Later that evening, my mother had asked Valentine to stay for dinner and we sat in the dining room with the flickering candles and the vast drapes fluttering in the warm, dry air, much as we had just a few days ago the night we had met. My mother was still talking about the wedding, although I could hear her voice was a little hoarse. My father had declined to join us.
I watched out of the window as my mother spoke, watching vaguely as the cooling twilight air rose up until it hovered to the East and out of sight, where I imagined it would soon meet with the Summer House, at least, if it did, it might get trapped between its many walls and behinds the doubles doors and in the folds of curtains so that when autumn came, the Summer House would still be filled with the vague, remanence of summer and a life well lived in the splendour of the Virginian sunlight. The swallows dived down towards the river where only this morning Valentine and Dorian had tried to kill each other – and what had I done to fulfil my half-promise to stop the duel?
I had stood there and watched them shoot. I can only thank God that Valentine hadn’t been shooting real bullets and that Dorian was such a bad shot that he hit an oak tree. If Valentine had shot Dorian, Gabriella would have gone insane with grief. If Dorian had shot Valentine, I would have had to marry Dorian. Such thoughts where banished by I sudden return to reality in the form of an airy word from my mother.
“So, Valentine, tell me about your family.” She said. Valentine coughed for a second.
“Well,” he began “my mother’s dead.” He said bluntly. “She died when I was thirteen, after that I went to a boarding school in Williamsburg until I was eighteen, then I returned to Ravenswood Estate to find my father gravely ill.”
“Oh my!” my mother said with forced alarm. “What is it?” she asked.
“He had a heart attack thrashing a slave.” He said defiantly. This didn’t seem to phase my mother. “So I took over working the plantation once he was unable to. That’s what I do now, but I’m ready to keep going once they ban slavery.”
“What?” she said.
“Once they ban slavery, the plantation will still be okay, I’ll just pay the workers and stop giving them housing.”
“Do you think they’ll end slavery?” she asked.
“Maybe not in my lifetime, but in my children’s lifetime I imagine they will. But I know Washington won’t be the one to do it.” He said.
“Well, I hope they don’t end it.” She stated “All my life and my parent’s lives we have lived this we in the colony of Virginia and I will be see that removed, not while I live and breathe.”
“Okay.” Said Valentine.
“And what would we do with them all if we did end it? Send them all back to Africa? Give them a separate colony? I think they’d be better off where they are.” She finished with a kirk little nod.
“Or we could try to intergrate them.” I said quietly.
“And how’s that going to work? Give the men places at the college? Marry to women to gentlemen?” she asked, rolling her eyes.
“That’s not such a bad idea.” I said. “If we gave them back the money they were bought for they could rebuild their life by starting their own plantations because they know how to do that. Eventually, their sons will go to school and their daughters will marry up and they were acquire moe and more land, just as the Ceasebury Estate has built up over the generations over the years. Who knows? Maybe one day an enslaved person will own Ceasebury.” I laughed. My mother looked shocked. “I wonder who they’ll free first? Woman or the Africans.” I smiled.
“Washington will do neither when he wins.” Said Valentine.
“He probably won’t win though.” I said.
“Oh, not true.” He said “I heard from Captain LeBolt that the Red Coats are losing.”
“What?” I said. “The paper has been reporting that they’re winning.”
“Not what he says.”
“Are you talking about that awful man Captain LeBolt who can hardly call himself a gentleman who left the ball early the other night?” My mother asked. Valentine nodded. “Well, I wouldn’t trust anything he says, he had utterly no manners, almost as bad as Gabriella, running off like that. Trust me, we’re going to win.”
“Oh, mother, don’t worry about Gabriella. She didn’t run away.” I said.
“Oh, I know she did, all her clothes are gone.” She said with a finite voice that seemed to resonate around the dining room.
“Oh?” I asked. She just nodded. “That is odd.” I said.
“Indeed.” She said. “Almost as if someone helped her plan the whole thing.” I swallowed as she spoke. “Speaking of planning, I’m glad we have the wedding all sorted out now.” She smiled. I nodded. “13th July shall be one of the biggest days in this colony’s history once you two are wed.” she beamed.