Sunday, May 31, 2009

How to See the Elephant - Part II (2)

Thetis waits out her time at Miss Barclay's because for a time in the summer of 1862 it looks like the war will end with a quick Northern victory. Then her father will return and normal life will resume. However, the North fails to take Richmond and the war continues. In September Thetis receives a letter that her father has been wounded fighting in Kentucky. Worried that he might have been captured, she runs away, taking with her, at the last moment and against her own better judgment, Sheba.

I got up and began folding the supper -- biscuits, stringy pieces of chicken, green beans and all -- into the napkin.
"Get out of my way," I said to Sheba. "If you say anything to anyone I'll tie you up and lock you in the outhouse."
I had nothing grander to threaten Sheba with than the belt of Polly's dressing gown, but I brandished it. I had always understood that Negroes frightened easily.
She jumped up from the floor and I found her suddenly hanging on me and pulling on my dress.
"I want to go with you! Take me with you!"
I turned and began to pull my valise out from under the bed.
"Don't be silly, Sheba -- "
"You don't even know where I'm going. And why would you want to leave, anyway? You've got it made here!"
"Miss Veda wouldn't take me on the boat and they're all mean! I hate them!"
"No." This was an obstacle. I had never intended to tie her up; for one thing, I didn't have the time. "Sheba, please -- "
"I'll scream, Miss Wymore!"
"I can't! It's ridiculous!"
She edged dangerously close to the door. I thought of the train I might be missing.
"Have you got shoes on? Because I'm going now!"

We stopped together at the top of the stairs. The clink of plates came from below, and Simon's orotound voice: "Don't worry one minute more, Miss Veda." Reddish rectangles of light from the sunset shone on the hall floor.
Down the stairs, eyeing each other, trying not to make a thump at the bottom. I motioned Sheba toward the room with the broken window, but I waited at the door while she went in before me. Then I shut it quietly and went to the window.
"We'll have to take off the boards," I said, and then I, not Sheba, proceeded to pull at them, trying not to jerk too hard lest the wood squeak. I got a splinter in the process. When I was done there was a four-foot rectangle, picked clean of glass.
"You first," I said.
I saw her magenta slippers and the silk shawl bunched around her neck as she slipped through. It was hopeless. Also, it occurred to me now, I was technically stealing Miss Veda's property. There would be slave catchers after us, men with dogs. And I could have gotten away so easily by myself!
I flung my valise through to the ground and stepped out the window.
"Come on," I said, and headed around the side of the house.

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