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In Shame and In Honor
By Paul Sheahan
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Paul Sheahan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE PLAYERS
Adeline was unlike the other girls, sometimes aloof, often silent, but never morose. If observed closely one could see the intensity of her thoughts; the wrinkled brow dealing with some problem, be it academic, social, or religious. Her lips were pursed, like a trap, symbolic of the thoughts she held to herself. No word was wasted in idle talk, by nature, life for her was innately a serious business.
In no way could she be considered asocial. Communication was a way to discover new insights into life, but she was not involved with the frivolous side typical of a growing young woman.
At that precious age girls can move from uncontrollable and frivolous giddiness to a floodgate of tears with the bat of another's angry eye. Their wrath can be furious, particularly if aimed at themselves or even their kin. Sensitive to a fault, they can rescue, mother, and defend any cause with passion, but they are a joy to those who have the heart to believe that one day each will, in her own way, become a graceful swan. They can mimic the roles of their own mothers and yet still need to hug a doll at night. To a father they can be the most unfathomable of creatures, angry one day, playing coquettishly the next, and loving unbearably by the third. They are a mystery sent by God to teach us that the heart is a fragile beauty for which the book of instructions is understood only by those who stand back and watch like the wise old owl perched on the branch of a tree viewing its nightly domain.
Adeline was the archetype of this mould. Her father worried about her incessantly. Was she normal? Her mother, in contrast, could remember her own growing years and those memories were carved into her memories like the work of a delicate woodcarver. Time would take care of all!
Adeline was not like the average girl, physically. Tall for her age, she possessed a set of broad shoulders topped with a head a head within which lay a brain of unfathomable depth. The head was fine, but strongly set. Deep dark eyes were perched slightly above high and prominent cheekbones. Her nose was lengthy and her jaw manly. She was not a part of the family heritage. Neither pretty nor striking she was statuesque and in a feminine way, handsome. Adeline knew all these things about herself, for after all, self-analysis was the road to growth.
Miss Plankard, her teacher for this time period, had only glorious praise for Adeline's unique spirit, for this mentor saw remnants of herself in this growing young girl. For Miss Plankard, Adeline was beyond the perfect student. School brought out one side of her. An 'A' student, she went beyond the expectations of excellence for a mere country girl. Practical skills like sewing and cooking were of little interest to Adeline. She did them to appease her parents.
Books were her path to understanding the world in which she lived and the world beyond as well. She came alive while reading 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and recognized a portrait of what was wrong with this nation where she lived, slavery. The local school trustees of Jenkins County, where Adeline resided, saw, in Miss Stowe's book the key to comprehending the Southern way of life and expanding their sons' and daughters' views on this malevolent evil. Thus in September 1853 grade eight students were encouraged to read this novel. However, they did not go as far as mandating its use, thus recognizing that views on slavery and blacks varied among the inhabitants of their county. Let the teacher absorb the anger if any should complain.
Miss Plankard was an emerging abolitionist and she thought that this book would be an excellent means to infuse her students with what she viewed as 'the new community values'.
The first to be given a copy was Adeline, of course. She read it three times and was beginning to wear some of its pages. To Adeline this book was akin to the Bible itself and presented the views that all should see in the hated institution. To her it was like a parable for all to hear and learn the lesson that it taught, namely, that the 'evil institution' must be abolished.
But in Jenkins County the war was still far away. Upon her graduation Adeline had the rare opportunity to attend Bartholomew College even though her parents were scarcely capable of funding such a venture. Once again Miss Plankard was to make her presence felt. Determined, the modern lady took it upon herself to have a meeting with the trustees. She proposed that the community bear the burden of the $300.00 annual tuition. With their approval Miss Plankard went from door to door soliciting whatever funds the community could afford. She particularly sought out homes with daughters. She even managed to eke out $10.00 from her tight-fisted merchant father. The small price Adeline would pay would be her frequent return to Jenkins County, and to speak to anyone interested on the state of America, politically, socially, and economically. She encouraged Adeline to find out more about slavery and search out its place in this expanding nation. As a result, Adeline was to become an eloquent speaker of note in the county.
Great excitement, at least for Jenkins County. While not a traditional route for a black escaping bondage utilizing the Underground Railway, the county experienced its first real contact with the Railway. Her name was Amelia. During her trip north she had become separated from the rest of her group and sought solace wherever she could. Miss Plankard had managed to make arrangements so that Adeline, who was off school at the time, could temporarily care for her.
