The Gates of Trevalyan

The Gates of Trevalyan

Jacquelyn Cook

$16.95 September 15, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-9802453-5-6

A classic, historically rich, deeply researched Civil War story filled with both fictional and real people from the plantation era of central Georgia. In the tradition of Eugenia Price.

Our PriceUS$16.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

The Gates of Trevalyan brings the turbulent years before, during and after the Civil War to vivid and passionate life. Trevalyan, the beautiful central-Georgia plantation where idealistic young Jenny Mobley and aristocratic Charles King marry and build a life together, becomes a symbol of the heartache and division brought by the nation's bitter wounds. Jacquelyn Cook weaves the King family's story into a tapestry featuring the most compelling figures of the time--from charismatic statesman Alexander Stephens to Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and many others. Richly detailed and intensely researched, The Gates of Trevalyan breathes the spirit of great storytelling into a fascinating historical era.




"As she did with the terrific biographical fiction SUNRISE, Jacquelyn Cook provides an engaging historical yarn that enables her fans to taste life on a plantation before, during and just after the Civil War." -- Midwest Book Reviews

"This mid-nineteenth century epic saga will hook the readers with a strong sense of time and place that transports the audience to two plus decades of life in Central Georgia. The support cast is solid with several having their own subplots embellishing a look at the growing troubles of the period." -- Harriet Klausner

"Jacquelyn Cook has written a strong novel about the amazing strength of a woman forced to endure the hardships and ravages of war with only her child beside her. The characters are all strong individuals with their own personal turmoils during the war. There is much detailed history throughout concerning the Civil War and the effects it had on the residents of the North and South." --

"Cook does not sugar coat the horrors of war, yet she does not recreate the battle scenes in detail either. Rather, her focus is on the spirit and determination of the Georgians who fought a losing battle to preserver their right to secede as well as the devastation this insistence wrought. As I wrote earlier, I do not read much historical fiction--and I've been a 'Yankee' my entire life, but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and happily recommend it." -- Book Club Classics

"Jacquelyn Cook writes with such an eloquent tone and attention to detail, the reader is enthralled as the story unfolds and blends historical figures with fictional characters seamlessly, bringing both vividly to life. The plot is wonderfully crafted with characters so well developed, they seem to audibly breathe." -- Pudgy Penguin Perusals




Jenny Mobley clenched her lace-gloved fists, ready to admit to no one, least of all herself, that she was afraid. She dared a glance at the stranger beside her on the buggy seat and gave an unladylike lick at the salt beading her lip. Heat, intensified since the afternoon thunderstorm, rose in pine-scented mists, shimmering over the road of slick, red Georgia clay. They rolled along it with silence between them as thick as the forest walling the road.

Suddenly the vista opened. A split rail fence set apart a grove of hardwoods thinned to leave only the select. Towering oaks cajoled the breeze, their beneficent boughs shading dainty dogwoods. Scaly-barked sycamores gleamed against dark magnolias. And, away on the far side, prickly-burred sweet gums bore a hint of coming crimson.

The procession ahead of them stopped before plantation gates sparkling with fresh white paint. Jenny leaned forward to watch as two small boys, their round, black faces split with grins of welcome, sprang to the wrought iron barriers and rode them as they swung apart.

A barouche draped with bunting entered first and proceeded down the avenue. Next came a landau. The covering was folded back; Jenny could see gentlemen, wearing top hats that made each look tall, with their ladies kept powerless in soft, slope-shouldered dresses.

Today, July 28, 1844, people from the Piedmont of eastern and central Georgia had converged on the town of Madison, known as the most cultured spot on the stagecoach route between Charleston and New Orleans. Thousands had come for the Whig rally to hear the orator Alexander Stephens, to see the flamboyant politician Robert Toombs. Only the elite were invited to Trevalyan for tea.

