1746 – The Coast of Virginia
Bonnie frowned at the coming clouds. It's a dreich day. There'll be a storm tonight sure as sure.
She drew her eyes from the Atlantic Ocean with a sigh and reluctantly turned back up the path leading home. It was quickly nearing dinner and Glenna would not be pleased to prepare it all by herself – again. She was far too busy sewing up the girls' new dresses for the party to be bothered with petty things like dinner. But Bonnie couldn't help it. The sea was in her blood, just as it was in her father's; he'd said so. The smell of the salt water sent thrills that she couldn't explain down her spine, and she loved to spend her afternoons looking down at the surf.
“Bonnie! Bonnie!” A cheerful voice called, and a nine-year-old girl raced down the path toward her. Bonnie caught the child deftly in her arms and spun her around.
“Margaret! What are you doing here?”
The girl wiggled excitedly. “Da's home!”
Bonnie's eyebrow went up. “So early?”
Margaret nodded. “Aye, and he sent me to fetch ye straight away!”
Bonnie caught her sister's hand in her own. “Then we'd better be off!”
They walked briskly through the sands together, hands swinging. Margaret sang a marching song from the old country, but Bonnie was too keen on her thoughts to join in. Da never comes home early. What's going on?
When the two girls entered the house, Bonnie led her sister to the kitchen where they were met by a pair of glaring green eyes and a sharp tongue.
“Bonnie Rose Allaway, you've been gone most of the day. And just what sort 'o trouble have ye been into?”
Bonnie tried to hold back a grin and waved a distant hand at her sister. “Glenna, dinnae worry so much.”
Glenna huffed and planted her hands on her hips. The gesture made her appear much older than her thirteen years, and her Scottish blood ran too deeply to allow her to let the remark pass unchecked. But thankfully, any retort she could make was cut off as Irving Allaway entered the kitchen.
“Noo, lasses,” he announced grandly. “I'm off!”
Bonnie stared in surprise at her father. “Off? Where?”
“My ships were blown off-course by a gale, and I jist got news they're going to Charleston.”
Margaret scrunched up her brow. “Isn't that in South Carolina?”
“Aye,” Irving snatched a loaf of bread off the table and wrapped it in a kerchief. Without ceremony, he stuffed it into the bag he'd carried in with him. Glenna moaned softly as her freshly-baked loaf vanished, but she said nothing to discourage him.
“This could be the change 'o our fortunes, me bairns,” he continued, raiding the pantry for other edibles to add to the bread. “This will make us rich! Joseph Smith will be sure to take me as partner then, and all our troubles will be over!”
Bonnie's breath caught in her throat. “Really?”
Irving stopped rummaging to embrace her tightly. “Jist think, me Bonnie Rose, we'll have servants and all the fine things yer wee hearts could desire. No more cooking, no more tending the garden, no more work for any 'o us! We'll have more money than you could ever dream of!”
Margaret clapped her hands. “Da, can I get pearls then?”
“May I,” Glenna corrected under her breath.
But Irving didn't notice. He picked Margaret up and danced her around until she squealed. “Aye, strings upon strings 'o pearls. I'll bring them back for ye!”
Glenna's jaw dropped. “Bring them back?”
Irving put Margaret down to grab his middle daughter's hands. “I'll bring anything ye want back. Tell me, Glenna, what do ye want?”
Glenna's green eyes narrowed for only a moment, and she looked down. Bonnie knew that her sister was seeing the worn blue dress hidden beneath her cooking apron. Despite all her skill with the needle, Glenna couldn't hide their shameful poverty.
She locked gazes with her father. “A dress. A fine silk or brocade dress. Something I won't be ashamed to wear.”
Irving kissed her loudly on the forehead. “Then ye shall have it, me lass!” Lastly, he turned to Bonnie and grasped her shoulders gently. “And what would ye have me bring ye?”
Bonnie's mind raced. Rarely was her father mistaken about the activity of his ships, few that they were. If the trade he boasted of truly waited for him in Charleston, he could easily bring her back whatever her heart desired. Things like pearls and fine gowns were mere items compared to the riches they were promised. What do I want more than anything else?
A laughing face came to her mind, teasing her so that Bonnie could not push it away. There was no use trying to deny it, for her own soul knew her better than she did. “A rose,” she finally said. “A single, red rose.”
Irving's face softened instantly and he covered her cheek with his hand. “Like yer ma's.”
Bonnie bit her lip. You won't start crying. Not now, not when he's about to leave. “I'd like to plant a garden like hers... to remember her by.”
