Every day was sheer torture. Sammy became cold and distant and I allowed it to remain that way. He never called me Sarah any more, only Miss Rose and I had taken to calling him Sam, just as everyone else did. We would meet, we would talk, there was no escaping it, he was my gardener after all, but it was always and only strictly business. I hated it being that way, but what could I do? I knew I had hurt Sammy, hurt him to his very core and that was his way of dealing with it. We literally became strangers overnight. My one salvation was Elsie, she was really the one that kept me from sliding back. She knew better than I did how dangerous it was for Sammy and myself to be together. Slavery was her cold and honest life just as it was Sammy’s. One wrong move, one wrong word, and they would be in a lot of trouble. How could I, who was white and free, understand? I couldn’t, so I took her word for it and left him alone.
The fact that Uncle Andrew constantly watched me with the eyes of a hawk didn't make things any easier. Autumn turned to winter and winter dragged into early spring. All I wanted was to get away from the house, get away from Uncle Andrew, get away from the plantation, get away from Sammy, get away from it all, but where was I to go? I had hoped Mrs. Greensten would invite me to Greyhound, but that winter they were all caught up with her grandson, young Thomas Greensten, who had come down with scarlet fever. It was at this moment that I truly felt Jeff’s absence. Before, with Sammy around, I had hardly even noticed that Jeff was gone, now I felt so alone without him.
The Ides of March came around and with them an invitation from Prissy to come attend a party she was hosting. She even went so far to tell me that I could spend the night at her place. I hated Prissy and I hated going to her house, but at that moment I was too desperate to care. Uncle Andrew wasn’t too keen on the whole thing, he was about as fond of the Thompsons as I was, but I was determined to go. Albert wouldn’t be there, he had been sent to Yale, so there was no fear of him, and I was sure I could handle Prissy quite alright. She had been nicer to me of late, I think it was in the hopes I would put in a good word for her with Jeff and Uncle Andrew. I made up my mind that I would go and spend the weekend with Priscilla and her family and come home Monday.
Elsie collected my things and soon I was waiting outside for the carriage to come. Remembering I had left a book in the garden that I wanted to take with me, I hurriedly went to fetch it.
“So, you’re really going over to the Thompsons?”
My hand shook when I heard Sammy’s voice, I fought to steady it.
“As you can see.”
“To visit Albert?” His voice was quiet and subdued but I easily detected jealousy mixed with annoyance in it.
“No, Albert is away at Yale,” I wasn’t in the mood for teasing, not with Sammy and not under our present circumstances.
“Then why are you going?”
“Because Prissy invited me.”
“You hate Prissy. You told me so many times how much you can’t stand her company. Why are you suddenly going to her now? You know you’re going to hate every moment there, so why even bother?”
“Honestly, Sam, what difference is it to you?” I gave an impatient sigh, though I hadn't mean to be as rude as it had come out.
“None I guess, as a slave,” the last three words had just a tint of sarcasm in them, “but knowing how much you hate her company, and seeing that her brother isn’t there, I’m just trying to figure out what is making you go over to her place? You’re going to regret it. The minute you get there you’re going to hate the very fact that you agreed to come! Spare yourself the trouble and stay back.”
I set my lips in a firm line, what business was it of his where I went and what I did? The past months he completely ignored me, only talking to me when it was absolutely necessary, why was he suddenly so interested? I had told him Albert wasn’t going to be there, so what was his problem now.
“I don’t want to stay,” I crisply stated, picking up the book and turning to leave.
“Don’t want to stay?” He echoed. “Suddenly you don’t like it here anymore? Let me guess, you had another fight with your aunt and since I’m no longer any source of consolation to you the only thing left to do is to run away from all your problems. Is this what you have now become? Someone who goes to find comfort from a person like Miss Thompson?”
