Saturday, December 17, 2005

Beautiful...Tangled Roots - Ch. 17

Chapter 17
1852
When the first cold snap hit Wainwrighton in November, it signaled the beginning of hog-killing season on Dr. Wainwright’s plantation. Although a hog could be slaughtered at any time, dealing with masses of them had more to do with temperature than biology since refrigeration was still an issue for some and a few cold days were needed in order to process the hogs without the meat spoiling.

Already the male slaves had huge containers of water heated in a wide open space on the western side of the big house. Many pigs would be killed and boiled in the scalding water until their hair was ready to be scrubbed off, leaving them a pretty light color. Then they would be hung from a rack to be dressed later.

Although this was definitely a time for work, it was also a time for play for by the time all of the work was finished, there would be chitterlings, barbecue pork, ginger cake and persimmon beer for all of the guests who come to the gathering in their colorful Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Then there would be promenades and cotillions among the slaves to the time of a quill instrument. A few white folks would show up to monitor things and observe the festivities, usually the master, his wife, and the overseer.

Today an additional white person showed up. It was Corinna Wainwright. She came because her mulatto granddaughter invited her to, despite disapproval from her other sons. All that mattered to Corinna was that she got to spend more precious time with her joyful granddaughter from her favorite son. Edric was also the only son that actually visited her at least five times a week. The others only visited when she summoned them or when they needed something.

“Oh, you look so lovely today,” Corinna told Indigo. She’d summoned the child to the side porch where the white folks sat a ways off from the jovial slave population on the western side of the big house. A snobbish-looking Abigail sat a short distance away from her mother-in-law while York stood near the stairs, stroking his moustache and looking for any opportunity to use his coiled whip at his side, even on such a happy day like today.

“Thank you, Mother Corinna. My mama made it for me,” Indigo replied, doing a short curtsey like her white grandmother taught her to do during one of their previous visits with each other. A visit that had included them reading a children’s book together in her father’s childhood rocking chair.

Abigail cringed in her seat at that reference to Eve who was currently missing in action. Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen Edric in a while either. As a result, Abigail became very suspicious.

Where is that husband of mine? Abigail mused, scanning the immediate area with her eyes. Yet all she saw were fancy dressed slaves in colors and patterns that clashed violently with one another in her opinion. The way they combined different pieces of material in one garment made a lot of their ensembles look like quilts. Abigail found it highly distasteful to stray from simple colors and blends, which is why she made sure that Eve only created dress designs while she chose the fabric and the colors.

Abigail wasn’t the only white person that found the slaves’ attire distasteful. York did, too, but for completely different reasons. He resented the fact that some of the slaves had finer garments than him. In fact, Old Jasper had on a black silk waistcoat and a pair of fine patent-leather shoes right now. No doubt those items had likely been given to him by Dr. Wainwright since he was such a favorite with the boss man.

In York’s opinion, no slave should ever dress above his or her station in life. He deemed it highly inappropriate, yet on this plantation the overseer didn’t set the rules, he followed the ones set by the owner. And as the owner, Dr. Wainwright refused to begrudge the slaves what he deemed to be small pleasures in their life of bondage.

On top of that, Edric stopped issuing his slaves clothing twice a year, in the spring and autumn, like most slaveholders. No, under the advice of Eve, Dr. Wainwright built another outbuilding specifically for slave garments and now slaves were issued clothing whenever they needed them. That really infuriated York who didn’t have such a clothing allowance and had to buy his garments with his own money, despite the fact that he was paid very well.

The shoes were issued on an as needed basis as well. There were no barefooted slaves on this plantation unless they wanted to be. And the shoes were quality and kind to the feet, not like the old kind which had been fashioned from cowhide and clumsily fitted with a wooden sole. The slaves complained about them being so hard that they had to warm them by the fire and grease them with tallow in order to wear them.

Overlooking the scowls on the faces of the overseer and her daughter-in-law, Corinna continued to address her granddaughter with deep affection. “Well, your mother definitely knows how to make little girls look extra lovely. And you did your curtsey so well in it,” she commented, admiring the stitching on the child’s red sheath dress which had been colored from the dye of powdered red rocks.

Indigo was always the best dressed child on the whole plantation. She even dressed better than some of her white cousins, all thanks to her mother’s talent. In fact, Corinna highly suspected that Eve was actually behind Abigail’s dressmaking success. Why else would Abigail refuse to hire any additional help despite her booming business? Why else would she want to keep her operations such a secret, not even allowing her sisters-in-law to visit her sewing room?

If Eve was the talent behind the business, then that made Corinna even fonder of her. She already admired the slave woman due to the fact that she’d made Edric happier than anyone had ever seen him. Yet Corinna would never reveal that fondness for Eve out of respect for her legal daughter-in-law.

Indigo beamed elatedly from the latest compliment she’d been given. “Thank you again, Mother Corinna.” Then she leaned her head to the side reflectively, causing her long straight ponytail to dangle against her right shoulder. “Can I give your cheek a thank you kiss, Mother Corinna?”

Although Abigail’s sharp glance their way revealed that she wanted to shoo the child immediately off the porch at this point, Corinna gave her daughter-in-law a stern look that warned her not to act rashly. She would not have Indigo mistreated in her presence by anyone, especially not by a jealous wife who constantly sowed into her own misery by neglecting her marriage due to her insatiable desire for social acceptance and the pursuit of material things.

