ONE BITTER AND DEADLY HARVEST
© Cover Copyright 2001, Trace Edward Zaber
when they have hardly begun to sow the seed. And once the yield is realized,
it will certainly be one bitter and deadly harvest.
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Earthquakes As Usual
For more than an hour, those two minuscule words echoed in the head of Josiah Bainbridge Spaulding. Barring sixteen brief weeks of provisional freedom—eight of them spent three years ago, then another eight just last year—nearly half a decade of his life had been devoted to the monastic rule of the academy. Chronic demands had monopolized his ordered way of life, a life of nothing more than adhering rules, obeying orders. But that life now lay behind him, much like the rolling landscape slipping past the window as the train rattled westward.
Yet, he was proud of himself for having endured the hardships. He had weathered the storms of perpetual boredom and unremitting mandates, and had remained virtually unscarred. Others had not been so fortunate; some had resigned, some were expelled. His younger brother, Nehemiah, still had a final year in which to endure the Spartan pleasures of the United States Military Academy at West Point. But Josiah knew his sibling would also survive; after all, he was a Spaulding.
The train crossed a bridge; the green and silvery Rappahannock River rippled below. Here the scenery began to look familiar, yet the beautiful countryside appeared even more colorful than Josiah could ever recall.
Was it possible? Had he been gone for so long as to forget the hills and dales, their greenness freckled with wildflowers of spirited hues? The deep-blue tones of the pure-running brooks and streams cutting through verdant forests? The stark reds and whites of resplendent barns and farmhouses under the dynamic azure of an ever-expanding sky?
Perhaps so. But that would make his homecoming even more exciting, almost as if he were rediscovering the lands of his youth with a virgin eye.
The rail lines momentarily veered to the south, allowing him a glimpse at the western edge of the county. The sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains never failed to dazzle him. Like a bank of dark clouds, they loomed low on the horizon, their tips speckled with yellow-orange rays of the late-afternoon sunshine. Damn, how good it felt to be home.
It was finally beginning to sink in. Even the past week spent with his friend’s family in Baltimore had seemed a dream. But now, as he neared home and his family, those two words again sent a wave of euphoria through his veins. He was free to relax, to make his own choices regarding his life, his future. For the first time in all these years, his life was his own.
And the first thing he intended to do with that life was strip off his travel-stained clothing and jump into the pond’s cooling water. He’d swim until dawn if need be. To hell with the gallinippers and other flying pests stalking the nighttime skies. For the past five years, even bathing in a body of water had been forbidden, had required permission.
Well, he now gave himself permission and felt blessed. Those rules and regulations applied to him no longer. Now he could relish a cigar without fear of accumulating demerits if caught. Now he could travel anywhere without cadet spies ready to report his unauthorized movements to the Superintendent. Now he could relish a sip of whiskey or roughhouse with his brothers without the threat of a first-class offense and a possible court martial looming in his future to ruin his career. Finally, he had no one to answer to but himself.
Caught up in the reverie of freedom, he noticed the slowing movement of the train only when it pulled into the station. His station. Culpeper Court House, Virginia—
Home sweet home.
As the engine coughed its last hiss, Josiah alighted from the stuffy, smoky railway car, his bag of meager possessions in hand, and stretched his long weary legs. The sultry July breeze unglued perspiration-soaked clothing from his chest and underarms.
He looked for familiar faces. Saw none. Though he would have been shocked to see anyone in his family, for they had not been informed of his early return. This was going to be his little surprise.
He stumbled out of the modest depot and strolled the streets. He considered the steadily growing business district—like the countryside, there was much here that required study, much to familiarize himself with after his lengthy absence. Ever since the Orange and Alexandria Railroad laid its tracks through town some ten years ago, the changes had begun. In her last missive, his mother, Claudia, had written that the town could now claim more than one thousand residents. Rather impressive for a small community once known as Fairfax. That was its official name. But nowadays, ever since Culpeper County moved its court here, it was simply known as Culpeper. Or the Court House.
And there it stood before him, the courthouse itself, its grand cupola bathed in amber light, its weather vane pointed to the northeast, the direction from whence he came. Letters from his father, Malachi, always included tidings of new businesses. Indeed, Josiah counted a sprinkling of unfamiliar buildings surrounding the courthouse, housing everything from law offices to groceries, from a bookstore to a second apothecary.
