Juliana held on to the bedpost while Eleanor stood behind her and pulled the strings on the corset that encased Juliana’s torso. Juliana grunted after a hard yank from Eleanor tightened the corset.
“Why does it have to be so tight?” Juliana asked.
“Now, girl, you know good and well why it has to be tight,” Eleanor said. “That’s just the way it’s made to be worn.”
“I know,” Juliana conceded. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.”
“Didn’t you ever do this for the mistress of the house back at the Harris place?” Eleanor asked.
“I did, but I didn’t know what it felt like,” Juliana replied.
“Get ready; I’m gonna give it one last pull,” Eleanor warned. Juliana gripped the bedpost and braced in preparation. “Suck it in some more, girl.” Juliana sucked in her stomach as much as she could and Eleanor pulled and tied the strings on the corset. “There,” Eleanor said with finality.
Juliana stood up straight. Her posture was probably the best that it had ever been in her life because it was the only way that she could breathe at the moment. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to make it through the night like this,” she said. “I can’t hardly breathe.”
“You have to breathe into your chest,” Eleanor instructed her. “That’ll make it a little easier.” Juliana did as Eleanor suggested and found that it did actually make it a little easier, but it didn’t change the fact that the corset was still unbearably tight. “Don’t concern yourself with it, girl. You’ll get used to it and forget about it before the night’s through.”
Both of the women turned their attention to the beautiful, blue dress that was laid out on the bed for Juliana. Eleanor shook her head and smiled. Juliana was actually getting ready to go to a ball and hobnob with all those rich folks. In all her years, she’d never heard of anything like this happening to a slave. She was happy for Juliana. In the weeks she’d spent with Juliana, the younger woman had become almost like a daughter to Eleanor. With all that Juliana had been through in the recent past, losing her entire life as she’d previously known it and being tossed into a completely different setting, something as marvelous as attending a fancy party would be good for the girl.
“You gon’ have a time tonight,” Eleanor said. Maybe the colonel wasn’t completely without a heart, after all. “This is gon’ be a night to remember for you, gettin’ to be part of high society for the night. What a nice gesture by the colonel.”
Juliana cast her gaze downward at the floor. She sat down on the bed, beside the dress. “He ain’t doin’ this out of kindness, Eleanor,” Juliana said.
Eleanor dismissed her assertion. “Oh, hush. This is just proof that there are some kind of redeeming qualities inside that man.”
Juliana looked up at Eleanor, still standing near the bedpost. “No.” She shook her head. “You remember how we were talkin’ about what my purpose here was supposed to be?”
Eleanor nodded. “Yeah?”
“I asked him during dinner one night, asked him why I was here. Do you know what he told me?” Eleanor didn’t reply. She only looked at Juliana expectantly. “He told me that my duties consist of nothin’ more than servin’ as one of his possessions, a souvenir from one of his many military exploits. He’s takin’ me to this party so he can show me off. He only wants to put me on display. Don’t you see? That’s all I am to him – some thing. I’m not even a person to him.”
“He told you that?” Eleanor asked.
“Every word of it. Do you know what it’s like to feel completely useless, to know that your only purpose is to exist for someone else’s entertainment?” Juliana asked. “It makes you feel completely … empty.”
Eleanor looked out the window, a dark cloud descending over her face.
The image that greeted Juliana in the full-length mirror was one that she barely recognized. The gown she wore was fit for the likes of royalty, and Juliana had never even imagined herself in such attire. And she’d never seen her own hair styled in such an intricate manner, elegantly put up with strands of silky curls framing her alluring face. The azure of her dress was an excellent match for her smooth, caramel skin.
Juliana allowed herself a momentary smile; but as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared, as her brief joy was tempered by the fact that she was to be part of the entertainment for the night.
She appeared at the top of the stairs. Tavington didn’t know she was standing there until Nathan directed his own eyes to that direction. Tavington, whose back had been to the stairwell, turned around and saw Juliana standing at the top of the stairs. He had known her to be better than plain, from the first night he’d seen her; however, now, seeing her outfitted in all the peripherals of a proper lady, she was more than Tavington could have ever predicted. He found himself momentarily stunned, gazing at her for a few silent seconds before recovering.
As Juliana began to descend the stairs and she came nearer to him, Tavington appraised her appearance and offered a simple nod of approval. “Very good,” he said. “We’ll be off then.”
