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Sean had begged Preston to stay behind to keep the business going, But Preston would have none of it. He had gone from being too poor to own a slave in a ‘country’ where slaves and land were the only things of value, to helping and harboring and even being intimate with a runaway slave. He had changed from a supporter of slave ownership. Now he had killed a man for trying to return a slave to his rightful owner. Actually he had killed the man to save his own life, but he knew he would have to. During all of the first years of his life he had never met a slave, he had seen slaves, seen them bought and sold, seen them worked, even whipped, but in truth, only from the outside looking in. Now he had met two slaves, known two Negroes as people, and his life was very different. He would save Cassandra from slavery, from the slavers, or die trying.

For Sean’s part, he cared for all of them, for every long lost puppy and everyone who had ever been harmed. It was in his nature. Also, this was business. The person kidnapped had been under his protection. As Prest had so clearly pointed out, this was their fault. So it was his duty, his responsibility to rescue the girl and punish those who had violated his protection.

What the two boys had not expected was to have so any allies in their undertaking. When they arrived at dockside preparing to board the Endeavor, on which Mike had purchased two tickets, they found Neal Harcroft there, prepared to travel with them. Neal was quick to introduce the man who accompanied him. “Preston, Sean, this is Washington Jefferson, a very good friend of mine. He is willing to help us right this terrible wrong. I have known Mr. Jefferson most of my life and we have lived together for the past ten years. Washington is a writer and painter and helps me out in the livery sometimes. He has also selected eight very fine horses for us. Four are already on board and four more are waiting down river, all arranged by telegraph.”

“Well Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Harcroft,” Preston said. “We are happy to have you with us and grateful for your help and especially for the horses.”

“I am happy to be of service. By the way, you may as well laugh about my name, everyone else does. It seems my parents were great patriots, though I barely knew them. They were killed in a carriage accident when I was four. Call me Jeff, okay. That’s what my friends call me. The other alternative was ‘Wash’ and what kind of a name is that? Anyway, the two of you have made a great impression on Neal, and if Neal likes you, then so do I. I lived in an orphanage until I was sixteen. It was not a great place to be for someone like me. Finally I ran away. Life was pretty grim for a few years after that until I met Neal. My hero, my life and my love. Shall we go on board? Since we all will have nothing to do for some time, I will buy everyone a drink in the lounge as soon as everyone is settled in. We need a plan.”

“Well,” Sean said, after a few drinks, “Neal, tell us how the two of you met.” Neal glanced over at Jeff, asking for permission with his eyes. Washington nodded his assent and Neal began. “Well, I had taken the train up to Chicago, looking to buy some horses. I figured in a big market like that I would be able to find what I wanted at a fair price. Well, anyway I was stayin’ at a good hotel there and I left in the evening to go get some supper at a good steak house I had heard about. On the way back I ran into Jeff, and he was, well. . .”

Jeff broke in to finish for Neal. “I was living a miserable existence there in Chicago. I had no skills and no training, there was nothing I knew how to do but write beautiful poetry. When was the last time you bought any of that? Anyway, I was starvin’. So I took to the streets. First I started begging, that didn’t work out too well. Then I started letting men pick me up. Before long, I was selling myself for a few bucks and a soft place to lay my head and a decent meal. Neal had just finished dinner but he took me right back there, shabby as I was. I ate so much I almost got sick. Oh he took me back to his hotel room that night, but he wouldn’t touch me. He made me take a bath and threw my clothes in the garbage. Bought me all new clothes. I spent the night, but still Neal would not touch me. He was and still is the nicest, sweetest person I have ever met in my life. After that I would not leave him. Took me two weeks before, you know, he would, you know, do, anything.

“We-ell how old are ya,” Prest asked.

“Oh, I turned eighteen during that first week with Neal. That was part of the reason Neal wouldn’t have nothing to do with me. I was so thin and scruffy, Neal told me later that he thought I was only about fifteen ’til I told him different. Neal said he never even thought of me ‘that way’, thought he was rescuing a child. Anyway I made him love me and we been together ever since, that was over ten years ago.”

Sean broke in. “So you were a, a prostitute? I never heard of a man prostitute, Sakarya Escort even in New York.

“Well, perhaps you have been lucky to have met Preston so young,” Neal said. “For many of us, folks like us, finding someone to be with, to, er, love can be very difficult.”

