Authors: Lois Walfrid Johnson
Intertwining fictional characters with real-life people and critical moments in American history, Lois Walfrid Johnson creates novels certain to catch the attention of readers, and then leaves them wanting to read and learn more. Johnson does an incredible job of bringing us into the lives of the American people in 1857. These adventure-filled, educational books should be read by youth everywhere.
—BILL INGEBRIGTSEN, Minnesota State Senator, former sheriff
Lois Walfrid Johnson writes stories kids love. When they were young, my daughters read her Freedom Seekers books, and really enjoyed them. These are stories that not only entertain, but call children to conviction, courage, and Christ-centered living. I highly recommend Lois and these excellent books.
—RANDY ALCORN,New York Timesbestselling author of forty books includingHeaven
I’ve usedEscape into the Nightin my classroom for many years and am thrilled to see the new Freedom Seekers edition coming out with study guides. My students have always enjoyed the well-developed characters and engaging storylines. As a teacher I have appreciated the historical accuracy and timeless spiritual truths.
—JOCELYN ANDERSON, teacher, Our Redeemer’s Christian School, Minot, ND
It’s difficult to find a series of books written for a variety of age groups with both boys and girls and yet remain historically accurate. Mrs. Johnson has succeeded in doing so in the Freedom Seekers series. Set in a geographic area that runs north and south, she describes weather conditions and topographical features that impacted the daring adventures of the main characters, their clothing, and even their food.
While developing the character of Peter, Mrs. Johnson visited with students at the Illinois School for the Deaf, including students in my classroom. We compared and contrasted the life of Peter to their lives. After all, Peter could have stood in our classroom! Often a child becomes a lifelong reader, simply because they relate to a character in a book. My students related to Peter, not only because he was deaf, but because he had so much more in common with them.
—KATHLEEN COOK, teacher, Illinois School for the Deaf, Jacksonville, IL
I want to thank you on behalf of my class and their families for your wonderful books. I teach a reading class at a homeschool co-op in Washington State. I can’t count how many times the parents of my students have thanked me for the class and told me that their child never enjoyed reading like they do now. They have to hold their children back from reading ahead of the others! So many families who are not in my class have begun to read your books. We may have started an epidemic, and one that I am happy to be a part of.
I hope you have more books on the horizon. Your fans here in Gig Harbor, Washington, will be on the lookout for them!
—MARYANN KING, homeschool co-op teacher, Washington State
Your books have encouraged me in trusting in God more and more. Your characters, especially Libby Norstad, Caleb Whitney, and Jordan Parker, sound just so realistic! I sometimes wish that they were real!!!!!! I like how you introduced a new character [Peter] in the fourth book. It kept the story even more exciting than it is!
—S., young reader, Texas
After I read one of your books I often end up asking myself,Would I have helped slaves or not?I have come up with an answer. I would help them because all people are equal and have the right to be free in the sight of God.
—C. B., young reader, Kentucky
We love how you incorporate biblical principles into your stories. When Caleb trusts God and Libby struggles in the same areas we do, it shows us that through God we can overcome every obstacle, because He is our light and our salvation.
—C. FAMILY, OhioOther Titles by Lois Walfrid Johnson
The Freedom Seekers
1. Escape into the Night
2. Race for Freedom
3. Midnight Rescue
4. The Swindler’s Treasure
5. Mysterious Signal
6. The Fiddler’s Secret
Adventures of the Northwoods
1.The Disappearing Stranger
2.The Hidden Message
3.The Creeping Shadows
4.The Vanishing Footprints
5.Trouble at Wild River
6.The Mysterious Hideaway
7.Grandpa’s Stolen Treasure
8.The Runaway Clown
9.Mystery of the Missing Map
10.Disaster on Windy Hill
Series also available in German and Swedish
1.Raiders from the Sea
2.Mystery of the Silver Coins
3.The Invisible Friend
4.Heart of Courage
5.The Raider’s Promise
Series also available in Norwegian
Faith Girlz: Girl Talk: 52 Weekly Devotions
Also available in the UK
For adults:Either Way, I Win: God’s Hope for Difficult TimesFREEDOM 3 SEEKERSMIDNIGHT RESCUELOIS WALFRID JOHNSON
© 2013, 1996LOIS WALFRID JOHNSON
Previously published asThe Riverboat Adventures Series
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
Interior Design: Ragont DesignSide-wheeler illustration by Toni AubleMap of Upper Mississippi by Meridian MappingCover Design: Faceout Studio, Tim GreenCover Illustration: Odessa Sawyer
978-0-8024-0718-4- Printed by Bethany Press in Bloomington, MN – 05/13
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Johnson, Lois Walfrid.
Midnight rescue / by Lois Walfrid Johnson. p. cm. — (The Freedom Seekers; #3) Sequel to: Race for freedom Summary: In 1857, having arrived in Minnesota Territory on her father’s steamboat, twelve-year-old Libby continues to harbor the runaway slave boy Jordan while worrying about a fugitive who has escaped from the local prison. ISBN 978-0-8024-0718-4 [1. Underbround railroad—Fiction. 2. Fugitive slaves—Fiction. 3. Slavery—Fiction. 4. Afro-Americans—Fiction. 5. Steamboats—Fiction. 6. Mississippi River—Fiction. 7. Prisoners—Fiction. 8. Christian life—Fiction.]I. Title. II. Series. Johnson, Lois Walfrid. Freedom Seekers; #3PZ7.J63255Mi 1996[Fic]—dc20
We hope you enjoy this book from River North Fiction by Moody Publishers. Our goal is to provide high-quality, thought-provoking books and products that connect truth to your real needs and challenges. For more information on other books and products written and produced from a biblical perspective, go towww.moodypublishers.comor write to:
River North FictionA division of Moody Publishers820 N. LaSalle BoulevardChicago, IL 60610
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Printed in the United States of America
To Natebecause you, too,are a Freedom Seeker.Thank you!
Major David McKee, Benjamin Franklin Pearson, Dr. Edwin James, the fugitive Dick, Dr. William Salter, Governor and Senator James Wilson Grimes, and Colonel David Moore are historic persons who lived in the 1850s. The numerous escapes from the Minnesota Territorial Prison in Stillwater are also a part of history. However, Sam McGrady and all other characters are fictitious and spring with gratitude for life from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
In 1857 the Native Americans in the Stillwater, Minnesota, area were calledSiouxandChippewa. Now the Sioux prefer to be calledDakotaand many Chippewa are once again using the name ofOjibwa(Oh-JIB-wah).
In the time in which this book is set,African Americans were called Negro,the Spanish word for black,or colored people.Contents
1. Clink, Clank!
2. Big Trouble!
3. Friend Caleb
4. Libby Turns Detective
5. The Disappearing Cookies
6. Rope Tricks
7. Bad News
8. Jordan’s New Plan
9. The Red Shirts
10. Peddler Paul
11. Family Spy
12. Nighttime Visit
13. Jordan’s Signal
15. The Fox River Outlaws
16. I Needs Help!
17. Dangerous Crossing
18. The Secret Stairway
A Few Words for Educators
The Midnight Rescue Folks
Excerpt fromThe Swindler’s TreasureCHAPTER 1
The moment the whistle sounded, Libby Norstad felt the excitement. From a deck high on theChristina, she stared upstream.Adventure! That’s what this is. Living on Pa’s steamboat is an adventure! Every boy and girl I know would like to be where I am.
As if something special were about to happen, Libby wished she could tell the boat to hurry. Then she remembered. Danger had chased them up the Mississippi River to Minnesota Territory. In the darkness of night they had slipped away from St. Paul. Was that same danger following them even now?
While the sun rose above the eastern bluffs, Libby’s excitement changed to uneasiness. “When does adventure become trouble?” she asked her friend Caleb Whitney as he joined her at the railing.
Caleb snapped his fingers. “Just that quick!” he said.
At fourteen, almost fifteen, Caleb was a year older than Libby, but only an inch taller. His blond hair fell down over his forehead, nearly reaching his eyes. “Stillwater is next,” he said. “You’ll like it there.”
Just then theChristina’swhistle sounded again. Long and deep, the call broke the quiet of early morning. From shore aman’s big voice sang out, “Steamboat a-comin’!”
As the village of Stillwater came alive, people of all sizes and ages rushed toward the river. Boys and girls raced for a spot with the best view. Not far behind came mothers and fathers with younger children and babies in their arms. Everyone seemed to have one thought—reaching the riverfront before the steamboat tied up.
Soon only a narrow strip of water lay between theChristinaand shore. As the crowd grew even larger, those in the back kept moving around, trying to see everything.
When a young boy called out from shore, Libby and Caleb waved to him. Soon the boy shouted a question. “Do you live on the boat?”
Caleb grinned down at him, enjoying the child’s curiosity. “I’m a cabin boy,” he shouted back. “Libby’s father is the captain.”
“Where did you come from?” a girl called.
“All the way from St. Louis. It’s spring there. How come you don’t have spring here?”
The grown-ups in the crowd laughed. Though it was the second week in May, 1857, the air was still cold. Everyone knew that Minnesota Territory had just come through one of the worst winters in its history.
“What’s your cargo?” a man shouted.
“Cookstoves, sewing machines, and cloth for your ladies to make dresses,” Caleb told them. “Axes, saws, and plows for you.”
“And candy?” a small boy asked.
“Yup. Just the kind of candy you’ll like.”
As deckhands threw out the lines, eager people caught andheld them. When the gangplank went down, the deckhands raced to tie the ropes to posts on shore.
Just then Libby heard the clip-clop of horses coming closer and closer. Soon a team and wagon swung around a building near the waterfront. A tall blond boy sat on the high seat of the wagon. As his horses reached an open area, he called out, “Whoa!” Standing up, he leaped to the ground and tied a lead rope to the hitching rail.
When the boy reached the back of the crowd, he raised both arms and waved. “Hey, Caleb!” he shouted. “Over here!”
In the next moment Caleb spotted him. “Hi Nate! Wait for me! I’ll be right down!”
Caleb turned to Libby. “I met Nate the last time I was in Stillwater. Want to come with us? He’ll take us around.”
Without waiting for Libby’s answer, Caleb headed for the stairs. “Help me find Jordan so he can go too.”
“Caleb?” Libby asked as she followed him down a flight of steps to the deck below. “Is it safe for Jordan to be seen in Stillwater?”
Only a short time before, Jordan Parker had run away from his master, a cruel slave trader named Riggs. Like Caleb, Jordan now worked for Libby’s father as a cabin boy. Because of all that had happened on their trip up the Mississippi River, Jordan had become known to everyone on the boat.
Caleb turned back to Libby. “He’s as safe here as anywhere outside of Canada.”
Libby caught Caleb’s hidden meaning. “That’s not very safe,” she said.
“You’re right.” Caleb’s honest gaze met hers. “We can’t ever forget the fugitive slave laws. Wherever we go there might besomeone who doesn’t want Jordan to have his freedom. As long as even one person feels that way, Jordan will be in danger.”
After a quick search for Jordan on the boiler deck, Libby followed Caleb down another stairway. There had been more than one fugitive slave law. As part of the Compromise of 1850, Congress had strengthened the right of a slave owner to hunt down and capture fugitives, even in free northern states. Owners often hired catchers—rough, cruel men—to bring back runaway slaves.
On the main deck Caleb turned into the large open room for storing cargo. As they found their way between boxes and barrels, Libby asked, “What if the wrong person figures out that Jordan is a fugitive?”
“Shhh!” Only crew members were here, but Caleb glanced around to make sure no one was listening. “There will always be people who want the big reward offered for Jordan. But he can’t spend his whole life being scared.”
As Caleb passed the opening to a secret hiding place, he didn’t even glance that way. “We can’t let anything stop Jordan now. He’s figured out a perfect plan to rescue his family.”
“A safe plan?” Libby asked.
“The safest that something so dangerous can be.”
“Can I go along?” Libby asked. With every part of her being she wanted to help Jordan’s family escape to freedom.
“Maybe,” Caleb said.
Libby’s heart leaped.Caleb said maybe. Since the age of nine, he had worked with the Underground Railroad—the secret plan that helped slaves escape to freedom. Always before when Libby asked if she could take part in the rescue, Caleb had said no. If he saidmaybe, he might meanyes!
But then Caleb told her, “It’s up to Jordan whether or not you go. It’s going to be a hard trip. We can’t give away even one secret.”
Lifting her head, Libby tossed her long hair.So! I’ll prove that I can help rescue Jordan’s family. For a start, I’ll show Caleb and Jordan that I can keep a secret.
When Libby and Caleb passed through another door, they found Jordan in the engine room. Tall and strong, the runaway slave was fifteen or sixteen years old.
Libby, Caleb, and Jordan hurried outside and down the gangplank. Along the riverfront, people greeted one another as if they had been separated for years.
Near Libby a little girl leaped into her daddy’s arms. An older man shook hands with someone who seemed to have been gone on business. A young woman gazed up into the eyes of a handsome young man. When he smiled down at her, Libby felt the quick stab of memory.That’s the way Pa used to look at Ma.
Libby pushed the thought away, not wanting loneliness for her mother to spoil the sunshine of the day. During the years after her mother died, Libby lived in Chicago with her aunt. Now Libby felt glad she could be with her Pa again.
When Libby and the boys reached Nate, he stood near his wagon, waiting for them. As Caleb introduced Libby and Jordan, Nate caught Libby’s last name.
“Your pa is the captain?” he asked. “Heard your whistle way out at our farm.” He turned to Caleb. “I knew you were back again.”
“By the sound of the whistle?” Libby felt pleased.
“Yup, clear and deep. I like your bell too. It’s one of the best on the river.”
Nate couldn’t possibly have said anything nicer. Always Libby had been proud of theChristina’s bell. More than once, her father had told Libby how it was made. When the bell was being cast, its makers threw silver dollars into the bronze to give a silvery tone.
“Pa sent me to pick up the plow we ordered from the general store,” Nate explained. “We’ve got time before it’s unloaded, don’t we?”
Caleb nodded. “The freight we brought from St. Louis is down in the hold.”
“Want a ride to see the town?” Nate grinned. “Of all the people in StillwaterI’mthe very best one to take you around. I’ll show you the most fun places in the whole St. Croix Valley.”
TheSaint KroyRiver flowed between Minnesota Territory and the state of Wisconsin. The village of Stillwater was built at the head of the widening in the river calledLake St. Croix.
As Nate went forward to untie the lead rope, he walked around the horses, talking to both Tom and Bob and checking their harness. Then Nate and Jordan climbed up to the only seat, and Caleb helped Libby into the back of the wagon.
Because of the large wheels, the bed of the wagon was about three feet off the ground. Instead of sitting down, Libby and Caleb stood behind Nate and Jordan to see over the high sides of the wagon.
“Giddyup!” Nate called to Tom and Bob, and the horses moved out into the road.
A short distance from the waterfront, Nate turned onto a street with tall wooden buildings.
Caleb looked up a steep hill on their left. “There’s Nelson’sGrade!” he exclaimed. “That’s where you took me before. Want to go again?”
Nate shook his head. “Someone just had a bad accident there. I’ll show you the view from a better hill.”
On Main Street the dirt road was filled with mud. As the horses picked their way around large holes, the wagon jerked and bounced in the ruts. Libby grabbed the high board sides and hung on.
“Have you lived here long?” she asked Nate.
“All my life.”
“You must know these hills really well,” Libby said.
“Yup. Lots of caves in ’em. There are caves even in the bluff surrounding Battle Hollow.”
“What’s Battle Hollow?” Libby was curious.
“I’ll show you. It’s a hollowed-out place with steep rock walls. There was a big battle there between the Sioux and Chippewa Indians. That’s where the prison for Minnesota Territory is now.”
Soon Nate turned left onto a street with a gentle rise. A block farther on, the horses turned again, and the bed of the wagon took on a sharp slant. As Tom and Bob leaned into their harness, Libby shifted her feet to keep her balance.
The road ahead was long and steep and followed the edge of a straight-up-and-down bluff. On the right side, the ground dropped sharply away with only a few large rocks between the edge of the road and the drop-off. With most of the trees cut off the hillsides, Libby had a clear view in whatever direction she looked.
The higher they went, the greater the distance between the top and the bottom of the bluff. Seventy-five? One hundredfeet? Libby wasn’t sure. She only knew that she felt scared just looking down.
Again Libby braced her feet and clung to the sides of the wagon. To her relief the boards were chest high, giving more protection than usual. But none of the boys seemed to share Libby’s concern. She could only hope that Caleb didn’t see how frightened she felt.
I never knew that heights would bother me so much, Libby thought.I’m glad we’re going up, not down. Then she remembered.What goes up must come down.
Trying to take her mind off the steep drop, Libby asked Nate about the prison.
“Built from a quarry right here in Stillwater,” Nate said proudly. “Trouble is, it doesn’t keep prisoners in. Just last year eight of ’em escaped.”
“Eight?” Jordan asked, as if thinking about his own escape. “How did they git out?”
“It ain’t hard at all,” Nate said. “One prisoner pried up the floor in a hall. Another lifted a cell door from its hinges. Still another used a burglar’s bar.”
“Smuggled in, I bet,” Caleb said.
Nate’s eyes were full of laughter. “Another prisoner sawed through iron window bars. And one guy picked the locks on his chains. Someone else dug a hole through the outside wall.”
“There must be something really wrong,” Caleb said.
Nate grinned. “To my way of thinking the warden just lets ’em go.”
“Are you serious?” Libby asked. “How could someone who is supposed to keep prisoners locked up just let them go?”
Nate shrugged. “Some of the counties don’t pay money tofeed their prisoners. We even had a lady escape.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Libby said, not sure what she should believe.
