Why Albert suddenly took such an interest me was an irritating mystery. It was literally from one day to the next that it was all praise and complements from him. He would send me flowers and what was more he had the nerve to call on me. The boy was only seventeen, he couldn’t be seriously thinking of courting me, could he? I certainly wasn’t planning on being courted by him. Even if I hadn’t been all caught up with Sammy, if there was one person on this planet who annoyed me to the same extent as Priscilla Melissa Thompson, it was her brother, Albert Francis. I would die before I let him court me. My one consolation was that Uncle Andrew couldn’t stand him either, but on the other hand, Aunt Helen seemed to approve of him a great deal. I suppose it was because Mrs. Thompson was Aunt’s Helen’s close friend.
Albert called on us at least six times that summer, which was more than I could stand. He was always careful to call when Uncle Andrew was sure to be caught up in business. I think he knew perfectly well that Uncle Andrew highly disapproved of him and made sure to avoid him. Sometimes he would bring Prissy with him and that was hell itself. Just Albert was bad enough, but Albert and Prissy together was more than anyone could bear. The really bothersome thing was no escaping their visits. Aunt Helen would make me entertain them with her. Thankfully Jeff could always be counted on to entertain Prissy, which left me to handle Albert.
The flowers, the compliments, the endless admiring glances; it was all I could do to keep from slapping him. I wonder, if I had actually been unable to control myself, would things have turn out differently?
One particular day, in end of August, Albert had made a call and had asked if I could show him my garden.
“Of course,” I smiled, “not.” I added under my breath. But I had to be civil, Aunt Helene would give me what for if wasn't. We had already argued twice about Albert and both times they had ended with me becoming a mess of tears n the garden, Sammy trying to get me to not take what she had said to heart. My Aunt may have had a frail body, but she had nerves of steel, and arguing with her was like arguing with a stone wall. She would stick to her own and sooner or later you would have to give in, or at least, I would have give in. She was more than a match for me when it came to a battle of wills.
“Mrs. Greensten tells me you spend a great deal of time in the garden,” He stated as we strolled over to it.
“I love flowers shockingly,” I replied, “nothing gives me greater pleasure than to spend an entire day in the garden working with them.”
“I know how much you like flowers, that is why I send them to you. We have quite the flower garden too, though it is nothing like the one you keep here.”
“The one my aunt keeps,” I corrected, “most of the flowers belong to her. Mine are only the ones in the little garden Uncle gave me.
“So, this is it?” He stated as we came upon the garden.
“This is it.”
“It’s beautiful! What do you do to the flowers to make them such perfect works of art?” He reached over to caresses a large rose. How dare he touch my flowers?
“It’s not me; It is all my gardener, he is the one with magic in his hands.”
“The only magic in this garden, Miss Rose, is you.”
I sucked my lips into a thin line, if he went on any further I would…
As it turned out, I didn’t have to do anything, just as the words left his mouth, he stepped on a rake lying on the ground and the silly thing banged him on the head. I covered my mouth with my hand to keep the giggle from coming out.
“What the,” He sputtered after a second of stunned shock. He turned and saw Sammy standing not far off.
“You scum!” He raised his voice and took a menacing step in Sammy’s direction. “I’ll teach you a thing or two.”
I reached over and put my hand over his arm.
“Mr. Thompson, Samuel is my slave and the only person who gets to teach him anything is me. Sam, watch where you leave your things, people can get hurt.” I had spoken in a firm voice, one filled with authority and reprimand, it was the first time I had ever used such a tone on Sammy. I could tell from the flash in his eyes that he was upset, not only upset, he was jealous, but what could I do? Albert was my guest and I had to keep him entertained.
“I'm so sorry, Miss Rose,” Sammy stated in a reserved voice, “I’s promise it won’t happen again. My humble apologies to Mr. Thompson, the fault is all mine.”
“Very well,” I stated with a formal nod and decided the best thing to do would be to take Albert away from the garden. “I hope you weren't too much hurt, Mr. Thomson. How about we go and have a cup of tea and I shall find something cold to put on your head. I fear you will have quite a bump.”
Albert agreed to this, I think more for the idea of my playing nurse and caring for his wound than for the cup of tea. We walked back to the house, all the while I could feel Sammy's jealous eyes following me.
I had no doubt Sammy had put the rake there on purpose, It really was a stroke of pure genius. I appreciated him doing something to Albert that I would never have dared to do myself. I felt bad getting so upset at him but I had to save face in front of my guest, in order to save face in front of my Aunt later.
