Macon, Georgia 1849
The ginkgo tree, shimmering like gold against the October sky, drew Anne Tracy to the crest of the hill. In her fluttering crepe, she felt at one with the tree, stripped of purpose, as it soon would be when its fan-shaped leaves deserted all at once. Her father had brought the sapling from the Orient, promising to take her there. But Papa was dead. He had left her an heiress at twenty, yes, but for what good when she had no place in life.
I wish I could have stayed at his bedside, but that was Aunt Carry's privilege as his wife. There's no room for me now.
Anne felt as formless as the shadows, awkward in her black garments. She had such enthusiasm for life that, even before Papa's passing, the Aunts had whispered she would shame them by breaking the strict code of mourning. But this spot was home, and she forced back her anger and uncertainty, trying to absorb the peace of the scene she so loved before they sent her away.
Beneath the brow of the hill, landscaped boulevards terraced down to the Ocmulgee River. In the quietness, a steamboat drifted. Anne's face warmed with a rising glow, and she parted her lips to drink in the beauty. She wished she could paint. The paddle wheeler hovered, etched against forest of pine emblazoned with dogwood, maple, hickory--crimson and amber with autumn's palette.
A locomotive whistled. The steamer's stacks responded with a blast of sound and sooty smoke. The race to the cotton warehouse was on!
Anne smiled. She liked the vibrancy of Macon, Georgia, and she knew, much as she longed to see the countries she had studied, preparing to tour with Papa, it was here she wanted tolive. Macon had sprung full grown amid the wilderness upon the signing of the Creek Indian Treaty twenty-odd years ago. On the fall line between the foothills of the Appalachians and the subtropical Coastal Plain, the town was delightful with year-around flowers. But the warmth went deeper, overflowing into people of graciousness and hospitality.
Anne was proud that her father, Edward Dorr Tracy, had been Macon's second mayor, and she painfully swallowed her shyness to speak to workmen and gentlefolk alike. Yet, she knew that her social prominence and the mores of 1849 left her with little say in the course her life could take.
Matrimony's all women can hope for. Haven't the Aunts warned me often enough I'm passing marriageable age? Anne thought. But she could not overcome being stiff with her few suitors. She never flirted over a fan like a proper Southern belle. She knew her voice held too little of her Georgia mother Susan Campbell's gentility, too much of her Connecticut-born father's correctness.
But most young men seem shallow. Silly. It irks me to hide my intelligence. I want to discuss Shelley, Keats, and, oh, especially Byron.
She had had her coming out at sixteen. She adored dancing the old cotillion sets at balls, but she dreaded the Sunday afternoon at-homes, knowing any girl who did not have forty callers was a failure. Papa carefully supervised her suitors, warning, "We must be careful since you're no beauty." What humiliation she had endured when he rejected some as fortune hunters.
What guide will I have now?
She deplored her plainness. Straight, dark brows made her face severe, but her despair was her heavy brown hair. With only a hint of auburn and no curl at all, it resisted the curling iron even though she left it in the fireplace until it was hot enough to singe. Did I inherit nothing from my beautiful mother?
The thought pained. She lowered her lashes, and the tableau appeared, vivid as always. Her mother had sat swathed in quilts with the baby, Little Edward, nursing at her breast. Anne, five, and Philemon, three, listened as she taught their Bible lesson through fevered lips. When her sisters had entered the darkened room, Susan had exhorted the weeping women to live every day to be prepared for death, and then she uttered words Anne would never forget.
"Carry, I want you to take my children. I do not want them to go to the North. Don't let my family be parted. Queeny, take care of my children's principles, implant in their breast, faith as you have got, my dear Christian sister. Eddy, I believe you will yet marry..."
Philemon had pressed his wet nose against Anne's arm. She clutched him against her, sensing more than understanding, vowing no one would take her brother from her. Crooning, Anne had swayed in the darkness and squeezed her eyes tight.
Now the sound of laughter made her open her eyes and blink in the sunlight. A dozen neighborhood boys, pounding along on bare feet, ran around the corner of the Tracys' house. Schoolbooks and shoes thrown aside, they had picked up bows and arrows and were whooping, playing Indians. Pattering behind them, seven-year-old Sidney Lanier made a sweeter tune, a whistling Anne thought as lovely as a robin singing in the rain.
