“Sarah, can you come to my study?
Uncle Andrew’s voice was strained and that made me a little nervous. He only used that voice when I did something wrong. I mentally went through my recent activities, trying to think of what I could have done wrong. Everything seemed to be pretty clean. With Jeff away at Oxford, it was no fun playing tricks on Mr. Jenning on my own. I hadn’t argued with Aunty in a long time already, and as far as I was concerned, I had behaved in just about everything in a proper and decent manner. There wasn’t anything that I knew of that could get me into trouble.
“I didn’t do anything wrong, Uncle, I promise.” I was on the defensive just in case. “Ask Elsie or Mr. Jenning.”
“Have a seat, Sarah,” My uncle motioned to the chair opposite him. Something wasn’t right, and me not knowing what was the matter made me all the more nervous.
“What is it between you and the slave?”
Uncle Andrew, straight to the point as always. His question caught me completely off guard but I struggled to keep an innocent face. How could he have figured out…or guessed…or discovered?
“What are you talking about?” It took all my strength to keep a nonchalant voice.
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m sure I don’t.” My first lie to Uncle Andrew. Well, it was a half truth, I didn’t really know exactly what he was alluding too.
“Alright, I’ll rephrase the question. Is there anything between you and the slave?”
“Your slave, Sam Climb.”
“What could there be between us?”
“That is what I am expecting you to tell me!”
“But there isn’t anything to tell,” There, that was my first real lie.
“I’m having trouble believing you on that! I’ve been watching you recently, and I would say that there is some sort of something between the two of you. You are behaving more than friendly to him. Sarah, allow me to remind you, he is just a slave and you are his master. You have to keep a distance between you and him.”
“Uncle, there is nothing between us. I’m telling the honest truth.” Which of course I was not.
He narrowed his gaze and studied me intently, I knew I would have to tell at least some sort of truth or my eyes would give me away.
I drew a long breath, “We’re just close friends, that’s all. There’s not so many people here for me to talk too as it is. Maybe I accidently did do some flirting, but I assure you it was unintentional and all very innocent, I don’t think he even noticed”
“Sarah! You can’t flirt with any man and expect it to remain innocent and safe foreve. Sooner or later they are going to start expecting something from you. Flirting with a slave is totally unacceptable! What if he takes your hints and starts acting on them? Then what? Must I remind you that there is a definite line between masters and slaves and above all else that line must be kept. You cannot flirt with slave men! I would have thought you had more sense than that.”
I looked down, feeling very guilty for the way everything was going.
“What if he should try to take advantage of you? Hmmmm? Has that thought ever crossed your mind?”
The thought of Sammy trying to get take advantage of me was so weird, I had to look down to keep from laughing at the thought. I hated the direction the whole conversation had gone and hated myself for ever having said the word flirting.
“I’m guessing I’m going to have to go with the only option.” My uncle went on.
What only option? I could feel the sweat starting to appear on my forehead. I silently told myself to keep calm.
“Sell the slave.”
“Uncle, no!” I burst out, “you can’t sell him. He’s the best gardener ever. My garden grows and flourishes under his care. No one else will be able to do it just as good.”
“Well, what do you want me to do? I can’t have this keeping up.”
“You won’t have to do anything. It was just some fun on my side, Sam didn’t even notice anything! It’s not like there was anything between us. Only me. I promise, I promise I’ll put an end to everything, it will be just the usual master slave relationship from now on. Only don’t sell him, my garden will suffer.”
My uncle looked at me for some time, obviously contemplating whether or not to believe me.
“If you give me your word, and stick to it,” he slowly said at last.
“I do, Uncle, I really, really do! I’ll be everything a proper young master is supposed to be. You’ll see.”
“I will see.” I knew that meant me would be watching me.
I walked away from the study shaken with my knees knocking together. I knew I would have to keep my end of the bargain, I knew I would have to put an end to the romance with Sammy. It was for his own good, I didn’t want him to get sold again; I couldn’t live through that, he wouldn’t be able to live through that. And Ben, and Em, could I have them stand by and watch their only son be taken from them a second time?
I sat in my room, trying to think about how best to present the news to Sammy. Somehow, I didn’t feel comfortable with telling him that it was all Uncle’s doing. He hated Uncle as it was, because Uncle was master of the plantation and ultimately the current reason for Sammy being in bonds. He didn’t hate him as much as he hated Thompson or Earl or Craige, but still, he didn’t like him, and the fact that he knew Uncle Andrew would disapprove of him and me made Sam dislike Uncle Andrew even more. I didn’t want to add to the bitterness so I decided that the best way was if the breakup would come from me. Surely he would understand, at least I tried to convince myself of the fact. I took a deep breath, told my reflection that she was a brave young woman who wasn’t afraid of anything and went off in search of Sammy.
“I was just thinking of you.”
I cringed at that honest smile and those adoring eyes. I bit my lip and looked down. He noticed right away
“Don’t tell me you had another fight with your Aunt?”
