Possession – Chapter 25

A/N: Well, guys, this is it. This is the final chapter, FINALLY. Thanks for sticking with the story and keeping up, especially through the long breaks between chapters.

For Big Mama: Mary Lee Holmes Perry

1930 – 2007

/\/\/\

Chapter 25

The battle at Cowpens had signaled a change for the worst for the British, as the Colonials gained confidence and began to come into their own on the military front. Finally, in October of 1781, the world turned upside down, it seemed, as Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. The war wasn’t officially over, but for all intents and purposes, it was a done deal, a deal that did not fall in Britain’s favor.

Loyalists were, thus, placed in a sticky situation. They had stood against their neighbors who’d fought for independence; but when the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, they realized that those neighbors were no longer neighbors but foreigners, citizens of another country. Some Loyalists stayed put in the newly minted America, but many packed up and left, rather than pledge allegiance to a foreign,(and in their eyes, illegitimate) government. Many of them went north, to Canada …

/\/\/

Two lively, raven-haired 11-year-olds, a girl and a boy, ran into the sitting room where their mother sat sewing.

“Mother, we’ve finished our lessons,” the boy said. “May we go practice now?”

“Did you finish all of your lessons?” the mother questioned. “Thoroughly? You didn’t rush through carelessly?”

“No, Mother. We did everything correctly and got all the answers right,” the girl assured.

The mother looked over the children’s heads at their tutor, who was just now walking through the door. “What about it, Mr. Donald?” she asked. “Is their work today satisfactory?”

“It’s beyond satisfactory,” Donald said. “It’s exemplary. As usual. In my humble opinion, they deserve a break.”

The mother smiled at her children. “Well, in that case … go and see if your father is ready to go outside. He’s in his study.”

The children looked at each other and grinned widely. They sprinted from the room. The mother placed her sewing aside and stood. “Thank you, Mr. Donald,” she said. “You always work such wonders with them.”

“They work wonders by themselves,” Donald complimented. “They’re very bright children.”

“Why, thank you, Mr. Donald. I’ll be sure to convey your kind praises to my husband.”

xxx

Daniel and Helena Tavington stopped at the doorway of their father’s study. His back was to them, so Daniel knocked. “Father?” he tested.

“Yes?”

“Father, we want to practice,” Helena said.

“Have you finished your school studies for the day?” the father asked, his head still bowed to his desk.

The children nodded fervently, their dark curls shifting with the movement of their heads. “Yes, sir,” they said in unison.

William Tavington finally turned to his children. “Well, then – I’d say it’s time to practice.”

xxx

The Tavingtons lived on a large swath of land off the southern coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, about a day’s journey from Halifax. Their property stretched over a 1,000-acre plot, with the Atlantic Ocean beyond in the visible distance.

Juliana and Tavington had been part of the mass of loyal British subjects and military who’d evacuated Charlestown and the rest of the colonies shortly after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. They acquired their property by chance after coming into contact with a Frenchman who was eager to sell the house and the land on which it was located. The price was far too good to pass up. Before they were even settled in, Tavington and Juliana were married in a private ceremony at their new home. It was a small affair, William and Linda being the only witnesses.

Juliana had been residents of Nova Scotia for nearly ten years now. The small province had turned out to be a good fit for them. They were close to a sizable city, but they were far enough away to enjoy the benefits of relative isolation. Gone were the days of extravagant parties and endless social seasons. Tavington had built a sizable business as a tobacco and tea merchant, conducting his business affairs out of Halifax, and was also a devoted family man. He loved his children and his wife more than he’d ever previously thought he would be able to love anyone. It was with this immense amount of feeling that he watched Daniel and Helena as they went at each other with large sticks, sparring in a simulated swordfight on the back lawn. Tavington watched from a short distance, overseeing their progress.

“That’s right,” he said. “Keep your swords up – don’t let them drop.” Daniel relentlessly went after his sister, attacking from a multitude of angles, backing Helena up further and further. “Be aggressive, Lena; don’t let him bully you.” Upon hearing her father’s words, the girl redoubled her efforts and quickly became the aggressor in the match. “That’s it,” Tavington encouraged. Helena went after her brother and struck his ‘sword’, sending it flying from his hands.

Tavington smiled proudly. “Very good, Lena. Very good, indeed.”

xxx

Juliana fidgeted with the book in her hands as she watched the scene from the sitting room window. She’d intended to finish reading the novel today, but couldn’t keep her eyes away from the window long enough to finish a paragraph.

