Sandy, a gift from Seth's daddy, wants to believe she is more to Seth than just his slave, but when he informs her he is marrying a woman who can provide a male heir to the plantation, she is devastated. When she attempts to escape to freedom along with several other slaves, Sandy soon learns that independence comes at a high price. As Seth commissions the help of Crazy Bill, a man with a reputation for bringing slaves back dead or alive, he faces nagging internal conflicts as he fights to perpetuate the traditional Southern plantation life that his ancestors established and bequeathed to him-all while pondering his love for Sandy.
In this compelling historical romance, a controversial interracial relationship hums in the midst of a changing world as a colorful cast of characters interact in a war-torn nation.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.73(d)|
About the Author
CD Harper retired as the Executive Director of the Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex and professor of Theatre Arts and Dance at California State University, Los Angeles. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and St Louis University. He resides in Gleneden Beach, Oregon.
By CD HARPER
IUNIVERSE, INC.Copyright © 2010 CD Harper
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was past midnight when Seth Junior arrived back at the big house. After hours of searching for Sandy and the others, he thought how foolish he had been—perhaps even desperate. Still, sleep would have eluded him, so he had searched for the hidden paths and trails on the plantation, realizing that hiding out for at least one night was the easiest thing for slaves to do. They did it all the time. But not his Sandy! He doubted if she knew where those hiding places were. She had no reasons to know; besides, if she knew, she would have told him. Like everything else in their lives, they had no secrets; at least, he couldn't think of any.
He thought of their life and knew their time together couldn't have been better, for her or for him. Their life was pure, as innocent as could be, perfect, he thought, and he delighted in knowing that. She was his life partner. They had grown up together, touching and feeling and knowing each other from the day his daddy brought her into his room. He'd been six or seven and always thought she was younger. He didn't know for sure, but that was the way he wanted it.
The stillness and quietness in the house at that hour certainly was not unusual, but that night was somehow different. It was as if Providence had sucked all the air out of the house, leaving it devoid of life. Normally the air would be filled with energy: quiet and still, but strong and powerful. He could always count on that energy being there, waiting, no matter the hour, the weather, the season. Sandy, his Sandy, was its source.
Now, that energy was missing. That night, he knew, he would not find her sitting on the edge of his bed, looking out of the window, thinking only of him. And the adrenaline, the anticipation that he always felt when he opened that door, was gone too. He realized that, somewhere in the crevices of his mind, he had known all the time; from the moment her horse jumped forward into a full gallop, he had known she would not be there. Why else would he have searched and searched for her?
When he finally opened the door to his room, for a moment, maybe two, he was paralyzed; he felt frightened, saddened, angry, and violated. He had never ever experienced anything remotely like this; consequently, he had no idea what to do.
The room he and Sandy had grown up in, made love in, slept in, dreamed in, talked in, the very room that had been their haven for so many years, had been destroyed. Shredded bedding and mattress feathers from the mattress she had been so fussy about covered every surface. Her shawl, the beautiful green one with brown and gold leaves that he loved to see wrapped around her shoulders, was ripped apart, deliberately and precisely. The drawers had been pulled from the chest and clothing had been thrown all over the room. Even the locked drawers in his desk had been torn open and the contents flung about. Finally, the jewelry box was missing: his mother's box, the one he had forbidden Sandy to ever touch, the one with his daddy's letter and the ripped pages from the Book attached to it.
"Sandy! Sandy!" He screamed at the top of his lungs, at a volume he didn't even know he could produce, hoping she would hear him, wherever she was. He didn't know what else to do. "Where in the hell are you?" It was more of a statement and a resolution than a question. He paused, knowing she would not answer, and knowing, too, that she had taken his mother's jewelry box.
"Clara." He paused. "Clara? Somebody better answer me." He waited, anxiously, impatient, and nervous. He had learned, long ago, to treat his house slaves with respect. He had confidence that nothing would be lost. Sandy, his Sandy, had assured him. But in the back of his mind, he knew his daddy would not have approved.
"Clara. Clara? You deaf? You best be getting your black self out here. What the hell happened here? Somebody is going to get it." There was no answer from anyone, not Joe, not Sam, not Clara. Somehow, he knew his house slaves were gone, too. He had been abandoned. And in the world his daddy had made for him, he had never, ever been without someone within calling distance to address whatever his needs might be.
He was, for the first time, alone.
But he pushed on with more energy and determination than ever; he looked in every room in the house, the bedrooms, the closets, even the pantry, saving Belle's and Abe's rooms for last. He knew that they would be gone, too. Sandy, his Sandy, would never have left them behind.
She had wanted them to be his children, important to him, not his property. They were, after all, the only things he had created and brought into the world. But he had not thought much about them, ever. They had simply been there, like other things on the plantation that his daddy had left in his charge.
His daddy, Seth Hunter Senior, had been the master builder. He had moved his family south, bought the land, and created everything around him. He had cut away the forest, planted the fields, made the land accommodate his desires, and created Covenant Plantation literally from nothing, except the strength of his faith in his daddy's dream and the strong backs and skills of his slaves.
