Pigment

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Chapter 8

Some part of me believed this situation was my doing. I had been the one who left Agatha alone to watch Josiah work while I went to speak with Temperance, when it was my duty to entertain the woman. I couldn’t fight my desire to be near the woman I truly loved, so I left Agatha to her own devices, and now this. Josiah attacked her, dragged her into the barn, had his way with her. I wasn’t surprised.

Yet there were gaps in her story. I hadn’t been with Temperance more than a few minutes, surely not enough time for the slave to force himself on Agatha, and Josiah… loved Daniel, didn’t he? If he did, then he would never touch someone else, certainly not a woman, and certainly not Agatha. Even so, there she was, sobbing with clothes torn, she truly looked the part of a woman who had been done wrong by a slave.

The very instant Mister Taylor uttered the word lynch, Daniel began to back away from the rest of us, his hands at his sides, curling and uncurling into fists as his eyes widened. He seemed to wait until he was certain everyone was distracted, before spinning on his heel and darting for the barn. I followed him, maybe our fathers would assume we were going to find the attacker and drag him out for justice, but I simply needed to see for myself the state Josiah was in.

Darkness was a shadow to validate the sudden atmosphere of despair as we entered the barn, shoving the door open wider to let the light cast further onto the ground, our eyes searching the interior for the slave until we found him hidden behind the pile of hay, sitting with his back to the feed and his knees lifted, arms folded over them and dead eyes staring off at the wall.

My brother didn’t even hesitate to rush over and kneel beside him, and the slave flinched away uncharacteristically before recognizing Daniel and shaking his head, “I told her no,” he said, and Daniel covered his mouth with moth hands as Josiah shifted his eyes away, “She was angry. Tried to force herself on me. I pushed her away. She tore her dress. Ran out… I’m sorry.”

“Josiah,” Daniel leaned closer and wrapped his arms around the slave’s shoulders, one hand on his head to pull him closer, hiding his face against his chest while the pads of his fingers rubbed over his scalp, cheek pressed against the slave’s forehead, “It’s alright, I forgive you. This wasn’t your fault.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I stated, and Daniel looked up at me with a dirty look in his eyes.

“Leave him be, Henry.”

“This cannot be ignored, Daniel, and you know it,” I bit out, “Who is Mister Taylor going to believe? A slave who’s hardly anything more than dirt, or his distraught niece?”

Daniel’s eyes pinched closed and he held Josiah closer, lips pressing against his temple. When he opened his eyes next, they were glassy with unshed tears, and he looked up at me in desperation.

“They’ll listen to you. Help him, please, Henry,” he begged, and I turned my head to look towards the door, only shifting my attention back when Josiah started to stand.

“I can’t hide from this,” he said, and Daniel gripped his arm with both hands.

“They want to lynch you!” he exclaimed, “Josiah you did nothing! She was the one who attacked you!”

“But they won’t listen or care,” Josiah explained softly, dropping his forehead against Daniel’s, “Everything will work out.”

“This isn’t fair,” Daniel croaked, and Josiah placed a gentle hand against his cheek before stepping away from him and turning to me instead.

My heart seized as he bowed his head in submission, and I took a step back to give him room to walk past me and towards the door, with Daniel hurrying after him and me trailing at the back. It didn’t make much sense to me. Women weren’t violent or dominating, was it even possible for them to attack a man sexually?

No, of course it wasn’t, this scum was simply making excuses to save himself. Right? That had to be what was taking place. I told myself there was no way a woman could do such a thing to a man, yet when we stepped from the barn and Agatha moved her eyes to Josiah, I myself felt a shiver down my spine as her eyes leered at the slave, dragging over his body in a starving sweeping motion.

Josiah’s hands clenched and unclenched and father motioned for two other slaves who had been nearby to come forward, ordering them to force Josiah to his knees. Daniel went to stop them, but I grabbed onto his arm and pulled him back, away from the slave as he willingly dropped his knees to the dirt and bowed his head.

