There were going to be changes, of that there was no doubt.
What those changes would be however no one quite knew. But the one
thing they were all aware of was that they were free, and there
was rejoicing on the plantation.
Claude Jones was in his early sixties, he had retired from the
fields a few years earlier when the arthritis had become more than he
could bare. He was allowed entry into the plantation home, where he
became the personal assistant to Mr. Donald Lyons, owner of the Lyons
plantation, which grew acres and acres of pure white cotton. Claude
had lived his entire life on the plantation, his mother having been
purchased by Mr. Lyons' father all those years ago. She had died a
few months back, right before the war ended. She Had dreamed of
seeing that day, the day of freedom she called it, often talking of
it's arrival as though she possessed some divine foreknowledge. She
had taught Claude that Israel was enslaved for four hundred years,
that the “Lawd” would not keep us in bondage any longer than that.
That the “Lawd” is no respecter of persons. If he had freed the
Hebrews from their bondage, he would surely free us. Claude had
grown into a man of faith also, holding on dearly to the prophesies
of his mother.
Claude made his way through the mansions servants entrance, not
knowing exactly why he did, just habit he assumed. He was thinking
he would go back out and come through the front door like a free man
would. However, he held a great deal of respect for Mr. Lyons, and
although he were free he did not want to give the impression he was
vindictive. He bowed his head when he saw Mrs. Lyons, who was also
in her sixties. She was a stale woman who never spoke much, at least to the servants. He often wondered if she were like that to everyone; cold, distant, eyes that revealed a life, but little to no soul. When she did speak it was usually short and to the point, and most of the time spoken rudely. She rarely called them by their names but rather used general titles such as 'boy', or 'you'. When she noticed Jones she also bowed, a snide little smirk plastered across her face. “I saw you come in through the servants entrance,” she said, “I half expected you to barge through the front door.” Her lips continued moving after the words had left them.
“No ma'am.” Claude responded politely, “I've been coming
through them there doors for some sixty years, not about to change
that on account of...” He stopped suddenly, searched for the proper
word, didn't know if he should use the word “freedom” or not, turned
his head instead to the kitchen, where Mrs. Margret, an older black
woman was cutting peppers for supper. He turned back to Mrs. Lyons, then smiled, hoped enough time had elapsed through his quietness. She did not smile, but rather remained standing, indifferent to the whole conversation.
“Well, lovely to see you again.” She said, “Mr Lyons is waiting
in his office, wishes to see you at once...that is if you will see
“Thank you ma'am! Yes ma'am, I wish to see him very much.” He
bowed again, then smiled. He watched her as she strolled away. Her
petite frame seemed to hover like a ghost as she moved through the
kitchen, and then disappeared into the parlor. He waited until he
saw her leave, smiled and winked at Mrs. Margret, then made his way
to Mr. Lyons' office.
Mr. Lyons sat behind a large wooden desk reclining in his chair,
puffing on a hand rolled cigar. On the desk in front of him sat a
small glass, half filled with whiskey. Lyons was enjoying the late
afternoon sun, as rays of yellow and orange penetrated the window to
his office. He lay his bare arm in the suns path to feel the warmth
upon it and rid his aching body of the chill it seemed to of had
lately. He looked up and noticed Claude standing at his door which
was open half way. Claude was about to knock when Lyons tossed his
cigar into the ashtray and beckoned the old black man to enter.
“Come in, come in!” He waved to Claude, who entered humbly
through the solid wood door. “Sit down old boy, pull up a chair.”
Lyons beckoned, sounding pleasant. Claude had heard him be pleasant
before but rarely to the help.
“Thank you Mr. Lyons.” Claude said sitting down in a chair
across from the desk. Lyons opened a humidor and offered a cigar,
Claude just looked it over, not really knowing what to do, how to
“Come on ol' boy, you can have one...” Lyons stated, then stopped, remembering. “I mean sir, go ahead sir, please take one.” Claude declined, then chuckled.
“That's okay Mr. Lyons,” he said, “I've been called boy my whole
life, don't make no difference to me.”
“Well, not anymore.” Lyons assured him. He closed the lid to
the humidor then placed it back on a shelf behind his desk. “Not
here, not by me.” He reclined in his chair again, returned the cigar
to his fingers, stuck it in his mouth, puffed on it a few times. “Yes
sir Mr. Jones, your a sir now yourself.” Lyons said, stressing the
word “Sir”. He placed the cigar casually back into the ashtray, then
stated; “Just like me.” Claude smiled at the thought, it was more
than just a simple title men gave one another, to him it meant
respect as an equal, that he too was someone of importance, if a
sir, than why not a “business man”, or maybe even “your honor”. He
wondered about that for a moment, as Mr. Lyons looked him over,
smiling with half his lip. Claude wondered what it was he would do
now, where he would go? He was free to do whatever he pleased, to go
wherever he wanted. He thought of Ellie, his wife. She had always
said she would like to go out west to the boom towns, even heard
there was a fortune to be found in California. Gold she had heard,
the riches of heaven.
“Mr. Jones, it appears that you and I are equals now,” Lyons
went on, interrupting Claude's thoughts, “And as equals we are free
to discuss certain business opportunities. Do you agree?” Claude
nodded, still smiling, the excitement of being a gentleman filled his
heart with the happiness of a free man.
“Yes sir,” Claude said, “I agree.”
“Good! Very good!” Lyons reached for the cigar again, then
placed it into his mouth, which Claude thought he chewed slightly.
“Because I have a business opportunity for you sir.”
“Mr Lyons I don't knows what to say...”
“How about thank you?”
“Well, thank you!” Claude said happily, standing, reaching for
Mr. Lyons' hand to shake it. Lyons stretched it forward, shook the
work calloused hands of the former servant turned business man.
Claude sat back down in the chair, smiling, not believing his luck,
he always thought of Mr. Lyons as a good man, but never imagined him
this good. Maybe the war had changed things after all. Years of
fighting and killing taking it's tole on the souls of men, causing
them to hate the very things that sent them there to begin with.
“Well?” Lyons asked. “Do you want to hear the business
opportunity, or just sit there and smile?”
“Oh, yes sir.” Claude replied, trying to wipe the smile off his
face, but the more he tried the harder it became.
