This is Chapter Twenty-one -- "Honor"
The other stories in the "Wayfarers" series.
Features Brian Kinney, William Reynolds, Pascal Leclerc, Yvonne Benet, Mama Essie, Lina, Micah, Marcus Jerome, Aubert, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian learns the meaning of Honor. New Orleans, January 1844.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
William Reynolds was having a fitting at his tailor's on the Rue Royale, so he gave Brian some coins and sent him to the market to waste an hour or so. Reynolds had just had new clothes made for both of them before Christmas, but the gambler was flush after the Holidays when so many wealthy marks were making merry. Therefore, Reynolds decided that a few pairs of new trousers were in order before the Mardi Gras season began in earnest.
"Don't get into trouble, Boy. And don't talk to strange men," Reynolds warned, handing Brian the money. The gambler enjoyed watching the Boy's face brighten up at the thought of a treat. In many ways his Boy was so very grown-up. He had seen much in his short life, and done things well out of the experience of most lads his own age. But in other ways he was still very much a child. Sometimes Reynolds needed to remind himself that Brian was still virtually innocent in his emotions -- and in his understanding of the world.
Brian gazed at the coins in his palm as he left the tailor shop. Reynolds was always in a generous mood when the cards were turning his way and Brian usually had more money in his pocket than he could spend. Maybe he'd buy himself a book, Brian thought as he walked through the heart of the Vieux Carré. Or maybe he'd buy a present for his master. Yes, Reynolds was always buying presents for Brian -- clothes, jewelry, champagne, his special scent. Perhaps he'd turn the tables. But it had to be something special. A surprise.
In the market Brian found himself heading first for Mama Essie's stall. Mama was a large black woman who sold wonderful confections of sugar and pecans. It made Brian's mouth water just thinking about those confections.
"Here's that Boy again, Lina!" Mama Essie laughed to her friend in the next stall. Lina sold sweet dried fruits -- little pieces of persimmon and peach and banana. Those were good, too, Brian thought.
"He's hungry. He's got the hunger look in his eye," said Lina.
"He ain't gonna leave any pralines for nobody else once he starts eatin' 'em!" Mama laughed.
Brian blushed. "I'm not that bad! I just like the way they melt on my tongue."
"That's right! My pralines are as sweet as this Boy's pretty face!" The Market woman pinched Brian's pink cheeks. The pralines lay in flat disks on sheets of brown paper. Brian took out a coin, while Mama Essie put the pralines into a small sack. "You gonna eat 'em all right now, honey?"
"No, ma'am. I'm buying some for my master. It's a surprise!" Brian replied. "He's being fitted at his tailor's on Royal Street. He likes something sweet."
"That he does, that Monsieur Reynolds," said a voice behind Brian.
The Boy turned, but he already knew who it was. It was that man again. Monsieur Leclerc. He had been following Brian around the city and making a nuisance of himself since before the Holidays. At one reception, just after Christmas, the man had pulled Brian into a dark passageway and fumbled at his britches, trying to pull them down. A good hard kick in the shins had left the fellow yowling while Brian made his escape back to Reynolds' side. But Brian was afraid to tell his master about what Pascal Leclerc had done -- and what he kept on trying to do in the weeks that followed. Brian shuddered to think of how many times and how many different places Leclerc had cornered Brian and put his hands on him. And he had been growing more persistent and more aggressive in his attentions as Brian continued refusing to yield. Brian could tell that the man's frustration was making him angry -- and Brian did not wish to deal with this angry, stubborn boor.
"Please go away, monsieur," pleaded the Boy, backing up.
Mama Essie frowned at the scene before her eyes. The Boy seemed to be afraid of this dandy. The man was garishly dressed for a late January morning and he was powdered and heavily scented. Mama Essie knew that the pretty Boy who visited her stand was being kept by a gambler -- everyone in the Quarter knew that. But Mister Reynolds was a tall elegant Northerner and not this ridiculous popinjay.
"I am losing my patience with you, cheri," said Leclerc, seizing Brian's elbow. "Your games are now tiresome."
Brian kicked out at the man, but this time Leclerc was ready. His manservant, a stout slave with an iron grip, took hold of the Boy's arms and pinioned them behind his back. But still Brian struggled. His sack of pralines dropped to the dust and was trampled.
