As she gazed out the window at the beautiful countryside north of the town of New York, Lady Huntington wondered what all the fuss was about. In the last few years the situation had become downright unpleasant. It seemed to Charlotte that when she was a child there were none of these problems, no talk of independence, no factions among the colonists. Now the world seemed to be divided, split into those troublemakers who spoke treason against King George, and others, like her husband, who remained loyal to the Crown.
Lord Huntington was a wealthy and powerful Loyalist, quite likely to be the next colonial governor. At twenty-three, his wife was twenty years his junior. The beautiful young woman was considered one of the most important hostesses in the New York social scene. Behind her back, the other ladies hinted that, given her husband's age, she was not above a flirtation or two, but there was no evidence that she had ever been indiscreet. She managed Lord Huntington's household with an iron hand, and had a frosty aristocratic bearing entirely appropriate for her husband's lofty position.
On this spring morning her thoughts turned to the last two years as the wife of Lord Huntington. Shortly before Charlotte Randolph's wedding her mother had taken her aside for a discreet word of advice. She reminded her daughter what a fortuitous match had been made in Lord Huntington, and delicately broached the subject of a wife's duty to her husband. Mistress Randolph explained that men had certain needs and that Charlotte must allow him to satisfy these needs. He would come to her bed and expect her to submit to his ardor, and this was necessary if she was to provide him with an heir. If her husband was gentle and considerate, it would be over soon and she need not suffer unduly. Mistress Randolph suggested that Charlotte might wish to occupy her mind with thoughts of sewing or perhaps silently sing a hymn to help her get through the ordeal.
"Mother," Charlotte had asked, "does a wife not experience pleasure in this act?"
"Ever since Eve women have been tempted by their passions," explained her mother. "It is the responsibility of a woman of quality to resist those temptations. Only a common strumpet would allow herself to revel in carnal delight! Besides, Lord Huntington would no doubt be appalled if he thought he had married a woman who cannot control her passions."
Thus prepared, Charlotte awaited the event with some trepidation. The first time she was rather nervous, but Lord Huntington was indeed gentle, and upon discovering that it was not as unpleasant as she had expected she was more relaxed in subsequent visits. These visits were, in fact, rather infrequent. Apparently Lord Huntington was able to control his own passions admirably. In more than a year of marriage, Charlotte's husband had only come to her bed about half a dozen times. Always it had been in darkness, and being a Lady of quality she had never dared to touch him, so she was rather unsure as to what a man's private parts looked like.
Sometimes, when Charlotte had received him inside her and he was moving against her, she thought she began to experience a sensation that was not entirely unpleasant. There was a kind of—friction—that occurred that she found intriguing. On several occasions she was actually disappointed when he finished, wishing it could have gone on longer. Of course she kept thinking about what her mother had said, that proper women did not enjoy this sort of thing, and she was embarrassed by the prospect that she might find it pleasurable. Did this mean that she was harboring indecent urges? Best to banish such thoughts from her mind and not let it haunt her.
Lady Huntington now reflected on the situation with the colonists that necessitated her traveling to New York. It seemed they were perpetually dissatisfied, writing the most disloyal and inflammatory tracts in an attempt to foment rebellion. Did these malcontents not understand what it meant that King George was monarch by the Grace of God? Her husband believed that they must be dealt with harshly. He often said that hanging a bunch of them might be just what was needed to get their attention.
And now the troubles were worse. At Lexington and Concord in the Massachusetts colony there had been fighting in which men had been killed, and the rebel army was growing. War seemed imminent, and Lord Huntington was concerned for her safety. He said that if things got out of hand the Crown would send a large fleet of ships, full of soldiers to suppress the troublemakers. Her husband assured her that the British army was the best in the world, and they would make short work of this ragged bunch of malcontents. But just to be sure, he wanted his wife in a safe place.
Lord Huntington decided that Charlotte would be safer in town. They owned a house in New York on Wall Street, and if it became necessary to leave the colonies until order was restored it was a short distance to the sailing ships that would carry her to safety in England or Canada.
