Monday, August 9, 2010


The novel is done and now available in e-form from Smashwords, at Enter coupon code ZR48C for a 100% discount off the purchase price. The coupon is good until September 8, 2010.

I'm in the process of making paper versions available from Amazon's print-on-demand service Createspace, but that's a bit slower process.  I'll let you all know when it's available.

Thank all of you for your help and support.

Especially Linda, whom I shall never forget.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How will it end?

Looking back over this project, I see it needs some reworking and restructuring before I can bring it to a sensible close, so I'm going to start working on the rewrite.  If you've been following along, I beg your patience.  I would rather not slap something together merely in order to post to this blog.

When the book is ready, I'll be distributing it on Smashwords and Feedbooks as a free ebook.  Watch this space for an announcement.  I hope to have it ready to publish by the end of the summer.

I intend to make paper copies available through Amazon's print-on-demand service Createspace.  I'll let you know when that is available as well.

Please continue to comment if you haven't already - any and all feedback is welcome as I begin a new process.  I hope the destination is worth the journey.

Thank all of you - I don't know what I would do without you.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Chapter Nineteen

For the third time in as many days, Clay Palmer rode his horse through the Gardners’ gate. Sarah was waiting for him on the porch this time. “He’s down to the orchard again.” She nodded her head in that direction.

“He expecting me?”

“I told him you’d be coming.” She squinted down at him. “Glad you didn’t give me the lie.”

Clay’s heart had been in the pit of his stomach the entire morning – he guessed it showed. “I can’t live like this, Sarah. I have to have it settled, one way or the other.”

She nodded and went back into the house. Clay walked to the back of the farm lot and down the winding path to the orchard. The bloom was past, but withered petals still littered the ground under the almond trees and the sound of bees buzzing in the hives filled the air.

Jim was digging a shallow trench between the trees and he looked up at Clay’s footstep. His jaw tightened. “Well. You’ve certainly got nerve, I’ll give you that.”

“Not nerve.” Clay walked closer. “I was never this scared, even before a battle.”

Jim’s eyes flickered, but he hardened his glare. “Do you have any idea how much I want to hit you right now?” He dropped his spade and clenched his fists.

Clay had never known Jim to hit anyone, even when they were boys. “Go ahead, if it will make you feel better.” It was with great surprise that he felt Jim’s fist connect with his jaw and found himself lying in the trench, mud seeping through his clothes. He felt his glass eye pop out and he covered the socket with his hand, gasping.

“What are you trying to pull?” Jim said, breathing heavily. “I didn’t touch your eye.”

“My glass eye,” Clay said. “It popped out. See if you can find it.”

“I forgot you had a glass eye.” Jim unclenched his fists. “Damn you, don’t make me feel sorry for you.”

“Not my intention,” Clay assured him. He sat up, still covering his eye.

“Here it is.” Jim stooped down and picked up the rounded piece of glass. “It’s all muddy.” He reached down and grasped Clay’s wrist, pulling him to his feet. He put the glass eye into Clay’s hand. “You can’t put it back in like that. Better come up to that house and get cleaned up, I reckon.”

“Can we talk first, Jim?” The fire seemed to have died down in Jim. Whether it was because the blow had provided a vent for Jim’s feelings, or whether it was pity, Clay did not much care.

“I suppose.” Jim crossed his arms, then dropped them to his side. “How could you, Clay? How could you have thought such a thing of me? No one has ever done me such an injury before.” He spread his hands. “I don’t know what to do with this.”

“I’m sorry,” Clay said, for what felt like the hundredth time. “Lucy was unhappy; we were both unhappy. We had a big fight the night she died – I felt such guilt and shame, and then you told me about the baby, and it was like a mountain had fallen on me. It was more than I could bear, Jim. Can you understand?”

Jim looked at him a long moment, reddening. “Yeah, I guess I can,” he croaked at last. “But you should’ve come to me, Clay.”

“I should have,” Clay said. He paused. Might as well get everything out at once. “Except I wanted to kill you. I even came to your house one day, intending to do just that.”

Jim looked startled. “What stopped you?”


There was another long pause while Jim considered this. “I’m not sure that would’ve stopped me.”

Clay put his hands on his knees, weak with relief. “I think, deep down, I must’ve known it couldn’t be true.” He straightened. “Will you forgive me?”

“Eventually, I guess,” Jim said. “You’ve got to give me some time, Clay. You hurt me powerful deep – I don’t think you can imagine how deep.”

“I think I do, and I’ll do whatever you wish of me.”

“Well, go up to the house, clean up, put your eye back in.” Jim unconsciously closed one eye. “Then grab a spade and come back and help me, if you’re serious.”

Clay walked toward the house, his eye clutched in his muddy fist, his heart lighter than it had been for weeks.

Marguerite wrestled the bulky portrait down the stairs. The stairs had seemed wide until she had tried to carry a four foot canvas down them. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath and felt her burden lifted from her grasp.

“Let me help you with that.” Alex carried the painting down the stairs and set it down to look at it. “Where are you going with this? It’s not finished.”

Marguerite contemplated the empty space on her canvas, the central figure yet to be filled in. “And I can’t, not like this. I’m coming to realize that I don’t know my father at all.”

“So where are you taking it?” Alex looked alarmed. “Not to dispose of it, I hope.”

“There’s only one person who can help me fill in that blank.”

“Ah,” Alex said approvingly. “Jacob. Good idea. Let me hitch up the buggy. Unless you’d like me to carry it for you?”

Much as Marguerite would have loved to have the strong cowboy back her up, she knew she had to do this herself. “Thank you very kindly. The buggy, please. You understand?” She looked up at him under half-veiled eyes.

He looked down on her warmly. “Yes, I think I do.” He put his hand on her arm. “And I’m proud of you.”

She breathed in deeply. Oh, it had been such a long time since anyone had said that to her. She felt one petal on her heart open up, unfolding to the sun of his approval. “Thank you.”

She reined in the buggy at Jacob’s gate and began to climb out. He must have heard her arrive, for before she could set foot to the ground he had stormed out of the house and through the gate. “How dare you!” he thundered.

She said nothing, only turned the painting to face him. He froze in place, turning pale and not breathing for long moments. He clenched his fists. “What is it you want?”

“Tell me about him, about my father. Clay’s told me some things, but I – ” she spread out her hands. “ – have such different memories. The last time I saw him – ” she gulped and touched her cheek as though she could still feel the bruise after all these years.

Jacob looked up at her, meeting her eyes for the first time since they had found each other. She held his gaze, for all that the intensity of it frightened her. Looking away would be a betrayal, and she had betrayed him enough.

He glared at her for long minutes, then turned away. “Bring it in,” he said brusquely. He stalked toward the house, leaving her to struggle with the painting alone.

Jacob took it from her inside the house and set it up on a chair in the parlor. He crossed his arms to regard it. “What are you trying to do here?”

“This is what I had inside me, battling to get out.” She stood behind and a little to the side of him. Benjamin’s figure seemed to step out of the painting to embrace them both.

“You think I should care?” His voice cracked.

She looked up at him – he held his face stony with an effort, but his eyes were red-rimmed. “I think you do care,” she said quietly.

“Do you care?” He whirled around to her. “All these years, the only word from you was that he’s dead. No word how, no word where he might be buried. Nothing. Then you bring me this, and I don’t know what to think of you.”

“My heart turned to stone when he died. I’ve barely had a thought for myself, let alone anyone else.”

Jacob grimaced, then gestured at the painting. “No stone heart painted that.”

“I’m being. . .broken, is the only way to describe it. God has me on his anvil and He’s pounding me. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

“You don’t have to let Him.”

“I think I do.” She looked at the painting again. “For so long, I’ve been running away from all this, but the problem was that wherever I ran, I took myself with me.” She looked up at him. “If you wanted me to suffer for my sins, then I have. If that’s any comfort to you.”

He turned from her, covered his face with his hands. “I don’t want to hate you, but I do. He was all I had, and you took him, and you never cared enough to come tell me about it.”

She bit her tongue. You still had someone to love you, many someones. She tamped the unjust thought down. She was beginning to see how unlovely she was – if Jacob had earned the love of others and she had not, then that was no fault to cast against him. Against herself alone. “I’ll tell you now, if you want, but it will hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you anymore. Tell me what you want.”

He wiped his eyes and turned back to her. “Yes, tell me. How did he die? Where is he buried? Did he have a Christian burial, at least?”

