This is Chapter Seventeen -- "The Jeremiad"
The other stories in the "Wayfarers" series.
Features Justin Taylor, Brian Kinney, Jeremiah Taylor, Jennifer Taylor.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin and his father have a discussion about his future. Pittsburgh, April 1859.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
The boy stopped dead at the sound of his mother's voice. Justin had hoped that he could slip into the house and up the back stairs, change his clothes, and slip out again to meet Brian at the café without having to face his mother. Seeing her when he came home on Friday afternoons, knowing that she was aware of where he was headed and what he was going to do when he got there, was humiliating. Having Jenny Taylor know anything about his personal life made Justin feel a chagrin that he hated. But especially having her know about what he did with Brian, those intimate things that should only be between two people and no other soul. That made Justin go all cold inside. Not the fact that they were both men -- that Justin felt no shame about at all -- but the knowledge that his mother knew things that Justin wished to keep to himself, private feelings and private actions, was intolerable. Whenever his mother made him react that way, Justin felt it was a betrayal of Brian -- and that was something he never wanted to feel.
"Yes, Mother," Justin said, turning towards her. She had caught him just outside the door of his bedchamber.
"Your father would like to speak with you, Justin," said Jenny Taylor, her eyes begging. "Please try not to fight with him."
"Why do you assume that Father and I will be disagreeing, Mother?" said Justin, impatiently. He found it harder and harder each day to look his mother in the eye. Justin's mind kept going back to his mother, standing in the doorway of Brian's room at Clarke's Hotel, seeing Brian in his naked glory and seeing Justin in Brian's bed. He knew what she thought of his lover -- that he was a corruption in her son's life. And nothing could be further from truth. "What is it that Father wishes to talk about?"
"I... I think he wants to discuss your plans for college with you," said Jenny.
Justin laughed shortly. "He actually wants to consult with me about his plans for my life? That is unlike him, Mother. I thought Father's way is to command -- and my job is to obey him. Isn't that his view of things? Isn't that the truth of it, Mother?"
"Justin, please try to be reasonable!" said Jenny. Her heart was aching. Every moment it seemed her son was slipping further away from her grasp. She lived for the day when the Irishman -- Kinney -- finally announced that he was leaving Pittsburgh for good, as he had assured her that he would be doing quite soon. But so far that announcement had not been forthcoming.
Justin's pale face flushed bright red. "Do you also tell my father -- your husband! -- to be reasonable, Mother? I think not!" The last thing Justin wished to do was confront his father. He knew that an argument would ensue and Justin had neither the time nor the inclination to fight. He also did not want to leave the house in a foul mood, particularly when he knew that Brian was waiting for him. He was already late from staying at school to finish a project. Justin had not seen his lover in three days and he was desperate to be with him.
"If you avoid this now, Justin, you'll only have to face him later," Jenny warned. She knew in her heart that this was a battle with no winners. Neither Justin nor Jeremiah would be happy with the outcome, but Jenny knew that she stood to lose the most of all. For she would lose both her son and her husband if they truly came to a stalemate over the subject of Justin's future. Because Jenny Taylor knew what her husband did not -- that her son had plans of his own for his future. That Justin would never allow himself to be chained to a desk in the family business. That he would never allow his own desires to be dictated to by his father or by Society. Justin had made that completely clear that day in the lobby of a third rate hotel downtown when he had pronounced to her that he was an unrepentant sodomite. Jenny Taylor was frightened for her son's future -- and for his very soul.
Justin left his mother standing in the hallway and went down the front staircase. His father was waiting for him in the foyer, his strong arms folded across his chest. Jeremiah Taylor was wearing, as usual, a somber gray suit. Justin hated somber gray suits. His thoughts lingered over the stylish frock coats, the tightly cut trousers, and the colorful waistcoats that filled Brian's press. He smiled at the picture of the tall man putting on his fine array to go out to the tavern or the opera house for the evening.
"Justin!" His father's voice broke into the boy's thoughts. "Please come into my study."
Whenever his father invited him into the study in that tone of voice it always meant trouble. Justin took a deep breath, hoping that he was too big for his father to take a strap to him.
Jeremiah Taylor stood in front of his large desk holding two envelopes in his hand. "This came for you today, Justin. It is your acceptance at my Alma Mater, Dartmouth College." He held the envelope out to his son. "Congratulations."
"I never applied to Dartmouth, Father," said Justin firmly. He made no move to take the piece of paper.
"I know. That is why I took the liberty of applying on your behalf. You are a Legacy and you have an exemplary record at St. James Academy. The Board of Governors are pleased to offer you a place for the Fall Term." Jeremiah waited for some acknowledgement from his son, but Justin did not answer.
