Notes: It is important to realize that this story is written from the Southerners perspective. I try and stick to canon as much as possible.
Spoilers: Just about every episode I think (big grin).
Special Thanks: To Antoinette, Katherine, Elisia, and Julie for the great advice, awesome questions, and for fixing my grammar.
Please send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Samuel Liddell stood outside his home, waiting for his younger brother, Preston. The January winds had picked up, and the land seemed to bathe in the cold winter rain. Samuel was not known for being a patient man; he had only learned to be over time, and his brother tested his patience at every chance he got. Their father had died leaving the plantation to Samuel with the condition he care for his brother and family, should the need arise.
Preston had been born the baby in the family and therefore subject to only the best treatment. If he wanted it, he received it. His mother had spoiled him, and as a consequence of that, he made rash decisions, spent his money foolishly, and didnt take responsibility for his actions. Samuel had argued and fought over those issues with his brother, but to no avail. Preston didnt want to listen. He liked spending his time at the gambling halls, winning and losing money that he didnt earn, and spending his nights with lavish women. It was as though it was his birthright.
Samuel took the plantations responsibility on his own shoulders. Hed done the right thing. He got married a few months after his fathers death, wanting to build a life for himself and his new bride. However, they had never been able to have a child. So, Samuel worked harder. He owned just over fifty slaves, and raised some of the finest horses in the state, which he was well known for. But it wasnt everything to him. He desired a family, like the one hed had growing up.
Samuel, a voice whispered behind him. The woman spoke softly so she wouldnt startle him.
Cora, Samuel replied, turning to catch a glimpse of the slave woman who worked in the home.
Mastah Preston not back yet? She asked softly, taking another step forward. She gently touched his shoulder when he hesitantly shook his head.
You shouldnt be out in the rain, he turned and looked at her, youll catch your death.
Cora quickly removed her hand from his shoulder and pointed towards the end of the road. Is wont be fo long.
The carriage moved slowly despite the quick steps the horses took to get to their destination. The clops of their feet hit the muddy road creating a stifled echo. Mud splattered in unison and the wet beasts looked to have been bathed in the thick dark substance.
Samuel placed his hands on his hips as the carriage pulled forward and stopped. Before he could reach out and open the door it swung open and Preston jumped out. His flashy clothing quickly became drenched with rain and his pant legs were soon splattered with mud.
Brothah! Preston announced, grabbing him by the shoulders.
Youre drunk! Samuel snapped, pulling out of his brothers grasp.
Only on life. Prestons dimpled grin grew in size and his green eyes shined bright. He reached inside the carriage and helped a young girl down onto the muddy ground.
Whats this? Samuel asked in surprise.
Won her in a pokah game, Preston responded, showing his new trophy.
The young girl wasnt a day over fourteen. Her blonde hair and light green eyes didnt match her ratty clothing, or dirty complexion.
You won her in a poker game? Samuel questioned in disbelief.
Her fathah bet her on a pairah aces, he laughed as though it were inconsequential.
Cora stepped forward and gently took the young girl by the hand. Come, Miss, wont do yous no good bein out here. She pulled gently on her hand and led her to the house. She knew Samuel was going to have a difficult time understanding his brothers latest escapade.
You will take that child back to her father! Samuel yelled.
I will not! Preston rebutted. I won
You will take her back to her father or you will marry her the day she turns fifteen! Samuel left no room for doubt. You are a disgrace to the family name, Preston. He looked hard at his brother. Youre not a fool!
I will NOT return her! Preston yelled back, unwilling to change his position on the matter.
Samuel stopped and looked at his brother. How could they be brothers? Though they looked alike, their differences were immense.
Cora led the young woman into the plantation home. Chandeliers hung elegantly from the ceiling, finely crafted oak furniture lined the walls and filled the rooms, and exotic rugs made paths throughout the house.
Whats your name chil? Cora asked.
Maude, the young girl answered, trying to sound confident.
Cora led her to a small room up the staircase. Maude tried to follow without tripping, but she couldnt take her eyes off the items in the home. Shed never seen anything like this before. Her father had been a gambler all his life, spending his money as soon as he made it, usually on alcohol. Maude had simply been a handicap, as he had told her many times before. That was until three days ago when he made a bet on a losing hand, risking not only her life but her freedom as well.
How ol is ya? Cora asked, shutting the bedroom door as soon as they entered.
Sixteen, Maude responded, sticking her chin in the air.
Cora turned unbelieving eyes toward the young girl.
Fourteen, Maude answered honestly.
The tiny slave woman nodded in understanding. Cant believe your own pa would offn bet his own chil like dat, she continued to mutter under her breath as she helped the girl out of her tattered clothing, perfectly good white girl. She grabbed a robe out of the closet and helped Maude into it. Is gonna see to a bath for ya.
Thank you, Maude replied, watching as the woman left the room.
Samuel sat at the head of the table, throwing glares at his brother every chance he could get. Maude, now clean and groomed, looked slightly older than her true age. Cora had claimed it was simply because of the hard life the girl had lived. Preston wasnt concerned with the situation. Like most things, he let it fly off his back without a second thought. However he didnt expect to see the once ratty, unclean, and ragged girl hed won, turn into the young beautiful girl with the strong potential of becoming a beautiful woman, come down the stairs dressed in a yellow satin gown. Amazing what a little soap and water could do.
Maude was staying.
Samuel wouldnt allow her to return to her father, simply because he couldnt support her fathers treatment of her. The least he could do, would be to offer her a place to call home. Preston, however, was thrilled with his prize; she was young, beautiful, and perfect. Shed make a lovely bride when the time came.
Getting married at the age of fifteen was rather young for most Southern women. Usually, for those with respectable upbringings, they waited until after their coming of age, typically sixteen. But this situation was different. Maude wasnt from a respectable family, she was essentially alone, and for the most part a woman of her age in the world alone could only lead to disaster.
A year had done wonders for the girl. Shed grown into a beautiful young woman, and with Samuels wife, Agnes, helping her with her manners, her beauty increased tenfold. It also helped her self-confidence. Gone was her timid nature, and shy façade. She enjoyed playing cards with Preston, and the two of them seemed to be a matched pair. Both appreciated the mind games found at poker tables, and both had a gift for conniving. The only problem was, Maude was turning out to be a better poker player than him.
Samuel was pleased with the idea of Preston getting married. Perhaps this would make him realize he had a responsibility, he couldnt just up and leave; now he had something to care for. Family had a way of turning boys into men. Hopefully it would work for Preston as well.
The wedding was small, at Maudes request, and very elegant. Only immediate family attended, merely Prestons. The young couple left for New York on their honeymoon. They were both looking forward to many nights at the poker tables and gambling halls.
Samuel watched Cora move around the kitchen in a familiar fashion. Her two-year-old son, Benjamin, moved around on the floor getting under her feet, but she never minded him. The young boy was a joy to watch. His round pudgy cheeks were usually covered with his last meal, and his little fingers were always into something they shouldnt have been in. Cora was the best of mothers. She never scolded him. He knew he was in trouble by the look on her face.
