CAROLINA COUSINS Series Summary: The Civil War may be over, but the dangers continue. Two southern women with big dreams work to keep the family plantation running after the Civil War with the help of two uncles and a group of former slaves who have become dear friends. Amid the challenges and struggles, the two young women find inner strength, deeper faith, the beauty of unlikely friendships…and maybe even love. Rich with the deep spiritual insights bestselling author Michael Phillips is known for, this new series is one you won’t want to miss.
River of Baptism, River of Death
As the sun slowly crept above the hazy horizon and then inched its way into the sky, it was clear enough to anybody who'd spent much time in North Carolina that this would be a hot and muggy day.
By ten in the morning it was ninety degrees. At noon it was over a hundred. Not a breath of wind came from anywhere. What work there was to be done around the plantation called Rosewood was finished by lunchtime, and no one felt inclined to go out in the hot sun after that if they didn't have to. The cotton and other crops would continue growing. The weeds in the vegetable garden would keep for another day. The animals would take care of themselves without any help until milking time came for the cows late in the afternoon. It was the kind of day that made the dogs too tired to do anything but lay sprawled out on the ground with their tongues hanging out. The chickens were too listless to make much racket. Only the cattle in the fields didn't seem to notice the heat. They just kept munching away.
"You want ter go dab dose feet er yers in da ribber, William?" said twenty-one-year-old Emma Tolan to her four-year-old son.
"Dat I do, Mama!" replied the boy eagerly. "Kin we go now?"
"We'll go right after lunch," answered Emma.
Forty minutes later, the tall slender black girl and chubby little boy of tan complexion walked away from the house hand in hand. They crossed two fields of green ripening stalks whose cotton the young mother would help pick later in the summer as she had for the past four years since coming to this place. Back then she had been a scatterbrained former slave with a half-white newborn son to take care of, fathered by her former master. She hadn't been much use to anyone all her life up until that moment, and she knew it. If ever anyone felt worthless as a person, it was she. Though she had been the oldest of the three girls thrown together by the war and left to figure out a way to survive alone, she had needed more taking care of than both the others combined.
On the memorable day when the white girl discovered Emma hiding in the Rosewood barn, she was babbling incoherently and frightened out of her wits, and her labor with little William's birth had already begun. But she had grown and changed in the four years since that day she had found her way here. The roots of that change had matured slowly and invisibly under the influence of her two friends and saviors, white Kathleen Clairborne, whose plantation it was, and black Mary Ann Daniels, whose home it became.
And new and even more far-reaching kinds of changes had begun to stir in Emma's heart a month or two ago, in the spring of 1869. These changes had been obvious to everyone at Rosewood--and what a strange assortment of people it was! Emma's countenance grew quieter. A look of peace and dawning self-assurance gradually came over her face. More often these days, rather than the most talkative, she was the quietest member of the Rosewood family around the kitchen table, sitting content to listen, watch, and observe.
Emma's soul had begun to come awake.
And that is about the best thing that can ever happen to anyone.
So as she and William made their way to the river on this hot June day, Emma was not thinking of swimming or playing in the water with her son to cool off from the heat. She was going to the river to remember.
She had been doing this so often these last several weeks, since that day she would never forget. Usually she came alone--to pray or sing quietly and let her heart absorb the memory of what she had felt as she had come up out of the water, face and hair dripping, face aglow with new life.
Praise Jesus! were her only words. She had not shouted them as in a camp meeting revival. Rising out of the river's waters, she had uttered them quietly, reverently, scarcely above a whisper. For the first time in the depths of her being she knew what those two eternal words meant. And her smiling heart had been quietly repeating them over and over since then ... Praise Jesus ... Praise Jesus.
Emma Tolan had begun to change before that day. But her baptism sent that change so deep into her heart that she was still trying to grasp it. So she came here every few days--to sit as the river flowed slowly past her, to ponder what God had meant when He made her, and to reflect on what He might want to make of her now that she knew how much He loved her.
She could not know--how could she have known?--that she was being watched.
