The Mistress of Tall Acre

By: Laura Frantz

To reorient himself, he latched onto the open corner cupboard where medicines were kept, the two wing chairs and tea table before the cold hearth. His gaze finally settled on the bed dressed with crewel embroidery.

“Seamus.” Anne lay back on the bank of downy pillows, looking exhausted but triumphant. “Come meet your new daughter.”

Spurs scraped the heart-pine floor before he stepped onto a lush rug and took a seat on the edge of the four-poster bed as carefully as he could. In light of the doctor’s unwelcome words, the ever-delicate Anne seemed made of spun glass. If she was broken, he was to blame, at sixteen stone and over six feet.

As she settled the newborn in his arms, the catch in his throat nearly stole all speech. One tiny hand peeked from the blanket, the plump face red and round as an orchard apple. He swallowed hard. “She’s . . . beautiful.”

Something wistful kindled in Anne’s eyes. “You were hoping for a boy, though you never said so.”

He gave a slight, dismissive shrug. “Soldiers always want sons.”

“There’ll be some, Lord willing. As soon as I’m well again . . .”

Her guileless words seared his heart. Spurlock hadn’t told her then, but had left it up to him. Well, he wouldn’t do it now. Let their dream of a large family be left intact a little longer.

Her lovely face turned entreating. “What shall we call her?”

The pride and expectancy in her eyes brought a wave of shame. He wouldn’t confess he’d only entertained male names and had given little thought to a girl. Even his men had wagered on a boy, placing bold bets about the campfire till he’d ridden home to settle the matter himself.

“A name . . .” Lowering his head, he nuzzled the baby’s ear, her downy neck and fuzz of dark hair. The decision came quick. He was used to thinking on his feet. As Washington’s newly appointed major general, he could do little else. “Why not Lilias Catherine?”

“After my mother and yours?” Surprise shone in Anne’s eyes. “Of course. ’Tis perfect.”

He hesitated, looking into his daughter’s face as if seeking answers. She seemed too little to merit such an onerous name. “We’ll call her Lily Cate.”

Nodding, Anne sank back on the pillows, her face so pale he could see the path of blue veins beneath. “I’m relieved. I didn’t want you riding away without knowing.”

He smiled. “Let me take her till you’ve slept for a few hours. Doctor Spurlock said she won’t be hungry yet, and—” He took a breath, fighting the lurch of leaving. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.” The casual phrasing was more lie. He didn’t know if he’d be back.

Her hazel eyes held his. “How is it on the field?”

The question wrenched him. She rarely asked. Their brief times together were too precious to be squandered on melancholy things.

“’Tis a strange war. We drill. We wait. We fight and fall back.” He wouldn’t tell her the biggest battle of his life was imminent, or that American forces were weak—deprived and diseased—and no match for Clinton’s redcoats. Leaning forward, careful of the warm weight in his arms, he kissed her gently on the cheek. “I’ll go below and introduce Miss Lily Cate to the household.”

Yawning, eyes already half closed, Anne gave a last, lingering look at the baby. Down the wide, curving stair he went to a staff on tenterhooks since dawn. The birth had been—what had Spurlock said?—brutal. His people deserved a look, at least. The midwife was in the foyer preparing to leave, her daughter with her.

“Mistress Menzies, I’ll settle up with you before you go.” He glanced from her to her daughter, both of them looking far less disheveled than the doctor.

“There’s no fee, General, not for a hero of the Revolution.” Pulling on her gloves, Mistress Menzies smiled in her genteel, unruffled way, reminding him that she was no ordinary midwife.

“I have you to thank for calling in Spurlock when the situation became . . . untenable,” he told her.

“You can thank my daughter for that, General. She is fleet of foot and a midwife in the making.”

He took in Sophie Menzies in a glance. Dark. Plain. Clad in a fine crimson cape like her mother’s.

“Then I thank you too, Miss Menzies,” he said.

She smiled up at him, blue gaze fastening on the baby in his arms. “Have you named her, General Ogilvy?”

“Aye, she’s to be called Lily Cate.”

The pleasure in her expression seemed confirmation. “Lovely and memorable,” she said with her mother’s poise and a hint of her father’s Scots burr. “I bid you and your wee daughter good day.”

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