“You’re not going to believe what I’ve just heard,” Louise said to Frederick.
“Cousin, you know how much I detest gossip.”
“This is news, not gossip and it’s about the Johnsons.”
“What about them? What have you heard?”
“It’s so dreadful, I can scarcely believe it.”
“Well, it turns out that Mr. Johnson was sleeping with one of the slave girls–the one they bought to replace the one they sold. Mrs. Johnson caught them in bed and in a jealous fit of rage, she shot them both with his gun. There was a storm so no one heard the shots and it wasn’t until the next morning, they found them dead. He got most of the bullets. The pistol was empty and lying on the carpet beside the bed. They found Mrs. Johnson in her room, hysterical.”
Frederick raked his fingers through his hair, shocked. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered.
“What a horrible tragedy. I can’t imagine how poor Rebecca must be feeling.”
“I must go to her at once,” Frederick resolved.
“I wish I could go with you but I have an engagement.”
“I will give her your regards and heartfelt condolences.”
“Yes, please do.” Frederick kissed her on the cheek and then, left.
Mrs. Hardcastle was in the study writing a letter to her sister, Agnes about the Johnson scandal when Rivers came into the room to inform her that she had a visitor. She paused from her letter writing with a slight air of irritation and asked, “Who is it, Rivers?”
“It’s Mr. Livingston, Madam.”
“Oh. He’s probably here to see Miss Johnson. Very well, show him in.”
Rivers bowed and left.
Mrs. Hardcastle set her pen down, turned the letter over and got up from the desk. She went over to the window and stood, looking out. What a grey, gloomy day it was. She detested such weather, especially in the summer.
Footsteps behind her alerted her to the entrance of Frederick Livingston and she turned to face him. She watched as he approached her. A very handsome and amiable young man with impeccable manners. If it weren’t for his accent, she would be inclined to forget that he was an American. “Mr. Livingston, what an unexpected pleasure.” She held out her hand which he took as he bowed.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Hardcastle. I hope I haven’t come at an inconvenient time.”
“No, you have not. I expect Miss Johnson is your reason for being here?”
“Yes. I heard the dreadful news and thought she might be in want of a friend.”
“Well, I’m afraid you have come too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“Miss Johnson isn’t here. She left this morning.”
“She left this morning? Where did she go?”
“She has returned to America.”
“You mean she has returned to Savannah to be with her mother?”
“I suppose so. At any rate, she couldn’t continue to stay here. The last thing my family and I want is to be mixed up in a scandal.”
“I should think that you would thank your lucky stars that you’ve escaped.”
“Yes, escaped from her clutches. If you had married her, you would be up to your neck in scandal. And what about your poor parents?”
“If Rebecca and I had been married, I would have supported her and helped her through this awful nightmare.”
“Really! Well, I think what happened was a disgrace. A white man caught in bed with a black slave girl. How shocking and distasteful. It’s no wonder that his wife shot them both–not that I condone crimes of passion, mind you. I wonder if they will declare her fit for trial and if she would be found guilty of murder.”
“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Hardcastle. I’d best be leaving now.”
“Won’t you stay and have tea?”
“Thank you, but no. Please give my regards to Mr. Hardcastle.”
“I will. Perhaps you will visit again soon and stay for tea.”
“Yes, perhaps, I will. Good-day, Mrs. Hardcastle.”
“Good-day, Mr. Livingston.”
Frederick took the proffered hand, bowed and left.
Mrs. Hardcastle returned to the desk, sat down and took up the pen. She turned the letter over. She read what she had written so far. Dear Rose, you wouldn’t believe what has recently happened. She continued. It’s utterly scandalous. Do you remember the Johnsons? They are the American couple who owns a plantation in Savannah, Georgia. We met them when they visited England years ago. They seemed like a very nice couple and their daughter, Rebecca is quite beautiful, albeit a trifle half-witted.
Anyway, Rebecca has been our house guest for the summer and her gentleman caller has been Frederick Livingston. You remember him, don’t you? His parents are also plantation owners. Very nice people–far more refined than the Johnsons. He was just here to see Rebecca but she isn’t here. Mr. Hardcastle and I sent her back to America. We thought it best in light of what has happened. We didn’t want to have the daughter of a murderess staying with us–you know how people will talk. You read correctly. Mrs. Johnson is a murderess. She murdered her husband and a slave girl. She caught them in bed together and shot them.
I told you it was scandalous. Anyway, Mrs. Johnson has been charged with murder. I don’t know if they will declare that she temporarily lost her mind because she kept shooting until there weren’t any more bullets in the pistol and when they found her, she was hysterical. I don’t condone what she did but I can understand why she did it. Could you imagine, finding your husband in bed with a Negra? It’s indeed a disgrace. I will write when I have more news.
And now, I must tell you about the ball…it’s too bad you couldn’t come. Oh, the ball, it has to be the finest we’ve ever thrown. You should have seen the gown I wore. I shall describe it for you…