Hullo, friends! This is another short story that’s a little different from what I usually write, since it’s historical fiction. It was really interesting for me to try a new genre with a time period that I don’t write in often (late 1700s). This is a little more on the serious side, too. Hope you enjoy!
I thought I knew what loneliness was, but as I watched my closest friend get into her father’s carriage, I realized I had no idea. I felt a surge of sadness overcome me, and I pressed my face against the glass, gazing after the carriage as it bumped into the distance along the road leading away from my family’s plantation. I was glad she had come to say goodbye, but now I was left staring out at the cotton fields that stretched in every direction, big and lonely. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes. My dearest friend was leaving her family’s nearby plantation and moving all the way to Philadelphia, and I was alone.
“Phoebe, dear, don’t get smudges on the window.” The voice was distant and distracted, and I turned to see my mother starting a new row on her stitching, hardly glancing at me. I huffed and sat on the sofa, slumping backward. I was only 10, the youngest child of five siblings, and as the only one condemned to a life indoors and the only one still living at home, I often felt forgotten.
“Posture, Phoebe,” my mother reprimanded, and I begrudgingly forced myself to sit up straight.
“Mother,” I said hesitantly, glancing sideways. Mother didn’t look up from her stitching. How did she even manage to sew with her pregnant belly in the way? “Can I go outside today?”
Mother looked up and gave me a sharp look. “You know you can’t. It’s too hot outside, we don’t want you fainting.”
I sighed. It was always either too hot or too cold for me to go out. From the time I was a baby, I had breathing problems when I get too active or stay outside too long, and my parents decided I should stay in the house, except on especially nice days. Since my mom had been dealing with all of my older sisters and their marriages, I had always had to find my own entertainment indoors.
I stood and excused myself from the room, walking out in the dignified manner of a young lady, just as my mother had taught me. Once I was in the hall and out of view, though, I skipped off towards the kitchen. I peeked into the open doorway and caught sight of Hanna pulling pastries out of the oven.
I slipped into the kitchen, and Hanna looked in my direction. A sympathetic look crossed her face, and she wiped her dark, work-worn hands on her apron before stretching her arms out to me. I leaned into the embrace, burying my face in her flour-dusted apron. I finally let the tears come, and my shoulders shook as I sobbed. Hanna just whispered soothingly into my ear, gently stroking my hair.
Finally, I ran out of tears, and I pulled back. Hanna handed me a dishcloth, giving me a gentle smile. A spot of flour on her cheek stands out against her dark skin. “It’s alright, miss.”
I wiped my sleeve across my face, unsuccessfully trying to clear away my tears. “But my closest friend just left me forever. How am I ever going to find another friend if I can’t even leave the house?” I sniffed, my nose starting to run from the tears. “Why do people have to move away and leave?”
Hanna smiled at me, but it was a smile with lots of sadness behind it. “I don’t know, miss. I wish I did. But most of the time, it’s out of our control.” She turned away and started to take the pastries off of the baking sheet.
I moved over and stood next to her, looking up at her face. Her eyes were watering. “Hanna, why are you so sad?”
Hanna smiled down at me and wiped her hand across her eyes. “Oh, no, miss, don’t worry about me.” She turned and handed me one of the pastries. “I made them with raspberry, your favorite. Now run along. I know you have that book you were wanting to read.”
I obeyed and scampered off down the hall. I spent most of the rest of the day reading until my mother made me work on my embroidery. I didn’t mind embroidery, but my mind longed for the outdoors, and it was easy to miss a stitch when your mind was wandering through the cotton fields or to a big city like Philadelphia. The odd thing was that I also found myself wondering why Hanna was so sad, too. That alone took my mind off of my own problems.
The good news was that I only stabbed myself in the finger twice. My mom lectured me on paying attention and not getting blood on my embroidery, but I barely listened. I waited for her to take a breath during the lecture and jumped in with my own question.
“Mother, why is Hanna so sad?” I asked, looking up slightly from my embroidery.
Mother hesitated in her pacing. “Phoebe, darling, you needn’t concern yourself with the slaves.” She turned and I felt her eyes on me, although I pretended to be absorbed in my embroidery. “You may be the mistress of this house someday, if you do not find a husband, and if so, you need to have the proper attitude towards the slaves.”
I finally looked up at her. “So you don’t care why Hanna is sad?”
Her eyes turned fierce and felt like they were boring a hole in me. “Phoebe, it is not your place. They are your father’s property, nothing more.”
I almost said She’s my friend, but something in my mother’s look makes me hold back. “Yes, Mother,” I said instead and turned my eyes back to my stitching.
Later that night, I lie in bed in my room upstairs, simply trying to go to sleep, but what my mother said nagged at my mind. Why couldn’t Hanna be my friend? Finally, my thoughts overwhelmed me, and I decided to sneak down and get another pastry from the kitchen. I slid out of bed, the hem of my nightgown brushing against the floor. I stepped carefully across the wooden floorboards, making sure to avoid the spots that I knew would creak. I left my door slightly cracked to avoid making too much noise.