Justin was a puzzle to Jeremiah Taylor. He had always been so biddable as a child. Always aiming to please his parents and teachers. He studied diligently and did not idle away his time like many other young men. Justin was a quiet, thoughtful boy who had never been any trouble at all. Until now.
"Are you going to say anything?"
"What is it you wish for me to say, Father?" the boy answered steadily.
The man snorted. "And this came for you a few days ago," said Jeremiah. He held out the second envelope. "It is also an acceptance. At the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute at Hiram in Ohio."
Justin bit his tongue. He felt the blood rising in his face. "That is my personal letter, Father, addressed to me. You had no right to open it."
Jeremiah clenched his fist around the second envelope, crumpling it. "Any letter that comes into this house is my business, Justin, AND my property! As my son YOU are my business and my property, as well! Now, can you tell me what THIS letter is about?"
"Just as you said, Father," replied the boy, standing still and straight. "It is from the Eclectic Institute, where I have applied for admittance."
"The Eclectic Institute? And what do you plan to do there?"
Justin's mouth was very dry, but he proceeded. He imagined that Brian was standing by his side, watching him. It would not do to falter in front of Brian. "I plan to study the Fine Arts, Father, but especially painting. I wrote to the Dean and I also sent him some of my drawings as examples of my work. It is the course of study that I aim to pursue. My art."
"To do?" Jeremiah snorted. "Art? Do this where?"
"Anywhere, Father. Everywhere. It is what I wish to do with my life." Justin took another deep breath. "If you took the time to understand anything about me, Father, you would know how important my art is to me. But you could never be bothered. You could never be moved from thoughts of business to cast an eye upon your only son!" Justin stood straighter, imagining Brian watching him with pride. "I wish to attend the Eclectic Institute or else Oberlin College, where I have also applied. They both have excellent courses of study in the Fine Arts, as well as full instruction in the Studio Arts."
"Oberlin and Hiram!" Jeremiah Taylor blasted. "Both places full of Free Thinkers and Suffragists! Both hotbeds of Abolition! Is that what you intend, Justin? To become some kind of Radical?"
"No, Father," the boy answered quietly. "I am not a politician, although I share the beliefs and sympathies of those places you have named so vehemently. They are against slavery and for the rights of women to be equal to men in all things. Those institutions educate white and black, male and female equally, unlike Dartmouth, which cares only for the idle sons of their wealthy benefactors. But I am no Radical, Father. I intend to improve Society by pursuing my talent through my art and thereby make this world a better place."
Justin's father stared at him as if he were mad. "Your art, you say? By which you mean drawing wildflowers and painting china teacups? Balderdash! This is no fit occupation for a man, Justin! No fit occupation for MY son!" Jeremiah thundered.
Justin quivered, but he stood his ground stoutly. He had never wished so hard that Brian was truly standing by his side, holding his hand, giving him hope to bolster his courage. He could never be afraid if Brian was by his side. Not even afraid of his furious father.
"Then perhaps by your definition I am NOT a man, Father," Justin said simply. "But others would disagree. Another who knows me intimately and who also understands what a man truly is would surely disagree. Yes, HE ought to know if I am a man!"
Jeremiah glowered at his only son. "What are you talking about, Justin? What man do you mean? You speak to me in riddles."
"I speak to you the way you deserve, Father," Justin returned insolently.
"How dare you talk back to your father!" cried Jeremiah Taylor, stepping closer. And he slapped Justin directly across his pale face.
But the boy did not flinch, even though his father's blow stung like no other pain he had ever felt before. "Is there anything else -- sir?" Justin said softly.
"You have settled this matter by your attitude," said Jeremiah. "Since you have refused to attend an institution of higher learning suitable to your class and position in Society, as soon as the term at St. James Academy is finished you will begin your apprenticeship in my office. Present yourself there the morning after your Commencement. You will start as an office boy, sweeping the floor and laying the fire every morning before the clerks arrive. And when I am satisfied that you are able to handle that task -- in a year or two, if you do as you are told -- you will become an apprentice to an assistant clerk. I will brook no further discussion of this." Jeremiah turned his back on his son and walked around to sit at his large mahogany desk. "You are dismissed."
Justin also turned his back and walked out of his father's study. And out of his father's house. As far as both Taylor men were concerned, the matter was now finished.
Brian waited for over an hour at the café before he returned to his room at Clarke's Hotel. Something had delayed Justin, but Brian was not too concerned. As he approached his graduation from St. James Academy, the boy was often detained by school business or projects that needed to be completed. Brian knew that Justin would catch up with him eventually.