William P. Hunter, Seth Senior's father, had insisted that his dream become the family's raison d'être. Seth Senior had accepted that dream fully and passed it on to his son, Seth Junior, who was to pass it on to his son, who would then pass it on to his son, and on and on. It was written, according to William P., that it would happen in this way that Providence had blessed them all and given them the responsibility to build a new life in a new land that He had provided for a free white people.
Seth Senior made the land and the slaves yield to his own dream, a bigger and more intrusive vision than his daddy's. It became Seth Junior's responsibility, his charge, to continue that vision, perhaps even to expand it. It was Providence's plan; he had only to open himself to its promise. It had been in his granddaddy's death bed whispers, not the exact words, but there nonetheless. And it had been written all over his daddy's face, shining from deep within his eyes.
But now here he was the son of the master builder, the dreamer, Providence's right hand man, the third in the long line of sons of sons, staggering back to his room, heart pounding, confused and bewildered. He needed to calm himself, to make some sense out of what was happening so he could stand tall, like his daddy, and do what he knew his daddy would do, Sandy or no Sandy.
He wanted to collapse, to close his eyes for as long as necessary so that when he did open them, everything would be back in place. Sandy would be sitting on the side of their bed, waiting for him. Clara and Sam and Joe would all be asleep, resting in preparation for the day's chores. And his mother's box would be locked away; protecting the letter his daddy had written to Seth Junior's mother after she had died, the one with the pages attached from the Book his granddaddy said explained everything.
Seth Junior wanted to call Clara again; he even thought about calling Joe or Sam, but knew he would receive no answer. He wanted to pretend everything was back to normal. Maybe Sam was down in the quarters on one of his late-night visits and Joe went with him. Maybe Clara was away too, tending to some mission Sandy had assigned her. Maybe Sandy was down at the stable, making sure her horse was cared for. Maybe, while they were all away, some rebel slaves broke into the house. Maybe. There were many maybes running through his mind, but deep down inside, he knew.
His daddy had warned him about making Sandy the center of his life. Seth Junior had not understood, or had not wanted to understand, or perhaps had not even cared. Sandy was central! He had trusted her implicitly, and she had never given him any reason to doubt her.
His mind told him he should get Jack, the overseer, involved, but his heart wouldn't allow it. He knew what he should do. But he didn't know how or what to feel.
He knew Sandy was responsible. He felt deep down that she had taken her revenge in the way that would hurt him the most. She had stolen his mama's jewelry box! Slaves were not supposed to steal, ever. Field slaves, house slaves, even slaves with some skill and special relationship with their owners wouldn't dare act, as he knew Sandy had.
What could she possibly do with his mama's box? He remembered how curious she was the last time she had held it in her hand ...
"Seth Junior, this is such a pretty box. Did your mama keep her diamond rings and jewelry in here?"
"What diamond rings? Ain't nothing in there for you, anyway!" He reached for the box; playfully, she had moved away.
"Sandy, give me the box. I told you. Ain't nothing in it for you. Just papers, that's all."
She smiled. "Then why can't we open it? It's so pretty. Does it play music when you open it?"
"No, ain't no music, and that box ain't pretty." He was laughing at her.
"Now you're making fun of me."
"No, I'm not. What you look like wearing a diamond ring?
"Like anybody else wearing one! My finger fits one, too!" she retorted.
"Just give me the box, Sandy."
"Seth Junior, 'nigger slave'? Is that what you want to call me?"
He shook his head. "No, no, but ..."
"Then I am a nigger slave, even if I don't look like one and ain't in no field," she continued. "I don't even know what I'd do out there. Bet you none of them wearing a ring either!" She was laughing now, enjoying the moment.
He laughed too. "I don't know what they wearing! Tell you this, though, you'd work the field like the rest of them. Course, you'd have other duties, too. Now give me the box."
"If I don't give you the box back, you make me go to the field, like you say? Make me your girl, your wench, wouldn't you? Probably rape me right out there in the field, in front of everybody, the slaves and all."
"Now you know I wouldn't do that," He reached for the box again.
"Why not? By the river, remember? What you call that? Show wasn't playing 'round that day. You think anybody saw you; just took me like I was some common slave! Not that anyone would care, since your daddy bought me for you." She was teasing, mimicking slave dialect and enjoying it.
"Makes no difference now, does it?" He reached for her and she felt his touch.
"Here, take this old thing. One of these days, maybe I'll get to see what's in it. Wear me one of them rings."
"One of these days nothing! I don't want you messing with this box. Nothing in it anyway, just some old papers my daddy had and a letter he wrote to my mama. Ain't no rings, Sandy. Money, maybe ... don't know. But for sure, no rings! So you stay away. You hear me, Sandy?" She had smiled at him then, moving slowly into his arms.
"Ain't you ever going to give me a ring, Master Seth Junior?"