"Why Sidney, honey..." she said, stopping the child whose grandparents lived behind the Tracy house in a cottage on High Street, "...How did you make that beautiful music?" Her voice was a warm lilt she could never manage with adults as she knelt beside the winsome little boy.
Delighted by her attention, Sidney held up a river reed, cork-stoppered at the end, with six finger holes and a mouthpiece. "I made myself a flute. Papa doesn't like for me to play the violin."
To Anne's amazement, Sidney produced a cardinal's simple "pretty-pretty" and then a trill like a mockingbird. She knew that his mother, Mary Jane, had begun teaching him piano when he was only five. Sidney had learned the guitar, organ, and violin, his favorite; then a window sash fell, taking off a half-inch of a middle finger. Anne shook her head in wonderment. Undaunted by the loss, Sidney had turned to the flute.
The handsome child fanned back long lashes from gray-blue eyes and looked up at her as if he read her thoughts. "Miss Anne, I just have to make music!"
Anne smiled. "God has given you a great talent." Tenderness swelled, and she brushed back the brown curl that fell over Sidney's face. A twinge in her breasts made her realize it was not just a home of her own she wanted. It was children. She hungered for a family devoted as hers had been. She could make room in her heart for a great many.
She kissed Sidney's forehead and let him run after his playmates. Guilty thoughts plagued her. She had never lacked anything. Plump, bustling Aunt Carry had fulfilled her mother's deathbed request and kept the three children together. Anne never released her grip on Phil, but her stepmother would not let her touch baby Edward. After the proper year of mourning, Aunt Carry had married their father. She gave them two half sisters and a half brother. But slender, quiet Susan was a loss Anne never forgot, a void that would not be filled.
Anne sighed as she picked up the mourning bonnet she had tossed beneath the ginkgo. She could be more thankful for her Campbell aunts if they did not always try to curb her high spirits and curiosity to learn about life. They fluttered round her like a flock of hens. They taught her, protected her, but sometimes with so many she felt pecked.
It was time to go to yet another set, who lived in Alabama. Anne clapped on the offending hat with its knee-length swath of chiffon, but even as she tied the ribbons beneath her determined chin, she vowed she would come back. Only Macon felt like home.
Turning, she saw a man motioning to her as he cut across the parkway of Mulberry Street. She wondered why he was moving on such a wave of energy. The boulevard ended at the bottom of the hill, and his flat-heeled boots ploughed the spongy dirt as he climbed the steep ascent of Georgia Avenue to reach her. He looked as if the red dust never settled on his clothes. His cosmopolitan long jacket with a stylishly shaped-in waist was a city style that set him apart from the others on the street, proclaiming him a dynamic businessman. But his high top hat threatened to tumble. She giggled. It wouldn't dare!
What is his name? He's been to the house working with Papa. Oh, yes. William B. Johnston. He owned an iron-front jewelry store in one of the two downtown blocks of Mulberry, Macon's main thoroughfare.
Anne adjusted the heavy veil over her face as Mr. Johnston neared, but it was the inner cloak she slid over her eyes that shut him out.
"Miss Tracy!" Mr. Johnston said too loudly in his eagerness. He swept off his hat and smoothed brown hair precisely combed over his ears. "I'm so glad I caught you. I've been on a lengthy buying trip to New York. I've only just now heard of Judge Tracy's passing."
Anne nodded formally. She knew the mellow tones of his pleasing voice came from a Virginia-born father and a childhood spent on a Georgia plantation, but she noticed his speech had gained a rapid pace since his serving as a watchmaker's apprentice in New York City.
"I wanted to extend my condolences," he said. Then he withdrew a step.
Above his trim beard, his cheeks reddened. Anne wondered if he feared he had overstepped their social barrier, but Macon usually allowed none of the snobbish planter-aristocracy practiced in the older cities of the neighboring Piedmont. Here, merchants and industrialists built houses beside the white-columned mansions of the landed gentry.
She tensed all the more at the stiffness between them, but she tried to put him at ease, responding in gracious tones, "How kind of you, Mr. Johnston. I know my father counted you as a friend."
"Oh, I wouldn't put myself forward to say he thought that much of me," he blustered. "But I had planned to speak with him--about..."
