"Dru! Druscilla!" My mother's voice startled me awake.
She was bending over me, her expression so distressed that I
felt a pang of alarm.
I raised myself on my elbows, rubbing the sleep from my
eyes. "What is it, Mama?"
"Oh, my dear, we have just had the most dreadful news.
Alair is dead!" Her wide dark eyes grew suddenly bright with
Fully awake now, I sat up. "Dead! Alair? But how?" My
cousin was only twenty-six, just six years older than I, and in
the prime of radiant young womanhood.
"We don't know all the details. We just got word. Some
kind of accident." She began turning back the bedcovers.
"You must get up at once. There really is no time to lose,
Dru. We must leave for Mayfield as soon as possible. Garnet
will send a carriage to meet us at the station."
Mama's hands shook as she handed me a cup of coffee to
drink while I tried to absorb this shattering news.
"I must arrange for Auntie Nell's care while we are gone.
Poor soul, she's quite distraught, but at her age the train trip
and funeral would be too much. Now, hurry, dear! I've sent
Bessie to the train station to see when the next train is leaving,
and we must be on it!"
My mother left the room, and I got shakily to my feet. I
couldn't seem to gather my wits. All that had registered was
the stunning announcement that my cousin was dead!
I glanced at my open trunk, half-packed, standing in the
corner. I was to leave for my new teaching post at Thornycroft
School in Massachusetts at the end of the week. Dazedly
I moved toward it. Had I packed anything that would be
suitable for a funeral?
Funeral! Alair's funeral. The unreality of it rolled over me
in a fresh wave of grief, and I was wrenched back eight years
to a happier day. I could hear Alair's voice.
"But of course, Druscilla's going to be in my wedding! She will
wear the loveliest dress of pink ruffled lawn with a pink satin sash,
and carry pink roses. It will be perfect with her dark hair and
beautiful eyes. Oh, Aunt Dove, you can't say no!"
If there had been any doubt in Mama's mind that I should
be one of Alair's bridal attendants, it vanished in that
moment. No one had ever been able to deny Alair anything
she was set on having. I never quite understood why.
Even at age twelve I knew that Alair's engagement to
Randall Bondurant had caused a flurry of controversy
throughout our plantation community. There had been
strong feelings as to whether or not any of our family should
even attend the wedding, much less participate in it.
I remember the buzz of speculation among the older family
members when the announcement came.
"Not suitable at all!"
"Well, he is from an old Charleston family-"
"But disowned, I'm told."
"Something about a duel?"
"No, but he was expelled from the Citadel-"
"Some boyish prank, I suppose?"
"Gambling, my dear!"
Shocked gasps all around.
"Besides, he's ten years older-"
"And as rich as Croesus." The last was uttered with a
"What do Harmony and Clinton say?"
"What can they say? They've always spoiled the girl
"Yes, she is willful and headstrong."
"But what can a young lady do in these times, these
Again a round of heavy sighing.
"The truth and pity of it is that so many of our gallant
young men perished in the war."
"The war!" There was a consensus of nods. Then someone
had said, "Well, at least, she will live at Montclair."
"Bon-Chance," corrected another.
"Good Luck, indeed!" was the final cryptic comment.
I knew that the reason for all the debate was an old family
scandal, one that was spoken of in whispers although it was
an open secret in Mayfield.
Randall Bondurant now lived on the estate that had been
Montrose property for generations, ever since it was built on
an original King's Grant in the 1700s, until it was lost to
Bondurant in a card game by my Uncle Malcolm.
I had grown up at Montclair with my cousins-Alair
Chance and Jonathan Montrose-and our mothers, who
decided to move in together for the sake of safety and joint
strength while our fathers were off fighting in the war. So, of
course, I was pleased when Bondurant restored the house and
gardens to their antebellum splendor and was thrilled to learn
that the wedding would be held there.
Certainly, Alair was beside herself with excitement, and
even the name change didn't concern her in the least.
"I think it's absolutely the most romantic thing a man ever
did!" she trilled as we were being fitted for our dresses. "To
combine my last name and his for our new home! Oh, we
shall be so happy. I know it! What's more-" She dimpled
and winked in a conspiratorial manner-"I think I deserve
some credit for getting the place back into the family . no
matter what it's called!" And she tossed her beautiful head in
the careless way she had.
At that point I didn't care what our relatives said, either. I
thought Randall Bondurant was dashing and handsome, and
Alair the luckiest girl in the world.
I adored Alair-always had-ever since those days at
Montclair when she had so often declared herself the leader of
our trio, teasing Jonathan and me if we lagged behind in any
of her reckless games-climbing trees, wading in the creek,
playing in the woods. If she were our self-appointed "queen,"
the two of us were her willing subjects. And on the few
occasions when we dared to question her leadership, she said
she should lead because she was the oldest. Actually, it was
because she knew how to charm and manipulate to get her
way even then, and we gladly agreed just for the privilege of
playing with her.
Lost in my memories of those carefree days, I was still
standing in my nightgown, my cup of untasted coffee in my
hand, when Mama came back into the bedroom.
"Not dressed yet? Darling, do hurry. Our train leaves at
one. Shall I help?"
"No, thank you, Mama, I'll manage. It's just that somehow
I can't believe it yet-that Alair is really dead."
"I know, darling." Mama took the cup from me and set it
down, then hugged me. "I understand just how you feel."