by Andy Harold
An episode from a black couple's attempt to escape from slavery.
By Andy Harold
It was a hard rain, an all-night rain, at times with booming thunder and lightning flashes, eventually with the appearance of silvery beads as dawn slowly opened a faint layer of pink in the eastern sky, bringing the forest into view.
The torrent had slackened enough for Ezra and Mavis to find a resting spot under an oak tree and sit down for a while. They had been walking most of the night and were soaked. Being black and soaked helped them to stay nearly invisible as they made their way to freedom from slavery across unfamiliar territory. This trek was their wedding gift to each other, they having jumped over the broom the day before. They had nothing but their wedding clothes, which were little more than rags.
No buildings were in sight, and thus far there was no indication that they were being pursued, so they laid in the soft grass and clung together, shivering, but eventually relaxing and even sleeping.
When they awoke the sun was at about nine o'clock and the rain was gentle but continuing. A bit warmer and rested, they got up with few words and continued their long walk north. Within the hour they climbed to the top of a bluff and confronted a raging river, driven by floodwater. They embraced and wept.
Still no sign of pursuit, though, and they decided to walk downstream to find some way to get across the river. Around noon their path led to a small farmhouse, and on the river bank was a wharf with a rowboat tied fore and aft. It took only a moment of thought to realize that stealing the boat would be a sin and also a death sentence. No boat would make it across that river anytime soon.
Mavis spoke up, "There could be another way. If there is a house, then there must be a road to it, and if there are roads hereabouts, they maybe there is a bridge." Ezra nodded, and after considering a few ideas they walked in a direction that led around the farm, at a cautious distance. Within a few minutes they saw a dirt road wide enough for two wagons to pass.
Again from a safe distance, they walked through the trees, within sight of the road and probably bearing toward the north, although with the sun so high it was difficult to tell. The rain finally stopped, and they grew wary of seeing people who may appear from any direction, resuming their usual activities.
Soon they heard the rattle of a wagon on the road, going in their direction, so they took cover. There was a white man in rough clothes driving a four-horse team pulling a long buckboard with a load of lumber. They crouched low to the ground, not daring to move again or to show their faces.
The noise faded. After a few minutes of near silence the couple stood and continued their walk. Occasionally they stopped to scoop handfuls of water from puddles as they began feeling thirsty.
The sun seemed to be at about two p.m. when they caught sight of a wooden bridge. They reckoned that anyone approaching on the road would be as noisy as the last man, so they got near to the bridge and took cover to listen for any traffic. Hearing none, and hoping there was no one else on foot, Ezra counted to three and they unclasped their hands and Mavis followed Ezra in dashing across the bridge.
They took care to run a good distance away from the road before taking cover again, then they rested a while and planned the next leg of their walk to freedom.