Samuel had purchased Cora and her brother, Adam, six years before. Adam was a few years younger than his sister but he proved to be an extraordinary worker just like his sister. Cora was quickly brought in to care for the household duties: cleaning, laundry, and many times, preparations for meals. In many ways she was the queen of the household.
Are yous goin to stan dere all day? Cora asked, never turning her attention away from the bread she was kneading.
Samuel smiled: No.
Yous miss em, there wasnt a tone of questioning in her voice, but rather knowing.
Samuel reached down and picked up Benjamin. The boy cooed and giggled as his face was wiped clean of the flour hed been playing in. Perhaps, Samuel responded and quickly changed the subject, Agnes needs her medication.
Cora nodded and then moved away from the dough. She poured a glass of water and dumped a spoon of white powder into the fluid. She bleeds still?
Samuel nodded. His wife had lost another child, her fourth and possibly her last. He took the glass from Coras hand and sighed. A lot was weighing on his mind.
Shell heal in time. Coras voice sounded confident, more confident than Samuels.
Samuel nodded and replaced Benjamin on the floor. He smiled softly and then headed out of the room. He hoped, in his heart, she was right.
Maude grabbed Prestons hand as he helped her down out of the carriage. Her belly was swollen and although she had the glow of a woman with child, it was obvious the trip home had been a tedious one. Her dress was elegant and she looked as though shed been born into privilege rather than having fallen into it.
Why, Miz Maude, Cora gasped, yous look ready to burst. A smile came to her face, it had been a long time since the sound of a child had filled the home.
Maude grasped Coras outstretched hand and leaned heavily against her. The pregnancy had not been an easy one. At seven months she felt as though shed been carrying this child for years.
Preston followed his wife and his brothers slave into the house. Theyd kept the pregnancy quiet, not wanting anyone to know for fear of losing the baby. It was as though a curse was causing the Liddell family women to lose their children before they were born.
Samuel opened the front door to the plantation house and smiled when he saw that Maude was in the family way. His brother was going to be a father, a task he hoped he was ready for.
Maude looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Since arriving home shed been confined to bed by Doctor Kennedy. It had been two weeks, two weeks of lying on her back staring up at the wood ceiling, learning every grain, and color. This was hell. Preston had tried to keep her company, but for some reason he and his brother seemed to have discovered a new relationship. Cora was always willing to help Maude with whatever she needed, and her young son was quite entertaining to watch. As for the moment, however, Maude was alone with her thoughts, fears, and uncertainties.
Then the first contraction came. This child was coming, and it was coming five weeks early.
Maude grabbed her belly, not familiar with the pains. When it stopped she sighed in relief and lay back against the pillows. That wasnt too bad. She looked up when Cora came into the room. She carried a tray full of food, but she quickly put it down when she noticed Maudes pale complexion.
Yous all right? Cora asked out of concern. She reached up and placed her hand on Maudes forehead, checking for a fever.
Maude was about to say something when another contraction came. She grabbed her belly again and cried out, and then her water broke.
Cora fled from the room with the intentions of getting Master Samuel. Hed send for the doctor. This child was coming and it was early. It was hard enough for a child being born, but the survival rate dropped considerably when it came premature.
Doctor Kennedy sighed when he cut the umbilical cord of the stillborn baby girl. The child had died in the birthing chamber. Maude collapsed back onto her pillows and cried. The long hours of trying to give birth to a healthy child and this was the result. She gasped again as another contraction came and to the surprise of everyone in the room another child was being born.
Agnes wiped Maudes brow with a damp cloth, the miracle of another child was in many ways heartwarming. This house hadnt been blessed with children, and its very walls yearned for the sounds of a babys cry, and soft songs of lullabies. Prayers were being offered for a healthy child, nobody wanted to see another death, five children in as many years
Im sorry, Mrs. Liddell, Dr. Kennedy spoke up, handing the small infant to Cora. The boys alive, but
Cora wrapped the baby in a tight bundle and smiled when he let out a welcomed scream. He was small, smaller than any child shed ever seen before. His dark hair was plastered to his head and his mouth let out more cries.
Hes too small, the doctor said, wiping his hands on a towel. If he were full term, there might be a chance, but just so you know I dont expect him to survive past tomorrow.
Maude looked at the doctor in cold contempt. Shed just lost the daughter shed been hoping for, the daughter that was supposed to have the life Maude never did. Tears streamed down her face, she wouldnt allow this man to tell her what to expect. All her life thats all shed ever heard, people telling her what to do, how to act, and what she was worth. Even Preston, on some occasions, made her feel less than what she was. Her life had been a hard one, and she wasnt about to let this little incident keep her down.
You may leave, Maude spoke bitterly to the doctor, before turning her eyes to the open window. She knew what to expect, she didnt need it coming from a man who knew nothing of birthing a child. She tried to hide the tears that fell from her eyes.
Hes only telling you what needs to be said Agnes spoke up, knowing all to well what it was like to lose a child. She tried to comfort her friend, but Maude didnt want the attention. Agnes shook her head and quietly left the room, not knowing what else to do.
Hes small, but hes strong, Cora said, holding the infant close to her breast. She ran her finger over his tender flesh and he seemed to calm under her soothing hand. The doctors words hadnt meant anything to the slave woman, shed seen all kinds of tragedy in her life and knew when a soul had given up, and this child was willing to fight. That was all he needed to do.
The doctor put his coat on and shook his head. It wasnt unusual for a woman to become melancholy after the birth of her child, and even more so if the child had perished. Hed been here before when Agnes had lost her last baby, and like her, Maude would eventually come to realize her loss, and start to plan for the next. Southern women werent anything if they werent strong.
Ill send your husband in, Doctor Kennedy said, grabbing his bag off of the table. He looked towards his patient, knowing little about what was going through her mind. He didnt bother to look at the child still in Coras arms, he knew the boy would perish; it was only a matter of time. He opened the door and spoke momentarily with the two men waiting on the other side, before leaving for his practice in town.
Preston entered the room; his face couldnt hide the despair he was feeling inside. His wife never turned to look at him, but the child in Coras arms made him smile. The slave woman carefully slid the infant into his fathers arms.
Hes so small, Preston said, barely above a whisper. He cant weigh more than a few pounds, he continued, looking up into Coras eyes. He found conformation there.
Ill sees to yous daughtah, Cora said, gently picking up the lifeless body of the girl. She turned and looked toward Maude who still hadnt taken her eyes from the window. With familiar ease, Cora slipped out of the room, leaving Maude and Preston with their son.
Samuel met Cora on her way out of the house. Hed seen the doctor off and was now returning to check on his family. It broke his heart knowing theyd lost another child, and the other was doomed to perish within a few days. How could God do this to them? How could He punish them so?
Take the girl to Averum, hell see to her needs, Samuel said quietly. He reached out and grasped Coras arm in a comforting hold.
Dat boys a Liddell, she smiled, hes gonna make it, even if I have to han feed im. There was a confidence in Cora that would make even the most cowardice of men take notice.
I believe you will, Samuel replied knowingly.
Cora reached up and gently patted his hand before making her way out of the house.
