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(From the next book to be titled That Fateful Lightening, the story of Miss Minnie Vining’s adventures as an activist for abolition, and as a Civil War battlefield nurse. In support of this, my daughter and I are going to Liendo Plantation’s Civil War reenactment weekend, to see what I can see, and to take pictures…)

“Minnie dear, there is a telegram just this last hour delivered for you,” Lolly Bard hovered in the ladies’ parlor of the rooming house in Rochester on the lake. “I haven’t opened it, I assure you. Things like this are private … but …” Lolly handed Minnie the envelope, and fussed with the sleeve of her wrap – it was cold, now that it was winter where the wind blew off Lake Ontario, even colder than Boston where the wind came from the Atlantic. Minnie and Lolly had just returned from a lively lecture and discussion upon the topic of the necessity for good citizens of abolition sympathies to resist and nullify the Fugitive Slave Acts; those which commanded that citizens of the North cooperate in the capture and detention of escaping. “I pray that it is not bad news although it is my sad experience that sudden telegrams usually are…”

Lolly’s voice trailed off as Minnie ripped open the
telegram envelope and read the brief contents.

Mother A dying stop. Return home soonest stop.
Richard sends.

“I … we have to return to Boston,” Minnie felt the
world around her suddenly jolt, and then return to its customary place. “This
is from Richard Brewer. Annabelle is … she is desperately unwell. Never mind –
we must return to Boston at once.”

“Oh … my dear Minnie!” Lolly looked as if about to
burst into useless tears, but then recovered herself. She had been traveling
with Minnie as companion, adjutant and secretary for some five years now, as
the second-most-dedicated woman of abolitionist sympathies in the Beacon Street
Congregationalist Church. Minnie had to admit, against considerable prejudice
that Lolly had an unparalleled gift at making railroad connections and finding
friends and sympathizers to offer hospitality, in all their travels across the
North in support of the cause. Also, for organizing church bazaars in support
of suffrage and abolition. Minnie had never been able to work out how Lolly
accomplished such miracles of connection and courteous compliance;
mild-speaking, silly, fluttery Lolly, who blinked apologetically when asked to
explain such successes.

“I am just persuasive, Minnie, dear.”

Over those years, Minnie warmed to Lolly as a
traveling companion, although the other woman was and would never be as close
and dear as Annabelle was. Now Minnie’s heart turned over again. Not
Annabelle, dear sweet Lord, do not take my sister in all but blood from me
,
she pled silently. She sank into the nearest chair, the telegram crumpled in
her hand. She sensed Lolly’s hovering presence, the quiet rustle of her
petticoats and day dress, as Lolly put a handkerchief into her other hand,
saying,

“I will arrange it all, for our journey – Miss Anthony
will understand perfectly that you cannot appear tomorrow. She and Mrs. Stanton
and their friends will understand perfectly that you need to be at home with
your dearest ones. As for the train arrangements; do not fear. I have many
connections among my husbands’ friends, and I will call upon them and request
their favor and courtesy. I will even go to the State Street Depot this very
moment and see what I might arrange through an interview with Mr. Corning’s
agent; he is the major shareholder of the New York Central, you know. He and
Mr. Bard were good friends. He will take the time to meet with me, if he is in
town. I fear, though – that we will not be able to commence a return to Boston
until tomorrow – midday at the latest.”

“Do what you think best, then,” Minnie replied, as
Lolly quietly took her leave from their apartments; a comfortable one, Minnie
had to admit. She had been a guest in many such, since embarking on a career as
a lecturer in the great cause – the cause which loomed over her life, took hold
of her every thought, thoughts and emotions reinforced by the fellows she
associated with in that great endeavor. There were so many friends and fellow
warriors for the cause which she had encountered over a decade in the lecture
circuit; men and women alike, passionately devoted to the abolition crusade,
many of whom had become fond friends and valued correspondents; the ascetic Miss
Anthony and the comfortable and matronly Mrs. Stanton, who had very kindly
invited Minnie to Rochester to appear in a lecture series with others of sympathy
to the cause of abolition and female suffrage. The cause had drawn Minnie into
friendship with many others; with Miss Dix, who was also from Boston and
scribbled improving stories for children between her inscrutable concern for
the indigent and insane, the elegant and suave Mr. William Still, a man of
color from Philadelphia who fearlessly organized the escape of slaves from the
South and saw to their safety and welfare afterwards. Minnie had made many
generous contributions to Mr. Still’s crusade from her own purse over the
years, feeling as Miss Van Lew had done; while many slaves still languished in
the vilest of servitude, being of assistance and encouragement to those
sufficiently bold and reckless to grasp at freedom by their own efforts – meant
everything to that few.

At this present moment, all of that was a momentary
distraction, for which Minnie now felt some small guilt. Family, dear friends –
that was all! Dearest friend, sister in all but blood – now Annabelle was
dying. And Richard Brewer was not a man given to pointless drama; he would not
have sent the telegram worded otherwise. Annabelle, dear ‘Belle – she had never
been blessed with the same robust constitution as Minnie, had hated to travel,
sworn herself to be devoted to hearth and home, to the care of Sophie and
Richard’s small son, a child produced after so many tragic disappointments.

Minnie did not know Little Richie well enough to have
any established opinion of him, other that he was a handsome lad, a small
version of Richard Brewer, and superficially charming. Annabelle’s daughter and
Richard Brewer were the younger generation which she thought the world of – and
Richard honored her with his friendship and respect. An advantage of age,
Minnie had come to see. Once past the age of blooming youth and primed to see
every untied bachelor as an object of courtship, and well into what was
presumed to be the arid age of spinsterhood – the boundaries of friendship
expanded. When the presumption of flirtation was off the table, then honest
friendship and respect between men and women was possible. Minnie found that to
be a rewarding prospect. Once removed from the marriage market – how many other
possibilities for friendship opened before a woman! And all of that had
distracted her over the last decade from those first close ties!

She wanted to pace up and down, to rage against the
fates – yea, even to begin walking east; but that would be silly and pointless,
as she very well knew upon a moment’s consideration. Would that she had wings,
and to fly!

At least, she could pack; might Lolly return,
breathless within minutes, with the welcome news that she had procured tickets
on the train-cars leaving this very instant! Minnie set to work; but this
distraction took only a few minutes. Both she and Lolly traveled with very
little but two small trunks between them. They were in the habit of wearing
their heaviest and most bulky garments for travel … she accomplished that small
task and took up the novel she had brought along to read, not expecting to
think very much of it; Mrs. Stowe’s dramatic opus Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Minnie
had first read it as a newspaper serial. Both Papa-the-Judge and Tem would have
condemned it for containing too much sentimental Christian flummery, and
contrivances of plot – and honestly, a slave-master beating a fit and useful
slave to death, out of pique over defiance? Well, really, and with that slave
being worth at least fifteen hundred dollars at auction? Minnie had learned
much about the lamentable trade over the previous years; one of those being
that the owner of a valuable slave would be as likely to kill that slave as a
good Boston ship-owner would be to willfully sink one of his own clippers.

