The Gospel of Purpearl

Julian Mithra

Zealous for conversion to the Brotherhood, Pauli arrived from a bloodline traced to pure Ulster purity to Manayunk over Flat Rock Bridge and into the whooshing of a dozen mills fueled by the new dam, churning out flock for woolen rags, hat bodies, cotton fulling, satinets, and entire machine-looms for cloth. One could not escape the treadling of a thousand spindles spinning daylight, throstles hurrying up time itself, and obsoleting the quaint hand-looms that had once decorated Kensington. Under the shadow of the German Reformed Church, newcomers desperate for work crowded into the slope of slab-and-clapboard between the Wissahickon and Schuylkill. A fine dust cloud enveloped the child-weavers, as though a hundred grandmothers beat rugs as a hell-sent punishment, never to render them immaculate.

A brother without a brotherhood was like a chicken without a head: all speed and no direction. Dutifully, Pauli sought out a freshly whitewashed chapel and boarding house full of evangelism, yet when e hearked a footstep upon the stair, e did not rush to the stoop. A gentle knock bid im open the door to is soul, yet e wavered. A voice called out to any sinners within and e awaited the groan of hinges. Faced with Christ’s pure charity, e bandied and was beset by tremors.

The Brotherhood had the promise of a soup queue, a simple matter of one ahead shuffling til the next boy’s turn at salvation. Pauli, it seemed, had forgotten is bowl. The older members must know the appointed minute to offer a testament to their purification, and their shuttering against the Devil, and their flooded by light of a hundred suns, and the lightness of their very step. Haydn first, followed by Döer or Ashbel or Johaan, in their eagerness to embrace The Word, would crowd the air with testimony of their stumbling in a shadowed wood and coming at last to a path clear of weeds. So Pauli the polliwog, grimey with patience, awaited and feared the call.

We of the The Only True Church were released from worship at Mumsey House and together arrived at the purpearl manufactory via Righters Ferry down the Schuylkill to the Delaware. The water farm was marked by a border of boulders and criss-crossed by timber balanceways. According to the morning slate, the tide was half-out. Most day-earners preferred the shell-beds to indoor cloth mills, as snail-tenders could watch cutters and ketches fetching their trade at the harbor and collect in fresh air.

Walker Early made popular the phrase “caught hue-handed” to refer to those whose pigment had crushed a number of vegetals or animals, whether through treachery, coin, or God’s intent, to dye fabric a pleasing color. Fermenters, blue-fingered and bent-backed, had the dull eyes of an enslaver who ratcheted his slim acreage to cakes of indigo. The alizarines’ boots were caked with clay from mordanting madder. The oaker-makers seemed dim-witted as they slumbered beneath a canopy of shade, unbothered by nourishing fruitless trees to slaughter, entrusting them to the fickles of heaven to make queercitron. Few Blooders at the nopalera, tucked behind Wickwend’s Soap Chandler, were compelled to labor in greenhouses sloped to the sun, suffering August in October to fruit millions of cochineal.

Receipt for Coral Red

Dig up root bed of madder from three to five years in the ground. Slice roots into fingers and dry two days on a screen with plenty air. Grind madder by hand or on millstone fine to strict fine until resembles oaken sawdust. Collect a bale of sumac. Soak overnight in rainwater. Simmer over coal until leaves tatter. Strain vegetation and cool. Blend madder spice into bath. Wet fiber and heat bath to thumb-temperature to steep. Stir continually until fiber darkens to two shades darker than desired shade, a morning or a full day. Run through cold water and dry out of bright.

Natural inlets and rude marshes, which originally formed the uncultured coast of the mainland, had been corrugated and finessed for the attachment of colonies of clams, so that the number which could have clustered in the shallows might easily be pocketed into one inlet, with its carefully laid stones and flotsam. Pauli took care to avoid dunking a moccasin, lest he disturb the silent bivalves sheltering neath an overhang. The more calloused gathered samples and culled beds with a gentleness that disdained each suggestion of dominion.

Clarendon’s outfit split off to the north, rumor being that they dashed their snails to smithers and bred more quick. Pauli followed our overseer to a cove hidden by woven branches and false leaves. Here, a propertied man had established a mollusk den protected by nets. Joining the feeders, Pauli scattered crushed shells to their bracken hunger like one might toss bones to a pack of wolves. In an underwater herd, the whelks slimed to break their fast by rasping, being neither creatures of the vespers nor matins, but thrummed their humors to salt; their liveliness ascended with the tide.

