Rising from his pallet, Zachariah walked silently across
the room and, standing alongside the stranger, his fist
clenched, the boy held one hand straightforward.
“‘ere, Sir.The lady in the ‘ouse give it to me, an’ I want’s
ya to ‘ave it.”
Climbing Boy 26: Gold
December 24, 1843
In his other hand, hanging by his side, he held the magician’s
bent and dented top hat.
“What’j’ya got, boy?” Forcing his eyes from the boy’s
eerily lit face, Johnson motioned to his hand.
Zachariah turned his hand upward…
He opened his fingers.
In the fireplace there was an upshot of sparks that briefly
brightened the gloomy, dimly lit room.
Johnson looked down…
Looking down his eyes widened, his mouth opened and
Lying in the palm of the boy’s hand was a large coin.
In the reflection of light the coin sparkled as…
“Gold?” Johnson whispered in awe. “The lady…” he asked
unbelievably, “she gave ya gold?”
“The lady said I was to keep it, an’ I was to use it only for
somethin’ very ‘portant, somthin’ I be wantin’ jus’ for meself,”
Zachariah answered, smiling wanly. “An’ I wants ya to be
‘avin’ it, Sir.”
The gaze of the stranger did not move from Johnson’s face.
Staring at the coin, “But it’s…” He reached to the coin,
but as if afraid to touch it pulled his hand back. “If it’s really
g-g-gold…” he stammered in a high pitched voice as,
reaching for the coin again, this time grabbing it from
Zachariah’s hand, Johnson instantly brought it to his mouth
and, biting it, hoped his teeth would feel a softness not found
in other coins. And his teeth and jaw, numb with alcohol,
did indeed confirm a softness not found in other coins…
except, possibly, were he to bite other coins while this
“It’s enough for the boy, Johnson?”
“It’s enough for the boy, Johnson!”
Cowering at the sound of the stranger’s voice, not sure if
he was asking him or telling him, “Yes, it’s enough!”
“Truly,” giving Johnson yet another opportunity, “you
do give the boy’s contract willingly, then?” the
Knowing he still had a choice, looking at Zachariah, he
Forgetting that just a short while ago he’d beaten him.
Forgetting that just a short while ago he’d stood above the
bleeding, cowering boy with his fists clenched and had been
prepared to beat him to death.
Forgetting this, Johnson felt betrayed at Zachariah’s
willingness to go with the stranger.
The fire having dimmed again, his eyes shifted from the
somewhat strange-appearing face of Zachariah to the mound
of coins that lay on the table before him and, hefting the
lady’s coin in his hand, he weighed…
Of course, he thought, I could keep Zachariah and the gold
coin. But, glancing at the shadowy figure that sat across
from him, once again Johnson felt the stranger was
something more—or something less—than human, and he
shuddered, because knowing were he to keep the boy, under
that pretense, the stranger would certainly come knocking
on his door again, and that was something he did not want
to happen… ever.
“Johnson,” the stranger demanded. “Enough money?”
Startled, bolting in his seat, he looked at the dark figure
and… “Yes.” Johnson muttered softly, then looked to the
stranger’s side, at the boy, and speaking louder, “Damn ya,
it’s enough! Damn ya both! Now get out’a me ‘ouse, the
both of ya!” His voice rising with anger, “Take ‘im an’…” he
began to cough, “get out!”
Slowly, as if terribly saddened, rising wearily from the
chair, turning away from Johnson, the stranger walked to
the door, opened it, stepped through, and without another
word closed the door behind him, allowing Zachariah and
Johnson their goodbyes.
Standing across from the man that had been his only
family for almost as far into the past as he could remember,
“Master Johnson, I…” The boy had an urgent need to speak
to the man, to thank him for providing what little he did
Feeling something he hadn’t felt in the past,
Zachariah felt a need to tell Johnson that he wasn’t angry
for the beatings, to tell Johnson that he forgave him for the
years of mistreatment, and for killing Mousy, so, “Master
Holding his hand forward, silencing the boy, Johnson
lifted the bottle of gin and, deliberately looking at him from
above its smooth, rounded circumference, drained the
remaining liquor, then, slamming the bottle onto the table,
causing the coins to jump. “Get out’a ‘ere!” Gesturing
drunkenly, shaking his fist at the boy. “Get out’a ‘ere or I’ll
give ya what for!”
“No!” Shaking his head negatively, “Ya ain’t mine no
more!” Waving him away, “Go on with ya! Go to ya
His shoulders slumping sadly, the boy walked slowly to
the closed door, pulled the door open and, pausing before
stepping out of the shack, Zachariah looked back at that
which had been his home and at he whom had been his
father. “Master Johnson,” still, the boy tried speaking to the
man one last time…
Hunched over the table, counting, stacking his money,
Johnson seemingly no longer noticed the boy.
“Zachariah, come, lad.” Speaking softly, the stranger
beckoned from outside. “The night’s growing late.”
Looking at the hunched figure at the table, “Goodbye,
There was no response.
With one last, “Goodbye,” stepping through the doorway,
putting the hat onto his head, feeling a lifting of his spirit,
Zachariah pulled the door to the shack shut behind him.
The darkly overcast sky was gone.
As it had been earlier, the velvet sky was pitch black and
the full moon shone brilliantly to the accompaniment of
millions upon millions of radiantly gleaming stars, and, as
far as Zachariah could see, the earth was bathed in creamy
whiteness, for all within sight was covered with sparkling
crystals of pure, white snow.
Waiting, the stranger held his hand to the little boy.