“Then ye shall have it.” Irving whispered. “By the bounty of God, I am what I am, and I will bring it back to ye.”
He quickly bade his three girls farewell, and all too soon he had saddled his horse and was galloping away. Bonnie stood with her sisters at the door, watching and waving until he was completely out of sight.
“I wish he'd waited until morning to go,” Bonnie said. “He's sure to get caught in the storm.”
“Och, let him be,” Glenna scolded. “If he cannae wait, he cannae wait.” She tugged on her sister's arm, drawing her back into their small house. “Come on, ye get to cook the neeps.”
Bonnie wrinkled her nose at the mention of the vegetable. Turnips were her worst enemy, but she knew she should be grateful for the Lord's provision.
The days passed slowly as Bonnie and her sisters waited for news from their father. Glenna took advantage of his absence to assume temporary command of leadership and ordered Bonnie and Margaret around in a mad cleaning frenzy. Windows were washed, curtains were mended, and everyone choked on the dust Glenna stirred up with her broom.
“I won't have him returning to a dirty house,” she told Bonnie more than once. “When we're rich, we'll have servants to clean for us, but I refuse to smell like a barn. If you had more initiative, this would already be done.”
Bonnie gladly surrendered the role over to her younger sister. Even though she had just turned sixteen and was expected to behave like a proper adult, she just couldn't seem to reconcile herself to that fact. It was so much easier to escape to the coast and dream with the sand between her toes. Margaret joined her on a few occasions, but usually the retreat found only Bonnie alone gazing at the waves.
She'd dream about her father returning just as he said, wondering what would happen to them, how they would fit into fine society when the foreign trade giant Mr. Smith accepted Irving Allaway as his partner. Most of the time, though, she thought of her mother and the old country. Moving to America after Aisla Allaway's death had not been easy for any of them, but Bonnie knew their prospects were better here in Virginia than they had been in Scotland.
It was a week since Irving's departure when Glenna rushed into the house, waving a letter clenched tightly in her fist. “It's from Da!”
As the oldest, they all agreed Bonnie had the most right to open it and read it aloud. With trembling fingers, she did so, the sight of her father's familiar scrawling hand bringing tears to her eyes. He had yet to reach Charleston, but he spoke in high spirits, echoing his former promises of wealth. Glenna and Margaret sighed with joy at the thought of their gifts, but Bonnie found herself puzzled over a paragraph Irving had written near the close of his letter.
Do not be alarmed for my writing this, but I can scarcely excuse this from the tale of my journey. A few days past, a storm caught me on the road, throwing me about so that I completely lost my way. I'm not sure what I would have done if I had not stumbled upon a hidden drive. Do not ask me how I found it, only God knows. It led to an old mansion, and I thought it deserted. However, I was greeted at the door by two servants. Neither spoke to me, but they took me in, fed me, and gave me a warm bed to sleep in. The next morning, they brought me bangers and eggs for breakfast and prepared my horse for my journey onward. Odd, that they never spoke, but I now deem them both mute. They must live there alone, for I never saw another soul. Unless their master refused to see me. But Bonnie – as I left the mansion, I glimpsed the most wonderful rose garden on the grounds. I wish you could see it. Your ma would have loved it. The roses are the purest red you could imagine.
“What kind of house do ye suppose it was?” Margaret asked when Bonnie had finished.
“A mansion, that's what.” Glenna rolled her eyes.
“No, no – why was it abandoned? Was it haunted?”
Bonnie chewed on her cheek. “Why would the master not greet Da?”
“He probably wasn't home,” Glenna said. “The family could have been visiting...” she searched for a viable place but came up empty. “Somewhere.”
Margaret's eyes gleamed with mischief. “Or maybe they'd all been killed off by pirates. Bloody bandits murdering them in the night, beheading them and cutting off their...”
Glenna's mouth dropped open in horror, and Margaret ran screeching from her prying fingers. Bonnie laughed at her sisters' antics, knowing fleet-footed Margaret too much of a match for Glenna to catch. She might have joined in the chase, as unladylike as it was, but the mysterious mansion bothered her. For some unknown reason, she couldn't shake the premonition that grabbed her when she'd first read the letter. That night she tucked the letter safely under her pillow and fell asleep envisioning the rose gardens. Thousands of roses, rich roses, velvet to the touch, each one sweet with the scent of her mother. Yet her dreams turned on her, and she found that every time she bent to pick a bud, it was dripping blood.