When The Earth Moved
Avery Pendleton carried his rolled up sketch up the steps of Alston Legrand’s home on East Battery. He looked out toward Fort Sumter and took a deep breath of fresh salty air. What a view the man had. He knocked on the door and it was opened by a black man.
“I’m to see Mr. Legrand, it’s Avery Pendleton.” He’d had some cards printed up and he handed one to the man at the door. He wondered briefly if he might have it back. Cards were not inexpensive, however, he didn’t ask. Inside the hallway…what luxury. Someday he planned to have the same when he made his fortune. His eyes traveled over the details, the carved woodwork, the polished tables and…
“Mr. Pendleton?” It was Alston Legrand.
“Good morning, Sir, thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”
“How can I help you, Mr. Pendleton.” Alston looked down at the card to make sure he had it right.
“It’s about the tenement building on the corner of Dock and Church Street. I’ve some sketches I’d like to present to you…about a new entrance.”
“Any changes or construction should be presented to the committee at our next meeting.”
“Yes, Sir, but I thought…well, since I’m here.”
“Very well, come into the library.” Alston took a few steps down the hall and into his office. He had a desk and a large library table that was covered in drawings. Books lined one long wall and French doors led out to a terrace overlooking the garden. It was a fine spring morning and he had the doors open. “Let’s see what you have.” He took the sketches and lay them on the table. They were rough sketches of a doorway.
“I’m very sorry to have bothered you. I really should have waited until the next meeting.”
Alston looked at each one of them giving the young man the benefit of his time. “I see you have the entrance on Church Street. If I recall the entrance is presently in the back of the building. A courtyard of some sort.”
“That is correct, Sir. And as you can see the walls facing the streets are rather dull.”
“It is a tenement building.”
“Yes, twenty five rooms on three floors. There are some suites on the second floor. It was originally part of the hotel and sold off some years ago, before the War.”
“I’m well aware of the history of this building. It was acquired by the hotel but it was originally a house. I do not like putting an entrance on Church Street. That is a busy street as you should know. Putting foot traffic amongst the street traffic is inviting disaster. If I recall the original entrance was on Dock street before it was converted as part of the hotel.”
“I…I wasn’t aware of that. Do you think there might be traces of the original doorway inside the walls?”
“I am not certain. That building hasn’t been touched since 1854. I’m afraid all records for the ensuing period are lost. What is it you plan to do with this building?”
“Well, Sir, it is a tenement and I propose that it remain as rental property. I did want to give the outside a…a bit of ornamentation.” He liked that word, ornamentation.”
Alston smiled a little. “Are you very familiar with rental property, Mr. Pendleton?”
“Ah, no, Sir, this is my first purchase.”
“You may find your tenants more interested in plumbing and a roof that doesn’t leak than in ornaments. I suggest you do this. Find yourself an architect and a contractor. Make sure the improvements you intend are feasible. Locate the original entrance and have him present a complete drawing to the committee.”
“Yes, Sir, I’ll get right to it.” Avery could only see dollars pouring out of his pockets. Would an architect be expensive?
“I wish you luck, Mr. Pendleton.” Alston shook his hand and walked with him to the door. He admired the young man’s confidence. Personally he wouldn’t touch rental property.
Avery wasn’t feeling so confident as he walked down the street with his drawings. It was the first time he’d spoken with Alston Legrand. He thought him rather cool; unlike his brother, Ainsley. He couldn’t fault the advice he’d given but he’d half hoped Alston would do the drawings himself and be a little more enthused for his project.
Ben left the tobacco shop and stopped on the street to light a cigar. He had one more stop to make at the bank. His rum shipment had paid off. A buyer from Columbia had taken the entire lot. He liked doing business like that. While there he wrote out a draft to be sent to St. Catherine’s School in New Orleans. His twelve year old daughter was boarded there in a convent school. Safely away from him and her mother. He didn’t want her to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
He left the bank and walked to market street. He’d pay a visit to Miss Polly. He wasn’t sure where that was headed but she was a pretty thing and he liked her spunk. He’d taken her out to dinner a couple of times in the company of her insufferable brother. He hadn’t a doubt if it hadn’t been for that social climbing, long-winded boy they might have moved on to something more interesting.
“Mornin’ Miss Polly.”
“Mr. Wade, good mornin’ to you. I didn’t know you shopped for groceries.”
“I don’t shop for groceries. I come shoppin’ for you.”
She blushed and touched her neck. “Well, I don’t think I’ve been priced yet.”
“I probably couldn’t afford you. How’s business?”
“It’s doing really well.”
He noted there were people waiting for her to assist them. “I’d better get out of your way and let you get on with it. Dinner tonight…just me and you. Find somethin’ else for Avery to do.”
Her eyes widened. “All right, where should I…meet you?”
“I’ll pick you up if you tell me where you live.”
“Well…I…why don’ t I meet you here.” Avery told her not to give their address. It was not a fashionable part of town.
“If that’s what you want. Six o’clock.”
“I’ll be ready.”
He smiled and stepped back letting the frowning woman to the counter.
“You think you got it all under control, John?”
“Yeah, with all ya’ll’s people over there it’s gettin’ planted.”
“It just seemed to make sense. That we were all planted and you don’t have to worry about findin’ enough people to put cotton seed in the ground.” Ainsley was well aware if he didn’t send their workers over there John wouldn’t have got it done.
“I hear Rainbow made you a little money in Camden.”
“That horse has been a God-send.”
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, John. That horse breaks a leg and you’re in big trouble again.”
