The Greenwood Legacy
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by Jacquelyn Cook
Description: In the romantic storytelling tradition of Eugenia Price, author Jacquelyn Cook turns the true story of an antebellum family into a rich drama. The Greenwood Legacy is a sweeping epic covering three generations of one of the most unforgettable families of the American South. In 1827, newlyweds Lavinia and Thomas Jones moved into a frontier cabin in the vast pine forests of south Georgia. Over the decades to come their magnificent home, Greenwood, rose among the pines, and their family grew and prospered. But their faith, love and future were tested by the joys and sorrows of a turbulent era, including the war that nearly destroyed their beloved homeland. Jacquelyn Cook is the nationally acclaimed author of historical and inspirational fiction with a strong dedication to research, vivid drama and biographical accuracy. With sales of nearly 500,000 copies, her books are well-known and loved by readers of fiction that chronicles the lives of real people and places.THE GREENWOOD LEGACY is the third novel in her trilogy about fascinating Civil War families and the legendary estates they created. Her previous titles for Bell Bridge are SUNRISE (the story of the Hayes mansion in Macon, GA.) and THE GATES OF TREVALYAN (based on the history of a famous plantation in Madison, GA.)
eBook Publisher: BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, 2009 Trade Papperback
eBookwise Release Date: September 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [454 KB]
Reading time: 270-378 min.
"Romance, war, and the daily struggles of families to survive: Jackie Cook brings history to life." NYT bestselling author Deborah Smith
"It feels mysterious!" Lavinia gazed out of the phaeton window at the towering trees whispering in the March wind. "It's as if we're in a secret world hidden in pines."
"Don't be afraid. Look up." Thomas Jones pointed at the treetops one hundred-twenty feet above, where long needles filtered sunlight in shining shafts. "They're like cathedral windows directing light from heaven."
"I will conquer my fear," she promised; but she thought, How far this is from our cultured homes, how different from the eastern coast of Georgia!
Thomas dropped the reins of the sporting carriage between his knees and took her in his arms. "I'll keep you safe. Now that Spain has ceded the Florida Territory to the United States and Andrew Jackson has defeated the Creek Confederacy and moved Chief Neamathla and his Fowltown village into Florida, the Indians and outlaws shouldn't..."
Lavinia shivered. The imaginary line that proclaimed them protected inside Georgia was a walk away. The nearest help was at the budding village of Thomasville, three miles east. Hostile Seminoles roamed the thirty-six miles to Tallahassee. Savannah floated like a mirage on the gray Atlantic, two hundred miles away.
They had ridden through thousands of acres of Pine Barrens growing on flat ground that bore no other vegetation except stiff clumps of wiregrass. Suddenly agitation seized her. Her leg, pressed against his on the short seat, gave her away with a violent trembling.
Hurt washed over Thomas's face. "I doubt I'll ever make you love this isolated place as I do. You shouldn't have married a fourth son whose entire inheritance is risked on a spot of land and a year's supplies." He gestured behind them at the oxcarts following their carriage through the narrow cut that served as a roadway. "I know you could've had your pick of first-born sons who would inherit a grand plantation."
My pick? Lavinia's soul leaped. She clasped her hands over her cheeks. She had always seen herself as horse-faced. Doesn't he realize I'm not beautiful enough to be a belle? She looked at him in awe. She thought his thick black hair and blue eyes made him the handsomest man she had ever seen. His own man at twenty-four, he was so tall that she could stand to her full height and not slouch as she had done with boys her own age.
Misunderstanding her attitude, Thomas flung out. "I know the Pine Barrens seem wasteland to you. Even the Georgia Legislature refuses to build roads here," he mocked sarcastically. "'We won't spend the state's money to develop a country that God almighty left in an unfinished condition.'"
Lavinia's sudden happiness at his appraisal of her charms overcame her apprehensions. Still shy, she caught her lower lip between her teeth and grinned. "Perhaps the Lord intends for you to help finish it," she said, stroking the bristling brows that dominated his strong features, smoothing his face into a smile.
