Excerpt from Book Two of the Americans Series, The Scout of Wounded Knee
January 25, 1929
Wyatt Earp is dead.
I read it in the newspaper this morning, though it’s been more than a week. I met the man once, in Tombstone, Arizona. This was before all of that O.K. Corral nonsense. I can’t say I cared for him much. The newspaper said he was eighty-years-old, which is a few years younger than I am. I suppose I’ll be sharing space with him in hell before too awfully long. If there is such a place, it’s where we both belong.
When it first occurred to me to write this, it was only to tell the story of Wounded Kneel; to set the record straight and maybe alleviate some of my nightmares in the process. I’ve had them nearly every night for thirty-nine years. I used to be able to stave them off by getting drunk, but I don’t tolerate liquor too well these days. Most nights now I lie awake listening to the rafters creaking until well after midnight. Most mornings I’m up long before the sun. A guilty conscience is a heartless companion.
After giving it some thought I decided to start from the beginning—my beginning—because telling it that way may help bring some context to the rest of it. Also, there are some people who merit mention; some people who will never be written about in any history book, though they should be. Wachiwi, Dancing Girl of the Sioux, who once saved my life, and my friend, Henry. Henry was the best man I ever knew. But I’ll get to them soon enough.
A lot led up to the atrocity at the Pine Ridge Agency that day, what the army and the government and the historians are all so contented to call The Battle of Wounded Knee. I’ve been in battles, more than I care to count, and this wasn’t one. This was an execution. As for my involvement in it, I seek no absolution. I know there is none for one such as me.
I ordered some decent paper from the Sears, Roebuck and it arrived just yesterday. This one here is the first sheet.
My name is Everett Ward. I was born in Missouri on Dec 13, 1845, on a little scrap of a farm near Osceola. My mother and father were both from Virginia. I don’t know what would have made them want to relocate to the ramshackle house on that flood-prone twenty acres, and I never thought to ask them while they were alive. Looking back on it, I realize how little I knew of them. I know that my father used his small inheritance to buy the farm not long after my older brother Clyde was born in 1842. I also know they were both educated, a fact that makes the purchase of the spread even more curious.
My father was a poor farmer, and I mean that in both senses of the word. His corn never grew worth a damn and his hogs were always sick. My mother tutored local children sometimes and took in mending when she could. Around Christmas time she’d sew quilts for extra money. Clyde and I never went to a school but our mother and father took turns teaching us. They had a fair collection of books they’d brought from back east and in the evenings after supper all four of us would read to each other out of them. We never had a lot of money and sometimes in the winter we only ate one meal a day, but there was happiness. It was a good life.
My brother and I joined the Confederacy in 1861; not because of politics or slavery, but for the twenty-five dollars each we were given to sign on. My father was sorry to lose the labor—he didn’t believe in keeping slaves—but he was grateful for the fifty dollars. Truth is, we would have joined the Union just as readily if we would have been offered a cash bounty from the boys in blue first. We just wanted to help our mother and father.
Clyde and I were issued our ill-fitting grays along with a couple of worn-out looking Springfield rifles and sent marching south. Two weeks later we were standing at the bottom of a hill with only three balls apiece for the old muzzle-loaders, waiting for the order to charge the Union line on the south slope of the hill. Clyde made less than a dozen steps before he went down. The ball took him in the knee. It shattered his knee cap along with some of his femur and tibia. The army sawbones attempted to take off his leg halfway between his hip and his knee that same night. Clyde died screaming while I stood listening less than ten feet away. He was three days from being nineteen-years-old. Six weeks later my mother and father were dead too. They were dragged from the house in their bedclothes in the middle of the night by Unionist Jayhawkers and shot dead in the dooryard where Clyde and I used to play jacks. The house and barn were burned to the ground. It was cold comfort they didn’t have to grieve Clyde for long.
As for me, I spent the next four years fighting and never took a scratch.
