Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
Randolph Stone tossed the whistle onto the night table. His father had used it before him to summon slaves and it had always been his own ambition to blow that whistle and hear hurrying footsteps along the outer hall. To the son it was a baton of ownership.
He let his gaze move about the room.
This room was the throne hall of Stonehedge. From here, the words of the master went out across the fields to the slave hands, throughout the house, across half the state of Louisiana, as a matter of fact. The four-poster bed was huge, its posts of polished mahogany hung with a striped silk valance and a matching canopy. Twin mahogany tables flanked it, while behind them, two arched windows looked out over the courtyard and bowling green in front of the manse.
Heavy damask drapes, of pale blue, were tasseled in gold, where they framed the windows. Opposite them, a roll-top desk stood against the wall beneath a rustic painting by Copley that had been an especial favorite of Meriwether Stone. His father had had a good business head on him, he had made his calculations at, and mailed his letters from, that desk. From this same desk, his son intended to carry on the Stonehedge tradition.
Footsteps roused him from his thoughts.
“Master? You—you whistled?”
She was poised in the doorway like a Meissen figurine, half on tiptoe as if to flee. Randolph Stone smiled faintly.
“There any hot water in the house?” he asked.
“Yes, master,” she breathed. Her hand on the doorknob quivered, he saw. In a way he could not define this pleased him.
“I’ve been riding all day and half the night to get here,” he told her conversationally. “I’m dirty and I’m tired. I need a bath. Go fetch the water. Get Juno to help you.”
He watched her run down the hall and grinned. No bounce-buttocked flirt, this one. She did not roll her eyes at him or swing her teats or use any of the other tricks he had seen pretty nigra girls use on their masters, to get preferential treatment. He would not have it any other way.
She was a virgin, as skitterish as an unbroken colt. It might be fun to break her down gradually. Randolph Stone was glad he was back in Stone House, he had been a fool to stay away so long.
He sank down in an easy chair that his father had sent away to London for years back. His hand reached out to a table that held a humidor and half a dozen books and selected a cigar. To his surprise the tobacco was fresh. He wondered if it had been Juno the housekeeper or his sister Melissa who had kept things always at the ready for his return. His money was on Juno.
The noise of two approaching male slaves, hurriedly dressed and half-groggy with sleep, interrupted his enjoyment of the cigar. They were carrying a boot tub of Parisian workmanship that they set down in a corner of the big bedroom. Right behind them came Delilah and Juno with three other female slaves, carrying wooden buckets of water. He noted with calm amusement that the three unknown-as-yet women slaves were also partially undressed.
Relaxed in the easy chair, he watched the tub fill with hot water. When only Delilah lingered, Randolph Stone stood up. He crossed to the door and swung it shut.
“Your duties are about to begin, Delilah,” he smiled, unbuttoning his laced shirt. His riding jacket lay over the bedspread and he nodded at it as he said, “Put away my jacket, for one thing.”
She leaped to obey him, running to the huge oaken clothes closet and selecting a hanger on which to drape the coat. When she turned back, the shirt was flying through the air at her. She caught it with deft hands.
Randolph Stone said, “I undress myself, you see. I’ve had my fill of valets, in London and Paris, Rome and Berlin. I’m tired of pompous male valets, too. I want to look at something pleasant when I strip.”
Her wide eyes were fastened on his bare torso, on the golden hairs glinting in the candlelight on his deep chest. His body was very strong, the muscles rolling under his hide were like big serpents writhing to his movements.
He paused with his hands at his riding breeches, about to thrust them down. “You ever seen a naked white man, Delilah?”
She shook her head. Her tongue-tip touched her lips. He chuckled. “Well, you’re going to see me naked. You’re my body servant, right?” At her nod, he grinned and pushed the breeches and the cotton drawers he wore under them, to the floor.
The girl gasped and looked away, hands gripping her striped cotton skirt in sudden desperation.
“Look at me, girl,” he said. She turned her head slowly. Against the suddenly tight cotton blouse, he could see the firm bowls of her breasts pushing outward and the erecting nipples. His laughter was silent. She might be a virgin—but, by God —she was affected by the sight of his hungry pecker.
