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Authors: Joyce Hansen

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BOOK: Out From This Place
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“I sure Rayford won't mind you comin', Easter. Jason probably won't want to leave here anyway.”

“He'll come with me. I find my way back to the coast, just like I find my way here. But I ain't leavin' without Jason this time.”

“He won't go with you, Easter,” Rose insisted.

“Where is he now?”

“In the sittin' room with Mistress. He singin' and she bangin' on the piano. That's what they do every evening God send.”

Easter stared wistfully at Mariah's rug lying at her feet. “Jason always love to sing.” Her head throbbed. “Rose, can't you get him to come see me now?”

“He go right back to Mistress and tell her you here.” Rose stood up, looking away from Easter. “I speak to Rayford, but I know what he say.”

Easter watched her friend. “What's wrong with your face? Look funny every time you say the man's name.”

Rose smiled shyly. “Oh, hush. I just get his supper for him in the evening. Mistress make him the overseer now, since the soldier draft the white overseer. That's why Mistress workin' so hard on Jason. Tryin' to make him a special servant, like Rayford was.”

Easter laughed in spite of her aching head. “Jason like Rayford?”

“Stupid, ain't it? Mistress a little touched in the head. 'Specially after Master die and she have to run this place. Is we who really run the plantation.”

Rose patted the large, lumpy mattress. “Sleep, Easter. Tomorrow I think of a way to bring Jason to see you. But I afraid he open his big mouth.”

“Jason will listen to me. I know him good.”

Rose smoothed her dress. “You use to know him good.”

Chapter
Two

We felt perfectly justified in undertaking the dangerous and exciting task of “running a thousand miles” in order to obtain those rights which are so vividly set forth in the Declaration.

From “The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery”

Easter felt as if she'd just fallen asleep when she found herself being gently shaken. “Someone here to see you,” Rose said. Easter's body was still stiff and sore, and for a moment she didn't know where she was. When she opened her eyes fully, though, and saw Jason standing by the door, she jumped out of the bed and ran to him.

He squirmed in her arms, but she didn't notice until he yelled, “You a runaway an' I tellin' Missy.”

Rose twisted his arm. “You ain't tellin' nothing.”

Easter was too shocked by his accusation and threat to say anything at first. She could only stare in disbelief at his thin legs encased in white stockings, his brass-buckled shoes, and his green velvet britches and vest to match. The ruffles on his fancy white shirt puffed out over his vest.

She recalled how he looked the last time she had seen him, shirttails made out of sacking flapping around his spindly legs. Now he was dressed like a boy in a painting she'd once seen in the Phillipses' drawing room when she
was helping the maids clean; the only difference was that the boy in the picture was white.

Easter's eyes narrowed as she put her hands on her hips and brought her face down close to his. “What you say, Jason? You tellin' on me? You ain't happy to see me?”

“I tellin' Missy,” he whined, averting his eyes.

“I come back for you like I promised.” She reached for him again but he backed away from her grasp.

“You and Obi leave me.” He rubbed his snub nose.

“Jason, I try to come for you, but I couldn't. I here now. I could've escape to the Yankee, but I come back here to get you.”

“Missy Phillips say Yankee is the devil.”

“You believe anything,” Rose said angrily.

Jason's eyes became teary, and he rubbed his nose again. “I don't like you, Easter, and I tellin' Missy that you back here to worry me.”

Easter's brown eyes took on a glazed expression. “Jason, you know you ought not talk to me that way.” She balled her fist. She'd like to pull those fancy britches off him and give him one good spanking.

“You leave me alone. I hate you, and I tellin' Mistress on you too, Rose, if you put a hand to me.” He still made no move to leave the shed.

Rose clenched her teeth. “I like to wring your little chicken neck. See what a brat he is, Easter? See what I tell you?”

This wasn't the same Jason Easter had left. This wasn't her Jason. The real boy was hidden somewhere under the velvet and the ruffles. She'd find him.
Ain't come all this way for nothing,
she said to herself, trying to control the urge to box his ears. “Jason, I back now. And me and you is goin' to find Obi. And all of us be together again,” she said firmly and slowly. “I been through misery to get back here for your little tail.”

