Ezra undid his cravat and attempted to retie it in a less twisted fashion. He thought with annoyance that fingers so adept at tying twine on grocery bundles should have no problem with dressing, but the stiff fabric seemed to have a mind of its own. At home, his sister Patience had always laughed at his attempts and then redone it for him in an elegant-looking knot that his fingers never could seem to master.
“Spies must be sneakier than Indians.” Ready, George looked over at Ezra. “What’s that? Don’t you have an undercravat?” He began to rummage through a box. “It looks much more fashionable. I have an extra you may borrow. And that knot looks twisted. Here, let me help.” Pulling out a piece of muslin, he stepped toward Ezra.
“No, I’m getting it.” Ezra pulled away.
“Here, you put the under one like this.” Extending his hand, George ignored Ezra’s objection.
“George, I do not want it. Mine is quite sufficient.”
“No, it looks fuller and more distinguished like this. And you should try the knot like this.”
“George! I’m doing just fine. Get your fingers off.”
George by now had worked his way behind Ezra and was gazing over the shoulder of his slightly shorter fellow apprentice.
“You’ll be happy once you see it. Here, let me just—”
Ezra pulled at his cravat, then tried to push the other one out from under it with his free fingers.
“No, don’t,” George said. “Ouch! What are you doing to my fingers?” George’s fingers were trapped in the knot of fabric.
“Let go of my fingers!”
“Let go of my cravat.” Ezra wiggled it to try to get it disentangled from the intruding fingers and undercravat. The movement just made the fabric snuggle up closer to his neck.
“Ouch!” George said again. “Stop your pulling!”
“Then get your fingers out from my neck!”
“Fine, fine. I’ll try.”
George wiggled and twisted his hands, trying to get them free.
“What kind of knot is that, anyway?”
Ezra braced himself as the wiggling got more forceful.
“How should I know? You were the one fiddling with it. And stop trying to strangle me!”
“I can’t help it. My fingers aren’t coming out. Maybe if I try to loosen it with my thumbs…”
George started picking at the knot with his thumbs.
“It looks like it’s gentry who need long thumbnails for their high-class dress,” Ezra said sarcastically. It was surely almost time to leave for church.
“I don’t tie knots like this in my cravat,” George said. “If you had just let me fix it like I was trying to—”
“I was taking care of it,” Ezra countered.
“Not very well. I learned to tie a cravat well when I was five. And we are not gentry.” George scowled at the knot. “This isn’t working.”
“Let me loosen it, then,” Ezra said.
“No, I’m fine! I’ll get it!”
“I’m just loosening it.” Ezra put his fingers back up to the tangle.
“Don’t touch it!” George yelped, yanking himself back and inadvertently throwing Ezra backwards, making himself stumble awkwardly for a few paces before collapsing onto the floor with a thump.
“Now one of my thumbs is stuck too!”
“It’s not my fault,” Ezra said. “I barely even touched it.”
“No tomfoolery, lads,” Mr. Smith’s voice called up. “The carriage is about to draw up to take us to church.”
“What are we going to do?” George hissed, his voice squeaking up at the end.
“First, we need to stand back up.” Ezra pulled himself into a more upright position. “If you scoot sideways, we can use the wall to help brace ourselves on.”
“Scoot? In my Sunday best? It will get all dusty and probably scuffed and torn.”
George lunged to his feet, but his hands stayed put, causing him to lurch forward and fall on top of Ezra.
“Ouch! What are you doing?” Ezra objected. “Get off, and we’ll scoot over to the wall.”
“Fine, we’ll scoot,” George said. “But don’t go too fast. I want to do it carefully.”
Ezra sighed deeply. “It’s practically time to leave now.”
But he obligingly went slowly and carefully.
Once the boys got to the wall, they leaned against it and slowly pushed themselves onto their feet. At one point George slipped and almost sent them tumbling again. Finally, they were up and steady.
“Maybe this would be easier if I were on the other side,” George said.
“How are you going to get there?” Ezra asked.
“Maybe if I just twisted…”
George’s left arm met against Ezra’s neck as he tried to circle around to the right.
“It’s not working.” Ezra leaned away from the intruding arm.
“Try getting down. Maybe it will work better if I try to go over at the same time as around and do it fast.”
“I don’t know about this,” objected Ezra, but awkwardly knelt down anyway.
“The carriage is here,” Mr. Smith called up.
George lunged forwards, trying to twist himself at the same time. His hands remained fast as he twisted Ezra around and flung him on the ground, landing himself against the bedstand.
“Try cutting it,” George urged. “I can’t get it undone.”
Ezra reached his hand up toward the dressing table and tried to grab the razor.
“Careful!” George said. “You almost grabbed it by the blade.”
“I’m trying.” Ezra gingerly patted the tabletop. “But it’s hard to be careful when I can’t see what I’m grabbing.”
Heavy footsteps started up towards the room.
Moving his hand’s position slightly, Ezra’s fingertips brushed against the handle, and then lunged to get a hold of it. George’s hands pushed against his neck for a moment before he collapsed back to start cutting.
“Hurry!” George whispered. “Uncle Raleigh is coming.”
“I’m trying. Stop wiggling your hands.”
“You’re not getting anywhere cutting there. Try over here.”
“I can’t even tell where you’re talking about.” Exasperated, Ezra leaned back hard on George. “And this will work. I just don’t want to reduce my Sunday cravat completely to shreds.”
The footsteps stopped by the top of the steps, only a few paces from the door.
“There had better be a good explanation for this,” Mr. Smith growled.
“Just do it!” George squeaked. He gave a sudden squirm and tried to maneuver the knot.
Ezra started to protest, but it was too late.
“Yowch!” cried George. “My thumb is cut.”
“I told you to stop wiggling your hands,” Ezra said. “I almost have it.” With one sharp jerk, he managed to cut through the mess, but George pulled away, ripping and unraveling in his hastiness.
The door heaved open.
“What is all the ruckus?” Mr. Smith demanded, heavy eyebrows drawn down deeply.
George was desperately hopping about looking for something to wrap around his bleeding thumb.
Ezra said, “Well, sir, I was tying my cravat when—”
“Here, let me use it,” George said. “It’s not good for anything anymore, anyway.” He reached out to grab the tattered piece of cloth.
Ezra stepped back. “I was planning on mending it.”
“I have seen sloppily tied cravats before, and I have seen cuts from shaving before, but never have I seen cuts springing from the tying of a cravat before,” Mr. Smith said. “Nor, for that matter, have I ever heard tell of using a razor to attach a cravat. However, neither of you seem to be ready to leave for church. I will give you until the clock strikes a quarter till the hour”—his eyes glinted of lightning under thunderous eyebrows—“and you had both better be out in the carriage, devoid of blood, dust, and shreds, and in all other ways presentable to enter the holy sanctuary of the house of the Lord.”
“Yes sir,” both lads mumbled, but already Mr. Smith had turned and headed for the door, which he ominously thudded behind himself.
“Can’t you use your own undercravat?” Ezra stripped off his blood-sprinkled shirt and collar. “Though I suppose I’ll need to borrow a cravat from you for now.”
“I suppose.” George accepted his own shredded cloth. Then his face shed its distraught look. “But I have a green one you could use. It should really set off your complexion. If you like, I can show you where to buy one like it when we get a free day.”
Ezra compressed his lips to keep back a sigh, but held out his hand for the colored neck garland.
There is a picture of a cravat in the Gallery.