“You ought to run some beeves out there. That’s what I’d do if I were you. You got all that land sittin’ there goin’ to waste.”
“Half of its marsh, Ainsley, you know that.”
“What about the other half? I know it ain’t my business, John. But I have to wonder where the hell your money goes. I know the price of a bottle of liquor. You gamblin’ again?”
“No, no, I’m not. I play a little cards but nothing serious. Lu has to have money.”
“Lu’s got her own damn money. What the hell is she savin’ it for? There ain’t gonna be anybody to pass it on to. You need to put your foot down over there, boy. Either she’s your wife or she ain’t.”
“You don’t understand…’bout me and Lu.”
“I sure don’t. I got to get out of here, what time is it?”
“Ten-thirty. What time’s your train?”
“Eleven. You sure now about handlin’ that case for me?”
“I’ll do it. I don’t have the eloquence that you have but I can still plead a case.”
“Just show up in court sober.” Ainsley rose and felt of his pockets. He stuffed some papers in a leather satchel and handed a stack of papers to John. “That’s the case and the feller is still in jail, you’ll have access to him.”
“Thanks, Ainsley.” John looked at his cousin.
“Don’t thank me, just come through for me. That’s all I ask…all I ever expect.” He patted his shoulder and left to say goodbye to his family. He had a train to catch to Columbia.
John walked down Legare street and stopped in to see his Uncle William Legrand. The old man’s mind was gone and he didn’t know who he was. He thought John was Alston. He didn’t stay long. He spoke to the former slave that looked after him. There were two others in the house, one a cook and one a maid. Alston and Ainsley paid them a salary now.
William looked vacant but he still reminded him of his own father who he missed daily. John was an only child. Ainsley and Alston were close enough to be brothers. He was the youngest of the three but they’d always included him in everything. Especially Alston because they were closer in age.
He stepped up on Alston’s porch and leaned on the railing.
“ I thought I saw somebody out here.”
“What are you doing wandering around?”
“Been to see Ainsley. He’s given me a case to handle for him.”
“Good, bout time you put your education to work. Is that it in your hand?”
“Good God, John. You don’t carry around a court case wadded up in your hand. I got a lawyer bag you can have.”
John grinned and handed him the papers. “I guess I ought to look like a lawyer.”
Alston brought him a leather messenger bag. “This is better than nothing. You want to stay for dinner?”
“I might do. I thought you had company comin’.”
“Tomorrow, they’ll be here tomorrow. Melanie took sick and they had to put off the trip. She wants to take my girls to Savannah for the summer and let them spend time with their grandma. I’m inclined to let them go. It’ll be awfully lonesome here without them.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
Alston understood the emptiness of John’s life. He felt it too but at least he had his daughters. He watched him light a cigar with trembling hands.
“You want a drink, John?”
“I’m trying to put it off as long as I can.”
“No reason…just…what time is dinner?”
“Two; it’s going twelve now.”
“Yeah, I’ll take a drink.”
“The thing is, Polly, we don’t know anything about this man. Wade is not a name familiar here in Charleston. Who is he, where did he come from, what kind of business is he in?”
“Does it really matter, Avery? I’m only going to dinner with him.”
“Yes, it does matter. I want you to make a good marriage…have some social standing.”
“Ha! Maybe I should introduce myself to the Legrands. One of them is single.”
“Alston, he’s the one I met this mornin’. Yes…” He looked off in the distance. “Alston would be perfect.”
“Forget it, Avery. I could care less about the Legrands. Why are they so important to you anyway?”
“I don’t know. I just feel we are fated to be together. You can come with me to the committee meetin’. I’ll introduce you to him.”
“Look, Avery, I appreciate what you’re trying to do for me. But people like me don’t marry a Legrand. You should stop thinkin’ about that. If I was going to marry I might pick somebody else…like Mr. Wade.”
“Has he asked you?” Avery looked around alarmed.
“No, he hasn’t but dinner tonight just might put the idea in his head. Do be a darlin’ and stop worryin’ about me. I’ll be fine.”
Polly left early and went home and changed her clothes. She had three very nice dresses and the rest were…so-so. Avery picked the fabrics and had them made for her. They did compliment her coloring. She put the final touches on her flaming hair and adjusted the neck of her moss green dress. The little matching jacket with quilted stitching fit her perfect. The hat had a feather that draped over her cheek, or her eye depending on how she fit it on her head.
Down the back steps she went and out into the courtyard, a tiny bricked area with a small manicured tree. She cut through the alley and out onto the street in front of their rented house. They rented the upstairs consisting of four rooms. She stopped in her tracks. A carriage sat in the street.
“Miss Polly.” Ben stepped out and held his hand out for her.
“I…I thought I was to meet you at the shop?”
“Now why would you want to walk all the way back to Market Street? Come and I’ll help you in.”
She recovered and smiled letting him hold her arm while she climbed into the carriage.
Being alone with Ben Wade was different than being in his company with others. She was suddenly very aware of him seated next to her. “Mr. Wade, where is it you’re from?”
“A lot of places, Miss Polly. I was born out west and I reckon I’ve been all over the place.”
“I’m glad you came to Charleston. You’re, um, different.”
"What exactly is it you do, Mr. Wade?”
“Is this a question and answer test? I do a lot of things, whatever suits my fancy. I own a warehouse here in Charleston and I buy and sell goods. I got a little boat down in New Orleans that I use sometimes to ship things up here to sell.”
“Oh, so your kind of like a broker?”
