Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls #3) by Martha Hall Kelly



Chapter


            1


            Mary Woolsey





            Charleston, South Carolina

            1859

            No one suspected the blond boy’s cargo as he drove his crude pony cart through the streets of Charleston.

            Mother, my younger sister Georgy, and I had come to South Carolina by the invitation of Pastor Cox at the African Free Church for a two-day stay. We’d stepped out the previous morning past the mansion houses and palmetto trees, the atmosphere so gentle and refined, to make our daily calls and leave Mother’s ecru cards on the silver trays.

            Mrs. Charles Woolsey, 8 Brevoort Place, New York City.

            Certainly nothing forced itself unpleasantly on our attention, but every black face in the street or greeting us so kindly at a front door reminded us of the system of slavery so robust there and strengthened our resolve to continue the fight.

            Upon our walk home from Sunday services, the scent of crape myrtle in the air, a boy driving a pony cart drew up beside us dressed in a clean white shirt and homespun trousers. His rear wheel in disrepair, it bumped with every rotation, keeping his rate of speed not much greater than ours.

            “We find ourselves a bit lost,” Mother called to the boy. “Can you guide us to the Charleston Hotel?”

            “I’m going that way, ma’am. Will point you there.”

                         I warmed to his southern accent, a good-natured boy, milk-skinned, twelve years old or so, yellow hair shining in the sun. That brought to mind my own towheaded daughters, left back at the hotel with our friend Mrs. Wolcott, who no doubt stood near the door waiting for my return. Though we’d been gone less than two hours I missed them terribly as well.

            “Where do you live?” Mother asked the boy.

            “Here and there.” He set his face toward the sun. “You? Sound like a Virginian.”

            Mother smiled, happy when someone recognized her accent from her former home. “Indeed I am. Left there when I was a girl but suppose I still speak with a trace of it. Live in New York City now. We are here as the guests of Pastor Cox at the African church. Do you know him?”

            “No, ma’am.”

            We walked along, the only sound the thump of the broken wheel.

            “It was a lovely celebration of the Eucharist,” Mother said. “Over three hundred celebrants.”

            He turned and smiled. “Bet you was the only white folks there.”

            “Yes. But we were welcomed quite enthusiastically.”

            “Once, my ma had me in church every Sunday. She’s dead now.”

            The boy pulled a piece of bread from a tin lunch bucket at his feet, took one bite, turned and slipped the rest under the tarp.

            “Do you attend school?” Mother asked.

            “No, ma’am. No school’d take the likes of me.”

            “I doubt that very much,” Georgy said.

            My attention was drawn to the back bed of the cart and the slightest movement beneath the tarp there.

            “Where are you headed?” I asked.

            He pointed to a white building up ahead. “The mart. Go every Sunday. Make my rounds on Saturday, come here the next day, so my stock’s fresh.”