56. The Governor

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Aldrick and Elizabeth stepped through the doorway of the mansion where they were greeted in silence by Comptroller Radford and immediately escorted to Governor Hunter who stood centred in the vast two-storey foyer, framed by the curving staircases and the collonaded balconies. As they approached, the Governor held out his hand for Aldrick to shake. "We are delighted you could join us this evening."

"Thank you for having us, Sir. This is my wife, Elizabeth."

The Governor nodded, then he turned to Radford. "Have her taken to join the women."

Radford snapped his fingers, and a servant rushed to his side. "Show this woman to the drawing-room."

Elizabeth looked up into Aldrick's eyes, a surprised expression on her face. Then she turned to the Governor. "Thank you. But I would prefer to remain with my husband. We can all join the ladies together, as is now done in polite society."

"Hmmph! We have matters to discuss."

A smile filled her face. "Great! I love to discuss matters. But aside from that, anything of concern to Aldrick is of importance to me."

The Governor contorted his face. "What would you have to contribute?"

"She has insights which go far beyond mine, and she has become an essential part of my decisions."

"We are not discussing small matters here."

"Nor are we." Elizabeth smiled and shrugged.

"You have a sharp tongue."

Aldrick suppressed a grin. "It flows from a sharp mind. If you have a care to listen, you will find it far sharper than that of most men."

"You are young and enraptured by her beauty..." The Governor paused to run his gaze down to the curves above Elizabeth's bodice, lingering; then he continued lower. After a silence, he shook his head, raised his eyes and said, "And lust can distort reason."

"Lust for dominance? Lust for power? Indeed, they can." Elizabeth shrugged. "But your eyes and your words betray an unsatisfied longing. Have you a fear of all women? Or is it only the stronger among us? The ones you cannot intimidate and dominate?"

The Governor sputtered. Then he opened his mouth in an attempt to respond, but no words formed.

Aldrick filled the quiet moment. "This, Sir, shows the strength, clarity and honesty which hold the Lords in rapt attention whenever she deigns to be present while her father entertains them."

"Lords? Her father?"

"Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey. Surely you are aware of his strong and influential voice in the House of Lords." Aldrick lifted Elizabeth's hand toward the Governor. "May I again present my wife, Elizabeth?"

Hunter nodded, then he raised her hand to his lips, bussing it as he blushed. "Delighted, your Ladyship. I had not been informed."

Elizabeth retrieved her hand and waved it in a gesture of erasure. "It matters not. Shall we join your wives? I would enjoy continuing our intercourse in a more sympathetic and accepting manner."

The Governor remained silent and immobile for a brief moment, then he glanced at the Comptroller and back to Elizabeth. "We can do that, though I fear they will be bored with what we discuss."

"Perhaps we can listen to what they have to say." She shrugged. "I have observed that most are bored because they have not been allowed free expression. That, or their opinions have not been given their due merit."

"As Louise seems ever eager to remind me." Radford shrugged, then with his face reddening, he looked at the Governor and motioned across the foyer. "Shall we go join them?"

A short while later, Aldrick and Elizabeth were introduced to Louise and Catherine in the drawing-room, and the group carried on a light conversation for several minutes as they sipped from glasses of Sercial.

Then the Governor turned to Aldrick. "I am concerned by the lack of success with our campaign against the Maroons. Their random and disorganised attacks disrupt the orderly and disciplined conduct of our fighting. We need reinforcements from Britain, but thus far, my requests have been denied."

"There is continuing strong debate in Parliament and among the Lords on the matter of keeping slaves, and this prevents further support for the fighting."

"I am informed of that, but we must try to influence them. The growing number of workers fleeing the plantations shows they are aware of the encampments in the mountains. We need to eradicate these. Escapes have risen to the point it has become necessary to keep them in chains." He shook his head. "Not only a great additional expense, but it slows the work."

Aldrick tilted his head. "Would it not make sense to set them all free and pay them for their labour?"

"And lose what it cost to purchase them?"

"And what loyalty have they? They are likely biding their time for an escape. Then where is the twenty or thirty pounds investment?" Aldrick shrugged. "If they are paid and treated with fairness, they will have no reason to leave; rather, they will want to stay."

"They are provided with food and a place to live, and in turn, they work for us."

Elizabeth released a loud sigh. "But unwillingly and without loyalty. They are not allowed their liberty."

"Most are not sufficiently intelligent to use liberty wisely. They must constantly be told what to do and be watched closely to ensure it is done."

"Have you thought this is because they have not chosen to be here?" Elizabeth paused a moment, then continued, "Have you considered that they do not enjoy being treated as possessions, rather than as people?"

Hunter shrugged. "They are a lesser breed of mankind."

The Governor's wife looked up from her wine glass. "Or is it the slave owners who are the lesser breed for holding this attitude? For holding these people captive?"

"We have discussed this before, Catherine."

"But never with reasoned views allowed from me, Robert." Catherine shrugged at her husband, then turned to Elizabeth. "I am delighted you have joined us this evening. Now, perhaps, our voices and opinions may find sympathetic ears, and we can enjoy a proper discussion of what he calls complex matters."

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