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Authors: Rochelle Hollander Schwab

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BOOK: Different Sin
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By the time a year had passed, David was surprised how much at home he felt in the chaotic, noisy metropolis. Lodging with friends helped, and agreeable evenings drinking with Elliot and Zach. He spent more hours with Zach alone, attending theater or wandering through one of the many art galleries that lined lower Broadway.

An exhibit at the National Academy of Design, early in 1857, attracted all three men. As usual they ended up at Pfaff’s. The smoke-filled cellar was crowded with hard-drinking, argumentative newsmen, tired doctors from New York Hospital, the clique of Bohemian artists and writers that out-of-towners flocked to see.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit,” Zach said, hoisting his tankard, “especially the Hudson River landscapes. They put me in mind of the country upstate, when I was a boy.”

David voiced his admiration of William Mount’s rural Long Island scenes. Then, his tongue loosened by the beer and companionship, he blurted, “When I was a boy I used to dream of seeing my drawings hanging in a gallery.”

Elliot snorted. “We’re a damn sight better off with steady jobs. For every artist whose work’s in the Academy, there’s twenty sleeping in their studios because they can’t afford a boardinghouse.”

“Still, it would be good to have our drawings last longer than yesterday’s newspaper.”

Zach touched his arm. “More people read the daily papers than ever set foot in an art gallery, David.”

“I suppose.”

“And our work has an influence on the public. Yours more so than mine: one picture’s worth a thousand words. Take your drawing of those new immigrants just landed at Castle Garden.”

David nodded, pleased that Zach remembered his sketch of the sweating, stoic immigrant women, nursing their infants under the furtive privacy of a woolen shawl, keeping anxious watch over frightened, eager children while their menfolk went in search of ticket agents and information bureau.

“Even the Know-Nothings among Leslie’s subscribers were bound to see they’re just families no different than their own. And at least a few will see immigrants as being a little more their fellow men as a result. Just as Greeley’s efforts at hammering away at the institution of slavery will change our readers’ sensibilities on that score.”

“Huh!” Elliot scoffed. “Nine out of ten of those immigrants are ignorant, Pope-ridden scum! Is there anything that isn’t a mission with you, Zach? You don’t even have the excuse of being a churchgoer like Dick.”

“You don’t have to sit in church to feel the sufferings of your fellow men! I learned my zeal at my mother’s knee. More than one occasion, she fed some poor runaway at our table, and rested uneasy till she knew him safe.”

Elliot snorted again. “Anyhow, drawing’s just a trade like any other. And a damn sight easier way to make a living than most. There’s no need to make more of it.”

“I doubt you’d find many at
Leslie’s
agreeing with you,” David said. “Most of them would give notice in a minute if they could live off the sale of their paintings.”

He fell to thinking of Zach’s words. He’d rarely made a conscious effort to influence others with his sketches; in fact, his own feelings toward a subject were often unclear till he’d captured it on paper. “I’m afraid I never gave thought to changing the Know-Nothings’ views,” he confessed, hoping he hadn’t lowered his friend’s opinion of him.

Zach smiled. “I daresay you give yourself too little credit,” he said, laying his hand warmly on David’s a moment.

The night air struck their faces in chill contrast to the crowded tavern as they climbed back to the street. Zach shoved his hands in his pockets. “We’re in for another cold snap. A fire in our stoves will feel good tonight.”

Elliot laughed. “I intend warming myself at a better fire than that. I won’t bother asking you to join me, Zach. David?”

David hesitated, feeling urgency stir within him. But he’d accompanied Elliot to one house or another some half dozen times, joining in hurried, joyless union with women whose faces and bodies he barely remembered by the morning after. Each time, the warnings voiced by his father sounded louder in his mind. This wasn’t some small town. Who knew who had lain with these women or what diseases they carried? He’d thought of asking Zach to recommend a clean place, but it didn’t seem a thing he could ask this friend.

He shook his head. The chance of infection wasn’t worth the brief respite from lust lying with whores afforded.

Elliot turned away with a nonchalant wave of his hand. David turned his collar up against the wind and fell into step with Zach as they headed back to Mrs. Chapman’s.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Sleep eluded him that night. He tossed restlessly, his efforts to summon drowsiness driving it further from him. He turned onto his back, trying to ignore the urgent throbbing in his member, regretful now that he hadn’t accompanied Elliot to the brothel despite his fears.