But it made a touching element in the story, and the
book was being read avidly across the North. Minnie had to admit that the silly
and sentimental yarn had likely brought at least as many to Abolition
sympathies as had ten years of herself giving lectures and writing articles. She
thumbed through the chapters of Mrs. Howe’s opus in the spirit of a duty and
distraction. Soon she would have to admit honestly that she had read it
and say something laudatory should she ever be asked. Although she had
concluded that the saintly Little Eva couldn’t die any sooner for her taste, by
the time that Lolly Bard came through the door of their rooms, announcing with
an air of triumph,

“We have tickets through to Albany and beyond
tomorrow, on the morning train, Minnie! Mr. Corning’s agent gave me every
consideration! It’s all arranged! He has even promised to send a carriage for
us, and for our trunks … oh, excellent – well, I shall pack my own things, and
I think we should have a quiet supper and retire early. Oh, you have finally been
reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin! Is it not the most engaging account of the
horrors of slavery?”

“And the most sentimental tripe I have read in years.”
Minnie replied. “I disliked the good characters, could not care any less for
the bad, and wish they would have all drowned together. I think that Twelve
Years a Slave
was a much more truthful narrative.”

“Minnie, you are so unruly!” Lolly giggled. “No –
really, I expect that you will encounter Mrs. Howe sometime, and you simply
must say something nice about her novel.”

“The print was easy to read, and the paper was of good
quality,” Minnie replied, acerbically. “Which is what my brother Tem used to
say when pressed. No, I expect that I will say something like ‘Your efforts for
the cause are so warmly appreciated,’ and leave it at that. Perfect literary
flummery, but if it brings more sympathy to the cause … it is what it is.” She
closed the volume and laid it aside. Her head ached, with the effort of reading
in dim lamplight, once that daylight had fled. She closed her eyes.

“Has there been any further news from Boston?” Lolly
asked, in swift concern.

“No, no further news,” Minnie replied. “But I was not
expecting such.”

“Mr. Turner was kind enough to send a telegram for me,
to my son; that we are returning with all haste. I am certain that Arthur will
send word to your family – he has always been so terribly responsible and
considerate …” Lolly continued chattering as she repacked her own trunk and
carpetbag, and Minnie let it pass over her as water passes over stone; not that
Lolly ever seemed to notice when she was being ignored.

Tomorrow. Nearly six hundred miles. Three days, maybe four
or five – more if there were delays on the track. Anything could happen in that
time.

Anything.

Well – actually two days in the marketplace, one day spent selling and the other buying, out of our gains in the first. This first day was spent at a craft market in Bulverde – which, after a rocky beginning a few years ago – now has a good crowd of regular Christmas shoppers, looking for the hand-made and unique. (The very first year that we did this market, I spent all of my takings on the way home, at a nearby place selling junk cleared out of sheds and barns. I happened to spot a rain-sodden box of blue and white china plates, platters, and cups-with-saucers, which apparently once had been someone’s best china setting. I wanted a good set of plates to use for every-day … and yes, I did very well out of that sale. We have used them ever since, and only two of the plates are slightly chipped.)

We did pretty well at the sales; a lot of shoppers
admired the American Girl doll clothes, lamented that they had no need of
purchasing them – but enough did. Oddly enough – the three mermaid costumes
left over from from last years at the San Marcos Mermaid Splash market sold.
Also one of the Hispanic Folklorico costumes and both of the Civil-War era
dress and pinafore combinations. A good few purchasers remarked that my prices
were very good – which is nice to hear, although some of the outfits which sold
were actually made from fabric that I bought … rather than scraps from the bale
of leftovers resulting from years of home sewing. The Daughter Unit advises
that I ought to make a few more contemporary outfits. Like – nightgowns, PJs
and bunny and kitten slippers.

Well enough pleased with the day and our takings, we immediately
went out to spend some of it, on Sunday morning; beginning with late brunch at
Ikea in the cafeteria, and a quick peruse of certain departments. To our
amazement, there is a little corner tucked away in the soft goods (bedding and
pillows) for fabric by the yard. On a previous visit, the Daughter Unit
discovered the bargain section, for slightly dinged, shop-worn, or extraneous
display items – and in the very last leg of the long trip through Ikea, the
real purpose of our visit. They have seasonal, and holiday items there now; one
of those items is marzipan! I’ve always like marzipan, but quite often the
stuff you get in stores here is old, dried-out and distinctly stale-tasting.
Ikea has it stocked now in the little food area, in one of the freezer cases,
which explains why it probably tastes so good. We bought four bricks each and set
aside a place in the garage freezer. Very likely, the marzipan stash will be
added to, as long as Ikea carries it.

The treasured marzipan stash!

On to Trader Joe’s; with Thanksgiving in two weeks, and another market next weekend, time to make plans. The Daughter Unit had her eye on another seasonal special – a frozen brined turkey breast, which will do very well for us. Final stop – the HEB, for a few more bits and bobs. The thing is that neither of us really likes the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, and especially not when left-over. OK, a bit of home-made sausage and bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy … but that green bean casserole is just plain disgusting, and sweet potatoes doused in syrup and topped with marshmallows is a culinary crime against humanity. We like a medley of oven-roasted Russell sprouts, red onion and kielbasa, and all of that is already in hand. So that was my weekend – and yours?  

So this is what I get for being a ‘seat of the pants’
plotter – having to set aside some really nice scenes and conversations, just
because my research into the time-line of the movement to abolish slavery in
America in the decades before the Civil War suggested that my lead character
would be coming really late to the party, in developing serious abolition
sympathies if I started in the year that I tagged for the first draft. Miss
Minnie Vining, blue-stocking Boston intellectual, abolition lecturer and war
nurse (as was suggested in Sunset & Steel Rails) would rightfully have been
marinated in abolition sympathies from about the 1830ies on. Having an epiphany
and coming to the abolitionist fray in the mid-1850ies would have been … not
quite credible. In other words, very late to the party … so I had to adjust
that epiphany back about fifteen years, which meant going back and tweaking
certain details to make everything fit. Ages of characters, even the existence of
a character, development of technologies, topics of conversation to do with
current events – like before the Mexican-American War, instead of after, way before
the Gold Rush, instead of after, ascertaining that certain developments were in
place … (note to self – Richmond-Fredericksburg Railway; check on that, too…)

All this plot points also must jibe with what I had briefly about the Boston Vinings mentioned in Sunset and Steel Rails, and in Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart also. This is a hazard of ‘pantsing’ background elements – of throwing in relatively unconsidered details for a bit of color and corroborative detail – and then after having to make a well-developed narrative out of those casually-mentioned little scraps. I did not sit down and write the Texas Barsetshire series chronologically from earliest (1825) to the latest (1900, with brief afterwards set in 1918), mapping out the lives of each and every character, nor did I particularly plan to have minor characters in one book take front and center later on in another. The Texas Barsetshire novels grew organically – from the middle, and in both directions, backwards and forwards in time – starting with the two German emigrant families (the Steinmetz/Richter) and the American-established Becker families. The Vinings – both the Boston and the Texas branches were grafted on later, when I needed to establish the marital woes of Margaret Becker. And now this latest WIP means that I have to expand on the Boston Vinings, along with lashings of materiel leading up to the Civil War … and keeping in mind that the next book after that, which is just now beginning to take shape, will reach back to the Revolution, and the doings of the Boston Vinings and a young Hessian soldier named Heinrich Becker …

Yes, it would be sensible to write it all in chronological order – but it’s much more fun this way. Complicated, but fun!

(Miss Minnie Vining has returned to Boston from a long stay with kinfolk in Richmond, Virginia, early in the 185ies. She is enjoying a night of rest in her own home.)

