Slowly I settled into my new life. All that summer I wore a black dress in mourning for my mother. Mornings I had breakfast with my aunt and uncle, then I would be allowed to go to the garden and then after lunch I would return to it. Uncle Andrew told me come autumn and I would not play all the time, but have lessons with a tutor, but for now it was summer and I needed nothing more than fresh air and sunlight. In the garden I played with Sammy, or we would read books that my uncle would give me. I soon learned that Sammy had a passion for the written word. He loved reading but never could get his hands on any books, as he was not allowed to touch my uncle’s books. The only thing was we had to keep it all a secret from everyone. Sammy told me it was against the law for slaves to read and write. He had learned to read from Elsie, who had learned to read from Em who had learned to read from my mother, and no one was to know anything about it. Another interesting discovery I made about Sammy was he wasn’t only Elsie’s brother, but that the butler, Ben, was their father. Em was Ben’s wife and mother to Elsie and Sammy. She was the head cook of the house. She was a very kind lady, I remember the first time I met her she gushed over how I looked like my mother and how she had brought my mother up. She was so saddened to find out about my mother’s early death and every time she would see me she would shake her head and sigh. I didn’t quite understand why. Sammy also had a younger sister, Nettie. She was a little girl of six years with bright eyes and a shy smile. Nettie was almost always working with her mother in the kitchen, so I rarely saw her.
My uncle Andrew was a very busy man and I only saw him at mealtimes. I steered clear of my aunt as much as possible. She did not at all approve of me and was never happy with anything I did. She would spend most of her time in the drawing room, doing her needlework and managing the household. I spent much of my days outdoors with Sammy.
Summer soon past and autumn came in its place. I met my new tutor. He was a funny, curious man who went by the name of Mr. Jenning. Apart from scholastic, he also tutored me in art and for two hours every day I would have to go through the torture of sewing lessons and music lessons with aunt Helen. She said it was her duty to teach me, but I knew she got no pleasure from it because she was always cross with me. I got no pleasure from the lessons either, my work was never stitched properly, my music never played well enough and altogether, nothing I did was ever good enough. Just as I was never good enough. With all this schooling I no longer had as much free time as before, but I still had time to play in the garden with Sammy. I would bring him the schoolwork I couldn’t stand, which, for some unexplainable reason, just fascinated Sammy. Together we would work on the lessons and then we would read. I enjoyed reading and I loved nothing more than reading with Sammy. With everyday our friendship grew and flourished, but sadly it was not meant to last. One year later, only two days after our birthday, (I had just turned nine, Sammy had turned twelve) I was waiting for him in the garden with a new book Uncle Andrew had given me. He was taking a long time in coming and I was already beginning to lose my patience and cracked the book open to take a peak when he finally appeared. He was walking slowly, his hands in his pockets, his head hanging low.
“Sammy, what’s wrong?” I forgot my anger at his tardiness in the face of his obvious distress.
“I’s come to say goodbye, Sarah.”
“Goodbye?” I didn’t understand. “Where are you going?”
“Away. I’m moving off the plantation.”
“Moving, moving where? Elsie didn’t mention anything about you moving.”
“Elsie’s not moving, none but me are going.”
I rushed up to him and grabbed his hand. “Sammy, I don’t understand what you mean.”
“It’s very simple, I’s has a new master now, so I’s going to live with him.”
“A new master? Where did he come from? Have you been…have you been sold?” I couldn’t imagine my uncle Andrew selling Sammy. There was no reason for him to do such a thing.
“No, I hasn’t been sold, I’s been willed.”
“Yes. When the Massa Beverly died nine years ago, he wrote in his will that when I was to turn twelve years old I was to become the property of Mr. Thompson.”
“Mr. Thompson. The Mr. Thompson?” My eyes widened with horror and dismay.
Mr. Thompson was our closest neighbor. He lived on the plantation that adjoined that of my uncle’s. I had never met him in person, but one meeting with his wife and children had made me hate the family. It had been only two weeks after I had arrived. Elsie came and told me that we had visitors and my Aunt had called for me to come down. I entered the parlor and saw my aunt sitting with another fine lady in fancy clothes. Sitting next to them were two children, a boy and a girl.
“There she is,” My aunt had said when I entered the room.
