My mind finally cleared when Matilda, the old house servant, got me cleaned up and dressed, then brought to the main house. Imagine my utter amazement as my eyes took in everything. Surely, I thought, as I waited in the grand entry hall, this can't be the home to someone like Caleb Woodbridge. Oooh, Claude, I know deep down you would love this house....
My thoughts were on Claude Frollo, the man I loved, and I had hoped that he'd move Heaven and Earth to find me. Somehow, the elegance of the Woodbridge home did little to lift my spirits. Even as my eyes traveled upwards to admire the massive crystal chandelier and the long, gracefully winding staircase, I felt tears coming on. Marcel Rougelot, a man from medieval France -- a 15th Century serial killer -- had finally caught up with me at the Smiley farm. He had recognized me from Jehan's descriptions. JEHAN! Of all the stupid, asinine, brainless....
When Marcel finally realized what, and who, he had... You know, prime Jehan Frollo with enough wine, women, and cash, and he'll tell you anything and everything.
That night, with me tossed in the back of an old buckboard, and Marcel driving toward Woodbridge Landing, I could hear, even through my fogged mind, Marcel Rougelot boast his triumph:
"Well, well, if Jehan's descriptions are correct,
then you MUST be the lovely 'Danisha'...Jehan said that you, a woman from
the New World, are one of His Grace's favorites...And that fat one you
travel around with, Madame Fern as Jehan calls her...One of Frollo's best
Marcel continued to taunt me with words, and those words were extracted from one of his recent victims: Bernard LaCroix. "Mademoiselle, you should thank not only Jehan Frollo but Bernard as well. You see, that young man had told me much about you -- about your friendship with the bellringer; about your 'special' bond with Minister Frollo..."
No, Bernard was innocent...He didn't know what was to come...Marcel used him, just like he used the rest of his victims...
Despite my drugged state, I could make out some
of this mostly one-sided conversation. The scanty amount of chloroform
incapacitated me enough that I couldn't speak very well, let alone fight
off this man.
"Marcel...Why? Why did you kill Bernard?"
"Oh, Danisha -- Do you mind me addressing you as such? About Bernard...I had to kill him...His death was necessary because Vincent and Isabelle..."
Inexplicably he stopped himself as we neared Woodbridge
Landing. I blacked out almost completely while Marcel conducted his business
with Caleb Woodbridge. And to where did Marcel Rougelot take off? To another
time period. Only this time, he would be able to conceal himself, actually
changed his name in efforts to elude Claude Frollo.
Before it was all over, in less than a week's span, we all would learn the truth about Marcel and what compels him to kill. We would also learn ALL the connections: a Nantes spice merchant; a young slave boy fleeing a Tennessee plantation; a Chicago socialite who frequented the South Side jazz clubs; a 1930's businesswoman who refused to let wagging tongues short-circuit a special romance; an up-and-coming scholar; and, ultimately, a little girl who momentarily forgot her parents' warning -- "Don't talk to strangers."
Who was Caleb Woodbridge, and how did Claude Frollo come in contact
with him? Caleb had married Sarah Hayes, whose family actually owned this
plantation. Caleb, a large man in his middle fifties, often struck me as
either a misplaced longshoreman or an overgrown has-been jock. He never
was an impressive sort-- intellectually or culturally -- nothing like his
contemporaries who had made their marks on state politics. Rather, according
to Josiah, the Woodbridge family preferred the life of pleasure. Hunting,
barbecues, balls, garden parties -- If it was a excuse to show off wealth
and status, then the Woodbridges 'put on the dog' as Josiah said.
On this particular day, I was to go through a pile of new dresses that had just arrived from Paris. Corabeth Woodbridge, just three months shy of eighteen, expressed that she "wanted to look positively breathtaking tomorrow". What was so special about 'tomorrow'? That would be the day of the big Woodbridge fall garden party, the last outdoor entertainment of the year. Of course, this would put added pressure on me as the eldest Woodbridge child, Charles, had invited someone, "as my special guest." Charles Woodbridge, aged twenty-six, and a splitting image of his father, was feted the night before at the Nashville Inn. Caleb threw that party in hopes of garnering more support for his son, who was presently running for state representative. There both father and son met a visitor from France, but they had no idea this man was, in reality, a city magistrate from 15th Century Paris. However, an unexpected visit this afternoon would hasten His Grace's rescue plans -- He never got a chance to sample "southern hospitality". In fact, as Claude related to me much later, "The Woodbridge's attempts at graciousness left me cold -- I was actually nauseated from their special brand of 'hospitality'."