“Good!” Lyons went on. “What I have to offer you is a chance
of a life time Claude, not only for you, but for all those families
out there who look up to you. I understand that you are a kind of
tribal leader to them, correct?” Claude did not respond at first,
thought about that statement for a moment; “tribal leader” What did
that even mean? He knew the others looked up to he and Ellie, but
he did not feel as though he were the head of some tribe. Perhaps an
elder, but surely there were others who had better skills at leading
folks then he?
“Tribal leader?” He asked.
“You know, it's a metaphor. Believe me, I meant nothing by it,
just that you have a great deal of influence over the others and I
thought I could ask of your assistance. With nice benefits for you
“Yes sir Mr. Lyons,” Claude replied, “Anything you need, just
let me know. You and your wife, yall been so good to me and Ellie, and we appreciates you letting us all stay here on the plantation, till we gets our stuff together and find work somewheres!” Lyons waved his hand as if his gesture of good will to the former slaves was no problem at all, but rather a help to him as well, as the former servants continued their daily routines of picking cotton, cleaning the mansion, cooking, or whatever else there was to do.
“Truth is Claude,” Lyons said, “That is why I called this
meeting with you. I'm afraid I have some disturbing news.” Claude's
smile faded, a look of concern replaced it, large dark wrinkles
creased his forehead as he shifted in his chair, suddenly
“I thoughts this was a business meeting Mr. Lyons?”
“Oh, yes, well, it will be Claude, but first I have to deliver
the bad news, and I'm afraid it is very disturbing indeed.” Lyons
puffed the cigar again, blew the smoke out his office window. The
sun had set a little more, replacing the golden rays with light reds
“I see.” Claude replied, his eyes staring straight through Mr.
Lyons, worrying about what could be so disturbing.
“No need to get all flustered Mr. Jones. What will be will be,
and theres not much we can do about it, just kind of adapt if you
will.” Claude snapped out of his stupor, regained his pleasant
disposition. He knew Lyons was right, he had heard his mother say
very similar words to him when he was little. The others did look
up to him, he knew it, Ellie knew it also. Most would do as he
instructed, believing with all their hearts that he had their best
interests in mind, which he did. When the war had ended several of the people had left to try out all this freedom stuff. He begged them to consider what it was they were doing, offered his
advise that they should be patient and wait for the right time. Most
had listened to him, however there were those who were not eager to
heed sound advise. He thought about them for a moment, he had known
them all personally, and wondered how they were getting along, hoped
they were all right, hoped they were making their way in the world.
Several had returned, begging Mr. Lyons for their places back on the
plantation. He was not very eager to oblige, felt that those who had
left had deserted everyone, and couldn't be trusted. But after
speaking with Claude, Lyons had had a change of heart.
“Anyhow,” Lyons went on, “The problem that is arising is that
government inspectors have been going around these parts checking all
the farms and plantations, making sure that we are complying with
recent emancipation laws, and as you know Mr. Jones, we have the
appearance of not complying. Oh, I know you all have your freedom
and are free to come and go as you please, but that's not what their
“What exactly will they be looking for Mr. Lyons?” Claude
asked, searching Lyons' face for the answer, staring straight at the old mans eyes which were small squinty slits that seemed to sink into the skull. They were gray in color, and only seemed to open wide when he got excited.
“Well Claude, they will be looking to see whether I am paying
you folks or not. I mean the days of free labor is over...not that
it was ever free to begin with, but you get my point.” Claude
nodded, he knew that the plantation was still operating like it had
prior to the war, prior to the emancipation laws.
“You just doin us folks a favor Mr. Lyons, that's all. They'll
understand that...wont they?”
“Afraid not.” Lyons answered. This whole issue is rather political, and they will be looking to find folks not complying, to make examples out of them. Even though you and I, and the folks outside know the truth, it will make no matter to them. They will skin my hide and feed me to the dogs. The plantation will be closed, and the property sold to some carpet bagging Yankee. Don't think I haven't seen them sniffing around here lately. Why just last week me and a few of my boys had to run them outta here with a couple of shot guns.”
“Lordy!” Claude exclaimed, “shot guns? Did y'all have to
shoot one of em?”
“No, no,” waved Lyons, “Nothing like that, just a few warning
shots, and you know them Yankees, they hear shooting and run for the
hills.” Both men chuckled at the thought of it, almost like they had
been old friends forever, ones who never knew the terms “slave” or
“master”, had never heard of some “emancipation proclamation”. No,
where they came from, words like that did not exist.
“But that brings me to my point Claude,” Lyons resumed, “and
that's the business opportunity I have for you.” Claude sat up,
became more attentive. The sun had set in front of him, and the soft
gray night was rolling in. “I believe I have an idea that will be in
the best interest of all parties.” He leaned forward and
extinguished the cigar, rubbing it into the ashtray with forceful
twists, the back of his hand revealing an ocean of wrinkles. “Claude
I will begin paying the workers effectively tomorrow. I will pay
them in silver coin, they will receive their wages at the end of each
“Oh, that's wonderful Mr. Lyons.” Claude expressed. “Just
wonderful. The peoples gonna be so happy!” He laughed with joyful
rolls of bellowing that came from deep within his stomach.
“Well...” Lyons waved his hand. “It's the least I can do, I
mean the way I see it both parties are in a bit of a pickle. You all
need jobs to provide for your families, and I need workers to keep my
farm running. If we come to some kind of mutual agreement, we both
benefit. Do you agree?”
“Yes, yes.” Claude responded, his eyes lost in fantasy as he
pictured real money jingling in his pocket, buying something
exquisite for Ellie, like a pretty new dress from one of them fancy
stores. An unintentional smile rested on his face. All his life he
wanted to be treated like a real man, to receive wages from a hard
days work. He never minded the work, in fact he would seem to loose
his mind when cotton was out of season, or if Mr. Lyons had nothing
for him to do around the plantation. He would find things to do,
things to fiddle with to pass the time. It often bothered Ellie who
wanted him to spend his free time with her, walking the plantation or
sitting down to a good old game of cards, which they played with a
few other older couples.
“Now Claude,” Lyons began again, his gray eyes darker now that
the sun had set, “I want to put you in charge of this whole thing.
