Freed Hearts and Bootlegged Love
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117 pages

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A class history assignment becomes Kirsten's personal time travel machine when her Grandmother Elsie's words make five generations of strong women live again. Kirsten shares Great-Great-Great Grandmother Nassia's courageous run from slavery in Virginia to freedom in Canada, Great-Great Grandmother Sadie's panic during the famous Regina tornado, Great Grandmother Viola's affairs of the heart while running rum in the Moosejaw tunnels, and marvels at Grandmother Elsie's strength as she struggles to survive one of the harshest winters in Saskatchewan's history. 



Publié par
Date de parution 10 octobre 2016
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781772991659
Langue English

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Freed Hearts & Bootlegged Love
by Killarney Sheffield
Kindle 978-1-77299-575-6
EPUB 978-1-77299-473-5
WEB 978-1-77299-980-8
Amazon Print 978-1-77299-475-9

Copyright 2016 by Killarney Sheffield
Cover art by Michelle Lee 2016
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, nopart of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introducedinto a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by anymeans (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise ) without the prior writtenpermission of the copyright owner and the above publisher of thisbook.
Chapter One
Regina, Saskatchewan, present day.

Twelve year old Kirsten perched on thefootstool made of egg cartons and macramé at her grandmother’s feetand sighed.
The moss green yarn spooling from the bag ofcolored balls ceased as Grandmother Elsie paused in her knitting,and smiled. “You look like the cat stole your cream, honey. What’sthe matter?”
“My teacher, Mrs. McKinnon gave us writinghomework for the weekend.” Kirsten pouted.
“Well, you just get it done now and you’llhave all weekend to do whatever you like.” Grandmother went back toher knitting, the needles clicking away in rhythm to her footpushing the rocking chair.
“That’s just the problem, Grammy. It willtake me all weekend to figure out what to write.” Kirsten sighedagain and cupped her chin in her hands.
Grandmother put down her knitting and leanedback in her rocking chair. “Maybe I can help, what do you have towrite about?”
“We have to write about a female relative whofaced adversity.”
“So, what’s the problem?”
Kirsten frowned. “Nobody in our family hasever done anything interesting, or faced any kind of adversity thatI remember.”
“Is that so?” Grandmother Elsie leanedforward in her rocking chair. “Well, it just so happens there aremany women in our family who have faced rough times and come outthe better for it in the end, some even fell in love despite allthe odds being against it.”
With a doubtful look Kirsten asked, “Likewho?”
Her grandmother got a strange faraway look inher eye. “Well, take your great, great, great Grandmother NaissaJacob for starters.”
Kirsten tried to recall the name but failed.“What did she do?”
“It’s not what she did, necessarily, but morewho she was.”
“I don’t understand, Grammy.”
Grandmother Helen smiled. “You see it allstarted in Pile O’ Bones, that’s what Regina was called before itbecame a city in 1905.” She paused a moment. “Actually, if truth betold, Naissa’s story really began in Virginia…”
Harpers Ferry, Virginia, 1859
Naissa stood on the auction platform at theend of the line of thirteen other Negro and Negro cross slaves. Asmuch as she wanted to cry, she dared not. Mammie, the matronlycolored woman who raised her, had warned her that weak slaves foundthemselves at the bottom of the bidding and therefore ended up inthe worst situations. Screaming on the inside, Naissa staredstraight ahead, her unfocused eyes blocking out the leering faces.The stench of rot gut and cigar smoke permeated her nostrils. Shedidn’t have to look to know it was the fat man in the white suitagain. He had walked past her half a dozen times already. Flabby,tobacco stained fingers groped her chest, slid down her flatstomach and invaded the forbidden area with rough force.Swallowing, she made herself be still.
“You’re a right pretty colored girl. Openyour mouth.”
In silence Naissa obeyed, opening her mouthwide so he could inspect her teeth.
“Yeah, you sure are pretty. Youbreeding?”
“No, suh.”
“Why not? You’re old enough, you barren?”
Naissa gritted her teeth. “No, suh.”
The slave trader sauntered up. “This here isa prime mulatto. Bred off Lord Riker’s best colored, Jacob.”
The man in the white suit grunted. “A fineslave that Jacob, hear he’s bested every colored boy east of theMississippi. Who was the mate?”
“An immigrant scullery maid, the prettiestlittle Irish potato you ever seen.”
Naissa bit her lip when the man in the suitreached up and pulled one of her spring-like black curls.
“At least she got none of that awful Irishred hair.” The fat man snickered. “How much?”
“Twelve hundred.”
“Twelve hundred!” The man in the white suitscoffed and then spit in the dirt. “A good sturdy field slave isonly going for eight hundred. This little one won’t do half thework of one of them. She’s too small and scrawny.”
