The Year is 1790.
The American Revolution has long been over, but the wounds of battle still linger in the hearts and minds of many.
A veteran Continental soldier still awaits the return of his missing father, years after the last battle. Haunted by the painful memories of war and scarred from betrayal in love, the young man turns away from faith. The only hope he clings to is that perhaps his father still lives.
Then he discovers his hope is shared by a young woman, who understands loss and the longing for a father. As they encounter this unexpected connection, their hearts become drawn together. But jealousy, slander, and misunderstanding ignite a fire of doubt and mistrust—destroying their relationship.
Can two souls longing for healing and trust, love again? Can faith—and a family—be restored?
“Huzzah! It’s over! The treaty’s been signed! Huzzah!” The news the troops had been awaiting for months was now a reality: The Americans had won the war against England. The United States of America was free and independent that spring of 1783. Eight long years of battle had proven victorious for the colonists. Nineteen-year-old Nathaniel Stearns emerged from the small wooden barracks at West Point, New York. He had slept fitfully all night. Finally falling into a deep slumber just before dawn, he abruptly awoke when the cheers reached his ears. He rubbed his eyes and squinted at the early morning sun. “It’s really over?” He shaded his eyes as he spoke to the jubilant private whooping with delight. “Over and done, once for all! Johnny Bull is going back where he belongs!” shouted the soldier. “Come! Let’s share a gill of the good creature to celebrate!” “You go on. I’ll be there in a bit.” Nathaniel stood by himself as the others ran towards the hogshead of rum that the officers brought out for celebration. But the elation of this moment was tempered for young Corporal Stearns. The last three years of war had brought more than its share of personal losses, overshadowing the joy of victory. Nathaniel had borne the death of a fellow comrade, as well as the betrayal of his childhood sweetheart. But perhaps the most painful loss for this soldier was the death of his youthful innocence. He would never be the same after seeing his best friend’s face blown away by enemy fire. That memory visited Nathaniel’s sleep on a regular basis, like some unwelcome visitor that you wish you had never met. As he turned back toward the barracks, Nathaniel caught a glimpse of his father approaching. Sergeant Benjamin Stearns had been away from home for the duration of the war, with an occasional furlough to visit his family in Deer Run. The years away from home had deepened the lines around the older man’s eyes and mouth. The jovial man of Nathaniel’s youthful memories had been replaced by a more somber gentleman with a slight stoop about his shoulders. Eight years at war had left their mark. The younger soldier immediately noticed the change that the news had brought to his father’s countenance. He was smiling. “Father.” Nathaniel stood at attention. “At ease.” The older man grinned from ear-to-ear. “Nathaniel, I’m certain you want to celebrate with the lads.” His grin slowly faded as he grew more serious. “But I’m askin’ you to consider headin’ back home as soon as you can.” He handed his son his discharge papers. “Here are the papers you’ll need to prove you’re finished in the Army. I asked the captain to prepare yours first. I want you to go home and stay at the farm. Check on your mother and brother and sisters.” The older man’s voice caught in his throat. “My heart weighs heavy with worry. Please….” Nathaniel interrupted him. “I’ll pack immediately, Sir. You can count on me.” The young man saluted his father with respect. Benjamin Stearns looked fondly at his oldest child. “I’ve always been able to count on you, son. You’ve always made me proud.” Tears began to well in both men’s eyes. The older man cleared his throat and forced his shoulders to attention. “Well then. Be on your way, lad,” Sergeant Stearns commanded quietly. “Yes, Sir.” Nathaniel sniffed sharply and wiped off his face. “Father, when will you return home? What shall I tell Mother?” “Tell her, I’ll be home forthwith. Tell her to look through her golden curtains and watch me arrive with the sun.” He smiled. “I know how much your mother delights in seeing the sunrise through her only window.” Nathaniel couldn’t help but smile at the thought. The two men embraced and his father turned away to join the celebration. The son went back to the barracks to gather his few belongings. When he stepped out the door to begin the long walk to Deer Run, he searched the crowd of joyous troops for a glimpse of his father. But he was nowhere to be seen. Nathaniel approached the group to grab the half cup of rum allotted to each soldier and downed the drink in two quick gulps. He threw his satchel over his shoulder and started the journey home. *** It took nearly a week to walk from the encampment in New York to the outskirts of Deer Run. Nearing the family farm, he desperately hoped that his mother or brother or sisters—someone—would burst out the front door to greet him. It had been three years since Nathaniel was home and he did not realize until this moment just how homesick he was. But approaching the log cabin, he only heard the wind stirring the trees in the woods, a haunting, hollow sound. He sensed a storm approaching. “Mother?” His voice filled with apprehension. He slowly opened the heavy wooden door crafted years ago by his father. “Ethan? Sadie? Hello?” His heart almost stopped as he saw the cabin was deserted. He looked slowly around the room. There were no linens, no dishes, no food cooking in the hearth. Even the yellow curtains that his mother was so fond of were gone. What has happened? Where is everyone? He noticed for the first time a letter nailed to the wall above the chest of drawers. He walked across the room with unsteady legs and removed the old parchment. His hands trembled as he began to read the note, dated September 30, 1780: Dearest Benjamin and Nathaniel, It is with great sadness that I have been forced to leave our home. Ethan took ill some months after Nathaniel left. Despite our greatest efforts to treat his terrible fever, dearest Ethan went home to heaven. My heart is still breaking. As I am unable to keep up the farm, my sister Abigail in Boston has kindly offered to take in the three girls and me. I am in despair that I may never see either of you again. Please send word of your safekeeping and come to Boston as soon as you are able. I await word of my brave men. With loving regard, Your Wife and Mother The paper dropped to the floor without Nathaniel taking notice. He stood there silently for a moment before racing out the door to the burial ground up near the woods. Tears stung at his eyes. Strands of his long blond hair whipped towards his face, clinging to the moisture on his cheeks. The frantic young man almost tripped more than once on the mass of weeds growing in the old cornfield. “This cannot be!” His voice was lost in the howling wind. But arriving at the gravesite, the cold letters on the tombstone told the tragic truth: “Ethan Stearns, born January 19, 1766, died September 2, 1780.” Nathaniel’s fingers slowly etched the chiseled letters. He outlined them repeatedly with trembling fingers encrusted with mud. Ethan was indeed dead. The young veteran fell to his knees and shook his head slowly back and forth. “No. No. NO!” Sobs wracked his body with rhythmic waves as yet one more painful loss added to the sadness already scarring his heart. The grief-stricken brother would have raised a fist toward heaven—but he did not have the strength.
Elaine Marie Cooper is an award-winning author currently living in the Midwest. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for her three-part Deer Run Saga that takes place during the period of the American Revolution. This novel is the second in the series. Elaine is a registered nurse and has been a magazine freelance writer for many years.