This is Chapter Sixteen -- "St. Jude's"
The other stories in the "Wayfarers" series.
Features Brian Kinney, William Reynolds, Dr. Wallace, the Priest, the Clerk, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian has a secret. St. Louis, September 1843.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
Brian's heart was pounding as he slipped into the dark confessional booth at St. Jude's Church. He did not know which he dreaded more, confessing his many sins to the priest or Reynolds finding out that he had been in a church at all. He had heard enough of Reynolds' opinions on religion to know that the man would be furious to find that his Boy had succumbed to the lure of such superstitious tomfoolery. But Brian's conscience had been compelling him to go for a while now and he could not stop himself from giving in to that urge. When he saw the name of this church, St. Jude's, it was almost a sign. Surely the patron saint of lost and hopeless causes would send him aid.
Brian kept repeating the ritual words to himself over and over. It had been many months since he had been to Confession -- not since Madame had argued with the arrogant new priest at St. Anne's. The old priest had welcomed Madame and her girls, encouraging them to come to church, advising them to repent and confess their sins, but not strong-arming them into it. Father Mark's doors were always open to the girls of the Paradise Hotel and he won a number of converts that way, including the vain and flighty Cora, who spoke of someday becoming a nun, much to Madame's amusement. But then Father Mark became ill and was replaced by a new priest who was all fire and brimstone and who banished Brian from his Sunday School and denounced Madame Heloise from his pulpit.
After that, Madame no longer dressed Brian in his best jacket and lace shirt every Sunday morning and led him to Mass. And she no longer took him to the confessional on Wednesday afternoons. Brian was certain that by now his soul must be very black indeed, as Madame had instructed him that going to Confession was like going to the bath house -- it washed your sins away clean as a whistle and if you died right then you would go straight to Heaven.
Brian had been thinking a lot about Heaven lately. It was where his mother was. The old Irish priest who had come to their room when she was dying and said the prayers over her had told him so. And now that Brian was thinking a lot about whether he himself would live or die, he was concerned about whether he would join her there in Heaven -- or whether he would rightly burn in Hell, like the arrogant priest had predicted when he banished the boy from St. Anne's.
As for Reynolds, Brian had no doubt exactly where HE was going. In fact, the gambler even seemed proud of the fact that he was certainly doomed and damned. But Brian sometimes lay awake for hours in the dark, wondering whether or not he truly wanted to join his master in perdition.
The window slid open and Brian could see the shadowy outline of the priest through the iron grille. Before he had been apprehensive, but now he was truly afraid. Brian swallowed and then repeated the practiced words in a quivering voice. "Bless me, Father, for I am a sinner. It has been a... a very long time since my last Confession."
"How long, my child?" asked the priest, gently. The voice of the penitent sounded very young.
"More than a year, Father."
"Shouldn't you have come sooner, then, my child? That is a long time to let your soul wallow in sin."
"I couldn't, Father. I... I couldn't come until now."
The priest sighed. "What are your sins, my child?"
Brian paused. He didn't even know where to begin. So be started with the thing that was most plaguing his mind. "I'm in trouble, Father. I... I'm going to have a baby."
The priest sighed again. This was an old, old story. "Are you certain, my child?"
"I think so, Father." Brian hesitated as the tears began to fill his eyes. "I'm afraid, Father!" he said, finally admitting out loud what he'd been trying so hard to deny. And with that he began to weep. Brian reached into his jacket for his one of Reynolds' linen handkerchiefs and pressed it to his burning eyes.
"Are you living with this man, my child?" asked the priest, sternly.
"That is a sin, my child. Don't you know that?"
"Yes," Brian sniffed. "But it's better than the place I was at before, Father."
"What kind of place was that, my child?"
