Forty Acres And A Mule
By Darrel Bird
Copyright December 2017 by Darrel Bird
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After the emancipation in 1863 and just following the end of the civil war, the government deeded Moses Bones, an ex slave, 40 acres and a wore out mule in the township of Becket, South Carolina. All ex slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule, but Moses was one of the lucky ones that actually got it.
Next to Moses Bones land stood 18 year old Josh Barnes 40 acres with another wore out Mule. The government did not deed Josh his land because he was of Irish decent. His father had owned 140 acres until the rebel appropriators set fire to the house, after his father refused to hand it all to them, they took the live stock and hay and only Josh was left alive after the killing was done.
After the war, a big land owner name of John Bertram claimed the Barnes land all but 40 acres which was mostly swamp anyway and the crooked courts upheld his claim. Now you might think, well at least 40 acres is 40 acres, but the problem was that all but five acres of each of those plots of land was covered with a black water swamp, and you can’t raise anything on a black water swamp.
Now the only difference between being an poor ex slave and a poor white boy is the reflection a face makes in the black water, which wasn’t much to Josh Barnes way of thinking. Josh had made up his mind to be thankful for what he had, just as the good book directed him.
Josh set out determined to make a go of it, and was able to trade for two shoat pigs, and in the spring of that year he met Moses Bones at the split rail fence between the properties, to talk a spell about planting, gardening and other such things. One of the pigs had taken to following Josh around the property and he was rooting around under the fence about 20 feet away.
“That sho is a fine shoat son.”
The morning sun gleamed around the deep crevices in Moses face as he mopped it with an old rag, The heat was coming up early this fine spring day, and would be heating the ground up nicely. That would germinate the new seeds early.
“Moses, do you have a pig to raise this year?”
“No, don’t, can’t afford one.”
“I want to give you that shoat so you’ll have meat the winter.”
“Why I can’t take yo shoat, wouldn’t be right.”
“Whats wrong with it Moses? I don’t need two whole hogs no how.”
“Tain’t right, I is a black man and you knows it.”
“We both Gods children ain’t we Moses?”
“Of course we is.”
“We both equal swamp poor ain’t we?”
“Yes’um, I reckon we is.”
“Then you got to take that shoat so you can have meat same as me come the fall.”
“You a good boy son, I reckon I’ll take the shoat, seein’ as you so insistent on it.”
“Papa! Papa!” Moses 15 year old daughter came running across the field, and caught up to them all out of breath.
“Whats wrong child?”
“Papa, they is about the biggest cottonmouth I ever did see under the porch!”
Josh had never seen her up close, and when he got a look at her his heart gave a flip in his chest.
“I’ll go help you fetch him out Moses. Come on.”
He sprung over the rail fence, and the three of them took off to Moses cabin. It was a ramshackle log shack with stretched hides nailed over the window holes that let in little light.
Josh went by the wood pile and scooped up two sticks about three feet long, and handed one to Moses. “Moses, you go round to that end of the porch, and I’ll take this end. We’ll flush him out the front.”
Josh looked under the porch and the huge snake was laying behind the porch step. He crawled under a bit and began beating the boards over head while Moses did the same on the other side. The noise got the snakes attention, and he coiled up and struck at the air a time or two. Soon the snake decided there were quieter places in the world than that porch, and began crawling for the swamp. The snake crawled out into the yard and Moses cut his head off with the ax.
“Gonna have me some snake for supper I reckon.” He lifted the fat snake high off the ground, and the snakes tail still drug the ground.
“Moses, I reckon thats the biggest Moccasin I done ever seen.” Josh remarked.
Moses wife and daughter came out of the house to stand on the porch, and stare at the snake, “Moses, if you eat that snake you gonna have to skin him and cut him up yo’self!” His wife declared.
Moses carried the snake off to the splitting stump, and deposited him on the ground. Josh looked at the girl on the porch, and was all of a sudden all thumbs, and turned around quickly, “I reckon I need to get on back to my place, and cook my own self some lunch.” And he trotted off quickly toward the split rail fence. As he climbed over the fence he tried to examine his feelings, but it seemed he was just all feelings going every which way. He blushed as he secretively glanced back toward Moses house, hoping to get another glimpse of the girl. His was a lonely life since his father, mother, and Aunt had all passed.