She sat down on the sofa and he sat next to her. As she began her tale, she could feel the pounding of God’s hammer on her heart. She chose to endure it for Jacob’s sake, and for Benjamin’s.

She told the story as simply as possible, an account of happenings, nothing more. She would leave it to him to judge her. He turned away from her, shoulders shaking, when she told of his son’s death. She reached out a hand toward him, but refrained from touching him. When she had finished, he still turned from her. “Please go now.”

She stood and took the painting, but he stopped her. “Would you leave it? Just for tonight? You can come back and get it tomorrow.”

Her heart raced. She could come back – the door was not slammed in her face, at least not yet. “Of course.” She put the painting back on the chair and let herself out.

Clay was riding past but pulled up when he saw the buggy parked outside the gate. He was covered with dried mud and looked terribly weary, but smiled broadly. “What happened to you?” Marguerite asked.

“Penance,” he answered. He looked her over. “What happened to you?”

“The same,” she said. “Odd that this is the day we both decide to take our medicine.”

“Not so odd.” Clay tied his horse to the back of the buggy and assisted her into it. He took the reins. “Why the buggy to go half a mile?”

“I brought the painting,” she explained. “It’s a bit awkward to carry.”

“Ah. So that’s why he let you in.” He looked in the back of the buggy. “He kept it?”

“For awhile. I told him what happened, when Benjamin and I escaped, how he died. He didn’t throw me out – I feel like it’s almost a miracle.”

“He’s a good man. Very fair and honest. I know he’s been hurt, but he’ll treat you fairly for all that.”

“I need more than fairness, Clay. I think you can understand that.”

He nodded. “Indeed I do. We both need Grace, and it looks like we both got a piece today.”

She contemplated this for the few minutes it took to drive to the ranch. When she had believed in those theological virtues, they had not seemed real. Now that she no longer believed, their reality was undeniable. She sighed. She had been a child then, a believer in fairy tales, as all children were. Harsh reality and her own choices had killed that child and she had allowed nothing to grow in its place. Until now. Why now? Nothing she had done in the ensuing years had earned her this Grace. Nothing. . .until she had chosen to stop running. And it hurt – oh, how it hurt, but she had never felt more alive. She glanced at the mud-spattered man next to her. She thought she might be beginning to understand that courage was the key to that door. The key to absolutely everything.

She felt silly driving the buggy back to Jacob’s house the next day, but she would need to transport the painting back – if he had not changed his mind and refused to see her. She put her hand to her head; she might be sick at soul, but she felt it in her body. Chest, head, stomach, even her knees, all felt weak and sick. She mustered up what courage she had and knocked on the door.

Jacob answered it, not with a smile, but not with a cold, hard glare, either. He ushered her into the parlor where the painting still resided on a chair. He stood in front of it, arms crossed. “What will it take for you to finish this?” His voice, so hard when he had spoken to her before, was soft now.

She spread her hands. “I don’t know. I know you and Clay see him as a hero, someone admirable. I can’t.” She touched her cheek again, absently. “The last time I saw him,” she gulped, “he struck me, cursed me. How can I forget that?” She turned to him, looked up into his eyes. “It’s not how I want to remember him. But it is.”

Jacob frowned, staring at the canvas. “He was deeply ashamed of that, you know.”

“Ashamed of me, you mean.” She looked at her hand, her dark skin. “That he had such a child.”

He looked down at her. “No, don’t think that. He was proud of you.”

She staggered back as though from a blow. “Proud of me? How can you say that?”

Jacob sighed. “He was a sculptor – very gifted. Would have won great renown, I’m sure, if his father hadn’t died when he did. If he hadn’t left everything such a mess.”

“Clay told me some about the mortgages, and such.” Her brow furrowed. “I never knew he was an artist.”

“When your talent began to bloom, when he sold your first painting, he was proud enough to burst.”

She bowed her head and murmured. “Ironic. That was the moment when I first felt my slavery.”

The corners of his eyes crinkled. “I’m sorry. What he wanted for all of us and what he could do for all of us were so far apart. He had to take and use every resource at hand to keep from sinking. They call it being ‘underwater’ when what you owe is more than what you own. May as well call it drowning, because that’s what it was. For twenty years, he saved us all from drowning.” She looked up at him then. He spoke with such passion. “His death on the battlefield – well, he’d been a hero long before that. Every day, he sacrificed more and more of himself, of everything he cared about, to save us all from the auction block.”

There were tears in her eyes, which she blinked back hurriedly. “I never knew.”

“He never meant for you to. Nor for Pamela, although she figured it out, when she went to plead for you.”

She was not sure that now was the time to ask, but she had to know. “Is that why he sold my mother?”

“Wait here.” Jacob stalked off abruptly. She frowned and sat on the sofa to await his return. He came back a few minutes later carrying a small parcel wrapped in an oilcloth. He carefully unwrapped it and placed it gently in her hands. “I found this among Lucian’s effects after he died.”

It was a bronze sculpture, about eight inches high. A young woman gazing down at the baby in her arms. Marguerite might have thought it was religious in nature, if Lucian had been Catholic, or if she had not recognized some of her own features in the woman’s face.

“My mother?”

Jacob nodded. “And you. It’s the only piece he could not bring himself to sell, apparently. Now do you believe that he loved you?”

She could not stop the rush of tears this time, nor the choking feeling in her throat. She covered her face with her handkerchief for a few minutes until she could contain herself. “And her?” she asked at last. “Did he love her?”

“He did. And he was ashamed that he did – he had such a horror of being like his father.” Jacob leaned forward. “But he meant to free her – when he bought her, he meant to free her. His father died the same day, and then we were all in the soup.”

“Start at the beginning,” Marguerite said. “How he met her. He was married – surely he couldn’t have meant to make an honest woman of her.”

Jacob shook his head. “I can only tell you what I saw – his feelings about her were not something he would speak to me about.

“He had sold a large commission, his first major sale, in Louisville, and he was walking to the train station when he saw her, chained with a bunch of other slaves being taken to the docks to be sent South.

“Lucian told me later that she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, and I have to concur. She was lovely – smooth skin, ripe as a peach, large brown eyes. He thought it was a sin for something so beautiful to be in chains. He was flush with money, so he negotiated with the slave trader right then and there and brought her home to find the house already in an uproar over Old Mr. Carr’s sudden death.”

“How did he die?” Marguerite asked.

“Drink. The doctor said apoplexy, but it was excess of alcohol. He was an old reprobate,” Jacob said grimly. “I shed no tears over him – he’d already sold off all my other children, and if he hadn’t died when he did, we’d have all ended up sold for debt. I’m sorry Lucian was left with that burden, but it was certainly the lesser of two evils.

“Lucian put Azalea into my care while he dealt with his father’s business. Cynthia, Mrs. Carr, chose that moment to have another attack, so things were quite disorderly for awhile.”

“What sort of attack?”

“I’m being unfair,” Jacob admitted. “Cynthia had what the doctor described as ‘delicate lungs’ and she always seemed to use her illness as a means to get her way. We had all come to believe that she wasn’t really ill until she was close to death.

“Lucian’s marriage was complicated. It wasn’t an arranged marriage, as such, but his father had been the driving force behind it. Cynthia was pretty enough, her family had money, it seemed like a good match on the surface. If Lucian had any idea what she was really like, or what it felt like to be in love, he wouldn’t have married her.

“And then she found herself suddenly poor, with a husband who was falling in love with a servant girl, and it must have been agonizing for her, and probably contributed to her death, but she shouldn’t have made Lucian give Azalea up.”

“Why did he, if he loved her?” Marguerite asked.

“Honor.” Jacob’s voice grew grim. “She made him promise, as she was dying, that he’d sell your mother. And she made him promise to sell her to New Orleans, so he couldn’t go back and find her later. Maybe she did suffer because of it, but it was still a hateful thing to make him promise. Like a dagger to his heart, but he couldn’t go back on his word. That’s the kind of man he was.”

Marguerite contemplated this, still fondling the figurine. Where lay honor? In keeping one’s word, or in doing right? If the two were at odds, how did one decide? She shook her head. What did she know of honor? Who was she to judge her father so harshly, when his entire life had been spent rescuing her and everyone she knew?

She stood then. “May I keep this for awhile? It may help me focus.”

Jacob put his hand on hers, curling her fingers over the statue. “I think – I think you should have it. Lucian would want that.”

“But – “ she felt herself tear up again, “ – it’s yours. The only piece of his you have.”

“It’s yours. Look at it, and tell me it’s not.”

