by Sevenstars & Aureleigh


Ezra was quartered with the other boys in a large, simply furnished room on the top floor of the "first house," with steel engravings on the walls--the 1619 House of Burgesses, Spotswood on the crest of the Blue Ridge with his Golden Horseshoe Knights, Patrick Henry in Old St. John's, Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence, Washington receiving the sword of Cornwallis. He slept under an intricate Wheel of Fortune quilt on a single-width brass bedstead of the kind just becoming fashionable that decade, with an iron frame and lattice base--only the girls and their parents had half-tester beds. Under one window was a Sheraton pier table that was used as a desk, with a Hitchcock chair pulled up to it and an Argand lamp conveniently placed. There was an Empire chest with four drawers, one of which the boys had cleared out for the newcomer's use, and a six-foot Empire stand, big enough for two washbasins and pitchers to be used at once. Regiments of toy soldiers, as tall as your finger, from captain to drummer, maneuvered in one corner; fox horns, bows and arrows, and shiny toy swords hung on the walls; everywhere were bags of marbles, iron trains of cars, toy carts and ships, butterfly nets, popguns, tops, bats and balls, skates, drums. Displayed on a stand was a completely detailed model of an Arab chief on a prancing white horse, both in full battle array, on which Ezra gazed with longing. He was intrigued by his Cousin Philip, who didn't look at all like the other children: he had olive skin, soft brown eyes and abundant black curls, where all the other Ainslies were ruddy or fair, with blue or gray eyes and blond, red, or sandy locks. But, as had become his custom, he was slow to offer friendship or confidences, and slower still to "pry." He kept waiting for someone to jump him, and couldn't believe it when the family seemed to accept him with none of the whispers or emotional stinting he'd grown to expect.

Perhaps the tolerance of the early Valley had rubbed off on the Ainslies, who, after all, had certainly been in residence long enough; or perhaps something of the cosmopolitan outlook of the Ludwells, however diluted by two generations of outmarriage, lingered on. Whatever was to be credited, there was a frankness, almost an earthiness, to them that made them apparently far less inclined to think themselves superior to their young guest than he had found most of his other kin to be. Most characteristic was Great-Aunt Helen Ludwell (she had been the youngest sister of Tom's grandmother, only a year older than her nephew Thomas, and was therefore actually Ezra's first cousin four times removed, but the children all called her Great-Aunt (though she was really their father's) and he did the same). She was eighty-three years old, but she wasn't conventional and didn't believe a girl's interests should be limited to household duties. She was well educated, spoke French, and delighted in reading all kinds of daring books. Though independent of income thanks to a number of slaves who were hired out all up and down the Valley, with half their earnings going to her and half into their individual "freedom funds," she thought slavery was wrong, and planned to set them all free in her will, as did Cousin Tom. She adored pretty clothes and believed in having a good time. Her tastes were "gay"; she doted on operas, lively dance tunes, and French novels. She was proficient in music, and her conversation was spiced with Italian and French phrases. She was also noted for a certain frankness of speech, perhaps because at her age she was securely enough established in her position not to need to worry about being discreet. It was she who first explained to young Ezra just what his kin condemned Maude for doing--and told him, with an air not unlike that of Nettie Wells, that they had no reason to feel superior. "There've been skeletons enough in our family, Lord knows. Grandpa Benjamin was nobody's saint--sued his wife for divorce in 1770, when he was eighty and she was fifty, claimed that she was so malformed she couldn't comply with his male needs--and there was a cousin who drank herself to death, and Aunt Katherine--that's your Cousin Betty Ann's mother--she drank too much, and rode a horse like a hill nigra; ran through three husbands and they do say-- And the Duchesse deMarche, who was one of Louis Philippe's never-mind; when your Cousin Tom's brother was secretary of the Legation he married her, back in the '30's. And then there was Cousin Portia, who married that schoolteaching popinjay that died of a consumption in Natchez--and Philip's father, he was an Italian count, or so he claimed; made quite a flutter in New Orleans. But he was a no-'count, really. Got all the money he could out of the Ainslies and then went back to Rome. After Philip's mama died, your Cousin Tom adopted him; no need for him to keep the name of a father who didn't want anything to do with him."

Understanding at last, and realizing that this household at least was disinclined to look down its nose at him, Ezra slowly began to emerge from his shell. He took part in his cousins' country amusements and entranced them with his vocabulary and his stories of the places he'd been. He was a fine runner and splendid rider, and had learned to give a good account of himself with his fists; his cousins appreciated these things. In the summer they went swimming in Otter Creek or visiting their Seaton relations, Cousin Betty Ann's brothers, at Valley View and Seaton Hundred; in the fall and winter they often went hunting, following the hounds afoot all through a frosty day. When school took up they all rode to and from the Academy every day, and when the local boys offered to "test" the newcomer, the Ainslies stood up with him until it became clear to the bullies that if they hit Ezra the whole family would consider itself injured. It was his first taste of the satisfactions that could come of having a trusted group to work with.

