“But only after you graduate.” Uncle Andrew’s voice was firm and final. Jeff was excited as a schoolboy at Christmas. His eyes were dancing and his whole face was aglow.
“Thank you, Uncle,” He exclaimed. “Thank you for your consent and blessing.”
“Blessing? I never gave my blessing. Priscilla will have to prove to me that she is worth becoming Mrs. Jeffrey Greensten before I give my blessing. For now you have my consent to be officially engaged and to marry once you have finished your studies and are ready to enter into the business.” Uncle Andrew’s face was so grave you would think he was talking about Jeff’s funeral. Jeff didn’t seem to notice.
“I’ll go inform Prissy,” He stated and rushed out of the room, but not before giving me a grateful smile. Uncle Andrew groaned and sank into his chair. I walked up to him and put my hand on his shoulder.
“He still has a year, Uncle, things may change. Maybe Prissy will find someone else and jilt him for a richer suitor. She does have a talent for doing such things. Or when we take Prissy away from the influence of her mother, we will find she’s not so bad after all. People can change, it has happened before.”
Uncle Andrew gave a sad laugh. “Sarah, you try so hard to see the good in people. Maybe you’re right; maybe it won’t be that bad. I just wanted a different sort of wife for Jeff; someone more like you.”
“Me? Of all people, I would…I will make a terrible wife. Talk about someone who always lets her emotions get the better of her.”
“Ah, but emotions are something you can learn to control. You at least know how to listen to the voice of reason when it is presented to you. Jeff never listens to anything and just does what he wants.”
“I’m serious, Sarah. Trust me, if Jeff had been in your place, he would have just run off with his love interest, not caring or thinking about the consequences. You at least had the presence of mind to act in a more reasonable manner. That tells me a lot about your character and about his. Not to mention the fact that Jeff is two years older than you and should be behaving a lot more grown up than he is.”
It was the first time Uncle had alluded to my incident with Sammy and it was strange to hear him use it in the context he just did. I wasn’t sure how to react, so I didn’t say anything.
“Just promise me, Sarah,” Uncle Andrew continued. “That when you marry, it will be to a good gentleman. Someone who is an honest, hardworking, and upright man; he doesn’t have to be very rich, just as long as he doesn’t have any debts and knows how to live within his means.”
“I can easily promise you that, Uncle.”
“Good, because I should become quite homeless if you didn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t expect me to live too long under the same roof with the future Mrs. Jeffrey Greensten. I’ll just be paying you frequent and extended visits.”
“Oh, Uncle,” I laughed. “You needn’t be so gloomy. Look how happy Jeff is, look how happy Aunt Helen is. even I am happy, be happy with us.”
Uncle Andrew looked up at me with a crooked smile. “There, I’m happy,” he stated and we both burst out laughing.
“Seeing that Jeff is engaged, I think you should follow his good example,” Aunt Helen said, walking into the room. “You’ll turn twenty in a couple of months, Sarah, if you don’t press your luck, you’ll end up an old maid. It wouldn’t be fair to your uncle for you to always be depending on him.”
“Sarah can be dependent on me for as long as she wants,” Uncle Andrew said with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Andrew, this is no time for your jokes,” Aunt Helen reprimanded him.
“I’m not in a big hurry to marry, not just yet,” I spoke in a slow voice.
“Good gracious, Sarah, you don’t have much time left. You can’t dilly daddle around and then try and catch a husband in the last minute. Your youth is ending fast and if you don’t marry by twenty one you might find yourself an old maid for life.”
“That is unfair, Aunt Helen, who says no one will want to marry me when I am twenty two? Look at yourself, you married at twenty five and managed to fetch such a wonderful husband at that. I can’t think of marriage, not just yet, I’m not ready.”
“If it has anything to do with that slave boy and the romance the two of you carried.”
I winced at her words. How could she be so indelicate?
“Sarah, you cannot be so selfish, you will marry within the next year or I will find a husband for you myself.”
“No one is going to be finding a husband for anyone.” My uncle rose to his feet. “Helen, dearest, I don’t believe in forcing Sarah to marry against her will. Give her a little room and I know that she will find a good husband when she is ready. The two of you will not argue on this subject anymore.”
I gave a nod and Aunt Helen gave a sigh, but the look on her face said that she understood and would not bring up the subject again.
“How you managed to talk your uncle into it is beyond me,” Elsie shook her head in amazement.
“It wasn’t all that hard. I just pointed out some facts, the first and foremost being that Jeff might just run off and elope with Prissy. He is more than capable of doing such a thing. The second being that maybe Prissy could be reformed a little, and last of all, I did point out that Prissy is known to be a flirt and a jilt, so the engagement might not last. I owe it to Jeff. His grades might suffer when he returns to England and this is his last year. If something went wrong with his studies and Jeff didn’t get his degree, Uncle would never forgive him. Besides, I don’t want there to be a rift between Jeff and Uncle Andrew. This family had enough grudges and separations as it is, why add one more to the list?”
“When are they getting married?”
“If they get married, it will only be after Jeff graduates, which will be next spring. That’s a lot of time for something to change.”
(Oh, how those words would prove true! How little I understood their meaning when I spoke them so carelessly to Elsie)
“To think that Prissy might be the new Mrs. Greensten and mistress of this house,” Elsie gave another shake of her head. “How about you, Sarah, do you plan to marry?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I don’t think I’m quite ready to marry yet, but I know I must marry some day. Up until recently, the thought of marriage repulsed me, but Jeff’s decision to marry Prissy made me suddenly change my mind.”
“Prissy and me, living in the same house? I don’t think so. She’ll turn Jeff against me and he’ll just turn me out.”
“No, she won’t.”
“Yes, she will.”
“No one could turn young Massa Jeff against you.”
“Prissy can and she will, if I let her, which I won’t. Sooner or later I’ll find a good man and marry him and settle down. I already promised Uncle I would. He isn’t very excited about the fact that Prissy may live in this house so he’s made up his mind to just live with me and my future husband most of the time.”
“That is if all goes well and Jeff actually marries the Miss Thompson.”
“I wonder how it will all work out,” My voice grew distant.
“What happened to Mr. Browne? He hasn’t been around much these days, has he? He pursed you so faithfully when Albert and Henry were around.”
It was funny how Elsie could use their first names around me so naturally.
“I haven’t heard from him since I left for Europe,” I replied. “Perhaps he found someone else, or perhaps with the competition gone he wants to bide his time till I’m a little older. I don’t know.”
“If he asked you, would you marry him?”
I pondered for a little while. “I don’t know. He is a good man and I know he would make a good husband. Before, before I was sure that if he asked, I would refuse him.”
“Because you were all over Sam at that moment?”
Goodness, she could be blunt. Elsie took great liberties with me, but I didn’t mind. Elsie was more like an older sister than a slave.
“I suppose you could put it that way,” I reluctantly nodded my head. “But now, with everything turning out in such a strange way, if he did ask me, I actually might consider accepting him.”
Maybe I would have. Maybe if things had gone on the way they had been going, I would have settled down, become mistress of a household, taken over domestic duties and raised a handful of children. No one knows what would have happened if things would have remained as they were. What I do know is that they didn’t. All of a sudden, the world as we knew it turned upside-down and things would never be the same again.