The party had just started, and already Abigail had grown bored. She and her husband were required to attend every party that his boss threw, and they were quite frequent. Abigail got tired of putting on her best dresses and having her hair fixed perfectly, and having to curtsy and smile, though she felt like running away.
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"Abigail, you stay right here, and don't wander off, do you understand?" Abigail's husband, Jonathan asked, clasping her bare arm tightly. He had become very stern with her lately. They had been married now for a year, and her true nature had begun to reveal itself to him. He did not like it.
"Yes," Abigail told him. He let go of her arm, and the marks of his fingers were pink on her pale skin. She looked around to make sure that no one had seen, and quickly covered the marks with her own hand. She smiled as a friend of her husband's walked by.
"Abigail!" she heard her name called in a high-pitched squeal. Abigail turned her head to see a small woman rushing toward her. It was the wife of one of her husband's contacts. She was often overly friendly, and Abigail didn't understand why the woman liked her so much.
"Hello, Mrs. Sellers," Abigail smiled, lifting her hand a little to see if the marks were gone. They were still visible.
"My gosh, you look so beautiful tonight," Mrs. Sellers commented, standing back to look her over. She reached out her gloved hands and placed them on Abigail's arms. "You are such a lucky girl to have such a wonderful figure."
"Why, thank you," Abigail said, trying to remember her manners. She was a thin girl with almost no need for a corset. Most women were rather plump with round arms and faces that looked strange against their cinched up bodies. Abigail's very long hair was a dark red color, nearly brown, which one of her slaves, Zanu, always put up for her in beautiful designs before a ball or party. She would have preferred to wear it down always, and at that, she would have preferred never to lay eyes on another corset. Abigail's mother had died giving birth to her, and her father had raised her with a lot of freedom. He even allowed her to ride a horse as only men did and let her dress like a boy when no one else was around.
"How are you enjoying the party, dear?" Mrs. Sellers asked her, leaning in a little too close for comfort.
"It's lovely," Abigail lied, stepping back a little. "And you?"
"Oh, you know I hate these old things," the older woman laughed, throwing her head back. "I only come because Gregory makes me. I couldn't very well let him out alone, now could I?"
"I suppose not," Abigail laughed politely. She clasped her gloved hands together. They were a beautiful butter yellow, just like her elaborate dress.
"Jonathan sure loves these parties, doesn't he?" Mrs. Sellers asked.
"He does," Abigail answered her. Both women looked over to Jonathan who held a drink in one hand and was talking intimately with another young lady. They both looked away as if they had seen nothing.
"How is everything going with the marriage?" Mrs. Sellers asked cautiously.
"Wonderfully," Abigail told her. She had never wanted to marry Jonathan, but did so simply to please her father. Jonathan was the son of the most famous lawyer in the south, and if Abigail married him, his father would hire her father. The deal went as promised. Jonathan told Abigail often that he loved her and really had wanted to marry her, but Abigail did not believe him. How could she when he acted the way he did toward her? He always ended up drunk and half of the time had to be carried from the carriage to the house by the servants. Abigail was so ashamed, and paid them extra money for their trouble.
"Are you considering starting a family?" Mrs. Sellers continued.
"I'm not ready, but Jonathan really wants to. He says it's time," Abigail forced a smile. She was only 19, and felt like a child still herself. Jonathan was 42 and thought if he didn't become a father soon, he would be too old.
"Well, don't you let him force you to do anything you don't want to do, honey," Mrs. Sellers smiled warmly and patted Abigail gently on the cheek. "It is okay to stand up for yourself." Abigail thought about how wrong Mrs. Sellers was. Once Jonathan came into her bed when she was sick and she told him that she felt bad. He had only slapped her across the face and forced her. Another time, Abigail had asked if she could skip out on a party, as she had wanted to spend some time with her favorite horse, who was sick. Jonathan had shoved her against a wall and punched her, giving her a black eye. Then he had become incredibly angry - they couldn't go to the party with her looking like she did.
"I'll remember that, Mrs. Sellers, thank you," Abigail said flatly. Mrs. Sellers smiled and took off in another direction to visit with some others. Abigail stood alone, her hands clasped in the lady-like fashion. Her arm was sore where Jonathan had grabbed her, but she ignored the pain.
A few moments after Mrs. Sellers walked off, a tall man walked up to her. His long brown hair was pulled back in a blue velvet ribbon which matched his jacket. He smiled down at her, his eyes shining. A grin spread slowly across Abigail's face as she realized who this handsome man was.
"May I have this dance?" the man asked, extending one hand and putting the other behind his back. He bowed forward slightly.
"Oliver!" Abigail exclaimed. She started to rush forward and hug him, but stopped herself. Oliver had been Abigail's friend for as long as she could remember. They had grown up together, and the last time she had seen Oliver had been five years ago. His parents had told him that it was no longer proper for a boy of his age to spend time with a girl who he had no intention of marrying. Oliver laughed. Abigail was so excited to see him again, she didn't know what to say.
"It's been so long," Oliver said, smiling. He shook his head slowly. "You've changed so much."
"I haven't," Abigail said, blushing slightly. She felt like saying the same thing to Oliver, however. He had become such a gentleman. Neither had ever seen each other in anything much more than rags. Both had grown up in poor families on neighboring farms. "Why are you here?" Abigail asked.
"Mr. Benton has hired me as one of his new lawyers," Oliver told her. The Mr. Benton that Oliver was referring to was Jonathan's father.
"You're kidding," Abigail raised her eyebrows. Oliver shook his head.
"I've just been hired," he told her.
"And now you have to come to these awful parties every week," Abigail said, shaking her head.
"Which reminds me, why are you here?" Oliver asked her, his face curious and suspicious all at once.
"Oh," Abigail said, surprised. She figured that it was just common knowledge that she was "Jonathan's wife". "Well...I'm married to Mr. Benton's son, Jonathan." She saw Oliver's face fall. She had noticed that Oliver did not have a ring on his finger.
"Oh," he said. His expression changed indeterminately. Oliver looked over to Jonathan, who was kissing and groping some young girl in the corner. Abigail was embarassed.
"Why don't we have a dance?" Abigail suggested, to take Oliver's attention away from her flamboyant husband. Oliver looked back at her. Abigail smiled at him and held out her hand for him to take, which he did. They walked out to the floor. As they danced, they kept their eyes on each other.
"I have really missed you, Abby," Oliver told her after a few moments.
"I never thought that I would see you again," Abigail admitted. She smiled. "I had given up on you."
"You gave up on someone who you were once so close with?" Oliver acted shocked. Abigail smiled and laid her head on his shoulder as they moved about the dance floor.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Abigail heard an angry voice behind her, and at the same time, a hand on her shoulder, squeezing her hard. She was whirled around to see Jonathan.
"I'm only having a dance," Abigail told him, her narrowed eyes on his. She struggled to get out of his vise-like grip, but he only tightened his hold on her.
"You goddamned slut," Jonathan seethed, the smell of liquor strong on his breath. He slapped her hard across the face. Abigail instinctively shot her hand up to her cheek and looked at Jonathan, stunned.
"Hey!" Benjamin shouted. He shoved Jonathan away from Abigail, who stepped back as she watched her husband stare up drunkenly at Benjamin, giving him a look of annoyance.
"Do not, young man, attempt to interfere with the way I treat my wife, my property!" Jonathan shouted, and pulled his fist back, then rammed it into Benjamin's nose. Blood spurted out immediately, soaking the front of Benjamin's shirt. He threw his hands to his nose, surprised, as Jonathan grabbed Abigail and dragged her through the crowd of people watching. Once outside, he picked her up and slugged her over his shoulder. He flung her into the nearest carriage.
"You know where to go," Jonathan shouted angrily at the driver, then climbed in the back with Abigail. Her face stung still and her eyes burned with tears. She wouldn't cry in front of Jonathan though, never. She wouldn't show him her weakness. Jonathan glowered at her, saying nothing the entire ride. Abigail tried to avoid his gaze. The carriage pulled up outside the large columned mansion that Jonathan had purchased for them. Jonathan pulled Abigail from the carriage and dragged her through the front door which Frederique, the slave, had opened for them. Abigail looked behind helplessly at Frederique. Her husband dragged her upstairs and into her bedroom where he threw her onto the four-poster bed.
"You think you can disrespect me like that?" he asked, pacing the room in front of her. "You think I'm stupid, that as soon as I turn my back you can go and fuck around?" He stopped and stared at her, almost calmly. Then, without warning, Jonathan turned and jumped on her. He held her down with one arm and pummeled her with the other. Abigail screamed, hoping one of her ladies would come to help her. Sure enough, Margaret came running.
"What's all the commotion in here?" she asked, her face contorted with worry. She saw what was going on and rushed over to the bed. "Good heavens, Mister Jonathan!" she cried. Margaret reached out to stop Jonathan, but he threw her backwards. The large dark-skinned woman went tumbling backward, but regained herself and ran from the room, calling for help.
