“So, are ya going to hold her hand?” Tyler asked. He was the nice one, and he was asking about Debbie. Glen shook his head when he spoke. He could not believe that fifteen and sixteen year old boys in 1868 actually talked that way.
“Of course, it’s a dance.” Glen understood the young men sincerely respected the young women enough to treat them gently and believed that sex was best kept to marriage, if even then. Heck, one out of ten girl’s Glen’s age back home in 1968 had already given up her virginity. The boys expected it and the girls no longer respected themselves enough to say no. “I’m going to kiss her.” Glen announced, just to see their reaction. Tyler turned red. Curtis looked at his feet. Robert, the big mean one, sneered.
“Don’t lie,” Robert said. “You’re just making that up.”
Glen grinned. He had no idea how well they knew him – how long he had supposedly been in town, but it was long enough for the boys to know who he was and at least one girl knew him. He was glad to hear that his feelings in that brief encounter a hundred years in the future were mutual feelings.
“Hey look,” Curtis changed the subject. “Old man Wilson’s nigger is riding a horse.”
“Hey!” Glen hit Curtis in the shoulder and the boy dutifully said ouch. “Show some respect for a free man.”
Curtis looked like he did not understand. Tyler stepped in. “Okay, negroid.”
“That’s not much better,” Glen frowned.
“What would you call him?” Tyler asked.
“How about African-American?”
“Shit,” Robert erupted. “A nigger is still a nigger. You talk like a damn Yankee.”
Glen whipped around and hit the boy hard enough to send him to the dirt. “My family is all over the Carolina rolls of the honorable dead, and my uncle also died defending Vicksburg from the damn Yankees. Don’t you ever call me a Yankee again, and you better keep that nigger talk to yourself around me, too. God is my witness, you will respect other people, all God’s children, or so help me I’ll hit you again.”
Robert thought about it. Tyler and Curtis did not know what to think, until Tyler got between Glen and Robert.
“We didn’t mean nothing bad by it. Did you Robert? It’s just how we talk here, that’s all. Nothing bad.”
Glen slowly nodded. In 1868, they honestly did not know any better. He knew it would be generations before anything really changed and there was nothing he could do about it in the short term. He stuck his hand out to Robert who was still on the ground, thinking.
“Sorry I hit you,” Glen said. “No hard feelings.”
Robert grinned as slowly as Glen had nodded. He took the hand and let Glen help him up. “Sorry I called you a damn Yankee,” he said until he got to his feet and added, “Ya damn Yankee.” He turned and ran. Tyler shouted and ran after him a short way. Curtis might have run, but looked at Glen who was grinning and shaking his head. After a moment, Tyler came back and he, Glen and Curtis walked to the school together.
Outside the school, there was a dance floor set-up on the lawn. There was an American flag flying on the flag pole with far less stars than Glen was used to, but Glen got the impression if he peeled back the stars and stripes he might find the stars and bars just beneath the surface. There was a separate stage for the band and a few tables shoved together that had all sorts of baked goods and sweet goodies on them, along with the required punch bowl.
Curtis wandered off when Tyler and Glen made their way to the food. Ms Esmeralda Commons, the school marm scolded them and said they had to wait until the dance started. Glen put on his best humble face.
“Yes, mam,” he said, drawing her attention to himself while Tyler stuffed something sweet into the pocket of his slacks. With that accomplished, Tyler echoed the “yes, mam,” again as a distraction, but Glen honestly felt he could wait.
“Glen.” It was a girl’s voice that made him turn around. Debbie came up, all smiles. Susan was with her, and Glen was startled to realize he knew Susan’s name. He hardly had time to contemplate the implications of that, however, because Debbie’s father was right there beside his daughter. And he was sporting a pistol at his belt.
Glen swallowed as Debbie introduced him. “This is Glen that I told you about.” The man eyed Glen with laser beam eyes. No matter that lasers would not be invented for a hundred years.
“Debbie tells me you are bright. Any thoughts about the future?” The man jumped straight to the point, whatever his point might have been.
“Yes, sir. I was thinking after I finish my schooling here I might venture east to Davidson College or maybe William and Mary. I am thinking about the law.”
“Where?” Debbie asked.
“Virginia. Davidson is in the Carolinas. I have some family there.”
“Oh, but that is so far.”
Glen looked up at the man who was considering something. This was clearly not the response he expected. Then Glen almost overdid it.
“Of course, Harvard has both a school of law and a Seminary if I should find myself moving in that direction. But, that is even farther from home.”
The man nodded, but came to a conclusion. “Stick with the law. There is the money, and an entrance into politics besides.”
“Yes, sir,” Glen said. “But wisdom suggests I wait to see how the dust settles before any political venture.”
“Yes it does,” the man said and almost smiled. He patted Glen on the shoulder. “We may talk more later.” He turned to his daughter. “Alright sweetheart,” he said, but it was almost swallowed by the shout, “Bob.” And he left them and went off to see Bob, whoever that might be.
“What?” Glen asked.
“My father has given his permission for you to court me.” Glen looked shocked. He had not considered that an issue. Debbie took the expression on his face the wrong way. “Unless you don’t want to.” She looked down at her dowdy boots and twisted one in the dirt.
Glen did not have to think for long. He held out his hand. “I want to.”
Debbie looked up, turned a little red at the sight of his hand but also did not have to think long. She place her hand gently in his and Glen felt her smile return in full force.