The Incredible Journey of Thomas Johnson
Copyright© 2017 – Nicholas Hall
"Something deeply hidden had to be behind things."
Are secrets kept about to be revealed?
James rarely spoke of his family to us, perhaps to Caleb, but not to the rest of us, so we had no idea what the problem could be or, for that matter, just exactly where James came from and where his family now lived! A day after they'd departed, I mentioned our lack of knowledge of where James family lived, in an off-hand manner, to Benjie at breakfast.
Without dropping a bit of his scrambled eggs and ham, he offered, "Oh, he's from somewhere near Washington, Iowa. I think that's somewhere north of here; I'm really not certain."
I knew very well where Washington was and it's almost a hundred miles from Chapman's Corner. It'd take a minimum of two, probably three, days of hard travel for them to arrive. Before he left, James did send a telegram advising he was leaving and would arrive as soon as possible. It was unfortunate there were no passenger trains from here to there, although I thought there must be from Keokuk to Iowa City, which would put them relatively close. I just wasn't that familiar with the rail service in Iowa in 1866. There was barely any passenger train service in 1983 when I was transported to this time and place!
I pressed Benjie for more information and discovered James had a younger sister, a younger brother, and his mother had been a school teacher at one time. When I asked him how he knew all of this, he just shrugged and answered, "The Twins," and excused himself and trotted along behind Henri to finish their chores.
James, Caleb, and the Twins were gone for almost two weeks before returning. Although the time seemed to slip by rather quickly because of the work that must be done daily, keeping our family and our little community provided for in the immediacy and for the future, it wasn't without worry for their welfare!
Chapman worried and fussed about Gervais and Parnell, wondering if they missed their "Gran Pere" as much as he missed them! I tried to reassure him I was confident they did. He'd grown so accustomed to the Twins being around, he was almost beside himself in their absence! Henri and Benjie filled in quite nicely, since they were here first, so to speak, and made every effort to pay special attention to him, which he reveled in! I began noticing more and more Chapman referring to Benjie and Henri as "my sons," which they were of course; whether the boys understood the significance of the affectionate and claiming term, I wasn't certain, but it was evident to me Chapman was grooming them for the day they'd be officially recognized as his true sons and heirs and take over Chapman Farms. I only hoped he wouldn't wait too long before taking the boys into his confidence!
Three days before James and his family returned he sent a telegram to me, giving me an indication of when they'd be arriving and a very brief summary of what happened. All it said was "HOME IN THREE DAYS. STOP. FIRE. STOP. FATHER DEAD.STOP. MOTHER SISTER TWO SONS BROTHER COMING WITH US. STOP. JAMES."
Well, now we did have to make more room in the big house, at least temporarily, for company and company on a permanent basis, I figured! Somehow we'd find some space and a place to sleep for everyone. The Twins would continue to share a room with their "Poppas," Jefferson and Colin would stay in Benjie and Henri's room since they were with me almost one hundred percent of the time, James' sister and two boys could have the spare room across the hall, and his mother, well that could be a problem. Jubal was back from college and he and Rachael were in their room and if I wasn't mistaken, there'd be a third wedding again before he left in the fall.
Reverend Miller was having a busy summer. He'd arrived in time to marry Paul and Delia and two weeks later christened their new son. That baby must've been hanging on by his fingernails until after the wedding to be born. The way Jubal was burying the bone as often as he was, if Rachael reached sexual maturity early and began her menstrual cycle ("courses" as some referred to it), Reverend Miller would have another child to christen either before or after the wedding. I visited with Celeste about Rachael and her entrance into puberty and she thought it might be another year. I certainly hoped so!
I was standing on the porch, after lunch, on the day I thought they might arrive, when Jefferson rode up, shotgun in a saddle scabbard, sporting a pistol on his hip, and announced James and Caleb were coming through town – in two wagons, and would be here shortly.
"One wagon looks like it has family stuff in it," he said, "not full, but you know, just stuff!"
It wasn't long until a wagon, driven by Caleb with Gervais and Parnell on either side of him on the seat, and the carriage, driven by James with an older woman, a younger woman, two very young boys, and a young lad, a stripling so to speak, riding on the seats. As they slowed to a stop, the Twins shouted out in French,
"Monsieur Jeansonne, Where is Gran Pere?"
Chapman stepped through the front door from the house where he'd been watching the arrival of the wagons, held open his arms to receive them, and the boys jumped down and raced to him! He hugged them, gave them loving kisses, and welcomed them home, telling them how much he missed them, all in French of course! Benjie and Henri heard the commotion, saw the wagons and they came running from the barns shouting their greetings in French as well!
