Lara Lee’s Poison Garden, Part Two: The Return

Editor’s Notes:

When “Black News” commissioned its writers to come with a story that depicted pre-civil war history in north Georgia, the writer/storyteller Sinclere Lee wrote a trilogy entitled ‘Lara Lee’s Poison Garden.’ It’s a story about a five-year old slave girl who experienced the cruelty of slavery at a young aged when her mother dies in an accident on the way to New Orleans to be delivered to another plantation.

Twelve years later, Lara returns to the Lee Plantation as Rebecca Lee; a Femme Fatale who in the face of death, sets right the cruelty of the Lee Plantation and the its evil, Massa Lee.

By Sinclere Lee

 

Ever since she could remember, Rebecca Lee knew of no other relatives but her Aunt Sarah, and she knew of no other home but the sprawling estate she was raised on in Savannah Georgia.  Rebecca lived the life of a Southern belle filled with the gentle niceties that were common for white women of her standing.  But now she was on the Dixie Flyer, a train headed to Atlanta.

The Central Rail Road & Banking Company of Georgia owned the railroad line that carried the Dixie Flyer from Savannah to Atlanta.  The train connected in Macon with the Macon & Western Railroad, which carried the train none stop to Atlanta.  The father she never knew or met would meet her there, and he would take her back to the Lee Plantation in North Georgia.

Rebecca had heard her aunt mentioned her father many times when she would talk about the Lee family plantation, but never anything about her mother — it was like she didn’t have a mother — everybody has a mother she would often think to herself.  Never-the-less in 1859, she was a Southern belle.  The image of a Southern belle is often characterized by fashion elements such as a hoop skirt, a corset, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and white gloves.  Signs of tanning in women were considered low-class and unfashionable during this era, but Rebecca had a natural tan that made her glow with vivacious beauty.

Southern belles were expected to marry respectable young men, and become ladies of society dedicated to their family and community.  Southern hospitality, a cultivation of beauty, and a flirtatious yet chaste demeanor characterize the “Southern belle” archetype.  This archetype was not something Rebecca cared about.

Rebecca was the kind of girl all men wanted and most women wanted to be like.  She was considered an adult at the age 17-years, but not so young she didn’t know the facts of life.  She had raven black hair with thick eyebrows; her tall and willowy appearance was more graceful than any Southern belle around.  Her body was perfect and she walked with the confidence of someone many years older. 

She wasn't just flawless in her bone structure, her skin was like silk and she radiated an indescribable beauty.  Her tall frame and slender body was irresistible to men.  Her blue eyes were as bright as the havens on a clear day, and were calm and emotionless when stressed. 

Her long, wavy black hair was so smooth and silky, almost as if it was tailored from beautiful face.

She had an unusual contempt for her antebellum lifestyle, since every perk and beautiful part of white plantation life was created through horrible existence of black slavery.  If Southern belles were treated like royalty, it's because forced black labor enabled it.  If the Southern life was pretty and sophisticated, it's because slavery afforded it.  Everything pleasant about Belle-hood was a function of human suffering on a vast scale — it's conceptually impossible to separate the society bankrolled by the cruelty of slavery from slavery itself.

When the train pulled into the station at Macon, Rebecca hurried to catch the train going to Atlanta.  She thanked the boy who helped with her bags, since white were not allowed to tip blacks for anything.  She wonder what Atlanta was like… it wasn’t much.  In 1859, Atlanta was a relatively small city ranking 99th in the United States in size with a population of 9,554.  However, it was the 12th-largest city in what became the Confederate States of America.

While waiting to board the train, every man that passed her stopped to make their presence known.  “Can I help you with your things?” One couther asked.

“No! I’m fine!”

“All aboard the conductor yelled… All aboard the Macon Express to Atlanta and all points in between.  All aboard the Macon Express to Atlanta and all points in between.”

Rebecca found a window seat in the first car of the passenger train.  She turned from the window once she heard a voice coming from the aisle of the car.  “Is this seat taken?” The man asked Rebecca.  It was the same man who offered to help with her bags.

“No!”