“I guess you could say that. Anything else you want to know?”
“You ever been married?”
“No, I’ve managed to slip that noose.”
She laughed until she realized what he meant.
John left his lawyer bag at Alston’s and wandered through the alleys until he ended up at the Planters Tavern. It was his usual place to drink. While he was at the bar he recognized one of James Drayton’s cousins and a Pinckney fellow. He went over to talk to them and they began telling him about the phosphate mine and how it had helped them get past the restoration after the War Between the States. John knew all about the mines.
“You should check your property out on John’s Island. “
“On the Stono River…you know I never thought of that. I will…who do I contact?”
“Contact me, we’ve got a family business going and what we’d do John is lease the land from you for mining.”
“What…rent my property? I got stables out there.”
“No, no, we’d lease the property on the river, the marshes…that’s where you find the phosphate. We’d have to send out a prospector to see if you got any phosphate. A scientist fellow.”
“Ya’ll ain’t gonna tear it up are you cause that’ s my Daddy’s land…was.”
“No, won’t touch the land where you plant or raise your race horses. You’re not out in the swampland anyhow are ya?”
“Nah, it sits there.” John would allow them to come and test the soil for phosphates. Nothing wrong with that, he thought.
He was leaving the tavern when he saw Ben Wade handing a young woman out of a carriage on the street.
“Hey Ben,” he said and rocked a little on his feet.
“John Legrand, how are you friend.”
“Been at it a while I see. This is Polly Pendleton.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she said.
“I doubt it. I…uh…probably need to get on home.”
“Want my carriage, John…save walkin’?”
“Thad’d be nice. Not sure…I’m walkin’ t’nite.”
“Excuse me, Polly, I’ll get Charles to come back.” He left her on the sidewalk with John Legrand.
“Haven’t met you b’fore.”
“No, no I don’t think so. Oh, you’re the one with the horse…Rainbow.”
“I won some money off of him.”
“Me too…made some money. You…you’re a pretty thin’. What…what are you doin’ with Wade?”
“We’ve been out to dinner.”
“Wa…watch out…careful.” He wagged a finger at her. “You should…go…go home.”
The carriage came back around and John was taken home. Polly should have listened to him and gone home as well, for Polly would never quite be Polly again.
Ainsley was shocked to see Lu waiting at the train station for him the next morning at 10:00. She looked to be in some distress.
“Hello, Lu, didn’t expect to see you.”
“Ainsley, I don’t know what else to do. John’s sick, he’s really sick. He’s vomiting up…blood.”
“Have you called the doctor?”
“No, I called you but Jane said you were in Columbia. Will you come, please.”
“Of course I’ll come.” He left her a moment to see to his bag and have it sent to his house.
She had a carriage waiting.
“Why didn’t you call Alston?”
“He’s got company. I did call and he said he couldn’t come for me to call the doctor.”
“And you didn’t. Do you want him to die, Lu, is that it? If you want to be rid of him then go the hell home to mama. You’ve fucked with him long enough.”
“Please…Ainsley, your language.”
“If something happens to that boy you’re gonna hear some language that’ll burn your ears off. How long has he been sick.”
“I only knew about it yesterday evening. He hasn’t been downstairs all morning. May said he was sick so I went to see. He said he was all right. Just a stomach ache.”
“You’re no wife to him and not much of a woman…in my opinion. That boy loves you to death and you God damn torture him. It’s gotta stop.”
Ainsley didn’t wait for her at the door he went straight in and asked the help send for the doctor.”
Lu was in tears from Ainsley’s assault.
He went upstairs and into John’s room. The doctor came and examined him and prescribed treatment. He took Ainsley aside in the hallway.
“John’s drinkin’ himself to death, Ainsley. He’s got a bleedin’ ulcer in his stomach and if he don’t quit drinkin’ it’s gonna kill him. I’ve told him so but I can’t make him do right. He needs to stay quiet for a few days on a light diet and I’ll talk to Hilda about that.”
“Doc, what can I do?”
“Keep him away from spirits.”
“You reckon getting’ him outta here will help…I mean take him out to Seabrook where the tavern ain’t down the corner.”
“That might be best…if him and Lu can spend some time out there.”
“Lu is part of his problem. She’s not a wife to him…not since the accident. She sleeps down the hall…just shut him out. Spends all her time at the church while he’s slowly fadin’ away. She blamed him for it…ain’t never forgive him.”
“If that’s so then she ain’t spending enough time on her knees thankin’ the Lord that she’s still got him and her own life. It was a tragedy…bad tragedy. I’ll talk to her. You can go on in and see him now.”
Melanie didn’t look anything like her sister Bethany and for that Alston was glad. Her hair was dark where Bethany’s had a copper cast to it. Her cousin, Isabelle, called Belle, was a very attractive lady. Tall, blond and blue eyed and she was a widow.
“I don’t really live anywhere anymore,” she said. “I’ve been wearing my welcome thin all over Savannah.”
“That’s not true, Belle. You’re fun to be around. Alston did you give any thought to my taking the girls back with me? Mama really wants to see them and you know she can’t travel.”
“I have thought about it. They need to know their mother’s family. I’ll let them come for awhile.”
“Bless you, Alston. You know they’ll be looked after. You look a little thinner since I saw you last.”
“Um, three years it’s been and I probably am thinner.”
“Are you all right?”
“I stay busy and yes. It took me some time to come to terms with what I had left.”
“It’s not easy I know,” Belle added. “It’s been two years for me.”