"Come," shouted Parnell, "meet our new cousins."
James suddenly interrupted, "English boys, please; remember it could be considered rude when others don't know what you're saying!"
"Oui, Poppa," the Twins answered together.
James helped the older lady down first, brought her forward and introduced her to Chapman and me.
"Mr. Chapman, Mr. Jeansonne, this is my mother, Elizabeth Andrews."
I took her hand, acknowledged my name and welcomed her; Chapman also came forward, bent over, raising her hand to his lips, introducing himself.
"Edmond Chapman, your servant madam! Welcome to Chapman Farms. We grieve with you in your time of sorrow and loss. It should comfort you, I hope, knowing your son James is very dear to us and our home shall be your home for as long as you desire!"
A small tear trickled down her face as she murmured a heartfelt, "thank you!"
The next young lady, with a small boy holding on to each of her hands to be escorted to the porch by James, was introduced as his sister, "Janet Hughes and her sons, my nephews, Edward, age four and Steven, age three."
Once we introduced ourselves, Parnell, standing next to his brothers in the company of Henri and Benjie, piped up, "They don't have a Poppa anymore `cause he got killed in the war!"
"Oh my dear lady," Chapman said quickly, "such a loss, due to that terrible conflict which no one really won, for such a lovely young woman. You have our deepest sympathy!"
Finally, James brought forth the young lad. "This is my brother, David, age twelve soon to be thirteen."
David extended his hand, first to Chapman and then to me, saying, "Nice to meet you sir!"
I held his hand longer than I should have I suppose, but it gave me the opportunity to appraise the young man standing before me. David was, how I should phrase it in describing him, frail looking, pale, thin, almost overly so! During my day we might have thought him anorexic. I could almost see the blue of his veins through the skin on his arms. If he hadn't worn suspenders I doubted if he could've kept his pants up! A little over two years older than Benjie and Henri, he was somewhat shorter, much lighter in weight, and not of the same physical build. He didn't appear to be a very strong boy at all! Despite this, David was an extremely good looking young man; blue eyes that sparkled, dark hair, and bright smile! A very polite well-mannered boy who resembled his older brother in many ways.
Benjie and Henri disengaged themselves from the Twins, stepped forward and introduced themselves.
"Boys," I asked, "why don't you take David over to Momma Celeste's and tell her we have guests for dinner this evening and while you're there, see if she couldn't have some of the men bring in some hot water for the ladies to bathe in. I'm certain they would welcome the opportunity to refresh themselves after such a long journey."
The boys grinned, nodded their heads, and Henri took David by the hand and off they went to the Doucet wing of the house.
"Why don't we all come into the parlor so we might visit and perhaps enjoy coffee or tea while the men prepare the bath water. I know there'll be much to get used to, but we'll try our very best to assist you."
Of course, the Twins would go where Gran Pere went, so they trotted along, chattering like Bluejays, each holding one of his hands. Caleb stayed with them while James and I walked over to the Doucet kitchen to arrange for coffee and tea and perhaps some cookies or cake.
"David hasn't been very well ever since he was born," James confided in me as we walked. "He came early and has struggled ever since! One doctor after another claims he has `weak blood' and either will grow out of it or have it the rest of his life; how long that may be. When I lived at home, during fall, winter, and spring, he'd often crawl in bed with me at night complaining of the cold. My own body heat would warm him enough he could sleep!"
"Perhaps," I suggested, "Celeste could look him over and see what she thinks. It certainly wouldn't hurt. Living here in the country, with all of the fresh air, sunshine, fresh foods, and activity just might be beneficial to him as well." I hoped the lad didn't have a serious problem such as heart difficulties!
James nodded his approval as we entered the kitchen. Benjie, David, and Henri were seated at the table munching cookies and drinking cold milk. David was in between Benjie and Henri, but Henri was the one sitting tightest against him as if offering him protection and warmth.
"We're going to shower once we're done here," Benjie announced. "David's never had a shower and we want to show him ours; besides he needs to `freshen up' too," and the three of them laughed!
They were going to get along just fine; a white boy and two boys of color in a community predominately black and many, homosexual! I hoped the rest of the family could accept us as we were, but only time would tell.
Celeste smiled, saying, "Welcome back, James," and gave him a big hug. "Sorry to hear of your loss. What happened?"