“Maybe so, but she’s a mulatto. I paid goodmoney fer her. She’s an educated slave too, can read, write and dosums. Them cross-breeds is all the spit these days, and a real showpiece this one is. Just think how pleased all your guests will bewhen you offer them a little treat like this ‘un to entertainthem.”
“How do I know she ain’t been well used?”
The slave trader poked her. “You tell ‘em youain’t been used, girl.”
Though Naissa wanted to spit in his face, sherefrained. “I’ve not been used, suh.”
“You expect me to take a slave’s word for it?I won’t pay twelve until she’s checked by a physician.”
Naissa began to tremble. In an effort to keepcontrol, she squeezed her eyes shut. Mammie warned her it wouldhappen.
A low voice punctuated her thoughts. “I willgive you twelve for her, unchecked.”
Startled she opened her eyes. A tall man in afine brocade suit stepped forward. His lips were set in a grimline, but his eyes held a soft kindness. She held her breath,hoping.
“And who might you be?” The slave traderlooked the stranger up and down.
“Just a man with a lot of coin, in search ofa pretty serving wench.” The man tipped his head. “Sir JohnHightower, at your service. Now, have we a deal?”
The slave trader glanced at the man in thewhite suit. “Unless you care to offer more?”
The man in white shook his head and walkedaway.
“Let me see yer coin.” The slave trader heldout his hand.
“I do not have any on me. If you will behappy with a promissory note to take to my man of business, I willtake the girl and be on my way.” The tall man held out a card.
The slave trader’s eyes narrowed. “How do Iknow you have the coin?”
“Would I have a man of business if I had nofunds?” The tall man lifted his brow in challenge.
“I suppose not.” The slave trader rubbed hisjaw. “And you’ll gimme full price?”
“Yes.” Mr. Hightower wrote the sum on thecard, signed it with a flourish and then held it out. “You have myword as a gentleman.”
The slave trader hesitated a moment more,then snatched the card and stuck it in his pocket. “All right.” Herifled through his ring of keys, selected one and unlocked hershackles. “You can’t return her ifn’ she’s not pure, now.”
“I understand.” Mr. Hightower graspedNaissa’s elbow. “Come along.”
As he towed her through the crowded marketNaissa couldn’t help but be thankful. Even though she did not knowwhat lay in store for her, this man at least spared her thehumiliation of being checked for purity.
“What is your name?”
She stumbled alongside him, the rocks hurtingher bare feet. “Naissa, massah.”
“I am not your master.” The man peered overhis shoulder and then ducked into an alleyway between twobuildings. “You want to be free, Naissa?”
“Yes, mas-suh.” She was hard pressed to keepup with his long quick stride as she hurried barefoot along behind,wincing at the hard pebbles poking up amongst the dirt.
“Good, cause I aim to see you free, but youmust hurry and do exactly as I tell you, understand?”
Nassia huffed and puffed with the effort ofkeeping up with the man, who was practically jogging now downalleyway after alleyway. “Yes, suh, Mr. Hightower.”
He flashed her a tight smile. “My name’sJohn, John Whitaker. Reverend, to be precise. Hurry now, we havegot to get you hidden before that slave trader finds out there isno Mr. Hightower.”
Heart pounding both from fear and exertion,Naissa broke into a trot beside the stranger. Why he cared and whyhe wanted to see her free, she couldn’t fathom. She was no one,just a colored skin. Nobody cared about her, except maybeMammie.
They came to the rear of a large red brickchurch. The Reverend drew her to a small door, looked both ways,and then opened it. He shoved her inside ahead of him, stepped inbehind her and quickly shut the door.
“This way.” He led them along a narrowcorridor sheathed in cobwebs and shadow.
They rounded a corner and a small locked doorblocked their way. The Reverend pulled a key from his pocket,inserted it into the lock, turned the key and pushed the door. Itopened with a squeal of rusty hinges. Without a word he drew herinside, locked the door and made his way up a narrow flight ofstairs.
Naissa’s legs trembled as they climbed notone flight, but six. At the top another door opened to reveal asmall room which housed a massive iron bell.
The Reverend ushered her inside. “Wait hereand do not make a sound. I will send Sister Mary up to see to you.From now on, you are a nun in service to the Church, at least untilI can make arrangements to have you transported on the railroad tofreedom.”
Used to obeying orders, Naissa sat on a dustytrunk as he left, shutting and locking the door behind him. A nun?She had no idea what that was. What if it was some kind of bedslave? A shiver rippled down her spine, partly from the loathsomeidea of being nothing more than a broodmare, and partly from thesweat cooling on her skin. Did it matter? She was a slave, bred andborn to serve, no more, no less than a prize cow.