Nate held up his right hand. “The whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It’s as plain as the hair on your head who those prisoners are. Just last week I saw one of them.”
“On the loose?” Libby didn’t like the idea of an escaped prisoner running around. What if one of them tried to board theChristina?
But Nate seemed to have no such dread. “I saw the prisoner down by the river. Half of his hair was the way it should be.”
Libby’s giggle sounded more nervous than she would like. “What do you mean—half of his hair?” She felt sure that Nate was teasing them. “You’re making things up.”
“Nothing funny about it.” Nate looked offended now. “Half of his hair looked just like mine—about the same length. The other half of his head was shaved clean.”
Libby couldn’t even imagine it.
“Not one speck of hair on that side,” Nate said. “That’s how you know who a prisoner is.”
“Do they wear uniforms?” Caleb asked.
“Wel-l-l-l—” Nate thought about it. “They all wear the same thing—gray pants, a shirt, jacket, and cap. But the best way to recognize a prisoner is by his haircut.”
Libby’s knuckles were white now from holding the top board of the wagon. The sharp drop at the edge of the bluff was so close to the wheels that it made her nervous. If she had her way about things, she would get out of the wagon and walk.
When the road finally leveled out, Libby felt relieved. At the top of the bluff Nate stopped the horses. At least he was right about one thing. There couldn’t be a better view anywhere.
Gazing upstream and down, Libby watched the sunlight dance upon the water. Here at the head of Lake St. Croix, masses of logs floated like large islands. On the far side of the lake, the sandstone bluffs of Wisconsin rose high and beautiful.
Libby caught her breath at the beauty. Far below, men hurried up and down theChristina’s gangplank, unloading her cargo. Between the steamboat and Libby, houses clung to the steep hillside.
Like Libby, Caleb and Jordan studied the great stretch of water before them. It wasn’t hard to guess what they were searching for—a steamboat that might bring news about the two-hundred-dollar reward offered for Jordan.
Moments later, as Libby feared, Caleb stretched out his arm, pointing downstream. “Steamboat a-comin,’” he said.
Still far away, small plumes of black smoke rose from two tall stacks. It was a steamboat all right. Which one? And who was on board? People who had never heard of Jordan? Or his enemies?
When Caleb and Jordan looked at each other, Libby felt sure she knew what they were thinking. Only then did she realize how much she dreaded having the wrong person follow Jordan because he was a fugitive.
As Nate drove on, he stopped the horses on the bluff behind the territorial prison. Here too, the hill in front of them was stripped bare of trees. Libby looked down across the roofs of three-story high buildings that stretched away toward the river.
On the back and two sides the bluff formed a natural hollow around the prison. On Libby’s left, the bluff was straight-up-and-down rock. Directly below her and the boys,the steep hill slanted more gradually away. Between the bottom of the bluff and the buildings was a twelve-foot stone wall.
As Nate pointed toward the warden’s house, a clank broke the stillness of the morning.
What is it?Libby gazed down into the hollow, trying to figure out where the sound came from. In the prison yard everything seemed to be as it had been.
Then Libby heard a second clank—the sound of metal against metal. This time she noticed a pipe railing around the top of the prison wall. Below where she stood something hung from the pipe.
Staring down, Libby decided it was a large hook. A rope hung from the hook, dropping inside the prison wall. While Libby watched, the rope stretched tight.
“Look!” she whispered to Caleb. The rope swayed now, swinging out away from the wall as if someone was climbing up. “A prisoner is trying to escape!”
In the next instant a hand reached up to where the rope showed above the wall. Another hand grasped the pipe, and a halfshaved head appeared.CHAPTER 2Big Trouble!
As Libby and the boys watched, a man pulled himself up, then swung a leg over the wall.
“I bet the warden went to see theChristinacome in,” Nate muttered.
For a moment the prisoner balanced on top of the wall. With quick movements he pulled up the rope, yanked the hook free, and dropped the rope to the ground outside the wall.
Leaning forward, Libby tried for a better look at his face. Just then the prisoner turned. As he grasped the pipe railing with both hands, Libby saw the bundle on his back. Swinging his legs free, the prisoner touched down on the steep hill close to the top of the wall.
As he picked up the rope, he glanced around, then up the bluff to where Libby and the boys waited in the wagon. Suddenly the man jerked back. As if trying to hide his face, he ducked his head. Grabbing bushes and weeds for a handhold, he crept along the side of the hill.
“We need to get help!” Caleb exclaimed.
“It’s a hard climb,” Nate said as if doubting the man could get out.
“Right here the hill is slanted enough for him to make it,”Caleb answered. “He’ll get away.”
“Not if we hurry.” In the narrow road Nate turned the horses sharply, then backed up. The moment Tom and Bob completed the turn, Nate slapped the reins across their backs.
“Giddyup!” he cried. As the horses swung around a curve, they picked up speed. Soon they reached the level ground at the top of the long steep hill. As Libby looked ahead, her fear of heights returned.
On her right, the ground at the side of the road rose upward. On her left, the bluff fell away to nothing. Remembering the frightening drop to the ground far below, Libby felt her stomach turn over.If the harness holds. If nothing goes wrong—
As they started down the long hill, Nate pulled back on the reins. When the horses slowed to a walk, Libby felt relieved. As if digging in their rear hooves, Tom and Bob held back the weight of the wagon.
Nate spoke to them now. “Good boys. Easy—that’s the way.”
Breathing deeply, Libby felt almost silly.Here I was so scared for no reason at all. For a moment she glanced toward the river, almost enjoying the view.
In the next instant everything changed. As the steep hill forced the harness forward, the wagon lurched. Libby rocked back. Tightening her grip, she clung to the high wooden sides of the wagon. Standing next to Libby, Caleb braced his feet and hung on.
Again the wagon lurched. Suddenly the horses started running.
“Whoa!” Nate called, pulling back on the reins. Instead, Tom and Bob picked up their speed.
“Whoa!” Nate cried again.
When Bob tossed his head, Libby saw the terror in his eyes. Fighting against the harness, Tom veered off to the right and the rising hill. Then Bob pulled left, and the wagon swayed. As the horses moved into a gallop, Libby’s heart pounded. The horses were running away!
“Whoa!” Leaning back, Nate pulled at the reins, but nothing happened. “Whoa!” he called again. Instead, the wheels went faster and faster.
Suddenly Jordan reached over, grabbing the reins. His hands next to Nate’s, they pulled together. With all their strength they hung on. But there was no stopping the horses. On the narrow road the wagon rocked dangerously.
Just then Jordan leaped from the high front seat. Hitting the ground in a ball, he rolled, picked himself up, and raced after the horses. But the wagon swung past him, so close that the rear wheel almost hit him.
Filled with terror, Libby stared down over the high wood sides. The boards that had seemed to protect her now made it impossible to leap.
Libby whirled around. When she tried to walk toward the open back end, she staggered. Unable to move against the slant of the wagon, she almost fell.
Her panic growing, Libby grabbed the sides of the wagon again. As she faced forward, Tom veered to the right. Bob again pulled left. Rocking from side to side, the wagon swung out of control. Moments later, the horses headed straight for a big rock on the edge of the bluff.
From next to Libby, Caleb shouted, “Get down!”
Instead, Libby froze, unable to let go. Grabbing her arm,Caleb pushed her to the floor of the wagon. “Cover your head!”
Still frozen by terror, Libby had time for only one thought.What will Pa do without me?
In the next instant arms came down on top of her head. The wagon wobbled, then tipped. As a horse screamed, the wagon rolled on its side. With a great lurch and cracking wood, it slammed to a stop.
When a second horse snorted, Libby shuddered. Without moving, she tried to figure out where she was.The steep road. The wagon. The runaway horses.
Then she remembered.Caleb told me to get down.
As Libby stirred and tried to look up, she saw Caleb’s arms protecting her head.
“You okay, Libby?” he asked. Moving slowly, he sat back on his heels.
Again Libby stirred.Am I okay?she wondered.
She wiggled her toes. Yes, she could feel them. Her legs, her arms, and her hands all seemed to work. But Libby felt dazed. Why was she kneeling on the side instead of the bottom of the wagon? The wagon tilted strangely too.
Still feeling odd, Libby looked up into Caleb’s scared eyes. “Areyouokay?” she asked.
Caleb nodded, but when Libby tried to move, he stopped her. “We’re at the edge of the bluff,” he warned. “There’s only a rock holding us.”
“One rock? A big one?” Again terror filled Libby, reaching through her dazed feelings.
“The horses headed straight for it,” Caleb said. “Bob went to one side and Tom to the other. They broke the pole, and the wagon swung around.”
“Out over the edge?” Libby could barely speak.
Caleb nodded. “Don’t move,” he warned again.
“Jordan?” Libby asked, remembering. Jordan had jumped free, trying to catch the horses.
“I can’t see him,” Caleb said. “I don’t dare look.”
“Nate?” Libby felt afraid to even breathe. As though able to see the steep drop below them, she remembered.
“I don’t know,” Caleb said.
Then Libby heard Jordan’s voice. “Hold still,” he warned as Caleb had.
Barely moving her head, Libby looked around. This time she understood what she saw. The wagon lay on its side with ground beneath the smashed front boards. The back end of the wagon hung at a crazy angle over the edge of the bluff. The only way out was through the open top, which was half on and half off the bluff.
Between the broken front boards Libby could see Jordan. “We gots to unhitch the horses before they shake everything loose,” he said.
Jordan was gone then, and Libby heard him talking quietly, soothing the horses. Through the splintered wood she heard a second voice, then saw Nate working to free the horses. Tom stood on one side of the large rock, Bob on the other, only a few feet from the edge of the bluff.
“Nate jumped off too?” Libby asked.
“Or was thrown,” Caleb told her. “I don’t know which. I was just thinking about you.”
“And my head.” Libby tried to smile, but her lips felt stiff. “Thanks, Caleb. Are you sureyourhead is okay?”
“My head is okay,” Caleb said.
“And the rest of you?” Libby asked.
“We both got down in time. The high sides protected us.”
For what seemed forever they waited, neither of them moving. Now and then they heard a whinny, as though the horses were still terrified.
“What happened?” Libby finally asked. Her voice was soft, as if even the sound could break the wagon free.
“Something spooked the horses,” Caleb said. “Whatever it was, I knew Nate wouldn’t be able to stop them. And we wouldn’t be able to get out.”
Always Libby felt amazed at how quickly Caleb figured out what to do. “You knew all that in the midst of horses running away?” Then Libby remembered. “That man climbing over the wall. The escaped prisoner must have gotten away.”
“Afraid so,” Caleb answered.
“He scares me,” Libby said. “He really scares me.” Forgetting where she was, Libby moved. As the wagon shifted, her stomach bottomed out. Then the wagon settled again.
After what seemed like ages, Jordan dropped the end of a lead rope over what had been the side of the wagon. “You needs to hang on to this so we can help you out.”
Caleb gave the rope to Libby. “Tie it around under your arms.”
With shaking fingers Libby knotted the rope. When she was ready, Jordan spoke again.
“Take it slow and easy-like,” he said. “Me and Nate is holdin’ the rope, but you gots to crawl out.”
“You first, Libby,” Caleb said. “Stay on your hands and knees.”
The moment she moved, Jordan and Nate tightened the rope. As Libby crawled across the boards that had been the sideof the wagon, her full, ankle-length skirt caught on a splinter. When she freed the cloth, she moved into the opening. There she took one look down.
Only two feet beyond where she knelt, the ground dropped away to nothing. Far below, the houses seemed like tiny toy buildings.
Libby’s muscles tightened. Forcing herself to move on, she set down her right hand. Just beyond her fingers, the ground crumbled, then gave way. When she heard pebbles land far below, Libby again froze.
“Keep movin,’” Jordan told her. The rope tightened around her, but Libby could not pick up her hand.
“Put your right knee forward,” Caleb said from behind. But fear held Libby as if the rope were pulling her back instead of forward.
His voice calm and steady, Caleb spoke again. “Put your right knee forward.”
This time Libby could move.
“Bring up your left knee,” Caleb told her.
Again Libby obeyed. Movement by movement, Caleb told her what to do.
“Keep going,” Caleb encouraged her whenever she hesitated. “You’re almost there.”
At last Libby crawled around the front of the wagon to the solid ground where Jordan and Nate stood.
The moment Libby untied the rope, Jordan returned it to Caleb. Her knees still weak with fright, Libby sank down on safe ground. Her arms were shaking, and her teeth chattered with nervousness.
As soon as Caleb said he was ready, Jordan and Nate drewthe rope tight. Bracing their feet, they called to Caleb. “C’mon out!”
Through the broken pieces of wood at the front of the wagon, Libby saw Caleb’s head. The instant he moved, the wagon shifted. Pulling hard on the rope, Jordan and Nate stepped back.
Again Caleb edged forward. Again the wagon shifted. Dirt and small stones slid out from beneath the boards and rained down the side of the bluff.
Libby leaped to her feet. Filled with panic, she cried out, “Caleb!”CHAPTER 3Friend Caleb
Just a foot of dirt remained between the front of the wagon and the edge of the bluff. Again Jordan and Nate moved back, bracing their feet on solid ground. Standing behind Nate, Libby took up the end of the rope. With all three of them hanging on, Caleb crawled out on the narrow strip of ground. Moments later he reached safety.
Only then did Libby draw a deep breath of relief. When she looked around, she saw the horses farther down the road. Instead of a lead rope, reins stretched between them and a tree. No longer able to run, Bob tossed his head, his eyes still wild with fear.
Like a matchstick, the pole at the front of the wagon was broken into pieces. The front boards were also shattered beyond use. Seeing them, Libby remembered Nate. “Did you jump?” she asked him.
He nodded. “About two seconds before we hit.”
A moment later Libby saw people coming from all directions to help them. While some of the men rubbed down the sweating horses, others worked together to turn the wagon upright. When they found that two of the wheels still rolled,they pushed the wagon across the road, lodging it against the upward side of the bluff.
With Nate leading the horses, Libby and the boys once more started toward the riverfront. They had walked only a few steps when a farmer stopped to ask if everyone was all right. As soon as Nate tied the lead rope for his horses to the end of the farmer’s wagon, he climbed up to the high seat. Libby, Caleb, and Jordan sat down in the wagon bed.
Leaning against one side of the wagon, Libby covered her eyes with her hands. She wanted to blot out all memory of the runaway horses. Yet, even with her eyes closed, she saw them again. Just thinking about their frantic race down the steep hill, Libby began to shake.I never want to ride in a wagon again!
Then, as she felt the boards beneath her, Libby knew she was doing just that. Embarrassed by her weakness, she forced herself to look up. “What happened?” she asked Jordan.
“The hold back broke,” he said.
“The hold back?” Libby didn’t know what he was talking about.
“A strap,” Jordan explained. “It keep the neck yoke tight to the horse.”
“The neck yoke broke too?” Maybe that was one of the lurches she felt.
“Yes’m. The wagon started runnin’ up on the horses. The singletrees—”
“Singletree?” Libby was lost again.
“A crossbar behind each horse,” Caleb said quickly. “They’re part of the wagon.”
Jordan grinned. “When them singletrees start slappin’against them horses’ heels, whoo–ee! Them horses spooked!”
Libby wasn’t sure she understood it all. Already she felt her bruises, but she also felt grateful that she was alive. Still, she was curious. “Jordan, how do you know so much about horses?”
Jordan straightened and lifted his head in the proud look Libby had come to know. “That’s why I has value,” he said.
Jordan glanced toward Nate and the farmer. When he spoke, his voice was low. “That’s why I is worth a big reward. I knows more about horses than any other colored boy I know.”
“Is that right, Jordan?” Even Caleb looked surprised. “How did you learn?”
“Before my daddy got sold away he taught me. He said, ‘Jordan, you listen up now. You learn everything I teach you ’cause if you has value you has an easier life.’” Jordan shook his head. “Someday when I git my family free, I is goin’ to prove my value. I is goin’ to show my daddy how much he taught me.”
“I thought you didn’t know where he is,” Libby said.
“I ain’t got no idea where he is. But when Momma and my sisters and my brother is free, I is goin’ to find him.”
The moment they reached downtown Stillwater, Caleb hunted up the village marshal to report the escaped prisoner. The marshal was glad Caleb had told him. Yet he shook his head at still another escape.
When Libby and the boys returned to the waterfront, they found the steamboat they had seen from the top of the bluff. A smaller boat than theChristina, it was the kind that usually traveled up and down the St. Croix River. They had no way of knowing if it had gone into St. Paul. Nor could they tell ifthe boat had picked up passengers who might know the latest news and remember Jordan.
When it was time to say goodbye, Nate grinned at Libby. “If you come back to Stillwater, I’ll give you another ride,” he said.
As Libby shuddered, Nate’s eyes grew serious. “I’m sorry, Libby. Really sorry about what happened.”
Only then could Libby smile. “It was a great view, Nate. Thanks for trying. I know it wasn’t your fault.”
“Next time I’ll take better care of you,” he promised.
As Libby looked up, she saw Caleb watching them.
When Libby went on board theChristina, her dog, Samson, met her at the top of the gangplank. A big black Newfoundland, he had white patches on his nose, muzzle, chest, and the tips of his toes. Dropping down on her knees, Libby gave him a big hug.
As if he sensed that she needed comfort, Samson reached out his long tongue and tried to lick her. Though Libby edged away from his slobbering, she felt better.
Soon theChristinaput out into Lake St. Croix. As the boat steamed upstream, Libby, Caleb, and Jordan watched from the main deck. The water was crowded with the logs Libby had seen from the bluff.