“My boots,” he said softly. Riding breeches at his knees, naked above them, he sat down on the bed and lifted a leg. The girl came across the room, put hands to his boot.
“Turn around, girl. Clasp the boot between your knees. Bend over and yank. Here, I’ll help you.”
He put his other booted foot to her buttock. He straightened his leg as she tugged. The boot came off in her hands, she lost her balance and fell to the floor.
She scrambled up with a flash of bare legs under her skirts, expecting mocking laughter, he saw. Instead, he smiled, gently. “Everybody falls, at first. Don’t take it to heart. Come, try the other boot, now—but brace yourself.”
His socked foot on her buttock, naked under her skirt, was strangely moving to the girl, he saw. She seemed to breathe a little faster and he was tempted to run his big toe down under her behind, into her con. Not yet, he told himself. He did not want to frighten of this pretty little virgin.
She kept her balance, this time, stumbling forward a few steps. When she turned, her delight at her accomplishment was showing in her face. Randolph Stone held up a foot.
“The breeches, Delilah, and the socks.” She bent, aware that he was naked, that his body was handsome; his manhood as large as that of Big Cass, if possible, judging from the raking glance she had given Big Cass in the spinning house room when she had come back from the storehouse. She found her eyes wandering to it in a reflex action over which she apparently had no control.
She stripped him of his socks and his breeches. Randolph Stone lay back on his elbows, studying her face. “Now you,” he murmured gently.
She gasped and shook her head. “Oh—no!”
“Girl, I own you,” he went on casually. “I could order Mark Antony up here to strip you down, if I were so minded.” He added maliciously, “Then he would see you, too.”
Her eyes went to the closed door and her body seemed to poise for flight. He said softly, “By the Almighty. If you run out into that hall I’ll put you in a keg of boiling water—as naked as a jaybird.”
She began to tremble but her hands went to her bodice buttons, undoing one, then two. His eyes were fixed on the opening bodice, on the ivory breasts that were pushing out against the thin cotton. When all the buttons were undone, she caught the flaps in her fingers.
The man saw the flare of her nostrils, the sudden lifting of her head. He understood her reluctance, as he did her fear. She was his slave, he could have torn off her dress and raped her, but he was too farsighted to destroy her pride. Delilah was more than a slave, she would be his confidante if he played his cards right.
“Please?” he said suddenly. She stared down at him and her hands quivered. Her eyes dropped to his loins where his manhood lay boated. Being a woman, though young, she sensed that his interest in her nakedness was a compliment. He could have been more savage in his demands; many of his neighbors would have been.
Her red lips curved into a smile. Daringly, she asked, “You want to see my breasts?”
“I’d like very much to see your breasts, Delilah.” Her hands drew the flaps back so that her firm ivory mounds fell into view, quivering. Their nipples were large, purple. Round and heavy, her breasts were full and sensual.
Randolph Stone made a throaty sound. He had enjoyed women in the pince-culs of Paris and the inns of London. This girl with her womanly breasts naked in the candlelight was a treasure the likes of which, however, he had never tasted.
“The rest,” he whispered. She nodded, staring at his loins. There was a fire in her, glowing licking its flames at her nipples and her crotch. Her slim thighs she moved together, feeling the heat gathering in her blood. Her lips were swollen, her breasts were getting heavier and the roof of her mouth was dry.
Her thumbs pushed the dress down to her navel, then lower, until he could see the blackness of her pubic thatch. She paused like that, bending forward, so he would be sure to see the ripeness of her body. That he liked what he saw, that he was roused by her partial nakedness, was enormously evident.
Her dress went to her rounded hips, and now she wriggled a little, letting her belly bobble. She found at she was taking a strange enjoyment out of this arousal of a white man. Her mind remembered the obeah amulet she had thrown away on the mall lawn earlier, and she wondered if this moment alone with her master was the result of voodoo influences working in her favor or against her.
