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(While on a carriage excursion and chaperoning her young cousin Charlotte, who is being courted by Pres Deveraux, Minnie is involved in a dreadful carriage accident.)

She couldn’t breathe. All the air was sent from her lungs by the force of that fall over the side of Mr. Devereaux’s Tilbury gig. A constellation of exploding stars blotted out the sky overhead, and Minnie felt herself suspended between not being able to draw a breath and a white-hot agony exploding up to her shoulder and down to her hand, and from her head, which had struck the road with cruel force. Somewhere, a woman was crying out in alarm. She sounded very young, panicky – Minnie felt herself lifted, as limp and powerless as a rag doll in the grip of something. She couldn’t think, only felt – and what she felt was pain, pain and more pain.
“Miss Minnie! Wake up, open your eyes – speak to me!” a voice begged – a somehow familiar voice. A man. Authoritative … and for some curious reason, frantic in concern.
Minnie obeyed the command to open her eyes, although her sight was somewhat baffled by … oh, yes, the brim of her bonnet, now crushed and disarranged, and a flood of something sticky and warm on her face, wetting the collar of her dress. And this was the countenance of … oh, yes – she fished in her dis-jangled memory for a name. Mr. Devereaux, the handsome and raffish adventurer … presently courting the very young Charlotte Edmonds.
Yes. She was supposed to have been their watchful chaperone.
Minnie struggled to recall – yes, an aggravating and contrary man, a whirligig of opinions posed for nothing more than to harass and torment … but he … he was a man … and Minnie fished for knowledge and insight in her present torment.
A man who waged a war on a chessboard and was the most gallant when losing to a mere woman.
“She’s bleeding so awfully!” the younger voice exclaimed in horror – Charlotte; yes, that was Charlotte, daubing ineffectually at Minnie’s forehead with a dainty handkerchief smeared horribly red. Mr. Devereaux replied,
“Her head struck a large rock on the ground, I believe – and it is well known that such injuries always bleed out of all proportion … Miss Minnie, please speak to us!”
“Wha … h’ppened?” Minnie stumbled over the words. It hurt to speak.
“A runaway team, on the road!” Charlotte exclaimed. “The driver could not control them – he had fallen from the wagon, and the wagon struck Mr. Devereaux’s gig … they kept on going! And now the wheel is utterly smashed! What are we to do, Mr. Devereaux? What are we to do, since we are all this way from town? Surely, Cousin Minnie needs a doctor at once!”
“Miss Edmonds, calm yourself, I beg you.” Mr. Devereaux sounded as if he barely maintained control of his emotions, Minnie thought through the pain in her head and shooting up her arm like bolts of white-hot lightning. “Take your shawl and spread it out on the grass over there … good. Miss Minnie – forgive me if this causes you pain…”
“Hurts,” Minnie gasped, but with recovering her breath and voice. “My arm. The left. I … cannot move my fingers without pain … I fell with it under me…”
Mr. Devereaux’s strong fingers palpated Minnie’s arm, and the burst of white-hot lightning intensified, almost to the point of Minnie losing awareness entirely.
“I fear that one of the bones in your arm may be broken, my dear Miss Minnie!” he exclaimed in a whisper. “But I beg you – do not be stoic on my behalf. If you would cry out, or faint … I cannot bear that you would suffer in silence to spare my – our feelings. I would … Yes, Miss Edmonds – is Minnie’s shawl still in the gig? You must fetch it, girl – she must be wrapped closely, against the bodily cold that attends upon sudden injuries such as this. And find me … find me a straight stick, a length or branch sufficiently strong to construct a splint…”
Minnie felt a new warmth on her face as Charlotte bent over her – the girl was crying, and her tears splashed upon her own face. Useless! Minnie’s own intellect raged. Don’t be such a silly-billy, child! Do as Mr. Devereaux has asked, and be quick about it!
Now she felt herself to be lifted – Mr. Devereaux’s strong and steady arms underneath her shoulders and be knees both. He stood, lifting her from the dusty road as easily as she would herself have borne up a small child … He must be very strong, Minnie’s disjointed intellect observed, over the searing pain in her skull, and the white-hot agony in her arm.
Charlotte had gone away. Gone… gone somewhere. Minnie neither knew or cared. When she was aware again, and strictly enjoining her scattered thoughts to obey, she lay on her back, on something rather softer and more yielding than the hard and dusty road. Within her vision, Mr. Devereaux was tearing strips from a handkerchief – a large man’s handkerchief, of a rather more useful size and material than Charlotte’s wispy bit of lace. Or maybe it was a cloth napkin… Minnie’s thoughts went wandering again.
“Cold,” Minnie whispered, for she found herself shivering, in spite of the warmth of the day. Charlotte appeared, her face pale against the bright sky.
“I found your shawl, Cousin Minnie,” she said, sounding as if she were trying to be brave and not succeeding very well at it, as she tucked the folds of it around Minnie. “Mr. Devereaux has unhitched his horse from the gig – the poor thing was frightened to death, nearly – but unharmed. Which is good, as Mr. Devereaux paid a goodly sum for him. Once he has splinted your poor arm … we are going to walk back towards town, with him carrying you and I leading the horse. He says there should be someone along this road with a wagon, once we are closer…”
Minnie tried to thank the child – she still shivered, even when Mr. Devereaux removed his coat and added that to the shawl. He knelt next to her, with a small flask silver in his hand.
“Miss Minnie,” he ventured, with the gravest of expressions on his face. “I am prepared now to splint your arm, but I fear that it will briefly prove to be agonizing in the extreme … if you are not of committed temperance principles, might I persuade you to drink a little of his brandy? It’s for medicinal purposes, after all, and while it will not abolish pain entirely, it will take a little of the edge from it.”
Minnie brought herself to nod in acquiescence; he uncapped the flask and held it to her lips while she sipped. It tasted …warm, warm and fiery. The pain ebbed a little in her head, leaving her feeling a little as if she were floating, floating up into the sky like the little tufts of cotton-white cloud.
“I’m going to bind up your arm now,” Mr. Devereaux warned her. “So that the broken ends of bone will not grind against each other. Ready?”
Minnie nodded acknowledgment and set her teeth as Mr. Devereaux laid gentle fingers on her arm, murmuring instructions to young Charlotte.
Think of the clouds, she commanded herself. Look at the clouds, and think of nothing … no, think of the chess pieces, obedient and passive on the board. There was no pain. Chess pieces felt no pain. Breathe deep, look at the clouds and think of Mr. Devereaux’s marvelous chess pieces.
Oddly enough, this method of mental diversion proved effective; she did not banish the pain of a broken bone so much as she succeeded in setting it aside, in removing it from her immediate attention, although a sharp movement as Mr. Devereaux secured the last knot – perhaps that of the broken bone ends settling into place – nearly broke that adamantine concentration on the floating clouds overhead and figures of ivory. Upon the final knots being tied, securing her arm to a length of scrap wood – was it a broken bit from the Tilbury gig’s hood? She rather thought so – Mr. Devereaux cleared his throat.
“Are you ready, Miss Minnie? We should not have to walk very far before encountering help … this is not a well-traveled road, but in about half a mile, it runs into one…”
“You might take the horse,” Minnie suggested, faintly. “And leaving us, ride ahead and beg for assistance…”
“I will not think of abandoning you, or Miss Edmonds,” Mr. Devereaux insisted. “Not under any circumstances would I leave you alone. No – we return together, no matter how slowly may be our progress! Not another word, Miss Minnie; I will not hear any argument.”
Saying so, he stooped and lifted her into his arms once more, swathed in shawls and coat. Curiously, Minnie found this of considerable comfort. She hurt in every limb and sinew – but Mr. Devereaux would not abandon them all and take the horse. It felt as if she were part-floating, carried in tireless arms, until she floated away entirely into the sky and was aware of nothing more.

