Jonathan walked at a leisurely pace to the dining room. There was no sense in rushing. Daisy waited this long, she could wait even longer. Very soon, too soon for Jonathan's liking, he sat in the chair next to Daisy. "Nice of you to join us, Jonathan," Jeanette Radford sarcastically greeted. The dinner had not yet been placed on the table, but the guests were munching on bread and butter. Jonathan reached across for a roll himself and took a bite.
"So, Jonathan," Roger Fairley, a 45 year old man originally from Roanoke, started, "How's the University? You're studying politics, right?"
"It's fine, and yes. I graduate next year – that is if I don't get drafted."
"I doubt you'll have to serve," his father said. "You're too high in stature for them to even think about risking your life. Let the work be done by the poor farmers in Alabama and Georgia. They don't have much to lose. You are the heir to Radford fortune and livelihood. We can't afford to lose you." Jonathan was not surprised. Charles often referred to any loss of Jonathan as a financial issue; it was nothing new. He didn't think that his father ever meant for it to come across like that. It just did, and in his own way, he was okay with that. A few of the house slaves came in with wine and food. Jonathan did not pay them much mind initially, but he noticed instantly when Sarah reached over his shoulder for his glass. He tensed from his spine upward and looked up at Sarah, hoping she would look back at him. She didn't.
Sarah may have been a lot of things: a slave, a Negro, and a white man's property. But the one thing she wasn't was stupid. With all of the Radfords and the Fairleys around, she knew better than to look Jonathan in the face. She simply poured the wine in his cup and backed away. "Thank you, Sarah," Jonathan pronounced as she was leaving back to the kitchen.
Sarah turned back, head still down, and nodded. Consequently, Daisy nudged Jonathan in the ribcage. "No need to say thank you," Daisy said. "It's not like she deserves it." Being the stately gentlemen he was expected to be, Jonathan dished Daisy out some of the pork and shook his head. He would not argue about the corrupt Southern morals he had come to despise. He had learned very well to let bygones be bygones.
"I think we should start making the wedding plans," Daisy's mother, Caroline, said without hesitation.
Jonathan dropped his fork and choked on his fork, while Daisy clapped gleefully. "Excuse you?" Jonathan importuned, once he had caught his breath. Jeanette dabbed her mouth with her cloth.
"Honey, we think it is about time you get started on giving us grandchildren. In these rough times, life is indefinite and we need to make sure we are all secured before us old folk pass."
"Old folk?" Jonathan raised an eyebrow. "Mother, you're 46 years old."
Jeanette did not respond to her son's statement of fact. "We just need to cover all our bases."
"Well, don't think about covering them now. I return to UVA in a month."
"Daisy would be delighted to go with you to Charlottesville," Roger interjected. He pushed his plate forward, signaling his completion of his meal and reached across his wife to his daughter. His kissed Daisy's hand in fatherly affection. "Wouldn't you, dear?"
"Absolutely." Daisy leaned on Jonathan's shoulder and would not release him from her grasp. "I can just imagine Johnny and I's little child scurrying around."
"Then how about April?" Charles chipped in for the first time on the topic.
"No!" Jonathan stood, throwing his chair back and stormed out of the dining room into the hallway. He heard no commotion from where he had left, just silence. The sun was just starting to go down, and Jonathan stepped out onto the porch and took in the scenery. The slaves still worked in the fields, pulling up the small amounts of cotton and large bushels of tobacco. He had tried many times before to imagine himself in their shoes, but he just couldn't. Of course he witnessed how they were treated, but he could never quite understand just how it felt. He was never treated like that, which in all honesty, was the reason why he could never empathize, only sympathize. Jonathan strolled over to the fields where a couple men hoed tobacco. As the man saw Jonathan approach, he hoed more vigorously, keeping his head down at all costs. Jonathan tapped on his shoulder. "Why don't go ahead and stop for today. You've worked hard enough."
"Are ya sure? It ain't eight, though."
"I know, but I said you're done for the night, so go inside, have dinner, and get rest. Tell everyone else they can stop, too."
"Oh, Mr. Jonathan! You're just the most great fellow!"
"No, I'm not. I'm just not like my father." Jonathan turned away from the slave, whose name he did not know, and began to walk away. Doing this did not make him feel like a good person. A good person would not keep people in involuntary servitude at all. Guaranteed he was not the technical owner of the slaves, he still felt some responsibility for not doing enough to help their cause. The Fairleys' horseman brought their carriage around to the front. As Jonathan was going back into the house, the Fairleys were coming out.
"It was nice to see you again, Jonathan," Caroline said. She kissed him on the cheek then got in the carriage.
Roger looked over to his daughter, who had her head poked in their steed to talk to her mother. "Be honest with me, son," Roger started quietly, "Do you want to marry my Daisy?"
Keeping with his say-what-you-mean philosophy, Jonathan responded, "No, sir. She is far too forward for my tastes. If I am to marry someone out of force, I will have to have the minimum amount of common ground. And I cannot say that Daisy and I share any such thing." Roger pursed his lips together in a thin, straight line.