Once they were docile and fed, Tolliver fetched a stack of slotted spoons elongated by handles and we lined the shore, each on hys own rock-perch. Pauli scooped a whelk the size of a peony from its terrestory. Then e wedged is scoop for safe keeping, hopped to dry land, and hurried to the douser, who today was Augustin. Spun wool had been stretched between four spindles. Augustin presented a bare patch for each tender to squirt. We had considerable prongs to fiddle the innards, or a knock with a baillie’s rod, a drench with lemon-wash, a wheedle, but {The Baptism} Pauli preferred to tickle the gooey foot with a bristle-brush like its own ilk’s flirt and smear its willing extract on the fiber. Augustin supervised it alchemizing hue from milk to yolk to first grass to second hay to Turk’s blue to lapis to violet, under the tutelage of the sun. Then we’d make our mark for one round, settle the spent snail in a separate pen, and again.

E’d have a bitty wonder at the final destination of historically royal wool without a monarch in the White House. Would it sheathe a cardinal’s neck? Stripe a cape? Hem a princely gown? Patriots had bravely fought for the common man, and here we were fifty years hence, in common with mollusks, harvesting purpearl like a flagon of wine finery, and paupers still caught beneath Her Majesty, republic by another name.

As the tide rose, Pauli collected is chalk-marks so labor could polish im to holiness.

Receipt for Dutch Pink

In autumn, hunt for a stand of black oak in excess of twenty year or whose trunks are at least a breadth of one foot. Quit the outer bark with a drawknife and spud, though the oak will falter less of bark. Shave the inner bark with a fine blade. Amass a significant amount as to fill a cart. Keep from damp til ready for use. Soak these shavings in a vat of water overnight, one peck per pound of wool cloth or spun. In the morning, mordant to your preference with vinegar, alum, or copperas. Cover cloth with water and dye. Boil gently. In countries without oak, may substitute cutch, flowers of pink roses, buckwheat, or fustic. Will yield a fine yellow, mustard yellow, tan, buttercup, and keep in bright sun.

When the tide grew too high, we quit and searched for dissipation. In defense of their asset, the foresters had fenced a black oak orchard with hackberry vines to dissuade noses from poking into their vast vats of queercitron. Pauli could hear, beyond palling and shade, a saw chewing through a trunk and felt saddened, like iron frosting blue. Is heart had never been in oaker, so e bit is lip while the sun sidestepped a forest, grown to be razed.

We pur-pearls gather to indulge in a bit of battle, immune to our own stench, behind Walker, a citizen of Delaware nation. Hye checks each dyer’s hands and sorts them like calico. Fists ball and stretch, pent years of wasted prayer showing lewd on our faces til Clarendon passes round a basket of staves, which are hardly better than bare-hands. Some, unfamiliar with our ritual, break their stave and flee, while others, buoyed by numbers, slash theirs against air. Cactus-scrapers outfit themselves with thorny bludgeons. The blue-hands, proud of their coats, swish braided whips.

“Take arms, lads, gainst ye swearen foes.” Walker is heeded, hys word a hinge on which we open.

With youth’s carelessness for life, Harlow climbs on a rotting sty and, satisfied with our raised bile, cries, “Huzzay, yon rascals-pon-dirt!”

Led by Clarendon, a Scots, whelk-ticklers sabotage the green by piling it with broken shells so other battalions will slide and tumble. Led by a sergeant of color named Quincy, the oakers link arms and high-kick their attackers. Anyone small enough to catch gets swatted. Larger combatants absorb blows like anvils ringing out their exultation. Such a fit of howling, hurling, and mustering rival a pack of wolf pups. Idlers, content to mommick and slonker at the weed-line, cheer. Bodies dance with abandon, overpowering muscle and tendon. With no way to distinguish between foe or friend, we tumble in a phrensy of confusion: punch, slap, yank, jab, twist, knock, and trip. We fist ourselves breathless and red-cheeked, pinned between carmines and pur-pearls, a cactus-scraper and a skein-striper lock front-to-back, or held face-down in a rush of clover, or surged by subtle-boys wrestling us to our knees and wrestling our pink mouths.

Quincy and Clarendon struggle chest to chest. Stripped and knapped, shell and bark dissolves in carnal splendor. Their dust-up glows, besetted by haloes.

Mumsey House emerged from Delaware River, canker by calciferous riffle, as the tide sunk. At the enormous shell’s stoop was a gritty mound of shells. Here stood a misplaced gallant, striking in their raiment of crimson, chartreuse, dove gray, and fur, as though they had nicked an article each from a dozen burrows: an evening strider’s feather cap, a barrister’s neat-oiled boots, a chancellor’s collar, a theater’s costume dizzy with buttons, and a Freed’s lace cuffs. Pauli, prideful of is waxed canvas overcoat, shrank from the gallant and hastened past the shell as if it wasn’t is intended destination.

“Ho there, lad! Is this the almshouse for foundlings?”

Bristling at the idea of being ‘found’ like a stray hen and caught in a coop, Pauli bit is lip and pretended to have the tongue of a Scots.

Undeterred, the rake pantomimed hunger, thirst, and cold, pointing in exaggeration at the shell-house. Pauli shrugged.

“I take it you’re a brother of, erm, hydrangeas?”