Yet he’d never found more than brief, unsatisfactory respite lying with women. He thought suddenly of that first time he’d gone to a bawdy house, in company with his college friend, John Eustis. He’d been far too embarrassed to admit his disappointment to John afterwards. He’d walked alongside him in silence as they returned to the dormitory, trying to emulate John’s cocky, carefree grin.

He’d never approached—then or afterwards—the ecstatic heights that John had boasted of as they ambled back together, John smelling pungently of rich, masculine sweat, his broad shoulders straining his carelessly fastened shirt, his arm circling David’s shoulders in brief, warm comradeship.

David’s hand crept down of its own accord. Moaning in reluctance, he gave in to his pulsating need, surrendering himself to the relief of the familiar, lonely massage.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“The Glory of Young Men is their Strength.” Elliot’s voice wavered midway between scorn and envy as he read the caption printed under David’s sketch of a massively bulging bicep. “I suppose it’s all right for those with nothing better to do than stand around posing like Greek statues.”

David laughed. “That is a statue, so to speak. I drew it from a plaster cast Ottignon keeps in the lobby of his gymnasium to demonstrate his results. But the exhibition
was
impressive. I’ve never seen feats like some of his athletes performed.”

Zachary turned over his copy of
Leslie’s
, studying David’s half-page sketch of the gymnasium, the spectators in the flag-bedecked hall gazing open-mouthed at the gymnast soaring effortlessly on the flying rings—the highlight of the establishment’s semi-annual public exhibition. “I’ve let a few years go by since I last set foot in a gymnasium. I wouldn’t mind using some of Ottignon’s apparatus myself,” he mused.

Elliot guffawed, causing several heads to turn toward him with disapproval in the crowded boardinghouse parlor. “I’d like to see that, Zach, at your age.”

“You needn’t be so quick to sneer. I wasn’t referring to the rings. But I daresay this muscle building apparatus could benefit any of us. You’ll note,” Zach added, his finger lighting triumphantly halfway down the accompanying text, “that the list of members includes many persons of mature and even advanced ages.’”

David smiled. “Ottignon invited me to come back and try out his facilities with no charge.”

“Then by all means, let’s take him up on his invitation.” Zach folded his newspaper, beaming.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Without the hoopla of flags and orchestra, the gymnasium presented a different spectacle. A lone gymnast hoisted his body slowly above the level of the flying rings, toes pointed as he raised his legs to the horizontal, his biceps quivering as he held the position, then lowered himself into a straight-armed back somersault. The young men using the various pieces of apparatus paid him no more attention than they did the oversized mottoes on the walls. Their grunts and explosions of breath came at regular intervals in their rhythmic, self-absorbed repetitions. David stood a moment, eyes glued to their powerfully developed bodies.

Ottignon welcomed them effusively. The muscular proprietor led Zach and David through his establishment, pointing with pride to climbing ropes, vaulting horse, horizontal bars, pulley weights, dumbbells and curved boards for the development of abdominal muscles. David breathed deeply, savoring the pungent aroma of liniment mixed with sweat pouring from the bare chests of the straining athletes.

Zach cast his eye along the rack of graduated weights as Ottignon left them with an invitation to try their strength. “I lifted bar bells in my younger days,” he said, as he laid aside his jacket and shirt. “Though I suppose I’ll not be able to match the strength I had back then.” He hefted a set of weights, then reluctantly exchanged them for a lighter pair and fit them onto the bar.

David paused in the midst of unbuttoning his own shirt to watch him. Zach’s muscles tensed as he lifted the bar bell to chest height, then slowly raised it above his head. His bare chest was solid and firmly muscled beneath its crop of curling gray hair.

He’s not stout at all, David thought, realizing he’d expected him to be from his bulk and round face. In fact, unclothed, he looks nearly as well muscled as any of the men here. He stood motionless, unable to take his eyes from Zach as he started on another repetition of the exercise.

Zach lowered the bar, then caught David’s eye, smiling as if he’d guessed his thoughts. David flushed as he smiled back, embarrassed to be caught staring. Hurriedly he undid the rest of his buttons, and turned toward the rack of weights.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

He should’ve paid more attention to Ottignon’s caution not to overdo exercising the first time, David told himself ruefully that night. He could already feel the soreness in his shoulders as he pulled on his nightshirt. Doubtless he’d be stiff by morning.

