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Wilderness #58: Cry Freedom
By David Thompson
Copyright © 2008
David L. Robbins
All right reserved.
Chapter One The young man with the whip had been drinking.
It showed in his red face and swaggering stride as he came out of the gleaming whitewashed mansion and descended the marble steps. Walking under great cedars, he made for a path that would take him deep into the plantation. He shook the whip as he walked and muttered under his breath, and when one of his mother's cats came toward him, he kicked it. "I will by God teach you and I will by God teach her!"
Another young man came running and fell into step beside him. "What are you up to, Brent?"
They were enough alike in face and frame to show they were brothers. Brent was older by a few years and heavier of build. Both had the red Sullivan hair and the square Sullivan jaw. Both had eyes as blue as an Irish lake.
"Leave me be, Justin."
"Why the whip?"
"Leave me be, damn you," Brent snapped.
"Father won't like it. Father won't like it one bit."
"It's not him she did this to."
"So that's what this is about?"
The cedars gave way to the emerald Bermuda grass of the plantation lawn. Several geese were pecking at a zinnia bed, and without breaking stride Brent lashed the whip and scattered them. "Damn birds. We'll have one for supper tomorrow."
"Please reconsider," Justin said.
Brent shot him a dark glance of annoyance. "You can be a trial, you know that? If it were anyone but you, I'd take this whip to them. By God, just see if I wouldn't."
To the north a field of cotton was being worked, the overseer and two score slaves toiling in the hot Georgia sun.
"I hate it when you get like this. That temper of yours is forever getting you into trouble."
"What I do not need," Brent declared, "is someone scolding me over my temper. You have one yourself. It comes with the blood."
Justin sighed and shook his head and kept on matching his brother's long strides. "We have a couple of minutes yet. You don't have to do this."
"Father doesn't like them mistreated. He won't let them be punished without his consent. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know."
"'Father this' and 'father that,'" Brent spat. "You make him sound halfway holy. But the truth is, he doesn't like them to be beaten because they're his property and he doesn't like his property damaged."
"They are people like you and me."
Brent abruptly stopped and looked at his brother in genuine amazement. "That is the stupidest thing you've ever said to me."
"I mean it. How can you compare them to us? We're white. They're black. They're dumb brutes, the whole lot of them, little better than animals, and good for nothing."
A red tinge crept up Justin's face. "I don't care what you or anyone else says. I have always thought of them as human beings and I always will." He paused. "If they're the brutes you claim, how is it you are so upset because one of them had the gall to say no to your advances? Surely it shouldn't matter."
"I am her master and she will damn well do as I want."
"Lust, brother. Lust."
"What about it?" Brent gestured sharply and resumed walking. "I have needs, the same as any man. And she is a beauty, that Randa. The equal of any belle we know. But if you tell any of them that, I'll deny it."
"You deny a lot of things."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Brent swore and walked faster, but his brother stayed with him. "Damn you. Damn that conscience of yours, too. I'm thankful I don't have one."
"Think of the trouble it could cause. The other slaves won't like it. They'll think it unfair and harbor resentment."
Again Brent Sullivan stopped. "There's just no end to your silliness, is there? They are slaves, for God's sake. Who cares what they think? They're on this earth for one purpose and one purpose only. Your problem is that you make them out to be more than they are. I sometimes wonder if you even notice their skin is different than ours."
"I'm proud to say I don't. To me all skin is the same."
"Then you're a fool, Justin," Brent said heatedly. "How can you have lived your whole life on our plantation and not make the distinction? How can you have lived in the South all your years and not take things as they are?"
They were almost at the end of the lawn when Justin cleared his throat and said, "I have never thought it right to hold another person in bondage. And that is what we do. We put our boots to the backs of their necks and bend them to our will."
"You are a freak," Brent declared.
"Not many feel as I do, true. Not south of the Mason-Dixon Line, anyway. But that doesn't make me wrong."
"It doesn't make you right." Brent swore some more. "All this talk is clearing my head. I need more brandy." He patted his pockets. "Damn. I left my flask inside."
"Good. The last thing you need is more drink."
Brent glared. "No good can come of this attitude of yours. Slavery has been around forever and always will be. Need I remind you that in Africa there are blacks who have slaves of their own? You make us out to be wicked when we are no worse than anyone else."
"I grant you the ways of the world are twisted-" Justin began.
"Enough. I'll hear no more. I started out hot and I will stay hot. Take yourself and your 'all men are equal' tripe and go bother someone else."
The shacks appeared, row after row. Most of the men and many of the women were out in the fields. Children stopped playing to stare. A crone's brow wrinkled in worry.
"Please don't do this," Justin tried again.
"Go away, I say." Brent stopped in front of the next shack and placed his hands on his hips. From within came soft humming. "Randa! Come on out here, girl!"
The humming stopped and a middle-aged woman in a plain dress and apron, her hands caked with flour, timidly emerged. "Master Brent, Master Justin." Her wide eyes focused on the whip. "What can I do for you?"
"Emala, I want your daughter, and I want her now."
Emala wiped her hands on her apron.
"Didn't you hear me?"
"Randa ain't here, Master Brent. She's off with the rest and won't be back 'til sunset." Emala's throat bobbed. "If you don't mind my askin', what's this about? You sound awful mad."