Jenny's excitement was not diminished by the fact that women could not vote. This trip to Madison with Cousin Emily and her solicitor husband, Joshua Hill, was the first time she had ever traveled from the farm in Jasper County into the adjoining County of Morgan. Just as this innocent young Union of twenty-six states was ready to move out in a thousand directions, Jenny felt ready to explode.

Only a few years ago, Jenny's forebears had been among the pioneers who settled the Creek Indian Territory in the part of Georgia that was the western frontier. Most of their neighbors had traveled with one book, a big family Bible, but Jenny's grandparents had also brought Shakespeare and Scott. From her reading Jenny knew there was life to be lived; and she yearned—with seeming impossibility—to find the strength to give hers meaning and worth.

For now, all she wanted was to enjoy today. She leaned back as the buggy swayed and moved toward the gates. Her head cocked so that her bonnet no longer shielded her face from the man she had met only an hour ago, she studied him.

Trevalyan, his home, was part of an idyll of fine living, its wealth derived from the white gold of cotton. Charles King belonged to this rich red land. He was part of its power.

"Whoa, girl! Wait." Charles spoke gently to his mare, but his hands controlling the reins were strong and sure. "I wanted to stop here so your first view of the house would be perfect, Miss Mobley," he said, softening o's and burring r's in the unmistakable tones of a Virginia gentleman.

Alighting from the buggy, they looked as dissimilar as the oaks and dogwoods. She, with a white organdy fichu draping her shoulders and matching redingote dividing her pink skirt, appeared fragile, all aflutter. He, with frock coat flaring over tight trousers on long, lithe, legs stood firm.

He pointed the direction of her gaze; she gasped.

Far down the lane, shining, white, with a green-velvet boxwood garden encircling it like a moat, stood Trevalyan.

Six towering white columns marched across the porch of the Greek Revival mansion. The steep-pitched tin roof flung back the dazzle of July light as if it could deflect the sun. With chimney pots thrusting high from the four corners, Trevalyan proclaimed power. It stood self-sufficient, secure.

Yet, Jenny thought, it also imparted graciousness. A white picket fence separated the naturalized grove from the formal garden of boxwood parterres. Slender elms shaded the house making it look inviting, cool.

She compared Trevalyan to the swept yards and unpainted, plantation-plain farmhouse that was home, and fear choked comment.

Charles' handsome, boyish face reddened beneath his tan.

An awed "Um-um-uh" broke into their confusion. Jenny's maid Tacey unfolded her dusky, long-boned limbs and scrambled down from the rumble where she had been a sharp-eyed chaperon.

"Lord Jesus," she blurted, "I reckon that be just the big house, but them gates is might-near pearly, and it do look like…"

Jenny's laughter bubbled up easing her apprehension.

"Yes, Tacey," she said, "It certainly does look like heaven. Mr. King, your house is the most magnificent place I've ever seen."

"It's not really mine. Not yet. My uncle, Peter James Giles, built it in 1824, after the Creeks ceded the territory. When I came to work with Uncle P. J. about four months ago, he showed me this view first."

"I—it was kind of you to take the time..."

She smiled, realizing he was allowing her to prepare for her coming ordeal. She liked his eyes, hooded by sun-bleached brows.

His mellow voice deepened. "I love this land. I hope you will, too. Land and trees will never lose their worth. They'll always be there to support you."

He is assuming too much! She grasped for a change of conversation.

"The houses we passed in Madison were lovely, but Trevalyan is...compelling. It looks as if it has stories to tell."

Charles' brows bristled. He plunged his fingers into his thick blond hair setting awry the top layer.

She bit her tongue. Must I always say the wrong thing? Too late, she remembered that the ladies in the hotel had been whispering behind their fans about Trevalyan.

"Don't be swayed by gossip!" He threw his hands out in agitation. "I'll tell you about Austin Dabney—when I know you better and you won't think me indiscreet. Perhaps I see his story differently."

"No, no. I'm sorry. I really know nothing…" He sounded as if she had offended him, and she did not know why.