I shook my head, still trying to figure out how I was going to break the news to him and what exactly I was going to say. I had been in such a hurry to get it done and over with, I hadn’t taken the time to come up what I was going to tell him. I knew whatever I would say, I would break his heart, and I hated the very thought of that. But what could I do? I had given my word to uncle and I knew I had to keep it.
“What is the matter?” Sammy took my cold hand, which remained limp in his.
“I don’t know who we were fooling, Sammy,” I said in a quiet voice, “but I believe the time has come for us to stop.”
“What?” He stared at me, confused.
“The game is over and it is time to begin living in the real world; this cruel, unsympathetic world, which unfortunately is the only one we’ve got.”
Oh, why was this all coming out wrong?
“Sammy, I know you probably won’t understand this, but I have an obligation to my family, a duty to fulfill. The time has come for you and I to, to,” I took a deep breath, “to end the romance.”
His eyes grew wide as all I was saying began to sink in.
“Sarah, why are you saying this?” He was trying to keep calm and not jump to decisions.
“Because I have to. It is my duty to find a husband, marry, settle down, run a household and raise a family. I have to do it Sammy, such is my lot in life as a woman. I can’t afford to keep running off with you and stay away from such things which sooner or later will catch up with me. You and I have to put an end to it, we can’t keep seeing each other the way we have been. There can be no more walks in the garden, no more lazy evenings with just you and I. It has to stop Sammy, we have to stop it, I must go on and fulfill my duty and you must fulfill yours.”
“Sarah, are you even listening to yourself?”
Of course I was listening to myself! I certainly wasn’t deaf.
“Sarah, I can’t believe you, I don’t know what happened to you while you were in the house. I don’t know what your Aunt could have told you this time, but come to your senses…”
“I have come to my senses,” I broke in, “at least, I am in the process of coming to them. It really has been wonderful Sammy, wonderful like a dream, but the dream has ended and it’s time to wake up. We can be friends, Sammy!” I added, “I don’t want our friendship to shatter, but we can’t be lovers anymore.”
Sammy gave a stubborn shake of his head. “This isn’t right, I can’t end it like this; you can’t end it like this! It’s hardly even been a year. I can’t be just friends with your anymore. Surely you understand that!”
I understood, oh how I understood, but I didn’t give in, I couldn’t give in.
“I love you Sarah. Don’t you understand that? I love you and nothing on earth can kill this love. I can’t hide it, and I can’t settle for anything less than it. I can’t not love you!”
I would have melted into tears, but I held them in by sheer force.
“Then love me Sammy, if you must, but love me from a distance.”
Those words cut into his very heart, I could tell by the pain that appeared in his eyes. Then he hardened them and his voice grew harsh. “So this is how it is then? I was a game to you? Nothing more than a game! Something you could play with, something you could go to when there was nothing else to do, but now that you have other, more promising toys to play with, richer and white at that, why do you need me? You never cared for me; you just amused yourself when there was nothing else to amuse yourself with. The joke is on me I guess. I’s nothing but a slave, how could you, who is everything elegant and refined care for me? In your eyes I am beneath you! It was perhaps nice joke, but a cruel one from your side. Is it well to wish thee happy?” He suddenly quoted to me. “Having known me--to decline, on a lower range of feelings and a shallower heart than mine? I’s may be nothing more than a slave, but I do have a heart and you have just successfully broken it. Perhaps that will prick your conciseness at least a little.” He let go of my hand and walked off.
I was left alone, standing in the lonely, empty, autumn garden. I couldn’t take this, I just couldn’t! Seeing him in such a state was worse than death to me and the words he had spoken stung like needles. “Falser than all fancy fathoms,” I whispered in a broken voice, “falser than all songs have sung; puppet to a father’s threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue. Shall it not be scorn to me to harp on such a moulder'd string? I am shamed thro' all my nature to have loved so slight a thing.” In a split second I changed my mind. I was about to call after him, call him back, tell him to forget everything I had said, tell him that I loved him and that I had just been pressured by my uncle and had given in out of fear. It was already on the tip of my tongue when a hand on my shoulder made me swallow it all back. I turned to see who had grabbed me and nearly fell back when I saw it was none other than Elsie. How long had she been standing there? How much had she heard?
“Let him go, Sarah,” Her deep voice was filled with earnest. “Hurt him to protect him. White woman and black men won’t work in the world we live in, you know that and he knows that. Maybe he doesn’t want to accept it, but he must, and if this is the only way for him to understand, than you must leave it that way. Your uncle could do something terrible to him if the full truth got out. You know there is a fine line between slaves and masters, especially between white woman and slave men. Any romance between the two of you is an unforgivable crime and one that will never be forgiven him. You have to let him walk off.”
I shook my head, tears beginning to spill from my eyes.
“If he’s offended at you, then he won’t try to renew his affections. It is the only way. Break his heart, Sarah, break his heart to save his life.”
Poor Sammy and Sarah, the world they live in is truly cruel. What will become of them now? More to come in the next chapters :)