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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Yellow (11/12/09)

TITLE: What Mrs. Montgomery Knew
By Jan Ackerson


It was a long train ride from Boston to Savannah, and Beau and I hadn’t bought sleeper tickets. When night fell, he covered me with his suit jacket and we dozed a bit, my head on his shoulder.

Early in the morning, we rattled into Savannah station; Beau’s mother sent a car to meet us there. My linen dress, the color of fresh butter, had wrinkled. I tried in vain to smooth it out—it was the dress I’d worn to marry Beau a month earlier.

I’d not intended to ever go south again. My mother’s rigid back and my sister’s tears were the last sights I’d expected to see through Georgia’s haze. Apparently, however, one does not ignore a summons from Mrs. Beauregard Montgomery, especially one that will probably be her last.

She was seated in the parlor, a yellowing lacy shawl around her shoulders and a quilt on her lap. Behind her, a set of crossed Confederate swords—her grandfather’s—were mounted above the fireplace. Vases everywhere were filled with lemony lady’s-slippers. Beau knelt beside her chair, grasping her hand in both of his. “Mother,” he said. Then again, “Mother…” I stood at the doorway, silent.

She touched his cheek, then chastised him in a wavering voice. “Where are your manners, junior? Tell your bride to come closer. I want to look at her.”

Beau beckoned me over and I approached her, my heart in my throat. “Mrs. Montgomery, I’m…I’m pleased to meet you.” I offered her my gloved hand, and she pulled me closer. Her eyes held mine, then she reached up and fingered an escaped ringlet, damp with Georgia air.

She didn’t speak for an eternity. Then—“What did you say your name is?”

Beau spoke up. “Mother, I wrote you. My lovely bride is Jeanette. Jeanette Willis. Jeanette Montgomery now.” He put his arm around my waist.

Her eyes were filmy and jaundiced. She squinted, tilted her head, and gripped my hand tighter. “There’s a Willis family in Bulloch County. Are they your people?”

“No ma’am. I…don’t think so, ma’am.” I was finding it difficult to speak.

Mrs. Montgomery released my hand and spoke—she addressed Beau, but she was looking at me. “Beau, do you remember the Westbrook boy? Henry Westbrook…he married last year, a girl not from around here. I went to the wedding, and I knew that marriage would bring him nothing but heartache. I could tell…Lavinia, bring the tea.”

I looked past Mrs. Montgomery and saw her servant emerge from the shadows. She’d been there all along, and I hadn’t noticed. Lavinia was balancing a silver tea service; without thinking, I took a step and reached out to help her. “No, missus,” she whispered. “I can manage.” She shook her head at me, her eyes wide—a warning.

“Thank you, Lavinia.” Mrs. Montgomery continued her story. “Henry’s wife gave birth to a little boy last month, Beau. Blood will tell, son. That boy was darker than my Lavinia here. Henry’s wife was a…she was high yellow, and she’d…passed.” She leaned back, breathing heavily. Beau knelt again, taking his handkerchief and dabbing his mother’s forehead. She grasped his collar. “This is what came of Mr. Lincoln’s war, Beauregard. Blood will tell.”

Beau’s eyes found mine. I dropped my silver spoon on the floor; Lavinia rushed to pick it up. Her skin was the pale tan of chicken’s eggs, her hair warm brown sugar. She reminded me of…

My sister’s tears glisten on her caramel cheeks. “Jeanette, if you go…” I understand the unfinished sentence, have already seen it finished in Mama’s steely black eyes. I can not come home again. But I have to do this; I have to know if I will bloom in the cool of the north.

That night, Beau turned away from me in our bed.

He spent the next two days talking to doctors and bankers; he had few words left over, it seemed, for me. We boarded the train back to Boston on a sweltering Saturday morning; Beau carried his suit jacket slung over his shoulder, and even the daisies embroidered on the bodice of my summer frock seemed to droop in the humidity.

