|Author:||Orson Scott Card
|Series:||The Tales of Alvin Maker: Book 5|
|Avg Member Rating:||
Peggy is a Torch, able to see the fire burning in each person's heart. She can follow the paths of each person's future, and know each person's most intimate secrets. From the moment of Alvin Maker's birth, when the Unmaker first strove to kill him, she has protected him.
Now they are married, and Peggy is a part of Alvin's heart as well as his life.
But Alvin's destiny has taken them on separate journeys. Alvin has gone north into New England, where knacks are considered witchcraft, and their use is punished with death.
Peggy has been drawn south, to the British Crown Colonies and the court of King Arthur Stuart in exile. For she has seen a terrible future bloom in the heartfires of every person in America, a future of war and destruction. One slender path exists that leads through the bloodshed, and it is Peggy's quest to set the world on the path to peace.
Arthur Stuart stood at the window of the taxidermy shop, rapt. Alvin Smith was halfway down the block before he realized that Arthur was no longer with him. By the time he got back, a tall White man was questioning the boy.
"Where's your master, then?"
Arthur did not look at him, his gaze riveted on a stuffed bird, posed as if it were about to land on a branch.
"Boy, answer me, or I'll have the constable..."
"He's with me," said Alvin.
The man at once became friendly. "Glad to know it, friend. A boy this age, you'd think if he was free his parents would have taught him proper respect when a White man"
"I think he only cares about the birds in the window." Alvin laid a gentle hand on Arthur's shoulder. "What is it, Arthur Stuart?"
Only the sound of Alvin's voice could draw Arthur out of his reverie. "How did he see?"
"Who?" asked the man.
"See what?" asked Alvin.
"The way the bird pushes down with his wings just before roosting, and then poses like a statue. Nobody sees that."
"What's the boy talking about?" asked the man.
"He's a great observer of birds," said Alvin. "I think he's admiring the taxidermy work in the window."
The man beamed with pride. "I'm the taxidermist here. Almost all of those are mine."
Arthur finally responded to the taxidermist. "Most of these are just dead birds. They looked more alive when they lay bloody in the field where the shotgun brought them down. But this one. And that one...." He pointed to a hawk, stooping. "Those were done by someone who knew the living bird."
The taxidermist glowered for a moment, men put on a tradesman's smile. "Do you like those? The work of a French fellow goes by the name John-James.'" He said the double name as if it were a joke. "Journeyman Work, is all. Those delicate posesI doubt the wires will hold up over time."
Alvin smiled at the man. "I'm a journeyman myself, but I do work that lasts."
"No offense meant," the taxidermist said at once. But he also seemed to have lost interest, for if Alvin was merely a journeyman in some trade, he wouldn't have enough money to buy anything; nor would an itinerant workman have much use for stuffed animals.
"So you sell this Frenchman's work for less?" asked Alvin.
The taxidermist hesitated. "More, actually."
"The price falls when it's done by the master?" asked Alvin innocently.
The taxidermist glared at him. "I sell his work on consignment, and he sets the price. I doubt anyone will buy it. But the fellow fancies himself an artist. He only stuffs and mounts birds so he can paint pictures of them, and when he's done painting, he sells the bird itself."
"He'd be better to talk to the bird instead of killing it," said Arthur Stuart. "They'd hold still for him to paint, a man who sees birds so true."
The taxidermist looked at Arthur Stuart oddly. "You let this boy talk a bit forward, don't you?"
"In Philadelphia I thought all folks could talk plain," said Alvin, smiling.
The taxidermist finally understood just how deeply Alvin was mocking him. "I'm not a Quaker, my man, and neither are you." With that he turned his back on Alvin and Arthur and returned to his store. Through the window Alvin could see him sulking, casting sidelong glances at them now and then.
"Come on, Arthur Stuart, let's go meet Verily and Mike for dinner."
Arthur took one step, but still couldn't tear his gaze from the roosting bird.
"Arthur, before the fellow comes out and orders us to move along."
Even with that, Alvin finally had to take Arthur by the hand and near drag him away. And as they walked, Arthur had an inward look to him. "What are you brooding about?" asked Alvin.
"I want to talk to that Frenchman. I have a question to ask him."
Alvin knew better than to ask Arthur Stuart what the question was. It would spare him hearing Arthur's inevitable reply: "Why should I ask you? You don't know."