At last Albert was gone and I made my way back to the garden as soon as he left. Once there, I found myself dealing with a very unhappy Sammy.
“How long did you spend in the company of the young master Thompson?” He confronted me.
“Long enough,” I sighed. “I can’t stand that man’s company.”
“Then why do you constantly entertain him?”
“Because I have no choice. Aunt Helen will remove my head if I told him off. He’s the son of her closest friend and I have to be civil to him, and if that means walking with him in the garden and drinking tea with him, then I’m obligated to do it. Sammy,” I paused for a moment, “you don’t think I take pleasure in all this, do you?”
“I can tell you one thing, I don’t take pleasure in it at all! Of all the people in the world, Albert Thompson. The only way it could get worse was if young Henry Earl decided to court you.”
I bit my lip, thought of the flowers in my room with a note reading ‘best compliments, H. Earl Jr.’ and decided it would be better to remain silent on the subject of Henry Earl for the time being.
“How do you think it makes me feel,” Sammy went on, “watching you being courted by other men while I have to silently stand by and do nothing? If you haven’t the faintest idea, I can tell you. It drives a knife through my heart every time. Every time I see you and that, that Thompson fellow, I feel as though I could kill him. I never feel my slavery more keenly then when you are in the his company.”
“Sam, I don’t have a choice!” I burst out. I felt it unfair for him to get so upset. I had told him I didn’t enjoy Albert’s attentions. “You know my Aunt.”
“Your Aunt, your Aunt, everything is always your Aunt. You hate yourself because of your Aunt, you’re not good enough because of your Aunt, you’re a disgrace because of your Aunt, and now you have to marry an idiot because of your Aunt. Sarah, do you have any backbone at all? Can't you stand up for yourself at least once?”
“Nobody said anything about marriage,” I allowed my voice to get angry. “And if you didn’t notice, I owe my Aunt a lot of things and I feel it my duty to try and make her happy. I don't know if you understand, Samuel Climb, what it is like to desire love from the one person who refuses to give it to you. Have you ever stopped to wonder that maybe Aunt Helen is the only motherly figure in my life right now? The only woman capable of giving me that motherly affection that I yearn for? I have Elsie, but she’s like my older sister, I want a mother, Sam, a mother! It’s all I’ve ever asked from her, and it’s all she ever denies me. If I can at least make her a little happy, then I will do that. Even if it means entertaining Albert. Even if it is only one tiny nod of approval, one little gleam of acceptance, I will march straight into…into…into hell if I have to!”
“Even if it means hurting me?” Sammy shot at me.
I put my hand to my head, all this agitation was giving me a headache. Why was it that in order to make one person happy I had to hurt someone else?
“I don’t want to hurt you Sammy, heaven knows that’s the last thing on earth that I want to do. Can’t you just trust me when I tell you that my heart is yours and that it will always be that way? I have to behave in a way that proper upbringing and courtesy have taught me. My Aunt…”
“If you mention your Aunt one more time, I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” I challenged him.
We stared at each other in silence, then Sammy burst out laughing.
“Sarah, I believe we’ve just had our first argument ever. I suppose the only thing left is to make up after it. Alright, I’m sorry I got upset. You have to understand a man. Imagine if I wandered around with other girls, how would that make you feel? Hmmm? Put yourself in my place and don’t get angry at me.”
“No, I'm the one who should be sorry.” I felt bad for getting angry. “I shouldn’t have gotten so annoyed. You are right, you have every reason to be jealous. I wish it didn’t have to be this way! Albert never liked me, I don’t know…”
“Both of your grew up,” Sammy interrupted. “You blossomed and he took notice of you. It happens all the time.”
“I don’t appreciate his attentions,” I snapped. “And I assure you, if he ever does get it into his otherwise very empty head to propose, I will smack him in the face."
Sammy smiled at the idea of me slapping Albert; something no doubt he wished he could so himself.
"And to think he touched my roses. I certainly never gave him permission to touch them, I don't like him handling them."
"Who cares about them roses growing on the bushes, I'm more concerned that he doesn't touch the most important and most beautiful Rose in the garden." Sammy softly stated.
I smiled and then sighed. Jealousy is something hard for any man, free or slave, to quench. I would have to figure out a way to get rid of Albert before things got out of hand.