Title: Thinking Too Much and Loving Not Enough
Email: [email protected]
Rating: PG-13 to R
Disclaimer: I do not own the character Queen, nor the book written by Alex Haley. (Best author of all time- in my biased opinion.)
Author's Note: This story centers around the young Soleil, a slave girl in the 19th century on a plantation in southern South Carolina. It also tends to show the viewpoints of her young white master a few years her senior, Maurice. The mood of this piece is varied from times being a variety of genres at times. It deals with mature subjects: rape, violence, bigotry, and profanity among other things. I apologize for the title; I'm rather horrible when it comes to making up names for stories. Enjoy.
A brown face, short of nose, full of pinkish-brown lips, and eyes greener than the field that stretched with fresh grass sprawling in front of the plantation, was bent over her young mistress's straw-colored locks. As a young lady's maid, her task was grooming the lady she was assigned to, the only young lady of the house. The Massa's blue-eyed and arrogant daughter-Annabelle Williamson.
She was prattling incessantly about the rejection of her long-time beau to a brunette, just as wealthy, a county away and her mood was rather distasteful. Soleil's brown hands braided the blond hair deftly, weaving her hands accompanied by azure silk hair ribbons. Her mistress, new as of a few months, was haughty, selfish, arrogant, and more than a little vain. But being accustomed, she bit her tongue. It was, in her opinion, her mistress's fault. Her consistent complaining and gossip in front of beaux was the main reason she had so few. Voicing her opinion was unspeakable, for her suggestions of softening her mistress's behavior led to her sharp tongue and than to her catty remarks and sarcasm on taking the advice of a slave girl for young white women matters.
Annabelle turned, as Soleil finished, admiring the skillful braiding of her lady's maid, and nodded satisfactorily. "Now Joseph is arriving soon. I want you to stay put, but be discreet. My brother, Maurice, will be arriving today from his half-year stay at Aunt Liana's plantation in North Carolina. I cannot wait for the next ball Joseph will be giving. I'll put that girl he is supposedly courting, Erma? Ella?"
Soleil nodded, brushing down her stiff calico skirt. "Miss Elma?"
Annabelle turned around, and gave a frustrated look. "Why is it that you nigras always know white folks business, and know it faster than we do?"
Her brown shoulders shrugged. "Don' know, Miss Annabelle."
Annabelle turned her frustrated eyes from Soleil, and to her dress. "This blue does not suit me at all. It looks green, and it makes my skin look like old cheese. And you did not lace me tighter like I asked. I swear! I'm running out of face powder, you must ask one of the maids to retrieve one for me. Speaking of which, I heard there is a cotton-white slave child farther in the South. In Alabama, I believe. Her name is Queen, of the son of the President Jackson's leading man, James Jackson. I tell you, men have got no sense mixing their blood with nigras…"
Heeding her mistress, Soleil did not bother to pay her any mind. She often said things and made statements that were far too in-depth, and although Soleil would not admit, a bit vulgar to be discussed. But Annabelle wished to air them to someone, and airing them she did. Things that could not be discussed in polite society, and sometimes things that were even barred from being whispered behind the delicate fans that Southern ladies used.
More than one time, did she say things that usually gave her a slight disrespectable image in front of most other girls her age. She had a reputation for being fast, catty, and haughty beyond belief, and so her visitors were usually male admirers, who wanted more than what she wanted to give outside of marriage. So she usually changed sets of beaux every few months. And while it made her a bit sad, for she never ceased to be attached to them, before they began to stop calling. It made her quite excited for meeting new people gave her an exotic thrill.
Joseph, was not respectable. In Soleil's biased opinion, no male was respectable. In her childhood, she was unfortunate to witness the rape of three slave girls, all of whom were close to her. And she, herself, was subjected to attempted rape in the previous mansion. Her white master had came up to her, with a proposition to be his concubine and to move into the "great house" with him. Although moving into the big house was a step ahead of moving from the weaving house, she was horrified at being subjected to his manhood every time he felt aroused. And she refused. Her master grew violent, and with a whip attempted to rape her. With her hand, she fought him, and got a hold of the whip, and lashed at him until he lost consciousness in the dark of night. Blood covered her, and him, and the floor of the weaving house. And shaken, she alerted her cabin mates in the next cabin. The male field hands waited, until he bled to death, and disposed of his body in the nearby river, tying stones so that he would sink to the bottom of the riverbed.
The mistress and his children went on a frantic search and did not find him to any avail. The mistress committed suicide, and the plantation was given to the eldest, while the well over one hundred slaves were split into a group of seventy. Thirty went to the auction block, and she was one of the thirty. After being on the block but for one day, she was sold to George Williamson, a man in his fifties, with gray hair, and gray eyes, skin rather wrinkled and walked with an ivory cane.
She had only lived on two plantations all her life that she had known. But the distant gossip of some slaves occasionally told her otherwise. She had whisperings that she, the young green-eyed slave with dark skin had lived on a plantation before. She had heard gossip that her father had been concubine of a white mistress, and her mother had died during childbirth. The mistress had been found by her husband to be pregnant and when she gave birth, the child was brownish yellow. The infant was smothered. The husband, enraged had a suspicion and sold the father and his daughter. He had been overly benevolent, considering most masters would have killed their slave, and in harsh cases the slave's children. She had never known her father, or rather, she did not remember him. And she was content on remaining oblivious of their existence. But sometimes, she became uneasy when hearing certain gossip and wondered curiously what her parents had been.
Opening the sash curtains of her mistress's bedroom, Soleil knew Joseph sat across the young Annabelle on the veranda. The house, Soleil thought, was very elegant. It was white, with twelve high columns. The three-story mansion had a total of seven bedrooms, two dining rooms, a kitchen, two parlors, a music room, a ballroom, and winding staircases. The windows were sizable, and the roof was flat. The unique thing about the house was that there were two staircases leading to the porch and the front of the house.
The air was humid, and as she squinted her eyes, she thought she saw an approaching figure in the distance. But glancing again, she realized it was merely a mirage. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she laid out her mistress's dining clothes, and remembered she had forgotten to offer tea to her mistress and her company.
She hurried downstairs, wearisome of Annabelle's wrath, and collecting the already set out tea tray, she quickly boiled water and placed tea bags in the full teakettle. On the tray she set a few strawberry pastries, freshly made by the cook, and headed out toward the veranda.
She walked through the front door, and to the porch, where Annabelle was fanning herself languidly as Joseph talked to her animatedly. Annabelle looked up, as if relieved for some distraction. Soleil perked her ears, as she heard someone approaching the porch from behind her, she placed the tea tray on the small oak table in front of the two.
She heard a male voice, "Good afternoon, Sir. Good afternoon, Annabelle."
Annabelle, was relieved to see this person behind her. And not her. Soleil should have known. She turned, and saw the young blondish-brown blue-gray gentleman take a seat next to his sister.
She took a look at him, he looked like George Williamson with a longish nose, fair skin, and darkish lashes, with a masculine build. She curtsied, always distrustful of males, out of respect. Men always and always would put her on edge for she knew or thought she knew their distrustful ways. His gaze wandered from her to his sister Annabelle.
"Your lady's maid?" he asked.
Annabelle nodded, and gestured pointedly. "A fine sort she is, obedient and quiet. You'd agree, Maurice. Her name is Soleil, a French West Indies sort. African, I believe . With green eyes, she might be a tad Indian. Imported from coastal France, her name means 'sun' or 'sunshine' in French. Something to do with the sun, I assure you. Father has gone into town and mother is retiring. This is Joseph, a…beau of mine. Brother? Did I mention Miss Erma? Miss Elma? Well I can never remember her name. She has taken to picking up my discarded beaux. Someone should tell her not to go through my laundry…"
She was talking much as usual. And Joseph was becoming faintly more interested in his teacup than the babbling fool sitting next to him, Soleil thought. No wonder Maurice looked similar to George Williamson, it was his older son of nineteen years of age, three years her senior. Soleil kept quiet, and was faintly surprise that when she bent to refill the teacup, someone had placed their cup first. She looked up and met his eyes. Poor Joseph, bored beyond recognition had resorted to moving his cup and nodding as a hint of participating conversation.
Soleil pitied him.
Maurice dreamt that night of a brown-skinned female, all dressed in silk buttercup muslin and a bewitching smile and eyes. He met her with his arms, and their lips met passionately before he awoke all sweating and half-asleep.
Now, seated in the kitchen, he felt no more less disoriented than he did after awaking. And she, Soleil, in his peripheral vision did not make him feel anymore at ease. In fact, he kept he his face downward to keep from watching her dart in and out of his vision.
Dreams of slaves aroused him and made him feel guilty, for white men were not to deal with their slaves in a physical sense. In church, the clergymen warned against it, claiming that it would lead them to the damnation of Hell. Fornication was a mortal sin. And since no respectable white woman would partake with him until the wedding band was secure on her finger, he digressed. His more secular teachers inferred he should use his slaves for his carnal needs, and while he contemplated it. He had mixed feelings about it.
His best companion, James, had long since had his first ordeal with a slave girl. A year his junior, dark brown eyes, and smooth dark skin. Three years before. The provocative account he brazenly swanked the day after made younger Maurice stir. And three years later he was not much above what he was.
" 'Scuse me." A faint French accent intercepted his thoughts. Soleil.
He looked up in time to see her brown hands swipe the coffee he had spilled on the table when he was thinking. And a faint scent of lavender was left in her wake. He automatically moved his hands from the table as they brushed her hip, and she finished. Farther away in the kitchen then before. It was quiet this morning. The scullery maid, who washed the crockery and cooking utensils, and the hall boy who cleaned the boots and the chamber pots were not to be up for another half hour, and so to pass the time…he spoke.
"It's a lovely morning."
She said nothing, only nodded and agreed with him.
"It's been long since I was up at sunrise." He commented.
She again said nothing, and continued to do work that was not hers. She was an unselfish creature, he noted. Up a full hour before the scullery maid, helping her with her work so that she might sleep in. Or maybe she was doing extra work so that she might retire during the day. At any rate, she would be a remarkable new member of the elegant house staff, an exclusively unselfish member. Lady's maid to his sister.
His annoyingly selfish and condescending sibling. Annabelle had not changed any during the last half year that he stayed at Aunt Liana's plantation, running orders for her. Who had taken to her grief when her late husband died from pneumonia, his second and harshest bout. He felt more responsible, giving orders as if it were his very own plantation. Being invited to occasional balls and dinner parties.
"You're a very unselfish member of our staff." He smiled to himself.
She grunted this time, and bit her lip, slipping from the room.
She was not very sociable. He noted, thinking her the perfect servant. She was pretty, quiet, obedient, generous toward other slaves. But there was one flaw to her. Her general quietude was quite uncomfortable. Or maybe she was uncomfortable.
She slipped back into the room, gracefully. Setting tea bags out.
"When did you wake?" he questioned, knowing it would make her reply with spoken words.
Her voice was feminine and light, and she held back a yawn before replying thickly. "An hour or so."
He nodded, noting her stressed pronunciation and excellent English. Someone must have taught her to speak, maybe write. "How long have you been with us?"
"Three months." She replied.
"Do you always wake earlier than the other servants?" he questioned.
Then the conversation took a pleasant change, she commented. "Moses's not up yet."
And an awkward feeling crept over him as he watched her subtle smile. Moses, his valet, and the equivalent to Annabelle's lady maid. What should she mind with his whereabouts and general business?
"No, I dressed myself. Sorry to say." He answered his eyes glued to her actions. She was calm, not noticing or pretending not to notice his awkward tone. "You are friends with my valet?"
She looked at him for once, her fixed gaze hawk-like. "No."
Feeling unnecessarily reprimanded for his meddlesome question and feeling like his sister, he apologized before thinking. "Sorry for asking."
Her voice was indifferent, and sounded like she was thwarting his apology, by justifying her position. "I'm your slave." There was no sense of pride in her comment, but of degradation.
She was treating him with contempt, and he felt it. And it made him feel uncomfortable. His position was much higher than hers. "What ever made you guess?" he responded, the moment spoiled by his sarcasm.
Her voice was tinged with a strange calm. "Didn't haf to." Her accent was prevalent and her spite was complete.
The weeks blurred into a month. And Soleil began to notice Maurice's closeness to her and she began to become anxious at his presence. One afternoon, she was sewing a button onto a blouse he had unmistakably removed the buttons from, most likely for an encounter with the lady's maid of Annabelle.
Her thoughts wandered to the night she killed her former master. Her only secret, and those of the two slaves she had been reared since birth. It frightened her sometimes, when she awoke in the dark of night to the remembrance of the blood that covered her and the floor, and the stench it produced, her stomach churned defiantly with the thought.
She closed her eyes to shut her mind away from the thought. Maurice had prompted all of this thought with his unnatural closeness and unwelcomed affection and unnecessary politeness. Why could masters not make their position easier of female slaves? They should heed their wives, not defenseless women revenue. If Maurice came close enough to her, she'd strike him. A good flogging would do for it. Or if lenient, intense labor in the fields or heavy housework. She would not kill him, unless he suggested her to submit to him with force.
It frightened her sometimes, whom someone would find her master and the slaves that she confided in would bring her in, and she would undoubtedly be hung, without the trial. But she did not bother to worry about it. It had happened more than half a year before, and the slaves were all in a different household. Except a few, specifically the one, Ephraim, that was a field hand that had helped her in her murder. A childhood friend, one who admired her, and wanted to court her to which she tactfully declined. He was now courting a young woman on the plantation of the neighboring plantation. He was a dear friend of Moses, to which she wrinkled her nose in disgust. His haughty manner repulsed her, to which he increased in her presence.
She strained her ears to hear of footsteps in the hall, and she stood hearing someone approaching. She bent her head down to the shirt, and turning so that she could not see who walked in.
"Good afternoon." The voice was calm, and a little more than confident.
She squared her jaw and turned, feeling foolishly coward. If Maurice wanted to be excessive polite, it would not seduce her. He was merely spending his time recklessly; it would yield no results with her. So she responded with neutrality, she was silent.
"I'm sorry buttons came off. I would not have called you away from waiting on my sister."
His apologies rankled her, subduing her by kindness would not strangle her rigid ness. He smiled calmly, and asked. "Are you having a very difficult time?"
She shook her head, as he closed the door to the parlor room, and she stood, searching the room for a close weapon, and she held the needle in her slender fingers, dropping the thimble.
He watched her actions, slightly amused.
"I think I may har' Miss Annabelle callin' for me." She met his fixed gaze.
"She won't mind you being late. I've came to talk, perhaps suggest something?" he questioned, his cocky smile and blue-gray eyes bright.
She nodded her anxious consent, and watching her darted gaze, he gestured her to sit by him, as he was eased on the elaborate brown parlor armchair. She hesitantly wavered before he asked her again, in a gentler tone. She clutched the blouse with both hands, forgetting the needle in her hand, and let out a small cry as a bright red drop surfaced.
The master was swifter than she liked, and he wiped his blue handkerchief across her finger and against her silent protests, he brought his lips to her fingers, to which he placed a small kiss, to which she withdrew. His hurt expression and absent apology stirred little guilt in her hardened bosom.
"I came here to talk. And." he glanced at the door briefly. "I've seen you from a far. And I've come to admire you."
Her hawk-like gaze answered him, and so he continued.
"But first answer me, since I am more of your master than my distant father. What is your relationship to Moses? And this new field hand…Ephraim?"
She lowered her gaze, a surge of sisterly affection for Ephraim. "Moses's close friend to somebody good to me."
"Ephraim?" his voice was too concerned to conceal his jealousy.
She nodded. "Yes."
"Is your friendship with this Negro boy platonic?"
She replied that she did not know what he meant, and he repeated. "Is it only friendship?"
She thought, wanting to cause him worry. A thought to lie passed her mind, but she was sure he would question Ephraim, and so she digressed. "Yes."
He drew back into his chair and commanded with a firmness that startlingly shook her, so that he may see her hand. And cautiously, she placed her pricked hand unto the rest of the armchair. He took it, and held it softly. Contrasting to his firm voice.
"Why are you trembling?" he paused after a moment.
She looked up, from her lap, and replied. "You scare me, Massa Maurice."
His bitter laughter ensued. "Why, frightened you? I only want to…" then he turned toward the door and lowered his voice. "I only want to talk."
His caressing actions spoke otherwise, and she stirred before replying. "Haven't been talkin' much, Massa."
"I know. I want you." He spoke in bland tones. And he brought his smooth lips against hers, to which he touched her face gently. She trembled, knowing he would take her on the parlor floor.
"Never!" She whispered harshly, withdrawing from his heavy breathing and wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve.