Now, don't look at me like that, I know you have it in you, the
people will listen to you.”
“Yes sir Mr. Lyons, what's you want me to do?” Claude asked.
Lyons sat forward, wrinkled his nose, began to speak;
“I want you to convince the people to stay. Tell them, if they
don't go along with this idea, I will be forced to ask them to leave
the Plantation, families and all.”
“Well, Mr. Lyons,” Claude chuckled, “I don't think the peoples
gonna have a problem with making some money now.” Lyons nodded like
he understood, but his eyes revealed something else, and he seemed
hesitant to continue.
“Of course not.” He stated. “However...there is one other
thing.” He stopped, gave Claude time to inquire. Claude's dark eye
brows lowered in thought, Lyons knew he wanted to ask, but waited.
“What other thing, Mr. Lyons?”
“The people will no longer be able to live in their homes free
of charge Claude, the houses in which they reside belong to the plantation, to me, and I can no longer afford to pay wages and the up keep to the slave quart...” he stopped, caught himself before he finished. “I mean, workers houses.”
“Hmmm.” Claude thought, searching for the right words, but
found none. He had never had to pay for his own needs before, every-
thing on a plantation was supplied free of charge, as long as the
workers worked their hardest, and that had never been a problem for
“Not only that Claude,” Lyons continued, “but I will no longer
be able to provide three square meals a day for the workers, they
will have to use their wages to buy their own food. I know, please
don't look at me like that, I cannot afford to continue the daily
rations, it's simply not feasible.” Claude appeared worried, Lyons
noticed but didn't say anything to comfort him, moved instead to
light a lantern since the sun had completely set, and only the faint
glow of it's residue could be seen behind the horizon. “Seems to be
getting darker these days.” Lyons remarked, breaking the momentary
silence, as the lantern came to life. “There we go, now we can see
each other again, face to face.” Claude nodded, his hand on his chin
stroking the salt and pepper whiskers that encompassed it.
Lyons returned to his recline, took out another cigar, lit it,
puffed on it a few times, then set it down in the ashtray. Claude
watched as the tip burned, his eyes somewhat transfixed on the whole
process. The brown paper slowly transformed into a gray ash, like
that of the human body he thought, as we succumb to mortality. He
had witnessed Lyons progress from a boy into a man, and then from a
man into an old timer, just like himself, he and Lyons being roughly
the same age.
Lyons was shorter than Claude, much shorter, in fact the whole
family had been short, his father before him, his brothers also. But
what they lacked in stature they made up for in ambition, having
become some of the richest planters in North Georgia. He, Lyons
routinely wore a white suit, white dress shoes, topped off with a
white brim hat that had a black sash around it. His white beard was well trimmed, and had specks of gray and black spread throughout. He
had a long red nose that was pudgy at the tip, which some attributed
to his whiskey. He wheezed at times when he was not attentive to his
breaths, listening for the whistle that came from within in his
lungs. It appeared to had gotten worse over the last few months. He
worried about the coming winter, knew that a bout with a cold might
be the death of him.
“So you see Claude,” Lyons began again, “that is why I need
your assistance. I need you to ease the peoples fears, remind them of their new freedoms, teach them that freedom means that they are
responsible for themselves now, and that they can no longer rely on
me, nor the plantation for their needs.
“Yes sir Mr. Lyons, I'll do my best. I know they's will have
some concerns and all but I'll tell em the way things gonna be
around here from now on.” Lyons nodded, picked up his cigar and
puffed it again, keeping it between his teeth. He and Claude spoke
for several more hours, as Lyons laid out for him the new policies of
the plantation, and the new benefits that would emerge because of
them. When Claude left Lyons' office it was well after nine o'
clock, a cool damp fog hung low in the air around him, and Claude
could see his breath in front of the lantern he carried. He reached
his house a few moments later, Ellie was still awake waiting for him.
She had supper made and sitting on the table, a piece of ham with two
slices of bread. He sat at the table and tore into the ham like a
hound to a bone, the meeting having made him famished. Ellie watched
as her husband devoured the meal, she was wondering what had kept him
out so late, but did not ask, waited for him to tell her in his own
good time. Though as frail as a sheet of glass she had a boldness
about her that resembled a traveling evangelist. She could be as
fiery as the devil when things did not go as she planned. She knew
when to hold her peace however, and give her loving man a moment to
enjoy his meal. Claude finished quickly and Ellie removed his plate
for him placing it into a bin, where she washed it with soap and cold
water. She set it on a towel allowing it to dry. Claude strolled to
his favorite chair and sat back, kicked off his shoes, stretched out
his feet, resting them on a stool. Ellie placed the shoes by the
front door, then took her seat also. She searched him over, knowing
it was only a matter of moments before he unloaded his day on her.
“Had myself a little chat with Mr. Lyons tonight.” Claude said,
breaking the silence. Ellie sat forward, ready to listen.
“Tis that right?” She asked, her big smile revealing the
whithered remains of a few teeth, which were brown and rotten.
“Yep,” he continued, “Seems I gots myself a little good news and
a little bad news.”
“Well?” She asked, her eyes wide open with anticipation.
“Which one you want first?”
“Hmm,” She thought, “Since I loves the good news, give me that
first. We can handle the bad news by thinking about the good.”
“You always have a way of putting things Ellie, I'm sure gonna
need you tomorrow when I break the news to the others.”
“Break what news?” She asked, that fiery resilience which came
out of her unintentionally.
“Now Ellie, don't go get yourself in a furry. Mr Lyons has come
up with a great plan to keep everybody working and eating, without
him having to break any laws.”
“Well, I knew this day was gonna come eventually. I told you
Claude. We should have left months ago, when the war was over. I
still hear theys got work in Ohio, and they asking any former slaves
who wants a job to come.”
“Ellie,” Claude mumbled trying to appease her, “Ima old man.
Who gonna want to hire an old man?”
“Hmmph!” She muttered, turning her head. She reached for a
shaw that she had been knitting and resumed where she left off.
Claude didn't say anything else, his mind was to tired to continue
speaking. He had a long day ahead of him tomorrow and he needed his
rest. He closed his eyes and reclined further into the old plush
chair which had been a gift from Mr. Lyons several years back, a
reward for all the hard work he had done. Before long Claude was
snoring away, Ellie still knitting. After a few minuets she finished
the shaw, then placed it comfortably over her husband. She leaned
over and kissed his forehead which was cool to the touch, then went
off to bed herself.
