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Historical Fiction Thriller Adventure

Sam Newsome

Sylvie and Pike

            The family was gathered at the New Year.  The patriarch of the family, old Sam, was now ninety-five years old and had the entire large family crowded in the living room for the traditional story-telling.

            “Children, I have a story for you, perhaps it’s more of a confession, but if I don’t tell this now, the entire story may be lost forever.”

            The family thought that they knew all of old Sam’s stories.  Little Tommy rolled his eyes and complained, “You’re not going to tell us about your one room schoolhouse again?”  And his mother Christine echoed, “No Tommy and I’m sure he won’t tell us about his poor childhood during the depression.”

            Sam replied, “No children, this is a secret of our ancestors that I’ve kept all my life; and you’ve never heard this before, so listen closely because I’m not sure I can ever tell it again.  Once is all you get.”

            “This story is as true as I’m sitting here and goes way back, all the way back to 1840 on the banks of the Santee river is South Carolina.  There was a rice 

plantation where a young girl, a house servant.  Her name was Sylvie.”  As he said this, he looked at his great-granddaughter, a thin wisp of a girl just about your age, maybe sixteen years old.

            “She was a pretty little thing, thin as a rake and a sharp as a tack.  She was a talented seamstress and could sew anything as fact as you can talk.  Before Christmas she was sewing a special dress for her missie.  Missie was the daughter of the plantation owner.  As you might guess, she was a bit spoiled having a servant fulfill her every need, and since she really had no need to exercise, she was, well, she was a bit plump.  Though she and Missie were about the same age, Missie was privileged and conceited and not at all like the sweet shy Sylvie.  

            “Special material was brought to the plantation to make a dress for the Christmas Ball.  The satin and silk shined in the morning sun coming through the window.  Sylvie had several sessions of fittings with Missie to be sure the fit was perfect.  During the process of sewing there were several remnants of material 

left over.  Missie dismissed these with a wave of her hand and told Sylvie that she could do with them as she wished.  

            “As the holiday approached, the gown was complete and Missie stood in front of the full-length mirror assured that she would attract the expected attention at the ball.  She was so proud that she immediately went to the parlor to show her mother the fine attire.  While she was gone Sylvie donned the dress she had sewn from the discarded remnants.  It was a resplendent dress with a white bodice, a blue and white skirt and a bold red sash.  The pallet of colors worked well in spite of being improvised from scraps of material.  Sylvie turned and modelled in front of the full-length mirror as she had seen Missie do.  At that moment Missie returned.  Sylvie thought that she would be pleased with the results of her talent, but she was furious.”

            “ ‘How could you deceive me?  Did I tell you that you could copy my gown?  Where do you think you’ll wear that?  Do you think you can come to the ball?  I can tell you that’s not likely.’

            “In a trembling, but still defiant voice, Sylvie answered, ‘You gave me the scraps to use as I wanted.  I know a servant won’t be welcomed at the ball.  I just wanted to have this dress to show Pike.’  Pike was a field hand and had long been known to be Sylvie’s beau. 

            “Missie was now screaming enough to draw attention of the whole house.  ‘Well you can just take it off and give it to me.  This is my special dress and I won’t have a slave girl servant in the same special dress as I’ll wear at the ball!”

            “Sylvie had never heard so loud a rant from Missie who was now enraged.  Missie picked up a large pair of shears from a side board and Sylvie was uncertain whether Missie meant to cut the dress off or stab the tiny servant girl.  She ran.  She ran past the slave quarters and her humble home and into the rice fields.  There she encountered field hands that included her love, Pike.  Pike grabbed 

her wrists and then held her tightly to his body and finally was able to calm her down enough to hear her story.

            “He finally managed to get her to listen as he asked, ‘Do you think Missie will cause you trouble?’  As he said this, he heard the big black cast iron alarm bell ring in the yard of the manor house and heard the shouts of the overseers and the howl of the hounds.   He looked down at her and simply said, ‘We have to go!’

            “The sun was setting and there was a chill in the air as the couple fled the plantation grounds and penetrated the thick pine forests.  Sylvie was not as fit as   Pike and he urged her along and frequently carried her as they sought to delude the plantation staff.  They would occasionally rest a spell, but all too soon they   heard the hounds closing in.  Eventually, they could see the dim lights of town, but the hounds were closing in and they knew they would be captured.  Even reaching the town would not guarantee their safety as they would likely be turned back to their master. 

            “As the lead dog appeared only yards away, the pair gave each other their first kiss and climbed the nearest tree.   They were barely above the yapping hound that was jumping at the base of the tree as several others joined in.  They could hear the brush moving as the men chasing them were closing in.  Pike whispered to her, ‘I’m going to jump to that tree.’  He pointed to the closest tree.  Sylvie knew that it was too far.  ‘I’ll distract them and maybe you can get away.’ 