In this season of peace and happiness in her life, Emma was not thinking of the past, nor of the secrets she possessed, whose danger even she herself did not fully recognize. She was thinking of the wonderful now and the bright future.
But there was someone who was thinking of a dark past--of a time in her life she had finally almost forgotten. He had not forgotten. He had sent the watchers to watch, and to await an opportunity to bury the memory of that past forever, not in the triumphant waters of baptism, but in the dark waters of death.
Emma sat down at the river's edge and eased her bare brown feet into the shallow water as William ran straight into it.
"You be careful, William!" she said. "You stay near me, you hear. I don't want ter be havin' ter haul you outta dat water yonder cuz I can't swim so good."
Whether William was listening was doubtful. But he was in no danger yet, for the site where Emma had been baptized was far on the opposite bank, and the sandy bottom sloped away toward it gradually. He ran and splashed within four feet of the shore, to no more depth than halfway up his fat little calves, laughing and shrieking happily without a care in the world, until he was wet from head to foot. Emma watched with a smile on her face. It wasn't easy to pray with a rambunctious youngster making such a racket. But she was content to be there.
She had just begun to get sleepy under the blazing sun and had lain down on her back, when sudden footsteps sounded behind her from some unknown hiding place in the brush bordering the river. Startled but suspecting nothing amiss, Emma sat up and turned toward the sound. Three white men were running toward her, two bearing big brown burlap bags.
Before she could cry out, they were upon her. One of the men seized her and yanked her to her feet. It didn't take long for her to find her voice. She cried out in pain as the second man pulled her arms behind her. The third had kept going straight for William, threw the open end of one sack over his head, and scooped the boy out of the shallow water and off his feet.
"Mama!" William howled in fright. But the next instant he was bundled up so tightly and thrown over the man's shoulder that all he could make were muffled noises of terror.
Emma's pre-baptismal voice could now be heard a half-mile away, if not more. She screamed at the top of her lungs, struggling and kicking frantically to keep the second bag off her own head.
"You let him go ... William ... git yo han's off me ... help--somebody ... Miz Katie, help! Mayme!"
"Shut up, you fool!" yelled one of the men, trying desperately to calm her down. But even two of them were hardly a match for an enraged, frightened human mother-~bear. She writhed and struggled and kicked with every ounce of survival instinct she possessed. As one tried to take hold of her shoulders and force her to be still, Emma's teeth clamped down onto his wrist like the vise of a steel trap.
He cried out in pain, swearing violently, glanced down to see blood flowing from his arm, then whacked Emma across the side of the head with the back of his hand. But it only made her scream the louder.
"Help!" she shrieked in a mad frenzy. "Git away from me ... William, Mama's here ... help! Miz Katie ... dey's got William. Help!"
Two hands took hold of her head from behind, and the next instant Emma's voice was silenced by a handkerchief stuffed into her mouth. She felt herself lifted off the ground, kicking and wildly swinging her arms about and writhing to free herself. The three men now made clumsily for their waiting horses and then struggled to mount with their unwieldy human cargo.
The river was not so far from the house that Emma's screams were not plainly heard. The frantic cries quickly brought everyone running from several directions at once.
"Is that Emma?" called Katie in alarm, hurrying out onto the porch and glancing all about to see what was going on.
"She went to the river," said Mayme, running around from the side of the house.
"Where's Emma and William?" yelled Templeton Daniels, Katie's uncle and Mayme's father, as he ran toward them from the barn where he'd gone to prepare for milking.
"At the river," Mayme answered.
"William must have fallen in," he said. "Let's go!"
They all sprinted away from the house in the direction of the river.
Someone else had also heard Emma's cries for help. He had come to Rosewood as a stranger a few months earlier. At Emma's first scream he had burst out of the cabin where he had been bunking, a cabin that had been part of Rosewood's slave village before the war. He was now flying across the ground in the direction of the sounds.
