― 1 ―
Major Jeremiah Delaney Watson dominated the family portrait hanging proudly over the elaborate marble fireplace in the parlor of his Alexandria, Virginia, home. A giant of a man, both in physical stature and in reputation, he was a hero in the late war, and currently a lawyer and merchant by trade; and quite wealthy by current society standards. His portrait reflected his position in society, with its carved, gold filigree frame and matching sconces hanging on either side, surrounded by swaths of hand-painted silk wall coverings. Custom-designed, the sconces sported leaded glass globes and shimmering oil reservoirs; and they glittered with bright spots of flame, imbuing a shadowy life into the images surrounding the major.
His daughters Charlotte and Marguerite stood on his left, dressed in teal and burgundy, with ermine stoles across their shoulders, and their hair wound into fanciful designs. A stuffed bird nestled in Charlotte’s hair, while Marguerite touted a feathered hat, tilted jauntily on one side. Directly behind her, with only his head and shoulders visible between the girls, appeared his son, Thomas, his dark hair overly long and his face almost hidden in the shadows.
Frederick, aged twelve, stood next to his mother, Martha, and wore a mischievous grin on his round face. Martha, her face stern and her frock a flattering shade of lavender, was seated on an overstuffed brocade chair, holding baby Sally dressed in a white dedication gown, embroidered with open cutwork and studded with freshwater pearls. Ten-year-old Arthur seemed as if he would burst from the image, come alive in oil and flesh, if not held on the shoulder by the most striking person in the painting. Almost as if glowing, his sister Samantha, stunningly fresh and youthful at seventeen, smiled down from the wall as if ready to welcome visitors into the family home. Her gown was of pink silk organdy, with puffed sleeves, and it shimmered as if alive. Her hair, piled high on her head, caught the light, and the ribbons woven into her tresses set off her gentle blue eyes.
One place was empty in the portrait; Matthew, the eldest at twenty-four, was in Florida when the portrait was commissioned. He was unable to excuse himself from his duties as 2nd lieutenant in the Army to return home at the time of the sitting.
On this frosty day in January, while the rest of the family was occupied elsewhere, Major Watson enjoyed a stiff of brandy, with an open decanter at his side. A fire crackled in the fireplace, cheerily warming the massive room. He gazed at the portrait and was pleased that he’d chosen the right artist to capture the likeness of his prodigy. He focused on the face of his dear wife and flinched when Abigail, the family’s faithful housekeeper, rang a small bell and paused just outside the room.
“Yes, Abigail?” Major Watson held his glass high in greeting, calling to her. “How may I help you today?”
“A letter, sir, by special courier.” She nodded and bobbed in a half-inflected curtsey.
“Let me have it, then.” He set his glass down and held out his hand.
“I cannot, sir. I’m afraid it’s only for your hand.” She moved aside to reveal the red-and-gold livery of a footman who stepped forward and nodded his head respectfully.
“Come forward, man,” Watson called, standing.
“Major Watson, sir. I was told by Colonel Livingston to hand this directly to you.” The footman pulled a folded paper sealed with wax from his coat pocket and held it out to the major. The man’s hat was pulled hard against his ears, and he shivered in the warmth of the room.
“From Colonel Livingston?”
“Aye, sir. From the colonel’s own hand. He said I was to give it to you only.”
Watson took the missive and instructed Abigail to give the man something for his efforts. The door was closed quietly behind the servants, and he paused a moment to reflect on the surprise intrusion into his day. Seating himself and adjusting his position to soak as much warmth as possible from the fire, he snapped the wax seal with a thin knife and began to read.
Wash. Cty, 4 Jan. ’92
To my Good Friend, Maj. Watson, Greetings:
As I am confident the Maj. remembers from our last Meeting, I am in poss. of a Military Warrant for a large Acreage in W. Virginia in the area now called Kentucky for my Services in the War. I must soon take Action on the Property or risk losing my Right to Occupy the parcel. I am writing to beg you, as my Friend, to help me make this Claim upon my Warrant.
Among my Relations in Baltimore is a merchant named F. Prescott. After some debate with P. about the Settlement of the Acreage, it has been decided that his Neph, Andrew Prescott, is quite able to take on the Responsibility of clearing the land and organizing a Settlement for pioneers willing to tackle the wild Animals and native Peoples of the area. I cannot take on the Position myself because of my Advanced Age and current Ill health. I have spoken with A. Prescott and am assured that he is Experienced and Skilled in the administration of a large Plantation and has a vast Knowledge of Survival in the Wilderness. He has successfully completed two Trips to the Mountains of W. Virginia and into the Wilds of Pennsylvania, and has lived for some time in K.
For A.P. to be successful in the endeavor, young Prescott requires the assistance of a wife, able to cope with the Hardship and Danger of an Adventurous Life. While pondering the Matter, it was brought to my mind that my Friend, Maj. W, already living in Virginia, has a Daughter of Marriageable age. Would my Friend agree that a Match between A. Prescott and S. Watson be Feasible and Profitable to us both? As Wife of the younger Prescott, S. would naturally be given a Portion of the Land as her dower right. Please answer soon as the Matter should be settled before the early Spring thaws. Young P. is anxious to start on his Task in time for the early plowing Season.
