Author Janie Cheaney has written the first draft of a Revolutionary War novel entitled "Loyalty" which features Banastre Tarleton in a strong supporting role. Janie is currently hard at work on a young-adult series set in Elizabethan times, so unfortunately for us RevWar readers, "Loyalty" has gotten pushed onto the back burner. Until she finds an opportunity to get back to it, she's kindly allowed me to preview some excerpts from one of the subplots.
Set in the Carolinas in 1780-81, "Loyalty" tells the story of Frances Hamilton, the daughter of a Loyalist, and her neighbor David Grey, whose own beliefs lead him to join the Continental Army. As war sweeps through the Carolinas, Frances goes to live with her Aunt Patsy at Saylor's Tavern near Charlotte. When Lord Cornwallis's forces occupy the surrounding territory, the Tavern gets co-opted as a field hospital. In addition to sheltering the wounded, and soldiers suffering from the often-deadly fevers which ravaged the British Army throughout the campaign, Saylor's becomes a refuge for a special case: an officer who is identified to them as "Major Weems", but whom Patsy quickly guesses is actually the infamous "Bloody Ban" Tarleton.
If you've read the fiction reviews on this site, you'll realize that it is pretty much impossible to find a novel which gives Banastre Tarleton a fair representation. He is routinely relegated to the role of simplistic, black-on-black villain. This makes Janie's portrayal a special delight! She does not whitewash him -- in other parts of the novel, we encounter the ferocity which marked him as a military commander -- but she does represent him as a complex human being, as capable of merriment and boyish whimsy as he is of ruthlessness on the battlefield.
The following excerpts from Chapters 11 - 13 of "Loyalty" chronicle portions of Banastre's stay at Saylor's while he recovers from the bout of Yellow Fever which put him out of action through late-September/early-October 1780. As you read, keep in mind that the individual scenes presented here are extracts only, and that scenes may be missing in between them. They do provide a reasonably smooth overview of a segment of this subplot.
-- Marg B.
on March 30, 2001
Saylor's Tavern was the southernmost point of a British encampment that stretched all the way up to Charlotte, where Cornwallis had impounded Thomas Polk's house for himself and his staff. Frances suspected that were it not for their "special case" one company would have answered the purpose. As it was, two sentries were posted outside the storeroom door at all times, a special orderly in addition to the flustered sergeant remained in constant attendance and seventy-odd enlisted men kept themselves battle-ready behind the tavern, all to protect one officer. Frances felt all their eyes on her when, a little past noon, she knocked on the door of her preempted room with a steaming cup in her hands. The sergeant who answered her knock seemed equally suspicious of her and the cup.
"Wha' is it?"
He sniffed at it. "Don't smell like any tea I know."
"It is medicinal. We have a woman schooled in local herbs and remedies and we thought it might be soothing to . . . the Major."
"I can't allow nuffing the doctor -- "
"I allow it." A low, throaty voice came from the bed. "Let her in, Peterman."
Peterman jerked aside at the sound of the voice and Frances saw a hand fall from the bed, loll back on a languid wrist, then point very decisively to a spot on the floor -- to which, apparently, she was to advance. She glanced at the Sergeant, who made an impatient shrug and stepped aside for her.
She entered the room slowly, bearing the cup before her like a libation. This scene had played several times in her mind already; her intention was to introduce herself if he were conscious, then praise Juno's knowledge and ability and explain her methods of treatment. None of this was possible with his eyes on her. Sickness had pinched his face, throwing the hawk nose into prominence, but the eyes burned with an intensity that dried the words in her throat: coal-dark eyes, fever-bright, fixed. She could not meet them for long. She could do nothing in fact, and cut a helpless glance to the Sergeant.
He hastened forward, slipped an arm around his commander's shoulders and brought him upright. Then he reached for the cup, but the Colonel shook his head, raised a hand, halted all movement. With infinite care, he reached across the space between them and lifted the cup out of her hands. She had been wise not to fill it full; he shook so that some of it was spilled anyway. But under his own power, teeth rattling against the china, he drank it down slowly.
"Wha's in it?" Peterman asked her, still suspicious.
"Alder bark. Sweet Anne. Sassafras, for the taste. Deers tongue -- "
" 'Eye of newt,'" rasped the Colonel, " 'toe of frog. Wool of bat and tongue of dog' -- "
Frances continued when he paused: " 'Adder's fork and blindworm's sting, lizard's leg and owlet's wing . . .' "
Then his voice joined hers and they finished together:
" 'For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.' "
"Tastes like it, too," he added, carefully handing back the cup.
"D'you feel any better, sir?" Peterman queried anxiously.
"Of course not. Let me down." Sinking back into the pillow, but still propped so he could meet her eyes, he sighed. "I loathe your country, Miss Hamilton."
"Sir?" She was surprised he remembered her name, and unexpectedly flattered as well.
"I never even had a fever until I came here."
"'Tis all a matter of what you are used to, sir. I can bring you more tea later in the day, if you like."
"Do. You are much better looking than Peterman."
"Thank you, sir."
"It's a poor compliment, but I'm sick." He closed his eyes. "Thank you."
Her aunt termed the foray a success. "So we can pour anything down him so long as he gets to look at you. What is he like?"
"Sharp. I doubt we could put anything past him for long. He knows his Shakespeare," Frances added irrelevantly.
"An educated man! At last you will have someone to talk to." Frances thought she heard an edge of sarcasm.
"I don't have time to sit around and talk."
"I'll see you have time to fuss about and arrange pillows. You would make a fine nurse."
"He has a nurse."
"I don't mean for giving baths or emptying slop jars."
"What do you mean, Aunt? Perhaps you had better tell me now."
"I mean that he will recover faster for your sake. He will want to show you how wonderful he is at his best. Men are like that."
Frances had been taught not to show impatience in the presence of her elders, but Patsy often put that training to the test. "I am nothing to him."
"A little more than nothing, I think. A useful diversion -- useful for us. You'd best watch your step, though. I'd wager he's used to getting what he wants."
"Really, I don't know what you mean," Frances said, with a chilly stare.
"Don't you?" Her aunt stared back, eyebrows arched, until Frances made up an errand to pursue.