His pomposity fell away. Face open, hurting, he gazed at her with a heat that made her shiver. Then he stammered, "I-I hope you'll let me be your friend. If there's anything--anything at all you need..."
"There's--nothing..." What does this man want? I don't understand the hungry way he's looking at me. She felt herself standing away, viewing the scene, remembering how neighborhood children used to come to play--not with her--but with the dolls Papa had bought. Does Mr. Johnston see me as money? Did he plan to borrow from Papa?
She had heard the man opened his jewelry store with only two hundred dollars capital. But, no. She recalled Brother Phil had talked about Mr. Johnston's peculiar ways: he had bought Central Railroad stock at thirty cents on the dollar, but because he believed in odd numbers, when his holdings rose to $99,900, he would buy no more.
Anne hid her hands behind her, twisting them. The unusual little man confused her. He had spoken with an air of importance when he discussed railroads with Papa, insisting they would link Macon with the world. Now he was stuttering like a schoolboy. She felt uneasy, and yet as she watched with averted eyes, she recognized painful withdrawal behind the quiver of his pointed brown beard. A kindred spirit? But he was twenty years older than she, old enough to be her father.
Silence suspended between them like glass. She swallowed, knowing she must break it.
"You're very kind, sir, but I'm being sent to spend my mourning period with my Campbell kin in Montgomery. I'm about to leave." Dismissal sounded clearly in her voice, but his fuzzy whiskers trembled again, and she relented. Gesturing, she said, "I'm having one last moment with the view I love most."
Mr. Johnston followed the direction of her gaze, and a smile played over his straight, firm lips. She guessed it amused him that she turned from the boulevards, laid out by city fathers claiming the pattern of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and looked instead across the river at the east bank where the Old Ocmulgee Fields were once farmed by Creek Indians. Beyond were the ceremonial mounds of other Indians with origins lost in antiquity. Their mystery had always fascinated her, but she could think of nothing intelligent to say.
I've been trained to act with poise, she thought. Why is it so hard for me to talk with a man? Especially Mr. Johnston. He seems better than anyone else, remote, lifted high on a pedestal like God. Struggling, she said inanely, "I like to recall Hernando De Soto discovering this place three hundred years ago." She smiled. "His priests baptized two Indian converts right here in the Ocmulgee."
"Yes," he said, but he appeared unable to say more.
Anne ducked her head and forged ahead with the conversation. "I've read the diary of De Soto's march through Georgia, and I've always been glad the Indians were wily enough to know the Spaniards were seeking gold. I believe they purposely sent them in the wrong direction."
"It's refreshing to talk with a young lady who's taken advantage of her education. I haven't had the opportunity for classical study, as you've had, but I always figured the Indians knew of the treasure in our mountains. Did you know I've been buying gold from our Dahlonega miners and selling it to the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia?"
"Oh? Really? It's good De Soto never found it." She frowned. So, is making money all that matters to him? "I'm sorry, but it's time for me to go."
"May I write to you?"
"Would that be proper?" she asked.
Narrow shoulders drooping, Mr. Johnston took his watch from his waistcoat. Swinging the heavy chain that connected it to the opposite pocket, he looked at her for a long moment. Then, he snapped open the case and consulted the watch as if it could answer her question.
"Perhaps not at this time," he said without lifting his head.
* * * *
Alabama's like Georgia, Anne thought as she trudged along a clay road on her Aunt Frances Campbell Rowland's plantation. Same cotton fields. Same pine trees. Why am I so homesick? I'm not a child. Why does it hurt so not to have a papa any more?
Anne hated November's gray skies as much as she detested wearing black, but her muscles and nerves screamed to get out of the house bursting with three talkative sisters. She felt sorry for long-suffering Uncle Isaac Rowland who provided a home for his wife's spinster sisters, Eliza and Flora. And now another old maid. Me. Aunt Eliza was loving, but Flora was a complainer, talking of nothing but illness and death.
Anne tried to be helpful, but life on a cotton farm was so different that she could not find what she should do. She missed the afternoon calls of Maconites, the evening musicales and theatricals, her chattering circle of friends.
She kicked at a pile of leaves. The Council of Aunts decreed she should stay here, hidden away for prescribed grieving, but she was young, in vibrant health, eager for activity. She chafed at the mourning etiquette fashioned by Queen Victoria's reign. She would never get over missing Papa. She pictured him, hands folded in prayer.