Two miles above the village, lumbermen had built a large boom—a barrier made of a chain of floating logs. Stretched between long islands and the high bluffs on both sides of the river, the boom caught logs coming down the St. Croix River. Once collected, these logs were measured and sorted according to the owner’s mark on the end of each log.
Some of these logs went to a Stillwater sawmill. Others floated downstream in rafts.
In the open water below the boom, men balanced on the spinning logs. Wearing boots with sharp spikes in the sole and heel, each of them held a long pole called apike. Its point tapered down into a two-inch thread that looked like a screw. Using the pikes, the men guided the logs into long strings that would then be made into rafts.
“Why are all the men wearing red shirts?” Libby asked.
“If a man falls into the river, it’s easier to see him,” Caleb explained.
Soon theChristinanosed into the riverbank below the boom. On the sandstone bluff above the boat was a large cookhouse where the Red Shirts had their meals. According to Caleb, the cooks often fed six hundred men a day.
In the side of the bluff and below the cookhouse was a cave used to store food and supplies. The minute theChristina’s gangplank went down, roustabouts started unloading cargo. As the laborers carried supplies into the cave, Libby hurried up to the hurricane deck. There she knelt down at her favorite spot for watching what was going on. From behind the railing she could see the front part of the main deck, though two decks below.
As Samson dropped down beside her, Libby ran her fingers through the long hair at the back of his neck. When she scratched behind his ears, Samson’s mouth stretched wide, as though trying to smile. Again he seemed to sense how shaky Libby still felt.
One moment Libby felt glad for the way Caleb had watched out for her. The next moment she trembled just thinking abouthow close they had come to the edge of the bluff. It reminded Libby of the important promise she had made only a few days before. Going beyond all her fears, she had asked God for His love and forgiveness.
Now Libby clutched that memory to herself. If something had happened to me, I would have been ready to die.
Sitting there on the deck, Libby felt even more grateful to the God she was learning to know in a deeper way. “Thanks for protecting me,” Libby prayed softly. “Thanks for watching over all of us.”
Everything had happened so fast, she had almost forgotten about the escaped prisoner. Even Caleb’s promise thatmaybeshe could help rescue Jordan’s family had slipped to the back of her mind. Now it became real again.Maybe Iwillbe able to help when Jordan tries to rescue his family! I’ll prove I can keep a secret—that I can do whatever I set out to do!
Then an uneasy thought sneaked into Libby’s mind.Can IreallydoanythingI set out to do?Remembering her close call on the bluff, Libby felt shaky again.Helpless, that’s what I was. As helpless as a baby.
Pushing the memory away, she refused to think about it.I’m a Christian now. Life will be easier.
Just then Libby noticed a man coming down the steps from the cookhouse. As though he knew exactly where he was going, he hurried across a sandy piece of ground to theChristina. When he reached the gangplank, he spoke to the clerk standing nearby.
“Caleb Whitney?” the man asked. “Can I talk to him?”
Uh–oh, Libby thought.What’s gone wrong now?
Then she remembered Jordan. Had someone found outthat he was a fugitive? Did someone know that Caleb had helped Jordan come aboard? Grownups were fined or put in prison for helping runaway slaves. The penalty was high, the risk great.
Lying down on her stomach, Libby peered between the posts of the railing. Before long Caleb crossed the forward deck to speak to the man.
“Caleb Whitney?” he asked again.
Instantly Caleb stiffened as if he too wondered what this was all about. But his back was toward Libby, and she couldn’t see his face.
“I’m Caleb,” she heard him say. “What can I do for you?”
Though Libby tried hard, she couldn’t hear the man’s answer. After a few minutes, Caleb led him up the gangplank. Near the front of the boat they sat down on two crates.
Now Libby could see Caleb’s face, but it still didn’t tell her anything. More than once she had noticed how good Caleb was about hiding his feelings. The bigger the danger, the better he seemed to be at not giving away one wrong expression or word.
Finally Libby could no longer push aside her curiosity. On her hands and knees, she backed away from the railing. Once out of Caleb’s sight, Libby stood up and headed for the stairs. One flight down she came to the boiler deck, which was just above the large boiler that heated water and created steam to run the boat.
The next flight down was the main deck. There Libby walked toward the bow as if she were a passenger minding her own business. Pretending that she didn’t know Caleb, she passed close by. Sitting down on a barrel, she looked out at the river.
“And the young lady’s name?” the man asked.
The young lady?Libby wondered.Who’s he talking about?Turning slightly, she watched the man write on a piece of paper.
“Libby Norstad,” Caleb answered. “You should talk with her. She’s quite a bright girl—most of the time, that is.”
“That’s all right. I’ll just talk with you,” the man said.
“You’re sure? It would take just a minute to find her.”
“Do you know her well?” the man asked.
“I work for her father,” Caleb said. “I’m a cabin boy on theChristina.”
And so much more, Libby thought. Once Pa had told her how much Caleb meant to him.“I’d trust him even with my life,”Pa had said. Often Caleb helped Pa by hiding fugitive slaves.
In moments like this, Libby had a hard time understanding the kind of trust Pa had for Caleb. Other times, such as during the wagon accident, she understood perfectly. More than once Caleb had done things that Libby admired. But this wasn’t to be one of those times.
“I’ll get Libby for you,” Caleb said again. “You really need to talk to her.”
“Why don’t you tell me about her instead?” the man asked.
“Wel–l–l–l—” Caleb paused, as though hardly knowing where to begin. “Often she leaps before she looks. Does things I can’t understand. Like listening in on other people’s conversations. In fact, she listens in so often that I wonder if her ears will begin standing out on her head.”
“Indeed?” the man said. “And why is she so curious?”
“I’ve often thought about that,” Caleb answered. “I believe it has to do with her nature. She wants to know everything that is going on.”
“If I ever see this young lady, how will I recognize her?”
From behind the man’s back, Libby glared at Caleb. When their gaze met, she had no doubt that Caleb had seen her. For a moment she thought he was going to give her away. Instead, he kept looking at Libby while still talking to the man.
“Her nose is turned up just a bit,” Caleb said. “Brown eyes. Deep brown eyes. You know, the kind of eyes your favorite dog might have. And red hair,” Caleb went on. “Her hair is deep red with a bit of gold in it. Not bad at all, when the sun shines on it.”
By now Libby’s face felt hot with embarrassment. Whirling around, she tried to hide how she felt from Caleb. How could that awful boy do such a thing? She wanted to storm up to him, to tell him to mind his own business. Instead, she could only stomp off.
“I mean it. You really should talk to her,” Caleb said as she started away. “Libby might tell you a whole other side of the story. For one thing she’s afraid of heights. As we rode up the hill, she clung to the side of the wagon, as if terrified.”
Who is this man Caleb is talking to?With all her heart Libby wanted to find out.
Then with horror she decided that she knew.He must be a newspaper reporter!CHAPTER 4Libby Turns Detective
The minute the man was gone, Libby stomped up to Caleb. Already she had forgotten how he protected her in the accident. Instead, she felt embarrassed just thinking about what Caleb had said.
“And who was that gentleman you were talking to?” Libby asked sweetly.
Caleb’s answer sounded just as innocent. “He’s the reporter from the local newspaper. He wanted to know what we knew about the escaped prisoner. And he wanted to know about our accident.”
“And you told him all about it,” Libby said, her voice still sweet.
“Yup.” Caleb sounded as if it weren’t important. “He said there has already been a bad accident on Nelson’s Grade—the road where Nate didn’t want to take us. The reporter expects the town leaders will do something about railings on the drop-offs.”
“And did you tell the reporter that Jordan was with us?” Libby couldn’t forget her fear about what might happen.
“Nope,” Caleb answered. “I didn’t say a word about Jordan.”
“But you said lots of words about me. Why did you talk to that man?”
“Why not?” Caleb asked. “I didn’t tell him anything that he shouldn’t know.”
“So he should knoweverythingyou told him about me?”
“Yup.” Caleb grinned.
Libby groaned. “That article will tell the whole world that theChristinacame to Stillwater. When does the newspaper come out?”
“Once a week,” Caleb said. “It comes out tomorrow, but not till after we leave.”
“If someone buys that newspaper and carries it onto a steamboat going downstream—” Libby broke off. By now she felt so upset she could barely speak. Caleb had toldhershe needed to keep a secret. But was he doing it himself?
“You wanted to talk to that reporter because you want to be a reporter yourself,” Libby went on.
“That’s right,” Caleb answered calmly.
“But what if the reporter talks to Nate? What if Nate tells him about Jordan? What if Jordan’s name gets in the paper?”
Caleb groaned. “What if, what if, what if—”
Finally Libby had to give up. Nothing she could say would convince Caleb that he had done anything wrong.
Only then did Libby remember. She had forgotten to ask Caleb another really important question. “Did you find out more about the escaped prisoner?” she asked.
“His name is Sam,” Caleb told her. “Sam McGrady. He went to prison for being part of a gang that robbed banks.”
As the moon rose above the sandstone bluffs, Libby returned to her room high on the texas deck. Long after she went to bed, Libby tossed and turned. Wherever her arms andlegs touched the mattress, she felt a new bruise. Until then she hadn’t realized how much she bounced around when the wagon rolled on its side.
After a while Libby got up and tightened the ropes that stretched lengthwise and across her bed frame. Yet when she crawled back into bed, the corn husks in her mattress rustled whenever she turned over. Now that she was past the first shock of the accident, her thoughts kept returning to the escaped prisoner. After learning about him, Captain Norstad had ordered theChristinaa short distance out from shore. To protect passengers and freight, theChristina’sgangplank was up and a guard posted to watch throughout the night.
In the wee hours of morning, Libby gave up trying to sleep. Quickly she changed into her dress. Her room had two doors, one on either side of the boat. Without making a sound, Libby opened the door on the side away from where Samson always slept.
When Libby tiptoed out on deck, the night air was warm and sweet with the spring that had finally come. For a moment Libby listened to the night sounds. Then, walking on tiptoes, she took the few steps down to the hurricane deck. There Libby dropped onto her knees behind the railing.
Here in the quiet water below the boom site, Libby heard only the gentle lapping of waves against the shore. Soon her eyes grew used to the darkness. Between the boat and a nearby island, logs filled the river. Only between theChristinaand shore was there a dark line of open water.
From somewhere on the main deck a baby cried, then was quiet again. From near the same area came loud snoring. After several minutes, Libby heard anomooopf!as if someone poked the person who snored.
Then to Libby’s ears came a soft splash, and another. Instantly alert, she peered down over the railing. Near the shore she saw a shape darker than water.
Again Libby heard a muffled splash. As the shape moved closer, Libby strained to see. Whoever it was had either a very big head or wore a strangely shaped hat.
Then, as Libby watched, an arm reached out. In water still cold from winter, someone was swimming toward theChristina.
As her sense of danger came alive, Libby jumped to her feet and raced to the stairs. From the hurricane, to the boiler, to the main deck she flew. Stumbling over legs and feet in the darkness, she made her way to the side of the boat nearest shore. But she was too late.
When Libby stared down at the water only a foot or so below the deck, no one swam toward theChristina. No hands reached forward for a man to pull himself onto the deck.
Then Libby saw the guard. As he sat on a crate close to where the gangplank usually went down, Libby stared at the hat he wore. When Libby walked over to him, his head jerked up. But the brim shadowed his face.
For an instant Libby wondered why the lantern wasn’t lit. Had the guard just wakened? Libby wasn’t sure.
“Can I help you, miss?” the man asked, seeming alert.
“Yes,” Libby answered softly, trying not to wake the sleeping passengers around her. “Can you tell me if a man just came on board?”
“A man? Of course not. It’s the middle of the night.”
“No one at all?” Libby asked.
“Not for some time. All’s well on theChristina.”
“Thank you,” Libby said. “And your name?”
“Swenson, Miss. Charlie Swenson, at your service.”
Strange, Libby thought as she crept back up the stairs.I was sure I saw a man swimming toward the Christina. But if I did, I should have seen him on deck. He couldn’t have been more than a minute or two ahead of me.
All the way back to her room Libby thought about it. Still fully dressed, she lay down on her bed to puzzle it out.
I’ll go down there again, she decided.As soon as it’s light, I’ll go back.
Minutes later Libby fell asleep.
Libby woke to the motion of the boat under way. For a minute she lay there, listening to the throb of the engines and the slap of the great paddle wheels against the water. As she came fully awake, she remembered the dark shape swimming toward theChristina.
With a bound Libby leaped from her bed. Quickly she poured water from the pitcher into the basin in the corner of her room. As soon as she splashed water on her face and smoothed down her dress, she was ready.
This time she went out on the side of the deck where Samson usually slept. As she flew down the flights of stairs, Samson trailed along behind her. All around Libby, passengers were waking up. Even so, Libby moved quickly through any narrow space between them.
At the crate next to where the gangplank usually went down, Libby stopped. Here the guard had sat. Here Libby had wondered if his head had nodded—if he was truly awake. There was something about the guard that bothered her. What was it?
Standing there, Libby’s thoughts leaped back to the swimmer. A large hat. Why would someone wear a hat when swimming?
Then it dawned on Libby. Not a hat—clothes perhaps. Clothes bundled tightly and tied on top of the swimmer’s head. If he held his head above water, the clothes wouldn’t get wet.
Libby felt sure that was the shape she had seen. But there wouldn’t have been time for the person to change. If the swimmer really did come on board, where had he gone? He would have been soaking wet.
Still curious, Libby leaned forward for a better look. The wooden crate was a large one and just the right height for someone to sit on. Protected by the overhang of the deck above, it had stayed dry, in spite of the heavy dew of early morning.
Dry except for one place!
On the top of the crate was a clear mark where someone had sat in wet clothing. On the floor in front of the crate the deck was also wet, as though a puddle had formed around the man’s feet. And next to the crate, where a wooden slat and the deck met, there was a thin line of water.
Staring at the telltale marks, Libby felt a sudden jolt of fear.Whoever the man is, I stood right in front of him. In the middle of the night, when everyone else was asleep, I stood here talking to him.
As she tried to push aside the panic tightening her throat, Libby knew one thing.I’ve got to tell Pa right away.
Taking the stairs two at a time, Libby raced back up to the top of the boat. Pa’s cabin was at the front of the texas deck, just ahead of Libby’s room.
A moment after she knocked their special code, her tall,slender father opened the door. Except for the touch of white above his ears, Pa’s black hair was as dark as his captain’s uniform.
Now Pa’s smile welcomed her, and Libby felt better just being with him. When she told him what had happened, his face grew serious.
“And what was the guard’s name?” he asked.
“Swenson, Pa. He said it was Charlie Swenson.”
A puzzled look filled Pa’s eyes. “I can’t remember any crew member by that name, but I’ll check. Our first mate could have hired someone in St. Paul or Stillwater.”
Pa followed Libby down to the main deck. When she showed him the faint outline of damp wood, he nodded. “Good for you, Libby. Someone in wet clothes sat here, all right. The night air was so damp it didn’t dry as fast as it would in a wind.”
When Pa sought out the first mate, Libby went with him.
“Any crew by the name of Charlie Swenson?” Captain Norstad asked.
Mr. Bates shook his head. “No, sir. No one by that name. But I have no doubt that a guard was on duty at the time. I kept a close watch last night because of the escaped prisoner.”
“Could the guard have left his place by the gangplank for a short time?” Libby asked quickly.
“He made his rounds, circling the main deck every twenty minutes.”
“We better change that rule,” Captain Norstad said. “The next time we need a guard, have him change the amount of time between rounds so that someone watching won’t know what to expect. And put on two guards—one on each side of theChristina.”
As Libby and her father headed for the dining room and breakfast, the captain sighed. “I feel like someone who locked the barn after the horse was stolen. Keep your sharp eyes working, Libby. But come to me at any sign of danger. Taking care of men who creep on board is my job, not yours. All right?”
“All right, Pa.” Her father’s hug chased away the scared feelings in Libby’s heart.
But then Pa told her, “I hope that all the man wants is a free ride.”
A free ride.
“Pa,” she said. “The man wore a hat—a hat he could have tied in his bundle. If he was a prisoner, he had to wear a hat.”
As Libby went back to her room she felt scared again.CHAPTER 5The Disappearing Cookies
Afree ride, Libby thought as she followed Pa up the stairway.What else would the man want?
Then Libby’s heart thudded to a stop.Maybe it really is the escaped prisoner. Or could it be someone who knows that Jordan is on board? If Jordan gets caught, he’ll lose his freedom and the chance to help his family.
The moment she finished breakfast, Libby started looking for Caleb and Jordan. Before she did anything else, she had to warn them. Besides, she wanted to tell Caleb about the great way she had figured things out. Libby felt proud of herself.
If Caleb and Jordan know how smart I am, they’ll trust me more. They’ll let me help with the Underground Railroad.Once before Caleb had allowed her to do something, but that was because he had no choice.
Libby found Caleb and Jordan sitting on the hurricane deck watching a huge log raft being towed down Lake St. Croix. The raft was made up of eight to ten strings of logs fastened side by side. Each of the strings measured about sixteen feet across and four hundred feet long. Around the outer edge were logs joined by chains to hold each raft together.
With the steamboat at the front, strong ropes stretchedback to pull the raft along. The men that Caleb called Red Shirts stood on the two ends of the raft. Each of them held the great long pole they used as an oar.
Another man sat on a crate, peeling potatoes. Beyond him were three small buildings. “For the trip down the river each man builds his own little house,” Caleb explained. “See how the door is just big enough for a man to crawl in and out?”
Each “house” was only a few boards high, barely giving enough room for one man to lie down. Work pants and red shirts hung over the peaked roof of two of the houses.