He gazed at her awkwardly before mumbling about wanting all of her. Not just lust to which she muttered her status as a slave. And insult heightened it. A slave refusing his suggestion!
"Damn you! I'm asking you to be on par with me! Don't you understand, Soleil?" he whispered angrily, his voice shaking with suppressed frustration.
"Yessir. But I'm virtu'us, sir. And I've es'purienced the sort of askin' for favors 'fore, sir."
He nodded, "You fetched a price on the auction block. For being pretty, of course. But also, for your virtuous character. And your chastity."
"Kill me ova' it." She responded icily.
"I won't." he smiled softly, standing and opening the door; he turned to look over his shoulder. "I'll want you. And you will accept."
The days passed since Massa Maurice's blatant proposal, and Soleil was nonetheless very suspicious. Keeping more to her mistress, Annabelle, than ever. Annabelle would head upstairs for a bath and she would follow. Annabelle would sleep, and she would stay awake, straining to hear Massa Maurice's movements. She would be afraid to be awake in the morning before the other servants for fear that Maurice would be in the kitchen once more. And the uncomfortable tension that followed him.
Maurice on the other hand, considerably withdrew from her. Creating distance, and what he thought was to give her sometime to think over what he offered. Knowing her not be to a foolish girl, he wavered. Almost wanting to take it back, and feeling rather guilty. He was exploiting her, yes. But, he grew up in slavery all his life, and attempted to rationalize his behavior. And he kept with him the secret of his father and his whims with various slave girls on other plantations. And that Negro woman he kept stationed and furnished in Louisiana.
He had come across the information accidentally. Searching through his father's study for the account book, and ran across a leather-bound book, and when he opened it, loose papers fell, and he, curious began to read. It was his father's journal, dated a few months before. It had shocked him, yes. And perhaps maybe repulsed him. For he did not want to see his father as adulterous. The fact that his father mentioned an associate in Shreveport to which he stayed with, an obvious lie, did not cross his mind 'til later. He only felt relieved that he was not the only white male that found Negro woman attractive.
His father was in Louisiana, at the moment, as he thought. Leaning back, he took his quill and idly began writing the names of all the girls he had ever considered attractive to distract himself from his thoughts. The majority of them were Negro women. And he looked down, and laughed aloud to himself. He had written Soleil twice on the list. Then he dropped the quill.
Her green eyes. Black hair to which she kept in a light turban, to which she sometimes removed. And her prefect frown, to which she kept in his presence. And he thought she would always be in the back of his mind.
Miss Annabelle was being placid this evening. Probably because Mista' Joseph asked her to an upcoming ball to which she accepted. Soleil prayed that it would take place on a Friday evening, for if she left on a Saturday night; Maurice's proposal might resurface. And his behavior might be unthinkable. At any rate, she was placid, and loaned a pretty gown to Soleil, without her mother's knowledge. On the grounds that Soleil would find out all she could on the young lady, Miss Elma. Or as Annabelle claimed "that distasteful brunette."
The gown was lavender with white bows, and not very old. And so not to arouse the bitter dissension of being a pampered house Negro. She requested that her friend Ephraim come to the side of the house, the back entrance, to which would be deserted that evening. Missus was at a Saturday night musicale hosted by some ladies in her sewing circle. And the Massa Williamson was handling business in Louisiana again. She fixed her hair in a becoming attraction to which Annabelle constantly replied. "You set such a store by your hair. In fact, if it were a religion you'd become a nun to it." This of course, made her laugh a confused and bewildered laugh, for nuns were a part of a white religion, Catholicism, to which she did not truly understand.
Massa Maurice had seen her past the open study, to which she fled across quick as possible, before he asked to see her. She turned, slowly, and hesitated, close enough to the door, but not close enough to slip out. She backed up and stood in the doorway, her hands folded in front of her. Her green eyes blazing.
Maurice thought she looked like an angelic doll, her hands folded sweetly, and her demure demeanor, until her seething eyes burned like charcoals. "You look becoming. But pray, where are you headed to, prancing around in my sister's gown?"
She gazed at him, passed the windows, and toward the very distant firelight that showed the slave cabins were already underway for the Saturday night ritual of visiting on neighboring plantations. Then she gazed back towards him, who had a smug smile, and she dreaded he would find something to do, that would keep her from leaving. He owned her, and she would have to listen, at least for now.
"To visit otha' fiel' 'ands. My Miss already 'proved. 'Fact, she tole me to wear somethin' gor'shous." She forgot about her contempt, and she pressed her hands against the fabric, lovingly.
"It suits you." He complimented quietly, seeing her soft smile. "But, who are you going to visit?"
She furrowed her brows. "Your ma already 'proved for she left. She said to visit the fiel' 'ands, and make friends wit' them. 'Specially…" she remembered who she was talking to and she closed her lips quickly, knowing that he knew who she meant.
"Field hands?" he asked, turning to the window, and looking out his back towards her. She was grateful he could not see her face, or she would certainly have been reprimanded.
"Especially Ephraim?" he questioned quietly.
Her defenses played in her mind. "The Missus already fine by it. Ephraim's good to me. He a good friend by me."
He nodded slowly. "I am your master. I'm better to you." He sighed, watching her objecting silent expression. "You may go, come by my study after your visit."
She nodded, and turned. Hoping Miss Annabelle would still be awake when she returned.
Soleil sat on the top step of the back entrance, Ephraim sitting on the lowest and third step, and she smiled. She had waited for him for sometime, and now he was here and a little more than out of breath. And she was amused, and she reached out affectionately and straightened his collar, to which he probably mended himself. And she laughed; he had done a horrible job.
"Should get me to sew it." She commented.
His light brown eyes danced, and he lowered his head embarrassed. "Oh, I kno'. Did bes' I cou'd."
She smiled. "I kin get you a better shirt, already mend'd." She thought of Maurice's shirts, the many she had seen pausing to help the laundresses.
He shook his head. "Tha' butla' Walter. He 'ranged to gimme some of his old ones."
She nodded. "Jus' send me clothes that need mendin'."
He laughed, this time. "I haf' to 'splain that ter Ma. She ain't gon' like some girl. 'Notha girl 'sides Nancy ter fix up my dressins.
She nodded. His mother always favored Nancy over her. Naturally, she had known Nancy longer. "How's Nancy? 'Sprised you ain't over to the otha' plantation to visit her. Why come see me?"
His eyes dancing he replied. " 'Cause I haven't seen you in a time. Don't care 'bout your ole Ephraim no mo'."
She stared at him deeply. "I've been with Miss Annabelle. She busy these days, runnin' roun' with Joseph, 'notha gen'nleman."
He looked at her calmly. "Dey said, in the slave quarders, that Miss Annabelle fas'. She got lots of gen'nlemens wanderin' 'roun. But dey say dat she fabor Joseph most. Dey said dat Miss Annabelle keepin' you lock'd up in dat mansion wit' her and the Missus. Nancy say that the Massa, her Massa kno' that yo' Massa got shady dealin' in Louisianna. Dat he got some slave dere, that he don' wat that Missus to kno' 'bout."
She stopped short. "He does?"
He listened to her. "Yo' talk always so 'ronounced."
She overlooked is obvious and playful insult. "He does?"
He shrugged, knowing she was thinking of their plantation. And the secret it held. "Yo' ain't in troble. Dey say dat dat's tha' onliest nigger woman he mess with. He been doin' it fo' 'bout three yurs. 'Sides I kill him, befo' you, if he touch you. Like…" and she cut him off abruptly with her finger against his lips and her eyes closed.
She shook her head swiftly, her recently heat-curled black hair in her eyes, to which she brushed back. She whispered harshly, ignoring his obvious blatant spoken affection. "It didn't go that way. I never kilt the Massa. He left an' never came back."
He nodded, listening to their concocted story that the plantation owners around them, and the auction block claimed to have happened. But together they knew what became of the master. How she struck him unconscious, how she killed him. How he bled to death. How Ephraim and a fellow slave, Maridum tied rocks to him, and disposed of him in the river.
She drew back, and looked up at the night sky. "Sometimes, I think…God leave me. I feel 'lone. Like the Devil get me fo' doin' that."
He looked at her balanced facial expression, but the tone in her voice conveyed worry, and her green eyes closed. "Sometimes, I think, my ma and pa up there. In the stars. They up wit' God, and dey kno' wat I done."
He touched her hand, and instead of withdrawing she wrapped her fingers around his hand. She needed this, this solace. He sighed. "He woulda hur' you if you letted 'im. 'Fact, you still woulda been hur'in. He ain't had no way to take you. 'Sides, you didn't really wan' to kill 'im. That's what you tole us."
She withdrew her hands, and covered her eyes. "I lied. I wan'ted to kill him. And I did. I got the Devil in me, and I wan'ted to kill him. And I didn't feel nothin' afta' it. I felt good afta' it. Like, he got wat it was he needed from me. He almost took it from me." And her hard green eyes bore holes through him that seemed to go through him.
He gazed at her curiously. The shock of her confession was almost overwhelming and he wrapped his arms around her, trying to comfort her. Then he heard footsteps, and looked up. The Massa Maurice.
Maurice gritted his teeth, and clenched his fist. He should've known that Soleil was being courted by Ephraim. He stared hard at their hands, and Ephraim, who Soleil moved from. He would make sure Ephraim did not appear around the back porch again, of that he was sure.
"Missus 'proved of me outside." He spoke quietly.
Maurice looked at the boy, with his broad and slightly pointed nose, his dark skin, and his light brown eyes to which made him all the more angered. She favored this Negro. A Negro over a white man. And one who was benevolent in giving her time to think. Time, which was spent, talking softly with a nigger boy who probably did not want her anymore than attraction.
This struck a new chord with him. She never talked that softly to him, and when she had, it was a harsh whisper of command. She never let him touch her without the harshest of words, and defiant eyes. And she was placing her gift of gentleness on a stupid Negro.
Soleil looked up, her green eyes hardened. "Miss Annabelle wants me?"
He looked around for any excuse to dismiss Ephraim. "Yes, she does. Ephraim, she must go now."
Soleil stood, as Ephraim stood, helping steady her as she rose. And Maurice, sickened, saw her subtle smile. And her lips moved softly, and sweetly about meeting him sometime in future. And then his anger was fulfilled when she let him kiss her on the forehead. He turned, seizing her roughly by the arm, so rough, that in fact, she cried out. And he shushed her, pulling her into the house, and latching the back door.
She closed her eyes, wondering how long Massa Maurice had stood there before commenting. If he had heard, she would regret speaking of it to the end of her days. Her arm ached when he had latched on to it like a talon of an eagle, and his hawk-like gaze did nothing calm her uneasiness. Her nervousness caused her heart to level itself with her ears until she was certain her temples would explode.
"Ephraim." He paused, and she wondered how he could convey so much jealousy and hatred in that one word. He now had an official rival. "I want you to explain to me what happened." His voice was cool, but she knew he was seething with rage. Out of the two, she preferred his rage.
"I was talkin' Massa Maurice." And as an afterthought she added. "Nothin' happened, if that's wat you wanna hur."
"No, tell me the truth." His voice shook with suppressed fury.
"Please," she entreated. "Ephraim did nothin' to me. I woulda not haf' let him. He, he a good friend to me. All my life long."
Her soft green eyes softened him, until he realized they were mentioning Ephraim. "You let this unintelligent nigger boy touch you, and if I so much as compliment you, you overlook me and flinch or worse, you ignore it. I offer you to be equal to me, and to give you presents and gowns that suit you." He looked down over the gown that fitted her torso. "But you are hesitant to choose, and you let a stupid nigger boy who has nothing but lascivious thought toward you touch you!"
She froze. "He don't have unclean thoughts like you, Massa."
He clenched his fist, his voice rising. "And as I am Massa now. You will submit and be respectful to me. I house you, feed you, give you decent clothes. I talk to you, listen to you. And he only talks with you to gain favor so that he may take advantage of you!"
"You may kill me ova it!" she spat, her voice dripping with disrespect.
He drug her to the study where he latched the door, her heart beating in her head. He placed a knife on the table in plain view, from the bureau of a drawer, and gracefully placed it inside his pocket, this to which she did not see. He stood in front of her.
"You are foolish, to prefer his stupid non-sensical talk to mine. His caress to mine." He continued hoarsely.
She stared at him. "It's 'cause he good to me. I care 'bout him. He not you, grateful I am."
"Are you listening to yourself, madwoman?" his voice raged, and his jealousy was complete. He held the knife to her neck. "Damn you, I'll sell him South tomorrow!"
She bit her lip, her master's anger was unknown to her, and more talk could certainly make that a promise. The knife only heightened her sense of fear and obedience. But her hatred toward him was too great for her self-control. "You sell me tomorrow too! Damn your soul for talkin' to me, touchin' me, for bein' my Massa. I'm repu'sed by you!"
And with that outburst of comment, she was met with a blow to her face, which she stood, and it caused her to reel back and she looked at him, the sting causing her eyes to water.
Maurice watched her, seeing her eyes water and he wavered, regret filling him. He wavered again, and fell on both knees, the knife clattering to the floor. He apologized profusely, promising to never commit such an act against her again, asking for her forgiveness, clutching the folds of her skirt. And he took her hand and kissed it, to which her hand slithered from his grasp, and she cradled her reddened skin, which tingled when she pressed it. She backed up, a foot or more. And looked down into his blue-gray eyes and was unnerved and more than aggravated to see his sincere guilt. "I'll forgive you. Don' sell Ephraim South." She finished slowly.
He looked up, to see her saddened face, which held a beautiful glow when she had been with Ephraim earlier. He became firm once again. "I won't, as long as I never see you make physical contact with Ephraim."
She thought, being very still. And gave a slight nod, before he stood, still grasping her hand, to which she tugged. "Stop wringing. I still want you. And I am a forbearing man, will you stop wringing! I am a forbearing man, and I am still waiting for your answer to my proposal."
She looked at him, for all his intelligence, he still did not understand that she would never accept.
A knock on the door surfaced, and Soleil grew quiet, as she whirled to the door. Maurice opened the door, commanding her with a sign to be quiet. And Annabelle stood, indignant.
"Soleil! So that is where you are! I strained my ears from the window to hear you voice, and I could not find you. I came here to ask my brother Maurice, and here you are having an idle conversation with him, and here I am attempting to fall asleep without your aide!"
Soleil turned, her red face causing curiousity in Annabelle, to which she replied she had gotten a little too close to the fireplace. Annabelle nodded, commenting that she must be more careful and turned motioning Soleil to follow her. To which she did and did not look back to a man that realized his jealousy drove her more away than any other emotion could have.
Soleil was glad. Miss Annabelle was out with her other beau, Thomas. And Maurice was occupied with a fellow golden-haired and gray-eyed friend, Flannery. His temper and rage would have to be checked since company was present, and she busied herself and slipping through the back door to the slave cabins to visit Ephraim and his dear mother. Sundays were always best for her. The work was exceedingly light for field hands, and house Negroes were given some time away. But usually it was their busy day. But arising early after a late night, she was a bit sluggish, and contemplated on napping or visiting Ephraim.
She choose to visit Ephraim.
And once again, Annabelle loaned her another, somewhat older dress to which Soleil had been mending for the past couple of weeks. For she had not seen Ephraim for a fortnight and she heard that Maridum, the former bondage man of Ephraim, might receive a pass from a neighboring Massa to come and visit.
She turned, looking behind her, and seeing no one, she resumed. The field was clear, and the riding stables were the other direction. The short walk was filled anxiety at the thought of explaining her whereabouts to the Massa. She reached the slave cabins with little difficulty, and knocked on the door. The little slave children playing with each other in the humid air, and her heart sank. The prettiest girl would be the most cursed. She shivered thinking of Maurice's proposal, and looked over the pasture, faraway from the cabins, and was glad to see the face of Ephraim.
He ushered her in, to where she bent over and kissed his mother's slightly withered cheek. Soleil smiled, and greeted his mother, who gave a small smile and nodded, before continuing to sew on some garbs for Ephraim's youngest brother.
"The Massa was mighty hot, las' I seen't you, Soleil." His voice calmed her, and she grinned.
"I kno'. The Massa, he didn't wan' his sista, Miss Annabelle, mad. She get mad quick as lightning.' An' she say, Soleil, where was you. And I shrug and say on da back porch. And she say I ben lookin' all the place for you. And I say sorry. And she laugh and pat my hand, real nice. And she say, I ain't dat ang'ry. Lez get ups'tors."
