by Sevenstars & Aureleigh
Chris's first stop on Thursday morning was the hotel's front desk, where he made it clear to the clerk--and later the manager--that anyone who arrived with any sort of parcel or message for Maude Standish was to be closely scrutinized and described to him, or his men, as soon as possible. Afterward he joined Nathan in the dining room, noticing Maude and Josiah at breakfast at one of the other tables, quietly conversing. Then he sent the preacher off duty, put Nathan on guard in Maude's room, and headed out to scrutinize the local post office and ask a few questions of the clerks. As Josiah had speculated, none of them had noticed the letter that had been sent to Maude, and still less the person who had posted it, as being at all out of the ordinary. With a kind of bitter respect he realized once again that he was dealing with a much more clever foe than the general run of badmen. He got his horse and took a ride out to Colorado City, getting a feel for the layout and atmosphere of the place and trying to decide whether Ezra might be imprisoned somewhere within its borders.
He got back to the hotel around three and went up to Maude's suite. "We been waitin' on you," Nathan told him when he opened the door. "Clerk fetched up a package around ten, said it was in the regular mail collection--somebody goes down to the office a couple times a day to pick it up."
"Did she open it?" Chris asked.
"Couldn't hardly think of a good reason to stop her, all things considered," Nathan admitted, "but I had her wait till I could fetch Josiah."
The gunfighter looked toward the sofa, where the woman and the preacher sat side by side, Sanchez's big hands clasped around Maude's. A sheet of brown paper and a little tangle of cut string lay on the table, beneath a small white box. When he opened it, Chris found a couple of sheets of the same fine stationery as had been used for the initial note, and underneath them a packet of large-denomination bills.
His first reaction was bewilderment. Why would Ezra's abductors be sending money to his mother, rather than demanding it from her? Then he realized that the letter would almost certainly hold the answer. He sat down in the armchair and read it through carefully, struggling with the spelling as before. Its burden had to do with a trio of men, Francis, Darcy, and George Kane, who it claimed had recently arrived at the Springs with their families for a holiday. The Kanes, it said, were devoted poker players--and they owed the writer money, $1,280,000 each.
That is the prise of your son's freedom. Enclosed is $10,000 cash to serv as your stake muney. Yu will engaje the Kanes at poker and raize the stakes as yor experiense sugests until they have bet, and yu have wun from them, property ekwal to that amownt in worth. It need not be cash: stoks or real estayt which can be sold for the figur spesified will be satisfactory.
The Kanes prefer to stay at Pascoe's, but to play poker at the LaFont House, where they can keep theyr diversions separate from theyr family lyf and a gentlman can get a drink if he wants one, and yu will probably find them theyr any evening after supper. Any bellboy or clerk in ether place will be abel to poynt them out to yu. After yu hav caried owt your task yu will be contacted agen with instructions regarding transfer of the muney.
Larabee looked up at his men. "You read this?"
They nodded. "How can anyone owe almost four million dollars?" Josiah wondered. "Even if it's spread out over three men, how can one person be owed that much?"
"Damn if I know," Chris admitted. He gazed quizzically at the note. This was absolutely the last damn thing he had ever expected. "Of all the ransomes to ask for, why this?"
"I speculate," Maude told him evenly, "that the writer is unskilled at games of chance, and requires a proxy."
The gunfighter frowned in thought. "I guess that makes sense, but why go through such an elaborate dance to get one? God knows there are enough people around who can play poker. Why not just hire a professional card man and offer him a cut?"
"When huntin' large game," the woman observed mildly, "one is wise to choose the finest available equipment. I am the best at what I do, Mr. Larabee."
Chris clenched his teeth briefly. "All right. Josiah, I want you to go over to Pascoe's Hotel and find out if these Kanes are there. Learn anything you can about them. Ezra's kidnapper will probably have someone there to watch the game, so you and I will go with Maude when she heads that way. Anyone who's willing to play for stakes this high would be likely to hire a bodyguard."
"I do not recall agreein' to these stipulations, Mr. Larabee," Maude pointed out. "And I see no authority on your part to compel me to do so." Anger hummed audibly under the words.
A part of Chris sensed that there was more to what she was saying than the outward meaning of the words. It was Maude, after all, who had taught Ezra to resist, or at least exercise an iron control over, any emotion whose expression might give others an idea of where the chinks in his armor were. Like Larabee himself, her defense was anger--a useful emotion, as long as you didn't allow it to rule your reactions, because it had at least the potential of keeping you focused. Chris had always known that under that very sweet, ladylike, mannerly demeanor, that innocent smile and "honey-voiced belle" exterior, there was a spirit of steel, and if you struck Maude's temper there would be sparks. She was as much a force of nature as himself, and that was one of the reasons why, although he respected her (as he did all women, even whores), he didn't like her. But for this moment none of that mattered to him. One of his men was missing and in danger, and the person who should most want to see him returned safely was resisting his plan even before it was fully revealed to her. He knew she worshipped money, but he had never believed her desire for it would go this far. Indrawn breath rippled through his nostrils and his eyes turned diamond-bright and hard as he fixed his gaze on her. He knew it wasn't the idea of a bodyguard that she was objecting to. "Meanin' what?" he demanded, his voice flat. "That you figure to just take the cash and run? Is that all Ezra's life is worth to you--ten thousand dollars? Never in my life have I raised my hand to a woman, Maude, but you're temptin' me."
"You call yourself my son's 'leader,' Mr. Larabee," she reminded him. "Why don't you attempt to save him?"
"Vin and Buck and JD are down around Trinidad tryin' to do exactly that. But it's been a while since he was taken, and they may not be able to get on his track. The least you could do is play along. Drag it out for a few nights, give them time."
"I make it a rule never to gamble with anythin' I cannot afford to lose," said Maude. "It is a maxim my late husband, Ezra's father, unfortunately never mastered." For a moment he heard a quiver in her voice as her eyes focused on the packet of money. "He died for no more than that amount. I cannot--I--" and then, to his astonishment, the perfect façade finally cracked and tears began to spill silently down her cheeks.
Josiah slipped his arm around her shoulder and offered a large blue bandanna. "It's all right, Maude. You don't have to explain yourself to us." His deep-set blue eyes held hot challenge as he stared at Chris, and the gunfighter heard Nathan shift uneasily as if trying to decide which of them to support if it came to a confrontation.
