DIANA STAYED WITH the Carters for two nights and three days. She was welcomed with such enthusiasm that under different circumstances she would have felt guilty for disliking her host. Mister Carter was so courtly and deferential that he drove Diana to distraction. If she took one sip from her glass, he was glowering at a slave to refill it. He was so intense, Diana was in a terror that if the slave did not move quickly enough, Mister Carter would have him whipped.
The moment he spoke, even his oldest son would fall silent. The silence would last until everyone was sure Father was done. His method of entering a conversation was to abruptly ask a question. No matter his audience was discussing something else. He would wait impatiently until he felt the answerer had enough time to get out whatever was to be said, then veer sharply to the topic Adam Carter had really been bent on discussing—hunting, gambling, and horseflesh.
For instance, at the barbecue that commenced shortly after Diana's arrival, his wife had been shyly pressing her on fashions. Diana had been delicately trying to get across that waistlines were no longer gathered just under the bosom, without mocking Sarah's own costume, and that oiled Grecian curls were definitely out, when Adam Carter broke in.
"If you please, my dear Mrs. Shannon," he'd said in his heavy drawl, "I would treasure your opinion of this ham." He cut a thick slice with his own hands, and had a slave pass it to her.
She had dutifully tasted it and remarked on its goodness. It was true: the ham was delicious. Adam had nodded proudly around the table. Then, as Diana had tried to resume her conversation with his wife, Mister Carter had addressed John Maguire: "How's that speckled foal of yours getting along, Major?" It was the first time Diana heard Maguire addressed by rank.
"Over the colic now," was all Maguire had said.
Evidently, from long practice this was the most he had attempted. It was sufficient for Mister Carter's purpose. He had then launched into a lengthy discussion on animal husbandry according to Adam Carter.
The man reminded her of Nate Hatch. It was an unsettling connection. She found herself watching Adam Carter more closely. The accent was different but the attitudes were similar. Like the New Kent innkeeper, Mister Carter was a bloated monarch in a minuscule society. In his extreme isolation, the power the planter wielded increased proportionally. It was like one of those mathematical games invented by the ancient geometers, where a small sum quickly grows to the size of mountains. Remove his dependence on his fellow citizens for profit, allow him greater freedom to manipulate the law—in fact, give him vastly greater power over his fellow man—and Nate Hatch would have behaved exactly the same as Adam Carter.
What made the situation intolerable was that the power of the planters had been confirmed on the highest level. First Jefferson and then Madison—both slaveholders—had forged a Democratic-Republican coalition of southern planter and northern merchant and tradesman to make their party supreme for fourteen years. Diana realized only a hopeless optimist could imagine anything changing in this lifetime. Or the next. But here she was, a lowly woman by Adam Carter's lights, being treated with a respect far beyond her role as guest. There was condescension, to be sure. Diana was used to that. Still, even in this place where the "Cult of True Womanhood" reigned supreme, she was listened to in greater detail than most other people of her sex. Money and presumed influence was the answer. Perhaps all that achieving hadn't been wasted. Perhaps it wasn't so empty. And her current frustration was that she was growing tired fighting alone all this time, and felt she was falling behind.
Then her head had come up as she realized she had drifted into a long reverie. No one had noticed. But the conversation had taken several turns since her attention had lapsed. John Maguire was holding forth. He was talking about the war. Actually, it was more of an impassioned plea than mere talk. The major was describing the desperate plight of the army, telling of his fears that the war would be lost if desperately needed troops were not continuously supplied.
She noticed Mister Carter and his sons listened respectfully, but with small smiles playing at their lips. Diana also saw that the rank conferred on Maguire was no empty title. Whispers among the women confirmed he had fought long and valiantly during the Revolution when most men from these parts were only peripherally—if at all—involved. Plainly, the major was making a pitch. A recruitment pitch. He was pressing Adam Carter for his sons; he was raising a militia to fight the king.
As soon as she caught the drift of what he was attempting to sell, she could see from the faces of the Carter men that they would never enlist. Still, she thought it a brave effort and was disappointed on his behalf when he came to the end. Mister Carter waxed long and eloquently on his great poverty and how—although Maguire must be aware of his ardent belief in such a patriotic cause—such a sacrifice would be his ruin. With regret he was forced to deny this favor to his neighbor and dearest friend.