He glanced at her, feeling slightly uneasy. He had seen the hostile look of George Williamson's son, Maurice. And had seen her defiant expression, which she had carried much so at the last plantation. Rumors of the Massa havin' a girl in Louisiana did not make him feel any less at easy. In fact, he felt more protective over her because Maurice could sanction his behavior by the behavior of his father.
He commented quietly and slowly, for his mother was in the room and he did not wish for her to hear. "Lez go 'utside."
She followed him outside, where they sat side by side on the wide step, and he remarked with some regret.
"Dat dress too pretty fo' you t' be sittin' on walkin' steps."
She laughed. "I don' min'. Now finish your stor'ih." Her expression was of interest.
"Well, I were fixin' ter say, dat if you nee'd t' talk ter me, 'bout the Massa. You kin. I'm hur. 'Sides, somethin' 'bout him don' set right wit' me." He commented.
Her green eyes were expressionless, and she blinked before she touched her hand to his cheek. He was such a darlin.' And his compassion and his concern roused sisterly affection in her bosom, to which her smile beamed and lighted her face, and she threw her head back and laughed to the startled gazes of a few Negroes some feet from her and of Ephraim.
"Everythin's fine, in the big house. Massa Maurice is courtin' I think. Some gal in…" she paused to think, but in reality, to make up some plausible lie. "Some gal in…Florida."
"So far 'way. I was fo' sertin it would be some gal nearby." He mumbled, and she turned, so that he might not see the hidden truth of his statement.
His eyes followed hers, and she was looking over the pasture, preoccupied. "Let's head innard?" she suggested.
Soleil was seated in Ephraim's small shack, consisting of two beds and a small fireplace. A small rundown bureau was at the side, near the beds. It was her understanding that four males slept in this shack, and one of the beds was Ephraim's. Light still shone through the small window, which they placed a somewhat thick blanket over in the summer to keep gnats and mosquitoes from entering. And boards were to be nailed in the winter to keep out the snow and cold.
The door to the outside was left open to air the cabin and to let light in, for the cabin was dark. She sat on the floor, not caring to soil her dress, and near the door, he sat next to her. The atmosphere was quiet except for a few Negroes laughing and shouting with amusement over each other. Mostly it was somewhat quiet. The calm of Sunday night, in preparation for the grueling work on Monday was not lost on them, and Soleil felt relieved that she had been dismissed by Miss Annabelle for the afternoon for leisure.
Ephraim glanced at her and smiled. Nancy never incited in him this intense feeling of bond that he shared with Soleil, and for the time being, he regretted courting her. Soleil would always be close to him, in a way of mutual need.
She eased into his warmth and he relaxed, always he wished it would be this way between them, with no thought of Nancy or time. Only him and her, their friendship, and the calmness that lay on a early Sunday evening.
A shadow surfaced, and they both looked upwards into the face of a golden-haired and gray-eyed gentleman. Flannery.
"Soleil?" he asked, with little interest.
She nodded cautiously, Ephraim nor her never having seen the gentleman before. She moved closer to Ephraim. Flannery gazed into her dark emerald eyes and gave a small semblance of a smile.
"Maurice is looking for you, Soleil. He will not be pleased to know you are not preparing Annabelle's things for her return."
She nodded, and smiling to Ephraim awkwardly, she stood and bid him good-bye. Cautiously, he wavered after she left, then he went to the door to watch her return to the house.
Maurice was not there, to her relief. And she looked to the gray-eyed man that had been kind to her on their walk to the house. He muttered to himself words she could not hear, and he spoke to her briefly and awkwardly. For what could a white man discuss engagingly with a reticent female slave? He told her Maurice was stabling the horses, to which he added with a brief laugh that he was not as lazy as he seemed.
She nodded, and she wished no more to further the conversation. Males were distrustful, especially white males. All except Maridum and Ephraim. And she offered him a seat in the parlor to which he shook his head, and was content to wait at the back door for Maurice. He asked several questions, mostly about the time she had been in the household, and how she was faring with the old staff. She gave the expected answers that were too positive and upbeat than she cared to have showed. And then she forced herself a small smile. He was an amiable creature after all.
But Maurice had started friendly enough also, and now she was fearful of his licentious proposal and of her remaining virtue. Feeling uncomfortable, alone with a white male, she withdrew from the room and headed upstairs to Annabelle's room.
Annabelle was still not home. And the Missus was at the church for a meeting. Flannery was in the parlor with Massa Maurice, and she was in the kitchen, waiting for the lemon cakes she had learned to make, from a distant memory of a certain person she could not remember very well. Visiting Ephraim again would almost certainly mean a reprimand and punishment and she was becoming somewhat weary to Massa Maurice. Being alone, save for the butler who was in the servants' quarters in the attic, was unnerving. She would never trust males, especially white males. Them with all their talk of religion and good doing. Them who raped defenseless slave girls, some barely reaching their teens. Them who took concubines and produced children who were shunned. Them who damned the life of a slave girl.
Pouring the last of the tea, and balancing the warm tray, she walked swift as she could to the parlor room, wanting to make the ordeal finished as quick as possible. Then she realized, being one of the only one's on staff, she would have to sit through their incessant talk, in cased they wished anything else. And she sighed, a tired and weary sigh.
"…she told me nothing of her…encounter with that Negro-" Maurice spoke quietly, and looked up, pleased that the tea had finally been finished. But something else on the plate had been arranged, and he was surprised.
"Thank you, Soleil." He smiled to himself, stirring his tea.
"Pray, what are these?" Flannery asked, after swallowing a bite of the cakes. His gray eyes fell on her face placidly.
"Um…" all her thoughts left her, as Maurice's eyes bore holes through hers. "Le'mon cakes." Her pronunciation was slow, and thick but precise.
Flannery nodded, "You speak very well."
For a slave, she thought that he might add.
She did not comment to him, but stood, discreetly near the door, and began fiddling with her hands idly. The room was quiet, and she sensed they had been engaged in a conversation about slaves, possibly her.
"Where is Miss Williamson? I've not seen her once today. She was always with beaux…" he mentioned.
Maurice drank his tea before replying. "With one of her beaux."
Flannery nodded, "And Soleil?"
Maurice looked up questionably, at Soleil, then he gaze slid to Flannery. "I do not what you insinuate."
"Why, she's lovely." He commented, quietly, his fleeting gaze resting on her face. "She must be married, or at the very least engaged, to one of the Negroes on the plantation?"
Her head snapped, and focused on Flannery. And she had an awkward thought, obviously Massa Maurice had kept his proposal to himself. Probably to save his face. This Flannery, he must be surely reputable, if not for his comment on mentioning her beauty. The Missus should hear that, and her reprimand on treating slaves as equals would rattle the house for days on end.
The Missus was a woman, hard and quiet. She never really considered slaves as equals, for it was necessary for the institution to survive. There must be something about Negroes that kept them under the white man, and she believed it so. And having heard her, the first day she arrived, rattling to herself about the abhorrence of white males cavorting with slave women, (and she knowing nothing about her husband), she understood the Missus would be difficult, if not impossible to win over.
Then Soleil did an awkward motion, she laughed. And in the stillness and uncomfortable silence, she might as well have dropped a plate of crystalline glass was so their reaction.
Maurice cleared his throat and fiddled with the spoon in his teacup. "She'll never take with one of the boys. She's a very virtuous slave, and would be content to spend her days nurturing a Mammy relationship. You see, we fetched her, not for childbearing, but for a…obsession."
Flannery chuckled to himself, "…you mean 'possession'?"
And Soleil, quietly murmured. "Not so Massa. I plan to settle. Wit' someone."
To this Maurice's head snapped up to hers, and his gaze never left her defiant eyes, which, to distract herself focused on Flannery.
Flannery nodded, "So you must be engaged?"
Soleil shook her head, "No, no Massa Flan'ry. I ain't enagash'd."
He smiled, and muttered. "I see. Well I hope you find this plantation as enjoyable as I have."
She eyed his smile suspiciously, and nodded with obedience. "I hope I will all'so Massa Flan'ry."
"Soleil?" a soft whisper wound its way through Annabelle's door, and fell upon the attentive ears of she, who was preparing Annabelle's nightgown and vanity for bed. She was to be home any time, and the Missus, she through gullible convincing of Soleil, was assured Annabelle was in bed. And the Missus had retired shortly thereafter. Buggy riding after dark was highly scandalous. Soleil felt somewhat grateful for Annabelle, for she was always loaning her somewhat old dresses, and giving her old cast-downs to wear and mend so that it suited her.
But the voice was not Annabelle's and she froze, hearing Maurice through the door. And she moved stealthily, turning the lamp down, and positioned herself to feign sleep. But he whispered again, and to her dismay he stepped in.
"You must be awake. I noticed the light quickly diminished. I want to ask about Annabelle." His voice whispered, knowing his mother was not very far down the hall.
She pretended to stir, to which he in his exasperation told her plainly that he didn't intend to come to her for any purpose than to ask for his sister's whereabouts. Hesitantly, she rose, and he noticed the semi-long length of her black hair that fell past her shoulders. She muttered about Annabelle meeting with Mista' Joseph for buggy-riding, and he gritted his teeth, mumbling about "skinning that [something or other] of a man alive."
Soleil smiled, remembering Maridum and Ephraim saying something of the like about her last Massa's advances. And thinking that she was smiling to his words, Maurice began to realize the loveliness of her grin, and instead of reaching for the doorknob, he began to grope the wall for it. And she turned so that he could not see her carefully concealed beam at his idiocy.
"Then, " he turned, and realized she was not facing him. "I think we should wait in the parlor for her."
She sat perfectly still, hearing the small chime of the grandfather clock, and the two soft candles made the room rather dim. It was a couple hours before midnight, and Maurice waited patiently as Soleil sat on the couch opposite to Maurice.
"Forgive me, Soleil…for striking you." He apologized contritely.
She didn't move, or even look up, she merely shifted in her seat, and sighed tiredly.
"I'm willing to wait for your decision. I'll wait as long as it will take you to decide on whether on not you will have me. I haven't heard of you cavorting with that Negro boy Ephraim. And I'm glad you kept your end of the bargain. I still will not sell him South. In fact, I'm considering buying one of Ephraim's former acquaintances. A Negro named Maridum."
She didn't move, though through the dimness he could see her subtle grin. And he wondered curiously why she would grin, she didn't seem to know Maridum. Never did she mention him, and so he concluded uneasily that she must think he was doing so on a charitable act by Ephraim. To which he wanted to give anything but charity or kindness.
He spoke again. "But I will probably not buy him, it is exclusively unlikely." And he watched her smile still surface.
Then he realized, squinting that her eyes were half-closed, and she was humming quietly to herself. And sad melodies at that, for the long drawn-out hums were lulling, and he listened, they were so faint. She had not been listening.
"Soleil?" he spoke, and abruptly her humming stopped.
He was relieved to find her attention, and he saw her open her eyes, and slid them to the sewing box, to which she picked up and began fiddling idly with the different spools of thread and colored yarn.
"I want you to know that I will wait patiently on your decision. I'm giving you time to think over your choice, for if you accept I will be content to give you your own cabin. Or if you wish, I would suit one of our guest rooms for you. I'll be pleased to give you new gowns, and hair ornaments, perfumes, and shoes. We may dine together, at night and very early in the morning. You see, you can expect all of these when you accept. I'll be content to have you with me, and when my father is buried and the house will become mine, I'll have our bedrooms adjoined. All I ask is that you will have me." He dared to breathe, and she let out a long and weary sigh.
She was still fiddling with the yarn, wrapping loose strands around her index fingers. "I wish to be virtu'us. And Massas get marrih'd all the times. Den the new Missus wou'd sell me South. And the Missus now, she won't let me haf' you noways. 'Sides, I'm yo' slave. And she'll sell me South if she fin' us out. Anyways, I don't want you."
He nodded slowly. "If you become with me, then I'd never get married. We would be married, not legally, nor lawfully. But if you wish, I'd have us elope in France, and we'd be married in the Church there. No one has to know. And we'll live here together, and if you have children, they'd live here also."
Her eyes blazed, "Iffen we ever had childrens, they be yours too!"
He nodded, "Of course. And I wouldn't deny their paternal relations. And if life got to difficult for them here, we'd move to France. I know you were born there."
"Would we be free?" she questioned whispering.
He nodded, "Of course, and I'd give you papers to justify it."
She weighed her options, slaves so little got the chance for freedom. And now it was being offered to her. So many slaves had died, and been maimed for life for trying to reach freedom and being brought back into the chains of slavery, more dead than alive. And usually being whipped to the point that death seemed a luxury than to face salt-covered lacerations.
Then again, Massas lied all the time, and she might just become a regular concubine. And if she refused thereafter, she might receive routine whippings to halt her resistance, and her children might be sold all South and she might be sold also, if the Massa ever decided to get married to a white woman. So many tales of slave concubines that wished to the lifelong affections of their Massas and ended being cast aside, or worse sold because of vain jealousies. But…freedom.
Life was altogether complex.
She shifted in the silence that followed, slowly, and replied. "I neigh'd to thin'k. I want to be virtu'us."
He sauntered to her seat, and knelt on the floor next to her, and she found her hands in his. "You can be still. I'll wait on you however long it may take you. You can accept and still be chaste."
She mumbled. "Why cain't you take some white woman, and marrih her?" then a lower voice still she inquired. "Why allus me?"
" Because I find you attractive. Do you not know, Soleil, what it feels to want someone so dearly that you would gladly give your reputation and your blood for them? Do you know that I think of you often, that you cross my mind every time I think of our slaves on this plantation? When I think of my first child, I think of you as the mother and smile when you smile. I see you, jealous I am, with Ephraim. Your sweetest smile given to him who embraced it and bathed into it lavishly while I stood behind you and seethed. I wanted you to lavish me with the same attentiveness that you bestowed on him, how your eyes never left his. Your brightest smiles and your softest whispers all given to him while I pretended not to notice. You let him touch you, and worse still, you let him kiss you! And my blood boils to think of it!"
And his hands gripped hers much harder, and she felt his uncomfortable and suffocating grip, to which she tugged, but he did not release her.
"I wanted, I want to know you. To know your body, yes. I dreamt about you, your body and dark brown skin with mine, and your long black hair, and green eyes. Yes, I want to know your body. But I also want your mind, I want to know what you like and what you don't like, and I want to know how you think and what you think about. I want to listen to you tell me of memories that are distant and memories that are close to you. And want to know your dreams and your wishes and all that revolves behind those intriguing eyes of yours."
"Massa Maurice, I'm tired." Her accent was prevalent, and her voice was a tone of ennui and distraction. And his pleading eyes did nothing to arouse any sentiment in her, in fact she was becoming annoyed with his subtle way to subdue her into complying and she felt irritated because it was a waste of their time. He was obsessed with lust that she could focus on, and if he did so much as touch her explicitly, she'd find a cowhide whip and use it to her specific liking. For now, she'd have to concentrate on removing his hands, which his grip was becoming very rough. She tugged, and he realized her hands and mumbled an apology.
"Massa Maurice, have you…'formed Flannery of your 'cision?"
He shook his head negatively and she nodded, confirming her belief that Massa Flannery was respectable and would probably frown upon such things as his proposal. And she breathed a sigh of relief, one white male that she found reputable, at least for now. She was certain she would hear more on his character at a later time.
"Shhh…" he whispered quietly, ending his soliloquy. "Annabelle is coming. She'll check the parlor first, she slips her shoes off in the light, and the ascends the stairs barefoot to cause less noise."
Soleil nodded, and a blond-haired girl walked in, startled to see Maurice and Soleil, their eyes glued on her, expecting explanation. She gave a forced smile, and motioned for Soleil to stand and follow her.
"Annabelle! Mother will beat us all if she knew how late you arrived home!" he whispered harshly. "Don't do it again. I have half a mind to tattle, like you did on so many occasions. And Joseph encouraged this?"
Annabelle shook her head. "I was out buggy-riding and it was late, so he encouraged me to stay for dinner, then the butler and he drove me home. By the way, thank you Maurice for covering for me. I passed Miss Elma clinging onto Flannery, that disreputable friend of yours. And I had half a mind to spit on her for all her desperate attempts for friendship and silly words."
Soleil grinned at her mistress's blatant insult and listened as Maurice replied. "I didn't lie for you this time or even half-lie. Soleil was the excellent actress this evening."
Annabelle turned to her, with eyes of satisfaction and a hint of gratitude. "Thank you, Soleil. By the way, I passed that boy you always happen to talk to…Ephraim…when I was walking out the door earlier this evening. And he mentioned that you like to weave. And I thought about asking you to the weaving house, maybe you could help there on some afternoons? I couldn't give you up, my dear! Never, any of my ladies maids have been so satisfactory and suited to me than you. Most are quite uppity, probably due to an excessive amount of yellowness, but you! You are an excellent servant and I'm thinking of asking Ma to teach Ephraim to be a valet, or at least a butler, for Papa when he gets home."