Maude refused to breast-feed. Not because she didnt want to, but because she couldnt bring herself to get attached to a child that was going to die. In her heart she wanted to hold him, cuddle him, and even hum a tune or two, but the fear of losing him was too great. Cora took it upon herself to care for the boy. He was so small that he couldnt drink out of a normal sized bottle. So Cora dipped her pinky in warm goats milk and honey and fed the child. He seemed to thrive under her care.
Preston refused to believe his son would perish, so he refurnished a small crib out of an old breadbox. A regular sized crib was just too large. He knew his wife was suffering so he took it upon himself to make arrangements for their daughters burial. Anna May Liddell was buried on March 19th 1846. Shed been named after her fathers mother. Preston decided to name his son Ezra Preston Liddell, after his own father, a tradition that had been carried down for many generations. Preston hoped the tradition would continue for many more.
Days turned into weeks and Ezra never gave up. He continued to thrive under Coras care. He was still week and small, but his lungs were clear and his heart beat with the strength of a giant. He wasnt going to give up easily. Maude eventually softened, realizing her son might be made up of the same substance she was. He wasnt going to be a quitter, not when it came to surviving.
Ezra was more susceptible to chills and many times elevated fevers, but Coras alcohol baths and milk honey seemed to do the trick in keeping him healthy. Eventually, Preston quit sending for the doctor, discovering that his brothers slave had more of a healing gift than Dr. Kennedy. Samuel became a very attentive uncle. He spent much of his time playing with Ezra and Benjamin, teaching both of the boys about animals and life in general. Though they were much too young to understand, it did keep Samuel busy, which pleased everyone in the house.
By the time Ezra was six months old it was determined he wasnt going to die. He was still underweight and undersize but his strength of will made up for it. He was already speaking, or trying to. He was a very attentive child and he recognized people by the sound of their voices before most children his age would. The bond with his father was as strong as his bond with Cora and he responded to both of them with equal vigor. Maude tried to get close to her son, but something held her back. She didnt understand what it was or why, other than the fact she was terrified of turning into her father. So, if she distanced herself from her son, how could she disappoint him, like her father had her?
Preston placed his and his wifes luggage into the back of the buggy, and then helped Maude up into her seat. They were leaving for a brief time to check into some investments. Ezra waved to his parents from Coras embrace, his head rested on her shoulder as he watched. Benjamin stood at his mothers side, holding onto her long dress.
When will you be back? Samuel asked his brother.
Preston shook his head. He didnt know. Hed told Maude to stay and care for their son, this was a trip he could take on his own, but she insisted she come. He understood her reasoning, but her place was at home with their child. Ezra needed her care more than anything else, and thus far she hadnt shown much interest. Her priorities seemed to lie with their future, and her need for independence.
Within the next few weeks, Preston replied, but his voice expressed his uncertainty.
Samuel nodded: Hell be here, he said, speaking of Ezra.
Preston smiled, something his son could make him do without even trying. Preston knew his brother would care for Ezra as though he were his own, the child was the first one born into this house, and great things were planned for him. The Liddell name was well known in Savannah, it was a respectable name, and one that had served this country from its beginning.
Samuel watched as his brother seated himself next to his wife and started for town. He knew Preston wanted to do what was best for his son, and part of that was preparing for his future now. When Ezra cooed and slobbered on his fist after trying to insert it into his mouth, Samuel laughed. What a picture it made.
Agnes left for her quilting party. Something she had always enjoyed, and it gave her time away from the family, which was something she needed. As much as she enjoyed having a baby in the house, he was a constant reminder of her failures to have one of her own. At times the pain was too great, and when those times came she had to get away. Quilting was the perfect answer.
Samuel watched Ezra and Benjamin play together, as children they didnt see the differences in their skin color, or their position in the world. How could they? They were only children children that acted like brothers. Benjamin already protected his young friend, and enjoyed showing him the world particularly his toys. He looked up into Coras face and smiled. Hed purchased her and her brother on a whim. He really hadnt been looking for a new slave, or in this case, slaves. But when he laid eyes on her he knew she was meant to be here, working for him, on this plantation. Hed never regretted purchasing her, and he would have paid twice what he had if the need had arisen. If God had a mother, it would have been Cora. Samuel was convinced of it.
By the time Ezra was nine months old he was talking like a child twice his age. He was an active youngster with a curious mind, and Cora found herself busy trying to keep him out of things. Even Benjamin, now called Benny because that was how Ezra pronounced it, was following the younger boy around, and getting into trouble.
Preston and Maudes trip to New York had lasted much longer than a few weeks. It was now going on three months. They wrote, letting Samuel know of their whereabouts, and that was all, until three weeks ago when Preston wrote, saying he and Maude would be home within the month.
Agnes looked longingly at Ezra as he played on the floor with the pillows Cora had made for him. He was twice as smart as children his age, and twice as small. His large green eyes matched his uncles and his fathers, a trait that had been passed down through generations. Now, he was the only child that would carry it on. Agnes doubted that Maude would ever have another one.
My husbands a fool, Agnes said, sitting on the davenport. She kept her hands busy with her knitting needles, but her mind constantly wondered.
Cora looked up from her darning, not really sure if the words were directed to her.
He thinks Im blind, Agnes turned her knowing eyes towards her husbands slave.
Cora quickly averted her attention. Is dont understand.
I think you do, she went back to her knitting.
Cora stayed quiet, not sure what to say. She looked at her son, a son that had been born from a product of love, not hate. Her son would never know the freedom that Ezra would, or the simple acknowledgment of a name. Benny would never know what it was like to be a slave either. Hed never be sold, Samuel wouldnt permit it, and hed never be whipped like many of his fellow man.
Benny stood up and with firm strong legs he walked over to where his mother sat. He didnt know what she was thinking, but he knew she needed a hug, shed taught him all his life that anything could be fixed with a hug. Gently he wrapped his loving arms around his mothers neck and kissed her cheek. She returned his embrace with vigor and he giggled when his mother tickled his tummy.
Ezra screamed in laughter, not understanding what was going on, but knowing the tension in the room had seized. He threw one of his stuffed toys at Benny and the older boy returned to his friends side. They were three years apart in age, but closer than brothers from the same womb.
YOU DID WHAT? Samuel screamed, looking at his brother and his wife in contempt. Thankfully the library doors had been closed, softening the sounds of Samuels anger.
I lost everythin, Preston repeated. I thought I had a winnin hand
You did have a winnin hand, Maude spoke up, turning to look out the window. Clearly disgust consumed her voice.
You lost everything you own on a poker game? Samuel still couldnt believe what he was hearing.
I would have won everthin
But you lost it! Samuel raged again. I thought you were past this? He looked hard at his brother.
I wasnt meant to be a farmer. Im not like you, I dont own slaves, or breed horses Hell, I dont even like horses.
What about your son? The older man tried to reason, he ran his fingers through his chestnut hair.
Hes too young to know what he wants, Preston pleaded.
That decision is yours! Samuel snapped, The boy needs a future with stability
Ill decide what is best for my son!
Like youre doing now?
Preston looked in disbelief at his brother. Surely he had to know that there was more to life than running this plantation. There had to be. Ill sell my share of the breeding stock and the land he raised his hand, stopping his brother from saying anything more, Maude and Ill take Ezra with us, there are some opportunities in Louisiana, and perhaps Mississippi. He started to leave the room. Ill write you when were settled.
