Tarka, Chapter 9 of Lee A. Wood ‘s Novel, Fero

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FERO

A novel
by
LEE A. WOOD

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Nine

Plantation
Author's note: Picture, courtesy of `EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY .COM°

* TARKA 1863 *

Tarka didn't have to force himself to make love to Beth. When he was holding her he was holding, in his mind, Okoni. His mouth did not encompass Beth's overgrown clitoris, but nuzzled Okoni's sweet little rosebud. Thrusting into Beth, he was filling Okoni with his seed, planting a future child.

Nothing spreads faster on a plantation than gossip and within days everyone except Phillip and perhaps Beau and Adam knew of the tryst between the white nigger and his mistress.

Lying in the dark, watching Beau cavort with nigger gals, then repeating his antics, after he had left the water. Frolicking in the hay loft in the middle of the afternoon. Their attempts at indiscretion were laughable.

Beth seldom went riding with Beau anymore. Instead she would call for the groom, who was Tarka, to fetch two horses. The two would ride through the fields exploring new avenues of the plantation, and surrounding properties, as well as new avenues of love making.

One afternoon while perusing the corn field they stopped near the forest's edge. The corn was as tall as the withers of the horses. Beth climbed aboard Tarka's horse and lifting her skirts climbed aboard Tarka. While several field hands, hiding in the corn, watched, Beth rode the white nigger's saddle horn and let out a scream that had crows flying out of the corn.

What Okoni thought of all this Tarka did not know. There were few times that he saw Okoni, as she seldom left the house. When she did pass him in the yard she would barely glance at him and would project a mumbled greeting. Tarka didn't know if it was because of his antics with Beth or because of Beth's stern reprimand to Okoni not to socialize.

There were never times that Tarka was alone long enough to find Okoni and talk to her. Any spare time that Tarka was not sleeping, or working, was taken up by Beth, with silly requests for him to handle. Silly little chores that anyone else could of handled but would give her an excuse to be alone with him.

Beneath the very nose of Phillip, who possibly knew but didn't care, as he was much too busy with his own cavorting.

More openly than Beau, Phillip would examine young girls and take them in the haymow for an hour's pleasure or take them to his room for an evening.

The plantation was a den of debauchery except when they had visitors, which was seldom. All pretence at selecting breeders was gone. Though Phillip still occasionally paired niggers it would be more for his viewing enjoyment rather than the propagation of healthier offspring.

Visitors were few, and far between, as the plantation was far from population centers of any size. Neighbours were few, and miles away. The odd drummer would come by, planning to spend the night, because they were aware of Phillip's hospitality.

As the war between the North and the South heated up they began to, more and more frequently, receive visitors dressed in gray.

Phillip was the host of hosts. Though originally from the North he affected no political affiliations and was wise enough to let others think he sided with the South. When officers would pass by he would arrange accommodation, often giving up his own bed.

When troops would pass by he would arrange for them to set up camp and see to it that each soldier had a companion for the night.

Being, basically, a coward he always sidestepped the question of enlisting. He would say that he could do more for the cause by overseeing the raising of good food for the boys. And he did, for a price. He also got a contract for lumber.

On such nights Tarka would get a reprieve, from his acting the paramour to the mistress of the plantation, as Beth would spend the evening playing the dutiful wife.

On such evenings Tarka would try to see Okoni but met with little success. He would also spend such time contemplating plans of escape and retribution, also with little success.

Tarka thought of joining the troops going North, but that would only be escape for himself, it wouldn't be release for his wife and friends. Nor would it wreak revenge on the overseer and his masters.

As his finding Okoni had finally presented itself so did his plans for freedom fall into place. The military had come to learn that Fern Glen could be relied up on as a way station where tired horses could be traded for fresh ones.

More and more, couriers were stopping to refresh themselves, and their horses, before continuing their journey.

Late one night an officer arrived on a sweating horse. The advancing armies in the North had captured a town and raided a bank. The gold and the Yankee currency that had been in the vault was in the saddlebags that the Lieutenant carried. Money that could be used to buy guns for the boys on the line.

The officer only had a few minutes to rest and eat. He needed food and a fresh horse. Philip ordered Basha to put the officers saddle on their best horse and to give the officer's horse a good rub down.

Assuring the officer that Basha would not allow anyone to touch the saddle bags he took the Lieutenant to the house for a meal. "I Guarantee you sir. Those saddle bags are safer than if they were in a bank." The two men laughed as they left the barn.

Tarka who had been lying in the hayloft, awaiting the arrival of Beth, overheard the conversation and immediately began to make plans. If he could steal or hide the gold he would make things bad for Phillip. He might lose his lumber contract, possibly go to jail.

But how to make it look like it was Phillip's fault. It couldn't get blamed on one of the niggers.

Tarka slipped out of the back of the barn without drawing Basha's attention and wandered through the darkening night.

He knew that Beth would not be coming, at least for awhile. He would have time to think of something.

The three men were laughing about something as they entered the barn. Mr. Hammon waved at Basha, who had been sitting on the hay by the saddle bags, "You can go back to yore crib now Basha. We won't need you anymore tonight."

Belying his natural strength, and speed, Basha slowly climbed to his feet. "Yas Suh, Massah Hammon Suh. Good night Massah Hammon Suh," He drawled over his shoulder as he sauntered outside.

"Damn slothful, that bunch of nigras we got from that Portuguese slaver," Mr. Hammon said with a slur in his voice.

Having been over that conversation a thousand times Beau said nothing. Mister Hammon offered the officer another pull from the jug.

"Just a short one," the Lieutenant said, "Don't want to fall off my horse." He took a small sip from the jug and passed it back to Mr. Hammon.

"Excellent suggestion," Phillip replied. "I need to be rather steady myself tonight. Going to try out a new filly I got from a passing slaver last week. Wouldn't want to fall out of that saddle." Mr. Hammon took a small pull from the jug and handed it to Beau who took a long swallow, his prominent Adam's apple bobbing up and down his skinny neck.

"Mighty fine piece of horseflesh you got thar, Sir. Mighty fine. Should be good riding once you got her broke to saddle."

"You stop in on your way back to the lines and you'll find out. Nothing is too fine for our boys in Gray. I'll let you break her in if you want to spend the night."

"Yore too kind sir. I appreciate your hospitality and the loan of this fine horse but I really must get moving. I have been here too long already." As he spoke, the Lieutenant walked to the head of the horse, ¿If I have the chance to stop by this way again, I°ll take you up on your offer.î

After digging the saddle bags out of their hiding spot Beau finished tying them behind the saddle. Patting the horse on the rump, "All ready Lieutenant. You be careful out there now. That road is mighty rough with ruts since that last rain and there is no moon tonight."

The Lieutenant's reply was interrupted as a loop fell past his hat and across his shoulders. Quickly it was drawn tight about his throat.

Tarka stood up from where he had been lying in the hay loft. Flipping the rope over a rafter he pulled hard, tightening the noose about the officers throat and lifting the soldier's feet off the ground.

As Lieutenant Bellrose rose in the air his feet kicked the horse which started moving about.

As Beau and Phillip backed quickly out of the way of the nervous animal, Beau dropped the jug of corn and the horse shattered it with his hind hoof. This disturbed the horse even more.

When Tarka had pulled the Lieutenant above the horse, he wrapped the rope around a beam. Reaching out he removed the pistol from the officer's holster. Pointing it at Beau he said, "Calm the horse."

"Wha'," Phillip started to demand. Tarka quickly swung the pistol to cover him. "No noise."

Phillip started to protest again but Tarka cocked the pistol, "Don't you so much as make a peep."

Tarka waited for Beau to settle the bay then told him to stick his handkerchief in Mr. Hammon's mouth. Phillip started to protest but the pistol quickly swung back in his direction. "We can do this quietly or I can pull the trigger and do it noisily but you won't hear any of it."

Reluctantly Beau placed his handkerchief in his employer's mouth, as reluctantly, his employer accepted it.

"Now, Master Hammon," Tarka ordered, his voice dripping sarcasm, "You will do the same. Put yore handkerchief in Beau's mouth."

There was less hesitation by either of the two men as Mr. Hammon drew from his cuff a silk kerchief and gently put it in the mouth of his overseer.

