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The Crystal City This partial manuscript copy is provided as a courtesy. Anyone who wishes a copy may access it from http://www.hatrack.com; therefore we ask that no copies, physical or electronic, be given or lent. Any offering of this portion of the manuscript for sale is expressly prohibited.

The Crystal City

Foreign Covers

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Chapter Two
Squirrel and Moose

Alvin held out his hand. "Alvin Smith, ma'am."

She shook hands with him. "I heard of an Alvin Smith what has a wife named Margaret, who goes from place to place striking terror into the hearts of them as loves to tell a lie."

"She puts a bit of a scare into them as hates lying, too," said Arthur Stuart.

"As for me," said Alvin, "I'm neutral on lying, seeing as how there's times when the truth just hurts people."

"I'm none too fanatic about telling the truth, myself," said the woman. "For instance, I believe every girl ought to grow up in the firm belief that she's clever and pretty, and every boy that he's strong and good-hearted. In my experience, what starts out as a fib turns into a hope and if you keep it up long enough, it starts to be mostly true."

"Wish I'd known that fifteen years ago," said Alvin. "Too late to do much with this boy here."

"I'm pretty," said Arthur Stuart. "I figure that's all I need to get by in this world."

"You see the problem?" said Alvin.

"If you're Margaret Larner's husband," said the woman, "then I'll bet this pretty lad here is her brother, Arthur Stuart, who from the look of him is born to be royalty."

"I wouldn't cross the road to be a king," said Arthur Stuart. "Though if they brought the throne to me, I might sit in it for a spell."

By now they were inside the house, Alvin holding onto his poke, but Arthur surrendering his bag to the woman readily enough.

"Y'all afraid of climbing stairs?" she asked.

"I always climb six flights before breakfast, just so I can be closer to heaven when I say my prayers," said Alvin.

She looked at him sharply. "I didn't know you was a praying man."

Alvin was abashed. His light-hearted joke had apparently struck something dear to her.

"I've been known to pray, ma'am," said Alvin. "I didn't mean to talk light about it, if this is a praying house."

"It is," said the woman.

"Seems to me," said Arthur Stuart, "that it's also a house where folks are all named 'you,' cause they haven't heard about 'names' yet."

She laughed. "I've had so many names in my life that I've lost track by now. Around here, folks just call me Mama Squirrel. And let's have no idle speculation about how I got that name. My husband gave it to me, when he decided that he was Papa Moose."

"Always good to accept the hospitality of moose and squirrel," said Alvin, "though this is the first time I've been able to do it under a roof."

"This ain't no hospitality here," said Mama Squirrel. "You're paying for it, and not cheap, either. We've got a lot of mouths to feed."

It wasn't till they got to the third floor that they saw what she meant. In a large open room with windows all along one wall, a sturdy brown-haired man with a look of beatific patience was standing in front of about thirty-five children from five to twelve, who were sitting shoulder to shoulder on four rows of benches. About a quarter of the children where black, a few were red, some were white with hints of France or Spain or England, but more than half were of races so mixed that it was hard to guess what land on earth had not contributed to their parentage.

Mama Squirrel silently mouthed the words "Papa Moose," and pointed at the man.

Only when her husband took a step, which dipped and rolled like a boat caught in a sudden breeze, did Alvin notice that his right foot was crippled. There had been no attempt to find a shoe to fit his twisted foot. Instead the foot was sheathed and bound to the man's shin with leather straps, which also held a thick pad under his heel. But he showed no sign of pain or embarrassment, and the children did not titter or mock. Either the children were miraculously good or Papa Moose was a man of impenetrable dignity.

He was leading the children in silent recitation of words on a slate. He would print four or five words, hold them up so all could see, and then point to a child. The child would then rise, and mouth -- but not speak aloud -- each word as Papa Moose pointed at it. He would nod or shake his head, depending on correctness, and then point at another child. In the silence, the faint popping and smacking of lips and tongue sounded surprisingly loud.

The words currently on the slate were "measure," "assemble," "serene," and "peril." Without meaning to, Alvin found himself making them into some kind of poem or song. The words seemed to belong to him somehow. Of course, it helped that the first word, measure, was the name of Alvin's beloved older brother. Assemble was what he was trying to do, drawing together those who might be able to learn the knack of makery. But he had walked away from his community of makers in Vigor Church because he could not be patient with his own inabilities as a teacher. Serene, therefore, was what he most needed to become. And peril? He seemed to find it wherever he went.

