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Charlemagne has gone to see Isabella, who has information for him. She lives in a home with a beautiful garden, and he finds himself relaxing there, enjoying their conversation. Until something interrupts... See what's happening in this week's chapter of An Unholy Alliance. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers. Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!An Unholy Alliance #21 (5.5)
I refocused my attention on Isabella and her friend. She was running her fingers through his thick fur, the vibrations of his rumbling purr clearly audible from where I sat. Vampire hearing, you know. Or maybe he was just louder than a cat should be. At least for the moment he’d forgotten I existed, which was more than fine with me.
“My family has lived in this area for many years,” Isabella began. “The Bufords were among the first settlers in Greene County. Did you know the county was named after General Nathanael Greene? He was a hero of the American Revolution.”
I hadn’t known that. I confess to knowing little about that period in history. Or any other, to be honest. I’d only become interested in the past after my desire to learn about my real family had been awakened. My own interests ran to the literary. I was a voracious reader, mostly the classics. And I loved music, particularly jazz and classical. I especially loved Russian composers, such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, because of the sheer depth of emotion they expressed in their compositions. Does that make me sentimental? I don’t think so.
“I’ve been told the Bufords are related to the general, at least that’s how the story goes.” Isabella laughed, that musical sound again. The one that resembled a tinkling bell. “But that’s why I became interested in genealogy. At first I just wanted to find out about my family. And so far nothing I’ve found points to a familial connection, but that’s okay too. The truth is the truth. And after that, I discovered I was hooked.”
She offered me a rueful smile. “Sorry for all the exposition. I just wanted to frame what I know before I got to the part you were actually inquiring about.”
“No apologies necessary,” I instantly replied. “There is such passion in your voice. I think it’s admirable that you care about your family so much.” Some people were luckier in their relatives than others. But I kept that thought to myself. Even so, I could see something that might be interpreted as sympathy flicker in her eyes.
I cleared my throat and turned my attention to my drink. I liked to think of myself as tall, dark, and mysterious for a reason. If I didn’t let people in, didn’t let them get to know the real me, then they couldn’t use that information to hurt me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Isabella take a drink herself before she continued, offering no comment, for which I was grateful.
“At some point in the early 1840s, I think it was,” she continued, “the Bufords became sharecroppers for a local family, the Pattersons. The Pattersons had a lot of land back then. They also had slaves. Slavery here was different than it was in the Deep South, I think. It didn’t hurt that Missouri was greatly divided on the issue, which is why the state chose not to secede from the Union. There weren’t the huge plantations here that you’d find in Louisiana or Georgia. These were just farms that people needed help with. Slavery was still a bad institution, don’t get me wrong. But at least the slave owners in this area were more likely to work alongside the field hands than to have overseers to control them or even beat them. After the war, some of those families who had been freed stayed and became sharecroppers too.”
I furrowed my brow in thought for a moment before asking, “I’m not sure what you mean by sharecropping?” Mama Lil always told me there was no such thing as a stupid question, but I still felt dumb asking. Obviously this was something that fell outside of my usual frame of reference.
“That was a system where landowners would allow farmers with no land of their own to grow crops on their land in return for a portion of the crop. This was especially beneficial after the Civil War, after the slaves were freed. It provided a means of making a living for people whose whole lives had been spent in the fields, but as paid laborers. And the farm owners received the help they needed.”
I mulled over her words for a few minutes. I couldn’t help but think how much life could have been different for the former slaves if they’d been able to receive an actual education. Even though they’d been freed, they were far from being treated equally. If they’d been able to learn, they would have had choices, opportunities. Too many remained tied to the land, either because they were too old to start over somewhere else or because they didn’t know any other kind of life. I’d been fortunate to have been spared that, despite all my grumbling about Dominique and the harshness of life under her regime. As a child, I hadn’t realized there were worse things, but as a grown man, I understood. And I grieved for those who were given no real chance strictly because of the color of their skin.
But greater than my grief was my guilt. I’d escaped the cruelty of a slave’s life, but my family hadn’t. Who knows what they were made to suffer when I didn’t even know who they were? How dare I be so complaisant about my life and who I was? How dare I?
“I’m very sorry.”
I glanced up, my cheeks burning, as I realized I’d fallen into a sullen silence. I spent far too much time brooding since my family cast me out—that was a really unattractive quality. Who did I think I was, the black Hamlet?
“No, I’m sorry—” I began, but a distant noise brought me up short. I recognized the yip of the over-friendly pup, which meant those idiots were probably close behind. And the sound was drawing nearer.
“Forgive me!” I blurted out just before I ran toward trouble.
to be continued
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