"Thank you for your honesty, but I don't know if your folks would like it if you didn't marry her. I'll make a deal with you, boy." Roger leaned over. "You marry my Daisy, I will pay your college tuition. You don't have to love her, you just need to marry her and bed her. If you want a woman on the side, you go right ahead." Jonathan couldn't believe what he was hearing. This man was really suggesting that his daughter be wed and cheated on, with no visible issue. Jonathan knew the horror that adultery would bring if he went through with this… but tuition was not cheap during wartime. Daisy was surely a nice girl, albeit a bit pushy, and didn't deserve to be made a fool of… but Charles would not stop harping. "Think about it. I'll be back in a week to go to a nigger auction with your old man. Give me an answer then and we can sort out the fine details." Roger tipped his hat and disappeared into the carriage alongside his daughter. Jonathan did not watch as they went away. He sighed in dissatisfaction and held his head up before walking back into the house. Charles approached him with a stern expression.
"You made a fool of me in there." Surprisingly, Charles spoke calmly and quietly.
"I'm sorry." In all actuality, Jonathan was not sorry. He simply wished to keep the peace.
"Go wind down for the night." Charles hugged his son for the first time in a long time. Jonathan had forgotten what it felt for his father to hug him. He had grown up in a loving household, but that love was only from one end of the spectrum… his mother. As Jonathan was growing up, Charles was mostly on the road making sure their crops were bought and accounted for, which didn't leave much room for focusing on family matters. When Jonathan went off to the University of Virginia in the summer of 1859, he had felt like a weight had been lifted because no longer did he have to sit in anticipation of his father's daily approval. Jonathan no longer felt sorry for himself as he once had; he now pitied little Mary. As was expected of a girl of the time, Mary would rarely leave the household setting. Jonathan could get out, but Mary was stuck. She was far too young to understand, though. But there would come that day that Mary would learn the meaning of dissatisfaction and yearn for a position outside the plantation.
The hour was approaching nine and the slaves in the kitchen were cleaning up the counters and winding down from the day's work. Sarah was exhausted and wished dearly to just lay her head down and close her eyes. However, there were still messes to be cleaned and she remembered her meeting with Jonathan in the tobacco rows. She busied herself in her chores and tuned the rest of the world out. So when Betty said, "Go on to bed," Sarah was happy to do so. Only, she couldn't. She had agreed to learn to read. The thought scared her to the core. If anyone found out, she'd be whipped, tortured, and even killed. Sarah was putting her life in Jonathan's hands, and she just hoped he didn't drop it. She did not bother to change her clothes. She sat on her cot and waited, waited more, and waited even more. She didn't know how to tell time. Sarah lived by the sun and moon. In a room on the other side of the house, Jonathan realized this minor impediment and gathered his books and a gas lantern from his bedroom and wandered quietly down to the slave quarters. He tapped on the door before entering. Sarah was only one in there.
"I'm also going to teach you how to tell time." Sarah took a chance and giggled, which lit up Jonathan's expression. Her laugh was so docile and purer than anything he had ever heard. Knowing that he made a girl, one whom the world had been so cruel to, laugh was one of his greatest recent accomplishments. "My family is all in bed. We can go out the back door quietly." Jonathan offered Sarah his hand. She stood, but did not take it. Jonathan pursed his lips and instead motioned for her to follow him. They stealthily avoided coming across anyone on their way to the tobacco crops. It was dark and hard to see, with only the small flame of the gas lantern to illuminate the path. Just like Jonathan had said, there was a tree with a hole in it at the end of the third row of tobacco from the dirt road. He led Sarah to sit on the side of the tree facing away from the Big House. He crossed his legs Indian style (as his mother had taught him to say) with each foot tucked under the opposite knee. Sarah sat a safe distance away, so as not to intrude upon Jonathan's personal space. "I can't teach you if you are afraid to come near me. Get closer, Sarah." Sarah scooted a little closer so that their hips were just barely touching.
Jonathan pulled out a book titled Fundamentals of the English Language and set it between the two of them. He set the lantern on the pile of other books that sat between them to provide a light. "The first thing you need to know is that every word we say is made of letters, and there are 26 of them." Sarah nodded and drunk in every word that Jonathan said. He pointed out all the letters from "A" to "Z." Sarah was a quick learner. Two hours later, she was reading small words like "cat" and "ball." She hadn't attempted to write yet; Jonathan assured her they would start that soon. In a quick lesson that night, Sarah learned to tell time. It was a simple concept, but one she felt would be very useful. "If you ever need to talk, you can come to me. Consider me a friend." Jonathan gathered his books, but did not stand.
"I will. Thank you." Sarah was simple in her reply and still refused to look Jonathan in the eyes. He noticed this and used his fingers to turn her chin towards him.
"You have beautiful eyes, Sarah. Don't hide them." Sarah felt Jonathan's close breath right in front of her lips. After hearing him compliment her like that, she decided to give a little. Sarah looked up and for the first prolonged time, her gaze was level with Jonathan's. It was not a revelation that either went through, but an understanding. They were both lonely in their own right, and being in the company of another while in a place of solitude was a sacred feeling. Jonathan inched closer to Sarah and placed his right hand on her cheek. He never kissed her lips, but he did kiss her cheek, forehead, and eventually her neck. She had never experienced such pleasure. Sarah exuded all sorts of feelings, but the only action she could muster in response was pull Jonathan in tighter. She just wanted to hold him, to feel the human contact she had lacked for the longest time. Their senses were on high alert in order to bring in every possible means of contact. This made them jump at the crumpling of leaves around them. They both looked around frantically, but they saw nothing. "It was probably a squirrel."
"Yes. Probably. We should go back." Jonathan agreed and they packed up the books and made the trek back to the Big House. Once reaching the back door they came out of, Jonathan wished Sarah a simple goodnight and continued to his room. Sarah sighed and returned to her quarters all the same.