"A bad place, Father. You know the kind I mean?" Brian gulped. "A place where men go to take their pleasure. But he took me away from there. And now I live with him." Brian sniffed again into the pretty handkerchief. Reynolds' initials were stitched into one corner and a red rose was embroidered in another. No wonder the priest had sounded so vexed, Brian thought. He was a horrible, horrible sinner and that was a fact! But what choice did he have?
The priest was brought up short. The girl sounded so young! But then there was so much evil in the world! "Where are your parents?" asked the priest in a softer tone.
"My mam's dead and Da left me behind. I was... on the streets until Madame brought me inside. I... I was hungry, Father. And it was getting cold out." Brian remembered those days when he slept in the muddy, rat-infested alley with terror. That must be what Hell is really like -- like that dark alley, he thought, except you are in it forever. "What else could I do, Father?" he whispered.
"You could work, my child," answered the priest.
"That's what I did at Madame's, Father -- I worked," Brian explained simply.
The priest shook his head in exasperation. These foolish, foolish girls that came to his confessional! They did not seem to realize that their immortal souls were in grave danger! "Well, perhaps this man will marry you? Then you can repent of your sins and ask for forgiveness."
Brian frowned. Marry? He tried to think. He didn't know any married people at all, but he did not think it was allowed for a man to marry a boy. He'd read many romantic novels that ended up with a marriage. In fact, they were his favorites. As he read he often pictured the lovely bride in her satin gown, and, of course, a darkly roguish bridegroom. But in all his reading he never remembered any romantic hero marrying a boy. But then there were a lot of things in the world that he had never known about. That Lady Fern and her boys -- he had never thought of such people before, never imagined them at all when he'd sat in his little room at the Paradise Hotel, dreaming of strange, faraway places and tall, handsome men with strong arms. No, decided Brian, marriage was not possible.
"He can't marry me, Father," Brian said, finally.
"Is he already married to someone else then, my child?"
"No, Father," said Brian. He was pretty sure of THAT. "He just... can't. He doesn't believe in it, anyway. He thinks it's a fool's game with no payback."
The priest snorted. "This man does not sound like a believer, my child!"
"No, Father, he isn't. He says religion is for simpletons. He'd be angry if he knew that I was here and that's the truth." Brian dabbed at his nose with the handkerchief.
"He sounds like an evil man, my child," advised the priest. "Perhaps you would be better off somewhere else. Somewhere away from him."
A panic began to rise up in Brian. "Where else, Father? Go back to Madame? She would just make me go back to work! And she'd... she'd make me get rid of... it. I don't want to do that, Father!"
"That would be a very great sin, indeed," warned the priest. "But this man you are with does not sound much better."
Now Brian felt the tears overflowing again. "But he's good to me, Father. And I... I love him. I don't want to go away from him." Now he was crying in earnest. "What can I do?"
The priest scratched his head. Down in New Orleans there was a Magdalen House for Fallen Doves run by the Sisters of St. Martha, but there was no such place that he knew of this far upriver or anywhere near St. Louis. This was something he would have to take up with his bishop. But there was a Catholic orphanage in the city. They would undoubtedly take any baby, even the offspring of a whore. Assuming that it lived.
"I don't know what you can do for now, my child, but I cannot absolve you while you are knowingly in a state of mortal sin. You don't want to repent. Instead, you want to remain with this evil man."
"Yes, Father," Brian whispered hoarsely. His throat was parched, while his brow was awash with cold sweat. "I'm sorry, Father."
"I cannot give you Absolution, my child. If you remain with a sinner, then you are as sinful as he is."
"But... what if... if...?" Now Brian was shaking. This was worse than he had imagined. The dark wooden walls of the confessional were closing around him like a coffin. "What if I die, Father? Will I go to Hell?"
"Well...." the priest began. But then he stopped, at a loss. He couldn't lie to the girl, but it was obvious that she was deeply troubled. She had come to him for help and comfort and he'd given her neither. "You must pray for forgiveness. And when your time comes if you are in distress, then ask for me. I will come immediately -- if I am able to."
