Possession – Chapter 16

Friday evening arrived after two hectic days spent trying to settle the details of the party that had unexpectedly been thrust into Tavington’s hands. Food preparation, music, and extra servants – all of it was arranged in time for the party; most of it was arranged solely by Juliana. By the time Friday evening rolled around, Juliana was running ragged trying to make sure everything was in place. She’d helped plan parties like this for Mr. Harris, but she’d never had the responsibility of planning one by herself. Fortunately for Tavington, everything fell into its proper place.

The night would be divided into two portions. The first, beginning at approximately 6:30, would be the intimate dinner part of the evening. Tavington would dine with ten guests in the dining room. The actual party portion of the evening would begin after dinner had concluded, and would take place on the back lawn of the premises. Fifty additional guests were expected for this part of the occasion.

The dinner guests began to arrive at around six p.m. Tonight, Eugenia had Juliana’s usual task of seeing to guests and making sure they were comfortable. Tonight, Juliana’s place was in the kitchen and anywhere else she would need to be to coordinate this effort so that it ran smoothly.

The first course of the meal was taken out to the dinner guests promptly at 6:30 p.m. Twelve people sat around the table: Cornwallis, O’Hara, Bordon, Captain Robert Watts, Tavington, and Benjamin Smith, another colonel. Joining each of the men at the table was a female companion. Tavington sat at one end of the table, while Cornwallis occupied the other end.

“Colonel Tavington,” Smith began, “I must commend you for you work on the field at Camden. It is certain that our victory would not have been possible were it not for your Dragoon unit.” Smith was slightly shorter than the average officer and rounder, too. His appearance, however, was deceptive. The man could hold his own in combat. He was an excellent swordsman and an even better marksman.

Tavington smiled. Finally, he was getting the recognition he deserved. “Thank you, Colonel Smith,” he said with pride. “It’s appreciated.”

“Colonel, you have such a lovely home here.” It was Smith’s wife, Bettie. She was a petite woman with dark, auburn hair and a pleasant face. “I’m so glad we’re having this party here. How long has it been since you first moved into this house?”

“Only a couple of months,” Tavington replied.

“You’ve done wonders with it in such a short time,” Bettie marveled.

“It’s quite easy when your home falls into your hands already decorated,” O’Hara chimed in. “Colonel Tavington acquired this house during a raid.”

Tavington glared at O’Hara. The man had a talent for jumping on the first opportunity to belittle Tavington.

“Gentlemen, must we speak of such unpleasant things tonight?” Sarah Davis asked. She was there as Watts’s guest. “We’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves tonight.”

“Ms. Davis is right,” Cornwallis agreed. “There’ll be no more war talk this evening. That’s an order, gentlemen.” He looked around the table, his eyes connecting with those of every officer at the table.

Down in the kitchen, Juliana was doing everything she could to make sure this evening didn’t fall apart on Tavington.

“Is the soup ready to go upstairs to the dinin’ room, yet?” she eagerly asked Eugenia.

“Jenny’s bringin’ it out of the fire now,” Eugenia said. She and Juliana looked over at the hearth in time to see Jenny thoroughly burn her arm as she was removing the soup pot from the fire. Juliana cringed when the girl screamed out in pain. She knew the girl hadn’t screamed on purpose, but she also knew that the scream had been loud enough to be heard upstairs in the dining room.

Everyone in the dining room heard the scream, and they all looked to Tavington for an explanation. He was, after all, the host.

He pasted a reassuring expression on his face. “I’m sure it’s nothing too serious,” he said. One look from him was all that was needed to send the dining room servant down to the kitchen to investigate.

“Get some butter,” Juliana instructed, leading a crying Jenny to a nearby chair. She kneeled and looked at the girl’s arm, studying her injury. The burn was bad. Juliana didn’t know exactly how bad, but she knew it was bad enough to keep the girl from serving food in the dining room.

Eugenia appeared at Juliana’s side with the butter. Juliana took some and gingerly rubbed it on Jenny’s arm, causing the girl to grimace. “I know it’s gonna hurt, but you’re gonna have to keep rubbin’ this butter on it for a few minutes.” Juliana stood up.

“What we gon’ do?” Eugenia asked. “It’s gon’ make things awfully slow if we only got one person to take the food up and help serve.”

“I’ll have to take her place,” Juliana said. She looked over at the preparation table. Thankfully, someone had had enough initiative to put the soup in the bowls and prepare the serving trays. The servant from the dining room descended the stairs into the kitchen just in time to pick up a tray full of soup-filled bowls.

“What’s goin’ on down here?” the dining room servant asked, picking up the first tray. “We heard screamin’ from upstairs.”