Samuel watched him go, knowing his brother would not change his mind. They were both stubborn men, and nothing in the world could change that. He looked at Maude, who seemed content with what her husband had said.
If you ever need anything, Maude just call on me, he spoke softly, wanting her to hear his words, not his disappointment.
Preston yearns for his independence, Samuel, and I want that yearning for my son as well.
Samuel looked up at her, and in many ways he understood what she was saying. Life hadnt been easy on her, and he knew she wanted more for her son than shed ever had. Her father had coldly lost her in a poker game, used her as a bargaining chip to gain the upper hand but he lost.
Cora finished dressing Ezra and she took a long look at him. He was still underweight and small, but he reminded her more of a tiny person than a child. She knew he didnt want to go, but at the same time he wanted to make sure everyone was happy. It was unbelievable how conscious he was of those around him, and the feelings they harbored. Not a trait from the Liddell family, but rather from Maude. Hed be strong because his father wanted him to be, and he wouldnt cry because his mother would be disappointed. Almost two years old and already he was a Southern gentleman.
Saying goodbye to Ezra was as hard as saying goodbye to a child of her own. Shed been with him since birth, and had been his caretaker. Cora was, in many ways, his foundation.
Yous ready chil? Cora asked, knowing in her heart he wasnt, but the slight nod of his head gave her permission to pick him up and take him out to meet his father. Cora knew right then that Ezra was going to have a poker face better than his mother or his father, but she also knew that anyone who got close to the boy would discover his so called tells. When he lied, like now, his normally dark green eyes got lighter, and when he felt passionately about something, they got darker. That was a trait all his own.
Maude carefully placed her son next to her on the buggy seat and waited for everyone to say their goodbyes. Ezra remained unusually quiet. She covered his hands when he started pulling at his coat sleeve, a nervous habit he was going to have to overcome.
Ezra looked up at his mother and sighed in relief. The simple contact of her hand against his own made him feel more comfortable. They were soft and tender, almost like Coras. He looked over at the woman who had cared for him for so long, not understanding why she couldnt come. He knew she was sad by the expression on her face, and even Benny seemed unsure of what was happening. Ezra watched as Benny turned his head away from him and rested it against his mothers shoulder. She rubbed his back in comfort, just like shed done to Ezras so many times before.
The buggy jolted forward and Ezra tried to look up over the seat but his mothers strong hand kept him in place. He looked at his father and saw reassurance.
Cora took a deep breath, trying to keep the tears from rolling down her cheeks. It had been a long time since shed lost anyone close to her, and this, combined with her past, brought waves of sorrow. Her son didnt understand. He only knew that she was sad.
Theyll be back, Samuel said confidently.
Cora looked at him and smiled, he returned that smile with one of his own. Now, it was his turn to be the rock of stability, the rock of confidence. Deep down, Cora hoped he was right.
The money Preston had gotten for his share of the plantation slipped through his fingers like water. It wasnt the gambling halls or saloons, but rather the expensive hotels and fancy restaurants. In order to earn money they had to look like people that had money, and keeping up their appearances was financially debilitating.
Gambling would have been a suitable living for a man alone, but Preston wasnt alone. He had a family to worry about. With Maudes creativeness and desire to not live like paupers, they devised several cons, many of which included Ezra. It wasnt Prestons first choice, but at the time he didnt have one. His son still required medical attention from time to time, and living on the road, and many times on the run, was wearing him down. Long nights without any sleep, and at times little food, created the perfect atmosphere for a child to get sick in.
The cons Maude and Preston ran, were everything from fraudulent land claims to the sales of non-running race horses. Because Ezra was so small he was used to play a child genius. By the time he was five he was reading and doing mathematics, but he looked like a three-year-old. His youthful appearance and intelligence made him the perfect pawn in any swindle.
Ezra slipped out of the chair he was in and headed behind the saloon bar. Madame Patsy had taken a liking to the little boy and had shown him a place where he could sleep when the nights got overly long. The older woman had cleared a section of the shelving units and placed an old blanket there, giving Ezra a place to go when he got too tired. He quickly learned to disregard the noise levels, but he trained himself to listen for his mother and his father. He didnt want to be left behind.
Maude and Preston continued their poker game that had been going on for 15 hours. They played each other, not as a married couple, but as two strangers meeting for the first time. The people they played were like those of any other place or town. David Owen was a cattle baron who ran over 5000 head of Herefords. In his mid sixties he enjoyed spending a night a week at the saloon playing games of poker. Anthony Corbin and his friend Tom Keats were just a couple of cowhands looking for a few days of fun.
Nobody expected the game to continue for as long as it had, but nobody was willing to just leave, there was too much silver on the table. No one noticed that Ezra had disappeared, not that he had been noticed to begin with.
David threw a few chips into the pot and called. He rubbed his eyes and tried to stifle a yawn. So, Miss Simpson, how long do you plan on being in town for?
Maude smiled, ignoring the look from her husband. Why, Im unsure at this time, she replied with a smile. Married or not, this man had a lot of money.
I would like to invite you to tea, he said, placing his cards on the table.
Now, Mr. Owen, Id be honored if of course your wife approves.
The privilege of remaining an unmarried man is the lack of children. He smiled and picked up his hand of cards.
I tend to agree, Maude replied, capturing the mans full attention.
David looked at his cards and tossed them down. The money on the table meant nothing to him, he had much more than that. Would you care to join me? He stood up and held out his arm for the lovely young woman to take.
I could not possibly leave she looked at the money in front of her, and though she hadnt been winning, the allusion that she might, insured her more than she imagined.
Of course, David spoke up, Ill pay you for your time.
Maudes eyes increased in size, and she looked appalled at what he was implying.
No, no David said, Tea and dinner is all I ask.
Maude looked around the table before folding her cards and placing them on the table. That is acceptable, gentlemen, she nodded to the others and then took the arm that was offered to her.
Preston clenched his jaw and watched his wife leave with that man. He glanced over to the bar and saw his son peaking out from behind the counter. What must he be thinking? Preston thought to himself. Uncomfortable his own guilt he moved his eyes away from Ezra and back to his cards. He could do this; he had to for his son.
Ezra, Preston said, shaking his sons shoulder, Ezra.
The boy turned uncomfortably in the small spot hed been allowed to sleep. Carefully, his father pulled him from the cubby and then patted his back as he picked him up into his arms. Ezra wrapped his arms around his fathers neck, not noticing the saloon had closed and only one other person remained in the room. Preston pressed his cheek against his sons and smiled. Hed made enough money to take he and his family back to his brothers in Georgia. He knew hed have to humble himself tremendously in order to face Samuel, but he also knew if he didnt their might not be a future for his son.
Goodnight, Mr. Liddell, the bartender said, wiping down the counter with a wet cloth.
Preston nodded and then quickly left the saloon with his son still in his arms. It was late, and most of the towns citizens had gone to bed. Preston understood why, after seventeen hours of sitting at the gaming table he was looking forward to a good nights sleep as well.
Fathah, Ezra whispered, he could feel his fathers back tense and his steps became quicker.
They were being followed.
