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Authors: Elisabeth-Cristine Analise

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BOOK: Underground Captive
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Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
15

 

    
             
Momentarily forgetting her hair, Nicki faced Sophie.  "I can't do that.  And you haven't answered my question.  Why would they leave? PaPa never takes a whip to them.  When Ricard was home, neither did he.  Anyone caught abusing our slaves is immediately reprimanded and let go.  So tell me, why?"     
             

"I think I done answered yore question.  If you can't imagine yoreself a slave workin' in the fields, how you think those that is in the field feels?  I won't leave here.  Crescent Wood is my home.  'Sides, I'm too old to leave."

    
             
Nicki narrowed her eyes at the old slave.  She could always expect honesty from Sophie.  She stood and paced.  "Every time that vile man steals a slave, my home is threatened, which threatens your home.  I cannot allow that to happen anymore."

    
             
Sophie sighed in defeat.  "What’s you plan to do 'bout it, mam'zelle?"

    
             
"I need your help.  I know you hear the whispers when the next planned escape is--"

"How you know that?"

"Before I left, there wasn't much you didn't know."

"If you think I know, why ain't you told yore pa?"

"You're being a pain.  I don't want my father to know I'm going to look

for the Black Rider.  He would stop me.  I think you know that.  Are you going to help me or will I have to find out on my own?"

    
             
Sophie eyed Nicki carefully.  "Sit down here, so's I kin fix up yore hair.  I can't guarantee nuthin', but if I hear anythin', I’m gonna let you know."

Nicki went back to her chair and sat.  "
Merci
."

"Has you heard anythin' from yore brother?"

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
15

 

"
Non
, Sophie," Nicki lamented.  "Today is his birthday and I wish he was

home to celebrate with his family."

    
             
The old servant shook her head while she brushed Nicki's hair.  "Masta Ricard is where he want to be, chile.  If he wants to come home, he come.

    
             
"Now, mam'zelle, don' go git sad on me," Sophie clucked with sympathy seeing Nicki's misery.  "Jus' trust that yore brother is safe.  Tell me 'bout yore boardin' school?"

    
             
"I told you, Sophie, I don't want to talk about Mrs. Brysen's," Nicki snapped.  "I've been back from New York for three months and it stands to reason that I don't wish to discuss it, since I haven't mentioned it."     
             

Sophie laughed.  "Same ole mam'zelle, I sees.  You don't wants to talk 'bout it 'cause it was a Northern school."

"
Oui
, it was a Yank school.  If I hadn't been up North, I would have put a stop to the Black Rider's activities long ago.  And Ricard never would have left."

"Here we goes again.  You can't say what could've been an' what

would've been 'cause you don' know," Sophie chastised.  "This plantation ain't the only one that the Black Rider goes to.  Masta Falgout done set spies 'mong his slaves to fin' out when that man is comin' back."

    
             
Nicki bounded from her seat.  "Edmond Falgout?  Then I've got to find the Black Rider myself."

"Why?  What you gonna do diff'rent?  Don't you want him daid too?"

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
15

 

    
             
"
Oui
, I want to see the beast hang from the highest tree.  But the Falgouts! They're so cruel, Sophie."

    
             
"Mam'zelle, calm yoreself and come and sit back down so's I can brush them li'l curls out yore head."

Nicki complied, worrying her bottom lip as she thought.  If the man behind the mask was lucky, the Falgouts would only hang him.

    
             
Her brother presented another problem.  Ricard's absence from Crescent Wood had her heartsick.  Especially today, his birthday.

    
             
Sophie brushed Nicki's hair until every tight, springy curl was gone and it fell in heavy waves down her back.  She placed a jaunty, olive-green hat with a small brown ostrich plume stuck slightly at an angle on Nicki's head.  It matched the tight jacket fashioned with brown buttons and turned up cuffs.  Nicollette's skirt flowed freely just above her ankles, which were covered by her brown suede riding boots.

    
             
She smiled, picking up her riding crop.  "
Merci
, Sophie." 

    
             
"I'm gonna go tell Zeke to have Nur ready for you."

"Good.  I'll be down in a few minutes."

"Yas'm, mam'zelle."  The old woman walked to the door and exited the room.

    
             
Nicki thought how she'd go about trapping the Black Rider and getting her brother home.  But every plan she came up with seemed not good enough.  Still,  her life had to go on, including the engagement of her Tante Blanche.

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
15

 

    
             
Had Tante Blanche already left for New Orleans?  Two days ago, her tante informed everyone she'd marry Michel Foucher before the end of the year.  Last night, Blanche said she would leave early this morning for the city to be near
Monsieur
Foucher, where he resided and conducted business when he was away from his home on Bayou Teche.

    
             
Nicki shrugged, dismissing guilt for not going down earlier to tell her tante goodbye.  She glanced at the timepiece on the fireplace mantel and saw that almost half an hour had passed while she'd been lost in her thoughts.  Grabbing her gloves, she left her chamber.

