VIRGINIA - JUNE 1814
* * * *
SHE WAS THREE days out of Manassas on the road to Richmond when the river burst its banks and flooded the highway. It was no surprise. Though the weather had been delightfully clear all morning, Diana and Kitty had watched distant storms rage across the Appalachians, lightningcrashing continuously on the black peaks. She was sure the storms were more than the little Pamunkey River could bear. Certainly the poorly maintained dikes thrown up where the river's banks curved in to kiss the road were no match for the unusually wet spring and summer of 1814. From where she sat in the carriage, she could see raw marks of many other breaks.
The driver cursed, said something in the unintelligible English of a lower-class white southerner, then clambered off the coach to oversee the unhitching of the horses. By the time he'd harangued the two sullen slaves into turning the coach on the narrow dirt track, it was late afternoon. Diana hid her amusement as the blacks pretended puzzlement over the simplest directions, then invariably got them wrong. When the job was done and the red-faced driver had bustled over to her with great importance, Diana saw the slaves whispering animatedly in obvious satisfaction at the distress they'd caused the boss. She caught the eye of one of the men and gave him a grin of sympathy. He flickered, then she saw the flicker turn to a great blank look that she was already becoming familiar with, although she had been in the South less than a week.
The driver was muttering to her, and she forced herself to ignore the foul waves of whiskey rising from him and pay attention. Jamestown she recognized. It was her destination. He was saying something about another road. It apparently bypassed Richmond, which was a disappointment, but it eventually hooked up with the main thoroughfare to Williamsburg and then Jamestown.
Kitty whined about the uncomfortable delay, but Diana gently hushed her. Poor child. She was the granddaughter of her cook, Mrs. Kenrick. In looks she was a lush, ripe twenty. But she'd only just turned fifteen, and even this age seemed beyond her. She was a pleasant child, but a bit of a scatterbrain, and Diana had only taken her on as a favor to Mrs. Kenrick.
Kitty seemed to have few defenses. Recently she'd been "discovered" by a group of apprentices, who swarmed about her like a pack of wasps invading a sweet shop. They praised her and flattered her until her head was spinning. It was obvious all they wanted was to get her skirts over her head. To rescue her reputation, Mrs. Kenrick had begged Diana to take the child with her to Virginia until matters cooled in the city. Kitty would act as her maid, if Diana could bear her clumsiness. Perhaps the journey would mature her. So, Diana reminded herself to be patient with the child. Mostly Kitty's natural, cheery good nature had been a plus. Now, however, her youthful complaints about the fate luck had handed them were beginning to grate. On this long road— which had been empty of traffic for nearly two days—there weren't any other obvious choices.
Diana soothed the girl, then nodded agreement to the coachman. She settled back as the coach jolted and slowly creaked forward on its rickety axles and wheels. And they were off, more or less, to Jamestown. Where James Emmett was to be wed.
* * * *
The letter announcing her son's betrothal had struck Diana like the lightning on those Appalachian peaks. He was marrying Eliza Hope Beecham. Of the Five Forks Beechams. The woman brought a dowry of 1,001 acres, planted mostly in cotton and some tobacco, with one acre reserved for a family graveyard. God's Acre, they called it down here. James Emmett boasted the cotton was of the finest and whitest variety: Nankin Boll.
It was what he'd left unsaid that troubled her. Her son hadn't mentioned whether the dowry also included slaves. First Diana had wept. The tears were followed by a rage so great, no one could remember a time when the Widow Shannon had been so angry. The rage was followed by intense self-loathing.
It was her fault she'd failed him, Diana thought, and failed the memory of his long dead father. On and on she berated herself, endless torment, until Connie could bear no more and told her if she wanted to wear a hair shirt, could she be doing it in private so everyone else could have some peace. Let Farrell take on all the guilt of the Shannons, she had said. He'd consider it a favor, I'm sure.
Diana had sat down with Connie for a long heart-to-heart. Her first instinct had been to avoid the wedding at all costs.
"What if there are no slaves?" Connie asked. "And you didn't attend the wedding of your own flesh and blood? You would never forgive yourself."