The next morning Josh was up early with the intention of breaking new ground for corn on two of the acres of tillable ground which lay over towards Moses land. He caught up the old mule easily enough in the barn lot, hooked the traces to the single tree on the turning plow and clucked at the mule. Leaning the plow over to the side so that it wouldn’t dig in, he let the mule drag it to the edge of the intended field.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Moses doing the same thing, as they had just about equal tillable land for corn. Their places were as alike as two blacked eyed peas was Joshes thinking. They were both left destitute from a war that shouldn’t have had to be fought. War was a product of the evils of men who insisted on ruling over, and robbing from one another, black or white.
When he got the plow to the edge of the field he set the plow up and it dug six inches into the unbroken soil and the faithful old mule leaned into the traces so hard Josh thought it was a miracle the mule didn’t break both back legs. After about twenty feet the mule threw his head to the side and Josh saw the froth on his mouth. He pulled up on the reins, “Whoa Jack!” The mule stopped, and his sides heaved. Josh heard the crack of a whip, and saw Moses Mule as it struggled to pull the plow the same way.
Josh stood there thinking in the early morning sun, and then unhooked the plow and left it standing in the field as he took the mule back to the barn, “Sorry I even tried that old boy. It ain’t in me to kill a good Mule.” He patted the Mule on the neck and gave him a little extra feed.
Joshes dug water well was a good one, lined with rock all the way to the bottom and the porch was built around it. He drew a bucket of water and after mopping his face, drank deeply of the cold water. He stood on the edge of the porch, and saw Moses heading for his barn with the Mule. Moses, being a kind man wasn’t going to kill a Mule either, didn’t look like. Josh stepped off the porch and headed for Moses house.
Moses was rubbing his Mule down with a piece of burlap sacking as Josh walked up to the barn lot. “I see you had about as much success in breaking ground as I did Moses.”
“I ain’t got the heart to kill this old Mule, but if we can’t plant corn we may have to eat him come winter.”
“We could put them two Mules together, and break that land.”
“It ain’t done.” Moses said as he looked intently at Josh.
“What ain’t done? A two Mule plow is bout the only way breaking is ever done on new ground. There’s too many set bush roots in there to do it any other way.”
“A white man, and a black man working together ain’t done, and I ain’t giving up my freedom son.”
Josh was beginning to get exasperated. “Look here Moses, ain’t we each left with 40 of the most worthless acres this side of the Mississippi? Ain’t we both equally poor? Ain’t we both got just one old mule to work it with?”
“I reckon that be about right.”
“Then what is the difference between us Moses? We being equally poor, can’t we be equally smart and put them two mules together to get our ground broke? Them Mules sure won’t mind.”
“No, look like they ain’t much difference tween us, since you put it that way, have you got a swingle tree?”
“No, but I reckon we could whittle us out one, and I have a little flat iron. If you will go cut us a likely limb of Hickory, I’ll go heat up the forge.”
Moses couldn’t help himself, he looked around fearfully for an overseer that might beat him, but the overseer didn’t materialize and he took off for the woods to find some Hickory.
The forge was getting nice and hot by the time Moses walked up with a cut Hickory limb about four feet long, and three inches around. Moses opened a sack and let out four pullets and a small rooster, “I brought you some pullets, since you had no chickens. That be a small rooster, but I reckon he can get the job done.”
“I reckon us poor folk got to work together to get by in this ol’ world’.”
They each took and end of the Hickory piece and by the time the sun was getting low in the west, they had made a nice swingle tree. “I’ll put some smoke in the smoke house so it can cure up tonight.” Josh said, looking at the swingle tree with the new iron banding.
“I swear child, that be about as good a swingle tree as I have ever seen.” Moses declared.
“Which field do you want to break first Moses?”
“I reckon we’ll do yo’s first, since you left the plow standing.”
“Good night Moses.” Josh held out his hand.
Moses shook his hand, and looked at him strangely. He turned and walked back toward his place.
