Under the Tulip Poplar, page 1
Copyright © 2009 by Diane Ashley and Aaron McCarver. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
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Taylor farm outside Nashville, Tennessee,
“Rebekah, send Eleanor out to gather the eggs this morning. I need you to help your pa with the corn. He got behind when he went to that rally last week.”
Rebekah Taylor watched as her ma plucked little Donny out of his crib and cradled him in her arms. She could understand her ma’s happy expression. Donny was an adorable bundle. They all spent time cooing over him to get him to show his tiny dimples.
Like her, he took his coloring from their pa—light blond hair and eyes as brown as a hickory nut. Eleanor looked more like Ma with her curly brown hair and hazel eyes. Rebekah often wished she had inherited a few curls of her own, but her hair only curled if they applied a hot iron to it, and then only for a few hours before stubbornly straightening out again.
“Hurry up now. The weather is getting cooler, and we don’t need to risk losing our crop to an early freeze.” Martha Taylor smiled as Donny gurgled, one tiny hand swinging through the air as if he were waving good-bye.
“Yes, ma’am.” Rebekah tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice. If she was out in the field with her pa, she might miss seeing Asher if he came for a visit. And she had the feeling he was planning to stop by. The weather was gorgeous, and besides, it had been nearly a week since his last visit. She didn’t know how much longer she could keep their news secret.
Not that her parents didn’t suspect the truth. She and Asher had been sitting together in church for almost a year now. Everyone knew that the two of them had been keeping company since last spring when he came back from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. But how was he supposed to see her if she couldn’t even stay home and wait for him? She would have asked the question out loud except for the distracted look on her ma’s face. Pastor’s words from last Sunday rang in her ears: “Every Christian has the duty of putting the needs of others first.” Pastor taught that was the way to make certain all needs were met according to God’s plan.
Rebekah placed the egg basket into the waiting hands of her six-year-old sister. Eleanor’s eyes sparkled, and she grinned widely, showing the gap between her front teeth. She was nearly dancing with the excitement of her new responsibility. The basket dangled from one hand, and she held her skirt up with the other as she fairly skipped out of the cabin.
Rebekah sighed and carefully removed the apron she’d donned that morning in an attempt to look more dignified in case of a caller. It would never survive a day of field work. She folded it and placed it in the chest at the end of her cot. Another sigh. How could she manage to be where Asher could find her and still do as her parents wished?
Slow footsteps took her to the door. Rebekah sighed once more.
“Whatever is the matter with you? You sound like one of those fancy Scottish musicians. Remember? What did they call those big instruments?”
Rebekah thought back to the magical night. Her whole family had spent a long weekend in Nashville while her pa bartered with the local merchants. How excited she had been when her pa had allowed Asher’s parents to pay for all of them to attend a special concert. She remembered the way Asher’s azure eyes looked in the dark theater and the feel of his strong arm under her hand as he helped her to her seat. A blush suffused her cheeks. “I. . .they were bagpipes.”
“That’s right.” Her ma turned to look at Rebekah. “And why are you blushing? Could it be thoughts of a certain young man. . . ?”
Rebekah ducked her head and reached for the door. She was outside and halfway across the yard before her ma could finish the gentle teasing. It was so good to be alive on a beautiful day like today, even if she might have to miss seeing Asher. Maybe he would come looking for her. She halted for a moment as another thought struck her—maybe that was the real reason Ma had sent her out to work in the fields with Pa. Maybe it would be better if Asher had to come looking for her.
Asher Landon, Esq., encouraged his horse along the rutted track toward the Taylor homestead. The long, fifteen-mile trip from Nashville had seemed easier today because he was anxious to share his news with Rebekah. She would be so excited. At least he hoped so.
After the rally in Nashville last week, he and his pa had debated Andrew Jackson’s plan day and night. The general was very convincing. And he had a lot of experience, even if President Madison did not want to give the man a chance.
It was a shame how those pompous windbags back East tried to control things they didn’t understand. Like how they’d sent General Jackson to defend New Orleans last year, then changed their minds when he got to Natchez and told him to disband the militia. But the general had showed them. He’d refused to abandon his men so far from home. He’d brought them all back, even giving up his own horses so that the wounded and sick would have easier transportation. No wonder they called him Old Hickory. That march had shown everyone how tough General Jackson was.
How Asher wished he could have been part of that campaign. But he’d been off at college. Now he was a man. He was ready and eager to do his duty for his country.
General Jackson had spoken long and hard about that very thing last week. Asher agreed with everything the man said. If they did not all stand against the English and their Indian allies, they would end up losing their hard-won independence. He was not about to stand around and let his home and family be threatened. Especially after the horrific massacre down at Fort Mims. Those Creek Indians needed to be trounced, and General Jackson was the man to do the job.
