The Mistress of Tall Acre

By: Laura Frantz

“Lily Cate, is it?” Glynnis’s face softened. “Is she as lovely as her name?”

“Lovelier . . . perhaps a tad befuddled at being back.”

Glynnis nodded. “She was just a babe when she was whisked away to Williamsburg.” Her mood soured. “I suppose her high-minded mother is with her.”

Sophie expelled a breath. “I’m afraid Mistress Ogilvy has passed away.”

“Has she now?” Glynnis’s wrinkled brow creased in consternation. “I never figured the general would come home a widower with a little daughter.”

“Perhaps he’ll bring us glad news.”

Glynnis went to a window. “I’ll be on the lookout then. Some glad news would be most welcome.”

By the light of a costly parlor candle Sophie worked, the slow drip of the wax reminding her of the pence she didn’t have to replace it. The case clock chimed midnight in the chill, silent foyer. She needed to be abed—her fingers were stiff from the cold, and protesting—but the mere memory of Lily Cate’s entreating face kept her at her task.

Earlier, a search in the attic and a prayer had turned up her old wax doll in a dusty trunk. Yellowed with age, the velvet dress worn in places, the doll had once been the height of French fashion. Snipping a length of lace from one of her mother’s old gowns, Sophie began embellishing the barest places. A few brushstrokes of paint had revived the doll’s dull face, her smile in place. Sophie sighed. Was she glaikit to feel such excitement over a well-loved doll, or making sure a little girl had one again?

No doubt Lily Cate’s Williamsburg doll was much finer. She might reject this relic out of hand. If she was as particular as her mother, preferring the fancy over the familiar, she would. There was no guarantee the child would ever return to the woods. Or that General Ogilvy would pay them a call.

Both might turn out as badly as her volatile afternoon.

Her impulsive walk to the village of Roan and back had been her undoing. But the two-mile jaunt wasn’t time enough for second thoughts. Usually she wasn’t given to such rashness. Spirits high, she’d dared to think with the war won, all would be forgiven and forgotten.

’Twas market day. Easy enough to blend in with the crowd. By mid-morning the tiny hamlet was overflowing with vendors and shoppers hawking anything from fresh fish to men’s queue ribbons. Small fires in blackened fire pits glowed like fireflies among the walkways, warming any who cared to tarry.

Hands clammy despite the cold, Sophie sent her gaze toward the milliner’s. She’d taken care to make her rare visit to the village a success, praying and packing samples of her needlework to show the Roan seamstress. But once she stood in the tidy shop, the portly woman regarded her with smug dislike.

“You’re Lord Menzies’s daughter, ain’t you?” The seamstress looked her over as if she was the village doxy, her refusal in her face. “I’ve no work for any Tories, mind you.”

“I’m not a Tory,” Sophie replied hastily. “My loyalties lie with the Patriots. ’Tis why I remained at Three Chimneys during the war.”

“But you quartered British soldiers, the same ones who did damage to this shop.”

“Those soldiers forced their way into my home too.” Sophie swallowed, trying a different direction. “If you’ll allow me to show you my needlework—”

“There’s little need for fancy needlework in Roan.”

“I could take in mending then.”

“I’ve already hired that out.”

“Is there—” Her heart was jumping about so the words came out half choked. “Anything else you need?”

“I need you to take your leave, lest someone see you here and decide my loyalties are in question.” The seamstress pointed to the door, voice cresting. “Roan has long memories where your father is concerned.”

Lowering her head, Sophie went out, a hasty retort withering. She didn’t blame the seamstress. Her father had been insufferable and arrogant, supporting British taxes that caused many in the village undue hardship. Even her mother’s fine reputation for midwifery had been tarnished because of him. And now the loathing lingered.

Face still heated from humiliation hours later, she hemmed the doll’s dress in the security of Three Chimneys’ parlor. The night boasted a brilliant harvest moon, coming up now through the east-facing windows. Glynnis had forgotten to close the shutters. Perhaps the room wouldn’t be so cold if they would remember. But Glynnis, in her old age, was increasingly forgetful. Setting her sewing aside, Sophie closed all but the one framing the moon. Tonight its beauty and light kept her company in a house all too spare and still.

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