A Trail West

Book I: A Promise Made

by: Richard

This is a story that involves sex between males. If such a story is offensive, or illegal for you to read where you live, then do not continue, go and surf elsewhere.

This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons. If there is any similarity to any real persons or events it is entirely coincidental.

The work is copy righted (c) by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.

First of all I would like to thank all of you who wrote to me regarding my first story -- Rusty. I greatly appreciate all the kind words and suggestions. I especially appreciate those who discovered errors in it and were so patient while I corrected them.

Here is the first chapter of this historical story.

Chapter 1

All hell broke loose the day that his Mama died. Byron couldn't figure out why. All he knew was she was gone. He was upset, but he didn't understand why the White folks were. Folks, both Black & White were rushing about all afternoon long. When you're ten years old, live on a plantation in North Carolina, and the year is 1826, and are the son of slave woman, you've seen dying before. Not that Byron knew anything about the state he lived in or what year it was, but what he did know was that White folks didn't fuss much over one slave, especially a female slave, unless there was a reason.

Some Black men came to the cabin where he and his Mama lived alone, and to take her body away.

They were kind to him, and kept telling him, "Everything's goin' t' be all right."

Any ten year old slave boy knows that when your Mama has just died, and you don't have a daddy, everything's definitely not going to be all right! But he didn't know anything to say, so he didn't speak. He just stood in the doorway looking after them, tears streaming down his cheeks, as they carried her away. Bertha, his Mamma's best friend, had come to be there with him. She patted him on the shoulder, and tried to keep from crying, as she watched her friend's frail, lifeless body being carried away.

The next thing he knew Bertha was sorting through his Mama's and his clothes, and setting some things aside.

"Byron," she said, as she looked through the meager pile of clothes. "You run down t' the creek and take you a bath." And then because she had boys of her own, she added, "And you use soap too, ya hear?"

He heard that! He didn't mind taking a bath, but that terrible smelling soap was almost more than a body could bear.

"I'll be back this evenin' t' git ya at supper time." Bertha sighed softly as she picked up the items she had selected. Then putting her hand on her belly as the baby within in her moved, she smiled at Byron.

"Won't be long now," she said, and went back to her own cabin.

It was hot that afternoon, A bath mightn't be so bad, he thought, and he picked up the piece of brownish colored soap. It felt rough and dry in his hand. He figured that if he was going to take a bath he'd better take some clean pants along otherwise there'd be no reason to take a bath.

It felt strange not having someone there to tell him that, usually his Mama stood in the doorway watching to make sure he did.

He hurried across the dirt yard in front of the row of cabins that stood in a line backed up to the grove of Sycamore and Jack Pine. Standing, open-doored and grayish-brown from lack of paint. The rough one room cabins served as kitchen, living space, and sleeping area for the families of slaves which worked the rich brown earth of the Harper family plantation. It was called Harper's Valley, a name given to the land by the original settler Arthur Burtron Harper, the current owner's grandfather in 1750 when he settled there. They were no better, no worse than those of the other plantations which sprawled across the Carolinas and Georgia in the early nineteenth century. They were hot in summer, cold in winter, and wet when it rained.

Standing across the yard in stark contrast were the barns which housed the horses and mules, newly painted white with black trim. The tobacco drying barns could be seen in the distance behind the barns at the edge of rows of green-yellow tobacco plants which stretched as far as the eye could see. Across the long wooden fence that marked the division between tobacco and cotton fields, the field hands worked in the hot summer sun pulling weeds. If you listened hard you could just hear their voices singing a mournful work song as they bent to their labor.

Byron hurried down the path that led to the stream that trailed across the Harper land like a lazy garden snake, crossing and re-crossing it several times before disappearing into the horizon. He spotted a group of little kids playing in the shallow water while their slightly older sisters scrubbed clothes on the bank under the stern eye of a white haired woman too frail to work in the fields. He stopped short in his tracks. If Bertha thought he was going to take a bath with all them girls and kids watching, She's plumb crazy! he said to himself.

But still she told him he had to take a bath, so he guessed he'd have to take a bath. But just not there! He knew the land around Harper's Valley as well as anybody, so he turned around and walked back to the cabin, and then through the trees that sheltered them. He knew that if he walked through the trees and the brush that lay behind the cabins, and followed the road a ways, he'd run into the stream again. This was where the older boys swam. But they wouldn't be there now as they were working in the fields with their mamas and daddies this time of day.

When he got there it was quiet, and the water cool and inviting. If it hadn't been for that darned soap he'd have enjoyed the prospect of taking a bath.

"Well," he said out loud, "Might as well git it over with." Bertha said take a bath with it, so he'd do it.

It didn't take in anytime at all to get undressed, all he had on was the pants, and they just slipped off when he pushed the straps off his shoulders. He looked at them when he stepped out of them. They was dirty too, so he guessed he might as well scrub them too, as long as he had the soap --- there was no telling who was going to do them now if he didn't.

He sat down in the soft grass that grew along the bank and dunked the pants in the water. Then after dipping the piece of soap in the water he pulled the pants back out of the water and set them on the grass beside him, and began rubbing the soap on them. The smell was awful, so he hurried, first one side and then the other. A quick dunk back in the water to rinse it out, and did he it again. He'd often watched his Mama do it when he was younger, so he knew how it was done.

When he finished rubbing them the second time, he put the soap down and rubbed the fabric against itself working the soap into a foam. Then he rinsed and squeezed, and rinsed again until the soap was all gone. After he squeezed all the water he could out of the pants he laid them to dry on the grass.

