Sample text for Harriet Tubman / by Kathleen Kudlinski ; illustrated by Robert Brown
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SCARS “YOU MEAN TO tell me you’re five years old? A scrawny little thing like you?”
Minty stared at the floor, confused by the white woman’s questions. Mama! she wanted to call out, but Mama was nowhere in this big, strange house. And the man who owned her family, the man who had named her, Master Brodas, had whipped up his horse to pull the wagon down the road without ever even looking back. Mama is not coming, Minty told herself. Not ever. Her eyes filled with tears.
“Never you mind,” Miss Susan said briskly. “I paid good money to hire out a slave to help with the baby. Mr. Brodas said you could do the work.” She sniffed. “And so you will.”
Miss Susan shifted her child off her wide hip and handed him to Minty. “Hold him while I change for dinner.” The child squalled and wiggled in Minty’s arms. “If you drop my little Charles Lee,” the woman said, smiling sweetly at the baby, “I’ll whip the skin right off you, girl.” Then she turned and walked out of the room.
Minty’s arms went weak. “Mama!” her lips moved, but no sound could come out. Not now. Not after that.
The baby twisted to watch his mother’s long, squash-colored skirts swirl then vanish through the door. Minty struggled to keep her balance. Charles reached his fat arms toward the door, and Minty almost dropped him. None of the babies in the slave cabins was this fleshy! She sat down so she could hold him tight in her lap.
“Oh!” she gasped. The floor felt soft through Minty’s thin cotton shift. She rubbed her bare feet on fabric as fuzzy as a bumblebee’s backside. The baby giggled with the movement. Minty glanced at the edge of the floor and blinked. It wasn’t made of packed dirt at all, but wooden boards, cut flat and melted together somehow. She stared.
Charles whimpered. “Hush-a-baby,” she tried to calm him. “Y’all be good, now, you hear?” The baby looked up at her. The air was so hot that her black skin and his white were stuck together with summer sweat, but when she looked into those sky-colored eyes, she shivered. Charles looked about to cry, so Minty kept talking. “Hush, pretty baby.” She made her voice soft and happy-sounding. “This child here, she don’ want a whipping,” she babbled, “nohow, I don’t. No, sir. No, sir.” She pictured her older brother’s back, bruised and bleeding after a lashing. Then she thought about her father’s back, crisscrossed with old scars. She remembered the sound of her sister, screaming in pain. Then she made herself stop thinking.
Suddenly the baby’s fat little hand was pushing at her lips. He was trying to stick his pink finger into her mouth! “What you want, baby?” she asked. Charles smiled. “You like my talking?” Now he grinned, showing little baby teeth as white as his soft gown. “I can sing for you, too, I reckon.” The baby waved his arms. “Oh, Go down, Moses,” Minty sang. “Way down in Egypt’s land,_._._.” She began rocking in time with the church hymn. “Tell old Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’ ” The child lay quiet on her lap. Minty smiled. I can do fine here, Minty thought, starting the next verse. I jus’ got to sing, and—she swallowed hard—and never, never drop this here baby.
“Give him here, Araminta.” The sound of her new mistress’s voice made Minty jump. Was it dinnertime already? Her stomach growled, and she struggled to her feet, handing Charles to his mother.
“Wait outside, girl,” Miss Susan said. “When the meal is done we’ll feed you and the dogs.” Shocked, Minty hurried toward the door. “Not that one!” the tone in Miss Susan’s voice put a chill down her neck. “Use the servants’ door, back behind the brooms and buckets.” There were two doors in this house? Slave cabins had only one, and no windows, either. Minty scurried through room after room, toward the back of the house. She didn’t have to ask what would happen if she used the wrong door.
The floor under her feet had soft cloth on it. Minty couldn’t help it. She slowed down to shuffle across the strange smoothness. There were clothes on everything. She looked into a room. The table had a dress on it. The windows wore dresses, too, with ruffles. Minty smiled. Little tables wore scarves with fringe. The chairs were dressed in fuzzy, colored cloth. Minty wanted to rub her hands on all of it.