Preston turned down an alley and quickly pulled his son from his shoulder. You stay here, he ordered, pushing the boy between some crates.
I mean it Ezra stay here, it was an order, and not one to be disregarded.
Ezra pushed himself between the crates and tried to make himself disappear. He could see between the slots, and his father moved farther away from him. Ezra could see three other men enter the alley; two of them had been playing poker with his father.
You cheated, Tom Keats said, throwing his hat down.
And we want that money you stole from us, Anthony snapped, placing his hands on his hips.
I didnt cheat, Preston said, backing away from the men. He didnt want them to know where his son was hid.
The other man laughed outright, as though he knew something nobody else did. Wheres the money? He asked, changing the tone of his voice.
Preston sighed, if he gave them the money how could he get his family back to Georgia? If he didnt give them the money then what would happen? He held up his hands in surrender, he didnt want to fight, his son was there, and possibly watching.
The moneys in my breast pocket, Preston said, all the while looking for an escape route.
Tom chuckled: So youre a coward as well as a cheat? He grabbed the gamblers arm forcefully, but he received a quick jab to his face, stunning him momentarily.
Preston grabbed his weapon from his hip but was pushed to the ground by the other two men. He never screamed out for help he never screamed. He fought with everything he had, but it wasnt enough. His money was ripped from his pocket and then his chest was assaulted with forceful kicks and punches. He tried to fight back but the three men outweighed his efforts. He never felt the blade that entered his side, just the pain that followed.
Tom Keats stood up, breathing hard. He smiled when he started counting the money in his hand. Suddenly he turned, after noticing the small form that was making its way toward them. What the hell? he asked, squinting his eyes, trying to get a better look at what was coming toward them.
Well, Ill be damned, Anthony sighed, Brave little shit aint he?
Tom looked down at the man hed beaten. Lets go, he ordered. He started to walk away but stopped in front of the boy. You ever say anyhin bout this he turned and pointed to the man lying on his back in a puddle of blood, Ill come kill everyone you ever cared bout. He grabbed the boys chin forcefully, and made him look him in the eye. You understand me boy?
Good, Tom replied, releasing the boys chin. Boys, he called to his men, lets go.
Ezra watched them for a moment, and then wiped his nose on the sleeve of his jacket. He looked to where his father lay. Tentatively, he stepped forward. He looked back toward the alley entrance, wondering where his mother was. Shed know what to do. He wiped his nose again, wondering what to do.
Papa, Ezra said softly, crawling beside his father. He gently shoved his fathers shoulder.
Ez ra, Preston gasped, as blood flowed from the corner of his mouth. He grabbed his sons hand, slightly harder than hed anticipated.
Ezras face contorted in pain, not from his fathers grip on his hand, but rather, the fear of not understanding what was happening. He wasnt familiar with death, not in this manner. Tears streamed down his cheeks, as he watched his father choke on his own blood.
Papa, Ezra cried, looking from his father to the alley entrance. Slowly, he stood up and moved closer to Prestons head, Ezra grabbed his fathers coat and tried to pull him. But he wasnt big enough, or strong enough. Dont die, Papa, he pleaded, as he continued to pull on the jacket.
Preston never moved.
Maude carefully folded the money shed received from the baron and placed it into her chemise. Shed been offered his hand in marriage, but she refused, saying shed been promised to someone else. Luckily, he bought the story.
Shed left the restaurant late and was now headed back to the hotel. She sighed in relief when she realized everyone had gone to bed, being out late with a man she hardly knew was not only unacceptable behavior for a single woman, but absolutely abominable. Only the late night fires burned in the empty streets, lighting her way. Her time staying in this town was limited. It was better to not stay in one place too long; cons were easily picked up on if they didnt make their escape soon.
Maude past the saloon and stopped suddenly when she heard the soft sound of a child crying. It wasnt in her nature to check on something so menial, but something inside her told her to check. The alley was dark, except for the dull light coming from the building behind the saloon. She stopped suddenly, when she noticed her son pulling frantically on his fathers coat.
Ezra, Maude gasped. For the first time in years, fear gripped her heart. She dropped her purse on the ground and rushed for the pair.
Momma, Ezra cried, finally feeling as though someone was there to help. He slumped down on the ground and wiped his face again of the tears hed shed. Blood smeared his cheeks and hands.
Preston? Maude knelt next to her husband and wiped his face with her gloved hands. She knew he was dead, and her heart broke. For the first time in her life she realized she had loved him. But she couldnt let it show. Ezra, she called to her son, what happened?
Ezra looked up at his mother, unwilling to answer. He knew what would happen if he did.
Maude shook her head and then looked around, trying to see if anyone had seen them. She took her husbands wallet, watch, and his deck of cards. Quickly, she picked up her son and rushed from the alley, picking up her purse on the way out.
Maude quickly helped her son change out of his stained clothing. His face and hands were covered in his fathers blood. He hadnt said a word since leaving the alley, and he hadnt made any effort to. After Ezra was changed and cleaned up, Maude packed their bags. They needed to get out of town, and thankfully a stage was leaving the next morning.
Stop crying, Maude ordered, trying to gather their belongings. They couldnt be affiliated with a murder; a murder would leave rumors and stories that even she couldnt get away from.
Ezra wiped his eyes and looked to the floor.
Maude stopped, having not intended to strike out at her son. But she was just as scared as he was, and she only had herself to rely on. She picked up a blanket and moved her son to the bed, she knew he wouldnt sleep but she also knew that any amount of rest would help.
Ezra hid under the blanket and tried to fall asleep, only because he knew his mother wanted him to.
As soon as the packing was complete Maude dimmed the light in the room. Then, and only then, did she let her tears fall.
Going back to Georgia was the only opportunity Maude had. Ezra was refusing to say a word, and using the cons she and Preston had come up with involving their son, required him to speak. So, now she was left with a little boy who didnt talk and was becoming more of a problem than Maude could handle at the time. She needed to be able to make money, not just spend it.
Here, she handed her son the cards his father had played with.
Ezra took them with a sad smile.
Practice some of the moves your father showed you . Itll keep your fingers nimble, and its best if you learn those cards; how they feel in your hands, and memorize the way each of them look. Your father always said that the Ace of Spades was his good luck charm. She pulled out her own deck and started shuffling them. Her life was in the cards, and she knew it. They always had been, from before her fathers betrayal until the day she died. Those simple items moving through her fingers would never betray her, because she wouldnt let them not like Preston did when he died.
Ezra looked at the cards, the same cards hed played with so many times before. Their edges were slightly worn, and some of the pictures were fading, but he didnt mind. They had been his fathers.
Maude watched her son for a moment before turning her attention back to her own cards. She hadnt told Samuel they were arriving. He didnt even know his brother was dead. Shed break the news to him once she arrived.
Cora stood up from her flowerbed, and stretched her back. She lifted her face to enjoy the warm summer sun. She could hear the men out working in the back pastures. There were over a hundred head of two-year-olds that needed to be broke, and all of the men were working on it. Cora smiled; her brother was out there, working as the plantations overseer.
She looked toward the road when she heard the sounds of horses feet hitting the hard ground. They werent expecting anyone, but a surprise visitor was always welcomed. Cora wiped the dirt off of her skirt and walked toward the front gate to greet the plantations guest.
