Monday, December 30, 2013

Dessa, Part 5

We reached the spot in the woods where Ella Mae had told us to go. After waiting a few minutes we could hear a group of people approaching. A beam of light appeared, growing bigger each second, until at last we could see four people-three men and one woman.
“Hello,” I whispered. “I’m Charlotte and this is Hadessah.”
“I am your conductor, Henry. This is Joseph and his wife Esther, and this is Sam.”
The strangers nodded their heads in greeting. Joseph and Esther were middle-aged. Sam was young; in his 20s I would guess. I could tell from the moment I saw him that he was an independent man who longed for freedom and would give anything and everything for it.
We didn’t talk much, for fear of being heard. We traveled through the dark woods at a quick pace, and Hadessah struggled to keep up. It was a very dangerous trip for even the strongest of men, let alone a small 10 year-old.
We walked for hours. By the time we stopped to settle down for the night, we were all ready to collapse. But we wanted to get as far away from the Claybourne plantation as possible. You never know when a group of slave hunters might be right behind you. 
Having a light to sleep by was impossible; it would give us away. So in the jet-blackness of night we all laid down on the cold, wet grass. Hadessah snuggled up close, for the poor girl was shivering. I gave her my shawl, but it didn’t do much good when the night breeze blew.
            I stared up at the black trees above us, the leaves rustling softly. It reminded me of the nights back in camp. You could always hear the trees rustling and sometimes the hooting of the owls.
            Soon my eyes could stay open no longer, and I fell asleep to the sound of Hadessah’s soft breathing beside me.
            “Everyone up! Come on! We must hurry!”
            I groaned at the sound of Henry’s voice. My eyes opened slightly and I was unhappy to discover it was still dark out. Hadessah stirred beside me.
            “Why must we leave now?” I asked.
            “We will reach de first station at dawn. Dere we will rest till night,” Henry said. “But we must hurry!”
            So the six of us trudged through the woods once again. We were all very hungry and still a bit sleepy. I tried to stay positive, but sometimes it was just so hard.
            But Henry was right. Just as the sun began to rise, we reached the first house or “station” as he called it. The “stationmaster” living there would help us.
            The woods had thinned out a bit, and there was now a dirt road. In clear view from the road was the white house where would be staying. Looking both ways, Henry quickly led us to the front door. An old, white-haired lady answered and let us in.
            “Follow me,” she said, leading us up the stairs with a candle.
            We were taken to the attic, and then to a secret room hidden by a sliding panel. The lady was most kind, and gave us food, blankets and anything else we needed. It was nice to rest and talk without worry of the slave hunters being right behind us.
            Our conductor returned to his home, but another one was supposed to meet us when we left the house that night.
            Meanwhile, we were able to learn more about each other. Joseph and Esther already knew Sam somewhat, from the plantation. And they had seen Hadessah, but since she was new they hadn’t been able to talk to her.
            “Well, we’ll start, eh Estie? I am Joseph, but you can call me Joe. This is Esther, or Estie, my wife,” Joe said. “We’ve been slaves all our lives and we’re ready to be free.”
            “It’s nice to meet you both,” I said, extending my hand.
            “I’m Sam… Dere’s not much to tell ‘bout me. I’m 21 and was born a slave. My parents are dead, and I’ve got nobody else. I want a new life. I don’t want to be nobody’s property! I want to be free!”
            I could hear the passion in Sam’s voice.
            “I’d feel the same way,” I said. “Well, my name is Charlotte. But you can call me Charlie, like everyone else does. I’m a nurse for the Union Army. My husband, Jack, is a first lieutenant. I traveled here to bring Hadessah to the north, like her father asked me to,” I said, gently stroking Hadessah’s curly hair.
            “Was your papa a soldier, child?” Estie asked.
            “Yes mam. He left to fight when I was 6.”
            “And your mama?”
            “She died when I was a baby…” Hadessah answered. Suddenly her face lit up.
            “If I can call you Charlie then you can call me Dessa, okay?” she said, unintentionally changing the subject. I laughed.
            “Okay, it’s a deal.”
I stared at Hadessah as she chatted on with the others. I was growing quite attached to the little girl. I couldn’t help but laugh when I remembered Harriet Sorenson’s last words to me. How could anyone do anything but love this child?
Night came quickly, but we were ready to travel again. Thanks to the socks and sweaters that the kind lady had given us, we were a bit warmer, too. So out into the darkness we plunged again, ready to continue our journey.
“Don’t pout, silly. I’ll be back soon.”
It was a few days later, and I was heading into a nearby town to get food. It was too risky to take Dessa, and she wasn’t very happy.
“Hurry, okay?” she said.
“Yes, pumpkin,” I laughed, pinching her cheeks.
In town, I headed into the grocers. Of course no one suspected me of helping slaves escape, but I couldn’t rid the uneasiness I was feeling. Every time someone else came in the store and rang the bell I would jump. I quickly bought the food and started to leave the store when a paper hanging in the window caught my attention.
Cash reward offered for four runaway slaves:
Joseph-middle-aged, tall, black hair, dark brown skin
Esther-middle-aged, black hair, brown skin, wears bandanna in hair
Sam-age 21, tall, brown hair, dark brown skin
Hadessah-age 10, small, brown hair, light-brown skin
- Hubert Claybourne, Belmont, Tennessee
My stomach did a somersault. They had caught up with us! I clutched the food a little tighter and hurried out the store.
 To be continued!
Kathryn (aka Chatty Kathy)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dessa, Part 4

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)

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