A beautiful melody of orchestra music drifted within Cathryn Blankenship's open bedroom window. Exasperated, she pulled back the curtains. She ignored the house ablaze with lights, the murmurs of voices, and stared into the darkened night sky. Most nights she never gave much thought to the wonderment of the sky nor the beauty of the radiant stars twinkling far from the reach of the insignificant being gazing up at its glory. And tonight was no different, except she bemoaned the fact there was no moonlight. How ever was she going to see?
She sighed. Of all things, her father, Governor John Rolf Blankenship, had sent her to her room! Her room! In the midst of the biggest dance of the year celebrating the Hampton Square Race, she had been admonished in the most humiliating fashion. She would never forgive her father! Never!
None of this would have happened if her father hadn't decided to send her across the ocean to her mother's family in London for a season. What a silly notion! She had no intention of leaving Elm Bluff. Though, she well figured sending her over to England had more to do with the ramblings within the colonies. A call for liberty and freedom. Well, she didn't care a twit for politics.
Cathryn glanced out her window. She was going out. Looking down, she wouldn't have worried about the climb at all if she wasn't wearing a ball gown, but she didn't have time to change. Tacy would soon be within to check on her.
Without another thought, she hiked up the hem of her green taffeta, hooking it to her ribbon around her waist. She crunched over and slid through the window. Immediately, she winced. First at the sound of her tight sleeves ripping; then when she maneuvered her legs out the window her petticoat became entangled in a nail head protruding from inside the windowsill.
She stretched her arm up, trying vainly to work the ruffle free of the nail. Her arms ached while her slippers skidded along the side of the house in an attempt to find solid footing. Her hand slapped on the window sill.
"Now, now," the familiar voice of her maid said, as she leaned out the window. "What I'm to do with ya', Miss Cathryn?"
"Tacy," Cathryn whispered frantically. "Tacy, please free my dress. Quickly. I'm going to fall."
Cathryn stole a reluctant glance up at Tacy. Tacy leaned over the windowsill; tresses of her strawberry blonde hair fell over her face. Her fingers lay on the caught material.
"There you go again, Miss Cathryn. Why it took me two hours to do your hair and fix you up just right! And here ya are hanging out your window. Next time tell me. Wasting my time when I got better things to do!"
"Tacy," Cathryn retorted. "I don't have time for this. Come now!"
"Governor Blankenship ain't gonna like it. Not one bit. Here he is sending me up here checking on you. Thinkin' ya desolate up here by yourself. Tho' I would have wagered ya already be long gone. That temper of yours, Miss Cathryn!"
Tacy flicked the caught material over the nail. "Now, my Lady, ya need to get yourself back up here before the Governor gets wind of whatca up to."
"I'll send him a message when I get where I'm going. Tell him I'll come back when the ship has sailed," Cathryn said.
Ignoring her maid, she balanced herself on the window mount below her. The next moment she leaped down on the soft grass, rolling quite unladylike before finding her feet. Cathryn took off. From behind her she heard Tacy muttering under her breath. "There will be other ships!"
The silly goose will go and tell Father! I don't have much time. By golly William had better be where I told him to be!
To say this day had been a disappointment would have been an understatement. In no way had the day played out as she had envisioned. She undid the hem from her belted ribbon and let it fall back into place as she walked away from the house.
Chatter and laughter echoed throughout Elm Bluff. It should have been quite a celebration with Sumner's horse winning the race once more, but she couldn't imagine Sumner not winning whatever he set his sights upon.
In truth Sumner was her half brother, but that didn't matter to her. Her family wasn't the conventional family within Charles Town, but she loved them deeply. In that was the reason for her dilemma this night. With her father's insistence on sending her over to England to her mother's family, she would be separated from the only people she loved and who loved her.
"It will be good for you to meet your mother's family. It would have been your mother's wish," her father had said, although Cathryn knew well he had no real desire for her to go.
"Why can't you come with me?" she cried.
"There is too much to attend to here. I can't leave at this time, but I promise as soon as I get all settled, I will come over to take you home."
