Jedidiah held the tin cup tightly between both hands, staring down at the dent where Henry’s first bullet ricocheted and frowning deeply, tears on his cheeks as he lifted his eyes up to the old man staring up at the sky. His expression seemed to sag with the weight of guilt that was still heavy on his shoulders, and Jed had to search his mind before speaking.
“They both died, sir?”
“They did,” Henry answered, “but they died together,” he lowered his eyes to his hands, gnarled with age, the scars still very much visible, “I stayed in England until my father passed in my twenty-ninth year. After that I returned home and took over the business. I freed the slaves then, gave them pieces of the land to share amongst themselves, and lived a quiet life with them, aiding them with their freedom, providing them with whatever they needed to feel as though their lives were truly theirs and no one elses. They still worked the land, but I paid handsomely as they rightfully deserved, and I brought flowers to Josiah’s and my brother’s graves every day.”
“What happened to your Miss Temperance?” Jed asked, and Henry sighed wistfully.
“I saw her many times when I returned home, long after I’d freed the workers,” he revealed, “She married a man and had several children, the youngest boy of which she named Daniel. They visited often, and I will admit little Danny was my favorite amongst them, and still is. I was Uncle Henry to them.”
“Does it hurt you that she married?” Jed asked, and Henry shook his head.
“I am happy she could find love, and happy she didn’t shut me out, but my heart,” he patted his chest, eyes closing, “It is too broken to love.”
“You still blame yourself, sir,” Jed said, more a statement than a question, and again Henry gave a nod of his head in answer.
“I do, and I have done much to atone, but the ache, the pain, it remains.”
“Is it maybe because you can’t forgive yourself, sir?” Jed asked, and Henry eyed him curiously, “Just hearing about your brother, sir, if he were alive, I know he would have forgiven you. I know it; and he would want you to forgive yourself as well.”
Henry’s eyes were glassy as he smiled, “Do you believe he would have truly forgiven me for my sins, Jedidiah?”
“I do, sir, and I believe God would forgive you as well,” the little boy smiled brightly, “and I would forgive you, sir.”
Henry closed his eyes and he nodded, looking up at the sky once more, “Thank you, son.”
The fire died the further the night went on, Jedidiah was curled close to it and fast asleep, jolted awake when his master kicked his heel against his ribs, ordering him to ready the horses. When he knelt and rubbed his eyes, he was confused by the group standing around Henry Elias, lying on his back with a blanket over him and a smile on his lips, his face pale gray and his eyes shut. He looked peaceful, but the men and women standing around him seemed angry and inconvenienced.
“What should we do with his body, then? We have no time for this!”
“Boy! Dig a shallow grave! We’ll just roll him in and leave.”
“Fine, but hurry.”
They wandered in different directions to pack their camp sight and continue their long journey, and Jedidiah was given a shovel to do the work of digging a grave. His eyes were wide as he slowly approached Henry, kneeling beside him, and setting a hand on his neck to search for a pulse before his eyes stung and he bowed his head. He stood back and searched around, brightening when his gaze found a dogwood and walking towards it.
His dirty hands patted the ground once Henry was buried, smoothing the area underneath the dogwood that was blooming with soft pink petals. He took a sharp rock and carved Henry’s name into the trunk, before wiping his hands on his slacks and setting the dented tin cup beneath the tree to mark his resting place.
Then he turned away, simply returned to his place with the horses, and went on his way, with his master above him. As the years would pass by, amber skies turning blue, then gray, Henry Elias’s memory would never leave his mind. His story remained fresh in Jedidiah’s mind, even when he forgot Henry himself, his story fading to the depths of his subconscious, he still seemed to remember him, because whenever another human stopped and asked what they called him, he would smile.
“They call me Jedidiah.”