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Surrender the Wind
By Rita Gerlach
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2009 Rita Gerlach
All rights reserved.
Devonshir, England Winter, 1783
Juleah Fallowes stepped out of the carriage and gazed up at the full moon above a dark, spear-like chimney that belonged to Ten Width. Her deep brown eyes, flecked with russet, drifted over to a candle set against the blackness of the ivy-covered walls that glowed from inside Benjamin Braxton's bedchamber window. A chill swept through her—from the wind and from a sense of what she might find beyond the frosted glass.
The lantern outside the door sputtered against the winter night. She gathered the sides of her hood closer to her cheeks and entered the dark foyer where a servant met her. Benjamin's physician, Doctor Yates, donned his hat and nodded to her. She pushed back her hood, and her hair fell in auburn twists about her face and shoulders. The long ride from Henry Chase had left her chilled, and she hesitated to remove her cloak. When she caught the way Yates's eyes roved over her blushed face, it gave her more reason to keep her womanly figure concealed.
"There is nothing I can do, Miss Juleah." He grazed her arm with a sinewy hand and withdrew it slowly. "He shall not last the night." Grave, he looked into her eyes one more time and strode out the door to his horse.
When the door finally closed, Juleah shed her dove-gray cloak, mounted the stairs, and entered the room. Benjamin lay in his bed. Propped up against high pillows, he made slight efforts to breathe. Caroline, his granddaughter, Juleah's closest friend since childhood, sat by his bedside and looked up at Juleah's approach. Her jade eyes were teary, and her face pale as the lace cuffs on the faded dress she wore. At first, her expression was one of grateful relief, but then changed to fatigued sorrow.
Caroline hurried away from the bedside. "Oh, Juleah. I'm glad you came."
"I am here for as long as you and Squire Braxton need me." She squeezed Caroline's hand.
With despairing eyes, Juleah saw the bluish lips and heard the faint gurgle of liquid that filled Benjamin's lungs. He coughed, and Caroline rushed back to him and held a cloth to his mouth that caught the blood-streaked mucus. She washed his lips with a moist sponge and spoke quietly in an effort to soothe him. Waves of steel-gray hair fell back from his forehead along the pillow, his eyebrows winged upward above hazel eyes.
The clock on the mantelpiece sped past the half hour. Juleah stood at the window and pressed her back against the grooves in the jamb in a poor attempt to abate the churning in her belly. She gnawed her lower lip, while watching Caroline lean over to lay her cheek against Benjamin's hand. Juleah was troubled that he lay dying in a drafty bedchamber on a grim, wintry day at twilight, to face the sort of emancipation most men fear, with only his granddaughter to comfort him. His sons were all gone, and his grandson lived in the wilderness of America. Wind rattled the panes, shook off the hoarfrost that encrusted the trees, and rushed down the fireplace flue. Frigid gusts blew over the coals of the fire and scattered wispy breaths of silvery ash onto the flagstone hearth.
"How cold and lonesome a tomb will be," Benjamin muttered.
Juleah turned to see sorrow flood her friend's eyes.
"Do not speak so grim, Grandfather," Caroline said.
Benjamin turned his head to her. "I suppose, child, you'd rather me think of heaven, that it must be warm and bright and make one forget the cares of an earthly existence."
She nodded. "Indeed, I would."
"Then for your sake, I shall make every effort to do so." He reached his hand over and she took it. "I have asked you and Juleah to sit with me, with the intention you must hear what is about to take place. You both are to witness all that I say and promise you will stand upon it when I am gone."
"I will, Grandfather." Caroline pressed his hand against her cheek, and her eyes sparkled from the tears she forced back. Juleah felt sorry for her and dreaded the idea she, too, would lose her parents someday.
Benjamin's gaze shifted to Juleah. "And you, my girl? Do I have your word?"
"You do, sir," she answered, her heart in her throat.
