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Authors: Joyce Hansen

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BOOK: Out From This Place
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Easter hurried to catch up with the others. The office of the Freedmen's Bureau was packed with people, outside and in. There were whites sprinkled among the blacks.

“Can I stay outside?” Jason asked when Easter was able to enter the building after waiting for two hours on one of the lines outside.

“Yes, but you stay right here on this street. Don't go runnin' off with no little vagabonds.”

“Listen to Easter and stay close by,” Sarah added.

“I will! I will!” he shouted excitedly.

People sat and stood in every corner of the large room, which had once been used as a warehouse for storing cotton. A few bales were still stacked along a wall. A woman and two men sat behind separate desks. They took
care of supplying people with emergency rations of food and money, helping people find lost family members, and even starting schools. They also made sure that the work contracts that were being used to hire the freedmen and freedwomen to work on the plantations were in order.

Easter sat on the floor with Sarah and the rest of the people and waited, hoping that this time someone would be able to tell her where Obi was. Time seemed to stop in the crowded room, and when her turn came to talk to one of the agents, she had a pounding headache.

“Afternoon, ma'am,” she said politely as she sat down. The woman's brown wavy hair reminded her of Miss Grantley. Easter repeated her scanty information about Obi once again. Her headache eased as she talked. The woman thumbed through a thick record book.

“Oh yes, you were here two weeks ago. I'm sorry, we have no record of anyone by that name.”

Easter sighed deeply.

“I'm very sorry,” the woman repeated. “You said he escaped here to the Sea Islands. We wrote to the Freedmen's Bureau in Georgetown, but there's no response from them yet. We're attempting to make inquiries with the army, but they have so much to do, don't you know.”

And they slow as a snail, don't you know,
Easter said to herself. Easter tried to contain the horrible thought that Obi had been killed in battle and left dead somewhere. “Ma'am, does the army know all the soldiers that die, even colored soldiers?”

“Of course. Unfortunately, sometimes soldiers are missing, but the army keeps track of everyone as best they can. You say your former master's name is Jennings? Your friend may have taken that name. We'll make another inquiry and find out whether they have a soldier named Obi Jennings.”

“Thank you, ma'am,” Easter said dully. When she left the building, the sun was red and sinking. She immediately scanned the crowd, but she didn't see Jason.

James's wagon was parked in front of the Protestant Episcopal Church on the town square. She ran over to the wagon. Everyone except Jason was there. “Where Jason?” she almost shrieked.

James pointed to a group of people surrounding a tall white man who stood in front of a brightly painted carriage. Easter read the fancy orange and black lettering on its front: DR. TAYLOR'S TONIC. The man's thick brown mustache covered his upper lip. He held up a bottle. Another white man stood next to him, dressed in a bright yellow shirt and red pantaloons, with a red scarf around his forehead. He held a fiddle. Easter had never seen anyone dressed in such an outlandish fashion. A big gold-colored hoop earring dangled from his ear, and his black mustache looked like a crow's wings.

The man with the bottle addressed the crowd. “Doctor yourself with Dr. Taylor's formula, and you'll never need a doctor again. This ain't no snake oil,” he assured them. “Now for a bit of entertainment from our little dancing Indian.”

The man in the red pantaloons squatted before a tomtom and beat out a rhythm. A lithe brown figure wearing an Indian headdress that was too big charged out of the carriage. The figure jumped up and down, whooping and hollering. Then the man picked up his fiddle, and the Indian did a familiar dance. The crowd cheered.

Easter tried to reach the carriage, but there were too many people blocking her way. When the dance ended, everyone rushed closer to the carriage to buy the tonic, and Easter was swept along with the crowd.

“Jason! You fool little jack-a-behind. Get off that carriage!” she yelled.

The man with the brown mustache jumped off the little stage jutting out of the carriage and let the man in the red pantaloons sell the medicine. “Girlie,” he said clamping his hands on Easter's shoulders, “this little lad is bringing me luck. Are you his sister?”