The Ainslie children ranged from Guy, the youngest boy, who was a few months under Ezra's age, and Electra, the youngest girl, who was fourteen, to Walter, the eldest son of thirty-five. The girls were given singing lessons, learned dancing and proper manners, American history and the "feminine arts"--oil painting and ornamental wreath fabrication--and were taught by their mother and aunts to do intricate feather and crewel embroidery for decorating bed hangings and curtains, delicate hairpin braid for baby clothes and their own petticoats. In their teens they were sent to the female academies to study piano, guitar, drawing, and French. The boys pursued Latin, American history, and elementary algebra until it was time to go off to a state university (intended to train future political leaders, chiefly by way of legal studies), military school (meant to prepare officers for the Army, though not a few did only a brief stint before resigning to go into engineering for the burgeoning railroads of the day), or church school (which educated clergymen), or perhaps some Northern medical school, for if they were not to work the land, law, medicine, the Army or the pulpit were the only truly acceptable paths to follow. Music and "ballroom deportment," or dancing, were included in the studies of both. The young ladies skated on the pond in winter, boated on the river in summer, rode horseback and attended parties, played piano and guitar, painted on china, and made exquisite sketches of belted and buckled knights, old castles and pensive ladies, and (though good Protestants) Madonnas and cloistered nuns. They knew Lalla Rookh by heart and acted Mazeppa with young men who idolized Ivanhoe, Ingomar, and Sir Walter Raleigh. They devoured the novels of Amelia Opie and the purple pages of Gothic tales like Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, M. G. Lewis's fiendish tale of The Monk, Isaac Mitchell's The Asylum, or Alonzo and Melissa, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Charles Brockden Brown, and Edgar Allan Poe, replete with antique lands dotted by picturesquely ruined castles or mouldering abbeys and convents, all properly partitioned into dungeons, secret panels, underground passages, and haunted chambers, and elegantly furnished with rolling balls of fire, animated portraits, statues given to nosebleeds, and groaning ghosts, all serving to terrify abducted girls and erring wives. They also took delight in a shelf of the Minerva Press blue books from England, with titles like Florian de Videmont, Chieftain of the Blue Castle, and Lucretia, or the Robbers of Hyrcanian Forest; Norbury's The Watch Tower or the Sons of Ulthona, Murray House in three volumes by Mrs. Parsons, author of The Mysterious Visit, The Peasant of Ardenne Forest, and The Miser and His Family; Zerfloya, or The Moor; and anything else with an air of exoticism about it. Electra frankly admitted that she couldn't abide Wordsworth, because he wrote only of "commonplace things," but she liked Scott and Chatterton, and Southey was her favorite of all poets.

Every morning, every inch of mahogany was waxed, rubbed, and buffed to the highest state of polish, as were also the floors, the brass fenders, the big brass andirons, and the silver candlesticks, snuffers, and tray; the hearths were clayed, and the doorknobs brightened till you could literally see your face (distorted) in them. Twice a week someone would ride up to Lexington to fetch the mail. Every Sunday the family took a pleasant shady ride to a pleasant shady church, dozed a little through a comfortable sermon, then enjoyed a sociable hour making dates for future dinner parties and talking of crops and politics with friends on the church steps and in the twilight dells of the old churchyard, and at last headed home for dinner and an afternoon's relaxation on the wide porches. Through the long summer days when the heat shimmered impalpably over the rustling corn and the buzzards hung high and still in the empty air, the house was dark and cool with its closed shutters and bare polished floors. At evening the crows all went home with a long level flight. Then the night air held a balmy fragrance, and the honeysuckle loaded it with a delirium of perfume. Often the boys found it too warm to sleep, and escaped from their beds to make their way down to the branch, where the land was level and the glassy moonlit water was broken at long intervals by a leaping fish, only to break in swift green rapids a little farther down. In winter there were Christmas parties and sleigh-rides, more guests than ever--the number of featherbeds, straw beds, shuck beds, pallets, and shakedowns the old house could produce was literally incredible--unbelievable breakfasts after which a horseback ride (ending with a flying gallop) was demanded by all the laws of digestion, dances at night, and the house so full that the older boys were sent out to the "office" in the yard to sleep; but precious little sleeping they did, between playing euchre, drinking whiskey punch or apple toddy, and gabbling about horses, dogs, guns, duels, "old Soc," "old Gess," "Schele," "Math," getting "pitched," and a dozen things else. (Ezra thought, with wry amusement, of how he used to sneak down there and con them all into playing red dog or poker with him. He usually won, too. The big boys were first astonished, then a little angry, and at last admiring; they predicted great things for him in college. And when Cousin Tom found out what he'd been up to, he didn't get out a strap, as Ezra half expected him to do. He only asked, mildly, "Did you play honestly?" "Yes, sir," Ezra agreed. "Well, then," said Cousin Tom, "the boys have to learn how to lose from someone--better it should be kin.") After Christmas the cold weather set in. The house was heated only by the open fires. Long sandbags were laid on the doorsills to keep out drafts. The opening of a door automatically produced the caution, "Put the sandbag back." Occasionally snow fell, and Ezra's cousins introduced him to the delights of "snow-cream"--fresh, clean snow beaten into a bowl of thick cream well flavored with sugar and brandy.

