Possession – Chapter 17

“You must really take me for a fool, Juliana.” Juliana sat on a little stool while Joseph Robinson circled her like a vulture. “You expect me to believe that you, someone who’s become so close to Tavington, have absolutely no knowledge about his military plans?”

“I’m just a slave,” Juliana said meekly.

Robinson laughed. “Just a slave? We’ve had this conversation before, remember? In town? That whole innocent ‘just a slave’ act won’t work on me. You and Tavington aren’t very good at hiding the true nature of your relationship. You should realize by now that it’s obvious to anyone paying attention.” Robinson bent down in front of Juliana, looking her dead in the eye. “Tell me about the Dragoons’ troop movements,” he demanded.

“I don’t know anything about what the Colonel does when he’s away from the house,” Juliana said.

Robinson stood upright and glared down at Juliana skeptically. He nodded slowly. “We’ll see how much you know.”

/\/\/

One week passed. Then two. Soon a month had passed since the night Tavington had lost Juliana. He was beginning to see the reality of the situation by this point. She was gone, and he wasn’t going to get her back. As a result, he’d closed up his house in Charles Town and relocated to officer’s quarters at Fort Carolina, taking William with him to be his manservant. He’d almost completely put the situation to rest in his mind … until William approached him one evening with unexpected news.

“Colonel Tavington?” William said, standing in the doorway of Tavington’s room.

Tavington didn’t turn around at his desk or otherwise take his eyes from his work. “Yes, William, what is it?” he said.

“Sir, I think I know what happened to Juliana and the others,” the slave said timidly.

This time, Tavington did turn in his chair and look at his servant.

/\/\/

“William, tell His Lordship exactly what you told me,” Tavington instructed.

William sat in a chair surrounded by Tavington, Cornwallis, and O’Hara, all standing, in Cornwallis’s Fort Carolina office.

William nodded, ready to oblige. “Yes, sir. When I was in Charles Town today, I overheard these two women – slaves, sir – talkin’ about this man named Joseph Robinson. They say he used to walk around in a Redcoat uniform, but they say he wasn’t no Redcoat officer. They said he was workin’ for the rebel army. And they said he wasn’t alone, said there was others who was like him, rebels pretendin’ to be Redcoats. When they said he was a negro, I knew they had to be talkin’ about one of the same men who sneaked into the party that night.”

“How do you know that?” O’Hara questioned.

“Because, sir, one of the men who took Colonel Tavington’s slaves away that night was a negro in a Redcoat uniform,” William replied.

Tavington turned to Cornwallis. “My lord, I believe that if we find this man Robinson, we can locate the rest of his group,” Tavington said optimistically.

“I understand your desire to see justice prevail, Colonel Tavington,” Cornwallis began, “however, now that time has provided us some distance from the unfortunate event, I have had the opportunity to reevaluate the situation with a more objective eye. In doing so, I find that I am hesitant to rush into action on this matter.”

“My lord?” Tavington couldn’t believe his ears. Here they were, being practically handed a group of rebel criminals, and Cornwallis didn’t want to act.

“Colonel, let us look at the actual impact that these dissidents have made so far, shall we?” Cornwallis suggested. “We know of one incident, with certainty, for which this group is responsible. We have to weigh whether it would be worth the risk to us merely to break up a group of small-time rabble.”

“My lord, with all due respect, this ‘small-time rabble’ is guilty of impersonating His Majesty’s military,” Tavington urged. “Yes, their impact has been minimal as of yet; but, sir, this could only be the beginning. We need to hit them hard before they become stronger. If we fail to take them out now, my lord, while we have the chance, they might gain the strength and the confidence to strike again. We might not get the opportunity to stop them again, sir.” They couldn’t just give up on this so soon. They hadn’t even tried.

“Colonel, my mind is made up,” Cornwallis said with finality. “I will not risk the lives of valuable fighting men to break up a bunch of petty criminals. The matter is done, and I will entertain no more discussion on it.”

Tavington stifled any retort that happened to resting on the tip of his tongue. It was true that he desired action because he wanted Juliana back, yes; but he also wanted to see these criminals, whomever they were, decimated. It annoyed Tavington that Cornwallis was seemingly letting the matter drop.

The matter was not done, Tavington determined. No, this was not done.

/\/\/

It was a chance occurrence, but Tavington was grateful for it. It was one of the rare occasions since the abduction that Tavington actually went into Charles Town; it also happened to be one of the days that the infamous Joseph Robinson made an appearance in town. Tavington had looked up by chance, and there Robinson had been, standing across the street.

