The Dead Skunk

Winter Games (4)
In 1835, the Tertium Quids had at long last come into their own as the alternative to the establishment Democratic-Republicans—in most parts of the nation. But in the Carolinas, they themselves were the establishment. That North and South Carolina were the only two states that still had property qualifications for voting was both a cause and an effect of the Quids’ success there. This meant that the anti-establishment spirit of the mid-1830s, which the Quids profited so greatly from elsewhere, gave them no benefit. In South Carolina, the planters’ hold on power remained secure, but in North Carolina it was a different story.

The North Carolina state constitutional convention began on June 4. The population of the western half of the state—less suitable to plantation agriculture than the eastern half—had been growing steadily since the turn of the century, to the point where the Piedmont was now more populous than the eastern counties, even leaving out the western counties. However, there were 38 counties in the east and 31 counties in the west, and representation in the General Assembly was for the most part apportioned by county (the exceptions being the representatives from the towns large enough to be designated as boroughs) and the governor was elected by the Assembly, not the population. Now, with the town of Salem becoming a major railroad junction and Yadkin and Swannanoa wines becoming both more popular and more widely available, the people of the west had both numbers and money behind them, and were ready to claim their due representation.

The General Assembly had not been blind to the issue. In December of 1834, with Nathaniel Macon ineligible for another term[1], the General Assembly had voted to elect David Lowry Swain of western Buncombe County as governor, after he reluctantly switched from the moribund state Democratic-Republican Party to the Tertium Quid Party.[2] They soon found that changing his political affiliation had not changed his politics. As governor, he was a constant advocate for a branch of the U.S. National University, more schools and more railroads. Only in the last did he achieve success within his own term of office, establishing the eastern portion of the route that the Raleigh & Mississippi Railroad would one day take. He also called for an expansion of the franchise to all white male citizens.

Thus, slavery was not the only issue at stake. Indeed, no one at the convention was—or at least, would publicly admit to being—anti-slavery. However, ever since the Savannah Fire, there were those willing to make the case that some forms of slavery were more dangerous than others, and that small farmers, vintners and businessmen should not be asked to shoulder the risks that large-scale plantation slavery imposed on the community. News from abroad, of the Malê revolt and other uprisings in Brazil and the rebellion against the mita in Honduras and Nicaragua[3], drove home this point.

The Salem Tribune spoke for many in its April 5 editorial, which began with a sugary panegyric to small-scale slavery:


“The slave on the family farm knows and loves his master. Like a faithful hound or a good son, he shares in his master’s fortunes and misfortunes, sleeping under the same roof and eating from the same kitchen. Over the course of his daily work, he must turn his hand to many tasks, both inside and outside the home, and not a day ends but he can see how his master’s life and his own are the better for his labors—the chicken he killed served for supper, the grain growing heavy in the fields he weeded. He would never countenance harm to the home in which he lives, or the family that cares for him.”

Its assessment of slave life on plantations was more realistic:

“How different is the lot of a field hand on the great plantation! He knows no companionship but that of his fellow slaves; rarely catches a glimpse of any white face save the grim countenance of the overseer; knows his master only as a remote figure in the Big House, whose joys and leisures he shares no part of; and sees the fruit of all his labors stacked, baled and shipped to destinations of which he knows nothing. How easily his mind may be twisted to mischief and rebellion! And how much more easily when his owner is not a man, however distant, but an institution—a bank headquartered in far Philadelphia!”

The risk of rebellion was not the only concern of western counties. The Tribune pointed out in its May 24 editorial that “where a plantation owner may hire out a dozen slaves and not feel the loss in the operations of his own property, there is little work to be found for the free white laborer.” This tied the issue of slavery to the issue of property requirements on voting—if a North Carolinian was not already a landowner or homeowner, competition with slaves would make it much harder for him to earn enough money to purchase it.

The proposed solution in the west was not to abolish slavery, but to constrain it—to place limits on the number of slaves that any one home or business could own. In May, Swain’s own home of Buncombe County was the first to limit each household or business to five slaves.

