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Authors: Erika Robuck

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The
day’s storms left behind the sweetly pungent aroma of rain-soaked flowers and
earth.
 
A breeze blew into the dining
room, carrying with it the pleasant fragrance of the gardens.
 
Thousands of winking stars appeared between
the moving clouds, and a luminous full moon glowed white and round above the
island.
   

“Catherine is adored by our slaves,” said
Cecil.
 
“You may have noticed that she
has acquired quite an extensive knowledge of the medicinal uses of plants on
the island.
 
She helps sick slaves,
neighbors, and her father to stay healthy.”

Catherine colored.

“And do not think I have not noticed you smuggling
food to our slaves in spite of the fact that they are well-fed,” teased Cecil.

Catherine looked down at her plate.
 
She did not understand why she felt
embarrassed.
 
Her father’s tone was
light, but there was something behind it—something that made her feel like a
child who had been caught doing something wrong.

“Yes, Catherine is about the only untamed creature
on this island.”

Albert addressed Cecil in a serious tone: “I beg
your pardon, sir, but are you not concerned with Miss Dall interacting with the
slaves, unsupervised?”

“Mr. Silwell, of our two hundred slaves about half
are women.
 
Of the remaining men, sixty
percent of them are children or elderly.
 
Of the forty or so able-bodied men, I assure you that not one would dare
harm a fly.
 
They are all quite
docile—not to mention the fact that they are fearful of Mr. Sarponte.”

James and Albert exchanged knowing glances.
 

“How long has Mr. Sarponte worked as an overseer
here?” inquired James.

“Phinneas was hired around the time that my
deceased brother’s wife died, and it became too much for me to look after the
slaves, my daughter, and the plantation.
 
He was referred to me by a neighboring planter who was leaving the
island.
 
I’ve recently expanded his
duties to include buying and selling slaves.
 
I’m getting too old to participate in the trade, and Catherine has no
place in such business.
 
Phinneas is
efficient, stern, and knows all that goes on in Eden.”

At the conclusion of the meal, as another soaking
downpour began, the party retired to the parlor where Cecil solicited Catherine
to play the pianoforte.
 
She sat down at
the keyboard and began Chopin’s
Nocturne
in E Minor
.
 
Cecil’s glass soon
dropped to the floor as he passed out to the slow, monotonous tones of the
piece. James looked at Albert as the song continued, thinking back to the day
that his mother had died.
 

A fire had crackled in the room where Jane Silwell
lay dying in her bed.
 
Heavy rain and
winds assaulted the windows in the room, and Chopin’s
Nocturne
drifted up the stairs as James’ sister played.

“Open the windows, James.
 
Do you see how the air begs to come in?”

“You will catch a chill, Mother.”
  

“James, the chill of the rain will not reach me
before I’ve already gone.
 
Please let in
some fresh air.
 
I haven’t been out of
this room in weeks, and I long to feel the air in my lungs again.”

Albert nodded from his chair by the fire, and
James pushed open the streaked glass.
 
A
blast of mist covered his face and the air filled the room.
 
James returned to his mother’s bedside and
held her hand.
       
Jane turned her head
and looked out the window.
 
She inhaled
deeply and regularly.
 
James reached for
her hand again, and watched her chest rise and fall.

 

 

When
Catherine’s song concluded all were silent. The rain had ceased, and only
Cecil’s snore could be heard. Catherine escorted the Silwells to the front
door, wished them a safe trip back to the hotel, and returned to the parlor
where her father was sleeping.
 
She
crossed the room to pick up the empty glass on its side by the fire—its light
flickering along the walls and over Cecil as Catherine placed the glass on the
table beside him.
 

Catherine took her father’s hand and told him to
wake, but he could not be roused.
 
Catherine
stared into his lined face.
 
His once
ruddy complexion was pallid and old.
 
His
breaths came in irregular wheezes.
 
Her
father’s failing health could not be denied under such scrutiny, and fear crept
into Catherine’s heart.
 

What would become of her if Cecil died?
 
With no other living relatives, she would
inherit all of Eden.
 
Catherine knew how to run a plantation, but
without her father’s protection, predators would abound.
 
The men of marrying age on the island—none of
whom interested Catherine in the slightest—would have to be beaten away
constantly; but it was Phinneas who most frightened her.
 
His lurking, leering figure was everywhere,
and was only kept in check because of Cecil’s presence.
 

