The following is an edited chapter from my novel Pierian Spring. I would appreciate constructive critique!
Andrew stood on the edge of the common watching the crowd grow. He felt apprehension when a group of loud, laughing young men stumbled by passing a jug between them. From the looks of some of the men and boys he could see in the large crowd, they started drinking hours ago. Some boys with long horns in their hands ran around and through the crowd blowing them as loud as they could, getting ready for the night’s festivities. They created a horrendous sound no one could escape. He recalled hearing them last year from a distance but now that he was so close … Andrew considered turning around and heading home right there. This looked like it could get dangerous as the night progressed. He took a step back when he felt a hand on his arm.
“Ah!” he shouted when he felt the touch, looking up he heard Silas’s laugh in his ear. From the bright, rosy glow on his cheeks Andrew could see he had sampled more than his share of whatever was in those jugs being passed around.
“You made it! I thought you might not come after all.” Silas laughed again, pulling him by the arm. “Come meet Eb and the others! We’re about to get underway for the night!”
Andrew followed behind, his face red as he tried to keep up with the taller boy and catch his breath. He felt relieved to finally see Silas there, and his smile made some of his trepidation fade. “There you are, I waited where you told me.”
“Yeah, but you’re missing the party! Come on!” Silas waved him forward and walked toward the crowd. Andrew followed, side stepping a group of screaming drunken boys as they fought over an almost empty jug. One bumped into Andrew and made him fly into Silas’s back.
Silas lurched forward. “Hey, watch where you’re going Andrew! You act like you’re drunk already!”
Andrew rubbed his sore nose and straightened his glasses. “Sorry Silas,” he murmured, and then looked at the older man his friend spoke to.
“You’re purser tonight, Silas.” the man said. Andrew noticed he had an odd way of moving his head back and forth. The man handed Silas a small leather bag to collect their earnings for the night’s festivities.
Silas tied the leather pouch to his belt. “You got it, Niddy Noddy!” He looked behind him and pulled his friend forward by the arm. “This is Andrew, he’s going to step in for Oliver.” Silas grinned mischievously at Andrew. “Aren’t ya Andrew?” Niddy Noddy snickered, then wandered off when a group of boys called him over.
Andrew didn’t like this at all. He was here to see what happened, not get involved! What if someone who knew him saw him here? “And what does Oliver do?” He was beginning to worry about what he had gotten himself into. Pope Night always looked like so much fun, and he had begged Silas to bring him along. Now he was going to have to be a part of it?
Silas’s grin grew wider. “You’re going to dance on the wagon. Don’t worry no one will recognize you. We have a mask and costume for you to wear. Oi Eb!” he raised his hand and waved to a thin man Andrew immediately didn’t like the looks of at all.
Andrew’s eyes narrowed. “Which part.” He felt a twinge of fear when he looked at Silas’s face, which appeared to become rather menacing for a second.
Silas had waited all day to tell him this. “… Nancy Dawson.”
Andrew’s jaw dropped. “What?! Why do I have to wear the girl costume?”
“Because,” Silas chuckled holding up his fingers and counting each one off. “First, it’ll be fun; second, you need to get out of the house and get away from those smut books you like to read,” Silas laughed out loud at Andrew’s face. “ ... And third, Oliver and you are about the same size, but he’s sick tonight and can’t make it. You’re taking his place!” He laughed at his friend, whose face was getting red again, but this time from anger.
“It’s fun? Have you ever done it? And I don’t read smut! They’re books that use humor to illustrate current social and political situations.” He fumed.
“Yeah,” Silas answered. “Last year I worked the Pope puppet, and keeping that damn mitre balanced on it’s head is a bitch!” Silas laughed, “Besides, I can’t be Nancy Dawson, I don’t have your bouncy pretty locks Andrew!” The last remark earned him loud laughter from several boys standing nearby, including the man Silas called Eb.
“Look, if you wear the costume, it will be harder for anyone to recognize you, right?” Silas grabbed Andrew’s arm and dragged him toward the wagon where the other boys were already putting on their costumes. The devil puppeteers struggled with an evil looking devil’s head, with long curving horns and a toothy leer. Another group of boys tried to figure how to not trip over the long robe of the pope costume and keep the ridiculously tall mitre balanced on the effigy’s head. Other boys held up long sticks that had other effigies hanging from them. More than one bore a very good likeness of Governor Hutchinson.
Silas grabbed the dress and mask of the famous actress and tossed them at Andrew. “Hurry up and get dressed, we’re leaving soon.”