Now it was his turn. His hands already smelled of the soap. He climbed down into the water. It felt good on his body. He took the piece of soap and began working it between his hands until it was all foamy. Then he rubbed it on his arms and chest. He made some more suds and did his legs, balancing first on one foot and then the other. Then he did the other parts of his body, all that he could reach.

When he was all covered with the foul smelling soap he sat down in the water to rinse it off. Now was the part he hated the most, his face and hair. He wet his face and hair the only way he knew how, he lay back in the water and dunked himself, just like his Mama did. He sat up quickly, suddenly remembering that no one was there to pull him up. Even though he was ten, when she wanted to make sure he was clean, she went with him to give him a bath.

He put the piece of soap on his hair and began rubbing it all about, and then made suds with it in his hands and threw the piece on the grass beside his pants. Now had rubbed his hair and face quickly for he was about to die from the smell. When he was all foamy he lay back in the water and rubbed his hair and face with his hands. He came up sputtering and coughing because water had gotten into his nose. He had to do it again because he could still feel the suds running down his back out of his hair. Before lying back again he worked the soap in his hair into more suds. This time he leaned forward, since he'd gotten most of it out of the back of his hair. Leaning forward worked much better, he thought until he sat up and the soap got into his eyes bringing instant pain and tears to them.

He stood up and ran out to where the water was deeper and then dived in. The clean cool water soothed his burning eyes, and as he held his breath he rubbed his hair some more, his body settling slowly to the sandy bottom. This time when he stood up, there were no more suds, no more soap to run into his eyes. He was clean.

Now Bertha never told him to swim, just take a bath, but he figured he was just rinsing off good! But after a little while he got tired of paddling about by himself. It wasn't much fun swimming alone. So he went to the shore and climbed out. He wiped as much water off his body as he could and then lay down in the sun to dry off before putting on his clean pants.

His body still tingled from the soap, but at least he didn't smell quite so much like the soap, and he was clean. He even remembered to clean his bottom good, and under the skin of his pee-pee, as his Mama called it. He never could figure out why she called it that, when everybody knew it was called a dick or cock. Oh well, mamas is strange, he thought, and his was no exception.

Except, he suddenly remembered, she was gone! He'd seen them carry her away. Suddenly he began to cry uncontrollably. What would become of him now? His lean body shook with the sobs which he was powerless to stop. He didn't know how long he cried, but finally the sobbing stopped and it was just tears rolling down his face. With the palms of his hands he wiped his eyes, and lay quietly with his face to the sky. A slight breeze dried his tears now, as it had done for the rest of his body. He rolled over to let the breeze and sun dry his back and legs.

He leaned up on his elbows and was surprised to see a horse and rider disappearing around the bend in the stream.

Someone had seen him! He knew it! They didn't like boys his age not working in the fields. Bertha told him he should stay with his Mama today, but that wouldn't make any difference to them.

Now he'd be in trouble for sure, he was sure it had been one of the White folks. Byron jumped up and pulled on his clean pants. Then he grabbed the still wet ones he'd washed, the remains of the piece of soap, and ran.

He didn't stop running until he was at the back of his cabin. He slowed, and then waited until his breathing slowed to near normal, then walked slowly and deliberately around to the front. He looked around and didn't see anybody, so he went inside. There wasn't anybody inside either. Maybe, just maybe, they hadn't seen him.

Byron hung the wet pants on the short piece of rope by his bed, and put the piece of soap back where he'd gotten it from the table. He walked to the door and looked outside. The sun was still a long way from setting. But he had nothing to do but wait. Not wanting to be seen doing nothing, he went back inside. There he sat on his bed trying not to think about what had happened this day.

He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there, but he suddenly realized that it was beginning to get dark. He went and stood in the doorway once again.

The people were beginning to come back from the fields, the men and women, big boys and big girls, most walking and carrying tools, some riding mules. Some of the women carried little ones in their arms. The field work day was over, now the chores around the cabins had to be done, the meals cooked, the gardens tended, the horses and mules fed, the cows milked, the chickens tended, and the cabins cleaned, if there was time. Those old enough to work the fields did, and those who weren't stayed around the cabins with a few of the girls and women too feeble to work, who looked after them. A few women, like Bertha, stayed about the buildings too, because they were very close to having the baby they were carrying. Many plantation owners made them work until their time came, often having the baby arrive right out in the fields. But on the Harper place this wasn't the case. The old Master Harper had taken great pride in his slaves, and wanted them to be strong and healthy. The younger Master had not changed the practice, at least not yet.

Byron watched as they went to their own cabins, some pausing to wave to him as they went by. Several women came over to him and hugged him, and said some words he couldn't understand, most were crying. They hugged him a moment and then hurried off. He guessed that they was cryin' 'cause they knew his Mama had died.

He went back and sat on his bed. For a long time he just sat there staring across the room at the empty bed with the covers still turned back.

That was where his Mama had been earlier in the day, as she lay breathing slow and easy. In a sudden fit of coughing she had put her hands to her face until the coughing stopped. He had watched all morning as she alternated between the sleep-like breathing and the coughing. Twice he had gone over to her and asked if he could get her anything, a drink of water maybe, or something to eat. Each time she just shook her head and smiled weakly at him.

She was a pretty woman, he'd always thought she was, even now when she was sick, she was pretty. Her light bronze colored skin was even paler now, no color in her cheeks, her hair was a bit mussed, but she was still pretty.

Finally after she coughed once again, she had called to him, and he had run over and touched her hand. She grabbed his hand between her own and looked up at him with tear filled eyes.