Oddly, she had caught no sense of loss on the major's features. He seemed to have expected the answer. In fact, he was shaking his head, sympathizing with his host and encouraging Adam Carter to describe his difficulties in great detail. He has more in mind, she'd thought.
Sarah Carter rose, a signal for the other women to withdraw and leave the men to their business. Diana had nearly snapped at the woman. She wanted to see how the game between Maguire and Carter came out. But custom and dreaded tradition ruled otherwise. As she withdrew, John Maguire had looked her way, disappointment on his face. Then he turned back to focus all of his attention on Adam Carter. The more she saw of Major Maguire, the more she found favor in him. What a pity.
They were only a few steps into the garden—on the way back to the house—when Sarah gave a gasp of pain. She stood frozen and what little color she had drained from her face, until she was ghastly white. She sagged, and her sisters and aunts had descended on her. Propping her up, spewing orders to the slaves who always followed as if they were living shadows, they had fled through the garden with their burden. Leaving Diana forgotten in their wake. She'd wondered what the trouble was with the poor child. It didn't seem to her that a difficult pregnancy could be the sole cause. But it was none of her business, she had told herself. Besides.[..
Diana slipped back to the edge of the garden. A thorny hedge, covered with tasseled red flowers, hid her from the view of the men.
". . . How can I refuse you, John?" Mister Carter was saying. "If it's that nigger wench you want, then you shall have her. And at a fair price as well ..."
It was as if the sun had been blown out by a mighty breath. Chilled by these words—delivered as casually as if they were discussing a prized hunting bitch—Diana had fallen back from the hedge, so stunned at witnessing the sale of another human being, she had almost fled to her room like a maiden.
Reason had returned with the sound of footsteps coming down the garden path: Kitty. Before her maid could speak and alert the men of Diana's presence, she shushed her with a raised finger. Another wave had brought the girl to her side, and Diana had resumed her spying.
". . . Then it's settled, and I thank you," the major was saying. "When I return home in a day or so, I'll send my headman, Paul, to fetch her."
From Carter's reaction, Diana could see the bargain was not as settled as the major was saying. For some reason, the planter seemed about to object to the timing, or some other matter that Diana could not make out. But Maguire had seemed prepared for this.
"Now, as to my first request, Adam," the major went on, "all I'm asking is for one of your boys. And only for a month or so. It would have a powerful effect on my recruiting efforts, for a man such as yourself to stand with me in this matter. And volunteer his son to his country's call."
Mister Carter had blustered. But still the major pressed. Then he suddenly relented with good grace. He let the planter steer the conversation back to the bargain involving the woman slave. There would be no delay in delivery. Then the major had shifted the conversation to an idle discussion on the prospects for the hunting season. Silently, Diana had ghosted away, pulling Kitty with her. It was plain what Maguire's real mission was: the purchase of a "nigger wench." But why would this be more important than recruiting soldiers for his militia? It didn't make sense. Later, Kitty had enlightened her.
The girl was so young and naive that she had quickly shed her shyness in the company of the other children running about the Carter plantation. Diana had watched them at play: the boys, young ruffians like their fathers and uncles, stalking each other and small unwary animals with pointed sticks for rifles; the girls, sunbonnets the size of bassinets to protect their skin, dresses hiked up so that all one could see of them as they ran about was the floppy hat and long, coltish legs. So wild was their play, that trees seemed no bar to their path. Even the girls ran right up them like squirrels.
Kitty had fit right in. Soon she was spending all her time with them, playing and gossiping. "... They're all odd ones here, missus," she had said, "but they don't see it that way. They're so used to the way they're living, they think we're the ones that lost the bell rope. Us and the major."
"Us, I understand, but why the major, Kitty, dear?"
"I think it's because he's more like us. At least that's what they say. He doesn't whip his black fellahs, missus. And he feeds them well. And it's said he spends all his money putting clothes on their backs, and good roofs over their heads."
"It's still slavery, Kitty. And he's a master, whether kind or foul."
