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The Landby Mildred D. Taylor
I loved my daddy. I loved my brothers too. But in the end it was Mitchell Thomas and I who were most like brothers, with a bond that couldn't be broken. The two of us came into Mississippi together by way of East Texas, and that was when we were still boys, long after we had come to our understanding of each other. Seeing that we were a long way from our Georgia home and both of us being strangers here in Mississippi, the two of us depended on each other and became as family. But it wasn't always that way.
In the beginning the two of us didn't get along at all. Fact to business, there was a time it seemed like to me Mitchell Thomas lived just to taunt me. There were other boys too who picked on me, but Mitchell was the worst. I recall one time in particular when I was about nine or so and I was reading beside a creek on my daddy's land, and Mitchell came up from behind me and just whopped me on the head. For no reason. Just whopped me on the head! Course I jumped up mad. "What ya do that for?" I cried.
"Felt like it," he said. That's all; he felt like it. "Ya wanna do somethin' 'bout it?"
But I said nothing. Sure, I wanted to do something about it, all right, but I was no fool. Besides the fact I was a small-built boy, Mitchell was a year and some months older than me, a big boy too, stronger than most boys his age, and he could've broken me in two if he'd had the mind. Mitchell stared at me and I stared at him, then he turned and walked away. He didn't laugh, he didn't gloat; he just walked away, but I knew he'd be back.
And he was. Time and time again.
At first I just tried to stay out of Mitchell's way, but that didn't solve the problem. So I went to my sister, Cassie, about Mitchell. Now, my sister was a beautiful girl and I knew even Mitchell had eyes for her. But Cassie was not only beautiful, she was tough, smart, and just a bit cocky. She was six years older than I was and pretty much like a mother hen when it came to me; I knew she'd take my part. "Cassie, you know 'bout Mitchell?" I asked her.
"Course I know about Mitchell," she answered. "Why're you letting him beat up on you?"
"I'm not letting him!" I exclaimed in outrage. "You thinking I'm liking him beating up on me?"
"Well, if you're not, you'd better make him stop."
"Well, I'm trying."
"Well, you'd better try harder."
"I've tried fighting back, but he's too strong. Thing is, I don't know how to stop him."
"You'd better figure a way," she said matter-of-factly, then looked me in the eyes. "You want me to talk to him?"
I didn't even need to think on that. "Naw, course not! You did, then they'd all be saying I had my sister fighting my battles!"
Cassie shrugged. "Then you'd better figure something out quick."
Well, I didn't figure anything out quick enough before Mitchell whalloped me again. And again. Finally things got so bad, I told my daddy about Mitchell and about how he and other boys too were always picking on me. Now, the thing was, Mitchell and his family and the other boys lived on my daddy's land, and I figured my daddy with one word could put a stop to Mitchell and the rest. But my daddy said, "What you expect me to do about it?"
"I don't know," I replied, even though I knew exactly what I wanted him to do about it.
"You expect me to stop this boy Mitchell and the others from messing with you?"
I didn't say anything.
"You want it stopped, Paul," he said, "then you stop it. This here is between you and Mitchell and whatever other boys. I'm not getting into it."
My daddy was true to his word too. More than one time he saw me with a busted lip or a bruised eye, but he showed me no sympathy. He just looked at me and said, "See you didn't stop it yet." After a while, though, he said, "Paul, you don't stop this soon, those boys are going to kill you."
"Well, they're bigger and stronger'n me!" I protested.
"Then you use what you strongest at, boy! You use your head. Now take care of it."
I took care of it, all right. I enlisted the aid of my brothers, Hammond, George, and Robert. I figured Hammond and George could sure enough stop Mitchell. Course, they already knew of my troubles. They'd seen my busted lip and bruises too, but they had been away at school during most of the time Mitchell had been beating on me, and I hadn't been able to turn to them for my rescue. Robert, of course, had wanted to help me out, but there hadn't been much he could do. He was as small as I was. Now Hammond and George were back home and I figured to settle this thing.
