A few days later, we reached the Tennessee and Kentucky border. Micah left us here, and another conductor took over; a white woman, named Elaina. We were staying in the basement of her own house.
In Kentucky, there were many open fields that were dangerous to cross, even at night. But Elaina was prepared.
“We will travel through the country with my wagon. I can take you as far as Ashton. There you will meet another conductor,” she said. “There is a secret compartment in my wagon where Joseph and Esther may hide. Hadessah will have to sit up top with you and I,” she told me.
“What if we get stopped?” I asked.
“Say that she is your slave, and hopefully no one will recognize her. I have some clothes for her to wear that will cover her more, like this bonnet here,” she said, handing it to Dessa.
That afternoon we started for Ashton. Joe and Estie were hidden in the wagon’s compartment, which was then covered in bales of hay. Dessa rode in the back, while Elaina and I sat up front.
We had been riding for about 20 minutes or so when I felt the older woman tense up.
“What is it?”
“A group of Confederate soldiers up ahead. Keep calm,” she warned. We pulled up slowly to the handful of grey-uniformed men on horses.
“Halt! What are you carrying?” the leader asked.
“Hay,” Elaina said, roughly.
The man motioned for his men to check the hay.
“Who’s that?” he asked, pointing to Dessa.
“My slave,” I replied, with as confident a voice as I could muster.
“Stand up, girl.” He ordered. Dessa hopped out of the wagon. The captain began whispering with the officer next to him.
“State your name.”
I held my breath. I knew the officers had seen wanted posters and were wondering if that was Hadessah.
“Grace,” she replied, calmly. I closed my eyes and tried very hard not to smile. Smart girl.
The captain stared at her for a minute. His eyes searched her up and down.
“Alright, you can go,” he finally said, after his men found nothing in the wagon. Elaina whipped the reins and we jolted to a start once again. I could feel them staring at us as we drove away.
“That was rather close,” I said, when we were well away from the soldiers. “It’s a good thing you didn’t tell them your real name, Dessa.”
“Frankly, I’m surprised they accepted that,” Elaina remarked.
The days and weeks passed by. We tried to take comfort in that fact that every mile, every step even, was bringing us closer to our end goals. Freedom, for Joe and Estie. A new life, for Dessa. And home, for me.
It was a dark night in April. We were near the Ohio River, and had plans to cross it that night. We were traveling with our white conductor named Daniel, a family man in his 30s.
I wasn’t sure how it happened. I’m still not even sure how it happened. But it did, and that’s all that matters. We got separated.
I believe it was around 2 or 3 in the morning, and very dark. I called out for Daniel and Joe and Estie, but they were gone. I tried to keep Dessa calm, even though I was terrified, myself. Knowing that wondering around would get us more lost, I decided it would be best to find a place to sleep and wait until it got light.
We settled down by the trunk of a fallen tree, and tried to get some rest. I was getting used to sleeping in the dark woods, but the fear of not finding the others kept me awake.
Morning came with the chirping of the birds and the squirrels chasing each other. Everything always seemed better when it was light out.
“Come on, let’s see if we can find the others, eh?” I suggested.
“Do you think they left without us? Charlie, what are we going to do? They’re probably long gone!” Dessa cried.
“Hadessah! Do you really think-“
“I’m just kidding,” Dessa grinned. “I know Uncle Joe and Aunt Estie wouldn’t leave us.”
“Why you little-“ I teased, reaching over and tickling her.
“Charlie, listen!” Dessa suddenly cried. I stopped. In the distance I could hear a roaring sound. The river!
“Whippee!” I yelled, picking her up and swinging her around. “Come on, I’ll race yah!”
So off we ran. As we got closer, we could begin to the see the blue water appear through the trees. At last we reached the bank and gazed in awe at the huge river. Excitement filled my heart as I stared at the other shore. Indiana. Home.
“Well, well, what do we have here?”
I flew around and gasped. A rough-looking man stood behind us, a pistol pointed in our direction.
“A lady aiding a little slave girl, I assume? Now ain’t that sweet.”
“Dessa get behind me.” I ordered. She slowly moved behind me, the man’s gun barrel following her the entire way.
“Who are you?” I asked, my heart pounding. I already knew who he was. But I remembered the revolver in my bag, and I was trying to think how I could get to it.
“Who do you think?” he asked. An evil smirk appeared on his face as he cocked the gun.
“No, don’t shoot!” Dessa screamed, running forward.
“DESSA!” I shrieked.
It all happened so fast. I grabbed hold of Dessa. The loud crack of a gun sounded. Pain shot through my body and I fell to the dirt. Then suddenly, everything went black.
To be continued!
Kathryn (aka Chatty Kathy)