"Umm...Claude? Where...? Who...?"
I could barely speak as I feverishly endeavored to sweep the cobwebs from my mind. All I remember was blacking out the moment I read Tony's report -- NOT from his findings on the Smileys, but the fact that Marcel Rougelot had been tracked to 1859 Tennessee, near Woodbridge Landing.
Woodbridge Landing...infamous for...Claude! I have to warn Claude. He doesn't know the full story...
During the early days of our relationship, I had told Claude much about my country, and of its dark past. Slavery in the United States was an entirely different institution compared with human bondage in Claude's time. At least, in his time, there were slaves of ALL colors. At least many Africans were able to retain their culture, customs, languages, given names. They even retained their chiefs, and, to my surprise, their royal titles. One of Daddy's colleagues told of slaves in medieval Portugal "holding court as they always did at home. Sometimes these people would testify against their own masters. Imagine a slave in 1845 America doing that!"
...Four hundred years later, the tide would turn...
I remember Bernard LaCroix telling me of the many festivals he had the
pleasure of witnessing during his many travels with his father. The dances,
the music, the joyous expression of life itself, permeated the African
quarters of Nantes. Professor Parsons corroborated these stories, saying,
"Yes, Nisha, those slaves back your judge's time enjoyed a freedom not
shared by their later counterparts. Honey, you know how you were able to
travel about Paris without some 'pattyroller' stopping you, asking for
a traveling pass."
Yes, in that late medieval world, there were no slave codes, no laws forbidding literacy for slaves, no 'traveling passes'. Education was open and available; many transplanted Africans learned trades. Many later generations found their place in government, the Church; some married into, and even founded, many fine families. How ironic that, almost a century away from Claude Frollo's world, the first Africans would arrive on the shores of Virginia, and into a slave system so unlike that of the late Middle Ages. It would soon evolve into an institution based on extreme brutality and cruelty -- something this medieval Parisian magistrate had yet to witness. Claude Frollo's eyes were in for the shock of his life once he finally saw what went on at Woodbridge Landing.
"There, dearest...You really should eat more...Are you warm enough?"
The early morning chill seeped through the rotting window sill, defeating
the already feeble flames of the small hearth. My head still throbbed and
my hands still quivered. When I tried to drink the hot tea Claude had so
graciously handed me, my teeth wouldn't stop chattering on the cup. Weakened
and jittery from the knowledge that we were situated within hours of that
place, the only thing I could do was to try to settle in, get some rest.
Besides, Claude Frollo decreed -- this was one of those rare occasions
when he truly laid down the law to me -- that I would remain at the Smiley
house until he and the others found Marcel Rougelot. Tracking 'le Chameleon'
was out of the question since the tracer on Jehan's transtemporal device
was on the blink. We therefore had to rely on Jacki and Tony who tracked
Rougelot's whereabouts from their home in 21st Century Indiana.
Claude tucked the oversized quilt about me as I whimpered small protests, but when Claude Frollo had his mind made up...
"My love, you need to regain your strength. Besides, I need you here
in the event you need to contact me." His eyes were on the bedside table
and its drawer. "I spoke to M. Smiley and he tells me we will be safe here.
Not one knows that he is an abolitionist."
Then, after a few fleeting seconds of silence, he said, "In the event Rougelot should happen by here, I trust you know how to..."
"Don't worry about me, sugarbritches. As long as I can lift it, take aim, and pull the trigger."
Who was Jeremiah Smiley, and what was so special about him?
Jeremiah had become an abolitionist back in the early 1840's, when expansionist
fever hit the boiling point with the coming of the Mexican War. Jeremiah
told us that he saw through the South's push for the war, "As a plot to
extend the boundaries of human bondage." As a result, he discarded most
of his Jacksonian politics and became an avid reader of abolitionist newspapers.
He especially remembered reading David Walker's appeal back in 1829. "Of
course I was a very young man at the time; but then again, my father was
firmly opposed to slavery from the start."
