SevenA Chapter by emily
Roy and I followed the path that led to the gardens behind the house. The flowers and shrubs were beautiful this time of year, but I had not suggested the venture for the scenery. The gardens backed up to the slave cabins, and I needed to see Isaiah.
I was not prepared, however, for the extraordinary guilt I felt the moment I stepped outside.
The slaves were singing, a sound I loved. I knew all the words by heart, though I had never sung them for myself. Before I left, I could sit outside for hours at a time listening to their sorrowful songs rise from the fields.
But today I was racked with nerves when I heard them sing. Isaiah’s voice rose above the others, and I heard Hannah (she had returned to the fields after finishing her morning house chores), Eli and Ruben, along with others, harmonizing with the low, sweet sound.
“Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children. Wade in the water. God's gonna trouble the water.”
I knew that song. I knew the meaning. It was the song they sang when someone was running away. Escape directions were hidden in the lyrics.
“If you don't believe I've been redeemed. God's gonna trouble the water. I want you to follow him on down to Jordan stream. God’s gonna trouble the water.”
I was panicking. Someone was leaving. It could be any one of my friends, but I knew who it would be. If anyone would try to escape now, it was Isaiah.
Slaves rarely succeeded in running from the plantation. As far as I knew, no one had dared try it since the last, almost two years before, an older man who later died from the beating he received from the overseer upon being caught.
I looked frantically around, hoping in the back of my mind that Roy did not notice my preoccupation. I had to get in contact with Isaiah before he did something stupid.
I tried to think of an excuse to be alone so I could leave a notch in the tree. Or, if I were really that desperate, I would sneak into the fields and find him.
However, it seemed I would not have to do anything so drastic. When I looked to the tree, freshly blooming and sitting at the far end of the garden where it met the cabins, there was already a fresh notch. And when I looked towards the fields, Isaiah was coming in.
“Adeline? Are you feeling all right?” I heard Roy ask. He had finally noticed how disoriented I was. I used this opportunity to my advantage.
“Well actually, Mr. McCalvin…”
“Please, Adeline,” he turned his scandalous gaze to me, “When we are away from your mother’s ears, you may call me Roy.” I nodded but winced inside. I did not at all like his calling me by my first name, or my calling him by his. It made me feel like he felt closer to me than he should.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Isaiah look at us. I smiled a little wider for show and reached out to touch Leroy’s arm. “Roy, then,” I started again, “it is only that the day is so hot and I am beginning to feel especially warm.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. The air was extraordinarily hot and sticky, and thick gray clouds were rolling in - a sure sign of a spring storm. “Perhaps we should go inside… or you could fetch me my fan….” I tried my best to sound flirtatious. I think he caught on.
“I’ll be back in just a moment then,” he said. “I would hate to end a walk with you, Miss Adeline.” He winked, or at least I think he did, before striding across the yard. I heard him bellowing at a slave to find my fan as I bounded to the barn that I had seen Isaiah enter.
He stood with his back to me, lifting a heavy bag of seed over his shoulder. I found myself completely unsure of how to address him.
“E-excuse me, Isaiah?” I called, stammering, across the barn.
He turned, unaffected by my presence. “What do you want, Adeline?” He wasn’t calling me Addy anymore, and it made me angry.
“I might ask you the same thing,” I snapped. “It was certainly not me who left the notch in the tree.”
He groaned as he shifted the bag from one shoulder to the other and looked at me, eying my impractical outfit. “You look ridiculous. You must be getting ready to marry that overdressed cad out there, if you’re already walking around in a cage.”
That stung. “This is what a lady wears when she is to entertain a guest. You’ve never seen it because it’s meant for gentleman callers, not stupid boys who come can only come in through the window.”
“Because for boys like that, I guess ladies like yourself would rather wear nothing at all,” he responded icily.
It felt like I had been hit. Isaiah had never attacked me like that. “You b*****d,” I growled at him, turning back towards the door.
“So you’re marrying the preacher’s son?” he asked to my back.
I wheeled around. “And you’re running away?”
He looked taken aback for just a second, and then returned to his skeptical, smooth face. It was a face he used when he was trying to seem more controlled than he really was. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“My question is more important.”
“Oh, of course it is! Of course, after last night I want nothing more than to hear about what you think is important!” He was being sarcastic, but I could see something other than amusement in his eyes.
I boiled over at that. “You have no right to be angry at me for not feeling the same way. I can’t help that, Isaiah!”
“Really? Well then what was the point of everything else then, huh?” he fumed. “Why did you follow me into the barn yesterday? Why didn’t you throw me out when I came in through your window last night? Why were you ready to sleep with me, but not ready to deal with anything that might be hard to do?”
“Because you’re a coward, that’s why, Adeline! You’re spiteful and promiscuous and cowardly.” He had never yelled at me like that, and I didn’t know what to say.
“Isaiah, I can’t lose you!” I said desperately, changing tones as I realized I was losing the argument.
