance may warp and pale, as I have warped and paled myself, though hasten judgment must we not, humble agents three, one less. And yet less two, now I have spoke; our last remaining minion comes. Recognize his face will you by the fact that he has none.

Slowly, the brother shook his head. His palms, outstretched, began to tremble. And then with a howl of disbelief that had the while been boiling in him, he ran to the base of the tree, where he stopped. The child’s face was gone and the canopy dark. There was only a tossing of shadowy boughs to suggest it had been there at all.

* * *

Through the following day, a poisonous heat. Mirages of water and shade on the trail. Gnats and mosquitoes, in the nighttime voracious, wallowing by in disinterested arcs. Every half-mile the brother stopped to wipe off the sweat from his brow with his shirtfront. He had taken to turning around when he did this to count the miles that he had come, although he had promised himself before leaving that this was a thing he would not do. But he stopped to count the miles regardless, subtracting them from the miles ahead, and found that he was either too close to the war, or too far from home to turn back.

He went along a mountain pass where there was barely room to walk. The trail spiraled upwards, and then funneled down, as if undecided which way it should tend. Going around another bend, a pair of feet resting in the middle of the trail. On closer inspection it was one of the company that the brother had encountered on his second day out, and this ragged stranger dead for days, with none but the flies grouped there in remembrance. The man’s leg was swollen to outlandish dimensions; suggestive, he thought, of an untended wound, or a run-in with a deadly snake. There were coins upon his sightless eyes, though one of them slightly less in value, as if those who he rode with had emptied their pockets, unable to find two coins the same. The brother read the man’s name-tag. Ennis McHolister Sage, it said.

The corkscrew passage channeled straight at what the brother judged to be the summit of the ranges, and now the sun was cooking into twilight below, he stopped for a while to feel the breeze on his face. The last and tallest of the figures was making up the grade behind him with a slow and effortless locomotion, with nothing whatsoever of the clumsiness of man. Its black robe fluttered out behind it with such voluminosity it might have been wings, or a dark ectoplasm that it labored at the center of, bearing it up against gravity’s custom.

The brother hailed the figure. Ho, there. It did not waver. Ho, there, he repeated, you laggard spook. But then it was lost to the hills.

He went on.

* * *

From Thurgood’s death onward, contrary polarities. He fascinated, then enraptured by her, this siren of the garden hanging laundry out to dry, or by the river of an evening with the other washerwomen as they slapped out the bedding from soaking to damp. No rest for these laundresses, these shiners of brass, these fillers of decanters and platers of meals; no more than there was for the lovesick, this boy, crouched in the thicket for a fleetness of thigh, or the quiver of a backside through the cloth of a dress. ‘Hello June,’ he would say. ‘Massah Grady,’ she would answer. ‘Your hair looks powerful fine in braids.’ ‘I thank you, Massah.’ ‘No need. And it’s Grady.’ ‘Well, I thank you Massah. Most girls got braids.’ ‘Not like yours, they don’t,’ he said. Days of her kneeling in the garden, skirts hitched up past her knees while she weeded. Nights of her passing through the rooms, on this or that errand in the hours before sleep, when the fires stretched their spines on the manicured hearths and the kerosene lamps burned low in their niches. Cal taking notice along with him much to the detriment of his studies, and the two brothers rising from their chairs, or craning around where they stood to observe her, or shadowing her, even, at the minutest distance, as if they themselves were unaware of desiring her, for they often found themselves within an inch of her person, mutually blind as to how they had got there, or wherefore they had been propelled, knowing only that here was a creature to contemplate, and with her, a whole way of life. Cal putting down his anatomy book and sliding his pince-nez down his nose, the same two motions every evening and to think the brother noticed neither. June pretending not to see, but not unwelcome to it, either, this awkward, foolish, forthright passion that Cal had conceived for the house nigger’s daughter, and one that he planned to see out to its end, little had the brother known. And then when Chestnut hit Fort Sumter and Cal suited blue as he’d promised he would, the younger brother ran to find him, wanting to ask him was he scared, wanting, again, to hear his reasons why he would not fight for Dixie, even though he knew that Cal would never fire a musket but was looking to tend to those that did, so that he, in a way, was the loftier hero, in his very disdain for such gory romance. Not just Cal he found, however, bursting unannounced into the parlor off the kitchen, having searched every inch of the house and the grounds and this the one place he’d not looked. Hair, her hair, pressing under the shelf where the sacks of biscuit flour were lined, and Cal was driving up inside her, using the backs of her shoulders for leverage. Even worse, the brother felt, was that he could not see her face. In the moment their crisis came upon them Cal clapped his hand over her mouth, and with the other one wrapped around her stomach, guided her through their cycling down. The brother watching them with such immense force of feeling that gradually they turned around. But the brother had gone—was out walking the fields, and walking through the bloody cotton, with the image of their violent coupling returning to gall him again and again. There in the drive when he got back, his brother’s midnight coach departing, and nothing from Cal in the way of farewell but what he had seen in the parlor that night. Figures at the edge of the slave barracks, watching, murmuring among themselves.

* * *

Along the northern ridges, long views of the country. Forsaken tracts of farmland, grotesquely overgrown. Wooden plows appointed to stand in the corn like pointless contraptions of torture. Along an isthmus of rock, the brother crept, looking to the west for any sign of recent life. Pebbles trickling down the grade, the rough, corroded sound of his breath in his throat and now a dry wind among the birch-boughs were the only natural sounds in hearing. Soon the air grew clogged with smoke that densened and darkened down the valley, and suggested low fires that could not be seen for the sheer amount of it they spewed, so that the smoke appeared, from where he stood, to be emanating from the earth itself, as if the Negroes and the Yanks had gone so far as to set their blazes at its core. What land he could see through rifts in the smoke was vaingloriously ravaged after Carthage or Cannae, with the furrows tossed and leveled, and in places scorched fallow, and with the galleried houses and outbuildings chewed and ransacked to their girders. Even the gaunt, sporadic slums that leaned from the hills surrounding the houses had been met with the same itinerant violence. And not a soul in sight.

A night to redefine the word. Black and still beyond all reckoning. So dark, in fact, that he began to disbelieve in the world he had witnessed by daylight. Branches, shrubs, and hanging moss made a gauntlet of the trail, but the brother tore free of their claws and loped on without nothing but his fear to guide him.

Then he passed a curious shape. At first he took it for a birch with uncommonly white, reflective skin, but then he saw there was no moon, so how could it be shining? On closer inspection, it was a man, standing idly in his path. Or maybe not idly, the brother considered, for the man was too still to have no purpose, but seemed to be awaiting the arrival of something, there in the limitless dark. To make matters stranger, he appeared to be blind, for he did not mark the brother coming, and stood with an aspect of blindness about him, listing slightly to one side.

Grady Earl Coontz, he said, without affect. Come and stand a while with me.

You’re number three, I expect? said the brother.

Indeed, said the man, with a nod. I am he.

He was in a sorry state of nature. Piebald chest and withered shanks. And as the brother drew closer, he was chilled to discover that the pale stranger’s face was entirely featureless. While the body was that of an ancient man, with its collapsed musculature and general gauntness, the face was like a wall of gauze; he could scarcely imagine where the voice was coming from. The horrid figure’s cast-off robe had been spread on the ground beneath its feet, and here he stood, as on a dais, suspended in the element around him.

Where Vengefulness will drive you long, and Vengeance satiate your gall, it is I, the Avenged, at cycle’s end, who shows withal an inkless page, upon whose regions yet are writ the dicta of one damned or saved. For the Avenged, his hatred slaked, or thirsting still within his breast, may live to see his enemy against all odds become a friend. But lo for pride he will see lost a part of him to which blood beats, and taste of his hypocrisy with all nature imparts, one less. The path remaining wants your toe. Or else the path behind your heel. Give it fore or aft, young Coontz. Smear the wax or the plant the seal.

The man passed a hand over its face to illustrate the blankness there, and the shadow of its fingers rippled and raked an instant behind the hand that made it.

