Gideon's Call: A Novel

Gideon's Call: A Novel

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by Peter Leavell

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Based on true events, Gideon’s Call is the dramatic tale of a young man who battles the shame of his past and faces the horrors of war and unimaginable prejudice to become the deliverer of thousands of freed slaves.

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Based on true events, Gideon’s Call is the dramatic tale of a young man who battles the shame of his past and faces the horrors of war and unimaginable prejudice to become the deliverer of thousands of freed slaves.

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From the Publisher
“In this sweeping saga of one of the most stirring times in our nation’s history, Peter Leavell brings alive the stories of unsung American heroes that should never be forgotten. Gideon’s Call is exactly the kind of historical novel I love.”
— Donna Fletcher Crow, author of Glastonbury, A Novel of The Holy Grail

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Worthy Publishing
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Meet the Author

Peter Leavell graduated from Boise State with a degree in history in 2007. He is the winner of the 2011 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest. He and his family live in Boise, Idaho.

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Read an Excerpt

Gideon's Call

By Peter Leavell


Copyright © 2012 Peter Leavell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61795-136-7


Tad stared at the ancient plantation house shrouded in live oaks and Spanish moss.

His friend Collin paused beside the porch. "C'mon."

"Ain't going in.": Tad's mouth was so dry he could barely speak. "Mammy, she done say hags and witches—"

"That's old slave's talk." Not a trace of fear showed on the boy's white face.

"Wasn't right to steal pie, Collin." The odor of decay mingled with the smell of fresh apple and cinnamon from under the golden crust. "Now we make the devil happy."

"Dr. Jenkins won't miss one little pie." Collin stepped onto the porch. The planks creaked and bowed.

Tad stepped closer. Streaks of sun peeked through leaves, covering the battered porch in speckled light. He looked up at the ceiling and almost wailed. "Look, look, color is black. Ain't no way we survivin'."

"Old slave's talk." Collin took a few steps toward the front door that hung by a single hinge. "You're a darkie, Tad. And you make as much sense as one too."

Tad stared at the peeling black paint, his mouth open wide and fists clenched. Someone had died inside the house before it was abandoned. A place cursed with death, and then forsaken, was dangerous beyond words.

Collin stared at the porch ceiling for a moment and swallowed. He swept aside a strand of hair and reached for the doorknob. The heavy, wide door crashed to the porch and crumbled into a pile of rotten wood splinters. The dust cleared, and he stepped over the mound and disappeared into the dark interior. "We can eat the pie in here." His voice echoed from inside.

Tad whimpered. "Abraham, Moses, deliver we." He clutched his hands together. It wasn't the first time Collin had gotten the two in trouble. But because he was Massah's son, and Tad was a slave, Tad knew he'd be the one blamed. That's how it had been since they were born.

His fingers clasped around the silver cross that hung from a leather strap around his neck. "Lord, protect we." He followed his friend into the dark house.

Inside, through a broken window, a ray of light lit the stairway. The ceiling sagged, as if ready to crash down on them. Wallpaper hung in strips, drooping like willow branches. Tad felt the musty dampness in his nose and choked back a sneeze. "I'm leavin'."

A wave of hunger washed over him, and his mind swirled. He reached for the banister to steady himself. Collin leapt up and slipped an arm around his waist.

"Sit down, here." Collin helped him rest on the bottom step. Tad leaned his head against the wall.

Collin crossed the room and picked up the pie he'd set down, and Tad felt his friend's warm skin as he settled close.

"You look terrible." Collin dipped his fingers into the pie and grabbed a handful of cooked apples. "Eat this, you'll feel better."

Collin dropped the handful into Tad's palm, and Tad felt the warm, moist pie on his fingers.

While Collin found trouble now and again, he always looked after Tad.

Collin grabbed a handful of cooked apples and shoved them into his mouth. "This pie is delicious." He smiled, a piece of crust stuck to his lip. "Go ahead, Tad. You need it."

His mouth watered at the sweet smell. Tad hesitated. "You hear that?"

Collin lifted his head. "I didn't hear anything."

"Sounded like a whistle."

"Probably just a bird."

"No. A whistle. There." Tad put a clean hand behind his ear. "You hear it that time?"