Asher pressed his knees together, urging his horse to hurry a bit as he spotted Rebekah’s cabin. From amble to canter to gallop, he hurried to reach the cabin and the girl he hoped would one day become his wife.
When he reached the yard, he dismounted and looped the reins around a sapling. Always aware of his appearance, Asher took a moment to dust off his trousers and straighten his jacket. He glanced longingly toward the stream that gurgled between leafy poplars to one side of the cabin. Maybe he could coax Rebekah into dipping him a cool drink. It would give him an excuse to get closer to her. The very thought made his heart speed up a bit. He couldn’t remember a time when he had not loved Rebekah Taylor and planned to make her his wife. But sometimes, personal desires needed to be set aside for greater ideals. There would be time for them to marry and start a family as soon as he got back.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Taylor, Miss Rebekah.”
Asher’s familiar voice brought a gasp to Rebekah’s throat. She straightened and tugged her bonnet back onto her head, tucking strands of hair under it with an impatient hand. She should never have let it slip and hang down her back. No matter that the late-morning sun had made her face as hot as a bed of coals. Now she would probably have a dozen new freckles she would have to bleach with lemon juice. She wanted to cry in exasperation. Why did she have to look so
Asher dismounted, looking every inch the dapper young businessman. Just seeing his straight shoulders and easy smile made her heart beat faster. She never grew tired of looking at him. He was the one who held her heart and occupied most of her thoughts.
Growing up near him, she had admired Asher’s honesty and integrity as well as his innate kindness. She had turned to him with every problem, and he’d always managed to find a solution. Her heart had broken when his parents insisted on sending him away to college. But now he was back, and they could begin their life together.
As he strode across the rows toward Rebekah and her pa, her gaze drank in his snowy white neckcloth and stylish blue coat. These days, Asher always looked like a fashion plate—as if he were ready to attend a society picnic or a tea party. The color of his coat was reflected in his eyes—eyes that sometimes reminded her of a cloudless summer sky, and at others of a picture of the Atlantic Ocean she had seen hanging in Aunt Dolly’s parlor in Nashville.
Her pa’s dry voice caught Rebekah’s attention. “I wonder what a young man might be doing this far from Nashville on a fine autumn day.” His right eyebrow rose up as he glanced from Asher to Rebekah.
Asher cleared his throat and thrust out a hand. “My pa sends his greetings, sir. We missed seeing you at the rally last week.” As the two men shook hands, Asher looked over Pa’s shoulder, and his smile widened ever so slightly.
Rebekah could not keep from returning his smile. Suddenly, it did not matter as much that she was hot and tired from working beside her pa all morning. It only mattered that Asher had come. And he was smiling. The world seemed to fade away.
As if from a distance, she heard her pa’s voice and recognized the gentle humor in his tone. “I believe I’ll go back to the house and see if your ma still has one of those biscuits left over from breakfast.”
“Do you want me to come with you, Pa?” Rebekah held her breath, hoping he would turn down her offer.
“Seems to me that you need to finish that row, Rebekah. Perhaps Asher could help you gather the rest of the corn.”
“It would be my honor, sir.”
“I’ll not be very far away. So be certain to mind your manners, you two.” Her pa hummed a lilting melody as he turned to leave.
Asher reached for the half-empty basket at the end of the row. “Thank you, sir. We’ll only be a few moments.”
Rebekah could feel the color rising in her cheeks. Why did Pa have to be so old-fashioned? He knew Asher was a gentleman and could be trusted to treat her with respect. Blindly, she grabbed the nearest stalk and stripped an ear of corn from it.
Silence filled the air between her and Asher for several minutes as they worked side by side. Then it happened. They both reached for the same stalk. Their hands brushed against each other. Rebekah caught her breath, and then when she tried to draw her hand away, Asher wrapped his fingers around hers. Her heart stuttered to a halt and seemed to lose its rhythm. Her breathing grew ragged, and she had a difficult time concentrating.
“We have to talk, Rebekah. There’s something I have to tell you.”
This was it! She was about to hear the words she’d been dreaming of for weeks. What would she say? Should she pull her hand away? Or leave it in his? But the feel of their hands tenderly clasped together felt so right. There had been very little private time between them. Only whispered compliments and tender glances. But she had known for several weeks that Asher wanted to ask her to marry him.
She wondered if he had talked to her pa yet. That might explain why Pa had been willing to leave them alone for a few minutes. Had Pa given his permission? But when could Asher have spoken to him? She would have known if he’d come to their home.
Rebekah tugged the hand he had captured, disappointed when he allowed her to pull it away without resistance. His eyes narrowed, and he turned his head up. She noticed his square chin and the way his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down in the folds of his neckcloth before she allowed her own gaze to sweep the midday sky.
The sun had bleached most of the color away, leaving the sky pale. A flock of geese winged a southerly path across the sky as she waited for Asher to continue. Should she say something? Had he changed his mind? Should she have let him keep holding her hand? Had he lost his courage?
