Storyline taken from Runaway to Freedom, by Barbara Smucker
Part Two: The Escape
Continue the story of Julie, a slave seeking to escape from Sinful Misery.
It was in the black of the next Saturday night that our chance for freedom came. Lisa and I had been setting our hearts on it all week, so even old Bitterness didn’t really bother us. “We’re going to leave old Hate-Good plantation and be rid of him forever!” Lisa said when we were alone. I might have looked like a faithful slave that week, but inside I was determined to escape for my life. I wasn’t going to be a slave in Sinful Misery any more.
My heart beat fast as I lay on my rags for the last time, looking out at the Star of Truth shining in the dark sky. I wanted to jump up and run away, but I knew we must wait until everyone was asleep. Finally the whippoorwill call came and we were twisting and turning through the would-do-right after George. All the twists and turns were to keep the hounds off our track. Escape wasn’t going to be easy.
Down by the swamp of hate-evil we listened to Master Good’s last instructions. “At midnight you will change into readiness clothes and leave your old slave rags behind. In the days and weeks ahead you will often be pursued by human foes or the hounds of temptation. Be of good courage and never turn back.”
I can see him still as he stood there, so brave and unafraid in the dark. George, Adam, Lisa and I just crouched there and listened to every word. Ben had not come.
“After you have left your rags in the swamp,” Master Good continued in a whisper, “George will lead you down to the River of Desire. It will guide your feet and the Star of Truth will guide your eyes. When you reach the border of Hope, I will be there to meet you.”
Then he was gone, leaving us each with promises, a supply of faith, and the readiness clothes. “He sure is a good man,” I said aloud. The others agreed and George pulled out a watch. It was time to go.
I was ready in a moment, leaving my rags floating out on the dark water of hate-evil. The mud of the swamp sucked between my toes and a fox barked, but I didn’t care. Soon we were out in the pine woods and off for the river.
“We got to follow George, ’cause he knows the way,” Lisa said, puffing beside me. Running wasn’t easy for her, so I slowed down. It was not long before the four of us were standing beside the great dark waters that stretched out into the night.
“Desire isn’t there just to look at,” George muttered. “We got to follow it toward Truth.” We knew he was right, and with the roar of the river in our ears we started out.
And so we began our dangerous journey of escape. There were days of weariness and fear, hunger and uncertainty along that muddy river bank. After the first night we had to do a lot of walking in the river to keep the hounds from tracking us. Adam would keep up our faith by reminding us of Master Good’s promises. George would keep us on track. Poor Lisa became so tired that I’d try to do her share of watching so she could rest. Always we followed the Star of Truth.
It was evening when we came to a road. George stopped us. “This is Hope. This is where we must wait until Master Good comes along to meet us.”
“He might not come,” Adam said in his quiet voice.
I looked at him quickly, but George nodded his head. “Yes, that’s true. But if he doesn’t, he’ll send someone else.”
“How are we going to trust someone we never saw before?” Lisa asked with a frown.
“There is a password,” Adam said. “We say, ‘For truth and righteousness,’ and they will say the same words back again.” Lisa didn’t want to trust anyone, but I kept those words in my mind.
When pounding hooves sounded on the road, we hid in the bushes. Were they slave catchers? We didn’t know, but one of the riders looked like old Bitterness. At last the promised wagon came. Or was it?
George stepped softly out of the shadows and gave the password. “For truth and righteousness,” repeated the driver. It wasn’t Master Good, but he jumped from his seat and lifted a tarp. “Quick, there is a bed of humility straw in here. Cover up well and lie still.”
Lisa hesitated, but I gave her a shove. “We got to trust him else we will never get to Peace Land. You know you can’t walk another step,” I said.
In another moment we were all glad to be hidden, for the hoof-beats returned and a gruff voice shouted, “You, holiness prig! What do you have in your wagon? We are looking for four runaways from the Hate-Good plantation.” I think my heart nearly stopped beating when they jerked back the tarp. But that old humility straw had covered us and we weren’t caught.
