Possession – Chapter 23

“I told you to hold your fire!” Tavington scolded his officer.

“Sorry, Colonel,” the officer said. “I thought he had a firearm. It looked like a pistol.”

“A pistol? He’s a boy. His ‘pistol’ was made of wood; it’s nothing more than a child’s toy.” Tavington flashed a look of fury at the trigger-happy officer.

“You never know with these Colonials, sir,” the officer said. “They teach the young ones to shoot and aim just as well as an adult. I’m sorry, Colonel.”

Getting his hands on that list of Martin’s men had been an incredible stroke of luck for Tavington, but he didn’t feel so lucky now. His unit had made it to seven homes on the Santee, so far, but had made only minimal progress in the way of information on the rebels. It was all a tragedy, really, Tavington thought. And it was all because these silly people felt the need to protect those traitorous fools.

From his mount, Tavington peered down at the lifeless little boy. The boy couldn’t have been any older than 5 or 6. Tavington wasn’t fighting this war to kill children. Tavington looked at the woman being held at gunpoint by two soldiers. She was undoubtedly the boy’s mother. She had the same red hair and was frantic at the sight of the dead boy.

“We know your husband is part of the South Carolina militia,” Tavington told her. “What happened to your son is regrettable, but if you tell us what we need to know, you will be saved from suffering his fate. Tell me – where are your husband and the rest of his rebel friends hiding?”

The woman’s face was slick with fresh tears. She shook her head. “I don’t know, sir. He didn’t tell me anything.”

“Have it your way,” Tavington said, as he pulled out his revolver. He pointed it at the woman and pulled the trigger. The shot tore into her chest and she fell limp in the hands of the two soldiers. They dropped her on the ground beside her son.

xxx

A week later, Tavington sat atop his horse, watching flames engulf the church a few yards in front of him. How had it all escalated to this awful point? Inside that church was Pembroke’s entire population – men, women … and children.

Had it really been absolutely necessary? No, Tavington answered himself. He knew that he probably could have burned the town and the message to the people would have been as loud and as clear. But this move he had taken, burning the church, would certainly drive that message all the way home. Traitors deserved what came to them. Those who helped traitors were just as guilty as the traitors themselves. And Tavington would remain relentless in his pursuit of Benjamin Martin.

Captain Wilkins, looking particularly ill, rode up beside Tavington on his horse. He had dutifully carried out the order to burn the church.

“The honor is found in the end, not the means,” Tavington told Wilkins. He said it to convince himself more than to convince Wilkins. “This will be forgotten.” Tavington knew this was a lie. How could he forget those screams? Some of those screams belonged to children, babies even. If the roles were reversed, and Colonials were burning a church full of Loyalists, it could easily be his own children inside.

Tavington banished the thoughts from his mind and mentally blocked out the screams of those dying inside the church. He had to keep in sight what – who – he was doing this for. If Tavington got Martin, he would get Ohio. Once he got Ohio, everything would fall into place. Everything he had gone through and put up with would have been worth it.

/\/\/

“Juliana, I just heard some news about Colonel Tavington just now on the square,” Jenny said as she rushed into the bedroom. Juliana, having just put the children down for a nap, turned to Jenny. “They say he killed some slaves at a plantation on the Santee,” Jenny continued.

Juliana led Jenny from the bedroom, closing the door behind them. “Who?” Juliana asked the girl.

“John Moore,” Jenny said.

A surprised breath escaped Juliana’s lips. She knew John. She used to see him all the time in town.

“And there’s more,” Jenny said. “I heard some people say that Colonel Tavington locked all the Pembroke people in the town church and set it on fire. Wasn’t a person left. Ain’t that somethin’? A whole town gone up in smoke, just like that.”

“It can’t be, Jenny,” Juliana said. She shook her head. “There must be some kind of mistake. Maybe they were talking about a different colonel or somethin’. They couldn’t have been talkin’ about our Colonel Tavington.”