Brian shook his head. "He wouldn't allow it, Father. My man would never let a priest anywhere near me. Besides, I don't know where we'll be. We travel all the time, up and down the river. I... I just don't know." It was hopeless, Brian thought. He never should have come here at all. And now he felt worse than he had before. At least then he'd had a bit of hope, but now he had none at all. "I'm sorry to trouble you, Father. I better go."
"I will pray for you, my child," said the priest. "And don't abandon the Church now, in your time of need."
"I don't have much choice, Father," Brian answered dismally. "There is nothing I can do and nothing you can do." And with that, Brian stood up and hurried out of the confessional, slamming the door behind him.
"Wait! Don't leave yet!" cried the priest. But the girl was gone.
The priest frowned. Then he opened his own door and looked out into St. Jude's. But he saw only a few old women and a brown-haired boy kneeling in the front pew, his head buried in his folded arms.
The priest walked over to one of the women, a regular at daily Mass. "Did you see a young woman go out just now?"
"No, Father," answered the woman, staring at the priest curiously. "Just that boy." And she pointed.
"What boy?" asked the priest. And the woman pointed again to the boy in the front pew. The lad was weeping quietly, twisting a white linen handkerchief in his hands.
"But what about the young woman?" repeated the priest impatiently.
"I didn't see no woman, Father," she replied. "Just that boy there."
"Impossible!" sighed the priest. Another lamb lost to the wicked world! And he returned to the confessional booth.
Brian sat for a long time in the pew. Eventually the priest left the booth and disappeared through a side door. The old women finished their praying and lighting of candles and then they, too, stood up and went home. Brian knew that it must be getting late. Reynolds would be wondering where he'd gotten to. He'd be fearing, maybe, that those toughs had found Brian and injured him again. And Brian didn't want the man to fret about him, so he hastened along in the fading dusk.
Reynolds' Boy went out of St. Jude's and walked slowly back to the hotel. The humidity of the day was lifting, but sweat was still dripping down his neck. Brian wiped it away with his handkerchief and then dried his eyes again.
When Brian came into the hotel room, Reynolds, who had been sitting at the desk, trying to concentrate on writing some letters, stood up and went straight over to the Boy. "Where in Hell have you been?" he said, seizing Brian's arm anxiously. "I've been worried sick about you!"
Brian swallowed. His throat was still so dry. "I was out walking. To get some air."
"Why didn't you leave me a note? And why have you been gone so long? I've been back here since just after 6 o'clock!" It wasn't like the Boy to miss his dinner, although he'd been a bit off his food recently. Reynolds had to stop himself from shaking Brian. The Boy looked a little green around the gills. Maybe he really DID need some air.
"I... I don't feel so well," said Brian. The sweat poured down his back and his stomach heaved. He wobbled against Reynolds. Alarmed, the man guided him to the bed and reached for the chamber pot just in time for Brian to be sick into it. The Boy wept with humiliation and that made him heave again, while Reynolds held his head gently and rubbed his shoulders.
Feeling ill all the time and having your belly in an uproar -- that was just another way you knew you were in trouble. Brian had heard Flora tell that to one of the girls she suspected had been caught. Flora dosed the girl, Millie, with one of her dark, herb-filled concoctions that was supposed to make the baby go away. Millie moaned and doubled over and was horribly ill for days afterwards, but she didn't have a baby. Flora and Madame pronounced the method a success. But Millie felt poorly for a long while after that. She eventually left the Paradise Hotel and was never seen there again. Thinking of that made Brian's stomach lurch once more, but nothing more came up.
"What did you eat, Boy?" asked Reynolds. "I warned you about buying cheap food on the street, Brian. You don't know where it came from or what it's made of!" Reynolds was very particular about what he ate and whether the food was wholesome, and he took care that the Boy didn't consume trash. That was the surest way to come up with dysentery or something worse.
"I didn't. I didn't eat anything at all," Brian whimpered. And he had not. The very thought of food made him feel even sicker.