Her dress went down to her thighs and Randolph Stone feasted his stare on the neatly trimmed pubic hair on her mons veneris. She straightened almost arrogantly and let the dress pool at her feet. She stepped out of it, wearing only her shoes.
“You’re beautiful,” he breathed. “Now walk around.”
She kicked off her shoes and walked as he ordered, breasts swaying, her buttock-flesh gently moving. She was slim and curved, her pale body was lissome, her skin smooth.
To her surprise, he did not catch her up in his arms. He got of the bed, smiling at her—he looked so strange with his proud manhood at full mast—and then walked toward the boot tub.
“You will bathe me,” he said softly. She licked her lips, uncertain as to how to proceed. She walked naked toward the tub where he was stepping into the hot water, letting its warmth soothe his flesh. There was a washcloth and a bar of plantation-made soap on a chair close at hand. Delilah reached for the cloth and the soap and dipping her hands in the water, rubbed soap onto the cloth.
It was almost like bathing a baby, she decided. She had done that often enough in the slave cabins, lending a hand to the young black mothers who had been busy increasing the Stone slave stock. She drew the wet rag over his shoulders and chest as he soaked in the water, she soaped the rag again and rubbed his neck and back when he bent forward.
Her hands had stopped their shaking, it was as if an inner voice were telling her that this was where she belonged, waiting on the master in this intimate fashion. Even when she saw that his pecker was still erect, she did not hesitate.
She soaped his genitals, using the rag.
“Enough,” he said harshly, and she found to her surprise that she had been breathing just as savagely as he.
Boldly, she dropped the rag, caught him in a soapy hand. She was not surprised to find that his hands were under her, gently cradling the weights of her swollen breasts. Never before had any hands touched her breast-flesh, nor toyed with the rigid nipples pointing floor-ward.
“You learn fast, girl,” he panted.
“I’ve always known,” she whispered. “I never found a man—so gentle. You want me now?
“What do you think?”
She nodded, her hair falling in an ebony spill to her bare shoulders and lower. She had an impulse to kiss his manhood, to show him she could be as wise as any of the courtesans with whom he had amused himself in Europe.
His finger touched her chin, lifted her flushed face to his stare. He said, “I want to wash you, now. Has a man ever washed that lovely body before?”
“No. Never,” she whispered. She stepped into the warm water, brushing against his hardened flesh. She sank down into the tub. It was a tight squeeze, the boot tub had never been intended to be shared. The warm water felt good, she smelled the soap and the man smell, and her own feminine perfume. His hands were as gentle as hers had been, soaping her hard breasts and stiffened nipples, the slope of her belly. She moaned when he ran the cloth down her outer thigh and up the inner. She could not help it. She moved against him, reaching between their wet bodies to clasp him in her fingers.
“Please, please,” she breathed. Delilah did not know what was making her say this, her flesh had taken command of all her senses, even her brain. She was moving against his nakedness, her hand clutching as if he were a bit of driftwood and she was drowning.
“Soon, my little love, soon,” he told her. He made her stand on one leg and lift the other, planting the sole of her right foot on the edge of the tub. He was washing her now where no man should wash a woman, she thought wildly. Yet I love it! I adore it. He is tending me as if—as if he were the slave and I the mistress!
She cried out brokenly, bending to catch his wrists and hold them. The fire in her veins was at fullest heat, she felt like a volcano about to erupt and shoot its bubbling lavas. Her slippery breasts were against his bare shoulder as she stood like that; she began to drag them back and forth across his flesh.
“Do me,” she told him harshly, “do me, do me!
He stood, he swung her up in his arms and carried her toward the bed. Ignoring the fact that their bodies were wet and soapy, he laid her on the bedspread. He did not fall on her as she expected, parting her thighs and raising them. He bent and kissed her knee, ran his lips up her thigh to her groin.
Delilah put her knuckles to her mouth to stifle a scream as she felt his kiss. Her hips lifted and swung. Her hands flew wide, her fingers gripped the bedspread, crushed it between them.
“Damballah!” she screamed.