“Belle’s husband was killed in Africa. He was on a safari.”
“The problem with Ralph’s death is I never had a body to bury so it was like he was just…gone away for awhile.”
“He was charged by an elephant,” Melanie said.
“How brutal. I don’t look back, at least not as often as I did for awhile. I realized I couldn’t. I had two girls that needed me. Cilla was only a baby.”
“Like you said, you can’t live looking back. I’m on my way to Columbia from here. I think I’ve got a cousin there.”
“You think?” Alston smiled.
“I’m sure I do, I’ve just never met him.” Belle met his eyes for a moment and looked away.
“I’m dying to see the girls where are they?”
“Upstairs, I’m sure you’ll hear them when you reach the landin’. I can bring them down.”
“No, no, you visit with Belle. I’ll go up.”
“Would you like to see the garden?”
“Yes,” Belle smiled.
“It’s all just coming into bloom…spring .”
“I love spring…everything is so new and fresh and green.”
“This is none of my business…did your husband not leave you a home?”
“We lived with his parents and they still maintain a residence there. I wasn’t comfortable stayin’ there after he died.”
“Sorry, it just seemed…odd.”
“I have means and I suppose I will eventually settle somewhere. This is lovely, Alston.”
“I’m glad you like it. I work out of my library and often leave the doors open. The fountain is…good for thinking.”
“Do you spend a lot of time thinkin’?”
“Probably too much.”
“Melanie said you’re an architect. An artist.”
“I draw houses on occasion.”
“Who is this cousin in Columbia?”
“His name is Tom Drinkwater.”
“Don’t know him…Drinkwater…I wonder if he does.”
Belle grinned and stooped to smell a newly opened rose.
Alston walked around the other side of the round reflecting pool and picked a rose entangled with the creeping jenny on the brick wall. When she joined him around the pool he handed her the rose.
“For you, you are welcome here.”
“Thank you, that means a lot to me. I hesitated coming…feeling like a odd shoe amongst the pairs.”
“There are no pairs here. Melanie is my sister.”
“I’m still an odd shoe at least I feel that way. Do you ever feel that?”
“Sometimes. How are you related to Melanie?”
“Second cousins once removed. I know…that’s really stretching it but I’ve known Melanie since school. You have family here are they well?”
He remembered John. “Um, I’m not sure. I had a call about my cousin John. He’s like a brother to me. He’s ill. I’d forgotten to call back. I suppose Ainsley is back from Columbia by now…I really should-“
“Go make your call. It’s not necessary to entertain me. I’ll be here for awhile.”
“I’ll…just be a minute.”
She walked to the end of the garden and sat down on a bench. What a pleasant surprise he was.
“Hey, Alston.” Ainsley came through the front door.
“I was just coming in to call.”
“I thought I’d just walk around the block.”
“He’s had the doc over. It’s a damn bleedin’ ulcer and doc says’ he’s killin’ himself with drink.”
“We all knew that.”
“Well, now it’s serious.”
“Doc says rest and no drink…some kinda special diet. I’m worried about him. I’m wantin’ to get him out of Charleston, out of the city, and out to Seabrook for awhile till this thing settles down.”
“What does he want?”
“Wants me to leave him alone.”
“We can’t leave him alone any longer, Ainsley.”
“You’ll help me then to get him out to Seabrook.”
“Anyway I can.”
“All right I’ll get it goin’; get some people over there to put the house to rights.”
“Is Lu goin’?”
“How the fuck would I know. Gave that girl a piece of my mind today. I ain’t even been home yet.”
“Do you think it would do any good if I talked to her?”
“Not unless you’re speaking in tongues. Spends all that time running off to church. How come her preacher ain’t had a word with her about her duties to her husband?”
“I doubt she’s told him.”
“I thought you had company.”
“I do, Melanie is upstairs and Belle is in the garden. They’d just arrived when Lu called me.”
“She didn’t even call the doctor I had to send for him.”
Alston shook his head. Since their Uncle William died Ainsley had taken his place in John’s life. They both knew it but neither of them ever mentioned it. John needed looking after…John needed a strong woman.
“You want to come out and meet Belle?”
Ainsley ran a hand through his hair settling it back in its place. “Is this somebody I need to know?”
Ainsley raised a brow. “Let’s meet her then.”
Polly was late coming to the grocery store. She’d purposely waited until Avery left. It was all too new and fresh in her mind. She was still coming to terms with it. She was in love with Ben Wade. She’d done things that…well he’d marry her now, he’d have to.
She arrived at the shop and Avery was waiting on customers. Quietly she slipped back into the store room and put on her smock.
He’d sent her home in his carriage and it was late…very late. Avery had fallen asleep in his chair waiting up on her.
She came out as though nothing was wrong and began helping their customers. Avery kept an eye on her. There were words to be said…and he was afraid of what he’d find out. The words came around 4:00 when the store was empty.
“Polly,” He straightened his jacket and looked over the counter at his sister.
It was his tone of voice and she was instantly defensive. “I don’t want to hear it, Avery. I’m a grown woman and I don’t need to be spoken to like this.”
“I haven’t said anything yet.”
“But you’re going to…and…and it’s too late. I’m in love.”
He was silent for a moment. “Too late for what? What time did you get in this morning?”
“I don’t know. It was late but that’s all right.”
“No it isn’t. I should never have let you go off alone with him. He’s not some boy…he’s…he’s-“
“He’s a man…that’s what he is.”
“How can you be in love with him after one dinner?”
