Disclaimer: I own none of the rights to the film The Patriot. Equally, I own none of the fictional characters from it, not even Colonel William Tavington, alas.
Author's note: I have been inspired by other writers, most particularly DocM in her wonderful The Loyal Daughter, to imagine the American Revolution from the Loyalist side. This story is told in third person from Tavington's point of view exclusively. As such, I felt I must include all scenes in the film in which he appears. However, since so many elements in the film are contrary to fact, I have appended some historical notes as necessary. Some dates, such as that of Cowpens, have been changed in order to agree with actual events. Needless to say, the British were not Nazis, and no one ever burned a church full of people. In real life, the most tragic conflicts are those in which well-meaning people want to do the right thing, but cannot agree what the right thing to do is….The title is a Latin phrase that most famously appears as the name of a painting by Poussin, in which rustic nymphs and shepherds contemplate a tomb. The phrase can be interpreted two ways: either "I, Death, am also in Arcadia;" or "I once lived in Arcadia, too." Mortality is ever present, even in a place that embodies the beauty and simplicity of country life.
ET IN ARCADIA EGO
CHAPTER ONE: A Routine Patrol
South Carolina was a rich and beautiful place, Tavington decided, but not fit for human habitation in the summer. It had been an over-long patrol under a hot sun. Their uniforms clung sweat-sodden to them; it was impossible to drink enough water. Dealing with treacherous Crackers, and listening to their incomprehensible jargon, had tried his never strong patience. Perhaps the knights of the Crusades were right: Kill them all and let God sort them out. He looked back over his dragoons. They were bearing up well enough, but their mounts needed a breather.
The local-born captain brought up his horse beside him. "Sir?"
"Is there a Loyal family within a few miles of here? The horses need rest and water without having to fight for them."
Wilkins tilted his head back, thinking. Then he grinned.
"Well, yes, sir. There's the Wildes' place, called 'Arcadia.'" He stretched in the saddle slightly, easing his back. "A little out of the way, but as loyal as any you'd like to see. John Wilde's dead, of course. Got wounded in Georgia last year and died here at home, but his widow's bound to be glad to see us, with all the murdering Rebels about. She's an Everleigh, you see, which makes her kin to me on my mother's side--"
"Thank you, Captain Wilkins," snapped Tavington, cutting him off. Of course Wilkins was related to every family within a fifty-mile radius. They were an incestuous pack of savages, at best. An elusive memory stirred. "Wait! Wilde, you say? John Wilde the naturalist?"
"Yes sir, that's the one," the hulking Carolinian answered readily. "Kind of an eccentric fellow, you see, sir. He came here from England years ago to paint plants and birds and such. Not a bad sort, really. He could ride and shoot and all like a gentleman, but sometimes he'd go off for days and take all his drawing gear with him, and my cousin Peter swears that he once saw him up in a tree down Camden way. There he was, drawing like it was the most regular thing in the world, and Peter calls out to him, asking what he's doing, and old Wilde answers, 'Following my Muse.'" Wilkins snorted to himself and chuckled, "Following his Muse."
Tavington grimaced. He had admired some of Wilde's work he had seen years ago in London, and then more recently in Charlestown. The impressive folio publication of Flora and Fauna of the Carolina Colonies was hardly within his own means, but he had greatly enjoyed the occasional glimpses that various acquaintances' libraries had afforded. He felt a pang for John Wilde, surrounded by ignorant yokels like Wilkins. And now dead, it seemed. All that artistry and passion for nature snuffed out by a clod of a Rebel.
"All right," Tavington said. "How far is it?"
Wilkins shrugged, "Not more than another hour, I reckon, Colonel."
Longer than he liked, but worth it if it meant a chance to see Wilde's home. If the widow were truly sympathetic to the King's cause, perhaps he and his officers might be invited into the house, and he could get a look at some of Wilde's other work.
He gave a nod to Wilkins. "Lead on, then, Captain."
A sunken road led them through overhanging cedars. The shade was welcome, and Wilkins assured him that the house was "on apiece," but not too far now.
Suddenly the road turned northeast, and Tavington glimpsed part of a tall white house and an ivy-covered chimney. Gradually the whole house was revealed: large enough, but strangely retiring. Perhaps it was all the trees crowding thick around it, and the flowering vines garlanding the columns of the front veranda.
Then the silence struck him. An estate like this should be alive with people--family, servants, slaves. There should be horses in the nearby pasture, and activity toward the back by the kitchen and the slave cabins.
He exchanged a quick look with Bordon, who was obviously of the same mind.
"An ambush, sir?" muttered the captain.
