Voices in the Walls 19

Chapter three, continued

“Oh,” she said, “you do have your Father’s temper after all! No, Matt, I don’t feel that way any more. I hate slavery as much as I ever did, but not slave owners.”

“Father has always been a moderate. He would see the slaves returned to Africa, if there were a way to do it. His attitude has almost cost him his seat in Congress several times.”

“I know that. I know and respect your father, but he still holds human beings in bondage and I don’t hesitate to tell him that he is wrong. So we fight, whenever we see each other. So we avoid seeing each other, because we don’t want to fight.”

Aunt Rachel broke off the conversation, and suggested that I look around a bit outside. I took the hint. Her home had been invaded almost without warning by two strangers, and she wanted to think things over in private.

I wandered around for a few minutes, peeking into the chicken coop, locating where she kept her tools, and finally paying a visit to the two horses she kept in a small corral beside the house. Then I returned to the barn, pulled the handcart up to the back stoop, and began the task of taking Sarah’s trunks up to her room. She lay under a quilt, snoring softly, and did not wake though I made four trips.


Sarah was still sleeping at supper time. I had to shake her awake, and she went right back to bed after the meal. I think the tension of being moved to a new home once again, right after she had gotten used to Mrs. Davison’s school, had hit her as hard as the ride north.

The second story of Aunt Rachel’s house was split by a hallway, with two bedrooms on each side. Aunt Rachel slept at the front of the house and used the room opposite hers to store blankets and out-of-season clothing. The remaining two rooms were given to Sarah and me.

I stored my clothing in a battered chest-of-drawers and shoved my carpetbag under the bed. If I was going to stay here where I would have to do farm chores I would have to buy some rough clothing in Gettysburg. I had taken only a minimum of clothing to Mr. Harding’s house in Baltimore because I had expected to be in uniform within another month.

Finally I opened the paper wrapped package I had laid on the bed. Inside was a small mahogany box fastened with brass. I opened it and looked at the pistol in its velvet lined resting place.

I held in my hands a piece of family history.


I have spent a lot of words describing Aunt Rachel’s farmhouse, many more than I normally would. The shape of the house and the placement of the rooms is of importance for events that will occur a few chapters from now, when Sarah hears voices in the night. They are the voices of escaping slaves, hidden in a secret room in the basement of the house, which is a station on the underground railroad.

Those voices are part of a double-barreled crisis that will catapult Matt into a new and massively changed life.


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