A firm knock sounded on his door. Zach smiled ruefully as he stepped into the room. “I’m not in as good shape as I like to pretend. You’re a bit sore yourself, I’ll warrant.”

“I’m afraid so,” David admitted.

“It’s fortunate I have this, then.” Zach held out a jar of liniment. “It’s good stuff. Here, take off your nightshirt and I’ll rub it in for you.”

The liniment was good. He could feel its heat entering his muscles as Zach’s strong hands kneaded his shoulders, his thumbs pressing firmly between the blades. He closed his eyes, savoring the warm, pleasurable sensation.

Zach stripped off his shirt and settled himself in turn on the room’s one chair. David’s palms and fingertips tingled as he rubbed the liniment slowly into Zach’s firm shoulders and upper arms, feeling the warmth of his body under his hands.

Zach rose. He smiled as he shrugged his arms into his sleeves. David smiled back, realizing he’d forgotten to pull on his nightshirt again.

“David—”

Zach paused. He looked at David, his expression oddly wistful, then slowly shook his head. “I’ve forgotten what I meant to say.” His eyes dropped to his shirt buttons as he rapidly did them up. “Well, it’s late. We’d both do well to get a good night’s sleep.”

“I intend to,” David assured him.

He wasn’t sleepy though. He sank onto the chair, reaching for a novel he’d started a few days ago, decided after a few pages he wasn’t in the mood for reading either.

His sketchbook lay on top of the bureau. He hadn’t drawn much for his own pleasure since taking the job with
Leslie’s
. He reached for it, then closed his eyes to summon an image from memory. His fingers darted across the paper, recreating Zach’s solid figure as he prepared to heft the bar bell that afternoon.

David studied the drawing, remembering the warmth of Zach’s flesh under his hands, suddenly wondering how it would feel to run his hands down Zach’s muscled, hairy chest, then slide his palms downward till—

The sketchbook trembled in his hands. What in God’s name was he thinking of? He ripped the sketch from the book and shoved it into hisbottom bureau drawer.

He was scheduled to cover the first graduation ceremonies of the new school for the blind in the morning. Quickly he turned down the counterpane and climbed into bed, fixing his mind firmly on the upcoming assignment.

Chapter 6 — 1857

DROP WHAT YOU’RE WORKING ON FOR NOW and get these copied onto the blocks,” Frank Leslie directed his artists. He handed a photograph apiece to David, Elliot and William Waud, a young Englishman Leslie had recently taken on. “Our correspondent in St. Louis persuaded Dred Scott and his family to sit for daguerreotypes. We’re featuring them in the next issue. Give me quarter-page copies of Scott and his wife, and an eighth of a page on the daughters. Stick with it as long as it takes; you’ll be compensated for overtime.”

“Damnation!” Waud muttered after Leslie strode off again. “I had plans for this evening. The Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the poor blighter three months ago. Back in March. What’s he in such a bloody hurry for?”

Elliot grinned sardonically. “Leslie’s had a bee in his bonnet ever since Harper started his illustrated. Scared they’ll steal his thunder. Though you’d think people would be sick and tired of the nigger question by now.”

“I’m afraid we haven’t heard the last of it,” David said. “Take Greeley. Since the Court ruled that living in a free state didn’t free Scott legally, hardly a day goes by without Greeley running some story on the horrors of slavery. The decision’s turned a lot of moderates like him into abolitionists. It seems to be dividing the country even more.”

David turned back to his drawing table, propping the daguerreotype of Dred Scott up on the slanted board. The face of the black man in the portrait gave no hint of the fire that had caused him to sue his master for freedom after being returned to the slave state of Missouri. At least, there was nothing apparent to David in the man’s expression but a mixture of the dignity and weary resignation he’d often noted in the faces of elderly slaves back home.

You’d think he’d have had the good sense to stay up North when he had the chance, if he was so eager for freedom, David thought, instead of causing himself and everyone else so much trouble.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

David had to agree with Elliot. You’d think Greeley and his staff would be sick of the slavery issue by now, but day after day, week after week, the
Tribune
badgered its readers with horror stories collected from abolitionist travelers and culled from Southern newspapers. As the off-year, state election neared, Greeley’s campaign intensified. You could scarcely leaf through the paper without seeing a copy of an advertisement for some hapless whip-scarred runaway, or a lurid account of an innocent mulatto maiden, delivered into a den of iniquity to satisfy the debts of her impecunious half-brother.

BOOK: Different Sin
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