The Mistress of Tall Acre

By: Laura Frantz



“You’re no stranger to mourning yourself, General. I’m very sorry about your wife.” She kept her eyes down, her tone dulcet. “I also want to express my gratitude, my heartfelt thanks, for your service to the cro—colonies.”

She’d nearly said crown, but it was an honest slip. They all needed time adjusting to the fact that they were no longer under British rule but a thoroughly American one.

“I’m relieved to have escaped the noose as a traitor, aye,” he murmured, still amazed he had.

She looked up suddenly, catching him off guard. Open admiration shone in her face, so much so that he felt a discomfort bone deep.

A hero in the field. A failure at home. If she only knew . . .

He filled the taut silence. “And you, Miss Menzies? Have you no desire to return home to Scotland?”

Surprise flashed in her eyes, making him regret the quick question. “My home is here, General Ogilvy, come what may. I’m an American now, no matter my father’s loyalties.”

He nodded. “I’m simply trying to gauge how you’re going to get along here at Three Chimneys by yourself.”

“Till my brother returns?” She paused, tongue between her teeth as she concentrated on pouring the tea. “I may try to resume indigo production. We were quite successful before the war, till British raiders set fire to our fields and storehouses.” She spoke quietly but confidently, as if she’d given the matter much thought. “Three Chimneys also has a fine mulberry grove. I’m considering raising silkworms.”

“Silk cultivation?” He studied her, slightly disbelieving. “Do you have any idea how labor intensive that is?”

“I’m not afraid of hard work. I’ve heard a woman and three children can make ten pounds of raw silk for fifty dollars in five weeks’ time.”

“Until a blight afflicts your mulberry trees and cotton surpasses silk.” At her startled look he continued wryly, “Not to mention your lack of three children.”

She drew back. “You’re not very encouraging, sir.”

“Nay. But I am pragmatic.” He tried a different tack. “I remember your mother saying you were a midwife in the making.”

She shook her head, and he felt another door close. “I’m no howdy, mind you. My mother hoped I would follow in her footsteps, but I merely assisted at a few births. The truth is no one in Roan County wanted my help given my father’s Tory leanings. And in the end few wanted my mother’s either. But you needn’t worry about Three Chimneys.” She gave him a steaming cup—and a disarming smile. “We’ll get along here as we have these eight years past.”

“Of course,” he murmured, unconvinced. He wagered she’d had a hard time getting any supplies in Roan or elsewhere given the ill feeling against them. And her telling leanness was proof.

She changed course. “On a lighter note, I’ve met your wee daughter.”

“So she told me.” He glanced down at his injured hand, wondering if she’d noticed . . . if she’d respond in revulsion like Lily Cate. “She wants to see you again, but I don’t want her to be a nuisance.”

“Nuisance?” Again her gaze met his, awash with protest. “She’s no nuisance!” She looked oddly hurt—and had likely crossed him off her list of admirable persons. “Is she a bother to you, General Ogilvy?”

He looked to the cold hearth, afraid she’d read the answer in his eyes. His maimed hand clenched. He wouldn’t say Lily Cate was afraid of him. That she sometimes refused to even speak to him. “Obviously she’s a different child with you.”

“She’s enchanting. She even curtsied. Her manners are very fine.” Her entreating tone lured him to look at her again. “I invited her to a tea party, just the two of us, only we had no tea. Till now.”

He paused. Was she so starved for company that even a little girl would suffice? “You sent over a doll for her. She won’t part with it. Even talks to it.”

“I should hope so, sir. That’s what little girls do.”

Her continual if respectful use of sir seemed to drive a wedge between them, as did his near fatal misstep about his daughter. “Very well. She can come for a visit. Just send word when you want her.”

“I shall.” She got up and crossed to a desk beneath a wide Palladian window. He followed the blue swish of her skirts longer than he should have. With her spartan leanness, she reminded him of his scrawniest soldiers. Focusing on the hearth, he was glad there was no fire lulling him with its warmth. As it was, he wanted to stay longer, spill out the problems pressing in on him from Williamsburg. Sophie Menzies seemed a sensible young woman who might help him untangle the trouble he was in.

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