Friday, December 02, 2005

Beautiful...Tangled Roots - Ch. 2

Chapter 2
1841
On an overcast day in December, twenty-five-year-old Edric Wainwright, youngest son of John Nathan, youngest grandson of John Edward Wainwright, reluctantly dressed in preparation for his arranged marriage. Although Abigail Naylor was beautiful, she was not the woman of his choosing. However, she was the daughter of the richest man in Wainwrighton, Georgia. The same rich man that would see to it that Edric’s family not only kept their prestige in the community, but also their massive land holdings in the city that was named after them.

Fifty-one years of fighting Indians, making bad homestead loans to unappreciative settlers - many who eventually left for fairer pastures out west, and the emergence of other forms of transportation proved to be devastating to the wagon-making Wainwright family. Now with just a prestigious name and a lot of unused land going for them, they needed to find another way to prosperity. One of those ways was to properly farm their land and sell the produce in local and distant markets. But in order to do that they needed to connect with a viable money source.

The five Wainwright brothers knew that their uncles could not provide any help since both of them chose careers that gave them more influence than money right now. One was a preacher with more children than he could rightly take care of at present. The other uncle was a lawyer with aspirations in politics and thus traveled extensively up and down the east coast. And their only aunt died during childbirth many years ago. Her widower of a husband didn’t remain in that status for very long since he was too poor to afford many slaves and needed all the help he could get in order to till the parcel of Wainwright land he inherited. Last heard, Jedidiah’s new wife was on their twelfth child.

To add to their plight, the Wainwright brothers also knew that if they lobbied for money among their influential friends, they would bring ruin to the family’s reputation. And the only thing the Wainwrights cared about more than keeping their land was keeping their reputation. As a result, it was mutually agreed upon that the youngest brother, who was still unmarried at the time, would wed the only daughter of Asa Naylor, a wealthy widower whose company made nails for the railroad. Mr. Naylor and his daughter had most recently moved to their town.

Asa would provide a large dowry with his daughter in exchange for a highly esteemed place in Wainwrighton society as well as all of the other many places the influential Georgia family were held in high regard. Fortunately for Asa, his daughter had fallen in love with the youngest Wainwright brother from the moment she’d laid eyes on him. Abigail had needed no persuasion to consent to marriage with the handsome dark-haired man. Of equal fortune is the fact that although Edric did not feel the same affection towards his future bride, he was a man of deep conviction and principle. Therefore he would do whatever was necessary to save his family from ruin and honor his vows.

“It will be fine, son,” Corinna Wainwright said, interrupting her gloomy-looking son from his deep thoughts as she entered his bedroom. “Your father and grandfather would be so proud of what you are doing for the family today.”

Upon the sound of his mother’s voice, Edric turned around and smiled affectionately at his blue-eyed matriarch. Corinna had been in her late thirties when she bore him and they’d always had a close relationship. While his older brothers and father were off in the field, at the fledging wagon-making business, or doing some other outdoor activity, Edric had been with his mother in the home learning how to use his mind instead of his brute strength to accomplish what he wanted in life.

To keep his body healthy and strong, Edric swam frequently as the weather permitted and engaged in an exercise regiment that included lifting large stones several times a week. This regiment increased the bulk size of his muscles and allowed him to defend himself effectively against his muscular older brothers.

As a result of his mother’s tutelage, Edric learned how to read at an early age, could play several musical instruments, and could balance any set of books put before him. He also had a curious nature which made him a man prone to conducting various experiments in his spare time. Yet for all of that learning in the ways of math and the arts, Edric turned to medicine when he grew up. Many of his acquaintances couldn’t understand that decision, but then again many of them hadn’t seen their fathers suffer greatly in his last days with debilitating arthritis, either.

“Would they truly be proud of me, Mother? I am not feeling so proud of myself at this moment for marrying a woman I do not love. A woman I hardly even know,” Edric finally replied as his smile faded back into a frown, the same way the sun was now fading behind the clouds outside. He returned to the full-length mirror stand and adjusted his asymmetrically cravat for the fifth time today.

The reason Edric had remained a bachelor for so long was because he was very selective when it came to the opposite sex. He’d wanted to find the perfect woman before he wed. A beautiful, wholesome woman that would be a great wife to him and a great mother to all the children he expected to have. A woman that he could at least court for the customary four months in order to get to know her better. Not this swift marriage contract that was before him now.