Two days of Juno's herb teas had done some good -- Dr. Stewart remarked on it, and though he seemed less than delighted by a rival physician he set a great store by results. The Colonel's temperature was down, his shaking much abated and his sleep was calm. It may have been the sickness running its course, but what did that matter? His Lordship would be pleased, and that pleased Dr. Stewart. He told Frances to keep doing what she was doing, and he would limit his calls to every other day or less. Already she was such a familiar that the sentries hardly glanced up from their dice when she went by, and Sgt. Peterman gave her admittance for the slightest of reasons.
"I would like to get a book," she said.
"Right. Just be quiet. He's asleep." The Sergeant was on his way out, with a covered chamber pot and a change of linen; he left the door partially closed behind her to lessen the outside noise.
The book was no mere excuse -- she anticipated some time in the evening and decided to pursue her long-neglected Virgil translation. Captain Horton, something of a scholar, had expressed an interest in reading it. Except for the Bible all her books were stacked on top of two barrels of meal in the southeast corner. She glided past the Colonel, now lying on one side with his right arm flung across the pillow and his face half-buried -- he looked impetuous, even in sleep. His hair fell in thick locks like the mane of a young lion (or the way she imagined such a mane to fall), deep russet brown where sunlight struck it. He reminded her of David -- the biblical David, ruddy and handsome, sturdy and strong, afraid of nothing. And also, she had to remind herself, a slayer of his ten thousands. She stepped up on the footstool, found her book and palmed it with no undue noise; turned around and immediately froze.
His eyes were open, his gaze unyielding. "What's the book?" he asked, less hoarsely now.
"It's . . . the Aeneid.
He inched himself upright on the pillow, wincing with the effort. "Would you read to me? My brain is going soft. It wants exercise."
"But -- it's in Latin."
"I know it's in Latin. I am a gentleman of parts, Miss Hamilton. D'you think I sprang full-armed from the brow of Mars?"
"All I meant was, I don't translate so fast." Some twitch of pride made her add, "I am better at Greek."
"I am rotten at Greek. Read a few lines and let me translate as you go. If I don't stir about soon, I shall become . . . a mushroom. Peterman will awake some horrible morning to find this bed occupied by a five-foot fungus."
That coaxed a smile from her. Reading to him sounded like the sort of "fussing about" activity her aunt would approve, so she stepped off the footstool and moved the chair at an angle to the bed. As innocent as his proposal appeared, finding herself alone with a man known as The Butcher was not a comfortable prospect. She pulled in a deep breath to steady her nerves. "Where should I start?"
"Not at the beginning. Virgil takes so blessed long to get to anything. 'Arms and the man I sing,' says he, and then proceeds to sing about everything but. Go to the battle, in Italy -- where is it, Book Nine?"
"That would be Book Ten."
"Start there. I need something alive."
Frances shuffled pages to find her place, wondering what it was that made fighting and slaughter so "alive" to him. Her ear was becoming more attuned to his speech, which was hard for her to understand at first, and quite different from Captain Horton's crisp Oxford tones. The English were as diverse in accent as Americans -- no two of them spoke alike. The Colonel, when he was not trying to imitate a Virginian, mauled his vowels in the back of his mouth and dropped a number of final consonants in a lazy-sounding pronunciation not without charm or lilt.
"I think this is the place you mean," she said. "Aeneas has run his ships aground on the shores of Italy, and drives the men to land, where his enemy Turnus is waiting: Nec Turnum segnis retinet mora, sed rapit acer totam aciem in Teucros, et contra in litore sistit."
"'Turnus does not delay but . . . hurls the battle line -- ' No, 'facing the Trojans on the shore, he hurls the entire battle line upon them.' Turnus is a commander after my own heart," he added parenthetically.
"Signa canunt -- "
"'The trumpets sound -- '"
"Primus turmas invasit agrestis Aeneas, omen pugnae, stravitque Latinos -- "
"Wait; you're going too fast. 'First, Aeneas puts to flight their peasant bands, a fair omen of the battle.' Master Virgil has hit upon an eternal truth, you know: when the peasants run, the day is won. Peasants are peasants, in any age."
She understood him to mean the American militia, which did tend to break and run at the sight of British steel, and almost always lost their battles. Though not on their side, she felt moved to justify her countrymen in some fashion. "You can't expect amateurs to be a match for trained soldiers, Colonel."
Then, realizing what she had said, she made a quick inward gasp as though to draw it back. If he was surprised, he did not show it. But his eyes narrowed, and he leaned back into the pillows with a cool appraising look and the barest hint of a smile. "Do you know who I am?"
A self-satisfied smile, she thought. The smile of a man still young and infatuated with his own notoriety, who could take pleasure in sighting inferiors down his lofty nose and asking, "Do you know who I am?" Understanding this gave her a hold on him, however slight. Beneath the fearful reputation was a man of foibles and weaknesses, flesh and blood. Her anxiety about him suddenly eased. "We think you're Colonel Tarleton."
"And who are 'we'?"
"My aunt and I. Or to be truthful, she reckoned it out. We've not told anyone."
"Why is that? Bad for your cause?"
"No, sir; bad for business."
His face brightened -- almost literally, like a lamp wick turned up -- and he released a one-syllable laugh. "And they call us a nation of shopkeepers." He reached over and plucked the little volume of Virgil from her hand. "Say then, muse: how is it that I find a tavern maid studying the classics?"
Frances felt her face hardening. "I am not a tavern maid, sir."
"I'm baiting you. I never thought you were, not even when I first saw you pouring ale for a roomful of rowdy cutthroats. You have a rare quality of cultivation about you; I am wondering where it came from."
"Yes. And a minister."
"Indeed?" He was surprised, and showed it. "I thought all the Presbyterians were in arms. There's a rule among the British rangers: if you come across a church with a well-thumbed Bible in the pulpit and metered Psalms in the pews, burn it."
"That's a stupid rule," she protested.
"Is it? You are unfamiliar with the words of our esteemed Minister Walpole: 'Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian Pastor.'"
"He paints with too broad a brush."
"And you are quick to take offense where none is meant. I was going to say, you don't strike me as a rebel. But perhaps your father -- "
"My father is dead, Colonel. And he was no rebel, either. That's why they killed him."
It seemed to her that his eyes softened, or perhaps she imagined it. "I need not ask if he was a good man. His goodness is stamped upon you."
