The River Between
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by Jacquelyn Cook
Category: Historical Fiction/Romance
Description: A beautiful new edition of Cook's classic inspirational romance historicals, a four-book series spanning the Civil War and set in the beautiful riverside town of Eufaula, Alabama. The true setting and authentic mix of real history with storytelling made these "River Series" books a huge hit with inspirational romance fans in the 1980's and 1990's; including those who read the four-book anthology in a more recent edition, Magnolias. Now with gorgeous new covers and other updates, the series will win over a new group of readers looking for clean historical romance with Christian themes.
eBook Publisher: BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, 1985 Mass Market
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [231 KB]
Reading time: 138-194 min.
Chapter 1 * * * *
The insistent drone of the steamboat's whistle floated up to Lily Edwards in the belvedere atop her father's home, interrupting her daydream. Somewhere, someone waited who could be one with her in mind and spirit as well as heart. She would not be rushed.
Uhmmmmm! The rousing blast drew her irresistibly to the rail. Looking across the treetops at billowing black smoke, she knew she must share in the excitement when the steamer docked. Mama would be angry if she went, but Mama wore a constant scowl these days, because at eighteen, Lily was rapidly passing the age to make a suitable marriage. Wheet! Wheet! The short blasts of the whistle, punctuated with black puffs, told her that the paddle wheeler was nearing the wharf.
Lily tossed her long, dark curls, compressed her mushrooming skirt to fit the narrow staircase, and hurried down, singing out, "Emma, Emma, come quickly!" Her maiden aunt was the perfect chaperone for all occasions. Emma Edwards, still unmarried at twenty-five, was dependent for her livelihood upon the bounty of her sister-in-law's family. Young enough to sympathize with Lily's commitment not to marry simply to satisfy social custom, Emma sometimes wavered in her stand because she knew the heartbreak of being an old maid.
"Emma," Lily called again. She left the observatory and negotiated her voluminous crinoline through the attic and down another zigzag staircase to the second floor. She stood for a moment to catch her breath beneath the large, round grate in the hall ceiling. Barbour Hall was a magnificent white-frame mansion built in perfect symmetry. Since its construction in 1854, four years earlier, it was considered to be one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture in the South.
"What's the excitement?" Emma's calming voice answered, as she emerged from the upstairs sitting room. Her features were set as usual in a placid expression that concealed her emotions as she waited to see what had evoked such enthusiasm.
"A steamboat's coming!" Lily exclaimed, "It's the signal for the Wave." Her brown eyes sparkling, Lily tugged at Emma's elbow. "Come with me. Hurry. We can't miss the landing!"
Emma hesitated but she so desired to be part of the crowd flocking to the riverfront. Nervously, she clutched her fists against her chest and twisted her fingers in the faded gray muslin. "You know your mother expects me to make you behave like a lady."
"Oh, Emma, please." Lily's liquid brown eyes became wistful. Her dainty face alight with curiosity about life, she bounded from one foot to the other while Emma considered.
Emma laughed. "You're as ebullient as a soap bubble and just as impossible to keep from floating away. We'll go--but you cannot be seen in that short-sleeved frock," she said in her measured, quiet way. "You must take time to put on a proper street toilet."
"Yes, of course, but do hurry." Lily's lilting voice came in excited bursts as she pulled her toward the spacious bedroom they shared. "At least my hair is already dressed." She looked at her reflection in the mirror over the marble-topped walnut dresser and fingered her dark brown hair that was pulled back from her face with tortoiseshell combs into a cluster of long curls in back.
Whispering conspiratorially, they dressed quickly. From a tremendous walnut armoire in the back corner of the room, Lily chose a green silk dress with wide lace ruffles beginning at her shoulders, meeting in a point to emphasize her tiny waist, and spreading again to flow to her feet over the skirt held wide by her petticoat of stiff crinoline. She especially liked the sleeves with their lacy fullness at the wrists. The skirt Emma chose was elaborately trimmed with braid, and the frayed bodice she covered with a canezou, a dainty jacket fashioned with horizontal rows of smocking.
When they had donned tulle bonnets and gloves, they picked up tiny silk parasols against the bright June sun and tiptoed into the back bedroom where a closet concealed a hidden staircase. Silently, they slipped down the dark passageway, hoping they would not meet the servants.
Emerging in the back hallway, they hurried across the wide veranda that spread as gracefully around the house as the girls' billowing skirts. Indeed, Lily often fancied Barbour Hall looked like the belles of the day. The glassed belvedere formed her airy hat; the wooden balustrade, her neck ruffle; the green shutters on the upper story, her canezou; and the porch spreading around the first floor, her hooped skirt.
Lily had infected Emma with her sprightliness, and the girls bounced down the steep steps and ran along the cleanly swept path through beds of fragrant summer flowers until they reached the stables.
The buggy ride took nearly half an hour as they proceeded down West Barbour Street, trimmed by China trees. They descended the hill, passed the fine brick storehouses and many churches of Eufaula, Alabama, and continued to the west bank of the Chattahoochee River.
From this high bluff, they could look across the wide, dark blue water into the state of Georgia, which flaunted ownership of the river. Georgia had been one of the original thirteen colonies, but this side of the Chattahoochee had long remained territory occupied by the Creek Indian nation.
Eufaula was a junction of stage lines with six-horse coaches going out into the frontier of Alabama. There were no railroads here, but the bluff, one hundred-fifty feet above the low-water mark, had become a steamboat landing even before the Creeks had been driven out. Because steamboats had plied the Chattahoochee since 1828, Eufaulians were cosmopolitan.
