Posts : 181
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 63
|Subject: Silent Invitation Sat Sep 05, 2015 3:30 pm|| |
This was my very first challenge story posted in February of 2011. It has been edited since then.
Exhaling a satisfied sigh, a blond eight year old plopped on the warm, crunchy grass. He scratched at the dirt in his curls and admired the newly built fort inside a thicket of cottonwood trees. Squinting against the hot, Kansas sun, he grinned at the dark haired boy standing next to him. “It’s perfect, Han.”
The darker boy studied the fort. “Nope. It’s not.”
Jed Curry pushed to his feet and jammed his fists into his hips. “Whadda ya’ mean, nope? You know everything about forts now, too?”
“Maybe.” Brown eyes slid sideways to peer at his friend. A wide grin drilled dimples into each tanned cheek.
“We need some planks to make the sides stronger and make it harder for folks to see us when we’re inside.” Han grinned. “You know I’m right, so what’s the use in fussin’?”
Blue eyes challenged brown and then dropped to grimy bare feet. "Okay, maybe you're right. But where're we gonna get wood planks?”
The brown haired boy rubbed his face with one hand to show he was thinking. The blond scratched at his scalp again and shook his head sending bits of leaves and dirt flying.
“I got it!”
Jed glared. “Is it gonna get me in trouble?”
Han ignored the question and smiled brightly. “What did your Pa do with the boards from the old shed? We could use those.”
“Where’re they at?”
“Pa put ‘em in the root cellar.”
“Let’s go look.”
The boys scrambled out of the river valley and ran across the fields to the Curry farmhouse. Han headed straight for the cellar doors, but Jed stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“We gotta ask my ma. I’m not allowed in the root cellar without askin’ first.”
“Since when? That don’t make sense.”
“But that’s the rule.” Jed headed around to the back porch calling for his ma. The dark blonde curls, freckles, and wide blue eyes of fourteen-year-old Mary Elizabeth appeared in the doorway.
“Ma ain’t here,” she said, drying her hands on her apron. “She’s up at the Taylor place helping with the new baby.” Mary Elizabeth straightened her shoulders and held her chin high announcing with pride, “I’m in charge ‘til she gets back.”
“Oh, great,” muttered Han as he stepped on the porch behind his friend.
“If you give me any trouble, Hannibal Heyes, I’ll send you on home. What did you two want Ma for anyway?”
“Never mind,” said Han shaking his head. “Come on, Jed.” He grabbed the other boy’s arm and yanked him toward the stairs.
Jed stayed quiet until they were at the cellar steps. “Why didn’t you want me to ask her?”
“Because Mary Elizabeth would say no just because she could.” He studied the cellar steps. “She’s only thirteen. I don’t know who she thinks she is, or what she has against me?”
"Fourteen,” corrected Jed. “She thinks she’s in charge, cuz she is, and she thinks you get me in trouble.”
Han’s eyes widened. “We get each other in trouble, but we don’t hurt nobody.”
Jed snorted and then grinned. A smile crept on to Han’s face as Jed started laughing. Soon they were both grinning and chuckling.
Han slapped Jed on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s check out the boards."
Jed raised his eyebrows and stared at Han. “I told you. I ain’t allowed.”
“Jed, you used to be allowed. You said yourself that you don’t know why you can’t go in the cellar anymore. It’s silly. Come on.”
“We could get caught.”
“So you stay here and keep watch. I’ll go down and look for the boards.”
Han descended the stairs without giving Jed a chance to argue. He tried the door, but it wouldn’t open. Trudging back up the steps, he said, “It’s latched from the inside. Why’s it latched?”
Jed shrugged. “That’s it then. Let’s go.”
Han squinted one eye, then shook his head, “Not yet. I’m gonna try somethin’.”
Hurrying back down the steps, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a pen knife. Slipping the blade between the cellar doors, Han scraped around until he found the metal bar. He reinserted the blade beneath the latch and slowly lifted. The metal jingled softly as the fastener dropped, and the door fell ajar. Han pulled the door open and gulped as a dark hand and a bare foot slipped around a corner in the back of the cellar. He slammed the door shut and rushed back up the stairs. "Somebody’s down there,” he hissed.
“Can’t be,” stated Jed flatly. “Who’d be down there?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a drifter, or a wounded bushwhacker, or a soldier, or a robber or a…a”
“Or a cat or a raccoon.”
“If you’re so sure it’s a something and not a someone, why don’t you go down there and look?”
Just then, they both heard a clatter and a thud behind the closed cellar doors. Without another word two boys bolted across the yard toward the Curry barn. As they rounded the corner, Cyrus Curry, Jed’s father, stepped outside. The boys skidded to a stop and began talking at once.
“Whoa boys, whoa. I can only hear one of ya at a time. What’s wrong?”
They both started talking again, and then Jed stopped and let Han tell it.
