Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: WIN (02/14/19)
- TITLE: A Candle in the Dark
By Betty Castleberry
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She tossed a piece of salt pork to the hounds chained near the smoke house as she hurried past them. They knew her and she was sure they wouldn’t alert anyone, but she wasn’t taking any chances.
A quarter mile farther found her at the shanty. She couldn’t see much in the dark, but she knew it had never been painted, and the chimney was crumbling. She knocked softly. Almost immediately, the door swung wide.
“Miss Grace. What you doin’ down here? Everythin’ okay up to the big house?”
His chocolate brown face blended into the darkness.
“Yes, Benjamin, please let me in. Quickly.”
Inside, candles burned, illuminating the sparse surroundings. She looked at the sleeping children on pallets in the corner. In the back of the room Ellie sat weaving a sweetgrass basket. Her father said she was Benjamin’s “woman.” He claimed Benjamin was fortunate he allowed her to live with him.
Seated on a cane chair was Sugar, a girl Grace thought was about her own age. She had seen her working in the fields and had waved to her on occasion. If circumstances had been different, she imagined they might have become friends. Sugar nursed an infant and smiled at Grace.
Ellie looked at her suspiciously. “What you want?”
Ignoring the testiness of the remark, Grace turned away and pulled out something she had hidden in her bodice. Then she sat at the lone table. “Benjamin, Ellie. Come here, please.”
Benjamin looked at the book Grace held. “What you up to, Miss Grace?”
“This is my little brother’s primer. Sit down. I’m going to teach you and Ellie to read, and when you master that, I will teach you to write.”
“Oh, chile,” Benjamin said. “You get in all kinds of trouble fo’ that. Yo’ daddy ain’t gone be happy if’n he finds out and ‘sides, he might have to pay a big fine.”
He didn’t mention the beatings he might receive as well.
“I’m well aware,” she said, “but I’m determined.”
Grace knew the dangers of teaching colored people to read, but she didn’t care. She had spent enough time trying to gain her father’s approval. Being the only girl in a family of seven children, she had always felt she was a disappointment to her father. She wasn’t skilled in photography like her older brother, nor was she a good marksman or equestrian. Her father rarely praised her, even though she had excelled in school. Weary of trying to earn his admiration, she still didn’t relish defying him. However, she knew it was wrong to keep anyone uneducated, even slaves. Regardless of the consequences if he should find out, she had decided to take it upon herself to help those she could.
Opening the primer, she asked Benjamin to sit beside her. Ellie stood behind them, looking on. “Sit on the other side of me, Ellie,” Grace said.
Hesitantly, she did.
“You don’t know what dis mean to me.” Benjamin swiped at his eyes, but she pretended not to notice. “I gone be able to read the Bible.”
The candlelight flickered across the book. “Yes, you will.” Grace pointed at the first page. “Now, this letter is A. It’s the first letter in the alphabet, and the first letter in the word apple.”
“A,” Benjamin repeated.
They continued on this way, until they had made their way through the entire alphabet. Grace wasn’t sure how long she had been there, but she knew a lot of time had passed. Her subjects were eager learners, and she found it difficult to stop.
When she stood to go, she said, “I won’t be back tomorrow night. I don’t want to raise suspicion. I’ll return in two nights.”
She looked at Sugar, who softly sang a Gullah song to her baby. “Of course, no one can mention this to anyone.”
“Oh, we ain’t goin’ to,” Benjamin assured her. “We just grateful.”
Hidden in darkness, she made her way back home. When she climbed into her bed, she rested well, knowing whatever else she accomplished in her life, this would be her greatest victory.
Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
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