Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz, © 2015

Cover Art

I love all of Laura Franz's adventures! Her newest? Now living in a log cabin in Kentucky with a gorgeous view and a contemplative porch swing muse!

I have always wondered how many people came to the Americas unwillingly ~ dispelled from their home country. After the colonial war, that might explain why some still stayed with the British when they were on their new soil ~ or... being used to being taken care of, instead of venturing out on their own to a barren land they would have to turn over the soil and begin anew. Others coming for a promise of tranquility and prosperity to send to their loved ones at home until they could afford passage for them.
Three Chimney's Template ~ Sophie Menzie's home:
Sophie's home at Three Chimneys

Sophie Menzies is waiting for her brother to come home, returning from the ravages of war. But... letters have been far behind them. Where is he? Without a male heir, her residence could be a thing of the past going on to a near kin. No matter that she has secured a livelihood with continued daybreak to dusk at Tall Acre's neighboring Three Chimneys. The American Revolution left many adrift well after the last cannon sound dispensed and they "all went home."
Father and daughter template. Seamus and Lily Cate:

General Seamus Ogilvy, widowed, has returned to Tall Acre with his young daughter, Lily Cate. Trying to establish a new routine for both of them, Seamus above all hopes Lily Cate will learn to care for him. Separated from each other while he was away has brought uncertainty, especially when her grandparents chose to keep them apart in reflections so she did not know him favorably from reference. He also has a war wound that has kept him from his usual chores. His overseer, Mr. Riggs, has been a fine estate manager, keeping Tall Acre from being adrift. The spinning room has been kept active, keeping things in movement, removed from despair from without.

Portfolio-Photography | Richard Jenkins Photography: The last time Sophie had seen Lily Cate was on her birthing day. Sophie's mother attended the birth with Sophie learning her skills in keeping calm and alert. It was necessary to call in the doctor to aid on this day; all was not well and it was advised from the weakness of the mother, that she not conceive again. Making acquaintance with Lily Cate again has bonded them richly, a part missing with Sophie, an attachment not available due to her spinster state. With war, no suitors have come calling and she longs to share with another.

Living each day as we would like it to be, we do not take into account the dealings of others, nor their intent. Sadness and inevitable hardship surface as a web is untangled, those closest to it, enwoven. Unraveling, truth emerges at the pinnacle of hope.

Laura Frantz's writings are rich with appeal ~ the uncertainty of what life will bring and how the characters will respond ~ frightful, or certain that the Lord will give them grace and a way to continue.

***Thank you to Revell Reads for this review copy of Laura Frantz's The Mistress of Tall Acre. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this excerpt from The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz ~ Chapter 1


We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred honor.
                                                                 THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
On this day, 8 August, 1778, a child was safely delivered . . .

Nay, not safely. Anything but safely.

   . . . to Anne Howard Ogilvy and Seamus Michael Ogilvy of Tall Acre, Roan County, Virginia.

   Dropping his quill pen, Seamus ran callused hands through hair bereft of a queue ribbon and watched a stray droplet of ink soak into the scarred desktop. Steadying his breathing, he picked up the pen and pressed on as if time was against him.

   The infant’s name is . . .