“Oh, nothin’; Jenny just burned her arm, is all,” Juliana said, dismissively. “I’m gonna have to take her place until dinner is over. Come on; we’ve got to get this soup upstairs before it gets too cold.” She picked up the remaining tray and followed the servant up the stairs.

When Tavington saw the dinner servant emerge from the kitchen carrying a soup tray, he figured that everything must be all right in the kitchen. When he saw Juliana come up after her, he reconsidered. His curious eyes remained trained on her while she and the other servant placed the bowls of soup before the dinner guests. She only looked at him once, after the soup had finished being served. He saw her eyes momentarily slide to the seat next to him, occupied by Caroline Staton. For reasons Tavington could not explain, he did not want Juliana to see him sitting beside Caroline, and when she did see them beside each other, he wished he could shrink and disappear right in his seat. Juliana remained in the dining room for a few more minutes to make sure that she wouldn’t be needed. When she was certain that she wouldn’t be, she disappeared back into the kitchen.

A hundred questions raced through Juliana’s head once she was back down in the kitchen. Who was the woman? Was she there with Tavington? Had they known each other long? What was the nature of their relationship?

“Are you alright?”

Juliana turned to Eugenia, who, apparently, had walked up to her when she’d come back into the kitchen, thought Juliana hadn’t noticed the movement at all. “I’m fine,” Juliana said, focusing her attention back on what had to be done now. “Let’s get the next course ready. They’ll be finished with the soup in no time.”

/\/\/

The back lawn wasn’t nearly as grand as that of Middleton Place, but it was large enough to accommodate the fifty guests who arrived after dinner and was enclosed by a tall brick fence. The guests, a mixture of British officers and local Loyalists, arrived and seemingly fell in love with house and the grounds. They milled about, chattering, drinking, listening to the string quintet that had been hired for the occasion. All the while, Juliana remained inside, overseeing the servants from her base in the kitchen. The first time she ventured outside was at around midnight. By that time, the party had begun to die down. Most of the guests had left, and the few stragglers that remained were preparing to depart.

Juliana stepped out onto the back lawn and found it virtually deserted. It had been such a nice evening. There had been no major disasters, and everything had gone as it was supposed to. Juliana had saved Tavington’s neck … again. She shook her head and began to stroll onto the lawn.

She didn’t know why she’d done it, why she’d helped him out in this manner. Maybe it was the hope that he would come to his senses and finally be nice to her. Or maybe it was just her inherent good nature. Juliana knew that both of those explanations probably had something to do with her actions; she just didn’t know which one held more weight.

“It’s such a pleasant evening,” Caroline said, sitting down on one of the stone benches that lined a row of bushes. The bushes separated the lawn into two sections, providing a semi-secluded spot to enjoy the fountain located at the far end of the yard. “Spring will be here soon,” she commented.

“It will, indeed,” Tavington said. “The arrival of our first battle of the season is indicative of that. May I?” he asked, indicating the spot on the bench beside Caroline.

“Of course,” Caroline said. Tavington dutifully perched on the bench beside Caroline. “Have you given any thought to what you will do after the war, Colonel? It seems as if it won’t last for much longer.”

“You’re right. These rebels won’t be able to withstand much more. It will only be some time, now.” Tavington studied Caroline. She wasn’t unattractive. Her chestnut hair was up presently, but he imagined that it was quite lovely whenever she let it down. Her eyes were big and green, and she had a small aquiline nose above her small, smiling mouth.

Physically, and also socially, she was acceptable. Tavington’s problem with her was that she was an idiot. To say that he found her intellectually boring would be an understatement. He dreaded receiving letters from her because they were absolutely of no substance whatsoever, and her conversations were full of idle chit-chat that Tavington had neither interest in nor patience for. That was one thing, at least, about Juliana – however awkward their conversations ended up being, they were never boring.

Juliana. Tavington couldn’t help but think about how much more he’d rather be sitting here with her than with the dunce currently beside him. But therein lay the problem. He redoubled his efforts to appear interested.

“As for what I will do after the war,” Tavington resumed, “I haven’t given it much detailed thought. I’ve been so preoccupied with my duties. I suppose I might return to England … ” He looked at the fountain. He wouldn’t be able to take Juliana with him if he went back to England. Juliana’s service in Tavington’s household would undoubtedly be counted as service to the Crown, and all slaves who served Britain during the war were to be freed. And what were the chances that she would want to go with him of her own free will? Not after he’d been so cruel.

Tavington blinked a few times, realizing that his thoughts had just wandered back to Juliana. He had to figure out a way to keep his mind off her. This wouldn’t be so difficult if he’d just been able to control himself initially.