I remain yr. obed. Ser. and Friend, Colonel O. Livingston.
Watson sat a moment, stunned by the missive and request of his old comrade-in-arms. He found his glass, finished the brandy inside and poured another inch in the glass from the decanter, and downed it in one gulp.
Without thought to his aching knees, Watson walked upstairs to share the news with his wife, sitting among the younger children in the classroom. They agreed after some discussion that the colonel needed a speedy reply to his proposal, and the major went more slowly and reflectively down the stairs to his study. He sat for some time in fond memories of his friendship with Livingston, and with a smile on his florid face, he began to make plans for his daughter’s future.
He drew paper from his secretary, and sharpening his feather pen with a small knife he used for the purpose, dipped it into the India ink bottle and began to write. Satisfied with his task, he covered his body with his heavy coat, pulled a colorful wool scarf woven by his wife around his neck, and walked to the stables. It was a harsh, cold day, and the wind stung his cheeks. He called to the groom, gave him the letter and instructions and sent him on his way to Washington City. Later, sitting in his library with smoke circling his head from his lighted pipe, he thought how best to tell his daughter of his plan for her future.
― 2 ―
Samantha and her sister Marguerite were sitting in hard back chairs in the back parlor, knitting socks for the younger children. There was a cozy fire burning in the fireplace, but still there was a chill near the windows of the room. Sammie glanced out the window where she could just see the limbs of a tall tree scraping mournfully against the window pane. Marguerite was chattering on about the new tutor hired to teach Frederick and Arthur the rudiments of Latin. Sammie, if she had her wish, would rather be in the classroom, listening to the tutor, but her mother disapproved of higher education for females, so the older girls had been banished from the schoolroom while the lessons commenced. Through the open door, she could hear her sister Charlotte in the music room practicing her scales on the pianoforte. Sammie heard a bang, and the door suddenly opened to her brother Arthur, summoning her to her father’s office and library.
“Papa says you should come right away.” The tuft of hair that always seemed to hang low in his eyes couldn’t keep the excitement from his countenance, as he nervously ran his hand over his pants leg. His breath came in gasps from his run upstairs.
Samantha frowned as she collected her knitting and placed it in the box at her side. By his expression, she supposed that Arthur was grateful for a break in his lessons. She couldn’t think what was so important that she must leave her tasks behind. She thanked her brother and noted the reflection of sympathy in Marguerite’s eyes as she left the room and hurried down the hallway to answer her father’s command.
The hall was chilled, and Sammie shivered and drew her shawl closer to her shoulders as she tapped on the door. It was early January, and despite the fireplaces and Ben Franklin stoves in the larger rooms, the hallway in the large white house wasn’t heated.
“Come in,” came Jeremiah Watson’s gruff voice. She stepped lively through the door and walked to the desk in the corner. She gazed at the magnitude of books on the shelves and sighed. She never seemed to have enough time to read, and besides baking in the kitchen, it was almost her favorite pastime.
“You wanted to see me, Father?” Sammie had started calling her father by the formal name when she turned ten and was chastised for racing her pony through the streets of Alexandria without a groom in attendance. She’d been sent to bed without her supper as punishment and hadn’t quite forgiven him for the indignity, since she had been accustomed to riding with her older brothers without restraint. Her mother had strongly disapproved of her behavior, and told her that she should always remember she was a lady, and her father a most important man in the city. She began to see her father in a new light. He was no longer the jolly man of games and playful demeanor, but a stern man of discipline and strict obedience. She hadn’t forgotten the incident, and her deportment had changed into the quiet, reticent manner of today.
“Sit down, Daughter. I’ve something of grave importance to discuss with you.” He came from behind the desk and stood for a moment at the window, gazing out at the tranquil scene without actually seeing it. His back was straight and his dark hair was curly and long, tied in an old-fashioned queue, and covering his ears.
Sammie sat with her hands folded in her lap. She took a sly glance toward the picture on the opposite wall, a vase with multicolored flowers on a table. She loved the colors and the graceful lines. She liked to sketch and paint. She spent as much time as available to her with her watercolors and charcoal pencils. She was a keen observer of nature, the birds and insects, and shapes and details of trees. But, most interesting were the flowers in her mother’s small garden. She’d filled pages and pages of paper with watercolors of flowers, and placed them in a book, enclosed between two thin boards, and tied with a pink ribbon. She kept it hidden under her bed, for she didn’t want her younger siblings to harm it. Suddenly, she straightened and brought a smile to her face, when her father sat beside her in a cushioned chair. She sobered when she saw the frown on his brow.
“Sammie, I’d thought to wait until you were older to bring forth the matter of your marriage; when you had time to adjust to the thought of adult responsibilities and more experience with the traditions of modern society.” He glanced toward the fireplace and sighed. His large hands fidgeted, and he coughed in embarrassment.
