Ford Madox Ford: “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” A website called The Page 99 Test is devoted to this idea.
So here you go, page 99 of The First Assassin. It describes a nighttime conversation between two slaves, Lucius and his granddaughter, Portia. They’re beginning to hatch the plot that will change their lives–and alter the course of American history.
…and thought it was you. But it was him. He grabbed me, and then you showed up just in time.
“He’s gone now, but we’ll see more of him. He came to Mr. Bennett’s home in the city most every day. It’s like he’s Mr. Bennett’s son.”
“I’m frightened, Grandpa. What if he comes after me again?”
“I don’t wanna scare you, Portia, but you know white folks. They like to have their way with us.”
“Why do we let ‘em? There are more of us. We could take over this place and–”
“Stop talkin’ that way right now,” said Lucius. “It wouldn’t work. It would get us killed.”
Lucius put his arms around Portia. If Hughes insisted on having his way with her, there was no guarantee he could stop it. He was not sure talking to Bennett about it would solve the problem either. That might even make it worse. Bennett’s new affection for Hughes had grown so strong that Lucius thought he might even give Portia away if he knew of the young man’s interest.
These circumstances only added to his resolve. He led Portia into the stables. They sat down on overturned buckets.
“I’m sorry Mr. Hughes found you. If I had known about him lurkin’ around, I wouldn’t have asked you to meet me here. But what I got to say is very important.”
Lucius stood up and wandered around the stables for a minute, sticking his head in the stalls to make sure they were truly alone. Then he returned to Portia.
“You heard of President Lincoln?” he asked.
“Everyone says he’s gonna set us free.”
“That’s what I’ve been hearin’ too.”
Readers will long memories may recall that I also submitted the self-published edition of The First Assassin to the test. So that’s two page 99s for the price of one.