But the time Ezra found sweetest was the spring. At that latitude it came early: mid-April saw the season in full cry. At half-past six in the morning the temperatures were in the forties, but by noon they hit sixty-five. On one really warm day Cousin Tom recorded a temperature of forty-seven when he awoke at five-thirty, and by midday it had reached seventy. With sundown came the cool night air and an almost instant plunge to fifty-two, and by the wee hours it was close to freezing again. Sometimes around noontime or late in the evening a spring thunderstorm blew up in the west, bringing white, pink, and bluish-white lightning and winds that could reach forty miles an hour, and even hailstones an inch and a half in diameter; these storms could rage for as much as twelve hours before moving on, and they knocked the earlier blooms off everything, but the later plants seemed all the more beautiful for the lack of competition. The redbuds opened in full bloom. The apple trees still had some blossoms, but the pears and peaches were already finished. Tulips and pansies filled the garden. But the glory and highlight of the spring lay in the dogwoods. The mountains were covered with wild ones. White, pink, and creamy-pink, they dotted lawns and lined driveways. At the same time the azaleas opened, hot pink, soft purple, flaming orange, pure white, and radiant pink. The wisteria swaying from doorways and pergolas added lavender and more white to the color scheme. Fire stars dotted banks with their brilliant red, and the air was filled with heady scents.

And the food! Whether served on Canton china thin as biscuit, or on the plainer blue dinner set for everyday use, with the big apples on the little trees, the blue islands in a white sea, the man or woman pausing provokingly in the middle of a short bridge, the country cooking was abundant and delicious, most of the food coming off the family's own land, apart from a few luxuries like coffee and tea, spices and rice. The family stills yielded cider and brandy from the fruit trees, and from the hogs and peanuts came hams which the Ainslies considered quite equal to the legendary Smithfields of Southampton. The farm produced apricots and peaches, pears and cherries and apples, and in summer you died daily of a surfeit of peaches and cream and tingling-cold watermelons, all on top of your regular dinner. Raspberries, strawberries, and cherries were canned and jellied for winter. Wine was made from the ripe grapes, peaches and figs preserved, pickled, and brandied, and both apples and figs dried on long tables in the sun. At threshing-time the large shed near the barn was a scene of buzzing activity, huge cogwheel aloft, little cogwheels, big post turning around, thick shafts with two horses to each, eight or ten horses to a machine, the boys sitting on the shafts to drive them. Next came cider-beating time, and the boys got gloriously sick from drinking sweet cider and eating apple "pommels;" the press was a good, honest beam, eighteen inches thick and fifteen or twenty feet long, jobbed into a hole cut clean through a stout oak tree, with a wooden trough holding half a ton of rocks, and an affair with holes and pegs to regulate the prizing. Hickory nuts and walnuts were gathered in the woods every fall. The table groaned with fried chicken, stewed chicken, broiled chicken, and chicken pie; old hare, mutton stew, barbecued shoat, squirrel, partridges, catfish, pot-pie, bacon and greens; butter beans, green peas, beets, cabbage, new potatoes, cymlings, snaps, parsnips, cornfield peas, onions, artichokes, carrots, roasting ears, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, hominy, mushmelons, dewberries, damson tarts, June apples, fried apples; hoecake, ashcake, pancake, battercakes, fritters, apple bread, cracklin bread, hot lightbread, waffles, scrambled eggs, gooba-peas, hickory nuts, popcorn, sweet milk, buttermilk, bonny-clabber, persimmon beer, cider, milk and peaches, honey in the comb, snappin'-turtle eggs.

It was a working farm, and the Ainslies were proud of that, but there was time still for talk, study, hunting and fishing, music and dancing, charades and cards and backgammon and other games, fine needlework, reading, writing letters filled with family news, and daily horseback rides that took them for miles along the shady bridle paths that wound through the woods; for camp-meetings, evening teas, fox hunts, horseraces (usually quarter horses), cockfights, gander pulls, drinking parties, an occasional boxing match, militia musters, housewarmings complete with ball and supper (mandatory not only when new houses were occupied but even when old ones were repaired), wedding parties, warrant-tryings, vendues, election and general-muster days, parties of all kinds from candy-stews and "infares" up to cotillions and the regular country balls in Lexington, Negro weddings, fish-fries and barbecues, sora- and duck-shooting, dinings in and dinings out, the Bishop's visit, company come for all day, company regularly domiciled for the week, month, or half year. "Comp'ny" was, indeed, always coming or going: beaux to see the grown-up girls, neighbors, friends, strangers, kinfolk--no end of them. The gig, the double buggy, the carry-all, the carriage were in constant use. Horses, two to a dozen, were seldom wanting at the rack, and the boy of the family was sure to be on the horse-block, begging permission to "ride behind," or to "carry" the horse to the stable. Such visits weren't just social events, but training grounds where young and old alike were taught to think and converse.