The walls were as flat as the floor, and all dressed in stripes and roses. And the ceiling? She stopped in wonder. The ceiling was as white as Miss Susan! Where did the cooking smoke go? Minty sniffed. The air was empty. No friendly smell of food cooking on the fire. No smell of family bodies all together and sweaty. No smell of wood from log cabin walls. No smell of home at all. Just the breeze off the ocean, scented with salt and the sharp tang of low tide in the marshes. A gull cried, lonely in the distance.
“Get out, girl!” Miss Susan stamped her foot against the wood floor. Minty jumped and ran. The white woman’s laughter chased her out of the house.
“Now, Minty.” Miss Susan stood in the lamplight next to the bed. She stretched her arms wide and yawned. Minty stared. No one she knew had so many teeth. And no one wore a pretty dress to bed. This one was pale pink, with tiny flowers stitched around the edges. “My sister is coming tomorrow,” Miss Susan said. “I need my rest tonight.” Minty looked down at the baby lying on a soft pink pillow in a cradle beside the bed. “Keep Charles quiet, so I can sleep.”
Miss Susan blew the lantern out, lay down on the bed, and pulled snowy white sheets over her dress.
Minty sat down beside the baby and began singing to him.
“Quiet,” Miss Susan growled in the darkness over her head.
Minty hummed as quietly as she could.
“Hush your mouth!” Miss Susan scolded. “Girl, I’ve got a switch up here, and you know I’ll use it.”
Minty blinked back tears and reached her hand out to rock the little cradle. At home, Mama would be saying night prayers over everyone resting on the floor. Papa would say a verse from the Bible to sleep on, and the day would be done. Minty said a prayer now, but silently. Soon the only sounds were Miss Susan’s snores. Starlight washed in through the glass of the windows, softening the shadows in the room. Minty yawned and settled against the wall, her hand still pushing the cradle, back and forth, again and again.
“Wanh!” Charles’s cry woke Minty just before the lash whistled down toward her head.
“Ow!” she cried, startled by the sound, the moonlight in the room, and the sudden pain along the back of her neck. “Ouch!” she cried as the switch fell on her again.
“You stupid girl!” Miss Susan’s voice was as sharp as the pain itself. “Rock the baby!”
Rock, rock, rock, Minty’s hand moved the cradle. Little Charles hiccuped himself back to sleep again. Miss Susan’s snores were louder now. Mama! Minty wanted to cry. Mama! She felt a trickle dripping down her neck, but kept rocking the cradle. The moon was staring at her full in the face through the window. She yawned. Stay awake, she scolded herself. But how? Minty sang in her head all the church songs she knew, rocking the cradle in time to the music that only she heard. Then she sang all the songs again. She didn’t remember losing her place before she jerked awake again at Charles’s groggy whimper.
“Thwack!” The lash fell, harder this time.
“Sorry, miss, sorry,” Minty begged, but the lash silenced even this.
The moon moved past the window, and darkness filled the bedroom again. Presently the faintest dawn woke a distant rooster. The stars winked out, one by one, beyond the glass. Minty’s head was nodding when Miss Susan finally sat up and stretched. “Get up, you lazy thing,” she said. “It’s time to get to work.”
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Tubman, Harriet, -- 1820?-1913.
Tubman, Harriet, -- 1820?-1913 -- Juvenile literature.
Slaves -- United States -- Biography -- Juvenile literature.
Underground Railroad -- Juvenile literature.
Tubman, Harriet, -- 1820?-1913. -- fast -- (OCoLC)fst00042709
Slaves. -- fast -- (OCoLC)fst01120522
Underground Railroad. -- fast -- (OCoLC)fst01160987
United States. -- fast -- (OCoLC)fst01204155