Mama Squirrel led them up to the garret, which was hot, with a ceiling that sloped in only one direction, from the east-facing front of the house to the back.

"It's an oven up here on a hot day," said Mama Squirrel. "And it gets mighty cold in winter. But it keeps off the rain, which around here is no mean gift, and the beds and linens are clean and the floor is swept once a week -- more often, if you know how to handle a broom."

"I been known to kill spiders with one," said Alvin.

"We kill no living thing in this house," said Mama Squirrel.

"I don't know how you can eat a blamed thing without causing something that was once alive to die," said Alvin.

"You got me there," said Mama Squirrel. "We got no mercy on the plant kingdom, except we're loath to cut down a living tree."

"But spiders are safe here."

"They live out their natural span," said Mama Squirrel. "This is a house of peace."

"A house of silence, too, judging by the school downstairs."

"School?" asked Mama Squirrel. "I hope you won't accuse us of breaking the law and holding a school that might teach blacks and reds and mixes how to read and write and cipher."

Alvin grinned. "I reckon there must be a law that defines a school as a place where children are required to recite aloud."

"I'm surprised at the breadth of your knowledge of the legal code of Nueva Barcelona," said Mama Squirrel. "The law forbids us to cause a child to read or recite aloud, or to write on slate or paper, or to do sums."

"So you only teach them to subtract and multiply and divide?" said Arthur Stuart.

"And count," said Mama Squirrel. "We're law-abiding people."

"And these children -- from the neighborhood?"

"From this house," said Mama Squirrel. "They're all mine."

"You are a truly amazing woman," said Alvin.

"What God gives me, who am I to refuse?" she said.

"This is an orphanage, isn't it?" said Alvin.

"It's a boardinghouse," said Mama Squirrel. "For travelers. And, of course, my husband and I and all our children live here."

"I suppose it's illegal to operate an orphanage," said Alvin.

"An orphanage," said Mama Squirrel, "would be obliged to teach the Catholic religion to all the white children, while the children of color must be auctioned off by the age of six."

"So I imagine that many a poor black woman would rather leave her impossible baby at your door than at the door of any orphanage," said Alvin.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Mama Squirrel. "I gave birth to every one of these children myself. Otherwise they'd be taken away from me and turned over to an orphanage."

"From the ages, I'd say you had them in bunches of five or six at a time," said Alvin.

"I give birth when they're still very small," said Mama Squirrel. "It's my knack."

Alvin set down his poke, took a step closer, and enfolded her in a wide-armed embrace. "I'm glad to be paying for the privilege of staying in such a merciful house."

"My, what strong arms you have," said Mama Squirrel.

"Oh, now you done it," said Arthur Stuart. "He'll be bragging on them arms all month now."

"You wouldn't need any wood-chopping," said Alvin. "Of wood from trees as died naturally, of course. And no stomping any ticks or snakes as come out of the woodpile."

"The biggest help," said Mama Squirrel, "would be the hauling of water."

"I heard there wasn't no wells in Nueva Barcelona," said Alvin. "On account of the ground water being brackish."

"We collect rain like everybody else, but it's not enough, even without washing the children more than once a week. So for poor folks, the water wagon fills up the public fountain twice a week. Today's a water day."

"You show me what to tote it in, and I'll come back full as many times as you want," said Alvin.

"I'll go along with him to whisper encouragement," said Arthur Stuart.

"Arthur Stuart is so noble of heart," said Alvin, "that he drinks his fill, then comes back here and pisses it out pure."

"You two bring lying to the level of music."

"You should hear my concerto for two liars and a whipped dog," said Alvin.

"But we don't actually whip no dog," Arthur Stuart assured her quickly. "We trained an irritable cat to do the dog's part."

Mama Squirrel laughed out loud and shook her head. "I swear I don't know why Margaret Larner would marry such a one as you."

"It was an act of faith," said Alvin.

"But Margaret Larner is such a torch, she needs no faith to judge a man's heart."

