I turn back, and reach out my hand to pull him out.
“Jesus Christ Alice,” he cries in pain, “watch it! Bleeding guy here!”
“I’m sorry!” I moan, “it’s the only way!”
Slowly and painfully, he wiggles his way through the narrow window and onto the grass. His leg is smeared with dark blood, and even in the night I can see it glinting off the moonlight.
“Yes!” I say, both of us panting hard as I finally pull him out. We sit for a few seconds to catch our breaths as I shut the window behind him.
I bite my lip nervously, thankful for the darkness. They definitely couldn’t see us, and if they didn’t hear us we might make it out alive after all.
“You really need to lose a few pounds,” is all I can say to break the tension.
“It must be all the three course meals the master’s been feeding me,” he grins cheekily at me.
“We need to get you bandaged.”
“Do you think it’s safe?”
I listen carefully. “Do you hear that?”
“No,” he says, and I strain my ears harder.
“Voices in the cellar. Do you reckon he’s looking for us down there?”
“...for the last time, Roger, there is no one here. Would you give up your silly notion that I have any intention of harbouring slaves and just--”
“What’s this, ey, then? What’s this, you old bat? Blood, on the window! Fresh, too. Care to explain it?!”
I hold in my breath, and I see Tom’s widen in terror. He clasps his hand over his mouth, trying to mask his painful gasps and not stretch his bleeding leg.
“It’s probably just the cat--gone and eaten one of the rats. Always finding the blood, all over the place. It’s why I keep Lucy around, she keeps the place nice and pest free. They’re always comin’ in here through the cellar window. I’d really ought to lock it better.”
“Always full of excuses, eh? One day. I’ll catch you additt. All they say, it’s true about ye and I bloody know it. Why, if I had...”
His voices trails off as he and Janice go back up the stairs.
I exhale deeply in relief, letting out a shaky laugh.
“Too damn close for comfort. Reckon he’ll be leaving now and I can get me a bandage?” asks Tom quietly.
“Better to be safe and wait.” But I know we can’t wait much longer, he can’t afford to leave his wound out like this. It is a long, deep gash that extends from his thigh to the border of his knee. I rip the border of my shirt and wrap it around his cut, applying as much pressure as I can and smearing my hands with thick blood in the process. Tom stares at me solemnly, and I can see he is trying his best not to express his pain as we wait for the time to pass.
“Clumsy oaf,” I mutter, and he laughs weakly.
I hear distant laughter, and I quickly rise to my feet.
“As if I have much choice,” Tom mutters.
I walk slowly around the back of the farmhouse, cursing silently every time I step too loudly on the gravel. I listen for voices, straining my ears for a sign of either Roger or Janice.
“My my, the amount of energy it takes to rid the house of a pest like him! He’s thorough, darling, I’ll give him that,” says Janice from the front of the house.
“Not thorough enough!” giggles Annie.
“Did you find Tom and Alice, though?” asks Janice worriedly.
“They’ve just disappeared Granny! Vanished!” I hear Annie’s voice call out.
“I told them to go to the cellar--where could they possibly have...” mutters Janice’s voice, “well, they’ve fooled me as much as Roger. We were close that time--too close. Why, I can’t imagine where they could’ve gone.”
“Janice!” I shout, running towards them as I realize the coast is clear.
“My, my Alice! You and Tom are quite the escape ar--”
“He’s bleeding,” I say quickly, “We came out the basement window and he cut his leg on the sill.”
She frowns and I nod at her to follow me.
“Tom? Tom!” I look at him alarmed, his body no longer upright, but completely slouched against the gravel. His eyes aren’t open and he isn’t responding.
“TOM!” I yelled, more panic in my voice now.
“Move aside, he’s lost too much blood. Move. " She immediately tears a section from her dress and adds an extra layer of bondage around his leg.
“Get his brother,” she says briefly.
I sprint back to the front and enter the house, everything else a blur besides the thought of losing Tom.
“We tricked him!” I hear Abby giggle as she laughs mid conversation with Isaac.