One morning about month before things ended, I leaned my rifle up against a tree where we were camped in the woods southeast of Kansas City and I walked away. I wasn’t the first. In the early months of 1865 men were deserting in droves, at least in Missouri they were. I wasn’t a deserter, though. My commitment to the Confederate Army had ended six months prior. I stayed on because I had nowhere else to go. You would have been hard-pressed to find and officer who’d have given a tinker’s damn if I was deserting like the rest of them anyway. The command in our regiment had long since crumbled, officers were deserting as well. By that time most of us were nothing but a bunch of sick and half-starved wraiths wielding empty rifles.
When I struck off through the woods toward home, I had the pistol I’d taken from a dead Union officer at Lone Jack in ’62, the jackknife my father gave me for my tenth birthday, a speck of flint, a canteen that belonged to the Confederate Army, and one hard-boiled egg. I didn’t have anything else to my name. Not even my own clothes.
I made my way south, staying off the roads to avoid contact with troops of either side. It was early March and it was cold and there was still some snow. I didn’t curse the snow because it was never very deep and I could melt it for water. It took me a week to make the journey and that hard-boiled egg was all I ate the entire week.
When I reached the farm I spent some time poking through the nearly four-year-old ashes, but I was too weak to dig very deep and it appeared as if it had been sifted through many times before. Even the stones of the fireplace had been carried off. I was only hoping to find a photograph of my mother. She never consented to Clyde and I joining up. “Fifty dollars be damned,” she said when we broke the news to her and my father. “It isn’t worth your lives.” It was the only occasion in my fifteen-years that I’d ever heard a curse pass my mother’s lips.
I sat down against the big cottonwood which grew between the house and the barn and wept for awhile. I woke up to someone kicking my foot. I opened my eyes; not kicking my foot, but tapping it with a walking stick.
“You’re John Ward’s boy, ain’tcha? Clyde.…No, that’s not right , you’re the other one, Everett.”
I nodded. Yes, ma’am, Missus Bishop.”
“Well, if you ain’t a sight.…” She cocked her head toward the black rubble that was once his family’s home. “You got word of what happened I expect?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Not long afterward.”
“Well, I’m sorry about your folks. It was a terrible thing what those men did.…Most everyone’s gone now, ‘sept me and the Sundersons and old Mac down by Lawson’s Bend. There’s a few up in town but there’s nothing left but cinders so God only knows why they’re still there. You want to come up to the house, get yourself something to eat? I don’t have much but I’ll share what there is. I don’t know if you remember Nathanial—Mister Bishop—but he’s gone now. The consumption finally got the better of him. He passed two summers ago, God rest his soul. It’s just me and a goat and a half-dozen chickens.”
I stood up a little too sudden and staggered on account of the hunger. Missus Bishop grabbed my upper arm and steadied me. I remember how strong her grip felt, even through my wool coat. She was rail-thin and her hair had been as white and wispy as a summer cloud for as long as I could remember. Clyde and I thought both her and Mister Bishop as old as Methuselah, but she didn’t seem old or frail to me that day.
I began to weep again.
“There now,” she said. “You’ll feel better once we get something hot into you. You want to see where they’re buried ‘for we go?” She didn’t wait for an answer. She only looked at me appraisingly for a moment, likely to see if I was going to faint or not. Seeming satisfied, she released my arm and started off toward the fenced area where my mother used to keep her garden.
“There weren’t nobody to make a headstone,” she said apologetically when we reached the gate to the roughly quarter-acre rectangle of split-rail fence my father built to house my mother’s garden. “The Hutchins brothers did all the other work, even said some words over ‘em. Them two left for the east not long after.”