Han lifted his chin before he announced, “There’s someone hiding in your root cellar, Mr. Curry. I couldn’t tell who it was, but it might be a wounded bushwhacker or a robber or a soldier or a... a……” Han’s voice trailed off. He wasn’t sure how to interpret the look on Mr. Curry’s face, but it sure wasn’t surprise. Instead he looked a little sad and a little worried. Pensive maybe.
He placed an arm around each thin set of shoulders and guided the boys toward the barn. “Come on in. I need to talk to you two.”
As the trio turned, Mary Elizabeth ran up fidgeting with the need to speak. Mr. Curry held up his hand signaling for her to wait. He motioned for the boys to take a seat on a bale of straw and then turned back to his daughter.
“Go reassure our guests, Mae Beth,” he said softly. “Let ‘em know everything’s all right, but we might need to move them on tonight. Tell ‘em, I’ll be down in a while to talk more. Can you also ask your brother, Zeke, to run over to the Heyes place. I need James to come on over here and talk to the boys with me.”
“Right away, Pa. I’ll see to it.” She bustled out of the barn.
Cyrus Curry heaved a deep sigh as his grey eyes searched the worried and confused faces of his son and his closest friend. “Jed, Han, I gotta tell you somethin’, and it’s serious. So I need you to listen real close.” He pulled up a stool and sat down.
“Pa, I’m sorry we… we weren’t supposed to go in the cellar, but—”
“That don’t matter right now, Jed,” interrupted Mr. Curry. He sighed again and looked around. “You boys are gettin’ older. But times, bein’ what they are, with the troubles and all, some things are dangerous to know. And the more folks that know ‘em, well the more dangerous it is for everybody.” He trailed off, clearly uncomfortable.
“Go on, Mr. Curry. We’re listening.”
Cyrus Curry ran both hands through his straight blond hair and rubbed at his stubbled cheeks. He locked eyes with one boy and then the other before admitting, “We’ve been keepin’ secrets from you two.”
“Who’s we,” Han asked suspiciously.
“Your Pa and Ma, Han, and Mrs. Curry and me. We’ve done it to keep you safe, and it’s real important that you don’t talk about what I’m gonna tell you, even to each other. Cuz you might be overheard, and that could be real dangerous. Have you heard of the Underground Railroad?”
Jed shook his head. Han chewed his bottom lip and then nodded.
“What do you know, Han?” asked Mr. Curry.
“I know that some folks don’t think it’s right to have slaves. So when one escapes they help em to find their way to Canada.” His brown eyes went very dark as he scowled. “I also know that it’s real dangerous for anyone caught helpin’ runaways. It’s against the law.”
“Is Han right, Pa? Is it against the law? And is that who ya’ got in the cellar? Runaway slaves?”
“In the cellar are Amos and his seven year old son Zeb. They’ve been stayin’ here waitin’ for Amos’ wife to catch up. They had to separate to avoid the slave catchers. They ran away after Zeb’s 12 year old sister was sold down river and their master planned to break up the family altogether by selling ‘em to different farms. So yep, they’re runaway slaves, and I’m proud to help ‘em.”
Mr. Curry cleared his throat and paced. “Han’s right, though. What we’re doing, well, it’s agin’ the law. If we’re caught it means $1,000 fine and six months in jail. It also makes us targets for border ruffians. So, it’s real important that you two boys keep quiet about what ya’ saw. You can’t talk to anyone about this. If you have questions just come to me or Mr. Heyes privately. You can talk to your Ma too, Jed. Just make sure you ain’t overheard.”
“So Ma knows?” Jed asked.
Mr. Curry’s warm smile lit up his face and softened his eyes. “This was all your Ma’s idea, son. She can’t stand a bully. She thinks slavery is just legal bullying. She’s corker, your ma, and I’m right proud of her.”
Han spoke so quietly that Jed and his father had to strain to hear. “You’re proud of her for putting your family in danger?”
“No, Han. I’m proud of her for not bein’ able to let another human soul suffer when she can do somethin’ about it. I’m proud of her for bein’ smart and brave and doin’ what she thinks is right.”
As Jed’s father praised his mother, the boy’s spine straightened and pride and excitement shone in his eyes. This Underground Railroad thing was starting to sound heroic and noble. “How do the runaways know that they can come here, Pa?”
“Wait a minute,” Han complained. “Not everybody thinks it’s right to help runaways. Should our families be doin’ this? It puts everyone in danger.” Han grabbed Jed’s shoulders. “What about your little sister, Jed? Emily Ann is only two.” Han turned to Mr. Curry again. “How are my folks involved, sir? You said that they were keepin’ secrets too, but no one’s been staying at our place.”
“Your folks been providin’ food and clothing, Han. Sometimes your Pa helps guide runaways to the next station. And you’re right. It’s dangerous, but sometimes you have to do what’s moral even when it’s risky.
