Authors: Al Lacy
Martha lowered herself slowly onto the lounge and leaned her head back, closing her troubled eyes. Her mind immediately returned to the conversation that afternoon when her friends had spoken about salvation and Catherine had quoted the Scripture from Proverbs about the fear of man. As she mulled it over in her mind, the picture of Finn’s angry face flashed before her. She shuddered and turned her thoughts to other things.
T WAS MIDMORNING ON
the second day after Nathaniel’s death. At the Charles Moore mansion, lovely Dorena left her small room on the second floor and tapped on the door next to hers.
“That you, Dorena?” came Priscilla Moore’s soft voice.
Priscilla was seated on her bed, clad in a black dress. She was bent over, tying the laces of her black shoes. She looked up to see Dorena in her Sunday-best checked gingham dress.
“You look very nice, Dorena.”
“Thank you, Miss Priscilla.”
“You look more than very nice.”
Priscilla pulled the bowknot tight on her shoe and left the bed, taking hold of Dorena’s shoulders. Keeping her voice low, she said, “I’ve told you … when we’re alone you don’t have to put the ‘Miss’ in front of my name. We’re best friends, aren’t we?”
“Oh, yes,” said Dorena, her eyes shining.
Priscilla embraced her and whispered into her ear, “Then best friends call each other by their first names. I call you Dorena, and when no one else is around, you just call me Priscilla.”
Dorena kissed her mistress’s cheek and said, “I love you, Priscilla.”
“I love you, too.”
“Should I take my Bible to the burial service?”
“No, honey. Ol’ Mose will have his Bible when he preaches, but this isn’t like church services.”
Doreria nodded. “I just didn’t want to—”
Her words were cut off by the booming voice of Lewis Moore thundering down the hall. They couldn’t tell for sure what he was saying, but his tone was sharp and filled with anger.
Priscilla crossed the room and opened the door. Dorena eased up beside her. They saw Charles and Evelyn Moore standing at their son’s door. Lewis was partially visible as he said, “I’m amazed that you would even ask me! No! I am not going to that stupid burial service! I hate those black beasts, and I wouldn’t waste my time watching one of them buried!”
Priscilla felt Dorena stiffen. She put an arm around her and whispered, “Don’t pay any attention to Lewis, honey. You know how the rest of this family feels about Negroes.”
Dorena nodded as they heard Charles say, “Son, it is more for the Colvins’ sake that we’d like to have our whole family there. We’ve been trying to win their confidence so we can get them to come to church and—”
“So why should I be there, Dad? If you ever get the Colvins to church—which I seriously doubt—they won’t see me taking up space on a pew!”
Evelyn broke the silence by saying, “Lewis, you’re a part of this family. You know how it hurts us that you won’t go to church with us. But couldn’t you at least give in a little and come with us to the burial service? Is that asking too much?”
“Yes, it is, Mother. This conversation has become a bore. You two go on and watch them drop that slave’s corpse in the ground if you want to, but I’ve got better things to do.”
Charles’s voice was tight as he said, “You watch your mouth, young man. You have no right to talk to your mother like that. You apologize to her right now!”
There was a brief pause, then Lewis said, “I’m sorry, Mother. Can I go back in my room now?”
Charles said something the girls couldn’t make out, then they heard Lewis’s door close.
“Come on, Dorena,” Priscilla said. “I’m sure Mother and Daddy are ready to go.”
When the girls stepped into the hall, they saw Charles and Evelyn heading toward the winding staircase. Dorena’s mother, Liza, met them at the top of the stairs, and Evelyn said to her, “Will you go tell Priscilla and Dorena we’re ready to go, please, Liza?”
“Yes’m.” She took only a couple of steps, then said, “They’s comin’, now, Miz Evelyn.”
Both Charles and Evelyn turned to watch the girls. When they drew up, Charles said, “Liza, did you hear Lewis’s comment about Negroes?”
“Dorena did, Daddy.” Priscilla touched the blond curls that dangled over her ear.
