Cover image for The delinquent virgin
Title:
The delinquent virgin
Author:
Kalpakian, Laura.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Saint Paul : Graywolf Press, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
In slightly different forms some of these stories appeared in the Iowa Review, Story Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Chuckanut Review and other publications.
Language:
English
Contents:
Lavee, lagair, lamore, lamaird -- How Max Perkins learned to edit -- Right-hand man -- A brief inquiry into the origins of St. Elmo, California -- Little women -- Cromwell's castle -- The delinquent virgin -- Moby-Jack -- Change at Empoli.
ISBN:
9781555972950
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Magic brewed from the merely commonplace distinguishes the stories inThe Delinquent Virgin. A plaster Virgin--conventionally set in a church Nativity scene--goes missing night after night with strange community consequences. The mysterious governess Miss Savage wreaks her weird and terrible revenge decades after she has been dismissed. Emmertt Wells narrates a story of sex and violence--with no sex and no violence. Uniting many of these wayward pieces is the fictional desert town of St. Elmo, California, a place perhaps best described as "east of L.A. and west of the rest of the world." Here, using the alchemy of memory and imagination, Kalpakian creates fiction undaunted by the ordinary constrictions of time and place.


Author Notes

Laura Kalpakian is the award-winning author of several novels and short story collections She has won the PEN West Prize for Best Short Fiction and received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. She lives in Washington State.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Readers of her previous work know that St. Elmo, California, is Kalpakian's Yoknapatawpha County. It's no surprise, then, that most of the stories in her new book, The Delinquent Virgin, take place there, too. In the title story, a church's plaster madonna disappears from her post night after night. The statue turns up in the oddest places: at the St. Elmo police headquarters, in the emergency room, on the courthouse steps, at a hospital for the criminally insane, until her wanderings make the complacent Father Reedy wonder if the virgin isn't doing his job better than he is. In "Right Hand Man," we feel Emmett Wells' disappointment when he recounts how the editor of the St. Elmo Herald-Gazettea man who exhorted the St. Elmo High graduating class of 1918 to "Serve the Truth" --asks for Emmett's help in the service of a lie. Kalpakian's spare, melodic prose beautifully conveys the ebb and flow of corruption and disenchantment. --June Hathaway-Vigor


Publisher's Weekly Review

Subtitled "Wayward Pieces," this generally beguiling collection of nine varied short stories veers from lightweight entertainment to some solid explorations of the human condition. Kalpakian is most impressive in two stories in which she features characters who scorn mediocrity and determine to live on a higher plane. The supercilious, bitter professor in "Change at Empoli," who has fled America and her bourgeois family to direct a program for exchange students in Italy, realizes belatedly, and to her regret, that her life has been organized around high-flown principles that are in reality heartless, cold and empty. Carefully orchestrated and developed, this is the collection's best work. The cleverly titled "Lavee, Lagair, Lamore, Lamaird" is imbued with humor, but the message is similar: another heroine determined to rise above bourgeois values discovers to her humiliation that the French words drilled by her tutor, the aptly named "Miss Savage," are almost as deadly as the WWI battlefields where she has volunteered as an interpreter. Kalpakian proves herself a social critic with a satirical eye, and Miss Savage ("Miss Brodie" writ large and antic) is a triumph of characterization. In "Right Hand Man," Kalpakian gets male vernacular just right, as her down-and-out narrator discovers that he has more honor than a leading citizen of the community. On the other hand, the title story, a contemporary Christmas fable, seems best suited to a ladies' magazine, as does "Little Women," an implausible tale in which four members of a typing pool, all of whom disdain reading, easily recognize characters from literary classics. Two literary parodies, "How Max Perkins Learned to Edit" and "Moby-Jack," are clever but slight. Most of the stories are located in familiar Kalpakian territory, either the fictional California community of St. Elmo (Graced Land) or Isadora Island in Puget Sound (Steps and Exes), and she conveys atmospheric details with assurance. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Kalpakian, winner of the Pen West Prize for Best Short Fiction, pulls off another coup with this collection of stories, which are unpredictable, satisfying, and fully fleshed out at a time when many writers don't seem to know how to make fiction (short or otherwise) do anything. Take the title story, in which the Virgin Mary keeps disappearing from a Nativity scene right before Christmas and reappearing in oddly telling places like the courthouse steps and a hospital for the criminally insane. The slightly world-weary Reverend Reedy is thus inspired to deliver a sermon on the real meaning of Christmas that could have been cloying but in Kalpakian's expert hands is truly provocative. Then there's the case of spinsterish Mabel, who discovers after going abroad to serve as translator during World War I that the family's vengeful governess had taught her truly offensive French. No matter, she still finds love and revelation in an unexpected placeÄas do many of the characters in this truly refreshing collection. For most libraries.ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One THE MORNING MABEL JUDD left for France, bunting billowed from the railroad cars and from the station roof while the high school band oompahed lustily and recruiters for the Red Cross and the army took turns addressing the crowd gathered on the platform. The Mormon bishop, the Methodist pastor, and Otis McGahey representing the city council also spoke, waxed at length on behalf of sacrifice, unstinting valor, and Liberty Bonds. Their words caught on the same dry breeze that fluttered the American flag, intertwining it symbolically with a makeshift French tricolor and a British Union Jack. Admittedly, Mabel Judd looked rather odd amongst her France-bound compatriots, three dozen youths, "the cream of St. Elmo's young manhood," intoned the bishop, "who have volunteered their sacred blood to fight the Hun Over There." Also leaving for Over There were about a half-dozen volunteer nurses, girls of good character. And Mabel Judd. Mabel looked particularly odd because her character was (by St. Elmo standards) questionable, and by no means could she be considered a girl. Fortyish, stout, clad in a stiff blue traveling suit, she wore an out-of-date hat with a long rusty plume that blew about in the desert wind, occasionally tickling the cheeks of those who stood closest to her. Her face was round, reminiscent of a fishbowl, the effect enhanced by thick glasses over her heavy-hooded eyes. She listened to the speakers impassively, as though neither the grand words, nor the solemnity of the occasion, nor the prospects of the War itself moved her beyond her usual expression -- benign, distracted, unsuitably wistful for a woman her age.     Her sister and brother-in-law and several of their children and grandchildren (the youngest a babe in arms) had brought Mabel to the station that morning in the clattering family Ford and they stood by her, listened attentively, clapping when applause was indicated. Mabel's sister Sarah (universally known as Dumpling) held her baby granddaughter, but cast baleful glances toward her fifteen-year-old daughter Cordelia, who had shamelessly thrown herself into the arms of Eldon Whickham, one of the departing recruits. Dumpling also kept an eye on her youngest son Clarence, who, at seventeen, seemed ready to bolt toward the army recruiter so that he too might be showered with flowers, bathed with praise, kisses, and tears from the bevy of admiring maidens. She told her husband Roy to watch Clarence and keep him away from the recruiters. If someone in the family must court death (for that's how Dumpling saw it), then let it be Mabel. This thought made Dumpling sniffle, and shifting the baby to her other ample hip, she took her sister's arm. "Oh, Mabel, if only Pa and Ma were here to see you. They'd be so proud of you."     "I think Miss Savage would be proud of me too. I think Miss Savage would be glad to know that finally, thirty years later, I can put her teachings toward a noble cause. At last I'm going to get to speak French."     "I'm just sure Pa and Ma are looking down from heaven on you this very day, Mabel," Dumpling replied, returning to her initial premise.     "Yes, and probably Miss Savage is dead too, by now. You suppose she's looking down from heaven as well, Sarah?"     "Probably not the same heaven," said Dumpling dubiously.     "Heaven is a singular place, Sarah," Mabel informed her sister. "Not plural."     Theological hairsplitting was not Dumpling's forte. She said, "We're all very proud of your sacrifice, Mabel."     "I haven't made any sacrifice. Yet," she added as an afterthought.     "Yes, Mabel," Roy chimed in, "we'll all of us, the family, the church, we'll remember you in our prayers. It's a long long way to Tipperary."     "About six thousand miles," she replied, speaking over the band's rendition of this very tune.     Irritated, Roy made an awkward noise, privately cheering the War, any war for that matter that would spare him Mabel Judd with her blunt ways and her book learning and her thumping alto-thrashing hymns in church on Sunday. He delighted, too, in any war that would spare him Dumpling's eternal dithering over her unmarried sister.     The mother of one of the nurse-volunteers came up to them, her daughter Ellie in tow. Her face awash in tears, Bertha Dewitt embraced Mabel and begged her to look after Ellie. "Oh, Mabel, you'll be her friend and companion, won't you? You'll look after Ellie. Oh, all those foreigners! My heart breaks!"     Mabel cast a frankly appraising glance to the twenty-three-year-old Ellie. Clearly, Ellie's heart was not breaking. Mabel turned to Bertha. "In France we will be the foreigners, Bertha. And don't forget the War."     "Oh, this terrible, terrible War!" cried Bertha, who, since 1914 had scarcely read beyond the headlines before confidently tucking her St. Elmo Herald-Gazette at the bottom of her canary's cage. Even after the April announcement of America's entry into the War, the European conflict remained mercifully distant till Ellie announced she was volunteering to be a Red Cross nurse, spurred romantically on by the uplifting song, "Rose of No-Man's-Land." Naturally Bertha (like every other parent of these girls of good character) had forbade her daughter even to think of such a thing. No unmarried girl of good character could dream of handling men's bodies, even men's blasted, bloodied bodies. But in wartime, values change; at least Ellie's values changed. Bertha's did not. "Oh, Mabel, I hope I can rely on you to look after Ellie and--"     "You can't," Mabel replied without blinking. (Dumpling always shuddered when her sister was so cruelly straightforward.) "I am going to France as part of the War effort, to translate for the Allies, and I shall certainly not have time to think of Ellie. You know I'm the only person in this town who can speak French, impeccable French, thanks to our governess Miss Savage. Isn't that right, Sarah?"     Dumpling murmured something vaguely affirmative. Bertha Dewitt -- who, as a married woman, had every right to feel superior to Mabel Judd and who (democratically) snorted at the very idea of a French-speaking governess -- muttered something, snatched Ellie's elbow, and led her away through the crowd.     "Oh, Mabel," Dumpling moaned, "did you have to say it just like that?"     "Like what? Was Bertha offended?"     The train whistle sliced through Mabel's question as well as the Mormon bishop's concluding remarks, and for an instant, before the high school band launched into "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," the buzz of conversation and farewell ceased and the platform was eerily quiet. Then the weeping began in earnest. The boys shouldered their bags and began boarding the bunting-draped train (especially provided as a patriotic gesture on the part of the railroad). This train would take the recruits and Red Cross volunteers to Los Angeles where they would be put on yet other trains, eventually on boats, braving the submarine-infested waters of the Atlantic to arrive in war-ravaged Europe where they would make short work of the horrible Hun. The speeches finished, the passengers boarded and waved out the windows. Railway workers began stripping bunting from the cars, wadding it unceremoniously, leaving the train shorn of gallant purpose. The look of manly pride in the eyes of the young men faltered; second thoughts flashed across the faces of the Red Cross volunteers.     Dumpling flung herself against her sister, weeping. Mabel held her and said they would all meet again in some undiscovered country. Dumpling wept the more and Roy picked up Mabel's bag, but she refused Roy's offer to carry her bag with the observation that in wartime women must shoulder new responsibilities as well as their own bags. She stepped onto the train.     "Oh, Roy," Dumpling wept against her husband, squeezing the baby between them as Mabel's broad back vanished into the car. "What if Mabel dies Over There?"     Roy patted her back ineffectually. "She's going to translate, Dumpling, not to fight."     "But so much can happen in wartime."     "Not to Mabel Judd," he replied with rather more emphasis than need be. "Nothing ever happened to her and nothing ever will."     "But what if she does die?" Dumpling wailed. "You know how the church feels about ..." she daubed the baby's head where tears had fallen,"... marriage, Roy. I mean if Mabel dies unmarried, she won't ... she can't ... she'll be denied the Celestial Kingdom."     "Well, who knows, Dumpling. Maybe she'll get married." He chuckled. "A wartime romance. Why, just look at all these good Mormon boys in uniform!"     Dumpling drew away from him indignantly. "How can you make fun of my sister? How can you say such a cruel thing when Mabel is making sacrifices for her country and--"     "All I'm saying is that whatever your sister had to sacrifice, she gave it up a long time ago."     The whistle split the air again and the train heaved to life, its wheels making those first uncertain revolutions forward, gathering courage and conviction slowly. Just then Mabel Judd stuck her head out the window, the silly plume in her hat twitching in the wind, and cried out, "Good-bye St. Elmo! Hello Paree!" * * * Prior to that day, Mabel Judd was the librarian at the St. Elmo Public Library, a post she had held for many years and an occupation which suited her since she was educated, bookish, organized, unmarried, and required to earn her own bread. That she should be unmarried was odd because men outnumbered women in St. Elmo two-to-one, especially when Mabel was young, twenty years before. Even a plain girl could count on two or three (equally plain and probably poor) suitors, but suitors nonetheless. Mabel's spinsterhood was all the more remarkable because she was a Mormon; for Mormons, marriage is the only state imaginable, as much a church edict as a civil institution. Mabel's family was not a clan graced with beauty, and they were poor as well, but neither their poverty nor their plainness stopped her sisters from marrying. Nothing stops a Mormon girl from marrying. Before each of them was twenty, the other Judd girls had all wed: Agnes to the feckless Zeke (eight children), Esther to the dour Willis (six children), and Sarah to Roy who worked for the railroad and who had dubbed her early on with the name Dumpling and by whom she had five children.     