Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 18

     Lucas arrived  early the next morning to fetch the family  in the sixty-foot sloop that George Mans had purchased for the Manningham plantation. It was substantially adept at transporting the family on their trips up and down the Carolina coast. His eyes travelled to the house and watched Catherine, Duncan and the grandchildren woddle onto the dock.
    "Where is Roderick?" He asked.
    "Suzette had her baby," Catherine said cautiously. "Roderick will not come this time."  It was a simple statement which Lucas accepted easily.
     "Ohhhh, uncle George will be sorely disappointed," he said in a silly voice, then tapped first the taller head of Nickie, then Dump. They giggled as he cast off and loosened sail enough to catch the wind. It was a lovely morning for sailing and the sloop cut a swarthing path across the blue rippling water which cracked against the wind. The sweaty heat and muginess of July was swept into the cooling breeze afforded by the speed of the vessel. Around noon when the sais were dropped in Beauord, the children were disappointed to feel the stifling heat on their skin.
     "Is that uncle Mans house?" Nickie asked while pointing to one of the Beaufort homes.
     "No, your uncle's home is in the country," Lucas answered.
     "But how will we get there?"
     "Don't you fret none about that. There is a horse and carriage waiting for us at the livery stable."
     "Oh goody! We are going to ride on a horse. Pa never let us."
     "You will ride inside the carriage," Catherine said gently as she glanced about at the familiar surroundings, just as she left them twenty years earlier. Then she spotted the tavern where they had temporarily resided and the unpleasant memories returned of her own foolishly ambitions and pride.  Suddenly it was as though she were there, back in time, pregnant with Roderick,  miserable, ashamed and experiencing the old fear that Angus would not come for her. But he did come. His was a heart of love and forgiveness. Tears came in her eyes. She had to remind herself that those days were slipped away into the portals of time, a place which no longer existed.  She sat in the carriage prepared to endure a bumpy ride into the country and to listen to the happy shrieks of the grandchildren.
     "There is uncle Mans house!" Nickie cried as they approached a freshly painted white colonial house which resembled all of the others in Beaufort.
     "This is Mannington, also your home," Catherine said lovingly. She no longer thought of George in the old way.  He was simply a kind and generous uncle.
     "Forever?" Dunk asked.
     "Yes, forever and ever."
     Uncle George greeted them on the front porch where he had been waiting in his rocker with a big fat cigar in his mouth and enveloped by ttrails of stinky smoke. He was dressed as a southerner in a white cloth suit of clothes and a diamond stick-pin fastened to a silk craveat tied around his neck. When they were on the porch, he swept off his broad-rimmed hat in a swirling motion.
     "You are a dandy!" Duncan said, admiringly.
     "I am a Carolina gentleman, sir" he corrected jovially. "And what about you, Catherine, what do you think of my new presona?"
     "I like it better than the duke," Catherine said before thinking.
     "What? Oh, tis better than a duke!" He said laughing and embracing her shoulders. "Come inside the house and see what I hath made of myself."
     The house had the style and graceful beauty of the typical Beaufort colonial home flanked by white doric columns surrounding a circular porch, long narrow windows which almost reached the floor and a fireplace in every room.
     "The stone for the fireplace and white sand for the hearth came from the creek," he said proudly. "And the floors are made from oak trees which were felled and hewn on the place. You see, all of the necessities of life are grown here on the land itself. All that one has to do is to make use of the resources." Nickie and Dunk played chase around his legs as he spoke. "This generation will have no need of Great Britain or any other country for that matter."
     "Then you do not miss your country?"
     "My dear! Look about this landscape and your heart will provide the answer."
     "Yes, tis beautiful."
     "This practical house has a bedroom for everyone. Yours is the one facing the garden, so that you may watch from your window the flowers as they bloom in their season. Having no preferences myself, I planted your favorites, even the tiny red roses and purple wisteria."
     "Thank you, George."
     "I fondest hope is that you share this house with me," he said wistully. "This is not the old duke speaking, rather your truest admirer."
     "There is something that I must tell you, George.  Roderick had to stay behind with Suzette. There was an argument between them which resulted in her falling to the floor. She was delivered of a premature daughter."
