I reached the first building and carefully pushed open the wooden door. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure it would jump right out of my chest. I had almost opened the door enough to squeeze through when it suddenly squeaked very loud.
“Who’s dere?” a man’s voice cried.
“My name is Charlotte and I’m so sorry to intrude, but I’m looking for a little girl!” I exclaimed. “It’s very important!”
A match was lit then suddenly the whole was filled with light. Five or six slaves were in their beds, staring at me in shock.
“Please, you must help me find her!” I pleaded.
“Who-who yo lookin’ for?” one of them asked, still a bit startled.
“Her name is Hadessah…”
“Oh, yo mean dat new little girl? She’s in da one with dat big washtub in front,” he said, sleepily.
“Thank you!” I exclaimed.
Leaving the slaves still in shock, I closed the door behind me. I scanned the area, and sure enough, I saw a building with a large washtub in front of it. Looking both ways, I hurried over. My hands shook; partially from the cold and the realization that I was about to meet the girl I had been trying to find for days. With a deep breath, I pushed the door open.
“Annie get yo’ fryin’ pan, dere’s somebody in here!” someone shrieked.
There was a shuffling noise then a loud clang.
“Yo hit de wall! Towards de door, de door!”
“No, stop!” I screamed. Suddenly there was silence in the pitch-black room. Again, the room suddenly lit up with the light of a lantern.
Two women stood in front of me, clinging onto each other for dear life. One gripped the handle of a frying pan. In the back of the room was the trembling Hadessah, who had lit the lantern.
“Who on earth are you?” one of the women asked.
“My name is Charlotte Hamilton. I’m terribly sorry I frightened you!” I apologized.
The women relaxed.
“Dat’s alright, I haven’t seen Ella Mae dat excited in a long time!” Annie laughed.
“Well yo were de one who hit de wall with her fryin’ pan,” Ella Mae exclaimed.
“Who are you?” Annie asked again, turning to me.
“My name is Charlotte. Charlotte Hamilton. I’m a nurse for the Union Army and I’m here to see Hadessah.”
The women glanced at each other, then at the shocked Hadessah in the back of the room. Timidly but curiously, she walked up and stood next to Annie.
“I-I don’t know quite how to begin… maybe we could sit down?” I suggested.
So the four of us sat down on the rickety cots and I began to tell my story.
“I’m afraid I have bad news,” I started, choking back the tears that had suddenly gathered in my eyes. “Your father was killed last week.”
Hadessah’s face grew pale and anguish filled her eyes. She tried to control herself, but the quivering of her bottom lip soon turned into sobbing. Ella Mae wrapped her arms around her and rocked her gently.
“Dat’s right…. Jest let it out, child, let it out…” she comforted.
It was as if I had taken a hammer and smashed all her hopes and dreams in one blow. That one thing that drove her forward each day, that thing that she endured five years of slavery for. Gone. Gone, in six little words.
We sat there for a few minutes, until Hadessah was able to stop crying and listen to what else I had to say.
Full of emotion myself, I knelt down on the floor and grabbed Hadessah’s hands. I looked deep into her moist eyes and said,
“Your daddy asked me come and get you. He wanted me to bring you to the north so you could live with a nice family there. He loved you more than I can ever explain,” I sniffled.
Hadessah smiled then to my surprise threw her arms around my neck.
“Thank you,” she whispered in my ear.
Annie and Ella Mae began whispering. They finally turned and looked at me; I was still hugging Hadessah.
“We think we can tell yo dis…” Ella Mae began, her voice lowered. “Dere are a few slaves who gonna escape tomorrow night. Dey meeting in de woods. You should go with Dessa.”
I stared at them.
“You mean they’re running away?” I asked.
“Dat’s de only way yo gonna get her outta here. Master Clay gonna have wanted signs up fasteh den you can say-well-anything,” Annie said.
I thought for a minute. I looked at Hadessah, who was clinging tight onto me. Annie was right… there was no way I could just take the train back to Indiana.
“If that’s what we’ve gotta do, then that’s what we gotta do, right?” I asked Hadessah, wiping a lingering tear from her cheek.
She had suddenly become very attached to me and didn’t want me to leave. She began to tear up again when I told her that I must. But we’d see each other soon.
The next evening, I did the same as before. I paid the driver, but told him this time he did not have to stay. I sneaked around to the slave houses, thankful that the moon was full and gave lots of light. I opened their door, only this time I was welcomed with a hug, not a frying pan.
“Hello again,” I whispered. “We need to hurry, so tell them goodbye.”
Hadessah went and hugged both the ladies, who were sniffling and wiping their eyes.
“Good luck, child.”
“I wish de best for yo both.”
“Thank you,” I smiled.
Hand in hand, Hadessah and I shut the slave house door, never to return. We stared at the dark blotch of woods in the distance. A long, long journey lay before us, but we wouldn’t give up. One word pushed us on. Home.
To be continued!
Later, Kathryn (aka Chatty Kathy)