An uncomfortable silence broke when Jed repeated his question. “How do they know to come to our house, Pa?”
“Well, Jed, the folks that help guide the runaway slaves are called conductors. They know which folks will help with food, clothes and hidin’ the slaves. They tell the runaways what markers to look for so they know where to go. If someone is headin’ this way, they’re told to find the white farm house a mile southwest of Stanton, close to the river. You know the broken wagon wheel that’s painted green and sits in the garden?” Jed nodded. “That’s the sign. The slaves are told when they see that wagon wheel next to our house, that’s a place where they can find help. It’s kind of an invitation.”
“A silent invitation,” added a rich baritone voice from behind the boys. “An invitation to sleep safe and protected.”
A slender man with dark hair and light brown eyes entered the barn. Han greeted his father with a worried frown. James Heyes saw that son was troubled and clasped his shoulder in an effort to reassure.
“Hello, Hannibal. I understand there’s been a bit of excitement here today.”
Han fought the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You could say that, sir.”
“Did you explain the situation to the boys, Cyrus?”
“Sure did, James. I warned ‘em real good too.” Cyrus Curry walked over and grasped his friend’s hand. “Thanks for comin’. Han seems a mite unsettled by this business.”
“I’ll talk to him on the way home. Come on, Hannibal. Say goodbye to Jedidiah. We need to go.”
James and Hannibal Heyes walked in silence until they reached the worn path between the farms.
“I don’t think I need to explain why you must not mention any of this to your brother.”
“Sir,” Han cleared his throat and continued. “Are you telling me to lie to Jake?”
“No, son, I wouldn’t put it that strongly. I’m asking you to leave out certain things. Just don’t mention any of this to Jacob.”
“Isn’t that what Ma calls ‘lies of omission’? Like when I leave stuff out so I won’t get in trouble. Ain’t that what you’re asking me to do?”
James chuckled. “I suppose it is.” He gave his son a look. “And it’s isn’t, not ain’t.”
“That ain’t….isn’t the point, Pa. The point is you want me to lie and keep secrets from my older brother. The same brother you tell me I must respect. Just how is lyin’ to him bein’ respectful? Besides didn’t you teach me that lyin’ is just plain wrong?”
“Perhaps I did.” He paused. “And perhaps I oversimplified.” James Heyes stopped walking and sighed deeply. A wide smile stretched his mouth and brought out his dimples. “Hannibal, have you ever read the first chapter in the Old Testament book of Exodus?”
“It pertains, son. Just answer the question.”
“I don’t know, sir. Why?”
“Well in the first chapter of Exodus, Pharaoh orders some midwives to kill the Israeli baby boys. They don’t do it, and then they lie to Pharaoh about it. The scripture says that because the midwives deceived Pharaoh and saved the babies God blessed them. So you see, son, not all lying is wrong.”
“Okay, Pa, but Pharaoh was killin’ babies. Jake just thinks that each state has a right to make its own laws about slaves and things. Are you saying it’s the same thing? Do you think that poorly of Jake?”
“I don’t think badly of your brother at all. I understand his opinions. But people are suffering and dying because of these so called states’ rights.”
“Sir, people are sufferin’ and dyin’ on both sides, no matter what they think is true and right. And it seems to me that both sides think the other one is wrong.”
Han turned and began trudging up the path to their house again. Suddenly, he spun to face his father placing both hands on his hips.
“You don’t trust Jake!”
James Heyes caught up with his son. His voice was soft and serious. “I trust him, Hannibal. I trust him to be a young man of principle. I trust him to act on his convictions guided by his conscience. I don’t want to ask your brother to choose between his conscience and his family. So, yes, I am asking you to lie to him.”
Han studied the dirt between his toes. He looked up into his father’s eyes and set his shoulders. “Pa, what’s more important? Your and Jake’s ideas and principles, or the friends and family who will stand by ya’? Who… who ya’ love?”
James Heyes did not answer.
Han shoulders drooped as he surrendered. “I’ll lie to him, Pa. But telling right from wrong sure is gettin’ tricky.”
1. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a federal law which required individuals in all states and territories, including those where slavery was abolished, to turn in runaway slaves. Individuals failing to turn in a runaway slave could be fined $1000 and jailed for up to six months.
2. According to Measuring the Worth.com $1000 in 1860 was worth the equivalent of $25,100 when compared to today’s Consumer Price Index or the equivalent $168,000 in unskilled wages.
3. Stanton, Kansas is about 10 miles from Osawatomie, Kansas and about 36 miles from Lawrence, Kansas. Both Lawrence and Osawatomie were founded by settlers who were helped and financed by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society. This Society helped abolitionist settlers move to Kansas hoping they could help Kansas enter the union as a free state rather than a slave state.
When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
- Leonardo DaVinci