Wild Pony Publishing
www.wildponypublishing.com



Chapter Sixteen


 

          Life is a gamble. Who has never heard that? It begins and ends with a gamble.   A newborn, its tiny heart pumping an odd fusion of differing bloods, finds soon enough the meaning of the word “gamble.” It is Celine’s heart pumping that blood. More French than Negro, she no longer resembles her distant  ancestors who slaved in the fields. Her rare beauty, her features small and French, and skin the color of caramel, can open doors for her. She has to take the gamble.

 


        As she walked from the barn to the chicken coop, the woman unconsciously did two things—she watched the edge of the woods and tugged the hammer of the Colt to half cock. The very thought of the thing in the woods ever touching her again angered her and filled her with hate.

       Her skin, the color of caramel—not burnt, but light—suggested she was a mulatto and of about thirty years of age. At birth, she had been named Celine Boudreaux Chauvin. The two surnames, both French, served as heavy anchors—always choking her—a constant reminder of the two different masters she’d belonged to during her short and troubled life.

       For many consecutive generations Celine’s ancestors had been owned by Frenchmen who had grown wealthy growing sugar cane on their palatial plantations in  Louisiana. Her mother and grandmother were also light skinned, and evidently considered desirable by their lecherous owners, but Celine’s skin tone was shades lighter than that of her immediate ancestors. The progression of the lighter and lighter skin color, spoke of  long standing and abusive sexual relations forced upon those who came before her by numerous previous plantation owners. By the time of her birth, her tainted bloodline was almost of pure French heritage.

      “Mulatto” or “Quadroon” as such people of mixed blood were sometimes called, were destined to live a lifetime of confusion—too white to pass as a dark-skinned person, and not dark enough to be considered a Negro.  Skin color could be a blessing and garner special attentions—or serve as a reason for an unrelenting disdain, born of jealousy by fellow slaves. The unwanted attention of the white master for his light-colored slave was always that of a sexual nature, while her darker skinned brethren daily chided her as being the master’s whore.

       Celine had learned long ago, the lighter the skin, the more desirable the Negro female seemed to be to the white man. Conversely, the darker the skin of the Negro male . . . the more the white master feared him, and the quicker the fearsome dark slave was delivered to the auction blocks.

       Never did Celine or her mother toil in the fields. Such was an unasked for benefit to such women and a reason for scorn from those of a darker skin color. So, like her mother and grandmother, she saw to the varying needs of their white owners and their palatial mansions. Such needs could be those which required a hot fire for boiling wash water or of things best hidden in the dark of night.

        A handed-down history proved the three women, Celine, her mother, and her grandmother, all light skinned, one lighter than the next, were from a long line of mulatto slave women. Celine correctly understood the curse of mixed blood had started long before her grandmother was overpowered and used for carnal pleasure in the Louisiana sugar cane fields owned by her master, a drunken French-Canadian named Boudreaux. But records were never kept of such liaisons. No records meant no need of denials of accusations by wayward men for the wrongs they’d done.

      And with Boudreaux’s genes fouling her own, Celine was of the lightest color thus far.  Boudreaux’s illegitimate daughter had inherited the hazel eyes of her absent father, his thin face and straight nose. Her ears,  small and tight to the head,  reminded others of those of the master’s, as well.

      Her blood evolved into something more French than that of her long forgotten ancestors from Africa. Boudreaux never admitted he’d fathered a light skinned daughter and she never knew him as her father. She’d been told many times by other slaves that she could pass as white, and even as a French woman, and they had urged her  to do so,  but the lack of a birth certificate denied her the chance to try.

 
       Shamed by rumors spreading about him, Boudreaux  sold his caramel-skinned daughter—the proof of his betrayal of his wife—to yet another Louisianan named Jacque Chauvin. Fearing financial ruin from the rumors which continued, and in order to put them to rest, he sent Celine’s mother to Fredericksburg to be sold at the weekly slave auction. Rid of a child he didn’t want, and a mother who could still tell secrets,  Boudreaux thought himself clever.

       Chauvin, born a French-Canadian, had fled a dubious past. Although the child, Celine, was merely a toddler, a sick lust deep within him began to grow. The desire he had for the young child frightened him, made him nervous, but not enough to fight it. His decadent mind became clouded with visions of a naked child—teasing, luring, with arms extended, begging him to come to her. Desirous to keep the lovely creature near him, he placed the newly acquired child in the charge of the head Negress with instructions to teach his newest possession the ways of the household duties.