            “Sylvie held tight to the trunk as it whipped with Pike’s jump.  His jump was Olympic caliber, but short and he fell twenty feet to the ground and the hounds.  The pack viciously attacked Pike and Sylvie who was by now totally spent lost her grip and tumbled to the ground only a few feet from Pike.  The plantation staff circled the couple and began kicking and pummeling Pike as they pulled Sylvie roughly to her feet and held her tightly.  As the overseers were ready to administer a not too gentle dose of plantation discipline a figure appeared on horseback in the clearing.

            “The main overseer saw him and bellowed, ‘Bull, you ain’t got no reason to be here.  These here are common runaways.  We’ll take them back with us and teach them the error of their ways.’

            “The man on the hoarse now had his long gun propped in his arms.  It was not aimed, but certainly ready.  ‘Johnson, you’re now in the town, and that makes this my business whether they’re runaways or not.  I’ll take them to town, and we can settle this in the morning.’

            “The chief overseer, Johnson, would not argue with Bull Hall.  Bull had a reputation of strict law enforcement to both free and slave and white and black, and Johnson knew that there was no point in any bluster or argument.  They gathered their dogs and began reluctantly making their way back to the plantation while casting threats under their breath as they left.

            “When the forest was quiet, Bull dismounted.  He looked at Pikes wounds and said, ‘Boy, can you walk?’

            “Pike’s answer, ‘Yes sir, I think so.’

            “He roughly snatched Sylvie up by one arm and placed her in front of his saddle.  He remounted and the trio made their way back to town.

            “Not a word was passed on the ride.  In town they were escorted to a jail-like building and pushed down two flights of steps into a dirt walled cell.  A woman, probably Bull’s wife brought a pail of water and some clothes.  ‘Drink some and clean yourselves up and dress your wounds.  He’ll check on you in a bit.’

            “The couple huddled together, in shock, scared, and afraid for their lives.  Soon Mr. Bull came down.  He almost had to bend double to get into the cell through the small doorway.  He listened to the story; occasionally asked a question, but mostly let the couple tell the story in their own words.

            “Finally, he spoke, ‘You will both die tonight and be buried next door.  Sylvie, get out of that dress and give it to Nora.  She’ll give you something less noticeable to wear.’  He left and made sure to lock the door.  Soon the same lady, Nora, brought a simple cotton dress. 

            “Locked in a sub-cellar, they were able to see through a space between the logs two boys digging in the field behind the jail.  As the light improved in the predawn, they saw that the field was a cemetery and the boys were digging graves, their graves. 

            “Soon Nora appeared again and left a thick slab of bread, fried fat-back and strong coffee.  ‘Now, some men will come from the plantation soon.  It will be very, very important for you to be quiet, quiet as the grave.’  Soon they saw that the boys had put something in the graves and refilled them.

            “As predicted, shortly after sunrise, armed horsemen arrived from the plantation.  Johnson had regained some bravado.  “Hall, where’s our property?  You ain’t got no right to hold them from me.  I’ll take them now!’

            “Bull Hall was ready for them.  This time he had his long gun loaded and ready.  ‘Johnson, you’re right.  But your dogs chewed him up pretty good and that liittle slip of a girl was plum run to death.  I got’em back her all right, but they

 must have got a second or third wind and tried to take off again.  I had to end them.  They’re right over there.’  He pointed to the newest graves in the cemetery.  He held out the torn remnants of Sylvie’s dress to Johnson.  It was now blood stained.  ‘Before she died, she said it was all about that piece of cloth, so I guess you can have that.  That’s all that’s left.’

            “Johnson was cowed, but still had to have some bluster so as not to lose face.  ‘Well just dig them up and take them back.’

            “Bull cocked and aimed his gun, ‘Take a step toward those graves and I’ll be diggin’ another one.’

            “Sylvie and Pike watched from the sub-cellar.  It was not hard to be quiet, as they were barely able to breath.  Later, after the plantation men had left and were felt unlikely to return, Bull once again folded himself into the cellar.  This time he had some papers in an oilskin packet.  Here’s your papers Mr. George Newman and Mrs. Martha Newman.  You’ll stay here today and Nora will bring a

 few clothes, but we don’t have much.  A peddler friend of ours is in town and will be leaving tomorrow.  He has a certain way about him that includes a wagon with enough secrets to hide all sorts of contraband.  I arrested him before, but the crafty little Jew persuaded me that he would be much more useful as a friend than a convict.   He’ll see that the Newman family get to a place where they can be respected as a free man and woman.”

            Old Sam concluded his tale and seemed spent.  Telling the Sylvie and Pike sage had sapped his last bit of strength. This was a new story that no one in the family had ever suspected as the origin of the Newman clan.  Now that the secret was out, the bravery of the young couple and the kindness of the stranger from long ago would never be forgotten.

August 15, 2020 01:40

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1 comment

Jimmy Irons
23:02 Aug 26, 2020

Good story, I was a little lost at the beginning, but it sped up really nicely.


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