A Reputation for Decency

Chapter 1

If one were to hitch a ride on the wings of a gull, or perhaps float along in a cloud of salty sea mist as it sprays off the Atlantic during the higher high water of its twice daily high tide, one would find himself carried through the narrow streets of the quaint seaside town of Kennebunkport, then up a winding climb, hugged on both sides by craggy Maine rock, past a dense thicket of mulberries, at last landing upon an eggshell portico, where Lady Barbara sits with furrowed brow, considering what to do about her second-born son, John Ellis.

The quadrennial contest had not been kind to John, and Lady Barbara, being, in her motherly way, acutely aware of his sensitivities and the thin, filo crust quality of his skin, worried some about the timbre of his grit. Even as a boy, he'd been this way. His older brother, George Walker, was the incorrigible one. On more than one occasion, Barbara had been moved to corral GW and scrub the whole of his personage, after, in a fit of mischief, he'd extended himself into a jar of lingonberry preserves.

Such sticky situations had never been for John Ellis. By contrast, he was wholly corrigible -- at the peak of his temperature, lukewarm. Still, tragedies have befallen untended infants in the mildest of puddles -- Puddles, as it happened, was John Ellis's childhood sobriquet, bestowed upon him by Grandfather Prescott -- and Lady Barbara was determined to pluck John Ellis, though certainly not her favourite son (that would be Sir Neil), from his dangerous wallows.

"I know," the Grand Old Lady thought resolutely, "we'll have a party."


The unpleasant events of the year prior now firmly ensconced in the annals, Lady Barbara was allowing herself a moment of reverie on the Kennebunkport portico, enjoying the warm, early spring air and the pleasing, delicate whoops of the sea birds, when, in the distance, from the direction of the foyer, she heard a bustle. The bustle was soon a clamor and, with fanfare, a red-faced John Ellis burst onto the portico.

“Mother, mother, I’ve bought the Marlins!” John Ellis exclaimed.

Lady Barbara turned to survey her second son, who, even as a child, she recalled, had been preternaturally rumpled.

“Aren’t they terribly pointy, dear?” she asked.

“Oh come on, Mother!” Jeb stomped his foot, exasperated. “The baseball team! I’ve bought them with Derek Jeter. We beat Tagg Romney!”

“I haven’t the slightest idea what any of those words mean, John Ellis.” Barbara turned back towards the sea, wishing to will herself back into the peace and quiet of just moments prior. Of late, she’d been granted more time to herself and, were she to be frank, she had grown accustomed to it.

“Why can’t you be excited for me?” John pouted. “Why isn’t anyone ever excited for me?”

Barbara turned to him again, his face eager, and not, she considered, fully unlike a beagle’s.

“I am excited, John Ellis. Perhaps it shall do you some good. Your brother enjoyed his baseball team, as I recall. Before he became President. And you have been so gloomy.”

Her words did not seem to have the cheering effect she had intended. Had her increased time spent in the pleasing solitude of her own thoughts dimmed her aptitude for human affairs? She thought not. Jeb had always had a droopy quality to his demeanor.

She distinctly recalled an event from his boyhood. At the ranch in Texas, the entirety of the clan had gathered for an afternoon of brush-clearing and merriment. The spread was magnificent: grilled cuts of Texas steer, white bread, and additional refreshments. GW, a mischievous boy of ten, had, at one point, relieved himself into the quarter-barrel of fine brew from which the adults were partaking. This had earned him a stern clapping of the ears from Grandfather Prescott. Sometimes Barbara could hardly believe the dignified man GW had become, painting his cripples.

In the course of the afternoon, the children had wished to ride horses, then whimpered, whined and cajoled until the grown-ups relented. Barbara could remember, clear as day, GW, Neil, even Dorothy, happy as larks, on the backs of trotting horses. Yet, when George Sr. lifted John Ellis onto a brown mare known for her gentle disposition, the horse had sat flat on the ground, unwilling to budge even an inch. In some ways, Barbara thought, America had reacted to John Ellis much the same. She felt pity for her meek boy.

“John Ellis,” she said, brightening. “We must celebrate. Perhaps we should have a party!”