Minnie, exhausted and bone-weary from several days of uninterrupted
travel on the cars, retired early, and slept soundly that first night upon
returning home to Boston, although she did experience a particularly vivid
dream, of being carried in Pres Devereaux’s arms, while he protested his love
for her. In that odd, unsettling manner of dreams, she found herself arrayed in
a white dress and a veil over her hair, standing in a church, protesting that
she didn’t want to be married, and Miss Beauchamp from the Richmond train
standing next to her, saying,

“But he is your husband now, so of course you must obey him.”

“No!” Minnie exclaimed, and threw her bouquet on the floor, and tore
the veil from her head. “No, I detest veils, and I will never obey!”

“You’ll be sorry,” Miss Beauchamp promised as she turned into Susan’s domineering
housekeeper, black Hepzibah. “You shouldn’t overtax yourself!”

“I won’t!” Minnie replied, defiantly, and somewhere a clatter of horse
hoofs on the cobbles resounded like a thunderclap and she woke, sitting
straight up in bed. The light of a pale dawn leaked around the edges of the
window curtains. Minnie regarded the familiar walls of her own bedroom with
relief and wondered what had led to that particular dream.

She had no intention of obeying – obeying anyone – as if she were a
being with no thoughts or desires of her own. From downstairs came the faint
clatter of iron potlids on the great cookstove in the basement of the tall old
house, and the indistinct voices of Mrs. Norris and Jerusha; the reassuring
tenor of life as it had always been in Papa-the-Judges’ house. Minnie slid out
from the covers and dressed; a plain toilette, and her hair in a simple and
heavy knot at the back of her neck. The tall clock in the hallway struck the hour
of eight as she hurried down the stairs, through the parlor and into the dining
room, where the double-rank of elegant chairs flanked the dining table on
either side.

“I’ll have breakfast in the parlor,” she called into the stairwell,
reconsidering the lonely dignity of sitting in the dining room by herself. She
supposed that she should sit at the head of the table now that she now owned
that portion of Papa-the-Judge’s estate; a bleak honor, indeed. When she was a
girl, the dining room had often been a crowded, lively place, with
Papa-the-Judge at the head chair, and her brothers, their friends, Annabelle,
Cousin Peter and his family … no, the dining room was the refuge of shades and
memories. Best to close the doors between the parlor and the dining room,
crowded as the latter was with the ghosts of brothers and friends.

Perhaps she might invite Annabelle, Sophie and Richard to dine, on some
later occasion.

“Very well, Miss Minnie,” Mrs. Norris called in return. A moment later,
Bertha came up the steps from the cellar kitchen, slightly out of breath between
the hurry up the narrow utility stair and the weight of the tray with a teapot,
a rack of newly toasted bread, and a plate of scrapple and scrambled eggs upon
it. Bertha set the tray on the unfolded stand, which stood before the largest
window in the parlor, that which gave a view out onto the street, and into the
meadows and solitary stands of lonely trees in the Common.

There was talk of building a public garden adjacent to the Common,
Minnie had heard through gossip with various friends.

That would be nice, she thought again, as she attended to her
breakfast, after expressing her gratitude to Bertha and her sister, over her
hunger for breakfast and a good stout cup of strong tea, without having to be
diplomatic over the breakfast table. “And I will wish to consult with your sister
about menus for the week, and the marketing. There is no need to fix a supper
for me, this evening; I will be dining at the Brewers’ tonight. Richard has
said that he will send the coach for me…”

Bertha cleared her throat. “Shall I bring up more tea … and some cakes,
when Mrs. Bard arrives? She left her card yesterday, saying that she had
something of importance which she wanted to discuss with you …”

“I remember,” Minnie sighed. “I will receive her visit, since I have no
plans for the day, other than to write letters, and an account of our stay in
Richmond and my visit to the slave markets for Mr. Garrison’s newspaper. I hope
that Mrs. Bard will be concise as to the purpose of her visit. She is otherwise
the most tedious woman of my acquaintance…”

Tem had been even more scathing; ‘That woman is too good for this
earth,’ he declared on many occasions. ‘She deserves to be under it, inspiring
the roses and daisies.

It did not escape Minnie’s observation that Bertha smothered a small
burst of laughter at her own observation.

“Very well, Miss Minnie – I will bring a tray of tea and cakes to the
parlor when Mrs. Bard is received.”

“Thank you, Bertha,” Minnie answered, and consumed the remainder of her
breakfast, feeling a mix of relief at being home … and yet a small portion of
boredom. Today she would write letters, begin an account of that visit to the
Richmond slave markets – but what then? What should she do with herself now, as
a woman of active years, possessed of an independent income, an interest in
public matters, especially regarding those victims of the peculiar institution,
and no small feeling of obligation towards those others less blessed by fortune;
no, there were no feelings of guilt over being thus favored, but such a
standard had been bred into her bones and encouraged since birth.

Sufficient unto the day, Minnie told herself. And I hope that I may
dissuade Lolly Bard from lingering too long. Today she was given over to
letters, words and memories of that appalling venture into the Shockoe Bottom
district – and to firmly suppress any feelings of belated love for Pres
Devereaux. She would rather think of him as a guide and worthy opponent.

She had too much to do, to bother with romance.

When Minnie had finished with breakfast, she didn’t wait for Bertha or
Mrs. Norris to come and retrieve the tray. She walked across the hallway into
Papa-the-Judges’ library and study, a magnificent room with tall bookshelves on
every wall, save that of the front, where a deep window embrasure and built-in
seat commanded a view of the common. This apartment now was entirely her own,
as was every other room. Here, her brother Tem had chosen to spend his last
days and hours, sleeping fitfully on a day-bed chaise moved into the corner,
and in his more alert hours, dictating a stream of letters to Minnie, sitting
with her pen in hand, and inkpot at the ready, at the elaborate slant-front desk
which had been Papa-the-Judges’. With his riches earned from investing in the
China trade, the tall secretary desk was a magnificent thing; dark golden maple
wood adorned with contrasting inlay, full of niches, shelves, drawers large and
small, some of them secret … of course, Minnie knew the hidden catches to all
the secret spaces within the desk. Papa-the-Judge had trusted her, implicitly.
She uncapped the ink-bottle, dipped her trustiest pen into it, and began to
write …

My dear Miss Van Lew … we are safely returned at last from our long
visit…   

Minnie had finished that letter, one to Susan, enclosing a second for
Cousin Peter, and begun on her account of visiting the Shockoe Bottom, when Bertha
tapped discretely on the door to the study.

“Mrs. Bard is here, Miss Minnie – I showed her into the parlor. I’ll
bring up the tea directly.”

“Thank you, Bertha,” Minnie wiped her pen nib clean and corked the ink
bottle with a sigh. “I’ll be in directly.”

She performed a quick assessment of her appearance in the gilt-trimmed
Spanish looking glass hanging in the entryway, and set a hospitable smile on
her face, before opening the parlor door.

“Mrs. Bard,” she exclaimed. “How kind of you to call! Mrs. Norris told
me you had left your card yesterday.”