Reynolds felt the Boy's head. His brow was clammy, but not feverish. "Lie down and rest. I'll have them send up some tea." He helped Brian undress and get into the bed, putting the chamber pot nearby in case he was sick again. Then Reynolds went downstairs to the front desk and asked the clerk to have a pot of hot tea sent to the room. "Is there a doctor on call for this hotel?" the gambler inquired.
"Yes, Mr. Reynolds," answered the desk clerk. "Is your Boy feeling poorly?"
"I think he may have eaten something that disagreed with him. But I would feel better if your physician would take a look at him."
"I'll send word over, but it might not be until morning."
"There's no hurry -- yet," Reynolds said. And he went back up to the room.
Just before midnight there was a loud knock on the door. Reynolds put on his deep blue silk dressing gown and answered it. "I take it that you are the physician?"
"I'm Dr. Wallace," said the stout, soberly-dressed gentleman carrying a leather bag. "Where is the patient?"
"The Boy seems better now. He was vomiting before, but that has stopped. No fever," explained Reynolds, escorting the doctor to the bed. Brian gazed at the physician fearfully, pulling the bedclothes up around himself. "He claims he didn't eat anything outside the hotel, but who can be certain?"
"Well, young man, what seems to be the difficulty?" asked the doctor, cheerily.
But Brian gazed warily at him. The only time Madame ever brought a doctor to the Paradise was when someone was about to die anyway. Madame said that doctors killed their patients as much as they healed them and that she would rather rely on Flora's herbs and potions than any strange fellow with a bag! So Brian did not trust this red-faced man. He turned his head into the pillow.
The doctor frowned. This was an odd situation, no doubt about it. "This boy is your ward, I take it? And what is his age?"
"He is my ward," Reynolds replied shortly. "And he's 13 years old."
"Hm," murmured Dr. Wallace, perusing Brian. He was a handsome, well-grown lad, but thin. Very thin. And full of nervous energy. The doctor also sized up the gambler in his fancy silk dressing gown. The hotel room was an expensive one, so there was money involved here. Obviously the man was successful at what he did, but the physician knew that such people as Mr. Reynolds were not like other decent folks. Yes, this was very odd indeed. "Mr. Reynolds, would you mind stepping out of the room so that I may examine the patient?"
Now Reynolds glowered. "Step out? Why, sir? Why should I leave this room?"
"Because that is my habit when I examine someone," the physician answered firmly. "I have found that often the patient will not respond freely if anyone else is present."
"There is nothing the Boy can say to you that I cannot hear!" the gambler fumed.
"Nevertheless, sir," insisted Dr. Wallace. "If you do not wish me to continue the examination, then I will bid you good night."
"Very well," said Reynolds. But he gave Brian a sharp glance before he left the bedside and went out the door. A warning glance. Tell no one our business, Boy. That is Rule Number 1!
Reynolds stood in the hallway in his dressing gown feeling like a fool. There was no reason that he should have allowed that damned doctor to turn him out of his own room like that! He didn't trust the man in there with his Boy! He did not trust anyone alone with his Boy, and that was the truth! Reynolds began to pace up and down in front of the doorway.
After a while, Dr. Wallace opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. "I gave the lad a small dose of tonic, but he doesn't need much more than that. Keep him on plenty of liquids tonight and tomorrow, then something bland and not too heavy for his supper tomorrow evening. He should be fine," the doctor instructed.
"Then it is nothing serious?" said Reynolds. "You are certain?"
"Dyspepsia -- no more than an upset stomach. But I do not think it was caused by impure food. He says he ate nothing unusual and I believe him." The physician fidgeted with his bag.
"Then what the devil is the matter with him?" asked Reynolds in annoyance. "He's been acting poorly for weeks now!"