Brian worked a bit on a new story for 'The Clarion' before he became strangely restless. He felt an uneasiness that began to play havoc on his usually steady concentration. He stood and wandered around the room, looking out of the window and, finally, opening his press to occupy his wandering mind.
First, he took inventory of his clothing, deciding what needed to be sent to Sara for the wash and what needed to be mended. Brian also considered that if he was going to be leaving Pittsburgh for good and traveling West then he would need to thin out his wardrobe substantially. There was only so much that he could carry with him on the Overland Stage and shipping the rest by sea would be costly and take months to reach its destination in California. Brian sighed. He was way too fond of his possessions. Too fond of many things, it seemed. Better to leave everything behind and start fresh in the West than to try to pick and choose. In San Francisco he could buy new clothes. He could become a new person altogether. A better person. Or at least he would try to be. But it would be difficult indeed.
But he did not want to direct his mind to the most difficult thing of all. That would be leaving Justin behind. Brian felt a wrench in his gut every time he thought of it. But it would be better this way, for both of them. He was going to begin a new life in the West and the boy would be going off to college. Justin had his art and his studies and he would easily make new friends and learn new things. Brian often wondered how his own life might have been different if he had gone to college, or even simply lived a more conventional existence, in a regular house with a normal family, gone to a real school, and made friends his own age.
The closest thing Brian had ever had to a friend of his own age was Mae. Or perhaps Diego del Gaddos, who he knew down in San Miguel on the coast of South America near Cartagena. Yes, Diego had begun as a wealthy mark whom Reynolds had set Brian to play, but Brian had grown fond of him. He had enjoyed spending time with Diego, doing things that boys of 16 and 17 did together -- riding horses, carousing in the local taverns and bawdy houses, playing pranks, and generally raising Hell. Brian had also enjoyed making love with Diego, although he never made the fatal mistake of falling in love with the other boy. No, Reynolds always made certain that Brian never crossed that line. He kept his Boy on a tight rein, even when he allowed him to lie with others. Reynolds taught Brian that it was one thing to work a mark and even to enjoy a mark, but it was quite another thing to become involved emotionally with a mark. "Never cross that line," Reynolds had warned his Boy. And so Brian had always held that part of himself back. Held back his heart. At least for any other person besides his mentor and master.
But then both Brian and Diego had become ill with the typhoid fever they picked up on some romp out in the countryside beyond San Miguel. The boys drank some bad water or ate some bad food and they took deathly sick with that lethal fever. Diego died and Brian lived, although he was an invalid for a long time afterwards. And William Reynolds, against all expectations, had nursed Brian and taken tender care of him, just as Reynolds had promised Madame Heloise years before on the day he carried the Boy away from the Paradise Hotel. And so the gambler had kept faith, inexplicably, but unquestionably.
However, during his lengthy convalescence Brian felt the beginnings of a dread of getting too close to anyone at all. You made a friend -- and then he died. Just like Diego died. His mother -- she died, too, when he had most needed her. Perhaps it was his own fault. Perhaps something about Brian himself was fatal. Reynolds had laughed at that notion and told Brian that his logic in the matter was faulty. People died everyday for many reasons and those reasons had nothing to do with Brian. But that didn't mean that the fear within Reynolds' Boy was extinguished. Instead it smoldered and grew. That fear of giving his affection to anyone. Reynolds' own death two years later only made Brian retreat even further into himself and away from the touch of others. And that trepidation infected him still and made him anxious that Justin, in all his innocence, would somehow be tainted by Brian's curse.
So it was good that Justin would be getting on with his life, thought Brian, forcing himself not to think of the hole that would be left in his heart when the two were inevitably parted. Instead, Brian considered the wealth of opportunities that soon would be open to the lad. Perhaps Justin would be allowed to travel to Europe. Many rich boys took the Grand Tour, staying abroad for years at a time. Justin would finally see for himself all of the treasures in his beloved art books. Surely the Continent was where Justin belonged, inside the galleries and museums and salons of Italy and France. In Europe Justin could have many affairs and not fear what people would think. Attitudes were very different abroad. Among the artists and Bohemians of Paris or Rome no one would condemn the desires of a beautiful and talented boy who longed for the company of his own sex. Justin would be loved and petted and indulged as he should be. Men would fight for the privilege of his attention. Justin would finally be free from the constraints of his family and the conventions of Pittsburgh. Perhaps in Europe he might even find some man with whom he could be happy. A man who did not have the baggage that Brian himself seemed doomed to drag behind him throughout his life. At least Brian hoped that is what Justin would find -- that perfect love and happiness he so deserved.
