Chapters XXII and XXIII
I'm in a generous mood today ;)) Studies are over till next September, not to mention my younger sister completed most of her exams with straight As and all this puts me into a very good mood, a mood where I feel like sharing. Haha, anyway, I'm posting two chapters today instead of one :)
dedicating these chapters to LaniCruzado143, thanks for reading and commenting on my story. I appreciate the support :)
“Sarah, do you want to go stargazing?”
Sammy question caught me completely off guard.
“It’s the middle of October, I’ll freeze.”
“Nonsense,” He laughed. “Just wear a warm dress and coat. If you want to know what it means to freeze, live in the slaves quarters at Earl’s Plantation during the winter months. Winters are something dreadful and we didn’t have enough blankets. I’m just asking for an hour or so outside. You won’t regret it, Sarah, the night sky is beautiful.”
“How will I get out of the house?”
“Who was constantly boasting to me of her ability to climb up and down that balcony?”
“How I get out is my business. A quarter past midnight I’ll be waiting for you at the foot of your window. Bring a thick blanket, I don’t have one to spare.”
I was crazy and I knew it. Sneaking out with Sammy in the middle of the night, if we were caught it would just look all wrong; but I was someone easily persuaded. If Jeff had been able get me to do the silliest of things, there was no way I could resist Sammy, and that night I found myself gazing at the dark night sky filled with millions of stars.
“There’s true freedom out there,” Sammy whispered. “I love the night sky, with no limits around it; nothing but endless stars. Why can’t it be that way down here? For some reason on earth it’s always all about limitations, while up there there is no such thing as limits or boundaries.”
He was in one of those moods where he would begin to philosophize about life and the things around him. Sammy was a true thinker. I was never sure exactly how his brain worked, but however it did, it worked none stop. Anything and everything had some sort of meaning, some sort of reason, and he was always trying to figure it out.
“Tell me, Sarah, why is it all so perfect up there and so imperfect down here? The sky is an ideal example of what life on earth is supposed to be like. Don’t you agree?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Perhaps, though I never thought about it like that before.”
“I’ve thought about it a great deal, just like I thought about a lot of things.”
“Oh Sam, you don’t belong down here,” I couldn’t help from saying, “your mind if far away from this mansion, flower garden and plantation. You belong up there with Confucius, Cicero, Newton and all those other great minds.”
“Really, Sarah,” he rolled his eyes.
“You certainly weren’t meant to be a slave,” I stubbornly stuck to my train of thought. “If only uncle could be convinced to send you to college or something.”
“Very funny, black people aren’t accepted into any college.”
I gave a sad sigh because I knew he was right. The only place black people were accepted were the cotton or tobacco fields, or someplace similar.
“Denying me the right to go to college just because I’m of a different skin color,” Sammy spoke with disgust, “if you look at it, they are honestly denying me the right to be a human being. I’ve got rights too. It’s not my fault that others fail to recognize them.”
“Nobody ever said it was your fault, Sammy.”
He gave a sigh as he tried to control his emotions. “I want to be like other people, Sarah,” he said at last, “I want to be able to go where I please and be my own master. I hate being a thing, something you can buy or sell, something you can trade. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could just go to thepawnbroker and pawn me away like a piece of jewelry or something. God made me a free man, and then men turned me into a slave and it is not fair. Do you know the one thing that sets me apart, it’s the color of my skin. Had I white skin, everything would have been completely different. Am I to blame that God saw fit that I should be born black? And is God to blame that He likes variety in color? What is it in the white people that makes them think they are superior?”
I wished I had the answers to his questions, but I was just as stumped at them as he was. These were the sort of questions that I often asked myself, along with a multitude of others.
“Give me liberty, or give me death,” He quoted Patrick Henry’s famous speech. “You have no idea how true those words are. This country was founded on the idea that freedom was a human right and yet that is the right they constantly deny me. If I only could, I would fight for the freedom of the slaves till every drop of blood was drained from me. I would give my life just to bring at least some justice to this earth. I have a goal, Sarah, a wish, a dream, and that is to fight for liberty, fight no matter what the cost. I won’t stop till the day comes when I can walk up to your Uncle, look him in the eye, man to man, equal to equal and ask him for your hand in marriage. You, Sarah,” his voice became tender, “you are my true definition of freedom. If I could be allowed to have you, openly, legally, with no shame or scandal about it, then I would know that I am truly a free man.”