The doctor sniffed and then motioned for Reynolds to follow him down the hallway. There was an outdoor stairway there, leading down to the back privy. The doctor stepped out upon the landing and took out two cigars, offering one to Reynolds. They both puffed for a few moments before Dr. Wallace spoke. "It is curious but I never see cases like this except in young and very highly-strung females, and even then it is not frequent."
"Cases of what?" asked Reynolds.
"Hysterical illness," replied the doctor. "Oh, hysteria is common enough in females, but I have never before had a boy with it. Never."
Reynolds chewed on the end of the cheap cigar. "Brian is an uncommon Boy."
"So it would seem, Mr. Reynolds." Dr. Wallace paused, not sure how to proceed. "I have also never had a pregnant boy before. That is certainly a first in all my years of practicing medicine."
Reynolds narrowed his eyes at the physician. "I do not think that is a very amusing jest, sir."
"Nor do I, Mr. Reynolds," answered the doctor. "And I'm certain that it is not amusing to your Boy. But that is what he believes is the matter with him. He told me so. In fact, he is so convinced of it that he is showing symptoms, such as vomiting and growing out of his clothes."
"Don't be absurd, man!" Reynolds huffed. "Of course he's growing out of his clothes! I told you that he's 13 years old!"
"I am not being absurd, sir," said the physician, bluntly. "I will not enumerate to you the possible reasons why a perfectly healthy young lad might come to believe himself in, as we say, an 'interesting condition.' What you do with your ward, Mr. Reynolds, is, unfortunately, none of my concern." Dr. Wallace flicked the ash from his cigar. "But it is YOUR place to disabuse your Boy of this notion, otherwise he will not get well. Hysteria is a malady of the mind, but it influences the body as well. Your ward may sink into a melancholy over this belief and never recover."
"But... but what do I say to the Boy?" Reynolds sputtered. "I have no idea how he came to such a ridiculous conclusion!"
"That I do not know, sir. But you must tell him the truth. After all -- YOU are the father!" Dr. Wallace turned to go down the backstairs. "I would do this forthwith, Mr. Reynolds, before the lad is too far along!" And then the doctor laughed grimly and went on his way, leaving Reynolds standing with his mouth agape.
Reynolds walked back into the hotel room and locked and bolted the door. Was it possible that the Boy was so ignorant of the basic facts of procreation that he might seriously believe himself to be expecting a baby? Madame Heloise and those other stupid women at the brothel must have been full of old wives' tales and irrational fables about birth, and Brian, with his strong and spirited imagination, could easily have misunderstood things they said. Yes, the Boy's over-reaction to Reynolds' spending inside him -- that should have been the first clue. But Reynolds had missed it. He'd been too preoccupied with enjoying Brian and showing him off and buying him treats to listen to his real fears. The entire affair would be laughable if it were not so potentially tragic!
Brian was curled up in bed, facing away from the door, his eyes closed tightly, but Reynolds knew that the Boy was not asleep. The gambler turned down the oil lamp and took off his dressing gown, laying it across the foot of the bedstead before he got under the covers. "Do you feel better after speaking with the physician, Boy?"
"I guess so," Brian whispered. But his face was still burning with shame from having to tell the doctor about his trouble. It was one thing to speak to a priest in the dark of the confessional and quite another to have to tell a strange man, who was prodding and poking you all over while he asked embarrassing questions.
"Dr. Wallace told me about your problem, Brian," Reynolds said softly. "Or, rather, what you believe is your problem."
Brian tensed, but the gambler's voice was soothing. He didn't seem angry. Not angry at all. Brian turned over and put his arms around the man, pressing his face against his hairy chest in relief.
"Brian, please listen to me carefully because I want to be clear to you," said Reynolds. "You are NOT having a baby. Not now, nor any time in the future. Do you understand?"
"No!" the Boy cried desperately. "I won't get rid of it! I want it! You said you'd take care of me -- no matter what! You promised!" And he began to weep. Now Brian felt that he was truly alone, if his master was rejecting him like this.