Juliana looked uneasily to Eleanor as the older woman wrapped a shawl around the younger woman’s shoulders. Juliana was beyond nervous, a condition that would be understandable for anyone about to attend their very first ball. Eleanor tried to offer a reassuring smile, but it fell flat on Juliana. There was little chance that anything anyone said or did was going to calm her tonight.
“Come along, Juliana,” Tavington urged, heading toward the door. Juliana followed. To her surprise, he opened the door and indicated that she should walk through first. She did, stepping out into the biting winter air.
By the time the unlikely couple had arrived, the room was already filled with the cream of South Carolina’s Loyalist crop. Powdered wigs and opulent gowns and dress were in abundance. A stringed quartet played lively music from some hidden corner.
All heads turned to Tavington and his dark companion. The chatter didn’t completely stop, but there was a momentary, and noticeable, drop in the room’s volume level. Tavington lavished in the attention. Juliana, on the other hand, was petrified. She was there with Tavington, but she felt as if she were all alone. How could she feel like there was anyone at her side when the person with her was so cold? She knew that at this moment, she probably looked more beautiful than she had ever looked or would ever look again, but all she wanted was to run and hide her face from all the eyes that were glued to her.
Tavington glided confidently into the room, and Juliana followed, one step behind him. She didn’t make steady eye contact with any of the guests out of fear of what she might find there.
Tavington swaggered up to Cornwallis, who stood with O’Hara and a small group of high-ranking officers. Juliana hung back a few feet from the group.
“Colonel Tavington,” Cornwallis greeted. As his curious eyes momentarily settled in on Juliana, he got straight to the point with Tavington. “I see that you’ve decided to bring a guest.”
Tavington turned and glanced at Juliana, then turned back to Cornwallis. “Who is she?” Cornwallis asked, turning his gaze back on Tavington.
“Her name is Juliana Harris,” Tavington said, a satisfied grin appearing across his face. “I … acquired her after we took the Harris plantation.”
“She’s your slave?” Cornwallis questioned.
“Yes, my Lord, you could say that. I prefer to think of her as a tribute to our success in the colonies.”
“Well, Colonel, I needn’t remind you that this war is far from over,” Cornwallis chastised. “I would appreciate if you kept your premature celebrations at a minimum or, at the very least, to yourself. We still have a world of work to do, and the last thing I need is for our military endeavors to be sabotaged by your quest for glory. Is that clear?”
Tavington could do nothing, say nothing but, “Yes, sir.”
“I do not expect to have this conversation with you again, Colonel,” Cornwallis warned before moving away from a deflated Tavington.
O’Hara approached Tavington. “I’ll say one thing for you, Tavington – she certainly is quite a tart.” He stared at Juliana appraisingly for a long moment, then turned to Tavington with a smug smile before leaving him alone.
Juliana was more than well aware of the curious looks afforded to her. She was not used to being noticed; now she was the center of attention, no matter how much she tried not to be. She stood at the outskirts of the ball. She wanted to completely disappear.
“How’d you end up with the Butcher?”
Juliana turned around. An old black man, a servant, stood next to her in front of the kitchen door. He carried an empty silver tray. Apparently, he’d asked the question.
“I’d rather not talk about it,” Juliana answered.
The man looked her over, amazed. “I never seen a colored girl dolled up like you before,” he said.
“Me either,” Juliana said, managing a small laugh. She shook her head. “I don’t know why he brought me here. I don’t know why he does half the things he does.”
“You and everybody else. It just don’t make no sense for him to be killin’ up all those people like he do.”
Juliana’s head snapped up in the man’s direction. “What do you mean?”
“Girl, don’t you know who you came here with?” the man asked. He looked at Juliana, shocked that she didn’t seem to know what he was talking about. “That man, they call him the Butcher.”
“I thought all of them were called butchers?” Juliana replied, speaking of the Redcoats in general.
“No, huh-uh, no ma’am – just him. They say he’ll kill anyone without a second thought. Done it plenty before; probably do it plenty more before the war’s over with. You mean you ain’t know?”
Juliana couldn’t answer. She looked across the room at Tavington, who was chatting it up with some officers.
O’Hara had been eyeing Tavington’s ‘guest’ the entire night. He longed to kiss those full, seemingly perfect lips and to get his hands on that body of hers, and he would before the night was done.
