Excerpt from The March by E.L. Doctorow, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The March

by E.L. Doctorow

The March
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 384 pages
    Sep 2006, 384 pages

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But for all his warning and preparation she could not believe the moment had come to leave Fieldstone. The fear made her legs weak. She could not imagine how to live except in her own home, with her own things, and the Georgian world arranged to provide her and her family what their station demanded. And though Aunt Letitia was gone, she had infected them with her panic. For all his foresight, John was running around this way and that, red-faced, shouting and giving orders. The boys, roused out of bed and still only half dressed, came down the stairs with their rifles and ran out through the back.

Mattie went to her bedroom and stood not knowing where to start. She heard herself whimpering. Somehow she dressed and grabbed whatever she could from her armoire and bath and threw everything into two portmanteaus. She heard a gunshot and, looking out the back window, saw one of the mules go down on its knees. Roscoe was leading another from the stable, while her older boy, John Junior, primed his rifle. It seemed only minutes later, with the sun barely on the treetops, that the carriages were waiting out front. Where were they to seat themselves? Both carriages were loaded with luggage and food hampers and sacks of sugar and flour. And now the morning breeze brought the smoke around from the stacks where John had set the fodder alight. And Mattie felt it was her own sooty life drifting away in the sky.

when the Jamesons were gone, Pearl stood in the gravel path still holding her satchel. The Massah had only glanced at her before laying his whip on the horses. Roscoe, driving the second carriage, had come past her and, without looking, dropped at her feet something knotted in a handkerchief. She made no move to retrieve it. She waited in the peace and silence of their having gone. She felt the cool breeze on her legs. Then the air grew still and warm and, after a moment in which the earth seemed to draw its breath, the morning sun spread in a rush over the plantation.

Only then did she pick up what Roscoe had dropped. She knew immediately what it was through the cloth: the same two gold coins he had showed her once when she was little. His life savings. Dey real, Miss Porhl, he had said. You putem 'tween yer teeth you taste how real dey is. You see dem eagles? You git a passel of dese an you c'n fly lak de eagles high, high ober de eart—das what de eagles mean on dese monies.

Pearl felt the hot tears in her throat. She went around the big house, past the outbuildings and the smoking fodder and the dead mules, and past the slave quarters where they were busy singing and putting their things together, and down along the trail through the woods to where the Massah had given leave to lay out a graveyard.

There were by now six graves in this damp clearing, each marked by a wood shingle with the person's name scratched in. The older grave mounds, like her mother's, were covered with moss. Pearl squatted and read the name aloud: Nancy Wilkins. Mama, she said. I free. You tole me, Mah chile, my darlin Porhl, you will be free. So dey gone and I is. I free, I free like no one else in de whole worl but me. Das how free. Did Massah have on his face any look for his true-made chile? Uh-uh. Lak I hant his marigol eyes an high cheeks an more his likeness dan de runts what his wife ma'm made with the brudders one and two. I, with skin white as a cahnation flow'r.

Excerpted from The March by E. L. Doctorow Copyright © 2005 by E.L. Doctorow. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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