With the tension broken between them, she felt encouraged to continue. "When our ancestors settled the Georgia Colony nearly a hundred years ago, they faced Indians and wilderness. I believe you--and I--can overcome this."
Thomas kissed her, pouring out relief, longing, anticipation, making her know she was wanted, loved.
The horse, unfettered, began to run, sensing he was nearing oats, home.
"Keep your eyes closed until we round the bend. I have a surprise."
Lavinia obediently covered her face.
"Whoa, Prince," Thomas commanded the sorrel. As he lifted Lavinia down from the seat, a ball of white fur roused from sleeping on her silk pumps and whimpered.
"Shhh, Hamlet." She scooped the puppy into her arms and turned to look.
"Oh, Thomas!" She sighed in pleasure.
A higher spot, which had been concealed, was suddenly revealed. A tremendous oval space had been cleared of pines. Beauty enclosed it into a sheltered haven with an atmosphere of peace. Gleaming globes of magnolia trees dominated. Cherry laurels and berried yaupon holly created an evergreen backdrop for dogwoods, blooming snowy white. Farther out, various hardwoods, not yet dressed for spring, were robed in swags of purple wisteria. Its heady perfume made her giddy. She had not realized Thomas had such poetry in his soul.
Thomas smiled. "I just moved in some native plants. You can add what you like. I know how much you love live oaks. I intend to line both sides of the road so their spreading arms can form a canopy. Visitors will know they're approaching a plantation of importance." He tilted her chin so that he could gaze into her face. "And when I make enough money, I'll build you a mansion that will endure."
"I adore our home place," she whispered. "I love what you have begun." She breathed the fresh spring air and listened to trilling mockingbirds making soft music drift around them. Suddenly she set down the puppy and ran around the house site, touching each tree and shrub, marveling. The wind snatched her shawl, exposing the slim column of her Empire-waist gown, making the silk cling. She could feel Thomas's eyes upon her.
He loves me, she exhilarated. He created this hidden beauty just for me.
Since their marriage six months ago, Thomas had left her for such long periods that she had feared he didn't love her. He had come ahead with covered wagons loaded with furniture, bringing his people and crates of chickens, ducks, and hogs, preparing a place for her. When they were together, he talked only of their land, and she had even wondered if he planned to hide her from society because she wasn't beautiful. Now she knew. The magnolias told her even more. Hamlet yapped, running behind her, tumbling over his fat stomach. Lavinia laughed, fears gone--at least for the moment.
"Thank you for the flowering trees," she said as she returned to a bemused Thomas. "I'll design a garden in front of them. When the house is built, it will nestle in as if it had always been here and always will."
Husky-voiced, Thomas replied, "For now it will be make-believe."
He kissed her to seal his promise and then led her behind their future home site to a row of notched-log cabins. Men were unloading supplies from the oxcarts that had been driven by shining black twins, Micah and Nahum. She knew Augustus, the giant of a man who had ridden ahead to announce their impending arrival. Thomas introduced a young couple, Samuel and his wife Julie.
It was Julie who spoke up in a sprightly voice. "I done fixed yo' supper."
"Thank you, Julie." Lavinia felt proud of the grown-up graciousness she displayed in greeting them. All the while she struggled to fix her memory so she could call them by name tomorrow.
Thomas showed her the dogtrot cabin that was to be their temporary home. One shingled roof united two log rooms that were joined by an open-ended porch.
"It's like a dollhouse," exclaimed Lavinia, clapping her hands. "Perfect for two."
She meant what she said, but she envisioned her stepmother, standing in shock, her rope of pearls heaving on her bosom, her fox fur shaking on her shoulders as she compared Lavinia's cabin with her own sprawling mansion. Lavinia's lip protruded. But this is mine. I like it. It will do fine.
