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Story: The Drinking Gourd I

DigiTrad:
FOLLOW THE DRINKING GOURD


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Lonesome EJ 04 Oct 01 - 12:51 AM
wysiwyg 04 Oct 01 - 01:26 AM
Lonesome EJ 04 Oct 01 - 12:26 PM
JenEllen 04 Oct 01 - 12:56 PM
wysiwyg 04 Oct 01 - 01:53 PM
Lonesome EJ 04 Oct 01 - 02:03 PM
JenEllen 04 Oct 01 - 02:48 PM
katlaughing 04 Oct 01 - 04:07 PM
Lonesome EJ 04 Oct 01 - 05:44 PM
Amos 05 Oct 01 - 09:46 AM
Amos 05 Oct 01 - 10:11 AM
Peter T. 05 Oct 01 - 10:37 AM
JenEllen 05 Oct 01 - 12:26 PM
Amos 05 Oct 01 - 12:40 PM
katlaughing 05 Oct 01 - 01:35 PM
Lonesome EJ 05 Oct 01 - 01:54 PM
JenEllen 05 Oct 01 - 02:45 PM
katlaughing 05 Oct 01 - 03:48 PM
Lonesome EJ 05 Oct 01 - 03:54 PM
JenEllen 05 Oct 01 - 04:33 PM
Peter T. 05 Oct 01 - 05:54 PM
Amos 05 Oct 01 - 08:23 PM
katlaughing 05 Oct 01 - 10:07 PM
Amos 05 Oct 01 - 10:22 PM
katlaughing 05 Oct 01 - 10:32 PM
Amos 05 Oct 01 - 10:37 PM
Amos 05 Oct 01 - 11:07 PM
wysiwyg 05 Oct 01 - 11:09 PM
Lonesome EJ 05 Oct 01 - 11:10 PM
JenEllen 06 Oct 01 - 03:38 AM
Amos 06 Oct 01 - 01:45 PM
Lonesome EJ 06 Oct 01 - 03:21 PM
Peter T. 06 Oct 01 - 03:52 PM
SINSULL 07 Oct 01 - 03:39 PM
JenEllen 07 Oct 01 - 09:56 PM
Peter T. 08 Oct 01 - 12:57 PM
Amos 08 Oct 01 - 05:28 PM
JenEllen 08 Oct 01 - 08:11 PM
katlaughing 08 Oct 01 - 09:20 PM
Amos 08 Oct 01 - 09:51 PM
Peter T. 09 Oct 01 - 11:26 AM
Amos 09 Oct 01 - 11:46 AM
JenEllen 09 Oct 01 - 12:50 PM
katlaughing 09 Oct 01 - 02:01 PM
Amos 09 Oct 01 - 02:14 PM
Lonesome EJ 09 Oct 01 - 02:30 PM
Amos 09 Oct 01 - 03:51 PM
Lonesome EJ 11 Oct 01 - 12:59 AM
JenEllen 11 Oct 01 - 03:50 AM
Peter T. 11 Oct 01 - 10:44 AM
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Subject: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 12:51 AM

He had a sword made from a maple branch, and he eyed his enemy from behind a straw bale. His enemy was unaware of him, and continued to strut and peck and stir up the hens hunting kernels among the discarded corn tops on the barn's dirt floor. The white man ceased singing and planing the new pine door perched on the sawhorses, grinning and puffing at a corncob pipe as he watched the boy. The boy, who had the name Lucius, crouched and sprung shouting "Gotcha Napoleon!" as he gave the startled rooster a soft poke. The rooster attempted to defy the law saying those of his kind may not fly, and leapt out the barndoor wings beating the warm September air. "You'll give that cock a heart attack, Lucius," said the white man, "and that won't make the hens happy, and you won't have no eggs fer breakfast."

The boy responded by attacking a nearby roofpole with his sword, saying "take that n that!" The man set his pipe aside, and began the soft repetitive husss of the plane on the door edge. And he began to sing. Lucius stuck his sword under the rope that held up his britches and sat on a barrel in front of the man. "Yore name Joe, right mistah?" He said. Joe nodded, never pausing in song or planing. "Why you always sing that ol song, Joe?" Joe did pause at this and replied "I sing it cause its the best song I know. Don't you like it?" Lucius grimaced and said "its okay I reckon. You cain't sing much though. My momma can really sing." Joe laughed out loud at this and pointed at Lucius' maple sword. "You want to be a soldier?"

"I reckon."

"Then you got to be free."

Lucius glanced quickly around him. These were dangerous words for a white man to say to any slave.The white man hoisted himself up on the door, resting his wooden stump of a leg on it. He struck a sulphur match on it and relit the pipe. "You could go to sea, Lucius. All men are equal before God and the Captain of a ship. My best friend and shipmate was a black man named Mason Clay. He saved my life, boy."

"How you get that pegleg?"

"Why a shark took it off me when my whale boat stove in. He'd a-had the other'n too if Mason hadn't pulled me into his boat by my jacket. It were a bit of a tug-o-war there for a minute or two."

"Where's Mason now?"

"Heaven, I reckon. He drownded on that same trip. Its a hard life a-whaling, boy." Joe dropped down off the door, took up his plane, and began to work again. Follow the Drinking Gourd he sang, and for just a second, he gave the boy a glance that he felt in his soul.

******

August slapped a mosquito on his arm and glanced at the orange ball of the sun. "Seems like that sun won't never set today," he muttered. He bent backward against the stiffness in his spine." Full bag!" a voice called, and he turned to see Millie smiling at him. "Over here Mr Tote-man!" He strode over to her and said "woman! You tryin to break mah back?" He bent over to sling the sack on his shoulder, and she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "That make it feel better, mistah?" she said and smiled. "And if that don't do it, I'll make you some fresh corn pone and greens when we get home." He looked at her with narrowed eyes and said "that all?" She slapped his knee and said "all? What more you need?" He laughed in spite of himself and she said "I thought you said your back hurt?"

He lugged the sack to the wagon. Billy sat on the jumpseat, eyes closed in an apparent drowse, but he mumbled "Hallo August." August nodded and emptied the sack on the pile of white cotton in the bed, like a drift of summer snow."Got some leaf, Gus?" said Billy, and August fished a piece of crumpled Burley from his pocket. Billy tucked the tobacco in his cheek and said "I got to tell you a story, boy. When I took the last load to the barn, Marse Locke was there talking with Whiccolm, you know, that owns Willow Cross plantation over the other side the river. Seems Marse wants a piece of land Whiccolm's got by the ferry landing."

"What I care bout that. White folk business all that is."

"Yo business too, Gus. The Marse not buyin, he tradin. He gonna trade Lucius, August. Come Springtime."

Billy straightened up and slapped the reins against the mare's back and the wagon jerked and rolled away. August put both hands over his eyes, then turned slowly to where Millie crouched, hands full of cotton, back bent under the bag. "Lord Jesus," he said, "help us."


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: wysiwyg
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 01:26 AM

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh................. Leej.

You did good.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 12:26 PM

Except I called the carpenter "Pete" instead of "Joe" (the correct name ), as in "Peg Leg Pete". Can Katlaughing or someone change that text? Sheesh.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 12:56 PM

The clang of pots and pans in the kitchen downstairs woke her with a start, still she lay curled on her side, her knees drawn up, and her arms clutching his feather pillow to her chest. "Is this what's to become of me then?" she thought, pulling the pillow tighter to her breast.

The sun was beginning it's slow crawl through the sky, through her window, and across her floor. With red raw eyes, too tired from crying, she watched the light take stock of everything in her room. The line edged it's way across the neatly scrubbed pine boards, to the heap of clothes, spattered with mud and blood, that someone had neatly shoved in a corner. She watched as the line of light crept towards the foot of her bed, sliding up the stout legs of the linen chest, the one with "William and Elizabeth: Heirs Together In The Grace Of Life" painted on it in a gay red, and then across the covers to where she lay.

She remembered the morning he'd come to her parents farm, she'd taken one look at him and went back to pulling weeds, but he kept coming day after day, and finally one night he'd asked her father for her hand. Her daddy had asked what she thought, and she surprised herself by answering "Yes." He'd come to fetch her finally in the town wagon, and the three of them covered the miles to the Miller farm in calm silence. She found it hard to believe that he'd driven this distance week after week to see her, maybe she'd misjudged him? She leaned over to him, in an effort to make talk, and said: "I didn't know you were rich enough to keep niggers..." The driver's back stiffened, and Elizabeth knew she'd done something wrong, but what? Will had tilted his head, looked at her, and replied kindly: "That is Samuel. He is a hired man who works at our farm. He was bought and sold once, sure, but none of that matters where he's at now, does it Sam?" to which the driver nodded affirmative. They were just reaching the outer fields of Will Miller's farm when he looked at Elizabeth again and said, "Colored, white, slave, master, hell, even man and wife....don't none of it mean a damn thing on this farm. We all work hard, try not to hurt each other, and do the best we can to make God happy. Can you manage that?" Elizabeth nodded and leaned forward to touch Samuel's arm. "I'm sorry." she said. Samuel smiled, and silence reigned again until Will began pointing out sights on his farm to her. The thicket, the creek, and the big field. Will asked Samuel to stop the wagon, and the three looked out over the freshly harvested earth. "There's still a lot of work to do," he said to Elizabeth, "there always is. Fences to mend, trees to pull out.."
"Like those there in that field?" offered Elizabeth
"Oh no! Not those two!" William glanced at her, his alarm bringing a startled look to her face. "Those two are special. If you squint your eyes up tight and look at them, they look like two people dancin', don't they?"
Elizabeth stood up in the wagon, shaded her eyes, and squinted at the trees. She cocked her head, and squinted tighter, before she turned to William and said, "I don't see it.."
"Me neither," replied William, barely able to stifle his laughter, "but it was worth it to see you wrinkle your face up like a little Chinee doll, wasn't it Samuel?" The two men laughed, first at her, then with her as she realized the overall good nature of the jest. When the wagon reached the main house, the change was complete. She was no longer Elizabeth Pritchett, Ed Pritchett's youngest daughter, she was Mrs. Elizabeth "Dolly" Miller, wife of Will Miller, the nicest man she'd ever met. But that was all long gone, with the winter came the fevers, and when the fevers finally went, they'd taken Will Miller with them, and left Elizabeth curled in bed, wishing she knew some way to follow him.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: wysiwyg
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 01:53 PM

I'd like to volunteer to copy-edit this one when it's "done," into a book. I'm good. See Amos for a reference.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 02:03 PM

Lucius woke up to Napoleon crowing from the barn roof. His Momma was already up and he could smell biscuits cooking in the iron stove. His Daddy was still in bed, a muscled arm draped across his eyes against the morning sun. "He sick?" Lucius asked his Mom. "Hush!" She said. "He in a bad humor cause his back hurts him, I think. He'll get up soons I start the chicory coffee." Lucius stepped out through the open doorway. He could hear the sound of sawing coming from the barn where the old sailor was working. "Scatter some corn for the chickens, boy" said Millie, and Lucius went into the barn with a bucket to fetch feed from the barrel."Morning soldier-boy!" said Pegleg Joe.

The hens had already gathered around him as he threw handsfull of feed on the ground. "Hi Lucius!" came a voice. He turned to see Talbott Locke coming down the porch steps of the big house. "Can I help?" Lucius heaved a sigh and said "sure, Talbott." Babysitting Marse's 6 year-old son was one of Lucius' unofficial duties. He handed Talbott some corn, and the little boy held his palm out for the hens to feed from it. "Can we go fishing today, Lucius?" said the child, and Lucius ignored him until Talbott shouted peevishly "I wanna go fishing!" Lucius dumped the rest of the corn out of the bucket and said "Hold yer horses. I'll ask Judy can we go."

August swung his legs over the side of the bed and grabbed his trousers off the ladder-back chair. Millie eyed him, but kept silent. It was clear something was bothering her man, but she wouldn't ask. He'd tell her in good time. He walked past her in silence, pouring his cup full of chicory and taking a biscuit from the pan. He went out without a word and walked to the barn where he gathered the cotton sacks from pegs on the wall. The old sailor ceased his sawing and approached August with a gentle smile. He placed his right hand on the slave's shoulder and said "Billy tole me bout your son. I'm sorry Gus." The black man shrugged off Joe's hand and headed for the doorway, but Joe called out "Wait! You got a choice y'know."

"What kind of choice I got?"

"Come over by my bench, Gus. And keep your voice down. Listen to me. You can take your family and leave here. I can help you."

The black man looked at Joe in disbelief. "They'd hang you and beat me half to death just for sayin that," he said in a whisper. "Why you do that for me?"

Joe knocked his cold pipe-load out on the wall and said "cause I got a debt I owe somebody, and this is part of it. I just need to know if you got the courage to risk it." Gus turned his head as he heard Millie call Lucius in for breakfast.

"I'll risk hell itself," said August.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 02:48 PM

Every single part of her body protested as she moved William's pillow and squirmed to sit at the edge of the bed, every single part of her body, save one. Her callused hand trailed across her swollen belly. Come heaven or hell they were in this together. Her mind wandered back to the winter rains, before the sickness, when the same pale light from the same rising sun would filter into this room, and William would put his arm around her and pull her beneath him. It wasn't long after she realized she was with child. She had whispered to William one morning at breakfast, Samuel had overheard, and let out his bray of a laugh. "Sorry Miz Dolly, but I make the coffee in here every morning, and I think it'd be a damn shame if all you two was makin' up there was noise." The two men congratulated and slapped each other, Will smiled at his work, and then the fevers came.

She hadn't cired when Will took sick. There was work to do. They propped him up by the fire and did as he weakly ordered. Elizabeth worked outside all day, and sat by William every night. Nothing Samuel or the others could say would persuade her otherwise. Even when William began to talk nonsense and cough blood, Elizabeth put the cloth to his head and told him tales about how come next winter he'd be bouncing a baby on his knees. In the dark of the night, when the knocks came to the door, Elizabeth did what William had always done. Lit the lamp, cracked the door, listened to the scared voices tell her that they'd seen the dancing trees, and then she went out into the dark with them.

Afterwards, she and Samuel would walk back to the house. "Sam, why don't you go with them?" she had asked him once.
"Miz Dolly, it's all about appearances. Maybe Massah Will's daddy done bought my daddy? Maybe not. The only thing I want's is for my family to be safe and happy. We're safer and happier here than we'd be anyplace else, and this ways we can help out them that don't have it as good. Massah Will's cousin Joe? He travels round a lot, sees things we don't see round here. When he meets them that wants a way to be free, sometimes he helps, sometimes he don't, either way word gets round bout them dancing trees and the kind folk that live by 'em. If I lef, who would help the next folk along?" She hadn't cried then either, just as there were no tears at Will's passing, and no tears at his burial beneath the trees. The tears had waited, pent up behind the wall of exhaustion until they would hold no longer.

The only thing that saved the Miller farm, year after year, was that every person worked. Elizabeth had been out in the field, packing sacks and stumbling along, swollen and stuffed into a pair of Will's old coveralls, when Matthew Stanford rode up. She had paused, shading her eyes and looking up at him. He had started to speak but she'd shut him fast. "You don't sit on your horse and talk to a lady, Matt Stanford. You got anything to say to me, you say it on equal ground."
He swung down and glared at her. Rattling off about how he knew she was folk just like Will Miller, hiding the 'property' of god-fearin' white people, and so help him, if he found out where and how, he was going to see her hang for it. Samuel moved to stand behind her, and Stanford grabbed for his rifle and said if he took another step he'd shoot him where he stood. He had given his last warning, got back on his horse, and rode off. That was when she finally gave in. The tears had come in a flood, she stumbled towards the house, and Samuel and his wife helped her upstairs and into bed.