Jeremiah's calling, as we soon learned, was to be one of the southern links in the Underground Railroad. From this modest, unassuming little farm consisting of a barn, a storage shed, an icehouse, and a two-story clapboard house, Jeremiah Smiley had smuggled hundreds of slaves through Tennessee, into Kentucky, and finally, into Indiana and Ohio.
Of course, this was not without its risks, but Jeremiah was cautious about covering his tracks. You see; many in this part of the state, not far from Nashville, were still very much Union loyalists, despite the ever-growing secessionist fervor in far-off Washington. Many of these folks had revered the memory of Andrew Jackson, and often countered many a secessionist with Jackson's famous quote: "Our Union must be and will be preserved!"
But the tide seemed to turn against the Union, what with the 'recent' Dred Scott decision, thus further strengthening the Fugitive Slave Law. "That," said Jeremiah is the thorn in our side, but so many things have gone in our favor."
Indeed, by the late fall of 1859, so many things had happened: The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin (which Claude had read the night before I 'disappeared'); John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, who at this time was still a wanted man. Then there were the horror stories coming from those slaves who had successfully escaped their days of bondage. But it won't be over, not for a long time...The war, then Reconstruction...Then Jim Crow and the KKK...
...And we still haven't healed, even in the 21st Century...
Who could've predicted that I would witness, and experience firsthand,
that 'peculiar institution' in all its stark, uncompromising brutality.
And it was all courtesy of Mr. Marcel Rougelot.
Marcel,Marcel chuckled at this inane threat, but deep down he knew his days of freewheeling through the pages of history were indeed numbered. He recalled what Jehan had said, that Jehan's brother, the Minister of Justice, has a similar device. "Only," said Jehan, "his is fancier; there are more buttons to play with, too."
We are here, and we know where you are. Aaron never delivered that package to M. Henry Clay. It is over Marcel -- Give yourself up before you inflict any more damage! We'll be at the Capitol tomorrow morning -- Where we will find you!
It's a risk I simply can't afford! I will NOT hang for murder! I won't!
Marcel needed money, and fast. Soon, he would happen to overhear a conversation
between a wealthy planter and his son Later, during an evening trip
through the country, Marcel's fortune would change for the better. Talk
about luck! Marcel Rougelot would make a very profitable sale -- He would
sell off something of extreme value, something (make that
near and dear to the Minister of Justice. He had Jehan to thank for that
Finally, some good news for a change! Actually, make that several pieces of good news. Firstly, my parents had sent Claude a message via the pager. Momma had reassured us that things were under control, although Daddy's words were quite strained. Neither Claude nor I were aware that Daddy had found out the truth, but he never let on. Instead we chalked it all up as a father's concern.
Secondly, we learned that Marcel Rougelot was indeed in 1859 Nashville, and that Claude, through his small band of spies, had finally pinpointed Marcel's precise location. Claude told me, "There is to be a party this evening, at this Nashville Inn. It's a celebration of sorts, and if I know Rougelot, he will definitely be in attendance."
It was earlier agreed that Fern, Iggy, and Cissy would NOT stay at Smiley's house, lest stir Rougelot's suspicions. "No," reasoned Claude Frollo, "they are staying in separate hotels. I suspect Rougelot may recognize Daniel McMullen."
"But, Claude, how are you to..."
"To capture Rougelot? ...By element of surprise, my dear. The plot is to lull Rougelot into a state of distraction, using the same tactics he used on my brother."
Claude then kissed me, knelt before the fireplace, and stirred the glowing
embers to blaze anew. He sighed as he fumbled through his vest pocket.
"Ever since your parents contacted us, I've been thinking about..."
Claude Frollo stopped himself as he pulled an item from his pocket, then handing it to me, he said, "Nisha, my love, I want you to hold onto this until I return. While I am not the superstitious sort..."
"Oh Claude, you brought it along, but why...? And...? But what if something goes wrong...?"
He shushed me with a kiss, then closed my hand over that tiny sterling silver charm bracelet. "Things will go right, Danisha. Why, I haven't failed yet!"
He laughed as he caught me in his arms, and proceeded to swirl me around
the room. "How I wish we were back in Paris, in my time; we could be at
the Royal Palais, and I'd..."
