A/N: I realize now that it's better to finish this story then to let it die at the point where it ended. If there are problems, feel free to point them out so that I can address them in a rewrite. It's a work in progress. Thanks for all the encouraging reviews.
"This is treason, pure and simple!"
An accompanying cry rose up from hot and muggy room. Men wiped sweat from their brows and then raised their damp handkerchiefs in agreement or protest. Lester French had the floor and he continued to stir the volatile assembly with his inflammatory speech. The buttons on his coat nearly burst with every jerking movement, his red face burning with the heat and the ardor of his argument.
"How can you men," He pointed at the group who sat scattered about the large school room many of whom were his own friends and neighbors. "You men, with families and sons, with patriotism in your breast, talk of divorcing yourselves from your mother country as if it were a passing act. This is not time for heady foolishness, but for diplomatic action!"
More voices rose up and with a flourish, reserved only for the most stately of men, he sat. Nathaniel grimly watched the proceedings, somewhere in the middle of the room beside his future-brother in law, Josiah Blake and his childhood friend, William Coy. He felt himself slowly loosing interest as the heat and the long hours threatened to overtake him. Josiah cocked his handsomely dark head in Nathaniel's direction.
"I'm afraid all this talk is inconsequential, it will come to blows."
"God help us." Tall and red haired, William replied simply and then clutched the fabric of his coat until his knuckles turned white.
"Slavery must continue if the South is to survive!" These words caught Nathaniel's attention; he squinted his blue eyes and leaned forward as John Porter, an affluent plantation owner, spoke. "The North has industrialized and continues to grow. Look at their canal systems and railroads. The south is the King of Cotton but we will choke and die if we allow the political abolitionists in the North to sabotage us."
"He's right!" Another shouted and stood along with him. "The Missouri compromise has become obsolete. The government is trying to stamp out slavery one state at a time while padding the pockets of those New England merchants and manufacturers! Who does the protective tariff protect? Northern Industry, that's who! And at the same time it robs from the South to give to the North! It's political favoritism!"
The noise accompanying this statement was deafening. The southern dignity and honor inherent and cultivated in every man in the room bucked against the slight of the Federal government. Nathaniel, even in his loathing of slavery still felt the tinge of anger at the constant maltreatment of the southern states. In a moment of spontaneity, he stood up. The room quieted as they curiously turned their attention to the youngest and most recent member of the planter's society. Most of them had either been a close friend or acquaintance of his well respected father.
"Yes," He began, letting the words form on his lips and all the while thinking of Sadie, somehow he felt she guided him. "We have all agreed that the South has been wronged. From the days of the less than amiable Missouri Compromise, to the unfavorable institution of the United States Bank, and yes, compounded with many other significant wrongs we have every right to take up arms. But before we decide to shed the blood…blood of not only ourselves but our brothers and friends who will take up arms against us, for this is a war that will not only divide the country but will even demand the loyalty of our households, we must decide. The decision must be made in everyone of us, if we are to fight, then let us fight, if we are to die for what we believe is right, then let us die but let us do it with conviction and unity. In my short life I have learned that allying yourself to something that you do not love with your whole heart only causes misery and despair. So if you love the South with your whole heart, stop and decide, which course is the better one. And only then can we, without discrepancy, lay down or take up arms. For the love of the cause, for the love of the south."
With his heart spinning wildly in his chest, Nathaniel went down into his seat. Quiet echoed his words for a moment and then a wild cheering and stomping and clapping that made the walls shake. Someone let out a shout.
"For the love of the cause! For the love of the South!"
Days later North Carolina succeeded from the United States of America and joined the Confederate States of America. Nathaniel let the newspaper drop to the floor, the headline read: "For the love of the cause, For the love of the South."
There was a way in which the slave girl moved that Anna found distasteful. She seemed to comfortable to her liking, to secure in her position in the household. As much as she attempted to dismiss it, the girls beauty bothered her too. Secretly she felt pale next to her exotic darkness, Anna Cuthbert was not one to allow herself to be inferior.
"Sadie, dear, come here."
She beckoned her with a lazy hand. Sadie obeyed quickly and quelled the rebellion that rose in her chest. All morning and night for weeks she had been catering to the every whim of the spoiled socialite and the weight of obedience grew unbearable. It was even more painful knowing that in a matter of weeks, this wasp of a woman, would not only be her mistress but share the bed of the man she loved.
"Yes, Miss. Anna."
The woman studied her through squinted green eyes that took on an almost cat like appearance.
"I want you to know something," Her voice was low and cold. " I don't know what kind of spell you've put on him but I will marry Nathaniel Wilmington, whether you like it or not. I will be your mistress and you will obey me and give me the utmost respect. If you don't I will have you taken out and beaten to a pulp. I will not allow some two pence darkie to interfere with my marriage and I'd rather see Nathaniel dead then with you. Am I understood?"
