Here's the opening scene, written at the beginning of my NaNoWriMo exercise this month. Comments, please?
Susan frequently urged him to have Hector bring the surrey around and drive him to school, but Jonathan preferred to walk. Even though the sight of a white man being driven by a slave was the norm in Charleston, Jonathan found it disturbing. He understood the need for slave labor on the plantations and around the large households of the city, but he refused to ask another man to do those things he could do for himself. Besides, he felt energized after a brisk morning stroll, and that energy kept him alert and enthusiastic in his classroom.
Charleston was beautiful in the mornings. The cobblestone streets still sparkled after their overnight cleansing, and the sidewalks were still empty of loiterers. The white steeple of St. Michael's Church made a sharp contrast with the deep blue of the sky. Breezes ruffled the palm fronds only gently, and newly-opened roses and azaleas pushed their way through iron fence posts to share their fragrance with the city. The morning stillness was interrupted only by the occasional clatter of a milk wagon, or the sleepy calls of awakening birds. The graveyard of the Circular Church offered deep shadows softened by the green-gray sheen of swaths of Spanish moss. Then came the market area, enlivened by the musical sounds of slave voices chattering in Gullah and the shouts of purveyors unloading their merchandise. Jonathan breathed deeply, relishing the sights and sounds that inspired him.
His steps quickened as he approached the new Charleston Apprentice's Library Building. He took great pride in the theory behind the school's founding: that even common laborers would benefit from a broad education, not only from learning their mechanical skills but through the heightened awareness that came from the study of literature and history. The Apprentice School drew its support from civic-minded businessmen in the city. The students attended for free, needing only a recommendation and released time from their family or employer. Jonathan loved teaching the young adolescents who came into his classroom still fresh-faced and eager. They challenged him to offer the kinds of knowledge that would help them become better citizens as well as better workers.
This morning, however, Jonathan's usually springy steps slowed as he caught sight of a small figure crouched on the steps of the school. "Declan?" he asked. "Declan McDermitt? Whatever is wrong? Have you been crying?"
The boy scrubbed his fists furiously into his eyes, refusing to look up at his favorite teacher.Jonathan dropped his book satchel and sat down on the step next to the boy. Gently, he caught the boy's chin with two fingers and turned his head to face him. Declan's red hair usually complemented his creamy complexion, but on this morning, his cheeks were flushed with an angry red, and a deeper blue and purple bruise surrounded one eye.
"What happened to you?"
"Just had a fight. Doesn't matter." The words were soft and betrayed by their own trembling.
"Declan, you are definitely not the fighting sort!" Jonathan said. "Who hit you?"
The boy jerked his head away, his lips pressed tight in an effort to control their trembling. Jonathan waited, understanding the boy's distress.
"Mr. Grenville, why are you a damyankee?" The words came out in a rush, although the boy still kept his head turned away.
Jonathan caught his breath at those words coming from a fourteen-year-old child. For a few moments he could not find his own voice. His heart hammered as he realized the implications behind the simple question.
"What makes you ask that?" he said once he could trust his own composure. "Where did you hear it?"
"My Da says that's what you are. You're a damyankee for telling us things in class that aren't true." Declan was angry now and ready to confront this man he had idolized for so long.
"What did I ever tell you that was untrue?"
"You said that congressman from South Carolina was wrong to attack Senator Sumner. You said states do not have the right to defy the federal government. You said slavery is wrong and needs to be abolished. You said . . ." As his anger sputtered to an end, so too did his words.
"I did say all those things, Declan." Jonathan admitted. "I said them because I believe them. But . . ."
"And I guess that's why you're a damyankee . . . .whatever that is. You said them, and I believed you, and I went home and told my Da that I believed them, too, because you said they were true, and he hit me. That's the whole story. And now my Da's inside there talking to the headmaster and telling him that I can't go to school here anymore because you're a damyankee." Declan's lower lip trembled and tears welled in his eyes.