Catherine looked into the fire and thought of her
future until the last ember was extinguished.
 
Only then did she leave her father’s side to retire for the evening.

 
 
 
 
 

5

 
 
 
 

Meg
and Hamilton stood side by side looking down into the water crashing below the
cliff.
 
Though it was a beautiful day,
the storm left behind a trail of gusty wind that made Meg’s heart race as she
stood close to the cliff’s edge.
  

It wasn’t a straight drop down to the water—the
cliff formed a series of long, steep, vine-covered steps that ended where waves
crashed over massive boulders and rock fragments about one-hundred feet
below.
     

 
“So they
say that the slave girl took her life here and now haunts the plantation house?”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” said Hamilton.
 
“I don’t know if it’s true.”

“And that keeps people away from the property?”

“People are superstitious.”

“Well, for whatever reason, I’m glad the house
remained largely undisturbed.
 
It will be
worth more in its present condition than if it had been vandalized or looted.”

“Or hit with broken shells,” said Hamilton. They laughed and turned back toward
the Great House.
 

“And what about the owners of the house?” asked
Meg.
 

“It is said that a woman and her father, along
with many slaves, died of some sickness a long time ago.”

“So maybe if the house is haunted, it’s the ghost
of one of them.”

“Maybe.”

“When it’s said to be haunted, what kind of stuff
are we talking here?”

“Oh, the usual,” said Hamilton, “lights flickering at night,
moaning or crying sounds, a scary feeling around the house…”

“Nothing a couple of kids with a candle couldn’t
manage.”

“Yes, but there’s also the piano music you can
hear in the middle of the night.”

Meg stopped walking and looked at Hamilton.

“You’ve heard it?” he asked.

She nodded.

The two continued walking along the palm-lined
path.
 
Meg had returned to the property
early in the morning to survey the grounds, and had met Hamilton on the back lawn.
 
He had been acting as her tour guide through
the property.
 
He pointed out the remains
of the old mill, storehouse, and well.
 
He showed her the coast, the lagoon, and the acres of overgrown land
that had once been cane fields.

 
“In one of
the Nevis historical books it said that the Caribbean
is made up almost entirely of slave descendents,” said Meg.
 
“The Carib Indians and Arawaks were the only native
people, and they were mostly killed by early settlers.”

“My teacher said that the word ‘hurricane’ comes
from the name of the Carib god “Hurican,” who sent floods and storms when he
was angry.”

“I’ll have to put you in charge of tours when I
open the place to the public.”

Hamilton
smiled and looked at the ground.

“I suppose I’ll lose you tomorrow to school,” said
Meg.

“Yes.
 
I
won’t be able to come until the afternoon.”

“That’s all right.
 
I’m going into town tomorrow to check through records at the Historical Society Building
and Government House.
 
I want to learn
more about the people who lived here.”

“Do you plan on relaxing while you’re here?”

“I’m going to the beach this afternoon, and to Jones Bay
this evening for dinner.
 
The owners of
the villa where I’m staying posted a list of recommended dining spots on the
fridge, so I’m going to start checking them out.”

“Well, have a good afternoon.
 
I’ll see you tomorrow.”
 
Hamilton
turned back toward the lagoon path, when Meg called out to him.

“You know, you don’t have to help me if you have
something better to do.”

“Something better to do?
 
Do you know how long people have been wanting
to get inside that house?
 
I’ll be the
envy of the island.”

He smiled and was swallowed up by the trees.

           

 

Meg
spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach.
 
She was sure that she had never seen a more beautiful island than Nevis, and briefly entertained the idea of relocating.

Now that
would be running away.

Brian had called seven times since Meg had
arrived.
 
Every time she got back to her
cell phone she had a missed call from him.
 
He hadn’t left any messages.
 

That night Meg prepared for dinner.
 
She straightened the villa, showered and got
ready, and made herself
A Day at the Beach
.

As she sipped her drink, her cell phone rang.

Brian.

On the fourth ring she answered.
 
He sounded startled to hear her voice.

“I was expecting your voicemail,” he said.

“I’m sorry.
 
I haven’t been in the villa much.”

“You know, you could carry the phone with
you.
 
It is a mobile phone.”

Brian’s tone was light—not at all what Meg had
expected.
 
Just hearing the kindness in
his voice sent a wave of warmth over her.

