Ebenezer, or Eben, Cooke and his twin sister, Anna, are born in 1666 to Andrew Cooke on a tobacco, or sot-weed, plantation at Cooke’s Point in the colony of Maryland. Their mother dies giving birth and their father returns to England, hiring eventually as his children’s tutor a young man who had been found floating in Chesapeake Bay with the name Henry Burlingame III pinned to his chest. Burlingame hopes to find the secret journal of Captain John Smith. Burlingame had an ancestor who had served with the famous explorer and thought that the secret of his birth might be found in the journal.
Eben goes to Cambridge for his formal education. After a period of indecision and carousal with his friends, he finally determines that he wants to be a poet. Burlingame also reappears to assist Eben during this period. Andrew Cooke asks him to return to Maryland to take over the operation of the family plantation. Two events then occur to shape Eben’s future.
On a dare, Eben meets a prostitute named Joan Toast, and he is taken by her beauty and personality. Instead of having sex with her, he vows eternal devotion to her and to preserve his virginity eternally. John McEvoy, Joan’s pimp, wants Eben to pay for the time he spent with her even though there had been no sex. Eben gains an enemy. The second important event is Eben’s interview with Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore and former governor of Maryland, who appoints Eben poet laureate of Maryland and urges the astonished young man to help Calvert regain the governorship of Maryland, which had been wrested from him by a host of villains headed by Jonathan Coode. Calvert had no authority to name Eben to any position because Calvert is no longer governor of Maryland. In fact, Calvert is not Calvert; he is Burlingame, in the first of many disguises.
Eben, Bertrand (Eben’s servant), and Burlingame head for a seaport to begin their voyage to Maryland, but brigands set upon...
(The entire section is 798 words.)