Horse-drawn carriages clattered along the street, kicking up clouds of yellow dust. Lamps glowed behind curtained windows of whitewashed homes. A dog barked; a chicken squawked; a cow lowed. Farmers and businessmen stood before the Piedmont Hotel and jabbered about the year’s promising crops; strong-smelling cigar smoke billowed from their upturned mouths and took to the wind. Good-natured palaver erupted from the open windows of the Virginia House Hotel. Giggling children raced along the street in response to a parental summons for dinner. A few matronly types smiled at Josiah as they identified the Spaulding stamp on his figure; a few younger women peeked from behind hand-held fans or presented flirtatious glances, giving him another reason to savor his newfound freedom.
Josiah took a long breath, drawing in sweet aromas of gardenias and roses from well-groomed flower beds; the pleasant tang of tobacco leaves from a nearby warehouse; the perfume of hazel, beech, and fruit trees lining the roadways; all underscored by the harsher stink of manure and livestock.
After spending a moment relishing the smells of home, he stepped onto a road leading east toward Brandy Station. To the north, contrasting browns and blacks of rich farmland sprouted lush, vibrant fields of wheat, corn, and clover. To the south, the waters of Mountain Run shimmered in the early evening light, the silhouetted heights of Mount Pony reflecting in the purling stream. His ancestral estate, Gilchrist Manor, stood less than a mile distant, just beyond the dense stand of cedars, chinquapins, and pines denoting the boundary of his family’s fourteen-hundred acre spread of land. Home. Family. His pace accelerated.
Malachi Gilchrist Spaulding and his wife, Claudia, had resided in Culpeper County all their married life. All nine of their children had been born at Gilchrist Manor, and at twenty-three, Josiah was the eldest.
Claudia Bainbridge Spaulding had given Malachi four sons. Each of them possessed thick, straight, tawny manes that would bleach to a shimmering blond in the summertime; wide and deep-blue eyes; a firm chin and high cheekbones; all courtesy of Claudia’s lineage. The three surviving daughters mirrored their mother’s image as well.
Were it not for a few telltale traits, one would almost suspect the ebony-haired, brown-eyed Malachi had nothing to do with the brood’s parentage. Each child, however, possessed its father’s Roman nose along with his smile—a winning, lopsided smile, where the left side of the face curled upward and cut a dimple into the cheek. Though the girls possessed Claudia’s fair skin tone, the sons bore their father’s complexion—skin that would darken to bronze in the warm months almost as effortlessly as their hair would lighten. And the boys had also inherited their father’s height. Josiah stood the tallest, just over six feet, yet the other boys, as well as Malachi, came within an inch of that.
Malachi had also passed to his sons a slender, wide-shouldered, muscular frame. Despite the family servants—the Spaulding family owned forty-nine slaves at last count—Malachi preferred to do much of the work himself. Even now, Josiah could picture his father swinging an axe or plowing his fields alongside his Negroes, with sweat on his brow, a smile on his face, and a twinkle in his eye.
“Exercise—it’s the only way to live a long and rich life,” Malachi would boast to his offspring. And the boys followed his example, as their healthy color, work-roughened hands, and sinewy physiques would testify.
As a whole, the Spaulding boys were considered a handsome lot, and the admiring glances of the females in town had told Josiah that many continued to feel that way. He grinned, for after all these years, spending time in the company of unattached, winsome females had become the freedom he missed most.
Lost in ruminations regarding the possibility of a full social calendar, Josiah suddenly realized his quickened pace had led him past the stand of timber. Coming before the white-rail fence, his feet ground to a halt. He swallowed, caught his breath. He sleeved perspiration from his cheek and studied Gilchrist Manor in the fading light.
Positioned on a small hilltop, the twenty-eight room, white-painted house stood proud. The ivory-stoned path seemed to glimmer in welcome as it curved its way through the plush lawn toward the gray-granite veranda steps. Four Greek columns stood on the mammoth porch to support the second-floor piazza; vines of purple morning glories smothered both levels, their trumpet-shaped blooms closed for the evening. Twin chimneys jutted into the orange and violet sky. Gaslight spilled from stately windows to form rectangular pools of gold on the lawn.
Heart racing with excitement, Josiah bounded up the path toward the door of carved oak. He entered the marble-floored, sixteen-foot-high entrance hall. Brass and crystal chandeliers hung along the corridor. Though the lights were trimmed to their lowest setting, the portrait of Malachi and Claudia Spaulding, dominating the west wall, was clearly visible.
Gooseflesh of anticipation lined Josiah’s arms. He dropped his bag on a chair beside the door, then stepped forward as the rustle of skirts came from the front parlor.