The darkness within Sadie grew to an enormous size then and filled every corner of her body. Inwardly, she shook under the words but outwardly she maintained stoic. Anna Cuthbert sat in all her silk finery and feminine laces with a look that would shrivel any man.
"Understood, ma'am." She replied slowly but with a firm, unwavering voice.
"Good, now get out of my sight."
The day of the wedding dawned in a clear and beautiful display of the spring season. The household had been adorned with roses of the most exotic coloring and white lilies, Anna's choice. A sumptuous wedding feast had been prepared and waited ready and steaming in brimming pots in the main kitchen. Musicians had been specially commissioned for the event and every wealthy aristocrat within a hundred mile radius was expected to attend the church ceremony and reception afterwards.
Nathaniel had woken from a fitful sleep early that morning and now stood in the middle of his room attempting to fasten his cravat. The tightness around his neck and head had grown considerably since the night, he felt he might explode.
"Damn this!" He exclaimed, throwing the white material aside and running a hand through his dark hair in frustration. He began to pace the room at a furious speed and only partially heard the knock at the door.
"What is it?" The ice in his voice was unmistakable as he opened the door. Standing in the door way was the last person he had expected to encounter on his wedding day.
"Sadie? What are you doing here?"
Her eyes were bloodshot but calm and she stood with a silver tea service in her hands.
"Your mother-…I…the rest of the servants are preparing the gardens and dinning room. I'm the only one left. I'm sorry if I disturbed you."
Conflicting emotions played behind his eyes but he presented her with a stony exterior. He opened the door a little wider so she could enter and watched her back she placed the tea service on a small hickory table. As she bent down, her eyes went to the rumpled neck tie on the floor.
"Here," She said simply after picking it up and raising it to fasten around his neck. Nathaniel breathed wearily through his nostrils and went to her. With nimble fingers made steady by her own inward resolve, she tied the cravat. Then, slightly with a barely undetectable motion, she ran her fingertips across his neck. He involuntarily leaned his head forward and they stood that way, with her arms resting lightly on his neck and his head cast downward near her shoulder.
"I'm sorry." Was all she could muster when her voice finally came back to her. In a moment she was out of the room. Nathaniel faced his image in the mirror. Slowly, he picked up a dainty, white porcelain tea cup and let it weigh in his hand. He felt the smoothness of it, the thinness of it and it reminded him of two pale hands of ladies. He hurled it at the mirror until the place erupted in glass.
"Do you Nathaniel Wellington take Anna Elizabeth Cuthbert to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold from this day further until you are parted by death?"
Nathaniel considered these words. Lawfully, have and hold, death. They all seemed highly impersonal, words, a vow something much more important almost too sacred for this sham of a ceremony. But not enough.
"I do." The sound of it was distasteful in his mouth but he spewed them out in the most amiable way that he knew how and then repented right there at the altar for this colossal lie that they were about to embark on. He didn't even hear her respond in the same fashion.
The priest said a few more words, rambling on about the sanctity of marriage and the eternal contract they were now entering, how it shouldn't be taken lightly. Nathaniel almost chuckled to himself but caught the noise before it got out. Every marriage he had ever seen was one taken lightly, forged from a spoken word between a father and mother or a flirtation that ended in a horrible scandal and much worse a horrible match. There was no honesty in marriage anymore and it seemed to him that a union based on money and society could be nothing but a miserable prison.
Fortunately for him, Sadie kept herself discreetly away from the ceremony and even managed to escape the task of having to serve at the reception. The sight of her would have broken down all of his resolve at moments. He was glad for her absence even though the feel of her fingertips still lingered on the skin of his neck. There seemed to be a thousand guests to greet and even more to smile and nod at. He was even thankful when the musicians began to play and he could take Anna to dance, away from the thronging smiling, well-wishers.
They didn't speak as they danced. Nathaniel closed his eyes against the uncomfortable scene and remembered the time in the study when he had taken Sadie in his arms. There was something there that lacked from this dance and it was easy to pinpoint. Emotion. Anna's arms hung limply around his waist and her eyes were focused blankly behind him, at what he couldn't tell, but she had not looked at him once since they had begun. As the music drew to a close and the guests began to clap in appreciation of the beautiful couple he found himself strangely calm even when he saw her standing in the corner with downcast eyes. And calmer still as she lifted her eyes toward him with a questioning glance while hugging her slim arms around her slightly bulging middle. And there, between the wrinkled folds of the dress that he had haphazardly discarded of so many times, was the answer. Nathaniel's heart went cold and then…the music stopped.