Juliana perched herself on a stool in the kitchen, and watched Eleanor as she traveled back and forth between the counter and the hearth fire, working. Juliana felt drained, having endured the previous night with Tavington at Lewis’ house. In addition to the emotional toll the ordeal had taken on Juliana, she and Tavington hadn’t returned home until very late in the evening, after midnight. Eleanor had been awake until after Juliana had drifted off to sleep. Now, she was working diligently, as if she’d gotten a full night of rest.
“What’s for dinner tonight, Eleanor?” Juliana asked. She picked up a potato and looked it over.
Eleanor didn’t look up from her mixing bowl. “Somethin’ special,” she merely said.
Juliana grinned at Eleanor’s mysterious reply. “So, what is it?”
“Roast,” Eleanor said.
Juliana believed there was probably more to it than just ‘roast’. “That sounds appetizin’,” she said.
“It will be, especially for the colonel,” Eleanor said. This time she did look up from the bowl at Juliana.
“Is roast his favorite or somethin’?” Juliana asked.
“It’s one of ’em,” Eleanor said. “And I’m gonna make it extra special for him tonight.”
“That sounds like a nice thing to do. You’re a better person than I am. If I were cookin’ for him, I’d have half a mind to poison him. And here I thought you couldn’t stand him. What’s gonna be so special about this roast you’re cookin’ for him tonight?”
“It’s gonna be in the gravy,” Eleanor said. She reached over and pointed to a small bag that didn’t seem to fit in with any of the other cooking ingredients on the table. Juliana, curious, picked up the bag. She nearly dropped it because of what was on the label.
“Rat poison … ” Juliana’s voice trailed. She looked at Eleanor and kept her voice low when she spoke again. “What in God’s name are you doin’? You can’t do this.”
Eleanor lowered her voice so that it matched Juliana’s tone. “Well, I am. That man is pure evil. I woulda thought that you, more than anybody else, would know that. You should be happy. I’ll be doin’ the world a favor by gettin’ rid of him.” She looked at Juliana sternly. She didn’t say anything, but Juliana understood clearly what she was to do. She was supposed to keep her mouth shut and go along with this.
And why shouldn’t she? Juliana had as much to gain from Tavington’s death as Eleanor and Nathan, maybe even more. If Eleanor could poison Tavington, and the three of them could possibly get away and distance themselves from the incident, they might have a fighting chance.
Juliana put the bag of fatal seasoning back down on the countertop. “Won’t he taste it?” she asked.
“Won’t be enough in there for him to taste it,” Eleanor replied. “it don’t take much to get the job done.”
Juliana couldn’t force herself to behave normally after discovering Eleanor and Nathan’s plot. Juliana had learned that Nathan was indeed a party to the scheme, as he had been the one to acquire the poison in the first place. He’d gotten it from town under the common presumption that it would be used to take care of a rodent problem.
Now, Juliana sat at the dinner table, anxious but guarded, not wanting to let on to Tavington that anything was out of the ordinary. If she could just get through this, she would be out of this God-forsaken house and home free. She watched Eleanor bring out a pitcher and then the appetizers. Eleanor had told Juliana that the poison would be in the gravy on the roast and that everything else would be safe to eat and drink. So, everything depended on whether Tavington ate the roast or not. Juliana hoped the colonel was hungry.
Juliana had little appetite this night but was encouraged to see Tavington finish the appetizer. She hoped he hadn’t filled up on that first course. She would find out soon, because Eleanor was bringing out the main course now. She brought out the entrées on individual plates.
Juliana was livid with anticipation as Eleanor placed a plate before either of them and returned to the kitchen. Juliana watched Tavington take a drink of water. In just a matter of moments, she would be free of him, after two months of arduous captivity. The freedom was so close, Juliana could feel it on the tip of her tongue.
She watched Tavington pick up his fork and knife. She watched him slice at the tender slab of meant, which had been roasted to perfection. It was a beautiful roast, one that no one would ever suspect of being deadly. Juliana watched him stab the small, sliced piece of meat with his fork and raise it to his mouth. A few more seconds, and he would eat what was on the fork, and he would probably be dead not long after that, if Eleanor had put enough poison in the sauce. Juliana was only a few desperate minutes from freedom.
But before Tavington could guide the fork to his lips, before the tainted meat could touch his tongue so the poison could take effect and do its job, Juliana was out of her seat.
“Colonel, no!” Juliana exclaimed, already at his side. “Don’t eat it; it’s poisoned.”
Tavington regarded her quizzically, then skeptically. “Poisoned? Juliana, if this is your idea of a joke, it isn’t very funny.” He’d lowered his fork and the meat, but now raised it again, fully intending to partake of his meal.
“Colonel, don’t – please,” Juliana practically begged. She reached out and grabbed the fork and his dinner plate away from him.
Tavington stood, outraged. “Juliana, what on earth has gotten into you? I demand that you place my dinner back on the table at once!”
“I can’t, Colonel. Eleanor is tryin’ to poison you. If you eat this, you’ll die.”
“What?” Tavington asked, still skeptical. “Of all the bloody nonsense I’ve ever heard … Eleanor! Get in here!”
Eleanor emerged from the kitchen immediately. “Yes, sir?” she said.
“Juliana has made the most preposterous allegation,” Tavington said. “She claims that you have poisoned my food and are trying to kill me.”
Eleanor didn’t reply. She merely turned to Juliana in surprise. The surprise quickly turned into a glare.
“It isn’t an accusation, Colonel,” Juliana proclaimed. “It’s the truth.”
“This is ridiculous,” Tavington said. He turned to Juliana, treating her to a glare of his own. “If you don’t quit behaving so poorly, you’re going to regret it.”
Juliana took his warning seriously, but wasn’t deterred from her mission of proving the truth. She turned to Eleanor, the fork and plate still in hand. “If this roast is perfectly safe, why don’t you take a bite?” she dared Eleanor. She moved the thrust the meat toward Eleanor, who instinctively shrunk back, knowing what was in the gravy.
“What’s the matter, Eleanor?” Juliana asked. “You don’t like roast all of a sudden?”
Tavington watched the interaction with growing interest, and realized that Juliana had been right about Eleanor. He also realized how close he’d come to meeting death.
He looked at Eleanor, unnerved. He didn’t want to believe that she would try to do something like this, but the evidence was right there in front of him.
“You should know that Nathan was part of this, too,” Juliana revealed. She didn’t even know what she was doing, why she was revealing all this to Tavington. Wasn’t he supposed to be the common enemy, here? Why was she saving his life and dooming herself to a useless existence in the process. She felt rotten inside because she knew that Eleanor’s fate was going to be nothing good. But there was also something inside of her that made her feel as if she would have felt even worse if she’d let Tavington consume that meat. She hated Tavington as much as the next person, but poisoning his food, not giving him a fair chance to defend himself was sneaky and underhanded. It was a tactic Tavington would adopt, and Juliana knew that she was above that kind of trickery. Apparently, Eleanor hadn’t been. And now she would probably pay for it with her life.