* * *
Verily Cooper and Mike Fink were already eating when Alvin and Arthur got to the rooming house. The proprietor was a Quaker woman of astonishing girth and very limited talents as a cookbut she made up for the blandness of her food with the quantities she served, and more important was the fact that, being a Quaker in more than name, Mistress Louder made no distinction between half-Black Arthur Stuart and the three White men traveling with him. Arthur Stuart sat at the same table as the others, and even though one roomer moved out the day Arthur Stuart first sat at table, she never acted as if she even noticed the fellow was gone. Which was why Alvin tried to make up for it by taking Arthur Stuart with him on daily forays out into the woods and meadows along the river to gather wild ginger, wintergreen, spearmint, and thyme to spice up her cooking. She took the herbs, with their implied criticism of her kitchen, in good humor, and tonight the potatoes had been boiled with the wintergreen they brought her yesterday.
"Edible?" she asked Alvin as he took his first bite.
Verily was the one who answered, white Alvin savored the mouthful with a beatific expression on his face. "Madame, your generosity guarantees you will go to heaven, but it's the flavor of tonight's potatoes that assures you will be asked to cook there."
She laughed and made as if to hit him with a spoon. "Verily Cooper, thou smooth-tongued lawyer, knowest thou not that Quakers have no truck with flattery?" But they all knew that while she didn't believe the flattery, she did believe the warmheartedness behind it.
While the other roomers were still at table, Mike Fink regaled them all with the tale of his visit to the Simple House, where Andrew Jackson was scandalizing the elite of Philadelphia by bringing his cronies from Tennizy and Kenituck, letting them chew and spit in rooms that once offered homesick European ambassadors a touch of the elegance of the old country. Fink repeated a tale that Jackson himself told that very day, about a fine Philadelphia lady who criticized the behavior of his companions. "This is the Simple House," Jackson declared, "and these are simple people." When the lady tried to refute the point, Jackson told her, "This is my house for the next four years, and these are my friends."
"But they have no manners," said the lady.
"They have excellent manners," said Jackson. "Western manners. But they're tolerant folks. They'll overlook the fact that you ain't took a bite of food yet, nor drunk any good corn liquor, nor spat once even though you always look like you got a mouth full of something'." Mike Fink laughed long and hard at this, and so did the roomers, though some were laughing at the lady and some were laughing at Jackson.
Arthur Stuart asked a question that was bothering Alvin. "How does Andy Jackson get anything done, if the Simple House is full of river rats and bumpkins all day?"
"He needs something done, why, one of us river rats went and done it for him," said Mike.
"But most rivermen can't read or write," Arthur said.
"Well, Old Hickory can do all the readin' and writin' for hisself," said Mike, "He sends the river rats to deliver messages and persuade people."
"Persuade people?" asked Alvin. "I hope they don't use the methods of persuasion you once tried on me."
Mike whooped at that "Iffen Old Hickory let the boys do those old tricks, I don't think there'd be six noses left in Congress, nor twenty ears!"
Finally, though, the tales of the frolicking at the Simple Houseor degradation, depending on your point of viewwound down and the other roomers left. Only Alvin and Arthur, as latecomers, were still eating as they made their serious reports on the day's work.
Mike shook his head sadly when Alvin asked him if he'd had a chance to talk to Andy Jackson. "Oh, he included me in the room, if that's what you mean. But talking alone, no, not likely. See, Andy Jackson may be a lawyer but he knows river rats, and my name rang a bell with him. Haven't lived down my old reputation yet, Alvin. Sony."
Alvin smiled and waved off the apology. "There'll come a day when the president will meet with us."
"It was premature, anyway," said Verily. "Why try for a land grant when we don't even know what we're going to use it for?"
"Do so," said Alvin, playing at a children's quarrel.
"Do not," said Verily, grinning.
"We got a city to build."
"No sir," said Verily. "We have the name of a city, but we don't have the plan of a city, or even the idea of the city"
"It's a city of Makers!"
"Well, it would have been nice if the Red Prophet had told you what that means," said Verily.
"He showed it to me inside the waterspout," said Alvin. "He doesn't know what it means any more than I do. But we both saw it, a city made of glass, filled with people, and the city itself taught them everything."
"Amid all that seeing," said Verily, "did you perhaps hear a hint of what we're supposed to tell pe...
Copyright © 1998 by Orson Scott Card
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