A tall man became visible in dawn of that morning in 1860. His appearance was unkempt, untidy, and exhausted. He seemed to that he hadn't shaved in weeks. His long brown hair hadn't been combed nor cut. His hands were callused and dry. His hazel eyes were worn, and the blood vessels were noticeably red. His eyelids alone seemed to be too much of a burden for him to carry. Still somehow he managed to carry a bag, a new Springfield riffle, and a sidearm that was well cleaned, and taken care of. The rest of his possessions were being pulled in a covered wagon drawn by four horses. The dirt road was the nicest the man had been on since he left Harlem six weeks prior to this date in July. He was strong; strong enough to be a soldier, but kind; too much so to be one. He had a high intellectual ability; enough to be a great politician and leader, but so intelligent, he knew better than to be one. He could pass as a teacher, but was too mild for any school to hire. He was crafty enough to be a writer of any kind, but was too unsure of himself to progress in the art. For these reasons he was alone and nomadic.
He had done a lot in his young life. Being age 29 he had already served in the military in the war against Mexico. Although he was only fifteen at the time he had matured quickly and passed as eighteen. He did what he could to get away from home at that time. His father was abusive, and his mother was long since dead even by that time. He quit at the war's end and had seen enough fighting, bloodshed, and death. He returned to Harlem after the war and began farming. Since then Harlem industrialized and the man decided to head south to smaller surroundings and a cleaner environment.
A large plantation came into his sight. It was the first home he had seen in forty-three hours and was quite a sight to behold. A long wooden fence surrounded the plantation and the man could see people already out in the fields laboring, or rather slaving in the hot sun that was only bound to grow hotter as the dawn gave way to morning, then afternoon. At this sight, his smile faded; he never had approved of slavery, and believed that blacks were equal to whites. Yet he would say nothing because he did not want to offend anyone in this new land that he would settle. He walked along the wooden fence and limped a bit. He was exhausted and dehydrated, but wouldn't show it. If there was anything that the military experience gained him it was the strength to survive in extreme circumstances.
As he walked along the fence a middle height black woman with a white bandanna on her head wearing a brown cotton robe carrying a wooden pale filed with water for the slaves who were already starting to become dehydrated on the other side of the fence. When she saw him she quickly rushed over to him. The man was perplexed at this sudden motion. When she reached him she held out the pale of water to him. She must have noticed that he too was dehydrated. The man however did not wish to drink the water as it was meant for people who were working harder than he.
"No thank you," he insisted. "Those out in the fields are working, and have worked much harder than I, but thank you."
"Please drink," the woman advised. "You are to fall if you don't.
"I will be alright," the man insisted weaker. Everything around him began to become a hodgepodge of colors. The brown road, the tall grass, the cotton field, his team of horses, all became a massive hodgepodge of colors as he hit the ground.
The woman laid her dry hands upon him attempting to shake him back into consciousness. After she figured her efforts would be futile she scurried at a rapid rate to the plantation. When she had returned she was accompanied by a medium sized white man with a short black beard, and an overweight physique. His eyes were dark, and his hair matched his beard. "Bring the horses to the barn and give them grain, and water. Drake and I will bring him inside." The woman nodded and gripped the horses' reins and brought them to the barn while another white man rushed outside and helped the older one bring the fainted man to a bed inside the plantation.
The younger white man, Drake, was the son of the older. He was cleanly shaved, and had short brown hair. His eyes were green and his hands were sunburned. He examined the unconscious body and concluded, "Well pa, he's very dehydrated. Someone needs to fetch him water."
"I'll have Angelina do so once she returns inside," the older said. "She had a pale in her hands and offered it to him like the honorable slave she is. She knows to put the needs of the white folk over those of her own colored folks. I don't see why this boy here didn't drink it."
"We must be very careful pa," Drake whispered. "He may very well be from the north. For all we know he could be an abolitionist."
"Yes, but not every abolitionist is a stupid, or even rude person, they just don't see things our way."
The plantation door creaked open and the same black woman from before had the same wooden pale in her hands. It was filled with water, and she brought it in to the bedroom, in which the unconscious man laid. "I filled it up fresh from the well master," she told the older man handing him the pale.
"Thank you Angelina," he said taking the pale from her and setting it beside the bed. "You are to stay with this man until he regains consciousness, in which time you will give him water, and find us."
"But what about them in the fields?" She questioned.
"The children will have to pick up the pace distributing water until you are relieved from your duties here," the old man answered.
"But they'll suffer," she protested.