In the first days of this new relationship conversation was light and focused more on Amelia's physical care and emotional well-being. She was in amazingly good condition despite her trials and tribulations. Amelia was almost six feet tall and appeared quite statuesque. Her face was attractive. Full lips and dancing brown eyes hid horrors Adeline could not imagine. Slowly her story unfolded. Family separation at birth, humiliation at the hands of the trustee, fourteen hours a day at field work, personal poverty, and the death of her adoptive mother........all of this made for a persona devastated by humiliation and loneliness. Adeline listened attentively during the frequent walks the two took around the ancestral property. Meanwhile, Miss Plankard was busy making arrangements with the Underground Railway to continue her journey northward to Canada. But this was far from the minds of these two young ladies.
There was no room for color differences with this pair, only the desire to learn from the experiences of the other. The topics were endless, the stories often heart rendering, and often ending in floodgates of tears as Amelia shed layer after layer of domestic abuse. On one such outing and based on mutual trust the generally unspeakable topic of sex was raised. Amelia dropped her head and became silent. Silence ruled the relationship for the first time.
Ominous clouds formed in the sky above, great thunderheads, foretelling of violent inclement weather. Neither girl noticed the sudden change. The swirling wind whistled, drowning out the hoof beets of two apocalyptic riders.
The men were upon them, quickly dismounting and facing the two females with nasty glowers revealing toothless mouths. Being downwind Adeline and Amelia were beset with the malodor of the two, making them feel they were in some human dung heap. Stubbled faces of grey and black were interspersed with pitted holes, the malingering effects of youthful smallpox invasions. Their clothes, if one could call them that, were almost colorless, and masked in dirt, like their minds. Smiles became grins, evil and malignant grins. Revolvers hung from each hip, but they weren't needed here
"Well, missy," slurred the shorter of the two, "After what we been through to find you we figure some kind of reward is due us before we head south with you. White girl you can watch or stay. It don't make much difference to us." Like two lions that had awakened from their regimen of relaxation, the two stripped Amelia naked in less than a minute. A handkerchief, embedded with ions of snot, was forced down her throat to silence her wailing protests. She tried to run, but it was wasted energy. The two were upon her. Broken fingernails covering fingers of dirt and sweat hauled this innocent girl to the ground. She hit the ground so hard one could hear the whooshing sound of air escaping her lungs.
Pants were dropped and each man fumbled with their privates. Penises were inserted in both her vagina and her anus as each man desecrated the girl. In further humiliation each urinated a dark yellow stream over all parts of her body. They seemed quite comfortable doing this. Catching slave runners must have bred these obscenities into their code of conduct. They had brought dishonor to themselves and the institution they represented. Blood trickled from Amelia's private areas. The rag was removed and stale water obtained from a nearby swamp was used to make Amelia presentable for her master.
"Get dressed, nigger!" barked the shorter of the two men.
And where was Adeline during all of this? Frozen like the ancient Neanderthal who had wandered too far up some ancient mountain. Her brain shouted to her as the men left her, ignoring her existence. Nothing! No movement! The Neanderthal stood, wanting to do something but unable to figure out what that should be. This phenomenon is not unique. Faced with the most terrible of crimes, man is capable of a silent stupor.
Amelia disappeared with the two riders, the two bounty hunters smugly hiding behind the ugliness of the "Dred Scott' decision. They did so confident in their conquest. They took their time, for the laws were on their side. Better still, each would earn $25.00 for their conquest. Now Amelia's owner would have the pleasure of seeing one of his prime pieces of property returned to him.
Abolitionists had been outraged with that infamous Supreme Court decision. Conservative judges had taken the view that escaped slaves were chattel and as such could be treated as stolen property. Canada had become the last refuge for these poor souls as they sought to escape slavery.
Adeline changed. She refused to return to college to finish her studies and chose to spend most of her time in her room staring blankly out her window. The events of that day played over and over in her mind. Why had she not helped? Guilt now became the force now driving her spirit. She began to loathe herself. All those noble words about freedom for slaves became that, just empty words trumpeted vacantly without backbone or action.
Played in brilliant color she could manipulate that fateful day coming upon the scene from different angles and watching her frozen form encased in fear. No word was too vile to describe what she had done that day. She was trapped within her conscience and it was not about to free her from her moment of inaction. Her values had been tested and she failed that test. The downward spiral of mind and spirit took her to very dark places. She imagined herself hanging from some gnarled, dead oak tree with the word 'coward' inscribed on a sign placed around her neck. Unwittingly she had become suicidal. One day she tried to make the dream come true but was found by her brother and sister before the rope could do its devilish deed.