Diana grabbed at this as if her life depended on it. Connie was right. Besides, how could James Emmett contemplate such an action? Of all her failings with her son, the issue of slavery certainly couldn't be one of them. Could it? It was settled then. She should go.
As soon as she said it, she knew she was lying to herself. James was an ardent sportsman, risking life and broken limbs to ride with the hounds after some bloody stump of fox fur. Hunting and fishing and gambling were his sole passion. At thirty-five, he lived the life of a young buck. It was a life idealized in the South. Temptation would outweigh his conscience. On this she was positive. Diana Shannon had always had trouble not speaking her mind. At age fifty-two it wasn't getting any easier. If James proved a slaveholder, she would rip his heart out, ruining the wedding and the memory of that wedding for as long as he and his new wife lived. Therefore, she shouldn't go.
"Then no one from his family will be there to support him," Connie argued. "In the circumstances, I fear for his future marriage. I've watched events unfold like this at my father's tavern," she said. "Decisions are made that can never be taken back once put into effect. And in every case, the tragedy that resulted far outweighed the momentary victory of pride.
"I urge you to go, Diana. If his situation is as you fear, then he has doomed himself. But by his own hands, not yours. In other words, I think you should make the selfish choice. Hoist the flag for the family, as Isaac would have put it. Run out the guns and sail up their damned river. In the long run, the tears you shed on your pillow may not be quite so bitter."
It was this flawless logic that had set her upon a desolate highway across an equally desolate land.
* * * *
The moment Diana crossed the Potomac, she entered a country so foreign to her that all notions were been turned upside down. They'd traveled for miles without seeing a single active hamlet or village or farm. There were no ruts in the roads from the big four-axle wagons that carried trade goods in other parts of the nation. And almost no travelers. Diana knew this hadn't always been so. Before the cotton boom here'd been life where now she saw none. But all that life had been devoured by the big plantations and their masters. All that easy money, fortunes as vast as those of any European noble family, to be squandered or put to some decent use. The men of the South chose the former.
During her journey, they sometimes passed the fields of one of those great plantations. She saw no ploughs or any other farm implements, just row upon row of slaves working the ground, using clumsy hoes with unpeeled sapling handles that must have made the hardiest hands bleed after only a few minutes. Once, they paused at a crossroads to let traffic pass. The traffic was twenty slaves taking their master's tobacco to market, with no wagons or beasts of burden to aid them. The tobacco leaves had been packed in large wooden hogsheads. Makeshift axles were attached to the hogsheads, so the slaves could roll them to market. Eighty miles or more.
There were certain things Diana also knew from her traders. A long time ago someone had described the beautiful port at Savannah. The shipyards were among the finest in the land, the man had said. And the docks were a picture for a palace wall. They were faced by palmetto logs with oyster shells and white sand. Seven ships at a time would sail up the Medway, loaded with lumber and indigo and rice. Now, she was told, the docks had rotted and fallen into decay. There were few ships sailing into Savannah . . . and this had been true even before the war started and the British blockaded American ports.
Elsewhere, decent roads had collapsed and gone unrepaired. Plans for new ones were abandoned, canals ignored, bridges built and maintained only under threat of heavy penalties. There were almost no schools. Even at the plantations, education for the owners' sons and certainly the daughters was as great a fiction as any of Washington Irving's New York tales, although certainly not so humorous. Money—real cash—was nearly nonexistent. The great fortunes of the South were mostly on paper, and mostly encumbered by debt. Money was so scarce, they'd taken to cutting silver coins into four parts or bits so there could be a little more cash to go around. There was no business as she knew it in this place, no manufacture. How could there be when everything the planters enjoyed was purchased from abroad with cotton money or foreign debt: from brooms to linen, from shoes to the smallest item of furniture. Even with foreign trade strangling from the British blockade, small ships from the South were daring the king's guns to slip across the Atlantic—not to resupply desperately needed goods, but to bring in more of those luxuries, at dearer prices, for the self-declared American aristocracy.