The minutes passed as she sat there in thedim quiet. Fingers of light patterned the floor from the singlesmall window, illuminating lacy cobwebs, worn wooden beams andflecks of dust. Naissa looked down at the floor, and then traced aline in the grime with her toe. Her stomach grumbled, startling herand breaking the eerie silence. The food at Master Warwick’s hadbeen good and plentiful, and Mammie, the kitchen slave, alwaysensured Naissa had enough of it. The last few weeks since she wassold to the slave trader however, had been misery. Endless dustymarches chained in a long line of other slaves, a thin blanket onthe ground at night and a bowl of mush twice a day, had been littlecomfort.
The door creaked open and Naissa scrambled toher feet as a woman entered. She eyed the stranger’s odd black andwhite, loose fitting dress.
“You must be the Reverend’s new package.” Thewoman smiled and shut the door behind her.
Bewildered, Naissa looked around for aparcel, but the room was empty except for the trunk she had sat onand the giant bell. “Ain’t no package here, ma’am.”
This time the woman chuckled. “You are thepackage.” She held out a bundle of black and white cloth. “Put thison. I am Sister Mary. From now until you reach freedom, you areSister Martha, and you need get used to being called a package, forthat is how you will be referred to on the UndergroundRailroad.”
Naissa took the bundle and shook it out. Itwas a black dress identical to Sister Mary’s. “What is this? Am Ito be a house servant?”
Sister Mary gave her a soft smile. “I am onlya servant to God. You are going to pretend to be a nun so that wemay transport you to freedom.”
Though she didn’t understand Naissa donnedthe clothing.
“Now, we will go below and get you ready fortransport.”
Naissa frowned. “Transport?”
Sister Mary nodded. “We need to move you fastbefore the trader finds out the Reverend is not a slave buyer. I amafraid your journey to Boston will not be the most comfortable one,and for that I apologize.”
Chapter Two

Naissa shifted in the cramped space torelieve her aching hip. The endless rattle of the wagon beneathmade her wish for night, though she sorely missed the light of day.Three long days ensconced in her wooden pew casket were starting towear on her. She was shoved into the tiny space only big enough tolie down in each morning before sunrise and only released from theconfines well after dark. Her nostrils wrinkled of their own accordat the sharp odor of pine soap which had been used to scrub awaythe evidence of her accident the first day. Since then she had beencareful to drink only what she needed to maintain hydration as soonas she was released from the pew, and refuse any liquids beforebeing closed up in it again in the morning. Reminded of her chappedlips, she tried to moisten them with her tongue, but it was toodry. Her stomach rumbled and she ignored it, returning to runningfigures in her mind to pass the time. Two plus two is… four. Fourplus four is… eight. Eight plus eight is…
A shout from outside the box stilled hermind. “Hold up there!”
The wagon came to a halt with a jerk.
“Howdy Reverend.”
The Reverend’s steady answer reached herears. “How do, gentlemen. It is a fine day on God’s green earth, isit not?”
“That it is,” the stranger returned. “Youhaven’t seen a runaway light skinned colored girl and a thiefdressed as a gentleman on your travels, have ya?”
“No, no one that meets that description,though I did stop to spread God’s word in the last town, as thecitizens there have no preacher at the moment and were hungry for amessage from the Almighty.”
“You wouldn’t be lying to me now, would you,preacher?”
Naissa stiffened, scared to even breathe.
“Now, what kind of man of God would lie?” theReverend answered with a chuckle.
“Then you won’t mind us searchin’ your wagonthen?”
The wagon seat creaked as if someone hadclimbed up. “No sir, go right ahead. I am delivering these new pewsto a church in Boston. They are made by the finest woodworkerssouth of the Mississippi.”
The tailgate on the wagon squeaked and thenthumped open. The wagon tilted as if someone had climbed in theback. All was silent for a few agonising moments.
“Just pews, boss, nothin’ else,” a manreplied. The wagon creaked again and the tailgate banged back intoplace.
“Check underneath the wagon,” the first mancommanded.
Footsteps passed where Naissa huddled. “Allclear, boss,” the second man confirmed.
“I suppose you can be on your way, preacher,”the first man said. “You keep your eyes peeled for a pale coloredgirl with green eyes. We can’t have people breaking the law now,God frowns on such things.”
“Yes, I am sure God will strike down thosewho break His laws,” the Reverend mumbled. “I will pray for yoursafety, good sirs.”
“I appreciate that, Reverend. Good day toyou.”
Two sets of hoof beats echoed past and fadedaway. The wagon started forward again and Naissa sighed inrelief.
The Reverend whistled to encourage the teamto pick up the pace. “All is clear, Naissa. Just a few more hoursand we will reach Boston.”