"Byron," she had said softly, so soft he could barely hear, "You be a good boy. Do what the White Master says, 'n you'll be okay. But always, be good, promise me."

"Yes, Mama," he had answered dryly, "I will."

She had patted his hand softly and smiled. "Now you run over 'ta Bertha's and ast her to come over."

"Yes, Mama," he had said again. She let go his hand and closed her eyes. She looked so pretty. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. It was cooler now. A faint smile came across her face. He turned and ran as fast as he could to Bertha's cabin down the way.

When they had come back, she was lying still in her bed, as when he'd left her. The smile had faded slightly, but he could still see it.

Bertha had broken into tears and began wailing. She had knelt down on the floor and lay across his mother's body was hugging on her. Byron had stood back just watching. Finally Bertha had stood up, dried her eyes with her apron and turned to him.

"Yore Mama's gone now, Byron," She had said. "She was a good woman, you 'member that, a mighty good woman." She leaned over and put her arms around him and hugged him.

"Now you got outside and sit awhile, I's got things t' do."

Byron had done what she told him.

But now it was getting dark, and he just sat starring across the room. He could barely see the bed now, but he could still hear her faint voice, "Promise me."

"Byron!" A voice called, "Byron!" It was Bertha.

"Yes'im!" he answered, twice, the first time even he didn't hear himself.

"Child, what are you doin' sittin' in the dark?"

Bertha came in carrying a lamp. Byron got up and walked toward her.

"Just sittin'." He answered.

"Child, come on now, it's supper time. We's 'bout to eat."

Byron hadn't thought about it, but he was hungry. He hadn't eaten since morning, and then only bits and pieces left over from the food Bertha'd brought over the night before.

"Yes'im," he answered. She turned around and he followed her back to her cabin. It was much the same as the one he and his Mama shared, a single room with little furniture, a fireplace to cook in. An oil lamp flickered on the table casting shadows on the wall. The table was set for dinner, and the two boys and little girl were sitting at the back of the table on the bench against the wall, and her husband, Jake Jackson was sitting on the bench in front. A another plate was set at the end of the table.

"Come on Byron, you sit there," she pointed. Byron walked over to the table.

"'Evnin', Mister Jake," he said politely.

"Good evening, Byron," Jake answered, "Sorry about yore Mama." Jake was a rangy man, with skin a dark as midnight. Most times he was quiet, but he knew his business. His business was seeing to it that the tobacco and cotton were grown properly and that those working in the fields knew how to take care of the plants.

"Thank you, Sir," he answered. The children said nothing, they were all much younger than he was, but they were sitting mighty still for young'ns, he thought.

Byron sat down as directed, and Bertha seated herself next to Jake. Jake folded his hands and bowed his head, and everyone followed his lead, even the youngest.

"Bless us, O Lord," he began, "And these Thy gifts...." concluding with, "And remember our dear Sister Mary Jane, who's now with you, and her young'n here with us tonight. Amen" The family echoed, "Amen."

Byron's small voice was lost in the chorus. The meal was hastily eaten by the hungry mouths gathered around the table. Byron ate sparingly, eating only what Bertha put on his plate, and declining when she offered seconds. With so many to feed, and so little to feed them, they didn't need another mouth to eat what should be theirs.

After they had finished Byron stood up. "Thank you, Mister Jake, and Miss Bertha. I surely do 'preciate you havin' me t' dinner like this."

"Yore most welcome, Byron," Bertha said.

"If'n you all 'll 'scuse me, I'll be goin'."

"'Night," They both answered, and watched silently as Byron walked from their cabin. Bertha covered her face and began weeping softly, Jake comforting her the best that he could, holding her gently in his strong arms.

Byron walked slowly back to the dark cabin at the end of the row. He stood outside for a long time before going inside. He tried not to think about the empty bed which lay across the room from his own. He climbed in and lay back resting his head on his arms which he folded behind it for a pillow. Outside a few voices could be heard talking in low tones, words he couldn't quite hear.

Later only the night sounds filtered through the trees until he finally drifted off to sleep.


The next morning, before the sun had risen fully, Bertha came into the cabin. She was carrying some clothes all clean and pressed.

"You git dressed now, Byron," she said putting them on the bed beside him.

He was still half asleep and stood rubbing his eyes.

"First, though," she said, "You run down t' the stream and wash the sleep off yur face. And mind you don't git yur hair all wet. I'll come back fur ya when we're ready."

He didn't know for what. But when Bertha said git, you did what she said. He ran off and washed his face in the cool water at the usual place closest to the yard. When he came back she was gone, so he took off his pants and put on the clothes she'd brought for him to wear. They were his own Sunday best, all freshly washed and ironed. They smelled of the soap like he washed with yesterday, so he knew she'd just washed them.

He buttoned the shirt and tucked it inside the pants neatly before pulling up the straps on his pants. He felt funny wearing these clothes when it wasn't even Sunday. He'd just finished adjusting the straps when Bertha came in.

"My! You does look fine," she smiled. "Come along now." He followed her. They walked down to her cabin and stood in front. The neighbors stood in front of their doors, all dressed in their Sunday clothes. They were all looking down the yard toward the white barn where the wagons and horses were kept. The large door at the front had been closed when they first got there, but now it rolled open.

A team of mules pulling a small wagon slowly walked out. A man sat in front driving them slowly. He wore a black hat, the kind the White folks wore on special occasions, and he wore a black coat which didn't fit him too well.

