I'm finally doing it and doing it the right way. First half of this story is going to be very much the same with some minor but important edits. I hope you will enjoy it. It will hopefully fill in the major plot holes and make the story cleaner and more logical.
I want to thank everyone who still reads this and takes the time to comment for being so patient with me after so long and sticking with it. I am very grateful!
There was something about spring that had always brightened her spirits after a long winter. Everything came back to life. The grey landscape melted away and was replaced with vivid greens, beautiful flowers, blue skies and travelers of all walks of life. She had loved it since she was a little girl meeting the people that cut through their land to get to market. Farmers, tailors, bakers, tanners, frontiersman, Indians, people who lived in mansions and people who lived in hovels. All had a different story to tell and until last year, when her father decided she was now of an age where it was deemed inappropriate, she had loved being able to meet so many different types of people. She would offer them a drink for the road, invited to them pluck the berries and fruits from their land. She was well known and loved throughout the New York countryside.
All these memories of spring flooded through her as she sat by the open window in the first floor drawing room. It was a day perfect for riding. Last year she would have been out since sunrise, not return till past midday, and return to the fields for a walk well into the evening. Yet today when she awoke to ride her father informed her she would be remaining within the house for the duration of the week. If, if, Jonathon finished his tasks for the day, which would be mounting now that the land was once again ready for cultivation, she could go out if he wished to escort her.
The spring had come and not only vegetation was walking back up, but the army was too. Disciplined regiments of redcoats would be patrolling, marauding hordes of rebels would be scouring, and despite her father's deep and genuine love and respect for the redcoats that protected them, they had something fundamentally important in common with the rebel army. They were men, and men, when their blood was hot, when they were far from the tempering touch of a woman, might do things they otherwise would not. It was for this reason her home had now become a prison.
She stared out the window, deciding rather than to make the most of her day, to think about all the things she could be doing today if her father were not so unfair. Her thoughts turned from the leisure activities she was not able to do to a more disappointing track and she let her thoughts wonder. Her cousin would be leaving to fight soon and she could not even go for a simple walk because of her sex. Sometimes she wished she had been born a man. Her father would not protest to letting his son out on a morning ride.
She had been lamenting her misfortune for nearly two hours, sitting with her blank sketch pad in her lap, when she saw the first rider approach. It was not uncommon for men form the city to come see her father, but what drew her attention was the red coat the rider wore. She sat up straight, chin lifted, and strained to see what the rider would do. If he were simply a scout he might turn a few hundred yards from the house. Instead he continued to approach and she stood when he was just outside the home. He jumped from the horse and tied it to the hitching post. She remained hunched over, watching him, and when she saw him coming to the front door she straightened and hurried into the hall.
The knock on the door was a loud, pounding thudding and the doorman, who really served many purposes in the house, hurried down the stairs, anxious not to be caught away from his post.
"Good day, Miss Whitmore," he greeted her kindly, a nod of the head.
"George," she replied and he opened the door. As he did her father stepped from his study, oddly angry upon finding her in the hallway. The soldier stepped inside as her father frowned at her.
"Jane, back into the drawing room," he ordered but she didn't move. She looked at the soldier, finding him to be of low rank, but he was as clean and proper as any English soldier you would find. She had once heard a soldier a few miles away had been flogged because his coat had a smudge of coal from a fire the night before on it.
"Soldier," her father greeted and the young man removed his hat, tucking it under his right arm, and then retrieved a letter from under his left. Her father took it, opened it, read it, and nodded. "The rooms are prepared."
She frowned. The servants had been opening up the house and preparing the guest rooms for weeks now, but that had not seemed odd to her until now. Her father always had the house ready for visitors by the time spring came. He would never allow a friend or colleague to come to the home without being ready to offer them a place to stay. Why a redcoat would be here for prepared rooms she did not know. After he father's warnings to her about soldiers, she could not believe he would agree to house any. The soldier put his hat back on his head and left.
"Papa?" she asked once the door was closed but he ignored her.
"George, have everyone ready to help bring in their things within the hour and have the cook begin preparing something to eat, a stew and fresh bread. Get the casks of wine out as well."
"Papa?" she asked again when George hurried to obey his orders.
"Jane, you are to remain in the drawing room for the afternoon, I'll not have you getting in the way of the servants. Their job is difficult enough without constantly having to maneuver around you."
"Papa!" she shouted as he turned and he paused, surprised at her annoyance. "What's happening?"