As she stood now, pulling her shawl around her and easing her way down the stairs, she wondered if Samuel had been out to the cabin yet, if he'd told them all to be so very careful. They would have to watch every move now. As she reached the kitchen door, the baby inside her gave a riotous kick, she grunted almost appreciatively and smiled at Samuel standing over the woodstove.
He smiled back: "'Morning Miz Dolly."


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: katlaughing
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 04:07 PM

"Mr. Locke, before you go out today, there's something I've been meaning to ask you about," Patience Locke looked up at her husband with wide-eyed innocence and smiled.

Ephraim knew that look, he knew it meant she wanted something and he was loath to resist. Lord, what a woman, he was thankful for her, but somedays he hoped the good Lord knew what He was doing when He sealed Ms. Patience Penelope Goodbetter to himself in Holy Matrimony. Too much intelligence and a strong will made her much of a challenge to his own good will and patience.

A tall man, with lean features, hardened by long hours of work outside and providing for Mrs. Locke and their children, he looked down at her and sighed and sat back down.

"What is it Mrs. Locke? I have much to do today!"

"Cook tells me she overheard you were going to send that boy away, to trade him for some land?"

"Why, that old woman had better watch her tongue, spreading rumours will get her a whipping!"

Patience loked at him in alarm, but underneath she was not worried. Cook had raised him since he was in nappies and he'd no more lay a hand on her, than his prized stallion.

"Darling, you can't really mean to do such a thing? I've received another tract from that society in New England. Did you know that slavery is against the law in England now? It makes one think, Ephraim." Daring to use his Christian name in front of the servants, she appealed to him with guile, "Should we really be doing this anymore? There are many people who make grand declarations of it not being proper anymore. Why, they even consider them to be real humans and worthy of an education and such!"

She knew she'd gone too far; she should have kept the tracts a secret. His face suffused with bright colour, she could see the muscles in his jaw begin to clench.

"Mrs. Locke," he said in a cold manner, "I forbid you to read anymore of that trash! Do you hear me? They are no more humans that that cow is out in the pasture and what I do with them is what is best for this family, OUR family, do ya hear?" By now, he was standing, having shoved his chair back; his voice getting louder and angrier with each word.

"I will thank you, Madam, to keep yourself in check, as a proper lady should, and set an example for her own children. That will be all of this matter!"

Patience struggled with tears not wanting him to know how much he distressed and frightened her. She knew in her heart that it was wrong. Why, she was even thinking of joining the Friends next time one of them came through town to lecture. Sitting up as tall and fiercely as she could, she smiled at him and said, "Mr. Locke is wrong if he hopes to impugn my integrity as to the efficacy of my childraising abilities. Everyone in the whole county knows my children are the most genteel, well-mannered of all society. Good day to you sir!" With that, she rose from her chair, turned away from him, her back stiff with angery determination, fear, and hurt. Her skirt and petticoats hooped out around her and shook with each stolid step she took.

She would convince him, somehow. In the meantime, she would go talk to Cook, again, and see what might be done. If he ever found out she went behind his back, she was terrified of what he might do, but she knew she had no choice. God had told her it was wrong and she must make it right. Little Lucius must not leave his family.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 05:44 PM

Ephraim Locke was short of breath as he stepped into the courtyard of his home. How delightful it would be to have the gentle sensibilities of a woman, to see the angel in every creature formed in the image of man. Billy sat on the step, mending a fishing net with twine. "Billy...go fetch Crump." Billy took off at a trot, but Locke knew he'd slow down to an amble when he was at a safe distance. The negroes were amusing, stubborn, kind in turns, and in fact, exhibited the same range of base emotions to be found in dogs, horses, or infants. Cook was the closest to what Ephraim would describe as a white person, but every race revealed its anomalies, and Cook Judy was one. His wife loved all things, from the hens and pigs in the farmyard, to the slaves, to him and little Talbott. It wasn't right for him to be so hard on her. He would make a trip to Birmingham in October for the Cotton Market. He'd be sure to bring her some bauble that would delight her.

He was distracted by the sight of the old one-leg carpenter packing up his small cart with tools. "Are you through then Miller?" he called. "Yes sir," replied the sailor. "I'm on my way in the morning to Whiccolm's." Locke said "more work to be done, I suppose." The sailor nodded "aye. Much work to be done round here, sir."

"Very good then. See Mr Crump for your pay."

Locke noticed the little black boy. He was counting to ten while little Talbott hid himself behind a small willow bush. The boy would miss Lucius, but that couldn't be helped. Whiccolm had his heart set on the child, and Locke couldn't blame him : Augustus' was a fine strong stock. Crump soon rode up and dismounted. "Take Mr Crump's steed to the barn Lucius," called Locke."Mr Crump, I have questions on the production from last week." Locke reentered the house with Crump in tow.

"Lucius," said Peg Leg Joe, " will you tell your Mama and Papa I want to see them tonight? I'm leaving tomorrow, and we have a matter to talk over."


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 09:46 AM

Out to quarters where you can't grow much anyway, in the dark of evening, past Millie's and August's place along a mudded-up path there was a small one-room place where the catgrass grew high and a small stream ran, most of the time, just a little brook really, on its way to join the Tombigbee and the Gulf eventually, a ramshackle place with a sagging door, dirt floor, a single iron-belly stove, and a tiny uneven porch held together by patches of odd lumber from anywhere.

Willis Cantrell, slave, stepped onto this porch from the dim interior of the small hut, stooping through the doorway and straightening to his full six feet and a few inches, stretching abit more to ease the pain of the last twelve hours of pulling stumps and hauling offcuts from the west acre where the cleared pines lay jackstraw along the edge of the Locke plantation.

He was muscled high and low, and they all ached, but he'd survive. He sat on a cutoff stump he had placed on the porch for the purpose and stretched his legs out, hooking his heels over the edge of the rough planks. His right hand was wrapped around the neck of a crude instrument, four strings on a long fretless neck, a banjo technically, but perhaps not as fine a banjo as one could want, but at least some kind. The pegs were hand carved, wouldn't hold tension very well, the drum was oiled paper, the strings dried gut. But it was his own.

He plunked and tweaked, settled into his slot in the deepening Alabama night, and sent a deep baritone melody drifting over the quarters.

"Steal away, steal away, steal away, oh, steal away.
Steal away, steal away home!
I ain't got long to stay here.

One uv dese days an it won' be long
Call my name, but I'll be gone
Moses is comin yo kin understan
Lead her brother to the promised land

Steal away, steal away, Ain't got long to stay here."

The notes drifted on the breeze, blending with the sour smoky smells of cooked greens and fatback scraps and refuse and offal and old chicken bones and cold, dried-up sweat that always told you where you were when you were in the quarters. Willis plunked and tweak some more tune out of the crude instrument, his long, large fingers lingering here and there on the strings, thinking long.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 10:11 AM

Sawyers Mill was no longer a sawyer's home, nor, really, a mill.  It sagged comfortably against the banks of the Peedee, and could have milled the year long, except for the ice times from late December to early March.  But it didn't.  The old wooden gears and shafts were warped, and splintered; the grinding stones frozen together with time. The staircase around the edge of the millroom was not as sound as it was once, and the boards had not been replaced where they showed signs of dryrot. The living quarters on the upper story of the old stone house were sound, but showed signs of the same long deferred maintenance; the maple tree outside had been allowed to grow its branches clear up against the single window, pushing one of the faded red shutters clear off its pintle into a lopsided slant up against the chipping whitewash of the building exterior.  The room was large, dappled by the sunlight coming through the window in spite of the maple's efforts, the wide handhewed oaken floorboards clean, but worn into curves by over a century of use.  The pegs that joined them had grown rounded and smooth with a thousand sweepings, their grain was deepened and wide with wear, but they had another hundred years left in them.  Beneath the bed, which stood on four sturdy smooth posts by the window, a visitor could see an ornate and ancient porcelain chamberpot, it's dark blue decorations faded and chipped from long use, but scrubbed and neat withal. Next to it stood a worn copper bedwarmer, its maple handle polished with years of use,  and a large copper shaving bowl with a section cut away from its side for placing against the neck to capture soap and whiskers.

Adam Thoroughgood, the user of these various appliances, was snoring quietly. He shifted his legs as the morning sun crawled up the counterpane.  His long shanks stuck out at the edge, his bare toes already counting the morning seconds as the sunlight reached and stirred them. In repose, you would call it a handsome face -- lanky, a little, but a strong chin, a striaght nose, all the features balanced and of the usual number.  His eyes opened, and his wandering attention reviewed the fact that he was again firmly tied to his nature of 48 years, his place in the world, and the small farm and mill on the northernmost limb of what they called the Tombigbee river.

He stirred himself again, and threw his long legs out from under the covers, set about readying himself for the day ahead, moving among the affairs of men on the southern edge of the great and honorable slave state of Alabama.
 
 


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Peter T.
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 10:37 AM

They streamed out of the Town Hall into the market square just as the rain lifted, hiking their dresses and pantcuffs above the swirls of wet, fallen leaves choking the carriage way. Exultant and exalted from a good evening's work, the crowd broke into small groups, shaking hands, laughing, making one final point before dispersing into the Toronto night. The magnetic centre of the crowd, as he had been all night, was the sobersuited Reverend Charles Eaton, whose fiery words still reverberated in the night air, words that had, to the surprise of all, at the end of the evening, raised funds enough for the homesteads and the schools and the purchase-into-freedom price of ten slaves on the Virginia market -- "Let us remember that it was here, here in this place, that the line was first tentatively drawn against this stain, that the British Empire first declared, thus far shall you go and no farther; that we are waded into bloodguilt to the armpits, rising to the chin, and the taste of drowning begins to splash against our lips: and it must cease, here and now!! And yet it did not cease. To our shame. And how many more years, how many more souls pitched overboard into the waters of Atlantic oblivion, how many more links forged and hammered on how many more chains, how much more sin requiring expiation was laid upon us, before we said it is enough, it is finished!!!"(Applause breaks out spontaneously). "And yet it is not finished. It rises like the plague cloud, the sound of wailing and weeping, below us in the Egyptian tyranny, across the Red Sea!!" (He gestures down the hall vaguely toward Lake Ontario) "It is the glory and burden of Her Majesty's Britannic Empire that we, who were so steeped in that vile trade, should be at the forefront of this crusade, a crusade as I said, of expiation." (Pause). "And shall it be, that these (and he points to the row of sober black witnesses who have spoken of their travails earlier in the town meeting) good people, who have toiled in the heated desert under the tyrannous lash of Pharoah's overseers, and in their darkness heard rumours of Israel, and have risked all in flight, risked the chariots and the myriad armies, struggled and hidden and breasted the waves of waters, wandering in wildernesses of despair and misdirection, and shall it be that they shall at last have come into the promised land, into this Canaan flowing with milk and honey, and shall we say unto them, welcome, and then turn again to other work and leave them to destitution? ("Cries of 'no'!!)No. For some, the task is to return, to smuggle, to free, to guide. For others"(he almost points to himself, but thinks better of it)"to exhort and comfort. For others, to support, as you can, those who have been drawn to our beacon lamp. I ask you -- no they ask you --" (and here, in a spontaneous moment the row of black figures rise up and turn to the gathering)" -- do not extinguish through carelessness or indolence or hardheartedness this light that beckons like the Pole Star above. Let it shine out, not just as a beacon, but as a light in the window, in a hundred, a thousand, homestead windows: shining of decent hearths, of homes, schools, churches, people at peace at the end of their weary sojourn, home at last in the Promised Land!!!!!" (Tumultuous applause. Handkerchiefs. Pledges from the floor.)

There was a cold wind that whistled even inside the closed carriage, and the Reverend thoughtfully tucked the blanket around his sister's lap. He was in his element, subdued but thrilled by his triumph, only marred by the slightly mocking look on his younger brother's face opposite, a look he was only too familier with.

"Brother Charles," said the mocking figure,"You certainly jawboned that set of asses tonight. I was myself tempted. I had my hand right upon my chequebook at the exact instant when you stopped, thank goodness."

Rev. Charles refused to let his good mood dissipate. "Well, Tom, it might have been a fine thing if you had been tempted and fallen on this occasion. It might at least have provided some evidence that you intend to commit yourself to something in this life." Since Tom had returned from England, having been cashiered from the Army, thereby adding another blot to an already battered record of wastrel conduct, this had become a recurring theme.

"It would have not been a fine thing for you, Charles, since my chequebook is directly wired to your generosity."

The Reverend began to lean forward in his seat.

At this point, their sister interposed her furled umbrella. "Are we not to have at least one carriage ride in peace in this lifetime?"

The Reverend Charles said: "My dear Imogen, I give him up to you, as ever."

Imogen smiled, and acknowledged with a nod that they disagreed fundamentally on whether Tom was to be counted among the sheep or the goats. For his part, Tom laughed, and said: "If anyone could talk me into good, Charles, it would be you. But it can't be done."

They settled back in their seats. Tom tossed the last of his cigar out of the carriage window, letting in more of the October air to the discomfort of the Rev. Charles, who was more than used to being discomfitted by his brother.

A few minutes passed. The three figures rocked in silence. They moved out of the built up city towards the grangelands, into the darkness, and the sky cleared completely. Tom looked out and up, and the stars of the Big Dipper caught his eye. There suddenly came into his mind an evening he had spent strolling Mayfair with a delightful octoroon of his acquaintance, and in discussing this and that, and various delights in New Orleans which he promised himself that he would one day visit, they had begun on the topic of the Northern Star, and Drinking Gourds, and Gourds, and gourdshaped objects in general, and one thing had led to another ---

And at that moment, the carriage stopped, and they were home.

The Reverend helped his sister down, and turned to go into the Grange. Tom did not get down. Charles and his sister turned back, quizzically. Tom stuck his head out of the window. "Actually, Charles, you did make a convert tonight. I'm thinkin' of heading South, have a little fun and help a few of your slaving people of Moses. All this talk is very well, but I suspect that an Army man might be of some practical assistance."

Imogen cried out: "Tom, you can't be serious!"

"No," said Tom, "I can't. But there it is."

The Reverend Charles stepped forward: "Brother --"

"Don't start one of your sermons on me, Charles. I'll write. Might as well use your own generosity to one of your own purposes, eh? Kiss me quick, Imogen, before I change my mind. Your hand, Charles." Having fulfilled both those tasks with his stunned relations, Tom yelled a few words of direction at the coachman, threw the window back up, and the carriage rattled off into the night.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 12:26 PM

Elizabeth gave Samuel a pat on the arm as she walked past him towards the porch. She looked out over the property, put her hands to the small of her back and rubbed hard. To no one in particular, she muttered "Another day, God willing we all see it to it's end." and she heard Samuel in the kitchen muttering back his 'amen'.

She walked down the steps and past the barn to the slaves quarters. She entered the long, low building, grunting as she bent to pass through the door, then smiling as she gratefully accepted the proffered hand of help.
"Thank you Esther, I swear to you, every day it gets a little tougher to get around."
Esther smiled and nodded towards the children playing fetch with the dog outside, "That's no news to me Miz Lizbeth, but how you feelin'?"
Elizabeth put her palms to her still red eyes and sighed, "Tired." she replied, "Tired and scared. I don't think that Matt Stanford has any idea what he talkin about, but he just might be stupid enough to trip over something." she uncovered her eyes and took a deep breath, "Did they tell you where they'd come from?"
"Battelle. Them folks done gone forty miles already."
"Forty? Sweet Jesus. Well, this isn't going to be the end for them. Here, let me give you a hand."