A mile from the sea, however, and the most gifted leather apron went begging for work. No one would hire a smith or a mason. There was no need for these crafts. Nor hooper or cooper, or even a miller. She was told they threshed the wheat by driving horses across the fields. And the slaves ground it by hand in huge hollowed-out stones with eight-foot pestles. Most of the whites seemed not much better off than the slaves. She saw their cabins made of clapboard or rotted logs. From what she could make out, these poor folk spent all their time drinking themselves into oblivion at the unmarked grogshops that appeared now and then right in the middle of all this wilderness.
When they were forced to stop at these places for water or to rest the horses, no one seemed curious. No anxious requests for the latest news of the war, which had raged now for two years with no sign that any end was in sight. If it weren't for the worsening poverty of these people, one could scarcely guess there was any war on at all. Yet wasn't it the South that had pressed so mightily for this war? She looked at the stupor in their eyes and the barely disguised hatred behind that stupor and despaired for the future. What had they done to this place? And why? Could slavery alone explain it? Or was it the nature of the people? That couldn't be, she thought. One way or another, we all came from the same stock. She was beginning to think she'd been a fool to leave Philadelphia. Although as the miles clicked away under the rickety wheels of the coach—and the cares of her business faded with distance—she saw that perhaps it was only the purpose of the journey that was the fool's errand, not the act of leaving. From the moment the stage reached the far side of the Schuylkill, she'd felt as if a great weight had been lifted. Freer now, half-formed thoughts had come into focus.
For some years she had fought against a feeling of dissatisfaction. It was as stifling and stagnant as the worst Philadelphia summer. She had marked it off as merely the heavy burdens of maintaining the family. Diana reacted in her usual manner: she worked harder, constantly rebuilding and adding to the structure of safety. Now it seemed that all her recent efforts were a fiction. All she'd been doing was deepening and improving that root cellar she had dug in Cherry Valley to hide from the Indians. But the greatest fiction of all, she thought, was she was doing it all for the family. For Emmett. No, Diana, she told herself, I won't allow you that. Perhaps it was that way at first, but later it was all for you. For the glorification of the Widow Shannon who defied social tradition to make her own indelible mark. She'd set goals and achieved them. Replaced those goals with new ones. These, too, she'd achieved. On and on at a frantic pace, as if her goals were perishable possessions, until the act itself had become as empty as the cold transactions of the Boston bankers she so despised.
The restlessness she felt had intensified during the two years of warfare. She believed it a stupid war—if any war had any sense to it—and knew it was beyond her control. Young men were dying again, and this tormented her, although she worried that from the safety of Philadelphia the torment was more intellectual than heartfelt. She'd always hated influence peddlers, but hadn't she used her own friendship with Dolly Madison to help David, one of her grandsons?
Oh, come now, Diana, she thought, you've put on that hair shirt again that Connie was mocking. Don't question all of it. You might as well regret the lies you told Nate Hatch to keep your legs beneath you. Or the gold you stole from him. It was rightfully yours, but that's a quibble. And that farmer just beyond New Kent—you helped Emmett cheat. Take that back. And die in the road when the troops catch up. Or, worse, be found out by Nate and carried back to be branded and forced into servitude.
Like his brother Luke, David was for the sea. Farrell had failed to learn his lesson. David became desperate for escape. And so two years ago Diana had written Dolly asking assistance. David had been granted a midshipman's post aboard the Essex under Commander Porter. She had no idea where David might be, but she hoped he was safer, or at least better off, than if he had just run away to sea. He was only fourteen years old.
And what about Luke? He would be twenty now. The last she heard, he was aboard a merchantman out of the Sugar Islands. This would place him far out of harm's way. But what if he weren't? She didn't want to imagine the cannonball crushing out his life, or the great splinter piercing his breast. What would she do if it were necessary to protect him? Would she lie? Certainly. Steal? Without hesitation. Kill? She knew she would.
Diana drew back from what she saw as self-pity at its worst, and pointlessness at its best. She took stock. It was an accounting that was far overdue. As the war had progressed from minor victories to failure to defeat to empty talk of suing for peace, Diana had reduced her business risk. She'd shifted her emphasis from the sea to the western trade: the new lands opened by Jefferson.
