THE PACT of FREEDOM

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Summary

A slavemaster's daughter secretly helps an undercover Canadian "conductor" of the Underground Railroad free slaves from her father's plantation.

Genre:
Drama / Action
Author:
M.L. Bull
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
29
Rating:
5.0 3 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

1852

North Carolina

I was a slave as they were slaves on my father’s plantation.

I wanted freedom to explore the world, to live my dreams, and grasp the pleasures of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But in the South, this felt like a fantasy--an intangible dream which couldn’t be imagined. You may find my statements incomparable in a nation that favors the white race, but finding the republic a corrupted mess and slavery nothing more than a pit of hell; to the public eye, I’m a branded trader to my own flesh and blood.

As a young child, I had no knowledge of what slavery was, but as I grew older, my eyes opened to the dark truths of the moral sin of my ancestors. Papa, like most slaveholders, saw nothing wrong with slavery and criticized Yankees for interfering with Southerns’ way of living. Mama claimed she didn’t either, but I knew her hard shell was just a facade to cover the guilt of her inner soul. Like most wives, she did whatever her husband told her to do, and in that instance, made her no better than the house slaves she ruled in our mansion home.

Every day and night, I prayed to God somehow I’d escape the sinful empire of the South, but on my eighteenth birthday, my rank had changed and I learned witnessing the brutals of slavery from the sidelines was only the beginning of my misery. My mother suffered a failing heart, and the town doctor suspected she didn’t have much longer to live. Lying on her deathbed, I saw something change in Mama’s eyes, a sparkle of remorse as Dula tended to her last needs.

Dula was an older house slave and the grandmother of my best friend Pearl. After I turned one, she was my mammy, which Mama placed the duties of motherhood on she said to keep watch of the other house slaves. Though Dula worked for us, I likewise saw her as a good friend. She was golden brown, sweet, and warm, like a freshly-baked apple pie. Somehow, regardless of living on Crabtree Plantation, she had a bright joy kindled within her like a steady fire that I admired. I reckon’ it was how she coped with her aches and pains, and her devastation when she overheard Papa punishing one of the field slaves.

One humid July morning, I entered the big room to check on my sickly mother in bed.

“Dula . . . Dula, get me some water,” Mama said breathlessly. “I’m . . . thirsty.” She wiped a hand across her sweaty forehead.

The elderly woman nodded. “Yessum, I be right back.” She grabbed the glass from the nightstand and walked past me, looking at the hardwood floor like she always did when making errands.

I sat down in the chair next to my mother’s bedside and held her hand. “Good Morning, mama.”

Mama smiled. “Mildred . . . my dear Millie.” She squeezed my hand. “You look lovely today. I’m sure you’ll turn the heads of every man in town this evening. Happy Birthday, darling.”

“Thank you, mama,” I said with a hint of a smile.

Mama blinked back tears. “Be sure to wear your best dress . . . and mind your manners.”

“Yes, mama,” I said and glanced down, but I wasn’t confident I’d be able to keep my tongue about Papa and the other townsmen’s slave dealings.

Dula returned with a glass of iced water and walked around the opposite side of the canopy bed. “I brought you water, Missus.”

“Help me, sit up,” Mama said.

Dula placed the glass on the window sill and helped my mother get comfortable in an upright position, placing her pillows behind her back. She handed my mother the cup.

“Thank you, Dula,” Mama said and drank from the glass.

Dula stood back, kneading her white apron. “Anything else you need, Missus?”

“Just the doctor,” Mama said, being funny.

A wagon of horses neighed and galloped from outside.

I stood and peeked out the window. “The doctor’s here, mama. He just came up to the house.”

“Thank God,” Mama said bluntly with relief. She drank from her glass of water.

“Maybe Doc will give you medicine for your chest pain,” Dula said. “I’ll check on Pearl in the kitchen. The girl’s got lots of learning to do.” She nodded and left from the big room.

Pearl was as pretty as her name, and what folks in town called a mulatto. Her high yellow complexion could make her pass for white, if it weren’t for her sandy brown twists of hair. After birth, her mother was sold by her former slave master before she got to know her well, lest her mama bring shame on his name. I have no knowledge of what happened after that, but when she was nine, Papa bought Pearl from a slave trader with three others at a steep price. For a while, she was like a lamb to the slaughter, so scared she couldn’t speak. It wasn’t until I noticed she found an interest in story books that she began to talk more and open up. Little by little, we became friends and I promised I’d help her get her freedom someday. Without Papa knowing, I helped her learn the alphabet and read, and let her borrow some of my books.

