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The Last Runaway

by Tracy Chevalier

Paperback, 305 pages, Penguin Group USA, List Price: $16 |


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Tracy Chevalier

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The Last Runaway
Tracy Chevalier

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Book Summary

Jilted by her fiance, Quaker Honor Bright leaves the comfort of her native England for the harsh frontier farmland of 1850 Ohio. Among strangers and feeling the pressures of an alien world, Honor struggles to ford a cultural divide wider than the Atlantic she just crossed. And soon a new urgency takes hold: Honor joins the Underground Railroad, aiding runaway slaves in their escape to freedom.

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Awards and Recognition

2 weeks on NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Last Runaway

The captain of the Adventurer said it was the smoothest, quickest crossing the ship had ever made across the Atlantic. This knowl­edge only tormented Honor. After thirty days at sea she stumbled, skeletal, onto the docks at New York, feeling she had vomited out every bit of her insides so that only a shell of her remained. To her horror, the ground heaved and bucked as much as the ship's deck had, and she threw up one last time.

She knew then that if she couldn't cope with the easiest crossing God could give her, she would never be able to go back to England. While Grace knelt on the docks and thanked God for reaching America, Honor began to cry, for England and her old life. An impossible ocean now lay between her and home. She could not go back.

Mansion House Hotel

Hudson, Ohio

5th Month 26th 1850

My dear Mother and Father, William and George, It is with the heaviest heart that I must tell you of the passing today of our beloved Grace. God has taken her so young, and when she was so close to reaching her new life in America.

I am writing from a hotel in Hudson, Ohio, where Grace remained during the final stage of her illness. The doctor said it was yellow fever, which is apparently more common in America than in England. I can only accept his diagnosis, since I am unfamiliar with the disease and its symptoms. Having witnessed my sister's painful demise, I can say that Dorset is lucky to be spared such a horror.

I have already written of our journey across to New York. I hope you received my letters from New York and Philadelphia. I do not always feel confident when I hand letters over here that they will reach their destination. In New York we changed our original travel plans, and decided to go by stage to Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania to Ohio, rather than take boats along the rivers and canals of New York to Lake Erie and down to Cleveland. Though many told me that such boats are very different from ships on seas, still I could not face being on the water again. I fear now that my lack of courage proved fatal to Grace, for perhaps she would not have caught the fever if we had gone by boat. With your forgiveness and God's understanding, I must live with this guilt.

Apart from a mild bout of seasickness, Grace remained very well on the crossing, and down to Philadelphia, where we stayed with Friends for a week to recover from our journey. While there we were able to attend the Arch Street Meeting. I have never imagined one could be so large—­there must have been five hundred Friends in the room, twenty times the size of Bridport. I am glad that Grace was able to witness such a Meeting in her life.

When travelling to Ohio, there is an established network of Friends one may stay with in Pennsylvania. All along the way—­in large cities like Harrisburg and Pittsburgh and smaller settlements too—­we were welcomed, even when Grace showed the first signs of the yellow fever, two days out from Harrisburg. It begins with a fever and chills and nausea, which could be any number of illnesses, so at first there was little concern except for Grace's discomfort in the various coaches in which we crossed Pennsylvania.

We stayed for a few days in Pittsburgh, where she seemed to rally enough to insist that we press on. I am sorry that I listened to her and did not follow my own instinct, which told me she needed more rest, but we were both anxious to reach Faithwell. Unfortunately within a day her fever had returned, this time accompanied by the black vomit and yellow tinge to her skin that I now know confirms yellow fever. It was only with great difficulty that I managed to convince the coachmen not to leave us by the side of the road, but continue on to Hudson. I am sorry to say that I had to shout at them, though it is not in a Friend's nature to do so. The other passengers would not allow us to sit inside for fear of contagion, and the coachmen made us perch on the luggage on top of the coach. It was very precarious, but I propped Grace against me and held tight to her so that she would not fall off.

In Hudson she lasted just a night before God called her home. For much of that time she was delirious, but a few hours before she died she became lucid for a little while, and was able to call out her love to each of you. I would have preferred to take her on to be laid to rest in Faithwell amongst Friends, but she has already been buried today in Hudson, for everyone is fearful of the infection spreading.

Since I am so close to Faithwell, I am determined to go on. It is only forty miles west of Hudson, which is no distance after the five hundred miles we came from New York and the thousands more across the ocean. It grieves me that Grace was so near to her new home, and now will never see it. I do not know what I will do when I get there. Adam Cox is not yet aware of this sorrowful news.

Grace suffered much and bore it bravely, but she is at peace now with God. I do know that one day we shall see her again, and that is some comfort.

Your loving daughter and sister,

Honor Bright

From The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. Copyright 2013 by Tracy Chevalier. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group USA.