The new house was large, and it was beautiful, but for Juliana it wasn’t home, and it never would be. Home no longer existed for her. Tavington had seen to that when he’d ordered the Harris home torched.
Juliana wondered over into the parlor. The house was located near the heart of Charles Town, and the parlor’s windows looked out at path that followed from the house to the bustling street beyond, one of Charles Town’s busiest streets.
Juliana heard the click of Tavington’s boots on the floor behind her, but she continued to gaze out of the windows.
“So, Julianna, what do you think of our new home?” he asked, joining her at the windows.
Juliana internally cringed at Tavington’s choice of words. “It’s very large,” she said. “And busy.”
“Yes,” Tavington concurred. “My Dragoons seized this house when the Crown took Charles Town. Cornwallis gave it to me as a reward.”
Juliana resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Tavington was obviously proud of his accomplishments and wasn’t above boasting. Juliana despised him all the more it.
“Have you been to your room, yet?” Tavington asked her.
Juliana finally turned to Tavington. “My room?”
“Yes; just upstairs.” He turned and left the sitting room; Juliana followed. She followed him up the sweeping, curved staircase and through the open door of one of the rooms located just beyond the top of the staircase. The room was large and sunlit, complete with a large bed, a vanity, and a wardrobe chest.
Juliana turned to Tavington, who’d remained in the doorway while she had walked into the room. “How many others will be here with me?” she asked him. The room was simply too large. That had to mean that someone else would be joining her.
But Tavington surprised her with his answer. “None,” he said.
“You mean I have this room all to myself?” Juliana had never before had a whole room to herself. When she’d been back at the Harris place, she’d shared a room with another house worker. And that room had been half the size of this one. She looked again at Tavington, a man she seemed to understand less and less each day. Before she could say anything, he turned and left her alone in her new room, the very first in her life. Most slaves didn’t even have a room inside the master’s house, and here she was with a room fit for any mistress of the house.
Juliana was bored. She was used to having a job, some task to perform, no matter how menial. But no such performance was required of her now. Eleanor tended to preparing meals, and Nathan was responsible for keeping the house in a respectable condition. Even when Juliana tried to help with those tasks, Eleanor or Nathan would, in so many words, tell her that her services weren’t needed, no matter how insignificant the task was. It all made Juliana question her presence here even more. She wasn’t here to cook or clean, that much was obvious. And in the few weeks that she had been in Tavington’s custody, he hadn’t treated her badly. He’d even provided her with a nice room and new clothes. None of it made any sense to Juliana, and she couldn’t figure it out. Again, she found herself in the kitchen, as she did most days, sitting on a stool, talking to Eleanor.
Juliana watched the older woman working with something in a mixing bowl. “Eleanor,” Juliana began, “you’ve been with the Colonel for a while now, haven’t you?”
Eleanor nodded. “Yes, I s’pose so.”
“Then maybe you could help me with somethin.'” Juliana said. She had a soft Southern accent brimming with curiosity.
“Depends on what it is,” Eleanor said.
Juliana, absolutely serious, looked at Eleanor, then she asked, “Why am I here?”
Eleanor broke from her mixing for a moment and looked at Juliana. “What you mean by that?”
“I mean what I say. What am I doin’ here? He don’t have me workin’ on nothin’. I got a room all to my self. And I got more dresses than I ever had in my whole life,” Juliana said. “Now, I don’t know what kind of time you’ve had, but I ain’t never heard of no slave livin’ like that.”
“Me, either, child,” Eleanor said. “Me, either.”
“So, the Colonel ain’t never done nothin’ like this before?” Juliana asked.
“Not so long as I been here.”
“What’s he gon’ do with me, then?”
Eleanor stopped stirring and looked at Juliana. She didn’t know why the Colonel had brought the girl here, either.
Juliana sat across from Tavington. She’d grown accustomed to it, as she had with most aspects of her day. In the two weeks that she had been in Charles Town with Tavington, a daily routine of sorts had been established. They ate their meals at the same table, always sitting directly across from each other but never saying anything. Tonight, Juliana was going to break that routine.
The question she’d asked Eleanor the previous week still burned inside her. If she wanted an answer to this mystery, she was going to have to go after it herself. From somewhere inside herself, she muster the courage to open her mouth and speak.
“Colonel?” she said. He didn’t say anything, just looked at her. “I need to ask you a question.”
“Very well, then – out with it,” Tavington said.
Juliana abandoned her fork and her nervous efforts to eat. “Colonel, why am I here?” she asked in nearly a single breath.
Tavington regarded her curiously. “Whatever do you mean, girl?”
“I mean, why am I here?” Juliana repeated. “I don’t seem to have a purpose. I don’t do no kind of work. And it ain’t because I haven’t tried, because I have.”
“You don’t do any work because you are not here to work,” Tavington told her.
“Then, Colonel, I still have to ask, what am I doin’ here? What is my purpose?”
“Your purpose?” Tavington studied her briefly, then placed his napkin on the table and stood. “Get up.”
Juliana did as she was told. She stood and followed Tavington out of the dining room and into the parlor.
“You say you want to know what your purpose is?” Tavington asked, the patronizing tones dripping from his voice. He strolled casually across the room, stopping at rifle that was posted above the fireplace mantle. “Do you know where I got this?” Juliana shook her head. Tavington glanced at her briefly before returning his adoring gaze to the rifle on the wall. “I got this from a colonial, a militia man. I cut him down in one pass. The poor fool never stood a chance.”
Tavington drew Juliana’s attention to the musket that rested just above the rifle. “This I got from an officer in the Continental Army.” He turned to Juliana once again. “I use the term ‘officer’ rather loosely. What a poor excuse … ”
He moved on to a silver candelabra that actually rested on the mantle. “This is from a sweep that rounded up twenty traitorous fools in a late-night raid.” He turned his back to the mantle. “I know you must be asking yourself what this has to do with your … purpose, but I find that the connection is quite clear. You see, all these things I’ve shown you are reminders, souvenirs of conquest, triumph. This very house is a monument to it. And so are you.”
He began to walk toward Juliana. “You, my dear, are the latest in the string of valued possessions that I have acquired from my adversaries. You’ve asked why you don’t work, why I’ve treated you fairly well. Surely, it must make sense to you now. I could have my latest prize possession become damaged or worn in any way, now could I?” Tavington stopped once he was within arms’ length of her. It is for that very reason that you must always do exactly as I say, and you shall continue to do so until I believe that you are no longer of any value to me. When that day comes, I will … dispose of you as I see fit. Until that day comes, my dear – You. Are. Mine.” He walked past her, back toward the dining room.
Tavington stopped and turned to her again. “It actually requires very little of you. I believe you shall find the experience to be much more accommodating than your previous station.” He smiled, more to himself than to her. “I’m actually quite glad that you brought the whole matter to the forefront, Juliana. It gives me the opportunity to convey to you your first task as the newest addition to my collection. This Friday evening, you shall have the pleasure of accompanying me to a party at General Cornwallis’s residence. I suspect that it will be an altogether … enlightening experience for you.” He smiled again before leaving Juliana alone in the parlor.
Juliana found that she regretted ever having opened her mouth. It was true that she might’ve found out sometime down the road. But to find out in this manner, to learn that she was nothing more than a mere war trophy was quite unsettling. On its face, it might have appeared to be nothing more than an alternate form of slavery, but Juliana knew better. This was a different creature. Even considering the apparent comfort that this new lifestyle would offer, it was something far, far worse than slavery. She was here only as a showpiece. What a hollow shell of an existence she faced in this new life that she found herself in.