“May I sit next to you?”

“Sure, help yourself?” Rebecca said.

As the stranger was sitting, he said, “My name is Adam O’Leary from the O’Leary Plantation in North Georgia.  We have over a 1000, acre where we plant cotton all year round,”

 “Where’re you from?”

“I’m Rebecca Lee from Savannah.”

“Nice to meet you Rebecca Lee from Savannah …” Adam said.

“Same here.” She said as the stranger sat next to her, and started a conversation.

Unbeknownst to her, Adam’s family was slaveholders and his family’s plantation was the most profitable in North Georgia — it was less than five miles from the Lee Plantation.  Each time when Rebecca saw Adam looking lustfully at her, she ignored his gazes as if she didn’t notice he was staring her up and down.

“Atlanta is a fine place, where in the city do you live?”

“I don’t live in Atlanta — I’m from Savannah.” Rebecca said. “I’m going through Atlanta to get to my father’s plantation… it’s the Lee Plantation in North Georgia.”

“I know of that place.” Adam was surprised to know that Rebecca would be close to where his father’s plantation was located. “I didn’t know that Mr. Lee had children… I thought his wife died long before I was born, and I think I’m older that you.”

Rebecca thought to herself:  “If my father’s wife died before I was born, so who was my mother?” This question would come to haunt her once she learned more about her family ties.

“When was the last time you visited your father’s Lee Plantation?”

“I’ve never been to the plantation and I’ve never met my father.”

“Well, how do you know he’s your father?”

“I don’t know…. all I know is what my Aunt Sarah told me about him, and she never mentioned my mother.” Rebecca was more confused than ever and uneasy telling this stranger her business.  She slept most of the way, and it wasn’t long before the train reached the station in Atlanta.  Adam helped her with her bags, and bided the farewell when his two brothers and their father showed up the pick him up.

Rebecca was startled when this colored man walked up behind her and called her Tara.

“Tara, is that you?’ The old man asked.

Rebecca was shocked and answered, “No! My name is Rebecca Lee.”

“Oh, that’s right Rebecca… I am Ol’ Joe and yo’ father, Massa Lee sent me to pick you up.”

“Rebecca… Yeah Rebecca,” Ol’ Joe said as he helped her onto the wagon.  In doing so, he placed his hands on Rebecca’s ass trying to feel her womanhood.  She turned and looked hard at Ol’ Joe and yelled in a loud voice.

“Don’t do that! Keep you damn hand off me!”  Rebecca was pure, meaning she’d never been touch by a man sexually, and her chastity was all in tact.  That didn’t stop Ol’ Joe from trying to flirt with her on the four-hour trip back to the plantation.

Rebecca slept in the back of the wagon for most of the trip to keep away from the gazed eyes of Ol’ Joe.  Hoping her father would punish him — she resolved to tell him how this old man had disrespecting her.

When they got to the plantation, the spring sun was rising over the Big House with roosters’ crowing over the chirpings of birds, this made the mornings in the South worth dying for.  The Southern landscape was something to behold this time of year, which made you thank God for being alive, unless your job was toiling the fields.

“What a beautiful house,” Rebecca said as she and Ol’ Joe unloaded her belongings from the wagon onto the front porch of the house. “My father must be very rich to own a house like this  — it seems like I’ve been here before — I guess in my dreams.”

Before Ol’ Joe could open the door — it opened and an old man was standing in front — he was gray haired from the top of his head to the Vandyke beard that was un-kept.  He was dressed in all white, holding a white hat in his hand.

Rebecca could only look, not knowing what to say or think, “Father!”

“Yes my child…  Yes my child,” the old man said. “I’m your father!”  Rebecca stepped towards the old man, and they embraced.  He started to kiss her on her cheeks, and then on her neck, next his lips found her lips and he pressed long and hard against her mouth, this old man was putting his tongue in her mouth and holding her very close.

“Stop! Stop! Don’t do that!”  She yelled jumping back and wiping her hand over her mouth with disgust.  What the old man did was so disgusting, to her she wanted to spit and wash her mouth out at the same time.