When Mabel was a young woman (and even then, blunt and bookish) the Latter-day Saints would inquire lightly when she intended to marry, citing (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) her duty to God and the church. As time passed they reminded Mabel as well of her duty to all those soul-babies awaiting only flesh to come to earth, awaiting flesh and legally wed parents, naturally. To these inquiries, Mabel inevitably replied that she had her eyes on Higher Things (which accounts perhaps for her slightly befuddled expression). Whatever those Higher Things were, no one else in St. Elmo could see them and gradually Mabel grew, passed into ossified eccentricity, the object of both mirth and pity. Mabel alone seemed unaware of her incongruous, anomalous, impossible situation in the family, the church, the community itself.     Until their deaths, Mabel lived with her parents, Ephraim and Leona, in their little rented clapboard on C Street. When they died, rather than moving in with one of her married sisters, or taking a room in some respectable boarding house, Mabel continued to rent the C Street house, where she lived alone. That house was destroyed in the terrible flood of 1917. Even then Mabel declined the shelter of her sisters' roofs. She moved the few things she salvaged from the flood into the back room of the library, set up a cot, and lived there.     The Library Board decided she should not live there and they gave Mabel Judd sixty days' notice, which she ignored. When, more forcefully, two members of the Library Board came to call (after-hours so as to spare everyone embarrassment), they softened her eviction saying they would be happy to find suitable accommodation for a maiden lady. Mabel heard them out and then announced she would be giving up her post at the library, that she had volunteered to use her command of the French language for the betterment of the Allied Cause against the Hun. They didn't believe her. She assured them it was so, saying (as she had said to the recruiting officer -- having anticipated his objections) that the Allies could ill afford to spurn her contribution merely on the basis of her age.     When she announced her decision to her sisters and their husbands, they were unanimously aghast and declared she could not do this. In her bland, blunt way, Mabel reminded them she had not asked for their approval. She added, "Of course I am eager to use my abilities and education to defeat the brutal Hun, but I must say, I'm looking forward to seeing England and France. Miss Savage always spoke of--"     "Don't say that woman's name in my hearing!" cried Agnes. "Don't mention that -- that -- " Agnes glanced to Esther and Sarah to supply the word, but even their faces were mute. Agnes colored. "I can't bear to hear that name." * * * As the eldest of the Judd girls, Agnes could well remember the day the impecunious Miss Savage entered their young lives. Agnes was seventeen that day in 1887 when the four girls and their mother, dressed in their finest, had driven the family rig down the single street of Leona, California, to the dock at the gold mine to meet the supply train that came twice-weekly bearing food, water, mail, payroll for the miners, liquor for the two saloons, and any other contact between this distant desert and the rest of the world. Any passengers had to squeeze themselves behind the engineer and the stoker as the narrow-gauge train only pulled a few supply cars and boasted no particular place for passengers. But then, not many people came to Leona, California. The clank and clatter of this twice-weekly train were the only punctuation to the incessant thump and throttle of the smelting mill and the gold mine. These sounds beat through the desert air, sunup to sundown, like a doleful tattoo and clanged behind Leona Judd and her four daughters as they got out of the rig and walked up the platform to the unshaded dock to await the train.     That Leona Judd should take the rig to meet the train was itself worthy of note. That she should take her four daughters with her was virtually a civic event. Leona Judd made every effort to shield her daughters from the rough-and-tumble life of this desert mining town, never mind the town bore her name, as did the gold mine itself, as did the dry goods store and the boardinghouse run by Mrs. Skaggs, wife of the mine foreman. Naturally the saloons and the grimy café were not graced with Leona's name. However feminine its antecedents. Leona, California, was a man's town, populated by a few taciturn Indians, a handful of industrious Chinese, and a great many miners, men who worked hard, drank hard, lived hard, and occasionally shot one another in brawls contesting the affections of a handful of whores who -- other than Mrs. Skaggs, Mrs. Judd, and the four Judd girls -- were the only white women in town. So new, so raw, so committed to gold was Leona, California, there was not even a church, Mormon or otherwise, and certainly there was no school. Even if there had been, Leona Judd could not possibly have sent her daughters (monied girls with gilded prospects) to be educated with the children of the unsavory Indians, the heathen Chinese, and the vulgar brats begot upon the whores. Clearly, the daughters of Ephraim and Leona Judd required an education suitable to their gilded prospects, and through the mails, the services of a Miss Savage of San Francisco had been engaged.     