"I never blamed you"
Once more I read the scribble on the crumpled piece of paper. How many times had I pulled out the little note, unfolded it and read the four words; four words that didn't make any sense to me.
"Sarah," she had told me in a dying voice, pressing the paper into my hand, "Sarah, you must give this to Harriet. Promise me you will give it to her. You must make sure she gets it."
Even now, I could feel the pressure of her thin hand in mine, and yet, after eight years, I still had not been able to fulfill my last promise to my poor mother. I sighed and carefully folded the scrap of paper, running my finger over the words To Harriet written one side of the folded note. Mother had scribbled it in handwriting even worse than the note itself. She had literally scratched it with her last strength. It had been so important to her that the note was delivered, and it wasn't like I hadn't tried. I had asked just about the entire household about Harriet, trying to get them to tell me who was she and where could I find her? I had dared to ask my aunt one more time, but she had gotten very upset and commanded me to never speak that name in her presence, Harriet was no concern of mine and I must never ask about her. I got the point and never brought up Harriet in front of Aunt Helen again. She had tried to get me to give her the note again, but I had blatantly refused. Mama had told me to give it only to Harriet, and there was no way I was letting my aunt get her hands on it. Who knows what she would do with it. If she wasn't going to tell me anything about Harriet, than the note was staying with me. Next I had badgered my uncle as about Harriet. Several times I approached him with the question, I tried to explain to him how important it was for me to find out.
"It's not for me to say, Sarah," He spoke in a slow voice. "If your aunt refuses to talk about it, then I certainly won't. There are some stories better left untold, Sarah. Things better left unsaid, things you don't need to know, things better kept hidden."
Eventually I gave up asking him, it was obvious he wasn't going to tell me anything. I tried Em. She also shook her head and looked at me with sad eyes. "Ah, Miss Sarah, it is not my story and not one I's gonna say. Better not to ask, honey child, better not to know. Leave it be, leave it be."
Ben's answer wasn't any better, "If the Mistress and Massa won't talk about it, then it is not to be spoken of. Don't ask Sarah, it's not for you to know."
Elsie, Lulu our housekeeper, Kristoffs, George our groom, they all refused to tell me who Harriet was.
"Maybe you could tell me who Harriet is and where I could find her!" In utter frustration I had finally asked my grandfather's portrait. What was the great mystery surrounding her? It was such an obvious family secret, one that all the adults knew about, why wouldn't they let me in on it? Did Harriet have something to do with my mother running away? No one had ever told me why mama had run off either. And why had Jacob Greensten told me on his deathbed that it wasn't her fault? What wasn't her fault? The whole house was wrapped up in some great mystery, one I was not let in on. The annoying thing was that I was obviously a part of this great secret. Not of my own accord, but being my mother's daughter made me a part of the mystery. I was a mystery in a mystery and it was driving me insane.
"Who are you Harriet?" I asked, placing the note back in the little box with the rest of my mother's papers. "Why are you so difficult to find? I've been trying to get this note to you for eight years. And I'm still at the same point as when I started." I turned my attention to my reflection in the mirror. "Sixteen years old! Sixteen years old today," I said out loud.(I had a terrible habit of talking to myself in the mirror.) "To think you've lived here for eight years. Who would have thought, the day your boarded that train in Boston that your life would turn out this way?"
"SARAH!" I heard Jeff yelling from downstairs, "HURRY UP AND GET DOWN HERE!"
"Jeff, don't yell," Uncle Andrew's voice reprimanded him.
I giggled. "Coming," I called running down the stairs, nearly tripping twice, but managing to regain my balance just in time.
"Sixteen years old and still behaving like a ten year old." My uncle shook his head as I appeared in front of them completely out of breath.
"Blame Jeff for that," I replied breathlessly, pointing a figure at him.
Jeff was nearly eighteen and just about as tall as Uncle Andrew. His hair had darkened a little with the years, but his eyes were still as bright and green and mischievous as ever. He had been rather clumsy in his younger teens, but now he had straightened out and was on his way to becoming a very handsome young man, though Uncle always said that his brain was yet to be developed and he seemed rather disappointed at Jeff's immature and still very boyish behavior. I didn't mind! Jeff was fun to be around and never let things get boring. We weren't very close, but close enough to enjoy each other's company and knew how to have a good time. We looked at each other as brother and sister, and I always knew that Jeff watched my back, just as I looked out for him.
"Of course, blame me," Jeff put on mock offence (he was great at mock offence.) "Blame me for everything wrong in your life."
"I don't blame you for everything wrong in my life," I replied in full seriousness. "Maybe I wish I could, but I can't so I don't. But honestly, you are the reason I still run two steps at a time and play tricks on Mr. Jenning."
Uncle Andrew frowned at this. He highly disapproved of us sneaking away from Mr. Jenning and had managed to get us to stop most of our tricks on our tutor. We still managed to pull a few from time to time.
"Anyway," Jeff said, "we're here to present you with your birthday present."