"He was -- " her voice caught; she steadied it. "He was the best man I ever knew. Or am likely to know."
"This happened not long ago, I'm thinking. The wound is raw." She did not imagine it; his voice communicated real sympathy. It occurred to her that here was someone whose like she had not known for some time: an ally.
"And now you are dependent upon the charity of relatives."
"What's your name?"
This sudden shift in the conversation disoriented her for a second. "Frances. Hamilton." Idiot! she thought. He knows your last name.
He smiled. "Am I forward? Remember we've had no one to properly introduce us, so I must do that service myself. I am, Frances Hamilton, as you so brilliantly surmised, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, at your service -- or at your mercy, as the case may be."
The Colonel was finishing letters when Sergeant Peterman admitted her later that day, a camp desk balanced on his knees and a steel-tipped pen slashing across the page in a bold, tilted hand. "You've had no luck finding an attorney?" he asked his batman.
"None, sir. All the lawyers are in arms hereabouts."
"Typical. The law always breeds rebellion, you can depend on it. Remember that, should you ever be tempted by the siren charms of Middle Temple."
"No' much chance of that, sir."
Tarleton glanced her way. "I have an inheritance to settle at home. Do you know of any loyal attorneys in Charlotte?"
I know of no loyal anyone in Charlotte, Colonel."
"And there's the rub: this is without question the most fractious county all of North America. We've taken shelter in a hornet's nest." He signed his name, folded and sealed the paper and wrapped it with two others in an oiled linen pouch. The letters on top were addressed to Tarletons: mother, brother. "See you catch the patrol to Charleston," he told the Sergeant, handing over the packet.
"Sir!" Peterman bustled out with the mail, leaving the door partially open as he always did for propriety's sake.
She had brought toast and chicken broth whipped up with an egg and cream -- invalid's food, which the Colonel now appeared too healthy to require. He tried the broth, found it too hot, set it upon the window sill to cool. His superior's visit had infused him with a strong dose of vitality. "There's action afoot," he said. "Our hero Major Ferguson has cooked himself into a stew. Relative to that, it's high time I was afoot myself. I feel strong enough to walk." As though inspired by the thought, he bolted upright. "Lend me your shoulder."
And before she could sound any warnings about taxing his strength, he threw back the bedclothes and swung his bare legs to the side. Since he wore only a nightshirt, she had serious doubts about the seemliness. "But -- Colonel, shouldn't you wait until the Sergeant returns? It would be more appropriate -- "
"Every time I send him on an errand he takes at least an hour. We must seize the moment."
"Perhaps you should eat first."
"My dear gel," he said, in the manner of his Lordship, "don't you play the shy maid with me. You see I am decently covered except for my feet. I propose you take off your shoes and socks -- " ("sooks," he called them; she knew not what he meant at first) "and then neither of us will be more decent than the other."
"I don't know that I'd call that a solution -- "
"No, but it's fun."
Sitting up, his eyes were on a level with hers. Their glitter was still a trifle feverish, but in them also shone the strong impulse to life that she had never experienced in another human being. Overwhelmed by his vitality she thought, Why not?
Quickly, as though to forestall a change of heart, she sat down on the chair and took off her slippers and stockings. Then she stood beside the bed while he placed both hands on her shoulders and eased himself up. Standing, he was taller than she only by an inch or two.
"Where shall we walk, Colonel?"
"I feel adventurous. To the window and back!"
He put his left arm around her shoulders and she steadied his back with one hand as he took the first steps. She felt the heat coming from all of him, not just the arm, and knew that it was more than fever. "We are on the Mall at St. James on a Sunday afternoon. Scent of lilacs on the breeze, can you smell it? Ladies with hats the size of cartwheels, gentlemen with canes and lap dogs. Heads turn as we pass -- "
"So they should, at a man in a night shirt."
"I beg your pardon. At a man in the stunning uniform of the British Legion, and a lady of unspoiled beauty from the Carolina wilderness."
Her heart, foolishly, beat faster. "Don't flatter me, Colonel."
"It is no flattery, I assure you. My head is in the clouds. Am I carried away with tender emotions? Or have I been bedfast and puking for two weeks?" He swayed against her suddenly, and put out a hand to the wall they had almost reached. "Damn! I need a faster recovery than this."
Tactfully, she circled around him while he turned, one hand on her shoulder.
"My Lord Cornwallis is concerned about Ferguson," he continued, as they retraced the slow, awkward steps. "The Major has poked a den of vipers, and now they're slithering over the mountains and out of the backwoods to get at him. It's exactly as I told you -- I could set up as an oracle."
"Where is he?"
"We don't know. Somewhere along the border, with an 'army' of loyal militia anywhere from 500-1000 strong. His Lordship is fretful, with excellent reason."
"One thousand is a fair-sized company, for these parts."
"One thousand militia is almost useless. Ferguson may have confidence in them; I don't. His last message hints at 'taking a stand' at some strategic point and fighting off the banditti. His Lordship has ordered him back to Charlotte at once, but he may never get the message. That's the bleeding devil of all this -- our dispatch riders are but moving targets for rebel marksmen. And when we crush the resistance in one place it pops up in another. Even Sumter is back! Stop here."
Obediently she stopped and he sank down on the bed, his arm sliding from her shoulders. "I am to go find him -- Ferguson -- as soon as I can mount, and reinforce his command. 'Reinforce' is his Lordship's word. What he means is 'rescue.'"
The thought of rebel forces on the rise made Frances turn cold. Much more than she had realized was riding on the elusive, beleaguered Major Ferguson. "As soon as I can mount," Tarleton repeated sourly. "I can hardly even walk."
"Should you be telling me this?"
He looked at her searchingly, then took her hand. "My dear Frances. I trust you completely. Haven't I trusted you with my life?"
"Because I know a true friend when I see one. Don't you?"
She could not meet his eyes but glanced down at his bare feet instead, bluish from poor circulation. After a second or two, she pulled back her hand. The Colonel was looking down also, at his legs dangling like a child's. "'Do I not bate?'" he said, with a shift in his voice that signaled a quotation. "'Do I not dwindle? My skin hangs about me like an old lady's loose gown -- ' I am normally a stout fellow, you know."
