Beside Two Rivers - By Rita Gerlach


The Potomac Heights, Maryland


She’d been warned not to venture far from the house, nor go near the river, nor climb the dark shale bluffs above it. But Darcy Morgan had inherited an adventurous spirit that could not be bridled. It had been her favorite place to retreat since the age of nine, when she had discovered it one morning while trekking with her cousins over the ridge that shadowed the Potomac River.

Bathed in sunlight, she stood at the bluff’s edge and gazed down at the water as she had done a hundred times before. She looked at the sky. Pink and pearled, speckled with white summer clouds, it looked heaven-like in the glow of a golden dusk.

Mottle-winged caddis flies danced in hordes at the brink and Darcy paused to study them. How could such delicate wings flit so high without turning to dust in the breeze? It caressed her face, blew back her dark hair, and eased through her cotton dress. She breathed deep the scent of wild honeysuckle that traveled with it. Drowsy warmth hung everywhere, while the birds sang evening vespers.

With closed eyes, Darcy listened to the water tumble over the boulders and rocks below. Stretching out her arms, she turned in a circle and soaked in the majesty of creation.

“Darcy … Darcy Morgan … Where are you, you adventuresome pixie?”

Turning, she spied her uncle, William Breese, as he lumbered along the ridge toward her. With caution, he stepped over rocks and between roots of great trees, a barrel-chested man with stocky legs. His eyes were pale green against his swarthy face, his head framed in a nimbus of white hair. Darcy’s father, Hayward Morgan, had been his half-brother, and Darcy wondered if her father’s eyes had been like her uncle’s, for she could not remember his face. Breathless, her uncle glanced up to see her, and she skipped down the path toward him.

When she reached her uncle, he put his hands upon his knees to catch his breath. “Your aunt has been fretting all afternoon, wondering where you had gone off to.”

Regretting she had caused her aunt such uneasiness, Darcy brushed back her hair and halted before him. “I am sorry, Uncle Will. I should have told her. I did not mean to cause Aunt Mari to fret.”

“Ah, the woman has had a nervous constitution from birth to forty and two. She fears that one of her girls, and you, Darcy, could be injured or lost, fall from the bluffs, or be swept into the river and drowned. She goes so far as to believe that one of you could be carried all the way to the Chesapeake and then out to sea.”

Darcy giggled. “It would be an adventure to survive such an ordeal, to perhaps be rescued by our Navy.”

He shrugged. “Only you would think so. Your aunt wrings her hands and paces the floor every time one of you ventures out-of-doors. Think of me, dear girl, what I’ve had to endure.”

Darcy smiled and put her arm around him. “Are you angry with me?”

He smiled and wiggled his head. “I could never be angry with you, Darcy. I like your drive for exploration. Just look at that patch of sky. Only God can paint a picture like that.”

She raised her face to meet the sunlight. “I’ve been watching it for hours, how the light mellows the clouds.”

“I wish your aunt were more attentive to the things of nature.”

“To console you, Uncle, I have seen her pause to admire the flowers she brings into the house.”

“Indeed, and now she has news and is eager for you to come home.” Mr. Breese looped Darcy’s arm through his and proceeded to walk with her down the hill. “She has the girls gathered in the sitting room and refuses to read a letter until I bring you back and we are both present.”

“I imagine she is cross,” Darcy said.

“She would have forbidden you at this late hour. Next time tell me.” He threw his free arm out wide. “I don’t mind, and most likely will join you.”

The house belonging to Mr. Breese was modest by well-to-do standards, but affluent for a Marylander living miles away from the cities of Annapolis and Baltimore. Darcy loved it, with its broad porch and dark green shutters. Its meadows filled with Queen Anne’s lace. Its forests thick with ancient trees and wild lady slippers. Above all, she loved the river and the creeks that flowed into it.

She stepped down the path between rows of locust