At once the forest bloomed with moonlight. Footlamps reigniting on a vaudeville stage. The trees revealed themselves as such, then the shrubs and hanging moss. The man without a face was gone, though where the brother could not guess, for certainly one so strange as he had no way to live among men unmolested; materializing, prophesying, standing naked in the dark, preceded always by the hag and the malformed child—for him the brother felt, unexpectedly, a kind of misdirected pity; but none, contrarily, for himself, because what was he doing standing here with so many miles yet to cover? But he stood there for a good while longer, pivoting dreamily in the glade, wondering not what he should do, but how he should go about doing it.

* * *

First weeks of Cal’s absence, the summer in earnest. The bushes releasing their berries, all skin. Lovesickness, boredom, and bitter frustration became for him states cooked down by heat into one paranoid master-state, and caused him to appear to lurk even in places natural for him to be in. She hurrying through the fog of his stare, sometimes with a frank disgust, so that occasionally he would order her to clean or mend things just to hear her acquiesce. In the meanwhile came letters she could not read, but that she got the old doctor to read aloud to her, and then in the halting, emotionless tone of one accustomed only to reading prescriptions and procedurals from outdated medical books so that the elder’s account of doctoring for McClellan had all the impact of a Sunday school pamphlet. Nothing the doctor had said or inflected, hopeless as he was at imparting a subtext, but through a certain over-length in the telling of events and the way their author tried to parse them, rationally, surgically, inside and out, with a poverty of likeness that haunted the diction. The younger one starting to intercept, first experimentally, then as a rule. As glad of the elder’s pronouncements of love as he was of the hardship and trauma of war, because he could not decide which brought him more pleasure, to feel his hatred justified or to know his older brother suffered, and since the letters dealt in both, he read and reread them again and again. And abusing those letters more practically now, not for their content but places of origin, plotting the postmaster’s seal from each city in between predictions from the Herald in town, and when he could get it, The Richmond Dispatch, as to which way the tide of war would presently pitch its bulk, and when. These latter marks with headless pins, the former with ones tipped black to mean certainty. Courses emerging like spirit-trails across the map’s contested regions. But which to take, he agonized, for a course once taken would be set, and he knew this. Across the Appalachians to collide with Lee’s army, or around the base of them to melt in with Hood’s? Then one day while she stood washing dishes at the big metal sink that abutted the scullery he crept up behind her on hasty feet, wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his nose in her hair. ‘Nom, Massah Grady. Ain’t what you think. Ease off now,’ she said, ‘Ease back.’ But him clinging to her, absorbing her smell, such a rare, garden smell, but also mammalian. He could not remove his poor, drunk nose from the hair at the base of her skull. So she levered herself around to face him and launched from the sink to drive him back, shouting at him, ‘Off. Get off, I said.’ Which was left reverberating in the kitchen. Releasing her startled, ashamed, enraged. Walking from the kitchen towards a place where she wasn’t, but no place existed, he found soon enough. Stumbling around for the rest of the day, he forgot to intercept the mail, and with it a letter from his brother, the fifth unanswered of its kind, calling for her to quit the house and join him in Kentucky.

* * *

The brother reached Sharpsburg just after dawn, on the fourteenth day of his journey. The woods outside the town were hung with smoke and the murderous percussion of cannons and muskets could be heard in the cornfield beyond. Only where the woods began to thin, did the brother first encounter the fallen. They lay in the dirt in grim disarray, blue coats and grey coats alike, unbreathing. Some of them prone, and others upright, and yet others still who sat slumped against trees in an audience of wordless sorrow. He found no living soul among them. Muskets and cavalry swords lay strewn. He availed himself of a stray Enfield and began to creep around the corn. He watched a Union volley and a Rebel response, hasty and smoke-blinded shots to the man. The battled was divided into narrow vignettes between the spaces in the trees as he passed along the field, and not until a ball chewed into an oak after shaving along his hairless cheek did the brother come back to himself and remember the bedlam in which he’d fetched up. He found he could not fathom such a simple contention resolving itself in such chaos, but lo. Gaps opened up along both lines after another reciprocal volley and men knelt silently in the dirt and pitched face-first out of formation, while the horses of the cavalries reared and plunged, trying to buck their cursing riders. Cannonballs also broke the lines, atomizing some and raining dirt upon others, while the officers aft of these unlucky few steered their horses round the flank and glassed the field to count the fallen. The center of the field was a smoky limbo where only the stubble of cornstalks remained.

Then, up ahead of him, small drama. Two boys tussling in the leaves. One of them blue, brass-buttoned, bugle-hatted, with a rusty blue sash around his waist, and the other one not grey, per se, but clearly allied with the stripe of that army, for the rags that he wore had been leached of their color like the grave cerements of a beggar. They were strangely isolated from the battle at large, in a glade where the sun filtered down among the trees, and the brother crouched down to watch their struggle with a look of scientific curiosity. Too close to charge muskets and fire with any accuracy, they had opted for their bayonets, and were currently locked in an awkward seesaw with the bores of the muskets pitted tensely together, their boyish arms shaking with the strain of the impasse, and their dirty faces twisted up. Trading curses back and forth as to which would be off to the Summerland first. But if either of them knew what the other one threatened, the brother would be damned—they were children. The Yankee boy slipped in a silk of pine needles and the Reb, caught off balance, slipped forward in turn, whereon the blade of the latter sank into the former, and he fell with the gun sticking out of his gut. But owing to the suddenness of his kill, the Reb fell forward along with him, and after a moment of dangling high in a pantomime of schoolboy antics, the Reb let go of the butt of his gun, and pitched over backwards with a startled expression. In the following silence, while the Union boy died, both of them sat in the dirt.

By the time he reached the Union line, his ears were ringing something awful. No one paid him any mind, Confederate though he might have been, as if any man mad enough to reconnoiter with such a traffic of lead in the air as there was would have neither the wits nor wherewithal to sabotage their camp. He passed along the rampart with his commandeered gun like a child in a spirit photograph, and as silent, while all around him muskets flashed and men fell down the whole field over. Since there was little correspondence between shots fired and men who fell before the shots, death was occurring in no right pattern, and the skirmish seemed happen much slower than it did. A cannonball carved a long fatal valley into the Union’s western flank, and a bright red mist hung there for a time while soldiers in the area yelped, took cover, dusted off bits of their brethren and marched. But a survivor broke rank running forward with his musket in a fog of violence so intense that he scarcely resembled a man any longer with his mouth twisted wide, his dark eyes agog and his limbs swinging crazily all which ways, yet stopped in his charge when he saw, looking down, that one of his legs had deserted him. He he fell beneath his comrades’ boots, who passed over him with indifference, and marched. Meanwhile a Reb on the opposite side veered like a drunk amidst the smoke while his fellows tried to pass him to the margins of the battle for the piece of shrapnel lodged in his neck, but they could not. Like the Yank without a leg, he was cordially trampled, and the brother could not see what happened to him after that. And in the meantime Rebs and Yanks alike were picked apart slowly by minie balls until they were all but racks of bone to which sinew and vitals clung, left there to teeter among the scorched corn like mutilated scarecrows.

Then behind the breastworks, off among some trees, the brother saw a medic’s tent. There were men queued up for fifteen yards to gain admittance at the flap, some of them clipped of arms or legs, or bleeding from the ears, or disfigured by shrapnel. For every man who went inside there were three carried out by the feet, or on stretchers, most of them dead and others close to it who gibbered old names that no one knew, or tried to make their peace with God. The brother sat against a spruce with the musket bridged over his knees and waited. After a while he took up the gun and started to load it as best as he recalled. He cloth-wrapped the cartridge and jimmied it down, once and then two times, with the ramrod; he pressed the primer into place, then dusted the barrel and breach with gunpowder. He hefted the gun and drew a bead on an adolescent bugler to the left of the tent, but when the boy walked out of range he propped it stock-first in the ground at his feet.