Elizabeth looped a basket over each arm and awkwardly made her way out of the door. Esther followed close behind with another. They met Samuel in the yard and the three entered the barn together. The cow lowed from her stock, and Samuel pulled a stool and bucket up close beside her. Elizabeth set her baskets down and entered the last stall.
"Ho Pepper. Easy feller. C'mon." she nudged the gelding to the side of the stall and began kicking straw close behind him. When the door was uncovered, she opened it gently and steeled herself for the sight. The first time she'd come out with William, an early winter morning when the steam from Pepper's breath filled the stall, she'd seen a sight just this side of hell. All she could think of when she'd seen their faces was the time when she was 8 years old and found a half-drowned sack of puppies that someone had throw into the river. There was the dead ones, but them that was left had this look about them like they'd seen things that puppies ain't supposed to see. The folks under the barn floor always had that same look. They seen things that people ain't supposed to see.

"Hello?" she called gently. "It's okay, you can come out now..." She counted as they climbed past her. Two men, three women, five children. "No, don't mind Pepper. He's a good horse, he won't cause no trouble, just go out there and sit down." Pepper nickered his good will and swished his tail. One of the children smiled and patted his nose before following his mother. Elizabeth closed the floor, and the stall behind her before she helped Esther with the baskets. Food was passed around, and Samuel had nearly topped off the pail of milk, so that got passed around too. Elizabeth stood by the barn door while they ate. She saw Sam and Esther's kids playing in the yard yet, and the dog was with them. Good.

She stayed until she felt a presence behind her, and she turned to see one of the men standing beside her.
"M'am. Thank you. Them biskits was about the best I ever et."
Elizabeth smiled, "Oh, don't thank me. That was all Esther's doing. My biscuits? My husband used to tell me we could brick up a new fireplace with 'em.."
The man smiled back, and Elizabeth drew him aside. "You folks will be okay in here. Whatever you do, don't be going outside this barn, all right? And that there?" she pointed out into the yard, "That there is Rip. He starts barking, you all get back into that cellar and pull the door shut behind you. Pepper will spread that straw out if we can't get in here to do it, and no one will be the wiser. Agreed?"
The man nodded. "And tonight?"
"Tonight, you leave here. There is a path beyond the far field. Samuel will have to show you cause I'm in no shape to get you out there now. But that trail will take you along the Tombigbee. There's enough moon tonight that you'll see fine without lights, and you just keep going until you reach the old mill." With that she called to Esther and Samuel, and they left the travelers to eat and rest.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 12:40 PM

(God, the sheer magic of these people is purely awesome, innit? The power in their fingertips? Holy jumping keyboards! If I had a Sistine Chapel I wouldn't paint mo old guy passing the little life-spark into that Adam. No, sirreee. I'd paint me a band of beings of refined and joyous mien and limitless creative power -- a lovely JenEllen, a laughing Kat, a gallant LEJ and a shining PeterT, pointing their fingers all at once and raising that old ribhead right up. And he wouldn't be just stirring up, Adam, like Michaelangelo has it, no. With this gang, that Adam'd be tapdancing and singing, grinning like a polecat and pointing his dingaling around looking for some pure trouble to git into, such would be the power of their magic. Hat's off to youse guys! Love, A )


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: katlaughing
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 01:35 PM

"Biddie, pray tell August to hitch Revellie to my buggy. We are going to call on Missus Miller this afternoon. She must be near her time and I've some comfits fixed up for her relief," Patience told her housemaid. She watched as the young mulatto walked away, saying "Yez, Ma'am." Patience knew she wasn't to think of them that way, but the girl's beauty took her breath away everytime she looked at her. Her deep and wide brown eyes, set in a perfect oval face of the most exquisite shade of light mocha was unnerving in its beauty and elegance. Biddie matched that with a lithe grace, petite limbs moving as if gliding instead of striding as most folks.

Once again, Patience also was reminded of the distinctive "Locke" nose, aquiline, just right in size and most definitely Biddie's second best feature, after her eyes. Patience sighed, thinking back to when she'd had her third child, Daniel.

It had been a long, difficult confinement and delivery. In the midst of the pain she vowed to herself to never share her marriage bed, again. Her exhaustion lasted many months. Daniel did well under the care of the wetnurse, Cecilia, pregnant herself. Ephraim was kind for awhile and left her alone. He made short-lived attempts to cajole, romance, demand his conjugal rights, but finally gave up. He never bothered her, again, until Daniel was up and walking about, near his first birthday. That night, Patience smiled at him, at supper. She asked if he would join her for a late cup of mulled wine in her sitting room, adjacent to her bedchamber. From that night on, they'd resumed their usual relations having three more children in the span of the past few years.

It wasn't until Daniel was almost two that Cecilia's sister, Maddy, gave birth to Biddie. Patience had attended her with herbs as the slaves became scared for her when she began bleeding uncontrollably. The minute Patience held Biddie in her arms, she knew without doubt, where Ephraim had sought solace from her rejection...

Maddy was still moaning with pain. Patience handed the baby back to Cecilia, flung back the rough bedsacking and could only watch in helpless rage and shock as the bleeding started up, again. Unable to stop it, Patience watched in anguish as Maddy's lifeblood literally slipped away; the girlchild was now an orphan.

"I am sorry, Cecilia. There was nothing we could do. She is gone," Patience said quietly. "It is a loss the Master will not be happy with, she was a good worker," Patience dared not let on she knew of other reasons why her husband might miss this particular slave.

"When the child is weaned, bring her up to the Big House. She will be good company for my little Daniel and Cook will help with her training," Patience said. Holding in her emotions, she turned and left the small hut.

Now, while she daren't treat Biddie as anything more than a slavegirl, she did as much as possible to ease her life, while still expecting a good deal of work from her. Patience grabbed her bonnet, put it on, tying the ribbons in a sweet bow just to the side of her chin, lifted her basket of remedies and walking purposefully out to the verandah. She was taking Biddie with her to the Miller's not only to help, but because she knew, through her kindness, she could trust Biddie never to say a word to anyone when Patience began to question Dolly Miller about the Friends and how they might help with young Lucius. She was glad she had on her linen gloves. She was nervous and her palms were sweaty, something ladies were not supposed to do.

"Come, then, Biddie, let's be on out way," and with that, Patience climbed up into her buggy, waited for Biddie to settle in the seat, then took up the reins and clucked to the horse, "Ayup there, Revellie, let's go, there's a good boy!"

As they went down the long drive, little tufts of dust flew up from the buggy wheels, settling on the leaves of the gracious old trees lining their way.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 01:54 PM

Millie had cleared away the dinner dishes and tucked Lucius into his bed. At the rough-hewn kitchen table in the one room cabin, August and Joe smoked sweet burley in their cob pipes. "That's fine leaf, Joe." The sailor exhaled a blue cloud and said "yep. Comes from ol Virginny. I was workin over there last fall." Joe's smile dissipated with the smoke ring and he nodded his head toward Millie at the wash basin. "She know our plans?" He asked.

"Yeah, Joe, but she's real scared. She scared to run, scared to stay and lose her boy." Millie put the last of the dishes on the shelf and came to sit with them, her eyes red-rimmed. "Coffee's brewin", she said. Joe laid his calloused hand on hers and said "everythings gonna be fine. In a year you and your family'll all be free, Millie."

"But if we caught..."

"You won't be. Lots of others have gone this way before." Joe put his pipe down on the table as Millie poured strong coffee. "Is Lucius asleep?" said Joe. Millie nodded. "I like the way you sing the Drinking Gourd song, Millie. Now you have to remember it just like I taught you. Now I'll tell you what it means. It's a map."

August paused, his coffee cup against his lips. "A map? What you mean?"

Joe said "Millie, sing the first part."

Very softly she sang
"Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the Drinking Gourd
The old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd"

Joe took a cinder from the stove and drew a pattern on the table. "You recognize that?"

"That the Big Dipper?"

Joe nodded. "That's the drinking gourd. And it points to a bright star here..." he made another dot. "That's the North Star. You steer toward that and you are headed toward the north, to Freedom."

"Listen closely. 'When the sun goes back and the first quail calls'... that means the time for you to leave at the end of winter. 'The river bank makes a mighty good road'. You follow the Tombigbee north, always traveling at night. 'Dead trees point you the way. It's left foot peg foot travelin on'. Look for my footprint on the big trees along the river. That's how you know you're on the right track. What's next?"

"Where the river ends between two hills
Follow the drinking gourd
There's another river on the other side."

"There is a safe house three miles up the Tombigbee. You should be able to reach it by traveling all night. You will see my footprint twice on a tree near that house. You will see two big trees that look like two folks dancing. Stop at the house and tell them you are a friend of Peg Leg Joe. You can rest up there for a week or so, and the folks will give you supplies for the next leg of the trip. You'll have a load to carry. Keep following the drinking gourd north along the Tombigbee until the river seems to end, two weeks journey north of the Safe House. Cross the hills staying due north until you see the Tennessee River below. Follow it North, too. What comes next Millie?"

"Where the other river meets the great big one
Follow the Drinking Gourd
The old man's waiting on the other side
Follow the Drinking Gourd".

"Aye! The Tennessee will meet the Ohio, but you'll have a long journey to get there. It will be near Winter by that time, and the Ohio will be frozen. If not, you have to wait for the ice to come. Go north along the Ohio until you see the double track on an oak tree. That's the crossing. I'll be on the other side, in Illinois, to guide you from there. Be careful crossing the Ohio! It is treacherous, and never freezes solid."

Millie said "its such a long way. I never even been off this plantation. Nor has August."

"You'll be slaves no more. Is it too long a journey for that?" Joe held out his hands, saying "take my hands in yours." They did so.

"Oh Lord Jesus, through whom all things are possible, smile on this family and see them safe to the Promised Land. In Christ's name we ask it."

"Amen," said Millie and August.

Joe rose from the table, his false leg tapping a ryhthm as he walked to the door. He opened it, and just for a second ran his finger along the edge. "It's a good door I made ye, didn't I?" He tipped his billed cap, said "I'll see you in Illinois," and left.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 02:45 PM

Elizabeth washed her face and put on her town dress before getting into the wagon with Samuel. The trip took longer than usual because Samuel slowed the horses to a walk over the rough roads. Sam, in his steady voice, kept up a stream of talk that kept her mind off of her discomfort, at least long enough for her to think that Esther was a very lucky woman before she would sigh and shift herself again. As they pulled into town, the two noticed the unusually large gathering of folk at the general store, and as they pulled close, Elizabeth told Samuel to stay with the wagon. He knew better than to argue.

Matthew Stanford was holding court in front of the general store. Crowing like some stringy ol' rooster Elizabeth thought, but she paused for a moment before going in, just to listen.
"Fifteen negroes, from out to Batelle." "Ol'man Montgomery said they ain't never even left the plantation before, but they done got off anyways." "They been tracked up this way?" "Nah, it's only fourteen now. I heard they caught that one buck and hung him." "Well, Montgomery is willing to pay a good price to get them back."
Elizabeth felt the blush crawling up her neck, there weren't fourteen people in her barn, and with shaking hands, she entered the store.

She nodded politely and made small talk to all of the "Hello Miz Miller"'s, smiled over the requisite checker game in the back of the store, and then gave her list to the shopkeeper. She paused to look at some pinned up pictures of the new dresses from Paris, and turned to find her neighbor, Bill Whitcolm, near her side.
"Rotten year this year, eh Missus Miller? I don't think it's hardly worth my time to take a wagon full to market, do you? You know, we've had it fair to rough out our way too. Mabel sends her regards," Elizabeth nodded, "But I was thinking, it's a shame for both of us to waste time and all, taking crop to auction. If we were to pair up, say, I took yours in for you this year, then you take it for me next, we might make a decent go of things."
Elizabeth had half a mind to tell Bill where he could go, and it wasn't market, but then she saw him look out the window towards Samuel and then back at her. Bill knew their situation, and there wasn't a way in hell that a woman or a colored was going to get near to fair prices. She lightly shook his hand and said "That sounds fine, I thank you."
"Well, it looks like they done got your wagon loaded, let me walk you out then."

She stood at the tailgate, quickly counting bags and supplies, when she noticed Matt Stanford at her horse's head. He appeared to look the creature over, head to tail, like a man who knew his horses. He then walked back towards the wagon, giving Samuel the same up and down as the horse, like a man who knew his negroes, before continuing back to her.
"How are you this fine morning, Missus Miller?"
"None better for seeing you, that's for certain."
"That sure is a wagonful for just yourself and a few negras...It makes them lazy, you know, if you feed them too well."
Bill Whitcolm, being a man of many married years, took a protective step backwards when he saw Elizabeth's chin go up and heard her reply. "What was that? Just keep them hungry on table scraps, and maybe feed them a raw egg every once in a while so their coat stays nice and shiny? Is that what you're telling me?" Samuel barely disguised his laugh behind a cough, and as she step by step forced Stanford out of her way, Sam slid himself protectively across the wagon seat as well. "Well, I've got a tip for you too, Matt Stanford, you had best keep yourself and that gawdawful nag you been riding, off of my property, or I swear by all that is holy I'll shoot you just to see you fall."

She, with help from Bill Whitcolm, climbed onto the wagon and told Samuel 'drive'. The two men were left in a sizable cloud of dust, to which Whitcolm played off: "I seen it coming, Matt. My wife, she got that temper too. The whole time she was carrying. You wouldn't think a woman could yell for 8 months straight. I've got 5 children, why do you think I'm down here playing checkers alluh time?" Stanford glared at the retreating wagon, then began to with his friend as they returned to the store.

The loaded wagon groaned on it's return home. Elizabeth hoped that Whitcolm could work a fair price for her or supplies this winter were going to be tight. Samuel, seeing the concerned look on her face, assumed she was deep in thought about the confrontation with Stanford, and kindly offered, "It'll be allright, Miz Dolly, you just see. That ol' Stanford is just trying to stir up trouble."
"Hmm? Oh. Matt? No, I was just thinking..." she paused a second and looked at Samuel "I was just thinking I should probably apologize to his horse." Samuel's grin spread, and for the rest of the trip, he left her alone with her thoughts.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: katlaughing
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 03:48 PM

Biddie didn't know what in the world Miz Patience was thinking! Revellie might be a good, fast horse, but ain't no hoss was gonna git them over ta Miz Miller's in an afternoon. She thought maybe Miz Patience mighta lost her mind, but it wasn'unt her place to say anythin', so she sat clutching the side of the buggy, wondering where they was really going'.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 03:54 PM

(story revision: ok the Miller's safe house is close by, not a 6 week journey. We'll alter previous posts to show that. Now relax, Biddie!)

Thanks to the soy-va-says of a jsho-clawn-ay and Mr. LeeJ, young Biddie is relieved!


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 04:33 PM

Elizabeth sat on the porch with Esther, shelling peas and singing. As the carriage of Mrs. Locke drew near, punctuated by the barking of the dog that had run out to greet them, it's occupants could hear the song:

Oh the river bank makes a mighty good road
Steal away to Jesus
When that wind from the south does blow
Steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus

Oh steal aboard that gospel train
Steal away to Jesus
The dead trees will show you the way
Steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus

Let sweet Moses take you in hand
Steal away to Jesus
Lead you to that Canaan land
Steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus

That river bank makes a mighty good road
Steal away to Jesus
When that wind from the south it blows
Steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus

Elizabeth walked down the stairs to greet the two women exiting the carriage. "Missus Locke, it is a pleasure. What are you doing here on this fine day? Samuel, can you see to Missus Locke's horse? Well, ladies, do come sit with us..." she ushered Biddie and Patience to chairs on the porch, and saw them comfortable as Esther went inside to make a pitcher of lemonade. "Here honey, sit down." she motioned to a startled Biddie. "We don't stand on ceremony here dear, you sit when you can." Biddie cautiously took the offered chair, and scooted it far back on the porch before sitting down.