To former Tertium Quid presidential candidate Nathaniel Macon, the 77-year-old “first of the Romans” who had been chosen to preside over the 1835 convention, this was anathema. He accused Buncombe County of seeking to “trample upon the rights of successful white men” and sought to include provisions in the new constitution that would forbid local governments from passing such ordinances.

At this point, Swain chose to intervene in the convention process:


“It is Macon and his allies who seek to interfere with the right of white men to secure the well-being of their families, homes, and livelihoods… None here dispute that a man’s house is his property, nor that gunpowder is a necessity; yet if a man seeks to store gunpowder by the ton in his townhouse, what do we say to him? We say, ‘No, sir, you may not do that. You may not jeopardize the lives and property of your neighbors.’ And the rebellious slave possesses initiative and intent which makes him a greater threat to white men’s lives than ten times his weight in powder.”[4]

Swain also weighed in on the issue of universal white male suffrage: “The rich are well-equipped to tend to their own affairs, and have many means to recover from life’s disasters. It is the poor who most need representation in this government.” Representatives of the western counties rallied behind him, with some threatening to secede to Tennessee unless their demands were met.

In the convention, Swain’s views on suffrage prevailed, although the eastern counties insisted on removing the suffrage from free blacks regardless of property.[5] Macon’s push to prevent counties from limiting slavery (which he ultimately lost) made the convention drag on a month after other issues were settled. The convention adjourned on August 15[6], with everyone exhausted and Macon visibly ill. He died two weeks later[7].

The mood when the Assembly reconvened was bitter. Many blamed Macon’s death on the stress and acrimony of the convention, and were less inclined to cooperate with Governor Swain on other matters—and as the Assembly was more powerful than the governor’s office even under the new constitution, this doomed his hopes of accomplishing anything for the remainder of his term. On October 26, Swain announced that he was founding a new party. He outlined its platform, which was not markedly different from that of the Populists—except in one respect. Where the Populist party favored the “diminution and ultimate abolition of slavery, in such time and by such means as may not be injurious to the body politic,” Swain’s new party favored reforming the Peculiar Institution, encouraging limits on the number of slaves and Black Code-style laws to protect them—hence the name “Reform Party.” He was joined not only by the few Democratic-Republicans, but by a third of the Quids in the Assembly…

Charles Cerniglia, The Road to the Troubles: The American South, 1800-1840


[1] By state law, the governor was elected to two-year terms, and no one could serve more than three years within a six-year period.
[2] IOTL he was elected two years earlier, as a Whig. (And yes, at this point NC governors were elected by the Assembly, not the voters.)
[3] Naturally, there is great debate among historians as to whether this one should count. Cerniglia is here treating it as a sort of honorary slave rebellion.
[4] This isn’t a reductio ad absurdum—remember those illegal gunpowder stockpiles in Savannah? One of the effects of the big fire was that towns and cities across the U.S. are cracking down on those.
[5] The 1835 convention IOTL kept the property requirements AND disenfranchised free blacks. Because of course it did.
[6] It adjourned on July 11 IOTL.
[7] He died in 1837 IOTL.
 
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I feel like this is drop of water in a rapidly filling glass. Not enough to tip it over, but certainly adding to the fact it's going to be full sooner or later. Slavery being limited is certainly a good thing, but there's a strong possibility that there'll be backlash, especially with it being linked more to the upper class with events like this.
 
Well, this is interesting. Seems possible Slavery might gradually be limited, instead of things coming to a horribly bloody head like OTL.... on the other hand, this might make it even easier for slavery to be whitewashed.
 
Winter Games (5)
Slavery is definitely in a worse place than it was at this point IOTL. Trouble is, a lot of very rich, very powerful people have noticed this. And despite everything the DRP could do to unite the country, it's still fairly politically diverse even within the South, so that one state can be taking more steps against slavery while another state is having an anti-anti-slavery backlash.