He rose up, lunged. She quivered under him like a terrified colt, feeling his maleness. Her hips shrank back. Instantly his hands were sliding off her smooth hips and around to fasten fingers in her soft buttocks. He held her like that, trembling, for a few moments.
“Easy, easy,” he breathed, surprised at his solicitude for her feelings. “There will be a pain but then—”
He drove forward, almost savagely. She cried out, her hands that had gone up to his muscular shoulders tightening their grip as she gave a soft cry. He was locked inside her, heard her panting harshly at the immensity of his arousal. Her hips shook in his grasp; she wanted to avoid him, yet she also wanted him fierce and hot in his love-making.
He rested, whispering, “There! It’s done, Delilah. No more pain, just pleasure. Relax a moment.”
His lips browsed along her soft throat, kissing her. The delay in his plunging sweeps added a sweet lassitude to the molten fire of his loins. He turned his head, lifted it, clamped his open mouth on her half-parted lips. Her bare arms tightened about his neck, her tongue flicked his own, teasing, luring. His palms felt her buttocks move, lift, drive upward. Her moan was loud against his lips and her buttocks swung a little faster, then faster as she gained confidence in herself.
She was catching him up in the fury of her pounding blood, sliding, scraping, driving him with the lash of her own emotions. She tore her lips from his so she could pant out her fierce eroticism. Her words—he was a little surprised to discover she knew them—told him in raw, blunt language that she wanted him to ream her, split her apart with his manhood.
Randolph Stone had never been so aroused. His flailing hips slammed pleasure into the girl as well as into his own flesh. This beating of bellies, this slapping together of loins, was primal and primitive.
She screamed with mouth wide open, head back. Her body bucked and thumped. Smooth thighs lifted to wrap themselves about his lean hips and her every muscle strutted in the orgasmic fulfillment of her flesh.
She did not pause in her movement, other than for that spasm of incredible delight that shook her from her long hair to her curling toes. The smooth hips had paused but when she found him still aroused, she gave a mewling cry and her hips resumed their pounding rhythm.
“Again, again, again,” she babbled. He lifted her to a second crest and now he thought she would go mad, for her cries were shrill and steady and her tongue licked his chest flesh when her teeth were not fastened in his shoulder. Up and down, back and forth, circling and looping, she stabbed, stabbed, stabbed ecstasy into him.
He was about to give his seed to her. The avalanche of his emotions poised perilously on the brink of intolerability. His hips shuddered, his own voice added its sounds to the wails of her soft throat. Now the sweet dying was part of his body, his flesh was flowing, flowing.
Three hours later, the slave girl fainted. Randolph Stone drew back, smiling down into her still face, loving the swollen lips that had kissed as he directed, that had bubbled words of thanks and adoration to him for what he had done to her this night. Forgotten was the fact that she had been virginal. She was now a woman and belonged to him in her entirety.
With tender fingers, he pushed back the sweat-wet hair from her wide forehead, aware of a new regard in him for this child-woman who had been so amorous during the night hours. Had this been because she was naturally of hot blood? Or was it the result of his own capable love-making? He decided it might be a little of both. His arm hooked her middle, drew her lissome body toward him. He reached down with his left hand, drew the covers up over their bodies. Her head nestled against his chest. Her lips pursed, kissing his nipple in her sleep. Randolph Stone smiled, kissed her sweetly scented hair.
He drifted off to sleep. . . .
It was late next morning when he woke but Delilah was still beside him, her wide eyes regarding him gravely. She smiled faintly when his eyes opened; he regarded her blankly, unsure at first where he was.
His laughter rang out with memory. “I’m home,” he said, lifting his arms over his head, stretching. “I’m home and in bed with Delilah herself.” He leaned to kiss her pouting lips.
“Go down and tell Vergie or Juno or whoever rules the kitchen these days that I’m hungry.”
“Ernestine,” she giggled, slipping naked from between the covers. She ran to her shoes, bending over to lift them, giving him an intimate look at her buttocks and the con that he had ravaged last night.
“Ernestine, then,” he said, breathlessly. “You tell her I want trout in butter for breakfast with corn bread and good, hot coffee.