Samantha gulped. “Marriage, sir?” She hadn’t thought of marriage for herself. Naturally, she knew that her father would arrange a match for her, as was the custom in their circle, but she thought it would be far in the future. Why, she had only this past summer been allowed to attend her parents’ frequent tea parties and formal dinners.
“Yes. Marriage. It’s a serious matter and one that I would have postponed, if I hadn’t received a most beneficial request from my friend, Colonel Livingston, in Washington. Please listen to what I have to say before you interrupt.” He looked troubled and moved to take her hands into his larger ones. She could feel the strength in his hands. She glanced into his eyes, and he withdrew and sat back in his chair. He cleared his throat.
“Father, I’m barely a woman, and surely cannot be married, for my monthly time has yet to start.” She warmed to the admission, although she was certain her mother had spoken of it to him. He ignored her protest.
“Be silent. I’ve accepted the proposal of marriage on your behalf. You must be brave and accept this decision with grace and loyalty to your family. The deed is done, and if you don’t cooperate, it will bring dishonor and disgrace to your mother, your brothers and sisters, and possibly take years to repair the damage to our reputation.”
“I don’t understand, Father. How would I bring dishonor to everyone? Isn’t my duty to obey you and marry the man of your choice? Mother said that I shouldn’t set my cap at the young men of my acquaintance, for it’s the accepted thing in our higher circle of society for the elder daughters to marry for the advantage of the family. I’ll obey you in this matter, for I trust your judgment and respect your high standards.” Sammie rung her hands and wished she had a handkerchief, for she felt humbled and slightly sick at her stomach.
“That’s better.” He watched her intently.
“Who is he, Father? What must I do to prepare for my future husband? Will you please explain? Won’t we live as I do now, in the city of Alexandria?”
“No, my daughter. That’s what I must explain. Please listen carefully, and don’t interrupt.” Major Watson stood and again walked to the window and looked out. Sammie watched him with trepidation and fear in her heart. She gazed up at the picture above the fireplace and a tear fell from her eye. Not live in Alexandria? Not attend the parties and balls, and paint the flowers in the garden? She jumped when the man suddenly turned and came back to her. He loomed over her for a moment, and she quaked in his presence. He paced the room, then seemed to make a decision, and sat down in the chair beside her. This time he took her hands in his, and she trembled.
“Daughter, when you were a very small girl, Colonel Livingston and I and many other men of our generation went off to war. It was a different world then; for the country about us still belonged to Great Britain. Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania were not yet a part of the United States of America. In fact, we weren’t a country until Thomas Jefferson of Virginia wrote the Declaration of Independence, and the Congress gave authority to General Washington to wage war against the British. But, we persevered and won our independence from the tyranny of London. We are as you see us now, a cluster of states along the eastern seacoast. For our service in the war, we were given bounty warrants for land in the interior; that is, a place called Kentucky. It’s wild, uncultivated land and populated by the heathen red Indians and wild beasts. But, you mustn’t be alarmed, for God will watch over you.”
“Indians, Father? Oh, say it isn’t so!”
He dropped her hands, rose and paced the room again. Sammie began to see a vision of the man she was to marry, and she sighed deeply. Her father had chosen one of his contemporaries, an old man with a bald head and no teeth, and a long gray beard. How would she stand it, being married to such a man? She would die. She knew she would.
He must have seen the look of fear in her eyes, for he came back and sat down. He took her hands and smoothed the skin of her palms. He began to speak.
“Colonel Livingston won in the lottery a large acreage in the wilderness. He’s now infirm and he needs someone young and strong to clear the land for settlement and build a town, or he’ll lose his warrant. He’s chosen a man of ability named Andrew Prescott, who’s to be your husband. I don’t know the man, but I know his uncle by reputation. If the nephew is half as good a woodsman and marksman, he’ll be able to care for you well. He needs a wife to support him in his endeavors, to cook his meals, wash and mend his clothing, and comfort him in the night. Your mother will instruct you in your duties. It’ll be a hard life, and you’ll be far from your family and friends, but you’re a strong woman, and loyal. There will be other women in the settlement, so you won’t be cut off from female companionship. I’ve written my permission for the match. We must wait for Colonel Livingston’s reply. Maybe the plans are changed. In the meantime, you’re to prepare yourself for a life in the wilderness. You must attend to your regular duties until your betrothed comes to fetch you.” He dropped her hands and rose.
“But Father, didn’t you receive a land warrant in Kentucky? I don’t understand.”
He looked at her and smiled. “Aye, Sammie, I was offered the land in payment for my services but knew quite well that your mother would never accept such a life away from her friends and family in the city, so I refused the offer, and I’m content with my choice, for you know I love the excitement and glamor of the political life as well as Martha. I’d almost forgotten that until I received the missive from my friend. Maybe Matthew or Thomas will try someday when they’re older to apply for some land, if it isn’t too late. It’ll be their choice.” He smiled as though visualizing his sons in the wilderness, and Sammie was no longer afraid.
