If there is one thing I love more than a good story, it is history. Notice, readers, what that word is made of: his and story. His story – the story of man.
And oh, what a palette history is! Great heroes, megalomaniacal villains, comedy, tragedy – history has it all. Every fictional story draws something from history. Star Wars draws a great deal from the Japanese style of swordsmanship. It is hard not to see how the Nazis inspired the Galactic Empire, or how the gunfighters and gamblers of the Old West inspired Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Without history, we would never have fiction.
This brings us to the topic for today, one of my favorite novels of all time. I have been meaning to write about it for some time, and at last I shall do what I have wished. The historical novel I present to you today, readers, was written by Constance Savery. The Reb and the Redcoats is set during the American War for Independence. But it comes with a twist – the entire story takes place in England!
Charlotte Darrington and her siblings – Joseph, George, and Kitty – are met one day with an old friend come back from the war in America. An injury has laid him up, and he will not be fighting in any more battles. The man has brought along a box of gifts from the children’s father, as well as letters written by him for their mother, since Mr. Darrington is an officer in the British army fighting for his country against the American rebels.
But Old Harry, the soldier returned home with an injury, has a special present for Charlotte. According to George, she was always his favorite among the Darrington children. He has brought along a child’s doll he discovered when he and the British contingent with him raided an American plantation in Virginia. The doll has a little American flag pinned to her chest with a poem on the back. The poem names the doll and her former owner as Patty, and so Patty is what Charlotte calls the doll.
Later on word comes that the children’s uncle, Laurence Templeton, needs their mother’s help to nurse their ill grandparents at the White Priory. For a while it seems the children will have to be left in the care of the girls’ governess. The boys quickly blame the rebel doll for the trouble. They claim that she is full of black magic and set a trap for her so that she will not be able to cast spells on them in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, the trap catches the governess – who quits in an absolute fury after having a bucket of water land on her head!
With no one else available to mind the four, Mrs. Darrington must take her children with her to the White Priory. This decision is cemented that night by the appearance of a young prisoner of war looking in the window. Charlotte only catches a glimpse of the man’s countenance before telling her mother to run. With rebel prisoners on the loose in the area, Mrs. Darrington decides emphatically that she will not leave her precious young alone with a few servants to guard them.
All five depart for the White Priory the next day, where they meet their Uncle Laurence. Laurence, an officer in the British army, has been sent home on leave to convalesce after an injury to the leg during the war overseas. The children once got on famously with him, as he was always cheerful and fun-loving. But since his return from America, Uncle Laurence has been grim, stern, and temperamental. None of the children know why; one day he was their friendly uncle, the next he was an old ogre.
Anyway, as they settle in to the White Priory, someone mentions the escaped prisoners in the vicinity of the Darrington home. Laurence happens to know something of the affair. It seems there is a prison near the White Priory full of American POWs. There have been several escape attempts from the place led by a young soldier, one Randal Everard Baltimore.
This young man has helped his fellows to escape the prison camp time and again. The only reason he has not escaped himself is because of one of his friends, Timothy Wingate. A complete klutz, Wingate is always messing up the plan somehow. Oh, he does not do it on purpose – the poor young fellow simply cannot help himself. He trips and breaks his leg, makes a noise when all are supposed to be quiet, and before you can say Jack Robinson, the entire crew is running for their lives and leaving him to face the British alone. Randal is the only one who ever stays behind to take care of him after these blunders, since the two have been friends from boyhood and are accustomed to taking care of each other.
The children learn that because Randal has been such a nuisance to the camp, the commander of said camp has given him to Laurence to guard. Laurence seems to take a fiendish delight in tormenting the young Reb, as the children call him, offering a half crown to whichever one of the little ones can guess his name. When George tries, he insults the young officer so badly that Charlotte and Joseph, the oldest of the Darrington children, try to make amends for the slight their brother has given.
But in trying to do this, they accidentally help the Reb to escape again. He is eventually recaptured, along with Wingate, and locked in the penance cell beneath the White Priory. (The White Priory, in centuries past, was a monastery or an abbey; now it is a manor house.) Though the servants have been ordered to treat him well, Charlotte and Laurence discover that they have not done what they were ordered to do at all. His escape in the midst of winter and his confinement in the cold cell have made the Reb terribly sick…
And now, readers, it is your turn to read the novel! I will say nothing more about this touching, sweet story. Find yourself a copy and read the book in your own time!
Constance Savery wrote something on the order of fifty books and died at the age of one hundred one years old in 1997. I have read only one other book by this magnificent author, but you will have to stay tuned to learn which one that is. I hope someday to read more of her books – she wrote very well.
Until next time!