Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 30

When Catherine finally emerged from her child-bearing bed, she was determined to restore her womanly beauty. The aging effects of a woman turned forty were apparent...the thinning skin under the eyes and intrusive lines around the mouth. She combed her long brown hair and twisted it in a matronly bun, then pinned it to the crown of her head. Then laced her corsets and drew in her breath. She stared at herself in the looking glass. She was no longer the girl, the old maid, or the bride. The appearance of a matron had an unsettling effect. She pinched her cheeks to give some life to her skin and daubed some charcoal onto her lashes.
Roderick was sleeping peacefully in his cradle. She smiled sweetly and tucked his blanket around him. This would be her only child for she would soon experience the change of life.
When she appeared at the dinner table for the first time, Angus politely seated her. During the meal, Duncan noticed the changes in her appearance. She was older. It was obvious that something unpleasant, yet maturing had occurred. Something that Catherine kept to herself and pondered.
The dullness of routine was the order of the day. Even so, the plantation flourished under the work- horse mentality of Angus. He added an extension to the root cellar, several smoke houses, and a community store to sell off the overflow. His connections extended from New England to the dutch West Indies and it was not uncommon to see a supply vessel tied to the dock loading indigo, rice, potatoes, corn, sugar beets and other staples. If the management of the indoor servants had once been a problem until Catherine took charge, of necessity Angus purchased more slaves to help develop the land.
In November, when it was time for the annual Hunt ball, the neighbors looked forward to the most exciting event of the year, and especially a fresh tour of Ashley Loche. They were not disappointed. A new staircase had been installed in the main portion of the house using as a base the trunks of the plantation's most ancient oak trees. The banisters were polished in a dark finish and the ballisters carved in tiny grape leaf designs. The staircase itself was sufficiently wide for a party of friends to ascend simultaneously. Once upstairs, the carving of the ballisters and wide banisters continued in a circular motion for a view of the downstairs foyer. As little Roderick grew, he would play peek-a-boo between the ballisters. A sparkling crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling into the stairwell.
The year that had passed was frought with passionate and painful memories. And it created the distinct personalities of two suffering people who were strangely considerate of one another. The occasion of a ball at Ashley Loche opened a new opportunity for Catherine to position herself as its mistress and that evening she planned to stand beside her husband and cordially greet guests. For the occasion, she selected a brocade dress ordered from London. She styled her hair in a row of curls on the crown of her head clipped together with little black combs and an array of ringlets loose around her ears. The looking glass disclosed a woman of fading beauty. When she ascended the stairs, the long trail of her gown seemed to float behind her. The vibrant blue color of the brocade bodice and sheer silk skirts distinguished her from the ladies of Charleston fashion. Certain of the envious ladies began to whisper, "is that the new fashion?" Angus appeared on the bottom steps and taking her gloved hand, escorted her to the foyer where they would greet guests. She smiled to herself. Yes, she required his devotion and needed that desperate love which he proclaimed.
A number of familiar people passed through the line. Clinging to the arm of John Beavers was a woman young enough to be his daughter. The merchant had little to offer, however, as all unattractive middle-aged men, had the notion that he could snag a girl from a wealthy family. He had grown a pot-belly since she last saw him, and his vestiments did not serve him well. He paused to observe the glittering fashionable Catherine, the woman he had run from when she was Charleston's old maid. Despite everything, she was the pulse of social life in Charleston. As he brushed past Angus, Catherine chose to punish him by not speaking. Oddly enough he was anxious to convince her into persuading her husband to trade at his store.
"Where is Mrs. Drayton?" She asked.
"She is taken to her bed."
"What is wrong?"
"She lies near death," Angus said in a trembling voice, remembering his last visit. Her arms were very thin and her legs too feeble to walk. He knew that she was dying and the prospect of losing her saddened him. There were times when she seemed to be his only friend. He was with Mrs. Drayton when Catherine's letter from Port Royal arrived. He read it to her and then waited for her her lips to speak the treasured words of wisdom he had learned to expect. 'She is troubled and needs you, Angus, more than any other human being on the face of the earth. Go to her now and bring her back to Ashley Loche.'
While he was reflecting on her goodness, a message was delivered with the Drayton seal. As he read it, tears swelled in his eyes.
"I must go," he said suddenly.
"Mrs. Drayton?"
"Aye, she hath passed."
"I shall go with you. She was my friend too."
"Thank you," he whispered, motioning for Duncan to take over the greeting of guests.
Later in the evening Duncan made the announcement, and cancelled the fox hunt and breakfast the following morning.

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