Stone Orchards and Farm, Carters Run, Virginia
I didn’t protest when Benjamin joined the Culpeper Minutemen in the fall of 1775, for it was every able-bodied man’s duty to serve in the militia. He was delighted—far more than I, to be honest—when the Virginia Assembly called the Minutemen to defend the arsenal at Williamsburg just before Christmastide. When he returned three months later, he was restless, and a chasm formed between us that had not existed before. Even though Governor Dunmore’s expulsion from the colony restored peace to Virginia, Benjamin would not be content until the unrest in all the colonies was resolved.
The following spring, I quailed with fear when the main army attached our local militia to one of the Virginia regiments. But months passed, and despite the escalating conflict, Benjamin was not called to do anything more dangerous than take a turn guarding disaffected Loyalists from Virginia’s tidewater coast who were brought inland to Fauquier County.
Though he spent long days in the fields or the orchards, he often rode off after supper to spend a few hours at Edwards’ Ordinary in nearby Fauquier Court House. There, he and his fellows followed the news of the continuing rebellion in the north and rejoiced in the daring exploits of the Sons of Liberty.
Unsure how to make him understand my worry, I settled for pointing out it did not look well when a preacher spent more time in the ordinary than in church.
One October evening, Benjamin was unusually quiet as he cleaned his rifle. Even after the children were in bed, he continued to polish the barrel in silence. This was our time for conversation, and I waited for him to speak his mind. When he rose and hung the rifle on its pegs over the door, I could hold my tongue no longer. “What troubles you?”
“I’m not troubled—just trying to decide how to tell you.”
As it happened, I had news for him, too. At the children’s bedroom door, my keen mother’s ear discerned Rhoda and Elijah breathing in unison. I took my shawl off its peg. “Come for a walk with me.”
Outside, our shadows melted into the darkness between the rows of gnarled apple trees that seemed to march across our orchard’s hills. When the climb grew steep, he took my hand, steadying me until we stood together on high ground. Here the Blue Ridge Mountains rolled away to the east, the north, and the south. To the west, the last rays of the setting sun turned the horizon orange and pink. Silhouetted against the fading light, his profile put me in mind of a Roman emperor I once saw in a book and it tinged my surge of affection with foreboding. I married a farmer. A preacher. I had not expected him to become a warrior. “Do you remember the day you asked Uncle for my hand?”
He chuckled. “If I recall, you tried to put me off. You said that you had but a small measure of liberty, which you’d lose as soon as you expressed tender feelings for someone.”
“You argued I needn’t fear losing my liberty and promised our marriage would be an equal partnership.”
“I was so smitten I’d have promised you anything. But have I not kept my word?”
“Yes. Since we wed, I’ve wanted for nothing and feared nothing as long as you were beside me.”
“And have I not encouraged you to use your skills as a healer?”
“It has been a blessing to be able to tend to the spiritual and physical health of our community together.”
He paused and sighed before he continued. “The Department of Safety has dissolved my unit out of the Continental Line and back into the militia.”
My heart leapt at this turn of fate. “So you’ll be—”
He cut me off, speaking in a rush. “I enlisted as a regular.”
“No!” Just as quickly, my heart plummeted like a bird shot out of the air.
“It would mean payment and a pension, not just volunteering.”
“How could you make such a decision without asking me?”
“The army needs men skilled with rifles and artillery. Many of my fellows from the Minutemen have also joined the Line.”
“Then let them go. You’re needed here, at home.” Swallowing did nothing to force down the lump in my throat. “I didn’t object when you joined the Minutemen, but now I cannot help but believe you prefer soldiering above everything else—including me and the children. Do you prefer it above your calling, too?”
He put his hands on my shoulders, holding me at arm’s length. Though I couldn’t see his face in the darkness, the hurt in his voice was clear. “I soldier to win liberty and the freedom to worship as we choose. I can’t ask the men of my flock to do what I refuse to do myself. How can I abandon a course of action that will make it possible to realize all my other dreams? When I promised I wouldn’t seek to own you or hobble you, I believed you’d grant me the same concession.”
“I do, but I am still a wife who fears losing her husband.”
He pulled me against his chest, and his lips brushed my hair as he spoke. “I vow you shan’t lose me, Anna.”
“You cannot make such a vow, for you can’t know what comes on the morrow.”
“I daresay I do. We’ve been assigned to Stirling’s Brigade in the Third Virginia Regiment. They’ll be calling us up in a few days.”
A sob escaped my lips. “The last time, you left when Elijah was a babe. This time, you’ll leave while I’m with child—and you’ll be gone for a year or more.”
His hand sought my still-flat stomach. “Really? When do you expect?”
“In the spring. April or May.”
His whoop rang out across the hills. He swung me around and smothered me with kisses until I forgot everything I’d planned to say. When he took me to bed later, it was with passion that recalled a night in August after he read the newly signed Declaration of Independence aloud to his congregation. That, I suspected, was the night he’d gotten this child on me. No doubt he was as well pleased about the pregnancy as I, but it soon became clear I was foolish to hope the news would alter his course.
I’d assumed we’d take the matter up again the next day, but Benjamin left early and returned in the afternoon, driving a borrowed wagon. I came out on the porch, Elijah on my hip.
“What’s this about?”
He jumped down. “I paid a visit to your uncle and expressed my worry about leaving you alone with two little ones while you expect. He offered to have you return to live with them while I’m away. We can move your things and the stock over tomorrow.”
I put my hand over my belly, my trembling voice conveying my hurt. “You didn’t think to discuss this with me either? We decide about the children—and our lives—together.”
“It’s best for you and the babe.”
“Nay, Benjamin. I shall stay here, near Betsy and Thomas. I’ll want Betsy when my travail comes and between your brothers and your father, the chores….”
“You cannot. Thomas is planning to enlist, and Baylis is too—so there will be no able-bodied men about. My father’s too feeble to help, and you know everything’s just going to get more difficult as your time approaches. Noah is old enough to handle Thomas’s chores, but it’s too much to expect a twelve-year-old lad to tend to his father’s farm and then do for his aunt and grandfather, too.”
He was only trying to see to my comfort, and I cast about for the right words to express my dismay. “But we’ve had so little contact with my family since we married. I know I must set aside old disagreements, but to live under their roof is out of the question. I warrant Aunt Jean still does not think us properly wed.”
“Your aunt’s opinion about the legitimacy of our Baptist practices didn’t matter when we married, and it doesn’t matter now. Your mother seemed pleased and bade me tell you everyone is looking forward to seeing you and the little ones.”
But I sighed at the thought of living with my relatives.
And so, the presence of my extended family diluted my remaining time with Benjamin. We spent our last night together in the large four-poster bed in the chamber I now shared with the children. Though I longed to receive him with an ardor that would bind us to one another even as the miles between us increased, our lovemaking felt furtive and restrained. We were not used to having the children asleep at the foot of the bed and all the rest of the family within earshot.
Long after he fell asleep, sated, I lay watching the flicker of the dying flames on the hearth. Already, I missed him and the liberty I enjoyed as mistress of my own, albeit modest, home.
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