"It's his head she had to take on faith," said Arthur Stuart.

"Let's go get some water," said Alvin.

"Not unless I get me to a privy house first," said Arthur Stuart.

"Oh, fie on me," said Mama Squirrel. "I'm not much of hospitaler, specially in front of an innkeeper's son and son-in-law." She bustled over to the stairs and led Arthur Stuart down.

Alone in the garret, Alvin looked about for a place to store his poke while he lived in this place. There wasn't much in the way of hiding places there. The floorboards didn't fit tight together, so there was a chance someone might catch a glimpse of something if he hid the golden plow in the floor.

So he had no choice but to go to the chimney and pull out a few loose bricks. Not that they were loose to start with. He sort of helped them to achieve looseness until he had a gap big enough to push the plow through.

He pulled the plow from the sack. In his hand it was warm, and he felt a faint kind of motion inside it, as if some thin golden fluid swirled within.

"I wonder what you're good for," Alvin whispered to the plow. "I been carrying you asleep in my poke for lo these many years, and I still ain't found a use for you."

The plow didn't answer. It might be alive, in some fashion, but that didn't give it the power to speak.

Alvin pushed it through the opening into the sooty coolness of the chimney. There being no convenient shelf to set it on, and Alvin not being disposed to let it drop three-and-a-half stories to the hearth on the main floor, he had no choice but to wedge it into a corner. He had to let his doodlebug into the bricks to soften them up like cork while he pushed the plow in, then harden them up around the plow to hold it firmly in place. Then he closed the hole and bound bricks to mortar once again. There was no sign that this corner of the chimney had been changed in any way. It was as good a hiding place as he was likely to find. Depending on who was doing the looking.

Now his poke contained nothing but a change of clothes and his writing materials. He could leave it lying on his bed without a second thought.

Downstairs, he found Arthur Stuart just washing up after using the privy. Two three-year-old girls were watching him like they'd never seen handwashing before.

When he was done, instead of reaching for a towel -- and there was a cloth not one step away, hanging from a hook -- Arthur Stuart just held his hands over the basin. Alvin watched as the water evaporated so rapidly that Arthur Stuart suddenly screeched and rubbed his hands on his pants. To warm them up.

"Sometimes," said Alvin, "even a maker lets things happen naturally."

Arthur Stuart turned around, embarrassed. "I didn't know it would get so cold."

"You can get frostbite doing it so fast," said Alvin.

"Now you tell me."

"How was I supposed to know you were too lazy to reach for a towel?"

Arthur Stuart sniffed. "I got to practice, you know."

"In front of witnesses, no less." He looked at the two girls.

"They don't know what I done," said Arthur Stuart.

"Which makes it all the more pathetic that you were showing off for them."

"Someday I'll get sick of you bossing and judging me all the time," said Arthur Stuart.

"Maybe then you won't come along on journeys I told you not to come on."

"That would be obeying," said Arthur Stuart. "I got no particular interest in doing much of that."

"Well then set your butt down and wait here and don't help me one bit while I go haul water from the public fountain."

"I'm not that easily fooled," said Arthur Stuart. "I'll obey you when you tell me to do what I already want."

"And I thought all you were was pretty."

This being water day, and the neighborhood having no shortage of people who could use some water beyond what their rain barrels held, Alvin didn't need to ask directions. Each of them held a couple of empty water jars. Alvin wasn't sure Arthur could carry them both full -- but it would be better to have two half-full jars and balance the load on his shoulders than to have just one full one that he'd have to carry in front.

Alvin wasn't much impressed when they got to the fountain. It was pretty enough, in a simple kind of way: a watering trough for animals around the base, and two spigots to let down water from the main basin. But the water in the trough was greenish, and swarms of skeeters hovered around the main fountain.

Alvin examined the water closer, and as he expected, it was all aswarm with tiny animals and plants and the eggs of skeeters and other kinds of insects. He knew from experience that water like this was likely to make folks sick, if they didn't boil it first to kill these things. But since they were invisible to most folks, who couldn't see so small, they wouldn't feel much urgency to do it.