Seeing the wet clothing, Libby shivered. Working in the river during this second week of May had to feel like taking a bath in ice water. It reminded her of the reason she had come—to tell Caleb and Jordan about the man who swam out to theChristina.
Libby began by telling how she heard a muffled splash during the night. Partway through her story, Jordan started nervously cracking his knuckles. Watching him, all of Libby’s proud feelings crumbled. No longer did she want to prove what a great thing she had done in figuring things out.
By the time Libby finished talking, worry filled Jordan’s eyes. “Who be this man?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Libby answered.
Caleb also looked upset. “And your pa doesn’t have any idea?”
Libby shook her head. “He could be the prisoner. He could be almost anyone. It was too dark to see his face.”
“Would you recognize his voice?” No longer was Caleb the fourteen-year-old boy who liked to tease Libby. In that one moment he had changed into the Underground Railroad conductorwho was always on guard. As a conductor for the railroad, Caleb guided runaway slaves from one place of safety to the next.
“His voice?” Libby remembered a slight rasp when the man spoke, but that could mean he had a cold.Or swam in cold water. His voice had a strange rasp—almost like he was hoarse,” she said.
As though needing to tell himself the man wasn’t someone who would spoil the rescue of his family, Jordan began talking. “When I was just a little boy Momma told me, ‘Jordan, your daddy and I, we name you for what you is goin’ to do.’
“‘What you mean, Momma?’ I wanted to know.
“‘You is goin’ to lead our people out of slavery,’ Momma said. ‘You is goin’ to lead our people to the Promised Land.’”
Long ago Libby had learned about Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Forty years later, Joshua brought them across the Jordan River into Canaan, the Promised Land.
“Over and over Momma told me till she didn’t need to tell me no more,” Jordan went on. “I knew for myself that what Momma said would be true. I been tellin’ myself I is goin’ to rescue my people. But now I is scared, Caleb. Real scared.”
For the first time the impossibility of what Jordan planned seemed to overwhelm him. “I is so scared that I has a hard time believin’ I can do what I needs to do.”
“Not many fugitives go back to the state where they’ve been slaves,” Caleb warned. “At least your mother lives in a different place from where you were. Her master doesn’t know you.”
Jordan’s troubled gaze met Caleb’s. “But can I do what I needs to do? Can I rescue my people?”
For a long moment Caleb did not answer, as if he knewthe seriousness of whatever he said. At last he spoke. “When Libby’s pa wants to make sure I’m not just rushing off on my own, he looks me straight in the eye. He asks, ‘What is God telling you to do?’”
Jordan’s gaze fell away. Stretching out his fingers, he stared at his right hand, then his left. Slowly he turned them over to stare at the palms. Then he studied his feet.
“In the Good Book, Moses be a big man,” Jordan said, still looking at his feet. “He take his people out of Egypt.”
“Out of suffering,” Caleb answered quietly.
“Out of slavery.” Jordan’s voice was still thoughtful. “These hands—these feet,” he said slowly. “Long time ago the Lord told me, ‘Jordan, I gives you strong hands—strong feet. I gives them to you so you kin lead your people out of slavery. But I gives you something else—something you is goin’ to need even more.’”
When Jordan lifted his head, tears shone in his dark eyes. “The Lord, he told me, ‘Jordan, I gives you a big heart—a big enough heart to lead your people to freedom.’”
As though embarrassed by his tears, Jordan tried to wipe them away. But tears filled his eyes again and ran down his cheeks.
When Caleb leaned forward, his gaze never left Jordan’s face. “Your heartisbig enough to bring your people to freedom,” he said. “The freedom of your people means more to you than your life. It might cost you your life.”
In the silence Libby heard only the slap of the paddle wheels against water. A long steady look passed between Caleb and Jordan.
“If you want me, I’m still planning to help you.” Caleb heldout his hand, renewing the promise he had made a few weeks before.
This time Jordan did not hesitate. Halfway between the boys, their two hands met.
Then Caleb stood up. “C’mon. I want to show you something.”
He led Jordan and Libby to Captain Norstad’s cabin. There Caleb opened the large Bible owned by Libby’s father. As he turned the pages, Caleb explained.
“A man named Paul was facing some hard things. God told him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’”
“Sufficient?” Libby asked. “What’s that?”
“Enough. God says, ‘My grace is enough for you, Jordan, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ When you’re weak, that’s when my power is big enough for you.’”
As always, Libby felt surprised by the way Caleb could explain things. From the moment she met him, Libby had known there was something different about Caleb. When she discovered what he did with the Underground Railroad, she thought it was that. But soon she learned there was another reason for Caleb being strong.
“The hard things Paul faced helped him learn about God’s power,” Caleb explained. “Paul said, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’”
In the time since Jordan came on board, Caleb had been teaching him to read. Now Caleb pointed to each word. Jordan stared at them as if trying to match the words with what he heard.
“I is weak, all right,” he said. “I is mighty scared. And God’s grace is enough for me?”
“Long time ago I learned that word,” Jordan answered. “Grace be the Lord’s love and favor, even though I ain’t deservin’ of it.”
As though forgetting his worries, Jordan straightened, standing tall in the proud look that reminded Libby of royalty. “Our colored preacher told me I is not a slave. I is created in God’s image. I is His child!”
Once more Jordan looked down at the pages of the Bible. “All my life I been wantin’ to read the Good Book. I been wantin’ to see all them good promises for myself. Show me again.”
This time it was Jordan who pointed to each word, repeating what Caleb told him. Soon Jordan said, “Stand back! I is reading toyou.”
Pointing to each word, Jordan read the promise. “‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’”
As though wanting to prove that he understood what he read, Jordan lifted his head and faced Caleb. “When I is weak, Jesus makes me strong!”
At Prescott, Wisconsin, where the waters of the St. Croix flowed into those of the Mississippi River, the towboat dropped its lines. From there to Pepin, where the river again widened into a lake, the lumber raft would drift on the current, guided by the oars of the Red Shirts.
As theChristinadrew near the landing at Prescott, Libby spoke quickly. “I want to help too,” she told Jordan. “I want to help you rescue your family.”
For a long moment Jordan sat quietly, thinking about it. When he spoke, his voice was low but sure. “There be all kinds of people workin’ with the Underground Railroad. Free blacks,white men and women, boys and girls. But I ain’t never heard of no white captain’s daughter tryin’ something that hard. To go into Missouri—” Jordan shook his head. “Not unless there be a mighty big reason. But I thanks you for wanting to try.”
Listening to Jordan’s quiet voice, Libby knew his mind was made up. Even so, she didn’t want to accept his words.If I try really hard—if I do everything perfect, I’ll convince both Caleb and Jordan that I can help bring his family to freedom.
Three-story warehouses stood along the waterfront at Prescott. Before continuing up the Mississippi River to St. Paul, large steamboats often unloaded their freight there for storage. Then smaller steamboats took the freight on to Stillwater and other towns along the St. Croix River.
When Libby went into the large general store at Prescott, she found it filled with men who came off the rafts to buy supplies. All of them wore the red shirts that would help someone rescue them if they fell into the water.
Seeing the crowd of men, Libby started to back out. Then the storekeeper asked, “Can I help you?”
While living in Chicago, Libby had taken drawing lessons from a well-known artist. Already Libby had used up the drawing paper she had bought in St. Louis. Now she was glad to find more paper, and pencils as well.
As she paid her money, she noticed a man near a table filled with red shirts. Dressed in gray pants, white shirt, red and blue jacket, and a cap, he seemed out of place—too well dressed compared with all the rafting men who crowded the store. Yet to Libby’s surprise he picked up a red shirt.
While the storekeeper wrapped Libby’s package, shelooked around. If the store carried any other color of shirt, it was nowhere in sight.
Soon the man in the red and blue jacket stepped into line behind six or seven men waiting to pay for their purchases. As Libby watched, the man glanced around as if checking to see who stood behind him.
The artist part of Libby wondered about his quick, almost secret glance. During art lessons, she had learned to notice how a person looked.If I were going to draw that man, what would I do?Curious now, Libby moved over next to the door and stood there as if waiting for someone.
The man was about six feet tall and strongly built. For some reason he seemed familiar.
But who do I know in this area?Libby wondered. In Stillwater she had met Nate and the farmer who helped them after the accident. For just a moment she had talked with a few other people. None of them fit this man’s description.Maybe I’m jumpy because of the escaped prisoner, Libby thought.
Reaching the counter, the man put down his money. When the store owner gave him change, the man turned just enough to find Libby staring at him. As their gaze met, he lifted his hand, touched the visor on his cap, and politely nodded. Then, taking his time, he left the store.
When Libby followed him outside, she watched to see if he would board theChristina. Instead, he headed for a different steamboat, a small one of the kind that operated on the St. Croix River. Libby watched until the man started up the gangplank.
All the way back to theChristina, Libby thought about it, comparing the escaped prisoner to the man she had just seen.When the prisoner went over the fence, he had a halfshaved head. The hair he had left was light brown, but Libby could not see the color of his eyes. This man wore a cap that sat low on his head. From beneath the visor, a strand of light brown hair hung down over his forehead. His eyes were blue.
The whole thing bothered Libby, and she didn’t understand why. Then, as she started up the gangplank, she thought she knew. In Stillwater it had taken only one look to know that the prisoner was doing something wrong. But the man in the store seemed just the opposite. He had met Libby’s gaze as though he had no guilty conscience. Only one thing had caused her to look twice—that quick glance over his shoulder.
Maybe I imagined it, Libby thought.He seems to have nothing to hide.
Even so, she felt uneasy about the man.What should I remember?she asked herself.My feeling that something was wrong? Or his acting as though everything was all right?
When Libby reached the gangplank she found roustabouts—men who loaded and unloaded the boat—carrying heavy sacks of grain onto theChristina. As Libby’s stomach growled with hunger, she realized it was still a long time until lunch. Taller than most girls her age, Libby sometimes wondered if she needed extra food just to fill her up. She only knew there was nothing wrong with her appetite. She was always hungry!
Libby decided to find Caleb’s grandmother. When Libby first came on board, she called herGranny. More and more, Libby thought of her asGran, the way Caleb did.
As head pastry cook, Gran worked in the galley just in front of one of the large paddle wheels. Her gray-white hair was pulled back and twisted into a knot at the top of her head.Smile wrinkles surrounded eyes that made her seem young.
As always, Gran’s kitchen was spotless. She took one look at Samson and said, “You can’t come into my kitchen.”
Samson looked up with his great brown eyes as though begging for food. Just the same, he seemed to know Gran was boss. Flopping down on his stomach, he lay as close to the door as he could get without crossing the threshold.
The kitchen smelled warm and good with the scent of baking cookies. As Gran took a pan out of the oven, Samson watched every move she made. With his long tongue hanging out, he waited.
“Want to help?” Gran asked Libby as she often did. When Gran turned a pan over to her, Libby shifted the cookies onto a cooling rack.
Working quickly, Gran slipped another pan into the oven. This time of the year theChristinaoften carried three hundred people, counting both passengers and crew. Feeding all of them three times a day kept Gran and her helpers busy.
As soon as the cookies were cool enough, Gran filled a plate. “Why don’t you share them with Caleb and Jordan?” she suggested.
Libby found the boys near the gangplank watching the roustabouts. Over the winter, farmers had filled the Prescott warehouses with wheat to be shipped by boat to the railroad at Dunleith, Illinois.
“Present from Gran,” Libby said as she set down the plate on a crate where Caleb sat.
The oatmeal cookies were larger than most cookies. Libby eyed the plate. There were three for each of them, and oneperson would get four. She wouldn’t mind if she was the one getting four.
I should have sneaked a cookie coming here, she thought. Picking up one of them, she bit into it. “Mmmm,” she said. “Gran’s the best cook in the whole world.”
The cookie was still warm in the middle, and Libby felt sure she had never tasted anything better. “Help yourself, Jordan,” she offered.
As he took a cookie, one of the deckhands spoke to Caleb. For a moment Caleb listened, then told Libby, “Be right back.”
When he returned five minutes later, Caleb said, “Now I’ll have one of those great cookies.”
But when Libby reached for the plate, it was empty!CHAPTER 6
Hey, Libby, what did you do—eat the whole plateful?” Caleb asked.
Libby stared at him. “I only had one cookie.”
Caleb held up the empty plate. “How can such a skinny girl have such a good appetite? We have to think of a good name for you. How about something having to do with your red hair?”
That made Libby even more upset. In her Chicago school the boys had a hundred nicknames for her red hair. She was going to stop this nonsense right now.
As though she loved her red hair more than anything in the world, Libby pulled forward a long strand. Here on deck the sunlight brought out the gold highlights.
“I do have nice hair, don’t I?” she asked, as if Caleb had given a compliment. “But I didnoteat more than one cookie. You slipped those cookies off the plate when I wasn’t looking.”
“Me? I didn’t have one,” Caleb insisted.
“It’s okay if you ate them all,” Libby said. “Just be honest about it.”
“I am,” Caleb answered. “I did not eat one cookie. Ask Jordan. He’ll tell you.”
“Oh, I get it.” Libby was growing frustrated. “Jordan,youate all of them behind my back.”
But Jordan shook his head. According to him, he too had eaten only one cookie.
Libby looked from one to the other. “You’re teasing me,” she said. “You’re just pretending you don’t know where the cookies are.”
“We didn’t take them,” Caleb insisted. His blue eyes looked as innocent as a baby’s.
Suddenly Libby giggled. “Now if Samson were here—” Libby turned to see the great black dog crossing the deck toward them. “He’d swallow a plateful of cookies in one big chomp!”
Libby stared at him. The dog had no crumbs on his muzzle. “Samson, you didn’t!” Still, his long tongue reached out as though licking his chops. “Maybe you did!”
Instead of going to Libby, Samson surprised her by edging close to Jordan. On the way upstream the two had gotten to know each other. It looked as though the dog was still protecting Jordan. After the tall boy petted him, Samson walked over to Libby.
As soon as the sacks of wheat were loaded, theChristinaput out into the Mississippi River for the trip to Dunleith, Illinois. Below Red Wing the river again widened, this time into Lake Pepin. Here too, Libby saw a towboat pulling a log raft. According to Caleb the tow would leave the raft at Reads Landing. From there the raft would again drift on the current to Winona, Minnesota, or LaCrosse, Wisconsin, to Clinton or LeClaire, Iowa, or as far away as Hannibal or St. Louis, Missouri.
During the evening meal, Captain Norstad spoke to Libbyin a low voice. “One of the passengers is missing his pocket watch.”
“Are you wondering what I’m wondering?” she asked. The man who boarded theChristinaat Stillwater had never been far from her thoughts.
“The passenger said that the chain holding the watch had a loose link. Maybe the chain gave way. The man could have lost the watch when he got off the boat at Prescott.” But when Pa’s honest eyes met Libby’s, she knew he was trying to talk himself into something he didn’t really believe.
When supper was over, Libby followed Pa up to his cabin. There she told him about the man she had noticed in the Prescott store. “I saw him start up the gangplank of another steamboat,” she said.
Now Libby realized she should have been more careful. The man could have started up, but also might have come back down and boarded theChristinainstead.
“If the man wore the red shirt now, he’d be easy to spot,” Pa answered. “Going downriver all the loggers ride the rafts. But when we come back up, we have all kinds of Red Shirts on board. They need the ride to the St. Croix River.”
Hoping to learn if the man was on board, Pa and Libby walked through theChristina. When they found no one who resembled the escaped prisoner or the man Libby had seen at Prescott, she felt relieved. But then Libby remembered. Anyone who wanted to stay out of sight could just hide behind large pieces of freight or slip into another part of the boat.
In the end, Libby wondered if their search had been a waste of time. Though Pa didn’t say it, he looked as if he felt the same way.
“Do you know what bothers me?” Libby said finally. “If the man who climbed on board at Stillwater is still here, he seems mighty clever. And dangerous too.”
Even so, Libby felt strangely comforted just from talking to Pa.It helps telling him what bothers me, she thought.Nothing feels quite as scary.
Always Libby felt proud of her father, and this was one of those moments. When she looked up into his dark brown eyes, she saw Pa’s love for her. It reminded Libby of his promise before she came to live on theChristina. “I want a never-give-up family,”she had told him.“A family that sticks together, even when it’s hard.”
“That’s the kind of family I want too,”Pa had answered.“We can be that family for each other.”
“With just two people?”
Pa nodded.“If we don’t give up on each other.”
Now Libby slipped her hand inside Pa’s. “I like being part of a never-give-up family,” she said softly.
“More trouble,” Pa said to Libby the next morning. TheChristinahad tied up at Dunleith, across the river from Dubuque, Iowa, to transfer the heavy sacks of wheat to railroad cars. When theChristinaagain headed downstream, Pa took Libby along when he talked with Caleb.
“A passenger is missing a coat and hat,” Pa told them. “That’s not something he could drop or lose like a watch. Either the escaped prisoner is on board or we have another thief.”
“What do the hat and coat look like?” Libby asked.
“The coat is long and black. The hat is black felt.”
“That’s exactly what most of the first-class men on this boat are wearing!”
“I know.” Pa sighed. “And I’m sure the thief knows it too. But there’s something I want the two of you to do. I believe the thief is entering the first-class cabins while the passengers are eating. My officers and I need to be at our table as we usually are. If we aren’t there, the thief probably won’t try anything.”
“We’ll keep watch during meals,” Caleb said quickly.
“But every cabin has two doors,” Libby said. “The thief could use either door.”
On the boiler deck where first-class passengers had their rooms, one door opened onto the deck around the outside of theChristina. The other door opened to the large main cabin where meals were served. This huge room stretched from one end of the boat to the other with the passenger rooms along the sides.
