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The Inheritance

The Inheritance

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The Inheritance

213 pages
2 hours
Nov 23, 2004


Kate Nicholson, the last living member of her family, finds herself sole owner of a large cotton plantation, complete with slaves. She was brought up on a homestead on the frontier, miles from civilization, and finds the idea of slave ownership reprehensible. Her sense of responsibility compels her to face head on the irony of her position. Struggling with her new role as slave-owner, she alienates most of the local townspeople because of her advocacy for decent treatment of her slaves. As she learns to run her newly inherited cotton plantation, she discovers just how much her presence interferes with someones plans, and to what lengths they will go to get her out of the way.

Nov 23, 2004

Tentang penulis

Telia Galloway lives with her husband outside of Greenville, NC. Since their children are grown, they now have the time (and the energy!) to be involved in many activities in their community. This is her first full length novel.

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The Inheritance - Telia Galloway


Chapter 1

She heard the stallion in the distance, neighing and snorting, his thundering hooves pounding the earth. Her father was out there. Twenty-one year old Kate took the lantern, and grabbing the shotgun from its rack by the door, ran to the corral. Dark Wind, the stallion, was running in wild circles, mane flying, the whites of his eyes all that showed in his head.

Pa? she called, but there was no answer.

Fearfully, she circled the corral, searching in the dim lantern light, for the night was dark. Over the snorting and whinnying of Dark Wind, she was vaguely aware of a galloping horse in the distance.

Pa! she called again, frightened, for she had never seen the stallion like this, nor had she ever known her pa to go away without telling her. She heard him moan, and then she saw him lying just inside the corral.

What is wrong with Dark Wind, to make him trample Pa like that? Kate wondered.

Kate made her way to the barn and took a handful of corn from the feedbag. Murmuring soothing words, she tried to lure the stallion away from her pa. Gradually, Dark Wind slowed his pace and pricked his ears toward her. As he came near and took the corn from her hand, she grabbed the lead rope he was trailing and tied him securely.

She raced back to her pa. What happened, Pa? What’s wrong with Dark Wind? She cradled his head in her arms and wiped his brow with the hem of her skirt.

Her pa shook his head weakly. Not…, not horse, he whispered.

I need to get you to the house.

Her pa’s fingers reached for her arm. Not horse. His breathing was coarse. Somebody, … here… He passed out.

Kate found two small branches and splinted his right arm, which was badly mangled, and began to drag him to the house. Her pa was a large man, and it took all her strength. Knowing she could never pull him up the two short steps to the porch, she brought a bucket of water from the well and began to wash his face. His eyelids fluttered. Kate soaked the hem of her underskirt with water and put it to his mouth. His teeth tightened on the cloth, and he began to swallow. Kate then lifted the ladle to his mouth and let him drink.

He revived some then, and began to pull himself up the steps slowly with his left arm. At the front door he passed out again. Kate pulled him the rest of the way into the house, and rolled him onto a blanket in front of the fireplace. As she cleaned his wounds, she realized that he needed more care than she could give. The nearest doctor was ten miles away, but even if she could get her father into the wagon, she doubted he would survive the trip. He had lost a lot of blood.

She thought back to the time when Pa had brought her and Ma here. In 1832 the federal government had purchased a strip of land from Chief Black Hawk, though they had had to defeat him in bloody battle to do so. The land bordered the western side of the Mississippi River. Her family had come two years later, as soon as it had been opened up for settlers. Their homestead, some five hundred miles north of Memphis, bordered the great river. She had been five years old then.

Kate sat with him all night, pondering what her pa had said. Had he been delirious? Or had someone else really been there who had hurt him? She remembered suddenly, the galloping horse she had heard. Or had she only imagined it? But why would anyone want to hurt her pa? He was a gentle man, and kind. They had always shared what they had with passing strangers, few as they had been in this remote place. She kept the shotgun by her side, just in case, and she dozed.

Sunlight streamed through the window as Kate sat up with a start.

Hello the house! a familiar voice was calling.

She picked up the shotgun and peeked out the window. It was Monty, a lifelong friend of her father’s. She threw open the door and ran to him.

I’m so glad you’re here, she said, fighting tears. Hurry, please, Pa’s been hurt. She explained as she pulled him inside.