I took a window seat and watched fields of sunflowers fly by, thinking about mothers, Beau’s and mine. Beau sat silently with his own thoughts. After a while, I slept.

When I awoke, I found that Beau had taken my hand, and was holding it in the vicinity of his heart.

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This article has been read 1389 times
Member Comments
Member Date
cindy yarger11/21/09
Very good. I liked the hints of personal struggle that your characters all portrayed. I also liked how you let each one have his own time and ways of coping with them.
Betty Castleberry11/24/09
So many layers here. I would love to read more. When I read your pieces, I always feel as if I'm reading something pulled from the library stacks. Beautifully done.
larry troxell 11/24/09
loved the characters. all the variations of yellow. as always, great writing
Connie Dixon11/24/09
Loved the ending. Such amazing detail and depth in so few words. Great writing.
Mona Purvis11/24/09
Read it a couple of times to savor the war going on in each of the four characters. The same war fought on battlefields with heavy casulaties still raging within the hearts of men...and so today.
Many mulattos passed in order to fit into a more accepting world...but at a great cost. Isn't it wonderful that God doesn't judge us by the color of the skin He gave us?
Really, an interesting Old South piece that gives us a lot to think about.
Beth LaBuff 11/24/09
One thing I've enjoyed while reading during the "color quarter" is seeing all the different descriptions and ways the topic is subtly inserted in the entry. Your entry is a feast for the reader. Love that! I also love how the reader is allowed to discover Jeannette's identity in your historical story that takes place during a time of extreme prejudice. This story needs expanded.
Beth LaBuff 11/24/09
I should add, "expanded beyond the 750 words allowed for the challenge." :)
Yvonne Blake 11/24/09
Wow! Speechless...
I want to read the rest of the book!
Bryan Ridenour11/24/09
Superb writing. As others have commented, this should be only a short excerpt from a historical novel. Well done!
Maria Kana Santos11/24/09
I love reading 1800's and early 1900's novels. The old english and characterization in your piece is superb and fabulous!

I enjoyed this piece and the message of love between Beau and Jeannette!
Laura Manley11/25/09
I absolutely loved the way you wove this week's color into your story. It was was refreshing that in all descriptions, you did not have to use the actual word. Brilliant! This is a winner in my book! Laura
Bryan Coomes11/25/09
Wow..great read. Felt authentic and effortless in how smoothly it read.
Verna Cole Mitchell 11/25/09
Your last sentence made me catch my breath. I was so glad Beau made his choice in spite of his mother. You truly have a gift for drawing in your reader and grabbing the heart.
Sarah Elisabeth 11/25/09
Sweet ending...for a moment, I was afraid she would awake to find Beau gone.

What a setting and take on the topic. Excellent!
Amy Richie11/25/09
That is excellent story telling! I agree with others, that this needs to be expanded...:)
Catrina Bradley 11/25/09
So subtle, yet so telling. I love it. Unfortunately, this prejudice is still alive and well in Georgia.
Barbara Lynn Culler11/25/09
Beautiful story, I want to read more. I was also worried the Beau had left or died in his sleep.

Here in California, interracial relationships are more acceptable
Noel Mitaxa 11/26/09
These are the notes from the dust jacket of your book, aren't they??? Brilliant portrayal that embraces the suffocation of prejudice without suffocating your (many) readers.
Marita Thelander 11/26/09
I loved the last line. Well, the whole story, even though I had to read it twice to fully understand it. Can I blame that on 3 grandchildren climbing on and around me? Congratulations on the EC.
Pat Guy 11/28/09
Wow ... loved the layers, loved the depth.
Diana Dart 11/30/09
Beautiful and almost haunting. But I'm so glad for the last sentence... sigh. This totally makes me want to read up more on the Civil War.
Rachel Malcolm 01/13/14
Wow! This piece actually made me shiver. Your characters are so vivid that during my second reading, I felt like I was watching a movie unfold.