Eulalia Bard was Minnie’s age; short, plump and pretty still, with
round blue eyes in a girlish face, and soft tendrils of light brown hair
curling between her cheeks and the brim of her bonnet. She had several
children, all grown, and was the widow of a man who had been, as Lolly often
insisted, very important in railways. She had settled in Boston after the death
of her husband, to be near the home of her oldest son. Over the previous three
or four years, Minnie and Annabelle had listened to Lolly Bard chatter about
her husband and her boys’ every excellence, to the point of tedium. The other
ladies in the Congregationalist parish tolerated her with mixed fondness and
exasperation; while feather-headed in the extreme, her heart and sympathy were
in the right place. She had never a bad word to say to or of anyone, save those
who owned slaves. For Lolly Bard, silly and charming – was at least as adamant
as Tem Vining had been, regarding the Abolition cause. Minnie had often
wondered if Lolly had set her cap at Tem Vining as a potential suitor, but
Tem’s feelings towards her, even before his health declined, had been one of waspish
exasperation.

“We were expecting your return weeks ago, dear Miss Vining,” Lolly Bard
had put down her bulging reticule on the settee, but as was proper, had not
removed her shawl or her gloves. “And … I had hoped that we were sufficiently
close enough friends that you would call me Lolly, and I might use your first
name.”

“Then I suppose that we should,” Minnie agreed – anything to rush Lolly
Bard’s visit so that she could return to her writing. “I have sent for tea to
be served, if you would care to partake with me.”

“I did not wish to interrupt what you might be doing,” Lolly make a not
very convincing protest. “Since we have only just returned… please do not
trouble yourself.”

“It is no trouble,” Minnie yielded, well-resigned and knowing that
Lolly would take her time approaching any discussion of whatever it was which
had so worried her. “I was writing letters, and an account of a visit to the
slave market in Richmond, which I intend to forward to the Reverend Slocomb,
and perhaps to Mr. Garrison for publication in the Liberator, but I
needed to rest my hand after so long a stint with pen and ink.”

“You write with so fine a hand,” Lolly replied, innocent of any
artifice. “As fine as any scrivener or secretary. Your little notes are a
pleasure to read, indeed. My own writing … Dear Mr. Bard would say that he had
pleasure unending from any of my letters, for it would take him months to
decipher what I had written to him when he was away, overseeing the building of
his railway.”

At that moment, Bertha carried in the tea-tray, laden with teapot,
sugar-bowl, creamer, china cups and saucers, and a three-tiered tray of small
cakes and tartlets which were the pride of Jerusha’s kitchen. She set it on the
folding stand which had supported Minnie’s dinner tray the previous evening,
and tactfully withdrew. Minnie poured out the tea and wondered when Lolly would
come to the point of her visit, or how very much longer this process might
take. She really wanted to return to her writing.

“Here is your tea, Lolly – you have some matter of concern to discuss
with me?” Minnie ventured, and Lolly accepted the china cup with a sigh, and
added sugar and cream to it.

“It’s the Reverend Slocomb,” Lolly confessed, after a stir and a sip.
“Minnie, dear, I am most awfully concerned. I fear that in his … injudicious affections,
that he has let our cause down, most horribly.”

Minnie repressed her impatience and replied, “I have heard talk of … a
lawsuit was it? A suit for divorce. He was making protestations of love to a
married woman…I cannot think that such may be true…”

“But it is,” Lolly replied, in all earnest. “He has been pledging love
to Caroline Forbes for simply months, and she has been returning it. No, it is
not gossip, for I have observed them on many occasions, with mine own eyes;
their affection is not a thing about which I can be mistaken. It is most
distressing – surely, she is old enough to know better than to be so flagrantly
indiscreet; and now that Mr. Forbes has petitioned for a divorce! How could the
Reverend be so thoughtless as to compromise his own moral standing in our
cause? She will be cut off from her children, and he … from the pulpit and
leadership within the church! How can he be so recklessly indiscreet, Minnie!
The scandal of an adulterous connection taints every word he has ever spoken.
How can he take any position of moral authority with any credibility, now! Mark
my words, the husband of every woman in his congregation will be wondering if
he is speaking words of love to their wives, and with justification! He and
Caroline will become pariahs in society, in Boston and everywhere else.”

“I am certain that the situation cannot be as public as you declare…”
Minnie began, and Lolly replied,

“But it is already become an open scandal in Boston, and very soon
everywhere else! The newspapers have already gotten ahold of it … you would not
have known, since you were traveling; doubtless you will not have already seen
the libelous speculation in the Southern newspapers. It is horrible, Minnie –
the things that have been published regarding Reverend Slocomb, and to the
embarrassment of our congregation, they are mostly true! How could he have done
this, to us, and to our cause?”

“A man,” Minnie replied, sore to her heart with a sense of betrayal, as
she had taken the Reverend Slocomb to be at least an honest and moral man.
“Only a man, my dear Lolly – and prone to fits of irrationality in their
affections. The stories that Papa-the-Judge related to me touched on every
imaginable vice, large and small. I confess that I am disappointed in the
character of the Reverend Slocomb! But I cannot divine the purpose of this
visit, Lolly – is there some action that you wish me to take, in regard to his
matter?”

“Yes,” Lolly replied, setting down her teacup with an air of
resolution. “The Reverend Slocomb was to deliver a public lecture regarding the
evils of the slave system … at the beginning of next month, in a hall hired for
the purpose. For the reason of public scandal, he cannot … we were wondering if
you would do the lecture instead?”

“Me … a public lecture?” Minnie was utterly
taken back.

Ah, yes – while skimming my regular feed of interesting Pinterest sites, I ran across a link to this article. Yes, I have an interest in historical costume, since I have an unseemly fondness for getting rigged out in all sorts of late Victorian, Edwardian, and early 20th century kit as a means of differentiating myself from all the other authors in the room (and possibly in the surrounding county). The Daughter Unit finds this all to be terribly embarrassing – but eh! Not that I am the age I am, I can do as a damn please – and what I please, when I do an author event is to put on a bit of a show. Not only does this attract the eye of the mundane public, it’s a useful conversational lead-in.

“Hi! I write historical fiction, so I like to dress
the part!”

As is pointed out after several paragraphs down, the
part involves all the interesting and intricate underwear – shift, corset,
petticoats – and accessories; jewelry, gloves, reticle and hat, often held on
with an authentic foot-long steel hatpin. As it is my good fortune that Mom
taught me to sew, and Dad taught me to follow instructions to the most exacting
level, constructing of these necessary outfits and accoutrements is pretty much
a snap for me. And besides – I love the way that the petticoats swish, the
corset elevates the boobage, and gentlemen come over all courtly, when
approached by a woman wearing a hat, gloves, and skirt down to her toes. I’ve
collected up some nice and reasonably authentic Butterick patterns for outfits,
but increasingly am taken by the even more authentic Truly Victorian versions,
largely because those TR patterns can be more readily adjusted for fit.

However, I am not all that fanatical about doing them
in authentic fabrics; natural wool, silk, linen; mostly because of the expense.
Now that home sewing has morphed into a hobby rather than a domestic necessity,
the costs have increased exponentially. My outfits are more in the line of stage
costumes, rather than a 100% accurate reenactor production. I’m not all that
fanatical about using authentic trimmings of lace or fringe, either. I’ll use
what I can get for a reasonable price, and if it’s polyester or rayon in the outer
layers, I’m not messing around the open flames, and I’ll put up with a degree
of discomfort. It’s the overall look of the outfit that matters most, not that
it’s absolutely what a lady would have worn in 1880. Or 1912.    

