© 2012 By C. J. Wells
Disclaimers: See Chapter One.
. Abdallahi ibn Muhammad (1846 – 1899) was a Sudanese
General. Menelik II (1844 –1913) was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 until his death.
Maria W. Stewart (1803 – 1879) was an African-American public speaker and activist.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
Rejeanne and Lindsay sipped tea, nibbled on cakes and listened attentively as Sir Robert began to chronicle the events that transpired after the end of Jo Clark's second dream.
“Let's see,” he began. “The dream ended with our heroines locating the painted chakram on the wall of the cavern under the church.”
“That's right,” Rejeanne agreed.
“Your friend correctly guessed the year that these events took place…”
“…Pretty cool since she didn't actually know,” Rejeanne said, interrupting Sir Robert.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Precisely, it was in September of 1890. Gondar was quite a volatile place at that time. The Sudanese Muslim warlord Abdallahi ibn Muhammad had invaded and destroyed much of the city two years before. Emperor Menelik and the Ethiopians had defeated Muhammad, but they were preparing for war against the Italians, who had been disrespecting a treaty between the two nations. Alemnesh, because of her diplomatic position and alliance to the Emperor, had been granted unlimited access to military personnel to serve as her bodyguards. Your friend stated that Alemnesh was vital to Maggie's mission to find the scrolls because of her ability to translate, but that was only a part of her role. Lady Harry wasn't paying the armed Tigrayan mercenaries for protection. Alemnesh's ties to the Empire allowed for her to procure those men to protect the three women.”
“Well, Maggie probably didn't need much protecting.” Rejeanne chimed in jovially.
“Unfortunately, as it turned out, she could have used more, but I digress,” Sir Robert stated. “Continuing, the women began using pick axes to break the wall. They eventually reached a very large chest made out of pure platinum.”
“Platinum?” asked Lindsay.
“It's anti-corrosive,” Sir Robert said. “Whoever placed the chest within that wall wanted to prevent its contents from deteriorating. It also helped that Gondar is dry and over two thousand meters above sea level.”
“So, were the scrolls in the box?” Rejeanne asked.
“Actually, there were several things contained within the box,” Sir Robert replied. “There were four smaller boxes. Two of the boxes, made of pure gold, were molded in the early 16 th Century. A third box was made of silver probably one thousand years earlier. The forth box was from the era of Xena the Conqueror. There was also an urn contained within the box.”
“An urn?” queried Rejeanne. “That's creepy.”
“So, what did they find in the boxes?” Lindsay asked.
“The first box that they opened contained various personal affects,” Sir Robert replied. “Jewelry and other such trinkets mostly. They likely belonged to Marcella Erasmus and-or Angela Delia. There was also a book of poetry written by Angela and some correspondences between the two women. They were written in Italian, of course, and thus, Alemnesh was eager to begin translating them as well.
“The second box contained the complete Italian translations of the Xena Scrolls. Again, Alemnesh would be tasked with translating them from Italian to English. The third box contained the writings of Valentina Xerxes, including the original translations of the scrolls from Greek to her Avar-Andic language. The urn contained the remains of Valentina.”
“Wow!” Rejeanne exclaimed.
“And the fourth box?” Lindsay asked.
“The Xena scrolls,” Sir Robert replied.
At that moment, Sir Robert's assistant, Paul entered the study with a tea kettle, more tea bags and fresh cakes. “More tea and cakes,” he announced as he set the tray bearing the items on a tea table. “How is everything?” he asked the threesome.
“First class,” Sir Robert replied.
Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other puzzled. “What he said,” they said in unison.
“Excellent,” Paul stated gleefully before departing.
“So, where were we?” Sir Robert asked.
“Maggie and her gal-pals found the Xena scrolls,” Rejeanne replied.
“Right,” Sir Robert said. “After looking in each box, the women hurriedly returned the boxes into the large platinum chest and began to remove it from the cavern. The chest was extremely heavy, and took all three women and the priest to carry it from the cavern back up into the church sanctuary. Once they were in the sanctuary, the priest retrieved a large cloth to conceal the chest whilst Alemnesh summoned four of the militiamen to carry it from the church to an awaiting wagon. The plan was to take the chest to a safe haven at one of the compounds adjacent to Emperor Menelik's palace on Mount Entoto . However, only moments after it was placed on the wagon, the women and their military entourage were ambushed by an Italian garrison who had obviously followed them from the outpost. A firefight ensued. Alemnesh's militiamen were greatly outnumbered and all but two perished. Lady Harry was likewise mortally wounded in the short battle. Alemnesh, who carried her own revolver and fought as well, was shot in the shoulder but lived. Maggie, of course, being the reincarnated Xena the Conqueror, single-handedly decimated most of the garrison. Surviving the attack, Maggie, Alemnesh, and the two surviving militiamen carried my dying great aunt onto the wagon next to the chest and abruptly left Gondar .”