"I know that, missus. But they don't see it the same. They say he's weak in the head. And that he's gonna ruin his fortune until there's nothing left for his sons to inherit. . . . It's like that girl he came to buy."
Diana's interest perked. "Yes? What about her?"
"The children say he didn't want her for himself. They said the girl belonged to one of his sons, who gave her to Mister Carter to settle a gambling debt. The trouble was, Major Maguire has this black fellah, named Paul. The girl is the black fellah's wife. That's why the major wanted her back. They all think he's crazy for that. But I think it is just grand, missus. And very brave of him. They could make a lot of trouble."
"I wonder why they haven't?" Diana mused, not expecting an answer.
"Oh, because he's a great hero, missus. He came back from the Revolution with everyone singing his praises and giving him honors. Now, he's the only real soldier in these parts. They're all ashamed because they don't want to fight. Cowards. I'd fight if they let me. But I'm just a girl. So they won't."
Diana saw the major in a different light. But so sudden and bright was the glare, she couldn't quite make out the details from the size of the shadow it cast.
"But I still don't understand why once Mister Carter agreed to let the major have the girl, he resisted doing it right away. What does it matter if it's the day after tomorrow or a week from tomorrow? Can you answer that?"
Kitty turned scarlet. She ducked her head and muttered.
"Speak up, Kitty, dear. I can't hear you."
More mumbling. Then she had reached up with a hand to brush away a tear. Diana gentled the girl, smoothing her hair, straightening the folds in her frock. When the girl was calm, she had repeated the question.
Again Kitty flushed. But she looked Diana straight in the eye and got it out: "He hadn't had her yet!"
"What?" Diana was aghast.
"She's said to be very pretty, but Mister Carter hadn't had his chances with her yet. With all of Missus Carter's family about, I guess he was ashamed to. And now I don't think he'll have that chance, missus. He was mad at first, but then they said he thought it was an awfully good joke on him. ..."
Kitty had lapsed into silence. From the shudder she gave, Diana knew she was putting herself in the slave girl's place, and thinking of Adam Carter crawling into her bed. "I don't think it's very funny, missus."
"Nor do I," Diana said.
She went riding the next day with John Maguire. They packed a picnic lunch in the saddlebags of his big blaze-faced chestnut, Balthazar. Some cold meats and fruit and a little wine. She rode a sturdy bay mare.
Maguire took her on a long, circuitous route, avoiding the shacks where the slaves lived and the fields where they worked. She knew this because she felt no eyes on her for the first time since she'd left the broken-down coach. Diana was not surprised at his sensitivity to her unspoken feelings. For a man she had only known a short time, he seemed amazingly natural with her, talking lightly of this and that, searching out common ground.
They moved through pure Virginia countryside, dressed in its best green and floral print. Little trails took them across small brooks and around leafy bowers through the woods. They broke out of the treeline and into a large, overgrown meadow. A stream rushed down the hills and emptied into a wide pond in the middle of the meadow. At the edge of the pond was a long-abandoned mill, a relic from a time of individual enterprise. The roof was caved in and the mill wheel stopped by tumbling rocks. Maguire found a soft, grassy place near the wheel. While she spread the blanket and laid out the food, he freed the horses to graze in the meadow. Maguire said Balthazar would come when he called, and the bay would follow. They made a lazy meal in the early afternoon sun.
He asked about her, and Diana gave him a much edited version of her life. At least she attempted to. But Maguire had a way of asking a quiet question that meant no harm and was easily evaded if privacy were threatened. But it made a person want to answer. Because John Maguire was sure to understand and be supportive. She had not met a man since Emmett with whom it was so easy to talk. Maguire seemed honestly in awe of her success.
Unlike most planters, he was not disdainful of business. "I wish I were better at it," he said. "Otherwise I might be much farther along in my plans."
"Which are . . . ?"
He hesitated for so long a time that Diana was first a little hurt, then angry that her confidences in him—edited though they might be—were not to be returned.
But when he finally spoke, she immediately relented. "Part of the blame is the war," he said. "At least that's the excuse I make to myself. But ... to be absolutely honest with you, Mrs. Shannon—"
"Diana, please. A rescue from that dreaded coach deserves at the very least first names between us, don't you think?"