“It wasn’t the first dinner it was the third.”
“Polly, you can’t be in love with him. He’s too old for you.”
“Oh, really, and Alston Legrand wasn’t?”
“That’s different and besides I don’t think he’s as old as Mr. Wade.”
“I met another Legrand …John…and you know what? He was drunk, so drunk he couldn’t walk.”
“Where did you meet him?” Avery’s hands went to his hips.
“At the Planter’s Tavern.”
“You…you didn’t go in there did you?”
“I was with Ben. It was perfectly all right.”
“What time was this?”
“And you came home …sometime after 3 in the morning. Where were you?”
“I…I was…” She stared at Avery.
“Mr. Wade lives at the Planters…doesn’t he?”
Suddenly he knew. “How…could you do this to me. After all I’ve sacrificed for you…I …wanted the best for you. I left school so I could keep you out of the orphanage. All this time, all these years I’ve worked and planned…just wanted you to marry well and I wouldn’t have to worry about you anymore.”
“Avery, I know what you’ve done and I appreciate it don’t think I don’t. I’m going to marry Ben.”
“Yes…it’s only a matter of time now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I expect a proposal …maybe even tonight.”
Avery’s face went red. “Oh, you’ll have one…you’ll have one today .” He ripped off his shop coat and reached for his suit coat.
“What are you doing?”
“Don’t worry, Polly. Everything will be fine.” The bell jangled and jangled after he slammed the door to the shop.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were coming home.” Jane received Ainsley’s kiss. “How’s John?”
“He’s got a bleeding ulcer…self inflicted. He has to stop drinking.”
“Bless his heart. I’m sorry it had to come to this and sorry he’s sick and hurting but something had to bring it to a stop.”
Ainsley held her close and kissed her hair. “I am one fortunate man, Jane. You’re all I could ever ask for. You and the children…a man couldn’t ask for more than you’ve given me and continue to give. I love you woman.”
“I love you.”
“Alston and I are going to get him out to Seabrook and see if we can’t dry him out.”
“Is Lu going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ainsley, I’m going over there and have a talk with her.”
“You can go but I doubt if it will change anything.”
“I can try.”
Ainsley kissed her. “After all these years…what is it coming up 19? Nineteen years and you still make me weak in the knees.”
“Try and hold yourself up until I return.” She kissed his cheek.
“I went by to see Alston his sister-in-law came in today.”
“Melanie, I’d like to see her while she’s here.”
“And…and she brought a right good looking cousin with her and Alston wanted me to meet her. Might be something there for the old boy.”
“Alston? Oh…I hope so. What’s her name?”
“Belle, short for Isabelle. Savannah gal.”
“You liked her?”
“I’ll admit I did.”
Jane went for her jacket and gloves. “Wish me luck.”
Ben watched the freighter pull away from the docks with his tobacco in her hold. He was glad to see it gone. He needed the space for a shipment he had coming in later that night. He decided to walk back to the Planters Hotel and motioned for Charles to go on with the carriage. It was a fine morning for a walk.
He thought about Polly and how sweet she’d been. He really hadn’t expected it to go as far as it did but he didn’t regret it. She was a fun girl and he hoped he’d see her again. He stopped and watched the gulls flocking around a fishing boat that’d just come in. Waiting for their dinner. Speaking of which, he’d slept late and missed breakfast. As he cut across Bay Street he heard his name called and stopped.
Hurrying down the street came Avery Pendleton. “Mr. Wade, I’ll speak with you.”
Ben stopped outside the Blue Fin tavern and waited.
“Mornin’ Pendleton.” Ben lifted his chin a fraction
“My sister, Polly,” Avery was out of breath. “You…you are, of course, going to marry her.”
“Well, I’m awfully sorry if ya’ll got that impression. I ain’t the marryin’ kind.”
“You are now, you, you deflowered my sister and I expect you to ask for her hand.”
“Now, Pendleton, you’ve got yourself all het up over nothing. Polly’s a sweet girl but me and her was just havin’ a bit o’fun. We didn’t discuss marriage, you know. She’ll find herself a good man one day but it ain’t gonna be me.”
“You are mistaken, Mr. Wade. Polly fully expects a proposal from you today. I expect it. She’s a descent girl not one of your street walkers. You’ll come with me now and ask for her hand in marriage.”
The boy was becoming a nuisance and attracting attention. “I suggest that you go back to peddling your toothbrushes and hair oil and leave me alone. I have no intention of saddlin’ myself with a wife.” For anyone else his tone of voice and the icy look he gave Avery would have been enough to turn them away and think better of their actions.
Avery took a swing at him and another but Ben deflected him. “Some people never learn.” He hit Avery in the mouth and again in the face. Avery staggered back. The door to the tavern opened and the bartender came out along with a couple of patrons.
“Here, here, move along.” The burly bartender tried to break up the fight. Ben stepped back and Avery landed a punch on the bartender’s shoulder. The bartender landed one on his jaw and sent him sprawling into the street.
“Okay, boys fight’s over. A round on the house.”
Ben Wade took the opportunity to disappear.
Avery lay in the street with blood running from his mouth. He was vaguely aware a carriage had stopped.
“Mr. Pendleton…oh, please, Carter, get him into the carriage. Oh, you poor thing…what happened? Were you set upon by ruffians? It’s all right Robert, I know this man.” Her little brother began to protest.
He felt his face dabbed about with a scented cloth and opened one eye as far as he could. Seeing the young pretty face of Becca Legrand he gratefully passed out from embarrassment.