“If the Italians already knew where the scrolls were,” Rejeanne asked, “why didn't they just go after them before?”
“For a long time,” Sir Robert responded, “only a few fortunate individuals in the Italian government knew of the proximate whereabouts of the scrolls. They knew that the scrolls were in Gondar and they were fairly sure of the particular church. However, for many years, any European outsider who even attempted to persuade the local Gondar clergy as to the scrolls precise whereabouts was met with fierce resistance. The garrison that followed Maggie was optimistic that she would not have any headway with the clergy either, so you can only imagine their dismay when she surfaced from the church with that prized chest.”
“Dismay?” Rejeanne asked.
“Of course, because of the long-held belief that the scrolls painted an unflattering portrait of ancient Rome ,” answered Sir Robert. “The Italians didn't want them discovered.”
“What about the Ethiopian Empire?” Lindsay asked. “Did they not know about the scrolls being hidden under their own noses?”
“Oh, they absolutely knew,” Sir Robert replied. “Their agenda was quite different from the Italians. For the Ethiopian nobility, hanging on to the scrolls was always a potential goldmine for any European with enough capital who desired them. Interestingly, they had likewise had no luck in persuading the Gondar clergy to reveal the precise whereabouts of the scrolls.”
“Interesting,” said Lindsay as she took Rejeanne's hand into hers.
Sir Robert continued. “The journey to Mount Entoto would be over 700 kilometers. The group endured treacherous landscapes, unforgiving climates and the constant threat of ambush from a cascade of thugs. Ignoring her own wound, Alemnesh's noble efforts to control the bleeding from Lady Harry's chest sadly proved futile. Lady Harry didn't survive the trip, dying that first day of their journey. Knowing that Lady Harry wanted her remains to be returned to England , Maggie and Alemnesh wrapped the body in burlap, and once they arrived at Mt. Entoto two days hence, cremated it.”
“So, there were no more attacks?” Rejeanne asked. “They made it to Mount Entoto with the scrolls?”
“They did,” Sir Robert replied. “Whilst convalescing from her shoulder wound, Alemnesh began the arduous task of translating Marcella's Italian version of the scrolls.”
“What about the originals?” Lindsay asked.
“The original Xena scrolls remained safely encased in their gold box, safe from any oxidizing agents that could deteriorate them even more than they had already been exposed.”
“What happened next?” Rejeanne asked.
“Two very important things happened,” Sir Robert continued. “One, in that time that Alemnesh was working on the translations, she and Maggie forged a close bond. It wasn't sexual, as both women were of an age where they were past such trivial notions. Theirs was a far more intimate and personal bond… a deep sisterly bond that both cherished. Maggie confided in Alemnesh, telling her about her believed connection to the scrolls and her deep love for the long passed Bronwyn Forbes. She also told Alemnesh about her half-sister Lucy…”
“… Whoa! Time-out! Maggie had a half sister?” Rejeanne asked excitedly.
Sir Robert chuckled before standing. “I'll be right back,” he said.
“Hey, while you're gone, do you think that I could hit the head?” Rejeanne asked a perplexed Sir Robert.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked.
“She needs to use the loo,” Lindsay responded. “As do I.”
“Ah,” Sir Robert said. “Second door on the left.”
Both women were able to relieve themselves and nibble on more cakes before Sir Robert returned with a stack of old journals.
“I believe that you should know,” he began, “that I was somewhat evasive with you during our first meeting. Trust issues, I suppose. Not all of the information that I obtained about Maggie was from Aunt Gracie. In fact, the vast majority of what I learned is chronicled here in these journals. Maggie wrote vociferously for many years. As I had mentioned before, Bronny chronicle her short life toward her last years. Maggie, on the other hand, had plenty of years and life experience in which to write her memoirs.”