Charles’s brow furrowed as he looked at Dorena and said, “I’m sorry, dear. Lewis sometimes uses his mouth before he engages his brain. You know he doesn’t speak for the rest of this family.”
“Yes, sir. I do know that.” As she spoke, Dorena put an arm around her mother. “My parents know that, too, Master Charles.”
Liza set soft eyes on Charles and Evelyn. “You have been so good to us. My Caleb says almos’ every day how good Massa Charles and Miz Evelyn have been to us. We’s sorry that Massa Lewis feels toward us black folks like he does.”
“Maybe someday he will see how wrong he is,” Priscilla said.
Charles gusted a sigh. “We’d best be going, ladies, or we’ll be late for the burial service.”
Dan Johnson guided the family carriage into the lane of the Addington plantation and headed for the large brick mansion nestled in a grove of pines. Douglas and Jane Addington were the newest plantation owners in the area and had expressed to the Johnsons and the Moores that they would like to attend the burial service for Nathaniel.
Alexander, who rode in the front seat between his father and his big brother, said, “Pa, do Mr. and Mrs. Addington know that Nathaniel was beaten to death by Finn Colvin?”
“I don’t know, son. Probably,” Zack said. “Most everyone has learned of it like we did.”
“You mean when George Colvin told it yesterday in town when he was drunk?”
“Yes. But now that George has sobered up, he would just say he was drunk and didn’t know what he was saying. There’s no proof that Finn did it.”
“And even if somebody had proof,” put in Dan, “everybody around here knows it wouldn’t do any good to go to the law about it. Finn has the sheriff and the constables in his hip pocket.”
“Sad, but true,” Catherine said.
Angeline spoke up. “Daddy, do you know what the Colvins are telling people about the cause of Nathaniel’s death?”
“Well, honey, Martha is totally mum about it, as she was to us and the Moores when she let us know when the burial service would be held. But from what I’ve picked up, Finn and his sons are telling people that Nathaniel had sudden pains in his stomach. After a few minutes of agony, he died.”
“That’s awful,” said Angeline. “And, of course, the slaves are afraid to tell anybody.”
“That’s right. If they did, they would suffer severely for it.”
Dan shook his head. “Something’s got to be done, Pa.”
“I don’t know what that would be, son.”
“But Finn and his no-good sons shouldn’t be able to get away with this kind of thing!”
“I agree. But I don’t know what we can do about it.”
“All we can do is let God handle it,” Catherine said.
As the carriage drew near the mansion, the Addingtons were waiting on the porch. Douglas was in conversation with two of his male slaves. Jane Addington smiled at the Johnsons and gave a tiny wave.
Moments later, when the Addingtons were settled in the carriage,
Dan put the horses to a trot as they headed back to the road. Douglas and Jane rode in the back, facing Catherine and Angeline.
Douglas spoke up so all could hear. “We’ve been told by some folks at church about this dear old preacher on the Colvin plantation called Ol’ Mose. They say he’ll be doing the service today.”
“He sure will,” Zack said.
“They say that in spite of his age, he can still put out a good sermon.”
“That he can,” said Dan, guiding the carriage up the winding lane. “We’ve heard him preach burial services on several occasions. If he does that well in the slaves’ church services, I know they’re hearing good preaching.”
“Do you know how old he is?” Jane asked.
“He turned ninety-one last December,” said Catherine. “Ol’ Mose’s birthday is on Christmas Day.”
Douglas gasped in surprise. “Ninety-one! Bless his heart.”
“He’s getting somewhat feeble,” Zack said, “but he will preach till he simply can’t stand up.”
“And then he will probably try to do it sitting down, Daddy,” said Angeline.
Zack chuckled. “That wouldn’t surprise me, honey.”
“I assume his name is actually Moses?” Douglas said.
Catherine nodded. “Mm-hmm. But I guess he’s been called ‘Mose’ since he was a child. And, of course, the last forty years or so, it’s been Ol’ Mose.”
“With a Bible name like Moses,” Jane said, “he must have been born here in the South.”