The next morning Josh walked out onto the porch, and Moses had the mules hooked to the new swingle tree. “Here, let me hang onto the swingle and you get them going, They ain’t used to working together, but I reckon they’ll settle in quick enough.”
“Come on Mules!” Moses sang as they headed for the field. When they got to the plow, after a few minutes they were able to hook the traces to the double tree system. Josh tied the plow lines close to the end and put them over his shoulder and under one arm. He clucked to the mules, giving the plow lines a shake, and the turning plow began slipping through the ground, throwing a sheet of soil to the side, the mules pulling the plow through the ground effortlessly. The Mules worked together as if they had always done that. When it came Moses turn at the plow, he stripped off his old shirt, and Josh saw the cross hatch whip scars on Moses back. Josh began to really understand Moses reluctance. It gave him a sick feeling deep in his soul.
In two days, with Josh and Moses taking turns at the plow, they had both fields turned under, and then came the harrow. The harrow consisting of four large heavy logs with wooden oak stakes drove into holes and sharpened. By the end of the week they were ready to plant corn, and Moses wife and daughter came out to help with the planting.
Josh watched Moses daughter as she walked along the rows, sinking her sharp stick into the ground and dropping the seeds into the holes, then using her toes to push in the dirt, and it was almost like someone making music, she had such rhythm. Her long corn curls hanging down around her face framed her beauty.
I don’t even know her name. He thought as they followed the rows, dropping in seeds and pushing the soil over them, three seeds of corn in each hole.
That evening as he ate his lonely meal, he decided he had had enough of his current situation, and headed over to Moses house, and walked into the yard. Moses was sitting on the porch, leaned back in his straight cane bottom chair taking his evening pipe.
“I aim to plant me some tobacco seed next week. Bout a half pound ought to bring in enough, don’t you think?” Moses asked him as he walked up to the porch.
“I guess so Moses, I never acquired a taste for the pipe myself.”
“It be a comfort of a evening after a good supper.”
“Moses, I didn’t come to gab.”
“I know why you come child, I ain’t zactly blind. You want to walk my Verma Lee.”
“Yes I do.”
“In ain’t done boy, an you know it ain’t done.”
“Moses…”Josh began and stopped.
“I know what you gonna say, we both poor, but hookin’ two mules to a plow ain’t zactly like hookin’ a white man to a black woman, no suh, not here in South Carolina it ain’t.”
“Moses, are you going to let me step down the road, and walk with her or not!”
“You sure know how to take on trouble boy, but I’ll ask her, and if she come out, she come out, she don’t come out, she don’t come out.”
Moses knocked out his pipe and walked into the house, and in a few minutes his daughter opened the door, and stood there looking down at the porch. Joshes heart skipped a beat.
“Uh, Verma Lee, would you walk down the road a piece in this nice evening?”
She didn’t say anything, but she stepped off the porch, still not looking at him. She began walking down the road, and he walked up beside her. She was bare foot, and she stopped and squished the sand through her toes. She shyly reached for his hand, and they walked hand in hand. She still did not look directly at his face, but as she looked around at the forest a smile played around her lips. Josh stopped.
“Verma Lee, could I have a kiss?”
She moved closer to him, and she looked directly at him for the first time, and her body warmth set him on fire. By then there was just enough light to see each other close, and when he kissed her he knew he was in love with someone for the first time in his life.
They took many long walks during the evening of that summer, as the corn flourished in the rich soil.
Moses and Josh each had a fat hog to slaughter, and the Josh worked together with Moses to get the meat in the smoke house.
The next spring Verma Lee turned 16 in April, and on one of their long walks, Josh asked her to marry him. She agreed and they planned the wedding for the first of March.
The wedding was performed by a colored minister who lived over at Becket and agreed to come out to Moses place to marry them. Swearing both Josh and Moses to silence. He said if either one of them ever told, he would be forced to deny it because it would bring danger to his little black congregation.