On his knees, Tarka scuffed sideways along the edge of the hayloft, not noticing, as he went past, the area of packed hay where he had cavorted that afternoon with Mrs. Hammon. The smell of her now mingling with the sweet smell of the hay.

When he was far enough past the two men below, Tarka dropped lithely to the floor of the barn, the gun wavering only slightly as his knees buckled. Quickly he stood, the pistol again covering his two captives.

"Now, if you both behave yourselves we can do this without arousing the entire plantation. Beau," Tarka commanded, "Put that horse back in the stall and remove the saddle. Mr. Hammon, you bring the Lieutenant's horse out here. We're going to put his own saddle on his own horse."

Tarka moved back and forth keeping the two men covered as they preformed their tasks. When the Lieutenant's horse was saddled Tarka told Mr. Hammon to hold the reins while Beau climbed into the saddle.

As Beau was settling himself, Tarka stepped behind Mr. Hammon. Slipping the pistol into his belt he grabbed a hay fork that was leaning against a stall, stepped forward, and thrust it into Mr. Hammon's upper back, below the shoulder blades.

Beau's handkerchief, in his mouth, prevented Phillip from issuing more than mumbled moans. He stepped forward, his arms reaching behind him. The tines of the fork, protruding from his chest, poked the shoulder of the horse causing it to rear. The horse kicked Phillip's lifeless body and it fell to the floor, beneath the forefeet of the horse.

The frightened horse reared again, nearly unsaddling Beau. Quickly, Tarka, stepping on the body of Mr. Hammon, grabbed the loose reins.

When Beau had settled himself on the subdued horse he found himself again facing the opening in the end of the pistol barrel.

Beau, breathing heavily because of the excitement was starting to choke on Mr. Hammon's handkerchief. "If you promise to be quiet you can take the handkerchief out of yore mouth." Tarka said quietly. Beau quickly nodded agreement and pulled the restriction from his mouth. For several long seconds he lay along the neck of the horse drawing deep ragged breaths.

Reaching under the horse's neck Tarka handed one rein to Beau, then holding the other he walked backwards, leading the horse out of the barn. Once outside he removed Beau's foot from the stirrup and quickly mounted the horse, sitting astride the saddle bags behind Beau.

Jamming the pistol into Beau's side he whispered in his ear, "Walk slowly out to the road and turn South."

Once on the road and out of hearing of the house Beau urged the horse to a faster walk. "This horse is tired. He was rid hard all day. You won't get far on this `un." Beau said, turning his head, trying to see his captor, "you should have took the bay."

"You let me worry about that," Tarka replied, jamming the pistol into Beau°s side. "You just keep yore eyes on the road. It's mighty dark and this horse don't know this road. If we run into sumthin' this here gun is liable to go off before I know what we hit."

Silently, the subdued Beau peered into the dark as Tarka urged the horse to move a little faster. It wasn't long, however, before the horse started to tire. Tarka told Beau to slow him to a walk. "I tol' ya," Beau said.

"The longer you keep yore mouth shut the longer you live," Tarka whispered in his ear.

The night was still except for bullfrogs in the swamp alongside the road, their loud croaking covering the soft plop, plop of the horse's hooves. There was no light to see but eventually after a quarter of an hour, or so, the sound of the horse's hooves changed as it walked across a small bridge.

Tarka whispered to Beau, "Stop."

When the horse stopped Tarka took the reins and turned the horse back across the bridge and onto a path that followed along a small creek.

"Yore crazy," Beau complained in a worried voice, "there ain't nuthin' in here but swamp. Yu'll get us both drowned."

"You'll get yoreself shot if you say one more word. Stick that handkerchief back in yore mouth," Beau ordered.

The sound of the bullfrogs was overpowering as Tarka let the horse slowly feel his way along the path. They were deep into the swamp when Tarka finally stopped the horse under a huge branch that reached across the path just above their heads.

"Hold her here for a second," Tarka whispered to Beau. Sliding back onto the rump of the horse Tarka untied the saddle bags and draped them over the branch. Uncocking the pistol he placed the barrel into his mouth, then, grasping the branch on each side of the saddle bags, lifted and draped himself over the saddle bags.

Beau and the horse were both getting skittish with these strange movements in the dark, which is the way Tarka wanted them, particularly the horse. Lying on the branch he reached down with one hand until he felt Beau's back. With his other hand Tarka took the gun from his mouth, recocked it, held it so it would miss but come close to the horses rump. Closing his eyes, so as not to be blinded by the flash, Tarka pulled the trigger.

The already skittish horse took off, it's backside burnt by the flame from the muzzle of the gun. With one leap the horse cleared the edge of the bank that it didn't realize was there.

Tarka knew exactly where they were and which way the horse was pointing, and now so did Beau. His appeals for help, once he removed the handkerchief from his mouth, like the whinnying of the horse, fell upon deaf ears. Tarka threw the now empty gun into the swamp where it would disappear along with horse and rider.

Slinging the saddle bags over his shoulder he climbed higher and began making his way from tree to tree along huge gnarled branches. Much like running the yardarms on a dark night in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Each step had to be carefully considered and each foot planted firmly on a strong branch.

His hands and arms moved slowly to find branches that might create scratches he wouldn't want to have to explain later.

Eventually, without having fallen and leaving footprints on the trail below, he came to the tree that he had reconnoitered earlier. A huge unidentifiable piece of dead vegetation. Blackened by fire and covered with creepers the top of the tree had been blasted away by lightning. Into this crater Tarka dropped the leather saddle bags.

From this point it was only a short journey of three more trees to where he could drop back onto the hard packed road and leave no footprints as he jogged back to the plantation. A plantation that was ablaze with lights. An eventuality that he had prepared for, although he had hoped the murders would go undiscovered until he returned.

Tarka slipped through the woods and circled around the buildings arriving at the back of the barn undetected. Peering around the edge of the opened door Tarka saw the bodies of the two men laid out on some clean hay in the middle of the barn.

Tarka caught the eye of Effie and pointed at Mrs. Hammon.

Effie pushed her way through the cordon of weeping female niggers to reach Beth and whisper in her ear. Beth looked up from where she was sitting. Through tear filled eyes she stared at Tarka for a minute then staggered to the door.

Alone in the dark outside Tarka took her in his arms, "I'm sorry. I wanted to be the one to tell you but I didn't know how."

Beth, her voice muffled against Tarka's thick neck, asked, "Where were you?"

"I was out walking in the field trying to think of a way to tell you."

"But why? Why did you do it?"

Tarka grabbed Beth by the shoulders and held her away from him. In the dark, though she was looking directly at his face, she couldn't see his eyes. "Me? Oh, no. It wasn't me," Tarka lied. "I didn't do it."

"Who?"

"I don't know. After you left I fell asleep. Basha came in and woke me, said the men were coming to the barn. I slipped out the back and went for a walk in the fields. When I came back I found your husband and the soldier. They were both dead."

"I was going to come up to the house to tell you but I didn't know what to say. I went for another walk in the field to think about what to say. I'm sorry. I did want it to be me that told you."

"Tarka?" Beth queried.

"It's the truth."

"Okay, I believe you. But no one else will." She pulled herself back against Tarka's chest. "Everyone knows everything on a plantation. All the slaves know about you and me. They will all think you did it." She looked up at his face hidden in the darkness, "Don't say you were here. No one needs to know you found the bodies. If anyone asks just say you were asleep in your crib. Let everyone think Basha found them."

Tarka had to restrain his sigh of relief, "Whatever you think is right, Mrs. Hammon"

"I must go back in now." Desperately she pulled his head down and kissed him hard. "Stay out of sight, but stay close, please"

"Whatever you need, I will be close by."

She let her hand run down his arm as they separated. A last, quick, grasp of his fingers and she went back inside the barn.

The next few days were hectic. At first light Samuel was sent to town on the fastest horse in the stable. Later in the day the Sheriff arrived, followed closely by Mr. Cadwell the banker.

The next day the army arrived. Everything the Sheriff had done, and every question he had asked, was redone and reasked, over, and over. Every square inch of ground for miles in every direction was combed.

Eventually the bodies were buried on a little knoll behind the house with words from a chaplain that accompanied some of the military's representatives.

The death certificates were filled out. The Sheriff and the army bid Mrs. Hammon adieu. Both anxious to make out warrants and reward notices for the capture of one Beauregard Steveston, killer and thief.

