“Oh, you are here, you are here, you are finally here!” exulted Elizabeth, flinging her arms wide to hug her dear friend and sister in law. She wore a high waisted dress in navy and tan plaid wool, a creamy fichu filling in the low cut neckline. An ivory wool shawl with elaborate patterning and fringe accessorized the dress. As she drew back to look at Izzy, Elizabeth’s blue eyes sparkled in her slender face, and two pearl ear bobs peeked from under her soft blonde hair and lacy cap.
The wood-planked front door had swung open just moments before to reveal the long awaited visitors just alighting from their coach on the snow-covered flagstone terrace that filled the space between the Susquehanna River and the front of the Sam Sturdevants’ home.
Izzy hugged Elizabeth back with much happiness: not only to be, at last, at their house, but to have completed the long journey safely.
Although the three story black walnut sided home by the river was Elizabeth’s and Sam’s residence, Izzy considered it hers in a way, as well. What only Izzy and Josh knew was that Izzy had been acquainted with that same dwelling in her own, twenty-first century time. Called ‘The Oldest House’ because it had been built in 1781 and was still standing as the oldest frame dwelling in four surrounding counties, the home had been run in modern times as a living museum, by the Oldest House Historical Society in what had become Laceyville, PA.
Izzy had worked as a volunteer tour guide and display coordinator at the House, and so had developed a deep affection for it. Once she had stumbled through that time portal one hot August afternoon and found herself in the past—which was the House’s past, too—the rooms and halls she had come to know so well in her own time were welcome, familiar things, even if much of the eighteenth century world was not. And, of course, the House was where Izzy had met Josh.
For all these reasons, the House was much beloved by Izzy, who now gave Elizabeth a last hug and stepped inside, looking around at the ground floor Keeping Room in which she found herself, and smiling.
Like the ‘Great Rooms’ fashionable in Izzy’s own time, the Colonial and post-Colonial ‘Keeping Room’ was where much of the family’s life was conducted. Some cooking, baking, spinning and so on were done here. Children had lessons here and played here. Foodstuffs were stored here and in the summer, because it was cool, families sometimes slept here. Conversely, in winter, the Keeping Room was always warm, and so sometimes families would spend the night before the fire rather than brave the chilly bedchambers or dormitories upstairs.
Now, the Oldest House’s Keeping Room was welcomingly bright and cozy. White pine branches from the nearby woods and hand dipped candles tied with red and green ribbon decorated each of the room’s windows, and more pine boughs were draped across the huge black walnut mantel of the front fireplace. Sprigs of holly, bright with crimson berries, occupied a large earthenware vase on a sideboard. A large ball of mistletoe tied with more green and red ribbon hung suspended from one of the hand hewn rafters overhead. Oil lamps glowed from the rustic wooden table, and a bowl of apples there perfumed the air, as did the flames crackling merrily in the fireplace, and whatever hung simmering on the iron swing arm nearby.
A large spinning wheel in one corner held skeins of creamy wool on their way to being yarn, and along the fieldstone walls were earthenware crocks and tightly woven baskets containing all manner of grains and root vegetables. Shelves along the other side of the Keeping Room held row upon row of pickled vegetables and preserved fruit in various sized crocks that shone a deep chocolate brown, and colorful hand stitched quilts draped and decorated the wooden chairs throughout.
Tibbsy, the Sturdevants’ black and white cat, also decorated a chair, curled up atop a few burlap sacks, nose in his tail, apparently asleep, but with one eye slitted to spot movement by any vermin who dared enter his domain. Tibbsy was a superb mouser, and Martha—the Sturdevants’ cook and housekeeper—rarely had problems with rodents getting into the food.
Overhead, hand-hewn beams held a variety of cook pots and household equipment, along with drying herbs, long strings of dried beans and stone fruits, and fat ristras of bronze onions and deep red peppers.
Izzy knew that the cold larder in the northwest corner of the house kept all manner of salted and cured meats and fish as well as eggs, milk and some fresh items that needed to be kept chilled. Next to it, on the western side, the root cellar was where gourds, tubers and the like were warehoused to see the family through until spring.
Both spaces had been dug into the bank of earth up against which the house was built and, along with insulating straw, kept things quite cool. Ice, gathered in winter, helped the process and Izzy had been surprised to learn that ice from March might still be hard and cold the following August, if insulated properly.
Something delicious was cooking, no doubt keeping warm in the rear of the double fireplace, and Izzy’s mouth watered. It had been a very long journey, and their mid day snack of bread, cheese and ale at the Red Lion Tavern in Tunkhannock, when they had also changed to their final team of horses, had been a very long time ago.