A man in a bloody surgeon’s apron parted the flap of the tent and stepped out to direct the flow of traffic inward. The brother stared intently at this man, who was distant. He reassessed his weapon’s readiness. The man had the same thin face as the brother, but ending in a long and imperious chin, and the same ropy muscles as him too but less haphazard and twisted together. He made more sense in his skin overall. His apron was dyed to the hem with blood and he held in his right hand a bright bonesaw that he absently started to gesture with, indicating to a corporal where the dead men should go, where the fatally wounded, where the barely intact, three different camps up ahead in the trees that were staffed, the brother saw, by yet other surgeons. The corporal nodded at him and the man spoke onward. The corporal seemed to hang on his every word. When the man was done speaking they just stood there and regarded one another through the thick drifts of smoke, their worn, dirty figures hunched in on themselves, and their faces very pale.

The brother drew a bead on the man in the apron. He cocked the hammer into readiness. His hands began to shake, which made the muzzle waver. He sat it in the dirt and raised it again.

Goddamn you, you meddling spooks. He canted his aim to the left, and fired.

The shot spent wide of the man in the apron and a puncture wound opened in the canvas of the tent. The man in the apron looked wildly about him but the brother was hidden among the trees, and the corporal, who was halfway in front of the man as if to take the bullet for him, had instinctively drawn his long carbine and described the clearing with it. The brother reloaded without meaning to. It was all he could think to do at the moment. The corporal advanced across the grass to see about this hidden scout.

A pretty Negro woman came out of the tent and reached awkwardly for the man in the apron. She was wearing an apron herself, just as bloody; her hair was tied up in an old ragged scarf. The woman reached and reached again, a frail, stunted motion, like the gathering of air, but no matter how close she got to the man, no matter how wide she spread her arms, it was never close or wide enough, as if she were poised on a spindle. Then the brother saw she could not stand, was staggering with the effort to, her arms not level at her sides but clutched around her ribs. She started to fall, past the man in the apron, who turned around and caught her up. He tried to make her stand but she would not. So he laid her in the grass and knelt down above her.

On seeing her, the brother dropped his musket and walked mechanically out from the trees. He walked despite the snooping corporal, who had judged his position from the shot. The man had a Spencer repeating rifle. He riddled the brother’s whole left side. The brother veered crazily on his path and fell into the thin, scorched grass. He stared across the clearing with a long, titled vantage towards the body of the girl who had fallen near the tent, but the boots of the corporal stomped into view. The man’s dirty face, with its trailing mustaches, leaned over close into his.

Hand of war stings a good bit, don’t it, son? Sure can deal you backhand, he said.

When the brother lost consciousness his left side was numb, but a numbness that promised great pain, given time. The last thing he saw were the corporal’s hands lowering onto his collar.

He woke in the gloom of the medic’s tent with the man in the apron standing above him. The man was looking at him with profound concentration, as if he could not make him out. The tent’s inside had an aqueous look, and a warm, metallic smell abided. Every so often the relative calm was distressed by the cries of other wounded, but no one demanded the surgeon’s attention so much as the brother himself. The sounds of the skirmish were strangely muffled, as if it were happening miles away. The brother felt pain burrow down along his arm and into the gaps between his ribs, as if a living creature were eating its way from the top of his shoulder inward.

He lurched up suddenly on his palette, gripping aproned man’s wrist.

I was aiming for you. But I missed, he said.

You never were much of a shot, said the man.

Where is she laid up? said the brother. Take me to where she is. I can walk.

The man in the apron shook his head. You think you can walk, but you can’t, he said.

But she’s all right. She’s got to be. Just tell me she’s all right, he said.

When the aproned man said nothing and continued to stare, the brother did a shallow laugh.

Take me to where she is, he repeated.

It’s not something you want to see.

If you’re sparing me, then don’t, said the brother. I don’t need to be protected.

You’re about to lose your arm. You’re in no condition to go anywhere.

The brother let his eyes drift down to where the cob of his arm lay stretched alongside him. Portions of bone were showing through, glaringly white, with a finely wrought grain. There was a big swath of cotton soaking blood on his ribs and bandages wrapped around and around him to keep the pressure constant.

She’s dead, isn’t she?

She is, said the man. She was standing right behind me when you fired. You heart-shot her.

I didn’t see her.

I reckoned as much.

The brother sat up. Someone’s got to tell her people.

You’d be the logical choice for that. As soon as you’re fixed, you can go on and tell them. But first things first, he said. That arm. It’s got to go soon if you want to keep breathing.

When this arm is gone, I will still have the other. And men have done worse, with just one arm. Besides, said the brother, eyes softening some. To let me off easy is the worst you can do.

If it gladdens your twisted sense of right, I reckon I’ll go it without anesthetic.

You do that, the brother said. And wake me up if I pass out.

Though he appeared on the verge of responding to this, the man in the apron shook his head. He set the freezing saw-teeth in a deep groove of muscle just below the brother’s shoulder. When the brother looked up he was gritting his teeth and tearing up a little in the corners of his eyes. But the man regained composure with a powerful stroke that freckled his face and smock with blood.

How long he slept he could not say, for he woke in unspecified dawn, alone. The man in the bloody smock was gone, and the only other presences that he could detect were those of the men laid up to either side of him. He rose on the cot and scanned the room for something to help him take his bearings, but all he saw were supine figures half-submerged in pale blue light. His posture felt off and he looked himself over. A mummified stump where his left arm had been. He willed the stump twitch, and it did. He lay back. Then sat up again. He was sweating profusely. A dull, diffuse pain, or the specter of pain, was running up and down his side. He lowered his feet to the floor with a grimace, settled himself against a stake, and strategically leaned left—right, right—left, to get a sense for his new equilibrium. He emerged from the tent on a crutch at his right, a Union issue blanket cowled about him in the heat. Woodsmoke and gunsmoke and spirits and blood encumbered the air now the battle was through. The field was hot, festooned with bugs, and windless as a bayou.

Medics of both allegiances trolled through the slaughter on foot or by deadcart, scaring up weapons for redistribution. They collected stray rations, compasses, telescopes, spurs, saddle-winches, shot-pouches, horseshoes, odds and ends of uniforms as small as gold braids, brass buttons, and tassel, or as integral as riding boots, cavalry jackets and three-cornered hats. The solider’s kit they tossed en mass into huge sacks hanging over their shoulders; with the uneaten rations they did the same, unless they could be made a meal of; and with the effects of the deceased they let their consciences contend, for there was many a man among their party who knelt to bite an unclaimed ring, or to slip a fob-watch from a cavalry jacket and twine it around his wrist, with four others. Weaving among their legs went hogs, and scurvied dogs, and plume-tailed foxes, flirting with the meals that they would make of the unburied before the day was out.

The brother watched these scavengers, cold despite the heat. One-armed and lucky to be, all considered. And he expected to see among these men, resplendent in their robes of doom, the hag and the child and the faceless man come to claim his soul. But they were nowhere. He looked for them and looked for them, scanning the field twice over, then thrice. First among the medics, then the dead, then the field officers smoking their pipes beneath canvas tents pitched along the perimeter, then the haggard infantry fanning themselves, crouched in their blood-stiffened clothes, drinking coffee, while a chaplain in his wide, blue sash gathered some men around for prayer. And here was his brother, crouched over a bucket, washing the blood from his hands in the dawn. They were the hands of a surgeon, strong and dexterous, twice the size of Grady’s own. He was watching the battlefield in profile, not aware of Grady yet, and he seemed to see nothing but what was in front of him: the humdrum blasphemy of war. But what else did he see in that broad killing field? What manner of angel? What manner of man? What did he see that his brother could not, who now crutched back inside the tent? His brother, who lay on his cot in the heat, and tried to conceive of what he’d done.

* * *

Adrian Van Young teaches writing and literature at the Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School, Boston College, and Grub Street, in Boston. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Lumina, Gigantic, and The Believer. He is currently writing a historical novel based on the life of William H. Mumler, the father of spirit photography, and his clairvoyant wife, Hannah Mumler.

What do you think is the most important part of a historical fiction story?

Having your characters speak not only out of the past, but out of the present as well.