She'd also dabbled in the manufacturing boom created by the war, although she refused to put any money in Eli Whitney's guns. Diana was told his process of building identical guns with interchangeable parts was a marvel of the age. Each part was the duty of a single worker. The weapon would be passed from him to the next man or woman until the thing was complete in a matter of a few days instead of weeks. Diana preferred the little inventor who had been using the same system to make cheap clocks for the mantelpiece. Priced so they could be afforded by almost any household or farm, he sold the clocks by sending men out on the road, like her young peddlers of long ago. He expanded on this by creating territories and selling them to eager buyers. Diana was a silent partner in a few of those territories.
She had a host of other ventures, most of them beyond the mountains: steel mills near Fort Pitt, salt works in the Lakes region, furs, goods of all kinds moving up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. But just small pieces of them. No great shaking of the dice and a single roll to win or lose at a toss—like the dolls that began it all. She laughed at this thought. Of her whole family, only James Emmett would really understand. So maybe he wasn't such an odd creature to burst from her womb after all.
Diana pulled herself up and put all of it aside. She was nearing the point, no sense shying from it: What do you want, Diana Shannon? It doesn't matter, she told herself. They won't let me have it. Evasion again. Who are they? Answer: the same people as always. The ones who keep me from my task.
It had always been difficult for a woman alone in business. She had to be twice as good as any man who meant to cross the same ground for the same ends. And no mishap of the most minor sort was allowed. For some reason it had seemed to grow harder each year into the new century. It didn't have a name at first. Business dealings became more awkward. To begin with, her money was accepted, but less and less her advice. Which to Diana meant she would be a fool to invest. Then, as her success had grown, they stopped even seeking her investment. It was as if some secret council had met—which she knew was certainly not so—and decided there was to be a ceiling placed over her possibilities. This, more than the war, had forced her hand.
As her business had shifted to the frontiers, so had her spirit. All about her, common folk were being squeezed. Harsh words were being put into laws. Outbursts from working people were quickly quelled. And so people were beginning to trickle away once more. As the lands opened up, the wilderness beckoned; with new dangers, but also with new possibilities.
So that's it, then, she thought. You want out. As badly as your grandsons, David and Luke. Escape from this thing the magazines were calling "The Cult Of True Womanhood." Her sex was to hold itself above the fray. Business, politics, and opinions on matters of the world were for men. Women must be kept as spiritually intact as a maidenhead. Otherwise, the reasoning went, the American family was doomed. But if she were to escape, where would she go and to what purpose?
Once again, Diana, you come to the question: What do you want? 1 want Emmett. That is foolishness to the extreme; he's been dead for thirty-seven years. I know it's foolish, but you asked the question. And that is my honest answer. She knew that Emmett was a girlhood fantasy, and that over the decades, the few months she had spent with him had taken on mystical qualities. In reality, how would it have all come out? Would Emmett have allowed her the freedom of her mind? Or would he have been like most other men of his time? Who could say? It was an unfair question based on a faulty premise. He died. And she had been free to make her own choices. And she had made them.
The crucial decision had been to remain alone, in control. And now, thirty-seven years later, it had come back to haunt her. She had built this marvelous edifice, and as she stepped back to survey it, she found it empty of purpose and therefore pleasure. In her groping, a candle winked to life. Deep within her, Diana believed that what she had accomplished was what both of them would have wanted, with minor variations here and there. Such things that had escaped her grasp—Farrell, James Emmett, David and Luke, and so on—might not have gotten past both of them.
As she thought it through, she realized just how wrong this assumption could be. But it did not remove the belief. And as long as she was afflicted with this lingering malady, she would never be happy. Should she purge Emmett from her system? No. After all these years it wasn't possible, and certainly not desirable. Although he was only a memory, she loved him still. She couldn't bring herself to kill that. Besides, she was no longer certain where Diana left off and Emmett began. They seemed to be as inseparable as any of those joined calf twins that were pickled in brine and placed on display at Mister Peale's museum.
