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Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Eve excerpt

From my novel seeking representation:
With letters from Lafayette and Martha at his breast, Washington purchased gifts for his wife, and for the children Nelly and Wash. Set solely on retirement, he and his fellow, Billy Lee, crossed the Potomac on Christmas Eve, under a night sky pregnant with yuletide snow. After riding their beasts hard, they delighted at seeing his windows awash in candlelight, knowing what feasts of good fortune awaited them inside.

1784 ~

When the men arrived home after eight years away, they were followed to the front door by several of the yard slaves, and everyone in the house assembled quickly in the front hall to greet them. Ona and the children were afraid and excited as they made their way downstairs. All eyes were on the General, many wet with tears.
            Ona wore her blanket around her shoulders as she was wearing only her shift. Her bare feet felt the cold that had come in with him. She looked at him from his boots up to his hat as he removed it and handed it to the butler. She thought she had never seen such a large man before. He towered over everyone in the room. His size and presence filled the space that the words she’d always heard of him had carved before he came. She knew she should not look directly at his florid face, but it seemed impossible not to look for the briefest moment, at his eyes. They were the blue his Missus had once spoke of. They seemed to see her. She knew she had to look away but could not. Everything about him was mesmerizing, especially his eyes. When he spoke everyone stilled. His voice was surprisingly soft and warm. He looked about the hall, and addressing everyone said flatly, but with his eyes twinkling happiness, “My family, how happy I am to see you.”
            He brought change to the room, to the people. Missus was beaming, the usually noisy children were dumbstruck, but most notable to Ona was the change to the slaves who were present. She knew these people well, and had never seen them this way. Their bodies never more erect, their voices never more deferential. His home and property were diminished by him, though not by his actions, which were genteel in every way. He greeted each person in the foyer individually. First a warm embrace of his wife who remained on the bottom stair so as to be a bit taller for the moment that caused her cheeks to redden, then he knelt on one knee before the children, his sword knocking the floor each time. The children politely returned his affectionate greetings with sleepy but interested eyes. Then he acknowledged the slaves individually by name and nod, each acknowledging him in return with a bow or curtsy, until at last he came to Ona, standing behind Nelly.       
            His size, his sword, his air, and of course, his authority, frightened Ona immeasurably. She trembled when he spoke to her. “So this is the little slave girl we have taken into Mount Vernon?”

            Her voice was almost inaudible. “Sir,” she chirped like a little bluebird in response, bowing her head in her perfectly executed curtsy, instantly satisfying her masters, who continued in their joyful holy night reunion. The slaves remained standing in the periphery of the light and the love.

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