Path of Freedom
In pre-Civil War North Carolina, Quaker sisters Flora and Irene are excited about their first train ride to Charlottesville, Virginia. Eighteen-year-old Flora, a midwife, was there two years ago and had been corresponding with an unmarried doctor in hopes of his offering her a position, and perhaps more. They switch to a horse-drawn wagon when the local pastor asks them to accompany a party going to Charlottesville and further north to Pennsylvania. They are receptive to the request, for it involves transporting two runaway slaves, an expectant woman and her husband, via the Underground Railroad.
Pretty Flora is disturbed to learn that a handsome 19-year-old farmer, Bruce, will be the ‘conductor.’ While Bruce is attracted to Flora, he cannot stop teasing and calling her names (having nicknamed her ‘Beaver Face’ in school) and is jealous of the doctor’s interest in her. Nevertheless, the two are especially chosen for the mission: Bruce for his experience and Flora for her midwifery, likely needed to deliver the slave woman’s child. They carry a quilt embroidered with a secret map to their destination. Although Flora and Bruce banter along the dangerous route, they are brought closer together while facing hazards and overcoming several obstacles and setbacks to deliver their ‘cargo’ safely.
While the novel includes some information on the Underground Railroad, it reads like an inspirational young adult romance set in the Quaker community of the period. Details on the Quakers’ lives, beliefs, speech, manners, clothing, cuisine, and such are described skilfully. More on the runaway slaves’ back story and what subsequently happened to them could have been included. The use of a realistic false-bottom wagon in the story makes scenes along the journey feel evocative. While the ending is predictable, the author draws it out to add to readers’ enjoyment. Recommended.