Somewhere between the child of yesterday and the man of tomorrow, a restless James Travis impatiently waited for his father to join him on the veranda. Pacing back and forth, the young man sighed deeply when he heard his father grumbling inside the Big House. The bull-headed old man, bred from the sturdy stock of Virginians who had settled South Carolina’s mid country, was as different from his son as the 1857 political views held by Americans north and south of the Mason Dixon Line.
Without mercy, Beau imposed his treasured traditions on his only heir. And from all outward appearances, his son had learned well all the necessary protocol befitting a Southern aristocrat. However, if you could look into the young man’s heart, you would find a bit of a homespun rebel longing to be free of his father’s rigid training.
As the early morning sun crept over the treetops, James positioned his wide-brimmed hat on top of his dark hair. Reaching down, he adjusted his cravat over the white crispness of his shirt. Cravat tying was indeed an art, one requiring a great deal of patience, and as anyone at White Oaks would tell you, James frequently lacked that virtue.
When the black, brass-trimmed carriage came to a halt in front of the Big House, James smiled at the coachman. Knowing how much his childhood friend hated that black top hat nestled on his coarse, dark hair, James’ voice held a soft mocking laughter when he said, “I must say, that hat seems to suit you well!”
“Why ain’t dat mighty kind of yo’ to notice, Massa James.” Tinker grimaced and nodded appreciation with false sincerity. James laughed softly watching Tinker jumped down from his perch.
Tugging his waistcoat back into place, Tinker sighed, thinking about his ride into Blackville. They weren’t on the road yet, and he already was impatient to be back into his comfortable stable clothes. He had always enjoyed caring for the thoroughbreds, an interest he and his young master shared, but the idea of being coachman for White Oaks had never appealed to him. How he hated driving his masters from here to there in the hot summer’s sun, while he cooked to a crisp in the black oven white folks called “proper attire.”
The front door to the Big House made a creaking sound before Beauford Travis stepped on to the veranda. From where he stood, Beauford bellowed to Tinker, “Why haven’t you gotten the blasted bags from inside the house yet? What’s wrong with you, boy? Do I have to spell everything out for you in painful detail?”
Beau mopped his brow while he walked down the staircase. Behind his father’s back, James caught Tinker’s attention. Laughing quietly, he mimicked Beau’s displeasure. Tinker sighed and rolled his eyes.
After Beau was seated, James announced, “I’m going to ride up front with Tink.” James nodded his head in Tinker’s direction.
“Nonsense! Get in here immediately.” Beau looked disapprovingly at him. Now it was Tinker’s face that held the slightest indication of a smirk before he closed the door behind James.
James sank back into his seat thinking about what a long, long ride it would be to the train station with the man he called ‘Father’. The young man had lived all his life without Beau’s approval. For a long time, James had known the only commonality he and his father shared was the love for the soil over which the carriage wheels moved. Yet, even in their love for White Oaks there was a difference.
“This will all be yours someday, Son,” Beau had said proudly to him when he was a child accompanying his father on rounds.
Even then, with his child-like understanding, James already knew White Oaks was his, but not for the same reason it belonged to his father. To Beau, it meant prestige and pride in knowing it was through his own resourcefulness that he had built the Travis fortune. But to James, it meant a kinship to the rolling hills and the lush, green meadows sparkling with morning dew and the brilliant summer sunsets that would illuminate the evening sky with iridescent pinks and lavenders. It was his for the magical fields of cotton with their pink and white blossoms fluttering above waxy, green leaves. He had always known White Oaks was his to treasure, but it was only lately that James was beginning to realize he too must leave behind a heir for its preservation.