The banker had finally taken the hint, after being told many times that Mrs. Hammon was just too distraught to bother her head with men's financials. Promising to return when she was feeling better, he followed the army back to town.

"Oh, Tarka," Beth spoke between kisses. "It seems like years since your arms were about me. Hold me tighter. Everyday has been torture. Everyday I needed you to hold me. I needed your strength. I would see you working in the stables but there were so many strangers about. Finally we are alone."

Tarka started to lead her to the barn but she stopped, "No. Not in there. Never again in there. We must find someplace else."

Kissing her hard Tarka picked her up and ran with her to a storage shed. With his foot he pushed open the door and stepping inside he flung her onto a pile of cotton. Outlined against the new moon he quickly stripped off his trousers.

With a flying leap he landed on the cotton with his head between his mistress' legs. Hungrily he nibbled his way up the inside of her thigh to her honey flavoured womanhood.

The two lovers had met just after darkness fell. Having kept their distance, with the greatest of constraint, over the past few days, they were making up for lost time. The sweat on their heaving bodies reflected the first rays of the sun as they crept through cracks in the walls of the shed.

"It is getting light. I don't think my legs can carry me back to the house." Beth was sitting astride Tarka.

"Stay mounted," Tarka replied. "I will be yore steed and carry fair damsel to yon castle."

"Oh, but I wish you could," she said as she slowly unimpaled herself. "How I wish we could be open about our love."

"We could if we lived somewhere else." Sitting up Tarka lifted one breast to his lips and sucked the nipple into his mouth, letting it scrape against his teeth.

A shudder ran through her body as she replied, "Leave Fern Glen, never."

Tarka silenced her with a finger across her lips. Slowly he used his tongue to push her mammary from his mouth and softly said, "Don't say no. Don't say yes. I have some ideas in my head. Meet me this afternoon in the South field and I will tell them to you."

Beth quietly pulled her mourning frock over her shoulders and slipped on her shoes. Bending over she kissed her lover, "Until this afternoon."

Tarka fell back on the cotton and was asleep before his mistress was through the door.

Tarka squatted on his heels at the South end of a field of white. In the front of the house he could make out two carriages and five horses. He couldn't see the back of the house but he saw Beth and Effie cross the lawn. They disappeared behind the barn only to re-emerge minutes later as they entered the corn field.

Both ladies were shorter than the ripening corn and he lost sight of them for several minutes until they reappeared as they entered the cotton field in which he sat.

Breathlessly Mrs. Hammon walked up to Tarka as fast as she could without running. Tarka rose to greet her. He started to hold out his hand but in a quiet panting breath she said, "Too many watchers. I am sure I have been seen by now."

"Who are all those people?" Tarka asked.

"Give me a minute to catch my breath." Beth stopped in front of Tarka, her eyes saying what her fingers would have expressed.

"Lord o' Goshen," Effie panted. "Why yo' all want ta cum out here in the middle o' the day is beyond me. Tha' ol' sun about to roast yore poor skin Mist' Hammon."

Finally catching up to her mistress she set a stool near the edge of the field, "Now yo' just set yoreself here Mist' Hammon and res' yoself. Yo' be all tuckered out after that walk. That Tarka should be 'shamed o' hisself, dragging yo' all the way out here in the heat o' the day."

"Effie, It's a beautiful day. You just sit there on the stool while I talk to Tarka."

Without a word of protest Effie settled her huge bulk on the little stool, the legs sinking into the fertile soil. "Lordy it's hot. Cos' the young never notice such things. Special'y they in love."

"Effie, what are you going on about?" Mrs. Hammon coyly spread her fan and feigned a blush behind it.

"Nothin'. I ain't saying nuthin."

"Good. Now be quiet. I am sure that Tarka has a good reason for asking us out here."

Tarka looked at Beth and shifted his eyes to Effie.

"In a minute," Beth answered the unspoken question, "Let her catch her breath."

Slightly louder she said, "You were asking me about the gentlemen at the house. It seems that I am now an eligible young widow who not only needs a husband but an overseer."

"As you probably know a woman is not allowed to own or run anything in this society as I am about to be reminded as soon as I invite these gentlemen in for tea. Beulah is keeping them at bay for the present. Samuel is helping her to be sure none of them try to bully her into letting them come indoors. She has told them that I am very distraught and I need my sleep. However I am sure that they have noticed me come up here so I can't stay too long. I need yore advice Tarka." In a whisper she added, "I need you." Louder she said, "I do need an overseer but I most certainly don't want a husband."

Tarka swept his arm across the view, "Below us you see one of the richest and largest plantations in the area. Fields of cotton, fields of corn, and fields of vegetables for market. All nearly ready for harvesting. If this weather holds you will have a bumper crop. It is no wonder that you have suitors."

"This is all mine. I know that. It was purchased with my money."

Tarka continued, ignoring Beth's interruption, "Behind the trees to the East is the slave quarters and beyond that is their vegetable field."

"North of that is the pig sty and beyond that the pasture for the horses."

"To the South, along the river, you own vast acres of pasture where you raise beef and to the North are the forests where you produce logs and lumber."

"You are right. I can't possibly run this by myself. I will have to hire a new overseer."

"No. I will run it for you."

"But you are a slave. No one would let me get away with hiring a slave as an overseer, even if you are white."

"Run it yourself. At least that is what you can tell everyone. At night we can get together and go over the plans for the next day."

"But I have to take a husband. Once I am married he will hire an overseer."

"Yes, eventually. But not immediately. Don't let them push you into making a hasty decision."

"Oh, they are all pushing. This morning I received another letter from Mr. Cadwell. He is insisting we discuss the affairs of the bank. He needs to get into Mr. Hammon's office to go over the books."

Tarka nodded towards Effie and flicked his fingers.

Mrs. Hammon turned to Effie, "Be a dear and take the stool down the hill to the shade. I want to enjoy the view for another minute and then I will be along."

Effie gave Tarka a big stern look, "Yas um. But just for a minute. Those gentlemen can see us from down there."

Effie heaved her bulk back onto her legs and Tarka had to pull the stool out of the earth.

"I don't know how that woman gets around. It makes me tired just watching her move."

Tarka looked down the hill at the retreating Effie, "I don't want you to take a husband."

"I don't want a husband. I want you. But I am going to have to choose a white man who isn't a slave. Oh, Tarka what can I do. If I get married he will want to visit my chambers. I can't bear the thought of another man touching me."

Deciding that Effie was out of hearing range Tarka turned to his Mistress, "Sell."

"Sell. Sell, Fern Glen? Are you mad?"

Again Tarka swept the horizon with his arm, "What do you see?"

"I see my home. The only home I've ever had."

"Let me tell you what I see. I see, today, a valuable commodity. You have suitors that are anxious to meet you to be first in line. Everyone knows of your grief but are they giving you time to mourn? No. They are all afraid someone else will win your hand and your farm. The crops are bountiful this year. If someone can marry you in the next month he will be a wealthy man. Maybe."

"What do you mean, maybe?"

"You say the banker is very anxious to meet with you. Do you suppose he wants to marry you too?"

"He is already married."

"When a person dies the banker is always the first one to meet the bereaved. He wants his loans paid off."

"Loans? What loans?"

"Loans, mortgages. Whatever arrangements Mr. Hammon had with the bank."

"There is no mortgage. I inherited this plantation from my father. It has always been well run."

"Oh, I'm sure the banker will have some papers to show that yore husband has signed the land away in return for seed money or something else."

"He wouldn't."

"Oh. I'm sure it will all be quite legal. In fact I am sure that once he gets in Mr. Hammon's office he will even find your husband's copies of all the paper work."

"No!" Beth turned to Tarka and grabbed his arm, "What can I do?"

"Stall. Don't let anyone into his office until I have had a chance to look through everything. Just tell everyone that you are still too ill to meet with them."

"They will want to stay. I have seen it happen before when old man Winsler died and left pretty young Charlene all alone. The suitors stayed in the guest rooms until she finally got tired of them and married one of them."

"Tonight. I will sneak into the house tonight. Tell Beulah you need me to move something heavy. We will go through the office together. Try to make some excuse to get everyone to go home. If you have to, let them sleep in the barn but no one must stay in the house."

