The October wind blew in a chilly, unpleasant sort of way and made me button up the last button on my coat. The road I was walking down was muddy and slushy thanks the rain that had poured tlast night. I could see a cluster of houses and knew I was nearing my destination. It was the October of 1859, eleven years since I had come to stay with my aunt and uncle, and at last I was on my way to fulfill my last promise to my mother.
I had only returned from Europe about two months earlier. It had been a wonderful time, though a lot longer than I had expected. What was supposed to be a six month trip turned into twelve months, and once a full year had passed, Mrs. Greensten hoped to remain for another twelve month. The death of Mrs. Greensten cut everything short and we had sailed home half a year earlier than expected. The only good thing about us returning was Jeff had come to attend the funeral and we had been able to see him.
During the time I had been away so many things had changed. I noticed it right away, when we arrived home and the door was opened by George instead of Ben. I said nothing at that moment, but once I was alone with Elsie in my room, I confronted her with my questions.
“What happened to Ben, Elsie? I hope he is not ill.”
“Father is not here anymore, neither is Mother, nor Nettie.” Elsie replied as a matter-of-factly while she took dresses out of my trunks with the same speed as when she had placed them in there over a year ago.
“Don’t tell me Uncle sold them?” Dread filled my heart.
“Lawd love you, course he didn’t. You know you’s uncle would never do that. Naw, they’s all run off to the north.”
“RAN AWAY? When? How?” My jaw dropped and I sank into a seat in surprise. Ben and Em…run away, after all these years? And Nettie, she was so shy, so scared of everything, she just wasn’t the person who would even risk the thought of running away.
Elsie looked at me and paused her race between the trunks and the closet. The expression on her face told me she was trying to make up her mind whether to tell me something or not.
“Elsie, what is it? Tell me the full truth; don’t hide things from me. The only thing everyone ever does in this house is hide things from me.”
“Well, Sarah, only about a week after you left, Sam snuck back here and got them out,” she finally relented.
“SAM snuck back here?” One surprise followed another.
“Yes, he was determined that our family shouldn’t be seperated and the only way to stay together was for us all to run off to the north.”
I should have expected that, I shouldn’t even be surprised. It was natural that he should want to get his family out. But if he came back and got everyone out, what was Elsie still doing here?
“So…why did you go with him?”
Elsie gave a snort. “Really, Sarah, I’s can’t believe you asked that question. You and Sam are so alike. He kept trying to get me to leave, but I told him I did, that in a couple of months time a little Rose was going to come back here and what would she do if I's was not there to greet her!”
“Elsie, you shouldn’t have sacrificed your freedom for me. Who am I compared…”
“Sarah, you don’t know anything do you? What is freedom but the power to make your own choices. I made the choice right then and there. I am not going to leave you. You’ll be lost without me, I’s know that for a fact. You need a woman in you’s life, someone to guide you and help you make decisions. And since the Missus selfishly refuses to partake in your upbringing, it’s all up to me. I’ll never forget seeing your tiny little form almost buried in the large covers of the bed, sobbing your eyes out. I said to myself, Elsie, there is a gentle little creature who needs guidance, and you are the one to guide her. God gave me a job and I’s sure not one to walk out on it. What will I tell Him when I stand before His throne and give account of my life?”
I hugged the girl with tears in my eyes. Dear faithful Elsie, how I would bless her over and over again in the years to come that she chose to stay by my side. I would have never made it without her near me. A woman of true strength, I don’t believe there ever will be another like her.
“But won’t you miss them?” I prodded.
“Course I will, but we’ll get along. Look at Massa Greensten, he married and moved away from his home and he don’t see them very often. You never hear him complaining do you?”
“Oh, but this is different!”
“Not for me, it’s not. Sam and Nettie grew up and left the nest, I’s stayed behind. It happens and that’s the end of the discussion.”
I knew better than to pursue. I wondered what Uncle Andrew had thought of the Climb family leaving like this. He had never mentioned it in any of the letters he had written me. I didn’t want to ask him about it as it would bring up Sammy again. Sammy was an extremely touchy subject between Uncle and myself and I didn’t want to reopen old wounds.
As soon as I settled back down into my daily routine, I picked up my search of Harriet. I would not rest until I found her. It was all a lot harder now, as not only was Sammy gone, but Ben and Em as well, and they had been my chief source of information. I knew better than to get Elsie to try and help me. Like a true Climb, she guarded the secret of Harriet and refused to talk about it. So I resolved to try and get all the information myself. I already knew who she was, all I needed was find out where she lived. After some thought I decided to go to someone who had been around when my grandfather was alive, someone who had seen this house through every stage it had gone through, someone who had been in this house the longest. Gathering up all my courage and determination, I went to Lulu.
Lulu was our housekeeper. She was a large woman with grey hair and a sad smile. Her eyes were careworn, she had a strong voice and a caring heart. Now that Em was gone, Uncle Andrew had also placed her in charge of the kitchen. I found her stirring something in a large bowl.
“Lulu, I have a question to ask?”
“What is it, honey child?” She asked, keeping her attention on her work.
“It’s about Harriet.”
“Now, Miss Sarah, I told you before, I’s not going to talk on that subject!” She put down her large spoon and looked at me.