The children shared the same games--hide-and-seek, ring-around-a-rosy, drop-the-handkerchief, puss-in-the-corner--as the pickaninnies played, and trundled hoops around the foreyard, white and black together. They listened spellbound to their nurse's tales of Br'er Rabbit and the other animals. As they grew older they climbed trees, jumped on haystacks, fished and waded in the creeks, swam in the ponds, rode the plow horses and mules, and got into mischief by chasing geese, teasing pigs, pinching frosting off cakes when the cook's back was turned, and dipping their fingers into the juice box in the sugar house. "Young mistis" in her sunbonnet, with a couple of large white pointers gambolling about her, had her retinue of black attendants, who, bare-armed and barefooted, accompanied her in her rambles through the garden, in the open woodland near the house, and sometimes as far as the big gate. Each "young master" by turns, with his troop of little darkies, was everywhere about the property--in the yard, playing horses; in the fields, hunting larks or partridges; in the orchards, searching for birds' nests; in the barn, sliding down the straw-stacks; in the woods, twisting or smoking rabbits out of hollow trees or taking his dogs in quest of a brier-patch to jump one from; in the "branch," wading, swimming (which was called "washing" in Virginia), or fishing for minnows with pin-hooks (the bait being carried in a cymling); in the patch, plugging half-ripe watermelons. All the boys grew up with guns, shooting squirrels, coons, possums, partridges, robins, larks, even kildees and bull-bats, and when the wild pigeons came there was an endless fusillade. They butted heads with the little Negroes, upset beehives, brought big wasp-nests into the house and got stung, tried to tame catbirds, made partridge-traps out of tobacco-sticks, set gums for cottontails and mash-traps and deadfalls for minks, ate too many black-heart cherries, and lived in bare feet and patched breeches. At the "old field schools" they attended they learned to play marbles "for good," play hard-ball, choose partners for cat and chermany, and tell lies about getting late to class because they'd fallen into the branch (for even boarders in these schools lived a mile away, and carried their lunch in tin buckets). On holiday they broke colts and shot field-larks by day, went possum-hunting or listened to Negro ghost stories by night.

The girls learned to ride as well as their brothers did, and Cynthia, the eldest, could handle firearms with great accuracy and skill; their father took them fishing, and they accompanied their brothers on sporting forays in the forests. There was even a note of Sir Walter Scott in the fancies of one daughter, Diana, who was eighteen then; she read descriptions of ladies of chivalry and took to the field in imitation of them, and almost persuaded herself that she was living in the fourteenth century. There was something pleasant in the idea of moated castles, gay knights, border feuds, roundelays under one's window, and lighted halls where ladies danced corantos and trod measures. She longed to have a merlin perched upon a fist "miniardly begloved," as the minstrels put it, and to be followed by her falconer and a page in a silk doublet and a pair of greyhounds, and be worshipped by a gallant cavalier who would break a lance for her. To that end she was actually training a marsh-hawk as a falcon, and had succeeded in manning him. He had a silver ring, or varvel, fitted to one leg, with his name, Fairbourne, copied from some old tale, engraved on it, and the legend, I live in my lady's grace. Her mare Grace thought no more of a ditch or a moderate worm-fence than she did of a demi-semiquaver.

All the young Ainslies grew up with Negro "aunts" and "uncles" who were cherished as if they were nearest of kin. Their mother lavished caresses on them, their "mammy" gave them succor and nourishment, and grandfather, cousins, and "uncles" both kin and black joined their father--though he was often busy with muster rolls, courthouse visits, hunting parties, and other activities that conferred status but not always reward in coin--in giving attention to them. Every morning the girls would sit on hassocks beside their mother's chair, hemming napkins and handkerchiefs. Every day they and their brothers were required to learn a verse from the Bible. On Sundays they had the ponderous questions and answers of the Shorter Catechism. Sometimes the girls would sing the old ballads, like "Barbara Allen" and "Lord Lovel," or read favorite romances aloud while their mother and the black seamstress cut out and sewed clothes for the slaves to wear. On rainy days the old house with its many dark closets, irregular rooms, assorted levels, and the garret stretching its whole length, was a fine old place to play hide-and-seek in; and when that palled, they wandered from room to room, eating cakes and apples, or buttered bread and strawberry jam, and at last settled in Great-Aunt Helen's chamber and held a hank of yarn till their arms ached.

The young Negroes often spoke, with some pride, of "Miss Diana, my miss," or said, "I Miss Flora's gal," or "Ole Marse done gi'me to Marse Walter, an' me an' Marse Walter gwine lib togeder all our days." And indeed it often happened so. The boy who had played horse for his young master, who had helped him to set traps, first for snowbirds and then for partridges and rabbits, who dug his bait and carried his pole when he went fishing, and accompanied him on his squirrel hunts, was apt to become his body-servant in early manhood, his confidential friend and advisor in middle life and old age. Where families were near neighbors and very intimate, it wasn't unusual for a lad of one family to take a great fancy to a colored boy of the other, and the two, wandering off into the woods, would lay all sorts of plans for the future. "Marse Quentin, you mus' git your Pa to buy me. Den when we's all growed up you mus' marry Miss Mary--she like you a heap--Car'line what wait on her say she good as tell her so jus' yestiddy--an' den I'll marry you-all's Judy--she de likeliest gal I know, an' a good gal too--an' we'll all go trabblin' to de Springs an' come back an' build us a house an' live happy till we die." And if the marriage with Miss Mary wasn't always consummated, the purchase of the colored playmate often was, and the two, growing old together, had no interest that wasn't in common and shared together the responsibilities of the family, the house, and the farm.

Two months after Ezra's twelfth birthday, Maude suddenly blew back into his life, flush with $5000 netted in some magnificent con, and announced that they were going to Europe. He was actually unhappy to be leaving the first house where he had ever been made to feel at home. Yet he thrilled to the notion that she had actually sought him out, that she wanted him with her. At first he couldn't believe it. He didn't really dare to let himself believe it until they were sailing out of New York harbor, together with Maude's new maid and a tutor for Ezra himself, a bright young man named Philip Hastings, just out of the University of Virginia. Europe! The London of Dickens, the Paris of George Sand, the Italian hill villages, the vineyards of Germany, the Scottish highlands, land of Scott's stories and ballads; England, the first home of America's language, her laws, her liberty, her culture. To the precocious boy, going there was a long-cherished dream come true.

