Sarah dropped the cloth into the washtub, straightened slowly, brushing the back of a small, chapped hand across her forehead, pushing away wisps of dark blonde hair; hair the color of the wash water. It had been two weeks since she had been allowed enough water for a proper bath and hair wash and her naturally soft blonde hair was now coated with dust and sweat.
The water from Sarah’s hand felt cool on her sweat-streaked forehead. Tiny rivulets ran down once round, dimpled cheeks, now hollow, matching the gaunt frame covered by a too large, tattered and faded dress, once a lovely green with touches of lace around the scooped neckline. She’d brought it with her, along with two others, when she left England three years ago, thinking to keep it for church meetings and holiday parties.
Clearly she had not understood what life as an indentured servant to Master and Mistress Tomkins would be like. They had seemed pleasant enough when they arrived at the shabby cottage in their lovely carriage to pick her up. Sarah’s parents, unable to afford the rent and thinking to save Sarah from the Work House, had indentured her for seven years to the Tomkins who were traveling to America to increase their considerable fortune in the new land. Mrs. Tomkins needed help and had taken a liking to Sarah. Perhaps America would provide a better future for their girl they had reasoned.
Sarah jumped at the harsh yell from the doorway, “What are you doing dawdling out there? You still have the floors to do and the clothes aren’t even hung yet! And me, about to offer you a piece of cheese with your bread! Well, you won’t be having any cheese and we’ll wait and see about the bread until you are done. Get to work!”
“Yes, Mistress,” Sarah answered, bending back over the washtub, tears following the path soapy rivulets had formed on dirty cheeks. Four years! Could she survive four more years? She couldn’t think about it now. There was nothing to be done about it anyway.
The next morning as she was removing those same clothes from the line, Mistress Tomkins shrieked from the doorway, “Sarah! Get in here, now!” Obediently, she quickly folded the sheet she held, adding it to the basket she picked up and carried with her to the house. She breathed a sigh as the cool air of the dark house touched her skin. Mistress Tomkins glared and instructed her to take a seat. Take a seat? On one of the family chairs? Sarah did as she was told hesitantly. Clutching the skirt of the same faded dress she’d worn the day before, she sat down nervously.
“Apparently,” Mistress Tomkins paced in agitation, waving a piece of paper she held, “you have a cousin from London who came into some money and has arrived here in Virginia looking for you. What do you know of this?”
“Nothing Mistress, I know nothing of a cousin.” Wracking her brain for any memory of a cousin, Sarah vaguely recalled meeting an Aunt once, her mother’s older sister. She was only six years old at the time but remembered now some mention of a daughter away at boarding school in London. She never met this cousin. Her Aunt and Mother apparently had a falling out and had never come to terms. Until this moment Sarah had completely forgotten about the girl.
“Well,” Mistress Tomkins continued, “your cousin has expressed an interest in redeeming your indenture.” Apparently Molly’s puzzlement was expressed on her solemn face.
“Oh goodness! Do you know nothing?! Of course not.” Mistress Tomkins spoke sharply, still pacing. “That means she wishes to pay us the price of your next four years of service, freeing you from your bond to us,” she explained.
Molly’s mouth hung agape. Was that possible? Could someone pay the price of her debt and free her?
“Oh, close your mouth, you snippet. Yes, she can do that,” Mistress Tomkins answered the unasked question. “There is an obscure clause in your indenture agreement requiring that we release you to a blood relative, such as this cousin, should they wish to redeem you. I am told this clause stems from a requirement regarding servitude in Bible times! Ridiculous! However, apparently your cousin wishes to do this for you. I can’t imagine why, if you don’t even know her. She must be uncommonly charitable. Who would purchase someone’s freedom before even meeting them?”
“If an alien or a temporary resident among you becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien's clan, he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in his clan may redeem him.
Leviticus 25:47-49 NIV
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