The Fitchburg train had been still now for minutes and allowed a certain, planned chaos to persist. The congested village is in a civil uproar. Tomorrow would be Independence Day. People had traveled across the country to share the moment with each other. Passengers united with families and merchants gathered up goods for their stores. Technology had bridged a nation that was very separate but it would take more than technology to get it unified.
If you had looked in the passenger car window, the third row from the back of the last passenger car you would have seen a giant of a man. He stood retrieved his luggage and made his way to the outside air. His debonair look, tweed suit and matching hat completed the ensemble. He used his big strong hands to wave the soot and smoke away from his face. Anywhere else in the world he would have stood out but not in the railroad depots…everyone was colored. He carried a small duffel bag with a couple of day’s worth of clothing; from his last motivational talk, he gave just yesterday, and a Bible. He stopped and breathed in the filthy air and smiled, “taste better than any wide open air I ever did taste!” He said to no one in particular and then continued with his journey to Wright’s tavern on State Street. Meanwhile in Wright’s Tavern, the Boys were already in heated talks.
“NO! NO that is now where near the truth.” Ralph shouted at Henry as if he were under the influence of the devil’s tonic. “It is not only wrong it is absurd.”
This is the exact moment when Frederick entered the tavern and saw the seemingly inebriated Ralph. He stared down at the drinks; they were however concealed in heavy opaque mugs. He sighed hoping that men of their stature were not intellectuals with loose moral fibers; it was very hard to converse with Man who drinks, regardless of how high his thought process.
Both Henry and Ralph realized that someone staring at and immediately stood up to greet the new comer.
“Frederick you are here. So glad you could make it out today.” Henry jumped in front of Ralph and took the broad, calloused hand of Frederick and shook it firmly. “Won’t you join us for a mid-day meal that is if you haven’t already eaten?”
“That sounds mighty fine sir, I would be honored to sit amid the two greatest figures of our time!” Frederick said bowing slightly then seated himself next to Henry.
A seated Ralph said, “I must tell you that your narrative has caused me many sleepless nights and many frustrating conversations.” Ralph gulped down his steaming libation and smiled.
“Well, Ralph, sir I can tell you that you have provoked thought in to my head but alas I can not return the favor of sleeplessness…I sleep just fine.” Frederick replied in a half-serious tone.
Henry who was at that moment taking a drink also from his mug spit out his liquid upon the table and the men. “PBBBBBST! Not only is he smart but funny too.” Henry garbled with a mouth half full of liquid.
“Gentlemen if I may dare be so bold, and I will, could you pray tell me why we are meeting in a tavern, the home of all vile and putrid sins.” Frederick asked intently while staring hard at the tall half-full mugs and then to his Bible.
Well,” said Henry,” they have absolutely the best pork tenderloin known to man and the best new potatoes and the greatest white gravy to smother it all in. It is my one splurge I allow myself now…you know, now that I am no longer a Hermit.”
“Yes and thanks to me,” Ralph stood and said,” I brought him here about a year ago and got him hooked but he is very much mistaken on what is the best meal here. It is without question the roast beef!” Ralph looked up to the rafters and smelled in the imaginary odor of the roast beef that still lingered. He basked in the aroma of it.
Frederick turned and pointed to the mugs and said, “and the ale, it is beer right? Is it the best in town?”
“Water is the only drink for a wise man1!” Henry stated and then held his mug high as if to toast the air.
Ralph nodded in agreement and stated,” there is this to be said in favor of drinking, that it takes the drunkard first out of society, then out of the world1.”
Henry looked up at the barkeeper and shouted,” Can we get wat…” then in a lowered voice asked Frederick if he preferred coffee or water. Frederick chose coffee,” make that a nice cup of java for our friend.” The Barkeeper nodded as brought the coffee over.
Ralph waited a moment until the weary and parched traveler replenished a least a part of him self and then he asked the burning question. “What was your goal for the book? I mean I have read it several times, even my wife has read it, and every time we are just in awe of the raw passion that it exudes and extracts from the reader.”
Frederick stared into his dark rich coffee and softly replied, “Hope. It was to give the Negro hope.” At that moment, his eyes burned with an eternal and insatiable fire. “It was not a story for the abolitionist to read and pity me…I don’t need care or love like a wounded animal. It was a story of perseverance, about justice, and about truth.”
He slid his chair back and rested his hands on the table; no more like grabbed the table but almost in an unconscious way and said loudly. “Do You want to know what it was about? IT WAS ABOUT MY LIFE! It has nothing to do with my historical background as a slave; it is not the man from Africa becomes a slave so feel sorry for me…” As he spoke the Henry and Ralph felt their souls expand. It was as if they were injected with Frederick’s passion; he certainly had enough to share. “…it was about a slave becoming a Man and overcoming a nation and their oppressive ideals!!” Then he slammed his fist on the table and caused both men to jump being startled from their recent trance.