Naissa relaxed and closed her eyes. TheReverend told her that morning she would be allowed to rest a fewdays in Boston before crossing into the land to the north calledCanada. Perhaps she might even be permitted a bath. Her lips curledinto a faint smile at the thought of hot water and soap. The firstnight they stopped she found herself hidden in a secret cellarbeneath the kitchen table of a farmhouse. It had been cold and dampnestled amongst potatoes, squash and beets. The UndergroundRailroad station operator hadn’t even given her a blanket, afraidit might be left behind and discovered by a slave hunter. Thesecond night’s stop had been marginally better with soft pile ofstraw in a false bottomed manger inside a big livery stable. Yes, ahot bath and a meal of something other than dried venison, bread,cheese and water would be nice.
Naissa’s mouth salivated at the thought ofhot food and a cup of cold ale. She slipped her tongue between herlips and coated their dryness with it. Never had she been so hotduring the day and so cold at night. A trickle of perspiration sliddown her forehead. The pew, though made of wood, was like baking ina bread oven during the day, as the sun beat down on the darkstained exterior. She wrinkled her nose and breathed through hermouth to avoid the stench of pine and her own filthy body. Cold,hot, and dirty were three things she never wanted to be again.
* * *
Emerging from slumber, Naissa’s mindregistered the lurching halt of the wagon. She strained to hear. Itwas quiet. Too quiet. Did something happen to the Reverend and sheslept right through it? Should she call out to him? No, he insistedshe remain silent at all times. Minutes ticked by. Her bladderscreamed for relief and she clamped her legs tight to quell it.Footsteps approached. The tailgate of the wagon thumped open. Thepew she was in shifted, and then was lifted up, then down, then aslight side to side wobble. She lay as still as stone, slowing herbreathing lest whoever carried her heard, or felt it. The pewlowered and then settled on a solid surface. Without warning, ittipped onto its side and the bottom popped open.
Naissa blinked at the intrusion of light froma lantern held aloft. A hand entered her line of vision.Instinctively she reached for it, and allowed the person to helpher to her feet.
The Reverend smiled down at her. “Welcome toBoston, Naissa.”
She squirmed and looked about. They stood inthe body of the largest church she had ever seen. Rows upon rows ofpews flowed down to a large raised platform crowned by anelaborately carved pulpit. Stepping closer to the Reverend, sheeyed the two young men who had carried her inside and whispered, “Ihave to… you know.”
The Reverend motioned to someone behind her.“Sister Teresa, could you show our package to the water closet,please?”
“Yes, Reverend.” An older woman hobbledforward in a nun habit. “This way.”
Naissa hurried after her. Once she relievedherself and washed up, she was shown to a candle lit kitchen ofmassive proportions. The Reverend, two older nuns, the two youngmen who released her from the pew, and an older man dressed muchthe same as the Reverend sat around a big scarred table. Aheavy-set woman in an apron pointed Naissa to an empty chair, andthen placed a bowl of hot stew and a thick slice of fresh breadbefore her.
Gratefully Naissa dug into the meal, pausingonly when she realized everyone was staring at her. She glancedaround the table and then wiped her mouth with her sleeve.
The older man frowned and then cleared histhroat. “Let us pray.” He bowed his head when Naissa set down herspoon. “Lord, we thank You for the safe passage of ReverendWhitaker and his package. We pray that You will continue to seethem both to safety in Canada and thank you for allowing us to doYour work and fight the evils of slavery. Bless this food to ourbodies and the hands that prepared it, amen.”
Her face burning, Naissa waited untileveryone else began to eat before returning to her meal.
“You will rest here a week, Reverend, then wewill see you safely across the border.” The older man glanced atNaissa. “You will keep to your room, or the kitchens, unless inprayer, to avoid any undue suspicion. The border crossing will bethe most dangerous part of your journey. I have arranged for aspecial pulpit to be made, with just enough room to hide you in acrouched position. Reverend, I trust you will find our gifts foryour new church both practical and generous.”
Naissa looked down at her lamb stew andsighed. Hopefully, she would not be cramped in her new prison forlong. Confinement was starting to wear on her both physically andmentally.
* * *

“Wow, I didn’t think there were slaves in ourfamily Grammy. Poor Naissa must have been so scared.” Kirstensighed. “It doesn’t seem fair she was a slave, I mean she was onlyhalf black after all.”
Grammy nodded. “Yes, but back then there wereIrish slaves and African American ones, and since Naissa was ofboth blood lines, that was her lot in life.”
“Well, I’m glad there is no more slavery,”Kirsten replied.
“Yes, there was freedom in Canada for runawayslaves like Naissa, if they could find their way. Slavery wasabolished in America just a little over a year later, but it tookmany years to eradicate it completely.”