"I am. That daughter of yours has overstepped herself and must be taught a lesson."
"With that, Master Brent?" Emala asked with a fearful nod at the whip. "What could she have done that's so bad?"
"Hasn't she told you?" Brent glowered at the shack. "Are you sure she's not hiding in there and you're not lying to protect her?"
"I'd never do that, Master Brent, sir."
"We'll see." Brent barreled on in. The bare walls, the burlap curtains, the sparse furnishings were typical. He snorted and came back out. Squinting up at the morning sun, he swore bitterly. "I want you to tell her something for me, Emala."
"I surely will, Master Brent."
"Tell her I did not take kindly to last night. I did not take kindly at all to what she did. She should be flattered. She should think of the good it can do her and your family."
Emala wrung her hands, her knuckles pale against the ebony. "I will tell her, Master Brent."
"See that you do."
Justin watched his brother stalk off. "I'm sorry, Emala. You know how he gets. He came home late and was drinking until nearly dawn."
Fixing her big brown eyes on him, Emala said, "I like you, Master Justin. I like you a lot. You're the nicest white man I ever knew, and that's a fact. So I hope you won't hold it against me when I say I'm scared of your brother. Powerful scared. I remember when he whipped old Gus for droppin' that plate."
"I was in Atlanta with father or we would have stopped him. And father did take away his stable privileges for a month, if you'll recall."
"His stable privileges," Emala said.
Justin gazed out over the plantation. "It's a strange world we've been born into, isn't it? I sometimes wish I was a Quaker. They are against slavery, you know. And Denmark has outlawed it."
"Denmark, sir? I ain't never heard of that town."
"It's a country on the other side of the ocean."
"It would be," Emala said.
"Mark my words. The day will come when all men, white and black, are free."
"If you say so, sir."
"Never give up hope. Tomorrow is always a better day." Justin smiled and hastened after his brother.
The moment he was out of sight, Emala turned and made a bustling beeline for a field to the south. The foreman was there, but he did not try to stop her as she went down the rows of cotton to where a large man in a tattered floppy hat was on his knees, working at the soil with his fingers. He had a bulbous nose and thick lips that curled in surprise.
"What the devil are you doin' here, woman? You have the day off. I thought you was bakin'."
"We got trouble, Samuel."
Samuel came off his knees, rising until he towered over her. His sleeveless shirt was damp with sweat, and the corded muscles on his arms rippled as he moved. "What kind of trouble? If it's Chickory again, I'll take a switch to that boy's backside. Just see if I don't."
"It's not Chick, it's Randa."
"You're joshin'. That girl hardly ever gives us grief. We've been lucky with her. She's not like some of the others, always triflin' with men, carryin' on and whatnot."
"It might be better for her if she was like them."
Samuel was shocked. "Wash your mouth out with lye soap. And you her own mother. Why, if you was a drinkin' woman, I'd say you'd been at the bottle."
"Master Brent has, and he's after our girl with a whip."
"You heard me. He tried to take liberties last night and she wouldn't let him, so now he came to our shack with his whip and his brother."
"Hold on, hold on," Samuel said. "You're goin' too fast. What's this about liberties? How come you know about it and I don't? Why wasn't I told?"
"Because I knew how you would be. You'd want to take a club to him, and then I'd have my husband hangin' from a noose. No thank you. I made Randa promise not to say a word to you and figured that would be the end of it."
"Damn you, woman."
"Don't take that tone with me, Samuel Worth. Or have you forgotten what you did when Amos Sully was pesterin' her? You thrashed him, thrashed him good. He was black so nothin' came of it, but it ain't the same when you thrash white folks. And especially not your master. They have laws about that."
"White laws," Samuel said.
"Forget the law and forget Master Brent," Emala said. "The question now is what do we do? He went away, but he'll be back, most likely tonight after the work is done. How do we stop him? Go to Master Frederick? His father is the only one who can control him."
Samuel glanced at the other workers to be sure none were within earshot. Then, bending toward her, he said quietly, "We run."
"I'm serious, woman."
"You're sunstruck, is what you are. You know what the whites do to those who run."
Samuel looked around again, then clasped her hand. "It's not as if we haven't talked about it. Sure, Master Frederick treats us decent, but he still owns us. And I don't like bein' owned. I want to be free. To be my own man. To go where I want and do what I want when I want."
"I've told you before and I will tell you again," Emala whispered, "that kind of thinkin' can get you hurt or worse."
"And how hurt will our daughter be if Master Brent takes his whip to her?" Samuel grasped her other hand. "You have to make up your mind. Either we run, or I try to stop him. And you know what they do to blacks who stand up to whites."
Emala bit her lower lip.
"I don't care to spend the rest of my days in these fields. My father did it and his father before him, but it's not for me. I've only stuck it out this long because of you and the kids."
"Were would we go? We can't stay in the South. They'd hunt us down like they do all the runaways. We'd have to go to Yankee land and be at their mercy."
"You sound like Miss Colleen," Samuel said. "To her they are Yankees. To us they are just more whites. But no." Samuel raised his head to the west. "I have me a better idea. We'll run, all right. But we'll go the last place anyone would expect."
"The Rocky Mountains."
Excerpted from Wilderness #58: Cry Freedom by David Thompson Copyright © 2008 by David L. Robbins. Excerpted by permission.
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