By JudyL

September 1, 2009

This one’s been sitting for a while. I have more planned for it, but for now it can stand on its own. Enjoy.


Vin turned the page and sighed as he looked at the sea of words before him. He looked out over the pond they were sitting beside, wondering if maybe he could convince Ezra that a swim would be a good idea.

Ezra tapped the edge of the page lightly and Vin began to read again. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy the stories. Since Ezra’d started helping him with his reading, he’d learned of things he never knew existed and read books he never even would have picked up before, but sometimes it overwhelmed him. Especially when the book was so thick and so many of the words seemed longer than strictly necessary.

"…I can put ye in a way of finding it out before ye bind yourself to it, past blacking out1," Vin read slowly but surely. These words were familiar enough, though he still wondered why they kept saying ‘ye’ instead of you. "Clap eye on Captain Ahab," Vin looked at Ezra questioningly.

"He means look at Ahab," Ezra explained, "It’s a turn of phrase… like… ‘take a gander at that.’"

Vin nodded and continued reading. "Clap eye on Captain Ahab, young man, and thou wilt find that he has only one leg." Vin frowned. "Why’d he say ‘wilt’ ‘stead of will?" he scratched his head. People sure did talk funny back then.

Ezra grinned. "I believe the author is attempting to lend an air of ethnicity to the dialog to give us a better feel for the character. Having the character ‘speak’ in his native dialect can help the reader to better visualize the story."

"Hell, Ez, all it’s doing for me is making me wonder who taught these people to speak English."

Ezra chuckled and waved his hand for Vin to continue. Vin sighed again, but went on.

"What do you mean, sir? Was the other one lost by a whale?"

"Lost by a whale! Young man, come nearer to me: it was de… dev-our-ed, devoured?" Vin asked.

"That’s very good, Vin," Ezra smiled.

"It was devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstr-ous-est?" he glanced at Ezra who simply nodded. Vin’s eyebrows disappeared under his hair at the strange word, but looked back to the page. "Monstrousest parm-a-cetty? Dang, Ezra, what the hell is that?"

One of Ezra’s eyebrows rose. Vin wasn’t sure if it was in surprise due to the frustration in Vin’s voice or if Ezra was unsure of the answer. After a long couple of seconds, Ezra answered.

"I believe it is one of those instances of creative license. I must confess, I have no idea what a ‘parmacetty’2 is, or even if the word really means anything outside the context of this novel." Ezra paused and peered at the word on the page as if it might suddenly tell him the meaning. "Taking the word in context, I would assume Mr. Melville meant it to mean some large sea creature, most likely a whale of some kind."

Vin shook his head. "I don’t understand. How is reading something with made up words supposed to help me learn to read, Ez. Don’t make no sense to me."

Ezra sighed. "It doesn’t make sense to me," he corrected.

Vin tossed up his hands. "Well, at least you agree with me!"

"No!" Ezra glared at Vin who valiantly suppressed his grin. "Vin…" Ezra stopped and took a deep breath. "Look, it doesn’t matter how many of the individual words in a story are made up. When you read, it is the meaning of the entire sentence that matters. Each word adds to the meaning and if there’s one you aren’t sure of, usually the context of the sentence and/or the surrounding sentences will help you figure out the meaning of the word you don’t know."

Vin looked at Ezra doubtfully. "But why do they use nonsense words, why not just say it was a big, damn whale that ate his leg?"

Ezra clamped his lips shut on the laughter that wanted to spill out. He pursed his lips and rubbed his thumb across them then shrugged. "I don’t know Vin, honestly, I just don’t know," he finished with a chuckle.

Vin grinned at him. "Creative license, huh?" Ezra nodded, his eyes twinkling. "Well, at least now I know why you talk the way you do," Vin added slyly looking back down at the book.

Ezra’s eyes narrowed as he sensed a trap, but just couldn’t resist the bait. "And why is that, Mr. Tanner?"

"Well, if you grew up reading books with all these long words in them, it only stands to reason. You spend all your time reading these twenty dollar words instead of talkin’ to normal people and you end up sounding like the book," he finished with a grin.

Ezra pressed his lips together, his amusement twinkling in his eyes. "I suppose it has nothing to do with the fact that I am a gentleman and that this is how gentlemen speak."

Vin shook his head. "Now Ez, we’ve already established the fact you ain’t no gentleman."