Melanie was quite happy with the way things were progressing between Belle and Alston. She saw their glances over the dinner table. She loved Alston like a brother and wanted to see him happy again. His sweet little girls needed a mother and he needed someone to love him again as Bethany had done. Belle had been with them in Savannah for three months and during that time she’d grown to love her and an idea formed in her mind. She would be perfect for Alston.
She’d told Belle all about Alston and what a good man he was. Now she would let nature take its course.
“I’d like to see your plantation while I’m here,” Belle said.
“We’ll take a day and go out there. I have two, one is jointly owned with Ainsley. It’s not habitable but we plant the land with cotton on Johns Island.”
“Do you ever stay out there on James Island?”
“Not for a long time. I mostly live here.”
“I can remember going out there to Grand Hall with ya’ll and having picnics.”
“We used to do that, Melanie. Why don’t we do that again? We’ll plan an outing.”
“I don’t remember it, Daddy.”
“You were only a little tot then, Lizzie.”
“Did Cilla go?”
“That was before Cilla was born.”
“You have a wonderful cook, Alston.”
“Thank you, Belle, I’m well blessed.”
Hall in John’s house
Jane went up to see John and visited with him for a little while. He was worrying over a bag he’d left at Alston’s and she said she’d get it for him. She left him to rest and went down to find Lu.
Lu had once been a beauty but her countenance had changed. Her lips formed a thin line and she made no attempt to accentuate her features anymore. Her hair was scrapped back into a tight knot and she’d lost that soft femininity she once had.
There was a nervousness about her when Jane came into the parlor. “Jane, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Did you think our cousin’s illness would go unnoticed? He’s very ill, Lu, and I see that you are not attending him.”
“There is nothing I can do.”
“I’m sure there is something you could do if you were in a mind to. I want to ask you something and I’d appreciate an honest answer. Do you still love him?”
“Really, Jane, that’s none of your business.”
“Oh, I think it is. I’ve watched you stand by and let him destroy himself for years. You haven’t lifted a finger to help him. Does it give you some satisfaction to see him coming apart? You don’t love him do you? What’s turned your head away from him? It’s more than the accident.”
“God killed my children.”
“How dare you accuse Him of something so heinous. They were His children too. John suffers, and will for the rest of his life, the loss of his son and unborn child. Where is this Christian spirit you’ve grown so fond of? Can you not forgive?” Jane leaned forward in her chair. “Or is it that you’ve found someone else?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Why did you change church after the accident? I’m just asking because I thought it odd that you did. You were never a Presbyterian. I remember the church family trying to console you after the accident. We were all here then sitting around in this same room. I particularly remember Reverend Davies sitting where you are now crying his eyes out. A reverend, mind you. He wanted to go up and pray with you and you wouldn’t see him. How odd that was because you were always busy in the church doing flowers and-“
Lu had been staring at the floor white faced and all of a sudden she burst into tears.
“I know these are painful memories for you. I’m sorry I brought it up.” There was something about that whole day that stayed in her mind. The doctor had come immediately after they were brought back to the house. John had been slightly injured but he was inconsolable over the death of his son and his wife’s miscarriage. The first person in the house other than the doctor had been Reverend Davies. He hadn’t been allowed to go up. When the doctor came down and said Lu had lost the baby he’d cried like a woman. Not once had he offered to pray with John.
“Lu…you have to talk to me because I’m not leavin’ until we have the whole thing out.”
“It doesn’t matter now.” She looked up at Jane. “The baby I lost was not John’s.”
Jane was shocked. “I…I don’t believe it.”
“You’re right about my work in the church. I was there quite often. He’s gone now, moved to another parish and so it doesn’t matter.”
“You and…Reverend Davies? Lu…how could you?”
“It just happened…only once but that’s all it took.”
“Does John know?”
“I think he suspected but he never said anything. He’d been out on the plantation that month…when it happened. We were arguing when the accident happened. Todd jumped down off the seat and he reached over to pull him up and didn’t see the carriage coming. It all went so quickly. I believe it was God’s punishment for my indiscretion. “
Jane looked at her a moment. “You’ve been punishing John all these years for your own sin. You are a piece of work, Lu. I’m going to ask you again the same thing I asked awhile ago. Do you love John Legrand?”
“I can’t love anybody anymore. I am not worthy of his love.”
“I agree with you on that, you aren’t. However, he still loves you. He thinks you blame him for the accident and for Todd’s death. So he drinks to make it go away. He lives in the same house with the woman he loves and cannot touch her.” Her voice had risen with her anger.
“We’re not the same people anymore. I can’t give myself to him knowing what I know about myself.”
Jane gathered her gloves in her hand. “Your mama and daddy are still alive aren’t they? I’m sure they’d be glad to see their daughter again. John’s going to be taken out to Seabrook for awhile…in order to save his life. Ainsley can handle the divorce as quietly as possible. There is no other answer for it, Lu. Your presence in this house is killing him slowly but surely. I understand it now and I thank you for telling me.”
“Jane, I’m sorry. I’ve never told anyone what I just told you.”
“You can rest assured I’m going to tell Ainsley.”
Jane left her sobbing on the sofa.
Jane and Melanie hugged. “It’s so good to see you again, Melanie.”
“You too, Jane. You’re looking very well.” Her color was high she noted.
Jane was introduced to Belle and took particular note of her. Ainsley had been right.
“Alston, I’ve just come from seeing John and he said he’d left a bag here.”
“Yes he did. Jane, I think you’d better return it to Ainsley.”
