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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.

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(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

(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.

05. August 2019 · Comments Off on One Book To Rule Them All · Categories: Uncategorized

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.

25. July 2019 · Comments Off on Well, That Was Fun · Categories: Uncategorized

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
price.

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