      As the years passed, Celine’s beauty grew, as did her master’s debased desires. She developed into a well-endowed young woman and eventually found herself Chauvin’s new house servant. Before long her duties became something more than seeing to the needs of the house.

       Chauvin, enamored of the beguiling creature, overpowered the teenaged girl and in his own wife’s bed,  had his way with her. Caught in the act, his wife demanded he rid the house and his heart of the threat, as she railed against the one female her husband wanted more than the woman he’d married.

***

       The auction house in Fredericksburg was faltering, business fluctuated from heavy to hardly worth pounding the gavel. The easy money to be made with the slave auction would never again be as lucrative as it once had been. In the past, before issues of  morality as they pertained to slavery became the fodder for all conversation, the do’s and don’ts of preachers, and the confusion of war, the unspoken desire of all men of wealth was to own slaves—more than they needed—black-skinned status symbols.

      In the decade before the war began,  the topic once used as a way to brag of one’s wealth had become muted and discussed only in private. Politically, the buying and selling of Negroes had become something best left unsaid and deals were consummated behind closed and locked doors. Self-serving interpretations of well chosen Biblical scriptures regarding slavery separated the God-fearing men and women of the North from their counterparts of the Southland. The country was fracturing over slavery.

       The fields remained as productive as ever, but the number of slaves had reached its zenith. Rumors that the Federal Government was intent upon freeing the slaves had taken root. John Brown, a small, swarthy, frail man from Ohio tended the ever-growing vine of abolition and  railed against the rich southern gentlemen he felt hindered his singular purpose in life.

       The southern people hated the man and sought him. In fear for his life, John Brown fled to Kansas with the ineffective mission he found within the pages of his Bible. As the North and South chose sides, decisions had to be made. In its present state, slavery was dying, the system archaic, but not yet dead.

      And the sandstone auction block on the corner of Williams and Charleston Street in Fredericksburg suffered only the wear and tear of children standing atop it slashing the air with wooden swords. With the exception of an occasional auction, the sandstone block on the corner became a silent sentinel to the past.

***


       Tink Strickland swayed, drunk and sweating in the heat of the noonday sun. The pavement burned through the soles of his boots, and the heat from sun-baked bricks radiating from the surrounding buildings scorched like a second sun, turning his already rose-red liquored face a darker shade of red.

       He’d counted the money in his pocket many times over. He scanned the crowd to see who his competitors might be. He worried who he might approach for a loan if he won his bid but came up short of funds. He wondered if the small bank in Hopewell would really loan him the money he’d asked for. They said they would, but he doubted they even had money to loan.

       Fredericksburg sweltered in the mid-summer’s heat and the hot, muggy wetness of an Atlantic breeze wafted through the town as if God, in His infinite wisdom, was punishing the small village and its inhabitants for becoming one of the largest slave auction centers in all of Virginia. Over a door behind the sandstone block at the edge of the street hung a rough-sawn pine plank.  Painted upon it in loud circus colors were the words: SLAVE AUCTION EVERY SATURDAY NOON. NEGROES FOR SALE. From a barred and shuttered storage room below the sign, muffled cries and moans from the slaves inside ruptured from the throat of the door each time it was unbolted and opened. A sand-and-litter-filled dust devil danced around the sandstone auction block, and gaining strength, broke free.  Leaves, sand and paper followed the invisible curse from God as it twirled and danced up the street. Some saw the dust-dervish as a warning from above and departed the auction before it started. But not Tink. He held his footing and drank from an almost-empty bottle.

***

       Delbert McBride stood soaking wet as sweat cascaded from his hairline.  His heavy jowls and the folds of a fleshy neck sagged over the sweat stained collar of the shirt and tie he must have bought when he was fifty pounds lighter.  He stared longingly at the brown jug of rye whiskey sitting in a basin of cool water on a three legged stool behind him. Bending forward from his auction stand, he nearly lost his balance. Regaining his stance, he took the handwritten note extended to him by the owner of an aged and worn black man standing at the base of the auction block.

       “Genl’men.  Any ah y’all what’s got any interest in git’n yer’self a darkie today, step on up.” Delbert waited for the crowd to respond. Two of the six remaining prospective buyers, either disinterested in the lot of Negroes on display or beaten down by the heat, turned and left. The old black man did not interest the crowd of bidders and his owner helped the elderly man dismount the block.

       Four bidders remained and Tink was one of those four. Without further ado, Delbert ordered the next slave to be brought forward, but again,  no bid was offered,  nor was any interest shown in  the middle-aged black man. McBride neither cared nor cajoled the prospective buyers. His face indicated he could care less if the auction continued or not and instead of one at a time, he beckoned the next lot of two slaves forward, one male, one female.