The next stop was in the woods. The wagon stopped at Commandment Creek and our driver hurried us to a barn, where there were new supplies of faith and safety for the night. “I’m giving you this compass of Truth,” our new friend told us, pulling out a black book. “I wish I could take you all the way to Peace Land myself, but I can tell you the direction to head.” So he told us about the mountains with paths and the names of others who could help us on the Trail to Holiness.
“The Trail to Holiness?” I asked, puzzled. “Is it a special trail?”
Our new friend smiled. “It isn’t a trail you can see with your eyes, but it is a way of escape from slavery. The Master of Love built it himself, and he has lots of his servants along the way to help folks. I’m one of them myself.”
I remembered then how the slave catchers had called him a “holiness prig” and smiled. It was with some sadness that we heard him drive off, but Lisa couldn’t help giving a little shout. “We’re on our way to freedom, don’t you know?” she said, clapping her hands. I smiled and joined her in the soft straw. It felt good to be safe for once.
But it didn’t last long. My blood still runs cold when I think of the baying of those temptation hounds. Adam and George had crossed Commandment Creek to fish up some fun. “We’ll be hidden all right in those trees,” George had said. But it was less than an hour later that barking broke out and we heard their shouts. The clanking of chains and groans of our friends told us the terrible truth. They had been caught! Lisa and I escaped by following the creek in the opposite direction.
The next few weeks seem like a blur to me now. We made it to the mountains, whose rugged trails were full of hindrance roots and offending stones. A storm came through and our faith ran out, but we stumbled on in the direction our compass pointed out. Then Lisa could go no further. We couldn’t stop now, but we were so worn out that we couldn’t go on without some help.
“I tell you what we must do,” I told Lisa. “We’ll go down to one of the houses in the valley and knock at the door. Master Good said that we could get help if we would ask.”
“You go, Julie. I’ll hide in the woods and watch,” Lisa said.
She looked as frightened as I felt, but I mustered up my courage and walked up to a cabin door. “We are escaping Sinful Misery and we need faith,” I said, but the woman inside just glared at me darkly.
“Faith for what?” she asked, scornfully. “You’re just a slave to sin and don’t think you’ll be anything else.” She slammed the door in my face and I stumbled into the woods, nearly blinded by gloomy thoughts. Was it impossible? How could we ever make it?
It was Lisa who reached out a hand to stop me. “Don’t lose hope, Julie,” she whispered. “That woman didn’t help us any, but we must try again. I believe Master Good’s promise.” We trudged on through the woods, keeping out of sight of the houses. Was there anyone we could trust?
At last we stopped in a cow meadow. “Maybe when the cows go home, we can follow them to their barn,” I said. We were hunched down by a rock, cold and afraid, when the Kindness Stranger found us. He was tall and he didn’t speak to us, but walked off down the meadow with the cows following him. At the edge of the trees he stopped and looked back.
“I think he wants us to follow him,” Lisa said. Something about Kindness seemed so safe that we weren’t afraid. We must have been a strange sight when we came to his village—the tall man who stood so straight, the cows, and two escaping slaves in dirty clothes.
Though many people have helped us since, I can’t remember any so kind as that village of strangers. They must have been helpers on the Trail alright, though they didn’t speak many words we could understand. One smiling woman took us into her home and treated us like princesses with a warm soup of love and a hot bath. “Wash well,” she said, leaving us with a bar of revelation soap and white towels.
“You are the dirtiest girl I’ve seen,” I told Lisa. “But I guess I am just as bad.” The wash water turned brown as we scrubbed ourselves clean, and it seemed like some of slavery was coming right off.
“I’ve never had a bath before, but it sure feels good,” Lisa said.
The kind woman came back and took us to some honest-to-goodness beds. “You must rest—tomorrow you will go,” she said. Sleep felt so good that I would have lain there all day, but in the morning we were awakened early. Even here we were not safe from the slave hunters. We must go toward Peace Land once more.