Collin jumped. The pie dish clattered on the floor. His eyes grew wide.

"Witches, come t'git us." Tad dropped his piece and clasped his head. A strong desire to run came over him. Run and climb a tree.

"Let's get out of here. The back door." Collin darted past the staircase. He froze. His hands lifted slowly into the air.

Tad shrieked. He dashed toward the front door and slammed into a body as solid as a brick wall. Massive arms wrapped around him.

"Lemme go!" He stared up into the man's stern black face.

Laughter filled the decaying house. "Caught you." Another man stepped forward. "Been looking to catch you for quite some time, boy."

The strong arms spun Tad around, and he looked into a shriveled white face as sour as the breath that hissed from the toothless mouth.

"Mistah Spencer, we ain't doin' nothin'." Terror filled Tad as he struggled against the iron grip. Spencer, with his own black slaves, led patrols across the island, reporting any slaves that misbehaved. Usually he took matters into his own hands.

Behind Spencer, Collin wrestled with a member of the patrol. "Let us go!"

Spencer ignored him. Instead the old man stared into Tad's eyes. "I watch you, boy, running free with Collin like you own this island. You should be in the fields with the other darkies."

Collin's voice was firm. "Not your job to say." He wrenched from his captor's grip and dashed to Tad's side. "My father's slaves are his to control." He stood, hands on hips, his red face glowing in the dark room.

Tad didn't like being called a slave. No one talked about it, but it was true: he did roam the islands with Collin, as if they were brothers.

Spencer wasn't rich—he owned three large slaves, slaves who now hauled Tad, with arms pinned behind him, back to Dr. Jenkins' plantation.

Collin followed, arguing the entire way. "He didn't do anything. Wasn't him."

Spencer seemed in no mood to argue. "Stealing pie's a mighty big offense. You let one slave steal, they all wanna steal. Your daddy's got to teach you better how to handle slaves."

Little attention was paid to the small group that crossed the shaved grass to the side of the big house. Spencer ordered a slave to find Dr. Jenkins.

Soon, Mr. Spencer's assistant led a man in a dark suit from the garden, through groups of wedding guests. He strode forward with all the confidence that came with thousands of acres and hundreds of men and women under his control. He clutched a wineglass in his hand. Tad couldn't breathe.

"What's going on here?" Dr. Jenkins downed the rest of his drink.

"Just a slave from the Frogmore who stole a pie. Your pie." Spencer grabbed Tad and hauled him forward.

Dr. Jenkins' eyes turned to Tad then back to Spencer. "This lad? He's a good boy, he wouldn't do such a thing."

"He did, stole a pie. I watched him, followed him, and caught him eating it." Spencer spit.

Dr. Jenkins turned from Spencer, a look of disgust on his face, then leveled his gaze on Collin. "Did Tad steal the pie?"

Tad looked at his friend. Collin took a deep breath. His eyes darted from Dr. Jenkins to Spencer. Between the two men, he looked small, his hands twisting in front of him. He licked his lips and then shrugged.

Tad felt as if a knife pierced his heart. His head drooped.

Spencer's grip tightened. "Slaves got to be punished."

"You don't have to tell me my duty." Dr. Jenkins' voice was sharp. He sighed. "Tad, I expected more of you." He turned to Spencer and spoke softly. "I don't see why this is my responsibility. He's not my slave."

"I'm just letting you know what I'm going to do." Spencer tried to hold back a smile, but Tad could see the corners of his lips turn up.

"Just because you patrol for runaways doesn't give you the right ..." Dr. Jenkins thought for a moment, then sighed. "Just do it away from here, at the slave quarters."

Tad stared in horror as Spencer's grin stretched across his face. "Right, most understandable." He swept off his wide hat. "You see, it's not that I like this sort of thing, it's just my job."

Dr. Jenkins held up a hand. "Just ... go."

Tad's arm was nearly wrenched from his shoulder as Spencer's slave dragged him through a small grove of trees, along a well-traveled path to several cabins that lined either side of a small road. Slaves gathered to see the cause of the commotion. This seemed to please Spencer.

"I'll teach you, you little wretch." The old man cried aloud so all could hear. "No more thieving for you."