She stared down at it. The mother she never knew gazed down at the child she was no more, yet she felt herself somehow embraced. “All right,” she croaked. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

Jacob nodded at the canvas. “Finish it. Do him justice.”

Marguerite nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

“That’s all I ask,” Jacob said. He carried the painting out for her. She could feel his eyes on her as she drove away, clutching the statue to her chest.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chapter Eighteen
Modesto: 1880

Marguerite’s brush fell to the floor, spattering paint on the drop cloth and on the hem of her dress. It was quickly followed by her palette as the waters she had so long dammed up burst forth. She fell onto the sofa, her hands over her face. She heard sounds she had never uttered before escape her, but she was drowning in the sea of her sorrow and had little mind for them.

She felt warm arms envelope her, golden hair brush her face. For a moment she thought it was Pamela who embraced her, and the full weight of her sister’s death fell upon her. She turned and buried her face in Aurora’s shoulder and wailed – she could not help herself. She was a boil that had burst, spewing corruption.

She thought she would cry forever, but of course she did not. She was desiccated, drained, arid. For now. She was afraid the torrent would renew itself the moment she was refreshed. “I’m sorry,” she said to Rory. “This isn’t like me at all.”

“It’s all right,” Rory said. “I cried worse than that when my father died.” She looked at the painting. “If I were painting a picture of him I’d probably bawl my eyes out, too.”

Marguerite was pulled up short by the idea that there was nothing unusual about her grief – that this simple girl had borne sorrow and still maintained her simplicity, her openness. “You weren’t responsible for his death,” she pointed out, defensively. “Not like I was, with Benjamin.” She felt hot tears run down her cheeks – not dried up yet, after all.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Rory asked. “They say confession is good for the soul, and I can see how your soul is wounded.”

Marguerite thought she would rather do anything than tell this innocent girl her sins, but she found herself saying, almost vindictively, “We found two other escaped slaves. Shadrach had killed their owner when he had tried to ravish Lily, Shadrach’s wife. Benjamin thought it was too dangerous to take them with us, but I prevailed on him. We were set on by a bounty hunter, and when Shadrach attacked, he killed Benjamin, too. Not intentionally, but we knew he was dangerous from the beginning.”

“How awful,” Rory said. “But I don’t see how you can blame yourself – you did the Christian thing. It’s not your fault it turned out badly.”

Marguerite stood, turning on the girl with her fists clenched. “It’s not supposed to happen that way! You do good, good is supposed to happen. Either I was wrong, or God plays games with us. But no matter who’s to blame, Benjamin died, and I don’t think you can understand what a loss to the world he was. He was special. It shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Rory furrowed her brow. “I don’t think it works like that. My father was a good man, doing good – special, as you would say. And he was murdered. I don’t think God promises that nothing bad will happen to us if we do good. Quite the opposite, if I read my Bible correctly.”

Marguerite did not want to get into a theological argument with this girl, partly because she was too angry, but mostly because she was afraid she would lose. She turned her back on Rory, yet she felt an odd sympathy. As she stared at the painting, and the emptiness in the middle of it, she realized that ever since she had crossed the threshold of this house, the absence of its builder had been an almost palpable thing. It was apparent in the house itself, and in all who dwelt in it. And yet, Barclay Palmer’s felt absence was also his felt presence. She stared at the portrait in front of her. In denying herself Benjamin’s absence, had she also been denying his presence? Denying all her dead? She felt hot tears sting her eyes again. Will there be no end to this crying?

Rory stood up and looked over her shoulder at the painting. “That’s very good – I almost feel as though I know him. There’s a lot of Jacob in him.”

“Yes, there is.” Marguerite turned around at the sound of Beatrice’s voice. The older woman joined them in front of the portrait. “You’ve had a breakthrough, I can see.” Marguerite tried to hide her red, puffy eyes, but it was too late. “Are you all right, my dear?” Beatrice asked gently.

“She’s been having a good cry, Mother,” Rory said. “I’ve been comforting her.”

“Which you do very well,” Beatrice said. She looked at the portrait again. “I can see why you would need to, Marguerite. What a terrible loss.”

“You can tell, just from a painting?” Marguerite asked.

“It’s more than ‘just a painting’,” Beatrice said. “I can practically see your heart beating there, on the canvas.”

As Marguerite examined the portrait, she felt the widow in her step aside and the artist take her place. Yes, she had to agree, it was good. Benjamin gazed warmly from the canvas, intelligence and love in his eyes, and then the artist stepped aside and the wife moved to embrace him. For a moment, he was there, but only for a moment. She shivered. For a moment, she realized why other people could know sorrow and yet be happy. Come back, my love, come back. She felt her tears again, but these were different. Hopeful, for the first time in decades.

Rory put an arm around her. “It will be all right, Marguerite.”

“You can’t know that,” Marguerite responded.

“I can believe it.”

Marguerite could almost begin to believe it herself.

Clay dismounted in front of the Gardners’ porch. It was midday – Abigail should be in school. He hoped she had not stayed home for some reason.

Sarah walked out on the porch, allowing the door to slam behind her. “Didn’t expect to see you again.” She crossed her arms.

“You told me not to give up, Sarah.” Clay looked at her with trepidation.

“That was before I knew.” She leaned against the rail. “How could you, Clay?” He could hear the hurt in her voice. “Jim, of all people. And Lucy. To think that of your own wife.”

He spread his hands. “She was unhappy, Sarah. My fault, entirely, I know now. But it wouldn’t be the first time an unhappy wife fell into the arms of someone more sympathetic. I was wrong, I admit it. I want to atone. Will you help me?”

She huffed for a moment, wiping her hands on her apron. “Jim’s down to the orchard, but he’s still fairly riled. Might want to give him another day or two.”

Clay breathed a silent prayer of thanks. “I intend to. It was you I wanted to talk with today, if you have time for me.”

She turned and opened the door, holding it for him. “Why? Not gonna get me to side against Jim, that’s for sure.”

“Of course not.” Sarah led the way into the kitchen and pointed to a chair which Clay accepted while she filled a teakettle. “But what I had wanted to talk to Jim about in the first place – I’m getting married, did you know?”

“I’d heard.” Sarah stirred up the fire in the stove and put the teakettle on to heat. She began to fuss with cups and saucers. “That lady that works at the orphanage. Seems like a good woman. Not pretty, like Lucy, though.”

“She is where it counts,” Clay said firmly. He tamped down his ire at this slight against Molly. “Anyway, I had hoped that Jim could help me understand what I did wrong with Lucy, but I think I probably should have come to you instead.”

“For that, you should have,” she agreed. She turned to face him. “But if you thought what you did about Jim, it’s as well to have it out, I suppose.” She sat at the table across from him while she waited for the water to boil. “I meant no slight against your lady – to the contrary. I think prettiness was Lucy’s downfall.”

“I was her downfall,” Clay said. “I made her unhappy.”

“Were you happy, Clay?”

Clay sat back. “No. I wasn’t.”

“Whose fault was that?” Sarah gazed at him intently.

Clay cast his mind back to the years of his marriage. “No one’s. Or both of us, I guess.”

“So don’t put all the blame for Lucy’s unhappiness on your own shoulders.” The teakettle whistled and Sarah got up to make the tea. Clay watched her bustle about for a few minutes, considering her words. She set the tea tray down on the table and poured. “Lucy wanted too much from you, Clay,” Sarah continued. “You were the prince who was supposed to whisk her away to a life of ease and gaiety.”

Clay frowned. “Was I? But – she knew how hard my mother and father worked, how hard we all worked. Why do you say that, Sarah?”

“I grew up with her, remember. Even when we were girls she would prattle on about how she would marry you and live in a big house with lots of servants and all the pretty dresses she would wear.”

“I don’t think you’re being fair to her, Sarah. Surely she wasn’t that. . .greedy.”

“Not greedy,” Sarah corrected, “but she’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who really believed in fairy tales. She looked in the mirror and saw Cinderella, and she cast you for the prince.” She looked down at her hands. “I’d hoped she’d grow out of it before you married, but your absence during the war just seemed to increase the illusion. Made you more dashing, in her eyes. Perhaps motherhood would have matured her enough to learn to be happy with what she had.”

“Why didn’t she tell me, Sarah?” Clay asked, feeling the icicle that still pierced his heart. “About the baby? Why did she hide it from me?”

“She was going to tell you, that night.” Sarah clutched the teacup. “She had it all planned out – a romantic dinner, what she would wear, what she would say, what you say. You say she didn’t go through with it?”