He picked up two glasses of wine and sauntered over to the attractive newcomer. “Ms. Harris?”
Juliana turned away from the old man and found herself face-to-face with a British officer. Because she didn’t know how to differentiate between the British officers’ uniforms, she couldn’t immediately tell what his rank was.
“Yes, sir?” she said, wondering why he was even talking to her.
“General Charles O’Hara,” the man introduced himself. “I wanted to come over to introduce myself and welcome you to our little get-together.” He offered the extra glass of wine to Juliana.
Juliana hesitated and cast a cautious glance at Tavington. After what the old servant had just told her, she knew now that she couldn’t risk upsetting the man. Better yet, it only confirmed that she needed to get away from him, and soon.
Tavington caught Juliana’s eye, but only briefly. His eyes flitted to O’Hara before he returned his attention to his little group. Juliana looked at O’Hara again and accepted the drink from him.
“Thank you,” she said, allowing herself to relax. She took a sip, grateful that someone was actually showing her even a little kindness.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” O’Hara asked her.
Truthfully, Juliana was having a horrible time. But she didn’t want to insult anyone, and she didn’t want to lie and say that she was having a good time.
“It’s a very nice party,” Juliana said. “Everything’s so pretty.”
“There’s often a misconception that we British are incapable of having a good time,” O’Hara said. “But I assure you that we do know how to have fun every now and then.”
“I see,” Juliana said. She looked around at the ballroom. This was probably about the dullest party she’d ever been to. The music was dry, and no one danced. If this was what a ‘fun’ party looked like, Juliana would hate to see a boring one.
O’Hara took Juliana’s glass from her and placed it on a little side table with his own. “Would you mind stepping outside with me?” he asked her. “There’s something I’d like to show you.” He saw Juliana’s dark eyes travel across the room to where Tavington stood. “He won’t mind, I assure you.”
Juliana looked at O’Hara, convinced that it would be harmless to go outside with him for a few minutes. “All right,” she said. O’Hara unexpectedly offered his arm to her, and she timidly accepted. They slipped out of the grand room, crossed a foyer, and stepped outside.
Juliana found herself on a large porch overlooking Charlestown Harbor. For a brief moment, she fancied herself running towards that harbor, jumping in, and swimming away from Tavington and the dismal life he had imposed on her.
“It’s quite a sight isn’t it?” O’Hara commented.
“I never seen anything like it before,” Juliana said. She looked out at the ships, enchanted by the sight of their lights reflected off the inky water.
Together, Juliana and O’Hara descended the porch steps. The entire lawn was completely desolate, and because it was, Juliana didn’t feel so relaxed anymore.
O’Hara and Juliana walked along at a meandering pace, still arm-in-arm. “Those,” O’Hara said, pointing to the ships once more, “are a specimen of the world’s finest and most advanced navy. The British navy is unparalleled by any other naval operation in the world.”
They stopped near a stone bench where O’Hara offered Juliana a seat. She sat and continued to look nervously out at the lit ships. “That’s quite an impressive accomplishment,” Juliana said, as O’Hara sat down beside her. She didn’t dare look at him. Even so, she could feel his blue gaze burning into her.
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” O’Hara said. He moved closer to Juliana.
“My, my, it’s quite cool out here tonight,” Juliana commented, clawing for anything that would get her out of this horrible situation which she’d gotten herself into.
“You’re a very pretty girl,” O’Hara told her. “If you’re cold, my dear, I’m sure that I could keep you warm.”
Juliana looked at him. Before she had time to regret the decision, O’Hara’s lips were pressed firmly against hers.
He broke from her momentarily but wrapped his arms firmly around her waist and pulled her body to his. “I just gave you a compliment,” he said. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Thank you,” Juliana managed quietly, petrified.
“I’ve never had the pleasure of being with a dark girl before. I think we’ll both like it if you were my first.” He moved in fast and close, covering Juliana’s lips with his own again. This time, she immediately resisted the maneuver, pushing him away. O’Hara apparently didn’t take the hint and persisted, moving in for another kiss and more. He placed his hands on her body, roughly caressing parts that no one had ever touched before, and she made it clear that she didn’t appreciate it.
“No … please stop,” Juliana pleaded, pushing against his chest in unsuccessful attempts to free herself of him. “Please – stop.”
“Come now, my sweet – you’ll like it.” O’Hara kissed her again, paying no mind to her fervent protests.