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Authors: Al Lacy

Ransom of Love (26 page)

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“That’s right. I’ve got to ride out and check a stretch of fence on the far west side of the estate. One of the slaves told Pa that part of it is in need of repair. I’d like for you to ride out with me.”

“Well, of course. That is, if your father or mother don’t already have plans for my services.”

“I already cleared it with them.”

“All right then!”

“Which horse do you want to ride?”

Benjamin ran his eyes to the horses in the stalls. “I’ll take the gray roan.”

“Okay. Saddle him up.”

Moments later, Dan and Benjamin were galloping through the cotton fields. They jumped the horses over irrigation ditches and weaved around trees that stood in clusters, finally arriving at the fence Dan wanted to inspect.

They dismounted and led their horses by the reins, moving slowly as Dan scrutinized the railings.

Benjamin chuckled. “Mr. Dan, you could have made this inspection by yourself, but I’m glad you invited me along. Our days of spending time together will soon be gone.”

Dan stopped. “I had an ulterior motive for inviting you along, Benjamin … other than wanting to spend time with you, I mean. I want to talk to you about something.”

“About what, sir?”

“You and Dorena.”

Benjamin’s eyebrows arched. “Yes?”

“I am glad to see that you and Dorena are so deeply in love. I know you both desire to marry, but because of the situation, it is impossible.”

“We very much want to get married, Mr. Dan, but she is owned by Charles Moore. I have not even considered trying to talk to him about purchasing her. Your father is very kind to pay me for my work here on the plantation, but I will never be able to set aside enough money to make Mr. Moore a reasonable offer for her.”

They started walking along the fence again.

“Benjamin, we are not only brothers in the Lord, but we’re best friends, aren’t we?”

“We sure are.”

“Well, I have an offer to make to my very best friend.”

“What kind of an offer?”

“Just a minute,” Dan said, dropping the reins and moving to the fence. “Here’s the place the slave was talking about. Looks like it’s about … mmm … thirty feet or so in length. It’ll take new lumber to repair it. I think this stretch of fence must be the oldest on the estate. I’ll have to get some men on it right away.”

“I will be glad to help, Mr. Dan,” Benjamin said.

“I’ll tell Pa. Now, about that offer …”

“Mm-hmm?”

“Once I have things going good on my Texas ranch, Benjamin, I want you to come and work for me.”

Benjamin’s eyes widened. “Pardon me?”

“You heard me right. When I know I can pay you a good wage, I’ll write and let you know. I want you with me on my ranch.”

“B-but, Mr. Dan, you already have four men waiting for you at the ranch. You won’t need a fifth man.”

“Oh, but I will. I plan to expand the ranch’s beef output as soon as I own it, Benjamin. I’ll need you. With your experience on the cattle ranch in South Africa, you’ll be a valuable asset to me.”

“But what about Master Zack? What would he say about this? After all, he is the one who paid the ransom to set me free.”

Dan grinned at him. “I have already discussed it with both of my parents. They agreed to let me make the offer to you. Reluctantly, of course, because as Pa put it, you are the best worker they have ever had on the plantation. They said they will miss you, but they know how close you and I have become, and they want to see both of us happy. In fact, Mom said she would be relieved to know I had someone like you with me out there. How about it? Will you plan to come?”

Tears misted Benjamin’s eyes. “Mr. Dan, your offer touches me deeply. I am honored that you would want me to come and be one of your ranch hands, but—”

“But what?”

“I couldn’t leave Dorena. Even though we cannot become husband and wife, we have promised never to marry anyone else. The
Moores are so good to let me spend time with her when I am there. We’ve prayed all along that the Lord would make a way for us to marry, but so far He hasn’t done it. Mr. Dan, I appreciate your offer more than I could ever tell you, but my love for Dorena is too strong. I cannot leave her and go to Texas. I … I hope you understand.”

Dan grinned. “Benjamin, the Lord can do the impossible. In fact, He has made a way that you and Dorena can become husband and wife.”