She turned her head, seeing where he stared and waggled her rump at him. Delilah told herself she was shameless, she had the morals of a weak-willed alley cat, but she did not care, the master had opened up whole new worlds to her in the cozy warmth of his bed. She was still a little surprised by her own fierce reactions to his love-making.
Straightening, she slipped into her dress.
“Got to get you some new clothes,” he said from the rumbled covers. “Can’t have my body servant parading around in things like that.”
She twisted the dress down about her body, flushing with pleasure. “Silks? Pretty dresses? Maybe some perfume?”
“All of that—and fancy frou-frou to wear under them.” She fled with a wild yelp of joy. Behind her, Randolph Stone crossed his hands under his head and then his ankles, the left on top of the right. In this position, he had done some of his best thinking while in Europe. What worked in Europe ought to work in Louisiana.
He needed new clothes, himself. His old garments would be too small. He had gone to Europe eight years ago little more than a youth; today, he was a man, bigger and stronger and bulkier. Well, he could buy those things in New Orleans, at the shops on Toulouse Street, while buying ladies wear in the boutiques that ranged along the Rue Chartres.
He would combine pleasure with business. He would visit the store his father had begun on Chartres Street, he would examine its books, discover if he and Stonehedge had been cheated while he had been away. He was not entirely unconversant with the situation in New Orleans and Louisiana, he had made inquiries over a glass of rum in the trade marts of London or a goblet of wine in Paris.
The sugar trade in Louisiana amounted to about twenty million dollars. Stonehedge sugar netted more than half of that, or should, if he was not being robbed blind by his agents. His sister, he would bet good gold eagles, had never spent as much as ten minutes checking into her properties. Sufficient for her the money that Sample and Hedges mailed to her every month, for her living expenses and some luxuries, here at Stone House.
Things would change now he was back. When Delilah returned with a heavy tray, covered with damask napkins and emitting an aroma of freshly baked ham with eggs, buttered slices of corn pone and coffee, Randolph Stone discovered he was ravenously hungry. One sweep of his hand emptied the tabletop as his other hand indicated that gleaming length of polished mahogany as a resting place for the tray.
His hand brought a pair of chairs across the room. One he put across the table from the other. “Close the door and come eat with me, Lilah, I find need in me for talk this morning.”
Her big eyes told him slaves—even pretty girl slaves—did not eat with their masters on Louisiana plantations. His grin told her theirs were not to be the ordinary master and slave relationship.
“I’ve learned a little democracy in the European capitals, of all places,” he told her. “Maybe it’s because they abolished slavery there a couple of hundred years ago. Now pull in those big eyes and sit down and talk to me.”
He ate almost greedily like a bear about to hibernate. He was a man of many appetites and he enjoyed the pleasures of indulgence in their many forms. When he was hungry, he ate; when he needed female solace, he went out and found a willing female. If his thighs felt the need of a horse to grip between them, he discovered a spirited stallion and rode it like the wind across the roads.
“What’s Mark Antony like?” he asked suddenly.
Delilah paused in her pecking at the tiny bit of food on her plate, more a concession to a master’s command then to the bite of hunger. Her eyes regarded this strange man curiously.
“He’s young and strong,” she answered warily. Randolph Stone snorted. “That much, I can see myself. Is he ambitious?”
“In what way?”
“Don’t play games, girl—not after last night. You and I have a thing to share, if you’ll have it.” He paused to grin. “I can look in your eyes and see you—the real you —hiding away deep down there inside your skin. So the color of your hide doesn’t matter to me. Now if you’re going to be my confidante, forget you’re a slave. Here alone with me, you’re my woman. Talk to me in private as if you were.”
She felt a stab of excitement, of hidden yearnings bubbling to the fore, that she fought to suppress. She knew her place in her world, a place she rebelled against in her heart at times, but a place she could maintain without trouble and so achieve a kind of peace. What this man was offering her consisted of two worlds, this room and the world beyond this room.
She supposed she should be grateful. “He’s young and—yes, I think Mark is ambitious. In the right way, of course. On Stonehedge plantation he might aspire to being something more than stable-boy.”