Slowly the team pulled the wagon and made a wide turn across the yard and started down the path in front of the row of cabins. The people began to follow behind it. It was when the wagon got nearly in front of where he stood that Byron could see the long narrow wooden box which lay in the back of the wagon.

As the wagon got to where he stood, it stopped. Bertha took his arm.

"We'll follow on here," she said. Jake scooped up the little girl in his arms, and with the boys following behind him, followed Byron and Bertha to the wagon. The driver snapped the reins on the backs of the mules, and they began to move once again.

As the procession started to move on, the voices of the people could now be heard in mournful song. "Swing low, Sweet Chariots...." They sang softly and slowly at first. The procession made its way down the path toward the Big House, as it was called, where Master Harper lived.

It was a grand house, all white with columns and porches all around. A fine green lawn covered with patches of red flowers was in front, with a white stone path leading up from the drive.

As they passed by, Byron looked out of the corner of his eye, as he knew that he shouldn't look away, he saw folks standing on the veranda. He couldn't exactly see who all was there, but it was most of them he was sure.

The wagon continued down the drive and made its way to the small plot of ground out of sight of all the buildings, and resting on a slight hill just up from the stream. A rough wooden fence surrounded the cemetery where the slaves were buried. There was a similar plot, just back a ways on the path on a higher piece of ground, where the White folks were buried, but with a fine white fence, and some trees surrounding it.

When the wagon stopped just passed the break in the fence, Bertha led Byron and the rest of the procession inside the fence and over to where a freshly opened grave yawned, the tall grass had been beaten down as they had worked to dig in the dry earth. They gathered around and waited. Then five of the men who'd stayed behind carefully lifted the light wooden casket and eased it out of the wagon. One of the men, The Preacher-Man, his Mama had called him, lead the way back, and the other four carried the casket to where the people were waiting. As they carried it, the man with the tall black hat drove the wagon away. They set it down on the wooden poles which lay across the grave and stood behind it.

Then the Preacher-Man who led the procession from the wagon spoke.

"My friends," he began, "We have come to this hallowed place to lay to rest the earthly remains of our Dear Sister, Mary Jane, who has departed this world...." The man's voice droned on as he gave the people a sermon on living and dying, of good and evil, of reward and punishment, of heaven and hell and damnation. Byron had heard it all before, but it had never meant much to him before.

Now he understood a little of what it meant, at least the part about dying and mourning and tears and travail. In spite of himself, tears filled his eyes as he looked at the small box which he knew somehow had to contain his Mama's body, though it looked much too small with those four large men holding it so easily, it might as well have been empty.

When the Preacher-Man stopped, all the people, answered with a resounding, "Amen!" He reached down and picked up a handful of dirt from the ground, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return." He laid the dirt on top of the box. He turned and came to where Byron stood.

"God, bless you, my child," he said.

The children and others who'd carried little bunches of wild flowers, now came by and placed them on top of the small wooden box.

Bertha then took his hand and led him to it, pausing a moment and putting her hand on it lightly. Byron reached out and touched the rough box too, though he wasn't sure if he should, or why. Then she continued on away, still holding onto Byron's hand. He followed easily, glad to be away from that place at last. He didn't look back.

"You wait here, Byron," Bertha said when they reached his cabin, "Leave on your good clothes. I'll be back for you as soon as I see to the children." She turned and hurried after her husband who'd gone on ahead.

Byron went inside and looked around. Someone had come and cleaned the cabin. His Mama's things were all gone, and his small amount of clothes were stacked neatly on the bed tied with a thin piece of string. The dishes and other things were all on the table, cleaned and polished. Otherwise, the place was empty. There was no sign that anyone lived there, save his clothes.

What was happening? Where was he going? Why were they doing this? He stood looking dumbfounded, he wanted to run, to cry, to do anything but stand and wait. He'd almost made up his mind to run, when he heard Berth's rustling skirt behind him.

"Come with me, Byron," She spoke firmly, but gently. She picked up the small bundle of clothes from his bed and led him from the cabin. She looked straight ahead, not saying a word, as she took him up the path to the Big House. When he realized where he was going, his heart began to pound. He desperately want to run now. But Bertha's firm grasp on his hand prevented it. She apparently sensed his terror, and she spoke softly, "It's going to be okay, Byron, it's going to be okay."

When they reach the white stone path leading up to the house, she stopped. She handed the small bundle to him and leaned over a little and spoke to him.

"They're waiting for you. Just walk up to the house. They're waiting, now." She leaned a little closer and kissed him softly on the forehead. "Go!" she said firmly. And he went.

He never looked back. Slowly but deliberately he walked up the white path, the flat stones felt cool on his bare feet. He didn't see anyone, but he continued anyway. When he reached the bottom step, the front door opened. He was so startled, that he almost bolted and ran away. But he recognized the man at the door, it was Charles.

Charles was a friend, well, at least he had been a friend of his Mama's. His job, she had told him, was to answer the door when company came to call, and to take their coats and hats, and show them where they should go. He had other jobs too, but his Mama never told him what they were.

Charles came out of the door, and waited while Byron finished the climb up the steps to the veranda. He wasn't a really tall man, but from where Byron was, he looked tall. His dark skin shown and his eyes fairly sparkled in the brilliant sun.

He dark coat and pants were neatly pressed, and a white shirt peeked out from under the coat at the ends of his sleeves and at the collar, his fine black shoes were shinning as he stood waiting.

"I'll take these," Charles said, taking the small bundle from Byron's trembling hands. "Follow me," he said as he turned and walked into the house.

Finally he was going to see inside the Big House. In all his life, he'd never been inside before, never even seen the door open. He'd heard stories from some of the women who worked inside, but nothing they said prepared him for what he saw.