Moses stood there frowning during the whole ceremony. Not because he didn’t love Josh like his own son, but because he was worried they would have trouble if any in the white community caught wind of it. After the wedding, she moved over to Joshes cabin. It wasn’t much of a move as she only had two old flour sack dresses, and a photo of her with her parents some photographer had taken when he visited John Bertram’s slave plantation her parents were raised on. The photographer was a kindly man, and on his next visit he gave the photograph to Verma Lee. She prided that photograph almost more than the cloths she had on her back.
That year the black codes began to crop up in Becket, the mosquitoes got real bad, and Verma Lee’s mother took sick with the fevers, and she moved back in as her mother needed constant tending. Josh was afraid of Verma catching the fevers, but he agreed it had to be done. Both he and Moses had to get the corn and potatoes planted.
They were out working together up next to the swamp where Josh wanted to plant potatoes in some new ground. The field was out of sight of the house. The sweat was running off both them and the mules when Moses wife came across the newly planted corn field screaming her head off. “Moses…Moses!”
Moses and Josh ran to meet her when she collapsed in the field in her weakened condition, and Josh got there first.
“What in the world is wrong Mrs. Bones?”
“Mr. Josh, they took my Verma Lee!”
“Who took her?”
Moses health wasn’t all that good after a life of slavery, and beatings, and he collapsed beside his wife. He sat beside her, mopping the sweat off his brow. “Lord a mercy woman speak up!”
“Mr. Bertram took her, he said she was still under apprenticeship law because she had worked in his house when she was thirteen. She be my only child , an I knows he gonna hurt her!”
Moses got up off the ground and began running toward the house, “Where you goin’ Moses?” His wife screamed.
“Goin’ to get my shotgun, I aim to have my daughter back!”
Josh helped Mrs. Bones up and caught up to Moses, “Now Moses, you listen to me, you go to Bertrams with a gun, you know they gonna kill you. I’ll get her back, I promise you that, she’s my wife you know.”
“They’ll kill you too boy, fer marryin’ a black girl. I done tole you son.”
“Well, at least they won’t shoot me on sight. You go up there carryin’ a gun, all you goin’ to do is get kilt, then where will Verma be? You know I’m right Moses. You stay here and take care of Mrs. Bones, and I’ll go to Becket and see the sheriff. Will you do that Moses?”
By that time Mrs. Bones had caught up to the two.
“Listen to Mr. Josh Moses, please! You know he right!”
Moses turned to Josh and stared him in the eyes, “You go Josh, and if you don’t bring her home with you, I’m gonna go get her myself, and I’m liable to have to kill a white man.”
“If I don’t bring her back, I’m goin’ to kill my own self a white man Moses, Verma is my life, I’ll get her back.”
Josh hurried to his cabin to gather up a few things while Moses put the saddle on his Mule. Josh tucked his revolver into his waist band after checking the caps and loads.
He pulled his old coat on to hide the gun. When he got to the barn Moses handed him up a small sack of corn pone Verma had made the morning before. He looked sadly up at Josh as he mounted his Mule.
“Give me a day or two Moses, and don’t you come into town. If you and me both get kilt, the cause is lost for our women folk, you hear me now?”
“I hear you boy, but it’s awful hard goin’ just sittin by and doin’ nothing.”
“I’ll be back in a day or two, maybe three… four at most, but I ain’t coming back without her.”
“We be prayin’ for you boy.”
“You do that Moses, you pray real hard.”
As he rode his Mule toward Becket, he secretly was afraid she would kill herself or run off to the swamps, which had taken many a black persons life. The snakes, mosquitoes, and black water was as dangerous a cruel master as had ever lived, and he knew if she got into the swamps, the swamps would devour her in a day.
He rode into Becket at about three in the after noon, and went straight to the sheriffs office. When he opened the door the sheriff was sitting behind his desk.
“Sheriff, I want to report that John Bertram has done took my wife and put her to work in his fields.”
“Ain’t you the Barnes boy lives over next to the swamp? How is it Bertram has took your wife? I ain’t heard about you bein’ married off.”
“I married Moses Bones daughter Verma Lee. Thats who he took.”
“Boy, don’t you know its against the law to marry a black woman?”
“Not over at my place it ain’t, Bertram stole my dad’s land, and you know it, now he’s done took my wife.”