She was trying to remember where she had heard those words, when suddenly it struck her: Henry IV, Part One, read in parts by a contentious family during a rainy summer evening. She thought of Jonathan, and wondered if he might be in that company of over-mountain men coming after Patrick Ferguson. "You were never as stout as Sir John Falstaff, I reckon."
"That's all you know -- I came close to playing him once. But a larger tub of guts than me stole the part."
"You are a man of many talents, Colonel." Here was a happy opportunity to change the subject: "Was this during your student days?"
"Not at all; my fighting days. When we spent the winter in Philadelphia -- altogether the most presentable of your cities. That was two -- no, almost three years ago." He sighed at the memory, pulled his feet up onto the bed and leaned back on the pillow. "Philadelphia is wonderfully Loyal -- at least it was when we were there. What a winter that was!" He went on for some time about that winter: the horse races he won, the parties and dinners he attended and hosted, the girls -- ah, the girls! -- the thespian troupe he and fellow officers clubbed together, the huge pageant his friend Major André staged in the spring. It sounded more like a brilliant social season than an army encampment. "We've never seen anything like it since," he concluded wistfully.
Sgt. Peterman returned, almost an hour after leaving with the mail. "A message from his Lordship, Colonel -- " He broke off and stared at Frances's bare feet.
Tarleton caught the stare and smiled at her: our secret. "Come back before sundown," he whispered. "We shall walk again."
The next day, answering the Colonel's request for a bottle of wine, she was surprised to find him up and dressed, seated in the windsor chair that was never returned to the taproom, playing cards with another officer. This was a man of middling height and build, with a caricature of a face: all features exaggerated, inherently humorous. "I am a new man!" the Colonel exclaimed, as she entered.
She offered her congratulations, but already missed the old one. He introduced her to Major George Hanger, his subordinate, commander of the Legion cavalry, "and conqueror of Charlotte."
"Please, Colonel; you dazzle me with my own glory." The Major was sardonic, explaining to Frances, "He is pointing up to me my deficiencies as a commander. For my good." He placed a card from his hand on the barrelhead they were using as a table. "That's seventy-four."
"I merely suggest that a frontal charge is not the best tactic when surrounded on three sides by blazing guns. Even if they are militia guns."
"It works for you. Seventy-five."
"My dear Hanger, you do not understand the subtleties of cavalry tactics."
"And you do not understand the subtleties of piquet." The Major played his last card. "Seventy-six plus ten. Added to my score during the announcement, that makes one hundred three."
Tarleton swore under his breath and threw down his own cards. "This is a stupid game."
"It is a thinking game -- and that's why you don't like it." Major Hanger made a note on a tally sheet with a stub of charcoal, then shuffled the cards. "You now owe me sixty pounds."
"You may never see it."
"That's hardly the way for a gentleman to talk." The Major cut the cards, turning up a five. "I'd bet on having the low card. Do you contest the deal?" When Tarleton demurred, he commenced to deal, cards spinning like shed leaves from his expert hands. "Why don't you send the bill on to your mother, like you always do?"
"Because she has been sending them back lately -- with interest due."
Major Hanger looked up, struck. "Admirable woman."
"I suppose." Tarleton picked up his cards and frowned at them, then glanced up in happy inspiration, his face bright. "I have it! We'll wager all on this round. If you win, you get this bed when you succumb. And this nurse." He grabbed Frances's hand and held it aloft like a trophy.
She protested. "Colonel -- "
"I am not," Hanger drawled, "going to 'succumb'."
"But you will. The rebels should keep to their holes and let the climate defeat us. I can see it on you. Can't you see it on him?" he asked, shifting his attention to Frances. "We should call in your black Venus -- or whatever her name is -- to look at him. They've a wench here, Hanger, about six feet tall, who scares the fever out of you, I swear."
Frances retrieved her hand, not easily -- his grip was like a vise. "The bed isn't yours to give. It's mine."
Hanger looked up reprovingly under his eyebrows. "This is ungallant of you, Colonel, wagering the lady's bed. Next you'll -- " A cough slipped on him and he turned his head quickly to let it out. He did look ill; a redness around the eyes and nostrils was suddenly thrown in sharp relief as the color drained from his face.
"You are for it, Hanger," Tarleton said softly.
"I am not."
"I give you no more than two days, at four to one. If you go down, my debt is canceled."
"Agreed." the major flattened his cards against his chest and spoke with all apparent gravity. "And if I go down, get me some opium and port. It's the only remedy."
"Remedy for what? Living?"
"No. Only for the untoward expectations aroused by it." The two comrades looked at each other and slowly smiled, then laughed in a macabre manner that chilled Frances.
"Do you want anything more, Colonel?" Her voice was cold, though her face felt warm.
"Not at the moment." He turned on his smile on her. "My deepest thanks."
When she left it felt like an escape, with another fit of coughing at her heels and the smile like a claw reaching for her. Later she heard them target-shooting out the window with a rifle the Major had bought from a local Tory. Exasperated, her aunt dressed them down in no uncertain terms.
The next day Major Hanger was carried upstairs to the officers' quarters, delirious. The Colonel sent him a bottle of port and charged Peterman with finding a supply of opium. Suddenly restless, he took to organizing Faro games in the taproom after dark with Captain Horton, the latter-day Puritan, unhappily pressed into service as dealer. The company lieutenants and the recuperating officers joined in willingly, abandoning their billiard games and pooling their resources to form a "bank."
Tarleton was wild for the game, which required no thinking at all. It was pure sensation, a matter of watching the cards turn up one by one, each loaded to a greater or lesser degree of risk. The appeal was lost on Frances, but the entire detachment went Faro-mad for two nights. Even Patsy consented to play a few rounds, once the shutters were closed. But not for money -- she was outspoken in her contempt for gambling. "It'll be your downfall, Colonel, mark my words."
Glancing out an upstairs window a little before noon, she spied Colonel Tarleton lying on a patch of the grassy slope behind the house, soaking up sun. This was noteworthy: to her knowledge, the first time he had ventured outdoors. Dressed all in white, he made a brilliant target. Though well out of sight from the road, any sniper from the nearby woods could have blown his chest open with a single shot -- and thousands of them would have paid scarce money for the honor. The thought pricked her, sending an electrical jolt all the way to her toes.