It was as wonderful as he had hoped. They landed in Ireland, went to England, and took a tour through the west counties, visiting cathedrals, villages, castles, and seaside resorts. Every notion he had ever had about how wonderfully quaint a British town should be seemed no more than simple truth as he climbed on top of a coach in the courtyard of the inn where he had slept under the puffiest quilts imaginable. A brisk crack from the whip of the jaunty driver, the merry toot of the postman's horn, and they were off, clattering along the high road, passing roses red beyond belief in every doorway, fields of the deepest green he had ever seen; cottages and castles that belonged in a storybook, so that he would hardly have been surprised to see a knight in armor or a beautiful princess on a pure white horse gallop up to their coach; village churches with their effigies of colored marble and light streaming through windows of emblazoned glass; old thatched farmhouses that spoke of repose and sheltering quiet. Hidden English villages where bees boomed in eighty-foot lindens that overhung gray Norman churches; brooks diving under stone bridges built for heavier traffic than would ever vex them again; tithe-barns larger than their churches, and an old smithy that had once been a hall of the Templars; gypsies on a common beside a Roman road, and a red fox rolling dog-fashion in the sunlight--all these sights delighted his young mind. Once their coach broke down and Maude somehow wangled an invitation to stay at an ancient house of lichened and weather-worn stone, with mullioned windows and roofs of rose-red tile. Semi-circular walls, also rose-red, enclosed the lawn, and there were doves on the roof about the slim brick chimneys. Shakespeare might have guested here, or Queen Elizabeth. Ezra found heavy oak garden-doors sunk deep in the thickness of the wall, marvelled at the Tudor roses and lions of the gallery and at how many little secrets the place seemed to hold--up a step here, down three there; a maze of passages; abandoned fireplaces, six feet deep in the masonry, and the tangle of connecting doors; recesses in walls, embrasures of deep-slitted windows. The property, he was told, comprised 800 acres, most of it let to folk whose families had been on the land for generations. And almost as splendid, next door, was a square, dark-bluish-brick Georgian pile, with a shell-shaped fanlight over its pillared door, where they were bade to tea, and where a slim-balustered staircase, wide and shallow and creamy-white, climbed out of the hall under a long oval window, and sea-green mantelpieces were adorned with nymphs, scrolls, and Cupids in low relief, and one, in the second-floor drawing room, with Orpheus and Eurydice. This too had an estate of 800 acres, five farms altogether, within three main roads bounding the blunt triangle of the estate.

They visited Shakespeare's shrine at Stratford, then spent a month in London, where Ezra was in raptures--browsing in the British Museum, roaming through Little Britain, Smithfield and Southwark, the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, Cock Lane, the Guildhall, London Bridge, St. Paul's, Old Jewry; rejoicing in the traces of former splendor in crooked lanes and shabby squares, the houses that had once been lordly mansions, with oaken carvings, time-stained chambers, fretted ceilings and great bow windows, bulging with diamond panes set in lead; searching for the Boar's Head Tavern, the ancient abode of Dame Quickly and the wit and wassail of the roisterer Falstaff and his crew; following the footsteps of Goldsmith in Green Arbor Court and the tower at Islington where he had lived; losing himself among the shadowy grandeurs of the past in huge monastic ruins like Tintern Abbey; walking till late, for twilight lingered in the August evenings, and at ten o'clock the sky was still pearly. He saw the Houses of Parliament a-building, as they had been building since 1840. He viewed the Thames, which till early that century had been the city's chief avenue, and thought of how Chaucer and Shakespeare had briskly boated up and down it, how Francis Bacon was always going bankrupt buying new and gaudier costumes for his private boatmen, how Pepys bargained furiously with watermen for a ride up or across, and Nell Gwyn rowed along full of splendor and intrigue. And the Tower! Philip's passion was the history of England, and he told stories that made the boy understand that the Tower housed not only history but personages--Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Protector of the realm, reposing side by side with the brother he murdered; John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and Cardinal of St. Vitalis, a man worthy to have lived in a better age and died in a better cause; Sir Walter Raleigh, that queer, dark, morbid adventurer, who for thirteen years paced its moonlit stone walls; Richard II and Henry VI; Lady Jane Grey, made to stand at a window and watch the headless body of her young husband Guilford Dudley being brought back from Tower Hill; Elizabeth before she became Queen; the "little Princes," Edward Vand Richard, Duke of York; John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Lord High Admiral; Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Lord High Treasurer, and the other Essex, on whom nature and fortune lavished all their bounties in vain, and whom valor, grace, genius, royal favor, and popular applause conducted to an early and ignominious grave; two chiefs of the great House of Howard, Thomas, fourth Duke of Norfolk, and Philip, eleventh Earl of Arundel; the two fair queens who perished by the jealous rage of Henry Tudor; and the old lady, Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, who, when her time came, wouldn't hold still to have her head cut off, but ran around and around the block, protesting, while the headsman, and finally half the guard, galloped furiously after her. Ezra always felt he would have liked the Countess--and Elizabeth too, who came to the Traitor's Gate on the orders of her half-sister, Queen Mary, but sat down on the stones and defied the soldiery to lay so much as a finger on her royal person. A delicate situation: this slender young girl, with her hair blazing red-gold under the torches, was the daughter of Henry VIII, a Tudor, and one thought twice, orders or no orders, before rudely prodding a Tudor. The Constable of the Tower argued (respectfully) with her for more than two hours before, in return for what she considered concessions to her dignity, she consented to sweep proudly off to her prison. Every block in the City was hallowed, not once but six times over, by History or Literature or more usually both. St. Bartholomew's Close: Hogarth had been born there, Milton had hidden there at the Restoration, and Benjamin Franklin had lived there when he was working in the print shop then located in the Lady Chapel; Washington Irving had had rooms there too. The Charterhouse on Aldersgate Street, whose history began in the fourteenth century and trotted briskly across time and tragedy to Thackeray, who called it "Greyfriars" in The Newcomes, with stops along the way at such notable doomed owners as Lord North, who went to the block along with his son and his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, and the Duke of Norfolk, who got caught up in the plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on Elizabeth's throne. Keats was born at 85 Moorgate Street, Daniel Defoe died in Ropemaker Street. And Westminster Abbey housed the monuments of so many great Englishmen that it took diligent study to figure out who was missing.