Fine, then. There was no immediate answer. She determined to think harder. When she returned to Philadelphia, she would act. She knew what course that action would most probably be. The family would have to learn to fend for itself. She would go to Pittsburgh, the same place Emmett had in mind during that spring of mutual daydreams. What she would do there, she wasn't sure. It didn't much matter. If there was no cure for this disease, setting new goals under fresh circumstances should at least mask the symptoms. For a time.
While she was in this dark mood, the coach gave a frightening lurch, and she simultaneously heard the crack of an ancient and badly maintained axle. Kitty shrieked as the coach swayed back and forth. There was more cracking all along its length. Then, defying total disaster, the coach settled to the ground. The door opened to her touch, and Diana pulled Kitty kicking and screaming out with her. The coachman hurled curses like foul lightning bolts. The two slaves cowered in fear, although how the accident was their fault, Diana couldn't tell.
Then, as she tried to calm her hysterical young maid, an apparition rose from the side of the road and hailed her. He was old and the color of blasted oak. He hopped about on bare feet, splayed half again the size of a normal man's from so many years treading furrows. What clothes he wore hung in rags that flapped about as he danced and shouted his greeting.
At least Diana thought it was a greeting, because she couldn't understand a word he said. He was quite mad, poor man. And a slave. Chanting, he danced forward a few steps, beckoning with flapping arms and hands. Then he danced back again like a wary bird. What did he want/ Gradually, she made it out. He was leaving to fetch someone, and he wanted her to stay where she was until he returned. Diana looked at the disabled coach and shrugged. She would wait whether through his bidding or not. The slave took her shrug as agreement, turned on his heel and lit out across the fields, disappearing into the tree line.
"What did he want of us, missus?" Kitty asked.
"I think he went to get help."
Kitty looked about the overgrown fields, and brush-choked woods. It was a very lonely place to be. She shuddered. "Are you sure he won't be bringing back some devil, missus?"
Diana ignored this and got Kitty busy pulling a few things from the coach to make them comfortable while the men attempted repair. But once or twice she glanced over her shoulder to the spot where the old slave had disappeared. Diana wasn't superstitious, but she half expected to see the Devil.
The coach was hopeless. The driver said it would take four days to fetch a new one. The only lodgings were a half a day back, and they were reputed to be even meaner than the inn they'd left at three that morning. That had been a shack with infested beds and only a tattered handbill on the sagging door to announce its purpose. All of the inns she had seen or stayed at had been like that. No sashes on the windows. Roofs that let in the rain. Three shillings for lodgings, six pence more for clean sheets, if they had them. Six shillings for breakfast, and no supper available at any price.
The innkeepers laughed when someone complained, and blamed it on the custom of the land.
What food they offered was exceedingly poor. Even the region's highly praised pig flesh was inedible in those inns, putting to lie the famous observation that north of the Potomac there was only good beef and bad bacon, while south of the river there was only good bacon and bad beef. So much for the vaunted southern hospitality.
* * * *
The man who came to fetch her was no devil. He was about her age, and handsome in the way men become if they take care of themselves. He was tall, his waist as narrow as a boy's, and his shoulders stretched the material of his riding jacket. His face was tanned and smooth—except for a silver moustache and the smile creases near his eyes and lips. His hair was dark with heavy streaks of silver and curled a touch carelessly just above the ears and the back of his neck. His eyes were as blue as the Virginia skies. He said his name was John Maguire. Later, she heard someone call him "Major," and was impressed that he had been content to introduce himself without the airs of rank.
As they stood next to his carriage, he only told her his name and that he was not from this plantation—which was owned by Mister Adam Carter—but one farther down the road. He was visiting, he said, and told her news of her misfortune had excited the entire household. Guests, especially guests from distant locales, she gathered, were exceedingly rare. Maguire said that while the master and mistress of the plantation made themselves presentable for her welcome, he had been sent out to fetch her.
"It would be most impolite to reject them, Mrs. Shannon," he said in a soft, civilized voice only just tinted with a drawl.