"That won't be necessary." Maurice voice was quick to comment. "Papa always liked to choose the Negroes that tended him carefully." The thought of having Ephraim in the same roof, as Soleil, living there, was stifling and almost too much for him to bear. As it is, he didn't favor the thought of owning Ephraim, and made a mental note to sell him as soon as his father was buried.
"Well, still…" she narrowed her eyes. "What is your concern of Ephraim? I think that he would make a fine addition to the household. And he seems to be not the least bit uppity or mean in any way. I think him one fine Negro of ours, I will tell Papa to let him be trained as soon as he steps foot on his soil. Come Soleil." She motioned to the door.
"And be sure to tell Papa what time you arrived home this evening also." He mentioned, his sly voice rose.
Annabelle turned, and whispered harshly for him to quiet down. "You wouldn't tell Papa that, when I'll tell how you used part of your traveling funds, that you were supposed to use to further help Aunt Liana, to go to that saloon in Charleston."
Maurice objected, "And then I'll tell Papa how you lied to Mother and told her you where napping a month ago, when she went to town, and how Joseph was out on the back portico, without a chaperone."
Annabelle, finding herself defeated, for the time being paused. "Can't we just forget about these things brother and make truce?" and her pleading voice rankled him, until he replied that he would and not to bring up the subject of Ephraim staying in the house again.
She digressed, and muttered defiantly that should would, later. And secretly she would think about something else he did that was stir hostility in her father. Maurice and Annabelle were constantly competing each other over Papa's attention, and hung little incidents over each other's head to outdo one another in goodness, but secretly, in stealth and bribery.
And she turned, with an air of triumph over Maurice, and smiled to herself. "Come Soleil, tomorrow there's much to be done."
And with that they both left, one with an air of obvious success, and one with a hidden aura of defiant victory.
Massa Williamson would be home within two weeks. Soleil watched as Maurice glanced over the letter again, reading it aloud to the servants.
"I want this house…clean. No! More than clean. And the floors and the parlor rooms are to be dusted accordingly. Miss Annabelle and my mother will further instruct you on what to do for them individually. You may return to your work."
Soleil shuffled out, nearly the first one in the hall, always anxious to not be alone with Massa Maurice. But he called her back, and the odd looks she was witnessed to by the other house servants rankled her, as if they were to know Massa Maurice's expectation and submission to him by her. She felt degraded watching their pitiable gazes and soft and almost inaudible, prompt whispers.
"Miss Annabelle callin' for me!" she whispered harshly, and his gaze moved from her eyes to her full brownish pink lips.
"I haven't heard her."
"She said for me to come right up after you finish'd talkin'. I'm helpin' her de'zine a dress for her."
His look became one of surprise. "A designer as well? You are quite talented, Soleil."
She overlooked his comment, and replied. "I'd like to practice…being a weaver in...the weavin' house." She became apprehensive thinking of his reaction, if he was insulted, he might place her in the fields, or worse, show his authority in a way lewd that might show her how easy enough she had her situation.
His smile wavered. "We don't need anymore weavers, Soleil. Besides being a servant under our roof is just fine enough for you. If you like to weave, I'd make a room to yourself on the top floor, the attic, or in the basement. That way you would have a room to yourself, and a room to weave. Besides, you shouldn't be willing to work alongside mean niggers, Ephraim among others."
She was bridling, and opened her mouth to object, but kept it closed out of fear, her mind drawing back to the night he had struck her. He came close to her, and touched her hand, to where she snatched it from him, disgustedly.
"Let me see your hand." He said, his voice no longer gentle, modified by her rudeness.
And she sighed, irritably, and handed it to him. He smiled briefly, "Your flawless brown skin…it's beautiful."
And then he drew her hand up and kissed it, his warm lips grazing her skin. She replied, looking into his sincere grayish occludes. "Are you finish'd?"
He looked toward the floor, then up at her, focusing on her dark green eyes. "No. But…my father is coming home. You know that. And I want to give you a room. To yourself."
She shook her head, "I ain't gave you an answer yet."
"I know…but, I conjecture that perhaps vanity or pride, perhaps both, will keep you from answering promptly. And…you would like a room to yourself. Would you not? I know, this may seem disloyal, but my sister may become somewhat taxing at times."
Sighing wearily, she replied at length. "Yes, Massa, a room of my own, would be nice. And…would you sell me South for refusin'?" she closed her eyes, not wanting to see his reaction.
"No. I'd rather see you whipped, and then I'd produce a way to send you into the fields to work from dawn to dusk. Which draws me to question you. Have you made a decision? An adequate time has passed. Near two months, Soleil. And I'd allow you to be chaste and still accept."
"What'll you get from me acceptin'? This don' sit juz right wit' me." She tapped her lip, in concentration.
"Well, I get the satisfaction of you accepting my proposal and of making you happy." He smiled, softly.
She thought, then replied. "What if I want to marrih one day?"
"Of course, we would marry in France, and-" then he stopped, and she shook her head.
"That's not what I mean, Massa. What if a free Negro wanted to buy me, or anotha Negro, a fiel' 'and, wanted to marrih me?"
"I'd be aghast at you, for lowering your standards and stooping to a field hand, than me. And then I'd sell the field hand South. As for a free nigger, I'd shoot him as quick as I would a dog if I ever saw him trespassing the property." He finished, mater-of-factly.
"You want me to become your mistress." she said at a length, disgust in her tone. "I-"
He put his finger to her lips, shushing her. "Never! If I wanted you to be my mistress…" he paused, then touched her cheek. "…I would've taken you already."
She moved her head away in disgust, but he used his hand to force it back to look into his eyes. "At any rate, all you have to do it wish it, and I will begin your room immediately. I want you to remember, importantly, that you can still remain chaste, and accept. May it be years before your virtue slips to me, I'll be forbearing."
Why he was giving her so much time to decide and reminding her that she could still accept and be honorable confused her. Perhaps he was being sincere, or at worse, was intensely jealous of her having any relations with anyone else besides him. In the latter case, her blood boiled. How dare he choose whom and who not she could have relations. Then she stopped, and her look became one of despair. What standing was she? No more valuable than the many horses on the plantation.
"Massa, why you wan' me to accept and still be virtu'us? Mos' massas, they…" she bit her lip, then replied. "They take their slaves…wit out their will. Why you wait fo' me? Are you jeal'us of…me wit otha relations? I…ain't no mo' valu'ble than your horses." And her tone was of confusion and repugnance.
He shook his head, softly and smiled. "You're more valuable than horses, Soleil. I…I consider you human, not like other slaveholders, and so I grant you the right to choose. I…I'm well aware of other…less moral slaveholders…" and he blushed, to which she unwillingly smiled at his awkwardness. "...but I have succumbed to your beguiling charm and intelligence." Then he smiled again and replied, "…and of course, your immeasurable loveliness. But having sketches of your mind, I want to know more of you."
"I…I haven't accepted yet, but I…would like a room of my own. I'll let you know when, Massa." And he smiled, seeing her soft and unwilling smile, and traced her jaw with his index finger, and drew it across her lips before taking one last sincere gaze. Dark gray eyes, genuine, meeting dark emerald eyes, reluctant. Then he fled the room.
Pacing the hall, Soleil was. Reviewing in her mind all the reasons she would and would not accept Maurice's proposal. Pride against Fear, and Fear against Hope. Hope against Submission. And Maurice's proposal against her stubbornness.
And she stood, thinking it too much for her to bear. Her chest felt as if a gigantic rock had settled into it, and she longed to confide in someone. But she was not close to the house servants and she did not want to worry Ephraim with her decision. At this hour, in fact, she did not want to burden anyone with her decision. She had spent the whole night, from the time she heard Annabelle's near inaudible snores, to the time it was presently. When the sun was just peeking above the horizon, and the sky was a purplish-dark blue.
She sat, at last, against his door. The cool of the wood against her back, and she held her face in her hands, and she wept softly. How awful it was that he should have much control of her! God must've forsaken her, for her murder. And she sniffled.
The night came rushing back to her. The bloodstained wood floor, the smell of blood on her skirt and caking her hair, the blood running from his back in small streams. The look of stripped flesh, molded into the red of his shirt. Her vomiting. Running to the neighboring quarters.
All of the memories rushed her, and her nausea greeted them. She would accept, out of fear. But she would never submit to his carnal lusts. Be it that she would die from hanging from shooting him, or perhaps whipping him to death, she would not submit. If she kept him at bay, perhaps her slyness could obtain freedom for her, and a future spouse. But she vowed never to give birth to his mulatto children. Never. If that meant to kill herself before becoming round, she would not.
She had seen her fair share of mulatto children, yellowish-brown. And tragically, the mulatto children of her former master had been sold off by the insistence of her mistress. They were young, perhaps seven or eight, and their mother, she was sold also. But at a much earlier date, soon after they were born. Their father, denied their paternity, denounced the mother as an insatiable temptress as he claimed, were all slave women. And swore that he would never succumb to the initiations of such women.
He lied, and his initiations cost him his life.
She wept more, thinking little, and remembering much, and heavily, she stood and whispered gently and softly. "Massa Maurice…"
He heard a soft voice wound its way into his dreams, and he loved the sound. The gentleness and the softness of the words were not lost on him, though he sensed familiarity in its voice. He heard it yet, again, the same tone and this time with a more desperate sound.
He then realized he was not dreaming. The semi-darkness of his room caused his eyes to happen to adjust and he, hesitated before drawing open his windows, letting in somewhat more light, and fastening near-by pants which were draped over his bureau.
He, quizzically, open his door slowly. And saw the wide and slightly red-rimmed, and puffy eyes of the woman so dear to him, Soleil. And he noticed, that she had been weeping. Her eyes were blank, and her nose slightly red-tinged, from what he could see. She wrung her hands, and bit her lip before replying, again. "Massa Maurice, I…"
And he motioned her to lower her voice, and questioned. "What wakes you?"
She looked up, and capitulated. "I accept."
He furrowed his brows, and a smile replaced his previous frown. And without notice, he picked her up by her waist and swung her around once, before replacing her to the floor.
His grogginess was slipping, and he kissed her hand, before replying. "Thank you, for accepting, Soleil. You've made me a happy man, and likewise, I'll try to make you as happy as I am. What would you like?"
She almost blurted, freedom papers. But knew that if she did he might recant on all of his promises with indignation. She would find a way to obtain those at a later date. For now, she could only stare up at him, albeit resignedly with red-rimmed eyes.
He noticed her silence, and her reluctant expression and it irritated him that she should be distraught, he had given her choice. Albeit it came with consequences for refusal, but it was a choice, the same. And now she was treating him with impassion. But he smiled, perhaps it was better than her stinging contempt.
"First, you must want a new dress…"
Soleil slept most of the day, only pausing to help Annabelle dress for breakfast, and redress for visiting. Maurice soon after her acceptance, spoke that she needed rest and she may sleep the whole day, if she wished. And while she was glad that she no longer was stressed about his forbearance, she was now stressed lest he should be aggressive with her virtue. Though, he reminded her also, that she again can remain chaste as long as she chose. But the stress wasn't as intense, she knew what she would do, if he ever violated her wishes, and was satisfied that he coaxed the Missus into allowing her to rest. She had heard him mention a simple cold as the reason of her absence in chores.
The Missus was vexed, but allowed his excuse for her and so it passed. She slept until mid-afternoon, until Annabelle waltzed in.
"Good afternoon, and how late you sleep? Mother told me how you've caught a simple cold, and I too, am a bit tired. At any rate, I went visiting, and you won't believe who showed! I was riding down the street and I saw my old beaux, the one that was prancing around with Elma. I've heard he doesn't court her anymore, and I believe that he wants to court me again! Well, I'm not sure if I'll let him, he preferred that talkative Elma over me. Anyhow, nothing new except Maurice is acting rather strange, in fact, I'm convinced he has a girl to court. I've only seen him this way, but a few times, and the subtle smile on his face is the clue I need. I wonder who she is? The last girl he courted…"
Soleil, turned, becoming faintly interested in the hem of her blouse, so that Annabelle might not see her culpable expression.
"Perhaps we should fin' out?" Soleil asked, softly.
Annabelle nodded, "We should…oh! I overheard Maurice and Mother talking of your overexertion! Perhaps you will be rewarded!" she nodded triumphantly, mentioning that she stopped to add her own opinion of Soleil's top-notch work.
Soleil sighed, relieved that Maurice held by his promises and was zealous on lavishing her. And she smiled resignedly as she began unlacing her Miss for her, possibly, them both to nap.
It was late afternoon, and as the Missus and Annabelle were both napping, she stole time to herself and began mending an old dress Annabelle had given her. The quietness of the house was soothing, and she paused as Maurice stood in the doorway, loathing to interrupt her routine and fluid movements.
"I've been talking to my Mother. She agreed on rewarding you with lace hem. Do you have a specific color? I'm, going to send a servant into town to fetch them along with some yarns for Mother."
His smile irritated her, but she responded quickly. "White lace. And…" then she trailed off.
"What?" he questioned, patiently.
"Maybe…a little silk thread, please. Massa-"
"Alone in my presence, call me only Maurice. I…want to have tea with you, later tonight. Perhaps after Annabelle has gone to sleep."
The night was dark, and Soleil could see the moon was not out. Sleepily, she waited patiently until Annabelle's snores became audible before silently changing back into her day clothes. Fearful of what her Massa might say, kept her from being truant from tea. Why the Massa wanted to take tea late at night was beyond her, perhaps to keep suspicion from arousing during the day? The Missus would cause hell if she heard of such this arrangement and Soleil crept silently from the oil lamp-lighted room, closing the door stealthily behind her.
The house was completely quiet, and she almost thought Maurice had forgotten himself to meet her, but she crept down the stairs slowly. The creaks of a step causing her to pause briefly, before continuing down the stairwell. A slither of light shone across the dark hall, bullion and brazen. And it guided her from the stairs like the moon through dark woods at nightfall.
She paused, and then pushed the door open slowly, the study was warm, and the fireplace was set, with slow cackling flames. Maurice was waiting, at the fireplace in a chair, and looked up, patiently. Not wanting to meet his sincere and relieved gray-blue eyes, she guiltily wrung her hands, and then brought them to rest, clasped, in front of her.
"Why don't you sit?" he stood, and closed the door behind her quietly.
She looked at him, scrutinizing. His dress was casual, and he looked not the least bit tired, except in the slow drawl of his voice. His gloves were white and spotlessly clean, and she felt somewhat out of place in her routine calico day dress, buttoned up to the neck. But the aura around him was more welcoming than she liked to admit, and whether because of tiredness or fear, she sat on the chair, next to his.
The comfort and softness of the taupe chair did nothing to awake her, and in the warm and quiet atmosphere she felt herself lulling into a dream-like sleep, forgetting about Massa Maurice and her acquiescence to him.
Maurice watched the dark brown female in front of him, her green eyes covered by her eyelids and the soft heave of her bosom. He was satisfied that she had accepted his proposals and now he was content to watch her. Observe her like he would a painting, and attempt to read her like a masterpiece novel.
She was quiet.
He knew that, and would probably be one of the hardest obstacles he would have to face in order to converse with her. But she needed time, and time he would give her, because he was exclusively patient with her, and only her. Many other females made him irritable because of their continuous idle chatter and senseless conversation. But her, she did not chatter nor did she converse. Almost as if she were only a picture, not saying anything, but showing more than words could tell.
"Tea?" he asked, inquiringly.
She shook her head slightly, and opened her eyes, drawing them to his. "Thank you, Maurice." She finished awkwardly. "Fo' the white laze."
He nodded, his smile greeting her eyes, and her small yawn reminded him how late it was, and how early she had to arise.
"I'm glad you accepted. And I will never go back on any promise, I've made. You've made me content, and so now…"
He produced a cream and yellow silk fan, from a drawer in the desk, and she turned to observe his gift. And her subtle smile sufficed to show him her appreciation, and he pressed it gently into her hands. She caressed it lovingly, and looked up, her emerald eyes shining with gratitude. He restrained himself, wanting nothing more than to kiss her. But…the time would come. When she was ready.
There was a slight sadness in her green orbs. Soleil was quieter than ever, more mysterious and ultimately more withdrawn, Maurice had noted. He took a drink of spirits, and set the small crystal glass down, gazing out of the window.