He laughed at this, nodding vigorously, taking heart. She liked his laugh. "For some time now," he continued, a little firmer than before, "I've had a mind to give up everything. Make an early settlement on my sons and daughters, sell what 1 can, and go. Of course, my family thinks I'm mad. And if my neighbors knew, they would believe worse."
"Where would you go?"
"I have some land on the river in Mississippi Territory. I was thinking of a farm. A real farm. Vegetables and meat. And perhaps a little shipping business on the side. I think the traffic is enough so that it would be profitable."
"What's to stop you?"
He turned his blue eyes on her with a look so mournful she almost lost her heart. "I'm fifty-seven years old," he said in a harsh whisper. "And I don't know how I came to be in this place."
He looked around, brooding. Diana knew it wasn't the lovely meadow he was seeing. Then: "Sometimes I think a great trick was played on the Maguires. But there's no humor attached to this trick, only a curse. And I call that curse the fifty human beings I own body and soul. Besides that fifty, there are thirty more. Men and women: the property of my sons. They inherited them from their mother, but I've kept them in trust far past the legal limit ... a source of great controversy in my family, as you can imagine." The last was delivered a bit dryly, with a hint of a cynical smile.
Diana hesitated to answer. To her it seemed simple: free them. But if it was so simple, why was this otherwise intelligent man suffering so? She needed to know more. Diana determined to make it her business to find out. Not so much for John Maguire, but for the eighty men and women in his power.
Feeling a bit like a young, guilt-stricken sailor quizzing a harlot, she asked him how a nice Irish boy came to be in such foul company. John told her that his grandfather had been transported early in the last century. His crime was lost to family history, but was said to be quite minor. The fact that he was Irish made things much worse for him. More telling, however, was that the crime was committed in an age when even slight offenses were considered great threats to the social order.
After months of living in the squalor of the old prison ships at the London docks, he was transported to the colonies. The first American Maguire landed in Connecticut and was sold into indenture. For seven years, it was said, he labored for a cruel farmer. But when the term of his service came to an end, the farmer used lies and influence to have another seven added as a penalty. He fled and made his way to Virginia. He was twenty-seven.
John Maguire's grandfather was noted for his thrift and hard work. He labored at menial jobs, but studied late into the night. He taught himself to read and write, and finally came to the attention of a judge, who employed him as a clerk and tutored him on the law. Eventually he became a judge himself. He married well, the daughter of a prominent family with land but no money. The first American Maguire had money, but no land. It was said to be a great match. The dowry included one hundred slaves.
"But how could he?" Diana interrupted. "I'm sorry if this offends you, but after hearing that tale, I think your grandfather must have been . . ." She hesitated to use so impolite a word.
"A great hypocrite?" Maguire helped.
"Yes," Diana said. "Where was his sympathy? He knew the evil firsthand, had lived under a master's hand, or worse. I see no excuses or hope for him, and I'm sorry once again for maligning your family. But I can't help but speak the truth."
"I agree with all of it and more," Maguire said, surprising her more than a little. "But my grandfather is the minor villain in this piece. My father was much worse. He doubled my grandfather's fortune ... in the slaving trade."
Maguire attempted no verbal tricks to soften the statement. Instead, he watched her steadily as she reacted in shock to the news, judged him, and found the Maguires guilty.
"There's more," he finally said. "But I won't torment you with it. I'm sure you can see that I have come to my current confusion by a long and tortuous route."
With that, he stood up abruptly, strode to the mill wheel, and began kicking away the rock barrier that kept the wheel motionless. Not another word passed between them for a full hour as he worked steadily at this odd task. A shriek like a banshee rent the silence. The great wheel jumped forward six feet or more. Then it hung there, swaying back and forth. Maguire kicked loose a remaining rock. The wheel sprang into full life. And the meadow was filled once again with the peaceful sound of the millstream at work. For a long time they watched it spin. Then Diana patted the grass beside her and John came to sit.
Without taking her eyes from the wheel, Diana said: "I think you must be a very kind man. But kindness, you see, is of no consequence under the circumstances. The Greeks, I understand, wrote that the moral scale can only be balanced if an ethic is set against another ethic of equal weight. But they were ardent slavers themselves, so might think your moral exchange sufficient."