Donald Lyons still sat in his office, still smoked the cigar,
still sipped the whiskey, his hands trembling slightly from the
alcohol and tobacco. The window was still opened, and he enjoyed the
the cool damp air which seemed to help his breathing. He had turned
down the lantern slightly, only allowing a soft illuminating glow to
remain. He could see the glass of whiskey in front of him but it no
longer sparkled from the fiery light of the lantern.
Another man sat where Claude had sat earlier, he too was older,
wore dark clothes, a dark hat which seemed to conceal his face. He
also smoked a cigar and sipped a glass of whiskey. His legs were
crossed, sitting comfortably as though he were accustomed to sitting
here often. His name was Martin Sheehan, he had a long and slender
build which was mostly accredited to his lengthy legs, as though he
walked on stilts. He was from Ireland originally, had come to
America when he was sixteen years old, having run away from home. He
joined the army and fought with Lee in Mexico. Other than that no
one knew to much about him, what he did for a living or how he had
attained his wealth. Some had heard he had stolen a treasure of gold
from the Mexican government, who were still on the hunt to retrieve
it. Whether there was any truth to such stories, no one knew for
certain. However, he had money, lots of it, and was the envy of most
of the aristocrats in North Georgia, especially since it seemed that
he spent most of his time doing nothing, except for enjoying his
“How'd it go?” Martin asked Lyons, his Irish accent almost
gone, but still recognizable. Lyons blew smoke out the window, then
set his cigar in the ash tray, twisting it out, finally finished for
“As easy as pie.” Lyons recalled, smiling.
“Good, that's real good!” Sheehan said, blowing smoke out of
“When the Yankees come looking they will find a fully functional
plantation, filled with paid laborers.”
“And free men.” Lyons added, suddenly laughing at the thought.
Martin raised his glass and the two touched them lightly together, a
toast to some achievement. “Here here.” Lyons said, then both men
downed their drinks. Lyons reached into his desk drawer and produced
another bottle, holding it up for Martin to see. “One more?” He
asked, then poured himself a glass. Martin waved his hand, politely
“Hmm,” Lyons uttered, his eyes searching the dark figure before
him. “I thought you were Irish?”
“And English.” He answered. “So I somewhat control my depraved
self by my civilized self...thus the reason behind my constant self
confliction.” Lyons laughed again, almost loosing the swallow of
whiskey he had just taken, the buzz in full effect. A nice breeze
blew through the window hitting Lyons on the cheek. He closed his
eyes and enjoyed the moment.
“Ahh,” he moaned, “Nothing like the weather just before fall.”
Martin nodded, then glanced at his pocket watch, it was just after
midnight. He returned it to his pocket and looked up at Lyons who
was still enjoying the air.
“I'm sorry to ruin your moment Donald,” Martin started, “but I
think there is the issue of the loan?” Lyons came to, sat up,
adjusted himself in the chair. He had been sitting there for hours
and his hide end was on fire.
“What issue is that?” He asked.
“When do you need it?”
“As soon as possible.”
“It is tomorrow.”
“Do you have it with you?”
“I will have to get it.”
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, or today tomorrow?”
“I'll have it to you by noon.” Martin assured him, then lifted
himself out of the chair, his slender body seeming to go on forever,
and a drunken Lyons thought he would go right through the ceiling.
“Very well.” Lyons agreed, also standing, stretching. He
looked up and realized he was only half of the man who stood before
him. Lyons tipped his hat as Martin left the office, then he grabbed
the lantern and made his way into the hall, closing the door behind
him. He was drunk but he knew every square inch of this house, as he
made his way up the stairs and into his bedroom, where Mrs. Lyons
lay, sound asleep. He did not unclothe, but rather joined his wife
in their bed, coat jacket and all, and soon was snoring loudly.
“The morning sun hit the earth brightly and without hindrance,
as not a cloud in the sky could be seen. The fog had lifted sometime
just before sunrise. Old Claude Jones had been up since that time,
shining his shoes, and eating a bite of breakfast, letting Ellie
sleep in. The sounds of the farm were in full swing as men and
women prepared to hit the fields to pick the cotton, the season
coming slightly earlier this year than usual. Claude watched from
his window, wished he too could hit the fields, cursed the blasted
arthritis that filled his joints. Most folks hated to pick the
cotton, the thorny bush that pricked their skin, but not old Claude,
cotton had been his life. When he worked the fields he envisioned
all the people wearing clothes made from the cotton he picked, the
babies with their diapers, the little girls in their flowery Easter
dresses. It brought a smile to his face and he rarely complained
about it. Production was the essence of a mans life he always said.
He walked through the fields searching for a few of the other
men who were hard at work, the sweat pouring down their faces,
dripping off their noses. Their bodies wet as though they had been
swimming in a pond. Claude noticed Jeremiah Barnes, a man in his
thirties, and approached him. The man looked up when Claude came
upon him, whose large smile ran from ear to ear.
“How are you Jeremiah?” Claude asked, stretching his hand
forward to let the man shake it. Jeremiah hesitated at first, his
hands grimy with sweat and mud. “Oh, that's okay,” Claude said,
taking the mans hand by force. “My hands been in that mud a hundred
times, make no difference to me.”
“I'm well Mr. Claude.” Jeremiah replied, shaking Claude's hand
back firmly, a low deep sound coming from his throat. “Cept this
darn heat, tis about to kill us.” He wiped some sweat from his brow
and tossed it on the ground. Claude reached into his pocket and
pulled out a hankie, then handed it to him, it was old and worn,
stained with many a hard days work. Jeremiah took it gladly, wiped
his forehead, didn't know if he should hand it back or not, Claude
waved his hand, begged Jeremiah to keep it, saying he didn't need it
anymore, and that it was a darn shame to let a nice hankie go to
waste. Although nothing more than a tattered rag, Jeremiah accepted
it thankfully and stuck it in his own pocket. “Don't know how much
longer I can do this.” Jeremiah stated, he looked around to see
where the overseer had gone to, then remembered there was none, the
last one having been fired a few weeks earlier. Jeremiah had
actually replaced him with the newly formed position of foreman. He
had twenty-five people underneath him. He took to his new position
well, working his people like dog's. Claude looked over the men
searching their spirits. He knew it was hot and that usually lowered
moral, he knew that several more might want to leave soon, knew the
same feelings Jeremiah was having others were having also.