Those bright eyes shone at me with a passion, with a fire that he kept burning within him at all times. How could I not love him? He was so idealistic, so full of justice, so full of everything that was good and true! The imperfection, the cruelty, the injustice of this world was a never ending thorn in his side, something he just couldn’t cope with. And yet, at the same time, I felt sorry for him, I felt he was hoping and dreaming for something that could never be. Or, even if it could be, it would take forever for it to come about.
“Well, maybe to comfort you, allow me to point out that anything connected with me would be scandalous.”
“What do you mean?” He propped himself up on one elbow.
“I mean that my whole birth is scandalous. The scandal began even before I was conceived! My mother was a scandal to start with. I asked Uncle Andrew if Henry has spoken the truth when he said that my mother and been engaged to Mr. Earl. Uncle replied that no, they never were officially engaged because Mama ran away the night of the engagement. This is what Prissy was talking about when she said Mama put the name into local gossip. Honestly, Sammy, I can’t help but feel that everything would be so much easier if I had never been born.”
“Don’t we sound like our aunt talking again?” Sammy rolled his eyes, obviously annoyed. “Sarah, I don't understnad how can you even listen to her and take everything she says so seriously. If you had never been born, I would have never met you. Just think of the terrible void in my soul that would be created if you had never been born.”
“You couldn’t have missed something that never was,” I argued.
“Could too. There is an empty spot here that only the innocence and gentleness of your heart can fill. God had a reason with giving you life. Even if the circumstances were less than perfect. What your parents did is none of your concern and contrary to what the Mrs. says, you don’t have to partake in the blame or the punishment for their sin. That is between them and their Maker, you have nothing to do with it.”
I only shrugged. “I want to believe you Sammy, and part of me does, but the other part agrees with Aunt Helen. She isn’t the only person who said such things. Mr. Hosehigh constantly told me I was of no good, I was set apart, I was below most people. And when Aunt Helen confirmed all he had told me, I felt I had no choice but to believe them. You know, the entire time I was sick, I never once remember her coming to my room, asking how I was feeling, and when I was well enough to come down, she almost looked sorry that I was up and about again. It was as though she had hoped that I wouldn’t make it, that she would at last get rid of me once and for all. I was lectured on my unlady like behavior, how I had been most rude to my host and behaved terribly as a guest and she was ashamed of me in front of the Thompsons. And while I do agree that walking out into the storm was thoughtless and foolish, you’d still think she would at least be remotely happy that I was alive. Why can’t I be good enough for her, Sammy? I do all in my power, I’ve tried to be the model niece, the model child in her eyes for nearly ten years and it’s not enough. I just want her to love me, the way she loves Jeff. I’m her flesh and blood, yet she treats me almost like a total stranger. I believe if it hadn’t been for Uncle Andrew, she would have never taken me in the first place.”
“I’s don’t know what is her problem, but I know you should just leave it and move on, You can’t always be miserable just because some person doesn’t like you, even if this person happens to be your aunt! You can’t base how you think about yourself on how other people look at you.”
“How society looks at me,” I corrected.
“You, Sarah, are a social success.”
“My aunt is a reflection of what society thinks of bastard children. My uncle told me when I first arrived that if I were to come out with the truth I would instantly become a social outcast. That’s why we hid the truth to start with.”
“Well, who cares about society? To society, I’m just a slave! To you, I’m a human being, someone you dare to compare to Confucius and Cicero. It is the same with you. To your aunt, you’re an outcast, to me you are the entire world.” He placed a kiss on my lips, then turned his attention back to the sky. At last I shivered a little and sat up.
“I think it’s time to head back indoors.”
“You think so?” He obviously was not in a hurry to go back.
“I do. I will remind you, Sammy, that I have only recently gone through a severe illness and do not want to catch cold again.”
“You’re right.” He relented. “What do we do with the blanket? Do you think you’ll be able to juggle it while climbing up?”
“No. Just place it somewhere under a bush or something. We can collect it in the morning.”
“Will you manage to get up those vines?”
“I managed to come down them.” I giggled, leaning over to kiss him, “I don’t see why I won’t be able to climb back up. Good night Sammy, have sweet dreams.”
“They will be, if you are in them.”
He stayed until I had climbed all the way to the top, to make sure that I wouldn’t fall or something. I blew him a kiss and disappeared into my room.