Brian sat down with two garments in his lap -- one of his waistcoats, which was fraying at the seam, and a white lawn shirt that had lost a button. Brian recalled the first few times Justin had seen Brian take out his kit and remove the needle and the thread to fix a tear on his greatcoat or mend a stocking. Justin's eyes had been large, taking in the sight of his tall lover doing such womanly chores. Brian smiled. Justin should have seen Brian washing and ironing Reynolds' shirts or embroidering the gambler's initials on his fine linen garments in the fancy stitches that Flora had taught him!
Yes, Madame and the girls had taught the boy many homely skills that had stood him in good stead with his mentor in the early days of his apprenticeship. The gambler liked things done precisely. Reynolds wanted his clothes well cared for, his room neatly arranged, his comforts seen to -- all in a very specific manner. When he saw that his Boy could sew a straight seam and learned quickly how to fold his linens and silks correctly, how to clean things and keep the place in order, Reynolds was delighted to turn over such wifely tasks to his young ward. Yes, William Reynolds had been quite pleased with his new acquisition, who proved to be talented in many rooms other than just the bedchamber.
Therefore, Brian was not ashamed of his many odd talents. Because, thought Brian, when a man lived alone he needed to know such things or else look like a vagabond. And Brian was a man who prided himself in always looking perfectly turned out. If a man was not to be dependent on others, not to be dependent on a wife, specifically, then the skills learned at the Paradise Hotel and honed in the service of William Reynolds were not to be spurned. Justin quickly learned not to turn up his snub nose at Brian's surprising abilities.
A short while later there was a sharp knock at the door. Brian got up from the settee, where he had been mending his waistcoat, and opened it. Justin practically fell into the room, his face pale and eyes red.
"What in Hell happened to you?" asked Brian. "I waited at the café, but you never showed!"
"My father happened!" Justin cried. "I hate him! I truly hate him!" And he clung to Brian, finally letting fall the tears he had held in all the way across town from the Taylor homestead.
"Come and sit down," Brian said gently. "You mustn't take on so." He led Justin to the settee and pulled the boy down next to him. Brian took out a clean handkerchief and carefully blotted away the copious tears. "I'm certain things can't be all that bad!"
Justin sniffed and took the handkerchief in his hand, blowing his nose soundly. "They ARE that bad! You don't know! How I hate the man! I don't care if he is my father! He's a tyrant! He wants to ruin my life!"
"Begin at page one, if you please," Brian coaxed. "What brought on this deluge?"
Justin looked up at Brian's face and felt a rush of hot love. He was certain that no one understood or cared about him as this man did. What would he ever do without him? Surely he would die! Surely his heart would burst with unhappiness!
"I... I received a letter from the Eclectic Institute."
"And?" replied Brian, holding his breath. He had helped Justin compose the application letter to that college in January. It had been a cold, cold night and the two of them had huddled under the blankets and the quilt, writing draft after draft until every word was perfect.
"I was accepted. Into the program to study the Fine Arts."
"That's grand! That is what you've been hoping for!" cried Brian. And he leaned down and embraced Justin, kissing him in delight. Attending college was something that Brian would never experience, but the vicarious thrill of Justin's achievement was almost as sweet as if he had been accepted at college himself.
"Yes, it's grand," Justin sniffed. "Except that my father set aside my letter. It must have come days ago and he withheld it from me. And then the letter accepting me at Dartmouth arrived."
"Dartmouth?" said Brian in confusion. "When did you write that application?"
"I didn't. My father did," Justin cried in exasperation. "And they have accepted me based on my marks at St. James and the fact that my father is an alumnus." Justin leaned heavily against Brian's firm body. He felt that leaning there he could never, ever fall. Never, ever fail.
"I don't understand," Brian muttered. William Reynolds had often been stern with Brian, even cold and tyrannical in his obsessiveness at times, but he had never denied Brian any desire, ever. Brian could not fathom Justin's father gazing upon his son's beautiful face and ever denying him anything. It was inexplicable.
"There's nothing to understand!" Justin answered with passion. "My father refuses to allow me to attend the Eclectic Institute. Or Oberlin, either, if I should be accepted there. I must go to Dartmouth and take up the course of Business. And if I refuse then I must present myself at my father's office the day after I graduate from St. James and begin work there as an apprentice clerk. And that will be the end of my life!"
"But... do you really mean that your father would force you to... to reject your education?"