“Now, buck up, Daughter. Don’t be afraid; our loving God will help you in your new situation. Pray with me, now.” Sammie bowed her head and listened to her father drone on in a sing-song voice, but her mind was far from worship. She was thinking that her husband was a young man, not a toothless wizard. Her heart beat with relief, and she almost skipped up the stairs. She was halfway before she realized that she’d been knitting in the back parlor and retraced her steps to join her sisters, who questioned her endlessly on her upcoming marriage.
Sammie lay that night in the darkness in the bed with her sisters, Charlotte and Marguerite, thinking of Andrew Prescott, her betrothed. Would he be tall and dark? Or, short and light of complexion, and drink too much, like her brother Matthew? She’d heard her parents discuss her brother’s vanity and faults when they didn’t suspect she was nearby. He’d been gone from home for many months, and she could barely recall his face. She shuddered and pulled the covers more tightly around her shoulders.
Disturbed by her thoughts, she rose, lighted a candle and stood in front of the cheval mirror in the corner of the room. She removed her gown and leaned in to see her body in the glass. Her nose was too short, her mouth too full; and her eyes seemed dull with bushy brows. Her gaze went farther to the torso and hips; and down her long thin legs, past the black spot caused by the imperfection in the glass, which distorted the sight of her flat, narrow feet. She took a comb from the dressing table, parted her long hair and held it up into a knot on top of her head so she could see her neck. She turned a bit and leaned her head just so, in order to gaze at her back, and heard a sound from the bed. She let the hair fall around her shoulders and turned toward the bed.
It was her sister Marguerite. “What are you doing, Sammie? Aren’t you coming to bed?”
Quickly, she grabbed her gown, pulled it over her head and let the cloth fall to her feet. She blew out the candle and climbed into the bed.
“Shush, don’t tell Mama. I was only looking at myself. Go to sleep.” She held her breath for a moment and relaxed when she heard her sister’s soft snore. She sighed and turned toward the dying embers in the fireplace. A picture of her father’s somber face drifted into her mind, and she knew her life would be different from this night on. The acceptance missive was even now making its way to Washington City; the guests would soon be snickering and laughing at her. How could any man desire such a simpleton with an imperfect body such as hers, she asked herself.
Charlotte murmured in her sleep and turned over. Sammie chuckled under her breath. Darling Charlotte and the other children. She would miss their loving caresses and odd ways. Suddenly, a tear gathered at the side of her nose; she would never see her brothers and sisters again, once she moved into the wilderness; she knew she wouldn’t. She turned her face to the wall and wept.
January 6, 1792
It has Rained hard all day & I fear with the nightfall we will have snow. I can see from my chair the dead limbs on the oak tree outside my window. Father told me today of the plan he has made for my Future. It is to be a trek into the wilderness of the new country, Kaintuckie. I shall have to Submit myself to his will. It is the Law of the land & who am I to say that one man is a better husband than another? His name is Andrew Prescott & he is from Baltimore. Can any good come from such a Place?
― 3 ―
Sammie knew the day her father received the letter by special courier from Colonel Livingston, sealing her fate, for she understood the sudden bustle of activity and the significance of the visit from his friend and partner, the lawyer Mortimer Adar. They stayed holed up in his office for hours, it seemed, and Adar closed the office door softly behind him, carrying his thick leather satchel under an arm.
Adar brushed past Sammie, passing in the front hallway, and spoke with a sly grin on his face, “Aye, Miss Watson, ’tis a fine morning, indeed; the colonel will be pleased with this contract. I bid you adieu.”
He patted the satchel, tipped his hat, and cackled with a mordant glee. She noticed the frayed cuffs at his wrists as he swept out the front door, his pale face shining in the glow from the sun, and his short queue tied with black ribbon. She stood for a moment, puzzled, then continued up the stairwell to the schoolroom.
January 14, 1792
To think that it has been a week since Father told me of the arrangements made on my behalf & we have heard no news of A. Prescott. We are in daily anticipation of his arrival to begin the courting period. Mama tells me it’s my duty to be a good Wife unto him, but I fear I cannot. I’m not truly a Woman, & he will be Disappointed to marry only to find I’m still a girl. It hardly bears consideration, as it depresses me very much. Today, I helped Sally & Arthur with their schooling, for we have lost another governess, & Father has determined that my sisters & Freddie are old enough to attend the local public school.
― 4 ―
The next few days flew past with an excitement and justifiable trepidation for the young Samantha. One hour she was helpful and looking forward to meeting Andrew Prescott; the next hour, she was sulking and resentful that she should have to leave behind all this laughter and comfort and love of her family. She wanted, instead, the lawn parties and the coquettish teasing with boys that she’d barely learned to enjoy. Clothing was selected and rejected, packed and unpacked, as her mother chose good, plain but durable materials and styles. It was doubtful that Sammie would need the silks and velvet frocks of her town social activities; she needed thick stockings, high-topped boots, heavy winter coats, and leather or wool gloves; and bonnets and broad-brimmed hats to protect her delicate skin from frostbite, blaring sun and insect bites.
