Promises to the Dead

Promises to the Dead

by Mary Downing Hahn

Paperback(First Edition)

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When Jesse went down to the marsh on that fateful day, he expected to find a turtle for terrapin soup. Instead, he comes across a dying slave woman who makes Jesse promise he’ll take her young son, Perry, to a relative in Baltimore. Aiding and abetting a slave is against the law, and it also goes against everything Jesse has been taught to believe. But he can’t break a promise to the dead, and, more important, he has to follow what he knows in his heart to be right.
The journey is more treacherous than Jesse ever imagined. At the crossroads of a country about to plunge into civil war, danger lurks around every corner. Will these boys on the run ever find a safe haven?
Includes an author's note.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547258386
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 08/17/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 222,056
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

MARY DOWNING HAHN is the award-winning author of many popular ghost stories and mysteries, including Deep and Dark and Dangerous and The Old Willis Place. A former librarian, an avid reader, traveler, and all-around arts lover, Ms. Hahn lives in Columbia, Maryland with her two cats, Oscar and Rufus.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

If my great-uncle Philemon hadn't gotten a sudden hankering for turtle soup, the story I'm about to tell would have come out different. Or maybe it wouldn't have happened at all. But then who's to speak with any certainty about what might or might not have been? Everyone knows fate has a way of finding us no matter how well hid we may think we are.

All I can say is my particular story started when my great-uncle decided a bowl of Delia's soup was just the thing for his rheumatism, which was fearsome bad in damp weather. Since the old man couldn't go hunting himself, not with his stiff knees and aching back, he sent me to the marsh instead. A little spring rain wouldn't hurt a boy my age, he said. Nor the wind either.

Delia raised her eyebrows at this and said, "Age got nothing to do with it. I never knew pneumonia to spare a body, young or old." But she didn't waste her breath arguing. Once my uncle got an idea in his head, nobody could shake it loose. Not even Delia, who had more sense than me and him put together.

Uncle Philemon gave her a vexed look and said nothing. Delia was the only slave he owned, and he treated her good most of the time, fearing she might run away if he didn't. He'd told her more than once he planned to free her when he died; it was already written in his will, item two, right after the part where he left me, his great-nephew, all he possessed. Which didn't amount to much as he had gambled just about everything away long before I came to live with him.

"Go on now, boy," Uncle Philemon told me, "and fetch me the biggest old turtle you can find."

I knew better than to put up a fuss. Armed with along pointed pole to poke the turtle out of the mud and a basket to carry him home in, I headed for the marsh. If it had been later in the year, I would have had an easy time of it, but we'd had a long cold spell in February, worse than a normal Maryland winter, and the wily old rascals were still hibernating. I figured they'd burrowed clean through the earth to China by now. Most likely children on the other side of the world were catching turtles that by right ought to have been mine.

The wind blew across the Chesapeake Bay, straight through the tall grass, driving the cold rain before it. It pricked my face like icy needles and soaked right through my raggedy old jacket. I soon grew weary of prodding and poking the mud and finding nothing.

"Dang you, Uncle Philemon," I hollered, "and dang your everlasting rheumatism, too!"

I was sorely tempted to go home, but I didn't dare, not when my uncle had his belly primed for terrapin soup. If I walked through the door with nothing for Delia to cook, the old boy would throw a fit loud enough to scare the devil himself. Might even give me a thrashing, especially if he'd been into the brandy.

Despite his cantankerous ways, I must say I was normally right fond of my uncle. He'd done his Christian duty by me, sure enough, for he'd taken me in after Mama and Daddy died. I wasn't but four years old at the time and the most useless child you ever did see, but he agreed to be my guardian and teach me to be a carpenter. All he'd taught me so far was hammering, which you can't call a skill. I guessed it was a start, though. After all, I was only twelve. I had plenty of years to learn sawing and measuring and such.

Mostly what I did for my uncle was milk the cow, help the hired hands with the planting and harvesting, and provide Delia with things to cook for supper. Deer, squirrels, rabbits, oysters, crabs, turtles-whatever the old man wanted to eat I brung home. Without me, he'd most likely have starved to death long ago.

Other than that, and a few lessons in reading, writing, and figuring, Uncle Philemon allowed me to do pretty much as I pleased, which was often nothing but playing in the creek or climbing trees or making mischief of one kind or another. As for thrashings, all I had to do was stay out of his way when he'd been drinking. You can't ask for a much better life than that.