Now Mama Essie was truly concerned. She gestured to her friend Lina's young son, Micah. "Go direct to the tailor on Royal and tell that Mister Reynolds to come here quick!" she ordered. "Now run!"
And Micah ran. There was only one tailor shop on Royal Street and Micah made his way there without delay. The tailor glowered at the child barging into his establishment, calling for Mister Reynolds.
The tailor tried to put the boy out the door, but Reynolds recognized the child from the Market. "What's wrong?" Reynolds asked with alarm.
"A man be taking your boy, mister!" gasped Micah. "Mama Essie sent me and says to come right quick!"
"What man?" asked Reynolds, hurriedly drawing on his trousers and boots.
"A Frenchman, mister. He smell like dead flowers. Your Fancy Boy give that fella a kick, but his man held that Boy down and he taking him away!"
Reynolds didn't wait to hear another word, but ran out of the shop without putting on his coat or hat. He ran all the way to the Market, afraid that he would be too late.
But Mama Essie and the other market women were standing and blocking Pascal Leclerc and his manservant from leaving with the Boy. The servant was trying to hold Brian, with one hand over his mouth and the other twisting his arms behind his back, but the Boy was putting up a spirited fight. And Leclerc, his face red with fury, attempted to push his way past the line of determined women.
"Get out of my way, you useless woman!" Leclerc demanded. But Mama Essie and the other women held firm.
"Brian!" Reynolds called -- and the Boy struggled even harder, kicking back at the servant who gripped him.
Pascal Leclerc saw Reynolds bearing down on him with a hideous expression and knew that he had made a serious error in judgment. He should have listened to his friend, Yves, and not approached the beautiful Boy, no matter how much he desired him. This Reynolds was obviously a madman!
LeClerc's face displayed his fear, but then he changed his stance to one of attack. "Your Boy... he solicited me here in the Market. I was unaware that he was your property, Monsieur Reynolds," Leclerc insisted.
"Liar!" cried Brian, still struggling.
"You are a fool, aren't you, Leclerc?" said Reynolds with cold contempt. "But I am not. I seem to have a better memory than you, for I believe that you have met us at many functions over the past month. And you know perfectly well that Brian is my ward."
Leclerc glared at Reynolds. "Let the Boy go," he ordered his servant.
Brian straightened his disordered clothing and then spat at the Frenchman's feet. "Son of a bitch!" he cried. "How dare you say that I solicited you when you've been bothering me for weeks! Dogging my tracks like a filthy hound!"
"Shut your mouth!" yelled Pascal Leclerc, and, without thinking, he slapped Brian across the face with a stinging blow. Leclerc never saw Reynolds' hard right fist that sent him reeling to the dirt as the market women whooped and hollered their support of the gambler and his Boy.
Leclerc's slave helped him to his feet slowly. "You two deserve each other," said the Frenchman, rubbing his aching jaw. "You are both brutes. If you were not beneath my station, Reynolds, then I would call you out and demand satisfaction for such treatment! But I am well aware that there is no Honor in a Jew and his Irish whore!"
One of Pascal Leclerc's fine kid gloves had fallen to the ground in the scuffle. Reynolds picked it up and threw it back in the Frenchman's face. "I accept your challenge, sir. We shall see who is without Honor when we face each other at dawn tomorrow. My Second will call on you to arrange the terms of this engagement."
Leclerc stared at Reynolds in growing panic. "I... I... cannot accept this challenge, monsieur. It... I...." he sputtered, trying to think of a way out of this muddle of his own making.
Brian grabbed his master's arm. "What does this mean? What's happening?"
"Nothing that concerns you, Boy," Reynolds answered sternly. "It is between me and this so-called gentleman. Who will be the laughing stock of New Orleans if he does not face me and defend his Honor. That is, if he ever had any!"
"No!" Brian cried, suddenly understanding what Reynolds' gesture had meant. The boy gaped at his master and then at the pale-faced Frenchman. "You can't!"
"Yes, I can," said Reynolds, taking Brian's hand. "And I will. Now come along, Boy. I must retrieve my coat and hat from the tailor shop."