At this Drake raised his left hand to her and smacked her across the face. Angelina's head was violently forced to the left. "Damn it you," he shouted. "Do as you are told without question. If they suffer, they suffer, and that's all there is to it. Attend to the man or the whip comes out. Surely you'll obey the whip."
"Yes master," she sighed.
Once again Drake smacked her with his left hand, this time with additional aggression. Once again her head was forced to her left. Her cheek began to bleed with the strong blow, but her facial expression was unmoved despite the pain. "Don't use that tone with us," Drake commanded. "You will do as you were told, and you will do it selflessly." At this the two men left the room leaving Angelina and the unconscious man alone.
Her tired hazel eyes looked at the man. She examined his face for a good while. Finally, after half an hour his eye lids slowly began to open. He shifted slightly to sit up. The woman laid her hands upon his head. "Not too fast, you are weak. Let me help you." She put one hand just above his waist and the other just below the back of his neck. Slowly he lifted and was finally sitting upright. He exerted a breath and the woman dipped a ladle in the pale. She then brought the ladle to his mouth and he drank slowly.
"Thank you," he mumbled softly.
"You need more than just that," she replied as she dipped the ladle again and brought it to his mouth.
The man started to grow more aware of his surroundings, but took a great amount of interest to the face in front of him and noticed the blood on her cheek. She then put another ladle of water to his mouth for he could only drink slowly.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. It was new, and had not yet been used. As she began to bring the next ladle of water to his mouth he slightly dipped the handkerchief in the water with his right hand and gently grabbed her jaw with the left turning the cheek stained with dried blood towards him. He then cleaned the cheek with the wet handkerchief and she looked at him astonished.
"What are you doing?" she asked. "I'm perfectly fine. I have bled many times over, and will continue to bleed. I do not need your help. Right now you need mine."
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I never meant to offend you, but I was just trying to be…"
"Kind?" she asked rhetorically. "Your kindness to me does nothing for my fellow brothers and sisters out in those fields. Your kindness does nothing to help those who bleed more at the hands of the cruel whip that so violently lashes the backs of many. Your kindness towards cleaning one cut on my cheek isn't saving anything."
"But was I not trying to save something when I told you to bring the waters to those in the fields rather than give it to me?" he protested. "Was I not trying to make this easier on your friends?"
"You weren't trying to make anything easier," she whispered. "You were only trying to keep things from becoming more difficult, which to some people means the same as making things easier, but there is a distinct difference. To make things easier is to take the difficulties that are present and lessen them. To keep things from becoming more difficult keeps the difficulty just the same. What you were doing is what every person does for us, or tries to do for us, which is nothing. That's what your efforts would have amounted to."
"I'm sorry," he mumbled dropping his head.
"Keep drinking you surely not had enough yet," she said.
"If you do not care about me then why offer me water?" he said. "Do not give me the water because you are forced to. I refuse to accept it."
"If I did not care I would not have offered you a drink in the first place," she indicated. "It is not that I do not care, it is that I believe that although your intentions were good, what you thought would happen was wrong. You are foolish, but not heartless. Now drink."
The man sipped from the ladle again and pondered. He was still confused as to the woman's complete feelings about him. Certainly being a southern slave she must not think too highly of most white people. Having been oppressed probably since birth he wouldn't exactly blame her. Of course why should he care what she thinks of him? This is only a provisional predicament. Soon he would set up his business and both the man and the woman will forget about each other. "What is your name?" he asked.
"What is it to you?" she retorted.
"Well I am slightly indebted to you am I not?" he asked.
"I tell you as an inferior in social standing not as a friend. My name is Angelina."
"I am Thomas Stone," he replied gazing up at her. He did not view her as inferior as she had been treated by her slave masters, but he had to be careful about his speech if one of the plantation owners was to walk by.
"Well, Master Stone, welcome to the Burnett plantation," she replied.
"Please Miss you may refer to me as Thomas. You are not to regard me as your superior," Thomas protested. "I will not allow it."
"Well if I do not do as I had done Master Stone it would mean worse off between my masters and myself," she snapped at him with her look growing ever so stern. "So if you may as long as you are in this household put up with being referred to as Master Stone life will be easier for the both of us."
"Do you not refer to a person as they wish to be referred to if they request it from you?" Thomas asked. "Surely your masters will understand if I have asked you to be referred to as Thomas rather than Master Stone."
"Look Master Stone," Angelina began. "I will refer to you as Master Stone for my own safety and for yours. If Drake so much as thinks you are of the north then I fear he will not take much of a liking to you. Now drink this ladle as I go fetch my masters for you to be acquainted with."