“Well ya know,” Prest said, “Sean ‘n’ Ah, neider of us ever knewd, even guessed we was, ya know, jezz, he’p me out here, is dere a name for dis? What we is? Ah ain’t even so sure Ah am, ya know, thet way, ‘cept maybe with Sean.”

Sean broke into the conversation, “I have been with girls, too, never guessed I might, like, that is, to, uh, be with guys, until I met Preston here and he was so beautiful I could scarcely keep my hands off him after a while. What we have, what we have become to each other, just sort of happened.”

“That’s funny,” Jeff said. I knew I was this way from the very beginning. Even when I was four or five I knew I wasn’t like the other boys.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the way it was with me, too,” Neal said. “Until I got old enough to move away from home, set things up where I could keep things private like, I got beat up all the time, even worse than that some times.”

“Whadya mean,” Prest asked? Whadya mean werse?”

“He means he was raped,” Sean put in.

“But dat don’ make no sense,” Preston said, “how would dey rape him unless dey was dat way, too?”

“There are many men out there,” Neal went on, “who don’t see themselves as the kind of a person who has sex with other men, but when they are the aggressor, the rapist, they can still see that as masculine.”

“Thet jes sounds lak pure evil ta me,” Prest said.

“Preston.” Jeff said, “I read in this book that over there in England there is a doctor. He thinks what I, er, what we’ve got is some kind of disease. He gave us a name. He calls us homosexuals. It means from homo in Latin that means man or in Greek it means ‘the same’, so you see it kinda means we have sex with the same sex. I read up on it a little because I was trying to find out, you know, about people like me, find out who, what I was. One of the things I found out is that there are girls like us, too. Also I found out that there have always been homosexuals. Way back in Egypt and Rome And Greece, even among the Indians. Only it seems all those societies have treated our kind of people better than ours treats us.”

“So far we have had no trouble,” Preston said.

“Is that right,” Jeff answered, “I heard you have already killed several men. I have lived Twenty-eight years and have never killed anyone. Are you sure they all had nothing to do with your being ‘homosexual’?”

“Ah nevah even considered it. Mos’ly they jes’ start drawin’ or shootin’ afor I gets a chance to ask what its all ’bout.”

Sean broke into the conversation to announce that he was going to their stateroom to take a nap, since they might be working well into the night. “Me too,” said Neal, “I’ll walk that way with you.”

Once there was just the two of them, Jeff moved over to sit next to instead of across from Preston. The physical tension between the two was both obvious and unavoidable. The two young men talked for a long time, until they noticed the time was drawing near when they would arrive at New Madrid. As they spoke, neither could resist the temptation to touch one another lightly on the shoulder or hand or knee. Jeff brought up that between Cairo and New Madrid, they would cross from Kentucky into Tennessee and back into Kentucky twice each. At one point they would not even be across the river from Missouri, that Tennessee would be on one side and Kentucky the other and that when they arrived at New Madrid the river would be flowing directly north. “One more thing,” Jeff pointed out, “The folks there don’t like it if you fuck up. Just like Cairo is pronounced Kay-ro, New Madrid is pronounced New Mad-rid.”

“When we land at new Madrid, we should be almost a full day ahead of our kidnappers. What we will do is Check all the roads and byways going south from Cairo on the Missouri side, scatter some money around and find out if anyone has seen anything. If that doesn’t turn up anything, we will just have to scout out the roads one by one, maybe even split up. If that happens I want to be with you. I am not very good with a gun and I know you are.”

“How do we know they won’t cross into Tennessee or Kentucky, those are both states friendly to the South? They could maybe make it to Mississippi from there.”

“Both states may be friendly to the Rebs, uh, excuse the expression, but they are crawling with Union troops. And now that emancipation is coming, there will be thousands of Negroes crowding around all the federal troops heading north to what they think will be freedom. The kidnappers won’t risk going that way. But in Missouri, it’s already a non-slave state, the feds are there, but have just about got things under control, so they will be less vigilant. Adapazarı Escort They can travel and pretend she is their slave until they get south. There is no law against having slaves there and the edict in the warring states doesn’t take effect for three months yet. There are not as many Union troops down this far. All in all they are going to have trouble. That’s how we think they’ll leave a trail, they will be looking for those friendly to their cause. I hate to tell you this, but they are probably traveling very slowly, because they are probably using her for their own pleasure, thinking that they’ll get their troubles worth if they can’t reward her or sell her. It is hard to say what the likes of them might do. I am just telling you because I know you care for the young Negress.”

