Rachel gently set down the next pile of firewood by her mistress’s fireplace. She stood up straight and yawned. It was already 5:3o. She went into the kitchen and fetched the teapot. She crushed up some tea leaves and threw them into the pot of boiling water. The water slowly turned brown, like waiting for the sun to rise. She looked at her dark brown skin. If only she were white. She would have her own personal slave, a big white house, get to eat real food, and get to taste tea! As the water finally turned dark brown she poured it into the teapot. She set out the teacups, the teapot, the butter and bread, the sugar, and the cream all on one tray and brought it out as her mistress, Mistress Sarah, her daughter, Madeline, and her master, Sir John, sat down. They each took a teacup and put sugar and cream at the bottom. As each of them nibbled on their bread, Rachel poured them tea.
Rachel looked into the deep brown of the tea in Madeline’s cup. The sugar dissolved quickly while the cream turned it a pale tan. Rachel smelled the delicious taste that was longing to be brought to her lips. Her hands went out to take the cup but snapped back in when Mistress Sarah yelled, “Stop at once! You fool! Tea is only for civilized human beings! Not a negro like you!” Rachel set the pot of tea by Sir John and ran out into the fields where her mother was picking cotton with a few other Africans. She spotted her mother and hugged her.
“What’s happened, child?” asked her mother, stroking her braids.
“Have you ever had tea?” Rachel asked.
“Once,” said her mother, “when I was a child and working for Sarah, I snuck some tea from the kitchen. It was British tea. I didn’t have any sugar or cream with me, so I snuck some sugar out of the blue cupboard your grandmother kept her spices in.”
“Mother, how could you!” exclaimed Rachel. “We’re only supposed to use those spices, especially the sugar, for special occasions only!”
“Yes,” her mother continued, “but I convinced myself this was a special occasion. It was the best drink I ever had! Very hot, but so sweet and refreshing. I drank every last drop of it. That’s when Sir John caught me.”
“Did he beat you awfully?” Rachel asked anxiously.
“Let’s not get into details,” said her mother.
“Oh, Mother!” said Rachel, wrapping her arms even tighter around her mom.
“Rachel!” cried Sir John.
“Go, child,” said her mother.
“I’ll be right here.”
Rachel ran toward the front door.
“A slave owner is here to have a look at you,” said Sir John, pushing her into the house. Rachel’s heart skipped a beat. She held back her tears. The slave owner was sure to take her away from her mother and papa and little Noel, who was only eight months old. She would be thrown on a ship and would be taken somewhere else in the world.
The slave owner examined her carefully. The slave owner whispered something in Sir John’s ear. “Girl,” said the slave owner, “get me some water.” Rachel hurried outside and filled a bucket with water. She went into the kitchen and filled a pitcher with the water from the bucket. She carried the pitcher and a glass into the dining room and poured the man some water. “You’ve got this girl well trained, sir,” the slave owner said to Sir John.
“Well then, that settles it,” Sir John said, shaking hands with the man. The slave owner took hold of Rachel’s dress and started to drag her.
“No! No!” Rachel screamed. They can’t do this, Rachel thought, they can’t take me away from Mama!
She was dragged onto a stagecoach. The slave owner put heavy shackles on her feet.
“No! Don’t take my baby!” Rachel’s mama called. She was racing through the cotton fields as fast as she could. She dropped on her knees in front of Sir John. “Please,” Mama begged, “don’t let them take her! She’s my baby!”
“Mama,” Rachel cried as the slave owner flicked the horses with a whip. Her mother got off her knees and raced after the moving stagecoach. Rachel held her hand out for her mother to take it. Her mother grabbed hold of it and pulled Rachel off the stagecoach. Rachel landed on the dirt road.
Her mother whispered in her ear, “Follow me.” Her mother started running into the woods. Rachel’s heavy shackles slowed her down. Mama picked her up and ran as fast as she could. They heard dog barks behind them. Her mother raced inside a cave. She cupped a hand over Rachel’s mouth while several dogs went flying past the cave. One dog stopped. He sniffed around and looked into the cave. Mama carried Rachel deeper into the cave. They found a little hole for Rachel to climb in. But they put Rachel in the hole too soon, for the dog heard her shackles clang against the hard rock floor of the cave. Mama found a big rock to throw at the dog. The dog saw her and started barking madly Mama threw the big rock on top of the dog. She picked up Rachel and started to run.
As night fell Mama set Rachel on the ground. “Oh, Mama!” cried Rachel, throwing her arms over her. “Thank you for saving me! I was so scared, I don’t know why I didn’t free myself from him.”
“It’s OK,” said Mama, letting go of Rachel, “you were in shock.”
Rachel smiled. She stood up. Forgetting about the shackles around her ankles, she tried reaching an apple high up on a tree above her. She tripped on her shackles and fell face first. Her shackles made a loud noise. Then the dog barks started again. This time they were farther away Mama picked Rachel up and started running.
As the day broke, Mama and Rachel scrambled into a cave tired and exhausted. “Let’s try to get some rest,” Rachel said.
“But we need food,” said Mama, opening the sack that had been carrying cotton from the fields back at Mistress Sarah’s house. “I’ve got a bit of bread and an apple,” said Mama. Mama split the piece of bread with Rachel. After that they both fell asleep.
“Rachel! Wake up,” said Mama, shaking Rachel furiously Rachel sat up just in time to see the sun go down. Mama picked up Rachel and they ran from tree to tree like a deer. After a while Rachel spotted an old house in the woods. “That’s where we shall rest tonight. There’s an old lady who lives there. She will help us escape to freedom,” said Mama. Mama set Rachel down on the porch and barely knocked on the door.
A slight whisper said, “Who’s there?”
“Juba this and juba that,” sang Mama.
The voice answered, “Juba killed a yellow cat.”
Mama sang back, “Get over double trouble juba.”
“Ah, ah juba,” the voice answered.
The door opened and there stood an old lady the height of Rachel herself. The old lady looked at the shackles around Rachel’s feet. “Do carry her in,” the old lady said to Mama. “I don’t want you two to get in trouble.”
The old lady carefully picked at the lock on the shackles clinging to Rachel’s ankles while Mama told their story “There we go!” said the old lady as she pulled the shackles off of Rachel’s feet. Rachel rubbed at her feet. Dark red marks circled around her ankles. A loud knock was at the door. “It’s them!” the old lady whispered. She rushed to the back of the house where an old wardrobe stood. She pushed it aside and pulled at a rope connected to the wall. The wall opened like a door. “Quick, hide in this hole!” said the old lady, pushing Rachel and Mama in. She gave the shackles to Mama. “Don’t want to get in trouble, do we now?” she said, shutting the door.
“May I help you,” she asked.
“We’re looking for a young girl around ten and a woman around thirty. We’re going to look around,” a loud voice barked. Rachel heard a pair of feet shuffle into the room they were hiding in. She heard him opening drawers and even opened the wardrobe in front of the hole. Finally they left.
The next day the old lady gave them some new clothes to wear. They were off once again, but this time with Rachel running for her life as well.
As the sun started rising a sign appeared out of nowhere. Rachel, who didn’t know how to read, tried to make out what it said. Mama gave a sigh of relief “What does it say, Mama?” Rachel asked.
“It says, ‘Welcome to Pennsylvania!'” Mama answered.
Suddenly, something didn’t seem right. “Will we ever see Noel and Papa again?” Rachel asked, as they walked through a large pasture.
“I bet we will someday,” Mama assured her, “but don’t let no worries come over you, child. We’re free!”
The sound and sweetness of the word free came over Rachel. “Free,” Rachel whispered. “We are free.”