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Authors: Judith Plaxton

Morning Star

BOOK: Morning Star
7.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Copyright © 2011 by
Judith Plaxton

Plaxton, Judith, 1940-
Morning star / by Judith
ISBN 978-1-897187-97-5
1. Underground Railroad—Juvenile
fiction. I. Title.
2011     jC813'.6     C2011-904503-6

Cover by Luc Normandin

Edited by Alison Kooistra
Copyedited by
Kathryn White
Designed by Melissa Kaita
Icons © iStockphoto

Second Story Press
gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the
Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. We acknowledge the
financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book

Published by
Second Story Press
Maud Street, Suite 401
Toronto, ON

For Lewis, Emmett, Hannah, and Christoph


fingers press
down on her mouth, gentle but firm. She struggled awake to see her mother lift
them away, touch one against her own lips, eyes wide with silent warning. Cleo
helped Flower to sit up, shoved sleepy feet into shoes, and wrapped a cloak
around her daughter's shoulders. Gabriel lay on their cot, still asleep, his
pudgy mouth open. Lizzie, whom Flower called Aunty, made her silent way toward
the family and embraced them one by one.

“What…?” Flower began.

Her expression fierce, Cleo raised a finger once
more. Flower stayed quiet, felt her body jerk as her father's strong hands
adjusted a sack on her back. She shivered in the chill air and felt rising alarm
as she looked at the solemn faces of her mother and Aunty. The two women
embraced once more; then Aunty clasped Flower's face in her hands and kissed
both cheeks. After the baby was bundled and secured in a sling for Cleo to
carry, Eldon returned to the doorway. He looked in both directions and then
gestured for his family to come with him out into the dark night.

Flower followed dutifully but reluctantly, still
sleepy and confused. They crept out of the bunkhouse and passed by the back
kitchen and laundry, the places where Cleo toiled daily preparing food and
scrubbing linens, with Flower as her nimble helper. Once outside, Flower tugged
at her mother's sleeve. They both stopped. Cleo bent down and whispered directly
into her daughter's ear. “Your Pa's taking us away from this place. It's going
to be a long road. You must be brave and strong, and quiet as a cat.” Cleo
straightened and they resumed walking.

There was no moon, and clouds obscured the stars.
Flower trailed behind her father. His long strides began to separate them,
taking him farther and farther ahead. She quickened her pace, caught her toe on
a tree root, and fell to the ground, her mother stumbling into her. Eldon gave
his daughter a shake as he helped her up and said softly, “Stay close to me and
pick up your feet.”

They walked through fields, stalks brushing against
them, wet grass soaking the skirts of Cleo and Flower, their hems becoming heavy
with dirt. When they arrived at the brook, they removed their shoes and waded
into the flowing water. This was where Flower sometimes lingered on a hot day,
but it was unfamiliar and scary in the inky blackness. Her feet became numb and
slid around on the stones. She was afraid she might trip again, but didn't want
to use her voice to ask for help. After a few minutes, her father lifted her out
of the cold water and carried her until they reached a bridge. They sat on the
bank beneath it and rested.

Twelve-year-old Flower slept briefly, her head in
her mother's lap. When it was time to continue, she stood again, shaky with
sleep, and walked between her parents. After a while, the dark night evolved
into a gray dimness.

“Morning's coming—people might see us! Hurry!”

Eldon's whispered warning was like an alarm. They
started to run. Eldon tugged his daughter along, leading the way into a woodlot.
As they advanced, it became a forest, the trees tall and protective, like

They resumed their endless walking. When Flower
started to whimper, her mother didn't chastise her. Flower decided her mother
probably felt like whimpering too, especially with Gabriel struggling and
kicking on her back. Suddenly her father stopped and began to walk in a zigzag
fashion—back and forth, side to side, frantically looking—for what? He stopped
and shook his head, weary and impatient.

“What are you looking for?” her mother asked.

“Four large pines, two smaller ones in front. Due
west. I'm going to climb up so I can see farther.” He scrambled up a tree,
finally standing on a large limb. “There they are, a mile or so up ahead.” He
stepped down, branch by branch, and jumped to the ground.

It took almost another hour of walking to reach the
pine grove. Flower's father stood and scanned the trees, uncertain. Gabriel
started to scream and pull at his mother's hair. The sudden onset of his wailing
was shocking in the still morning air. Cleo's “shushing” was fierce.

Flower reached up and stroked her brother's face,
trying to calm him and keep him quiet. “There, there, Gabriel.” She bent her
finger into his mouth, and he sucked on her knuckle, his crying reduced to a
softer mewling.

