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Do Not Disturb

In it's day, it was grand house, with summer balls and antebellum dresses. Now the grand days were returning again.  The Antebellum Heritage Trust had purchased the house, had it declared a heritage site, and were utilizing whatever government grants which could be arranged (within reasonable parameters, naturally) to restore and refurbish this amazing house to it's former glory

Dr. Hilary Smithson, historian and Chairperson of the Trust, was in Plesseville to oversee the project and see that the Trust's money was being well utilised.  Mr. Lance Devereaux, the local co-ordinator of the project, had something which had to be told the the autocratic Dr. Smithson in as tactful, yet direct, a manner as possible.

"Dr. Smithson, Ma'am," he said, "there are some among us who would be most grateful indeed if you could find it in your heart to just take a second look at some of your ideas for promoting this heritage site as a key tourist attraction in Plesseville."  Dr. Smithson was a little perturbed.

"What ideas exactly could you possibly have had in mind?" she enquired.

"The idea of promoting the Seraphina-Caleb love story as an idea of attracting people to look at the building.  There are some among us who feel deep inside that this could be a controversial idea indeed.  With all due respect, Ma'am....."  Dr. Smithson was intrigued.  "Could it be that the idea of an inter-racial romance would have a low acceptability quotient even in this these enlightened times?" she queried, with a sardonically raised eyebrow.  "When an African-American is sitting in the Oval Office?"  Lance Devereaux  was trying to express himself in just the right way, and finding it extremely difficult.

"No, Ma'am.  It's not the inter-racial romance factor.  It's just that.....you see - it is highly debatable as to whether there actually was an inter-racial romance.  Both Caleb and Seraphina denied the whole thing.  And if they were lying,  that would have been most unusual.  You see......I don't know how to say this but.......I'll tell you.  There may have been a lot of things wrong with the old south.  But values like truth and honour were.....of the highest importance.  The souls of the dead won't rest peacefully if lies are going around about their integrity of character......"  he stopped, unable to go on.  He hoped he had made his point without sounding like a sentimental fool.

"The souls of the dead won't rest in peace.....a serious matter indeed.  I'll think over what you've said.  We'll discuss it further tomorrow.  Good day, Mr. Devereaux!"

"Good day to you too,  Ma'am!" 

She picked up her bag, walked out to her hired car and drove away.  She had considered Lance Devereaux to be a sensible level headed man.  The souls of the dead!  This was his main concern!  Heavens above!  What next?

She, Hilary Smithson, knew exactly what the problem was.  The people of Plesseville, a small, conservative town which she was trying to put on the map, were simply resisting progress.    In the name of old-fashioned, conservative values which had no place in modern society.  They were opposed to the idea of relationships between men and women of different races.  Still!  In this day and age.  She smiled as she remembered her recent dalliance on a Caribbean holiday with a young man of a different race.  What fun that had been!  He must have been twenty years her junior, but she'd been on holiday, it was just one of those wonderful moments which come now and then.  The souls of the dead....who had the time to even think of such a thing?

Sitting in bed in her hotel room after eating dinner, she eschewed the joys of television to explore the pile of books on her bedside table.  Histories of Plesseville.  Lance Devereaux had certainly supplied any number of them.  Scholarly works, published diaries.......some products of famous publishing companies, some confederate housewives diaries, simply vanity published.  In the erudite volume "History of Plesseville Thru Three Centuries" she came upon the story she wanted to read again.  The tragic love story of Mrs. Seraphina Duplessis, and Caleb, the slave of her husband.

After leading a profligate life, back in those pre-civil war antebellum days, Mr. Sinclair Duplessis had decided that the time had come to settle down.  At the age of over fifty years, he married a woman thirty years his junior, Miss Seraphina Stockley.  A very beautiful woman, from a humble background.  About five years after the marriage had taken place, Mrs. Seraphina Duplessis was caught trying to flee Plesseville in the company of Caleb, her husband's most trusted slave.  Caleb was subsequently lynched by an angry mob, furious at him for having the audacity to elope with his master's wife.  And Seraphina?  She was locked up in a room in the house and was never seen in public again.  She died five years later.  Rumour had it she had  suffered from bad mental health, brought on by the shock of seeing her lover murdered in front of her eyes.

It was said that she was often heard moaning behind the locked doors of her room.

