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A Tapestry of Hope
By Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2004 Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMay 1846, Lorman, Mississippi
The temperature was unseasonably hot, insufferably repressive. By all accounts, springtime had scarcely arrived in Mississippi, but nature's cruel trick was going unnoticed by no one, including the residents of The Willows plantation.
Jasmine Wainwright flattened herself against the bedroom wall, her right arm wedged against the red oak window frame. She wriggled in protest when a tickling bead of perspiration inched its way down her narrowed shoulders. Taking great care, she lifted the lace curtain between two fingers and peeked below. "I see a carriage arriving, Mammy. It must be Papa's houseguests. I'm tempted to pretend I have a headache and remain in my room. I know he plans to show me off like prize cotton from the season's first picking."
Mammy stood by Jasmine's dressing table with her arms folded across her ample bosom. "Um hum. Well, you don't know fer sure what your papa got in mind, but iffen you don't set yourself down, supper's gonna be over and dem visitors be gone afore I get a chance to fix your curls."
Jasmine glanced at the plump servant who had been her caregiver since birth and knew she could remain a few more moments before provoking Mammy. The old woman's gaze had not yet grown stern. "Just let me get a glimpse of them first. I'd like an idea of who will greet me when I descend the stairs. Oh, look, Mammy! One of them is nearly as old as Papa, but the other appears much younger-and more handsome."
"I thought you weren't lookin' fer no husband."
"I'm not! But Papa seems determined to marry me off." She pulled the curtain back a bit farther and continued spying on the two men. "The younger one has a kind face."
The familiar sound of Mammy slapping the hairbrush on her open palm captured Jasmine's attention. "Oh, all right. I only wanted one more look," she said while scurrying back to the dressing table. "The older man looks rather austere and rigid. Perhaps he's the younger man's father."
She plopped down and stared into the oval mirror as Mammy plunged her thick fingers in and out of Jasmine's heavy golden-brown hair, coaxing the strands into perfectly formed ringlets. Perspiration trickled down the sides of the black woman's face and dripped onto her bodice, leaving her cotton dress dotted with wet spots.
"Chile, I ain't, never gonna get these curls fixed proper if you don't quit flutterin' that fan back and forth. Jest when I think I got one curl fixed all nice an' proper, you go whipping that fan around and stirring up a whirlwind. And quit that frowning. Them creases you's making in your forehead is gonna turn into wrinkles. You gonna look like your grandma afore you turn twenty if you don' stop making dem faces."
"Ain't funny, chile. When you's gone and got yourself all wrinkled and can't find no man to marry you, what you gonna do then? Come runnin' to Mammy, 'spectin' me to make you look young and purty?"
Jasmine met Mammy's stern gaze in the mirror's reflection. "I'm sorry," she said while grasping the servant's roughened hand and drawing it against her own soft, powdered cheek. "But since I don't want a man, I don't suppose it matters very much if I wrinkle my face," she added with another giggle.
"You bes' get that out o' your mind. 'Sides, I's hoping to see you bring some little babes into this house one day. Maybe I'll be takin' care o' them too."
Jasmine flushed at the remark. "Whatever would I do without you, Mammy?"
"Don't know, chile, but ain't no need to worry 'bout that. I ain't made plans to meet my Maker jes' yet. 'Course, He may have some different ideas. But if so, He ain't told your ole Mammy. And since I ain't never plannin' to be parted from you any other way, I's thinkin' we'll be together for a spell o' time" The servant gave a hearty chuckle, her ample figure jiggling up and down in tempo as she laughed. "We better hurry or you gonna be late to supper for sure. Then we both be in trouble. Anyways, that's as good as them curls is gonna get for now. This hot, damp weather makin' everything limp, including your hair."
Jasmine checked her appearance in the mirror one last time, patted the ringlets, and rose from the cushioned chair. "You won't get in trouble, Mammy. I'm here to protect you." She pulled the woman into a tight hug, her slender arms barely spanning the old servant's broad waist. "Besides, after all these years, you know Papa is all bluster and bristle. He'd never lay a hand on anyone."
"Um hum, you jes' go on thinkin' that, child."
Jasmine loosened her hold and leaned back. She looked deep into the old woman's eyes. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You never know. Your pappy might jes' decide you're still young enough to turn over his knee." The words were followed by another deep-throated laugh. "Now get on downstairs and be nice to your papa's visitors."