“I don’t know. It sure did sound like they was talkin’ about him.”

xxx

Juliana couldn’t believe what Jenny had said about Tavington the day before. She just couldn’t accept it, not without any proof. She knew that Tavington could be a hard man, but could he really murder a whole town? A whole town? It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be.

She walked into the general store. She hadn’t taken more than three steps inside when she heard two people by the counter talking about something that instantly garnered her attention.

“Have you heard about what happened at Pembroke?” one man asked. Juliana stopped and listened. Her back was to the man who’d spoken.

“I have, indeed,” a second man answered. “It’s terrible, just terrible.”

The first man shook his head. “That Tavington was in command. How anyone could be so heartless, I don’t know. I had a cousin in Pembroke … they couldn’t find any bodies at all.”

“I tell you what – I feel sorry for Tavington. He’s got to live with this for the rest of his life, and he’s going to have to answer for it on Judgment Day.”

“You do have a point, although I hear that the colonel may be answering for it while he’s still alive.”

“The battle at Cowpens. Yes, I’ve heard. It was a very bad loss for the British. What makes it so bad is that it shouldn’t have been a loss at all.” He sighed. “Either way, I hear that Tavington is very bad off, close to death they say.”

Juliana ran outside the store. She didn’t need to hear anymore. She couldn’t see past the tears in her eyes, and she leaned against a lamppost outside. She wanted to die. She wanted to die because so many had already died at Tavington’s hands, including a whole town. And she wanted to die because Tavington was dying, and there was anything in the world she could do to save him. Unless …

Someone tapped her lightly on the shoulder. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Juliana turned around. She recognized the man but not fully. She’d seen him before, but she couldn’t remember where. He seemed to know exactly who she was, though, when he finally saw her face.

“Hey,” he said, “It’s you, from General Cornwallis’s party.”

Juliana focused on the man’s features as he spoke again. “It’s me – Sam Parker. You met me at one of the General’s place last year.”

Juliana breathed a sigh of relief because she finally recognized the man standing in front of her. “Oh – yes. That was at my first one.”

“That’s right.” He frowned at her tear-streaked face. “What’s the matter?”

“I need to get to Cowpens,” she said.

“What you wanna go up there for?”

“It’s Colonel Tavington,” she said. “I think he’s been hurt, and I think it’s serious. Do you know of anyone who can take me or who can at least tell me the way?”

Sam nodded slowly. “I can.”

xxx

Juliana rushed into the house. There were a million things to do before she could leave with Sam the following morning.

“Is it often that you run off and leave those babies with strangers?”

Juliana stopped cold at the entrance of the parlor. Someone she hadn’t seen for a decade stood in the center of the room with her hands on her hips and a familiar smirk on her face.

“Lydia,” Juliana said. She briskly walked over to her older sister and wrapped her arms around her. “What are you doin’ here? What about Mr. Melvin?”

“Mr. Melvin passed on,” Lydia said, referring to her former master. “His son took up arms for the patriot cause and freed all his daddy’s slaves ’cause he said it didn’t seem right to be fightin’ for freedom and to be ownin’ other people at the same time. So, he let us go.”

“That’s wonderful,” Juliana said, her face beaming at the sight of her sister. “How did you know to find me here?”

“Girl, you know it don’t take hardly take no time for somethin’ to make its way around that small town where I was livin’, especially if it has to do with Colonel Tavington. I would’ve come sooner, but I had some business to take care of.” Sadness momentarily flashed in her dark eyes, but it quickly disappeared as her thoughts turned to a happier subject. “Now – let me see these children.”

Juliana led Lydia up the stairs to the bedroom she shared with Tavington. Juliana placed her hand on the doorknob, but Lydia stopped her from opening the door.

“I had a little one of my own,” Lydia said.

Juliana smiled, ready to congratulate her sister, but she was caught up on the word ‘had’, and her eager smile faded.

“She died after she was born,” Lydia said.

