They’d a place already picked out by Negro Creek. There was a clearing deep in the woods, not far off from the rail-road’s end, and there was just enough capacity to do the job like it should be done. There was plenty of good, dry brushwood to line the hole they dug, Artemis and Stoke had hauled two croker sacks full of rocks down to where the lone pine tree stood. They figured that once the bodies was slung in, some tasteful covering might be required, of a sort that wouldn’t ruin the peaceful contemplations of them folks that chose to sit beneath the tree of a quiet morn.
‘They’s apt to stink after awwhile’
“Then do em like we done the last two slavers, Ma Blue’s quick-lime”
“She still got sum lef?”
“She got plenty! Had Ruesome drive down to Charlottesville jus to pick some up!”
“But she ain’t got no money!”
“Hiram Shay give it her, then she climb up in that dray went down to Charlottesville, Hiram went with em!”
“He went with em?”
Artemis shook his head, “Mhmmm, you sure that hole deep enough?”
Stoker nodded, “Sho, who we burying this time?”
Artemis chuckled. A sly look came over his face. It made Stoke wriggle with a delicious sense of anticipation.
“We needs to wash up some, head down to the Polk Plantation” Artemis said,
“Why we headed to the plantation?” Stoker asked, looking puzzled.
Artemis looked at him, laughed some, clutched his sides so hard he thought he’d die, then, when he was calmed, he said, “You’ll see!”
Wiping his grimy hands on his blue overalls, Stoker trailed after him.
Negro Creek, was so named after a slave called Nemesis, whose master, wonderfully struck at his bravery, rechristened that place at the victorious conclusion of the Battle of Jumonville Glen. The Virginia militia that bore itself triumphantly to war, has long since flown this mortal coil, but the memory of their triumphs has not. Nor, one might add, has the trenchant loyalty of some (across the border) to the traditions of their English, Scottish, Irish, Native American and Nova Scotian forebears. For some the wound that tore the Americas from England’s imperious bosom is still fresh. Abandoned at the close of war, they fled the less appealing climes of Nova Scotia to which they’d been exiled, for those of Carolina. They abide there still, a brace of clans whose blood is so intermingled that to fight with one is to loose unbridled war upon your own head. A people unbowed by poverty and adamantly opposed to those practices which most in Carolina would deem the norm. They for the most part indwell those more mountainous regions, known as the Appalachians. One family however does not, the Shays of Leonidas Polk . They are the vanguard of their clan and t’is they who have called upon the unique services of Artemis and Stoker Tarleton.
“We tracked them negroes down from Jackson. Can’t figure out how they got cross the border, must have had help”
“Runaway negroes? Why that’d be tantamount to stealing another man’s property!” Hiram Shay replied, he looked perturbed which in truth he was, because ‘the runaway negroes’ had turned up a month later than had been arranged.
“We cut them off heading through Cutlass forest towards them Appalachians, brung em back here” the militiaman sipped reflectively on his brandy and water,”They’s Marse Robert‘s niggers, they say he pays well”
“Robert.E.Lee, the Robert. E. Lee? They belong to him?” replied Morgan Shay,
The militiaman shook his head. “The very same, a war veteran and a hero!” he said proudly. “Why those negroes run off is a mystery to me! They’ll never serve a greater man!”.
“No indeed” replied Master Shay looking at his pocket watch,
“Well, they do say time flies” he smiled warmly at his two guests (who had already gotten to their feet and had been about to make their farewells), “before you gentleman leave, would you care to take a tour of Leonidas Polk?”
The militiaman looked around on his friend who was busy dusting off the rim of his hat and adjusting his pistols, “Why, I don’t know, we’ve bin gone nigh on a month, Ruffin what say you?”
“Can’t hurt none” said Ruffin turning the brim of his hat round and round in his large hands,
“Always wanted to see how the Polk Plantation got its name”
Of all the plantations lying in Humility Valley, Leonidas Polk was the most prosperous and it’s negroes the most placid. Why, as a matter of course in Carolina, one might hear of a slave uprising or two, taking place mostly upon those plantations bordering the swamps -since bodies were easily hid there, and it could be a while afore folks figured out what was going on. Strangely though, no such rebellions ever took place on Leonidas Polk, it was a tranquil plantation, a place mostly given to the industrious production of cotton and music.
Most of the Carolina negro musicians that had ever played Virginia’s soirees were known to have come out of Leonidas Polk. T’was a crying shame though that Master Shay didn’t like parting wid ’em. Many a plantation owner had sought to purchase the infinite stream of violinists, seamstresses and carpenters the Polk plantation produced, none had been successful. This would have been viewed with much suspicion, had it not been for Master Shay’s generosity to his neighbours and the parties he threw.
“Gentleman” said Master Shay smiling roundly, “If you’d come with me?” he walked them round to the back of the family home, where they beheld a sea of labouring cotton-pickers stooping over acres of cotton. The militiaman staggered a little and upon recovering his equilibrium he glanced slyly at Master Shay.
“They’s some hard working niggers” Mr Militiaman remarked,
“Well fed too” Ruffin joined in, “Ain’t never seen me so many well fed negroes, they even look happy at it!”
Hiram Shay shrugged,
“At ease in the midst of creation, wanting for nothing, why would they not be content? Gentleman”
He noted with pleasure that both men seemed to be having difficulty staying on their feet, it was cooling toward evening, yet they were sweating profusely. Striding on in front of them he led them on past the quiet industriousness of the cotton fields, towards their horses tethered to the Cotton Gin outhouse, t’was there that Mr Militiaman staggered a little, and uttering a little groan he staggered again and passed out. Mr Ruffin wasn’t far behind him and with a garbled cry of treachery and a trembling hand reaching for an out of reach gun, he too staggered, fell and lost consciousness. Halting in his tracks Master Shay turned back, stooping low over the bodies he turned them over quickly, unbuckling their gun belts and flinging them over his shoulder. He looked up towards the two teenage boys who sat shackled in the dirt staring back at him.
“You seen Artemis and Stoker?” he asked the two sullen looking boys still tethered to the militiaman’s horse,
“No Cousin, when you gonna unlock us?”
“When you lef here what did I tell you not to do?” the two boys tried to look sorrowful and failed.
“Get caught by the militia”
“Mhmm, and what have you gone and done?”
“Get caught by the militia! We brung intelligence though!” the youngest of the two boys declared cheerfully,
“What you done brung!” Hiram replied,”Is more trouble on top of the trouble we already had!”
“Unlock us Cousin Hiram!”
“I will not” he declared.
“But we’s hungry!” one look at their dusty red eyed faces was enough to soften his ire, unlocking their shackles he bade them let Mama Shay know they were back. Rubbing their aching wrists the boys leapt to their feet heading off at a run till nothing could be spied except dust. Plantation Polk was mired in a predicament, this was the fourth lot of militia they’d had to get rid of in as many weeks. Removing his coat and rolling up his sleeves he took hold of one of the bodies and started hauling it towards the out house, he was but halfway there when Stoker and Artemis arrived.
“Cousin Stoker? Cousin Artemis? Two more to bury!” his smile was like a wide beam of sunshine to them and they returned it with equal warmth. The same warmth which slid from their faces as they looked down on the prone bodies of the militiamen.
“I need them out of here quick, you got your holes dug?”
“Up by Shawnee Creek – what they calls Negro Creek! – we done buried eight up there already, but there’s room for two more”
Artemis scratched his beard, “How long we gon keep doing this? Sooner or later they’re bound to work out what’s going on!”
Hiram shrugged,”By the time they do it won’t matter, there’s a war coming!”