A cookbook, that is – one cookbook to rule them all. A good few years ago, what with the popularity of so many food and cooking websites, we got in the habit of printing out recipes that sounded good, and if they did turn out really, really good – putting them in sheet protectors in a three-ring binder for easy referral. That binder is the every-day reference for putting together an evening meal, only as time went on – the book got terribly random and unwieldy, with the recipes inserted in any old order. There were also pages of recipes that had once looked interesting, but not enough to actually cook them, or that we tried once and went ‘meh’ or alternate recipes for a dish that we had a recipe for that we liked better … and the pages themselves got sticky from use, or being splashed, the binder began falling apart … and I swear that one of the cats (now exiled to the Magnificent Cation) was in the habit of spraying on the back of the binder …so, time to cull, re-print, re-arrange, put into fresh page protectors and a brand-spanking-new binder and also to create a duplicate book for the day when the Daughter Unit has her own domestic establishment.

So that has been the current project, now that Luna City #8 is fairly launched. I started with going through and pulling out all the recipes for chicken. A few of them I had to just copy into a fresh document, most of them I retrieved from the various websites where they had originated, and copy-pasted into a new document. Doing this let me change the size of the font – look, it’s a bear to have to fetch my reading glasses to read a 8 or 9 point font, while reducing the recipe itself to a single page – because flipping over three pages to follow the same recipe is … not helpful, especially when half of it might be taken up with pretty pictures. (No, I don’t need the pictures. Ingredients and instructions are sufficient, thank you very much.)

After a weekend of working at this project, I have gotten all the way through the chicken recipes, and all of the beef/pork/lamb/venison recipes, which I think must have made up more than half of the original binder. The remaining sections – for vegetarian, fish, and miscellaneous side dishes and sauces should go much faster. And that – along with another chapter of the Civil War novel – was my project for the week.

Oh, still waiting to hear from the garage regarding my poor little car. Getting a replacement side light seems to be the main remaining challenge – it may very well have to come all the way from Japan by special order, although I would think that a little creative metal bending and plastic fabrication, such as Dad used to do in his garage for some of his automobile projects, would do the trick. It absolutely fries me that the idiot whose’ rotten driving caused the accident had no damage at all to his car – whereas I have now been without mine for a month and a half.

A longish and somewhat exhausting morning – this the day that my social security is paid into my bank account – (Yes, I collect it, having put into it for all those working years since the age of 16, and having no more patience for working full-time for other people) so we went up to New Braunfels for the semi-monthly purchase of meats and sausage at Granzins, then a little farther to the new super-HEB for assorted groceries, and then a loop around to Tractor Supply for flea spray, drops and collars for the critters. Who are all afflicted with the summertime plague of fleas, and the most seriously effective yet most reasonably-priced remedies are all available at Tractor Supply, including a carpet/surface spray which has a strong yet pleasing odor of citronella and only seems to be available at Tractor Supply. I wish that I drove a pickup truck – I wouldn’t feel like such a townie, pulling into the parking lot there. I might even pull on those vintage Ariat boots that I bought at a charity thrift shop a couple of years ago.

Anyway, loaded up at Granzins on chicken breasts, quarters, a small steak (which is my monthly treat) and some of their divine locally-made sausage, which makes a splendid main dish when rubbed with a little of Adams Reserve Steakhouse Rub, spritzed with a bit of olive oil and then baked until done. At the super-HEB, a 7 ½ pound pork tenderloin at a good price, to be chopped into roasts and boneless chops … and when returned home, an hour of time with the vacuum sealer, packaging it all up for the freezer – set with meat options for supper for the next month or maybe even longer. Look – we flirt with tasty vegan options at least one night a week, but that’s just for the variety of it. Otherwise, we are unashamed carnivores.

Part of the journey to New Braunfels involved a fitting … for a costume to be worn at a book-launch party in Seguin late next month by one of three – the author and my daughter Blondie to be the other two. I committed, in a moment of weakness and affectionate friendship for another author, to sew frontier ‘soiled dove’ outfits for the launch party bash. Easy enough – a white cotton shift, a flashy skirt with lace trim, and a fitted and laced bodice. The skirts and the shift are simple enough, the laced bodice must be fitted to each individual; the pattern is one I am not happy with, since I will have to add some extra lacing to the back of the bodice to ensure that the shoulder portion will not be slipping down … eh, the outfits will be marvelous when I have completed them.

Tuesday mid-day was likewise consumed by a necessary errand – to the cardiologist at BAMC for the yearly check-up. Yes, I seem to have developed a noticeable heart murmur in the last couple of years. Such was was noted when I was in my twenties, but was written off to a) pregnancy, b) a doctor doing research who apparently wanted to find such in healthy young adults for the purpose of generating a research report, and c) a bout of viral myocarditis discovered during a routine physical required when I was putting together an application for an officer commission – a condition which eventually healed on its’ own, although at the time it scared the bejesus out of my supervisors, my parents and the hospital administrators at the Misawa AB hospital. The comforting thing in the current iteration is that it doesn’t appear to have gotten any worse since being first observed. EKG – same as last year. Sound of it all – same as last year. Barely over the line for concern, according to the cardiologist. Hardly rating any concern, considering the appearances of other patients in the waiting area of the cardiology clinic – yeah, the full collection of canes, walkers, and wheel-chairs. Look – we all die of something. A dicky ticker over the next two or three decades appears to be my fate. I’m OK with that, considering some of the other alternatives.

18. July 2019 · Comments Off on Luna City # 8 · Categories: Uncategorized

Luna City Behind the 8 Ball is now available in Kindle, and on most other ebook formats! Enjoy! The print version will be available later on this month. (And if you really, really enjoy the Luna City series, please post a review somewhere, and tell all your friends!)

So – stuff has broken around
here. My car is still waiting at the body shop for replacement parts, which
since it is a somewhat aged vehicle, the manager must resort to eBay for the
bits that were broken when I was side-swiped last month on my return from a
regular ladies’ luncheon.  (Insert
diatribe here describing the at-fault other driver, whose automobile was not
even scratched, but whose wheelchair lift scraped off my bumper and shattered
the sidelights. HE was at fault, as testified by the eyewitness, and deduced by
the police officer who generated the appropriate report, and the insurance
company investigator, but I am the one massively inconvenienced!)

