Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 16

      George Mans stayed in the background as he had promised, except that Suzette was jealous of his lengthy conversations with Roderick and interest in the affairs of the plantation.  His desire to please ajealous wife were diminishing and he threw himself into his work just as his father had done before him.  There was some comfort and satisfaction in those ways.  As the cotton spread a white blanket across every vacant field, the profits poured in. Success courted resentment.
     "All that you think of is planting cotton! You are obsessed with it!" She complained. "Eventually it will leech the soil of its nutrients, then what will you do?"
     "We rotate our crops here at Ashley Loche," he said answered sarcastically. Their relationship was going down the tubes and he had lost interest in pampering her.
     "You should not address me in those tones, especially now when I am carrying your child."
     Suzette sulked.  She had lost her upper-hand and somewhere lurking in the depths of her mind a punishment was hatching to alienate the child from its father.  But first, he would hear of her discomforts for seven long months.  First, the nausea and vomiting and then napping long hours  during the day so that she could not sleep in the evenings.  He felt her enlarging restless body bumping up against him in the bed. As a result of so little physical activity, she gained an extra-ordinarily amount of weight.  The mid-wife warned that she would have a difficult birth but she did not listen and when her time came she spent two days in labor trying to give birth.  She blamed her dilemma on Roderick.  It was a bitter pill to swallow when her husband after a long weary day fell into an exhausted sleep the very moment that she gave birth to a squatty, fat girl.  It was the wee hours of the morning. The mid-wife presented the child in a blanket and retired from the room.
     "Roderick, please awaken," she pleaded.  When he did not stir, she screamed his name so loud that her voice reverberated throughout the house.  It caused him to fall all off the bed. 
     "Your child came into the world while you slept!  Poor little orphan without a father," she whined, pressing her cold nose against the baby's cheek. He lifted himself to his feet to see the child that Suzette held clutched to her breasts and when he got close, she drew the blanket over the babe's face and secured the wedge between them.  "Isn't she lovely?" She said.  He did not answer, still not permitted to see the face.
     "I suppose so," he grumbled.
     The child was named after Suzette's own father. The message was clear.  Little Nickie was her child. The following year she gave birth to a son. An argument ensued when Roderick established his own territory by naming him Duncan.  The boy would grow up with the nickname "Dunk" and followed  in his grandather's footsteps.  As the years spun by and Suzette attempted to elevate herself as sole mistress of the house, her disposition became more intolerable.  She possessed a festering anger which had a spontaneous eruption. No one really liked her and she supposed it was because she raised her children in the huguenot church.  But Catherine, having tenure, was loved by all of the servants and her opinion was sought after on all important matters.
      Roderick threw himself into the chore of managing a plantation which knew no bounds. The mild climate and rich black soil afforded a long growing season and dreams were realized all along the southern Carolina coast.  The Sea Island cotton drove the American economy, enriching planters and farmers. The overflow of crops and goods built communities. Silks and satins were put away; home-spun cotton dictated styles.  The South prospered.  Eventually everyone needed more land.
     George Mans decided to look for land and  persuaded Lucas to transport he and Mr. Potts on his sloop to Beaufort. Potts had fulfilled the measure of his agreement and was a vital asset to the partnership.  For one thing he was a whiz in math and could render immediate solutions to problems.  He stepped quickly onto the vessel, clutching a leather valaise filled with pencils and writing pads under his arm. The plan was to visit the quiet countryside of the village of Beaufort. The haunting memory of its beauty and charm lingered inside of his head from the time that he and Catherine were there. The plaintive cottages which sat in the crook of dirt roads and the land which bloomed green in the summer and orange in the fall resembled his own familiar English countryside. A sudden breeze swooped under his coat tails and blew dandelion spores across the meadow stitching the memories of the past into the present, into a world in which he found solace.  If anywhere in America he preferred a landscape, it as this one that reminded him of Cornwall.
     The sight of the deserted Port Royal was a bit disconcerting until he reminded himself that he was an American now. The fort had been abandoned by the british after the last war but the village used its munitions buildings to store crops.  In those days, the little island was a refuge to pirates who maneuvered the narrows to bury their treasures in the outer-banks.  Mans relished the idea of its seclusion.  He did not care about the awkwardness of the port; the family had at its disposal the most proficient factoring company in London. Mr. Biggers could gender a significant economy of merchant ships in the district. So he confidently purchased thousands of acres of the land.
     "What do you think, Mr. Potts?"
     "We could take our retreat here away from the malaria and fevers," he answered thinking of the heavy band of mosquitoes which frequented Ashley Loche during July and August.
     "Alas, I think that I hath found myself," Mans said whimsically.
     Lucas bent over and scooped up a fist of crumbling soil. "It is not likeour black sandy soil of  the coast, but friable and heavy with nutrients. Cotton will grow here. We could plant this many a-year before allowing it to lie fallow.   I want a piece of this land."
     Mans was overcome with affectionate exuberance and patted him on the back.  "Yes indeed, and you shall have it!  We shall be partners."

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