Her precious tea pot and four cups were wrapped securely to prevent breakage and tucked in a small metal box in the corner of her trunk. A wooden crate held a china service for four, packed securely in sawdust. Another box hidden among the straw contained sewing notions such as thread, needles, pins, buttons, lace and knitting yarn. In another larger, metal water-proofed box was a supply of artist’s material, for Sammie declared with a loud voice of protest that she would not leave the house without her greatest possessions. Her father stormed out of the house and left the decision of what to take to her mother. Over and over he admonished them to keep the baggage simple, that less was better, for she would be traveling by wagon, boat and even horseback or on foot through the wilderness.
At last, word reached the house that Andrew Prescott was a few miles away from the town. He was accompanied by his uncle, Franklin Prescott, and aunt, Jemima Crocket, who wanted to meet the young bride’s family and give their approval to the match. They spent the final night of their journey in an inn about five miles away from Alexandria, and arrived at the Watson home about midmorning of the next day, a Thursday. Charlotte and Marguerite leaned far out the upstairs window as they heard the sound of horses’ hooves. There was a long parade of horseback riders, carriages and mule-driven wagons; and the girls squealed with excitement and withdrew their heads to clamber down the stairs and run into the room with a swirl of skirts to meet the disapproval of their parents. They sat meekly on the sofa near the fireplace, hardly able to contain their tumult of joy. Charlotte pinched herself to make sure it was real.
Samantha sat in the corner in a stuffed silk-covered chair with a somber look on her countenance. Her heart was aflutter, and her breath came in pants. She took a few deep breaths and tried to calm herself as the knocker on the door was struck. She rose politely when the room filled with strangers, and she curtsied as each one was introduced to her; but her eyes searched for the one person who meant more than any society matron or gentlemen. He was not there.
Jemima Crocket was a stout, loud-voiced matron of undetermined age, dressed in darkest purple, who immediately took offense at the arrangements that had been made for the wedding. Looking over her horn-rimmed glasses at the bride, she gave her a look of disdain that sent Samantha into a quake of panic; but she held her head high and her face calm of expression.
“I do not approve of this haste into a marriage of convenience between strangers, Mrs. Watson, but am persuaded by the colonel that it’s necessary if my nephew is to live in the wilderness of Kentucky. She’s still a girl. This I hadn’t expected.” Jemima drew herself up and waved her finger in front of Martha’s nose like a commander of troops, as if to make Samantha mature at her command. Yet she glanced at Sammie in a moment of discerning evaluation, seeming not at all displeased, as if the revelation of the girl’s youth might be a boon she hadn’t considered.
Sammie thought the woman looked like a bantam rooster giving orders to a peacock, for all the difference in sexes. She kept her face set and her eyes focused on the floor as she was discussed, as though she weren’t in the room to hear the qualms about her character.
Martha smiled and kept her own feelings at bay. She lifted the china tea pot and poured the steaming liquid into cups, which Charlotte had been relegated to pass around to the throng. She motioned for the Watson footman to pass among the guests with a tray of tiny sandwiches and iced cakes. When she had finished, Charlotte sat and whispered to Marguerite, who responded with a smirk. Their mother gave the girls a stern look, and they subsided while they drank their tea.
Sammie took her cup, sipped slowly and remembered what she’d been told about appearances in public. She must remain cognizant of the fact that Jemima was a guest in their house. The younger girls listened and watched, fascinated by the gregarious woman and her dominant, outrageous mannerisms and actions.
Franklin Prescott was a short, stubby man of somber manner. He wore a coat of deepest blue, with a silver waistcoat and cream pants, with gold-tinted buckled shoes. He shook hands with the major, bowed to the ladies and broke into the conversation long enough to inform the host that his nephew was attending to the welfare of the animals and making arrangements for the storage of the luggage and supplies until after the wedding. The information was ignored by his sister-in-law, and she continued to prattle on with her opinion of hastily concocted marriage plans and launched into a lengthy lecture on traveling into the frontier without a troop of soldiers to protect them from danger. Prescott took a chair and watched lazily as his sister-in-law took over the situation.
Jemima’s maid was given no chance to speak, but was pointed to a seat against the wall. Sammie glanced at her briefly and could see that she was very slender, had dark hair and a beak nose; her eyes appeared small and puffy, and she had a handkerchief in her hand, as though she’d been weeping. She wore a black wool cape, and one brown shoe peeped from under a dark gray skirt. She sipped her tea daintily, with her little finger held high and apart from the handle of the cup. She took more than her share of the thin ham sandwiches, and bit into them like she hadn’t eaten a meal in months, her white teeth straight and like pearls on a string. She barely swallowed before Jemima Crockett spoke again.
Samantha’s sisters could hardly pay attention to their own sewing, even though it was putting simple hems on white kerchiefs, as all their attention was devoted to Andrew’s aunt and her boisterous way of commandeering any conversation around her. The whispers fluttered between the two girls, becoming more and more careless.
“Hush, sisters. The woman will hear you.” Sammie did her best, to no avail.
“But, she’s such a fascination. How could any woman be so rude?” Charlotte tittered, putting her hand to her mouth to try to contain it.
“We’re beguiled by all her finery and her extreme beauty.” Marguerite flipped her hair to the side and doubled over in barely-contained laughter.
