"I said stand up straight, nigger."
She wears a plain brown sleeveless burlap dress. It almost looks like a potato sack with holes cut out for the arms and head. She stands tall and dark, with full hips and chest, and a rounded face with a flat nose. Her curly black hair has been cut short, so the shape of her head stands out.
She speaks no English.
The dress scratches and chafes, so she tries not to move.
"I said stand up straight, nigger."
He puts one hand on her back, and another just below her throat and pushes, straightening her up. As soon as he touches her, she glares in his direction, the whites of her eyes shining against the blackness of her face.
He is white and middle aged, with a protruding belly and graying hair. years of tobacco use have stained his teeth a sickly yellow. He wears canvas pants and a linen shirt. The shirt has large wet stains under the arms. The midday sun bakes them both, and sweat beads on his forehead.
"Don't go eyin' me like that."
He swings his hand and hits her across the face with the back of it. She does nothing to defend herself. Her hands are tied behind her back with a hemp rope. Iron shackles bind her feet together.
"If I have to bloody you up so you don't sell, I might just send you to one of the 'special' customers."
She says nothing.
He reaches a hand out and fondles her breast. Then she backs away.
"You're a pretty one, you are. Shame to sell you."
"What's taking so long, Amos? Get her up here!"
"I'm coming. I'm coming."
He grabs the rope hanging behind her from her wrists and starts walking to a large wooden stage. There are well dressed men on all sides, and a wooden staircase leading up to it. She walks with him, but the rope is tugging at her, forcing her into a sideways gate.
An auctioneer stands alone in the middle of the stage, until Amos walks up dragging his wares.
"Look at the fine doe we have here. A nice strong back to work the fields, but wouldn't you rather keep her in the house to make mulatto babies?"
There are some chuckles from the crowd.
"Let's start the bidding at $200. Do I have $200?"
The bidding kept going up until only two men were left.
"What about it, Bill? Is she worth $400?"
"I don't know. She has to be a hell of cook for that."
"Come check her out."
Bill works his way through the crowd over to the stair case, and climbs up it. He walks over to the woman and stares down at her. She can smell whiskey on his breath as he appraises her.
"Does she bite?"
"Not if you're careful."
The trader still holds her rope. With his other hand, he pulls a pistol out of his holster, and holds it by the barrel. This forces her eyes open as she tries to back away from the butt of the pistol.
"You should be OK now."
Bill reaches up to her mouth and puts his fingers in, pulling her lips apart. Her bright white teeth shine in her face the same way her eyes do, but her pink gums silhouette them.
"She's got 'em all."
He grabs her upper arm and squeezes it. He sniffs at her breath. He slaps at her, stopping just short of her face to measure her reflexes. Then he shoves on her shoulders, pushing her back.
She takes one step to steady herself, but never bends, and never stops looking at the man.
"I'm not taking $390. I'm taking $400."
"What about, Sam? Can you beat $400? I'll take $415."
"$415's a lot. She'd damn well do more than cook. What's she look like under that dress?"
"Come on up and find out."
Sam also works his way through the crowd and climbs the stairs. Now there are four men with her: the trader, the auctioneer, and the two bidders.
He walks up top her and looks into her eyes as she stares back defiantly.
"This one'll be fun to break. Won't need a saddle, though."
More laughs from the crowd.
"Hey, Sam. Show us her tits!"
He reaches out to the straps and pulls them over her shoulder. The rough burlap scrapes against her nipples as it exposes her large, black breasts. He keeps pulling downward, but the rope holding her arms together stops him from removing the dress entirely.
Some whistles come from the crowd. Some of the men holler. Sam grabs a brown nipple and pinches. She spits in his face. He squeezes harder, and pulls the nipple away from her body, forcing her to take a step towards him. She sees the erection in his pants.
"Hey, no playin' 'til you buy her."
"Whadd'ya say, Sam? $415?"
"Ok." He spits out "$415" without taking his eyes away from her face.
"Are you gonna let him steal her for $415, Bill? How about $430?"
"$430 is too much. I can get two for that price."
"I'll take it. Sam, can you beat $420? How about $425."
"No, I'm out. Bill, if you want to make some of that back, I wouldn't mind borrowing her some."
He pulls her dress up over her shoulders, being careful not to rub the sensitive nipples. The three men walk off the stage, but this time, it is Bill holding the rope. She walks slightly ahead, eager to get off stage.
Bill and the trader walk back to Bill's wagon.
"Get in back."
"She doesn't talk yet. Just grunts like an animal."
Bill points to the back of the wagon and she understands. She climbs up into the hay and sits.
"It was $420, right?"
He reaches into his purse, and pulls out the bills, then hands them to the trader.
"Pleasure doin' business with you."
He says nothing, but tips his hat.
"Here are the keys to the shackles. You'd best keep 'em on a few weeks."
"I'll do that, but my farm is pretty remote. There isn't anywhere for her to go."
One horse is hitched to the front of the wagon, and she is tied to a post. Bill unties her, grabs the reins, and climbs onto the wagon. With a shake of the reins and a clicking noise, he tells the horse to start pulling the wagon home.
"It's time to go home, honey. You need a name. What should we call you?"
The horse pulls away from the stage at a walk, and follows the dirt road away from the river bank.
"How about Beatrice? I've always like Bea, a good Christian name now that you're a good Christian woman."
He looks back as he says this, and she still sits quietly in the hay.
"You aren't much of a talker, are you?"
So the minutes pass in silence as they amble out of the town. They pass some planted fields on the outskirts, but keep moving. After about twenty minutes, they enter the woods. The trees are heavy enough to block much of the the sun, but the road cuts a path through the trees that lets some more light in.
As they travel through the trees, they can hear birds chattering. Sometimes the wind picks up, and blows through the trees, making a sound not unlike a waterfall. All in all, it is a pleasant day to be out.
Deep into the woods, the wagon lurches, and the horse snorts in complaint. She has jumped out and is trying to move away from the wagon.
"Hey there! Come back."
He stops the horse in the road, and leaves the wagon. She is shuffling away as fast as she can, but the leg shackles stop her from running too quickly. Still, it takes him some time to settle the horse, and she makes it into the trees. Just as she starts to drop out of view, he runs after her.