"I must go now."

"One more look. Take a long look at Fern Glen. You may not see it again like this."

"What do you mean?"

"The war. The Union Army is not that far North of us. If they continue to push South they will march through and burn it to the ground."

"What a horrible thought. Tarka, you are an evil man."

"Just preparing you for eventualities. What you see below you is a saleable commodity. Six months, or a year, from now there may not be anything to sell. The buildings and crops burned. The horses stolen. The slaves freed."

"Tarka, stop it. I won't have you say such terrible things."

"On the other hand," Tarka continued as though she hadn't spoken, "If you sold now you would get a good price for it. You could take the money and buy another place to the West of here where no one knows us. No one would know I was a slave. Everyone would think I was your husband."

Beth stood there stunned. Before she could recover Tarka turned and walked down the hill.

Slowly Beth turned and walked down the other side of the hill to the waiting Effie. In the distance she could see the men leaving the front porch of the house, moving in her direction.

With Effie puffing behind her Beth walked back to the house. By the time they came to the end of the cotton field the would be suitors and overseers were pushing their way through the corn.

With disgust, plainly written on her face, Mrs. Hammon firmly planted her feet in the sun baked soil. "Gentlemen, and I use the term loosely. I am not a commodity. As you can see I am in widow's weed. My husband was only buried yesterday. I will not have you coming on my land vying for my attention."

"Look at the corn you have ruined marching through here like you were the Union Army. Sometime in the near future I will probably choose an overseer and after that I will pick a husband but not today and not this week. And anyone who is within my sight five minutes from now will not be considered eligible for either position.

Eight startled males, all dressed as smart as their individual allowance's would allow, were taken aback by the effrontery of this statement. Several of them started to speak at once.

"One minute is gone. Only four minutes left." Mrs. Hammon said and then turned her back on the men. With her arms crossed at her chest she stood firm for a while and then in a loud voice said, "Two minutes gone. I will turn around in three minutes. Anyone that I see, even a part, of will never be my overseer let alone my husband."

"I do like a woman with spunk," One gentleman stated before he turned and pushed his way back through the corn. Muttering amongst themselves the others followed suit.

When all sound behind her had ceased Effie started to laugh, "They's all gon' Mist'. Hammon. Yo' dun' scared them off."

When Beth turned around Effie was laughing so hard there were tears in her eyes. Slapping her fat thigh she chortled, "Yo' shuld' a seen em run. Like rabbits fore a houn' dawg."

There was no need for Tarka to sneak into the big house. Every slave in Fern Glen was aware of the affair between Tarka and his mistress and all suitors had been banned from the plantation, Basha was sitting on the gate with instructions to let no one pass.

Tarka had never been inside the house. Effie led him through to the office of the late Mr. Hammon. Beth was waiting for him. To Effie she said, "That will be all for tonight."

"Yas 'um. Yore bath is ready."

"Oh, my goodness. I forgot. Please tell them to leave it. They can empty it in the morning. Tell them that that will be all for today. And you too, Tarka can find his own way out."

"Yas 'um, Mist Hammon."

Effie closed the door and Tarka started to speak but Beth put her finger to her lips. Walking towards him she held out her arms.

Tarka, stepping forward to meet her, took her in his arms. After a long kiss she whispered in his ear, "Don't say anything out loud. The walls have ears. In fact right now I am sure the door has a big black ear pressed against it."

Tarka smiled and kissed her again.

Loudly Beth said, "I am through here. Let's go now." The soft sound of footsteps came through the door. Taking Tarka by the hand she led him out of the office and along the, now empty, hallway.

At the head of the staircase she paused to take a breath. Tarka enfolded her in his arms and nuzzled her neck. Pointing his tongue, and scraping it slowly through his teeth to remove the saliva, he used it to trace the ridges inside her ear. Slowly he probed as deep as he could then slowly wound his way back out again. Hungrily her mouth sought his.

It took several stops and embraces but eventually they reached Beth's rooms. There they quickly peeled each others clothing. Lifting Beth, Tarka stepped into the tub. Slowly, their lips locked together, they sank into the warm water.

Eventually they broke the kiss and Beth began to nibble her way along his chin, down his throat, across his chest to his nipples. Reaching under the water she lifted her mammae until they were wrapped around his manhood. Her movements created waves that nearly washed over the side of the tub. When Tarka began to respond in kind the waves grew bigger. His final convulsions created large waves that sent water splashing onto the terrazzo tiled floor.

After leaning back for a few minutes to recuperate while Beth nibbled her way back up his chest, Tarka stepped out of the tub. Taking a bucket of water from a small heater Tarka replaced the spilt water and added some more warmth to the cooling tub.

By the side of the tub Tarka found a sponge and a bar of soap. Beth rolled over in the tub and stood on all fours so that her body was out of the water. Swaying back and forth she received a double sensation while Tarka scrubbed her back and the water caressed her hanging breasts.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Tarka. You get yore britches on." Effie stated in a strong whisper. Tarka put his finger to his lips. "Don't yo' shush me, nigger. Yo' got no say in my house. What she doin' bringin' yo' in this house is beyond me. Talk is what's gon' happen. All the niggers gon' talk `bout dis. Next thing yo' know white folks gon' fin' out. Then ther' be trubls'. Lord o mercy they gon' whip yo' to death."

Tarka gave up trying to get her to quit talking. Her voice was getting louder. He turned and walked away from her, Beckoning with his hand for her to follow.

"Where yo' gon' now. Lord `a' mercy. Neber thought I'd see the day a naked nigger wander around the big house." Tarka led her into the office and closed the door behind her. "Now what yo' wan' in her' Ain't nuthin' in her' for black folk. This Mr. Hammon's office."

In desperation Tarka put his hand over Effie's mouth. "Effie, do you love Mrs. Hammon? Do you love Fern Glen?"

Effie lifted one of her fat legs and brought her big foot crashing down on Tarka's toes. "Don' yo' ever touch me," Effie said as Tarka's hand came off her mouth, covering his own mouth, so he wouldn't yell out loud. "Just cause yo' whiter than us other niggers don' mean yo' any better den the res' o' us and it shore don' gib yo' the right to put yo' han' on me. Co`rse I love Mist. Hammon, and Fern Glen. What crazy nonsens' yo' talkin'. Yo' one crazy nigger"

Tarka quit hopping around on one foot and held up a hand to stop her, "Do you trust Mr. Cadwell the banker?"

"Co`rse I," Effie started to answer and then stopped. "Well maybe I do and maybe I don'. What yo' gettin' at?"

"Ever since Mr. Hammon died Mr. Cadwell has been most insistent that he be allowed in this room. Mrs. Hammon can't hold him off much longer. I want you to help me look for whatever it is he wants. I am sure it will be something that will help him take Fern Glen away from Mrs. Hammon."

"Take it away. Yo' crazy. Tha' white skin o' yorn has addled yo' head."

"Mrs. Hammon is alone now with no man to look out for her. Fern Glen is worth a lot of money. Mr. Cadwell is a banker, he would know how much Fern Glen is worth. He would also know how to take it away."

Again Effie said, "Yo' crazy." but it didn't have much conviction behind it.

"Help me look," Tarka requested a second time.

"Look for what?"

"I'm not sure exactly. Just look through everything. All the drawers, all the cupboards. If you don't understand something show it to me."

Still not too sure, Effie agreed. While she started looking through the cupboards Tarka sat behind the desk and started going through the papers in the drawers. "This is the craziest thing. Looking fo' sumthin' 'n' yo' don' know what it is."

After a few minutes Tarka called Effie to the desk. "Effie, if you wanted to hide something. Where would be the best place in this whole house?"

Before she could answer he continued in a whisper, "Would you say under the mattress of Mrs. Hammon's bed would be a good place? Does anyone besides you ever change her bed?"

"Cours' not." Tarka put a finger over his lips. Effie continued in a quieter voice, "Don' no one go in Mist. Hammon's room 'cept Mr. Hammon."

"So if I gave you something very important you could hide it under her mattress today when you make up her bed and you wouldn't tell anyone it was there?"

"Cours' I could. Cours' I wouldn' tell no body. What yo' thin' I am a blabber mouth? Wha' yo' want to hi' in Mist. Hammon's bed? Why yo' don' hi' it in yo' own bed?"

