This is it, the LAST CHAPTER! If you stuck with me all the way, thank you! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed sharing it.
by Michelle Isenhoff
Emily waited at the foot of the hotel steps, wearing her second best gown and holding a tremendous bouquet of roses. Shannon’s sister stood beside her, and the lobby swarmed with red-haired nieces and nephews mixed in among the dark faces of Julia, Malachi and Zeke.
Isaac sat at the piano dressed in his best suit with his riot of curls neatly combed. He played once through an old hymn, and as he moved smoothly into Fur Elise, the bride appeared at the top of the stairs. She floated down to the beautiful melody, eyes shining, hair falling in ringlets onto a soft blue gown. Isaac couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Shannon had been overjoyed when Emily finally pruned off the last of her pride and abolished the uneasy truce. Then it hadn’t taken much effort for the young woman to talk Emily into staying for the wedding.
After the ceremony they would feast on Julia’s delicious cooking, and that afternoon Emily’s train would leave for home, but for now Emily stood contentedly within the circle of her patchwork family, blooming like the roses in Shannon’s garden.
Emily changed into her new traveling suit and laid one last petticoat on the pile overflowing the top of her trunk. She couldn’t imagine how she was going to close the lid. Why was it that on returning a trunk always seemed smaller?
Only a few items remained on her bed, and most of these she shoved into her handbag. That left only a stained strip of white linen – Rachel’s bandage.
The cloth had been laundered, and now Emily rolled it into a tight ball and shoved it into a corner of her trunk. It would serve as a reminder to look for “little things” on the plantation. She did not want to forget the color of blood.
A knock sounded at the door and Isaac peeked in. “Almost ready?”
She nodded. “But it will take a miracle to latch this trunk.”
“You don’t weigh enough,” he told her. “Allow me.”
He sat on the lid, and when it closed – groaning – she fastened the lock.
“Now let’s pray the catch doesn’t spring open and litter the compartment with ladies’ undergarments,” he joked.
She laughed, thinking such a scene could be entertaining on the long train ride.
“If you’re all set, there’s something I’d like to show you before you leave.”
Emily gave the latch one final inspection before following him into his office. The top of the Dutch door was firmly closed.
Isaac sat at his desk and pressed a small panel. The secret compartment popped open, and he removed the journal with the star embossed on its cover.
“Only Julia, Shannon and Malachi know the contents of this book, but as the newest conductor at this station, and as my most trusted niece –”
“I’m your only niece.”
“Not anymore,” he grinned.
“–descended from the same dubious lineage, the niece most like me in thought and temperament, I assumed you might like to know exactly where the Milford family fortune went.”
He opened the journal to a random page and held it open for her to see. Dated March 14, 1855, it looked just like all the other entries she remembered. She read through the list, “Joe, Solomon, six sacks of apples, three hundred pounds seed corn, three plows, twenty spades, twenty hoes, woolen cloth, fourteen buckets.”
The next entry, dated two weeks later, looked much the same. “Anna, Thomas, Daniel, five lanterns, fifteen gallons kerosene, oxen yoke.”
Emily took the book and thumbed through several more pages. Some entries had names and no items, others listed just materials, but still she could make no sense of the notations.
“You still don’t understand?” He turned to the very last entry. Dated a few weeks before, it read, “Rachel, Willis, four axes, ten hammers, one crosscut saw, twenty sacks feed.”
The light finally dawned. Emily flipped to the beginning. It was dated fifteen years before. She gawked at her uncle. “Is this why you moved to the north?”
He nodded. “I had an uncle who was a very wise man. He saw what I was becoming and offered to take me under his wing for a time. My father readily agreed. So I spent two tough years learning to work and gaining a new perspective on life.
“It was my uncle who first introduced me to the Underground Railroad. Together we helped more than forty runaways pass right under my father’s nose.