When Esther returned, talk drifted to what the men-folk always assumed that talk drifted to in those situations: cooking, babies, and of course, men-folk.
"It must be quite difficult for you out here alone, dear." offered Patience
"Well, I'm not really alone.." offered Elizabeth, glancing and smiling towards Esther
"But your husband, dear, don't you miss him?
"With every breath," she sighed. "Between him and God, well, they sure left me in an awful position, but I have to do what I can to keep this place alive."

Patience saw her chance, and she took it bravely. "Yes, this farm. It's been in the Miller family for quite a few years, hasn't it? Folks have done all sorts of things here, cotton, corn, tobacco, and.." she dropped her voice to a whisper "potatoes"
Elizabeth looked at her quizzically, then began to laugh. "No m'am. They've never grew no potatoes that I've heard of, but a Miller's been known to take in a load or two as is needed. Why? Are you running short at your place?" she laughed, and Patience gave a fearful chuckle as well. Elizabeth then pulled her chair in a bit closer, "Missus Locke. You seem like a nice enough lady, but do you know what you are getting yourself into? Those friendly little newspapers you are probably reading don't tell you everything, I can assure you of that. Does your husband know why you are here?"
Patience shook her head, and Biddie, ever mindful for gossip, edged her seat in a little closer. "I see an injustice, Missus Miller...Elizabeth...and I want to help. There has to be something I can do."
"Well, there isn't a whole lot, unless you want your husband to skin you alive." She tapped her fingers on the porch railing, "But you know, with this baby coming, I could sure use a lot of help. Yes... and frequent visits. And since there isn't any men-folk around here to do my bread-winning for me, I sure wouldn't turn down any charitable Christian gifts, now would I ?" A slow grin spread across Elizabeth's face, and it was echoed on the face of Patience Locke. "Well, if that is settled, then maybe you and your girl there would like to escort me to my barn?"


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Peter T.
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 05:54 PM

She sat, not quite frozen into position, but conscious that he required her to move slowly, and keep her head poised just so; and further conscious that she did look at her best, and that, whatever else it might be, it was art. She slowly reached down for her cup of tea.

"You know, when you are done with that, you will have to hide it, or mama will get ideas."

Tom smiled, and said: "Mothers with ideas are certainly to be avoided." And he returned to his drawing.

Tom Eaton had many squandered talents, but the one talent that he continued to keep up, as it somehow calmed him down, and made him more than usually careful, was his drawing and painting. His Colonel, on the afternoon of his disgrace, shook his head and said, "You blasted fool, you are the only decent position surveyor in this whole army, and you go and wreck it all; and now what, you'll probably end as one of these damned society portrait painters, damn you, painting old buffers who never in their lives had their false teeth rattled with enemy fire. But you are talented, you scapegrace." And he waved at the framed portrait drawing Tom had done of the Colonel's wife, which the Colonel had admired so much he had extricated his wayward subordinate from an earlier, and less total, disaster.

"What," she said, slowly bringing the cup to her lips, and exaggerating the slowness of her smile so as to make her point, and underscore her charm, "What do you want with Gerald?"

"I am inviting him on a sketching tour. We intend to join forces and tastes. He wishes to study the Palladian Jefferson, University of Virginia, Monticello, and so on, and I wish to sketch the fabled sights of the interior lands of Virginia and beyond. It is all planned."

"But the season?"

"Oh, we will be moving south, not resting there, but travelling further inland and south. We wish to take it all in. Highly romantic, you know."

She pouted, not at all slowly. "Well, I protest. I have enough trouble collecting beggars off the street to balance off my dinner table, and you are proposing to take both yourself and my brother off, well I won't stand for it."

"Too late, Effie, the train tickets are bought and paid for."

Effie looked sharply at him. "This isn't an adventure, is it? When your brother Charles was here, he fair turned Gerald's head about abolitionism. You aren't –"

Tom gently looked up at her: "What my brother Charles does with his time and money is his business. Actually, to be frank, it is my business, he keeps spending it on all these wretches, and leaves little enough for Imogen and me." Effie laughed, and then remembered, and pretended to laugh again, slowly. "Not to worry, Effie, we are artists and architects, not do-gooders. And to prove the point, here you go –" and he handed her the drawing.

She looked at it for a moment, and then said quietly: "It is very, very beautiful."

"Not as beautiful as the subject, but not bad. The nose is a bit wrong."

"I have never been quite so insulted."

"Nothing wrong with your nose, Effie, Roman emperors would have slaughtered themselves in hecatombs to possess it, and you."

She eagerly proferred her face, in hopes that he would take the opportunity to kiss her, but he had turned his attention to putting away his drawing kit. He suddenly stood up, and said, "Much to do before tomorrow."

"You mean before the party tonight, you promised to come."

"Indeed, indeed." And this time he did kiss her on her cheek. She shrugged, mildly annoyed, and saw him to the door.

He bid her farewell, and stepped down lightly into the busy street. As she closed the door, his gait altered, he shook off his nonchalant pose, and moved more slowly and seriously through the thickening traffic, as if weighing the consequences of some proposed desperate act. A trick of the light through the trees caught his attention for a few moments, and he paused by the railings of an enclosed park on the corner of the street; and if a passerby had been interested, he – or more likely she, given the elegance of his figure – would have seen a shadow of puzzled melancholy cross his brow, as if he were in search of something he had lost but had never even in fact known. Then he uttered a mild curse, struck the railings with his cane, and strode ahead into the early afternoon.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 08:23 PM

Character
Description
Author
Peg Leg Joe Ex-sailor, freer of slaves, handyman LEJ
Lucius Slave boy, son of August and Millie LEJ
Mason Clay Deceased ship mate of Pegleg LEJ
August Slave on Locke's plantation, father of Lucius, husband to Millie LEJ
Milie Slave on Locke's plantation, mother of Lucius, wife to August LEJ
Billy Slave on Locke's plantation LEJ
Whiccolm owner, Willow Cross  LEJ
Elizabeth Widow of William Miller, farm owner and Underground operator Jen
Samuel ex-slave, hand at Miller's farm Jen
William Miller Deceased; cousin to Pegleg Joe; Underground operator Jen
Ephraim Locke Plantation owner LEJ/Kat
Patience Locke Wife to Ephraim Kat
Crump Foreman on Locke's plantation LEJ
Willis Cantrell Slave on Locke's plantation AJ
Adam Thoroughgood Owner of Sawyer's Mill; abolitionist AJ
Reverend Charles Eaton Northern abolitonist leader Peter T
Tom  Eaton's brother Peter T
Imogen Sister to the Eatons Peter T
Esther Samuel's wife, on the Miller farm Jen
Matt Stanford Local slaveholder Jen
Montgomery A slave owner from Batelle Jen
Bill and Mabel Whitcolm Neighbors to Lockes plantation Jen
Biddie Slave mulatto on Locke Plantation; bastard of Locke out of Maddie Kat
Cecelia Wetnurse, slave on Locke plantation Kat
Maddie Mother of Biddie, deceased slave Kat
Reveille Horse to Patience Locke Kat
Effie Sister to Gerald NLN, friend to Tom Eaton; Northern urbanite Peter T
Gerald NLN  Friend to Tom Eaton Peter T


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: katlaughing
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 10:07 PM

(Ooooee! Well done, Amos, thanks! BUT, I think it was LeeJ who introduced Biily and Crump, instead of me. Trying to be creative right now for me is like pulling hen's teeth, so the fewer I am responsible for the "bettah," darlin'.*bg*)


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 10:22 PM

Wel, Kat, please fix as you see fit. Those are mighty fine hen's teeth, i might add!!

A


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: katlaughing
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 10:32 PM

(Ya got some nice pearly whites there yerself. Thanks, actually Billy was listed twice so I just deleted the dupe.)

And, now, back to our regular programming:-)


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 10:37 PM

Frederick Montgomery was angry and his bones ached. In his mid-sixties he still rode straight up, but the toll was worse than it had been when he was thirty. The dank evening air closing in on the long dirt road winding north from Battelle was aggravating the pains in his hip and his lower back; he would have preferred to be sitting down to a fine roast with Alicia at home, but a man had his duty, and his was trotting old Gunnysack up this darkening night-damp road hoping to hell there would at least be a public house before it got too much darker.

At his back and to either quarter rode three of the biggest men ever bred in the backwaters of Batelle, none with half the intelligence of a coon in a tree, but loyal in a blindly confident way; they sat their horses with the comfort of the thick-waisted and heavily padded, holding torches in one hand as the scanned the road for sign.

"Theyah!!!" shouted the one called Reuben, the least fatted of the crew and the best night vision. At twenty-three and still less than three hundred pounds he was more fit than the others. He swung down onto the dirt surface of the road, staring intently as the shadows flickered along the edges, among the autmn's first leaves.

"They's one clear print, Mistuh Montgomery -- left foot, that tawny woman, about 130 pound on the hoof, I reckon!!"

The others gathered their horses around him and stared down at the unintelligible shadows along the road's edge, nodding and making knowing grunts.

"Good work, Reuben. We'll push on, then. We know we're on the right road now!"

The party trotted on into the darkness, their torches whimpering in the evening damp, seeking a house or other hiding place where their prey would be likely to hole up. The scent was in them, and their flagging energy seemed renewed, and they spurred their tired horses to move more quickly.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 11:07 PM

Willis stood stock still in deep shadows, his eyes wide and his breath reined in. He knew what he had heard and the fire it started in him was enough to make him feel faint in spite of his sturdy 250-pound strength. He had come along the little mud trail leading out to his shack, was half-way around a curve in the path and heard a voice he thought he knew saying ""I'll see you in Illinois,"

He stepped off the path under a juniper that hung over the way and peered into the night. He could make out the faint light of Mille and Aug's cabin door, and the moving shadow of a form moving across the light -- an odd rhythm to it -- the one-leg carpenter! And in a flash, he understood.

He stayed frozen under the overhanging branches as the old seaman limped past making his way back toward the house-servant quarters behind the big house.

He moved forward on the path, then, to where their little rundown place was, and stood at the stoop, his mind fevered and his heart chilled at what he was aiming to do. Finally he could not stand still any longer, and he raised his giant hand and knocked on the new door, still smelling of pinesap and looking out of place in the decay of the rundown shack.

It was August who swung the door open, his eyes wide and his whole manner tense with alertness and suspicion.

"August, lemme in fo'a sec. I gots some serious talk to do here."

August knew Willis well, had worked back to back with him laying road stone, hauling scrub, stacking lumber. He stood back and the giant ebony-faced man stepped into the doorway light and through, and found himself facing an equally alert and suspicious woman holding a large cast-iron fry pan at the ready.

"I swear I will never betray yo nor ever let you down no way, no time, ever. I will hunt for you, carry for you, do for you what you need done. But you got to take me along -- got to!! ". He paused, sweating in the cool night air, talking more and faster than he ever had.

"You need the extra strength, however you gonna go. An I caint stay here no longer!! Take me with you!!"

Millie's faced paled and she stepped up behind August and held his arm, the fry pan forgotten. The two of them, man and wife, conspirators in a dark land, stared at each other without words for a full minute.

August finally broke the spell of apprehension and turned to Willis, waiitng in the doorway, a muted pleading look in his eyes that August had never seen in the giant man's face before.

"Shut the door, Willis", August said. "Don' jus' stand there like a damn fool."


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: wysiwyg
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 11:09 PM

Shet de do'?

Sorcha has it...

(You know there's an index of songs you can use right???)

~S~


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 11:10 PM

Crump. If he had a Christian name, no one knew it. In fact, the local wisdom was that the farther you stayed from Crump the better.

"Whiskey," said Crump as he pulled up a chair in the darkest corner of the White Mule Tavern, an order that was unneeded, for the bar man had poured Crump's potion as soon as he saw him dismount his roan stallion. It was Saturday evening, and Crump was in his usual place. The place was abuzz with local farmers and workers, but Crump sat within this raucous atmosphere untouched and unmoved. Two years previous, when Crump had come to work for Locke, his cockney accent and scowling face had been the cause of several jibes by the denizens of the White Mule. When, one Saturday night after Crump had received a particularly sound scolding from Ephraim Locke and had subsequently drained a bottle of bourbon to the dregs, Trey Maguire had alluded to him as "that drunken monkey-faced Limey", Crump had risen to his feet and summoned Trey to settle the matter in the street. The affair was illuminated by one oily torch, and as the men struggled, no one saw the moment in which Maguire produced his hunting knife, but it was certain that he lived no more than 30 seconds longer, for instantly Crump had driven a thin dagger into Maguire's chest to the hilt. As the constable was awaited, Crump merely pulled his blade from Maguire's body, wiped it on the farmer's shirt, and went in for another whiskey. After this, no wise man troubled Crump.

Perhaps Matt Stanford was not so wise. He entered the White Mule, slapped a handful of coin on the bar, and jerked a thumb at Crump. "Two whiskies. Bring them to me and my friend there." He strutted across the floor and grasped the top of the vacant chair at Crump's table. "May I sit a spell, friend?"

Crump looked up at him with a rather quizzical expression, as if Stanford had suddenly materialized from the thick pall of cigar smoke. "What for?" said Crump.

"I have need of your expert opinion."

Crump shrugged and Stanford took his seat. The whiskey arrived, Stanford attempted a toast that was met with a low laugh, and he began. "You know Crump, I am missing some of my coons, and I thought you could give me some advice."

"Why you talkin' to me, boy? Better go look for em."

Stanford's smile faded. "It's not just me. Darkies have run from all along this river. Surprised you haven't lost any yet."

"They know better," said Crump.

Stanford studied the lamp's reflection on Crump's dank black hair and pocked complection, the big hairy hands cradling the whiskey. He reflected that he looked like an animal crouched over his kill, no better than nigra, really. "I hear you had a carpenter working for Mr Locke lately. One legged man. Funny thing. Most of these niggers that run come from plantations where he'd been."

Crump looked Stanford in the eye and coughed a derisive laugh in his face. "He worked at every goddamn plantation from here to Charleston. Means nothing. Webber the blacksmith makes the same rounds. So do a lot of people. You think he's stealin the slaves?" Crump coughed another whiskey laugh in Stanford's face. "You missing a nigger? Go look in your wife's closet." Matt Stanford stood up, drained his glass, and left the tavern.

It was near midnight when Crump mounted his horse. His mind returned to its grim ruminations. Had Stanford actually put his finger on a worry that Crump himself was feeling? The Peg Leg man kept returning to his thoughts. Crump reined up in front of a small, dingy cottage near the edge of the town, tying his horse to a ringbolt in the wall. He turned the knob and slipped into the room, dimly lit by one guttering candle. The negro woman in the bed turned her face to him, the light firing in her skin like black satin.

"I was tired. I thought you'd not come tonight, Nathan." She held out her naked arm to him, and he pressed her hand to his lips. With his fingers he found the candle on the dresser, and pinched out the wick.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 06 Oct 01 - 03:38 AM

The four women walked to the barn and softly pulled open the door. "Wait here" said Elizabeth, as she slipped into Pepper's stall and opened the cellar door. "It's all right, you can come back up if you like." Patience gasped and put her hand to her mouth as the travelers filed out of the stall, and they looked at her with equally wide eyes. Elizabeth closed the stall door behind her, brushed some straw from the front of her dress, and asked "Would you ladies care to stay for supper?"

After the evening meal, the children played quietly in the yard as the grown-ups talked quietly about the trip before them. Elizabeth sat on a bale of straw, watching them, and drew a sharp breath. Funny thing, God's will, that some children can just play, and others have to play while keeping one eye on a barn door. She gasped once again, and shifted on the bale.
"Miz Dolly, you all right?" asked Esther.
"ummm. Just my back hurting now and again, been bothering me all day."
"Near time for that baby, I reckon.. I remember the same thing with my second child."
"My Daniel was the same..." added Patience before whispering to Samuel to take a horse to the Locke residence and tell her husband that she wouldn't be home until late this evening. "Come dear, it's better if you rest while you can." she told Elizabeth "Lets get you in to bed."
"Missus?" a voice came from inside the barn. "I used to do some midwifing out to Montgomery's. I could help." A tall thin woman walked through the doorway, and Patience smiled and took her arm.