“Mrs. Watson, you may need to correct your daughters. They seem to be unaware that this is a serious gathering, not a society fete for laughter and disruption.” Jemima Crocket stiffened her spine, sniffing and looking down her nose at the two whispering females.
“Girls, Mrs. Crocket is correct. Tame your tongues.” Their mother shushed them, but she wore a smile of her own as she did so, even if she took the time to remove it before returning her attention to the older woman.
“Now, Mrs. Watson, I’ve always believed that the bride should wear a veil. It adds a mystery to the occasion. I shall take Samantha tomorrow in my own carriage to the shops and see that she has a proper veil.” She peered at Sammie through the spectacles on her nose. “I see that her eyes are a true blue. That is to her advantage, of course, but the brows; they must be plucked. I’ll see that my maid is available to her. She is experienced in the proper grooming of a lady.” She took another sandwich and began to munch on it. No one dared move or speak. “And, the flowers, I cannot think that money should be spent on fresh flowers that last for only one hour. It’s too frivolous. I shall cancel the order with the florist.” She finished her sandwich and took a sip of tea.
“No, you cannot! I will not allow you to cancel the order. They are essential to the service.” At last, Martha Watson found her courage and rose to her feet in protest, aghast that the woman would countermand her authority in the matter. And, to the astonishment of her daughters, she stamped her foot, stirring even her husband to life.
“Prescott, if you please; Thomas, my boy, I believe it’s time for the males to retreat from the battlefield. I believe we have an offer of refreshments more to our tastes in the other room. Do not dawdle.” Major Watson clapped his son Thomas on the shoulder and left the room, with the young man and Prescott following meekly behind to enjoy the quiet and comfort of his office, beyond the sound of shrill women’s voices.
At last, when Sammie was ready to scream and run from the room in shame and horror, Martha rose from her seat and suggested that her guest might like to tidy herself after such a grueling day of travel. They left the room, and Sammie sighed in relief. She hardly heard the discussion of her sisters as she tried to guess what there was about her that the woman didn’t like. Her fingers itched to move her charcoals across a sheet of paper to draw the features of her new relation while the impression of this first visit was fresh on her mind. So concentrated on the vision was she, that she didn’t notice when her sisters left the room, clucking like hens in the barnyard.
Sammie raised her eyes with dismay when she heard the cough of a strange man standing near the doorway. He was very tall, with a ruddy complexion, and dressed in the latest style of long pants and wool waistcoat, with his hair cut short and his hands hanging limply at his side. She gasped and jumped to her feet. “Oh.” It was all she could muster in her surprise at his appearance.
“Hello. I’m Andrew Prescott. I hope I have the honor of addressing Miss Samantha Watson?”
It was said with such charm that Sammie laughed and covered her mouth with consternation to be caught in such an uncouth manner.
“Please, don’t be alarmed. I’d supposed that the family was still in attendance. Should I remove myself and come back later?” His eyes twinkled in merriment, and she relaxed. She took a few steps forward.
“Yes, I’m Samantha. How do you do, Mr. Prescott?”
“I must admit, I’d expected someone, umm,” and he began to flush underneath his collar, “less youthful. I’m most surprised. Don’t take me wrong, as I mean no offense. You’re quite mature, just, um . . .” His voice died away, and he pulled at his collar with one hand.
She bristled, “I’m a woman, in every important way.” Sammie was appalled that he expected someone more mature. She remembered her mother’s words, that she must always present herself as happy and pleased; and she firmed her resolve that he would never know her doubts of herself.
“I’m pleased to hear it.” He gave a small bow with a sarcastic smile. “I haven’t offended you?”
“Of course not. You’ll find that you’re very welcome in this house. Have you finished your provisions for the animals and supplies? Your uncle told us that was the reason for the delay in your appearance.” She gave him her hand, and he bowed and kissed the knuckles of each finger and turned it over and kissed her palm. Sammie blushed with surprise. When he looked up, she saw a light in his eyes she hadn’t seen from a man before and puzzled over its meaning. She felt warmth spread over her. Her heart rate quickened, and she wished she hadn't eaten the sandwiches.
“Well, then, Miss Watson, shall we start afresh? It’s a pleasure to meet you. Yes, I’ve made the animals comfortable for the night and found a small storage room at a local inn which will serve for the purpose until we leave on our journey into the unknown.” There was a question in his eyes, and he stood stiffly in front of her, having dropped her hand politely.
Samantha smiled happily. She couldn’t help it. She liked this man. She would be proud to be his partner and companion.
“I suppose I shouldn’t speak of our approaching marriage without being first properly introduced, but you’ll find that I’m shamelessly outspoken and direct. I’m delighted to see that you’re handsome and young, for when my father first approached me with his plans for my future, I pictured you as an old man, toothless and bald. I’m very happy to see you are neither. Now, forgive me, I must remove myself from your presence before someone comes in. There are some sandwiches left if you’re hungry, but I fear the tea is cold and unpalatable.” She smiled again and swiftly left the room before he could answer.
