Voices in the Walls 17

Chapter Three

After Sarah had chosen a small trunk and Aunt Rachel had hustled it and Sarah upstairs, I rolled the cart into a barn and returned to the house.

The kitchen made up one back quarter of the lower floor.  Most of one wall was taken up by a huge fieldstone fireplace.  Aunt Rachel had an new iron wood-burning cook stove, but she had put it to one side of the fireplace so that a friendly fire could still be built on cold winter days. The sideboards and bin tables were scrubbed and fresh. Feed sack towels hung on the stove drying, but they were neatly hemmed, and had been patched where they had worn through. Even over Sarah’s burnt bacon, I could smell the faint odor of spices.

I had just decided to go and fetch an armload of wood to make myself useful, when she returned. She asked if I drank coffee and I said that I did. She asked me if I wanted to rest, but I had no intention of taking an afternoon nap, no matter how little sleep I had gotten.

While she talked, she worked around the kitchen, making up a fresh pot of coffee and putting right the damage Sarah’s cooking had done. As I studied her, it stirred up memories that I had thought were lost. Rachel Darby Pike. My mother had been Amanda Darby Williams.  Aunt Rachel was the younger sister, and she looked much as I remembered my mother.

I wondered why I had not seen her for all these years. I knew that she and Father did not get along, but now that I had met her, I couldn’t imagine why not. 

Thinking back, I could remember a great deal about Mother, although some of the memories were probably not my own. During those times we spent at Waterside, Father would have sudden spells of eloquence when he would talk for hours about her. He called it keeping her memory alive for me, but I am sure that he was keeping it alive for himself as well.

Mother had been a plain woman like Aunt Rachel. She was a Pennsylvania Quaker whose family had opposed slavery for over a hundred years. How she had come to marry a southern plantation owner was something even Father had never explained. Mother had not fitted in at Waterside. None of the neighbors would associate with her. It was not that she pushed her views on them; rather, her whole quiet way of living was an affront to southern society.

I suppose that I owe much of what I am to her. When I helped Mr. Dreyfus load his wagon, and called him Mr. Dreyfus, it was what Mother would have done if she had been in my place.

Aunt Rachel put the coffee pot on the table and set out two cups. She settled in across from me and said, “Now, why don’t you tell me exactly what is going on.”

*****

Since I have set Matt up for major changes in outlook, it should be apparent that this bit about his mother is a beginning of the process of making those changes believable. To change the son of a fire-breathing, slave whipping plantation owner into someone modern readers could accept would be too much of a stretch. Matt’s father is a southerner and slave owner by accident of birth, and a moderate by the standards of his day. Matt has to face major changes, but not such major changes that the reader is likely to doubt that they could happen.

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