“Mr. Dan … what do you mean?”

“The man who is selling me the ranch sent me his financial records for the past five years so I could see just how well the ranch is doing. The way I see it, I should be sending for you within no more than two months after I move onto the ranch. Because you and I are best friends, and I want to help you to have Dorena for your wife, I plan to pay you double what the ranch hands are being paid. This will only be between you and me.”

Benjamin waited for Dan to go on.

“Since the other ranch hands are paid seventy dollars a month, you will make a hundred and forty. I figure to buy your clothes for you as a reward for coming to work on the ranch, so your expenses will be at a minimum. You should be able to put a hundred dollars aside each month. Don’t you think so?”

Benjamin swallowed hard and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“As you know, women slaves sell for around three to four hundred dollars. Priscilla and Craig will be getting married in a few months, so Dorena will no longer be her slave. I figure that since Charles Moore is a Christian brother, and he knows about the love you and Dorena have for each other, he will let you pay him the ransom to set her free. At the most, it will be five hundred dollars.”

Benjamin’s eyes were glittering. “Why, Mr. Dan, that would mean, in four or five months, I would have enough to buy her! I’m looking at seven months, eight at the most, till I could marry Dorena and take her to Texas.”

“That’s right … if Charles doesn’t ask for more than five hundred
for her. But even if he did, you are still looking at a matter of months until the two of you could get married.”

Benjamin swung his fist through the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord! This is the answer to our prayers!”

Dan smiled broadly. “Our God doesn’t always get in a hurry like we do, Benjamin, but when He does put the wheels in motion, things work out so wonderfully!”

“They sure do! Ah … Mr. Dan?”

“Yes?”

“Do you suppose I should go to Mr. Charles Moore right away and tell him our plan? Ask him if he will sell Dorena to me and how much he will want?”

“The quicker, the better,” Dan said.

“All right. When we get back to the house, I will ask Master Zack for time off to go to the Moore plantation.”

“And will you let me know how it goes as soon as you get back?” Dan said.

“That I will, my best friend!”

Benjamin was about halfway to the Moore plantation when his attention was drawn to two slaves who were frantically trying to lift the corner of a wagon partially loaded with cotton bales.

He focused on the scene and realized the wagon was tilted to one side.

He dug his heels into the gray roan’s sides and put him to a gallop. The roan jumped the fence and raced across the field.

As the horse skidded to a halt, Benjamin slid from the saddle and immediately saw that the weight of the wagon was on a man’s chest, crushing the life out of him.

Running his gaze quickly over the wagon and its partial load of cotton bales, Benjamin said to the two panicky slaves, “You two get down there with him so that when I lift the wagon, you can pull him out.”

They stared at him in disbelief.

“Hurry! Get down there!”

As they obeyed, Benjamin bent his knees and got a firm grip on the bed. Taking a deep breath, he adjusted the position of his feet, then strained with all his might and lifted the heavy wagon till he knew it was off the man and the slaves had pulled him free.

When Benjamin eased the wagon down, the two slaves were bending over their companion, who was now breathing raggedly but freely.

“I know you,” one of the slaves said. “You are the hired servant from the Johnson plantation … the one who has a heart for Dorena.”

“That’s me,” Benjamin said.

“You must he very strong! Manfred an’ me couldn’ lift the wagon together!”

Benjamin put his attention on the injured slave. “Are you hurting bad?”

“You … you saved my life,” the man replied. “Thank you.”

“Are you in pain?’

“My chest … yes. But I think it is not serious. My breathin’ hurts less with each breath.”

Speaking to the others, Benjamin said, “It is best that we take him to Master Charles. He may want to send for a doctor.”

“That is best,” said Manfred.

Benjamin looked down at the injured slave. “What is your name?”

“Andrew,” he replied between ragged breaths.

“All right, Andrew. I will carry you. It may hurt some when I pick you up, but I will try not to hurt you more than is necessary.”