Anne Boleyn to the King


Anne Boleyn to the King
by Jean Hollander

My lord, when last I saw your face you frowned
and then you spurned me, though I asked
to come before you many times. Others I heard
singing and laughing in the dance
I used to lead, dressed in my favorite bright
yellow: junctures of love, Henry, my Henry,
the torches sizzling in the hall outside
with Ann a vixen flame in your bowels.
No question then of infidelity when we defied
your wife, your kingdom, and all Rome.

Come to me one last time--
I promise not to plead
for love or life, but go
a vixen still to that brute festival.

But no, I would not have you see
me haggard, aged, as I'm now,
the prison time drawn out by my large space
of suffering. Just send me word, trinket,
some fond remembering. Or bid them bring
Elizabeth--how she must grow--
to hold against these breasts that held
a king, her father, captive for a thousand days.
Let me embrace her quickly, and her smile
will brazen me to laugh into the hooded face
of executioners.

                                       Yet stay--
bring her not near me, lest her fate
sicken with mine. Let her still remain,
your daughter, and my fallen head
from hell shall see her crowned.

* * *


* * *

Jean Hollander’s first book of poems, Crushed into Honey, won the Eileen W. Barnes Award. Her second collection, entitled Moondog, was a winner in the QRL Poetry Book Series. Her third book of poems, Organs and Blood, appeared in 2008. She has published hundreds of poems in many literary journals, as well as in Best Poem anthologies and other collections. She has won many prizes, grants, and fellowships. Her verse translation of Dante’s Commedia was published by Doubleday to enthusiastic reviews.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

Ever since I studied Shakespeare at graduate school, I have been fascinated by the dramatic history of Henry VIII and his wives and the final result: Queen Elizabeth.

I write poetry because I cannot help it.

Newgate Jig


Newgate Jig
by D. J. Cockburn

Le Méridien's Hackney carriage shuddered to a halt on Gracechurch Street. Through the side windows, he saw people looking toward a commotion ahead so he stepped out to see for himself. A draper's wagon had broken a wheel while turning across the street and completely blocked one of London's main thoroughfares.

The driver of Le Méridien's Hackney was one of half a dozen people gathered to shout advice and imprecations at the hapless draper's assistant examining the wheel. The Hackney driver hurried over when he saw Le Méridien. "Not to worry sir, we'll 'ave it shifted in two shakes. You just wait here."

He glanced around the gathering onlookers. "And look to yer pockets, if you follows my meaning sir. I'll just give him a hand and we'll be on our way." The Hackney driver turned back to the draper's assistant, who was still peering at the broken wheel. "It's broken, you great ninny! We can all see that so get it off the bleedin' road before you swing at Newgate for blocking the King's highways!"

Le Méridien smiled but stayed beside the carriage door. He was returning from giving fencing lessons at a Bond Street club and his foils and plastrons would be a rich haul for a footpad. He glared at a pair of urchins sidling toward him, but their looks of slack-jawed astonishment showed more interest in the novelty of a black man wearing a burberry jacket and waistcoat than any larcenous intent.

He noticed a couple of other boys quartering the crowd. One slipped toward a well-dressed tradesman enjoying the altercation. The tradesman's fist shot backward and sent the boy sprawling. The other boy joined the crowd's bellow of laughter.

Le Méridien's eye was drawn to a man whose broken nose and uneven teeth made him look more like a pugilist than the gentleman he was dressed as. The few boxers who had become wealthy were well known but Le Méridien did not recognize this man. Le Méridien turned his face to the stricken wagon but kept his eye trained on the man, who was edging toward a young woman. He walked with a feline grace that belied his broad frame and confirmed Le Méridien's first impression that he was a fighter of some sort. He would make an excellent swordsman, but the scars on his face told of fists and knives rather than the gentile blood-letting of the dueling ground.

The fighter glanced around, checking that everyone's attention was occupied. Le Méridien watched him slide a deft hand toward the girl and withdraw. The girl did not start as she would have done if the hand had insulted her, and the hand left open and empty. The man disappeared around the corner of Fenchurch Street as quickly as a pickpocket anticipating a hue and cry. Whatever the man had done, the girl did not seem to have noticed.

Le Méridien turned back to scrutinize the girl, who was perhaps fifteen or sixteen. Her jacket and shift could have been worn by a Duke's wife or an actress's maid, but a lady of wealth would not be walking alone and there was something a about the stoop of her shoulders that spoke of someone more accustomed to receiving orders than giving them. He shook his head. No small incident in London ever failed to draw a crowd, and no crowd of Londoners could gather without spawning intrigues worthy of the Prince Regent's court.

He was about to forget the matter when the fighter strode out of Fenchurch Street, pointed at the girl without breaking stride and bellowed, "There she is! Hold the thief!"

The girl's head turned to him with the rest of the crowd.

"Hold the thief!" shouted the fighter again.

Le Méridien saw the look of perplexity on her face when she saw the fighter was pointing at her. She had not even tried to run when someone seized her arm, almost jerking her off her feet. Someone else grabbed her hair, which spilled from under her bonnet in a brown cascade. Her wail of pain was drowned by shouts of triumph.

Now, Le Méridien told himself, was the moment to allow sense to triumph over curiosity and stay by the carriage door until he could go back to his salle in Southwark. He sighed a lament for his feeble sense and pushed into the crowd that was ebbing from the wagon and flowing toward the fresh drama of the seized girl.

"My name is Jonathon Norbury." The fighter's tone was conversational but he spoke loudly enough to carry over the chatter of the crowd. "Warranted thief taker of the city."

That got everybody's attention. Thief takers were unpopular but they could be counted on to add drama to any situation. Norbury snatched at the girl's jacket and drew a fistful of silver spoons from a pocket inside. Le Méridien, standing at the side, saw the shock on her face that would be hidden from the men holding her from behind.

Norbury offered the crowd a broken-toothed grin. "Don't think a kitchen maid can afford the likes of these but I think your master might recognize them, eh?"

The girl shook her head but Norbury spoke over her. "Thank you for your help, sirs." He dug in his pocket and handed coins to the men who held the girl. "Now if you'll hand her to me…"

Willing hands pushed the girl to Norbury and Le Méridien saw more than one squeeze her bottom before surrendering her to a short fate that could only end with a shorter rope.

Le Méridien spoke over the buzz of conversation. "A moment, Mr. Norbury. Was it not you whom I saw lingering by this young woman before you dashed into Fenchurch Street, only to return a few moments later?"

Norbury's grip on the girl's arm made her wince, and he did not slacken it as he turned to Le Méridien. Norbury did not speak immediately and people began to back away from the ground between them as though to clear a line of fire between two duelists. Norbury slowly raised his eyebrows. The unspoken meaning was as clear as if he had shouted it. Who put a big black bugger in those fancy clothes and taught him to speak like the quality? Le Méridien heard a couple of sniggers as others noted the mockery, but he knew that Norbury was drawing out the moment to make sure no one else would say they had seen him.

When Norbury spoke, it was with a courtesy that could only exaggerate the ridiculous figure he was making of Le Méridien. "Begging your pardon sir, but you must be mistaking me for some other gentleman. If, that is, I may have the honor of naming myself a gent before so fine a gentleman as your good self."

Laughter bubbled around him. Le Méridien saw how Norbury's coins and wit had drawn the crowd to his side, thief taker or no. It would take more than simple truth from Le Méridien's thick lips to change their minds. Le Méridien bowed his head. "No doubt you are right, sir. May I offer you the use of my Hackney to take her to Newgate? I presume that is where you are going?"

Norbury's expression did not change, but Le Méridien saw discomfort in the shift of his weight from one foot to the other. Norbury could have no desire to share a Hackney with Le Méridien's suspicions, but to refuse would be to risk someone asking why and probably raising London's traditional distrust of thief-takers.

Norbury nodded. "Thank you kindly. I'd be glad to accept your offer."