But he didn't press the point. Instead he inspected the broken-down coach and conferred with the driver while Diana made up her mind. He had a quiet conversation with the two slaves. She was surprised at the unforced animation in their faces as they confirmed the driver's tale. They know this man, she thought. But what was more remarkable was that they seemed to like him.
She found herself idly wondering how this could be. Perhaps she'd misheard him. Perhaps the neighboring plantation he spoke of wasn't his, but belonged to a family member, and he was visiting from the North after many years' absence. Yes, that must be it. Despite his age, his legs were slender and well-formed under the tight riding breeches. Diana was sure he was married.
Maguire turned back to her. "I would offer you the hospitality of my own house," he said, "but the Carters would never forgive me for stealing you." That answered the first question, and she was disappointed in her error.
"Besides," he said, "I live alone, and it would be unseemly." Error number two, but no matter. The answer to the first question canceled out any satisfaction in the second.
Still, he put her so much at ease that she accepted the Carters' offer of rescue and soon found herself being helped into the carriage. Kitty followed. Diana noticed his glance didn't linger on Kitty's young and well-rounded form, not the way he looked at Diana when he handed her aboard. This pleased her. She knew her figure still drew admiring gazes from men much less her age, but it had been a long time since she welcomed them.
Perhaps it was the confusion in her own mind that caused this. When she was unsettled, she had no patience for any kind of distraction. It wasn't that Diana disliked men. Far from it. She enjoyed their company, and if the circumstances were right, relished their lovemaking. But too often, she thought, men drew the most alarming conclusions from the scantiest evidence. In matters of business or love, they sometimes saw signals where none existed, mistook kindness or attempts at fair play for weakness. And so, more than most women, Diana chose caution as the best defense. Otherwise she feared she would soon have an empty purse and bankrupt reputation. But as she grew older, Diana had grown more and more weary of the game. For once she would like to simply relax and let the moment carry itself.
She studied Maguire's handsome profile beside her. He had a cheery, intelligent look about him. Yes, and admit it, sensuous as well. She wondered what he would be like in bed. The quick flush she felt partially answered her question. Diana let the feeling linger a few seconds, enjoying it. It had been so long since she had let a man hold her, she sometimes jested that revirgination was becoming a real possibility.
Beneath the cheeriness, there was something a bit sad about John Maguire. No, not sad, but apart. As if he didn't quite belong because of some secret and treasured difference between himself and others. Diana knew the feeling well. His hands were strong and sure on the reins, and he guided the horse with a gentle touch. Diana let the moment pass. These hands are also slave-branding hands, she thought. Like the people she'd seen along the roads and in those inhospitable taverns, she knew him to be as fatally flawed as Cain himself. No, John Maguire, if you're contemplating what I think you are, cut it from your mind with as sharp a knife as you can find.
Except for occasional outbursts of excited chatter from Kitty, they moved along the narrow carriage track in silence for a while. Diana didn't know if the trail was the main road to the plantation. The road was pinched in closely by untended trees of such wide variety, Diana couldn't tell which had been brought here and which were native. They were choked by thick brush with large, fleshy leaves that were so green, they appeared somehow unhealthy. She heard no birds singing or movements of small animals, only the dry buzz of locusts in the trees and the abrupt rat-a-tat of a woodpecker. The brush was broken here and there by what seemed to be thin Indian paths that snaked through the vegetation and disappeared. Once in a while she thought she heard rustling—as if a large body was moving along one of the trails—and snatches of what seemed to be whispering. Her skin prickled and the small hairs on the back of her neck rose. Diana knew she was being watched by many eyes.
She shivered and turned to Maguire. A little conversation might mask her edginess. "It was fortunate for us," she said, "that the old man happened to be out on the road to see our dilemma. Otherwise Kitty and I would be making poor beds tonight. You must point him out to me when we arrive, so I can thank him."
Maguire flinched when she said this. Instead of starting a conversation, her remarks seemed to make the silence deepen. What had she said to give offense? She saw him struggle to find words to answer. "You won't find him there," he finally said. "It was no accident that he saw you. The roadside is his post. His duty."