The night was dark, no moon and the air was more than a little chilled. Yet, the fresh air removed the stuffiness from the enclosed room. He smiled, thinking of Soleil and her smile when he gave her his present of a fan, a week before. He had had her complexion and eye hue in mind when choosing it, and endured the quizzical expression on the clerk's and his mother's chambermaid as well.
The first soft smile he had been given by her. And the memory still implanted deeply into his mind. How her vacant eyes and lips curved slightly. He thought of when he kissed her and to his displeasure he received harsh words and withdraw.
She had met him only once in attendance late night, and heeding how tired she looked before, he did not bother to ask her again. Though, he made sure to keep her workload light, or at least lighter than it had been, and urged her to sleep later than to wake up before everyone else, and fall asleep long after everyone else was snoring.
She was awe-inspiringly unselfish and seemed to think of all the other servants and what they might want instead of herself. He noted how the staff regarded her as "gentle" "quiet" and "angelic". And he smiled, thinking her all of those words and more like them.
He took no pains in inquiring just why she performed such actions. For he had before, and she only quietly replied that she "would want someone else to do the same for me." He also noted how she wanted to return the fan. It was "too showy" for her, was what she commented. He shook his head, and smiled that it was suited for her, and he would not take it back, and for her to keep it. It was hers, after all. And she nodded, and stepped down.
His mother questioned her, of her newly acquired fan. And Maurice explained that she had earned it through extra work, in the afternoons and early in the mornings. This Missus nodded, slightly pleased by her overexertion, and incredulously gave her a smile, and replied "Good work, Soleil."
His mother encouraging a slave! Why, she was harder on they than his father, who beat a slave at the least once or twice a season. His voice always bellowed of reprimands, of the laziness of some Negro or the feigned sickness of some Negro wench.
With the house Negroes, he was more benevolent, for he usually saw who was stationed under his roof. But even they were not above critical reprimands and a rapping with whatever object was available. In fact, he was prone to throwing small items when in tyrants, glasses (perhaps full of champagne), books, or china. Tyrants that left the house in quiet talk and whispers for days. Usually this was after being inebriated by two bottles of strong spirits, and when he came home intoxicated everyone usually was overly benevolent and his valet whom put him to bed. In the morning, everyone was extremely reticent, for his usually had sickening headaches and dizzying spells the morning after.
His mother, had quieter, and he knew slightly more effective results. She was stricter on slave manners, and "did not want that Negro dialect under my roof." He heard from Annabelle that upon Soleil's arrival, she commented and praised Soleil's stressed pronunciation and vocabulary. "She's a smarter Negro woman, that I've seen." When a Negro disobeyed, it would prove to be disastrous for them. He thought of the fall shortly before he left, in which a Negro was to go barefoot to the next plantation five miles south in the frost, for being "impudent and not obeying." Of course, waking up twenty minutes late was the offense. And Maurice secretly thought, that the offense was not all bad. It had not happened within the two months and some odd days since he came back. But then again, Soleil would probably handle the late sleeper's work. And he smiled thinking of her.
Of course, the mistress thought she knew of the Massa's roaming eyes toward lascivious temptresses who in turn unwittingly incurred her hostility and aversion, but Maurice was certain this was imagined. His mother, quiet as she was, was adamant on "thrashing and selling any wench who lays lascivious eyes on George."
When he was little, perhaps around four of five years of age, he remembered a distant first memory of hearing a slave quarrel with his mother. Her name had been "Nancy." And she had a light brown daughter, and he learned in adolescence she had been sold South.
Perhaps, Maurice thought, Nancy is the Negro woman that father is keeping in Louisiana.
He remembered that he was quite fond of her, or must've been for he remembered her telling him stories, and telling him to "be good."
He had brought up Nancy before, alone in his father's study. And he remembered his father gazing at him sullenly, and replying why would a thought of such ever cross his mind. And he had shrugged, and his father whispered that she was South and taken care of generously, and dismissed him soon after.
Idly, he dropped his hand to the journal that he found his father's secrets, and drew himself to the window in which he took a small breath or fresh cool air. Snooping did no good, but then again, he must see where his early "Mammy" went to. Besides, he would keep it to himself, and never planned to bring the Louisiana woman in conversation, unless of course, his father wanted to.
So turning, he went to the bookshelf and drew out the journal. Opening the leather bound book, he noticed small notations at the sides, and then realized he had picked the wrong journal. But looking closer, he saw that small notations every couple of months were written as "charity", and a substantial sum it was, in fact, enough to sustain a small family with some opulence. Perhaps it was his mistress…
He closed the book, and drew out another leather bound book. And planning to enrich himself with his father's follies, he sat at the desk and opened it. He began flipping idly through pages, dating back as far as twenty-five years before. To his shock it spoke of random sexual encounters with slave women and a "quadroon, nearly white, with brown eyes…perhaps better than Jacqueline."
Perhaps better than his mother! And he toyed with the thought of having a quadroon as a mother…he continued to read, ceasing his small chuckles.
Fifteen years before, there was an entry on the thirtieth of September, a slave woman was sold, with her child. This was odd, why would he write in his journal that a slave woman was sold, why was it not recorded in the plantation finance book? Then, he drew in a small breath, and closed his eyes . A slave woman named Nancy and her light child.
He shook his head, was she really sold? And then he flipped the pages, scanning the journal, until he met an entry nearly a year or two later.
Nancy had been found in St. Louis and he had paid two thousand seven hundred dollars for her and her child, and relocated them to Louisiana. It also wrote that he planned to "sustain them here…after all, she and her daughter are such darling creatures."
Nancy was in New Orleans, and his father was there also. And his mother knew nothing of. He laughed, and closed the book, replacing it to the shelf. And idly, he found himself at the window again, and breathed deeply.
And he thought he heard the unmistakable and crystal-clear laugh. Soleil.
"Ephraim you'r funin' !" she smiled, her green eyes sparkling.
Ephraim and Soleil were under the porch of the back door, and had been in each other's presence for the greater part of the evening. It was late. They both knew, but she having not seen him in more than a week began to miss him tremendously and slipped out of the back door to his cabin, where they began to talk and laugh, and the sunset slipped behind the horizon, the food began to cook started by female slaves fresh from the fields, and yet, Soleil defiantly did not leave.
Ephraim, noticing her reluctance said nothing of it, and made slight casual jokes about it, and having made her somber face laugh and her green eyes sparkle, he wanted to again. He wanted to always. And the warm atmosphere of the cool and moonless night brought pale moonbeams on her skin, and made her eyes seem more bewitching and mysterious.
She drew quiet, and smiled softly. Before she could speak, she heard the slam of a door. And hesitantly, she replied. "I bes' go in there. Miss Annabelle mo' than likely hot as fire."
Ephraim nodded, and noted how the cream of her dress and the yellow of her hem in the kerosene lamplight enhanced the dark brown of her skin, and he laughed knowing that perhaps his gal on the neighboring plantation would never be as close to him as she was.
And so then, he realized her affection, and she bid him farewell, and as customarily, he brushed his lips on her forehead before shutting the door.
Soleil had wanted to tell him. She did not realize the amount of self-control it took not to tell him. Her lips burned to speak of him, of Maurice. How he made proposals to her, how it tormented her, and how in her submission she finally accepted. Oh horror it was! Not to have anyone to talk to, and to keep all of it to herself. But she breathed a sigh of relief, she had kept more to herself. And knew she would not feel secure if she knew others knew of her.
"Soleil? You were out…very late. You must quiet yourself. Mother's room is above the study and if her window is open. She'll be angered." Maurice commented, enjoying the aura around her.
She smiled softly, concealing the fact of where and whom she had been with, and nodded. "I understand. I, think I'll sleep now."
He tilted his head, "You would not like to sit with me for some minutes? I do so enjoy your company."
And she sighed, and looked down at her hands, and then nodded imperceptibly. Then she followed him to his study.
The room was dim, the fireplace recently began burning. And the room was chilled. Soleil shivered, and Maurice noticing her small shiver, placed his hands on her arms, and whispered softly.
"Would you like to sit by the fire?"
And Soleil, slightly irritated by his proximity, but reluctantly grateful for his suggestion, nodded. The night was colder, as it was the middle of autumn, it would only be more and more cold as the nights wore on. And she thought to her pallet on the floor of Annabelle's room.
She stared at the small flames, sitting in front of the fire, feeling the warmth. "Maurice."
His ears caught her soft voice above the flames that were starting and he replied, "Hm?" pouring a cup of tea and setting it on a ornate saucer. Her voice, which could be harsh and gentle, soft and medium, never ceased to amaze him with their crystal and feminine sound. She was huddled in front of the fire, and thinking. He turned and opened a small closet behind him, taking a small dark blanket.
"It gets cold at night. And…I wanted to know…" she trailed off.
"Know what?" he replied quizzically.
He dropped to her side, placing the blanket over her shoulders. A mixed feeling of masculinity and generosity filled his bosom with pride, and wanting to be of some use to her, he had given her the blanket so that her shivering may stop, and she may be a bit more comfortable.
He returned with a cup of tea, which she accepted gratefully, and held it for a moment, letting it warm her hands. Maurice was being hospitable and generous tonight, and quiet for once. And she wondered why this suddenly relaxing aura could not always be between them. Usually her annoyance was high in his presence, but now it seemed to wither. Then again, with him constantly lavishing her with attention, could she not be just a bit grateful and be civil for once?
After taking a sip, she realized he was sitting next to her, an expectant expression on his face. Then she recognized that he was patiently waiting for her answer, to which she had almost forgotten.
"I'm cold at night, could you tell me where the blankets are kept? I should've discussed this with Annabelle, but she leaves sporadically. And…"
Maurice, shook his head, an apologetic smile on his face. "You can discuss what ever you'd like with me Soleil. That's why I want to be here for you. You should've asked me earlier, there'll be covers for you tomorrow. I want you to be on par with me. Take the blanket you have around you now, so that you'll be warm when you return to Annabelle's room."
The atmosphere was lulling, and the tea warmed her stomach. Soleil looked at Maurice, and nodded, a signal that she understood his words, and he took her cup, placing it on the tray at his side.
"You may want to head upstairs. Wouldn't want you falling asleep in the parlor." He smiled, standing, and helping her up.
And even in her half-sleep awkwardness her beauty ceased to captivate him. And he capitulated his attention to her, her green eyes more than half-closed, her full lips, and her blank expression, and he wondered how long he could've had stood there, gazing at her warmly.
She whispered softly, muttering a soft comment on his generosity and left, leaving Maurice gently smiling after her.
Massa Williamson's arrival would be delayed by a couple of weeks. The cause being "business matters and a small illness that I do not wish for it to progress."
Missus Williamson, thus was none too happy, her hopes of seeing her husband, for the first time in half a year, delayed by a couple of weeks. Her false hopes were replaced by grouchiness, and the house ceased to be as loud as it usually was. When the Missus was upset, Soleil had been told, it was best to be reticent and go about work avoiding her.
Annabelle, weary of her mother's moods, spent long days out buggy-riding, at luncheons which she invited Soleil to, but Soleil declined, being thus shy. Annabelle also went visiting, and to various dinner parties to which Maurice was invited, but also did not attend. "Send them my regards, but with father's absence, I must tend to work here." His answer frequently was.
Flannery was one of Maurice's only visitors, and preferably the only visitor that Soleil did not despise. He was quiet, and thoughtful. Always bringing a topic that stimulated the mind of Maurice, and though she did not show it, hers also. But she was a slave, and did not join into the topic, though it took some control not to speak. She enjoyed the small debates Maurice and Flannery had, and as the usual server of their buffet, something of cold cuts, pastries, tea, or lemonade, she always kept quiet, and stood near the door.
Blankets had been brought for her, as Maurice promised, and she did not fail to notice their embellishments. Lace on the hem, and satin material. Annabelle said nothing of these, for she did not take notice, but was sure to mention something each day that related to the haughtiness, arrogance, or otherwise distasteful manner of some young lady or young man whom she had run into. Soleil began to learn to like her mistress's talks and synopsis of the daily events, which she had been exposed to, for they never lacked a small degree of humorous satire or irony.
"You Niggers have no sense! Damn you all! I have a nerve to sell the lot of you far South!"
Soleil blinked, and furrowed her brows. Hearing her Missus' scathing remarks for the past fortnight had been taxing, and her lips itched to mutter for her to be quiet or at least be less agitated. Annabelle had noticed it before it begun, and was at a luncheon.
Maurice was sitting at the desk in the study, going over some accounts with the flaxen-haired and hard-bitten overseer, whom Ephraim referred to as "a Devil of a man, with no heart." She had heard the lash be used more than once, and on one particular day, the screaming had been so great, she had been in the study with Maurice, dropping him an envelope, and had to wince, and close the window. She had made him promise not to whip Ephraim ever, or let him be whipped, no exceptions. And sourly, he responded he would not.
She had spent the rest of that day, going to the injured man. And with the help of his wife, brought salt, and managed to obtain opium and chocolate. Then, attempting to be of some use to the wife, had taken the small daughter of they, named Celeste, and on the back porch told her a few stories until she fell asleep, then she carried her back to the cabin to nap.
The woman had called her "an angel." And Soleil had smiled, shaking her head and replying. "I does the bes' I can fo' us niggas. The Massa won't."
At any rate, the Missus was shouting again, and she felt for the poor creature that was enduring her unceasing and calloused insults. She hoped and prayed that Massa Williamson would arrive home soon so that the Missus might stop.
Maurice soothed her, telling her that Missus had no reason to reprimand her. And that secretly she may favor her over the other house servants. To which Soleil had mixed feelings, being favored by a woman with questionable taste was not her forte. He also spoke that he would not let her be reprimanded, because "you'll never do anything remotely ignorant."
Soleil nodded, hearing the overseer bid Maurice good day and opened the door to the study, passing an eye over her that she altogether did not like, and then left down the hall. Maurice stood in front of the study door, and heard his mother's heightened voice, and frowned. He saw Soleil's furrowed brows, and with an apologetic expression opened the door wider so that she may come in.
Through the closed door, the Missus could not be heard too well, and was almost silenced by the thickness of the door. Grateful, Soleil let out a sigh, to which Maurice laughed.
"She'll be different, when father shows up. She's not been feeling well and coupled with her restlessness to see father, she won't make a very convivial nor cooperative figure. I'm sure you've heard her most of the day, while you were sewing and cleaning, and since you can't go up to your room without hearing her voice, you may nap here."
He smiled, gesturing toward the comfy large chair by the windowsill. She nodded, "I'm almos' finish'd, cleanin'. Then, maybe I'd res'. Maybe I'd tend to Celeste."
"Celeste?" Maurice questioned, not knowing many of the Negroes by name.
Soleil nodded, "A girl I done took care of that day of the las' whippin'. She's a darlin'."
Maurice nodded, "Perhaps, I'll see how the field is doing. I seem not to trust the overseer."
"Smart chance you shouldn't." Annoyance surfaced in her voice. "From what I hear, he a devil of a man. And he…" she stopped herself.
"He what?" his voice became firm and serious.
"I don' know, it's just gossip."
He stopped her dusting, and held her by the arms. "What does he do?"
She turned so that he might not see her face. "He takes them, and uses them." Her voice choked.
The peculiarity of the tone of her voice was clear, and he turned so that he might see her face. "Uses them?" And she looked up with green eyes, which showed hardness unknown to him.
And she whispered. "Women." Then he understood, and gritted his teeth.
"Uses them, does he? I'll…skin him alive if I catch this gossip. And just from whom did you hear this from?"
Her mouth barely moved. "Ephraim."
Disgustedly, he turned away. "Still favoring that nigger boy. Are you? Pray, do you listen to everything he says as Revelation?"
"Massa, even if you don' like him. Maybe you shou'd check him. The day I hears you lettin' overseers take women, is the day I…"
"The day you what?" he questioned interestedly.
"Is the day I take back my comply." She muttered, but in her mind she answered that she would run away.
"You wouldn't." his gaze was serious.
She nodded solemnly. "I mean what I say. I…I notice'd how the overseer look at me, all funny." She commented quietly.
"If he touches you, I'll skin him alive." Maurice came close to her and looked down at her green eyes.
She sneered and turned from him. "White folks and they promises."
His eyes widened at her effrontery, and defensively he countered. "Well, haven't I given you what I promised up until now? I kept your workload consistently light, or lighter than it had been. I manage to obtain for you satin patterns and silk thread, and Chantilly lace. I treat you with respect and yet you still manage to seem somewhat ungrateful and I hate to say it, but proud."
