Island of the Red Mangroves
Island of the Red Mangroves
W e really should not be supporting this ..."
Lady Lucille Hornby-Warrington dourly looked out from the open carriage at the sunny summer day. There wasn't much to see aside from the roads between the Hollister and Fortnam plantations, which were dusty and lined with sugarcane plants. Some of the reed-like grasses were up to twenty feet tall and the streets looked like freshly cut swathes through the lush greenery. The lady was inescapably bored. Lord Warrington, her husband, was more interested, appraising the height and circumference of the plants. After all, the income brought in from the plantation that he managed for his wife's uncle also came from sugarcane and it looked like this year's harvest was going to be good. Warrington seemed to be in a significantly better mood than his wife.
"You can't be serious," he replied to the lady with a touch of mockery in his voice. "Miss a feast at the Fortnams' because the occasion doesn't suit you? May I remind you that Nora and Doug have the best cook in the area, keep the most beautiful ballroom, and always hire the most talented musicians? And the girl is also quite charming."
"The girl is a half-breed," his wife replied with a pinched face. "A mulatto. Such a thing belongs in the slave quarters. One doesn't just raise her as the 'daughter' of the house and have a great celebration for her 'coming of age.' But Doug Fortnam acts as if the conception and rearing of this bastard is some brilliant achievement!"
Warrington smiled. Lord Hollister, Lucille's uncle, was well known for siring bastards with black slaves. Lucille and her aunt looked past the fact that the Hollister plantation was actually populated with dozens of her cousins and half-cousins. Even their coachman Jimmy had some resemblance to the plantation owner, who had retired to his townhouse in Kingston several years ago. He left the plantation to Lucille's husband after having adopted the young woman, who came from the destitute Hornby family of civil servants. Lord Hollister hadn't had any children with his wife. Doug and Nora Fortnam, on the other hand, had two younger sons in addition to today's debutante.
"Is the girl not actually Nora's illegitimate daughter?" Lord Warrington asked.
He still hadn't entirely sorted out the situation at Cascarilla Gardens, even though he had already been living next door for five years with Lucille. But the Fortnams did not keep close contact with their neighbors. They were polite and invited them to parties from time to time, but they were not seeking out friendships. The other planters also kept more distance from the owners of Cascarilla Gardens. Doug and Nora Fortnam had a very outlandish way of dealing with their black plantation workers. Although they kept slaves like everyone else in Jamaica, they hardly ever employed white overseers; they gave their slaves more days off than the others; and they set up a system with a sort of self-governance under the leadership of a black foreman.
Initially, the neighbors had expected the whole thing to turn into a disaster. After all, everyone knew that the blacks were lazy and often violent if not kept under strict control. Nonetheless, Cascarilla Gardens flourished despite the owner's unconventional style of leadership. In fact, it was among the richest plantations in Jamaica, which made many of the other planters envy Doug. What he saved on salaries for overseers alone! However, no one would even think about taking on his model for his own plantation.
Lady Warrington exhaled sharply. "All the worse!" she said. Unlike her husband, she remembered the details quite well. "Well, it wasn't Miss Nora's fault, she had been kidnapped and ... and one of the men was probably violent with her ... but that's exactly why! Who wants to keep the ... the fruit of such a misfortune around?"
Warrington shrugged. He also found the whole situation di