Monday, November 4, 2013

Knife, Spatula, and Skillet, Page 238

     The keeper had bolted the entrance to his jail.
     “Your name, sir?” Pitcairn asked.
     “Ephraim Jones.”
     “Ye have denied entrance to my soldiers. I demand that your man remove the bolt.”
     “This jail is private property! You don’t have the right!”
     Pitcairn studied him. The man was in his fifties, stolid, his mouth stubbornly set. His eyes showed no fear.
     Pitcairn turned to the nearest grenadier, who was holding a heavy axe. “Break it down,” he ordered. “A jail house is not private propairty,” he said.
     The man shrugged. He stepped in front of the door. A second grenadier pushed him aside.
     “What are ye hiding?” Pitcairn demanded, inside the jail.
     “Nothin' that concerns you!”
     “Then let this concairn you! Pitcairn pushed the barrel end of his pistol against the jailer’s nostrils. “Show me what ye’ve concealed!”
     For ten seconds, the jailer resisted.
     Three twenty-four pound cannon balls were carried to the millpond. Ephraim Jones was escorted to the center of the Common.
     Surrounded by redcoats, he asked, “Am I under arrest?”
     Pitcairn scrutinized him. An amusing thought occurred to him. “Ye be an innkeeper, also, I’m told.”
     The man's face revealed nothing.
     With the seriousness befitting a magistrate, Pitcairn declared, “Ye have acted treasonously, Innkeeper Jones. Ye are my prisoner. As His Majesty’s representative, I orrder ye now t’prepare me breakfast. If ye comply, if ye prepare me thick ham and sausage, I will parole ye.”
     Ephraim Jones squinted.
     “Think judiciously, innkeeper. Your release depends upon your talent with knife, spatula, and skillet!”


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review

"Dancing at the Rascal Fair"

by Ivan Doig


Ivan Doig’s “Dancing at the Rascal Fair” did not win me over until I had read the first third of the book. I found the account of two young Scotsmen, Angus McCaskill and Rob Barclay, emigrating to America in 1889, traveling to Montana, locating Rob’s enterprising uncle, Lucas Barclay, and establishing homesteads in high country just east of the Continental Divide mildly interesting. Reading about the people of the region and their ways of living was useful. Doig’s dialogue is crisp and unique to each character. He is visually expressive. His phraseology of thought and emotion is excellent. His characters are the antithesis of being stereotype.

Here are examples of Doig’s expressive skills.

About the news of the death of Rob Barclay’s father received in a letter: “As much sadness as paper can absorb was in that letter.”

About Angus’s wife’s reluctance to learn how to saddle a horse: “Beside the big gingerbread-colored horse, Adair was a small pillar of reluctance.”

About Angus and Adair’s unhappy marriage: “When a marriage begins to come apart, the stain spreads into whatever it can find.”

Doig is indeed an excellent writer. What seemed lacking initially was story excitement, compelling conflict, too much introspection by the novel’s first person narrator, Angus. But when Angus meets Anna Ramsay and falls instantly in love with her, causing the first major rift in Angus and Rob’s friendship, my attitude changed.

Angus and Rob’s deteriorating relationship is the backbone of the novel. Rob is ambitious, optimistic, socially engaging, and persuasive. Angus, ambitious enough, is educated, practical, rather cautious, and cognizant of other people’s feelings. Rob has a selfish side. Angus is introspective and principled. Angus explains three-fourths of the way through the novel how he and Rob are broadly different. “He sees life as something you put in your pocket as you please. I never find it fits that easily.” Rob wants to decide things for both of them and expects to have his way. Angus resents being manipulated. Being friends, they are able early on to banter away most of the friction this produces. Rob invests heavily in raising and grazing sheep. Angus does on a much smaller scale, and he becomes the school master of the local creek-land homestead children.