Then my computer died. Another
inconvenience, but since all the important stuff was saved to an external hard
drive (and the really important professional stuff saved to the hard-drive and
backed up by other means) it only meant a morning of migrating the various
necessary programs, peripherals and bookmarks to the spare new computer, as
well as signing in to the various subscriptions and installing printer drivers .
I think I have had about five computers die on me to date, so I’ve gotten
efficient at the process. This only wasted a single morning for useful work.

And then – the front door latch
began to stick. The latch lever on the outside began to jam, and then the
doorknob on the inside followed suit. Lubricated the latch – no luck. It might
just as well have been solidly welded together, the last couple of times that
we tried it. Good thing we did this from the inside. I entertained a brief nightmare
about being stuck outside the house and having to break a window or something
to get back inside. Last week, we unscrewed the bolts and removed the bolt
mechanism entirely (OK, so I am handy and toweringly optimistic that way!)
looking for something that might be broken. Couldn’t find anything significant.
Put the outside door plate back on, covered the hole where the doorknob had
been with tape, and ordered a replacement bolt mechanism from Amazon. I did not
want to have to purchase a whole new door hardware assembly, at a cost of
well-north of $100 even at the rock-bottom packages available at Home Depot or
Lowe’s, so I took a guess at something that might very well work, for under $10.
The latch assembly finally arrived last thing on Sunday, and it fit when I
experimented with it on Monday. Door fixed in five minutes of fiddling with
screwdriver. Did I mention that I am handy? I owe it all to the example of Dad,
who had a full toolkit and would have a go, although some of his mechanical workarounds
were eccentric.

And finally, my sewing machine
needed attention. Like the doorknob and the computer – complete non-function. A
serious inconvenience, since I had committed to doing saloon-girl costumes for
an author friend and two of her buddies to wear at a book-launch event. (Hey,
everyone is getting the idea to wear appropriate, or near-appropriate
historical costume for this kind of thing.) My dear old Singer was whisked off
to a local sewing-machine place which did repairs – much like the enterprise
where I bought it, in South Ogden in the early 1990ies. (A rehab, and
originally top-of-the-line machine), upon which I put many, many … many miles
of stitching. Today, I got the word from the shop: motor is totally fried, and
the company doesn’t provide a replacement anymore. So – sighed and said I would
donate it to the shop for whatever gears and parts were still salvageable to
the shop, in lieu of their charge for opening up the guts to it in the first
place. (Their tech apparently plays with mechanical sewing machine when he
burns out on trying to fix the computer-driven version). I was a bit saddened
by this. Singers go on forever. I have a lovely little portable which came from
Grannie Dodie, and when in college I bought a lovely antique machine from a
fellow student which was as heavy as unvarnished sin and ran the quietest
motor… I think my sister still has it. Anyway … sewing machine is morte. I have
Blondie’s latest model Brother to do the costumes on, but there is a learning
curve involved.

So – 50% effective in fixing
stuff, or getting stuff fixed this week. And yours?

(Miss Minnie Vining is about to venture into the district in old Richmond where the slave markets were held, accompanied by Elizabeth Van Lew, and a pair of male cousins who are friends of the family she is visiting: Captain Shaw, and Preston Devereaux, who has promised Miss Van Lew that he will purchase two slaves for her … slaves that Miss Van Lew will free. Much discussion of the “peculiar institution” ensues.)

