Chapter Ten -Excerpt
A few weeks later, Maggie was beyond miserable sitting on a settee in the middle of the Governor’s Palace, dressed in a beautiful green gown that Cecile had made for her, completely surrounded by a group of ladies who clucked like a bunch of hens about the latest town gossip.
This person was seen with that person.
So-and-so was cheating on his wife.
A servant was stealing.
“Did you see that dress...”
It was like an endless soap opera. Who knew that Colonial Virginia was such a hotbed of impropriety? These ladies seemed to have turned discussing the latest town scandals into a past time.
Maggie guessed that’s what people did to entertain themselves before the television was invented. Downing her fourth glass of ‘punch’, Maggie tried to figure out how she ever let Hettie talk her into coming.
“It’s time you started acting like the wealthy lady that you are, and wealthy ladies go to balls at the Governor’s Palace.” Hettie had reprimanded.
Stuck in the middle of these ladies wasn’t even the worst of it. Maggie had come to join them in an effort to escape the endless introductions and invitations to dance from every single male in the town of Williamsburg and the surrounding areas.
Word had gotten out that she was a wealthy widow, and since women were in short supply, Maggie was the latest, greatest addition in town. She had feigned overheating to escape the dance invitations out of necessity since she had no clue how to dance in the 18th century. She was mainly ignoring the ladies’ scuttlebutt, nodding and smiling occasionally to appear interested, when she noticed the chit-chat had gone quiet. Looking up, she noticed all the ladies straightening their backs and putting on their best smiles as a gentleman happened by.
“Good evening ladies, you all look very lovely tonight.”
Maggie detected the slight smell of sandalwood as she glimpsed a man in an immaculate British uniform wearing boots that had been polished to a shine.
The ladies all giggled and waved. Once he was out of earshot, they all started back up with a new topic of conversation.
‘Such a handsome man,’ ‘so well mannered,’ ‘impeccable manners,’ ‘can’t believe he is not married,’ were all used to describe him. It appeared, he was the only thing they could talk about now.
A much older lady fanned herself while watching him walk away. “If I weren’t married and a few years younger…”
Maggie stole a better look at him when he stopped to speak to a group of men. He was handsome. No! He was beautiful.
Standing about 6 feet tall, he had light colored blond hair, tied back in a neat, straight ponytail, no powder or wig as the other men wore. He was a bit older than most of the men in town, appearing to be in his mid-30s, with a finely chiseled nose and chin, the kind that came with age. His skin was flawless, his face cleanshaven, his smile revealing straight, white teeth.
No wonder the ladies were beside themselves staring, it couldn’t be helped. When she heard him speak, Maggie heard the sexiest British accent she had ever heard in her life.
“Who is that?” Maggie asked.
The ladies all stared at her in disbelief.
Charlotte White spoke up. “Oh, my goodness, you don’t know? Well, of course, you wouldn’t; you haven’t been here very long, and he has just returned from up north. That, my dear, is Colonel Gabriel Asheton, the most eligible and sought-after bachelor in the colonies. Why, every unmarried woman around has been trying to land him for years. I should introduce you.”
Maggie shook her head, holding up her hand, “Oh no, please don’t trouble yourself. I’m not looking for a husband.”
The ladies all stared at her as if she had two heads, finding it hard to believe that she wouldn’t want
Maggie had royally messed up. She should have never said aloud in colonial Virginia that she didn’t
want a husband. Opening her mouth to do damage control, she heard a voice clearing to her side.
It was Major Horace.
“Excuse me ladies, Mistress Bishop, you look as if you could use another glass of punch. May I escort you to the refreshment table?”
Maggie silently thanked God. “Oh, Major, yes please; that would be lovely.”
He held out his arm and she stood, taking it, letting him lead her away.
He leaned over, whispering, “You looked as if you needed saving from the ‘Ladies Gossip Brigade.'”
“Oh, you have no idea. I find myself in your debt again,” she said, accepting her filled glass, waiting while he also filled his own. “It would seem the ladies are all abuzz about a recently arrived Colonel Asheton.”