Carriage wheels crunched over the gravel in the drive, and she leaned closer to the window. Below, Philip Banes, Benjamin's long-time lawyer, stepped out, careful to avoid the muddy snow. She drew away and went downstairs to meet him.
From the dimness of the entrance, Juleah watched Caroline's serving girl, Claire, open the front door and, with a quick curtsey, show Banes inside. At the foot of the staircase, Juleah waited, while Banes handed over his cloak and slapped his leather gloves inside the bowl of his hat.
"This had better be important—and worthy of my time. I shall double my fee for the trouble."
She stepped up to him and looked at Banes squarely. "He is dying, Mr. Banes. Please keep that in mind and show compassion for his suffering."
While Claire trailed behind them, she led Banes up the staircase to Benjamin's bedchamber. Banes hesitated before going further inside, glanced around the room, then rested his eyes on Juleah. Firelight flickered across the dull oaken floor and reached the tips of his buckled shoes.
"The squire usually offers tea, Miss Juleah. Today I hope he offers a glass of brandy to warm my arthritic bones."
"Claire, please bring Mr. Banes a pot of tea." She stirred the coals in the hearth with a poker and prayed his time at Ten Width would be short-lived.
Banes touched the serving-girl's elbow. "I'd prefer warm brandy."
Straight as a rod, Claire shook her head. "Aside from tea, sir, all we have is cider. I'll warm that for you."
She turned to go, but he stopped her with a wave of his hand. "If you do not have something stronger, I'll have nothing at all. I had hoped I would not have to drink the expensive elixir within my flask and could keep it for the frigid journey home."
"As you wish, sir," Claire said.
A rancid scent of approaching death mingled with the breath of the fire and the intrusion of wind. Benjamin's rattled breathing arrested Banes, and Juleah saw him wince.
"Dear me, Miss Juleah. How thin and pale Benjamin has become. And Miss Caroline looks poorly."
Juleah drew him aside. "Please, Mr. Banes, do not worsen Caroline's distress any more than it is by commenting on her appearance at such a moment."
Banes gave her a curt nod and set his portfolio on the table near the hearth, beside a high-backed chair once a deep indigo, now faded to gray.
"You are right, Miss Juleah. But I've never seen Benjamin look so bad," he whispered. "Indeed, it won't be long now."
She pressed her mouth together hard. If only Banes would keep such comments to himself. A naked branch rapped against the window. Her skin went cold, as if a hundred icy fingers tapped up and down her body.
Banes put his hand over his heart and approached Benjamin's bedside. "I am here at last, sir."
Benjamin fixed his eyes forward. "The roads were poor?"
"Frozen, hard as stone. Pitted with potholes the size of stew kettles." Banes moved to the hearth. "You must excuse me, Benjamin. It is needful for me to sit by your fire. The cold has gone straight to my bones."
"My life had been a small flame, giving little warmth." Benjamin's voice quivered. "Soon the wind will blow upon my soul, and my body will turn into something like the gray, gritty ash in my hearth."
Juleah saw the pained look on Caroline's face, equal to the regret she felt that Benjamin would speak so bleakly. Grieved to see her friend suffer, she reached over, took Caroline's arm, and looped it within hers. They sat together close in silence.
"I cannot help but think of Elizabeth," Benjamin said.
"First wives are the most missed." Banes held his hands out to the fire. "How long has it been?"
"Fifteen years next month. She was the jewel in my crown."
With ascending sorrow, Juleah looked up at the ceiling. She traced the cracks with her eyes to distract herself from the conversation.
Benjamin sighed and looked over at his granddaughter. "I had to bring you back with me when the rebellion started. You understand, don't you, Caroline?"
She gave him a weak smile. "Of course, Grandfather."
"You were far too young to be exposed to the brutality of war and had no mother or older sister to care for you."
"You spared me much suffering."
His frame began to shudder. "I tried to convince your brother to leave with us, but he turned his back on me and strode away angry. It was the last time I saw him. You must tell him how sorry I am."
She nodded. "I will. I promise."
