featured image: ‘Hip Hip Hurrah!’ Peder Severin Kroyer, Goteborgs Konstmuseum
The missionaries took over the fire. William hung in the shadows, but Buck came to him with a new bottle, unplugged it, and shared it out.
William offered Buck a cigar.
“No,” Buck said. “Oh, what the hell.” He took it and lit up, staring into the fire.
“I guess I’ve lost my job now,” William said and drank.
“You don’t really want to work for a missionary, do you?” Buck asked. “It’s embarrassing. Seems Thankful is very receptive to that sort of thing. She’s fond of Kenyon. You aren’t doing this to impress her, I hope.”
“Hell, no!” William said, shaking his head before emptying his mug.
“Maybe Thankful hopes Kenyon will adopt her once the folks find out about her baby,” Buck joked miserably.
“You won’t tell on her, will you?”
“My parents have a right to know! Of course I’ll tell them. She’ll need their help. I don’t trust that Fahy and I’ll see to it he pays.”
“What can you do to him?” William asked.
“I don’t know yet, but I’m not a coward who lets others get the best of me,” Buck said with bluster in his voice.
“I guess you think I am,” William said. “You can go to hell.”
“No, I wasn’t talking about you. I mean, you did always have a whole troupe of people coddling you—including my father—but, well, sometimes you were impressive. How you kept getting up and trying again. You never gave up. I liked that. You and your father—I was—it was nice how much your father cared.”
Fahy and the other soldiers sang, and Buck and William stumbled over to them and joined in while the morose missionaries chewed the tough meat.
Here’s success to whiskey
Drink it down, drink it down,
Here’s success to whiskey,
Drink it down, drink it down.
Here’s success to whiskey
For it makes the spirits frisky,
Drink it down, drink it down, drink it down!
The missionaries took up the challenge:
From this world’s alluring snares,
From its perils and its cares,
From its vanity and strife,
Jesus beckons us to life.
From the vanities of youth—
The younger group moaned and called out in protest with a song to top them:
Where is me bed, me noggin’ noggin’ bed?
It’s all gone for beer and tobacco
Well I lent it to a whore and now the sheets are tore
And the springs are looking out for better weather.
Well, it’s all for me grog, me jolly, jolly grog,
It’s all for me beer and tobacco
I spent all me loot in a house of ill-repute
And I think I’ll go back there tomorrow!
Kenyon’s friends had enough and took their lanterns with them to bed, but Kenyon stayed seated. William felt sorry and uneasy. The soldiers considered their battle won until Kenyon, on his own, sang clear, but soft.
The drunkard as he steals away
To scenes of dissipation,
No anguish warns, no tears delay;
He fears not the temptation.
I wish I could but reach his mind,
And set him once a thinking;
I’m sure he’d be a father kind,
And leave off all his drinking.
He drinks away his goods and store,
That years were spent in making;
Yet day by day he craves for more,
All warning still forsaking.
“All right, old man. Enough preaching for the night,” said Fahy. “We’ll take our chances with the drink. You Americans take the fun out of everything and these young boys don’t appreciate it. Do you boys?”
“He can sing what he likes. It’s a free country,” said Buck, but no one listened to him.
William stumbled up to Kenyon and slurred, “You sing these songs to make me feel bad, but I don’t! All you do is try to prove how great you are and you’re not. What good are you doing? These Indians hate you. You just sit around talking about Jesus—what sort of work is that? It’s worthless—everybody says so.” William staggered, too close to the fire. “So God exists, so what! How does that help? All your preaching about what Jesus wants or Jesus did—it hasn’t stopped Fahy and his men from stealing even as General Crook and Lieutenant Davis and the rest try to do what’s right!
“You tell me to leave off drinking—why? Why do you give a damn? I’m like a son you never had? I’m not! And how come you have no family? No one was good enough, I bet. And Jesus, he drank wine didn’t he—but you have to deny me? How has Jesus made your life so good? You feel higher than me but all you have is some old clothes and sour friends. You think because you gave me paints you’ve done something big. Hey, I’m like Christ—I have nothing—no family, no friends or anything. Maybe you should worship me instead of looking down on me!”
Buck tried to pull William back, but Kenyon came up and punched William to the ground. “How dare you—you rotten little ass! Say all you like about me, but leave God out of it! You dare compare yourself to God? You’re more lost than I thought and I won’t stand for it! You think I look down on you? Who has laughed at you for the last hours? Not me. I was worse than you—maybe I had more call to be too. So you don’t have a girl and you’re huffed at your parents—poor you! What have you ever done?”
“What have you?” William asked.
“I killed my father—how’s that for starters.
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I’ve had my fair share of less than stellar drunken moments running with the fast crowd and trying to keep up with my boyfriends’ drinking. And then my husband’s drinking. Such was life in the 20th century. Men and women were equals. “Anything you can do, I can do better,” was my hidden mantra when the boys came round.
Yet, looking back my father was right. Nothing good comes of a girl out past 12 in a saloon. Dancing on a slippery bar and crashing down with the hanging glasses almost landed a friend in the hospital. How many places in Hoboken were we banned from? I can’t remember.
Now what does this have to do with history? For a brief shining moment in America there came upon the land the Cult of Womanhood. People nowadays look on this period as the ultimate joke against women. They think that the sinister members of the patriarchy, rubbing their hands together viciously, devised a way in which women could be fooled into actually believing that their role in society mattered. They forced women to think that they were an integral part of bringing forth a civilized nation. (Note: should one sex be more moral than the other?)
Of course women did drink and get knocked up and all, but the point was that in general they were to be the torch-bearers of the high ground and were to pass it on to the next generation. You see how devious this plan was? Women kinda fell for it (even as the very few smart ones saw through it and worked for free love and the right to wear pants).
A lot of women thought being with the kids felt right and that working in a coal mine wasn’t appealing. Many thought politicians were swine and were happy to steer clear of the pig pen. While they mourned the loss of their men in battle, most didn’t want to join them. Some will say the men were just throwing the women a bone whilst they went off to do real things like make war (and do boyish things like play video games in their pajamas all day).
There were women who bucked the whole marriage and family thing and were looked upon warily until they proved their mettle. They edited newspapers, traveled the world and became spies, etc. People like to say men don’t respect women, but do women respect men? Aren’t we all a bit self-righteously pointing fingers most of the time? Do we live in a fantasy land that says women are as strong as men until they get knocked out by a drunken football player? Or that women can get drunk and high and accuse all men of gang rape? Or that teenaged boys will consider sex with a hot teacher rape? Haven’t men and women been abdicating responsibility for their actions by blaming the other sex for centuries?
None of us want the moral high ground anymore. That’s for suckers. We want to do as we please and call it some form of sublime equality instead of a race to the gutter. We’re all only one sloppy drunk night away from killing someone on the rode to our “rights.” Men and women sit equally on the bar stools. We have our rights. We want more rights. But do we have love?
The waters are muddy once the intoxication wears off. Temperance women were laughed at and their battle lost. Some went on to fight for rights and others went quietly home to their husbands (some of them good and some of them bad). Rights are about me. Love is about you. Which am I willing to I fight for?