"You know they'll bore me. Papa's visitors always want to talk about business matters instead of entertaining topics."
"Well, hot as it is this evenin', you know your pappy's bound to be in bad humor. He don't like this heat-never has."
"He complains about the heat every summer. I don't understand why Papa doesn't move us north with Grandmother."
"How he gonna do that? Can't move this cotton plantation up there where it's cold. 'Sides, your papa stays here 'cause this here is his home. He wouldn't live nowhere else. Even if he could, can't nobody get your mama out o' this house anymore."
Jasmine's brown eyes momentarily clouded. "I convinced her to go to White Sulphur Springs two years ago."
The old servant's head bobbed up and down. "Um hum. And she convinced all of you to return home only three days after you got there. Your mama doin' some better this past year, though."
"It's her headaches," Jasmine commented.
"It's her fears," Mammy corrected. "I don' know-maybe that's what causes her headaches. But your mama's been full of fears ever since I knowed her. Yes, sir. Being afraid, that's her real problem. Don' know what she thinks is gonna happen outside this here house." The old woman shook her head back and forth. Her forehead creased and formed a deep V between her wide-set eyes. "Um, um, it's a terrible thing to be so afraid of life."
Jasmine knew her father wouldn't care for Mammy's forthrightness, especially in regard to the mistress of the plantation. But Jasmine wouldn't forbid Mammy to address the matter. At least Mammy was honest with her, saying the things that others thought but refused to confide.
Jasmine shook her head at the frustrating situation. "But she's been doing much better managing the household this past year. I've not been required to help her nearly so much."
Mammy patted Jasmine's narrow shoulder. "You's right, chile. She is doin' better." Mammy seemed to realize Jasmine needed encouragement. "'Sides, the Good Lord, He done give us His promise to never leave us or forsake us. He won't be desertin' us now."
Jasmine smiled. Kindness shone in the devoted servant's eyes as their gazes locked. "What about you, Mammy? Wouldn't you like to live somewhere besides Mississippi?"
"Don't reckon I need to be givin' much thought to such a notion. The Willows is where I been livin' most all my life, and it's where I'll die. Don't know why we're even talkin' 'bout such a thing, 'specially when you need to go get yourself downstairs. You's jes' tryin' to avoid going down to supper."
Jasmine flashed a smile that brightened her whole face. "You never know where God might take you, Mammy. You're always singing that song about meeting Jesus." Her words grew distant as she raced down the stairs with her blue silk gown swaying in quickstep rhythm while she descended the spiral staircase. However, one stern look from Madelaine Wainwright slowed Jasmine's pace.
All eyes were focused upon her as she entered the parlor. She looked at her father. His normal pleasant demeanor appeared to have escaped him this evening. He pulled on his fob and removed the gold watch from his vest pocket, giving the timepiece a fleeting look. "I was beginning to wonder if you were going to join us."
"I apologize for rushing down the stairs-and for my tardiness. I hurried only because I didn't want to further delay dinner."
Her lips curved into what she hoped was an apologetic smile before her gaze settled on one of her father's guests. He was grinning back at her.
"Jasmine, I'd like to introduce you to Bradley and Nolan Houston. They've come from Massachusetts."
The words brought a broad smile to her lips. "Massachusetts? Oh, but this is wonderful. Do you live in Lowell? My grandmother lives in Lowell. Perhaps you know her? Alice Wainwright?"
Malcolm Wainwright cleared his throat and moved to his daughter's side. "I believe we would like to go in for supper, Jasmine. You can interrogate our guests once they've had something to eat. You'll recall that we've been awaiting your arrival."
Jasmine's three brothers were all smirking at their father's riposte when Bradley Houston stepped forward and drew near to her side. He didn't appear quite so old as she had first thought when she spied him from the upstairs window, and when he smiled, the sternness temporarily disappeared from his expression. "Miss Wainwright, I'd be happy to await nay supper every evening if it afforded me the opportunity to keep company with someone of your beauty and charm."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Houston. You are absolutely too kind." Jasmine grasped Bradley's arm, graced him with an endearing smile, and permitted him to escort her into the dining room. The moment he glanced in the other direction, Jasmine turned toward her three older brothers and, with a great deal of satisfaction, stuck out her tongue.