I pulled the wooden bolt and opened the gate. The side-by-side graves of my mother and father were in the far corner. Someone—presumably the Hutchins brothers—had covered them with rock cairns. I walked over and kneeled down between them. I thought about what my mother said about mine and Clyde’s lives being worth more than fifty-dollars. Now she and my father and Clyde were all dead. Clyde called me a damn fool when I first brought up enlisting. He came around, though, once I told him about the money. Sitting there by those graves I wondered if I didn’t sell all three of their lives for fifty-dollars my mother didn’t even want.
Excerpt from Book One of the Americans Series, In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree
“Do not breathe in the smoke. It must rest in your mouth, then you may set it free,” Standing Elk said in Cheyenne.
Henry did as he was told. He drew in the smoke and held it in his mouth for a few moments before opening it and letting the smoke drift slowly out. Standing Elk nodded his approval. Henry passed the pipe, but Standing Elk just held it in his lap.
“The white man only knows desire, Nótaxemâhta’sóoma. He knows nothing of contentment. His heart is dry and withered, and he seeks to revive it with that of which has no medicine. He is careless and wasteful, and places himself above and apart from all other things. The white soldiers murder without regard, but themselves are spiritless and go screaming into their own deaths as they were born into life. The white father would take all of our hunting grounds and leave our children with stomachs full of air and hearts full of hate. There can be no peace with such men. We will kill this murderer of The People, but it will not stop the whites. There will be more. Many more.”
Near Osceola, Missouri. September 25 1861.
“Get up, boy,” Samuel Cromwell said as he laid a kick to the sleeping young man’s bare feet. “You and your woman get up and get on your way, before I change my mind.”
Henry rubbed at his eyes and looked up at his master’s shadowed features. Samuel kicked him a second time and dropped something onto the splintered wooden floor beside the reed mat he and Eliza shared. He pushed himself up to a sitting position and felt Eliza stir next to him. Samuel held the lantern he was carrying over the small bundle on the floor.
“There’s some bread and molasses, a little bit of salted pork, a parin’ knife…and your free papers. Hers too. I was going to give them to you come Christmas, anyhow. Ownin’ another man—or woman, for that matter, never felt Christian to me, you know that. I’ve been living contrary to the word of God, regardless of what Reverend Adams says about it, and I know I’m going to have to answer for it eventually. Now listen here: William Prescott tells me those Jayhawkers are camped not but three or four miles up the road. You can take your chances with them, if you’re of a mind, but I’d head out past Chaney’s crossing and stay to the woods. Follow the river northeast and get yourselves to Illinois as quick as you can. Mayhap get up to Minnesota or even Canada.”
Samuel Cromwell’s expression was grave.
“You understand those papers aren’t going to mean a damn thing if you get caught by some of our boys?”
“Yessir,” Henry replied.
“And I won’t be here to corroborate your story. I’m heading out, first light. I’ll be on my way out to California to join my brother. It was nice to have known you…Henry.”
“Thank you, sir. You too, sir.”
“Go on then.”
Samuel Cromwell turned away without another word and left the tiny, one-room house, leaving Henry and Eliza in the dark.
Henry stood and retrieved a small, lard candle from a shelf above the pallet by feel. “Get dressed, Eliza. We have to go,” he said, then walked naked through the door. He stepped onto the small porch and watched his master’s silhouette move up the path toward the big house. Samuel Cromwell’s lantern caused shadows to flicker and dance in the trees bordering the path.
Henry walked out to the stone fire ring and stirred up the remnants of the evening’s cook fire. He soon had the candle alight and walked back to the house.
“Where will we go, Henry?” Eliza asked while gathering up her few belongings and putting them in the embroidered drawstring bag that her previous mistress had given her.
“North, I suppose, like Mister Cromwell says. I heard tell those Kansas whites preach the abolition but don’t treat our free folks no different than if ’n they were still slaves. I heard they do better up north.” Henry set the candle down and began dressing.
“You hear all that from Nathaniel Clement up at John Anderson’s place? You know you can’t believe a word coming from his mouth.”
“I heard from others, too. Now come on. Make sure you bring along that sack of flour and whatever else we got.”