Ever since Mama fell ill, she was brought into the mansion from the field to work as a house slave. Being friends and only a year apart, Papa thought her close presence would help me cope and feel better. It was one of the nicest things he’s ever done, but every day he liked to keep an eye on her, and that made me worried of his true intentions.

Part of me thought he was deliberately keeping her from Randall who likewise worked in the field. It was no secret that Randall and Pearl were fond of each other, and had hopes of someday running for freedom like many slaves had before. But Papa made it clear that he owned his slaves, and that no one would escape from his plantation without getting caught. Crabtree plantation had a long and horrible history, which Papa said had been in our family since the late seventeenth century.

Since then, not one slave had ever gotten free.

A knock was heard from the door, and I saw it was Dr. Grayson, the town doctor.

“Good Morning, Millie,” he said with a smile, holding his derby hat and black valise. He walked into the big room nearby the bed and cocked his head, looking at my mother.

“Good Morning, Madam Charlotte,” he said.

“Morning, doctor. You got anything in that bag to help my chest pain.” Mama said.

Dr. Grayson placed his derby on the nightstand and opened his bag on the bedside. “I’ve brought some morphine, but that’s about all I can do I’m afraid.”

“I’ll take it,” Mama answered.

Dr. Grayson took out a few packets of morphine. “You should take it with water. It’ll help relieve your pain, but not too much. If you aren’t careful, it can become highly addictive. I suggest you use one packet per episode.”

“Yes, doctor. Thank you,” Mama said. “Will you be at Millie’s birthday celebration? Everyone in town is invited to come.”

The doctor glanced at me and smiled. “I sure will. Take care.” He closed his bag and strode out of the big room with his derby and bag.

Mama opened a packet envelope and poured the white power in her glass of water. She drank it down and let out a relieved breath.

“Feeling better?” I asked.

Mama nodded and smiled. “Yes, dear. I think I’ll get dressed now.”

“Okay, I’m going to the table for breakfast.” I kissed my mother’s forehead and left the big room. I exited the house for a breath of fresh air and stood on the front porch. Papa was getting a morning shave done by Harold, one of the male house slaves.

“Good day, Mr. Crabtree.” Dr. Grayson struck his reins and drove away in his wagon of muscular gray horses down the long dirt trail between Papa’s cotton fields. From sunup to sundown, the slaves worked in the field in the burning hot sun, picking cotton from the bolls and putting it in baskets and large sackcloth bags like millions of pearls. My father called his cotton “white gold” because his plantation was like a goldmine. He took pride in it, but the wealthiest plantation owners in the state of North Carolina weren’t the Crabtrees.

It was the McMillans.

From a distance, I spotted a blond gentlemen prancing up in a buggy with a pretty brown horse toward our mansion home. It was Chauncey McMillan. As my mother, his father fell ill and he had inherited his father’s rich estate before his death. The spoiled, young man thought he could have anything he wanted because of his prosperous wealth, including me.

Chauncey pulled his reins and stopped in front of the house. “Whoa, boy.” He tipped his straw hat to my father. “Hello, Sir Crabtree. I came to wish Millie a happy birthday.”

“How nice of you,” Papa said, but I was more annoyed than anything else.

Chauncey leaped from his wagon with a bouquet of white lilies. He grinned and handed them to me. “For you, Millie, dear.”

I glanced down at his hand, and then back up at his narrow face. “I don’t want them.”

“Millie, dear. Don’t be rude. Take them,” Papa said.

I drew a deep breath of warm air and unwillingly took the flowers.

“You should have one of the slaves put them in water to keep them fresh,” Chauncey said.

“I’ll put them in water myself,” I said.

“Very well.” Chauncey eyed me and smiled smugly. “I can’t wait to see you tonight. Perhaps we’ll have a spell of love during the party.”

“I doubt it,” I said.

Chauncey snickered and tipped his hat to me. “Goodbye, Ms. Millie.” He hopped back on his wagon and rode away.

I watched him until he disappeared down the jitty heat waves over yonder.

Papa sat up with shaving cream on his chin and frowned. “Chauncey’s a decent boy, Millie. You ought to be glad to get that man’s attention, and a rich one at that.”

“Well, I ain’t,” I said, “I wouldn’t settle for Chauncey McMillan if he was the last man on earth!” I strutted into the house with the flowers and took them to the kitchen.

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