"There isn't enough coin in the world," Maguire said.
Diana turned to him with a smile. "That's the other thing I was going to say. That I think you are greatly exaggerating your confusion. I believe you have made up your mind, John Maguire."
He nodded. Diana was right.
"When?" Flat. Demanding.
Maguire struggled with his answer. "It's not so easy as that," he said.
"I'm not sure how to go about it. No, that's not true. I know how to accomplish it. But I fear for their future. How will they make their way? They would be in danger of starving."
"If that occurs, I agree," Diana said. "It would be a terrible tragedy. But they would be free. It's not for you to say or judge or rule."
"Yes, I know," Maguire said. Anguish in his voice. "I've thought about giving them a choice: travel with me to Mississippi as free men and women, or take their chances with freedom here. I can provide them with some money to make it easier."
"Then do it," Diana said. "But don't tie it to a new beginning elsewhere. That is another and quite personal decision. The issues are separate. And these unfortunate people should not have to wait out one second of your own crisis."
"I've thought that already." Maguire sighed. "Although you make the point far stronger. But there's also the matter of the thirty or more people owned by my sons. ... I don't have the legal right to free them."
"Buy them," Diana said. "Then act."
"It would bankrupt me," Maguire said.
Diana just stared at him. He had no answer. "I'll loan you the money," she said.
He shook his head: no.
"You are a soldier," Diana said, "and from what I hear, a very brave one . . . who has risked his life, and is willing to do so again. What's a fortune against a life? Answer me that, John Maguire!"
He had none. Because there was none to give.
Their words were strained and a little forced on the ride back. Even so, they both somehow felt closer: a bond had been established. But it was as fragile as a web spun across a garden path.
* * * *
To Diana, the rhythms of plantation life were all a-kilter. Carter and his sons slept in until ten most mornings. They would be greeted with a toddy or a sangaree in a chilled glass fetched by their personal slaves from the icehouse. A leisurely breakfast was made on a veranda, then they would retire to loll upon a cool pallet. There they would remain most of the day with endless drinks and tidbits fetched for them, fanned and cozened by their slaves like Oriental pashas. Dinner was at two, followed by more relaxation, or hunting or fishing. Or endless talk of sporting feats.
Gambling seemed their greatest passion. She heard tales of enormous wagers on the most trivial events. Adam Carter said his doctor had wagered an entire year's medical practice against a gallon of rum in a dispute over how a viper delivered its venom. The doctor lost and was impoverished along with his family—who had never been consulted in the matter. Men would travel for days to witness a cockfight. More tobacco notes would be bet on a blood feud between two chickens than there was cured product to support them. A man with the pedigree of a southern aristocrat would think nothing of sucking a clot from a favored rooster's wounded throat so it could continue the battle.
But this was nothing against their favorite pastime: racing. In the South, Diana reflected, horseflesh and horsemanship defined manhood. The bloods—young men like Carter's sons—deigned to wear only one spur upon their boot. They said it was to lessen the risk of being hung up on a stirrup during a racing heat. Which didn't explain why they wore that single spur all day, even if no race was contemplated. John Maguire said the crops of entire plantations were bet at these races. The crops were often redeemed by money borrowed at enormous rates of interest.
But if the men lived their whole lives in idle games, they did it not only at the expense of their slaves, but also of their wives. The women were in the kitchen at five in the morning to oversee the cooking. Anything of value was kept under lock and key to guard against theft. They carried bunches of keys at their waists and were always doling out portions of food and drink and even soap to wash their husbands' clothes. Every task was done by hand by the slaves, but it was up to the mistress of the house to check each detail.
From talking to one of Sarah's aunts, Diana realized few wives of northern farmers would envy her lot. A plantation mistress was raised to believe that a woman's most priceless possession was her "magic spell," defined as some mystical power her sex had to subtly bend men to her will. The reality was that the men paid little attention to their wives at all. And that was even if they had been coaxed out of bachelorhood by a handsome dowry. Then, with no previous education or training, the new mistress of the house would be expected to be an expert housekeeper whether she wanted to or not.