Tad tried to get his feet under him, but his legs left a trail in the dirt. He tasted salt from the tears that streamed down his face.

They entered a small clearing. In the center, an old oak with long, spindly arms stretched wide, as if reaching to snag them. A thick branch crossed the yard, the bark rubbed off from wear. A rope hung from its middle.

"No!" Tad pulled against Spencer's iron grip. "Please, no."

Spencer grabbed the dreaded rope.

Tad couldn't control his breathing. He scrambled to get away, broke from the old man's grasp, but Spencer's slave grabbed him.

The slave catcher bound Tad's hands until the rope bit into his wrists. He was hoisted up, his arms wrenched high above. His shoulders popped and pain burst from his arms. His feet kicked wildly; his toes stretched to touch the ground.

"Can't whip me," Tad muttered, the tears pouring freely. "Can't whip me. No lash for Tad, no lash. I did wrong? No lash." He had never been whipped before, but had seen it done, had seen the limp bodies fall to the ground afterward, looking like butchered meat.

"Can't whip me!" He screamed and flailed like a fish on a line pulled from the water.

Spencer leaned close. "You fight, boy, the more's gonna hurt." Tad could feel the man's spit with every word.

Tad's arms ached. Sweat dripped into his eyes. Trees and slaves, slave catcher and sky all became a blur. Spencer grunted, and the assistant pulled the dreaded black snake from a cloth bag. Panic surged through his body. He couldn't keep his eyes off the whip, curled, as if ready to strike.

Tad spun in a slow circle and stretched his neck to see Collin.

"He's too small to lash." Collin stepped forward. "Look, he can't touch the ground. His back is stretched too tight, he'll tear in two."

Spencer fingered the long strap, letting the leather slip from his hand. With a flick of his wrist, the whip snapped into empty air. Tad yelped. Several egrets near the marsh squawked and fluttered into the sky.

Spencer chuckled, slowly at first, then a full laugh. "You're getting mighty old, Collin, to be letting your daddy do all the work around your place." He thrust the whip's handle into Collin's hand. "Your turn."

Collin stood frozen.

Spencer snarled. "You want to take his place, boy?"

A small glimmer of hope dawned on Tad.

But with trembling hand, his friend reached for the whip.

"Take it, boy, or I'll tell your daddy you was too weak to whip a Negro."

Collin took the whip. The knife Tad had felt in his heart earlier was nothing compared to this new feeling of betrayal. Years of companionship sifted through his mind, the joy of youth and carefree days all crashing like a wave against rocks.

Collin pulled the whip back, whirled it, then swung forward.

Tad winced, but only a light slap touched his skin.

"Boy, I'm warning you." Spencer's voice was a growl. "You treat this slave like the animal he is, or you take his place."

"Don't." Tad whispered from the side of his mouth toward Collin. "Please no. I ain't done nothin' wrong."

Tad spun, his back to his friend. He could hear Collin's breath come in short gasps.

Dr. Jenkins' slaves were silent. No one moved.

Collin let out an angry growl, the whip snapped, and pain pierced through Tad.

After it was over, Tad hung limp. It seemed as if fire burned his entire body.

Spencer stepped into his blurry view. The old man's grinning mouth spat tobacco. "That'll learn you proper." He paused then reached for Tad's neck. "This is too good for a slave."

He felt the necklace snap from his neck. "No, it's mine!" Life filled Tad's aching limbs and he kicked Spencer in the stomach. His reward was a slap across the face and a bucketful of saltwater against his back.

He let out a bloody scream.


Tad couldn't decide what hurt worse: the stripes on his back, or Collin's treachery.

After the lashing, Collin had run. A slave from Jenkins' plantation had helped Tad home. When they made it to the Frogmore, Massah was there. Through the fog in his mind, he saw Massah's stern face. He'd said nothing, just left the kitchen.

Mammy carefully settled next to Tad's bed. "Mankind's the only creature in God's earth that enjoys givin' pain to others." She rubbed a salve on his back, and he groaned. After a moment, the sticky mess worked its magic and the ache softened. "They says you was caught stealin'."