Captain Norstad asked Libby and Caleb to keep watch on one side of the boat. “I’ll get someone else for the other half,” he said. “Stay together and keep moving.”
At Galena they made a quick stop to pick up bars of lead for the St. Louis market. Soon after theChristinacontinued down the river, the bells signaled mealtime. As passengers left their rooms for the main cabin, Libby and Caleb started walking. Quickly they passed along the outer deck, through the dark hallway behind the large paddle wheel, and back along the deck again. When they reached the double doors at the forward end of the boat, they looked into the dining room. Along the walls were the inside doors to the passenger rooms.
Except for the serving people, everyone was seated. Those who served the food all wore white coats. If anyone else stoodup, Libby and Caleb would be able to spot that person at once.
“That makes our job easier,” Caleb said. Turning around, he started back the way they had come. Without speaking, Libby followed behind.
“What’s the matter?” Caleb asked as they reached the paddle wheel again.
When Libby did not answer, Caleb tried to look into her eyes. But Libby glanced away.
“Are you still mad about the cookies?” Caleb asked. “I can get more from Gran.”
What a silly thing to be mad about, Libby thought suddenly. She looked up, ready to make peace with Caleb. But just beyond him, in the area where passengers walked for exercise, she saw a newspaper blowing about on the deck. Running toward it, Libby snatched up the pages.
When Libby saw a headline on the first piece of paper, she gasped. Darting here and there, she snatched up the other pages before they blew overboard. When she had them all, she started arranging them by page number.
“You’re forgetting what your pa said,” Caleb told her. “We’re supposed to be watching for a thief.”
“You watch,” Libby said. “It’s the Stillwater paper! Someone must have brought it on board at one of our stops.”
The minute Libby had the pages in order she looked back down the long corridor outside the passenger rooms. “No one there. It’s safe,” she said.
Returning to the first page, Libby checked the date. “It’s the paper that came out yesterday, right after we left!”
“C’mon, we need to keep walking.” But now Caleb was interested too.
Then Libby found it—the article she had dreaded. “Right on the front page,” she said. “Right there where everyone will see.”
As she started reading, Caleb looked over her shoulder.ANOTHER ACCIDENT ON STILLWATER HILL
Though not on Nelson’s Grade, site of another accident, this week’s near tragedy points to a growing problem—our need for railings on steep hills.
The article went on to tell what happened, but Libby barely read the description. Instead, her eye jumped ahead to the nameJordan Parker.
“There!” Libby pointed. “See what the paper calls him? A cabin boy on theChristina. And there. It tells about Jordan’s accident on the way to St. Paul.”
Caleb took the newspaper from her.
“You said you didn’t tell the reporter about Jordan!” Libby exclaimed.
“I didn’t,” Caleb answered calmly.
“But there it is! Right there.” Libby nearly poked a hole through the paper. “How could you, Caleb? With all you’ve done to protect Jordan, how could you do this now?”
“I didn’t,” Caleb said again.
“Then who did?”
Caleb thought about it. “Nate could have said something, but we didn’t tell him what happened to Jordan on the way to St. Paul.”
Somehow that upset Libby even more. “I know,” she said. “A reporter is like a detective. He gets some information fromone person, and more information from someone else. Then he puts all the pieces together.”
“Oh, Libby, calm down,” Caleb said.
Instead, Libby’s voice rose in anger. “You gave Jordan away! You got his name put in the paper when he’s a runaway slave!”
“It doesn’t say anything about Jordan being a fugitive.”
“But someone might stop him from bringing his family out of slavery! Someone might fit it all together, just like the reporter fit pieces together. Jordan has a big reward on his head!”
“Shhh!” Caleb warned. “You’ll be the one to give Jordan away.”
Suddenly Libby looked up. Beyond Caleb, near the corner of the wall behind him, something moved.
Not something, Libby thought.Someone.
Instantly she took off, racing down the deck after the person. In the dark hallway between the paddle wheel and the passenger rooms, the person disappeared.
When Libby reached the nearest room, she pounded on the door, but no one answered.
Libby pounded again. “Do I have the right one?” she asked as Caleb caught up.
Just then the door opened. A little old lady peered out. “Yes?” she asked, her voice quivering with fright.
“I’m sorry,” Libby said quickly. “I’m mixed up.”
Racing along the corridor, she raised her hand, ready to knock at the next door.
Angry now, Caleb stopped her. “Libby, you can’t do that.”
“You’ll scare every real passenger on your pa’s boat. And the thief you want to catch won’t answer.” Taking her hand, Caleb dragged Libby away.
When they reached the front of the boiler deck it was still empty. Caleb led Libby over to the railing. There he stopped.
“I want to tell you something.” Caleb’s voice was cold with fury. “We have just missed catching the thief your pa wanted us to find. That was probably him looking for something more to steal.”
Standing there, Libby felt her throat tighten. Though she didn’t want to admit it, she knew Caleb was right.
“What’s more, I did not give Jordan away. I did not give his name, and the reporter said nothing about Jordan being a fugitive.”
Again Libby knew Caleb was right. She turned away, unable to bear Caleb’s angry eyes. But he wasn’t through.
“Except for those people we trust, not one person knows that Jordan isn’t a free black. No one knows that he’s a fugitive—that there’s a reward offered for him. But you talked so loud that anyone who wanted to listen could hear. If the man who heard you is already a thief, it won’t be hard for him to figure out what to do.”
From deep within, sobs rose in Libby’s throat. She wanted to cry out, telling Caleb how sorry she was. But when she turned back to him, only angry words spilled out. “Caleb Whitney, I don’t care what you think!”
“I’m going now,” he answered, his voice still cold with anger. “I’m looking for your father’s thief, though I’m sure I won’t find him.”
Without speaking, Libby followed Caleb around the boiler deck. Yet she knew it would do no good. Even worse, Caleb would not even glance her way.
When at last the two servings of dinner were finished,Libby clutched the newspaper to herself and hurried to the stairs. By the time she reached her room on the texas deck, tears blinded her eyes.Caleb hates me, she thought. But that wasn’t the worst. Libby now hated herself.
How could I talk so loud about such an important secret?Libby moaned to herself. With all her heart, she wanted Jordan to stay free. With all her heart, she wanted to help Jordan’s family. Instead, with a few angry words she had ruined everything.
My dream, Libby thought. Now she knew that’s what it was.My dream was to help Jordan’s family and other families like his. Now that dream was gone, like water dashing against the rocks, then falling away.
Caleb will never trust me again. And Jordan—when Jordan finds out, he’ll hate me for what I did to him.
Again Libby started crying. She was still sobbing when she fell asleep.
When Libby woke up, she had no idea what time it was. She knew only that it must be the middle of the night. For a moment she lay there, wondering what had brought her out of a sound sleep. Her head hurt. Her eyes felt swollen. She wondered what had gone wrong.
Then she remembered. Someone heard me give away Jordan’s secret. Someone we probably can’t trust. Whoever that man is, he now knows that Jordan is a fugitive!
In her misery Libby cried out to God. “I told You I loved You. I asked for Your forgiveness. How can You let this happen to me?!”
Her anger growing, Libby pounded her fists against the mattress.I thought that when I became a Christian, life wouldbe easier. That I would say and do all the right things. I wanted to do something good—to help Jordan’s family. Instead, I’ve wreckedeverything!
Just then Libby’s stomach rumbled.And I’m hungry besides!
Visions of food started to dance in Libby’s head.An apple. Where can I get an apple?Libby didn’t know. Then she remembered Gran’s big oatmeal cookies. Gran had showed her where they were in case Libby ever got hungry.
When Libby’s feet touched the floor, she realized that she had fallen asleep still wearing her dress. Only then did Libby remember: The night before she had been so upset that for the first time in her life she had not eaten supper.
This time Libby felt afraid to walk around the boat without Samson along. When she opened the door on the side of the deck where Samson slept, the great black Newfoundland stood up. As though sensing how Libby felt, he came close, brushing against her.
Following just behind Libby’s heels, Samson stayed with her all the way down to Gran’s kitchen. There Libby found six giant cookies—three for herself and three for Samson.
Taking the cookies along, Libby walked back to the front of the boat. At the top of the wide steps, she sat down in the shadows. Again Samson edged close, as though making sure Libby was all right. Flopping onto the step beside her, he stretched out. Each time Libby gobbled a cookie, she slipped one to Samson.
From here Libby looked down over the bow of theChristina. As her eyes grew used to the night, she stared ahead at the dark water and even darker trees along the shore. A stiff windhad kicked up, and the cool night air felt good after the warmth of the day.
Near the place where the gangplank usually went out, a lantern hung from a post, offering dim light. On the forward deck, crew and deck passengers lay on crates, barrels, and piles of wood—whatever they could find for a place to sleep.
As the flag whipped in the wind, Libby thought about Jordan’s plans to rescue his family. It was hard to believe that in only a few hours he and Caleb would leave the boat. But Libby didn’t even know where.Burlington, Iowa? Keokuk, Iowa? Where will they get off?
Coming upriver, Caleb had stopped in both towns. Yet, during all the times and ways he and Jordan made plans, they had never talked in front of her.
They didn’t take a chance, Libby thought, feeling angry at herself again.Maybe Caleb knew I couldn’t keep a secret.
Now there was one thing Libby felt sure about. They would leave without her. She no longer had even one tiny bit of hope that she could go along.
By the time Libby finished the cookies she felt sleepy. Yawning once, then twice, she decided she better go back to bed. Suddenly a tall shape came around the corner at the bottom of the steps. Quietly he walked across the forward deck to the bow of the boat. For a moment the person stood there, not moving, staring ahead as Libby had.
Then he straightened. Throwing back his shoulders, he reached up. With arms stretched above him, he raised his hands to the sky. Standing tall, he stretched as high as he could reach.
Instantly Libby knew who he was.Jordan.
The first night he came on board Jordan had raised hisarms, as though celebrating his freedom. Was he thinking about what it meant to stand free under a starlit sky?
As the moment passed, Jordan lowered his arms. Yet he stood there still, as though wanting to feel the cool night air—the air of freedom—against his face.
Just then someone lying on one of the crates raised his head, then sat up. When Jordan turned away from the bow, the person quickly lay down. Yet the dark outline of his body had shifted. The man now lay on his side where he could see Jordan’s movements.
Finding his way between the sleeping people, Jordan started back across the deck. Closer and closer he came toward the steps where Libby waited. Behind Jordan, the man on the crate sat up again. Without making a sound, he got to his feet and followed Jordan.
Suddenly the man’s arm shot up. A loop of rope whirred through the air. Passing over Jordan’s head, it settled around his chest.
Snapping tight, the rope jerked Jordan to a halt. As he struggled to free himself, the man moved toward him, drawing up the end of the rope as he went.CHAPTER 7Bad News
Filled with terror, Libby leaped to her feet. From deep in his throat Samson growled, “Wooooof!” In the next moment the dog started down the steps.
Just then Jordan’s right arm broke free. As the man came up behind him, Jordan thrust his elbow backward. With a quick, sharp movement he jabbed the man in the stomach. A sharpoooff!broke the quiet of the night.
With another swift jerk, Jordan pulled the rope from the man’s hands. Clutching the rope, Jordan bounded toward the stairs. Taking two steps at a time, he raced past where Libby stood in the shadows.
In panic Libby looked back to the deck. Already the man had disappeared.
As Samson returned to her, Libby breathed deeply with relief.Jordan is safe—for now. The whole thing had happened so fast it didn’t seem real.
But there was something about which Libby felt very sure.That was the man who heard me talking. Whoever he is, he’s been watching for a chance to capture Jordan and collect the reward.
There was no other way to explain the man on the deck.Without doubt Libby knew what a truly awful thing she had done.This happened to Jordan because of me.
Dropping down on the step again, Libby buried her head in her lap. Deep inside she felt a big lump as if her feelings had tied into a knot with the awfulness of what she had seen. Nuzzling against her, Samson licked her arm, but Libby paid no attention.I gave away a secret I needed to keep.
When she finally lifted her head, Libby knew one thing.I can’t handle this by myself. I’ve got to talk to someone.
For a moment she wished it could be Ma. As she pushed aside the lonely ache that came whenever she thought of her mother, Libby remembered Caleb’s grandmother. By now she would be up, shaping bread dough into rolls for breakfast. In the wee hours of morning, Libby found Gran in the pastry kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” she asked the minute she saw Libby’s face.
When Libby dropped down on a chair, her words spilled out. “I told a secret,” she said.
“Some secrets aren’t meant for keeping,” Gran answered. “What if someone does something wrong and says you can’t tell on them? Was it that kind of secret?”
“No, Gran.” Libby felt ashamed. “It’s the kind of secret that should have been kept.”
As Gran filled pan after pan with bread dough, Libby told the story. She started with what happened while she and Caleb were supposed to keep watch. She ended with the man who threw a rope over Jordan.
“It’s my fault,” Libby said.
Gran sighed. “Much as I hate to say it, I think you’re right. Everything fits. It was dark on deck. No one else was watching.No one who objects to slavery saw Jordan being caught. All the man had to do was hide Jordan and take him off the boat when we reach a slave state.”
“I’m sorry, Gran,” Libby said. “It’s a terrible thing to give away such an important secret.”
“Yes, it is.” Gran was honest about it. “You hurt Jordan and his family, but it’s much more. You put a great number of people in danger. Do you understand how the Underground Railroad works?”
“I think so,” Libby said.
But Gran went on. “Let’s imagine what would happen if a slave catcher saw a fugitive enter a station—a house where people hide runaway slaves. The slave catcher might not pounce there. He could watch and wait till that slave went on to the next station, and the next, and the next. If the fugitive and the people who helped him didn’t hide what they were doing, a slave catcher would soon know a whole route. And he’d know the conductors—the people like Caleb who take fugitives from one station to the next.”
The idea upset Gran so much that sparks of anger lit her eyes. Wiping the flour from her hands, she dropped down on a chair next to Libby.
“It’s secrecy that makes the Underground Railroad work, Libby. I know the people who send runaway slaves to me. I know how to send fugitives to the next person. That’s all Ineedto know. Someone like Caleb knows many more people and places. But probably only a few people know the main routes across Iowa.”
“You know only what you need to know,” Libby said slowly.
“It’s better that way,” Gran said. “Otherwise, if one persongives something away, there could be a great number of people who get hurt.”
Libby felt afraid to tell Gran her dream, yet it spilled out. “I wanted to help Jordan’s family. I want to help many runaway slaves. But look what I did!”
No longer did Libby believe she could do anything she set out to do. Instead, she knew how easily she could fail. Because of that, being part of the Underground Railroad seemed even more difficult—even impossible.
Suddenly Libby wished she could take the first train to Chicago.I want to go back to living with Auntie Vi. I want to be where life is easier, even if it isn’t as exciting.
Gran covered the pans with towels, then sat down again. “You want to run, don’t you?” she asked as if she guessed Libby’s thoughts. “You want to give up and forget about the whole problem of slavery.”
Libby stared at her. “How did you know?”
“Because I’ve often thought the same thing. It would be much simpler not being involved. I wouldn’t have to watch every word I say. I wouldn’t be so afraid for Caleb.”
“You’re afraid?” Libby asked.
“Often I’m afraid,” Gran answered. “Caleb is my only grandson.”
“Then why do you let him be part of the Underground Railroad?”
When Gran spoke, Libby knew she had often thought about her answer. “For every one of us there comes a time when we make a choice about what we believe,” Gran said. “We don’t know how it’s going to affect our life or the people we love. When I made my choice, I said to myself, ‘Slaveryfor any human being is wrong. I’m going to do what I can to change it.’”
“Was it hard for you—at first, I mean?”
“It’s still hard.” Gran’s smile reached her eyes. “You see, I was involved in the Underground Railroad before Caleb. That’s why Caleb got involved. He was only nine years old, but he caught on to what I was doing.”
“So your choice became his.”
“He chose for himself,” Gran explained. “But I don’t know if he would have made that choice if I hadn’t.”
“Strange,” Libby said. She thought back to the day when Caleb took her to the slave auction in St. Louis. “I wouldn’t have wanted to help if Caleb hadn’t opened my eyes.”
Gran nodded. She understood that too. “Since I decided to help fugitives, my life has never been the same. I haven’t succeeded at everything I’ve tried. But I haven’t lost a passenger.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.” Tears welled up in Libby’s eyes again. “I’ve already failed. I even put Jordan’s life in danger.”
“Have you told God you’re sorry?” Gran asked.
Libby shook her head. “He doesn’t like me.”
“Oh, Libby!” Gran exclaimed. “Why do you think that?”
Libby found it hard to explain, but when she tried, the words tumbled out. “I thought if I became a Christian that I’d say and do all the right things. Instead—” Libby stopped, unable to go on. As she began to weep, she turned away from Gran. But Gran’s arms surrounded her, holding Libby tight. When she finally stopped crying, Gran’s voice was soft.
“There’s a secret you need to know, Libby. Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean your life will be easier, or thatyou’ll be perfect. But if you let Him, God will help you with whatever you face.”
“Then everything will be okay?”
“Not quite,” Gran said. “Sometimes we have to live with what happens because of what we did.”
“You mean Jordan and his family might still suffer because of what I did.”
Gran nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
“And there’s nothing I can do to change that?”
“Pray,” Gran said. “See if God brings something good out of this. All right?”
Libby found it hard to believe that something good could possibly come from what she had done. But if Gran said so,maybeit was true.
