Just Keep Swimming. #nanowrimo

Today was better, I have to admit.  Though I still feel a bit lost, I at least feel like some of the writing it starting to come.  Its like the log jam is beginning to break apart — just a bit, and the words are starting to seep through the gaps.

I was able to get 1700 words.  In tonight’s excerpt I hit an interesting problem.  One of my supporting characters is named Robert.  But in this scene, the characters are discussing an actual historical court case called Roberts v. The City of Boston.  It kind of annoyed me to have so many “Roberts” in the scene.  Should I change the character’s name to avoid this?  Your thoughts are much appreciated!

In other news, we went to Medieval Times for my oldest daughter’s 23rd birthday.  That was awesome. 🙂

Here is my excerpt from tonight…

(Please pardon typos and inconsistencies — I didn’t have time to work my way back through this one.  So you are getting the UBER RAW version.  It’s just that its after midnight, I have an early morning and a long day tomorrow.)

*********McKendrick Saga Excerpt –Nanwrimo Day 9 *********

The tavern was crowded and rowdy, just the way Jared liked it.  Plenty of noise to obscure one conversation from the next.  The three friends worked their way through the myriad alcoves, niches, and recess to their favorite table.  Located partially behind a wall, it offered a great view of the main tavern dining hall, while simultaneously providing a good deal of privacy.  Not that they needed privacy, its just that after a very long week of endless study and rigorous mid-term exams, they didn’t want to be bothered.

As their exhaustion melted each into his seat, Miriam, their usual server, set down their ale tankards with an unceremonious thunk.  She put her hands warmly on their shoulders with a familiarity that she shared with all three of them, since they had been regulars here for the past decade. There was a time when the boys would sneak in, too young for a drinks but determined to swindle, flirt, or bribe Miriam out of her ale.  She had been much younger then and all three boys had fallen for her big blue eyes, strawberry hair, and Irish sass.  They had been fast friends ever since.

“What’ll ye be haven’ then?  Ye look like the verra devil, trut be told.  Professor got ye hoppin’ I see!”  Miriam said, clucking her tongue like a mother hen fussing over her chicks.

Jared laughed, “Yes, you have the right of it.  Mid-terms this week.”

“Ach, I knew it!  How about some nice hot stew?  Cook’s just made it fresh with a bounty full of roots and greens, an’ one o’her prize hens as weel.” Miriam said, one hand thrust on a jaunty hip.

They all three nodded in hearty agreement, suddenly feeling famished.

“I’ll be back in three shakes of a lamb’s tale,” Miriam beamed, heading off to the kitchen.

Jared took a long deep swig of the ale.  It was sour and cheap, but it blazed a fire from Jared’s mouth to his belly.  Tingles pricked at him from the inside out, until his entire body felt a buzzing release of all the tension he had held in for the past several weeks.  A look at Robert and Owen’s faces told Jared that they were experiencing the same.

“To the worst ale in all of Boston,” Robert announced gleefully.

“With the best service!”  Owen and Jared replied, smiling.

“Here, here!” they all said, smashing their tankards into Roberts over the table.  Ale splashed over the brims and onto the table, as they returned the cups to their mouths for another drink.  It was the traditional toast between the three of them.

“So how about today in Sanders’ class?” Robert asked.

“I daresay that Dean Emerson didn’t think it over very carefully before allowing that student to register,”  Owen said.  “Surely they would have foreseen the protest of our southern brethren.”

“Perhaps they are as eager to be rid of all that Dixie pomposity as we are,” Robert said.

“I fear it may be just the opposite.  I believe that they knew full well what they were doing.  You know Sanders is most strident in his abolitionist beliefs.” Jared reminded them.

“As are we all,” Owen vowed with a little too much fervor, “but to enroll a negro in Harvard?  I’ve never heard of such a thing.” The confused look Owen had sported during class today hadn’t entirely dissipated.

Miriam returned to the table with three steaming bowls of stew.  The smell wafted aromatically up from each, tantalizing Jared’s nose and tempting his tastebuds.

Jared lifted a heaping spoonful into his mouth, and observed Owen closely.  It was true that Owen did come from one of the best families in Boston, one that outwardly professed great support for the abolitionist cause.  But Jared wondered how deep that support ran. He set his spoon back down on the table. He decided to toss a pebble into Owen’s pond and see how far it rippled.

“And why shouldn’t Quick be admitted?  Sanders announced him to be one of the finest minds in the country.  That’s good enough for me.” Jared said.

“I have no doubt that his mind is fine, for a negro.  But shouldn’t he… well… feel more, uh, comfortable with his own kind?” Owen asked.  “I shouldn’t like to be admitted to a school of negro students after all.  I would feel very out of place,” Owen’s arguments always tended to center on himself.

“You certainly would attend such a negro school if it was the finest law school in the world, I’d wager.”  Robert added good-naturedly.