“When your genius called you answered, the sounds of the iron strings of our heart always ring True1. “Ralph said filling a little in awe of the presence of such a powerful man, but was more curious than scared. “You were a non-conformist…at what point did you know that you were supposed to be a Man? At what point did you reach that higher law?” Ralph plunged into the question that had bugged him to ask all day, but he was not sure he would like the answer.
Frederick looked deep in his face and declared, “When I grew tired of getting beat for no good reason!” Frederick’s gaze laid heavy upon Ralph,” My mistress, Master Hugh’ mistress, she taught me to read and write and from that point on I declared I would not be kept out in the darkness; in the darkness there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Once I had the taste of knowledge I could not satiate my thirst. Even after my Mistress quit teaching I became resourceful and learned from any means available. I went out of my way to make friends with white children…I transformed them into teachers1. A man’s hunger for knowledge can overcome every obstacle but it is also man’s greatest fault…for it was the temptation of the fruit on the tree of good and evil in Eden that tempted Eve. Why? Because it was desired to make one wise, like the gods; I was going to be as wise as the ‘gods1.’”
Henry sat this whole time just soaking it up and basking in the Fredrick’s story. Henry had a similar spirit and that is to do; they were men of action. “But when did you become a Man?” Henry asks, “When did you transcend yourself into a higher level?”
“I remember specifically an occasion that has scarred me emotionally and physically,” he stopped and lifted his shirt and showed them his scourged back, it was like nothing they had ever seen,” This blasted oxen of Covey’s got ahead of itself and smashed in the fence and nearly me with it. Well he blamed me for the incident and not, which in my opinion should have been beaten. He took me in the Woods with his axe out and proceeded to chop down three enormous branches from a gum tree. I knew what he was going to do and I had to sit there in agony and watch him take out his pocketknife and neatly clean off the Branches until it was as straight as an arrow. He frayed all three branches in a matter of a half and hour and we went home; I lay in the cart bleeding and incoherent1.” Frederick paused and took a slow, long drink of his cooling coffee and asked the barkeeper to warm it up for him. After his coffee was replenished he continued, “The man literally broke me and my hopes of some sort of freedom. Occasionally during my leisure time, if you can call it that, I would grab glimpses of hope but they would fade away with the reality of my situation.” He paused for another long drink of coffee.
“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind…” Ralph said almost in a whisper.
“I would yell at God, asking for freedom and then the thought of scriptures I had heard as a child; I can bear the load, He will not put more on me than I can bear. It will be much sweeter to bear all this and reflect once I got my freedom. I knew that I was going to run; I was going to run to Delaware to my freedom. The only thing standing in my way was fear; fear gentlemen are the greatest weapons of oppression. I got one last licking from Covey and that was the last I would take.” Frederick bent over the table toward Henry and Ralph then proceeded to pull aside his long, coarse hair to reveal a scar. This deep scar was a reminder to him that he would never stand for another beating. “Now Covey and I had a tussle…I mean we rolled on the ground for two hours. I can still see his red worn out face gasping for air. That was the only time that he never drew blood from me, but I extracted it from him1.”
Ralph sat mesmerized but could not help but ask,” So you think that violence is the way to become a man…” Frederick cut him off mid sentence.
“SHOW ME YOUR SCARS…” Frederick said in defiance, as he rose up from the table and knocked over his coffee.
“Ralph, not everyone transcends as a giant eye-ball with hairy legs.” Henry interjected. Frederick’s face turned from anger to confusion. “OH, yeah Ralph reached his higher law ideals by a vision or something.” Ralph reached across to grab his Walking stick; he hoped to somehow find comfort in it. Frederick shot Ralph a look like ‘you had better be ready for violence if you try to use that on me’, fortunately for Ralph he was looking at the stick and not Frederick. Frederick let it pass.
“I too made choice Frederick…I too choose to follow my own genius and not by into the joint-stock company of the masses. No my story is not as passionate as yours but it took just as much courage. I turned my back on my parish, my family name and my education to follow my Whim!” Ralph stated. “But I do agree that sometimes a scream is better than a thesis (quote)…”
“Then do you not understand that if there is no struggle then there is no progress,” Frederick stressed, “Does transcending only affect you mentally? Or is there also a physical change?”
Ralph sheepishly replied, “Well…errr…ummm both, but…”
Frederick pounded his hand into the table again and again to make his point. “There is no but…there is only action. And sometimes actions lead to violence but your ultimate goal is peace and harmony and freedom…this is what keeps you going!”
The room fell silent and the three men just stared at each other and their mugs.