The still night of January 31, 1775, was the worst day Marietta Lockhart would remember forever. Yellow Fever had plagued her mother Abigail Lockhart and eventually claimed her life. Her father Bill had succumbed to habitual drinking to "cure" his depressed and broken state. And for a time, both Marietta and her eldest sister Eleanor struggled to pull free their father from its destructive hold. And then the dreaded news arrived in Brunswick Town, North Carolina roughly a few weeks after April 19, 1775: shots were fired between the British and the colonists at Lexington, Massachusetts. The American Revolutionary War that was both desired and feared by the colonists slipped into reality. It had truly begun, surpassing the point of no return, and Marietta's dream of a peaceful life with her family perished that day along with her father departing to join the militia up north.
The humid summer barged in with a vengeance. The cicadas and other insects were in a state of euphoria, the azure sky barely saw the streaking of clouds, and the summer crops were eagerly soaking up the sunshine. And Marietta's private little garden party held over tea with delicate cookies and sandwiches was disturbed by talks of the war.
As Marietta unfurled her lace parasol, she wondered if these depressing talks of war would ever cease today. But she knew too well that wouldn't be so. Marietta sighed in defeat, tucking a lock of her dark brown hair behind her ear. A light summer breeze tousled her dainty round dress of white sprinkled with lavender-colored flowers. A matching lavender belt snuggly wrapped around her petite waist and lace ruffles were tacked on to the elbow-length sleeves.
"Perhaps the change in weather will silence these dreary talks," Marietta spoke aloud to herself as she walked about her little garden. She glanced behind her at her guests meandering on her small lawn or sitting down for a picnic. "Why not remark on the hot weather or play a game of Blind Man's Bluff? There's plenty of entertainment to be found. But no, we must speak of that subject." She sighed again. "To each his own, I suppose."
Marietta sat down on a stone bench beneath the shade of a large oak tree. She sighed again, closing her parasol.
"I wonder how father fairs at this moment." Her eyes softened. Is he getting enough to eat there? He can forget to eat properly when he's focused. I hope he's being careful. He can be so reckless in his thoughts sometimes. What am I doing? He's fine. I'm sure all's well. I'm just worrying too much.
Marietta clasped her hands over her lap and sighed.
"I am worrying too much."
"There you are, Marietta!" called a delightfully cheery and sweet voice, returning Marietta's engrossed mind to reality.
"Ah, my dear sister. Come; sit with me," Marietta held out her right hand, "and shoo away my woes."
Eleanor took her sister's hand with a smile and a laugh.
"Whatever could make you woeful?"
"Boring men with no sense of propriety and amusement." She smirked at her sister, who only laughed in response. "Look at them"-she nodded her head in the general direction of a small circle of young well-to-do men-"They remind me of old men squabbling about politics."
"Shh! Don't say that." Eleanor playfully smacked her sister's shoulder with her folded fan. "They might hear you."
"That's good. I like having my opinions heard." Marietta smirked.
"Be nice, Marietta."
"I am nice!" laughed Marietta. "You know quite well it was a jest. They're my good friends, but goodness, sometimes their talks of politics and now this insufferable war are exhausting to me. Ah, but I digress. You had caught me thinking when you called out to me. I was thinking about father." Marietta felt a brief squeeze on her hand.
"I miss him, too." Eleanor quickly masked her despondency. "But he'll return. He knows what he's doing. He fought in the French and Indian War, after all, and returned in one piece. All's well, Marietta. You mustn't lose heart."
"No, of course not." Marietta gave a pat to her sister's hand. "I never do. You know that. But enough of listening to your little sister rambling away. How are you? Hasn't your Mr. Pratt arrived yet?"
Eleanor shook her head.
"Unfortunately, he has yet to arrive."
The disappointed expression upon her sister's face made Marietta's heart cringe and her eyebrows furrow slightly. Perhaps I should not have mentioned that, but I was sure he would have already been here. How strange...
"Now, don't you lose heart, Eleanor. He will arrive. You'll see. After all, he never misses a moment to be with you. He adores you, Eleanor. I can see it. I can sense how much he loves you so."