“I could make him my outdoors body servant, to go riding with me. Would he like that?”
Her eyes glowed as she nodded. “Of course he would. But—Big Cass was your father’s body servant. He might resent it.”
“Big Cass is locked in the storehouse for the nonce, where he will stay for a little while. Besides, I am not my father. I pick and choose my own.”
His eyes studied her. “You’re not eating.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Liar,” he chuckled. “You’re afraid. Of what? The gossip below-stairs? Of what my sister may say or think?”
Miserable, she studied her almost untouched food, aware of his eyes that searched her as beacons studied the sea for a sign of ships during a storm. She shook her head suddenly and was surprised that there were tears in her eyes.
“No—none of that. I was just thinking. If I were a white woman how things might be a little different between us.”
She made her eyes meet his gaze. She found it calm, not mocking; it was honestly curious. She decided Randolph Stone was a different sort of plantation owner than any she had ever seen or heard of; perhaps it was those years in Europe which made him what he was.
“You wouldn’t have flung me into bed with you last night, for one.” Greatly daring, she breathed, “You would have—have courted me.”
His grin was boyish. “Delilah, I’ve treated you better than a lot of white women I’ve bedded in Paris and London and Berlin. Let me tell you something. A woman likes to be flung on a bed, a woman likes to know a man wants her so much he’ll do that. There was a German baroness, for one, a French countess for another. An Englishwoman begged me to whip her. I did, too.”
She laughed disbelievingly through her tears. She could not understand what he was telling her. In her mind, white folks lived in a realm where there was always the scent of magnolia and pianoforte music playing in the background. They did not soil their hands, they were waited on, hand and foot.
She hated her skin suddenly, viciously. “I’d better go back to my room,” she said.
“You’ll sit here and talk to me, Delilah. I want to know about the plantation and the slaves on it. You tell me about them.”
And so she began to talk.
Mark Antony was scrubbing down the big gray stallion, admiring its muscles and the healthy gloss of its skin, when a shadow touched the slops bucket. Looking up, he saw Randolph Stone in riding breeches and a loose cotton shirt.
“Master,” he murmured.
“Go on with what you were doing, Mark. I like the way you work, quickly and efficiently. Do you go about your chores that way all the time? Or is it because you like horses so much?”
Mark said, “I loves horses but I gits my work done, too. No sense not to.” He could have added that working kept a man from thinking too much. It did not pay a slave to think. Especially not the thoughts that came at times to Mark Antony.
“How would you like to be my boy?” Stone asked. Mark came close to dropping the wet sponge. “I like that, master. Like it fine. But—”
“Don’t worry about Big Cass. I have other plans for him. Now saddle the Scot and a horse for yourself and let’s ride. I want to look at the fields. I’ve been away a long time and I want to make sure we can meet the contracts I’ve been signing here and there in Europe.”
Mark Antony nodded happily.
From an upper window, Melissa Stone watched her brother and Mark Antony ride out along the hard dirt road toward the sugar cane fields. There was a smoldering fury in her this morning, born of her frustrations of last night. She moved away from the window, her pink peignoir swishing to her strides.
As a sister, she had been happy to see Randolph. As a woman, she hated his coming home. He was now the master, she had been relegated to the post of second in command. No longer was Stone House and the plantation hers to do with as she wished. Her breasts felt heavy and her loins molten with the deprivation his homecoming had caused her.
It there had been no Randolph Stone last night, there would have been the sight of Big Cass ploughing a screaming Delilah before her eyes and the eyes of her visitors. The voyeurism would have served to make the wine tastier, to encourage men like Damon Pontremarain or Claude Brulot to take liberties with her body.
When the men had been teased enough, she would lead them to her bedroom here, as the grooms lead stallions to the breeding mare after the teaser mare had been at work. Melissa Stone smiled faintly, pausing to admire her reflection in a standing mirror.
Ever since her husband Raoul had died, she had been searching feverishly for someone to fill his place in her life. Poor Raoul! Dear Raoul! He had been her husband for only two years when a pistol-ball under the dueling oaks in New Orleans had cut him down in his prime of life after a ridiculous argument about the merits of two Mississippi river-boats.
