Dana's Story Book
Copyright © 1998 Dana Lynné Rice, All Rights Reserved
Living under the reign of terrorism, four young people find
Hope prodded the potatoes with her fork, taking dainty bites as her parents discussed local politics with the Smythes. Richard Smythe sat across the table from her, similarly occupying himself while the adults carried on. He is very quiet, she thought to herself, not like that Clay Orr who sat here making rude faces at me all night when his family came to dinner last month.
Still, there is something mysterious about this Richard Smythe. He isn't interested in the conversation, but clearly his mind is on something. He's not just sitting there being stupid. His feet tap, his hands twitch just a little, his face is keeping time with something. Her heart skipped. Maybe he's a musician and he's keeping time with a song in his head. Maybe we can play together later in the parlor.
Supper over, Hope excused herself and was standing up from the table when she noticed Richard's servant, Daniel, helping him on with his smoking jacket. There was a brief tender moment between them, it seemed. She stood still, trying not to stare as her mind raced through the possibilities, narrowing down to the one she hoped was true. They could be half brothers, she thought, or cousins, or it could be that they just appear to love each other to mask some other dynamic in their servant-master relationship.
Or, they could be lovers. Her heart raced. She snuck a look at the two boys just in time to meet Richard's eyes as Daniel whispered something in his ear. Daniel's eyes met Hope's, as well. She smiled, looked between them, smiled a signal of approval, and looked around to see if they were being watched. The boys looked around, as well, and seeing no one watching, looked at her again. They smiled at her, smiled at each other, blushed, and then broke into laughter, which they quickly suppressed for the benefit of the adults.
Richard walked over to Hope, and beamed down at her from his six-foot-tall stature. Their mothers glanced up in time to see adoring looks on their faces and flushed cheeks, as Richard took Hope's hand and kissed it. "Miss Hope,", Richard nearly whispered, "I wonder if you wouldn't have a moment to talk."
Hope's mother interjected, loudly in her socialite for-company voice. "Why don't you two go into the front room. Hope, honey, call Olivia down. It'll be all right for you two to talk in there, as long as Olivia and Daniel are there to chaperone."
The two mothers exchanged smiling glances, and then each sensed the reasons for the desperate hope that fluttered in the other's heart. For their husbands' benefit, they smiled as if they simply expected young people to flirt with one another. Under the surface, they shared a little prayer.
Hope was not about to pass this opportunity by. The three teenagers moved quickly to the front room, Daniel careful to walk behind a few steps. All three of their hearts raced, minds raced. Daniel watched the two pale people ahead of him. What was Richard going to say to her, yes we are lovers as you seem to have suspected? Dear lord, please help us through this. What if this is a trap of some sort? What then? A lump of fear came into his throat. This was nothing to be cavalier about.
Hope showed the two boys to the front room and excused herself excitedly. As soon as she was out of sight of anyone in the house, she pulled her skirts as high as she could and ran up the stairs as fast as her encumbrances would allow. She burst into her room, out of breath, and stopped dead, beaming in excitement at her best friend. Out of breath, she could only manage a few words at a time, and she strove to say them in as graceful and dignified way as she could muster. Her friend expected dignity from her at all times.
"Olivia...". She took a few breaths. "You simply
must come downstairs and sit with me and two very nice gentlemen who have called on us this evening."
Olivia was skeptical. She looked at Hope over the top of her reading glasses. "Did your mother tell you to come get me to chaperone again?"
Hope calculated the answer that would result in the two girls taking the least possible amount of time to be downstairs in the front room. She said, "Yes." And bolted down the stairs.
Olivia sighed, took off her glasses and set them on the table, put on her servitude clothes at a brisk pace, and shook her head at her friend's enthusiasm. She sometimes wished Hope weren't so impetuous. Olivia descended the stairs, dreading the evening's events as a caged animal dreads being viewed in a zoo.
Hope stood by the window waiting for Olivia. She smiled nervously at the boys. "It's funny, isn't it? You can know someone slightly almost all your lifetime and then one day a glance tells you that you know them better than you thought you did."
Olivia entered the room, closed its double doors behind her, and approached Hope in her mask of servitude that she put on for visitors. Looking down at the floor as she walked, she curtsied in greeting to Hope, then went to stand by the window, next to her seat for chaperoning when gentlemen came calling on Hope. It was one of the highest forms of torture in her life, excepting the everyday fact of being born into slavery at all. Olivia stood and waited for the ritual introductions before she would sit. She avoided eye contact, as she was expected to in this role. There was a long silence. She felt the others staring at her. Tension rose in the room.
Hope broke the silence by following the ritual that had been culturally ingrained in her. She introduced the guests as if this were any other calling.
"Olivia, this is Mr. Richard Smythe."
Olivia responded in her voice of servitude, avoiding looking directly at him. "Mistah Smathe."
"Olivia, this is Daniel."
Olivia and Daniel exchanged nods of acknowledgement. Daniel crossed to Olivia and took her hand. "Miss Olivia, it is very nice to meet you."
Olivia noted Daniel's lack of servant's posture and the beaming grin on his face. Her mind tried to work out why he seemed out of place. Partly, he was clearly emigrated directly from Africa. He was dark, not milky like most second-generation slaves, not watered down with European blood at all, not like she was, third generation and only one-quarter African. Yet, he had no accent. He spoke like a white southern gentleman. She found herself slightly annoyed that he might have been brought here to court her, but mostly she was perplexed at how he wasn't wearing his servant demeanor with strangers. How did he get away with that with strangers in this part of the state? Where were these boys from?
While Olivia was still distracted, Daniel walked back to Richard's side. Hope crossed to Olivia and took her hand. Olivia took it away quickly, with a fearful glance to the boys.