“There’s nothing but a couple biscuits worth left.”
“Bring it anyhow.”
“Of course I’m gonna bring it. I was just wondering how we’re going to eat.”
The two reached the river just before sunrise and, after some debating, they chose to move a little way inland to find a suitable place to hole up for the day. They were well aware of how things would go for them if they were discovered.
After negotiating a couple of particularly dense hazelnut thickets, they came across an abandoned trapper’s lean-to about a quarter of a mile west of the river.
The sun was fully up and they decided that it was as safe of a place as any.
The aged canvas lean-to was just tall enough for a person to crawl inside and barely wide enough for two. Henry was over six feet tall, but lean. Eliza was petite; just tall enough to stare Henry in the chest when they stood toe to toe. If either of the two were any larger, they wouldn’t have fit inside together.
The morning was warm; the early sun rapidly burning off the night’s thin layer of ground-fog. It was promising to be another hot day. Henry and Eliza both removed their coats—his wool and threadbare, hers flannel and still in fine condition—and laid them out upon the thin duff of leaves covering the ground. Eliza was able to sit upright, and she unwrapped the small cotton package that Master Cromwell had given them while Henry lay on his side looking up at her.
“I hear there’s plenty of payin’ work, farmin’ up in Wisconsin. They say a man can make enough to buy his own piece of land, if ’n he’s willin’ to work hard,” Henry said.
“You hear that from Nathaniel Clement, too?”
“He says his brother is up there in a place called Wooshara or Washara or somethin’ and—”
“It’s something, Henry. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“Yes, ma’am, it’s Wooshara County or something. We weren’t all lucky enough to grow up a house-nigger.”
“Don’t call me that. You know I don’t like it. Besides, I’m trying to teach you, is all. You get up there around all those educated northern folk, you want to be speaking proper don’t you?”
“I’m sorry,” Henry said, reaching down and putting his hand up Eliza’s dress so he could rub her upper calf. “I know you’re jes tryin’—just trying to teach me.”
Eliza cut two slices from the small loaf of bread then cut two thin hunks of the salted pork to lay on top of them. “Do you want some molasses?” she asked, holding up a small clay jug.
“I reckon we should save it,” Henry replied, taking one of the quasi-sandwiches and biting into it. “That pork’s not going to last long. Once we get further up the woods I can set a couple of snares.”
“Henry, I’m afraid.”
“So am I. Don’t you worry, though. Once we get to Illinois, we’ll be jes fine. Can’t be more than a hundred an’ fifty mile if ’n we just stay northeast.”
“If we just stay northeast.”
“That’s what I said. If we just stay northeast we should be in Illinois in a fortnight.”
Henry smiled wryly in the dark and popped the last bit of food in his mouth and lay back with his hands laced behind his head.
“A fortnight?” Eliza exclaimed, forgetting the ongoing grammar lesson for the time being. “It shouldn’t take us two weeks to walk a hundred and fifty miles. Master Cromwell sent me up to Colonel Jenkin’s place to help with the washing when his house-girls fell ill with the yellow fever, and I walked it in an afternoon. And you know that’s five miles to and five miles back.”
“You weren’t walking at night, through the woods, and the moon ain’t gonna be on our side anymore two or three days from now. We’ll be lucky to get in ten mile a night. C’mon, finish your food and try to get some sleep.”
“I’m not very hungry. My stomach’s paining me some this morning.”
Henry looked at her with concern. Eliza smiled, “It’s nothing. It’ll pass.”
Eliza stowed the food back in the small muslin bundle, set it aside and laid her head on Henry’s chest. She was soon lulled by the steady rise and fall of her man’s breathing.
Henry’s mother died bringing him into the world, and his father had been stabbed to death by another slave just days before Henry’s third birthday. Henry was told later that the stabbing was over a pair of shoes his father had allegedly stolen from the other man. It was the consensus on the plantation that Henry’s father was a snake of the lowest sort, and his violent end had been a long time coming.