12. October 2019 · Comments Off on Occupation: A French Village · Categories: Uncategorized

On the strong recommendation of David Foster, the Daughter-Unit and I began to watch: A French Village, that seven-season long miniseries which follows five years of German occupation and a bit of the aftermath as it affects the lives of a handful of characters in a small town in eastern France close to the Swiss border – from the day that the German invaders arrive, to the aftermath of the occupation, in a fractured peace, when all was said and done. (It’s available through Amazon Prime.) A good few of the occupants of that village did not really welcome liberation and had damn good reasons – guilty consciences, mostly, for having collaborated with the Germans with varying degrees of enthusiasm. (A benefit is that this series stars actors of whom we have never heard, in French with English subtitles. Given how the establishment American entertainment media has gone all noisily woke, anti-Trump and abusive towards us conservative residents of Flyoverlandia, this is a darned good thing. Seriously, for years and years I used to only personally boycott Jane Fonda and Cat Stevens, now my list of ‘oh, hell NEVER! actors and personalities is well into the scores.)

By the outbreak of the Second World War, France and Germany had been in a love-hate relationship for a good few decades, if not at least a century. France had the style, the dash, the verve, the command of fashion and culture for decades, while Germany had a lock on scientific and medical talent, military efficiency, and a not inconsiderable sideline in mad musical skilz. In that last, and in elevated artistic and philosophical discourse they were about neck and neck. France and Germany also seem – from the point of view of an American looking backwards at that period – to also have been neck and neck when it comes to virulent anti-Antisemitism. France also contained a notable number of Communists, who were die-hard opponents of Nazism throughout the 1930s, then cynically allied with them through the medium of the Nazi-Soviet Pact … and then the Commies did another U-turn upon the Nazi invasion of Mother Russia, from whence the major support for international Communism had originated, by design and intent. (This series of disconcerting U-turns disillusioned a good few international anti-Fascist sympathizers of a more independent intellectual bent, although American Commie-symps like Lillian Hellman, Howard Zinn and Pete Seeger obediently followed where the Soviet Master Party led, throughout every violent U-turn. No doubt they each came up with a comforting reason for this ‘ally today, enemy tomorrow’ route through the political landscape.)

This whole German occupation of France turned out to be a bit more complicated than contemporary movies, and movies made shortly afterwards had it, although at this late date, anyone or any institution with a reputation to lose over how they conducted themselves during the Occupation has already done damage control or died of old age. There is a bitter joke to the effect that the French Resistance had more members enrolled post-war than during it. Understandable; once the emergency is past, every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or a Resistant. A French citizen who was a Resistant from the moment of occupation by Nazi Germany was a rare creature indeed; likely a social misanthrope with no family or employment to be endangered, a die-hard political hard-liner, or bearing anti-German resentments left over from twenty years previously, when French and German armies had slaughtered each other in job-lots of millions in the trenches of the Western Front. Later, when the hardships imposed by the German Occupation began to bite, apprehensions over just what was happening to the Jews transported east, and it began to look as if the Nazis just might possibly lose – this did wonders for recruiting to various Resistant groups.

How the Occupation affected ordinary people is vividly reflected in A French Village. Most characters are just trying to get by, living an ordinary, unspectacular life; earning a living, running a profitable business, maintaining a professional career arc, taking care of their families, friends, patients and students, having a little fun, and making do. This tracks with what I have read in various histories and memoirs and from what I understand of basic human nature. Damn few of us wake up in the morning and decide to be Joan of Arc, going down (or up) in flames. We have things to do, our ordinary uncinematic life to live … even when the choice presents itself to us, naked and unashamed.

Although in certain situations, many of us do choose the right thing on the spot: to reach out and succor, provide a lifeline of rescue from an inhumanly brutal situation. There was an account and listing of the various Righteous Gentiles who took a part in rescuing Jews from the Nazis across Occupied Europe; a good number acted on an initial decent impulse, upon appeal from friends, neighbors, and sometimes total strangers. Those people took it upon themselves – and they were ordinary, human, perhaps otherwise self-centered people – a risk; of death by work camp, firing squad, or whatever painful fate the local Nazi occupying authority had decreed. This is where, I think, most of the later Resistants came from: something personal tripped their trigger and from that moment on, they were all-in.

There is one more element, and this insight I came to as a result of reading a couple of memoirs and histories. One of them was an account of the life of Anne Frank; after the arrest and internment of her family and friends. Long afterwards a good number of the near neighbors to the House Behind said that basically, yeah, they knew there was something going on; likely Jews hiding in the outbuildings to Otto Frank’s business. They suspected that something was going on but chose to turn a blind eye. Another was an account of a doctor and his wife running a safe house catering to escaping soldiers and shot-down aircrew in the south of France – this in an apartment block which was a base for the doctor’s practice and residence. They took every precaution, laying every imaginable precaution on their guests; walking in stocking feet, no flushing of the toilet, speaking above a whisper during business hours – but still, I am pretty certain that in spite of all that, the neighbors knew very well that something was going on – all those suspiciously fit young men without any knowledge of the French language appearing at all hours, even if briefly?

The final evidence for a conviction that a large element of Resistance success depended on ordinary citizens keeping quiet about local and specific observances came from a talk with a survivor of the B-17 crew, of which my uncle James Menaul had been a member. Uncle Jimmy’s B-17 was shot down over France, upon return from the massive and disastrous attack on the Schweinfurt ball-bearing factories. My uncle and several of his crew were fatalities in that raid, but six of his comrades survived. One was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW, but the other five had the good fortune to be collected by French Resistants and smuggled to Switzerland.

That survivor related to me an episode of being on a crowded French train, escorted by an older lady who had papers from the Red Cross attesting to her good citizenship and permission to travel freely, and a teenage boy who was below the age where he could be pressed into forced labor. He and his comrade, another evading aircrew member, were fitted out with French clothing and suitable false papers – but he said that he wasn’t assured that the clothing and papers convinced anyone in the least, save the Germans. (1943, France: young and obviously fit men, with good teeth, innocent of subtle cultural markers? Yeah, they would have stood out, as if marked with fluorescent paint…When I passed through Greece and to Spain in 1985, I could always pick out other Americans in a crowd. Imagine how it would have been forty years and plus earlier.) At some point in the train journey, according to my contact, German authorities entered the passenger car, and began working their way through it, checking everyone’s papers and tickets. At that moment, and almost simultaneously without any apparent advance coordination, every single one of the other passengers in that railway car began doing random, spontaneous stuff… talking loudly, dropping things, getting up out of their seats – doing everything possible to distract attention away from the pair of American airmen. A small thing – but vital. Did it contribute to their eventual escape to Switzerland? No notion, and it’s not a matter that can be tested. But there you have it. My interviewee believed it did, and that it was spontaneous, among a random group of railway travelers in a French train in late 1943.

Sometimes, resistance takes the form of committed actions. And sometimes – that milder form of turning away and deliberately not seeing what you have seen and noted, and keeping your mouth shut about it.