Kirsten scribbled a few notes on her notepad. “Thanks Grammy, I know just what to write about now. I willtell of great, great, great grandmother Naissa’s escape to Canada.”She paused. “She did make it to Canada, right?”
“Oh, yes, she did, but the journey was filledwith peril, and life in Canada wasn’t a piece of cake.”
Enthralled by the tale, Kirsten leanedforward. “Tell me what happened Grammy, please.”
Chapter Three
Saskatchewan, 1860.

Naissa swatted at the blackflies buzzingrelentlessly around her head. “As God is my witness, it wasn’t thishot back in Ontario, Reverend.”
“No, I suppose it was not.” The Reverendswiped his face with a dusty red handkerchief and lookedheavenward. “Your speech is coming along nicely, Naissa.”
She followed his gaze, pride making hersmile. The sun had burned away all the clouds leaving nothing butblue sky and relentless heat in its wake. Lowering her gaze shefocused on the view between the ears of the old mare pulling thewagon. Waves of heat distorted the dusty wheel ruts before them.“Are you sure we ain’t lost?”
“I’m sure we are not lost.” He snickered. “Byall that is holy Naissa, you are the most impatient nun I have evermet.”
Afraid she had offended him, she fiddled withthe head covering in her hands. “That’s ‘cause I ain- am not reallya nun, besides, I’d be less impatient if it weren’t so hot and Iwasn’t cloaked in black. Whose idea was it anyway that nuns shouldwear black anyway? I mean, would a lighter color and fabric be toomuch to ask God for?” The minute the words were out of her mouthshe regretted them. “I’m sorry, Reverend. I don’t mean to be sosnickety.”
“You are forgiven, child. I am sure our goodLord will over-look your mood on a day such as today. He is nothingif not merciful after all.” Beads of sweat rolled down his face,and he removed his black hat and loosened the stiff clerical collararound his neck. “I just wish this heat would have as muchmercy.”
Naissa hid her smile as they rounded the bendin the creaking old wagon packed tight with their belongings andthe items needed to set up the new church. The Underground Railroadto freedom left her with little choice in her manner of liberty.Freedom was freedom, no matter how you were clothed, and no matterwhere you ended up. The middle of nowhere where she now foundherself was even more forlorn than she had expected. The Reverendtold her the vast prairies of Canada were populated by immigrantsfrom all nations. She had expected houses and farms as far as theeye could see, yet so far only a few farms dotted the sun bleachedgrass lands that were sprinkled with little towns here and there.Rolling hills flanked the wagon rutted trails through dry browngrass, rocks, gopher holes and dirt, more dirt that she had everseen before, or would be able to get out of her habit, by the looksof it. Frowning, she picked at the black garment now turned agreyish brown. Lord, please let the town of Pile O’ Bones be awhole lot better than the less than scenic route there.
As if on cue the old brown horse pulling thewagon pricked her ears and picked up her shuffling, arthritic pace.The limp of the mare was now so pronounced she feared the lameanimal would never make their destination. As they rounded a bend,a cluster of dull wooden buildings took shape amid the dust andprairie grass.
Naissa took a deep breath. As much as Ipray this trip is over I hope this isn’t our final stop. Squinting through the dust she strained to make out the faded signhanging from the archway spanning the single street. ‘Pile O Bones,Saskatchewan, Population 723’. It seemed the heat had even reducedthe ‘of’ to a mere ‘O’, less than its original form.
“Naissa, your head covering.”
With a groan she tugged the nun’s veil backover her head, straightened her wimple and coif, and made anattempt to stuff her curly black tresses beneath. The scourge ofbeing one half Negro was the unruly hair she inherited. As theypassed under the sign she surveyed the town. Here and there a horsestood tied to various crude hitching rails in front of differentshops, proving though deserted looking, the town was indeedinhabited. On one side of the street was a general store, aboarding house, a doctor’s office/barber shop; on the other alivery, bakery/café, constable’s office and saloon. A tinny melodyfrom a player piano drifted from the saloon before a shout drownedit out and the swinging half doors burst open. A young man wasejected by an unseen force. He tumbled end over end into the streetcausing the old horse to throw up her head and stop in hertracks.
Naissa covered a startled gasp with herhand.
The dusty fellow scrambled to his feet,snatched up his odd shaped, battered hat and grinned. Aftersettling it back on his rumpled blonde hair he nodded and touchedthe brim. “Ma’am, Reverend.” Before they could respond he dove backinto the saloon with a hoot.
“Just what kind of heathen dust bowl isthis?” she groused.
The Reverend chuckled. “Welcome to theBritish North American prairies, Naissa.”
