Up in Flames

JT told her not to go to the cabin again but she went any way. Soon after, he left the house on the day of his return from his business trip, she followed him. She was careful to keep her distance. He was walking briskly as if he couldn’t wait to get there. She stopped and waited until he had gone inside before she gingerly made her way over to the side of the cabin.

She crept up to the window and looked inside. And what she saw made her retch. JT and the girl were kissing. Kissing. Covering her mouth with her hand, she stumbled away and over to some trees a little distance away and threw up. When she was finished, she wiped her mouth with her handkerchief and ran back to the house.

That evening she didn’t join JT and the children for dinner. She stayed in her room. A tray was taken up to her but she hardly touched anything.

Weeks later, she heard rumors that the girl was pregnant but she refused to believe them. However, nine months later, she overheard the house-slaves talking about the girl and how she had given birth to a boy. When they saw her, they stopped talking and went about their chores.

Incensed, she marched into the study where JT was. She slammed the door shut and headed over to the desk and stood glaring down at him, her face red and her eyes flashing with fury. “So, it’s true, then,” she cried. “You’ve fathered her little bastard.”

His expression darkened. “Watch your tongue, Woman.”

“How could you humiliate me like this?”

“This isn’t about you, Clarissa.”

“No. It’s about you and what you want. You want to keep that girl here on the plantation so you got her pregnant.”

“She wouldn’t run away and leave the child.”

“And you won’t let her take it with her.”


“How could you be so selfish, JT? What about our children? Don’t you care how this will affect them?”

“If you’re so worried about how all of this will affect them, why don’t you send them to live with your parents? Maybe they will be better off there for the time being.”

“No! This is their home. I will not send them away because of you and that girl.”

“Then, the matter is settled. You and the children stay.” He got up from the desk. “Oh, incidentally, I heard about what happened between Sadie and you while I was away.”

“That brazen black hussy told you.”

“It was Bill, not Sadie who told me what happened.”

“You’re lying. Bill promised that he wouldn’t say a word.”

“Bill answers to me, not you. And let me make myself perfectly clear, Clarissa. If you lay a hand on Sadie again, I will give you a good walloping.”

She shrank back. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Try me.”

Fists clenched, chest heaving, she yelled, “I hate you, JT. I hate you and I wish I’d never married you.” Then, she turned on her heel and stormed out of the room.

When she reached her room, she threw herself down on the bed and in between sobs, she muttered, “I hate you, JT. And I’ll make you pay for all the hurt and humiliation you have caused me.”


The cabin was up in flames. The slaves were yelling, “Sadie’s in dere. Sadie’s in dere.”

JT ran up and he froze when he saw the cabin. “What happened?” he asked one of the slaves.

“Dunno, Massa. We saw de fire and came a runnin’ and saw dat de cabin was on fire.”

Clarissa watched the cabin burning. Good riddance, she thought.

JT looked around wildly. There was no sign of Sadie. “Where’s Sadie?” he shouted.

“She’s in da cabin, Massa.”

JT’s face went white as a sheet. “Sadie!” He started toward the cabin.

Clarissa panicked and she ran after him, managing to catch hold of his shirt sleeve. “No, JT. Don’t risk your life for her.”

JT wrenched his arm away from her grasp and dashed towards the cabin. He broke through the door and went in. The place was filled with smoke. He quickly covered his nose and mouth with his handkerchief as his eyes darted frantically around the room and then he saw her. She was lying on the floor by the window. He was at her side in a split second. He got down on his knees. She wasn’t unconscious. She was dead.

He broke down and wept bitterly. “Oh, Sadie…” He cradled her against him.

Then, he picked her up and staggered over to the bed. He set her down on it and then lay beside her. He put his face up close to hers which was turned towards him. She looked as if she were sleeping. “I love you,” he whispered after he pulled off the handkerchief and put his arm across her waist. Soon he began to feel lightheaded and shortness of breath.

He closed his eyes which were burning and lost consciousness just as the flames reached the foot of the bed.

Clarissa watched the engulfed cabin anxiously. When there was no sign of JT, she ran to Bill. “JT is in there,” she yelled. “He may be hurt. You’ve got to help him.”

Bill shook his head. “It’s too late, Ma’am. We can’t save him or the girl.”

Clarissa collapsed at his feet.

When she was revived, it was told to her that JT had died in the fire. Overcome with grief and guilt, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a sanatorium. Her children were sent to Richmond, Virginia to live with her parents. JT’s uncle, Stewart came and ran the plantation. JT’s and Sadie’s son was raised by an older slave woman. The two charred bodies were buried side by side in unmarked graves in the woods near where the cabin once stood. To this day, no one knows how the fire started.

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