Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 17

    Cotton took hold of the South. Its white bouls created a vision of fluffy clouds across every farmer's field.  The conversation of raising corn and potatoes transitioned into how many acres of the fluff to plant and how much it would bring at auction. George Mans settled into his new lifestyle as a planter, spending most of the year in Beaufort.  And he built a home along one of the orange dirt roads which circled around his property and named it "Manningham" after his Cornwall duchy.  It was fashioned after the two-storied colonial homes in the village having a porch and white doric columns, a place to sit and fan himself in the evenings and discuss his profits with Mr. Potts.  Lucas was also charmed by the landscape and spent most of his time in Beaufort, acting as an overseer and lending his expertise. 
     "I love this land," Lucas would say as the three of them smoked their cigars on the porch.
     "When are the children coming?" Mr. Pitts asked curiously, missing seeing the tottlers, Nicky and Dunk."
     "Their pa will bring Dunk along soon," Lucas said confidently. "But I do not know about Nicky."
     At the time that they spoke there was a big argument railing at Ashley Locke.  Suzette was stubbornly standing inside her little parlor, refusing to go to Manningham. Her face was red with fury and rage and  she stomped her foot as she spoke.  The fact was that she was expecting another child and was in miserable health, as with her other pregnancies had gained too much body weight, a plumpness which she would forever retain.  She felt water-logged and was greatly agitated over the prospect of becoming seasick on "the Belle" as it sped across the choppy waves of the Ashley.  But she did not present herself this way to Roderick.  Instead, she complained about the fact that her children were referring to George Mans as their uncle.
     "He is not their uncle!  Nothing about him is related to this family.  Why do you all pretend that he is?"
     "It is a suitable endearment for a good friend of the family."
     "Well I do not want my children growing up thinking that he is related," she insisted.
     "Whether you realize it or not, he is also a true friend of the family," Roderick said, thinking of  the wealth that Mans had poured into the plantation.
     "I shall never realize it.  I do not like the man and never shall. And if you love me, you will quit pandering to him."  Her words stung.  After the birth of their first child, Roderick wondered how it was that he loved her.  She was stubborn and selfish and prone to tantrums.  He sucked in a deep breath and answered.
     "It is impossible to love you." He bit his lip, wishing to say more, but instead exercised great restraints. 
     "You do not love me?"
     "No, Suzette."
      Her face turned crimson.  She puckered her lips and mustering up the familiar stream of tears , began to sob loudly.  "I have given birth to two of your children with another one is the way, and you say that you do not love me?"
      "That is correct."  He said firmly, stepping away from her,  determined not to yield no matter how bad the tantrum or how much she cried.
     "You deceived me, and now look what you have done to me!"
      Duncan appeared suddenly in the hallway.  "What is wrong with Suzette?" He asked.
     "Nothing, grandpa.  We are going to Manningham tomorrow. Are you packed?"
     "Give me a moment, please, grandpa."
     As Duncan left the hallway, Roderick blocked the doorway. His brow was furled and his hands poised on his hips.  "I shall ask you a question.  Did you ever love me?"
     Her face turned beet red and she plunged towards him and with frailing arms pounded on his chest, but lost her footing.  He reached to grab her wrists but her body plunged forward into the door jam and fell limply to the floor.  Her frantic screams were heard throughout the house.
     "What happened?" Catherine came running.  Suzette was crying hard and clutched her stomach as she did so.  "Roderick, she is hurt! Take her to her bed and I will send for the midwife."
     "She is pretending again," he said coolly.
     "Come to your senses, son!  She is seven months pregnant and the baby could come now."
      Lifting her into his arms, he swallowed his attitude and carried her up the stairs.  "I hurt so much," she cried as he laid her across the bed.
      "Lie still and wait for the midwife."
     "Will you at least kiss your wife before ...."
      Roderick leaned over the bed.  "Before what?"
     "Before you leave me to go to Manningham."
     "Suzette, we must stop these fights," he pleaded. " I so despise to argue."
      She had another pain in her stomach.  "I cannot go to Manningham now and neither can you," she said defiantly.
      The midwife examined her.
     "Mr. Roderick, you best stay by as Miss Suzette will have her baby late dis evening."
     Roderick was surprised. She was not faking.  Feeling ashamed of himself, he leaned over the bed and kissed her gently on the lips.  "I shall not leave you, Suzette," he promised.  She smiled, pleased that her circumstances had restored her control over him.  As the evening progressed, she  underwent a protracted labor to give birth to a premature baby girl. 
     "The baby was not turned," the midwife told Roderick and Catherine.  "When I turned the baby, the misses screamed and fainted dead away.  The cord strangled on the baby's neck and when she got out it took some time for her to breathe."
     "Is the baby healthy?"
     "No ma'am, she ain't right.  You can tell it when you looks into her eyes that she ain't right."
    "Will she live?" Roderick asked.
     "I 'speck so."
     Roderick observed the baby and sighed deeply.  His unhappy marriage would have its own set of  foils. The midwife wrapped the child inside a blanket and gave it to Suzette.  The moment that she saw the cleft mouth, she began sobbing.  The tears were real.  Roderick motioned for the midwife to put the baby in the little freshly painted crib beside the bed.
     "Mother, it would be best for you and grandpa take the children to Manningham in the morning as planned," he spoke softly in choking,  almost inaudible voice.
     "But we do not know if the baby will survive or how Suzette will....."
     "I pretty well know that she will blame me for it and possibly you and grandpa.  If anyone can persuade her to be sensible and calm, it is me.  That is why I want you to leave the house so that I can handle matters."  Catherine appeared hesitant. "But for now, you need to get your rest. Please do not worry.  I will stay in the house with Suzette."
      "How will we know if anything happens?"
     "You will not know anything except that I am determined to find an amicable solution to this unhappy situation."
     "My son," she said hugging him.  "Your father would be proud of you now." 
      Roderick was feeling drained from the emotionalism and went to his plantation office to be alone.  He felt that he could no longer deal with Suzette's selfish demands and tantrums. And he made a  decision which would affect him the rest of his life.  There could be no more children. From that time forward, he would no longer sleep with his wife.    


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