His Excellency's Orders
Written By: Commander Cody CC-2224
NOTE: A handful of new characters are introduced in this chapter. To gain a better understanding of who those characters are, I recommend reading the following prerequisite fanfiction works, listed in chronological order: Young Benjamin, Duel For You, Ben Davidson, Benstown, Davidson, The Wedding of Felicity and Ben.
Christmas Eve, 1793
The night before Christmas was a time for joyous celebration. Across the snow-laden city of Richmond, now its newest capital city in the former British colony of Virginia, the bright, warm glow of candlelight shined through the windows of nearly every house. It seemed that the spirit of Christmas was alive and well in the city.
But across a city street that lay at the east end of Richmond, facing directly to the James River was a three-story mansion whose Christmas gaiety remained aglow like never before. That three-story mansion was the home of the Duffman family, one of the most influential people of great wealth in the city of Richmond. And it was on the first floor level of the mansion, specifically in the dining room area, that the spirit of Christmas was at its most vibrant. The dining room was well-lit, as candlelight from across the chandelier in the center of the room distributed the glow of light evenly. Well-placed mirrors reflected the light, allowing nearly every part of the room to be illuminated. The dining room was festively decorated for the Christmas season, with its ornate decorations and holly and garlands. It was filled with an atmosphere of Christmas gaiety, laughter, and lively small talk.
All around the table were the members of Duffman family relations. Across one end of the room sat the owners, Lord and Lady Duffman. Then there were the Merriman family members, who mainly consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Merriman, who had now reached past the prime of their lives. Their eldest daughter, Felicity, now twenty-eight years of age, was already married to Mr. Merriman's former shop apprentice, Benjamin Davidson, who was six years older than his young wife. And that was just a decade ago. Ben Davidson was now involved in a business partnership with Mr. Merriman himself at Williamsburg's General Store. Felicity's younger siblings were three years younger than each other. Her younger sister, Nan, was already married to Nathaniel Duffman. The youngest sister of eighteen, Polly, was engaged to Edward Wentworth, the youngest and last son of Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth. Both of them were soon to be married during the spring of next year.
"…And did you hear how William decided to deed the plantation formerly owned by Master William Fellows?" asked Mrs. Wentworth.
"You mean the plantation formerly owned by Grandfather…now doubt?" Nan piped up. Baby Lou was tugging at her mother's ornate necklace to the point that her mother had to gently pry the decoration from Lou's little hand while Lou made a baby laugh of amusement. Usually children in their infancy would be placed in the nursery, but Lou was the type of child who always wanted to be with her mother all the time, so Nan decided to keep her at her side.
"Indeed," replied Mr. Wentworth.
Nan, however, was momentarily distracted by baby Lou, though she managed to hear Mr. Wentworth's brief answer. "Sorry," she said quietly.
"That may have been quite foolish of him to do such a thing," Mr. Wentworth put in.
"May have been?" Mrs. Wentworth huffed. "My dear husband, I do think it was exceedingly foolish of him to do so!" She swiftly turned on Mrs. Merriman, as if trying to blame her for letting her only son give away his inherited property. "Don't you think so, Martha? The lad will barely have any substantial property attached to his name!"
Mrs. Merriman simply kept her cool. "Well…I still think it may have been in his best interests to do so, considering that he hadn't expressed any particular interested with it…"
"…And so he gave it to Ben," Mrs. Merriman finished for his wife. And that was one reason why Mrs. Merriman could feel less anxious about her son's decision to hand over her father's plantation to her son-in-law.
This information was enough to alert Elizabeth. "But…why would he do that?" Elizabeth inquired. She was just as curious enough to find out why such a move was made.
"What do you mean, why?" huffed Mrs. Wentworth. "Haven't you heard the news?"
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Wentworth," replied Elizabeth, shaking her head. "I was visiting my sister in England, and…I hadn't heard of what happened to the plantation till last week."
Formerly Elizabeth Cole, she was married to Phillip Michaels, a handsome English gentleman. Seated besides Elizabeth were her parents, John and Catherine Cole. The Michaels family resided in Richmond, about three blocks from where Duffman Manor was situated. Elizabeth also had an older sister, Annabelle, who was already married to a handsome officer in the British army, Lord Harry Andrews.
"If there were to be any news from the former Colonies, it may have been lost on the way," Phillip put in. "Or…it might have arrived on Lord Harry Andrew's doorstep by the time we had left," he finished, starting to find it humorous over the thought of a letter arriving almost immediately after leaving England.
"The latter would be the most likely of situations, since the Shepherdess also carries the mail to England," mentioned Mr. Cole in a casual manner.