My dear Ellie,

I hope this letter finds you and your family in the best of health, and that the good fortune you shared with me in your previous missive has continued. It still inspires me with wonder to think of it—a woman of eighteen years accepted among the students at Mount Greylock! And of course I can only imagine the excitement with which you and your fellow students have greeted the return of Halley’s Comet, and I hope the skies in New England sare proving clearer than those in Va. I have endured so many nights with nothing to observe but the underside of a carpet of clouds over the heavens. I feared I might never see it!

But yesterday afternoon, God be praised, there was a breath of cool and pleasant wind out of the north, and last evening the skies cleared. And there was the comet in the western sky, clear as anything, south of where the sun had just gone down. Now whatever else, I can say I have seen the comet that appears once in a lifetime, and I hope to make more observations of it over the next six weeks. I can only imagine what you and your fellow students are making of it, with your superior telescopes.

From what I can determine (you know that in addition to our latecome status in Va., our views are not so popular here[1], and this limits my intercourse with the neighbors) even with the appearance of our heavenly visitor, the sole subject of interest in all Va. remains young Mr. H.H. Stabler[2].

Naturally, every family with a daughter of eligible age is trying to proffer her as a possible wife. Even my own father, who I thank God has given me free rein in such matters, has extended invitations to him to come to Stratford Hall—and I can scarcely blame him for trying his luck in this matter. So long as the man is not a brute or a tyrant, I should not object to such a match myself.

What astonishes me is that so many of our neighbors seem to think young S. will wish to purchase land and become a plantation owner! Imagine the cheek! For all that our slaveocrats present themselves as lords and ladies, half of them struggle to keep up appearances while paying off debts. It affords me no end of amusement to point out the threadbare patches and thimmoned hems in their fine clothes. Meanwhile, even in these “grey days of hiemal hunger,” young Mr. S. helps rule a commercial empire that trades from Egypt to China the long way around, and this without a single slave to his name. Yet still the fools imagine that he envies them, and would gladly set aside his business affairs for the prestige of owning a plantation and holding men and women in chains.

Much of this I know from the recent visit of a gentleman called, an attorney and plantation owner by the name of C.C. Lee, who visited this past Sat. It took me some time to realize that he had come here to woo me[3]—at first, he scarcely spoke to me at all and addressed himself primarily to Father, who finally had to upbraid him for his inattention to me. When he at last realized his suit was as cold as a tombstone, he began to speak on behalf of his brother Robert. He assured me that R. is not yet thirty and “most loving and devoted to his infant daughter” and, indeed, could not visit because he was helping care for that daughter, who was ill. Then, after he departed, Father informed me that the interest these Lee men were showing in me might have something to do with the fact that our home once belonged to their family.

More pleasant—but still not quite enough to put me into a marrying mode—was the visit, on July 25, of a young French scholar named Richard. He was a year younger than yourself, and his English was nothing like so good as that of Alexis and Gustave whose visit I told you of last year, but he was interesting—or perhaps anyone seems interesting when one has met enough of these self-important would-be beaux. He was in America on commission from the Frescobaldi family, to plant French grapevines in the Shenandoah Valley and crossbreed them with the American varieties.

Happily, his conversation was by no means limited to the minutiae of viticulture. He spoke of many observations he had made which in his judgment put the lie to the prevailing theories of Dr. Lamarck, that certain characteristics acquired in life by man or beast may be imparted to the offspring thereof. It was his opinion that, to the contrary, no such change—good or ill—could ever be inherited. To this I replied, “What of the sin of Adam?” I meant it in jest, but for a moment he was silent, and I began to wonder if I had offended him. Father was giving me that look that meant that I had said something inappropriate again. Then I heard him mutter “Vraiment!” After this, he said little, and appeared as if lost in thought. I never will understand Papists.[4]

Apart from that breath of cool wind that cleared the skies for us, the weather continues far too sultry. I trust that you will find Mount Greylock a more pleasant climate when you begin your studies, and pray that it will not be too frightful in the winter.

Your friend,

Anna

P.S. Have you any novels to recommend? Your taste in literature has always proved excellent!