“Ah, come here Sarah, and let me have a closer look at you,” the lady called to me. I walked up to where they sat. “My yes, she does look a great deal like Evelyn,” Mrs. Thompson stated as she examined me. “Same golden locks, and that nose and those lips, Evelyn through and through. Except, except those eyes. Those are not Evelyn’s eyes. Must be something of the father in her. Tell me child, are you very grateful to your aunt and uncle for taking you in?”
“My name is Mrs. Thompson and I knew your mother when she still lived here among us. These are my children, Albert Francis and Priscilla Melissa Thompson. Children, say hello to Miss Sarah Maybelle Rose.”
“How do you do Miss Rose?” They chorused in unison. I gave a bit of a bow in reply.
“And too think that Evelyn had a daughter,” Mrs. Thompson looked me up and down again. “And none of us ever guessing. What a surprise it must have been Helen, to find out about her.”
“It was indeed, Stella. But then, Evelyn was always good at giving unpleasant surprises.”
Had she just called me an unpleasant surprise? What was I doing in this room anyway?
“Now, children, why don’t you go to the drawing room and get to know each other,” Mrs. Thompson said, motioning for us to leave. The children stood up, gave a bow to my aunt and followed me out of the room.
“Of inferior birth no doubt,” I heard Mrs. Thompson say in a low voice to my aunt, “The father was probably of a considerable lower class than Evelyn. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be part of the working class…”
Her voice faded as I left the room, but I hadn’t liked what she had said about me. Inferior birth? What was that supposed to mean. We got the drawing room and I let them inside.
“So, mama says that you are the daughter of the famous Evelyn Beverly who ran away from home a long time ago,” The girl said to me.
“I…uh…” I was taken back by her forwardness and didn’t know how to react.
“She’s also mentioned that your father is of a lower social class than Miss Evelyn was, so that makes you of lower birth than the rest of us. And how come you are dressed in that awful black dress, it makes you look pale as a ghost.”
It was true, my black dress did look plain and simple compared to the yellow dress with white lace that she wore.
“I’m in mourning,” I simply stated.
“Ah, right, Miss Evelyn being dead and all. How did she die?”
“I heard something about poverty,” the boy, Albert, put in. “Is it true that your mother became so poor she died amongst beggars?”
Why were they asking me so many questions, and in a mocking tone of voice. They were all high and lofty and looking down on me as if I was something beneath them.
“And how about your father?” Priscilla kept on asking, “no one seems to know much about him.”
“Aren’t you going to answer our questions?” Albert asked at my silence.
“No, I’m not.” I firmly replied. “I don’t answer people who ask me in an insulting manner.”
“Mother was right,” Priscilla shook her head, “you have no upbringing of any kind.”
“I would have said the same thing about you,” I was getting annoyed. “I don’t think it very polite to just stand there and insult me like that, and what is more, to insult my mother.”
“A touchy baby, aren’t you?” Albert smirked.
“I’m not a baby!” Annoyance turned to anger. “I’m not more a baby than you are, you, you pompous…”
“Sarah, what will your aunt and uncle say when we tell them that you have called your guests names and said terrible things about us to our faces,” Priscilla stated in a low, sarcastic voice. “I suppose that is what comes when women marry beneath them. Your mother should have thought twice before she entangled herself with those of the lower class.”
That was it, she had gone too far! I would have hit her, but I just let her get away with a menacing step in her direction and a simple, “You horrible, ill mannered ogre!"
“How dare you,” she shrieked at me. “Albert, why are you so silent, aren’t you going to defend your sister?”
“Why should I?” He gave a careless shrug.
“This isn’t fair! She just called me a horrible name.”
“Aw, get over it cow face.”
“COW FACE!!! Mother, mother!!!” Prissy rushed out of the room. Albert settled himself in one of the room and I made a hasty retreat into the garden.
If the devil ever had children, I was sure they’d be better behaved than those two. The whole incident got me into a great deal of trouble and I don’t think I would have come out of it quite alive if Uncle Andrew hadn’t finally gotten involved and sorted things out. Still, even though it became evident that it wasn’t entirely my fault, Aunt Helen still blamed me and said it was the last time she’d ever introduce me to anyone my own age. Honestly, I didn’t mind, ten minutes was enough to make me never want to see either of them again.
And now I had just found out that Sammy belonged to them.