A Story by M. Elizabeth Archer

Takes place in 19th century Georgia, uses one offensive word bleeped out.


Mary Calloway sat at her second-story window absorbing the moist August heat.  Locke's Two Treatises of Government lay open on her lap, but she had long since stopped reading; she was instead passing the long evening staring out at the cotton fields where the slaves were working mechanically at their tedious chores.  A few rather shy raps at the door awakened her from her loose trance.  "Come in, Margaret."

"I'm supposed to take the measures for yer weddin' dress, Miss Mary."

"Naturally."  The slave woman was unusually haggard for being in her thirties, but having cared for Mary and her brothers for so many years it was no surprise.

"Yergoin' to need to take your gown off, Miss Mary."

"Oh, yes."  She gestured Margaret away and slipped the cotton dress off herself.  The lightweight underdress was particularly comfortable in the Georgia summer heat.  "You can take the measurements now, Margaret."

The slave slid toward her.  "Don't let Master Calloway see ye with that book," she said, jerking her head in the direction of Two Treatises.  "Ye know that he don't like ye reading that sort."

"I'm a woman now, I'm entitled to read whatever I please."

"Yer still Master Calloway's daughter, Miss Mary, and yer soon to be a married woman."

"There is no need to remind me, Margaret."

"Oh, come now, Miss Mary.  Up with yer arms now.  Sure Master Cowell'll be a better husband than..."

"Man?  A better husband than he is man?"

"Enough with the arms, Miss Mary.  Master Cowell is just... Oh, here he comes now, I see the coach.  On with yer dress, then, ye don't want him to see ye like this."

Mary glanced down at her white undergarment and was reminded of another white dress she would don in three weeks time.  It made her sick.  "I never want him to see me like this, Margaret."  She looked out the window again as she gathered her casual dress.  "Why is he stopping?"

"A bit o' air?"

"No... Oh!  The rat!"

"What is it, Miss Mary?"  Margaret had rushed over to the window, apparently fearing some injuring on her behalf.

"He spit on her!  The rat spit on her!  That girl there, what is her name again, Cassie?  He... ugh!"  Mary slumped down into her chair by the window.  She thought that she heard a seam break on the dress that she was using to express her anger, but it meant nothing to her.  "I have to marry that- that- beast!"

"Calm yerself, Miss Mary.  It'll be fine, fine..."

"How old is she, Margaret?"

"Miss Mary..."

"Margaret, how old is she?"

"Eight years."

"Eight?"  She groaned.  "When I'm married to him, I'll see to it that he treats his negroes like his hired servants.  It's my obligation to fight for justice, that's what Locke says."  She snapped the book up and brandished it at her maid.  "It's my obligation!"

"That's right sweet o' ye, Miss Mary, but there ain't much ye can do."

Mary grimaced in silence for a moment, then stood and examined her dress.  "It's pitiful of me, Margaret, that I am sitting here feeling sorry for myself when that poor girl is out in the field working day after day with no better reward than that.  It's miserable, Margaret.  Negroes are humans as much as we whites."  She shook her head.  "You of all people know that.  But that girl, Cassie..?"  Margaret nodded.  "She is still being introduced to the cruelties of our world.  Do you think she understands it yet?  The prejudice, the hatred, the fear?"

"I don't know, Miss Mary."

"It's a hard world she's in."  Mary Calloway glanced again at the window as she slid on her dress.  "I pity her, Margaret."


Cassie perked up as she heard the sound of coach wheels coming down the dirt path.  "They expectin' anyone, Mama?"

"It don't matter, Cassie," her weary mother replied.  "Just keep workin'."

"Oh, it's Mass'r Cowell come to see Miss Mary!  I'm a'going to greet 'im."  She dropped the cotton she held in her arms and turned toward the road.

"No, Cassie!" her mother shouted, placing her load more gracefully on the ground and stumbling after her.

"Evenin', Mass'r Cowell," Cassie yelled as the coach passed her position in the cotton fields.

"Stop the coach!"  James Cowell leaned out of the vehicle and examined the girl.  "What right do you have to be talking to me, n*****?  Get back to work!"  He straightened himself in his seat and prepared to yell to the coachman to move.

"Just greetin' the guests, Mass'r Cowell."

Cowell poked his head out the window again and looked the girl in the eyes.   "Come here, n*****." 

She walked toward him.  "Yes, Mass'r Cowell?"

"You'd do well to learn your place, girl.  You know where that is?"

"The cotton fields, sir."

"Under our feet!"  He spit in her face.  She recoiled but said nothing, not out of fear but out of shock.  "Keep going!"

Cassie watched the coach disappear in silence.  The carriage left a cloud of dust, and it was mud that she wiped off of her face.

"Cassie!"  Her mother dragged her away from the road, a look of sorrow and disgust on her face.  "Oh, Cassie..."

"Is Miss Mary really goin' to marry him, Mama?"

The woman was surprised by the question, and answered it perhaps because of that.  "Yes, Cassie."

"She don't love him, do she, Mama?"

The slave sighed.  "It don't matter, Cassie."

"Why don't it matter?"

"Cassie, it just don't matter.  Get back to the cotton, Cassie."

"But why don't it matter, Mama?"

The mother stopped, turned around, and took both of her daughter's hands.  " 'Cause that's the way it works with them whites, Cassie.  Miss Mary's goin' to marry Mass'r Cowell 'cause it helps her father and his.  She don't get a choice."

"Did you and pa get a choice, Mama?"

"Yes, Cassie.  We wanted to marry each other."

"Will I get a choice, Mama?  Can I marry whoever I want?"

"As long as he's black, Cassie."

"It's kind o' sad, ye know.  The whites are s'posed to be the lucky 'uns, but they don't get to choose who they love."

"Cassie, yer a bit young to be thinkin' of them whites like that."

"It's what all the men say 'round the fire at night.  I think we have it better, ye know.  Miss Mary's gots to marry a man she don't love, and I can marry whoever I want."  Cassie looked up and the mother saw that she had not yet lost the youthful innocence that she knew her daughter could only retain for so long.  "I pity 'er, Mama."

© 2009 M. Elizabeth Archer

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This is a beautiful piece! It's so insightful, and it really makes you think, as you see it from the perspective of two people in very different positions. It makes the reader wonder who the lucky one really is. I found this story to be really well-written and powerful, wonderful job!

Posted 10 Years Ago

That was excellent.

I loved how you portrayed Mary's, for lack of a better word, idealism - we all know that would have been you back then! I also love the irony of Cassie's pity for Mary. It shows what a sweet, insightful child she is. Well done!!

Posted 11 Years Ago

The use of dialect seems a little bit inconsistent, like some times it's there and sometimes it's not. The characters seem a little bit out of place, the story really could use a little more length, and it just seems a little bit.... off, like the setting and characters don't quite fit together properly.

Posted 11 Years Ago

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Added on June 29, 2009


M. Elizabeth Archer
M. Elizabeth Archer


I have always had an interest in the fine arts, and I am hoping to refine my abilities by means of this website. I write short stories and poetry, and I am working on a novel, as well. I am also inv.. more..


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