"Oh, Caleb!  Forgive me!  Forgive me!"  Mr. Sinclair Duplessis, it was said, gallantly forgave her mistake, made in the foolishness of her youth, but his dream of having his beloved young wife restored to full health, again to reign by his side was not to be.  Her death shattered his dreams.  He subsequently drank himself to death and passed on his estate to a nephew.  In any case, in the civil war, it was used taken over and used as storehouse.

Dr. Hilary Smithson gazed at the portrait of Mrs. Seraphina Duplessis.  Beautiful, dignified, youthful beside the portrait of  her older, rather solemn looking husband.  Couldn't the people of this backward town understand what an asset to the town this story was?  People would be coming from all over to see Duplessis Hall and marvel over this amazing story!  It would certainly boost the town's economy.  Finally, she put down her book and drifted into a light sleep.

She was gazing again at the portrait of Seraphina Duplessis.  But something was different.  Very different.  The eyes were sunken pools of suffering.  The cheeks were tear stained.  The hair was matted.  The woman looked weak, very near to death.  Her mouth was moving, making inaudible sounds.  Then she heard it.  That moaning, that weeping noise.  And yes!  The words!

"Caleb!  Caleb, forgive me!  Oh, what have they done to you!"  Hilary was gutted to the point of nauseation.  But she could not move.  She felt herself weighed down under a deathlike pressure, weighed down like a prisoner.  Suspended in time, she knew, if even for a split second, what it was to be trapped at twenty into a marriage, with a cruel and lecherous partner, with no hope of escape - what it was to make a daring bid for freedom and to be captured, brought back and to see a friend, a good person, a friend who had helped her done to death in a horrible way....

Hilary even had a very brief taste of  the unhappy Seraphina's life afterwards, locked up alone, with terrible memories, still no means of escape.  No means of escape except the refusal to eat and drink.....

Hilary woke up with a start!  She sat bold upright in the bed.  A half remembered name was floating around in her head.  What was it?  Yes!  Eleanor!  Eleanor Stockley.......

She switched on her bedside lamp and looked through the pile of books on the side of her bed until she finally came to the one she wanted.  There it was!  Yes!  A dry, ancient volume, with a library form inside.  "The Daily Journal of Eleanor Stockley - A Daughter of the Confederacy".  She explored the index in the back and found the Duplessis name.  Caleb (being a slave, he bore the family name), Sinclair and Seraphina Stockley.  She turned to the page number indicated and read:

"Today, we have heard with great sorrow of the death of our relative, Mrs. Seraphina Duplessis nee Stockley, my husband's first cousin.  She was the wife of  Mr. Sinclair Duplessis of Plesseville.  About five years previously, there was a most unfortunate incident when Mrs. Duplessis was caught trying to travel to the northern states in the company of  Caleb Duplessis, her husband's most trusted slave.   Mrs. Seraphina Duplessis and Caleb both pleaded their innocence, but Caleb was killed by an angry mob, incensed by his audacity at supposedly eloping with his master's wife.  Seraphina subsequently lapsed into declining health and has finally passed away to a better place....

Some of our relatives were deeply concerned about the slur on Mrs. Seraphina Duplessis' character.  They even went to visit  Ruth Duplessis, the wife of Caleb Duplessis, who had, prior to the incident, been sold into slavery in another town, along with her son.  According to Ruth, Caleb was trying to run away to the north in order to get the freedom to earn some money so that he might honorably buy back his freedom and that of his wife and son also.  When asked did she think he could have eloped, she replied quietly that she knew her man and he couldn't do anything like that.

We in the family believe that Seraphina was unhappy in her marital relationship with Mr. Duplessis, and that she was trying to go to our relatives who live in the north so that she could get as far away from her husband as possible.  We believe that she and Caleb were no more  than travelling companions........"

Travelling companions......yes, it did make sense all right!  So that was what Seraphina had wanted to show her.......yes, Seraphina had been disturbed recently.  Now it was time to put things right.

"Lance!  About that talk we had yesterday?  Regarding southern honor, and the disturbing case of Caleb and Seraphina?"   Lance looked up from his papers.  "Yes, Ma'am?" he replied.  "Well, I studied that story in depth last night.  It seems that there are  too many areas which are quite unclear.  That Caleb and Seraphina were actually lovers is  mere speculation.  It would be most unwise to use that story."

Lance's face broke into a broad smile.  "Why, Ma'am!  I do believe you are correct!" he said.

This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 29/12/2009

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