When the carriage pulled to a stop, the door opened before the driver could get down from his seat. Maude stepped down and looked around at the plantation. It was good to see Cora again.
Why, Miz Maude, Cora said with a smile, its so good ta see you again. She opened the gate, and stepped closer to the carriage.
Cora, Maude acknowledged, reaching into the carriage for her son.
Whys, Master Ezra, Cora seemed to glow under the childs gaze, Look how bigs you gettin. She reached for the boy and embraced him.
If you would be so kind as to take our luggage to the house, Maude directed her statement toward the driver of the carriage. She didnt wait for an answer, and she reached for Coras back and walked with her to the house.
Wheres Master Preston? Cora asked, rubbing Ezras back.
Ill explain inside.
Samuel knew when he entered the study that something was wrong. Maude was sitting in the large chair next to the fire and Cora was tending to Ezra, who looked more lost than ever. Preston wasnt here.
Maude? Samuel asked, trying to hide his trepidation.
Samuel, she responded, looking up and meeting her brother-in-laws eyes. She waited until he seated himself on the settee before she started her explanation. It wasnt as easy as she thought it would be. She looked to her son for strength, but he didnt have any to offer. He only looked at the flames burning in the fireplace. How strange, she thought, having a fire in the middle of a hot summers day.
Samuel looked at his nephew and sighed. What are your plans? He asked, knowing she wouldnt stay in the area for long.
Ill leave tomorrow and explore a few opportunities up north.
You can stay here, Samuel offered, but knowing she wouldnt.
There is more money owed on this plantation than its worth, Samuel. My son needs a future, not a debt. Maude looked at her son and returned her gaze to Samuel. I would like to leave him with you, until I can arrange something?
Of course, he agreed.
He hasnt spoken since his fathers death, and I fear well, she didnt want to continue, I need to locate the proper facilities
Well care for im, Cora spoke up, not allowing Maude to finish. The boy still refused to release his grip of the slave womans neck.
Maude looked to Samuel for confirmation, and she found it there.
Samuel watched as Maude said her goodbyes to her son and then quickly disappeared inside the carriage. He didnt understand her unwillingness to stay, and it wasnt his place to force her to. She reminded him of a caged bird, and she was one that was unwilling to cooperate unless it was on her own conditions. Samuel squeezed Ezras hand and then walked him back to the plantation house.
It was going to be nice having a small child running through the empty halls and rooms again. Since the loss of Agnes last winter, the house was missing its hominess. Samuel truly missed his wife, and it was her desire to give him a child of his own that finally killed her. He took some responsibility for that. Now, it was just Cora, and Benny, who slept in a room on the bottom floor of the home. Normally that wouldnt be accepted, but Samuels turn of bad luck over the past year made for some allowances.
He couldnt believe that Maude had left Preston alone in the alley after his death. No matter what hed done in his past, hed deserved a proper burial. Samuel sighed; in his heart he knew Ezra had witnessed his fathers demise. Why else would the child stop talking? If anyone could remedy that, it would be Cora. Shed been with him since birth, and she knew him better than he knew himself. Just because it had been four years since shed had the opportunity to care for the boy didnt mean anything. She was the stability he needed at the moment, and Samuel intended to make sure that happened.
Benny! Samuel yelled to the boy.
Benny stopped in his tracks, after leaving the house at a run. He wanted to go watch his uncle work the young thoroughbreds. Yes, sir? He asked, turning toward the man.
Take Ezra with you, he ordered, releasing the childs hand.
Benny nodded, and took Ezras hand and led him toward the corrals out back. Samuel watched them go, not quite believing that his brothers son was almost six-years-old. Slowly, he ran his fingers through his graying hair. Hed leave it to Cora to get some meat on the boys bones, and once that happened, hed grow.
Ezra smiled when the big chestnut galloped by. Every muscle on the animals body seemed to flex with every step he took, reminding the small boy of the complex mechanics of a well-made watch. He loved horses, loved the way they moved, and he loved the way their hair felt when he brushed them.
Thats my Uncle Adam, Benny said proudly, pointing to the man running the horse through his paces. Hes teachin me to ride.
Ezra looked up and nodded, letting the other boy know he understood.
How come ya dont talk?
Ezra shrugged his shoulders, not offering to explain further.
Wanna ride? Benny asked, looking at his friend.
Ezras eyes got big. Oh yes, he wanted to ride. Hed ridden with his father a few times but that was all. Most of the time he was in trains or carriages. He nodded anxiously, and then followed the older boy.
It was obvious to everyone who witnessed, that Ezra had a way with horses, and the horses seemed to be therapeutic for the boy. His uncle had purchased a small pony for him to play on, because he didnt want the small child to get hurt on one of the larger animals. Although, Samuel doubted that any of his horses would harm the boy.
Both Benny and Ezra taught the pony, now called Whitey because of his color, tricks of all kinds. Ezra thought the name was very unoriginal, but he never voiced his opinion. The boys played for hours with the animal, never missing a day, and the little pony was quickly becoming spoiled to their treatments. Hourly brushings, treats of all kinds, and many times led out to the lush green grass next to the creek, was turning the little gelding into another person, rather than an animal. But that was how the boys saw him, a friend, rather than a pet.
Since his fathers death, Ezra still had yet to utter at word. It had been almost two years. Maude had come and visited a few times, but she quickly left when discovering her son hadnt said anything. A child that didnt talk wasnt any use to her, and she needed a partner, not a boy.
He was still small, but in the year and a half that hed been home hed grown tremendously, thanks to Coras care. Her peach cobblers could almost get him to speak, he enjoyed them so much, and she tried to make them as often as she could. Benny and Ezra were almost inseparable, and Cora enjoyed seeing the friendship, that was in many ways stronger than that. They got in trouble together, protected each other, and played together, just as if theyd been born of the same woman. Cora didnt mind, she loved what she saw, and she loved Ezra as though he were her own.
Samuel escorted his neighbor, Jack Humphrey, into his study. He poured two cups of coffee and set one in front of his friend before moving behind his desk. What can I do for you, Jack? He asked, folding his fingers together.
My daughters gettin married
Congratulations, Samuel interrupted, with a smile on his face.
Thank you, Jack responded proudly. As a weddin gift Id like to give my daughter a proper house slave. Someone who could help her with the household duties, and possibly the children that will come.
Im sure you could find one at an estate sale there are plenty
Jack shook his head, stopping Samuel from saying anything more. I dont want field niggers
Why are you here, Jack?
Im willin to pay, $1500 for Cora
Shes not for sale, Samuel didnt let him finish despite the amount of money he offered.
I see, Jack nodded his head in understanding.
Why not try the sales again?
Have you been there lately? Jack continued when his friend shook his head. The Yankees are bringin their slaves further down south for the sales, hoping to attain better prices, sarcasm dripped from his words, most of them are in such bad shape its amazin they can even stand. More than half of them are missin their toes and fingers from exposure to the cold. He ran his fingers through his long gray hair. Yankee bastards wont even pay for proper clothing or footwear everyone knows how cold it gets up north, he looked to Samuel for conformation, and he received it, most of them are ill I even came across a woman who was missing her nose.