The house was fairly quiet as I snuck to the stairs. I could hear doors closing somewhere else in the house, and golden candlelight flickered from my father’s study. The murmur of my parents’ voices barely reached my ears. I hesitated on the top stair, not sure if I should chance going past my parents to get my pastry. Finally, though, my craving won out over my fear of getting in trouble, and I crept quietly down the stairs. Being inside all the time had helped me learn where all of the creaky spots were on the stairs, too, so I managed to sneak downstairs without a sound.
At the bottom of the stairs, I paused again. My parents’ voices were clear enough now that I could make out what they were saying, and I heard my own name. I knew it was wrong to listen, but I couldn’t help but move closer to the doorway to my father’s study.
“She was bordering on disrespect, Elias.” My mother’s light footsteps betrayed her pacing. “Do you think we’ve been too soft with her, letting her interact with the slaves?”
“Possibly.” Father’s deep voice sounded like he was only halfway paying attention to my mother. “But she does have a lack of companionship.”
A chair creaked as my mom sat in it. “Elias. I’m afraid that when the time comes for her to take charge of the household, if that occurs, she won’t have the proper attitude towards the slaves.”
The sound of Father’s chair scraping back from his desk made me jump. “Perhaps you’re right, Amelia. What do you propose we do about it?”
Mother sighed. “We need to find her some kind of companionship. I don’t know how, though.” She paused. “Do you think Hanna could be putting ideas in her head, ones about slaves that shouldn’t be there?”
Father’s voice grew serious. “Do you believe that could be possible?”
“I don’t know.” Mother’s voice was shaky. “We’ve always trusted Hanna, but what if she has misused that trust?”
My stomach churned, and I couldn’t bear to listen any longer. I crept towards the stairs quietly, unsure of what to think any more. These were all new and confusing things to think about. I was so absorbed in trying to decipher what “ideas” my parents were talking about that I forgot to watch where I was walking. I stepped directly on a creaky spot, and the sound echoed through the house.
I froze. My parents had gone completely silent behind me. For a second that felt like a minute, I thought I might be able to get away with it. But my father’s footsteps echoed as he hurried into the hall.
“Phoebe.” My name was said with a combination of sternness and surprise. I turned slowly around to face him.
“Father, I—” My mother appeared behind him, looking at me in disbelief, and I couldn’t finish my sentence.
“Young lady, you will go right to bed this instant.” Father’s voice was firm and unyielding, and I ducked my head. “We will discuss the consequences of your eavesdropping in the morning.”
My mother walked me up to my room and made sure I got into bed. I tried to explain to her that I just wanted to get a pastry, but she shook her head at me. “You listened in on a conversation that was not meant for your ears. That is certainly not becoming of a young lady.” She left me alone in my room, and I felt tears slip down my cheeks for the second time that day. I was afraid of what my punishment might be, and I longed to find Hanna and get a comforting hug from her.
Somehow I managed to fall asleep, and the next morning I went downstairs, making a beeline straight for the kitchen. To my surprise, a different woman was in the kitchen. I vaguely remembered her name being Betsey.
“Where’s Hanna?” I asked, looking around in confusion. She rarely let anyone work in the kitchen without her supervision.
The other woman looked up from peeling potatoes. Sadness dripped from her gaze, the same sadness I’d seen in Hanna’s eyes the day before. “Go talk to your parents, miss. They should be in the dinin’ room.”
I backed out of the kitchen and fled down the hall towards the dining room. A sinking feeling of dread sat in my stomach like a rock. What terrible thing had my parents done? I found them at the table, eating their breakfast as if nothing had happened. I walked slowly into the room, slightly afraid that if I entered, things wouldn’t be the same.
Father noticed me first and motioned for me to sit down. “How did you sleep last night, Phoebe?”
“Where’s Hanna?” I asked, hesitating next to my chair.
My parents exchanged glances, but my father was the one to speak. “Phoebe, we decided that you were getting too attached to Hanna. We sent her off to auction this morning.”
My hands started to shake, and I gripped the chair to keep myself upright. “Bu-but… last night, that was my fault! I shouldn’t have eavesdropped and snuck downstairs, but those were my own actions. Why are you punishing Hanna?”
My mother set down her teacup. “Phoebe, dear, your father is right. You’ve been getting too attached to Hanna. It’s not proper. She is our property to do with as we please, as are the rest of the slaves.” She paused and looked at me. “As were her son and her husband.”
The rock in my stomach tightened, changing to a fist that clenched my stomach and wouldn’t let go, and I slumped into the chair. My parents looked at me, a mix of sympathy and sternness on their faces. “It’s not fair,” I whispered.
It’s not fair.
So there’s my historical fiction story! What did you think? Comment below with your thoughts, and what other posts you’d like to see. I love talking with you guys!