In my defense, I hadn’t seen him for seven years. Last I had known Sam he had been a boy of twelve, now he was a young man of nineteen. Well, not quite, a week short of nineteen. He had certainly grown over the years. His shoulders had gotten broad and his frame was large and he looked very rough and rugged and, dared I think, handsome? I blushed suddenly when I remembered that moment when our eyes had met. Had he recognized me?
“That was him?” I finally stammered.
“Yes, that was him. But don’t feel bad, honey child, he didn’t recognize you either.”
“How do you know?”
“I watched the whole thing from the window.”
Oh no, I hoped she hadn’t noticed us staring at each other.
“From his behavior I could see plain as day that he didn’t know who you were. He would have called to you if he had recognized you.”
“Says who?” I waved my hand, “I don’t think he even remembers me.”
“You’re wrong there. He’s been here for about a month and he’s been asking about you nonstop.”
“Has he?” Oh that dreadful blush. Elsie would be sure to notice it. At that moment I hated the fact that I had such white skin which turned a deep pink so easily.
“Yup, he’s been wanting to see you since the moment he arrived. He remembers you very well. You should talk to him when you find a moment."
“I certainly will,” I smiled, “but right now I need a bath and then dress for lunch.”
“Just remain calm, Sarah,” I told myself as I haltingly stepped out into the garden. “It’s only Sammy! You knew him as a child. You were best of friends with him. He helped you with your homework and taught you the names of all the flowers. There’s nothing to get so nervous about.” I was so caught up in my thoughts that I walked straight into a wall, making me lose my balance and fall over. I looked up and turned red. The wall had been Sammy. How did there suddenly become so much of him in just seven years? I was tiny compared to him.
“Seems we have a habit of bumping into each other.”
His voice had gotten so deep!
“Hello, Sammy.” I said, not knowing what else to say and hating the fact that I was sprawled out on the ground. He gave me his hand and helped me up.
“Well, look at you,” I said once I had brushed off my dress, “gone and grown without me even knowing it! I can’t believe you are back.”
“Honestly, I can hardly believe it myself,” he chuckled. “Who would have thought that I would make a full circle and end up coming back here?”
“But how happy you must be. And Ben, and Em and Elsie and Nettie. No wonder Ben was all aglow when I came back. I didn’t quite recognize you back there; it was Elsie who told me about your return.”
“I didn’t recognize you either, so we’re even,” he laughed. We sat down on a bench in the garden. The same bench on which I had sat the day Sammy had told me he was leaving.
“So, tell me about yourself,” I prodded, I was most interested about where he had been the past seven years and what he had been doing.
“I lived with the Thompsons for three years. I had hoped to see you at least once in a while, seeing as the Thompsons are your closest neighbors!”
“I hate them,” I stated. “Yes, I know, hate is a strong word and I have just said a very strong statement, but I honestly do hate the Thompsons and their company. They invited me once or twice but I couldn’t bear the idea of being in their home and constantly being at the mercy to their insults. At least when they come to visit us I am on home territory and able to hold up at least some sort of defense.”
“Why would they insult you?”
“They say I am of inferior birth. You know, with my mother marrying…marrying beneath her.” I felt foreign saying the words ‘marrying’. It didn’t sound right, but what could I do?
“Those Thompsons really do put on airs!” Sammy shook his head in disgust. “I hated every moment I lived there and had to wait on Mrs. Thompson. I constantly had to fetch her things and carry her packages and run errands for her. Stuff like that. She was never grateful to me and you’d think from the way she behaved that she was doing me a favor by letting me be her little slave. Favor indeed! That woman tore me from my family and still thought I was going to be grateful to her.” He was silent for a moment. “Anyway,” he went on, “After three years I got too old for Mrs. Thompson and as the family had no use for me they sold me to the Earls.”
I held my breath. I knew of whom he spoke. Henry Carlton Earl was a known to be a drinker and gambler and constantly mixed up in some sort of shady business. He also had a reputation for being less than kind to his slaves.
“Did he send you to the cotton fields?” I asked.
“Yes. I worked in his fields for two whole years. Hated every moment of it. We were poorly fed and poorly treated. We worked from dawn till dusk in the hot smoldering sun without so much as a break for lunch or a moment to stretch our sore backs! That man is cruelty to his very core.” Sammy shuddered as he spoke, and his voice grew coarse and bitter. He pulled his sleeve cuff back a bit and I gasped. There was a horrible scar going all the way around his wrist.
“Sammy, where is that from?” I softly asked, reaching out and lightly tracing the ugly mark.
“From metal handcuffs, where else; my other wrist is just the same. They was tight as hell, his overseer put them on me one day when I didn’t fulfill my quota and I had to work with them the entire day.”
I shuddered at the thought of Sammy’s wrist in a tight handcuff, covered in blood from the constant rubbing of the metal against the skin. I looked up at him with sympathy in my eyes, and noticed the mark just above his left eye, it traced his eyebrow and went all the way down to his left ear. “Sammy, where is that from?” I was almost afraid to find out, but still wanted to know.
“This?” He traced the scar, “a different overseer wacked me with the whip, I can’t even remember for what exactly. He just didn’t like me.”
“And after the two years with Mr. Earl.” I whispered, horrified from the inhumanity of Mr. Earl’s slave overseers.
“Well, Mr. Earl had debts so at one point he started selling off some of his slaves and I happened to be one of them. I was bought by Mr. William Craige. Thankfully, he didn’t send me to the cotton fields. I was made to work in his stables and did some gardening as well. He’s medium as far as masters go. Doesn’t feed the slaves very well! And you should see the living conditions; hardly fit for a dog! But at least there are no constant beatings and at the work is moderately fair. So I was with him for two years and then he started running into financial difficulty and spoke to your uncle about it! As it turns out your uncle was searching for a slave to…to…help out in the gardens here. He was looking for someone who knew how to handle flowers and was good at gardening. A few words, money was passed, papers were signed and here I am.”
“Are you glad to be back?”
“Course I am,” He smiled. “Lots has changed since I was here, there’s a Massa Jeffrey, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. But I am glad to be back.”
He gave a sort of sigh. I reached out and put my hand over his. “I’m sorry everything has been that way it has been for your, Sammy,” I spoke in a soft voice. “I really wish I could have made it different for you. I am very happy you were able to return to us! I thought about you every time I would look at the forget-me-not patch in our garden. I remember they are your favorite flowers.”
“And your favorite are the white roses,” he grinned. “I’s remember that too.”
“Sarah, Sarah, where in heaven’s name are you?” I heard Elsie’s voice calling me.
“Over here, Elsie, just talking with Sammy.”
“Ah, I see the two of you have found each other. Well Sam, are you satisfied now? There was no peace for the past month. When is Sarah coming back, when is Sarah coming back?”
Sammy’s breathing became deep and angry at this. I could tell Elsie had embarrassed him and knew that she had done so on purpose!
“Why were you searching for me, Elsie?” I quickly changed the subject.
“Massa Greensten is calling you, saying something about piano playing.”
“Oh, right,” I laughed. I always played for my uncle in the evenings. “I’m coming. It was so good to see you again Sammy.” I turned to him. “I’m glad you’ve come back.”
I turned to go after Elsie, but by his low response halted me.
“So am I, Miss Rose, so am I.”
I looked back at him. He had stood up and was looking straight at me.
“Sarah will do,” I stated and with a smile and ran into the house.