She glanced at her confident husband. Their servants stood behind him with idle hands, awaiting commands. How would she manage all these new things? Maybe Mama's advice would have helped--occasionally.
Dusk was gathering, and Thomas dismissed the group. He helped her up the step to the porch and opened a door, letting cooking aromas entice her. Beef, turning on a spit over the open fireplace, and biscuits, browning in a Dutch oven placed on the hearth and packed in hot coals, smelled wonderful. She was hungry to her toes. Thomas smiled and stopped her before she could enter. He lifted her in his arms and carried her over the threshold.
He held her aloft as she gazed in delight at her domain. Firelight twinkled over a table laid with damask and set with her heirloom silver in colonial fiddle-thread pattern. Lavinia smiled. Julie had unpacked barrels of their wedding presents. She had placed porcelain treasures about the rough-walled room. How incongruous, but they make it inviting.
"Our home," Lavinia whispered.
Thomas kissed her, and she sensed they both felt an excitement that this, rather than their time in her parents' home, was really their wedding night.
All he said was, "We'll mark down today, March 3, 1827."
* * * *
Thomas Jones stood surveying his acres as dawn streaked a freshly washed sky. Satisfaction overflowed. He had worried about Lavinia's first glimpse of their solitude, but last night a reticent girl had become a wife. He was ready to build her a kingdom, a dynasty. The very air here filled him with vigor.
He had fallen in love with her when she was only fourteen. He had waited, biding his time, knowing she was the one he would give his life to win. The moment Lavinia finished her schooling and was marriageable age, he had asked for her hand. They had married last September, but he agonized that he had little to offer her because his father, James Jones, had just died, willing him only $730.00 and five workers.
Thomas reflected on how the Jones's fortunes in Georgia had begun when his grandfather, Welshman Francis Jones, had accepted a Royal Grant in Saint George's Parish in 1769 when Georgia was a colony. Others in the clan, including Thomas's father, James, had received additional land grants and had established their homes up the Savannah River toward Augusta. Thomas knew these coastal plantations would never have endured had it not been for the English custom of keeping estates together for first-born sons. Nevertheless, it hurt when the eldest inherited nearly everything.
When I have children, none will feel second best, Thomas vowed. Everything I do will be different.
The difference had begun when he looked to the newly available lands in the southwestern corner of Georgia. This area had long been in dispute even after Andrew Jackson broke the Creek Indian power at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. The general had to face Neamathla, who had touched off the Seminole War by an "ils ne passerant pas" stand at Fowltown, Georgia. Finally, the United States had paid the Indians for several tracts of land. It was distributed to the citizens by the 1820 land lottery. Many who had won the draw had taken one look and rejected these empty Pine Barrens. Last January, Thomas had bought Land Lot 83 from one of those lottery winners, and then, carefully, had purchased enough surrounding land to make 2500 acres.
People laughed. No one wanted this farm. It was landlocked, they said. How would anyone ever get a crop to market through the wilds of Florida's Indian Territory?
But Thomas had seen it, loved it. He had put his hands in the soil and known it would grow cotton. Excited, he suggested to his younger brother, Mitchell, that he also buy a home place.
Now, exhilarated, he breathed the sharp, clean pine scent. My land! My air!
He threw back his shoulders. On rolling red hills, the evergreen trees were spaced six, ten, even twelve feet apart. The Indians had known that long leaf pines would die without sunlight, but they could stand fire and heat as other trees could not. They had managed their woodland by control burning.
So they could maneuver. See game. Enemies, Thomas thought. I'll do that, too.
Interspersing the open pine stands were dense hardwood hammocks where live oak and hickory grew along creeks that bubbled up from springs, providing constant clear, cool water. He could hear the calling of bobwhites, telling him that his land abounded with the quail. He had seen turkey and deer and knew his family would never go hungry. He owned only one spot that was swamp.
One day, he thought, my place will stretch all the way to the black waters of the Ochlockonee River.
Daylight was breaking, and Thomas offered a quick prayer for his good fortune as his workmen appeared, yawning. He strode forward to meet them, ready to do twice what they did.