As a boy, Henry was raised for a time by a woman named Harriet. She had wet-nursed him when he was an infant, then saw to the better part of his upbringing—even while his father was still above ground—until he was sold downriver when he was eleven. Henry lived with her and her two daughters in a small, two-room shanty on a tobacco plantation near the Missouri River in Howard County. In addition to the two daughters, Harriet had also birthed five sons: three died in infancy, and the other two were sold off to new owners before their tenth year. The plantation owner, Alexander Fordham, kept mostly female slaves. He claimed them to be easier to handle and harder workers than the men. Fordham was a widower and was known to call on the young women of his plantation in the early hours of the morning. Refusals were met with beatings. Henry could remember Harriet’s eldest daughter, Sally, being sent for by Master Fordham on more than one occasion. He would sometimes lay awake, listening to Harriet sobbing softly in the darkness after Sally left. He’d wished he could comfort her, but didn’t know how. Sally was always back before sunup, and the incidents were never discussed in Henry’s presence.
Harriet had treated Henry kindly, but was never affectionate in any physical way. She was a tough taskmaster and had little patience for anyone shirking his or her duties. She’d put him to work as soon as he could heft a wash bucket and worked him hard until he began service in Master Fordham’s tobacco drying shed when he was seven. Harriet cared for him in her fashion but never acted the mother. On the morning he was to be taken to the travelling slave auction in Fayette, she’d given him a stiff, short hug before saying goodbye. It was the first and only embrace Henry had received from another human being in his life.
Up until the day when Master Stryker, the plantation’s overseer, took Henry to the auction in Fayette, Henry’s life had been routine and mostly unremarkable. He’d been treated fairly, albeit indifferently by Amos Caulfield, the drying shed foreman, and he rarely went to bed hungry. That all changed moments after the overseer—who’d said nothing to Henry during the entire ten-mile trip to Fayette— stopped the mule-cart in front of a large stable near the end of town and said, “You stay put, now.”
Henry never saw Master Stryker again.
Fayette was small, but Henry had never been off of the plantation and was awestruck at how many people were about, walking from place to place, peering in glass fronted stores and loading wagons with flour sacks and parcels. Some stopped and greeted each other before moving on to whatever business they had to conduct. Two boys of about Henry’s age came out from an alley between two buildings across the street. One saw Henry on the mule-cart, and after tugging on his friend’s sleeve and pointing a finger at Henry, picked up a fair sized dirt-clod and threw it toward the mule-cart. The projectile missed Henry— just—and bounced off of the cart’s backrest before clunking to the floorboard by Henry’s feet. The two boys ran off up the dirt street, shoving each other and laughing.
“Come on down off’n that wagon, nigger, and get on inside.”
Henry turned around, startled, and saw a fat man wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth looking up at him speculatively.
“Master Stryker tol’ me to stay put, sir.”
“Master Stryker ain’t here, and I ain’t gonna tell you again. You get down offa there and get your ass inside.”
Harriet taught Henry early on not to argue or be insolent with the whites—any whites. He glanced in the direction Master Stryker had gone then reached into the back of the cart and retrieved the small bundle that was all of his possessions: a second shirt, and a small wooden cross that had belonged to his mother. He jumped down from the mule-cart and looked expectantly at the fat man, who waved a hand toward the stable. Henry turned and began walking. The fat man kicked him in the backside—hard—and Henry fell to the ground.
“You move your ass when I tell you, nigger. Now get up and move.”
One of the two large stable doors was propped open slightly and held in place by a couple of roof shakes. Henry entered through the narrow gap at the fat man’s urging. He wondered if the fat man would fit.
The stable’s spacious interior smelled of fresh hay, leather, and horse manure. Tack hung here and there from the rafter beams. The rear doors were both wide open and there was a small congregation of whites gathered just inside of them, speaking in subdued voices.