“When?” Juliana asked.

“I had her a month ago. She died two weeks later.”

“Lydia – I’m so sorry. If seein’ mine is going to be too much – ”

“It’s okay,” Lydia said. “It’s still a difficult thing to deal with, for sure, but I’m yours are gonna help me.”

Juliana’s smile returned, and she pushed the door open. Lydia stepped inside and went straight to the crib on the far side of the room.

“There they are, the little precious angels,” Lydia gushed.

Juliana stepped beside her at the crib. “This is Helena and Daniel,” she said.

“A boy and a girl,” Lydia said, a proud grin on her face. “Well, ain’t that somethin’?”

The two children were asleep, unable to greet their aunt. Lydia looked from the crib to Juliana. “They are absolutely beautiful, Juliana,” she said.

“Thank you,” Juliana said.

Lydia took a step back from the crib and looked around at the room. “If this is your room, I can only imagine what the colonel’s room is like,” she said, casually pacing.

“This is the colonel’s room,” Juliana said quietly.

Lydia’s smile disappeared and was replaced by a look of disappointment as she looked at Juliana. “Juliana – no.”

Juliana led Lydia from the room, so as not to wake the children. She closed the door behind them. “It isn’t what you think it is, Lydia,” she said once they were out in the hall.

“No? How is it not? You share his room, his bed. And I’m assumin’ those are his children in there.” She watched Juliana, waiting for an answer. “Oh, dear Lord – he didn’t force himself on you, did he?”

“No, never,” Juliana said. “It isn’t like that.” She paused and sighed. “How could I ever explain it to you?”

“Try,” Lydia said.

xxx

Juliana sat across from Lydia in the kitchen. A cup of tea was on the table in front of Lydia.

Lydia looked down at the brown liquid with obvious disdain. “Tea,” she said. “My, aren’t we civilized, now?”

Juliana ignored the comment. “It didn’t start out like this,” she began.

“It never does, does it?” Lydia sipped from her mug. “When? How?”

“Well, you know that he got me when he raided Mr. Harris’s place,” Juliana said.

“Yes, I heard,” Lydia said. She pushed the half-empty mug away from her. “I also heard about him dressin’ you up and cartin’ you around to all those bigwig parties. Is that how it started?”

Juliana shook her head. “No. It started with dinner.”

“Dinner?”

“One of the slaves who was already here when I got here, she decided to … ” Juliana lowered her voice and continued. ” … poison the Colonel.”

What?”

“She told me about it before she did it. It almost worked.”

“What happened? To the slave, I mean.” Tavington was still alive, so obviously, the slave’s attempt at murder had failed.

Juliana shook her head. “I couldn’t let her do it. I just couldn’t. I warned Colonel Tavington before he had a chance to eat. I don’t know why. It was my chance to get away, to be free, and I let it slip right through my fingers. After that, that’s when he changed. See, before, I was just a souvenir, a reminder of his military prowess and success. But after I … saved him, it changed. Not all at once, but gradually … ”

“Why, Juliana? Why not just let her go through with it? It wasn’t your plan.”

“Because I couldn’t be like him. He does things only for himself. If the roles had been reversed, he would have let me eat my meal and probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it. He doesn’t care about anyone else. That’s how it used to be, anyway. Me, on the other hand, I couldn’t let someone die like that, with no warnin’ or anything. It’s like shootin’ someone in the back. So, I told. The slave who came up with the plot and another who helped her were both arrested and killed.”

“They would be alive now if you hadn’t said anything.”

“Maybe. But Will would certainly not be, and neither would Helena and Daniel. And no matter what you say or what you think of Will, those children are a blessin’.”

Will?”

“What is it you want to say to me, Lydia?” Juliana’s frustration with her sister’s attitude became more prominent.

Lydia stood, as equally frustrated with Juliana as Juliana was with her. “I shouldn’t have to say it, it should be obvious. I can’t believe you would willingly go to bed with this ‘Colonel Will’ and breed more slaves for him.”

