My eyes felt as though they were made of lead and it was all I could muster to try and lift my eyelids. When I finally did get them to open, everything was blurry and I had trouble focusing. My head swam and I couldn’t understand where I was or what was going on. I closed my eyes and then forced them open again; the same blurriness surrounded me. I vainly tried to lift my head and suddenly noticed a face looking over at me; those green eyes looked strangely familiar.
“Uncle Andrew?” My voice was so weak I could barely hear the words I had just spoken.
“Doctor,” his voice was so distant, “doctor, she’s awakened.”
Soon another face was leaning over mine, this one I didn’t recognize at all.
“What is…” I began but was cut off.
“Now, lie still little Miss, you’ve been through the valley and it will take a lot of rest till you come around.”
I was going to ask what valley he was talking about, I certainly didn’t remember going through any valley, but I felt so tired that instead I just closed my eyes.
The next thing I remember is waking up again. A hand was holding mine, and from the touch, it felt as though the owner was a man. I forced my eyes open and found everything was still blurry and I still was unable to focus on my surroundings. Someone was sitting beside me and another someone was walking here and there, but the blurriness in my eyes prevented me from determining who these two people where. The next couple of days passed by in a blur, and I have trouble recalling what happened exactly. With time the blurriness began to disappear and I could stay awake for longer periods of time. As my vision cleared I was able to recognize the people in my room. Elsie was the only person who never left my side, Uncle Andrew visited me as often as he could, sitting by my bed and holding my hand. Em and Lulu would sometimes appear, carrying trays with dishes and medicine. Dr. Morris was another regular visitor, pouring all sorts of unpleasant medicines down my throat and measuring my pulse with his watch. Aunt Helen was the only one who didn't visit me, never once when I was awake did I see her in the room. For a long time I wasn’t allowed to talk, but one incident made me put this rule aside.
I was awake, but had my eyes closed. Suddenly a large weather-beaten hand gently took my own.
“Dearest Sarah,” Sammy’s voice spoke in a whisper.
What was here doing here? How did he get into my room? Why wasn’t Elsie saying anything about him being here?
“I’s honestly wish you would have told me the full truth about why you had to so suddenly break with me, it would have made everything so much easier for me and for you. I’s also come to say I’s sorry for not being more understanding to your side of the whole thing. You are a white girl and I am a black man, society forbids us to have anything together. I wish I knew why, but I don’t, and even though it is so unfair, what can we do? We are but pawns in this great game of life, and must play the rules, no matter how unjust they may be. I hope there will come a day when those rules will be changed, but even if such a day were to come, it probably won’t be soon and it certainly won’t be today. I’s have been so worried for you these past couple of weeks, more than once I had heard that you weren’t not going to make it and that knowledge nearly broke my heart. You need to live Sarah, surely you understand that! I don’t care what the Mistress may have told you because it is not true. You were meant to live, you have to live.”
The way he was going on, you’d think he was giving the speech for my funeral. “Honestly, Sam,” I spoke in a frail voice, forcing my heavy head to turn and opening my eyes to look at him, “don’t bury me before I actually die.”
He jumped back a little, looking terribly embarrassed. “I’s thought you were asleep,” he mumbled.
“I wasn’t, I heard every word you said. I’m also sorry for the way everything turned out; I really should have handled the situation more delicately. The world is cruel to bastard children and even crueler to slaves, but what can we do about it? Nothing I suppose. And don’t worry about me living, whether I was meant to be or not is something I think only the Almighty can answer, but I’m not quite ready to die just yet. I’ve heard the doctor say I’m on the road to recovery and I'll come around in a matter of time.” I was exhausted after saying that long speech and closed my eyes again.
“Get some color on that face of yours while you’re busy recovering. You’re pale as death itself, scared me to the ends of the earth when I came in here and so you looking the same color as your pillow.”
I frowned, then smiled. “If you don’t like the way I look, don’t stand there gazing at me.” I spoke in a soft voice but kept my eyes shut, not having enough strength to keep them open. “What are you doing here anyway? You’re not supposed to be here? How did you get up to my bedroom?”