Servants had been sent ahead, with numerous trunks of the Lady's wardrobe, to open the house and prepare it for her arrival. Lady Huntington and her maid were ready to depart on the two-day journey by coach. They were accompanied by the driver and a footman, both carrying loaded pistols in the event that they were accosted by bandits. There had been some stories circulating that highwaymen were operating in the area, and Lord Huntington wanted the men armed. He kissed Charlotte and told her not to worry; he would join her soon, and waved good-bye as the coach rolled away toward the City. The length of the trip required them to stop overnight, and arrangements had been made at a refined inn along the way. As the day wore on and the travelers approached their rest stop, Lady Huntington was becoming somewhat short-tempered. "I don't see why I should be inconvenienced so, Betsy," she complained to her maid. "The house in town is not nearly as comfortable as the country, and I always find the city to be noisy and dirty."
"Yes, my lady," Betsy replied.
"And staying the night at this inn is really more than anyone should have to bear," Lady Huntington continued.
"Yes, my lady," said Betsy.
"Who is driving? I didn't even notice."
"Edward is driving, my lady. And Jonathan is serving as footman," Betsy answered.
"I can never tell who is who on the staff. Except Walters, who runs everything, and my own girls, of course," she said with a nod in Betsy's direction.
"Thank you, my lady."
"I doubt that I shall get a wink of sleep. No doubt it will take me a week to recover when we get to town."
"Yes, my lady," Betsy responded agreeably.
As the coach rattled over the Post Road toward the inn, none of the travelers, including Edward and Jonathan riding outside, were aware that they had an escort. The two riders who followed their progress at an unseen distance were quite experienced at remaining concealed on the road.
At the Wellington Inn, Lady Huntington and Betsy were shown inside by the solicitous innkeeper and his wife, while the driver and footman attended to the horses. The two men would spend the night in the quarters adjacent to the stables.
The coach had been closed for most of the trip to keep out the road dust. Nonetheless, Lady Huntington ordered Betsy to take her traveling dress outside and beat it, then to prepare a bath to wash away the 'dreadful dust' from the journey. Betsy helped her bathe, and afterwards the maid brushed her mistress's long black hair until it was dry, leaving it soft and shining. A light supper was prepared and served, but Charlotte did not have much of an appetite under these trying circumstances.
In spite of her tribulations, Charlotte slept surprisingly well, and in the morning she arose refreshed. They consumed a light breakfast in the rooms, and Betsy attended her mistress as she dressed for the remainder of their travels. Lady Huntington decided that stays would be too uncomfortable in the coach and instead wore a cotton chemise with a front-lacing bodice, half-sleeves and a full skirt. After Betsy drew the laces on the bodice she helped Lady Huntington into her travel gown, which covered her to the neck, then arranged her hair with ivory combs. After fetching her hat they were ready to set out on the road again.
As the footman helped Lady Huntington into the interior, Betsy was overseeing the innkeeper, who was loading her mistress's luggage on the back of the coach. When she came around to the door, the footman had already gone around to the rear to check on the bindings, so she entered the coach unassisted. Betsy looked after Lady Huntington and as the two women settled in, the footman closed and fastened the door and climbed up with the driver.
With the curtains drawn the interior was dimly lit, and the swaying motion rocked the ladies until they dozed off. Lady Huntington had no idea how much time had passed when she was gently shaken awake by her maid.
"My lady? My lady?" Betsy spoke in a hushed voice.
"Hm? What is it Betsy?" Lady Huntington asked as she opened her eyes. "Are we there yet?"
"No, ma'am. I'm not sure where we are," the girl replied, keeping her voice down.
"What do you mean? And why are you whispering?"
"I don't think we are on the Post Road anymore," said Betsy.
"What? Nonsense. Where else would we be?"
"I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't remember traveling this way to town before. The road is narrower than the Post Road, and judging from the sun I think we are heading west, not south."
Charlotte pulled aside the window curtain and peered out, squinting in the afternoon sunlight. It did indeed appear that they were heading west, and the road was quite narrow. But that did not necessarily mean they were lost. The road might turn west for a bit, and certainly the driver knows what he is doing.
"Oh, don't be such a goose, Betsy. I'm sure the driver...what's his name again?"
"Yes, of course. I'm sure Edward knows where he is going," Lady Huntington assured her.