You haven't tried to pray, she told herself. Well, God couldn't be interested in my silly problems.
When she returned to the house for the noon meal, Uncle Isaac handed her a letter. She blinked in surprise. It was from Mr. Johnston. Around the table, all eyes were upon her.
"Probably business," she said, shoving the letter in her pocket.
Through the fried chicken Anne was indifferent. Next the salt-cured ham claimed her attention. Hunger quieted, she began to wonder. As the vegetables were passed, she fingered the letter. By the time the apple dumplings were served, she did not take time to add whipped cream.
Excusing herself, Anne went into the library. She took down a book and placed the letter inside the pages so that she could read it unnoticed if anyone entered.
* * * *
November 23, 1849
Dear Miss Anne,
How are you? Fine I hope. I thought you might like news of home.
I saw your brothers at a political meeting. Philemon is becoming quite a handsome young man--if a bit impetuous. He spoke heatedly about the South's equal rights to all this land acquired in the War with Mexico. Young Edward Junior remained sedate. It is he, I think, who will be more like Judge Tracy.
* * * *
Yes, Anne thought, Lit looks like Papa.
She felt warmed by the friendly letter. She read Mr. Johnston's discussion of the Missouri Compromise with growing pleasure. Mr. Johnston excited her more than any suitor she had known. He, like Papa, recognized that a girl could have a mind.
The library desk provided an ample supply of paper. Anne dipped a pen in the crystal inkwell and then sat so long thinking of a beginning that she dropped a spreading blot.
* * * *
November 29, 1849
Dear Mr. Johnston,
How nice of you to send me news of home. All of the friends my age seem too busy to write....
* * * *
She read it over, tore it up, embarrassed.
It was ridiculous to be afraid of him at this distance, but the agony of a polite reply hung over her for several weeks before she tried again.
* * * *
December 15, 1849
Dear Mr. Johnston,
How nice of you to send news from Macon. I miss being in town. I like business and bustle and people about. I'm not suited to quiet plantation life.
But I'm much happier now that the weather is warm and sunny. My uncle gave me a little horse that gallops like the wind. I love to ride. Do you?
Anne Clark Tracy* * * *
Mr. Johnston's answer was immediate:
* * * *
...I'm not suited to country living either. Perhaps it was best, after all, that my father left his entire plantation to my eldest brother. Business has treated me well.
* * * *
Do I detect bitterness, Anne wondered, or merely bragging?
Christmas came, and the entire Campbell clan gathered on the plantation. Anne became her joyous self again, seeing Phil and Lit. When the time came for them to leave, she clung to them, feeling part of herself gone.
Aunt Frances, jolly and plump, began teaching Anne to sew, but still she felt restless. She decided to write Mr. Johnston again.
* * * *
...A rainy New Year. I hate rain. At least this house has a lovely library. I'm reading Greek mythology and poetry. I especially like George Gordon Lord Byron.
* * * *
* * * *
...Fire broke out February 19, on Cotton Avenue. It destroyed all of the buildings. The loss was over $100,000.00. Fortunately, I represent Hartford Fire Insurance Company, and most of the businesses had insured with me.
* * * *
Letters from Anne's family only included personal news, and she was pleased that Mr. Johnston kept her abreast of Macon happenings.
* * * *
One hot autumn day, a year after she had left Macon, she received a thick envelope.
October 17, 1850
Dear Miss Anne,
Your letters show a sharp and witty personality and your well-developed literary interests, giving evidence of your fine education at the Episcopal Institute of Montpelier, reveal you as the only sort of woman with whom I could spend my life. When you return to Macon, will you allow me to court you?
I must tell you that when I opened my jewelry store in 1832, I also sold swords and dueling pistols. My fortunes increased greatly because the Macon volunteers bought from me when they marched off to fight the Creek War of 1836 and again four years ago when our brave lads joined in fighting the Mexican War.
I was part of the group that built the Central Rail Road from Macon to Savannah. It is the longest railroad in the world owned by one company. I am also a director of the Macon and Western Railroad that connects us with Atlanta. These railroads make Macon the Queen Inland City of the South, and my real estate investments turn tidy profits.
Now, you may have heard that my bank floundered in the Depression of 1837, but thanks to my lawyer friend Christopher Memminger, that problem is straightened out and I have netted $50,000.