“Judge said it was fair and square on account of your dad didn’t pay enough taxes, and chip in for the war.”
“Well, I ain’t tryin’ to get my rightful land back, but I aim to have my wife back!”
“I’ll ride out there and talk to Mr. Bertram in the morning, meantime I suggest you go cool down somewhere boy, or I might have to arrest you.”
“I’ll be camped out down by the creek. You come see me when you get back sheriff.”
“I’ll come get you when I get back, now you just settle down some. I always liked your dad, and I’d hate to have to put you in jail, I got too much riff raff to feed in there already.”
There was a good stand of timber by the creek, and Josh set up a little dry camp in the timber. The water made a soothing sound, but Josh rolled fitfully throughout the night.
The next morning an old man walked down to his camp from a house a short distance away, “I see you have a tolerable camp here son.”
“Howdy mister.” Josh said.
“Might be you could use a mite to eat?” The old man looked at Josh with kind eyes.
“I wouldn’t want to trouble you. I got me some corn pone to nibble on.”
“Ain’t no trouble, the old woman done cooked up more than three people can eat.”
Josh took a liking to the old man right away and he followed him up to the house, “Come on in and set to table son. Martha, our guest will take some coffee.”
“Who might you be son?”
“Names Josh Barnes, Bertram stole most my daddy’s land, and left me 40 acres over by the big swamp.”
“I knew your daddy, the reb appropriators shot him didn’t they?”
“Yeah, they did, when he wouldn’t hand them everything he had. Dad sent me to live with my aunt until the war was over, and when I came back, he had been kilt dead.”
“Name here is Walter Gardener.”
The hot coffee had more chicory in it than it had coffee, but it tasted awfully good to Josh as he ate heartily of hog jaw bacon and milk gravy over fluffy biscuits.
“You sure know how to cook ma’am.”
“Aw shaw, twernt nothing.” The woman smiled at him. Josh thought they both were in their eighties.
“So what were you doin’ down by the creek, if I may be so bold?” The old man asked as he sipped his coffee.
“Walter, it ain’t none of our affair.”
“Its okay Ma’am, I live over by the swamp, and John Bertram done took my wife to put her to work on his farm.”
“Your wife happen to be a cute young black gal bout sixteen or so?”
“Yes, have you seen her?”
“Bertram passed here with her on his horse. When they was right in front of the house, she bit his hand and he clapped her upside the head. That gal has got some fire in her.”
“Could you tell if he hurt her much?”
“I don’t think he hurt her, but there ain’t a meaner snake around Becket than John Bertram. He’ll go to hell kickin’ and squealing like a gutted hog, and I hope I live long enough to see it.”
“Now Walter, somebody might hear you talkin’ like that.” Martha looked at him sternly.
“So what’s he gonna do? Shoot me, I already got one foot in the grave, and tother on a rotten tater peel. Heh, heh, heh!” The old man laughed until he lost his breath. Martha clapped him on the back.
“Old man, you’ll be the death a me.” She laughed.
Josh pulled back his chair, and got up to go, “Thank you most kindly for the food and company I have to go see if the sheriff went to Bertrams like he promised.
“Twon’t do no good even if he did son, the black codes done fixed it for the slaves, as if the war weren’t ever fought.”
“What about these black codes? What are they?”
“They are crooked laws hatched up by the slave owners and rich legislators to put the negros right back under slavery.”
“Well, I’ll be going Mr. Gardner, I ain’t going to rest until I get my Verma Lee back.”
“Good luck to you son.”
Josh walked into the sheriffs office, and a deputy was attending the place, “Has the sheriff gone to Bertrams?” Josh asked.
“Yep, probably be back in an hour or so, you want to wait? Pot of coffee on the stove.”
“Done had some thanks.”
Josh found a chair against the wall on the front porch, and since he hadn’t slept all that well the night before, he pulled his hat down over his eyes, eventually falling into a deep slumber. He slept until he heard horses stopping directly in front of him. He opened his eyes, and saw the sheriff getting down stiffly from his horse.
“Did you see her sheriff?”
“I saw her, and I talked with Mr. Bertram. There ain’t nothing I can do as he is not breaking any law.”