Sam, Josh’s brother and Elizabeth’s husband, clattered down the stairs into the Keeping Room at this juncture, and swept his twin up in a bear hug. Then he gave Izzy a slightly more delicate embrace of welcome, and beamed at them.
“You have arrived!” he announced as though he didn’t quite believe his eyes. Sam wore the traditional brown knee breeches, light hose, and black buckled shoes with a full-cut ivory shirt, neck cloth, and an embroidered dark brown leather vest beneath a charcoal colored wool jacket. His hair, the same raven black as Josh’s, was tied back in a small queue, and his sky blue eyes were merry.
“Aye, we have, brother,” Josh confirmed, his grin nearly as huge as his brother’s.
“And is this young Nicholas, then?” Sam asked, looking at the just awakened toddler clinging fiercely to his father’s neck and looking around him in bewilderment.
“Aye, ’tis he,” Josh replied, and made introductions.
Martha had bustled forward to take Josh’s great-coat and Izzy’s cloak and pelisse, and Sam now eyed his twin’s long ‘pantaloon’ trousers with curiosity. Paired with a navy frock coat, embroidered vest, shirt and stock, the trousers gave Josh’s slim build an elegant line that his brother could not help but remark on.
“Aye, ’tis the coming fashion in Europe and England,” Josh told Sam with a grin. “And Mr. Jefferson wears them almost exclusively now, saying they are sober and restrained: the right clothing for the rational man,” Josh explained.
Sam merely raised his eyebrows and noted that the style was a good looking one, if strange to the eye of someone who was used to men in breeches and hose.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was exclaiming over Cordelia, who slept in her mother’s arms, not bothered in the least by the dismount from the coach, the enthusiastic hugging, or all the exclamations and chatter.
“She is an angel,” Elizabeth breathed, her brown eyes shining. “Oh, I should so like to have a daughter,” she added hopefully.
Izzy smiled, and then Sam had to have a turn admiring Cordelia while Elizabeth met her nephew.
“I’m so happy to see you looking so well,” Izzy told Elizabeth, giving her another long look.
“And you!” Elizabeth returned. She reached out and felt the cuff of Izzy’s empire-waisted, long-sleeved woven jacquard dress in a deep mulberry wool. “So very soft,” she murmured.
“There is an excellent draper’s shop very near us,” Izzy explained, “who has the most wonderful woolens and silks, especially.” She tucked a couple of wayward russet curls back under her embroidered cap as she spoke, hoping she didn’t look too disheveled after the long journey.
A young girl, Becky, with skin the color of caramel, brought two little boys downstairs a moment later: John and Peter, the Samuel Sturdevants’ two young sons. Becky was the younger sister of Martha, and had assumed the function of nanny and housemaid once Elizabeth and Sam’s first son had been born. Martha’s son—she was a widow, her husband having been killed in the Revolutionary War—Ephraim was now in his teens, and worked alongside his mother and aunt in keeping the Sturdevant home running smoothly. He was also currently apprenticed at one of Sam’s sawmills.
“I can’t believe I am meeting you at last!” Izzy told her nephews. John, who was three and a half and looked like a small version of his father, shook his aunt’s hand solemnly while Peter, who wasn’t quite two, gazed placidly from Becky’s arms at the stranger with round blue eyes that were his mother’s.
While these introductions were being made, Martha welcomed Roger and Belinda and took care of the luggage that had been fastened to the rear of the coach. Then everyone settled down at the long wooden table, and Martha poured fragrant mulled cider into little pewter cups and passed them around.
Sam raised his cup to make a toast, but Joshua stayed his hand.
“I am afraid, brother, we bring with us sad news out of Virginia,” Josh announced solemnly. “I do not think you will have heard, yet, as the news met us while we were traveling through New York,” he began, looking at his wife as though for confirmation.
Elizabeth looked worried.
“President Washington has died,” Joshua said. “So, let our first toast be to him, his achievements in freeing this great country, and for guiding its nascent steps as its first President.”
…To read more about Izzy, Josh, the Sturdevants and life in December, 1799, read A CHRISTMAS IN TIME by Deborah L. Courville, available on Amazon in kindle and paperback. A CHRISTMAS IN TIME is the third book in the four book series of fact based historical fiction about The Oldest House in Laceyville, PA.
A CHRISTMAS IN TIME, ©2015 by Deborah L. Courville and Samothrace Press. All Global Rights Reserved. This excerpt is used by permission of the author and may not be reproduced without further permission.