“Well, why the hell not, Adeline? You’ve made it pretty damn clear that you don’t need me. Why don’t you save me the trouble of leaving and hurry up and marry the next pretty boy with his own plantation who rides by?” He had lost his uninterested air and I saw past his anger. Isaiah was afraid. He was worried that I really would really marry Roy. “I’m sure wherever you go you’ll find someone to replace me.” Isaiah was trying to sound bitter and sarcastic, but to me he just sounded broken and sad.
But still I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I would never leave him for anyone, especially Leroy McCalvin. I hated myself for it. I hated myself for looking him in the eyes and hurting him again and again to protect myself.
But I did it anyway. I hurt him.
“You’re right. Maybe I will.”
I turned and began to walk away from him.
Isaiah’s voice was incredibly hurt and I could tell he hadn’t meant what he said. I had been cruel last night, much crueler than he had ever been, and I knew Isaiah well enough to know he only lashed out at me when he really didn’t want me to know how much he was hurting. But I could not let him finish. I was breaking down and I would not be able to hold off the truth if Isaiah said something that got to me.
“You seem to be lost, sir,” I said without turning around. “You belong out there, in the fields,” I took a deep breath, “with the slaves.”
I did not turn back to see the look in his eyes when I delivered the final blow. I strode out of the barn without looking behind me.
I made it to the garden again with enough time to regain my composure before Roy returned. I did not let myself think about Isaiah or the hurtful things we had said. If I did, I knew I would break down right there in front of Roy.
So when Roy returned with a slave girl who was holding my fan and a glass of lemonade, I seemed more composed than I was when he last saw me.
I took the fan from the girl and batted it in front of my face. “Thank you Roy,” I said, putting a hand on his arm. “I do not know what I would do without you.”
As we walked, the song rose up again, sending a chill down my spine. Though I was not going to say anything myself, it was Roy who brought it up.
“How in the world do you put up with that?”
“Put up with what, Roy?” I said ignorantly, though somehow I knew what he was talking about.
“That singing,” he said sharply. “At our plantation,” for of course, even the preacher endorsed slavery, “we keep our slaves on more restrictive terms.”
I really should have agreed with him, kept smiling, and continued being the silly, clueless girl who Roy obviously thought I was. But I was not going to remain silent a moment longer.
“I think it’s a wonderful sound,” I said defiantly. “How else could we know how they feel?”
Roy scoffed. “Really, what could they possible feel?”
Isaiah’s face, full of emotion, full of pain and disappointment and heartbreak, came into focus in my mind. “Anything you can feel,” I insisted. I was going to be in very big trouble if Mama found out about this.
“Well,” Roy sniffed, “if that’s your opinion I won’t say anything more.”
And in my own small way, I knew I had won the battle.
Roy and I had walked about the grounds together for quite a while after the awkward argument. He seemed not to think of it again, but he was especially ignorant, I had noticed, and was probably able to put it from his mind and focus on the fact that he had a pretty girl on his arm and the sun was warm, making his life very fine indeed.
I was eventually rescued when the clouds that had been threatening all day closed in on the plantation and unleashed a violent downpour. Roy finally left, but with the unfortunate promise of another visit.
After he had gone, I felt completely consumed with annoyance and self-pity. I had excused myself to my room and sat, staring out at the rain and thinking of Isaiah and Roy and the awful predicament I had gotten myself into, until I was called down for dinner.
At dinner, Daddy and Ethan were talking politics. Roy, apparently, had gotten them all worked up into a fit about the Northerners.
“So you think there really will be a war?” Ethan asked our father excitedly. From what I heard from Mama in her letters, I knew war was the only topic any man cared for any more. Apparently, nearly everyone in the South was in an uproar about Yankee opposition to slavery, and some poor sap running for president was bearing the brunt of it by going after the issue. It was rumored that, with men like my father becoming more outraged by the day, a war would soon break out right in our own country.
“Oh I have no doubt, son!” Father nodded. They were excited to have the chance to fight for whatever cause they thought they stood for, and to get their hands on some northerners. “We southerners have always stood up for ourselves with a vengeance! No Yank is going to push us around, especially not that Lincoln fellow.”
I personally had no interest in the matter, but as far as I could tell neither succession nor war seemed to be the answer to this problem.
“You know what those Yankee boys really want, don’t you?” Ethan asked like he would tell us even if we knew.
“What dear?” Mama asked, her tone told us that she was completely uninterested in the subject.
“Well I’ll tell you what they want,” Daddy exclaimed, pounding on the table for emphasis. “They want to free our slaves! All they want is to take our slaves away from us so they cut off our resources! Hah! They think they’re so clever, thinkin’ they got the upper hand and…”
“Don’t they already have the upper hand?” I said a bit too loudly, in that they heard me at all. Everyone at the table looked up at me in shock. To disagree with Daddy and Ethan on this topic was to become a northerner myself.
“What exactly do you mean by that?” Daddy asked, as if he was not feeling the rage I saw in him.
“It’s… it’s nothing, Daddy.” I looked down at my plate, hoping I could get away with this. I was stupid to argue. I had no personal stake in the causes of the Yankees, but the way he had spoken of the slaves had angered me.