A dark-skinned woman, short, plump, and in her mid-fifties, emerged from the room with a dust cloth in hand. Her eyes expanded; her jaw dropped. “Master Josie? Lord Almighty, is that really you? I almost didn’ recognize you with all that facial hair. Why didn’ you tell anyone that you was a-comin’?”
He placed an index finger over his lips and forced back a chuckle. “Hush, Minnie,” he whispered to the Negro woman, whose staunch proficiency had directed the house servants for more than twenty years. “This is a surprise. Where is my fine mother?”
A broad smile puffed her shiny cheeks. “Where else but in her sittin’ room.” Minnie strode toward him. “She will certainly be happy to see you—tonight of all nights.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mighty big trouble. All-heck done broke loose an hour ago.”
“The family?” he asked, his tone laced with alarm.
“No, thank the Lord. One of them uppity niggers from down the road took to the fields.”
“Not ours, then?”
“One of the Kingsbury’s niggers. Solomon.”
“Solomon? I’m not familiar with that name.”
“Old Mr. Kingsbury acquired his rebellious hide jus’ this past year,” she said, not masking her disdain. “That young buck been a no-good troublemaker from the git-go. The best of a bad breed. Raised an awful shindy this evenin’. Your pappy and the boys is out aidin’ in the hunt with some of the other local men.”
Her last statement caused him to frown. “Father is aiding in the search?”
“The Kingsburys asked him personally.”
“How about the slave patrols?” he asked. After John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry fifty miles to the north, the people of Culpeper County feared possible slave uprisings. Letters from his family told of increased patrols to squelch any hint of insurrection. Other militia forces had also developed. “Or the Culpeper Minute Men? What about them?”
“They is all a-helpin’. I jus’ hope they finds him in jig time so we can sleep in peace.” Minnie paused, giving him a long study. She clucked her tongue and shook her head in a motherly fashion. “Not to alter the subject but, Lord Almighty, you is downright scrawny, Master Josie.”
“Nothing I could do about it. Army food is God-awful.”
“Why don’ I see if I can scrape together some of them leftover vittles from tonight’s supper. And I’ll have one of the girls take up your bag, fix up your room.”
“Splendid, Minnie. Thank you.”
Another wide smile cut through her round face. “Sure good to see you home again, sir”—she began to turn—“even if you do bear the likeness of a hairy skeleton,” she added, a good-natured twinkle sparking her eyes. She dashed down the hall to the rear of the house.
Grinning, Josiah glided along a vast corridor and came before the door of his mother’s sitting room. The room, decidedly feminine with its rose-colored walls and white wicker furniture, lay ablaze in gaslight. Vermilion curtains swayed in the summer breeze. A boastful display of family daguerreotypes cluttered the center table; tasteful bric-a-brac and glass figurines lined the shelves of the corner étagère. Red and white lilies, his mother’s favorite flower, perfumed the air from hand-painted vases.
He craned his neck around the corner, instinctively looking toward the reading nook. There, surrounded by books, as always, he located his mother, sitting with her back to him on a chaise lounge. In disbelief, he ogled the mammoth, custom-made wall shelves. Claudia’s collection of leather-bound tomes seemed to have multiplied tenfold since he had last been home. He wondered how soon it would be before his father began constructing additional shelves to handle the overflow of Balzac, Shakespeare, and Scott. A handwoven floor tapestry, with images of red lilies dancing along its wool and silk surface, muffled the rap of his boot heels as he stole into the room.
“Oh, Minnie,” began his mother without turning, “would you please check on—”
She sat upright. The book in her lap snapped shut. “Josiah?”
It continually amazed him how only a mother could instantly distinguish the similar yet unique timbre of an offspring’s voice. “Yes, ma’am.”
Claudia leapt up, wheeling around to face him. Her crinoline-stiffened, blue satin skirt whooshed as it twirled at her feet. She held a copy of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities in trembling hands. Her eyes glistened with tears as a sunny smile curved her beautiful face, making her look a woman half her forty-three years.
“Mon Dieu!” she screamed, tossing the book on a table. She ran forward and threw her arms around him. The top of her head came level with his shoulders; her golden locks, pulled back and arranged in a chignon, were ornamented in lace. “Oh, Josie—la mariée est trop belle,” she said into his chest. “We weren’t expecting you for a least a fortnight. What a splendid surprise. Il y a belle lurette.”