Raoul Desjardiens had been a mad, passionate lover whose death had affected Melissa Stone far more than she would have suspected. In bed of nights, after he was gone, she had lain unloved and yearning to be smothered in kisses, clasped in male arms.
From a companionless bed, she had turned to bourbon.
The bourbon found her friends quickly enough, since it was free to drink at Stone House. It also found handsome men for her who were quite as madly passionate as Raoul Desjardiens had been, she soon discovered. The fact that her father was dead and her brother away in Europe had given her a free rein which otherwise, she would never have enjoyed.
What had begun as an occasional assignation soon became a way of life. Damon Pontremarain or Claude Brulot were always welcome in her arms and her bed after a few hours of socialization in the spinning house. Her bourbon and her body were magnets that drew them as sugar did the flies.
There would be no more bedroom meetings, now. Not with her brother in the house. And she needed a party, a little bourbon. She was suffering badly without either.
Her hand reached for a bell-pull. Moments later, Vergie stepped into the room. Her mistress was seated in a chaise-lounge, almost the mate to the chaise in the spinning house. Her white legs were crossed carelessly, showing a round thigh and a dimpled knee bare under the peignoir.
“I don’t want you,” Melissa shouted at the girl. “You rang, Miz Lissa?”
“Not for you, I didn’t. Do you think I want to see that face any more? I’m going to get my brother to sell you. That’s right. In the New Orleans slave market! Teach you to defy me. Is that face of yours healing nicely?”
“Yes, Miz Lissa,” muttered Vergie stonily. “Don’t glower at me, girl. I’ll have you whipped bloody, brother or no brother. I still have some say around Stonehedge.”
Vergie lowered her eyes. “Yes, Miz Lissa.”
“I’ve got to have a body servant. Not you any more, Vergie. Somebody else. Who would you suggest?”
“Doan know, ma’am…”
“What about that other bitch, Delilah?” Vergie paused. Then she said, “Lilah go to master. She his girl now.”
“What?” Melissa swung around on the lounge, bare white legs revealed under the swirling skirt of her robe. Vergie was still staring at the carpet, but deep inside she was gloating. At least none of the house girls would take her place with her mistress! And she felt, it would take too long to train a field hand, even if a girl with the proper sensibilities could be found.
Melissa laughed, head thrown back, a scratching disharmony that raised the short hairs on the slavegirl’s neck. She glanced at the white woman, saw that the inner slopes of her big breasts were exposed in the fallen neckline of her peignoir.
“So my dear, saintly brother is as human as anybody else, is he? He took dear little Delilah for a body servant, did he? Maybe there’s some hope, after all.”
She paused at a sudden thought. Almost holding her breath, she looked at Vergie gleefully. “Ned was supposed to be his body servant, wasn’t he?”
Vergie answered, “Yes, Miz Lissa.”
“And Delilah was to have been mine, if you didn’t prove satisfactory. Well, now. This does change things a little. I can’t have Delilah—but perhaps I can have Ned.” Vergie opened her eyes wide as her stare lifted to glare hatred at her mistress. She took one step forward and her right hand, half-hidden by her loose cotton skirt, clenched into a fist. Melissa Stone had been studying her carefully; she saw these signs of agitation and smiled inwardly.
“It would only be fair,” nodded Melissa Stone, a dimpled chin on her fist, elbow resting on crossed thigh. She was enjoying the inward suffering of the slavegirl. This was better than a whipping would have been; her dear brother would have no salve for these wounds.
“He’s a man,” said Vergie sullenly.
“As Delilah is a woman,” the mistress nodded. “Did Lilah see him naked, Vergie? Did she undress him?” Before they fell into bed, that is?”
“I doan know.”
“Answer me, you bitch! And none of your sass or by the God Almighty I’ll flog the tits off your chest! Now tell me what I want to know.”
Terrified, Vergie stammered, “I do—doan know, Miz Lissa. Honess! I doan Lilah not say nuthin’!”