Governor Blankenship had long served as governor of Antigua in the West Indies before settling in Charles Town. At an early age, he had joined his Majesty's army, a second son to the Earl of Hestershire, but Cathryn had never set foot in her father's England. She had been born in Antigua a year after her father married her mother, Elizabeth Cavanaugh. It had been an arranged marriage, although her mother had died when Cathryn had been six, less than a year after coming to Elm Bluff.
"You are willingly sending me over," Cathryn said in a futile attempt to reason with her father. "You talk of a season but, Father, William said when he was there a season was just a way for girls to be paraded about for the highest bidder. I will not be auctioned off!"
Her father gave a somber look at his only daughter. "It's not that way. William was upset because he wasn't invited to socialize. Granted I will contend it's a different way than we do here, but it is part of your life that you need to experience, my dear."
"Father, I won't go!" she said, indignation in her voice.
"You have no choice, my dear," her father said, pinching her cheek as he did when she had been a small child. "If you had any inclination toward any of the beaus in Charles Town I wouldn't force you to go. But you have turned away anyone who has shown any interest in you. Do I have to remind you that I refused Maynard Fleming last week? I only want your happiness."
"Sumner says they were only after Elm Bluff," she exclaimed. "I want only to marry for love, Father!"
"I doubt you would do anything less, but you will do as I have requested. I have already made the necessary arrangements. You are to travel with the Montgomerys. They are taking their two boys to school in London. They have kindly offered to escort you to your grandparents," Governor Blankenship informed her.
"I have no time to pack. The end of the week? How am I supposed to make ready in that short of a time?" Cathryn said, filled with her own anxieties.
"There was a purpose behind it, I can assure you, Cathryn. It gives you no time to plot your escape. Tacy will travel with you."
Her escape! Of that she needed more time obviously. She scurried across the lawn into the garden. She knew the worn path well. Her steps slowed the closer she came to her destination. Within her sight, a light flicked and then it was gone. She blinked. No, it was a light in the garden house.
Oh! Mother of All! Had she not told William the Old Barn! She walked softly up to the closed entrance, but her movement stalled upon the sound of a throaty feminine moan. Then another moan emerged in the stillness. This time it was a husky, deep chuckle.
Cathryn wiped back the dusty coating over the glass pane. It was not William. Even in the dim light, she recognized her brother's bare back glistening in sweat. His arms were wrapped around a woman caught in a fervent embrace, pinned against the wall. Cathryn's mouth fell open when her brother's lips traveled down the woman's throat. Cathryn recognized her instantly. Randa Landor! Randa tilted her head back, inviting Sumner to press his open mouth against her pale skin.
Cathryn gaped. She had never seen such a sight and was certain it was not for her eyes to behold, but she was mesmerized. To Cathryn's shock, Randa's gown slipped well past her shoulders, but her vision was hampered as Sumner moved out of her view. Oh, Mother of all, what was her brother doing!
Cathryn released her hold, turning her head away in disgust. For a moment she stood with her back against the Garden House, but the mewling gasps and moans sent her down her path again. What game was Sumner playing?
Randa Landor's father was a highly successful business-man in Charles Town. Granted, Sumner always had a bevy of ladies vying for his attention, but Randa? Randa, the most beautiful girl in the county with her golden hair and brown eyes, but whose father would never accept a bastard for a son-in-law, not even a bastard son of a British aristocrat.
She ran, turning down the lane to the Old Barn near the Ashley River. The lights from the house were completely concealed from sight by the woods. Her eyes took only a moment to adjust to see two horses waiting outside the barn.
"William," she uttered in a low voice. "William, where are you? We don't have much time!"
"Then keep your voice down."
"Oh, William, you don't know what I have been through. Why did you disappear as you did? Father was furious."
"May I remind you, Cathryn, you gave me no notice and flung on me your request only hours ago," he said, glancing over his shoulder nervously. "And it was not I who pushed Old Miss Longridge into the reflecting pool."
"It was an accident, William. I was only trying to escape that wretched Lieutenant's reach and fell into her!"