"Yes, if I won't study what he wishes me to study. It is his way -- or no way." Justin blinked another tear from his eye. "Do you see now why I detest him?"
Brian stroked the golden hair while his mind raced. "Perhaps you could go on to Dartmouth and say that you will study what he wants you to. But when you get to college I'm certain that you can study what you wish! He will be miles away and you will have the freedom to do as you will. Won't you?"
But Justin shook his head. "My father is a powerful man and a contributor to his Alma Mater. You think he won't be monitoring everything I do there? That he won't have my program of study mapped out for me? That's what he has always tried to do! He did it at St. James, and at Dartmouth -- it will be no different!" Justin's mouth trembled. "By going to college there I will merely be delaying the inevitable. Either way I will end up in that office, chained to a desk by my father's side! I truly would rather die!"
A shadow passed over Brian's heart and he shuddered. "Justin! Never say that again! Not even in a passion!" Brian crossed himself superstitiously. "Never wish yourself dead." He turned the tear-stained face up to his own. "Do you want to kill me, too?"
"Would you really care? Truly?" the boy wept. "I would never harm you, believe me! I love you too much!" He clung tightly to the man. "But if I died you are the only one who would mourn me!"
"That isn't true and you know it," Brian whispered. "What about your sweet mother? Or Sara? Think how Sara'd take on if anything happened to you."
"I'm sorry, Brian. I didn't mean it! I always speak before I think. It's a curse." Justin put his arms around the man's neck and pressed his face to Brian's. What would he do if he were forced into a life he hated and lost his art? Yes, that was awful to contemplate. But what if he lost this beautiful man? That truly would be the end of his existence!
Brian stood up slowly and took the boy's hand. He led Justin to the washbasin and gently bathed his face with a soft cloth. The water was rather cold and felt bracing on Justin's hot tear-strained cheeks. Brian hung up his mended waistcoat and folded the lawn shirt and laid it away. Then he slipped off Justin's brown jacket and unbuttoned his cotton shirt. The boy stood quietly while Brian undressed him, waiting in anticipation. Then Brian sat him down on the edge of the bed, pulling back the bedclothes.
"I'm not the least bit sleepy at this time of the afternoon," said Justin, watching as Brian took off his woolen trousers and his plain cambric shirt. As he gazed at the man Justin felt that now he would never be alone. Here was a kindred spirit, the only one who truly understood his most secret thoughts and desires. Perhaps even life in his father's dreary office might be tolerable if he could find solace in Brian's arms every night.
"You seem to be full of an angry passion, Justin. Perhaps that passion needs to be acknowledged." Brian pushed Justin back against the goosedown pillows. He put his cheek up against Justin's and felt the burning there. "Things sometimes seem grim, but when you look back at them you wonder what all the fuss was about."
"The fuss is about my life," murmured Justin. "About everything."
"I spend too much of my time juggling words on a blank sheet of cheap paper, so I won't juggle them with you now, Justin," Brian breathed against the boy's neck. "But there's a way. I believe there is. You are an artist. That is what you were born to be. And you will find your path no matter what. Just don't give up. Don't despair."
"I won't. I promise that I won't," Justin replied. "Only don't abandon me. Don't ever."
Brian stopped, feeling his heart pause for a moment in his breast. He knew that he must leave, perhaps soon. How could he promise Justin otherwise? Their journey was about to diverge, with each solitary wayfarer taking a different road. Brian knew that he must go West. It was his only hope. But Justin must remain here. He still had a life and a future before him. He didn't need to escape into the dangerous Wilderness to bury his demons. He didn't need to risk all he had and all he knew. But Brian had no other alternative.
So Brian did not answer Justin's words. He escaped at that moment through his silence. Instead, he allowed his body to speak, as it so eloquently could. Allowed it to make promises that Brian's conscious mind could not admit to. His tongue traveled the length of the boy's body, worshipping each part. Reassuring Justin with his devotion and his passion. And the boy responded in kind, until they were like halves of the same shadowy whole.
As they clung together, like survivors of some great catastrophe, each lost in his own anguish, they knew that they had each other, if even only for that moment. A moment so rare and tentative that even the smallest breath of reality seemed that it might extinguish it. Yet that tiny flame burned on, momentously, continuously. It was what they could live on, at least until tomorrow. The only thing that they had. That moment. That unspoken promise.
"We two boys together clinging, Walt Whitman, from 'Calamus.'
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm'd and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves...."
Walt Whitman, from 'Calamus.'
Continue on to "The Vieux Carré".
©Gaedhal, November 2003.
Posted November 20, 2003.