Chapter 2: Runaway

On days like this, when no clouds hung in the sky and when no breeze cooled their sweat, Daddy was easy on them. He never stopped working the bean and cornfields himself, but he always let the girls, just a year apart in age, head over to Marsh Creek to wade in and cool off. So it was that Hannah Biggs walked the worn path, her younger sister Cecilia trailing behind her, through bushes and weeds to the creek. Trees hung over the banks, and Hannah walked immediately to the brown, almost stagnant water, waded in, and felt the cool mud ooze up between her toes. She untied her hair, bent forward and dipped the top of her head in the water, then flipped her hair back up and felt the water run down her back and get caught in her shirt.

“Try it,” she said to Cecilia, turning around.

Cecilia sat under a tree and crinkled her nose. “That water too gross.”

Hannah climbed back up the bank and rubbed her feet across the grass to get rid of some of the mud.

“I don’t know how you tolerate heat like today without no water on yo body,” said Hannah.

“I’s fine right here in the shade,” said Cecilia.

They both fell quiet and listened to the crickets lazily chirping, the bees humming around the bushes, the occasional ripple of water from a turtle.

A bush rustled.

“What was that?” said Cecilia.

Hannah’s heart pounded. She put a finger to her lips and whispered, “Shhh.” She got up and moved toward the bush.

“Don’t be goin over there, Hannah,” Cecilia whispered loudly. “Mama done tole us about slave catchers in the countryside.”

Hannah waved her hand at Cecilia. “We free,” she said. “Ain’t no slave catcher comin on this land.”

“Hannah!” Cecilia pleaded.

But Hannah ignored her and crept closer. Something was definitely in the bushes. There were solid colors and dark shadows where there should have been leaves and branches.

Then suddenly, she saw eyes–the whites of eyes, and she could make out a dark face. She stopped. The eyes looked at her frantically, and the head gently shook side to side.

“What you see?” Cecilia said.

“Nothin,” said Hannah. “Just some varmint, I guess.”

Late that night, she lay in bed as Cecilia lay beside her breathing deeply, almost snoring but not quite. She could make out her parents’ voices through the walls.

“Goin out on that errand,” said Basil.

“Now look here,” said Mary Jane, Hannah’s mother. “They’s got to do a better job hidin theyselves. We cain’t have no mo of the girls findin them. If the girls can find em, the catchers can too.”

“What did you tell Hannah?” Basil asked. Hannah heard the wooden front door creak open.

“She was all up at me with her questions. I tole her I didn’t know nothin bout what she was talkin about. I ain’t want the kids mixed up in this none at all. They’s too young.”

“I understand,” said Basil.

“You gots to let people know,” said Mary Jane. “They gots to do better.”

“I cain’t go down South and tells the runaways that if they comes to my farm, they gots to be more careful, can I?”

“It won’t do no one no good if we all get hauled in.”

There was a long, heavy silence until Hannah’s father spoke again. “Might be able to run more of em up to McAllister’s mill to wait out the days.”

Mary Jane took a deep breath. “Go on now. You best be gettin on so you can get some sleep some time tonight.”


After reading Chapter 2, teachers, parents, or learners may want to dive into more historical sources by visiting the Chapter 2 resource page. Resources for all chapters can be found at the book’s resources page.

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