He reckoned that Mama Squirrel's law against killing animals didn't apply this far from her house, and besides, what she didn't know wouldn't offend her. So he spent a few minutes working on the water, breaking down all the tiny creatures into bits so small they couldn't do no harm. Not that he broke them one by one -- that would have taken half his life. He just talked to them, silently, showing them in his mind what he wanted them to do. Break themselves apart. Spill their inner parts into the water. He explained it was to keep folks from coming to harm by drinking. He wasn't sure just what these tiny creatures actually understood. What mattered was that they did Alvin's will. Even the skeeter eggs.

As if the skeeters understood that he'd just wiped out their progeny, they made him pay in blood for having cleaned the water. Well, he'd live with that, itch welts and all. He didn't use his knack to make himself comfy.

"I know you're doing something," said Arthur Stuart. "But I can't tell what."

"I'm fetching water for Mama Squirrel," said Alvin.

"You're standing there looking at the fountain like you was seeing a vision. Either that or trying real hard not to break wind."

"Hard to tell those things apart," said Alvin. "It gives visionaries a bad name."

"Get bad enough gas, though, and you can start a church," said Arthur Stuart.

They filled the jugs, taking their turns along with the other folks, some of whom looked at them curiously, the rest just minding their own business. One of the lookers, a young woman not much older than Arthur Stuart, bumped into Alvin as she reached to fill a jar. Then, her jar full, she walked up to Arthur with a bit of a swagger and, in a French accent, said, "Person rich enough to own a slave got no right to draw from this fountain. There is cisterns uptown for them with the money."

"We're not drawing for ourselves," said Arthur Stuart, mildly enough. "We're hauling this for Mama Squirrel's house."

The girl spat in the dust. "Hexy house."

An older woman joined in. "You pretty bad trained, boy," she said. "You talk to a white girl and never say ma'am."

"Sorry ma'am," said Arthur Stuart.

"Where we come from," said Alvin, "polite folks talk to the master."

The woman glared at him and moved away.

The teenage girl, though, was still curious. "That Mama Squirrel, is it true she has babies of all colors?"

"I don't know about that," said Alvin. "Seems she has some children that tan real dark in the sun, and some that just freckle."

"Personne know where they get the money to live," said the girl. "Some folks say they teach them kids to steal, send them into the city at night. Dark faces, you can't see them so good."

"Nothing like that," said Arthur Stuart. "See, they own the patent on stupid, and every time somebody in the city says something dumb, they get three cents."

The girl looked at him with squinty eyes. "They be the richest people in town, then, so I think you lie."

"I reckon you owe a dollar a day to whoever has the patent on no-sense-of-humor."

"You are not a slave," said the girl.

"I'm a slave to fortune," said Arthur Stuart. "I'm in bondage to the universe, and my only manumission will be death."

"You gone to school, you."

"I only learned whatever my sister taught me," said Arthur Stuart truthfully.

"I have a knack," said the girl.

"Good for you," said Arthur Stuart.

"This was sick water," she said, "and now is healthy. Your master healed it."

Alvin realized that this conversation had taken far too dangerous a turn. To Arthur he said, "If you're done offending everybody in the neighborhood by talking face to face with a white girl, and not looking down and saying ma'am, it's time to haul this water back."

"I was not offended," said the girl. "But if you heal the water, maybe you come home with me and heal my mama."

"I'm no healer," said Alvin.

"I think what she got," said the girl, "is the yellow fever."

If anybody had thought nobody was paying attention to this conversation, they'd have got their wake-up when she said that. It was like every nose on every face was tied to a string that got pulled when she said "yellow fever."

"Did you say yellow fever?" asked an old woman.

The girl looked at her blankly.

"She did," said another woman. "Marie la Morte a dit."

"Dead Mary says her ma's got yellow fever!" called someone.

And now the strings were pulled in the opposite direction. Every head turned to face away from the girl -- Dead Mary was her name, apparently -- and then all the feet set to pumping and in a few minutes, Alvin, Arthur, and Dead Mary were the only humans near the fountain. Some folks quit the place so fast their jugs was left behind.

"I reckon nobody's going to steal these jars if we don't leave them here too long," said Alvin. "Let's go see your mother."

"They will be stole for sure," said Dead Mary.

"I'll stay and watch them," said Arthur Stuart.

"Sir and ma'am," said Alvin. "And never look a white person in the eye."

"When there's nobody around, can I just set here and pretend to be human?"

"Please yourself," said Alvin.

It took a while to get to Dead Mary's house. Down streets until they ran out of streets, and then along paths between shacks, and finally into swampy land till they came to a little shack on stilts. Skeeters were thick as smoke in some spots.

"How can you live with all these skeeters?" asked Alvin.

"I breathe them in and cough them out," said Dead Mary.

"How come they call you that?" asked Alvin. "Dead Mary, I mean."

"Marie la Morte? Cause I know when someone is sick before he know himself. And I know how the sickness will end."

"Am I sick?"

"Not yet, no," said the girl.

"What makes you think I can heal your mother?"

"She will die if somebody does not help, and the yellow fever, personne who live here knows how to cure it."

It took Alvin a moment to decide that the French word she said must mean nobody. "I don't know a thing about yellow fever."

"It's a terrible thing," said the girl. "Quick hot fever. Then freezing cold. My mother's eyes turn yellow. She screams with pain in her neck and shoulders and back. And then when she's not screaming, she looks sad."

"Yellow and fevery," said Alvin. "I reckon the name kind of says it all." Alvin knew better than to ask what caused the disease. The two leading theories about the cause of disease were punishment for sin and a curse from somebody you offended. Course, if either one was right, it was out of Alvin's league.

Alvin was a healer, of a sort -- that was just natural for a maker, being sort of included in the knack. But what he was good at healing was broken bones and failing organs. A man tore a muscle or chopped his foot, and Alvin could heal him up good. Or if gangrene set in, Alvin could clean it out, make the good flesh get shut of the bad. With gangrene, too, he knew the pus was full of all kinds of little animals, and he knew which ones didn't belong in the body. But he couldn't do like he did with the water and just tell everything alive to break apart -- that would kill the person right along with the sickness.

Diseases that made your nose or bowels run were hard to track down, and Alvin never knew whether they were serious or something that would just get better if you left it alone or slept a lot. The stuff that went on inside a living body was just too complicated, and most of the important things was way too small for Alvin to understand what all was going on.

If he was a real healer, he could have saved his newborn baby when it was born too young and couldn't breathe. But he just didn't understand what was going on inside the lungs. The baby was dead before he figured out a single thing.

"I'm not going to be able to do much good," said Alvin. "Healing sick folks is hard."

"I touch her lying on her bed, and I see nothing but she dead of yellow fever," said Dead Mary. "But I touch you by the fountain, I see my mother living."

"When did you touch me?" said Alvin. "You didn't touch me."

"I bump you when I draw water," she said. "I have to be sneaky. Personne lets me touch him now, if he sees me."

That was no surprise. Though Alvin figured it was better to know you're sick and dying in time to say good-bye to your loved ones. But folks always seemed to think that as long as they didn't know about something bad, it wasn't happening, so whoever told them actually caused it to be true.

Illness or adultery, Alvin figured ignorance worked about as well in both cases. Not knowing just meant it was going to get worse.

There was a plank leading from a hummock of dry land to the minuscule porch of the house, and Dead Mary fair to danced along it. Alvin couldn't quite manage that, as he looked down at the thick sucking mud under the plank. But the board didn't wobble much, and he made it into the house all right.

It stank inside, but not much worse than the swamp outside. The odor of decay was natural here. Still, it was worse around the woman's bed. Old woman, Alvin thought at first, the saddest looking woman he had ever seen. Then realized that she wasn't very old at all. She was ravaged by worse things than age.

"I'm glad she's sleeping," said Dead Mary. "Most times the pain does not let her sleep."

Alvin got his doodlebug inside her and found that her liver was half rotted away. Not to mention that blood was seeping everywhere inside her, pooling and rotting under the skin. She was close to death -- could have died already, if she'd been willing to let go. Whatever she was holding on for, Alvin couldn't guess. Maybe love for this girl here. Maybe just a stubborn determination to fight till the last possible moment.

The cause of all this ruin was impossible for Alvin to find. Too small, or of a nature he didn't know how to recognize. But that didn't mean there was nothing he could do. The seeping blood -- he could repair the blood vessels, clear away the pooling fluids. This sort of work, reconstructing injured bodies, he'd done that before and he knew how. He worked quickly, moved on, moved on. And soon he knew that he was well ahead of the disease, rebuilding faster than it could tear down.

