THE SETTING is NE Amerrka, post-colonialisation, pre-industrialization. A few buildings are built around a vertex of dirt roads: a church, a schoolhouse, some stalls that serve as a market. The fainted signs of morning life trickle through – an orange cat runs behind a pile of dampening firewood left abandoned behind a small shack.
The forest has been partially cleared for farms and small estates. A road proceeds NNW from the town – the trees on either side have been leveled to leave about sixty paces of clearing around the pressed dirt road. Most farmers have cleared several fields, leaving the native trees where desired to act as walls between holdings.
TWO MEN are riding dappled horses at a leisurely pace. The sun is just threatening to rise behind them, its light whispering behind clusters of brush.
Their approach soon reveals a fence painted in a vibrant blue. The fence itself is carelessly assembled; many posts are askew. THE TWO GENTLEMEN recognize the fence and stop at a tree just a few feet from its perimeter. Here, they dismount and prepare to tie up the horses.
THE HORSES are uneasy and disturbed; though not tired: they are borrowed from a townie and have gone only an hour’s ride. STRAUD removes his hat and makes a more serious attempt to calm the horses. He has white-grey hair smoothed neat over his skull.
BRONALD is the younger of the two but is by no means young. His bright auburn tossle of hair lends vitality to his over-tall awkwardness. Though he can nearly look the horse in the eyes, the mare continues to kick up dust. It has been a dry spring.
In the distance, wind flutters a white dress of a young girl. She is hanging laundry over a line. When she sees the men tying their horses against the tree, she runs into the house and yells into the stairwell:
AVAELLE EASTON FATHER! THEY'RE HERE!!
EASTON HOUSE is modest in size compared to the buildings in its periphery, but it is the only one painted in this ethereal grey; blued in the shade but lilac in the hazy, warming air. The shutters and double door are painted in fence’s velvet-blue.
BRONALD WEASLIE removes his hand from his pocket and attempts to wipe the sweat from his palm. His clothes are dusted with horsehay and the pieces tear at his skin, weak from ropeburn. He knocks on the door.
His knock is quiet, but it’s enough to push the door ajar.
BRONALD WEASLIE WELL OILED! A STIRRING RECOMMENDATION FOR A PAINTER?
BRONALD looks back to STRAUD. His white mustache is turned down into a stern frown. He says nothing.
BRONALD looks back to the door, which has not changed state. He turns his back on STRAUD and again approaches the door. He is taken by surprise when a fluffy white cat walks between his ankles and into the house, pushing the door open another foot.
BRONALD shudders and grits his teeth. He places his hand on the left, unopen door and sways to his right side, sticking his head in the doorway. A MAN yells down the stairwell.
MISTER EASTON MY LORD COUNT! A THOUSAND APOLOGIES, I THOUGHT YOU HAD NOT RECEIVED MY LAST CORRESPONDENCE!
A pause of awkward length is left in the conversation and BRONALD, MR.EASTON yell at the same time. BRONALD wins.
BRONALD WEASLIE OUR FERRY WAS DELAYED --
MISTER EASTON IT IS FINE. PLEASE COUNT, COME IN. MY DAUGHTER HAS JUST TOLD ME OF YOUR ARRIVAL AND I AM PLAINLY NOT PRESENTABLE. PLEASE LET MY MAN KNOW OF ANY COMFORT HE CAN PROVIDE.
When MR.EASTON has finished yelling, the two gentlemen are standing in an elegant, if scant, corridor. The walls are done up with elaborate wainscotting and painted entirely white. A number of large oil paintings hang on the walls, each gathering dust in its own time. They lacked frames; these were for sale as-is.
BRONALD peeks into the adjoining sitting room. Also ornately accented, these walls are in natural wood set against a bright red paper. It is just beginning to peel in the corners but is generally in good repair. Here, BRONALD looks at smaller paintings, landscapes, framed.
STRAUD is alone for just a moment in the hallway when he looks up the stairs and spies AVAELLE EASTON sitting on the top stair, looking down at him.
AVAELLE EASTON YOU CAN PUT YOUR HAT UP THERE. BEHIND YOU.
AVAELLE points to a hatrack, also painted white. STRAUD refuses to look.
STRAUD frowns and throws the girl a stern look. She is wearing a long, white dress of bleached cotton. A bit of cheap lace has been sewn messily on the edges but it is clearly a play-dress. Her shoes are scuffed and she’s not wearing socks.
MISTER EASTON quickly appears around the corner and pushes his daughter out of the way to rush down the stairs. He almost trips over his own feet as he reaches the ground floor and thrusts his hand toward STRAUD.
STRAUD reluctantly removes his hand from a glove. BRONALD stands in the arch adjoining the parlor to the entrance.
BRONALD WEASLIE COUNT VLADISLAUS STRAUD.
STRAUD (pauses, terse) THE FOURTH.
MISTER EASTON stands still and stares at STRAUD for a moment.
MISTER EASTON (wide-eyed) ...SIRE...
AVAELLE seizes the moment and rises from her seat on the stairs. When she descends, she shows herself as slim and elegant. She moves carefully, with practiced grace.
When she looks at her father, his face reddens as she turns to chide him.
AVAELLE EASTON FATHER, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE THIS MAN THINK OF AMERICA, THAT WE HAVE NO KING AND WE BURN THE WORD IN OUR PIPEWEED?
MR.EASTON stays silent as his daughter manages a curtsey in the small space. She lifts her thin hand to request Straud’s kiss.
AVAELLE EASTON MY LORD.
BRONALD is overcome by disgust and winces at the girl’s pose. Her hair is orange, a sunset over sand. Long and shiny, the hair falls over her shoulders, ending over her elbows. When her gesture is poorly received and a silence fills the room, BRONALD softens his expression and approaches the girl.
BRONALD WEASLIE I'M SORRY MISS, IT'S BEEN A LONG JOURNEY HERE AND MY MASTER IS OFTEN SICKENED BY THE JOSTLING OF HORSES...
AVAELLE stifles a growl, tightens her jaw. She turns and gets a full look at BRONALD. Her eyes narrow in hostility.
AVAELLE EASTON (careful) IN MY HOUSE, SLAVES ONLY SPEAK WHEN SPOKEN TO.
BRONALD is clearly shocked. MISTER EASTON, standing somewhat behind AVAELLE, grabs her roughly around the upper arm and pulls her body back toward himself. As she struggles, he slaps her loudly on the right cheek.
Embarrassed, AVAELLE raises her hand to caress her reddened face. Her eyes well up with tears but none of the men display sympathy. She sniffles and spits at her father:
AVAELLE EASTON HEATHEN!
She turns and runs upstairs, her shoes each squeaking on the waxed floors. An audible slam, presumably a bedroom door.
MR.EASTON returns to his guests.
MISTER EASTON MY DAUGHTER, AVAELLE. ELEVEN THIS YEAR. GIRL'S LIABLE TO BE THE DEATH O' ME.