He reached the river twenty or thirty seconds ahead of the others. He was just in time to see three horses disappearing around a bend of the river, two lumpy burlap bags slung over two of their saddles. A hasty look around what he knew to be Emma's favorite spot showed signs of a scuffle. Seconds later he was sprinting back for the house. He intercepted the others about a third of the way but did not slow.
"Somebody's taken Emma and William!" he yelled as he ran by. "They're on horseback!"
He reached the barn just as Templeton's brother, Ward, was returning from town. Though his horse was hot and tired, it was already saddled, and every second might be the difference between life and death. Ward Daniels' feet had no more hit the ground than he saw the figure dashing toward him, felt the reins grabbed from his hands, and in less than five seconds watched his horse disappearing at full gallop toward the river. He stared after it in bewilderment until his brother and two nieces ran back into the yard a minute later and explained what was happening.
The rider lashed and kicked at his mount, making an angle he hoped would intercept the three horses he had seen earlier. He had no idea where they were going, unless it was toward Greens Ford, a narrow section of river which, in summer, was shallow enough to cross easily and cut a mile off the distance to town by avoiding the bridge downstream.
He reached Greens Ford and slowed. There was no sign of them.
Frantically he tried to still Ward's jittery horse enough to listen. A hint of dust still swirled in the air where the ground had been stirred up beyond the ford but on the same side of the river. He kicked the horse's sides and bolted toward it. If they had not crossed the ford, where were they going? Why were they following the river?
Suddenly a chill seized him as the image of the burlap sacks filled his mind. The rapids ... and the treacherously deep pool bordered by a cliff on one side and high boulders on the other!
He lashed the horse to yet greater speed, then swung up the bank hoping to cut across another wide bend of the river toward the spot.
Three minutes later he dismounted and ran down a steep rocky slope so fast he barely managed to keep his feet beneath him.
He heard them now. They were at the place he feared!
He slowed enough to keep from sending the stones underfoot tumbling down the slope ahead of him, thinking desperately. What could he hope to do against three white men, probably with guns!
He began to slow and crept closer.
Suddenly a scream sounded.
"William ... somebody help us!" shrieked a girl's voice.
He knew that voice! Whatever was to become of him, nothing would stop him now! He sprinted toward the sound.
"Dey's got William ... help!" came another terrified scream.
"What the--" a man exclaimed. "How did she get that thing loose?"
"Just shut her up!" shouted another.
"It doesn't matter now. Let's do what we came to do!"
One more wild scream pierced the air, then a great splash. It was followed by another.
"That ought to take care of them ... let's get out of here!"
Seconds later three horses galloped away as a frantic black man ran in desperation out onto an overhanging ledge of rock some twenty feet above a deep black pool of the river. It was easy enough to see two widening circles rippling across the surface of the water.
He ripped off his boots, stepped back, then took two running strides forward and flew into the air.
o tell you the whole story of what happened and why, I'll have to back up a bit.
It wasn't because of the stranger that such sudden and unexpected danger had come to Rosewood. It had started long before and would have come anyway. But the fact that he was there sure changed how it would turn out.
I remember that first day I saw him a few months back. After all that had happened around Rosewood, the plantation where I lived with my cousin Katie, the sight of one more new face shouldn't have surprised anyone. People had been coming and going around the place for years, ever since I'd first appeared at Katie's doorstep after my own family had been killed. Katie was white, I was half white and half black. Her uncle Templeton Daniels was my father. My mother, a slave, was no longer alive.
If Rosewood had become a refuge for strays and waifs and runaways, it hadn't been by intent. It just kind of happened that way. And so, on that day when Henry Patterson, our friend and Jeremiah's father, came riding up with the bedraggled-looking black man, like I say, it wasn't exactly a surprise.
But even beneath the dirt, the bloodstained jacket, and the look of obvious pain on his face from whatever injury he'd had, something about this particular stranger looked different. And when his gaze first caught my eyes, a tingle went through me and I knew instantly that a young man had come into our lives who just might change things in ways we could not foresee.
The stranger who'd come with Henry had ridden slowly into Greens Crossing a couple days before.