He handed to Lindsay the dusty stack of journals. “I often contemplated submitting them to a publisher,” he continued. “But after my own experience with writing, I just thought better of it.”
“I think that you should publish these,” Rejeanne said. “There may not have been an audience for her story back in the early ‘70s, but now, in the millennium, there are readers out there who'd love to read about this old Civil War dyke.”
“I'd buy the book,” Lindsay chimed in as she thumbed through the yellowed pages.
“Do you have Bronny's journals too?” Rejeanne asked.
“I do,” Sir Robert said. “I'll fetch them for you shortly, but first, what I'd like you to read is located in the second journal. She numbered the pages. What you're looking for begins on page 42. And bear in mind, her racially offensive language is reflective of that time.”
Lindsay cupped her left hand under the aged journal and gingerly placed it on her lap. Rejeanne closed in the space between the two women and slightly moved the journal to her right, so that it rested on both women's thighs. They then both began reading the passage in silence.
After I was born, Mother lost all interest in relations with Daddy, if she had ever had any interest to begin with. Daddy wasn't going to be denied his satisfaction, so he turned his attention to my Mammy, Peg, who was only 24 at the time and had already given birth to 3 children. All of them were sold off before reaching the age of 4. Their daddy was Big Will, one of the field hands. When he found out that Daddy was having forced relations on Peg, he turned away from her. Without her own children to nurture or a man to love her, Peg turned all of her motherly energy onto me.
My heart grew for my Mammy, and by the time I was almost 5, I asked Daddy to have her removed from the field shacks to one of the servant rooms in the house. Daddy obliged, probably because he wouldn't have to walk as far to get his satisfaction. If only I had understood at the time what my request meant for Peg!
Right after I turned 10, Mammy's belly started to get big. I didn't yet know about how babies are conceived, but I remember hearing arguments coming from my parents' bedroom. During one of their arguments, Mother was insisting that Daddy sell Peg. Frightened at the notion of losing my dear Mammy, I burst into their bedroom and begged them not to do so. Daddy smiled at me and said that Peg wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Mother turned away from Daddy and told me to go back to bed.
On October 19 th 1841 Peg gave birth to a little girl. I was right there watching as the midwife pulled the bloody tan-skinned baby from Mammy's body. I remember eagerly helping the midwife clean the blood off the baby and cut her cord. I remember lightly touching the thick straight black hair on the baby's head. When the baby's eyes opened, I remember looking into her big beautiful brown orbs. The baby girl was perfect in every way. When the midwife returned the cleaned and swaddling baby girl to Mammy, she looked at me and said, “Your middle name is Lucille, ain't it child?”
I said yes.
Mammy said, “Then I will name this baby girl after you. Her name is Lucy.”
I immediately fell in love with Lucy. I would sit and watch as she suckled Mammy's breast. I helped Mammy wash, change and cloth her. Throughout the winter months, I would rock her in her little crib in front of the fireplace in our first floor lounge, no doubt vexing Mother. I was there for Lucy's first laugh, her first step and her first word. I didn't know yet that Lucy was my baby half-sister, but she so made me the happiest little girl in Charleston .
When Lucy turned 2, Mother wanted Daddy to sell Lucy like he had done with all of Peg's other children. Daddy refused. It wasn't because he knew or even cared that he was Lucy's father. Daddy was devoted to me and he knew that selling Lucy would break my heart. A short time later, I asked my brother Peyton to build a bed for Lucy that was placed next to mine. Instead of the slave rags that the other children on our plantation wore, Lucy was adorned in all of the pretty dresses that I had outgrown. I gave to her all of the dolls that I no longer played with. I loved to watch her play with them. She had such a vivid imagination.
As far back as I could remember, all of the slaves on the plantation called me Miss Margaret. When Lucy began talking, she started calling me Miss Margaret as well. Something in me felt that that was wrong. I dare not get her into any trouble by having her call me simply Margaret, so I thought about it long and hard and taught her to call me Mags. To subdue any suspicion, I convinced everyone that, at age 2, Lucy was unable to pronounce “Miss Margaret.” Too many syllables, I told everyone. Even as she grew up and it was obvious that she didn't have any speech impediment, she was able to still get away with calling me Mags. To this day, she is the only person to ever call me that.