And they blame us for atrocities.
Hell, Jack snapped. You cant buy insurance on a slave from the north, the companies say theyre in too bad of shape. Walt Myer wont lay a hand of his slaves insurance companies wont pay out for a slave thats been unlawfully beaten. But the Yanks, they dont even bother with insurance, they say its not worth it because the slaves dont live long enough they wont when theyre freezing to death. His voice had increased in volume considerably. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.
Samuel understood his friends dismay. All Southern men were feeling it.
Were losin our rights, and were lettin it happen, Jack said softly. I got two boys at fightin age, Samuel he paused, unsure of how to continue, Ive lived through a war, I dont want them to ever see one.
It hasnt come to that point yet
But it will, the determination in his voice wasnt lost on Samuel. Jack stood up and looked around the room, wishing here were someplace else. Ill see myself out, he said softly, before turning and leaving.
Samuel paused and sighed. Things were changing. Do you plan to hide there all day? He looked over to the cabinet.
Slowly, Ezra crept out of his hiding place, not able to look his uncle in the eye. He squeezed his hands together; afraid he might get into trouble.
Did you hear enough? Samuel asked, picking up his coffee cup.
Samuel looked at the boy and smiled. Were you playing with Benny?
Again, Ezra nodded.
Well, youd better go find him, before he thinks youve hidden yourself permanently. He took a drink and replaced the cup on the table. He watched as Ezra looked up and smiled softly at him, then like a mouse, he rushed from the room. If Ezra could talk, Samuel was convinced the boy would have made his opinion known about selling Cora. He was as close to the slave woman as he was anyone else, and much closer to her than his own mother. But that was to be expected. Maude had a vein of independence that ran longer than the Nile River, and having a child that needed her at every moment would only hinder what she needed to do. Samuel was convinced that was the reason Ezra didnt feel the need to ask for anything, because he knew he wouldnt get it, unless he got it himself. The boy never approached anyone, unless they approached him first, and he tried to stay out of the way, unless something was required of him. Maude had taught him these things, they didnt come naturally, Samuel was convinced of it.
Cora filled the plate full of rolls and quickly placed it on the table. Benny and Ezra were waiting for their dinner, and then it was off to bed. The small table in the kitchen was old, but it was sufficient. Cora had finished serving Master Liddell just moments before. He usually ate alone in the dining room, while going over his figures for the plantations expenses. The slaves, and the children ate in the kitchen, or in the chow hut that was out by the slave quarters.
Uncle Adam let me ride is horse, Copper, today, Benny said proudly, taking a big bite of his potpie. Hes gonna train me sos I can do his job when I get bigger.
Dont you be botherin you Uncle, Cora warned, hes got nough trouble wit is own two boys.
He dont mind, Benny responded. He even said that Ezras gettin big nough to ride the bigger horses.
Cora smiled proudly at her son. Yous just be careful.
Benny smiled with his mouth full of food, causing Ezra to laugh. Cora sent her son a look of warning but was ignored when she could keep from laughing herself.
I done taught ya better manners an that, she laughed, covering her own mouth. Benny had a way about him that his mother couldnt help but admire. He loved to tease and joke around. It wasnt uncommon to see him playing practical jokes on other slave children his own age. She never tried to break him of it, only because everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Benny finished his meal first and then looked up at his mother. Can I go help Uncle Adam feed? he asked energetically.
I made peach cobbler, Cora said, wanting to make sure he didnt want to eat dessert. When she saw the pleading in his eyes, encouraging her to let him go, she nodded in acceptance. Dont be long, she warned before he shot up and rushed out the door. What bout you, Master Ezra? She asked, knowing good and well he wanted a piece of her cobbler.
Cora stood up and cut him a small piece of the dessert. She made it small, just like shed done many times before. She knew he wanted seconds every time he finished, but she wouldnt give it to him. He needed to ask for it. In the year that hed been home she could see his desire to speak grow stronger each and every day. But there was something holding him back.
Youre gonna havta say somethin one of these days, she said casually, placing the plate in front of the boy. An Id really like ta hear dat pretty little voice of yours. She watched as he poked the food with his fork, she knew he was uncomfortable. Cora grabbed a plate of her own and started eating the lush dessert. Ezra soon followed suit. Those the cards yous daddy was always playin wit?
Ezra looked at the cards hed been holding in his hands. Hed refused to let them go since hed gotten them. Slowly, he nodded his head.
Cora watched him carefully, trying to tell by his expressive eyes, how far she could push him. Whos you fraid of, chil?
Ezra looked at her, wondering if she knew something she wasnt supposed to. He swallowed hard and placed his fork back onto his plate. He looked toward the door, trying to find an escape route. Ezra jumped when Cora reached out and gently grasped his hand. He looked up into her eyes and saw only love there. She wasnt doing this to be cruel.
It was youre daddys time, chil, it werent your fault, she said softly, hoping to strike a cord.
Immediately, Ezras eyes went wet with tears and he turned them away from her. All he wanted to do was run and hide. It would be easier to hide. Cora didnt give him a chance as she grabbed him by his arms and pulled him into her lap. He didnt fight, but rather rested his head against her shoulder and wrapped his arms around her neck, allowing her to gently rub his back.
Ezra wiped his eyes roughly: They said theyd kill you, he spoke softly into Coras ear.
Cora frowned: Me? she questioned, not understanding. She felt him nod his head. Suddenly her heart constricted and her throat got tight. She knew it wasnt her in particular that he was talking about, but instead those around him that he cared for. They aint gonna hurt nobody, chil.
They wouldnt stop beatin him, he cried into her shoulder.
Cora continued to rub his back, offering the only support she could. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Hed been holding it inside for so long, now, maybe he could rest easy.
Samuel entered the kitchen to find Cora seated and wiping her face clear of the tears she shed. She still held Ezras limp form after hed succumb to the call of sleep. Everything all right? he asked out of concern.
Cora smiled: He spoke chil finally spoke. She brushed Ezras hair away from his face.
Samuel reached down and picked up his nephew. Ill take him to bed, he said.
Ill sees to Benny chil thinks hes gonna be a cowboy.
Boys have got dreams too, Cora.
An their mothers? Despite the concern written on her face, there was a light atmosphere in her words.
You worry too much, Samuel said, moving toward the door with his charge. He turned back and looked at her. She was so tiny and yet so strong. You always have. He turned back around and headed toward Ezras room.
Cora placed her hands on her hips and watched them go. Samuel knew her all too well, way too well.
Benny and Ezra ran into the house but stopped suddenly when they noticed Samuel had a guest. Both boys hid behind the large oak desk and listened. Ezra could see Cora, listening as well and hiding behind the door leading to the kitchen.
$1800 is my last offer, Jack Humphrey said, slapping his knee.
Shes not for sale, Samuels voice was harsh, and unwavering.
Jack looked at his friend: Youre a stubborn fool, Samuel. He shook his head and then looked around the room. Youre the only slave owner Ive ever known whos never had a slave run why is that?
Samuel didnt miss the accusatory eyes staring back at him. I dont treat them like animals, the bitterness in his voice was heard throughout the room.