Lieutenant Money rode up with one of his Lordship's frequent messages a little later in the afternoon, when she was raking coals out of the oven. After about ten minutes she saw the aide depart, in something of a huff. After sliding the last round loaves into the oven on a bread peel and sealing them in to bake for the rest of the afternoon, she took a short walk down the slope.
He wore a white linen riding jacket, cut in the cavalry style, with silver buttons and laces. The French dragoons she had seen with General Gates's army also dressed in white, an odd color for fighting -- the bright British red answered better, to her mind. A black leather Legion helmet was beside him, topped with black swan feathers. Over his chest a paper lay unfurled, held down by his right hand, one corner whipping in the fitful wind. His other hand, sprawled on the grass, held a half-eaten apple. He lay with his head resting on a saddle, one ankle propped on his knee as though he hadn't a care worth counting. His eyes were closed against the sun but he heard her approach. "You read my thoughts," he said, when she was still a good ten yards away.
"How is that, Colonel?"
"I was wishing you would come out. Or praying. Are you an answer to prayer?"
"My father used to tell me so." She sat down in the grass, not too close, and wondered if he ever prayed. She doubted it.
"So might mine -- my father in arms, that is. I've another message from him, urging me to get well as soon as I can arrange it. We've heard from Major Ferguson, who finally knows he's in a pickle. He has gone so far as to ask for help. For three to four hundred dragoons -- he means me, but would never stoop to admit it -- to 'finish the business,' as he sends. My Lord forwards a copy of the dispatch to me, along with a postscript in his own hand . . ." He picked up the letter and squinted at it. "To wit: 'I wish you would get three Legions, and divide yourself in three parts: We can do no good without you.'"
He sighed and replaced the paper, over his heart and under his hand. "His Lordship places a heavy responsibility on you," she ventured.
"It is nothing I cannot meet, once I throw off this -- this infernal weakness. The good Lieutenant expressed some doubt it is as bad as I claim. I could use some very strong language to describe it -- and him -- were it not for your company."
"I appreciate your restraint."
"The reason I lie here, a picture of pastoral tranquillity, is that I tried mounting today. Peterman brought a fine little bay mare up from your aunt's stable, which I did mount, but when we got this far I had to dismount, very quickly. Merely standing is too heady for me; hence you find me horizontal."
"If it's any consolation to you, I like you better when you're lying down."
This came out entirely wrong -- she knew it at once, and bit her lip fiercely. He appeared to freeze for an instant, eyes wide -- then he burst out laughing. One rarely heard a laugh like that, as full-bodied and wholesome as bread, and anyone who could make such a sound had to be on the mend. She recovered herself as best she could, but not without blushing. "I suppose it's no use explaining what I meant."
"No need, no need." Stretching his arm another inch or more, he caught a bit of her petticoat between his fingers, and rubbed it slowly like a silk merchant appraising the texture. "You are good for me, Frances. You could be good for me." She wondered about the change in tense, her breath coming shorter. Clangs of iron drifted over from the encampment, where farriers were at work; harsh laughter from the camp followers at their laundry tubs, a neigh from the stable, her aunt calling stridently for Ab. "You are so calm," he continued. "Like a walking pond."
Frances thought of the night her father died, and said nothing.
"But in a way," he said then, "you're like all women. They love to have us at their mercy. Dependent on them for light, joy, and reason for living, isn't that so?"
"You are more experienced in such matters than I, Colonel."
"My friends," he said, "call me Ban."
She couldn't think of him that way. To her he was Banastre, and had been from the moment she saw him -- perhaps even from the moment she heard of him: beautiful in his own way, dangerous, extraordinary. "So do your enemies," she said, "with suitable adjectives attached."
He took a large bite of the apple and threw away the core. When he spoke again his tone was almost pedantic. "I think you have a particular adjective in mind. Would it be 'bloody'?"
She nodded, unconsciously biting her lip.
"And do you regard this as suitable?"
"I don't know." It was an honest answer; she knew almost nothing about him. He could explain it all, and still leave all unexplained. Or he could supply the missing element in her picture of him, the one angle or color that would resolve his clashing parts and reveal him, finally, for what he was. She took a deep breath: "I have heard every version of the Waxhaw story but yours."
"Do I owe you mine?"
"Of course not."
"Do not pass so lightly o'er what I may owe you. At any rate -- " Here he smiled, dispelling the atmosphere of weightiness that had gathered between them. "I will tell you, and discharge any possible obligation. Agreed?"
She could only nod in reply.
"This will be difficult for you to understand. It's all of a piece with war and arms, and men facing death together, and watching their comrades die. And killing. I never killed anyone before I came here, and can't say I ever wanted to. But it is the natural corollary to the heat of the chase and the rattle of drums. And I'll tell you this, though you won't understand it: nothing makes you feel more alive.
"First you must know that my men are attached to me. We have been together for almost five years since the Legion was formed. Colonel Cathcart was the commanding officer on the rolls, and still is, but I was the one who drilled and trained them and made them what they are -- which is the best. Most of them, I hardly need remind you, are Americans. Unlike most of my fellow officers I never thought the worse of them for that. You smile, but most of the Tory regiments hate their British commanders, who despise them in return. My Legion is not like that.
"We beat Colonel Buford in a fair fight -- even outnumbered and exhausted, we beat them. I offered a chance to surrender before catching up to him, but he refused. Said he was resolved to defend himself 'to the last extremity.' So the consequence was on his own head. I smashed through his rear guard to get to him, and once I had him fair by the throat he recognized what a fool he'd been and sent out a flag.
"It was hot. We'd chased them for 150 miles at a pace so furious we killed a number of the horses and had to seize more wherever we could find them. Our blood . . . was literally boiling. A cease-fire was called on both sides, but the bullets were still flying. You have to understand that. One of them struck down the ensign with the white flag. Another struck my horse. Just here." He propped himself on one elbow, leaned forward, and tapped Frances lightly on the very center of the forehead. For a moment she stopped breathing.
"He dropped like a stone, and I went down with him, of course. My men thought the ball had struck me.
"I could not restrain them. I could not . . . ."
The hammer rang on the anvil, women shrieked, horses neighed. His eyes were distant, and hot. With a quick intake of the fiery autumn air Frances understood who it was that could not be restrained.
