Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Story Behind the Story: Samuel - Delighting In Your Company

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Answer the following question: 
What is the name of the tune that Jonathan always whistles?  
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Delighting In Your Company by Blair McDowell
As writers we all know that our stories do not start on page one of our books. If our characters are to breathe life we have to know their history. We may never use that history, but without knowing it we cannot create believable characters. The character of Samuel in Delighting In Your Company is one I found particularly interesting to research and write.

The year is 1798. We are in Equatorial Africa. Samu awoke early that morning. He could hear the parrots chattering in the trees, heralding the dawn. This was an important day. Today he would accompany the men of the village as they went into the surrounding jungle to hunt for food for the tribe. It would be his first time as a hunter. It meant he was no longer a child. He had lived through twelve rainy seasons and was now old enough to be recognized as a man. To be given adult status in the Koromantyn tribe.

As Samu stretched and rose from his rush mat, he heard a sudden scream and then shouts from outside.  Rushing to the door of his family hut, he saw a raiding party from a distant village rounding up the men of his village.  His father had already been captured.

Samu moved to run to his father, but his mother grasped him from behind. “No, Samu. Not you too.”
“I must go. I must help him.” Struggling he broke loose and ran to his father.


The trek to the Gold Coast was long and arduous. Their captors had little care for the prisoners beyond giving them enough food and water to keep them alive. They were slaves now, and their black masters were not benevolent.

A week later they were sold to the captain of a slaving ship bound for the West Indies. He paid twenty-five dollars a head for them. Long gone were the days when Africans were satisfied with payment in glass beads.  At their destination, those of them who survived the voyage would fetch one hundred and twenty-five dollars each.

With the others, Samu was placed in the hold of the ship, chained to a narrow plank bed.  The men were so close together they could not easily turn over and the deck above them was so low they could not stand erect.

Once a day, buckets were lowered with food, usually a thin broth. Water was scarce. Within three days the stench was unbearable. Samu was suffocating for air, starving, and thirsty, but his father told him to be brave.

Then the sickness began among them. There was dysentery and small pox. Each morning the bodies of the dead were taken out and thrown unceremoniously into the sea. One morning, Samu’s father was among the dead.

The boy no longer spoke. He withdrew to a safe place inside his head and simply survived. Finally they reached land. They were led down a gangplank to a holding pen. The air was soft and scented with spices. It was possible to breathe again.

The next morning the auction began.

Samu peered through the cracks of the holding pen.  The men from his village and many others were being sold to planters who needed them to perform the backbreaking work of harvesting and processing cane. The naked men on the auction block were large and powerful. They brought high prices, the bidding coming fast and furious. 

Suddenly someone grabbed Samu, took him from the pen and pushed him roughly up onto the platform. He tried not to show fear, but he was terrified, trembling. 

The auctioneer looked at him.  
 “I’ll admit he ain’t much, but he might be some use as kitchen help. Don’t know how he got into this batch. Was supposed to be all field workers. What am I bid? Come on gentlemen, got to move along. Don’t nobody want this scrawny piece o’ nigger flesh?”
There was a moment’s silence. Then from the back of the crowd,
“I’ll take him. Ten guineas.” The speaker was a boy no older than the one on the block.
“Ten guineas?” the auctioneer sneered. “Might as well give ’im away. What am I bid, gentlemen?”
The crowd was silent. The boy reached into his pocket and counted out a handful of change. “Ten guineas and twelve bob.”
Someone in the crowd called out. “Jonathan Evans. Your pappy know how you’re squanderin’ his money?”
The crowd broke into raucous laughter.
Never you mind.” The auctioneer took control. “The boy’s money’s as good as anybody else’s. You got yourself a slave, boy. Come and git him.”
 Jonathan had bought a friend. Taking the boy by the hand Jonathan led him back to Evans Plantation.
There he confronted his father with what he had done.  Ernest Evans was a first startled, but realized that a companion might be just what the lonely, motherless boy needed. And so Jonathan Evans had a slave. 

The naked boy was bathed and clothed and fed while Jonathan watched. Only then did Jonathan try to speak to him. The boy clearly spoke no English. 

“Jonathan” the blue eyed white boy said, pointing to himself.

The black child at first looked puzzled. 

“Jonathan,” tapping his chest. He looked at the black boy and touched him.

The boy’s eyes lit with understanding. “Jonathan” he said pointing to his new master. Then he tapped his own chest. “Samu” he said.

“Samu? No. Samuel.” Jonathan replied.

Over the next years, the young slave, newly named Samuel, sat beside his master as Jonathan took lessons with his Jesuit tutor. Samuel quickly learned English.

 Jonathan studied Greek, Latin, History and Mathematics. Jonathan was a desultory student, but Samuel absorbed everything.

When freed from their lessons the two boys swam and hiked and fished and explored the island together. They were inseparable.  They grew up side by side, the tall, laughing, blue-eyed, devil-may-care Jonathan, and the small, dark, intellectual, intense Samuel.

Sometimes Samuel thought back to the time when he had been Samu and lived in the jungle with his mother and father and younger brothers and sisters. But on the whole, he was content with his new life and he was devoted to Jonathan.

Jonathan’s father died when he was just twenty-one. Jonathan’s first act upon taking control of the plantation was to give Samuel his freedom. Then he immediately hired him back as Plantation Manager. 

This was a job at which Samuel excelled. It was Samuel who ensured that Evans Plantation didn’t fall into the quagmire that overtook the cane-sugar industry in the early 1800’s, when the European market discovered that sugar could be made more cheaply from beets.

When Delighting In Your Company begins, Samuel is a man of twenty-one. He is still slight of figure. He wears wire framed glasses and always looks a bit puzzled by the world in which he finds himself. He’s black, but he’s not a slave. He’s educated and well read.  He knows much about the culture of the white western world, but he understands and empathizes with the world of the slaves. The world of Jumbies, the walking dead, and of Obeah, the black magic brought to the West Indies from Africa. It is this latter understanding that saves the day when the lives of Jonathan and Amalie, Jonathan’s fiancé, are in peril.

As a writer I found depicting the life-long friendship between these two men both interesting and challenging.  The template for their relationship was established centuries ago, by the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. 

And in the end, Jonathan gave Samuel the greatest gift he could have given. The gift of family.

Purchase Blair's books today by clicking on the covers below.  You can then select the vendor of your choice.
Delighting In Your CompanyThe Memory of Roses
Contact Blair:

3 comments: said...

This is a very nice template. Bold yet creative!

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