Jonathan strode to the door and slammed it shut, locking it. Then he began to tear his clothes off and made his way back to Abigail, ripping her clothes from her body and discarding them carelessly on the floor. He violated her then, as the ladies outside pounded on the door. When Jonathan finished, he got up and dressed himself, not bothering to look at his shamed wife. Just before he opened the door, he turned.
"If I ever catch you fucking around again, so help me God I'll kill you," he told her. Jonathan tore open the door and pushed his way through the ladies, who came rushing in to tend to Abigail. Margaret crawled onto the bed and took Abigail into her big, warm arms.
"Honey, it'll be alright," Margaret said to the now-sobbing Abigail, rocking her back and forth. Zanu brought over one of Abigail's gowns from the armoire and helped her into it. Genevieve brought some elixir to take away Abigail's pain which Abigail gladly drank down. The slaves all loved "Miss Abigail" as they called her, for she was always as sweet to them as she could possibly be. But no one liked Mister Jonathan, who was ruthless and cruel.
"Tell us what happened, Miss Abigail," Zanu coaxed in her beautiful African accent. They all sat on Abigail's bed with her, as she didn't mind. Abigail composed herself, struggling to swallow the thick saliva which always accompanied tears.
"Jonathan was drunk, like always, and he was in the corner with another girl at the party," Abigail began in her soft Southern drawl. "A friend of mine, Oliver, who I haven't seen in years was there, and we had a dance. Jonathan came over and he grabbed me and punched Oliver and dragged me out of there as quick as he could." The ladies all looked at Abigail with sympathy, even Genevieve, who spoke very little English.
"Oh, Missy Abigail, you need to find yourself someone better," Margaret said, shaking her head and frowning.
"He gives me everything I need, though," Abigail admitted.
"Ma chere," Genevieve said, placing her hand on Abigail's arm. "Il est plus mauvais que bon." Abigail understood her French and shook her head, smiling sadly.
"Je ne sais pas," she answered.
"Well, you certainly won't be goin' nowhere lookin' the way you do," Margaret told Abigail. "Not for a good long while."
"Good," Abigail pouted, smiling in spite of herself. She got up and walked slowly to the mirror and looked at herself. She had bruises forming already and a couple of small busted openings around her face. She touched them gingerly, shaking her head. "At least I won't have to go to his parties."
"You know Mister Jonathan don't deserve you," Zanu said quietly. It was risky for slaves to say such things to their mistresses, but Abigail's ladies knew that they could freely say anything to her. They were her only friends. Abigail only smiled.
Two weeks later, Jonathan had decided that Abigail was well enough to go back out with him. She had managed to miss two of the parties and was happy about that. The parties were always the same - the same people, doing the same things. Abigail this time she sat in a high-backed mahogany chair, her hands folded carefully in her lap. Her yellow dress had been ruined and Zanu had burned it upon Abigail's command. Abigail watched as people milled around, trying to take her mind elsewhere. She watched as her husband, again, got drunk and threw himself on another girl, younger than herself. All the girls knew who he was and how rich he was, and completely ignored the fact that he was indeed married.
Abigail felt the presence of someone beside her and looked up to see Oliver smiling down at her.
"Oliver!" she gasped, standing. They hugged each other quickly. "I was worried about you," Abigail told him.
"You were worried about me?" Oliver asked in disbelief. He shook his head. He said nothing, although he had a look that suggested he knew more.
"I'm fine," Abigail said softly. She looked at the ground. Oliver looked around and make sure that Jonathan was busy, then took Abigail's hand and pulled her through the crowd and out the front door. Oliver pulled her across the wide front lawn to the safety of a great, ancient magnolia tree, she struggling to keep up with his long strides. They hid behind the thick trunk where they could talk without worry of being seen. Abigail leaned against the tree, struggling to catch her breath. She looked up at him.
"Was this so necessary?" she asked, breathing heavily. Oliver looked down to her, his eyes serious.
"Abby, when you told me that Jonathan was your husband, I didn't know what to say," Oliver told her.
"What do you mean?" Abigail asked, her chest still heaving.
"As soon as I began working for Benton, I heard things about his son and how he often drank to excess. Soon, I got the chance to work with Jonathan, and he boasted about the awful crimes which he performed upon his wife. His wife which he never named, who he simply referred to as his property," Oliver explained. "And then you told me that you were the wife." Abigail sighed.
"Abby, please listen to me," Oliver said, taking her by her bare shoulders. His warm hands annoyed her and she wriggled out of his grasp.
"It's nothing," Abigail said, shaking her head.
"Please," Oliver said, looking into her eyes. Abigail saw in his eyes that he was worried, so she crossed her arms and waited for him to continue. "Abby, I'm frightened for you. You know you deserve so much better. You deserve someone who loves you."
"Jonathan loves me. He gives me everything I could possibly ask for," Abigail snapped.
"That doesn't mean anything," Oliver said sadly. "He will hurt you. I know the reason that you were gone for two weeks. I'm frightened that one night Jonathan will become angry and take you out of here and that I shall never see you again."
Abigail stared at Oliver, her eyes narrowed. "Oliver, it has been five years," she said slowly. "You do not know me anymore. You are no longer a part of my life. What I do is not your concern."
Oliver looked at her, his face sad. He began to shake his head slowly. "I cannot live knowing that someone I care so deeply for is in such trouble!"
"Abigail!" came Jonathan's voice floating across the lawn. Abigail gasped again and covered her mouth. Jonathan called her name again.
"Oh my God, if he finds us, he will kill us both!" she whispered hastily. She peeked out from behind the tree and saw Jonathan stumbling around outside the front door, a bottle of wine in his hand.
"I'm here!" Abigail cried, stepping out from behind the tree. She walked quickly toward Jonathan.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked suspiciously.
"I was just getting some fresh air," Abigail smiled innocently.
"I didn't know where you were," Jonathan slurred.
"I'm here," Abigail smiled.
"Well, I'm ready to go," Jonathan said verbosely. He grabbed her and pulled her to their carriage. As the carriage passed by the old magnolia, Abigail saw Oliver leaning against the tree. He watched as they passed.
"What are you looking at?" Jonathan asked, pushing her back so that he could look out the window. He looked about, but could see nothing with his drunken eyes. "I don't see nothin'." Abigail did not answer him. She just smiled to herself and sat back.
Several days later, Jonathan packed his bags and Frederique loaded them into the carriage. Abigail awoke and saw everything from her window. She rushed downstairs and outside in her nightgown.
"Where are you off to, love?" she asked. Jonathan stopped and came to her. He smiled and embraced her.
"I'm off for a couple of weeks. A judge in Florida has asked me to come down and help with a murder case," he told her.
"Be careful," Abigail warned. Jonathan kissed her.
"I'll return as soon as I can," he promised. Abigail never knew which was the real Jonathan - the one who acted kindly to her or the one who beat her. She wished that he was always so sweet and kind, but it wasn't to be.
"I'll be waiting," she whispered to him. At times like this, Abigail felt like she really did love Jonathan. He had not lain a hand on her in quite a while, and she felt especially affectionate toward him for such.
"I have brought you a gift," he told her, kissing her forehead, then leading her up the front stairs and into the large entrance foyer. He looked back at her and smiled as he led her into the parlor to the left.
"Now, close your eyes and put out your hands," Jonathan told her. Abigail obeyed and smiled, wondering what the whole meaning of this was. She felt something heavy in her hands and opened her eyes. In her hands was a tiny box with a wind-key on the back. She looked at Jonathan with a look of curiousity and smiled as she opened the lid of the box. Inside were two miniature swans. She wound the key and the swans began to spin slowly, the box playing a beauitful and haunting melody. Abigail laughed and watched as the swans came to a stop.
"I love it, Jonathan, thank you," she said sincerely, and hugged her husband. Jonathan knew that Abigail loved animals, particularly swans.
"I knew you would," he smiled at her. "Now, it's very old, so be careful."
"I will," Abigail promised. She held the box as carefully as if it were a baby bird in her hands.
"I must be on my way," Jonathan said reluctantly.
"Okay," Abigail sighed. "Enjoy your time."
"Not without you," Jonathan said, and kissed her on the cheek. He left and Abigail watched as the carriage took him off. She looked at the box and smiled again. She examined the details of the box and realized that the swans were made of crystal. Abigail walked slowly upstairs and set the box gingerly on her vanity, where she could see it every day.
Two days passed, and Abigail found herself with little to do. She spent a lot of time with her friends, the servants, and allowed them to relax. The slaves detested Mister Jonathan, as he was so ruthless to them, but they found Abigail incredibly forgiving and easy to love. She sat down in the parlor and began to compose a letter to her father in Alabama. Not ten minutes passed when Frederique came to the parlor.
"Madame, c'est un homme pour te voir," he told her. Abigail stood up, curious. She walked to the foyer and stopped at the door.
"Merci, Frederique," she said and dropped a small coin into his hand. She always paid him for every one of his troubles. Frederique just shook his head and smiled, slipping the coin into his pocket. He knew better than to argue with Miss Abigail. Abigail pulled open the heavy front door and saw Oliver standing on the front steps. She leaped back, startled.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, stepping outside and closing the door behind her. She looked around, as if to make sure no one was watching. Seeing Oliver, she realized that her anger had passed and she was simply glad to see him again.
