An herbalist and free woman of color, Kindred Twain and Lelaheo/Cassian Harkness, an Oneida Indian, had been inseparable since childhood, so it was no surprise to anyone when their childhood bond blossomed into love as they grew into adulthood. Neither suspected when they agreed to wait to wed until Lelaheo had completed his medical studies in Europe that they were poised on the eve of the American Revolution, or that a young British miss named Adeline would threaten to tear them apart forever.
A tobacco plantation
Shrieks and moans echoed around the clearing and into the pasture beyond. Bullets whizzing through the humid, evening-primrose-scented night air found their fleshy targets, toppling them on the spot. Fires burning out of control in the frame-and-log slave cabins roared at a deafening pitch.
“Get ‘em! Afta ‘em! No su’vivas!” bellowed the young white planter to his fellow patrollers. He waved his rifle in the direction of the fleeing black woman, a little girl slung across her chest.
“Make it to dem fields en we be free!” the panic-stricken woman chanted to herself. With the mounted pursuers on her heels, she grasped her precious cargo tighter as she raced across the open pasture. She heard the crack of a shot behind her, then the distinct resonance of a bullet just passing over her head. Sweating, gasping for breath, she gained the tobacco fields. She hurled herself into tall rows of leafy plants. Surprised by the violent jostling, the little girl howled.
“Hush, baby. Please.” The fatigued woman bundled the child closer and rocked her.
Shouts and the noise of galloping horses stilled her efforts to soothe the girl. She dropped to the ground and crouched low in the crop that she had toiled to plant. The patrollers dismounted, and led by her zealous young master, marched between the rows, lanterns held high.
“Mind the flames, boys,” the young master reminded. “I want to catch ‘em, but I don’t wanna lose this crop over a couple nigras. Take the dog in instead. He’ll bring ‘em down.”
The woman breathed so deeply and quickly, she imagined that they heard her. One patroller and his dog passed not four feet from her. The dog looked in her direction but stayed silent. Maybe he remembered that she used to toss him scraps out the back door and scratch behind his ears. Just maybe. He and his master continued on. Gauging that her pursuers were far enough away, the woman turned around and crawled carefully back in the other direction. She traversed the pasture again and arrived back at the slave quarters. Jumping at every sound, she nervously scanned her surroundings for any sign of life. The cabins were engulfed in flame. The wood crackled and popped and fell in on itself. The heat drove her back when she tried to enter her old place. Through the doorway she could see that her few belongings were now ash. She looked around again. Bodies everywhere. Brown bodies. Slashed, hanged, shot. She gagged at the sight of the blood that soaked the ground. She retched at the smell of burning flesh. The little girl she held was unusually quiet and immobile. The child just stared. The woman glanced up at the blackened oak tree against which she’d slumped. A black male swung in the breeze. A burlap sack over his head, she could not identify the man at first. Then her eyes widened in horror.
“Gawd! Oh Gawd, no!”
She recognized the bloody shirt. She knew the craftsmanship. It was hers. And the man wearing it was her Josiah, one of very few bright spots in her life. And her other bright spots, her daughter, her daughter’s man. Dead all around her. All gone. Her sole link to them was the grandchild in her arms. Tears half blinding her, she backed away from the tree. She almost tripped over a small boy who’d dragged himself out from under a man and a woman. They were his parents and had succeeded in shielding him from attack. Alarmed, he wailed loudly.
“Chil’!” she whispered. “Hush up or we be daid on de spot.” Summoning strength from an unknown source, she gathered him up, tucked him under an arm and continued on. The two children slowed her down considerably, but she would not leave them behind. She crouched low and tiptoed past the smokehouse, the empty brick kitchen and the main house with its brightly illuminated parlor. She raised up a bit to witness the discomposed white womenfolk flitting about and fanning furiously to ward off an episode of the vapors.