"This is foolishness, William!" Yvonne paced up and down the length of Reynolds' sitting room in the Hotel St. Louis, shaking her head. "I hope you both are arrested before you and Leclerc injure each other. Even an idiot like Pascal Leclerc can make a fortuitous shot now and again!"
"That is for Fate to decide, my dear," answered Reynolds. He opened a finely tooled leather box. Inside were a pair of prime dueling pistols that Reynolds had won off a plantation owner in Charleston a number of years back. They were beauties, traditional smoothbore flintlocks with carved ivory handles and long, graceful barrels. Reynolds removed them from the leather box and weighed them both in his hands, selecting one of the pair and putting the other back. Yes, this was the one, he thought.
Reynolds had asked another gambler of his acquaintance, Marcus Jerome, to be his Second, and Marcus had called on Pascal Leclerc to arrange the terms of the encounter. Jerome had reported back to Reynolds that Leclerc was terrified and certain that Reynolds, the more proficient sporting man, would kill him outright. If Reynolds were to teach this French fop a lesson, then his pistol must not fail. Flintlocks were notorious for misfiring, which was one of the reasons they were used in dueling. Their lack of accuracy was thought to even the odds. But Reynolds wanted to be certain that those odds, as usual, were in his own favor.
"And what about your Boy?" Yvonne broke in. "What am I to do with him if you get yourself murdered?"
"I don't plan on being murdered, Yvonne," said Reynolds. "However, I have made the necessary arrangements if anything happens to me." Reynolds took the woman's hand and stared directly into her eyes. "I am deadly serious about this, my dear. I need to hire or borrow a carriage to take me and Brian -- or the Boy alone -- at least as far as Mobile. Because no matter what occurs in the morning, we will need to leave New Orleans rather hastily. We are already packed and prepared to depart at a moment's notice."
Yvonne nodded solemnly and pulled her hand away from her old lover's. "You may take my carriage. My driver knows the way to Mobile and he is more trustworthy than some hired man."
"I am in your debt, Yvonne," said Reynolds. "What can I do to repay you?"
"Do not get killed!" she replied fervently. Yvonne drew on her gloves. "I will come before dawn to stay with the Boy. He should not be left alone."
"Thank you. You are a kind woman, Madame Benet."
"No!" she returned. "I am almost as great a fool as YOU, Monsieur Reynolds." And then she stalked out of the hotel suite.
Once Yvonne had departed, Reynolds sat at the desk and wrote three letters to be mailed on the occasion of his death. One was to a lawyer in Pittsburgh he had been corresponding with about his will. The second was to Madame Heloise at the Paradise Hotel in the same city. And the third was to an address in New York City. This letter was the shortest of the three, merely announcing the death of a man whose name would be completely unfamiliar to anyone who knew the gambler William Reynolds.
He sealed the envelopes and added a note with instructions for their posting. Then Reynolds went into the bedroom of the suite. The oil lamp was too low to see properly, so he turned it up higher and laid out his suit for the morning. The rest of his things that had not already been packed, Reynolds folded away and placed in his trunk. Then he closed the heavy lid.
It was still early, but January evenings were dark even in New Orleans. Reynolds needed to be up and gone long before dawn. He undressed quietly and got into the bed. Even if he didn't sleep, he could rest enough so that he wouldn't be exhausted facing Leclerc. Yvonne was correct about one thing. The man was a coward, but even a coward could get off a lucky shot once in a blue moon. So Reynolds needed for his nerves to be steady.
"Don't do it. Please." The small voice was faint in the darkness, but the body was warm under the duvet.
Reynolds took a deep breath and took the boy in his arms. "I must or else I will lose my reputation. What is it they say about there being a certain Honor amongst thieves? Well, this is a matter of my Honor, Boy, and I shall not shirk it."
"But it's not worth getting killed over!" Brian gulped. He had been lying there in the bed since they returned from the market, picturing horrible scenarios in his mind's eye.
"I am not planning to be killed, Boy. If handled correctly no one will be killed. Not even that idiot Leclerc."
"Please! It isn't worth it," begged Brian. "I'm not worth it."