So how were my two days as "Miz Corabeth's" maid? All of my research,
all of my readings, did little to prepare me for the harsh realities of
life on the plantation. Oh, I knew the expected mannerisms: Never make
eye contact; keep my head down when speaking to a white person; always
show how 'grateful' I am. In other words, to echo Dunbar, "We wear the
There were two people there who helped me out tremendously. Matilda and Josiah, the house servants who had served the family since the late 1820's, served as my special tutors during my brief ordeal. Matilda was a motherly sort -- she reminded me of my grandmother -- with her plump figure and dark chocolate complexion. Her eyes glowed with warmth and love, despite the hard realities of slave life.
Often, when time and work permitted, Matilda told me many stories of Old Hickory and his beloved wife Rachel. "It's a shame," said Matilda, "the way them folks talked 'bout Miz Rachel, sayin' how she stayed with the Gen'ral afore they got married. Weren't none nicer and kindlier than Miz Rachel. Now, these here Woodbridges...Why, they can't hold a candle to Miz Rachel and the Gen'ral." These here Woodbridges...
Indeed, Marcel Rougelot had plunged me into this lion's den disguised
as a 'normal' family. Of all the depraved, sadistic...
And it wasn't so much slavery's physical tortures, but the psychological effects, the mind games. I was to get a healthy dose from Miss Corabeth herself. This not-so shining example of young womanhood would also show her true colors once she met a French magistrate from the Late Middle Ages.
"Now, Nancy...Fetch that shawl..Don't handle those gowns so roughly!
Damn it, girl, you are so slow!"
Corabeth barked a series of orders as I assisted in dressing her for the afternoon. She was not what one would call a 'raving beauty'; in fact, she was downright plain with her long lank blonde hair, too-pale skin that freckled too easily, and the light blue eyes that registered no warmth. To my relief, Matilda had sent up Becky, another house servant who had, at times, acted as lady's maid to both Sarah and Corabeth Woodbridge.
Now, I had learned all about how to be a proper lady's maid through Fern; she taught me everything from hairdressing to caring for the fine, costly clothes. Lacing up Fern in a corset was far more fun than doing the same for Corabeth, who was a difficult taskmaster at best. All I could think of was that this was temporary at best; Claude would discover I'm here. and he'd do anything to save me from this nightmarish existence. Of course, I would have to weather the next forty-eight hours, during which Corabeth Woodbridge tried her best to break down my "inborn negro stubbornness". She took a special delight when she informed me of the "real reason Daddy bought you", and of my predecessor's fate.
"Hattie was like all the rest -- stubborn and prideful, and loose, like
all you negresses. Honestly, for the life of me, why would those Northerners
ever want to free you all? Why, the negroes are naturally inferior
and immoral -- at least that's what Daddy says. It's only natural that
the negress should be subservient to her master -- It's what saves us
from our men's lustful nature."
So said Corabeth as I refilled her teacup. We were presently out on the verandah overlooking the front drive and gardens. I had to admit that the late October day was magnificent -- the fall flowers, the trees beginning to turn, the warm sunshine, the cool yet comfortable air.
As any good servant looking out for her mistress, I deftly placed a lacy shawl around Corabeth's shoulders, and she looked at me with the most peculiarity. "You know, Nancy," she sneered as she languidly waved away a hovering fly from the sugar bowl, "you are much better looking than Hattie, although you seem a tad older than she..."
Corabeth stopped to laugh -- it sounded more like hens cackling -- then adding, "...And you seem a damn sight more mature! I hope Charles isn't too rough..."
Charles Woodbridge: rising politician, Caleb's only son...cruel, arrogant, and egotistical...A man who would soon meet his fate...