She walked sedately up the stairs and into the room she would share with her sisters for only a few more nights. They were chattering excitedly. Charlotte was brushing her hair, and Marguerite was attempting to remove her dress but couldn’t reach the tiny buttons at her back. Sammie moved to help her, her face still warm from her interaction with Andrew. She felt aglow with excitement. Her sisters continued talking as she moved to her desk, took out her charcoals and a sheet of clean paper and began to sketch the face and head of her nemesis, Jemima Crockett.
She remained happily engaged in her task and wasn’t disturbed by her sisters’ presence in the room. They left her undisturbed, as Sammie was always sketching or painting in their presence.
At last, as the shadows grew long in the room, she put her sketches and her charcoals away and began to dress for dinner. She looked at her wardrobe and withdrew the pale green silk gown which made her blue eyes change color and her dark brown hair soften the harsh prominence of her nose. She wasn’t as lovely as her sisters, but she had a charming smile, clear skin and no freckles like those which already spotted the face of her sister Sally.
She wouldn’t be able to wear this dress again. Her mother had already decided to leave her frills and fancy frocks behind for her sisters. It was a pretty picture as the three girls contended for space in front of the looking glass. The younger girls, Marguerite in yellow and Charlotte in pink, were still in the schoolroom, but their mother had said they might attend the festivities of the week, for they wouldn’t have a chance to see their visitors for long. Their father had given his permission, and they swept down the stairwell in a flood of color and gay laughter. They stopped at the entrance to the parlor and made their entrance in a more sedate manner.
The room seemed filled with people, as indeed it was, and Sammie hesitated for an instant, before she followed her sisters into the room. Everyone turned and gazed at her, each with his or her own expression of curiosity and wonder at the beauty she displayed in her green gown, her hair curled in soft brown ringlets about her neck. She’d taken great care with her hair, hoping it wouldn’t become tangled before the night had ended. Charlotte had helped her with the curling irons, for she enjoyed working with her sister’s hair, pinning and twisting the strands into different styles. Sammie glanced around and smiled, shy but resolute.
“Daughter, how lovely and mature you look today. Have you had occasion to meet your betrothed?” Major Jeremiah Watson took his daughter’s elbow and shifted her position to take in the dapper young man who had risen at her entrance. He spoke with confidence; revealing the pride he felt in his matchmaking skills.
Sammie caught Andrew’s eye, and she fought a smile, certain her father would feel less assured if he knew of their previous meeting. It gave her a small thrill of anticipation, as if she were grown up, already an adventuress even though she’d yet to spend a day outside her father’s home.
“Mr. Prescott, may I present to you my eldest daughter, Samantha Varella Watson. Sammie, my dear, here is your betrothed come to claim his right to your hand and heart in the holy rite of matrimony.” Andrew bowed low over her hand, and she answered his gesture with a deep curtsey, rose and smiled.
The major turned to his interested audience, and in particular the dismayed Jemima Crockett, who was quickly revising her opinion of the match, for indeed the young woman was beautiful in her glamorous gown of pale green; and she seemed well mannered and shy.
“Come to me, Andrew.” Jemima struck the floor with her cane. Obediently, he complied, and they sat conversing while the Major drew the attention of Franklin Prescott to the massive painting above the fireplace of his impressive family. Sammie heard him mention Matthew, far off with his Army unit. The talk became general in terms, and the affianced couple had no words with each other, as they were swept into the prevailing society gossip and talk of politics of the day. The latter, of course, was the special topic that engaged the bride’s father at all times, and he soon had separated his son, Thomas; the elder Prescott; and his nephew, Andrew, from the ladies. Thomas grew quickly bored and was hard pressed to keep from yawning, but acted politely as he was required by his parents’ high standards.
Sammie found herself commandeered by her mother and Jemima Crocket and tried her best to stay interested in their conversation, but found her mind wandering to the group of men by the fireplace. She was glad when the cook, Minerva Short, announced dinner. The major took Jemima by the arm, Prescott partnered Martha, Andrew bent his elbow for Sammie, Thomas escorted Marguerite and Charlotte trailed behind them into the dining room. Sammie ate what was before her without tasting it. She trembled when she chanced to see Jemima eyeing her with disdain. She drew her napkin to her mouth and swallowed a morsel of meat. But, at last the ordeal was over, and the ladies withdrew to the parlor so the men could finish their wine and conversation.
Sammie sat beside Marguerite on the sofa, with her skirts billowing around her limbs and her hands clasped in her lap, trying with one ear to listen to her sister, and with the other to the conversation across the room between her mother and Jemima.
The men joined the ladies once more in the parlor where Charlotte sat in her pink ribbons and black patent shoes at the pianoforte, and she played softly, creating a gentle accompaniment to the voices filtering throughout the small groupings of gathered attendees. Andrew drew to the side of the musical instrument, watching Charlotte’s hands for a moment, before commenting with a smile. Moving to his aunt’s side, he spoke to her with a laugh, before stilling his expression to listen in rapt attention as she extolled him on some matter or another.
Sammie’s eyes followed him about the room, although with the mix of people moving to and fro, occasionally he disappeared from her vision.