The carriage arrived before the Edmonds’ door just before the hour of nine. Annabelle, waiting with Minnie in the front parlor made one last attempt to dissuade her from the excursion.
“It might be dangerous!” she insisted. “You heard what Cousin Peter said – about being recognized as being of abolitionist sympathies, among those whose livelihood depends on perpetuating the peculiar institution.”
“I have no apprehensions, ‘Belle,” Minnie replied. “We will be accompanied by a gallant soldier, and a gentleman who recently returned from the California gold mines; I am certain that both Captain Shaw and Mr. Devereaux have faced such dangers as would make a set of slave-driving ruffians a mere annoyance in comparison.” Outside in the street, the sound of carriage wheels carried to her ears. “I believe that will be the coach … if we do not return for dinner at midday, make my excuses to Susan, dear.”
“Is there nothing I can say?” Annabelle dropped her embroidery hoop into her lap and clasped her hands together. “Nothing to make you consider turning aside from this course?”
“No, nothing,” Minnie gathered up her reticule and tied the strings of her mantle at her throat, as she heard voices at the door – Susan’s housemaid, and that of Captain Shaw. “Not once my mind is set on a course which I have determined.”
“Be most careful,” Annabelle whispered – or that was what Minnie thought she heard, as she left the parlor. Outside, an elegant dark-grey berline carriage awaited, drawn by a pair of matched, dapple-grey horses, whose reins lay in the hands of a coachman – another black slave, in a fine dark grey coat and starched white stock, the elegance of whose attire rivaled that of Captain Shaw himself.
“Miss Vining! Good morning!” Captain Shaw took her arm, going down the steps. “You know, this is not considered an acceptable outing for a lady… But Pres insisted, and he’s a hard man to gainsay.”
“I have been assured of this, solo and in chorus,” Minnie replied, with some asperity. “But I will not be deterred!”
“No, I was afraid not,” Captain Shaw sighed, as he assisted her to step from the ground, onto the narrow carriage step. “You and Miss Van Lew are of a kind, I perceive. I should warn you, though – ladies do not generally attend the auctions. You see … umm … it is the practice among prospective buyers, to assure themselves of the health and fitness of a male slave they are interested in … that they remove their garments, in order that their bodies may be closely inspected.”
“Good heavens!” Minnie exclaimed. “Surely they do not require that of females in public! Why, that is barbaric!”
Preston Devereaux took her other hand, with a mocking grin, and settled her onto the seat next to Miss Van Lew, observing, “Barbarism is in the eye of the beholder, Miss Vining – as I have good reason to know.”
“Not … in that portion of the auction,” Captain Shaw replied, and Minnie could have sworn that the man’s countenance reddened – but that was in the relative dimness of the carriage interior. Captain Shaw tapped on the glass of the window nearest the driver’s perch, and the berline lurched away from the Edmonds’ front door. “But – it is my understanding that such is required now and again, in … a private viewing of the … um… merchandise. Well before the auction and bidding begins.”
“Of a high-yellow fancy, most usually,” Mr. Devereaux, suave as ever. Minnie would be willing to swear that the gentlemen were as determined to discourage herself and Miss Van Lew from the proposed excursion, only that they had chosen a more subtle means of going about it. The carriage rocked gently, as the black coachman in elegant livery clucked to the horses.
From the corner of the closed carriage, Miss Van Lew remarked, as if making a note of the weather, “That would be a woman with a bare minimum of African blood, Miss Vining. Such is the tendency for owners of female slaves to engage in congress upon their bodies. After generations of such conduct … one cannot really tell free from slave. It requires the judgement of a veritable Solomon to tell the difference between a free white woman and a black slave.”
“I see,” Minnie retorted, although she didn’t … not entirely. But untried waters were to be ventured upon, and hopefully without fear or favor. “I perceive that you gentleman both have experience with the matter of holding Negroes in the condition of bondage. I suppose that you both hold slaves.”
“We do,” Captain Shaw admitted, through suddenly thinned lips. “But I can assure you that we treat our people well and fairly. None of Marylebone Hill’s people have ever been sold down the river, not in my lifetime or that of my father.”
“My own family, alas, does not own as many slaves as formerly,” Pres Deveraux admitted, with an exaggeratedly tragic sigh. “The reversals of the cotton trade made it necessary that we dispense of the excess in recent years; they will multiply naturally, you know. Conditions over the last few years were desperately unfavorable for Deveraux crops – insufficient income to support the family and our dependents at the current market price of cotton and tobacco. Do not look so horrified, Miss Van Lew, Miss Vining – our agent arranged private sales, and specified stringently that families would be sold entire, and only to purchasers of whom he approved. Otherwise – what are we to do? In the North, one may merely fire workers superfluous to momentary needs, and one is relieved of all further responsibility for their welfare. Is that not a cruelty, according to your Christian lights? Are we not our brothers’ keeper, after all?”
“But free men possess the inalienable right to order their own lives,” Minnie retorted. “To work at whatever they chose, to travel where they will without hinderance, to contract marriage to a woman of their own choosing …”
“To starve in a gutter, if that is their choice,” Pres Devereaux agreed, smoothly. “Without any notice being taken of their situation. Is it not kinder, Miss Minerva – in the situation of a lesser breed, when sick or old, no longer able to work – to be taken care of? Housed, clothed, fed, to have the attention of a doctor when ill? It is a great responsibility, even greater than that of being a father with children. Children grow up and take charge of their own lives, eventually – but the responsibility for your field hands and house slaves never, ever ends.”
“I admit of no fair comparison,” Minnie was indignant. “Between a slave, subject to the whims of an owner, and the condition of a free man or woman. We are God’s creatures, of His creation, every one of us – and no matter what our native capabilities may be, all deserve that freedom.”
“The African race are like children,” Pres Devereaux spoke with infinite patience – nearly as irritating to Minnie as open condescension would have been. “Would you allow a small child do as they wish, in every respect? That would be careless, irresponsible, unfitting…”
“Mr. Devereaux is provoking you deliberately, Miss Vining,” Miss Van Lew interjected. “Did I not warn you yesterday of his habit of being a dancing whirligig, assuming attitudes merely to tease and provoke?”
“You did, indeed, Miss Van Lew,” Minnie replied, and scowled behind her veil at Mr. Devereaux. The berline, meanwhile, had left behind the relatively smooth streets of Church Hill, and descended into more crowded – and therefore more rutted and pot-holed thoroughfares closer to the river. Minnie craned her neck, at the familiar shriek of a locomotive steam whistle – yes, they were passing very close to the railway lines which threaded Richmond like a ragged spider-web. Here was the hubble-bubble of commerce, of loud voices, the grinding of cartwheels and cracking whips. Over it all floated a distant vision of the white-pillared state capitol building, a classic Roman temple set in a grove of young trees, floating above it all like a white-sails of a distant ship, above a vista of common warehouses, narrow side lanes and a tumbled wasteland piled with trash threaded through by a muddy stream.
“I told Rufus to take us past Lumpkin’s, first,” Captain Shaw murmured to Mr. Devereaux, who absently stroked his narrow mustache, as he nodded in agreement with this itinerary.
“Ah, yes,” he continued pleasantly to Minnie. “Robert Lumpkin – keeper of the most notorious slave-jail in Richmond, familiarly called ‘The Devils’ Half-Acre.’ A man equally notorious for his riches accumulated in his chosen trade as for the brutality he exercises in the conduct of it. Low breeding; such always shows. Although, he has made his slave concubine his legal wife, for what that might be worth, socially.”
“The peculiar institution encompasses curious complications, on occasion,” Captain Shaw murmured.
There was an uncomfortable silence in the coach as the coach continued on, down a rough and rutted alley; Miss Van Lew silent behind her veil, and Captain Shaw looking out from his side of the coach as if he wished to be anywhere else but here. Only Pres Devereaux appeared to relish the company and the occasion. Really, what an appalling man! Minnie thought to herself. And Susan wishes to match hers’ and My-Dear-Ambrose’s Charlotte with him as a husband!
“Ah, yes, there it is; that fortress with a stout wall all the way around.” Pres Devereaux announced, cheery as a cricket with a happy song. “Not as scenic as the Tower of London, or as romantic as the prison of Chillon in Lord Byron’s cheery ditty, is it, ladies?”
Minnie could hardly bear to look upon such a scene of misery: yes, a stout plank wall, encompassing a foot-trampled yard with a single rambling brick building within, farther down the sloping hillside. Iron bars set into every window made it plain that it housed prisoners. Three other buildings stood somewhat closer to the rutted lane in which the berline had paused; buildings which had a look of domesticity about them, especially since there were no bars in the windows.
“As for famous inmates in this place, I daresay you have heard of the escaped slave Burns? He was apprehended in Boston, was he not? And returned to his master by order of the magistrates – backed up by Army troops?”
“Yes, I have heard of that matter,” Minnie replied truthfully – for the matter of Anthony Burns, escaped slave, being arrested in the street, and forcefully returned South to his owner had been the means of metaphorically setting Boston aflame with abolitionist passion all that spring. Her brother George had been suffering his final illness, or he would have struggled up from his sickbed to join with his fellow abolitionists in protest.
“It was a mystery to all good Southerners,” Pres Devereaux confided, “Why those who championed Burns willingly defied the law. And it is the law – that stolen property be returned to the proper owner.”
“There is the law which is written by men, who are not perfect – and those higher laws instituted by our creator,” Minnie stated, for she was truly rankled by Pres Devereaux’s bland self-assurance. “Those fugitive slave laws were created by such imperfect men – who compound the insult to freedom-loving citizens of the North by insisting that we endorse the brutality of slavery. It’s not enough that slave power confine itself to those places which have willingly chosen to endorse the practice – that we could endure and have for decades! But now to demand that we in the North who object to fellow human beings treated as objects to be bought and sold in the marketplace must go against our own conscience, and cooperate with slave-takers on free soil? Is it not as the great Luther himself advised – to go against one’s conscience is neither right nor safe!”
“Bravo, Miss Vining,” Pres Devereaux applauded. “A fine piece of oratory, I must say! You might almost convince a man such as myself to the cause of abolition – almost; but that I am a Southerner, and our fortunes here depend upon exercise of the peculiar institution.”
“Ah, your fortunes,” Minnie nodded – yes, a momentary concession. That would disarm an opponent in the legal hustings, Papa-the-Judge advised, when he had guided Minnie in her studies of his old trials and in his volumes of Blackstone’s Commentaries. “Fortunes which are based primarily on agriculture and the export of cotton. But what of industry? Where are your armories, your factories – why must the raw materials produced in your plantations be shipped wholesale to the mills of England? Why must your fortunes depend on forced labor of Africans, imported under great hardship and cruelty? It is said that a sound tree will bear sound fruit, but a tree with roots in poisoned soil will bear naught but poisoned fruit. I would hold that slavery is the most poisoned soil of all!”
“We do have industry in the South,” Captain Shaw spoke vigorously for nearly the first time in this exchange. “Behold – the chimneys of the Tredegar Iron and Locomotive Works! That must count for something, Miss Vining!”
“And that would be your only example?” Minnie tempered her exasperation, did her best to sound conciliatory. “Has the South nothing to equal the fabric mills of Lowell and Fall River, the Armory of Colonel Colt, a long-ranging transport project such as the Erie Canal, the iron works of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey? The Tredegar works are a fine one, indeed – the canal and basin for river commerce here in Richmond – but when the North has five or ten such enterprises for every single one in the South, you will forgive me, Captain Shaw, for not being entirely convinced of the advantages of the peculiar institution.”
“Miss Vining’s mind is made up,” Pres Devereaux interjected. “And will only admit such facts as those which confirm her existing prejudice. We should drive on – I had it in mind to see the auction at the Old Fellows’ Hall on the hour of eleven.”
Minnie opened her mouth to object to this – she was perfectly capable of exercising reason, when a sensible reason applied for admission, but at that moment, she recalled again Miss Van Lew’s warning; that Pres Devereaux lived to be provoking.

