1st place || 2022
7th through 8th grade
by Tessa Lauffer
Mable stepped outside into the darkness of the night. Her light hair blew in the wind as the cool summer breeze swirled around her. The moonlight reflected off her pristine white nightgown, so she slipped on her dark shawl.
With bundles of food and medicine thrown over her shoulder, the 13-year-old girl sprinted through the weeds of her Virginian plantation until she reached her father’s slave huts, specifically the Jones’s.
Mable softly tapped on the door. Making sure no one saw her, she slipped inside.
“Here you go,” she whispered as she handed over the bundle to Mrs. Jones, whose husband had been sold to another plantation.
“Oh Mable, we don’t know how to thank you,” Miriam Jones said. Her skinny, sunken cheeked children huddled around her.
“Then don’t. It’s the least I can do for how awful my Mama treats you.”
“She is better than most.”
“It’s still no excuse. I better go. I’ve got a few more stops before I return home.”
After Mable visited the Smiths, Williams, and Browns, her last stop was the Johnsons. She handed the bundle over to Mrs. Johnson and then hugged Ben, her best friend since she was a toddler. He winced as she embraced him.
“What did they do to you?” Mable exclaimed.
“Nothing. Really Mable, it’s fine.”
She lifted his shirt only to find red, swollen welts on his back. She gasped.
“Oh Ben! What happened?”
“I just wanted some water for Milly, but they didn’t give her any ‘cause she was caught sleeping during working hours.”
Milly was his younger sister, only six years old. Tears filled Mable’s eyes. How could her family be so callous and encourage this horror?
Ben’s mother poured alcohol from the bundle onto his back. He suppressed a cry.
“I’m so sorry,” Mable whispered.
As she made her way home, she heard chatter from a nearby hut and froze.
“But it’s our only choice, Beth!” exclaimed a man. “Listen,” his voice calming as he explained, “after I settle down, I’ll come back for you and the children. The conductors will take me in for the night and send me on my way to Canada tomorrow night.”
The conductors? Mable thought.
“Oh, John!” the woman cried. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”
As Mable walked home, she made up her mind to follow the man John, but not all the way to Canada, just to the conductors, whoever they were.
The next night, Mable snuck out of bed and made her way downstairs.
“Mable?” a voice cried from behind her.
Her heart stopped.
“Mable, is that you?”
“Yes, Mama.” Mable turned to see her mother rocking in a chair.
“What are you doing out of bed at this hour?”
“Just getting a glass of milk.”
“With your shawl?”
Mable hesitated. “It’s a little cold down here.”
“Whatever you say.”
Mable’s heart was beating out of her chest as she slipped outside. She cautiously went to the hut where the man lived. She was hoping she wasn’t too late but then she saw him climb out the window and run through the woods. She followed him but remained out of sight. He was very skilled in dodging branches and other obstacles that would give him away.
The man finally stopped to catch his breath when he reached a small house with a lit lantern hanging on the front porch. After knocking on the door, a woman let him in.
The Underground Railroad, Mable thought. Why didn’t I catch this sooner!
She recalled overhearing her father discuss the rumors with other plantation owners. Now that the rumors were proven true, she was determined to help as many slaves as possible to escape, but not until John returned. Although the safety and comfort of home was tempting, she was compelled to risk her life for the freedom of others.
The next day, a slave was reported missing with a $500 reward. Oh Lord, Mable prayed, please protect him. Sure enough, He did because in a year’s time, it would be seen that the man would return to rescue wife and kids.
Mable realized it was time, and she started her dangerous journey.
By 1874 Mable had freed 50 slaves, starting with her best friend’s family, the Johnsons. Mable not only helped slaves to freedom from her home but also from nearby plantations. She convinced her heartbroken Mother, after her father and brothers died in the war, to give the plantation to one of her father’s former slaves, Joe, who had come back to thank Mable. He accepted it gratefully, and Mable, in her old age, had lived the rest of her life as a regular townswoman, educating everyone around her about the importance of freedom.
Meanwhile, the plantation thrived under Joe who had hired other former slaves looking for work. Mable had been told throughout her young life that she should love others as herself, yet didn’t comprehend why it was acceptable to own and whip our fellow man? This hypocrisy repulsed her and drove her to act, so much so that she vowed to do whatever she could to help free slaves and, surely enough, her vow was fulfilled. She was the difference maker.
Tessa is thirteen years old and will be entering the 8th grade. She enjoys running track, riding her horse, and playing the piano and violin.