Asher ran a finger around the collar of his shirt and looked at her once again. “It’s quite hot for September.”
“Yes, I suppose so.” Rebekah turned back to the corn, somewhat surprised to realize they had completed the row. It was time to go back to the cabin. “How are your parents doing?”
“They’re fine, thank you. They send their compliments and told me to ask you to consider visiting again in the near future.”
Rebekah held her breath. If his parents were sending messages like that, they must have given their blessing. “I will see. I’m not sure when Ma and Pa will return to Nashville. But please tell your family I miss them and would love to visit.”
“Yes, well. . .” His voice drifted off, and he looked over her shoulder. “Let’s go sit under our tree.”
Her heart turned over. How she loved Asher. He was such a romantic. “Their tree” was the tall, shady tulip poplar that towered over one end of the field. They had often played there as young children.
As they walked toward the broad-leafed tree that’s leaves had just started to turn yellow-gold around the edges, Asher continued their conversation. “Did I tell you that Pa has talked with General Jackson about his idea for a new kind of banking system?”
Rebekah twisted a hand in the skirt of her dress. What did she care about banking?
But Asher apparently did not recognize her frustration. He continued talking about his pa’s plans and the economic challenges faced by the nation as it struggled to define itself apart from the English Crown.
Rebekah nodded as her mind wandered to the familiar visions that occupied most of her waking hours. She could see Asher entering the front door of their comfortable home and giving her a quick hug before being swamped with loving hugs and kisses from their children. She would stand back and smile, waiting until their eyes met and his hand reached for hers. They would walk together to a dining table filled with fresh vegetables, meat, and a heady assortment of fruits. After dinner, she would darn clothes by the fireplace while he spoke of his challenging job. They would gather the children together, and Asher would read to them from God’s Holy Word. Then they would all pray for God’s blessings and thank Him for leading them safely through another day. . . .
“. . .has such a vision for our country. And I think it’s time for me to fight for our freedom. Don’t you agree?”
Rebekah drew her mind away from her daydreams. “What did you say?”
“I said I’ve joined the Tennessee militia. We’re in the middle of a war, and General Jackson says it’s our duty to help keep this country safe. He has so many great ideas. If all of the members of Congress would listen to him, I have no doubt the British would already have been routed.”
Rebekah’s dreams crashed around her as the meaning of his words sank in. Asher had not come to ask for her hand in marriage. He had come to tell her good-bye. She shook her head in denial, backing away from him. “You’re. . .going away? How could you do this to me—to us?”
Asher’s eyes darkened. “I know you don’t mean what you’re saying, Rebekah. My pa fought for our freedom, the same as yours. You and I both know I owe a duty as an American citizen to heed the call to arms. Our very lifestyles are at risk. Everything that you and I have was wrested from English tyranny only a few decades ago. If we ignore the needs of our nation, how can our country survive?”
Tears flooded her eyes. It was fine to talk about patriotism and sacrifice until it became personal. What Asher was talking about was not just some fine ideal to be discussed and argued by the menfolk. This was her love, her life, her future. And it was being destroyed before it could even begin. In an instant everything had changed. All of her dreams an
She felt his hands on her shoulders, and she lost the precarious control over her emotions. Hot tears pushed their way past her knuckles. On some level, she knew his arms had wrapped around her. Asher was rocking her like a baby and whispering words of comfort and endearment into her ear. But mere words could neither fill the emptiness nor calm the fear that had settled in her heart.
Rebekah waved to Eleanor and Ma as Pa clucked his tongue and Old Bess ambled forward. The wagon jerked, marking the beginning of her exciting adventure. So why did she feel like crying along with her little sister, whose face was hidden in Ma’s skirts? For a minute, Rebekah wanted to tell Pa to stop. No matter that Aunt Dolly was sick and needed help. She could not go through with leaving. She stretched a hand out toward his arm. But then, looking up at the taut expression on his face, she let the hand fall back to her lap.
She twisted in her seat as the wagon turned a curve on the track. “I’ll be back before you know it.” She forced the words past the large lump that had wedged itself in her throat.
“Are you all right, Becka?” Pa’s brown gaze, so wise and gentle, made her want to weep even more. He looked sad, infected with the same sorrow that had flooded every member of the family.
“Your ma and I discussed this at great length over the past week. We’re going to miss you dreadfully, but your aunt Dolly needs our help. Since your uncle George passed away, she has no family but us. She’s been quite sick for a month, and now, one of her maids quit to move to Knoxville with her husband.” He shook his head. “My sister does not trust that anyone else is capable of hiring competent help, so she has asked if we would allow you to come stay with her for a while.”
Rebekah nodded. Her whole life had turned upside down since last fall. First, Asher had not asked her to marry him. Then he’d left. He was gone—still fighting the Indians, or the British, or whoever it was they thought they had to defeat. She prayed for him every day.