“Yes, it’s been too long, Mama.” He returned her affection. The mingled aromas of perfume water and soap-washed skin filled his senses, flooding him with halcyon nostalgia. “Ça va?”
She looked up at him. “Je vais bien. Just fine. And I’m tickled to hear you haven’t forgotten your French.”
“My highest marks at the academy,” he trumpeted. Claudia, who had spent her teenage years at a boarding school in Paris, spoke fluent French, and had trained all of her children in the language with varying degrees of success. “It certainly helped when it came time to study Napoleon’s battle tactics. At least some of what you taught me is still etched in my brain.”
“Pleased to hear it. Since when did you decide on whiskers?” she asked, running her delicate hands over his neatly trimmed beard and mustache.
“Since I became free of that dang-blasted evil academy.” He noticed how her fingers traced his faint, inch-long facial scar. It had been her habit. A silly farming accident had left its permanent reminder on his left cheek, but Josiah didn’t mind, feeling it added a roguish dash to his countenance. And his mother’s custom had been long-missed. “Don’t you like the whiskers?”
“Fantastique! You look quite the grand soldier—un régal pour les yeux.” A sight for sore eyes. She examined him, then placed her hands on her hips. “But you seem to have lost some of your healthy bulk—”
He chortled. “Minnie just finished giving me that motherly reprimand.”
“Minnie’s a wise woman. I’ll have her prepare something left over from tonight’s—”
“She’s doing that as we speak.”
Claudia laughed. “Whatever would I do without that wonderful woman? She reads my thoughts before they even come to me.” She squinted, then wrinkled her nose. “Quant à vous, young man, march yourself upstairs and change those filthy clothes. What you need is a long bath.”
“Now you’re reading my thoughts. But not a bath. What I need is a long swim in the pond.”
“At this hour?” She shook her head in mock vexation. “Sur ma vie—some things never change.”
“Indeed. But first, where are the others?”
“Asia and Hannah are paying a visit at the Cross family’s home. And Petra is upstairs—”
“Splendid,” he said, turning toward the door. “I can’t wait to see how that little nymph has grown.”
“She’s sleeping, Josie, recovering from a nasty cough.”
“I just want to peek in…”
“Never fib to your mother. I know you too well. You’ll end up waking her and she’ll be so excited to see you I’ll never be able to get her back to sleep. And your brothers and father are aiding in the—”
“I already know. The Kingsbury’s slave.”
She huffed. “Minnie just doesn’t miss a trick. But be careful at the pond, what with a runaway on the prowl. Faites attention!”
“You know me, Mama, the soul of caution.” He smirked. “Ne t’inquiète pas.”
“I’m your mother, I have a right to worry.”
“And I appreciate it.”
“All right, young man. Take your swim, tout de suite. Then I expect to hear all about your trip home, your brief sojourn in Baltimore, and news of Nehemiah at the academy.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He gave her a loving kiss on the cheek, then waggled his whiskers against her smooth skin. She backed away, giggling.
He fled the room, hastened to the back door, then stepped into the muggy evening.
Minnie, strolling down the path from the kitchen building, spotted him. “And where are you off to, Master Josie?” she asked, placing her hands on her wide hips. “The vittles will be done shortly.”
“Off to partake in a much-needed swim.”
“In the pond? At this hour? Lord Almighty, some things never do change.”
Laughter burst from his lips. “Minnie, I don’t know who’s worse—you or my mother.”
“Don’ you go to sassin’ me. We is both concerned for your well-bein’.”
“And I love you for it. But I won’t be long.”
Light from the windows displayed the affection in her eyes. “You jus’ let me know when you decide to fill up on the leftover blanquette, light bread, pâté de foie gras, and chèvre, then I’ll fetch it.” None-too-gently, she patted his stomach and tsked. “Indeed, what you need is a double helpin’, and a great big portion of your mama’s favorite crème caramel for dessert. Somebody has to put meat on those skinny bones of yours—tout de suite!” She stepped into the house with a determined stride.
He smiled, not only at the statement, but also at Minnie’s flawless pronunciation of the French words. Throughout the years, Claudia had secretly schooled many of the slaves to read and write. Now it became apparent she had decided to expand her realm of teaching. He shook his head in amazement, then sprinted across the long field toward the slave quarters.