One night, I also decided to defy our laws about teaching the colored to read. I opened one of my old nursery rhymes and began reading it to her. I then started teaching her the words. Lucy absorbed the words like a sponge. By the time I had left for college, Lucy was secretly reading Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
I also shared my love of horses with Lucy. Slaves on our plantation were not permitted to ride, but once she was old enough, I would put Lucy on the back of my spotted stallion, Augie, and ride out into the deep countryside of neighboring Berkeley County . Once there, I would get behind her and she would ride us bareback. Lucy loved to ride as much as I did, and I had no doubt that she would have been a skilled equestrian someday.
Daddy had stopped his forced relations on Peg once she was with child, but for Mother, Lucy was a constant reminder of Daddy's betrayal. Daddy wouldn't let Mother hurt Lucy, but she spared no opportunity to make life a living hell for Peg. She would find the slightest excuse to beat Peg or make an example of her in front of the other house servants. When I protested, she removed Peg from her comfortable servant quarters in the house and returned her out to the field shacks. The beatings stopped, but she invited all of our hired men to go out and have forced relations on her. When I was old enough to understand that Mother had turned my dear Mammy into a whore, I went to Daddy and begged him to intervene. He put a stop to the rapes, but the damage had been done. Peg would never bear any more children.
It was around that time that I figured out that Lucy was my half sister. None of the hired men had touched Peg before she was returned to the shacks when Lucy was 4, and it was obvious that with Lucy's light skin and curly hair, she wasn't fathered by any of our bucks. I also noticed that she and I had the same mouth and the same curve in our eyebrows, both of which I had inherited from Daddy. And like Daddy and me, Lucy was tall, taller than any of the other little children her age. When I approached Mother about my suspicion, she simply told me to ask Daddy. When I asked him, he shrugged his shoulders and curled his nose before responding, “I suppose that that half-baked pickaninny is mine.”
Three years later, I'm now embarrassed to admit, I lost my virtue and was having torrid relations with Daddy's best friend, Hoffius MacLaurin. Hoff was much older than me and married, but he had no children, at least not with his wife. I would come to discover that all of the mulatto children of both his house and field wenches were his own offspring. None of those women were willingly having relations with Hoff, and that realization disgusted me. I ended the affair. I also concluded that Peg wasn't a willing participant in her relations with Daddy. Knowing the manner in which Lucy was conceived created an everlasting bruise on my heart toward my father. By the time I was 18, my respect for both of my parents had evaporated. As far as I was concerned, Mammy was the only parent that meant anything to me.
When I left for college, Lucy begged to go with me. As much as I wanted to take her, I didn't want to run the risk of someone discovering her literacy. Anyway, I had bigger plans for Lucy and me once I graduated and Daddy's business was producing stable revenues. Lucy and I were going to go north, maybe to New York or Boston, where I would emancipate her and take her to one of those learning institutions for colored girls. Lucy could become a teacher, a nurse or maybe even a writer. She would be free to live a life where she could converse with other free Negro intellectuals and be proud of herself. No sister of mine was going to languish in slavery.
Before any of my plans could transpire, I had to insure that Lucy would be safe while I was away. Thus, before I left for school, I approached my brother Peyton, the one of my three brothers that I trusted intrinsically, and pleaded with him to watch over her. I didn't want what happened to Peg to befall my dearest Lucy. Peyton promised that she would remain amongst the house servants, stay out of Mother's way and retain her chastity. When I came home from Columbia College , I was delighted to learn that Peyton had kept his promise. Lucy was the head kitchen maid. She had blossomed into a lovely young woman, and was virtuous, happy, healthy and very glad to see me.
I began working at the main office in my Daddy's lumber mill, keeping the books, documenting supply, demand, revenue, and saving my money. At night, Lucy and I would venture out to Peg's shack. There, we read to each other by lamplight. When I was at Columbia , I had discovered this colored abolitionist speaker from Boston named Maria W. Stewart. She was a public speaker and many of her controversial speeches were published in northern newspapers and periodicals. I had acquired some of those publications and brought them back home with me to share with Lucy. I felt a devilish delight in sharing this illicit material with my sister. I wanted her to know that there were women like her in the world that weren't living their lives in shacks and in constant fear of the white man's sexual savagery.
Also while at Columbia , I had also learned about an Italian woman named Angela Delia, who wrote published poetry over 300 years ago. Some of her writings were quite scandalous; musings about a world without religion or a world where women didn't need men for anything, including passion. I wouldn't access much of her work until years later while working in Italy , but the works that I did read had a profound effect on both Lucy and me.
