16: Wherein Virtue is Rewarded.O my America! My new-found-land!
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann'd.
John Donne, Elegies, 19: To His Mistress Going to Bed, c. 1595
The banns were published for the marriage of "Major Wm Tavington, on Col: Balfour's staff, youngest son of Ralph Tavington, Esqr., deceas'd, of Baldersclough, Lancs., and Miss Martin, daughter to Benj:n Martin, Esqr., of Fresh Water, South Carolina."
Despite - or perhaps because of - the afflictions and tribulations visited on our cause in those times, we were not the only pair in Charlestown to wed in the wake of Lord Cornwallis' surrender. Jack Coffin, the Yankee Captain of the New York Dragoons, had married Miss Anne Mathewes on 24 October. If the story be true that she had concealed him from Rebel raiders beneath her very petticoats, then for her reputation's sake 'twas as well done quickly.
"Martin's daughter? I thought she was just a child...?" I heard one elegant matron mutter, as I went to the milliner's for combs to dress my hair.
"A natural daughter, not the other one," said the new Mrs. Coffin, who was admiring a muslin dormeuse on its stand.
"Not that that would surprise. But the mother must be of good family..."
"I do hear tell she was a Drayton. They must have kept it mighty quiet all these years."
Aye, I thought, mighty quiet: a thing not spoken of among the proud planter families, although there was not one of them that did not do it. I ground the shop floor with the painted heel of my shoe, thinking of my mother, naked on the auction-block at thirteen, sold by her own father to Daniel Martin; given by him, once she'd ripened, to his wild-natured son for sport...
Strange it is that the word they call her is Spanish for 'mule', when everyone knows that mules are barren. And what is a 'quadroon' but only one-quarter of a person? As if the only portion that of them that counts is the slave portion, not the whole! For that fragment of myself, I had served my own blood kindred, and feared them, and hated them, and endured their scorn. I had smiled and bobbed and "Yes, sir" and "Yes'm" and "Master" and "Missy"ed them, knowing that the three-quarters of me to which they closed their eyes was the same as them, but that one small quarter's difference bound us to our stations. But now I was quiet, not from shame, but from a feeling of secret triumph.
At the hospital, Deb sounded almost bitter. "I reckon this mean we won't be seein' you down here no more, if you're to be an officer's lady."
I had been so concerned with my own apprehensions, that - to be honest - I had given scant thought to my dealings with my friends. "I daresay the Major won't mind."
"Honey, it won't look right," said Poll, glancing up from the cauldron of rice gruel she was stirring. "You've got to think on that, for his sake as well as yours!"
"You get up and out if you can," continued Deb. "It's like your mother always say. Can't all do that."
I sensed resentment in her tone. I was not sure if she regarded me, in some way, as defecting from our shared past; or perhaps my impending marriage merely sharpened the distinctions which had always lain between us - between house-slave and field-slave, and between those whose colour permitted a crossing into the world of the masters, and those who could not.
But that was not of my choosing. All I had done was to choose the new life my mother had indeed once told me to seize, given the chance. It was no fault of mine if the man I loved had been one she turned so fierce against, despite all we owed him. At least he saw me for my own qualities, not for whatever name others placed on me as if I were some hybrid botanical specimen from his sketchbook.
"'Sides," said Poll, "We're both a-courtin' now, ain't we? Deb has Skip, and me, well, there's a pretty young Lieutenant I found myself..."
"A Lieutenant?" I smiled. "Ain't that a bit low for you?"
She shrugged. "I take what I find. There's no-one to match my poor Major... And I think this one's the marryin' sort. You'll see if I can't play him."
It would have been foolish to ask if she loved him. Sometimes the longing for a safe harbour burns stronger than any desire, and is oftimes a sounder cornerstone for marriage than the fire of lust. Poll needed a man who would take her back to Britain; who would put a roof over her head; who would give her a new, respectable life in a country where none would know what she had become. My own impending marriage offered similar promise of security, and was as much grounded in reason and good sense as in what poets please to call love.