Tad turned his face and looked into her red eyes. "No, Mammy, I didn't take nothin'. And I get a lashin'." He lowered his head facedown on a mattress stuffed with Spanish moss.

Mammy touched a clean cotton bandage to his skin. She took a deep breath. "You're different, child. Whole bunch of Negroes who steals anythin' they find, God knows they's been earnin' it. But you don't touch nothin' that ain't yours, I knows you don't. Lordy me, I done some stealin' in my time." She chuckled to herself. "But not you, boy."

A shadow crossed the plank floor, and Tad carefully lifted his head. He sighed and dropped his head back on the pillow. Just his friend Peg.

"Auntie Mammy, he dyin'?"

"No, he ain't dyin'; he'll be fine." Her voice, deep, seemed to scold Peg. "Now you set right next to him for a bit and sing. I'll make somethin' to eat."

Mammy's large body bumped Peg on the way out the door. Peg stumbled and her hand brushed Tad's shoulder. He clenched his teeth.

"Sorry." She sat next to him. "I know how it feels."

"I know you do."

"Didn't use a stingin' whip on you." Her hand felt cool on his brow. "They used a cuttin' whip." A ray of sun sent a steady stream of orange through the door, lighting dust that sometimes floated up, sometimes down. The light reflected concern off her round face. She sang in a squeaky voice.

"Wake up, Jacob, day is a breakin', I'm on my way; I want to go to heaven when I die, do love the Lord."

"You mad, Tad?"

He sniffed. "I s'pose."

"Mistah Spencer, he's an evil man. Of the devil, I think."

"Collin's of the devil." He lifted his head and pain shot through his back, biting stronger than the anger.

"Why Collin?"

"Gave me the lashin'." Tad bit back a sob. "Give it to me hard."

She brushed at a dry tear. "Can't believe he'd do the lash. Not Collin."

Collin. No, Judas. That was who he was. Judas. "Sing anuddah song, will ya?" He didn't want to talk about his troubles.

He'd always been different from the rest of the slaves, playing with Collin, long hours in the sun. Now he was like the rest of them. And the worst ... Collin had done it. Tad closed his eyes.

With the windows locked and the door closed, Mammy's kitchen cabin—a separate building from the big house—kept the rest of the Frogmore plantation out while Tad lay on his bed. The afternoon heat turned stuffy, and he drifted asleep. Dreams haunted him; a phantom pain shot through his brain. Sweat trickled from his body. A blaze roared. Flames licked at him, burning his back.

He awoke with a yell. The fires of hell jumped in front of him. With an arm, he wiped his sweaty, blurry eyes until he could see clearly. Across the room the fire burned, split logs adding to the summer heat. He'd been moved from the kitchen to the praise house.

The cabin was filled with slaves. They lined the walls, faces looking toward the rafters, their white eyes reflecting the orange glow. Mammy stood nearby. He glanced at her, and she nodded toward the fire.

Three men, just shadows in front of the blaze, waved their hands and sang a deep, sad song. One came close, his face filled with deep wrinkles like rows in a cornfield. The man lifted his head and the song changed. This time they all sang.

"Help me bear de cross, for I weep, I weep, I can't hold out; if any mercy, Lord, oh pity me."

Their teeth flashed, lit by the fire, and they rocked from side to side. Samuel, a big man, driver of the plantation, stepped forward. He motioned to Tad then pointed down, as if he wanted Tad to join him in front of all twenty of the Frogmore's slaves.

The scabbed slashes on Tad's back cracked as he struggled to his feet. With Mammy's help he set his legs under him and took a few careful steps. He stumbled forward until he stood with Samuel.

The song, faster now, rose in pitch. Five young girls circled Tad and danced. They swayed, their eyes closed, rolling their hips as they circled the small space in the middle of the room. A few more girls joined them, and then two men.

Samuel stepped forward. In a deep voice that filled the room he quieted the song. "Our boy here, he done face the mighty lash. He know the pain of death. He know the pain of life. He know we do as Jesus do, and take our lashes. Until Moses lead us from here, O Lord, we take our lashes." He raised his hands and the slaves burst into song, singing the same words over and over, faster each time.


Excerpted from Gideon's Call by Peter Leavell. Copyright © 2012 Peter Leavell. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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