And after London came the Ettrick Vale, Gala Water, the Braes of Yarrow, the Eildon Stone where once stood the Eildon Tree under which Thomas the Rhymer, who met the queen of the fairies in the glade, had uttered the spells. They visited Dryburgh Abbey and crossed knolls and streams that were famous in old national tales and songs. Then by train to Scotland, with historic spots gliding past the windows, it seemed, every other minute. Ezra kept his finger in the guidebook and bounced from one side of the coach to the other, determined to miss nothing, though Maude kept reminding him of "appearances." "Look, Mother, look! There's Carlisle, the Carlisle that Scott wrote about in The Lay of the Last Minstrel! It was an English laydie bright/Where sun shines fair on Carlisle wall..." In Glasgow they took country drives and sailed on the Clyde. Then they went on to Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen, and made a pilgrimage to Scott's grave, to Abbotsford, and to Melrose Abbey, where Ezra walked the whole figure and saw the scene by moonlight as the poet described it.

After several months of touring the British Isles, they crossed to the Continent, where they spent several weeks in Brittany, then went on to Belgium; to Switzerland, where they journeyed to Geneva and Vevey and made the usual excursions to Mont Blanc, the Mer de Glace, and the Monastery of St. Bernard; to France, where they lived an idyllic life in St.-Germain-en-Laye for several months. They crossed the Alps to visit Milan and the Italian lake district, toured Sicily, Egypt and the Holy Land, and saw Athens, where stately columns reared by Hadrian when Rome was mistress of the world stood like a group of minarets beside a dilapidated mosque reared by the Turk in his strivings after universal sway, and not far away were buildings of the Franks and Venetians who were in turn masters of the land, traces of the Goths and Ostrogoths, the Vandals and Slavs, the Catalans and Genoese. Then on to Corinth, notable chiefly for the wonderful Venetian stronghold that capped the rocky summit of the Acro-Corinthus and extended its walls in great confusing zigzags down the slopes on every side. Above Nauplia, atop the Palamidi, was another fortress, begun by the Venetians, completed by the Turks, and now garrisoned by the Greek Army. It was reached by a marvellous zigzag staircase comprising 857 steps, and was used as a prison, although the view of the coast was so lovely that it was hard to pity the prisoners. From Nauplia they drove to Epidaurus to view the ruins of the sacred Sanotarium and the splendid theater, and then went back to Italy to settle in Rome for the winter. Headquartering in a modern six-room apartment in the Quirinal section, a district of vineyards and small villas with here and there an ancient palace, Ezra found the Eternal City a dreamland in its picturesque neglect and decay; here he saw the foreign artists gathering at the Caffe Greco, sallied forth for picnics and sketching on the Appian Way, stopped at the Fountain of Trevi where Lord Neville had talked with Corinne, and took a daily walk with Philip or his mother along the Via Gregoriana, where the view was truly panoramic, encompassing as it did the gigantic dome of St. Peter's Basilica, the historic Castel Sant'Angelo, the Quirinal Palace with its gardens of flowering ilex and magnolias, the impressive tower of the Capitol, the low rounded dome of the Pantheon, the rugged gray shell of the Colosseum, and a vast expanse of open campagna. He visited the Spanish Steps, sat with his sketchbook among the ruins of the Roman Forum, climbed the broken staircases of the Colosseum, sketched the flower vendors on the Piazza di Spagna, and was taken to the Pincian Gardens by Philip, who forgot himself so far as to play games with him. He saw Michelangelo's Pietà under the massive dome of St. Peter's, and the mellowed walls of the church of Santa Susanna. In April cascades of purple wisteria burst into bloom against gray garden walls, and their villa became "a precipice of roses."

