As Colonel Tavington dismounted his horse in front of the large manor which housed General Cornwallis, he spotted something which made his eyes narrow. The manor was surrounded by grass fields followed by acres of woodland, and far in the distance he had caught sight of the bright pink dress of General Cornwallis' Granddaughter, who appeared to be scaling a tree.
'Take my horse,' he said to a nearby stable hand.
'Yes Sir,' said the boy, his hands shaking slightly as he took the reins – the Colonel was well known for his quick temper.
'Put him in the stable and clean my saddle: Be extremely careful, he added carelessly, 'if you so much as scratch the leather with a fingernail then I will personally thrash you with a horsewhip in the morning'.
'Yes, sir,' said the now terrified boy, hurrying away and wishing with all his heart that someone else had greeted the Colonel.
After removing his tall black helmet and riding gloves and placing them in his top pocket the Colonel made his way over to the tree which Grace had now disappeared into, which was a good half a mile away and a most irritating journey to make through the waist-high grass in the hot evening sun.
'Get down Miss Grace,' he commanded as he reached the tall tree which he had spotted her in. 'Immediately!' There was a slight rustling but she did not emerge. Tavington felt his impatience grow. It had been a hard, forgettable, day fighting the militia. He had lost several men and was saddle –sore and dusty. His regal looking nose and defined cheeks were blistered by the sun, marring the smooth bronze complexion which made him so attractive to the pale ladies from England. His usually impeccable sleek brown hair, which was caught behind his head with a leather thong, was looking distinctly tangled, and his impressive green dragoon tunic was rumpled: he was in no mood to play games with a mere child.
'I said, get down! I know you are up there and you would be wise to obey.'
There was more rustling and this time a young girl of sixteen dropped from the top branch of the tree directly in front of the Colonel. Her skirts were stained with the soil of the plantation and were torn in several places and her long blonde hair was decorated with twigs. She had a tatty book in her hand, which the Colonel had seen her flick through several times under the table at dinner, and she was looking defiantly at the him, her dark eyes glistening in the sun. She also had the air of a small child who had been caught with her hand in a biscuit tin, as her pale cheeks were tinged with pink and her breath was quick.
'What do you think you're doing Miss Grace?' he said with scorn.
'I hardly think that is any of your concern,' she replied, after taking a deep breath.
'Climbing a tree like an urchin or a gypsy?' he said, ignoring her, 'What will your grandfather say?' Grace looked him directly in the eye.
'I repeat again that this is hardly your concern.' Tavington resisted the urge to agree with Cornwallis's granddaughter. It was true that she was not really his concern; but Cornwallis despaired of his young ward so much that he instructed the men to keep a close eye on her. Any unruly behaviour was to be reported to him at once – and Tavington would certainly not be looked upon favourably if he did not bring her down from the tree and back inside the confines of the grounds.
Grace was a handful for anyone. Cornwallis had allowed her to accompany him to America to escape the scorn of England. Her mother, also called Grace, had been his youngest daughter. When she was sixteen, she had gotten herself into trouble with a married man and Grace had been the result. The elder Grace Cornwallis had died in childbirth (probably for the best, people thought), but on her deathbed she had made her father promise to look after the child. Of course, society being what it was Grace's parentage was a poorly kept secret. Cornwallis had hoped that the American shore would give them both a new start, and when the war was over he planned to set her up in the new American society of landowners. However, Grace did not make it easy for her Grandfather. She had her mother's spirit and ran quite wild about the plantation. Cornwallis had employed a governess to accompany them from England to instruct Grace in things he thought young ladies should know – such as music and art – but most days she escaped her lessons, borrowing a horse from the stables to go tearing around the countryside, or sitting in trees reading poetry or novels which were shipped to the manor from England every three months.
Tavington thought privately that Grace was a spoilt brat who needed taking in hand – but Cornwallis seemed to have a weak spot for her which made him reluctant to chastise her. She was sixteen now, and it was time for her to begin to behave as a lady; but with her mother dead, and surrounded by male company, she had grown as far from a lady as some of the redcoat corporals – soldiers who, maddeningly, appeared to find Grace quite charming, and often encouraged her to behave like a wild cat when they knew Cornwallis was not around. The more refined residents of the manor whispered behind Cornwallis's back about the wiseness of his tendency to spoil his granddaughter: after all, they said, it had been her mother's defiant spirit which had caused her downfall. Some of the 'society' women, including several old (and in Grace's opinion decrepit) spinsters often chided her, and encouraging to act 'more like her cousins', Eliza and Jane, who also lived in the manor with their father Henry Ederick, (their mother having died of scarlet fever several years ago), who had a commission as a first lieutenant in the Green Dragoons, serving under Tavington.
'If there's nothing else,' Grace said now, sticking out her chin, 'perhaps you will return to your business and allow me to return to mine. I have not asked for your interference and I do not appreciate it – in fact I find it quite contemptible.'