“Don’t ever do that again!  I mean it!  Don’t ever do that again!” Rebecca said, looking at Ol’ Joe. “Take me to my room!” 

The next morning, Ol’ Joe brought breakfast to her room, but she was already up walking and looking around the top floor of the Big House.  It was like she had been in this place before but she hadn’t; it’s like she had seen Ol’ Joe before but she hadn’t.  The old man who she thought was so creepy and her father gave her a weird feeling of not belonging.

“Miss Rebecca, here is yo’ breakfast.  You better eat ‘fore it get cold…. These eggs and ham I fixed myself… You better eat up!”

“Joe, you called me Tara at the train station the other day; what did you mean by that?” She sat on the side of the bed and started to eat some ham from the breakfast plate.

“I didn’t mean nothing by it — I just got you confused with a gal who’s on my mind at the time,” he said trying to cover-up his mistake by changing the subject.

“You knows, we having a dinner tonight for the O’Leary clan.  The got the biggest plantation for miles around…  ‘bout two thousand acres they say — All cotton!”

“O’Leary — I’ve heard that name before — it seems like I’ve heard and seen a lot of things I’ve seen and heard before.”

“I’d seen you talking to Adam O’Leary at the train station when I come to pick you up.”

“Oh yeah, I remember… that nice man at the station… he did say his name was Adam O’Leary, who lived on a plantation near us,” Rebecca said.

“Yas-some, he the baby boy… he ain’t like them other two; Aaron O’Leary, Andrew O’Leary.  They real mean, they real bad.”

The dinner talk around most white tables at this time was politics and what would happen to the Southern way of life if Abraham Lincoln got elected president.  For years there had been talk about secession, but most talk was subsided by compromises.  Since institutional slavery was embedded in the U.S. Constitution, it became a critical problem to be dealt with in America by 1859.

Would slavery be allowed to spread to new states and territories was the driving issue for most Southerners throughout the early years.  By enacting a number of compromises in the Congress, the fragile union was able to hold together. Barely!

The three major compromises that kept the United States together essentially postponed the Civil War and the break up of the union. The Missouri Compromise, enacted in 1820 balanced the numbers of slave and free states.  Far from a permanent solution to the problem, it seemed to keep the slavery crisis from entirely destroying the nation.

The Compromise of 1850, was a number of bills in Congress that sought to settle the issue, and did postpone the Civil War by a decade.  But the compromise, which contained five major provisions, was destined to be a Band-Aid.  Some aspects of it, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, served to increase tensions between North and South.  Finally, The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the last major compromise that sought to hold the Union together. And it proved to be the most controversial.

Without a doubt, the South was committed to an agrarian way of life.  It was their land for generations where profitable and efficient plantations worked by slave labor produced cotton for the world market.  It was also a land where a majority of its white population was made up of subsistence farmers who lived isolated lives on the edge of poverty and whose literacy rates were low compared to those of Southern aristocrats.  In other words, most whites in the South didn’t own slaves or plantations.

The O’Leary’s were waiting in the parlor when Ol’ Joe ushered them into the dinning room.  At the center of the room, the table was set with all kinds of food: baked duck, stuffed with sweet potatoes, two platters of thinly sliced ham with buttered biscuits.  The biscuits were sitting in the middle of the table, and there was squashed casserole, stuffed garbage and cornbread with ice tea and lemonade to drink.

Jib O’Leary was the clan’s patriarch but his sons called him pop; Aaron was the oldest, Andrew the middle and Adam the baby.  When they were all seated, Ol’ Joe assisted Massa Lee into the dinning room to a seat at the table — he sat across from Jib.

After all the plates were filled with food, they started to feast, Aaron O’Leary said, “If that Lincoln is elected, Georgia will surely succeed from the Union.  That means going to war and sacrificing all we have worked for all these years.”

“Even if we ended slavery today, the way to get there without providing massive disruption to Southern way of live would be almost impossible.” Andrew said and then the room got quite.  Rebecca entered the room wearing a black silk dress that wrapped around her sculptured body.  After seeing her, one of the brothers fumbled with his food, another stood up to make his present’s known and Adam sat back with a gaze.