They stood apart, tentative.

Tacey, who had been waiting with the young gatekeepers, stepped beside Jenny and gave her a sharp elbow to the ribs.

"Missy," she hissed. "These here folks is quality. See them fine quarters spreading down the road behind the big house? No telling how many men work sich a big plan'ation. If you moving, I is coming, too."

"Hush." Jenny shook her head. Naming Tacey the Latin for "be silent" had done no good.

"I'm shorely glad I wore my brand spanking new dress," Tacey continued. "'Spite you saying red wadn't 'propriate, this gal gonna have a fine time to-day!"

She climbed back on the rumble.

Charles' lips twitched. He tried to suppress a grin, but it spread, lighting his whole face. He turned to Jenny.

"Are you ready to go in?"

"Yes," she said, straightening her fichu as if she could gather her courage like the shawl.


The horse trotted down the quarter-mile avenue toward home, then stopped at a carriage block in front of the picket fence.

As Jenny stepped from the buggy, her cousin Emily Hill pounced.

"What happened to you?" she whispered to Jenny. "We've been here nearly an hour."

Emily composed her face into a set smile as she turned to Charles. Her voice became syrup. "Good afternoon, Mr. King." She patted her pale pink hair. "You simply must forgive me fo' snatchin' Jenny away. But I've already attended to all the little doovers." Nervously she tightened the drawstring of her reticule only to open it again to fish for a handkerchief. "Your aunt is waiting..."

"Yes, ma'am,” Charles said, bowing over Jenny's hand, kissing her fingertips.

Casting him a wild-eyed glance, Jenny followed Emily up the center walk flanked by musky boxwoods that cut off escape.

"You're beholden to Mr. Hill for his connections," Emily hissed. "This match will do the family proud. Look at those Corinthian capitals. This house has rare sophistication for a plantation so far from Savannah."

Jenny did not know what Corinthian capitals were, but she knew she did not want to be indebted to Joshua Hill. She supposed she should be thankful. Emily was not obliged to be her matchmaker. But as the wife of a young solicitor, she was in far better position than Jenny's father, with five daughters to dower, to arrange this marriage with a man from the Virginia branch of the clan.

But I don't want to marry now. Especially not this dandy.

"Now I know how you are," Emily continued as she bustled Jenny up the steep steps. "Don't you dare interrupt any of these ladies who are slow to finish a thought.”

"But Cousin Emily, I don't want to marry a stranger and sit on a cushion and know in advance what will happen every hour of every day! I want to see the world! I want my life to matter!"

Emily stopped in the middle of the porch and stared at her. "Nonsense! Straighten your collar, take a deep breath, and move slowly and gracefully as a lady should."

Jenny ran a finger under the scratchy white organdy. What should she do with her parasol? But Emily was pushing her through the double doorways into Trevalyan.

Dark, quiet, cool, the hall was filled with the fragrance of roses from massed arrangements set on demi-lune tables on either side. Furnishings were few, uncluttered, creating a spaciousness that made each item special. The floor was bare, shining. On the left, doors opened onto the still dimmer recess of the parlor. There, closed shutters and lace curtains softened the glare of the sun filtering through nine-over-nine windows. Refracted rays cast a restful glow on gleaming woods and polished brass. Porcelains and oriental rugs invited inspection.

Jenny eyed the circle of matrons seated on stiff-backed sofas. Each erect gray head was perfectly coiffured. Each bejeweled hand was properly folded on each silk lap. Each pair of sharp eyes was turned upon Jenny.

I hate being scrutinized like a prized pig. Her wits were slipping away. She remembered that her kid slippers were shamefully grass stained.

"Ladies," Emily Hill said, inclining her head in a deferential nod. She spoke now in a cultured voice. "I want you all to meet Susan Virginia Mobley. Her mother, Johanna Jones Mobley, is my first cousin once removed. Jenny was born in Hillsboro."