Turning the buggy to the left, the girls followed Riverside Drive past the Tavern, a two-story, English type building with double galleries. Built in 1836, it was the first permanent structure in town. Thus far, it had served as riverboat inn, private residence, and temporary church. The girls laughed about what it might become next as they rode on around the bend in the river and descended the hill to the wharf located at the foot of the bluff just north of the Tavern.
Reining the horse at a high vantage point, they looked down as the tremendous, flat-bottomed boat, fully one hundred seventy-five feet long, belched fire and black smoke from her two towering smokestacks and glided to rest at the wharf. The huge, round paddle box, which covered the machinery of her side wheel, was emblazoned with the name, Wave, and above that was her insignia, a painting of a descending dove.
It was evident that Emma had forgotten her fear of Cordelia Edward's wrath. Quivering with excitement, she leaned forward to gaze at the upper deck where Lily was pointing.
"Would you look at that gown!" Lily exclaimed. "Umm, my favorite green. It must be straight from Paris." She laughed as the lady fluttered her fan coquettishly and looked back at the young gentleman who strutted behind her like a peacock. Around them swirled bright colors of silks and satins as the fifty first-class passengers milled about, chattering gaily, waving handkerchiefs, and promenading about the deck. They seemed to ignore the cacophony of piercing whistles, clanging bells, and shouting workmen.
Bales of cotton, piled everywhere along the wharf and on flat-bottomed barges, waited to be poled out for transfer to the steamer when the Italian marble, favored by Eufaula merchants and planters for the imposing mansions they were building in the Bluff City, was unloaded.
Emma motioned toward the police escort for the men carrying huge bags of silver, funds from the sale in Liverpool of the cotton crop that continued to grow larger each year.
Lily, however, was looking at the lower deck just above the water's edge where grizzled, unwashed passengers crowded amongst machinery, crates of merchandise, and all manner of freight. The steamboat mirrored Southern society; there was no middle class. A woman whose hair was stringing about her wrinkled face pulled at four dirty children. Lily thought that her skirt drooped indecently around her limbs without the required number of petticoats.
Lily cocked her head to one side and pursed her lips in puzzled interest as a handsome young man, dressed in light, slim trousers and a dark frock-tailed coat, moved into view behind the tired mother. Lily wondered why he was on the lower deck.
At that moment, a roustabout staggered backwards under the weight of a barrel and bumped into the especially well-dressed gentleman. His tall silk hat fell, revealing a head of neat blond curls. As he whirled around, his chiseled features contorted with a rage his well-tended beard could not conceal.
Lily grimaced, glad that she could not distinguish his words, for they were obviously a curse. Regaining his balance, the young man raised his gold-headed walking stick to deliver a blow. A slightly older man in a dark blue flannel uniform with a gold braid indicating that he was the captain, stepped quickly into the fray. He placed a restraining hand on the uplifted arm. Quietly, his face and manner pleasant, the ship's master reasoned with the hotheaded young man. The cowed roustabout retrieved the hat; and the tall captain, obviously joking, clapped a hand on the petulant fellow's shoulder and guided him down the deck.
Admiring his calm self-assurance, Lily watched him intently as he went striding away. Seeming to feel her eyes upon him, he turned. Swiftly spanning the distance between them, his clear-eyed gaze met hers with a lively interest that made her blink and swallow as he stopped openmouthed and held his breath midlaugh. His smooth, tanned face warmed with a smile, lifting his dark mustache.
Sighing deeply, Lily tilted her head and lowered the silk fringe of her pink parasol. She smiled beneath it in spite of herself, for she responded immediately to the look in his eyes. The pressure of Emma's hand on her arm reminded her wordlessly that this man was far beneath her social station. Knowing she would never again have a chance to meet anyone this exciting, she dropped her thick lashes and shielded her face with the parasol. "Let's go to Papa's office," she said.
Making their way through the jostling crowd past clean-smelling cypress lumber and the less pleasing aroma of salted fish, the girls entered the Cotton Exchange. In spite of the fact that Clare Edwards was surrounded by men all talking at once, he came forward to meet his daughter and sister with doting smiles and affectionate kisses.
Lily hugged her father lovingly. He was fifty-one, and when she thought of his growing so old, it made her sadly vow to keep his last days happy.
"I'm delighted to see my favorite beauties," he beamed, "but you should not be here."
"Oh, Papa, everyone in town is here."
"Yes, yes, but I mean you especially should not be here today." He hesitated. "It will seem forward."
Puzzled, Lily merely looked at her father, who rubbed his hand over his balding head in confusion.
"There's something I should have told you." He faltered. "Come into my private office." He said nothing more until he was ensconced behind the enormous desk that Mama had bought for him. "You know how concerned your mother has been because you haven't ..." He cleared his throat and hesitated. "Haven't, uh, decided upon one of your beaux ..."
"They are all just shallow boys!" Lily wailed. "I know Mama wants me to have the proper social position and security." She sighed disgustedly. "But I want more than that. I want a husband I can talk with, enjoy being with. Most of all, he must share my faith in God!"
"I wouldn't trust my girl with less than a Christian gentleman," Papa replied. He cleared his throat again and his voice croaked, "But give this young man a chance."
"What young man?" Lily stirred uneasily, wondering how much longer she could struggle against Mama.
"Well, your mother wrote to her relatives in South Carolina. And if all has gone according to schedule, your distant cousin, Green Bethune, has journeyed aboard the river steamer Wave. You must leave quickly now before he comes in and thinks you are here to inspect him."