Andrew stood looking at Silas stupidly as the mask and dress hit him on the chest. He was serious. He expected him to put the ridiculous thing on. He scowled as he picked up the items from the ground and struggled into the costume, getting a bit of grim satisfaction when the seam in one of the sleeves ripped open. His face grew even redder with embarrassment as he positioned the unmistakably female mask over his face and figured out a way to fasten it to his head so it didn’t slip down. Silas and another man grabbed him under his armpits and gave him a hand up; he found himself standing on the rather rickety wagon bed. He looked down at the wheels of the contraption with apprehension, hoping they were fastened to the axle properly. The other boys operating the puppets jumped on board and positioned themselves.
“Right!” Ebenezer, the captain of the South End gang shouted to the crowd of drunken men and boys. “Everybody shut up and listen! We need boys to help move the wagon round the town; Silas is our purser this year. No one else collects donations but him, got it?” The other boys all nodded their heads. “Good, now Henry will stay with the wagon in case anything goes wrong with it, that includes any North Enders trying to pinch it from us. You know what to do if you see any of them!” The crowd men and boys laughed and nodded, some even punched their fists into their open hands. Andrew watched it through the eye slits in his mask, a sinking sense of fear gripping him. “Who are our lookouts in case we see the North Ender’s wagon?” Several rough looking men from the shipyards, some holding rope beating bats raised their hands. Andrew’s sinking feeling became full-on dread.
“Alright then, let’s get the party started!” A cheer rose up from the large mob as a group of boys, including Silas ran up to the wagon and began to pull or push at it to get it in motion. It took no time at all before the wobbly wheels on the cart lurched forward and the parade left the Common for the town. Someone handed the devil puppeteers a pitchfork and Andrew did everything he could to keep his balance as the cart rolled over the uneven cobblestones toward the first house on the street. He looked at Beacon Hill in the distance, and John Hancock’s lavish mansion on the top of the hill looking over the Common. He wondered where that man was tonight, considering everything that had happened that day in the town.
The cart came to a lurching stop, and Silas ran up to the front door, banging on it as loud as he could. “Donations for the Pope-Night cart!” He shouted at the door, which opened, and a man in his waistcoat holding a letter in his hand came to the door. Silas turned to the assembled mob and shouted, “Time for the show boys!” At which point the boys in charge of moving the devil and pope puppets made the two effigies dance, and the rest of the boys began to sing:
The fifth of November,
As you well remember,
Was gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot. . . .
The devil controlled by the puppeteers began to beat the pope puppet on the cart, the former prodding at the latter with the pitchfork, while the hapless pope waved his puppet arms in pain while trying to not lose the mitre. The song continued on …
Here is the pope that we have got,
The whole promoter of the plot!
We’ll stick a pitchfork in his back,
And throw him in the fire!”
Their show ended and Andrew felt someone smack at his legs. “Start dancing idiot!” He yelped and started to jump around, trying to remember the stupid dance his sister learned to dance named after the famous British actress:
When first with Nancy Dawson
The Hornpipe came in fashion
We ev'rv one to dance begun
And Jigg'd throughout the nation
And a jigging we will go!
Andrew felt so ashamed as he danced the little jig; he would have to come up with a really good way to get back at Silas for humiliating him like this he thought. He began imagining ways to torture him as he danced until everyone stopped singing. He turned in time to see Silas hold his hand out to the man, and a few coins dropped into his open palm. The tall, smiling boy dropped them in the open leather pouch to great cheers from the mob of men and boys, happy to see the first donation for their upcoming feast secured. Andrew once again held on for dear life as the cart lurched into motion and headed for the next house.
This routine continued on and on, much to Andrew’s growing poor mood and horror, as at each stop he had to dance the ridiculous little jig wearing the ridiculous little dress and mask, and Silas collected more money. He could see the little leather pouch getting heavy on his friend’s belt, and wondered what they would buy with it.
Silas ran up to a door and banged on it, barking out his announcement that the Pope Cart was there, but no one came to the door.
“Oh, ignore us will you?” Henry the lieutenant snickered, then motioned at two boys who were carrying a ghoulish demon head on a pike. They ran up to a window that had lights and open blinds, and raised the head to make the demon appear to be looking at the occupants of the room through the window. A few minutes later there was a hysterical scream and shouts as a liveried servant man opened the door and fumed at the assembled boys. “Beat it, you mongrels!” He spat at the boys, who only laughed at him.
