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Tales of Mandy, Part 4
Mandy was running across an open field and in front of her was Rubin with a little red headed girl holding his hand. Laughing with joy, Mandy ran toward Rubin’s outreached arms. Then the voice called out to her to come back and she turned and saw the battle that had brought her to this place. Osas was fighting a group of men and some one was holding Mandy down on the ground, some one big and heavy. Then Osas fell, and blood was streaming from her side. Mandy saw a man fall on top of her and knew what the animal was doing, even as she felt the man holding her down rip her pants from her body and press himself into her. She tried to fight but that only brought a sharp blow from him. She was stunned for only a moment but when she tried to move again to fight back, another sharp blow made her head spin and she blacked out. She came to and found that another man was on top of her now and she moaned in agony as he lunged hard into her and she felt him shutter with release. Thank god he is through. Then as he rolled off of her another replaced him, Mandy found strength to fight again. She might die but they were not going to get to use her, not without a fight. Then the blow to the head that turned it all into darkness, that ended the pain and let her run across the field to Rubin’s waiting arms.
A warm damp soft cloth was cleansing her face and liquid was being dropped onto her lips. A broth. “Poor child. You have to come back.” The voice was female, but not Osas. Where was Osas? What had happened to her? She fought to open her eyes but still there was just darkness and then she was back in the battle again and she knew that Osas was no more. Then there was nothing.
The window was open and sun was streaming through it. Birds were singing and she smelled bacon cooking. Mandy looked around the room she was in and decided that she must be in some wealthy person’s house. Not even Aunt Kat’s home had been this fancy. Oil lamps on a side table, wash basin on another and an overstuffed chair, plus frilly curtains. Mandy set up and swung her feet to the side of the bed and reached for the floor, but her legs would not hold her up and she fell with a thud to the floor. Almost instantly the door flew open and a black girl ran over to her and as she picked her up from the floor and place her back in the bed she called out; “Miz Callie, Miz Callie, she is awake! She is wake!”
”Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you?” And she was afraid to ask the one question she wanted the answer to most. Where was Osas?
A tall plump but beautiful woman entered the room, “Well, you finally came back to us. I knew you were a fighter! You need to eat first and then we will answer your questions. You have been in that bed for going on four weeks with the only thing keeping you going being the broth that Opal spooned down you. Now we’ll start you off with something light, some good chicken dumplings, for her Opal, mind you, mostly liquid. She hasn’t had anything solid so we’ll have to take it slow.” As she spoke she was looking at Mandy and seemed to be deciding something. “After you get that down, then Opal will help you bath and change into some clean bed clothes and change your bed and freshen up this room. It needs some flowers and …” She stopped and looked into Mandy’s puzzled face. “You don’t remember how you got here do you? Or what happened to you?”
“No. I remember a dream. Actually two dreams I think. One is a fight and I...I … don’t want to remember it. I hurt all over when, I do. The other is my husband in a field and I am running to meet him and my little girl but I never reach him.”
The lady looked at her and shook her head as she turned to leave the room, “we’ll talk after you are bathed and have a little more time to adjust to your surroundings. Some of what you want to know may come back to you by then.” She left as Opal entered the room with a tray.
Opal pulled a tub in and filled it with hot water as Mandy ate the thick chicken broth that was in the bowl and tried to munch some of the corn pone down with it. As she finished eating, Opal came over to her and helped her from the bed, this time she was able to stand and Opal helped her walk over to the tub where she pulled the night dress up over Mandy’s head and then helped her ease into the hot tub. The hot water was healing and inviting. She scrubbed with the soap and cloth that Opal had handed her and even tried to wash her hair. Opal had to finish it for her, rinsing it by pouring more warm water over her head. Mandy set in the tub and watched as Opal cleaned the room and made the bed with fresh linen, not homespun but linen. Then she laid out a nightgown that was nicer than anything Mandy had ever owned in her life. “You ready to dress for the day, Miss…?” Opal stood ready to lift her out of the tub if she had to.
“Mandy, my name is Mandy. Yes, but that night dress is way too good for me.” Mandy allowed Opal to help her out of the tub and wrap a towel around her and as she moved toward the bed she felt her knees buckle. Opal grabbed her by the arm and helped her to the bed. “I’ll help you dress Miz Mandy. You done tired yo self out.” Opal pulled the night dress over Mandy’s head and then helped her into the bed. “I’ll be right back to help with yo hair Miz Mandy.” She seemed proud to be able to call this person she had nursed for weeks by a name other than Miz or simply child. Now she knew that this young woman would survive.