"But you are, Brian. You are worth it. And besides, Leclerc trifling with you and putting his hands on you is MY business. It shows disrespect for something that belongs to me alone and I cannot allow that. No man can allow that and not be thought a fool." Reynolds wrapped his arms even tighter around Brian and drew him in close. The boy's face was wet with tears, which the gambler wiped away with the back of his hand. "Why didn't you tell me that Leclerc had been bothering you?"
"Because I was afraid of something like this, that's why! I know that you have a quick temper. You threatened to horsewhip that man in Louisville who put his hands on me at the racetrack. And you warned that other fellow who gave me the flowers on the riverboat coming down here that he better get off at the next stop or you'd throw him overboard!"
Reynolds laughed. "I didn't think you heard that, Boy. Yes, that man got off the boat pronto, that is certain."
"I don't think it's funny," said Brian, softly. "I don't know why you're laughing when you could be dead tomorrow. I didn't want you doing anything dangerous. Anything that could get you killed! That's why I was afraid to tell you in the first place!"
"Brian, if you had told me immediately then perhaps things would not have come to this pass. Perhaps Leclerc would have backed off with a warning -- but I doubt it. He thinks that if he wants something then it is his to take. And he tried to take what he wanted -- which was you. So I must teach him a lesson in what happens to thieves."
"I would never have let him take me!" Brian insisted. "Do you think I'd have gone away with that fop?"
Reynolds touched Brian's face lightly. "With both Leclerc and his servant to seize you, you mightn't have had a choice, Boy. They would have had you far away if those kind ladies had not hindered their escape until I reached the market." Reynolds smiled as he remembered the furious expression of Mama Essie, the pralines woman, as she blocked Leclerc's path.
"Madame Benet said that both you and the Frenchman might end up in prison for dueling," Brian sniffed. "That is, if you live!"
"That won't happen either," Reynolds answered calmly. "I have already arranged that this engagement will not be disturbed."
"You mean... you bribed the authorities?"
Reynolds sighed. "Let us say that I convinced them to look the other way tomorrow. That is the way things are done here, Boy. It's the way of the world."
"I hate the way of the world, then!" Brian wept. "And what will happen to me when you're dead? Will THAT be the 'way of the world,' too? I'll be prey to any scoundrel who would like to take me. And there will nothing that I can do about it!"
"Brian, listen to me carefully," Reynolds demanded. "Our trunks are packed. After I leave in the morning, have Madame Benet's servant load our things into her closed carriage. You and Yvonne will wait here until I return -- or until you hear word of my Fate. Either way, Yvonne's man will take you to Mobile. Go to the Franklin Hotel. That is where I stay when I am in the city, so they will know my name. Show the manager the Letter of Credit in my moneybelt. He will recognize it and take good care of you. Remain at the Franklin until you can make arrangements to return to Pittsburgh, either via the river or up the coast."
"Return... by myself?" Brian trembled.
"If you must," said Reynolds. "You can do it, Brian. There is no other way. You cannot linger in New Orleans no matter what happens and returning to Pittsburgh is the surest course of action. My moneybelt is under the pillow, as usual." Reynolds always slept with his stake, enclosed in a smooth leather belt, either under his pillow or the mattress of their bed. Otherwise he wore the belt underneath his embroidered waistcoat. "When you dress tomorrow you will put it on beneath your clothes. Take out cash only as you need it until you reach Pittsburgh. The remainder of my stake I have deposited in the Commerce Bank here in New Orleans. When you arrive safely at Madame Heloise's, have her take you to the office of Thomas J. Wentworth, Esq. He is an attorney with whom I have been in correspondence. He will have my money transferred to a secure bank in Pittsburgh."
Brian took a deep breath. "You sound like... like it's a sure thing that you'll be killed!"
"No, Boy! It is not a sure thing at all. I have no wish to be killed. This plan is merely what you must do in dire extremity. Always hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Always. Never be caught flat-footed, do you hear me?"
"Yes, sir," Brian whispered.
"This Wentworth holds my will and is the executor of my estate, such as it is. I had the document drawn up and left with him last June, before we departed from Pittsburgh. It names my ward, Master Brian A. Kinney, as my sole heir. There should be enough money, if Wentworth handles things wisely, to see you through school and into college or a suitable profession."