In her young life, Elizabeth Pritchett Miller had been sure she'd seen all the aggravation that life had to offer, but she now realized that there wasn't a thing more tiresome than waiting on a baby. The women were kind, but unnerving in a quietly efficient way as her pains came and went. The slave midwife brought her tea, and at Elizabeth's asking, told her the story of her journey thus far, she was traveling with her brother, Jacob, and he'd been caught and hung while he was trying to give the others time to flee.
"But why do you go so far?" asked Patience "Why not the free states out west? My husband says.."
The slave woman looked apologetically at her and shrugged before Elizabeth interjected. "Missus Locke, I have a feeling that there are a few things your good husband doesn't want you to know. Sure, California is a free state, but you have to go through hell to get there, ol'Henry Clay saw to that." She grimaced as her pain returned. "Those men in the government, all they do is talk. Give a free state, but then give slave owners the right to follow a slave there and bring him back. What good is that? And the marshalls making folks track slaves whether they've a mind to or not? Canada is a long ways off, but it's all that some folks have got. Here, look in that linen chest, at the foot of the bed? Under that quilt are some things you might find interesting to read while you are here."

So it was there, in the small bedroom of the Miller house, that the talk and pain continued well into the night, and when Samuel returned from the Locke residence he was surprised to find himself witness to two births on the same night. One, of Jacob William Miller, squawking boy, and the other of Patience Goodbetter Locke, abolitionist.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 06 Oct 01 - 01:45 PM

They came up the rough packed earth drive at the crack of an autumn dawn, four of them looking redeyed and mean, fat and exhausted in the saddle, and the sound of their harnesses, spurs, and Colts slapping and clinking in the faint sunrising light sent shivers of fear into the heart of Patience Locke, a woman who had so far done no crime except to think a new and bold thought. She through the borrowed blanket around her and ran tothe window sash, opening it quietly to peer out at the horsemen pulling up in the farmyard. She raised a silent prayer of thanks that the midwife from Montgomery's plantation had hastened back to her hiding place once the new, now sleeping, Jacob had begun his time on earth.

She tucked loose ends of hair under her cap, raised herself and tightened and trimmed her dress. Elizabeth would not be up to this conversation, and there was noone else to do it. She quietly grabbed the candle in its holder from the bedside and as quietly as she could lit it with a still-red ember from the footwarming pan. She turned and went downstairs to raise Samuel from his sleep by the kitchen fireplace.

She heard their boots assembling in the yard as she reached the front door and determined it was best to face it cleanly. She opened the front door and slipped out, raising her candle in the shadowy predawn, fixing a look of haughty offended superiority on her tired face.

"Good morning, gentlemen, if that is what you are. What is the meaning of this visit from strangers? State your business!"

Montgomery was a veteran of twent-five years of marriage, and knew better than to cross the sign.

"Good morning, ma'a'm. We're on an all night ride up from Batelle where my plantation is; my name is Montgomery. These men work for me. A group of my nigrahs has taken off or been stole, and I am in pursuit of my property under the law. We would be grateful if we could impose on you for some refreshment and perhaps some information concerning these nigrahs."

"I sympathize with your situation, Mister Montgomery. I would offer you refreshment and rest if I could, but this place will not suit your needs today. I suggest you ride on to the Locke plantation, another six miles north-east from here, where I am sure you will find breakfast. This house is preoccupied with the needs of a woman giving birth at presenty and cannot support any additional demands. A woman's life may be at stake. And I ams ure there is no information here of the sort you are seeking."

Montgomery stared into Patience's blue eyes, his low anger at his loss and his pain and his inconveniencing simmering. She met his stare with complete frankness, and something else -- he had seen the look before. She was a thin-boned woman, but she pinned him in his dirty saddle with a look of unflinching will that told him he would not make any headway discussing the issue. They stared for a good twenty seconds, weighing each other like a pair of fighting cocks although neither moved a muscle.

Montgomery reached up slowly, and tipped his broad hatbrim briefly.

"I understand ma'am. We would not wish to intrude on so important an event. Locke's place, ye say? Heard of him. Thanks for your kindly advice."

He wheeled his mud-spattered mount and trotted down the winding driveway, his fat and dirty goons in close formation, and the squeak of saddle girths and the clink of pistols and bits faded into the dawn mist.

"Looks like you'll do to go down the road a piece with, Miss Patience!", Samuel said softly.

To the surprise of both of them, Elizabeth's voice joined the conversation.

"Yes, my dear. Thanks and well done. You have saved us an ugly situation ths morning!"

Patience turned, blushing sligtly, and smiled up at her new friend, and then stared in a moment of shock as she saw her drawing the long and deadly squirrel gun back in through the window casement and putting it back in the tall armoire by the window.

"Dear Jesus," she thought to herself. "What have I done?"


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 06 Oct 01 - 03:21 PM

Crump cast his eye on Billy. Most worthless darkie on the plantation, he thought. Billie was fast asleep on the wagon seat, and even the noise and murmur of the sack toters dumping their loads in the wagon wouldn't stir him. Billy's hat was pulled down over his eyes, arms crossed in the sun. Crump glanced at the long smooth crease running up the slave's bicep, a relic of Crump's early days on the plantation when he thought Billy could be cowed into becoming a worker. Crump fingered the coiled whip, loosened it, then flung a casual loop around Bill's neck. A quick tug and the slave toppled from the seat into the overflowing wagon bed, grappling at the whip-noose around his throat. "You awake, shine?" said Crump, with a sarcastic note of concern. He held the whip taught for a few seconds more, then slacked it. "Billy struggled up, the look of hate sparking for no more than a second. "Take this god damn wagon to the barn, boy" Crump said in a very quiet voice, slowly recoiling the whip.

The clamor of horsemen caught Crump's ear and he turned to see a mounted group coming from the house. He sat his horse and watched them come up to him. "Mr Crump?" asked the man at the party's head.

"What can I do for you?"

"We spoke briefly with Mr Locke regarding some runaway negroes. He suggested we speak with you. I don't suppose you've heard anything?"

"I've not."

"And this plantation has not been troubled?"

"No it has not," said Crump. The leader rode up next to Crump and handed him a piece of paper. "Here is the description of my property. There is a reward for its safe return. My name is Montgomery, sir. Please send a rider to me if you hear anything."

Crump wadded the paper and shoved it in his pocket. "Good day then," said Montgomery, turning his horse.

"Wait" said Crump. "Have you had a peg legged man, a carpenter at your plantation?"

"Yes. A man name Joe. Why do you ask?"

"I need a chair made," said Crump, and rode off.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Peter T.
Date: 06 Oct 01 - 03:52 PM

There was a high sunlit wind that ruffled the pond, but as the oddly impressive figure said in passing during their sojourn: "While our outer being thrills to the Aeolian wind that stirs about us, as with the pond, there is no wind in the depths, but that great and weighty sympathy that pervades all."

"Do you truly believe in that sympathy, sir?" said Gerald. "Tom says that when he looks upon Nature and its work, he sees blankness, and when he sees blankness, he begins to doubt."

"Oh, yes, I have known that doubt, in the wildest of the wildness, where one thinks, what do we face when we face a stubborn or a harsh Nature that does not speak to us?" They walked in silence a few more moments. Then he continued: "But, Gerald, how about this for analogy? Suppose that we love someone, and we are in the most intimate sympathy with them. Are they not entitled to their moods, to their periods when they shut themselves away from us, and will not speak, in anger or sorrow at us? Do we love them any the less? No. Do we disbelieve in their existence? No. So it may be with Nature."

"Perhaps", said Gerald tentatively. "Perhaps when the one we love withdraws, it is not that we lose our belief in their existence, but we come to disbelieve in our own, as Tom does."

His companion stopped, and looked at him, and said, in a tone of deep seriousness: "He has a true friend in you, if I may speak of sympathies. You are soul of my soul, Gerald Owen, I give myself in these our talks to no one but you, and that is why." He held out his hand, and Gerald shook it formally, two men in dark coats standing on a wide path just up from the water's edge, as if they were about to undertake a duel, and then they laughed, and continued their perambulation and their discussion. They plucked topics out of the air, as if they were written in Sibylline form on the hithering thithering leaves that blew about them. They spoke of free will, of the transcendent, and of Mr. Coleridge, whose Table Talk, borrowed from Tom, peeped out of Gerald's suitjacket pocket.

At last, Gerald said: "We must return, Henry, I will be late to the city as it is. My sister will not forgive me if I miss our last night together."

"Sophia has a few questions for you, and some last messages for Abigail and her husband, including thanks from our most recent visitor."

Gerald smiled at the way Henry was so careful, even here, a mile from the nearest ears and eyes. But he knew what he was doing, he and his sister, in their way. The struggle penetrated deep into the North.

Gerald said: "I am sure that she and Tom have been hard at that while we indulged ourselves."

"Yes", said Henry, "I love him too, upon even such short acquaintance and that you brought him to me is a gift that will be long in the repaying. You must protect yourself, and him too. He is reckless because he believes in nothing, that it will affect nothing: he needs to have enough time to learn the connection between his deeds and real life, without losing his life or something he cherishes in the process. I look forward, as I do with you, to what he will become. We have hardly even discussed those points in surveying practice that he mentioned so suggestively upon arrival."

They picked up their pace, and walked back into Concord as the sun was setting.

They entered the house, and found Sophia, Tom, and Silas, the latest of their "most recent visitors" hard at work stuffing parcels.

Sophia turned and, pushing back a strand of loose hairs, said: "How was Walden this afternoon, Henry?"


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: SINSULL
Date: 07 Oct 01 - 03:39 PM

I am amazed and envious. Wonderful stuff, guys.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 07 Oct 01 - 09:56 PM

The ill feeling brought to the Miller farm on the backs of Montgomery's horses hung cloud-like in the days that followed. The travelers remained in the barn while Samuel went about his work, and Elizabeth saw Patience and Biddie off finally, with a somber embrace and promises from all of the women to gather again soon.

Evening found Elizabeth in by the fire, cradling Jacob, and lost in wondering what kind of life she was making for this child. "Ten fingers, ten toes, and your daddy would have been so proud of you. You'll grow up into a fine man, just like him, won't you?" Jacob hiccuped his affirmative, and for the first time that day, Elizabeth smiled. The baby drifted off to sleep, and Elizabeth tucked him in his cradle before she went out into the night with the dog close at heel. The barn door was slightly open, and she walked across the yard to close it. Pausing for a moment to let her eyes adjust to the dark, she listened to the soft snores from within, and entered to check on the sleeping forms. All God's children. How could anyone think differently? She wondered how parents like those of that Montgomery man, and those of Matt Stanford, could sleep at night, knowing what they'd loosed on the world. Men who attacked and chased other men like they were property, used in sport and made to breed like livestock. She then tucked a blanket under the chin of the sweet child who had patted the horse's nose, and gave a whispered hope for kind dreams and easy travel to safety. It was all she could manage.

Back inside the house, Samuel had put the kettle on and sat crooning to the sleeping Jacob. He rose when she entered, and the two sat hunched at the table.
"Everything all right out there?" asked Samuel
"As well as can be expected." she answered "Now, we got us a problem, Sam. Between that Montgomery man, and ol' Stanford, we are going to have to be damn careful. I want them folks to get to the mill in one piece, but it's hardly safe for them to stay here much longer."
"I can take them tomorrow night." nodded Samuel
"Like hell you will. Do you think if y'all get stopped, that any of those men are going to care if you are a free black? You think they'll be content with theirs and let you walk on home? You got a lot to live for yet, my friend."
"And so do you." Samuel frowned and gestured towards the quiet cradle. "You can't be running off with that child, and you can't well leave him here with no Mama."
Elizabeth looked long at the cradle and sighed, "There isn't any other way."

By the light of a single candle, Samuel and Elizabeth worked out the plan for the following evening. At dark, Elizabeth would leave Jacob in the care of Esther and Samuel, and lead the travelers to the trail along the Tombigee. She would go with them as far as the mill, and then borrow a horse to come home on. It was useless promising to hurry, she wouldn't do anything but. Samuel then grudgingly agreed to stay at the farm the nest night, before returning to Esther and his family. Elizabeth followed him to the porch, watched him go, then sat and offered her silent prayers up to the stars.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Peter T.
Date: 08 Oct 01 - 12:57 PM

"Oh, these are manna, manna!" exclaimed Abigail, unwrapping the first parcel, and then could not resist embracing again the two somewhat embarassed figures, still dusty from the train.

"Give them a few moments to recompose themselves," her husband Horace said, tapping his pipe on the window sill, and laughing.

"We are only concerned about spreading railroad grime on your fine dress," said Gerald, "Your welcomes are celebrated up and down the Seaboard, and as far north as Canada."

"But you have no idea how starved we are for knowledge about the land of Canaan. To have both The Provincial Freeman and the Voice of the Fugitive, and recent issues as well! They will be thumbed out of existence with weeks, I can assure you. And then --"

"Abigail!" said her husband sternly.

"Dear goodness, yes, tea, sit, please, I am simply too much of an enthusiast."

They all sat down in the parlour of the spotless Philadelphia house, boxes and parcels littered about. After a bout of tea, the conversation began in earnest once more.

"Oh, Mr. Eaton, do you have word of how Buxton, and the Dawn Settlement are flourishing?"

"I confess, ma'am, that I am new to this trade --"

"It is not a trade, sir, it is a calling!"

Tom blushed. "I am rightly rebuked. I did not mean it in that way. "

"Sir," said Horace, "You are among friends, be of quiet mind, we are used to shouting against the storm."

Tom nodded, and continued. "I am new to this -- calling, and was luckily impelled further on it by Henry Bibb, whom I was directed to, and met in St. Catharines before setting out. Everything else I have learned as we have travelled."

Abigail sighed, and brought her hands together. "That poor man. What a sadness."

Tom said, "He did not seem to me to be a poor man."

"Oh," said Abigail, "he is a rock, a lighthouse, a lion. But his story is one of the worst. He was from Louisiana, and he first escaped with his wife and daughter into the thickest bayous, and was tracked down, and captured, and enchained round, and then fled once again, and in the flight separated from his wife and child. Their loss, years past, haunts him, sir, and feeds the passion of his writings."

"Malinda," said Tom. "He said that he would appreciate word of Malinda, if we went Louisiana way."

"Indeed, Tom," replied Abigail,"that is her name."

There was a moment of sad silence. Then she spoke up again: "And where are you bound, that we may utilize you to best advantage? You must know that it is increasingly dangerous to become involved in this work. There is a terrible civil struggle now raging since the passing of that terrible Act, and the increasing packs of men seeking bounties, kidnappings from free communities, and other grim, unfathomable acts against human decency."

Gerald looked at Tom, and then said: "It was Tom's idea to cover our movements as if we were gentlemen on a sketching and architectural tour. Our understanding is that Charlottesville in Virginia is a critical transfer point for those moving up the Appalachians towards this station, and that there have been many raids and interruptions, where we might be helpful. But Sophia Thoreau said that we should put ourselves in your hands, and I know I speak for Tom when I say that nothing would give us greater pleasure."

There was a flurry of skirt as someone bounded down the stairs.

Hearing this, Horace remarked, "If I were a young man, I can think of other hands you might wish to put yourselves into." He was struck playfully on the arm by his wife. A striking young lady, not unlike her mother, entered the room, bearing new waves of energy. "Mother, you promised that you would call me the moment our guests arrived!"