Jason grinned at her guiltily. “I he sister, he mother, and he father. And he better get over here to me.” She glared at Jason.

“Girlie, I'll pay the lad well and take good care of him. Let him join my show.”

Jason jumped off the carriage and stood next to her. “Easter, let me be in the show.”

“No!”

“Where do ye live, lad?” the man asked before Easter could pull Jason away.

“The Williams plantation,” Jason called to the man.

Easter pulled him through the crowd toward the wagon. “I thought I lose you, Jason.”

“Easter,” he said, stretching out his hand, “I made one whole dollar and didn't have to be in no fields. Can I stay in the man's show? Please, Easter?”

“No. You don't know what kind of evil man he could be. And that other mad-looking man, who he suppose to be?”

“That's Percy the Pirate. Please, let me stay.”

James laughed as Easter and Jason reached the wagon. “That man sold plenty snake oil this day.”

Jason's brown eyes pleaded with Easter. “I'll come back to visit you, Easter, and I write you and—”

“You can't be in nothing like that. How you know that man really take care of you?” Easter asked as she and Jason climbed up onto the wagon seat.

“Easter's right,” James remarked as he patted the two mules. “Men like that goes from place to place like boll weevils. Sometime they don't make no money at all.” He climbed up beside them.

“But you see different places, and you make money an' you have fun.” Jason's face shone with excitement as he stared longingly at the medicine man's carriage.

James lifted the reins, and the mules moved slowly out of the square.

It was dusk when they headed into the countryside, and when they neared the plantation it was dark. Easter gazed
at the sky. The night was clear and the stars large and bright. “Jason,” she whispered, “the angels smilin' at us.”

He ignored her and rattled on about Dr. Taylor's medicine show. She kept staring at the sky as she listened to the sound of his voice.

Easter felt their lives changing. A new season was upon them. When the missionaries sent another teacher, she and Jason would leave the plantation. She made up her mind not to return to the Freedmen's Bureau. She had saved most of the money she had earned over the last three years; she would use that money to travel to the other islands and look for Obi herself. She would also go to the old Confederate camp and look up Mariah and Gabriel. After she found Obi, she and Jason would go north so that she could finish her schooling. Then she would come back to South Carolina, and she and Obi and Jason would be together forever.

Chapter
Eleven

May 29, 1865, President Johnson issues a proclamation giving a general amnesty … to those who have participated in the rebellion against Federal authority … all property rights except those in slaves will be fully restored.

From
The Civil War Almanac

The next evening, Easter sat with Rose and Rayford in their large and comfortable kitchen. The wooden dishes were lined neatly along the mantel, and several skillets of various sizes hung above it. An iron stove stood near the pantry, and the large rug Easter had made for their wedding present was spread under the cane-seat rocker. One of Easter's students had made Rose's sewing basket, which lay on the floor beside the rocking chair. A set of keys hung near the door. Since Rayford was the overseer, he had all of the keys to the outbuildings. Mr. Reynolds had made him the “head of everything,” as Rose liked to say. He was paid a salary of six dollars a week to manage the plantation. He also spent part of his day working in his own fields.

The baby toddled over to Rayford. He bent down, scooped him up, and laughed at the child's plump, dark legs dangling in the air.

“Little Ray walkin' all over the place now, Rosie,” Easter said. Jason made faces at the baby, who let out tiny peals of laughter as he sat on his father's lap. While she watched
Jason and Little Ray playing, Easter tried to find the best way to tell Rose and Rayford that she'd be leaving the plantation. It was strangely frightening and exciting to be able to walk off the plantation and do something she'd been planning to do for three years.

There was a tap on the door, and Melissa and Sarah entered. The two women sat down at the large pine table. They all ate together every evening, as they'd done in the old days.

“I hear Mr. Reynolds is coming tomorrow to talk to us,” Rayford said. He handed the baby to Jason.

“We'll have our own land soon,” said Rose.

Easter hunted for a way to tell them her news. Sarah's voice broke into her thoughts.

“I leavin' tomorrow,” Sarah said quietly.

