This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story is copyright by Owen Hudson, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Isaac and Nathan were beginning to love the new land almost as much as their homeland to the east. They still hated the white men for what they had done to their people. Without a thought of the white blood that flowed in their veins, they considered themselves Tsa-la-gi (Cherokees).
Their farm was becoming very productive as they had managed to settle on some fertile bottom land on the Barren Fork. Barren Fork being a fork of the Illinois River that flowed clear and provided them with plenty of water. Additionally, the land provided plenty of timber for building their cabin and an ample supply of firewood.
The government contractors had become rich by fraudulently billing the government for poor quality goods, or even worse for goods that weren't delivered at all. Isaac and Nathan had actually received the items that each Cherokee was promised. They received a wagon, a team of horses, a couple of cows, pigs and a few chickens. Most Cherokees weren't as fortunate in receiving the goods as they were. They agreed it was probably because they spoke both Cherokee and English fluently. It likely helped also that Nathan appeared more white than Cherokee.
The long hours of backbreaking labor were beginning to provide Isaac and Nathan a surplus of their crops. They provided meat for their table by hunting, and most of the pigs were either sold or kept for breeding purposes. As they expanded their material goods their love for each other expanded tenfold. Regardless of how tired they were, they rarely were too tired to show their love for each other.
Nathan and Isaac had just finished harvesting the last of their bumper crop of corn and were looking forward to shorter work days, maybe even a little extra time to just cuddle. They decided that a nice bath in the creek would be in order. Although it was October, neither Isaac nor Nathan minded the cold water that refreshed them. What a handsome man, Isaac thought to himself as he watched Nathan undress. Soon he was undressed and joined his lover in the cold Barren Fork Creek. He pulled Nathan to himself and gave him a long passionate kiss. Isaac knew that he loved Nathan and would for the remainder of his life.
Isaac prepared dinner while Nathan took care of the outside chores, and as they sat down to dinner, Isaac said, "I think we need to go into Park Hill for supplies. I had difficulty finding something to cook for supper."
As much as Nathan disliked going into town, he knew that they should take some of their corn to the grist mill for grinding into corn meal. He also needed to purchase some new boots, so he agreed that a trip was called for.
George Murrell's mercantile was opening just as they arrived at Park Hill the next morning. Nathan purchased his boots and then took the corn to the mill while Isaac filled the grocery order. As was customary, half of the corn was given to the miller in exchange for his labor.
"I'm sorry, but I can't read this," Isaac heard the mercantile clerk, John Tillery, say as a distinguished Cherokee lady handed him a list of needed supplies. "It's written in Cherokee."
"May I assist?" Isaac offered.
"Can you read Cherokee?" John questioned, with surprise.
"Yes, I can speak both Cherokee and English, as well as read and write both languages," Isaac replied.
Isaac quickly translated the list into English and handed it to the clerk. "Would you be willing to come to work here in the mercantile?" John asked in a pleading voice. "I'm sure Mr. Murrell would be more than willing to pay you a good salary."
"I've never seen myself as a storekeeper," Isaac replied with reservation. "We do have all the harvest done ... I'll have to think about it and see what Nathan thinks."
"Are we hauling more back to the farm than we brought in," Nathan laughingly asked, as he loaded the wagon with the supplies?
"I believe you eat as much as I do," Isaac countered.
Isaac seemed to read that Nathan was in a good mood, so he decided to put forward the idea of his working at the mercantile. "I was offered a job at the mercantile," he quietly said, while trying to read Nathan's expression. "We could use the extra income, and the crops are all harvested," he continued.
"Are you asking my permission?" Nation questioned.
"Well, yes and no," Isaac replied. "If you really don't want me to work there I won't. And if it doesn't work out I'll quit."
"Isaac, you know I'd never tell you what to do, only you can decide," Nathan responded, as he leaned over and kissed Isaac.
John Tillery was impressed with Isaac's intelligence; he seemed to learn the operation of the mercantile quickly. By the week's end, he felt comfortable enough to go home for lunch, leaving Isaac in charge. He also noticed that the Cherokees were more at ease speaking Cherokee with Isaac than trying to communicate with him in English.
Isaac was pleased that Nathan had accepted his being away from the farm much better than expected. Nathan had been busy splitting rails for a larger pasture for the expanding herd of livestock. However, he did feel guilty that his work was much less demanding than Nathan's.
Isaac agreed one evening to work late to assist with restocking a late shipment of goods. The last rays of sun had dropped below the horizon as he headed toward home on the Barren Fork. He thought he saw the shadow of a man quickly exiting the path and disappearing behind a large sycamore tree. He quickly pulled the hand gun that Nathan had insisted he carry from his saddle bag, pointed the gun toward the shadow and said, "Stop right where you are or I'll shoot."
"Don't shoot, master," he heard from the shadow. "I'm a free nigger."
"Come out where I can see you," Isaac ordered.
A young Negro who appeared to be about 17 years of age appeared from the shadows of the trees onto the path. Isaac could tell that he was wearing dirty trousers with holes in them, a thin, tattered, shirt, and no shoes. He knew the young boy must be cold since it was late October.