"Because it belongs to Mrs. Hammon but I don't want her to know about it just yet. You see this book here. It's called a ledger and it's very important."

"How yo' kno' wha's in that leger? Niggers cain' read." Effie interrupted.

"I don't know what is in it," Tarka lied, "but I know it is very important and I want Mrs. Hammon to have it. I don't want Mr. Cadwell to steal it."

"Steal it. Now I know yo' is crazy. Mist. Cadwell is a banker. Bankers don't steal."

"Effie just trust me please. Hide it for me and after Mr. Cadwell is gone we will give it back to Mrs. Hammon. Also one other thing." Tarka pulled open the bottom drawer of the desk and lifted out a cash box. "I want you to hide this."

As he opened the lid on the box and Effie saw the money she stepped back in fright, "Thas stealin'. They gon' hang us fo' sho'."

Tarka pulled her hands away from her mouth and standing before her he looked deep in her eyes. "Effie. Listen to me. Listen real close. We are not going to steal the money. We are just going to put it under Mrs. Hammon's mattress. How can it be stolen if she is sleeping with it. And we won't take it all just some of it. Please. Find me a small box or a bag and we will put the gold coins in it. You can put it and the book under her mattress. We'll leave the paper money in the box."

"Why yo' wan' leave the paper money?"

"To prove something to you. I'm willing to bet that after Mr. Cadwell has been here the paper money will be gone. If we leave the gold he will take that too."

"Yo' crazy. Yo' all bin out in the sun too long. If yo' so sure Mr. Cadwell gon' steal then why yo' want to leave the paper money fo' him? Why not hide it all?"

"Because there isn't much paper money and if he takes it, it will prove I am right and if he doesn't it will prove that you are right."

"Well thas a silly ide'. O' cours' I'm right. Banker's don' steal. I be right back. I know wher' 's the perfc' box for the gol'."

Within minutes Effie was back and the gold coins were put in a small wooden box. The confederate currency was put back in the cash box which was replaced in the drawer. Tarka handed Effie the ledger and the box, "You hide these in your room for now and later put them in Mrs. Hammon's bed. I'm going to look through the desk some more."

"I know just where to hide these and then I will be back and that paper money better still be in tha' draw' Mr. white nigger. Crazy white nigger," She mumbled as she left the room

Beth awoke to an empty bed. Slipping on a nightdress and padding about the house she eventually found Tarka in the office.

"Did I just see Effie taking something down the hall?"

"She was taking away last nights tea things."

"Oh. What are you doing back in here?"

"Waiting for you. Come sit on my lap."

Beth walked across the room and around the desk, "Why, Tarka, yore buck naked."

"Like I said, I'm waiting for you."

"What if Effie should come back?"

"I'm sure she won't." As Beth sat down, Tarka held out his arms keeping the skirts of her gown from going beneath her.

"Tarka, you are a naughty boy." She reached between her legs to grasp him and turned for a kiss. Tarka put his finger to his lips, "Business first."

"Business?"

"Business."

"What kind of business?"

"The business of keeping Fern Glen."

"Whatever do you mean?"

"I mean that Banker Cadwell is most anxious to get into this office and look around."

"I don't understand. Mr. Cadwell has been our banker for years. He handles all our money affairs. Are you suggesting that he would do anything untoward."

"You are alone, no husband, no overseer. I think Mr. Cadwell sees a damsel in distress who has no idea about banking affairs."

"Oh, pooh. You are seeing things. Mr. Cadwell is a happily married man. He has no desire to squire me. Come along back to bed. It will be morning soon and the servants will be about. I want you to make love to me one more time before you have to leave."

Unreluctantly, Tarka followed Beth back to her room. On the way up the stairs he made her promise that she wouldn't make any agreements to anything the banker said until she confirmed with him.

Two days later Mr. Cadwell, the only male to be allowed through the gate, arrived and was allowed to be alone in the office. The banker dined with Mrs. Hammon and when he was safely asleep in the guest room Beth snuck out of the house and visited Tarka in his crib.

"Oh, Tarka, you were right," Beth cried, as she crawled into bed beside him.

Tarka held her tight and kissed her, cutting off what she was about to say. When they eventually broke the kiss, Tarka, still numb with sleep, asked, "Right about what?"

"Mr. Cadwell, he wants Fern Glen."

"What did you tell him?"

"Nothing. He almost talked me into signing some papers but I did like you said and pretended it was all too sudden. I was hoping he would leave but he talked me into letting him spend the night."

"Is he asleep now?"

"Yes. I had Effie make sure before I left the house."

"Good." Tarka said as he slipped out of bed. After pulling on his trousers he picked Beth up and carried her out the door. "What are you doing? You can't carry me back to the house."

"And why not?"

"Because I am too fat and heavy."

"You are only fat in the right places," he said as he began to nuzzle her breast through the cotton of her bodice.

Tarka set his package down when he reached the back stairs of the house. The two paused at the top of the stairs while they waited for Effie to catch up to them. "Effie, can you sneak in and make sure Mr. Cadwell is asleep?" Tarka asked as Beth's ever faithful maid climbed to the veranda.

"Shore nuff cain. I's be bac' shortly," She wheezed.

When Effie returned, walking surprisingly quietly for a person of her bulk, she reported that the banker was sound asleep.

Quietly the three tiptoed into Phillip's office. Opening the drawer and removing the cash box Tarka held his finger to his lips and lifted the lid.

After the ladies had seen the contents Tarka replaced the cash box in the drawer and removed a ledger. Opening the ledger he perused it for a moment and then showed it to the ladies.

Again cautioning the ladies to silence he replaced the ledger and then led them outside.

"Now, Effie. First I want to ask you, has anyone been in that office other than Mr. Cadwell since you and I were in there the other night?"

"Yo' better belibe ther' ain't bin no one in that office. I's bin keepin' my eye on it, and yo'. Makin' shor' yo' didn' go in ther' behin' ma bac'."

"Now I want you to tell Mrs. Hammon what I did in there."

"Oh, I tells her alright. This white nigger he done took yor' money out oh that box and he done took that book too."

Before Beth could interrupt, Tarka asked, "What did I do with he money that I took out of the box?"

"Yo' kno' perf'ctly well what yo' did with that money. Yo' gave t to me and I put it in another box."

"And what about the ledger?"

"Yo' dun' gib that to me too."

"And what did you do with the money and the ledger."

"I dun' hid dem under Mist. Hammon's bed like yo' don' ast."

"Are they still there?"

Without answering Effie lumbered into the house. While she was gone Tarka explained the trap he had set for the banker. How they had left two thousand dollars in confederate currency in the cash box and now there was only two hundred dollars left. How they had taken Phillip's account journal and now there was a new journal.

As Tarka finished explaining, Effie arrived, out of breath, bearing the little box and the original ledger, "Right wher' I put dem. Under Mist. Hammon's mattress."

"OK. Let me ask you this? You just went back in the house and got the ledger. Where did you get it from?"

"Yo' one crazy nigger. Don' yo' lissen to nuthin' I say? I just tol' yo'. I got it from under Mist. Hammon's mattress."

If this is the ledger that we took out of the desk the other night, then how come we just saw it in the desk five minutes ago?"

After giving the two ladies, who were looking at each other, time to answer, Tarka continued, "Now do you see what I am trying to tell you? That is why the banker wanted in your office so bad. He wanted to replace this ledger with one that he made up. This ledger shows that Fern Glen is worth a lot of money. His ledger will show that your plantation owes his bank money. He probably also has a false set of mortgage papers showing that the money was borrowed against the plantation."

"As well he took most of the money out of the cash box to show that you are broke and won't be able to meet your immediate needs. You won't be able to hang on until harvest time and he will want to foreclose before you can remarry."

Realization and disillusionment passed across Effie's features, "But, he's a banker."

"Bankers are humans too, Effie. There're good ones and there're bad ones."

"What am I going to do?" Beth turned to Tarka with fear in her voice, "I can't let him steal Fern Glen."

Effie, sounding just as fearful, in her own forceful way, also turned to Tarka, "Yeah Mr. White Nigger? Yo' so al' fire' smart. How yo' goin' save Fern Glen fo' Mist Hammon?"

"Put it back."

"What?" The two replied.

"He pulled a switch. We pull a switch."