Mr. Merriman cleared his throat while turning to Elizabeth. "To answer your question, Mrs. Michaels, William's willingness to hand over Master Fellows' plantation to my son-in-law had a lot to do with the fact that his surveyor occupation prohibits him from being able to make the most of the plantation."
That would explain why the only individual who was sorely missed by the Merrimans was their only son William. Now in his early twenties, William was currently involved in his occupation as a surveyor at work in the Appalachian Mountains east of the Ohio River. Since the Land Ordinance of 1787, former inhabitants of the Britain's former colonies were seeking settlement in the lush valleys of Ohio, and William was assigned with a team of other surveyors to reconnoiter and fairly apportion the land itself to various settlers and prospective investors. Surveying was tough and hazardous work because the terrain, as well as the weather and other natural forces, could be treacherous at times, not to mention that there were Indian bands to contend with.
Because of William's occupation in eastern Ohio, the distance was very prohibitive for him when it came to coming home for Christmas on time. However, his last letter indicated that he had made travel arrangements during the past couple of weeks, and he was hopeful in being able to come home on time for Christmas Day, if not for Christmas Eve.
Next were Felicity and Ben Davidson. Since they and their children had just made a two-day journey from Williamsburg to Richmond, it seems only fitting and charitable that they be allowed to spend the night at the Duffman's house. That being the case, the Davidson family celebrated Christmas Eve at the spacious and elegant home of the Duffman family, along with their relatives and acquaintances. This was one of those moments when family members related to each other could gather together and celebrate Christmas Eve.
Ben Davidson was a young veteran of the War for Independence, which was concluded nearly a decade ago, which he participated in active service while in his early twenties. During the War for Independence he served in the Fifth Regiment, a special assignments branch in General Washington's Continental Army, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant and leading a squad on various missions that brought Washington's Army closer to victory. Now in his late twenties, he fulfilled his promise as an apprentice to his young wife's father Mr. Merriman, and eventually became involved in a business partnership with him at the Merriman General Store. This move was beneficial for his young wife because it allowed her to remain close with her family members.
However, Ben could still be his same old self; and his old self was the same youth he was when he first arrived at the Merrimans' doorstep. However, after the war, he started maturing a little more; he was not as totally reserved in personality as he was, but he still could occasionally join a conversation. And sometimes he could still be out of place when placed back in civilized society. Ben's father had died in a Cherokee Indian raid at a Roanoke settlement and his only sister died from consumption. That left him with just his mother, who was still alive. But the death of his father and sister made quite an impact on his life, which probably led as one of the factors to his reserved personality. Not to mention that he had lost a comrade in arms who was dear to him, Matthew Brady, whom he served with in the Fifth Regiment for quite a very long time during the war.
So it was out of nervousness, over hearing some embarrassing moments recited by Mrs. Wentworth, that Ben nearly started choking on a chicken leg bone. Obviously the sound of Ben's choking was enough to alarm Felicity.
"Ben? What is it?" Felicity started questioning him rather urgently.
Ben was struggling to speak, even with food in his mouth. "I…think…there's…something…in my throat…"
"Spit it out!" cried Felicity.
Immediately grabbing his serviette, he turned his back to the dining table and spat out whatever vittles were in his mouth. He then sat back on his chair, taking deep breaths.
"Ben…are you all right, dear?" asked Mrs. Merriman.
Ben only conveyed a nervous nod. "I'm…I'm all right…Mrs. Merriman," he answered hoarsely.
"It was a chicken bone, am I right, Master Davidson?" inquired Mrs. Wentworth.
"Aye, madam," answered Ben, his voice still hoarse. "I was on the verge of…having one lodged in my throat," he finished, pointing his right finger at his throat.
"Well, consider yourself lucky, Master Davidson!" Mrs. Wentworth declared in a rather self-righteous manner. "This reminds me, though…I recently heard of a young lad close his age who literally died with a bone in his throat. It was…utterly horrific…he could barely breathe."
There were some gasps of shock across the room. Even though Mrs. Wentworth's mention of a young man's death by choking was relevant to Ben's current predicament, almost no one was in the mood for the same tragic news. But Ben simply conveyed a silent nod in response. Typically Mrs. Wentworth dominated the conversation much of the time; and when she did, she could sometimes be quite cavalier about it, as indicated by her tendency to point out the faults of other people. But even with that tendency, she could still sensitively discern when it would be the right moment for others to put up with her opinions and when it was not a good time to do so.
"So…where were we?" Mrs. Wentworth continued. "As I was saying…so far…"