He was a Negro, tall, well built but thin, whether from natural build or lack of food it was hard to say. He appeared to be in his early or maybe middle twenties and looked weak and tired. Although the war had been over four years, he still wore the coat of the Union army. But it was so badly torn and so dirty, you could hardly tell it had actually once been blue. Some of the stains on it looked like dried blood.
To say that he looked weary as he rode would hardly be enough. The poor fellow looked as if he'd ridden a thousand miles without sleep or food and was about to fall out of the saddle onto the street. The horse was plodding along so slow he seemed as tired as his rider. It was clear it had been a long time since either of them had had anything to eat. Some of the bloodstains on his coat were darker, older stains, but others appeared more recent. From the look of his face and how he was slumped over as he rode, he might still have been nursing a wound somewhere in his chest or shoulder.
He was what folks called a "buffalo soldier." He was a black man who had fought for the North in the war.
If it was some kind of help he had come to town for, he couldn't have picked a worse place in town to go first. But how was he to know? So when he saw the sign that said General Store, he pulled his tired horse to the side of the street, leaned forward and half slid to the ground, then limped inside. Whatever was wrong with his chest, there was something wrong with one of his legs too.
Mrs. Hammond heard the bell and glanced toward the door. Now Mrs. Hammond was a lady who could be pretty irritating. She'd never had any use for the likes of blacks. And now that Negroes were free she could be ruder than ever.
Even if the color of the young man's skin hadn't been black, his appearance would have been enough to put her nose in the air. Her nose went even higher in the air when she smelled him.
She sniffed a few times, then looked him over as if he was a mangy dog that had wandered into her store.
"Morning, ma'am," said the stranger in a polite tone, though he spoke slowly and his voice was weak. It was the last thing Mrs. Hammond expected. "Might you point me in the direction of the livery?"
"It smells like you just came from there," she retorted.
"Sorry, ma'am," he replied. "I've been traveling awhile."
"It's down that way," said Mrs. Hammond, pointing vaguely toward the window and along the street.
"Much obliged, ma'am," he said, then turned and walked out, leaving Mrs. Hammond alone to mutter a few words under her breath about the deplorable state of the country since the war.
Leading his horse by the reins, he slowly walked up the street, attracting the notice of more and more sets of eyes from the shops and windows as he passed. Mrs. Hammond's were not the only mumbled comments of disgust at the sight. Blacks were not particularly welcome in the town of Greens Crossing, especially Yankee blacks. Resentment toward the Union blue, though his tattered coat could but faintly be recognized as a war soldier's coat, ran high among loyal Southerners. All blacks were getting those same kinds of rude looks from whites those days. It isn't that everybody was like Mrs. Hammond. But a lot of whites were.
The young man who had just arrived in Greens Crossing was certainly not much to look at. But unknown to the citizens--whose own respectability they prized above nearly everything--this stranger would cause more of a stir in the community, at least in the life of one of its leading citizens, than any of the string of strangers to arrive in their town over the past five years.
He did not himself yet know it. But his presence would bring mysteries to light that Mrs. Hammond herself could never have dreamed--secrets that would turn this community, and even the whole state, on its ear.
The young man limped toward the livery stable, pulling his horse along behind him. He found Henry Patterson inside, a black man like him who had been a freedman even before the war.
"I've got a horse that needs tending," he said.
"I kin take care ob dat," said Henry, glancing up. He looked the young man over. "'Peers ter me dat you needs some tendin' yo'self, son."
The stranger smiled.
"You're right," he said. "I ran into some trouble a while back. But I'll be fine, as long as I can keep my horse healthy. Do you own this livery?" he asked, glancing around.
"No, suh," laughed Henry. "It ain't quite come ter dat yet. Da Souf is changin', but not dat fast! Dey say us coloreds is gwine get ter vote one ob dese days, an' dat's somefin' I wants ter see wiff my own two eyes. But I's still jes' a workin' colored who gits my wages from a white man. But my boss is a fair man an' treats me kindly enuff."
"You think he'd mind if I bunk down in the back there for a night?" asked the stranger.
