I spent most of my time working hard and avoiding Master's angry
attention. But it wasn't all hard work and beatings. The barn was very
large and it had a little window at the very top for ventilation. When
nobody was looking I used to climb up to that window and pretend that I
was in the crow's nest of some great ship coming from Europe or Africa.
I had heard about these ships from some of the slaves that had been
brought in chains from across the seas and from some of the house slaves
who had seen pictures of the great three-mast sailboats in books from
I'd sit up there at the end of the day, watching while the slaves
picked cotton in the fields, pretending that I was the lookout put up
there to tell the captain when there was some island paradise where we
could drop our anchor.
And sometimes, if I was very lucky, I would catch a glimpse of Miss
Eloise Tobias's daughter.
Eloise. She was dainty and white as a china plate. Her pale red hair
and green eyes were startling. In my mind she was the most beautiful
creature in all of Georgia.
When Eloise would come out to play I'd squeeze down behind the sill
of the open window and watch. Even when she was alone she laughed while
she played, swinging on her swing chair or eating sweets on the veranda.
Every time I saw her in the yard behind the Master's mansion I got a
funny feeling all over. I wanted to go down there and be happy with her
but I knew that a nigger* (*That was back before I met Tall John and he
taught me about the word "nigger" and how wrong it was for me to use
such a term.) like me wasn't allowed even to look at someone like Miss
One day, when Eloise was sitting in her swing chair alone, I stuck my
head out to see what she was doing. But I didn't realize that the sun
was at my back and that it cast the shadow of my head down into Miss
She looked up, squinting at the sun, and said, "Who's up there?"
I ducked down under the windowsill but that didn't stop her from
"Who's up there spying on me?" she cried. "Come out right now or I'll
call my daddy."
I knew that if Miss Eloise called her father I'd get more than a
whipping from Big Mama's razor strap. He might whip me himself until I
was knocked out and bleeding like the slaves I'd seen him bullwhip while
they were tied to the big wagon wheel in the main yard.
I stood up and looked out.
"Yes'm, Miss Eloise?" I said. "I been workin' up here. Is it me you
"You were spying on me," she said.
"No, ma'am," I assured her. "I's jes' workin'."
If ever you tell a lie you should know where it's goin'.
That's what Mud Albert would tell me. I should have heeded those words
before telling Eloise that I was at work. Because there was no work for
a groom like me up in the high part of the barn.
"Breshin' the horses," I said lamely.
"There ain't no horses in the top'a the barn," she said, pointing an
accusing finger at me. "You're malingering up there, ain't you, boy?"
"I's sorry," I said, near tears from the fear in my heart.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...