       Turning away from the prospective buyers, Delbert toweled the sweat from his face. He ordered the unsold slaves back into the sweltering holding cell and promised them he would tell their masters, drinking and carousing at Dingle’s, to come and get them. As he told them the lie, he checked the level of rye in the brown bottle again—in another half hour, it, too, would be empty. And to Delbert McBride that meant the deadline for the auction to end had to be moved forward.  Due to the excessive heat of the noonday sun, Dingle’s Inn at the far corner beyond Williams and Stevens Street was already enjoying an impressive amount of customers and on a day like this, they would be drinking heavily. To Delbert’s way of thinking, they would be drinking his beer and whiskey.

       The lot Tink had waited for stepped onto the block. Only he and another gentleman in a white summer suit now stood in front of the auctioneer. The white-suited man had been glancing at Dingle’s doors, also. He appeared to be as interested in the female as Tink but his chalky face shouted “heat stroke.”

      As Delbert called for “The Viewing,” the last of the two slaves stepped forward—a young and light-skinned colored woman and a tar black and mean looking young male. The woman lifted  her cotton dress and stepped upon the block. Tink watched as the age-yellowed skirt opened, exposing her calf, her knee and a portion of her caramel-colored thigh. His pulse increased as he gasped at the vision before him. The loose-fitting trousers he wore began to bulge and his hands began to perspire.

       His competition no longer able to tolerate the thought there was cold beer waiting for him at the corner tavern, stood and trudged through the heat to Dingle’s Inn.

       Another wasted day, thought Delbert. He wanted desperately to be finished with the failure of a sale.

       “Mister,” called Delbert as he looked in all directions.  “Let’s put an end to this bullshit. Make me an offer on this fine looking creature. Too fancy, too delicate to work in the field, but she’d make a fine house servant. How much you gimme for her?”

       Tink knew to the penny how much he had in his pocket—one thousand three hundred forty-two dollars and thirteen cents.

       “You want me to make you look good to your boss. That it?” Tink asked.

       “Well, you know how it is. Wouldn’t hurt none to get rid of some of these darkies. Don’t want the day to be a wash.”

       “Well, let’s talk,” responded Tink, who for the first time in a long time, felt in control of something and intended to make the best of it. “I help you, you help me. My wife’s mad as hell about me being here. Make me look good to her and I’ll help you shine for your boss. I got me five hundred forty-two dollars and, let’s see,” as he dug into his pocket and grabbed the loose change, “and four cents. That’s your’n if you’ll sell me both that high yellow and that buck over yonder,” pointing at a young, hard-muscled black man of about twenty years of age, and quickly thought his terms dangerous.  “I kind’a think that one’s a mean nigger. He always stares at you with hate eyes, does he?”

       Already in his hand, Delbert held a pencil and receipt book. “What be your name, good Sir?”

***

       From generations of frenzied in-breeding and the continued infusion of dominant genes, Celine’s caramel color was set fast and unyielding. How many times she’d been told that with all of her features, her color, her eyes, the cut of her nose, silkiness of her hair, she could have run away and lived the life of a white woman, or a fine French lady, but such an escape was impossible and she knew it.

       Tink’s first child by Celine was named Malcomb and the boy was cursed with his father’s genetics. His skin was lighter than all of his kin born before him.

       Despite the continuation of the blood curse, Celine loved the boy and found the world a better place with him in it. Tink’s drinking soon became his second favorite pass time. With God’s grace—or curse—Celine again became pregnant. Jacob arrived nine months later and on Christmas eve. Foolishly Celine threatened to take her son and run. The  threat garnered her a backhand across her face. She fell backwards into the corner, landing on the butter churn. When she rose she held the handle of the churn, and  wielding it like an axe she swung it with a  force intended to kill, but her aim was poor. With one hand Tink caught the  handle in mid air, and with the other he grabbed her tiny wrist and twisted her to her knees.

        “So. Lets see how it feels,” he snarled. With his threat came a cruel beating.

        As she lay crumpled on the floor, Tink drug out the bill of sale and sneered at her, his clothing rancid with days old and soured sweat, his breath foul with the smell of cheap whiskey, he said as he pointed his bony finger at her, “You best remember who you are. You’re a nigger, my nigger,” and read aloud the words . . . says here
'a mulatto Negro, female,' and I’m glad  as hell there ain’t no mention of the total waste of a hunnert dollars I spent to buy you.” 


  
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