Letter from Anna Ella Carroll to Eleanor Roxana Beecher, dated 9/20/35 at Stratford Hall. Often cited as evidence for her later claim to have inspired, or even invented, the doctrine of idiolapsarianism.[5]​


[1] Anna Ella Carroll and Eleanor Roxana Beecher met when Carroll’s father brought her to an abolitionist convention in Providence.
[2] Henry Hartshorne Stabler, who turned eighteen this year and joined his older brother on the board of what was Stabler & Sons and is now Stabler Brothers. Possibly the most eligible bachelor in the world after Napoleon II.
[3] If you think this is creepy, bear in mind that IOTL Charles Carter Lee didn’t marry until 1848, and the woman he ended up marrying was 20—so 29 years younger, and the same age Carroll was in 1835.
[4] IOTL, Carroll’s anti-Catholic prejudice was stronger, to the point where she was actively involved with the Know-Nothing Party. If you care what specific form of prejudice this was, she was a liberal who saw the Catholic Church as the enemy of freedom and progress. (To be fair, at the time of her involvement with the Know-Nothings, Pope Pius IX was basically jumping up and down and screaming “OOGA BOOGA, I’M THE ENEMY OF FREEDOM AND PROGRESS!”)
[5] An alternative to Original Sin, which proposes that humans are born free of sin but, with one exception (guess who) always fall at an early age through their own misbehavior.
 
Richard St.-Napoléon Colin, born Aug. 13, son of a wine-growing family in Indre-et-Loire. He will prove an apt scholar, but will be equally fascinated by viticulture, farming and animal husbandry.
Richard St-Napoléon Colin turned 10 in August. He’s made friends with Maurice, a blacksmith’s son of similar age to himself, and has noticed two things. The first is that the blacksmith came back from Nancy with a peg leg, but all his children have the usual complement of legs, feet and toes. The second is that although the blacksmith is about twice as strong as M. Colin, Richard and Maurice have wrestled often enough to know they’re evenly matched in strength. None of this means much to him now, but it’ll be a problem when he enters the lycée and is taught the theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck as though they were laws.
“The time has come for our churches, our statutes and our customs to embrace the eternal truth of God as revealed in the natural world.” —Richard Colin

I really do appreciate how deftly you weave together the different strands in the story (even more so after reading What Hath God Wrought - was that the book that inspired the PoD?). I don't think there's another author on this site, with the exception of @Thande, who would ask "What are the likely ramifications of a surviving Bonaparte monarchy, earlier and more plentiful Italian migration to the United States, and an independent New Orleans" and come up with an answer like "New developments in the pharmaceutical industry and Catholic theology, of course!"
 
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I really do appreciate how deftly you weave together the different strands in the story (even more so after reading What Hath God Wrought - was that the book that inspired the PoD?). I don't think there's another author on this site, with the exception of @Thande, who would ask "What are the likely ramifications of a surviving Bonaparte monarchy, earlier and more plentiful Italian migration to the United States, and an independent New Orleans" and come up with an answer like "New developments in the pharmaceutical industry and Catholic theology, of course!"
Thank you. I was actually inspired by Eric Flint's The Rivers of War.
 
[5] An alternative to Original Sin, which proposes that humans are born free of sin but, with one exception (guess who) always fall at an early age through their own misbehavior.

If we're talking Catholic theology, technically it would be TWO exceptions. Mary was also born without original sin (which was that the term 'immaculate conception' referrs to) in the theology of the Church.
 

Thande

Donor

I really do appreciate how deftly you weave together the different strands in the story (even more so after reading What Hath God Wrought - was that the book that inspired the PoD?). I don't think there's another author on this site, with the exception of @Thande, who would ask "What are the likely ramifications of a surviving Bonaparte monarchy, earlier and more plentiful Italian migration to the United States, and an independent New Orleans" and come up with an answer like "New developments in the pharmaceutical industry and Catholic theology, of course!"
Thanks for saying so. I must catch up with this timeline at some point; do you have any plans to publish @Lycaon pictus ? I know I read and enjoyed your portal fiction story (whose name I embarrassingly can't remember) and meant to catch up with that series as well.
 