The man of the house appeared, clearly irate. Behind him a few boys could see more servants struggling to carry his large wife up the staircase, her face pale and eyes closed. One servant fluttered a fan over her face. Silas bounded up the stairs to the open doorway and held out his hand. “Donations for the Pope Cart sir, if you please!”
“Get out of here now!” The man bellowed in Silas’ face, his own becoming crimson with rage. “The lady of the house has succumbed to your devilish pranks! Leave us in peace before I call the sentry!”
“The sentry? They don’t dare come near us! Do they lads?” One older boy shouted out, his rope beating bat in hand.
The other boys all laughed and shook their heads, some shouting “Pay up!” to the man on the porch. Silas flashed his big handsome smile and held out his hand to the well to do gentleman. “Donations please!”
The man finally relented and cursed them all as he tossed a few coins into Silas’ hand. “Now get the hell out of here! Rabble and scum, the lot of you!” He slammed the door in their faces, but most of them had already begun hauling the cart up the street to the next house.
Just then Andrew, who had stood on the cart in horror as he watched the boys harass the man who happened to be a good friend of his father’s, felt one of the wobbly front wheels of the cart hit a deep rut between the cobblestones, and the axle pin holding it in place snapped, sending him and the other puppeteers sprawling into the street. The boys pushing the cart all gasped as the wagon toppled over, unable to move.
Silas ran up, panic clearly on his face when he saw the wagon wheel laying in the street and the cart resting on it’s axle.
Andrew sat up, groaning when he saw the tears in his hose and deep scrapes on his knees, blood oozing out of one already and growled. “Damn it Silas, I’m through!” He shouted, pulling off the hated mask and throwing it on the cobblestones.
“Like hell you are!” Silas shouted back, kicking the mask back to Andrew’s feet. “We have to get this wagon moving again before the North Enders find us and steal it!” A group of boys rushed forward and tried to put the wheel back on the axle, but with no replacement for the axle pin it was hopeless. Silas ran his hand fearfully through his dark hair and finally turned and bellowed into the night as loud as he could,
A few seconds later the chubby boy huffed his way up the street and took quick stock of the situation. “Ah fuck!” He groaned, “We have to get this thing moving now!” He trotted up, looked the wagon over for a moment, and then picked up the corner of the cart, resting it on his shoulder to make the bed level for the dancers. “Let’s go boys!” and once again the cart moved up the street, with Henry acting as a wheel to keep it level. Andrew and the puppeteers jumped back on, which made Henry and the men holding up the axle grunt from the extra weight. A few more boys ran up to help with the burden and the cart moved on to the rest of the houses they planned to visit that night.
Finally, with the boys acting as the wheel all red faced and covered in sweat in the cold November night, they made their way to the meetinghouse in the center of town for the main event. In the distance they could see the North End gang’s cart coming into view.
Andrew immediately felt a current of animosity and anticipation charge through the group as they approached their enemy in the square in front of the meetinghouse; the older wharf workers and other men were already waving their bats and cudgels in the direction of the North End gang members, who were waving similar weapons back at the South End gang. Andrew felt a wave of nausea when he saw the rival gang had just as many members. Where had all of these people come from? They couldn’t all be from Boston, could they?
The Captain of the North Enders, a man named Samuel who was even older than Ebenezer walked up and laughed, pointing at Henry and the other boys and men still struggling to hold up the axle of the cart. He had it resting on a pudgy thigh and glared at the man as he yelled at them with a mocking laugh. “Oy! Look at what the South Enders are usin’ for a wheel this year! At least he’s as round as one!” The rest of the North Enders laughed.
The Captain of the South End gang came forward and shouted back, “Henry may be round in body, but at least he’s not a fat headed buffoon like you!” The South Enders all cheered Ebenezer, grinning maliciously at the mob across from them.
Andrew looked at Silas’ face, grinning with anticipation, his hands balled into fists, and had a look in his eyes that made Andrew want to run home and hide in his room right that minute. This was about to turn into a very ugly brawl. He had only heard of them in the past, now he was about to be a part of it. Wearing a dress. He wished at that moment that he was home in his comfortable house, perhaps sitting up in his warm, comfortable bed reading Voltaire. Suddenly, a silent cue must have been given because with a loud, Earth shaking battle cry the two mobs rushed forward at each other, fists and bats flying. Andrew squealed as he was almost run over by the mob, but before he could shout in protest a boy from the rival gang ran up and tried to punch him in the face. He dodged the fist aimed at him and buried his own fist in the kid’s cheek, sending him flying back and landing on his ass in the street. Andrew turned and saw three more boys coming at him; he looked frantically for Silas but the other boy had been in the front line of the mob rushing into the fight, and was already gleefully in the thick of the brawl and nowhere in sight.