This last weekend was the start of the fall book market
season; I spent three days in Giddings, Texas, as one of the local authors
invited to participate in the yearly Word Wrangler Book Festival – which is
sponsored by the local library, and supported by practically every civic
institution in Giddings, including the local elementary and high schools. Last
Thursday, the first day of Word Wrangler, certain of us authors volunteered to
go and visit schools for readings, or to just talk about writing. This year, I
visited three middle-school classes, to talk to sixth graders about writing,
the stories that they liked, and what they could write about. I like doing this
with fifth and sixth grade students, by the way – they are old enough to read
pretty well, but not so old as to be jaded by the whole ‘visiting
writer/storyteller’ thing. The kids were lively and responsive; it helps that
they were being taught about plotting, about the narrative voice, and how to
create a story. In each class of about twenty or thirty kids, I would guess
that two or three are terrifically keen on creative writing, another eight or
ten are interested, and the remainder are not completely indifferent. I went
around and asked each student what they liked to read the most; adventure
stories seemed to be most popular, followed by mysteries. Two boys in separate
classes were enthralled by World War II stories. Horror and fantasy seemed to
be about equally popular; and there was one girl with quite gruesome taste in
exotic forms of murder. Well, it takes all kinds, and I am not her analyst;
she’ll most likely grow out of it, once puberty really takes hold …

Then I went around again, asking each one what they would
write about; what story would they want to sit down and write. For those who
couldn’t think of one, I gave them a character and a situation, and encouraged
them to go to town. And one more thing I told them – it is perfectly OK for a
writer starting out to venture into scribbling fanfiction. You like a certain
movie, book, TV series, videogame, are interested in that world and those
characters? Take the characters you really like or identify with and write them
a new set of adventures in that fictional world. Saves the time and trouble of
building a whole new world from scratch … and isn’t imitation the sincerest
form of flattery? Go and do it; practically every writer I know did the same. I
certainly did; and the reams of juvenilia is something to eventually be
consigned to the shredder by my literary executor. Just be careful when
unleashing revised fanfiction into the world – chose the venue carefully and
file off all the identifying serial numbers. Otherwise, it’s excellent
practice, I told the kids; the literary equivalent of training wheels when
learning to ride a bicycle.

I’ve been publishing independently since 2007; the first big
wave of independent writers, although there were a small number of specialists
in the decades before that. There were always writers publishing their works in
a small way, mostly through arranging a print run with a local printer and
bookbinder, but that method usually cost more money than was available to those
of us in that big wave in the mid ‘Oughts’. The development of publish on
demand, the ability of printers to do small print runs at a reasonable cost,
the rise of Amazon, the popularity of eReaders, and the disinclination of the
establishment publishing houses to continue backing midlist authors while
pursuing only huge blockbusters … that all left the field wide open to indy
writers like the ones I spent last weekend with. It astounded me all over again
how very good, and professional the books at Word Wrangler looked. The covers
of most books – and they covered the range of kids’ books through adult fiction;
adventure, mystery, western, historical – all looked as good as anything
produced by mainstream publishers. There is such a wealth of good reading
available, through independent and small publishers, and readers in places like
Giddings know it very, very well,  

From Luna City 3.1 – 9-11+15

“I know that it’s been fifteen years as of last
Sunday,” Coach Garrett mused thoughtfully, hardly taking note of the beer in front
of him. “But sometimes it’s as clear to me as if it was yesterday.”

It was a perfect, autumn afternoon – a Friday
afternoon in mid-September, just beginning to turn cool. The VFW had visitors’
night on Fridays, and now Richard sat outside with Joe Vaughn and Coach
Garrett, at the splintery picnic table under the massive sycamore tree that
shaded the back of the VFW.

 “You were there
in New York, weren’t you, Coach?” Joe drank deep from his own beer. “You saw
the Towers go down, up close and personal. Man … it was bad enough watching on
TV in real time.”

“Another life,” Dwight Garrett shrugged, but something
in the look of that otherwise undistinguished, middle-aged countenance warned
Richard to embrace tact and circumspection in his further comment.

“It was a splendid day for me,” Richard ventured,
reminiscent for the world of just a little ago, but gone as distant now as the
Austro-Hungarian empire. “I know … the irony of it all. An evening in Paris –
it was mid-evening. I had just won my first cooking contest, and signed with a
talent agency. Some of my old Charterhouse pals and I popped over to Paris to
celebrate my excellent prospects. We were drinking in a bar in the Rue d
Belleville, and wondering why they had a telly on, and tuned to some high-rise
disaster movie. It didn’t seem all that big a thing, not at first. The penny
didn’t drop until we saw the headlines in the newspapers the next day. In my
defense, we were all enormously pissed that evening.”

“I’ll bet your hangover was epic,” Joe said, not
without sympathy. “I was at Fort Lewis. First assignment to the Second
Battalion … just driving into work, when it came over the radio. Airplane
crashed into the World Trade Center tower. Swear to god, everyone thought it
must be one of those little private airplanes, ya know – like a Piper Cub or
something. The top sergeant said, ‘Oh, man, they must have gotten hella lost!’
And then someone turned on the breakroom TV, and there was this big ol’ gash in
the side of the tower and the smoke just pouring out… Top said he remembered
hearing about a WWII bomber hitting the Empire State Building, but that was in
a fog. Two big honking silver buildings – we just couldn’t understand at first
how it could happen by accident.”

“It was such a beautiful morning,” Dwight Garrett
nodded. “Cool, crisp … not a cloud in the sky. I had played a concert at the
Alice Tully the night before, so I slept in. Gwen … my wife didn’t wake me up
when she left for work. She left a note for me … that we should meet for supper
at Morton’s on Washington Street, just around the corner, when she was done
with work that evening.”

“Didn’t know you were a married man, Coach,” Joe said,
and Dwight Garrett sighed.

“Oh, yes – I left it late, sorry to say. Gwen and I
were married for six years and three months. A dedicated career woman, and a
divorcee with two sons she raised herself. We met at one of those musical
soirees associated with a Mozart festival. Gwen was in finance. Did you ever
notice that maths and music are deeply intertwined in some people? Anyway, we
had a nice little condo in Tribeca, a stone-throw from where she worked.”

“And?” Richard prodded. He had visited New York often
enough during the high-flying years of his career as a globe-trotting celebrity
chef, and had only the vaguest notion of where Tribeca might me. It was not his
favorite city on the American continent; that would be Vancouver, or perhaps
Miami. New York was too crowded, too … vertical for his taste.

“She worked at Cantor-Fitzgerald – in the North
Tower,” Dwight Garrett replied in perfectly level, dispassionate tones. Joe
drew in his breath sharply, but said nothing, and Coach Garrett continued.
“Even asleep, I heard the sirens – but so ordinary a sound in the city, I just
went back to sleep. Until Gwen’s son Jeff called from White Plains. ‘Where’s
Mom?’ he said, ‘Did she go into work, today? Turn on the TV – there’s a plane
that hit the building she works in, all the top floors are on fire, and she’s not
answering her cellphone.’ I told him to calm down. I’d walk over to the WTC and
find her, make sure she was safe, and that everything would be all right …” He
took a long draw of his own beer, calm and meditative, as if he were telling a
story of another persons’ experience. “The sidewalks along Vesey Street were
full of people looking up towards the towers – both of them just gushing smoke.
Like water coming out of a fire hydrant. I started walking as fast as I could.
I could see nothing moving on the street, but fire engines, lined up as far as
I could see, once I got close. I kept trying to call Gwen. I thought sure that
they would let me through the barricades once I explained. The South Tower fell
before I got to the end of the block. It was … like a tidal wave of black
smoke, dust, soot. A policeman yelled at us to run like hell. A bunch of us on
the sidewalk ran into the nearest place – a coffee shop on Vesey, to escape
it.” Coach Garrett shook his head, slowly. “Outside that window it turned as
black as you could imagine. And the lights went out. You couldn’t see your hand
in front of your face for about five, ten minutes. That policeman was in there,
too – he had a flashlight, but it didn’t help. When we came out everything was
grey, covered with thick grey dust. We were all covered in it, too. Needless to
say, they wouldn’t let me come anywhere near the North Tower. There were too
many people. And I think they were already afraid that the North Tower was
going to fall as well.”