“But Lulu, I have to find out where she is.” I leaned closer to her and dropped my voice to a whisper. “I know that she was my grandfather’s last mistress and from what I understood she was his favorite, but what happened to her after she stopped being his mistress? My grandfather being dead and all, something had to happen to her, she couldn’t evaporate into thin air."
“Miss Sarah! Wherever did you hear all this? Who dared to tell you?”
I looked at the ground, wondering if I should give Sammy away. As it turned out, I didn’t have too, Lulu guessed herself.
“It was that boy, wasn’t it?” She exclaimed. “That silly boy. He got it out of his mother and then turned around an told you.” She shook her head.
“Oh, don’t be cross, Lulu, it’s not like that, you see, I asked him to find out for me.”
“You what? I thought there was something fishy when he came trying to pry it out of her. That woman should never have given in.”
“But Lulu, why can’t I know? Why is everyone keeping it a secret from me, what harm will it do you?”
“You? Honey child, it won’t do you any harm, it’s just we don’t talk about her in this house. I never spoke of Harriet since the day she left, none of us have. The less people who know about her, the better, or so you’s Aunt thinks. She gave the orders not to talk about Harriet, and I will not go against them.”
“Lulu, I’ve got to find her. I promised my mother I would pass on a note to Harriet. It was her dying wish and I gave my word. Mama taught me that promises must always be kept, especially promises made to the dying. For ten years I couldn’t get anything out of anyone and now at last I have begun to scratch the surface, and I am determined to dig deeper. There is so much mystery tied up in this house and it is driving me mad. I know my mother was beautiful and I know she was popular and I know that she turned down quite a few advantageous marriage proposals, and I am aware that my aunt was jealous of her and that in the end my mother ran away to escape marrying a man she didn't love. However I’ve never really been told the full story, I don't know any details of my mother's life here on the plantation. And why did my grandfather get so upset and disown her.?There is so much I want to know, but for now I will settle with just being told where Harriet can be found. Do you know where she is?”
Lulu shook her head. “I’s don’t know where she is, and that is the honest truth, honey child. She disappeared the day after Massa Beverly died.”
I sighed with disappointment.
Lulu was thoughtful for a moment, “there is one person who can tell you where to find Harriet.”
My eyes lit up.
“Your uncle, Massa Greensten, if anyone knows the whereabouts of Harriet, it’s him.”
My countenance fell, getting something out of Uncle Andrew was about as useful as beating your head against a stonewall.
“No one else?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Thank you,” I gave Lulu a kiss and scooped up some of the cake batter. She slapped my hand angrily.
“Miss Sarah, keep you’s fingers out of my cake.”
I gave her another kiss and went off in search for my uncle. Some stories are better not known, that was the excuse my uncle always gave me when I approached him with questions, and I knew he would use this excuse on my again. But this time, I was coming prepared.
“Uncle Andrew, we need to talk!”
My uncle looked up from his papers and lifted his eyebrows. “Do we?”
“Yes, it’s about Harriet!”
“Sarah.” He shook his head and turned his attention back to his work.
“I know you told me some stories are better not known, but that is not the case here. I need to find Harriet and I know for a fact that you can tell me where she is. You don’t have to tell me anything about her, I already know that part.”
“You what?” His head jerked up sharply.
“I found out from certain sources just who Harriet was in this household.”
“And who was this ‘certain source’?”
“We agreed we weren’t going to talk about him.”
“Aha...so you used him as a sort of spy?”
“Precisely. Look, I’m not asking for the full back story, even though I am curious to find it out. All I need to do is finish the job mother gave me. I don’t know the connection between Harriet and my mother, but whatever happened between them was a source of pain to my mother. There was some wrong she wished to put right. She earnestly begged me to give Harriet a note she had written with her last strength. For eleven years I have been trying to discover something about her, and now that have finally found the correct path I won’t allow myself to be road blocked.”
I pulled the crumpled note out of my pocket and gave it to him. “This is the note, Uncle Andrew. I haven’t shown it to anyone because I was afraid if Aunt Helen got a hold of it she would take it from me. The note itself is nothing much but it was important to my mother and I just have to give it to her. Why can’t any of you understand that? When grandmother Greensten was dying, she begged that I come to her and we all did everything in our power to ensure her dying wish was fulfilled. And how about Jacob Greensten? What if he had begged of you to put some wrong right, wouldn’t you do it? You understand, Uncle, what it means to give a promise to the dying, and you know how important it is for it to be fulfilled.”
Uncle was silent as he unfolded the note and read the four words. He tapped his fingers on the table, something he did when he was in serious thought. I took a seat and waited. When Uncle Andrew was thinking and weighing out the options, the worst thing you could do was interrupt. At last he looked up at me.
“You know the settlement just outside the town where some of those freed colored folks live?”
“Yes.” I remembered the time I had taken a little child, who bore my mother’s name, to that very settlement.
“You’ll find Harriet there.” He handed the note back to me. “Only you must not tell your Aunt you plan to go there and you must never, never even hint to her to that you know who Harriet was.”
“Yes sir. Thank you Uncle.” I gave my uncle a kiss on the cheek. He waved me away and turned back to his work. I rushed out of the study, hardly breathing with excitement. After all these years, at last I knew where to find Harriet. At last, my mother’s dying wish was going to be fulfilled.
We have begun our new journey with Sarah and I hope you will all come to enjoy it
Dedicating this chapter to AllisonWhitmore, your writing gives me inspiration and I really appreciated your support with A Blue Rose.