Later in the afternoon, her hair combed and done up in a bun and another meal, this time of baked chicken and biscuits with tea, Opal helped her into the overstuffed chair which she had pulled over to the window and Mandy realized that she was on the second floor of this great house and that the street below her was bustling with people going about their business on a warm Spring day. She had been informed by Opal that the town was Little Rock.
The door opened and Miss Callie came in. “Well I guess it is time to talk now. You feel as good as you look? I hope so, because most of what I have to tell you is not going to be good I’m afraid.”
“Yes, Mame. I need to know, what brought me here. I thought that we were a long way east of here. And where is Osas?” Mandy looked at her, wanting to know but fearing the answer, she already knew.
“First off, you mentioned a husband and daughter; you barely look old enough to have been married much less a mother.”
“I married young to keep my land, but I do love Rubin. I haven’t seen him for a year now.” With this Mandy proceeded to tell of the past year, since the day that Rubin’s brothers had returned without him. “And that is why Osas is all that has kept me going. So please where is she?” Her voice pleaded not to be told what she already knew, yet what must be voiced.
“When you were found, there was a native woman with you; I suppose she was your Osas. She had been dead for several hours, since the night before possibly, she had been stabbed several times and then raped it looked like she had fought hard to keep it from happening so I think she was dead before the actual act. You were on the ground a few feet from her and barely breathing. Your attackers probably thought that you were dead and that is what saved you. If I had not been returning from New Orleans you probably would have been dead before the day was over. To tell you the truth, I thought we were bringing you home to bury you, but Opal is an accomplished nurse. Mandy, I need to tell you that you were badly used by the men that attacked you and your friend. You have already been thru more than most women your age will ever have to even hear about. Losing your husband, your home, your child, your friends and now this. But you are a survivor, you will live and I think that you might just be able to rise above all of it. You are welcome to stay here until you are well enough to travel or to stay if you wish. I will tell you now that this is a sporting house and we serve the finest men of the city, but I will understand if you do not want to stay with us. I might even be able to use you in a job that does not require meeting with any of them... It is up to you.” Her smile was genuine enough and she seemed caring and almost loving, but still there was that stern no nonsense that Aunt Kat had had, only with Miss Callie it was much more cultured. “So that you know something about us, I am Kalassandra Hutt; I was born and raised in New Orleans. I have run this house for three years now, and since Arkansas became a state we have been among the busiest. The girls all call me Miss Callie. Opal is a free black, she is the daughter of my nanny and both she and her mother have been with me since I was a child. They are treated with dignity in this house as are all the women who live here. Now do you have any more questions?” Callie rose from the foot of the bed where she had been perched since she entered the room.
“No Mame. I need to do some thinking and I …” Mandy felt the tears welling up in her eyes and turned to look out the window. She heard rather than saw Miss Callie leave the room for she was looking out the window without seeing, for tears were streaming down her face.
The weeks passed by slowly at first and then seemed to fly. Now it was May and thunderstorms tore at the Arkansas hills. Mandy had begun to come down to the dinning hall to eat with the girls and had found that most of them were not much older than she. The girls were Sandy, the buxom blond; Angie, the mulatto; Mary, the brunette; Julie, the raven haired beauty and Beth, a red haired boyish looking girl of about the same age as Mandy. Opal had informed Mandy that the house was operating on less than half of the number of girls that usually were here. Miss Callie had opened a new house in Galveston in the new Republic of Texas and had sent half of her girls down there with Opal’s mother and an older woman named Kathryn. That had been the reason for her trip to New Orleans back in mid March when she had returned to find Mandy on the side of the trail between the river and Little Rock. May day, Opal had put her to bed for three days and made her drink a brew of nasty tea that made her cramp and throw up for two of the three days, and then when she had begun to bleed Opal had helped her bathe and held her close as she cried for another child she would never know. Opal had told her this was best, it was not a child of love nor even passion but of anger and hurt. Somehow she made Mandy see the reason in doing this, so it was over and life for Mandy continued.
June first, Mandy had asked Opal to find her a nice dress from the closet that the girls used. Opal had looked at her and asked,”Are ya sure that is what ya want ,Miz Mandy? If ya put on a house dress that means that yo is goin’ to work. Are ya sure?”
Mandy looked at her, shook her head in the affirmative, “Will you help me get ready and please don’t say anything to anyone about it. Ok? Opal?” Opal bobbed her head and left the room.
That afternoon it was a beautiful girl with reddish hair done up with tendrils falling down over her ears. She wore a dress of pale green that made her deep brown eyes shimmer, those sitting at the table looked at her in astonishment. “Mandy. My, don’t you look festive.” Callie looked surprised.
