by Sherri Neilson
Five o'clock finally came, and I slipped into a traveling dress and gathered my package of blankets and clothes. Wilson was supposed to have our food and water. My heart pounded as I made my way outside. My stomach muscles ached from being strung so tight with tension, and eating was the last thing on my mind. I was actually going to help a slave escape. I was breaking the law. I was stealing my husband's property, but what did it matter now, I thought. I had already committed adultery. Once Wilson and I reached the North, I thought to myself, we would atone for our sins and begin a new life.
The grass was damp with dew, and I could feel it seep through my shoes. All was quiet except for a chorus of crickets. When I reached the stables, Wilson had the coach ready. He smiled when he saw me.
"I was almost afraid you wouldn't come at the last minute," he said with relief.
"Oh ye of little faith," I said lightly. He helped me into the coach just like this was an everyday ride.
"Do you have your papers?" I asked. He nodded and patted his breast. I heard the rustle of paper under his shirt. I told him I had the other set.
"The food and water is already loaded," he said as he stowed my bundle of blankets and clothes. "You'd better ride in the back seat. Most ladies do."
I nodded, and we took off into the darkness. I looked back at the plantation as we rode away, remembering everything that had happened there. The white pillars were a dull bluish gray in the darkness, and dim lights illuminated some of the windows. They were like eyes, watching us leave but saying nothing. It seemed odd to think I would never see Byron again, but I wasn't sorry. I would not miss his cruelty. The trees we passed through looked like monsters in the darkness.
"I'm terrified," I told Wilson.
"Try not to be," he replied. "This is going to work. Everything's going to be just fine. Just fine."
I let his words resonate through my head. I couldn't even imagine what would happen if things didn't work out.
Dawn spilled forth all around us an hour later. We began to see other traffic on the road, and we held every breath as we passed each wagon. Most of them consisted of groups of slaves traveling to other plantations to help with the harvest. Then things thinned out again, and there was no one but us.
"We're making good time," Wilson said happily. "No one has stopped us yet."
We made a brief rest stop and got underway again. I was feeling much better. By then, the midday sun was high in the sky and beating down on the horses and us. Dry dust flew through the air and got into our eyes and mouths. I could feel the grit between my teeth. In mid afternoon we were stopped by a patroller. He positioned his wagon in front of our coach so that we had to stop to avoid hitting him.
"State your name and your business, please," he said, looking suspiciously at Wilson. I did the talking.
"I'm Olivia Walters," I said, "and this is my coachman, Wilson. We're going to Philadelphia to visit my aunt who is very ill."
The man flicked a speculative gaze over both of us.
"I'll need to see his papers."
Wilson's hand trembled ever so slightly as he pulled the papers out of his shirt and handed them to the man.
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Sherri Neilson is a Systems Analyst at a research firm, and her background also includes sales and business administration. She has been writing stories since childhood, and this is her first published novel. Sherri lives in West Virginia, with her husband, Bob, and Siberian Husky, Tosh. Write her at Sherridn@aol.com.
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