“When my parents died I inherited the estate, and my first act as the new master was to free every slave. Then I sold out. Of course, much of the value of the estate was in slaves, and my father had several creditors. So most folks, including your father, assumed I was foolish and broke.”
“But you had enough to buy this hotel,” Emily figured.
“And some left over, which I have put to use outfitting former slaves when they settle in Canada. With the help of many individuals, both black and white, supplies are collected and transported across the river.”
“And you did this while Mr. Burrows boarded in your house?”
Isaac laughed. “He’d be proud to know how many black families he’s financed!”
“Does my mama know what you’re doing up here?”
He smiled gently. “Do you think she would have let you come? No, she thinks I’m a misplaced southern gentleman with no eye for business, but she did recognize the changes wrought by my uncle’s hand. And I think she’ll be very proud of you.”
He closed the book and replaced it in its hiding place. “I’ll see to your trunk.”
Emily sat in the window seat and faced the cinnamon-colored depot. She had exchanged a dozen final hugs, accepted a huge basket of food from Julia, and promised Malachi she would send for his books immediately. Then Isaac slipped her a parcel wrapped in brown paper. “Just something little to remember us by,” he winked.
The train let out a sharp whistle and lurched into motion like a beast awakened from slumber. Emily waved to her family until the train inched around the curve and the bustling waterfront was lost to sight.
As the train picked up speed, Emily opened her gift. Inside she found a small book of Longfellow’s poetry. She laughed out loud and held the volume up for Zeke to see. But the old man had already fallen asleep, his gray hair resting against the back of his seat, his mouth open slightly.
Emily smiled fondly at him and lost herself in the beauty of cadence and rhyme.
Sometimes when writing historical fiction, the line between truth and imagination blurs. I’d like to take the opportunity to identify some factual people and events mentioned in The Candle Star.
Michigan played a very important role in the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes escaping slaves followed to Canada. Seven lines crossed the state, most running through Detroit. My inspiration for The Candle Star came from the true account of a Detroit man named Seymour Finney who hid runaways in his barn while hosting slave catchers in his hotel. The railroad stock advertisement Zeke read was taken from an 1853 Detroit UGRR broadside now kept by the Detroit Public Library.
The most important historical figure to appear in my story was Frederick Douglass. A former slave, he rose to become one of the most eloquent and influential American orators of his day. He really did speak in the Second Baptist Church of Detroit on March 12, 1859. There is no record of what he said that day. The words I have written for him are actually his own, taken from several of his speeches, lumped into one address and shaped to fit this story.
George deBaptiste was another real-life character. His steamship, the T. Whitney, frequently carried human cargo to safety. Mr. deBaptiste hosted Frederick Douglass in his home where he met with the famous abolitionist, John Brown, before the address at Second Baptist. The church, the first in Michigan to be started by free Blacks, was instrumental in assisting thousands of runaway slaves to freedom. It still operates in Detroit today.
Sir George Cayley, an engineer from Scarborough, England, was the first person to discover the principles of flight. In 1853, he built and successfully tested the first manned glider. It probably wasn’t recreated and demonstrated five years later at an American state fair, but it could have been. All the other inventions mentioned at the fair were also time-accurate. Flying Tom Landless is fictional.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of America’s most noteworthy poets. He was alive and very popular when this story takes place. The quotes are taken from his poems “Autumn,” “The Building of the Ship,” and “To the River Charles” in that order.
Finally, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book mentioned by Emily in chapter 3, was published by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852 and helped to popularize the abolitionist movement, which aided the nomination of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, which in turn led to the Civil War in 1861.
If you’d like your own copy of The Candle Star, click on the picture on the left. On my website, I also offer a variety of resources, including study questions, vocab, social studies extension ideas and primary source materials – all aligned with GLCE’s and Common Core standards. (Click on the “For Teachers” page at the top of my blog.) The materials are being collected in an 8.5 x 11, reproducible booklet, but a free ebook version will be available for preview. I wanted them done today, but they will probably be available Monday (1/16/12). Thanks for reading!