The Mistress of Tall Acre

By: Laura Frantz

Joy sang through her—and then a qualm that she’d overlooked introductions. “Then tell him you met up with Sophie Menzies from Three Chimneys.”

“Three Chimneys? Do you live there with your mother and father? Are you—” Worry raced through her eyes. “I’m sorry. The general says I chatter on so.”

Sophie studied her, wanting to reach out and smooth a dark curl that fell free of her cap. “I like your chatter. ’Tis too quiet at Three Chimneys. My father is in Scotland, you see.” She hesitated, still sore. “And my mother is in heaven.”

Sorrow marred Lily Cate’s pale face. “So is mine.”

Sophie shifted her basket to her other arm. Mistress Ogilvy . . . dead? The last she knew, Anne Ogilvy was in Williamsburg, living with relatives.

“Do you think they’re friends in heaven—my mama and yours?”

The tender question was nearly her undoing. Sophie’s fingers closed around a chestnut till its spiny hull pierced her palm. “The best of friends.”

“Perhaps . . .” Lily Cate seemed older than her five years. “Perhaps we can be friends too.”

“Of course.” As cozy as a woman of eight and twenty and a child of not yet six could be. Lily Cate was obviously lonesome. Missing her mother. Somewhat bewildered by this man she called the general. “Why don’t we have a tea party? If you’ll bring your doll . . .”

At this the child wilted. “My doll is in Williamsburg. The general came to collect me in the night, and there was only room for me atop his horse. Everything got left behind.” She cast a look back at Tall Acre, so much astir in her little face that Sophie’s heart squeezed.

“I’m sorry,” Sophie murmured. A tea party seemed suddenly silly.

“I’d best go. He doesn’t like to go looking for me.” Lily Cate turned without saying goodbye, her fine slippers kicking up autumn leaves as the wind sent more swirling down around them.

Sophie ran all the way home, feeling no older than Lily Cate. The back lane to Three Chimneys wasn’t long but seemed endless this memorable day. The hedgerow, splashed red with Virginia creeper and bittersweet, went unnoticed, as did the showy oaks and sugar maples in all their autumn glory. Glynnis stood in their pilfered vegetable garden in back of the summer kitchen, a turnip in one gnarled hand, dismay in her expression.

Sophie burst through the open gate, nearly spilling her chestnut basket. “General Ogilvy. He’s back!”

The housekeeper’s gaze slanted east, as if fearful Sophie could be heard clear to Tall Acre. “The fighting’s over then.” Glynnis looked dazed, as if doubting the eight-year war would have an end. “Since we’ve had no Gazette . . .”

“Cornwallis’s surrender to General Washington must be true.” For once Sophie wished for a newspaper to prove it. They hadn’t been able to afford the small expense, though they had heard rumors each market day when Glynnis went to Roan.

“Cornwallis and Washington, indeed!” Glynnis’s mouth twisted into a more hopeful smile. “What’s all this about General Ogilvy?”

Sophie expelled a breath. “I met his wee daughter in the woods. They’ve recently come from Williamsburg.” Delight filled her to the brim again despite the sad news about Tall Acre’s mistress. “There’s no other reason he’d be home. He’s not been back in years.”

The elderly woman studied her, looking doubtful. “You think he’ll stop here?”

“I should hope so, given he’s Curtis’s commanding officer. Perhaps he’ll bring some word—even a letter.”

Glynnis’s glum look reminded her the last letter they’d received was two very long years ago. Her brother, bless him, wasn’t even aware their mother was dead. A melancholy silence returned the housekeeper to the kitchen, Sophie trailing after her.

“If he doesn’t call soon, I’ll ride to Tall Acre,” Sophie told her. A bit forward, perhaps. Yet mightn’t General Ogilvy allay their fears with a few well-timed words? “I’ve invited his daughter to a party.”

“A party? Mercy!” Glynnis nearly threw up her hands. “And what will you be serving? Air? There’s no tea to speak of either.”

“Well, we should celebrate the war’s end in some meaningful way.” Sinking down atop a stool, Sophie looked to the barren larder, imagining it full again. “Flour can be ground from these chestnuts. Enough for a few biscuits, at least. We can pretend about the tea.” She tried to stem Glynnis’s displeasure by drawing attention to her burgeoning basket. “Lily Cate was kind enough to help me gather these today.”

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