"No, Josiah," she demurred, "I do. This has stood between myself and Mr. Larabee for far too long. It is at the very root of my objections to my son's havin' become a member of your company. You have no conception," she went on, addressing Chris, "of how utterly one can be changed by the intervention of a single person in one's life, or by the loss of that person. I have spent too many years--"
Larabee cut her off. "I have more conception of it than you think, Maude. But it doesn't mean I betray my men for money."
Maude's voice rose, climbing against his own, as she suddenly stood in a whirl of skirt, her classic composure giving way to indignation and fury that left the tears drying unnoticed on her face. "How can you possibly comprehend what I have endured?" she demanded. "You have no child, no spouse, no home, only that dusty little backwater--"
"Maude--" Now Josiah was trying to make peace, fearing where her tirade might lead, knowing how sensitive Larabee could become when reminded of his loss.
"I had a son, Maude. I had a wife, and a home. And, damnit, they're just the reason I wouldn't leave Ezra, or Buck, or Nathan, or any of my men to die when I had it in my power to save them--not for ten thousand goddamn dollars, or ten million!" Chris rarely shouted; like most gunfighters, when he spoke, it was quietly, in even tones, his nerves always under the tightest control. But this time the words came out in a roar, and for a moment even Maude was staggered.
"I didn't know," she said after a moment, her voice softening again. "My son has never informed me of your bereavement. Perhaps I spoke out of turn, and certainly I owe it to you to offer my condolences, however belated they may be. But it still does not mean that you have the right to dictate to me, or the capacity to understand what moves me."
"Then tell me," he challenged. "Make me understand. Damn it, Maude, the man's your flesh and blood, he came out of your body. You owe him."
"Not my soul," she whispered, her voice so hushed and tight that he could barely make out the words.
"Are you sure?" he demanded. "I'd sell mine in an instant, if I thought it would bring my family back and make them safe."
"I am not in the habit of explainin' myself, Mr. Larabee. My friends don't require it, and my enemies are unlikely to give credence to it." She drilled him with green eyes that were twins to Ezra's. "Which are you?"
"Not your friend, Maude," the gunslinger responded bluntly. "I can't look at the way you use your son and feel that we'll ever be friends. But not your enemy, either. For Ezra's sake, I can't be your enemy. Somewhere in between, maybe."
Maude hesitated, unsure of herself for the first time in many years. She had spent so long not trusting, teaching Ezra not to trust--and yet he had trusted these men, and they seemed, from the tone of his letters, to respect that trust. They gave him something he apparently needed. Maude was fiercely independent but no fool. She knew she was unsuited to coping with her son's situation alone and unassisted. She also knew that whoever was behind his abduction was playing her like a master, and she would need emotional support to get through the trials involved--especially if she was to be any good at a poker table. Josiah had been a rock, but even he had no way to understand what pictures rushed through her mind at the prospect of picking up that ten thousand dollars and using it to buy into a game for someone else's sake. She took a deep breath and began, slowly, to tell her story.
For all her hard-won airs and graces, Maude came not from the upper crust, but from a decent, reasonably prosperous upcountry family out of the Piedmont Plateau of North Carolina--tobacco country, but not a land of vast plantations. Under the Northwest Ordinance, slavery was always illegal north of the Ohio River and west of Pennsylvania; as the older Northern states abolished it, they came to look with more and more prejudice on the region where it remained legal. And too soon the many lithographs portraying the raised whip in the hand of the overseer, with its implied cruelty and suggested evil, would become the image of the Southerner conveyed so well by the pens of abolitionist writers, and in Northern eyes "all" Southerners except a few "mean whites" would be aristocratic, well-dressed, perfectly-mannered planters, living in great pillared mansions, spending their time drinking intemperately, toying with politics, gambling, attending the Charleston winter races or the traditional "Posey" dance of St. Augustine, cavorting with female slaves and selling their own blood "down the river" without a trace of a civilized blush. Northern travellers in the South became so conditioned to the vision of the region as dominated, if not indeed tyrannized, by the planter class that they failed to look for, or ignored if they saw, any suggestion that it might be otherwise.
Sectional misunderstanding had existed almost from the first. As early as 1775, George Washington, had remarked that Yankees were "an exceedingly dirty and nasty people." New Englanders, on the other hand, thought Southerners hypocrites, hiding intemperance, impiety, and barbarous treatment of slaves behind a veneer of fancy manners. But how could New England, steeped in religious concerns, organized around tightly knit, orderly villages and well-tended farms, have much resemblance to Southern society? There the church played little role in men's calculations (piety and churchgoing were for women and dependents), towns were almost nonexistent, the population was scattered thinly throughout the countryside, and planters, rather than raising cereals for local consumption, sought quick profits from cash-cropping. In the North, piety, learning, and sociability, in approximately that order of importance, were necessary for public recognition of gentility; in the South the order of priority was quite different--piety was a late addition, a result of the Second Great Awakening early in the century; learning, an expensive commodity throughout the history of the plantation South, didn't command as much prestige as it did in the North; sociability was the sine qua non, from the seventeenth century onward, from Charleston to New Orleans, from Richmond to the Ozarks. Welcoming strangers, taking risks at cards or sport, and defending personal honor were characteristics that Southerners seized on eagerly to identify themselves. The region was convivial and pleasure-loving and essentially feudal, enjoying the happy pursuits of this world with very slight concern for the next, scarcely touched by the cold rigorousness of Puritanism up North, where there was too much preoccupation with salvation and with avoiding the devil's wiles. It was Colonial America little touched by time: a Yankee of sixty years before, returned to life, would have felt more at home there than in his own homeland as it had since become. Boston in 1732 and Natchez in 1834, to take one example, resembled each other in terms of popular morality much more than the old colonial Boston resembled its transformed self a hundred years later. Early Boston's institutions weren't much stronger than those of somnolent later Natchez. Similarly, there wasn't much difference in education, outlook, ethic, or manner between a Southern cotton planter of that day and one of Long Island's landed gentry a hundred years before. Both held vast estates, both hunted and rode their fields, both believed in lavish hospitality, both were intimately engaged in public affairs. Neither considered himself an aristocrat on the European order, but rather the natural leader of a society of freemen. The planter, more than any other group, tended to perpetuate the manners, ideals, traditions, politics, and code of the gentry that had founded the United States. Southern mores didn't change, at least not very fast; Northern conventions did.