If e was a brother at all, it was not to simpering blossoms nor this overnice fop. E hesitated. Hopefully, the house-mother would turn one away for brandishing fashion like a lance, so Pauli sighed and rapped a certain melody known to us on a ruffle. The shell opened itself, and they entered.

Receipt for Scarlet Red

Under no circumstances whatsoever shall any overseer, collector, handler, trader, tax insurer, supplier, nor merchant print any observation or conjecture as to the propagation nor harvest of the plant or animal which is the true source of cochineal. Under penalty of summary execution, no one from the continent nor those strictly responsible for the dyestuff’s export to Europe will record, detail, describe, illustrate, paint, encode, or otherwise communicate the methods and mechanisms of their economy, either preferred climate, type of labor, tools in use, nor raw unprocessed material. Heretofore it is declared by right of royal decree of the Kingdom of Spain and its colonies and territories therein.

Much to the dismay of our existing boarders intent on strong-arming weepers and spitting, the overdressed newcomer was offered a cot, cloth, stool, and chore. They were called Ambrose (and a fitting one so alike a rose!) and came from Carribea by way of Chesapeak Baywaters. Ambrose tacked flowers in their hair. Ambrose befriended a crow. Ambrose tittered at morning prayer. Ambrose thought it uncivil to mud ourselves in battle and shew our boyish muscle.

It was not long before Pauli’s scuffed patience began to show its mend, as e especially had devoted imself to war at the sacrifice of girlish divertisements. We badgered Newell who apprenticed at a type-setter’s to spend hiz afterhours and print a pamphlet on our behalf, which hee did under duress of icicles in hiz trousers.

An Entreaty to Evict the Inconsiderate and Gaudy Ambrose

The solicitude we feel as permanent dwellers of Mumsey House (also known as “the shell”) and the preservation of its reputation for reforming subtle-boys induces us to call your sustained attention to the irascible member, Ambrose. Upon their eviction, you will restore Christian judiciousness to our group. Among their mingle-mangle of order, we observe the following cause:

➢ For having, at any hour of the night, taken a mouth-harp in incouragement of a night-gale and blustered so that none should lay asleep.

➢ For having, despite strict instruction to the contrary, papered the pantry with adverts for jellies and marmalade.

➢ For having, after weeks of guidance, colored the white candles we sell to churches with logwood and dewberry, rendering them beyond use.

➢ For having not the manner of decent hygiene but rather bathing in eau di violette.

➢ For having repeatedly been kept out past curfew and, in returning, swum down and howled, impersonating a ghost or owl, and bringing Matthew to tears.

➢ For having no semblance of sense nor obligation, and so spoiling unnumbered pots of stew, laundering, jars, and anything over a flame.

➢ For having not the thought to shut the stile after the hens and, when confronted with their forgetful haste, did celebrate the animals’ liberty and take the position that we had been enslaving their kin in the form of eggs.

➢ For having neither pride nor pragmatism of dress, regularly donning feathered headpieces, embroidered fuchsia smocking, cassimere vest, lilac bombizette, crape in January, ribboned mauve bonnets, prunella shoes, and other devices most unbecoming to their sex, and which casts glare upon our humble house so we share in the exhibition.

➢ For having been sent for flour, sugar, and coffee to the corner mercantile and returning with a scuffed copy of Lord Byron’s collected verses (which our mistress did not permit to be shelved with the Bible).

➢ For having taunted other residents with promise of plaits and rag-curls.

➢ For having taken the Lord’s name in vain for minor inconveniences such as being delayed from sampling the gravy, as well as for, what appearances hint at, true injoyment.

➢ In discharging Ambrose, entrust them to another almshouse better suited to their like.

Alack, the distribution of said pamphlet was halted by the house-mother, a vociferous advocate of charity, as none were beyond salvation, not even a dandy who pomaded their hair with almond paste and benjamin, who starched their hem, who sang invented hymns to the tune of ‘Our Lamb,’ who affianced to our arm with a jig.

Jackson won! men shouted in the road. Ambrose relented that they would ‘take the purple’ with us in the whelk beds, and laughed like a horse, to which scandal was tinctured our securing their assurance that the friendly snails were not to be carried home and roosted with the hens, not to be named after Lord Byron’s demigods, not to be dandled like pups, and not to be borrowed to blush their pale collar.

Pauli, for leading an effort to exclude Ambrose was reminded of Jesus and the poorly. Not having the desired effect of conversion, the house-mother then promptly evicted im for not upholding Christian hospitality in favor of conformity. In the Northern Liberties, the Benevolent Societies built their hurley-houses with planks instead of nacre. P’rhaps there, the knock would sound while e slept and, half-awake, Pauli might think it Ambrose on a moonlit escapade, might creak the door in no fear of Christ’s lamp, might rub is eyes askance and welcome a stranger to scrape the mud from their boots and together sip lavender tea with honey and milk.

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