The general store his parents owned had the living quarters attached at the back. The store and living quarters is where James had grown up; where his sister and two young sons lived after her husband entered the army and was eventually killed and where his brother, David, lived.
Shortly after midnight, the night of the fire, James' father, Charles, heard a noise in the store and walked down the connecting hall and through the door into the store to investigate. James' mother, Elizabeth, heard him shout, "What the hell are you men doing in here" and a shot rang out! She hastened toward the store, fearing the worst, but was met by Charles, staggering down the hall, blood cascading from his chest.
"Get everybody out," he moaned, "they've fired the store!"
She helped him outside, shouting for the family to get out. David ran to summon the fire brigade. The fire brigade was able to salvage some items from the living quarters, but not from the store. It wasn't long until the entire structure was a hot, consuming conflagration of the material aspects of their life. James' father died, head resting in his wife's arms, while a doctor, who tried to save his life, shook his head in dismay!
"Mother figured they were after cash and guns since the store did carry an assortment of them. The murdering thieves did get the ones in the display case but they didn't get the shipment of the ten new Henry® repeating rifles and Colt six-shot cartridge revolvers in the storage shed behind the store. We brought them with us along with some of the other items in the storage shed!"
"After we had the funeral, met with the lawyer concerning the will and estate, and took care of the final affairs at the bank, Caleb and I agreed the best place for my mother, sister and her family, and my brother was here, at Chapman Farm's. I figured Mr. Chapman would either help them find a place to live or take us in here as part of the community. If they must leave, then Caleb, the boys, and I will go also since we'll be their only source of support for a good long time!"
It was certainly something I didn't want to happen and I knew it was the last thing Mr. Chapman wanted! He enjoyed the Twins too much to let them get too far from him and besides, James and Caleb were valuable members of our household.
We were interrupted by Benjie who announced they were going to shower and stood up. I'd forgotten the three of them were still in the room, listening to all we discussed. David leaned over to Henri, after hearing the announcement, and whispered something in his ear.
Henri grinned, "We'll find some clean clothes for you and you don't have to worry about the other things; we don't ever wear any," and pulled open the waist of his pants, letting David take a long hard look at what wasn't underneath, but what was! He never said a word, but just gave Henri a very naughty-like grin! It was a grin, I thought at the time that cemented their relationship and was correct!
The three boys gathered soap, towels, and washcloths up in their arms and scurried off. Celeste sent Delphine and Delia over to the main house with coffee, tea, and cookies.
"When the boys are done frolicking in the shower," Celeste said seriously, "I'd like to examine David, if you don't mind. He doesn't look healthy!"
"Should be no problem," James responded, "but I'd think there'll be some resistance to being naked in front of a woman. I know Mother has said he is definitely shy around her and my sister," and went on to explain the circumstances of David's birth and what some of the doctors claimed.
Celeste just nodded, taking it all in, but further questions were interrupted when Malik wandered into the kitchen, informing us he'd unhitched the teams, fed, and watered them, then put them in the corral with some of the other stock.
"Did you want me to start filling the bathtubs yet, Momma Celeste?"
"Why not wait, if you don't mind, until the ladies come over from Mr. Chapman's; the water will be hot then for them to use."
That was fine with Malik; he poured himself a cup of coffee, helped himself to a couple of cookies, and sat down with us at the table.
"Speaking of your mother," I interjected, "how did she react to you and Caleb and the boys?"
James hesitated, "I don't think me living with another man was as difficult for her to comprehend since from early on she had a fairly good idea about my interest in other males. Caleb being a colored man, well, that's a bit harder for her to understand. She's not been around black people very much; for that matter neither have Janet or David."
"David doesn't seem to have any problem associating with Benjie and Henri," I noted.
"Kids seem to adjust quite rapidly," James mused. "Edward and Steven took to Parnell and Gervais as if they'd known each other their whole lives. Color doesn't mean much to the young! It may take some time for mother and maybe Janet to accept Caleb and our boys, but I'm willing to wait and not force it. They'll see how much I love Caleb and how much we love the Twins and come around, I hope!"
Time slipped by as we visited and soon Benjie, Henri, and David, two quite brown boys and one very pale white boy wrapped only in towels around their waists, came giggling into the kitchen, just about the same time Elizabeth, Janet, Steven and Edward arrived from Chapman's wing of the house.
"Jefferson and Colin came in to shower while we were there," announced Benjie, "and you should have seen Davey's face when he saw the size of Jefferson's ..."and was stopped by a cautioning hand from me pointing at the ladies!