Of course all sewing, spinning, weaving, and knitting was to be done by her. She was also expected to be doctor to her family and household slaves, as expert at poultry breeding as she was at making cider, candles, or soap. In the fall she oversaw the hog butchering; in the winter, drying the fruit.
Where and when she was supposed to learn to perform these feats, Diana couldn't tell. Sarah was certainly unprepared. Even at fifteen, Diana had seldom met so ignorant a woman. She could barely read or write. But she struggled desperately just the same, in constant fear of her husband's displeasure. So much for the mistress.
From what Diana could see, the life of a slave was far worse than anything even she had imagined. The plantation—which she later learned was typical—was blotched with their cabins every thirty rods or so. These were built of rough timbers, crossed and then interlocked at the corners like a cob house. A very few had outside chimneys constructed of stone. The floor inside was hard earth. Diana quizzed Sarah, who was proud to say her husband allowed his field hands a cap, shirt, and a pair of drawers—paid for out of his own pocket. They also got a blanket, but only in the winter. The household servants lived with their master and mistress and slept on the floor in front of the fire. She noticed they all had classical names, like Plato or Pompey, or Flora or Lily. With so much human labor, there was no thought of any kind of convenience. The main well was a long way from the house, and all day long the slave women trooped back and forth, carrying big stone jugs on their heads. The kitchen was so far from the house, it was impossible to deliver hot food to the table. At mealtimes the path between kitchen and house was one long line of women fetching and toting.
She watched them make cider one day. There was not even the cheapest apple press available. Instead, the slave women wielded big logs, crushing the pomace in a big wooden trough and singing to the rhythm of the work. One of the women was larger and appeared stronger than the rest. But from the odd way her cotton shift hung from her body, she appeared deformed. When she turned, Diana could see that one breast was missing, and the side of her face was a large, white blotch. As if someone had placed a hot blister pack on her cheek. Why this would be done, Diana couldn't say. The woman's voice, however, was a marvel.
It soared above the others, as sweet as a bell at Eventide. Her song was so beautiful, Diana closed her eyes for a moment, shutting out the terrible view—not of the woman's deformities, but her plight. The singing abruptly stopped. Diana opened her eyes to see the women working silently at the cider trough. But now there was no pleasure in the work. The big woman dared to glance in Diana's direction. It was a look that branded her a thief of songs. Ashamed, Diana stumbled away. When she was well beyond sight, she heard the wonderful voice lift again, soaring free in the sky. Diana walked quickly out of hearing. She had no right to the music.
* * * *
On the final day, Adam Carter's wife came to her for advice. She was so shy and fearful of coming to the point, that more than an hour passed in silence, with only occasional one-word answers to Diana's questions to break it. Diana could see Sarah was not only shy, but in pain. And her face—already a sickly white—was heavily powdered in an attempt to hide the tiny red eruptions on her skin. Whether this was a symptom of the pain or adolescent blemishes, Diana didn't know.
The longer she spent with the child, however, the more difficult Sarah's mysterious errand seemed to get, until Diana could see she was about to depart without speaking up. She almost let her, as some sort of vague revenge for the part she played as mistress of the plantation. Diana thought it was as if cruelty were an affliction caused by some small organism that bred in southern air. Like the pox. And now maybe she had been infected. So she took pity and asked her hostess why she had come.
"I have been feeling . . . unwell for some time," Sarah said. "I thought it was the pregnancy at first. But my aunts . . ." Her voice failed along with her courage.
Diana now understood the nature of the visit. How it came about was obvious: her medical prowess had been vastly exaggerated by young Kitty. Still, from what she had seen of the region, it was likely any doctor would be even more ignorant. Especially if it involved a female complaint. She coaxed Sarah into describing the symptoms. They were delivered haltingly, with long lapses between each descriptive fact. And the whole time the girl spoke, she never once looked Diana in the eye. But Diana knew the answer before more than a few words were out.
At first the little red spots had only appeared on her palms and the soles of her feet. Then they spread to the rest of her body. Then her private parts had become sore and greatly inflamed. Not just her vagina, but in the anal region as well. This was followed by a painful and embarrassing discharge. More recently, she had suffered from nausea and intermittent fevers. And her entire body ached as if from the flux. But this was a torment she was willing to bear, compared to the awful cramps she had been suffering. It was as if a clawed hand were reaching straight into her gut to rip at her.