    
             
Morning sunlight brightened the house as she walked through it.  Except for the house slaves attending to their chores, the place seemed deserted.  The aroma of just baked croissants, buttermilk biscuits, sweet rolls, and freshly brewed coffee, brought in from the kitchen house, tantalized her senses.  She took a croissant off the tray from the dining room table.  By the time she reached the front door, she had devoured the warm bread.

    
             
When she came out, Zeke was in front of the house, holding the reins of the silver steed.

"Mornin' mam'zelle," he drawled.

"Good morning, Zeke."

    
             
Zeke passed her the reins.  She climbed upon Nur, swung her leg over the leather saddle and followed the path toward River Road.  She rode towards the cotton fields, where the road was bordered on each side by big magnolia trees.

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
15

 

    
             
Nicki stopped under an acacia tree, watching the Negroes pick the bolls, the acres of unharvested cotton a snowy carpet.

    
             
Once again her thoughts roamed to Jared and she didn't like the feelings he provoked in her.  She should not dislike him simply because she thought him a Yankee upstart.  The only grievance she should have with him was his feeling toward slaves.

    
             
Nicki sighed.  Why was life so complicated? Why couldn't she have waited for another cabriolet or walked to Rue Dauphine?  She never would have met Jared Fleming if she hadn't been so bold.

             
Wondering if she would ever see him again, an unfamiliar longing swirled in her middle.  If she ever did, she'd make it a point to clear the air between them.

    
             
Nudging Nur into a trot, she turned the horse towards the cane fields, her thoughts turning to
Monsieur
Black Rider.  If things continued on their present course, she wouldn't have an inheritance left, and she'd be damned if she would let that happen.

    
             
Reaching the cane fields, she greeted many slaves, who looked up from their tasks.  They were happy, she thought. Satisfied, as they waved at her and smiled in greeting.

             
At Crescent Wood, only the very old and the very young were allowed to idle the day away.  Still, a great many of the working-aged slaves were lazy, doing nothing without being told.  Even then, they were too stupid to get it right the first time.

             
But, she rationalized, her Negroes were little better than her animals.  They needed guidance and protection.  They didn’t know how to fend for themselves.

"Miss Nicollette, ma'am," the overseer called as she approached him, her
thoughts evaporating like so much dust. 
Smiling broadly, he tipped his ragged hat and revealed a balding head.

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
15

 

    
             
"
Monsieur
Williams," Nicki drawled, smiling back, reining in Nur next to Floyd Williams's horse.  Her PaPa had hired Williams right before she'd left for New York.  He was a tall, clumsy looking man with arms that seemed too long for his body.

    
             
"How's our new driver working out?" She wanted to make sure the drivers and the overseers knew Charles wasn't alone in monitoring their treatment of the slaves.

"Far as I know, he's doin' fairly well.  Your pa let the other one go.  Mister Duplantier thought the former driver was a no-account low-life for abusin' those nigras.  But the fella hadn't done it for nothin'."
             

Nicollette raised a quizzical brow to him.

Again Williams shrugged.  "Honest truth."

    
             
"I would expect no less from any of my father's people," Nicki said frostily.

    
             
Williams held up a hand in defense.  "Ma'am, I meant no disrespect."

Nicki inclined her head, suspecting if Williams thought he wouldn't be found out, he would also take a whip to the slaves.  Just as she wouldn’t allow anyone to abuse her animals, she wouldn't allow anyone to abuse her slaves.  "Continue the good work."  She made a mental note that she needed to discuss Williams with her father.  "Be sure to keep an eye on our new driver.  I will also, as I know my father will.  We don't want our people abused."

    
             
Williams smiled evilly, his slit-for-eyes gleaming.  "Sure thing, ma'am."

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
15

 

    
             
"Good day,
Monsieur
Williams."  Nicki nudged Nur's flanks as Williams tipped his hat once again.

Nicki guided her horse in the direction of the slave quarters.  She reached the cabins and tethered him to the porch railing.  She strolled down the middle of the dusty strip of road, passing row after row of slave cabins.  Weary old slaves sat on their porches; some slept; others hummed.  Some engaged in quiet conversation with one another.  And still others kept a watchful eye on young children.

    
             
When she married and went to her future husband's home, Nicki hoped the gentleman would adopt Crescent Wood's policy of letting the very old or very young idle the day away.

"Mornin', mam'zelle," a familiar voice called to her. 

Nicki stopped in front of the cabin where the call came from.  "Odessa! What are you doing here?  Why aren’t you at the house in New Orleans?"

    
             
"Masta Charles sent for me last night because Betsy was having a time with her birthing."

Nicki bit her lower lip.  "Are she and the babe all right?"

"Yes, they's both fine, them," Odessa said with assurance.  "I give Betsy a potion for the pain, me.  She been sleeping since the bebe got here, her."

             
"What is it?"

    
             
"It's a li'l gal, her.  Mam'zelle, come inside.  We keep quiet 'cause we don't want to wake Betsy, us."

BOOK: Underground Captive
11.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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