Groaning she turned her attention to thewhite-washed building on the outskirts of town surrounded by acluster of neat looking homes. Sixteen homes, plus the livingquarters over the eight businesses meant at least a couple dozenmade up the congregation, not counting whatever there was for farmsin the area.
The Reverend drew the horse up at the stepsof the church. He set the brake, which was entirely unnecessary bythe looks of the already dozing geriatric mare. They were given nochoice but to purchase the nag in White City, before they crossedinto the slave free territory north of the border. With a grin hecame around to help her down. “Well, what do you think?”
Squinting she looked up at the white-washedsteeple where a large bell hung. “At least it looks well caredfor.”
“That is the spirit.” With a bounce in hisstep the Reverend towed her up the steps. “It is our new home. Comeon, I am told there are lodgings in the back, and a small stableand corral for the horse.”
She followed, holding back a bubble ofsarcastic laughter at the idea of the scrawny bag of bones thatsomehow managed to deliver them safely being referred to as ahorse. The inside of the church was cool compared to outside. Asigh escaped her. How she longed for a bath to wash off the traveldust, but there was work to do unloading the wagon and it wasunlikely there’d be time, or the energy, to haul and heat waterbefore bed.
The inside of the church was a sharp contrastto its outer shell, dusty and the sturdy slab floor in need of asweep and good scrubbing. The pews however took her breath away.Each one was carved with elaborate designs from soft pine. She rana hand across the back of one to reveal a glossy shine beneath thedust. After brushing her hand off on the skirt of her habit shewandered to the front of the room. A matching pulpit stood to oneside of the alleyway and an old scarred teacher’s desk on theother. Crossing to stand behind the desk she looked out over theroom where she would teach school lessons during the week and helpthe Reverend with his sermons on Sundays. It wasn’t much, but toher it was close to paradise.
“Here are the living quarters.” The Reverendopened a small door in the corner and stepped through it.
Naissa followed. The door opened into acommon room with a pot belly cook stove. Two doors off to the rightstood open and she peered inside them. Each was a small bedroomwith a window overlooking a weedy garden patch. A door in the farcorner of the kitchen revealed a lean-to barn and an attachedouthouse. At least we will not have to brave the elements to use the privy . Though primitive, it wasn’t the worseplace she had ever lived. Pushing the thought away, she turned tothe Reverend with a smile. “Well, I suppose we should start haulingthings in from the wagon, Reverend.”
“As I have said before, you can call me John,Naissa.”
“Reverend suits me fine.” She turned away andheaded back through the church/school house. How did you explain toa white man the years of being seen as nothing but a slave wouldnever fully leave you? As she opened the double doors and proppedthem that way for ease in unloading, the tall man who had rolled inthe dirt earlier strolled up the steps.
He touched the brim of his hat respectfully.“Ma’am, I do hope everything meets with your approval.”
She eyed his dusty coat and black trousers.“It needs a good cleaning but it’ll do, mister…?”
“Oh, yeah.” He dusted his hands off on hisequally dirty pants and held it out. “I am Constable MathewMacKenzie, the law around these parts.” He pointed to the tarnishedbadge on his chest and grinned. “Well, not everyone agrees, as youwitnessed earlier.”
Naissa stepped away as the Reverend exitedthe church, anxious to distance herself. No matter how many timesshe was told she was free here in this new place with the funnyname—Saskatchewan—she could not escape the fear of being arrestedand dragged in shackles back to the slave trader.
“Reverend, this is the Constable, Mr.MacKenzie.”
The constable offered his hand. “How do youdo, Reverend Whitaker, I was told to expect you.”
After shaking the Reverend smiled. “Please,call me John.”
Naissa brushed by the men and started togather things from the back of the wagon.
“You look like you could use a hand. Let mehelp.” The constable followed her down the steps and began to helpcart items into the church. John carried his fair share aswell.
Naissa peered at the constable out of thecorner of her eye. He was not exactly what she expected a lawman tolook like. The tall blonde appeared as if he has just finished ahard day’s work I the cotton fields, except for the puffy red weltrising over the corner of his right eye. No whiskers marred hiswide jaw, though a slight shadow of fuzz lingered on his upper lip.He had either failed to shave that morning, or was trying to grow amustache. It was hard to tell which.
The lawman caught her gaze and grinned,showing a surprisingly straight set of white teeth. Looking away,Narissa picked up a carton of school books and started up thesteps. After placing them on the desk she pointed to the pulpit.“You may put the Reverend’s sermons there.”
As he did as instructed Naissa studied him.Though lean, there was a hint of muscles beneath the man’s starchedcoat. He glanced at her, his bright blue eyes twinkling, before heturned and sauntered out. And what a saunter he had. Long strides,confident and with just a little swagger suggested a man with moreself-assurance than his years would dictate. What was it Mammieonce called a man like that? A stallion with a belly full ofoats.