On the other side of a butte and beside a different creek is another school house. Angus makes a courtesy call on the school house and meets its school mistress, Anna Ramsay. He is entirely smitten by her. She is attracted to him. Soon they make love. He proposes. She delays her answer until the end of summer. She and her family, needing money, are to accompany Isaac Reese (a neighbor) to build railroad crossings and plow fireguard strips along the Great Northern Railway. Not long after the Ramsay family’s departure, Rob persuades Angus to ride with him by wagon to the nearest railroad station to pick up a Montgomery Ward cream separator that Rob has supposedly ordered. The separator turns out to be Adair Barclay, Rob’s 19 year old sister, whom Rob has brought from Scotland to Montana for Angus to marry. Angus is incensed. Rob has interfered in his personal life and he has placed his sister in an extremely awkward, vulnerable position. Angus has to tell Adair that he is engaged. At the end of the summer Anna tells him that she intends to marry Isaac Reese. Angus is emotionally destroyed.

A month later Angus marries Adair. He is convinced he cannot live any longer by himself. He is also afraid that his desire for Anna will stay with him the rest of his life. Adair knows she is second-best and that Anna will always be in his thoughts.

Adair has great difficulty adapting to the bigness, harshness, and loneliness of Montana life. She resists its challenges. She miscarries twice. She tells Angus that she wants to go back to Scotland to “visit.” Angus recognizes her purpose. He narrates: “By invoking Scotland, Adair was saying that our marriage need not be a lasting barrier keeping me from Anna.” Angus has treated her with great consideration. He wants her to stay, all the while wanting Anna more. But then Adair becomes pregnant again and gives birth to a son, Varick. This event keeps her from leaving.

Years pass. The breech in Angus’s friendship with Rob widens. Rob complains to Angus about his obsession with Anna. Angus tells him not to interfere. Rob pressures Angus to join him in a “land locator” partnership. For a fee they would lead prospective settlers to dry land (the only land still available) and mark the boundaries of their future homesteads knowing all the while how foolish these settlers would be to file claims. Adair tells Angus that she “doesn’t know if she can stay, after Varick is grown and gone.” Believing he must finance his, Adair’s, and Varick’s separate futures, Angus agrees to the partnership. After two summers of land locator work, his conscience bearing heavily on him, weary of the resentment his clients direct at him, Angus quits. To make up for the lost income, he agrees to partner with Rob in raising more sheep, which will graze and be sheered on Indian reservation land.

Angus drives their combined sheep herds onto the reservation land and sets up a sheering camp. Anna and her two children pass through the camp headed north. Her husband, Isaac Reese, is building roads for the national park, and she and the children are going to visit him. Angus persuades Anna to spend the night in the camp. He then persuades her to join him to witness alone the arrival of dawn. She does so. Rob arrives late to camp, learns that Angus and she were alone together and assumes incorrectly that the two had made love. Rob accuses Angus. Angus tells him, “Rob, don’t ever give me any more guff about something that’s none of your business.” Rob tells Varick about Angus and Anna’s supposed intercourse. Varick, in his late teens, rejects his father and moves into the nearby town. Angus beats Rob to within an inch of his life.

104 pages of the book remain. Angus and Rob’s relationship deteriorates further and Angus’s relationships with Adair and Varick evolve. Enough said.

How does the ambitious, risk-taking person deal with disappointment and defeat? Is such a person able to accept less so as not to be destroyed? What separates the person who can and the person who cannot? Can such a person adapt and experience happiness? Ivan Doig has Lucas Barclay, Rob Barclay, Angus McCaskill, and Adair Barclay McCaskill answer these questions. This book was not an easy read but definitely worthwhile. Although I very much wanted to, I could not quite rate this novel five stars.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Dr. Eliphalet Downer (played by Matt Damon in my imaginary movie) is holding a pistol as the sailors of two British sloops heavy with rum and sugar are taken aboard the “Yankee,” the privateer on which Downer has served four months as ship’s surgeon. The privateer has captured eight prize ships but not two during a single voyage. The second action had been especially lively. Downer had manned a cannon out of the window closest to his surgeon’s quarters. Watching the prisoners come aboard, Downer recognizes that they outnumber considerably the privateer’s crew, too many of whom are to sail the sloops back to a friendly port. He realizes that those crewmembers who remain aboard the “Yankee” must maintain constant vigilance.