Malik walked into the kitchen about the same time, announcing he'd have the hot water brought in for the ladies' bath, if they were ready.
I took the opportunity to introduce Malik; "Mrs. Elizabeth Andrews, Mrs. Janet Hughes, I'd like to introduce Malik Chapman who will be our new storekeeper once we complete the construction later on this summer."
Malik made a small, but meaningful and polite bow to the ladies, replying in his rich, deep, well-educated voice, "At your service ladies," and asked smiling, pointing at the little boys, "and who might these fine young men be accompanying such lovely ladies?"
Edward hesitated not one moment and replied with his small hand outstretched, "Edward Hughes, Sir, age four and this is my little brother Steven; he's only three."
"Really," exclaimed Malik, now squatting down to eye level, "I thought you fine young gentlemen were much older; perhaps as old as eight or ten!" bringing giggles from each boy!
"Uncle Malik," squealed Gervais as he and Parnell, accompanied by Caleb, entered the kitchen and both immediately launched themselves into Malik's arms getting big hugs from him.
"Did you meet our new cousins?" asked Parnell excitedly.
Malik kissed each of the Twins on the forehead and said sincerely, "Yes, I did and I think they are fine cousins to have!"
Edward and Steven stood shyly, uncertain on what they should do, until Malik asked, looking at them in a kindly, welcoming manner, "Would you boys like a hug as well?"
The two Hughes boys grinned and stepped into his arms. While he was holding them, Caleb announced he and the Twins were going for their shower; "The boys are starting to stink and need scrubbed!"
"So do you Poppa," the Twins blurted out in unison.
Janet remarked her boys could use a bath as well, "Perhaps when we're done."
"Uncle Malik can take them when we have our shower," Parnell offered, "Won't you please, Uncle Malik?"
Malik looked at Malik, hesitating, saying, "Their clean clothes are still packed."
"No problem, Mrs. Hughes," Malik responded, "We'll just wrap them up in towels and trundle them off to a room for clean clothes. I think Caleb would know what rooms the boys will be in, so we can handle that – with your permission, of course, and if the boys want to join us."
There was no doubt they would since Gervais and Parnell were almost bouncing with excitement! Edward and Steven agreed, so with towels over their shoulders, each holding one of Malik's hands, the delegation left for the shower house.
"I'm certain they have no idea what a `shower' is," laughed James, "but they're soon going to find out!"
I later learned, in speaking with Caleb, Edward and Steven were uncertain once arriving at the shower house what was going to happen. They weren't a bit hesitant in allowing Malik to strip them naked and stood patiently while he disrobed. Edward did comment when he observed Malik's rather long uncut cock hanging down, "Your `thingy' is black too just like the rest of you!" and looked down at his own!
Malik nodded understandingly remarking, "Yes, Edward, it is; there are people of different color on the outside, but it's what inside each of us that makes us all the same, and that's what counts!"
Edward did a quick look around the changing room, noticing he and his brother were the lightest color of the group and said no more.
Caleb said when he turned the water on, Edward and Steven were surprised, amazed, and somewhat reluctant to stand under the stream, but when they saw Gervais and Parnell giggle and laugh as they stepped under the warm water and motioned for them to do the same, they did, holding on to Malik's hands. It took them about thirty seconds to become accustomed to the warm water cascading on them and began squealing with delight, chattering up a storm as Malik patiently washed their hair and with a wash cloth, scrubbed them top to bottom, cleaning their little pink butt cracks and crotches. He also took a moment to explain, as he cleaned under their foreskins, how important it was to keep clean, so they wouldn't get an "ouches" on their boy parts!
Malik bathed himself while the two boys played under the water next to him. Cleaned and rinsed, he took them to the changing room, put on his own pants and shoes, wrapped the boys in towels, picked them up, and carried them to the house.
While the boys were off showering, Celeste explained to Elizabeth what her concerns were with David and Elizabeth agreed to allow her to "have a look at him."
"Momma Celeste is a real good healer!" exclaimed Benjie, wanting to reassure both David and his mother that all would be well!
While Delphine and Delia were assisting Janet and Elizabeth with their baths, Celeste invited James and me, Henri, Benjie, and David to follow her to her office, the room she referred to as her "surgery." David, wrapped only in his towel, was really nervous and embarrassed when she asked him to climb up and sit with his feet hanging over on a cloth covered, padded table. I think he felt better, but still apprehensive, when Benjie assured him it'd be fine and Henri, to "steady him so he don't fall," stood close and slipped a hand under David's towel, holding lightly on to his upper thigh.
