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First Sparks of a Blaze
“I’ll take her for seventy bucks. I wouldn’t pay more,” announced a fat man with an exasperated, red face.
“Seventy isn’t enough, mister. I’ll have one hundred fifty or none at all,” Mrs. Hardenbergh screeched.
“She’s a young’un. How can she possibly be worth one hundred fifty bucks? You’ve got to be joking, ma’am!”
“I am most definitely not. She works like a horse. My husband and I were never disappointed with her. We never had to punish her once.”
“You lie. Why would you be selling her if she was that good? No one else will buy the little girl for one hundred fifty, and neither will I.” The man stomped off huffing and wheezing from the exertion.
What are they saying? It feels like this has been going on for hours. Maybe no one will buy me. Then what will happen to me? Isabella desperately wondered. I want to go back to my family. Maybe Mistress will sell me to whomever bought Daddy and Mau Mau Bet. I don’t even know who bought everyone else. She held her palm to her damp forehead and looked about her seeing that the crowd of people who had been there an hour or so before had been replaced with several people with similar mean, sneering faces. They were looking her up and down like she was a mule.
“Look, woman, I’ll buy her for one hundred twenty. That’s all the money I have.”
Isabella scanned the tiny, scattered group of people in front of her, searching for the source of the deep, cruelty- laced voice. Her eyes finally settled on a tall, nearly bald man with sharp, cold green eyes, which were staring straight at her, seemingly piercing through her. His thin lips were parted into a mean smile. Please, Mistress Hardenberg, please don’t sell me to him. God, if you’re there, please don’t let her give me to that evil man.
“One hundred twenty you say? Hmm... it won’t do.”
The man grumbled and walked off. Isabella let out a small sigh of relief.
A man driving a cart, which contained the leftovers of fresh produce that had not sold at the market that day, stopped adjacent from the thinning crowd of bidders. Holding his straw hat on his head so that it wouldn’t fly off, he hopped out of his cart and tied his horse to a tree. He made his way towards the auction and eyed Isabella suspiciously, scratching his bearded chin. Then he nodded his head in approval.
“How much are you wanting for her?” he asked.
“I’ve been saying one hundred fifty dollars,” an annoyed and weary Mrs. Hardenbergh replied.
“I just got here,” the man defended. “Why are you selling her anyways? Hardly ever see young’uns her age being resold unless they’re deficient or something else.”
“My husband died. I am moving back to Holland, and I can’t afford to pay for her passage. She isn’t deficient in any way, you impudent man.”
He doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe he’ll be a nice master, Isabella mused.
The man chuckled. “Okay, lady. Okay. I’ll take her for one hundred fifty. Just as long as you don’t come around telling me I can’t do what I want with the animal and beat her as much as I want. This had better not be a trick. I’ll ship her to Holland myself and demand a refund if it turns out you’ve cheated me!”
“You scoundrel!” Mrs. Hardenbergh replied, glaring at the man.
Whatever he said, it made Mistress mad. He probably undermined her authority, as she punished me so many times for doing, Isabella guessed.
After a few heated words were exchanged, the mood finally cooled down. The man pulled out a wad of bills from the pocket on his plaid shirt and handed them to Mrs. Hardenbergh. After straightening the money and counting it carefully, she handed him Isabella. The man grabbed her by the forearm and took her to his cart, loading her on like a donkey. He took his seat on the horse. “Don’t squash my vegetables, girl,” he yelled back at Isabella. Though she could not understand his words, it clicked with her that she was not to sit on his produce or he would probably whip her. She carefully edged around the clusters of wilted cabbage, stacks of carrots, piles of wrinkly apples, and the other assorted sun damaged produce, finding a small space to sit. Just as soon as she was seated the man slapped the horse soundly on its side, and the horse began its medium paced walk. The man said nothing the whole time, and neither did Isabella. All that could be heard was the clopping of the horse’s hooves and the murmur of the summer breeze.
After an hour or so, they arrived at the man’s plantation. The man halted the horse in front of a small, white house by pulling its reigns back very hard. He held the animal’s head straight up for a few seconds as if he relished the discomfort he was causing it.
That mean man, Isabella thought angrily. If only we spoke the same language, then I’d sure tell him something. And then I’d be whipped for sure. The man lowered the horse’s reigns, and the horse whinnied and stomped its hoof. The man slapped it in the side.
“Stupid animal,” he mumbled. Then, he followed that with a slur of curses. He tied the horse to a post and walked back to Isabella. “Get out.”
What is he saying?
“Did you hear me girl? I said get out! Get out now!” Before Isabella could figure out what the man was saying, he slapped her face hard with his palm. Isabella was so shocked that she was speechless. “Come on, stupid girl. Don’t act like I just shot you.” He grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the porch of the house. He opened the creaky door and hollered, “Marilyn! I’m back, and I got us a new slave!” Isabella heard several pots and pans clatter and bang, and a woman shriek in wrath. “Stupid girl! You’ve ruined supper!” followed with the sound of someone being whipped and a small cry of distress. “Marilyn, don’t you wanna see our new slave? We can sell Haven just as soon as you see how this hard this girl will work.” A woman dressed in a drab grey dress with a blue apron and a firmly set scowl on her face entered the room. Her squinty, blue eyes darted from the man to Isabella and then back again. When she finally opened her mouth, Isabella wished she could disappear, and she thought the man probably did too.
“JOHN! How much did you pay for her?” she shouted.
“Settle down, Marilyn! The girl was only one hundred dollars!” he lied.
“ONLY a hundred dollars? ONLY one hundred? When I said we needed a new slave, I didn’t mean a feeble child! The thing doesn’t even look like she could live through a single beating, and you know how I must beat my slaves.”
“Woman, calm down. She can stand a beating; let me just show you.”
Isabella couldn’t understand the words of the man and woman’s heated exchange, but she knew something bad was about to happen.
The woman stormed out of the room, and then returned with a whip in hand. Isabella’s eyes grew large. If only the man wasn’t blocking the door, I could just escape, she thought desperately.
The woman handed the man the whip, and Isabella closed her eyes and heard the whip swish through the air and felt the familiar fire-like stinging slash. A burning welt protruded on her back. Ten or more times, the man whipped Isabella. She would’ve punched him with her small fist and run even if she knew she would not make it, but the man gripped her wrists tightly behind her waist. She had been whipped many times while she had worked at the Hardenbergh’s, but it had never been without reason. She had neither said nor done anything wrong, yet the strikes continued. Finally, the man ceased. Isabella maintained her stand for fear if she stumbled because of the pain she would be whipped again. The man kicked her and turned to his wife. “See, Marilyn? She’s as strong as an ox. Don’t let her juvenile body deceive you.” The woman laughed, yet oddly the grim countenance on her face did not lighten. “We’ll see how she does when she has to weed the garden” she said, as if that were a curse. When Isabella followed the woman out back, she gasped in horror. The “garden” was ankle deep with tangles of burs, dandelions, and other various weeds, some Isabella had never seen before. There was nothing that resembled a rose or a tulip. She looked back at the woman, who stood at the door with whip in hand, and knew she had better start the task, even though she had been given no tools to remove the weeds. She knelt on her knees in the dirt and bent her sore back. The work was impossible. She sighed and got to work, knowing a very long and hard road was ahead of her. If I ever escape, so help me God, my words will be like wildfire and will burn people’s, like these new owner’s, plantations to rubble.