most of them spent here on the Harness plantation in Bull Creek, Virginia. Harness gave Jane tohim sixteen years ago after selling Justin, the father of her four eldest children, down the river.Though Jane and Justin had jumped the broomstick, Harness's disregard for the traditionalAfrican wedding ceremony is typical of slaveholders when auction time comes around. Manywon't even permit the formality of marriage among their slaves, and those who do would neverallow it to interfere with their own claims. But Jane has never loved another man after herhusband was taken from his family. Besides, she's always been far too independent to live with amessy, unkempt man like John even though the kind old slave is the father of her three youngestchildren. Jane and her family have continued to occupy their own cabin, and John visits only forsex, which isn't very often these days.Over the years John has become Solomon Harness's occasional drinking buddy, of peachbrandy and whiskey converted from the greater part of the corn crop that is neither eaten, groundinto meal on the plantation's horse-turned grist mill nor fed to the livestock. Although most of thedistilled spirits are shipped in barrels to thirsty towns along the Ohio, the two men share a nipnow and then. Harness's religious wife Emily won't allow him to drink in their home, and theformality if not the social distinction between slave and master has gradually broken down overbrandy and corn liquor during long hours on the riverbank or in John's funky, littered cabin whenthe weather is bad. He's half lit now, as usual."Howdy, Gal, what be on yo min'? Got you some time fo me?" he asks Jane, his foolish grinrevealing a mouthful of bad teeth beneath benevolent old eyes."Go shush now, you funnin' me," she replies, knowing John has occasionally been seeingLizzie, a much younger mulatto woman, for the kind of time he has in mind."We could sho 'nuff
us some fun.""Massa Harness want you up at de big house," says Jane, refusing to be drawn into hisbanter. She's not sure even John knows about tonight though it was he, bless his good heart, whoopened her eyes and set things in motion. She allows herself, or is unable to prevent, a mentalimage of their procreation
for such their sex has always been for Jane: woman's sacred work of begetting. And though this is what Harness wants as well of course, in compelling her to lie withJohn, providing her master with offspring of their union is as far removed from Jane's willingparticipation in the act as is loyalty to Harness from her nature. In procreation Jane is moved bysome message or promise from her soul or ancestors, the living presence beyond this unendinground of toil and exhaustion to which she turns in mute appeal again and again. The source of energy behind her responsiveness to John has always been
to slavery and Harness'shold on her.Opposition which if not entirely conscious is nonetheless both total and implacable.Obedience isn't loyalty
and sex, childbirth, mothering are all part of the core of her life thatHarness can't touch, can't even perceive. They are Jane's lifeblood, her sustaining spring from adeep-flowing underground river. What Harness and his like see are only where the waters spillout and moisten the earth. Plantation life is the slowly spreading stain the waters make on theland
the rich soil, the hard packed earth, the rock
while beneath the surface flows the river,most of the time beyond Jane's thirsty reach. But her children are wells sunk beneath thebedrock. And it's through each of them that her lifeblood comes back to her, through every oneof them that her desiccated spirit survives.Chuckling softly, John pats Jane on her ample rear-end and reaches for his coat. She giveshim a weary smile, of tolerant resignation rather than real affection, before walking in her slowdeliberate way to the plain, clean dirt-floored cabin she shares with her children on slave row.