22. June 2019 · Comments Off on What Went on in Shockoe Creek Bottom · Categories: Uncategorized

Shockoe Creek was a creek emptying into the James River – a
creek now mostly channelized and paved over. It lay between two substantial
hills upon which the city of Richmond, Virginia, was built; in the earliest
days of the city, it was the market district; convenient to the waterfront, the
main roads, a transshipment node where goods from deep-water cargo ships were
transferred to smaller boats, to wagons, and warehouses. Commerce was the lifeblood
of that part of Richmond, within sight of the grand white neo-classical
building which was the state capitol. Here was the shipping basin and canal
which led to it, the market building housing venders of meat, produce and other
comestibles. Nearby was the bridge which crossed the James, the Haxall mill
which ground fine white flour for shipment throughout the Americas. Up-river a
little way was the Tredegar Iron Works complex, the pride of the ante-bellum
industrial South.

And another kind of commerce was centered in the Shockoe
Bottom – the trade in slaves. In the decades before the Civil War, Richmond was
the second-largest wholesale and retail market in the South: the offices of brokers,
agents and traders in slaves, auction houses, and holding-pens – known as slave
jails, all were situated in a quarter-mile square area. I have discovered all
kinds of curious things about the slave trade as practiced in Richmond –
curious to me, that is. I wasn’t raised in the South, the ancestors of my one
American-born grandparent was a fire-eating abolitionist; frankly, all I knew
about the matter was what there was in the generalist history books pertaining
to the Civil War. Nothing much about the nuts and bolts of actual practice, as
it were.

I have had to become acquainted with all of this, as I am working
on the next historical novel – and this involves a heroine, Minerva Templeton
Vining, a spinster of independent means and thinking, who becomes an active
campaigner for abolition in the 1850ies, and then a volunteer battlefield nurse
during the war itself. The catalyst for all of this is a visit that she makes
to Richmond to visit kinfolk – and while she had to that point been of abolitionist
sympathies, she is radicalized by what she sees in the course of that visit. So
I have to write about what she sees, and create the conversations that she
would have had, dealing with what was termed the ‘peculiar institution.’ I don’t
think that she would actually have witnessed a slave auction first-hand; so
far, all the accounts and pictures that I have found have only men attending
the auctions. It seems that male slaves were often asked to strip entirely, so
that their state of health and soundness could be judged – I have read one
account of a woman slave being stripped for a prospective buyer in private, but
not at the auction location.  Both male
and female slaves often had to show their bare back and shoulders, though, to
determine if they had been whipped. The degree and age of scarring would
indicate a discipline problem, and downgrade market value in the eyes of a
potential purchaser.

I did go into this project knowing that for most
Southerners, a slave was a luxury good. A first-rate young field hand was worth
$1,500-2,000; something on the order of $25,000 to $30,000 in today’s dollars.
A slave who was trained in a particular skill might command an even higher

A particular curiosity – which makes sense, once I thought
about it – was that the dealers in slaves who kept a slave jail (basically a
warehouse/boarding house/dormitory) took every effort to make their sellable
human merchandise look good upon being put up for auction, although the actual
conditions in the slave jail may not have been very good. Those slaves being
held for sale were provided with decent food, medical care if required, and a
period of recovery from any particularly grueling travel. On the day of
auction, they were provided with means of bathing, were groomed and dressed in
new clean clothes. There is a painting by an English abolitionist who made sketches
of an auction on the spot and later produced a then-well-known painting: five female
slaves, clad in grey dresses and white aprons, with red bows at the throat,
with one man, in trousers, white shirt, tan trousers and a red waistcoat. One
of the women has a small child in her lap; they sit patiently in a row. They
are luxury goods – of course, the vendors want the merchandise to look good. I
think that is the most unsettling aspect of it all; not outright cruelty (of
which there was some, although not quite as much as the campaigners for
abolition would have had it) but the fact that it was just business, the
business of selling and buying human beings.

Finally – an interesting curiosity: one Robert Lumpkin, who
kept a slave jail of such notoriety that the compound was called “Hell’s Half
Acre” was formally married to a slave woman, who had five children by him –  including daughters who were sent to a finishing
school in the North. When he died, at the very end of the Civil War, his wife
inherited the property … and sold it to a Baptist minister who founded a school
for blacks – the Richmond Theological Seminary. The site is half-under a
freeway, now; the half that isn’t is an empty lot with an outline of some of
the buildings in the compound.

Slaves Waiting to Be Sold -1861 -Eyre Crow
20. June 2019 · Comments Off on From The Next Book – That Fateful Lightning · Categories: Uncategorized

(Minerva “Minnie” Vining, a spinster of independent means in the early 1850ies is visiting relatives in Richmond, Virginia.)

On her return to the Edmonds house, the maid who opened the door for her whispered,

“Ma’am is in de parlor with Ma’am Vining an’ de girls, Miss Minerva…”

Susan called from the parlor, obviously having heard the bell, and the
door open and shut. “Minnie, is that you, dear? You must join us – Mrs. Van Lew
just sent a boy with a note saying that she and Miss Elizabeth would be here
momentarily …”

“Allow me to change my dress, Sue,” Minnie replied, and hastened up the
stairs to the room that she and Annabelle shared, to discover that someone –
either Annabelle or one of Susan’s housemaids had already laid out one of her
afternoon dresses; a simple gown in the s pale violent of half-morning, with a
lacy fichu – all with the creases from having been packed in a trunk neatly
pressed out by the unseen hands of Cousin Susan’s Negro maids. Minnie hastily
unbuttoned the skirt and bodice of her walking costume and exchanged her
stockings and high-buttoned boots and for clean white stockings and plain
dainty slippers. By the time she had effected this change, and hurried
downstairs, the maid was already opening the front door to admit two ladies.
Minnie fairly scampered into the parlor, and settled onto the divan next to
Annabelle, who whispered,

“You’re late! We were beginning to despair! Did you lose track of the

“The gardens of Church Hill are so splendid,” Minnie gasped. “I confess
that I did – I am sorry, Susan – I was admiring certain of the trees; those
with white flowers, of four or five petals.”

“Dogwood trees,” Charlotte piped up, and Susan chided her.