When Libby stood up to go, she was no longer afraid to look into Gran’s blue eyes. “Thanks,” Libby said softly. Her shoulders no longer slumped, and she held her head a bit higher.Maybe I understand Jordan’s proud look just a little better. He’s not proud in the wrong way. He just knows how God can help him.
When Libby stepped out on the deck, the eastern sky was pink.A new day, Libby thought. She breathed deeply. The fresh morning air brought comfort to her heart.Maybe the most important thing about failing is what I learn from it.
It was too early in the morning to set things right with Caleb and Jordan, but Libby’s thoughts leaped ahead.Okay. So I can’t go on the trip. But I’m going to believe that Jordan’s family will get here safely. If they do, what will they need?
When Libby reached the texas deck, she realized that Samsonwas still trailing her. As he swished his big muzzle in his bowl of water, Libby opened the door of her room. She took one look at her quilts and knew what to do. Once before she had given them away. Now they were back, washed and clean—ready for someone who might need them more than she did.
Again Libby thought ahead. It might be hard sneaking Jordan’s family on board and into the secret hiding place. When they came, they could be wet and cold from walking in rain. What if it was impossible to give them something warm?
This would be a good time, Libby thought.Most of the passengers are still sleeping. But how can I carry quilts so that no one guesses what I’m doing?
More than once Caleb had warned Libby that there were Southern sympathizers on board—people who supported the idea of slavery. One of these people was Bates, the first mate. Libby’s stomach tightened with dread just thinking about him. But there was an even bigger problem—the man who tried to catch Jordan during the night—and Libby didn’t know who he was.
Then Libby remembered that her father had warm wool blankets. It would take two trips to carry her quilts and his blankets. That meant twice as much chance of being seen.
Going out on deck, Libby looked around. As she tried to decide what to do, Samson nudged his empty food bowl. With a quietwoofhe reminded her that he was hungry.
Suddenly Libby laughed. Newfoundland dogs were known for helping people carry loads. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you food,” she told Samson. “But you’ll have to work for it.”
Libby told the dog to stay, then raced down the steps. In the engine room she got pieces of rope and flew back up thestairs. Quickly she rolled her quilts as tightly as she could, then tied rope around them. In Pa’s cabin she did the same with his blankets.
On his bed she left a note.
I need your blankets, Pa. Can you buyquilts or blankets for both of us in St. Louis?
Back outside again Libby put her father’s blankets on Samson’s back. Carefully she balanced the load so it wouldn’t be hard for the dog on the stairs. “As soon as we’re done, you get to eat,” Libby promised.
Down the few steps from the texas to the hurricane deck Libby went, then down the longer flight to the boiler deck. Samson followed her as if he did this every day of his life. On the main deck, Libby walked into the cargo room behind the stairs. Close to the door into the engine room was a small but heavy-looking piece of machinery. As though to give it more strength, the machine was mounted on a piece of wood.
Libby glanced around.No one in sight.
Her fingers awkward with hurry, Libby untied the blankets. Kneeling down, she pushed the wood base under the machine. When it moved to one side, she pulled up the hatch underneath. Quickly she tossed Pa’s blankets down the hole. With a thud they landed on the floor of the hull, five feet below.
Just as quickly Libby closed the opening and pulled the machine back in place. As she stood up, she heard footsteps. Libby took her place next to Samson and started walking. A moment later Mr. Bates appeared.
“Good morning, Miss Libby,” he said.
“Good day, Mr. Bates,” Libby answered.
“Up bright and early, aren’t you? Exercising your dog?”
Libby gulped, remembering she should not lie.
“See how he’s learning to mind me?” she asked instead. Telling Samson to stay, she walked toward the door that lead to the forward deck. There she turned and called.
Samson came to her at once, and Libby kept walking. In spite of the cool morning she felt warm with nervousness.
Another trip still, she thought, dreading the idea.
Back on the texas deck again, she piled her quilts on the Newfoundland’s back. “I’m training you to carry loads, Samson,” she said. “If anyone asks, you remember that.”
Once again Libby started out. As she passed onto the boiler deck she found first-class passengers coming out of their rooms to take their exercise. More than once someone smiled at her and Samson. Giving a quick wave, Libby smiled back but kept going.
When she reached the main deck again, Libby looked around. Sure enough, Bates stood there as if waiting for her. Instead of turning into the cargo room, Libby started around the corner to the side deck. Wherever there was enough space, she walked, called for Samson to follow, then praised him when he did.
“Good dog. Good boy, Samson. You’re learning fast,” Libby said, loudly enough for Bates to hear.
For at least fifteen minutes Libby waited for the first mate to leave. Finally she headed for Gran’s kitchen to get Samson his food. When he finished eating, Libby returned to the forward deck.
To her disappointment Bates was still there. Whenever sheglanced his way, Libby saw him looking toward her. At last he seemed to grow tired of watching her. But when he walked up the steps, he turned around when he reached the boiler deck. Just before passing through the doors into the main cabin, he turned again. This time Libby smiled and waved.
Bates was too dignified to wave back. With his back straight and his shoulders stiff, he marched into the dining room.
The minute he disappeared, Libby hurried into the cargo room. With trembling fingers she untied her quilts. Once more she glanced around, making sure that no one watched. Then she pushed aside the machine and pulled up the secret hatch.
As she picked up a quilt to throw it down the hole, she heard a door open.CHAPTER 8
Libby’s heart pounded. Whirling around, she stared at the two people standing near the door from the engine room. In the dim light it was hard to see their faces.
Then one of them spoke. “What you doin’, Libby?”
Libby sagged with relief. Even her knees felt weak. “You scared me, Jordan. I’m bringing blankets for your family.” Though they had never talked about it, Libby felt sure that Jordan knew about the hiding place for runaway slaves.
“I thanks you, Libby,” Jordan said.
When Caleb stepped forward, Libby felt angry. “You’re following me around now?”
It upset Libby. If Caleb and Jordan found it so easy to figure out what she was doing, what about someone else—someone who shouldn’t know?
Libby picked up the quilts, tossed them into the hold, closed the hatch, and swung the machinery back into place. With Samson trailing behind her, she stalked off.
“Wait, Libby,” Caleb called.
“What for?” Already Libby had forgotten she was going to set things straight with Caleb and Jordan. Instead of helpingher hide the quilts and blankets, the boys had watched and followed her, scaring her besides.
As she reached the door to the deck, Caleb caught up. “We need to talk,” he said.
“I need to talk,” Libby said. “You need to listen. But this isn’t the time.”
“Yes, it is,” Caleb said. “We’re leaving soon.”
“To start the rescue?” Libby had both dreaded and looked forward to that moment.
When Caleb took the lead, Libby followed him up to the hurricane deck. It was still quiet there and the three could sit down and talk.
“You first, Libby,” Caleb said.
Though it was just what she wanted, it was not the way Libby wanted it. With her heart still pounding, she began to explain. “That man on the deck last night—the one who threw a rope around Jordan—”
“You saw him?” Caleb asked. “We were just going to tell you about him.”
“I’m sorry, Caleb,” Libby said. “I’m sorry for losing my temper, for saying the wrong things, for talking too loud.”
But Libby knew this was much bigger than the argument between the two of them. Caleb wasn’t just any boy. Since the age of nine, he had risked his own safety for what he believed about the freedom of slaves. He had built up a reputation as someone other people could trust.
As a lump formed in Libby’s throat, she swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, most of all, for betraying a secret.”
Fighting against tears, Libby turned to Jordan. “I’m sorry,Jordan, for giving you away. For hurting your chances to rescue your family.”
“I forgives you, Libby,” Jordan said simply.
“You forgive me?” Libby asked. “Just like that?”
“Yes’m. Just like that.”
“But that man who threw the rope around you—it was my fault, Jordan. He must have heard me talk. How can you forgive me?”
“I ain’t got no choice,” Jordan answered.
I ain’t got no choice. Like a spinning wheel the words went round and round in Libby’s head. As if she were still standing there, she saw Jordan at the auction where he was sold as a slave. She remembered the names he was called. In the weeks between then and now, she had come to a better understanding of how much those names hurt.
Unable to shake the grief in her heart, Libby remembered another time—when Caleb washed the great open wounds of the whip marks across Jordan’s back. That was the day when Jordan told them what his daddy had taught him.“Jordan, hatin’ robs your bones of strength, makes you blind when you needs to fight. If you forgive, you be strong.”
Now Jordan leaned forward, as if wanting to be sure Libby understood. “Long time ago my daddy say, ‘It ain’t how people treats you on the outside that counts. It’s what you is on the inside. You gots to be sure that be good, ’cause you can’t run away from yourself.’”
Libby stared at him. “I can’t run away from myself?”
“Wherever you is, you is the person you is goin’ to be with.”
Libby thought about it. “I don’t have any choice about beingwith Libby Norstad.” It almost struck her funny. “Ihaveto be with myself!”
Jordan grinned. “You got it!”
In that moment Libby felt as if a weight had fallen off her shoulders. “Okay,” she said. “I can’t run away from knowing that I did something wrong.” Libby looked from Jordan to Caleb. “But I want to be different. I want God to help me start over again.”
As Libby stood up to leave, she noticed a well-dressed man standing along the rail. He seemed to be looking out across the river. But Libby had been so busy talking that she hadn’t noticed when the man came on deck.
What did he hear?Libby wondered, feeling frantic again. It wasn’t hard to tell that he had been listening.
By the time Libby reached the texas deck she remembered Caleb’s words. “We’ll be leaving soon,” he had said. Like a toothache Libby felt her disappointment that she wouldn’t be going along.
Inside her room Libby found the newspaper she had dropped on the floor the night before. Taking the scattered pages, she spread them out on the floor to read.
Once again she saw the article about their accident. Nearby was another article, one Libby had missed.MAN FLEES STILLWATER PRISON
The well-known and dangerous prisoner known as Sam McGrady escaped the Minnesota Territorial Prison yesterday. Before being captured, he was part of a gang that robbed a number of banks inMinnesota Territory and the state of Iowa. During the last holdup before Sam’s imprisonment, a bank teller was seriously hurt.
The outlaw is known for his ability to do rope tricks. It is believed that at some time he worked on a ranch in the West. He has been called light fingered because of the way he makes whatever he steals disappear.
Sam McGrady was seen climbing over the wall of the prison by Nate Johnson of Stillwater and three friends from the steamboatChristina. At that time Sam was wearing gray pants and a white shirt. As Nate and the others tried to report his escape, they were involved in the accident reported elsewhere in this paper.
A logger from the upper St. Croix River remembers seeing a man wearing the gray pants, wool cap, and red and blue jacket that is the usual dress of Stillwater prisoners. The escaped prisoner may have hidden in the cave used to store food for the cook shack. If so, he could have boarded a steamboat and left this area.
Sam McGrady may be armed and is thought to be dangerous.
Libby gasped.That’s the man I saw in the store at Prescott! That’s exactly what he was wearing. So he has to be the person who threw the rope around Jordan last night!
Her heart in her throat, Libby snatched up the newspaper and raced out of the room.
When Libby found Pa in his cabin, he too had bad news.A man had just reported a three-piece suit and a white shirt missing.
Libby frowned.That well-dressed man who came on deck while I talked to Caleb and Jordan. That man was wearing a three-piece suit. But so are a lot of other men on board.
“Let me guess,” Libby said. “It’s a suit like any first-class passenger would wear.”
Pa grinned. “As Jordan would say, ‘You got it!’”
“If only I could have caught a better look at the prisoner’s face,” Libby said. More than once she had tried to remember what the man looked like when he came over the wall. She had been too far away to see even the color of his eyes.
When Libby showed Pa the newspaper article, he said, “I’m not surprised. At least we know who we’re looking for.”
After a search of theChristina, Libby found Caleb and Jordan in the baggage room with each of them sitting on a large trunk. As she drew near they stopped talking, and Libby felt sure they were making plans.
Libby handed Caleb the newspaper. When she sat down, Caleb read the article aloud. Jordan looked over his shoulder, as though hoping he could match Caleb’s words with words he had learned to read.
“Uh-oh!” Caleb exclaimed when he finished. “Maybe I did you wrong, Libby. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam McGrady picked up our cookies as he came on board.”
“I got the feelin’ I know that man already,” Jordan said. “And I sure don’t like that rope of his.”
“He must be the man I saw in the store at Prescott,” Libby said.
“If you’re right, you’re the only one on board who knows what he looks like,” Caleb told her.
Libby hadn’t thought about that. “You mean I’m the only one who can identify him?”
“Yup,” Caleb answered. “And he sure knows who you are with your red hair.”
“Myauburnhair.” As Libby tossed her head, her long hair swung around her shoulders. But Caleb had something more important in mind.
“We’re just making final plans to rescue Jordan’s mother.”
Libby jumped to her feet. “I’ll leave so you can talk.” For the first time she felt glad that Jordan and Caleb would make the trip without her. At least Jordan would be off the boat, away from Sam McGrady. “If I don’t see you before you go, have a safe trip.”
But Jordan stopped her. “Hold on there, Libby. Me and Caleb was talking about something.”
Libby looked from one to the other.Arguing, you mean, she thought. When she sat down again, Jordan held out a slate.
“Caleb taught me how to writeBurlington,” Jordan said proudly. He erased the name and drew a line that stood for the Mississippi River. Next to that line Jordan put a dot, then aBfor Burlington.
Farther down the Mississippi, Jordan carefully printed aKnext to a dot for Keokuk, Iowa. Then he drew a line for the Des Moines River. Inland from Keokuk, he put a third dot, and the letterC.
“Cahoka,” Jordan said. “In northeast Missouri. That’s where Momma is—on a farm in Clark County. Old Massa sold Momma up north from where I was. I ain’t never been where Momma and my sisters and my brother are.”
Libby waited. Where was this all going to lead? She only knew that on their trip upriver Caleb had gone into Burlington, Iowa. For a while he and Gran had lived there, and Caleb had contacts with the Underground Railroad.
“I talked to some people I know in Burlington.” Caleb’s voice sounded stiff, as if he really didn’t want to tell Libby what was going on. “I asked them to have a peddler’s wagon in Keokuk when we came back down the river.”
But now Caleb and Jordan agreed that the risk was too great. Sam McGrady would find it a simple matter to follow the high square sides of a peddler’s wagon.
“I got a new plan,” Jordan told Libby. “Me and Caleb needs to get off in Burlington.”
“We’ll get horses to ride,” Caleb said. “If someone tries to follow us, it won’t be as hard to get away from him. We’ll travel on land while theChristinagoes down the river.”
Caleb spoke quickly now, and Libby knew they were running out of time. “On the other side of the Des Moines River, we’ll get a farm wagon and look like anybody traveling through.”
But there Jordan disagreed. “I has to be your driver,” he said to Caleb. “You has to be my owner.”
A quick flash of something Libby didn’t understand crossed Caleb’s face. But when he spoke, she heard the grieving in his voice.
“I don’t want to even play the part,” Caleb said.
“If someone thinks we is friends, you be in big trouble,”Jordan answered. “And I be unable to rescue my family.”
A long look passed between them. Finally Caleb nodded.
“But you can’t look proud,” he warned. “If you look proud, anyone who sees you will know it’s you. That’s how the reward poster described you.”
As if he had thought through every detail of his plan, Jordan grinned. “I ain’t goin’ to look proud. You’ll see.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” Libby asked.
As Jordan’s gaze met Caleb’s, Libby again felt sure there had been a disagreement. But she also knew something else. A few weeks before, Caleb had made a surprising offer to Jordan.“You tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”
Jordan had leaped up, his eyes blazing with anger.“You is foolin’ me, sure enough! There ain’t no slave boy who tells a white boy what to do!”
But Caleb hadn’t been making fun of Jordan.“I know what to do if I find a runaway slave,”Caleb had said.“I know how to hide a fugitive who comes near theChristina.What you need to do will be a whole lot harder.”
From then on, whenever Libby asked if she could help in the rescue, Caleb had followed one rule. It was Jordan planning the trip. Though Libby felt sure that Caleb didn’t want her along, he had no choice but to stick to his own words.
Now Libby repeated her question. “What do you want me to do?”
“I wants you to go in that peddler wagon,” Jordan said. “I wants you and the peddler to drive right up to that farmhouse. While you does that, me and Caleb sneaks into that farm any way we can. We finds Momma and tells her we is leavin’ for the Promised Land.”
“You wantmeto talk to the owners?” The memory of how she had failed still haunted Libby. “What if I do the wrong thing?”
“Just because you done one thing wrong don’t mean you is goin’ to do everything wrong,” Jordan told her. “The Lord told me we is goin’ to need you.”
“Youneedme?” Libby looked from one boy to the other. When Caleb did not meet her eyes, Libby knew she had been right. Caleb still did not want her along.
“Why do you want two wagons?” Libby asked.
“If something happens so me and Caleb don’t git there, Momma’s got another way to escape.”
As though he could no longer sit still, Jordan started pacing up and down in the open space between baggage. “It be early mornin’ now. We has a whole day to git to the farm and find my family. We needs to rescue them by midnight tonight. If we gits away by then, we has till first light tomorrow mornin’ to find a hiding place.”
Suddenly Jordan stopped his pacing. “I is feeling more and more uneasy about my family.”
“What’s wrong?” Caleb asked.
“Right here.” Jordan thumped his chest. “I been feeling the jiggles for three, four days now. Something is goin’ on with Momma and my sisters and my brother.”
“Something bad?” Libby asked.
Jordan nodded. “Something real bad.”
“How do you know?”
“I hears it like a warnin’ bell. Like the Lord is deep inside me sayin’, ‘Jordan, you got to git there soon. You got to git there as fast as you can.’”
“Do you understand what’s wrong?” Caleb asked as if he had no doubt about Jordan hearing from God.
