Socorro author Ruth White delivers another great read
Ruth White’s new book begins with a shock as a slave owner supervises the operation of identifying a slave. Ally, a little girl, loses the tip of her little finger so that anyone will be able to see that she is a slave.
Ruth lets us know right away that Ally is light-skinned, unlike her dark father, Moses. A nice touch is the slave owner, Clay, who notices that Ally’s blood is red like his own. We are reminded throughout the novel that Clay is the typical racist.
Since Clay has a beloved daughter, Cora, who is Ally’s age. So Ally is privileged to grow up sharing many of her friend’s amenities. Ally is constantly urged to speak properly instead of like her family. Ally spends very little time with other black children.
When Cora dies, Ally is devastated. She had expected to spend her whole life with Cora and even help to raise Cora’s children. Unfeeling Clay announces that Ally will be sold in New Orleans to a brothel because she is so light and so attractive.
Since Ally’s mother can’t bear the thought of losing Ally to such a future, she gets her ready to run away with John, a slave who had run and been caught and flogged, but is determined to succeed this time. John doesn’t want to be hindered by this little girl, but he needs help with forging passes. Ally learned to read and write while sitting in on Cora’s lessons, so she can write the passes John needs.
The author interrupts Ally’s story to tell about a family in Ohio, who turn out to be “conductors” on the Underground Railroad, the institution that inspired the novel. The story of this caring family makes the reader hopeful for Ally. If she reaches them, they will surely protect and hide her, and send her safely on her way to freedom.
The head of the house is a judge, a circuit rider, who would be in deep trouble if caught. To protect him, the family never harbors slaves when he is home. They hang a white scarf on the fence post, both warning him and assuring slaves of a safe house. The mother is some kind of angel, with a devoted son, Stephen. At our first introduction to them, we learn of Elizabeth, who has come from the East as Stephen’s new bride.
Soon, Elizabeth is puzzled by the extra biscuits that Stephen’s mother, Rebecca, is baking and by and by a bundle of old clothes delivered by a neighbor. Rebecca decides that Stephen should tell Elizabeth the family secret. Elizabeth had heard a rather heated argument at dinner with company, which she now understands. She volunteers to help and promises to keep the secret.
Tragedy interrupts the Ohio story when Elizabeth dies after losing her baby. Stephen seems heartsick, even burns the cradle he had so lovingly built. Fortunately, the Civil War needs him and gives him something to live for once again; he is determined to fight to end slavery.
The chapters that take John and Ally through the forests in foul weather are moving and frightening. When they reach a safe house, Ally must be left because she has a fever. She has no idea how she can go on without John, even though he had always wanted to be rid of her. Rebecca has a doctor treat ally, but he is a faithful friend who will not reveal the secret.
When Ally has recovered and is perfectly able to continue escaping to Canada, she decides to take a chance with the family. The father has broken a leg and the mother has grown weak. Ally says, “I’m needed here,” and Rebecca gratefully accepts her decision.
What a predicament! You will have to read the whole story for yourself to enjoy what the cover says: “Ally succeeds in ways she could not foresee to find freedom and love.”
Here is another enjoyable novel by Socorro’s own Ruth White.