The way Tavington saw it, he had two options at his disposal: he could arrest Robinson right there on the street and haul him in for questioning; or he could wait, trail him all day, and see where Robinson would lead him. Robinson could very well lead him to the rest of the imposters that had made off with his property … and with Juliana.

xxx

Tavington had to wait two hours before he moved from his spot across the street from Robinson. That’s how long it was before Robinson began to move away from the store he’d been loitering in front of. The sun would be setting in a short period, and Tavington hoped Robinson was on his way home, or wherever he would be staying for the night. He would follow Robinson in the dark if forced to, but he would rather not. He followed Robinson down the street, making sure to keep his distance. Then he followed him when he turned the corner and began to walk up another street.

xxx

By the time the sun was setting, Tavington had taken possession of a steed and followed Robinson some distance out from Charles Town. Robinson had also mounted and was riding a good distance in front of Tavington. They had traveled by horseback for nearly 45 minutes, and Tavington was beginning to wonder whether this Robinson fellow would actually lead him anywhere.

Then there was something. An encampment. A massive encampment crawling with rebels. Hundreds of them. All right under Cornwallis’s nose.

Robinson had turned off somewhere, probably to the road leading into the camp, but Tavington was no longer concerned with that one man. He had found a virtual gold mine. He looked down on the encampment from his hidden perch and mused: Juliana was possibly down there right now.

Tavington pulled his horse back from the ledge and galloped back toward Charles Town.

/\/\/

“If I don’t come back,” Tavington told William, “give this to Captain Bordon.” He handed over a letter to the young man. “You don’t have to say anything; it’s all in the letter.” Tavington turned back to his horse.

“Colonel, sir, are you sure you wouldn’t want to do this in the mornin’?” William questioned.

Tavington looked at William and then up at the night sky. Daylight had its advantages, but Tavington would need the cover of darkness to do what he had to do.

He gracefully mounted the horse. He didn’t know if he was making the right move. Should he make this attempt? Should he risk so much to just to try to rescue her? If so, why? Tavington knew his actions would amount to failure to comply with Cornwallis’s wishes. He was about to disobey a direct order. He could lose his career and for what? What was it inside of him that was urging him to do this? What was she to him?

She was the person he found himself in love with, that’s who she was. It was high time he admitted that to himself, even if he couldn’t admit it to the world. And he couldn’t just give her up without a fight.

The slaves Tavington had lost in the raid were quite another story. They were good workers, but he wouldn’t be able to recover them. He was alone, and he would be lucky if he made it out alive with Juliana.

Tavington nodded to William before turning and spurring his horse to rapid motion.

/\/\/

When Tavington neared the camp, he shed his red uniform coat and put on a blue, rebel coat. He’d secretly acquired it from a rebel prisoner being held at Fort Carolina two days earlier when he’d decided to embark on this little rescue mission of his. It was just fabric, after all, and it was a decent size. However, it still felt awkward, wrong. He shrugged off the sensation and walked over to the ledge where he’d first observed the rebel encampment. To his right, there was a slightly worn trail, which Tavington surmised led to the camp. He tied his horse to a tree, put on the uniform hat (also from rebel prisoners), and began to follow the trail.

The walk was short, and Tavington reached the camp in about five minutes. He entered inconspicuously and began to mill about casually, blending in with the military personnel there. He kept his hat pulled low, attempting to keep as much of his face and identity as possible covered. The camp was large. It might take him hours, maybe even days, to find Juliana, if she was even there still.

Luck must have been with him because he spotted Juliana almost immediately, about 30 yards away. Even from that distance, he could see that she looked like she’d had a rough time. They’d put her to work, of course, serving water and food to soldiers. Her hair was disheveled and her clothing was dirty and ragged. Juliana herself looked worn down and exhausted.

As Tavington came closer to her, there were other telltale signs that Juliana’s experience over the past month had not been pleasant. When he was only a few yards away, he could clearly make out the fresh bruise beneath her right eye. It was a sight that made Tavington’s blood boil.

Tavington, his hat still pulled low over his eyes and face strode up to Juliana. “Could I trouble you for a drink of water?” he asked her.

“If you can’t already tell, I’m busy here,” Juliana said. She didn’t even bother to look up at the person talking to her. She seemed too busy to do so. “Is something wrong with you that you can’t get it yourself?” Her words came across brusquely. Tavington understood now why she was bruised. If she spoke in that manner to everyone around here on regular basis, Tavington was surprised they hadn’t already killed her.

Juliana began to move away to go see to someone else, but Tavington grabbed her arm. This finally prompted her to look up at the man who’d spoken to her. She realized that it was Tavington when he lifted his hat slightly, allowing her to see more of his face.