It was marvelous! Too much to see all at once! The floors had coverings on them of something soft like a blanket, he guessed, brightly colored with reds, blues, and gold. On the walls hung all sorts of things, pictures of people, and all kinds scenes from out-of-doors. Candles held by gold holders were everywhere.

Charles led him to a great doorway. Charles knocked firmly twice. A voice from within spoke. "Come in."

Charles opened the door and motioned for Byron to follow him. Reluctantly Byron followed, his heart would surely burst if he continued doing what he was doing.

The room was lined with books on shelves, at least, he thought they were, according to what he'd heard, it must be the Library. Two whole walls were covered with them. Across the room from the door with a large set of windows behind it was a table, at which a man was sitting. A man he'd seen, but didn't know.

"Master Harper," Charles said, "This is Byron. Will there be anything else, Sir?"

"No, Charles, just wait outside," Master Harper' voice was gentle considering his size. He was nearly six feet tall, and weighed a hundred seventy pounds. His dark blue coat was shinny. His hair was curly and golden colored. It hung nearly to his shoulders. He was a young man, younger brother to the Master who had died some months ago from a riding accident, so Byron had heard.

"So you're Byron," the man said standing up and revealing just how tall he was. Byron tried to stand straighter and taller, so he wouldn't feel so small, but nothing helped.

"Don't be afraid," the man said gently, "My name is Jeffrey, Jeffrey Harper. You may not have heard of me before, since I've just recently retired from up North. You may have heard of my brother, Ralph, who was killed a few months back."

Byron knew he should say something, but his voice would not come, so he nodded his head.

"Anyway, I am the new Master. The reason that you've been brought to me it because of a promise that my brother made me give him a few years ago. I don't know what you've heard about my brother, or what you might have been told.

"It seems that my brother and your mother had an affair. And since my brother never married, you are his only child."

The words he understood, but their meaning was unclear. The last part, he did know what they meant! His father was a White Master! How could this be?

"Yes, Byron, as distasteful as most of my family finds it, you are my nephew. And seeing you now for the first time, it is apparent. And I am your Uncle Jeffrey." Jeffrey smiled as he looked down on the boy standing in front of him. A boy, although dressed in overalls and dark shirt, with no shoes, dressed as any slave boy might be dressed on a Sunday, this boy had reddish blonde hair which curled about his face. His skin was the color of rich cream, as though tanned from being in the sun, and his eyes a cool bluish gray.

The very thought of how much this curdled the very souls of his sisters and his aunts and uncles, amused him. Both his parents, James Arthur and Mary Ellen Harper, had died nine years ago, just after Byron had been born. They died not knowing that their elder son had given them a grandson, the son of a slave women. And when Ralph took over Harper's Valley, he'd sent for Jeffrey, who had been in school at the time, and to make him aware of Byron's existence and position. Not that he had any legal status or position, because his mother was a slave. But Ralph, as Jeffrey quickly learned, was deadly serious. He'd made Jeffrey promise that if anything happened to him, and to Mary Jane, Byron's mother, and if there were no heirs to the property, other than Jeffrey and his sisters, that Byron was to be brought up as his son, with the propriety and privileges of a Harper.

Jeffrey at the time, had laughed and thought it a great joke. He also knew that Ralph was planning on getting married to one of the local belles in the winter, but he liked the great fun of it all. They had, while drinking that very night, discussed all the implications and made great plans for his son.

Seeing Byron's confusion and wonderment over what he was saying, Jeffrey asked, "How about it, Byron, would you like to live in this house with me?"

"Yes, Sir, Mister Jeffrey." What else could he say, and he added, "I'd be mighty pleased to be your servant." That must be what he was talking about.

Jeffrey burst into the uproarious laughter. "I like you, Byron," he said slapping lightly him on the shoulder. Byron smiled broadly thinking he had pleased the Master with what he'd said.

"Come," Jeffrey said, "Let me introduce you to the staff." Then seeing the frown on Byron's face, "Oh, they're here to help you when you need something." Jeffrey pulled on a cord hanging at the doorway, then opened the great door to the library and led Byron out into the hallway.

By the time that Byron had a chance to catch his breath, the hallway was filled with people. Some of them, like Charles, he'd seen before. He didn't know many names, but the faces he remembered.

Jeffrey stood Byron next to him as he began to speak to the assembled servants.

"I think you all know Byron here, and you know that his mother was buried this morning," he paused.

Then he began again, "What some of you might not know is that Byron is my brother's child." There was a sort of a silent gasp from some of the servants.

"But what none of you know is that my brother made me promise to take care of Byron, and to see that he is well taken care of. Byron and I will be best friends. It will be your additional duty to see that he has what he needs. You will," he emphasized by repeating, "You will treat him with all the respect due any young Master of the house." He waited a moment for what he had said to sink in.

"You may all return to your duties now," he said, "Except you, Charles." Charles waited, standing rigidly, he dared not look down at Byron for fear of breaking into a smile. He, of course, had known of this before hand.

Jeffrey waited until all the others were out of hearing range before he said, "Charles, will you show Master Byron to his room, which I believe is now ready."

"Very good, Master Jeffrey." Charles then turned slightly and looked down at Byron, "If you will please follow me, Master Byron."

Jeffrey smiled down at Byron who looked up at him with a questioning look.

"Yes, Master Byron," Jeffrey said, "Go with Charles. He's okay."