"Switc' wha'? Niger yo' ain' makin' no sens'"

"He switched the fake ledger for the real ledger and took the money. I'll put the real ledger back and hide the fake ledger. Effie you sneak into Mr. Cadwell's room find the money and put it back in the cash box."

"But thas stealin'"

"No. it's not. That money belongs to Mrs. Hammon. You're not stealing it, you're just taking it back."

"What if he takes it back again?" Beth injected.

"He can't switch the ledger back because it will be under your mattress and if your are in the office when he gets up he won't be able to touch the money. In fact, when he gets up Effie can tell him you want to see him in the office."

"When he comes in you ask him if he found everything in order. Ask him if he is pleased with how well you keep the books and how well the plantation is being run. Show him the ledger and the cash box. Then while he is in shock you ask him to find a buyer for it, with a finders fee for him, of course."

Tarka was interrupted by a duet, "Sell Fern Glen? Are you out of your mind?"

"Sell it and get the money or don't sell it and lose it to some shady banker or an even shadier husband. With the money you can move somewhere else and buy a place that is yours without question. If you stay here you will lose it one way or the other and have no money to show for it."

"Either way you need time to decide. If you switch the ledger now it will give you time, if nothing else."

"Effie you go sneak into Mr. Cadwell's room and see if you can find the money. I'll go switch the ledger. I don't know about telling him that I keep the records though?"

"You don't have to tell him that you actually kept the records. Just let him think that Phillip kept you up to date with what was happening. I'm sure that he knows it was your money that bought this place. He wouldn't be surprised if you were controlling Philip's spending."

Beth folded him in her arms and kissed him soundly, "You are indeed my knight in shinning armour." With a last brush of the lips she turned to the house and the waiting Effie.

That afternoon banker Cadwell left for Lower peach Tree and a jubilant Beth came bounding out to the stables to see Tarka.

"You were right. When Effie told me Mr. Cadwell was getting up I went into the office and had her bring him in. He couldn't say much with Effie standing there. And when I showed him the cash box with the money in it, he neared to have a heart attack. I also showed him the will my father left and he agreed that with Phillip's death I would have the right to sell."

"He didn't look too unhappy when he left."

"I promised him a big commission if he could find me a buyer. But Tarka, I really don't want to sell."

Not caring what the watching niggers might say, Tarka took her by the arm and led her along the path to the river, "Here at the river we have a landing. Boats stop and buy fuel from us. While they are fuelling you can talk to the crews. You can also talk to the wounded soldiers returning home.

You weren't born in the South but it has come to mean home to you. The reality, however, is that the South is losing the war. Each day there are reports of the Union troops moving further South."

"Whether the South wins or loses, things are going to change. Nothing ever stays the same. Ten years ago you never had this farm. If you don't have it ten years from now it will be just a memory. It can be a good memory or a bad memory. My advice, for what it's worth, is to sell now while there are buyers with money and move on."

"It's a big decision and a big step, but coming here with a husband you hated was a big decision and a big step."

"Where would we go? You notice I said we?"

"We could go West. Far beyond the boundaries of the South, Where there are no slaves and I would be a free man. And you will notice I said we."

"We. We. I love the sound of that. I love you," Beth added as she pulled him off the trail into some bushes.

At Tarka's suggestion Beth placed an ad in the big newspapers in Atlanta and Mobile with the results that she had more than one prospective buyer come to visit.

Beth wanted to take the first offer and get it over with but Tarka suggested that she hold out for an all cash, gold, not confederate currency, or at least as much cash as possible with as small an amount of principal left owing as possible.

Once a deal was concluded, the monies put in a bank in Mobile, much to the displeasure of Mr. Cadwell, and the deed signed over to the new owner, Beth became less morose, actually looking forward to their new life together.

Now came the arduous task of choosing which slaves would go with Beth and which would stay behind with the new owner.

Tarka and Beth rode through the plantation, Tarka without being too obvious, making suggestions, which, coincidentally enough, included all the slaves that had been members of Mai Mobolaji's village and alliance.

Beth had never acquired too many possessions that she could not do without and of course neither had the slaves. It wasn't hard to convince Beth to travel light and it didn't take long to pack a few wagons with provisions and load two barges with Effie and the slaves that would accompany them.

The new overseer arrived the day before departure and Beth was busy, long into the night, escorting him about the plantation, introducing him to those that were staying and going over the ledger with him.

Having the night to himself, Tarka was able to get away to the old tree and retrieve the saddle bags he had stolen from the Lieutenant. Inside the barn he took some of the gold and had Basha hide it among his personal belongings that he would take with him the next day, Then with Basha's help he secreted the saddle bags in Beth's carriage.

Tearful farewells were held at the main plantation where the reins, so to speak, were handed over to the new overseer, sent by the new owner, who had yet to view his new holdings. The departing slaves moved along the path to the already loaded barges.

The slaves were of mixed feelings, some looking forward to the new adventure and some frightened by the stories they had heard of the Wild West.

Before reaching the barges, Tarka had the slaves gather around. As he changed clothes he spoke to them, "Some of you have know me for several years, some of you are new to Fern Glen. For the next few days we are going to go on a nice boat ride down the Alabama River to the city of Mobile. When we get there it is important that Mrs. Hammon go into town to the bank and she needs an escort."

"To that purpose I am putting on some of Beau's old clothes and am going to pretend to be your overseer. It is important that you don't speak of this to anyone, not even among yourselves in case any of the barge crew should overhear you. For the next few days I am not Tarka the slave. I am Tarka the overseer."

"When we leave Mobile, we will move upstream on the Tombigbee River. We will go North for several days and then strike off overland. I know some of you are worried about the trip and you have heard some terrible stories. I want to assure you that we will have no problems and you are all going to a place that you will like much better than Fern Glen."

With that he strode through the throng, and joining Mrs. Hammon, called for the niggers to follow them to the barge.

Docking upstream from mobile, after a pleasant journey downstream, Tarka had the carriage and three horses unloaded so that Beth, and he, could go into the city.

While Beth went to the bank to be sure that they had received her letter, asking for her monies to be readied in gold coin, Tarka, having retrieved his money from Basha, went to find a haberdasher.

A shave, haircut, and bath made a new man of Tarka. A new man wearing; new boots, a new hat, and new clothes.

Tarka walked freely amongst the sailors and businessmen who hurried about the dockside. The air was filled with shouts in bastard French that Tarka could not understand. Ships strained at their moorings as a slight swell ran up the river from the Gulf of Mexico.

Tarka smiled as he watched one ship roll, it's bowline becoming taunt. A large wharf rat was running up the hawser to the ship. The rope snapped tight so suddenly that the rat was propelled into the air, to fall, squealing, into the water, where it was carried away by the swift current.

The sounds and sights of the bustling Mobile harbour were nostalgic to Tarka who had not been near a sea port for nearly ten years, not counting the trip from Africa to North America, crammed in the hold of the slaver.

Tarka became lost in his thoughts of that terrible trip until he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. Quickly he turned and saw a long wooden box passing by, on the shoulder of a soldier.

A voice behind him said, "I wouldn't stand there mister or you'll get hit by another one and get them shiny new duds dirty."

Stepping back, as he turned in the direction of the voice, Tarka was just in time to be missed by a second crate which was followed quickly by a third.

Another voice said, "If yore not going to help at least clear us a path, these things are heavy." Looking quickly about Tarka stepped away to a safer spot.

Tarka watched three more soldiers go by with similar burdens. The first soldier reached a wagon. With the help of the driver he loaded his crate and started back along the dock for a second one. Beside a ship a sling was being lowered with five more long crates. A sailor was standing by, waiting to unhook the sling.

Idle curiosity caused Tarka to ask the sailor, "What's in the crates?"

"Guns," came a tart reply.

"Guns," Tarka murmured aloud.

"Muskets for you Johnny Rebs." The sailor looked about and saw the returning soldier. In a whisper he added, "Made in bleedin' New York." When Tarka didn't reply the man said in a louder voice, "If it's work yore looking for the bosun's on deck."

For the first time Tarka took a better look at the vessel behind him. One of the largest ships Tarka had ever seen. The deck was well above the level of the wharf and four large masts towered into the sky.