He turned back to Caroline, who was beaming and staring at him expectantly. “I could also remain here in the colonies and establish myself here,” Tavington continued. “Actually, it’s quite funny that you should bring the whole issue up. I know we haven’t known each other for very long.”

“We’ve been corresponding for nearly a year, now … William,” Caroline gushed.

Tavington feigned surprise and tried to mask the annoyance that developed at her decision to call him by his given name. “Oh? Has it been that long already? It certainly hasn’t seemed like that much time has passed.”

“They say when two people who have a true connection meet, they lose track of time because they’re so engrossed with each other,” Caroline offered.

Tavington found the sound of her voice increasingly annoying, but he fought the urge to roll his eyes. “Right,” he said. “Nevertheless, we’ve only actually met on a few occasions previously. Even so, I feel as if there’s a connection between us.”

“I’ve felt the very same!” Caroline exploded. “I’ve been hoping that you possessed those feelings.”

Tavington smiled despite the feeling that this all felt so wrong. “Yes. Well, I realize that I’m not exactly the youngest man to have ever called on you. My life in the military has left me with little time for other traditional endeavors, such as settling down and starting a family. Until recently, that is.”

Caroline pressed her finger to Tavington’s lips. “Don’t say another word. I’ve been dreaming of this very moment since I was a little girl. Let us not sully it with mere words.”

Tavington took her words as his cue to kiss her. He leaned in close and gently pressed his lips against hers. He was sorely disappointed. Not only was she an idiot, but she also didn’t know how to kiss. Juliana, on the other hand, was a different story. Her kisses were –

He parted from Caroline. His plan of trying to find a distraction was not working. He couldn’t go five minutes without thinking about Juliana.

“Oh, William – I’m so happy,” Caroline proclaimed with a broad smile. Tavington managed a lackluster smile of his own. Caroline threw her arms around her new fiancé. “William, we simply must keep your servant girl on with us after we’re wed,” she said.

“Which one?” Tavington asked.

“The one standing by the bushes there,” Caroline replied.

Tavington turned around on the bench ready to deliver a verbal lashing to the person invading his privacy. His heart jumped into his throat, however, when he saw who was standing there. It was Juliana. How long had she been there, he wondered. It didn’t matter. The look on her face told him that she had seen enough.

/\/\/

Juliana wanted to kick herself. She wanted to kick herself, then cease to exist. She’d been such a fool. What made it so bad was that it wasn’t the first time. Would it be the last?

She looked at her reflection in her bedroom mirror. Had she actually believed that he was going to profess that he had some kind of feelings for her, that he was just going to miraculously change into prince charming?

Tavington barged into the room without knocking, as usual. Juliana’s back was to him, but he could see her reflection in the mirror.

“Who is she?” Juliana asked. She didn’t look at him in the mirror. She couldn’t because she felt so humiliated, humiliated because she’d actually allowed herself to believe that Tavington would ever think of her as anything other than a glorified war trophy.

“Juliana, look at me,” Tavington said with an uncharacteristically gentle tone.

Juliana turned slowly to him. “I’m tired, Colonel,” she said. “I’d like to retire for the night.”

“I know,” Tavington said. “However, I feel like an explanation is in order.”

“That isn’t necessary, Colonel,” Juliana said. “I understand.”

“No, I don’t think you do.”

“But I do know what I saw,” Juliana said.

“What you saw was not what it appeared to be,” Tavington claimed.

“Colonel – please don’t … don’t make me out to be more of a fool than I already feel like I am,” Juliana pleaded. “Please. Can’t you spare me at least once? Just this one time?” Juliana turned back to the vanity and began to remove the pins from her hair. “I don’t care if you’re courtin’ her, Colonel. You’re probably gonna marry her, too. I don’t care about any of that, though. I don’t have the strength to care anymore. But can you please just leave me out of this? Can’t I just be your servant? Please. Is it so much to ask?” She turned to face him again, but it looked as if nothing she’d said had even registered with him. She turned back to the mirror.

“I have to go see Ms. Staton home,” Tavington said. “We are not finished, here. We’ll talk about this more when I return.”

“I’ll be asleep,” Juliana retorted defiantly.

“You will be awake, and we will discuss this,” Tavington said forcefully.

Juliana didn’t argue this time. It was futile. She just let him walk out. Part of her – a large part – hoped that he wouldn’t come back.

The door closed behind Tavington as he left. Juliana turned back to the mirror, and something caught her attention in the reflection. Something was moving in the near-darkness behind her. She turned, but before she could say anything, this mysterious person darted out of nowhere and rushed at her. Juliana saw nothing but a flash of red before the intruder grabbed her from behind and slapped his hand over her mouth.