“Dear, speak when you are spoken to. Yes, the dogwood trees are
particularly splendid this spring, although you have missed the jonquils at
their best. But the magnolias are soon to bloom…Yes, Sadie?” That last was
addressed to the maid, deferential in her dark dress, white apron and turban,
lingering in the doorway.

“Mrs. Eliza Van Lew, Miss Elizabeth, Ma’am,” she murmured, and stepped
aside from the doorway as Susan rose from her chair.

“Eliza, my dear!” she exclaimed to the older lady; a pleasant-faced
matron with pink cheeks and very white hair, dressed as modestly as a Quaker in
a grey walking dress bereft of any additional adornments. “And Lizzie – we are
so pleased to see you today! Come in, come in! I must introduce you to my
cousins, visiting from Boston: Mrs. Annabelle Vining, and Miss Minerva Vining –
they have come to celebrate Lydia’s marriage with us and then to stay the
summer over … the gentlemen will join us shortly.” Susan and the Van Lew ladies
exchanged brief social embraces – the older lady with more open affection than
the younger. “They traveled by train, all of the way,” Susan added, and the Van
Lew ladies chorused their wonder and approval.

“From Boston!” Exclaimed Eliza Van Lew, as she turned her attention
towards Minnie and Annabelle. “And on the train – what a marvel the railway has
become. Now, I was brought up in Philadelphia, and my daughter attended school
there, and now the matter of travel has become so much less onerous than it
once was … how welcome you are to Richmond!”

“We have been received with every fond courtesy,” Annabelle replied,
while – unobserved – Minnie regarded Miss Lizzie Van Lew, recognizing as if
with a secret Masonic handshake, another stubborn spinster of her ilk. Yes,
Miss Elizabeth was pleasing in her aspect and person, and fashionably-clad; a
perfect blonde rose of the South, with the flaxen hair, unearthly blue eyes,
and that fine complexion lauded by every sentimental novelist and fashion-paper
… and yet, Miss Van Lew defied that convention, for her nose was a perfect beak
and those eyes reflected a piercing and unsettling intelligence.

“Miss Vining,” she said, and her voice was pleasant and cultured. “May
I sit with you and converse? I would adore to hear of how the abolitionist
cause is progressing in the North. We hear so very little of the matter here in
Richmond, you see – only fulminations against such wicked persuaders such as
your Mr. Garrison, and the Reverend Slocomb – since he is of Boston, may I
presume that you are acquainted with him?”

“But certainly,” Minnie answered, pleased and heartened at encountering
a kindred spirit among Susan’s circle. “Mr. Garrison was a particular friend of
my late brother, although they had fallen out over … some aspect of campaigning
for the cause of abolition. I cannot recall the specific issue as Mr. Garrison
is a passionate advocate and not easily brought to compromise. But he and my
brother did eventually reconcile. Reverend Slocomb ministers to the
congregation which I attend – and I have the privilege of a personal
acquaintance with him, as well as a personally-inscribed volume of his sermons

“Indeed, I have a copy of that very same book!” Miss Lizzie beamed,
radiantly, and Minnie laughed.

“I am reassured in making your acquaintance, Miss Van Lew – I had
become convinced that such abolitionist sentiments are most rare in the South,”

“Alas, they are,” Lizzie Van Lew agreed, without rancor. “But I care
little, nor does Mama, or my brother John. Among our circle of friends, it is
considered – so far – merely an eccentricity peculiar to the Quakers of the
northern States, and thus tolerated. My late father left us so considerable an
estate as to shelter us well against that public opprobrium which might fall
upon those of lesser means, otherwise …”

At that moment in their conversation, Richard and Cousin Peter joined
what had become a most pleasant gathering: Susan fussed over settling her
father into the most comfortable chair, and Richard took a seat on one of the
spindly parlor chairs opposite the divan where Annabelle sat with Minnie and
Miss Van Lew. No sooner was the introduction made, than Susan’s maid announced
the arrival of another party.

“Captain and Mrs. Shaw, and Mr. Devereaux, Ma’am,” the girl said, and
suddenly it seemed that Susan’s parlor was very full, although a large portion
of that came from Mrs. Shaw’s fashionable crinoline as she leaned on her
husbands’ arm, and the breadth of shoulder of the man who followed the pair
into the parlor. Minnie couldn’t help that her eyes were drawn to him, as if by
a magnet; tall and fair-haired, with rugged sun-bronzed features and eyes of a particular
pale blue hue, a specimen of vigorous maturity, whom she judged to be about the
age of her own. He possessed the same arresting quality as the Reverend Slocomb
– that of an actor commanding the attention of an audience as he strode the

“Why, Miss Elizabeth!” he exclaimed, in a gentle drawl which Minnie had
begun to identify as that trait of those from the deeper south. “You mus’ do me
the honor of acquainting me with your charming friends!”

Elizabeth appeared entirely unmoved by his courteous regard, even
though it drew the interest of the other women in the room as a sunflower
follows the sun. “These ladies are Mrs. Edmonds’ Boston relations,” she
replied, in a voice devoid of the least scrap of flirtatious interest. “Miss
Minerva and Mrs. Annabelle Vining. This gentleman is Preston Devereaux, lately
returned from … where was it? I heard that it was traveling abroad; I cared
little for where, although I prayed that it be far, far from Richmond…”

“My dear lady Tongue,” Preston Devereaux returned, seemingly much
amused. “I thank you for your courtesy, Miss Elizabeth of Kate Hall. Ladies …”
he kissed Annabelle’s raised hand, and then Minnies’, “Consider me to be at
your most devoted service!”

Minnie and Annabelle briefly met each other’s eyes.

A rogue, indeed, was Annabelle’s unvoiced comment.

Yes, but an amusing one, Minnie signaled.

“I deduce from your manner of speech that you are from another place
than this,” Minnie ventured, for yes, Preston Devereaux’s accent was the most deeply
marked in Southern inflection that she had heard thus far.

“Charleston, Miss Vining,” he replied, with a smile which drew her –
although not as deeply as it would have, if she had been as young as Charlotte
Edmonds. “My family there is said to be descended from a latter sprout on the
family tree of that Robert Deveraux, once the Earl of Essex and favorite of
Good Queen Bess.”

“Charleston,” remarked Captain Shaw, from across the parlor where he
had taken a seat next to Cousin Peter. Captain Shaw was dark of hair and yet
had the same pale blue eyes as his cousin. His young wife was deep in converse
with the Eliza Van Lew. “Where it is often said that the inhabitants most resemble
the heathen Chinee – in that all eat rice and worship their ancestors.”

That bon mot earned a ripple of amused laughter from the ladies within
hearing, and a chuckle from Preston Devereaux, who appeared to take no offense,
as he regarded the three ladies – Miss Elizabeth, Annabelle and Minnie.

“I trust that you are finding your visit to Richmond enjoyable?”
Preston Devereaux inquired, as if he really were interested, and Minnie

“We have only been here for a day, Mr. Devereaux, but we have been
warmly welcomed by our kin, and friends such as Miss Van Lew…”

“Richmond is so very different from Boston,” Annabelle echoed, and Miss
Elizabeth set aside her teacup.

