Soon Be Freeby Lois Ruby, Jean-Francois Podevin, Jean Podevin
"Why do weird things always happen to me?"
Dana thought she had solved all the historical mysteries in her parents' house in Lawrence, Kansas. But now that her parents have turned the house into a bed-and-breakfast, Dana isn't so sure. Their first guests, the Burks, are a suspicious couple who snoop where they shouldn't, searching for a secret document/b>
"Why do weird things always happen to me?"
Dana thought she had solved all the historical mysteries in her parents' house in Lawrence, Kansas. But now that her parents have turned the house into a bed-and-breakfast, Dana isn't so sure. Their first guests, the Burks, are a suspicious couple who snoop where they shouldn't, searching for a secret document linked to the Weavers, a Quaker family who lived in the house almost 150 years ago when the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
As Dana combs the house for the hidden document, the story unfolds of thirteen-year-old James Baylor Weaver and his journey in 1857 to bring four slaves to freedom. James's travels will not only change his life but will bring about a horrible choice one that holds the key to the mystery Dana must solve before the Burks. Will she find the document in time?
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- 5.12(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.91(d)
- Age Range:
- 8 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
Chapter Two: A LEG TO STAND ON March 1857
Two days before James's thirteenth birthday, the snow finally let up, and he opened the door to a boy with one leg and a crutch that dug inches into the snow because he leaned his weight that way.
"Will Bowers, mercy, what's happened to thee?"
"It's plain cold out here, James Weaver." Will's voice cracked with weariness.
A wave of stinging air sucked James's breath away. "Well, here, let me take thy kit bag."
Will hoisted his weight onto that flimsy crutch and swung himself into the house. James couldn't take his eyes off the leg that wasn't there.
"Got shot," Will said, lowering himself onto the bench at the kitchen table. A pinned-up trouser leg hung like a sack below the bench. Dried blood had turned it the color of an ax left to rust in the rain. Will eyed a plate covered with one of Ma's embroidered flour-sack tea towels.
James offered him a biscuit that was no better than hardtack, but Will swallowed it in two bites without even a smear of butter or apple jelly. He ate right through the rest of the biscuits like he hadn't had supper, or dinner before that.
"Surgeon sawed it off."
James's stomach lurched. He kept hearing Grandpa Baylor's voice: "I tell you, boy, a man doesn't have a leg to stand on unless he's honest to the bone," and now Grandpa Baylor was gone and Ma was on her way back from burying him in Boston, and here Will Bowers hadn't but one leg to stand on.
"It was the Border Ruffians did it." Will dabbed at every crumb on the table until he had a good supply to suck off his finger.
"At least thee's alive," James said, although he wondered ifhe'd want to be alive with only one leg. What did it look like inside that sack? Was it as raw as fresh meat, or had it healed over into ropy scars?
"Funny thing is, I still feel it."
"Feel what, Will?"
"A whole leg. There's a blister on my heel from a wet boot. Itches on the bottom of my foot, too."
It was too gruesome to think about, so James said, "Ma's been gone to Boston to bury my grandfather. She and my sister have been gone three months. Pa and I thought they'd be back by Christmas, but here it is the first of March. Until the last day or two, the snow's been too deep for travel cross-country. Doesn't stop my pa, though. He's over in Topeka on Kansas Territory business."
"Some things never change."
"Oh, Will, I'm mighty sorry about thy leg."
Will petted the stump as if it were a dog nipping at him under the table. "Guess I'm lucky. Didn't I stand right there at your door last September and say I might come back in a box?"
"Thee did. Thee caused quite a stir in my house." James chuckled. "I'd have gone with thee, but it's not the Quaker way. My ma and pa would have had fits."
Will filled his palm with salt from the little salt-cellar and licked his hand clean.
"Thee's starving." James jumped up and brought Will back some jerky and a cup of cold tea.
"What would you have done over there at Pottawatomie with John Brown's posse, James?" Will chewed away on that dried meat strip. "Talked to them pretty with all your thees and thous? That would have turned two or three dozen proslavers back and made them kneel and say their prayers right out loud."
James felt his scalp prickle, coward that he was. Here they were, living right on the edge of Kansas Territory, which was free, and Missouri, which was a slave state. Border skirmishes were raging all around them. Every Lawrence man had taken up arms, except Dr. Olney and Pa and half a dozen other men in town who were Quakers. Mercy, even one of the Quakers was keeping a rifle clean and greased, just in case.
Flaring with anger -- or was it shame? -- James asked, "Why's thee here instead of at thy own place?"
"It's four more blocks. Try walking halfway across Kansas on a crutch."
"There's another reason."
"Only thee knows. But I suspect it has something to do with being afraid to go home."
"I'm not afraid of anything. I've followed John Brown into a raid on a camp of Border Ruffians. Sliced one up myself. I watched that doctor take off my leg with just a shot of whiskey to dull the ache."
James shuddered. "There's a draft in here."
"Heck, I'm not afraid of anything," Will said again. "Except my ma. She'll fall over dead when she sees me like this. Reckon I can stay here tonight? I can face Ma better when the sun's just coming up."
James glanced at the spot in front of the fire where the cat, Trembles, raced her motor. Weeks ago Solomon, who was a free Negro, had lain on a pallet by that fire, sweating through his typhoid fever while Miz Lizbet had nursed him back to health.
Miz Lizbet. What a vexing woman she was, but how James missed her! Six weeks had passed since she'd died in this house.
Then Will startled him with a question: "Still harboring runaway slaves?"
"Everybody in town knew, except your pa."
"Naw, not anymore, we're not."
"So, you letting me stay here tonight like those runaways did? Least I'm not against any law."
"We could make thee up a pallet on the floor by the fire. Thee wouldn't have to manage stairs."
Will nodded. "I swear, I could sleep a week."
And he nearly did. He slept around the clock until Ma and Rebecca came back after being gone to Boston for three long months and found a one-legged boy asleep in the parlor.
Copyright © 2000 by Lois Ruby
Meet the Author
Lois Ruby is the author of several novels, including Steal Away Home, which was named an IRA Young Adults' Choice and a Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies (NCSS/CBC). Before she turned to writing, she was a young adult librarian for the Dallas Public Library. In her spare time she serves on the board of Inter-Faith Inn, a homeless shelter in Wichita, Kansas, and sometimes teaches minicourses to seventh and eighth graders. “The place I feel most comfortable,” she says, “is among teenagers, laughing.” The mother of three sons, she lives in Wichita with her husband, Thomas.
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The story is very interesting, however, there are many characters and the olde English used in the 1857 timeframe makes it difficult to read for a 5th grader. [SPOILER] The whole chapter near the end about the treaty being signed and re-deeded was very complex story line for an 11 year-old to follow.