After the arrival of a few unexpected guests, I would feel Charles'
eyes upon my body just as sure as I felt Corabeth's cold-as-steel blow.
Claude, you had to witness all that, and you couldn't do one thing to stop
it if you tried.
"Mr. Frollo, I trust your stay to our fair state has been pleasant."
Those words came from Caleb as he motioned to Josiah to serve more refreshment.
I didn't know Claude and company had arrived until Matilda alerted me.
While I was downstairs fetching Corabeth's tea, Matilda had told me that
"An fancy Frenchman come to see Massa Caleb -- He ain't nothin' like that
man that come here a few days ago. You ought to see him! He's a fine-lookin'
Indeed, Claude Frollo had arrived and was presently conversing with Caleb and Charles Woodbridge. From what I gathered, the conversation didn't surround me, as Claude made sure not to bring up the subject of slavery or secession. Just pleasant small talk passed among the men. Cissy McMullen had to make do with Sarah Woodbridge's mindless chatter about gardens and the new Paris fashions.
And where was Iggy? I didn't know it, but Fern's wacky brother, at Claude's urging, slipped over to the slave quarters in hopes of finding me. Iggy didn't have to look any further than the front porch because before I knew it, Josiah thrust a tray in my hands and said, "Here, child. Mistuh Charles wants you to serve this here refreshment to that Frenchman out yonder." I'm to serve Claude Frollo?! But...
"Best be quick, Nancy," said Josiah warningly. Perhaps Charles thought it was an apt time to show off the "new blood"; but, to my horror, Charles Woodbridge was planning my later 'initiation'. Poor Claude! He watched that entire scene as Charles mentally undressed and ravished me in the most inhumane fashion -- Claude could read what was on Charles' mind, and the medieval judge did all he could to keep from killing Charles on the spot. And Corabeth? Well, she suddenly became quite intrigued with Minister Claude Frollo.
"Mr. Frollo, do try our fine peaches. They're nice and ripe," lusciously
cooed Corabeth Woodbridge as she allowed the lacy shawl to slip from her
shoulders, revealing a bit of cleavage. Her mouth curved into one of those
annoying Southern belle simpers while she eyed me with such contempt as
to say, "Honey, don't even think of seducing this man..." I couldn't
resist this moment to give 'Miz Corabeth' a good mental 'payback'.
Oh Miz Corabeth, you see, me and dis here man...oooh child, Ah thinks he's a might too much man fer y'all..And 'bout them there peaches...His Honor loves a ripe juicy peach, but he prefers being handfed -- BY ME!
Claude Frollo caught my eye as I served him yet another of Matilda's
little spice cakes. His eyes sparkled with delight as I went about my duties;
he never let on he was about to rescue me. Of course, I was not to learn
of the rescue until after I was firmly and soundly 'disciplined' for my
clumsiness. So I stood by, refilling teacups, fetching more food, and occasionally
fanning 'Miz Corabeth'.
Claude and I made little eye contact -- we couldn't. But I could feel his love, his passion, his profound concern for me -- and I believe he could feel my lovea nd devotion for him. I also felt something else: an increasingly uneasiness as Charles' eyes followed my every move. Corabeth picked up on this and played it up to the hilt as she continued to secretly seduce Claude Frollo. However the Minister of Justice saw through this pathetic attempt to break through that tough reserve. Marcel Rougelot had escaped to yet another time period, although Claude's attention was focused on rescuing me. What happened within the next few minutes unsettled the 15th Century French magistrate so much...
"You stupid black wench! Look what you did!" Corabeth Woodbridge instantly
rained down many blows to my face as she issued a volley of degrading curses.
It happened after Charles had motioned for me to refill his whiskey glass.
There I was, between Claude and Charles; I could feel the younger Woodbridge's
eyes all over me. Ugh! How I hated the idea of him crawling into bed with
me, but I knew it would be a matter of time before Charles 'branded' me
just he did my predecessor.
Claude Frollo looked at me, actually gave me some silent encouragement; but I became so unglued that my hand trembled, spilling whiskey onto Claude's fine black woolen frock coat.
