Before the sun peeked over the horizon, while the morning star still shimmered in the western sky, they attacked. The earth shook under the pounding hooves as two riders whipped their horses furiously, pushing them to the limit. Out of the dim eastern horizon they raced across the field, swiftly closing in on Sam and Eliza. Slowly, the Negroes turned to the sound and squinted into the first gray light of dawn. Graybeard jammed his boot into Eliza’s side, the blunt force slamming her to ground. She groaned pitifully. Then, holding her side, she curled into a ball. Finally, after catching her breath, she screamed for her husband. Sam started for his fallen wife, but never made it. Tall Man pistol-whipped him, opening a bloody gash on the black man’s forehead. Crumpling into a heap, Sam lay dazed, eyes halfclosed. The brutal, hardhearted bounty hunters had the devil in their eyes. While gazing down at their terrible work those ice-cold eyes turned mean—real mean. Unhurried, they swung down from their snorting horses.
“Joel, hold that boy!” Graybeard yelled. “I’ll grab his woman.”
Sam groaned under Tall Man’s knee. The slave hunter had pinned him against the ground, shoving his gun against the Negro’s head just below the spot where blood trickled from the open wound. The dripping red disappeared into the earth.
Eliza screamed in a choked terrible voice as Graybeard yanked her to her feet. Then, dragging her without mercy to where Sam lay gasping for air, the big, ugly-faced man with the pointy gray beard shoved her down. Instinctively she rolled next to her husband. Reaching over she pressed her hand to his wound; the bleeding stopped.
Giving out a nasty laugh, Tall Man glared from greed-filled eyes and bragged with a hate-filled voice. “We’ve made our wages today. Can’t wait to git my hands on all that bounty money.”
“Sir,” Sam gasped, struggling to raise his head. “You have the wrong folks.”
“Shut up, boy!” Graybeard sneered. “We have you and that means money for us.”
“But, we’re free Negroes, not slaves. My name is Sam Smith and this is Eliza Smith.”
The slave hunter’s big frame blocked out the first rays of the morning sun and he stared back with dark eyes, cold as steel. “Don’t give me that, boy! Slaves don’t have last names,” the man lied. “Now, you shut your face or I’ll whip you good.”
Holding up her work-hardened hands, the humble black woman clasped them together, pleading, “My name is Eliza! That’s Sam!”
“Look here, you ol’ slave mammy,” the tall man growled through his ugly, brown, tobacco stained teeth. “I as soon whip you as look at you. Sure ain’t gonna listen to yer lies.”
Shaken by a terrible fear, Sam felt his throat tighten. Swallowing hard he gasped out, “I’m a free man! I’ve papers in my pocket to prove it. Sir, let me show you. Please! You have the wrong folks. We aren’t runaways. We’re free!”
In a wave of hot anger Graybeard yelled hatefully, “Not now you’re not!”