And yet the thrill of expectation regarding our marriage was beyond words. Betimes I could scarce bring myself to believe it. My mother's curse on William I believed we had overcome; but there still remained the threat of my father, whom we now knew to be alive. I was troubled by dreams that at the moment objections were sought from those assembled, a bloodied figure in rags would arise, crying: "That's Ben Martin's yellow girl! She can't marry with anyone!" And who should he be but my Master himself, or betimes the Young Master, though I knew him to be a mouldering corpse in the ground.
I told Will, when he came to take tea with me at Mrs. Nichols', unchaperoned. (Our marriage was so near that scant damage to my character could be done, even had any dishonour passed between us, but assuredly it did not.)
He said I should not be so foolish: "You're a free woman. Beyond our old circle from Camden, who will know who or what you are? Certainly no-one in England is likely to care."
"How may you be certain of that?"
He drew me close to him as we sat beside each other on the couch, so that I might lean my head against his weak shoulder. "Because, if anything, my dear, you are getting the worst of this match: you, the grand-daughter of a Drayton, and I, the youngest son of a suicide, and brother to a pair of broadcloth makers!"
"But still... the Master - "
"- Can go to the Devil. In the eyes of the law, he has no more claim over you. After we are married, only I do... and in quite a different way..." He stroked my neck, and brushed his lips against my hair. "You proved where your loyalties lay at the Cow-pens. You made your choice, and I am, for eternity, your debtor..."
I smiled. "I guess we're just about even. But still, I cannot think your family -"
"Mother knows how to handle Hugh and Bob. Izz is her right-hand woman. Kate's husband is, like your father, Huguenot, so there's no novelty on his account, at least. I am not sure how much Mother has said, or how much she'll tell her family, though: the Shawforths felt themselves much shamed when my father..." Will's voice trailed off. Then he forced a smile, although his eyes were downcast. "I like to think he would have liked you."
"Yes. I wish... Do you know, I have tried to hate him sometimes, almost as much as you hate yours - but I cannot. He was feckless, foolish with money, but - not wicked. And I thought he loved us, until... 'Twas a cowardly act: but cowards are not always bad men."
"You spoke of it at times, when you were raving with fever."
"Did I- Well, that's no wonder. I was there when the servants forced the lock on the library. He had come back from London the previous night, in a grim mood. He drank a lot of brandy, went to bed without a word to anyone. Mother took us riding on the moor that morning, but my pony cast a shoe, and I insisted on going home, on my own. They found him sitting at his desk... He had put the pistol in his mouth.
"He had written a letter, apologising. Mother would not have anyone bear false witness at the inquest - rather scandal than perjury. As a gentleman, he was spared the crossroads and the stake, but got no religious service. But she did bribe the sexton to put him in the family vault. She gave him her wedding ring."
"I am so sorry, Will..."
He shrugged. "I've seen worse since I came over here. Done much worse myself. As a matter of fact, that's why I didn't mind Mother's family buying me my first commission to get me off their hands. I knew I could stomach the bloodshed. So you could say that it is thanks to my father that we met!"
"He would be proud of you," I said.
"Proud of 'The Butcher'?"
"Proud that you're no coward, but a braver man than he could be."
He smiled and shook his head as if to himself: "I was a coward at Pembroke when I let Wilkins and my own vanity make murder... You see what you are marrying into?"
I answered him with a kiss.
There was a knock on the door: it was Martha, bearing a letter on a tray.
"Beggin' your pardon, miss, Major - a military gentleman left this for the you, Major, sir."
She brought it to him. He broke open the seal and read over the letter silently.
"Not bad news?"
"It depends on your definition: there is to be a reception at headquarters next week to welcome General Leslie and some of the newly-arrived officers. Balfour insists we attend," he said grimly.
"'Tis one of the obligations of being an officer's lady. If I get subjected to these hellish outbreaks of hospitality, so do you."
"The General thinks well of you, don't he?"
"You could plead your shoulder," I suggested.
"I durst not. Some might think the worst: that I am past my usefulness, or, worse, that I am ashamed to show my charming fiancée in public. Which, by the by, is quite impossible," and, with his fingertip, he brushed a crumb from the corner of my mouth.
"Do you think you could gain interest by it?"
