Chapters 1–5

In order to repay a debt, twelve-year-old Charlie agrees to help the cruel Cap'n Buck to capture several fugitive slaves. But when Charlie is confronted with the horrors of slavery, he is forced to reconsider his plans.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. rile
    disturb, especially by minor irritations
    I don’t know what it was ’bout this critter that riled me so, ’cause when you holt it up next to other animals, there ain’t that much that’s spec-tac-a-lar ’bout it.
  2. dour
    showing a brooding ill humor
    Pap tells me, “Little Charlie, neither you nor the pup hadn’t showed signs of being nothing but dour and gloomish, but when we put you one next to the other...well, sir, it was though someone struck a flint on gunpowder! Sparks flew; y’all both made noises that neither pup nor babe had ever made afore, all the while rolling and laughing in the dust, then, like y’all had a talk ’bout it and took a vote, tore off in them woods together.”
  3. contraption
    a device or control that is very useful for a particular job
    Ma said the way I chased after that puppy brung to mind this contraption she’d seent at a fair in the city of Charleston when she was a girl.
  4. automaton
    a mechanism that can move independently of external control
    “A automaton,” she called it. “’Twas one-half fancy pocket watch, one-half tin can, and one-half little boy, and it moved jus’ as stiff and wobblish as you done running after that puppy, Charlie.”
  5. ponder
    reflect deeply on a subject
    I don’t remember doing the talking, but the picture of that wiggling, squirming, wet-tongued, fat ball of fussing and fur is in my head so strong that it’s something I’m-a be pondering ’bout for the rest of my days. And I’m a real big ponderer.
  6. cavort
    play boisterously
    It didn’t take but a half a second, but that look’s what got us both to cavorting and carrying on so.
  7. sow
    an adult female hog
    Pap tolt me, “A good dog is the same as a good person; they’s born that way, not made. Ain’t no silk purse ever been made out of a sow’s ear.”
  8. antic
    a playful, attention-getting act done for fun and amusement
    All their antics was first-rate nonsense to me.
  9. vex
    disturb, especially by minor irritations
    When the pups had been first born, Pap got vexed with me once I started naming ’em. I couldn’t unna-stand why, but he’d made me stop.
  10. abide
    put up with something or somebody unpleasant
    She couldn’t 'bide having nothing so common in her home and sold the curtains to George’s cousin for next to nothing.
  11. tussle
    fight or struggle in a confused way at close quarters
    After a bit she began tussling to get set free, even biting at Pap’s hand.
  12. nigh
    slightly short of or not quite accomplished; all but
    If I hadn’t been cursed to see what happened with my own eyes, it probably would’ve been nigh on useless to try and figger how my pap come to be laying there, but I’d trade being ignorant ’bout it in a hop, skip, and a jump if that meant the sight of him wouldn’t be barging into my dreams no more.
  13. ignorant
    unaware because of a lack of relevant information
    If I hadn’t been cursed to see what happened with my own eyes, it probably would’ve been nigh on useless to try and figger how my pap come to be laying there, but I’d trade being ignorant ’bout it in a hop, skip, and a jump if that meant the sight of him wouldn’t be barging into my dreams no more.
  14. tote
    carry with difficulty
    I don’t care how much you want to get rid of the remembering, you might as well not fight it, you might as well jus’ go ’head and make yourself a holster, ’cause that memory is yourn and you gonna be toting it ’round for the rest of your life.
  15. commence
    take the first step or steps in carrying out an action
    She stood straight up, shaded her eyes with her right hand, then threw the rake to the side and commenced running at me.
  16. befall
    become of; happen to
    Sheriff Jackson said, “Little Charlie, I hope you won’t mind riding ’long and showing me the place in the woods where this tragedy befell your pa.”
  17. plantation
    an estate where cash crops are grown on a large scale
    Then it hit me; we’d gone so far out that the tree Pap picked must’ve been on the Tanner plantation!
  18. poach
    hunt illegally
    “Sheriff Jackson! Sir! I swear on my ma’s head that we didn’t know we was stealing no one’s wood. Pap wouldn’t never do nothing to rile up Mr. Tanner. We seent the whuppings he give to folks who’s poached on his land. Pap wouldn’t do nothing to cross him.”
  19. posse
    a temporary police force
    This was a posse, a sad little one, but if you’s seent a posse afore, it ain’t hard to rec-a-nize one the second time ’round.