Abigail hardly acknowledged her faults, but said: "This is my daughter, Harriet." The two young men rose, and greeted her. "Fresh winds from the North, fresh winds!!" she exulted, shaking their hands briskly.

Horace continued in his dry way: "Gentlemen, I have long since abandoned the notion that one day I might have a sedate female in this household, sitting like a picture by a quiet hearth."

"Phoo, Father, you would be weared within moments."

"True enough, Harriet, true enough."

In the meantime, Abigail was unrolling a map on the working table.

"Over here, gentlemen, over here," she said. The map was alive with scrawls and names and mysterious legends crisscrossing America. They crowded around the table. "As you say, this is the Eastern Railway, up the ridge, through North Carolina and Virginia to the Maryland and Pennsylvania stations, and the danger point, where one breaks out of the protection of the hills again; and here are the junction points, where the McAllisters are, here in Charlottesville, the Hudsons here -- Harriet can speak to you of them -- and these, here, and here. " She turned to Tom. "They of course need primarily the sinews of struggle, are you well prepared along those lines?"

Tom nodded, and open his portfolio. "I have the bank drafts here; and we have both several thousands in ready moneys, open or sewed."

"Well, then, on to the muscle of struggle then. The Western Railway is naturally aligned along the Great Mississippi, and here it is rafts and boats and endless running, and improvisation. And then there is this terrain between: the junctions are here, in Florence, Alabama,and in Memphis, Tennessee, the Brokel House, salvation for so many on the way, and so on. Perhaps you will get that far, depending on the seasons and events. "

Tom contemplated the map. "This is flat open ground all through here, yes?"

"Indeed," said Abigail, "Plantations, little respite, only when one reaches more broken-up terrain here to the north-east, or here, west and north along the river valleys, that the chances of successful flight improve."

"What," he said, "what is the most difficult issue you must contend with?"

"That is simply said," replied Abigail, "Henry Bibb is a symbol of that difficulty. Escaping in ones is difficult enough. It is when, by accident or choice, there is a large group, a family or band, that is trying to escape together. They are almost invariably caught. That they should wish to hold together is natural, and when parted, they may be parted, never to meet again, so one can but sympathise. Nevertheless. That is the most difficult."

Tom continued looking at the map. For some reason, perhaps it was the pertinacy of his questions, he had very quickly taken on a natural role in this room of seasoned veterans.

"Perhaps," he said at last, "perhaps what is needed is a small troop of defenders, that could be dispatched to fend off bounty hunters and marauders as such groups make their way north to these junctions. A few would be all that was needed, here, and here, at the edge these desperate open places."

"My dear sir," said Horace. "We have been dreaming of such for years, but the organizational complexities and signalling difficulties, and the dangers and pitfalls are so immense that we have had to put such dreams aside."

"Really," said Tom, looking up from the map, and inadvertantly locking gazes with daughter Harriet, who blushed uncommonly prettily, he repeated to himself: "Really?"


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 08 Oct 01 - 05:28 PM

Stretched on a mean bed of rope and pinelog frame, padded with autumn leaves stuffed into gunnysacks, the slave called Willis thought hard about the season ahead and what would follow; "When the sun goes back and the first quail calls." Must be late October about now, tha would mean two months to Christmas and three more to March, and that would be near when that sun turned back. Or maybe it was April. So, maybe it was six months to be ready in. What could he do? His thoughts drifted, thinking of ways to gather a small piece of fatback or maybe even a ham he could dry in secret if he figured it right. Could he get a gun anywhere? He'd have to. Hunting by hand meant a squirrel or rabbit on a lucky day, maybe a possum, not enough to keep the group fed...his mind drifted across the ancient timeless divide between waking and something sweeter, where his world was free and subject to his own energy.

He dreamed they had done it, run off in the night, he had gotten the gun and they were making their way up the Tombigbee by night, from rock to rock, slowly and painfully. They were nestled in a crook of the river where the bank was high enough to hide against and the river road -- a dirt horse trail -- ran close by at this stretch. In his dream he heard the horrible sound of galloping horses and creaking leather, and urged the fugitive party to press into the indentation of the embankment, faces pressed against gnarled roots, breathing dead leaves if they dared to brath at all, and at the same time, in the way of dreams, he could see th emen -- the party he had seen from Montgomery's headed by Marse Locke, foaming and redeyed, galloping up the road and somehow he knew they could sense him in the night. In the way of dreams he knew he was not hidden although the men were still approaching, and he suffered a desperate wave of fear and indecision, knowing his group must survive, must go on, that it was his duty to keep them safe.

He felt himself squirming up to a prone position with the squirrel gun in his hands, sighting down the long barrel, and firing dead-on just as Locke and Montgomery's black foaming horses came around the curve; he saw the first horse stall and rear, and Locke falling to the ground and jumping to his feet, while Montgomery reeled in his saddle and turned to face him, a giant hole showing starlight through his evil skull just above his eyes. In his sleep he tossed in terror sweating and flinching as he watched the men draw their sidearms and aim them at him, knowing his place andhis name in the way of dreams with complete accuracy; a cloud of smoke, a huge sound echoing among the trees, and the straight irresistible and ineluctable voyage of a lead ball from a pistol to his head and in some strange time-dream-distortion he watched the ball slowly cross from them to him and come toward his face; then he felt it drilling into his forehead as loud as a jay and tear his head wide open in the back and he screamed and died praying someone would look after the others. Then in the dream, he looked as the riders came toward his useless fallen body and he saw the fugitive party being hustled into invisibility through parting branches and leaves, vanishing under the guarding hand of a tall lanky white man he had never seen before, lean, pale, with a wide black beard and piercing black eyes. The stranger intercessor gave him one last look, a nod of recognition, a token of some kind of brotherhood, before vanishing after his charges, and leaving him dead on the riverbank. The riders were approaching his dead body in the menacing way that forces approach in dreams and were nearly upon it, old Montgomery walking like a natural man with a hole in his skull big enough to whistle through but this was dreaming! -- but they were about to reach his body and were drawing out long knives from their belts and reaching for it, and Willis sat up his eyes rolling in terror and his face wet with night sweat, breathing like a terrified rabbit in his own bed.

He wiped his face off on the tattered horseblanket he used for covers, and stood up, went to the slanted doorway and stepped out in to the black night, breathing deeply to recove rhis sanity as the flashes ofhis dream images receded. He slumped down on the stump outside on the porch, and loked at the sky -- the wheel of stars told him it was about three hours until dawn. He stared up at them, tracing the figures he had been taught -- the Big Dipper and its leg pointing up to the North Star and stared at it for a long time.

Then he shuddered in the night cool, and went back in to sleep a while longer.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 08 Oct 01 - 08:11 PM

Elizabeth woke to the clattering sound of an empty wagon, and looked out her window to see Samuel and Bill Whitcolm talking. They shook hands in the misty morning, and Bill pulled his wagon to the outbuildings and the two men began loading it. She climbed back into bed, taking Jacob with her, and dozed lightly as he nursed.

The morning stayed gray, drizzling in fits and starts, until Elizabeth came downstairs. She looked out again, praising her good fortune, as a light carriage containing Patience Locke and Biddie rolled into the yard. The two women, arms full, scurried inside out of the damp and greeted Elizabeth and the baby.
"I swear to you, he's grown already."
"I believe you." said Elizabeth "How in the world did you mange this?" she asked, unwrapping parcels of food, neatly wrapped in floursacks.
"I saw my husband last evening," began Patience "I told him that I would be needed here..."
"He just let you go off, just like that?"
"Well, I explained to him that you'd had a rather difficult time in childbirth," Patience drawled out her words and gestured like a true belle, "and when he huffed at me, I began to tell him, step by step, the measure of your ordeal. Somewheres around you losing your water he got rather pale and told me not to forget to take feed for the horse as well."

Elizabeth's eyes mirrored the sparkle in Patience's, and the two women chuckled in conspiracy.
"Well, this weather is divine. If the rain keeps up, there are few that could follow a track in it. And better still, Bill Whitcolm came this morning, heading out for market. You know what that means. Every man in these parts will be set to enjoy his spoils, and will by nightfall either be dead drunk or bedded down to some comfort that suits him." Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in mock innocence as Patience laughed and covered her face with an elegantly gloved hand.

As if on cue, the sound of many horses outside drew the women to the door. Elizabeth stepped out onto the porch as Patience and Biddie scrambled to pack away the foodstuffs and follow her out.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" asked Elizabeth as the men measured her with malevolent eyes. "Would you care to come in out of the rain?"
Matthew Stanford made move to dismount, but stopped short as Crump barked out: "No, we are quite fine, Widow Miller, thank you." He sat back and listened to Crump ask about whether or not she'd heard tell of any runaway slaves in these parts, or if she'd had chance to see or talk with Will's cousin Joe, that carpenter fellow. Elizabeth politely answered no to each. He noticed she'd softened a bit, the way all good women do after they've dropped a child or two, the girlish sharp edges blending with the world, and that thought gave him a twinge. Not where you'd think. He absentmindedly rubbed his jaw in remembrance of the time, in the White Mule, he'd drunkenly mentioned to Will Miller that he'd give his eye teeth to see his wife in her full health. He was lucky Will Miller wasn't fond of shooting men, and that thought made him chuckle.
Crump whirled in his seat and looked at Stanford with the same vile look he'd just been pouring over the widow. He didn't trust that woman any more than he trusted a snake, and Matt Stanford wasn't much better. He told her that should she hear anything, she was to pass along word to him at the White Mule, was that clear?, and she nodded calmly before the men turned their horses and galloped back down the road.

Night came early under the blanket of fall clouds, and the tiny house took on the air of a funeral parlour. The occupants packet quietly and talked in whispers. Elizabeth turned Jacob over to Patience, kissing his forehead and rubbing noses with him, before she went out into the barn. She had pulled on Will's old pants, and had to drill a few new holes in the belt holding his revolver, but it would do for now.

The travelers walked silent in the rains. Elizabeth remembered her first trip down this path. She'd asked Will where he'd gone on all those nights away, and one night he'd showed her. The two of them took the one quiet man to Sawyer's Mill, then walked home along the old mill road. Any passerby would have thought they were two lovers out for a moonlight stroll. He had his arm around her, not with any romantic inclination, but to keep her atop her shaking knees. Hours went by as they walked, feet wet from the frigid Tombigee, quiet and possessed by the thought of what lie ahead, more than the thought of what came running after them from behind. It was almost dawn when Elizabeth saw the faint smoke from Thoroughgood's stove rising towards the sky. She turned to the young man close behind her and said, "Wait here."


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: katlaughing
Date: 08 Oct 01 - 09:20 PM

(Just beautiful, Jen, Amos, Peter, LeeJ! I am a bit pre-occupied, so feel free to have your way with Patience, with reasonable decorum, of course!**BG**)


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 08 Oct 01 - 09:51 PM

Adam Thoroughgood trimmed the wick of the second lantern and placed it next to the first by the window, and lit it.

Sometimes you need extra light for close work, especially when you do your own darning, he explained to an imaginary interlocutor, and smiled to himself. He knew someone might be looking for two lights in a window sometime this month, and would stay away if only one were seen.

He checked the levels of the whale oil in the lanterns, satisfied they would burn through th enight, and retired to his widower's bed, wishing perhaps for the thousandth time that she could somehow come back from that myserious journey n which the fever had sent her, come back as young and whole and as full of life as when they had first m et years before. As he did almost every night, he sent his thoughts and prayers to her, as a final act in closing the day, and let himself drift toward sleep.

He dreamed in some distant way of horses and guns, something that involved him in some indirect way, a battle or a war. He could not remember the details of it when he woke suddenly in the predawn hours to the sound of a firm but quiet knock on the mill door.

He jumped into trousers and boots, threw on a shirt and grabbed the lantern, winding his way down the worn staircase as though by memory, the lantern high and his other hand checking the six-shot Griswold & Gunnison in his waistband at his back -- a precaution he took in spite of wishing he did not have to.

When he saw Elizabeth, he threw the door wide, and beckoned her in out of the drizzling darkness.

"Mrs. Miller, an honor. Please, come in and get dry -- a bad night for traveling."

"Thank you, Mister Thoroughgood. I suppose that depends on your reasons for travel!" She swept through the door, wet and bedraggled and straight, something of the princess and something of the firebrand mixing in her youthful face. She awarded his courtesy with a smile and they moved to the fireplace where he stirred the embers to life. He reflected briefly on how much beauty could be condensed into a solitary smile from a woman -- no other kind could do it, not from boys, men, or dogs -- and brought his attention back to the moment.

"How many guests are you bringing me tonight, Mrs Miller? Should I guess something like fifteen?"

"A close guess, Mister Thoroughgood. One or two of the original party fell out on their way north from Batelle. I believe there is a party in town this week actually hoping to have the rest of them as guests of honor. But they will have to send their regrets, due to pressing business elsewhere." She glanced around his old mill, noticing the disrepair and thinking it was well that he left it that way. It made the place look ancient and undisturbed by current events.

"Best they stay quiet, then, for a few days at least. Any ill?"

"No. One is a midwife's assistant, but I suppose you won't be needing one. All are scared, underfed, but strong."

"The birth -- yours ? Forgive me -- I should have noticed. It has been so long!"

"Yes, a fine boy. Jacob. Perhaps in a future less troubled time, I can bring him to meet you." She smiled slightly.

"It would be an honor. Perhaps I have not told you how much I revered your husband. One of the most decent men I have ever had the pleasure to know. I am truly saddened that he was taken so prematurely."

"Thank you, Mr. Thoroughgood. It is kind of you to say so. Meanwhile, it is for us the living. I will be back shortly..."

As she left the mill, Adam turned to the stack of old, mildewing burlap flour bags under the stairs and pulled them gently away from their spot, being careful not to disturb their ancient arrangement. He knelt at the edge of the space where they had been and pried a loose floorplank up from the floor, reached down and seized an ancient iron ring, and heaved the trapdoor up.

At the top of the ladder which descended into the deep rocklined cellar, he took out several half-consumed candles, and lit them from the lantern. He looked quickly around the hiding space, verifying there were blankets, water, and some food, three privy pots and some fresh candles. He tested the air and found it fresh. He placed the candles on ledges by the ladder way and hurried back to the door as he heard Elizabeth returning.

They came out of the dawn mist like dark shadows of fear, materializing at the last minute, muttering their fervent thanks as Elizabeth introduced them -- Zacharias, Zeb, Jinny, Jane, Jemimah, and five little ones from eight to fourteen, ehoing the thanks of their elders in tiny voices, eyes round and wide with fear. He showed them down to their place, and warned them not to undo the bar on the inside unless he gave them the special knock -- one, then three. The men nodded soberly, and found their way down to the cellar.

As he stood in the doorway, watching Elizabeth prepare his saddle for her slightly shorter legs, he noticed the courage and attention that seemed to glow around her like a light in the night. She has sand, he thought; and her attention emanates from her like a lighthouse over a dark sea. It is no surprise William Miller loved her so dearly. He stepped forward to hold Thunderbolt's bridle as she swung up into the saddle, straddling it like any man with no sign of fussiness or self-consciousness.

"Thank you again, Mr. Thoroughgood. You are earning your place in Heaven with this dangerous work."

"Please -- if you would -- call me Adam. And as for Heaven, its great attraction is the excellent company I will find there!"

She smiled and nodded. "Thank you ... Adam."

He released the bridle and she took Thunderbolt's head, managing him without heistation in spite of her light weight, and he watched them as they vanished down the trail leading back out to the river road and home.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Peter T.
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 11:26 AM

Upon arrival in Baltimore, the two young men began to transform themselves, following Tom's sardonic instructions as to the latest garb of artists in England, long floppy cravats, here hybridized with rougher gear, not to omit the best sable brushes and stretched canvases, together with more secret purchases of similar craftsmanlike tools of gun and bullet.