“Jeremiah,” Claude asked, “I need a favor from you.”
“Sure Mr. Claude,” Jeremiah answered, as drops of sweat rolled
down the bridge of his nose. “Whatchu needs me to do?”
“I need you to get all your people together tonight, right after
supper, in the field by the mansion, and pass this on to the other
“Sure thing Mr. Claude, but what's this all about?”
“I needs to talk to to everybody...it's very important that I
gets everyone there, especially the men of the houses. So please, do
me this favor and I'd be much obliged.”
“Yes sir Mr. Claude,” Jeremiah nodded, “I wont let ya down.”
Claude smiled and patted Jeremiah on the back, his shirt wet with the
warm sweat of the day. He turned to walk away and felt the men
staring as he did, the arthritis giving him a slight limp. He knew
he would soon need a cane, but put it off as long as he could, the
cane representing one more symbol of his old age.
That evening after supper, Claude stood on a small crate the men
had set up for him to better address the people. He stood like a
campaigning politician staring them over, searching their demeanor,
looking to see how they might take the news. He could not
tell, only noticed that they seemed anxious, perhaps eager to hear
what was going on, and he did not know how they would take it. He
saw Jeremiah and the two other field foreman trying to get their
people to settle down, even asking some of the mothers with small
children to go back home, that their husbands would let them know
what was going on. One woman argued, even pushed Jeremiah slightly.
She was holding a baby and seemed to to be more interested in the
gathering than her screaming infant. Claude noticed Jeremiah
pleading with the womans husband, who, grabbed her arm and escorted
her home, as she tugged and yelled the whole way. Claude raised his
hand to quite the crowd and when they saw him do so, a silent mist
fell all of a sudden, as though an angel had descended, and they were
enraptured with it's presence. Claude glanced over at Jeremiah who
nodded, seeming to give his permission for Claude to start.
From a window on the inside of the mansion, Donald Lyons watched
the gathering as it proceeded. He cracked open the window slightly
to hear what was being said. He heard Claude mention the new wages
plan and the people erupt in applause and joy. He then heard the
same joy turn to moans as Claude revealed to them the new rent and
provisions policies. He hoped that the old man could ease his
people's fears with some wise patriarchal utterances that only the
elderly who had lived through thick and thin could give. Claude went
on talking, assuring the people that everything was going to be okay
and that living in freedom meant taking care of ones own needs, that
freedom was the one thing they had all dreamed of most of their
lives, ever since they had heard of the sweet word in their youths.
His reasoning seemed to work, seemed to calm the tensions the people
were feeling. Lyons smiled from behind the window as though he had
achieved some great victory. He knew now that he still retained his
labor force, knew that honestly, nothing had changed.
He had received the loan from Martin Sheehan earlier in the day,
had already made provisions to begin paying the workers who would
receive their first wages in a few days. The next part of his plan
would take some time, he had to allow this portion to set in first,
before he moved on to the next phase. The plan had been developed
before the wars end; it was he and Martin Sheehan who had devised
it. Other planters became aware of it as well and desired that they
too sit in on the proceedings. They all knew the war was close to
over, knew that the south was going to loose and thus, the
emancipation law would become effective in their regions. Something
had to be done, thus, Lyons and Sheehan developed the plan. The plan
included a rash of steps all to be subtly worked into the plantation
over time, so not to hit the former slaves with it all at once. They
would offer their laborers wages which they knew would go over well
at first. The former slaves being excited over their newly found
fortunes. Then, they would be quickly hit with the realities of
their new freedom and the responsibilities that come with said
freedoms. They would be forced to pay rent for their houses, which
they had never before had to do. They would also have to provide
their own necessities, like food, clothing and doctor visits. The
plan, manufactured of course, was meant to send a shock throughout
the plantation and produce a discouragement that would allow the
proprietors of this plan to pull the peoples strings like that of a
Martin Sheehan stood to profit as well, his loan assisting Lyons
make the first rounds of wages until the cotton season began
producing a profit. He would receive his money back in the form of a
percentage of Lyons' profits, in which Lyons intended on passing down
to the laborers in the form of a plantation tax, due each month.
“The plan was genius!” One planter praised, his fat body
jiggling with the jolliness one could imagine coming from Saint Nick.
Another man asked if it were legal, did not want to reap the wrath of
the Negro loving radicals he knew had taken over Washington,
especially since the murder of Lincoln.
“Of course it's legal,” Martin Sheehan responded, his Irish
accent garnering a lack of trust from several of the old southerners
present. “We're paying the blasted beasts aren't we?”
“But it's not right!” One man shouted, his presence not known
until he did so. He was loud and obnoxious, like that of a fire and
brimstone preacher, who spits in your face while reminding you of
hell and damnation.
“Then don't participate!” Martin Sheehan yelled back, “Go on
home to your Negro loving Yankee friends.” The man sat back down,
realizing his outburst had been more of an affirmation from the
others, but none came, the others seemingly agreeable to both the
legality and morality of the issue. The plan, they thought, was a
As the time past, the people seemed to be content with their new
lives of freedom. They worked hard and received their wages like
Lyons had promised. They also paid their rents and bought their own
provisions like Lyons had promised as well. What Lyons paid them in
wages however he received back almost a quarter of in rent, but he
was still not satisfied, because he felt as though he were still
loosing to much money. Especially since the first cotton season
since the wars end had come and gone without being prosperous.
Paying the bills of the Plantation were growing more difficult by the
day and he felt as though it would all come crumbling down if
something did not change.
The beginning of the year had arrived. The deep winter sky
seemed to remain a constant gray, a continual reminder of the dreary
depressing life of the Southern States. The sun was trying
desperately to explode through the dreariness but the haze held it
back like a thick wool blanket. Lyons sat in his office again, still
smoking cigars, still drinking whiskey, of which he said helped
warm his body during the winter. There was a panic in his eyes as
he flipped through some papers, resting his whiskey glass on one
corner of their edge. Sheehan sat across from him, he was not
drinking, he had no look of concern on his face, in fact, a faint
smile in the creases of his lips told otherwise. He wore a long
brown trench coat, like that of a western outlaw, brown leather boots
and a black brim hat.
