Read Different Sin Online

Authors: Rochelle Hollander Schwab

Different Sin (9 page)

“Well, so far as I can see, it’s his loss, not yours, Zach,” he said at last.

Chapter 7 — 1859

DAVID REACHED INTO HIS BUREAU DRAWER for his woolen underwear, stowing it in his carpet bag with his extra shirts and collars. Charles Town, Virginia would likely get cold nights, though it was still early autumn.

Nor was there any telling what sort of accommodations they’d find, with the town already jammed with spectators come to see John Brown and his followers brought to justice. Excitement over the slavery issue had died down somewhat in the two-and-a-half years since the Supreme Court ruling on Dred Scott, but now flared to new intensity with Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. He opened the door to Zachary’s knock.

“You still packing, David?”

“I’m nearly done. We’ve got over two hours though.”

“I know.” Zach smiled. “Actually, I’d appreciate the use of your shaving things before you pack them up. I’ve had these whiskers so long, I’ll be damned if I know what I did with my own razor.”

“You’re going to shave them off?” David watched in surprise as Zach filled his wash basin with water, then began lathering up the soap. “How come? I’m not sure I’d even know you without them.”

Zach continued working the soap into a lather, then unfolded David’s razor, testing its edge gingerly against his thumb. “That’s my hope. Though it’s not
my
notion to shave, I’ll tell you that. Greeley insisted on it. He’s had one reporter run out of Charles Town already. The
Tribune’s
not exactly welcome south of the Mason-Dixon Line.”

David laughed. “I’m not surprised.”

“I have to admit, my face is well known among my fellow newsmen. Fact is, Greeley was still reluctant to send me, despite my promise to shave.” Zach hacked at his growth of beard with a scissors, then began brushing the lather onto his cheeks. The shaving soap foamed over the top of the jaggedly trimmed beard. Thin rivulets of soapy water trickled back into the wash basin.

“You look like a mad dog, Zach.” David grinned. He shoved the last of his clothes into his bag and sat on the edge of his bed to watch. Zach drew the razor down his cheek, squinted into the mirror and repeated the operation, wincing as the blade bit into freshly denuded skin. His soapy chin whiskers slithered into the basin.

“And now?”

David studied him. Zach looked younger, his face vulnerable without its heavy wreath of hair. “Like a man who’s just shaved off his beard. Your skin’s lighter where it was growing, not as weathered.” He stood, stretching out his hand involuntarily. Zach’s newly shaven skin felt soft to his touch. David dropped his hand, flushing in momentary embarrassment. “Well, I doubt anyone will examine you that closely.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Charles Town’s unpaved streets were coated with dust kicked up in thick clouds by the shuffling feet of volunteer militiamen. Members of the parading companies dangled their muskets with casual threat as they spat out challenges to newly arriving visitors.

The few rooms at the town inns had long since been taken.

“Landlord here says there’s a chance a Mrs. Jackson, a little ways out of town, might be able to put us up,” David reported to Zach, as he exited from the third one they’d tried. “‘Go about a mile,’ he said, ‘then look for a white house on the left.’ Better let me do the talking, Zach,” he added, as they turned down the short lane leading to the sagging, white house.

David smiled disarmingly at the plump, suspicious farmwife. “Afternoon, ma’am. I’m David Carter, with
Leslie’s Illustrated
, and this is Mr. Walker. We were told in town you might have rooms to let.”

“That depends.” Mrs. Jackson pushed a strand of gray hair back into her bun and placed her hands on her hips. “Mr. Jackson and myself don’t hold with having no abolitionists under our roof. Where y’all say you’re from?”

“From New York now, ma’am, but my people come from down near Fredericksburg. I was raised in Alexandria.”

“Fred’ricksburg?” She nodded, pleased. “I thought you sounded like a home boy. What you doin’ up in New York with all those Yankees?”

David shrugged. “It’s the only place I could find work as an artist, ma’am.”

“Well.” She paused. “I knew a Silas Carter came from down round Fred’ricksburg, let me see, ‘bout ‘thirty-six or thirty-seven. Married up with Sue Jenkins. Had themselves six, seven young’uns. He any kin to you?”

“Well, not any close kin that I know of, ma’am, though I think my granddaddy might’ve had a cousin named Silas. His name was Enoch Carter. He farmed most of his life, raised tobacco mostly.”