"Where is the current Mrs. Braxton?" asked Banes, laying out more papers. "Shouldn't she be present?"
Juleah cringed that Banes would ask. She knew it would exasperate Benjamin's suffering to speak of his present wife. She remained silent, turned, and met Caroline's eyes.
"She is not available, Mr. Banes," Juleah said. "There is no need to say anything more about her."
Banes drew out his spectacles and curled the stems over his ears. "Most unusual, indeed."
Benjamin gathered the blanket in his fist and squeezed. "I sent her back to Crown Cove, where she belongs."
Banes's eyebrows arched. "Sad that she is not at the side of your deathbed, Benjamin. A devoted wife can ease a man's passing. At least you have these two young ladies here."
Uneasy with the conversation and concerned for Benjamin's feelings, Juleah looked over at the old man. By his expression, she knew that the terrible feeling of not knowing what lay ahead had seized him. He returned her gaze, and her heart stretched out to comfort him.
"What shall it be, Juleah? Suffering and eternal separation from perfect love? Or blank oblivion?" Tears stole up into the corners of his eyes.
"Neither, sir. Rest easy. You are not forsaken." She knew nothing else to say.
"You are good, Juleah. You've been a sister to Caroline and a daughter to me."
Banes cleared his throat. "May we proceed to the business at hand?" He pulled a writing table up against his knees and spread the parchments out. "I made the changes you requested in your letter. I had no idea your grandson had come into your favor. When did this happen?"
"Seth has never been out of favor with me. It is I who am out of favor with him." Benjamin's eyes were misty and he turned them back to Caroline. "I repent that my allegiance to the king separated my family. The bulk of my estate is Seth's. What I've promised you and your son shall stand, Caroline. You must help Seth make the right decision. You must write to him and urge him to come."
Caroline gripped his hand. "I'll do everything in my power to convince him, Grandfather."
Banes stood from his chair, with document in hand. "Do not allow your hopes to rise high, Benjamin. Why would he quit his life in America for here?"
"His inheritance will not require he stay."
"He will face prejudice and even harbor some of his own."
Banes rubbed his eye with his finger and sighed. Once more, he dipped the nib into the ink and tapped the shaft against the rim of the bottle. The quill scratched over the parchment. Mingled with the vines that rapped outside the window and the fire that crackled in the room, the sound dominated.
"Shall I read it back?" Banes asked.
Benjamin nodded and shut his eyes in preparation to hear his final wishes, his firm treaty before God and man.
"In the name of God, amen. I, Benjamin Braxton of Ten Width, in the Parish of Clovelly, in the County of Devonshire, squire, being weak in body but sound and disposing in mind and memory, thanks be to God, for the same do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament as following. First, I commend my soul into the hands of God Almighty, my Creator, hoping through the merits of Jesus Christ my Savior, to receive free pardon and remission of my sins, and my body I do commit to the earth. As touching my worldly estate, as God hath been pleased to bless me with, I do dispose of the same as follows. I bequeath unto my grandson, Seth Braxton, and to his heirs and assigns forever my estate at Ten Width where I now dwell. If my grandson, Seth Braxton, has no descendants, or refuses this inheritance set forth, my estate is to be bequeathed to my great-grandson, Nathaniel Kenley."
"To my granddaughter, Caroline Braxton Kenley, I discharge the sum of £250 a year during her natural life, to be paid on the first of January after the date hereof. My will is that my grandson, Seth Braxton, shall pay the said principal sum of £350 to my great-grandson, Nathaniel Kenley, so soon as he shall come of the age of one and twenty years. To my wife, I leave £100 yearly for her natural life."
Banes rose and brought the quill and parchment over to the bedside. "I need your signature, Benjamin." He helped him grip the shaft between his fingers.
Juleah sensed within herself the wretched reality of her own mortality and all those she loved. It troubled her, as she watched, with her hand firm in Caroline's. She rallied against it, took a deep breath, and whispered a prayer. "I am the resurrection and the life." Caroline heard her, and laid her head on Juleah's shoulder.