It took all Tavington's restraint to prevent himself from striking the impudent girl. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the army and he expected the proper deference and obedience due to him. He did not put up with insolence, and particularly he did not put up with insolence from women, whom he usually found to be quite in awe of his rank and stature. He thought absentmindedly of the whip that he had relinquished to the stable hand with his horse. He felt sure that this girl would benefit immensely from a good whipping - unfortunately, however, she was the General's granddaughter.
'Come now, Miss Grace,' he said through gritted teeth, 'You know that I cannot possibly allow you to remain outside of the grounds. The militia could have us under surveillance, and the Granddaughter of Lord Cornwallis would be a high prize indeed.'
Grace suppressed a grin. She had heard tales of Tavington's quick temper and ruthless command and knew from the fire in his usually cold eyes that he was forcing himself into great measures of self-control.
'I am quite capable of seeing myself back to the manor,' she said evenly. Tavington appeared to lose some of his patience.
'I insist,' he replied bluntly, his eyes now glinting with danger. 'You have been told, several times I believe, about wandering off alone. Lord Cornwallis would be most displeased to find that you have escaped your governess again. I will escort you back to the manor.'
'Oh, will you?' she said, now with slight amusement, 'and pray enlighten me, do you often take ladies against their will?' Grace was now enjoying their exchange. The stories she had heard had also conveyed rumours of Tavington's reputation as a cad. She had even heard the older women whisper that he had had his way with some of the colonial women in the villages that he had had burned, and though, perhaps, she was a little young to fully understand the magnitude of such things, the stories, aswell as well as making her blood run cold, provided her with a strange feeling of excitement (perhaps it was because the tales she usually heard were dull), and convinced her that this man was dangerous. It felt good to have him at a disadvantage.
Tavington raised a dark, sculpted eyebrow. He was slightly taken aback at the young girl's casual reference to things that she should know little about. He knew that she was an illegitimate, and that her mother had been a whore, but she had had the breeding of a lady. That aside, however, and General's daughter or not, he was not about to let a girl speak to him in such a manor.
'I would ask you to remember to whom you speak, Miss Grace,' he said, coldly. 'I am an officer in the British army.' Grace rolled her eyes. She opened her mouth to retort that she was not the least bit disturbed by his rank, but as she looked directly at him she saw something in his face which made her stop. She didn't know quite what it was - perhaps it was the cold fury in his eyes, or the steeliness of his jaw - but she was suddenly very aware that she was alone with a man, who, from the stories she had heard, may not be a gentleman, and she had the immediate urge to return to the manor. The Colonel seemed to sense her hesitation.
'I have no desire to put you over my shoulder, Miss Grace,' he continued, as his resolve for politeness slipped, 'but the night is drawing in and it is unsafe for you to be in the grounds – and I will if you refuse to accompany me.'
Grace felt her cheeks redden. She knew that she had pushed her advantage too far. It was quite plausible that he would carry out his threat, and just the idea of being in that close a proximity to this man made her shiver.
'That will not be necessary, Sir,' she said, in as indifferent tone as she could, 'I was about to return to the manor directly before you arrived.' Tavington's lips curled with derision, noting the way in which she now addressed him as 'Sir'.
'Very well then, let us take our leave.'
They walked back through the high yellow grass of the parched fields towards the vast, ornate manor that housed the General, his family and some of their associates from England. The Colonel strides were long and fast and he watched with some satisfaction as Grace struggled, slightly out of breath, to keep up with his step.
Tavington pondered silently over the events of the day. There had been a hard battle in the woods that morning and he wasn't sure that when he made his report to the General that he would be too pleased with the outcome. The "Ghost" had obviously ordered his men to attack the British troops from the top officers down the ranks, and before the Dragoons could arrive, scattering the less equipped militia, the redcoats had lost several good men. What annoyed Tavington most, however, was that, just as his reputation suggested, the "Ghost" and his men were able to disappear quite completely into mid-air, and it was therefore proving impossible for him to exact retaliation. The time was becoming rife for more underhand tactics, but Tavington knew that it would not be so easy to persuade Cornwallis and his code of gentility that they were necessary.
'Are you going to tell Grandfather that I was out of the grounds?' Grace cut in to interrupt his thoughts.
'What?' Tavington snapped. He turned to look at Grace. She still wore an air of indifference, but he knew that she was probably more than a little concerned that he would give her away to Lord Cornwallis. It was perhaps not surprising. He had heard the General threaten on several occasions now that he would punish his Granddaughter severely if she was to disobey him again - though he had so far been extremely reticent to carry out his threat; he seemed to think it indecent to admit his Granddaughter in the least bit unruly.
'You are not deaf, Sir,' she said casually – though he noticed that she was watching him very carefully.