Oh, now she could see. He didn't want her speaking to the old man. A slave. A chill descended on her as quickly as a squall in one of Isaac's stories of the sea. How in hell was she to survive the next few weeks among these people?
"We get so few visitors out here," Maguire continued, not noticing her reaction, "that each one is a prize. Some of the planters—like Mister Carter—set men upon the road to watch. They have standing orders to waylay any and all travelers and to bring them to the master's house. So you see, the accident to the carriage had nothing to do with the invitation. You would have been pressed to stay in any event."
Maguire chuckled at this. But Diana thought she caught a forced edge to the laugh, and she realized he was just as unsettled. For what reason, she couldn't make out. Another long silence followed. Then: "I gather you haven't visited a plantation before," he said.
"No." She said it flatly.
"…Then, perhaps I should . . ." His voice trailed off. Although he tried to hide it, she could see the mental struggle resume. What was the man finding so difficult to say? His look became a little grim as a decision was reached. He forced a smile and continued, but Diana knew the words that followed were not what he originally meant to say.
"Perhaps I should explain about your hosts ..."
He said Adam Carter was middle-aged and, like Maguire, had been a widower for a number of years. But not before his wife had produced six sons and as many daughters. All of them were grown now, and Carter had recently remarried.
"Sarah—that's Mrs. Carter—is with child. But she's been having difficulty. So her sisters and two of her aunts are here to help. Counting them and Adam's great brood, you'll find quite a crowd to welcome you."
"I hope they find me worthy of the trouble," Diana snapped. She couldn't bear the blather any longer.
Diana didn't care a whit about the Carters, and dreaded the prospect of forced politeness in her near future. But as soon as she snapped at Maguire, she regretted it. He had been about to say something more, but lapsed back into silence, pretending to concentrate on his driving. And so she had no warning of the strange sight that greeted her as the carriage track suddenly broadened and then curved into a broad avenue of yellow Virginia sand, lined with graceful, well-cared-for trees.
At the end of the avenue was the Carter house: a mansion dropped from the skies into the middle of the wilderness, more than a hundred feet long and three stories high. Diana learned later the top story was entirely devoted to a ballroom, where hundreds of guests could be entertained by a full orchestra of costumed slaves. The house was the color of the sand, with green sashes and trim and an enormous front door that appeared to be faced with copper or brass.
Everything about the house and its grounds was bizarre. There was a sprawling garden—aping the style of the British magazines. To the side of the garden Diana could see black figures erecting a false arbor thirty feet high. Behind the arbor another slave was pursuing a litter of pigs with a sack and an axe. An open fire was being built, and a grate readied for the fire. Pig and fire and grate equaled barbecue. I'll have supper, at least, Diana thought dryly. A crowd was gathering, and in all her life Diana had never seen anything quite so strange. Twenty or more slaves were hastily lining up. They wore stunning green and gold livery, as if they were the servants of European royalty. A few carried the marks of their posts: a silver tray was held by a butler; a whip by a coachman; there was even what proved to be a cup bearer. As the coach drew closer, Diana saw how great a mockery it all was. The slaves' faces were pocked with disease, their hair tinged orange from lack of nourishment. Rags peeked out from the livery as the clothing was hastily drawn together and buttoned or hooked to a frog. Footwear ranged from boots to old shoes sliced along the side for a better fit. Some had no shoes at all. One man to the rear of the group was turned away, his back to the road, pulling a jacket over his naked torso. The man's back was livid with ancient scars.
It was only then that Diana saw the white masters. They had been standing there all along. A group of about a dozen of them, men and women, as expensively dressed as any grand assembly in Philadelphia. Except the clothing was all ten years or more out of date. A big, dull-faced man stepped out in front. Beside him was a wisp of a girl, no more than fifteen, but she looked even more a child in her blue frock with little bunches of ribbons spotted about like posies in a garden. Her hair was pale yellow and her skin a ghastly white.
Diana did not need an introduction. It was Adam Carter and his new wife.
NEXT: The Face Of Evil