Robert Ellis hailed from a long line of abolitionists.  His grandfather had been alongside Crispus Attucks when he became the first martyr for independence at the Boston Massacre.  Robert’s mother was president of the Ladies Vigilance Committee of Boston, which dedicated endless hours to raising funds for the abolitionist cause.  Just two years past, Robert’s father had been part of the “rabble” to break that infamous fugitive slave Shadrack Mingus out of jail and spirit him off to Canada on the underground railroad —much to President Fillmore’s everlasting vexation.  Shadrack had been so eternally grateful to his Boston vigilante angels that he had written back to let them all know he arrived safely, had entered into the restaurant business, and was soon to be married — much to the joy and relief of the Ellis family.  Robert was dedicated to the cause indeed.

Owen looked at Robert like he had grown another head.

“That’s preposterous,” Owen said.

“Oh? I think any one of us would go to the best school no matter where it was or who attended there.” Robert insisted.

“Of course I would go to the best school, but that is not what is preposterous — I meant the notion that a school run for and by negros could ever be better than a school for us,”

“Us?  Who do you mean?” Jared asked, his ire rising.

“Us. Us! White persons.” Owen continued, flustered. “It isn’t possible.  Negros simply do not have the mental capacity to excel in academia, therefore it is entirely implausible that such a negro school as you describe could exist.”

“What proof do you have?” Jared demanded.

“Proof?  Proof of what?” Owen looked completely perplexed.

“Proof that negroes do not have the mental capacity necessary to excel in academia,” Jared said.

“Well… I … don’t suppose I have proof,” Owen said, astounded to be asked for proof of something he had taken as a given. At last he replied, “But if one could, surely he would have done so by now.”

“How on earth do you propose he do so?  The negro is, at every turn, prevented from accessing the best education, best tutors and teachers.  While we have every advantage.”  Jared continued, “ even here in Boston — this bastion dedicated to the dignity and liberty of all mankind — even here the negroes have not access to good education.  Have you not read ahead in our coursework?  We shall soon be studying the case of Sarah Roberts—“

“I should think that you remember the case first hand, Owen – it happened when we were all lads of fourteen,“ Robert chimed in.

“— Roberts vs. The City of Boston.  Sumner and Morris argued it before Judge Lemeul Shaw,” Jared finished.

“Sumner?  Senator Sumner?” Owen asked

“The very same,” Robert said in low conspiratorial tones. He leaned close to Owen’s ear, as if he were confirming secrets to a child.  Owen swatted his irritating friend away.

“And his partner on the case was Robert Morris, this nation’s very first negro lawyer,” Jared added importantly.

“Indeed,” Owen was genuinely surprised.

“The case revolved around five year old Sarah, who had to walk a great distance to an all-black common school, even though there were four excellent white schools much closer to her home,” Robert added helpfully.

Jared cleared his throat dramatically and began to recite, “a school, exclusively devoted to one class, must differ essentially, in its spirit and character, from the public school known to the law… it is a mockery to call it an equivalent… “

Robert and Owen groaned in unison.

“Now you’ve done it,” Robert said, giving Owen a pointed look. “He’s resorted to quoting case trasncripts!”

“Me?  You are the one that started summarizing the case!” Owen shot back.

“Comparing negro schools to white schools and calling them equal is like comparing figs and cheese and saying they are the same—and equally as good!”  Jared insisted.

“Hey, I love figs and cheese,” Robert said agreeably.

Jared jumped up and stood upon his chair now, placing one hand emotionally upon his chest, and extending the other to his imaginary courtroom.  He continued,  “On one side is the city of Boston, strong in its wealth, in its influence, in its character; on the other side is a little child, of a degraded color, of humble parents, still within the period of natural infancy, but strong from her very weakness…. This little child asks at your hands her personal rights.”

“No wonder you are Sanders’ favorite.  Who memorizes arguments from minor court cases?” Owen said.  His irritated tone belied a hint of envy.

“It is not a minor case, Sir.” Jared said with no small amount of moral loftiness.  “Sarah is but one child that no doubt represents thousands of children, all growing to maturity without the benefit of a decent education, denied the advantages of their white peers.  It is a travesty.”  Jared punctuated his declaration by jumping to floor and re-seating himself.

He added thoughtfully, “I have no doubt that whatever education this Tamsen Quick has had, he is the exception to the rule, and very fortunate no doubt.  I, for one, am eager to know more about him; I intend to make him my friend.”

“What?” Owen said, aghast.

“Excellent idea!” Robert said, enjoying Owen’s discomfort a little too much.

Owen was silent and brooding now, having no rebuttal for his friend’s emphatic defense of the education of the African race on the point of sticking up a friendship.

“Oh come now the two of you,” Robert said, smiling broadly and slapping both of their backs. “Let us drop this seriousness.  Owen you may stop puffing up like an agitated owl, and Jared, we are not in court.  You may take off your defender’s hat, and let us all enjoy this fine repast before it grows cold and much less satisfying.”

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One thought on “Just Keep Swimming. #nanowrimo

  1. This is great, and very vivid. I admit that there are a lot of Roberts in the scene, but you did a good job keeping them sorted and separate. No worries on that front. But I wouldn’t go changing the waitress’ name to Roberta in a later draft… 🙂

    Glad to see it’s shaping up.

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