The amber glow of firelight and intermittent flash of fireflies sliced through the early evening blackness. Singing voices reached his ears, punctuated by the steady rhythm of crickets, the squealing of penned hogs, and the neighing of horses from the stables. He stepped toward the twin lines of small, yet neatly tended habitats where the bulk of the slaves resided. In the center of the rows, several campfires crackled and hissed; figures moving before them threw giant shadows across his path. A small building used as a chapel stood at the far end of the lane; a larger, whitewashed residence dominated the other end—the overseer’s abode. Josiah knocked on the door.
Within seconds, a stocky man emerged. His snowy hair, almost as white as his skin, shimmered yellow in the light. Dundreary whiskers swept down to his collar. His craggy face scrunched into an astonished frown. “My, oh, my. Why if it ain’t young Josiah Spaulding himself!” he barked in a raspy voice. “You all done at the academy and whatnot, are ya? Fit to become a soldier?”
“How have you been, Argent?”
“Fair to middlin’, lad. Though I wish somethin’ could be done about this dad-blamed heat.”
“I hear ya. How are the crops this year?”
“The wheat and corn are superb, but the potatoes and peas are a wee peaked.” Though well into his sixties, Argent’s gray eyes twinkled with youthful vigor. “But I’m certain you didn’t come all the way out here on your first night home to inquire about this year’s crops. So what might I do for you this evenin’, Josie?”
“A torch, if you please.”
“You goin’ to join the chivvy with your pappy and the others?”
“I’m on a personal quest.”
“All right. Hang on,” he said, then disappeared into his cottage.
Argent Van Horne had worked as the overseer on the Spaulding plantation for the past twenty-three years, coming to their employ just weeks before Josiah was born. Much of the credit for the plantation’s high yield could be given to him—his fair-minded, good-hearted nature had a great deal to do with keeping the Spaulding slaves happy and productive, unlike some of the other overseers in the county. Josiah liked the historied old gentleman, thought of him almost as a grandfather. A veteran of the War of 1812, Argent’s engaging stories of his teen years, when he served under General Andrew Jackson and fought the Creeks in Mississippi and later the British at New Orleans, did much to encourage Josiah to seek an appointment to West Point.
Seconds later, Argent reemerged from his house and produced a gleaming oil-lamp. He handed it to Josiah. “You be careful and all. Armstrong Kingsbury claims Solomon is a fierce, wily buck. Could be just about anywhere. And promise to set a spell with me sometime soon and give me the lowdown on all the newfangled drill tactics and army whatnot, my lad.”
With a nod of pledge, Josiah bid good evening to the old man and trotted off into the west. The lamp cut a path of light ahead of him as he entered a forest. He easily located the roughhewn trail leading to the swimming pond, his hermitage since childhood. Leaves and twigs crunched under his boots. From somewhere above, an owl hooted. A pungent, woody scent filled his nostrils.
As he tromped forward, he grumbled at Providence, cursed his timing. So much for his surprise. He had certainly picked a bad evening for an unexpected homecoming, what with most of his family away. But at least he had been able to surprise his mother. And remembrance of Minnie’s shocked expression caused him to chuckle. No matter what, it still felt good to be home. Who cared if some slave absconded? It wasn’t his business.
Trees grew thicker as he neared his journey’s midpoint. He squinted; darkness seemed to soak up the light like a sponge. Underbrush rustled when a rabbit scooted out of his way, its glassy, fearful eyeballs reflecting in the sparse glow. The breezy evening caused the pines and chinquapins to moan and creak. Summer heat clung to the forest like a leech.
But Josiah didn’t care. He’d soon be able to liberate himself from the confines of dusty, sweaty clothing and splash about in refreshing water, engaging in the activity he had missed so much. He’d soon be able to savor his newfound freedom in earnest. He’d soon be able to—
He heard a gasp. Then a sob. His scalp prickled.
“Who goes there?” he commanded. Despite his sudden alarm, he managed to keep his tone steady. The forest seemed to absorb his voice the same way as the darkness absorbed the light. He received no response. He swung the lamp over his head in all directions.
Then he saw them—trepidation-filled eyes, not unlike the rabbit’s, glaring back at him from a few feet ahead. Near the ground. Josiah stepped forward. “Answer me! Who goes there?”
Josiah had to strain to hear the hoarse whisper. “Are you hurt? Who are you?” Silence. Another step toward the eyes. “Answer me!”
“P—please, sir, please—I din mean to do it.” More sobs. “She made me do it—her—believe me—she made me—” A chuffing noise, like exhaust from a train engine, came from the man. Up above, another gust of sultry wind battered the treetops.