Stereotyped views of Southern society had prepared many travellers to see only planters and "poor whites," and many a small farmer living in rude comfort, his wealth concealed in the cattle and swine off foraging in the woods, was mistaken for "white trash." Yet most Southerners owned no slaves, and the region was predominantly one of small farms. Indeed, the census of 1860 was to discover that it boasted only 46,274 owners of twenty or more slaves (the commonly recognized point at which one earned the right to be called a "planter"), and of these fewer than 8000 owned fifty or more, 2292 over a hundred, eleven five hundred, and only one as many as a thousand. The frequently held Northern picture of it as a country of nothing but great plantations and humble cabins was overdrawn. Far more common than the plantation house and slave-worked acres, and at least equally important to Southern culture and economy, was the barefooted herder, with his crude cabin, his truck patch, his hogs and cows. There were a few large planters, and there were some wretched poor folks; but there was also a vast class of prosperous yeomanry, which constituted most of the Southern people, owned respectable holdings, and earned a substantial living. Its members varied from well-to-do farmers who could afford a few luxuries and even slaves to the poorer sort who depended wholly on barter. Often they weren't noticed by travellers because they predominated in areas travellers didn't visit. Most had very little money, wherefore they were often called "poor," but they produced all the goods they consumed, usually owned their land, livestock, and implements, had no debts, and were unaffected by fluctuations in prices. Moreover, thousands of ignorant and irreligious farmers had been brought into the evangelical churches, especially the Baptist and Methodist, by the Great Revival of 1800-05. True, throughout much of the region local politics was marked by patterns of social and political deference, whose sway was inherited from eighteenth-century England and had become ingrained in the political culture during Colonial days. In such a deferential society, "lesser" men looked up to their social and economic superiors and bowed to their judgment, in local affairs and in the larger range of politics. Thus wealth (especially in land), superior social status, learning, "fine manners," and dress marked certain men as "natural" leaders. Yet manufacturers and merchants held their own with the planters--the latter, often called brokers or factors, handled the planters' crops and acted as purchasing agents for their needs, supplying credit along the way; professional people, including lawyers, doctors, and editors, stood in close relationship to the planter and merchant classes which they served and to which they sometimes belonged; and both, if they weren't planters themselves, were often connected to them by blood or marriage. The masters of the greater plantations assumed the magistracy of the courts and legislatures, but they lived, at least initially, in a fluid and active society, and no one could safely take his position for granted. And honor in the old South applied to all white classes, though with manifestations appropriate to each ranking.
The early settler of the Davy Crockett stamp, coming into each new district, built a cabin, grew such truck as corn, cabbages, beans, and potatoes, grazed cattle on a "range," and when the range was overgrazed--to his way of thinking--moved on; more sedentary agriculturalists took his place. Cowpen keepers, as they were called, moved from grove to grove, pasture to pasture, always penetrating the public land as former pasturage was surveyed and taken up by farmers. Yet not all such stockmen did move on, particularly in the upcountry where plantations were impractical and even small-scale farming difficult, and the moving to market of anything that lacked legs a major if not impossible undertaking. In that climate cattle could graze the year round without needing hay or stored grain. The forested hills were cleared by years of being fired by the Indians, so that wild oats, peavine, and innumerable strains of grasses provided fodder, while canebrakes, pines, and brush clumps furnished shelter from colder winter winds. A cattleman's frontier existed on the public lands of the South long before the West made it a household word, especially in the Appalachians, northern and central Florida, and the pinelands of Mississippi, Alabama, southern Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, in the latter of which cattle grazed by the tens of thousands; when cotton pushed them out, they moved to the infertile piney woods, the swampy lowlands, or the sand barrens. In such places and on the prairie the livestock grazed in numbers, rendered half-tame by the setting out of salt licks, managed chiefly on foot and with the aid of dogs rather than horses. The herders were sometimes called Crackers from their skill at cracking their long, snaky black whips. Until the coming of the railroads in the late '40's, Kentuckians still found it most profitable to drive huge herds of cattle a thousand miles to populous New York City. The piedmont back country of Virginia and the Carolinas also raised swine, cattle, and horses for the "long drive" to the seaboard markets; by the 1820's droves of 5000 hogs were eating their way through the woods and interrupting travellers on the few good roads available. Casual travellers were unaware of the horses and mules, cattle, pigs and sheep hidden among thousands of acres of pine and mountains. Some owners ran three to five thousand head of cattle alone, and branding was required by law; a stockman could graze 5000 head of sheep without owning a rood of land, and at least one Mississippian owned 2000 cattle in the Piney Woods district of the state.
Such a one was Maude's father, Augustus Rawlings, whose farm lay in Iredell County, thirty-odd miles from Winston-Salem. Though not line-proud, he was the descendant of sturdy Saxon thanes and franklins, freemen and freeholders, Scotch-Irish Presbyterian Covenanters, English Baptists, and the humbler class of Huguenots, with a touch of Cherokee blood from his mother's side; uneducated (at least in the highest sense), but honest and independent in outlook. Atypically for his class, he owned a few slaves (his father had not), but as most such men did, he worked with them in the fields, as did his sons as they got their growth. He was much like the middle-class farmers of the North--independent, optimistic, hospitable, ambitious, and intelligent. He went to church regularly, voted in each election, and in general saw no major cleavage between himself and his more opulent neighbors. He was "of good people"--which was a very different thing from being "of good family"--and for want of a better term, later historians would tend to refer to men such as he as "yeoman farmers," though few of them would have known what the adjective meant. Indeed, though modestly content with his respectable if humble position, Augustus in some measure shared the values of the planting class. He had learned at an early age respect for the patriarchal name and the values it embodied, he was hospitable, he held women "in high esteem," and he often tried to emulate, on a smaller scale, the planter's merry and carefree ways. In self-respect, integrity, and other attributes of character and citizenship he compared favorably with the planter class, while the "poor white trash," whom he scorned as much as anyone else did, were shiftless, ignorant, undernourished, and depraved. He disdained, not manual labor, but menial work. He had pride and respectability, even if he was poor, and regarded himself as part of the "sover'ign people." He enjoyed the wholesome amusements of the countryside--corn-huskings, quilting parties, and cotton-pickings enlivened by persimmon beer or jugs of whiskey; annual county fairs and militia musters, horseraces and cockfights, singing schools, log rollings, hunting and fishing, church, camp meetings, country dances, practical joking, and folklore, sometimes a circus or other travelling entertainment--and the flowery oratory at the hustings and on Court Day at the county seat; and, with the smaller planter, the skilled mechanic, the artisan and craftsman, and the storekeeper and clerk in village, town, and city, he and his like constituted a genuine middle class whose intellectual attitudes in many ways resembled that of its Northern counterpart. In the newer states beyond the Appalachian border it was in fact the dominant class; there it had become a formidable political power, and the planters fought many losing battles with it.
