The Reluctant Master, Part 7

Henry sees that not everyone in the Piedmont respects the Lord's day.

The next day, after meeting, as Henry’s people helped the Mason slaves in the side yard, Mr. Mason showed Henry around the place. As they walked by the kitchen, a boy ran past them. “Hey, you!” Mr. Mason shouted at him. “Come here!”

The boy turned. Eyes cast down, he walked towards his master. He held his hands over his shirt, which billowed out in a peculiar way.

Mr. Mason said, “What have you got there?”

The boy was about twelve, Tom’s age, with stick-thin arms and legs. He was very light of skin. He said sullenly, “Nothing, Massa.”

Mr. Mason yanked on the boy’s shirt, tearing it, and pulled out the loaf of bread the boy had been cradling against his belly. “This don’t belong to you,” he said.

The boy didn’t reply.

“Damn you for a thief!” Mr. Mason said. “And on the Lord’s day!” He tucked the loaf under his arm and raised his cane. “Turn around,” he said to the boy.

Mr. Mason said, “Maybe this will teach you,” and he gave the boy ten strokes on his back, grunting with the effort of each stroke. The boy stood rigid against the pain, but he didn’t cry out.

Mr. Mason put down the cane. “Go on with you,” he said.

As the boy turned to go, he gave his master such a look of hatred that Henry thought, chilled, Someday that boy will kill his father.

Mr. Mason said, “Niggers need a firm hand. Otherwise they’ll take advantage. As you see.”

Henry said, “He’s just a boy.”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child, I always say.”

All of Henry’s slaves were listening, but Tom was listening most intently. Henry said, “I wouldn’t beat a child, either.”

Mr. Mason said, “That wore me out. I need a drink. Come into the house and join me.”

On the Lord’s day, Henry thought.