“I with Missy now. Don't want to be with you and Obi.”

Suddenly Rose grabbed him by the collar. “Jason, you a
lying rascal. You was up and down the road every day lookin' for Easter and Obi. No matter how much Master Jennings yell and Wilson beat you, you still there every day, in good weather and bad.”

The tears streamed down his baby-soft brown cheeks. Easter reached out for him. “Jason, I never forget you.” She held him, and after a few seconds she felt his arms shyly circle her neck.

“You ain't leavin' me no more?” He sniffled.

“No, Jason. But don't tell nobody I here. Not even Mistress Phillips.”

He nodded. “But you won't run away from me again?”

“I won't, Jason. I never leave you.”

Rose folded her arms. “You go back to Mistress, 'fore she come lookin' after you. And don't say a word about Easter, else you get the whipping of your life. Not even Missy stop me.”

“I want to stay with Easter,” Jason said, squeezing her neck tighter.

“You a contrary devil,” Rose mumbled. “You go on back and I bring you to see her later.” She abruptly snatched him by his ruffled collar again. “Now don't you say a word to no one.”

He tried to squirm out of her grasp. “Yes, Rose. Won't say nothing.” She let him go. He fluffed out his collar and hugged Easter once more before leaving.

Easter beamed at Rose. “He himself now.”

“I still don't trust him.” Rose handed her a wooden plate with grits and a slice of bacon. “Eat some breakfast.”

Easter sat on the stool. “What Rayford say? Can I come with you?”

Rose's eyelids lowered, cloaking her great, dark eyes. “He say yes, but he say Jason your responsibility. If Jason don't act right, then you and him have to leave the group. He also say you was a fool not to escape to the islands when you had the chance.”

Easter was relieved. “I make Jason behave. How you gettin' him away from Mistress Phillips?”

“That's easy. Mistress 'sleep by ten o'clock—that's when we takin' off. Jason sleep outside her door in the hallway. I wake him and say I bringin' him to see you like I promise.” She picked up two baskets. “Now I takin' you to the plantation jail.”

Easter hugged herself in mock fright. “You arrestin' me?”

“The jail been empty since the overseer leave and Master die. We use it for the runaways who need a place to hide and rest.”

Easter finished eating and picked up her rug. Rose handed her one of the baskets. “Make it seem like we goin' to the garden—what's left of it. Last week some soldiers come through here and dig up most of the vegetables.”

“What happen to the dogs?”

“Been poison,” Rose answered simply as she stepped out of the shed ahead of Easter. “Come on, ain't nobody 'round,” she said. “Mistress still upstairs. Better hurry, in case that Jason tell.”

“He won't, Rose.” Easter squinted her eyes at the pleasantly warm morning sun. They hurried past the orchards and the magnolia trees. “Rose, you seem upset, but I know Jason ain't goin' to say anything.” She smiled at Rose reassuringly, and her face became as bright as the sun. Her full mouth, the color of ripe plums, framed her straight, ivory-colored teeth. “The day feel nice, don't it, Rosie? Sky blue as a jaybird.”

Easter's cheerful mood left when they approached the jail, which was at the far end of the plantation. The whipping post was still in the yard. Rose entered the dark, dampish building first. There was a room upstairs where the female prisoners used to be kept and two rooms downstairs, each containing a large cell. Chains and leg irons lay in the corners of the cells. Only a dull shaft of light seeped in through the small windows.

Easter spread her rug on the floor near the door. Rose
stood over her. “Nobody find you here. If Jason open his mouth, I'll swear he lyin'. This jail is the meeting place for tonight.” Rose stared at Easter's bare feet. “I find you some old shoes if I can.”

Easter grimaced. “No, shoes seem like they hurt. Bring me some rags and I tie my feet.”