"Tell Hunt and Monroe to be on their guard." Bordon turned his horse back to confer with his junior officers. Tavington eyed Wilkins with suspicion. He was new to Tavington's command, and the quality of his loyalty was still unknown. Wilkins seemed to notice nothing amiss, and appeared to be anticipating nothing more than a pleasant round of gossip with distant relations.
As they cantered up to the house, Tavington noticed that it was not entirely deserted. A small figure sat on the edge of the veranda, legs dangling over.
Closer in, he saw it was a nicely dressed little girl, who jumped to her feet and waved to them. Bordon glanced at his colonel, and Tavington shrugged. Hard to believe that even Rebel scum would risk a child in such a way. As he reined in at the front steps, the child saluted.
"Hello! Good day to you, gentlemen! We're so happy to see you!" Looking past Tavington she beamed. "Oh, hello, Cousin James! You look very nice." Some of the dragoons stifled guffaws.
Tavington raised an eyebrow at Wilkins. "Well, Captain, will you not introduce me to the lady?"
"Of course, sir. Colonel Tavington, may I present Miss Julia Wilde?"
The little girl squeaked with excitement. "Are you that Colonel Tavington?"
"I am quite sure I must be, Miss Julia." The child seemed impressed rather than fearful. "I would be obliged if you would fetch your mother. We must request that she extend her hospitality to us and to our horses in His Majesty's name."
"Oh, of course you can stay," the girl waved airily. "We're happy to have you, though we wish you'd come last week. And I can't fetch Mamma." Her happy mood evaporated. "She's dead."
"Cousin Emma's dead?" Wilkins seemed shocked. "Was it the Rebels?"
"No," answered Julia flatly, "a cancer." She turned back to Tavington. "Lilabet won't mind you staying. I'd get her, but she's trying to make Melly come out of the woods." Tavington stared at her. The girl brightened. She asked in a grown-up voice no doubt copied from her mother, "Would you and your officers care for tea, Colonel?"
Well, why not? "We would be most grateful, madam."
He signed to dismount, and swung off his horse, looking at his hostess. She was really quite pretty--dark curling hair and big dark eyes in a pale little face. He gave her a bow, and she replied with a smiling curtsey.
"Welcome to Arcadia, gentlemen."
Tavington turned to Bordon. "You and Wilkins with me. Detail the junior officers to supervise the halt. Two hours should suffice." Tavington had another thought, and stopped him. "Wait. Let young McKay join us." Cornet David McKay was the Dragoons' newest and youngest officer, and it seemed to Tavington that he had been particularly hard hit by the realities of war. Not that tea in the company of sympathetic ladies was a cure, but it could be something of a consolation.
The pleasantly cool house was typical of many in the South, built around a long hall with doors at either end. The girl led them through the entryway, and then left into the library. The house appeared deserted except for the five of them.
"Please make yourselves comfortable, gentlemen. I'll be back with the tea directly." The child turned to leave, when Wilkins stopped her.
"Julia, honey, are you all alone here? Where are the slaves?"
"Gone. Stolen by the--" she lowered her voice to a whisper, "dirty Rebels."
Tavington frowned. Misunderstanding his expression, she apologized. "I know I'm not supposed to say dirty Rebels. Lilabet says it's ungenteel. But," she said, looking defiant, "Melly says dirty Rebels, and I've heard Lilabet say dirty Rebels, and once," she added impressively, "she said something worse."
Her guests' expressions evidently satisfied her. "I have to go now, or we'll never have any tea. I'm sure Lilabet and Melly will be back soon." She looked hopefully at Tavington. "Do you like pictures?"
He gave her a slight smile. "I like pictures painted by your father." Julia looked as if life could hold nothing greater.
"You do? You know about Papa?" She dashed over to a table supporting a large folio album. "Then here's his big book. And here," she said running to an easel with a portfolio leaning against it, "are some of the pictures he finished before he got himself wounded and died." She walked backwards toward the door, smiling at Tavington. "I'll get the tea while you're looking and we'll have cake with it."
As her footsteps faded down the echoing hall, Tavington felt his officers' eyes on him. He turned, and there was Bordon, warm and kind; McKay, pink with suppressed mirth; and Wilkins, grinning impudently. He gave them a quelling look, and Bordon ventured, "Cake, sir? I am sure we are very obliged to you for your exertions in providing for your subordinates--"
Tavington cut him off, slightly irritated. "That will do."
Wilkins, unable to take the hint, observed, "She sure did take a shine to you, Colonel. I reckon none of the rest of us would rate cake."
"Sir," he subsided.
Tavington turned on the fresh-faced cornet. "Do you have an opinion, Mr. McKay?"
The boy choked a little. He was very young, and greatly in awe of his Colonel. "No sir." Then, daringly, he added. "She certainly seems very loyal."