“Comfort?” I exploded, nearly throwing the book at him in my anger. “Comfort scorned of devils! You really want to know the reason why I am so anxious to leave? It’s because I’m sick and tired, tired of having to constantly come up with a reason for everything. From the very start, I’ve had to come up for a reason for my own existence and I can’t take another moment of it. I can’t take people demanding things from me all the time, expecting things from me and being disappointed when I can’t live up to their expectations. I’m tired of always being the bad guy, tired of being the one to blame, tired of it always being my fault. I’m leaving this plantation because I want to get away from Aunt Helen, I want to get away from Uncle Andrew and I want to get away from you. If I had may way I would go as far as Australia, unfortunately, the Thompson Estate is as far as I can get. I can’t stand being around here one more day! That’s why I’m leaving. If you think these months have been any easier on me than they have been on you, then you are terribly mistaken. Do you honestly believe that I wanted everything to end like…like…like this? I was forced to do it. Somehow Uncle Andrew started putting two and two together. I had to lie to cover up the real truth and I had to break with you because he threatened to sell you. I couldn’t bear the thought of you being sold again, goodness knows who would buy you, what sort of work you would be made to do, how you would be treated. I couldn’t let myself be the reason for you to be torn from your family a second time. A pure miracle brought you back and I will do all in my power to keep you here, with your family. There, that’s the cold honest truth! And now, excuse me, I’ve got to go, the carriage is waiting.”
I tried to brush past him but he caught me. “Why didn’t you tell me this from the start?” He asked in a low voic.
“You have enough grudges against my uncle, I didn’t want to add to them.”
“So it’s not like you don’t care for me?”
“Don’t ask me that Sammy,” I barked trying to free myself from his grasp
“Because I don’t want to lie and I can’t tell the truth. Please, I have to go.”
He released me and I ran up to the carriage, my breathing only returning to normal when I was already far from the plantation and from Sammy.
“Miss Rose, how glad that you could come and see us,” Mrs. Thompson greeted me at the doorway of her mansion. It wasn’t quite as large as ours, but still grand in every way imaginable. The furniture was expensive and everything was set up with great taste of fashion and design.
“It was very kind of you to invite me.” I said as I forced a smile. Mrs. Thompson wasn’t all bad, but she annoyed me. I was determined to be the model guest however and mind my manners. I wouldn’t let my ‘bad blood’ get in the way.
“Priscilla is in the drawing room with some of the other guests,” Mrs. Thompson rattled on, “come; I’ll take you to her.”
She led me down the hall and into the spacious drawing room.
“Priscilla,” she called, “Miss Rose has arrived.”
“Ah, Miss Rose, how glad we are that you could come,” Prissy stated in her shrill voice. I scanned the room and winced when I saw the face of Henry Earl Jr. What was he doing here? Hadn’t he been sent to Harvard? He smiled when he caught sight of me and I shuddered a little at the sight of his pearly white teeth. It’s not that I completely disliked young Henry, there was just something about his manner that didn’t appeal to me. He seemed too much like his father. His sister Jessica was there too, and she glided over to me.
“We didn’t know that you were going to be here,” Jessica grabbed my arm and guided me to one of the chairs. “but what a wonderful thing that you are. We’ve scarcely seen you since your debut! It’s been almost a year since that ball and I think I’ve caught sight of you only once or twice. Sometimes it is so dreadful that we live so far apart, but that can’t be helped I suppose, a large plantation is a large plantation.”
Jessica was a real chatter box, and could talk a mile a minute with hardly a pause to catch her breath.
“How have you been?” she asked me.
“Very well,” I replied, “though the house has gotten rather lonesome with Jeff gone to Oxford and all.”
“Henry has come to visit me from the university; he’s only going to be here for a week or two before he has to go back. Oh look, he’s heading this way, Henry, over here.” She waved to her brother. I cringed. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy male company, but suitors were a thing that tended to get on my nerves. At least Henry could talk more sense than Albert; I only wished he didn’t have that gleam in his eye.
“Miss Rose, what a pleasant surprise, you grow more beautiful by the moment.”