In muddy Washington, half built structures gaping like some premonitory ruins, they called upon the British Canadian legation, whose head, Sir Martin Osborne, treated them to a dinner – repayment, he said after his third sherry, of a debt owed to the Reverend Charles Eaton when – "not to put too fine a point on it, he was less reverend, and we were locked out of Christ Church one never-to-be-forgotten night" – and Tom thanked him for revealing a side to his brother that he had little suspected, and tucked the salacious anecdote away to taunt him with should he ever find his way home again once more.

And there was a curious incident, very late in the evening, when Sir Martin tottered out of the room briefly and returned with a small oval portrait – "Excellently done," said Tom upon perusal, "the tints are quite powerfully rendered" – of a pretty Negro girl, who the impeccably attired Sir Martin proceeded to serenade with a French brothel chanson, and commended her to Tom's attention, should he find himself in New Orleans.

Much later, as they narrowly avoiding the splash of a passing carriage, Gerald turned to Tom and said: "The list of women you are being commended to in the Deepest South is becoming quite formidable. Are you certain you do not wish to change our plans, and sail to New Orleans?"

Tom laughed and said: "I have given up the female sex as a snare and a delusion. They weary me. We are engaged in higher tasks now, requiring single mindedness, the kind of single mindedness our friend Henry Thoreau exhibits. They all seem to me to be thin, fussy, and wan. Were Abigail about forty years younger and not happily harnessed to dry Horace, I might change my views. Indeed, were she forty years younger, I would be hard pressed not to cuckold our colleague in arms, in spite of friendship and principle."

"But you forget Harriet: is she not the epitome of what you seek?"

Tom looked sideways at his companion, and gave him a genial poke in the side: "I believe her to be the epitome of what one of us is seeking!"

They walked on in mildly inebriated meditation, and at the steps of their hotel, Gerald finally said: "She is all that one could ask for in a woman. I would be blessed if she would ever look upon me favourably."

Tom laughed: "Oh, I shouldn't worry about that. She tore her eyes from me soon enough, and bestowed them where they might have a more effective and immediate response."

Gerald looked seriously at his friend: "Is this the truth?"

"Oh Lord," winced Tom, "The ranks of bachelordom thin out once more. Fall out, Gerald Owen".

Gerald attempted to smile, but failed. "I resent that remark."

Tom put his arm through his friend's: "I applaud your taste, and will defend your right to make an ass of yourself as much as you please."

Gerald finally smiled, thinly, and said: "And what sort of a woman would you make an ass of yourself over?"

Tom made a theatrical gesture towards the waning night sky, and intoned:

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments, etc., etc., cannot recall the next couple of lines, She is the star to every wandering bark, whose worth's unknown although his height be taken, Love's not time's fool, and so on."

"A very exact catalogue, Tom," Gerald said.

"O Mercutio, " said Tom, "Women in imagination are far superior to the reality."

"In what way, O Romeo?"

"The real ones tell you to stop talking nonsense and get on with it. It is very deflating to the machinations of the male mind, not to speak of the machinations of the male body."

"What did you think of Sir Martin's piece of folly?"

Tom put his arms on the shoulders of his friend. "Oh, Mercutio, Mercutio, and it was but a few moments hence that you were pledging your undying love to Miss Harriet, and already your mind is straying. Shame, shame."

Gerald leapt back as if he had been whipped. Tom said in a mollifying, laughing tone: "Oh come, Gerald, I am merely joking."

Gerald said, slowly: "It is time to go in, we have a train to catch in three hours to Alexandria."

"Oh yes," replied Tom, "the candles are all out, husbandry in heaven, and so on. Come on, you poor, poor, lost soul, you will have at least two hours to dream of one or another of the women who haunt your being." Gerald began to make another protest, and then shrugged -- there was no help for it -- and followed his laughing friend into the hotel.

Late the following day, they purchased their first slave in the Alexandria market.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 11:46 AM

[What mad caprice and genius flowering in your wild fingers, PT! Applause from far corners! Most wonderful art!! A.]


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 12:50 PM

The late fall days at the Miller farm were ones reduced to waking with frost on the windows, surviving the chill, and preparing for the winter to come. Elizabeth took Jacob out walking in the warmest parts of the afternoon, him tied in a blanket slung across her chest, bright eyes taking in all she pointed out, and her determined to tell this child everything. He had to know where he came from to know where he was going to go.

They always ended by sitting beneath the dancing trees, not so much because his father was buried there, but because she, in some small way hoped that he would grow to be as solidly rooted as these trees. Still she would talk, baby-patter, explaining the world to the sparkling eyes that peered from the blanket, and the clinging hands that pulled at her shirtfront.

One fall evening, their conversation was interrupted by a soft swish-thump noise from behind them that Elizabeth knew all too well. She snuggled Jacob in close, and in a voice a bit louder than normal, began to tell him: "And your cousin Joe. Oh, the stories I could tell you about your cousin Joe. Mean as a snake, and about half as smart...."
The voice behind them broke in "Why Miss Dolly, I swear you get prettier every time I see you."
"Flattery will get you nowhere Joe Miller." she replied, still gazing off across the fields
"But you can't hang a man for trying." he said, as she turned and flashed him a warm smile.

Her grin faded quickly as he sat down. "No, but they can hang a fella for a slew of other reasons." she said "Folks are starting to get quite interested in some peg-legged carpenter about these parts. We all have to be careful, but you especially so."
"The Montgomery slaves?"
"I saw them safe on to Sawyer's Mill, but I've yet to hear back from the Cox's how everyone fared in going up North."
"Well, there may be cause to impose on your hospitality again..." he drifted
"I assumed as much. You haven't ever been much for tea and social calls, Joe. You know we'll do what we can."

Joe Miller sat back against one of the trees, packed and lit his pipe, and looked at her through a cloud of smoke. Miller life had become a part of her, that was for certain. He'd heard tell of her, with black clothes and blacker eyes, taking in travelers on the night before his cousin's burial, talking to each one in kind, as if her pain paled in comparison. With that, he reached in and peeled the blanket away from the kicking ball of flesh at her chest. "This is him then?" he asked.
"Yessir, Cousin Joe meet your cousin Jacob."
Joe made a flourish of bowing low before the child, who along with his mother, giggled at the sight. "Pleasure to meet you suh"
Elizabeth chuckled and stood up, extending her hand to Joe and giving a solid tug to bring him to his feet. "You'll stay until morning then?" she asked as they walked back towards the house. "Got a fine rabbit stew you are welcome to share with us."
Joe nodded, and as an afterthought asked "How is that cradle working out?"
Elizabeth smiled and linked her arm in his. "Like it's got the sweet dreams already built into it."

The evening was spent reviewing trails and safehouses, alternatives to nearly every eventuality, and with the cold rain pecking at the windows, finally the Miller house slept. When dawn broke, Joe Miller loaded his wagon, shook hands with Elizabeth and Samuel, and went back to his work.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: katlaughing
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 02:01 PM

Patience Locke closed the book she'd been reading and looked around her. Biddie sat nearby working on some mending.

"Biddie, have you kept quiet about our latest endeavour," she asked in a low voice.

Biddie kept up with her stitching, in and out, pulling the thread taut, so that the seam in the dress she was mending wouldn't rip out.

"Yes'm, I'se tole noone 'cempin' who you tole me to tell."

"Good girl, Biddie. Now you know we have a new batch of jelly to take up to Missus Miller's in a few days? With that new baby and all, she still needs some extra help. I want you to let Cook now that we will be leaving in two days. Tell her I said to put up a basket of preserves."

The young slave girl set aside her mending, rose from the chair and saying, "Yes'm," went out to tell Cook the news.

Merciful heavens, Patience thought to herself, please guide us and protect us in this thy endeavour. How was she, a married woman, sworn to obey her husband in all ways, going to keep from burning in hell for what she now plotted? She really loved her husband, but there were some days when she envied the Widow Miller and the thin line of autonomy she walked. She continued to pray, wanting to believe the Friends were right, that God really did want her to do this. The risks were so high.

Suddenly, she heard loud, angry voices coming from the back of the house. She flushed and her heart began to beat rapidly. Mr. Locke strode into the library with Biddie in tow. He was handling her quite roughly, yelling at Patience. She couldn't focus on his words. Biddie was screaming and crying, something about being sorry. All she could see was the way her husband's fingers dug into the flesh of the daughter he could never acknowledge.

Through the cold fear which gripped her, Patience finally heard him, "Madam! I demand you explain yourself! Am I to understand you have been about my property, evangelising the scourge of the North, telling these animals they are to be free!? These are dangewrous words and times, woman!"

Flinging Biddie to the floor, he bellowed to the overseer who had followed from the kitchen, "Take her to the hole and chain her in, now!"

Patience gasped, forgetting her own fear, "Ephraim! I...I mean Mr. Locke, surely you don't mean to put a house slave in the hole? A young woman, at that?"

Before the words had left her mouth, Locke turned to her and slapped her across the face. "YOU will come with me Madam!"

He dragged her to her feet, holding her firmly by the wrist; they made their way to their bedchamber upsatirs. Breathing heavily with the effort and his rage, he glared at her. It was all he could do to keep from tearing at her. He wanted to beat her as Montgomery had done his slaves. As soon as that meemory came to him, the anger left him, he stood deflated and shocked at his own emotions.

Patience walked across the room to the washstand where she dipped a cloth in the cool water and held it to her face. She flinched when he came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.

"My darling, please forgive me. You know not what you are doing. I should not have raised my hand to you, but you must stop all of this nonsence. From this day on, I forbid you to see the Widow Miller, for she is a woman of trouble and some day will see her brought down. I'll not have you associating with her for you are my most precious flower of life and I want nothing to harm you.

She stood, still, not moving, suddenly wanting to cry with a rage and defeat of her own, but unwilling to let him see.

Turning away from him, from under his hands, she said, "I would remind you, Mr. Locke, that it was I who brought this plantation into our marriage. You may be the head of the family and rightful patriarch, but there is much you owe me. My family in Richmond would not take kindly to hearing of this ill-treatment." She twisted the face cloth in her hand, hoping he would not notice she trembled so.

Raising his hand to his brow, he wiped his eyes as if to erase what he'd seen and done. "My dear, I do apologise, but in the matter of this plantation and, as you so rightly pointed out, my position as its rightful owner, I compel you to tell me of your plans two days hence. You have no choice, Madam, for I can petition the court to release me from our bonds of marriage and put you out on the road with nothing, if you refuse. Do not doubt that I have grounds for such suit. I will not have myself and our chidlren shamed by a disobedient and extreme wife and mother."

Knowing that he was correct, as much as she hated it, Patience turned towards him and reached out with an elegant hand. Swallowing her pride and resentment, she said, "My dear Ephraim, please, I meant no harm, please may we talk about this? They are not animals, I tell you. I have heard it in my prayers! God has spoken to me and commanded me to obey in this! I may tell you no more, until two conditions are met, no matter if you further your treatment of me as a slave and put me in the hole and beat me!

At that, his eyes widened in shock. Time moved so slowly, he was aware suddenly of a trapped fly buzzing at the window; of the scent of autumn flowers in a vase on her dressing table. "Madam, we are twinned in this life, sworn to each other. Your beauty and high spirit, while always a challenge to my humble nature, I revere above all things. If you will it so and you say it is from God himself, then I shall know your demands and listen."

"You must first release Biddie. No! I will not speak another word until you do. She is part of your own flesh and blood, Ephraim Locke, don't think I don't know it! How can you treat her so, when she is your own?! Second, you must agree to help me, to make a change this day before God and me. Otherwise, sir, you will have lost all, if such as myself is what you truly revere."

With that, she turned from him, her straightened back and rigid shoulders clear evidence of her resolve and commitment to a sudden upheaval in all ways of life. Locke knew that nothing would ever be the same for them, from this day forward, for he knew no matter what he believed or desired, in his heart of hearts, Patience was all he cared about and he had a distinct feeling she might even be right in her beliefs about the slaves.

"As you will, my dear. I shall return in a few moments to hear of yo..er, our plans," he said, then turned to leave the room.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 02:14 PM

[Three to get ready and GO, kat, go!...Nicely turned, nicely turned for a hen's tooth!! A.]


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 02:30 PM

Christmas Eve 1850. A light layer of snow coated the mansion house, barns and slave cabins on the Locke Plantation. The men had been put to work replacing fence posts around the farm, and several white men from town had been hired by Crump to oversee them. The nature of the work took the slaves to the outskirts, into deep woods and riverbottom, and the Foreman had some concern that the men might attempt to flee. The white overseers had been instructed to keep the men within ten feet of the fence lines at all times. The men labored hard, lifting split rails into place amd hammering in the chocks, their breath coming out in frost clouds. Small fires were built near the work parties, and several of the slave women brewed chicory coffee and corn meal stew in them. Millie was not among these women.

In her one room cabin, Millie sat beside Lucius who was lying still in the bed. The room was filled with the sharp aroma of camphor coming from a boiling pot on the stove. Lucius would occasionally cough and mutter something from the depths of fitful sleep, as Millie stroked his forehead. She heard a soft knock at the door, and Patience Locke entered, carrying a basket.

"Is there any improvement, Millie?" said Patience Locke, tugging a blanket out of the basket. "No Ma'am. He's sleeping more though." Patience unloaded several items from the basket. "Well, I have brought hot tea with lemon, whiskey, chicken broth...." Millie smiled and lay her hand on Patience's arm. "Thank you Miz Locke," she said. "You are so kind!" Patience lay her hand on Lucius' forehead and sighed. "He's still on fire. I've asked Mr Locke to send a doctor. He'll arrive presently." Patience filled a coffee cup with broth and held it to Lucius lips, but the boy coughed the mixture back onto the blankets. A voice was heard from outside the cabin. "Mrs Locke? You in there?"

A man in a long woolen coat entered. "Dr Killen?" she said with mingled shock and disappointment.

"Yes ma'am. Mr Locke said I should look in at the boy."

She took two quick strides up to him and said in a low, tense voice "and so he has sent the veterinarian!"

"I had been previously engaged to examine the animals, and Mr Locke thought.."

"Thought that here is another animal who needs care?"

Killen began again, his voice softer. "If you allow me, I believe I can help him." Patience cast her eyes down at the floor and gestured toward the bed. "Certainly."

Killen remained with Lucius for over an hour, using hot compacts on his chest, and forcing him to drink a draft of a potion he concocted. Shortly after, Lucius slept deeply, his breathing clearer. Killen packed his bag and said "I believe he is tending to health now. I shall call on Dr Broderick tomorrow to ask him to stop by." He was astonished as each woman embraced him. "Thank you, Doctor" said Patience.

***

It was dark, and the sound of feasting and laughter came from the big house. August and Millie sat at the table finishing plates of chicken and dressing sent from the mansion kitchen. Millie stood up and pulled a knit shawl around her shoulders. "Where you going honey?"

"I'm to go up to the house. Marse Locke wants me to sing for his company."

She was met at the kitchen entrance by Cook, who hugged her and said "Merry Christmas, Baby." She led her through the dining room, hung with fir branches, ribbons, and paper chains, and into the large parlor where the guests were assembled. Ben was playing his fiddle and several of the young white folks were dancing a reel. Millie was led to a seat in the corner by herself, and she sat with her eyes on the huge Conifer by the bay window, festooned with ornaments and candles, its base hidden by a pile of colorfully wrapped presents. Suddenly, the fiddle stopped and the crowd applauded. Mr Locke stepped up before the crowd and said "Ladies and Gentlemen, angels are few and far between in this neighborhood. But we have one here. Or at least she has the voice of an angel. Millie?"