“Be quiet!” the man whispered harshly. “Don’t say one word. One word. Do you understand me? Just nod.”

Juliana did as she was told and nodded. She was still facing the mirror, so she lifted her eyes to see who her assailant was. She couldn’t believe who she saw in the reflection behind her. It was Joseph Robinson, the officer she’d met at the market. His dark eyes stared intensely at her through the mirror.

/\/\/

Tavington knew something was amiss the moment he stepped into the house. The place was a wreck, and it wasn’t because of the party. He walked into the sitting room and found that it had been completely torn apart. Tables and other furniture had been overturned. The other contents of the room lay broken on the floor.

Tavington moved from room to room, and each one was in a similar state as the sitting room. And there was something else: The house was uncharacteristically quiet. Tavington knew that Juliana had said she was going to sleep, but the rest of the servants, at least, should have been busy cleaning after the party. Tavington knew they hadn’t already finished; he hadn’t been gone long enough to allow that. Something was wrong.

Tavington cautiously ascended the stairs to the second floor of the house. The first room he intended to inspect was Juliana’s bedroom. It was possible that she’d slept through whatever caused the turmoil on the lower floor, but Tavington doubted it. He opened the door, expecting to find it in complete darkness. What he found, however, were the candles still burning brightly, as they had been before he’d left earlier. He looked around the room, at the bed. Juliana wasn’t there.

He backed out of the room and immediately proceeded to check the other rooms on the second floor, including his own. Each of them had been torn apart, and he found neither Juliana nor any of the house servants. He returned to the first floor and walked outside. First, he went to the back lawn and found it completely deserted. Then he went to the small stable on the side of the house where he kept his horse. The horse remained, but Tavington was convinced it was the only other living creature on the premises. What had happened to the rest of his household and to the house itself?

The rustling sound coming from the side of the stable caused Tavington to draw his dagger in anticipation of an attack. He was silently relieved when William, one of his servants, came out of the bushes.

“William,” Tavington said.

“Yes, sir,” the young black man said. “I didn’t mean to surprise you like that.”

“William, what happened? The house is a mess and everyone’s gone. Where are they?” Tavington asked.

“I don’t know, Colonel. A group of soldiers gathered ’em up and carried ’em off. I stayed out of the way ’cause I didn’t know what they was here for. I didn’t see ’em walk in, so reckon they must’ve been left over from the party. I don’t know what they wanted.”

“Soldiers?” Tavington questioned.

“Yes, sir. Redcoats.”

“British?” That didn’t make any sense to Tavington. It was a well-known fact that the house was no longer in rebel hands. “Prepare my horse,” Tavington ordered. William nodded and got right to work.

Why would British soldiers ransack the house of another British officer and confiscate his slaves, Tavington wondered. He didn’t know the answer, but he was going to find out.

/\/\/

“It is official, Colonel Tavington – no commanding officer in this area authorized any raids in Charles Town within the past week.” Cornwallis marched into his office at Fort Carolina. Nearly a week had passed since Tavington’s home had been pillaged, and Tavington was no closer to an explanation now then he’d been that night.

“This is rather unfortunate,” O’Hara commented.

“It is, isn’t it?” Tavington said, his tone insolent. “Wouldn’t it be a shame to find out that one of our very own committed such an act in the name of vengeance?” He spoke to O’Hara but kept his eyes focused straight ahead.

O’Hara, on the other hand, glared a hole into the side of Tavington’s head as he approached him. “Are you insinuating something, Colonel?” he asked.

“Gentleman, now is not the time for petty squabbles,” Cornwallis intervened. “We have are faced with a problem that has the potential to grow into something very serious. We have been infiltrated, and we don’t know who the responsible party is. Colonel Tavington, were any letters or papers missing from your home?”

“A few letters of a personal nature, my lord. That was all,” Tavington replied. The scoundrels had run off with all his letters from Caroline. What a pity, Tavington thought sarcastically.

Cornwallis looked from Tavington to O’Hara. “Well, gentlemen, it seems that we’ve come to a dead end. We have no way of knowing who these rabble are, and we have no way of finding them. We should consider ourselves lucky in that they didn’t get away with anything more valuable. Colonel, I’ll see to it that you receive more servants for your household.”

Tavington swallowed. “Thank you, sir,” he said. He didn’t want more slaves. He wanted Juliana. Cornwallis was correct, however; they were at a dead end. Juliana was long gone, and Tavington felt like a fool for the way he’d treated her. He felt like a fool for trying so ardently to control his emotions. Would it have been so terrible to explore the possibilities with her? He would never know now because there was nothing he could do about any of it.

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