The row over the draper's wagon raged on as Le Méridien's Hackney turned around toward Newgate. Le Méridien opened the door and Norbury half lifted and half threw the girl before him. Norbury sat beside her and Le Méridien opposite. The girl cast her eyes to the floor and made no sound beyond an occasional sniff that betrayed barely suppressed hysteria. Norbury fixed his eyes on Le Méridien's and backhanded the girl across the face. "Enough of your noise, girl. You'll disturb this kind gentleman who saved us a walk."

As a fencing master, Le Méridien taught his pupils to read what an opponent's body unwittingly betrayed, and how to choose what they communicated themselves. He knew that he was engaged in such a contest now so he stifled the cry of protest that Norbury's violence dared him to utter and kept his face impassive. He opened his handkerchief and mopped the blood from the girl's lip. "What is your name, my dear?"

He sensed Norbury shift, confused by his failure to monopolize Le Méridien's attention. The girl shrank away from the handkerchief so Le Méridien placed it in her hand and raised it to her mouth. "Your name?"

"Carrie Barlow."

"Tell me Carrie, why is this man so interested in you?"

Le Méridien saw Norbury's knuckles whiten as his hand tightened on her arm. Carrie gasped with pain but did not speak.

"Stuck her fingers in her master's cutlery draw, didn't you girl?" Said Norbury.

Le Méridien looked for defiance or denial in Carrie's face as she raised her head, but saw only bewilderment. Norbury's fingers shifted on her arm and dug between bone and bicep. Carrie's back arched. "Yes! Yes I did!"

Le Méridien did not believe it for a moment.

* * *

Le Méridien stood in the public gallery of the Newgate magistrate's court when an usher manhandled Carrie Barlow into the dock. Some impulse made him look at his watch to time the proceedings. It took Mr. Justice Chatterton forty seconds to read the charge and persuade Carrie to plead loudly enough for the court recorder to hear the words 'not guilty'. It took two and a half minutes to hear Norbury's evidence. It took twenty seconds to pronounce a sentence of death by hanging. Three and a half minutes in all.

Le Méridien left the gallery, strode to Newgate Street and stood for a moment before the place where the gallows stood every Monday morning. He looked at the gates of Newgate prison, and found himself imagining the wheeled scaffold stored behind them, awaiting its next tribute of life. He sighed a last lament for sense and rapped on the keeper's door. A hatch opened and an unshaven face appeared. The keeper's eye travelled from Le Méridien's dark face to his apparel and his jaw sagged with the effort of deciding which to adjust his manner for.

Le Méridien spoke first. "Good morning to you."


"I wish to visit an acquaintance in the women's quadrangle." Le Méridien held up a shilling.

"Not allowed."

Le Méridien held up a crown.

"Billy!" The keeper opened the door and took the coin as Le Méridien came in.

Clumping footsteps announced the appearance of a young man who looked too thin for such a heavy step. "What is it, Tom?"

"Take this, this gentleman, to the women," said Tom the keeper, "and mind they don't clout his purse while he's in there."

"Who are you visiting?" asked Billy the turnkey.

"Her name is Carrie Barlow. She was sentenced not half an hour ago."

"Sentenced for what?" asked Tom.


"She'll hang then?" asked Tom.

"In three days."

"Not allowed," said Billy.

Le Méridien gave him a crown. Billy pocketed it and led Le Méridien down a tight corridor and unlocked the door at the end. They emerged into the daylight and a couple of women looked up from the water pump in the middle of the open quadrangle.

"Bleedin' hell Billy, what's this? The black baron of Newgate?" The shrill voice echoed around the quadrangle and women appeared in the empty doorways to stare at the newcomer.

"Oi Billy, leave him in here will you? We'll look after his grace!" A woman in one door yanked down her blouse to expose underfed breasts. Laughter cackled from the room behind her.

A voice from the other side of the quadrangle took up the challenge. "Nah, bring him here and he'll thank you. Long as you don't mind carrying him home, that is!"

More women joined the fun and Le Méridien was caught in a hailstorm of laughter and obscenities. Billy touched Le Méridien's elbow. "Beg pardon, sir. They're for Botany Bay in a couple of weeks and serve 'em right. We're for this ward here if she's a thief."

A woman with grey-streaked brown hair stood in the doorway with her back to them, wagging her bottom. Billy slapped her and she stepped aside. "Ooh Billy, I wish it weren't just your hand you could do that with!"

Cheers drowned her voice as their ward won the contest for Le Méridien. The stink of the room burned into his nostrils and it took a moment to gather himself enough to see Carrie sitting against the wall with her knees against her chin. For a moment, he thought she was utterly unaware but her face turned to him as he stepped toward her.

Something brushed his side and he saw Billy grasping the wrist of a woman who had tried to pick his pocket. Billy punched her and she landed on her back. She flung open her arms. "Come to me, Billy love, come down here!"

Le Méridien closed his eyes and tried to clear his head. "Billy, could you give us a few moments alone? We have a few things to discuss and, excellent as the company is, we would prefer confidence."

Billy opened his mouth to speak. Le Méridien patted his purse. "I know. Not allowed."

Billy's lip twitched in something like a smile and he raised his voice. "All right, you ain't in Drury Lane no more! The gent says out, Billy says out, so out you goes!"

Billy swore and cuffed and the women shrieked and laughed, but they filed out. Le Méridien squatted in front of Carrie. He spoke her name. She looked up, but there was no comprehension in her unfocused eyes.

"Carrie, do you remember me? I brought you here after Norbury slipped the spoons into your jacket. I'd like to talk to you."

"They’ll hang me," she said. "I'll dance the Newgate jig. For a bunch of spoons I never took."

"That's what I'd like to talk about."

Carrie's face showed no sign of understanding. "Didn't do nothing and they'll hang me."

Her jaw quivered. Le Méridien watched as facts she must have been hiding from her consciousness burst forth in one howling sob after another. He took her hands in his and she fell forward into his arms, clinging to him as though he was a stout tree in a storm. He held her tight and tried to restrain his impatience. He would learn nothing until the storm passed, but Billy's forbearance would not be infinite. He waited for the worst convulsions to pass.

"Carrie," he said, "Carrie, you must listen."

She showed no sign of having heard him. He prized her arms from around his neck and seized her face in both his hands. She tried to shake him off but he held her with a grip that must have hurt. "Carrie, will you listen?"

He felt her try to nod in his grip and released her.

"I didn't steal them spoons," she said at last.

"I know. I saw Norbury put them in your jacket, though I didn't know what he was doing at the time."

Her eyes focused on him and for the first time, he saw something other than despair in her face. "You did?"

"I did. But as you see, I don't have the sort of face that commands the respect of magistrates."

"Cos you're a coon?"

"If you want to put it that way. The point is that perhaps if I know why he did it, I can find a way to prove it. But first you must tell me why, if you know."

Her eyes dropped. "You a devil?"

"I'm sorry?"

"I heard the devil's black and you got a funny name. Now here you come offering temptation cos if you can show I didn't steal the spoons, I won't hang. But the devil always wants his due. I heard that too."

"My name is French, not diabolical." Le Méridien allowed irritation to creep into his tone. "My father was an aristo, my mother was his slave and the only devils I know are the Jacobins who guillotined them. Now are you going to tell me whatever it is that you're ashamed of, or would you prefer to hang?"

Her head jerked back as though he had slapped her, but he saw her register the sense in his demand.

"He must of put the spoons there because my master paid him to."

"And who is your master?"

"His name's Theobald Gudgeon. You heard of him?"

"I've been spared the pleasure. Would you like to explain the charade with the spoons? Most employers simply dismiss their maids when they tire of them."

"Oh he's tired of me, that's for sure." She dropped her voice to a mumble that Le Méridien could hardly hear. "Not just as his kitchen maid."

Le Méridien's lips formed a silent 'oh' but he did not speak. Words poured out of her in a torrent. "I needed the extra money. My sister got the consumption, me dad's dead of it two years back, me mum's on the gin and we've had no wages for six months. He weren't so bad. Then he said he were getting married and I shouldn't come back. I told him I'd starve without the wages I were waiting for and I'd had to borrow money, which weren't nothing but the truth, and I told him about me mum and me dad and me sister. He says he weren't giving me no more money and I said he would if he knew what was good for him and he didn't say nothing then and I kept coming to work like nothing was different. I thought I'd keep the job till he paid up and we'd say no more about it, but he must of sent that man instead."