“Amanda! Mandy was a child and she is dead. I have decided if you will have me Miss Callie, to work here.”
“Man—Amanda, you do not have to work for me. There are other things that you can do. I could help you find a job in town. I –“
“Miss Callie, I need to earn my way, with no skills this is the only thing that I am able to do.”
So began Amanda’s life as one of the girls in Miss Callie’s house.
Another Fork in the Trail
Mandy had not realized how difficult it would be for her to accept the life she had chosen for herself. She soon found the best way to deal with it was to simply let the body respond and to let her mind wander to other places when she was bedding the men that frequented Miss Callie’s. A few of them simply wanted to talk, to have a woman listen to them, these Mandy found the easiest to deal with. Most of the men that fell into this category were the older wealthy men, they found in the young woman a listener who though she was uneducated, was eager to learn and thirsty for knowledge of the world. The knowledge that she gathered began to form dream worlds for her and it was to these that she escaped while her body worked. Dream worlds where she was rich and powerful, where Rubin was alive and her daughter was playing in the yard with a puppy. Dream worlds where the pain and shame that she felt could not reach her. Toward this dream she had began to work, squirreling away every little extra coin she could. It was not much in the beginning, she received half of the fee paid for her services but out of these she was expected to pay for her room and board and to buy her clothing. Six months passed and she had managed to acquire only twenty five dollars. She knew that it was not enough to leave, but still it was more cash than she and Rubin had managed to even make in a year on the farm. It would buy a horse, but no saddle. She simply had to save more, she needed enough to leave.
“Ladies, Colonel Morgan has booked the house for tonight. It is his youngest son’s sixteenth birthday and he is giving him and his friends a night of sporting. There will be six young men. There will be a bonus for each of you from the Colonel, so be sure and show the young gentlemen a very good time.” Miss Callie turned to leave the room and then as an after thought turned back to face the girls. “Amanda, you might want to wear that light green dress tonight, it really does make your eyes sparkle. Beth, the emerald corset and cream gown; Sandy, the black silk gown; Julie, the red dress; Mary, lavender linen and Angie, the blue silk.” And then she was gone.
“This is something special; she never tells us what to wear.” Beth was staring at the door.
“Well, I suggest that we all start getting ready then.” Mary got up from the table and headed for the stairs, the other girls followed.
Mandy spent the remainder of the afternoon preparing for the night. Opal was doing her hair and babbling on about the gentlemen that were expected this evening. “Miss Callie is very excited about Colonel Morgan sending his son here for his birthday. Colonel Morgan was a regular in New Orleans. A regular for Miss Callie even before she owned a house, some even say that he gave her the money to buy this house. He hasn’t been around for a few years, been in Texas fighting with Houston but he is having a private dinner with Miss Callie tonight. So she won’t be here for the party. I just…”
“Opal, do you have to go on so? Help me on with my dress, and be careful of the hair,” Opal helped her pull the dress over her head and then as Mandy laced the front to make her breast appear almost to spill out, stood back and looked at her.
“Miz Amanda, yo is a sight, here let me fix that.” As she fussed over Mandy’s hair, the front door opened and the bell in the parlor rang to call the girls.
Mandy walked into the parlor and looked the room over; there were five boys in their mid to late teens, already talking to the girls in front of the fireplace. Looking out the window at the snow that was just beginning to fall was another. The body somehow was familiar, the height, the red hair, Mandy almost swooned. Then he turned to face the room and she saw that it was not him, not her Rubin. “A drink,sir?” She hoped that he had not noticed the moment of shock as he turned.
“Some mulled cider if you have any, seems I am the chaperone of this wild bunch tonight, so I think that I need to abstain from the harder drink.” How elegantly he spoke and yet he couldn’t have been much older than the ‘wild bunch’ he was with.
“I’ll have the kitchen make you some, if we don’t. My name is Amanda, sir.” She dropped a curtsy as she turned to go to the kitchen.
“Thank you, Amanda.”
Mandy almost waltzed into the kitchen; Opal sitting at the servants table noticed the bounce in her step. “So is there someone special out there?”
“No, but the older gentleman wishes some mulled cider, so if you could bring some to the parlor, please.” Mandy turned and glided back to the front of the house.
“No one special,huh. Not that you know, yet. Maybe.” Opal grinned as she got up to heat the cider.
The man by the window crossed the room as Mandy entered and took her arm, leading her to a divan in the corner away from the others. “Is it warm enough here for you? Or would you rather be by the fire?” His concern seemed genuine enough.
