Tavington had left two days ago, and Juliana was glad that he was gone. It gave her a chance to be free of him, if only for a short while. When she’d first been placed into this unpleasant situation after meeting Tavington, her life then had at least been tolerable, despite all its dismal reality. Now, her life here was just plain unbearable, never knowing where she stood with Tavington, what she was to him. But when he was a way, she could think clearly, and that’s what she needed to be able to do now. She assumed he’d left for Middleton Place, but she really didn’t care where he’d run off to.
Juliana was feeling rebellious the day she decided to go to the general store. Tavington never liked for her to go out alone. She had never understood the thinking behind that. It wasn’t as if she were going anywhere. There was no where to go. If she ran away, she risked being recaptured by the British army. Or worse, yet, by some opportunistic plantation owner.
There wasn’t anything in particular that Juliana needed from the store. She would probably find something insignificant once she arrived, though. She went because she needed to get away from the house. She wanted to think.
She was still thinking when she walked into the store. And she was still thinking when a young man spoke to her and broke into her thoughts.
“Can I help you find somethin’?”
Juliana assumed it was a store clerk, and didn’t bother to look up at him. “No, thank you.”
“You sure?” the man persisted. “You seem a little … lost.”
Juliana finally looked up at the man, and saw that he was not a store clerk but a British military officer. A negro British military officer.
“Oh – hello,” Juliana greeted. “I … thought you were a store clerk.”
“I used to be.” The man grinned with pride. “But I guess it’s obvious what I do now.” He straightened, emphasizing his crisp, red uniform.
Juliana nodded, not really all that impressed, but a little intrigued, nonetheless. “I see,” she said. She continued her walk through the store, and he kept up alongside her. “What’s your name, soldier?”
“Joseph Robinson,” the man said, flashing another toothy grin. He was a handsome fellow, with smooth, brown skin and big brown eyes. “What’s yours?” he asked her in turn.
“Juliana,” she replied.
“That’s a pretty name,” Joseph complimented. “Pretty name for an even prettier lady … So, back to my original question – can I help you find something?”
“And back to my original answer: No, thank you,” Juliana said, smiling. She walked away from Joseph, and he watched her pay for something and then walk out of the store. He ran after her, catching up with her out on the street.
“You know, there ain’t many masters ’round here that let their slaves go around town by themselves,” Joseph told her, walking with her away from the store. “They do things like that up in places like Philadelphia and Boston, but it doesn’t work like that down here in the South. The average slave around here is in the fields or in the house.”
“I know,” Juliana said. “But I don’t I’m what you would call average.”
“Really? Well, I don’t know you all that well, so you’ll have to oblige me when I ask what makes you so different? Who’s your master?”
“I’m stayin’ with Colonel Tavington.” Juliana watched him for any reaction. He was an officer in the British military; he no doubt knew who Tavington was.
“The Dragoons commander?” Joseph asked.
“The very same.”
Joseph’s expression fell, and he became solemn and apologetic. “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” he said.
“Why do you sound like that?” Juliana asked, feigning ignorance. “You would think I just told you I was gonna die.”
“You have to live with the Butcher. It’s just about the same thing.”
Juliana nodded knowingly. “So you’ve heard the stories, too.” She wasn’t surprised.
“They aren’t stories – they’re real,” Joseph insisted.
“I live with the man. He has his days when he isn’t exactly in the best mood, but I don’t think I could ever believe that he’s guilty of the things people accuse him of,” Juliana said, defending Tavington. She couldn’t figure out why she took the position that she did.
Joseph shook his head. “I know they aren’t stories. I know what people say is true ’cause I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
This got Juliana’s attention. She didn’t have to ask Joseph to tell her what he saw.
“It was one night, a couple of months ago, now, I suppose,” he began. “My outfit was with Tavington’s unit on a raid. We closed in on this innocent-lookin’ house. I can’t remember the exact name of who it belonged to. I think it was Harrison, or somethin’.”
Juliana listened intently. It had to be a coincidence. He couldn’t be telling her what she thought he was.
Joseph continued. “Tavington entered the house with some of his men. They looted it for all the valuables, of course. That’s expected. They ordered the slaves to line up out in the front yard. I remember that the cold was somethin’ dreadful, and most of the slaves only wore their sleeping clothes. I was expectin’ the master of the house and the missus to come out of the house after the slaves … but they never came out. The next thing I know, I hear two loud gunshots. Tavington came out shortly after, told us to light fire to the house. I don’t know what ever happened to the slaves. I guess now they’re doin’ what you’re doin’ – working for the British Army.”
Joseph’s story made Juliana’s blood turn to ice. She shivered internally. She knew that cold that Joseph spoke of. It had been her very own story that he had unknowingly relayed back to her.
“Is that how you ended up in the British military?” Juliana inquired. “Were you rounded up and confiscated on some raid and forced into service?”
“No. I joined of my own free will. I took Lord Dunmore up on his proclamation. How did you end up with Tavington?”
” … I was sent there to work,” Juliana lied. “The usual.” They reached Tavington’s house and stopped walking. “This is where I live. Thank you for seein’ me home. I’ll make sure the colonel knows about it. If you’re lucky, it’ll put you in his good graces.”
Joseph nodded skeptically. “I’m sure.” Juliana turned to go, but Joseph stopped her. “Juliana?” She turned to him. “Be careful. Take care of yourself.”
“I appreciate your concern. But I really don’t think it’s necessary. Tavington – he isn’t what he appears to be.” When she spoke, Juliana was trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince this stranger that she’d met today.