The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #39746   Message #568216
Posted By: Peter T.
09-Oct-01 - 11:26 AM
Thread Name: Story: The Drinking Gourd I
Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
Upon arrival in Baltimore, the two young men began to transform themselves, following Tom's sardonic instructions as to the latest garb of artists in England, long floppy cravats, here hybridized with rougher gear, not to omit the best sable brushes and stretched canvases, together with more secret purchases of similar craftsmanlike tools of gun and bullet.

In muddy Washington, half built structures gaping like some premonitory ruins, they called upon the British Canadian legation, whose head, Sir Martin Osborne, treated them to a dinner ? repayment, he said after his third sherry, of a debt owed to the Reverend Charles Eaton when ? "not to put too fine a point on it, he was less reverend, and we were locked out of Christ Church one never-to-be-forgotten night" ? and Tom thanked him for revealing a side to his brother that he had little suspected, and tucked the salacious anecdote away to taunt him with should he ever find his way home again once more.

And there was a curious incident, very late in the evening, when Sir Martin tottered out of the room briefly and returned with a small oval portrait ? "Excellently done," said Tom upon perusal, "the tints are quite powerfully rendered" ? of a pretty Negro girl, who the impeccably attired Sir Martin proceeded to serenade with a French brothel chanson, and commended her to Tom's attention, should he find himself in New Orleans.

Much later, as they narrowly avoiding the splash of a passing carriage, Gerald turned to Tom and said: "The list of women you are being commended to in the Deepest South is becoming quite formidable. Are you certain you do not wish to change our plans, and sail to New Orleans?"

Tom laughed and said: "I have given up the female sex as a snare and a delusion. They weary me. We are engaged in higher tasks now, requiring single mindedness, the kind of single mindedness our friend Henry Thoreau exhibits. They all seem to me to be thin, fussy, and wan. Were Abigail about forty years younger and not happily harnessed to dry Horace, I might change my views. Indeed, were she forty years younger, I would be hard pressed not to cuckold our colleague in arms, in spite of friendship and principle."

"But you forget Harriet: is she not the epitome of what you seek?"

Tom looked sideways at his companion, and gave him a genial poke in the side: "I believe her to be the epitome of what one of us is seeking!"

They walked on in mildly inebriated meditation, and at the steps of their hotel, Gerald finally said: "She is all that one could ask for in a woman. I would be blessed if she would ever look upon me favourably."

Tom laughed: "Oh, I shouldn't worry about that. She tore her eyes from me soon enough, and bestowed them where they might have a more effective and immediate response."

Gerald looked seriously at his friend: "Is this the truth?"

"Oh Lord," winced Tom, "The ranks of bachelordom thin out once more. Fall out, Gerald Owen".

Gerald attempted to smile, but failed. "I resent that remark."

Tom put his arm through his friend's: "I applaud your taste, and will defend your right to make an ass of yourself as much as you please."

Gerald finally smiled, thinly, and said: "And what sort of a woman would you make an ass of yourself over?"

Tom made a theatrical gesture towards the waning night sky, and intoned:

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments, etc., etc., cannot recall the next couple of lines, She is the star to every wandering bark, whose worth's unknown although his height be taken, Love's not time's fool, and so on."

"A very exact catalogue, Tom," Gerald said.

"O Mercutio, " said Tom, "Women in imagination are far superior to the reality."

"In what way, O Romeo?"

"The real ones tell you to stop talking nonsense and get on with it. It is very deflating to the machinations of the male mind, not to speak of the machinations of the male body."

"What did you think of Sir Martin's piece of folly?"

Tom put his arms on the shoulders of his friend. "Oh, Mercutio, Mercutio, and it was but a few moments hence that you were pledging your undying love to Miss Harriet, and already your mind is straying. Shame, shame."

Gerald leapt back as if he had been whipped. Tom said in a mollifying, laughing tone: "Oh come, Gerald, I am merely joking."

Gerald said, slowly: "It is time to go in, we have a train to catch in three hours to Alexandria."

"Oh yes," replied Tom, "the candles are all out, husbandry in heaven, and so on. Come on, you poor, poor, lost soul, you will have at least two hours to dream of one or another of the women who haunt your being." Gerald began to make another protest, and then shrugged -- there was no help for it -- and followed his laughing friend into the hotel.

Late the following day, they purchased their first slave in the Alexandria market.