What first? A proper house for Lavinia and a crop to pay for it.
He directed the twins to the sawpit. He showed Nahum how to climb down into the pit while Micah stood astride the log. Muscles flexed and gleamed as the men drew the saw up and down.
Thomas laughed and joked with Augustus and Samuel as they harnessed the mules. Big Augustus had been on Thomas's father's place as far back as he could remember. The newer hand, Samuel was small and wiry, but he was a willing worker. They set in to plow small fields, some tediously cleared, some merely patches between ever-present pines, which had been girdled to kill them.
Thomas could hardly wait for spring planting.
* * * *
Lavinia awakened smiling. She could not stop. She hugged the goose-down pillow, hoping Julie wouldn't come in. She wanted to savor her first hours in her own home. She looked pridefully at the canopy of the tester bed. An old English piece, it had been in her family since before she was born. The bed nearly filled the room, and she wondered if Thomas had built the ceiling higher to accommodate the tall, reeded posts.
She adjusted the side curtains and Hamlet, who had slept on a pallet on the floor, struggled up the incline of the cover Thomas had left dragging when he slipped out earlier. Lavinia snuggled him, but she decided she was hungry. In search of food, she ventured across the dogtrot--a chicken trot this morning.
Julie came in bearing buckets of goat's milk. A boy toddled behind her. Seeing Hamlet, he dropped to all fours, nose-to-nose with the puppy.
"Good morning." Lavinia grinned at the child. "Who is this?"
"G'morning." Julie looked at him proudly. "My boy Joe. I be firing up the wash pot, iffen you don't need me. There's meat left for noontime."
"Fine. I--I wanted to cook something special for my husband myself, anyway."
She followed Julie and Joe out on the porch and watched at few moments as Julie dumped dirty clothes in the footed, cast-iron kettle set over a fire. As the clothes boiled in soapy water, Julie agitated them with a strong stick. Next she would transfer them to tubs and scrub them on the corrugated washboard. Rinsing in creek water and hanging them on the line would also be tedious. Lavinia would have plenty of time alone.
She dressed quickly and then searched for the packet of recipes that had been copied from those belonging to her own mother. She was disappointed that she lacked ingredients for some and could not understand the symbols used for others. At last she found a simple dessert.
1 C. sugar
1 pt. Rich milk
4 eggs beaten
Melt the sugar and let brown, stirring constantly. Line a mold with it and allow to cool. Mix the beaten eggs, milk, and flavoring. Put the mixture into mold. Stand in boiling water in the oven for 45 minutes.
The custard was meant to be put in dainty molds, baked, and turned out soft set with a thin, crisp topping. Perfect. I have milk, a barrel of sugar, and--from the cackling on the porch--I should have eggs.
Lavinia put the sugar in an iron spider and set the three-legged skillet on the hearth. She had to kneel by the fire to stir, and her cheeks blazed before the sugar browned. It did not melt. It formed rocks. She tried to mash them. Tears slipped down her hot face.
How can I do this by myself? Lavinia mourned.
She gave up on the sugar crystals, deciding they would melt in the oven. Next she tackled the eggs with a whisk. They beat beautifully. Now the milk. One pt. What's that? A cup? More? She put more to be sure. She had neither flavoring nor molds. And no oven!
She sat on the floor, sniffling, nuzzling the dog. "Oh, Hammy, how can I learn all these things I've never done before way out here in this wilderness?"
Forlorn, Lavinia let her pent tears flow. She had thought herself an adult, in complete control of her life. Now she realized acutely what it meant that she was only sixteen.
She slumped down, and the rough logs bored into her back. She envisioned the wallpaper in the dining room of the house where she was born. If the ladies of the family tired of the Screven County Plantation, a refreshing ride down the Savannah River took them into the quaint city laid out in lovely squares by English General James Oglethorpe in 1733. In Savannah, entertainment was plentiful, and life was carefree. Thomas had been born in adjoining Bulloch County, and she had assumed they would stay on the coast. Then he had begun talking of western Georgia. At first it had seemed an adventure.