Albert was on spring holiday. I knew that because he became a regular caller again. I had immensely enjoyed the fact that I was allowed a nice break from him for the entire winter. I had been invited to the Thompson’s Christmas party, but declined and spent Christmas with my Aunt and Uncle, and Sammy. Henry Earl Jr. never called on me again, I guess I had wounded his pride beyond forgiveness. Cleaveland was the only suitor who had visited me that winter but he was different from both Albert and Henry. I could tell he was considering making an offer, but didn’t want to jump into it. I think he was probably waiting till I was of age. I wished I could somehow tell him that I wasn’t interested in marrying him, but as he had never really hinted on marriage I couldn’t hint that I wasn’t interested. I tried to keep a distance, but couldn’t count on it to help him get the point. After all, I had tried the same trick with Henry and that hadn’t worked at all. Maybe I just wasn’t at all capable of handling men. Prissy seemed to be able to handle them just fine. Rumors were going about that she had broken the hearts of several men, but they were only rumors and I am not one to spread the local gossip, so won’t touch on that subject. Jeff was still Prissy’s loyal and adoring slave. I had hoped with time his affections towards her would cool, but they only grew and grew. He would be twenty this summer and I wondered if perhaps he was considering marrying Prissy. I hoped not. I didn’t want to become relatives with the Thompsons. Uncle Andrew didn’t quite approve of Jeff and Prissy, I don’t think he had forgiven her for what had happened to me and held her to blame for most of it. Aunt Helen seemed quite happy with the pair of them; just as she was quite happy with Albert’s attentions towards me. I knew she preferred him to Mr. Browne, whom she thought just a little beneath the families of Beverly and Greensten.
It was the beginning of April and Albert had come to call. I was alone in the room when he came.
“Mr. Thompson, what an unexpected surprise,” I stated, rising from my seat. “We were not expecting you till later this summer.”
“I know, but surprise, surprise,” he grinned. “I was going to wait until after the term was up but couldn’t keep it in any longer so I made up my mind to come over to you and here I am.”
“Keep what it?” Alarm bells began going off in my head. I wished someone was here with me and I didn’t have to be alone with Albert in one room.
“Prissy told me that Henry Earl had proposed to you this summer and you had refused.”
“Yes, I did.”
“And I thought I had better make my move before someone else gets there before me, but I didn’t want to rush at you right after such a delicate moment, so I bid my time. Your birthday is in about two weeks time and you will turn eighteen, am I not correct?”
“Yes…” my voice trailed off, I knew where he was leading and I was desperately trying to come up with a way to cut him off. After the whole incident with Henry, I didn’t want to have to go through this a second time.
“You know that I will turn nineteen in just a little over two months and I still have three years of college left.”
I was going through a dejavu and I had no idea how to stop it. “I know that.”
“So, I’m here to get down on one knee,” he bent down, “and ask you, Sarah Rose, if you will consent to be my wife. We could announce our engagement at your birthday celebration and then, once I have finished my studies we could have the wedding. Perhaps I am rushing a bit with this, but you know, there are others who also wish to make you an offer and if I don’t make my move now, I’ll never have another chance. So, is that a yes?”
I buried my face in my hands, thinking how best to handle the situation.
“Albert Thompson, I’m sorry, but my answer is no,” I decided to just keep it plain and simple. If I had felt a little bad about turning Henry down, Albert was a completely different story. I had made it obvious to so many people, his sister included, that I did not care for his affections or attentions. And while not able to openly tell him so, out of fear of my aunt, I had strongly hinted that I was not at all interested in him as a suitor.
“No?” His mind didn’t register with my answer.
“No, no as in I will not marry you, no I never wanted too, no I’m not going to give in to your pleading and no, you may not continue this subject any longer. However, if you really want a 'yes' I can give you several. Yes, this conversation is over, yes, you may leave this instant, and yes, the door is that way.”
“Sarah, don’t be a fool.”
“I have no intention of being one, which is why I’m refusing you.”
“Sarah, I will not take no for an answer.”
“I’m sorry, but that is the only answer I can give you. Please,” I held my hands up at his protestations, “I am not in the mood for arguing with you. Albert, I’m not fond of you and I’m not fond of your lifestyle. You gamble and constantly go about partying, you have no interest in the land you will inherit and you have no idea what it is like to live within your means. You spend more money than is good for anyone and you either can’t or won’t take responsibility for any your actions. When consequences do finally catch up you, you somehow manage to weasel them onto someone else. I don’t like the way you lead your life and I will not share it with you. Even if I did, for some reason beyond reason, fall in love with you, I would not marry you for my own good. Seeing as I neither care nor admire just about anything in you, that is more than reason enough for me to refuse you. That will be all, Mr. Thompson, I think you had better leave now,” I was on my guard, just in case he should be of the same mind as Henry had been and try to kiss me. Albert stood silently for a few second, then turned and marched to the door. He paused at it and looked in my direction.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he spoke in a bitter, angry voice, “you’re no different from your mother Sarah, and if you keep going the way you are, you’ll end up just like her.” He flung the door open and marching through it, slammed it behind him so hard, that the dishes on the shelves rattled.