Tarka stepped through the bustling crowd, away from the ship, to get a better view. The sheer line was unbroken from the large bosomed figurehead to the unbroken sheer. Above deck was a maze of lines, downhauls, brails, clew-garnets, and vangs. Like branches on a tree the yards were everywhere and held enough cloth to rig everything from a Jamie Green to a Ringtail as well as all the stun sails.

Whoever had designed this ship had no intention of her missing any air. She was designed for speed. From the looks of her she could outrun almost anything on the water, or catch them, if so desired.

From the looks of her gun deck, a long row of closed gun ports, and the battle scars on her side and railings, she was not afraid to fight and was obviously the victor in more than one battle.

The bosun had been watching Tarka checking out the ship and met him as he climbed the steep gangplank. "We've got a full crew but ye can have a job on the dock for the rest of the day."

"Oh, no," Tarka protested, "I'm not looking for work. I was just admiring the design. She looks like a fast ship."

"Aye, that she be laddie. She's built in Canada and she's the fastest thing on the seas."

"So, then, yore bound for Canada?"

"Maybe someday. First we have to go to Jamaica and take on a load of rum for New York. Who knows where we will go from there. We might even come back here with another load of guns."

"So yore sympathies are with the South then?" Tarka asked.

"Our sympathies are with the dollar. If ye've got the dollar we'll carry anything anywhere." The broad shoulders of the Scotsman shook as he laughed his answer.

"Would you carry passengers in the dark of the night?" Tarka asked quietly.

The bosun looked at him for a moment then said, "I think ye better talk to the Capt. Follow me." The man spun on his heel and led Tarka to the stern.

Tarka ducked to enter the low ceillinged cabin. The bosun followed him in and introduced him to the Captain who had been lounging in his chair with his feet on his desk. "This is Mr. Tarka, the bosun said, "He is interested in having us take some passengers after dark."

"I understand yore sympathies are neither with the South or the North," Tarka stated.

Captain Granger, formerly of the Royal Navy, took his feet from the desk top. He was middle aged with a large moustache which partially covered an old duelling scar that ran across the left corner of his mouth.

His dark blue eyes bored into Tarka as he carefully considered his answer, "I don't take sides or form opinions. I am a businessman from another country. It is not my place to decide who is right or who is wrong. Because I do business with both sides I tend not to conduct business that would cause either side to distrust me."

"Like bringing guns to the South that were made in the North."

The Captain stared at his Bosun, "Someone out there has a big mouth." Without a word the Bosun left the cabin. Tarka started to interject then thought he had better not stir the Captain's ire.

"Sit down sir." Captain Granger said, pointing at a chair near the end of his desk. "Would you like a tot of rum?" he added, as he reached for a decanter on the shelf behind him.

"A small one, thank you. It's been nigh on ten years since I tasted rum."

The Captain paused in his pouring of the spirits, "Is it escaped prisoners you want me to transport?"

"In a way, yes." Tarka answered guardedly, "Slaves."

"And their master's are in hot pursuit?" Captain Granger finished pouring the drinks and slid a glass across the desk to Tarka .

"Actually their mistress is with us. She doesn't know yet that we are escaping." The Captain looked at him and Tarka continued, "She thinks we are here to do some shopping and that when the tide comes in tomorrow we will go back up river to a new plantation."

"You would be the two barges of niggers and goods that are tied upstream of us. You are her overseer? Is that the right word?"

"That is the right term." Tarka answered simply and changed the subject. "What I was thinking was we could start up river late tomorrow with the tide. After dark we could change direction with the tide and drift out into the bay. We could meet you, well out, well after dark, and you would not be compromised with your Southern trading partners."

"Although the British Navy may spot us and think we are a slaver unloading. We would be dead in the water and unable to get away."

"We'll be very careful that there is no one else in the area before we come close. You'll be well paid plus we won't take up much room and you can still pick up your rum in Jamaica. We can hire you to take us to Canada after you unload in new York or we can get a different ship from there if you have to come back South."

"Well paid? Confederate dollars?"

"Gold coin."

"If you are upstream and we both sail with the tide I would have time to circle around and see if there are any other ships out there before you get there."

"We will only load people and a few personal possessions. Won't take long."

"Tomorrow night then," the Captain raised his glass in salute.

"One other thing. These guns you are unloading. Do you suppose, for an extra few coins, a couple of cases could get forgotten in the hold?"

"The Captain paused as he lifted the glass to his mouth, then swallowed it quickly, "I supposed you would want powder and ball as well?"

"If you have it."

"I have it all. Bayonets, swords."

"Swords." Tarka interrupted. "Could I see the swords?"

"Let's take a little saunter down into the hold, the Captain said as he rose from his chair.

Having completed his chores about town Tarka went back to the barge where he had an unpleasant scene with Okoni. Finally, after many years, he was able to get her alone, with no danger of them being punished for talking together.

Okoni was not happy. Though she had her daughter with her she didn't have her man with her. Tarka, hoping that Okoni would have rather had him, had not requested Beth to bring the big field hand with them. He tried to explain to her that it had taken a lot of persuasion on his part to get Beth to acquiesce to her presence among the chosen.

Okoni stated that she would have rather remained with her mate and the father of her child.

Tarka pointed out that if she had been left behind the new owner may have not left her with her mate. He may have chosen a new mate for her. He may have even separated her from her child. This way, she may not have her man but, she would have her child, and her brother.

Somewhat mollified Okoni went back to the barge, leaving Tarka alone on the dock. `One more I owe you Mrs. Hammon,' he thought, as he curled up on a pile of hay and went to sleep.

The next morning Tarka met with the barge captain and told him of the change in venue, explaining that they were going to meet a slaver and pick up some more niggers.

A few more coins, with the promise of more to come, changed hands, sealing the deal.

The rest of the morning Tarka spent sitting on the dock answering questions. As he had never been to the Wild West he knew little more than his fellow slaves and was unable to put their minds to rest.

In the afternoon he saddled his horse and rode into town to meet Beth at the bank. As per request the gold was packaged in suitcases and hat boxes, disguised as personal purchases.

Elizabeth was delighted at Tarka's new look. Two pistols and a seaman's knife, that he had purchased from the ship's captain, were tucked into his waist band. With an overseer's hat perched on his head, at an angle, he cut a dashing figure.

Beth was beside herself, wanting time alone with her handsome rogue, it was all she could do to control her desires. If there hadn't been so much traffic on the road she would have pulled him into the ditch.

It was late in the afternoon by the time they returned to the landing and after loading the carriage the barges moved out into the river.

As the light of day faded, Beth and Tarka stood by the edge of the barge enjoying a last sunset together, then retired to the Captain's cabin.

After undressing, Tarka surprised Beth by slipping a piece of torn sheet into her mouth. Before she could comprehend what he was doing he took another piece of cloth off the bed and bound her hands. Lying her on the bed he secured the gag and then tied her feet.

The water was black except where the new moon drove a path of yellow across its surface. As per Tarka's request, Ogbuji, Basha, and Okoni were waiting, with the barge Captain, behind the wagon as the barge tied up to the ship.

"We are tied up to the ship and ready to start loading. The nigger you call Effie is tied and gagged in the next wagon." The Captain said. "But this don't look like no slaver," He added.

Completely mystifying Okoni, Tarka took her hand, gazed into her coal black eyes, and whispered, "soon, very soon."

To the Captain he said, "Good. Very good. Now I wish to tell you of a slight change in plans. We will not be loading slaves. These slaves are going to go aboard that ship. It is a heavily armed vessel and the crew are at battle stations. So give us a hand. You will still get paid."

To Ogbuji, he said, "Tell everyone to take their personal possessions, plus anything else they like, wagons, furniture, horses. Whatever anyone wants they can have. But leave Effie behind. And be as quick and quiet as possible."

Looking at Okoni he added, "Effie and Mrs. Hammon won't be coming with us."

To the enraged Captain, of the barge, he said, "Whatever is left is yours. Throw it overboard, sell it, burn it, I don't care. That includes the two women. I will be back shortly." Tarka gave Okoni one last smile and then returned to the Captain's cabin.

Passing by Basha he whispered, "Be sure that everything in the carriage goes into my cabin aboard the ship."