Shaking her head she returned to unpackingthe carton. The books from Boston were brand new, their coversstill holding that new book smell. Unable to resist she held one upand took a deep sniff.
“So, you are the new teacher and Reverend’sassistant?”
Embarrassed to be caught smelling books shedropped them to the desk and turned away to hide her blush.“Yes.”
“Are you two married?”
A giggle escaped her at the idea. “No, theReverend is celibate.”
“He’s what?”
Schooling her face into a suitable mask ofrespect she turned around to gather a few books to arrange on theshelf. “He chooses to remain… pure.”
“Oh.” The constable shook his head and headedback out. “His loss, I reckon.”
Smothering laughter Naissa returned to hertask. If nothing else the appointment was going to be amusing ifall the inhabitants of Pile O Rocks were like Mathew MacKenzie.
* * *
“Pile O Bones sounded like a real roughplace, Grammy.” Kirsten rested her chin on her knees. “Just likethe old west movies on television.”
Grammy nodded. “Yes indeed it was. Back thenthe law and the towns were new. Many people made their way northfrom the States to settle the new land, some to prospect for goldin the Yukon and others to farm the land in the prairies.”
Kirsten’s nose wrinkled. “Is that what Naissadid, farm the land? Kind of like the old time farm display theyhave every year at the Regina Agribition?”
“No.” Grammy chuckled. “Naissa did not farm,but she did go on to start her own business and fall in love.”
“Ooh!” Kirsten’s eyes sparkled. “Tell memore, Grammy.”
“All right…”
Chapter Four

Naissa trailed along behind the Reverend asthey made their way to Booker’s General Store for supplies. Thesmall rough-hewn slab building promised everything from apples toyarn, at least according to the bright red lettered sign above thedoor. As they stepped into the welcoming shade of the building, sheblinked to adjust her eyes to the dim interior of the shop. Woodencrates and barrels lined the walls and tables, and shelves packedwith goods took up most of the available floor space. Rememberingher place Naissa stood just inside the door, her head down, andwaited for the Reverend to place his order. In Boston, Negros, evenpartial ones, were not allowed inside businesses and were forced towait outside in all weather.
A man in brown woolen trousers and a whiteshirt leaning against the counter, turned as the Reverendapproached. Naissa recognized the handsome young lawman, eventhough he was out of uniform. He tipped his off-white cowboy hat toher and then greeted the Reverend. “How you settling in,Reverend?”
“Fine, just fine, Constable. I have come toget some much needed supplies.”
The burly shop keeper smiled. “Nice to meetyou Reverend, I’m Clive Booker, put anything you need on the churchaccount. You kin settle it after tithe at the end of themonth.”
“Much obliged, Mr. Booker.”
The constable crossed to stand before her.“Ma’am, there is no reason to stand by the door, we don’t bitehere.” He cracked a friendly grin which produced tiny crow’s feetat the corners of his baby blue eyes.
“I am fine right here, Constable, but I thankyou for your concern,” Naissa mumbled, and then moved toward adisplay of colored cloth.
A large, well-dressed man entered the shop.He gave the constable a brief nod and strolled to the counter, hispolished boots gleaming and out of place in the dusty prairie town.“Good day, Clive, has the newspaper come from Toronto yet?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Wright, got it right here.”Clive held out a rolled up newspaper. “Fresh off the morningtrain.”
“As I expected.” Mr. Wright took thepaper.
Clive gestured to the Reverend. “Mr. Wright,may I introduce Reverend Whitaker, and Miss… why I don’t think Icaught your name, Miss?
Naissa swallowed, uncomfortable to be thecenter of attention. “Sister Naissa.”
Constable MacKenzie gave her a kind smile.“Yes, Sister Naissa, is the new school teacher.”
Mr. Wright lifted an eyebrow and cast acurious look down her attire. “A nun for a school teacher? Wellthat ‘aught to get all them Ruthenians all riled up.”
“Ruthenians?” The Reverend frowned.
Clive’s face flushed and he cleared histhroat. “Ukrainians.”
Mr. Wright sniffed. “As bad as the coloredfolk, they are.”
“Now see here, Mr. Wright,” the Reverendinterrupted, “I will not tolerate such talk, black or white, makesno difference here.”
“Beggin’ your pardon, Reverend, but I call itlike I see it.” Mr. Wright turned an appraising eye on Naissa. “Anun, so you must be of sturdy German stock?”
Wishing she could sift between the crookedfloor boards like sand, Naissa glanced at the door. “No… ah, Irish,I suppose.”
