Abuse became his way of life; his pale skin was marred constantly with ugly purple bruises, as he was subjected to the unwanted attentions of both races. Raped by blacks and whites, he was an outcaste, barely tolerated. Now again a white man was saying to him. ‘Trust me’ He shrank back from the ointment-smeared fingers, capturing his lip between his teeth as he tried not to cry with pain.
“You have to let me.” The deep voiced man said as he reached out his hand again. Joshua whimpered as light fingers smoothed the soothing balm over his face. The tall dark haired man had left a while ago so had the man with the bright golden curls that had captured him. The deep voiced blond man reached out to pick up a towel to wipe his hands; his sudden movement made Joshua yelp and curl into a ball.
“He’s terrified.” Justin said as he entered the barn just in time to witness the reflective defensive reaction.
“Wouldn’t you be? He knows that we could just hand him over to McLean.” Lance dried his hands. “I’m going up to the house and have some food, will you watch him?”
Justin rolled his eyes. “I knew this would happen.”
“I’m asking you to watch him for 30 minutes Justin, if you can’t be bothered just drop him down the trap, I’m sure he’s used to being locked in small spaces.” Lance threw the towel at his friend and stomped out the door.
Justin regarded the thin man with the large cornflower blue eyes as he cowered against the barn. He went to the water trough and dipped a tin cup scooping up some water. He carried it over to Joshua, squatting by his side.
The slave tentatively sipped from the cup held against his lips, he flushed finding himself under the close scrutiny of his new master. He kept his eyes lowered even when his chin was cupped and lifted and the soft thumb swiped away the salty trail that still wet his face.
“Did you attack the McLean girl?”
Joshua stiffened. “No Mas’er, I didn’t do nuthin she didn’t tell me to. Mas’er, I be truthful wit you, I didn’t hurt Miss Ashley.”
Justin tilted Joshua’s face upwards and looked into his eyes “I believe you.” He sat back on his ass his eyes fixed on the slave. “Why are you a slave Joshua?”
“People like me are slaves Mas’er.”
Justin frowned, confused. “People like you?”
“Black Mas’er.” Joshua drew his knees up to his chest and hid his face.
“I got bad blood mas’er, Negro blood. My momma was half, her momma was full Negro. My skin look white but I is black inside. Mas’er McLean say I’m worst kind of black, cus I is masquerading as a white man. He say I’m bad and need to have the badness beat out of me.” Joshua looked up with liquid eyes. “Don’t give me back to him Mas’er,” He whispered, “ he say he will take my balls, don’t let him take my balls Mas’er.”
“I won’t let him, I promise. Are you hungry?”
Joshua chewed his bottom lip the movement drew Justin’s eye. He couldn’t tear his gaze from the straight white teeth as they caught the plump rosy flesh between them, biting hard enough to break the skin and bringing forth a tiny crimson bead. He suddenly had an urge to lick that droplet away, to lay this dirty pathetic creature on his back and kiss away all his fears and insecurities. He sank into the cobalt orbs staring back at him. ‘The windows to the soul’ he thought. So sad, so frightened. He took a deep breath as he noticed that the slave was nodding his answer. “Will you promise to stay here or do I have to lock you up?”
“ I stay put Mas’er.”
Justin smiled and got to his feet. “I’ll be straight back.”
He hurried back to the house bursting in through the kitchen door scaring the life out of old Mamma Fee, the overweight black cook yelped and grabbed up her wooden spoon as she gathered her skirts round her. “Young Mas’a Justin, you done gone and scared me silly, now get your skinny white butt out of ma kitchen.”
Justin grinned widely as the old lady chased him round with her spoon. “Now Mamma Fee, be nice, I need some Biddles for my friend, some bread and cheese will suffice.”
The cook stopped chasing him her chubby hand resting on her ample bosom as she panted catching her breath. “Take it, then get gone young un.”
The blond giggled and dashed over giving her a quick peak on the cheek, ducking as she swung the spoon at him once more. He snatched up the food and ran back to the stable. A angry frown spread over his forehead dispersing when he caught sight of Joshua’s foot. The slave had hidden behind a bale of hay and was trembling.
