We try our best, though.
"I require two pints... two? Yes, I think that ought to do it. Of New England rum, please, Mr. Wilde," she requested. "What were you talking of?"
She hadn't any vessel, only her open wicker basket with fl our and herbs and the usual hastily penned scraps of half-finished poetry keeking out, so I pulled a rippled glass jar from a shelf." Hopstill was proving that New York at large is about as charitable as a coffin vendor in a plague town."
"Rum," Hopstill announced sourly. "I didn't take either you or the reverend for rum imbibers."
Mercy smoothed back a lock of her sleek but continually escaping black hair as she absorbed this remark. Her bottom lip rests just behind her top lip, and she tucks the bottom one in slightly when she's ruminating. She did then.
"Did you know, Mr. Wilde," she inquired, "that elixir proprietatis is the only medicine that can offer immediate relief when dysentery threatens? I pulverize saffron with myrrh and aloe and then suffer the concoction to stand a fortnight in the hot sun mixed with New England rum."
Mercy passed me a quantity of dimes. It was still good to see so many disks of metal money clinking around again. Coins vanished completely during the Panic, replaced by receipts for restaurant meals and tickets for coffee. A man could hew granite for ten hours and get paid in milk and Jamaica Beach clams.
"That'll teach you to question an Underhill, Hops," I advised over my shoulder.
"Did Mr. Hopstill ask a question, Mr. Wilde?" Mercy mused.
That's how she does it, and damned if it doesn't fasten my tongue to my teeth every single time. Two blinks, a gauzy lost lamb expression, a remark she pretends is unrelated, and you're hung up by your toes. Hopstill sniffed blackly, understanding he was good as banished from the continent. And by a girl who turned twenty-two this past June. I don't know where she learns such things.
"I'll carry this as far as your corner," I offered, turning out from behind the bar with Mercy's spirits.
Thinking all the while, Are you really going to do this? I'd been fast friends with Mercy for well over a decade. It could all stay the same. You lifting things for her and watching the curl at the back of her neck and working out what she's reading so you can read it too.
"Why are you leaving your bar?" She smiled at me.
"I've been gripped by a spirit of adventure."
New Street was aswarm, the sheen of polished sable beaver hats punishing my eyes above the sea of navy frock coats. It's only a two-block street terminating to the north at Wall, all giant stone storefronts with awnings shielding the pedestrians from the scorching blaze. Pure commerce. From every canopy hangs a sign, and plastered to every sign and glued to every wall is a poster: PARTI-COLORED NECKERCHIEFS, TEN FOR A DOLLAR. WHITTING'S HAND SOAP A GUARANTEE AGAINST RINGWORM. All the populous streets on the island are papered in shrieking broadsheets, no exceptions, the flaked headlines of yesteryear just visible under the freshly glued advertisements. I glimpsed my brother Val's smirk translated into woodcut and tacked to a door, then caught myself stifling a grimace: VALENTINE WILDE SUPPORTS THE FORMATION OF THE NEW YORK CITY POLICE FORCE.
Well and good. I'd probably oppose it, in that case. Crime is rampant, robbery expected, assault common, murder often unsolved.
But supposing Val was in favor of the violently debated new police, I'd take my chances with anarchy. Up to the previous year, apart from a recently formed group of hapless men called Harper's Police, who wore blue coats to advertise themselves as fit for beatings by the spirited, there was no such thing as a Peeler in this town. There was a Watch in New York, certainly. They were ancient hangdogs parched for money who toiled all day and then slept all night in watchmen's booths, ardently watched by the brimming population of criminals. We'd in excess of four hundred thousand souls prowling the streets, counting the perpetual piebald mob of visitors from around the globe. And less than five hundred watchmen, snoring in vertical coffins as their dreams bounced around like tenpins inside their leather helmets. As for daylight keepers of the peace, don't even ask. There were nine of them.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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