“I’m sorry to have left so suddenly without you,”
said Meg.
 
“I just needed to be alone.
 
How are you able to be so kind after what
I’ve done?”

“If I had gotten you on my first try, the
conversation would have sounded a lot different.
 
It’s good you didn’t pick up the phone.”

“I must have sensed that.”

“Look Meghan, I know this is hard.
 
I don’t judge you for wanting a retreat.
 
I just wish you would let me know what you
plan to do before you actually do it.
 
I
mean, you sent out the cards calling off the wedding before we’d finished
discussing it.
 
You called me from the
runway to tell me that you were going to the Caribbean
for two weeks.
 
I think I deserve a
little more input than that.”

           
“You’re right, I’m sorry.
 
I was reeling—I’m getting better now.”

“I understand.
 
I mean, I can’t imagine what you must be feeling, but I understand how
you could be out of sorts.”

Meg suddenly felt very guilty and very alone.

“I wish you were here,” she said.

“Good,” he teased.
 
“Maybe you’ll stop taking me for granted.”

“I know.
 
I’ll make it up to you when I get home.”

 

 

Maybe
it was her friendship with Hamilton,
her phone conversation with Brian, the kind men who delivered the rental jeep
to her door at the villa earlier that day, or the engaging and warm exchange
with Miss June Mestier at her exceptional restaurant—whatever it was, Meg felt
very peaceful for the first time in a long time.
 

Miss June’s was a restaurant run from a private
home.
 
Cocktails and hors d’oeurves were
served at
7:30
, followed
by a five course meal including soup, an abundant buffet sampling a massive
cultural array of dishes, and dessert.
 
Miss June presided over the whole evening leading conversation with her
culinary expertise, colorful anecdotes, and fascinating stories.
 
It did not take long for Meg to feel at home
in the intimate setting which ran more like a personal dinner party than a
restaurant.
 

There were eighteen guests dining at Miss
June’s.
 
Most were tourists, but several
people were Nevisians.
 
It was with the locals
that Meg fell into conversation, and was the eager pupil of a group of people
who clearly loved their island home.
 
Throughout the evening, Meg was given information on the history of the
island, the best places to dine and shop, historical sites, botanical gardens,
beaches to visit, and which hotels to avoid.
 
She was very interested to hear the perspective of the Nevisians at the
table on the increase in tourism.

“Tourism is what currently sustains the economy
here,” remarked a local school teacher named Betsy. “That will only increase
with the new hotel and resort being built.
 
Sugarcane used to comprise a good segment of it, but the industry was
recently closed.”

“Why?” asked Meg.

“Nevis was losing
more money on its production and export than she was making, not to mention the
fact that cane working was a brutal reminder of the slave past of the island.”

“Yes, but the sugar workers have all just lost
their jobs without any alternatives,” remarked Davis, a retired fisherman.
 
“A good plan for re-employing these people
was never put in place before the industry was closed.
 
For many of them, sugar is all they know.
 
Their fathers worked before them, their
grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and so on—what will they do now?
 
Serve drinks at the Grand Hotel?”

“That’s a good point,” said a local artist named
Miles.
 
“These big hoteliers come in here
thinking they are noble with all the jobs they provide Nevisians.
 
While the jobs are good, I can’t help but
feel that it’s like the past.”

“How so?” asked Meg.

“The Nevisians are the life-blood of the hotel
industry—they are the cooks, maids, waiters, security, concierges, landscapers,
spa workers—but they only make a minimum wage.
 
The majority of the revenue goes to the rich hotel owners—many who don’t
even spend any time on the island.”

“So you think it’s like a modified form of the
slavery of the past.”

“Precisely.
 
There is good, sure.
 
The hotels
are safe, respectable, clean, comfortable places to work.
 
But is it in good taste to have black
Nevisians dressed in historical costume catering to rich, predominately white
tourists at places with the names ‘Plantation Inn’ in their titles?
 
It’s rather degrading, if you ask me.”

“Many of the hotels are mindful of the sensitive
nature of the slave past of the island,” said Miles’ companion Louise.
 
“Tours are done respectfully.
 
The plantations are part of the history of
the island.
 
There’s no denying
that.
 
If the hotels didn’t conduct tours
some tourists wouldn’t even realize that slavery took place here.
  
I used to work at a Plantation Inn.”

“I know.
 
That made me uncomfortable.”

BOOK: Receive Me Falling
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