“Its breaking the law to take someones wife.”
“No it ain’t, the apprenticeship law is that he can force her to work until she is eighteen, because she worked for him before.”
“You know good and well thats an attempt to put blacks back in chains sheriff. I won’t abide it.”
“If you stir up any trouble young man, I’ll have to arrest you. Now you go on back home and let this be, you hear me?”
“I hear you sheriff. I hear you saying you won’t uphold the emancipation.”
Josh went to retrieve his Mule from Mr. Gardner, who had allowed him feed for the animal, and then he rode straight north to the Bertram plantation. In two hours he neared the plantation, but instead of riding on in, he skirted the fields, keeping cover in the woods he worked his way to a spot of trees that bordered the the main field.
By that time it was coming on sundown and the field hands were making their way to the slave shacks that sat away from the house about fifty yards. He tied the Mule and waited in the shadows. Right away the mosquitoes went to work on him, but there was no help for it, he tied his bandanna as close as he could to his eyes, and stuck his hands in his pockets. He sat back against a tree in order to try and rest. It made a long night of waiting, but as it came daylight he saw the field hands coming toward the fields.
Bertram was a cruel task master, and he would work slaves until they died or ran. Emancipation meant nothing to the man, and he just re-hired the adults with a pittance and went after the children, claim any who had been slaves before under the black codes. It looked to Josh like they were no more free now than they had ever been.
The day wore on and the slaves advanced slowly down the long cotton rows, pulling grass out of the cotton by hand. It was almost eleven o’clock when he made out his wife crawling along on her knees in the hot sun, and his blood ran hot in anger. She was close enough to see the sweat dripping off the end of her nose, before he made his move. He untied the reins of the Mule, and climbed into the saddle, he gave the old Mule a solid kick in the flanks, “Git up Mule!” He tore out of the woods across the fifty yards between him and his wife.
She saw him coming and jumped up. He held out his hand as he passed her. When she grabbed his hand, his momentum slung her onto the back of the Mule behind him, and he headed for the woods again.
He looked behind him to see the overseer racing his horse after them. He had forgotten that the overseer was usually a horseback, and he cursed himself. He looked back again in time to see the overseers horse step in a hole and the overseer went end over teakettle over the horses head to land in one of the cotton rows.
He breathed a sigh of relief, hoping the horse would be lame after the spill. He kept running the Mule until they were well into the woods, and then he had to slow the animal to keep from being swept off by low hanging limbs. She gripped his waist tightly, and began crying.
“I knew you would come for me Josh, but I was so afraid they would kill you.”
“Now don’t you fret Verma Lee, I’m still alive and kickin’. We got to ride quiet now girl, so they don’t hear us.”
Josh rode through the trees, then would back trail himself to help confuse dogs. they heard no one in pursuit, and by dark Moses cabin came into view. Both Moses and his wife ran down the lane to meet them.
Verma Lee jumped off the Mule and into her mother and fathers arms.
Josh dismounted and Moses reached out his hand, and then hugged Josh, “I knowed you would do it boy, and praise be to God you done it.”
“You the best of men Josh.” Her mother hugged him.
“Well I spect we gonna have to fight if Bertram comes here.”
“Then we’ll fight if we has too son.” Moses looked at him sternly, “Ain’t no man gonna take my girl while I’m a livin’, never again, no sir!”
“Better load your old shot gun then Moses, same as me. I want you and the missus to come to the house, and stay tonight in case we have to make a fight of it.”
The women cooked up a late supper as none of them had eaten. Moses wife was still sick, so they stayed inside while Josh and Verma sat on the front porch.
“Josh, I got something to tell you, and I don’t want to.”
“Well, just telling it would be about right I think.”
“Ol’ Mr. Bertram tried to force himself on me last night, and I fought him off, thats why I was in the field working, at first he was going to keep me in the kitchen to cook.”
The words spilled out, and she grabbed on to him, and began crying. Deep anger flooded Joshes soul, but he knew anger could cloud a mans judgment like nothing else could.