Hamlet licked her face. She straightened her back and tossed her hair. Oh, Thomas, she thought, remembering last night. It is an exciting journey. I'm no longer a child. I'm a woman. A wife. Suddenly she wanted only to see him.
She poured the custard over the lumpy sugar, placed the pan in the Dutch oven, and packed it in hot coals. She decided it was too hot to stand over the hearth for forty-five minutes.
"Come, Hamlet, let's explore our woods and find Thomas."
The blue skies relaxed her as she followed the wagon track through the clear-floored Pine Barren. Up close, she thought the only vegetation, the two-foot wiregrass, looked like pine needles stuck in the ground. A clump of wiregrass moved. She held her breath and stood immobile. A quail came bobbing out, watching her with bright eyes. Lavinia chuckled. It looked like a fat little old lady in a brown-spotted dress and headscarf waddling along on tiny feet.
At first the silence had been frightening, but when she listened, she heard sounds all around. A tapping made her look up. A red-cockaded woodpecker was carving its nest in a tall pine. In another spot she saw a large dove, soft gray with a black ring nearly around its neck. It cawed to its mate. A few moments later, from a distance, the answer came.
The ground was not as flat and uninteresting as she had thought. It gently rose and fell, and with each change, the wildflowers lifted faces of different colors and infinite shapes. Fragrance surrounded her when she passed a stand of honeysuckle. The tall, rangy bushes bore spidery blossoms of pinks and yellows. She must take some home to perfume their bedroom.
She crossed a tiny creek and stood in a hammock. Enchanted, she dropped to her knees beneath a live oak. Heart-shaped leaves surrounded tiny violets. She picked a nosegay and kept it close to her cheek. Overhead, rampant vines of yellow jessamine climbed and twined their trumpet-shaped blossoms.
I must move some of these plants to my garden, she mused. It's so lovely here. I can make it into a wonderful home for Thomas and me--for a family.
Lavinia listened for a noise of work to indicate where Thomas might be. She called out, but there was no answering cry. All was quiet; and as she descended a sandy path, she realized that silence was stifling here. This place was different. There was no birdsong. She shivered at stands of low-growing saw palmetto. The long fronds made her envision Spanish swords. Wanting to leave this frightening area, she hurried around a bend. She stopped.
A hideous reptile lay completely across the path. Lavinia clapped her hand over her mouth, but a shriek escaped. It brought wandering Hamlet on the run. Bouncing from front feet to back, he emitted sharp threatening barks even though the enemy could eat him in one swallow. She thought the creature must be at least eight feet long. She assumed he would be slow, but when he rose on ridiculous short legs, he waddled toward them at surprising speed. Switching his tail, he opened his long snout, hissing, revealing spiked teeth. He pivoted his head toward Hamlet.
Lavinia inched forward, dared to reach out, grab. Muzzling the feisty pup, she screamed for help.
Eyes on the monster, she backed. She bumped into a warm, wet body. She smelled soap. Resolve forgotten, she began to sob.
Julie exploded with laughter. "That be Mr. Alligator, honey. He won't hurt you none, lessen you provoke him. But that there po' excuse for a dog would make him one gulp."
Lavinia's hysterics continued, bringing the men running. Forgetting the onlookers, she threw herself into Thomas's arms. When she could slow her snuffling, she yelled, "Kill him."
Thomas could not dissuade her.
"Shoot that old 'gator through the eye," said Julie, "and I'll fry his tail." Brown cheeks shining, she smacked her lips. "Tastes just like spring chicken."
Later, Lavinia tried valiantly to eat it, but the alligator meat sprang back from the pressure of her chewing, and her one bite grew ever larger. She wished for Savannah shrimp and rice. Tears filled her eyes as she thought of home, of morning calls, of afternoon teas, of evening musicales. The heaviness of her special pudding made the tears spill over. The sugar had never melted. Like rocks, it threatened to break their teeth.