Soleil stopped, hearing his bold statements, and thought about her behavior. And guilt flitted in her mind. "I'm grateful. I could of said no. I told you thank you. You ain't seen me with Ephraim. It been hard on me, not seein' him. 'Cause I promise I ain't be with him, so you don' sell him. You call me proud, yet I ain't the one jealous of Ephraim." She finished, feeling a tinge of regret for her last statement.
His brows furrowed together. "I wouldn't have to be jealous of some nigger boy! How dare you say something like that, you ungrateful wench!"
Then realizing his statement and the loudness of his voice, he lowered his voice. "I…I'm sorry."
Insulted, she gritted her teeth, biting back a retort, but unable to restrain herself she replied. "I'm the ungrateful wench, when I accept, and you fail to not call me names. It's a wonder why I prefer Ephraim to you!"
Feeling insulted, and a tinge of guilt, and slight enlightenment mingled in his mind. And instead of striking her, which his fingers itched to do. He brought his shaking hand to her chin, where he cupped it and commented. "I can't tell if it is you that is trembling, or my hand, or us both. You may relish in the fact that I respect you too much to strike you. And I promised I wouldn't do it again. Damn you, I am jealous of that nigger boy! He has a part of you, you won't let me see! How can I not be jealous? I fear lest you keep all of your self from me, and I'm only seeing an image of you."
Reluctant respect for him, surfaced in her. Respect for his self-control, and his admittance. It took courage to admit to a slave that he, a white man, was jealous of a Negro. Seldom white men would probably think it, much less say it, and admit to a Negro woman.
A tinge of annoying regret pinned her bosom, and she brought her fingers to his trembling hand, and placed them on his wrist. "I'm sorry for sayin' what I said. It was wrong. Sorry Massa."
Disgustedly, he replied. "Maurice. Call me Maurice." And then he smiled wearily. "I hate to argue with you. It shames me. I only want to make life easier for you, not more taxing."
Grudgingly, she eked a small and apologetic grin, and she wondered why they could not always be tranquil and easy-going like they had that past night in front of the fireplace.
"If it doesn't bother you much, perhaps you would accompany me to town, later this week?"
"Massa, I can't be out in view. It ain't fittin'." Soleil whispered, wrapping a white shawl around her shoulders, as one of the Williamson carriages pulled from the road, which led from the house to the farthest edges of the plantation. Green trees crowded the road, giving shade and making some faint patches of flowers dark being covered the leaves of the branches.
Having not been from plantation grounds since her arrival nearly five months before, save for an occasional time of helping the Missus choose a gift for Annabelle, the trip aroused excitement within her. And her mood was a bit more cheery than it had been. Paired with the amiable and amused mood of her young Massa, and she made for a beautiful companion, all dressed in muslin and satin.
The bluish-gray eyes of Maurice wafted over Soleil's appearance, and he was pleased. After wrestling Annabelle out of giving one of her newer dresses to Soleil, and promising to buy another one for her in return, he managed to make Soleil dashing.
The rich buttercup of the satin and the white of muslin set the smooth and dark tone of her skin, which reminded him faintly of hot cocoa. And her black hair in a single braid, with a white ribbon attached at the end of it to hold it in place, fell neatly past her shoulders. Her appearance pleased him, she pleased him, and in a pleased mood, it made for an amicable afternoon.
His mother, falling unusually ill, wanted to rest for the day. And was to have her meals brought up to her, and so Maurice, seizing the opportunity that would arouse the barest trace of suspicion, questioned Soleil on whether she would mind accompanying him to town, and graciously she replied that she would.
Not less than an hour later, he found himself sitting beside Soleil, with her slightly wide-hooped skirt, and the small fan which matched her outfit to the last degree of perfection. Himself, coordinating with his black and gray suit and white linen with spotless gloves also gave the aura of an attractive figure.
Bringing himself back to her conversation, he replied. "You've been out in view before, Soleil. It won't be a problem. Besides," his smile accompanied his speech; "Charleston's a large city. We'll be lost in the crowd before you've even paid attention to realizing you've been noticed."
Soleil, hearing the reassurance in his voice smiled oddly, loving the atmosphere especially, and leaned back, gazing at the swiftly passing scenery.
Nearly half-an hour later, the bustle of the city became more apparent, and being on the mere outskirts of the city was busy with carriages, and Negroes outside them, tending for them while their owners were in the store. Ladies were promenading with chaperones alongside the walkways, and various were bowing and curtsying to each other as they passed by one another. The shops grew more and more numerous and closer together as they entered the city, and excitingly, Soleil watched.
A couple of mulattos, finely dressed in dark linen, both being males, caught the attention of Soleil with their striking features, and she followed her eyes discreetly after them, glad that Maurice could not notice her, for her face was away from him. A few finely dressed Negroes accompanied their masters. And a white man, and a likely looking Negro woman with yellowish-brown skin accompanied him.
The carriage pulled to a stop near a lesser crowded walkway, and hesitantly, Soleil paused, not knowing whether to step out herself, or let Maurice help her descend. Quickly, she decided to step out, but found that Maurice had already opened the door for her, and helped her descend. The clamorous environment assaulted her ears, and she feared lest she never be accustomed to the bustle of large cities.
Looking around her, she seemed small in such an enormous city, but feeling the gentle tug of Maurice's hand, led her and they began their promenade down the walkway. A few pedestrians, whom Soleil was not knowing of tipped their hats to him, and a young lady with her chaperone, which Soleil could only guess as her mother curtsied to him, after giving Soleil a cold gaze.
"I'll get you in trouble, Massa." She spoke quietly, after they moved into a quiet store which sold various cloths, and various other items.
"You won't, and I apologize for the coldness you experienced by that lady which passed by. She's a former friend of mine, whom I courted nearly a year or so ago. But enough, do you see any fabrics you like? Anything you'd want? And don't think I'll be satisfied with an answer of decline."
And his subtle grin was contagious.
The clerk, saw Maurice and smiled, obviously his business had been welcomed and known before. And Soleil, adoring the attitude of Maurice and his bewitching smile, accumulated a jar of quince-seed to which she set on the counter, while Maurice took a look at fabrics along the wall.
She took a bottle to him and brought it to him, and placed it under his nose, and gazed up at him expectantly with her dark eyes. Curious, he paused from his discussion with the clerk, who helped serve another customer in his wait.
"Massa which one smell betta to you?" she inquired, her eyes smiling and as expectant as a small child's. And at the moment, he felt they he might purchase the whole store if she wished.
"The lavender water smells better to me, but I think the rosewater suits you best." He replied thoughtfully after a moment, he saw the flitting and hesitant gaze waver over her, and seeing her indecisiveness, he declared peremptorily. "Place them both next to your jar."
And beaming, she turned and shyly, she sat a medium pot next to the two bottles of water and jar of jelly. Quietly she replied. "Miss Annabelle wanted a pot uh rouge."
Remembering his sister's faint voice echoing in her head, he laughed. "Why, thank you, Soleil for reminding me. I would've completely forgot Annabelle's request."
The clerk, a dark-haired and young man, waited, after spreading a few patterns in front of them. One was very light pink muslin, another was a soft yellow wool, and another happened to be a purplish-light blue wool. Maurice examined each carefully, and chose decisively.
Then he turned to Soleil, to which she gave him a quizzical gaze.
The clerk questioned interestedly. "In all the years that I've known you, this is the first time I see you bring a pretty Negro woman with you."
Soleil, hearing the conversation, but not listening, opened the bottle of water, and smelled them both again equally. Maurice smiled, and answered. "She's a gift, bought by my father during my leave."
The clerk nodded, and looked toward her. "She's dashing. Where did he buy her from?"
"While he was in Richmond, on associate matters." Then looking again, over at Soleil who was glancing inquisitive at the labels, until Maurice found that her eyes were moving from left to right. And then he realized something speechlessly.
Asking for more patterns, more were spread out on the counter in front of him. One pattern was a forest green satin, another pattern was black lace, and another pattern was a burnt orange cashmere. Soleil, having put the flasks down, looked over and he saw a evanescent gaze in her eyes, wavering lustfully over each pattern, his mind was made.
"I'd like these patterns of fabrics, in 20 yards each." The clerk gazed at him, and then turned to retrieve the yards, folding them on the counter and moved the items in front of Soleil toward the middle of the counter and with a small mechanical adding machine, paper and pencil, he gave the amount. Which mounted to an expensive sum, but not going to town often, and having an excess of money, he bought it, and left the store.
While walking back to the carriage, and dropping the items, bagged, near the driver, where he could place them in the carriage, they began walking on the walkway again. The sun had dipped behind the clouds again, and clutching the shawl closer to her, Soleil looked up, cognizant that it might rain.
A medium-sized building, of slate gray brick with large windows displaying a plethora of bottles, tonics, and boxes of medicines on shelves. Inquiringly, Soleil glanced at Maurice who did not take notice. Inside the store was even more shelves of medicine which made Soleil sick by merely looking at them, she was certain she had never been surrounded by so many boxes and vials, claiming to "heal colds" and "correct women's problems."
Soleil stood close by Maurice, and pulling her shawl about her, she watched as he traveled down aisles quickly, bringing a bottle labeled "Soothing Syrup" and another labeled "Dr. Aleut's Cure-All Tonic". Not wanting to be prying, Soleil ignored the items, and they both walked quietly out of the store.
A smell of lemonade wafted over their senses and stopping at a small lemonade stand, Maurice glanced at Soleil and saw how pretty she was, placidly, drinking from a cup of lemonade, and pausing, she looked up at him with the sane inquiringly look she had given him in the apothecary.
A smile quivered on her lips, and she felt the breeze that smelled of rain nearby. He looked up and questioned her if she would like to retrieve some sweets from the store nearby before it rained. She shrugged, she would not mind, and so they headed in the store.
While she was picking sweets to which he supplied that she might get whatever she liked. While at the counter, waiting for her, a tall, mulatto man dressed in clean linen walked leisurely in, and seeing Soleil, he walked slowly over to her.
He talked low, and Maurice seeing all of this, shifted, and then hearing her quiet laughter swiftly paced himself to her. She had two packages of cocoa in her hand, and the young man carried a charming grin on his face. She smiled, and looked up at Maurice. But seeing his guarded and not amused look, she quickly dropped her amiable gaze.
"Sir, may I talk to you?" the mulatto man objected confidently, his brilliant white teeth showing.
Uneasily, Maurice nodded, and glanced at Soleil, wondering why this man would want to talk to him, who he was not, acquainted with, nor wanted to be.
"Sir, I've seen your girl, and I wanted to ask you how much will she cost? " his gaze was confident.
"She's not for sale. She's mine." He blurted, thinking of her in terms of a mate, and not of a possession. Though, he was not consciously aware of it.
"Ah, but it is only a matter of prices. She's lovely, and quite eloquent. Probably French, is she not? I'll wager you 2,000 dollars for her?"
It was an expensive sum, and Maurice knew it. But money was not in his mind. She was, and he was not going to sell her. He shook his head.
Maurice again shook his head, and dejectedly, the mulatto man stealthily, withdrew from the store.
Soleil's green eyes brightened and she asked. "You know him? He a nice man."
Maurice shook his head and sourly replied. "No, and he wanted to buy you. I refused."
Surprised she dropped her gaze. "Oh." Then she lifted her head again, and opened her palms. "These?" and she exposed two boxes of finely granulated cocoa.
The early evening air was cool when Maurice stepped out, and he helped Soleil descend. She had nearly fallen asleep in the carriage, and he was hoping to surprise her. In two boxes happened to be the cloth he bought for a dress to be made for Annabelle, and another box separate with black lace, cashmere, and satin. In another bag were rouge, the two bottles of perfumed water, and the jelly.
The house was quiet again, and the servants were probably visiting their families, as he dismissed them until dinner, when it was time for his mother to eat again. In the parlor, he motioned Soleil to follow him, to which, questioningly she did.
He closed the door, and she stood guarded until she saw the boy-like expression of excitement on his face. "Not all the boxes are for Annabelle. This…" he lifted the box from the parlor floor. "..is for you."
And in seeing her sudden and genuine smile, for the first time, he knew he would've bought the whole store. Her smile was worth seeing, and her green eyes sparkled with vibrancy and vivaciousness. He took her hands in his.
"I hope the colors suit you. You've seen them. And don't give me your reasons for not wanting them. I want to make you look prettier, not that you need to. And I want to lavish you." She did not jerk for him, or slacken her grip, as she usually did, this time, she held unto his hands, and quietly, she whispered. "Thank you, Maurice."
And in a heat-rushing moment, she brought her perfect and full lips to his cheek, and pressed her lips against it gently. And in a comfortable silence, he carried what she could not up to Annabelle's room, where he parted to his room.
Alone and feeling at ease, with Maurice gone to visiting Flannery, and Annabelle asleep taking a small nap upstairs, Soleil crept down the stairs with the neat new box of pristine cloth to the parlor. She made herself commodious, and seeing the dimness of the room, she opened the heavy curtains slightly, to let light filter through the room.
Sitting a last, upon a comfortable velvet chair, she placed the box at her feet, and took out the material. Obviously, Maurice had good taste. And she was grateful that he was bent on bestowing upon her such gifts. She made for a decent picture dressed in simple dark brown cashmere, and her hair placed in a simple bun at the nape of her neck.
The Missus was still in bed, resting, and Soleil, thankful for not hearing her screeching and boisterous affronts, was glad. Annabelle, having stayed up later the night before, had thanked her brother with gusto, praising his good taste, and his remembering to purchase her rouge. Seeing the orange cashmere, black lace that Soleil was willing to share, and forest satin, she nodded, commenting on Soleil's hard-working personality that needed to be rewarded. Soleil, discreetly tucked the two perfumed bottles, and jar of quince-seed jelly away in the small bureau given to her, by Annabelle. Seeing all the gifts, might arouse Annabelle'' suspicion, and she did not wish to have it.
The footman, Abner, had said nothing to her the day before. He was a quiet sort, and she knew he would not tell the Missus she had gone out with her son the day before, all dressed in the brightest and softest muslin and satin.
And so, she cut the material, and tediously, she began to sew, the pattern of stitching soothed her, and she stopped, hearing a heavy closing of the front door, and recognizing the heaviness of the footsteps, she continued.
But then, she heard soft steps come down the stairs, and for a moment, she thought Annabelle had awoken, then she heard the hoarse voice of the Missus command curtly that Maurice follow her into the study. A few seconds later, she knew that the door to the study had not been closed completely because she heard the unmistakable and defense voice of Maurice and the hoarse voice of the Missus. Then after a few minutes of this discussion, she heard the Missus apologetic tone, and then muttering as she went up the stairs, and hearing the accompanied footsteps, she knew Maurice had gone upstairs also.
A few minutes later, a soft trudging down the stairs assaulted her ears, and she bent over her work, sewing quickly and diligently, like a machine. The door to the parlor, opened, and closed, and she knew that it could only have been The Missus' blue-gray-eyed son.
"She's not happy." He spoke low.
"Tole you, I'd get you in a mess. Shoulda not have took me." She commented slowly.
"No, no!" his laugh was genuine. "She spoke of it, but she claims that she should've taken you into town, and not myself. It appears one of her 'friends' has taken it upon herself to write that she and her daughter saw me with you, in Charleston. At any rate, she is angry that I left this morning, and that morning without informing her, and being without my father, I haven't done nearly as good as him at keeping the account books. Besides, she also mentioned that Flannery's reputation is somewhat dwindling."
She was quiet, and paused to mutter her thanks to him for purchasing the material for her, yet again. He waved his hand, dismissive and replied. "Don't thank me. You've earned it."
"When is Massa gon' get here?" she questioned, lightly.
"He hasn't sent another telegram, perhaps later next week. After he arrives home, it'll be easier for me. And I can hope that my time with you may increase."
She ignored his last comment, feeling smothered already, and responded. "I need to get back up there, fo' Miss Annabelle wake and fin' me not there."
George Williamson arrived nearly a week later. He looked the same as Soleil had imagined, though his behavior was erratic. He was grave for a few days, and then suddenly he would become merry, then a few more days after he would become furious and with no trouble vexed at more or less nonentity. Soleil noticed, but did not mention this to Maurice or Ephraim. She speculated momentarily what had happened in Louisiana that had made Massa so mad, but knowing it had business that was entwined with her affairs, she did not bother to question.
The Missus was at first, ecstatic when he arrived. But soon she became quiet and somber, for his irate attitude seemed to bother her. He was taxing at best to be around, for the responder's attitude never ceased to be troubled, lest his mood switched. Claiming to be ill, she was always upstairs. Or when she felt better, she always closed the parlor door, wanting quiet. One day, upon stumbling on her, Soleil found her on her knees, her skirts tucked carefully under her, and her hands clasped in prayer. Her vulnerable expression and her eyelids closed, she wondered how this woman could mutter such affronts to the inferior and poor slave that endured her mercilessness.