She hurriedly left the room leaving Thomas with the ladle in his right hand. He sipped from it slowly as he pondered more. There was something mysterious about him. There was no motive behind his kindness to Angelina other than to attempt to repay her care for him. He had not intended to upset her and surely was doing everything to make her trust him. He didn't know why, but there was something about her that he liked. Was it her free spirit, or maybe her sophisticated speech that was rarely heard by any woman, never mind a black woman? This was all aside from the fact that initially she wanted to save him from thirst. She had made a great first impression on him no matter what it was. Too him he wished that he'd done the same with his first impression. The noise of foot prints on the wooden floor startled him out of his thoughts as he turned his head towards the doorway.
The two men walked in with Angelina walking behind them. The older man was carrying the sidearm that belonged to Thomas in his left hand while the younger was carrying the Springfield rifle with a left-handed grip. "We figured you would want these back Mister Stone," the older one said. "We dared not leave them within the reach of the niggers though – they may be stupid, but they know what power a gun has."
Thomas used all the discipline that he had not to cringe at the use of the n word. Although at this time it was quite often that the word was used by masters to talk about their slaves it was still very offensive, and Thomas hardly tolerated it. "Thank you," he nodded. "Just set the Springfield at the side of the bed, it isn't loaded. The pistol isn't loaded neither, but I'd rather keep it in its holster if you don't mind."
"Of course Mr. Stone," the older man said handing Thomas the pistol. Drake laid the Springfield leaning up against the wall at the corner of the room.
"You may refer to me as Thomas," Thomas said. "There is no need for formality for the man who I owe my life to, if that is alright with you Mister Burnett."
"Surely Thomas," Mr. Burnett replied. "My name is Bruce, and this is my son Drake. It is a pleasure to meet you. May I ask you where you are from Thomas?"
"Harlem New York," Thomas replied. "I used to farm, but the place is developing into a city like the neighboring city of New York. I came down here for a fresher environment, but not to farm. There is too much competition down here to farm. I plan on setting up a general store on somewhere down here. I figured there wouldn't be much competition in that kind of business."
Drake grunted unpleased at the mentioning of New York. Drake had a fighting spirit, and was very judgmental. He despised anything, and everything with northern roots. He had a great amount of southern pride, and felt that the north was allowing the south to suffer. His pride was as much his weakness as it was his source of strength. When his pride was in control he wasn't. To him there was no such thing as neutral. A person was either with him or against him, with nothing in between. If you weren't to assist him, then you were to hinder him.
"Drake!" Bruce snapped. "Use your manners. This man has done nothing to you."
"He has done nothing for me either," Drake retorted.
"It's perfectly fine Bruce," Thomas intervened. "This is the reaction I expected to receive. Surely this is what I plan to work through and I hope to in time drop all hostile feelings. Besides, your son is just a young man with a fighting
spirit. Do you plan on joining the military Drake?"
"I certainly do wish to," Drake replied. "My duties are to the plantation first however. I noticed your sidearm. Were you an officer?"
"Yes I was. I was first Lieutenant Thomas Stone. I fought against Mexico for the border of Texas. My motive originally was to avenge my brother and his wife who died at the Alamo in Texas' fight for independence. Needless to say they were avenged. I got to fight beside Lieutenant Robert E Lee. He is a good friend of mine now. He's a Colonel now too. He'll be a great General one day."
"Did you kill anyone?" Drake asked.
Thomas looked back into all the battles he was involved with. He had intentionally missed with each shot, because he had realized after his first battle it was against his morals to kill. Nobody ever had noticed his intentional misfiring. There was one time where he had come head to head with a Mexican soldier at a fort. He had stabbed him in the leg with his bayonet, and got him to the ground. He then aimed his rifle down to the face of the wounded Mexican who had tried to kill him first. He intentionally shifted his aim and fired missing the Mexican. He then walked away and let his fellow soldiers bring him with them on their retreat. Thomas just stared at them as they got away. "I don't know," he lied knowing that the soldier had not died. He saw him at the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. There was no other person who could have possibly have even been injured at his hands. "In battle everything becomes chaos. You don't know who kills who, you just keep firing at the enemy occasionally going to close range combat and hope you don't get killed. You don't worry about if you kill anyone if you're like me. However, I came here to forget the past and move on here and hopefully find business without competition."
"You could set up shop here and you'll have no competition," Bruce announced. We could use a general store. It has been a long time since I've been able to buy fabric for Angelina to make new clothes out of. Hell, I haven't been able to buy much of anything lately. Time is hardly something I have been able to have. If you were to set up shop here I would have the time to go and pick up some necessities. Trust me I'd spend too. There are a lot of things I need. There's a lot that a lot of people in this town here need. We have two other plantations and each plantation owner needs new equipment, clothing, and other stuff."