"These things happen in war. And then the cries of outrage come and you wonder: what in God's name did they expect?" A vein in his temple rose, throbbing delicately.
"It changes you. I'm sure it does. But you don't know how you've been changed. Time reveals it."
Until then she believed him. His narrative moved swiftly with the force of his own conviction behind it until the last moment, when it stumbled. A very slight stumble, and a quick recovery, but she heard it on his voice -- as though he himself had to doubt that his blood-lust was forced on him by circumstances. Heat, fury, fatigue, and turmoil were the agents not of change but of revelation. "Make no mistake," he said. "I would do it again."
He was not remade by war, only confirmed by it. War had stripped away outside restraints and lay bare the center, where his unbound self ruled.
"Besides," he said, his voice lightening, "it's my profession. 'Tis no sin to labor in my profession." She dimly recognized the words: another quote from Falstaff, that joke of a soldier through whom the English mocked themselves while riding roughshod over the world. She wanted to ask if he regretted anything, but already knew the answer. He would do it again.
The air was cool under the trees, cold at the bottom of the slope where Sugar Creek swept round its long curve. Low enough to cross on foot, the water flowed almost sedately here, swirling back in lazy eddies and quiet pools. But the steep west bank bore marks of violence, a witness to what the creek could do when aroused. Tangled roots threaded the cutaway soil, their secret lives exposed. Tender young saplings tilted over the water, permanently falling, their sentence of doom pronounced. The next heavy rain would rouse Sugar Creek and give it muscle enough to smash that bank again, carry away another crop of young trees and hollow another inch or two from the overhanging cliff. A dry gully ran down to the water, forming a slope to climb. Frances crossed the creek and started up the gully, searching out the natural ledges with her feet and grasping handfuls of root to steady herself.
Halfway up the bank her foot slipped, and in an instant she was plastered to the soil. A chill breeze flowed over her, sapping her will, tugging her fingers loose from the tangled root, rushing her thoughts downstream toward the sound that poured into her ears and mind. It was a delicate splashing woven across the long strands of current, an irregular quartered rhythm beating against it. She made no effort to rise, in spite of the awkwardness of her position; if her guess was correct, the approaching rider was the one person in the world to whom she need not explain herself. The splashes made by a finicky, high-stepping horse came up to her, and stopped. For a long time the only sound was running water.
"Don't move," he said then, in the heavy tones of his Lancashire voice. "I think I like you better lying down."
She let out her breath in a rush and sat up, bracing her heels against the bank and combing twigs out of her hair. "I slipped."
"So I see. Wait there until I come round." He moved upstream seeking a spot where the bank was not so steep. But as soon as he was out of sight she took a firm grip on the bank and climbed out, and when he came around she was shaking out her petticoat and looking for snags and tears.
"Frances, I told you to wait. You deprive me of the pleasure of rescuing you."
"It wasn't necessary, Colonel. As you see."
"Pleasure is never necessary, but why live without it? You've been avoiding me these last days -- do you prefer sickly men over healthy ones?"
"Of course not. I'm happy to see you well." She could hardly keep her eyes off him, in fact -- bareheaded, his white jacket unbuttoned and shirt open at the neck. He had ridden up a light sweat, a buffed-and-polished gleam. His hair, loosely tied, was bright as copper under the sun. She thought of warning him not to ride about with such a head uncovered: danger and glory lightened the air around him.
"Prove it," he said.
"How . . . What did you say?"
"Prove how happy you are to see me well, et cetera. Come for a ride with me."
"Is it safe?" Though unsure what she meant by it, this was the first response that came to mind.
"For me? Or for you?"
She hesitated, then answered honestly, "Both."
"Of course not. That makes it more interesting, doesn't it? But we won't be gone long." He turned the horse -- a fine bay mare that belonged to her aunt -- so she could get up on its left side, and slipped his foot out of the stirrup.
"Not long, I said. I refuse to quibble over minutes." He straightened his leg and held out his hand -- or rather, flung it down like a gauntlet, fingers curved. One did not argue with such a hand. Frances placed her left foot on his, soiling the elegant boot, and let him swing her up behind him. It was years since she had ridden pillion and she felt less than confident of her perch. Tentatively, she put one arm around his waist. His smell, bracing and strong and sharp, overpowered her senses so that sight and hearing dimmed for a moment. ". . . have to hold on. Tight. Are you listening?"
"Hold tight. Not even I know what this mare can do. No concessions to the faint-hearted."
"Do you know where you're going?" Frances locked her arms around his waist and felt the thickness of muscle there, surprisingly firm even after weeks of inaction.
"Trust me." With no other warning than that, he jabbed a spur to the mare's side and threw himself forward as she sprang off her flanks into a full gallop. Frances tucked her head into his back and held on for all she was worth.
Perhaps he was not an elegant rider, but he rode all-out, with a lust for speed -- sheer speed, far beyond anything she had ever known -- that drove her breath back in her throat. Only after a good mile and a half did he slack up on the pace. She did not trust herself to look up and about until they entered a band of forest at a canter, threading the towering pines and hardwoods as smoothly as expert work with the crop and reins would allow. When the mare burst into sunlight and open field, he ratcheted up on her speed again. Frances felt the tingling of his back against her cheek, and laughed, to her own surprise -- it was a stealthy laugh that ambushed her, a laugh of alarm as much as pleasure. He heard it, for they were communicating through nerves and sinews more than sound; with her face against his back, pressed to the sensitive and complicated network of vertebrae and shoulder blade and smooth contracted flesh, she felt what he was feeling.
At the top of a low ridge he slowed to a trot, then a walk, then halted abruptly on a hard rein that made the mare toss up her head with a cry, flinging a spray of lather. Frances loosened her grip at once, but did not let go. Breathing hard, as if he had done all the running, he stroked the mare's neck and allowed her to back up a few steps before reining in again.
"She keeps a good pace, wouldn't you say?"
"I'll tell you when I get my heart back. We left it in the trees."
He laughed. "But you liked it."
"Only after the first moments of terror had passed."
"Oh, you've not seen the best yet."
Impulsively she tightened her arms around him again, feeling his ribs give a little under the pressure. "Please don't show me."