“Oh, get the hell out of here. And send Ned to me.” As the girl turned to leave, Melissa added softly, “Oh, by the way, Vergie. Ned doesn’t have the French sickness, does he? I hear that some slaves get it after a time. A new slavegirl, brought into the cabins—that sort of thing.”
Vergie stared at the carpeting, shaking her head. Melissa laughed. “Haven’t you examined him? You’re sweet on him and he likes you. I should imagine you’d at least have done that. Oh, well—perhaps I’ll do it for you. I can’t have a sick boy dressing me, now can I?”
That laughter followed Vergie down the hall as she ran on feet that spurned the hall carpeting. She found she was muttering, “I kill her, I kill her, I kill her—some day” as she ran.
Ned was sweeping the pillared porch bricks when Vergie found him. In surprise, he stared at the girl he loved. She was quivering with rage and it seemed to the youth that her bandaged face looked bloody as if she had reopened the gash on her cheek.
“Whut the matter, Vergie?” he asked. “She the matter, that who. The bitch upstairs.” Ned was scandalized. “Hush your mouth, girl. She kill you for dat talk, she hear. Now get a hold of yourselves. Tell me what she do.”
“She want you,” Vergie panted. Ned grew fearful. “What I do? I doan do nuthin’!”
“She want you for her body servant.” Ned dropped the broom. “Me? Ise a man, Vergie!”
“I tole her dat. She doan care. Master got Lilah, she want you.” Tears sprang into the black eyes that stared up at his handsome face. “Doan go to her, Ned. Member, I belongs to you.”
“You belongs to her and master. So do I.” She made a gesture with her hand. “You knows whut I mean. Now you go off, do some work somewheres else. I tell her I couldn’ find you.”
Ned protested, “I works round the house, Vergie. You know that, so do she. Whut work I got anywheres else?”
Vergie pleaded, “You want to go to her?”
“No, course not. I just got to.” Vergie sighed, knowing defeat. She had never had much hope, anyhow. A slave had no rights. It was not Ned’s fault, she could hardly ask him to run away from Stonehedge. If he were pursued and caught—as he would be—he would be flogged to death. Or worse, depending on the whim of the master. She could not ask Ned to risk a flogging. She had no hold on him. She had no hold, even on herself.
“I guess I knows dat! Go on to her!” she whispered. She stared at the fallen broom until she could no longer hear his footfalls. Tears blinded her eyes. She wanted to run after him, to throw herself on her knees before him, begging him not to go. It would do no good. A sound made her lift her head, look toward the storehouse. Was somebody in there? Locked in by mistake, perhaps? Curious, she moved down the pathway.
The closer she came, the louder grew the sounds. It was like a man calling for help. On tiptoe, she advanced until the window was in front of her eyes. A face loomed up suddenly, glaring at her.
“Vergie! Get me outter here.”
“Big Cass!” she exclaimed in amazement. “Whut you doon in dere, man? You git yourself locked in?”
“Master lock mein. Gemme out.”
“What for he do dat?”
“Nebber mind dat Just gemme out!” She walked around the side of the building to the door. There was a big padlock on the latch, but there was no key in it.
“Cass? Dis latch locked good. I ain’t got no key. You gonna have to stay dere, man.”
“Ise hungry, Thirsty. Gemme some water.”
“I can’t do dat you knows better.”
“I dyin, Vergie!”
She twisted her fingers together. Things were happening too fast at Stonehedge, things she did not understand. If she could have done so she might have freed the big stud, but she knew that if the master did not want him freed and if she aided him in escape, it would be her flesh that would pay the penalty.
If there had been a chance she might have risked it.
There was no chance. The master probably had the key on his person and she could think of no way of getting hold of it.
She put her lips close to the wooden door, smelling the odor of sun-baked varnish. “Cass? I see whut I can do. You stay dere for now. I try git you water.”
“Ain’t no way to git it in here, lessen you open de door.”
“Master got de key. Him off somewhere, Cass.”
There was silence inside the storehouse.
Vergie began to cry.