At the Leeds Manor boundary, I turned off the main road to follow the familiar dirt path toward home, and Nelly perked up at the familiar surroundings. She headed toward the log barn, but I halted her in front of the house and looped her reins over the porch railing, disappointed as we would not be staying long.
Fallen leaves littered the porch and crunched beneath my feet as I crossed to remove the padlock on the door. Inside, a musty smell met me, and I shivered. With no fire on the hearth, it felt as cold as outside.
We took no furniture or books to Uncle’s, only mine and the children’s clothing, their few toys, and William’s crib. Though I emptied the straw mattresses and packed the linens away in one of the trunks, the rest of our possessions remained in place, a ghostly reminder of what our lives had once been. Originally the tenant house on Benjamin’s father’s land, it stood empty for several years. Benjamin and Joseph worked for weeks to make it ready before our wedding and my husband-to-be’s desire to please me was clear in every detail.
He whitewashed the ceiling between the heavy beams and scrubbed the fireplace and the floor around the hearth until years’ worth of soot stains were removed. My small collection of copper pots and pans gleamed from their hooks on the wall, with a three-legged iron spider and roasting spit ready for use. The trestle board stood in the middle of the room with chairs pulled up on either side.
Joseph sanded and oiled a dish dresser left behind by the house’s last tenants until it gleamed like the pewter plates and bowls stacked on the shelves. Our set of six knives and spoons rested in the drawer.
Though it was a modest beginning, I felt rich and content when I surveyed that one room. A grand house did not always make for a happy home.
When Rhoda was a baby, Benjamin and Thomas added two bedchambers to the structure and sided the house with sawn boards. In the one I shared with Benjamin, I knelt before the trunk and lifted out his folded shirts and breeches. To my disappointment, it was the odor from the cedar-chip sachet, and not his scent lingering in the fibers. But Benjamin’s presence was everywhere, like the evidence of the life we built together. To keep my anxiety from consuming me, I thought back to the day he came home from Williamsburg.
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