Notes: A story in the 'Echoes the Sea/Aces Immortal' AU series. These ficlets take place between 1847 and 1883, beginning when Ezra is ten.
Characters: Ezra Standish, Charlotte Sparrow, Cecily Black
Summary: Ezra recalls five memories of his sister.
As a Gentleman Should
“Who are you?” Ezra asked belligerently, eyeing the strange girl who was sitting on the piano bench in the music room. Charlotte had sent him off to practice his music, and while he didn’t want to, he didn’t quite have the nerve to disobey her outright. But now this girl was sitting on his bench, at his piano, and he didn’t like it one bit.
She stopped drawing on the piece of paper she had on her lap and fixed him with a glare. “Miss Charlotte says a gentleman’s s’posed to introduce himself to a lady,” she informed him icily.
He snorted derisively. “You are not a lady.”
She leapt off the bench, the paper and pencil on her lap falling to the floor. “You take that back!”
“I will not! You aren’t!” Ezra held his ground as she advanced on him, realizing she stood a head taller than he did. “You’re coloured, so you can’t be a lady,” he declared, parroting something he’d heard at his Aunt Rose’s a few weeks prior.
The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “You’re mean, just like the old master back at the plantation!” She scrubbed at her eyes with a fist. “He had green eyes just like yours.”
Ezra felt a stab of remorse for making her cry, but not enough to apologize. And he resented being compared to her old master. “You have green eyes too!” he shot back.
Tossing her head, she crossed her arms. “Course I do, he was my daddy. Did your daddy have green eyes?” she asked out of the blue.
He stopped to think about her question for a moment. He didn’t really remember his father. Preston Standish had died when Ezra was four, and he only had vague memories of a man with a kind smile, holding his hand as they walked together in the park. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “He died when I was little.”
“I’m sorry,” she offered. “Do you have a mama?”
“Uh huh, but she’s traveling. I stay at Cousin Charlotte’s when mother travels.”
“My mama’s upstairs with Miss Charlotte, making her a dress for the ball. My mama makes the best dresses in Richmond!” she told him proudly. “But she makes the prettiest dresses for your cousin, cus she’s the one that bought us from the old master and made us free.”
Ezra felt a surge of pride at the girl’s words. Both his mother and Charlotte had always told him that no man should own another, but he hadn’t known that his cousin had been buying and freeing slaves. He now felt ashamed of his behaviour and knew Charlotte would be extremely disappointed in him.
Bending down, he picked up the paper and pencil from the floor, handing it to the girl. “Allow me to introduce myself; Ezra P. Standish, at your service,” he said, finally introducing himself as a gentleman should.
Beaming, she dropped a little curtsy. “Cecily Black.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Black,” he replied with a bow.
Crying Was For Girls and Babies
Ezra waited till he knew Charlotte was downstairs before sneaking into the bedroom at the end of the hall. Quietly, not wanting to wake Cecily should she be asleep, he crept across the floor to her bedside.
Maude had left him at Charlotte’s two days prior, her new husband not really wanting Ezra underfoot; so he had been banished from the man’s presence. Ezra didn’t mind, in fact, he couldn’t have been happier to be at his cousin’s once more. She was always pleased to see him, and never thought he was a burden or in the way. But his joy at being home was short lived on discovering both Cecily and her mother were here and sick with fever.
Cecily opened her eyes, a weak smile forming as she recognized Ezra. “You ain’t supposed to be here.”
“I’m not supposed to be here,” he corrected automatically, stunned at how sick his friend looked. “It’s all right; Cousin Charlotte is down in the kitchen and won’t be back for some time.”
Charlotte had commanded him to not go anywhere near the sickrooms, afraid he’d take ill as well. But Ezra couldn’t leave his friend all alone when she was sick. He knew Cecily would sit by his side if he were ill; he could do no less.
“You better hope not,” she told him, “or she’ll tan your hide for disobeying.”
Ezra grinned. “Cousin Charlotte would never strike me,” he reassured her. “But I would have come even if she did.”
“Thank you, Ezra, I’m real glad you’re here.” She squeezed his hand.
“I brought a book,” he told her, pulling the volume from inside his vest. “Would you like me to read to you?”
“Would you please?”
Ezra had just started to read to her when he heard the telltale squeak of the floorboard just outside Cecily’s room. The two children looked at each other in surprise and not a little fear. It seemed Ezra had been incorrect on how long Charlotte would be downstairs.
“Quick, hide in the wardrobe,” Cecily told him.
Outside, he could hear Charlotte asking Livy to take soup to Cecily’s mother in the room across the hall from hers. Deciding that his friend’s suggestion was his best option, he dashed quietly across the room and into the large wardrobe, pulling the door shut behind him just as his cousin walked in. Trying to calm his breathing, he closed his eyes, straining to hear what was happening in the room outside. He practically screeched with fright when the wardrobe door was pulled open to reveal a furious Charlotte.
He shivered a little at the look in her eyes, now not quite so sure of his earlier belief that his cousin would never beat him. She didn’t say a word, just took his arm, practically dragging him out of the wardrobe, across the floor and out the door.
Releasing him in the hall, she said in a tightly controlled voice, “You will go to your room, Ezra, and there you will stay till I give you leave. Do I make myself absolutely clear?”
He nodded, finally finding his voice, “Yes’m.”
“I will deal with you after I’ve given Cecily her dinner. Now go!”
He would not cry; crying was for girls and babies, and he was thirteen, nearly a man. Even if Charlotte beat him, he would not cry. But a part of him wanted to, not because he was afraid of what the consequences might be, but because Charlotte was angry with him. He wanted her love and good opinion more than anything, and he was afraid he might have lost it.
How had she known he was in the wardrobe? It was a perpetual mystery to Ezra how both Charlotte and his mother always seemed to know where he was. Sighing, he slumped down in his chair. Maybe it was just a talent parents had; he wished he knew.
The bedroom door opening interrupted his pensive thoughts, and he gulped a little as he saw Charlotte standing there. He stood as she entered, holding his posture ramrod straight. Watching her as she drew closer, he realized that she’d been crying.
Holding out her hand to him, she said something he hadn’t been expecting, “I’m sorry, Ezra, for being so angry with you. I know you only wanted to comfort Cecily and it was a kindhearted thing to do.”
Taking the proffered hand, he held it tight. “I am sorry for disobeying you, ma’am.”
“I know you are, dearest.” She sighed, leading him over to his bed and sitting down on the edge, Ezra coming to sit next to her. “I know it’s hard, but you can not see Cecily while she’s ill. I can’t risk you, Ezra, I can’t. It would devastate me were you to take sick as well. Please tell me you understand and will obey me this time? I have no wish to send you away, but I shall to keep you from harm if need be.”
“I shall do as you say, Cousin Charlotte.” He looked up at her tearstained face, fear gripping his heart. “Is Cecily going to die?”
She shook her head. “No, Cecily is improving, though she is still very sick.”
Ezra sighed with relief.
“But Ezra, Cecily is going to need you more than ever because—” her voice caught “—Esther, her mother, will likely not survive the night.”
“She’s going to die?” The tears he had promised himself he would not shed threatened. Cecily would be alone. “Please, Cousin Charlotte, don’t let them make Cecily a slave again,” he begged. Ezra had no real idea of how these things worked, but if she had no mother, wouldn’t they take her back to her father’s plantation? “Please, cousin!”
Charlotte wrapped him in her arms, holding him close. “No one is taking Cecily anywhere, I swear to you, dearest. In fact, I would like to have her live here with us. Would that be agreeable to you?”
He nodded, hugging her fiercely. “None of us will be alone again.”