Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beautiful...Tangled Roots - Ch. 7

Chapter 7
Following several days of nonstop rain, Edric retired to his library – which was in one of the outbuildings near the big house - to read medical journals and to work on a few medical theories he had about the impact of garlic and onions on the common cold. He’d had Charlotte to load his soup with both of the potent vegetables during his last cold and he’d seen a marked improvement in his health and a shortening of his symptoms.

Abigail had refused the pungent concoction and her symptoms had lasted for almost two weeks. She’d been extremely upset about missing various social engagements as a result of her illness. Thus, she was doing everything in her power to make up for it now. It was unfortunate that she was doing so without her husband whom she’d become very critical of these days.

Abigail resented the fact that Edric often preferred staying home to joining her on social visits. She cared nothing about the fact that he was constantly bombarded at galas by people seeking after-hours medical advice, thereby lessening his enjoyment at those events. And she certainly didn’t care that her husband was a man of great study, a man that was determined to improve the health of the world around him by researching ways to make medical care better. Abigail didn’t seem to care about anyone or anything outside of herself.

Deciding to push all thoughts of his wife out of his head, Edric focused on the task in front of him. Suddenly his attention was taken from his work again when he heard two slave women in the garden outside of his library window. Dr. Wainwright’s attention stayed away from his work when he realized that one of those women was Eve.

“Dat wuz some mighty fine preaching today,” Charlotte said as she placed her hand-woven wicker basket on the ground near a patch of cucumbers, the last batch of the fall season.

Charlotte had been one of the people baptized in the river on that unseasonably warm November day. They hadn’t been able to baptize last Sunday due to the snap of freezing rain that was letting all Georgians know that winter was coming soon.

“Yes, it wuz,” Eve agreed, recalling how zealous the charismatic Negro orator had spoken. “I just wish I could read so I could see for myself what all Joseph went through when he was a slave. I want ta see for myself if God kin set slaves free on da earth and not just in da by-and-by.”

Today’s preacher (who had taught himself how to read and write while working for a white minister and knew whole passages by heart) had talked a lot about the hereafter as did most slave preachers that came to their plantation. Although it was their clear intent to exhort and encourage some type of hope of liberation for the enslaved people in America, the emotionally intense sermons the slave preachers delivered offered little hope for freedom in the here and now. And that’s what Eve really wanted.

“I be pretty fond of da idea of reading myself. Rat now, I won’t know Psalm 105 from da word dog if somebody ask me,” Charlotte replied sadly, revealing the secret longing in her own heart. Even now she thought about how helpful learning to read would be in her day-to-day chores. If Charlotte could read, she’d be able to make out a supply list for Miss Abigail instead of just trying to remember everything that they were running out of.

******

Inside his library, Edric just shook his head as sadness and compassion pervaded his soul from the words of the two women outside. So often, he, like many other Anglo-Saxon people, forgot that the Negroes were human, too. That they had feelings, desires, and the need to just know more about their Maker through His written word.

As a professed Christian, Edric had read Joshua 1:8 and couldn’t reconcile it with the current laws of the land that forbid the education of the Negro no more than the next truth-loving white Christian could. How could the Negro meditate in the Word day and night in order to observe to do according to all that is written therein, if they couldn’t even read what was written therein? How could they ever be prosperous without proper knowledge of the Word? How could they ever have good success?

Fortunately, Dr. Wainwright was not like some slaveholders who didn’t even want their slaves to become Christians out of fear that it would cause them to become militant and thus were reluctant to release them to ministers. Nor was Edric like some other slaveholders who although they allowed their slaves to congregate for worship, still required that all slaves who accepted Christ be forced to take an oath at their baptism. That oath included swearing that their conversion was for their salvation alone and not their freedom from their earthly master.

In his heart of hearts, Edric still wished he could do more for his slaves. At the least, teach them to read so that they could rightly divide the Word of Truth for themselves. At the most, give them earthly freedom. Yet Edric knew that he could not or whether would not do either. Firstly, it was against the law to teach a slave to read or write and he prided himself on being a law-abiding citizen. Secondly, as long as his financial freedom depended upon the labor of slaves, Dr. Wainwright would own them. Even still, he would do everything he could to make their plight on earth a little easier on his plantation.

God, how wretched I feel at this moment, Edric mused, feeling more than a bit trapped himself. There was no way he could concentrate on his work now. As a result, Edric decided to go for a walk along the river bank. The sound of running water always soothed his soul and right now, he needed quite a bit of soothing. Especially considering the current state of his marriage, his finances, and a conscience that had been giving him a lot of trouble lately.

******

An hour after helping Charlotte chop vegetables for tomorrow’s meal, Eve went to her quarters and retrieved a cylinder-shaped clay vase that she’d made and dried in the sun until it was the right consistency. Then she went to find an aloe vera plant that she spotted growing wild near the river bank a week earlier.