“What are you talkin’ about?” Juliana asked, peering up at her sister’s imposing figure.

“What do you think you and those children are to him? You ain’t nothin’ but slaves, and don’t you dare fool yourself into thinkin’ you’re anything else,you here?”

“You don’t understand,” Juliana insisted.

“No, you don’t.” Lydia walked around the table to Juliana. “You’re his slave, Juliana, not his wife. You belong to him just like this chair or this table or this tea. And he will use you up and toss you out when you aren’t valuable to him anymore.”

“It isn’t like that, Lydia. You don’t know all that we’ve been through. If you did, you wouldn’t be sayin’ these things.”

Lydia kneeled beside Juliana. “Juliana, I don’t understand what’s wrong with you. Do you want those children to grow up like you did? Worse yet, what if he decides he wants to sell them off later on down the road? Or you? What you gonna do then?”

Juliana shot to her feet, nearly knocking Lydia to her backside in the process. “Enough! Enough. He wouldn’t do that.” This whole conversation reminded her of a conversation she’d had with Tavington about her grandfather, only then, she’d been defending her grandfather to Tavington. Now she was defending Tavington. It was the same conversation; the only difference was that the roles had changed.

“Don’t you see what’s happenin’ here, girl?” Lydia asked as she stood. “Open your eyes. Tavington’s gonna do the same thing, gonna treat you the same way that Mr. Harris did. He’s probably already doin’ it.”

“He is not.”

“Really? How does he act when he’s in public with you? Does he walk arm-in-arm with you? Or do you walk behind him? Does he ever tell you how much he loves you?”

“It isn’t that easy, Lydia. He has an image to keep up, orders to follow. After the war, it will be different.” Juliana realized that she was repeating what had become Tavington’s customary excuse for his actions. She hadn’t believed it at first, but she heard it so much now, it was difficult not to.

“After the war, you will still be working as a slave in his house.”

“No. It isn’t going to be like that because it isn’t like that now. I don’t work around here. I’ve barely lifted a finger since the day I arrived. My way of life here has been better than how most white folks live. And … I love him. You can’t help who you fall in love with.”

“Don’t be such a silly little thing. You really think he loves you?”

“I know he does.” Lydia was understandably skeptical, but Juliana continued. “He loves me, Lydia. I know it. That’s why I’m leavin’ for Cowpens in the mornin’.”

“What’s in Cowpens?”

“Will. I think he’s hurt. I’ve got to go see about him.”

“So, you’re tellin’ me that you’re gonna leave your children to go see about this white man who probably wouldn’t think twice about leavin’ you to rot?”

“He wouldn’t leave me,” Juliana answered softly.

“How do you know he wouldn’t?”

“Some rebel militia took me a while ago, carried me off to their camp. I was there for a whole month. I thought I would be there forever. Then one night, I was servin’ the men there, and I looked up from my pail, and he was standin’ right there in front of me. He took me away from that camp and those vile men. He rescued me, even though he was under orders not to. He came after me, Lydia. He risked his career. He risked his life. So, you tell me – am I just supposed to leave him there, now? How can I? How can I do that to him?”

Lydia was silent. Juliana had just given her a new perspective on the situation. She hadn’t known about that little episode. Apparently, not everything made it’s way through the grapevine. It still didn’t mean that Tavington was completely trustworthy, but it did say something about the man’s priorities.

“I still think you should take advantage and run away with your children while you can,” Lydia said. “But I can’t stop you from goin’ to the Colonel. Knowin’ what I know now, I’m not sure I can blame you all that much anymore. I’m your sister, and you know I’ll do what I can to help you. I’ll stay and take care of things here while you’re gone.”

“Lydia? Do you mean it?”

“You should go ahead and pack,” was Lydia’s reply. “I reckon y’all are gonna be leavin’ mighty early tomorrow mornin’.”

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