Excerpt for Bright as Gold: Book Four of the Georgia Gold Series by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


What Reviewers Are Saying About the Georgia Gold Series:


“Sautee Shadows is a rich work of history and heart, showcasing the author’s

love of a time and place often overlooked in history. Step into the pages of this story and you won’t want to step out, nor will you have to as this is a four-book series. A wonderful offering from a new novelist!” –Laura Frantz, author of The Frontiersman's Daughter, Courting Morrow Little, The Colonel's Lady, and Love's Reckoning


“A riveting interpersonal drama and romance set in 1830s Georgia. Enticing reading all the way through, Sautee Shadows is a strong addition to historical fiction collections, recommended.” –James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Reviews


“An exciting historical novel, its roots in the forced emigration of southeastern tribes and the story expanding into mystery as the Union divides.” –Paul Yarbrough for Southern Literary Review, author of Mississippi Cotton




Bright as Gold

Book Four of the Georgia Gold Series


Denise Weimer




Canterbury House Publishing

www. canterburyhousepublishing.com

at Smashwords


Copyright © 2014 Denise Weimer

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.


Cover Design by Tracy Arendt

Cover Illustration by John Kollock



First Print Edition: April 2014: ISBN: 978-0-9881897-9-9

First E-book Edition: May 2017 ISBN: 978-0-9908416-1-6


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Author’s Note:

This is a work of fiction. Names characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.




Foreword


My personal trip back to Habersham County of the mid-1800s started with a private tour of a summer home of that period, perfectly preserved in every detail, and with the letters and diaries of that family. To the gentleman who offered this glimpse into his ancestors’ lives – and who also lent me my initial stack of books and the skill of his historical editing – I owe boundless thanks. Mr. John Kollock passed away earlier this year and will be dearly missed. He was a true Southern gentleman.

Mr. Kollock’s cover art for Bright as Gold depicts a home that once stood in Clarkesville, Pomona Hall, later known as Minis Hill. The back cover illustrates a number of summer homes surrounding Hardeman’s Bottom outside town, Blythewood, LaMont, and, in the distance, Sleepy Hollow, home of Phineas Miller Kollock.

Most of the places, people and events of The Georgia Gold Series actually existed – apart from the main characters, of course. I sought to drop my characters into a very realistic time and place, and I hope you enjoy the journey with them. You met Mahala and Jack, Carolyn, Dev and Dylan in Book One, Sautee Shadows, set during the Georgia Gold Rush and the Cherokee Removal. You passed through the fiery days of The War Between the States with them as they found love and suffered danger and loss in The Gray Divide and The Crimson Bloom. Now, their stories conclude as the trials of Reconstruction-era Georgia refine their characters to become As Bright as Gold.




Chapter One


Habersham County, Georgia

June 1865


It overcame her irritation so suddenly that it burst forth – a completely foreign sound, a bubble of a laugh – right past the knuckle that she had stuffed in her mouth at her brother-in-law’s struggle with the huge, cantankerous mule, the last one left on the farm. Somehow convinced by Dylan to teach him how to plow a corn field this evening, their poor neighbor kept intervening to maintain straight rows. The man had already stretched his patience yesterday by demonstrating the method for cutting the remaining wheat. In old pants and shirt sleeves, Dylan had bent and swung in a fair imitation, his russet hair gleaming in the summer sun.

Carolyn Calhoun Rousseau watched from the rutted clay lane that led to the outer fields. She had snuck out of the kitchen when her mother-in-law, Henrietta, had sought something out in the butler’s pantry. She just had to see for herself how Dylan was faring. And she needed the break from Henrietta. In truth, the woman was well-meaning, almost to the point of aggravation, but she was a complete stranger to all the duties associated with running a large farm.

Carolyn was not. And that was why her irritation surged forth to gain the upper hand again. Like his mother, if there ever was anyone less suited to farming, it was Dylan Rousseau. He might have grown up on a rice plantation, but that didn’t mean he’d taken any interest in its operation. No, that had been the passion of Devereaux, the older son who had won her hand over the affectionate missives from a young Dylan at ministerial college. Dev was the one who was supposed to take over his family’s 600 acres on Harveys Island outside Savannah, not to mention this upland farm in the foothills of Northeast Georgia. Dev would have known what to do. But Dev was not here. The searing pain reminded Carolyn of that. And it was she who had stepped into the void during the war with the North, coming here to Forests of Green and learning with the help of a black foreman to run this place. Now Samson was gone, too, and who did Dylan think he was?

Her face falling, Carolyn turned to walk back to the house. For once she didn’t notice the peeling white paint and sagging shutters on what had once been the queenly Greek Revival residence. Her mind revisited the moment two nights ago when Dylan and Henrietta had returned. She’d never been so scared in her life, except when Dev had died. Earlier that day Yankee cavalry had come and convinced the few remaining workers on the farm to depart with them, leaving Carolyn and her year-old son Dev Jr. completely alone. When horse hooves had again sounded on the drive after dark, she’d been sure the soldiers had come back to take advantage of her. She’d met her in-laws on the porch with a pistol in her hand. When she’d seen it was them, she’d collapsed sobbing into Henrietta’s arms.

Her petite, dark-haired mother-in-law stood now at the door of the side porch, a crease marring her brow. “Oh, there you are! Where did you go?”

“Just a quick errand.” Carolyn wiped the sweat from her brow, unable to stop herself from thinking how hot and miserable Dylan must be. She reminded herself that he had gotten used to far worse during the war.

“Well, you might have told me. I have the tomatoes ready to stew, but for the life of me I can’t find anything good to put in with them. What do you suppose Esther used?” Henrietta asked, turning back to the kitchen. She missed their old cook. She’d been lucky to bring her personal maid, Lydia, back to Habersham with her.

“Whatever it was, we probably don’t have it. Let’s just add some onions and zucchini. It will taste nice and fresh even without spices. Would you like to cut the onion while I do the zucchini?”

Henrietta looked apologetic. She held up a hand with a finger wrapped in a cloth. “I just nicked it slicing tomatoes.”

“It’s all right. Why don’t you set the table?”

Pleased, Henrietta hurried off. That was something she could do. Hennie Rousseau, widow of Louis Rousseau, coastal rice magnate, was born to preside over grand dinners appreciated by planters, bankers, factors and lawyers. Not to preside over a kitchen. But the slow blood-letting of Southern men and resources in sustaining a four-year war had left the countryside a wasteland, its citizens almost destitute. Carolyn reminded herself that like she had, Henrietta would learn how to make something out of nothing.

Maybe Dylan could do the same. After all, far from the shy, awkward girl she’d once been, she had surprised everyone. The changes the war had wrought in Dylan had already been amazing. When she had last seen him at Dev’s funeral in Savannah, even then it had been hard to find the studious, gentle man who’d once courted her with letters. Now, even more so. He was tan and lean to the point of thinness, but that was just what could be seen on the surface. As he’d assessed the property the night of his return, looking for the threat that had warranted her pistol-waving welcome, the wary aloofness in his eyes had chilled her. Only when his gaze had returned to her had it softened into concern.

He’d reached for her hands, pressing them hard in his. She could still hear his low, even tone when he’d asked, “Did the soldiers harm you?” and feel the heat that had climbed across her face, knowing what he meant.

“No, Dylan.”

The roughness of her hands had made him stop and turn them over. “What have you been doing with these?”

She’d named the most strenuous of her many recent tasks. “Binding wheat.”

He’d said her name with regret, then pulled her into his arms. She remembered all too well how unsettling that had been. No man had held her since Dev had died. And then there had been his brother, sounding like Dev but looking so different. She had allowed Henrietta’s embrace and accepted her apologies. After all, when Louis had died Henrietta’s depression had been so abysmal that her older sister Odelle – in the convoluted way of many old families, actually Carolyn’s grandmother, had taken her back to Brightwell Plantation on the coast with Carolyn’s parents, Lawrence and Olivia. But from Dylan she’d drawn back. He’d looked surprised, and maybe she had seen a flash of hurt before he shuttered those intense brown eyes. Maybe, she thought, he was afraid she mistook his gesture for something more than it was. Carolyn knew from what had happened in Savannah that the years away from her, years in which he’d been reconciled to his brother, had finally erased romantic notions of her from his mind.

Moments later she’d furthered the tension between them by begging him to go after the workers.

“If they decide they want to be here, they’ll come back,” he’d said. “If not, we don’t need them. We’ll make a fresh beginning.”

How? she had wanted to ask. But she’d been too tired to form the word.

The next day at breakfast he’d asked what needed to be done. She’d provided a litany of tasks, certain their sheer enormity would drive Henrietta and Dylan both back to the coast. But he’d given a calm nod. He’d gone to pay a visit on their neighbor, and since then he’d been too busy for her to demand an explanation of how he planned to single-handedly salvage Forests of Green.

Now, absorbed in thought, Carolyn stirred her pot. They’d gotten off on the wrong foot, but perhaps they could talk things over tonight.

But Dylan was in a rotten humor by supper time. She watched him from the kitchen door as he washed up at the pump, so stiff he could barely stand back up after he bent to splash water on his face. Then he had to sit down on the step to remove his boots, which clung stubbornly and only released with a great puff of dust. She averted her eyes as he skirted around her work station in his filthy clothes.

Carolyn was serving the plates when the only sound that could fill her heart with warmth came to her ears – that of her son’s voice. She turned with a smile to behold Dev Jr., rosy cheeked and fresh from a recent nap, jumping in the arms of Henrietta’s maid. “Mama!”

She was about to hurry to him when Henrietta circumvented her, dashing around the table with her arms extended to the child. “Come to Grandma?”

To her chagrin, the dark-haired baby, the spitting image of Henrietta’s prized firstborn, turned his face into Lydia’s bosom.

Carolyn and Lydia said “aw” at the same moment. Henrietta’s face was crestfallen. “He doesn’t remember me.”

“This your grandma,” Lydia tried to coax her charge.

“It’s all right. It’s my fault,” Henrietta said. “If I had come here instead of going to Brightwell, he wouldn’t be afraid of me.” She took a deep breath and patted Devie’s plump hand. “But he’ll come around.”

Watching her mother’s-in-law’s spine straighten, Carolyn thought that maybe the time at Brightwell had done its healing work after all. Henrietta was still given to the emotional outbursts of a cosseted past, but her willingness to work and her patience with her grandson demonstrated that maybe, like most Southern women, that spine was made of steel after all.

Carolyn smiled and kissed Dev’s forehead. “Please put him in his high chair, Lydia. I have to carry the plates to the table.”

Once they had settled, Dylan was still not in evidence. His nephew’s antics convinced the women it would not be wise to wait. As she cut Dev Jr.’s food into small bites, Carolyn decided it was a good time to broach an idea with her mother-in-law.

“I wanted to ask you about something. The wheat threshing must be done in two months, and it requires a lot of manpower. Will there be some workers at The Marshes you can spare to send up here?”

Henrietta dropped her gaze. “I’m afraid the situation on the coast is not very good. The workers have been running off ever since the Yankees took control. I did show our lawyer a copy of Lois’ will stating that I, and not Dylan, owned The Marshes, but we won’t know yet if that will be enough to secure it. General Sherman allowed the Negroes to take over any abandoned property. Right now, The Marshes is occupied by strangers, black vagrants who will probably not leave peacefully.”

“Oh.” It sounded like the man who had so mercilessly razed Georgia had more on his hands now than he’d bargained for. “You know I shared Dylan’s views about slavery. I’m glad the blacks are free now, but what will they do without jobs? I’d hoped some of the good men had remained and that we could pay them with a share of the crops. I guess we’ll have to hire workers around here.”

“No, we won’t.” Dylan spoke from the doorway. His auburn hair was slicked back, and he had changed into a linen vest and pants with a clean shirt. As he walked forward and seated himself at the table, his next words made Carolyn’s heart leap. “A few of the previous workers came back this afternoon.”

“They did?” Carolyn exclaimed. “Where are they?”

“Camped outside town. They are willing to come back to work for us, but only for cash.”

“For cash? But everybody knows there’s no ready cash to be had! They’re accustomed to working for part of the crop. That’s what they agreed to before.”

“Well, not now. Their new terms are cash only.” Without sparing her a glance, Dylan picked up his knife and fork.

“Why didn’t you let me talk to them, Dylan? I could have gotten them to agree to their previous terms. Who was it? Was it Samson?” If their previous foreman had returned, everything would be all right. Though he’d frightened Carolyn at first by his sheer size and stoic bearing, she’d quickly surmised that he had the magnetism, knowledge and quiet confidence of a born leader. And when those pearly whites flashed in his dark face, even she had felt like laughing!

“No. Not Samson. They said he’s gone. Tania would not let him return. Without his influence, I doubt you could have budged them.”

Frustration mushroomed in her chest. It was the doing of her taciturn former maid, now Samson’s wife, that he had left the area. Tania had always resented Carolyn, despite Carolyn’s efforts to reach out to the woman and her disgust for the slave system. She couldn’t stop herself from continuing. “Well, you should have let me try. If you’ll take me to them tomorrow–”

“No, Carolyn,” Dylan cut in, the firmness in his tone at last giving her pause. “I’ve dealt with it. So are you telling me you don’t have any cash at all?”

His tone was even, not accusing, but she felt defensive anyway. “Nothing to speak of,” she said a little sullenly.

“Jewelry?”

“Your mother can tell you we both pawned our jewels in Savannah a long time ago.” Carolyn glanced at Henrietta, who nodded. “But I did bury the silver service this spring when the Yankees came through.”

“Good. You can take me to it right after dinner.”

Carolyn ate in silence. Who is this man? she wondered. He was abrupt, business-like, where he had once been sensitive and tentative. She’d realized when she’d seen him in Savannah that leadership in the army had made him more decisive, but she’d expected his interactions with her to be tempered by both sympathy and respect for all she had undergone – and accomplished – in his absence. But it was as if a stranger, and not Dylan, had returned to them.

After dinner, he got a shovel from the barn. Holding a lantern, Carolyn led him behind the house to the spot by the pond where she’d instructed Samson to bury their silver service and candlesticks.

“I’m glad you held onto the silver. This place is too big to run all by myself.”

Well, that admission was a start. Carolyn just hoped one of the merchants in nearby Clarkesville would give them some money for their valuables. The storekeepers were hard up for cash, too, primarily trading for supplies now. She didn’t say so aloud, but she thought to herself that Dylan might have to go all the way to Athens or Gainesville before he found someone willing to buy the silver off him. Well, it was his plan. He was so determined not to let her talk with the workers. Let him work things out.

She pressed her lips together and pointed to the dirt at the base of the big oak the branches of which leaned over the water, on the side of the tree facing the house. “Here.”

Dylan pulled on a pair of gloves. As he started to dig, Carolyn held the lantern aloft. She looked into the woods around them, presumably to make certain they were not watched, but really to keep from watching the way new muscles tugged and rippled under Dylan’s white cotton shirt. She had been too long without the company of a man. And it unsettled her to be reminded of that.

“Carolyn,” he said, the tone of his voice causing her to look at him. “This ground’s been disturbed. It’s not packed tight enough for the amount of time that’s passed.”

Her heart started to pound. “Are you sure?”

“How far down did you dig?”

“I told him to go down a foot or two. Right here. Exactly here.”

Him?

“Samson. I trusted him, Dylan. If it hadn’t been for him, we never would have made it here during the war. I watched him start to dig, then I left. I don’t believe Samson would steal from us.”

“If you’re right about that, maybe somebody else watched him start to dig, too,” Dylan commented, tossing another shovelful of dirt aside.

A black sickness filled Carolyn’s insides. She stood in silence, knowing now what the outcome would be before Dylan ever finished digging. Minutes later, the whole area excavated past two feet, Dylan stopped and leaned on the shovel, his chest heaving. Their eyes met, and his suddenly unguarded, vulnerable look of despair twisted her heart. She took a step forward, her anger at him forgotten, placing a hand on his damp shirt sleeve.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“It’s not your fault. We’ll just have to figure something else out.” He turned and started shoveling and smoothing the earth in a brusque manner.

They walked back to the house in silence. That night, despite how exhausted she knew he was, Carolyn could hear Dylan pacing. Back and forth, back and forth he went. Did he even sleep? Now would he take her to speak with the former slaves? Surely he would. Finally she fell asleep, certain he’d agree to her request over breakfast.

But at breakfast he was gone.


“Twelve dollar a month,” said the tall black man. “With food.” His downcast eyes did little to diminish the determination evident in his tone.

Dylan shifted. The fallen log on which he perched, his seat here in the creek-side camp of several of the former workers from Forests of Green, was not the reason for his unease. He went back to his former offer. “A fourth of the crop would be an awfully good deal with room and board. Worth more than I could pay you in cash. I heard from the merchants that a lot of farmers are only giving a sixth share to their former slaves.”

This was true, but so was the fact that the local merchants said they couldn’t front him any money unless he was willing to try his hand at cotton, a non-domestic-use crop. Cotton? What did he know about growing cotton? Even less than wheat and corn! Even then, they didn’t have as much cash to lend as he needed. He wouldn’t be mentioning that. It was a miracle he’d gotten the small clutch of greenbacks he had, only thanks to that creditor who’d set up shop in town from Taylor & Davis in Athens. He’d recognized the name of the lender as an established one, but what he’d had to give as surety for the money – and only half of what he needed at that – made his stomach sour.

Markus, the apparent leader of the trio, scuffed his boot in the dirt. John sat silent, but his posture announced his support for Markus. Ham was out hunting. “Naw, Sir,” Markus said. “The Yankee soldiers tell us we need to be paid in gold or Yankee dollars for whatever work we do. Then, no matter how things turn out, we be okay.”

Dylan sighed. While the exodus of blacks from the county had convinced the men that opportunities in the cities would be less than abundant, they were not going to budge on this requirement.

John nodded. “Twelve dollars,” he reiterated.

It was time to be tough. “You men think you’re in the heart of the cotton belt? Eight, and you take care of your own clothes and any doctoring you might need.” If he could get them down far enough it might help soothe the ire of Henrietta and Carolyn. Now what did he care about that? He’d do what he must and they’d live with it.

“Ten,” said Markus, then added with some hesitation, “if that be all right with you, Sir.”

“Nine, and that’s my final offer. I can go to town right now and find ten workers who’d jump at that much money.”

“Yes, Sir. We do it.”

“Fine.” Dylan sat up straight and brushed off his trousers. “You’ll have to come with me back to the house, and we’ll make up a contract. You’ll stay through November, help me thresh the wheat and get in the vegetables and corn. I’ll give you half up front and the other half in the fall when the job’s done.” God only knew where he was going to get the other seventy-five dollars!

“All right, then!” A bright smile broke out on Markus’ face. He appeared inordinately pleased, as well he might be, even clapping his hands together. By contrast, Dylan experienced a sinking feeling.

At that moment they were hailed by a cry from the edge of the clearing. Ham came into view. Dylan half-rose as he saw that he wasn’t alone. The colored man led an emaciated brown horse with a figure slumped over the saddle, arms dangling on one side, legs on the other.

“What in the world …” Dylan said aloud.

“Look what I done foun’! It weren’t no deer!” Ham cried, then lifted his battered hat halfway off his kinky head in recognition of Dylan. “Hello there, Mistuh Dylan.”

“What you got, fool?” Markus demanded. “You gonna kill the man if he ain’t dead already.”

“A soldier,” Dylan murmured as he came alongside the unconscious man on the stallion. The sight of the all-too-familiar gray uniform did strange things in his gut. He pulled the man’s head back and felt a shallow pulse. “He’s alive, but he’s burning up.”

“I foun’ him fell off his horse mumblin’ in the brush, with the horse there eatin’ calm as you please. He be with the cavalry?”

“Was,” Dylan said. He noticed the letter on the uniform button Ham was twisting. “He’s from Tennessee.”

“Musta been goin’ home.”

Dylan shook the man’s shoulder. “Wake up!”

The man stirred. As his fevered gray eyes flashed open, he made a weak move for his pistol.

“Easy, soldier,” Dev instructed in the firm voice of an officer. He placed a quick hand over the trooper’s. “You’re with friends.”

The man’s eyes slid closed, but not before deep coughing clenched his thin body. Dylan had to clutch him to keep him on the mount. After the fit passed, Dylan stood there listening to the cavalryman’s wheezing breaths, his heart sinking. He had heard that awful rasping sound, and not long ago, during the long, dark days when his brother lay dying.

“What you think, Mistuh Dylan?” asked Markus.

“I think he has pneumonia. We’d best get him back to Forests of Green so the women can make him as comfortable as possible.”

As the black man assisted, Dylan used the cavalryman’s lariat to lash him to the saddle. “I’ll go ahead and get him settled at home. You men can come on once you’ve packed up camp.”

As Dylan set out, mounted on one of the carriage horses brought up from Brightwell that he’d ridden into town, trepidation filled him. Not only was he returning home with three former slaves he’d agreed to pay in precious greenbacks, but he was dragging along a painful reminder of the all-too-recent past – to him, to Carolyn, to his mother. He looked over at the soldier slumped hatless over the stallion’s neck, his dark hair a long curling mess over the frayed gold collar. The man was mid-thirties maybe. Not a youth, and not an old man. Regardless, he was vulnerable. And given that silent tie between soldiers of the same cause, he could not let him die alone – or even in the hands of an emotionally detached doctor. He was closer to home anyway. And maybe the presence of the stranger would deter questions about his loan.

But would Carolyn forgive him for what he asked of her?

After tying the horses at the rail, Dylan climbed the steps to the side porch and stood in the kitchen doorway. Looking in, a memory assailed him, completely incongruous to the actual scene of Carolyn scrubbing sweet potatoes and Henrietta washing dishes – a memory of leading a sweetly gowned, rosy-cheeked Carolyn through the kitchen on her first tour of their mountain home, Maum Esther shooing he and Dev and the girl that divided them out of her domain. But now Esther was at Brightwell, where she’d stayed to help Carolyn’s family after their cook had run off. He’d had no idea he’d find Carolyn alone up here with no help whatsoever, not even a kitchen maid. Who would have thought the once-sheltered girl would learn to run a household all by herself? He was impressed by her fortitude, there was no doubting that; but now that he was home, he was determined to take the load off her weary shoulders. He would not have her look on him as the incapable younger brother ever again.

He realized his mother was staring at him in confusion. “Dylan? What’s the matter?’

“I need some help. We found a man – a soldier. He’s dying.”

“What?” Henrietta cried, horrified.

Carolyn tossed down her knife and ran to the door of the kitchen. “What happened?”

“I went to negotiate with the former workers. While I was there, Ham brought this cavalryman into their camp. He found him alongside the road while he was out hunting.”

“The workers? Are they with you?” Henrietta asked.

“On their way.” Under different circumstances, Carolyn would have demanded details of their arrangement. But as he was speaking she’d gone down to the soldier’s side, her fingers searching out the thready pulse. Her blonde head cocked as she listened to his breathing. “Will you help me get him inside?”

Her brown eyes rose to his, sorrow reflected there. Dylan stepped off the porch and stood beside her. “I’m sorry, Carolyn,” he said. “It’s pneumonia. I just – couldn’t leave him.”

“If you get his upper body and I take his legs, I think I can help get him to the sofa.”

Dylan nodded. He tugged the man down, bending deep to absorb the stranger’s weight. A pain from his old Gettysburg wound stabbed his thigh. He bit his lip. The man he held was not so taciturn. Moaning, he came to consciousness with Dylan’s arms under his torso.

“Where am I?” The stranger’s voice was low, raspy.

“I’m Captain Dylan Rousseau, lately of the 8th Georgia Infantry. You’re at my home in Habersham County, Forests of Green.”

A bare nod acknowledged acceptance. He coughed weakly, but the phlegm that rose in his throat choked him and forced him to cough on and on. Dylan thought he might die right there.

“Mother, mix up some whiskey and cod liver oil,” Carolyn called to Henrietta, who was standing on the porch. “You’ll find both clearly marked in the butler’s pantry.”

As the older woman moved to obey, the coughing fit finally subsided. Dylan was about to ask the soldier his name when he saw that his guest had again slipped into unconsciousness.

“Let’s get him in,” Carolyn said, bending to slip her arms under the booted knees.

Dylan hefted the upper body and watched Carolyn’s face turn red with her own effort. He backed up the steps and into the house, angling down the hall to the sofa in the parlor. Puffing, they deposited the invalid there. Carolyn began to tug off the man’s boots. Dylan helped her get them off and folded the soldier’s limp arm over his chest.

“I’ll bring in his saddle bags and haversack. Maybe something in them will tell us who he is.”

Carolyn nodded. Henrietta had arrived with a small glass of foul-smelling liquid. “Just a teaspoon,” Carolyn said.

The women were working the concoction into the soldier’s mouth as he left, and bathing his forehead with a cool cloth when he returned. Leaving a basin of water, his mother exited the room. She was handling this turn of events with remarkable composure. Maybe that was because of Carolyn’s presence of mind. She glanced up as he deposited the bags at the foot of the sofa.

“I put the rest of his stuff in the barn. Need anything else?”

She shook her head. He saw her bite her lip. But instead of speaking, she rose up on her knees and started unbuttoning the trooper’s cropped jacket. Dylan helped her raise the man up so she could remove the dusty outer garment. As he did, he saw a tear fall from her eye. He caught her hand, knowing he’d made her face death again, well before she was ready.

“I know he’s a stranger,” Dylan heard himself say. She paused and looked at him, and sudden awareness of Carolyn as a woman surprised him. Well, it wasn’t a total surprise. The first night he’d arrived, finding his sister-in-law alone and vulnerable, the urge to take her in his arms had been overpowering. And when she’d nestled here, weeping against him, he’d experienced a tenderness of feeling he’d thought long ago stamped out by the war.

Blinking, she pulled away. “He’s a human.”

A motion on the front drive caught Dylan’s eye. “It’s the workers.”

“How did you tell them you’d pay them?”

Her brown eyes pinned him, but he refused to apologize. “I got a loan from Taylor & Davis, and the men have agreed to a contract. We’re fortunate they came back at all. We aren’t the only ones who have been robbed recently. I heard in town the Waldburgs were on the 18th, and Blythewood was just a few days later. But with the workers to help us, we can set things right. We won’t go hungry this winter.”

The look she gave him was hard. “And how did you secure a loan without anything to sell? On the return of the crops?”

Here it was, no avoiding it. No use lying. She would find out the truth soon enough anyway. And he didn’t lie. Did he? He never had before. Why was he considering it now? Because he knew she thought him incapable of providing for them and couldn’t bear to see the lack of confidence in her eyes. “No. The only lenders or merchants giving security on a crop are those – mainly farther south – who only do so for cotton.” He stood up. “I had to put up the deed to the town house as collateral.”

“Oh, dear Lord,” she gasped, closing her eyes. He knew what that town house meant to her. It was a connection to the outside world, and the place where she had spent most of her married time with his brother. She had been afraid when the Yankee army claimed Savannah that it wouldn’t survive the occupation. Now, he was risking it again.

When she opened her deep brown eyes, they glowed like amber. He braced himself for the onslaught, be it physical or verbal. But none came. Either civility of breeding or the estrangement of the war years held her back – for Dylan was sure it wasn’t respect.

He hated it, but he still wanted to deserve her respect.

“Go then,” she said, which was rather worse than an attack.

And he deserved it, but he hated that her dismissal stung.


Lydia was giving Devie his bath. Carolyn liked her mother-in-law’s servant, and Dev Jr. did, too, judging from the giggles that floated down the stairs, warming the solemn house with the promise of life and joy. Carolyn couldn’t help but be drawn to the sound. She would see what all the ruckus was about, then give her son hugs and kisses goodnight to fortify herself for the nighttime vigil she must hold with the dying soldier. Well, not must hold. Dylan had offered to do that, but she’d said she’d take the first shift.

She folded the dish towel and, a slight smile lifting the corners of her mouth, crept up the back stairs to the nursery.

“Peek-a-boo!” she heard her son yell.

But the answering voice was not Lydia’s. Carolyn paused at the sound of a man teasing Dev Jr.. Tingles of amazement splintered through her, but they were immediately followed by a deep, answering sense of loss. Her husband would never play with their little boy. God, how it hurt! How much Dylan sounded like his brother.

Disquieted now, Carolyn went along the hall until she had a view into the nursery that would not expose her own presence. Dylan had become a bear. He was down on all fours swinging his head to and fro, but she saw him peek over to make sure the boy was not frightened. Shrieks – not of fear but of laughter – answered. Dylan roared and lumbered forward. In his fresh night clothes, his chubby baby cheeks glowing, Dev Jr. toddled in crazy circles before throwing himself across his uncle’s back, gasping with glee. Dylan obliged by leaning down to give his nephew a ride. Lydia hurried over to help place the toddler on his uncle’s back.

As if sensing her, Dylan started to look up. Carolyn turned away. She hurried down the hall, unable to ignore the white-hot emotion inside her, but not sure exactly what it was. It was a terrible tangle, that was for sure. Sorrow. Anger. Resentment. It was not all because she had grown accustomed to doing things her own way. It went deeper than that, to the place where she wondered about the changes in Dylan and the changes she knew were lurking in her own future. And there was fear in that, too.

She went to check on the soldier. When she saw he was still, she replaced the cloth on his head with a cool one, lit a lamp and paced.

Why had Dylan come home, why him and not Dev? And why was he trying to act like Dev, who truly had known how to run a farm and oversee servants and deal with creditors? And how was she supposed to live in the house with a man who was not her husband, but who reminded her of him in unexpected and painful ways?

“Something’s got to change,” she muttered aloud. “Things just can’t go on like this. And the house – the Savannah house! Does he want to lose everything?”

She told herself her anger over the town house didn’t stem simply from a sentimental attachment. They would also need every asset in the future. They might need to sell it, if worse came to worst.

The man on the sofa moaned. She walked over and stood above him, hands on her hips, feeling something uncharacteristic: selfishness. “And just who are you, anyway? Besides another man creating problems?”

To her surprise, the eyelids fluttered open, and glazed, stormy eyes focused on her. “Becky,” he murmured.

“No, I’m Carolyn. Mrs. Carolyn Rousseau. Mrs. Devereaux Rousseau.” There, she felt better saying that aloud.

“Come,” he rasped. He motioned weakly to her. She knelt beside him as he coughed. Suddenly, with surprising force, he grabbed her arm and drew her closer. The fever-blurred glaze clamped down on her. “I’m not empty-handed anymore! I did it for us! For us! I promised you–” A fit of coughing overtook him, during which Carolyn was able to escape his clutches. She sat back on her knees. Finally he finished, “I promised I’d take care of you.”

“Yes, you did,” she murmured to ease the man. “But please, calm yourself.”

Who was Becky? A wife? A fiancée? A daughter? He might have any of those. Moved by compassion, Carolyn wrung out the cloth and bathed his bearded face. He was not unhandsome. She studied the high cheekbones, the strong jaw with more interest. She didn’t have the heart to tell him again that she wasn’t his Becky. How could she have been impatient with him, even for a minute, when he suffered as her own Dev had suffered?

Her eye fell on the haversack resting nearby. She reached for it, sliding open the buttoned tab. Tin cup and plate. Knife and fork. Hardtack. A sewing kit. Ah, a wrapped bundle – a handkerchief tied with a pink ribbon around a hard rectangle. Unfolding the cloth, Carolyn gazed at a tintype of a young woman in a Garabaldi blouse and dark skirt. She was pretty in a simple way, with a satisfied, rosebud mouth and a round face. Though there was no monogram on the handkerchief, Carolyn could only assume that she was looking at Becky.

She went through the haversack and the saddlebags in search of letters, but there were none. This troubled her. Maybe they were in the soldier’s clothing. She searched the uniform coat, then bent over the man again, gently unbuttoning his vest and sliding her hand inside the pocket. Nothing.

But he stirred, muttered, “Becky.”

She smoothed back his hair and said, “I’m here.” She was shocked at how hot he was. Struggling, she eased the wool vest from one arm at a time.

“Chennault,” he wheezed.

“Chennault? Is that your name?”

A moan was her only answer. Carolyn shook the soldier slightly. “What’s your name?” she demanded. Something in her would not let this man die without a name. No, how could she let him die at all? He obviously had unfinished business. Becoming more insistent, Carolyn shook him again. “Wake up. What’s your name? Where are you from?”

He spoke again, but not to answer her questions. “Don’t – leave me. You said you’d wait.”

“I won’t leave you, but you must tell me–”

The soldier contracted in another prolonged bout of coughing. Carolyn held a cloth to his mouth. It came away yellow and red. Ah, the memories. She held up his sweaty head, slid another teaspoon of tonic between his lips.

Suddenly she had an idea. There were still several blocks of ice in the springhouse that the slaves had taken off the pond during the past winter’s freeze. If she got the man in a cold bath, maybe it would break his fever. Was it too late once blood showed in the saliva? She didn’t know, but she had to try.

Carolyn rose and rushed to the stairs. On the second floor, she knocked on Dylan’s door, not caring how improper she was being. When he opened it, drawing suspenders over an untucked shirt, she looked away, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind her ear, but said firmly, “I need your help. That man downstairs is delirious, and we need to get him in a cold bath. We have to try to save him.”

He studied her a minute, then nodded.

While he fetched the tin tub from the kitchen and carried buckets of water in to fill it, Carolyn went to the spring house. She chipped ice from a block with a chisel and placed it in a canvas sack, then took it inside. Together they stripped the soldier to his long johns and managed to get him in the icy water. He began to shiver. Not saying a word, Dylan watched her bathe the stranger’s face and neck.

Carolyn felt she needed to explain her desperation. She wanted him to know she wasn’t just doing this because of Dev. “I don’t know who he is, but he loves a girl named Becky, and he’s afraid she’s going to leave him. I can’t find any papers on him, Dylan, not a one. Did he lose them? Burn them? Somebody must love him. Somebody must be wondering where he is. Don’t you see, we can’t let him die, without – without even knowing – who to tell – who he is – what happened.”

Dylan took the cloth from her to pause her frantic ministrations. “I understand,” he said softly. “And you’re right. You’re right to try.”

A tear was tracking down her cheek as she looked at the pale, trembling man in the tub. She brushed it away, angry at the hopelessness of it all. Angry that she was so helpless – again. Dylan had seen countless deaths, but she was tender and vulnerable now, and this rattled her. She wanted to leave, leave Dylan with this man he’d brought home, but she couldn’t.

They got him out, wrapped him in wool blankets. He was cooler, and he no longer moaned or tossed about. Instead, he now lay still, like a corpse, the only indication life lingered his faint wheezing breath.

They kept their silent vigil until nearly dawn, when the breaths grew ragged. Carolyn held the man’s hand and cried. He never spoke again.




Chapter Two


They buried the Tennessee cavalryman under the oak tree by the pond, where the ground was already soft. Carolyn brushed his hair, dressed him in his uniform, laid his haversack beside him, and folded his hands over his chest clutching the picture of the girl named Becky. The grief as she did it was intense. She knew it was because eight months ago she had prepared her own husband for burial, but there was a rightness in knowing someone grieved the unknown soldier. So she did not try to hide or suppress her emotions.

She could tell Dylan was concerned about her, but she didn’t want to look at him or talk to him. He made her think too much about everything.

Dylan, too, was weighted down with troubles. There was a deep pensiveness, a distance, as if a great gulf still separated him from everyday life. Carolyn often noticed him gazing off into nothingness, his eyes full of shadows. At night, she’d hear him pacing. Sometimes she’d see a horse with a dark rider clinging to its neck shoot from the stables. The cavalryman’s stallion had recovered well with decent feed and rest, and Dylan found it a much better mount than the carriage horses. Hours later the sound of its hooves would awaken her as Dylan returned home. Once she asked Henrietta where he went. Henrietta shrugged, looking troubled.

But this did not mean he was disengaged from his duties. No, indeed. In the days that followed, he did not defer to her except to ask the briefest of questions, and only when entirely necessary. A seed of resentment began to take root inside of her. She was the one who had worked here, had struggled and learned and made ends meet. And now here he was, taking it all over, taking all the credit, just like a man, making mistakes that could cost them everything.

The Dylan she had known would not have been that assuming.

His presence in the house began to annoy her. She didn’t like the way his boots sounded as he walked through the hall. And she didn’t like coming down the stairs to see his hat and coat hanging on the hall tree. No, not a bit.

Added to all this was the fact that one Sunday evening when she came back from a walk, she found Sunny Randall and her daughter Sylvie on the porch, having just spent the last hour visiting with Henrietta and Dylan. That in itself was no surprise. The Randalls and the Rousseaus had been acquainted since Richard Randall had convinced Louis Rousseau to let him export Rousseau rice in 1838. Their ties had only been strengthened when Carolyn’s aunt Sunny had married Richard following the death of his first wife, Eva. Sunny was Henrietta’s niece. And Henrietta had been so pleased with the way her one great niece’s marriage to her older son had turned out, she had begun to think having her younger son marry another great niece wasn’t a bad idea. Especially when that great niece, young, pretty, vivacious Sylvie, shared in her half-brother Jack’s blockade-running, war-time fortune.

But what was surprising, at least to Carolyn, who had always thought Dylan too mature for Sylvie, was the sight of her brother-in-law’s face as he bent over Sylvie’s hand in goodbye. He had been pleased by her visit. And he hadn’t minded the flirtatious smirk she gave him. Of that Carolyn was sure.

Sylvie was not one to beat around the bush. She knew what she wanted, and she went after it with all her feminine wiles. If she decided she wanted Dylan, where would that end? To any sensible man with eyes in his head, she would be a catch. What if Dylan came to agree with his mother that Sylvie was a good solution to all his problems? Where would that leave her? Did she really want to live with Sylvie Randall?

Carolyn thought about that expression she’d caught on Dylan’s face all week, even when she tried to put it out of her mind. She concluded that what she felt wasn’t anything akin to jealousy. That would be silly; Dylan had courted her such a long time ago, and even though for a time he’d struggled to overcome his feelings once she and Dev had wed, clearly he had been able to do so during the war. In fact, when on his deathbed Dev had joined her hand with Dylan’s and asked her to let Dylan take care of her, Dylan had responded with just as much indignation as she had. No, what she felt was anxiety, for herself and for Dev Jr., and it was perfectly understandable, wasn’t it?

At dinner a week or so after the trooper died, she said in a tone she hoped was conversational and casual, “After the wheat is threshed, it will be time to harvest the corn, then to sow next year’s wheat. I suppose once all that is done you’ll both think of spending Christmas in Savannah, and the winter season?”

If they did, she could make it until then. Then her life could return to its previous peaceful, albeit lonely, state. Dylan could provide for her from a distance by giving her a place to live, discharging his duty to his brother’s widow and his nephew. She could keep a few servants at hand, and with visits to and from people in town, including occasional ones from Dylan and Henrietta up from Savannah, they’d be just fine, she and Dev Jr..

“Oh, no,” Henrietta responded, looking up from her plate. “I have no desire to be in town with all those Yankee soldiers there. Remember, Savannah is occupied.”

“Then – do you think you’ll be able to soon reclaim The Marshes?”

A small silence fell. Carolyn wondered why no one was answering her. Dylan finished chewing his bite and laid down his fork. “I think that’s something we need to talk about, Carolyn. Mother and I have discussed it, and we feel we should let The Marshes go.”

“Let it … go?” Carolyn envisioned the beautiful coastal plantation overgrown and untended, its grandeur never to be reclaimed. But then, it was already that way.

“Sell it.”

She stared at him. “You can’t be serious.”

“We are … very serious. Mother will probably have to take the new oath of allegiance, but once she does, the Negroes camping there can be cleared off and the place put on the market.”

“How – how could you do this? And not even tell me? Just like gambling with the deed to the Oglethorpe Square house without consulting either of us! I realize – I suppose – I’m not officially a part of this family any more, but–”

“That’s not true, Carolyn,” Dylan broke in.

She continued without pause, “–but my son is. And that plantation was to be part of his inheritance. Or was I mistaken? I – I guess everything is yours now. But does what I think not even count?

“Of course it does, but I think if you consider the facts, you’ll agree…”

Carolyn could not listen to him, her anger was so quickly escalating. Her limbs trembled, and she felt cornered and alone. She glanced at Henrietta, who looked troubled, her lips compressed. “Dev loved The Marshes,” she appealed to her mother-in-law. “And so did Louis. It was the crown jewel of your own little empire. Yet as soon as they are gone you are ready to sell it away – sell the memories, and sell the future – to some rich Yankee?” Carolyn’s voice cracked, and she stood abruptly. “You can’t do that! You’ve both gone crazy!”

So saying, she ran out of the room, out of the house, and into the garden. That was the wrong place to go, for the sweet smell of roses reminded her of Dev’s proposal.

Carolyn stopped and doubled over, wrapping her arms around herself. The only person who could stabilize her world was gone forever. But that didn’t stop her from longing for his arms, his whispered words of assurance.

She heard the crunch of slightly uneven footsteps and a rush of annoyance overswept her. Could she not be allowed the luxury of falling apart in private?

She began to walk away, but Dylan’s voice – Dev’s voice – called after her. “Carolyn, please, wait. Please let me explain.”

She halted and listened, but did not turn around.

“I can see why you are upset. First that soldier I brought home – and the loan – and now this. I don’t blame you. I – handled this poorly. I should have spoken with you sooner. It’s just – we can’t afford The Marshes. The property taxes are killing us, and without slave labor, I don’t see how we can pay enough workers enough money to break even, much less turn a profit. By now the ditches have filled up; weeds are everywhere. The blacks aren’t going to want to do the hard banking and ditching labor a rice plantation demands, even if we could pay them. The truth is, I’m glad of it. Yes, I hate to see the land and house pass out of our family. Yes, I know we’ll be closing a chapter of our lives that will never be opened again, but is that all a bad thing? We once had dreams, Carolyn, both of us, and they didn’t include the old world, the dying world that was The Marshes. This place is different. I can see a future here. It will never be like it was before, but at least we won’t starve. So … there it is.”

“And does your mother agree with you?”

“My father was killed at The Marshes, remember?”

“I – I guess I hadn’t thought of that.”

“It’s not exactly a place she wants to linger any more. It’s too painful.”

She had to admit that he made sense, but something inside her rebelled against Dylan’s logic, against the inevitable. It was so hard to give up old dreams. “But you grew up there. Dev grew up there.”

“I know. I struggled with that, but I’ve come to peace with it. I think you will, too, if you give it some time.”

“I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?” Carolyn asked, half turning to look at him in the moonlight.

“Carolyn, please don’t look at it that way. We value what you’ve done here more than we can express, and as Dev Jr.’s mother–”

“It’s all right, Dylan,” she cut in softly, withdrawing emotionally, protecting herself. “I understand how things stand here now.”

Carolyn turned her face away and walked back toward the kitchen. This time she ignored his pleas for her to stay. There was no point in saying anything else. The dust raised by the great conflict was settling. Dev was dead. She no longer had a defender, a representative. And Dylan was back. She no longer made the decisions. She was a young widow whose only place in the world was defined by her infant son, an attachment that would give her food and shelter, but little else. It was a situation that would continue to be awkward, at best.

Unless … unless she went back to her own family. To Brightwell.

Her heart rebelled at the thought. Forests of Green had become a true home. But did she really belong here now?

That night she cried herself to sleep … but by morning, her mind was made up.

As she fed Dev Jr. his porridge, Henrietta came into the kitchen. Her dark hair was neatly tucked under a black mourning cap that matched her well-worn gown of the same hue. She slid its skirt under her petite form as she took a seat near her daughter-in-law. She played with her fork a moment, hesitating before speaking.

“Carolyn, I felt very bad about our discussion at dinner last night. I don’t want you to think we don’t want you to be an integral part of our lives here. Why, if you hadn’t been here all this time, hadn’t held things together, where would we be now? Because of you, we have our dignity. And we love you, truly we do. And … I don’t just speak for myself. Dylan cares for you, too, though showing it just now is a bit awkward, a bit hard for him.”

Carolyn’s hand paused in mid-air, but she did not respond. Dev Jr. kicked his legs in his high chair, so she delivered his bite.

“But … that raises a problem of another sort, something I’ve been conscious of since our return,” Henrietta continued. “I know the rules of society have relaxed somewhat, but for people of our station, propriety will always be important. I worry … for your reputation. Of course you are chaperoned, but you and Dylan, living under the same roof … well, it just leaves something to be desired.”

“And what would that be?” Carolyn asked, turning her gaze upon the older woman.

“Matrimony.”

What?”

“I know it’s early yet, too early, but an engagement …”

Carolyn’s mouth fell open. “I – I can’t believe this. You are suggesting I marry Dylan? Is this his idea – or yours?”

“Well, I have not spoken to him, but I do believe, like I said, that he still cares for you.”

“What about Sylvie Randall? You were so in favor of that match.”


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