“Mr. Earl, your flattery still does you no credit,” I said with a laugh.
“I assure you, it was sincere.”
“And I’ll pretend I believe you.”
“Well, it seems we have that settled,” He took a seat opposite Jessica and myself.
“March is such a dreary month, is it not?” Jessica sighed and looked out the window.
“Beware of the Ides of March,” I quoted Shakespeare.
“Do you have a Brutus that we are not aware of?” Henry asked.
“Not one that I know of, but the idea of a Brutus is that you are not supposed to know about him! Caesar didn’t know about him either, until it was too late.”
“Then I suggest, Miss Rose, that you keep your guard at all times.”
“I’m grateful for the warning, Mr. Earl.”
“Did you hear about the scandalous book that has come out?” Jessica wasn’t really in on the whole ‘Ides of March’ conversation and sought to change the subject.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The one written by that woman, whatever her name is, give me a moment and I’ll remember,” Jessica played with the chain on her neck as she searched her brain.
“Harriet Beacher Stow is the name I believe you are looking for,” her brother finally came to her rescue.
“Ah, yes, that was it, thank you Henry. She wrote a book titled ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and it’s said to be getting frightfully popular! It’s all about the horrors of slavery and pushing abolition of it.”
“Ah that book," I nodded my head, "I had wanted to read it but haven’t been able to get my hands on it yet. From what I hear it came out a while ago.”
“It’s unrealistically graphic, over exaggerated and honestly, it’s really not worth reading,” Henry Earl pointed out to me. “These abolitionists really do get so tiresome. We need our slaves to do our work.”
“They just feel like it’s wrong to keep slaves.” I didn’t know why I was defending the abolitionists; it wasn’t really something wise to do in a crowd of rich landowners whose chief source of income was due to the fact that all of them kept slaves, but somehow I couldn’t help myself. “I suppose they think it would be fairer if you paid them for their honest labor, and not work them till they drop without decent food or living conditions.”
“Really, Miss Rose, one would think you were for the abolition of slavery,” Jessica laughed.
“What are you talking about?” Prissy broke into our little circle. “What is it that is so interesting that I am missing out on?”
I saw Jessica roll her eyes and I could hardly blame her. None of us girls liked being in the company of rude and overbearing Priscilla Melissa Thompson.
“We were discussing the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin which led we us to the topic of abolitionists and Miss Rose here was defending them.”
“Ah, it must be that northern blood coming out in her.”
Prissy could always be counted on to completely ruin everything.
“You do know that her father was from up north. Tell me again, Sarah, just who was your father exactly?”
The evening had started so promising, now I fought to save the situation.
“I’m not really sure; I don’t remember him…very well.” I didn’t have the heart to say that I didn’t remember him at all. I couldn’t, not there, not in front on the present company.
“What a pity,” Prissy shook her head, “Mama says that whoever he was, he was probably a working fellow far beneath your poor mother and she was too weak headed to refuse him. I wonder, did he ever beat her, or perhaps was he a drinker, maybe your mother was so abused she ran away from him. Do you think that theory even possible?” She gazed at me with her sharp eyes. I took a deep breath.
“Miss Thompson, may I ask what compelled you to ask these questions? Is it because you are sincerely interested in my sad and rather pathetic past, or are you simply trying to publicly humiliate me? As a guest in your home, I would have thought you would try to be a least a little more hospitable. Isn’t it your duty to make me feel welcome here, instead of making me regret that I have come?”
Jessica looked down to conceal her smile; Henry had a grin on his face that he wasn’t even trying to hide.
“Miss Thompson, I believe you just met you match,” he said with a chuckle. Prissy’s eyes flashed at me in anger. I didn’t flinch from them, but met her gaze with a steady one of my own. I was determined, above all else, to save face in front of the rest of the company, no matter what Prissy said about me. She coldly got up and sauntered away.
“She’s such a stuck up priss.” Jessica hissed once Prissy was gone, “so vain and all in love with herself.”
