Our ride in the carriage, that night, seated back to back as Anna and I were, was at least sure against the winter chill. I’d laid an extra blanket over little Tilly, then snuggled back up against Anna. At some point during our ride, she had turned to cradle me in her arms as we slept. I awoke nuzzling the inside of her neck, and rose with a start, as I saw our Tilly observing me. My cheeks began to burn as I wondered how long she might have been awake.
“It’s ok, Miss Willow. Your servant Joe Wright is here to keep us safe, Missus.”
I was so relieved, I hardly knew what to say. “Oh, Tilly, you don’t need to play our game here. We are alone.”
She shook her head most insistently: “Joe told me that we are never to end this game, Miss Willow, until we are free up North. All the way north.” She looked at the window, covered against the cold, and against prying eyes, and inched closer, whispering, “we never know what ears may be up against this door.”
“That is right.” How long had Anna been awake? I’d not felt her move a muscle, but she was surely listening. How did she do that? Just then, I recalled the question which had been burning within me as we went to sleep.
“Miss, sorry, Joe, you said something last night about seeing Old Mary soon. What on this Good Lord’s earth were you talking about, pray tell?”
Anna flashed her most devilish grin. It was the one that promised shocking things to come.
“What say both of you,” she had managed to lower her voice another octave, to sound like a young boy, if not a man, “to a spot of breakfast, before I answer that question?”
“I am starving!”
I was amazed at how quietly this child could shout.
“Tilly,” I teased in my finest soprano whisper, which is not an easy thing to do, “you are always starving, HoneyChild!”
We all fell to giggling as quietly as we had whispered, as we shared out the cornbread Mrs. H. had given us to breakfast upon. Even cold, that aroma was enticing. It had been all she’d had to hand, so we knew we must make do on that one meal for most of this day.
When we had each had three chews and a swallow of our meal, I looked up again at Anna, my head tilted insistently at her, as I waited for my reply.
She finally rewarded me: “Do you remember the white men who met us where we stopped with the wagon?”
“They were expecting to see four of us, of course.”
Of course. I still recalled the despair of that parting.
“Old Mary was meant to carry you and Little Sally, while Captain here,” she lifted her head up toward the front of the carriage, “is sturdy enough for both Miss Mary and myself. Since it was just you, they almost took Old Mary back with them, but I told them that two horses were better than one. That is why she is here again, tied up back as the spare.“
Old Mary was here! It was a pity that I had no apples or carrots for her. That thought brought to mind the memory of my Miss Mary, for some odd reason, singing one of our favorite songs. I wished I could go now, down to some peaceful river, thinking about a good way, a better way than this world’s way, to pray.
There came a knock at the carriage door, and I realized that we had not been moving for some moments. I wondered how I had managed not to notice. All was silent. Another knock came, this time in three sharp raps, followed by two light knocks. Anna nodded, and Little Tilly cracked the door open just enough to see the pair of blue eyes looking back at us, and opened it wide enough for the doctor see in.
“Joe, it is here that I must leave you all. I bid you god speed.”
I saw the barest lift of his hat just as the doctor stepped back out of view, allowing our Joe to exit the carriage. The door had clicked shut, and we’d started up again with nary a sound. Now, we were on our own, and our safety depended upon me.
I decided that this was a good time to pray.