Benjamin's hand trembled, and he brought the tip of the quill down above the parchment. A moment and he hesitated. Then he scrawled his name along the bottom.CHAPTER 2
Virginia, July 1784
Seth walked the river path, where the peace of the countryside had returned. As he neared home, his spirit lifted. He stood still for several moments and estimated what war and time had done to his father's house. Thick green ivy covered the facade. Airy roots clung to the mortar between the stones. Grass grew tall, encroached with thistle, brown and brittle. The oak beside the house, and the rope that hung from it, the one he had swung on as a boy, looked exactly as he remembered, although one limb was black from a lightning strike.
He hurried up the steps, crossed the porch, and pushed the door in. Dirt and leaves were everywhere as if the place had become a living part of the wilderness. The July heat drove him to the river. He stripped off his clothes and sank into the shallow rapids. While he rested his head back against a rock, the current whirled around his body. His hair soaked up the water, grew darker with it, and clung to his neck.
He watched a nighthawk mount the sky against a mammoth thunderhead. A red-winged blackbird sang in the cattails, leapt up, caught a cicada in its beak, and flew off. He remembered how, three years earlier, a plague of black locusts swept the east. Ruby-eyed, with jeweled transparent wings, their incessant whirl had been deafening. Tonight crickets and tree frogs chirped and clicked in a chorus. He soaked in the peaceful timbre, while he listened to the murmur of the river as it cascaded over the rocks.
He would have stayed longer, but he grew weary of the lengthening shadows and made his way back up the path. Surprised to see a chestnut horse in front of his house, Seth halted. He gripped his hand around his musket, the new one he purchased a week after Yorktown.
Upon the step sat a young horseman in a moth-eaten, blue regimental coat, old leather breeches, and a tricorn hat. Beside him, a dented tin lantern glowed and cast a yellow fan across the crude planks of the porch.
The lad in muddy boots pulled off his hat and turned the rim between his fingers. "Captain Braxton?"
"Who are you?" Seth asked.
The lad eyed the weapon. "A messenger. Name's John Sanson. My employer, the best lawyer in Annapolis, has been looking for you for months."
Seth settled his musket at his side. "Has he?"
"A Maryland lawyer, you say?"
Disinterested, Seth proceeded up the steps and scraped the mud off the soles of his boots against the iron rod by the door.
"I've brought a letter." Sanson pulled it from his bag and handed it over. "I'll be going, unless you have a reply."
"I won't know until I read it." Seth glanced at the handwriting on the front. "Come inside. I'll give you what meat I have."
Sanson smiled and strode up the stairs to the door. "Thank you, sir. I haven't had a meal since yesterday, just hard biscuits."
Seth moved to the table inside the dimly lit dwelling. After he lit a candle, he blew out the match and tossed it into the fireplace. The young messenger looked hungry, so he poured him a tin of water and gave him a plate of cold venison.
Without a word, Seth broke the scarlet seal on the letter and unfolded the page. A moment later, he folded it back up and set it on the table near the candlestick.
"I have no reply," he said.
Sanson nodded, finished his meal, and went out to mount his horse. "A girl waits for me on the other side of the river. It's easier to travel by night than in the heat of day."
Seth followed him outside. "Below the hill, you'll find a shallow place. You'll know it by the dead willow lying in the water. It's easy to cross there."
The lad climbed into the saddle, tipped his hat, and galloped off. Seth sat on the step and stared up at the crescent moon above the treetops. It bathed the land in a cool blue haze. The night sky and the trees that moved in a soft breeze caused his heart to grow heavy. He would be unable to sleep again. His mind was troubled, his thoughts cluttered. The letter declared that he had inherited his grandfather's estate. If the land were in America, he would not hesitate to take it. But England? How could he? He had rightly lifted up arms against the British. How on earth could he consider leaving his home in Virginia?
Excerpted from Surrender the Wind by Rita Gerlach. Copyright © 2009 Rita Gerlach. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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