“I am supposed to be here. Sadly, no one but me understands that! And as for getting here, I climbed up the balcony.”
“I had to see you Sarah. I’ve wanted to see you for so long but Elsie set up permanent quarters here and today is the first day she left the room. I had to grab this chance because I don’t know when another one will come around.”
“You daring soul, don’t you understand what a risk you took? If you get caught, there will be hell to pay! Uncle Andrew will never forgive you for coming up here.”
“Don’t worry, I’s not gonna get caught.” He leaned over and placed a kiss on my still feverish lips. “You take care,” he whispered in my ear, “there’s a heart whose only reason for beating is if you are breathing.”
Those words brought a blush to my pale cheeks. I heard him turn and leave the room, but didn’t have the strength to watch him go. My heart was filled with warmth and joy, suddenly things didn’t seem so bleak in this world after all.
As the days continued to pass my strength returned to me and I was allowed to sit up in bed and converse with Uncle Andrew and Elsie. Every morning there would be a beautiful bouquet of flowers on my bedside and notes and cards flowed in from the Greyhound Plantation. Poor Mrs. Greensten was terribly worried about my health. The dear woman would have come over to see me if she herself hadn’t been taken quite ill and not able to make the journey.
As I got better I was naturally anxious to get out of my room, but Dr. Morris forbade it, saying he wouldn’t let me out till summer came around.
“But summer is so far away,” I complained.
“Not as far as you think,” Uncle Andrew chuckled, “it’s already May.”
“MAY?” My eyes widened.
“Yes, you’ve been ill for a long time and you have had a long time in recovering, it’s been nearly two months.”
“So…I’ve missed my birthday?”
“Your birthday…” Uncle Andrew grew silent. “Good lord, I completely forgot about your birthday! We were to occupied with making sure you would stay alive to remember.
“To think I’ve been ill for such a long time,” I shook my head
“What exactly happened, Sarah? I sent you off to the Thompsons and didn’t expect to see you till Monday and then out of the blue we find you in the garden wet and with fever. Do you remember the events that led up to this?”
“I think I do.” I slowly stated. “It was after the party, Prissy and I had a fight…”
““You had a fight with Priscilla Thompson? She failed to mention that when I asked her and her mother. What she told me was that the two of you had gone to bed and that was the last she saw of you. When the family awoke in the morning you were gone.”
“I guess she has her own version.” I replied shrugged. “Our argument really began during the party; she started poking fun at me and after the party was over she brought it up again and the two of us really got upset at each other. Finally she just overstepped her boundaries and I told her I hadn’t come to her house to be insulted, not to mention the fact that she threw more insults at my mother at that one time than Aunt Helen ever did during my entire stay here. To make a long story short I just marched out of the house and walked home.”
“You WALKED home? You walked those twelve miles in the wind and rain?”
“Not really twelve miles, I took a short cut across the fields, so it saved me some distance. It was foolish thing to do, now that I think about it,” I looked down. “I really am just as much to blame as Prissy; I should have just gone to bed and returned home the next morning. But at that moment I was really upset. No, upset isn’t the right word, I was downright angry and when you’re angry, you never think clearly which leads to you doing very silly things. I honestly don’t remember just how I got here, I was planning to climb the vines to get to my room, but I'm guessing I never made it.”
“You didn’t. Like I said earlier, you lost consciousness by the vines under your balcony. It was Sam who discovered you the next morning. He had gone to tend to the garden and stumbled across you amongst the shubbery. Helen and I were just sitting down for breakfast when Ben comes rushing into the room, saying Sam found you and you are very ill. At first I thought Ben had lost his mind; but then I see Sam coming in right behind him, caring you in his arms. Sarah, you were something frightful to behold, your hair was tangled, your hands and face dirty, you were pale and burning with fever. Your clothes were ragged and wet and you didn’t respond to anything. I must admit, at first all Helen and I could do was stare at you. We did finally come to our senses and I went for the doctor, while Elsie instructed that you be taken to your room and set about to undress you and tuck you into bed.” Uncle Andrew shook his head and shuddered as the whole scene replayed in his mind. “I can assure you, Miss Priscilla Thompson, you will hear from me,” Uncle Andrew stood up, and I could see he was very agitated.