The slave closed his eyes and nodded.

Benjamin cradled Andrew in his arms and said to the others, “I will appreciate it if one of you will bring my horse.”

Charles Moore was standing at the back porch when he saw the slave named Manfred running toward him, calling, “Massa Charles! Massa Charles!”

“What is it, Manfred?”

“Massa! De wagon fall on Andrew! We was workin’ an’ de wagon act strange. Andrew crawl underneath to see what wrong. Suddenly it make big crack sound, and de wagon fall on him! Me an’ Thomas try to lift wagon, but it too heavy. Benjamin—from Johnson plantation—come along. He lift wagon off Andrew!”

Moments later, Charles was inside Andrew’s cabin, asking him questions about his injury.

“Massa Charles, I do not need a doctor. The pain is easin’ off.”

“All right, Andrew,” Charles said. “I will not send for a doctor right now. But if you should experience pain later, I will have a doctor here to examine you.”

“Thank you, Massa. I appreciate yo’ kindness.” Then to Benjamin he said, “I am so glad you came along when you did. Fo’ sure, de wagon would have killed me soon if it had not been removed.”

Charles set appreciative eyes on Benjamin. “Son, I stand amazed at your strength. How you lifted that wagon, I’ll never know. But I sure do thank you.”

Benjamin smiled. “I am glad the Lord gave me the strength to do it, Mr. Moore.”

Charles looked a bit puzzled and said, “This isn’t the girls’ visiting day. What was your purpose in riding over here today, Benjamin?”

“I came to have a talk with you, sir.”

“Oh? Well, in that case, let’s go to the house.”

A
S
C
HARLES
M
OORE AND
B
ENJAMIN WALKED
toward the mansion, Lewis came out of one of the barns and headed their way. When they drew abreast, Lewis gave Benjamin a malignant look, then said to his father, “I’m headin’ for town to pick up the baling twine we ordered. Just wanted to see if there’s anything else you need me to get while I’m there.”

“I can’t think of anything, son.”

Lewis nodded and went his way.

“I must apologize for my son’s rudeness,” Charles said.

“Why does Mr. Lewis so dislike me, sir?”

“It’s not you in particular, Benjamin. Lewis has a dislike for all black people.”

Priscilla was in the hall when she heard the back door open and saw Benjamin with her father. She whirled about and dashed to the winding staircase.

“Dorena!” she called to Dorena, who was halfway up the staircase. “Come down, quick! Benjamin is here with Papa!”

Dorena quickly descended the staircase. “What do you suppose Benjamin is doing here today?”

“I have no idea, but I thought you would like to see him.” Priscilla gave her a little shove. “Go!”

Dorena scurried to the hall and saw Charles and Benjamin about to enter the library. They stopped as Dorena moved toward them.

“I’ll wait for you in the library, Benjamin,” Charles said, then went inside and closed the door.

“Hello, beautiful lady.”

“Hello, yourself,” she said softly.

“I am here to talk with Mr. Charles. My, you certainly look lovely. I like the new way you have styled your hair.”

She touched her hair with the tips of her fingers. “Thank you. Actually, it was Miss Priscilla who fixed it this way.”

“You tell her she did a wonderful job.”

“I will. Well, I must not detain you from your talk. I will see you Thursday, Benjamin, when the girls get together.”

“I will look forward to it as always,” he said.

When Dorena reached the winding staircase, Priscilla was waiting for her on the bottom step.

“Could we go up to your room?” Dorena asked.

When they entered the room and Priscilla led her toward the sitting area, she noticed a frown on Dorena’s flawless brow.

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Did you hear Benjamin say why he is here?” Dorena asked in a low voice.

“No. I couldn’t make out what was being said. Why is he here?”

“He said he’s here to talk to your father.”

“Is that all? I mean, is something wrong? You’re upset.”

Dorena shook her head. “That’s all Benjamin said. He didn’t tell me what he was going to talk to Master Charles about.”

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