"You must be careful if you ever visit up north where the weather is cold, Miss Wainwright. You wouldn't want your lovely face to freeze in such a position," Nolan Houston whispered as he took his seat next to her at the table.
Jasmine looked up in surprise, then leaned slightly closer and grinned. "Thank you. I shall make note of your kind advice, sir."
Nolan laughed aloud at the reply.
Bradley furrowed his brow and turned his attention to Jasmine. "Pray tell, what advice has my brother given you?"
"Cold weather. I was merely explaining how easily one can freeze when the weather turns frigid," Nolan replied.
Jasmine gave a quick nod of agreement to Nolan's reply before whispering a brief thank-you to him. Although she knew her brothers would have enjoyed listening while she attempted to wiggle out of such inappropriate behavior, it appeared Nolan Houston had been amused rather than offended.
Malcolm Wainwright pulled a freshly pressed white handkerchief from his pocket and mopped the beads of perspiration from his forehead. "I could do with some frigid weather right now. This heat is stifling, and it's barely the end of May. I don't know how I'm going to make it through another summer in Mississippi. Once the cotton crop has been laid by, I'm hoping to convince Madelaine we should make a return visit to White Sulphur Springs in Virginia or perhaps journey to Niagara Falls."
Jasmine's mother flinched at the suggestion but nevertheless remained the epitome of genteel womanhood. "I don't think we need to weary our guests with such a topic just now," she said and smiled. "After all, they've known nothing but travel these past weeks. They must be anxious to settle in for a time."
"I wasn't asking them to make further journey, my dear," Jasmine's father stated evenly, the tension evident in his tone.
Jasmine listened with interest to her parents' exchanged remarks. Perhaps over the next two months she could influence her mother to travel east. Certainly such an excursion would do them all good.
A wisp from a large feather plume floated downward, interrupting her thoughts, and she glanced up at Tobias. The young slave was perched on his small swing secured to the ceiling above the dining table. Tobias gave her a toothy grin as he swung back and forth above them while brandishing his oversized plume to deflect any flies that might enter through the open windows and hover over the dining table.
"If you don't stop distracting Tobias, he's going to fall off that swing one of these days," Samuel said.
"And a fine mess that would make. I don't believe Father would be quick to forgive you if Tobias dropped into the middle of the dining table," David agreed.
Malcolm glanced back and forth between his two older sons. "Gentlemen, please forgive the behavior of my children. It appears as if we're having a jousting match rather than dinner conversation."
"I believe McKinley should be applauded for his behavior. He hasn't said a word all evening," Jasmine commented while giving her youngest brother a bright smile.
Her father shook his head. "I'm going to hire someone to teach all of you proper etiquette if this sparring doesn't cease immediately. Ring that bell, Madelaine, and let's get this meal underway."
The jingling bell signaled two servants into immediate action. They entered the room carrying heaping platters of ham, biscuits, and roasted potatoes. Jasmine daintily helped herself to a biscuit before turning her attention to Nolan. "I'm still anxious to discover where you live in Massachusetts and if you might possibly know my grandmother. She lives in Lowell," Jasmine eagerly explained.
"Although I've visited Lowell on several occasions, I continue to make my home in Boston. Were I ever to move, I believe it would be to Cambridge rather than Lowell. I have far more friends located in Boston and Cambridge," Nolan replied. "Bradley, however, has numerous contacts in Lowell. In fact, he recently relocated from Boston to Lowell in order to expand his business ventures."
"Truly, how interesting. I thought Boston was a much larger city than Lowell. How is it your business will expand by moving to a smaller city, Mr. Houston?" Samuel Wainwright inquired.
Bradley straightened in his chair, obviously pleased by the question. "I'm a member of a prestigious group of men known as the Boston Associates. Perhaps you've heard of them?"
Jasmine's father gave a brief nod. "I've heard some vague references to the group. Seems I've been told they're intent upon monopolizing the entire textile industry in this country."
Bradley shifted in his chair and riced Malcolm. "Actually, the Boston Associates are the textile industry in this country;" Bradley said with authority. "There are others, of course, but they are inconsequential. However, the Associates are anxious to see this country achieve industrial independence from England rather than attempting to monopolize trade for themselves.
Excerpted from A Tapestry of Hope by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller Copyright © 2004 by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller. Excerpted by permission.
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