"But I will. That is, the moment I can breathe again -- which means you must unhand me, fair maid -- I will set you down on terra firma and show you at no risk to yourself." He pried her fingers loose and twisted halfway in the saddle. "Agreed?"
She accepted a hand down and stepped back from the mare, who pranced nervously in place. "She gives some promise as a battle horse," he explained. "Her spirit is high. Too high, for firm control. She wants training."
"I don't train horses -- I master them. But we'll give her a test. Stand where you are, and I'll show you a cavalry charge. All you have to do is keep still -- if you move she may shy, or break stride, and you could be hurt."
He pulled the mare in a tight circle and trotted away, back straight and rocking slightly in the saddle. On horseback, he sat with a certain tilt to his head, a pose suggesting total confidence or, at worst, insufferable haughtiness. He might have asked if she wanted to witness a cavalry charge but that was unlikely; he possessed a manly assurance that anything of interest to him ought to interest everyone.
A considerable distance had stretched between them before he pulled up at the edge of a red birch grove. He stared at the branches over his head, where a few of the shivering leaves had just turned yellow. Standing in the stirrups he twisted off a young flexible shoot about three feet long and stripped the leaves from it. He tucked his riding crop under the saddle and turned the mare's head around to Frances. The tip of the birch rod shook at her with an implicit command: don't move. She felt it, a cold thrill at the back of her neck.
He started off at a trot and spiraled into a gallop, bent low like a race-jockey. Soon the birch whip was flogging the mare's flank; her hooves flashed and rolled like drumbeats. She fixed her eyes on Frances, eyes widening in terror or passion until they showed white all around. Teeth bared, ears laid back, she bore like a bullet. Steady as a flaming sun rose Banastre's face above the mare's -- a face no less terrifying, its mouth open. The air filled with a shout, a cry, of man or horse or both at once, and over his head a sword arched against the sky as he crouched in the stirrups for leverage and clenched his body for the blow. He was almost on her.
At the last possible moment, he sawed to one side so violently the mare almost overturned in a wave of dust. Something struck the ground beside Frances and tumbled harmlessly to her feet: a birch rod.
The harsh treble echo of her scream trailed off like smoke, blending with the low laugh he spilled in his wake. She bit her lip and stared straight ahead, breathing deeply to compose herself. His voice followed directly upon the laugh: "Whatever they may say of me, I do not make war on women. You had nothing to fear, you of little faith." Her hard, resentful look perturbed him not at all. "I will confess to an urge to upset your well-known and much-commended equilibrium."
She released another breath before speaking. "Are you satisfied?"
"Very. No need to repeat the experiment. And now since I've strayed far enough from safety and you are doubtless much missed at home, I expect we'd better return. At a more leisurely pace." He edged the mare close and put out his hand.
Frances stared at the crossed welts on the horse's flank, oozing blood. "I would rather walk, I think."
"I see. Righteous indignation makes another righteous fool. It would take until afternoon to get back on foot."
"It doesn't matter."
"Frances." Again he stuck out his hand. He fully expected his commands to be obeyed, and in the glare of such confidence she found herself as duty-bound as any subaltern. After a token demurral she gave him her hand. By a clever manipulation of space he landed her on the mare's withers instead of the rump, seated uncomfortably on the pommel of his saddle and looking directly into his dark eyes. This was almost unbearable nearness; she could count the pores on his fair skin, trace the bow-curve of his upper lip gilded with sweat.
"Colonel," she whispered, "I must -- "
"So must I," he said, and kissed her.
She saw this coming long before it arrived, a soft warm pressure that beat lightly over her at first, then deepened as it sought her out. But she was not there to be found; in fear and confusion she had darted out of reach, leaving behind a still mask. After a moment he broke away, sat back and studied her with an appraising frown.
"Let me teach you how to be kissed."
A startled, involuntary laugh escaped her. "On horseback?"
"The instruction can be applied anywhere. And if you pay attention, it will stand you in good stead for years to come." He went on before she could protest. "Let us suppose that you want me to kiss you -- purely for instruction, you understand. First, you meet my eyes.
"Not like a prosecutor, Frances. What makes you stare like that? Drop your lids a little. That's better; now I don't feel as if I'm in the dock. And don't laugh." He lay two fingers over her mouth to stifle the helpless mirth bubbling up from a source she had never suspected. "You'll soon see, this is serious business.
"Now that you have my eyes, open your lips -- no, no; not more than a half-inch between them, or you'll resemble an adenoidal cretin. Ah, yes -- that ridge of white just showing beneath the upper lip -- fetching. Like a flash of lace under a skirt. Now, this is important. To make the message plain your lips should be -- if you will excuse the expression -- wet. They have to be wet." He moved in suddenly, and licked them.
It was so impulsive, so odd, so artless, so like him, she could only blink in response, her heart crowding its narrow cavity. Banastre leaned away again, judging the effect. "Perfect. To resist, I would have to be made of stone. And you know I am not. You know it's going to happen, so tilt your head a fraction -- " he tapped her head lightly to the proper degree" -- and close your eyes. Close your eyes. You've drawn me, my honey, you don't have to watch . . . ."
She did not watch; she felt. She was all sensation as his mouth closed over her lips and kept going, prizing them further apart. His tongue slipped to the roof of her mouth and hooked behind her upper teeth, catching her, drawing her slowly until she thought he might swallow her whole. Then by infinitesimal degrees he pulled back, and in retreat caught her lower lip gently between his teeth. He fetched her after him -- clinging, yearning.
"How's that, then?" His voice, low and breathy, shivered in the small space between them. She declined to answer but continued the movement he had started, leaning toward him until his heart was beating just under her ear. The sound moved her, in spite of all she knew: it was a cruel, vain and reckless heart, but full to overflowing. The life that pounded there was as vulnerable as any man's; made perhaps even more so by its very excess. Only a few thin layers of linen lay between them, but she had penetrated the greater barrier -- and found him, at this moment and in this place, as affected as she by what had happened. His right hand was sliding with a small sweet hesitation up her back, closing on the topmost button of her gown. A warning went off in her head: stop him. To stop him, and to test her own will, she said, "I must go back."
She felt the hand flatten on her shoulders, and a deep sigh against her cheek. "Right." Banastre tugged the reins, turning the mare homeward.
