1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 19
“Praise be for a real bed,” said Gayle Mason. Examining the item of furniture in question and then her two companions, she added: “It’ll be a tight fit, though. That’s without adding any extraneous males, you understand.”
Julie Mackay and Vicky Short both grinned, albeit for different reasons. The down-timer’s grin was cheerful, recalling instances in which her bed had been shared with a male whom she did not consider extraneous at all, one Darryl McCarthy. She wouldn’t be enjoying his company this night, though, because the town they were staying at — say better, village; better yet, hamlet — lacked an inn and the only cottage they’d found with an extra room the inhabitants were willing to rent had nothing more than a bed any American would have called a single bed.
The bed was normally shared by two young daughters — neither more than ten years old — who would contribute to the family’s finances tonight by sleeping on the floor of the main room. The men in their party got to sleep in the barn. Which was at least a lot roomier.
The up-timer, Julie, whose enjoyment of marital privileges had now lasted long enough — three years, almost — that she took them for granted, had a grin on her face that was more resigned than anything else.
“Praise be,” she muttered, remembering less seventeenth-century times when she and Gayle, dyed-in-the-wool Americans, would have said Thank God without even thinking about it. But both of them were now romantically linked to Calvinists, who took the third commandment dead seriously.
Vicky left the room to bring in the few supplies they’d want for the night. Julie and Gayle exchanged a rueful smile.
“Look on the bright side,” said Julie. “Most of what we grew up hearing about up-tight fun-hating straight-laced Puritans turned out to be bullshit.”
Gayle chuckled. “Complete bullshit, at that. But” — she glanced around quickly, to make sure they were still alone — “dear God, they take their theology seriously, don’t they?”
Julie sat down on the bed and bounced up and down on it a couple of times. “Well, at least it isn’t too soft. With three of us in it, a soft bed would leave the middle one buried beneath the other two. Ain’t it the truth about the theology? But I will say this: it works mostly in our favor, when it comes to dealing with the menfolk. At least of the husband variety. The Calvinists are so bound and determined to pick a fight with the Catholic church that if the pope frowns on sex, they approve of it, and if the bishops and priests yap about the virtues of celibacy your good Calvinist — sure as hell my husband — is bound and determined to prove the papist bastids is full of crap.”
The smile what came to her face this time wasn’t rueful in the least. “Which is fine by me.”
She then bestowed upon Gayle a look that might be called speculative.
Gayle shook her head. “I can’t say from personal experience one way or the other. Oliver’s no prude, that’s for sure, but he isâ€¦ what’s the word?”
“Yeah, that’s it. When it comes to some things, anyway. And it’s not as if opportunity is knocking. It’s one thing for married couples like you and Alex — even Darryl and Vicky, for that matter — to figure out ways to squeeze in a little nookie here and there. But when you’ve got two people like me and Oliver who are groping around trying to figure outâ€¦”
Gayle shrugged. “Everything. How we feel about each other. What he’s going to do with his life now — and do I want to fit myself into that? Because whatever he does you can be sure and certain it’s going to involve a grim determination to shorten one Charles Stuart by about eight inches — and let’s kick over the whole damn rotten applecart while we’re at it. Not to mention that he’s got a bunch of kids to deal with if and when we can find them.”
She took a deep breath and sighed it out. “Like I said. Everything. And while we’re doing so there is no way that Mr. Serious Cromwell is going to dally with my affections. As they say. Whichâ€¦ I have to admit, just makes him that much more attractive to me. The more time I spend in his company, the more time I want to spend in it. Which my hard-headed grandma once told me is the only definition of ‘falling in love’ that’ll stand the test of time. I think she was probably right.”
She went to the room’s one tiny window and peered out. As bad as the glass was, she couldn’t see much. In the seventeenth century, except for palaces and the homes of the wealthy, through a glass, darkly was a simple statement of fact.
“The truth is,” Gayle said quietly, “if Oliver and I do get married — and that’s all that man would ever settle for — the only big problem I see is that Puritans seem to find a theological justification for the wife being subordinate to the husband. And that’s sure not something I agree with. I’m no feminist, but –”
Julie laughed. Gayle turned to give her an inquisitive look. “What’s so funny?”
“You.” She waved at herself. “I guess I should say, us. I once said that except same thing to Melissa Mailey. ‘I’m no feminist, but — ‘”
Gayle smiled. “She must have reamed you a new one.”
