"One thing you have to keep in mind when managing your niggers is who owns who. It's hard sometimes; they act a lot like people. But the good Lord made the nigger to serve the white man just like He made cows and pigs and chickens. These folks that believe in 'uplifting' the darkies' souls are making a big mistake. If the Lord intended niggers to hear the Word, He'd of spoken to them Himself. No, I don't go along with all this religion business for the slaves. It's hazardous. Hazardous, Mister Squire." Ebersole bolts his shot of rum. "Might as well teach the brutes to read and write."
"Then why do you suppose the Lord made them so capable?"
"I'm glad you asked that, Mister Squire. I'll tell you. There are things a cow, for instance, can't figure out to do. You get milk from a cow, but the beast won't churn it into butter. Catch my drift? Now the nigger is a beast, no doubt about it, but he isn't such a beast that he can't figure out how to do things human. He needs a lot of discipline and he needs a lot of guidance, but he still is trainable. And because he's 'human-enough' to understand what's needed, a lot of things will come to him quite natural-like."
Zachary stares intently at his tankard, unconvinced (or simply disinclined to offer refutation).
"So, what are you in the market for, bucks or bitches?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You came to buy, I take it; what's on your list?"
"Oh. A buck... if I can find a sound one."
"What was wrong with the one we..."
"That slave? Why, Mister Squire, that specimen was well within his prime. Niggers don't break down 'til they're well-nigh thirty, sometimes even forty. How much can you spend?"
Zachary takes note of his surroundings. The tavern—subterranean—is ill-lit, its atmosphere stale; and there are women, one of whom is looking Zachary's way. She appears to recognize him. He turns his face askance—once more letting silence serve for an answer.
"Wise to keep such matters to yourself, I quite agree. Pardon my inquisitiveness, Mister Squire."
Zachary's eye now studies his talkative companion.
Well-dressed—a trifle over-dressed, I'd say; outfit of a man who aims to impress. Lace cuffs. Silk cravat. Waistcoat trimly tapered. Overall effect a mite too flashy.
"What is your line of business, Mister Ebersole, if I may ask?"
"I don't believe I know that occupation."
"It's fairly simple. Take peaches, for example. A man in Georgia wants to sell his peaches. He takes them to his local market. But it has been a bumper year for peaches so there are a lot of other sellers; too few buyers. He has to sell cheap. I buy those peaches, because it just so happens that I know peaches are scarce in Mississippi. You get my drift?"
"So you deal in produce, Mister Ebersole?"
"I have. But there's no real money in it. No; peaches was a for-instance."
Flesh-monger. Should have known it, with that get-up. Why servants can't be bought and sold respectably, like tools...
"We are then, Mister Ebersole, referring here to slaves?"
"You are perceptive, Mister Squire—another round, barkeeper—slaves, indeed. At the risk of sounding boastful, I must vouchsafe I've done right well by that commodity." Ebersole is aware of his profession's social stigma. He is flattered, consequently, not to be rebuffed. "You are obviously a man of noble breeding, Mister Squire." Their drinks are poured. "Keep your money, sir." He lays a friendly hand on Zachary's arm. He lowers his voice. "The profits are in N'Orleans. Especially in bitches. Two, two-five, sometimes three—not hundred—thousand dollars for a likely female, if she's ripe, part white, and built with a pulchritude to please. They're starved down there for bitches—in certain quarters, if you get my drift. And mulatto bitches, griffs, quadroons and the like are snapped up forthwith. All they have to know is that there's white in a nigger's bloodline—the mere suspicion will do—and they're on a sale like flies. And the beauty is, 'round here, I can get 'em for a song . The buyers in these parts care mostly about broad-hipped, strong-backed breeders. Anything more 'lissom', one might put it, is scarcely worth their time."
Acquisition for the purpose of labour is one thing; sexual exploitation is quite another matter. A White in congress with a Negress is morally reprehensible. Which is not to say, of course, that the misdeed won't occur. A gentleman worthy of the name, however, to suchlike does not stoop.
"Excuse me, Mister Ebersole, but I had best be on my way. I have business to attend."
"Yes, of course. I, too. I'd like to thank you for your company, sir; an honour and a pleasure."
"Thank you. Thank you kindly, Mister Squire." His thanks are somewhat wry, sensing Zachary's condescension. The men shake hands. "You will find Jake Ebersole to be a trusted ally, Mister Squire, who never will undervalue true sincerity. Depend upon it."
