Monday, February 21, 2011



William Thomas Compton, known to his family and friends as Billy, opened his sleepy blues eyes long before the first rays of the morning's sun began to slip through the curtained windows of his room.  He lay there for a moment, reveling in the enjoyment of a nice warm bed.  It was a cold and chilly morning, but already he could hear the sounds of his mother, sister and Delilah the house slave downstairs making preparations for the morning meal.  The strong smell of morning coffee came drifting up the stairs.  He stretched out his wirey, muscular frame and gave a great sigh of contentment before resigningly tossing back the thick, downy quilt on his bed.  The heavy woolen undersuit made by his mother felt good against his still warm skin as he made his way over to the porcelain urinal that was kept under the oak washstand.  As he began to think about what would be taking place later in the evening he began to smile.

 It had been a late harvest of the cotton this year.  Late summer rains had delayed the picking, but finally it was done and had been taken to the cotton warehouse, where it would be weighed and packed into massive bales and stored until it could be take to Monroe. Usually these matters were of great interest to Billy, he had always found it to be fascinating.  He loved to accompany his father to Monroe, where he would stand and watch as these massive mounds of fluffy whiteness were loaded onto mule drawn wagons and driven down to the docks along the Ouachita River and loaded onto barges by strong, muscular dark skinned men, all the while singing in a rhythmic chant that seemed to come from a sacred place.   Soon these barges would meet up with the Black River and eventually the mighty Mississippi, destined for cotton mills all over the south.  But this morning William Thomas Compton had other matters on his mind.   The annual Cotton Harvest Cottilion would be taking place at the Bellefluer mansion tonight.  And it was all he could think about.  For tonight was the night he intended on making his intentions known to Miss Caroline Holiday. 

Billy had known Caroline Holiday for most of her life.  She had grown up on a neighboring plantation and their fathers were great friends.  He and Tolliver Humphries had both vied for her attention since she was very small and they were mischievous, gangly lads.   He laughed and shook his head as he remembered the times he and Tolliver had gotten into scraps while coming home from school in an attempt to impress Caroline.  But there was no doubt which one Caroline Holiday had her eye on.  For from the very start, when she was but a small girl and Billy and his family had visited her home for a summer barbeque and she had looked into those brillant blue eyes as he had handed her a beautiful little calico kitten, she had lost her heart. 

Later, after Billy had dressed in his usual work clothes and was seated at the family table enjoying a wonderful breakfast of hot cakes with freshly churned butter and sugar cane syrup, thick slices of pan seared sugar cured ham, fried eggs and all the hot, strong chicory coffee he could handle, he suddenly found it difficult to swallow.  He needed to speak with father about his intentions, but for some reason the idea of just uttering the words out loud made him feel like his throat had begun to close.  Finally, after a second cup of coffee he heard himself blurt out the words "Father, I would very much like to discuss something with you."   It was said in such a manner as to cause his mother to look over at him and asked "Billy, my sweet, are you feeling alright?  You certainly have not had much to say this morning. You're not taking ill, are you?"  "No mother, I am fine.  I.....I just have something on my mind"  replied Billy nervously.  His father looked over at his son and smiled to himself. 

Later that morning, standing in the study with his father, Billy struggled to find the right words.  He had always been a very quiet and reflective young man.  He always thought long and carefully before he spoke and was always careful to keep him emotions in check.  And now, he searched and struggled to find the right words.  With an almost embarrassed voice, he heart himself say "Father, I am in love.  I intend to speak with Francis Holiday tonight.  I want to ask for the hand of Caroline.  I want her to become my wife."  The elder Mr. Compton smiled his gentle smile and said, "well son, I think that's a splendid idea.  You know your mother and I have always held the Holidays in great regard.  I consider Francis to be one of my closest friends.  I think I can speak for you mother when I say that we would be delighted to welcome Caroline into our family." 

Billy stood and looked at his relfection in the long, oval shaped mirror.  Earlier, after a long soaking bath in the enamel hip bath, he had dressed in a clean union suit.  They weren't quite as warm as the woolens his mother made for him, but they didn't make one feel the constant need to scratch.  About a year ago he and his father had purchased him a new suit while in Monroe.  It was a splendid suit with britches the color of mahogany, a white shirt with ruffles decorating the front and cuffs.  To top it off was a splendid coat of deep forest green, made in the split-tail style of the day, Black velvet adorned the lapels and collar.  The finishing touch was black silk tie and long black leather boots, shined to perfection.   Outside he could hear Minus, the outside slave, as he softly spoke to the matching team of black bays who were impatiently waiting to begin the journey.

Billy was a nervous mass of nerves as the berlin carriage pulled up to the front of the Bellefluer home.  He immediately jumped down, offering his hand to his mother and sister to assist them.  "Thank you Billy" said his mother.  She gave him a gentle smile as she and Julia walked up to the front door.  The Bellefluer house looked magnificent.  It was decorated beautifully for the party.  Billy could heart the strains of The Last Rose of Summer as couples twirled all about the ballroom, swirling in a dizzy haze of giddiness.  For a minute, Billy didn't see her.  His face grew anxious as his blue eyes quickly searched the room.  What if she were ill?  What if she had been called away for some reason or another?  Then, from the corner of his left eye he saw her.  There she was, standing by a window talking with his friend Tolliver Humphries.  William Thomas Compton quickly, and with great purpose, made his way through the laughing, spinning crowd of dancers as his eyes never left her face.  She was his and tonight the entire world would know.