“We were having the most interesting talk,” she remarked, as every word
were a little dagger. “Regarding mutual friends, and an interest in abolition.”

Minnie exchanged a glance with Annabelle; for all the care taken in
leaving certain topics of conversation unexplored in the interests of civility
among friends and kin, Miss Elizabeth was treading heavily among the
conversational caltrops.

“Indeed,” Preston Devereaux raised an eyebrow. “A fascinating topic,
Miss Elizabeth – alas, not one of interest to me: I may truly boast of having
not a single drop of abolition blood in me.”

“A pity,” Miss Elizabeth observed, acidly “For I daresay that a single
drop would make you into a man, rather than your present nonentity.”

Minnie drew in her breath with a horrified gasp, fully expecting
Preston Devereaux to react as any ordinary man who had been insulted by a lady
in the confines of another lady’s parlor, but instead, he merely chuckled

“Touché, Miss Elizabeth – my dearest shrew. I did invite that hit! Miss
Vining pray do not look as if you meant to take offense on my part. Miss Van
Lew and I have been in the habit of verbal jousts such as this for years. Such
bouts sharpen our relative wits and amuse our friends no end.”

“Be warned concerning Mr. Devereaux’s conversation,” Miss Elizabeth
returned, with an air of stark warning. “He assumes attitudes not from any deep
conviction, but merely from a desire to provoke and tease. He is a veritable
whirligig, turning as the conversational wind blows.”

“I have heard that Mr. Devereaux was abroad on foreign travels,”
Annabelle interjected, in a manner intended to be placating, and that gentleman
smiled as if he divined her motivation and was prepared to be indulgent of it.
“I would like so very much to hear of his adventures – our cousin Susan says
that you sought gold in California! So very exciting! What was it like? One
hears the most fascinating tales of adventures and riches to be had in the
mines. And now California is to be a state, so soon after having been merely a
foreign possession! The gold mines are of an incredible richness, we hear tell.”

“I was in China, on an errand of some import for a relative of mine,
and on my return, the ship on which I was traveling made port in California …
and the news of the discovery of gold caused all of the sailors to desert,” Mr.
Devereaux accepted a cup of tea and a plate of cake from Susan’s silent
housemaids. Minnie made a private memorandum to herself; make sufficient
conversation with Susan’s household slaves to learn their names. It seemed
untoward to not know the names of servants, or not even to be able to tell them
apart, so alike they all appeared, in their anonymous dark dresses and dark
faces, below snowy-white turbans, as if interchangeable human automatons, given
into service.
Mr. Devereaux continued.

“We were there becalmed, in the port of Yerba Buena – although now it
is called San Francisco. Situated on the most marvelous sheltered bay. The word
came that gold had been discovered in the foothills of that mountain-range
which shelters California to the east … even, that discovery was shouted in the
streets, with proof brandished by one of the most respected men of town … I vow
that even the few soldiers of the Presidio deserted their posts! All were
maddened by the possibility of gold to be had, as easily as you ladies might
pluck up and gather flowers from your gardens…”

“And did you find any gold yourself, in those bounteous California
mines?” Miss Elizabeth sounded most skeptical, as Lizzie and Annabelle hung on
every word. Minnie noted that Mrs. Eliza was deep in conversation with the
young Mrs. Shaw – ah, from Philadelphia, she recollected. They must have
interests, if not kin in common. Richard and Cousin Peter were likewise deep in
converse together with Captain Shaw – matters of military import, both recent
and of a historic nature, Minnie assumed. Charlotte and Lydia appeared likewise
engaged in a converse most intense with a slender young gentleman who had also
been announced. Minnie gathered that he was Lydia’s intended, from the fond
manner in which Susan made him welcome to the parlor. She would have been more
interested in the lad – but for being fascinated in the tale which Pres
Devereaux had to tell.

(This is from the new work in progress: the Civil War novel, about the doings of Minnie Templeton Vining, tireless campaigner for the abolition of slavery before the war, and a nurse volunteer during it. In this chapter, Minnie has been left independently wealthy by the death of her father, and then of her oldest brother. She has decided to travel, and see something of the world.)