Mrs. Jackson smiled. “Well, we ain’t got but the one room, but I reckon you’re welcome to that.”

“We can share it,” Zach put in quickly.

“You’ll have to share a bed, too, mister. Ain’t got but the one. Follow after me, and I’ll show you.”

Zach sank onto the sagging mattress after Mrs. Jackson left them, stretching himself out comfortably, head pillowed on his hands. “It’s fortunate for Leslie he had you to dispatch down here, even though he’s bent over backwards not to offend the slave-holders. It’s not so easy being a
Tribune
correspondent, I’ll tell you that. I’m forced to disguise myself like a play actor and send my copy in secret through Greeley’s man in Maryland.”

David grinned at him. “And you’re enjoying every minute of it. Come on, let’s get back to town and find out what’s going on.”

The town square was teeming with the tramping militia, correspondents from papers up and down the East Coast, giggling girls in twos and threes talking excitedly and casting sideways glances at the militiamen, rifle-toting farmers on horseback down from farms in the surrounding hills, small boys scrambling up trees for a better look at the doings and busy housewives who had found an errand in town a sudden necessity.

The jail stood catty-cornered from the stately, columned courthouse where the Jefferson County grand jury had already indicted Brown for murder and treason to the Commonwealth, a week after his capture. David drew a rough sketch of the jail and its heavy guard of militiamen in full dress uniforms.

Zach tapped him on the shoulder. “I’ve been talking to some of these fellows while you were drawing. They say the jailer isn’t averse to admitting newsmen in to see Old Brown. I suppose you’d better do the talking again.”

David nodded eagerly. They edged their way through the guards, up the half dozen steps of the narrow porch fronting the jailhouse. The guard at the door moved back a reluctant half step as David identified himself.

“Wait a minute, David!” Zach grabbed David’s arm, pulling him back the way they’d come. “Don’t look now, but that son-of-a-bitch from the
Herald
was coming right toward us. Blasted pro-slavery rag. He’d like nothing better than to expose me.”

David glanced over his shoulder. The
Herald
correspondent had climbed onto the porch from an opposing set of stairs, and was turning into the doorway of the jail.

“Yeah, I see him. And we were practically inside too. It’s a good thing Leslie doesn’t know we’re traveling together. He’d blow his stack if he knew I missed a chance like that.” He shook his head, smiling ruefully at Zach. “Well, I guess we can try again tomorrow. We might as well get some supper.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“Lumpy as this mattress is, I daresay we’ll sleep well anyhow.” Zach hung his shirt on a wooden peg on the wall. “I’m getting past the age where I relish such a long journey.”

David glanced at him. Zach had stepped out of his trousers and stood momentarily nude as he reached for his nightshirt. His bare thighs boasted the same firm musculature as his chest, his stocky body still showing only the hint of a paunch. David forced his eyes away. “You’ve a long way to go till old age, Zach.”

“Well, our sessions at Ottignon’s may have done me a bit of good.” Zach chuckled. “But I daresay I’ll sleep well, in any event.” He stretched luxuriously, then arranged himself comfortably under the counterpane.

David shifted uneasily on the sagging mattress alongside him, feeling the closeness of Zach’s comfortably sprawled body. He couldn’t remember ever sharing a bed before.

Well, it didn’t matter. He relaxed, letting himself be lulled by Zach’s rhythmic snores.

Despite his closed eyes, David could still see Zachary standing across the small room, just a few feet from him. He watched, helpless to turn away, as Zach stepped lazily out of his clothes, stretching his bare, muscular body. Zach met his eyes then, smiling at David’s fascination.

He moved toward Zach, unable to stop himself, reaching out to touch him. The smooth skin of his side was warm under his fingertips, soft and unprotected like his newly shaven face. David caressed him. His hand moved down of its own accord, stroking Zach’s firm, hairy thigh.

His fingers were inches from Zach’s member. He trembled.

David woke. He lay pressed tightly against Zach in the sagging bed, his nightshirt up in a tangle around his waist. His own member had grown hard and throbbing as his nude flesh rubbed Zach’s flank. My God! David held his breath, terrified to move. Dear God, don’t let him waken!

Zach stirred, turning toward David, his arm outstretched. David flung himself convulsively back to his side of the bed.

He lay still, barely breathing till he heard Zach’s snores start up once more. Thank God he hadn’t been discovered!