"Oh, Mistuh Frollo, suh! Ah'm pow'ful sorry, suh!", I exclaimed in my
best dialect as I hastily blotted his coat sleeve. Claude smiled and said,
"Oh no, my dear. It's quite all right -- No harm done, my girl."
But neither Corabeth nor Charles would stand for this 'insult', so I was promptly punished right then and there. Poor Claude! He had never seen nor heard such viciousness directed towards me. Corabeth continued to pummel me with words while Charles pelted me a few times with his riding crop. At once, Josiah was summoned.
"Josiah," began Charles, "take this clumsy little negress back to her cabin. There she will remain until I shall personally punish her." Josiah shuddered as he escorted me back to the slave quarters. Claude! I never got to look back at Claude. My tears came as quickly as my worst nightmares while Josiah told me, "Child, I knew this was a-comin'. Lord have mercy on you, Nancy."
The old house servant stopped just outside the cabin when he finally
revealed what happened to Hattie. Josiah, his aged deep brown face crowned
with a mane of snow white hair -- he looks almost like an elderly Frederick
Douglass -- took me aside before heading back to the house.
"Nancy, honey...You have to leave this place. This ain't no place for a woman like you. You's educated 'cause I can tell -- You's got that same glow that Hattie had. But she didn't know much about the menfolks. Mistuh Charlie looked at her the same way he looks at you -- and she made Miz Corabeth mad a few times."
Josiah took a deep breath, fought back a tear, then continued, "One
day last week, Miz Corabeth she beat Hattie for somethin'...I forget what
it was, but Mistuh Charlie, he had me take Hattie back to the cabin. Well,
later than night, we all heard it."
"Heard what, Josiah?," I nervously asked, my heart pounding.
"We heard the screaming a-comin' from Hattie's cabin. Mistuh Charlie...he beat and did terrible things to that po' girl."
Josiah didn't have to elaborate anymore, for already, in my mind's eye, I could visualize Hattie, forced to perform acts against her will while Charles Woodbridge continued to beat the life out her. All alone in my cabin, my body trembled with fear and dread. I took out both my transtemporal communicator and that sterling silver charm bracelet. Claude...if you weren't here I'd send you a message...this bracelet...I have to give this to you...Maybe Josiah will be good enough to pass this onto you...Charles means it -- He is determined to rape me, perhaps kill me in the process...Just like he did to Hattie...
I couldn't help it; I broke down in tears, unable to stop myself. My situation seemed hopeless. But my terror would be alleviated somewhat by two people, one of which had presently hidden himself in the weeds nearby. Through my choked sobs, I heard this young voice, barely whispering the words.
The Lord is my Light and Salvation
whom shall I fear? t
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Without thinking, I looked out the window and espied this little boy
reading from a ragged Bible. He must've sensed my presence for he immediately
jumped up, looked at me with a sudden fear, and whispered frantically.
"Please, Nancy! Don't tell my mama! Massa's gonna find out for sure!"
"Find out what, honey?"
The boy rolled his eyes then said, "Uh, you's new here but Massa Caleb don't want us learnin' how to read and write." I completely understood this but the boy did intrigue me, so I asked his name.
"My name be Silas. I help in the barn, you know, clean up and brush down the horses." Nine years old and mature beyond his years, Silas told me that he learned to read from "Mr. Jeremiah and Mr. Kyle." Now I knew about Jeremiah...but Kyle? As in Kyle Grigsby, Fern's son? What...?
"That's right, Nisha. Kyle's been here before, which is why we have to get you out of here." Iggy McMullen, Fern's brilliant brother, entered my cabin, and began explaining why it was necessary to save me from certain death. But Iggy would only tell me so much.
"Nisha, did you get a good look at this child?" Silas looked on, his
eyes full of questions. Why did that man call me 'Nisha'? Who is that man
named Mr. Claude? Who is this 'Mr. Iggy', as the children soon called
At that moment, I felt as if struck by lightning several times over. Surveying the boy's face, I gasped in both delight and shock.
Silas! He's my great-great grandfather!
Charles Woodbridge threatens Nisha...A daring rescue...a flight to freedom...
To TIME 3:4
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