"Dat be right hard ter say, young feller," replied Henry. "I gots me a little place where I used ter sleep, though I gots anuder place me an' my boy calls home now--a place outside er town. So I don't reckon dere'd be no harm in you takin' what used ter be my bed er straw in da room out back fo a spell."
"I would be deeply indebted to you. All I need is a night or two of good sleep and I'll feel better and be on my way."
Stranger at Rosewood
arly in the afternoon of his guest's first full day at the livery stable, Henry chanced upon him at the water pump behind the livery, jacket and ragged shirt on the ground beside him. It was the first time Henry had seen his guest bare skinned. He was trying to wash, though his right arm hung at his side. It was with effort that he attempted to operate the pump and splash water on his upper body at the same time.
"Whoa, son," said Henry, walking up behind him, "you din't tell me you wuz so bad beat up. Unless I's mistaken, dat shoulder er yers is needin' some doctorin'. It don't look none too good."
The young man turned and smiled a weary smile. "It's getting better," he said, "though not as rapidly as I might hope."
"You look like you got kicked by some wild horse. When it happen, son?"
"Several months back."
"No wunder you's walkin' 'bout like you's ready ter drop. I tell you, you needs some doctorin' an' I'm gwine git you some." The instant he'd seen the man's bruises and wounds, Henry had known what he had to do.
"I've got no money for a doctor," said the young man. "I'll recover. It just takes time."
"Where I's gwine take you, you won't need no money," said Henry.
"Where's that? You got a black doctor around here who'll let me work for his services?"
"Better'n dat!" chuckled Henry. "I's gwine take you where you kin meet my boy. An' dere's a black lady who'll hab you eatin' right an' fixed up in no time. She ain't no doctor, but she's jes' 'bout da nex' bes' thing. By da look er dose stringy ribs, I'm thinkin' you cud use some er her vittles!"
"Where is this place? Is the lady your son's wife?"
Henry let out a roar of laughter.
"No, he ain't got no wife," he said. "It's a most unusha kind er place, dat's all I kin say. You's see fo yo'self soon enuff. We'll ride out dere dis evenin' when I's got my work done."
Those of us who lived at the plantation called Rosewood--one of them was me, Mayme Daniels--were finishing our noon meal, drinking coffee and talking about plans for the rest of the day, when little William bounded in from the parlor, one of Katie's old McGuffey Readers in his hand. He set the book on the kitchen table and tried to climb onto Jeremiah's lap.
Jeremiah pulled him up onto one knee. "Hey, little man, you want ter ride a horse?" he asked. He bounced his knee up and down and William giggled. "When you get a mite bigger, I'll teach you ter ride da new horse Miss Katie gave me."
"I didn't give it to you Jeremiah, you earned it," Katie said. "You and Henry both. We can't have you working and living here at Rosewood and walking all those miles into town."
"Well, I'm much obliged. Dat young paint is still testin' me, but I've 'bout got him settled, I think."
"You sure have a way with horses, Jeremiah," I said. He looked across the table at me and we shared a smile.
Soon Katie and the others headed outside to their chores and Josepha disappeared into the pantry.
William handed Jeremiah the McGuffey Reader.
"Read to me, Jeremiah," he said.
Jeremiah set William on the floor. "Time to head outside, little man."
I knew what Jeremiah was thinking.
"Jeremiah," I said, "if you'd ever like to learn to read, I could try to teach you."
Jeremiah thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't know ... maybe."
"What about you, William?" I said, turning to the little boy. "Are you going to read someday--maybe even go to school?"
Jeremiah snorted. "No school round here wud take him."
"I read in the paper about a school for black girls north of Charlotte," I said. "I'm sure there'll be a school for William someday ... maybe even for you. If you don't want me to teach you, I'm sure Papa or Uncle Ward would. It's good to learn new things. Better yourself...."
Jeremiah looked at me a little strangely. "You said I wuz good enuff fo you as I is."
