By Nick Cantwell © 2008
The church was hot today. Hot and humid.
John Sowter rose from his knees, and stretched his limbs. He was alone – he liked it that way. Clutching his bible he walked out into the sun – his eyes squinting.
The slow walk along the dusty path was always a time for reflection. Reflection on his life, his family and his standing. But as ever, his thoughts turned to his loss. His daughter had only been nine when the disease had taken her. And since that day, he had walked the same path three or four times a day. Asking questions. And hoping to receive answers.
The final part of his walk took him past the fields, the Dogwood trees lining a path towards his imposing abode. The mournful song from the fields matched his mood.
His maid was waiting for him, holding the door ajar, and he strode past her towards the library.
The library was a place of shelter, escape. Upon entering, he realised his wife was sitting reading.
"John. Come and sit down. I have some news. The pastor came by, and the school can now be built."
A hint of a smile seemed to creep across John's face, but disappeared just as quick. His generous donation had made it possible.
He and his wife, then, as they seemed to do more and more lately, sat in silence for a long while, until there was a gentle rap on the door.
"Master Sowter, the matter you asked me about – would you like to deal with it now?" asked Tom Whitehouse, John Sowter’s overseer.
John nodded to his wife and left the library.
"Thank you Tom – I'll look after this one."
The kitchen was dead quiet. At times like this the staff knew to make themselves scarce.
"Barney, you know why I am doing this don't you. Mr. Whitehouse has informed me that you absconded last night to see your sister."
"She dying Sir," said the slave, wide eyed, his hands tied to the rope hanging down from the wooden hoist.
This wasn't by any means the first time for Barney – which made it worse. The scars from last time had barely healed – but the memory of the pain was still fresh.
He would pray. Pray it would end. Pray for help. Pray he would die.
John Sowter considered not using the gag. The screams would serve as a warning to the others – but being late afternoon, the fields were being worked, and he didn't want to slow this down any.
"He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes," John quoted and then placed his bible on the worktop and picked up the birch.
After a little over an hour it was finished. John Sowter walked to the sink, washed his hands and then made his way back out of the house.
His wife watched from the window, as John once again made the slow journey back to the church.
A more pious man she did not know.
Nick Cantwell is part-time short story writer, a full time sports trader and a poker blogger from just outside London, England.