General Cornwallis sank more deeply into his misery, his mind reliving the debacle at Guilford Courthouse over and over. His well thought out plan had held all the earmarks of a much-needed success, or so it had seemed. But that was not to be.
“General, General Cornwallis.” A loud, distressed voice pierced his troubled sleep. Rolling over, ignoring the grating sound, he pulled the blanket tighter—chilled despite the quantity of alcohol he had consumed earlier. “Your Lordship … General, I must talk to you.” The tent flap raised as a rain soaked head thrust its way inside.
“For the love of God … quiet, man!” Cornwallis thundered, grimacing as a throbbing pain pounded across his forehead. “But your Lordship … ” With grudging effort and a muffled curse, he rolled to face the intruder. Groaning, he swung his legs slowly over the edge of the cot. Forcing himself into an upright position, he raked a shaky hand back through his still damp hair. “What in God’s name could be so blasted important that you wake me from a sound sleep on such a godforsaken night?” he demanded.
“There is a man requesting … no, demanding to see you, your Lordship,” the young corporal stammered. Having stepped fully inside the tent and now at risk of facing the formidable wrath of his commander he hesitated, suddenly bewildered, distinctly uncomfortable, and eager to be gone. Cornwallis pierced the young corporal with an icy glare. “Tell whomever it is that I am occupied. I have no desire or need to speak with anyone on this dreary night. Send him away!”
“But, sir,” he continued doggedly, “He has a young child with him … rather wet and cold … and bids me show you this.” He thrust a small wooden horse with the grimy remnants of a blue ribbon towards his Lordship.
The General’s eyes went wide, his face draining of all color. He would know that toy horse anywhere—had seen it so many times over the last few months, clutched tightly in a pair of small hands. “Bring them in quickly, Corporal. Not one word to anyone or you will draw your last breath tonight. Do I make myself absolutely clear?” Without waiting for an answer he added, “And bring whatever is available: hot broth, tea—anything to provide sustenance and warmth. Be quick about it!” With a clipped nod and pledge to silence, the corporal ducked under the tent flap and disappeared into the storm.
Within moments, puddles of water spilled inside as the flap lifted once again and a tall man stepped into the dim light clutching a bedraggled child to his chest. Lieutenant Jackson, pale and drenched to the bone, faced Cornwallis eyeing him in silence. A tiny sob escaped as Gabrielle Tarrington twisted in Jack’s arms to face the General. “Grampa,” she hiccupped, reaching a small hand out to touch him. Cornwallis stifled a gasp and lurched to his feet—stone cold sober.