“You would think so, but he was born in West Africa.”
“Well, there must have been some kind of Christian influence that would cause his parents to give him a Bible name.”
“There was,” Catherine replied. “British missionaries went into that part of West Africa about 110 years ago. From what Ol’ Mose has told us, the chief of his tribe was led to the Lord by the missionaries, and hundreds in the tribe eventually were saved, including
Mose’s parents. Because of the British influence in the tribe, they were taught about the calendar, and this is why Mose’s parents knew he was born on Christmas day.
“Mose was saved as a child and educated by the British missionaries. He can read and write English as well as anybody. When he grew up, he married a young lady in the tribe named Jasmine. Mose and Jasmine were captured by white slave traders in 1834 and brought here. They were sold to Finn Colvin, who had his plantation running well by that time and was adding slaves. Jasmine died, I believe, about fifteen years ago. That dear old man has been the preacher on the plantation ever since he first arrived and he has led a great number of the Colvin slaves to the Lord over the years.”
When the few local plantation neighbors had gathered with the Colvin family on one side of the open grave, all the Colvin slaves gathered on the opposite side. Two elderly slave women stood beside the young widow, Matilda, whose features showed the anguish of mind and heart she had suffered since her husband’s death.
The slave cemetery was at the extreme back side of the plantation in a grove of tall white oaks and hickories. A soft spring breeze ruffled the limbs, and the South Carolina sun sent its rays earthward as if to somehow brighten Matilda’s day, as well as that of the others who mourned Nathaniel’s death.
The only slave on the white side of the open grave was Dorena, who stood next to her mistress.
Nathaniel’s body lay inside a thin wooden coffin that rested on the ground next to the grave. The lid was nailed shut, and a crude wreath of willow limbs lay on top.
At the head of the coffin stood Ol’ Mose, holding a well-worn Bible in his gnarled hands. His wrinkled skin was a deep black, with the gleam of graphite. He had a flat nose and full lips, but his face was thin and worn. His back was bent and his slender shoulders stooped, yet his eyes had the luster of a much younger man.
When all were assembled, Ol’ Mose began to sing a hymn about heaven in his cracked and broken voice. The slaves immediately joined him, as did most of the plantation neighbors. Finn Colvin and his wife and sons stood in silence.
Tears flowed freely down the cheeks of the slaves as they sang.
Martha Colvin wiped her own tears with a hanky, her heart broken over Nathaniel’s unnecessary death. She felt strong emotion for Nathaniel’s wife, Matilda, who couldn’t sing for the sobs that broke from her.
When the hymn was finished, Ol’ Mose ran his gaze over all the faces in the semicircle. The sun glistened in his silver hair as he gave a heart-touching eulogy about Nathaniel, telling what a fine man he was, and told of the day he had the privilege of leading both Nathaniel and Matilda to the Lord Jesus Christ some six years previously.
Matilda was leaning on the elderly women flanking her, trying to maintain control of herself and avoiding any glance at Massa Finn for fear he would read the scorn in her eyes.
Ol’ Mose put on a pair of cracked spectacles that were barely intact. Although he could hardly see the print on the pages of his Bible, he preached a straightforward gospel message, quoting most of the passages by memory as he reminded all within the sound of his voice that one day their time to die would come.
He warned of the danger of dying without Christ and without hope. For those who were saved, he gave comfort that no matter when their time came to leave this world, the Great Shepherd would be there to take their hand and lead them through the valley of the shadow of death.
He closed off by showing from the Scripture that Nathaniel was now in heaven with Jesus, and waiting for his dear wife and his Christian brothers and sisters to meet him on the golden streets of the New Jerusalem.
The old man’s voice was gravelly as he looked at the faces around him and said, “An’ folks, listen to Ol’ Mose. If Nathaniel’s voice could be heard from those heavenly portals this mornin’, he would
plead with those of you who are not saved to turn to Jesus before it is too late.”
Letting those words sink in, Mose closed the service with prayer, asking God to comfort Matilda and the others who mourned Nathaniel.