"I came to visit," Oliver told her innocently.
"It isn't proper to come and visit a married woman who is home alone," Abigail scolded him. Her long, loose hair was lifted by the breeze.
"We're friends. Old friends," Oliver justified. "Besides, who will tell Jonathan?" Abigail said nothing. She sighed and opened the door, looking back at Oliver as a sign to follow her. She lead Oliver inside and through the foyer all the way to the back door. They stepped through the back door and Abigail walked down three small stairs to the back lawn. She loved the yard, as there was nothing in sight but the greenest grass in the world and a large, old oak which she loved to sit under and read or write. The two continued to walk to the tree. Abigail glanced at Oliver and smiled as she kicked off her shoes, reached up and grabbed a slender branch and hoisted herself up into the tree.
"Abby! What are you doing?" Oliver asked, surprised.
"I'm climbing a tree," Abigail said as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to be doing. She climbed higher, her dress catching on a branch. She crawled out onto a fat branch and swung her legs over the edge, her bare feet dangling.
"Abigail, come down this moment! You'll fall!" Oliver called up to her. She was at least 20 feet up and well out of his reach.
"I sit up here all the time and look out on the world. Join me," she called down, leaning forward and looking down to him. Oliver stood directly under her.
"I will not move from this spot. If you fall, I shall have to catch you, or you would break your neck," he said worriedly.
"You sound like my father," Abigail laughed and stared down at him. Oliver sighed and took off his own shoes and pulled off his tailcoat. He reached up and grabbed the same branch Abigail had used to pull herself up and followed her path up the tree slowly and cautiously. He sat next to her on the fat branch, his face red, breathing heavily.
"What's the matter? Are you not accustomed to so much activity?" Abigail teased him. He looked at her, his hair mussed and falling loose from its ribbon. Abigail giggled.
"We used to climb these old trees all the time," she said, reminiscing. "Of course, I wasn't wearing dresses."
"You haven't changed a bit, you were right," Oliver said, shaking his head. He was shaking as he tried to find a comfortable spot.
"But you have," Abigail shot back. They looked at each other for several moments, then laughed, embarassed. "I never thought that you should become a lawyer."
"I never thought that you should marry one," Oliver said.
"I never thought that I would marry," Abigail said softly. Neither one said anything. She sighed.
"I have truly missed you," Oliver said finally. Abigail looked at him and smiled. There was something sad about him, but she couldn't quite place it.
"I have missed you too," she said. "Where is it that you went after we stopped meeting?"
"My father sent me away to school in Boston. I studied law there, and came back here," Oliver told her.
"Why would you come back here?" Abigail asked him.
"I was in search of something," Oliver answered. "Of someone." His eyes peered into hers. Abigail looked away.
"Well, what was it like in the North?" she asked.
"Quite different," Oliver answered. "Slavey is frowned upon. Black people walk around, as free as us. It was different, but not bad. I prefer it here though, in the south."
"I would love to go up north," Abigail sighed. "I wish to go everywhere, see everything."
"You're not meant to be stuck in one place," Oliver smiled softly. "You never were." They sat in silence for a moment.
"Are you happy?" Abigail asked him spontaneously.
"What?" Oliver looked at her strangely.
"Are you happy? Are you pleased with who you are, what you have done?" she pressed. Oliver sighed and thought for a moment.
"No," he finally answered. Abigail waited for him to say more, but he didn't.
"Well, why?" she asked finally.
"I don't know," he told her.
"I'm sorry," Abigail said quietly.
"You should not be," Oliver said. "But are you?"
"Am I what?" Abigail asked.
"Happy," said Oliver.
"Oh," Abigail said. "Well, of course." Oliver looked at her, searching her. He nodded. "I mean, I have married. I have a wonderful husband who showers me with everything. You should see what he-"
"I don't believe you," Oliver interrupted. Abigail gave him a surprised look. "How can you be happy?"
"How can I be happy?" Abigail repeated the question with a sneer in her voice.
"Yes," Oliver reiterated.
"Why would I not be?" she asked him.
"Well, start with the fact that your husband is a drunkard. He hits you all the time. He rapes you," Oliver said. "Do you know where he has gone?" he asked, lowering his voice.
"He is in Florida, sharing his opinion about a case," Abigail answered confidently.
"No," Oliver shook his head. "He has gone to Tennessee to be with some 16 year old girl who he became acquainted with at one of Benton's parties." Abigail glowered at him.
"You don't know what you're talking about," she said.
"Do you know what happened to Jonathan's first wife?" Oliver continued.
"She was thrown from a horse!" Abigail shouted angrily, sure of her answer.
"Jonathan beat her to death!" Oliver raised his voice.
"No," Abigail mumbled, shaking her head. "No he didn't, he wouldn't!" She pushed Oliver backwards and he tumbled from the branch. She watched as he fell, catching himself on a large branch and dropping the rest of the way to the ground. Then she herself scurried quickly down the tree and ran across the yard and back into the house. She slammed and locked the door behind her and ran upstairs to her bedroom, slamming and locking that door as well. Abigail flung herself onto the bed and crossed her arms. She rose and stormed across the room, covering her face with her hands and screaming to herself. Without meaning to, she reached over and grabbed a random object from her vanity and hurled it against the far wall. She heard the dying sounds of a familiar tune and looked up to see that what she had thrown was the antique box that Jonathan had given her. Horror filled her stomach, and she ran to the shattered box, and fell to the ground beside the tiny shards. A lump rose in her throat and came out in the form of sobs as she picked up the pieces, cradling them in her hands.
Abigail spent the next several days in bed, getting up only to take meals and for Zanu to help her bathe. She thought about all that could happen when Jonathan saw what she had done to the gift he had given her. She was frightened beyond comprehension. Oliver also penetrated her thoughts often. His words floated through her mind, their conversation replaying itself over and over. It didn't cross her mind that Oliver was simply concerned for her. To Abigail, Oliver was only trying to make her as unhappy as he was.
Jonathan came home early, just in time for a party. He had an unfamiliar smell on him, which Abigail supposed was just the smell of Florida, of traveling. They went that night to a party and Jonathan got drunk quickly. Abigail saw Oliver there. He watched her, and she ignored him. Every time he started to walk toward her, she would get up and relocate herself, trying to hide herself in the thickest crowd.
That night when they got home, Jonathan came to Abigail's bedroom to say goodnight. While Abigail sat at her vanity, brushing out her hair and humming to herself, Jonathan lay on her bed.
"What the-?" she heard him mutter. She watched him in the vanity mirror roll over and lift a pillow from her bed. Abigail sighed. She had placed the pieces of the antique box underneath her pillow.
"What is this?" Jonathan asked, more to himself. He examined the pieces and Abigail turned on her stool.
"I can explain," she said. Jonathan looked up at her, his face turning red. He picked up and held between his fingers the head of one of the tiny swans.
"Is this what I think it is?" he asked, his voice rising. Abigail looked at the ground, trying to think of what to say. Before she could say anything, Jonathan rose from the bed and strode across the large room. He picked her up from the stool and hurtled her across the room into the same wall which Abigail had broken the box against. Jonathan came toward her and began to kick her, his boots slamming into her small body again and again. One of his blows landed square in her chest and all the breath in her body was expelled. She gasped for breath as Jonathan continued to kick her, cursing her and spitting. He knelt down in front of her and bent her arm back behind her, his face inches from hers.
"Do you know what I spent on that priceless bauble?" he seethed. "Don't you ever expect another thing from me as long as you live. Which probably won't be much longer," he sneered, and shook her violently. The last thing Abigail remembered was an awful pain in her arm and the sound of the crack of her head against the wall.
Abigail awoke the next morning to find herself lying in her bed. She saw Genevieve standing by the door. As soon as Abigail began to stir, Genevieve called for Margaret and Zanu, who came rushing in.
"Miss Abigail, you're awake!" Margaret exclaimed. The three crowded around her bed, but did not touch her.
"What happened?" Abigail asked. Her head was pounding as was her shoulder.
"We came in and found you passed out against the wall," Zanu explained softly. "We sent for the doctor. He should be here in a couple of hours."
"I don't need a doctor," Abigail mumbled. The girls ignored her. Abigail saw that her hands were covered in blood.
"Miss Abigail, we must get you cleaned up," Margaret said. The three helped Abigail to her feet and carried her to the bathroom, where a bath was drawn and waiting. They helped Abigail to undress and she sunk down into the warm water. She leaned her head against the back of the tub as the ladies cleaned her body and her hair.
"How do you feel?" Zanu asked her.
"I'll be fine," Abigail answered. When they were finished bathing her, she noticed that the water was pink with blood. Abigail looked at them, her face an expression of curiousity and shock.
"Your head, madam," Genevieve explained. Abigail remembered her head being slammed against the wall; she realized that she must have a gash there. She went downstairs with the girls to eat breakfast, and then went back up to bed. The pain in her body had not subsided in the least. The doctor came soon after and Jonathan let him in. He waited in the bedroom as the doctor examined her.