Zachary, climbing the rotted-plank stairway, pushes open an unmarked street-level door. The fierce sun stabs. He has to squint to gain his bearings. A labyrinth of trash-strewn alleyways confronts him. He walks with senses reeling from the stench and torrid heat.
"She can cook. She can sew. She can card and she..."
A voice drifts in and out of hearing. Zachary cannot locate the major thoroughfare.
"Do I hear three?"
The streets, if anything, are narrower. He turns left; walks; stops; turns right. He listens.
"Five. Five hundred is my bid."
The voice is faint.
"Do I hear six? She's small but comely. Just fifteen. Still growing, gentlemen, and she..."
Barking sounds erupt in the scorched vicinity. A pack of half-starved dogs on the loose is rabidly marauding. Zachary pries some moulding from a doorway to serve in self-defence. One of the bitches appears to be in heat. A mongrel grabs the scruff of her neck. She whines. He mounts and humps her. Others paw the ground, sniff respective arseholes, scratch and gnaw at fleas. Zachary, successful in avoiding them, finds himself on a side street beside the selfsame holding pen wherein the girl whom he admired, whose scent, though subtle as an orchid's, distracted him in passing, whose smile ignited an interest outwardly straightforward (inwardly duplicitous), and whose state of current dishabille (garment wadded around her ankles) incites his knightly wrath and righteous indignation. A titleholder is groping at the girl's uncovered privates with his cane, white gloves cleaving to its hilt the while its blunt end pokes and prods, bowed knees flexing as the portly fellow squats to scrutinize nubile labia, tugging at the tissue with intent to prove it worthy of his lecherous designs.
"Well I'll be damned, un-breached."
"EXCUSE ME, SIR. I'LL HAVE A WORD WITH YOU."
The slave owner, straightening, nonchalantly ambles toward the gate.
"I was just inspecting a recent acqui..."
"I witnessed your inspection, sir. May I ask the selling price?"
"You mean how much I paid?"
"I mean the amount you'll take to abnegate possession."
"I think you misunderstand me, sir; I only just bought this nigger."
A yardman hurries over to second the owner's claim.
"If you was in'erested, Mister, you shoulda been out front. That's where the biddin's done."
"Name your price, sir. Name it."
Beginning to comprehend the situation—and presuming Zachary's interest is as prurient as his own—the buyer grows obstinate.
"Sorry, my good man, she's not for sale."
Zachary, moulding still in his grasp, snaps it in two. The portly man steps back—as a hand clasps Zachary's shoulder; Ebersole is standing by his side.
"What's the trouble, Mister Squire? You seem a bit overwrought."
The fat man, of a sudden, is in a rush to state his case—making clear that he and Ebersole are long-time acquaintances.
"Jake, I bought this nigger, paid a pretty penny for her, too, and now this 'chum' of yours wants to come and play the pirate."
"Why, Leroy, you seem overwrought yourself. Gentlemen, I'm sure this can be amicably settled." Ebersole looks at one man, then the other, then at the unclad girl. "I recognize this wench as one that Mister Squire had his eye on earlier. And I must confess, he missed the sale through no fault of his, but mine. By rights, of course, she's yours, Leroy; no one would dispute it. But I would deem it a very personal favour if you would acquiesce."
Ebersole's requisition appears to carry weight. Leroy reconsiders, calculating options
"I paid cash."
Ebersole looks to Zachary who nods with mute assent.
"You have the bill of sale?"
Leroy produces it. Ebersole checks the price and hands it back.
"If you'll excuse us?" He draws Zachary aside. "Can you afford twelve-hundred?"
Zachary has the sum, but had expected it to buy a first-rate field hand. Nonetheless, he parts with the money betraying not a twinge. Ebersole, cash in hand, returns to close the deal.
Zachary, out of earshot, glances at the girl—who is still naked—prolonging his perusal until her own glance makes him blush. Qualms at this point swarm to obfuscate his reason.
"Let's see. Eight-fifty, wasn't it, Leroy? Here, let's make it nine. You've done a favour and turned a profit. What could be better? Now, I'll just change the purchaser... And, if you will sign right here... That's fine... There, I think we're legal."
girl in tow, pauses to use her back for support of pen and paper, witnessing the bill of sale (blackening out $
"I offered Mister Snipes a trifle more to compensate his loss. He didn't want to take it but I insisted." Zachary reaches for his billfold. "No, no. It only was a token, really. I believe I can, in truth, affirm all parties have been satisfied."
"I am in your debt, sir."
"There are no debts among friends, Mister Squire. And you would do me a very great honour by considering me your friend."