I got a naughty look in my eyes. "So, present it."
"Some nerve you have," Jeff poked me. "Come on, its outside."
"Is it wrapped pretty?" I asked as we walk out the front door.
"Beautifully," My uncle smiled. "I believe we haven't been able to wrap a present this nice before."
I was intrigued.
"Wait," Jeff produced a black scar, "first, you must be blindfolded."
My uncle held me while Jeff tied the scarf around my eyes.
"Uncle Andrew, Jeff, you're frightening me."
"Good," I heard Jeff's satisfied voice. I pouted my lips and allowed them to lead me to wherever it was that they wanted to take me.
"Alright," Uncle Andrew spoke, "on the count of three. One, two..."
"Three!" Jeff finished and the scarf slipped off my face. The sunlight blinded me for a moment, but when my eyes finally adjusted to the light I found myself staring at a small but lovely flower garden. It was planted with great care and taste, the flower patches placed in orderly and artistic fashion. There were rose bushes, violets, carnations, lilies and forget-me-nots. All my favorite flowers.
"Well..." Uncle Andrew looked at me expectantly, "it's not very large, but it's a start."
"I...I...I don't know what to say," I stammered. My own beautiful flower garden, where I could raise my own flowers, it really was the best present ever.
"And that's not all," Jeff went on. "It comes with your own gardener."
I caught my breath as Sammy walked out of what seemed like nowhere.
"I'm not quite ready to trust the flower garden to you alone," Uncle Andrew spoke with humor in his voice, "Otherwise I know I'd never see you in the house. So we made sure you had a good gardener, who knows flowers and gardens like the back of his hand and that will let Jeff and myself to actually see you from time to time."
"Oh, Uncle," I burst out laughing and threw my arms around him, "and all this from a man who hates flowers."
"Personally, I don't see any use in them," He agreed. "But you love them and I love you so I'm willing to compromise. A lot of credit goes to Jeff, he came up with the idea and put a lot of effort to seeing it through. And of course Kristoffs and Sam here, they did all the 'dirty' work."
I hugged Jeff. "Your imagination does you credit."
He grinned, obviously very pleased with himself.
"We'll leave you to explore," Uncle Andrew said, grabbing Jeff's arm. "But don't linger too long, there is the ball today and guests will be arriving soon."
I nodded my head and they walked off. I turned to face Sammy.
"Happy Birthday, Sammy," I stated.
"Happy Birthday, Miss Rose," He relied, as smile on his face.
"Sarah, Sammy, call me Sarah. Miss Rose is far too formal."
"Doesn't seem quite right; I's your slave now, and I ought to address you..."
"Sammy," I stamped my foot, "seriously."
"I am serious."
"Call me Miss Sarah if the Miss is such an important part for you. At least that will make it less formal than 'Miss Rose'."
"Sounds like a deal."
"Don't worry, I didn't forget about your birthday present, only I couldn't wrap it."
"What about your garden? I put so much work into it."
"I'll be sure to explore it," I promised. "Let me tell you about your present first. Now, I know how much you like to read, so I promise that I'll sneak out any of Uncle's books that you want. I'll sneak out the whole library if I have too, only we'll have to return the books once you're done reading them.
"I don't know if I remember how to read properly, I haven't had a chance to read since I left."
"You're bright, Sam, if you did forget anything, you'll remember in a moment. Don't worry."
He smiled. "Here, in honor of your sixteenth," He handed me a bouquet of white roses.
"My favorite," I exclaimed. "But you knew that." I buried my face in the flowers and breathed the heavenly scent. Sammy was quite the artist. The bouquet, and I knew he had made it himself, was truly a work of art. As, I will admit, was the entire garden. I had always known that Sammy was a born gardener. This only proved it,
"Now, allow me to give you tour of your garden," He took me hand, much as he had the day I first met him and dragged me around; showing me flowers, explaining about the soil and the design and on and on. I completely lost track of the time. Only when Elsie came walking up I was reminded about the ball today and my coming out party.
"Oh, right, there is that," I knit my eyebrows. "I'll be right there, Elsie."
"Quick as you like, Sarah," she replied and went back to the house.
"Looking forward to the ball?" Sammy asked.
"Yes and no. I'm really excited about it and dreading it at the same time." I stated. "I'm so afraid I'll fall flat on my face. You know how I'll be on spotlight for all of society and I never was very good at being on spotlight," I sighed.
"You'll do fine," He tried to be encouraging. "You always do fine."
"Try telling that to Aunt Helen," I muttered under my breath.
"What are you afraid of exactly?" He prodded.
How could I tell him? "I'm afraid of not being good enough," I summed it up as best I could.
"Not good enough? You are good enough."
I shook my head, I couldn't believe that. I would never be good enough, I could only try. "I've got to go prepare," I said at last. "See you later, Sammy."
He nodded his head and I went into the house. I would have preferred to stay out there with him and the flowers, but duty called and I had to obey.