* * * *
The following Sunday morning, Thomas decided he had better provide some social life. He hitched Prince to the sporty phaeton, and they drove into Thomasville in search of a church. They found none. A mere outpost, the village was the seat of a county formed only two years before. It consisted of a courthouse of roughly split logs and a few dwellings.
As Thomas walked the sorrel by E. J. Perkins Grocery and a general store run by James Kirksey, he swallowed a painful lump. Lavinia will want to go home to her mother.
As he turned the carriage, they were hailed by a genial, rotund man. "Morning, young folks. I'm Nathaniel Mitchell. May I help you?"
"I'm Thomas P. Jones. My wife, Lavinia Young Jones. We were hoping for a worship service."
"Sorry. There's none here abouts. The Methodist circuit rider has made Thomasville a mission station, but he covers an extensive district on horseback. We're in the South Carolina Conference." Noticing Lavinia's crestfallen appearance, he smiled. "Be here in two weeks, for sure. But get down. Get down and join us for Sunday dinner."
Accepting the hospitality of a cabin only slightly larger than theirs, Thomas was delighted to meet the motherly "Miss Dolly" Mitchell. He thought her fried chicken and milk gravy piled over big fluffy biscuits were the best he had ever tasted. Her cheeks were as round and soft as her biscuits, and they lifted in a perpetual smile.
Thank you, Lord, for someone to help Lavinia, he prayed.
Thomas was eating heartily when he realized the adolescent son was not. John William Henry Mitchell, as he grandly introduced himself, was captivated by Lavinia.
Proud at first, Thomas ignored the boy's babbling. After a while, he became peevish. He narrowed his eyes. He knew how enticing Lavinia looked in her stylish gown with the scooped neckline and puff of sleeves showing her bare arms. She was giving John William her full attention, and sometimes she cocked her beribboned bonnet and flashed her admirer an impish grin.
He's never seen a young lady of culture and charm way out here, Thomas thought. Too late, he actually listened to the conversation.
"Have you heard about the Indian murderers?" John William asked in a tone of high excitement.
"Here?" gasped Lavinia.
"Last fall." John William's head bobbed. "Phillip and Nathan Paris returned to their shack to find their gear stolen. They tracked the Indians and caught them with the goods."
"Fightin' and cuttin', but the Paris brothers and their friend, John Chastain, whipped five Indians and got back their property. They made peace, left, but the red men sneaked around and ambushed! Killed both brothers. Shot off John Chastain's right index finger before he escaped in the swamp. His trigger finger!"
"Eat your strawberry shortcake, John William," commanded his mother. Miss Dolly turned to Lavinia, and her cheeks shook as she tried to laugh soothingly. "They were caught. They're in the Tallahassee jail."
John William wiped whipped cream from his chin. "But the trial is here in June!"
"Now don't you worry, young lady," said Mr. Nathaniel. "The United States signed a treaty with the Apalachicola clans in Florida four years ago. The Seminoles were to be reimbursed for cattle and property for a period of twenty years. They agreed to be relocated."
"Nobody's budged them yet," said John William.
All the way home Lavinia peered behind the trees.
Thomas anguished. This land has such special promise, but is Lavinia strong enough for the challenge?
* * * *
With springtime the pace of life accelerated. Lavinia believed Thomas when he joked that farmers worked from "can to can't," but she was busy, too, laying out a garden at what would be the entrance to her home some future day. She hadn't known that the hammocks would yield such a diversity of lovely plants; consequently, she had brought Cape jasmine and roses from Savannah as well as an assortment of bulbs and seeds.
Lavinia and Julie--and Samuel when Thomas could spare him--cleared weeds and swept the yard with brooms of dogwood branches, leaving it clean and bare. The magnolias Thomas had moved in were flourishing, framing the house site with their leathery green leaves. Before she laid out her design in front of them, Lavinia consulted an old book, English Gardens. She considered different patterns, drawing with a stick. Since she didn't have English boxwood to outline geometric parterres, she decided on six circular beds to accent the walkway.