Both Mr. Wright’s bushy brown brows rose toswift attention. “An Irish nun? Well, doesn’t that beat all? Hearthey been breeding coloured slaves to the Irish. Can you imagine?That’s like breeding a mule to a mangy mutt now.” With a shake ofhis head he swaggered from the store.
Naissa’s stomach rolled and she swallowed tokeep from retching. She could only guess the mule he referred towas the colored and the mangy mutt the Irish.
“Are you all right, Naissa?”
She looked up, meeting the Reverend’sconcerned gaze. “I am fine, Reverend.”
“Never you mind James Wright. He’s an uncouthson of a gun, beggin’ your pardon, ma’am, thinks he runs Pile OBones, though he does own a good piece of it all right.” Mr. Bookershook his head. “He’s a mean one when crossed, but more wind thangale if you stay on the other side of the street, if you know whatI mean.” He packed the small sack of flour, side of bacon, measureof beans, sugar and coffee into the basket the Reverend providedand smiled. “Will there be anything else now?”
“No thank you, Mr. Booker.” Reverend Whitakersmiled. “Except, I will be expecting to see you in church thisSunday.”
Mr. Booker grinned. “Yes sir, wouldn’t missit, I’ll be in the second row wearing my Sunday best suspenders.”He snapped his faded suspenders and then straightened his apron.“If there is anything you need you just come on by and I’ll beright happy to help you out.”
Naissa ducked out the door and hurried downthe street back to the church. She hoped to God that Canada was notfull of rude men like James Wright.
* * *
Kirsten made a face. “What a nasty man.”
Grammy nodded. “Yes, I suppose he was. Backthen there was no such thing as being politically correct, youknow, and many people were racist.”
“That must have been awful for Naissa. I meanif I was her I would have punched that Mr. Wright right in themouth.” Kirsten glanced at Grammy’s disapproving frown. “Well, Iwould have at least given him a piece of my mind.”
“Well, Naissa didn’t dare, for fear he mightfind out she was a runaway slave.”
“I guess.” Kirsten shrugged. “Well at leasthe didn’t rat her out and she didn’t have to ever see himagain.”
“Oh, but she did have many more run-ins withMr. Wright, and most of them not nice at all, but she met a lot ofreally good people too.”
Kirsten giggled. “Like the constable?”
Grammy smiled. “Yes, like the constable…”
Chapter Five

Naissa straightened her veil and eyed herreflection in the little cracked mirror above the washbasin. Todaywas their first Sunday in the new church.
“Naissa, have you seen my sermon?” theReverend called from the common room.
She giggled at the Reverend’s ever forgetfulnature. “It’s on the table where you left it.”
“Thank you, Naissa.”
With a grin she turned away from the mirrorand headed to the common room. “Are you nervous, Reverend?”
He looked up as she entered. “No, doing theLord’s work is a joy and a blessing. Actually, it is nice to have acongregation to call my own again. I have been handling parcels forthe Underground Railroad for so many years and preaching to thosein need, that I long for a flock of my own to nurture, watch growand guide with God’s word.”
With an indulgent smile she gathered hissermon written on foolscap and handed it to him. “I am glad youdidn’t retire until you saved me.”
He kissed the top of her head in a fondgesture. “As am I, Naissa. Come on, it is time to open thedoors.”
Naissa followed him from the living quartersinto the newly polished church. The smell of bees wax and linseedoil filled her nostrils. Her gaze appraised the sheen on the floorand pews. It had taken two days of hard work to make them gleam,but the effort was well worth the end result. Cleaning was onething she knew how to do and she did it well. Her gaze settled onthe books and papers on the little desk in the corner. Luckily, theIrish scullery maid who gave birth to her had been able to read andwrite. She had been from a once prominent family in Ireland untilshe ran off with a potato farmer who sought to seek his fortune inAmerica. Unfortunately he had succumbed to a fever aboard the shipand left Naissa’s mother all alone in the strange land. Ashamed toreturn home, she gained position as a scullery maid where she fellin love with the Negro foreman. Naissa had been sent to theplantation shacks when she was old enough to walk, because the ladyof the house did not want a black haired child getting in the way,but Mammie brought Naissa with her to the kitchens each day to seeher mother. When she wasn’t needed, her mother spent every momentshe could with Naissa. With Naissa curled in her lap she taught herto read from the old worn bible she cherished. Then the small poxoutbreak happened. It claimed the lives of many that year,including her mother. Now, thanks to the Reverend, and her abilityto read, Naissa was able to fill the position of school teacher inPile O’ Bones, Saskatchewan.
When Naissa made her way to sit behind thedesk the Reverend took her elbow and guided her to stand beside himat the door. He greeted the people with solemn good cheer as theybegan to file into the church, making sure to introduce her asSister Naissa, the new school teacher.

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