It was probably the most random idea I had ever come up with. Based on nothing but a memory, a thought, a sudden inspiration. Not to mention it was something I was not at all certain to be true, I was desperate though, and desperation can drive a person to places where reason has a set a roadblock. I told my uncle I was going for a ride, had George saddle my horse and took off. Only when I neared the little house did I realize how stupid this whole endeavor was, but by now there was no turning back.
I got off Rainstorm and marching up to the door (in an attempt to boost my self confidence), gave a firm knock.
Mrs. Brags answered. “Why, Miss Rose, what a surprise, we weren’t expecting you to call.”
“I wasn’t planning on calling until an hour ago,” I said in an apologetic tone as she let me into the house.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I mean, yes, I mean, Mrs. Brags, I have a rather strange and extremely frank question to ask you and if I wasn’t so desperate I wouldn’t come like this and put forth such a delicate question, but necessity forces me.”
She lifted both eyebrows as she motioned me to a chair; then took a seat herself.
“Whatever is the matter, Miss Rose?”
“You are a part of the underground railway, are you not?”
She was so taken back by the question I had thrown at her it made her abruptly lean back in her chair.
“Oh, I know this is not the proper way to go about things,” I fumbled on, “but I remember when I was here that you had a black man in your home and you were trying to keep him a secret. I know you are against slavery, so I concluded that you were part of the underground railway. Only don’t get upset, because that is a good thing! You see, I have this slave, he’s a very dear friend to me, but he’s going to be sold and I want to get him out of here before it happens. I would just set him free, but nobody would understand me and I don’t think my uncle would approve, so I thought, what if I could help him run away, but I don’t know how to go about it! Then I suddenly thought of you and here I am,” I had spoken all that in one breath and now breathed deeply, wondering if perhaps Mrs. Brags thought me to have completely lost my mind.
“And so you’ve come to me?” She slowly said.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” I sighed. “I know I sound like a lunatic, forgive me if I do! I’ve only got two days. The day after tomorrow, Mr. Hartbert comes for Sammy and I need him gone by then. I also have to do it in secret; if I bring any gossip towards the family and thus slander the family name, Aunt Helen will remove my head. The family honor means so much to her.”
Mrs. Brags sat blinking at me for a couple of minutes. I played with a loose strand of hair while I waited; it was a habit of mine when I was nervous.
“Since when have you been interested in helping slaves run away?” She asked at last.
“Since an hour ago,” I confessed. “It’s a really complicated situation, Mrs. Brags, a nightmare really, and it’s all my fault. If I don’t put it right by helping Sam to get out of here, I’ll never be able to live with myself. I can’t go into details, but you must take my word for it.”
As she sat deep in thought, I glanced at the clock and bit my lip. I needed to get home before dinner was served and I didn’t have much time. My aunt was very strict with punctuality and for the past ten years, I had not been late a single time for any of the meals, I certainly wasn’t going to start now.
“If you can have him somehow get here tomorrow night,” Mrs. Brags spoke up, “I have a conductor who could get him up north.”
“Tomorrow night, alright, he’ll be here. I easily can arrange that.” At least, I hoped I could.
“It’s a very risky venture, Miss Rose.”
“Oh, I understand, but what can I do? I don’t have any other options; this is my last resort, my last hope. He’ll be here tomorrow night, I guarantee that. Thank you, Mrs. Brags, I have to go now,” I grabbed her hand and wrung it in gratitude, then hurried out to where Rainstorm was waiting for me. I had one more errand that I needed to get done before going home. Mrs. Brags followed me and watched me as I rode away. I don’t know what she was thinking, but I’m more than sure she was completely taken back by the whole visit and not sure what to make of it.
I hardly ever went to town. I was shy of any company, always afraid of being discovered, always afraid that one wrong word, one wrong action would cause me to give away the secret. I had been like this right from the very start. Mother had taught me to hide from people and not allow them to ask me questions. Even when I worked as a flower girl, I would never talk to anyone and never ask anything, nor give any answers. The ten years I had spent living with my uncle and aunt, had been years at the estate and sometimes visiting the Greyhound Plantation. I rarely went anywhere, even balls and parties where something I didn’t attend very often. I led a secluded life and didn’t mind. My world consisted of my room and my garden. I had plenty to keep my occupied, reading, music, art, gardening and needlework. I had never even once visited my uncle’s cotton fields. The house and the garden and once in a while a visit to the Greyhound Estate or to some other friends, that was my world and my life; which is why I was so nervous when I rode into town. The fact that I was completely alone only added to the nervousness. Still, I pressed bravely on till I got to the brokers shop. Entering the low door I crinkled my nose from all the musty smells. Sitting behind a counter sat the pawnbroker.
“Anything I can do for you, Miss?” He asked as I came in.
“I certainly hope so,” I pulled out of my bag a necklace, a bracelet and two pairs of earrings, placing them on the counter. He took them, studied them for a long time, and then asked.
“Pawn, or sell outright?”
I thought for a moment, “sell outright,” I stated at last.
He named his price, I agreed, he took the jewels, I took the money and quickly got out of there. I had to hurry or I would be late for dinner. I was just about to mount Rainstorm when a commotion stopped me.
It was between a large man and a little black girl. He was holding her and she was trying desperately to get free. All of a sudden, he hit the girl roughly against the face. The same action was repeated over and over again and the girl was in tears. I saw him bust her lip and blood come out of her nose. That was when I had enough. I flew up to him.
“Stop that sir, such behavior is inhuman.”
“Git away, lady,” He growled at me, his breath thick with the smell of cheep liquor that made me wince.
“Not until you let the child go. Stop hitting her,” I reached out to pull his hand away from her. He roughly shoved me aside.
“I said git away from me,” He barked.
“Leave the child alone.”