I tip-toed to my uncle’s study, the door was not shut all the way by whoever had walked in and carelessly closed the door. I carefully stood so that I would not be noticed and peeked through the crack. I could see a little part of my aunt as she sat in a chair, and sometimes my uncle would come to view, then he would disappear from sight, then appear again as he paced the floor. I stayed silent as a mouse; though they were so engrossed in their argument I don’t think they would have heard me even if I had made some noise. My aunt and uncle were in a heated debate, their voices loud and upset. I knew what they were arguing over, my refusal of Albert Thompson.
“Throwing away perfectly good marriage proposals,” Aunt Helen was saying, “first Henry Earl and now Albert Thompson. I won’t be surprised if when Cleaveland Browne finally gets it into his head to propose, she’ll turn him down as well. She’s ungrateful Andrew, you must make her marry Albert.”
“Make her marry Albert. Over my dead body.”
I had never heard my uncle use such strong language.
“What is it about Albert that you don’t like? He’s more than willing to take Sarah off our hands. If I had been upset when Sarah turned down Henry, I am beyond angry with Albert. He did everything properly, courted her, called on her, followed all the rules of etiquette and manners, and she just turns him down flat. Threaten her, Andrew, she’ll listen to you.”
“Threaten her, threaten her to marry that sorry excuse for a man,” Andrew burst out, “if he wants to get her, he’ll have to get through me first. The fact that Jeff is all in love with the young Miss Priscilla Thompson is not enough for that family is it? They have to have a go at Sarah too. That snake of a man, Richard Thompson, at this moment, I don’t know who is worse, him or his son.”
“Andrew! You must not speak of Mr. Thompson or his family in such a manner.”
“I mustn’t? Don’t you think I know the reasons behind their motives? I know all about that family and it makes me hate them even more. Yes, hate them. Mr. Thompson has no idea how to run a plantation, he’s constantly speculating and taking large risks that end up in no good. Mrs. Thompson never ceases to spend money right and left, greatly exceeding their budget. The family is up to their head in debt and is on the verge of being completely broke. But all is not lost when a young rich heir suddenly takes an interest in their daughter! I’m talking about Jeff here! His marriage to Priscilla will solve a lot of financial problems. But Prissy is a selfish girl and cannot be wholly relied on to help the family once she is married, not to mention the fact that she is known to be inconstant, and they aren’t sure if Jeff will actually propose. So Albert begins playing a second game. It is a well known fact that Sarah is the richest bride in the area. She will have a large dowry and a comfortable allowance for the rest of her life. Albert decides takes advantage of this, as I will point out, did Henry Earl, who is not doing so well financially either thanks to his father’s gambling problem. Albert gets it into his head to marry Sarah, not only is she rich, she is also pretty, and that way he will be able to use her money to continue his wasteful living. I would not have consented to Sarah marrying Henry and I will never consent to Sarah marrying Albert. Thankfully, it’s a lot less headache for me because she refused them on her own! And anyway, Sarah is far too young to marry. The girl is barely eighteen; she’s got a lot to learn before becoming a wife.”
“Sarah takes too much after her mother. Evelyn had had thing with turning down proposals as well. Turned Richard down flat, and Lawrence Craige, do you remember how she treated him? And of course, I am not even going to bring up the entire scandal with Henry Earl; we all know that was the beginning of the end.” Aunt Helen shook her head. “Not to mention the fact that eighteen is not at all a young age to marry. Father would have had Evelyn married at sixteen if she had not been so stubborn.What is more, Father knew how to handle my rebellious sister. He was firm, he was strong; he pressured her in order to stamp out her stubbornness.”
“And how did it all end? With Evelyn running away from home. I don’t want the same sort of ending with Sarah. You are right when you say that she is very much like her mother, and that is why I don’t want her to be handled like Evelyn was. It will come to no good.”
“But you can’t go on spoiling the girl. You’ve given her everything she ever wanted. And this is what it has led too.”
“As of yet, it hasn’t led to anything bad. I simply gave the girl a good education and a decent life and so far she had not disappointed me. As I have said before, I will never give my consent to her marrying Albert Thompson. That boy will only be her ruin.”
Aunt Helen put her hand on her head. “She’s nothing but trouble, Andrew. She’s been nothing but trouble since the day she came.”
“Helen, how can you say such things?”