Tavington soon entered the house and walked into the room. He stood behind Juliana, and they both watched their children through the glass.

“They’re only sticks,” Tavington reassured her.

“I know, but one day, I’m sure you’re going to want to replace those sticks with the real thing,” Juliana said. “And then I’m sure it’ll be muskets and pistols and all sorts of lovely toys.”

“Well, my dear, that is the point of having them practice. You can’t very well expect them to defend themselves with sticks. There’s little need for worry, though. I won’t be handing over the swords tomorrow.” He kissed her cheek. “Things might not have turned out exactly as I’d originally planned, but moving to Nova Scotia and settling down here wasn’t such a bad idea, was it now?”

“I think it’s one of the best things that ever happened to us,” Juliana said. “Where in the states would we have ever been able to marry?” She placed the book aside on a table, resolving to finish it tomorrow.

Tavington sighed. “Still, it would have been nice to have been governor of my own colony, to make the rules for once instead of bowing down to them.”

Juliana turned to him. “Well, it isn’t all over and done with, yet. You may still get your opportunity.”

Tavington laughed. “In my dreams, maybe.” He’d thrown that whole bag to the wind when he disobeyed Cornwallis at Cowpens and charged early. That single blunder had cost Britain the battle and probably had a great deal to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. It had nearly cost him his life. That wasn’t the kind of occurrence that led to a reward like absolute control of a colony. Tavington resisted the urge to touch the large scar on his throat beneath his collar.

He didn’t say anything more. He gazed out the window, past his children, at something unseen. Juliana laid a gentle hand on his arm before moving away from him. He was like that sometimes, silent and reflective. When he was, Juliana usually recognized the mood and left him alone.

xxx

Breaking glass shattered all their dreams. Juliana woke at the sound and sat up in the bed. Tavington sat on the side of the bed, listening for any indicators as to what had caused the jarring noise. The first crash had woken him out of his sleep, and he wasn’t even sure if what he’d initially heard had been real or part of a dream. When he heard a second crash, he knew.

“Someone’s in the house,” he determined, quickly rising from the bed and pulling on the nearest pair of pants. He reached for the loaded pistol he always kept at his bedside and walked over to one of the bedroom’s windows. He peeked through the curtains, parting them slightly with the barrel of his gun and keeping his face clear of the opening. Three mounted men waited below on the front lawn. One of them carried a lit torch, but the other two appeared to be armed.

Tavington continued to observe the mounted men through the window. “Get the children,” he instructed Juliana, who was now standing. “Lock yourselves in one of the rooms up here, and don’t come out until I come back for you. Take the rifle.”

Juliana walked around to the other side of the bed and retrieved the rifle stowed away behind the head of the bed. On her way to the bedroom door, she stopped next to Tavington, intending to needlessly remind him to be careful.

Before Juliana could speak, the bedroom door opened, and Helena rushed in, her blue eyes wide with fear. “What’s going on?” she asked. The fact that each of her parents was armed didn’t do much to calm her.

“Lena, where’s Daniel?” Juliana asked.

“He said he was going to fight off the intruders,” Helena replied.

Tavington’s head snapped from the window to the girl. “He what?” He didn’t wait for her to respond again. He tore out of the room and down the hall. He flew down the staircase, fighting the urge to attempt to clear the entire flight in a single leap. He reached the bottom in time to see Daniel fling the front door open and rush outside, sword in hand.

“Daniel!” Tavington called desperately. But as the sound of his son’s name left his lips, a shot rang out, and the boy fell to the ground.

Tavington froze in the doorway, unconcerned that he was completely exposed to the villains. He stared at the motionless form of his only son on the ground a mere few feet away from him. Then, he lifted his eyes away from Daniel and locked eyes with the only mounted man who carried a pistol. The man’s eyes carried a look of satisfaction, like he’d finally accomplished a mission he’d begun long ago. No words passed between them. The man and his two accomplices spurred their horses and stalked off into the darkness.

Tavington looked at Daniel, laying prone on the ground, and ran over to him.

Juliana and Helena appeared in the doorway.

When Juliana saw Daniel, she knew that he couldn’t be alive. She couldn’t move. Her feet felt glued to the ground, her hands firmly fixed to the door frame around her. She remained on the porch and waited and watched while Tavington kneeled beside Daniel.

The boy was still breathing, but barely. The single shot had pierced his chest, and blood poured freely from the wound. All the color had faded from his face. But he was alive.

“Daniel? Daniel, can you hear me? Can you see me?” Tavington stroked the boy’s curly dark locks to make him aware of his presence.