She wanted to add if he had helped her at all she wouldn't have found herself in such a predicament. The plan seemed so simple. Meet William on the veranda and quietly exit the party. Only if she had known her father had placed a guard on her. The moment she stepped off the veranda that infuriating Lieutenant Pennington halted her progress. If only William had stepped forward when the Lieutenant detained her she wouldn't have reacted so.
For a moment, she paused, studying William. Attractive with a lean body of no more than twenty-two years, he had only recently returned from his studies in England, but his words irritated her to no end at the moment.
But in truth she had given him no warning and had only come up with her plan while lying in bed this morning. Her determination to stay had called to mind William. Had her father not said if she had expressed any interest in a beau the matter would be different? And the Peyton family would be acceptable in his sight. They owned a beautiful plantation up from Elm Bluff along the river's edge. William was the eldest son of six brothers.
Although from her father's reaction, she doubted now if he wanted her married at all here in Charles Town. Clearly, he wanted her gone. She wished she knew the reason.
As for love, she knew little about the subject. She had never experienced the throes of love in the way she had read about, but William she liked. He had intelligence about him. He had hinted to Cathryn many times upon his return that he would like to court her. Now he stood like a buffoon, unsure whether to help her or not.
"Well, if you're not willing, at least help me out to Tome Plain. I can hide out there until well after the ship departs."
"I could well take offense. Let me remind you, Cathryn, you proposed to me."
"In truth, William, I asked only that you ask for my hand. So in theory I haven't done so. It wouldn't be proper."
He laughed. "You do have a way of twisting words to your advantage, Cathryn. But why the hurry, Cathryn? I mean, your father quite insisted that I not give you aid in your harebrained scheme."
"Then why are you here?"
"Because," he said simply, "it may give me what I desire most."
"And I'm to take it that I'm what you desire most?"
"Would I be here otherwise? You do realize once we ride away there will be no going back."
"Do you not trust me, William? Have I not explained to you why I must stay? I cannot for the life of me understand why father wants to send me away from him, especially when disaster looms on the horizon," she said in the most dramatic fashion.
"Most romantic concept in an elopement, my dear Cathryn, to worry about staying with one's family, not leaving them," he said and chuckled, extending his hand to her to help her mount.
Cathryn ignored his comment and swung her legs across her horse, giving no thought to modesty, nor had she thought of the consequences of her actions, only of staying at Elm Bluff. Suddenly, her head jerked to the sound of rustling in the woods. Out from the darkness a figured emerged. And here she thought her day couldn't get any worse. It was him again, that insolent officer!
When she had first seen him earlier in the evening she thought him tall and handsome in his red dress coat, but that was before he revealed his assignment: to see her safely on board the Victoria. Through the faint light, he met her with a smile, a slow arrogant smile. A smile accentuated by the whiteness of his wig. He had a square jaw, about which her father always said showed strong character. His eyes caught hers, bold, dark eyes that Cathryn couldn't read, but they showed no sign of weakness.
"I can see that neither of you listened to Governor Blankenship's request," he said as a fact. No question lay in his tone.
"I believe you said your name was Pennington, Lieutenant Pennington, if I'm not mistaken. This isn't your concern. You don't know Miss Blankenship well enough to understand..." William stumbled over his words.
"I know her father, well, Mr. Peyton. My advice to you would be to leave immediately or face the consequences of your actions. A gentleman would never encourage such behavior."
Cathryn stared in disbelief as William hesitated, glancing apprehensively at Cathryn and back at the Lieutenant.
"It is your call, Mr. Peyton. My patience has worn thin this night. I had thought I had made myself perfectly clear earlier, but if you want me to fulfill my threat, I assure you I will have no issue."
Lieutenant Pennington stepped only once toward William before William mounted up and tethered back his horse.
"You can tell your father, Cathryn, I will make my presence known first thing in the morning to clear up this misunderstanding."
Before Cathryn could utter a retort, he galloped down the road.
"William! William Peyton!" she cried. Her eyes flamed at his desertion. "Coward!"