Then Corinna turned to smile at the beautiful child in front of her. “Of course, dear. Which cheek would you like to kiss?” She felt Indigo’s ponytail as she did on many occasions, marveling in the fact that it was just as silky as her fully white granddaughters.

Indigo’s aqua eyes brightened with happiness as she looked from one creamy white cheek to the other. “I can’t decide. I like them both,” she said, smiling into her grandmother’s kind eyes. Indigo liked everything about Mother Corinna.

Corinna’s eyes misted at the things the intelligent child constantly said to lift her spirits. She’d never meet a more loving, outgoing child in her life. It was obvious that Eve had something to do with that as well, which gave her a definite place on Corinna’s short list of great people to know in this world.

“Then kiss them both,” Corinna forced out through an emotionally tight throat.

As Indigo complied, Abigail got up and went inside the house, allowing the screen door to slam noisily behind her in protest of the tender scene that just occurred between her mother-in-law and her husband’s illegitimate child.

******

Inside the house, Edric was in his study with Eve. He’d gone into the kitchen out back, where she was helping Charlotte, and retrieved her for a quick private kiss. Yet the moment their lips had touched, he’d known that that would not be enough. Passion had instantly flamed hot between them and in no time they were devouring each other’s mouths hungrily. Exploring hands were everywhere.

Eve’s hands were particularly on Edric’s fancy low-cut brocade vest as she sought to feel his muscular chest through the black and white attire he wore. Edric’s hands were on her red and black plaid dress, particularly on the torso area where his probing fingertips couldn’t help but marvel over the delicious slope of Eve’s narrow waist as it descended from her ample bosom.

“I want to take you right here, my love,” Edric muttered against her lips. “Right now we must feed this great need, lest it overtake us.”

“We can’t. There are too many people around. Besides, we agreed never to do that in this house again,” Eve protested, even though she did not move away from him. It felt too good being this close to Edric, being touched by him, being kissed by him.

Just then, they heard Abigail’s severe voice outside of the study door in the hallway. As usual, she was upset about something or the other. “Charlotte, have you seen my husband?”

Edric and Eve grew very still and quietly waited to see what would happen next. There was only one door to the study and the windows were too noisy to let up without drawing attention to them. And even though Abigail was starkly aware of the fact that her husband was sleeping with his slave woman, seeing them together in her house might cause an unnecessary scene on this joyous occasion.

“Yep, he went outside on da porch to smoke dat new tobacco his brother sent over wit his ma,” Charlotte lied, trying to protect her good friend and her good master. The same good master who not only lightened her workload during and right after pregnancy, but who also gave Charlotte and the rest of the childbearing women new dresses and a new pig for each child they bore. As a result, Edric’s slave women were becoming the best dressed around and he hadn’t had to buy another slave in the last five years because the plantation population had doubled through childbirth.

“Oh. Well, get on back to work now. That is enough lolly-gagging for today,” Abigail huffed as she walked off towards the front porch without so much as a ‘thank you’. If Charlotte had been a white person, she would have at least said that.

“Yes, ma’am,” Charlotte replied in mock submission. The passive aggressive cook didn’t feel the least bit guilty about lying to her master’s wife. In her opinion, Miss Abigail wasn’t fit to be any man’s wife.

******

Inside the study, Edric gave Eve another lingering kiss before totally releasing her now that the coast was clear. “Save me a dance, my love.”

“You know you and I can’t dance in plain sight,” Eve reminded him.

“We also could not get photographs taken of the three of us, but I still got that done, did I not?” Edric said, doing a bit of reminding himself.

Last month, he took Eve and Indigo on a discreet trip to the new photo studio in Wainwrighton where he paid handsomely for the photographers to take several photos of his small family. There were several with just the females together, and three with just Indigo, and two daguerreotypes of him and Eve.

Although Edric posted the photographs of his child proudly in his study for all to see, he kept all the other pictures in a hidden locked box in his office. Eve had one of the pictures with all three of them together and she also kept it hidden out of sight. Incidentally, Abigail was not a fan of photographs since many of her society friends were still getting their likenesses painted on aristocratic portraits to be hung in the great rooms of their homes.

Eve nodded at that memory. “But how will you manage this?”

Edric smiled that adorable smile that she loved so much. “I will get that dance tonight after the festivities. I am sure Old Jasper will not mind playing one more song in your cabin later. Especially since doing so comes with various rewards. You know how Old Jasper loves to dress finely and I imagine he would love a new Sunday meeting suit,” Edric said as he walked to the door.

Eve’s eyes watered at his thoughtfulness. And that romantic side of him made her heart swell even more with love. “I love you, Edric,” she whispered.

“I love you, too, my love. Now stay in here and do not come out until you count to ten,” he whispered back. Then Edric opened the door and looked both ways before entering the foyer area.

After Eve finished counting to ten – which was a blessing for any slave to do in that day and age – she opened the door, looked both ways as well, and soon made her way back to the kitchen unnoticed by anyone but a secretly smiling Charlotte who was not about to tell a soul.

© 2005 Suprina Frazier

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