Tarka closed the door softly and began to remove his clothing, as he walked to the bed. The light from the single candle, in its cheap ceramic holder, wavered as the breeze from the opened door disturbed the flames. Light and shadows passed over the satin smooth skin of his mistress. Tarka took the gag from Beth's mouth. Then taking the remains of the sheet that he had ripped earlier he tore it into strips.

"What are you doing?" Beth asked in astonishment.

"Something I have wanted to do for a long time," he spoke, as he continued the destruction of the sheet. "The niggers and the barge crew are beginning the transfer to a ship."

"Oh, I didn't tell you. Your slaves are not going upstream to a new plantation. They are going on a ship back to Africa. While they are engaged, we shall have a few minutes of privacy." He looked at her with a smile, "Privacy to do something I hope you will find amusing."

Holding a strip of cloth in the middle he let the ends trail across her sweat cover stomach and breasts, "Just a little game for lovers. Similar to the game we played in your bath. Roll over on your stomach," he gently requested, as he continued to caress her with the strip of cotton.

When she had rolled over he asked her to lift up her head. Making a loop of the cotton he said, "The game is called horsey and this is your reins. Open wide and I'll put the bit in your mouth" When the cloth was in her mouth he tied it at the back of her head. Bending close he whispered in her ear, "I promise not to wear spurs."

Sliding his hands along her arm he made a loop with a second piece of cloth and tied it around her wrist, then untied her wrists. "Got to make sure the little filly doesn't get too frisky and run away. We must hobble her." Saying this he passed the cloth around her other wrist, tied it, and then tied the end of the cloth to the corner of the bed. The other end he tied to the other corner at the head of the bed.

Beth, her arms spread before her, was frightened, wondering just what was going on, she was mumbling questions through her gag.

Ignoring her queries, Tarka took another strip of cloth and tied it around each knee. He placed one hand under her stomach and lifted. "Lazy horsey is lying down. How can I get in the saddle like that. Upsa Daisy."

Lifting on her stomach and pulling on her knees, after untying her ankles, got her into position. Then passing, the ends of the cloth under the bed and tying them together he had her legs separated and secured so she couldn't lie down again.

"Is that too tight?" Beth mumbled and shook her head no. "Good. I wouldn't want to hurt my little filly. Not like you hurt my child. Remember when you whipped my wife and killed my baby."

Beth froze.

"There we go. Good horsey." Tarka ran his hands over Beth's buttocks. Hmm. Nice flanks, firm and smooth. Good horseflesh. Looks like a good ride." Moving his hands up her sides he moved in behind her and started caressing her with his tongue.

Eventually he had her quietened down and after more oral caressing he had her mumbling another tune from behind her cotton bit.

When she was fully receptive Tarka, kneeling behind his horsey, inserted himself and brought himself to a peak, but dismounted from the saddle before he completed.

Leaving the bed Tarka went to his carpet bag and extracted a candle and a carrot. Eating off the small end of the carrot, as he walked back to the bottom of the bed, he rounded off the rough edges of the remainder. With a slow corkscrew motion he inserted the larger portion of the carrot where he had been, moments before.

Again he began administering caresses. At first he lay on his back underneath his horse, orally caressed her dangling mammae. Slowly, he nibbled his way along her stomach to the carrot.

Extracting himself, from underneath his horse, Tarka moved back to the foot of the bed and began his oral administrations where he had left off.

Grasping the protruding end, of the carrot, with his teeth he moved his head back and forth for awhile, and then moved on, leaving the carrot inserted, but slightly protruding.

Working his way up, he paused to penetrate, with his tongue, and then used a finger to penetrate even further. With slow circular, and in and out, motions he eventually got his finger in as far as it would go.

Pulling part way out, he added a second finger to the first, and slowly worked them around until both were deep inside. Slowly withdrawing his fingers with wide circular motions he replaced them with his manhood and, using short in and out strokes, he entered her further, and further, until his sword was fully seated in her scabbard.

Leaning onto Beth's back and reaching under her to cup her breasts he whispered in her ear, "Now little pony, lets go for a real ride." Tarka started slow and built to a crescendo. Sweat was pouring from his body when he yelled out his triumph and collapsed on her back.

With her arms and legs tied in their positions Beth was unable o collapse and was forced to bear his weight. When he had regained his composure, Tarka rudely dismounted, with one quick pull. Stepping from the bed he replaced his manhood with the candle, leaving it protruding more than the carrot below it.

Going to the corner of the room Tarka picked up two packages. He moved them near the head of the bed where Beth could see them. You were curious to know what I bought while in town."

"This long object is actually smaller than the package. I added some sticks under the paper to disguise the contents."

Unwrapping the paper, and dropping two long branches, he revealed a cutlass.

Unwrapping the second package he revealed, and donned, a shirt and a pair of sailors bell bottom trousers. Adding his pistols and knife to the sword and adjusting the sash, he paraded in front of her asking, "What do you think? Do I look like a sailor?" Bending over he stared in her eyes, "Well I used to be and I am again. My slave days are over Mist' Hammon."

Walking to the corner of the room he picked up his carpet bag, added the new clothing he had bought the day before, then walked back to the table holding the candle. "Just in case you are afraid of the dark."

He carried the candle to the foot of the bed and used it to light the candle protruding from her buttocks.

Setting the first candle back on the table he started to leave then losing control for one moment, drew his sword and with all of his strength he laid the flat of the blade across Beth's naked buttocks.

After extracting the candle to its former position he relit it, then left the room without another glance at his horsey, closing the door slowly so as not to extinguish either candle.

The niggers, except for Effie, had all climbed aboard the Gray Mist, taking with them their few possessions. Okoni and the others were watching him from the ship's rail as he emerged from the cabin. Tarka walked the length of the barge and stopped by the ladder.

The barge Captain was waiting for him, "All is as you requested."

Tarka reached in his carpet bag and withdrew a small bag of gold coins.

Handing the bag to the man he spoke, "And as requested, by you, the remainder of your fee. I thank you for a job well done."

"Greatly appreciated," the Captain replied.

"One more thing. I have left a present for you in your cabin. A little thank you for letting us have the use of it. Please wait until we are under sail before you go in." As he climbed the side of the ship he added, "Open and close the door slowly when you go in."

"Okay," The Captain replied curiously.

"Bon appetite." Tarka concluded as he stepped aboard the ship. To the ship's Captain he said, "You can cast off now."

Both Captains set their crews to work and within minutes the barges and the ship were dozens of yards apart.

The lower sails of the ship were clewed and the ship was underway. From the end of a yard arm Tarka looked back at the barge. Just then the Captain stepped out of the cabin, gave Tarka a big wave, and hurried back inside.

Swiftly the Gray Mist sped through the rolling waters. The sails cracked as they emptied in the lulls of winds and then filled with the gusts. The waters gushed along the sides and roared as the bow cut into the waves. The spars, ropes, and planks creaked. The Men's' feet pattered on the deck as they ran to and from their stations. Voices rose as they shouted orders.

Four masts of yard arms and ropes creaking and straining. Men unfurling stun sails. Yet above all this the great steam engines of the American cutter could still be heard. Thankfully the sound was diminishing and they were well out of range of her guns. The distance between them was lengthening by the minute and the canvas above them continued to grow. As long as this offshore breeze held.

Thank God for a cloudy night and an observant watch in the crow°s-nest. By the time the Yankee had fired his warning shots the lower top sails were already filled with wind and the crew were clewing down the upper top sails. The stern was leaving a sliver wake in the dark water.

They were clear of the last of the islands now and there was nothing but open water ahead for the next few hours as they ran South into the Gulf of Mexico.

With full canvas and a good wind they could outrun anything that wasn't directly in their path.

Trevor was in ecstasy. Free. The word had an entirely new meaning for him. This was an element that Trevor knew only too well, wind, waves, ropes. High above the crow°s-nest, his shoes lying on the deck, he was helping to clew the main royal. Pausing, he looked at the water far below and the Yankee patrol fading in the distance.

The Gray Mist heeled in a trough and Trevor celebrated an exhilaration he hadn't known for years. The wind whipped the hair about his face and, laughing, he squeezed past a swabbie, racing him to the mast.

Later, standing on the ship's anvil he shouted over the wind until all the slaves had gathered around him. Then he explained why they were on a ship going South instead of a barge going North.

They were free. Free. Their days of slavery were over. The Gray Mist would take them back to Africa. Back to their village.

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