The first of the three boys reached Andrew, who reacted by sticking his foot out and tripping him. The second and third boy caught up, grabbed each of Andrew’s arms and held him down, while the first boy got back on his feet and walked toward him. “That was a bitch move you little turd.” He spat out. The boy got ready to punch him in the stomach.
Andrew had enough. He felt rage well up from deep inside him and yelled back, “A bitch move for a bitch like you!” He head-butted the kid and sent him sprawling back on the cobblestones again. He jerked his arms together and the other two boys ran into each other, knocking their heads together. They both fell back crying out in pain. With their grip on his arms gone he ran forward, tearing the hated dress to shreds and throwing it away. He was through of this whole affair, and it was time to find the jerk responsible and make him pay.
He punched and kicked his way through the crowd of brawling men and boys; dodging fists and clubs hurled his way. He found Silas, lip bleeding, that stupid grin on his face straddling a North Ender on the ground and pummeling him mercilessly.
Andrew ran up and punched the goon Silas sat on, knocking him unconscious. He grabbed his friend’s collar and hauled him to his feet. “I can’t believe you dragged me into this, you asshole!” He fumed.
Silas looked at him and wiped the blood off of his lip, “Hey you said you wanted to come with me and see what this is all about and what we do, but you can thank me later I’m a little busy right now!”
Andrew’s eyes grew wide and he snarled back, “Why you …” He reared back and punched Silas in the face as hard as he could. He fell back and hit the ground hard, knocking the wind out of him for a second.
Silas shook his head and blinked his eyes. He focused on Andrew and shouted back. “Damn it Andrew, I just said you could thank me later!” He jumped back to his feet in time to punch a large man coming at Andrew with a large cudgel.
Suddenly loud cheers went up as more South Enders were still standing than North Enders. A group of boys ran forward and seized the North Ender’s wagon, and the cheering, limping, black-eyed and bloody nosed mob made their way back to Boston Common.
The money Silas had collected in the leather bag as the gang’s purser had been used to buy an enormous feast for the boys. There were casks of ale and hard cider, and a mountain of food, including some fresh looking sausages waiting for a large, roaring fire to be cooked over. The captain ordered the North End gang’s cart hauled to the center of the field and with scrap wood collected earlier in the evening, set it on fire - but not before saving an axle pin to fix their own wagon first. The boys danced around the fire and cheered, drinking beer and hard cider; stuffing their faces on the food they had bought with the evening’s earnings. The money left over was divided up and passed out so everyone could have a few hard-earned coins in their pockets when they left, the captain and lieutenants getting a bigger share, and Silas received some silver as well for being the purser.
Silas walked up to Andrew carrying two small jugs of hard cider. He handed one to his friend and uncorked his own, taking a long swig. “So, despite having to wear a dress and dance a girl’s dance, did you have fun tonight?”
Andrew took a drink from his own jug. “If you ever drag me to anything where I have to wear a dress again, I’ll make sure you have to wear one permanently.”
Silas spewed a mouthful of cider and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You don’t mean that do you? Come on Andrew, you had fun tonight, admit it.”
“Shut up idiot.” The boy said, staring at the remnants of the North Ender’s cart going up in flames; a faint smile on his lips.
The party went on well into the early morning. Many boys were strewn across the grassy Common passed out and sleeping off their night of fun. Andrew lurched and swayed where he sat with a big, stupid grin on his face. “I’m havin’ fun!”
Silas yawned and picked his head up from where he rested it on his knees. “Yeah? I think I’ve had enough for tonight. I’m ready to go home.”
“Home … yes … splendid idea!” Andrew shouted, toasting no one as he lifted the small cider jug into the air. He tipped his head way back to take a drink, only to discover to his utter sadness it was empty. Disgusted, he tossed it aside and smirked when he heard it smash against a tree. “Well shit Silas, what do I do now?”
Silas staggered to his feet. “Time to sleep Andrew.” He held out his hand to him. “Up we go now!”
Andrew grabbed Silas by the wrist and found himself on his feet. He listed to side and nearly fell back down but Silas grabbed him and propelled him in the direction he came toward Beacon Hill. “You do remember where you live, right?”
Andrew snorted. “O’ course I do! This way!” He pointed in a direction and began leaning that way, nearly falling on his face.
Silas wrapped his arms around his waist and lifted him back to his feet. “Walk, Andrew!” His friend lurched forward and he followed, hoping they were headed the right way.