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Working as a maid in the Deerbourne Inn gives freedom-fighter Sidonie Demers the perfect cover for helping escaping slaves travel farther along the Underground Railroad. The patterns in her quilts serve as messages directing them to the safest route. The cause is a personal one for octoroon Sidonie whose mother and grandmother escaped bondage years earlier.
Army Corporal Colin Crawford arrives in Willow Springs, in disguise as a salesman, to ferret out abolitionist activity. Raised in a state that forbids slavery, he's conflicted about upholding the Fugitive Slave Act but believes in laws and fulfilling his duty.
The attraction between Colin and Sidonie is evident and irresistible, but what will happen when their true identities are revealed?
Page Count: 101
Word Count: 25265
In a high-backed pew, Sidonie Demers sat with her head bowed, barely aware of the other parishioners shuffling along the aisle of the Universalist Church. The last notes from “There is More Love Somewhere” clung to her ears. Remaining still with her eyes closed, she hoped the spiritual’s lyrics would seep through her skin and wrap around her heart.
Coupled with the powerful words Reverend Norwyn quoted from Henry David Thoreau’s “Slavery in Massachusetts” speech given last year on the Fourth of July, she believed her conviction was verified. The heartfelt work she performed placed her on the path of justice and freedom. Who could not be moved by Thoreau’s probing question: “Will mankind never learn that policy is not morality—that it never secures any moral right, but considers merely what is expedient?”
The previous year’s Anthony Burns verdict fired Thoreau’s outrage. The injustice of sending back to Virginia the escaped slave who’d been living in free Boston incited him to speak out against the Fugitive Slave Act. The news reached Sutton, Quebec, where Sidonie’s anti-slavery parents, Nuru and Pascal, used Thoreau’s fervent words to evangelize others into helping runaway slaves get situated in their new lives.
Ensuing discussions around the supper table planted seeds of rebellion against the unjust actions in their children’s souls. Only a few months later, both Sidonie and her older brother, Philippe, relocated to Willow Springs, Vermont, to become station agents on the Underground Railroad. Some days, she didn’t feel up to the formidable task that demanded the utmost secrecy. Rather, she wished for the ability to curl up in her attic bed and not worry about being discovered. Then, she’d hear children’s laughter or workers going about their daily tasks. She’d remember grand-mère Mirembe’s stories about the endless work she endured on the Chappell plantation. The horrors were enough to be reminded of those who needed Sidonie’s help to guide them farther along the freedom road.
Footsteps approached at an irregular rhythm, accompanied by a shushing sound. Sidonie stood and shook out her skirts then smoothed a hand along the tucks in her shirtwaist. When she turned, she spotted Missus Norwyn gathering and stacking hymnals. “I didn’t realize how long I’d been sitting in reflection. I hope I didn’t delay you.”
“Not at all.” The petite blonde looked up and shook her head. “The reverend and I allow all parishioners the time they deem necessary in personal communion.”
Thoughts about secret, and unlawful, assignments didn’t truly count as communion. Guilt stabbed her conscience, and she hurried along her pew toward the side wall, grabbing several leatherbound books. “The least I can do is help.”
“Miss Demers, you already do so much by sewing clothes for the…” Missus Norwyn stiffened, glancing over her shoulder, then turned back, and winked. “For the poor box.”
Sidonie fought back a smile. Some of the items she sewed were used for that overt and public purpose. Most garments were kept hidden in the Inn’s basement to be distributed to the escaping slaves who she aided. “Will you have more fabric by Wednesday’s sewing circle?” Raised by two generations of strong women who believed idle hands were the devil’s workshop, Sidonie never felt right about relaxing each evening without stitchery of some type to occupy her hands.
Nodding, the reverend’s wife smiled, her green eyes flashing. “As long as we’re not called upon to tend an emergency.”
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