"You truly think so?"
"Of course! I would not fib about something so beautiful and grand as love. You are lucky to have found such a gentle and understanding, respectful, and well-mannered man. He is a fine man with a pleasant face. I am happy for you, Eleanor."
The very words delighted Eleanor's heart, and her face beamed.
"Thank you, Marietta. I'm quite happy to hear you approve of him."
"Well, by the grace of God or by your luck, it would seem your voice had summoned the very man himself. I see Christopher and James has arrived." Marietta waved at the gentlemen.
Eleanor abruptly rose from the bench and turned to look, anxiously gripping her hands over chest.
"What should I do, Marietta? My heart wasn't prepared."
"Breathing would be a fine start," laughed Marietta. "See? All this time you had nothing to worry about, Eleanor."
"Ah, ladies, I must apologize for arriving late," said Christopher Pratt as he removed his black tricorn hat and bowed.
"Yes, it was most unexpected," added James Hayes. "We had a delay."
"Oh? What happened?" asked Marietta.
Christopher took Eleanor's hand and kissed it with a smile before returning his gaze to Marietta.
"Our carriage broke down on our way here. One of the wheels broke. Luckily, we had spares but it took a bit of time to repair."
"Indeed. Had there been a deluge like there was a few weeks ago, we would be worse for wear and likely would return home."
"Goodness! Well, I'm glad both of you are safe."
"Thank you, Eleanor." James smiled. "Your concern is most appreciated." He bowed, taking Eleanor's hand and planting a kiss upon it. James then took Marietta's hand and gave her a long stare as he kissed her hand softly. "I hope you can forgive us for our transgression."
"Worry not, friend. We will not deprive you of today's meal."
"Oh, good! I've been eager all day to eat Eleanor's cooking."
"I'm not that perfect at cooking. You're exaggerating, my love."
"And you're being too modest. I speak only the truth, my dear."
"Well! Well! Look at those two," said James as he approached Marietta and stood beside her. "Aren't they cute?"
Marietta laughed, playfully smacking James on the arm with the back of her right hand.
"Why do I sense sarcasm somewhere in there?"
"Well, perhaps a little sarcasm was in there." A slight grin tugged at the corner of his lips.
Marietta looked up at James with an arched eyebrow. "...A little? Ha! I must take your dear friend's words and say you're exaggerating now."
"I was, yes. You've caught me red-handed, Marietta."
"Indeed! Maybe I shouldn't let you eat our apple pie and stewed duck after all."
James looked at Marietta with a pitiful expression.
"You wound my heart, Marietta. You have my word. I promise will not be sarcastic."
"And you were sarcastic just now."
"It is truly good to see you, Marietta. I miss our talks. It has been a few months. The last time Christopher and I were here together was when your mother was unwell."
Marietta's gaze fled to the ground with her face pained.
"How have you been since?" James placed a reassuring hand upon Marietta's shoulder. "Have you been taking care of yourself? I know you have the habit of neglecting proper food when you're depressed."
"I've been well and so has my sister." Marietta flashed a smile in hopes it would ease her friend's worry. "It is my father I'm worried about. I know not what is happening up north or if the battles go well and if my father is well."
"Ah, yes. War is a dreadful affair and most unpredictable." James looked up at the azure sky. "But you must have faith, Marietta. I'm certain if your father were here right now, he would tell you not to worry. He doesn't like seeing you or Eleanor worry as much as you both often do. You both care about people deeply more than you care about yourselves."
James shifted his body to face Marietta, taking her hands in his.
"But you must promise me, Marietta, that both of you will take care of yourselves. You must not only do this for your sakes but your father's as well."
Marietta blinked, searching his eyes.
"Why do you sound serious, James?"
"I am serious, Marietta."
"No, I meant you're acting as if something grave will happen."
James' worried expression deepened. He released Marietta's hands and turned around, his back facing her. He watched Eleanor and Christopher play a game in the distance. He hadn't realized they had left while he and Marietta were engrossed in conversation. He took a deep breath to steady himself.
