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Her scintillating eyes imprisoned an onslaught of flowing tears. She cut the last of the rope attaching him to the shack with the assistance of a knife and then guided her trembling hand to his feet’s impediments. With a blanching visage she despondently lifted her countenance to his, viewing his similar features of anguish and despair among once handsome expressions.
“We have nowhere to go now,” he forced the words from his lips. “You must go back and leave me to my death. There’s no other way.”
“Yes, there is. The cook, you remember her, the nice colored woman who bandaged my wounds the night he caught us together?” Her tone wanted confidence and strained for its comfort in vain as she tightened the rope to her cape. “Well, she knows about us. She knows that we love each other but that I am engaged to that abusing wretch who tied you up in here! She knows as well as we do it is forbidden for me to love a slave such as you, but she has invited us with her and the other black slaves to a runaway.”
“A runaway?” his words finally hinted a glimmer of hope as he held her nearer in the old secluded shack.
“Yes, she said an underground railroad of some sort. I did not ask questions, but she told me to meet her over by the well after I saved you from these ropes and your fate tomorrow,” she stated with assiduous emotion. “Although a rail train under ground does seem quite strange.”
“No, this is risking all you have. Let me die and never think of me again. I am your servant; I can never provide you with the riches you enjoy here!” he wretchedly proclaimed.
“Riches? This life strangles me from everything I adore, and I would give anything to leave it. If you cannot offer me its splendor, as you describe it, than I will be the happiest woman on earth! Jake, this is our last chance. I cannot bear to think of myself the reason for your death; that’s why I have come to rescue you from it in this prison. Can you let me be handed to that man who strikes me upon every word I speak?”
He lowered his head, both ashamed at the words and abhorrently fuming by them. She reached for his hand as he offered it and her tears waxed still greater. “I love you Jake.”
His eyes jumped immediately, as if just awakened by a glorious sunrise. “I love you too, my Emma. Ever since I first saw you, the day your father brought my family back from the slave auction and I saw your amiable and gracious face among the arrogant others. When you scorned your friends for talking of a servant as they did before me, and then apologized to me for their imperfections. And then it grew as I accidentally met you that night, and every other one succeeding it, in the lily fields and we talked of how we detested this prejudice society and how you thought of every living being equal as God’s creations. Even when I saw the books you were reading and your paintings that night and how similar your thoughts were to mine, I knew! But I never dreamed of you stooping so low as to feel the same for me. When that horrid man you were meant to marry caught us last night and threw me in here, the only thoughts I had were of you.”
Emma received his embrace and pressed her head upon his chest as she dropped both the rope once enslaving her love and her heart. Their tears streamed and hearts danced in unison for a brief moment of indulgent satisfaction. His broad frame held her dwindling slender shadow, selfishly unable to move from such bliss.
Suddenly echoes were heard from without. Emma clung to Jake as he peeked through the cracking door into the humid air of the summer night. “Your father,” he whispered. “He’s found your bed vacant.”
“We must go now!” she grasped his hand and skillfully swung the ancient door open without a screech and led him through her woody estate. Behind the mansion she tiptoed, with her lover close behind, past the elegant stables. She could hear voices shouting about in her father’s house, commanding search parties be sent and muskets had while billowing about in their satin nightgowns as if celestial angels awakened by their inward, foul demons. As she wiped the perspiration from her brow her eyes wandered through the monumental elms and to the sky, which somehow promised her an inkling of comfort in its mothering watch. The well was close, but doubt still followed the escapees, making known its existence with every questionable twig snapped behind them. An open lily field was all that bordered the lovers from sanctuary.
“Wait,” he stopped her from pursuing, “you are certain? We may be on the run for the rest of our lives; your father is not one to fail and then willingly yield.”
“Yes,” she whispered as she pressed his hand, smiling at her own resolution. “Yes.”
Off they pranced through the field of yellow lilies sparkling in the moonlight. They stopped only once to point out the very post where Jake had fortuitously tripped over Emma’s books laid among her drawings on that fateful late night in which they casually spoke for the first time. All the evils of the world had oppressed Jake then, until one superior good overpowered them. Emma had gained that refuge since her forced engagement and retained it throughout, gloating in its heavenly paradise as the ultimate place for innocent thought, which could not be indulged anywhere else in her compulsory life. She was a rose among the thorns, only to be met by a forbidden hybrid bound by the laws of the land. They could only reminisce for a moment before regaining their stride and meeting the blessed cook at the well.
“Oh, dear me they’re come!” she shouted to her company. “Quick, now, we must make haste.”
Jake pressed Emma’s pale hand and earnestly met his eyes with hers, looking once more for a confirmation. She shed a forced smile, but could not speak before a gunshot was heard behind them.
“They’re in the field!” the cook exclaimed. “Take the north route!”
Without another word, the group of no more than twenty slaves followed each other’s directions through the dank, forested maze. Children clung to their mothers, unable to keep up with crowd, and dear ones held hands, ensuring their loved one that freedom was indeed at hand. But the petty cluster could not outrun the thoroughbred horse pursuing them, and the vindictive hand of Emma’s fiancé overtook the elderly tail chasers.
“No!” Emma deadened her steps. She turned back and met the slacking with a compassionate smile and urged them on while positioning herself in the center of the horse’s path. The rider pulled at the reigns, grimacing, and then gallantly slid from the saddle. Jake followed her to her steadfast stance with a loathing frown.
“Go on,” Emma lowered her voice towards Jake, “he only wants me; he cares nothing of my father’s slaves.”
“No, I won’t leave you with him,” his tone was unwavering and profoundly strengthened Emma’s fortitude.
“Ah,” the odious man approached them with a sneer; “I have found you, my love. Come, the wedding is in just a few hours.”
“No, I have told you I am not marrying you! I love Jake and I’m leaving this place with him.”
Jake looked on at her firm stance, admiring her confidence and splendorous will with undying devotion.
“No, no,” the pompous man assured her, “you do not love this man. He has influenced you, you naïve little girl, into the unthinkable. He is but a slave, and you, an heiress! I see the only way to free you from this folly is to dispose of its origin.” As he suavely stated so he fixed his musket towards Jake and livened its barrel with one deafening blow.
“No!” Emma hopelessly shrieked, but it was too late; all had passed so quickly fate seemed unable to interrupt its patrons. Blood boorishly trickled down Jake’s cheeks, where tears of joy had once rested moments afore, as Emma held his head from the icy morning dew. His last gaze was in Emma’s eyes, reproving himself only of leaving her in this cold world alone; where crimson drops lacked, the colorless thrived.
“Now, my darling,” the murderer impishly spoke as he polished his musket, “shall we wed?”