Another slave was being whipped, and upon hearing the low-pitched shrills Soleil pricked her ears, the tiny ornaments given to her by Annabelle, suspended. Her blood ran cold, hearing the scream, and she stood attempting to shut the window, wincing. Then standing at the window and looking out, she shivered, then she left.
The slaves were working in the fields, bent over and sweating. Men and women, worked together, and they were silenced. Soleil conjectured it was because of the recent punishment, and she had a growing uncomfortable feeling, as she neared the slave cabins.
Concerned, she asked a Negro, who had been whipped. And sourly, he wafted over her dress. Obviously, contempt arising from her pale and faded, but well-kept dress, when plenty of them were going about scantily-clad, and making due with the previous year's clothing allowance. After pausing, he pointed to a faraway cabin, and she shuddered.
Upon knocking on the door, an old woman she immediately recognized as Ephraim's mother nodded and et her in without a word.
Entering the stuffy cabin, she saw the mutilated back of a mulatto man with wavy hair and welts and blood visible rising on his darkish skin. Soleil recoiled, and then looked up. "What he do?"
And the old woman looked at her hard, so hard in fact, that Soleil dropped her head under the gaze. "Hard to tell. He faint."
Soleil, looking for a rag and finding none, looked down at her dress, and paused before looking back at it. Then, she fled the cabin. A few minutes later, she came back with chloroform and a miniature bottle of laudanum, which she sat on the floor next to the poor woman. Ephraim's mother had left, promising to be back soon, for she had children in her care.
Her green eyes recoiled at the welts, and the large gash which produced a large amount of blood. Then swiftly she soaked the rag in chloroform and pressed it into the flesh, taking it off every so often to prevent poisoning from occurring. When her arm grew tired, she switched to the other. While she set the chloroformed rag on the ground momentarily, she fell on her knees, and on a chair on the other side of the cabin, she clasped her hands and prayed.
She had always believed in prayer, knowing she should pray often than she did. But being Christian and honorable, she prayed for the dear man, until her knees began to ache. Then she drew herself up, and waited patiently, next to the man.
When the man revived, an hour or so later. Soleil saw his hard eyes look up and he wearily coughed and drew a weak smile. "I seen't you. Wit Ephraim. You helps us niggers when we whipped."
Soleil, modestly smiled, and offered him the bottle of laudanum, which he gratefully accepted. "A angel uh mercy." He smiled weakly, and she felt her face grow hot under the comment.
"I jus' does wat I can fo' us niggers. We all unner the Massa." She muttered, taking the half-empty bottle from his hands.
"I Thanks to you, kinely." He smiled, and she nodded. "I does the bes' I can, whilst I can."
Wearily, Soleil walked through the back door toward sunset, heedful that she might receive a sharp reprimand from Annabelle, and possibly Maurice for she had been absent a greater part of the day. And like clockwork, she saw Maurice emerge upon hearing the door closing, and motioned her to follow him into the parlor, irritable.
"Perhaps you may want to explain your absence?" he questioned, his voice quiet.
And the softness of his voice was what she wanted to hear, and she reveled in it. "I was helpin' da mulatto boy. He been badly whipped. And I helped 'im. Dress his wounds. And fix him dinner."
"Swear to me, that was all you did." He declared, his bluish eyes alert.
Understanding his inference, she replied albeit with disgust. "I ain't never lied to you before, Massa." Then upon hearing her statement, she corrected herself and lowered her voice. "Maurice…"
He looked into her green eyes, hearing the sincerity of her statement. "I must urge you, Annabelle thankfully was not home today, but will be home shortly. You may fall ill. You mustn't tire yourself with attempting to take care of everyone."
"I want to."
He knew that her thoughtfulness would keep her from abstaining to take care of the poor wretch that endured the whip. It was arguably one of the traits that had captivated him alongside her attractiveness. And in her, he saw mercy and kindness and silence.
"I should hate for you to fall ill, Soleil." He commented, heedful of her weary expression.
"There's a ache in my stomach." She responded, then seeing his concerned gaze, she smiled and replied. " 'Cause I ain't ate in all day."
His carefree laughter caused a small smile to play on her lips, and her green eyes muttered. "Is the Missus ill?"
Maurice, questioningly, looked up and saw her disinterested gaze. "No, not that I'm aware of. Perhaps she is a bit tired; my father has grown quite taxing. You must be aware of his moods. But father did grow ill in Louisiana, and perhaps his lingering cough might afflict us all." He drew closer to her, seeing the brightness of her emerald occludes, and the twitching of her lips that sufficed for a subtle grin.
Then he noticed her shivering, and heard her sneeze. "You must get in bed, you'll catch cold. And then I'd have to tend you." But with these words came him warm smile, and she acquiesced.
All the fireplaces in the house were lit this evening. When night had fallen and the moon poked from behind the shadowy dark slate clouds that had given the day freezing rain, Soleil sneezed, as Maurice went about quietly. He had not spent time with her in a fortnight, and so he wished for her to meet him in the parlor. With a nod of her head, she complied, and stealthily taking a blanket to Ephraim, she quiet stole back in the house, and changed into her bed wear. A wool long-sleeved chemise and slippers, and feeling unusually procrastinate, she would braid her hair right before she fell asleep.
Maurice looked up, noticing the slight pinkish-tinge of her slight-pointed nose, and he wondered if she was becoming ill. But her soft smile, and dark eyes greeted him, and he bent over, and squeezed lemon into their tea. Soleil was quiet, as always, and sat in front of the fire, her legs tucked under her.
The fire cackled, and Maurice set the tray next to them, and drew the blanket around her. The masculine scent wafted over her, and in mixing with her rosewater smell, she thought it made a pleasant aroma alongside the lemon tea he had prepared.
"Soleil?" Maurice inquired slowly, enjoying her name on his lips. She was attentive, and looked up as he idly switched the book from his left to his right hand.
He stooped behind her, as she hugged her knees. His proximity was startling but faintly comfortable, and he languidly drew his arms around her, a book turned to a simple page was in front of her. She could make out the faint words, but paused.
"What does this say?" his question was simply put, and she debated on whether she should answer the inquiry.
"I don' know, Massa. I cain't read." She looked up, and his gray eyes gazed at her, before repeating the question.
"Massa, I…" she wanted to say before he replied.
"I've seen you read before, Soleil. In town, in Charleston." His voice was slightly annoyed. "You have nothing to hide from me, I promised to never strike you."
His generosity warmed her, more so than the flames, and she nodded, and whispered. "It say, 'Falling in love is awfully simple, but falling out of love is simply awful.' " And she ended, quietly.
"Do you know what you just read?" he inquired, softly, missing her charming voice already.
She nodded, shifting uncomfortably. "Of love."
"Soleil…" he muttered, as she again looked up and found his grayish eyes, staring longingly at her, and then he cupped her chin, the moment blurry and drowsy and gratifyingly languid, as his lips pressed softly on to hers, and he moved putting her arms around his neck, and…his heart was pounding, and the warmth of the room became all too apparent, as he felt as if in a drunken stupor.
His skin shivered, sending pulses to every part of him and making the moment seem almost ethereal. Her fingers nails brushed his neck, almost making him laugh, and the softness of her lips pressed him, and he nudged them, and she capitulated, letting him in. It let him on fire, everything in his soul dormant became awake, and everything rational fell asleep.
He paused, so that he might breathe, and he saw her emerald eyes slightly water, and he smiled, as she sneezed, thinking it no disadvantage to him if she fell ill, for it would give him time to be with her. And behind her, he drew his arms about her waist and settled there, smelling the faint fragrance of her long black hair, which he noticed had slight waves.
"I always thought, you happened to be the most prettiest girl, I've ever seen…" he muttered, admitting it for the first time to himself and to her. And he knew then, that the effect of her could surpass any he had experienced with ivory ladies.
He sat there, for a long time, feeling her muscles gradually fall limp, and then he settled, falling asleep, his arm around her waist.
Attempting to reach across and pull more of the warmth behind her, perceiving it as the comfortable satin sheets, Soleil wanted more. And in doing so, she realized she had gripped flesh, and reflexively she shrunk back, then realizing it was Maurice and she had fallen asleep in the parlor, she sighed, feeling more than silly.
She reached up, feeling the tangles in her hair and attempting to smooth her black hair down the best she could, the fire had burned out, and she shivered. Then she brought her fingers to her lips, nearly feeling again the tingling sensation of his pinkish lips, and she felt her cheeks grow hot. She felt insulted, pondering why she had let him kiss her, and altogether she felt confused.
She hadn't done it out of affection, nor accidentally. She had done it because she felt it dutiful to do so, he had paid money to give her gifts and so not to seem ungrateful, she let him kiss her, as collateral for her presents. Oddly, she did not feel cunning nor crafty. She never planned for affection for him, never wanted to feel intimate with him, and never would feel intimate with him. Perhaps she could never imagine herself doing thus.
His eyelids were pressed closed against his eyes, and she imagined the bluish tint of his occludes, similar to a far away memory of the ocean, almost a mirage with the hot weather and atmosphere she had experienced. Her memories farther back than her sixth birthday were hazy. And she liked for them to be that way. Memories made her feel uncomfortable and slightly disoriented. She never had had parents, never had had anyone responsible for her claim their love for her, and thus she was comfortable with such..
Her first Missus, the one she had had up until the time she was five was a white woman with a kind temper, and she could not remember ever being unhappy there. It was near the ocean, she remembered, and everything was hazy after that. Her second Missus, and second plantation was a very catty woman in private, the most benevolent in public. Abolitionists, as she had learned later, had visited her home frequently, and vowing to "slash the flesh from any disobedient Negro" was her motto. Slavery was in her bones, and her Northern husband was well known and unfortunately well liked. Yellow children were born regularly and sold with startling frequency, except one, which the master kept as a concubine, whom everyone known but no one dared to speak. He had attempted for her, Soleil, but circumstances were different.
Then she looked down at hands, and around, wondering if she had ever been loved. Silly, how after seventeen years of life, she paused, and finally produced the question. She thought of the only family she had ever had, Ephraim-and he was not of her own blood. She smiled, softly, thinking him the only family, searching her memory for any other sort of affections. Desperately, she found none.
Gazing again at Maurice, her thoughts led her to his parents. Then to her parents, who were they? No one had ever spoken to her of them, perhaps whispered comments, but none other than that. Her green eyes had always caused her to wonder, where had she inherited them from? And her black hair, with small waves, were had she inherited it from? Were her parents French? Where had she learned French from? She had always remembered a few phrases, but even they were waning. Perhaps she was not fit for love, nor knowledge of her life history.
She drew to the window, silent, and erratically. Then she breathed, the familiar tightness in her chest traveling to her throat, and burning, choking. She remembered the last time she felt this familiar feeling. The night she had slain her master, she remembered his bloodied body, the flesh and shirt molding into the sanguine, spilling in small streams on the floor. She reminisced how the sickish-sweet smell clung to her body, her hair. She remembered the exact tint as it stained her floor, how it took until sunrise to wash the cabin floor clean, how she vomited heedful of the stench.
She would never be fit for marriage, or perhaps even a lover. Experiences had made her too untrustworthy of them. Even with Ephraim she felt herself holding back details and themes of her life. She never spoke to him, nor anybody of anything but the present. She did not like talking of the past, and was too weary of the future, keeping herself in the tangible present. No, acquiring a mate would never be for her, and she reflected that if Maurice wasn't so generous nor amiable, she would've probably ran away, or perhaps struck him in a worse way than he had her.
Soleil had always seemed a slight ruthless when it came to her masters, and more than a little valiant. But she knew that she had been frightened, frightened truly, perhaps for once in her life. The thought of being discovered kept her awake for days, causing her eyes to obtain dark half-moons and her head to be cloudy with no thoughts save for sleep and thirst. When the issue of sale came, she felt herself more blessed than if the Lord had came and issued slavery illegal and freeing her.
When Maurice had proposed his declaration of submission to her, she felt the familiar emotion of rage, and though she would not admit, helplessness. He was exploiting her, using her, and she felt little cleaner than a prostitute. Though he promised she might wave her torch of chastity in front of her, she knew he would not delay himself forever. This thought kept her awake some nights, for perhaps, it was the only thing she had which she could claim which was worth value. Her material items could not be hers, for property could not own property, she had nothing else: except chastity and faith.
She looked down, her nose tingling and her eyes watered. She had not wept since then, no need for her to now. She had been on the verge of weeping outside Maurice's bedroom, but the tears obediently stayed on the tip of her eyelids, as she willed herself not to weep. Her breathing was heavy, erratic, and she felt her face grow hot, blinking rapidly. She choked, sniffling quietly. Then she closed her eyes, imagining herself falling, over the ledge and to the earth below. No need to weep now, and she lifted her chin with feigned confidence and slipped from the room, reticent.
A few weeks later, when the snow began to fall lightly and sleet mixed to create rain that froze the dying grass, the Missus began to wander around the house. And once, at night, when Soleil was bringing newly-sewn pants to Maurice, the Missus had knocked and asked why the door happened to be locked. Maurice opened it, explaining that he had not known of it, and dismissed Soleil.
Maurice, cognizant that his mother had her suspicions aroused, promised Soleil that she would never be reprimanded, and that he would take care of his mother's suspicions plenty. This comment did little to appease her anxiety, the Missus was ruthless and horrible, she knew her mistress would "thrash and sell any Negro wench casting lascivious eyes" on her husband, but perhaps what would she make do with the "son who cast wandering eyes on a Negro woman"?
But Soleil knew that to give Maurice away would threaten her position and his, and perhaps it would make her life even more harsh, as she would probably be sent toward the fields, or even the auction block. And besides, she did not mind the presents that were lavished upon her, and he acted amiable and generous towards her, always questioning her health, needs, and wants. And being around him made her feel spoiled, and at least cared for.
After the Missus' suspicions seemed to dwindle to nothing, Maurice and Annabelle found that Jacqueline, their mother, had received letter from the lady he had passed in Charleston with the cold gaze accompanied by her mother, who also informed the Missus of the frolic Flannery conducted with various slave girls, that latter point, Soleil found about from Annabelle, who never censored herself enough to conceal comments such as those.
Annabelle, suspicion which was aroused quick in her bosom, had no idea of the meetings that occurred between her brother and her lady's maid. For Maurice was shrewd enough to conceal it, and Soleil not wanting trouble never mentioned it to anyone, scarcely did she want to remind herself of them. And so the days passed amiably, with no more troubles bothering her nor he.
Upon hearing a knock on the door, one day while in the parlor, sewing a few garments, which one Soleil had failed to mention happened to belong to Ephraim, she drew herself up quietly. The day was humid, and passed idly, the Massa was somber again, and the Missus had to urge him to town with her, to which his mutterings made them a fussy pair, and upon seeing this, Soleil attempted to conceal her smirk.
She excused herself, passing a servant scrubbing the wooden floor, and saw the butler open the door, a white man had stepped to the door, dressed elaborately. And the she blinked, seeing the slight waviness of his dark brown hair, and his alert dark brown eyes. No, it couldn't be. Perhaps it was, a white slave.
She had heard stories of slaves white enough they had passed for white, and this one was no exception. His skin was perhaps fairer than Maurice, she had seen very light brown slaves with straight-like hair, but never had she seen the so-called 'octoroons' and 'quadroons' which she heard whispered among whites, usually accompanied by the confusing words of 'miscegenation' and 'amalgation'. She watched as the butler, familiar with him, spoke, and with his tone and dialogue, she knew he was a slave like she.
The butler, Abner, smiled to her, and led the white servant to her, and curiously she examined him from head to toe, and with his air of confidence, she supposed him to be a pampered house servant, blood shared by his Massa, no uncertainties. His smile was charming, and his eyes bright and winsome, and with his aura came an atmosphere of leisure accompanied by a tinge of duress. He was a friendly man, and she became locked into conversation with him.
"Maybe, can you esplain yo' business here?" his speech was almost near as good as hers, and she felt welcomed by it, someone perhaps on her level.
"I been hur fo' near seven months." She spoke, as he nodded.
"It good here, t'work. I been wantin' to be hired out here, by the Massa. He nicer dan mine. Even though I hur the whippin' post used with ease hur, I hur it somewhat better than what I do."
Her eyes were interested in his conversation. Abner had long since gone to fetch Maurice from the riding grounds, and she was left in the front hall with this light-colored slave.