Pa, she kneeled beside him. Monty’s here. You’re going to be alright now.

Her pa stirred, his eyelids fluttering. No, he whispered. You, … be alright, … now. His face was dark gray, and his breathing raspy, and labored.

I’ll take care of her like she was my own, Frank, Monty said, gripping his friend’s left hand. A single tear escaped down his cheek.

And Frank Nicholson breathed his last.

They buried him beside her ma, up on the hill overlooking the Mississippi river. The trees were shedding their colorful canopy, and it had been her ma’s favorite place. Pa had promised to build her a big house up there one day, but Ma hadn’t lived long enough. She had begun having severe abdominal pains during the winter of 1840, and by spring, she had wasted away to almost nothing. They had buried her before the crops were planted.

What do you plan to do now, Kate? Monty asked as they rode back to the house.

She looked at him oddly. Do? Why, go on, of course. This is my home. I don’t know any other life.

You’ve no relatives anywhere?

Seems there was an uncle on my mother’s side. It was her uncle, actually, but he disgraced the family somehow. I don’t really know the story.

Well, then, Kate, it looks like it’s you and me now.

Monty, it’s not like you to stay in one place for too long. It’s selfish of me to burden you because I want to stay here.

Not at all, child. It’ll be good for me. I always did envy your pa, in a way. Besides, I gave him my word that I would take care of you, and that’s all there is to it. The first thing I’m going to do is see about that horse you thought you heard galloping away last night. I’ll be back after a while.

Kate spent the next few hours catching up on her chores: milking the cow, refilling the water troughs, feeding the chickens and the livestock. She was grateful for the physical work; it gave her grief an outlet.

When Monty returned, he told her what he had found.

Someone was here last night, he told her. A white man, and not anyone who normally comes around here. When he left he headed south. I’d follow those tracks all the way to hell if I didn’t have to leave you alone to do it. But I’ll know if I ever see them again, and I will know what he was doing here.

Kate hugged him tightly, and finally allowed her tears to flow.

Chapter 2

One morning the following spring, as Mother Nature was just beginning to splash a hint of pale green across the meadows, a handsome carriage drove into the yard. Visitors were a rarity, and they both ceased their chores and hurried to greet a thin, nervous young man and an older woman with ivory smooth skin and striking gray eyes.

Hello, the man said, rather awkwardly. I’m Jason McGillicudy. This is my mother Martha. We’re looking for a Miss Kate Nicholson.

You have found me, Kate smiled, puzzled. Please come inside.

She took Mrs. McGillicudy, who insisted Kate call her Martha, into the kitchen where the washbasin was. Monty took her son to the bucket outside. When they had rinsed the dust off their faces and hands, Kate had some coffee ready, and the four of them sat around the kitchen table.

I am employed by an attorney, a Mr. John Upchurch in Lowndes, Mississippi. Jason began. Mr. Upchurch sent me to tell you the sad news of the passing of your great uncle, the late Henry Clayton Withersby. I’d like to offer my condolences, Miss Nicholson.

Thank you, Kate said. Please call me Kate. But you see, I never knew my great uncle. Why would you need to come to see me about his passing?

Apparently, you are his sole heir. Mr. Upchurch wanted me to get your signature on some papers. He has been handling the affairs of the plantation for several years now, and is willing to continue managing things on your behalf.

I see, Kate said.

Jason twisted his hat in his hands. Now, ma’am, I’m not an attorney, I’m just his secretary. He told me to recommend that you just sign these papers, and assure you that there’s no need for you to come all the way to Mississippi. But I don’t feel right telling you that. I think you should talk to him yourself before you sign anything. He picked up his briefcase and set his hat down. Pulling out a file, he said, If I could just show you…?

Kate knew very little about her great-uncle. Mostly what she had heard were whispered conversations behind closed doors.

Wait a minute, Kate sat up straight. Uncle Henry owned slaves. Are they on this estate you’re talking about?

Yes, ma’am, they are, Jason nodded.

She remembered now. He owned a cotton plantation, and treated his slaves badly, though whether any worse than any other slave owner, Kate had no way of knowing. Not that it mattered. She couldn’t comprehend how anyone could ever in good conscience own another human being, much less be cruel to them. Her parents had been abolitionists, and had always taught her to live by the golden rule, to do good to others, no matter what. And though Kate agreed with this principle, she struggled sometimes. Of course, her pa had never said it was easy!