Standing on the loading dock that day in 1887, Leona and her four daughters watched the supply train coming into view from a far distance, the sight wavering, slippery, silvery, slick as mercury in the waves of heat, congealing finally into a discernible shape that could only with certainty be called a train when the clack and rattle could actually be heard snapping down the narrow-gauge tracks. The train heaved in and disgorged its single passenger who climbed down the ladder, carrying a carpetbag and muttering, "Bloody hell. Bloody sodding heat," as she alighted on the dock. She turned and looked at the five Judds gathered to greet her, all surprised to hear such unusual, though unmistakable oaths. She blushed very slightly and then, tossing her skirt emphatically behind her in a theatrical manner, strode up to Leona with the words, "Mrs. Judd, I presume?"     Leona murmured in the affirmative.     "And these are the girls?"     Leona nodded. "Miss Savage?"     "Indeed, who else?"     Never in all their limited lives had the Judd women beheld anyone quite like Miss Savage. Of indeterminate age, Miss Savage was not particularly small, but so pathetically thin and bony that she seemed tiny, and the substantial Judd women appeared to tower over her. She had a small, sharp face, sharp nose, hollowed-out cheekbones, sharp little teeth in her small mouth. Her brown eyes were shrewd and narrow. From beneath her flamboyant (and now dust- and cinder-creped) hat, she had a crop of the reddest hair imaginable.     Miss Savage appraised them all quickly, from the seventeen-year-old Agnes to the twelve-year-old Mabel. She turned from them and rested her gaze on the desert, which lay in every direction, the hot, wavering landscape encircled by distant mountains that looked like black ash heaps smoldering in the white distance. Her eyes traveled up the track that stretched back into the uncertain past and then her gaze turned down toward the collation of frame buildings, shacks along the single street that constituted the town of Leona. She brought her gaze back to the family and to the rhythmically thumping, throttling mine and mill emblazoned with the faded, ornate words, LEONA GOLD MINE. She was visibly, grossly, grievously disappointed.     "Have you had a long journey, Miss Savage?" asked Leona.     "How could it be otherwise?" Miss Savage replied in a manner the Judds would come to recognize: whenever possible, Miss Savage answered questions with yet another question.     In the family rig (Leona, Mabel, and Miss Savage in front, the other girls in the back) they drove down the single dusty street, past the Leona Gold Mine offices, Leona Room and Board, the Leona Post Office, Telegraph and Land Claims, past the Golden Grotto Café and the Gold Camp Laundry (both of these run by Chinese), past the Golden Nugget Saloon and the Golden Floss Saloon (this last named in honor of a misunderstood Golden Fleece). But for all this civic insistence on metallurgic substance, all that glittered was not gold. All that glittered were dust motes, raised by the rig as it traversed the unpaved street; dust gleamed golden in the sunlight as Miss Savage and the Judds rolled past tin-roofed shacks and blanket-domed lean-tos, and all the other squat, hastily assembled buildings that sheltered Indians, pigtailed Chinese, and miners, many of whom loitered in what shade there was to be had, smoking and spitting.     "Vulgar," Miss Savage announced.     "Ain't it?" said Mabel, breathing in the scent of Miss Savage's cologne, overripe and fruity despite the dust and dirt of travel. "That's our house, down yonder. Best house in the whole town."     To this Miss Savage offered a strange guttural snort.     "In the whole county," added Leona in a small voice.     They pulled into view of a grand, galleried, rambling, two-storied wedding cake of a house, set so high off the ground that sixteen shallow steps led to the broad encircling porch. The porch was shaded by a steep roof upheld by eight slender white posts, grooved and lovingly worked with pineapple formations at the tops. The cornices and balustrades of the porch balcony off the second floor were festooned with intricate bric-a-brac, half-hubs of lacy wheels so elaborate one might have believed them spiders' webs worked in wood. The eight windows fronting the street were graced with real glass and pale lace curtains, and the door was heavy with beveled, leaded glass that caught the light and ricocheted it everywhere.     A Chinese servant came out to hold the horse and rig while the ladies stepped down and went inside. Mabel hurtled forward to be the one to hold the door for Miss Savage. "My pa and ma say nothing's too good for us," said Mabel, ushering the governess into the large foyer, complete with gilded mirror and a coat tree of smooth, polished mahogany and a bin for workingmen's boots.     