“I think it's time.” Lyons told him. He quit flipping through
the papers and instead rubbed his forehead. It was hurting again,
had been for sometime. Some blamed it on the cigars and whiskey, as
they did every ailment he seemed to have. He told people he drank
because of the pain, saying, it helped ease it temporarily.
“I think your right.” Sheehan responded. Lyons looked up, his
disposition changing suddenly, his eyes widened and a small grin
“Yes?” He asked.
“You disagree?” Lyons reclined, thought about it for a moment, thought it might take some time, knew he may need another loan, knew Sheehan would be eager to lend it. Out of all the debts the plantation had, Sheehan's loan was paid first and foremost. He had loaned it on the agreement that if Lyons ever defaulted the plantation would become his. It had been a hard decision for Lyons to make at first, the plantation having been in his family for three generations. But as the war came to an end and the new emancipation laws became a reality, the thought of having no labor force to continue the planting, he saw no other choice.
“I may need another loan,” he said, adding; “for construction costs of course. As I am sure you're aware of, no bank will lend a planter money right now, with the uncertainty of the market and all.”
“Of course.” Sheehan agreed, his long legs folded, the right
one over the left. The tip of his muddy boot touching Lyons' desk
“Then it's settled,” Lyons went on, “When can you get it to me?
That next day Lyons met with Claude Jones again, the old black
man was done up in a fancy new suit. His job paid him quite
handsomely, as he had become Lyons' routine liaison between he and
the people, almost as though he were an elected official representing
the will of the people to an established government. Lyons looked
him over, smiled when he saw the old man reveling in his new get up.
“Well look at you!” Lyons remarked, his small ailing body
covered by a gray wool blanket. They were outdoors and a chill
seemed to linger in the air. Claude Jones turned about, showing off
his new suit. It was black with a white button up shirt tucked
neatly into a pair of black wool slacks. His shoes were a soft black
leather and he wore a small top hat which he tipped after turning
around for Lyons.
“Yes siree! Claude laughed.
“You look like you belong in Atlanta,” Lyons remarked, “Maybe
even Washington.” He pulled a half smoked stogy from his jacket
pocket and placed it unlit into the corner of his mouth, chewing on
“Washington?” Claude thought, then imagined himself as a
congressman, lifting his hand in opposition to some piece of
legislation. “Well, I'll be!”
“You just very well may,” Lyons went on, “if you keep making all
that money.” The two men shared a chuckle as they began slowly
walking through the workers quarters. Both men seemingly as feeble
as the next, Claude with his limp and Lyons with his ailments. “I
understand the people have had a difficult time in retrieving their
provisions?” Lyons asked, then coughed. He pulled out a white
hankie and spit what came up from his lungs into it.
“Yes sir.” Claude answered. “Seems the nearest stores are out
of walking distance. Many of us having to pay some of the white
folks down the road to drive us into town and they be making a pretty
penny at it too...doesn't seem right.” Lyons nodded, his cheeks and
nose turning red from the chill.
“Your right Claude, it aint right. I have tried my best to
allow several of them to utilize the horse and buggies I have, at a
fair price mind you, however I haven't but the two buggies.”
“Oh no Mr. Lyons,” Claude stopped, turned towards him, “You
been real good to us. We all really appreciates it. Don't you go
beaten up on yourself now, your a good man and we alls know it.”
“Thank you Claude.” Lyons replied smiling with half his mouth.
“That means a lot to me.” They started walking again, Lyons looking
over the houses making sure they were all in good standing. “I think
I have an idea Claude, one that I believe will help the people out
tremendously.” The two men continued walking, their slow paces
taking almost an hour to walk from the workers quarters, to the edge
of the fields and back to the plantation house again. Lyons revealed
to the old man his desire to build stores on the plantation, ones
where the people could buy food, clothing and other essential things
for their houses. He told Claude of his idea of adding an assembly
hall where the people could come together, hold meetings, facilitate
dances and whatever else one could come up with to use it for, as
long as a fair price to rent it was paid. As they reached the
plantation house Lyons told Claude that he also desired to hire a
doctor, build him an office so the people would always have their
medical needs met. Claude raised his hands to heaven and thanked Mr.
Lyons, as though he were praising a saint.
Claude went back and relayed the new ideas to the people, who
were over joyed to hear such things, the burden of hiring others to
drive them into town to buy their needs bearing hard upon their
backs, like the former yoke of slavery had only months earlier. The
realities of life becoming clearer to each one, just as Lyons and
Sheehan had predicted.
Within a few months the stores were built. Shabby little put
togethers thrown up by several of the men from the plantation. The
workers quarters now resembled a small town, with a general store, a
clothing store, a doctors office and the assembly hall, not to
mention a small church that had always been there, that Lyons had
remodeled. The people felt they were in heaven, that the promises of
glory had finally come down, just like they had always heard the
preacher say. Life would be easier for them and their every desire
would be at their finger tips. A few men and woman ran the stores,
some where put in charge of managerial type duties, others were
general laborers, all chosen by Mr. Claude of course, Lyons leaving
the decision at the discretion of his most loyal employee. Every
month, each worker would receive their wages from the plantation and
each month they would turn around and give most of it back through
the stores. So busy in fact were the stores that the ones in charge
could barely keep up with it's orders. Inventory flew off the
shelves, people snatching it up as soon as it was stocked, even if
they didn't really need it.
By that spring, planting had resumed. Lyons looked over the
fields with a disposition of gratefulness across his face, he was
thankful to have survived another winter. He traded in the wool
blanket for a light jacket. Though the sun was victorious over it's
battle with the winter haze, his aging body still felt a slight
chill. He was praying that this cotton season be more prosperous
than the last, knowing that if it were not he would default on his
bills, and that the plantation would become Sheehans. He was hoping
that Sheehan would be a reasonable man about it if the season were as
disastrous as the last. Surely he would understand and give him one
more season to make good on his debts. He had heard that Sheehan was
a reasonable man somewhere, although he could not recall where he had
heard it, but hoped it were true. He heard that Sheehan had never
owned a slave nor a plantation, in fact had no desire to do so
according to his sources, so why would he want to now? The man would
make out better if he were patient, waiting for the profits to come
rolling in once the economy was better. Surely, Lyons thought,
Sheehan would give me more time if I needed it. He comforted himself
with these thoughts, trying to cast the ones concerning the poor
house out, knowing in the back of his mind that if he were to loose
the plantation, he would surely not survive it.