"We're to have the privilege and honor of housing five of his majesty's officers for the coming fighting season. You will be moved into the guest room beside your mother's and mine," he informed her as if he were speaking of the weather. He turned to walk up the stairs and she hurried after him. She was indignant.
"Why must I move?" she asked, hurried behind him, lifting her skirts with both hands so she could match her father's long strides.
"You'll not be sleeping on the same floor as five strangers, grown men, soldiers!" he shook his head as if she were a small child again.
"I should not be punished because they mean to use our home as a barracks," she argued, chasing him still. Her father was a man who could walk at an amazing speed considering how short he was and how plump he had grown. His legs moved quickly and he was always walking with purpose. Her own legs, much longer than his, were challenged to keep pace with him.
"You should be honored, my dear," he said with disinterest and he opened the door to her mother's personal sitting room. She was lounging on the couch, a damp cloth over her eyes.
"My love," her father said, voice full of affection. "The officers will be arriving soon."
"Thank you, Richard," she murmured, holding out a hand in his direction, fingers searching lazily. He went to her side, a smile on his face, and gently took her hand in his. "Will you have my tea brought up early?"
"Of course, my dear," he said and after a gentle squeeze of her hand he turned and walked past Jane.
"Mother," she began but her mother waved a hand tiredly. She'd never really recovered from a falling spell she suffered a few years ago. Jane had been with her when she fell from the chair, muscles tightening, arms spasming, a terrifying gurgling coming from her throat. She had flailed on the floor near a half hour and it was the only time she had ever seen her father cry. He had cradled her head as she squirmed, screaming for the doctor to be brought. He did not seem to remember in that moment it would take hours to have a doctor at the home. She had come out of it but had suffered similar attacks since and often was struck with debilitating headaches.
Not wishing to bother her mother she turned angrily and hurried from the room.
"Father!" she called, following him back down the stairs.
"Jane, do not fight me," he cautioned and she sighed with exasperation.
"I should not be forced to endure such upheaval. To move all of my belongings for a summer?"
"If we are gracious enough hosts they might be inclined to stay out the war," her father said. He was far too pleased with the idea.
She wished she could tell her father the thought of housing English soldiers was repugnant to her, but her only recourse was using the childish and selfish, though very real, desire to keep her room and her life intact.
"We have a duty to our King, Jane," he reminded her. She sighed with exasperation and the house seemed to spring to life in a single moment. Servants bustled, her father was barking orders, and the air was filled with chatter of excitement, wonder, and anxiety. She was ordered by her father to collect that which was of most importance to her in her room and bring it into the room her father had chosen for her.
Her jaw clenched and she obeyed with a childish pout. Her cheeks were flushed the entire time and she her heart thudded angrily. She wanted no British officer using her room as a base of operations.
She had just got the last of her essentials out of her room and to the new room, which she disliked immediately and was on her way down to the drawing room when the soldiers arrived. Just as she got into the hall there was a commotion outside; the sound of horse hooves on the ground, carts creaking, men shouting out to each other. She hurried toward her open window. Five men were on horseback, the officers she gathered, but a small band of soldiers were with them as well. There was a string of covered wagons behind the officers and she had no doubt they were their belongings.
She leaned out to get a better look and watched as the officers dismounted. Most of them were unimpressive. Their uniforms contained the trappings of the upper ranks but they did little to impress her. The other ladies she would speak with at church or spend the afternoon gossiping over tea with were filled with excitement at the mere prospect of seeing an officer. They looked so handsome in their uniforms. They would gush on and on for hours. Jane found them handsome, but nothing to swoon over.
One did catch her eye, but it had nothing to do with the spectacular nature of his uniform. What impressed her was his height. All the men she saw appeared tall, as most military men were, but this man towered above his comrades, back straight, shoulders broad, torso and legs long. Despite the impressive height he still held himself regally, body strong but lean. As he walked, she could see he did not have the odd gait that many lanky men his height usually possessed.
His back was too her as he dismounted his horse and handed it to a soldier, but as he turned to walk toward the front steps she was able to see his uniform more closely. He appeared to be a major, from what she remembered of military uniforms. He had a red sash around his middle, a gold epaulette on his shoulder, and a gorget around his chest. The saber that rested on his hip had an intricately designed hilt, but she could not see it well from where she was. Adjutant General, she observed.
His lips were set in a grim line and he squinted slightly as the sun shone into his eyes. His hat did little to block out the sun at this angle. He had a large nose and a strong jaw, but it came together well on his face. His individual features, taken alone, could not be considered handsome, but put all together he was pleasing to the eye. She was slightly surprised at how young he was for a major. He turned his head as he reached the stoop and she jumped back so he would not find her staring. She settled down in her chair, picking up her sketch book, and waited. She listened as the front door was opened and her father's voice greeted the officers.