“How did ya know, er, jeez ain’t nothin’ private no more?”

“Well, there is a certain community in Cairo, if you know what I mean, and when we saw the two of you come to town, big and open and young and pretty as all get out, living together and everything, well you created quite a splash. Every one of us noticed and word gets around. Then there is the Negro community. You think they didn’t notice the two of you, working for Li’l Mike and all, right in front of all the Negro haters. In those two communities, at least, the two of you are heroes.” “Well, shee-it Ah ain’t never tried ta be no he-ro er nuthin’. Ah jes’ shot me a few folks what was tryin’ ta shoot me. Tha’s all. Af’er dat fust time on da trail, Ah jes’ decided Ah better learn ta shoot good er Ah was gonna be dade. Ah mean Ah knew how ta shoot from huntin’ back home and all, but Ah never done shot a pistol and never tried ta draw fas’. Ah had ta learn quick if Ah was gonna live.”

“Well rumor has it that you learned well and fast. I would not be surprised if many young punks trying to earn a name for themselves didn’t come looking for you.”

Oh great, jes’ what Ah need is fer more folks tryin’ ta shoot me.”

“We don’t always determine our own destiny, just like I didn’t choose to be so damn attracted to you. Don’t you get tired of being so beautiful? It ought to be against the law.”

As they spoke they walked around the deck, enjoying the sights around the river. The paddle wheeler had slowed down to a crawl to navigate the two sharp 180 degree turns. After the second they would be at New Madrid. The river was heavy with traffic, both war time and not. A steady stream of paddle boats and flat boats headed south filled to the brim with Yankee reinforcements and equipment. And Empty barges and steamboats pulled steadily up stream to reload at Cairo. Rumor was that the entire Mississippi would soon be in Yankee control and then, no matter how long it took to invade the east, the end would be near for the Confederacy. They could see as they passed, the tremendous damage that had been done at island # 7 just a few months earlier by three days of Yankee bombard-ment before they had finally surrendered. Only minutes before they were to land, they were both excited by catching a glimpse of one of the new ironclads steaming south, bristling with gun turrets, looking low and evil like a predator to be reckoned with.

The two went below and rapped on their stateroom doors to alert the other two that they were nearly there. All four went to the horses then, saddling them and adding saddle bags and bedrolls and provisions for traveling so that when the boat landed they would be ready to go.

Sean, the city boy, was the least used to traveling by horseback, but Preston also had not traveled by horse since before the war. Both would pay with sore butts and backs if they had to go far.

They began by checking with Neal’s friend and fellow livery owner in New Madrid. There they checked on the extra horses and also asked if anyone had rented horses. That no one had was a good sign. Before nightfall they were on the road, checking at farmhouses, taverns and inns for any sign of the kidnappers. They learned that there were only three passable routes south from New Madrid that were not swampy or under water. Sean came up with the idea of using brush to clear one path so they could tell if anyone had passed, then they split into two teams to explore the remaining trails, resolving to return to the first if they found nothing. Sean and Neal took the most probable route and Jeff and Prest were to take the other. All four were to meet back at the embarkation point at ten P.M. to report any results, no matter what they found. No one was to take individual action.

Jeff and Preston came upon two separate groups of Yankee cavalry on the run, but neither paid much attention to the two young travelers. It appeared that the cavalry were bent on some mission of major importance. They also ran into a group of Jayhawkers, but they gave them wide berth. They rode as far as they could and still return by ten, having found no trace of the kidnappers. Along the way, though they Serdivan Escort talked and talked and talked, their mutual homosexuality forming a bond of friendship stronger than one would assume for two people who had so recently met.