“No this is fine. The cider will be out shortly, cook is heating it.” Mandy seemed to feel at ease with him and yet apprehensive.
“Amanda, that is a beautiful name. My name is James, James Morgan. Josh is my younger brother.” The night passed with out incident, when the boys were escorted by the girls upstairs Mandy and James sit and talked alone by the fire. He was so easy to talk to and like Rubin had a quick wit. They talked of Texas and the new republic it had become and Sam Houston and the plight of the settlers. Mandy never spoke of her past; mostly she listened to him and wished that she could have been at some of the places he had been during the past year. Watching a new republic formed and being at the beginning of a new way of life for so many. There was a passion in his voice for this Texas, he had helped to birth. Daylight entered the room as Opal pulled the drapes back and revealed Mandy sleeping in the arms of James Morgan on the sofa in front of the fireplace. James stirred as the light fell across them.
“Sir, I can have you some coffee and breakfast if you wish, brought to the parlor?” Opal bowed slightly to the young man.
“Are the others up yet?” He eased his arm from around Mandy and rose from the sofa.
“No,sir. They might be awhile it was a long night for them. “
“That won’t do. Would you please wake them for me and remind them that we have to attend a dinner at my mother’s this afternoon so we need to head for home as soon as possible. Thank your Mistress for the hospitality. And this is something extra for the girls and yourself.” He handed Opal a small buckskin purse and then turned to the sleeping girl on the sofa, he bent and kissed her on the check and slipped something into her bosom. “And tell Miss Amanda when she wakes that I will see her again soon.” He turned then and left the room calling for the stable hands as he went out to ready the horses.
Mandy opened her eyes to see a smiling Opal standing over her.
“We needs to talk, Miz Amanda, but first I have five sleepy heads to get out of the house.” Opal giggled as she left the room. Mandy pulled herself up from the sofa, looked down at her breast and pulled a gold coin from it. She went upstairs and undressed and set by the window for a long time listening to the struggles of the house as it woke to a new day. She heard rather than saw the young men of the night before departing as they left from the stables instead of the front of the house. She glanced at the gold coin, lying on her dresser; twenty dollars, almost as much as she had saved in the last six months and she had done nothing to earn it except sit and listen to a man she somehow felt kin, to talk of a country she wanted more than ever now to see. Somewhere in her dreams just before waking she had felt a kiss, like the ones that Rubin had sometimes given her when he had not wanted to wake her early in the morning before he had gone out to work the fields.
A knock on the door and Opal asking if she wanted some hot water to bathe, it was her way of asking if she could come in and talk to Mandy for she always stayed to help with the bath.
”Yes, Opal” Mandy rose from the window and crossed to open the door. Opal stood there with the buckets of hot water already.
She filled the bath tub with the hot water and then left to return with another bucket of cold water to cool the tub enough for Mandy to sit in it. Then she stoked the fire in the fireplace and put fresh logs on it. “Don’t want you getting a chill. So, you never brought the gentleman up to your room last night?”
“No, Opal. We just sit and talked and then I woke this morning and he had already gone. You were there so you know that.” Mandy was a little put out by Opal and her snooping.
“Well it must have been a good talk, for he said I was to tell Miss Amanda that he would be back to see her soon. So what did yo talk about that was more important than coming upstairs?” Opals busied herself straighten the bed that was not disheveled.
“Texas. We talked mostly about his past year in Texas. He and his father were with Sam Houston when he was elected President of the Republic of Texas and sworn in. He talks about Texas as if it was a woman. How big and wild and beautiful the country is; mountains, hills, deserts, pine forest, roaring rivers and ocean beaches. It is almost spellbinding to hear him go on about it.” Mandy lazily slipped under the water to rinse her hair.
“And don’t forget about the Mexicans and the savages ready to cut your throat at any time or place. Not to mention all of the outlaws that runs down there to get away from the business end of a rope. No, thank you! Tell you like I told Miz Callie when she wanted me to go to Galveston, at least I know where the dangers are here. I lost nothing in Texas and don’t intend to! Uh…uh, not me, not Opal! I is staying right here!”
That woman does carry on; Mandy smiled to herself as she climbed from the tub and wrapped a towel around her body. “Well if ever I get the chance, I am going! I think that maybe there I could make a new life and who knows maybe just maybe find what I am looking for.” She tied her hair up in a towel and walked back to look out the window at the snow that was still falling and it was only the beginning of December and winter. Her sixteenth winter on this earth and already she had been married, widowed, been imprisoned, had a child and lost it, raped and left for dead, and become a prostitute. A new life; where it didn’t matter that she was a half-breed, a woman, or had been a prostitute. Yes, if she, NO! When she got the chance, had saved enough money, she would go to Texas! Wild and beautiful Texas! There she would have her new life!