Jane did not say a word to Alston about Lu. If Ainsley wanted to tell him he could and no doubt he would. She stayed to have some coconut cake and tea.
Ben went back to the Planters hotel and washed the blood off his hand. He was regretting Polly now. He didn’t need this kind of trouble. What had he been thinking? She was a peach ripe for the picking and he’d picked it. The aftertaste was beginning to turn sour.
He dried his hands and looked in the mirror. He’d been meaning to pay a visit to his people in Savannah. This might be as good a time as any to check on things. Maybe even take a run over to Atlanta. He told himself he wasn’t running from trouble. Real trouble he could deal with. He knew how to deal with real trouble. No, this was an aggravation; something that took the pleasure out of simple things like walking down the street.
He went down to the desk in the lobby and asked for Charles. Charles had worked at the Planters Hotel for as long as he’d been there. He was dependable and discreet.
“Charles, I’d like for you to up to the train station and get me a ticket for Savannah. I’d be interested in going tomorrow.”
Just then the door to the lobby burst open and a young woman came in with her hair in some disarray. Wild copper hair. “Ben…it’s not true…tell me it’s not true.” She shouted loud enough other residents in the lobby put down their papers and gawked.
“Charles, make that today.” Ben slipped him some money and went over to Polly. “Now, Polly, you need to calm down.”
Dramatically she clutched her stomach. “I’m probably with child. You can’t do this to me. You have to marry me.”
Ben hurried her thought the door onto the sidewalk. “What do you mean bustin’ in here like that? I don’t have to do anythin’. You spread your legs of your own free will…I didn’t make you do it.”
“Oh…oh, but you did. Ben…Ben, I love you. I’ll do anything…I will. I love you…just marry me.”
“I’m sorry, Polly, but I can’t do that. You see, I’m already married.”
“You told me you weren’t married…you didn’t get the noose.”
“What can I say? I told you a lie. Men do that, you know. They tell lies to get what they want. I’ve had it so you need to go on back to your brother.”
She slapped him hard leaving a handprint on his face. She turned and ran wildly down the street.
Avery came to his senses in the Legrand carriage and begged to be put down on the street. Becca wouldn’t hear of it he was injured. He ended up in the kitchen house behind the Legrand mansion. He was poked and prodded by a large black woman who smelled of cinnamon and cloves. She washed his face and gave him some water to rinse the blood out of his mouth. He’d live, she declared and went back to her cinnamon buns. All the time Becca was worrying over him and looking at his busted lip and the eye that would turn black and purple.
He thanked her and accepted the ride back to his shop. His face was the first thing Polly saw. He was angry with her and told her exactly what Wade had said. She stood stupidly in front of him denying it until she couldn’t anymore and ran out of the shop.
After her confrontation with Ben she understood how it was. She wandered aimlessly through the streets until she came to King Street. By now most of the pins were out of her hair and it hung crazily in curls around her face and shoulders. She’d worn her yellow dress today. It wasn’t a good dress but it was serviceable. She stopped outside of a dressmakers store and looked in the window. A woman stepped out.
“If you’re applying for a position you’d better hurry.”
“Position?” She looked at the window again and saw the sign. Help Wanted. Why not, she thought.
Polly was a pretty girl and with a bit of polish she could sell pretty clothes to women with money to spend. She was hired. No longer would she have to endure Avery.
John had been ordered to stay in bed and he’d been there for three days now. He was restless, aching all over and from time to time the sweats would come and the shaking. He was given broth and egg flips. The doctor had prescribed bromide and an opiate to get him through the worst of it. His stomach still hurt but he was no longer vomiting.
Lu had been in to see him once. She’s stood at the end of the bed and without expression looked at him and asked how he was. She told him she was going to Maryland to see her parents. “Now?” he’d said. It was for the best she’d said. He thought he understood she was leaving him. He didn’t blame her.
On the fourth day she came in to tell him goodbye. “My trucks are packed and I’m leaving on the 11:00 train. I’m sorry, John.”
“You’re not coming back are you?”
She shook her head, “No.”
“I’m sorry too. I’ve loved you, Lu.”
“Please…don’t say anymore. I’ve failed you in so many ways. Ainsley will handle the divorce.”
“I don’t want a divorce.”
“You do…really. You can get on with your life now. I…I may take up teaching. I…ah…just wanted to say goodbye.”
“Goodbye…Lu.” He went to pieces after she left. He got up determined to find a bottle but he found Ainsley standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“Carriage is waitin’”
“For you, boy, you’re goin’ out to Seabrook.”
Alston materialized beside him. “We love you, John, and we’ve come to save your life.”
They took him to Seabrook along with his people from the house in the city. Ainsley had sent his folks over from James Island to make the house ready and stocked the pantry for him. The doctor accompanied them out there and left medicine with Hilda explaining how it was to be given to him and when.
He was emotionally spent and miserable. Ainsley finally sat him down and told him what Lu had told Jane. At first he wouldn’t believe it but it finally sunk in. He agreed to the divorce but asked that he be the guilty party. He hadn’t been faithful to her either.
Convinced they’d done all they could Ainsley and Alston left him in his boyhood home. He had plenty of people to look after him and his horses were out there along with fields of sea island cotton, vegetable gardens and chickens. There was also a phosphate prospector and a chemist on the property but no one had noticed him.
Melanie and Belle had been with Alston for a month and a half. Melanie was ready to return home with his daughters for the rest of the summer. Belle was not ready to leave but felt she had little choice. She’d fallen in love with Alston. Nothing had been said by either of them.