Major Horace choked a little on the punch he was sipping. He sputtered a little before swallowing it down.
“Oh, excuse me...yes...well...I suppose they would be.” That seemed a little awkward.
“The Colonel just arrived back in town two weeks ago. He has been in Canada on military business.”
“Oh, so you know him?”
Major Horace shifted on his feet. “Well, yes I do. We were... acquainted in England before I joined the army. We have since renewed ...our friendship.” The Major seemed to be choosing his words—a little too carefully—as he shot glances in the Colonel's direction. “He is a fine man, comes from a good family, well-educated, an outstanding soldier, and the finest swordsman I have ever had the pleasure to watch.”Swordsman, huh?
The Major downed his glass in one shot, looked at Maggie, smiled and with the help of the little shot of liquid courage, offered, “Allow me the pleasure of introducing you.”
A few moments later, “Colonel Asheton, if I may? Permit me to introduce you to Williamsburg’s newest resident, Mistress Maggie Bishop.”
The Colonel looked at Major Horace, then at Maggie, flashing a million-dollar smile, taking her hand to plant a firm kiss on the back. “Always a pleasure to make the acquaintance of one of the fair ladies of Williamsburg, especially one as beautiful as you.”
Wow! No wonder the women were swooning all around him.
Maggie smiled back. “The pleasure is all mine,
He was asking her about her life in Williamsburg, when another soldier approached Major Horace, whispering to him.
“Ah, excuse me, Colonel, Mistress Bishop.” Major Horace bowed and followed the younger soldier.
Maggie stood alone with Colonel Asheton, chatting about her newly acquired estate.
He was a very charming man, but also a very personable and friendly one. The energy Maggie sensed from the Colonel was one that she really liked. He was very easy to talk to and they seemed to really hit it off.
Mid-conversation, Maggie noticed a small hand come up over the Colonel’s shoulder and make its way down the front of his chest from the side.
The Colonel turned, revealing that the hand belonged to a lady.
A lady by the name of Prudence Hunt.
Maggie knew this because the ‘gossip brigade’ had identified her as the one in ‘that dress’.
That dress was a blood red silk, cut so low it revealed her more than ample bosom sitting so far up from the cinched corset that she could have balanced a plate on it. Her long blond hair was piled high on her head, several ringlets hanging down to brush her exposed shoulders. Her face was powdered, along with her chest. A lovely pearl choker encircled her elegant neck, and a tiny beauty mark dotted her chin.
According to the gossip circle, she was the widow of one Mr. Richard Hunt, her second husband, a wealthy merchant she had married when he was the ripe old age of 79. She couldn’t have been more than 25.
Her husband had only lived six months, though Maggie imagined it was probably a happy six months if he got to stare at those breasts for any length of that time. Unleashing those puppies, just one time, was probably enough to give the poor man a heart attack.
Prudence Hunt reached up with one hand, stroking the Colonel’s face. “Gabriel,” she purred, sticking out her lips in a pout, “I’m thirsty and there is no one to escort me to the refreshment table. Do you suppose you could help a poor lady in distress?”
“Of course, Mrs. Hunt.” He turned to Maggie.
“Please excuse me, Mistress Bishop.”
Maggie nodded and watched them head towards the drink table. Shaking her head—and grabbing another glass of something from a passing tray—Maggie found a secluded spot by an open window with a blessed cooling breeze blowing through. Backing up against the wall, she took a minute to observe the room.
Everyone was laughing, talking, dancing, and having a wonderful time.
This was the calm before the storm. Although the signs of a revolution were there, they had not yet exploded in the way that they would in the years to come. A great many people in this room would not even live long enough to see the end of the war, making Maggie a little sad.
The scene unfolded, with Colonel Asheton and Prudence Hunt catching her attention. Judging by the placement of her hand on his back, slipping ever so slowly down his backside, it was obvious that Mrs. Hunt had her eye on husband number three. They were laughing and chatting with another couple when the Colonel, very discreetly, reached around and moved her hand back up. Maybe, he wasn’t as into her as she was him; maybe he wasn’t interested in becoming her next conquest, even though they did look very cozy.
