A Love Too Proud

 

A LOVE TOO PROUD


Williamsburg, 1754


          Lord Jonathan Trenholme is not happy about being exiled to the colony of Virginia until a scandal in England blows over. Accustomed to wealth, power, and privilege, he views the colonies as being one step from barbarism. When he crosses paths with Callie Hastings, a feisty, illiterate tobacco farmer who refuses to pay homage to his noble birth, he is certain of it.

          Outwitted by her one time too many, Trenholme is determined to teach her a lesson in humility. Instead, she ends up in his custody to both their dismay. In her reversal of circumstances, the headstrong Callie manages to upset the powerful Burgesses of the town and anger the Royal Governor’s Court, forcing Trenholme to come to her defense. In time, they come to a mutual understanding and Callie learns trust; Lord Jon learns respect; and both learn love as their hearts become unexpectedly and hopelessly entwined.

CHAPTER 1


April 1754—Virginia Colony


The old Negress looked up from the shucking of the last of the winter corn as the afternoon sky suddenly turned gray. The sun appeared to be ceasing its assault upon the cracked dry land, but the temperature remained unseasonably warm and suffocating. There came no relief from even the slightest breeze; the air was deathly still. A frown creased the woman’s brown features. No birds sang, no insects chirped, no bees buzzed. The silence was unnatural, and her heart beat a tattoo of warning against her breast.

The other times had been much like this, and her calloused hands shook as she awaited the sign—the sign that she knew was certain to follow. She leaned forward straining to hear, her large frame tensed, her eyes round with fright as she searched the horizon. Perspiration beaded her forehead, staining the faded red bandanna wrapped around her head. Then it came—three high-pitched whistles—the song of the whippoorwill.

Her heart fell. She closed her eyes and began to sway in mournful keening. The whippoorwill was a night bird. Its song then meant nothing; when heard in the light of day, it signaled death. Somewhere nearby a poor soul was lost to this world.

The skittering of a field mouse across her path roused the woman from her chanting. A thrush began to warble and with it followed the stirrings of nature once again. The spell was broken, but the question remained. Who had the Grim Reaper come to claim this time?

“Dear Lawd in Hebben, don’ let it be my Joe or Callie,” she cried aloud, raising her arms in supplication.

At the crackling sound of a foot on dried brush, the old Negress quickly turned. When she spotted the slight figure dressed in buckskins and a turned down cock hat, her chest heaved with a deep sigh of relief.

“Missy Callie, is my Joe well?” she asked anxiously.

Callie Hastings regarded the Negress curiously. “Of course he is, Lucie. I jest left him in the fields. Why wouldn’t he be?”

Lucie shivered in spite of the warmth of the day. “I jest heard da song of da whippoorwill an’ ye knows what dat means.”

Callie gave a snort of impatience. “I told you before, ‘tis but a superstition and I will not be bound by such foolishness.”

Lucie looked up at her young mistress. “‘Tain’t superstition, chile,” she said softly with the shake of her head. “I heard dat whippoorwill sing the day yer papa died, the day yer mama died, an’ on the morn of yer brother Ethan’s death. Did ye not see it?”

“What?”

“Da dark when da Reaper cast his shadow ‘pon da earth. Did ye not feel da stillness when ev’ry livin’ creature was froze in his tracks while dat ol’ Reaper walked amongst us ‘til he found the soul what he come fo’.”

Lucie’s low tone held such conviction that Callie felt a chill track down her spine, and she found herself looking guardedly over her shoulder. She quickly shook herself free of the superstition then, annoyed that she had allowed herself to succumb to such silliness if only for a moment. “I told ye before, ‘tis all stuff ‘n nonsense,” she said irritably.

Lucie fixed Callie with a knowing eye. “Maybe so, maybe not.”

As Callie flung her hat on the ground and shook out a mass of dark red hair, tangled and damp from her labor, Lucie’s broad mahogany features reflected marked disapproval.

“Ye is borrowin’ trouble, girl, dressin’ in yer brother’s britches,” she declared, wagging a denuded corncob in Callie’s face to underscore her warning.

“And who is to take offense?” challenged Callie, collapsing wearily beneath the shade tree. “With Ethan dead and that no-account Abel Cane run off, I have to be the man around here anyway. I might as well dress the part.”

“Humph, iffen da good Lawd intended dat, He’d a made ye a man. Ye be a mite puny and hath a yard of freckles, but ye ain’t half bad ta look on once yer scrubbed up some. Land above, chile, as it is ye ain’t got much to show fo’ bein’ female, thin as ye be,” said Lucie, glancing pointedly at Callie’s underdeveloped body. “How a man s’pose ta know ye fo’ a woman dressed like dat?”

“Mayhaps that is the idea, Lucie. There been too many strangers gettin’ off the ships at Yorktown and passin’ this way of late. There was one last month and two this month. Bein’ that we are but a league from the main road, ‘tis safer for a lone woman not to be seen. Besides, these buckskins make it easier to work the fields.”

Lucie shook her head. “‘Tain’t right when a body crosses God’s rightful intentions. Ye needs a man around here ta help ye.”