“Well right now I think that you had better get a nap before night. When it snows we gets really busy. Seem like every male in town starts looking for a warm body to bed.” Callie pulled the door to behind her as she left.
Peace and quite. No rattling on about men and dangers. What more can they do to me? Men have already taken everything from me, my husband, my child, my land, my very body! Dangers? I can face them and know that I will survive them. I have! I will! Mandy slipped into a dream where she was running across a field to Rubin and her daughter, the same dream that she had almost every time she slept, only this time as she reached them she realized that it was not Rubin but James Morgan and the child was not her daughter but a little boy. Mandy jerked up right in the bed, for a moment she didn’t remember where she was, then she saw the fire in the hearth and heard the bustle of the house as it began to wake and ready for the night. For a long time she set there and stared into the fire wondering why her dream had changed and almost fearing what she thought was the answer.
The winter had passed by almost uneventful. True to his word James Morgan had returned to see her. In fact he had returned almost every night. To begin with they would simply set and talk into the wee hours of the morning, mostly of Texas. Mandy’s passion for the republic was becoming almost a match for James’. Then the passion for Texas seemed to spell over into a passion for James. Mandy was feeling things that she had never felt for anyone, not even Rubin. At first she felt that she was betraying her husband by loving some one else and loving them more passionately than she had ever loved before and then she had come to realize that it was a child who had loved Rubin and it was a woman that loved James. James had told her from the very beginning that in the spring he was going back to Texas to homestead, still as April began it was a shock to hear him now. “I’ll be leaving by the tenth of the month, that way I should be able to get a house built by the beginning of summer, not a mansion but a nice cabin at least and then I can begin to buy cattle and maybe even clear some land for a crop next spring. I really wish that I could take you with me Mandy. I really do, but it will be hard work and even harder living for a while. Maybe I can come back and get you in the fall.” James looked at her with eyes that seemed almost pools of water. She realized that for once in his life he was torn between two things he wanted desperately.
“I want to go now! I can go now! I grew up in the mountains of Georgia, in a cabin, on the land! I can clear land, I can shoot a gun! I’m not afraid to go with you! Please James, take me now! She was almost jumping up and down with joy at the prospect of going with him, to Texas with James, the man she loved. He knew some of her story, that she was a half-breed and how she had ended up here in this house. He did not know about Rubin nor the baby; that she had held within herself.
“Well, I…I didn’t think that you would want to give up this…” he was stammering looking for the right words and not sure if he was finding them. “ I mean here you are safe and warm and fed and there I’m not sure. I just don’t know how hard it would be on you or if you could take it. I know you come from a family that worked the land but...” He looked utterly helpless and that was not a look that suited him nor that she had seen on him before.
“Well do you want me or not? Do you love me or not? I am not a helpless creature! I can take care of myself and besides I am young and strong. You need help building and I can do that. I can!” She was almost pleading with him now, afraid that he didn’t love her enough to take her with him or that he loved her too much to put her to that test.
“I was going to ask you if you would wait for me, but now. Miss Amanda would you do me the honor of being my wife?” as he spoke he dropped to his knees in front of her and took her left hand in his.
For once in her life Mandy was speechless. She wanted to scream and to shout to the heavens, but all she could do was look into his eyes and feel her own welling up with tears as she whispered; ”Yes!”
The next few days were a whirlwind of problems and solutions. Miz Callie had insisted that Mandy would have a wedding, in the rose garden out back. James’s mother had refused to accept the fact that her son was marrying Mandy, two problems, she was a half-breed and she was a prostitute. His father had tried to talk to him about other alternatives; like keeping her as a mistress. That had not gone over very well when it was pointed out to him by his mistress, Miz Callie, that if his son was brave enough to marry the girl then he should at least be brave enough to back him up on it. So in the end it was going to happen, the mayor himself would perform the ceremony and the family of the groom would be present with the exception of his mother. Colonel Morgan had acted as his son’s best man and Miss Callie had given the bride away. For the wedding Miss Callie had given Mandy a beautiful cream colored gown of satin trimmed in pearls; it was the most beautiful dress that Mandy had ever seen. Opal told her that it had been a gift from the Colonel himself to Miss Callie when he had asked her to be his mistress.
April 6. 1840 I begin life as Amanda Carolina McCarty Lawley Morgan, a new wife who in two days will be on a horse and bound for Texas and a whole new world.