But Lady Huntington was not entirely assured herself, and during the course of the next hour she found herself frequently peeking through the curtains. The route continued west, and finally she told Betsy to open the little door in the roof that allowed them to speak to the driver. They could see the backs of the two men through the hatch, and Lady Huntington told Betsy to ask them why they had been heading west. Without turning around the driver called back,
"It's a short-cut, ma'am. It will save us at least three hours."
"Well, I suppose he knows his job," commented Lady Huntington as Betsy closed the hatch.
They had traveled for another hour when the coach came to a stop. The ladies could feel the carriage rock as the two men climbed down, and Lady Huntington pulled the curtain aside and looked out.
"What is it, Edward?" she asked the driver.
"We can rest and water the horses here, my lady. It will be a short while. If I may suggest, this would be a good time to stretch a bit, if it pleases your Ladyship."
Lady Huntington pulled the curtain all the way back and looked around. There was a house, and a barn, and a well nearby. A drink of cool water would be welcome, she thought.
"You may fetch us a drink of water, Betsy. And then perhaps I shall get out here."
"Yes, my lady," Betsy replied, as she opened the door.
The footman pulled out and set the step, and offered his hand as the maid emerged from the dark interior of the coach. Betsy squinted in the sunlight, keeping her eyes shaded with her hand as she walked toward the well. Through the open coach door, Charlotte saw Betsy disappear from sight as she walked around to the well.
A few minutes later the maid appeared in the open doorway, framed in the light. In her hand she held a cup of water, and as Charlotte looked up at Betsy's face she was startled. The young maid had a most alarmed look on her face, her eyes wide in what might be terror. The girl leaned in to hand the water to her mistress and as Charlotte reached for the cup Betsy spoke to her in an urgent tone.
"It's not them!" she said in a frightened whisper.
"What? What are you talking about, Betsy?"
"It's not them! It's not Jonathan and Edward! I've never seen these men before," she said, trying to keep her voice low.
"Are you sure? Maybe Walters changed the staff at the last minute."
"No, no! It was Jonathan and Edward when we set out, and they were at the inn last night!" Betsy seemed on the verge of tears.
"Well, what about when we left this morning?"
"I was so busy getting the baggage settled that I never looked at their faces," the maid said.
Lady Huntington was distressed by Betsy's allegation, and unsure what to do. But before she had a chance to decide anything, her maid flew backwards from the open doorway. As she was pulled away by a muscular arm wrapped around her slender waist, Betsy shrieked, her feet off the ground and kicking. Charlotte, who had been leaning forward toward the doorway, drew back in fright, her hand over her mouth. In the next instant a man's face appeared at the opening. He was wearing a loose white shirt, open at the neck, and a leather waistcoat, the front unlaced. He wore no hat, and his long dark hair was secured back in a ponytail. If Charlotte had been in any condition to notice, she would have regarded him as handsome, though in a dark and hardened way.
"My God, what is the meaning of this?" she managed to say, in spite of her fear.
"Please come out of the coach, madam," said the man in a calm, deep voice.
"How dare you handle my maid that way? I demand an explanation!" she ordered, attempting to gain control of the situation.
"Out!" he commanded, ignoring her demands.
When she failed to comply, he seized her wrist and pulled her forcefully, causing her to tumble forward through the doorway of the coach as her hat went flying off. He caught her before she could fall forward onto her face, and she tried to pull free, but his strong arms gripped her like iron.
"Release me, unhand me this instant, sir! How dare you touch me!" she yelled, still struggling. She saw Betsy, a few yards away, in the grip of the other man. The maid was no longer struggling, but she was terrified, and was crying.
"You are in no position to make any demands, Lady Huntington. You and your maid are our prisoners," replied her captor as he released his grip and allowed her to stand on her own. She stepped back and looked at this man who had had the audacity to handle her so. His black breeches were tucked into high leather boots, and he had a buckskin bag on a long strap that spanned his broad chest and crossed over his shoulder. And he carried a pistol in his belt.
After composing herself, Lady Huntington smoothed the front of her dress and asked in a calmer tone, "Prisoners? But why? Who are you?"
