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Excerpt 2 from The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

Excerpt 2 from The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

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Published by WilliamMorrowBooks
Based on a remarkable true story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an inspiring tale of one daring woman’s willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to change the course of history
Based on a remarkable true story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an inspiring tale of one daring woman’s willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to change the course of history

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Published by: WilliamMorrowBooks on Apr 23, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/29/2013

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ama and I woke early, put on our Sunday dresses, and stoledown all three sets o stairs rom the garret to the cellar, slip-ping out the servants’ entrance beore the Van Lews were evenout o bed. We walked west down Grace Street, turning southpast the tobacco actories to head toward Shockoe Bottom. TheBottom was nothing like Church Hill, where the Van Lew man-sion sat above the city. Buildings in the Bottom were small andweather-worn, the lots crowded with all manner o manuactoriesand businesses. I held tight to Mama’s hand as we ducked into anarrow passageway between two storeronts along Main Street.Papa stood tall on the other side o the passage, same as everySunday, waiting or us in his scraggly patch o yard. As soon ashe caught sight o me and Mama, a smile broke across his ace likesunshine streaming through the clouds. He hugged and kissed usand then hugged us some more, looking me over like I’d changedso much since the week beore that he eared he might not recog-nize me.I may have changed, but he never did. My papa was so lean andstrong, his muscles showed even through his Sunday shirt. His richskin shone with the color and sheen o the South American coeebeans that made Richmond importers wealthy. Large brown eyesdominated his narrow ace, the same eyes I ound staring back
 
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Lois Leveen
at me whenever I passed the looking glass in Mistress Van Lew’sdressing room. What a strange and wonderul thing, to see a bit o Papa in my own refection. All the more delightul when I pesteredMama with some peevish ve-year-old’s demand and she chided,“Don’t look at me with your papa’s eyes.” Mama’s complaint toldme that I was his child as much as hers, even during the six days aweek we spent apart rom him.Standing beside Papa, Mama seemed small in a way she neverdid when she bustled about the Van Lew mansion. Although shewas not a heavy woman, she was feshy in a way Papa was not.Her skin was even darker than his, so deep and rich and matte thatwhenever I saw four, I wondered that it could be so light in coloryet as sheenless as Mama’s skin. Her brow and eyes curved downat the outside edges, making her seem determined and deliber-ate, whether her mouth was set straight across, lited in one o herwarm smiles, or, as was oten the case, open in speech.But or once, Papa was talking beore Mama. “About time youladies arrived. We got plenty to get done this ne morning.” Papaspoke with the sot cadence o a Tidewater negro, though he hadn’tseen the plantation where he was born since he was just a boy,when his rst owner apprenticed him to Master Mahon, a Rich-mond blacksmith.Mama’s voice sounded dierent rom Papa’s, as sharp as thoughshe and Old Master Van Lew had come rom New York only theday beore. “What can we have to do at this hour on a Sunday?“High time we return all that hospitality we been enjoying atthe Bankses. I stopped over there on my way home last evening,invited them to come back here with us ater prayer meeting.“That whole brood, over here?” Mama eyed Papa’s cabin. Theour-room building had two entrances, Papa’s on the let, and theone or Mr. and Mrs. Wallace, the elderly ree couple who were hislandlords, on the right. Even put together, Papa’s two rooms weresmaller than the attic quarters where Mama and I slept in the Van

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