Maggie was taking another sip from her glass when she saw it, an ever so slight stolen glance, across the room, directed at Major Horace. A glance that, in the five seconds it took, sent the silent message: “I can’t wait to be alone with you.”
At first, Maggie thought she had imagined it. Surely, she had too much to drink, and it was a trick of the eye, until she turned her gaze to Major Horace who was, in turn, inconspicuously sending back a very subtle, discreet acknowledgment.
Maggie lowered her glass in sheer astonishment.
Could it be that those two were having an affair? She saw the momentary affirmation directed back towards the Major. The two were, without a doubt, surreptitious lovers.
The most astounding part was that the guarded conveyance wasn’t coming from Prudence Hunt...it was coming from Colonel Asheton.
Maggie stood dumbfounded until the puzzle pieces fell into place. Colonel Asheton was unmarried at his age, brutally handsome, a perfect gentleman with impeccable taste and manners, very well groomed and the object of all the ladies’ affections.
Of course… he was gay.
In 2018, Maggie, being a single woman in the dating world, she would have picked up on it immediately, since most people didn’t have to hide it, but in 1765, the thought never even occurred to her. If the two were found out in this century, they would likely end up dead. Maggie felt a certain amount of compassion and pity for the two of them. In 2018, they wouldn’t have to hide who they were, but here, in this time, they would never have the luxury of making that choice. They would never be free to be who they were.
It was too crowded and hot inside with so many people pressed together. Maggie refilled her glass, found the side door, and headed out into the garden for some fresh air. When the cooler temperature hit Maggie in the face, she realized she was drunk. She stepped towards a bench in the garden, tripped over nothing she could see, stumbled, and was well on her way to falling on her ass, when a strong pair of hands caught her from behind, steadying her. Maggie giggled, giddy.
“It’s alright Mistress, I have you. Let’s find you a seat, shall we?”
An arm wound around her back and another took her by the waist, leading her to the bench. When Maggie looked up, she was staring directly into the smiling, handsome face of Colonel Gabriel Asheton.
“Are you unwell, Mistress Bishop?” he asked with a great deal of concern.
Maggie giggled again. “I am perfectly fine,
Colonel Asheton.” She patted him on the chest, “It seems I may have had a wee too much to drink,” using her fingers to indicate a little pinch.
“Yes, well, the host is known for adding a little... extra... to the punchbowl.” He smiled at her. “Why don’t I sit with you for a few minutes to make sure you are good?”
Sweet Jesus, this man was even more handsome up close.
“Won’t Mrs. Hunt be lost without you?” Her question seemed genuinely concerned, before a snort and another giggle, that couldn’t be held in, escaped.
The Colonel laughed. “I think she can manage without me.”
Maggie raised her finger, “I don’t know about that. I think she may be sizing you up to become husband number three. Third time’s a charm, you know.”
The Colonel was taken aback, “Yes, well, she will have to continue the search elsewhere. She isn’t exactly my type.”
“So, I noticed.”
He eyed at her suspiciously, holding a breathe in.
Oops, watch it, Maggie.
“What I meant to say is that you aren’t really her
type. She seems to prefer her husbands over the age of
70, and well, you are certainly not there yet.”
He relaxed, letting out his breath. “No, I don’t suppose I am.”
Whew! That was close.
They continued to chat until Maggie noticed couples drifting into the garden, looking for a little privacy. Maggie and the Colonel looked at each other.
“I should be getting home,” Maggie started to stand, the Colonel helping her.
“Perhaps I should escort you there, Mistress
“Maggie, please call me Maggie, and thank you, but I have my carriage and driver. He will see me home.”
He nodded. “Maggie, and please call me Gabe. I am very glad to have met you this evening. I hope I will see you again soon.”
Maggie offered him a genuine smile, “Me, too.”
He escorted her back inside and bid her good night.
Maggie located her hosts, thanking them for the evening, and after saying goodbye to a few others, boarded her carriage to head back to Beechcroft. She peered out of the window of the carriage, breathing in the cool night air. Lit lanterns on the sides illuminated the coach, making the front drive look as if it had modern day street lamps. When the carriage made a turn, she saw them: two people locked in an embrace in the darkness of a corner where they thought they wouldn’t be seen.
There was no mistaking, it was Major Horace and Colonel Asheton.
Maggie saw them, and the Colonel saw her as her carriage sped away.
Chapter 13- Excerpt
Three British soldiers strode in, heading straight to the tavern owner, asking him a bunch of questions. Most of the people eating didn’t even raise their heads in acknowledgment, used to the drill, but the two men across from her lowered their heads, pulling their cloak hoods up and tight around their faces. The younger man scanned the room. She noticed that he had reached into his boot, pulled out a knife and laid it across his lap.
The soldiers moved from table to table, pulling people back to get better looks at their faces. The had checked everyone else and were headed straight for the two men.
The younger man tensed, tightening the grip on his knife, ready for a fight.
Don’t get involved, Maggie; Don’t get involved, Maggie.
“Excuse me, sir, may I help you?” Maggie put herself between the soldiers and the two men.
“Out of the way ma’am. We are searching for two traitors to the Crown that were seen coming this way.”
“Oh my,” Maggie put on her best-shocked face, raising her hand to her mouth.
She really deserved an Oscar for all the acting she had been doing.
“Well, thank goodness that you men are out here keeping all of us safe.”
The soldier was impatient, looking behind her at the men with their heads still down. “We need to check these men.”
“Oh, Captain, is it? I can personally assure you that these men are no threat. You see, this one,” pointing to the older man, “is my father who has been very ill recently.”
The man started to cough on cue.
“And the other one is my brother who is...well...he just isn’t...right, if you take my meaning. He is calm right now, but any little upset to his routine causes him to go into fits. Why, the last man that upset him...well, there was nothing the doctor could do to save him. He said it was the worst carnage he had ever seen inflicted on one person in all of his thirty years of being a doctor.”
The young man shook the table and stomped the floor with his foot for emphasis.
At least she had a good back up crew.
Maggie gave him her best-concerned look. All three soldiers looked at each other, shifting on their feet.
“Yes, well, just the same, we still have to check.”
The younger man was about to lunge when Maggie motioned behind her back for him to stay. “I completely understand, but I know my dear friend Colonel Asheton would be so disappointed to hear that my father had been bothered when he was feeling so poorly. Why, he thinks of my father as his own.”
“Colonel Asheton, you say?”
Maggie nodded. “You know him?”
The soldier stuttered, “I know him...that is...I mean to say ...I know of him…” He turned to his men, “Let’s go. There is no one here.” He turned to Maggie, “Ma’am, safe travels to you.”
“Thank you, Captain, and thank you again for ensuring the safety of our citizens.” Maggie smiled and waved at them their whole way out. When she was certain they were gone, she turned around to see the two men standing and putting their hoods down.
The older man spoke. “My dear lady, I don’t know what to say except that I am forever in your debt.” He bowed slightly.
Maggie looked at him. “You really should scout your surroundings before you sit down, sir. Especially if you are a hunted man.”
He looked amused, “Yes, that is something I will keep in mind in the future. Please, can you be so kind as to tell me the name of the lady I am so indebted to.”
“Mistress Maggie Bishop of Williamsburg.”
He looked mildly surprised. “You are Mistress Bishop? I have heard a great deal about you. Allow me to introduce myself. I am General George Washington,
Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Maggie was speechless. She could barely believe what she had just heard. The myth, the man, the legend; General George-freaking-Washington was standing right in front of her, and she had just saved his life.
“Permit me to introduce my associate, Major
The young man bowed with the same shy grin on his face he’d had earlier.
Maggie nodded, even more stunned. For a war she had no intention of getting involved in, she seemed to have landed herself smack dab in between two of its key players.
“Please Mistress Bishop, sit and join us. It’s probably best we delay our exit while the soldiers are searching, and we appear to be safe here, thanks to your quick thinking.”
Maggie considered the invitation. Oh, what the hell? How many people can say they had drinks with George Washington?
She took a seat.