A shiver went through me—I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being watched. I scanned the hillside overlooking my father’s plantation before slipping my foot into the stirrups of my buckskin Arabian mare––a recent gift from my father––and hoisted myself up. Casting another glance around and seeing no one, I summed up my case of the jitters to my imagination.
The month of March had rolled in and brought with it a heat wave. The sun beat down on me, causing a trickle of sweat to drip down my back. From my seat in the saddle, I drank in the beauty of Livingston Plantation. I admired the ancient oak trees framing the lane leading to the front of the plantation. Evergreen vines with fragrant yellow flowers climbed the massive iron gates guarding the entry. Great white pillars expanded the front veranda extending through the second-floor balcony, with wrought-iron railings encasing the upper floor. Well-manicured gardens surrounded the main house. It was one of the grandest sea island cotton and rice plantations in Charleston, and I held a sense of pride in its splendor.
I glanced out over the fields; our overseer Jones was making his rounds. A few of the slave children made their way through the fields, offering the field hands water to quench their thirst. Our dog Beau found himself some shade under a moss-covered angel oak tree where he lay panting.
My horse stirred and stomped her hoof with impatience. “All right, let’s go.” Lightly kicking my heels into her side, she took off at a full gallop.
The warm, refreshing breeze blew through my chestnut-brown, waist-length hair. We sped over the countryside and the tension in my neck and shoulders began to release. My clenched jaw relaxed from the stress of the morning argument with Father over the discipline of a slave. This morning as I came down to breakfast, I found Father at the dining room table reading the newspaper.
As I entered the room, Father looked over his wire-rimmed reading glasses at me and smiled a firm smile. “Good morning, Willow.” Folding his paper, he ran a hand through his thinning blond hair. He was a handsome man, over six feet tall, rugged built with green eyes, which twinkled when he was amused. My unease in his presence was constant and instilled in me as a child. My father was more of a no-foolishness type of man.
“Good morning, Father,” I said, out of respect, and took my seat at the opposite end of the table.
“I’m going into town. I have to go over our shipment with Captain Gillies before it leaves the warehouse for London today. While I’m gone, I need you to handle a situation with the carpenter’s boy, Parker. He was caught sneaking eggs from the henhouse this morning, and Jones is too busy overseeing the south field fence repairs to handle it.”
“Surely, we can spare a few eggs, Father. What harm is there in that?” I avoided his stare.
Henrietta, my Mammy and the only mother figure I’d ever known, filled my cup with piping-hot coffee.
“Willow, don’t try my patience today. Do as you’re told and be a respectable daughter.” He gave me a stern look as he took a bite of his toast.
Knowing better than to question his authority, I took a long sip of my coffee and sighed. Mammy smiled fondly at me as she headed back into the kitchen. I am the only child of Charles Hendricks. My mother died when I was a few years old. I don’t remember her. No portraits of her hung in the mansion and talk of her was forbidden. Why? I’ve never been told.
Last fall, in my seventeenth year, when I returned from my studies abroad, Father informed me it was time I took on all responsibilities as the Lady of Livingston. I was your typical Southern belle on the surface, which pleased my father, but it was my wayward opinions that gained his disapproval. He often stated that I needed to be an example of perfection, as others were watching, judging him on how he was raising me. I had grown frustrated over the last few years with my lack of control over my own life. What did I care what some old busybodies had to say? Father would remind me that I was a woman and like a child, I was to be seen and not heard. Women in the South were barely a level above the slaves. The men considered them as mere property and often treated them as such.
Slowing my horse to a trot, I led her to a nearby creek for a drink and wiped the sweat from my brow. How was I going to deal with Parker in a way that would satisfy my father’s request for discipline?
“Oh, bother,” I complained aloud, annoyed with the whole lot of men.
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