“Gentlemen, this is my daughter Rebecca from Savannah… she’s here to help me run the place.” Massa Lee said while holding his glass as if to make a toast. 

After sitting and starting to eat, Rebecca listened to the men talk, mostly the two O’Leary brothers, “even if we acknowledge the system is unjust and set them free, most Southerners think the slaves or freed blacks might perhaps justifiably, seek vengeance on their former masters.” Aaron O’Leary said while waving his hand in the air. “The O’Leary Plantation couldn’t survive without slaves!”

“Oh my brother, there’s so much to consider that we never thought about, “ Andrew said. “Aside from the lost money we would received from our lost property, you still have the question of what to do with the slaves?”

“If they're freed won't they just take up arms and overthrow Southern society?  Would the freed blacks compete with poor whites and drag down wages? “ Andrew continued.

In every sense, their security, their agrarian economics, their social interactions, their slaves and the associated racial class system were at the heart of Southern life and it was disastrous to imagine life without it.

“God meant for all men to be free and equal… how can you deny to others what you would willingly die and fight for, for yourself!  You all are hypocrites!”  Rebecca said then leaving the dinning room up set to here humans talked of as animals.  Adam followed her not knowing how she would receive him.

“I agree with you… it is an evil wicked system, but it’s the system we were born into,” Adam said to her, tuning her around to face him and pulling her close. “One day this scare will be all gone and we won’t need to fight a war to get rid of it.”  He kissed Rebecca long and hard — she kissed back — then she broke away and ran back to her room.

It was early that Monday morning before dawn and Rebecca was walking away from the plantation near the stream that ran through the property’s landscape.  This place seemed familiar to her like she’d been there before.  It seemed like she knew this place before, and the area near the stream is where she seemed drawn to the most, drawn to like a moth to the flame.  She’d only been on the plantation less than a week but found herself wondering the ‘Poison Garden’ four or five days in a row.

As she made her way to the stream, she could feel something following her as she moved to sit next to the flowing waters.  Next to her were some brown colored mushrooms, the kind she had eaten on her aunt’s plantation in Savannah, but before she could pick the plaint, she heard a voice behind her,

“Lara Lee don’t touch them mushrooms ‘cause they’ll kill you,” Momma said.  “They’re called ‘Death Caps’ mushrooms, and they’ll kill you dead as a Nigger hanging from a tree.

The voice standing behind her was the same warning her mother gave her over 12-years ago, but coming from a young Indian man who was well built in structure, wearing buckskin paints without a top that reviled his muscular body.  He had a tan not as dark as the blacks but you could tell he wasn’t white.

“Never eat mushrooms from this place unless you know what to look for because some of these plaints will kill you quicker than a lion on a wild hog.” The man who called himself Lil’ Beaver explain to Rebecca.  She’d never seen an Indian before, and never heard her aunt talk much about them.  She had learned some things about Indians in the fancy schools she attended throughout Savannah.

“What you doing out here so early in the morning?”  She asked the stranger.

“I go out early to gather food for the camp… that way none of the white men will know I’ve been here.  Been doing this for many years, and I know all the good and bad plants out here.” Lil’ Beaver said.

“ Come let me show you where the good mushrooms are.”  Rebecca followed him down a slop to a clearing where there was a garden of different foods like wild Asparagus, Cattails, Dandelion, Kelp, Curled Dock, Turnip Greens and Squash, plenty of Squash. “Taste this,” he gave her some fresh, Dandelion.

“It taste bitter.” He took her hand; their eyes were locked as they walked together in the woods. “Where do you live? Where you come from?” Rebecca was eager to know more about the stranger she just met.  Some how she felt an attachment to him like no one she had ever met.  She felt a sexual attraction like nothing she had known as a Southern belle.

“I’m from the Creek Nation… my people used to live on this land long before the white man moved the Creek from this land to the lands out west.  I am Lil’ Beaver grand son of Chief Blue Sky of the Red Sticks tribe,”

“When the white man took our land some Creeks stayed back hiding out to hold their land… my family stayed when my father died, I became chief.” With this revelation Rebecca realized that the Native peoples had it just as hard as the slaves.