Ezra carefully grabbed the small ink well from the corner of the desk and then stood up in plain view, making as though he was just coming in from the kitchen. He walked to where his uncle sat with his face dripping with innocence. The two men ignored him, seeing no reason to pay him any mind. Ezra reached up, trying to grab a book off the shelf, but he continued to hit the small table that his uncles and the other mans coffee was on.
What do you need, Ezra? Samuel asked, slightly annoyed with the boys behavior.
The Canterbury Tales, he responded, pointing to the leather bound book.
Samuel reached up and grabbed the book and then handed it to Ezra, who took it with a smile. The boy turned and left the room, motioning for Benny to follow him. They rushed to where Cora was standing, just inside the kitchen entry, and paused.
What did you do? Benny asked.
Watch, Ezra responded, pointing to where the two men sat.
You should teach that boy some manners, Jack said, taking a drink of his coffee.
Yes, Samuel responded, watching where his nephew rushed off. When he looked at Jack, he noticed his friends teeth and lips were black. Samuel took a deep breath, trying to maintain his composure.
If you will not see reason, I should be goin. Jack said, getting to his feet. He could hear the subtle sounds of laughter in the background, but he kept it to himself.
Samuel stood up and started to follow his friend out toward his carriage. Before he reached to door, he turned and threw a dirty look to the two boys and Cora.
Ezra and Benny rolled around on the kitchen floor in laughter. Jack Humphrey didnt realize what had happened, and that made it even funnier for the boys. Cora didnt say anything to them, she knew theyd get into trouble, but for the moment she was laughing on the inside.
Ezra! Samuels bellow echoed throughout the house. It wasnt lost on anyone that he was angry. He entered the kitchen with his hands on his hips.
Cora stood by the kneading table, working on her bread. She tried to keep her face expressionless, but she was failing miserably. She watched as Benny and Ezra stood up, ready to face their punishment.
What do you have to say for yourself? Samuel asked, looking directly at his nephew.
Mr. Humphrey doesnt have a right
Ill decide what Mr. Humphreys rights are, Samuels voice was deep and threatening. But it was good to hear Ezra defending himself. You go to your room and stay there until I come to get you.
Ezra sighed, but he knew what hed done was wrong. Yes, sir, he answered softly, before leaving the room.
Samuel looked at Benny: Did you know anything about his plan?
He didnt mean nothin by it, Benny defended.
Thats not what I asked. Samuel looked to Benny and then to Cora, who had yet to say anything. Go help with the feeding, he ordered, and then watched the boy leave.
Did you tell Mr. Humphrey bout is ? Cora pointed to her teeth.
Samuel smiled: No, he responded with a chuckle, before heading back to his study. Leaving a laughing Cora in his wake.
Is tellin ya, Benny said, leaning closer to Ezra, shes a witch.
Theres no such thing, Ezra protested, peaking through the bushes.
Both boys watched from a distance the old blind woman snapping the ends of her beans. Scars ran across her face, something sharp had marred her features and had taken her sight. She lived on a small parcel of land between two plantations, one of which belonged to Samuel. The old slave woman had been allowed to stay there simply because she wasnt any use as a laborer any longer, and most people feared her, or rather the power she possessed.
Benny had learned about her early in life. His mother had taken him on a hot summers day to visit with the old woman. Cora visited her every week, making sure she had plenty of food. It was the way the old woman looked that scared most people. She seemed to know things that nobody else did. Most times she could sum up a persons life in one sentence, and sometimes one word. She kept her hair wrapped in a long cloth, and her attire was the tattered remains of old Negro cloth.
Ezra watched her mechanical movements. Everything she did was automated, as though shed done it a million times over, and now she didnt have to think about it. Despite her blindness, her face expressed a smile and contempt. She was someone who understood her fate, and didnt question it.
Lets go talk to her, Ezra suggested.
No way, Benny responded quickly. Shell cut our heads off an cook em.
Ezra gave his friend a quizzical look and shook his head. How do you know shes a witch? His sarcasm was obvious.
Just look at er, Benny replied, pointing his finger through the brush and toward the old woman.
Ill ask her, Ezra responded with a smile. He stood up and started walking towards the old woman, leaving a stunned Benny in his wake.
Benny looked around, his eyes spread wide with fear. He stood up suddenly and rushed towards his friend. Wait for me, he yelled.
The old cabin could hardly be called a cabin at all. It resembled more of a shack that had been poorly built. Baskets of all sizes lined the small porch, cobwebs and moss hung from the awning, creating a ghostly appearance. Old potato sacks hung in the windows, being used as both curtains and shutters.
Whos there? The old woman asked, pausing in her work.
Just me and Benny, maam, Ezra responded with a quiet voice.
Ezra Ezra Liddell. He stepped up closer to where the woman sat, looking around her meager home.
Yous Master Prestons boy? The old woman went back to snapping the ends off the beans.
An Benny, whys you here boy? She asked, knowing the child was shaking with fear.
I followed Ezra, he responded, barely above a whisper.
The old woman laughed: Whats you boys want?
Benny shoved Ezras shoulder and waited.
Are you a witch? Ezra came right out and asked.
The ex-slave woman laughed so hard the boys had to join her. Her whole being seemed to come alive with the question, until she stopped suddenly. She turned her face toward them. Do ya think I is?
Benny hid himself behind Ezras back, not an easy feat considering how small he was and how large Benny was.
No. I dont believe in such foolishness. Ezra stuck his chest out proudly, unwilling to waver on the subject.
Yous papa said da same thin, she replied.
Ezra looked at her, wondering why she was the way she was. She rocked back and forth, as though she was sitting in a comfortable rocking chair, but the chair she was in was stationary. He looked again at her face, trying to read what was going on in her mind. Her dark skin blended with the background of the shack she lived in. Her face was covered in old scars, making her appear more frightful.
Han me dat towel, she pointed to the old cloth that hung precariously from the banister.
Ezra picked up the towel and handed it to the woman. When she reached out to take the item she brushed his hand. Ezra moved away from the woman quickly and returned to his former position on the ground in front of the porch.
Death walks close to you, she spoke clearly and plainly.
Ezra looked up at the woman, not understanding her words. Benny leaned over and whispered for them to get out of there, but Ezra couldnt move. His feet seemed to be weighed down with rocks. When the old woman started laughing, exposing her black, decaying teeth, both boys turned and rushed from the shack. Ezra could hardly keep up with Benny, but the fear of someone, or something following him, drove him. They could hear the echo of the womans laughter filling the air that surrounded them, and like a body struggling for air in a sea of water, the boys ran harder trying to escape.
Is told ya she was a witch, Benny gasped, grabbing his knees while trying to regain his breath.
Who was she? Ezra asked, between gulps of air.
A witch, Benny responded, looking at his friend as though hed lost his mind.
She aint got one, Benny replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Ezra looked at his best friend, confused by his statement. Everybodys got a name.
She dont, Benny snapped. He looked around, longing for the kitchen his mother was working in. What do ya think she meant? He referred to the old womans statement.
Nothin, Ezra quickly answered, and then started walking back to the house. She hadnt meant anything by it, he hoped anyway.