"Good day, Major! Good day. I trust your journey was uneventful?"
"Quite," the major responded, voice not particularly deep, but still quite masculine. He sounded bored, and even with the single word spoken, Jane could hear he was of the upper class.
"Can I offer you something to drink? A bite to eat. I've had some light food prepared," her father informed him, sounding far too subservient for Jane's liking. She waited, ears straining.
"I will eat when my business is conducted to my pleasure," he answered. She listened to footsteps coming from the hall and heard him approaching. She waited, looking down at her sketchpad, and brought up her pencil. She left it there, thinking about what she should pretend she was drawing.
"I'd like a room with more than a single window. Two will suffice. Facing the east if at all possible. I rise early and retire earlier still. I wish not to have the sun disrupt my sleeping schedule."
His voice was disinterested and arrogant. She looked up as his voice grew louder and saw him step in front of the open door. He was pulling off a pair of black gloves one finger at a time. He looked around, evaluating the room, before his eyes found her. He made no move to greet her, his face bored and his eyes critical.
"Of course, sir, I've a perfect room for you," her father said and Jane knew it was her own. The reason the Major gave for wanting it were the precise reasons she kept it.
"And I'll not be disturbed between six and eleven in the morning. It is when I do my writing," he said, eyes still on her, but upon finishing he looked back to her father. He had both gloves off now and held them in his hand. He held himself like a gentleman but he had a decidedly rugged look about him. She would not have thought him out of place to see him in a tavern, swallowing down a pint of ail with a farmer or blacksmith.
"I will have it known, sir," her father said.
"Dinner will be served at five thirty," he said and she frowned. Her father, who stepped into her vision, also had a frown on his face.
"We generally eat around seven, sir."
"And now we will eat at five thirty," he said curtly. Jane's lips parted at the audacity. She did not like this man at all. He stepped into the drawing room and gazed out the window beside her, looking over the bustling soldiers. She felt her face flame at his arrogance. She'd not known he existed more than two minutes and she already detested him. "How far are the stables?"
"Just a five-minute walk, Major," her father said and Jane could see his forehead covered with a light sheen of sweat, cheeks flushed. He was clearly intimidated. Jane herself was nervous to greet him.
"Your stable hand is trustworthy?" he asked. "My horse if of great importance to me. He is not a tool but a companion and friend. Should anything happen to him while in your care, I shall hold you personally responsible."
"Jonathan Davis has been with us for many, many years. I assure you, your horse is in good hands with him."
"And is this your… wife?" the major asked, looking down at her and she swallowed hard, throat dry.
"My daughter, sir," her father said motioning for her to get to her feet. She did, forcing a smile. She kept her hands crossed in front of her, holding her sketch pad to her middle. "Jane, Adjutant General, Major John Reynolds. Major, my daughter Miss Jane Whitmore."
"Miss Whitmore," he greeted, holding a hand out for her. She placed hers in his and he angled the back of her hand toward him delicately. His lips ghosted over her skin, it clearly an obligatory gesture of respect. His lips did not maul her skin like many gentlemen who she had to meet in the past. "A pleasure."
"An honor, Major," she lied. He did not seem terribly impressed with her and her annoyance grew further. She had never believed herself beautiful and his clear lack of interest in her stung.
"How many servants do you employ?" he asked her father, looking out the window once more before turning and walking back to the hallway.
"Twenty-five, sir," her father told him, following.
"I'll have no one enter my quarters without permission. I can make my own bed, prepare my own laundry, I shall deliver it to your laundress every Sunday. It shall be done the same day."
"I will tell her at once," her father said and Jane followed them into the hall, unnoticed by both. Standing, she came to the Major's shoulders. She was not used to being towered over in such a manner. She was tall for a woman. Her father had told her once, quite cruelly, though it had not been his intention, that she had a jaw too square for a woman and height resembling that of a man. Most of her suitors in the past had either been negligibly taller, the same height, or even slightly shorter.
"I do not eat lamb. I enjoy fish and beef is tolerable. Chicken upsets my stomach. I'll not touch it. Steaks shall be prepared irregularly," he instructed, continuing on through the house. Jane walked backward slowly and once she felt the door at her back, opened it as quietly as she could and stepped outside. She passed two soldiers carrying in a large chest and held the door open for them. They thanked her. Their arms trembled and sweat dribbled down their temples.
She moved past the bustle of soldiers, most not paying her any mind, focused on the task at hand. She walked down toward the stables at a brisk pace, wishing to speak to Jonathon. She passed a few soldiers as she went, but none of them did more than stare at her just a little too long.
"Jonathan?" she called as she arrived at the stables. She waited a moment and sure enough he stepped outside, holding a rag in his dirty hands.
"Have you come to ride?" he asked. "I had Constantine ready this morning but you didn't come."
He ran a hand through his hair, flipping the blond mess to the side. His clothing was filthy, as it always was, but his grey eyes twinkled and he had a little smile on his lips.
"No, have you heard what's happening?" she asked, coming closer to him. He frowned.
"I saw some soldiers," he said, motioning toward his left with the rag still in his hand. "Is everything alright?"
"My father invited soldiers to lodge there," she explained. "A rather infuriating Major is the commanding officer. Adjutant General. The arrogance…"
"He's an English officer," Jonathan smiled. "Of course he's infuriating."
She glanced over her shoulder, stepping closer again.
"Why do you think they are here?"
"No idea," he shrugged. "But we are close to Jersey. You be careful. Men like that…"
He shook his head.
"They'll be stabling here then?" he asked and she nodded.
"I'll make sure Constantine adjusts well," he promised. She thanked him and waited a moment.
"Will you tell Hank for me?" she asked Jonathan paused and considered. He looked skeptical.
"I'll tell him they are here but… don't instigate anything, Jane. I know you. Let the militia fight, you just get through the spring and summer."
She frowned deeply.
"I just want you to tell Hank," she argued. He agreed reluctantly but seemed unconvinced.
"I have to get ready for the horses," he said shortly and she frowned at him.
"Are you going to see Hank tonight? Or Alex?"
"Probably," he answered. "I'll tell them. Don't worry. I'll see them before they leave."
A breeze cut through the air and she fought a shiver.
"I will return to the home now then," she offered and Jonathon remained quiet. He was thoughtful. Jonathan always grew angry when speaking about fighting the British and sometimes she thought his mother's health was merely an excuse. She was not so sure he would have gone to join the militia even if he did not have responsibilities at home. Her own interest in her cousin's enlistment only ever seemed to annoy him.
"Do not let him move Constantine," she told Jonathon before leaving. "The major will try and move him but I don't want him moved."
"If an officer wants him moved, I have to move him," he replied and she frowned.
"You can tell him no," she snapped, knowing the officer that would demand the larger stall for his apparent beloved horse.
"I am a stable hand. I can't say no to a major in the British army," Jonathon said, turning his back to her.
"Certainly you can," she argued, face flushed. She was angry he would not stand up for her. "Then simply call me and I will tell him no."
"Go home, Jane," Jonathon said. She huffed but did as she was told.
She walked back into the house to find it filled with soldiers. They were carrying in trunks and furniture, more items than she thought men needed when going to war. She cast her silent judgment on them. It was simply in keeping with everything she detested about the English.
With each step she climbed, anger rose. She was angry at the British for being there and she was angry at Jonathan for not showing more courage.
She went to her room, positive she would find him there. As she entered he sat behind a desk. It was new; dark mahogany, beautiful, rather large and facing the door, unlike her own desk, which was pressed up against the window. Even seated you could not help but appreciate the size of him. He sat looking down at whatever was on the paper before him, back straight, shoulders rigid, face set in a neutral expression, lips a straight line. His wig was white, concealing his true hair color, but he had the most piercing eyes she had ever seen and when they darted upward, turning his attention from the paper before him to her, she almost turned back around and left the room. He blinked once, waiting, and when she remained silent, a thick but well-manicured eyebrow quirked.
"Can I be of assistance?" he asked after a moment.
"I thought I might make a request of you, Major. If I might call on your honor as a gentleman."
"Oh?" he asked, curious. He rested his pen to the side, observing his hand as he put it down, before turning his eyes back on her. "Have you been harassed? I'll have them flogged at once."
"No, sir," she frowned. "No… no one has said a word to me."
"I have found a glance can be just as offensive as a word."
She took note that he was willing to have a man flogged for a glance.
"It is actually something totally within your control," she informed him. He waited, not offering a response. "I was hopeful that you would not move my horse from his stall. I understand you care for your horse, but I care for mine as well and I do not wish him to be uprooted. He can be temperamental when his schedule is disturbed."
"Is the stall so much more desirable than the others that you fear I would demand it?" he asked.
"All stalls are very good, but it is the largest," she admitted to him.
"I shall grant you this favor," he said and her eyebrows rose at the way his assent was worded. It was hardly a great favor.
"And should another officer demand it?" she asked. He looked back up from his paper, apparently annoyed.
"I shall make it clear the stall shall not be touched," he assured her.
"Thank you, Major. And I trust you will not rearrange my room too drastically," she added and turned to leave. He stopped her in the doorway.
"You should be pleased, Miss Whitmore, that you are able to serve the army in such a way. Your King would thank you for your loyal service."
When she turned he was standing, walking around the side of the desk, fingers pressed to maps laid out on his desk.
"Perhaps you should consider placing your womanish desires and fancies to the side and instead focus on your duty as a loyal subject to his Majesty the King," he said. "Sacrifice, Miss Whitmore. We all must make one. As a woman, yours should be no less difficult than a man's."
"I am perfectly willing to make sacrifice," she answered as calmly as she could. If she had the smallest opportunity to sacrifice something for the patriot cause, she would do so in a heartbeat. Jonathan's hesitancy came back to her mind and her contempt for him grew.
"Then do so," he answered. "And do so with pride."
He stepped past her.
"We all must play our role, Miss Whitmore. Yours is no less important than mine," he lectured and she was surprised to find he was not being disingenuous as he said it. "If you would only embrace it, you might not find yourself so… choleric."
He stood in the doorway, motioning to the hallway, face unmovable.
"Now, if you would please, I've much work to see to before dinner," he informed her. She felt her cheeks burn red and she gave him a smile, tight and forced. His own mouth morphed into a tight and uncomfortable smile, both as obvious as the other.
"I look forward to seeing you again at five thirty, Major. I only trust you will find my mood more agreeable. I do not wish to cause any discomfort to one of his majesty's marines."
"I am quite certain I will find your mood far more pleasing," he agreed. Her smiled turned yet more wooden as she looked up at him, straining her neck to hold eye contact. That was not a kind gesture to display good faith. It sounded dangerously like an order to her, a warning. She held eye contact with him, her eyes as hard as his, her smile as stiff, her jaw as clenched.
"Good day to you, sir. If you have any need of me, please do not hesitate to call for me."
"I shan't," he told her, stepped back, and slowly closed the door in her face.
Her father knew her well enough to know the headache she professed to have was at the very least not bad enough to get out of dinner with five of England's most esteemed gentleman. In truth, she was not in the slightest bit of discomfort but she was so enraged by the situation in which she now found herself that she had hoped to avoid a night of conversation with them.
She had hoped to avoid the necessity of smiling prettily, pretending they were the most interesting men in all the world. She would be forced to pretend their accents were enough to make her fall in love with a single hearing of them. She would be forced to pretend that their ranks made them more respectable than any other gentleman she'd ever had the pleasure of knowing. She had grown well adept to deceiving men in such a way, having to pretend she would ever marry any of the men her father had put in front of her, only to refuse out right once she was alone with her father.
She simply did not want to have to go through the effort tonight. She was too tired to fake the smiles and giggles. She had done what she considered a very good job faking illness, but her father considered it inexcusable to be absent from the welcoming dinner. It was to be a grand affair, despite it's incredibly early start time. She had a terrible fear he meant to drag her out should any of the officers be bachelors. Her only consolation was the hope that she would not be forced to converse too much with Major Reynolds. She had a strong belief that he would not be one to open the conversation and she certainly planned on keeping her distance from him.
As long as father does not force me into his company, she thought darkly, preparing herself for the tightening of the stay. He was young enough, he was distinguished enough, and if he was rich enough, her father would be making offers for her dowry within a fortnight. She shivered in disgust, but decided it was far too premature a worry to concern herself with just yet.
"Deep breath, miss," Rebecca said. Rebecca was a small woman. She had a small, hesitant voice. She always sounded as though she was unsure of what to say. She had red cheeks and dull brown hair. She was not ugly but nothing special to look at. Jane obeyed and sucked in a deep breath. As she did Rebecca yanked hard. She felt the stay tighten around her, pulling everything in painfully. She let out the breath once it was tied, and as she took in another, she felt the familiar constriction around her waist and ribs.
"Too tight, Miss?"
"If it was not I would be wearing it improperly," she breathed, touching her ribs. Rebecca returned her smile and moved to collect the extra pins for her hair. She did not put them in, instead placing them on her desk, and went to fetch the gown.
"It is all very exciting isn't it, Miss? Such a sight in their uniforms, marching about the place," she smiled dreamily as she thought of it. Jane forced a smile and looked to the mirror. "I do so love this dress miss. A very good choice."
"Thank you, Rebecca," she said but felt it was a little too much for the occasion. Of course, she was certain if George Washington were to come to her dinner table she would have worn this very gown. She had to remember this was supposed to be of great importance to her.
"It is of the colonial style," she mused. "I doubt any of them will be impressed with it."
"I have heard the English prefer the French style, the colonies, the English style, and the French find the colonial style… charming," she answered, reaching for the pins. "I read it, I did."
Jane knew full well Rebecca could not read.
"I would not be so surprised," she answered. She ran her hands over the bodice, making sure the edge of her stomacher was not visible. "I've no real interest to impress to them… certainly not Major Reynolds."
"Thinks he's the master of the house now Miss. I was terribly scolded when I brought up the towels he asked for. 'In England we fold them like this' he kept telling me. 'In England we do this.' Well, Miss I've never been to England, I don't know how they do anything over there."
"He seems an ornery man, Becca. Just keep your distance and he will not bother you," she advised. She grabbed Jane's favorite perfume from the vanity and brought it up, adding a conservative amount to her mistress's throat and wrists. She wondered if her father would be angry or pleased with her choice of dress. It one left her arms bare up to the elbow. Hardly scandalous, but it could be considered flirtatious.
"I still say it's exciting. Real gentlemen all the way from the mother country," Rebecca grinned.
"I suppose," she smiled back. "I've met men from England before. Mr. Baker came from Manchester."
"It is different," she said. "They live there… they… they are not colonists…"
Jane frowned and turned away, smoothing her dress out one more time. She knew it was her father when she heard a knock on the door and did not turn as Rebecca hurried to answer it. She gave him a quick curtsey, told him Jane was ready, and hurried off to fulfill her other tasks. Jane turned to face her father, face blank. His cheeks were flushed and he was slightly out of breath but he looked pleased, a smile on his lips.
"You look beautiful," he told her warmly and placed a kiss to her cheek.
"I am not hungry," she informed him dryly.
"Yes… such an early meal will take getting used to but," he held up a finger. "We must be sure the Major is in the best of health from here on out. He's quite the task ahead of him."
He offered her his arm and she took it, walking toward the door.
"Where is mother?" she asked, suddenly worried for her health and her father's good mood faltered a moment.
"She is feeling unwell," he said quietly. She'd never been the same after the falling spells started, but she had heard her father tell her uncle once that the headaches, the tiredness, it had begun after she lost the fourth boy. Her body, her father lamented, was too weak and it was his fault for pushing her so.
"Then I must be the only feminine presence," she sighed and her father chuckled, patting her arm. It was a responsibility she did not like.
"You will be the star of the dinner."
They walked down the stairs and made their way to the dining room. Three of the five officers in the house were present. She had not yet been introduced to them
They varied in age, the youngest being in his mid-twenties with brown hair, blue eyes and a kind smile, the middle had a face that could range from middle thirties to early forties. He had a nasty scar down the right side of his face, the skin wrinkled and pale. The third was a man in his fifties, but kind looking, with soft brown eyes.
"Sirs, might I introduce my dear daughter, Miss Jane Whitmore," her father introduced her and she extended her hand to them. The oldest man took her hand first, kissing it gently, and bowing deeply.
"Miss Whitmore, a genuine pleasure," he greeted her, voice proper but not grating and her smile was genuine. "Captain Frederick Ainsworth at your service. Here," he motioned to the man with the scar, "is Captain Charles Green, and here is Lieutenant Darling."
Both bowed their heads politely, backs straight, hands behind their backs, and she gave them both a nod of greeting.
"The Major is not here yet?" her father asked, almost sounding concerned. All three men looked to the clock, lips turning upward.
"It is not yet five thirty, sir," Lieutenant Darling informed him dryly. She looked to the clock and found it just two minutes south of five thirty.
"Is he so precise?" she asked.
"When he can be," she heard her answer from behind and fought the urge to close her eyes in annoyance. She turned, smile suddenly tight on her face, and found the Major stepping through the doorway. "My time is valuable." He turned to address her father. "Sir."
He greeted her father with a shake of the hand.
"I thank you for making this concession for me."
His voice was so dry and so emotionless, Jane felt it was an obligatory mention of thanks.
"No, sir, thank you," her father said with a grin. Her face flushed when he went and sat at the head of the table. Her father seemed embarrassed but not because of the Major's choice of seat.
"Is there not Captain Boswell we must wait for?" her father asked.
"Punctuality is a virtue. Should he decide not to arrive in time for dinner he shall not eat. Your servants worked hard to have this dinner ready for five thirty. We shall eat at five thirty and not insult their effort," he said, picking up his fork and knife. "And… I believe him absent from the house."
She heard Lieutenants Darling's soft chuckle, saw the smile exchanged between he and Captain Green. The Major looked annoyed, eyes moving around the empty chairs as if he was expecting them to suddenly appear in their seats. Her father noticed the look as well and took the seat her mother usually possessed, at the other end of the table.
She took her seat to the left of the Major but beside her father, and Lieutenant Darling pulled the chair out for her. She thanked him with a smile and was relieved when he sat between her and the Major, separating them.
The servants appeared almost immediately and began to serve the food. Wine was poured, but as a servant began to pour into the Major's glass he held up a hand.
"Oh, no, please," he declined. "I do not drink."
"At all?" her father asked, surprise outweighing his etiquette.
"Occasionally at home… however, I am quite far from home… and I prefer not to partake," he answered, the servant retreating with the wine bottle, taking away the glass that had a small amount. He watched it as it went and Jane could not tell if it was disgust or longing in his eyes. The next round of servants came in next, placing their plates in front of them, already prepared, and she was surprised to find Haddock on her plate and not the chicken that had been planned.
"I am quite fond of haddock," the Major said upon seeing it.
"It is quite a cut I believe," her father said proudly. The major raised his silverware without much ado and began to cut. The other's followed suit and she paused. Her father always began a meal with a toast to the King. She was surprised these soldiers would not make one. Her father hesitated but soon began to eat. She raised a bite to her lips politely but had no desire to eat. .
"Is it local?" the major asked. He held his right hand, knife in the left. The area between her eyes crinkled ever so slightly, noticing the slight discomfort in which he handled the fork.
"Uh, yes, caught just this week," her father said.
"Indeed," the major responded. He still had not brought the meat to his lips, but he had a piece cut away and held it delicately before him. "Is there a good fishing spot nearby?"
"Oh yes! Many!" her father said with excitement. "If you would do me the honor I will show you when you have time to take a break from your busy schedule."
"It would be my privilege," the major replied dryly. "I enjoy fishing."
"There are many streams on my own land you might enjoy, a small river that leads to a large one I do not own. Do you know the southern road toward Jersey that runs through Everton?"
"I know every road there is to know in this colony and the next," the major replied, bringing the fish to his mouth. He placed it in his mouth. He paused a half second, tasting it, and then began to chew, slowly and methodically.
"Have you been in the colonies long?" her father asked. The Major looked up from his plate and said nothing a moment, blinking once.
"Yes… two years in Quebec and then Montreal," he explained. "My regiment returned home but the King requested I remain at the start of the rebellion."
"The King himself?" her father asked with excitement.
"So they said," the major replied, slowly cutting into his fish. "The letter I received bore the King's seal, though that he wrote it with his own hand or gave his own order, I doubt rather seriously. This is wonderful, sir. You have improved my opinion of Haddock."
Even his smile seemed smug and condescending. Her father apparently disagreed with her silent assessment. He smiled back proudly and looked to Jane. The smile she returned was genuine. She loved her father and to see him so genuinely pleased with himself brought her joy.
"I have a wonderful recipe for Haddock. Well, my wife does," Captain Ainsworth cut in and the conversation began to shift. She let her attention drift back to the Major as the conversation took a turn she found hopelessly boring. She never was one to find interest in gardening and fishing.
His eating habits were amazingly particular. It became apparent immediately that his movements while speaking had not been an attempt to remain polite when all eyes were on him.
He stared at his plate as he cut and once an acceptable portion had been cut away he raised it to his lips with a slow and steady motion. He placed it between his lips, slowly slid the fork free, and waited a half second before he began to chew. He sipped at, oddly enough, cooled boiled water a servant had brought him, and he did so after every fourth bite. It was so regular and so steady that she actually took the time to count. It was the same thing every time without change.
He was intensely calm, surprisingly quiet, and frighteningly intimidating. It was impossible for her to even know if he was listening to the conversation. He did not laugh when the table did, but she did not think he was a man who would laugh at jokes he did not find funny. Judging by his face, nothing said at the table was enough to draw his attention.
She startled slightly when he looked up abruptly, eyes locking on hers. She looked down on impulse, realized how obvious that looked, how childish and girlish, and looked back, once again on impulse. He was still looking at her and they held eye contact a few long moments. His face was neither aggressive nor angry, neither offended nor flattered. He continued to stare, looking almost expectant, as if he thought she wanted to say something to him. It became clear he would not be looking away first and she turned her attention toward Captain Ainsworth, vowing never to stare at him so openly again. For the rest of dinner, she felt his eyes on her every so often.
When dinner was over the gentleman rose to retire to the sitting room for drinks and further conversation. Jane was both offended but relieved when her father told her it was not conversation for a lady and that she'd best entertain herself elsewhere.
"Of course father, I believe it time I retire to my room," she said and looked around at the soldiers, not once giving the major a glance. She feared her eyes might linger too long if she did. She put on a bright and excited smile for the men with their eyes on her. "It has been such an exciting day."
"Yes, too much excitement will get you ill," her father agreed gravely. "Officers if you would follow me?"
Her father motioned to the door that led toward the smaller sitting room.
"I fear, sir I shall also retire," the major spoke, surprising her.
"Retire, sir?" her father asked, slightly disappointed.
"Yes… I rise early, difficult to do when you do not retire early," he responded.
"Our major here has more done before the sun rise than any other man on the planet," Ainsworth chuckled warmly, voice filled with admiration. "He does the work of three men."
"Why the King himself requested he remain in the colonies," Green added.
"I doubt it was the King," Reynolds said curtly, matter of fact. There was no part of his tone that suggested he was looking to force more compliments. He thought it, so he said it.
"Our Major here is a modest man of extraordinary skill," Ainsworth said, speaking to her specifically, eyebrows raised, a glimmer in his eye and a smile on His face. She knew immediately he was trying to foster a good opinion of him. Her skin turned pink in discomfort, but it looked like a pretty blush to the men observing her. She glanced at the Major. He looked uncomfortable. It seemed he sensed Ainsworth's meaning and share her aversion to the idea. Despite feeling it herself she felt slightly embarrassed by the look on his face, remembered her square jaw and height. She felt suddenly manish, undesirable, and her skin turned hot, eyes stinging slightly. She raised her chin, hating this man even more. She blinked rapidly.
"He is too kind to me," the Major forced a smile. "If you do not object of course sir, with the supervision of Miss Mills, I would be honored to escort Miss Whitmore upstairs."
It was a purely gentlemanly gesture. She could see it. He wished to be beside her as little as she wished to be beside him. She looked down at her feet. She just wanted to go upstairs and lock the door.
"Yes, yes of course," her father smiled, the only one pleased by Ainsworth's mirth. Reynolds nodded once and stepped forward, offering her his hand. She took it, forcing her own smile. It felt tight. She bid goodnight to the other officers and together they turned toward the hall. She felt Rachel behind her, following them on their way to their bedrooms and she rolled her lips inward, taking a slow breath. She had not felt so terrible since Mathew Sledge threw ink on her and called her an ugly freak when she was eleven.
She blinked a few more times and smiled.
"You must be tired, major," she got out. "Having travelled all day."
"Travelling is part of being a soldier. It is nothing to which I have not grown accustomed."
"All the same, you are a man are you not? Man grows tired no matter their familiarity with lack of sleep."
"I sleep well enough," he answered curtly and she fell silent. They climbed the staircase, which her father told everyone that entered the house was the widest in two hundred miles. She doubted that very much, but it was wide enough to accommodate them both. They reached their floor and he walked past his own (her old door) to drop her off at the one beside her parents'. He released her hand abruptly, letting it fall halfway to her side before she caught it.
"Good night, Miss Whitmore. May your dreams be filled with peace," he told her, bowing stiffly. She watched him as he did. Of course, a man as handsome as he would not find her desirable. His obvious wealth no doubt also played a role. What good might a colonial bride bring him when he might score a daughter of nobility back at home.
"And to you as well, Major," she responded, voice curt and cold. He stared at her a moment, hard and searching, eyes penetrating. His eyes were so intense. She feared she was going to crack, let her hard exterior chip away and burst into tears. Before she did, he lowered his eyes to the floor.
"I am disappointed," he began as he moved away. "Your mood seemed to have improved at dinner. I see I was incorrect in my earlier evaluation."
She stared at his back as he walked away, feeling the confusion coming from Rachel as she watched them.
"Better company had my mood improved." she responded. He paused at his door way, door open, and turned his head to look at her. It was dark in the hall, but the still slightly light day shined in through her window. His lips curved upward but it was a rather disinterested, cold amusement that was shown there.
"Very good, Miss Whitmore," he responded softly, nodding slowly. "Good night."
He stepped inside the room and closed the door softly behind him. Surrendering to her hot temper, she stepped inside and slammed the door shut as hard as she possibly could behind her.