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Hide and Go Seek
As they breathed in the cool, fresh, spring air, the small cluster of boys raced down the bare, dirt road to their destination in the woods. Thomas, being one of the older children, was in the lead. He leapt over a pothole and had to immediately hoist up his oversized, hand-me-down trousers in order to avoid an embarrassing situation.
Nearing the makeshift fort made of wood and dirt, Thomas slowed to let the younger ones catch up. Unbuttoning his shirt, Archie gasped for the air that he had lost during the sprint. Chattering all at once, the little children, between six and nine years old, scurried to join the older boys.
“What shall we play today?” William asked the gang.
Oliver, the youngest, squealed in delight, “Hide and go seek!”
As the others enthusiastically nodded their approval, Thomas took charge.
“I’m the seeker,” he declared, “Go hide.”
Turning around, he heard the whispering voices and crunching twigs of the scattering players. After a few moments, he turned and started toward the spot he knew one of the boys had not so slyly hidden himself. Looking around for awhile, he saw nothing. “Funny,” he thought, “they’re usually not this quiet.”
Then, he saw what looked to be a piece of filthy clothing. He tiptoed forward ever so quietly. “I’ve found you!” he yelled as he pulled the branches off from atop the hiding place.
“Son of a gun!” he exclaimed. Staring up at him was a young, black woman. She stood up, clearly startled, and stayed perfectly still. She would not even risk the blinking of an eye.
After the absolute shock of finding a slave woman faded, he noticed her appearance. Her clothes were torn in many places and the hem of her dress was positively soiled, along with the rest of her. Her hair had twigs and leaves in it. Her hands were blistered and callused, showing the tremendous work they had done. He noticed she was bare foot. Her feet seemed to be in worse shape than her hands, if that was possible.
“You’re a runaway slave, ain’t you?”
She looked down shamefully, which confirmed his suspicions. Although he was an eleven year old boy, he still understood what could happen if she was caught. He knew he had to help her. She would surely be found by someone else who wasn’t a Quaker and thought blacks were beneath them.
“You can’t stay here, you’ll be found.”
She looked up at him.
“I can hide you in my dad’s shed. He’s a carpenter but he won’t notice you in there.”
She looked unsure but finally nodded in agreement.
“Stay here, I’ll come back and get you.”
He took off running back to the trail. There he found his group of impatient friends.
“What happened?” they exclaimed, “You took forever!”
“Sorry,” said Thomas, “I…I, I dropped my grandpa’s old pocket watch and had to find it, sorry.”
“Oh, it’s okay,” Archie said, “but we’d best head home now, before our mothers start to worry.”
“You’re probably right,” exclaimed Thomas. The group of boys scattered, running to their separate homes. Thomas waited until no one was in sight, then went back and found the slave.
“Follow me.” he commanded.
When they got to his dad’s shop, he ushered her in and shut the door.
“What’s yer name?” Thomas questioned curiously.
She answered softly, “Hannah.”
“Thomas!” a woman yelled.
He ran out from behind the house. “I’m right here, mother!”
The woman standing at the door of the small log cabin said, “Supper’s on the table.”
He walked into the dinning room and sat down on the hard, wooden chair. His mother, Virginia, came into the house with sow belly and sat it upon the table. Smoothing her simple cotton dress with her hands, she said “As soon as your father comes in, we can say grace.”
Thomas’ older brother of twenty years came inside with a pile of wood in which he placed next to the fireplace. “Mmm, smells mighty good, what are we havin’?”
“Sow belly with potatoes.”
In the next minute, the baby started crying. Thomas lifted her up and passed her off to his other sister, Margaret. When his dad, Joseph, finally walked inside, they said their prayers and began enjoying their modest meal.
“I heard Fredrick Douglass helped more slaves get to the Underground Railroad.” said Ralph, Thomas’ older brother.
“He’s been freeing a lot of people lately.” stated Joseph with a pondering look in his eye.
“Ya, he’s the station master of it now.”
“Where you hearin’ all this?”
“From Old Will in town.”
“Old Will? That uppity sawbone fella?”
“Father, he’s not uppity.”
“Seems like it.”
“May I be excused?” Thomas interrupted. His mother, assuming he needed to do his business, responded, “Alright, but be quick.” Thomas rushed out the door and into the separate shed for the kitchen. He snatched some goober peas for Hannah and went to her.
“Here,” he said giving her the food.
“Thank ye,” came the mumbled reply. She took the food and stuffed it in her mouth, eating with extreme urgency. When she was finished, he decided to tell her, “You can stay here for a day, but I’ll have to help you on your way after that.”
She nodded in consent, her eyes downcast. Not knowing what else to do, he decided he should leave. “Well, good night.” Awkwardly, he turned and left for bed.
The next morning, he jetted off to the one-room school house for five hours of learning the “three R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic”.
When school finally dismissed, Thomas rushed straight home without even waving his goodbye to the teacher. He had been fretting about Hannah all day. Rumors had spread that the slave hunters were alerted to look for a runaway of Hannah’s description. This only made him move faster and worry more. He snuck around their family’s log cabin to not be seen by his mother and quickly entered the shed. Thankfully, his father was in town all day getting supplies so Hannah was still a secret.
“Hannah?” he called softly. A dark figure appeared from under the table.
Seeing her safe and sound, Thomas breathed a sigh of relief. “Now, you must leave tomorrow before dawn. But, where will you go?”
She gazed at him for a moment. “North,” she stated meekly.
Thomas pondered that for a moment, and then pulled out his uneaten lunch. She took it gratefully, so he decided to go home.
After all the stress of taking care of Hannah, Thomas just wanted to sleep. He went into the adjoining room filled with lumpy, straw-filled mattresses and collapsed into one of them.
He awoke with a start. He opened his eyes, but didn’t see anything but black. He smelt the decaying meat and waste that had been hastily thrown out the window in preparation for dinner. He carefully got up, as to not disturb his sleeping siblings and ran to the carpentry shack. It was roughly fifteen minutes until sunrise and he hoped with all his might that Hannah was safely gone. He searched the shed and found no one. Happily, he began whistling and working on his chore of chopping wood by the wagon trail.
He heard a ruckus in the distance. Barking dogs and shouting men disturbed the peaceful sunrise. The men and dogs hurried by, following the trail and barely acknowledging Thomas. Thomas had a sinking feeling in his stomach as he recognized who the men were. Slave hunters.