Celeste took a really modern looking stethoscope from a cabinet against a wall, inserted the ear pieces into her ears and placed the other end of the tube with a small "horn" attached to David's back. She noticed the questioning look on my face and explained, "I had this made in New Orleans, patterned after the one my father used!"
It seemed a most logical answer to most people who didn't know otherwise, but it struck an odd cord with me!
She listened carefully to his back, instructing him to inhale, hold it, and exhale several times before moving the stethoscope to his chest, asking him to do the same again. This time, after he finished, she spent a great deal of time listening in the area of his heart, finally asking him to lay down on the table. Of course, Henri had to remove his hand, much to his disappointment!
Celeste moved the stethoscope carefully around his abdomen, again listening carefully, paying careful attention to the large arteries located on either side, leading to the groin area. She didn't remove the towel, exposing his genitalia but did slide it a bit for better contact with the large arteries. Removing the stethoscope, she began pressing and massaging the abdomen area, "palpating" as she referred to the procedure.
She stood back, nodded her head as if agreeing with herself, and asked David, "I'm not going to look, but I do need to ask, are you starting to grow down there?" and pointed at his crotch. David's face turned red with embarrassment, but before he could answer, Henri piped up,
"If you mean does he got hair starting to grow around his pecker, Momma, he does!" and grinned!
Celeste just rolled her eyes and we all laughed, including David. She continued to ask David questions concerning if he was cold at night, even in warm weather; if he chilled while outside sometimes even in the summer; if he felt tired or out of energy, and so on! Finally, she did something I really found unusual, she sterilized a needle in alcohol, jabbed the end of David's finger with it, and smeared a small rectangular piece of glass, identifiable to me as a microscope slide from my biology days, and smeared it with a smaller square piece of glass that looked surprisingly like a "cover plate" one uses to cover a specimen to be examined under the microscope!
"Okay, all done," she advised David and gave him a gentle, friendly pat on his bare back, "hop down."
We all left Celeste alone in her office and waited for her. While we waited, Janet and Elizabeth joined us, and were soon joined by Caleb and the Twins and Malik carrying the two Hughes boys. I asked Caleb to show Janet and the boys their room while we waited for Celeste, and they left, Malik still carrying the boys, their arms wrapped around him holding on.
Celeste finally made her appearance, approached Elizabeth and motioned David to join them. James stepped forward as well, wanting to know what she discovered.
"Mrs. Andrews," she began, "I listened carefully to his heart and could find nothing there that would indicate it was causing his problems. However, I think the other doctors were correct when they diagnosed `weak blood.' We need to build that blood up and strengthen it."
Turning to David, she instructed, "Every morning, I want you to take a spoonful of this tonic before you eat. I'll put together a special diet for you to eat; that diet, along with plenty of sunshine and exercise, should go a long way in making you feel better and stronger. Okay?"
He nodded and when she poured the tonic into a spoon and asked him to "open wide" before administering a dose, I could swear the tonic smelled just like the cod liver oil we used to have to take at the orphanage when I was there. I didn't know it was used in the United States immediately after the Civil War, although fish oil was used for many years in the Scandinavian countries.
Dinner was at eight, during the spring, summer, and fall for the Doucet's and the Chapman household, giving the field hands the opportunity to eat first. Chapman always admonished us to feed our employees first and take care of them; "they'll do no less by you," he advised. He chose to join us this evening, as he was doing more and more so, but looking around the table, commented, "I think we'll have to get the kitchen going in the main house; our family is growing so!"
After dinner, when the dishes were clean and put away and the others all left, I made a quick tour around the houses and outbuildings, as I usually did to ensure everything was safe and in order (there really was no need to, since Jefferson did several times before turning in for the night), and returned to the Doucet kitchen where Celeste was enjoying a cup of coffee.
In a very off-hand manner, I offered, "Lack of iron causing a decrease in David's red blood cells, right?"
She nodded, but before she could correct her unintentional gesture confirming what I knew watching her tests and the smelling the tonic, I quickly asked,
"Did you have the cod liver oil imported to use in your healing practice?"
Her mouth dropped, but she quickly recovered from the surprise I dropped on her!
"I don't think, Celeste Doucet," I added, "you are who and what you say you are!"
She smiled knowingly, slyly, responding, "Nor are you Mr. Jeansonne."
To be continued.
Thank you for reading "The Incredible Journey of Thomas Johnson" – Chapter Twenty-Five.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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