Clay rubbed his hands over his face. “I worked late, came home. Apparently dinner was ruined, we had a big fight, she ran out – oh, God, why didn’t she just tell me?”

“Because that’s how she was. Everything had to be important. Big news needed a proper setting. I swear, she should have been an actress, shameful as some think that is. She needed the drama, she needed the glamor, the illusion.” Sarah gulped down the tea and poured some more. “Still think you’re responsible for her being unhappy?”

“Some. How could I not be? I was her husband – I should have paid her more attention.”

“Maybe you should have,” Sarah conceded. She leaned back in her chair. “I’m very fortunate in my marriage, I’m happy to admit. I would have liked more children, but I certainly can’t complain about the one I have.” She smiled softly, then leaned forward. “But Jim and I have our share of fights, even now. No two people can agree on everything, no matter what the storybooks, or the sermons, say. But we love and trust each other, and neither of us holds the other responsible for making us happy. That seems to me to be a sure road to resentment.”

Clay stared down at his empty cup, wishing he could read the future, or even the past, in the tealeaves. “Did she love me?” he whispered.

Sarah reached across the table and took his hand. “As much as she was capable of, yes. You were capable of more, and I believe the woman you’re marrying is, too. Do you trust her?”

“With my life, and my soul.” He looked up at her.

“Then you’ll be happy,” Sarah said. “Love is grand, but I’ll take trust, any day.”

“Yes, I think you’re right.” He stood and bent down, kissing her cheek. “Thank you, Sarah. For the tea, and your insight, and for forgiving me.”

She huffed, then smiled. “You always could get around me, Clay Palmer.” She patted his cheek. “I’ll be glad when this is all fixed up between you and Jim. We’ve missed you.”

“And I’ve missed you, you have no idea. When should I call again? I’m at your orders.”

She thought for a moment. “Try tomorrow. I’ll let Jim know you were here today.”

“Don’t get between us, Sarah. I think Jim and I need to have this out, man to man.”

She nodded. “I agree.” She stood and showed him to the door. “But sooner is better than later as far as I’m concerned.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chapter Seventeen

Daisy was awakened two hours later by Benjamin’s return. Their small fire had died down, and although she was still damp, it was not the bone-chilling wet of before. Benjamin stank of rotten fish and Daisy wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Where have you been?”

“Laying a false trail, trying to confuse the dogs.” He turned to their sleeping companions, prodding Shadrach gently. “Get up. We have to go.”

The two roused themselves, rubbing sleep from their eyes. “I want my knife back,” Shadrach said.

Benjamin shook his head. “I need it more than you do.”

“I can take it from you,” Shadrach growled. Lily put a restraining hand on his arm.

“You could,” Benjamin agreed, eyeing the larger man, “but then I wouldn’t lead you out of here, and you need me more than you need it.”

“He’s right,” Lily urged. “Please, dear, let’s go.”

Shadrach growled again, but did not argue the matter further. Daisy and Shadrach followed Benjamin out of the shelter as Lily struggled into a skirt. Benjamin turned to the right and Shadrach grabbed his arm painfully. “It’s the wrong way. We gotta go north.”

Benjamin jerked against the man’s grip, but was unable to break it. “We’ve got to get away from the river,” he hissed. “West first, then we swing back north. We have to avoid the slave catchers who are surely after you.”

Shadrach released him, giving his arm a violent twist as he did so. “You think you know so much. If we could find the Railroad, we wouldn’t need you.”

“I am the Railroad,” Benjamin said, rubbing his arm.

“You?” Shadrach said with a sneer. “You’re a boy.”

“I’ve been an agent for more than a year,” Benjamin said. “And I know where the next station is. Now if you’re done fighting me, let’s get going. I don’t like hanging around here.”

“A moment,” Daisy said. Lily had crawled out of the shelter behind them. Daisy broke some long thorns off the briars and pulled the rear hem of Lily’s skirt between her legs and fastened it to the woman’s waist with the thorns, creating rudimentary trousers.

“Thank you,” Lily said. “I’d have never thought of that.” She looked at Daisy’s denims. “I wish we’d had time to plan this better. It must be Providence that brought us to you.”

The men were still eyeing each other warily. Daisy said, “Of course it was,” but she was beginning to be unsure of that. It seemed that gaining Shadrach’s trust would require a great effort, one they might not have time for. She took Benjamin’s hand as Lily took Shadrach’s, and the foursome headed out into the dark woods.

Benjamin strode ahead, tugging Daisy along with him. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “If we’re taken, don’t put up a fight. Kneel down, put your hands in the air. Promise me.”

“Shouldn’t we fight?” she asked, surprised.

Benjamin shook his head. He nodded back toward the couple who were following them. “He can get himself killed if he wants, but I want you safe. If you beg for forgiveness, Mr. Carr won’t harm you. He might beat me, but he won’t kill me. And if he sells you, I swear I will come find you and save you.”

“What are you two whispering about up there?” Shadrach demanded.

Benjamin strode back to him. “Keep your voice down!” he hissed. “Do you want to be taken?”

Shadrach blinked and backed down. “Sorry,” he whispered. “I wanted to know what you were saying.”

“It’s none of your damned business what I say to my wife,” Benjamin said. “Now keep quiet, damn you.” He strode back to Daisy and took her hand, then led them forward. There was no more talking until near dawn, when they found some dense underbrush to hide in. They were probably no more than two miles from the river – Daisy hoped it was enough. Benjamin still stank of the rotten fish he had used to mislead the dogs. She did not care, as she wrapped her arms around him. She had always thought he was smart and brave, but she had never realized how much. “Sleep,” she whispered. “I’ll watch. Don’t wear yourself out.”

He shook his head. “You sleep. We should be at the station tomorrow night or the night after. I can hold out til then.”

“You’re afraid I’ll steal my knife back,” Shadrach whispered.

“You would,” Benjamin stated, “but I’m not giving you the chance.”

“You’re right about that,” Shadrach said.

“Please don’t quarrel,” Lily whispered wearily. She turned to Benjamin. “Thank you both for helping us. I know we’re a lot of trouble. Please forgive us.”

“Nothing to forgive,” Daisy said. She looked at Shadrach. “We’re all in the same boat. We should help each other.”

Shadrach grunted and rolled onto his side. Daisy lay down beside her husband, but only fell into an uneasy doze. She was aware of the passage of two or three hours when she roused at the sound of dogs barking, two or three miles off, near the riverbank. She cowered in the underbrush; they all did. Benjamin kept a hand on the knife. Shadrach stared at it hungrily, but knew better than to make a move, with the slave catchers so near by. They heard shouts, and a gunshot, which made them all jump. Daisy was rather proud of herself for not yelping, but they all maintained a frightened silence until the shouts and barks moved off, heading south along the river.

Benjamin patted and hugged her. She could feel trembling – she was not sure if it was hers or his, probably both. None of them slept the rest of the day, sitting in nervous trepidation until after sunset, when Benjamin led them out of their hiding place and turned toward the north.

“Why did they turn south?” Shadrach asked, this time keeping his voice low.

“I spread enough dead fish around that the dogs would lose your scent,” Benjamin explained, “and, with any luck, they think you’ve drowned.”

“So we’re safe?” Lily asked hopefully.

“We’re not safe until we’re in Canada,” Benjamin said. “Don’t let down your guard.”

They made a wide arc north and east back to the river. Aside from startling a young deer, and being startled by it, they had no adventures until striking the river. They once again followed it, and Benjamin began watching for the abandoned cabin where they were to find sanctuary.

A white man stepped out of the trees in front of them and held up a hand. “Stop!” he hissed at them. “Go no further!”

Shadrach leaped past Benjamin and Daisy and had a hand on the man’s throat before he could cry out. The man’s eyes bulged alarmingly but he managed to choke out the words, “drinking gourd!”

“Stop it!” Benjamin commanded. “He’s our conductor!”

“He’s white,” Shadrach said, not releasing his prisoner. “He’s not to be trusted.”

“He is,” Benjamin insisted. “Let him go!”

Shadrach let go of the man’s throat, but kept hold of his collar. The man coughed. “Which one of you is Benjamin?”

“None of us,” Shadrach said, shaking him.

“I am,” Benjamin said, “and this is Daisy. You’re expecting us.”

“I’m Henry,” the man said. “I’ve been waiting out here to warn you – thank God I found you. There are slave catchers at the station. I’m afraid we’ve been discovered.”

“You said your name was Daniel,” Shadrach said accusingly.

“It doesn’t matter.” Benjamin flicked his hand. He turned to Henry. “What do we do?”

