The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #39746   Message #569543
Posted By: Lonesome EJ
11-Oct-01 - 12:59 AM
Thread Name: Story: The Drinking Gourd I
Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
Biddie sat alone on a large wicker rocker in Mr Locke's "conservatory". in actuallity a large greenhouse attached to the mansion. Even though it was the depths of December, the conservatory held the heat from the weak winter sun late in the afternoon. The room was filled with warmth and light and the rare plants that Locke collected from all points of the globe. Locke's Brother was a merchant ship's Captain out of Charleston, and he made a trip every Summer to the plantation with a wagon load of Indian Spice plantings, exotic African flowering plants, thin Sicilian Olive trees, Tahitian breadfruit and the like. The flora was Locke's true passion, and he spent much of the cold months in pruning, dividing, and cultivating his collection. Biddie loved the room. It was a kind of artificial tropic paradise with manicured walkways and fountains, and the ever-present aroma of fruit,blossom and spice. She would sit here and do her needlepoint and her sewing, for she was a skilled seamstress who made much of the clothing not only for the other slaves, but for the Locke family. She paused in her work, eyeing the spider-web patterns of frost put down by the Alabama winter upon the glass shell of this living bit of Africa. As she paused, Mr Locke suddenly appeared, looking uncomfortable and nervous. "No, stay seated Biddy. I'll sit by you," and he drew a chair from the parlor next to her. "Now Biddy, Patien...Mrs Locke and I have had some discussions. Concerning your...regarding the possibility that you..." He had a tall glass in his hand and he took a large gulp of its contents. "You are free, Biddy" he said simply. Her eyes opened wide and she smiled, then looked puzzled, then it seemed as though tears would start. "But why, Marse Locke? Why you set me free?" Locke seemed unable to look her in the eye. "You are a good girl Biddy. A good, honest girl..you.." He heaved a huge sigh, closed his eyes and mumbled something she couldn't hear. "Where should I go, suh?" He opened his eyes and studied her face for a few seconds, at last a smile took hold of his countenance. "You'll go to Charleston, Biddy. My family there has secured a position in a little shop there owned by a good Christian woman. And they will provide your room and board until you desire to live on your own. Of course, I will make you a gift of a sum of money to carry you through the first months..." He stopped short as he watched the tears fall, her shoulders shake with sobbing. "But what's the matter, Biddy?" He said gently.

"I'm afraid," she whispered. "And I don't want to leave Momma and my home and everyone, Miz Patience...what she gonna do without me?" Locke was experiencing a novel sensation. He actually wanted to take her in his arms, to comfort her as he would any girl seized with such an emotion. He even thought for a second he might relent, let her stay. But no, a free negro living among slaves would never do, would set the wrong example. He stood up. "Mrs Locke has arranged to have your clothing packed. She has included some very attractive cloth from Atlanta, I might add, that you can take. Make yourself a pretty new dress, you know." She had her face buried in the shirt she had been sewing, and her tearful voice mumbled "yes suh." He cleared his throat loudly and slapped his hands together, and said heartily "well! That's done then. I will have your money and the Emancipation Paper ready on Wednesday by the time you leave on the coach." He reached his hand to touch her arm, pausing it inches from her. My hand is trembling, he thought. He studied her profile. Wasn't there something of him there indeed? Something in the curve of her forehead. The long, elegant fingers pressed against the brow, the ones which were so deft, so skillful in their work that he had often slyly studied them, were they not the Locke hands? Her eyes, her nose, her lips were so African. At first, that was all one might see. Did these put the lie to the rest. He would miss her, he realized with some surprise. "Now, stop crying girl. You will be free, and happy, do you hear? That's better. Perhaps you will come to see us here." And his hand completed its awkward journey, alighting on her shoulder, his skin so white against her black cheek. She sat quietly now, and he patted her shoulder, then stood erect.

"Good," he said. "I wish you much luck, Biddy. Business necessitates that I leave for a few days, and so I will say goodbye to you now. Goodbye then, Biddy."

"Goodbye Marse Locke," she said, looking through the glass to where the last of the sun was illuminating the barn roof across the yard.

Recalling the unresolved problem in balancing the account with Fullbright Seed, Locke proceeded to his study and his books.