Thanks for saying so. I must catch up with this timeline at some point; do you have any plans to publish @Lycaon pictus ? I know I read and enjoyed your portal fiction story (whose name I embarrassingly can't remember) and meant to catch up with that series as well.
Thank you! I've been working on a more finished version of this TL, but can't think of a good publishing venue. The portal fiction is the Locksmith TrilogyLocksmith's Closet and Locksmith's Journeys are done, and I'm within 20,000 words of the end of Locksmith's War, but getting it out may take longer. I have a publisher who's interested in reprinting the other two books first before doing the third.
 
Winter Games (6)
October 26, 1835
Hôtel de Ministre des Affaires Étrangères[1], Paris

…for these many reasons I enjoin you to grant these missionaries no access either to Korean translators, or to Quelpart[2]. A day will doubtless come when the Koreans are too accustomed to our trade and its many conveniences for their king to bar us from his kingdom as the Japanese do. When this day is upon us, it will be time to consider a change of policy.
In the meantime, let Christians rejoice; for under the rule of the new monarch of Viet Nam, there is to be no bar to missionary work in that kingdom. Moreover, the kings of Siam and Burma have both agreed to permit a greater presence by missionaries. Here are opportunities enough for a generation…


Once Foreign Minister Étienne Maurice Gérard had finished the letter to the Compagnie de Commerce de L’Orient, he considered what to tackle next. Strictly speaking, now that France ruled Algeria it was no longer a matter for the Foreign Ministry, and British Orania lay between Algeria and Morocco… but it was largely Moroccan mischief that had led to the Barbary Partition in the first place, so it paid to keep an eye on them even if that was supposed to be Madrid’s job.

Especially since the target of Morocco’s latest mischief wasn’t the Spanish garrisons in Fez and the towns of the Mediterranean coast, but the Portuguese on the Atlantic coast, in what was now Tangeria. The rebels were attacking the coast between the town the Portuguese called Rebate and the town they called Casa Branca. They were under the leadership of Abd al-Qadir, who seemed to have moved his operations west from Algeria and Orania. Sultan Abd al-Rahman was swearing he had nothing to do with any of this.

Before the Partition, al-Rahman’s insistence that coastal tribes who engaged in piracy were outside his control had rightly been dismissed as excuses.[3] Now, Gérard couldn’t help wondering if the Sultan was using al-Qadir to pursue the fight that he was in no position to wage. Anyway, Portugal was committed to this war, but Spain was already fighting two wars in the Philippines and a third in Central America. They wouldn’t take action in Morocco unless they had no other choice.

Brazil was in chaos. The slaveholders were in rebellion, the slaves were in rebellion, and their boy prince was trying to get the government in Rio to ally with the slaves against the slaveholders, but so far to no avail. This wasn’t officially French policy, but French ships were smuggling powder and shot to the Minas Gerais rebels in exchange for gold. Whatever put more gold in French hands was something Gérard couldn’t argue with right now.

The conflict on the Indus, which had seemed to spell doom for the last independent powers of India, had instead opened up an opportunity. Barelvi (or possibly Barelwi—his sources couldn’t agree on how to spell it) had taken a fort on the Indus, at a place called Mithan Kot, and massacred the Sikh garrison. His plan had been to secure the fort and hold it until the monsoon began and made large-scale military maneuvers impracticable, giving him months of grace period, and then… had he planned at all beyond that?

Probably no one would ever know. Ranjit Singh had arrived too late to save his coreligionists, but in plenty of time to avenge them. He was the most feared general east of the Cairene Empire, and Barelvi was an amateur at war who’d mistaken a streak of good luck for the favor of Allah. Soon the Sikh commander had the invaders surrounded and trapped inside the fortifications they themselves had just finished destroying. The battle was short. There was no quarter. The bloodshed ended just in time for the monsoon to begin and send all those bodies floating down the Indus to let Sindh know how the situation had resolved itself. Singh found some Sindhi prince who’d survived Barelvi and put him on the throne, on the understanding that Sindh and the Sikh Empire would henceforth be “the closest of allies”… which meant that the Sikhs now had an outlet on the Indian Ocean.