“Uncle, it was both our fault. I probably led her on.”
“She didn’t have to lie to me, and she didn’t have to insult your mother. I don’t know how Mrs. Thompson raises her children, but they are coming out worse and worse every year!” He barked. With some effort he calmed himself and leaning over placed a kiss on my forhead then marched over to the door.
“Uncle Andrew, Prissy said her father once courted my mother, and she refused him, is that true?”
“Your mother was courted by just about every landowner’s son, Sarah; I told you that before.” He replied and left the room.
I wondered if my mother had experienced some sort of tragic love story, and that had been the reason she had run away from home.
It was June but I was still confined to my room and very unhappy about it. I was no longer bedridden and the summer atmosphere was warm and pleasant and I was dying to be a part of it. I knew the fresh air would do me a lot more good than this blasted room ever would, but doctor's order had to be obeyed and so I sat in my chair, watching from my window as Sammy worked in the garden.
“Guess who,” a familiar voice suddenly sounded behind me
“Jeff!” I whirled around in my chair and saw the familiar face of my cousin, leaning against the doorpost, a bouquet of wild flowers in his hands.
“None other,” he walked up to me with a grin
“Are those for me?” I reached out for the flowers.
“For you indeed. I stopped by a field to gather them for you. I know you have those home grown things every day,” he motioned to the bouquet on the stand next to me, “but if you ask me there is nothing like a bouquet of wild flowers; in my opinion, they are superior to anything grown in a garden.”
“You try telling that to my gardener,” I laughed. “Thank you ever so much, Jeff. The fact that you actually went out of your way to pick them for me makes them even more special. And you do have a point about wild flowers having something garden ones don’t.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly go ‘out of my way’,” Jeff scratched his head, “It was more like along my way! I was passing by a field on my way home and I had them stop the carriage so I could get out and pick them.”
“Still, you took the time to think of me,” I smiled, “that’s what counts.”
“Jeff.” We heard Uncle Andrew’s unhappy voice, “What is it with you and disobeying me? Look at you, still in your dirty travel clothes, and I specifically told you not to disturb Sarah.”
“Oh, but I’m glad he came straight way to see me first,” I exclaimed, putting my hand over Jeff’s “Look, Uncle, flowers.”
Uncle Andrew shook his head, but a smile did appear on his face. “Alright, you’ve seen her and given her the flowers, now go and wash.”
“Wait, what are you doing here anyway? What about Oxford and your studies?”
“It’s summer Sarah, I’m finally on holidays. As soon as I was free I jumped on the first boat I could find. I’ve waited long enough to finally see you. I haven’t had a moment’s peace ever since Uncle wrote me that you were ill."
“Go on and wash,” Uncle Andrew said, silencing all the questions I was dying to ask Jeff. “You can come and give Sarah all the news she wants to hear once you have settled in.”
Jeff winked at me and followed Uncle out of the room while I turned my attention back to Sammy out in the garden.
“So, Jeffrey, how are you studies coming along?”
“Well enough, I guess,” Jeff scratched the back of his head, something he did when he was a little uneasy about a subject.
“Jeff?” I narrowed me eyes.
“Oh, it’s fine; all fine, just not good enough for Uncle.”
“That means it’s all very terrible,” I sighed. “You know Uncle doesn’t have unrealistic expectations, he just wants you to do your best. And your best doesn’t include wandering around looking for trouble.”
“I don’t look for trouble.” His face was so full of innocence it made me laugh. “I’ve been a good boy, honest.”
“Have you? I’m having trouble believing that.”
“Oh, please Sarah, don’t be another Uncle Andrew to me.”
I decided to drop the subject. Poor Uncle Andrew, he was probably so disappointed. It’s not that Jeff was bad or naughty; he simply continued to refuse to take responsibility. It would take a lot more than Oxford to make a man out of him.