“I reckon if he hadn’t tried that, and you hadn’t of fought him, you wouldn’t have been where I could get too you. We just need to give the Lord thanks, even if we don’t know the reason a thing happens. I reckon if it be Gods will, we will win out.”
Josh slept fitfully again that night, and was up early with the first morning light. He boiled up some willow bark, and made a strong tea. The tea would alleviate some of the pain in his limbs. He sat on the porch thinking he would like to plant some tobacco, so he could have a pipe of an evening as Moses seemed to put a lot of stock in the comfort.
He knew though in his heart, he may not be alive to plant anything.
He cleaned his musket, poured in the powder and rammed a ball home. The old musket shot fairly straight, and he could make a man think over his ways before entering the end of the lane where the road came out of the trees. He laid the gun over the porch rail and sighted down the lane, then he took the gun and sat it against the wall.
Moses came out the door and took the other chair, and he had his old double barrel, “You primed and loaded son?”
“Yes I am Moses.”
“Its a sure thing Bertram will be here, along with some of those rowdies of his.”
Verma Lee came out, and sat on Joshes lap, “Josh, I had rather be dead than to be taken back there, yet I had rather be dead then see you and Papa get hurt or killed too.”
“Well ain’t no use to fret it, because Moses and me will give up our lives if we have too.”
“It ain’t just you girl.” Moses said. “If men are not willing to fight fer the right, ain’t no use livin’ anyhow.”
“Verma” Josh said looking sternly at her, “I want you to take the Mule and ride over to Becket to stay at the Gardner’s till this is over.”
“I won’t leave Josh.”
“Yes you will, we can’t win this by ourselves, and you and Mr. Gardener might be able to scare up some help in Becket. Its really our only chance.”
“You think he might help us Josh?”
“He might, don’t seem like there is much love lost between him and Bertram.”
“Ok, I’ll go.”
“Go now then, and say off the road until you get to Becket. Mr. Gardner’s little farm is the first one at the edge of town by the creek. You tell him I sent you and what happened yesterday. Now go on girl.”
Moses was already leading the Mule up to the porch, and Josh helped her into the saddle. “Josh, I love you.”
“And I love you.”
“Love you Papa.”
She rode down the lane and entered the trees. Josh and Moses watched her go, and they were both quiet. After a while Josh spoke.
“Moses, how did you get your last name anyhow? ”
“I was just skin and bones when I was a sprout, and the name stuck. Lots of slaves ain’t got proper names, but it be bout as good as any.”
“I reckon thats so Moses.”
About nine Josh spotted riders coming, and when they got to the edge of the clearing they stopped, “Here they come Moses.”
“How many are they?”
“Looks like five or six, including the sheriff. “ Moses sight wasn’t all that good, and Josh doubted he would be able to see what he was shooting at.
Josh cupped his hand around his mouth and yelled toward the men, “Ain’t advisable to come any closer than you are. My old 54 caliber musket makes a mighty big hole!”
He could see the men talking, and Bertram waving his arms around at the sheriff. The sheriff called back, “Mind if I come on and talk?”
“Go ahead and bring the talk, but you come by yourself, and leave your weapons there!”
He could see the sheriff hand his guns to a deputy, and he rode his horse on up the lane until he was a few feet from the porch.
“Now you listen here son, Mr. Bertram has a right to recall one of his employees under the apprenticeship act. Ain’t nothing can be done, but abide by the law.”
“Now they are employee’s are they? Well know this sheriff, as I done told you she is my wife, and I’ll not abide any man laying hands on her. Not you, not Bertram, nor the Devil himself.”
“Where is she at?”
“You never mind about that, you just go on and gather that nest of crooks, and leave. You all set foot on this place and me and Moses will shoot, and it might be you that gets a musket ball, but I’ll only tell you one thing sheriff, what you are about ain’t right, and you know it.”
The sheriff hung his head a little, but Josh could spot the stubborn streak as the sheriff forced his back to stiffen against right, and his own God.
“I was hopin’ we might come together. Well son, its on your head. Bertram is dead set on that gal.”
“He may end up just dead.”