Ezra rolled his eyes and tapped the page. "Read," he said, only letting the grin onto his face after Vin turned his attention back to the novel.

Some time later, Vin stumbled over another word.

"First Cong… Con-greg-a-tion-al," he peeked at Ezra who nodded, ""Church," cried Bildad, "what! That worships in Dea-con Deh-uht-er-onomy…"" Vin glowered and shoved the book at Ezra.

"What?" Ezra asked, making sure his hand marked the page before the book could close. "The word is Deuteronomy. It’s used here as the man’s name, but it is a word that names one of the books in the Bible."

Vin stood up and brushed at his pants. "It’s getting late, Ez."

Ezra stood and placed a piece of paper in the book to keep Vin’s place. "Don’t be discouraged, Vin. This is a difficult book to read and you’re doing fine."

Vin picked up a stone and skipped it across the surface of the pond. "Hell, Ez. When I first started learnin’ my letters, I thought that would be enough to let me read. Then I had to realize that the letters don’t sound the same in the words as they do by themselves. Now… readin’ ain’t just about the letters and the words, it’s about how they go together and…" he sighed. "Well, sometimes I just feel… so stupid," he finished softly.

Ezra moved up beside Vin and put his hand on his shoulder. "You are one of the smartest people I know Vin. Trust me, a lot of people wouldn’t have even tried to learn to read at your age and considering how long you’ve actually been reading, your vocabulary and your recognition of words in print, have increased dramatically."

Vin shrugged, still unconvinced.

Ezra suppressed a sigh. "Did you know that there is a written language for blind people? It’s called Braille. Instead of letters in ink, they are small, raised dots that the blind feel with their fingertips to read."

Vin turned to stare at Ezra as he spoke. What would it be like to read with your fingers? He shuddered. Vin didn’t think he could stand to be blind, to not see what was going on around him. "What’s that got to do with anything?"

Ezra shrugged. "Nothing, I suppose. I just wonder how much more difficult it would be to learn not only the alphabet, but also the feel of it. Then again, they don’t have to memorize how the letters look, but I suppose feeling the Braille bumps is comparable to seeing the written letters." He waved his hand. "It’s of no consequence, just a bit of trivia I thought you might enjoy. Come, Vin. If we are done for the day, I’d like to get back and see who might be interested in a game."

Vin nodded and watched as Ezra collected his horse and stowed the book in his saddlebag. A slight grin crept onto his face. Ezra never said anything without a purpose, even if it was just to confuse you. Vin went to Peso and tightened his cinch as Ezra mounted his horse. "So ya think I’m smart, huh?"

Ezra looked down at him. "Yes, I do."

"Smarter than the others?" he asked, swinging up onto Peso.

Ezra tilted his head consideringly. "In some things."

Vin grinned. "Smart as you?"

Ezra grinned back. "That remains to be seen."

Vin chuckled. "Guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we?"

Ezra brushed the brim of his hat with two fingers, his eyes bright with laughter. "I suppose we will," he challenged, then kicked Chaucer into a gallop.

Vin whooped and sent Peso after him.

The end… for now

Feedback is greatly appreciated. JudyL



1 Passage from Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

2 Parmacetty: n., sperm whale or spermaceti. Also spelled "parmacetti." – I had to research this on the internet, it wasn’t in my dictionaries and I doubt Ezra would have had reason to learn it… but with Ezra, who knows<G>.

3 Monstrousest: Well I couldn’t find a definition for this word, but it was also used in DonQuixote, so possibly it has fallen out of use or Melville ‘borrowed’ it from Cervantes<G>.

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament. In form it is a set of three sermons delivered by Moses reviewing the previous forty years of wandering in the wilderness; its central element is a detailed law-code by which the Children of Israel are to live in the Promised Land. (from Wikipedia – yeah, I know, not the best source but probably the simplest definition<G>)

Various links on Braille

The first American institution to adopt Braille was, ironically, the Missouri School for the Blind, located in St. Louis--a city named for Louis the Ninth, Crusader king of France. Dr. Simon Pollak, a member of the school's board, had earlier traveled to France and was much impressed with the Braille system. By some unknown means, students at the school learned Braille independently and taught it to each other after school hours, using it to pass notes to confound their sighted teachers.

Initially, the superintendent of the Missouri school resisted the use of Braille, saying it was "not pleasing to the eye," but his opposition did not stand. The school adopted Braille officially in 1860.