It was all spoken in one breath and she stopped talking when she ran out of wind. Le Méridien was gratified to see defiance in her glower. She would need all the courage she could muster in the next two days.

She dropped her gaze. "You're still here."

"I am."

"You still going to help me now you know I'm a whore?"

"I am."


"I don't know yet."

They regarded each other for a silent moment.

"Tell me," said Le Méridien, "why did you tell me your father is dead?"

"Sounds better than run off with another woman, don't it?"

* * *


* * *

Sarratt sipped his coffee and regarded Le Méridien with a raised eyebrow. "My dear Le Méridien, we've been here ten minutes and you haven't asked me about the latest Royal Society meeting once. I can only surmise that you are in thrall to your Quixotic muse again."

Le Méridien had to smile. Sarratt's fascination with natural history was usually a welcome diversion from the drudgery of raising the rent for his salle, but today he could not deny that his mind was elsewhere.

"You have me," he said, and told the story of Carrie Barlow's impending execution.

Sarratt frowned when he finished. "You say her employer is Theobald Gudgeon? There's a name I've heard."

Le Méridien's interest stirred. "You've met him?"

"No, he's very much one of the Fancy so our paths haven't crossed."

"The Fancy. He's something of a rake, then?"

"No more than is usual in the Fancy, which would make seducing his maid more or less compulsory. But it's rumored that his real vice is gambling."

Le Méridien nodded. One of his pupils was an heir to an earldom who had gambled so heavily on how far an acquaintance could throw a stone that he could no longer afford lessons in Harry Angelo's fashionable salle and had to depend on Le Méridien to keep him in preparation for the duels that the Fancy was so fond of. "As his gambling is a subject for rumor, I presume it is usually unsuccessful?"

"Disastrous by all accounts. He's said to be a good enough player who never knows when to stop. The man's more or less ruined himself and nearly taken his family with him. His father, by some sleight of hand that we can only guess at, has arranged a good marriage for him but only on condition that he swears off gambling and shuns the Fancy."

Le Méridien was conscious of well-fitting cogs beginning to turn. "And presumably off kitchen maids?"

"I imagine that went without saying. His unfortunate bride-to-be is Miss Henrietta Burnfield."

"Related to the Burnfield wool merchants?"

"Old man Burnfield's only surviving child. Henrietta's a widow with two daughters and she's already thirty-five, so Burnfield must be in a hurry to marry her off while there's still a chance of a son and heir. Though the more I hear about Gudgeon, the more desperate I think Burnfield must be."

"Probably not desperate enough to weather the scandal Carrie Barlow would stir up."

"So Gudgeon seems to think. He would probably buy her off if he could afford it, but you say he isn't even paying his servants' wages and paying her after the marriage might involve explanations he'd rather avoid."

Le Méridien nodded. "While he could come up with all sorts of reasons for needing to pay Norbury. All the same, he could face some very uncomfortable explanations if he doesn't have the money when Norbury wants it."

The two men shared a smile, but Le Méridien's mind was already forging ahead. He reached for his coffee and became aware of the resignation in Sarratt's smile.

Sarratt spoke first. "Before you ask me what you are going to ask me, may I ask what this girl means to you?"

Le Méridien's cup froze in mid air. He could not help but laugh at himself. He was so used to depending on his inscrutability that he forgot how long Sarratt had known him. "Shall we say that she is a fellow traveler who has fallen and requires assistance?"

"And you to her?"

"She asked me if I was a devil."

"Then you may depend on me."

"I intend to. You have the sort of face that will be believed when you give your word of honor that Carrie Barlow is innocent."

There was a hint of concern in Sarratt's reply. "My word of honor is not something I give lightly."

"That is why it will be necessary for Gudgeon to confess to you before you give it."

"Ah. A plan with the virtue of simplicity. There is but one complication."

* * *

"We are not assaulting the Bastille," said Le Méridien.

Sarratt snapped the pistol's lock to check the flint. "Humor me, Le Méridien. I don't intend to shoot my way into a Berkeley Square house but I will find it easier to look Mr. Gudgeon in the eye with these in the gig. It will offset the knowledge that he's already tried to kill to hide what we threaten to bring to light."

"To kill certainly," said Le Méridien. "To spill blood on his own carpets I doubt."

Sarratt loaded the second pistol and returned it to its box under the seat. Le Méridien held himself motionless and watched furrows of tension ease from Sarratt's brow while Sarratt's mouth assumed the firm line of purpose. Sarratt had been one of Le Méridien's best pupils before he discovered that defeating fear before a duel was far easier than defeating remorse afterward.

Sarratt's gig bumped to a halt outside Gudgeon's house and Le Méridien stepped down. The afternoon's still air left a shroud of coal smoke over the city and brought near twilight to three o'clock. Sarratt told his driver to wait and rapped on Gudgeon's door. The valet who opened it was identifiable as such only by his manner, for his jacket, breeches and cravat would have passed inspection by Beau Brummell.

Sarratt gave him a card. The valet gave it a glance and tipped his head back to a patrician angle. "May I enquire Mr. Sarratt's business?"

"Quite so. Please be so good as to inform Mr. Gudgeon that Mr. Sarratt does indeed have business." Sarratt's voice was low and level and only a man who knew him as well as Le Méridien could hear the tension in it.

The valet managed to convey insolence without actually glowering as he showed them into the parlor and left them to find Gudgeon. A hint of perfume tickled Le Méridien's nose. He shared a look with Sarratt. Gudgeon's finances may have been in a perilous state but he was determined to maintain the façade of opulence to the last.

The valet returned. "Mr. Gudgeon will see you now, Mr. Sarratt. Perhaps your footman would care to wait in the kitchen."

Le Méridien turned his whole body toward the valet but kept his face blank, letting the valet torture himself by guessing what he was currently suffering in Le Méridien's imagination.

Sarratt waited until the valet began to visibly shrink before he spoke. "Mr. Le Méridien is my particular friend and is as anxious as I am to see Mr. Gudgeon. Now if you please."

The valet practically scurried ahead of them to the drawing room door. "Mr. Sarratt and Mr., er, Lemennon."

Le Méridien strode in first and stretched out a hand. "Le Méridien. Your servant, sir. Delighted to meet you."

In the two steps from the door to Gudgeon's hand, Le Méridien recognized a considerably less formidable opponent than Norbury. Gudgeon's slight stoop made him look as though he was in his mid-forties, but the debauched red of his cheeks spoke of a man younger by several years who was aged by ill-usage. Gudgeon's feet shuffled with surprise at seeing a six foot black man in his drawing room. Gudgeon took Le Méridien's hand before knowledge could restrain habit and his mouth curled slightly as he realized that he had just accepted a black tradesman as his guest.

Le Méridien stepped aside and allowed Sarratt his turn with Gudgeon's hand.

"Please take a seat, Mr. Sarratt." Gudgeon pointedly ignored Le Méridien. "Tell me of your business."

Sarratt exuded affability as he sank into an armchair. "Carrie Barlow."

There was no change in Gudgeon's demeanor. "I'm sorry?"

"Carrie Barlow. Your kitchen maid who will be executed at Newgate the day after tomorrow."

"Ah. Yes. Carrie Barlow. Now I remember."

"I imagine you do," said Sarratt. "I doubt you hang a kitchen maid every day."

Le Méridien would have kept silent and let Gudgeon realize for himself how foolish his denial had sounded, but Sarratt had succeeded in unbalancing Gudgeon. The turmoil behind Gudgeon's smile was as plain as if he had been thrashing on the floor.

"No, no, of course not." Gudgeon managed a chuckle. "But look, I can't leave my guests dry. Brandy? Good, good. One moment, one moment."

