Estralla went off happy with her new possessions, and Sylvia turned to the window, and looked off across the beautiful harbor toward the forts. She had heard her father say, that very noon, that South Carolina would fight to keep its slaves, and she wondered if the soldiers in Fort Moultrie would not fight to set the black people free. She remembered that her father had said that Fort Sumter was the property of the United States; and, for some reason which she could not explain even to herself, she was sure that Estralla would be safe there. If Mr. Robert Waite really meant to sell her, Sylvia again resolved to find some way to get the little slave girl to Fort Sumter.
When Estralla brought the hot water the next morning she found a very sober little mistress. For Sylvia’s father had not only explained the meaning of the word “abolitionist” as being the name the southerners had given to the men who were determined that slavery of other men, whatever their color, should end, but he had told his little daughter that he could do nothing to prevent the sale of the little colored girl, and that not even at Fort Sumter would she be safe. Sylvia had not gone to sleep very early. She lay awake thinking of Estralla. “Suppose somebody could sell me away from my mother,” she thought, ready to cry even at such a possibility. Sylvia knew that Aunt Connie had been whipped because she had rebelled against parting with her older children, and there was no Philip to take Aunt Connie’s part.
“Mornin’, Missy,” said Estralla, coming into the room, and setting down the pitcher of hot water very carefully. She had on the pink gingham with one of the white aprons, and as she stood smiling and neat at the foot of Sylvia’s bed, she looked very different from the clumsy little darky who had tumbled into the room a few weeks ago. Sylvia smiled back. “Estralla, I want you to be sure to come up-stairs to-night after the house is all quiet. Don’t tell your mother, or anybody,” she said very soberly.
“All right, Missy,” agreed Estralla, sure that whatever Missy Sylvia asked was right.
Sylvia said nothing more, but dressed and went down to breakfast. She heard her father say that he feared that South Carolina would secede from the United States, and she repeated the word aloud: “‘Secede’? What does that mean?” She began to think the world was full of difficult words.
“In this case it means that the State of South Carolina wishes to give up her rights as one of the States of the Union,” Mr. Fulton explained, “but we hope she will give up slavery instead,” he concluded.
Grace was at the gate as Sylvia came out ready for school, and called out a gay greeting.
“What are you so sober about, Sylvia?” she asked as they walked on together.
THE PALMETTO FLAG
When Sylvia had told Estralla to come to her room that night, she had determined to find a way to get the little negro to a place of safety. Sylvia did not know that a negro was, in those far-off days, the property of his master as much as a horse or a dog, and that wherever the negro might go his master could claim him and punish him for trying to escape. Any person aiding a slave to escape could also be punished by law.