"It seems she has a concussion and her arm is in very bad shape, but not broken. Just a little bit of rest ought to do the trick," the round man said, putting away his equipment. He scratched his beard and looked at Jonathan over his dark glasses. "How did this occur, if I may ask, Mr. Benton?"
"She was riding her horses last night. It was dark. I always scold her for riding at nightfall," Jonathan said, faking a laugh. The doctor stared suspiciously at Jonathan.
"Well, I shall be on my way," he said. "Take good care of the mistress." Jonathan saw the doctor out and then came back up to Abigail's bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed and gently stroked her hair. Abigail said nothing to him, nor did she even look at him.
"You'll be fine, my dear," Jonathan said soothingly. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Just go on back to sleep." Abigail waited for him to leave the room, then she closed and locked the door behind him. She lay in bed, thinking about what Oliver had said to her the other day.
The next weekend, Jonathan saw to it that the slaves made Abigail up so that no evidence of her beating was visible. She wore a gown with sleeves so that no one could see her swollen shoulder. Abigail sat in the corner of the ballroom all night, trying to enjoy the music. Jonathan was busy as usual. Abigail rose and crossed the room to get herself a small glass of wine, when she felt someone's hand on her injured shoulder. She cried out involuntarily, and turned to see Oliver behind her. He saw the expression of pain on her face, and his own quickly turned to worry.
"He has hurt you," Oliver stated. Abigail looked at the ground, avoiding Oliver's gaze. "They had to send for the doctor."
"Please, Oliver, it is not your concern," Abigail pleaded. Their voices were just loud enough to be heard over the music and chatter.
"But it is, Abigail, you don't seem to understand that!" Oliver raised his voice. Abigail said nothing for a long while.
"Maybe we should see to it that it is no longer," she said finally.
"What do you mean?" Oliver asked.
"I want you to stay away from me. Do not speak to me anymore," Abigail told him.
"You are not serious," Oliver replied.
"I am completely. I want you to stay far from me and out of my life, Oliver," she continued. "I wish that we had not met again." She saw Oliver's face fall. Abigail turned and started to walk away when she slammed into another lady, both of them falling backwards. Abigail felt herself land in a pair of strong arms which she realized were Oliver's. He helped her to her feet and Abigail hurried away from him. He followed her through the crowd and grabbed her arm, spinning her around. He pulled her close to him and took her dainty hands in his own large, rough ones.
"Abigail, I refuse to let you do this to yourself," he said, peering down at her. Abigail gathered her strength and tried to shove him away, but he only pulled her into his arms.
"Release me!" Abigail shouted. She looked to her right and saw Jonathan approaching quickly. He had seen her touching another man, and that had been enough. She looked up at Oliver, her eyes wide with fear. Oliver did not let her go as Jonathan approached. Everyone stopped and watched to see what would transpire.
"What did I tell you about the next time I saw you with someone else?" Jonathan cried. He grabbed her roughly by her injured arm and pulled her from Oliver. Abigail screamed in pain. It felt as if her arm were being pulled from its socket. Jonathan simply laughed at her.
"You haven't known pain," he seethed as he reached to his belt and slid his sword from its sheath with a quick draw. He raised the sword and thrust it toward Abigail's throat. Abigail was lifted off of her feet. Oliver had her slung over his shoulder and was zig-zagging through the gaping, shouting crowd. Abigail watched as people tried to stop Jonathan and hold him back, but he would threaten them with his sword and they would move just as quickly. Oliver ducked out through the door and climbed atop an empty carriage, Abigail still over his shoulder. He sat her down in the seat beside him and grabbed the reigns, slapping them against the horses behinds. The horses took off with a loud protest. Abigail looked back to see people running from the house, and Jonathan emerging from the front door, running after the carriage. Abigail shrieked and ducked down on the high bench. She looked up to see Jonathan running alongside the carriage. Jonathan gave a powerful slash with his sword and Abigail heard Oliver gasp. He slapped his hand over his upper arm, trying to drive with one hand. She saw that his arm was bleeding. Jonathan had cut him.
"This is not over!" Jonathan shouted after them.
"Here," Abigail reached over and grabbed the reigns from his hand, slapping the horses with them to speed them up. Jonathan had stopped chasing the carriage and had collapsed in the dirt path. She guided the horses down the long path through the woods which led to the secluded party house and slowed once they reached the main road.
"We cannot return to my house," Abigail said after a long silence. The only sounds in the otherwise thick silence was the clopping of the horses' hooves. She looked at Oliver, who was slumped back in the seat, holding his arm. Blood had run all the way down his sleeve and dripped onto the seat.
"Continue straight on," Oliver said, his voice weak. Abigail drove the horses straight. She tried to process what had just happened. Her husband had tried to kill her. It had been Oliver's fault. Yet he had saved her life. And now he was injured. A few miles down the road, Oliver instructed her to turn left and they went again onto a narrow path lined densely by trees. The carriage pulled up in front of a large old-fashioned house. Several slaves rushed to the carriage and, seeing that Oliver was injured, helped him down. An older black gentleman helped Abigail from the carriage as well. She smiled quickly at him and rushed to the small group of slaves practically carrying Oliver up the front stairs and into the house. Upstairs went the group into a large bedroom where they lay Oliver down onto the velvet sheets. Abigail stood back and watched as they took his jacket and shirt off, talking amongst themselves in French, cleaning the wound. The wound was very deep, so much so that the yellow of a bone showed underneath the dark, pouring blood. One younger mulatto man came running in, a needle and thread in his hands. He set to work quickly, sewing up Oliver's gaping wound. Abigail was astonished that this boy was able to do such a thing. Oliver lay silently, his chest heaving, as the slaves finished, cleaned his arm again, and wrapped his wound. They left the room silently, closing the door behind them.
Abigail walked cautiously to the bed and knelt beside it. Oliver looked at her, his eyes cloudy. She smiled at him, not knowing what to say for a very long time. She suddenly thought of a very important question.
"Does Jonathan know where to find you?" she asked.
"No one does," Oliver answered her in a strained whisper. Abigail reached out and took his hand and gently stroked his long hair. She had seen him in such a state of undress before, but always as a child. It was different now that he was a man.
"How do you feel?" she asked. Her own pain she realized was suddenly gone.
"I will be okay," Oliver answered. Abigail rose and sat on the bed beside him. They looked at each other and Oliver forced a smile.
"Do your slaves have anything for pain?" she asked.
"They do, but they know I don't take it," Oliver answered. He winced as he turned to face her. Abigail couldn't help but admire the ripple of his muscles under his dark skin.
"Oliver," Abigail whispered. He looked up at her. "You saved me. Thank you." Oliver took her hand and kissed it gently.
"What are friends for?" he asked. Abigail leaned over and kissed him softly on the cheek.
"And I must apologize as well," she added, her eyes averting from Oliver.
"What for?" Oliver asked her.
"For not listening to you. For not realizing that you were trying to protect me," she answered. Oliver smiled up at her and put his hand on her cheek.
"I understand," he said. Abigail sighed and looked around.
"Do you live here all alone?" she asked.
"Yes," Oliver answered a little sadly. "Who would I have to live with?" Abigail sighed. "I bought this house hoping that I would meet someone who would become my bride. It has never happened."
"There is all the time in the world for you, Oliver," Abigail smiled softly at him. She felt sad for him; she had never wanted to marry at all, but Oliver had always longed for someone to love and to love him. Everything had turned out backwards. They peered into each other's eyes for a long while, and Abigail felt herself leaning toward Oliver as if pulled by some magnetic force. She closed her eyes and felt her lips touch his. Abigail kissed him and let her body sink into the bed beside him. Her hands explored his naked chest. They looked into each other's eyes, knowing exactly what was to happen. Oliver smiled and Abigail stared at him, her eyes searching his face nervously. Abigail gave herself then completely willingly, for the first time in her life. She had never felt as she did at this moment. It felt right, perfect. Fine. There was no guilt.
They lay together afterwards in each other's arms, saying nothing, but feeling everything. Abigail fell asleep sometime and did not realize she had until she awoke the next morning. She found herself still wrapped in Oliver's arms and he awoke with a start when she accidently bumped his injured arm.
"Oh no!" she said, instinctively putting her hands to his shoulder to comfort him. When he realized what had happened, he lay back. He smiled at her and they kissed each other. They rose and bathed together, the slaves pretending that the fact that a strange woman was in the house was nothing. Abigail dressed in some of Oliver's clothing, instantly feeling more comfortable. They walked outside together, the Louisiana summer morning already intensely hot and humid. They sat together under the shade of a large crepe tree. Oliver cradled Abigail in his arms.
"I should like to thank you again," Abigail said.
"There is no need for that," Oliver told her, stroking her hair.
"But there is," Abigail pushed. "I do believe everything which you have told me, I want you to know that. I just did not want to believe it."
"It's alright," Oliver said. "It's all over now." Abigail sighed and then giggled to herself.