"Please cease this caterwauling right now, Boy! You misunderstand me! Good God, but you have the most quicksilver flights of fancy I have ever known!" Reynolds pulled Brian up to face him squarely. The boy's expression was so guileless and so apprehensive. He must have been carrying his 'secret' for weeks, fretting over it, in fear of what the man might say. "I am not telling you to get rid of anything. I would never do such a thing, especially not to you. You are MY Boy and I would never hurt you. Didn't I tell you that?"
"Brian, I don't know what those females at the Paradise led you to believe, or what you concocted out of your own vigorous imagination, but it is NOT possible for you to have a baby. It cannot happen and has not happened. Do you believe me, Brian?"
"But when you spent inside me... after Madame said that...."
"No, Boy," Reynolds explained gently. "I could spend inside you every day until the trumpet sounds on Judgment Day and you will NOT have a baby. It is not the act itself -- it is simple anatomy! I told you that you are a boy and ALL boy. MY Boy. Boys -- men -- do not conceive. They do not have the correct anatomy to bear a child. That is why God created females. That is their purpose on this Earth -- to have babies. Just as your purpose on Earth is to make love and to please ME. Do you understand?"
Brian tried to take in this information. It made sense in a way. And Reynolds would never lie to him. But... but... "What about Lady Fern and her boys? You said they were a passel of she-males."
Reynolds sighed. "Lady Fern, sans his garish dress and outlandish wig, is physically as much of a man as any. And her boys are also males, even if they hardly know that fact."
"So, you mean that I'll never... really never? Not even some day when I'm older?"
"No, Brian. Not today. Not some day in the future. Not ever."
One part of the Boy felt intense relief at the man's words. But another part felt a profound emptiness, as if something that he had possessed only minutes before had been suddenly taken from him. And tears began to fall again that he could not stop.
But Reynolds did not admonish his Boy for weeping. Because he, too, was feeling some curious loss. He had never before understood why some men claimed to marry for love or why they brought innocent children into an appalling and precarious world. He could comprehend marriage as a business venture to wed together property or cement alliances. He could even accept it as a means to continue a culture or a way of life -- even a way of life he himself had rejected long ago. But he had never believed in the concept of a love match. Now he was beginning to understand. It was a way of owning that object of desire utterly -- physically, emotionally, legally. Having child together bound that person to you in a way no ritual or legal document could match. Bound their body to you -- forever. Now Reynolds understood just what the Boy had lost. And what he had lost. That eternal tie.
"Brian," he said, grasping the Boy's thin right wrist. He was wearing, as always, the new silver and gold bracelet that Reynolds had bought and placed on his wrist. Brian took it off only when he was in the bath. Reynolds fingered the trinket, then pressed it firmly against Brian's soft skin until he heard the Boy gasp. "I would like nothing better than for you to have my baby, but it is not possible. Even so, you still belong to me -- completely. Your body and your soul. And you will always remember this. Do you hear me, Boy? Do you understand?"
Brian winced as the metal bracelet imprinted itself in his delicate flesh. But the boy knew exactly what his master meant and it both frightened and thrilled him. "Yes. I do understand. And I'll always remember."
Reynolds released Brian's wrist and moved on top of the Boy. He spread the long legs apart and stroked between them until he heard Brian sigh. He wet his fingers and then primed his prick with the saliva. Brian tilted his hips up, waiting, enticing the man with his intoxicating cleft. Reynolds worked his eager prick into that haven. "Who are you?" Reynolds whispered urgently as he began pumping slowly.
"I'm Brian," he answered, so very softly.
"No," the gambler said. "I did not ask you your name. I asked 'who ARE you'?"
Brian hesitated for a moment and then exhaled as the man drove himself home. "I'm Reynolds' Boy!"
The gambler smiled. "Correct. And you always will be. Forever. And now you will never, ever forget it."
Continue on to "The Jeremiad".
©Gaedhal, August 2003.
Posted August 19, 2003.