   The heavy scratch of the nib against the family Bible’s fragile page was halted by a knock on his study door. A servant to tell him he could finally see his firstborn? Or that his wife was dead? Or the both of them?
   He called out with a shaky voice, but it was Dr. Spurlock who appeared, shutting the door soundly behind him. “A word with you, General Ogilvy, if I may.” At Seamus’s taut expression, Spurlock gave him a slight smile. “At ease, man, at ease. I’m not the undertaker.”
   Pulling himself to his feet, Seamus came out from behind the desk. “A word and a glass of Madeira are in order, at least.” He went to a near cabinet and filled two crystal goblets as a newborn’s wail rent the summer stillness, sharp and sweet as birdsong.
   “’Tis about Anne,” Spurlock said, a careful note to his tone.
   Seamus passed him a glass. The doctor looked haggard after the lengthy ordeal, silver hair standing on end, spectacles askew, to say nothing of his waistcoat. Seamus was sure he looked equally unfit, having spent the night in his study.
   “I don’t need to tell you what a trial this birth has been. You’ve nearly worn a trail in the floor with your pacing.” Spurlock regarded him with bleary, apologetic eyes. “Your wife is very weak. The baby, being so large, took a toll. Anne is a very narrow woman and continues to bleed heavily.”
   Blood. Wounds. Life and death. Seamus was used to such things. These were the staples of a soldier’s life. Childbirth was, in a very real sense, battle. “I trust she’ll recover in time.”
   Spurlock frowned. “Mistress Menzies, the midwife, nearly lost her at one point. If not for her presence of mind and the use of my forceps, we’d be having a very different conversation.” He removed his spectacles and began cleaning them with a handkerchief. “On a brighter note, your wife’s sister is coming from Williamsburg to help care for her, though I do worry about you returning to duty so soon.”
   “Orders,” Seamus said through a stitch of guilt. “General Washington wants me at reveille come morning.” As it was, he’d have to ride all night to reach camp by the appointed time.
   “I speak not only out of concern for your wife but for you, General. I can tell from looking at you that your own health has been compromised.”
   Seamus squared his shoulders. “A malaise of war, little more.”
   “Spoken like a true soldier.” Spurlock fixed his gaze on an open window. “Very well, I’ll talk plain and fast. Your wife faces a long recovery. She’s always been a bit fragile, a true gentlewoman. And though it will be hard for you to hear, I’m duty bound to tell you her very life will be in danger if there’s a second birth. Mistress Menzies concurs.”
   A second birth—and she’d barely withstood the first. The words spun round Seamus’s head but made no sense. Remembering his Madeira, he took a sip, listening as the doctor explained feminine things he didn’t know. Didn’t want to know. Things that made him itch under his uniform collar with a heat that had nothing to do with the humid Virginia afternoon.
   “Of course, husbands have certain needs, certain rights, if you will . . .” The doctor’s words were becoming more labored, nearly lost as the babe’s cries reached a crescendo upstairs.
   “Say no more,” Seamus replied. Spurlock’s warning was clear as a midsummer day. All marital intimacy was at an end. “As it stands, I’ll be away for the duration of the war.” His outward calm belied the storm breaking inside him. “I won’t—I mean, there won’t be occasion to—” He stared at his boots. “I understand.”
   Spurlock nodded and downed the rest of his Madeira. “I knew you’d take it like the officer and gentleman you are. Now, if you’re ready, your wife would like to present you with your firstborn.”
   Firstborn. Final born. And a robust daughter at that.

   The bedchamber seemed strange since Seamus had been away so long. Stepping inside the elegant green and gilt room brought about unwanted, ill-timed memories—a crush of passionate encounters beginning on their wedding night. It was the eve of the war when he’d wed the belle of Williamsburg, three years later when their daughter was conceived on a hasty visit. He hardly remembered either. War had driven such sentimental things from his head, replacing them with the stench of smoke and powder instead.
   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.”
   They withdrew out the front door while he went out the back, which was flung open to the river and leading to Tall Acre’s dependencies. At his appearance, the steamy kitchen at the end of a shaded colonnade came to a standstill.
   “Why, General Ogilvy, looks like you mustered up a fine baby.” Ruby, his longtime cook, hastily left the hearth as the other servants looked on. She leaned near, and one ebony finger caressed a petal-soft cheek. “She’s got your blue eyes and black hair, but I see the mistress in her pert nose and mouth.”
   The maids and housekeeper gathered round next on the rear veranda, cooing and sighing like the dovecote’s doves. Next he went to the stables, a fatherly pride swelling his chest. By the time he returned to his study, his daughter had slept through a brief meeting with his estate manager and a first look at a prize foal. Completely smitten, he crossed to a wing chair in his study, reluctant to let her go.
   “You’re only a few hours old and already you’ve worked your way into my heart.” His voice was a ragged whisper. “But there are some things you need to know. I don’t want to leave you. I’m willing to die for you . . . and if I don’t come back, I want you to forgive me.”
   The choked words staunched none of the pain. His daughter opened wide indigo eyes and stared up at him, as if she understood every syllable. He pressed his damp, unshaven cheek to hers, savoring the feathering of her warm breath on his face. Her flawlessness turned him inside out.
   “Till we meet again, Lily Cate Ogilvy of Tall Acre. Never forget your loving father’s words.”
Laura Frantz, The Mistress of Tall Acre Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2015.

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