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The Flamboyant: A Novel

Chapter One

Sixteen Hundred Acres

Until her mother's sudden death from pneumonia in the spring of 1916, the notion of upheaval in the thrum of daily life had seemed an impossibility. Until the awful moment when her mother had taken leave of the world, Lenora had not imagined that reality could change so quickly. And she would never -- not even with the passing of many years -- understand why God, "in all his infinite wisdom" had decided to take her beloved mother away from her on such an ordinary, unprepossessing afternoon in April.

The idea of actually moving away from Driftwood and Chautauqua County to live on a remote island in the Caribbean had seemed just as unlikely to Lenora as moving to the Timbuktu of her storybooks. And although she did have recollections of her parents discussing a sight-seeing trip to Puerto Rico once, she never could have envisioned that one day she would be going with her father alone, to start a new life there.

Later, Lenora remembered that the summer they had moved to the lake, a visitor to Driftwood -- a politician from the state of Maryland and loyal supporter of President Wilson -- had enthusiastically encouraged Henry and Louise to consider the purchase of Puerto Rican real estate a most prudent investment. "Porto Rico" was, in the congressman's estimation, "a fertile land with splendid products waiting to be marketed to our shores, no customs duty whatsoever, a windfall for the country. One positive outcome of the Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Paris. Fortunes to be made there."

When Lenora, who had been present during that conversation, had asked the congressman why such a war had begun in the first place, he had responded by saying, "Well, my dear, the Spanish-American battle was about our nation coming to the rescue of true patriots. We fought against the tyranny of Spain in our part of the world, in the Americas, more precisely." Demarest, wearing his reading spectacles, had shared a knowing glance with her, as if to say, Daughter, let us talk about this later.

Actually, he had spoken often of the nature of combat to his precocious girl. The well-reported devastations in Europe, the Battle of the Marne, Ypres, the constant news of young boys her age dying, had distressed his child, causing her fitful sleep on many nights. He dearly wished to impart to Lenora a perspective of the world that might help her comprehend the motives for men's violent ways.

And, so, that balmy evening in July, after the Marylander had left their home, Demarest sought to expand upon his views. He explained that there had been, quite naturally, distinct and divergent camps of thought on the matter of '98: the Spanish and the American. Furthermore, within the United States itself, there had been opposing factions tearing at the nation's conscience: those who favored expansionism and those who were stridently against it -- the anti-imperialists, as they called themselves. And while Demarest considered himself to be a citizen of unquestionable patriotism and had been a supporter of the separatist campaign in Cuba -- "those Spaniards are enslaving those unfortunate people; let them have their freedom!" -- he nevertheless tried to take a dispassionate approach in analyzing the incident that was largely responsible for sparking that war. The sinking of the second-class battleship U.S.S. Maine on February 15, 1898, in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, during a particularly tense time in Spain-U.S. diplomacy.

"The Spaniards," he began, "believe that something happened in the coal storage, a kind of combustion, and that it led to the ship's destruction. They deny any aggression whatsoever toward our country. And the United States, well, it has been put forth by our papers and members of the President's cabinet and, I might add, not unconvincingly, that the Spaniards used some kind of explosive device to destroy our country's ship. They did not want the United States to aid the Cuban freedom fighters. But, in truth, only time will tell. Most likely, the veracity of such assertions will not be known for years to come."

The death of his adorable, beautiful Louise, his "dove," his "honey bud," had shaken Demarest to depths he hadn't known existed in his being. Suddenly, what had always seemed so glorious to him about Chautauqua County -- the dense and resinous pine and fir woods, the steely, cirrus-cloud broken sky, the changing of the seasons -- red brushed autumn, followed by the silent snows of winter, fresh spring, and mild summer -- was unbearable.

He knew that he would never part with Driftwood, he would keep the property for his daughter's sake; yet, he craved to get away from the house and all its memories of promise.

It seemed to Lenora that in a matter of days, gray days marked by cold rain and miserable November dampness, her father had made up his mind about something that he, initially, had confined to the realm of fantasy: buying an estate of sixteen hundred acres in the Caribbean.

He had been perusing the evening papers and had happened upon a notice of sale in The Herald. After reading and rereading the appealing description, he concluded that Puerto Rico might be just the place to start anew. He could try his hand at farming; something he had secretly wished to do for years. And, so, Demarest directed his lawyer to make the necessary arrangements for purchase, and in the course of two weeks, became the owner of prime real estate in the little town of Dorado, twenty miles west of the capital, along the island's northern coast.

Being an only child and a fairly solitary girl who had preferred the company of books to other children, Lenora wasn't particularly against the idea of moving to a foreign land; especially a perpetually sunny one that seemed so colorful, imbued with every shade of green and blue. Her father had given her a clipping of the article that had caught his eye: "Porto Rico's ocean temperature is as warm as August rain, the sand as white as sugar. The breezes always kind." The idea of moving to a place so far away, surrounded by the endless sea, seemed adventurous, even a fun thing to do.

But Chautauqua County, her birthplace and the birthplace of her parents, and Driftwood, in particular -- where her mother had found a perfectly congenial ambience -- would be a place apart, a setting of commemoration. She would return, she vowed, as often as she could.

Excerpted from The Flamboyant © Copyright 2003 by Lori Marie Carlson. Reprinted with permission by Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

The Flamboyant: A Novel
by by Lori Marie Carlson

  • paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 006093560X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060935603