“No, actually, what she did was worse. She just made fun of me. Ridiculed me, dammit. What she said was that every working-class American woman — girls, too — said exactly the same thing. ‘I’m no feminist, but.‘ And then we proceed to follow the ‘but’ with the entire litany of feminist demands that we’re in favor of. Each and every one.”
Julie raised her hand and began counting off her fingers. “Lessee, now. Right to vote. Check. Right to hold property. Check. Right to get paid the same for the same work. Check. Right to divorce the bum when he turns out to be a bum. Check. Right to make contracts in your own name. Check.”
She dropped her hands. “Melissa challenged me to come up with a single feminist demand I didn’t agree with. Best I could come up with was that I thought burning bras was stupid.”
Gayle chuckled. “Same thing I would have said.”
“Yeah — and then Melissa explained to me that that was a bunch of bullshit invented by assholes. Turns out no feminist ever burned a bra.”
“Nope. Melissa told me the myth got started when a group of women protested the Miss America contest in Atlantic City — that was in 1968, if I remember right — by tossing bras along with girdles, cosmetics and high-heeled shoes into a big trash can. They also crowned a sheep. But they never actually set fire to the can.”
“Ha!” said Gayle, shaking her head again. “You learn something new every day.”
She looked back through the window. “I wish I could see the future better than I can see through this thing. I have no idea — well, okay, that’s not true; I have an idea, you bet I do — what’ll happen between me and Oliver. Butâ€¦”
“Don’t sweat the wifely obedience business too much, Gayle,” Julie said. “Alex will swear by the same silly crap.” Her voice got a little sing-songy and picked up a Scottish burr: “It says right here in the Good Book that — prattle, prattle, prattle. But in the real world? He never pushes it. Men who are sure of themselves — which is part of what makes them attractive to us, let’s face it — just don’t seem to feel the need to keep proving who’s wearing the pants in the family.”
She and Gayle both looked at Gayle’s clothing. Which consisted of a bodice, ankle-length skirt and a bonnet — the same thing Julie was wearing herself.
“I sure do miss blue jeans,” said Gayle. “Although I admit this stuff isn’t as uncomfortable as I would have thought seeing it in movies. By now, I’m used to linen instead of cotton. Don’t even notice the difference anymore.”
Julie nodded. “That’s pretty much how it is being married to a seventeenth century fella, too — as long as you pick the right one. There are some differences, even a few big ones, but after a while you hardly notice anymore. But I emphasize the part about picking the right one.”
Gayle turned away from the window and cocked her head slightly. “So what do you think about Oliver? Think he’d be a right one for me?”
Julie pursed her lips. “Wellâ€¦ He’s a littleâ€¦ Well. Scary, I guess.”
Gayle snorted softly. “We are talking about Oliver Cromwell, girl. The Oliver Cromwell. Cut off a king’s head, ruled England like a dictator for years. Not to mention, if you listen to Darryl, slaughtered half the Irish.”
“Darryl hasn’t said that in a long time. I don’t think he even still believes it. The truth is — he won’t admit, at least not yet — but he likes Oliver. A lot, if I don’t miss my guess.”
“No, I don’t think you do,” said Gayle. “Darryl’s a real hillbilly and when you get down to it, for all the obvious differences there’s something very hillbillyish about Oliver Cromwell too. If nothing else, they’re both bloody-minded in that scary-as-all-hell practical way they have about them.”
There was silence in the room, for a moment. Then Julie said: “But I’m not trying to duck the question. He’s a little scary, but the truth is I like Oliver myself. A lot, by now. And, yeah, I think he’d do okay by you, Gayle.”
A grin came back to her. “Keeping in mind that some people — whole lot of people, being honest about it — would say that you and me are pretty hillbillyish ourselves.”
Vicky came back into the room, carrying a bundle in her hands. She studied the bed for a moment.
“How’ll we do it?” she asked. “Decide which of us has to sleep in the middle, I mean. Draw straws? Flip a coin — assuming either of you has one, because I don’t.”
Gayle and Julie looked at each other.
“We could fight for it,” said Gayle.
Vicky sneered. “Me — against a couple of hillbillies? Do I look mad? I’d as soon wrestle a bull. No, we’ll do it civilized.”
In the end, they settled on rock-scissors-paper, after they explained the rules to Vicky.
Vicky won right off and picked the side away from the wall. Julie lost the runoff to Gayle.
“I’m fucked,” she grumbled.
“Not tonight,” said Vicky. “There’d be no room even if you weren’t in the middle.”