Tavington gave a reluctant laugh, and the others smiled. "That she does." He walked over to the table, and opened the volume. A panther, Puma concolor, was vividly depicted, crouching in a cedar as if about to spring. Bordon and McKay looked over his shoulder. Wilkins glanced over from the mantel, where he was examining a finely made Kentucky rifle.
"It sure does look natural."
"Yes," said Tavington. "Yes, indeed". Leaving Bordon and McKay to look at the book, he strode over to the easel, and began leafing through the watercolours in the portfolio. Plants of all sorts, beautifully delineated in the finest style of horticultural drawing; animals at rest and in life-like action; and surprisingly, a series of charcoals of some attractive young girls, among whom he recognized the pretty features of little Julia. Then there was a sweet-faced, matronly woman. She was pictured sitting at the library desk, idly holding a quill over what appeared to be account books. The late Mrs. Wilde, he assumed. Then more of the young girls: a striking young lady on horseback, proudly straight in her riding habit; Julia and a slightly older girl playing with some puppies. Tavington wryly noted that the puppies and their antics were more carefully drawn than the girls themselves.
The next picture was different still. On it were several likenesses of the same young man, or boy, really, drawn in small full-length, in profile, full-face, and sitting in tall grass, reading a book. The paper was covered with different perspectives of the same lad. At the bottom, in a fine Italian hand. were the words, Ricardus, filius carissimus. The next few pictures were all of this same dear son Richard.
"What about the son?" he asked Wilkins.
Wilkins gave him the blank bovine look that so annoyed him, and then understood. "Richard Wilde? Dead at Brandywine. Nice young fellow. Never thought he'd make a soldier, though. Kind of soft, like his father."
Tavington grunted an acknowledgement, and turned back to the pictures. There was a variety of watercolours of Nicotiana, and a charming study of a mourning dove. He looked moodily away from the pictures, out the window, over the front lawn, at the dragoons walking out the horses. Obviously, the second volume of Wilde's masterwork would never be published, or would be published incomplete.
There was a noise, and a kind of bustle coming from the back of the hall. Hushed voices murmured, and Tavington discerned the high voice of Julia. Another, lower voice, that of a young woman, was approaching.
"Are you sure you will not change and join us, dearest? You ought to greet our guests." An indistinct answer followed, and the young woman spoke again. "Then lie down and get some rest. I'll let you know." Footsteps--two sets of them—ascended the staircase. Little Julia came through the library doorway a moment later, carrying a tea tray with cautious haste. She begged them to be seated and busied herself serving tea to their tastes, bearing Tavington's over to him, eyes shining.
"We have pound cake,' Julia informed them. "Right after everything happened, Lilabet said we'd all feel better after we had some pound cake. Luckily she knows how to make it."
"What did happen?" wondered Wilkins.
"It's a long story," the child answered solemnly. She perched on a chair opposite Tavington, with a company smile. "So, Colonel Tavington, are you married?"
Bordon smiled into his tea. McKay choked on his cake.
"No, I am not," answered Tavington with exquisite gravity.
"Are you engaged or anything?" she persisted.
Tavington cleared his throat and glared at Wilkins' idiotic grinning. "No, Miss Julia, I am neither engaged nor ----anything."
Wilkins never knew when to stop. "Julia, are you setting your cap at the Colonel?"
The child looked at him indignantly. "Of course not. I thought he might do for Lilabet --especially after what happened."
Tavington inquired delicately, "And that was?"
Julia sipped her tea. "Lilabet will tell you. She'll be down directly. She's changing her dress because she doesn't like to look more like a field-hand than absolutely necessary."
"Quite understandable," remarked Bordon, helpfully.
"Anyway, you should all have more cake. It's the last of it." She clapped her hand over her mouth, nearly upsetting her cup on Bordon. "I wasn't supposed to tell you that. Lilabet said that if I let on that we were running low on food, she'd box my ears."
Tavington could not repress a smile. "Does she box your ears often, then?"
"Never," Julia admitted. "She just says she will. I've never seen her hit anybody but Charles Crawford, and that was only with his engagement ring, so it couldn't have hurt more than his feelings, and he deserved it anyway."
"Because of what happened?" suggested Cornet McKay.
"That's right," affirmed Julia. "Lilabet says when a man brings all his friends to rob you in the middle of the night, it's a clear sign the engagement is over."
The officers considered this with due decorum.
Wilkins was the first to speak up. "Charles Crawford? Son of Hamish Crawford?"
"That's the one." Julia sniffed, "Melly and I aren't sorry though. We never liked him anyway, because he's two-faced."
Bordon managed, "Just as well that his true nature was revealed before your sister was bound to him in marriage."