Trying to remember the exact location, Eve weaved her way through the green foliage that one encountered before getting to the river. When she saw a humming bird sucking nectar from the flower of a sturdy green plant just up ahead, she knew she’d found the right item.

From her grandmother, Eve knew that this semi-tropical succulent plant was mostly native to Africa. However, she also knew that there were many more species of the plant grown in other parts of the world where there was no chance of freezing. The south Georgian city of Wainwrighton was one of those places.

Eve had been so excited to find the medicinal plant that she’d been taught to use primarily for burns by her mother and grandmother. So excited, that she’d forgotten that the plant was located on the forbidden upper part of the river. The same part of the river that was solely designated for the master and his family. Yet Eve would quickly remember that when she encountered a solemn-faced Dr. Wainwright staring out over the slowly moving water in deep thought.

Quickly darting behind a large tree, Eve watched him for a few silent moments as utter despair seemed to cloak his face. At one point, he even held his head in his hands as if he was at the end of his rope. Eve had never seen a more miserable man in her life and her heart literally went out to Dr. Wainwright. Although everything in her wanted to go to him, she had to force her legs not to move. After all, she could get into big trouble if she was caught on this part of the river. Besides, who ever heard of a slave comforting his/her master?

Just then, three yellow and black wasps flew directly in front of her. Sensing danger and trying to do everything in her power to avoid it, Eve stood perfectly still and waited for them to leave. Two of the insects circled her head and the perimeter of the clay vase in her left hand before flying away. But the third more curious wasp landed on top of her dress right where her right thigh was.

Please don’t bite me, Eve prayed, wanting to swipe away the insect so badly, yet afraid of moving an inch, lest she give away her position to the man by the river. Carefully, she fluffed out her dress with her free hand, hoping that the wasp would think it was a gust of wind and fly away.

Unfortunately, the wasp saw the movement as a threat and promptly sunk his stinger into Eve’s thigh. She instantly let out a loud yip, dropped her vase, and ran from behind the tree in case any wasp cousins decided to join in the fun. All thoughts of Dr. Wainwright quickly vacated the premises of her mind as she fled to safety.

******


Edric turned at the sharp sound of a woman’s cry and saw Eve flapping her dress furiously as she ran headlong out of the woods towards the water. She appeared to be running from something and the look on her face was one of pure fear. He also saw that she favored one leg over the other as she ran and quickly submerged herself into the water.

Rising to his feet, Edric swiftly followed Eve into the river. Holding his breath, he stuck his head under the water to make sure she wasn’t in any danger of drowning. With eyes that had always functioned just as well under water as they did above it, Edric scanned Eve’s body language as she moved in the depths. Besides the frantic way she kept rubbing her right thigh, she still seemed in control of her facilities. As a result, Dr. Wainwright promptly resurfaced and waited for her to do the same.

When Eve finally re-emerged, a lump formed in Edric’s throat at the wonderful image in front of him. Her hair no longer had the black and brown plaid headdress she’d worn today on it. That item was currently floating away from her. Although Edric quickly grabbed it, his eyes didn’t stray too far from Eve’s countenance for very long. Her silky looking locks, flawless mocha skin and the way the droplets of water seemed to make her hazel eyes sparkle as they rested on her eyelashes made it hard for him to speak or even think a coherent thought right now.

But Edric wasn’t the only one vastly affected in this moment. Eve was, too, as she wiped the liquid from her eyes. She’d never seen Dr. Wainwright quite like this before. He looked even better wet than dry with his dark hair slick to his head and his white shirt plastered to his muscular chest. Eve licked her full lips as she stared at his pink mouth, wondering what he tasted like. When her eyes rose to Edric’s blue-green pools, she could see similar desire upon him. That was when fear attacked her insides, causing her desire to scatter rapidly away.

Suddenly Eve wasn’t just afraid of getting in trouble for being at the wrong place. She was more afraid of getting raped by her handsome master, no matter how attracted she was to him. After all, every slave woman knew that she was constantly at the mercy of her masters, their brothers, sons, and sometimes their fathers. At the last plantation, Eve’s old master had not only wanted her for himself, he’d also wanted to make her his son’s concubine. Neither of which she’d consented to and her scarred back bore the evidence of that rebellion.

Unknown to Eve, one of Edric’s brothers had specifically asked to bed her at this plantation, but fortunately Dr. Wainwright would not allow it. Edric told Zachary 'no' so fast and so roughly that it caused a moment of awkward silence between the two brothers. Fortunately, the men were still able to part company on amicable terms, yet Zachary had gotten the unspoken message loud and clear - the wench Eve was off limits…perhaps to every man, except for Edric.

“Sorry ta bother ya, Dr. Wainwright. A wasp got hold of me,” Eve explained as she began to walk out of the water, unaware that her simple brown shift dress was clinging to her figure in all the right places.