“Who are these two?” Henry asked. “Although I bet I can guess.”

“Shadrach and Lily,” Benjamin said. “We rescued them when their rowboat tipped over.”

“So I thought,” Henry said. “The country is in an uproar about you two – there’s a reward of five hundred dollars each. But I heard you’d drowned.”

“It’s what we wanted everyone to think,” Benjamin said.

“I’ve got three horses stashed in the woods that way.” Henry pointed northwest. “You’ll have to ride double – I wasn’t expecting four of you.”

“All right,” Benjamin said. They followed Henry for about a hundred yards back into the woods, but were surprised to find a man standing by the horses holding a musket.

“Hello, Johnson,” the man said, resting the barrel of his weapon in the crook of his arm. “I thought if I kept an eye on you, you’d lead me to the mother lode sooner or later.” He eyed the four escaped slaves. “And boy, have you ever.”

Benjamin stepped protectively in front of Daisy as Henry stalked forward. “Out of the way, Edgmont,” Henry said. “You don’t scare me.”

Edgmont leveled his musket at Henry. As Henry reached to brush the musket aside, Shadrach grabbed the knife from Benjamin’s belt, lunging at Edgmont with a defiant bellow. Benjamin fell to his knees as the musket went off. Daisy yelped and caught him as he hit the ground, blood spurting from a wound in his abdomen. Lily and Henry grabbed at Shadrach, but it was too late – Edgmont fell to the ground with the knife in his throat. Blood spurted in a shower over the two slaves and their conductor.

“Help me!” Daisy cried, pressing on Benjamin’s wound with her bare hands.

Shadrach pulled the knife from Edgmont’s neck as the man gasped out his last. Henry shook his head and sprang to Benjamin’s side. “Are you hit?” he asked.

Benjamin shook his head. “Knife,” he gasped.

Henry ripped open Benjamin’s shirt. The razor sharp knife had cut deeply into Benjamin’s belly as Shadrach had ripped it free. Daisy turned away, sickened – the wound was too disgusting for her to look at, so she looked at her husband’s face, which was turning paler by the moment. “Benjamin,” she choked.

“Be free, Daisy,” Benjamin said.

She kissed his lips, already turning cold. “I love you,” she said, but it was too late for him to hear her.

Henry stood. “I ought to turn you over to the sheriff,” he hissed at Shadrach. “It’s what you deserve.”

Shadrach wiped the bloody knife and gestured at Lily. “I did it for her. No way is she going back.”

Henry ground his teeth together. “And this boy? This brave boy? Have you no pity?”

“I’m sorry about the boy,” Shadrach said. “I didn’t mean to hurt him, but he should have given me back my knife when I asked him to.”

Henry growled at Shadrach, then turned to Daisy. He gently took her by the shoulders. “Come on, my dear. We have to get out of here. That gunshot may not have gone unheard.”

Daisy shook her head. “We can’t leave him.”

“We aren’t going to,” Henry said. “Help me lift him,” he ordered Shadrach.

The two men slung Benjamin’s body across one of the horses. Lily stood silent, pale as marble. Shadrach lifted her onto one of the horses and mounted behind her. Henry mounted the other and lifted Daisy in front of him, taking the reins of the horse carrying Benjamin’s body. Daisy looked down at Edgmont’s body. “Who was he?”

“A neighbor,” Henry said, kicking his horse into a gallop. “A no-account, always looking for a quick dollar.” He glanced back at Shadrach, galloping behind. “He shouldn’t have killed him – I could have handled it.”

“He’s afraid,” Daisy said dreamily, realizing the truth of it all at once. The horses’ galloping hoofs pounded out the rhythm, my fault, my fault, my fault.

Henry frowned worriedly down at her. “We’re all afraid. That’s no reason to kill.”

They rode across the bridge, then swung north, away from the town, in about half an hour arriving at a small farmstead. A young woman, not much older than Daisy, came out of the house, her dark hair pulled back in a severe bun. She gazed up at them as they reined the horses to a halt, taking in their blood-spattered clothes and Benjamin’s body slung across the saddle. She turned pale. “What happened?”

Henry swung Daisy down and leaped down beside her. “I’ll tell you later, Mary. This is Daisy – her husband’s been killed and she’s in shock. Will you take care of her, and this other lady? Her name is Lily.”

Mary nodded, taking Daisy by the hand. “Of course. Where will you be?”

“Taking care of the horses, and of this young man here.” He nodded at Benjamin. “He’ll need a proper burial.”

“Are we to expect other visitors?” Mary asked, her lips pressed together.

Henry shook his head. “I don’t think so. Edgmont is dead,” he talked on, ignoring Mary’s gasp, “but there’s nothing to tie us to it. Be alert anyway.”

Mary nodded and led the two women into the house while Henry and Shadrach led the horses into the barn. Daisy was in a fog, but she made no attempt to clear it. She was afraid – the fog was comforting in its way. She wrapped herself in it, shivering.

“Come,” Mary said. She led them into a bedroom with a double bed and began pulling clothing out of a large wardrobe. “Please be quiet, my brothers are sleeping in the next room.”

Daisy began peeling off her bloody clothes as Mary poured wash water into a basin. Daisy plunged her hands into the basin, the water turning pink. There were dark red stains under her fingernails, and she stared at them in fascination until Mary seized the cloth and began washing her.

“Can you tell me what happened?” Mary asked Lily. “I take it she saw her husband die, poor thing?”

“I can’t,” Lily choked. “It was too horrible. I’m sure your father will tell you what he wants you to know.”

“He’s my husband,” Mary said, toweling Daisy off, “but no matter, lots of people make that mistake.” She took the basin away, and returned a few minutes later with clean water. She began dressing Daisy as Lily washed and dressed herself.

They heard Henry enter the house a few minutes later. He knocked softly on the bedroom door and Mary let him in. “Where’s the other one?” she asked.

“Digging a grave in the orchard.” Henry knelt down by Daisy, put a hand on her knee. “It’s a lovely spot, my dear. I’m sure he’ll rest quietly there.”

Daisy nodded. She felt tears spring to her eyes as her fog began to lift. She shook her head, and retreated back into it.

Henry frowned and turned to his wife. “She’s been like this the whole time. See if you can snap her out of it – she’s going to need her wits about her. It’s hard on her, I know, young as she is.”

Mary took her husband aside, speaking low. “What happened, Henry? Did Edgmont kill him?”

“No,” Henry said, nodding toward the back of the house. “That other one did, that Shadrach. He killed Edgmont, too.” He turned to Lily. “Your husband is a very dangerous man. I’d get away from him as soon as I was able, if I were you.”

Lily covered her eyes, tears streaming down her face. “He did it to protect me. He didn’t mean to kill the boy, you know he didn’t.” Her large brown eyes gazed up at Henry. “You’re still going to help us, aren’t you?”

“I’ll help you, my dear,” Henry said. “I’ll help that violent fool, too, if you insist, but it’s against my better judgment.” He took his wife’s hand. “Come, all of you. We need to get the boy buried before daylight – you must all be under cover before then.”

Mary wrapped a shawl around Daisy’s shoulders and kept an arm around her as they went through the back door and down the path to the orchard. The trees were white with blossoms, and their scent filled the air. Henry was in the lead – he suddenly flung up an arm and waved the women back. “Keep them away, Mary! Keep them away!”

Lily shrieked and ran forward, where a dark form swung from the tree branch. “Cut him down, oh cut him down!” she cried.

Henry sprinted forward, pulling out a pocket knife, and began sawing at the worn belt-rope that tied Shadrach’s body to the branch. He and Lily lowered the lifeless body to the ground, Lily sobbing all the while. Mary approached and looked down. “Was he discovered? Is this a lynching?”

“No,” Henry said. “He was worth five hundred dollars reward. No one would do this, no one could have done it, the way this man would fight.” He put an arm around Lily’s shoulders. “He did this himself.”

“Why?” Lily sobbed. “Why? He fought so hard to be free. Why would he do this now?”

Daisy heard her own voice, coming from far away. “He fought so hard for you to be free.” She looked down where Benjamin’s body lay beside the grave Shadrach had dug. “He couldn’t live with himself, now.” There was something hot and wet running down her cheeks, and she wiped it away.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” Henry said. He looked at his wife. “Help me, dearest. We’ll have to bury them together.”

Mary nodded and the two of them tumbled Shadrach’s body into the grave. They were more gentle with Benjamin, lowering him on top of the man who had killed him. Henry took the spade Shadrach had left against the tree and began filling in the hole. Mary and Lily prayed, but Daisy found no prayer in her heart. She doubted she would ever pray again.

