Ann heard the now familiar, “tap, tap, tap, tap” against the back door. The secret knock changed every week, for security reasons. She opened the door a crack and peered out at a pair of unblinking black eyes.
A raspy voice greeted her, “Mam, we was tol to come here. That you could help.”
“Come in, come in, we’ll get you fed, rested, and then on your way.” She opened the door and welcomed them with a smile.
After glancing around, a huge black man and a boy shuffled in. She led them up one, two, three different flights of stairs. At the top of the last flight of stairs, she pushed on several different panels. The wall swung open to reveal a small room with two beds, a couple of lanterns, and some buckets of water.
“Here you go.” She swung her lantern high to give them a better view of the room. “I’ll have Edward bring you some food, then you can rest until we make arrangements for your next stop.”
“My name’s Moses and this here,” he motioned to the young man, “is my boy Ezra. His mama died. She were whooped by the Massa cuz she didn’t want Ezra selled off. Before she went on to glory, she made me promise to get him free.”
Ann’s hands shook as she lit another lantern. “We’ll have to see that you keep your promise then, won’t we?” She swiped a hand at the moisture in her eyes and smiled before stepping out of the room. The wall silently closed behind her.
She made her way through the noisy crowd of people in the common room of the tavern, searching for her husband, Edward. She located him at the bar, setting a steaming plate of food and ale in front of a customer. She tapped him on the arm as she motioned her eyes upward, their signal to indicate that they had guests.
“I’m sorry, James, please excuse me for a few moments while I check on something in the kitchen. My wife, Ann, will take over for awhile.” Edward exited through the swinging kitchen door.
Ann knew that he would get the food, go up the stairs off the kitchen, to the hidden room and talk with Moses about the next step of their escape.
The Bulls Head Tavern was a stagecoach stop, which offered food, drink and lodging to weary travelers. But to the locals, it was known as the House of Many Stairs. It was built on a hillside and had an abundance of steps that were very confusing. It also had multiple sliding panels with hidden rooms that could house slaves on their way to freedom.
Edward had just come back to the bar, when several men with greasy long hair, beards, and dirty clothes stomped up to the bar carrying rifles.
Edward greeted them with a smile. “What can I get you fellows?”
The leader spit on the floor and grinned, revealing a mouth of rotting and missing teeth, “We’re looking for a couple of escaped slaves; a big buck and his kid. We lost their trail near here. Have you seen them?”
“Well, no, I don’t believe that I’ve seen them, but feel free to look around and talk to some of my other patrons.” He motioned to the room full of people.
The slave catchers tromped up the steps, down the steps, and looked in every room. They sat down and talked with all of the patrons, until they were finally satisfied that the slaves were not there.
After the stagecoach and the slave catchers left the next morning, Ann and Edward hitched up their wagon and prepared to go get supplies. Edward helped their guests to get settled in their special wagon with the false bottom.
They went to Daniel’s home, the next station in the Underground Railroad. The property surrounding his home was littered with caves that provided a safe haven to those needing sanctuary. It was also near the Genesee Trail, which lead to New York and then to Canada and freedom.
Before leaving them at Daniel’s, they all prayed together for Moses and Ezra’s continued safety on their trip north.
The next week, Ann heard a tap, tap, tap against the back door. When she opened it a crack, her gaze met unblinking black eyes…
*Authors note—although the house in the story is real and played an integral part in the Underground Railroad, the story is fictional.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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