"I'm a free nigger," the young boy said again.
"You're going to be a frozen nigger in those clothes," Isaac said. "Where do you live?"
"I'm looking for work, master," the boy replied.
Isaac assumed that this was no ordinary field slave by the way he spoke.
"You can't stay out here with no shelter or decent clothes," Isaac advised the young boy. "You'll freeze. Climb on behind me and we'll figure something out."
The cold apparently overcame the boy's fear, and he climbed on the horse behind Isaac. Immediately, he could feel the warmth from the horse and Isaac's body, but he was still shivering. Isaac pulled a blanket out of the saddle bag and told him to wrap himself in it.
Isaac believed the young boy was very likely a runaway slave, most likely from Arkansas. The young boy was very vague in his answers to Isaac's questions; however he did learn that his name was Tom.
Nathan offered to unsaddle and feed the horse while Isaac and Tom ate the supper that he'd prepared. Isaac dished a large bowl of stew and handed it to Tom, but he noticed the confused look on Tom's face when he motioned for him to sit at the table. "Sit down and eat," Isaac ordered.
"Master, I can sit over there on that stool," Tom offered.
"I'm not your master," Isaac offered, "And you can sit with me at the table to eat."
"Yes, master," Tom replied and then corrected himself, "Yes, sir."
"You can call me Isaac," Isaac directed.
Yes, sir, Mr. Isaac," Tom responded.
"No, just Isaac," Isaac insisted.
"Yes, Mr. Isaac." Tom smiled, as he devoured the last crumb of his cornbread and stew. His smile grew even wider when Isaac refilled his bowl and gave him another large slice of cornbread.
Isaac was empting the last of the stew into Tom's bowl when Nathan returned to the cabin from tending Isaac's horse. Tom had a surprised look on his face when Isaac took Nathan in his arms and kissed him, but that didn't stop his enjoyment of the first meal he'd had in three days.
"Tom, this is Nathan, not Master Nathan," Isaac insisted. "He's just Nathan."
"Yes, master," Tom said, before again correcting to say, "Yes, sir, Mr. Isaac."
After the last of the stew and cornbread was devoured, Isaac cleared the table and set about washing the dishes. Tom insisted that he be allowed to wash them to pay for his supper. He beamed a wide grin when Isaac finally agreed. "I'll make you a bed here by the fireplace, if that will be satisfactory to you, Tom."
"I can sleep in the barn," Tom insisted.
"The barn is cold, and I insist that you sleep here and get a good night's sleep," Isaac insisted.
Tom offered no argument, as he eyed the warm inviting bed that Isaac had prepared.
As Tom removed the tattered shirt that he was wearing, both Isaac and Nathan gasped when they saw the fresh marks on his back from an obvious lashing. Isaac found a poultice that his grandmother had taught him to make and applied it to Tom's back. He then gave him a pair of trousers and shirt to replace the thin, worn ones he was currently wearing. Nathan then added his old boots to the collection and a well worn coat - at least it was a warm coat.
"Do you really think he's a freedman," Nathan questioned Isaac, as he pulled Isaac into his arms?
"No, but we're not sending him back to that cruelty," Isaac answered.
"I agree, but what are we going to do with him," Nathan questioned?
"Hire him to help you here while I work at the mercantile," Isaac offered.
"We couldn't afford to pay him a decent salary," Nathan reasoned.
"Whatever we paid him would be better than the slave life he has lived," Isaac maintained.
"We'll speak with him about it tomorrow," Nathan offered.
When Isaac and Nathan awoke, they discovered that Tom was already dressed and greeted them wearing his 'new' clothes. He had a nice warm fire going in the fireplace, and his smile grew even wider when Isaac asked if he would like some breakfast.
After Tom had consumed a half dozen eggs, a large slab of ham, and a large number of biscuits, washed down with a large glass of milk, Isaac and Nathan were ready to offer him a job.
Tom accepted without hesitation, and asked at once what work needed to be done.
"Come with me and we'll feed the livestock and milk the cows," Nathan said, with a smile. "This is Sunday, but tomorrow you can help me split rails for a new fence.
Tom was very grateful to Nathan and Isaac for their kindness and showed his gratitude by his hard work. In short order, they'd cut and split all the needed timber for the new rail fence. Tom questioned, "What work was next?"
"Why don't we cut enough timber for your new cabin," Nathan offered.
"My cabin?" Tom questioned.
"Yes, we can build you a cabin over by the creek, where you'll be close to a good supply of water," Nathan reasoned.
By the week's end, Tom and Nathan had cut enough timber to build a small one room cabin for Tom. And by the end of the following week, the cabin was complete and ready for Tom to inhabit. He couldn't have been more pleased than if it had been a home as large as George Murrell's Hunter House in Park Hill. Although Nathan and Isaac were happy to have their privacy again, they did miss waking up to the nice warm fire that Tom had greeted them with each morning.
Isaac would not have imagined that life in this new land could have ever been this good. His grandmother would have been very happy for him. He always felt that she was near and guiding him.