Henry said a few religious words as they consigned the two men to whatever fate awaited them in the next world.

They took the two women back to the house, Lily still quietly sobbing, Daisy silent and distant. Mary led them up a ladder to the attic. She moved aside a trunk against the wall to reveal a small cubbyhole. “I’m sorry. I know you’ve been through the mill, and I feel as though I’m locking you away, but you’ll be safe here. Stay until my brothers go to school, then you can come down.” She looked worriedly from one to the other. “Will you be all right?”

Daisy nodded and crawled into the space. There was a mattress, chamberpot, some food and water, but no light. Lily crawled in after her, but Daisy threw herself on the mattress and turned her face to the wall, ignoring the other woman. She thought about Shadrach and his rope. It would be so easy. She clenched her fists as the last shreds of her fog lifted. No. She would not give God the satisfaction of driving her to suicide. She felt a great swelling of anger – everything she had ever believed was upside down. The anger felt good, a wall she could build between herself and her grief. Yes. That was the thing; never let go of it.

Lily lay next to her, sobbing her heart out, but Daisy did not shed a tear, at least not as long as she lay awake.

Mary let them out the next morning. Henry, she explained, was a teacher and had to appear at the school as though everything were normal. Daisy helped Mary burn their bloodstained clothing, helpfully if not cheerfully. Mary seemed much relieved that she seemed to be recovered from her shock, but kindly avoided discussing the previous night’s happenings. Lily was weepy, prone to bursting into tears, but she preferred such tasks as milking the cow or feeding the chickens.

No one came by, no news came. If Edgmont’s body had been found, they did not know of it. The two women had to hide themselves again when Henry came home with the children until the three boys were fast asleep. Mary gave the two women a quick hug before they mounted up and rode to the north.

They rode hard all night, changing horses two or three times at isolated farmhouses. The horses were always saddled and waiting for them, but they saw no one. They reached the banks of the Ohio half an hour before dawn, where a small steamer awaited to carry them across the river. By dawn they were in a free state, though still not free. They were met by their next conductor, like Willie a free black, and began the next stage of their journey.

They had a little more freedom of movement once they were out of Kentucky. They were passed from conductor to conductor, sometimes traveling by day, sometimes by night. Daisy always did as she was asked, sometimes wondering why she bothered until she remembered Benjamin’s last words to her.

They arrived at Detroit, the last stop on the Railroad. That night they would cross over the river to Canada, to freedom at last. She and Lily had continued to travel together, although they spoke little to each other. There were four other fugitives at the station – the stationmasters were an elderly Quaker couple named Dixon. They were all at dinner when they heard a clatter of hoofs approaching. The ‘passengers’ scattered to their hiding place, although they could still hear the conversation when the stranger knocked at the door.

“Please, ma’am,” the stranger said politely when Mrs. Dixon answered the door, “I’m looking for a young lady named Daisy Carr.”

“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Dixon said, equally polite, “but there’s no one here by that name. Just me and my husband.”

“I’m not a slave catcher, ma’am,” the man said. Mrs. Dixon stiffened but said nothing. “I’m a detective, with Pinkerton’s.” He showed Mrs. Dixon a card. “Miss Carr’s sister hired me to find her and give her a letter. Neither she nor you are in any danger from me, I assure you.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Mrs. Dixon said haughtily. “If you’re accusing us of slave stealing, I’ll have the sheriff on you for slander.”

The man held up his hands. “No such thing, ma’am.” He pressed the card into her hand. “Give Miss Carr this card. It has my hotel written on it.”

Mrs. Dixon pressed her lips together and closed the door in his face, almost slamming it. They listened until he had ridden away, but kept a cautious watch. “What do you think, Nora?” Mr. Dixon asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but we have to get them out of here now, before he comes back with the law.”

“May I have the card?” Daisy asked.

“You’re not thinking of going?” Mr. Dixon asked. “It’s almost assuredly a trap for you.”

“Let me have it, please?”

Mrs. Dixon frowned but handed her the card. “What can you be thinking, girl? That was a ridiculous story – sent by your sister, indeed. How would a slave go about hiring a detective?”

“My sister is white,” Daisy said. “The daughter of my owner.”

Mrs. Dixon frowned. “Scandalous.”

“Maybe.” Daisy tapped the card. “You leave without me. I have to go, can’t you see?”

Mr. Dixon shook his head. “No, I can’t see. You’ve traveled three hundred miles only to turn back now?”

“I’m not turning back, but I don’t want to put the rest of you in danger. Just go – I’ll find my own way across the river. I have money, I can pay for passage.”

“I can’t force you,” Mr. Dixon said, “but I will tell you that you’re being extremely foolhardy.”

Daisy shrugged. “Perhaps. It’s my choice.” She gathered up her shawl and left the house.

She had to ask directions twice, even though the hotel proved to be not far distant. She had never been in a hotel before – she had a little difficulty finding the room number written on the card, and she had a sense she was doing something terribly improper, but she did not care. She rapped her knuckles on the door.

A young man opened the door, not tall, sandy-haired and with an innocent, boyish look on his face. “Mr. Jones?”

The man’s face brightened. “You must be Miss Carr. Please, come in, come in.”

Daisy shuddered, but she brushed past him as he stepped aside. “Not Miss Carr, please.” Not Mrs. Butler either. “Call me Daisy.”

“All right, Daisy,” Mr. Jones said, offering her a chair. “Call me Johnny.”

“You have something for me?” She looked around the room – her feelings were at odds with her expectations. She half expected to be arrested at any moment, yet something about this man made her feel entirely secure and safe. It was disorienting, but she tried to appear calm and in control.

Johnny strode over to the desk and picked up a letter. “I didn’t think you’d come. Why did you?”

Daisy held out her hand. “For that.”

Johnny handed the letter to her and waited while she broke the seal and read it.

My dearest Daisy,

Come home. I’ve thought and thought what I ought to say to you, what fine words, but they all come down to that. Please come home.

I know I was awful to you, and Daddy has told me what he said to you, but everything has changed since you left. I’ve thrown Harold over, so you’re in no danger from him. I’m deeply sorry for what I said, and if you’ll come home, I’ll try to explain it to you and make it right. Daddy is deeply sorry, too, and promises not to sell you. I can’t believe I even have to write those words, they’re so terrible. They sicken me – I can perfectly understand that they would have frightened you half to death.

We’re all at our wits’ ends about you and Benjamin. Mr. Butler tries not to show it, but I know he is heartbroken. I caught him weeping in the pantry. He is so worried and so sad – please, both of you, come home and make us all happy again.

Your loving sister,
Pamela Carr

Daisy turned her head away from Johnny Jones. “How did you find me?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I’m a good detective.” He narrowed his eyes. “Who killed Edgmont?”

“He was found then.” She shuddered. “We met up with some more escaped slaves, and tried to help them. One of them killed Edgmont.”


She looked up at him. “You know?”

“Not hard to figure – he killed his owner, he was obviously headed north. Is he here, with you?”

She shook her head. “He’s dead.” She gazed back down at the letter. Mr. Butler is heartbroken. Of course he was. She felt filled with shame – she had never considered for a moment how her actions would affect anyone else. Mr. Butler had been more like a father to her than her own father had. Always there, always kind, always showing her right from wrong. How could she have stolen his son from him, whatever the provocation might have been?

“I can’t go back.” She looked up at Johnny. “Tell my sister I’m sorry. Tell her – “ she paused for air, “ – tell her Benjamin is dead. She’ll understand then.”

“Are you sure?” Johnny said. “She was so. . .tender when she spoke of you. I’m from Indiana, so I don’t really understand these things, how Southerners can enslave their own kin, but I know she cares for you.”

“I’m sure.” She stood up. “What is your reward for my return?”

Johnny drew himself up. “Nothing. I wouldn’t work that way. I was paid to find you, and I have. Oddly enough, I think you should go back, but I certainly wouldn’t force you.”

She offered him her hand. “I thank you then.”

He held her hand when she tried to withdraw it. “Where will you go?”

“Canada. After that, I don’t know. France, maybe. I have some talent as an artist.”

“I wish you well, then, Daisy.” He released her hand. “Go with God.”

She pursed her lips and left the room. She might not know where she was going, but if there was a place where God was not, that would be the place for her.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chapter Sixteen
Bourbon County: 1858

Willie shaded his eyes against the glare of Benjamin’s lamp and set down the rucksack he was carrying. “What’s going on, Ben?” he asked. He looked Daisy up and down. “Isn’t that Miss Carr’s maid?”