Jordan shook his head. “But I knows one thing.” His face filled with despair. “If my family gits sold away before I git there, I ain’t never goin’ to see them again.”CHAPTER 9The Red Shirts
We got to pray,” Jordan said. Between two big trunks, he dropped down on his knees. “We got to pray right now.”
When Jordan stretched his arms high above his head, Libby felt glad there was no one around to see. But then Jordan started praying with the boldness of talking to a good friend. Libby closed her eyes.
“Mighty Jesus, we needs Your help. We needs Your love and protection and favor. We needs You to blind the eyes and shut the ears of them people who want to hurt us. Open the eyes and open the ears of them people You want to help us.”
As if in answer to Jordan’s prayer, Libby’s eyes flew open. Jordan’s eyes were open too. Rocking on his knees, he swayed forward and back, looking up to heaven. “Bring my momma and my brother Zack, my sister Serena, and my little sister Rose safe into your Promised Land!”
As though the Lord had already rescued his family, Jordan sank back on his heels. “Jesus, we thanks You that when we is weak, You makes us strong. Hallelujah! A–men!”
When Caleb looked up, Jordan’s gaze met his. Instead of worry, a glad light shone in Jordan’s eyes.
I wish I could be so sure of what God can do, Libby thought.
Before long, Jordan left them to get ready for the trip. Libby stayed where she was, leaning against a large piece of baggage. Her head bowed, she felt as if she could barely speak.
I thought I could do whatever I set out to do. Jordan knows more about rescuing his family than any of us. And he knows he can’t do it without God.Libby’s cheeks burned with shame just remembering how sure of herself she had been.
She still felt uncomfortable with Caleb. Because she knew he didn’t want her along, there was something stiff and awkward between them. Now a nagging thought entered Libby’s mind.Caleb doesn’t think I can do it. Maybe he’s right.
Yet there was a question Libby needed to ask. “Did you mean it when you told Jordan he could lose his life?”
“I meant it,” Caleb answered as though he had no doubt about his words.
“But for Pa—if he got caught with a fugitive, it would be fines or imprisonment. Maybe losing theChristina.”
Caleb nodded. “He’s taking a risk for something he believes in. A risk he doesn’t have to take.”
“And for Jordan—” Libby’s voice trailed off. “It could be hislife?”
“He’s a fugitive,” Caleb reminded.
“But our founding fathers fought for life,” Libby said. “That’s exactly what the men who signed the Declaration of Independence wanted—Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
More than once during their history lessons, Pa had talked about the document these men had signed. Now, as though it could give Jordan safety, Libby repeated their words. “‘We holdthese truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal—’”
Caleb joined her. “‘That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights—’”
“‘That among these are Life—’” Libby stopped, unable to go on. This last week, life had become very precious to her.
“Are there many runaway slaves who go back for their families?” Libby asked when at last she spoke.
“It’s unusual. Sometimes a man escapes and works hard to buy the freedom of his wife and children. But now, since that 1850 fugitive slave law, slave catchers have been chasing fugitives all the way to Canada. It’s mighty hard for a fugitive to go back.”
“Caleb, how do you know if it’s really God talking to Jordan?”
“I watch to see what happens,” Caleb said. “I want to know if it’s something good, like God’s protection. If Jordan is hearing the Lord, it should help people, not hurt them.”
“So it turns out that Jordan has done the best thing?” Libby asked.
Caleb nodded, but Libby still felt scared. She remembered Jordan’s owner, the cruel slave trader. “Is Jordan going to have trouble with Riggs again?”
To Libby’s surprise Caleb started pacing the floor in much the same way Jordan had. That worried Libby even more. Usually Caleb stayed calm even when really awful things happened. Now he was clearly nervous about what Jordan planned to do.
“Riggs is a really big slave trader, Libby. He’s a rich man with lots of property. I’m surprised he’s chased Jordan as much as he has. He hasn’t got time to run around after one slave, unless—”
A dark, angry look came into Caleb’s eyes.
“Unless what?” Though Libby wanted to know, she dreaded the answer.
Caleb stopped pacing. “Remember how Riggs said, ‘I never had a slave get away from me—alive, that is!’ Riggs might have a special hatred for Jordan because hedidget away. If it becomes a matter of revenge—”
“Riggs could chase Jordan to the ends of the earth,” Libby said slowly, disliking even the sound of her words. “You mean Riggs might want to prove to himself that no one can get away from him?”
By the set of Caleb’s chin, Libby knew that was exactly what he meant.
Then there was something else Libby knew. She remembered why she liked Caleb. In spite of their disagreement about whether she could go along, they seemed to understand each other. Not since the reporter interviewed him had Libby felt so good just being with Caleb.
Less than an hour later, theChristina’s whistle blew for Burlington. Near where the gangplank would go down, Libby and Jordan waited.
As the steamboat came about for the landing, Libby glanced down at the river only a foot or so below the edge of the deck. With no railing between her and the water, she was careful to stand back.
From her earliest memory Libby’s parents had warned her about the dangers of the narrow strip of water between the boat and shore. More than once she had heard stories about someone who fell in, never to rise again. Though Libbywas thirteen and tall for her age, the murky depths of the river were well over her head.
Growing more and more impatient, she looked around, searching for Caleb. “Where is he?” she asked Jordan.
But Jordan only shrugged. “We can’t look like we is together, you know.”
While Libby and Jordan waited, other passengers gathered around. The man closest to the edge of the deck seemed most anxious to leave. Standing with his back to Libby, he wore a hat and long coat in spite of the warmth of the morning. With his highly polished shoes, he looked like a businessman returning home after a trip.
With her deep whistle sounding, theChristinadrew close to the waterfront. Near Libby, one of the deckhands picked up a landing line. With one end of the rope attached to a cleat on the deck, he wrapped the other end in a coil around his shoulder and elbow.
The moment the gangplank dropped down, the deckhand raced up the plank. In quick, sharp jerks the rope played out behind him.
Again Libby stepped back, but the businessman moved forward. Near the edge of the boat he stood, eagerly looking at the town.
Just then the rope jerked. Snapping tight, it slapped the man across the back of his legs.Whap!
Suddenly the man lost his balance. Falling forward, he landed hard, with his stomach hitting the edge of the deck. In the next instant he somersaulted into the dark water between the boat and shore. A moment later he disappeared.
Libby gasped. Around her, people cried out. Had the man’sbreath been knocked out of him? Before Libby could even think what to do, Jordan rushed past her. Kneeling down on the gangplank, he waited.
After what seemed a lifetime, a head rose to the surface—a head with short, closely cut hair. The man’s face was turned toward shore.
Jordan called to him, “Here!” Stretching out his hand, Jordan reached across the water.
As though straining toward the sound of Jordan’s voice, the man lifted an arm covered with a heavy coat.
His clothes, Libby thought.His shoes weighing him down. He’s got only one chance.
“Here!” Jordan called again.
As he stretched still farther, Libby gulped.If he falls in—one slip—
Quickly Jordan lay down on the gangplank. Again he stretched as far as he could go. This time he grabbed onto the man’s hands. With a mighty heave, Jordan pulled him up till he lay across the gangplank.
For a moment the man clung to the board, trying to catch his breath. Then Jordan stood up and helped him to his feet. As though unable to stand by himself, the man bent double. Guiding him by the arm, Jordan led him the rest of the way to theChristina’s deck.
Even when Jordan let go, the man did not stand up. Still in pain, his shoulders twisted. At last he slowly straightened, facing Jordan.
“It’syou!” the man exclaimed.
As if he had been burned, the man drew back. Without another word, he stalked off. A moment later he disappearedin the crowd of passengers.
“What an ungrateful person!” Libby exclaimed.
“Maybe,” Jordan said calmly.
But Caleb was there now, and Libby told him the whole story. “That man had his breath knocked out. His clothes and shoes weighed him down. He might never have come back up, even a second time.”
Listening closely, Caleb agreed with Libby about the man’s close call. But Libby was angry now.
“You saved his life, Jordan! And all he said was ‘It’syou!’”
As though it didn’t matter, Jordan shrugged aside the whole thing. “Me and Caleb needs to go,” he said instead.
Lowering his voice, he spoke to Libby. “We meets you at the farm.” Turning, Jordan started down the gangplank.
Then Caleb stood in front of Libby. As she looked into his eyes, Libby knew that moment when she and Caleb seemed to understand each other was gone. Instead, she saw the stiffness that told her Caleb didn’t want her along.
When his gaze met hers he said, “Don’t take any chances, Libby. We want you back safe.”
Then he too was gone.
As Caleb and Jordan started up a Burlington street, Libby watched them go. Each boy carried only a bag on his back. They walked separately, as they usually did when surrounded by people they didn’t know. Now and then, Caleb turned just slightly, as though keeping an eye on Jordan. Just as often Jordan glanced over toward Caleb.
I hope they’re okay, Libby thought. It frightened her just thinking about all the things that could happen to them.
Behind the two boys, other people followed the passengersalready on shore. Then roustabouts began unloading freight.
Caleb and Jordan were still in sight when a man hurried past Libby and down the gangplank. The man wore a business suit and hat and seemed familiar. Then, as he reached the first warehouse on the riverfront, he turned just slightly. For the first time Libby saw his face.
The man who fell into the water! The man Jordan rescued!
Libby felt amazed at how fast the man had changed clothes. He was nearly two blocks away when Libby noticed something.He’s not carrying a suitcase or carpetbag. And when he stood near the gangplank he had no baggage. Yet Libby felt sure the man was leaving theChristinafor good.
Like a needle poking into her skin, a question jabbed Libby’s mind.Where did he get the dry clothes?
Her thoughts leaped ahead.His hair is so short, it would have dried fast.
Short hair. Hair that has grown. If someone had one side of his head shaved—if it started to grow out, and he cut the other half to match—
The escaped prisoner! The man I saw in Prescott. Sam McGrady!
So! He stole more clothes. Libby wondered which passenger would be angry now. Then she realized something much worse.If that man is Sam McGrady, he’s hurrying up the hill after Caleb and Jordan!
Without another thought, Libby raced down the gangplank after the boys. By the time she reached the center of town, she was out of breath, and her side ached.
The escaped prisoner was nowhere in sight. Neither were Caleb and Jordan.
Just then Libby heard theChristina’sfinal warning bell. She had been so concerned about warning Caleb and Jordan that she hadn’t even heard the earlier signals. Now she had no choice but to hurry back to the boat.
“Forty miles to Keokuk,” Pa told Libby. “Three and a half hours or so.”
Standing on the main deck with people all around them, Pa said no more. But Libby knew what he was talking about.
“If all goes well, you’ll meet about the same time,” he said quietly.
In the hour before they left theChristina, Caleb and Jordan had met in the captain’s cabin. Pa had agreed that their plan was a good one—as safe as something like this could be.
Now excitement filled Libby.I really get to help with Jordan’s family!She still found it hard to believe that she was going along.
Then she looked up at her father. When she saw the love in his eyes, she remembered how Gran felt about Caleb and the Underground Railroad.
“I’ll be careful, Pa,” Libby promised.
Her father smiled. “Please do. You’re the only one I have left.”
Then a passenger wanted to talk to Pa, so Libby searched out Gran in the pastry kitchen. She found Samson there too, sitting on his haunches just outside the door.
“Will you feed him while I’m gone?” Libby asked, and Gran nodded.
Her smile was as warm as her kind blue eyes. “God go with you, Libby.”
But when Gran hugged her, Libby knew. Caleb’s grandmother already looked forward to that moment when all of them returned.
Standing high on the hurricane deck, Libby looked down over the railing to the river far below. Deep and dark it seemed now, just like the time ahead. Libby wished she could see through to the end—to know that Jordan and his family would reach theChristinasafely. But the future was filled with dangers Libby could not know. She only knew that she had to listen to Caleb and Jordan and pay attention when Jordan felt uneasy.
More than once since Libby met him, Jordan had felt that uneasiness. Libby knew it was not just a worried feeling, but a lack of God’s peace. Both Caleb and Libby had learned to respect the way God gave direction to Jordan.
Libby still felt surprised that Jordan believed God wanted her along.Why?she wondered. The day in which Libby thought she could do whatever she set out to do seemed far in the past. Now she had no doubt about all the things she could do wrong.
The whole thing seemed strange to Libby.Maybe God likes it when people ask for His help. As she thought about it, she began praying. “Lord, what do You want me to do? Will You show me?”
Then, as if it had happened only a minute before, Libby remembered the day she sat on deck, drawing passengers. When Caleb saw one of her sketches, he said,“It’s good—really good!”
He had even told Libby, “Maybe your drawing ability will help us free Jordan’s family. I don’t know how, but let’s think about it.”
Since then, Libby hadn’t had much time to think about anything, let alone her drawing. Now she went into her room and took her pencils and drawing paper from her trunk. Then she found a piece of waterproof fabric made of cloth and rubber. Carefully she wrapped it around the paper.
Then Libby put on her jean skirt and her best walking shoes. In a small bag she put the package of paper, her pencils, a warm sweater, and a change of clothes in case she got wet. With that and the food Gran would give her, she was ready for her trip into northeastern Missouri.
When Libby left her room, she climbed the stairs to one of her favorite spots, the pilothouse. Mr. Fletcher, the pilot, stood at one side of the great wheel he used to steer the boat. Because of the wheel’s size, it went partway down into the floor.
In front of and above the pilot hung an arrangement of ropes and bell pulls used to signal the engine far below. Four foot pedals—two whistle and two brake pedals—were in the floor in front of the wheel. At one side, also close to the floor, was a speaking tube.
Sometimes the pilot used bells to signal the engineer. Other times he called down into the tube that was shaped like the end of a trumpet.
Mr. Fletcher turned toward Libby. “Making good time” was all he said before looking back at the river. In the weeks since she had come on board to live with Pa, Fletcher had grown used to her visits.
Libby felt relieved. If anything held them up, their timing would be wrong for meeting Caleb and Jordan at the Missouri farm.
Now Libby gazed down, beyond the bow of theChristina.As always, the excitement she felt in the pilothouse flowed into her. With it came her love for the river.
Ahead of them, the waters of the great Mississippi spread wide. Along the shore, the leaves of trees were still bright with the newness of spring.
Before long the channel narrowed. Soon theChristinarounded a bend in the river. Not far ahead, directly in her path, lay one of the huge rafts they had seen coming downstream.
When the raft entered a narrow passageway between an island and the riverbank, Libby watched the Red Shirts standing on the two ends of the raft. Each man held one of the long poles used for steering.
Beyond the raft, farther downriver, was a steamboat coming upstream. Suddenly Mr. Fletcher reached out, yanking two bell pulls. Moments later the great paddle wheels reversed, slowing the boat. Fletcher’s hands tightened on the wheel.
“That steamboat,” he muttered. “The pilot isn’t giving the raft enough room.”
In the next instant Fletcher leaped onto a brake pedal. With his other foot he slammed down a second pedal. Long and loud the warning whistle shrieked.
“If that steamboat comes too close—” Fletcher’s face was grim. Again he sounded a warning. “Suction can pull the raft toward the steamboat. If a chain on the raft breaks—”
Libby didn’t have to be told. From what Caleb had said, a chain stretched between each of the logs on the outermost part of the raft. That chain of logs held all the other logs in place.
Again Fletcher yanked the rope signals. Leaning down, he shouted into the speaking tube. “Raft in trouble dead ahead!”
With his foot Fletcher hit the whistle pedal. But the upboundsteamboat paid no attention. Closer and closer it came. As though determined to have his way, the pilot held his course.
Suddenly the raft pulled to the left. Fletcher gritted his teeth. “The suction got ’em!”CHAPTER 10
As if the suction was growing stronger, the raft moved faster and faster. Working frantically, the Red Shirts swept the oars. But the long poles did little good.
Suddenly an outside log on the raft broke loose. As the chain of logs broke apart, more logs spun off. One after another they shot out in all directions.
Then an entire section of the raft split away. The man who stood on it jumped across the widening stretch of water to a larger piece of raft. With the Red Shirts no longer able to steer, the raft slipped directly into the path of the upcoming boat.
On theChristinawarning bells clanged. More and more logs broke loose. Again Fletcher blew the whistle.
Our hull!Libby thought in panic. In spite of Fletcher’s efforts, theChristinawas coming up on a piece of raft. Even one of the huge logs could break a hole in the wooden hull. In a matter of minutes, theChristinawould fill with water and go down.
In the next instant Fletcher spun the wheel hard to the right. Trying to find a way around the logs, he sought open water between them and the nearby shore.
Just then the upcoming boat poured on steam. Swinging out around the logs spreading in all directions, the boat managed to slip past them.
“That steamboat is leaving!” Libby cried out. “The pilot caused the accident, and he’s leaving!”
Fletcher was so busy avoiding logs that he paid no attention. Beads of perspiration broke out on his lips as he steered so close to the shore that Libby feared they would run aground.
As the first log bumped against the hull, Libby’s stomach tightened. From where she stood, Libby heard only a soft thud, but she knew the impact could be much worse than it sounded.
Then came another thud and another. Desperately Fletcher worked to keep from bearing down on the remaining sections of the raft. Desperately he worked to keep from striking the men trying to steer the broken segments toward shore.
When at last Libby felt the difference in thuds, she breathed deeply. Now she could see what was happening. TheChristinahad slowed enough so the logs began drifting downstream, away from them.
On the wheel Fletcher flexed the fingers of his hands, then tightened them again. As theChristinadrew close to one of the larger segments, he leaned out the window to listen.
Far below Captain Norstad stood on the forward deck. He called to one of the men. “Want some help?”