Oh, Monty, I don’t want to own slaves. I think that’s horrible! Kate was dismayed.

Monty grunted. You may not want to, but it doesn’t look like you have a choice.

Jason, his face grim, agreed. Yes, ma’am, you are now a slave owner. I’ll show you.

They went over the papers together. The first one was her great-uncle’s will, leaving everything he owned to her: over one hundred slaves, a very large bank account, and a two thousand acre cotton plantation. The second one gave Mr. Upchurch full power to act in her behalf, and another provided a generous allowance for her to live on.

Oh dear, she said. I can’t just turn over my responsibilities to a stranger without knowing more about what’s involved. I suppose I shall have to go see this plantation, and this attorney.

I would certainly feel better if you did, Miss Kate. Jason sounded relieved.

I agree, Monty said. I don’t know much about legal contracts and such, but I’ll be glad to go with you and do what I can.

But someone has to stay and take care of our livestock and our gardens, Kate objected.

That’s one of the reasons I came along on this part of the journey, Martha said. You can travel with us. It shouldn’t take you too long to meet with the attorney and sign whatever papers you need to. Then Monty can come and bring you back home.

I suppose, Kate reluctantly agreed.

Mother, I’m not sure it’s all that simple, Jason objected. You see, Kate has inherited a large cotton plantation. And I think some other business enterprises as well, although I’m not quite sure what they are. I’m not privy to all Mr. Withersby’s business affairs. Turning to Kate, he continued. I think it might be wise if you planned to stay several weeks, at least. And I do think Monty should come as soon as possible.

I’ll have to find someone to work this place in our absence, Kate, Monty said. That won’t be easy. We can’t pay much.

Clearing his throat, Jason said, I don’t believe money will be an object, sir. Kate is a very wealthy young woman now.

Kate was not impressed with this news, as she had grown up on the frontier where most people she knew had very little money. And those few who were rich were disappointed because there was nothing around here on which to spend their dollars. She had no desire to change her lifestyle. She loved the wide open spaces, the wind, working the land and tending her animals.

She sighed. Very well, then. We’ll leave day after tomorrow, and Monty, you come as soon as you can. I’ll put together some food for the journey. We’ll need enough for what, three weeks?

Oh, no, Jason replied. We’ll be taking a steamboat most of the way. They are much quicker, and slightly more comfortable.

That evening after dinner Jason and Kate lingered at the table discussing her inheritance. The more they talked, the more questions Kate had, and many of them Jason could not answer. She was just going to have to wait and talk to Mr. Upchurch.

Monty and Martha were getting along quite well on the other side of the room, with Monty regaling her with some of his hunting stories. Martha was properly impressed, having lived all of her life near Richmond, Virginia. The tales of the wilderness of the land out west had always intrigued her, and she was thrilled to be able to talk with a man who had actually been in those vast plains and far western mountains.

That evening, as she and Monty were putting the horses into the barn for the night, Kate asked him, Couldn’t I just go down there and buy the slaves’ freedom? If I have all that money, surely it would be enough, wouldn’t it?

You could do that, I suppose, Monty said. But where would they go? Can they support themselves? And would their white neighbors welcome them into the free world? No, they would probably be better off if you just sell the plantation.

But then the slaves would still be slaves, and I haven’t helped at all, except that I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.

That’s true enough, he said. Your pa once told me something that has stayed with me, and that is that when God puts you in a situation, he generally expects you to do something about it.

He taught me that, Kate smiled. And he also told me that God usually does not send step-by-step instructions. We’re just going to have to pray a lot, and step out in faith.

And I’ll be right there with you, Kate. Right there with you.

The next day Kate began packing for the trip. She found herself choking back tears more than once throughout the day, dreading the moment of departure, which came far too quickly for her.

I’ll be along soon, Kate, don’t you worry, Monty assured her. As they drove out of sight Monty wiped away his own tear with a rough hand.

And so it was nearly three weeks later, filled with a strange apprehension she could not fully explain, she met with Mr. Upchurch for the first time.

Looking around at the lavish décor Kate noted the gaudy extravagance. This man

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