The sound of the horse's hooves clattering fast away slowly waned in the distance. She sat frozen upon her mount, refusing to look down at the impertinent man. How dare he, not once but twice, interfere with her plans!
Frustration surged. She yanked her reins to take off down the lane herself, but the Lieutenant's hands were quicker. He gripped tight to her reins and in one quick motion with his other hand pulled Cathryn down off her horse straight into his arms.
"Let go of me, you horrid beast!" she uttered, trying to catch her breath. She twisted in his hold. "I will scream."
"I have no control of such," he said. "If you want to cause another spectacle, it isn't in my control to stop you."
She struggled against him. She hit back his hand, but his grip didn't ease. She didn't stop. Finally, he whipped her around, pulling her to his face, so close she could feel his breath against her skin.
For a brief moment, her thoughts fell back to the scene she had stumbled upon only minutes before. She wondered what it was like to be in an ardent embrace. She had never been in such close proximity to a man. His face, his lips so near.
His thoughts, though, seemed far away from hers. His chest heaved heavily as if trying to restrain his annoyance with the situation.
"Your plan, I am afraid, Miss Blankenship, has been foiled. Can you not behave for one moment? Your father only asked if I could watch over your safety upon your voyage, since I was returning to England upon the Victoria. Nothing more. Tonight was requested because he feared you would try something reckless which it seems was warranted. In truth, Miss Blankenship, I have found your maneuvers rival some battle worn generals I have worked with."
"Then I would have to assume you have worked with extremely deficient generals, Lieutenant, for I haven't been very successful. Pray let me go!"
"Only when I have delivered you back to your father."
"Sir, I can assure you I'm perfectly capable of finding my way around my home, from which I am being so unmercifully dragged."
"I would be negligent in my duties if I didn't."
"I will happily relinquish you of such," she retorted. She swung her head back in an attempt to regain any dignity in her circumstance.
"Miss Blankenship," he replied coolly. "I have committed to the Governor I will take care of you during your journey to England. This I will do whether you want my assistance or not. I will see you safely to your grandparents and after that you can do as your heart desires. Believe me when I say I have no desire to watch over a spoilt little debutante."
Without warning her hand swung back. The aggravation from the day welled in her action. She slapped him, hard. He caught her arm, pulling her to him. She met his stare with the same intensity, refusing to be intimidated. His free hand went to her face, touching it in a manner which greatly disturbed her.
The moment passed. He laughed. "I quite deserved that, my lady."
Her eyes locked upon his, challenging him. He had laid clear his intention. He grabbed her hand and almost dragged her up the path. She said nothing more to him, but raced by him as they came upon the back entrance. She ran up the steps and into the house. She didn't stop until she reached her room.
Cathryn bit her bottom lip. Her father sent for her before sunrise. Now she sat dutifully in his study, listening to him rant at her for over an hour. She had never seen him so upset. She doubted he had even slept.
"To think a daughter of mine was throwing herself at a gentleman!" he roared. He ran his hand through his silver-white hair. He hadn't donned his wig this morning. Her father never presented himself without proper attire especially with guests in the house and there were several of them left from the night before activities.
At fifty-seven, her father had married late in life. Her father had doted on her without question and she idolized him. But at the moment she found herself under the scrutiny of his shrewd, piercing blue eyes. Cathryn had the look of her father, she had been told, except for the color of her eyes. Her eyes were a hazel, giving way to green depending upon the color she wore or the temper she was in.
She turned her head slightly. She caught her reflection in the window glaze. Her dark brown hair was a thick, unruly mess at most times. She could do nothing with it except pull it back. Her face was oval with a dimple in her chin. Her eyes were large and expressive at times and her eye lashes long and dark, slanting upward. Her father told her when she smiled, the whole of her face illuminated. She wasn't smiling now.
But Cathryn had a temper. Her father had cautioned her more than once about it. Sumner called her Jalyn at those times. Sumner said she reminded him of the jays when they bickered with the other birds, strident, acrimonious, not relenting until they had their way. In all she was much like her father, having inherited his stubbornness, which was evident in her determination not to leave.