Daisy looked Willie up and down, too. She had often seen him in town – he was a freedman who sold work shoes in the marketplace.

“She was,” Benjamin corrected. “Mr. Carr aims to sell her, so we’re going to Canada.”

“I was wondering when you were going to make a run for it yourself,” Willie said, “but taking a slip of a girl along is plain foolishness. Do you know how valuable she is? The slave catchers’ll be after you before you can turn around.”

Benjamin hugged Daisy’s waist. “She’s going,” he said stubbornly. “You think it’s better she be sold South?”

Willie shuddered. “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” He looked at Daisy. “How do you know he’s selling you, honey?”

“He said so. At least, he said he was selling me, he didn’t say where.” She looked up at Benjamin doubtfully.

“I’m not taking that chance,” Benjamin said. “We’re going together. I’ll take care of her, Willie. Don’t you worry.”

“It’s on your head, then,” Willie said reluctantly. He handed Benjamin the rucksack. “Follow me.”

He took the lantern from Benjamin, and the two of them followed him out into the larger chamber of the cave, then through a narrow, low passage. The passage opened out into a chamber the size of a cathedral, with large stalactites hanging down from the roof, some so long they formed pillars. “Where are we?” Daisy whispered. Her voice rebounded off the walls and broke against the pillars, shattering into dozens of tiny echoes.

“An old, old place,” Willie said quietly. Something about the place seemed to call for solemnity. He held the lantern higher. “The Indians used it for their burials, long ago.”

Along the wall Daisy could see bodies, shriveled and warped into odd shapes. She cringed and huddled closer to Benjamin. He put his arm around her. “They can’t hurt you, dear,” he said, but his own voice was trembling.

“No white man has ever set foot here,” Willie said proudly. “It was my discovery – I like to think they’d approve of my using it to foil the people who stole their land from them.”

Daisy felt easier then, as though she had something in common with the ones who rested there. She straightened her shoulders and followed Willie, although she still clutched Benjamin’s hand.

She touched a pillar as she passed it – she was surprised to find that it was damp. It took nearly half an hour to traverse the cathedral – it turned out to be much longer than it had first appeared. There followed many twisting passages, some so low they had to bend double. They scrambled over piles of fallen rock, or wended their way between low-hanging stalactites, no sound but the drip, drip, drip of water. As they followed Willie’s lantern, Daisy lost all sense of direction. She began to wonder, how well did Benjamin know Willie? What if Willie’s intent was to lose them here and rob them?

She began to doubt the wisdom of her actions. If she went back and begged, perhaps Mr. Carr would relent. She touched the bruise on her cheek. No. Perhaps Pamela would fight for her? She recalled her sister’s words. No. She felt Benjamin’s hand, calloused, strong and warm in hers. Yes. She did not know how or where or how well their adventure would end, but as long as it ended with the two of them together, that would be all she would ask for. Besides, she could not find her way back now if she wished to.

Please, God, keep us safe.

“Quiet,” Willie warned, although they had been making no noise. He held up the lantern before a narrow opening, barely large enough to crawl through. “You go through there, you’ll come out on the side of a hill overlooking Stoner Creek.” He bent down, drawing with his finger in the dirt. “Follow the creek north until it runs into the South Fork. Follow that north until it runs into the Licking River. Keep following the river, staying on the west side, until you come to Cynthiana. Just on the outskirts of town, there’s an old abandoned cabin, right by the river. You’ll find this sign carved on the door.” He made a figure like the Big Dipper. “Wait there, but if anyone comes, hide until they say the word, which is ‘drinking gourd.’ Got that?”

Benjamin nodded. “I got it.”

“You’re not going with us? I thought you were our guide,” Daisy asked.

Willie shook his head. “Sorry, I can’t be gone for too long – if I’m missed, people might start asking questions I can’t answer. It’s past dawn – best to lay up here until dark, then stick to the woods. You’ve got several days, or rather, nights, travel ahead of you.” He looked at Daisy. “I hope you’re up to it.”

“I have to be,” Daisy said. “I have no choice.”

“There’s always a choice,” Willie said gravely, “but better men than I am have thought freedom worth dying for.” He offered his hand to Benjamin. “Good luck. I’ll send a message ahead to warn them you’re coming.”

“Thank you, Willie,” Benjamin said.

Willie nodded and turned away, taking the lantern with him. Daisy wanted to cry out that he was leaving them in the dark, but restrained herself. She was a woman now, better start acting like it. Willie’s lantern receded, leaving them in pitch darkness. “Are you scared, Daisy?” Benjamin asked.

She shook her head. “No. Well, a little.” She snuggled up under his arm. “I’m trying to think of this as an adventure – there may be struggle and danger, but we’ll be well and happy at the end.”

“That’s my girl,” he said proudly. “Get some sleep, dear. I’ll watch over you. We have a long way to walk – better save your strength.”

“All right, but wake me in a couple of hours. I’ll watch over you – you need rest as much as I do.”

Light began to leak into the cave from the opening and she could see his smile in the dimness, but he said nothing, merely wrapped himself around her. She put her head on his shoulder and fell asleep, safe for now.

She awoke hours later after an uneasy rest. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and looked up at Benjamin. “You didn’t wake me,” she protested.

“You were sleeping so soundly.”

“No, I wasn’t.” She frowned up at him. “Don’t treat me like a baby, Benjamin,” she said sternly. “If we’re going to make it, we have to work together.”

Benjamin raised his eyebrows. “I’m your husband – it’s my job to take care of you.”

“And mine to take care of you.” She jabbed a finger at his chest. “How far is it to Cynthiana? And how far will we get if you wear yourself out because you think I’m useless?”

“About sixty miles.” He looked down at her. “And I know you’re not useless. But, dearest, you’ve spent your whole life in the House.”

“I know. So have you. Come now, let’s not fight. Lie down and sleep until dark, anyway. I’ll keep watch.”

Benjamin smiled and kissed her. He gave her some of the bread and dried meat from their pack before laying down and resting his head on the pack for a pillow. She chewed the dry bread, longing for water. She could hear water trickling somewhere in the cave, but did not want to go in search of it. There would be plenty of water after dark once they headed down to the creek at the bottom of the hill – she would endure her thirst until then.

She woke Benjamin at dark, as he had asked, although she knew he had not slept nearly enough. He rubbed his eyes and shouldered the pack. Daisy crawled behind him through the passage. He pushed aside the underbrush that hid the opening, and she felt the cool night air brush her cheek, filled with the warm aroma of earth after a rain. They paused for a moment to make sure no one was about, then cautiously made their way down to the creek. Daisy drank her fill, as did Benjamin. Now that they were above ground, she could see that they were no more than seven or eight miles from the Carr farm, even though they had walked almost all night. She hoped that their progress through the cave had thrown off pursuit, but it would still pay to be cautious. Neither of them were exactly wood-wise, but they had a clear path to follow, and the will to follow it. She clutched Benjamin’s hand as they began to make their way north.

Although Stoner Creek passed through many farms and pastures, the farmers allowed the woods to grow wild on either side as a preventative against flooding and erosion, so as daylight approached, the two runaways burrowed into the underbrush to sleep. Daisy insisted on taking the first watch this time, over Benjamin’s protests. He finally acquiesced, although angry at her stubbornness on the matter. It might have been their first fight except they were afraid to shout, so conducted the argument in whispers.

There had been no sign of pursuit, which puzzled her. The route they were taking seemed so obvious, surely any slave catcher worth his hire would be watching for them. They had been careful, stealthy and quiet, but how long could their luck hold out? They had made barely ten miles that night, at that rate it would take them nearly a week to reach Cynthiana.

She brooded on this until Benjamin awakened. “We should go another way,” she told him. “This way’s too obvious.”

Benjamin shook his head. “The road would be obvious, and too dangerous. Willie’s been doing this for twenty years – if there were a better way, he would have told us.”

Daisy pondered this. “Do you trust him so much?”

“I do. He’s risked himself countless times for our people.” He took her hand. “We can’t go back, we must go on. Will you trust me to get us there?”

She squeezed his hand. “I will. I do.”

“Now lie down and sleep,” he ordered her. “I’ll keep you safe.”

The next night they found a rowboat tied to a tree and debated taking it. The fear of navigating an unfamiliar river, and the possible arousing of the law decided them against it. They had to deal with a light but soaking rain all that night and the next day, and huddled in the undergrowth miserably, barely sleeping.