"Yes, Sir," Byron answered. Charles took Byron through the hall, and up the grand stairway to his room. It was the room which Jeffrey himself had occupied barely two months ago before his brother's death. For Byron it was the grandest thing he'd ever seen.

Once they were inside and the door was closed, Charles began to laugh. He laughed until his sides hurt and tears were streaming down his face. Byron unable to see what he was laughing at or about just stood there, sober faced, and still frightened.

"I'm sorry Byron," Charles said at last regaining control. "I'm sure you don't see anything funny, and truly I am not laughing at you," then sobering a bit himself, "And I'm not at all sure this isn't some kind of joke, Master Jeffrey is playing. But for now, until things change, you will be treated like a White boy, nephew to the Master. Do you understand?"

"No, Sir," Byron said quite honestly.

"Neither do I," Charles admitted. "But let's just say that Master Jeffrey has asked you to play a game with him, and you must play the game, no matter what he asks."

"Why didn't he say that?" Byron asked, "I like games!"

"I guess, Master Jeffrey forgot that you might understand that, he forgot how boys like games." Charles showed everything in the room to Byron, and explained what it was for.

Meanwhile down in the library another meeting was taking place, with a very different cast of players: Jeffrey Harper, and his two older sisters, Miss Cynthia --- Mrs. James Harper Perkins, and Miss Margaret --- Mrs. Lincoln Harper Layton, both of whom had just gotten word from Jeffrey and rushed over from their respective homes with their husbands to hear from Jeffrey's own mouth what was going on.

They, of course, had known all about their brother's indiscretions, as they called them, his decided penchant for Black women. And they knew of Byron's existence, though neither had ever seen the boy. It was said the he did indeed look like Ralph, though his hair was a bit more curly, and his skin more golden in color. Byron's mother was also a mixture of the two races, also having had a White father, James Harper's half-brother Amos Barlow, a strikingly handsome rouge whose only purpose in life, it seemed, was fathering half Black bastards. Mary Jane had half-sisters and half-brothers all across the Carolinas and Georgia, fourteen in all, but could compare to her in beauty. In that way she took after her father. It was no wonder then that Ralph was taken with her. But it was Ralph's mother who resisted every attempt to have her mated with other Black men, and never allowed her to marry. Ralph's father often wondered why, although he knew of her parentage, had never considered it important.

"You don't seriously propose to bring that Black child to live in this house," Miss Cynthia said.

"I do indeed, dear Sister. In fact, he is already here." Jeffrey answered.

"But why, Jeffrey? You'll make us the laughing stock of Charlotte," Miss Margaret pleaded.

"Why?" Jeffrey began, "Because he is, in spite of his birthing and early upbringing, my nephew, and that you will see for yourself, beyond any doubt, very shortly."

"I don't think I can bare it, I think I shall die," Cynthia complained.

"Come, come, dear Cynthia," Jeffrey soothed, "It will work, you shall see." At first, even Jeffrey had thought it prosperous, when Ralph had mentioned it, and thought it might be amusing. But today when he saw young Byron, he knew that his brother was right, the child was his son. And as he grew older, no one would ever know that his mother was Black.

Jeffrey pulled the cord by the door summoning the maid. He ordered that cool drinks be brought to the veranda where they would sit and relax before dinner.

Upstairs Charles showed Byron a small portrait of his father, Ralph, painted when he was a boy of eleven. It stood on the dressing table. It was a small picture. Byron took it and went to the mirror which stood by the window. He looked at the picture, and then in the mirror.

"Is this me?" He asked looking up at Charles.

"No, Byron," Charles answered, "It's your father."

Byron looked at the picture again. Now some things he'd heard, and the way some people treated him were clear to him. The other boys he played with, had laughed and made fun of his hair and his skin. When he'd told his mother about it, she would just smile and told him not to worry about that. He always remembered she had said many times, "It's not the color of your skin, or the way your hair looks, that makes you a man, but how you behave."

"May I keep it?" Byron asked.

"Yes, it is yours. I think that you should leave it on the table by your bed, so you can see it whenever you want to," Charles suggested.

"Now, it's time for you to change. What would you like to wear for dinner tonight?" Charles asked.

Byron looked at the small bundle of clothes which lay on a chair by the door.

"Don't worry about those," Charles said, as he went to a doorway. "Your new clothes are in here." He pulled open the door to reveal a large closet hung with every kind of outfit that one could imagine, of every color and texture and style.

"These may not all fit you now, but they are yours."

Byron had never seen so many clothes. "Are you sure?" he asked as he walked over and touched them.

"I'm sure, but before you dress," Charles said, "You must have a bath."

"I took a bath just yesterday, and I washed real good," Byron protested.

"Byron," Charles smiled, "White folks bathe all the time, it's a wonder they have any skin at all. Come in here," he led Byron into the bathing room just beside the bedroom. In the room was a whole series of things which Byron had never seen.

Among them was a tub, filled with warm water, almost hot, Byron touched it to see. The room had a fragrance like flowers.

"You get undressed, Byron, and I'll help you." Charles said as he took off his jacket. Byron stood still. "Come on, Master Byron, you've got to have a bath."

Still Byron did not move. "Oh you're shy," Charles said, "I'll go in the other room while you undress then." Charles turned and walked into the bedroom. He watched in the mirror, which mothers always placed just where they were for a reason, so they could see into the bathroom to ensure that their sons were doing as they were supposed to do, and not doing those other things boys were known to do. The boys always knew what the mirrors were for, or soon learned, but Byron of course, did not.