“Go stand over there with them other niggers,” the fat man said, pointing. Henry obeyed and walked over to where a group of about ten slaves were standing single file behind a large crate which was placed midway in the stable. They were all naked. He lined up behind a girl of about fifteen—the only female in the group—and looked around, unsure of what was coming next. After a few minutes, a man in a fine suit and tall hat strode through a door in the side of stable and approached him.
“You are ahhh…Henry?” the man asked, after briefly consulting a sheet of foolscap.
“Yessir,” Henry replied.
“Remove your clothes and put them over there.” The man cocked his head toward several small piles of garments lying on the dirt floor near where he’d entered. “And what is that?”
“Jes a shirt and my mama’s cross, sir.”
“Leave it with your clothes. Go on now, boy, then get back over here.”
Henry did as he was bidden. A wave of homesickness hit him as he undressed, and he choked back the tears that wanted to come. He already missed the little shanty on the edge of the tobacco field. He wasn’t going to hear Harriet’s sweet singing voice as she chopped vegetables for the soup pot that night, or any night, ever again.
“Hurry on, boy. Time is money, you know. Let’s have a look at you.”
Henry dropped his too-small, roughly sewn, osnaburg trousers onto his little pile and hurried back to the line where the man was waiting for him with clear impatience.
“I trust you move faster at your work,” the man said, taking Henry roughly by the chin. “Open your mouth…yes, good. Very fine teeth. Lift your arms…higher…good.” He squatted, then reached out and squeezed one of Henry’s thighs, then the other. “Now let me see the bottom of your feet…no, turn around, boy. That’s right. Now the other…”
When he was finished inspecting Henry, the man stepped back and spoke to the entire group of slaves. “When I say your name, you will step forward and stand on this box. You stand up straight and you will not speak to any of my patrons unless they address you directly.” He eyed the line of naked slaves for a moment, then turned and strode toward the group of prospective buyers.
After nearly two hours the line of slaves was down to three: Henry, the girl, and a large, muscular man whose back was a latticework of thick scars. Henry had to piss but kept silent. None of the other slaves had spoken a single word—to each other, or the whites, so he thought it prudent to follow suit.
Not long after the auction started, the fat man with the cigar returned with a milking stool and sat himself down next to Henry and the others. He spent most of the time whittling a big stick into a smaller stick, pausing every now and then to retrieve a small flask from the inside of his sweat-stained shirt and take a pull from it. He also escorted the newly sold slaves from the stable to whatever transport—and future—awaited them.
The man with the scarred back was called next.
“John Brown, step up please,” the man in the fine suit called out. John Brown stepped up onto the crate and dispassionately faced the group before him.
“John Brown, ladies and gentlemen,” the man with the fancy suit and tall hat began. “Thirty-two-years old, and just look at him; he’s a pillar of strength and good health. This well-built nigger’s a skilled carpenter and can work tobacco from sunrise to sundown seven days a week without appreciable signs of slowing…”
Henry watched with growing trepidation as his turn to stand on the crate grew closer and closer. He watched as John Brown, like the others before him, was poked, fondled, and squeezed repeatedly by the whites while they haggled over the price of owning him.
Finally, after repeated inquiries into John Brown’s scars and questions as to whether or not he obtained them due to being troublesome (there were assurances that he was a passive and respectful nigger) a deal was struck and John Brown was sold to a man named Frederick Abbott, who was in the market for a slave skilled in woodcraft.
The girl, whose name was Hanna, was sold in minutes.
Henry was called and he stepped onto the crate to face his potential masters. He was shamefully aware of his nakedness as he endured the strange hands on his body.
“This monkey’s gonna be right tall, I reckon, Mister Fallwell, but he looks underfed,” Frederick Abbott said to the man in the fancy suit. “I’ll pay five hundred.”