Callie scoffed. “Jest like Mattie Danvers’s man helped her when he run off with ev’rythin’ they had, leavin’ her with a passel of babes to feed? No thanks. I don’t be needin’ that kind of help. Most of the womenfolk hereabouts do all the work anyway, whilst their men spend more time gambling and drinking than puttin’ food on the table. ‘Pears to me skirts was made fer the wrong people.”

“That ain’t all men, missy. Look at Ol’ Joe. Any man what calls me his beauty ain’t all bad.” Lucie broke into a jovial chuckle that shook her ample girth. “When I ask him what fo’ he wants me, he jest wink his eye in dat ol’ devil way and he say, ‘Lucie, ye gives me warmth in da winter and shade in da summer.’“

Callie snickered and her mouth turned up into something suspiciously like a smile in spite of her dour mood. The top of Old Joe’s head came to Lucie’s bosom, and he was as skinny as a matchstick. If Lucie were to stand in front of him, she would completely hide him from view, but there was no mistaking who was in charge. He bossed her around as though she were half his size, and the woman loved every minute of it.

“Now chile,” Lucie continued to say, “jest because yer mama made a mistake ‘bout Abel Cane ain’t no reason fo’ ye ta turn yer back on all men.”

Callie stiffened and looked the Negress squarely in the eye. “Trustin’ a man was a mistake what cost my mother her life,” she said evenly. “I may not be able to prove Cane started that fire, but I know it sure as I be sittin’ here.”

“How ye know dat?”

“I heard him and Mama arguin’ that night. The bastard didn’t even stay around to see us safe.”

Callie plucked at the fragrant clover. Her lower lip quivered and lines of bitterness, made more pronounced by her anger and exhaustion at the moment, puckered her small face, nearly erasing the innocence of youth.

“Papa was so good. How could Mama have fallen fer the likes of Cane?”

The old Negress shrugged. “Yer mama was alone with two young ‘uns. ‘Twas a hard time fer her when her man died. Cane come along at da right time.”

“But you and Old Joe knew him fer the scoundrel he was. Why did ye not stop her from marryin’ him?” Callie questioned angrily. “If ye had, Mama and Ethan would still be alive.”

A long, uncomfortable silence fell between them, broken only by the hum of bees and a swarm of annoying blowflies. “Old Joe an’ me tried ta warn yer mama,” said Lucie quietly. “But Cane had already blinded her ta his shortcomings, and ‘tis not a black man’s place ta stop his mistress from doin’ anythin’.”

It was a simple truth that jolted Callie back to a reality she rarely considered. She never thought of Lucie and Old Joe as servants but rather as helpmates and the only family that she had left. They had proven their love and loyalty to the Hastings many times over the years. And, in spite of the fact that Callie’s father had set them free shortly before his death, they had refused to leave the family.

Callie knew that she had hurt the Negress deeply, and she reached over and squeezed Lucie’s work-roughened hand in silent apology.

Lucie gave a nod of acceptance. She understood that Callie did not make the gesture lightly. The girl was stubborn and headstrong; admitting a wrong had never come easy to her. Only seventeen and already she was indifferent to human desires and emotions—most especially her own. It saddened Lucie to think that the little girl who used to find such joy in life, who thrilled at the discovery of Nature’s gifts and secrets was now a hardened young woman, her thin shoulders bowed beneath the awesome burden she insisted upon carrying alone.

“Ye’ve changed so much, missy,” Lucie noted with sad regret. “But now da bad is over, and ye is meant ta share yerself and yer burdens with a strong man. Da good Lawd intended fo’ a man and a woman ta need one another and ta help each other with their problems. Dat what fo’ He put so many on this earth.”

“Men or problems?” asked Callie with a cynical laugh. “Never mind. One begets the other. I have lost everyone I loved. After Ethan died, I vowed on my mother’s grave that I ain’t never gonna care for anyone ever again—’ceptin’ you and Old Joe. If it ain’t painful in the end, it proves to be dangerous,” she ended on a bitter note, thinking about Abel Cane. “If only Papa hadna died—” Callie broke off with an aggrieved sigh and lay back on the soft carpet of grass to gaze wistfully up at the sky.

“Looks like we is finally in fo’ a storm. The spring rains is late this year,” observed Lucie, following Callie’s gaze to the gathering clouds. She knew the previous subject was closed for now. “Is ye finished with thinin’ the tobaccy seedlings? Ye know the dogwood leaves was as large as a squirrel’s ear last week. We gots ta be plantin’ da corn and da vegetable garden soon.”

“‘Twill have to wait until after the hilling of the tobacco fields,” said Callie wearily. “Without Ethan, our pace is much slowed.”

“Humph, dat ol’ devil weed take more care ‘n a baby. Can’t eat tobaccy. Corn and wheat is what we need more of.”

“‘Tis true,” said Callie, “but tobacco carries more the weight of silver tender.” Reluctantly, she got to her feet. “I best be fetchin’ up some more water to Old Joe. No tellin’ how much rain’ll come of this storm. Might be all bluster.”

Callie gathered her hair beneath her hat, collected the wooden buckets, and headed for the river.

“Have a care, missy,” Lucie called after her. “Remember dat whippoorwill.”

Callie dismissed Lucie’s superstitious warning with an impatient wave of her hand. But the old Negress knew. She could feel it in her bones. Something was in the air, and it portended nothing good.

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Coming Soon To Audio Book Format

Watch for A Love Too Proud to be released in late 2017 as an audio book.