Among the Southern people themselves, a distinction was made between rich and poor, but not between those who owned slaves and those who didn't, and there was a sharp division between the non-slaveholder in general and the "poor white," who was held in contempt by whites and Negroes alike. Slaveholding was considered a sort of social distinction: to own a slave to do the more menial tasks of kitchen, laundry, or field was to enjoy a certain sense of satisfaction. It was a badge of respectability, an indication that one had "arrived" and was middle-class--something Americans of the day expected everyone to be, or want to be, and to emulate the behaviors of. Yet no one was looked down upon who made an effort to gain an honest living, as did the self-respecting yeoman: though he had little contact with his social superiors, and sometimes worked in the fields side by side with a Negro slave whom he either owned or hired, he had at least some opportunity to better his lot; in numerous instances he moved into the planter class, commonly assisted by marriage to a planter's child, and such unions often blurred distinctions between the two groups: the line between the upper-middle-class yeoman, who might own as many as fifty slaves, and the small planter was thin and sometimes nonexistent, while even his planter neighbor might work at times in the fields during emergencies, and his sons in many instances labored there during vacations from college. In counties dominated by the non-slaveholding class, the sheriff frequently rose from it, as did some of the minor elected officials, and on occasion state legislators; Augustus Rawlings's own brother Tobias served capably for many years as the sheriff of their county, and a distant cousin on their mother's side had a term in the State House. Constables, attorneys, and magistrates were quite ordinarily born of the "middling ranks," those between the rich and the yeomanry. And as late as the 1840's there was still room at the top for the ambitious and hard-working smaller planter. The social structure was relatively fluid, and movement both upward and downward was constant; abundant opportunity was offered for poor but talented and energetic men to rise to the top, and many leaders of the plain people were absorbed into the ruling class. If the wealthiest planters tended to run things, a network of marriages and connections spread out to bring about a more or less homogenous unit, a squirearchy, perhaps, rather than an aristocracy. Planters risen from the ranks as often as not had close relatives still among the less well-to-do. Moreover, social discrimination against the yeoman was uncommon, even if he owned no slaves: though all classes, even the Negroes, looked down upon the "poor white trash," this disdain arose less from their slaveless state than from their defects of character.
Tobacco, unlike cotton, required painstaking care and thus was unsuited to the labor of large gangs of unskilled slaves. In addition, the "weed" was extremely sensitive to minor differences in soil, climate, drainage, and other local conditions, so that even within tobacco-growing regions not many acres were ideally suited to it; it was by no means unknown for a landowner to boast only three per cent of his holdings as actually being in it. A single worker could tend three acres, and thus the small farmer, toiling in the fields with his sons and perhaps a slave or two, could raise it profitably on five or six, harvest a very decent crop, and send it to compete with that of the planters under the warehouse auction system. Such a man was very far from being the "poor white" with whom the North often confused him, and many aspired, with a reasonable chance of realization, to become substantial slaveholders. Typically of the breed, Augustus owned less than 200 acres of improved land, and bent his efforts chiefly to diversified crops, primarily for subsistence--corn, wheat, oats, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, black-eyed peas, peanuts (used chiefly for hog feed in those days before the labors of Dr. George Washington Carver), and vegetables--with tobacco and a little hemp as money crops, with which to buy pipe and "chawin' " tobacco, lead, powder, snuff, sugar, and other small luxuries. His greatest wealth lay in livestock in large numbers, primarily hogs and cattle--literally thousands of the former, so lean and wiry that they were commonly called razorbacks, subsisting primarily on acorn mast and by rooting. He lived remote from the great thoroughfares and was seldom seen by travellers, but his log house was whitewashed, nicely chinked, with brick chimneystacks, plastered walls hung with neatly framed engravings and a gilded looking glass, tidy rag carpets on the floor, a mahogany case-piece or two, and even a very sizeable collection of well-chosen books, mostly old ones, many of them popular around the turn of the century and before. This family library included Plutarch, Xenophon, Virgil, Cicero, Homer, Pliny, Seneca, Horace, Livy, and Ovid in translation, Gibbon and Hume, Milton, Shakespeare and Goldsmith, Harris's Encyclopedia, Robertson's North America and History of Scotland, Locke's essays, Butler's Analogy, Ramsey's History of the American Revolution, The Natural History of the Bible, Don Quixote, The Wealth of Nations, Josephus's History of the Jews, Rollin's Ancient History in several volumes, Blair's Lectures, Morse's Geography, Burgh's Dignity of Human Nature, Helvetius's On the Human Mind, Chesterfield's Letters, Ainsworth's Latin Diction, Blackstone's Commentaries, Tom Paine, the journals of Lewis and Clark, Addison, Pope, Camden's Britannia, Raleigh's History of the World, Burnet's History of the Reformation, Clarendon's History of the Rebellion, John Rushworth's Historical Collections, Vattel's Law of Nations, Cook's Voyages, Johnson's Rambler, Voltaire's Charles XII, Candide, and Philosophical Dictionary, Pufendorf's Law of Nature and Nations, Vasari's Lives of the Artists, a few volumes of sermons and theological works, Foxe's Acts and Monuments, Young's Night Thoughts, Baxter, Bunyan, solid substantial works by Harrington, Berkeley, Shaftesbury, and Algernon Sidney, the poetry of Burns, Gray, Scott, Isaac Watts, and Thomas Campbell, Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, Thomson's The Seasons, the early poems of Byron, Maria Edgeworth, and such lighter reading as Children of the Abbey, Evelina, Pamela, Robinson Crusoe, Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote and Life of Harriet Stuart, The Power of Sympathy, Charlotte Temple, Brockden Brown's Wieland and Ormond, the romances of Mrs. Manley, Mlle. de Scudery, and Honore d'Urfé, the plays of Mrs. Centlivre and George Lillo, Gay, Dodsley, Steele, Farquhar, Dryden and Rowe, The Jealous Wife and She Stoops to Conquer, and later Coleridge, Southey, Felicia Hemans, Shelley, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Though Augustus was literate, the church, not the school, was the center of his social life, and he left leadership in education, as in politics, to the ruling class of planters. On the other hand, while his daughters might follow the plow, gather corn, pick tobacco, chop wood, and sell his produce in the public market, he wouldn't permit them to hire out as nursemaids, housemaids, or cooks. Those occupations were traditionally reserved for Negro women, slave or free. Unlike the "poor whites," he was neither a squatter, nor irreligious, nor an unreliable and inconstant worker.