Back at the rendezvous, that had to wait only about 20 minutes before Sean and Neal rode into view. Though the moon had been full up to then, it was setting. Utter blackness was descending. The four decided to set up a limited camp, with a shaded fire, to avoid the possibility of being spotted by the wrong people. They set up camp quickly, had a limited supper of hardtack and jerky. They used Sean and Prescott’s old shelter from their war dodging days. Jeff volunteered to keep the first watch, but Prest offered to keep it with him. They would watch until two A.M. Then Sean and Neal would replace them. Each team would watch four hours and sleep four hours. They would be up at dawn to intercept anyone coming down either of the two trails. Early in the morning, one team would check to see if anyone had traversed the third road.

Once the moon set, darkness came quickly. If not for the faint glow from the fire, the blackness would have been total. Preston and Jeff sat back to back at first to lend support and give them two-way coverage. So how come you aren’t in the war?” Pres asked Jeff.

Jeff started to laugh. “I didn’t want any part in any of it. Although I believed in emancipation, in the abolition of slavery, I did not see how my getting killed would further that cause. So I kissed the sergeant who came to enlist us. He busted my lip with his fist, but I wound up not having to go. How about you? How come you aren’t off somewhere getting your ass shot off?”

“AH were a stupid li’l boy,” Prest said. ” Ah thot Ah believed in slav’ry. At least Ah said Ah did. But now a course Ah realize Ah never really thot about it. Well, anyway, Ah went off in gloree to whop the Yankees an’ tol’ my ma Ah’d be home by Christmas. Ah thought Ah knowed what all Ah were fightin’ fer. The honor of the South an’ de raht to keep our slaves, though, I din’t own none, an’ the glory and honor of ma state en all that she-it! But den when da musket balls started flyin’ Ah din’t know she-it ‘cept Ah din’t wan ta dah fer no reason Ah cud thank of. Any how, I got ma musket broke and got knocked out beefer Ah cud do anythin’. If’n Sean hadn’t a wandered along, Ah’d be long ded afore now. He found me in thisere crick bed with ma ankle all stove in, picked me raht up and carried me inta dis cave he had found. Took care o me ’til Ah was better, then we lit out across da land and here we is. Der’s a lot more ta tell, a course, but tha’s enuf fer now.”

“Wait a minute what do you mean that’s enough for now? How did the two of you end up being lovers, I mean, from what I understand, neither of you was, or at least thought you were, uh, you know, before that. So how did that happen?”

“Ah ain’t at ahll sure Ah kin answer dat. At leas’ part of it was ma fascination with dat huge piece ah meat he carries around all day. Ah cudn’t keep my eyes off’n it. Ah tried ta deny Ah was ‘tracted ta it, but Sean wudn’t let me. Also, ‘n maybe dis is da mos’ importan’ thang, Sean was allees tellin’ me how Ah was so beautiful ‘n ahll. He was lak stone in luv wit’ me. How cud Ah he’p but lak him too? Ah don’ thank Ah knows ya well enuff ta tell ya eny more den dat.”

“I sincerely hope that we will get to know each other a lot better.”

Prest looked at the older man with the obvious question in his eyes, but Jeff only smiled in response.

*** *** ***

In the shelter, meanwhile, Neal and Sean were getting acquainted in a similar fashion, the excitement of their quest making sleep allusive. “So how did you and Prescot get together,” Neal asked.

“It’s a long story,” Sean replied, “but the gist of it is that I sort of rescued him. I found him lyin’ in a river bed with a broken ankle and dragged him into a cave. We are both deserters, basically, him from the Rebs, me from the Yankees. I never had, well, neither of us had ever, well, uh, you know, been with a man, and Prest had never had sex with anyone. And it was partly our circumstances, being together all the time for months, sleeping together and all. But also there is just something about him, I don’t know, but the moment I first saw him lyin’ there in that gully, looking like a dirty fallen angel, he just took my breath away and captured my heart forever. After that, well the other part, it just sort of seemed to come naturally.”

“So are the two of you, er. . . ah. . . How do I say this? Are you, hmm, exclusive?”

“Why do you ask? You want him don’t you?”

Neal began to laugh, holding his hand over his mouth to suppress the noise. “He is beautiful, isn’t he? But no, it isn’t him I am attracted to. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeff dearly and plan to stay with him my whole life if he’ll have me that long. But I am not the type to be satisfied with one person only. Neither is Jeff. We have each been with others, you know, that way, but have still managed to stay together. But our ability to find others to be with is very limited, as you may well understand.”

“So you are attracted to me instead of Prest? That doesn’t make sense.”

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