"I also apologize for pushing you out of the tree the other day." Oliver laughed too and kissed the top of her head. He smiled down at her.
"May I tell you something?" he asked after a moment.
"Anything," Abigail answered.
"I have waited for this for as long as I can remember," he whispered. Abigail was surprised, but at the same time, she was not. "I had hoped that when I came back, you would be waiting for me. I foolishly thought that it was a silent agreement we had made as children."
Abigail smiled. "I always thought that if I must marry, I would marry you." She kissed him.
"But you always hated the idea of being married," Oliver reminded her.
"That's why I said 'if I had to get married'," Abigail giggled. "I realize now what I have always known but have never wanted to admit."
"I'm glad," Oliver said. They sat together for a long time in silence. Finally, Oliver rose and pulled her to her feet. "I have something to show you," he said, and took her hand, leading her inside and upstairs to a room with a closed door. He sighed and smiled at her, almost as if embarassed.
"I had this room made before I even moved in. I know it will seem a bit strange...." Abigail just smiled, very curious. Oliver covered her eyes with his hands and opened the door. He walked into the room, pushing her along with him and uncovered her eyes. Abigail's mouth dropped. The room was very large, like his own, and was painted and decorated in her favorite color, which was lilac. Paintings depicting fantastic animals, such as unicorns, hung sporadically all over the walls - the types of paintings which had always been her favorite. One wall was nothing but a huge mural of a unicorn surrounded by tiny women, or fairies, a rainbow and a castle far in the background. Abigail turned to face Oliver, grinning, and threw her arms around him.
"It was made with you in mind. As I said, I had hoped you that were waiting for me," Oliver told her. Abigail was speechless as she spun around, admiring the room again, her hands over her gaping mouth.
"I adore it, Oliver," she finally said, embracing him again.
Over the next few days, Abigail and Oliver spent every moment together. As much as she loved the bedroom he had designed for her, she broke the rules of society, and slept every night in his arms in his own bed. Oliver simply stopped showing up for work. No one at the office had gotten his addess, and therefore did not know how to contact him. Abigail thought about her life back at home, her friends who she missed and worried about.
"Oliver, I must got get them. I must bring them here," Abigail told her lover.
"We will go together, when we know that a party is taking place," Oliver agreed. And two days later, it was a Friday evening and they knew that Jonathan would be out. His wife missing would not keep him home. They took two carriages, Abigail and Oliver driving one and another driven by Oliver's slave, Mathieu. Abigail approached the house alone first, to make sure that Jonathan was gone. She snuck up, easily disguised in a shirt, vest and pants which all belonged to Oliver. Frederique was at his usual post outside the front door. She walked up, Frederique simply watching her approach. She pulled the hat from her head, her hair falling down and Frederique instantly recognizing her.
"Missy Abigail!" he cried in his thick French accent. Abigail smiled, happy to see her friend, and put a finger to her lips for him to be quiet. "Missy, we have wondered for days where you have been. We were so afraid." Frederique struggled with his English, which he usually used only in important situations.
"I know, and I'm sorry that I left you without warning. Is Jonathan away?" Abigail asked in a hushed voice.
"He is at the party," Frederique answered her.
"I have come for you. Please, go get Zanu and Margaret and Genevieve. Bring them out. And bring your friends," Abigail instructed. Frederique nodded and hurried off as Abigail ran back to the waiting carriages and waved for them to drive up. Abigail went back inside her house and took some of her things which she packed into one of Jonathan's suitcases - her favorite trinkets, the perfume her father had given her. She grabbed a couple of dresses as well and dragged everything downstairs and threw it into one of the carriages. Margaret, Zanu and Genevieve came out of the house and Abigail gave each of them a quick hug, telling them to hurry into her and Oliver's carriage. Into the other carriage, Frederique and three others climbed. As soon as everyone was ready, they took off and raced out of the vicinity in the event that Jonathan may find them along the road.
Upon arrival at Oliver's house, everyone climbed from the carriages. Oliver went to prepare for Abigail's slaves while Abigail stayed with them.
"Miss Abigail, who is this young man?" Margaret asked her. Abigail smiled, as she thought of a way to answer such a simple question. Who was Oliver?
"He's a friend," Abigail answered. "The one I told you about once. An old friend who I've come to love dearly." Margaret threw her hands up triumphantly.
"I knew you'd come to your senses, Miss Abigail!" she laughed heartily. Abigail just smiled at her.
"What has happened?" Zanu asked Abigail. They stood in a circle, every dark face looking upon Abigail's pale one. In the darkness, there was less of a difference, as it should always be.
"Oliver and I were reacquainted a few weeks ago after not having seen each other for five years. He works for Jonathan's father, and he would hear what Jonathan said about me and how he treated me," Abigail explained. She sighed. "He tried to warn me that Jonathan was dangerous, that he had killed his last wife. I didn't believe him until the last party, when Jonathan tried to run me through with his sword." The slaves gasped. They had obviously not heard the story, as Jonathan never spoke to them other than to yell at them and scold them. "He nearly took Oliver's arm. Oliver brought me here, where he knew I would be safe." The slaves shook their heads collectively.
"Thank goodness for this young man," Margaret said, clicking her tongue.
"Why did you come for us?" Frederique asked Abigail.
"You are all my friends. I have missed you and I wanted to save you from Jonathan as well," Abigail answered to them all. "Please accept our invitation and stay here with us."
"Nous ne te quitterons jamais," Genevieve said quickly. The others agreed quickly. Oliver came back and walked them back to the slave quarters, which were much nicer than those that Jonathan kept. Frederique and his friends would stay there, while Oliver insisted that Margaret, Zanu and Genevieve lived with he and Abigail as they had at Jonathan's house. The five of them walked back to the house where Oliver showed them two spare but fully furnished bedrooms in which they could sleep. Oliver and Abigail returned to his bedroom.
"Can you accomodate them all?" Abigail asked, worried that she had asked too much of Oliver.
"Yes," he answered her, then sighed. "But only for a little while. I cannot go back to work for Mr. Benton, so I must find another job to afford them." Abigail nodded.
"I understand," she said softly, looking at the ground. She did not want to leave New Orleans. Oliver walked to her and lifted her chin so that they were looking into each other's eyes.
"We shall do anything that you want, my love," he whispered and kissed her. Abigail sighed and leaned into him. They went to bed earlier than usual. They were awakened just a couple of hours later by a commotion outside. Oliver reluctantly crawled out of bed and shuffled to the window to see what was going on. He spun around quickly, just as the noise moved inside downstairs. There was shouting and screaming. Abigail sat up, her face contorted with worry. Oliver ran to her and grabbed her by her arms.
"You must hide!" he said urgently, pulling her out of the bed.
"What's wrong?" Abigail cried. She stopped and her blood ran cold as she heard a familiar voice downstairs - Jonathan's. Her heart panicked, but she could not move. She heard Jonathan calling her name and the sound of his sword slashing at things, and probably people. Oliver ran across the room and grabbed his sword from its sheath hanging from a high-backed velvet chair.
"Abigail, go now. Run!" he shouted at her as he ran from the room. Abigail shook her head and followed him. They stopped at the top of the staircase and Abigail saw over Oliver's shoulder a scene of total chaos - blood splattered the walls, bodies lay on the floor. Bodies of Oliver's slaves and even of Frederique. Abigail covered her mouth with her hand, gagging at the sight of her friend's lifeless body. Jonathan looked up at them, his eyes crazed, his hair disheveled.
"You!" he shouted, pointing up the stairs with his sword. He was pointing at Oliver. "I will kill you both!" Jonathan was a madman. He bounded up the stairs, met halfway by Oliver. The two crossed swords.
"Jonathan, stop!" Abigail cried. More slaves came running inside, but dared not get in the way of two fighting men. They continued to fight, slashing and jabbing at each other with their cutlasses. Abigail watched from the landing, afraid to move. She ran into the bedroom and picked up a heavy antique vase, quickly dumping the flowers and the water onto the carpet. Abigail ran back out to the top of the stairs, the two so consumed by their battle that neither was paying attention to her.
"Jonathan!" Abigail cried, trying to take his attention from his fight. He ignored her, but Oliver, obviously oblivious to the fact that she had been present the entire time, whirled around, his eyes full of fear. Jonathan took his chance and slashed the sword across Oliver's abdomen. Abigail screamed and hurled the vase at Jonathan's head. It hit him square in the face, shattering, his head flying backward before the rest of his body. He rolled backward down the stairs and lay on the ground, his face bleeding. Oliver had collapsed to his knees on the stairs. Abigail stooped beside him and touched his face. He looked up at her, his face full of confusion and fear. She took his sword from him and rushed down the stairs. She stood over Jonathan, who looked up at her, his eyes narrowed with hatred.
"Bitch," he sputtered. Abigail lifted the sword and plunged it into his chest. Jonathan's body twitched and he gave a low moan. Abigail withdrew the sword from his body and pointed it into the soft skin of his neck, where she cut into one side of his head right under the ear and slowly drew the sword across to the other ear. Blood poured out, the skin curling up around the edges. Jonathan coughed and choked, blood spattering Abigail's face. She stared down and watched, hate in her heart, as the life slowly left her husband's body. He lay still finally, the blood continuing to pour from his wounds. Abigail turned and crawled up the stairs to her beloved Oliver, who had been watching the entire time.