"Of course you are, Jeremiah," I said. "I didn't mean--"
The door banged opened and an out-of-breath Emma stuck her head into the kitchen. "Jeremiah, dem cows are out again," she said. "Dat blamed fool horse er yers done chased 'em over da fence again."
"I'm comin'," said Jeremiah, rising.
Jeremiah strode quickly from the room on Emma's heels.
Several hours later, I was outside working in the garden when I heard horses approaching. I looked up and saw Henry coming toward the house with another horse alongside his.
As I walked toward them, Henry looked my way. "I brung us a man here what cud use some help an' some doctorin'," he said. "Wiff yo permission, I figgered Miz Katie and Mister Templeton an' y'all wudn't mind me an' Jeremiah keepin' him under our roof fo a spell.--Dis here's Mayme," he added to the man beside him.
"How do, Miss Mayme," he said with a pleasant but weary smile.
"I'll go get Katie and my papa," I said. "I'm sure it will be fine."
Before I could take more than a step or two, a shriek sounded and little William came bounding down the steps off the porch and ran straight toward the stranger as Henry got off his horse and then helped the stranger to the ground. As fond as William was of Henry and Jeremiah, seeing another black man was too great a temptation for his boyish energy and enthusiasm. He went straight for him, talking away like he'd known the man all his life. The stranger stooped down.
"Why, hey there, little fella," he said. "What's your name?"
"I's William, mister. You gwine stay wiff us?"
"I don't know about that, William," he chuckled, glancing up at Henry and me.
He slowly stood and looked at me again. "He yours?" he said.
"No," I answered. "He belongs to Emma. She's off chasing cows with Jeremiah, but she should be back soon."
"Jeremiah's my boy I told you about," said Henry.
By now Katie and Josepha were on their way outside and Henry explained everything to Katie. As I glanced toward the stranger again, it was obvious from looking at him and listening to him talk, even in his condition, that he was a gentleman. I'd never heard a black man who sounded so much like a Northerner.
Now the newcomer looked over at the white man--my father--approaching. "Henry's brought us a man who needs some help, Uncle Templeton," said Katie. "He asked if they could put him up in their cabin with them."
"Of course. Welcome, son," my papa replied, extending his hand.
After the introductions were made, Katie glanced around. "Where are the others?" she asked.
"Emma and Jeremiah are bringing in the cows," I answered. "And Uncle Ward went over to Mr. Thurston's."
We were all standing there in sort of a circle. It became quiet as the young man looked around at us all one at a time. I couldn't tell what he was thinking.
"What you looking at so funny, mister?" said William.
I couldn't help it--I started laughing. Then Josepha started to chuckle, and pretty soon everybody was laughing.
"I think the man's wondering who all these people are," laughed my papa.
"And wondering whose house this is!" laughed the young man. "It looks to me like a mighty big and fancy house, and all I see is several blacks and what looks like a working man, meaning no offense to you, Mister ... Daniels, was it?"
My papa laughed again. "Yes, Daniels, it is--and you're right, I don't look much like a Southern plantation gentleman!"
"It's not yours, is it, William?" said the man to William.
"No, it ain't my house. It's Katie's."
More laughter came from my papa at William's words.
"It's all of ours," said Katie. "We're a family here. And now that that's settled, why don't you come inside. We should see how badly you're hurt."
As Henry and Papa helped him toward the house, they sensed his hesitation.
"I know the war's over," he said, "but this is still the South not the North--whoever's house it is or isn't. I can't ... go in there."
Henry laughed. "I tol' you dat dis was some kind ob unusha place. Why, son, dere ain't no colors in dis here place--jes' people dat care 'bout each other."
He glanced at the white man beside him, wondering if what he'd just heard was true.
"Henry's right, son," said Papa. "We may look a little mixed up, but we're a family like Katie said, and you're welcome wherever any of the rest of us are."
They continued on toward the house. The young man glanced over at me and smiled in appreciation. It was such a pleasant smile, even in the midst of his pain and the newness of being surrounded by folks he didn't know ... it was almost like he already knew me, and knew that we were going to become much better acquainted soon.