How long this would last was anybody’s guess. The East India Company was still the greatest power in India, and from their point of view a strong, independent native state was already like a naked flame in a powder mill. Would Britain permit it to exist and trade with the outside world for any length of time? Gérard doubted it. This Lord Brougham was liberal, but not that kind of liberal. Whatever we do to strengthen Ranjit Singh, we’d better do it now, and we’d better do it quietly. The HEIC will surely have spies in the villages of the Indus delta. The CCO was already trading in those villages. That would provide cover for his ministry to slip a few documents—blueprints for factories, descriptions of modern manufacturing methods—into Singh’s hands. It wouldn’t turn that little state into the next Hanover, but it might be enough to tie down the British at some crucial point, somewhere in the future.

Apart from missionary work, Burma seemed like less of a good investment—a weak state that might at any moment choose to become a British protectorate just so some major power would have a reason not to allow it to come to harm. Better to encourage strength and independence in Siam. Precisely because the British are better able to project their own strength overseas than we are, they value dependency rather than strength in their Oriental allies. We can turn this to our advantage.

Much closer to home—but still rather far away—the Tsar was building up his fleet in Sevastopol. When that little egg hatched, it would be the least surprising surprise attack in history.

Turning to events in America… they were just depressing. Yet another state—someplace called Maryland—had defaulted on its bonds. The United States of America had been the nation of the future for as long as Gérard could remember. It would be nice if it started being the nation of the present.


[1] A smaller and more neoclassical structure than the OTL building, which wasn’t even begun until 1844.
[2] The French trading post on Jeju Island, named for the European name for the island.
[3] Morocco wasn’t a completely unified polity before the Partition—parts were and remain under the Sultan’s central control, while other parts were and are under the control of allied tribes. Needless to say, the people who did the Partition neither knew nor cared.
 
Winter Games (7)
The Class of 1825: Ten Years Later

Lawrence Agar-Ellis turned 10 on February 15 in London. His family has already known tragedy—his father died last year, not long after being named Baron Dover and given a position in Grey’s government. Technically, this makes him Lord Dover, but he doesn’t insist on the title—his friends would laugh at him if he did.
“You won’t hear from me again until I have quashed this damned mutiny or died in the attempt.” — Col. Agar-Ellis


Thomas Wiliam Eustace turned 10 on March 24 in Malta. He serves aboard the old 74-gun HMS Warspite, a capable and promising midshipman.
“Is Corsica giving birth to another catastrophe?” — Captain Eustace


A girl called “Meadowlark” turned 10 years old October 4 on Hurricane Plantation near Coffeesburg, but she’s the only one there who knows it. Hurricane is run by a man named Joseph Emory Davis, who has some interesting ideas. He’s trying to turn his 300 or so slaves into a functioning community—not just appointing some of them as overseers in the field, but letting them run their own court system and their own commissary. There are one or two that he’d let negotiate cotton sales[1] if he didn’t have his much-younger brother, Jefferson, on hand to do that for him. (He was planning to give Jeff some land nearby to start a plantation of his own[2], but Jeff refused, saying that he didn’t wish to be tied down anywhere when, based on his correspondence with certain friends, “greater opportunities will soon appear.”)

Anyway, Davis thinks his methods will make his slaves more productive in the long run, and so far the results are proving him right. It hasn’t crossed his mind that at some point they might start to wonder what they need him or his brother for.