Two hours later, while cleaning his surgical instruments, Downer hears shouts above his quarters. Two or three shots are fired. Heavy feet resound on the deck above. Minutes later he is arrested by two of the prisoners that he had an hour before examined.

Cut to the arrival of the “Mars,” a British prison ship, at Gosport, England, near the British naval base at Portsmouth. It is October 13, 1777. Downer and three Massachusetts seamen are removed from the prison ship and locked inside a filthy cell of Forten Prison, originally a privately owned naval hospital but now a cruel prisoner of war facility. “Expect t’be rottin’ yer bones here, mates!” one of the ship’s guards taunts. “Y’be dead in three months!”

The guard’s declaration is merited. The conditions of life here for prisoners are abominable, as indicated by Downer’s deposition printed later that year in the radical Worcester, Massachusetts, newspaper, The American Spy.

“That after he was made prisoner he and his countrymen were closely confined, yet assured that on their arrival in port they should be set at liberty, and these assurances were repeated in the most solemn manner; instead of which, on their approach to land they were in hot weather of August, shut up in a small cabin, the windows of which were spiked down and no air admitted insomuch that they were all in danger of suffocation from the excessive heat. Three or four days after their arrival in the River Thames they were relieved from this situation in middle of the night hurried on board a tender and sent down to Sheerness, where the deponent was put into the “Ardent,” and there falling sick of a violent fever, in consequence of such treatment and languishing in that situation for some time, he was removed, still sick to the “ Mars,” and notwithstanding repeated petitions to be suffered to be sent to prison on shore, he was detained until, having the appearance of mortification in his legs he was sent to Hester Hospital [at Forten], from whence, after recovering his health, he had the good fortune to make his escape. [We must assume that this deposition was taken while Downer was in hiding after his escape] While on board those ships he was informed and believes that many of his countrymen, after experiencing even worse treatment than he, were sent to the west Indies, and many of those taken at Quebec were sent to the coasts of Africa as soldiers."

A biographical sketch of Eliphalet Downer -- taken in part from the Biographical Encyclopedia of Massachusetts, from "Brookline in the Revolutionary War," published by the Brookline Historical Society, and from original letters furnished by his descendants – indicates that soon after his arrival at Forten Prison, Downer was made a hospital assistant. That changed circumstance must have made Downer’s escape less daunting. Unfortunately, this sketch provides no details of his escape. We will leave its depiction to the imagination of our imaginary screen writer and film director.

We will permit the screen writer also to portray how Downer’s wife, Mary, was affected by the news of his capture. She had not yet received a letter from him, would in fact receive only one during his three year absence. Added to her anxiety was the daily burden of feeding her family. The half-pay order that Downer had left with her was worthless. Obtaining necessary food for three sons and one daughter was a daily ordeal. Frequently, Elizabeth did not know where their next meal would come from. The boys helped, catching pigeons in nets, scooping smelts out of brooks, and receiving payment for raising strawberries for the officers sick in Boston hospitals.

We see Downer carrying his bag of instruments onto the privateer “Alliance,” anchored in a French port. “We’ll be cruisin’ the Channel,” its captain has informed him. “Suspect we’ll be needin’ yer sawin’ and yer fightin’. In a year we expect t’be sailin’ home.”

Having captured 18 prize ships, the men of the “Alliance” at last set sail to cross the Atlantic. Two days west of the Azores the privateer is challenged by a 28-gun frigate. The “Alliance” is unable to flee. It must engage. Four hours into the battle, Downer, manning a cannon pointed outside the window next to his quarters, is driven to the floor by a fusillade of grapeshot. Downer cries out in agony. He stares at his right arm. The humerus bone of his right arm has broken through his coat sleeve.

Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth took special notice of Walter Raleigh in 1582 when she summoned Arthur Grey, Lord Deputy of Ireland, and Raleigh to appear before her Privy Council to be interrogated.  A captain of English troops in Ireland, Raleigh had sent critical messages about Grey’s job performance quelling rebellion to Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to the Queen.  Responding, Grey had accused Raleigh of making misrepresentations and fomenting plots.  “I neigher like his carriage nor his company,” Grey had written Walsingham.  Eloquent, persuasive, Raleigh presented himself before the Queen and her councilors far better than his superior.  Not wanting to go back to Ireland, Raleigh thereafter sought and was permitted to stay on at the Royal Court. 
Raleigh was 30 years old.  Eighteen years older than Raleigh, Elizabeth was taken by his masculinity, intellect, self-confidence, and charm.  Highly intelligent herself, erudite, fiercely independent, craving male adoration, she demanded his daily presence eager to debate his opinions, appreciate his wit, welcome his brass dismissal of rivals’ criticism, and bask in his declarations of courtly love. 
Throughout her lengthy reign Elizabeth thrived on masculine flattery.  She reveled in the artificial rituals of manly courtship.  She was not a beautiful woman; but her personality, according to biographer Alison Weir, was compelling, charismatic.  She charmed the opposite sex by utilizing her wit, vivacity, and expressive eyes.  She was far more at ease with men than women, whom she regarded as rivals.  It pleased her to believe that those who flattered her were really in love with her.  “As the years went by, she took more and more extreme measures to recapture her lost youth, but her chivalrous courtiers continued to reassure her that she was the fairest lady at court, a fiction her inordinate vanity allowed her to swallow” (Weir 229).
Raleigh was nearly six feet tall (a good eight inches taller than the average male).  He was dark haired with a lighter, neatly-trimmed beard and moustache.  He had piercing light brown eyes.  He was handsome, graceful, and very bold.  He had a charming Devonshire accent.  She teased him about it, calling him “Water,” not “Walter.” 
Raleigh was born in Devon in 1552, the youngest of five children.  His father was of the lower gentry.  Raleigh was a distant relative of Francis Drake (by way of his father’s first marriage) and the half brother of Humphrey Gilbert (by way of his mother’s first marriage).  Raleigh attended Oxford and the Inns of Court.  He was boisterous with friends and was often in trouble for brawling and playing practical jokes.  One of his roommates recalled him as being "riotous, lascivious, and incontinent."   He was bright, ambitious, and energetic.  He was inquisitive; he was a free-thinker.  He had a wide range of interests and possessed many talents.  He believed he could attain greatness.  He interrupted his studies in 1569 to join the Huguenots in France to fight against Catholic tyranny.  He may have been in Paris August 25, 1572, to experience the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.  Raised listening to the exciting tales of Devonshire seafarers, fired by the idea of global exploration, he participated in Humphrey Gilbert’s first attempt (1578) to found an English colony in North America.  Three of the seven ships that Gilbert commanded deserted; foul weather kept three others in port.  Raleigh’s ship left port and was gone for nearly six months, sailing probably as far as the Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of Africa), its crew and captain intent on practicing piracy.  
Mostly because of the recommendation of his mother’s aunt, Katherine "Kat" Ashley (who had served as governess and confidante to Elizabeth before she became Queen), in 1580 Raleigh secured a position at the royal court.  He became one of the Esquires of the Body Extraordinary, a group of personable young courtiers who performed for Elizabeth ceremonial duties.  Exhibiting a volatile temper, almost immediately he fought two duels and was imprisoned.  Needing to remove him from the contentious environment of the Court, Raleigh’s allies persuaded the Queen’s advisors to assign him to officer English soldiers in Ireland.  This entailed engaging Papal troops sent to a Catholic fort at Smerwick, County Kerry.  Accepting Lord Grey’s pledge of clemency after a three day siege, the Pope’s troops surrendered.  The fort's women were thereupon hanged, its priests tortured and executed, and all of the soldiers stabbed.  Much of this was done under Raleigh’s supervision.  Raleigh remained in Ireland until early 1582, when he and Deputy Lord Grey were summoned to appear before the Queen.