"Possibly... After all, I was almost dead when Leslie last heard of me. He will at least see that I'm not yet worm's meat... Still I don't relish the idea, but..."
I squeezed his hand. "I will come with you," I said.
I doubt there had been such a fine-seeming gathering in Mrs. Motte's house in the past year, but beneath the surface it was not so grand as it appeared: the food and drink was scarce the best, the air gloomy. The wretchedness of the city, crowded with refugees, bruised in spirit by the surrender of Yorktown, seeped in at the windows and made even the wine taste bitter.
"You can smell the desperation," whispered Sandy, straightening his wig. "However often you change the straw in a hospital, it still stinks... Same with this."
Colonel Balfour introduced us to General Alexander Leslie, a fellow-Scot of about fifty, with a kindly face. "May I humbly present Major Tavington, now on my staff - Doubtless you may recall his service in command of the Legion - And this is his fiancée, Miss Martin."
Will bowed. "At your service, sir."
I dropped a courtesy.
There was something in the set of the general's eyebrows which lent him a look of permanent amusement or mild surprise.1 "You look weel, Tavington! For a while past we feared you were like to die!"
Will looked awkward. "Miss Martin is in no small part responsible... I mean, it is thanks to her and Ensign Jackson that I was brought from the field at the Cow-pens."
"Remarkable! Gallantly done, young lady- Martin, you say? Any kin to that ruffian 'Ghost' that makes such a damnable nuisance of himself?"
Now it was my turn to be discomfited. "He is my father, sir, though I deem his conduct shameful."
"A rose 'mang Rebel thorns, eh?"
I lowered my eyes demurely. "Thank you, sir."
"I'm glad you're here, Tavington: Lord Cornwallis aye said you'd little taste for routs and fandangos, and I cannot blame you- But I've been having a long talk with Colonel Balfour about you."
"Anent how we should proceed. Yorktown is surrendered, and with it another army. I'm ordering Craig to evacuate Wilmington, and Sir Henry is in New York. The fate of the Southern provinces rests here in Charlestown, with us."
Will shifted his weight from one foot to the other, like a nervous horse. "Indeed, sir, but my health these past months allows me little chance to make an active contribution..."
General Leslie shook his head. "Far from it! Major, since Lord Rawdon's departure, you know this country, from here to Camden, into the creeks and swamps, better nor most officers still in service, am I right? And I fancy you'd liefer be sharing that intelligence, and putting it to good use, than shuffling sheaves of paper for Nisbet Balfour, would you not?"
I saw a light dawn in Will's eyes.
"Well, sir, I should hope, though I scarce dare... Your interest is most flattering, sir."
General Leslie gestured towards a tall young officer in provincial uniform, who was in conversation with Captain and Mrs. Coffin. "I have high hopes of Colonel Thompson. He's just arrived from New York. A bright spark.2 I have plans for you two, Major."
"- And I'm interested to know: what is your position anent arming the Blacks?"
"My honest opinion?"
"With all due respect, sir, I believe it long overdue! Had we taken this course earlier, particularly in these Southern provinces, instead of being governed by fears about the Loyal planters and West Indies -"
Leslie raised his hand in a silencing gesture. "That's all I desire to hear, Major."
Will drew back, with the pride-stung look which I associated with the many times he had been chided by the Lord General. "You disapprove? I do understand, sir, that it is an opinion some do not share -"
"- I did not say I disapproved, Tavington.3 Ben Thompson's from Massachusetts, like young Coffin, but he's been cloistered in the Colonial Office in London these past few years, talking politicks and diplomacy. I jalouse he's itching for action, as you must be. He has ideas - interesting ideas. But scant local knowledge. Think on it, Major!" said the general, clapping him on his weak shoulder (he winced). "Think on it!"
He then went over to the Coffins and Thompson, and exchanged a few words with them. The next we knew, I had been cornered by Anne Coffin, while the officers got into a discussion about the effectiveness of cavalry in the Carolina countryside. While I cannot, at these many years' distance, recall the details of Mrs. Coffin's conversation on the latest modes in heads and gowns, I do recollect hearing William's clear voice and Thompson's nasal New England accent rising above the general murmur:
"- Yes, I agree with you entirely."