"It's all right, dear. The boys are like us.", Hope said, almost in a whisper to Olivia's ear.
Olivia looked up at the boys warily, but with her mask of servitude still firmly in place. She had met them before, although hadn't given them much thought.
Richard took Daniel's hand, brought it to his heart, and held it there, the two men smiling and nodding.
Olivia sat hard on her chair, stunned, the wheels spinning in her mind, disbelieving. "Hope... I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I thought we were unique...", she said, now speaking in her just-for-Hope non-servant voice.
Hope's hand touched Olivia's face, and she bent to kiss her softly on the lips. "We are, dear, and they are unique in a similar way."
Richard cleared his throat, looked to Daniel and to Hope, "Well, I guess there's no pretense, here, Miss Hope. Tell me, though. What is it you now know about us that would be beneficial to you?"
Hope's face fell for a moment. "You don't see, Mister Smythe? I am like you in a significant way, and we are both facing the day soon when we will be expected to marry, and since that is clearly not what either of us wants... I mean, seeing as how we have found love in our best friends but cannot marry them for a variety of reasons, I am proposing to you... sir... that..."
Daniel spoke to save her from her struggle, "I think it's a lovely idea, Miss Hope. If the four of us marry, we will be left to our own lives on our own plantation. We can have a mutually amenable arrangement. Otherwise, we are all four likely to be separated from whom we love, and married to people who would make us bury our true selves behind lies and deceit."
Richard smiled at the love of his life, "I see your point. Miss Hope and I would be forced, by the inhuman mores of the culture into which we were born, to watch you two, the loves of our lives, live a life of servitude in a house with a possibly hostile white spouse that we would be forced to marry for social obligation. Or, we would be forced to have to send you off somewhere far away to live free without us. Or, we would be forced to uproot and leave our families and homes in order to pursue a life in a foreign country where we wouldn't know all the ways we could be in danger." Richard smiled. "If we have our own plantation, we could set up an illusion for visitors, but have an equitable society in our own home."
Hope's bright blue eyes sparkled as she interjected enthusiastically, "Yes, Mr Smythe, we could have a very equitable arrangement around the house, and keep pretty well to ourselves, and have some sort of façade to put on for when visitors came calling. How absolutely brilliant!"
Daniel beamed, his eyes shining as well. "Mr. Richard very much enjoys cooking, and very much dislikes entertaining. I very much enjoy decorating, and don't so much like dealing with the horses."
Hope clamped her hand over her mouth just too late to squelch a squeal of excitement. "I adore working with the horses, I hate cooking and decorating, and I love cleaning! Miss Olivia here is the most organized person in this entire state, and loves to can and put up food. She and I also enjoy playing music. Do you boys play?"
Daniel could hardly contain himself. "Oh yes, Richard is an accomplished piano player. I don't get much chance to practice except when no one but Richard is in the house, but I'm learning."
Richard chuckled lightly, "You two are very smart for young people, and you sound like you are in league with one another. Are you sure you've just discovered each other's secret today?"
They all laughed.
Olivia sat quietly assimilating all of this information. The smell of honeysuckle was the dominant thing that Olivia remembered, years later when she thought about this moment, the day that gave her the beginnings of peace, the day that gave her a life to look forward to, the day that sealed the future of her life with Hope and without many of the everyday reminders of the terrorist society she was born into. The sweet smell of honeysuckle and mint tea would always come back to her when she remembered this day.
Now, she sat in the chair, Hope stroking her head and running her fingers over the braids that she had so lovingly made in Olivia's hair the night before. Everyone in the room beamed with a light that Olivia could see, clear as day, clear as Providence itself.
Everyone smiled in silence for long minutes as an edge crept into the room. Each person began feeling the weight of the real dangers in what they were proposing. Hope's hand kept traversing Olivia's braids as she considered whether to mention the rest of their story. After all, they had just discovered the boys were like them, and it might be too much to mention that she and Olivia were authors of several unpublished books that were currently hidden under a loose floorboard in the attic of the house. The only chance they would ever get of being published would be in Richard's name. She ached to ask him if there were any hope in his agreeing to such a thing. Still, the risks were great to mention it so soon. What if this entire discussion were an elaborate hoax to discover them, and their lives were all in danger now? The fact that Hope had taught Olivia to read and write would be the thing that pushed the entire plan over the edge, the thing that could bring a sentence of death to Olivia, and to Hope as well. Hope's father thought as little of women as he did of Negroes, and it was his peers that would decide their fates.
They were silent, letting the discussion sink in for a good long while. Each of the four teenagers stood disbelieving that the situation could be as perfect as it seemed. So much was at stake, their lives were in each other's hands. Richard and Daniel couldn't stand it any longer. They took several steps closer to the girls and turned so that their voices wouldn't carry out of the room at all, even if someone were listening at the closed door.
Richard cleared his throat again. "There's one point on which we must be clear, Miss Hope and Miss Olivia. My love for Daniel is all that I need to fulfill me. I can't speak for him, but I have no taste for women at all. If you wanted children, Miss Hope, I may not be able to provide them." He checked in with Daniel, who nodded for him to continue. Richard sighed deeply, and continued in a whisper just loud enough for the girls to hear. "That, and you must know that you will be living with a negro who can read and write. Daniel is an accomplished writer. We have published his work in my name. If this is ever discovered by the terrorist elements of our community, you-all could be at great risk."
Hope smiled, considering this for a moment, letting weight lift off her shoulders. She checked in with Olivia with a glance. Olivia smiled and nodded, eyes wide open with disbelief at their fortune. Hope walked to Richard, took his hand and kissed it, "Mister Smythe, you have yourself an engagement."
Copyright © 1998 Dana Lynné Rice, All Rights Reserved
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