The next day, Andrew and I gathered up our boys and kept walking.
Along the way, a few folks fell dead from starvation or disease along the road. We didn’t even have a shovel to bury them. If the river was nearby, we placed them in the river. White folks walked with us from time to time. Many as pitiful as we was. Just so, just so. Runaway soldiers from both sides stole, raped, and killed along the line of march. On and on we walked. We never made it far any day. The boys tired out from hunger and walking.
One day, about mid day, Andrew and I decided to simply stop walking. We were so tired and hungry. Our boys could not keep up any longer, so we wandered off the road, just us and our boys, into the longleaf pine
forest. We made a small camp. We fished in a nearby river for food. We rested.
I guess we lived there several weeks before we found Dr. Stephens, or maybe he found us. Now this Dr. Stephens lived in south Georgia all his life, but had visited Roswell many times. He was a doctor, nice man, some kin of Major Bulloch’s. We were fishing when he came out of the woods on his horse. Andrew and I gathered the boys in behind us and prepared to defend them if necessary. But Dr. Stephens recognized me.
“Leah? Are you Leah from Roswell? Is that you girl? Do you still carve those lovely birds?”
“Yes, Dr. Stephens, I be Leah. We don’t mean no harm. We’s fishing so as to feed our boys,” I answered looking him squarely in the eyes just like Daddy William had taught me.
“Introduce me to the boys and your husband, and we’ll get you back to the house. No need to stay put here when I got empty cabins need filling.”
“No, sir, Dr. Stephens, we be free. We are not going back to be your slaves, no more, not now not never. Mister Lincoln done says we emancipated,” I had shouted back even before Andrew could speak. Never knew I could be so forceful till then.
“Oh, Leah, you have no need to fear. I freed my slaves years ago. Don’t hold with slavery, really never did. I am offering Christian charity - nothing more and nothing less. I have empty cabins. I have paying work. I have a bit of food to share. Come Leah, bring your family. You can leave when you wish. Anytime you wish.”
So we followed Dr. Stephens and was once more beholding to a white man for our food and shelter. I remember.
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