     "Tsk. Tsk."
     "There is more.  The child is retarded."
     "I see.  I was not pleased with this marriage; he was too impulsive in his selection of this girl. I fear that there are many years of unhappiness ahead for your son.  I am sorry, Catherine."
     "Roderick has taken the responsibility seriously.  Suzette blames him, and he accepts that."
     "The seasons shall pass and Roderick shall do his duty. The crops require planting for the harvest cometh soon  and we must scurry to pluck the fruits of our labor."
     "You speak poetically."
     "I am endeavoring to express something of great importance."
     "What is it, George?"
     "Forgive me, but you are the dearest lady of my life and my heart faints in the anticipation that you would marry me!  Oh my dear, if you only knew how much I need you. I cannot pretend that I love you as much as Angus. No one has that strong a heart. But you are ever in my heart."
     "George, you agreed not to bring up old ghosts," she protested.
    "Yes, we do share shameful and wonderful memories, certain truths that we cannot tell anyone else.  But we survived our tainted past.  If I could remove the unpleasantness of it for you, I would. But as for myself those days strengthened my resolve and I am a better person for it. That is why my conscience is clear to ask you to marry me. It is only right, Catherine, we belong together."
     "After all these years?"
     "But what about Angus?" She trembled and a flush of tears came into her eyes.
     "I once told you that you did not love your husband, but was wrong," he said sympathetically. "You know, my dear, most widows immortalize their husbands, but you simply pretend that he is still beside you.  Angus McDonald was a man of the age, a soldier of the Revolution and of 1812. His sacrifice is embedded in the spirit of this country and like nothing I hath ever known, thrives in the hearts of all Charlestonians.  Being British, I resented it at first but now I think that I am swept up in it.  You see, Angus full-filled the measure of his creation on this earth and is gone on to better things. You are left to measure out your own cup."
     His words touched her and the tears flowed.  "I cannot leave Ashley Loche. It was his dream; he built it for me."
     "Ashley Loche is Roderick's now."
     "I suppose so."
     "I will bury you in a grave beside him and on that stone write 'Here lies Catherine, wife of Angus McDonald'.
     That seemed to satisfy her.  He took her  arm led her upstairs to his bedchamber. There was an huge wooden poster bed canopied over with a dangling mosquito net and underneath its mattress, a trunk.  He opened it and removed a large wad of jewelry wrapped inside of several old yellow-laced handkerchiefs. Then placed it carefully  on the bed and unrolled it.
     "These jewels are all that is left of my mother's things," he said, taking up a pearl necklace, kissing it and arranging it carefully across the handkerchief. Each piece he handled in the same manner. The last item that he kissed was a gold locket. "I scarcely remember my mother except that she was kind and gentle. And now, to honor her memory I should like for you to wear it," he said placing it gently around her neck.
     "Oh George, so precious an heirloom!"
     "These jewels were passed down to all of the duchesses of Cornwall. None of these noble ladies married for love, but they wore the jewelry as a proud insignia of their conquest.  I should very much like to make a present of it to you, Catherine."  She seemed to stand frozen in time as she watched him reassemble the pieces and close up the lace handerkerchief. "You do not have to marry me to receive the the Cornwall jewels. Tis a gift for you to pass down to Nickie." Then he removed a rather heavy box from the chest and laid that on the bed. "Inside this box are fancifuls," he said showing her a collection of ornate necklaces, rings of every size and diamond stick pins. "Again, these jewels belonged to the dukes of Cornwall and is all that is left of my duchy. When my time comes, I should like for you to give them to Dunk."
     "Oh no, George, all of your possessions to go to the McDonalds!"
    "Well, I still retain the wax seal," he said drawing out another box and showing her the impression of the family crest.  "The duchy is mine."  Then he slipped the rings of the dukes on all of his fingers and spread them out.  "Tis mine in perpetuity. No one can change that."  It was a solemn moment. He seemed to be remembering something. When he came to himself again, he removed Catherine's white glove and gently kissed the palm of her hand.  "What do you say, my dear?"
     "Yes, I think that we belong together." 

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