Until at last he could get to work on the liver. Livers were mysterious things and all he could do was try to get the sick parts to look more like the healthy parts. And maybe that was enough, because soon enough the woman coughed -- with strength now, not feebly -- and then sat up. "J'ai soif," she said.

"She's thirsty," said the girl.

"Marie," the woman said, and then reached for her with a sob. "Ma Marie d'Espoir!"

Alvin had no idea what she was saying, but the embrace was plain enough, and so were the tears.

He walked to the doorway, leaving them their privacy. From the position of the sun, he'd been there an hour. A long time to leave Arthur Stuart alone by the well.

And these skeeters were bound to suck all the blood out of him and turn him into one big itch iffen he didn't get out of this place.

He was nearly to the end of the plank when he felt it tremble with someone else's feet. And then something hit him from behind and he was on the damp grassy mound with Dead Mary lying on top of him covering him with kisses.

"Vous avez sauvé ma mere!" she cried. "You saved her, you saved her, vous êtes un ange, vous êtes un dieu!"

"Here now, let up, get off me, I'm a married man," said Alvin.

The girl got up. "I'm sorry, but I'm so full of joy."

"Well I'm not sure I did anything," said Alvin. "Your mother may feel better but I didn't cure whatever caused the fever. She's still sick, and she still needs to rest and let her body work on whatever's wrong."

Alvin was on his feet now, and he looked back to see the mother standing in the doorway, tears still running down her cheeks.

"I mean it," said Alvin. "Send her back to bed. She keeps standing there, the skeeters'll eat her alive."

"I love you," said the girl. "I love you forever, you good man!"


Back in the plaza, Arthur Stuart was sitting on top of the four water jars -- which he had moved some twenty yards away from the fountain. Which was a good thing, because there must have been a hundred people or more jostling around it now.

Alvin didn't worry about the crowd -- he was mostly just relieved that they weren't jostling around some uppity young black man.

"Took you long enough," Arthur Stuart whispered.

"Her mother was real sick," said Alvin.

"Yeah, well, word got out that this was the sweetest-tasting water ever served up in Barcy, and now folks are saying it can heal the sick or Jesus turned the water into wine or it's a sign of the second coming or the devil was cast out of it and I had to tell five different people that our water came from the fountain before it got all hexed or healed or whatever they happen to believe. I was about to throw dirt into it just to make it convincing."

"So stop talking and pick up your jars."

Arthur Stuart stood up and reached for a jar, but then stopped and puzzled over it. "How do I pick up the second one, while I got the first one on my shoulder?"

Alvin solved the problem by picking up both the half-filled jars by the lip and putting them on Arthur's shoulders. Then Alvin picked up the two full ones and hoisted them onto his own shoulders.

"Well, don't you make it look easy," said Arthur Stuart.

"I can't help it that I've got the grip and the heft of a blacksmith," said Alvin. "I earned them the hard way -- you could do it too, if you wanted."

"I haven't heard you offering to make me no apprentice blacksmith."

"Because you're an apprentice maker, and not doing too bad at it."

"Did you heal the woman?"

"Not really. But I healed some of the damage the disease did."

"Meaning she can run a mile without panting, right?"

"Where she lives, it's more like splash a couple of dozen yards. That mud looked like it could swallow up whole armies and spit them back out as skeeters."

"Well, you done what you could, and we're done with it," said Arthur Stuart.

They got back to the house of Squirrel and Moose and poured the water into the cistern. Mixed in with what they already had, the cleaned water improved the quality only a little, but that was fine with Alvin. People kept overreacting. He was just a fellow using his knack.


Back at the house of Dead Mary -- or Marie d'Espoir -- nobody was following Alvin's advice. The woman he had saved was outside checking crawfish traps, getting bitten by skeeter after skeeter. She didn't mind anymore -- in a swamp full of gators and cottonmouths, what was a little itching and a few dozen welts?

Meanwhile, the skeeters, engorged with her blood, spread out over the swamp. Some of them ended up in the city, and each person they bit ended up with a virulent dose of yellow fever growing in their blood.

Copyright © 2003 Orson Scott Card

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