Samuel watched her silently for a while. Then he began to grumble as he dug. "Best let me grub out them yaupon holly."
"No. My husband moved them in from the woods," Lavinia protested. "Besides, they're evergreen and make a pretty background."
Samuel shook his head. "Them leaves be what them red men parch to make the Black Drink. They have ceremonies and vomit it up to clean theyselves to go on the warpath."
Lavinia could feel the blood drain from her cheeks. But she stamped her foot. "No! I won't be scared off. We paid money for this land. We've put our hands in this good red dirt to plant. It's ours."
* * * *
Lavinia insisted they must declare the fourteenth of May a holiday. Thomas would be twenty-five; coincidently, it was Lavinia's birthday, too. She'd be seventeen. The garden was to be the scene of a special celebration. Two beds of poppies and larkspurs in pinks and purples swayed in the breeze. Two circles filled with lemon daylilies blazed in the sun. At the right moment, Julie was to spread a quilt by the glossy-leaved Cape jasmine bushes where their white blossoms could shed fragrance over a picnic lunch.
Lavinia could hardly wait for noon when she planned to bestow the cake and her surprise. She smiled as she sniffed the pound cake, Thomas's favorite. She had gone into town for Miss Dolly to help her. She had carried the pound of butter, pound of sugar, and pound of flour, but the motherly woman had insisted all twelve eggs must come from her special flock of guinea hens. Miss Dolly had shown her how to squeeze the butter in her fingers and fold the batter with her hands. Then Lavinia had whisked the egg whites until her arm was about to drop off. It was worth the effort as the aroma drifted from Miss Dolly's oven, which was built into a brick wall. Lavinia could not have resisted tasting it if it had not been an occasion.
At last, the moment arrived. First, they rode over their land, she on loping Prince, Thomas on prancing Zeus, his new black stallion. Savoring the feeling of ownership, they examined the fields lying ready for cottonseeds. They stopped to walk in knee-high corn, holding hands, as proud of the plants as parents.
When the sun was directly overhead, they headed for the garden. Her mouth had been watering for the deviled eggs; now, emotion filled her and she could not swallow.
"Do you think you can stay happy here?" Thomas asked, munching a ham biscuit. "It will be years before a house can be built in your garden."
Lavinia hunched on her knees and scooted against him. A mockingbird's melody trembled to a high note and held. Then everything stilled. She whispered, "I want only one thing: to make a home for you. No, two. I shall help others discover and respect the worth I see in you. I'll work with you to make this land that people laughed at into a special place."
Thomas caught his breath, clasped his big hands over hers. "I want to establish characteristics of lasting value." He ducked his head, reddened. "I admit it, I need to prove myself the equal of any first-born son."
"You will. Some of your brothers--Mitchell for one--have more blind ambition, but you will set the benchmark."
Thomas beamed. "We must provide inheritance to honor all our children."
Lavinia sat back, disconcerted. "Our children?" She might have figured he'd guess her secret. He was so perceptive. "You know?"
"Is it true? I'd watched you. Hoped. Prayed."
She snuggled into his arms. "Isn't it wonderful? We should have a child by New Year's Day."
They held each other for a long while, savoring their joy, but when Thomas spoke, there was trouble in his tone.
"Would you want to go to your mother or could you have our baby here? We don't know what danger ... I can't imagine how I'd bear for you to go--but the isolation..."
Lavinia was serene. "I'll be fine. I've been reading the eighth chapter of Romans. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." Can I convince him with a show of faith? Lavinia wondered.
Thomas sighed. "You're right. Life can never defeat us, but can we stick this out? Can we lick these Pine Barrens?"
He shook off his worried tone and lifted her to her feet, smiling. "Now, come see my surprise."