His wife, born Alice Clayburn, was the daughter of a Charleston doctor of humble stock, who boasted that "his mother was a Ludwell"--one of the best-known names in Virginia--while a maternal first cousin, who had served the state in Congress, provided him with a sense of prominence, despite his own father's obscurity and widowed mother's abject poverty (for in those days, owing to the frequent "panics" and the generally speculative nature of all business, it wasn't at all unknown for persons of breeding and education to be reduced to penury, or at least a state not far removed from it). Alice and Augustus met when, as a young man barely come into his inheritance, he headed up a drove of hogs to the coast. She brought a small financial competence to their union, books, a beloved mammy, and a hint of refinement to their farmhouse, and it was a happy marriage, marked by mutual respect and genuine affection. They had ten children who lived: seven sons--Jeremiah, Samuel, Marcus, Peter, Cornelius, Reuel, and David--and three daughters, Abigail, Grace, and Maude. The family had a good name in its county, and the children were raised to reflect honor on their parents. There was plenty of food, a snug house with a modicum of decent furniture, money for schooling, weekly trips to the local market village, and less often family journeys to Winston-Salem. The girls dressed chiefly in homespun dyed with natural tints, but every year after the tobacco crop was sold and the livestock driven to market there was a new book or two for the family's collection, new shoes all around, a length of "store cloth" for a dress for each girl, and inexpensive trinkets such as country girls loved. They cooked on an open hearth, learning at an early age which kind of wood to use to produce a quick fire, a long-lasting fire, or a "lazy" fire; they hatcheled and carded and spun flax and wool by candlelight, gathered hickory nuts and wild persimmons, and drove the cattle home from pasture; but there was always a slave woman or two to help out, and a man or two in the fields. "Good" Methodists might condemn tobacco as a filthy habit, an expensive indulgence, and a debilitating influence on mind and body, but Augustus and many another small farmer, though faithful communicants of the church, not only used but raised it, bolstered perhaps by the demonstrable fact that it was never specifically forbidden in a Bible written long before its existence was known. Even the strictest members of their congregation enjoyed kissing games, blindman's buff, forfeits, spelling bees, the singing school, church doings of every kind, and "play-parties," in which young people would choose their partners and skip through floor-work similar to that of a square dance, schottische, or polka, but without instrumental accompaniment, the revellers keeping time by singing tunes like "Miller Boy," "Weevily Wheat," "Pig in the Parlor," "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush," "Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow," "Needle's Eye," "London Bridge," "King William Was King James's Son," "We'll All Go Down to Rowser's," "Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees," "Chase the Buffalo," "Little Brass Wagon," "Old Dan Tucker," and "Skip to My Lou." The lack of music seldom dampened youthful spirits.
The antebellum South had almost no state school systems, with only Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and the Rawlingses' North Carolina organizing mass public education anything like that common in the North; certain individual counties and cities ran their own (Baltimore, Natchez, Louisville, Charlotte, and New Orleans developed rather good ones), but even in the Upper South--Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky--free schools weren't numerous, their equipment was scarce and their teachers ill-qualified. The Alabama system, which wasn't created till 1854, was typical, allowing a budget of only $1.33 per year per child, and thus, right on through the century, many rural communities raised what they could for "subscription" schools and let it go at that. The child of the poor non-slaveholder, unable to afford these or the academies and colleges, got about two or three months a year for four to six years, often only when the weather was too inclement to work in the fields. A few church elementaries did their best to plug the leaks, but couldn't serve anywhere close to the entire school-age population. In the rural schools before 1850 or so, reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic were about the only subjects taught to any great extent. There was a special partiality to Webster's "blue-backed" Speller, Murray's English Reader (and later the McGuffeys), and Colburn's and Davies's arithmetics, with here and there the geographies of Morse and Jesse Olney and the histories of Goodrich and Webster. Grammar, taught chiefly from Murray's English Grammar, found small place outside a few cities and what one commentator in 1840 described as "half the counties in Virginia." Such elementary education as existed at all in the back country was provided in "old-field schools," frequently conducted in log cabins by ill-prepared, itinerant teachers who were often of the poorest type, chosen primarily for their ability to deal with the big boys through resourcefulness and physical strength; discipline was hard and often cruel, with many rules and penalties, and frequent use of dunce-blocks and fools' caps. Parents among the poorest whites often preferred to have their children at home, helping on the farm, instead of wasting their time on "book-larnin'," and illiteracy rates remained high till after the War. But in the Piedmont counties the picture was rosier, and Augustus, as a landholder, considerable stockman, and small slaveowner, could well afford to see his children acquire a decent education. Indeed, once they were through the grades he was able to send the girls to the pretentious "female college," the boys to a neighboring "institute of learning for young men"--actually a private academy--where "a little Latin and less Greek" were dispensed for a fee of forty or fifty dollars per session, while Marcus and Peter even went on to one of the smaller nearby colleges, from which the latter went into medicine and the former into law, whence he might realistically hope to rise to politics, a judgeship, the presidency of a university, or even the governor's seat. The two youngest boys, Reuel and David, made their way west in search of better opportunities, and by the outbreak of the War were well established in, respectively, Arkansas and Missouri.
