Virtue

byAcaciaBlossom©

On a muggy morning in September, the first of Virtue Bell's days free from her work in the home of a butcher-shop proprietor that month, she decided to go out walking. As her lodgings (above a chop-house) and employment were both located in Duane Street, between Hudson Street and Broad Way, it seemed like a remarkable opportunity to go abroad.

Choosing at random, Virtue decided to walk east before following the general flow of market-goers south, down Broad Way. It had rained the night before, providing many large puddles on the cobblestones for passing carts to splash through; one, over-laden with baskets of apples, caused such a large splash that it left muddy spots on her quilted petticoat. She brushed at them with one hand, but couldn't be annoyed when she felt so fine and free. Though nobody could see them, she had put on the new garters she 'd bought from a peddler, and the knowledge that they were there contributed to her fine feeling.

When Broad Way ended, Virtue bore left and continued down Greenwich Street -- she did not often walk this far from her home, but there seemed to be no reason to turn back. A few men passing by did give her disgraceful looks, but she pretended not to notice them and they refrained from harassing her. Still, she took a moment to adjust her muslin kerchief and make sure that it fully covered her chest.

Greenwich Street ran all the way to the south end of Manhattan, to the new park of Bowling-Green. Well, it was not quite new, but it was still so well maintained that it appeared to have only been set up a few days before. Unlike the wilderness north of the city, those walking in it were protected from ruffians and highwaymen by the regular appearance of the guards paid by the wealthy men who had created the park.

Her shoes had begun to come a little loose, so she sought out a large birch-tree with a thick, low branch to sit upon where she could lean over and tie the ribbons over the arch of her foot. It was unfortunate that her bent form attracted the attention of another shiftless rogue, who watched as she exerted herself in tying both ribbons before appearing at her side as if by magic.

"Good morning, sweet lady," he said, his eyes lingering over her bosom. Virtue would have liked to ignore him, but there was no telling what such a man might do if rebuffed too harshly: some men would accept her disinterest with good grace and depart to look for more willing prey, but there was always the chance of offense, anger, and violence. Accordingly, she only said, "Good day."

"Would you care to walk with me a while?" he inquired with a gleaming eye.

"No thank you, sir, I am content alone."

"Nonsense," he said. "A pretty girl like you wants pleasant company! And it would please me -- do you not wish to please a handsome gentleman? If an introduction is wanting, I will give you one: I am Mr. Peter Angier, apprentice to a silversmith. And you are -?"

"I do not think your company would be pleasant," Virtue answered, beginning to worry that he might not be easily turned away by any means. "I wish that you would leave me, and if you are a gentleman you will not disoblige me by remaining."

"Hoity-toity!" Angier said, but his expression was one of pleasure. "Well, I will go, if you'll only give me a kiss."

At this Virtue could not stay in his presence, and tried to stand. "Sir, I am an honest woman, and I will not be treated thus." He, being of superior strength, had little trouble in pinning her to the tree with her hands above her head.

"Then I will take my own pleasure, you bitch," he declared, and kissed her roughly before shouting for a guard. Virtue struggled against him, but was utterly unable to free herself before the guard strode to Angier's side.

"What is the matter, sir?" he asked, for all the world as though nothing out of the ordinary was occurring.

"Sir!" Virtue cried to him. "This man has assaulted my person and offered me gross indecencies! I pray you, seize him!"

Angier took hold of her chin between forefinger and thumb and pressed her mouth closed, saying, "Quiet, jade. Guard, this harlot enticed me, and when I was taking the pleasure she so freely offered, she tried to make off with my watch and the coins in my pocket."

"This is not so! He is telling vicious lies because I would not accept his advances."

A crowd had begun to form about them, attracted by the cries and the prospect of some entertainment at the expense of a prostitute. "She looks like a harlot," said one man, and his neighbor supported him. "I have seen her in a house near the Red Lion Tavern on the East River, I would swear it."

"Perhaps we ought to examine her body for signs of the Pox?" suggested a third, with far too eager a look in his eyes.

Then yet another man spoke out, more soberly and with less interest. "No," he said, "I recognize her from the notices."

"What's that?" asked the guard, frowning.

"There is a notice in the Advertiser that has run for three days, which matches this woman exactly. Do you wish to see?" he asked, holding out the newspaper tucked beneath his arm. The guard looked doubtful a moment, then ordered the gentleman to read it aloud, so that all could hear.

"Notice," read the gentleman: "Run away, a servant girl nearly through her indentures; had on a blue check linen gown, blue petticoat, brown shoes, and silk stockings and new red garters that she took from her mistress."

"We can't see her garters," someone called out from the crowd, which was ever-growing as the entertainment became more enjoyable. "Her stockings ain't silk," complained another, as the first demanded again to be shown Virtue's garters. "She might have sold the silk ones for ready money," a woman suggested.

"We may see her garters later," decided the guard, "providing she does match the rest of the description."

"This is all madness!" Virtue declared. "I am no harlot and no runaway. I work for a butcher in Duane Street, fetch me there and they will know me."

"Be quiet, woman," ordered the guard. "We will hear all the notice before you go anywhere. Man, hold her." Angier tightened his hold on her wrists and pulled them up an inch or two higher, so that her feet were not firmly placed on the ground. "Read on."

"She is below the middle height, clear complexion'd and fresh color'd, with brown hair, green eyes, and a buxom figure," read the gentleman.

"That's her, sure as anything!" shouted a woman in the crowd. "Very buxom, indeed," agreed a man.

"We must take off her tucker to be certain of it," said Angier, smiling.

"Do not dare to touch my clothing!" Virtue shouted, and the guard frowned.

"Take her kerchief off her and stop her mouth with it," he said, and Angier happily complied. "What does the rest of the notice say?"

"Has a pretty way of walking and carrying herself, and tells falsehoods with a sincere air of innocence. Upon return to Hainsley Farm above Harlem, the bearer may expect a very handsome reward," read the gentleman, folding the newspaper up again once he had finished.

Once again, the crowd reacted with eagerness. "It is her!" they called. "Send the bitch up north, back to her master."

"We must see her garters now, I think," said the guard. "It might be coincidence." If Virtue could have spoken, she would have protested that garters might be coincidental as well, but she could not. Angier groped among her petticoats, lifting them up very high, so that almost all of her legs were exposed to the view of the crowd, who roared in approval.

"They are indeed the garters!" Angier exclaimed. "As the one who apprehended her, I will take her to her master."

"You would not have known if not for me," put in the reading gentleman, his brow furrowed.

"You will both go together," said the guard. "A handsome reward split in half is still a pretty coin. Use your neck-clothes to bind her wrists, and to keep that gag in her mouth, gentlemen, and I'll escort you to the public coach to Harlem."

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