“Come let me show you a place to play!” He grabbed her hand and took underneath the shad of two big trees.  They sat on the grass looking up at the sky and then turn to look at each other.  He showed her the difference between the poison and safe to eat plants, noting that the roots of the poison plants were always green.

“Want to try this?” Lil’ Beaver held up in his hand showing her a small green looking mushroom.  “This is called magic mushroom… it will take you to another world.”

“What you mean?”

“You have to try it to see,” he said turning to face her as they lie under the trees.” He was offering her some magic {psychedelic} mushrooms that his tribe used in worship of the Gods.  “Try it, it won’t hurt you just make you a little dizzy.”

She took one and ate it — in a few minutes she was a blubbering mess of giggles and bellyache laughter, with seeing things in different colors or seeing patterns.  She seemed to have a sexual drive for Lil’ Beaver while her feelings and emotions intensify.

For a young woman who never had sex with a man, she was besides herself with her sexual behavior for him.  She put his hands between her legs, and she was locked in a deep kiss with Lil’ Beaver when she suddenly jumped up in panic and raced back to the Big House.

The next morning Rebecca realized that taking magic mushrooms could cause dizziness, nausea, and stomach problems.  But, she felt much better the morning after the tripping.  She remember a lot of things that happened yesterday even her sexual attraction for Lil’ Beaver.  She felt that the magic mushrooms had brought the woman out of her, so much so, she wanted that feeling again… she wanted her virginity gone and she wanted Lil’ Beaver to make it happen.

With passion filled in her body, mostly in the loins Rebecca dressed, rushed out the house back to the Poison Garden hoping to find Lil’ Beaver.  But unbeknownst to her, Ol’ Joe was up watching her and followed her through the woods.

He followed her to the stream that ran through the plantation, hiding in the underbrush. She sat down on the side of the stream looking out at the flowing water.  Her thoughts of her life resembled flowing water: no boundary, no emotion, no order and not nothing until yesterday, yesterday when she met Lil’ Beaver.

 Everything, even the simplest things of what to eat was already decided for her.  She needed and wanted a change.  Lil’ Beaver was the change — she turned — to her surprise she faced him, he was standing there; the only man who she felt she could truly love.  He bent down to embrace her.  They kissed and rolled over in the underbrush out of Ol’ Joe’s sight.

Ol’ Joe couldn’t see them so he climbed a tree for a better view.  Now he could see and what he saw sent lustful waves through him as he masturbated in the tree from the actions of the two lovers.  He was climaxing when he slipped and felled from the tree landing in brush on his back.  The noise frightened the young lovers, and they ran in different directions away from the sound.  Rebecca back to the Big House and Lil’ Beaver back into the woods.

Ol’ Joe followed Lil’ Beaver back to the renegade Creek camp.  The camp’s occupants were on the most wanted list since they had escaped resettlement years ago.  He rushed to the Big House to tell the master all he had seen and heard about his Rebecca.

“Massa! Massa!”  Ol’ Joe knocked hard on the massa’s door.  Yelling for Massa Lee to wake up. “Massa Lee, Massa Lee wake up…  I got something to tell you!”

Massa Lee open the door and asked, “What you want boy?”

“Massa Lee, I found that gal in the woods with one of them Indians from that renegade tribe that’s been hiding in the woods all these years.”  Ol’ Joe was telling his master something the plantation owners wanted to know for years: the whereabouts of the renegade tribes that resisted the Creek Nation resettlement.

“Where is she now?” Massa Lee asked Joe. “Where’s Tara?”

“I guess she back in her room.”

“Why that damn redskin…  to put his filthy hands on my pure, innocent, beautiful daughter!”

“Massa Lee, she maybe beautiful, but she ain’t pure and innocent no mo’!”

 

Next week at this time, find out what happens in: Part Three of 'Lara Lee’s Poison Garden' The Revenge

 

Lara Lee’s Poison Garden, Part One

 

 

 

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