Brian pressed his face against his master's chest. "But I don't want to go to school or into a suitable profession! And I don't want to go back to Pittsburgh! I just want to be with YOU! Can't we just run away? We're packed now! We can leave tonight and be far away by morning!"
"No," said Reynolds, firmly. "I MUST do this -- and I shall, Boy. My honor is at stake. I am not a coward. And I won't run away in the dead of the night."
"I hate you!" Brian cried in a passion. "You don't care if you leave me all alone! You don't care how hurt I will be! And you don't care what happens to me! Lawyers and wills be damned!" Brian lashed out at his master with his fist. He wanted to hit him. To hurt him.
But Reynolds held the Boy fast. "You are wrong, Brian. I know that you don't understand it now, but when you are a grown man you will understand. A man cannot live without Honor or without respect. Even a lowly gambler cannot succeed without it. My life and my luck depend on the image that I project. And on my belief in myself. Therefore, I can allow no man to make a fool of me. Not Pascal Leclerc. Not even you, Boy. Always remember that. Always."
"I suppose you would kill me, too, if your Honor told you to?" Brian retorted.
Reynolds' voice was even and deadly. "Yes, if you betrayed me. I would not hesitate to kill you. Otherwise I would be less than a man. And then I might as well be dead myself."
Brian lay utterly still, contemplating this new fact of his life. But he didn't feel afraid of his master. Or at least no more afraid than he had felt before. Brian had always been aware that this man held total power over his life and Fate. This only clarified it. If Brian ever betrayed him, that power would be used to end his life.
"I won't! You know I won't! Never!" he cried.
"I know you won't, Boy. But besides the issue of my personal Honor, I also vowed to protect you with my life. I failed in that vow when Leclerc almost made off with you. I must let every man know that he cannot do such a thing and hope to escape. That is why I MUST fight this duel, even at the risk of my own life. After all, what is a gambler worth if he will not take a small risk?" Reynolds turned over onto his side and closed his eyes. The Boy was wrapped tightly in his arms. "Go to sleep now. That is all we can do until the morrow."
When Brian opened his eyes it was already daylight. He sat bolt upright in the bed and looked around the room. His master had long since departed.
Brian jumped from the bed and pulled his blue robe around himself. He darted into the sitting room. There he saw Madame Benet sitting at the table, drinking tea and perusing the newspaper as if nothing were amiss.
"Bonjour, cheri. Sit and have a beignet." She offered him a plate of puffy rolls dusted with sugar.
"Why didn't he wake me!" the Boy cried.
"A growing boy needs his rest. And his food. So sit now and break your fast. I will pour your tea. I know that you like it sweet." Yvonne spooned some honey into a cup and then poured the tea on top of it, stirring briskly.
The Boy sat down at the table and stared into his cup. "When... when will we hear anything?" asked Brian, hesitantly.
"I do not know," Yvonne admitted. "We can only wait. It is possible that this affair was halted by the authorities and they are sorting it out at the courthouse."
"No," replied Brian, dismally. "That won't happen. He told me that he had already taken care of the authorities. So they wouldn't stop the duel."
"So," sighed Yvonne. "Our William thinks of everything, the idiot! He has neatly set himself up to be killed!"
Brian put his head down on the white linen tablecloth and covered his face with his crossed arms. He didn't want this female to see him crying. To think that he was weak and womanish. Brian was well aware of how other people regarded him. They saw him as something less than fully human. As a child. As a toy. Never as a man, certainly. And without even the status of a mistress. Just... Reynolds' Boy. And if Reynolds was now dead, then his Boy had no identity at all. It seemed as if everyone else in the world, besides his master and himself, had forgotten the existence of a person named Brian Kinney. And regardless of how William Reynolds had planned things and arranged for Brian's future, Brian was well aware of what his likely Fate would be. He'd be taken by the first man who fancied him and then passed from hand to hand until he lost his looks completely and was finally discarded. That is, if he lived that long.
Brian drank his tea and then went back into the bedroom to wash and dress. He put on his simple brown suit. It was a little tight, but it was the best that he owned to wear for traveling on dusty roads in a carriage. He wrapped Reynolds' moneybelt around his waist and cinched it as tight as he could. Then he tucked his cambric shirt over the belt and into his britches. The belt still fit loosely around Brian's slim middle, but with his jacket on it shouldn't be too apparent, he decided. Brian placed his brush and a bottle of his special scent into his trunk and closed and locked it. Reynolds's much larger trunk was already locked and waiting by the door of the suite.
