Part Two


He followed the trail of smoking ruins. Black clouds marked the destruction, inert stains against an overcast afternoon sky. They had burned the Ninth District draft office and sacked houses on Lexington Avenue. They had attacked the Twenty-first Street armory and ripped up railroad tracks above 42nd Street. By the time Waddley caught up with the rioters, they were assaulting the Colored Orphan Asylum.

     The Irish flooded over the expansive lawn, the strongest flow surging along the semi-circular carriage path and foaming up against the front door. Waddley stepped into the cascading mob and was engulfed by the heat of bodies, the stink of summer sweat and liquored breaths. His ears filled with the perpetual roar of hundreds of feet tramping over gravel, cut by scattershots of angry hollering and uproarious laughter. Chants rose up around him--Down with the niggers! He heard the clear peals of shattering glass and the hollower thunder of destruction inside the building. Somewhere above him, piano notes splattered out, abruptly silenced by the sound of splintering wood. Waddley looked up at the gaping windows alive with people flinging down toys, chairs, clothing, carpets. A knock-kneed boy ran by clasping to his chest a crush of maps and prints. Women toted pillowcases plump with booty over their shoulders, bent double by their loads, their grunts alternating with the clink of crockery. A stream of iron bedsteads emerged from a side door, the procession of straining men cutting through the tumult. Other men balanced stools and tables on their heads or tottered under mattresses, followed by children dragging pillows and bedding. A frightened goat lunged past Waddley, its momentum slowed by a little girl who stubbornly clung to a rope tied about its neck.

     Waddley crouched behind one of the trees that bordered the Asylum's brick facade and furtively palmed his small sketchpad. He overcame the impulse to peer over his shoulder, he ignored the dollops of sweat splattering upon the paper and furiously scribbled sticks and circles (a child triumphantly leading a toy horse) and squares and swirls (a woman, her head flung back in a banshee wail, keening over the body of a girl crushed by a bureau flung from one of the windows). His pencil slashed across the pages: a riot of lines depicting a riot.

     When the fire started he pocketed the pad and retreated. He wove around the frenzied looters and abandoned objects, he stumbled over uprooted shrubs and snapped tree limbs. He finally reached what remained of the fence facing the property. He sagged against the pickets and let his hands do the shaking they so desperately wanted to do. He watched the flames leap from the tall, shattered windows, the green shutters blazing to red, the whitewashed walls puckering gray, going black.

     Then the fire seized the overhanging trees and the intensity of the heat drove him further back. He crossed Fifth Avenue, over a carpet of scattered papers and books. The vantage point was excellent for sketching here, affording, across the wide thoroughfare, a panorama of destruction: hundreds of scurrying figures silhouetted against flaming buildings. The perfect perspective for a war artist--and, in this third summer of the Civil War, there could be no mistaking the fact that the conflict had finally come home.

     But Waddley didn't have the strength to pull his pad from his pocket again. Exhausted, he couldn't record the volunteer firemen's arrival. When their engines were overturned, he did nothing. He just stood there as the fire hoses were sliced into sausages and the fire laddies' red shirts were smothered in an avalanche of rioters' rags and loot. He could only watch, and then raise his face to the cooling spray that wafted from the geysers of smashed hydrants, feeling the water cut runnels through the dirt and ash.

     Until he noticed someone noting him. It was a boy who came squirming out of the mob, hugging a collection of toys. Cradled in his arms, the lacquered and painted objects glowed against the concavity of his filthy chest, fiery coals in a sooty fireplace. Their eyes briefly met in the way glances do in a crowd, but this momentary and distant encounter stopped the boy in his tracks. He stood rooted to the spot for at least a minute. Even at this distance, Waddley marked the expression on the boy's wide, flat-featured face as it crossed back and forth between fear and excitement, never settling on one until he seemed to make a decision. Nodding to no one, he disappeared back into the crush.

The encounter seemed innocent enough, yet it struck Waddley as an unfortunate turn of events. He was confident that, by now, he looked discernibly no different from anyone else in the area: grimey, sweaty, collarless, his trousers torn. His shortness was also a less noteworthy feature among these lowly Irish. But, despite the dirt covering his face, Waddley realized his cleanshaven cheeks and defined mustache and goatee contrasted with the scissored stubble of these wild men, strangers to razors and, some said, mirrors.

     The fear that had been suppressed by single-minded determination and then exhaustion now threatened to break loose. Waddley looked east to consider the prospects for escape along Forty-third Street. Fortunately, they looked excellent because when he turned back to reevaluate Fifth Avenue, he espied the boy making his way across the thoroughfare toward him.

     Waddley's heart shot into his throat. Still bearing his trophies, the boy also had gathered a coterie of accomplices: three evil-looking men. The adults wore the makeshift costumes of the laboring poor, garnished with the peculiar accoutrements favored by many of the Irish. Waddley noted an accordioned tophat with the bowl of a clay pipe peeking out from a hole in its crown. More significantly, the men carried fabricated weaponry--a table leg, a tree branch, a picket torn from the Asylum fence. As they advanced, their feet kicking up books and papers, their gazes were fixed upon him.

     These details were, in fact, the aspects of but a moment's observation. Moving at a pace he never thought he could ever muster, Waddley bolted eastward.

     "Get 'im!" he heard someone bellow behind him. "Get the Black Republican scum!"

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