“Father? Father?”

“I’m right here, son.” He looked over and realized that Daniel had never let go of the sword he’d come charging out of the house with and still gripped it tightly in his right hand. Tavington pried it from Daniel’s hand and cast it aside.

“I just – I just wanted to protect you and Mother and Lena, Father,” Daniel said. “I wanted to be brave, like you.”

“You were, son,” Tavington said. “You did well. Very well.”

Daniel smiled, and there was a moment when Tavington let himself believe that his son might pull through this. He might be okay.

And then he was gone.

Tavington, at a total loss for words, looked at Juliana. She finally left the porch and walked over to him. She dropped to her knees beside Daniel, and she completely lost it, turning on Tavington.

“This is your fault!” she said, striking him on the arm. “You and your practice.” She hit him again. “You’ve killed our son!” She struck him again and again, and he took it, feeling that he fully deserved every blow. Finally, he stopped the assault by grabbing her wrists and then wrapping his arms around her, but he said nothing. Nothing he could say or do would fix this. Nothing.

/\/\/

Two weeks after Daniel’s burial, an unexpected visitor appeared at the Tavingtons’ door.

“Colonel Wilkins?” Juliana said upon answering the door. “It’s been some time since we’ve last seen you, now hasn’t it?” The last time Juliana and Tavington had seen him had been the end of the war. He’d remained with the British army and had been promoted after being assigned to Nova Scotia.

“Yes, ma’am,” Wilkins said with a slight grin and a solemn nod. “Is Colonel Tavington in?”

“He’s out back with Helena. Why don’t you come in and wait while I get him for you?” Juliana stepped aside to let him enter.

“Thank you,” Wilkins said, stepping into the house.

Juliana led him to the parlor. “It should only be a moment,” she told him before leaving him alone.

xxx

At the rear of the house, Tavington watched from the terrace as Helena skillfully guided her horse around the lawn.

The door opened behind him. Juliana stepped out into the breeze.

“She looks like an angel out there,” Tavington said. “Like her mother.” He looked at Juliana.

“There’s a visitor here to see you,” Juliana said.

“Is that so? I wasn’t expecting any visitors today.”

“I think you’ll be quite surprised to find out who it is.” Tavington’s eyes asked the question for him, and Juliana answered. “It’s Wilkins.”

“Wilkins? I haven’t seen him in ages.” He looked out at Helena again. Still a good distance away, she had dismounted and was leading her animal toward the house. “What does he want?”

“He didn’t say. He just asked to see you. He’s in the parlor.”

Tavington left Juliana outside and went to the parlor, all the time trying to figure out the reason why Wilkins was standing in his parlor. When he appeared in the doorway, he found Wilkin’s tall form studying the books that filled one of the shelves on the wall.

“Find anything that interests you?” Tavington asked him.

Wilkins turned to his former commander. “Colonel Tavington – it’s a pleasure to see you again, sir.”

Tavington entered the room. “And to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Last night, our patrol unit picked up a rabble that was causing a disturbance at one of the pubs in Halifax. As you know, we’ve been actively investigating your case, so we questioned the men for the possibility that they may have been connected with the attack on your residence. Colonel Tavington, we believe we’ve caught one of the perpetrators and that he is likely the one who murdered your son.”

Tavington blinked a few times. He found the nearest chair and lowered himself into it. He hadn’t expected that anyone would be able to track down the animals responsible for what had happened to Daniel. He looked up at Wilkins, urging him to continue. “Who is it? Is it someone from the area? Anyone I might know?”

“It’s a man by the name of Martin,” Wilkins said.

“Martin?” Tavington repeated. For him, that name would always resonate. He would never forget his old nemesis from the war. Tavington remembered. He remembered all too well. The farm off the Santee. ‘The Ghost’. The boy … But this wasn’t the same man … was it? “Did you say ‘Martin’?”

“Yes. Nathan Martin. He’s from the States,” Wilkins continued. “South Carolina, to be precise.” Tavington looked at Wilkins, his former subordinate, with disbelief. “It’s Benjamin Martin’s son.”

Tavington had taken two of Martin’s sons from him during the war. Now a third was sitting in a Halifax jail cell, and Tavington’s own son was dead. It had taken over a decade, but Tavington had finally gotten what was coming to him.

“The investigation is still ongoing,” Wilkins said, “but I believe we’ll have ample evidence for a murder conviction. But we need you to come in and identify him.”

xxx

Two days later, Tavington stood at the entrance of the jail. He was still trying to decide whether he should enter and go through with this. He had ridden for a day and acquired a room in the city when he’d arrived the previous night. But he had to do this. For Helena and Juliana, who had remained at home. And for Daniel.