"Good to know," Thomas replied. "I will consider setting up shop here."
"Please do stay for lunch," Bruce offered. You must have been journeying long, and it's probably been a long time since you have had anything as good as salted pork. Not that there is anything wrong with hardtack or small game, but a man needs a hearty meal once in a while."
"Well thank you, but you have been too kind already," Thomas said.
"Oh it is no burden to us," Bruce assured. "I'll have Angelina prepare the meal in a couple hours. Until then you need to drink more, your face is still red. It may just be sunburn, but I would wish to make sure."
"I can drink myself," Thomas said. "If Angelina has other work to attend to she doesn't have to stay here. I'd rather not feel like an infant."
"I suppose that is rather embarrassing for a former soldier," Bruce admitted. "You may do as you wish."
The men left the room leaving Angelina standing in the doorway staring back at Thomas. "Thank you," she muttered.
"Anytime," Thomas smirked.
Angelina left the room leaving Thomas by himself. He dipped the ladle in the water and sipped from it once more. He pondered as he did so. The constant shifts in the positive and negative energy within the conversations between him and Angelina left him confused. He didn't know what to make of her; of course she probably didn't know what to make of him either. There was just no knowing anything in this new environment.
"I am indebted to her somehow," he said aloud. "She could have left me in the hot sun to die if she had wanted to. I owe her my life." He stood up and paced as he tried to get used to walking again with so little energy. "There's only one way to truly repay the favor, but it involves so much complex work that I am not sure that I could pull it off. That won't stop me from trying of course, but from succeeding that is a different story in itself."
Thomas drank one more ladle full of water before taking the bucket and walking out with it. He turned left down a hallway where a male slave with a crooked back was sweeping the floor. He had grey eyes, black hair, and many scars on his back. They were obviously lashes from the whip. He appeared to be thirsty and hungry. Of course weren't all the slaves so? John could tell that all the slaves were overworked and undernourished. John took one look behind him to see if Drake or Bruce behind him. He saw the coast was clear and approached the slave hard at work. "Pardon me sir," John began. "I see that you are burdened with thirst. Would you care for some water?"
The slave examined Thomas from top to bottom. He read Thomas' face for any hidden intentions. After seeing no threat posed in him he replied, "Yes I would like drink. I am wanting some water. Thank you my brother. I see no evil in you."
"Then drink this," Thomas replied.
"No I should not," the slave replied.
"But you just said…"
"I want it, but it will only prolong my death," the slave said. "The master has not fed me or offered me drink because my physical condition is an insult to his wealth. He wishes me dead. I can't stop it, and I don't want to suffer longer than I have to."
"Surely there is something I can do," Thomas protested.
"I do have one last dying wish that would make me happy," the man admitted.
"If that is the best I could do for you then tell me what it is," John replied.
"I know you have met my sister Angelina," he began. "She's the one who was in your room. She has been taking care of me every night doing everything to take away the pain without prolonging my death. She understands what this is and she if anybody deserves out of here most. She could have been free, but chose to stay with me. After I die I would like you to free her. The master will soon be auctioning her off starting at one hundred dollars then going to the highest bidder. He plans on buying more working slaves with the money he'll get from her. If at all possible if you could top the bidding then safely bring her to freedom it would mean the world to me."
"If the truth be known, I am indebted to your sister. I will do my best to grant your wish and repay my debt to her as I owe her my life. I don't know where I'll come up with the money. That is a lot to come up with in a short period of time. I am working on fifty dollars right now, but I promise I'll try. I will give nothing less of more than I have to do this."
"Please do so," he began. "She stayed here out of love for me. Out of love for her I can only do so much. I hope you can love her as she has loved me. She deserves to be loved back. She may be strong, but nobody can make it through this world alone."
"Yeah," Thomas replied gloomily looking down at the floor. "Nobody can live well alone anyways."
"Blessed be you my brother. You will not remain in solitary for long. I know in my heart that the Good Shepherd will bring me home soon enough. Then you will be able to take my sister far away to where she may roam free where the black sheep are found just as useful as the white. I know you can find a place.
"Blessed are you my brother," Thomas replied. "You will soon rejoice in the lord being free from all this suffering. I pray that your soul worries not about me or Angelina, because we will join you one day."
"And I will rejoice in that day also," the man said placing his hand on Thomas' shoulder. Thomas took right hand and placed it on the dying man's left shoulder. The man turned around to check behind him and then over Thomas' shoulder. He then said, "May God be on our side."