Saturday, December 10, 2005

Beautiful...Tangled Roots - Ch. 10

Chapter 10
Abigail Wainwright knew something had changed the moment she returned to her home. Not only wasn’t Edric showing her the least bit of anger at going to the week-long trip without him, he was actually whistling and behaving as if he hadn’t missed her at all. She was also surprised to see that her sewing girl had been moved closer to the house. These were just two of the things that Abigail would discuss with her husband as they lunched together in the small family dining room.

“Did you not miss me, Edric?” Abigail asked, putting more emphasis on the ‘Ed’ part of his name the way some of her British associates did. She hadn’t always pronounced his name like that, which meant that if she wasn’t careful, she might become a carbon copy of her friends and lose herself.

“What man does not miss his wife when she is gone?” Edric replied, answering her question with a question as he continued to read his newspaper. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings with the truth. The truth was, he hadn’t missed Abigail one day while she was gone. And he definitely hadn’t missed her the last five nights, because Eve had kept him good and occupied. Good and satisfied, too.

Abigail seemed pacified by her husband’s response as she fanned herself daintily with one hand and took a sip of her iced lemonade with the other. It was the hottest spring day they’d had yet. And the high-neck, lilac print, day dress she wore, not to mention her bosom-boosting corset and restrictive petticoat, didn’t make it any better.

Then shifting her chair farther from the rectangular-shaped yellow table to allow for more breathing room, Abigail asked her next question. “Why was Eve moved closer to the house? I gave no order to do so before I departed.”

While Abigail waited for her husband to speak, she increased the movement of the elegantly painted and carved sandalwood fan in her hand. She refused to put it down long enough to finish eating the delicious lunch Charlotte had prepared. If it got much hotter than this, Abigail would soon call for two of the young slave girls so that they could cool her with the two large featherlike fans she kept in the downstairs closet. If only a proper lady didn’t have to wear so many garments, especially during the daytime when the necklines were higher, almost up to the chin.

“I authorized the move since it would make it easier for Eve to help you in the new dressmaking business you told me you had your heart set on starting. In fact, I have also authorized the carpenter to come out tomorrow to see what you want him to do about turning the downstairs parlor into your display room and dress shop,” Edric said from behind the safety of his newspaper. He did not want Abigail to see the color on his cheeks at just the thought of having Eve so close by.

Abigail squeezed out a tiny squeal of delight and clapped her small hands lightly together. “You are such a thoughtful husband. I am so glad I married you.” She was glad that she married Edric for several reasons. Not only was he handsome, making her one of the most envied women in the whole county, he also didn’t pressure her about sex.

It wasn’t that Abigail didn’t want to make love to her husband, especially since Edric was such a wonderful lover. It was just that she didn’t want to be reminded of the fact that each union would be unfruitful. Two years ago, Abigail and her father had her infertility confirmed by an out-of-state physician who was well versed in women matters. As a result, she would rather have Edric think that their lack of offspring was because they seldom made love than because she’d rendered herself barren in a risky procedure called abortion.

“Are you now?” Edric asked, not at all happy that he married her as he lowered the paper to see his wife’s face. Even in elation, Abigail was still subdued and forever the prim lady. Whereas Eve had literally attacked him with hugs and kisses when he told her of his idea to have a display room for her dress designs. Guess which reaction Edric preferred.

Then clearing his throat, he added in a very nonchalant voice, “You will need to make sure that Eve has some new dresses if she is to assist you in your shop. Surely you would not want your influential patrons to talk about how improperly dressed your help is.”

Abigail’s eyes took on a horrified look before she quickly shook her head. Although Eve dressed better than most female slaves who only wore chemises under their dresses and even scantier clothing that exposed their legs and thighs during the summer months, her attire was still unacceptable in the eyes of white women who wore clothing over most of their bodies. At least they did in the daytime. As mentioned before, the day dresses of white women had long sleeves and high necks, and of course that outfit was only complete with a bonnet and gloves. Eveningwear was typically sleeveless and low cut in the bodice, complimented by lacy fingerless or full-fingered gloves.

“Of course not. Eve will get new dresses immediately,” Abigail promptly replied. Then she got up and looked around for the errand boy. She didn’t have to look any farther than past the short breezeway that led to the detached kitchen. Like the conscientious child that he was, the cook’s son had been hovering in readiness of his next assignment near the dining room door. Even still, Abigail spoke sharply to him.

“Go fetch Eve this instant, Jem!” Mrs. Wainwright nearly shouted, causing the boy to take off running.

Meanwhile, Edric returned his face to his newspaper, knowing that he’d set some things in motion for his wife, his lover, and himself. He’d made Abigail happy by giving her another vehicle in which to promote herself socially. Eve would be happy just having her designs shown, even if she didn’t get any credit for her work, and he would be happy to see Eve in a better quality of clothing. Yet what would make Edric even happier was if he was allowed to take those same beautiful clothes off of Eve’s body at some later point in time, when his wife wasn’t around of course.

******

When Eve heard that she’d be getting new apparel to wear in addition to her expanded job assignment, all she could do was nod absently and stare as she stood in front of the mahogany slab sideboard in the southwest corner of the room. New clothes for me? Eve mused, still staring mutely at Miss Abigail.

“Well, are you just going to stand there gawking and looking like a dumb mule? Do you not have any words to say?” Abigail said sarcastically. She failed to notice how her husband cringed at her comments.

“Thank ya, Miss Abigail,” Eve finally forced out, trying desperately not to look at Dr. Wainwright. She just knew he was somehow behind all this good fortune that had happened to her this week.

“Of course, never let it be said that I am not a generous mistress,” Abigail stated haughtily, puffing her small carriage out as if the whole thing had been all her idea in the first place. Then to further remind Eve of her lofty position, she added, “Oh, and while you are here, you can clear the lunch dishes away.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Eve nodded and began to move towards the table. She knew better than to remind Miss Abigail that Jem normally took away the dishes since it would only cause trouble for her. Dr. Wainwright’s wife deemed all slaves available to do any and every job she deemed necessary. As a matter of fact, Miss Abigail had been known to stop field hands from picking cotton just to rearrange porch chairs for her.

When Eve paused at Edric’s seat to collect his dishes, she got an unexpected surge of encouragement as his kind eyes met hers. He also nodded in approval of her civil behavior towards his uncivilized wife. Then as Eve passed by him, Edric allowed his right hand to dangle down beside his chair. This way he could touch her free hand in a tender caress for the briefest of moments.

Eve’s eyes immediately shot to Miss Abigail’s face to see if she’d seen the brief encounter, but the flighty woman was already on to the next subject. Mrs. Wainwright wasn’t paying her husband or her sewing assistant any attention as she daintily fanned herself and rambled on about some new society event she wanted to attend. Abigail backtracked only briefly to name her business Abigail’s Fashions and to mention that she would run her new company by appointment only. This way, the elite would flock to her exclusiveness and her social life wouldn’t have to suffer by trying to maintain regular business hours.

******

Later that night, Edric paced the floor of his bedroom for three hours, unable to sleep, unable to do anything but think about the brown beauty in the slave quarters nearest to the house. Although he’d had every intention of not sleeping with Eve when his wife was on the property, he found himself craving the slave woman’s company in a big way tonight.

The bedtime talks they’d had this week were often just as stimulating as the intimacy. In fact, Edric deemed their conversations as a new form of intimacy that he’d never known before. And although he would continue to honor his wife in every other way that counted, he was not going to deny himself Eve for one more second. As a matter of fact, Edric was going to see his new mistress right now.

© 2005 Suprina Frazier

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