"So what do you want us to do?" Hammond asked.
I was looking for complete and absolute revenge, and I figured Hammond at eighteen and George at sixteen could provide that for me. "Put the fear of God into 'em!" I declared.
Hammond smiled; so did George. Robert, though, nodded solemnly. "We can do that." Robert was nine, same age as me. Of my brothers, I was closest with Robert. I suppose, in part, being the same year's children made us close, but there were other things too. We had been together practically since birth, and we always took care of each other. When I got into trouble, Robert was there to pull me out of it if he could, or at least to see me through it, and I did the same for him. More than one time when one of us would be getting a licking from either my mama or our daddy, the other would jump in to try to stop it and we'd both get whipped. We shared everything together. Back then, Robert was always on my side. "They got no business beating on you," Robert said, expressing my sentiments exactly.
"That's what I figure too," I said.
"We'll take care of 'em tomorrow," Robert promised.
"Now wait a minute," said Hammond. "I don't know if that's such a good idea."
"What's not good about it?" I asked. "Mitchell and those other boys been beating on me for the longest time, so y'all go beat on them awhile and they'll stop."
Hammond was quiet a moment, then said, "Well, I don't know if that's quite fair."
"Sounds fair to me."
"Me too," said Robert.
"But George and I are older than Mitchell and those other boys, and we'd have the advantage," said Hammond.
"Well, that's the point of the thing!" I said.
Hammond shook his head. "'Sides that, they live here on our place, and if we get into it with them, it'll look like we're bullying them?"
"Well, they've been bullying me!"
George looked at me dead center. "You tell our daddy about this?" One thing I liked about my brother George was that he laid things right on the line; he said exactly what was on his mind. On the surface he was an easygoing sort of boy with a body that seemed to hang in a lazy fashion, such as always having one leg dangling over the arm of a chair when our daddy wasn't around. But the truth was, he had himself a fierce kind of temper when baited and a steely right hand to match. He had never used either against me. I always told him the truth. "I told him, all right," I replied in answer to his question.
"Well, what'd he say?"
I didn't speak right up.
"Well? I know he said something."
"He told me he wasn't getting into it. He told me to stop it, so that's what I'm trying to do."
George laughed. "Yeah, you trying to stop it, all right. You trying to get us to stop it for you."
"Same thing," said Robert. Those were my thoughts exactly.
"Look, Paul," said Hammond. "I'll have a talk with Mitchell, but I'm not going to go beating up on him for you. Understood?"
I looked at Hammond and nodded solemnly, but I was figuring the only thing Mitchell Thomas would ever understand was a good whipping.
That very next morning Robert and I, sitting behind Hammond and George on their bays, went over to the patch of ground Mitchell's family tended. Now, the Thomases, like all the other families who lived on my daddy's land, were sharecroppers, and because of that fact, they were obliged to take heed of whatever my daddy or my brothers said. Miz Thomas was sure enough taking heed right now.
"Edna," said Hammond as Mitchell's mother stood in her dark doorway, "where's Willie?" Willie Thomas was Mitchell's daddy. "He gone off already?'
"Yes, suh," answered Miz Thomas. "He in the fields."
"Well, doesn't matter. We come to see Mitchell. He with his daddy?"
"Mitchell?" questioned Miz Thomas. "Well, suh, he's out in them woods yonder choppin' wood for the fire."
Hammond nodded. "Whereabout?"
"North yonder... by the creek."
"All right," said Hammond. "We'll find him."
We turned to go, but then Miz Thomas said, "That Mitchell, he done somethin'? He in trouble?"
"We just want to talk to him, Edna," Hammond assured her. Still, though, as we rode away, I saw Miz Thomas frown, and young as I was, I knew she was worried. She was worried because my brothers had come. My brothers had come asking about Mitchell, and my brothers were white.
Copyright © 2OOl by Mildred D. Taylor
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