"Have you not heard?"
"...Heard what? What are you going on about, James?"
"The British Army is going to invade Brunswick Town. I imagine that's what most of your guests have been mumbling about amongst themselves. There have been talks about it in town and elsewhere. People are concerned, more so those here in Brunswick Town that knows about it. But not only that, Marietta, you know well this town has been dwindling since Governor Tryon moved to his new palace in New Bern and Wilmington has been growing in economic success. People are leaving, Marietta."
"Well, I don't care if people leave or if they arrive. That's their business. I won't move."
James abruptly turned around.
Marietta arched an eyebrow.
"Why? Is it because everyone else is moving away? Again, that is their affair and not mine."
"How stubborn you are, Marietta! It isn't about that! It's about the fact that the British Army is coming. Aren't you concerned about that?"
"Of course I am concerned about it! I'm concerned about this awful war showing up at my door!"
"Then why won't you pack up and live with your aunt in the north?"
"Because I refuse to leave my father's home! I made a promise to him!" she yelled nearly in tears.
"And I refuse to leave you here alone! I will not let the British take you, Marietta! Do you hear me? I won't allow it."
"And I won't give in to fear!" rebutted Marietta as she stared resolutely at James. "You're one of my closest, most trusted friends, James, whom I've known since childhood. But I cannot leave this place."
"You must! Damn it, Marietta"-James grabbed her arms-"if you stay here, they'll kill you!"
"I may be a woman, James, but I can defend myself."
"Not against the British Army, you can't! Marietta, I don't think you understand the situation that's unfolding here. They're well-trained soldiers, not some useless drunkard with a gun. They know how to fight in a war. You don't. You're a woman! They're men unafraid and who won't hesitate to ravish you or worse, end your life for simply being on the wrong side of this damn war. Your skills with the rifle your father taught you aren't going to save you against these pristine, well-trained men of His Majesty."
For some reason, Marietta couldn't respond. She only stared at the ground, clenching her fists at her sides as she pouted. How annoying. I'm not some useless female. I'm not stupid! I know all this. I hate it when he treats me like I'm a clueless woman.
"My apologies. I did not mean to snap at you in the way that I did, but you must understand, Marietta. You must know where this is coming from. I care about you, Marietta. This war and now this news about a British invasion, it concerns me greatly. I want nothing more than to see you and Eleanor safe. I cannot sleep until I know both of you are far from harm's way. Can you put aside your stubbornness and do this for me? If not for me, do it for your sister and father. Please, Marietta."
Marietta slowly raised her eyes to look at James. She was silent for a moment as her mind processed all this news that felt like they were happening far too quickly for her to absorb. She sighed.
"If it'll calm you and Christopher and if my sister is safe, then I will do this. It will not be easy, though, when I tell Eleanor."
"I know. She will likely be more emotional about it than you were. She adores this place."
"I do, too. We promised father we'd wait for him here."
"It would do no good to become a pile of bodies for his return, Marietta. Your lives are far more important to him than this house." James nodded at the two-story white Colonial house. "Visit your aunt in Philadelphia. Pack your belongings tonight and have them sent to your aunt's. Write her a letter, if you need to, explaining the situation."
"What about you and Christopher? Have you two left already?"
"We have, yes, the moment we heard the news a few days ago. We're staying with an old friend in Wilmington."
"Oh." Marietta frowned as she looked at her feet. "We'll be far apart."
"Marietta"-James gently held her chin, lifting her head-"everything will be fine. Don't worry. All of us will find each other again. For now, we must do what we can to keep ourselves safe in this war."
"Now, I must apologize again for being a serious and complete ass." James bowed. "I did not mean to further dampen your garden party. Judging by your guests, I imagine it has been concerning with the talk of war."
"Yes, terribly." Marietta sighed exhaustedly.
"Well, let us alleviate some of that weight, shall we?" James held out his arm for Marietta grasp. "I am hungry. Let us eat and enjoy together."
"I'd love that." Marietta smiled and took his arm, reuniting with Christopher and Eleanor to enjoy the rest of the day together.