The good news for “Meadowlark” is that this system actually has a use for literate slaves, so nobody’s angry that she can read. She’s been assigned to the big house. She’s a half-white and rather pretty girl bright enough to learn the finer points of housework, so the Davis brothers treat her with some favor, and she’s still just barely too young for them to have any sexual interest in her. If she had no memory of freedom or the name “Dawn Gilpin,” she would probably be happy.
“Today we rejoice in our victory, but tomorrow we resume our vigilance. Serpents breed.” — Dawn Gilpin March
[1] He did actually do this IOTL.
[2] As he did IOTL
 

Thande

Donor
Thank you! I've been working on a more finished version of this TL, but can't think of a good publishing venue. The portal fiction is the Locksmith TrilogyLocksmith's Closet and Locksmith's Journeys are done, and I'm within 20,000 words of the end of Locksmith's War, but getting it out may take longer. I have a publisher who's interested in reprinting the other two books first before doing the third.
That's the one, embarrassed I couldn't remember it as it was a great title. Glad to hear more are forthcoming.
 
Much closer to home—but still rather far away—the Tsar was building up his fleet in Sevastopol. When that little egg hatched, it would be the least surprising surprise attack in history.
This is a tantalizing hint- can't wait to see what it refers to!
 
Quids Pro Quo? (1)
March 6, 1836
Baltimore

The sound that woke Edgar Allen Poe up was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard.

It was the sound of two babies crying.

And then came the sound of dear Virginia waking and nursing them, which was even better. She sounded like she was getting her strength back.

He looked down at his desk. Last night, after his wife and the newborns had gone to sleep, he’d done what he always did when his emotions were too much for him—written a poem. This one was called “Breath.”

Some of what he’d been trying to capture was in the structure of the poem itself. Each stanza was one line longer than the last, drawing out the sentences in a way that would make it hard to read aloud. But each stanza ended with four syllables. I hear your breath. Another breath. A rasping breath. A shallow breath. Your precious breath. For one more breath. And the final line, written when things were starting to look up—Beloved wife. In the wastebasket were a few pages of crossed-out lines, which Poe had rejected once he realized that the two words that could not be in the poem—because they were at the heart of the fear and hope that the poem expressed—were the words that rhymed with breath and wife.[1]

And there was another piece of paper, which had the names of the two babies and the day and hour of their birth. The midwife had already left. Luckily, it sounded like Henry was awake.

Edgar found him and handed him the paper. “Once you’re dressed, will you take this to church for their records?”[2]

Henry looked at the paper. “Dolores Rachel Poe? Deirdre Niobe Poe? Edgar, those names… even for you…”

“They were born weeping.”

“Not to make light of it, but I’m given to understand that’s common.”

“I feared she was dying. She was in terrible pain.” Which neither I nor the midwife could do anything about. Because we can have no opiates nor liquor of any kind in this house. Because of you, dear brother. Edgar struggled to keep his expression neutral. And in truth, because of me. The same blood flows through both our veins—may not the same weakness?

“Well, I’ll take care of it this morning.”

“Thank you.”

Back in the bedroom, Edgar fed Virginia hasty pudding, a spoonful at a time, while she held Dolores and Deirdre in place and let them suckle. The boiled milk in the pudding had to be doing her some good as she gave milk of her own.

This was a new world to him. His poems had always been his children—or so he’d thought. Now, he was looking at two actual, flesh-and-blood children. It wasn’t just that they were already more precious to him than any poem of his had ever been, though they were. He’d written every line of “Breath,” and knew why every word was where he had put it. But those babies… he could see they were hungry because they were nursing with great enthusiasm, and he could imagine that they were having trouble getting used to the bright, cold immensity of the world outside Virginia’s womb. Beyond that, the thoughts in those little heads were a mystery to him.

This much I know—they’re hungry. And as they grow, so shall their needs. Can I support a wife and two babies on the strength of my poetry?

No. I must needs find some more steady form of employment. Journalism perhaps. I’ve tried other things, but all my skill is in words.



[1] Credit where credit is due—this is a writing tip I learned from Orson Scott Card, who learned it from a teacher of his named Francois Camoin.
[2] At this point, births are still mostly registered by churches rather than the government.
 
I know this is going back a bit, but what exactly happened in Savannah? And how did a British sailor end up involved in a case of the Second Bank vs a canal company?
 
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