“Did you find your wife?” Richard ventured. Coach
Garrett shook his head.

“No. Not that day, or afterward. Nothing left –
everything and most everyone on the floors just above the impact site were
essentially vaporized. I accepted right away that she was gone forever, nothing
to be done. No good going to the morgue or hanging around as they excavated the
pile afterwards. It was almost as if our marriage had been a wonderful,
fleeting dream, and she had never been … 
except for the boys, of course. And her clothes and things in the condo.
It was just so … curious, how it happened out of the clear blue in the blink of
an eye, on so ordinary day.”

“Sorry, man,” Joe said, after a long moment. “I never
knew about your wife, and all of that. That why you left New York and came home
to Texas?”

Coach Garrett nodded. “I couldn’t stay. Not without
Gwen. The pile of rubble burned for months. The whole place smelled of smoke
and death. I packed a suitcase and took the express to White Plains a few days
later. I signed the condo over to Jeff and his brother, rented a car and drove
back to Texas. I meant to go back to Kingsville … but heard about a job
teaching music here. It seemed like a good way to start fresh.”

“You do what you gotta do,” Joe agreed. “Another,
Coach? My treat.”

“Sure thing, Joe,” the older man finished off his beer
and looked into the distance; the blue, blue sky and the leaf canopy of the
sycamores just beginning to turn gold and brown. “There’s one thing I do regret
about Gwen. I wish that I hadn’t slept in – that I had fixed her breakfast,
kissed her, said that I hoped she would have a good day, and that I loved her.
I never for a single moment thought that she would suddenly just not be there.
Love shouldn’t end that way, on the flip of a coin.”

“Nope,” Joe agreed, and to Richard, it looked as if
Joe had suddenly made up his mind about something. “You want another, Rich?”

“Only if you’re buying.” Richard replied.

“Cheap limey bastard,” Joe grumbled.

Home delivery – the latest trend to hit retail and grocery outlets – is a boon to sick people. I say this as someone who caught the current flu last Thursday. Here I was, innocently going about my usual routine, although I did note than on Thursday morning during the ritual Walking of The Doggles, that I was sniffing and sneezing; as if something had gotten caught in my sinuses. Innocently, it all seemed to pass; at mid-day my daughter and I went up to Bergheim in the Hill Country to meet with a small book club who had done me the honor of choosing the first of the Adelsverein Trilogy as their book selection of the month.

More »

(Yes – for reasons, Minnie will say ‘no’ to the question that Pres Devereaux asks of her, after she has recovered from injuries in the dreadful carriage accident in the previous snippet.)

Within a week, Minnie was able to leave the bed and sickroom and dress herself with the aid of Annabelle, for her broken arm was still splinted and bound. It was Tuesday, Susan’s customary at-home day. Hepzibah fussed at her to rest and not overexert herself; which attention Minnie found at once endearing and exasperating.

“I’m not a child, Hepzibah – and not entirely
incapable of caring for myself!” Minnie complained. She was seated at the
dressing table, having combed out her long hair, but it was Annabelle weaving her
hair into a long braid and pinning it up into a bun. Hepzibah had remade the
bed with clean linen, and was folding up Minnie’s nightgown and wrapper, laying
them in readiness on the smooth coverlet. For some curious reason Hepzibah had
begun to treat Minnie, and to a lesser degree, Annabelle, in the same
proprietary manner that she treated Susan’s daughters. 

“I done doubt that, Miz Minnie – it’s only been a week
since you wuz feelin’ better. An’ if you have a relapse, don’t you go on
blamin’ anyone but yourself.”  Annabelle’s eyes met Minnies’ in the mirror, a
shared look of amused resignation in them.

“I will ensure that our dear invalid doesn’t overexert
herself, Hepzibah,” Annabelle inserted the last of several hairpins into
Minnie’s coiffure, and regarded her handiwork with an air of satisfaction.
“There! Are you ready to go downstairs? Mr. Devereaux presented his card this
morning – along with the usual tokens of his regard for you and dear little
Charlotte … although my own suspicion is that he wished to observe and confirm
for himself that you are well-recovered from your little adventure with the
smashed carriage …”

“Carried you in his arms all de way from out Stony
Creek ways,” Hepzibah interjected, with a shake of her head and with tones
which combined awe and disapproval. “Even do’ a waggoneer brought y’all back
the last couple mile… Miz Minnie, dat is a devotion mos’ powerful. You take
care, you hear me? Marse Devereaux, he a man to be reckoned with – an’ careful,
like. Like a flame in a powder-mill!”

With that dire prophetic statement, Hepzibah collected
the most aged flower bouquets from the room and absented herself, her
petticoats swishing with emphasis. Minnie looked into the mirror again, as
Annabelle pinned a lace and linen house-cap over Minnie’s hair.

“Honestly, Minnie – she is so forward!” Annabelle
lamented. “A woman of that color and station! I wonder how Susan endures such
presumption!”

“I wonder also,” Minnie confessed, after a moment.
“But it comes to me that women of determination and ability, no matter of what
color, or station in life; they can exercise power, in any way that they can.
It’s the power of the queen on the chessboard, you see. Hepzibah may be a
slave, owned as certainly as Mr. Devereaux owns his prized carriage horse. But
she is skilled in household management; dear Susan depends on that skill … and
that is Hepzibah’s entrée into power.” Minnie laughed a little, as the
certainty of this realization came to her. “Subtle power within the household,
you see. Cousin Susan desires her household to run smoothly and well, for the
love of My-Dear-Ambrose … and Hepzibah manages all that very well. And being a
privileged house slave, she is afforded a certain degree of authority. Being a
woman, she demonstrates that to other women. As well that she has probably
supervised Susan’s girls from the time they were in the cradle. Still … her
position is perilous.”

“How so, dear,” Annabelle ventured. “As near as I may
see, there is much affection between Susan and Hepzibah – and not misplaced in
the least.”

“Because as dear as Hepzibah may be to Susan and her
daughters, as skilled as she might be in managing a domestic establishment,”
Minnie adjusted the set of the lace fichu at her throat, and yielded up her
seat at the dressing table for Annabelle to make adjustments to her own
afternoon attire, “Her comfortable existence in this house hangs on chance…”

“As does the existence of every woman not blessed with
a secure and independent income,” Annabelle settled herself before the mirror
and began taking the pins out of her own hair. Minnie, feeling suddenly tired –
although she would never admit this to Annabelle or to Hepzibah save under the
tortures of the Spanish Inquisition – sat on the side of the bed and waited for
Annabelle to finish with her own toilette. She continued, feeling as if she had
been given the answer to a small puzzle. “Suppose that My-Dear-Ambrose fell
into debt, through some mischance. Although honestly, I do not think he has
ever felt the least bit reckless in his life, unlike some gentlemen of the
South that I might mention. But suppose that he did, for the purposes of my
argument. And by some further mischance, he died, leaving Susan in debt to
creditors. She would have no choice; she must sell all those assets of value,
just to keep herself from poverty and starvation. It is a wicked choice
presented to her … but a household of slaves present the most substantial block
of value to an estate, as such it stands under the slave system.”

“That would be … wicked!” Annabelle considered that
prospective event, outlined by Minnie, who continued, remorselessly.