The sheriff wheeled his horse and rode back to the men. Josh laid his musket across the porch rail, took aim, and watched as the men talked. He could see that Bertams face was angry red as he kicked his horses flanks roughly. The stallion reared, and came down hard, but Bertram held the reins in an iron grip.
“He’s cutting that horses mouth with that bit.” Moses said. “That man ain’t worth two hoots and a holler.”
The horses began walking forward, and Josh lined his musket up on the first man. He let out his breath slowly and pull the trigger. He saw the man fly off his horse as if he had been clubbed. The men jerked the reins and turned to hightail it back to the brush and trees that bordered the road. One of the men hauled the man that had been hit back into the trees.
Soon the men opened fire from the trees. Josh and Moses got into the house and slammed the door. They opened shutters on both windows. Josh fired at a spot where smoke bloomed from the black powder. Moses fired both barrels of his old shotgun one at a time.
“Moses, what you shooting for? That scatter gun won’t shoot half that far.”
“No, but she makes some mighty fine noise.” Moses grinned at him.
The pot shooting went on for an hour, as each tried to hit something. “They sure ain’t in a hurry to come out where we can see them.”
“Boy that was a good shot with that musket, can’t rightly say I blame them.”
“I been barking squirrels since I was knee high to a toad frog. My pappy would whup me if I wasted good powder and lead. I really ain’t trying to hit nobody, just put some fear of the Lord in them. Moses, if we mess around and kill us a sheriff, they’ll run us down and hang us.”
“Reckon thats the truth. They already got us if they rush us, but boy, they are set on killin’ us anyway, so if that badge sticks it’s head upside that porch, I am gonna shoot me a sheriff.”
Josh thought he saw a shirt in the woods and fired, but he couldn’t tell if he got a hit. He cupped his hand behind his ear, “Moses, did you hear something?”
“I can’t hear too good son, what is it you thought you heard.”
“I hear what sounds like a big bunch of horses, and they are coming this way. Looks like they aim to over run us.”
Josh saw a united states flag come into view, followed by many blue uniformed soldiers. Then he spotted Verma Lee on old Jack riding beside an officer with a long sword.
“Stay here Moses I’m going down there.”
When he got to the place where the road opened up, he saw a red faced Bertram talking to the officer.
“Thats the man that shot at us, and hit one of my men!” he said loudly, pointing his long finger at Josh.
“I’m captain Graham Stantin, and I have been instructed to see that the reconstruction begins, who might you be son?”
“I’m Josh Barnes, and Mr. Bertram there tried to take my wife back and work her on his plantation.”
“Well we can’t have that now can we? I have already talked with your young bride here, and I pretty much got the picture.”
“Mr. Bertram, this young woman is free to go where she wants, and if she is further harassed by you, I will haul you on a pole and hang you for insurrection. Do you hear me?”
Bertram nodded his head, but his face was purple with anger. The officer looked at Josh,
“Mr. Barnes, that be all I can do for you today? Anybody hurt?”
“No sir, we just need to get back to farmin’, can my wife come with me now?”
“Miss, you go on with your husband now, and we’ll see that this stays straight, so don’t you be fretting yourself.”
The captain turned to his men, “Wheel about! Mr. Bertram and you sheriff will ride along with me, and sheriff, I have to say, that you should know better than too allow this to take place.”
“Yes sir, I aim to be a better man, and a better lawman in the future. I knowed this wasn’t right, and I let my pride get in the way.”
“Well said sheriff, well, lets ride back then.”
Josh watched the men until they were out of sight. His wife dismounted and walked along beside him holding his hand. When they got back to the cabin Moses met them in the yard, “What was all that talk about?”
“It was about a reconstruction Moses. I don’t think Bertram will bother us again. That captain threatened to hang him if he did. He didn’t appear like he was going to put up with any more of Bertrams tomfoolery.”
“I don’t think that will help us darks much.”
“Hate don’t make much since, does it Moses?”
“No, don’t reckon it do, but you can’t stamp out hate with a reconstruction.” He looked sadly back the way they had come.
“I brought you some tobacco seed from town Papa. Mr. Gardner gave them to me for you. He a white man, but he sure is nice. He went to talk to the captain for us.”