The next morning my uncle informed me that his brother had died in the night. Poor Jeff. He was sunken and sullen and I could tell he had been crying. I didn’t say anything about it! I, of all people, know what it is like to have been crying and not want anyone to know. It makes people think you are weak.
“What will happen to me now?” He asked in a bitter voice.
“Don’t worry,” My uncle replied, “you will come and live with us. We’ll be glad to have you, won’t we, Sarah?”
I nodded my head whole-heartedly. Jeff seemed like a fun boy, it would great having him in our home.
“But what about the house?”
My uncle walked up and put a hand on Jeff’s shoulder.
“Jeff, the house no longer belongs to you. I’m afraid your father gambled it away. The creditors will come and take it all away. I’m sorry.”
Jeff hung his head in shame. “Father gambled it all away?”
“Yes, he did. Jacob always had a problem with gambling.”
I crept up to Jeff and put my hand in his. He took it and clutched it. We didn’t have to say anything. Sorrow binds hearts together. We were both in the same boat. Two orphans, with nothing in the world, left to the mercy of our relatives.
My uncle patted Jeff on the shoulder, and running his hand through my curls in a way that said ‘comfort him’ turned to leave
“Uncle,” I called after him. “What did he mean? About my mother? What did he mean when he said it wasn’t her fault?”
Uncle Andrew paused for a moment at the door; shook his head and left.
At the funeral I met the rest of the Greensten family. They lived a very long distance from our plantation and somehow we had never been able to meet before. Mrs. Greensten, my uncle’s mother, was a stately woman who had seen better days. She wasn’t very pretty, but there was something about her that made her attractive, even for her 65 years of age. How sad she must be to have lost her son, and him being only thirty seven. There was also the elder Greensten, Joseph William. He was there with his wife and three sons. My aunt was unable to make it to the funeral. She was generally of very delicate health and had been quite under the weather that winter and was weak and unfit for travel.
It was a sad occasion to be sure, but meeting my uncle Andrew’s family was very nice. Their attitude towards me was even nicer. Mrs. Greensten’s affection towards me was very apparent. She doted on me the entire time, called me all sorts of pretty names and said I was the most beautiful child ever. She told me to call her Grandmother Greensten and that I must always think of her as my grandmother. This made me feel very special. I didn’t know what it was like to have a grandmother, my own having passed away some ten years ago, before I was even born. It was strange how they should be so kind to me, even though I was only related to them by marriage, and how different from my own aunt’s attitude towards me. But then, she knew the full truth, and they did not. Still, it was nice to be so highly thought of. Mrs. Greensten made my uncle promise to bring me around to visit her sometime in the summer. She said we would have a wonderful time, drawing and drinking tea and she would even take me for a long drive in the carriage.
“My mother always wanted a daughter,” My uncle Andrew explained to me later, “she had three sons and her sons only had sons. There are no daughters or granddaughters, and she feels their absence very keenly. You are the closest thing she will ever have to a granddaughter and I think she wants to make the best of it. She is very fond of little girls, and you are such a pretty, darling thing, I’m not surprised she should love you from the start.”
I felt very special by this and looked forward to my promised visit.
Jeff came home with us after the funeral and established himself as one of the family. I gained a brother in him and we got along very well, though in a unique sort of way. Jeff was nothing like Sammy. Sammy was a studious, quite sort, hardworking and diligent. He loved to think, and being quite the philosopher had always been fond of reading whatever books I would smuggle out to him.
Jeff hated studying, preferring to rather play soldiers. Naturally, he dragged me into all his games. I soon learned how to play war and come up with schemes and strategies to ensure I came out the victor.
It was Jeff who first taught me to play tricks on our tutor, who taught me how to climb down my balcony in order to get out of the house unoticed; who showed me how to do daring and dangerous things I had never even thought of doing before. Uncle Andrew highly disapproved of such things, but we did them anyway because Jeff was a master at mischief. Unfortunately he wasn’t such a master of getting out of all the trouble his pranks caused. More than once I would have to try and sooth my Uncle’s wrath in the face of another one of our adventures that didn’t turn out.
Jeff and I also had a habit of falling out. He would come up with some idea and then I would think of how to pull it through and he would disagree with my plan and we would argue of how to get about it the right way. Though few people knew it, I had a temper that easily matched Jeff’s, and Jeff was perhaps the only person I was not afraid to use it on. Things could get pretty heated between us, but we always made up after our fights and never held grudges against each other. We jokingly called it violent affection.
There was only one thing that spoiled Jeff’s coming to live with us and that was my aunt Helen. Right away she took a fancy to Jeff and his wild and reckless behavior. Even when he would get into the worst trouble, she would still dote on him; even stand up for him. Quite different from the way treated me!
If Jeff and I ever fought and she heard about it, Aunt Helen was always on Jeff’s side. He became her everything. He would read to her in the drawing room and keep her company on the days she didn’t feel well. Oh, how it stung my little heart. I suppose felt a little what Ishmael must have felt with the birth of Isaac. Perhaps even a bit worse, for despite all my efforts to be the model of perfection and obedience, I had never been a favorite with my aunt. While Jeff, with all his reckless, troublesome, and disobedient behavior found a special place in her heart. What was more he wasn’t even related to her. Only by marriage. I was her flesh and blood niece, the daughter of her flesh and blood sister! Why couldn’t she love me at least a little?
And so, the days followed each other. Winter changed to summer and back to winter. My childhood passed and adolescence kicked in.