Maude was the youngest of the girls, born seven years after Abigail and five after Grace. In the beginning, she was as pretty a child as her sisters; they all resembled their mother in feature (their father declared they should thank the Lord nightly that they hadn't taken after him), and were born with curly blonde hair (where Alice's was red-gold) and blue-gray eyes (where Alice had amber), and if Abigail had the brightest hair and Grace the largest eyes, still for the first decade or so any distinction between them wasn't too striking. As she entered her teens, Abigail became a graceful girl of striking beauty, with a profuse head of wavy hair still as fine and butter-yellow as it had been in her infancy (or so her kinfolk claimed), and long-lashed blue eyes that resembled the skies of a clear May morning after a rain (or so maintained the young men of the neighborhood). Grace might not have been quite as exquisite of feature, but she was certainly no hardship to look at, while her hair, as blonde so often does, darkened to a rich chestnut brown, and her eyes changed from baby-blue to smoky green. Of the two of them Abigail had an inch or two advantage in height, and Grace had an ivory pale complexion where Abigail's was rosy, but otherwise they were not dissimilar--above average height, slender, with nineteen-inch waists, short straight noses, a charming array of dimples, and hands and feet of a ladylike delicacy and smallness.
Poor Maude was the ugly duckling of the trio, and around the age of fifteen she was absolutely convinced that no Clayburn or Rawlings in recorded history--male or female--had ever been quite so unlovely. Instead of Abigail's blonde or Grace's brown, her hair had turned mousy and straight as a die, utterly refusing to co-operate with a curling iron. She reached a height of five feet and there she stayed, lank, uncoordinated, and (in comparison to her sisters) undersized, with what she considered huge feet (size four as against their two) and big long-fingered hands (size eight to their five). She didn't seem to develop any figure at all. And when she'd turned thirteen, her skin had broken out in spots, which hung on still two years later in spite of every home remedy she tried. She couldn't imagine her mother, or her Great-Grandmother Ludwell, ever having a spot; she knew Grace and Abigail hadn't. And her sisters went innocently on, the acknowledged beauties of Iredell County, with all the eligible young men in it--and some who were neither young nor eligible--panting after them and all but fighting over them at every country gathering. Maude was very bright--she did better at her studies than either of the bigger girls, and indeed her father's kin all described her as "the clever one" of the family--and a splendid rider, with eyes green and clear as jade, and all the high spirits, vivacity, and charm that every Southern woman took pride in, but she was, quite naturally, somewhat ignored as her elder siblings took all the attention, and her spunky spirit rebelled against Victorian restraints. Always impatient with convention, she came to the conclusion that she was doomed to languish forever in her sisters' shadow, and that her only chance lay in "the city"--a rather vague concept characterized chiefly by bright lights and crowds of people. If she couldn't have a string of beaux, as Abigail and Grace did, she'd at least have opportunities to make something of herself--though she was too inexperienced to be sure exactly what "something" constituted. After Marcus and Peter went off to college, her resolve was only strengthened. If I had been born a boy, she told herself, I could have gone to college too, and entered a profession, or become a scholar, a learned and distinguished scholar-gentleman in the society of other scholars. Of course she might become a teacher, but the classroom, as she knew even then, was too restricted an environment for one of her abilities. What she wanted above all was to rise above her roots, to not spend her life on a farm, doing for a man and a flock of children. She saw that her mother seemed quite content with just that, but she remembered that her grandfather had been a professional man and her great-grandmother a Ludwell. She wanted to be a lady, as she was sure her great-grandmother had been; wanted to be the kind of woman a gentleman would choose to marry.
Abigail married at nineteen, a neighboring farmer nine years older, and though she was now mistress of her own house, she and her husband continued to share much of their work with her parents and accompany them to market. Grace married a year later. The three sisters were in Winston-Salem, selling their father's and husbands' vegetable crop, in 1841, the year Maude was fifteen. That was when she met Mason Durand, who was a dozen years her senior but still a young man, a dashing, exciting rascal whose immediate interest in her was more than she could credit. Durand was a gambler for the fun of it, but a con artist and sometime thief for his living. He was a rogue, but not in the cheerful sense of Buck Wilmington; a mercurial, demanding, charmingly evil man with the talents of a chameleon, who could become whatever the situation demanded he be.
Durand for his part took one look at the Rawlings girls and knew he'd found exactly what he wanted. He saw past Maude's coltish awkwardness to the deft, slender fingers, saw the devil twinkling in her eyes, and saw moreover that this was clearly a girl overshadowed by her stunning sisters--someone plain enough that most people wouldn't give her a second look. He was the first man who had ever paid her any heed, a romantic, sophisticated "older gentleman," and she fell for him with all the ardent passion of which an innocent teenage girl is capable. Her parents didn't approve of him at all. The Southern attitude toward gamblers was peculiar. Since Colonial days there had been a more relaxed attitude toward amusement and recreation in the region than in Puritan New England. Speculation and risk were endemic to tobacco culture, and later to cotton; the great planters who made their fortunes through these, and to whom the rest of the population looked for a cultural example, naturally inspired a taste for both, and everyone, even the clergy, held more liberal opinions of betting than Northerners did. All Southern men gambled on something--if not the market that took their crops, then cards or billiards or dice, shooting matches, horse races and steamboat races, boxing bouts, cockfights, even elections. Anyone who lived near the Mississippi drainage or the mountain resorts or in any of the greater cities was familiar with the professional gamesters who worked the riverboats and casinos. There was an air of glamor about them not unlike that which was to attach, in later years, to the "filibusters" like William Walker. Their gentlemanly graces, their mastery of good sportsmanship, their daring financial plunging, were admired. Yet there was also a whiff of dishonesty in their dealings--something a proper Southern gentleman avoided at all costs for the sake of his honor and his good name.