It had become nearly impossible for a courtier who lacked a noble pedigree to establish himself at Court.  England’s nobility had become even more resistant to social class upward mobility.  Expanded trade with European countries had enabled English merchants and the lesser gentry to become rich and powerful.  The influence of older landed families had begun to wane.  Peers were no longer automatically filling the highest levels of government.  The nobility, reacting, strived to redefine upper class status.  Gentlemen, henceforth, were to be defined by how money was made, not solely by wealth.  Great emphasis was placed on education and correct behavior.  “Nobility is a way of living, a sharing of tastes, a mastering of social graces” (Miller 138).  The nobility demanded enforcement of laws that defined the clothing styles allowed each class.  They and rich merchants strived to outdo each other, each wearing fine and costly garments.  The rise to prominence of a son of the lower gentry or mercantile class was fought against vehemently.
Moreover, competition to win favor at Court, regardless of a man’s pedigree, was fierce.  “The nearer one was to the Queen, … the greater the reward, which included court and government posts, knighthood, peerages (very rare), monopolies on goods, annuities, pensions, wardships and loans” (Weir 254).  Few openings for young candidates existed.  Success ultimately depended on winning Elizabeth’s approval.  Striving to do so was exceedingly costly. It required a massive outlay of funds to create a competitive visual image.  Many lost their fortunes; others had to sell off manor lands to pay their London debts.  If a young man was so fortunate as to be admitted into Elizabeth’s circle, he now had to worry about maintaining his advantage.  He could easily be supplanted.  Fashion at Court was all important, a public statement.  A courtier had to compete in the display of outlandish attire.  He also had to compete in dancing, writing poetry, and exhibiting accomplishments that revealed a fluency in many languages.  Elizabeth had created an exceedingly high bar.  Raleigh surmounted it handsomely.
In Elizabeth’s eyes Raleigh was fearless, daring, and overpoweringly virile.  He wooed her, sending her notes of endearment, playing skillfully the unrequited lover.  He traveled with her from palace residence to palace residence as well as on progresses throughout the kingdom.  Using a diamond ring Raleigh carved a message on a stained-glass window that read “Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.”  She carved a witty response: “If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.”  One of his poems, written in 1588 read in part:
            Those eyes which set my fancy on a fire,
            Those crisped hairs which hold my heart in chains,
            Those dainty hands which conquered my desire,
            That wit which on my thought does hold the reins!
            Those eyes for clearness do the stars surpass,
            Those hairs obscure the brightness of the sun,
            Those hands more white than every ivory was,
            That wit even to the skies hath glory won.
Elizabeth provided him a substantial income.  She bestowed on him two leases from All Souls College, Oxford.  He received the authority to charge every vintner in the country one pound a year to retail wines.  Import wine permits had to be obtained initially from him.  Later, he was given large and very profitable grants involving the export of woolens.  In late 1582 or early 1583 he was given a commodious house on the Thames River.  He used his income to dress lavishly, like a prince.  His clothes glittered with rubies, diamonds and pearls.  His footwear was adorned with jewels.  All the vessels at his table were of silver with his own code of arms.  His bed was draped with a green velvet spread bordered with silver lace.  His four posts were garnished with white feather plumes.  His rivals, and most of the nobility, hated him.  Raleigh was denounced as a manipulator, a fraud, a deceiver.  They made cutting jibes about his low birth.  Raleigh disdained their contempt, wearing it as a badge of honor.  Elizabeth reveled in it, even encouraged it.  Fearful of his effect on the Queen, many Privy Council members viewed him as an enemy. 
Profiting from Elizabeth’s favoritism, Raleigh pursued his objectives.  After his half-brother’s death at sea in 1583, Raleigh wanted Gilbert’s colonial patent transferred to him.  Elizabeth obliged.  Raleigh’s enterprises at Roanoke were about to begin.
Sources Cited:
Miller, Lee.  Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000.  Print.
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.