With Charles gone from the room Byron quickly removed his shirt and trousers, which he placed carefully on a hook nearby, after all they were his best clothes. Then he went to the tub, and felt the water again. It was still very warm, but he climbed in anyway.

Once Charles saw him sit down in the water, he returned.

"Now, Byron," he said calmly, "Please don't splash about, and get me all wet. I don't want to have to change clothes just now." Just to be safe, Charles took a large towel and wrapped it about his waist. Then he proceeded to give Byron a bath, the way the White folks bathed.

As the strong fragrance of the soap hit his nostrils, Bryon began to sneeze, he put his hand to his face getting more soap even closer to his nose. Finally the sneezing stopped. Charles waited patiently and then continued washing Byron with the soft cloth.

"All right, Byron" Charles said, "Stand up and I'll finish washing the rest of you." Seeing that Byron was reluctant, he added, "Byron, I've already seen all of you, don't be so silly."

Byron, realizing that it was true, gave in and stood up. He was still embarrassed to have someone seeing his privates, to say nothing about having them touch him as well. Charles gentle hands carefully cleaned Byron as if it were nothing at all new to him; seeming to know exactly how to do it. He wondered about this, but said nothing.

Charles took the pitcher filled with warm water and poured it over Byron's body. When he finished, he took a soft towel and began drying Byron's hair and face first. Then he stood up and helped Byron out of the tub.

Byron stood dripping on the mat, and Charles took another courser towel and briskly rubbed him down the back and legs. Then he dried the rest of him. Charles smiled to himself when he finished, "The boy's got almost as much as his father had, and he's only ten. Well, he didn't get that from his father, that's for sure!" Once he had Byron dry, they went back to the bedroom.

"First," Charles said, "You've got to put on your underclothing." He walked to the dresser and pulled out the one piece cotton underwear from the drawer.

"What's that for?" Byron asked.

"That's a good question, Byron. It's called underwear.

All the rich White folk wear it under their other clothes. I guess it helps keep them clean."

"Do I have to?" Byron asked.

"Yes, Byron, you do." Charles held it out to Byron. He helped Byron with the small buttons.

"I think," Charles said, "That you should wear the light blue outfit for dinner tonight." Charles went to the closet and pulled out the soft polished cotton suit, and selected the lightest weight shirt he could find. He knew that Byron wasn't used to wearing all that many clothes, and would die of the heat, if he wore a heavier outfit. After the pants and shirt were on, he went back to the dresser for stockings.

"What are those?"


"For what?"

"For your feet, you can't wear shoes without them."

"I've got to wear shoes!" Byron protested.

"You'll look funny in that suit without shoes." Byron looked exasperated, but sat down in the nearby chair while Charles pulled on the stockings tucking them up under the tight bottoms of the legs on the suit pants. He took a pair of white soft leather shoes from the closet shoe rack and put them on Byron's feet, lacing them comfortably and securely.

"A question," Byron said, "Just how does one pee-pee in this outfit?"

Charles burst out laughing, and since he was just about to stand up from tying Byron's shoes, lost his balance and rolled onto the floor. When he recovered from his fit of laughter, he said to Byron, "Come into the bathroom, and I'll show you."

"Hmmm," Charles said to himself, and then to Byron, "I'll show you, if you promise not to tell anyone that I did. Promise?"

"Promise," Byron said. Byron watched as Charles reached inside his own trousers through the carefully concealed flaps in his pants and underwear and pulled out his penis. He then stood in front of the commode and urinated into it. He shook it several times when he finished and replaced it inside his pants.

"See?" Charles asked. He was embarrassed by his exhibition, but had felt it was necessary. "Now you try."

Byron fumbled with the front of his pants, and then with the underwear, and finally managed to get his penis out through the openings. He actually did have to go, and peed into the commode too.

"You'll have to learn how soon you have to leave a room before you really need to go, so you don't have an accident," Charles said. "It takes practice, but you'll learn. Now let's do something with your hair. It's a mess."

Byron felt it, it was still damp and tangled. They went back to the bedroom where Charles took a soft towel and rubbed his hair gently until is was nearly completely dry. Then he took his fingers and pushed them through the curls, shaking them out as he did so. Moments later he worked the curls into place. He stood back and adjusted some of them with his fingers.

"This you'll learn how to do too," he said. "Most folks have to use a hairbrush, but you won't. Use your fingers, it doesn't hurt the hair like a brush can."

Then Charles helped Byron on with the jacket and buttoned it.

"Now you looks like a gentleman," Charles said standing off a ways and surveying the results. "A fine country gentleman." Byron turned and looked into the mirror. Now he looked even more like the boy in the picture. But was it him?

"Are you sure?" Byron questioned, "I feel awful in these clothes, 'specially the shoes."

"Yes, you look fine, you'll get used to them." Charles answered. He smiled, "Your Mama would be proud. Mighty proud."

There was a knock at the door. Charles hurriedly opened it.

"Master Jeffrey says it's time for him to come down for dinner." It was Flora, she?d been busy when the other servants had been introduced to Byron.

"Flora," Charles said, "This is Master Byron." He stepped aside and revealed Byron who been hidden from her sight."

She put her hand to her mouth to muffle the sound of her scream. Flora was one of the older members of the household staff, and she remembered Ralph from when he was a boy, a few years older than Byron was now. She began to cry as she looked at Byron and recalled the past. He had been her favorite of all the children. She covered her face and ran down the hallway.

"Is she all right?" Byron asked.

"She'll be fine," Charles said softly, "Just fine."

Byron followed Charles down the stairs, holding onto the banister with one hand so that he wouldn't fall. The shoes made him unsteady on his feet. Charles showed Byron the way to the dining-room, and announced him to those already there.