“It’s none of your business what I do with the creature. She stole a penny from me and now she will pay for it.”
“Stop beating her sir, I don’t care what she did, it is no reason for you to beat her like that. Look, her face is all in blood,” I felt the heat rise to my face as my anger towards the man curdled.
“Listen, lady,” He turned his large frame to me, his eyes red and puffy from the alcohol that had intoxicated him. “This is none of your business and if you won’t…”
“Excuse me, ma’am, is this man bothering you?” A gentleman had noticed us and walked up.
“Yes, he is. He’s hurting the child and now he’s threatening me.”
“Is the child with you?” He gazed at the little sobbing girl.
“She’s yours is she,” the drunk man slurred, “she stole a penny from me. I’ll have the law against you.”
I reached into my purse and pulled a quarter, “take this and be gone.”
His eyes widened at the sight of the money. He dropped the girl and snatching it out of my hands walked off.
“Do you need any further assistance, ma’am?” The gentleman asked.
“No, thank you,” I gave him a smile, though inwardly upset that he had only walked up when the man had began threatening me. While it had just been the little black girl no one had even bothered to try and help.
“My pleasure, ma’am,” he tipped his hat and walked off. I turned to the girl, who had tumbled to the ground when the man had thrown her. Picking her up, I pulled out my handkerchief and began gently wiping the blood from her nose and lip.
“Did you really take his penny?” I asked.
The child only stared at me with wide eyes.
“Don’t be frightened,” I tried to sooth her, “he’s gone and he’s not coming back. Do you live anywhere? Can I take you home?”
“Grandmamma is waiting for me,” she mumbled at last.
“Where does your grandmother live?”
“Over off,” she vaguely pointed to her left, “with all them others that are no longer slaves.”
“Come, I’ll take you home,” I took her by the hand and led her to Rainstorm. With a little difficulty, I lifted her onyo him then climbed up beside her. “You lead the way,” I commanded, “I don’t know where to go.”
Following her directions, we came to a little set of houses, all cluttered together. It was a very wretched, poverty stricken place. She pointed to the most miserable looking house of all, one that looked like it would fall apart any minute.
“My home,” she stated. I climbed off of Rainstorm and lifted her off him. She stood gazing at the horse for a moment; then reached out her hand to him. He lowered his chocolate nose and she stroked it. “
“What’s his name?” she asked.
“Pretty name,” She dreamily spoke, looking the horse in the eye. “He’s a nice horse, ain’t he? Very nice horse. Do you want to come in and meet my grandmamma?” She suddenly turned to me.
I shook my head. “I have to get home, I’m late as it is, but I would like to know your name.”
I felt my hands turn cold. She had the same name as my mother.
“How about you?”
“Sarah,” I smiled. “You take care and don’t go taking other people’s pennies anymore. Next time, I may not be around to help you.” I placed a half dollar into her little hand, mounted Rainstorm and rode away. The sun was already beginning to touch the horizon; I was late for dinner and dreading hearing Aunt Helen’s sentiments on the matter.
I was still faced with one big obstacle. Sammy was in the holding shed. I had to somehow get him out of there if I wanted to get him to the Brags. The door to the shed was locked, and Uncle kept the key in his study. From what I knew, there was only one key to unlock the door and it was somewhere in his desk. I dared not go into the study during the day and Uncle Andrew always locked his study for the night. I did have one hope. Besides the key from the study that Uncle Andrew always kept on himself, there was another spare somewhere in Uncle’s quarters. I determined to find that spare key and use it to open the study. Getting past Uncle Andrew wouldn’t be much of a problem, he was never around during the day anyway, business kept him either in his study or else out on the plantation or somewhere else. Aunt Helen spent the entire day in the parlor or in the drawing room so I didn’t have to worry about her either. My only fear was bumping into some slaves who might pass by and see me, but I would have to take my chances.
It was April 15th, our birthday. I was turning eighteen, Sammy was turning twenty one. Somehow that day no one in the house was really in the mood for any sort of celebration. Jeff was away at Oxford; happy ignorant Jeff, how lucky he was that he was missing out on this disaster. That day I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that I was turning eighteen years of age; my mind was too full of Sammy’s escape plan. Uncle had business in town and left early in the morning, this brought me great comfort, it would all be easier if Uncle wasn't in the house when I raided his quarters. During midday while my Aunt took her nap and the entire household rested, I snuck into my uncle’s room. My heart beat like a kettledrum as I searched through the drawers until at last I located the spare key. Slipping it into my pocket, I snuck out again and tip-toed to the safety of my room. I wasn’t worried about clothes for Sam; I knew he would be given a decent set today so that he would look presentable when his new master came for him tomorrow. I couldn’t get him any food at the moment, the kitchen was always bustling with some sort of activity and to walk in there and begin collect the sort of supplies Sammy would need for the journey would look very suspicious. That would have to wait till night came. There was one duty I was determined get done before I put my plan into action.
When Uncle Andrew returned home that evening I confronted him as he walked through the front door. “Before you sell Sam tomorrow, I think it only fair that you allow his family to say goodbye to him! He’s their only son and they are losing him a second time. The least we could do for our butler and head cook, who have given their lives in faithful servitude to this household, is to allow them to say farewell to their child.”
My uncle glared at me for a moment, upset with the way I had spoken to him and the tone of voice I had used. I think he was contemplating giving me a piece of his mind, but decided against it.
“That can be arranged, you stay away from that shed.”
“As you wish.”
At last darkness fell over our plantation. I lay in my bed, counting the minutes till the whole household would settle down for the night. I was frightened about what I had set out to do, but knew I had to do it. The clock struck midnight after which silence engulfed the sleeping house. I knew now was the time to put my plan into action.
And so began the longest, most daring night of my life.
Will Sarah's plan succeed? And if it does...then what?