“How can I not say them? You are just blinded by some strange affection for her that I can’t understand, and you don’t see what a disgrace she is to this family. Maybe it’s because you are not a Beverly. A good name was everything to my father. He would die before he let anything upset the family honor. You know how ours was always a respectable family, everyone look up at us but then Evelyn disgraced us with her running off. Don’t you remember the gossip? It circulated for weeks. People were even spreading rumors that she had run off and eloped with some fellow of the working class. It was terrible. But that wasn’t enough for Evelyn was it? Oh, no, the fact that the whole county was gossiping about our family wasn’t enough, she had to go on and bring a bastard child to this earth and then die and leave us to raise the child for her. She always did love to leave other people to do the dirty work. I tell you, Andrew, if my father had been alive, he would have never taken Sarah in.”
“Your father certainly could never boast of his compassion.”
“Sarah is a disgrace to the Beverly name, just like her mother was, and disgrace is something we get rid of. He wouldn’t have even bothered to come to the train station. He would have forbidden any of us to have anything to do with her.”
“Which would have been terribly hypocritical of him, seeing the man fathered five or six bastard children himself.”
“Mr. Greensten,how dare you!”
I covered my mouth to keep the gasp from coming out.
“I’m sorry, my dear, but I can’t pattern my actions based on ones your father would have taken, and neither should you. He wasn’t exactly a role model for life, if you follow me.”
“He was the head of this family, and his word was law. He never patronized anyone but was strong and unyielding, quite unlike my mother, she was weak and feeble when it came to dealing Evelyn’s zeal and independence. You remember how everyone always said that the one hope of the family was Evelyn. How I was delicate and frail and couldn’t be counted on to keep the family line going? Evelyn was the strong one; Evelyn was everything one wanted in a daughter. And now, look how it all turned out. I am mistress of this household and where is Evelyn? Evelyn is dead, buried in a pauper’s grave somewhere in Boston. And you know why? Because Evelyn was like mother, as for me, even though my body is weak, I have my father’s mind and his strength inside of me. That is why I am what I am and why I know the importance of keeping the family name, the family honor and the family dignity. Sarah is a thorn in my flesh, because I know she would have been such a thorn to my father.”
“Helen, you can’t try and be all your father was. Just because you are the only Beverly left doesn’t mean you have to e the way he was, think the way he thought and do what you are convinced he would do! Your father was human, you father made mistakes. Look at how he treated Harriet. After all the promises, after all he said, look at how he…”
“Do not mention Harriet!” My aunt nearly screeched. “We never mention Harriet in this household! She’s gone, she never was.”
“The truth is the truth, Helen, we can’t hide from it our whole lives. This house is full of secrets…”
“They are secrets never to be discussed,” My aunt interrupted him, “they are secrets that could forever ruin our good name. The family name, Andrew, the family name, the family honor, the family’s pride, we protect it at all costs.”
My uncle ceased from pacing and sat in his chair.
“To hell with the family honor, Helen, I’m more concerned with a living person. How can you compare Sarah, to something like family honor. We’ve changed her name, we’ve buried the scandal so she’s no longer a disgrace. I thought I made it very clear the day we found out she was coming. Helen, we are commanded to take care of the fatherless and the orphan. Sarah just so happens to fit into both categories. It was our Christian and moral duty to take her in. Why can't you realize that? For God’s sake, Helen, Sarah is your niece, she is the daughter of your own flesh and blood sister.”
“Sarah is a stranger to me,” Aunt Helen coldly replied, “just like her mother is. Father said we were never to take Evelyn back if she were to return. She disgraced our family and what is more, she openly disobeyed him, defied his word and we were to have nothing to do with her. He disowned her, and all that was hers. Sarah is no more my niece that Evelyn was my sister.”
“Helen, how can you speak in such a manner…
My uncle’s words faded as I silently backed away from the study. I had heard more than enough, more than I wanted to hear. So there had been a Harriet after all, and what was more, she was somehow connected with my grandfather. I understood enough to know that no one would talk about her to me because Aunt Helen couldn’t seem to bear to even hear the name spoken of in the house. There was some sort of unpleasant secret about her that Aunt Helen was trying to make the everyone to forget. But I had to find out about her, I had to do it for Mother. Listening to the conversation between my uncle and aunt awoke in me a new resolution to somehow try and discover who exactly Harriet was and if there was any way of locating her. The only thing was I would have to try and figure out a different approach to trying to get information about her. This would all require some serious thinking and planning
Oh my, things are really getting heated, aren't they? ;) So many secrets to try and discover :)
votes and comments are greatly appreciated :)