From Rome they made their way to Florence, which had a dreamlike quality somehow increased by the rare manuscripts in its libraries and the simplicity of its churches compared to the Roman ones with their "tornadoes of saints." Then through Bologna and Ferrara and Venice, back to France, on to Holland, through Wurttemberg and Bavaria to Innsbruck, Munich, Heidelberg, Frankfort, and Mainz, viewing the cathedrals and universities, and down the Rhine, delighting in the woods and vineyards and moldering castles, scrambling about amid the ruins and observing the costumes of the peasants and the antique buildings in Frankfort and Dusseldorf; to Austria, where Ezra saw Salzburg and the castle on the Danube, built round the very peak of a craggy rock, with the darkest dungeon anyone could imagine, the perfect place, as Irving had said, for a heroine to be confined in or a ghost to haunt; to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia; to Poland, one of the most romantic of European countries; back to France, and then to Spain, where Ezra and Philip passed enchanted hours in muleback rides over the volcanic mountains and gloried in the gardens, the myrtles, laurels, lemons, box-trees and roses, the castellated country houses, gorgeous churches, and crumbling nunneries, the wildly picturesque mountain vistas of the Cordilleras, with convent bells ringing in the valleys. Granada was as wonderful as Athens, with its memories of the Moors, of King Boabdil, and of Ferdinand and Isabella, who lay buried in the grand Cathedral, their effigies, side by side, surmonting a splendid mausoleum of Carrera marble, set off by a superb iron screen designed by Bartolome in 1522. And the Alhambra--not even Irving had done justice to it, the courts and mazes, halls and arcades, the richly arabesqued rooms, and the Court of the Lions with its famous fountain, lower basin supported by twelve carved lions of a kind unknown to natural history, for the Moslem sculptors were enjoined by their religion against the creation of the likeness of any living thing.

Paris called again, so they went back for six months, taking a sunny apartment in the Avenue Marceau, in a busy district of theaters and cafés. From it Ezra branched out through the wide boulevards, enjoying long walks in the Bois, along the River Seine with its many ornamented bridges, along the Champs Elysées, under splendid triumphal arches, into picturesque squares and circles, the Place Vendome and the Place de la Concorde. He visited museums and gardens, promenaded in the parks, and spent many happy hours examining the art treasures of the Louvre, including a recently discovered Greek statue, the armless torso of a lovely woman, which the French called the Venus de Milo. He climbed the Arc de Triomphe and drove with Philip in an open carriage along the boulevards and through the Bois. They watched the procession of Louis Napoleon, the new tyrant-emperor, noticing that he received no cheers from the crowds. They went to the famous old Cathedral of Notre Dame and saw its two massive square towers and superb stained-glass windows, the decorations of carved wood and chiselled stone, the grotesque gargoyles grinning from the cornices and waterspouts. One afternoon they drove up the hill of Montmarte, leaned on the parapet and surveyed all Paris spread below them. The city's quaint antiquities and modern grandeur were something Ezra knew he would never forget.

The mid-nineteenth century was the Golden Age of the Latin Quarter, a period celebrated by Murger in his The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter, which, published in 1848, was larded with the most seductive aspects of the Quarter; Ezra had of course read the book, and naturally they explored that part of the city too. Best of all he liked driving to Fontainebleu or Marly when the weather was fine, sitting on rainy days beside the fire in its brass grate, poring over albums of engravings by Piranesi and Raphael Morghen, discussing the German poets with Philip, talking about spiritualism, mesmerism, phrenology and animal magnetism, and taking turns quizzing each other in German or reading aloud the things they most loved: the springtide writers--Chaucer, Boccaccio, Dante; DeQuincey--what music, what perfection of style, in his pages!; Shakespeare, Fenelon's Telemaque, The Stones of Venice, Venetian Life, poetry. He developed a passion for German literature: Schiller, Klopstock, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Wieland, Karl August and Frau von Stein. Then, after three years abroad, they reluctantly (at least on Ezra's part) boarded a homebound ship in Liverpool.

Throughout all those three years he was drilled in Latin and Greek, in Homer, Plato, Horace, Livy, Shakespeare and Scott, and the historians and romancers of the medieval world, Froissart first among the rest; in philosophy, logic, American history, mathematics, and French; history, grammar, elocution, geography, poetry-reading, and Bible. He was given lessons in piano and ballroom deportment. He learned German and Spanish and even dipped into Hebrew. By his fifteenth birthday Philip pronounced him fit to enter any college in the land. His mother had somehow learned or guessed of the many imbroglios he'd fallen into in the process of defending her honor and himself; because she intended him to be a Southern gentleman, it wouldn't do if he was prone to accidents and fisticuffs, so she turned to gentleman's sports to rein in her troublesome son--part of the reason she had brought him along on this trip, after all, was to provide him with polish--and paid for boxing lessons in England, fencing lessons in Italy and France. And yet, side by side with the learning and the sightseeing, there were the cons. Five thousand dollars was a great deal of money, but not enough to support four people on the full Grand Tour. Maude made up shortfalls at the casinos and gambling halls, and when those failed to provide the necessary amount, she turned, as always, to her other kind of game. Ezra had helped her with these since he was very young--her need of his innocence and attractiveness was almost the only reason she ever summoned him to be with her--and now he began to learn more of the trade. He loved Europe, and he was happy he'd had the opportunity to go there, but he came to understand that he hadn't been asked along for his own sake. He was part of Maude's arsenal, and that was all.

For all that, though he wasn't a sentimental man, he often thought that those three and a half years in the Valley and on the Continent were the only ones since his father's disappearance when he had ever been truly happy. By the time the Standish party returned to the New World, the War was on. And afterward there was a polishing with Maude, their parting, and a decade of wandering about the South and the West, seeking--he thought--wealth and success. Ezra had known money, at times, but he had frequently known want as well, and hated it with a passion. Conning and gambling were both lines with ups and downs--as bad as land or stock speculation, if not worse. So he did what he had to do to survive, and put his personal dreams on hold, or shoved them away altogether, as he had learned to do in his rootless boyhood. Not until he lit in Four Corners and became one of the Seven did he realize just how thoroughly he had been deceiving himself. It wasn't just wealth, or security, or success that he was looking for, though it certainly would be pleasant to have them. It was acceptance, and the sense of having family and a place of his own, as he'd had it with the Ainslies.