Wilkins was waiting for him when he walked in. “Colonel Tavington,” he began, “I know you have better places to spend your time than in a jail, so let’s get this over with, shall we?”

Tavington nodded. He followed Wilkins past the guards and into the cell area. The place was dark and damp and warm. The stone walls looked slick and the place reeked of filth. Had it been possible, Tavington would have preferred to have held his breath for the duration of his visit.

The pair came to a stop when they reached the cell at the end of the corridor. A man stood against one of the walls gazing up at the cell window just out of reach above his head. Tavington and Wilkins shared a glance.

Wilkins looked at the prisoner. “Martin – you have a visitor.”

Nathan Martin turned around at the sound of Wilkins’s voice. He looked to be in his early twenties. A shaggy mop of light brown hair covered his head and nearly spilled over into his gray eyes. There was an immediate change in the boy’s demeanor when he saw Tavington standing on the other side of the bars with Wilkins. “I’m not interested in seeing any visitors,” he said. He started to turn back to the window.

“You’re not in any position to dictate what you will or will not do, Martin,” Wilkins said. “If you refuse to comply of your own will, you will comply by force.”

Nathan’s gaze shifted from Wilkins to Tavington. He looked as if he wanted to resist, but he complied and walked over to the cell door. Tavington and Nathan remained locked in an unshakable stare-down. Tavington didn’t remember many faces from that day at Martin’s farm; but he did remember this face. He was definitely one of the men who’d terrorized his family and he was most definitely the one who had pulled the trigger. Tavington was more than ready to tell all this to Wilkins. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Had this happened ten years before, Tavington wouldn’t have hesitated, but something was stopping him now.

“Has he confessed?” Tavington asked.

“No,” Wilkins said. “He chooses to make things difficult for himself and for us.”

Tavington’s eyes never left Nathan. “It isn’t him,” he said.

Nathan and Wilkins, both confused, looked at each other.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” Wilkins asked Tavington.

“You’ve got the wrong man,” Tavington insisted. “This isn’t the man who shot Daniel. He wasn’t even there.” He turned away from Nathan and began to walk away from him.

Wilkins stayed with him. “But sir –”

Tavington turned to Wilkins but continued to walk away from Nathan. “The real killer must have escaped. I do hope you find him, but I suspect he’s long gone from here by now.” He looked at Nathan once more, casting a curious glance to him. “You’re holding an innocent young man here, Colonel Wilkins.” Tavington looked at Wilkins one more time before he walked out of the jail without another word.

/\/\/

It was well after midnight when the front door opened and Tavington walked into the house after his long return trip from Halifax. He found Juliana awake, though, despite the late hour. He’d started up the stairs when he’d glanced out one of the back windows and saw her out on the terrace. He abandoned the stairs and walked out to where she was.

Juliana sat on one of the benches along the outside wall of the house. When the door opened, she stood, startled by the presence of someone else besides herself.

“Will?” she said. “What are you doing here? I didn’t expect you to return for another day or two.”

“It didn’t take me long to finish up in Halifax,” Tavington said. “So I decided to come back early.” He embraced her and kissed her. “You’re not disappointed, are you?” he asked in jest.

“A little,” she replied, carrying the little joke through. She sat back down on the bench. Tavington sat beside her.

“What are you doing out here so late?” Tavington asked. “It’s after midnight.”

“No reason in particular,” Juliana replied. “I like listening to the sound of the ocean. It helps me think.”

“And what are you thinking about?”

Juliana shrugged. “You, mostly. I was wondering what you would find when you got to Halifax.”

Tavington took her hand into his and looked into her eyes. “Juliana, I don’t think they’re ever going to punish the man who’s responsible for Daniel’s murder,” Tavington said.

“But I thought you said they had someone in custody? You said they were sure it was him.”

“I did say that, but it turns out that I didn’t have my facts straight. That was my fault, though. The man they had wasn’t responsible for what happened to Daniel.” Nathan Martin may have pulled the trigger, but he wasn’t responsible. Tavington was. He’d become responsible for it before Daniel had even been born, when Tavington had taken the lives of Martin’s sons. Tavington had set the wheels of fate into motion.

One couldn’t call what happened even, because it most definitely was not. Martin had lost two sons, Tavington only one. But one was more than enough. The price of war was far-reaching and long-lasting, as he’d finally learned. And it was a high price, indeed.

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