Voices in the Walls 30

2 of 6 of an outline of the remainder of Voices in the Walls.

There is a major difficulty that has to be wrestled with throughout this book. Matt can’t be too pliant to change, or too politically correct by 2016 standards, or there will be no dramatic change in his thinking and no reason for writing the book. On the other hand, for a southern young man, son of a slave owner, to make the change to believing that the slaves need to be freed is absurd on the face of it. This unlikely transition has to be handled very carefully from two perspectives, timing and motivation.

This fragment has begun that task by making Matt the son of seafaring folk who are more universal in their outlook, by making his mother a Quaker, and by putting him into the orbit of an abolitionist aunt whom he admires, both for her own virtues and because she so closely reminds him of his mother.

Ben Sayre is vital to this transition, and I don’t think the fragment, as written, has done enough with him. Matt needs to spend more time with Sayre, bond closer with him, have spats and reconciliations, and (for plot reasons not yet revealed) to meet his family. This will probably change the timeline, perhaps adding another week before Sarah and Matt discover the slaves in the basement.

I need a reason for Matt to meet his Ben Sayre’s family. Perhaps Sayre can be injured, say by a foundation stone falling on his foot, and Matt has to take him home. In the present iteration of Voices, I intend for Sayre to live with a young man and woman, his son and his son’s wife, who are about five years older than Matt. Matt will be even more ill-at-ease with these two than with Sayre, and disturbed by how much their home life is no different than that of a young white couple. Let’s call them Saul and Alice, although I actually haven’t yet chosen names.

The night Sarah and Matt discover the hidden slaves, the story breaks out in several directions at once. Rachel comes down and confirms that this is in fact a station on the underground railroad. Matt says that they came down to the cellar because they both heard voices in the walls, which gives Rachel a chance to utter the line I’ve spent the whole book setting up —

“There ought to be voices in the walls in every house in America, while slavery continues.”

These are the runaways the slave catchers have been searching for and the body Matt found is their conductor. He was wounded getting them here and died in Rachel’s cellar. Another batch of slaves is due to arrive any day, so this group needs to go on northward. Rachel’s cellar will not hold them all. She has been trying to find someone to conduct them, without success, and is about to lead them north herself.

She has friends who will keep Sarah while she is gone. She sends Matt to bring Alice Sayre to take care of her house and be ready to show the new refugees how to hide in the cellar. He is not happy about Rachel hiding runaway slaves, and less happy about being asked to help, but he is willing to bring Alice to care for Rachel’s house. His emotions are in turmoil. He can’t betray Rachel, he can’t betray the blacks in the cellar because he simply couldn’t turn anyone over to Bellows and Meeker, and yet he can’t continue to help harbor runaways. As he rides to the Sayre home, he is planning how best to take Sarah and leave, but he can’t think of any place to take her which will keep his promise to his father that he will keep her safe.

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