Gudgeon left the room for a little longer than seemed necessary to tell the valet to bring brandy, but then he could have called the valet into the room and given the order in front of Le Méridien and Sarratt. Gudgeon returned with his shoulders relaxed and his stoop gone. Le Méridien saw he had anticipated the arrival of the brandy by a glass or two. Gudgeon sat opposite Sarratt and darted a glance at Le Méridien, who had placed himself at a right angle to the two of them.

"Mr. Sarratt," said Gudgeon, "You were speaking of Carrie Barlow."

"Actually, Mr. Gudgeon, I came to discuss a hundred guineas. I merely mentioned the Barlow girl by means of illustration."

Gudgeon confined his reaction to a single raised eyebrow. He had assumed his card-table manner. "Blackmail is it?"

"Good heavens, no! What possible grounds for blackmail could there be?"

Another glance at Le Méridien showed that Gudgeon was as unsettled by Le Méridien's silent presence as by Sarratt's abrupt changes of direction.

"What indeed?" asked Gudgeon.

"Of course, some might consider your liaison that you ended by having Jonathon Norbury send the girl to the gallows."

Gudgeon said nothing. Le Méridien's stomach muscles tightened. The critical moment was approaching and Gudgeon's thoughts were hidden behind his face.

"You're not going to waste our time by denying it, are you?" said Sarratt. "I had understood that you are a man amenable to business."

Gudgeon smiled the thin smile of a gambler trying to hide the crippling damage that the last hand had cost him. "If you know this much about my affairs, you know I do not have a hundred guineas. I may raise a little perhaps, but a hundred is entirely beyond my means."

Le Méridien relaxed.

"Then we may indeed discuss business," said Sarratt.

"Business be damned. You people came here to blackmail me so let's call the devil by his name." Gudgeon threw another glance toward Le Méridien.

Or did he? Without moving, Le Méridien summoned the map of the room he had committed to mind before he sat down. He remembered that the door was behind him and immediately to his right. Had that been the real focus of Gudgeon's nervous glances? Had he half heard a rustle of cloth or the brush of a boot on a carpet? Had the brandy been the only thing that Gudgeon had ordered from the valet, or had there been a summons as well? He found himself as convinced of a presence outside that door as if he had heard a knock.

Sarratt was reacting to the suggestion of blackmail with theatrical mortification. "Dear me, a horrible accusation. I don't ask a penny for myself but I'm sure you would not deny Carrie Barlow a pension after the ill treatment that she has suffered. Ill treatment that will end directly when you tell the Justice that the spoons weren't yours, or whatever you choose to tell him before I speak to him myself…"

Le Méridien cut him off. "Please come in, Mr. Norbury."

Silence fell. The door opened and Norbury's lithe step carried him to the middle of the room. He looked utterly feral, a piece of the violence of the rookeries among embroidered table cloths and chairs covered in faux-chinoiserie. Sarratt, Gudgeon and Le Méridien stood.

"Course he ain't here to blackmail you." Norbury's words were to Gudgeon but he did not move his gaze from Le Méridien. Although Le Méridien had not spoken since he sat down, Norbury showed no doubt as to who his principle adversary was. "Mr. Le Méridien ain't the blackmailing sort. Leastways, that's what them what know him say, and one or two who only heard of him. I been asking. The sort to take the part of a poor girl sent to hang by the likes of you and me, but not the sort to blackmail you over it."

Le Méridien saw both the respect to himself and the implied insult to Gudgeon in Norbury's refusal to acknowledge anyone else in the room. He also recognized a man who was likely to show respect for a worthy opponent by waiting for him to turn his back before he struck.

"So now Mr. Le Méridien's mate here can go tell the magistrate that he put it all before you and you didn't deny it. And because he's white and he'll give his word of honor with a straight face and a clear conscience, the magistrate will believe him. You bloody, bloody fool."

Le Méridien nodded politely. "Actually, Mr. Gudgeon will be as delighted to tell the magistrate himself as he will be to pay Miss Barlow a pension of a hundred guineas. He is very keen to spare the Burnfield family the embarrassment of reading about Carrie Barlow in Town and Country before his marriage."

Le Méridien's hands were by his sides, but Sarratt caught the wave of his finger and made for the door.

Norbury nodded, some of the tension easing as he saw a way to keep the money promised to him. "He's very keen indeed."

"Then you gentlemen must have things to discuss. Good day to you." Le Méridien strode round Norbury without touching him. He followed Sarratt out of the house and into the hazy gloom of the street.

Sarratt opened the gig door. "Home, Johnson, quick as you please."

Johnson the driver looked dubious. "She might manage a trot, sir."

"Well be a good fellow and make it a brisk trot."

Le Méridien climbed in beside Sarratt. Sarratt let out his breath. "Damn it, I was enjoying myself before that bruiser turned up. You certainly have some interesting friends, Le Méridien."

"I meet them in coffee houses."

Sarratt shook the gig with his laughter. Le Méridien saw the strain of the last half hour leave him as he laughed much harder than the joke warranted. Finally Sarratt slumped back and the two men pulled on their cloaks against the cold of the approaching evening. A clatter of horseshoes on cobblestones preceded the blur of a galloping horse past Sarratt's window. Le Méridien saw several pedestrians scatter out of the way.

"A pity we can't just go to the magistrate now," said Sarratt. "I'd like to finish this wretched business."

"I too," said Le Méridien, "but Chatterton is not bound to believe us while he can hardly fail to heed Gudgeon if he says there was no theft in the first place."

Sarratt nodded and they both lapsed into silence. The sound of galloping approached from ahead. There was a whinny of pain and the gig stopped dead and lurched backward.

"What the devil?" Sarratt reached for his door.

Le Méridien gripped his shoulder. "Gudgeon is a gambler who doesn't know when to stop and your word of honor could cost Norbury his thief-taker's warrant. Stay inside."

Le Méridien pulled a pistol from the box under the seat and cocked it as the gig lurched back again. He slid out of the cart and slipped the pistol under his cloak. Johnson was trying to calm the horse that was rearing between the gig's traces. Men and women were gathering, drawn by the disturbance, but there was still enough light for Le Méridien to be sure he recognized none of them. "What happened?"

"Damned galloping blade on his fancy horse!" said Johnson. "Begging your pardon, I mean some gentleman come galloping past and gave Strawberry here the end of his crop on her nose. She ain't used to it, are you my dear?"

Le Méridien was no longer listening. He worked his way around the bucking gig, slowly enough to scrutinize every figure his progress revealed.

A man much nearer than anyone else appeared around the gig's corner. Le Méridien just had time to note that he slouched and walked with a shuffling gait unsuited to approaching a panicking horse before the man straightened up and leveled a pistol at him. There was no triumph on Norbury's face, just the concentration of a craftsman at a challenging task.

Sarratt, thought Le Méridien. Sarratt was the reason he was still alive. It was Sarratt's word of honor that must be silenced, and Sarratt who was out of clear sight and could be pointing a pistol of his own at Norbury.

Le Méridien turned side on to Norbury like a duelist presenting the smallest possible profile to an opponent's fire. Norbury was a fighter but not a fencer so he did not see the significance of Le Méridien's feet shifting into the stance of en garde, nor the way he placed his weight over the front leg.

Both men stood still, waiting for Sarratt to perpetuate a situation he may not even have been aware of. Le Méridien focused every sense on Norbury until it was as though they were alone in the grey smog. The rocking gig and the people shying away from Norbury's pistol could have been on another continent.

A click from the gig's door announced that Sarratt was coming out. Norbury's pistol swung to the gig as though attached to his eyes. Le Méridien flicked his cloak aside from his own pistol. The half-inch eye of Norbury's pistol jerked back to glare at Le Méridien. The flint snapped and priming powder flared. Le Méridien did not try to point his pistol but threw his front leg straight and hurled himself forward in the fleche. Two pistols banged. A ball plucked at Le Méridien's cloak.

The fleche carried Le Méridien three steps before he arrested his momentum and swung back to Norbury. He just had time to see Norbury crumpling to the ground before vanishing behind the smoke of Le Méridien's own priming powder a moment before the kick of the discharge.

