The rock in Lawson’s fist descended on William’s head. But before it could make contact, a powerful kick from the side sent Lawson rolling from William’s chest. The rock bounced away scratching William’s face in the way. William tried to sit up, gasping for air. Someone walked by him and stood in front of Thomas Lawson who was struggling to get to his feet. They both looked up to see Sheriff Charles Benson towering over them.
“ Well, well, what is this? Not having a fight in my jurisdiction, are we?” The sheriff’s calm voice came from high up. “ Now, who you might be?” He addressed Lawson.
Thomas Lawson tried to stand up, “ What bloody business is it of yours?” He snarled at the sheriff, “ Git on your way, you bugger.” He tried to push at the sheriff.
Another kick on his shin sent Lawson sprawling on the ground. The sheriff simply flexed his feet and put it solidly on Lawson’s stomach. He bent down grandly with his cane resting on Thomas’s chest.
“ But it is my business, you pig. Anything that happens here is my business, you see. After all, this is my county.” The sheriff’s voice was condescending and calm. Unlike Lawson who was cussing for the world to hear.
“ You might want to keep it down.” Charles Benson suggested, “ I would shut up if I were you. See, its nobody but us here. I made sure of that. So, whats yer problem?” The last question was directed at William.
William finally took a deep breath. “ My indenture ran out five years ago but they would not release me. So I ran away here. I guess he came to capture me back. Only now, he accuses me of making a sick babe with his wife. And she be pious as heaven.” He panted with the effort but the weight of lies was slowly lifting from his chest. It was a relief.
“ I see.” The sheriff cocked his head to the side and then turned towards Lawson. “ All this running away is old news. Half the village knows it already. But, is the other part true.” This time the question was aimed at Thomas Lawson.
“ He is a liar and a thief.” Lawson was screeching with anger, “ He ran away and my wife had this monster babe. He is a servant no matter what a document says. We fed him for twenty five years.”
“ And the indenture was for twenty years. Am I right?” The sheriff asked. Lawson was silent. The sheriff pressed his foot on Lawson’s stomach a little harder and asked again.
“ I said am I right. You not deaf, are you?”
“ Who cares how long the document says.” Thomas Lawson was trying to heave the sheriff’s foot off. “ He is my servant and I have my rights.”
“ That’s the problem, ain’t it?” The sheriff was calm as a cucumber, “ I seem to care and in this place what I care is called the law and justice. So you better bugger off yerself, or I might have to put ye in jail for attempted murder of a poor citizen.”
A poor citizen! Is he a citizen now? Williams heart thudded with anticipation. So he doesn’t have to go back to Neabsco Furnace any more. What is happening here?
Charles Benson hauled up Lawson to his feet by the cuff of his coat and pushed him off.
“ You best hitch your wagon and ride home. I’ll send a letter to the sheriff of Neabsco furnace or what ever it is. The newspaper notice is a bit vague on geography. Where did you say it was, Billy?”
He didn’t but William was happy to provide the details now, “ Next to Norfolk County sir, and Mr. Lawson’s wife might be in harm’s way. If you please sir.” He was hoping to save poor Bethia too.
“ I might mention it in the letter.” The sheriff pondered, “ But she won’t be in harm’s way, will she? Nor will he go to the county court with a forged document. Think of yer reputation. Fine respectable gentle folk that ye are.” The last was addressed to Lawson.
Thomas Lawson spat on the ground and walked off without a back ward glance at William. They watched his frock coat dissappear from view behind the trees.
“ So, am I allright with the law?” Asked William timidly, “ With or without document?”
Charles Benson shifted his hawk eyes towards William.
“ That depends on how Jacques decides to pay his taxes.” He said, “ He came running to me after ye left the pub. Make him get a freeman’s permit for ye and I will look the other way if it seems homemade. But don’t ye dare mix his shine with my mead again. I’ll make ye pay, Billy. I swear.”
“ I won’t sheriff, I swear.” Said William and then he was seized with a sudden thought.
“ My name is William Gill, sheriff, as you know.”
A slight smile touched the sheriff’s mouth. “ They call you William Sykes Gill in the village.” He stated matter of fact, “ Now, get back to the pub and sell yer shine, will ya?”
I will, thought William as the cool creek water rippled around his ankles soothing his exhaustion; I will as long as I may live.
The fork in the road bent two ways. One road led out of the village towards the world and Bethia, the other to the pub. He chose the way home, to the pub.