So I kept on poking the mud in hope of scaring up a turtle. Before long, the rain turned to a downpour so heavy I could hardly see. Truth to tell, the wetter I got, the better a thrashing seemed, mainly because it would be given inside, in front of a roaring fire. Let Uncle Philemon warm my britches — and the rest of me as well. If he wanted a turtle, he'd just have to drag his sorry old self down here and find one.

I took a path that led out of the marsh and into the woods, hoping to find shelter under the trees. If I hadn't been fussing about my uncle, I might have wondered why the crows were making such a ruckus, but I was just too mad to pay them any mind. In fact, I didn't notice a thing out of the ordinary till someone grabbed me from behind, pressed a knife against my throat, and clamped a hand over my mouth.

"Don't move or I'll kill you," a woman hissed in my ear. "Don't make a sound either. Stay right where you are, as quiet as you can be...

Promises to the Dead. Copyright © by Mary Downing Hahn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"an involving story that raises many of the issues that led to the Civil War" School Library Journal

"Hahn has a marvelous touch when it comes to manipulating her story and heightening the tension in a way that keeps readers on the edge of their seats." Booklist, ALA

"fast-moving, exciting" Children's Book Review Service

Customer Reviews

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Promises to the Dead 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book Promise to the Dead was a outstanding book and I would highly recommend it. The author Mary Downing Hahn is a wonderful author and I am a fan of all her books. The book was suspensful and it made me never want to put the book down. Of all the books I have read I would definitly say that this was the best book. If you like to read good books then you should read this book.
Sydney Curts More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing i also enjoyed all the lovely bad ones and the ghost of crutchfield hall. The best one was all of them i dont know how to decide!!!!!
Caroline Odom More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and I fell in love. Hahn has a way of pulling you into the story, where you feel as if you were there. She really has a talent. For those Civil War fans you will love this book. You are taken throughout battles and it describea the harshness of slavery. The reason I put only four stars was becauae this book says a swear word a few times. It also has a bit of fiolence, but its mot really anythinf to worry about too much. I really hope you decide to readbthis book. It will mot waste your money or your time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i have yet to read this book. But i have read one of mary's great books closed for the season. I am excited to read this novel also. The fantastic cover art on all her books really catch your eye. So for readers who are hesitant of reading her books give them a try you may find a new favorite.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like this try closed for the season
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary downing han has written better
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book mary is awsome! (mary is the auther)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it chilling book that will touch the heart with a great story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was awsome. It had me reading so fast and it is very suspensfull. I loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have only not read 5 of her books and they are soooooooooo good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If u liked this book just wait. Have u ever read deep and dark amd dangerous ? Well its her best book by far. Also make sure to rea wait till helen comes! She has a talent. Thats for sure
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really good i love it! Its one of those books where you cant stop reading but when you do you feel like your missing something because you are so attatched to the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Scary but great
mrswink More than 1 year ago
ive read all mary downing hahns books, this isnt my favorite but it os definetly a good read! always have high expectations and om never disapointed! this is amazing!
Anonymous 11 months ago
jen.redmini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jesse's grumpy uncle has sent him out in the rain to hunt for a turtle for soup. Before Jesse's realizes it, someone has grabbed him from behind. It is a pregnant runaway slave who is in labor and needs help. Jesse makes his first promise to the dead. Bound by this promise he must find a way to help this woman's young son.Through fulfilling his promise, Jesse gets into more trouble, and a second promise to the dead, this one worse than the first. Find out if Jesse is able to keep either promise as you read this exciting adventure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt get into it honestly... i dont like to say it but... this is hahns WORST book..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary has great talent and can write any book you could imagine.This is her best book yet.Its very heartwarming,but scary.There is a few cuss words but nothing to blow over about. P.S Write a report not a blog.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was an awsome book as far as I'm concerned. And to whoever is reading this, it really is a good book. P.S Whoever keeps writing random stuff instead of writing a reveiw needs to stop. It just makes you look dumb. Review not blog.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wait till helen comes is an amazing book- i read it in about 1 day please read it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a book report for school and it was ok but if you get sick real easy dont read this book it goes into a lot of detail with that type of stuff. I liked it though its not my favirite but i still like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago