Before the hiring of Marietta Lockhart as an assistant at The Drunken Swan in Wilmington, North Carolina, Marietta stared blankly at her unfinished unpacking sprawled upon her new bed. Dumbfounded and feeling rather lightheaded, Marietta could scarcely believe her current situation was her reality.
"How did it come to this?" Marietta muttered to herself as she pulled her worn, embossed leather trunk closer to her side. I couldn't do a thing to stop it. Her brown eyebrows furrowed in anxiety as she lifted the curved lid of her trunk. I despise this war.
In her trunk, she had brought her small wardrobe, her quill pen and inkwell, and select favorite books. Marietta pulled out her diary, one of her fondest items, and sauntered over to her desk and sat down with a sigh. She began to write in her journal:
I have arrived safely in Wilmington, North Carolina. While I am blessed with a new home and a new life, there is much I am yet accustomed to. I truly must thank the Morrisons for their kindness. Such a quaint and snug accommodation!
While there are indeed blessings, I must confess. Grief and loss still weigh heavily upon my heart I can scarcely breathe! But I know I must continue onward. My sister and mother would wish that of me. They taught me to endure. For them, I cannot give up nor lose hope no matter where I dwell.
Today, I was given work. My duties fall short of anything extravagant, but I must make ends meet in this new home of mine. Miss Morrison and her brother explained to me that I am to tend to a Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton of the British Green Dragoons. I am uncertain who this man is. He sounds rather important. Mr. Morrison told me this man has a "temper of hellish fire", but I am certain he was merely trying to frighten me.
I wonder what happened to cause the Morrisons to choose me... Whatever the reasons, I will not leave. I dare not waste the kindness the Morrisons have afforded me. I have a warm bed, happy lodgings, home-cooked meals, and the freedom to read and write in peace if I choose. There is much to be thankful for here.
However, I worry about my aunt and uncle. Ever since they evacuated their New York townhome to relocate to their small farm in Morristown, New Jersey, I have yet to receive a letter from them. I can only hope my letter has reached them safely. I hope they will reply soon. I hope they're safe and well.
A knock sounded, startling Marietta from her deep thoughts.
"Pray, who is it?"
"It's Miss Morrison, dear."
Marietta hastily closed her journal and stowed away her quill pen. She smoothed out her sage green robe à l'anglaise (an English-style gown), the sides of the skirt gathered up. Beneath the gown proudly showed a simple beige petticoat. Marietta folded her hands on her lap.
"You may come in, Miss Morrison."
The door clicked open and Lydia stepped in with a pair of black buckle shoes. She was dressed in a simple gray gown with a white linen apron tied around her waist. The white frilled cap failed to conceal her brown hair, for short curls escaped from the sides.
"How do you do? Was I interruptin' you?"
"No, you were not interruptin' me, Miss Morrison. An' I am mighty fine. I was merely readin' a book. Please, have a seat." Marietta gestured to an empty chair near a small stone fireplace.
With a curtsey and a smile, a twinkle in her green-hazel eyes, Lydia sat down.
"Thank you. Readin' a book, you said? Such a fine pastime," said Lydia with a smile, "to whisk away distractions with a good book. I always believed it's good to have a strong mind. An' please, call me Lydia. I feel we are close already."
Marietta smiled brightly as she rose from her desk chair to join Lydia. "Yes, I agree. By your wish, then, Miss Lydia."
"Pray, what do you think of your room? I know it won't compare to New York, but-"
"I love it, Miss Lydia." Marietta glanced around at the room. "It is snug, an' the room provides me with ample peace for my readin' an' writin'. I will keep well here. Thank you."
"It is of triflin' importance, Miss Marietta. I am mighty proud you like it. My brother Richard insisted I was frettin' too much over your opinion of our place, but I said to him 'it is right good a lady feel at home wherever she is'. He still thinks I'm insane, though. Well, I think he is mighty ridiculous!"
The two ladies giggled.
"Truly, I am proud you be feelin' at home here, Miss Marietta. An' please, don't hesitate to inform Richard or me if you need anythin' at all. We are proud to help you."
Marietta nodded happily. "Thank you! I appreciate your kindness, Miss Lydia." Marietta couldn't stop smiling. How wonderful it was, indeed, to find such a warm and happy home and to feel relief after what she had endured.
"Ah, but where has my mind gone? There is a matter I wish to discuss with you," began Lydia as she tucked a curled lock of her hair beneath her frilled cap.
Here it comes. Marietta shifted in her seat.
"It is 'bout Mr. Tarleton, whom you will tend to till he be fully recovered. The man was brought down with Yellow Fever. A mighty fearsome thing, that. He is recoverin', but our problem lies in the lack of volunteers to tend to him."
"I see..." Marietta gripped her gown. "Am I to assume, then, you wish me to take their place?"
"Yes, Miss Marietta. I am certain you have heard the rumors about him. I would not ask you if I did not think you were suited for the task. I saw in you a strength I believe is fit to combat this gentleman."
"Yes, I understand his temper is ripe."
"Indeed! That is precisely why Richard an' I find ourselves in trouble. Mr. Tarleton not only frightens our volunteers that tend to him but hirin' new volunteers for him is mighty cross-grained." Lydia's face fell into disappointment.
"I understand, Miss Lydia."
"Would it be too much to ask for your help, Miss Marietta?"
Marietta shook her head and smiled. "No, it would not be too much to ask, Miss Lydia. Besides, I wish to return your kindness. You an' Mr. Morrison have done much for me since my arrival."
"Then, it is settled. I must ask you to exercise caution, Miss Marietta. He is our enemy as well as a guest. He's a charming, proper, polite fellow, Miss Marietta, but he's not infamous for nothing."
"I understand, Miss Lydia."
Lydia released a sigh as if she had been holding her breath during the entire conversation. She relaxed her shoulders. "Now that I have spoken to you, I must take my leave. My brother requires me at the inn, I'm certain. Pray, would you like to keep me company, Miss Marietta?"
Marietta smiled. "I would be glad to accompany you, Miss Lydia."
And so, the two ladies wearing gloves and a hooded wool cape departed for The Drunken Swan. It was only a few blocks from the Morrisons' home. The main street was as bustling as it ever was, and redcoats could be seen everywhere, causing Marietta to feel uneasy and rigid when walking past them.
From the front porch of a Colonial two-story brick building, Lydia came to a halt and turned around to face Marietta, taking a hold of her hands.
"Now, Miss Marietta, I must quickly go inside. I hope all's well. I want you to wait here," Lydia guided Marietta around the left corner of the building to a side door left cracked open that led into the inn's kitchen, "an' I will return to you shortly."
Lydia smiled and pressed a hand lightly to Marietta's cheek. "Bless you, dear." She vanished into the kitchen.
Marietta released a sigh as she glanced around the new area. Chickens were clucking and meandering about. Cows and sheep were joining in on the conversation. A pungent odor of horse manure weaved its way from the inn's stable to Marietta's nose. Some men dressed in a green coat, doeskin breeches, and brown jocky boots were gathered there, attracting Marietta's attention. Their black helmets with plumes particularly caught her eyes.
Those men... Marietta's eyes saddened. Images of her home aflame in pitch-black darkness flashed in her mind. It couldn't be them, could it? An image of her sister's lifeless body flashed in her head. Marietta looked away as if to shake herself from her traumatizing thoughts. No. I'm confusing myself. There's no way it's them. It could be any of their cavalrymen. Marietta continued staring at the men in silence.
"You there! Fetch me a new pillow!"
Marietta jolted and clutched her chest as if keeping her heart from leaping out.
"The stuffing in this one is deplorable! I don't believe the bloody dolt understood the meaning of a 'comfortable sleep'."
Marietta spun around in search of the male voice. She looked up and there, looking straight down his aquiline nose at her from an opened second-story window, was a comely young man with unqueued auburn hair spilling over his shoulders. An open frilled linen shirt exposed his chest lightly glistened with sweat. This man's hair... It is as if it's on fire.
"O-Oh!" Marietta blushed upon realizing she was staring at him too long, failing to notice he had been waving at her for attention for some time. "Do you mean me, sir?"
"Yes, you," chuckled the man. "There's no one else down-" His words cut short as he released a chain of coughing. "Bloody hell!"
"A-Are you all right, sir? You sound terrible."
"I'm quite fine. I'm just ravaged by this bloody cough, and my energy feels as if Death himself is sucking it out of me. My body's on fire, my throat parched, and I'm bedridden. Oh, yes, I'm quite fine. Delightful. It's good of you to ask such a question."
Marietta unamusedly stared at the man.
The man sighed. "My apologies, madam. I did not mean to be cross with you. You did not do a thing to warrant such treatment from me. You're certainly not the cause of my illness. I am irritable, for proper sleep has evaded me. If I began again, will you forgive my outburst, madam?" The man smiled, one that Marietta deemed charming from where she stood.
"I can forgive you."
"Good! I seem to be ignored by my assistant, or perhaps he ran off in fear. It matters not which is true. The important piece is he hasn't returned, and I'm in a bit of a bind, you see. I need a pillow that a man can happily rest his weary head upon, but I am bedridden with this accursed illness. I feel I have been blessed by your beautiful presence that rids me of my misery. Will you help me, madam?"
"Surely there is another pillow on your bed, sir."
"I would not be asking for one if there was one here, madam." The man smiled as he leaned forward, propping his right elbow on the windowsill and resting his chin on his hand in a contemplative pose.
Marietta blushed again. She couldn't shake off this sensation he was teasing her. With a furrowed brow, Marietta inquired, "You be mockin' me, sir."
"Not at all, my pretty flower." The man continued smiling.
Marietta skeptically glared at the man. "I don't believe you."
The man laughed. "Believe it or not, I am merely asking for help. Needed comfort, if you will. As for that brain lying deep inside that head of yours, I find it beautiful even from up here."
Marietta blushed again.
"Now, may I have another pillow?" The man held out his hand in a gesture of wanting something.
"What if there ain't a pillow available for use, sir?"
"That would be preposterous, madam, seeing how when last I observed, this place is an inn."
"And if there was a pillow but a man has claimed it...?"
The man laughed. "Ohh, returning fire are we? You're not one to give in, are you?"
Marietta smirked. "Perhaps."
"Ha! You know, you have a better head than most here. Truly, though, madam, I would like a pillow or I will - " The man stopped short and began to waver. And before Marietta could blink, the man disappeared with a thud.
Marietta gasped and dashed inside the inn as if her life depended on it. What am I doing? This is none of my business! She dodged people and tables. Why am I worried about him? That teasing fool can lay there, for all I care! Marietta climbed up the stairs to a door guarded by a pleasant-looking Green Dragoon officer with light brown hair and light blue eyes.
"In there!" Marietta pointed as she leaned forward, fighting to catch her breath.
The man looked at her incredulously. "My apologies, madam, but-"
"Please, sir, let me in! It's urgent!"
"Urgent, you say?" The man laughed. "Indeed. You're not the first lady to try that tactic on me nor are you the last lady."
"Tactic...?" Marietta briefly blushed. "N-No, sir, you miscomprehend me! It ain't like that at all! That man in there... I think he fainted, sir! He fell!"
The Green Dragoon opened the door to see a man sprawled on the wooden floor. "Bloody hell, you're right!" The man ran in along with Marietta. Both of them kneeled beside him. "Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton! Sir! Wake up, sir!"
Tarleton...? Marietta glanced at the captain, observing him as if she didn't understand the language he spoke. Marietta averted her gaze to the sweating, panting man lying on the wooden floor.
"He is burning up but breathing, thankfully," said the captain as he removed his hand from the man's forehead. "He's fatigued no doubt."
"I'll fetch some water," said Marietta as she quickly rose to her feet.
"Thank you." The captain lifted and carried the limp body to the bed. He sighed. "You shouldn't have pushed yourself, sir. Why do you never listen to me?"
Banastre briefly opened his eyes, his vision blurred, and muttered the words, "the game's afoot, my friend" before shutting his eyes again.
"What, sir?" The captain glanced between him and the doorway in confusion.
Shortly after, Marietta returned with a small bowl of water and a cloth.
"Move aside, please, sir."
Marietta promptly knelt beside the bed and dipped the cloth into the water, wringing it and neatly folding it before placing it upon the man's forehead.
"Pray, sir, what is his name?"
"His name's Banastre Tarleton, madam, lieutenant colonel of His Majesty's British Legion."
The British Legion... Marietta's face cringed and she felt a pang in her stomach.
"I see." Marietta fought to conceal her seething anger in front of the British officer. "And you are...?"
"I'm his trusted captain on the battlefield," continued the dragoon. "But for now, I guard the door and protect him while he's bedridden."
"Forgive me, madam, but are you his assistant? He has called for you and was rather upset you disappeared on him."
"Oh! Um - you have the wrong person, sir. He won't be workin' till tomorrow, I'm afraid."
"Oh." The captain's eyes lowered slightly. "That's unfortunate. You were prompt than most, madam, and you seem to know what you are doing, too. If they're not lady's amorously staring at him, most fear him and run away."
"Goodness! He must have a foul character to warrant such a reaction."
"Quite the contrary, madam. He's truly a good man and an excellent commander and friend. He's as loyal as they come. He's simply more spirited and passionate than most, which tends to be misunderstood." The captain nervously laughed. "I thank you for your help, madam. Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton will be fine as long as he rests in bed. I don't know why he was standing by the window."
Marietta blushed and lowered her head, wiping her wet hands on her apron. "I don't know either, sir. That's a rather strange thing to do while sick."
"Indeed! That's what I've told him! Well, no matter. I must return to my duties."
"I overheard somethin'."
The captain stopped in his tracks and turned around to look at Marietta still sitting on the floor. "What did you overhear, madam?"
"Somethin' about needin' a new pillow. Shall I find one for him?"
The captain laughed.
"Why do you laugh?" Marietta furrowed her brows in displeasure. "It's a simple question."
"Forgive me, madam. I wasn't laughing at you. I was laughing at him. So, that's what he meant." He chuckled for a bit.
"...Meant? Meant, what?"
"Don't take this too harshly, madam, but he's rather fond of games. I should say, he's rather fond of teasing women. There is nothing wrong with his pillow, madam. It's perfectly stuffed since this morning. But I thank you for the considerate offer. If you'll excuse me, madam." The captain left the room to stand beside the door again.
"You..." Marietta slowly rose to her feet, securing the bowl of water in her arms. With a blush and a glance at the door, Marietta snatched away the pillow from underneath Banastre's head and threw it at his face. "You cater-cornered idiot! You can have your comfort, sir!"
Marietta stormed out of the bedroom, leaving the captain bewildered but amused, and clambered down the stairs straight to the kitchen. The servants were looking at her in confusion. One of the ladies approached, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Excuse me, miss, are you all right?"
"No, I am not all right!" Marietta unconsciously snapped. "He's infuriating!"
Marietta stammered, "Th-That British fool upstairs! Here. Take this bowl and throw the water out, please. I'm done with it. Thank you."
"Y-Yes, miss." The lady blinked and watched Marietta storm outside as she muttered to herself. "Goodness! I wonder what happened to cause her to be all tied up in knots?"
"Eh, she's probably referrin' to that fella everyone keeps a-talkin' 'bout," joined in a male servant.
"D'you mean that British fella that came in with 'em Green Dragoons?"
"Ohh! Well, poor girl. No wonder she's upset. My! That man's mighty frightful."
"I reckon she ain't comin' back."
With worried expression plastered upon their faces, they watched the young lady disappear from view.
"Who isn't coming back?" inquired a female voice?
"Miss Morrison!" The two servants exclaimed in unison as they bowed.
"Relax. You're quite fine, dears. Tell me, who isn't coming back? Did we lose another?"
"It was that young lady you brought with you, Miss Morrison," said the female servant.
"...Marietta? What happened?"
"It seems like Mr. Tarleton scared her off or somethin', ma'am. I don't know. But she was mighty furious. She ran out of here with a face as red as a cherry." The man whistled and chuckled.
"Hush, now. That's nothing to be laughing about. We can't have our guests being rude either if that's what happened. I'll find her and settle this. You two, return to your duties, please."
"Yes, madam." The two replied in unison with a bow before leaving while Lydia hurriedly went home where she suspected Marietta had fled off to.