Le Méridien stepped through the smoke to see Norbury sprawled on the street. He looked around to see Sarratt half out of the gig, his pistol sinking to his side. Sarratt's pistol was still cocked.

"Hesitated," said Sarratt to nobody in particular. "I hesitated and then he dropped."

Le Méridien thought back. He was sure he had not been mistaken when he heard two reports, yet Sarratt had not fired. Le Méridien looked at the gathering crowd and his eyes were immediately drawn to the one man who was moving away while everyone else had decided that the shooting was over and was coming closer. Le Méridien saw that the man was making his way toward a horse that was ambling away. He felt everything fall into place.

"Mr. Gudgeon. A moment of your time." Le Méridien's voice cut through the growing buzz of conversation. The man walking away stopped in his tracks. "We'd like to thank you for shooting this…footpad…in the back."

The man appeared to abandon the idea of furtive escape and strode toward Le Méridien and Sarratt. Le Méridien nodded to himself when he saw it was indeed Gudgeon

"Thank God I was in time," said Gudgeon when he was close enough that only Le Méridien and Sarratt could hear him. "I tried to persuade him to accept your terms but he seized one of my horses and took off after you. I gave chase of course, but it was a damned near thing. A damned near thing indeed."

Le Méridien could detect nothing in Gudgeon's manner to show he was lying. If only the man had known when to cut his losses, he could have been a very successful gambler but even now he could not resist trying his luck against the clear evidence of his actions.

"Then you had no reason to slip away," said Le Méridien, "and I only see one horse wandering off."

"I beg your…"

"I'm sure Norbury carried on abusing you after we left. That must have dented the pride of a man who feels free to dispose of anyone who doesn't wear silk whenever they become inconvenient to him." Le Méridien kept his voice as low as Gudgeon's.

"This is ridiculous…"

"You saw a way to solve all your problems at once. Norbury was ready to accept our terms so you must have offered him more money. Whatever you offered, you rode us down with Norbury on your own horse, probably because he couldn't ride. You dropped him ahead of us and turned back to whip Sarratt's horse and stop the gig. Norbury was waiting for Sarratt to step out so he could silence his word of honor. You probably didn't care about me, but Norbury would have shot me even if you didn't tell him to. He knew both of us couldn't outlive Sarratt for very long."

Gudgeon's mouth opened and closed in a face set in an expression of denial, but no words came out.

"But you had an idea you didn't share with Norbury. Perhaps he offended you or perhaps you woke up to the fact that you can't let a man like that into your life and expect him to quietly walk away when you finish with him. Either way, you stayed back so you could shoot him down as a footpad as soon as he shot Sarratt. You're not a bad shot, Gudgeon, but if you've ever fought a duel, you're still alive by sheer luck. You had him covered because you knew he'd shoot you if he even suspected what you had in mind. But you panicked when he fired and shot him before you made sure he'd hit anyone. You probably didn't even mean to shoot, did you?"

Le Méridien sniffed Gudgeon's breath. "I'll give you this. You're a much better dissembler after your fourth drink than when you're sober. If you had been as transparent as when I first met you, Norbury would have seen through you in a moment and you would be a very dead man by now."

Gudgeon looked as though he had contracted a sudden bout of ague. "This is…absurd. You're insane."

"Do you give me the lie?"

Gudgeon's protests died in his throat. Le Méridien watched the thoughts chase each other through Gudgeon's mind. Gudgeon had accepted Le Méridien as a guest so could not insist on a difference in class. Gudgeon's gaze dropped to Le Méridien's warm pistol, then rose to regard the cool expression and consider the clear thinking in the aftermath of mortal danger. He glanced at Sarratt, who was within hearing of the deadly sleight on Le Méridien's honor that he was on the brink of making.

"No, no. Dark. Easy to make a mistake."

"Quite. The dark often affects my hearing as well. Now go and get your horse before the watchmen decide it's safe enough to come and find out who was shooting at whom. You'll need it for you visit to Mr. Justice Chatterton tomorrow."

Gudgeon backed away, nodding like a clockwork bird.

"Mr. Gudgeon," said Sarratt. "Carrie Barlow's pension now stands at two hundred guineas."

* * *


* * *

Le Méridien was putting away foils and plastrons after a class when he heard the knock. He went down the stairs that connected his salle to the street and opened the door. The girl outside gave him a hesitant smile and it took him a minute to recognize her as Carrie Barlow. There was a healthy flush to her complexion that had been bleached out by fear and dismay whenever he had seen her before.

"Come in, Miss Barlow."

Her face showed a moment's confusion at being addressed as 'Miss', but she stepped in and allowed him to take her cloak as she climbed the stairs.

"Please have a seat, Miss Barlow. Would you care for some brandy? "Brandy? Not 'alf!" She grinned like a child offered a special treat. "I mean, I'd love some, sir."

She looked around the salle. "This is where you work? I thought Mr. Sarratt said you live here."

"I have a small room at the back." He handed her a glass of brandy.

"Oh, I thought you was a gent. I mean a gentleman."

Le Méridien pulled a chair opposite her. "I'm afraid I have no debts to anyone. A most unfashionable condition among the gentry."

"Oh." She sipped the brandy and squinted at the glass. "Funny taste. Well, so much the better. I haven't done very well with gents."

"How is Mr. Gudgeon?"

"Married, and looking ten years older." She grinned again. "Looks like he had a right scare. Perhaps it was Mrs Gudgeon. I do hope so."

"I hope the poor woman can give him a scare as well. I'd have tried to confound his marriage plans, but I had to offer him a way out to be sure he would see you released.

"He's a gent. He'll always get what he wants in the end. It's the rest of us who have to make do."

"Very true. But I trust he gave you a generous pension."

"I'll say. He sent for me and gave me two hundred guineas. I couldn't believe it. I mean, why'd he come over so generous all of a sudden?"

"Why indeed."

"Perhaps it were that Mr. Norbury. Heard he got shot trying to rob some gent. Typical bloody thief-taker." Her hands shot to her mouth. "Oh I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

Le Méridien inclined his head. "As you said, I am no gentleman."

"No, s'pose not. Anyways…" She tilted her head on one side and gave him a different sort of smile. "I came here to thank you for…well, for everything you done to keep me from the Newgate jig."

She stood up and slipped her shift down to her elbows. She was fashionably naked underneath. Le Méridien stood and pulled it back up.

Carrie's smile faded into open-mouthed confusion.

"If you please." Le Méridien could think of nothing better to say.

"Why not?"

"It is not why I did what I did."

"It weren't? But it's like I said in Newgate. You must want something, don't you? I asked a few people and they put me right, said you black fellows ain't devils but that you can't never get enough of white…"


"Right. Well." Carrie drained the brandy in one swallow. "Reckon I prefer beer. You don't want no thanks then?"

"You have already thanked me."

"Right. I'm taking my sister to my Dad's cousins in Bristol. Going to buy a pub with Mr. Gudgeon's money, so I don't think I'll see you again."

"Thank you for coming."

"You was right. You ain't no gent." Le Méridien thought she meant it as a compliment, but she was gone before he could be sure. He sighed and put the rest of the foils away.

* * *

D. J. Cockburn says: I have been publishing occasional stories for several years now, in between receiving a long monologue of rejections and earning a living through medical research on various parts of the African continent. Other phases of my life have included teaching unfortunate children and experimenting on unfortunate fish.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

When I'm in a receptive mood, I find ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. However it takes several different ideas to make up a story, and they usually come from different sources. When I decided I wanted to follow up Steel in the Morning with a second Le Méridien story, things slotted into place quickly enough. A walk around the City of London is always good for setting, as you can't escape the sense of the centuries built on top of each other. As usual, much of the premise came from reading about the Regency period, in particular the description of the corrupt thief takers in Fergus Linnane's London's Underworld and the tales of the Fancy in Peter Radford's The Celebrated Captain Barclay. Once I had created enough corruption and decadence, I could trust Le Méridien to find his own way through it.