from NO GENTLE BONDAGE
With a peremptory gesture she had fitted her hand over his right arm, and he, realising her intention, gave way to a commencement of their languorous perambulations along the quay. En Jon was impressed to see what a fine lady Kate looked, once removed from her nautical raiment. She was now attired in a lavishly tinted gown of violet silk, cut in a style which pre-empted the post French Revolutionary mode, low upon the bosom with tuckers beneath so that the main shift fell fluidly to the hem, under which was exposed a froth of mauve petticoat. The scarf tied over her shoulders and concealing in part, the bosom, was but the flimsiest excuse and even in En Jon’s brief visual reconnoitre he could see that even this part of her anatomy was toasted a becoming, light golden hue. Upon her head, she wore a cocked hat of light coloured straw, with a large white ostrich plume bowing to her left shoulder.
Her hair had been piled up and away from her forehead, but a few stray curls had been allowed to fan over her brow. He had found it difficult to assess her age previously, for she seemed to have an aura of perpetual youthfulness and even as he stole occasional glances at her, on this morning, she appeared at times to be no more than seventeen and at others a woman of mature years.
Abu had been some few minutes swirling the cooling waters about his body, when the urge to submerge himself and his scorching, fire-tingling back into the river became even more immediately demanding. Slipping the trousers from his body, he placed them to one side.
He was in, not caring about all the ugly rumours he had heard concerning the fate of shirking slaves, nor mindful particularly of the myriad legends he had heard, concerning the venomous, dangerous creatures said to inhabit the river and its banks The mood he was in just then, should he be bitten and the bite prove fatal, so much the more would he like it. Anything would be preferable to the life he had inherited, standing, toiling, day after day, from dawn until dusk, in the broiling heat of the plantation fields. He smiled as he floated upon the cool waters, looking at the blue perfection of the cloudless sky overhead. He saw the shaking murmur of foliage, the lifting of a cloud of butterflies, the darting of bright plumaged birds. Love for Nature in all her aspects and guises, flooded upon him in a wave of irrepressible emotion. Tears formed and fell down to unite with the waters which supported him. He would be nigh on willing to barter his soul for a measure more of freedom.
Little did Abu/Eli know it then, but solutions can be found to most problems, prayers answered, one way or another. Yet, for everything there has to be a price.
He did not see the shadow falling beside his discarded clothing by the water’s edge, nor hear the gentle swish of clothes as they were dropped to the ground. The first he was aware that he was not alone was a sudden movement behind him in the waters. Fearful now that some crocodile or other carnivorous reptile or beast might be about to devour him, he flipped over onto his stomach, his eyes for a fraction blinded by the shaded green of the river’s surface.
“What? You afraid of something, slave? Not of a white lady surely?” Mara Sadler, striking out, was headed, sleek and white like a shark, to where he paddled water. Although he was by no means conversant with the English language, he knew enough, coupled with the picture which was here being presented, to know that this scenario could mean certain, painful death to him. He began to swim away from his pursuer. But she was having none of it.
“You're a shirking slave, big black boy, and the penalty for shirking can be mighty tough – it could, for instance,” she sought a fresh intake of air, “have you whipped within an inch or so of your life.”
Her tawny, tiger's eyes, were following his movements with a greedy malevolence. With a thrust, she had propelled herself through the water and clasped her naked arms about his powerful neck.
“Missy; Mistress! I beg of you to let me go, do not do this thing. Yes Missy, you must not!”
“Why not slave, blackmail, why not? No one here is going to see, and if they does, what of it? They don't want to tell an’ git trouble for theyselves.”
Abu/Eli, fascinated by her wanton disregard, and likewise the fluorescent sheen to her yellow eyes, was backing towards the gentle incline up the river bank. Mara Sadler stopped her pursuit of the errant slave and stood, hands on hips, laughing with a low, guttural sound, at his actions. Embarrassed, Abu/Eli tried to cover his nakedness, then with fleet footsteps, he scooped his trousers from the ground and pushed his torso into them. He began to run from the scene. He glimpsed Mara as she emerged, stark naked, from the river, still laughing, tossing her unbound hair in a silent red-gold frenzy about her face. He was quite convinced that the white missy was crazy.
For her part, Mara thought that the black slave was himself crazy for having refused her invitation. Others, as she recalled, hadn’t been so reticent. The remembrance irked her. She’d bring him to heel yet, so she would. Swiftly, she redonned her clothes, squashing the hat over her hair. She retraced her footsteps to where she had hidden her pony. Her thoughts as she made her way, genuinely this time, towards her home, were upon her sister Ann’s sudden betrothal. Well, that was two ‘grand’ occasions her Papa had cheated her of. She wondered if she should get a chance to see her sister before Ann sailed for England.