“Leaving? Why?” Rose asked. Easter was surprised also. Sarah had never talked about leaving the plantation before.

“Want to find my husband.”

“What were you told at the Freedmen's Bureau?” Rayford asked her.

Sarah's eyes had dark circles under them, making her appear drawn and tired. “They can't help me. I go from place to place till I find him myself.” Sarah spoke Easter's thoughts.

“Suppose you don't find him?” Rayford asked. “And the land? You worked hard. If you leave now, you might not get anything.”

“I been tellin' her that, Mister Ray,” Melissa said.

“I have to go. Melissa can have the acres I been workin'.”

Easter reached across the table and patted the woman's hand. “I understand,” she said softly.

Rayford glanced at Easter. “Will you be the next one to go?”

He a mind reader,
Easter thought. Now that the question was asked, she had to answer. She nodded.

“Oh no, Easter. Not you too. I thought you'd settled
down and had forgot all that business about leavin',” Rose exclaimed.

“I have to find Obi now.”

Rose stood up and started taking dishes down off the mantel. Melissa helped her. “But what about the school? You the only teacher the children have.”

Easter had been continuing to help the young children with the alphabet and reading simple words. Jason and the older children didn't go to school any longer but worked full time in the fields. Easter didn't have to take care of the babies anymore because Aunt Louise, one of the older field hands who couldn't work in the fields anymore, took care of them. “When the missionary society send a new teacher, then I leavin'.”

“Miss Grantley want you to go to the school in Philadelphia. What about that?” Rose asked. “Me and Rayford was even talking about how all of us here on the plantation could raise some money for you to go north. So you could come back here and be our own teacher.”

Easter left the table and walked over to the three-legged iron skillet. She appreciated their kindness, but she knew what she wanted. Picking up a bowl from the sideboard, she began to dish out the rice. “After I find Obi, then me and Jason go north.”

Jason stopped playing with Little Ray. “I want to be with you, Easter, but I want to be in Dr. Taylor's show.”

“What show?” Rose asked.

“That sounds like something you'd want to do,” Rayford said, shaking his head, when Jason finished explaining. “The man is probably a scamp. Better stay around your own people and learn how to do something besides sing and dance.”

Jason looked dejected, and Easter felt a little sorry for him. “Jason, it won't be so bad. You'll see the other islands, and Mariah and Gabriel. Then we go north,” she told him.

“You better get the schooling, then come back down
here and run a school. It could take a long time to find Obi—if you ever do,” Rayford said.

“I know how Easter feel, Mister Ray. Her heart never rest easy till she know where her Obi is,” Sarah said softly.

Easter smiled gratefully at her. At least someone understood how she felt.

There was another knock on the door. At first Easter didn't recognize the tall young man with the high cheekbones, until he tipped his army cap.

“Julius!” Jason screeched as he leapt up off the floor. He stood stiffly and saluted as he'd seen the soldiers do during drill.

Everyone embraced Julius. Only Easter remained by the iron skillet. He made a good-looking figure in his uniform, and she was glad that he was safely home. “Hello, Julius,” she said, smiling. “Glad you back.”

“Amen,” Rose cried. “And what about the other men from here? They all come back?”

“All except Luther and John. Heard they was sent to Richmond. Been some big battles there.”

Suddenly Easter felt cold. Suppose Obi had been in Richmond too? She drove the thought from her mind.

Julius walked over to Easter and hugged her. “You the prettiest thing I seen in a long time.”

“Oh, hush.” She shyly avoided his eyes.

Rose put another plate on the table. “Eat with us.”

“Yes,” Rayford said. “There's enough.”

Julius sat down next to Sarah. “You don't have to ask twice. You know how many times I dream about home cooking? That Yankee army food taste like straw.” Julius talked about his past months in the army, and everyone brought Julius up to date on what was happening on the plantation.

“You're entitled to two acres of land. We worked on your portion for you.”

“Thank you. And I save almost every penny I make in
the army, so I can buy some more land to farm and find me a pretty wife.”

BOOK: Out From This Place
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