So they trudged on, night by night. Daisy was weary and in pain from the unaccustomed exertion, but she made no complaint. Benjamin’s work as a carpenter kept him in better condition, and she was determined not to slow him down, if at all possible. She was glad of the darkness, and she worked hard to keep her breathing steady and even.

She heard a faint sound and paused to listen. Coming down the river, there was a faint splashing of water and the creak of oars. She tugged Benjamin’s hand and made him listen, too. He nodded and they retreated from the riverbank, withdrawing further into the underbrush. Who could be out boating in the middle of the night? At least there was no sound of barking dogs, but Daisy’s heart pounded as they waited and listened for the boat to pass.

A woman screamed, and a loud splash brought them out of hiding. The rowboat they had passed by a few days ago had collided with a downed tree - one of the many snags that made the Licking nearly unnavigable - spilling its occupants into the river. Benjamin waded into the shallows, hanging onto the tree. “Here!” he called out.

Neither he nor Daisy could swim, she knew, so she waited in anxious silence. The full moon shone hazily through the clouds, making it difficult to see what was happening. There were two people in the water, she thought. The boat had righted itself and spun lazily downstream, but one of the passengers seemed caught in the snag that had upset it.

Benjamin pulled himself into deeper water. The flowing water dragged him under, and Daisy gasped until he surfaced, shaking the water out of his dark hair. He pulled himself hand-over-hand until he reached the woman who was caught in the snag. “Save my husband!” she said. She pointed. A dark figure lay face down in the water, spinning past them. In a moment it would be too late. Benjamin let go of the tree and kicked desperately to catch the man before he spun out of reach. He grasped the hem of the man’s trousers as the woman caught at him, pulling him back to the tree. Benjamin turned the man over so that his head was above water, then hesitated.

“Benjamin?” Daisy called from shore. “All you all right?”

“All right,” he called, “but he’s bigger than I can manage.”

“Please try,” the woman said. She struggled against the branches that held her, only entangling herself further.

“Hold still!” Benjamin demanded.

Daisy took a deep breath, then waded out into the river as she had seen Benjamin do. “Go back, Daisy!” he hissed at her.

“And leave you out there to drown?” she said. She clasped the tree trunk as the water tugged at her, more frightened than she had ever been, but she kept going until she reached her beloved. The man he held was barely breathing, and she was not sure they could save him, but she took him by the arm. “You take his leg, Benjamin, and we’ll haul him in that way.”

Benjamin turned to the woman. “Will you be all right until I can get back to you?”

The woman nodded, but Daisy could see how hard she was shivering. Daisy was beginning to shiver herself, so she turned and started back to the bank, tugging the man along by the arm as Benjamin followed, holding the man’s leg.

She slid her hand along the tree, all the time fighting the pull of the river, until she at last felt mud under her feet. She was unable to pull the man ashore, so she held his head above water as Benjamin moved past her and they could pull him up together.

Benjamin plunged back in the water after the woman. Daisy rubbed the man’s cold hands, although hers were not much warmer. They were all soaked to the skin, with no change of clothes and although the night was not particularly cold, it was not warm, either.

The man was dark, as dark as a night with no moon. He must be an escaped slave, too, and so was the woman, probably. He had a long knife in his belt and there were cuts and bruises on his arms, as though he had defended himself from a beating. Daisy gnawed her lips as she contemplated him. Benjamin returned with the woman, who was swaddled in so many long skirts and petticoats it was a wonder they had not dragged her under. Daisy helped her out of them as Benjamin tended to the injured man. The woman was paler than Daisy, although whether it was from cold or the natural lightness of her skin was uncertain, and there were bloodstains on the back of her dress.

“How is he?” the woman asked, teeth chattering.

“Unconscious, but breathing,” Benjamin said.

“Let me see,” the woman said, kneeling by her man’s side. “He’s so cold.”

“We’re all cold,” Daisy said.

“Let’s move him away from the riverbank,” Benjamin said. “Then we can start a fire.”

“Are you sure?” Daisy asked.

“We have to,” Benjamin said, “or all die from the chill.”

Daisy agreed with that assessment, so she shouldered the pack and the woman’s wet clothes as Benjamin and the woman dragged the man further into the underbrush. Benjamin seized the man’s knife and hacked through the thickest briars, making a sort of cave for them to hide in.

He took a flint from his pocket and used it and the knife to strike sparks into a pile of dry leaves. Daisy gathered sticks and twigs to feed the fire, and in a few minutes had a small flame to warm their lair.

The woman chafed the man’s hands until he began to stir. He blinked his eyes, looking around the briar patch and at the fire. “What happened?”

“The boat upset, dearest,” the woman said. “These nice people fished us out of the river.”

The man looked them over warily. “Runaways?” he asked.

Benjamin nodded.

“Where from?”

“I’d rather not say,” Benjamin replied. He held out his hand. “I’m Daniel. This is my wife, Rose.”

Daisy raised her eyebrows at this blatant lie, but kept silent. Perhaps it was best not to tell too much. What was unknown could not be betrayed.

“Shadrach,” the man said, taking Benjamin’s hand. “My wife, Lily.”

“We’re a couple of flowers,” Lily said, with a weak smile.

“Let me have one of those skirts,” Benjamin said.

“What for?” Shadrach asked.

“To throw in the river,” Benjamin said. “If someone comes looking for you, I want them to think you’ve drowned.”

Lily nodded and peeled one of the petticoats out of the pile. Benjamin took it and crawled out of the briars, returning a few moments later, empty-handed. He squatted by the fire. “When did you escape?” he asked.

“I’d rather not say,” Shadrach said.

“You think I can’t read the signs?” Benjamin asked angrily. “You -” he pointed to Lily, “- were being flogged for some reason, and you -” he pointed to Shadrach, “- interfered. You got away, so it’s safe to say you either killed or wounded your attacker. Which means they’re after you, which puts my wife and myself in danger with you. Do I read it aright?”

“You do,” Lily said. “I was a lady’s maid, and then my mistress died, and my owner. . .” she turned crimson. “When I rejected his advances, he started caning me, and Shadrach came to my rescue.” She looked at her husband glowingly.

Benjamin held out the knife. “Killed?”

Shadrach reached for it, but Benjamin snatched it back. “He oughtn’t to’ve touched my wife,” Shadrach said. “I’d kill any man who dared.”

“So would I,” Benjamin agreed, putting the knife in his belt. Shadrach glared at him, but was too weak yet to argue.

“And your plans?” Benjamin asked.

“Head north,” Shadrach said. “Cross the Ohio, get to freedom.”

“Freedom is farther than that,” Benjamin said, “or didn’t you know that the law allows them to come get you anywhere they can find you? Better head to Canada, if you know what’s good for you.”

“Where’s Canada?” Shadrach asked, wrinkling his brow.

“Further north,” Benjamin said. “A thousand miles.”

Daisy did not think it was quite that far, but let it go. “We can take them with us, can’t we, B-dearest?” She hoped no one noticed her stumble. Lying was difficult enough; she was afraid that carrying on someone else’s lie was beyond her.

“They killed a white man,” Benjamin said. “It’s too dangerous.”

“We don’t need no help,” Shadrach said.

Daisy put her arm through Benjamin’s and whispered. “Husband, they have no idea what they’re doing. We can’t just leave them here.”

“I have to keep you safe,” Benjamin whispered back. “It’s the only thing that matters.”

“Not the only thing,” she said. “If they’re caught, he’ll be hanged and she’ll be – well, I hate to think of it. Me getting sold pales in comparison.” She tugged on his arm. “We have to take them with us. It’s the Christian thing to do.”

Benjamin pressed his lips together. “No.”


“I can’t ask you to,” Lily interrupted, “and we have nothing to pay you with if you do. All I can say is, I’d be grateful if you would. We came away with the clothes on our backs – I’m afraid we’ll die out here without help.”

“Woman – “ Shadrach said warningly.

Benjamin narrowed his eyes and regarded them both. “All right,” he said at last. “But you follow me and do everything I tell you, no questions. You got that?”

Lily nodded. She took his hand and kissed it. “Thank you. God will reward you, I’m sure of it.”

“Don’t care if He does,” Benjamin said, “as long as we make it to Freedom, that’s all I want.”

Daisy hugged him. Maybe taking on Shadrach and Lily had placed them in more danger, but she had every confidence that Lily was right and God would reward them. She snuggled down under his arm and fell asleep, warm and happy.