Apart from that, the old-fashioned Southern outlook layered on top of the conservatism of small-town and rural life guaranteed that Victorian ideals were very strictly adhered to. It was an age of snobbish class distinctions (for all its reverence for the "common man"), and the familiar social life of each class--calls, invitations to dinners, parties and family celebrations, and still more courtship and marriage--was restricted to its own kind. The wife of the village banker seldom exchanged calls with the wife of the livery-stable handyman, nor did their children think seriously of becoming man and wife. Religion played its part too: all churches of the day bordered on fanaticism, and most (except the Quakers) were more or less violently intolerant of the rest. Such distinctions often rankled more in small towns and the countryside than they might have in a city, where they tended to be less keenly felt because the city structured itself into neighborhoods and sub-communities where people of similar social and economic status, or of particular national origins, established themselves. In the town, and to a lesser extent the rural districts, there was no place to withdraw to: the less prosperous were reminded daily of the disadvantages of their state, and these often appeared the more unsupportable against the background of a distinguished family history. Time and the ongoing westward movement would eventually help to disintegrate these behaviors, especially in the trans-Mississippi, where the small towns and the sparseness of populations simply didn't allow for such class separations. But when Maude was young, such ideals were very much in effect, particularly in the South, and a woman's place--and still more that of a girl barely fifteen--was quite well-defined. The Rawlingses were definitely "plain people," and in fact very proud of it. But they were also conscious of being rooted in their community, having a home (such as a nomadic gambler didn't), being landowners, having a certain part in the history of the neighborhood. They weren't wealthy, but they were respected. At the same time they were still people who worked with their hands, and "little boats," as Alice said to Maude, "should stay close to the shore"--in other words, a farmer's daughter shouldn't dream of a union with one who at least appeared to be a "gentleman." Durand's French name, too, aroused Maude's parents' suspicions; they had both been taught from childhood to be suspect of "papists," and the heyday of Know-Nothings and nativism was just getting well under way.
Maude, however, was headstrong and spirited and convinced that no man would ever pay her any serious attention at all. When she was forbidden to see Durand, she rebelled again, and ran away with him. They made their way to Louisville, where he outfitted her with a whole wardrobe of clothes nicer than anything she had ever envisioned owning (though in fact they were rather simple), and commenced teaching her "the tricks of the trade." She was disappointed that he refused to marry her, and a little disturbed to discover that he could be mean when he drank, but too young and too much in love (she thought) to care. She had a man, she had made it to "the city"--what else mattered?
Over the next couple of years she learned the fine art of the con, served as Durand's shill, and occasionally distracted attention from him at crucial moments. She also learned something of safe-crackery and the picking of locks, though it was a skill she seldom made any use of. When she told him she was pregnant they were in St. Louis. He immediately deserted her. She was too proud or too shamed to return to her parents, and she survived as best she could until her state became too inconvenient, then sought refuge in a convent run by one of the many French orders that lingered on after the Purchase. The baby was born dead. The sisters offered to give Maude a home for as long as she wanted one, but she left as soon as her strength permitted.
The next great turning point in her life came when she tried to pick the pocket of a well-dressed gentleman and was caught at it. She expected to be turned over to the police. Instead the man bought her a good meal and coaxed her story out of her. Then he took her to a well-known gambling hall, owned by a woman named Lucienne Delormé, and got her a job as a hostess and barmaid. Lucienne, who was a keenly observant woman, soon noted the girl's natural grace and deftness of hand, and trained her as a dealer of faro and poker, lansquenet, Spanish monte, and vingt-et-un. By the time her benefactor returned, six months later, she was one of the most popular attractions in the place.
Maude's savior was Patrick Henry Standish, born in Throgs Neck, New York, but of a Virginian mother who had named him and his several brothers for Virginian patriots of the Revolutionary era--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and their ilk. His father was an internationally noted turfman and gambler who, in the throes of a lucky streak, acquired a great horse-breeding farm in Westchester County, New York, and prudently tied it up so he couldn't stake it thereafter. He was well respected, a member of the Masonic Lodge and a captain in the local militia, and he once nearly won a seat in Congress; his oldest son graduated law school with honors, and his only daughter married into the planter gentry of Louisiana. He spent several years in England with his family, beginning when Patrick was five, and had the boy educated at Dunchurch, near Rugby, and at St. Marylebone and All Souls. Eventually they returned to the farm, and there Patrick was prepared for Yale, from which he graduated, brilliantly, at twenty. At that time he was a talented musician, a dead shot, a skilled fencer and horseman, and a gifted scholar who read French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and later acquired German, Portuguese, Hebrew, and a little Swedish. But the siren song of the gaming table lured him into his father's profession, and before he was old enough to vote he was working New Orleans. He went on to Natchez, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, following the riverboats, and then, riding a winning streak, to Europe. He spent two years there--London, Paris, Weimar, Vienna, Innsbruck, Monte Carlo. He fought his second duel at Nimes, with sabers, and won. At twenty-four he returned to the United States, played around New York and Saratoga, and then headed south and west, following the cards--Charleston to Mobile and New Orleans, Cincinnati and Louisville and St. Louis. When Maude met him he was twenty-six and already one of the better-known names in his profession. He made fortunes fleecing the innocent and as promptly lost them at faro establishments in New Orleans, but he always wore good clothes, had at least two or three pieces of excellent jewelry, a sword cane, a pair of derringers (one in his sleeve and the other in his waistcoat pocket), and a sixgun. He was fastidious about his appearance and was never seen without a fresh collar, his coat neatly brushed (even if it sometimes had to be touched up with shoe polish), his hair and mustaches spruce.
By the time of his return she was nineteen and had outgrown her juvenile awkwardness. Her hands and feet fit her again, her skin had cleared up, and Lucienne, improving upon Durand's lessons, had taught her poise, how to dress well, what to do with her hair, how to use cosmetics discreetly but to good effect. She had been hearing Patrick's praises sung ever since her arrival at the casino, for Lucienne had known his father and counted him a sort of honorary son. She quickly realized that she had only thought herself in love with Durand: Patrick was the real thing. Her affection for him was securely founded on her gratitude for his kindness, her consciousness of his many good qualities, his genuine interest in her and his respect for her mind and spirit. He was, literally, the love of her life. They were soon inseparable. Within a month they were engaged; within another they were married.
Patrick might be a gambler like Durand, but there the resemblance ended. The games he played were strictly of the gambling kind--dice, billiards, cards. He was a confidence man only in the sense that every professional card man must be, with the ability to perform mental sleight of hand, convincing others that lies are truth and the truth a lie; his profession depended upon expert deception, and he wouldn't have lasted long without developing the ability to a peak. He was soft-spoken, quiet-mannered, a keen judge of human nature, cool-headed, steady of nerve and deft of fingers; he was always immaculately, expensively attired and scrupulously neat. Unlike Durand, he rarely touched liquor, and in his treatment of Maude he was always a perfect gentleman. He taught her schooled speech and an encyclopedic familiarity with the games he loved. He owned a wardrobe of twenty English suits, two overcoats, an assortment of jewelry and two valuable slaves, a valet for himself and a maid for Maude. He bought her good jewelry and dressed her to complement him, in the most fashionable clothing money could buy--and proved to have as keen a sense of women's fashion as of men's. Like all his class he was restless, and their life was nomadic, spent chiefly on the riverboats as they roamed about the East, South, and Midwest. They visited New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Charleston and New Orleans; Richmond, Washington, and Albany; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Louisville, Memphis, Lexington, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Davenport, Des Moines, Omaha; Rochester, Cleveland, Toledo, Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago on the Lakes; Mobile, Galveston, and Houston on the coast, and Huntsville, Columbus, Tuscaloosa, and Natchez in the deep South. They stayed at the best hotels, shopped in the finest stores, went to the theater (which Patrick, like all gamblers, loved) and the races, talked about a voyage to Europe. Maude felt that her dreams had been fulfilled at last. And their love was genuine, deep and passionate.
