The Mistress of Tall Acre

By: Laura Frantz

She returned and passed him a piece of paper with Lily Cate’s name written in an elegant hand. “Tea is at four o’clock on the morrow. Her doll is invited too.”

“That would be Sophie.”

She looked at him, momentarily perplexed. “The doll bears my name?”

“According to my daughter.”

Softness filled her face, turning her touchingly girlish. More like the Sophie Menzies he remembered. “I’m honored, truly, General.”

They finished their tea in silence, making him glad the cups were small. She was likely still thinking of Curtis, probably ruing the lack of news. His gut twisted at not bringing her a good report. He hadn’t felt so rattled since he’d helped rout Cornwallis at Yorktown. Yet there was a strange peace in this cold, war-stripped parlor—and something else he couldn’t explain.

He’d come here expecting the plump, pampered daughter of his nemesis, but this lass had engaged him on every level.

Standing, he tossed aside his query of why she had no fire and made ready to leave. “Thank you for the tea, Miss Menzies.”

“Nay, General Ogilvy. Thank you.”

Sophie stood at the parlor window and watched Seamus Ogilvy ride away till he was no more than a black streak across the brilliant autumn ground. His rich blue uniform with its buff facings and yellow buttons commanded a second look and no small dose of respect. Having a seamstress’s eye, she was drawn to all the braw details. The silken sash draping his chest and the gold epaulettes spanning his shoulders with their silver stars were a heady reminder of his rank. As if she needed reminding. She’d always been partial to rebel blue.

Despite the rigors of war, he’d somehow managed to emerge more handsome, if a bit weathered. His years away had faded the remarkable eyes she remembered to a weary yet still vibrant indigo. She’d even glimpsed silver threads in his black hair.

There was no denying his noble cause had cost him dearly. When she’d spied his severed fingers, it had taken all her will not to gasp. If she had, she’d have only injured him further. She’d noticed how he’d self-consciously turned his wrist so that the wound was hidden beneath his coat sleeve, as if it pained him to look at it, or he rued her reaction.

She reached for the bell cord above her mother’s favorite chair and rang for Glynnis again. Never had her gout-ridden housekeeper come round so fast, her amazement almost amusing. “Tea, ooh-la-la! Not bland bohea but fine congou!”

“The general simply wanted to soften the news about Curtis.”

Glynnis’s smile vanished. “What news?”

“No news really.” The hurt of it was hard to mask. “General Ogilvy doesn’t know where Curtis is. Not since the debacle with Benedict Arnold in Richmond.”

Clucking her displeasure, Glynnis gathered up the tea tray and led the way to the kitchen. The sweet, nutty fragrance of roasting chestnuts invited them in, banishing any melancholy. “I’ve scored all the nuts and they’re cooking over the coals.” She sniffed. “Mercy, but they’re done in a hurry!”

“Here, have a wee sit,” Sophie told her. “The chestnuts are better peeled when warm. I’ll manage that while you enjoy your tea.”

As Glynnis took a stool, Sophie poured her a cup of congou, her practiced poise dissolving with another thought of Curtis. Tepid liquid splashed into the saucer, and Glynnis sipped with relish. “Remember when the general used to pasture sheep in the chestnut grove and they’d crack open the burrs with their hooves?”

“Oh aye,” Sophie replied, thinking of better days. “Perhaps he’ll bring sheep back to Tall Acre now that he’s home.”

“I overheard you telling him you’d be fine here with just me and Henry, even if it was more a fib. I didn’t expect you to say we nigh starved last winter and have no hopes of putting in a crop come spring.”

“We can get by on the apples we’ve harvested and the root vegetables in the cellar,” Sophie murmured as she emptied the pot of steaming chestnuts onto a cloth atop the kitchen table. “Though someone stole our milk cow, we still have a few chickens. Once Curtis comes home, all will be well again.”

“Perhaps.” Glynnis’s hands shook as she lifted her cup, the rattling cough she’d gotten from a summer cold still astir in her chest. “I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I did hear you say something more about a tea party.”

“Tea for three on the morrow. Just me, Lily Cate, and her doll.” Sophie felt a catch in her chest. “Mama always did that, remember?”

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