  20. lame
    disabled in the feet or legs
    Why else would they think I was gonna try and run off and give me a lame horse so’s I couldn’t?
  21. snare
    a trap for birds or small mammals; often has a slip noose
    I looked for a way out, but there wasn’t gonna be no escaping; the sheriff was smarter than he was letting on. I’d falled into his snare.
  22. abreast
    alongside each other, facing in the same direction
    The way the posse was lined up had the sheriff and one the ’nother men up front and me and Petey riding abreast in the middle whilst the other two men trailed behind.
  23. guffaw
    laugh boisterously
    That set the other men to guffawing and chuckling. Petey laughed right ’long with ’em, never knowing the joke was on him.
  24. reckoning
    a personal belief that is not founded on proof or certainty
    “Naw, Little Charlie, I done tolt you this ain’t got nothing to do with no lumber stealing. From my reckoning, this here’s Injun land. Jus’ hesh up.”
  25. cleave
    separate or cut with a tool, such as a sharp instrument
    Petey held on to the barrel of his pistol and shook it at me like it was a hatchet, ready to cleave me clean in half.
  26. hack
    chop or cut away
    Ma says the way Pap swings his ax is one of them things that makes life worth going through; says she probably wouldn’t-a never married Pap if she hadn’t run ’crost him in the woods, hacking hunks outta trees.
  27. blunt
    characterized by directness in manner or speech
    “Son, you got to understand why we got questions ’bout what happened out here. There wasn’t no witnesses and...well...to be blunt, word’s going ’round that your pa had come into some money and was fixing to run off to Cincinnati with...”
  28. discomfit
    cause to lose one's composure
    The sheriff looked mighty discom-fitted.
  29. kerfuffle
    a disorderly outburst or tumult
    I heard her covers rustling, then she whispers, “If they here to arrest you, don’t put up no fight, Charlie. I’ll come visit you in jail soon’s I can. It might not be for a spell; all this kerfuffle’s got me so worked up I’m thinking ’bout going on o’er to May-May’s for a while...”
  30. aback
    by surprise
    I was half ’specting to see shackles and a pulled six-shooter in Sheriff Jackson’s hands, so I was took aback when I opened the door and he’s holting his hat in his right hand and a burlap sack in his left.
  31. shackle
    a restraint that confines or restricts freedom
    There could be shackles in the sack and Petey could be hiding outside the door, peeing his pants for the chance to yell, “You’s under arrest, boy,” afore he used that rusty pistol to bust my skull open.
  32. whit
    a tiny or scarcely detectable amount
    If y’all’s to fall behind on what you owe Mr. Tanner, I ain’t gonna have no choice but to evict y’all. Them Tanners don’t care one whit what kind of grieving y’all’s in the middle of.
  33. embedded
    enclosed firmly in a surrounding mass
    This here stone was imbedded in that maple. Wasn’t no way to tell by looking at the tree, but when Big Charlie struck that first blow, this was right under the bark.
  34. sharecropper
    a tenant farmer who owes a portion of each harvest for rent
    Said so many crops was blowed away that lots of sharecroppers starved and even the Tanners got sunk so low they had to sell off some slaves.
  35. meddle
    intrude in other people's affairs or business
    Sheriff Jackson said, “The old folks what seent it say God took a notion to scratch his forefinger along the earth, meddling with humans jus’ for a laugh. But didn’t no one find it funny. We lost nineteen souls..."
  36. ornery
    having a difficult and contrary disposition
    I wasn’t ’bout to sneak no looks at Miss Daponte; ’twas well knowed that ’long with being the strongest woman in Possum Moan, she was also the orneriest one.
  37. ricochet
    spring back; spring away from an impact
    Strong’s your daddy was, when he laid into that maple, the head of the ax must’ve hit the stone, which caused ’em sparks you seent, then it ricocheted back like a bat shot outta the bad place.
  38. mourning
    state of sorrow over the death or departure of a loved one
    I’m truly ’shamed that I wasn’t more considerate of you at this time of your mourning.
  39. gouge
    force with the thumb
    “We gouged this out the tree and thought you might want to keep it.”
  40. apocalypse
    a cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the powers of evil
    “Oh, yes, I ain’t certain of the chapter nor the verse, but I knows somewhere in the Bible it say something ’long the lines of ‘When the trees starts to fighting back ’gainst the woodsman, it’s a definite sign that the end is near and that the apocky-lips is nigh upon us.’”
Created on October 12, 2018 (updated October 18, 2018)

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