Alert of her intense gaze, and noticing her bright green eyes, which resembled fresh grass in the spring after a rain, he smiled. "Yo' eyes near the prettiest I seen."
Feigning to overlook his comment, she nodded, and gave a thankful smile. "Massa might hire ya. He been wantin' a valet, after the ole one got uppity, either that or'a new butla. You learnt so maybe I can see wat to do."
"Pretty, and genrus. You ain't one of them walkin' dreams, is you?" he questioned, his tone amused.
She laughed at his comment, and inquired seriously. "Why my Massa nicer dan yo Massa?" she lowered her voice. "My Massa, afta he came from Louisanna, it been fightin' house 'roun hur."
"Can never be much worse dan my house. Dey wantin' to sell me South as I can get, when the new year come. The new Missus hate me, worse than the ole one."
"Yo' ole Missus hate you too?" her eyes were wide with interest, but quickly she realized her slip, and reiterated. "I meant, yo ole Missus hate you?"
Curiously he eyed her, wondering how could anyone not feel anything but awe and comfort in her quiet and unbiased aura, her prettiness was enlightening, and the room felt brighter like a candle that has been in daylight all of a sudden is brought into a cave of darkness. Her green eyes placed the icing on the cake, completing her attractiveness paired with her smooth and unblemished dark brown skin, reminding him of pure chocolate.
"My Massa, he my pappy, so say everyone but Missus, Massa, and my Mammy. The Missus a few years oler than my Mammy, and she hate my Mammy so. Then she seen me, first she say is "Who white nigger does this belong to?" Then Massa say he mine, and she find out later who my Mammy be, and she get real hot, and say I look bad to the family, either I be a field hand, where she have me whipped witout never tellin' Massa, or she have me hired out, or sold. I wanna see my Mammy, but I don't wanna be sold or whipped. Leaves me to be hired. And I hear yo' Massa supposed to be somewhat good to niggers. So I wanna be thought of."
She was correct in her hypothesis that he was a white slave, and concluded he had been despised by his owners, better to be renowed as his pappy and his wife, and she felt compassionate for him. To have a father that treated you like an object to be bought and sold as of leisure, was crushing to think of, more so to experience. And she wondered if he was bitter towards it, she could sense no bitterness in him, but perhaps it would come out later.
"Whom is it?" she heard the familiar voice of Maurice, and she turned, expectantly.
Maurice, seeing the slave's light skin did not flinch, he had seen and heard tales of white slaves. And it bothered him not, but he switched his train of thought. Soleil looked beautiful today. Her white linen contrasting her skin, and hugging her torso, her long black hair draped back from her face, her proximity always made him light-headed accompanied by his heart's rush.
"Massa Williamson, I wanna be hired to you, at the new year."
Maurice nodded, "We'll see, what is your name boy?"
Soleil heard the name clear along with confidence. "Joseph…" she breathed, and did not elude the curious stares of both men looking awkwardly at her.
"My father, who owns this estate, is not in. But I'm sure, your owner will have decent conversation with my father, and since we are needed of a few house positions, you may very well call yourself a member of this household." His mood was amiable.
Soleil enjoying Maurice's generosity drew closer to him, her shoulder lightly kissing his, her arm, brushed his, slightly slick with cooling perspiration. And Joseph, watchful as always noticed their proximity.
The rest of the year passed swiftly, in a blur of dinner parties and balls. Soleil, of course did not, or could attend these functions. But she was a chief butless at the elaborate dinner table, full of scrumptious meat pies, rich breads, freshly steamed vegetables dripping with butter and her lemon cakes which received compliments from Flannery, the Missus, Annabelle and of course, Maurice. When the course was over, and the food was back in the kitchen, the house staff were allotted the leftovers by the Massa, who despised leftovers.
The balls were often in the estates near the town and in preparing for Annabelle it took as much as three hours, for she lounged in her bath a long while. Annabelle and Soleil conversed quietly, while Soleil had few impulses and desires to attend one of these balls that were hosted by the snootiest and most refined of South Carolinian society. Annabelle's hair would take long and for the time, the curls would come lovely in cascading locks around her light-powdered and attractive face.
Maurice had attended one of these, a night in late December. And the ball had been delightful with pretty pale-faced girls with no color and hay-hued tresses. He was urged not to be a wallflower by his scandalous companion, Flannery who seemed to be on every female's dance card, in fact, that night he did not break but for a quarter of an hour. Maurice, while sitting alone, for once, thought, as all the pretty girls waltzed passed him, casting their eyes shyly about him, and diverting them when he caught their gaze, of what Soleil's whereabouts as he danced unenthusiastically with these young Misses who paid him much mind.
He came home, Annabelle, in the parlor reading quietly, complaining that her room was not as warm as she liked, by the fire in the parlor. Passing her, gratefully, he ascended the stairs and gave a light tap on Annabelle's door; casting looks about him for his parents and Annabelle. The door opened slowly, and with drooping and confused eyes she focused on Maurice, who was oddly relieved to see her, the images of all the young ladies he danced with that evening deferred to her languid limbs and heavy-lidded eyes as verdant as the fresh leaves of the Christmas tree in the parlor.
"I'm glad to see you." His voice was soft, as he cast eyes about him.
She motioned for him to lower his voice, and commented mordantly. "I thank you, fo' wakin' me fo' such important mattas."
Silently, he took her elbows leading her across the halls, to his room where he closed his door. The atmosphere was quiet and the room black as pitch, and just as cold as a glacial cave, as absurdly, he realized he had left the wide window partially open. Her posture was languid as the sleepiness engulfed her limbs and mind, causing her to be in a state of half-sleepiness, and she watched him smooth his linen sheets. The blankets looked inviting and as he slipped into his washroom, she moved to lay her head down on the soft pillow, if only for a moment, until he came back, then she would sleep.
She felt a movement, moments later, she could not tell how long it had been, and felt as flesh, hands, shook her shoulders until reluctantly she opened them. Maurice requested that she stand for a few moments more so that she might not be so cold, he had observed her shivering, and not willing to ensue an argument, she stood. Holding her bare arms, she waited until he finished. And then, they both stood facing each other as she had adjusted to the comforting darkness, reminding her of the relaxing feeling when her burning eyelids closed themselves a few moments previous.
"I'm sorry to wake you." He smiled, stepping closer. Tentatively, she wavered before stepping back. He stepped closer, confusedly, and as he did so she stepped back until she felt the hard pressing of cool wood against her back.
"What are you moving from?" he questioned, moving closer, wanting her closer.
"Maurice, I shouldn't be hur. I ought be in Annabelle's room, case she need me." Her tired voice and French drawl enveloped his ears.
He must touch her, be nearer to her, to cease this conflagration raging within his body. And he replied. "I've done nothing to you yet, and attempt nothing to you now. Just that, I may touch your face."
Reluctant she acquiesced, and he brought his warm hand to her cool cheek and against herself, she felt the caress to be inviting, and she closed her eyes briefly, feeling his arms around her waist, his slightly shaking arm engulfing the circumference, and capitulating, she felt his smooth lips press hers, gently tugging at her bottom lip. The moment was conducive to reverie, and she felt herself slipping into a sleepy void, his lips giving the moment an ethereal feel, a dream-like sequence.
Her hands, she let them wander to behind his neck. He had long descended from her lips to the hollow of her neck where he stopped and traveled to her ear, sensual activity stirred in the pit of her stomach, and his body was warm, molded to hers. His lips found hers again, and he pressed gently to them, where she felt him press the tip of his tongue against them, loving the feel of the moment, she opened her full lips wider, and felt his tongue tease hers light, as she went with him. He loved the feel of her rolling along his tongue, hers touching his lightly, teasingly. As teasingly as he had been thinking of her, but not seeing her, while at the ball. The wait was well worth the forbearance.
After ceasing, he held her, gently stroking her hair, muttering something or other about her loveliness and humanitarian actions. And unable to dissemble herself from his grip, she pressed her cheek against his breastbone, hearing his swift heartbeat, oddly enough she had enjoyed the kiss. But still nothing had changed between her relationship with Maurice, she felt neither extreme compassion nor physical attraction, only gratitude that he should be so generous to her, and justice that he may not be dissatisfied by means of her, if she rejected him.
He led her to his blankets, which had been folded back, and he let her climb in first at his gentle prodding to which she capitulated, after all sleep was acceptable, she had done so before in the parlor or the study, the memory seemed blurred at the moment. Before closing her eyes to rest, she felt his arm drape across her torso, and under her arm. His warmth comforted her but awkwardly she felt a hardness against her back, and she arched her back with embarrassment. He apologized softly and tiredly, and she nodded, straightening her back against him, lulling to sleep.
The room was gradually becoming lighter, and it was warm here. Soleil moved into Maurice's proximity, his steady breathing soothing. Then she wondered why she had not gotten up; perhaps Annabelle was vexed to her. Her heartbeat began to beat more rapidly, and she looked over, Maurice still soundly and sleeping as if nothing had ever disturbed him in sleep or wake. Disgustedly, she turned from him and wondered why she let him kiss her. The conjecture she could produce was insanity.
She shifted uncomfortably, and moved quickly, attempting to move his arm from her torso. But it was gripped too firmly. Then fearing what she wanted to avoid, she felt him stir, and shift before watching as he rubbed his eyes. Smiling reluctantly, she mused it was a childish gesture, but oddly adorable.
"Did you sleep well?" his voice was languid and groggy.
She was beguilingly gorgeous. Exactly the sight a man would wish to wake to. Her black hair, pulled from her face in a small band with teasing stray locks against her face. Her dark green eyes cast toward the window, then toward the door, sliding to his face, then toward the pillows.
"Yes, shoulda not have stayed hur. You get me in hot water." Her voice was serious.
Lightly, he paused. "Annabelle, won't remember if you were there or not. Most likely, she opened the door and went immediately to sleep. I wouldn't want to place you in punishment, how sadistic of me to. How…" he trailed off, which Soleil could only guess, into a sentimental comment.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, with civility, and turning from his slightly bewitching grayish eyes, she mumbled in the positive, and turned over. Then suddenly, she felt him move and a few minutes later, she heard the click of a door. He was gone.
It was early, early enough, that in fact, he had lit a small candle near his bedside which gave the room a yellowish glow. She felt herself needing to get out of bed and slip back into Annabelle's room to finish the rest of slumber, unsuspiciously. But as soon as she removed the cover, she felt herself shiver, and between her free arm in the open and cold air, and her body on soft linen sheets which radiated with warmth, she told herself she would wait. Until at least, she wasn't so cold.
Her mind wandered to Maurice, and she wondered briefly where he could've gone. She decided he had probably went to drink coffee, and since it took him some time, she would leave before he came back. But her plans were canceled, the door opened and she slid her eyes from her entwined fingers to his soft eyes, which radiated a spark she altogether could not recognize. He sat a tray which bared various fruits: mango, green grapes, apple slices. Next to these were two cups of dark liquid and a small porcelain pitcher which she guessed to be cream or milk, to the right of that were sugar cubes. What completed the tray was what she guessed to be buttered biscuits.
She was surprised, he could not have possibly prepared this tray by himself. She had never even seen him prepare himself a snack during the day. And now here he was with a tray of breakfast for two, he then set the tray next to the nightstand near his bed, and slightly opened the drapes. Her stomach growled as the smell of coffee wavered over the bed, and as she heard, he turned to her, sitting next to her on the bed.
"You must be hungry. I've prepared this for us. I can see the surprise in your eyes, but I'm more than just appearances…" he smiled sincerely.
She said nothing, feeling disconcerted, and clasped her hands together. He saw her expression and his smile wavered, "Are you alright?"
Her answering smile convinced him so, and he took the tray to her, asking her how much sugar she would like in her tea. After holding the cup for warmth and drinking from it, she replied, "Massa, how you know I like milk in muh tea?"
"A guess of luck. Maurice…please."
After she finished half her cup, he brought to her promptly mango and apple slices, to which all his attention was beginning to make her feel spoiled. His gray eyes watching her intently, as a small child might do a butterfly upon a flower or worse, a hawk on a bit of prey. His patient attitude, one which spoke that he waited to be of service to her was heeded by her, and thinking him very much tolerable and somewhat darling, she wondered how could he be so revolting to her whenever they became somewhat close. Her mind wandered from him to their recent kiss, and she looked at him and blushed, thankful of the dim light.
"Maurice, ain't you hungry. Spendin' all your time doin' nothin'." She mumbled.
"I'm quite alright, thank you for asking. But I want to ask, how would you feel about receiving your own room, in the attic?"
She looked up, her green eyes sparkling even in the dim light. "I…It seems fine."
Her dear smile sufficed for him, and he entwined their fingers, "Then it's settled."
The preparations for the new room took all of one month. The Missus was calloused to know why Soleil of all the house servants, deserved her own room, when she had all the privacy that she could possibly ask for. Annabelle, startled to see that Soleil would want a room of her own, was adamant that she should not leave her. The Massa Williamson claimed the affair to be all silly, and created a resolution that if she may want a room of her own, it would be trivial to let her have a room in the attic with the other servants, when she was not one of them. She was a lady's servant, and had to be close to Annabelle. But since she was trustworthy, and humble perhaps she might get the empty room down the hall.
But the Missus stayed adamantly against it, and commented that until Soleil had shown herself just a bit more trustworthy, that toward the end of the year she would consider it done. The servants among the house whispered to themselves, for many had been there for years and had not received the luxuries "Miss Soleil" had received. It was rumored, they spoke amongst each other, that perhaps she had ties with the family, she had no known family members, and so perhaps, she was one of them. Another rumor was perhaps that Young Massa had a particular liking to the 'green-eyed gal'. And another was that perhaps Annabelle was close to her in some way that most of the Negro women could not understand.
Neither had anyone in the rumors been exposed to them, save for Ephraim, who didn't believe them up to the hilt. Having not seen Soleil in a few weeks, he had wondered about her whereabouts. She had been in his cabin for a fleeting moment, giving him almost brand-new cotton linens, which he wondered where she might have gotten them. But she would not give him answers, only insisting that he use them to keep from cold and promising that she would be near him the next free opportunity she could. He had seen her, in all her breathless loveliness, her French drawl lightly falling on his ears, her colored linen, looking almost new and spotlessly clean. The curious stares of his cabin mates at the dark girl with long hair and pristine-looking clothes, coming to him at such an hour.
He was not sheltered from the rumors, he had virtually all of them. Everyone, it seemed, made it his business to hear about Soleil. Thankfully, none of the rumors where haughty or ill-willed, she was too generous, too selfless for any vicious rumors to be spread of her. Besides, Ephraim wouldn't allow them to suffice when if had ever come in contact with them. They were purely speculation.
Dinner, a few weeks later, went as it usually did. The dining room was set, with various attendants serving the feast of veal, fresh fruits, mashed potatoes, wine for the Massa, and beverages for the rest of the family. The dining room gave off a candle glow which recently always reminded Maurice of the beautiful contrast it gave against the object of his affection's skin, which in the present time was upstairs napping, for this evening he requested that she might be with him in the study again, late. And having seen her darkish circles from lack of sleep other nights when she had been with him late, he urged her to get sleep.
He noticed the quietness of the table, and the expectant gazes of all those around him.
"The finances had been kept accordingly whilst on my leave. I want to thank you, Maurice, for taking care of my finances." His father's voice floated over the table.
"Oh, yes. You're welcome father, it was the greatest pleasure, although taxing. I must be instructed to take care of this further."
His father nodded, "And the output, excellent. A couple of our breeding wenches, that gave birth, they are doing well. Says the overseer, whilst I was speaking with him today he brought up an interesting topic. Soleil."
Maurice, who had been taking a sip of his beverage, his eyes grew wide, and he placed his glass down with a little more force. The Missus gazed at Maurice intently, before her attention was attracted by Annabelle speaking of a girl she had ran into.
"Perhaps we should find her a mate? Ephraim is quite an acquaintance with her, I'm hearing from the overseer. They are well comforted to each other."
Maurice, gritting his teeth, and his stomach feeling as if someone had knocked the wind out of him, spoke clearly. "She, in fact, does not like Ephraim. I've heard her mention that nothing is worse than to be in the proximity of the Negro."
"So it is? Then whom else she would choose? She's quite a likely looking girl, and I'm sure she'd want a mate. She must pick one of her own choosing if we can not choose one for her. She is a trustworthy servant, I've seen how she aids all the other servants, when asked, or even when not. Very altruistic. Perhaps she should be rewarded. Her efforts far outweigh any Negro, man or woman, that I have ever come to see."
Maurice, the sickening feeling passing, nodded his head. "Yes, she should be."