"Oliver," Abigail choked out. The slaves who had been watching stared up at Abigail in awe, a look of fright almost on their faces. "Help him!" she shouted at them. The slaves sprang into action. Abigail helped Oliver to his feet and to the bedroom as the slaves readied to help him. She watched as they skillfully fixed up the long cut that extended all the way across his stomach. When they left, she sat with him on the bed.
"I am bad luck for you," she said sadly. Oliver smiled weakly. She felt her eyes stinging with tears as she thought of all the pain she must have caused him over the past few weeks. A tear slid down her cheek and Oliver wiped it away quickly.
"What's wrong, my love?" he whispered.
"I'm so sorry," Abigail said, shaking her head, the tears coming more rapidly now. "I've caused you all this."
"It is nothing," he told her. "I would die for you and still be happy."
"Don't say that," Abigail whimpered. "I love you."
"And I you," Oliver replied, caressing her face. Zanu came into the bedroom, her face grave.
"Miss Abigail, Frederique is dead," she said. Abigail nodded.
"I know," she replied.
"They're taking out the bodies now," Zanu told her. "What would you like us to do with Jonathan's body?" Abigail had forgotten for the moment that she had indeed committed murder. She looked at Oliver, not sure what to tell Zanu.
"I'll take care of it," Oliver said. He sat up and Abigail put her hand on her shoulder.
"Are you well enough?" she asked.
"I will make a point of being so," he told her, smiling. He rose from the bed and Zanu left. Oliver lead the way downstairs where it looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened - save for Jonathan's body lying in a large pool of his own blood. The other bodies had been taken out and the place cleaned. Oliver bent down and picked the body up. Blood dripped from the body and littered the sparkling floor as he carried the body to the front door and outside. Abigail's horse, Fancy, was outside, tied to a tree. Jonathan had ridden her over.
"What are we going to do?" Abigail asked Oliver.
"We shall take the body into the woods and bury it. No one will find it," he told her, dropping the body to the ground. "We'll take the horses."
"I'll retrieve yours," Abigail offered, and headed off to the stables. She went inside and opened the gates for Oliver's favorite horse. She saddled him up and lead him back to the front of the house. Oliver picked up Jonathan's body again and slung it over the back of the horse, a black Arabian. Abigail took Fancy.
"I must fetch something," Oliver said as if he had suddenly rememebered. "I shall return." He went off around the back of the house and came back a few moments later with a shovel. He gave her a knowing look, then climbed up onto his horse. The body lay on its stomach in front of him, and he balanced the shovel over the back of Jonathan's body. Abigail climbed atop her horse and they rode off together.
"I wonder how he found us," Abigail said.
"We shall never know," Oliver told her. They rode in the direction opposite of Jonathan's house for about half an hour, then Oliver lead the way into a thick of woods. They rode several minutes in to a place where the moonlight barely made its way through the canopy of leaves above. Abigail dismounted her horse and tied her reins around a narrow tree nearby. She waited as Oliver climbed down from his horse, took the shovel, then pulled the body down, showing no respect to it. The body flopped to the ground and rolled over. Abigail smiled to herself. The fact that Jonathan was dead had not yet processed itself in her head. Oliver began to dig a hole in the ground. Abigail waited patiently as the hole grew bigger, much larger than what was needed to contain a body. Oliver stopped finally, his face glistening with sweat. Abigail rolled the body to its improper grave and it fell in. She helped Oliver fill the grave in by pushing armloads of dirt on top of the body. When the grave was filled, Abigail covered the obvious mound of dirt with leaves and rolled a log over it, to make it blend it with its surroundings more. They stood looking down at the ground where the body of Abigail's husband now lay. She could feel nothing - not hate, nor sorrow, nor fear. There was simply an infinite feeling of numbness, as if she had never known emotion at all. Silently, Abigail climbed onto Fancy and looked at Oliver, telling him with her eyes that she was ready to leave. Oliver mounted his horse and lead the way out of the thick woods. They lead the horses slowly down the dirt road which was dimly lit by the moon. As they neared the house, she saw the servants all outside the house, awaiting their return. The servants looked away from the dirt caking the clothes and faces of Oliver and Abigail.
Abigail's lithe body dismounted Fancy and she absent-mindedly handed the horse's reigns to an unfamiliar slave. She walked inside, which seemed suddenly cavernous and empty, though nothing about the house had changed. Abigail climbed the stairs and stopped outside of Oliver's bedroom, her hand poised on the doorknob. Turning, Abigail saw Oliver coming up the stairs, his eyes locked on hers. She walked away and into the bedrom which had been made for her. Zanu came in and drew a bath for her and helped her to wash up. She asked no questions. Abigail slipped into the bed which had never been slept in, not bothering to dress. A few moments later, she heard a soft knock at her door and Oliver came in. He had cleaned up and his long hair was wet, hanging in waves past his shoulders. Something about the way he moved quietly into the room awakened something inside of her. The realization of what had happened tonight hit her like one of Jonathan's familiar blows.
She could not look into Oliver's eyes. The two of them had shared the most intimate moment anyone could possible share - the murder of a man. She began to cry - another intimate thing which she had never shared with Jonathan. Oliver looked down at her, his eyes a revealing a plethora of sadness, regret, and love. He bent down and took her into his arms, lifting her from the bed. Abigail put her arms around him and buried her face into the soft and fragrant skin of his neck. Oliver carried her into his room and laid her on the bed, the petals from the flowers she had carelessly discarded hours earlier strewn across the sheets. The silky petals kissed her naked skin as did Oliver's soft lips. They made love for the second time, silent tears trailing Abigail's cheeks the whole time. Oliver tried to kiss them away, but they would not stop.
"Are you upset?" Oliver asked her after their lovemaking. They lay facing each other, their bodies intertwined.
"I'm frightened," Abigail answered him sincerely. "I have killed someone. Am I not a monster?"
"You have slain the monster," Oliver told her gently.
"And in doing so have become one myself," Abigail pressed, trying to make sense of her feelings. "I am not even sorry for what happened."
"You needn't be," Oliver told her. He took her hand and kissed the palm of it. "I shall love you regardless of what you should ever become."
"Promise me," Abigail whispered, tucking Oliver's soft dark hair behind his ear.
"I promise," said Oliver.
The next few days were spent trying as best they could to avoid the slaves and their knowing eyes. Abigail was reading a collection of poems as Oliver brushed out Fancy's mane, when Mathieu came running across the field and stopped in front of them, doubled over, struggling to catch his breath.
"Monsieur," he choked out. "The body of Monsieur Benton has been found." The servants eyes were wide with fright.
Abigail felt the blood drain from her face, and her vision became distorted as the blood pounded behind her eyes. She looked at Oliver, who was staring at Mathieu calmly. Abigail rose to her feet, the book dropping from her hand. Oliver nodded.
"Merci, Mathieu," he said softly. "You may go."
Mathieu ran off and Oliver turned his attention to Abigail, who stood shaking, her arms wrapped around her small body.
"We must leave," he told her. Abigail felt her legs give under her, and Oliver rushed forward to catch her.
"They'll find us, they'll know it was us..." she mumbled, mostly to herself. The fear that rose in her body was unbearable.
"No, Abby," Oliver reassured her. "We'll go away, to France, to England. We can even go to India. We'll see the world, as you've always wished." Abigail looked into his eyes and saw his own fear deep inside. She knew that he was trying to keep himself together for the both of them.
Abigail forced her legs to work as she followed Oliver to the house, where he packed up as much as he could into three small suitcases. He put them into a carriage and hooked up his horse and Fancy to the carriage. The servants came out and watched as the two wordlessly climbed atop the carriage and drove off. Abigail turned and looked back, seeing Margaret, Zanu and Genevieve waving sadly. She could not bear the sight and quickly turned back, her eyes straight ahead.
It seemed like weeks later when they finally reached the coast, but it had only really been four days. Oliver bought tickets for them to board an expensive ocean liner and sail to Europe. It was dusk when the monstrous, sluggish liner set sail toward the never-ending horizon. They found the suite which was to be theirs for the two week voyage. Oliver sank into a luxurious chair in the corner of the room, while Abigail stood rigidly by the door. The two had not spoken since before they left New Orleans. Abigail had scarcely even looked at Oliver.
"Abby," she heard his voice cut into her thoughts, and looked at him blankly. "Abby, come sit beside me," he said. Abigail crossed the room and sat stiffly in the chair beside him. He pulled his chair closer to hers and reached across to take her hands. Abigail quickly folded them in her lap, and looked at the floor, admiring the ornate carpeting.
"Abigail, please," Oliver pleaded. His voice sounded thick and desparate. Abigail looked at him again, seeing that his eyes were as desparate as his voice. "Won't you talk to me?"