“Who are you?” repeated Josiah, creeping into the thickets. Toward the eyes. Toward the voice. Toward the—
He froze as the lamplight unveiled an unfamiliar, sweat-drenched, black face. The giant man lay on his back, his left leg twisted unnaturally below him. His bare ankle displayed recent fetter-made scars. Blood stained his trousers. His ripped shirt revealed thick, work-hardened arms. Josiah instinctively knew this could only be the escaped Kingsbury buck named Solomon.
The wind seemed to quicken, howled from above. The slave’s face wrenched in pain as he tried to move away. “Please, sir—believe me—it was she—she who made me do it—”
The slave paused when the sharp sounds of rattling leaves and cracking undergrowth grew louder. The blackness of the forest seemed to give way. His eyes widened. He clawed backward. His mangled leg caught on a tree trunk, yet he continued his frantic movement. He squealed in agony, in fear. Sudden panic made him shudder. His horror-filled eyes focused on something behind Josiah. “No!” he shrieked. “Please—no—noooo—”
The bark and flash of a rifle made Josiah jump. The slave’s head exploded in a bloody shower of gristle and gore. The stink of gunpowder filled Josiah’s nostrils. A cloud of smoke burned his eyes. The suddenness of the slaughter caused his stomach to churn. Mouth dry, heart thumping, he wheeled around and came face-to-face with the gunman.
Oil-lamp on the ground at his feet, the young man lowered the smoking rifle. He wore black trousers and a silver waistcoat over a starched white shirt, and stood a few inches shorter than Josiah. A cruel smile appeared over his sharp jaw, marring his handsome features. His dark, wavy hair glistened and reeked of pomade. A luxurious mustache and bushy side-whiskers gave him the air of a polished gentleman, but Josiah recognized him and knew differently.
“Why the hell did you do that, Kingsbury? Why?”
“A dangerous nigger, he was,” said Heath Jarrett Kingsbury in a clear, high voice. He swabbed his moist forehead with the back of his sleeve, then stood over the dead slave like a triumphant hunter looming over long-sought prey. His chest inflated as he preened. “He had to be stopped before he caused you harm.”
“Me harm? He was hurt, God damn it! His leg was broken. You had no right—no right to kill him—”
“No right?” Color darkened Heath’s swarthy complexion, yet his voice bore a jovial tone, one which had never been directed at Josiah until this evening. “He was my father’s nigger, Spaulding.” A faux smile. “That gives me the right.”
“The right to kill a man in cold blood?”
“A man?” He laughed. His black eyes glared at Josiah, yet his voice remained friendly. “Hardly. A runaway. A lazy troublemaker who deserved to be whipped till he was bled dry—”
“You caitiff son of a bitch!”
Josiah spun around, dashing through the trees toward the field. Another second with the eldest Kingsbury child would have caused him to do something he might regret. Indeed, his free hand had already tightened into a fist, his fingernails digging into his palm. His temper was something he had struggled to control all his life, but he felt that in the wake of what had occurred, he would lose his mental fight and strangle the man with his bare hands. There was no love lost between Heath Kingsbury and himself, so the mixture of Heath’s violent act with his cordial, unrepentant tone unnerved him.
Up ahead, the swaying glow of additional lanterns stabbed the blackness as a group of men neared the forest. Josiah stepped out of the trees, spat a wad of saliva into the grass, and tried to forget the sickening recollection of blood and death.
“What was that gunshot?” called a voice. “Is everything all right?”
Josiah recognized the deep baritone. “No, Father. Everything is not all right!”
“Dear Jesus. Josie? Is that you?”
Malachi Spaulding hustled over to greet his son. Concern creased his dark face, yet his eyes displayed joy at his offspring’s unexpected arrival. His chest-length, ebony beard fluttered in the breeze. He placed his oil-lamp on the ground and threw his arms around Josiah. Ignoring the reunion, the other men scooted past them and entered the forest.
Josiah spent a moment returning his father’s affection, then broke the hold. “He killed him,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Solomon. Heath Kingsbury killed him.”
His father’s face paled. “Are you certain? Maybe you misunderstood what—”
“I was there, Father. Damn it all! Kingsbury murdered the man in cold blood. And his paucity of remorse is reprehensible.” With an angry grunt, Josiah kicked the trunk of an oak, visualizing Heath’s smug expression on the bark.
After a quick glance at the dark forest, Malachi snatched Josiah’s sleeve and pulled him toward the house. “Tell me what happened, Josie.”
Josiah stomped across the field beside his father and gladly complied.
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