Voices in the Walls 18

Chapter three, continued

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.”

I told her of being called back from Baltimore and of Father’s fears. “He believes that if it comes to war, a lot of the fighting will be in Virginia, and that Washington City itself will be in great danger. There would be no safety there for Sarah, so he asked me to bring her here.”

“Please don’t misunderstand me, Matthew . . .”

“Aunt Rachel, people call me Matt.”

“All right, Matt. Don’t think you aren’t welcome here, but why didn’t Thomas send Sarah to live with his own sister. You must know that he and I don’t get along.”

“He said the North would be safer.”

“No, I don’t believe that. Southern Pennsylvania is right on the border between slave states and free ones.  We are more likely to have fighting here than in South Carolina where your Aunt Mary lives. There has to be another reason.”

I liked the way she went right to he heart of the problem, and I liked the way her face looked. She was alive to reality and ready to embrace the world as it really was. Aunt Mary, on the other hand, was the kind of woman Mrs. Davison would have been if she could have managed it.

I said, “I think Father considers my Aunt Mary rather empty-headed.”

She smiled briefly at some private memory, and said, “I haven’t met your Aunt Mary. What do you think of her?”

I thought back to when I had last seen her, three years ago during one of the times we were staying at Waterside. I remembered her grating voice and her endless conversations about nothing at all. I said, “I agree with Father.”

“Then perhaps she would not be the one to go to for safety.”

We drank our coffee in silence while Aunt Rachel thought it over. 

I get along well with people, mostly because Father trained me early how to put people at ease and give no offense. But that was just a thing I had learned to do. It was rare for me to feel truly at ease, but Aunt Rachel made me feel as if I had known her for years.

Out of the blue, she said, “You look like your father, but you remind me more of my sister – your mother. You have her calm. Your father was always restless; full of some kind of nervous energy. I teased him about it once. I told him he sat still at a full gallop. He didn’t like that very much.”

Aunt Rachel looked so much like my mother that everything she said took me back to childhood. I thought about how others treated Father and said, “I never knew anyone to tease Father.”

“I’m sure he would not allow it. He had too much pride for that.”

“Why don’t the two of you get along?”

She smiled sadly. “Personality and politics. We were both born stubborn, and we disagreed about slavery. My family has been of the Society of Friends since Pennsylvania was a colony, and we have always opposed slavery. You father was a slave owner. When I was younger, I thought all slave owners were sub-human beasts.”

That was hitting pretty close to home. “I hope you don’t still feel that way,” I said stiffly.

“Oh,” she said, “you do have your Father’s temper after all! No, Matt, I don’t feel that way any more. I hate slavery as much as I ever did, but not slave owners.”

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