“I guess there is more to names than Shakespeare originally thought,” I giggled, “she’s just as much the ‘Prissy Missy’ as her name implies.”
“Miss Rose, you are wicked to say things like that,” Jessica whispered and we both laughed.
“Miss Thompson does have a habit of putting on airs,” Henry added his two cents, “the whole family is like that. Her brother is no better.”
“Don’t even get me started on young Albert Thompson,” Jessica rolled her eyes, “and to think that dear Miss Rose here has quite caught his fancy. I heard he was a regular caller this summer. How did you enjoy his attentions?”
“Albert, Albert Thompson?” Henry’s face twisted into a scowl.
“I’m not particularly fond of his attentions,” I stammered, “to be completely truthful, young Thompson annoys me a little, but my aunt likes him, so we did entertain him quite a bit this summer.”
Henry didn’t say anything, but I could tell he wasn’t happy with the information. I hoped he wasn’t getting any ideas into his head about me and him. The last thing I needed was another serious suitor. I had received flowers from him on occasion, but now I feared that he would start calling as well. I wouldn’t be able to take that; Sammy wouldn’t be able to take that. These were all sons of his former masters, could it get any worse?
The evening wore on, the party came to a close and the guests began to leave. Soon it was just Prissy and myself left awake. Mr. Thompson was out somewhere on business and Mrs. Thompson had gone to bed.
“You certainly were rude to me earlier today.” She pointed out to me.
“I was rude?” My eyebrows shot up. “You were the one who started it Prissy. You didn’t have to sit there and try to put me down like that.”
“I was just asking questions?”
“Questions that you knew would humiliate me! Was it so necessary that you ask them in public? If you really wanted to know, then you could have waited for us to be alone before you started asking.”
“Well, now we are alone, do you want to answer them?”
“I know you too well, Priscilla Melissa, whatever I tell you will go around the gossip chain like a wild fire. The only way you keep secrets is in circulation. What’s more, you have this habit of twisting facts and making them so different than from what they really are.”
“There, now you really are getting offensive.”
“I’m sorry Prissy, I don’t mean to be, but I only think it fair for you to know why I don’t trust you with certain details of my life.”
“Are you trying to hide some dark and shady past?” Prissy lifted an eyebrow. “It’s pointless in doing so. Of course no one is going to say anything to your face, you uncle being one of the richest and most influential plantation owners in the area, but if you don’t think there are whispers and rumors going around behind your back you really are too naïve. Everyone knows the scandal of your mothers running off. How she turned her back on family and fortune, how she put the family name into local gossip and was the talk of the neighborhood for months, even years to come. And you looking and behaving so much like her, it’s a natural wonder if you are going to end up just like her. Where did she die again? I heard was something like in the slums, in poverty and filth, with not even a cent to her name, and with an orphaned daughter on top of that. How is that for heritage?”
She knew how to strike right where it hurt. At least she didn’t know of my illegitimacy, or I would really be at her mercy.
“Where is this whole conversation leading too?” I coldly asked.
“To the fact that you have no right to put on airs when around people who are far above you in family, blood and station.”
“I put on airs? The only person who ever has a problem with putting on airs is you, Prissy Missy.”
“What did you call me?” She snapped.
“Prissy Missy, it’s a short form of Priscilla Melissa.”
“Don’t ever call me that again. You are of lower birth than me; you are the daughter of a scandalous marriage, while I am the daughter of an eldest son of an eldest son, of perfect family and excellent breeding. I have wealth and beauty to recommend me. You have only a terrible past and a wretched mother. A mother who forgot her duty as a daughter and took off to live a scandalous life. If you want the truth, I honestly don’t know what it is in you that so attracts my brother.”
“If it is any comfort, I detest your brother’s attentions towards me and only hope he will end them soon.”
“You ungrateful little wretch! My brother is far above you in station and you still dare to insult the attentions he has so kindly bestowed upon you.”
“I never sought or asked for them.”