“No, if you have an opinion I’d like to hear it now.” His voice was firm. I had to continue if I did not want things to get worse.
But I really did not have a real opinion. I just knew the facts. “Well… I just think that the north is already ahead of us. Economically, I mean.”
If I would have told the truth: ‘well Daddy, I support the north because I am in love with a slave,’ they could not have looked any more shocked. I do not think any of them had ever heard me say as big a word as ‘economically.’ I was making it up as I went on. “They’re developing their… their industry while all there is down here is cotton and slaves.”
That was, in fact, how I really felt, and I had pushed Daddy too far.
“Adeline Dupree, no daughter of mine…” He stood and I automatically flinched away from him.
“Oh, sit down, Harold,” Mother said flatly, coming to my rescue, “you know she doesn’t mean it.” I did mean it though. I meant it with everything I had. I would never support the south if a war started.
My mother looked to me with icy eyes and I knew that she felt no sympathy. “Go on to bed, Adeline. We have had enough of your discussion for tonight.”
I nodded and turned, but I was not through.
“You sad old man.”
I heard Daddy’s chair scrape across the floor and I knew he would have come after me. But I heard Mama quietly say, “Harold, let her go,” and I knew I would not be punished tonight. I lifted my skirts and walked faster up the stairs, trying to get to my room before Mama lost her hold on Daddy.
I changed into my nightgown up in my room. It was still raining hard outside. In the mild climate of England I had forgotten the humid downpour of a late spring storm in Alabama. The thunder sent a shudder through the house and through my body. I was worried about Isaiah. I hoped he would not leave in this rain, if he really was leaving. I realized I had never really gotten any confirmation.
Long after the sky had gone black, there was a knock at my door and I slowly trudged over to open it. To my surprise, Hannah stood in the doorway. I thought she would not be speaking to me after our confrontation that morning. At least it was not her running away tonight.
“Your parents are talking about you,” she said, trying to keep her face blank.
“Talking?” I asked, “W-what about me.”
She opened her mouth like she wanted to say more. “Just… just go down there,” she said hurriedly. We were obviously still not on good terms, but at least warned me.
I had to know what they were talking about. After my show at dinner tonight, they were bound to have some less than pleasant things to say about me. But just in case it was more than that, if they knew something about Isaiah or my nights at the cabins, I had to be a step ahead of them.
I flew out of my room on quick, light feet. I stopped outside the half open door of our parlor. My parents sat with their backs to me, looking into the fire in the hearth.
“I don’t believe it, Susan. I know our daughter has been acting unlike herself, but I think it’s just that time in England talking. You can hardly really think…” Daddy said angrily.
“I’m telling you, Harold, I’ve seen her. There is something between her and that slave.”
I felt like my heart had stopped. A thousand terrified thoughts flew through my mind. I had made some fatal mistake. Now Mama knew. Now I had put Isaiah in the gravest danger yet.
I wanted to run to Isaiah and tell him, warn him, but I had to know what Mama knew and if Daddy would believe her.
“Now, what would make you think that?” Daddy had yet to be convinced. Maybe it would not go anywhere.
“I’ve been watching her, Harold.” Mama insisted. “I know. She’s too familiar with some of them, especially that girl who works in the house. But there’s one boy I worry about. I noticed a few instances before she left, she actually spoke to him.” Then it was my fault. “I think he may be the same one she was so close to when they were children.’
“That boy?” Daddy asked incredulously. He seemed completely disbelieving and I prayed it would stay that way. “I know which one he is. A good worker, that one, never gives a lick of trouble, not one!”
“Harold, I know what I’ve seen. Now, I had hoped she would meet a man in England and forget about it, but whatever was going on is still happening.”
“Harold, she followed him into the barn yesterday!” I could not see Daddy’s face, but he must have looked unconvinced.
“Something is going on and it could ruin our daughter,” Mama went on, more firmly, clearly aggravated that he was so disbelieving. “She is seventeen, she doesn’t know what she’s doing and we could all pay for it. If the McCalvin boy found out he would never take her.”
There was a long pause and I waited in agony to see what my father would say. “If you really believe that she is in danger, I will do whatever is required to keep our daughter safe,” Daddy said.
I knew he believed it too, and I felt more afraid than I had all night. Daddy was the one who would take action if necessary.
I saw a billow of smoke float above the back of his chair as he puffed his pipe. “What do you propose we do?”
“The boy cannot stay here. He needs to be eliminated,” Mama said seriously. It was a wonder they could not hear my heart pounding. “He has to be sold, even if nothing else happens.”
“And if they’re caught doing something more… serious?” The meaning in my father’s tone was clear.
I held my breath.
I could almost see the coldness in my mother’s eyes.
“You will kill him.”
© 2012 emily
Added on March 3, 2009
Last Updated on March 13, 2012
AboutHello all! My name is Emily, I'm 18, I am definitely not at home in this tiny MN town, and soon I will be the most famous author my generation. I go to Barnes and Noble to see where my book will sit .. more..
People who liked this story also liked..