Up until he met Chris Larabee and the others, no one had ever given him any reason to think that he could, or would, be trusted to do anything sensitive or honest, whether it was carrying out what Nathan or Vin might have called "a job of work," watching someone else's back without taking off at the first hint of peril to himself, providing character analysis (something for which his professions certainly qualified him), or playing a pivotal role in any plan, whether he had originated it himself or not. In a very real sense, he had been living "down to" the expectations of others most of his life. In Four Corners, for the first time, he had found things to live up to--and he found, quite to his amazement, that he enjoyed the feeling he got from it. Six other men had dared to take a chance on him, to think he had it in him to provide what they needed. It was like nothing he had ever known or expected before.

And still they seemed incapable of granting that he, like them, was what his past had made him. No one seemed to think it remarkable that JD should still retain a certain degree of innocence and naïveté; they chalked it up to his Eastern upbringing and simply adjusted to it and did their best to teach him how to overcome it. No one seemed surprised that Vin--a wanted man--should be uneasy around strangers and inclined to vanish into the shadows when he wasn't needed. No one seemed particularly astonished that Larabee should be moody, standoffish, inclined to brood, sometimes tempery; they remembered what he had lost and how he had lost it and gave him some latitude on that account. Ezra couldn't comprehend why they didn't offer him the same courtesy. They'd met Maude; they knew enough of his past that they should be able to understand how thoroughly his childhood and young manhood had instilled in him the idea that he could never be liked or trusted for himself. That the only comfort he could ever have was money and what it could buy him. Like so many people who had been "on the outside looking in," or had known want after prosperity, he had inevitably developed a fixation on seeing himself comfortably settled for life. Why couldn't they understand this?

There were times when their attitude toward him had a hypocritical flavor to it. How many times had he run a scam to their benefit? With a kind of bitter amusement he tallied them up in his mind: the Lucas James affair, when he'd tricked young James into a position of vulnerability; the Wickestown business, when he donned the purple dress and saloon-singer persona and helped save Mary Travis's life; the Elliott-Wheeler incident, when he'd not only suckered Steven Travis's killers himself, but somehow (and rather to his own astonishment, looking back on it) managed to turn Maude from her intention of suckering the town to helping him smoke out the miscreants (was that what she had been trying to balance accounts for, when she forced him out of business? he'd never known her to sink to that level of personal vindictiveness before); the Jericho mission, when he'd employed his tact and diplomacy (assisted by a bottle of whiskey) to extract the information they needed from the deputy; the visit of the Nicholses, when he convinced them to head for Mexico rather than Chris's shack; the recently concluded wagon-train assignment, when he had offered to use his letter to Maude to represent the deed needed to emancipate Charlotte. Apparently his devious mind was only a character flaw when he used it to benefit himself; when it was used for the town or the others of the Seven, it suddenly became an asset. Just as Mother always maintained. Everyone is out for whatever they can get, everyone wants something from you.

A bitter sigh escaped the gambler as he concluded that he, the master con artist, had been conned--by himself and everyone else in his life. His reflections had brought him to one inescapable conclusion: that it was all up to him. Even if his associates had any reason to learn the truth of his situation, they'd probably be glad to be rid of him. Yes, they had all gone after Chris Larabee when he was imprisoned in Jericho, but that had been in the nature of self-preservation, which was said to be (and in Ezra's experience definitely was) the first law: without Larabee to lead and direct them, to weld their divergent personalities into a working whole, the Seven could never survive as a group. Yes, if it were JD in a situation like this, Buck would move heaven and earth to find him, and if it were Vin--taken, perhaps, by some bounty hunter--Larabee wouldn't hesitate to go after him. But to Ezra it seemed remotely possible that only Vin, of the other six, might conceivably care enough to try to seek him out even if the tracker knew he was in peril. As for Maude, she had an unwholesomely Yankeefied love of money--had used him all his life in the effort to accumulate it; why should she be willing to part with any of her hard-earned gains in order to purchase his liberty? Oh, she might pretend to accede to his kidnappers' demands, might stall to give him time, but in the end, what real value did he have to her? He had never been anything to her but a partner/accomplice/pupil at best, a tool or outright inconvenience at worst. If he was to survive his current situation and gain his freedom, it would have to be by his own efforts. He should have known all along that it would come to that in the end. It was Ezra P. Standish against the world and always had been. He was the only constant in his own life, and had only himself to depend upon when things went bad. It was time to stop brooding and start planning.

He heard the rattle of a key in the padlock and turned to face the door. Apparently it was time for a meal to be served. His captors might not be up to his ordinary culinary standards, but at least one of them was a fairly competent cook; he remembered Buck mentioning once that every cowboy had some skill in that direction, being forced to it by line-camp duty, and the great majority developed considerable expertise at the art. (Buck himself, though he claimed the opposite, was actually quite good at it, as long as you didn't distract him while he was working.) The diet they offered him was limited, but certainly he wasn't likely to grow weak from starvation. That was his edge--that and the fact that they might not think a citified-seeming man like himself would have what it took to get away from them. And, like a hole card in stud, it was something he had no intention of revealing until he had to.


Pawn Index

Comments to: Sevenstars