Miss Savage regarded the boots in the bin. "Bourgeois," she declared.     She moved into the parlor, decorated with leafy potted palms and rich, red velvet valances over the lace curtains. Despite the unmerciful heat, the Judds' parlor testified to the best of taste, everything clothed, dripping, mantled, downright shrouded in gold-tasseled velvet hangings, a red velvet settee and matching chairs equally gold-tasseled; gold tassels framed the mantel while the ornate, obese legs of the grand piano were swaddled in a white silk shawl, also heavy with gold tassels.     Miss Savage flipped open the keyboard and fingered out a little tune. "Lovely," she remarked.     Agnes was instructed to lead Miss Savage to her room and the other three followed. As they walked down the long hall toward the kitchen, they encountered a pigtailed Chinese man plucking a singed pullet and chattering to a Chinese woman peeling potatoes. The smell of burnt feathers lingered in the kitchen.     Miss Savage wrinkled her nose. "Disgusting," she stated unequivocally.     Off the kitchen, they opened the door to a small room papered in a faded gay rosebud print with a narrow bed, a spindly washstand, and a wardrobe with a cracked mirror. Miss Savage walked directly to the window and pulled aside the thin curtains that offered a view of the back porch jutting off the kitchen. There was as well a shack sheltering the washtub (also used for bathing), the privy, a clothesline strung between the shed that housed the horse and buggy and another shed where the Chinese servants slept, as well as a shaded chickenhouse and rabbit hutch. Miss Savage turned back and regarded the room. "Adequate," she said, baring her small white teeth, "but hardly inspiring."     As was his custom, Ephraim Judd came home for the midday meal. Although he owned the gold mine, Ephraim still wore heavy boots (which he threw into the boot bin and donned a more genteel pair of shoes), thick workingman's pants, and a collarless cotton shirt. He put on a collar and washed the ink and dirt from his hands before he was introduced to Miss Savage. Ephraim Judd was an unlikely rich man. Genial, tolerant, shiftless in his youth, his slack ways and uncertain means had made him the bane of his thrifty Mormon family. Ironically, his very lack of character and Mormon convictions had made him rich. He had won the gold mine in a poker game in Ma Grant's Saloon and Pleasure Palace nineteen years before, playing five-card stud with a gnarled prospector named Fitzhenry who had hunkered over his claim for years, shooting at trespassers. They were few. Who would claim-jump a worthless mine? Fitzhenry was reduced finally to gambling in a desperate attempt to secure more capital so that he might wrap his scrawny hands around those veins of gold, extract the gold he was certain lay underground. But the winning cards that day were in the loose, lazy rawboned hands of Ephraim Judd.     Of course, Ephraim could never so much as indicate to his Mormon relatives that he had been playing cards in Ma Grant's Saloon and Pleasure Palace. He moved out to the desert, lived at the old mine, and put off the family's inquiries with vague references to hard work and self-denial, which indeed were qualities he came to practice. Having won the gold mine with a royal flush, the full weight of his Mormon ancestry rose up within him and he was, in a manner of speaking, transformed by his wealth into an upright, hard-working, thrifty, steadfast man. On the basis of that single hand of cards, he not only acquired the gold mine, but sufficient prospects to ask Leona's father for her hand in marriage, and thus claim for a bride his true love. He named the mine and the town after her. For the first two years they lived in a tin-roofed shack. With the mine's modest initial success, they moved to a clapboard house with a real cookstove and glass windows. Ephraim parlayed that success into capital, the capital into machinery, supplies, and labor. He built an office and spent his days there overseeing his little empire. They had built their fabulous white wedding cake of a home when their youngest, Mabel, was two and moved in when she was three. Mabel remembered nothing of the earlier hardscrabble life and the other Judds quickly forgot.     For all his easygoing ways, Ephraim Judd was shrewd enough to hire (and pay well) the skilled mining engineer Skaggs to oversee the day-to-day operations of the mine and later, the mill. Ephraim was respected by his miners and beloved by his family; he had no airs and no affectations, and for a man whose mine brought in several hundred thousand yearly, he still sometimes put food into his mouth with his knife rather than his fork. A fact Miss Savage did not fail to note.     "I'd no idea you were this isolated," said Miss Savage in her crisp curling accent as the Chinese woman collected their plates and delivered dessert, a pudding of doubtful origin.     "Not nearly as isolated as we used to be before the telegraph," said Leona.     "I can see your daughters are certainly in need of the education befitting the children of a man who owns a gold mine." Miss Savage was appalled as she spoke these words to see Ephraim rub his nose with his napkin. "Otherwise, they would be forced to marry miners."     "Forced?" Leona's voice quavered slightly.     "Of course. A girl with money but wanting suitable education, refinements, and accoutrements, a girl who can neither play the piano, nor speak French, nor draw, a girl who knows no poetry or literature, who lacks manners and posture and social graces, who else can such a girl marry except a miner?" Miss Savage took a petite bite of the pudding. "She could marry a drover, I suppose. A clerk, possibly. A railroad man might suit. A farmer wouldn't be out of the question. A--"     "Oh no," said Leona hastily. "That would never do. Our girls must marry well."     "Latter-day Saint men," Ephraim added with an internal nod to his ancestors.     Leona was not as committed to the religion of her mythical sons-in-law as she was to their prospects. "We want our daughters to choose their husbands from the very best society."     "Exactly," Miss Savage daubed her lips. "I hope you will not think me too bold if I suggest we begin today."     "Oh, Miss Savage, you must rest today. It's such a tiring journey and--"     "I intend to rest today. I was not referring to beginning legitimate instruction." (She said the word legitimate with a sort of fierce affection.) "I meant I hoped you would not mind if I say to Esther that her elbows do not belong on the table, that Agnes ought not to bite her nails, and that Sarah ought not to chew her hair. Sit up, Mabel. You must sit up straight and carry yourself with a posture commensurate with your expectations in life."     "Whuh?" Mabel mumbled, her mouth full.     "You will never be a tall woman. That much is clear. You might as well enhance what you have. Sit up straight. Shoulders set. Do not allow your back to touch the chair. Carriage. Courage." Miss Savage turned to Leona. "I have a motto, Mrs. Judd, by which I have instructed girls of the best society from London to San Francisco."     "London? England?" said Agnes breathlessly.     "Isn't London the only civilized city in the world?"     "`Zat why your voice sounds so ... so funny and curlied up?" Esther asked.     "Oh Contrare, that is why your voices sound so flat," Miss Savage replied coolly. "Your remark, Esther, further illustrates your need for suitable education. I shall imbue you all with my motto."     "And what's that?" asked Ephraim, leaning back gracelessly in his chair and picking his teeth with his fingernail.     "That young ladies may best advance themselves in this world by keeping their backs straight, their mouths shut, and their eyes on Higher Things." With that, Miss Savage rose, excused herself, and left the family dumbstruck in the dining room, with only the constant thrump and throttle of the mine and the mill echoing gently through the open windows.     Beginning the very next day, the life of the entire Judd family underwent a resoundingly thorough reconstruction, a slow and painful process. The woman who had been hired to provide the niceties for the daughters, to refit them all to their prospects in life, summarily usurped power within the family, and assumed a superiority and authority not at all in keeping with her hired status. Miss Savage was critical, high handed, demanding, and unfailingly correct. Should Leona Judd be so bold as to object to the governess's plans, methods, goals, values, or assumptions, Miss Savage deferred immediately to Mrs. Judd's judgment. Then, within the course of the next few hours, a day at most, Miss Savage found occasion to refer (in passing) to miners, drovers, clerks, railroad men, farmers, to the lives they led and the lives their wives would lead, whereupon Leona inevitably took her aside and said in so many words that she had rethought whatever was under discussion, and clearly, clearly Miss Savage was right.     Ephraim was too tolerant and malleable to object to Miss Savage outright, but he resisted in his own way. As a result, within three months of her arrival, the Judd girls were appalled at their father's table manners. However, in keeping with the Savage motto, they kept their mouths shut.     The girls themselves never got the hang of Mamá and Papá and continued to address their parents as Ma and Pa, but on the whole they were obliging pupils and followed the Savage regime dutifully. They practiced their scales on the piano and worked over the sole piece of music in the house, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." They practiced every day, each of the four girls in turn; "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" wafted through the house and out the open windows to the street, punctuated by the thrump and roar of the mine and the mill and the twice-weekly clank and rattle of the supply train. His Truth Went Marching On.     If the Judd girls had heretofore been innocent of music, they were equally innocent of literature, the only books in their home being the usual hoary tomes: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and Dr. Clapp's Remedies for the Home and Farm . Early on, Miss Savage presented Mrs. Judd with a very long list of books to be ordered from a San Francisco bookstore and brought in by the supply train. (Brought to the house in the rig, requiring the Chinese servants and a couple of miners, heaving and perspiring, to hoist the heavy crates.)     