“Samantha, how beautiful you look in your green.” Marguerite touched her gently on the hand, pulling Sammie’s attention her way. “I fear it won’t become me nearly so well, when you’re gone away. Mama has promised it to me.”
“Thank you.” Sammie turned her direction, nodded her head in a quick bow of thanks, but when she looked for Andrew again, he was gone.
“My newly betrothed.” Andrew’s voice caught Sammie by surprise. Marguerite gave a sigh, her romantic heart aflutter.
“Oh, my, I thought you across the room.” Sammie patted her breast to catch her breath, as she turned to the man she found so charmingly handsome.
“I was, but now I’m not. I must stay in motion, or my aunt will think you’ve commandeered me for the night, but I couldn’t force myself to remain apart from you the entire evening. Until later.” He touched her hand again, and he disappeared into the throng, only to reappear at the fireplace, joining in with the group of finely dressed men. She saw her father rap him on the shoulder and turn to Prescott. They laughed.
“Sammie, dear, may I have your ruby necklace when you go into the wilderness?”
“What? Not wear my necklace? But, Mama didn’t say I couldn’t take my jewels.”
“What if the Indians steal them? What value would they be to the savages?” Marguerite huffed. “I know I should be frightened if I were to be going into the jungle. Charlotte will have the pearls, of course, she’s younger, but I much admire the ruby on the silver cha—”
Sammie jumped when she heard a deep male voice speak in her left ear. She turned and saw Andrew beside her. She hadn’t noticed him cross the room to her through the babble of voices.
Marguerite tittered and smirked behind her open fan.
“Come, my dear, I have your father’s permission to speak alone with you.” He guided her from the room and down the hall to her father’s office.
She swept into the room, and had taken only a few steps when he turned and spoke to her. Her heart started jumping in alarm when she saw again that gleam in his eyes that she had noticed earlier.
“My dear, you are precious and so young. I fear the wilds of Kentucky will change you when the time of hardships and danger come to us. But, we must take this time to conclude our plans for the ceremony. Would Thursday be too soon? I don’t want to keep the other settlers confined to their campfires beyond a reasonable length of time.”
Sammie thought of her packed bags and trunks, waiting in the upstairs bedroom. “That date will be acceptable, but you must consult my parents, for they have the choice of plans in their hands, not I.”
“Very well, Thursday it will be.” He paused and stepped closer. “You’re very beautiful; Colonel Livingston has chosen wisely. I’m told by your father that you’re educated and understand the dangers of the trip.”
“I’ve spent the last few days reading and looking at maps of Kentucky. How long do you think the journey will last?” She hoped to impress him with her knowledge, but he gave her an enchanting smile that made her heart flutter.
“Take heart, my wife; you are hardly a woman, yet we’ll soon be joined in body and mind. I think it won’t matter overmuch.”
Amazed that he could be so blunt in his manner, she heard the door close as he slipped from the room and was gone in an instant. She remained in a daze until she heard footsteps in the hallway. She grabbed a book and plopped into the nearest chair as the door opened and her father peeked in through the slight opening.
He looked around, and not finding anyone except his daughter, he came boldly into the room.
“I had thought to see you with Andrew, but you’re alone. Have you tired of the women’s gossip, then? I’ve sent your sisters to their room and escaped the aunt’s clutches for the moment. The uncle has taken a turn in the garden to smoke his pipe. Nasty habit, tobacco, but I find it enjoyable. Martha’s skilled at this type of social activity, and I do enjoy the company of women at dinner parties.” He looked at her closely. She calmly put her finger in the book as though to save her place and rose.
“Poor Father, how tired you must be. I admit I was vastly entertained at first but grew bored so slipped in here for a little peace and quiet. Where is Thomas? Have you sent him to bed, also? I’ll take my book to my room and leave you to your own devices. Goodnight, Father.”
“Wait, daughter. Don’t think you can fool me with that nonsense. I saw you leave the parlor with Andrew.” He looked around again. “Where’s he gone? Did you settle the matter of your wedding day between you? Am I to congratulate him and send you on your way with my blessing?”
Sammie laughed and threw her arms around her father’s shoulders, holding the book securely in her hand. She rose on her toes and kissed him on the cheek.
“Yes, Father dear, he’s tall and handsome. I’m well pleased.”
She raced up the stairs and into her room where her sisters had already donned their nightgowns and were whispering to each other in the bed. She laid the unread book on the table and asked Charlotte to come help with her gown. The girls were soon fast asleep, but she lay awake on her back long after midnight remembering the few minutes in the library with her betrothed. For a moment she had sensed animosity toward her. Did he not want the marriage between them? She tried to drive the thought from her mind, but it lingered until her eyes closed in sleep.
January 25, 1792
I begin this enterprise with a glad & grateful heart. When Father approached me with the idea of marriage, I was fearful & disappointed for I thought I would have Years before marriage. But, I am now hopeful & Cheered by my betrothal, for he is young, strong & handsome. Mama says my immaturity is a blessing & I must be thankful, for, a child will come soon enough once I reach my time. I doubt that I can wait, but until God smiles on me, I suppose I have no Choice. Truly, I look forward to our future life together.