Brian heard the door open and a man's voice in the sitting room. His heart leaped -- but then he recognized it as the voice of Marcus Jerome, the gambler who had acted as Reynolds' Second. He was speaking to Madame Yvonne in a low voice. Brian pressed his ear to the bedroom door, but could not make out what they were saying. Then the woman called him to come into the sitting room.
"Yes, ma'am?" said Brian. He came out of the bedroom and stood as still as death. Jerome brushed by him and walked into the bedroom. Brian watched the man pick up his trunk and carry it out the door of the suite, while Madame Benet's coachman, Aubert, carried down the larger trunk.
Madame Yvonne Benet was standing, her face like stone, holding his coat and cap. "Do you have everything, Master Brian?"
"Yes," he said. He glanced once more around the suite. "I have everything."
The woman helped Brian on with his coat and handed him his cap. Then she leaned down and kissed his cheek softly. "Bon chance, my dear. Adieu."
Brian walked slowly through the lobby of the Hotel St. Louis. He assumed that the bill had already been settled because the concierge nodded to him as he went out the front door. Madame Benet's closed carriage was waiting. Aubert, the coachman, was already in place up on the box. Marcus Jerome opened the door and boosted the Boy into the carriage, shutting the door firmly behind him.
"That was quick, Boy," said Reynolds, leaning up against the corner of the compartment. "I am glad to see that you didn't lollygag. Do you have the moneybelt?"
Brian stared at his master in shock. "I... yes, sir. I'm wearing it."
"Good Boy." Reynolds rapped on the ceiling sharply with his fist and the carriage moved forward with a jerk.
Brian threw himself into his master's lap, folding his arms around his waist and burying his face in the front of the gambler's black greatcoat.
"Not so rough, if you please, Boy," Reynolds gasped.
Brian drew back as Reynolds opened his coat. That's when Brian saw the blood seeping from the wrapping just under the man's left armpit. "Mother of God! What happened?" Brian cried.
"That damned blockhead Leclerc is what happened!" said Reynolds in annoyance. "We paced out the distance and faced one another. Leclerc's Second counted to three and said to fire. I figured that Leclerc couldn't hit me, even at twenty paces, so I held off. Leclerc's first shot misfired. Those flintlocks balk more than half the time, and his pistol looked woefully under-used. So I pointed my own pistol upwards and shot into the air. Then I said to him, 'My Honor is satisfied, monsieur. Will you now yield?'"
"Then... then how were you wounded?" Brian asked.
Reynolds shook his head. "Leclerc was furious with me. He felt that my shooting into the air was an insult to his damned manhood! That I felt that he wasn't even worth my taking aim at him. Which is true, by the way." Reynolds laughed raggedly. "So he lowered and took a second shot. He was aiming for my heart. You can see that he didn't quite make it!" He touched his side gingerly. "Just a graze. I hardly even feel it," he lied.
"But...it's... it's so near to your heart!" said Brian. A matter of inches, he thought. And he began to pray thankfully to himself.
"Not at all. I've had worse. Much worse," said Reynolds, dismissively. "Of course, that stupid Leclerc began screaming his fool head off the moment he saw my blood flow. Screaming that he'd showed that Jew bastard what Honor was all about. And then he yelled that he would show my Boy what it was all about as well, when he came to claim you after I was safely dead." Reynolds shrugged. "So -- I had to kill him."
"You... you killed Monsieur Leclerc?" Brian shivered.
"Of course." Reynolds narrowed his piercing blue eyes. "You see, Brian, unlike Pascal Leclerc, when I take aim for someone's heart, I don't miss." He shifted his position on the carriage seat and eased himself back against his Boy, letting Brian take the weight of his wounded body. "That's much better. I am sorry, Boy, but we will have to forego the Mardi Gras this year. But there's always next year. Yes, always next year."
And Madame Benet's carriage continued on its way out of New Orleans and towards Mobile.
Continue on to "The Decision".
©Gaedhal, February 2004.
Posted February 14, 2004.