"- Of course."
"- That's precisely what I meant!"
"I should be honoured, sir," said William, and turned back to me, his face bright with excitement: "Augusta - this is Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin Thompson. He has generously offered me an opportunity to escape my desk."
The younger officer (he was about my own age, withpowdered redhair and strong, not uncomely features) clicked his heels and bowed. "We need more cavalry. Maybe not great numbers, but better cavalry," he said. "Dragoons. Small units, that can move fast and hit the Rebels on the run. There's only one man I'd trust to train them up, Miss Martin." And he nodded to Will.
"But will Colonel Balfour give you leave, William?" I asked.
He smiled. "If he wants to keep in General Leslie's favour. And I daresay he knows my heart's not in clerking!"
Thompson grinned. "I understand that you're still haunted by ghosts in these parts, Major: a strange and rare affliction in these enlightened times- Shall we drink to an exorcism?"
For the first time in many months, I saw the spirit and fire of old in Will's eyes, in his bearing.
"To future collaboration," he said.
The wine in his glass glinted like blood.
"Yes," I said, and joined the toast.
On Saturday, 17th November, William and I were married simply at headquarters, by Colonel Balfour. Sandy stood in father's place, and I have not seen a man weep so at a wedding! But he said 'twas from joy and for sorrow that he had missed his own daughter 'Phemie's wedding a year past in Edinburgh. And our new friend Lieutenant Colonel Thompson was groom's-man.
Since William was wearing his dress uniform, he had submitted to the ordeal of Skip powdering his hair. In consequence, he sneezed his way through most of his vows. He looked handsome and happy - indeed, almost as fair and gallant as when I had first seen him ride as an avenging angel to Fresh Water. Eilidh MacRae, who attended me, had dressed me in the gown I had worn for the garden party at Middleton Place. How long ago that seemed, and how sorely missed were some friends we had lost since then...
Will jested how Pat Ferguson, given his powers as Inspector of Militia, would have wished to perform the ceremony himself (but he said this out of Colonel Balfour's earshot, for they had not been on good terms). And we would dearly have loved the faithful Captain Bordon to be present: but him, at least, we knew to be lodg'd safe with his family in New York.
We received a number of small gifts from our friends and acquaintances. Colonel Balfour gave me a copy of Richardson's Pamela, which I must confess I regarded as a little too pointed a gesture. Fielding's parody is far superior, in any case.4
We dined at our new lodgings, close to headquarters, with Sandy, old Mrs. Nichols, Polly, and Ben Thompson. When it was time for the candles to be lit, we retired, with cups of warm spiced wine. The bedchamber was small and dark, almost filled by the blue-curtained bed.
"Why do they carve sheaves of rice here?" Will asked me, fingering one of the decorated bed-posts.
"It means harvest, I guess," I replied. "Good crops and many children."
He laughed: "Let us hope so!"
I brushed the pomade and powder from his long dark hair. Then, half in eager rush, half in slow savouring, we began to undress each other.
I was not falsely coy or timorous. I knew what to expect bodily from the ruttings of my own parents, even as I had tried to stop my ears with the pillows in the garret. I already knew every inch of my husband's body from the slow weeks and months of nursing him. In truth, that was no blessing, for I had to force from my mind the memories stirred by his scars: memories of his pain, of the journey from the Cow-pens, the rain beating down on the wagon, and he near biting through the belt between his teeth... He had begun to regain some of the weight he had lost, but he was marked for ever. I caressed the ridged and puckered skin on sides which had once been smooth, on his breast and shoulder. My eyes filled with tears, for those were proofs of his courage, and made his life all the more precious to me.
"You mustn't cry, Augusta..."
"I love you so much, honey..."
"And I you, my dearest, dearest love. But I won't break, you know." And he drew me closer to him, his mouth upon my mouth, hungry for me.