She nudged her cousin forward. "Mrs. Giles, this is Jenny."

"How do you do, Susan Virginia?" Charles' aunt, Trevalyan's mistress, nodded formally, looking somewhere above Jenny's shoulder.

Jenny struggled to hide her more offending shoe. She curtsied and murmured a greeting.

She thought Lavinia Giles' mouth looked as permanently pursed as if it had been drawn up like a reticule. She could see that the woman had already decided she would not make Charles a suitable wife. She could not blame her. She knew her face was plain. She considered her hair as uninteresting as brown broom sedge.

He's not what I want anyway. She made her own mouth stubborn.

"Come talk to me, young lady," commanded a humped dowager draped in a musty shawl in spite of the heat. "Didn't your grandfather once live in Goochland County? I believe my Uncle Henry knew him."

"Yes, ma'am." Jenny curtsied more gracefully this time. She smiled, knowing it relieved the plainness of her face, and was rewarded when the old woman responded with delight. "Grandpa emigrated from Ireland. County Down, it was. He fought with General Morgan at Cowpens during the Revolutionary War."

Most probably it's his blood in me that makes me want to fight my brethren for independence. She suppressed a giggle that bordered hysteria.

But she had said the right thing. The old lady claimed her for conversation, and her merry spirits returned.

When at last Jenny fulfilled the demands of etiquette, Emily released her.

She slipped out the nearest door and found herself in the dining room where a long satinwood table was laden with delicacies. A footed crystal dish displayed the layers of an English trifle: cake, jam, custard, fresh peaches, and whipped cream. Jenny's stomach growled. She felt Cousin Emily and the mistress with the drawstring mouth watching her. I can do without food. She hurried through the hall to the front door.

From the high porch, she could discern the pattern of scrolls, circles, and angles in the parterres. Boxwood, trimmed low, edged the labyrinth of flowerbeds. Young ladies, whose beribboned bonnets and ruffled parasols rivaled the blossoms, were exploring the maze of paths. The lovely garden, dappled with sunlight and shadows, beckoned her. Inquisition over, she felt giddy with gaiety and bounced down the steps to introduce herself to the promenaders.

"Hello! I'm Jenny Mobley from Hillsboro."

"I'm Sarah Allen from Madison," responded an older girl. "And this..." she generously included a solemn nine-year-old, "is Rebecca Latimer."

Rebecca followed them, her freckled face lifted to Jenny's. Sarah introduced the others. The group meandered, pausing here and there to sniff the lemon lilies or to wonder at speckled cups of foxglove.

Suddenly the girls' chatter lagged; they peeped beneath their parasols at several young gentlemen alighting from a landau. The obvious leader, a tall man with great shocks of dark hair, strode up the center walk, blustering about encountering an abolitionist spy on a visit to Savannah.

"Who is that?" whispered Jenny.

"You mean that specimen of male beauty?" one of the girls retorted. "That's the infamous Robert Toombs." She shielded her disapproving mouth with a lacy fan. "My dear, he was expelled from Franklin College and..."

"No, no. The slender one in the dark coat."

"Slender? He's the thinnest person I ever saw! Like a skeleton alive and walking."

"He looks like Lord Byron," Jenny murmured. The man was pale, hollow-cheeked. His chestnut hair was thin, combed flat behind protruding ears. Not handsome, and yet… The look of pathos he bore went straight to Jenny's heart. She wanted to push back that lock of hair and cool that intelligent brow.

Rebecca spoke up in a piping voice that carried across the garden.

"That's who everybody came to hear in the stump speaking. That's `Little El-lick.'"

The man in the dark coat smiled kindly at the child and looked over her head at Jenny.

Embarrassed that he had caught them discussing him, she nonetheless met his gaze. His hazel eyes blazed with fire. Here is a man who commands attention. I wish I could meet him.

He seemed to read her thoughts. If she spoke to him without being properly introduced, Emily would disown her, but he was heading her way.

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