Their pace was unhurried and for most of the journey he held her curled within the circle of his right arm. Only when they came to Sugar Creek did good sense prevail; she sat up sharply, as though roused from a dream. "Please let me down here. I'll walk up by myself."
"Wait. There's a place a little upstream where I found you today. A grassy bank under a willow tree -- you know?"
"I'll meet you there tonight, just after dark. If it's clear I'll show you the stars."
She had to laugh as she slid down the mare's side. Once on the ground, she shook out her petticoat and turned to look up at him. "Really, Colonel -- I may be a guileless country maid but I reckon I'm not stupid. 'After dark,' indeed."
"My dear Miss Hamilton." He spoke with a straight face, a veneer of gravity. "The only time one can see the stars is after dark." The exhausted mare started forward at a dig of his spurs, and he added over one shoulder, "I intend to be there. With my spyglass."
. . . . . . .
The tavern yard was unnaturally still except for Tom, the stable hand, trying with little success to calm the overexcited bay mare. A few soldiers sat at ease in their shirt sleeves around a cook fire, whitening their crossbelts with pipe clay and making cruel observations on Tom's crippled foot. Frances glanced past them and looked toward the road, where a sight awaited that stopped her dead.
Strung out as far as she could see on either side of the tavern was a row of mounted horsemen all facing forward, a symmetry of green, black and gold. A gusty southwest wind feathered the horse tails and fanned the plumes on a row of identical black helmets, but the men themselves held ominously still. "Tom," she called, hearing the anxiety in her own voice. "Who are they?"
Tom shot her a resentful glance, as though she were responsible for the mare's overwrought state. He was a dark-haired, pale-featured youth of complicated grudges and few words. At times he seemed well-disposed to her, but usually not. "The Legion," was all he said -- a word with such accumulated malice it struck like a hammer. Frances moved toward the tavern, entranced by the order and rigor, the sun glancing off countless gold buttons and sword hilts, the closely fitted green jackets and black boots. They were a drum roll made visible. The wind unfurled their colors: the red-and-blue Union Jack, the gold Legion banner with its green "L" dead center. Slowly she climbed the three steps to the dog trot.
As she set her foot on the planking, her aunt emerged from the kitchen. "You're about to get your own bed back." Patsy nodded to the closed door of the storeroom, behind which a rustling and thumping could be clearly heard -- the noises people make when they pack for a journey.
"I see," Frances said.
"He's been called away, to look for this Major Ferguson. His Lordship is worried, it seems."
"Yes. I have been expecting that." Her voice was level, but she could not look at her aunt, or at anything but the long row of dragoons -- about fifty of them, by quick estimation, no more than an escort. She had expected it. She walked toward them, irresistibly drawn, stopping while still in shadow. They stared at her, and she at them, across a wide, silent gulf. The door opened behind her.
Quick steps dropping off the west side of the dog trot and pounding on hard-packed clay: that would be Sergeant Peterman, going for horses. Seconds dragged by, perhaps a minute or more, before the other steps sounded: deliberate steps, distinguished by a soft chink of roweled spurs. He crossed the passageway to speak to her aunt, explained in a low voice that a baggage wagon would be along directly to fetch his things, and expressed his thanks in the most complimentary terms. Her replies sounded subdued, for Patsy: no bantering, bartering or badgering. Just go, her voice implied, and good riddance.
Frances felt him coming closer and turned with her back to the wall. He took her hand and raised it -- then paused. Deliberately he turned it over and kissed the palm, a gesture of intimacy and tenderness. It awoke in her an intense longing that would brook no more disguises. When he looked up again, her soul was in her face.
"I am obliged to you forever," he said, with only the trace of a smile; perhaps he even meant it.
She could not trust herself to speak and all words were hollow anyway. He let go of her hand and stepped back.
Sergeant Peterman dashed into the yard with fitting military vigor on the back of a dun gelding, leading a fiery black on long traces. Banastre stepped into the sunshine, setting his helmet and pulling on his gloves, briskly, as though he had absolutely no more time to waste. The Legion uniform became him -- loved him. The green jacket and buff-colored breeches and doeskin boots embraced his compact body, the tall plumes on the helmet set off the proud tilt of his head. A sword swung at his side. "He does not bear the sword in vain" -- the words slashed into her mind on a swift downstroke.
He approached the black horse Sergeant Peterman had positioned for him and sprang into the saddle -- Frances never saw his foot touch the stirrup. And at that moment a cheer rose from the ranks, as startling as if a line of tin soldiers had come to life. The object of the ovation pivoted neatly, favoring her with an arch look that said, "I told you how they felt about me." Then he flung himself and his horse at the line of cavalry, their huzzahs pouring over him like rain until he reached the head of the column.
At a subordinate's command and a bugle's blast, the Legion turned left and closed ranks, double-file on the narrow road. Four scarlet-coated drummers near the head of the line, young boys of matched height, stepped out smartly on a ruffled beat and stood drumming the Legion from a slow walk to a swift trot. The colors lifted as they picked up speed. The stirring cadence halted abruptly as the last four riders paused to post-mount their musicians, drums and all: a necessity that marred the overall effect. But it was brilliant and heart-stopping, a sight to stir the loyal spirit to paroxysms of pride. Frances felt a heavy hand descend on her and snuff her out like a candle.
"Well." Patsy's voice dripped with irony. "Are we in love?"
It was terribly unchristian of her, but just then Frances hated her aunt. She wrapped her arms around herself and said more than she intended. "Love doesn't hurt like this."
A long silence followed, during which the tavern yard adjusted itself to normal life -- dogs barking, Black Sis grumbling, the clank of a bucket scraping the sides of the well. "Poets and singers would disagree with you, child," Patsy said finally, before crossing the passageway to get to the taproom. Her voice sounded almost gentle. This would be her only comment on the subject for some time.
The storeroom echoed with his absence. He had left a black swan's feather pulled from his helmet, lying square in the middle of the bed so she would understand it was no accident.
And if that quick peek doesn't make you interested to read the book, nothing will. I've been privileged to read a draft of the whole manuscript, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to the day when Janie finds time to get back to it. Meanwhile, her Elizabethan-era young/adult novels, "The Playmaker", and The True Prince are available.
-- Marg B.
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