“Oh, I’ll have to respectfully decline, sir. I couldn’t part with Henry here for a penny less than six-fifty. He’s only eleven and already knows tobacco like the back of his own hand.”
“It’s not the back of his hands I’m worried about, Mister Fallwell. Look here…” Frederick Abbott took Henry’s hands and turned them over. “This boy’s hands haven’t seen a single day of field work; not that I intend to use him for such, but how can I know I’m not going to have teach this boy what a day’s work is? I’ll pay six hundred or take my leave.”
The man in the fancy suit—Mister Fallwell—quickly scanned the thinning group of possible buyers before saying: “You are a shrewd negotiator, sir. He is yours.” He stuck out his hand and Frederick Abbott shook it absently.
“I’d be grateful if you’d have the niggers delivered to me by tomorrow.”
“Of course, Mister Abbott. I’ll make the arrangements.”
Henry was allowed to gather his things before being led naked through the rear of the stable by the fat man with the ever-present cigar. It was a short walk past an already harvested corn field. Forgotten stalks, bent and brown, whispered to themselves in the light breeze.
They entered a smaller barn which canted appreciably to one side. The interior was dim and dusty. The fat man pointed to an open stall.
“You’ll sleep over there,” he said. “Sunrise tomorrow I’ll be takin’ you and the big one down south of Boonville. C’mon now, get dressed.” The fat man waited for Henry to put on his clothes, then ushered him over to the stall.
“Over here, boy,” he said, stepping over the legs of two other slaves sitting against the plank wall of the barn. “Sit on down here.”
Henry did as he was told, sitting against the wall in the thick bed of sour smelling hay on the barn’s dirt floor. The fat man gathered up a length of chain that was attached to the other two men’s ankles and deftly fastened the cuff to Henry.
“Got to protect Mister Abbott’s investments. Once I get you delivered, you’ll be his worry.”
Henry began to cry. The fat man looked at him with something like wonder.
“Wooo, whooo, whooo. Little nigglet missing his mama?” He slapped Henry across the mouth. “You shut that shit up, now. Mister Abbott ain’t gonna take too kindly to a sniveling nigger.” He leaned in close and exhaled a breath that reeked of whiskey, stale tobacco, and rotten teeth. “And hear me, nigger, you don’t want to get on Mister Abbott’s bad side.” He gave the chain a rough shake, then turned and walked out of the barn.
“You and me going to the same place. You a field hand?” John Brown asked, eyeing Henry doubtfully from his place a few feet from Henry.
Henry wiped his eyes. “I ain’t never worked a field, yet. I tied tobacco and hung it.”
“What’s your name?”
“You ain’t never wore chains before, neither.” It wasn’t a question.
“I ain’t no white boss, boy. You call me John, and I’ll call you Henry. This here,” John cocked his head to the man sitting next to him, “is Thomas. He’ll be travellin’ with us as far as New Franklin.”
Thomas, who was younger than John Brown, nodded his head to Henry. “You ought’n not be crying lest you wanna git whooped.”
“You never mind that,” John said, looking sternly at the younger man.
The barn door opened and the fat man and a young slave woman entered. The fat man stood beside the open door with his arms crossed, and the woman, who was carrying a woven basket, walked over to the stall where Henry and the two men were chained. She removed large pieces of cornbread from the basket and handed them around without a word.
“You’re right pretty,” Thomas said, smiling.
“I’m not supposed to talk to you,” the woman whispered. “I’m sorry there’s no beans.”
“Thank you for the cornbread, missy,” John said.
“Thank you,” Henry said, already enthusiastically stuffing the cornbread in his mouth.
The woman gave them a nod then hurried back to where the fat man was waiting. He gave her an impatient shove through the door.
After the meager meal, Thomas began singing softly, under his breath. Henry couldn’t place the song but thought he’d heard it sung by Harriet. Listening to the familiar but unnamable melody, he looked forward with apprehension and a child’s hope. He wondered what his life with his new master would be like.