Mister Taylor strode forward, leaving Agatha in his wife’s embrace as he stood over Josiah and stared down at him like he was a piece of meat, nothing but a steer at slaughter, “What do they call you, boy?”

“Josiah, sir.”

“Did you attack and rape my niece?”

Josiah gave a single shake of his head, “No, sir.”

“Really? Are you lying to me?”

“I never lie, sir.”

Mister Taylor narrowed his eyes before looking over at my father, “What are your thoughts?”

Father stepped forward, arms folded, “He’s a good worker, never stepped out of line before now, I would hate to lose him.”

“No, but he needs to be punished,” Taylor said, pacing in front of Josiah, hands in fists, “For dishonoring a woman. For touching my flesh and blood!”

“I would never hurt a lady, sir,” Josiah said, daring to lift his head up and meeting Taylor’s eye, “I have honor, sir. I would never lay a hand on a woman. She came at me.”

Taylor threw a fist into Josiah’s face, and I wrapped an arm in front of Daniel when he lunged forward with a gasp to run to the slave, who’d dropped to one hand, the other on his mouth as Taylor cracked his knuckles with a snarl.

“Do not speak to me, filth,” he turned to my father, “As he is your slave, I leave his punishment to you, but he must be punished.”

“Then he will be,” father assured, reaching behind him and pulling the whip from where he hooked it onto the back of his belt, twisting the thin leather rope around his fingers as he sneered down at Josiah, “A few licks of the whip will straighten him out fine.”

“No!” Daniel shoved me away and ran forward, placing himself foolishly in front of Josiah with his arms held out, “Have you not been listening, father? Agatha attacked him! Josiah has never lied one to you, or to anyone of this family; but we do not even know Agatha! Surely there is a possibility that she is unfaithful, and would we want a woman like her in our family? Would you want Henry to marry a woman who lies and abuses men?”

Father threw his head back in a booming laugh that was brimming with amusement and disbelief, “Daniel, a woman cannot abuse a man! Let alone a slave!” he threw his arm to motion down at Josiah, “There is no such thing as abuse if you are simply punishing a piece of property.”

Daniel’s hands clenched into tight fists, shaking at his sides, “How could you say such a horrible thing?” he asked softly, “How could you be so cruel?! Josiah has never done anything to warrant punishment! How dare you! I will not let you hurt him because of your obsession with power! You would rather listen to the words of a whore than the words of your own son?!”

“Enough!” my eyes widened as my father spun at Daniel, his hand flying and slapping him hard across the face.

Hard enough to knock him off his feet, down on his knees and holding himself up on his elbow as his other hand cradles his cheek, his blue eyes wide. There was a cut on his bottom lip, blood dripping down his chin, and my father flexed his hand and turned away like my brother was just another slave.

Josiah inched closer to Daniel to set a hand on his back the same time Temperance ran over and knelt to help him, and I should have joined them, I should have run to Daniel just like Temperance did. I should have stood in front of my father and blocked him from Daniel, but I didn’t. I was either in too much shock… or too much of a coward.

“Henry,” Daniel whispered my name and looked up, “You’ll listen to Henry, won’t you?! He knows what happened, he believes Josiah just like I do!” he looked at me with a desperate gaze, “Tell them!”

I opened and closed my mouth as every eye went to me, my throat became tight and I sealed my lips into a tight line, looking over at where Josiah was kneeling watching my brother with a panicked expression, his eyes burning like he wanted to murder my father for touching Daniel. Then I looked over at Agatha, her dress torn, tears on her face. Finally, I looked over at Temperance, who was giving me the same look Daniel was.

“Daniel,” I started, and he seemed to brighten, before quickly deflating with my next words, “Stop trying to get me into trouble,” I motioned towards Josiah, “He’s a slave, of course he attacked her!”

“No, Henry,” Daniel whispered, and my father started forward with whip in hand, prompting Daniel to scramble to his feet, holding his hands out in defense, “No! Father, please! Don’t hurt him! He didn’t do anything!”

