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After his minister father takes his new air rifle away from him and puts it in the attic, Ned sneaks upstairs, takes it, fires it once, and is terrified that he may have hit a cat. Struggling with his guilt, he tells one lie after another until he cannot bear it anymore and must confess to someone.
Kidnapped and forced to play his fife while the slaves “dance,” thirteen-year-old Jessie learns all too soon about the savagery of the slave trade. For four long months he lives with the crew's cruelty until a storm wrecks the ship and Jessie and Ras, a would-be slave, are the only survivors.