At any rate, I am now secure in my fortune. I am turning the jewelry store over to my brother, Edmund. I am retiring from active business to manage my investments.
I expect to take a year off to make a Grand Tour of Europe. Would you do me the honor of accompanying me as my wife?
William Butler Johnston
* * * *
Shocked, Anne flung down the letter and ran out to tramp the falling leaves. She had shared her interests on blank, impersonal paper, and they had become friends. But how could I ever talk in person with the man?
She was afraid to cry. She might not be able to stop.
Face it, you ninny, she scolded herself. You've read too much of Byron. You want to experience love, but you're never going to find it.
* * * *
The silent winter was over at last, and Anne returned to Macon, having agreed to be courted, nothing more. Her anticipation mingled with dread.
But when Phil met her at the depot and they drove through town, she wanted to leap from the buggy, shouting, "I'm home," running, arms outstretched, hugging all she met, stopping only to sniff the glorious gardens. Spring never crept in here, crocus by crocus. It burst forth in a symphony of color and scent, and she drank in camellias and daffodils, flowering crabs, tea olives. Above it all in the treetops, swags of wisteria shed their heady fragrance.
"Romance is in the air," she cried.
Phil laughed. "There's a cotillion tonight. I'll be glad to escort you if you don't mind going with a mere sibling."
"I'd be proud to go with a brother who's grown so dashing while I've been shut away," Anne said, hugging him warmly, loving the man as much as the boy she had mothered.
They arrived at the Tracy house, and Anne could see Aunt Carry's round form silhouetted against the sunlight from the open end of the dogtrot porch.
As soon as Anne could fulfill a proper greeting, she bubbled out a request to attend the ball.
Aunt Carry mopped her face with her ever-present handkerchief. "Let's wait. Don't you think you should?"
"Wait?" Anne's breath seemed to stop, but then her eyes narrowed. "Haven't you been saying I'm about to pass marriageable age? How can I wait?" She saw she had struck the right nerve and lowered her lashes lest a twinkle escape.
Aunt Carry blustered, and then agreed. Anne pressed further.
"I'm sure it's time I advanced from black crepe to lavender taffeta."
"Well ... Maybe, but only if you promise to keep mourning bands on your forearms."
At that moment, Anne's friends began arriving. Some showed wedding rings while others boasted of upcoming nuptials and extended invitations to bridal showers and teas. The remaining few whispered of still deciding between gallant suitors.
Is everyone attached to someone special? Anne wondered. Except me?
* * * *
That evening as they paused at the door to the ballroom of Macon's grand new hotel, the Lanier House, her fingers dug into Philemon's arm. Her lavender seemed insipid. All of the others looked like belles as they waltzed, bright skirts billowing, gazing adoringly at their escorts. Anne's legs quivered for flight. The remembrance that Phil danced even though he walked with a limp made her stiffen and step across the threshold.
A dozen young men came forward.
She felt her face glow with the wonder of it. I'm like a new girl in town. Her dance card soon filled, and she whirled into the throng.
After the fourth set as she stood hot, breathless, waiting for her partner to bring her some lemonade, she noticed a change in the youthful chatter of the crowd.
Mr. Johnston stood in the entrance. The way parted. Heads nodded deferentially.
Anne rued her prominent cheekbones, and she splayed her fingers to keep them from showing like flaming flags as Mr. Johnston made his way across the room toward her.
He bowed stiffly, kissing her hand. "Why didn't you let me know you'd come home?"
"I..." Her throat felt so dry she could hardly speak. "I only just arrived."
The orchestra struck up a Strauss waltz, and he offered his arm.
"It's--taken," she strangled out, reaching gratefully for her partner's proffered punch cup. "Lemuel Jones..."
Anne scrunched down to the boy's height as he glared at the elegantly tailored gentleman. Freckles popped out and red hair bristled, but Lemuel stumbled over his own big feet, sloshing lemonade. Defeated, he backed away, mumbling.
Tight-lipped, they danced with Mr. Johnston's unanswered proposal clanking against their silence.
Aware of his eyes probing her, she could not hear the music. She perspired, willing the evening over.
"May I call on you tomorrow afternoon?" he asked, and then hurried to add as Phil claimed her, "May I escort you to the next cotillion?"