Since the institution of the stores the money had balanced out.
What Lyons paid the workers in wages he received back almost a
hundred percent, the people blowing through their money like some
poor man winning a lottery. There were however a few who did not
blow through it, but instead saved it, or hoarded it as Lyons
referred to it. He knew who they were, Claude had revealed it to
him, knew they were onto his little scheme and were saving their
money to purchase land of their own. They became the laughing stock
of the others when they spoke of the conspiracies that had been
perpetrated against them. They became outcasts, like preachers who
warn of an impending judgment of God, standing on a street corner,
holding up a sign, yelling at the tops of their lungs, “Repent, turn
from your wicked ways, or perish!” Lyons even began circulating a news letter, straight from the horses mouth he called it. He used it
as an opportunity to relay to the people the condition of the
plantation, it's finances and the state of affairs, all manufactured
to appear better than it was of course. He also used it as a tool to
denounce those “hoarders”, the ones who were spilling lies about him
and his intentions towards the people. He never called them out by
name, but all the people knew who they were. Soon those dissenters
quited down, afraid they would be kicked off the plantation if they
did not do so, afraid they would be forced to leave before they had
saved enough money to buy land of their own.
Soon, harvesting time was upon them, the people were happier and
worked harder that they had ever before. They seemed content with
their new lives, having stores to buy from, shops for clothes, an
assembly hall to dance the night away and a so called freedom to do
whatever it was they desired. There was barely anything outside of
the plantation one needed that could not be bought on the plantation.
The little church Lyons had remodeled seemed to grow into a
vacant building, except for a few faithful believers who were there
every time it's doors were open. The preacher was a short black man
named Harvey, who would yell and spit about all the ungodliness that
was going on around them. “Why, just the other day,” he sang, “I was
a walking down the road and I seen two young people committing
fornication right out in the open, with no shame tat all!” A few
hands waived back and forth and Jesus' went up into the rafters from
the faithful few who had gathered. “We needs to pray,” he sang
again, “Pray for the people to wake up, beg God for his forgiveness,
so he will not bring his judgment and wrath upon us!”
“Amen!” An elderly woman shouted, a few more following right
behind her. “We needs to get out there and tells them people about
their sins.” More amens rang out and the preacher wiped his brow
with a hankie.
That afternoon the few members of the small plantation church
took to the towns streets, preaching out against the greed and
wickedness the people were reveling in, shouting that Gods wrath was
coming upon them all because of their attachment to the material
lusts of the world. One man shouted back at them, almost hissing
when he did; “We aint never had nothing...what's wrong with us using
the money we worked hard for to buy ourselves nice, new things?” He
asked, others nodding their heads in agreement.
“Nothing!” The preacher shouted back, “So long as you owns them
things, and not them things owning you.” The church goers raised
their hands and shouted a few amens in unity. The line was drawn in
the sand and the stand off appeared like battle lines with the church
goers on one side and everyone else on the other, the church goers
resembling the Spartans who stood their ground against the Persian
empire. The faces of both sides red with anger, as fists were raised
and fingers pointed. Although the church goers continued their
street preaching every Sunday after noon and Wednesday evenings
nothing really changed, in fact things seemed to grow worse, the
people spending all they earned on useless toys, knick knacks or
candy, all the while arguing their right to do so. Saying they had
never had anything before, and where was God then? Lyons was pleased
with the peoples attitudes, stroking his beard as he glanced over
financial reports, very happy that he and Sheehans master plan
was paying off, or so it seemed. To him, everything was back to the
way it had been before the war.
By the end of the cotton season Lyons bit his thumb nervously, as
his accountant read the latest cotton sales report, it was
disastrous. The economy was twice as bad as it had been the previous
year. Lyons knew his days were numbered, he would no longer
be able to afford the bills of the plantation. “Damn Yankees!” He
shouted, catching the old accountant off guard, nearly giving the man
a heart attack. “Sorry.” Lyons apologized, the accountant holding
his hand over his chest as it nearly beat out of it. “But them God
damn, Negro loving Yankees got their way.” He stood behind his desk
and paced nervously back and forth. “Is there any way I can get a
loan?” He asked, already knowing the answer. The accountant shook
“Looks like your already in debt to much.” He stated, trying
not to sound to indifferent to Lyons' situation. “No bank is gonna
give you any more line of credit, until you pay down some of what
you owe now.”
“Well how the hell do you suppose I do that?” Lyons yelled
again, catching the accountant off guard, again.
“I wish you wouldn't do that Mr. Lyons.”
“I'm sorry Edward, I just can't bare the thought of loosing my
home, my farm, my life to that blasted Irish bastard.”
“Well,” the old accountant said, indifferently, staring down at
some papers, “Your not the only one.” Lyons suddenly stopped pacing,
he turned and stared directly at the man and simply asked;
“Your not the only one around these parts who's gonna lose out
to Mr. Sheehan.”
“How do you mean?”
“There are six other planters from this region he lent money to,
all defaulting on their loans due to the economy.” A cold aching
chill ran down Lyons' spine, which caused him to shiver as it did.
He placed his hand into his mouth and bit down angrily upon his
fingers, his face turning blood red. His eyes opened wide and a half
smirk which seemed ironically out of place crossed his lips.
“That son of a bitch!” He declared, then turned to look out of
his office window. He saw a horse drawn buggy pass by, packed to the
roof with someones belongings, a local planter he assumed. Jesus, he
thought, soon that will be me, leaving this place, with a few of my
things, packed to the roof of my buggy, if he lets me take my buggy.
I'll leave behind everything my family has worked hard for over a
hundred years to that Irish bastard. His thinking grew more intense,
as he saw Sheehans indifferent little smirk jeering at him as he
handed over the deed to the plantation. He clenched his fists while
biting deeper into the skin.