And so, as the candles guttered down, we held each other within the close-curtained darkness. I lay in the arms of my husband and he was mine and I was his in body and in soul, in strength and tenderness:And what was done there, I will never declare,
But I wish that short night had been seven long year.5
I awoke to find my head lying against his breast, and nestled into the warmth of him. He opened his eyes, and smiled drowsily. "'O my America! my new-found-land...'" he murmured. "Good morning, Mrs. Tavington!"
And I rejoiced at last to have a name I could own without shame.
Next Chapter: Will's confidence is restored, and an old enemy's is dented.
1. General Leslie's look of amused surprise is apparent from his portraits as a young man by Ramsay and from the immediately post-war period by Gainsborough. Alexander Leslie (1731-94) was the son of Alexander, 5th Earl of Leven, 4th of Melville, by his second wife Elizabeth Monypenny. He joined the army in 1753, with a brief period of service in the Marines, and by 1768 was Lieutenant-Colonel of the 64th Regiment, stationed in Boston. As Major-General, he served extensively in the Southern Campaigns and supervised the evacuation of Savannah and Charleston towards the end of the war. He returned home in poor health. Major-General of the Army in Scotland 1782. He had married Mary Tullidelph in 1760, but she died the following year in childbirth, leaving a daughter, Mary Anne. He never remarried.
2. Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814), internationally renowned physicist, diplomat and Loyalist cavalry officer, is one of the most extraordinary figures of the War. A scientist from Woburn, Massachusetts, he went to Britain in 1776 and held various administrative posts in the Colonial Office. He came to Charleston via New York in November 1781, and as Lieutenant Colonel of cavalry proved himself an effective and active commander. He returned to Britain in August 1783, and was made Colonel of the King's American Dragoons, retiring on half-pay. he was knighted the following year. He then went to Bavaria, where he served as Minister of War, Minister of Police and Grand Chamberlain. In 1791 he became Count Rumford of the Holy Roman Empire. He developed a non-smoking fireplace in 1796 (the Rumford Roaster), and established the Rumford medals in the Royal Society, similar awards in the American Society of Arts and Sciences, and the Rumford Professorship of Physics at Harvard. He married, and separated, twice: his first wife was a widow much his senior, by whom he had a daughter, and his second wife was the widow of Lavoisier. Something of a ladies' man, he also had a couple of illegitimate children.
3. General Leslie's support, late in the war, for the arming of Blacks, was probably more than military expediency. The devout Presbyterian Leslies (distant cousins of the Websters) were heavily involved in various evangelical Christian causes, including the anti-slavery movement. The General's nephew Alexander, Lord Balgonie (later 7th Earl of Leven, 6th of Melville), married Jane Thornton, a member of a merchant family originally from Hull. The Thorntons were cousins of William Wilberforce and active in the 'Clapham Sect' and Abolitionism; they corresponded with the black Bostonian poet Phyllis Wheatley. The Leslies also had a long-standing friendship with Dr. Benjamin Rush, an early anti-slavery campaigner in Pennsylvania, as well as a signatory of American UDI. Rush paid for the gravestone of the General's second nephew, Captain William Leslie, who was killed at Princeton and buried by the enemy at Pluckemin, NJ.
4. Pamela is the moral tale of a maidservant who resolutely preserves her virtue against the odds until the besotted Squire B finally agrees to marry her. The moral, however, is somewhat undermined by the tone: the heroine is just as readily interpreted as a calculating gold-digger holding out for marriage to gain social advancement, as an 18C Doris Day character guarding her virtue and autonomy. Regarding parodies, it is uncertain whether Augusta means Fielding's Joseph Andrews, purportedly the tale of Pamela's brother, or his even more ribald out-and-out spoof Shamela, in which the heroine's virtue is a fraud and she really has several illegitimate children by the other characters! William probably has introduced her to Joseph Andrews; but it is possible that, in her eagerness for reading material, she got a copy of Shamela from Georgie Hanger.
5. A couplet from the popular 18C song Rosemary Lane, about a seduced maidservant:
This maid being young and foolish, she thought it no harm
For to lie in the bed to keep herself warm,
And what was done there, I will never declare,
But she wish'd that short night had been seven long year.
The phrase recurs in other ballads with sexual content. In 18C pronunciation, the rhyme is a full one, 'year' being pronounced 'yare'.