The day stretched like years. Rose popped in to see her in the late afternoon, bringing her a slice of bread and a cup of buttermilk. She also brought rags so that Easter could bind her feet. Rose seemed happier than she'd been in the morning. “Jason ain't say nothing yet. Maybe he keepin' his mouth shut,” she informed Easter.

Finally the sun set, and every nerve in Easter's body seemed to sense the slightest rustle of a leaf. The songs and cries of birds were replaced by the clicks of the night insects. Easter rolled up her rug and stood waiting by the door of the jail. After what seemed like hours, Rose rushed in, pulling Jason behind her. “Where Easter?” he whispered loudly.

“I here, Jason,” she answered, and he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“Where we goin'?” he asked.

“You hush now. You want to be with me?”

“Yes.”

“Then be still. We together now. Don't you worry about anything else.”

Other people began to slip into the jail, but Easter couldn't tell who they were in the darkness. She could see, however, that the men carried shotguns and rifles and the women held bundles. Easter counted five children, including Jason and an infant girl.

Rayford entered, and at first Easter didn't recognize the figure in a straw hat and overalls with a rifle slung over his shoulder; however, she knew the voice. “It should take us no more than a couple of days to get to the Yankee territory. But we have to be careful. There's bands of robbers, runaway soldiers, and all kinds of people living
and fighting in the forest. And they're all hungry. We don't want to lose the little food we have. Now, we have to move fast before Mistress discovers we're gone and calls out the patterollers.”

“Long as I have shot and a gun, nobody takin' us. Least not alive,” one of the men announced.

Rayford turned to the boys. “You must be quiet and do as we say at all times.”

“Easter, where we goin'?” Jason whispered as they left the jail.

“Shush! I tell you later,” she answered impatiently.

Several men headed up the procession and the rest were behind, so that the women and children were sheltered in the middle as they disappeared into the woods. Easter was elated and felt as if she were being carried as they hurried along. She and Jason were together and soon they'd be united with Obi.

Chapter
Three

For no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted.

Harriet Tubman

Easter stared at the sky, but the stars were hidden under heavy clouds. She squeezed Jason's hand as they stepped over dead branches and twigs.

“I tired,” he complained after a while. “Missy be angry with me if she know I out here.”

“Those other boys ain't grumbling, Jason. Don't waste your breath talking. Save it for walking.”

“I want to rest,” he whined.

Easter sighed. “Soon, Jason, soon.”

Rose, who walked next to Easter, said, “I know he be like this.”

Easter ignored her comment. After walking for three hours, they stopped for a short rest. The children immediately fell asleep. One of the women, Isabel, nursed her infant daughter, Miriam.

When it was time to leave, Easter tried to shake Jason awake. “Come on, Jason.” He was as limp as a rag doll when she attempted to pull him up.

Another woman was having the same problem with her son. “David, get up,” she ordered in a loud whisper. The
boy didn't stir. “These children too tired to move,” the woman told Rayford.

Rayford tried to wake one of the boys up. “We have to carry them,” he said.

Two of the boys were as small as Jason, and could be carried; however, one boy was a large twelve-year-old.

“This Goliath here have to walk on his own,” the boy's father said, pulling him up.

They took off again, with Jason and the other two boys being carried piggyback by three of the men. The group stopped one more time when Isabel had to nurse Miriam again.

They continued walking, the men breathing heavily under the weight of the children, until the cry of birds announced a new morning.

Soon they found a spot thick with grass and brush. Sheltering low-hanging branches and vines intertwined like the rugs and baskets Easter and Mariah used to weave. Easter spread her rug on the ground. The man who had carried Jason placed him gently on it, and she lay next to the boy, cradling him in her arms.

Easter woke in the afternoon to the cries of Miriam. She watched Isabel and several of the women trying to quiet her down. For the first time she got to really see her companions and learn their names.

Virginia, George, and their three sons, David, Isaiah and Nathan, were one family; Isabel, Paul, and daughter, Miriam were another family. Besides Rayford, there were three single men—Julius, Samuel, and Elias—and Melissa and Sarah, two middle-age women who were field hands, like the men.

BOOK: Out From This Place
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