"Father, I do believe you are making too much of it all. There would have been no scene at all if that insolent officer hadn't interfered as he did. William..."
"Cathryn, Lieutenant Pennington is a fine officer and a gentleman. In that I have to question William. Why he would ever allow you to contemplate such an action! His family is one of the oldest and respected families in the county."
"It was not his fault, Father. I asked him to for I cannot bear to be parted from you and my home!" she cried. Tears ran down her face. "I tried to tell you, but you don't listen. I don't want to go."
"Are you mad, Cathryn? Or are you really telling me you are in love with William? Are you prepared to marry?"
"I like William, Father," she retorted. Her temper began to show. "I like him better than any other."
"I..." he began. He stared at Cathryn. "I gave William full warning to stay out of your path last night after the first incident. Cathryn, why do I feel you are using the poor fellow? Is that what you truly want for yourself, Cathryn?"
"Honestly, Father, I know only that I can't leave here. I can't leave you, Sumner, or Juriah. How can you ask me to?"
"It is not my desire for you to settle, Cathryn. I want you to be happy. My concern is you. I saw well through your ploy last night and even though I well warned William that if he wants your hand, he can do so properly when you return from England. And not try to run out and elope in the middle of the Hampton Square Race dance. I have never! Knocking Miss Longridge into the reflection pool! And on top of that climbing out your window! You could have been killed! What was in your mind?" His voice rose.
Tears streamed down Cathryn's face. "Only staying here, Father!" She leaped from her chair and hugged her father. "I can't bear to leave you, Father."
He held her tight in his arms, only reluctantly breaking from her. "Cathryn, do this for me. I ask only a year."
The dew clung to leaves and grass in the early morning hours. Cathryn's slippers were well soaked as she walked down the worn path. She had eased out the back door through the kitchen. The house was a buzz with all the company that had stayed over. Cathryn didn't care. Juriah, helping with the cooking, had caught her eye as Cathryn placed her hand upon the back door. She nodded slightly. Cathryn realized Juriah knew where she was heading.
Juriah had given comfort to her when she returned from her dreadful night's adventure. Juriah had eased within her room. She had said nothing, but understood all. Taking Cathryn into her arms, she rocked her and comforted her until Cathryn had cried herself to sleep. Juriah had long been as the mother she had lost many years previous and was the make up of her strange household.
Juriah had been part of Cathryn's life since her mother had died. Less than a year after her mother and younger brother, John Steven, died of the fever, her father had brought Juriah to Elm Bluff. Sumner had already lived among them. Cathryn had never questioned the make up of her family. It wasn't until Tacy had arrived as an indentured servant that Cathryn had learned her home wasn't made up as most households.
"I have heard it is why your father settled in Charles Town and didn't return to England," Tacy gossiped to Cathryn. "He doesn't want to leave Miss Juriah."
Comprehension of Tacy's words settled upon her young naive ears. Juriah Meador was the most handsome woman Cathryn had ever known. Juriah, a half-breed of Cherokee descent fitting into neither world, was a gentle, kind soul rumored by the Cherokees to have a healing hand.
Cathryn gave no credence to the fact that her father had taken Juriah as his lover before he married her mother. Wasn't Sumner thirteen when she first met him?
"That is not unusual, Miss Cathryn. The British readily set up their mistresses. The British have found it acceptable to marry for position and take their pleasure from other means. But to have one in their own home! The Governor couldn't do so in England."
"Mistresses, lovers? If it is as you say why wouldn't Father marry Juriah? Why would he do so? Isn't it a sin?" Cathryn had asked in her innocence.
Tacy laughed and said in her soft Irish brogue, "Oh, the rich, Miss Cathryn, have a different set of rules of which I'm certain they have negotiated the rules with God Almighty himself."