“Yes, it would be. But it would be a solution to a
temporary market reversal. That quadroon child whom Miss Van Lew purchased, on
the occasion of our excursion into the Shockoe Bottom? She was a natural
daughter of man dealing in … what was it? Rice, I think. She was a child,
indulged and loved, or so Miss Van Lew informed me – but when all was reversed
upon the death of her father, her value was all in the marketplace. I am
certain that Susan feels the most tender regard for Hepzibah; but what Hepzibah
must know, although she might be able to tell herself otherwise – is that she
can be sent to the Shockoe Bottom slave markets and sold. Perhaps with regret
on the part of the family that are all but blood her own. But she can be
sold. And that … that is a cruelty. A cruelty which must weigh heavily upon those
who have the intellect to think on it, overmuch.”

“I see,” Annabelle set down her hairbrush, and met
Minnie’s eyes in the mirror. “Malignant, is it not? The whole of the peculiar
institution? I vow that we shall be more dedicated abolitionists after this
visit than we ever were before.”

“There is much to be said for observing the monster
with your own eyes, rather than at a comfortable distance and in a church pew,
listening to the Reverend Slocomb,” Minnie ventured. “Perhaps I might do
lectures on that subject … oh, to groups of ladies,” she added hastily, upon
seeing Annabelle’s expression of utter horror, reflected in the mirror.

“Public talks?” Annabelle pushed in the final pin to
her own coiffure and settled the brief lace and lawn widow’s house-bonnet over
it. “Really, Minnie – that just won’t do! You have a social position to uphold!
You can’t just go about giving public talks! Why, anyone might attend! What
would everyone think? What would the Judge have said about that?”

“That the cause, my conscience and the occasion demand
it,” Minnie replied. “I imagine that the same was said to Papa-the-Judge and to
Cousin Peter in their youth when the matter of revolution against King George
first came about. ‘Oh, think of your social position! Rebel against our King?
Why, we’d never!”

“I suppose that you are right,” Annabelle admitted
with a sigh. “Still, I consider what social cost we may have to pay amongst
those whom we think of as friends and kinfolk, should we come out foursquare in
public for abolition of the noxious practice.”

“There is always a cost for doing right, ‘Belle,”
Minnie replied, feeling quite comfortable in that statement of which – to her –
was obvious. “And if they should think the worst of us, in opposing slavery,
and putting all the energies and resources that we have to bear against it …
then, such persons were no true friends of ours!”

“Would you cast off dear kin from your regard,”
Annabelle still appeared troubled in her mind, as she stood from before the
dressing-table mirror. “Those who have tendered us hospitality and their fond
regard – their deepest affections, their care for you, for us both. Especially
after your unfortunate accident…”

“I admit, my dear – that Susan may feel that I have
betrayed her hospitality,” Minnie took up her light shawl, a woolen thing from
India, woven as finely as the flimsiest lawn fabric and colored in bright and
exotic patterns. “But the vileness of the peculiar institution! I cannot remain
silent for long, when silence implies approval.”

“Courtesy demands a tactful silence under this roof,”
Annabelle reminded her. “There; are you ready for Susan’s callers? When you
tire, dear – you can easily make your excuses.”

“I am not the least bit tired,” Minnie insisted. “Of
being confined to a bed in this chamber. Otherwise I hunger for social
diversion; thirst for it, like a man on a deserted island!”

Annabelle tilted her head, hearing some slight noise
from downstairs – a door opening and closing, distant voices in the entry hall.

“Your diversion has arrived, I think!” she replied,
and she and Minnie went downstairs to Susan’s parlor – there to see Pres
Devereaux, with his hat and gloves beside him on the divan. He was alone,
sitting bolt upright on the divan. He stood up readily – with eagerness, even –
as Minnie and Annabelle entered the parlor. His eyes seemed to burn a more vivid
blue in his tanned face, as he clasped Minnie’s hands with tenderness in his.

“My dear Miss Vining!” he exclaimed. “I am lost for
words, in telling you how happy I am to see you recovered! I … and your friends
here were … that is, we were … I called every day hoping for good news of your
condition.”

“As you can see,” Minnie replied, unaccountably warmed
by his obvious regard and relief. “I am well enough to take part in Susan’s
social whirl … and I have such pleasant memories of our chess match…”

“I will call on you for a match as soon as it may be
arranged,” Mr. Devereaux enthused – and Minnie noted that he only released her
hands with reluctance. “In the meantime … if you are sufficiently recovered,
would you take a turn around Mrs. Edmond’s garden with me? I have … well there
is a question to ask of you, a question that I feel would be best asked in
private…” for some unfathomable reason, Mr. Devereaux seemed nervous, uncertain.
Minnie couldn’t begin to fathom why.

“The sunshine will be most welcome to me,” Minnie
replied, “And the sight of Susan’s roses …although,” she added hastily. “The
flowers that you have been sending to us are … they are most welcome, but poor
substitute for a garden in summer.”

The tall French doors opening from the parlor onto the
front verandah stood open, admitting that slight breeze which stirred the
window hangings, and brought the faint scent of jasmine and honeysuckle. After
weeks indoors, confined to bed, the out of doors drew Minnie irresistibly.
Everything seemed impossibly large, lush, colorful. Mr. Devereaux offered her
his elbow, and she leaned on it with good grace, feeling something of the same
feeling of being sheltered and protected, as she had felt when he carried her
away from the scene of that ghastly carriage accident. The garden, even a
little wilted in the heat of late summer, still reflected the anxious care
which Susan’s outdoor slaves took of it; spent blossoms dead-headed and
removed, leaves and twigs swept from the greensward, the rambling jasmine and
roses pruned and trained to arches and trellises. Minnie felt her spirits
reviving, as her strength returned

“I have not been able to thank you properly for your
care,” she ventured finally. “Looking after Charlotte and I, on that day. I
think that I shall not be able to ride with confidence in a carriage again for
some time, knowing that you are not present.”

“Would you, Miss Vining?” This appeared to cheer Mr.
Devereaux. “Indeed, I am honored by your trust and regard. It makes the
question that I mean to ask of you an easier one to venture, knowing that you
think of me in that degree.”

“And what question might that be?” Minnie looked at
him sideways; he was so much taller than she, all she might see of his
countenance was his profile against the sky above, the sky which in summer was
so very like the color of his eyes.

“Come. Let us sit under this trellis,” He led her towards
the pergola at the bottom of the garden, heavily hung with pale pink roses, which
had shed tender velvety petals underneath, like gentle confetti on the benches
set underneath. He took out a handkerchief – one of those vast and useful man’s
articles, not a dainty little wisp trimmed with lace – and swept some invisible
dust off the bench before the two of them sat down upon it, side by side. “Mrs.
Edmonds’ garden is a treasure, is it not? I have found it to be so very
restful. Of all the gardens on Church Hill … hers is the most accomplished in
design. Every aspect rewards the eye and the senses…” his words meandered off into
thought, and Minnie wondered where they had gone, with some impatience.
Charlotte and her mother would be in the parlor soon.

“You had a question which you wished to ask of me?”
she chose in favor of asking directly; Minnie had no gift for social
subterfuge, especially when it came to the male of the breed.

“Yes… of course.” Pres Devereaux appeared to hesitate,
and then to plunge ahead, like a horse to a race. “Minnie … Miss Vining. Would
you do me the honor of consenting to marry me?”

“What?” Minnie gazed at him, in mixed shock and
sheer disbelief