How could he dare even close his eyes again? David turned onto his stomach, sliding to the edge of the bed. He hooked his right arm and leg over the side, then lay rigidly, waiting for morning.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“Better get up, David, if we’re to get breakfast before the trial. We’ll have to be at the courthouse when the doors open just to get inside, with this mob in town.”

David opened his eyes to daylight. Zach stood in his shirtsleeves, lathering up David’s shaving soap. He’d gone back to sleep after all then. Christ, how could he have had such a dream?

He glanced at Zachary. Zach gave the soap a last stir with the brush, then picked up the razor. He grimaced as he drew it down his cheek. “It’s getting late, David,” he repeated.

“I’m up.” There was nothing on Zach’s mind beyond his impatience to get to the courthouse. David was sure of it. Zach couldn’t know about the bizarre dream he’d had. David thought of how he’d awakened lying practically atop Zach. He must have dreamt that too. He put it out of his mind as he pulled on his clothes.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The courthouse was as crowded as Zach had predicted. John Brown, weakened by the wounds he’d received at his capture, lay on a cot before the bench. David edged through the crowd till he had a clear view of the bearded fanatic lying placidly under a counterpane.

Brown’s court-appointed lawyer, Lawson Botts, moved to the bench, entering into evidence a letter from the defendant’s former Ohio hometown avowing that madness was a family curse. The prisoner should be declared innocent by reason of insanity, Botts argued.

A stir went through the courtroom as Brown drew himself painfully to his feet, glaring at his lawyer. “I look upon it as a miserable artifice and trick. I am perfectly unconscious of insanity, and I reject, so far as I am capable, any attempts to interfere in my behalf on that score.”

The crowded courtroom was silent as he lay back. David looked around, startled at the expressions of reluctant respect on the faces of onlookers, then returned to his sketch.

The inn that evening was as crowded as the courtroom. Nearly an hour went by before a table was freed up. It looked to be an equally long wait to get any dinner. David pulled out his sketches. The one of Brown standing before the court could use more work, he thought critically.

“I see you haven’t made him out to be quite as dastardly a brigand as your counterpart from
Harper’s,”
Zach said, leaning across the table for a closer look. “Well, what do you think?”

David looked up. “I was just hoping that Leslie gives these to Bill Waud to copy and not to Elliot. Elliot’s too satisfied with a halfway job. He has the talent to be a really fine artist but he doesn’t give a damn about doing anything with it.”

Zach chuckled. “I meant what do you think of Brown?”

“Oh.” David put his sketches away. “He’s more impressive than I expected. But he’s crazy, no matter what he says. How else could he have believed that twenty-two men could do away with slavery? And kill half a dozen innocent people in the attempt?”

“He’s guilty of misjudgment, I’ll grant you that. But I warrant you he’ll be remembered as a martyr to the cause of freedom.”

David looked around uneasily. “Come on, Zach. If anyone’s martyred it’s the people he murdered. And the first one a black for God’s sake.”

“That was a regrettable accident. And he’ll doubtless hang for his pains. But his cause was righteous.”

“Not his deeds though. The court has no choice but to hang him if it’s to do justice.”

“Not a year ago, David, Charles Lamar smuggled three hundred Africans into Georgia on his accursed sloop. Three hundred human souls! And for every African he succeeded in landing alive, another died from his sufferings en route. Murdered as surely as if they’d been shot in cold blood!”

“Zach—”

“I covered Lamar’s trial for Greeley.” Zach raised his voice a notch higher, ignoring David’s interruption. “The evidence was conclusive that he operated the Wanderer as a slaver in clear violation of Federal law. Yet not only was he acquitted, but allowed to buy back his ship at auction after it was seized. Now tell me the slaveholders care for justice!”

“Zach, shut up!”

“You disagree? You think Brown deserves a noose for his efforts while Lamar is toasted throughout the South for kidnap and murder?”

David leaned across the table, speaking as quietly as he could. “I think you’re probably right about Lamar. But this isn’t the place to bring it up, for God’s sake.”

“Good Lord!” Zach looked cautiously around, then turned to David, abashed. “I forgot myself.”

“That’s evident. Let’s hope no one overheard you.” David sighed, then smiled ruefully at Zach, unable to stay annoyed at him. “Well, noisy as this place is, there’s probably no harm done.”

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