As Sarah spoke, Diana realized she knew the answer as well, but she was fearful of admitting it. It was a disease few had ever cared to name, much less admit its cause. A hundred years before it was said to have been transmitted in the air, or by a giant lizard. Some modern quacks even blamed it exclusively on women. They said all females carried the organism and denied they even suffered from it, but only passed it on to innocent men, who caught it from engaging in excessive sex. These doctors also had an odd notion for its cure.
Diana gently steered the conversation to Sarah's relations with her husband. Normally, she would never have questioned Carter's reasons for marrying so young a bride. But he was too rich to need the dowry, and he was so cold to his wife that she knew it wasn't lust or an old man's pride of possession.
Sarah had the clap. And there was only one person who could have given it to her: Adam Carter. If Diana was right, his marriage to Sarah was part of his doctor's recommended cure. What a lovely present for a marriage bed.
Now Sarah was not only infected, but three months pregnant. If the child survived the womb and delivery, it too would be infected. If she told the girl all this, the only comfort she could offer was that it was unlikely Sarah would live to see the child weaned, much less the pain and deformities of its later life. So all she told her was that she had the clap, that she and her unborn child were possibly in grave danger, and that there could be no other source for her misery but her husband.
For a time the girl fought so hard to keep her head that Diana almost burst into tears herself out of sympathy. Sarah asked her for the cure. Diana carefully explained there really was only one, but that it failed more often than it succeeded. She would have to take a pill every day, containing fifteen grains of calomel and ten grains of mercury. It's a poison, she said, and it will make you miserable. But you dare not weaken, even if your teeth get so loose they rattle in your head. The doctor will also want to bleed and purge you. If you let him convince you of this course of treatment, I doubt if you can survive. I know your child won't.
Diana desperately wanted to leave the girl more hope. But she knew if she lied to her, or put a sugar teat on the facts, Sarah Carter and her baby were doomed. The only thing else she could tell her was that at all costs to keep her husband from her bed, at least until Diana returned home and could send her a supply of "British Overcoats." She told her these devices were simple to use, but she would enclose instructions just in case.
Invented by a Col. Cundum, these devices were made of lamb intestines, and should not only protect her from further infection, but any unwanted pregnancy as well.
"What if ... he won't ... use them?"
Her faltering whisper was torment. Diana just stared at her. There was nothing else to say. From this moment on, what happened to Sarah was entirely up to her. The silence was broken by the sound of two young slave girls giggling as they worked outside the door. Sarah flew into a blinding rage. She flung open the door and shouted hysterically for silence. Then she slammed it on the shocked faces and whirled back to Diana.
"I live in a harem," she screamed. "Full of nigger whores. I see them after my husband. I know how they entice him. Sluts and whores and—" She collapsed on the floor sobbing so fitfully she could barely breathe.
There came a tap on the door. But Sarah was so overcome, she didn't notice. Diana slipped it open and saw it was one of the girls Sarah had ordered away. She was frightened, but had forced herself to return to see if she could help. Sarah saw her and screamed an obscenity. She tore a large pin from her hair and rushed the door like an animal in a panic attack. The pin was six inches long and as sharp as a shoemaker's awl. She thrust it at the girl, but Diana closed the door just in time. The force of the thrust was so hard that more than an inch of pin was buried into the wood before it snapped off.
Sarah came to her senses for a moment. She stood there motionless, staring at the pin. Realizing what she had almost done. She looked up at Diana, her eyes brimming. Pleading. Then her face became quite cold and stern. She apologized to Diana for troubling her. And left without another word.
Diana found John Maguire alone in the stable, tending his blaze-faced chestnut. She was sick to her stomach, and her hands were shaking from tension.
"I must leave here," she said.
Maguire was startled. "It shouldn't be much more than another two days or so, Diana," he said. "Plenty of time to make the wedding."
"Please," she said, "I can't bear this any longer. If you are my friend ..."
Diana stayed that night at Maguire's house, in a room he had hastily made ready. But she didn't sleep. Instead, she sat on the hard window seat, staring out into the darkness, brooding on the madness in this sad land. She spent the whole next day in her room. John sent for Kitty and their baggage, and the wife he had bought back for his headman. He didn't trouble Diana, but only had food and drink sent up to her room. Which she didn't touch.