'Yes,' Tavington said, curtly, pleased to see the flicker of infuriation which passed over her face. 'Lord Cornwallis has asked to be informed of any – disobedience.'
Grace folded her arms, indignant at being referred to as though she was a small child. At sixteen, nearly seventeen, she considered herself a young woman, and couldn't see why her Grandfather insisted on treating her like she needed constant supervision. She didn't see why she should be confined to the grounds, or why she should have to put up with hours of dull lessons a day; much less why she needed the entire British battalion to be her keepers.
When Grace's Grandfather had suggested to her that she accompany him to the American colonies she had jumped at the chance to experience a different life. She was sick of the endless boring tea-parties and small talk of London; the gossip, sniping and parlour room dramas that the women there attempted to fill their empty lives, and heads, with. She knew, also, that the other 'society' women would always treat her with a certain contempt. As much as her Grandfather liked to pretend that her father was a nobleman, killed in battle shortly after she was conceived, she had known since the age of ten what her real circumstance was. The less-than-forgiving girls in her fancy boarding school had taunted her to distraction over her 'wicked' and 'immoral' mother. Though it did not bother her to have had a rogue for a father, she had gotten into endless scrapes defending the honour of her mother and in the end her Grandfather had been asked to withdraw her from the school – which did not sit very well with the circles in which Lord Cornwallis's moved, and had seemed to confirm to all the prying ladies and their offspring that she was of 'thoroughly bad blood'. Her Grandfather seemed to think that somewhere on the journey between England and the colonies her temperament would have changed – that she would become gracious and refined - and he certainly seemed to be disappointed that she was still as restless here as she had been in England.
The problem was that life in the colonies, apart, perhaps, from the weather and the landscape, was not that different to her life at home. There were still 'society' woman, who had travelled from England, and with them they had brought the pointless etiquette and chit-chat that Grace was so desperate to escape. In fact, any hope Grace had of adventure had dissipated as soon as she saw the manor in which she would be living; it was almost identical to the country house in which she spent her long, dull summers in Surrey, and so remote from the war that she had hardly even heard a single gun blast in the entire six months that she had been there. She was hungry for adventure and had taken to escaping the humdrum of the manor to go and look for it; borrowing one of the younger horses to explore, or losing herself in a book. She certainly had no remorse for the simple act of climbing a tree, but, as she was extremely reluctant to admit to Tavington, she was anxious for her Grandfather not to find out that she had disobeyed him again; she had had a very unpleasant interview with him the week before after one of the men had caught her riding near to the brush trying to find a sign of battle, and she did not really relish the prospect of repeating it today. She sighed. They were nearly at the house and she knew that this would be her last opportunity to try and persuade him to keep quiet about where he had found her before they would all meet at dinner.
'Sir,' she said, in the most well-bred manner that she could muster, 'I would be most sincerely grateful if you would exercise discretion. My grandfather does so worry, quite unnecessarily of course, about me, I wouldn't wish to agitate him further – I'm sure that he has a lot in his mind, what with the militia advancements.'
Colonel Tavington, however, was not fooled. He was used to everyone from the stable hands to the lower ranking Dragoons concocting excuses to attempt to pardon themselves from his disfavour. He had the ability to spot sincerity and he was not about to let Grace get away with the disrespect she had shown him before simply by pretending that she had her Grandfather's best interests at heart. In any case her casual reference to 'militia advancements' rankled with him –
'I am afraid that that will be quite impossible, Miss Grace,' he said, smiling, as if apologetically. 'I have my orders, I'm sure you'll understand. Perhaps General Cornwallis will be able teach you to exercise more caution in the future – after all it's certainly not safe for you to be wandering around with, as you put it, "militia advancements".' Grace coloured slightly; she hadn't been able to resist a dig about the Colonel's seeming inability to control the militia, but it seemed to have cost her dearly.
'Of course, I'm sure you will be able to suppress the militia,' she added quickly. 'The one that they call 'Ghost' is obviously a coward – to hide in the shadows.' This did not, however, appease Tavington, who was stung that even a sixteen year old girl had heard of the existence of the "Ghost" who was causing him such humiliation.
'Perhaps you should leave talk of the war to those who know something about it, Miss Grace,' Tavington said, condescendingly. They had arrived at the manor and Grace knew that she was being dismissed. 'Now do you need me to deliver you to your governess, or do you think you can manage to find the way yourself?'
'I am perfectly capable, thank you,' she said, some of her anger returning. 'Good day, Sir.' Tavington smiled.
'Oh, good day Miss Grace' he drawled, '– I shall see you at dinner,' he added, with a maddening smile. Grace pulled a face and left without another word. Feeling some of his frustration relieved by the victory over this young girl, Tavington made his way up the sweeping staircase to his chambers, with every intention of having a long hot bath before dinner and before he even thought about making a report to the Colonel about the day's battle.