"Yes." It was a small sound.
* * * *
The next afternoon, Mr. Johnston arrived with two horses.
"Oh, I'm not dressed properly," Anne apologized.
"How thoughtless. I should've..."
"Nonsense. It'll only take a moment to change. It was thoughtful 'cause I told you I love to ride."
But she frowned, dreading to leave him unguarded. There was no escaping Aunt Carry who was seated on the porch, looking smug.
Anne hurried into her gray wool riding habit. When she returned, she feared she had not been fast enough. She did not like the intimate look of the conversation.
"Have fun, you two," Aunt Carry said just a shade too heartily.
As they cantered out the Vineville Road, Mr. Johnston spoke little. Anne relaxed, enjoying the freedom of outdoors.
* * * *
Anne was dressed for the cotillion and tensely waiting when Aunt Carry tapped at her door and told her that her escort had arrived. She went out, exclaiming in surprise. It was not Mr. Johnston but Edward, Junior, who made a flourishing bow and presented a nosegay.
"Mr. Johnston sent word he is detained on urgent business. He asked me to take you," he said in a voice that was already a deep, arresting rumble even though he was not quite eighteen. "He'll meet you there."
Anne made a grand curtsy. "Thank you, Sir Knight."
She smiled at Little Edward, thinking he was the handsomest young man she had ever seen. The family characteristics--long nose, heavy brows, and thick, dark auburn hair--rested best on Lit. We really should quit calling him by his baby nickname, she thought as they started for the dance.
When they entered the ballroom and Lit spoke in his manly tones, a bevy of belles turned, wafting fans and fluttering eyelashes. Lit deserted her.
Anne stood in a corner, trying not to tap her foot in anger. Phil wouldn't have left me hanging. But Aunt Carry took the baby away from me. Lit and I aren't as closely tuned.
Her dance card remained unfilled. She leaned toward the music. Lines were forming for the cotillion. She wet her lips and teeth to make them shine. She laughed gaily at a pretended sight. Emptiness hurt her chest. She hated standing alone, missing the energetic figures, the changing of partners, the marching through arched arms. Surely somewhere in that swirling throng was a man handsome as her brothers who could sweep her away into an ecstasy of romance.
She glanced around. Eyes were watching her over fans. She knew she was smiling too broadly, waving her hands too much. Heads nodded close. Whispers passed. She had not wanted it known Mr. Johnston was courting her. Her throat trembled. It must have become obvious.
He came late, pleading business, but at least she was claimed for a waltz.
* * * *
When Mr. Johnston left her at home, she was surrounded by the Aunts. Anne stood in the middle of the parlor, feeling like a June bug, foot tied, dangling on a string.
"Mr. Johnston declared his intentions," said Aunt Carry. "But you haven't replied."
It was an accusation, and Anne stammered, "No. I..."
"We care about you, dear. God cares." Aunt Queeny put into Anne's silence.
No, Anne thought. You're all just afraid I'll shame you. Aunt Carry's next words were confirmation.
"Surely, girl, you've sense enough not to refuse a rich man like Mr. Johnston. A lady must marry or have no place in society."
"Anne, dear," Aunt Eddy ventured, chins wobbling, "You don't want to end up an old maid in someone else's home."
Anne had never considered sweet little Eddy's sad life, but she recalled irritating Flora. With my temper I'd wind up like Flora. She jerked, shifted her foot. "I'd hoped for love," she said, chin high.
"Love!" Carry snorted. "Security's more like it. As Mr. Tracy gave me."
"Love will come after you adjust to marriage," said Queeny.
"Papa left me property--even a business. Couldn't I run it?"
Eddy smothered a scream and fell back, swooning.
Queeny spoke firmly. "You know that ladies in your social station don't work! You've money enough to take care of you, but with Mr. Johnston, you'd live in luxury,"
"What matters," asserted Carry, "is that propriety demands you be engaged soon. If you're not married while you're still twenty-one, people will talk."
What am I to do? Anne wondered. Papa realized I have a mind and feelings. He would have made a proper match for me. But Papa's dead. My life's before me. There may be no one to love me, but I must find some way to make my life count.
* * * *
Summer settled over Georgia like a murmur of contentment. In the humid midday, Macon society retreated behind their shutters. All but the young.
