“I knew James Morneau, Mattie.” Sniffle. “Or rather, I know his wife, Jennie. Three dear children, two without shoes to this day – only the littlest one has them, worn down from wear by her brothers…” She continued, but the bit about the children still not having shoes let me know Susan was in the midst of one of her… embellishments. Aye, at one time or another, maybe a year before, James Morneau must have had an unshod wee one, and no other way to shoe ‘m. But if “Jennie” and the Morneau family were such objects of her affection, Susan would have put shoes on those children by then, if no-one else would. She had the means, for that, anyway.
Mind you, to draw attention to Susan’s embellishments is not to disparage her – so long as one has learned to recognize them, and to avoid being misled by them, where was the harm?
“…So you see, I couldn’t bear to come see it. Oh, Jennie, poor Jennie, she needed so much love and support today, make no mistake, but she had all of her family there, every one. I would not have wanted to be in the way, as it were…”
Not on account of anything Susan was saying, I was aroused to anger – and not for the first time that day. Truth, embellished truth, or something in-between coming out of Susan’s mouth, James Morneau did have a family. He perpetrated his crime to put shoes on a boy’s feet.
“Ask him!” Susan reached across the table and struck me as close to the back of the head as she could manage. “Ask him!” she hissed, or as near to a hiss as you can get whilst saying ask him! She pointed at a tall, wobbly young man who had loped into the tavern, passed us, and was leaning against a wall, profile toward me, looking confused at Mme. Graveau.
I had not lived 34 years and been married without being able to reach back and tease out what a woman had said even when I hadn’t been listening. Susan averred that perhaps the loping man had been at Tyburn Square today, and would be able to testify to the fact of Jennie Morneau’s oldest children being present, and bare of foot.
Had I said something I was thinking, aloud? It was a tic afflicting me since meeting Susan. The alternative, that she could read my mind, was too frightening to consider.
“Susan, I’ve no doubt your friend” – she sputtered at that description. I seemed not to be meant to know they were acquainted. But I pressed on – “your friend, I’ve seen him before, with you, I don’t know what you’re getting excited about! Listen.” She had something leafy green in her teeth. “You and he both advocate for capital punishment reform, correct? Stop! Please. I’ve no doubt your friend would tell me James and Jennie Morneau’s boys were shoeless. I’m not naïve.”
Susan looked at me warily. “Naturally, Jennie Morneau would keep shoes off her boys, today, in the shadow of the gallows. She would want London to see, ehrm, the need, the noble motivation behind James’ crime. Right?” She had relaxed, noticeably.
“I am not suggesting poor Jennie would deceive for the sake of sympathy,” I continued more kindly, “just that, the Morneau boys being barefoot, today at Tyburn Square, would say nothing about the state of their feet on other days.”
I drained my cup, and with it mimed a to the King! at Susan’s friend, who then looked confused at me instead. I caught Mme. Graveau’s eye, and she came to collect my empty cup to re-fill it again.