“Joshua, it’s me Master Justin, come out. The shaken man crawled out of the small gap he had wedged himself into.
“I hid Mas’er, I dun know if it be you coming back.”
“I think next time I’ll put you in the cellar, that way it will be safer and you won’t have to worry about being discovered.” The slave looked about to cry. “You did nothing wrong Joshua. Here I brought you some food.” He handed over the small package of cheese and flat bread and Joshua tucked in hungrily, chewing slowly and carefully, savouring every single bite.
“Good?” Justin inquired. The slave nodded his head furiously and bit into the bread again, all the time keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the golden haired man, still not fully trusting him. He swallowed hard when Justin hauled the trapdoor open.
“You have to go down there now.” The slave peered cautiously into the darkness. “I know its not very big, someone will come let you out in an hour or so to stretch your legs.” He inclined his head to the narrow space indicating that Joshua should get in now.
The slave obeyed and laid on his back a worried look over his face. “Mas’er, I be scared of the dark.” His bottom lip began to tremble again.
“It won’t be for long Joshua. Stay still and stay quiet, I’ll be back later.” Justin dropped the door shut ignoring the pathetic whimper. He dragged two bales of hay covering the opening and trapping Joshua inside. He got down on his knees and spoke softly through the floor. “Be brave and stay quiet.” The whimpering stopped immediately and Justin could picture the slave biting down hard to control his fear. “I’ll be back soon.”
“It’s not going to work Chris.”
The stocky brunette scratched his head and regarded the deep voiced southerner. “Why won’t it work?”
Chris frowned. “And that’s a problem, Why?” genuinely confused at lance’s observation.
“”Most of the contacts on the railroad are black, they are going to be suspicious of him, afraid that he is a spy sent to catch them out. No one is going to help him.”
Joey looked up and nodded as Justin entered the room. “We are discussing getting Joshua north.”
The curly haired man grunted and poured himself a brandy “And what did you decide?”
“We didn’t” Chris said. “He’s too white to travel the railroad.”
“Why don’t we just ride him out?”
The three friends turned slowly to look at Joey.
“Ride him out!” Justin said.
“Just like that!” Chris added.
Lance shook his head incredulously “Half the state is looking for him and you suggest we put him on a horse, which I’m sure he has never been on before in his life and ride him across country till we reach New York for instance.”
Joey shrugged “Why not? Put him in a WestPoint uniform, who’s going to notice? Especially when we are all in uniform.”
Revelation shone on Chris’ face “It could work.”
Justin shook his head, “No, No, no, no, Have any of you spoke to him? He barely speaks English, he’d be found out as soon as he opened his mouth. And what about the brand? He has McLean’s brand on his face, you can’t hide that.”
Lance drummed his fingers on the table deep in thought. “What if we replace it for something else?”
Justin laughed. “Yeah sure. A brand is a brand. What do you suggest we cut it out?”
Joey sipped at his brandy. “That could work.” Justin shot him a look of sheer horror. “No really, I mean it. My pa‘s a doctor remember, I helped out some when he started his practice, just stitching and stuff. I’ll be right back.” the Italian rushed out of the room.
“I’m not letting him carve that boy up!” Justin paced back and forth swigging his drink.
“Justin calm down lets just see what he’s saying here.” Lance placed a gentle hand on the younger mans shoulder.
Joey came bounding back with a joint of meat on a plate and a sharp knife. “Ok this is a little crude but you’ll see what I mean.” He put the plate on the table turning the meat so they could all see the burn he had made. Taking the knife he slit the skin. He then picked up a needle and thread and began to sew the skin back together by the time he was finished there was just a thin neat line of stitches. He beamed at his fascinated audience. “No more brand, just a scar earned in combat.”
Lance smiled widely. “This could work, I have a good feeling about this.”
“Hold on.” Justin interrupted “You forget one thing, his accent is appalling, the first time he has to open his mouth he’s gonna give the game away.”
He cringed at the smug looks he received knowing that this could not be good.
“That’s why you have two weeks to turn him into a southern gentleman Justin.” Chris and Joey laughed at the young plantation owners pained look.
“Why me?” he asked.