Abigail slowly shook her head. "I'm sorry, Oliver, I..." she began, her voice rusty from disuse. She didn't know what to say to him. He looked on at her expectantly. "I don't know why I'm so upset," she sighed.
"I wish I knew how to make you happy, Abby," Oliver said imploringly.
"I could not ask for anything more than your company," Abigail smiled sadly at him. "At least I have you with me, and if I did not...."
"I shall do anything that you ask of me," Oliver offered. He came forward from his chair and kneeled in front of her. He took her hands from her lap and held them in his own. Abigail looked down at him. She knew that the unhappiness she felt was equal to that of the anguish he felt now, unable to help her. "I love you more than you'll ever know, Abigail, and I just wish that there was something I could do." Oliver's head was bowed, and Abigail felt a wetness splash onto her hand. She put her hands to his cheeks and turned his face up to her. He closed his eyes in shame, tears spilling down his face. Abigail slipped into the floor beside him, her legs curled underneath her, and she put her arms around him. She kissed the tears from his cheeks, licking the salty moisture from her lips, and squeezing him tight. They held each other for several moments, then Abigail pulled back and smiled at Oliver.
"Don't ever cry for me, Oliver," she said softly. "I'm not worth it."
Oliver smiled and picked himself up from the floor. He pulled Abigail to her feet and they sat together on the bed.
"I suppose we still don't know where we'll go when we dock in London," Abigail offered.
"Where would you like to go?" Oliver asked her. Abigail thought for a moment.
"I might like to stay in London for a bit. Then we could make our way to France and Germany and Italy. We could even go to Greece and China!" Abigail said, excitedly. She was finally getting her chance to see the world, although at the expense of other things.
"We'll see them all," Oliver promised, smiling.
"And Africa too?" Abigail asked quickly.
"Africa?" Oliver laughed and made a face. "I suppose if that's what you want."
Abigail laughed and threw her arms around him. "I love you, Oliver. And you'll love Africa, I promise."
"I would love any place in the entire world, as long as you're there with me," Oliver told her.
Abigail put on her best dress and they dined together among the other rich patrons of the ship that evening and wandered into a ball afterwards. Abigail felt tense as soon as they entered the ballroom.
"Is something the matter?" Oliver asked her. Abigail looked at him, surprised. Then she realized she had been squeezing his hand a little too tight for comfort. She chuckled at herself and relaxed.
"It is just like those horrid parties," she answered.
"We can certainly leave if you would like," Oliver offered. Abigail looked around, considering the possibilities. Although the ball was quite a bit like the parties Jonathan used to drag her to, the people here all seemed to be enjoying themselves and the music was very merry.
"Let's stay," she smiled. "I should like a dance." She put her hand out to Oliver. He took it, smiled, and bent, kissing it. They walked onto the dance floor and put their arms around each other. They fell into step with the other dancing couples and waltzed around the floor.
"It has been so long since I have actually danced," Abigail smiled, enjoying the exhilaration of the music and the rush with which Oliver carried her across the floor. The waltz ended and they stepped off of the dance floor and stood against the mirrored wall of the ballroom, their arms around each other.
"Are you happy?" Oliver asked her, his warm hands massaging her bare arms.
Abigail smiled. "I am," she told him sincerely. "And you, my love?"
"I have never been more so," Oliver said.
"I'm glad," Abigail whispered. They shared a kiss and she smiled at him devilishly. "I shall race you ro the room." And with that, she took off through the middle of the dance floor, holding her skirt up, laughing. Oliver was right on her heels as they tore through the dancing couples who threw them annoyed glances and angry shouts. Oliver grabbed Abigail around her waist and lifted off her feet. Abigail squealed as he spun her around in his arms, pressing his face close to hers. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her from the ballroom and to the grand staircase.
"Sir!" called a voice from the bottom of the stairs. Oliver turned around and gently set Abigail on her feet.
"Yes?" Oliver called to the man. He was, by his dress, obviously one of the crew. The man mounted the stairs toward them.
"You should see that you not attend any more of the events for the privileged patrons of the ship, unless you can act as one," the man said smugly. He raised an eyebrow and looked them over.
"Certainly," Oliver smiled genially. The man walked away, his hands clasped behind him back. Oliver and Abigail looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"I feel like we're children together again," Abigail giggled.
"Are we not?" Oliver joked. He lifted her again and carried her upstairs to the suite where they made love.
They spent the next two weeks enjoying little but each other's company. They roamed the decks of the ship, exploring areas not meant for the passengers. They were finally expelled from upper-class activities and were made to take dinner with the lower-class passengers in a separate dining room, where they both found it much more comfortable and fun in such an atmosphere. The ship was to dock the next morning. They spent the night on the deck, talking all night and reading to each other pages from Abigail's poem book. They saw England in the distance as the sun was coming up, and held each other, watching as the coast became more clear by the moment.
"Our new life," Oliver whispered, kissing her hair. Abigail smiled up at him. They walked hand-in-hand to their suite and packed up everything.
"Oliver?" Abigail said as they sat across from each other in the armchairs, waiting for the ship to dock.
"Yes, my love?" Oliver responded.
"I want to apologize to you for the way I behaved after leaving New Orleans," Abigail told him. She sighed. "I was frightened, and I did not want to leave my friends and my father. It is not that I blamed you for our crime for one second. Quite the opposite, Oliver, I want to thank you very much for helping me through this ordeal. You could have left me as a monster for committing murder, but you stayed with me." Abigail smiled at him.
"It is nothing, Abigail. I would dream of nothing else," Oliver assured her. "I would bury ten thousand bodies for you, if that would insure your love of me." They embraced each other as a member of the crew came down the hallway outside, knocking on the doors and shouting that the ship had docked. Oliver gathered their belongings and they walked up the staircase to the deck, where they took their place in a crowd of people waiting to exit the ship.
"Look at it, Oliver," Abigail said, smiling excitedly to herself. The port was a bustle of people shopping, working, trying to make their way through the crowd. Horses and carriages forced pathways through the legions of people. Great soot-stained brick buildings dominated the background of the activity. Oliver smiled down at her, glad for her happiness. "I love it already," Abigail added. They made their way down the single-file exit ramp where a group of police guards stood, observing the passengers upon exit. It took Abigail a moment to realize why the officers seemed so out of place - they were dressed in American uniforms, not those of the British officers.
Oliver and Abigail walked on, giving the officers not so much as a glance, when one of the officers grabbed Oliver rougly by the arm.
"Oliver Burns from New Orleans," one of the men said. "Are you not?" Oliver furrowed his brow and started to speak. The officers grabbed Oliver and clapped handcuffs around his wrists, then pulled him off to the side, out of the way of the other passengers. Abigail recognized the officers as some she had seen around New Orleans.
"What is the meaning of this?" Oliver asked, shooting a worried glance at Abigail. Abigail looked about them nervously.
"You, sir, are under arrest for the murder of Mister Jonathan Benton," one of the officers said. "We have it under good authority that you were involved."
"No!" Abigail cried. Oliver looked at her helplessly.
"And Mister Benton's missing wife," another of the officers remarked. People milled around their small group, bumping them carelessly. A few people had stopped to stare.
"His missing wife and his murderer!" Abigail shouted at the officers.
"No, Abigail," Oliver warned.
"Was this man not your accomplice?" one of the men asked her. Oliver stood facing her, held back by the officers.
"He has done nothing to warrant an arrest," Abigail told them.
"And you, madam, dug a seven foot hole in the thicket by yourself in which to dispose of the body?" one asked smartly. Abigail looked about herself at the officers, disbelief and defeat writing itself in her features.
"I am the one you want," Abigail pleaded, ignoring her lover's remark. "I am the murderer, not Oliver!"
"She is lying," Oliver said to the officers. The officers looked at each other, trying to decide what to do. One of them grabbed Abigail by her wrist.
"We shall take you as well, then, adulterer," he sneered. "We shall find some good use for you," he said nastily, leaning in close to her face and touching her cheek. Abigail turned her face away. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she looked at Oliver pitifully.
"Free her, men. She has done nothing save for escape an evil man," Oliver offered. "I have done a favor for the lady by taking revenge upon such an evil creature," he explained.
"Nonetheless, you have committed a crime and will be so punished," an officer said. Abigail's legs gave out underneath her as she sobbed. An officer grabbed either of her arms and held her up.
"Let us go to the prison," one of them said in annoyance. The crowds parted in a path as the officers carried off the two criminals to the prisonhouse. The officers removed the cuffs from Oliver's arms and shoved him roughly into a small cell, locking the door behind him. They dropped Abigail onto a stone bench outside of the cell, knowing she would not go anywhere. She sat with her back to the bars of Oliver's cell, watching as the American officers conversed with the local ones, explaining the crime. A thousand nameless feelings trained through her mind as she listened to their conversation. She thought of the way all of their plans had been so quickly foiled. She would never see Africa, but she no longer cared.
"Abigail," she heard Oliver calling her name. She ignored him and he repeated her name. She felt his touch on her shoulders, but pulled away. One of the American officers approached her and stood in front of her, his arms crossed.