Her first memory was awakening to the crying of her shocked mother and father. The doctor had been called, but his job was simply to state the obvious. No one really understood suicide in that day and age. Healing had to come within the mind of the person. She lay silently. She asked for no one or for food.
In desperation the Reverend Tolland was brought in to pray and listen to what Adeline might say. He was not a young man but had an understanding of the ravaged mind. He had seen so many. His gentle, peaceful smile brought an air of freshness to Adeline. He took her right hand and gently rubbed it. Its warmness penetrated her cold soul. He began.
"Adeline, I doubt there is much I can say to heal you. Your healing will come from your Maker and the inner strength that I know is within you. God has long forgiven what you must see as weakness. You have already given so much to this world, more than what most can do in a lifetime. Remember, you are alive because God has a purpose for you in life. It is up to you to find your personal redemption. It will come to you suddenly. You are a person of faith, have faith in yourself."
Wise words indeed, but would Adeline have the same confidence in herself as Rev. Toland? He closed by clasping both her hands and giving them a warm squeeze. After he left she continued to sob, but he had left her with a recipe for salvation. It was up to her to put it into action.
Life was to change quickly for Adeline. General J.P.T. Beauregard had ordered the bombing of Fort Sumter. War was now declared by President Lincoln and he ordered an army of 75,000 soldiers for a period of ninety days. That should take care of those Southern upstarts.
The war served as a distraction for Adeline. She studied these events carefully, concerned for her older brother who was eager to be the first soldier to go to war from Jenkins County. He was also afraid this war would be over before he could make his mark on history.
Then it happened; the unimaginable in the minds of Northerners! They had economic resources the South could not match. They had legal right on their side! And with superior officers and the bravery of these first volunteers it would end and the South would be brought back into the fold. How could a few wealthy landowners and a struggling middle class make their mark against the North? It was called First Bull Run (or Manassas if you were from the South). Why, the cream of Washington had come out that day to see the South put to rout. There was a rout but it was the Northern soldiers that flew from the battlefield all the way back to Washington.
Adeline's spirit began to revive. The Rebs were the reincarnation of the devil himself. This would be a test for her! This would be her redemption. Now the experience with Amelia and her personal beliefs were brought to the foreground.
So with her spirit revived Adeline began to conjure up a plan. First she looked in the full length mirror that ran the length of her closet door. Her eyes took on those of a recruiting officer. Her body type was not unlike that of a gangly country boy. She pictured herself in the uniform of most Northerner soldiers, double blue. She pictured her hair cut short with horsetail hair used to secure a moustache over her upper lip. She would use a slouch hat to cover her feminine eyelashes. She would make a point of looking male by adding grit to her face giving her a weathered appearance. She would sew extra cloth in areas where males would tend to be muscled, on the arms and legs. She practiced walking from side to side, with a bit of a slouch to finish off the changes. To toughen herself she took long walks in the woods to firm up her legs while at the same time carrying an axe over her head to firm up her arms. The next step was more difficult. She was from a farm area and it would be natural for her to use a flintlock or shotgun. She had watched her brothers hunt and unconsciously memorized the steps in operating a flintlock. On the days when she going deep into the woods she would take powder and lead balls with her to practice with on the neighboring trees. Adeline tempered this dream with the realization that she had to go about this carefully. She could not afford to be discovered when enlisting. She would rely on her instincts to let her know when she was 'ready to enlist'. To make her voice more masculine she had her accomplice brother buy some cigars which she hoped would add a rasp to her voice. Smoking would be her way of showing her newfound masculine identity. What a picture she made. Wearing men's pants and carrying a flintlock rifle and axe she would shuffle off in her new stride to practice her conversion in becoming a man. When firing the flintlock she made sure the men were away in the furthest fields before beginning target practice. More than once she managed to make the ramrod airborne, but she approached these as challenges to conquer, not defeats.
The war was expanding and with it Adeline's skill and proficiency in acting 'soldierly'. Her plan was to wait for the next call-up of men and she would sneak off . It would be pointless to debate this with her parents so she wrote them a lengthy letter outlining her objectives and the training she had been doing. It would shock them but at least they would know that their daughter had come back to them, just in an altered form.
Excerpted from In Shame and In Honor by Paul Sheahan Copyright © 2010 by Paul Sheahan. Excerpted by permission.
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