“I have not heard anything back from my cousin in Columbia.”
“I meant to ask you about that. Is it necessary that you go?”
“I’ve worn out my welcome in Savannah, Alston. As sweet as Melanie is I know when it’s time to move on.”
They’d walked out on the battery and the wind was playing in his hair. At once he felt tongue tied like a young boy. “There’s somethin’ I…I’ve been meaning to say. I’m not good at this at all. Belle, I’ve become very fond of you and the thought of your leaving distresses me greatly. I do realize what I’m about to say is rather presumptuous. I would like you to stay.”
“I would love to stay but that would be impossible…impossible for me to stay with you if that’s what you mean.”
“That is what I mean and I do see what you refer to. We are both adults.”
“All the more reason it is impossible.”
“Then what am I to do without you?”
“I’m fond of you too, Alston. I suppose I might look into finding a house here in Charleston.”
“That won’t do at all.” There was only one answer for it. “Belle, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
She was taken by surprise and moved away from him. “Marry?”
“You don’t want to go and I don’t want you to go. We can’t live in the same house without…marriage.”
“Alston, do you think fond might not be the word we need here? If we are to marry then we need love to bind us not just fondness.”
“But I do love you, Belle. I’m not a bold fellow with words. I think you must know how I feel.”
“I think I do though we have not spoken of it. I can say with all honesty that I do love you and I love your little girls. My answer to your query is yes. I will marry you.”
He couldn’t suppress the joy. He took her in his arms and kissed her right there on the battery.
Jane and Ainsley were so happy for them. “But when are you planning to get married?”
“As soon as possible. We’ve both had lavish weddings in the past. This one should be simple and private. That’s the way we want it.”
“You should do it before Melanie leaves. Oh, Alston, how you do spring surprises on me. Who is to plan this simple affair?”
“We are, Jane, because we do want to keep it simple and I know you…half of Charleston would be in the church.”
They were married on June 1, at St Michaels. In attendance were Jane and Ainsley and their four children, Julie and James Drayton and their three children, Melanie and Alston’s two girls. A reception was held at Alston’s house. John was not notified because they were afraid it was too soon for him. Champagne flowed at the reception.
Julie was four months pregnant and she did not agree about not inviting John. “He’s as much a part of us as Ainsley, Jane. How could ya’ll not ask him to come?”
“Julie, you don’t know what condition he was in three weeks ago. Alston and Belle are going out there tomorrow to see him.”
“It’s still not right. Where’s Ainsley…I mean to tell him just what I think.” Julie walked off to find her brother.
“Mama, how old is too old for me?”
“Becca, what kind of a question is that? You’re sixteen years old.”
“I’m talking about…if I had a suitor.”
“You don’t have one and won’t have one. You’re way too young to be thinkin’ about suitors.”
Becca was thinking about a suitor. Ever since the day he saved her life. She couldn’t tell her mother and had bribed their driver not to tell her father about the man she’d brought bleeding into the kitchen.
Court was in session in Charleston and Ainsley was up to his eyeballs with work. He often sat up late at night going over cases in his office. He’d begun preliminary work on John’s divorce but had to put it aside. An odd event happened in the federal court house. There was a decided rattling of the sashes in the court room. It excited much observation, and was thought by some to be caused by something other than the passage of wagons or a boiler explosion. There was no logical explanation for it.
Sometime later some books fell off a shelf at the College of Charleston due to a small tremor. Other than the librarian, no one else was aware of it. A man sitting on his piazza reported being “slightly thumped about” in his rocking chair by a tremor. In the village of Summerville about 22 miles northwest of Charleston another tremor was noted by a tailor. No one paid much attention to these reports and they were soon forgotten. The rest of June passed without any more reports of tremors.
As was their usual tradition, Ainsley and James Drayton rented a private cottage at Glen Springs for the months of July and August. There their wives and children would spend the summer. They normally would spend a week with their families before returning to Charleston to work.
There were many amusements for the guests and of course the healing mineral springs. It was a popular resort for the affluent. It got the women and children out of Charleston during the hot humid summers and away from the malarial fevers prevalent in the city. Alston’s girls would normally accompany them but they were in Savannah with their grandmother and aunt.
Alston and Belle were left to themselves. Some much needed private time. Alston wanted to take her to France for their honeymoon but had to put it off until the fall due to his duties in the city. In l885 a hurricane hit Charleston and had left much destruction behind. Most of that was now rebuilt but the stress of the destruction had worn their mayor down until he requested to terminate his position in January. He’d been talked out of it and given leave due to his health. He’d gone to Ireland to recover. His duties had been taken over by the city council and Alston was a large part of that.
Ainsley made frequent trips out to John’s Island to keep up with John’s progress. He reported John was sober and fit. He spent his time working with his race horses and overseeing the plantations there. Alston and Belle also visited and received his congratulations on their marriage. Alston thought he looked good and had explained to Belle why he was there.
The first of August brought Ben Wade back to town. After checking around he found the incident with Polly Pendleton was not being talked about. Word was she was working on Kings Street in a dress shop and living above it. Her brother had moved from the rented house to rooms over his grocery store. They seemed to have parted ways. He had no desire to meet up with either of them.
He came down one morning to see a boy from the telegram office waiting for him. He gave him a few coins and opened the telegram.
It was from the convent school. His daughter’s mother had been killed and Angelique had not returned from the funeral. He wrote out a reply that left little question as to what they were to do…find her.