I blinked. But then, I had often been shocked by the sage opinions bar guests had gifted me regarding the members of the Catholic church, the only breathing examples they'd ever seen being the Irish variety. Bar guests who were otherwise - for all appearances - perfectly sane. First thing the priests do with the novice nuns is sodomize them, and the priests as do thoroughest work rise up the ranks, that's the system - they aren't even fully ordained until their first rape is done with. Why, Tim, I thought you savvied the pope lived off the flesh of aborted fetuses; it's common enough knowledge. I said no way in hell, is what, the very idea of letting an Irish take the extra room, what with the devils they summon for their rituals, would that be right with little Jem in the house? Popery is widely considered to be a sick corruption of Christianity ruled by the Antichrist, the spread of which will quash the Second Coming like an ant. I don't bother responding to this brand of insanity for two reasons: idiots treasure their facts like newborns, and the entire topic makes my shoulders ache. Anyhow, I'm unlikely to turn the tide. Americans have been feeling this way about foreigners since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.
Hopstill misread my silence as agreement. He nodded, sipping his spirits." These beggars shall steal whatever isn't nailed down once they arrive here. We may as well save our breath."
It went without saying that they would arrive. I walk along the docks edging South Street only two blocks distant on my way home from Nick's pretty often, and they boast ships thick as the mice, carrying passengers plentiful as the fleas. They have done for years - even during the Panic, when I'd watched men starve. There's work to be had again now, railways to lay and warehouses to be built. But whether you pity the emigrants or rant about drowning them, on one subject every single citizen is in lockstep agreement: there's an unholy tremendous amount of them. A great many Irish, and all of those Catholics. And nearly everyone concurs with the sentiment that follows after: we haven't the means nor the desire to feed them all. If it gets any worse, the city fathers will have to pry open their wallets and start a greeting system - some way to keep foreigners from huddling in waterfront alleys, begging crusts from the pickpockets until they learn how to lift a purse. The week before, I'd passed a ship actively vomiting up seventy or eighty skeletal creatures from the Emerald Isle, the emigrants staring glassy-eyed at the metropolis as if it were a physical impossibility.
"That's none too charitable, is it, Hops?" I observed.
"Charity has nothing to do with it." He scowled, landing his cup on the counter with a dull ping. "Or rather, this particular metropolis will have nothing to do with charity in cases where charity is a waste of time. I should sooner teach a pig morals than an Irishman. And I'll take a plate of oysters."
I called out an order for a dozen with pepper to Julius, the young black fellow who scrubbed and cracked the shells. Hopstill is a menace to cheerful thought. It was hovering on the tip of my tongue to mention this to him. But just then, a dark gap cut into the spear of light arrowing down the stairs and Mercy Underhill walked into my place of employment.
"Good morning, Mr. Hopstill," she called in her tender little chant. "And Mr. Wilde."
If Mercy Underhill were any more perfect, it would take a long day's work to fall in love with her. But she has exactly enough faults to make it ridiculously easy. A cleft like a split peach divides her chin, for instance, and her blue eyes are set pretty wide, giving her an uncomprehending look when she's taking in your conversation. There isn't an uncomprehending thought in her head, however, which is another feature some men would find a fault. Mercy is downright bookish, pale as a quill feather, raised entirely on text s and arguments by the Reverend Thomas Underhill, and the men who notice she's beautiful have the devil's own time of it coaxing her face out of whatever's latest from Harper Brothers Publishing.
Excerpted from The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. Copyright © 2012 by Lyndsay Faye. Excerpted by permission of Amy Einhorn Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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