“Your help would be greatly appreciated,” Tavington said forcefully, looking into her dark eyes. “Will you come to my aid?” There was definitely a hidden meaning in his words, and Juliana believed that she knew what it was.

Juliana nodded. “Yes, sir,” she said. “I’ll see what I can do.” Still carrying her water pitcher, she followed Tavington through the camp. They reached the edge of the camp without incident, and Tavington couldn’t believe how easy it had all been. No wonder these colonials were losing the war.

When they reached Tavington’s horse at the other end of the trail, Tavington looked around at the other officers to make sure he and Juliana had not been followed. It seemed they had cleared the camp with no trouble at all.

Tavington found his horse right where he’d left it. He untied it from the tree and mounted. Then, he pulled Juliana onto the animal so that she sat in front of him, and he wrapped his arms around her to grip the reins. He gently spurred the horse, and they started off at gentle but steady trot through the dark forest.

“It’s so dark,” Juliana commented. “How do you know where we’re goin’?”

“In His Majesty’s army, you don’t think they actually let us go into battle without basic survival skills, do you?” Tavington asked with a small, arrogant grin.

“I have so many questions,” Juliana said, switching topics.

“In good time, my dear,” Tavington deflected. “For now, I believe we should concentrate our efforts on returning to Charles Town in safety.”

They rode for about a minute with the sound of nothing but the horse’s hooves. Then: “Why did you come after me?” Juliana asked. “I’d find it hard to believe if you told me that Cornwallis sent you on a mission just to save me. If that were true, you’d surely have brought someone else with you.” She let a few silent moments pass. “So, here we are, you havin’ rode in to rescue me. Why?”

Tavington sighed. Nothing could ever be simple with Juliana could it? “How else was I to retrieve my property?” Tavington asked matter-of-factly.

“Seems awful risky for just one piece of property … ” Juliana commented skeptically.

“This possession of mine is something I value dearly,” Tavington said. “Something very dear to me.”

“You can’t replace it?” Juliana inquired.

“No, never,” Tavington said. “Not even if I tried. But I would never want to.”

“I don’t know if I can live like this anymore, with all this uncertainty,” Juliana said suddenly. “I’d have been better off in that Continental army camp. Stop the horse.”

“What?” Tavington asked, confused.

“I said stop the horse. Stop it.” Juliana grabbled the reins and pulled on them hard. The horse stopped abruptly, and Juliana slid off. She began to walk away, back in the direction of the camp.

“Juliana – wait!” Tavington hopped off the horse and ran to catch up with her. He caught her by the arm. “Wait.”

“Why should I? Why should I go back with you? At least the Continentals treat me like a person.”

“Like a person!” Tavington sputtered in disbelief. He indicated her bruised cheek. “They treated you like a slave. In fact, they treated you much worse than one, by the looks of it.”

“I am a slave,” Juliana proclaimed. “I’m not a war relic. I’m not just some tool for you to use whenever the need – or desire – comes around. And at least the Continentals are consistent. I know what to expect from them, which is more than I can say about you. Most of the time, I’m miserable with you.” She pulled her arm free from his grip, and turned back, intending to resume her walk back to the camp.

This was it. If Tavington didn’t stop playing games with her and beating around the bush, he was going to lose her. “And I’m miserable without you,” he admitted.

Juliana stopped walking. Slowly, she turned to Tavington again. “You don’t really mean that,” she disputed. “You can’t. It goes against everything I know about you.”

“Well, then … ” Tavington began, walking toward Juliana, ” … maybe you don’t know as much about me as you thought you did.” He stopped directly in front of her, reached up, and touched her face.

Juliana reached up and pulled his hand away from her face, despite the fact that it had felt good there. “You have to understand where I’m comin’ from, Colonel,” she said. “This isn’t the first time that somethin’ kinda like this has happened. I-you’ve-it’s happened before, and I let myself believe it then … but then you changed so, and you became so incredibly cruel afterwards. I’m at the point now where I don’t know what to think.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Tavington asked. “Isn’t that proof enough of my sincerity? Isn’t it enough that I … ” His voice trailed, and he reconsidered his words. “What is it you want me to do? Tell you how I couldn’t get you out of my mind the entire time you were away from me? Profess how I’ve … fallen, hopelessly, in love with you? Is that it?”

Juliana was prevented from replying by the sound of a horse whinnying nearby. Tavington looked up, past Juliana. Someone on horseback was quickly closing in on them from the direction of the rebel camp. That wasn’t necessarily the problem, however. The problem was that this mounted person wasn’t alone. Three men on foot accompanied him, but they were still far enough off that Tavington and Juliana should be able to get away.

Tavington took Juliana’s hand, intending to get back to the horse, but that soon proved to be an ineffective route. The horse’s path, he saw, was blocked by three more men. None of them wore uniforms, but they all carried muskets. Some carried pistols.

Tavington turned back to the mounted man, who was directly upon them, now. “Stop where you are!” the man ordered. “Don’t take another step.” The steed took a few steps closer to Tavington and Juliana, and Juliana saw that it was Joseph Robinson.

The odds were largely unfavorable toward Juliana and Tavington. They had been in this situation before, but back then, they’d been able to turn to the river for refuge. No such opportunity existed now.

“Colonel Tavington,” Robinson said, “I never thought you’d actually be arrogant enough to come here in person.”

“You can have me,” Tavington offered. “I’ll go willingly, just let her go. What’s one slave to your army?”

“One could easily ask the same of the British army … or of you,” Robinson said. “I’m led to believe that she means something to you since you came for her. The fact that you want her back is reason enough, which means that I now have incredible leverage over you. And for the record, we aren’t regulars, in case you haven’t noticed. We’re militia.” Robinson smiled triumphantly. “It looks like you two are our newest prisoners of war.”

The militiamen surrounded Tavington and Juliana. Tavington had no earthly idea how to get out of this mess. These men were militia; they wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to His Majesty’s fighting men in battle … but they had the definite advantage in the here and now. Tavington couldn’t run. He couldn’t fight. When he was certain that his fate lay in a wartime prison, a shot that seemed to have no source rang out into the night. The thud of a body falling to the ground made everyone turn. They saw one of the militiamen lying at the feet of Tavington’s horse. Two more shots and the two other men near the horse fell to the ground, presumably dead. The next shot went through one of the men standing next to Robinson.

The invisible assailants emerged from their hiding places, revealing their identity. They were Dragoons, three in number and all on horseback. One of them was Captain Bordon, but Juliana couldn’t make out the other two, who leveled their pistols at the remaining militiamen.

Tavington’s pistol was already loaded, so he pulled it from his belt and pointed it squarely at Robinson. “Dismount,” Tavington ordered. He was back in his natural element again. He was in control.

Robinson obediently hopped from the horse and joined the other two men from his unit. Tavington followed him with his gun. “Drop your weapons,” Tavington ordered. “All of them.” He watched as the muskets, pistols, daggers, and swords hit the ground.

Keeping a keen watch on Robinson, Tavington addressed Juliana. “Juliana, go with Bordon.”

Juliana didn’t want to leave him, but she knew that he would be okay, so she left his side and joined Bordon, who sat at a slight distance on his horse.

“Bordon, take her back to Charles Town,” Tavington instructed. “I’ll be along shortly.”

“Yes, sir,” Bordon replied. He reached down to Juliana and pulled her up onto the horse behind him. Once she was settled, he spurred the horse to motion, and they sped away from the scene.

“Juliana is a good woman,” Robinson said. “She keeps her mouth shut.” Tavington glared at him icily, but Robinson continued. “She wouldn’t say a word against you … not even when I resorted to more persuasive methods of interrogation.”

“Ahhh, so you’re the one who left her with that nasty little bruise,” Tavington said, maintaining a disturbingly calm tone of voice.

“It’s just one of many, Colonel,” Robinson replied. “One of many … ”

“I see.” Tavington holstered his pistol. The other two Dragoons, still mounted, looked at each other curiously but held their aim at their respective targets.

“What I did, my behavior toward Juliana, was no worse that those acts that you commit everyday, you butcher,” Robinson said defiantly.

“My, my – word does get around, doesn’t it?” Tavington said with a chuckle. “Am I to take it that you’ve heard those unflattering rumors as well?”

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

“You have, have you?” With swiftness that surprised everyone present, Tavington unsheathed his sword and thrust into Robinson. It wasn’t enough that the weapon had inflicted a mortal wound; Tavington shoved the blade further into Robinson, pushing until the tip of the blade protruded from Robinson’s back.

Robinson fell to his knees, still conscious. Tavington maintained a firm grip on the sword’s handle. He looked down into the eyes of this man, who’s lifeblood was pouring from him. “You said you’ve seen it,” Tavington hissed. “Now you’ve experienced it firsthand.” He jerked the sword out of Robinson and pushed him to the ground. He looked at the other two Dragoons. “Shoot them,” he said dismissively as he walked past them to his horse. On the way, he shrugged out of the blue Continental uniform jacket he’d worn as a disguise and threw it to the ground in disgust.

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