Cathryn pushed back all thoughts as she walked up a gentle slope and through the rose garden. A huge oak sat alone, shading the area outside a wrought iron fence. She walked without a thought and opened the ornate gate. The flowers she had cut only yesterday had wilted in the vase. The water had run out of the tilted vase. She hadn't secured the vase well enough, having been in too much of a hurry. She reprimanded herself. She should have known better. Tears welled up. Stupid flowers!
She bent down and picked up the drooping flowers and threw them over the fence into the woods which edge the small cemetery. She would need to pick fresh ones.
"Cathryn," a familiar voice said from behind her. Glancing up, she caught sight of her brother. Tall, six feet two inches tall, long of bone and hard of muscle with a sunburned face and deep chestnut hair, Sumner was a mirror of her father, except he was a good half a foot taller and with darker coloring. His shirt was disheveled a tad, hanging over his pants. His hair, unkempt, waved in the breeze.
"You don't look as if you slept last night," Cathryn stated plainly upon the sight in front of her.
"I don't think many slept last night, Jalyn," he said, giving Cathryn full warning he was in no mood for bantering. "I wanted to talk with you so no one could hear our words."
Cathryn kneeled upon one knee. Sumner looked past her to the graves. "You come out here often, I know. Mother has told me. You must find comfort here."
Cathryn nodded ever so slightly. The wind picked up slightly, carrying with it the fragrance of all around freshness of the new day, giving way to calm, peace.
He took in a deep breath. He rubbed his forehead. "We need to talk."
"I'm listening, Sumner. I have always listened to you," she answered. She brushed over the dirt upon her skirt.
"The Governor..." Sumner paused. He looked over at her and shook his head. "What was in your head last night with your behavior?"
"My behavior?" Cathryn countered. "If I was you I wouldn't worry about mine. Sumner! Randa?"
Sumner stared at his sister with his red streaked eyes. "So it was you I heard outside the Garden House. Cathryn, so help me!"
"Oh, pooh! Do not start with me, Sumner," she retorted with a smile. "You are fortunate it was me and not her father! And you ask me what I was thinking!"
His eyebrow cocked to the side. "I believe I can't argue that point. Except, my dearest sister, this discussion has nothing to do with me. It is you the Governor is concerned with. You have to realize that the Governor has his reasons for wanting to send you across the ocean. You need to trust him and it is only for a year."
"Would you want to go, Sumner? I know no other life but here. I love my home and I don't want to be paraded about, Sumner. I won't fit in. William said..."
"Look, Jalyn. It would be different for you. I know well the talk against the crown. I have listened and if it wasn't for the Governor I might say I couldn't disagree with some of their points of view. But Jalyn, you are a part of their society by your blood. I can imagine you would be well sought after with all you have."
"Would they accept you?" Cathryn countered her brother.
"They don't accept me fully here, either, Jalyn," Sumner said stoically. "Don't look at me in that manner. I have been well looked after. Don't I oversee all the plantations? Am I not included in all events? I owe all to the Governor. I have no issues. It is you that I have come to talk of. The Governor has several reasons for his desire for you to visit England at this time. There is turmoil within the colonies. Have you ever thought he wants you safe?"
"I would feel safer here than in a place where I know no one. Do you not think my family will not try to marry me off?"
"I don't know your family, but I do know you, Cathryn. I have faith you will be able to handle all. You're looking upon it all wrong. It is your life, your destiny. A path you need to follow. We all have a path to choose. Why are you so afraid to follow such? You are no coward."
She stared upon her mother's grave. She wiped her eyes, forcing the tears from falling. "I know no one across the ocean, Sumner. What if they don't like me? You tell me I'm no coward, but I am. I'm so scared about leaving all of you behind, Father, you, Juriah, my home. I'm afraid all will change upon my return. I know how quickly all can change!" Her voice trailed off into the wind.
Sumner expelled a sigh. He took her by her shoulders and stared straight into her eyes. "I understand. I do, but what you are asking for is a fantasy. The only thing that is constant is the fact that the sun will rise in the morning. Everything else will change. It is life. You have now a choice. To live your life or hide from it. Live your life, Jalyn, and have faith it will lead you to happiness."