Edric felt a tightening in his lower body and he forced himself to look away out of respect and out of sheer determination to resist whatever this was between them. Yet when he remembered that Eve had been hurt, Dr. Wainwright returned his gaze her way and followed her out of the water.

“Where did it sting you?” Edric asked, trying to sound as professional as he could in light of the fact that this was the first patient he’d ever lusted after in all of his years of medical practice. Yet he was confident in his ability to withstand and even contain his lust for this slave woman. Especially since he was such a disciplined man in all the other areas of his life.

Eve shook her head as she reached the shore. “I take care of it, sir,” she replied. She didn’t want Dr. Wainwright to touch her in such an intimate place. “All I needs is some of dat plant over dere by dat tree.” She pointed to the tree where the wasp had stung her.

Edric looked where she pointed and nodded in recognition. “That looks like aloe vera.”

“It is, sir. I uses it for burns mostly, but it be used fo stings, bites, and itchy plant rashes, too,” Eve explained, making her way towards the plant as she spoke.

Edric halted her. “No, just sit right here. I will get the plant.” He looked very much intrigued by her varied use of the familiar plant and the scientist in him couldn’t wait to see if it would bring her instant relief. Then handing Eve her dripping headdress, Dr. Wainwright went to retrieve the plant.

Eve did as she was told and sat on the shore, yet her heart was beating like an African drum in her chest and she couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. Would her master remain a perfect gentleman? Would he have her flogged for straying into forbidden territory? What exactly would Dr. Wainwright do?

Edric retrieved a meaty leaf of the aloe plant and used his pocket knife to cut it open. By the time he reached Eve again, he’d squeeze a fair amount of the gel onto the back of one of his hands. “Let me see the sting, Eve,” Edric said as he lowered himself to the shore beside her.

Slowly pulling up the dress with trembling hands, Eve showed the competent physician her thigh. The spot where the sting lounged already looked swollen. Fortunately, most of the sting was hanging out of the skin and could easily be removed. Eve then watched as Dr. Wainwright promptly removed the sting with skilled hands and then applied the aloe gel with gentle strokes upon her shapely thigh. She closed her eyes in relief when the irritation left in a matter of minutes. Some of the tension left her shoulders, as well. Eve could get used to being touched like this, especially by a man like Edric Wainwright.

Edric watched Eve with her eyes closed and felt his soul being lifted as he continued to stroke her mocha thigh. Somehow his gloomy, melancholy mood was gone. Somehow he felt much lighter now. Somehow Eve had provided a bit of the relief that he needed. Therefore, Edric was pleased that he was able to provide some relief to her, as well, even if the treatment was all her idea.

Edric stole a glance down at Eve’s thigh again and suddenly didn’t feel like a doctor anymore. He felt like a man. A man that had never felt such heat of passion in his life. A man that was long overdue for some female affection. A man that was not only tired of feeling lonely, but whose strong wall of fortitude against sleeping with a slave woman was slowly starting to crack.

With his eyes lingering on her shapely thigh and with the fever of passion overtaking him for the moment, Edric suspected that with just a few upward movements of his hand, he’d be able to stroke Eve in a much better place. Maybe even ease some of the ache that had begun in his own body now. As a result of his wayward thoughts, Edric’s touch suddenly became more of a hungry knead than a gentle stroking.

“Tis better now, Dr. Wainwright. I best be getting back now,” Eve said with her eyes wide open now. Actually, they’d been open for the last minute, enabling her to see Edric’s face transform from classically handsome to strikingly handsome as ravenous desire sought to claim him more fully. She could only hope that he would be able to suppress his passion until she could get safely back to her cabin. Even then, would the good doctor stay away?

“Oh, yes. Of course.” Edric blinked rapidly and quickly removed his hand. A deep blush rose upon both of his cheeks as his rising attraction to Eve was halted and replaced with hot embarrassment.

Get a hold of yourself, man, Edric told himself, thinking that this fascination with Eve was getting completely out of hand. He was still dreaming of her every night and he often daydreamed about her when the sun was out. When would it all end? And would it ever end now that he’d had a touch of her smooth mocha skin?

Then as he watched Eve scurry away to collect a clay vase and a patch of aloe plant, it suddenly dawned on him that she was actually somewhere that she was not supposed to be. Yet instead of being angry, Edric smiled and just shook his head as he headed towards the water for a fully-clothed cooling down swim.

Not only did Edric deem it too late to scold Eve about trespassing into forbidden territory, he knew that he couldn’t be angry with her even if he wanted to. Especially since any intense emotion he directed her way now could quickly turn into passion. After all, intense emotions were known to travel together in packs and Dr. Wainwright couldn’t risk becoming more involved with Eve than he already was now.

© 2005 Suprina Frazier

No comments: