I might as well be in Scotland.
Smiling, Elizabeth Howard Carleton studied the rear of the brooding, towered building that loomed before her. The imposing grey limestone manor of her husband’s Virginia estate could not possibly have looked more like a Highland laird’s domain. Adding to the effect were the lilting strains of fiddle and pipe that reached her from the back of the nearby summer kitchen, where several of the Scottish and Irish servants were taking a brief break from their duties to dance an exuberant jig.
She had stepped out through the side door of the large stone carriage house, converted for use as the Rangers’ hospital, only to stop, as she often did, arrested by the picturesque view. Yet even in these peaceful surroundings war made its uneasy presence known. Indeed the vista would have given the impression of a blissful, dreamlike idyll were it not for the uniformed troops and Indian warriors in native dress riding or striding purposefully along the pathways and lanes between the property’s buildings.
Although remote in its mountain fastness, the estate was as bustling as any town. The manor’s sweeping emerald lawns were currently occupied by Carleton’s brigade of Rangers, nominally under the command of General George Washington, but in reality an independent force that Carleton personally funded and that answered to him alone. What she could see from where she stood behind the manor’s south wing, however, was but a tiny portion of the more than 20,000 acres he owned, spanning verdant meadows all along the broad valley’s floor, where his extensive herds of horses and cattle pastured, and vast mountain forests that blanketed the high ridges on either side.
Hues of scarlet, crimson, and russet, citron and amber drew her gaze to the tall trees between the buildings and edging the meadow the manor occupied, enclosed by a wide loop of the Thorn River. The brilliant leaves flamed among the dusky greens of pine and cedar and holly, the chill wind fanning them like fire.
She drew in a deep breath of the crisp, smoke-tinged air, musing that the place looked as though it dated to a distant century. Yet it had been built by Carleton’s uncle, Sir Harrison Carleton, only forty-seven years earlier, in 1732. Sir Harry, a Scottish laird’s eldest son, had fled his homeland for Virginia in 1715 after the British defeat of the Highland clans and death of his father at Sheriffmuir, leaving his young brother, Carleton’s father, to assume the clan laird’s heredity title of marquess. On her and Carleton’s arrival there from France in mid July, he had explained that it had been Sir Harry’s intent to recreate his ancestral home.
A pang pierced her at the memory. If only Carleton could have stayed with her there! Knowing too well the urgent mission that had again wrested him from her arms, she could not oppose his leaving. But at times such as this the sense that he was in very great danger overwhelmed her, and a terrible fear pierced her heart and stole her breath. She added another anxious, silent plea for his safety to those constantly hovering in her thoughts.
Reminding herself that the Almighty’s purpose for them was always right and perfect, even when it did not seem so, she pressed her hands against her back and stretched to ease its ache. A protesting ripple caused her to grimace, and she ran one hand along the curve of her rounded belly, smiling at the surprisingly vigorous kick beneath the tight skin and muscle.
When the babe quieted she returned her attention to her surroundings. Rows of tents interspersed the estate’s many outbuildings, and the stillness of the peaceful scene was broken by the soft hum of voices, distant rattle of wagons and harness, nearby plop of hoofs and scuff of footfalls on the graveled lanes, and occasional chime of birdsong. To her left the summer kitchen surrounded by the kitchen gardens lay outside the south wing’s entrance, with the laundry house a short distance behind. Off the main building’s far end she could just see the edge of the graceful terraces that extended its width down the gentle slope to a wide lawn where a stone bridge spanned the river near the springhouse. On the river’s far side the ridge’s flank began to rise through dense forest, first gently, then steeply to the shadowed summit of the western ridge.
|The Catskills, Asher Brown Durand, 1859|
She had not followed the road all the way to the end of the valley because of her pregnancy and the warning that within a mile the road dwindled to a narrow, rutted, stony path difficult to traverse except on foot, and then with difficulty. But she longed to see the place where she had been told that the river’s headwaters rose from a trickle below a narrow gap in the ridges’ folds and cascaded down a rocky watercourse before widening as it snaked back and forth across the tree-dotted meadows of the valley floor to finally pass through its broad mouth on the way to join the larger Staunton River. That would have to wait until the spring.
And by then, in God’s mercy, Jonathan will have returned, and our babe will be safely born.
Please let me know what you think of this section. Can you see the scene vividly, or would you suggest improvements? I always appreciate honest critiques kindly given!
The images are my own or in public domain.
The images are my own or in public domain.