“Isaac!” I yell, bursting into the kitchen as my eyes search desperately for him.
“Yes?” he says, his dark brown eyes meeting my own in confusion.
“It’s Tom! He’s not moving!”
I watch as his face falls from one of happiness to worry. His eyes, before crinkling from laughter are shadowed. It is as if everything goes in slow motion. He runs back with me to help carry Tom into the house without another word.
We lay the unconscious and mangled body of Tom on the dining table, and Janice begins opening cupboards when Annie bursts into the kitchen, followed by a confused Mary Lou.
“Grammy, someone’s coming. I see a carriage.”
“Holy Mary, they don’t give me a break!” Janice groans, exasperated. “Isaac and Mary Lou, upstairs. Now. Annie, I need you to cover Tom so they don’t see him. Alice, there’s no time to hide you again. I need you to take that broom” --she nods towards the direction of the back door-- and start sweeping the front yard. With any luck they’ll believe you’re one of my slaves. Abby, you too. In the kitchen. Look busy.”
I want to ask her who it is this time, but she is already out the door and ready to greet the new guests.
I grab the broom from behind the door, and make my way out to the front, sweat beading my face as I worry if I’ll be believable and paying carefully attention to the newcomers as I try to stay unnoticeable.
The carriage arrives moments later. Seated in the front is a tall, well groomed man with a top hat and a blank expression.
“Why, Miss Brooke! It’s been too long.”
“John, is that you?”
I eye the man warily, still not knowing if this “John” is friend or foe. Janice was acquainted with Roger too, so I don’t want to make any assumptions whether I can trust this man yet.
I watch as relief washes over Janice’s face and they greeted each other.
“John! You must come inside, quickly now! I’m afraid you’ve come at a bad time.”
They run into the house, John offering me a small smile on the way. I tail them, deciding he’s trustworthy.
“Goodness, you scared the living daylights out of me! I thought for sure slave catchers were coming.” she cries.
“There’s a problem,” he says.
“Oh, there’s many Mr. Parker. I’ve got a bleeding man on my table and five slaves hiding in my own house.”
Janice returns her attention to the disfigured image of Tom, who is now sweating profusely and shaking in sleep.
He sighs and slaps a paper onto the table. “I picked this up while in Boston.”
“Read it aloud,” she says, applying ointment to Tom’s leg, “they aren’t literate, you oaf.”
He reads aloud, “Caution!! Coloured people of Boston, one and all, you are hereby respectfully cautioned and advised to avoid conversing with the watchmenand Police Officers of Boston, For since the recent ORDER OF THE MAYOR AND ALDERMEN, they are empowered to act as KIDNAPPERS and SLAVE CATCHERS, Therefore, if you value your liberty and the welfare of the fugitives among you, shun them in every possible manner. Keep a Sharp Look Out for KIDNAPPERS, and both eyes open..”
The room was quiet as everyone absorbed what had just been read.
She whispered, “what does this mean, John?”
“What it means, Jan,” he growled, “is that those bastards have passed a law. It requires all escaped slaves upon capture, even if they’re in free states, to be returned to their masters, and that any citizen has to help them. It means none of them are safe anymore. A slave who escaped from Alabama and ran to Maryland can be taken back. Even if he’s a free, working, money-earning man with a family. There’s only one place left for them to go.”
“Canada”, she whispered.
“Exactly. You need to leave now and fast.” He directed that at us.
“How can they do this? Everyone we’ve helped John, they’re at risk again...”
“It’s been nicknamed the bloodhound law. Sorry for bursting in on you, I had to warn you. I knew you’d recently had a shipment.”
Janice was thoughtful for a moment, before she chuckled bitterly. “That explains it. Roger was here, early this morning.”
He looked alarmed.
“He followed them all this way...because he can now and I have to cooperate.”
How could they do that?
“What does this mean for us, Janice?” I spat.
“It means the Underground Railroad just got more complex, more dangerous. It means you need to get out of my safehouse, and fast.”