“Don’t hurt him,” my father repeated, grabbing Daniel by his arm and dragging him closer, shaking him, “I’m no longer amused by you, Daniel. Your carelessness, you’re disinterest towards the family trade. You treat slaves as if they’re human,” he laughed, then shoved the whip against Daniel’s chest; his hands came up to grab it, and my father hissed, “You need to be taught a lesson as well,” he pushed Daniel towards Josiah, who lifted his head, “This is your punishment as well as his, my son. You need to learn your place, and you need to learn that place is above him, whip in hand.”

“God, God no,” Daniel whimpered, trembling, and my father pushed him harshly forward until he was standing directly above Josiah, who didn’t seem to have a problem with tilting his head back to keep eye contact with Daniel, “Father please…”

“Unless you want him lynched-.”

“No!” Daniel spun to gape at our father, “No please.”

“Then do it.”

Tears were in his blue eyes, slipping down his cheeks as he turned to look back down at Josiah. There was so much fear in his eyes as he stared down at the slave, shaking furiously, his lip trembling, it was a wonder how he could still hold the whip without dropping it, a sob catching in his throat as he shook his head and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry”.

Josiah smiled. I had to blink and rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, and I wasn’t. Josiah was smiling at Daniel with a soft upturn of his lips, in his eyes I saw no regret, just warmth.

They dragged Josiah to a post and bound his wrists to it, and my father tore open the back of his thin short so his back was in clear view of everyone watching. Then they pushed Daniel forward and stood back, and Daniel choked a few times, wiping at his eyes with his fists and kneeling down to twist Josiah’s shirt up, holding it up to the slave’s mouth.

“Bite down,” he whispered, “Please forgive me.”

Josiah bit down on the shirt as he was told and closed his eyes as Daniel stood up, standing at the slave’s back and lifting the whip. For a long time, he just stood there, and the last thing he did was look over to me, desperation on his face, fear I’d never seen before in his eyes. What did he expect me to do? Take back what I’d said before? Step forward and say I wanted to punish Josiah in his place?

This couldn’t be avoided. Someone had to be punished, and I felt no guilt at the fact Josiah was the one under the whip. The first hit, however, opened my eyes. Temperance turned away, her hands covering her face, and Daniel sobbed. There was no way he could see through his tears as he brought the whip down again.

A thought crossed through my mind, that this wasn’t right, and after that thought I turned away. This was hardly punishment for Josiah, he’d gone through plenty before now I was sure, but Daniel… father didn’t know about their rendezvous of course, or this really would have been a lynching, so he had no idea… no idea that this really was a punishment for Daniel.

The two slaves helped drag Josiah away when my father held his hand up to stop Daniel, who collapsed to his knees choking and gasping for breath, throwing the whip aside and wrapping his arms around himself, bent over as he heaved from his tears. He was an ugly mess, snot dripping and eyes so full of tears they looked like pools of rainwater, cheeks red.

Finally, I came forward, knelt beside him to comfort him, wincing at the blood that was smearing on his white sleeves from his fingers; Josiah’s blood. When I touched his back, he slapped me away and scrambled across the ground to put distance between us, giving me a look that wasn’t angry, but completely betrayed and broken.

He got to his feet and ran towards the house, and I slowly rose back to my feet, turning to see Temperance was standing there, glaring at me, shaking her head, “How could you?”

I straightened into a defensive position, “How could I not? Daniel’s too soft hearted, he needed to be taught this lesson-.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Daniel, Henry!” Temperance yelled, and my head reeled as she scoffed, “But I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with you.”

I stepped closer, “How dare you! You have no idea just how deep this is, he’s my brother-!”

“Exactly!” Temperance snapped, and I froze, “He’s your brother, Henry! You’re supposed to protect him!”

I didn’t say anything back, and Temperance turned, heading towards the house, possibly to comfort Daniel. My head bowed and I took a few steps forward, leaning down to pick up the whip and touching it, watching as blood smeared against my fingers.

Daniel did this. He did this to someone he loved. He was forced to hurt someone he cared about.

I was supposed to protect him…

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