On the eve of the Civil War, Melanie’s love life sucks, what with her plantation-owning husband away to militia trainings and state’s rights conferences. The house servants are swooning over Big Jim, a black field hand who’s big in every sense. Soon, Melanie’s cornfield trysts are filling her needs—until the Master of Oglethorpe confronts the randy 19-year-old... More
The Mistress of Oglethorpe stood at the French doors, her back to the fireplace. Beyond were the manicured lawns bordered by stately oaks festooned with Spanish moss. A fresh breeze off the Delta took the edge off the late-afternoon summer heat. She turned toward the man standing in the center of the room.
“Beauregard, dear husband, why did you summon me here?”
“We need to talk privately,” he said. In his hand was a large, bound ledger. “I dismissed the house slaves.”
Her husband, tall and with a shock of red hair falling across his forehead, haughty and handsome, wore a long frock coat, a puffy cravat knotted at his throat to create the impression of deliberate negligence. She knew women at other plantations talked about him behind their fans, whispering that he was sinfully delicious to look at. They didn’t know what he was like in the privacy of his own plantation. They didn’t see the cruelty in his eyes.
He took two steps toward her. She moved left, her hoop skirt swishing. He shifted right and caught her, putting a hand to her bare shoulder. Consternation, he knows all my moves. She was breathing deeply, and her bosom rose to an enticing display over her décolletage. But, as befits a proper Southern matron, only the top of the crevice was visible, not the valley below.
“Melanie, it’s about one of the field Nigrahs,” he drawled.
“Heavens, what would I know about that?” she replied, stiffening at his touch. “I can hardly keep up with the house darkies, with their constant bickering and little dramas.”
“From Mr. Stephens’ field report of Thursday last,” he said, and began to read from the ledger. “’Big Jim, one of the senior field hands, asked for a nature break in the nearby corn field. I signaled my permission, and he walked thirty or so yards to the corn rows. After about fifteen minutes, I was about to dispatch a guard to fetch him, when he walked out, looking disheveled. Big Jim had a devilish grin. But his face turned blank when he saw my stern visage.’”
With a flourish, Melanie flopped on the settee, a bored look on her face, and examined her fingernails.
“’Moments later, I observed a lady and her female slave hurriedly exit the field from the far side,’” he continued reading. “’It was too far away for me to recognize either of them. But the lady held a white parasol.’”
The Master of Oglethorpe stood before his wife, arms crossed, a stern expression on his face. His pale blue gaze fell on her like ice. “Madam, did I not purchase a white parasol for you on our last excursion to Charleston?”
“Really, Beau, I don’t remember.”
He stared down at her, unmoving. Melanie shifted in her seat and crossed her arms across her chest, accentuating her bosom. “Oh, all right, Beauregard,” she conceded. “Yes, you bought me a white parasol. They were all the rage. Every mistress on every plantation along the river bought a white parasol last year.”
“From the previous Tuesday,” Beauregard continued, flipping back through the ledger, ignoring his wife’s explanation. “’Big Jim asked permission to take a natural break among the corn rows... From the previous Wednesday,” he continued, flipping back further.
But before he started to read, his wife broke into sobs. “Oh, Beau, if you only knew! You’re always away on plantation business. And those damnable state’s rights conferences! What’s a woman to do? I’m nineteen now, our marriage is nearly five years old, and you never have time for me. If it’s not a conference or a militia training, you’re on a visit to the capital lobbyin’ the legislature.”
“Let me understand,” he said, drawing himself up to his full height. “You venture to the corn fields for assignations with a…with a…field hand?”
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