To begin with, the girls did not read these books. They walked with them. They lined up and walked back and forth across the gold-tasseled parlor with books on their heads so as to perfect their posture, while, according to the metronomic drumbeat of Miss Savage's ruler, they recited English poetry, particularly Scott's "Young Lochinvar" and Shelley's "Ozymandias," which they learned by listening to Miss Savage recite. Young Lochinvar's story was fairly obvious, but the Judd girls had not the least idea what "Ozymandias" was about and only Mabel cared. Even Miss Savage did not seem to care; to Mabel's repeated requests for illumination, Miss Savage finally stated emphatically that a lady need not always understand poems, only recite them. "The ability to pull a line of poetry quickly from a seemingly endless well of erudition is the mark of a lady. These lines can be used to soothe any sort of situation."     "Like what?" asked Mabel.     "Time enough for that," replied Miss Savage, reciting, "Remember your rhythm, remember your cues." Her ruler beat time against her hand and the girls continued to march up and down the room, the books upon their heads.     So from nine to one, and then again from two-thirty to five-thirty on any given day, one girl thumped out "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the piano while the other three chanted "Young Lochinvar" and "Ozymandias," sitting, rising, walking with books on their heads. The house had the air of a persistent dress rehearsal for some monumental production that never quite came to pass.     In art, Miss Savage pronounced her pupils hopeless. She curtailed instruction in watercolor after their first outdoor painting expedition when she fainted from heat prostration and the girls returned dehydrated and spent. Miss Savage had to be helped to her bed where the girls hovered around, wringing out wet cloths for her head. "The art of painting will have to wait till you have perfected other things," said Miss Savage still in the grip of a killing headache. "Besides, in this vile climate, this beastly desert, there are no colors. There's only white sand and white sky and gray mountains and pale dust. Everywhere. How can you paint what's not there? Where are your colors? I ask you?" (She always phrased her statements as questions.) "Where are your delphiniums? Where are your daffodils? Where are your tulips and peonies and primroses? Where are your poppies? Where are your lilacs and lilies? Where?"     The girls did not know where. The Judd girls would not have recognized these flowers, nor their colors, if whole bouquets had suddenly marched down the main street of Leona, California. The girls shrugged. Miss Savage, even lying heat-prostrated, flattened by the bloody heat and aridity, admonished them for shrugging. "A lady never shrugs. It's bourgeois."     The Judd parlor served for piano, posture, and recitation. The dining room served as schoolroom with Miss Savage usurping Ephraim's place at the head of the table and the girls lined up, the two oldest on one side, Mabel and Sarah on the other. Here they studied English literature (the only literature worth knowing) and the French language (the only language worth speaking). French, Miss Savage was fond of asserting, is the single accoutrement essential to anyone who would call herself a civilized being. She went on to catalog the many accomplishments of the French race, adding that they had managed to achieve all this despite their being Catholics.     "What's that got to do with it?" asked Sarah.     "It means they have no morals," Miss Savage declared. "They simply confess their sins to a priest. He forgives them. But what of God? I ask you, will God forgive them? Has God forgiven them?" she asked with more passion than was perhaps necessary. The girls' slack chins indicated dismay, or possibly only ignorance. "Sarah, the next time I see you put your hair to your lips, I shall call in the cook -- with his cleaver -- and instruct him to chop off your hair at the neck. Is that understood?"     Miss Savage used no text in her French instruction, but relied upon the same principles of memorization and recitation she brought to "Young Lochinvar." She began with polite greetings and had the girls address one another till they had got it down. Then she moved on to polite conversation, most of which (at first) consisted of observations on the weather and asking to be passed certain items present at the table. She gradually moved on to forms of address, directions, descriptions, and increasingly convoluted expressions of feeling and taste, pleasure and displeasure, affirmative and negative. She perpetually prefaced her French lessons with the injunction, "Inflection and conviction! Inflection and conviction are everything!" She kept the ruler always handy to snap at the girl who was deficient in one or both. (Continues ...) Copyright © 1999 Laura Kalpakian. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Lavee, Lagair, Lamore, Lamairdp. 1
How Max Perkins Learned to Editp. 71
Right-Hand Manp. 75
A Brief Inquiry into the Origins of St. Elmo, Californiap. 103
Little Womenp. 129
Cromwell's Castlep. 149
The Delinquent Virginp. 177
Moby-Jackp. 211
Change at Empolip. 217