Seth Junior had a difficult decision to make. If she were not back by morning he would look for her again, alone. But after that he would have to get help, find someone who understood his relationship with her and would honor that. He thought about Crazy Bill, who had a reputation for bringing slaves back any way the owner wanted, whole or in pieces, dead or alive. But there were other issues with Crazy Bill that he would have to address, and he wasn't sure he was prepared to do so at this time.
He thought about Jack, but he knew the overseer would want to bring the dogs in, and those were thoughts and images Seth Junior didn't want created in his mind. But they were there anyway, the images were, and at some point he would have to work his way through all the vivid tales of dogs dismembering and mutilating slaves, and Sandy, considering all the ways and thoughts of folks outside of Covenant Plantation, was a slave. That was simply the way things were done. Within the gates of Covenant Plantation, his daddy had worn the crown, and that was the way the king would have responded.
Seth Junior didn't sleep much that night. He thought he heard voices, lots of them, somewhere in the house, but he had looked everywhere and found nothing. He felt fatigue even as he was agitated by unfamiliar emotions. Most of his life he had felt only joy, knowing he was somehow special. His daddy and Sandy and Providence had made that possible. But his daddy was gone and no longer able to protect him or to ensure his life of bliss. And Sandy? She was gone too. No longer would she take care of Covenant Plantation and him, or be waiting for him to return from a night of cards and women and fun. And Providence, Seth Junior was told, was very clear.
He began to think about what could happen to her, the things that often occurred to runaway slaves. It wasn't just the images of dogs pulling and ripping and tearing her soft, honey-colored skin. It was the other men! They would touch her, run their hard, grimy, ugly hands all over her body, caressing parts of her that no one but him had ever touched or seen. And then they would have her. As many times as they wanted! All of them would have their way with her, defiling her beauty, destroying her worth to him. Again and again and again, she would be used, passed from one to the next, on and on, and there would be no one to say "enough."
The thoughts, the images that flashed through his mind, hastened his resolve to find her, to bring her back to Covenant before it was too late. He needed to find her or others would, and they would sell her into prostitution or as a common slave fit for the field.
Maybe, he had thought, she was trying to impress him, to convince him that he really didn't want to leave her for some other woman who would bear him a son. He already had her, and a son; in her mind, he already had a family. But his responsibility to the future, that inner something that he wasn't even sure he understood, also made him determined to have his world, the one his daddy had made and left for him to pass on to his proper heir. That was the way his life was supposed to be, the way it had to be.
Chapter Two"Let's take a ride after supper. I want to look around, get my bearings, check the fields, everything. I know how Jack does things, get things done, and I ain't saying things will change. Jack's a hard man, like my daddy was. No need for nothing new. But, you know, I just need to look around. Besides, it'll be nice to ride down by the river. We ain't done that in a long time. Remember? That's where we finally, after trying for so long, you know ... made it and all." He had this big grin on his face for a moment. Then it was gone, replaced by an expression that turned his face into a mass of worry lines. "You know I ..."
"That's okay. You don't have to say nothing. I know you got a lot on your mind, with them talking about war and all."
"They ain't just talking anymore, Sandy. They're fighting now." This was an awkward time for Seth Junior. Most of the Southern men, plantation owners, poor laborers, struggling family men and future stragglers, had left to fight in a war to preserve their way of life, his way of life. Yet he remained unsure.
"You have to decide, Seth Junior. All the other men have gone."
"I know! I know my daddy would have been the first to go."
"You ain't your daddy, Seth Junior."
"I know who I am! If I was my daddy, you wouldn't be in this house, living like you're a white woman. He wouldn't stand for it!" There was a tinge of anger and bewilderment in his voice.
"I know." She was trying to see his face, his eyes, but he had turned away.
In the silence which followed, she remembered how they had played together, touching, looking, exploring. Even when she was flat chested and lanky, even when everybody's eyes told her she was just a slave, she thought she was special, but he didn't make her feel that way.
He hadn't thought of her as special. She was simply Sandy, a gift from his daddy. In that moment of silence he was thinking about that day at the river, which he wanted to remember as the first real day of their life together. And although his touch had always been gentle before, that day down by the river, it was different. He had pushed and pushed, like it was time, like Providence had willed it to happen at that precise time, in that particular place. Deeper and deeper inside her he had pushed, releasing a new pain that would soon be forgotten. She had screamed and cried and even fought, but those were instinctual responses; she knew, in the midst of the lingering pain and anger, she had become a woman, his woman, and it was just another part of their being together.
Excerpted from COVENANT by CD HARPER Copyright © 2010 by CD Harper. Excerpted by permission of IUNIVERSE, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting Historical Fiction NovelCD Harper has written an intriguing historical fiction novel that is based on slavery and the relationships that develop between the slave master and his slave women. The story line is believable the author's theatre background shines through his words. Touching, emotional, and exceptional read.
This book tells the uncomfortable truth that needed to be told!