The two women seated gasped when they saw him, covering their mouths with their napkins. The resemblance was undeniable, this boy was their nephew, and he was definitely not Black.

"Byron," Jeffrey stood up and motioned to him to come closer, "These are your aunts and uncles: Miss Cynthia and her husband, Mister Perkins, and Miss Margaret, and her husband, Mister Layton."

"I'm pleased to meet you," Byron answered softly, Charles had coached him on exactly what to say. He stood stiffly waiting.

"Do come and sit down, Byron. You can sit by me," Jeffrey said. Byron hurried over to the place next to Jeffrey. Charles hurried to help him with the chair. When Byron was seated, Charles took the napkin and laid it neatly unfolded into his lap. He leaned over and whispered into his ear. "Just watch how they do things, and try to do things the way they do. You'll be fine."

"Thank you, Charles," Jeffrey said. "Tell them we're ready for dinner."

"Very good, Sir." Charles bowed slightly and left the room. Byron was frightened. Everything was so new. All these dishes, and all the utensils. How could anyone manage with all of them to choose from? He would die!

With only minor mistakes, Byron managed by observing Jeffrey, to eat his way through dinner, speaking only when absolutely necessary. One thing, he found that he'd have to learn, was to take smaller bites, so it didn't take so long to chew them, that way he could answer a question more quickly. His Mama always told him not to talk with his mouth full.

His Mama. It had been just a few short hours since he'd seen her casket lying on the ground covered with flowers. His eyes suddenly filled with tears and he sat with his face looking down at his hands. He couldn't continue. He gasped silently for a breath. His hands went to his eyes and wiped the tears away.

He saw the looks he got from those present. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, "I'm sorry."


When the meal was finished and coffee was being served Charles returned and rescured Byron from the first formal dinner he was to experience. After saying Good night to the guests at Charles' prompting he was ushered up the long stairway to his room.

"You did good, Byron," Charles said smiling at the boy.

"It was so scary," Bryon whispered as he looked up at the big man who began undressing him. First came off the coat, followed by the tie and shirt. Byron let Charles do everything in the order he wanted. He was glad to be rid of the clothes that he had been required to wear for the evening. He sighed as Charles lifted him up to the bed to remove the shoes and the stockings. Charles rubbed his small feets and Bryon wiggled his toes grinning at the feeling. Charles grinned at the boy, and poked his big fingers on Byron's chest. Byron curled his body and rolled onto his back on the bed. Charles unbuttoned his pants and slipped them down the slim legs and off. He folded them carefully laying them along side of the nearly naked boy.

Byron watched as Charles took the pants and hung them on a hanger over which he placed the coat.

"See this is how you put your clothes away when you take them off." Charles then took them to the cabinet from where he'd gotten them earlier in the evening. "The tie goes here," he said as he hung it inside the door. "And the shirt and stockings go in the basket here." Charles lifted the cover of a wicker basket that sat inside the cabinet on the floor. Then he pulled a drawer open and took out some night clothes.

"What are those for?" Byron asked never having seen anything like them before.

"These," he answered, "are what you wear at night." He returned to the bed where Byron was watching. "You best go pee first." Charles held his hand out to Byron. The boy took his hand and slide off the bed.

"Do I wear these?" he tentatively touched his under garment pants.

"No, you can take those off too." He waited while Byron pushed them down and stepped out of them struggling to keep his balance. "They go in the basket too." Byron hurried over to the wicker basket and placed them inside. "That's good. Now run to the bathroom and pee."

Byron hesitated a moment waiting until Charles pointed to the door to the bathroom. He watched as the boy hurried to the door and opened it. The little brown butt disappeared inside.

He heard the sound of the boy peeing into the toilet, watching as the butt wiggled when Byron shook off the small last drops before turned around and came back to where Charles waited.

Charles helped Byron get into the night shirt. Then he lifted him up onto the bed. He turned down the spread and sheet and motioned Byron to slid under it. Then he tucked the sheet up around Byron's waist.

"You try to go to sleep right away," Charles said, "I'll check on you in a little while."

"Good night," Byron whispered, sounding frightened.

"You'll be okay." Charles leaned over and gave him a light kiss on his forehead. Then he blew out the candles and left the room closing the door silently behind him.

Byron close his eyes and quickly drifted off to sleep. He was exhausted.


Later that evening Byron woke with a start. His cheeks were wet with tears and he felt a warmth he was unaccutomed to. He sat up quickly and found that he was not alone.

"It's okay, Byron," it was Charles, "I'm right here." Byron felt Charles' arm holding him close. Byron lay back down and snuggled again Charles' warmth.

"Was I crying?" Byron asked softly.

"Yes, when I came to check on you, you were."

"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm sorry I am being such a bother."

"Shhh," Charles said, "You're no bother 'tall. You're just a young'un."

Byron sighed and moved closer to Charles. As he moved he felt an unfamiliar hardness pressing against his bottom. With some trepidation he moved his hand to where the feeling was coming. As his fingers came to the object he was surprised to feel it move. He instinctively knew what it was.

"It's just me," Charles whispered.

"Oh," he sighed softly. Then had added, "It's sooo big."

"I'm a big man," Charles sighed as he felt Byron's fingers handle his throbbing cock.

"Will you show me someday when it is light?"

"Yes, perhaps," he said, then added, "But now we should go to sleep." He hoped that this would end the session that was beginning to be too much for his efforts to control his eruption. Byron removed his fingers and snuggled back against him.

To be continued ---

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