“But do you not think you could come to know and love this Abigail? She is one of the prettiest things around and with the figure and grace of a swan.” Corinna cracked a tender smile and added, “Just think, she could have been uglier than a toad.” She walked over to the mirror to help Edric with his black cravat, lest his constant fumbling wear out the heavy starch therein.

Edric’s smile returned as he relaxed a bit to allow his mother to assist him. “I would not have liked that at all. However, I do admire the fact that she wants a large family as do I. I also like the fact that she always keeps herself so well-groomed. It is true. I have never met a lovelier creature.”

“Ahh…I see that you are coming around just a bit. Very good. See, it will not be such a bad thing after all.” Corinna put the finishing touches on Edric’s silk cravat and then patted his hand in comfort.

“Even still, Mother, I do not like the way she talks to those below her social class. A prideful woman could prove to be an irritant over time.” Edric went to sat atop of the mahogany chest at the foot of the bed that he would no longer sleep in after today. The sea-green quilt that usually rested upon the chest had already been packed and transported to his new home. A new chest waited for him there, as well, one made out of the finest walnut with his initials carved on the sides.

“Then perhaps you will teach her how to be humble then, son. Lord knows you are the most humble child I have. Even the slaves like you.” Corinna moved to sit in the mahogany rocking chair near the window, careful not to wrinkle her dome-shaped white satin and lace skirt.

“That is only because I do not beat them as my brothers do. I am sure many of them secretly despise me in their hearts as I would anyone that owned me,” Edric said, still uncomfortable owning slaves even though the family had benefited from their labor for years and even though having them helped the family’s prestige level rise even higher.

“Do not start that talk again, son. This family could not function without the help of our slaves. Besides, you would not want people to think that you are a Negro lover, would you?” Corinna rocked gently in the chair that she used to read to Edric from when he was a boy. Perhaps she would get to utilize it with his offspring next. The very thought of that brought Corinna joy.

“I do not see how anyone could ever call me that. I have never even taken one to bed,” Edric said. However, his brothers had done so on many occasions. Some of them even had children by their slaves.

“Nor do I ever intend to bed a slave woman. All slaves are ignorant and none of them seem to care a hoot about their appearance,” Edric continued as he got up and walked over to the southern-placed window near his mother. I absolutely could never bed a slave, he reiterated silently as he stared out of the six large panes, and observed the activity of the servants below. Slaves in all shades were going to and fro on the first floor of the big house, making ready for Edric’s dreaded wedding.

Corinna chuckled, tickled pink by her son’s comments. She’d raised all of her boys to appreciate a woman’s outer beauty and was proud when they all married beautiful women. Unfortunately, four of them settled down with lovely women whose families had no money. Yet Corinna’s youngest son would be different. Edric’s union would be the one to redeem the family’s purse.

“I imagine it would be very difficult to look well-groomed when you have been out in the fields all day or working in a hot kitchen. However, I am sure Abigail will be pleased to know that she married the one white man in the whole south that refuses to bed one of his slaves,” Corinna said as she stopped rocking and stood to her feet.

Edric turned to his mother and tenderly cupped both sides of her face. “Father never bedded a slave,” he reminded her, loving the jovial, and affectionate twinkle in her eyes as she looked upon him. Edric felt blessed to have such a loving mother.

Corinna chuckled again and nodded. “That is because John Nathan was madly in love with me, knew that I knew how to fire a rifle, and was too busy fighting Indians all the time to stray too far from the home front.”

Edric laughed and kissed his mother’s weathered right cheek before releasing her face altogether. “If only I could have found a strong, intelligent, witty woman like you, Mother. Then I would truly be in heaven,” he said, sighing wistfully as he returned to the mirror and began fumbling with his black waistcoat this time.

“Perhaps Abigail will be that great woman that you are searching for after all. She is already blond and blue-eyed like me.” Corinna moved to stand behind him at the mirror.

“Perhaps,” Edric replied solemnly. He could only hope for the best now, especially since there was no going back on his promise to wed Asa Naylor’s daughter.
(c) 2005 Suprina Frazier

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