Instantly the anger in the man’s face disappeared. Libby knew the anger was for the other steamboat, and she felt the same way. Yet she couldn’t help but wonder if she would be too late for the peddler in Keokuk.
“Thank you, sir!” the Red Shirt called back. “Any help you’d like to give.”
“Let’s round up the big sections first,” Captain Norstad called. “At least you’ll save some of the logs.”
Starting with the large broken segment closest to them, Fletcher steered theChristina, gently nudging the edge of the raft with the bow. As that part of the raft rode the water toward another segment of logs, men reached out, grabbing hold. Working quickly, they bound the two segments together.
Careful to not come too close, Fletcher guided theChristinaslowly ahead. Wherever the pilot could reach a section of logs with the bow, he did. When the largest sections were rounded up, the Red Shirts made them fast along the shore.
Some of the individual logs had drifted against the riverbank, catching on trees. Other logs had escaped downstream. Libby had no doubt that without theChristina’s help the man responsible for the raft would have lost thousands of dollars. Even so, his loss would be great.
When at last theChristinahad done all she could, Fletcher waved to the men.
“A million thank-yous!” a Red Shirt called out. A cheer went up from the rest of them.
Before long Captain Norstad entered theChristina’s pilothouse. “Good work!” he said, clapping Fletcher on the shoulder.
Libby felt proud of both Fletcher and Pa. They had done the best they could in a bad situation. But on her way down the stairs, Libby thought about Caleb and Jordan again. Jordan’s plan would fall apart if their timing wasn’t right.
When she reached the large main cabin, Libby stared at the clock. It was even worse than she feared.What if the peddler doesn’t wait? What if he thinks no one is coming?
Carrying only a small bag on her back, Libby left theChristinaat Keokuk, Iowa. Pa walked beside her up the steep hill to the marketplace. There, in the center of town, Pa tipped his head toward a peddler’s wagon.
The wagon was eight or ten feet long. The high sides and covered top were large enough to protect the great number of boxes, drawers, and shelves that held whatever the peddler wanted to sell. On the almost flat top were more wooden boxes. Buckets, brooms, and all kinds of farming tools hung wherever possible.
The peddler stood next to his wagon, talking with whoever came by. But he gave no sign that he had seen Libby or her father.
Captain Norstad kept walking, passing by on the other side of the street as if the wagon was of no interest to him. Half a block farther on, Pa said, “The peddler is well known in this area. People like him. Most of them don’t know he also works for the Underground Railroad.”
When Libby glanced back she saw the peddler putting away his wares. She and Pa were at least a block away when the peddler climbed up to the seat at the front of the wagon.
At the next corner Captain Norstad turned. Two blocks beyond that, on a quiet, treelined street, Libby was surprised to see the peddler’s wagon had gone around them on another street, then stopped. “God go with you, Libby,” Pa said softly as they drew near to the wagon. “Be careful, won’t you?”
Half scared and half excited, Libby nodded. After talking with Gran, it wasn’t hard for her to guess how hard this must be for Pa.
“I’ll be very careful,” she said. “We’ll do our best to meetyou in Burlington four days from now.”
The man waiting on the high wooden seat had a long gray beard and gray hair that hung down over the collar of his coat. Reins in hand, he seemed ready to leave on a moment’s notice.
“Paul, this is my daughter,” Pa said softly.
“I’ll take good care of her, Captain,” the man promised.
As Libby climbed up to the high seat, the man lifted his hat toward Pa. Beneath bushy eyebrows, his eyes were sharp and alert. “The Lord bless and keep you, Captain.”
When Paul called “Giddyup!” to the horses, Libby twisted around to look back. The place where she sat was under an overhang to protect the driver in all kinds of weather. Through a small square opening in the end of the wagon, she watched Pa disappear in the distance. Until then Libby hadn’t realized how hard it would be to leave him. But she had the feeling that Pa and the peddler had been friends for a long time.
“Did you have trouble?” Paul asked as he and Libby passed out of town.
“A raft broke loose. Logs scattered all over the river. Pa needed to stop and help.”
“Did the logs hurt theChristina?”
Libby shook her head. “But it could have been really bad.”
“I was told to look for Caleb and a fugitive,” Paul said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
Libby grinned. “I wasn’t expecting me either.”
She explained about the escaped prisoner and the need for a change in plans. When she told Paul about Jordan’s plan for a midnight rescue, Paul said, “I’ve been to the Weaver farm often.”
After a time Paul asked about Caleb. “Is he all right?”
“As far as I know, Caleb is safe.” In spite of their differences, Libby liked and admired him. Her voice grew soft with even the mention of his name.
As though sensing the change in Libby’s voice, Paul glanced her way. “We’ve made lots of trips together, Caleb and I.”
“Do you know him well?” Libby asked. She wanted to learn everything she could about Caleb.
Paul smiled. “I know him the way a man knows a man, instead of the way a man knows a boy. Caleb grew up too fast. But he’s earned the respect of everyone who knows him.”
Strange, Libby thought. She had always felt that Caleb seemed older than his age. But every now and then something else broke through—the fourteen-year-old boy that was there, after all. The boy who teased her and knew how to have a good time.
Then a tight knot formed around Libby’s heart. Once she had felt sure that Caleb liked her. Now she didn’t feel sure about anything.Caleb knows how I failed. He didn’t want me along.
When Libby described the place where Caleb wanted to meet, Paul said, “I know exactly where he means. If all goes well, we can still be there by one o’clock or so.”
For a while Paul followed the red arrows painted on trees to mark the way. When the road led them close to a good-sized river, Libby learned it was the Des Moines. The wide stream flowed at a southeast angle to join the Mississippi River below Keokuk. Libby knew that every creek and river they needed to cross would be a barrier on their way back from northeastern Missouri.
Soon Paul began telling Libby about his life as a peddler—how he wandered up and down the often muddy roads in allkinds of weather. All through the spring, summer, and autumn, he sought out people who needed what he wanted to sell. Only in winter did he stay home to protect his horses from trying to get through deep snow.
During the day Paul stopped at every farmhouse he passed. At night he wrapped his blanket around him and slept under the wagon.
“And you, Libby?” Paul’s long gray beard rose and fell in the breeze. He wanted to hear about her life on theChristina.
To her own surprise, Libby soon felt comfortable with Paul. After the dangerous things that had happened on the boat, she welcomed this peaceful time. Whenever Libby tried to think ahead, her stomach knotted with nervousness.
At St. Francisville Paul got down and led the horses onto a ferry. When the wagon rolled off the ferry on the other side of the Des Moines River, he said, “We’re in Missouri now.”
In the flat bottomland next to the river, the soil looked black and good. As the land became more hilly, Libby and Paul rode past great stretches of timber.
“It’s hard work,” Paul said, and Libby wondered what he meant. He stretched out his hand to the woods.
“Oak, maple, and walnut trees. Cottonwood and birch along the streams. It’s God’s country, but hard work to clear. Lots of southern people settled here—owners bringing their slaves along. Down south slaves were used to gentler ways—picking cotton instead of clearing land. It gives them an extra reason for running.”
Gentler ways. Libby thought about Paul’s words. To her the land was beautiful. She liked the tall trees, the road leading up a hill, then sharply down. She liked the valleys, the deepravines, the yellow buttercups along the creeks. But she didn’t have to cut down the trees, clear out the stumps, and plant a crop.
Now Libby could barely see enough. Wherever she looked, there were wild flowers under the trees. Paul told her their names—violets and sweet William, boy britches and May apples.
Like the budding of flowers after a long winter, hope stirred within Libby. Would this be springtime for Jordan’s family?Maybe—just maybe, I can do something to help them after all.
But then Paul stopped the horses in front of a large poster nailed to a tree. The top line of letters was large enough for people to read as they passed by.Negroes for Sale
When Paul climbed down from the wagon, Libby followed him. In smaller letters, she read the rest of the notice:
A WOMAN,who is a fine cook,washer and ironer,having been raised to that business.Also, one boy, eight years old,an eleven-year-old girl, trained for housework,and a young child, sound and healthy.
As though she could not believe what she read, Libby felt sick inside. “The description fits them perfectly. That’s Jordan’s mother and Serena and Zack and little Rose!”
Libby stared at the owner’s name on the bottom of theposter. “Jordan knew something was wrong. Something worse than usual, I mean.”
Tears rose in Libby’s throat. Unable to face the poster, she turned away. When she climbed back into the wagon, her tears spilled over and ran down her cheeks.
“What if Jordan’s family is sold before he gets there?” Libby asked as Paul drove on. “Jordan will never find them again!”
“Would they go with us if we get there in time?”
“I doubt it,” Libby answered. “Jordan said his mother won’t trust just anyone. She’s heard too many stories about runaway slaves who get caught. She and Jordan have an agreement between them that he’ll come back to help her.”
“Maybe Jordan and Caleb are ahead of us now.” Paul clucked to the horses and slapped the reins across their backs.
After a time Paul slowed the horses. “We’re almost there,” he said.
Looking ahead, Libby saw a creek. Before reaching it, Paul turned the horses off the road. In a wide space between trees, he drove into the woods. When he stopped, Libby could still see the road, but they were somewhat hidden from whoever might drive by.
Unhitching the horses, Paul led them down to water. As they drank, he took out a pocket watch. “We’re right on time, and this is where we’re supposed to meet.”
When the horses finished drinking, he led them to a place where they could graze.
Libby climbed down from the wagon and sat with her back against the trunk of a tree. As an hour slipped away, Libby grew more and more anxious.Where are you, Caleb?she wanted to cry out.Has something happened to you and Jordan?
The questions kept going around and around in her mind. In her mind’s eye she could still see the man Jordan rescued from the water. The man Libby believed to be the Stillwater prisoner. With each passing minute she felt more upset.It’s my fault. I should have found Caleb and Jordan. I should have warned them. It did little good to tell herself that she had done her best.
Then Libby realized what she was doing—slipping into her old way of thinking. She remembered Gran’s words.“Being a Christian doesn’t mean that all your problems are gone. It means that you have Jesus to help you in everything you face.”
Opening the bag she carried on her back, Libby took out her drawing paper and pencils. Under the trees were the waxy white flowers Paul called May apples, and Libby sketched them quickly.
A short distance away, where the sun shone between the trees, Libby found violets.
“Don’t go too far,” Paul called to her. “The Fox River outlaws hide out around here.”
“The Fox Riveroutlaws?”
“Bands of thieves. They’ve got a lot of good hiding places in these woods. That’s why I keep a close watch on the horses. There have been so many horses stolen in this area that a man by the name of David McKee finally said ‘Enough is enough!’ He formed the Anti-Horse Thief Association.”
“So now, in the midst of an impossible rescue, we have to watch out for horse thieves?”
Paul grinned. “Don’t you worry. We’ll make it through.”
By the time Libby finished drawing the violets, she found that even Paul had grown restless. “Caleb and Jordan are over two hours late,” he said.
By now it was almost three o’clock. When Paul took food from the wagon, Libby unwrapped one of the sandwiches Gran had given her. Libby felt sure the bread and cheese were as good as usual. But Libby’s scared feelings turned the sandwich into something dry and tasteless.
As they finished eating, she heard a splashing sound from the creek. Moments later a boy of about eight appeared. Over his shoulder he carried a fishing pole with one small fish on the line.
“Jonathan!” Paul exclaimed. “How are you doing?”
The boy grinned at him. “So you’re back. I thought it was time. My ma and sis will be right glad to see you. All winter long they’ve been making lists of what to buy.”
“I expect so,” Paul said. But he did not move from the stump where he sat.
“What are you waiting for?” Jonathan asked. Walking around the wagon, he peered at every side, though Paul had opened only one of the doors.
“I wish Zack was here to see you,” Jonathan said as he finished his inspection of the wagon.
“Zack?” Paul asked. According to Jordan, Zack was about eight years old.
“Me and Zack have a secret meeting place,” Jonathan answered. “He’s an honorary member of my club—the only boy I know who doesn’t tell me I’m fat.”
When Paul’s gaze met Libby’s, she guessed what he was thinking.Zack isn’t sold yet.
A shadow passed over Jonathan’s face. “Pa says Zack is old enough to work in the fields now. All day long he’s hoeing corn and carrying water. It ain’t any fun when he’s not here.”
Jonathan leaned his pole against a tree and sat down. “No more fishing for Zack, except on Sundays. Ma says Sundays is meant for boys to sit quiet and still. But Zack’s ma lets him fish as soon as he comes from church. She says it’s the only day of the week Zack can fish, and the good Lord made fishing for boys.”
Soon Jonathan looked restless again. “Yesterday Pa said he needs to see you, Mr. Martin. Needs some new tools, I guess. I’ll run tell him you’re here.” Standing up, Jonathan grabbed his pole and was off.
“No, wait,” Paul called after him. “We’ll rest a bit more and come later.”
But Jonathan was already headed for the road and the bridge across the creek. Before he slipped out of sight, he called to them. “I’m the fastest runner there is!”
“What do we do now?” Libby asked, the dread within her growing.
“We’ll water our horses as long as we possibly can,” Paul said. “But I wish Caleb would come. There are a lot of slave catchers who know what he’s up to.”
“Along the Iowa border?” Libby asked.
“In that whole area he has to cross,” Paul told her. “Caleb is one of our best conductors. He’s had to take a lot of risks and hasn’t lost a passenger yet. But today I keep thinking about his grandmother.”
Gran. She too knew the risks for Caleb. What would happen to Caleb if he was caught? But for Jordan it would be even worse.If he’s sent back to that cruel slave trader who owns him, Jordan will lose more than his freedom. Riggs might even beat him to death.
And Jordan’s family. What would happen to them?
Much sooner than Paul and Libby wanted, Jonathan was back, shouting at them from across the creek.
“Pa says to come right away. He needs to see you now. Says he has to talk with a big important man tomorrow.”CHAPTER 11Family Spy
Turning, Jonathan headed back into the trees. His legs flew, as though he wanted to see the excitement when Paul arrived. But the peddler took his time about hitching up his horses.
Soon after Libby and Paul returned to the road, the horses brought them to a bridge made from heavy logs thrown down across the creek. As they passed beyond the wooded area, Libby looked across an open field. A tall, stately home stood on a rise.
“What a beautiful house!” Libby exclaimed.
The main part of the house was built of red brick. The front porch had tall white pillars that extended upward to another porch on the second floor. On this side of the house and toward the back were two more even larger upper and lower porches. An open stairway led between them.
“Better put on your thinking cap,” Paul told Libby as they continued toward the driveway. “If Caleb and Jordan don’t get here soon, we need lots of reasons for staying around.”
But Libby was still studying the lay of the land. On the south side of the long driveway was a tin-roofed barn and smaller outbuildings. Between those buildings and the field behind the house were what Paul said were slave cabins. Builtof logs, they looked as though they had one tiny room. Seeing the cabins, Libby started to wonder about the dogs owned by the Weaver family.
It didn’t take long to find them. The moment Paul turned into the driveway, the dogs began barking. Yipping and jumping up, they raced out to meet the peddler’s wagon. With their long droopy ears and wrinkled faces, they reminded Libby of worried old men.
Then she remembered.They’re not like Samson. They’re not just family pets. Those dogs are bloodhounds trained to track down runaway slaves.
Paying no attention to the dogs, Paul wrapped the reins around a post on the wagon. Taking out a flute, he played a cheerful song meant to draw everyone who heard.
In the field behind the house, two Negro men lifted their heads. Resting their hands on their hoes, they listened. On the shaded front porch, a blond girl about Libby’s age jumped up.
Paul called to her. “Tell your mother!”
At the side door of the house, Jonathan stood waiting. To Libby’s surprise one of the bloodhounds ran up to him. When Jonathan reached down to pet him, the dog waited for a scratch behind his ears.
The minute Jonathan saw Libby, he waved as if the two were old friends. But Jordan’s brother, Zack, was not with him.
Where is he?Libby wondered, wanting to make sure Zack truly was still around. She saw no one who looked like an eight-year-old Jordan. Then Libby remembered. Zack would be working in the fields all day.
Outside the white picket fence that surrounded the house, Paul called, “Whoa!” From every direction people gatheredaround. Young and old, black and white, they all seemed curious about the peddler’s wagon.
Soon a Negro woman came through the opening in the picket fence. Tall and slender, she wore a white apron as if she worked in the house.Could that be Jordan’s mother, Hattie?Close behind was a girl who looked just a bit younger than Libby.Eleven-year-old Serena, Libby decided.
From the direction of the slave cabins ran a string of children, followed by the old woman who cared for them. Serena stopped and waited, then picked up one of the children. The little girl had pigtails sticking out all over her head and seemed about fifteen months old. Libby felt sure she was Jordan’s youngest sister, Rose.
As Libby watched, Rose threw her arms around Serena’s neck. Serena hugged the little girl to herself. More than once Serena whispered something in her ear. When Rose giggled, Serena giggled too.
Is that what it means to have a sister?Libby wondered.No wonder Jordan wants to rescue his family!
To Libby’s surprise Paul climbed down from the wagon slowly, as if his aging bones hurt. Even in the way Paul opened his wagon, he took his time.
Then Libby remembered.He’s giving Caleb and Jordan every minute he can. In her thoughts she wished she could hurry them on.Where are you?she wanted to cry out.
On one side of the wagon, Paul folded down a shelf. On that he put his most valuable items—glassware, china dishes, and patent medicines in their thick glass bottles. Next to that he set a jar of hard candy.
From the back of the wagon, he took out long pieces ofcloth, pots and pans, everything that would appeal to a woman. When he set those on another shelf where they could be easily viewed, the eager children and grown-ups gathered close.