Suddenly, and without warning Lyons reached into his desk drawer
and pulled out a revolver, the accountant nearly came out of his
chair when he saw it. Lyons loaded bullets into the chamber, then
spun it around. “I'll show him!” He yelled, then darted out his
office door and down the hall, leaving behind the old accountant who
had nearly wet his pants. He sat breathing heavy, trying to regain
control of his heart, it was beating out of his chest.
After a moment or so the accountant relaxed. He gathered up his
things and headed out of Mr. Lyons' office, exuberant to be doing so.
He made his way down the hall, and noticed some commotion just up
ahead, a few people running outside, Mrs. Margret the cook yelling,
“Lawdy no!” As she ran. The accountant stepped out into the front
lawn of the plantation, the warm sun meeting his face as he did. He
noticed someone lying on the ground, face up, with others huddled
over the limp body. He moved closer to see what had happened and realized it was Lyons, his fingers still clutching the revolver. His
face was turning white, his eyes open and blood shot, his mouth wide,
like a hollow dark hole. His wife lay atop him, weeping, praying for
God to bring him back. The plantation doctor came running up, bent
down and checked his pulse, then declared the old planter dead. The
accountant took off his hat and offered his condolences to Mrs. Lyons
as Margret took her inside.
News spread quickly through the plantation village of Lyons'
death. People were saying he was dead and that the plantation was
going to be sold. Soon, loud lamentations filled the warm nights
sky where no moon was present, the darkness an eerie reminder of the
church goers prophecies. Old Claude sat in his chair, he and his
wife holding onto one another, grieving for the man they had grown to
love. He grasped her tightly, sobbing, knowing they were all each
other had in this world, that all their money had vanished, spent on
useless knick knacks that now made their house feel empty. Feelings
of anxiety crept into their minds because of the un-surety of the
situation. The same anxiety made it's way around the plantation
like the angel of death, striking each one with thoughts of what fate
beheld them. Soon repenting went up, the people pleading with God to
have mercy on them, to forgive their sins of lust and greed.
The very next day Old Claude was summoned once again to the
plantation house, summoned again to the office of Mr. Donald Lyons.
Claude half believed the old man had not died, that the doctor was
able to fix him up and he'd be back to smoking that cigar, drinking
that whiskey, reclining in that chair, ready to tell Claude some
funny joke he had heard, both men sharing a chuckle.
He came to the tall wooden door and knocked once. “Come in.”
He heard a strange voice say, one he had never heard before. He
opened the door and looked up. There stood the tallest man he had
ever seen in his life. “Hello Claude,” the man greeted him, “My name
is Martin Sheehan. Please, have a seat.” Claude entered the office
and sat down in the chair he had sat in many times before.
Everything looked the same, nothing had changed, except the giant who
now sat behind Mr. Lyons' desk. “I am the new owner of this
plantation farm,” the man said, gaily, as though he had no
indignation in his voice at all, as though it were not possible for
him to do so. “I understand you were extremely loyal to Mr. Lyons?”
“Yes.” Was all that Claude answered, nodding.
“Good, good,” Sheehan went on, “Then may I expect the same
loyalty to me?”
Claude took a deep breath, thought it over for a moment, thought
about his own fate, and the fate of Ellie. He knew things were going
to be different, he could tell that about this man, he was to
cordial, almost to an act. Claude exhaled and smiled, his dull red
lips cracking as he did so. “Yes sir Mr. Sheehan, how may I assist
you?” Sheehan also smiled, his big mouth revealing gigantic gray
“I have a few new policies,” he continued, “That I think will
better fit the peoples lifestyle here on the plantation, of course we
should give them some time before we hit them with it all at once,
maybe a month or so.” He stopped, reclined in his chair and placed
his long arms behind his head. “You see Mr. Claude, I loaned Mr.
Lyons an incredible amount of money, of which I was never paid on,
many of the things you have, here, on this plantation, such as your
stores, assembly hall, doctors office, were because of that loan, and
now, I own this plantation because Lyons defaulted his debts to me.
What becomes of this plantation is at my discretion soly, do you
understand that Mr. Claude?” Claude only nodded. “Good, very good
indeed, I feel you and I will get along marvelously Claude, may I
call you Claude? Good, you may call me Martin. Now, here are my
intentions, and believe me Claude, it's with the best interest of
the people that I do these things, however, effective in two months
all stores will no longer accept gold or silver coin as payment. It
is much to hard to deal with and quite frankly I have no idea how
Lyons didn't go mad. We will convert to a paper currency, which the
plantation will print off and the people can come and exchange by
turning in their gold and silver coins. Please, Claude, don't look
at me like that, of course I will still pay the workers in silver
coins, however, the stores will no longer accept it, that's all.
Like I said Claude, it is now my plantation and I can choose to run
it the way I feel best and in the long run I assure you, you all will
agree, this is best.” He stopped for a moment, looked over at Claude
to see if he were paying attention, he was, the old black mans brown
eyes transfixed onto the giant who spoke before him, like he were
listening to the words of some Greek God, or Celtic deity. Not that
he was learned in such things, but had only heard of them. “One
other thing Claude,” Sheehan added, “in order to recover the money
I lost from Lyons, I will begin collecting an income tax from each
persons pay. “I'm sure you understand my reasoning for this? I don't want to befall the same fate as Lyons if the next cotton season
is not good.”
“I understand.” Was Claude's only response. Sheehan nodded at
him, then winked. He held up his large hand, showing Claude to the
door. Claude stood, placed his hat back on his head the tipped it as
He walked through the muddy little streets of the village, a
quick summer shower had come and gone as he sat listening to Sheehan.
There was no work going on today and he still heard the sobs coming
from the peoples houses. He understood that they were not
necessarily for Mr. Lyons but rather for their own selves and the
un-surety of their future. He knew he needed to call a meeting soon,
to tell everyone that things were going to be okay, that nothing much
would change, except for a few minor details, but he would wait,
would let the people have their day of sorrow, let them continue
feeling hopeless and distraught, continue calling out to God, begging
him for mercy. Then, after a few days, like a miracle from on high,
he would give them the good news and once again there would be
rejoicing on the plantation.