Anne reveled in being able to walk to her friends' homes again. The girls spent the lazy afternoons migrating through the houses on College Street and Georgia Avenue, new Greek Revival mansions with towering columns lifting porches two--even three stories high. Alone with those she trusted, Anne let herself be funny and gay.
Later in the afternoons, ladies in hats and white gloves visited one another for tea, tiny sandwiches, and cakes.
After sunset, everyone emerged, seeking entertainment. Anne liked the Shakespeare readings, but she especially enjoyed the musicales. One evening she invited Mr. Johnston to join the group gathering in the rotunda of the Raines' house for a fluting. Little Sidney was to play with the men.
Anne felt awakened by the plaintive, soaring notes, amazed at the child performing on a real gold instrument. She smiled at Sidney, thinking his legs were stretching like a new colt's.
Mr. Johnston looked down at her, and she glimpsed tenderness in his gaze. She tensed. He's sitting too close. Unwanted warmth steamed over her.
Afterwards when he was walking her home, he said, "Today was my last in the jewelry store. I'm true to my word--I've retired. Now I can claim all your afternoons. Would you like to go horseback riding tomorrow?"
Anne felt the pressure of his simple words in the depths of her stomach; she was not ready to give up girlhood pleasures. Aunt Carry wouldn't let me go out without a chaperone with anyone else. But she knows his intentions. I do, too, and he's pushing me too fast. Why do I feel so torn? I long for adventure, but, oh, I don't want to leave home.
Mr. Johnston stopped, waiting for an answer. Twisting her hands, she replied, "That would be lovely. Four o'clock?"
* * * *
The afternoon seemed airless as Anne guided her horse through the pine forest skirting the muddy Ocmulgee. Mr. Johnston kept cutting his eyes at her, and she wished her corset strings were not laced too tight for breathing.
He reined at the riverbank beside a canoe. "I had this put here for us," he said. "I thought canoeing would be cooler."
Anne nodded, unable to speak. The decision is upon me. How can I escape?
He paddled upstream. There was no sound save for the shallow water bubbling over stones. They were totally alone. He brought out a tiny box.
Anne's hands shook as she opened it. "It's beautiful," she said as the diamond flashed. A mockingbird's trill reminded her of Sidney and her longings for a home filled with children. Most of her friends would soon be married in a flurry of June weddings. But acceptance choked her. Oh, I can't, I can't. But he's a nice man. I hate to hurt him, but I don't love him.
"I'm still in mourning for Papa." She pointed to the black bands on her forearms. More was called for, but she ducked her head. "I don't wear rings." She showed him her fingers then hid them behind her. My hands are too big, she thought miserably. Surely he's noticed that.
Without reply he pocketed the box, but his face drew down with such sorrow and self-doubt that she ached for him.
Have I ended his intentions? Anne wondered.
* * * *
In a week, Mr. Johnston called again. They were invited to join a group for picnicking. As the carriage clattered across the river bridge and into the Old Ocmulgee Fields, Anne felt exhilarated. She liked exercise, and these carefree friends were fun.
Mr. Johnston looked grim, but he said, "You're lovely in that white dress, Miss Anne."
"Thank you. The Aunts decided I should take another step out of mourning."
They want me to capture you, Anne fumed, suddenly cross. The muslin was itchy. She thought it far too elaborate for her lanky figure as well as for this stage of bereavement. It had rows of lace ruching from her shoulders to her toes.
The carriages stopped at Fort Hawkins, an old Indian trading post dating back to Thomas Jefferson's order. Lit and the younger set shouted in a mock battle, storming the hewed-log fort. Anne fought a mischievous yen to join them. But she noticed Phil already ahead on the path through the fort gardens; he had a girl on each arm. She resigned herself to acting her age.
The laughing group ambled along the woodland trail. Coming out in a clearing, they stood silenced, awed each time they saw the ancient, flattened pyramids rising from the level plane of the Macon plateau.
Then the chattering resumed as they climbed the spur at the side of a fifty-foot mound, thought to have held a temple for some prehistoric tribe. Anne walked apart from Mr. Johnston, independent, unaided.
The top was broad, flat. Mr. Johnston drew her apart. "Over here. Let's look at the view."