That night he coaxed her down to his library, where he built up a fire against a sudden, sharp spring wind. He plied her with a little brandy, but didn't speak or in any way intrude on her thoughts until she was ready. After a while Diana told him the story of Sarah Carter and her complete despair. She also told him of the woman's final outburst, and how she almost slew the little black child who had come to her aid.
Maguire listened without comment until she was done. Then he poured them both another drop and turned down the lamp until only the fire lit the room. Then he told her a story of his own. It was about his mother. Her name was Angelina and she was from a very old family that predated even the institutions of the king. She was intelligent and literate and John thought her quite beautiful, although this memory was dim. He was not quite thirteen when she died.
"I remember her as the most talented woman who ever lived," he said. "And not just in those skills which are said to be the sole province of women. My father was hopeless as a manager. He would have lost everything he had gained from his evil business if my mother had not overseen the plantation. She tended the crops and the money and the slaves who tilled our land. For a long time this worked well. Especially since my father was usually away in the trade.
"But several years before she died, he came home to stay. We had an orchard then. With a few figs and almonds, and some fruit trees. There was even a brook and a small path with flowers growing along the lane. Quite lovely. My father had a small, white house built out in this orchard. He made it his permanent home. He rarely came to the main house, except for holidays or visitors. He filled this house with slave women. And I don't mean just young, pretty women. But women of every shape and age and variety. And as far as I know, he never came to my mother's bed again."
"How could she bear it?" Diana asked.
"I can't say. In the same circumstances, I know I couldn't."
"Did she ever speak of it?"
"Only indirectly. But I'll tell you this—she had great sympathy for these women. As much sympathy as she had hate for my father. I think she saw them as doubly enslaved. In fact, she used to say all women are slaves. And that even queens were forced to sell themselves into marriage."
Diana understood exactly what Angelina Maguire had meant by this. She also understood her reaction to her husband's massive infidelities. Some women—like Sarah Carter—refused to blame the betrayal on their husbands. To them the villain was the victim. She was a slut and a whore, with morals so loose and compelling that no man could resist. Even if it was rape. Angelina Maguire reacted the second way: she placed the blame squarely on the cause and pitied the victim. Diana was sorry she had died so long ago. Angelina sounded like a woman she would have liked to have known.
"The next thing you may find odd," John said, "was her attitude on slavery."
"She opposed it," Diana said, firmly. She knew this without a flicker of thought.
"My mother was quite outspoken in her views," John said. "Of course, it was safer then. Although, if it weren't, I doubt that it would have stilled her tongue."
Diana nodded: absolutely!
"She said her grandmother had been opposed as well. The two of them used to pray together the thing would be outlawed. I remember her arguing with a doctor's wife. She said this: 'If they don't end it soon, my headwoman and I will die from exhaustion.' She was right. I believe it killed them both."
Diana wanted to ask him why—if this was his background—he had not divested himself of this manner of life many years before. But she hadn't the strength to manage it now.
She was not surprised, however, that Maguire's mind was on the same path. "When I was young," he said after a while, "I was stupid and filled with conceit." He smiled at her. A shy, little boy smile. "I think, after all these years," he said in an aside, "I have at least shed some of the conceit.
"I was not much different than my own sons, or even Adam Carter's. I was a young blood up for the game. I can't say when things exactly began to change. After the war, I suppose. All of it seemed so pointless and alien to me when I returned home. I began to read. I know that affected my views.
"Then I married. She was a good wife. I was a faithful husband. And I believe we loved one another. At least, later we did. She had a cancer. It took her some years to die. Terrible years for her. And then . . . when she was gone ..."
Maguire didn't go on from there. He didn't need to for Diana to fill in the rest. He had suffered the kind of wound from which many people take years to recover, if at all. The silence lingered. Maguire stared into his glass.
Diana thought about his tale for some time. She didn't remember falling asleep. But when she awakened in the morning, John was gone, and she was curled up by the still glowing fire. A blanket drawn over her. And a pillow under her head.
NEXT: DIANA IN A QUANDARY