Pausing in her story, she disappeared briefly into the bedroom of the suite and returned with her dressing-case, lifting up the segmented trays to slide her manicured fingers under its velvet bottom and pull gently up. A shallow compartment was revealed, in which lay two or three envelopes (Chris and the others recognized Ezra's handwriting) and a meticulously hand-colored daguerrotype of a slender, handsome man, perhaps thirty, dressed in a broadcloth frock coat, flowing tie, tight trousers strapped beneath the insteps of his polished black high-heeled boots, an elegantly frilled and ruffled white shirt, gorgeously brocaded vest, and a shiny silk hat tilted at a slightly rakish angle. One lavender-gloved hand held a gold-headed walking stick, and a dashing bottle-green cape with a plum velvet collar was thrown about his shoulders, one side tossed back to reveal an ivory-handled sixgun at his hip. His chestnut hair was slicked back with pomade, and except for the cheekbones and his sweeping mustaches and hazel eyes his face might almost have been Ezra's. "This is Patrick," she said. "This picture has never been far from my hand these twenty-five years and more." Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. "I destroyed all the others after he was gone; I couldn't bear to look at them. But this one I couldn't bring myself to give up; it was always my favorite. I truly believe that he saved my life. When I met him, I didn't care whether I lived or died. He gave me back my confidence, my self-respect, my desire to go on. I will never, never be able to repay what I owe him."
They had been married just over a year and were in Charleston when their son, Ezra Patrick (after Maude's grandfather and his own father), was born. Maude herself was gratified enough at the baby's advent, but little inclined to pay him much attention until he got old enough not to need to be looked after every minute; she left most of his care to her Negro maid. Her husband was different. From the first he proved himself to be one of those people clearly designed by nature to be parents. "Patrick was so utterly delighted at his son's existence," she recalled quietly. "He loved Ezra beyond all reason. As soon as Ezra could walk and talk, Patrick took him in hand. He took him everywhere, showered him with presents, yet was always firm with him, never foolishly overindulgent. And Ezra returned his love. They were boon companions from the first. Patrick declared that Ezra was a born card man, that he would be one of the greatest gamesters of all time. Certainly Ezra inherited much from him: his coloring, his grace, his physique, his sense of style, his musical ability and bent for languages." She smiled wanly. "And I think, too, his love of rubies: they were Patrick's birthstone, and there was scarcely a day when Ezra didn't see him wearin' at least one."
When Ezra was three, Maude bore a daughter, Sophia Rose, in Cincinnati, but she died of the cholera that swept the country that year. The following year the Standishes went to California by way of the Isthmus--a six-week trip from New York, uncomfortable and haunted by the specter of yellow fever, but faster and cheaper than the voyage around the Horn. They stayed there a little over a year, then returned to New Orleans by way of one of the first transcontinental stagecoach routes--a line from the Coast to Salt Lake, where they made connections with the Hockaday line to Independence--and the downbound boat from there. Ezra was five and a half when they arrived. New Orleans in those days was the leading city of the South, the capitol of the cotton kingdom, and, in a measure, also of sugar and rice. Located as it was near the mouth of the Mississippi, it was in a position to exact commercial tribute from almost the entire region between the Appalachians and the Rockies for as long as water remained the most practical means of transporting goods in bulk, and with the increase of steamboat traffic, it continued to maintain its commercial dominance; indeed, in the decade of the '30's its population had doubled, making it for a time the third largest city in the nation, and the three decades beginning in 1830 eventually came to be known as the Golden Age of Louisiana.
It was September, but no leaves turned red or brown, and few fell from the trees; in the brief, damp winter the thermometer never showed lower than forty, though the penetrating cold felt far worse than the figure would indicate, and by March every window would be open and the air almost smelling of summer. Planning to stay over the season, the Standishes rented a house near the edge of the Vieux Carré, just a block or two from Canal Street, where the French First Municipality of the city--the Creole section--gave way to the American Second, almost a Yankee enclave, largely brick-built, consumed with civic pride, substituting progress for charm, with paved streets and the St. Charles and Veranda Hotels, its houses well spread out, not bunched as in the French part. The house had been built after the Great Fire of 1794, and like most of the buildings that rose from the ashes, being under the aegis of the Spanish occupation, it was Spanish in style, with wrought-iron railings, plaster-over-brick walls, and an enclosed patio where little Ezra could play in safety, as well as a mansard roof such as would become de rigeuer sixty years later as an element of "Second Empire" houses. The floor plan was a sort of modified Spanish-Colonial, being built around the courtyard, which was accessed by way of a narrow gated passageway, and having a three-sided, double-deck ramada. Two small corner shops--a tobacconist/news agent and a coffeehouse with a second-storey card-and-billiards room--and a double-sized one, used as a bakery, occupied the façade, and on each floor seven rooms, each with its own door opening out onto the ramada, were arranged end-to-end or at right angles to each other to make a U. The eighth "room" was the stairwell, which was roofed over against the drenching rains that sometimes blew in off the Gulf, but otherwise open. The windows were paired French casements, and the doors were French too, double, with long glass panes set into them and a rectangular transom above, and vertical board shutters swung on iron strap hinges to cover them. Coming in by the passageway, you came first to the kitchen on the right, then the dining room, then Ezra's bedroom, the stairs, Patrick and Maude's room, a guest room, library (used as a family sitting room), and parlor. Upstairs were more guest rooms and quarters for the family's two slaves. A free Negro cook came in by the day, as did a housemaid, and laundry was sent out each week.
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