Anne stared down at the mansions of Macon, the church spires, Wesleyan Female College crowning College Hill. Homesickness flooded through her. But I have no home. The dogtrot house is Aunt Carry's now. Anne shared a bedroom with half-sisters Caroline Matilda, eleven, and nine-year-old Harriet. The baby of the family, Campbell Tracy, was the pampered man of the house since Lit and Phil had moved to their own quarters. I wish I could just do that. But that was unheard of. Only as a wife could she have a home, exert a say in civic, even church affairs.
Mr. Johnston waited beside her, perfectly still. At last he said, "I have business in New York City in August. I'm booking passage from there to England. Then France. Italy." He handed her a long velvet box.
With shaking fingers she lifted out dangling earrings.
"They're fine Etruscan gold," he said.
"Beautiful." I have such love in my heart to give. Why doesn't someone want it?
"Will you marry me?" His beard trembled with emotion.
She lifted the shutters from her eyes and gazed into his vulnerable face. She thought she could trust him to take care of her like Papa would have. There's something behind his closed, inward look, she told herself, a secret I might one day discover. It's time to become an adult. She drew a tremulous breath. "Yes."
* * * *
Anne hovered in the doorway of Christ Episcopal Church and peered at her Campbell kin, who were prominent from Georgia's governor's mansion to the nation's capital. They had converged for her wedding. It was August 2, 1851.
She admired the beautiful old church, built in the form of a Roman Cross and surmounted by a dome. The setting could not have been more perfect with a myriad of candles glowing in the sparkling glass chandelier. Family cocooned her. Expectantly, they waited for her to make an entrance.
The organ flurry began. How can I take the first step? Anne agonized. I wish Papa were here. But Philemon stood beside her. Now it was she clinging to Phil's hand, leaning upon him. She flashed him a look of panic.
Phil crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue. "You and Mr. Johnston act as if you're about to be shot," he hissed.
Anne giggled. She stepped out, trying to smile but glad of the tulle veil covering her face. She had chosen a simple satin dress with a tight bodice, short sleeves, and a train that flowed sedately. She clutched her white prayer book in one kid-gloved hand and squeezed the other into the crook of Phil's arm.
They reached the altar, and she did not die. Dazed, she blinked at the Reverend Shanklin. Beside him Mr. Johnston looked slim and dignified in white tie and tailcoat. Her eyes blurred in the candles' flame.
The ceremony began--was over.
Then everyone crowded around, kissing her cold cheek, shaking Mr. Johnston's hand with respectful bows. He acknowledged the introductions to her endless family with reserve. Anne gritted her teeth on hearing Aunt Carry behind her, calling him "the rich Mr. Johnston." A strange sensation made her prickle as she realized she was married. Already the ones I love seem to be standing away.
* * * *
Philemon Tracy hovered on the fringes of the group, holding up a toast but choking with concern. Why did she marry him? Phil wondered. I don't need my glasses to see she doesn't love him. Not the money. Papa left her well enough fixed. She's led such a sheltered life. How will she face it if she has to step out alone?
He wanted to snatch her back from that man. Anne looked across at him. He grinned.
* * * *
I'm going to miss Phil, Anne thought.
It seemed the receiving line would never end. Then she had to cut the wedding cake. Anne tried to smile as her new husband saluted her with a slender glass of syllabub. They were led to a feast of turkey, chicken, and Virginia-baked ham. Tables swayed beneath embossed cakes, salads, and every delicacy the Aunts could envision. She could scarcely swallow.
Mr. Johnston had taken out his watch, and she willed her eyes to stay wide and dry.
"It's time for the train," her husband said. "First Savannah, next a small surprise, then New York City." He beamed at her. "Then at long last our honeymoon voyage to Europe."
Phil pushed his way through the well-wishers. He draped his arm across her shoulders and whispered close to her ear, "Look at it this way, Annie. You can gratify your long-indulged curiosity about that region at the North. You can see a live Yankee in the Yankee country."
Anne laughed shakily. Sassy, irreverent Phil. How can I do without him?
The Aunts gathered round, kissing her good-bye in a swirl of lavender-scented silk. She wished for her mother. The Aunts had told her nothing. Today she was an innocent bride. Tonight she was expected to be a wife. Her groom, exactly twice her age, was a small, dark shadow in the background, and she suddenly lost the courage to begin the journey.