He says he loves me. He treats me well. I can’t tell anybody that he’s been teaching me how to read and write. Every night, he comes to my cabin and teaches me how to read from the Bible. He tells me, “God loves you just as much as He loves me. Your color doesn’t matter to Him. He made you dark and me light.” Then, he would put the Bible down, stroke my neck and arms before he takes me to bed.
I know it’s foolish to love a white man, especially when he’s the Massa’s son but I can’t help it. I know he loves me. He tells me so every time we are together. Then, one day, my world came crashing down around me. I overheard some of the other slaves talking and one of them said, “Master John’s gettin’ married to Miss Georgiana.”
“Well, dat don’t surprise me none. He bin courtin’ her for a long time now.”
“Miss Georgiana’s a lady. She gon mek him a perfect wife.”
“What’s gon happen to Massa John’s darkie who he’s beddin’?”
“Maybe they’s gon sell her. No sense in havin’ her around when Miss Georgiana comes.”
“No. They’s not gon sell that one. I heard Master John beggin’ his Pa not to sell her. He promised that when he marry Miss Georgiana, he wont trouble that darkie no more. Maybe the Massa gon marry her to big Jim. Jim’s got an eye on her.”
“If she marry Jim, they gon have children and they gon grow up and become slaves too.”
I don’t know how I managed to keep myself from busting out crying but I did. When I was alone in my cabin I broke down and cried. When he came to my cabin that night, I told him what I overheard and his face turned white like a sheet.
“I couldn’t let my father sell you, Jane.”
“You’re going to marry Miss Georgiana.”
“I have no choice. If I refuse to marry her, he will disinherit me and throw me out. And he will sell you. I couldn’t bear for that to happen, Jane.
“When’s the wedding?”
“In a fortnight.”
My heart sank. “So soon?”
“Yes. I can’t put it off any longer. I’m sorry, Jane.”
I lowered my head. The tears ran silently down my face. “Not as sorry as I am.”
He caught me by the shoulders. “Jane, please try to understand.”
“I understand that you’re marrying a woman you don’t love.”
“We can’t always have what we want in life,” he said. “I love you but we can’t be together. There’s no future for us. I’m a plantation owner’s son and you’re a slave.”
I looked at him then. “What about me marrying Jim?”
His eyes met mine in a steady gaze. “Jim’s a good man, Jane. He’ll take good care of you.”
I didn’t expect him to say that. I thought he would have objected even flown into a jealous rage at the mere thought of me marrying another man. His response hurt. “So, it doesn’t bother you that while you’re mating with Miss Georgiana, I’ll be mating with Jim?”
He released me then and dragged his fingers through his hair. “Of course it bothers me,” he snapped. “But that’s the way it has to be. Here in the South, you belong with your kind and I belong with mine.”
“Fine,” I said in resignation. I slowly undressed and followed him over to the cot. I lay there on my back, holding onto him as we mated for the last time. When he left, I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
A fortnight later, he married Georgiana. I watched as they rode away in the carriage. They were going to Europe for their honeymoon. Two weeks later the Master married Jim and me. Jim was a good man and he treated me well but I didn’t love him. I still loved John and I knew that I would love him until the day I died. I named our son, Samuel after the prophet in the Bible.
I found out that Miss Georgiana couldn’t have children. She was barren. Furious, the Master had the marriage annulled. Miss Geogiana was sent away in disgrace. Her family sold their plantation and moved to Virginia. John left Winston County and fought for the Union. The shock of his son’s treason was too much for the Master. He suffered from a stroke and never recovered. The Mistress wore black for the rest of her life and she swore that she would never speak to John again. He was responsible for his father’s death.
After the Master’s death, his brother, Master Charles took over the running of the plantation. He was a better Master than our previous one. He let us come and go as we pleased. We had much more freedom than other slaves. He let us go to other places to work when we had nothing to do at home and we were allowed to keep the money we earned and spent it however we wanted. Since life on the plantation was so much better for us, other slaves were not allowed to associate with us because their masters were afraid that we would put devilment in their heads. Other slave-masters felt that we had too much freedom.
A couple of weeks after John left, I gave birth to our son. Jim held him as if he were his own but I found myself wishing that it was John who was holding him. The Civil War lasted for four years and then it was over. The North had defeated the South. We were emancipated but most of us stayed on the plantation for several years. We were lucky because the Union Army burned down many of the plantation houses in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. After the war, even though we were free, Jim, little Samuel and I and other former slaves remained on the plantation and worked for Master Charles.
Then, the Mistress got sick and died. John came home for the funeral. My heart melted when I saw him. It had been over ten years since he went off to fight with the Union Army. He looked much older but still very handsome with his thick black hair and swarthy complexion. There were streaks of grey on his sideburns. He left soon after the funeral because he was considered a traitor because as a Southerner, he had joined the other side. Before he left, he came to see me when I was at the back of the cabin hanging the wash out to dry. Samuel was with Joe.
“You look as beautiful as ever,” John said to me. “I see that Jim and you are expecting.” His eyes dropped to my stomach.
Yes. I was going to have Jim’s child. “Yes.”
He smiled even though his eyes were filled with sadness. “I’m happy for you both. Jim’s a good man. May God bless you and your child.”
“Thank you. What about you? Where will you go after you leave here?”
“I’m going to Connecticut. It’s a free state.”
My fingers clutched the wet trouser in my hand as I returned his gaze. My heart ached. I still loved him. If it weren’t for Jim and the child in my belly, I would go with him to Connecticut if he asked me. Maybe I would take Samuel with me or leave him with Jim. No. My life was here–with Jim. “Goodbye, John. I hope you find happiness in Connecticut.”
“Goodbye, Jane.” He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek before he turned and walked away.
That was the last time I saw him. I blinked back the tears and continued hanging out the wash. I hoped with all of my heart that he would be happy, even if it meant finding it with another woman. At least I had Jim. When he came back home, I told Joe that John came to see me and that I didn’t tell him about Samuel. Joe was the only father Samuel had. He raised and loved him as if he were his own flesh and blood. And soon, he would be father to his own child. I’m blessed to have a good and decent man like Jim.