Alexandra longs to impress Monsieur. She imagines dancing with him before bedazzled spectators. She panics. He’s an accomplished dancer. What if the orchestra does play a waltz? She’ll make a fool of herself.
“I guess I could go down and dance for a little while,” Alexandra says, rising from the porch swing.
Before the young women reach the bottom of the stairs, they see a stranger wearing the sheriff’s badge galloping toward them from the back road. Three of his deputies ride hard on his heels.
Callie leans close to Alexandra. “Let’s duck behind the snowball bush before they see us,” she says. She sets the quilt on the porch swing and hides the Dancing Masters behind the geranium planter.
But the men are coming too fast. The girls are only half way down the stairs when the men rein their lathered horses to a stop.
The new sheriff, who wears a top hat too small for his head, points at Alexandra.
“Girl! Git me some water.”
Alexandra edges toward Callie and reaches to take her hand. Callie moves away. Cold sweat drenches Alexandra.
“You deaf? Git me some water. Now!” The stocky man’s eyes graze over Alexandra’s body. He clucks his tongue and turns to Callie, “You’re too old to be dressing your slaves in your own clothes like they was dolls. I recommend you burn that fine dress to avoid being tainted by the sins of Hamm.”
“These are my clothes!” says Alexandra.
The sheriff and his deputies laugh.
“Tell him, Callie! These clothes are mine.”
“You let your girl speak to you in that tone?” The sheriff asks.
“I’m not her girl!”
Alexandra plants her feet. Callie backs toward the door.
“Callie! Tell him.”
Callie edges into the house and eases the door shut. Alexandra faces the sheriff. “My daddy will want a word with you,” Alexandra says, her fire rising.
When she sees a vein on the sheriff’s neck pump the venom that makes men crazy, the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She sighs with relief when Tante Isabelle glides out the back door like a cool breeze. Mother follows, arms akimbo, lips pressed tight.
“Where’s Sheriff Adams?” asks Tante Isabelle in her blue-velvet voice.
“Heart attack. He’ll recover more than likely, but he won’t be back to work for a long time, if ever. Traveling judge deputized me. I’m following up on a slave who escaped from the Georgetown jail. You seen a big, black buck with a crooked nose and a little finger missing on his left hand?”
“I haven’t made the acquaintance of such a man,” says Tante Isabelle. “How are Mary and Margaret getting along?”
“Who?” asks the sheriff.
“Sheriff Adam’s wife and daughter.”
“Don’t know ’em.”
“Y’all are new to the Georgetown area, aren’t you?”
“Surely, you’ve heard of Heaven Hill, the oldest plantation on the Santee,” continues Tante Isabelle.
“Yes, Ma’am,” says the sheriff.
Alexandra can tell he’s lying from the way he shifts in his saddle and looks to his men to provide him with the correct answer.
“Well then, I am pleased to present the mistress of that famous plantation, Miss Josephine Degambia.” Mother curls her lips into her Mona Lisa smile and nods.
The sheriff tips his hat.
“And her daughter, my niece, Alexandra Degambia,” Tante Isabelle continues.
The sheriff’s eyes bulge as Alexandra forces herself to curtsey.
“Carolina Gold, the most sought-after rice in the world, is shipped all over the world from Heaven Hill, but I’m sure you knew that, Sheriff. Where’d y’all say you’re from?” Tante Isabelle doesn’t wait for his answer. “Now, if all y’all are still thirsty, you and your men are welcome to use the well in back of the blacksmith’s shop. The water’s fresh and sweet, sure to cool you down on a hot day like this. When you’re done, be so kind as to show yourselves to the main road.”
The sheriff turns his horse and kicks it to a canter. When he and his deputies are specks on the horizon, Callie slips onto the porch from the back door followed by her mother. “Shall we stroll in the maze garden?” Callie asks Alexandra.
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