"Mr. Benton should fancy hearing about your discovery," he sneered. Abigail looked up at him. "The most famous lawyer in all of the South was your father-in-law. It is quite a shame that it was his own son that your lover has murdered." The officer laughed, then leaned close to her. "Perhaps we can work something out."
Abigail narrowed her eyes and her lips curled in disgust as she pulled back a hand to smack him across the cheek. He grabbed her arm and pulled her up from the bench.
"I should take that as a refusal, then?" he asked, his face inches from hers.
"You should take it as an invitation to rot in hell," Abigail snarled. The officer pulled her roughly through the main room of the prison and through a thick wooden door near Oliver's cell. Inside the room, which was apparently a break room of sorts, the officer pulled a knife from its sheath on his belt. He pushed Abigail backwards onto a wooden table and lifted her skirts, tearing her underclothes and first violating her roughly with his fingers. He pulled his own pants down and raped her violently, holding the knife's edge against the milky skin of her throat. After the foul man released inside of her, he took the knife and slid it inside of her. Abigail cried out, but dared not to move. The officer twisted the knife inside her most delicate area and pulled it out, watching the blood flow freely and soak her skirts. He released her and dressed himself, then tossed her carelessly from the table. Abigail lay on the dirt of the floor, sobbing in physicaly and emotional pain.
It must have been three hours later when another man entered the room and kneeled in front of her crumpled body.
"Are you alright, madam?" the man asked. He was a British officer with kind eyes and a gentle tone to his lilting voice. Abigail looked at the man with an expression of great pain. "I do apologize for the officer's behavior. I have never taken a fancy to Americans, myself," the officer said, forcing a laugh.
"Please leave me be," Abigail choked out.
"I am the only one left here," the officer said. "The others have gone home for the evening. You may come out, if you wish. Your lover is inquiring about you quite earnestly." He stood and held out a hand for her, which she refused and stood of her own accord. Abigail followed the officer from the small room, noticing the stickiness of the blood between her legs and the stiffness of it on her skirts. Oliver was standing, pressed against the bars, obviously awaiting her re-entrance to the prison house. Abigail avoided meeting his eyes, seeing the incredible worry which etched his features in the moonlight.
"Have a seat, madam. Would you like anything?" the officer asked as Abigail took a seat back on the bench. Abigail barely shook her head. The officer nodded and took a seat in the chair behind the desk and commenced to reading by candlelight.
"Abigail," Oliver called to her. "My love, please speak to me."
Abigail turned to him. She said nothing, but put her arms through the bars to touch him. She caressed his face. Oliver took her hands and held them tight in his own.
"I was so worried for you," he whispered. Their faces were pressed against the bars, their foreheads slightly touching. "He told everyone what he did." Abigail obliged to his gentle caresses when she could take it no longer. She withdrew her arms from his cell and crossed the small office to the British officer. He closed his book and looked up at her curiously.
"Would you like something, madam?" he asked.
"I should just like to hold him in my arms. I may not get the chance again," Abigail said softly to the man. He hesitated in rising from his chair, but did so, and took a ring of keys from underneath the desk and walked to Oliver's cell. He stopped outside the door and picked out a single key from the dozens on the ring.
"I lost my one love just a few months ago, madam," the man said sadly. He unlocked the door to Oliver's cell and slid it open. Abigail rushed inside and threw herself into Oliver's waiting arms. She squeezed him as tightly as she could, while he held her gently, yet strongly in his own arms.
"Oliver, I love you. I need you, I cannot live without you," she whimpered. Oliver rubbed her back and stroked her hair soothingly.
"I shall never leave you," he whispered. The officer stood outside the cell watching.
"I am going to step outside and take a smoke. I shall step around the corner and occupy myself with something in the direction of the harbor. There is a horse outside as well. I know not who he belongs to," he said softly. He looked at Abigail with a knowing look, and turned to leave. Abigail and Oliver looked at each other, knowing what the man was giving to them. They walked out of the cell and further out of the prison, where they saw the officer walking down the street toward the harbor. There was a brown horse tied up to the outside of the prison. Oliver silently mounted the horse and held his hand out. Abigail took it and he pulled her atop the horse.
"Tell me, Abigail, where shall we go?" Oliver whispered in her ear as he drove the horse of into the direction opposite of the harbor.
"Anywhere," Abigail replied, the pain eating away at her inside. "Anywhere but here."
They rode for several days straight, stopping for nothing but a drink of water every now and then. They had seen nothing of civilization for a long while. Abigail believed it might be best that they stay as far away from civilization as possible. They continued southward, having no clue as to their place on the map. One day they happened upon a thicket of woods which went on for days. Here, they stopped and set up a small camp alongside a wide river. Months passed, the two of them living happily in solitude. Oliver hunted and brought them food everyday. Abigail's health had begun to decline since leaving home. She had recurring coughing fits and often had the taste of blood in her mouth, but she never told Oliver of these problems. He couldn't afford any more worries.
"Are you sure that you will be alright?" Oliver asked. Abigail was resigned to the bed inside the crude house which Oliver had built for them.
"But you must go," Abigail insisted. She struggled to sit upright in bed. Oliver had not checked the traps in days. Oliver had refused to eat, forcing her to finish what food they had left. Oliver sighed and kissed her. He rose from her bedside reluctantly.
"I shall hurry," he said. "I love you."
"I love you, Oliver," Abigail smiled and he left. She listened to the sound of the horse's hooves retreating into the forest, and picked up her favorite book of poems, ignoring the dull pain in her abdomen. An hour passed, and Oliver returned. The pain had made itself more prominent within her body, and she was glad for Oliver's company. He came and sat with her in the bed and took her in his arms.
"How do you feel?" he whispered.
"I have never felt better," she lied, smiling. She hated to worry Oliver, as he was so easily worried. Oliver kissed her forehead and he read over her shoulder. Abigail felt the strength suddenly drain from her body and the book slipped from her hands. Her body fell backwards into Oliver's and he looked down upon her, frightened.
"Abigail!" he cried. He slipped out from behind her. Abigail began to cough uncontrollably and felt something like a small explosion inside her abdomen. Oliver called her name again, his eyes full of fear. He knelt beside the bed and pulled her close to him again. Abigail started to tremble. Something thick and metallic welled up in her throat. She put her hand to her mouth and coughed into it, tasting the metallic wetness on her tongue. Looking at her hands, she saw blood spattered thickly on them. Oliver's eyes were wide and glistened in the dim light. He jumped to his feet and ran from the house, returning just a few seconds later with a pail of water. He ripped off his shirt and dipped it into the water, dabbing it to her face. Abigail began to cough again. Such a fit had never seized her with such strength. They were often simple enough to hide from Oliver, even.
"Oliver..." she gasped, reaching out to touch his face. She left smears of blood on his cheeks, but he took her hand and held it against his face.
"Abby, please," he whispered, his voice thick with tears.
"Oliver, I'll be okay. This happens...all the time," she choked out.
"Abby, don't lie to me, please. What can I do?" he asked, desparate. Abigail shook her head and forced a smile. Her arms shook as she wrapped them around Oliver's neck and pulled him close.
"Don't leave me," she whispered. Her pulse was quickening, her breath shortening.
"I'll never leave you," Oliver promised, his face inches from hers. His tears dripped onto her face as he wiped the blood from her lips.
"I'm sorry that I haven't told you of my illness," she said.
"No, no, no," Oliver repeated, shaking his head and looking into her eyes. "You aren't sick, you're fine, you'll be alright." Abigail began to cry. Seeing Oliver in such pain and in such denial was too much for her.
"Abby, please. Please don't leave me," he sobbed. Abigail tasted the thick blood as it filled her mouth, and felt the warmth trickle down the side of her face. Oliver wiped it away quickly, as though doing so would erase the problem.
"I'm not going anywhere," Abigail whispered. She believed this, thinking that this was simply another fit which would pass. Their hands met between their bodies and Abigail squeezed his as tight as she could, which wasn't very tight at the moment. She felt her body weakening again, and her hand slipped from his. She began to breathe very slowly.
"No," Oliver said again, as he felt her body lose its strength. Abigail felt numbness beginning to creep through her limbs.
"I love you, Oliver," she struggled to say.
"No, Abby, don't say those goodbyes!" he shouted. Abigail could no longer hear his words, and her eyes closed slowly. Soon after, her breathing ceased, as did her heartbeat. Oliver continued to hold her in his arms, though he knew there was nothing more to be done. He closed his eyes and sobbed, crushing her limp body to his own.
"Abby," he whispered. He laid her down and kissed her eyelids, then stayed beside the bed for a long while, holding her slowly chilling hands in his.
He finally rose silently, and quit the house. He took the reigns from the horse, and configured them into a sort of knot. He re-entered the house and looped the reigns around a beam hanging from the ceiling of the Abigail's resting place. Underneath the makeshift noose, Oliver set the pail. He gave Abigail's cold lips one last kiss, and stepped atop the pail. With shaking hands, he slipped the noose over his head, while at the same time, looking down at Abigail, his vision clouded. He sighed, never taking his eyes off of his love as he stepped forward.