The Reluctant Master, Part 5

As they travel, Henry gets better acquainted with Minnie.

The next day, Henry sat on one plank in the wagon, facing Minnie, who sat on the other. Her big dark eyes were still wide with fear. She was his to command. He wished he could command her to stop being afraid of him.

The sun was out today, a pale and watery light that gave little heat. The air was chill. Minnie sat on the hard pine plank, with her blanket pulled tightly around her. Only her feet, in a pair of rough shoes that were too big for her, showed beneath the woolly plaid.

It was difficult to know what to say to her. Henry asked her, “Is Minnie your given name? Or does it stand for something else?”

“I’ve always been called Minnie.”

He said, “I have more than one name. In America, I’m called Henry, but at home, in Germany, I was called Heinrich.” He had still another name, his Jewish name, which he never used. When he was born, his parents had taken to him to the synagogue and named him Hirsch Leib.

She said, “My Christian name is Minerva.”

“How did you come by it?”

Despite herself, Minnie warmed a little. She said, “My first Massa liked them Romans. We had a Juno, a Jupiter, a Mars and a Venus on the place. And me. Minerva.”

“Did he tell you what your name means?”

“Can’t say he did.”

“Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom. She always carried an owl with her. That’s why we think owls are wise. Because of her.”

For the first time, Minnie raised her eyes to his. She said, “An owl? She carried it with her, like a pet?”

“Someday I’ll find a picture to show you.”

She said, “I like them owls. Like the sight of them and the sound of them. I always have.”

“Now you know why.”

“Massa, will there be owls on your place?”

“I hope so.”