Millie walked up near Mr Locke, he legs quivering, mouth dry. "Will you favor us with a song? Perhaps 'The Old Folks at Home', or 'The Old Rugged Cross'?" He took a seat in front of her.

The silence was profound as Millie licked her lips and took a deep breath. Then she began...

When the sun goes back and the first quail calls
Follow the Drinking Gourd
For the Savior is waiting for to carry us to freedom
Follow the Drinking Gourd

Follow the Drinking Gourd
Follow the Drinking Gourd
For the Savior is waiting to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd

The river bed makes a mighty fine road
Dead trees to show you the way
And its left foot peg foot carrying on
Follow the Drinking Gourd

Where the river ends between two hills
Follow the Drinking Gourd
There's another river on the other side
Follow the drinking gourd

Where the other river meets the great big one
Follow the Drinking Gourd
The Savior is a waiting on the other side
Follow the Drinking Gourd

I thought I heard the Angels sing
Follow the Drinking Gourd
For the Promised Land is not so far away
Follow the Drinking Gourd

As the song ended, Millies cheeks dripped with tears, and one who was watching might have noticed Patience weeping as well. The rest applauded and Locke stood and said "these negro spirituals are beyond my ken, but a beautiful tune nonetheless." He placed a small basket of sweets in Millie's hand and again applauded.

Patience took Millie's arm and led her to the kitchen door where she said "if only I had half your courage and your nobility!" and she kissed her as she went into the yard.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Amos
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 03:51 PM

[Oh, Sweet Jaisus, Ha' Mercy!!! LEJ done done it again!!]


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 11 Oct 01 - 12:59 AM

Biddie sat alone on a large wicker rocker in Mr Locke's "conservatory". in actuallity a large greenhouse attached to the mansion. Even though it was the depths of December, the conservatory held the heat from the weak winter sun late in the afternoon. The room was filled with warmth and light and the rare plants that Locke collected from all points of the globe. Locke's Brother was a merchant ship's Captain out of Charleston, and he made a trip every Summer to the plantation with a wagon load of Indian Spice plantings, exotic African flowering plants, thin Sicilian Olive trees, Tahitian breadfruit and the like. The flora was Locke's true passion, and he spent much of the cold months in pruning, dividing, and cultivating his collection. Biddie loved the room. It was a kind of artificial tropic paradise with manicured walkways and fountains, and the ever-present aroma of fruit,blossom and spice. She would sit here and do her needlepoint and her sewing, for she was a skilled seamstress who made much of the clothing not only for the other slaves, but for the Locke family. She paused in her work, eyeing the spider-web patterns of frost put down by the Alabama winter upon the glass shell of this living bit of Africa. As she paused, Mr Locke suddenly appeared, looking uncomfortable and nervous. "No, stay seated Biddy. I'll sit by you," and he drew a chair from the parlor next to her. "Now Biddy, Patien...Mrs Locke and I have had some discussions. Concerning your...regarding the possibility that you..." He had a tall glass in his hand and he took a large gulp of its contents. "You are free, Biddy" he said simply. Her eyes opened wide and she smiled, then looked puzzled, then it seemed as though tears would start. "But why, Marse Locke? Why you set me free?" Locke seemed unable to look her in the eye. "You are a good girl Biddy. A good, honest girl..you.." He heaved a huge sigh, closed his eyes and mumbled something she couldn't hear. "Where should I go, suh?" He opened his eyes and studied her face for a few seconds, at last a smile took hold of his countenance. "You'll go to Charleston, Biddy. My family there has secured a position in a little shop there owned by a good Christian woman. And they will provide your room and board until you desire to live on your own. Of course, I will make you a gift of a sum of money to carry you through the first months..." He stopped short as he watched the tears fall, her shoulders shake with sobbing. "But what's the matter, Biddy?" He said gently.

"I'm afraid," she whispered. "And I don't want to leave Momma and my home and everyone, Miz Patience...what she gonna do without me?" Locke was experiencing a novel sensation. He actually wanted to take her in his arms, to comfort her as he would any girl seized with such an emotion. He even thought for a second he might relent, let her stay. But no, a free negro living among slaves would never do, would set the wrong example. He stood up. "Mrs Locke has arranged to have your clothing packed. She has included some very attractive cloth from Atlanta, I might add, that you can take. Make yourself a pretty new dress, you know." She had her face buried in the shirt she had been sewing, and her tearful voice mumbled "yes suh." He cleared his throat loudly and slapped his hands together, and said heartily "well! That's done then. I will have your money and the Emancipation Paper ready on Wednesday by the time you leave on the coach." He reached his hand to touch her arm, pausing it inches from her. My hand is trembling, he thought. He studied her profile. Wasn't there something of him there indeed? Something in the curve of her forehead. The long, elegant fingers pressed against the brow, the ones which were so deft, so skillful in their work that he had often slyly studied them, were they not the Locke hands? Her eyes, her nose, her lips were so African. At first, that was all one might see. Did these put the lie to the rest. He would miss her, he realized with some surprise. "Now, stop crying girl. You will be free, and happy, do you hear? That's better. Perhaps you will come to see us here." And his hand completed its awkward journey, alighting on her shoulder, his skin so white against her black cheek. She sat quietly now, and he patted her shoulder, then stood erect.

"Good," he said. "I wish you much luck, Biddy. Business necessitates that I leave for a few days, and so I will say goodbye to you now. Goodbye then, Biddy."

"Goodbye Marse Locke," she said, looking through the glass to where the last of the sun was illuminating the barn roof across the yard.

Recalling the unresolved problem in balancing the account with Fullbright Seed, Locke proceeded to his study and his books.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: JenEllen
Date: 11 Oct 01 - 03:50 AM

Elizabeth stood by the stove and warmed her hands. The previous night's frost had given everyone at the Miller house good cause to stay indoors, and she watched as Samuel and Esther played with their children at the table. There was no division amongst the girls and boys, Samuel had long ago decided that they would all learn to read, write, and figure. He prodded them along with the same steady hand he used in getting Pepper to pull a plow, and the children blossomed just as the fields did.
"E-L-I-J-A-H" spelled out one of the children. "That's how to spell my name."
Samuel grinned, then handed him a scrap of paper and a piece of charcoal. "Well then, that's mighty fine. Why don't you show me now?"

Esther and Elizabeth fussed over the holiday meal, and from time to time sent the children scrambling on errands to fetch something from the pantry, or to grab a toy that Jacob had dropped. The lights and voices in the house sent a warm glow out into the night. It was towards this glow that Adam Thoroughgood turned Thunderbolt's head. Elizabeth heard the dog barking, and wiped a spot of condensation clear from the windows to peer out into the darkness. This failing, she wrapped her shawl tight around her shoulders and went out to greet their visitor.

"Why, Mister Thoroughgood! Of all the nights!" she grabbed the horse's bridle and her words drifted up in a cloud. "You are staying for supper, I'll not take no for an answer."
Adam swung down and the two of them led the horse to a warm stall in the barn. He set his saddle on the board and threw his saddlebags over his shoulder before they left the barn. Elizabeth gave a small yelp as the cold air hit her, and she pulled her shawl ever tighter.
"I swear!" she gasped as they walked towards the house
"Yes ma'am," he started "It's colder than a --" and stopped suddenly.
Even in the faint light, Adam could see the grin spread across Elizabeth's face as she turned to face him. "Colder that a what? What? Oh, do tell!"
He straightened perceptibly, and gruffly answered her: "Now, Mrs. Miller, I told you I wasn't fit for polite company..."
She warmly linked her arm in his as they went up the steps "Then, Mister Thoroughgood, you will fit right in."

After supper, the occupants of the Miller house lay sprawled and satisfied across most of the available surfaces near the fire. The children had been amazed at their meager presents to each other and their gifts from Adam's saddlebag, and even Rip, belly full of table scraps, lay snoring peacefully on the hearth. After Esther had retired, Samuel went out into the barn to retrieve a jug of hard cider he had hidden way. Esther had strictly forbid him to make any more of that hideous brew, and Thoroughgood and Elizabeth were delighted to see he'd followed her orders.
"You know if she gets a mind to come back in here, we're all done for." chuckled Elizabeth as she brought down three cups.
Samuel smiled and poured them each a few fingers as they sat down. "To keep away the chill." They each took a drink and coughed slightly. Elizabeth blinked back a tear, and Samuel laughed as he refilled her cup.

"Now that we are all of singularly affected mind," interjected Adam, "I have a gift for you as well, Missus Miller." He reached into his saddlebags and produced a large stack of papers. "To continue with your husband's work."
"My husband died over a year ago, Mister Thoroughgood. Granted, there was a period where not a day went by that wasn't touched by the memory of the year before, but I think you'll agree that we've reached a point where my work suits me better."
Adam watched her take another long drink and graciously nodded when once again her eyes met his. "Then this will certainly help with your work, Ma'am."

Dear Mister Thoroughgood,
We right to tell you that your cousins made the trip to
Pennsylvania in good health. They have been gracious
guests and will continue on their sightseeing tour of the
North country tomorrow.
Your friends,
the Mendenhalls

"There are a few more like that from further north" said Adam. "And another one that troubled me a bit..." he pawed through the stack of papers until he found the offending object "Ah, here." he said, handing her the paper.
Elizabeth read quickly and looked up, "What does this mean?" she asked
"Hard to say. The way I understand it, the Friends are having a bit of a falling out. Where by religion, they are all opposed to slavery, well, now there's becoming quite a few that don't appreciate the work it takes in getting people free."
"What do you think?" she asked Samuel, who read along over her shoulder and shrugged. "Not like you can tell anyone what they is supposed to believe Miss Dolly..."
Adam continued: "The way I understand, there is a pretty steady core of folk in Philadelphia that will help us. There's talk of John and Hannah Cox starting their own meeting groups and that will help quite a bit..."

Elizabeth took a deep breath and stared for a long while at the ceiling. "Just how is that supposed to help us, or the folk that come through here? I appreciate what they are doing, but it's a far cry from how we live. It'd be a shame to send folk up north only to have them have nowhere safe to go because the Friends are fighting. How am I supposed to ask these people to trust me when I tell them things will be fine?" The cider had loosened her in more ways than one, and for the next few minutes, Elizabeth berated every untrustworthy devil from the president down to the clerk at the general store before she gazed upon the startled faces of Samuel and Adam and realized it was Sam's cider, and not that ol' Shorty Hawkins down at the general, that was the cause of all the world's grief at the moment.

"Oh gentlemen," she chuckled softly. "I apologize.... Let's all get some rest and we'll talk more when we have clearer heads?"
They nodded agreement, and Elizabeth kissed each cheek in turn before wrapping herself in a quilt and sitting by the fire. From his small cot, Adam Thoroughgood was swiftly carried off to sleep by the wings of Samuel's cider. His last conscious vision was one of Elizabeth reaching to pull the blanket higher in the cradle, then sitting back again to cross her arms over her chest and stare into the fire.


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Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
From: Peter T.
Date: 11 Oct 01 - 10:44 AM

"Look, Gerald, look at him," said Tom, admiringly. They were in the outbuildings of the Alexandria slave market, where the domestic and house slaves were being sold decorously, as befitted the fact that occasionally ladies were present. He pointed at a coalblack slave who was in the second row for sale. "Is he not the blackest man you have ever seen, and such a physiognomy, wrought like iron? He would use up all my charcoal in one drawing, for certain. Why did I not bring my book today? – I could have bettered Gericault, surely."

Gerald put his hand on his friend's arm, and said slowly and quietly, so as not to be overheard: "My dear Tom, I appreciate that you are an artist, and mean well with your thoughtless remarks, but you have for the first time in our long friendship said something deeply unworthy of you."

Tom, attempting to explain himself, replied: "I was merely thinking of him as a subject, as I might you, or anyone or anything, I meant no personal slight."

"No," said Gerald firmly, "You were thinking of him as an object, as are all the others here. You are no better than they are, he is a slave to your selfish purposes, artistic though they may be."

"But –" Tom began, and then stopped, and a look of horror came over his face. He turned and walked out of the building.

Several hours later, Gerald returned to the small hotel at which they were briefly staying. He knocked on Tom's door, and Tom said, "Come in."

The room was dark in the early evening, and Tom was sitting in a chair by the window.

Gerald came over to him, and sat on the sill ledge.

"You were of course right," said Tom. "I have been a child. I have been playing at this like some kind of exciting game, another game."

"I meant well," said Gerald.

"And I? I meant – I meant, who knows what I meant, it was worthless, despicable nonsense. I have done with it, done with it all. I have been treating life as if it were a sketch for a life, and the people in it props for my theatricals. It disgusts me."

"As Henry said, the slavery of the heart is worse than the slavery of the body, and harder to emancipate. Though he never spent the day at Alexandria market, God help us." Gerald stood up. "Do not be too hard on yourself," he concluded: "Artists are ruthless, are they not, at least by repute?"

"No withdrawing, no softening, Gerald, your remark was true and struck true. I am changed utterly, in the twinkling of an eye."

Gerald moved to the door, and opened it. "I am suspicious of sudden conversions, but should this one stick, I for one should be sorry to be deprived of your art. Especially as I went to all the trouble of purchasing Hezekiah. Come in, Hezekiah."

The same striking black figure entered the room, Gerald closed the door, and Tom rose to his feet.

Gerald said, "I have told Hezekiah who we are, and of our purposes.

Hezekiah, who looked bashful in spite of his strong features, said: "Oh, Mister Gerald, Lord it is a blessed day for me, a blessed day, snatched out of hellmouth itself." "Welcome, Hezekiah, I am Tom," said Tom, striding forward to shake his hand, tears coming into his eyes. "It is a blessed day, and not just for you. Welcome to freedom."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was a hard little fight in the morning woods, the bounty hunters surprised with their prey, but not frightened by the unexpected eruption of a trio of masked riders into their midst, Tom at their head. The five men wheeled, and returned fire, howling curses. No one hit anything on either side in the first volleys, but with the second, closer, Hezekiah killed his man, but was sideswiped with a sabre from another, that opened his shoulder to the elbow, and sprayed blood over the snow. In the melee, Tom killed a second, and the third bolted, Tom in pursuit. Gerald cut the guard off, freeing the party of runaways – "Scatter, scatter," he cried, and they scattered, except for one who swiftly sidestepped, crouched and then leapt, knocking the guard off his horse, and wrestled, rolling, gouging, down into the still flowing creekbed. Gerald leapt off his horse, and raced down, gun in hand, but saw there was no need. There was a sound of riders crashing through the trees away into the distance, and then silence. He turned and raced back up the lip of the creekbed – "Tom, Tom?" – but there was nothing but the two splayed bodies, a horse rearing and kicking, and Hezekiah dancing around holding his ripped shoulder. "God, Hezekiah, how are you?" he called. "All right, if I can stop this blood, I can't feel anything all down the arm." Gerald pulled the bandanna off his face, and tried to stanch the wound, and then went and ripped the jacket off one of the dead bounty hunters, and ripped it again into lengths, and circled it around Hezekiah's arm. "Looks like a clean wound, Hez, but I don't know." There was a crash of a returning horse, Gerald turned, at the ready, and it was Tom. "Got away, Gerald, got away. Hez, how are you doing?" Hez gritted his teeth, and smiled: "Well, at least it isn't my writing arm, Tom, at least I can still write." Tom looked at him for a moment, said, "Oh, I don't think your strong right arm is quite done for yet!", and then went over to the runaway. "Thank you for your timely assistance," he said, "We heard the rumour of your passing, and your troubles. From Alabama?"

"Yes, suuh," said the man. "Alabama."

And that was about all they ever got out of him, except his name, Theo. And when he took one of the bountymen's horses, and a gun, then they were four.


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