He did not answer her immediately, and she continued. "You must be rebels. Are you with the colonists who are opposing the King?"
"No, madam, we are not with the revolution," he replied. "You might say we already have our independence."
"Are you bandits, then? Highwaymen?"
"Some would call us that," he said with a slight bow of acknowledgement. "My name is Jeremiah Hudson, but most call me Jack."
"Well you shall not get away with this, Mr. Hudson," she warned him. "If it is ransom you seek I assure you that you shall end up hanging instead."
The man looked at his accomplice and smiled. "Do you hear that, Tom. The lady says we are to hang. What do you say to that?"
"Let them catch us first, that's what I say," said Tom with a hardy laugh.
Thinking that the bandit was distracted by the banter, Lady Huntington bolted and ran for the nearby woods. It was a pointless attempt, as she hadn't gone twenty feet before her captor caught up to her and seized her arm.
"Let me go, you filthy beast," she screamed as she tried to twist away from his grip. She swung around with her free hand and tried to strike him on the face, but he grabbed that arm, too, and held her immobile.
"I fear I shall have to convince you of the futility of any attempt to escape. You would not last long in these woods, and I happen to know that there are Indians in the vicinity. You would not want to fall into their hands, I assure you."
The outraged aristocrat was not listening, but continued to struggle. The highwayman took her wrists and began to pull her toward the well. When she resisted and lost her footing, he simply dragged her along to the stone circle, her feet trailing in the dirt.
"Stop! Stop! What are you doing? Let me go!" she yelled, but he ignored her as he lifted her bodily.
"You speak of hanging? I shall give you a taste of hanging, you obstinate brat," he laughed as he turned her upside down and held her over the open well. He shifted his grip to her ankles and lowered her into the dark abyss.
Charlotte was too terrified of falling to struggle. She heard her voice echo off the wet stones as she cried out to her tormentor, "Please, no! Oh God, don't! Don't drop me please!"
The long skirts of both her travel dress and the cotton chemise had fallen toward her head, and only her pantalets shielded her legs from his view. However, the implications for her modesty were the least of her concerns as she felt the cold damp air of the well and prayed he would not let her fall. As the blood rushed to her head she began to feel faint, and she could hear Betsy, as if from a great distance, screaming hysterically.
"What now, my lady? Do you fancy a swim?' Jack Hudson said, amused at her distress as he lowered her a little more into the well.
"No, please, I beg you," she pleaded in a hushed voice, as if yelling might cause him to drop her, "I shan't attempt to escape. I give you my word,"
The highwayman lifted her effortlessly from the mouth of the well, and swinging her over the side, dropped her on the solid ground. She was dizzy, and lay on the grass while she waited for her head to clear. Her skirts were in disarray, and she pulled them down to cover her pantalets. As Charlotte started to rise the brute did not even offer her his hand, instead she was forced to get to her feet unassisted. She smoothed her skirts, and pushed back the strands of her hair that had fallen over her face.
"What is it you want?" she asked quietly, chastened by the harrowing experience. She had never been used this way, by anyone. Though she regarded her husband as her master in many respects, she was used to being pampered and treated with the utmost respect. But in a very brief time this man had established his dominance over her and demonstrated that he was firmly in control.
He looked into her eyes, his stony gaze unwavering as he said, "I mean to have you."
At first the words did not register, their significance so far from anything she could conceive of that she did not understand. As he continued to hold her eyes with his, the implication began to dawn on her. He could not mean what she thought, it wasn't possible.
"I don't understand," she said softly. Her heart was beginning to pound in her breast, and her breathing was becoming more rapid.
"What you understand or do not understand does not concern me. I will have you, you may be certain, and in ways you cannot imagine," he said confidently.
Lady Huntington's heart was thumping with such force that she thought he might be able to hear it. Was he intending to ravish her? What did he mean when he said 'in ways you cannot imagine'?
"No," she said in a barely audible whisper. "You wouldn't. It is not right," her protest sounding weak even to her own ears.
Without a word he bent over, put his arm around her slender waist and lifted her over his shoulder. She began to struggle and object when her eyes fell on the well, and her protestation stuck in her throat. She saw the look of horror on Betsy's face as the highwayman carried her past the house toward the barn.