Book Excerpt: Send ‘Em South

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sendemsouthlargeThe main protagonist, Lisa, a 12 year old runaway slave, and her father Jack are headed for Boston via the Underground Railroad.   They made it from Savannah to Baltimore smuggled on a merchant ship.  At this portion of their dangerous journey they are on foot in Connecticut…)
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They walked most of the evening, Lisa again following the North Star but this time they were walking a little slower than they had before. Although they were both excited to be only one state away from their destination, they were not as worried now that they had experienced a friendly face. By the time it was dawn they had covered very little territory and were even considering going up to the road.

“I’ll tell you what,” Daddy said to Lisa in a whisper. “I’ll go check out the road while you stay here.”

“O.K. Daddy, but be quick please,” Lisa responded.

It only took Jack a few minutes to reach the edge of the road and he was still in Lisa’s line of sight. She could see him looking up and down the road and even across the way. Then she noticed him stop and look down. He bent down real close as if he were looking in the dirt, then he suddenly bolted upright and burst back into the woods.

“Run Lisa, Run!” He yelled as quietly as he could when he got close enough. “Run like you’ve never run before.”

“What is it daddy, what is it?” Lisa cried, standing up and turning towards him. Her heart was pounding so fast she felt it would break her ribs.

“Dogs,” he called to her. “There’s fresh dog tracks in the road and they was with two men, now run!”

Lisa ran faster than she thought she ever could. The trees whipped by her and branches just broke as she past. She was moving her feet so fast over the logs and rocks that it was almost as if she was flying. She started to cry as they ran.

“Oh my lord, oh my lord,” she cried out loud. “They’re gonna get us, they’re gonna get us.”
Her daddy jumped in front of her and grabbed her hand.

“This way!”, he yelled, turning suddenly to the right.

Fortunately, it had just recently rained and the streams seemed to be overflowing with water. They ran in one and out the other. They ran up and down the same one twice then doubled back and came out another side. They took branches and covered their tracks over and finally they even rested sitting up in the trees on a few huge tree limbs.

“Do you think we lost ‘em Daddy?” Lisa asked through panting breaths.

“I think so,” he answered. He was breathing even harder than Lisa.

“What makes you so sure they was tracking dogs Daddy?” Lisa abruptly asked.

“Cuz the tracks weren’t straight,” Daddy answered. “It was obvious the dog’s feet were moving back and forth as they searched for something. The men’s prints were also real close together which means they was walking real slow. If your dog is just going for a walk, he walks fast and your feet are spread apart. These weren’t.”

“Couldn’t they just be hunters?” Lisa asked hopefully.

“No,” he answered. “What would hunters being doing hunting on the road? It’s gotta be slave catchers, and even if it ain’t we not taking any more chances. OK.?”

“Yeah, O.K. Daddy,” Lisa answered. “So what does that mean we do now.”

“First we’ll wait here until nightfall again,” he said as he stretched out on the large tree branch. “Then we’ll head south a little away from the road, and then due east. Mr. Washington said there’s a big river that way so we gunna have to cross it.”

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, again?” Lisa whined, “but we just got new clothes and shoes.”

“I know honey, and I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do about it” he said softly.

“I know,” Lisa said. “I was just so enjoying these clothes.”

“Me too, me too honey,” Daddy replied.

The river had not been that far away. When they got there however, Lisa’s heart sank. It was huge, maybe a quarter to a half mile wide and there seemed to be no safe place to cross.

“It’s as big as the Savannah River Daddy,” Lisa cried. “What’s it called?”

“That’s the Connecticut,” he answered in a distant voice that made it obvious to Lisa that he was thinking. His eyes were directed up and down the river banks and it was obvious that he was looking for something.

“It’s flowing real fast,” he commented.

“Think we can cross,” Lisa asked him.

“We gonna have to,” he said solemnly. ” a big river like this ain’t gonna have many bridges and the few it does have will probably be watched. C’mon, take off your shoes.”

“Ohhh daddy,” Lisa complained.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You can tie them around your neck but you’re gonna need your feet free to swim.”

“We gunna swim here?” she asked nervously.

“Well maybe,” he replied. “First we gunna try to find a log or two we can hang onto and while we looking, we’ll walk upstream to try to find a better crossing point.”

They began walking along the shore. There were lots of different logs lying on the shore as if there had been a flood recently. Unfortunately, the river was getting no better as they walked upstream and if anything it was getting worse. White caps were everywhere as the fast flowing water rushed over the rocks. The noise was so loud that Lisa had to shout just to be heard.

“Daddy, I’m scared,” she said. “Do we gutta cross here?”

“Here’s as good as anyplace else,” he answered.

“Can we just wait a while to see if it gets better?”

“It ain’t gunna get better but we can stop and rest and eat awhile so you’ll be strong enough for the crossing. O.K.?”

“O.K.” Lisa said sitting down.

They sat and ate and watched the river. It seemed almost alive to Lisa now. Like a wide brown snake it moved up and down and back and forth surging water along the shore. It was one of the widest rivers she’d seen and it seemed to be getting wider. One moment it looked about 300 feet across then the next moment it would shrug and stretch and grow some more. As it flowed, it carried with it all kinds of debris from upstream. There were lots of logs, sticks and branches and once in awhile she would see something that a human had lost like a broken carriage wheel or a bottle and one time she even saw a little toy doll.

“Well Lisa,” her daddy said standing up and wiping off his pants, “I guess its time. Take off your shoes.”

Taking their shoes off and tying them around their necks, Lisa and her daddy walked into the water while pushing a big log floating along the top.

“At least it’s not too cold,” Lisa thought as the water began to rise above her waist. She pushed the log forward then wrapped her arms around it as she kicked the water below.

“Listen carefully Lisa,” her daddy said from his side of the log, “we can steer this thing with our kicks. Sometimes if we need to turn, one of us will kick harder and the other will just drag their feet. You just listen for my instructions. O.K.?”

“O.K. Daddy,” she responded. “That sounds easy enough.”

At first, it was relatively easy. With both Lisa and her dad kicking hard the log made its way across relatively straight. But then, as they came to the faster flowing water in the middle the log began to spin and Lisa began to worry.

“Kick Lisa,” her daddy yelled as he dragged his feet.

“Now,” he shouted a moment later as they began to turn too much. “Stop kicking.”

“Kick again,” he shouted as they again turned too much the other way.

“Stop!”

“No, I’m sorry, kick harder,” he yelled. Lisa could hear the panic in his voice.

“Kick, kick!” he yelled again.

“I’m trying, I’m trying” Lisa shouted.

They were beginning to spin as the water moved faster and faster. Within moments they had been caught in a current and the log turned straight into the flow. Lisa was now in front and her daddy was in back.
“Hold on!” he yelled.

Lisa held on as tight as she could. Water was splashing into her face and they had completely lost control of the log.

“Daddy what do we do??” Lisa screamed over the noise of the rushing water.

“Just hold on!” he yelled. “Hold on.”

Suddenly, up ahead Lisa saw white caps. That meant lots of rocks.

“Daddy!” she screamed. “There’s rocks up ahead!”

“Try to kick around them!” He yelled back.

Lisa kicked desperately to one side. It did no good. She kicked the other way and the only thing that happened was that they sped up to the rocks faster.

“Daddy-y-y-y-y-y!” she screamed.

 

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