I kissed him back and let him keep twirling me around the room. We couldn't, not in this time frame, ever appear in public nor show any open affection towards each other.
At last, Claude, resplendid in his evening attire of black pants, tailcoat, white shirt and vest, stiff collar and white cravat, bid me good bye. This study of contrasts: his formal 19th Century attire against my more serviceable black cotton dress with the crisp cuffs and collar. My hair was styled this time in a plain yet becoming 1850's 'do.
Before he departed for the evening, Claude made sure I had my pager, and that he had his. "My love, by tomorrow morning, Marcel Rougelot will be safely locked away in my dungeons awaiting execution." He kissed me again, saying, "At last, all this shall come to an end."
But it wouldn't end, not by another century. And it wouldn't get any easier with each passing day, for Marcel Rougelot would once again slip through Claude Frollo's fingers. This time, though, Marcel had a bargaining chip -- ME!
I sat at the pianoforte in the tiny parlor and began playing. I was bored; I was beside myself with worry. That last message Claude sent had unnerved me so.
...It's still there, in the drawer, but will I be able to reach it in time?
I took out the pager and read the message again in hopes that it was
all a terribly disturbing nightmare.
Rougelot was here, but somehow he has managed to elude us -- AGAIN! Daniel has hired a young laborer named David as a 'day spy'. The last place Rougelot was seen was not too far from M. Smiley's farm. I spoke with M. Smiley and he said that you and Mlle. Gracie are alone in that house. Danisha, I implore you NOT to open the door for anyone. We are presently on our way there. I've already sent a message to Jacqueline; perhaps we can head off Rougelot before he escapes to another time. I love you.
Now I was scared. Not only had Marcel Rougelot managed to elude the medieval magistrate, but he may be nearing my place of refuge. Gracie, Jeremiah's hired housekeeper, was presently out in the kitchen. Later, she would bring up a pot of tea for us to share. Gracie had warned Claude and me that a free black, living in a slave state, was risky in the extreme. There were the stories of free blacks accosted right on the street and sold for a quick profit. If any money was to be made, then the traffic in human beings was the most lucrative. Oh yes, I remember reading those slave narratives...Solomon Northrup for one...A free man living in Boston...Kidnapped in Baltimore and sold to a Louisiana planter...Twelve years of torture and unspeakable indignities... ...I need some air...
A much needed breath of fresh air was a mistake I would never forget.
Within a matter of seconds, I would become one of those 'unfortunate' souls.
Just for a few seconds...what could hurt? The night is so beautiful, not too cool, either... I wonder what's keeping Claude? He said he'd be back...Where's Marcel in all this? And what did my father exactly mean by "Wendell told us everything"?
Those thoughts swirled around my mind as I tried to remain focused on the star-studded October sky. It was a gorgeous night, and somehow, I became engrossed in a fading star. As I watched its feeble light fade in and out, I heard a sudden noise. Gracie? Maybe she's out in the barn, but surely she wouldn't gather eggs this time of night...
I cautiously walked around to the rear of the house, only to hear the
faint rustling noise again.
"Gracie?", I softly called out. There was no response.
Within seconds I heard, "Meow." It was Max, the old gray tabby that stayed near the barn. Good old Max...You're a nice kitty...Why don't I take you back to the barn...
Just as I bent down to pet Max, the cat suddenly hissed and howled,
and took off without hesitation. Whatever is the matter with that cat?
He wasn't like that this morning...What...? Who...?
Suddenly I felt arms grab me, and a stinking rag placed over my face. What is that? Chloroform? Ether? Whatever it was, I soon blacked out.
I would know nothing until I regained consciousness, and found myself
in a very strange place. It would be two days before Claude Frollo
and company would come to my rescue, but those two days seemed like an
eternity, for my worse nightmares had finally come true.
Danisha at Woodbridge Landing...Marcel issues an ultimatum to the Minister of Justice...Claude Frollo calls on Caleb Woodbridge, and plots Nisha's rescue
Go To TIME 3:2
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