“Don’t fuss so, Richie,” Minnie chided Sophia’s seven-year old son, as she and Annabelle waited on the platform of the Lowell Street Station, that magnificent modern temple of commerce on Causeway and Lowell. The clamor of the busy station echoed around them; the shriek of steel wheels on rails, the gasp of steam escaping, newsboys shouting their wares. “We’ll only be gone for the summer. We’ll be back before you know it.”
She and Annabelle were to travel to Richmond by gradual stages and all the way by train, escorted by Cousin Peter and Annabelle’s son-in-law, Richard Brewer. Minnie had impatiently thrown back the black veil that draped her bonnet, and now a slight breeze from the harbor – wandering tentatively between the pillars which upheld the station roof, and the clattering engines with their burden of railcars – blew the ends of that veil to and fro. She and Annabelle wore the deep black of morning – although not the unrelieved shrouds suitable for widows, to Minnie’s great relief. She hated looking through a black fog of a veil.
“Don’t want Grammy to go ‘way!” Richie’s lower lip stuck out, mutinously, and he aimed a kick at the stack of trunks and carpetbags stacked next to Minnie and Annabelle and those friends and kin come to see them away. “Make her stay, Papa!” Sophia chided the boy, without any real conviction, but Richard shot out a swift arm and pulled the lad by his ear away from the luggage. Richie screwed up his face and yelped in pain.
“Stop that!” Richard commanded forcefully. “Behave like a young gentleman, Richie, or you’ll get a good thrashing over my knee!”
“Oh, you’re hurting him!” Sophia protested, while Minnie and Anabelle exchanged glances of mutual exasperation. Richie was a handsome lad, big for his age, well-mannered when he felt like it, but Minnie privately felt that Sophia mollycoddled and indulged him better than was good for his character; a young mother, and to date, Richie was the only chick in the Brewer family nest. Stubborn, willful and thoroughly spoiled, yet Richie was charming … when he wanted to be. Fortunately, Richard Brewer was not inclined toward indulgence.
“I’ll hurt more of him than his ear, if he doesn’t behave, my dear,” Richard sounded exasperated, even as Annabelle murmured, “All he hurt was his own toe, dear – I doubt that our luggage has any feelings at all.”
“It was an unmanly display of temper,” Richard retorted, in lawyerly dispassion. “And Richie is sufficiently old enough to learn not to give way to them. He is supposed to be the man of the house while I am away – not a spoilt infant.”
Minnie privately agreed with Richard – whom she had always found to be a sensible young man, sober beyond his years and yet graced with a puckish sense of humor which somewhat alleviated the solidity of his bearing and the burden of wealth and privilege. Her gaze fell with relief upon a pair off familiar figures, coming along the platform towards their party. To distract what she feared might become an unseemly public dispute, Minnie exclaimed,
“Look, it is the Reverend Doctor Slocomb, accompanying Cousin Peter! Dare I think that he has come to bid us farewell, or a safe journey? Or is he perhaps bound on a journey likewise? I would relish his company, if so – for his opinions and discourse are always so diverting!”
“I doubt that he can be parted so long from his adoring flock! Especially the ladies of the parish,” Annabelle observed, with a mischievous smile in Minnie’s direction. “Perhaps he is making an exception in your case, Minnie! You are, after all, an heiress to no small estate, and the good reverend is yet unwed…”
“Ridiculous!” Minnie snorted – for Annabelle would gently tease her about the handsome reverend – a half-decade Minnie’s junior, but his waving locks of dark hair already touched with gray, making him look as of he was her equal in years. And he was not unpleasing to look upon – nor was Minnie quite without susceptibility to male charms.
For the Reverend Slocomb was a man fully in command of those charms; a rugged physique, tall and broad of shoulder, a countenance in which the features of a classic Greek statue mingled appealingly with lively intelligence and charm. An passionate orator and of an abolitionist sympathies, his sermons in the pulpit of Beacon Street Congregationalist Church riveted the attention of all listeners, packed closely in the private pews and in the galleries – he had even had a collection of them published, and Minnie had purchased a copy from her allowance, although the late Judge waspishly described him as a producer of pretentious windbaggery sufficient to raise a Montgolfier balloon.
Now the Reverend Slocomb had spotted them – the party of three black-clad women, a man, and a small boy, with the towering mountain of trunks and carpetbags piled next to them on a pair of luggage barrows.
“My dearest Miss Vining!” he exclaimed, advancing and abeam with smiles, deftly evading a newsboy with his basket of fruit and sheaf of newspapers. The Reverend bowed over her hand, all honest and friendly affection. “Mrs. Vining, Mr. Brewer – good day to you all! My dear old friend Mr. Peter Vining tells me that you are departing with him on a journey of some time!”
“To visit kin,” Minnie couldn’t help but smile, and hoped that she was not pinkening – for Annabelle would tease her privately over that. “We will be in Richmond for almost two months – the length of summer. We felt the need of a change of scenery, and I am …”
“Tired of Boston?” Reverend Slocomb kept her gloved hand still imprisoned within his. Minnie felt the warmth of his regard, the appeal of his consideration and resisted the impulse to simper like a schoolgirl. Meanwhile, Cousin Peter Vining, advancing at a somewhat slower pace, leaning as he did on his trusty cane, flashed a boyish grin at the party.
“Belle, dear – Minnie! Richard, you young scamp! Here I am, better late than never. They were afraid I would be late for the train, pestiferous invention, yet better than marching all the way! Had you despaired of my arrival?”
Minnie flashed a brief smile at the Reverend Slocomb, sliding her hand out of his with a grace that obliviated any lack of manners. Cousin Peter Vining was over the allotted age of fourscore and ten and increasingly lame from toes lost to frostbite in the bitter cold of a winter encampment when he was a mere lad in the Revolution, although otherwise wiry and spry. Yet, in defiance of those years, and unlike the Reverend Slocomb, Cousin Peter still contrived to appear younger than his calendar age. It was in his eyes, Minnie had always thought – the lively interest and energy of her father’s younger cousin. Cousin Peter was raised in Milford in Delaware, and at the age of seventeen had followed Washington with stubborn devotion, marched south with the Delaware regiments and fought at Cowpens. The spirit of independence burned with a white-hot fervor in Cousin Peter – perhaps that kept him still young, after all those travails in his youth. It was his oldest daughter Susan, and her husband who had invited them all for a long visit – Minnie privately hoped that Cousin Peter was yet strong enough to endure the journey without damage to his health, for all that they had planned to do it in leisurely stages, and rest for a day or so between.
“An adventure!” Cousin Peter kissed Minnie’s hand, and then Annabelle’s. “I have never outgrown a taste for adventure! And Susan is my dearest child, and I long to see her again, one more time. She has six handsome children, and she sent me the loveliest letter some weeks ago – her eldest, Lydia, is collecting a button-string; a button from each of her relations! We can indulge Lydia with the very finest and most personal buttons, I daresay.”
“We can, indeed,” Minnie pushed back her bonnet sufficiently so that she could also kiss Cousin Peter on his age-withered cheek. “And we can present them personally, of course. I am anticipating this visit with such longing! It is not that I am tired of Boston,” Minnie added, with a sideways smile at the Reverend Slocomb. “But one longs, sometimes, for other vistas … other sights! I decline to rusticate away, to the point where I do not dare set foot outside my own doorstep, lest I encounter some unfamiliar sight and swoon out of fright at the strangeness of it all.”
“You were the perfect dutiful daughter, ministering to Ly, and then to Horace and George in these last years,” Cousin Peter murmured, his voice husky with suppressed emotion. “Eh – and you are well-deserving of a holiday, my dear Minnie.”
“A perfect saint,” the Reverend Slocomb added. “A model of daughterly and sisterly devotion – we shall miss your presence at our devotions, and in the good work performed by the good ladies of the congregation, Miss Vining. Hurry back to Boston, as soon as you may … your return will be an event much longed-for … I speak personally, of course. Although I am certain that the other ladies will welcome you home …”
“I am certain that they will,” Annabelle pursed her lips, just barely amending the cynical smirk in which they had originally arranged themselves. “We well know the degree of respect in which Miss Vining is held by the good ladies of the Beacon Street Church.”
Minnie just barely held herself back from sticking out her tongue at Annabelle – her oldest and dearest friend, who knew well where to jab the sharp needle of her teasing. An affectionate tease, for the most part – but Annabelle’s aim was as always, unerring.
“I have no apprehension when it comes to telling ladies like Lolly Bard when they are being silly geese,” Minnie retorted. “And that appears to be the source of the intelligence that I am respected among them,”
“Touche, Aunt Minnie,” Richard Brewer grinned. “A hit, a very palpable hit … I believe that is now our carriage, and now is the time to mount it – that is, if we wish to gain favorable seats for our party.”
“Lead the way,” They made their farewells to the Reverend Slocomb; Richard embraced his son – who seemed now merely sullen – and Sophia, bravely stifling tears. What he murmured to them was private, not for the ears of anyone else. In a spirit of rebellion, Minnie left the black veil hanging back over her shoulders, as Richard offered her his arm, and Cousin Peter did the same with Annabelle. Richard snapped his fingers at the porter with his barrow, already taking up the long handles, as another porter lingered, asking if he could be of service. Now was the moment of departure.

10. June 2019 · Comments Off on Adventures in the Indy Author Trade · Categories: Uncategorized

The Daughter Unit and I spent most of Saturday morning in the lovely little town of Wimberley, Texas. Wimberley is situated on a particularly scenic stretch of the Blanco River, in the hills to the west of San Marcos. It’s closer to Austin than to San Antonio and seems to have become even more of a weekend tourist draw, since we first visited it in the late 1990ies. Then there were just a handful of little shops catering to tourists, and one restaurant with had memorable hamburgers and an outside deck which overlooked the riverbank, all grown with cypress trees, great and green. There were a fair number of hippie artisan types; potters, glass-blowers, metal-fabricators and the like, plus the usual number of antique shops, which tended more towards the ‘quaint old country junk’ side of the scale. On the first Saturday of the month, Wimberley stages a mammoth open-air market – something we’ve been to a number of times. It’s supposed to be the oldest and biggest one in Texas.
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