“Allow me to point out this behavior is unfit for your lowly station. But then, you are just like your mother. My father courted her and she turned him down flat, and it is obvious you are coming out no better than her. Sarah Rose, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Priscilla Melissa Thompson! Do you have no idea of the correct or proper way to entertain guests? If not, allow me to give you a couple of pointers. When you have a guest whom you have personally invited, you do not: publicly embarrass them, scorn and ridicule them to their face, insult the memory of their dead parents or call them names. These are just a few, give me time, I can come up with more.”
“Don’t lecture me, Sarah. Remember who I am, and who you are. Remember that if it hadn’t been for the kindness of your Uncle and Aunt, who took you in when no one wanted you and gave you a home and a life, you would be out in the streets of some God forsaken city, living the life of a filthy, ragged, unwanted and unneeded beggar, just like your mother was.”
I stiffly rose, Prissy was going too far and I wasn’t able to take it anymore. “Priscilla Melissa Thompson, I didn’t come all this way to sit here and be insulted! Much less to hear slanders thrown at my mother. If your one goal in inviting me here was to poke fun at me, then you needn’t have even bothered! I won’t sit here and take all of this one moment longer. Thank you for your cruel hospitality, Miss Thompson, I’m leaving.”
“Leaving, where too?”
“Home, at this time of night? Sarah, don’t be ridiculous. There is a storm out there? It’s all wind and rain and the grooms have all gone to bed. We can’t wake up the whole house just because you took it into your head to go home in the middle of the night. Go to bed, get some rest and maybe tomorrow you will wake up with a better sense of duty and a keener remembrance of your manners.”
“No, I have my pride, I said I’ll leave now, and that is exactly what I am going to do.”
“And just how do you plan to get home?” Prissy followed me as I marched off in search of my coat.
“I’ve got two perfectly good legs, I’ll walk home.”
“WALK? Sarah, it’s over 12 miles to your plantation. You’ll never make it.”
“Won’t I? I guess there is only way to find out.” I struggled to get my boots on. Roughly pulling my arms through the sleeves of my coat I turned to face Prissy. “I suggest you go to your room and rethink your life, Miss Thompson.” I said to her face and marched out the door.
“Fine,” Priscilla called after me, “be that way!”
The wind whipped at my face and the rain felt like little needles piercing into my face. I didn’t care. I was too mad to even feel like crying. That girl really had to learn to draw the line. I didn’t even notice the wet and cold, I didn’t realize I had forgotten my hat and my hair was getting soaked, as were my clothes. I just walked on and on in pure rage, with only one goal; get as far away from Prissy as possible. Even the plantation, with Aunt Helen and Sammy and all the rest of my problems seemed like nothing compared to that wretched girl.
That walk back home is all hazy to me right now and I have difficulty remembering it. Knowing it would take me ages walking by the main road, I decided to cut across the plantation fields. I remember walking and walking and at one point beginning to feel cold and soggy. I pressed on though, determined to make it back.
The last thing I wanted to create was a large commotion at the mansion so I figured I would enter the plantation from the back and sneak up to the house. By the time I began to notice familiar landmarks I was shaking from cold. Still, I forced myself to continue. Sammy had been right about me hating it at Prissy’s, I was rather annoyed at the fact that he had been so right, but then, I really shouldn’t have been surprised, Sammy knew me better than I knew myself. I don’t know how I made it back to the mansion, I guess my anger and willpower somehow got me through, and at last, cold and in utter exhaustion, I staggered to the back of the mansion. I could see my balcony on the top second floor. Hanging down from the balcony was a thick wall of ivory vines. They were tangled around a sort of fence that reached from the back porch all the way to my balcony. By now the rain had stopped and only the wind blew about me. I grasped the vines, all that was left was to climb up to my balcony and I would be safe. The last thing I remember is thinking how I just needed a moment to catch my breath before starting the climb to my room; then everything went black.
Oh my, things are starting to get a little out of hand! Hope you like this little bit of a cliffhanger ;)