On April 4 th 1860, I came home from the mill and immediately noticed that all of the field hands were hovering outside of Peg's shack. Fearing that ill health or worse had befallen my dear Mammy, I ran to the shack. When I opened the door, I saw the worst horror of my life. Peg was clutching my dearest Lucy as she screamed over and over, “God no God no God no.” I dropped to my knees before them and looked upon Lucy's bloodied body and into her still eyes. My dearest little sister was dead. My heart was shattered, my head was in a fog and the words escaped me before I had a chance to chain them.
“Which one of you worthless niggers killed my Lucy!”
“It weren't none of us done kill Lucy, Miss Margaret. It was Mista Maxwell.”
Filled with rage, I ran out of the shack, grabbed a hoe from one of the field hands and ran to my eldest brother Maxwell. He was talking with one of the hired men when I approached him, swung the wooden handle of the hoe, and struck him once, twice, three, four, five, ten times. By then, Daddy and my brothers Forrest and Peyton ran to me. Peyton held me while Forrest took the hoe from me. Maxwell was unconscious and bleeding badly. I wanted him to be dead. Daddy was kneeling beside him checking his pulse. “He's alive,” Daddy said to one of the hired men. “Go and fetch Doc Baxter.”
Daddy looked up at me, wanting to know why I would try to beat my own brother to death. When I told him that he murdered Lucy, he dismissed it. It isn't murder when a white man kills a wench, a slave, a nigger, I've been raised to believe. But Lucy was my sister, his daughter, and that should have made a difference to him. “That uppity wench slapped Maxwell when he was trying to have her,” one of the hired men said. That revelation incensed me even more. With the tears streaming down my eyes, I pointed at my father. “You're going to hell. You're all going to hell.”
That night, I was the lone White in sea of Negroes as we lay to rest my dearest Lucy; the melody of their spiritual songs occasionally broken by wails of sorrow and heartbreak. I had just turned 29 years old and had lost the dearest being in my life up to that point. I feared that I would never experience such a profound and perfect love ever again.
A month and a day later, on May 5 th 1860, I met Bronwyn Forbes.
Lindsay slowly closed the journal and, setting it down, turned to embrace the crying Rejeanne. Crying as well, Lindsay shook her head. “So much pain, so much betrayal,” she muttered.
Rejeanne wiped her tears and returned her attention to Sir Robert. “In the account of Maggie's life that we read on the internet, it said that she witnessed the murder, but clearly she didn't. And the online account made no mention that the girl was Maggie's half sister or that Maggie beat the shit out of that bastard brother of hers.”
“Tell me that the fucker died from his injuries,” Lindsay asked in a low, ominous tone.
Sir Robert was momentarily frightened by Lindsay's demeanor. There's the Dark Xena within her , he thought. “No, he lived, although he suffered some permanent injuries from the beating. His life was not for long, regardless. He was one of the early casualties of the Civil War.”
Lindsay took a deep sigh. “I feel so bad for Peg,” She said. “What a miserable life for her to have lived. Having all of her children ripped away from her, having her youngest child murdered, constantly being beaten and raped. What ever became of her? Does Maggie reveal in her journals?”
“Actually, yes,” Sir Robert said. “Had you continued reading, you would have learned that when Maggie left Charleston to join Bronny and the abolitionists, she had her father sign ownership of Peg over to her and took Peg with her to Philadelphia . Once there, she emancipated Peg, who ended up working with Maggie and Bronny on the Underground Railroad. She lived with the Forbes family, not as a servant, but as an extended member of that family until her death in the mid 1880s.”
“That is so awesome,” Rejeanne said as she wiped away tears. At that moment, she remembered something. “You said that two important things occurred while Alemnesh was transcribing the scrolls,” she reminded Sir Robert. “What was the other thing?”
“The women discovered that part of the Xena scrolls were actually written by Xena,” Sir Robert announced.
“The Conqueror's logs,” Lindsay whispered to herself.
“Yes,” Sir Robert said amazed. “How do you know that?”
“I just do.” Lindsay said reflectively. “I was wondering,” she continued. “Do you have a personal item of Maggie's in your possession?” Lindsay asked. “A comb, hairbrush or toothbrush by chance?”
“I'd like to run her DNA against mine.”
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 24
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