Cleo jiggled the baby on her back. “Isn't this far
enough?” she asked. “People might hear him if he starts up again. He's beyond
hungry. Can't we stop now so I can feed him?”

“Now…a mighty oak.” Eldon lifted his hand, asking
for patience. Flower studied his face and felt immense relief to see his eyes
brighten and his frown disappear.

“There it is!” They threaded their way past the
pines and stood in front of a large, mature oak. Eldon scanned the branches and
then pointed. Almost out of sight, in the crook of three limbs, a wooden spoon
lay laced with twine.

“Twenty paces north.” He began to stride, counting
his steps. Cleo and Flower followed. They arrived at a rock face, high as the
trees, green with clumps of moss. Eldon counted again and stood before a large
bush. He pulled the branches aside to reveal a small cave.

They settled inside. There was room for all four of
them to lie down, but not before Cleo pulled bread and fruit from the sack
Flower carried. Eldon had drawn water from the brook and had stored it in a
small crock. It was still cold and delicious. Cleo nursed Gabriel, and he fell
asleep. They had their meal, huddled together, and slept.



in front of her
bed and contemplated the clothing spread out on it. She picked up a blue sweater,
held it to her chest, and turned to the mirror. Her reflection stared back at her,
nose scrunched in disgust.

A light rapping of knuckles at the bedroom door.


Delia's head appeared between the open door and the
frame. “It's time to get a move on. Come down and have some breakfast. I've already
made it for you.”


“I mean it. Hurry up.”

“Yes, Mom.” Felicia set the sweater aside and held up a
black T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a fleecy vest, and a patterned scarf, one at a
time. Nothing looked right. Her wardrobe was hopeless. Felicia tossed it all on the
floor and flopped down on her bed. In a few minutes she heard her mother's footsteps
on the stairs.

“What's going on?”

“I have nothing to wear.”

Delia scanned the room. “Why don't you just roll around
on the floor and wear whatever you come up with.”

“Very funny.”

Delia sat down on the bed beside her daughter,
stretched and straightened her back. “I know the first day of school is hard,
especially when it's a new school.”

“If only I had something decent,” Felicia said as she
sat up.

“Your clothes are fine. We did well shopping with the
budget we had.” Felicia felt a twinge of guilt. Her single mom worked hard as a
secretary—or administrative assistant, as Delia preferred to be called—at a car
dealership. “And I know you're not happy that I got transferred here. But it's good
for us, easier from a money point of view. It'll work out, you'll see.”

Felicia didn't say anything.

“I know Plainsville can't compare with Toronto. Maybe
this weekend we can drive over to Collingwood, do some shopping, and go for a swim.
” Her mother hugged her.

“Perfume.” Felicia sniffed.

“Sure. What's wrong with that?”

“It's not the weekend.”

“I thought it would be a nice way to start the


“Cheerful. Want some?”


They talked in low tones, almost whispering. Felicia's
grandmother often slept late. They tried not to disturb her.

“I wish I could be like Nana and sleep in, with nothing
to worry about.”

“Your Nana has had her share of worries. She's earned
her sleep-in time.” Delia picked up a sweater from the floor. “Put this on and come
down for breakfast. You don't want to be late your first day of school.”

Felicia studied the sweater and the T-shirt as her
mother left the room. “Maybe the ‘layered look' is the best idea.” She put on the
tee, added the sweater, the vest, and the scarf, and stepped into jeans.

In the kitchen, her mother sipped her coffee from a
mug. Felicia stared down at her plate of toast.

“I'm not hungry. I can't eat this.”


“I can't.”

“You're really trying my patience this morning, Lord
give me strength.”

“My stomach feels funny.”

“It's going to feel funnier with nothing in it.”

Felicia picked up a piece of toast and bit the corner.
It felt like sand on her tongue. She twisted her mouth and closed her eyes.

“At least eat one piece. I'll give you money to buy
some lunch, just for today. Tomorrow you pack a sandwich.”

After breakfast, Felicia brushed her teeth and studied
her face in the bathroom mirror: dark brown eyes, biscuit-brown skin, seeming paler
this morning. Her grandmother had fashioned tiny braids in her hair the night
before. Felicia wondered what the kids at her new school would think of them,
contemplated undoing them, but decided there was not enough time. Besides, she loved
the gentle click the beads made when she moved her head. She applied tinted cream to
her lips and joined her mother at the front door.

BOOK: Morning Star
7.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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