"That's what I say," agreed Julia. "I'm not surprised he turned traitor. He was always just as nice as pie to Melly and me, but Lucy Stubblefield told Melly that Charles Crawford told her brother that he was packing Melly and me off to school in Charlestown as soon as he and Lilabet were married. So you see."
Whatever anyone might have said to this last was forgotten as a young woman entered the room. The officers all rose at her arrival, McKay fumbling with his teacup. Tavington recalled that she was in mourning, as he took in the summer-weight black silk gown. She had the same dark eyes and the same dark curling hair as Julia, though that hair in her case was partially covered by a very pretty lace cap.
She smiled at Wilkins. "Cousin James, how good to see you."
"Cousin Elizabeth," returned Wilkins, "May I present to you Colonel Tavington, Captain Bordon, and Mr. McKay. Gentlemen, my cousin, Miss Wilde."
"Madam," murmured Tavington and Bordon, bowing. McKay, flushing as he looked for a place to set his teacup, bowed a second later.
"Gentlemen." She dropped a graceful curtsey, and Tavington took a moment to study her. Attractive enough: very like a grown-up version of the engaging Julia. A little on the pale side, perhaps, but her delicate features had interest: the big, thickly-lashed dark eyes, a determined chin, and a haughty, high-bridged nose gave her face more character than mere prettiness. She was certainly the horsewoman of her father's sketch, though a few years older.
"We are very obliged to you, Madam," said Tavington, "for the warmth of our welcome here."
"Please be seated, gentlemen. I am sorry I could not greet you earlier," she said, seating herself. "Things have been rather hectic here lately. But I daresay, "she continued with a wary look at Julia, "that my sister has been keeping you entertained."
Julia smiled back guilelessly. "I didn't tell them anything important. I knew you'd want to do that."
Tavington observed, "It appears, Miss Wilde, that you have had a visitation."
Miss Wilde gave a rueful laugh. "I suppose that's one way to put it. Another way is to say that we at last found out the worst about our neighbors. It's all very disheartening."
Wilkins leaned over for another piece of cake. "Julia said they took all the slaves."
"They took all the slaves, and all the horses, and all the rest of the stock. They looted the smokehouse and made a mess of the front lawn. All in all, a night to remember. Or not."
"And yet they did not burn the house, nor did they loot it," Tavington pointed out. "I wonder why."
Miss Wilde shot him a hostile look, which he accepted with equanimity. Little Julia fidgeted in her chair, obviously eager to tell all.
Miss Wilde said coolly, "Perhaps my appeal to their better natures was efficacious? I'm not entirely sure myself."
"Lilabet! Tell them!" Julia wriggled indignantly. She turned to Tavington. "They didn't burn the house because they're deciding who's going to get it. And Lilabet has to marry the winner, or we shall all be put out," she concluded with relish, "like cats."
"Julia, if you cannot hold your tongue, you will have to go to your room. Do you understand?"
Julia nodded, slumping sullenly in her chair.
Miss Wilde continued, with a warning look at her little sister. "That was one possibility discussed that night. Half of them were drunk, so they were hardly fit to make a rational decision. They did seem to feel that since the British would not burn the house with a Loyal family in it, they would wait until you have withdrawn, and then deliver the house to one of their own, by way of reparation, I suppose." She gave a soft sigh of disgust. "The other issue only applies if the lucky party has any interest in me."
Wilkins asked, "So Charles Crawford was with them?"
She sniffed, "Charles Crawford was with them, and he was loud in his representations that Arcadia should be spared. If he still has hopes of me, he's too big a fool to live. And so he may find." Her mouth tightened, and she stared darkly at the floor.
Considering, Tavington looked at her. "Madam, I must ask, even if it pains you—was any violence offered to your person or to your sisters? Were you--insulted--in any way?"
Julia looked ready to burst. Her sister frowned at her and shook her head. "They were neither gentlemen nor gentle men, but it could have been worse."
Julia cried, "But Lilabet! They swore at us! And Melly---!"
Miss Wilde snapped at her, "Julia, be quiet! That's not what the Colonel means!" She beckoned Julia over and put a calming arm around her. Her eyes met Tavington's. "It could have been a lot worse," she said quietly.
Tavington saw young McKay gazing at Miss Wilde with tender sympathy. He recalled that McKay's family, first generation immigrants, had been burned out of their home in North Carolina, and had refugeed south to Charlestown, where McKay had joined the Legion when he turned sixteen. Still, there was no reason to become maudlin about a girl older than himself who had, after all, escaped the worst.
He considered the situation a moment.
"Nonetheless, Miss Wilde, you and your sisters clearly cannot remain here unprotected. If you will please collect your belongings, we shall take you along with us when the horses are fully rested," he pulled his watch from his pocket and consulted it. "In about two hours—say, one o'clock."
"Two hours!" Miss Wilde stood up, flushing with anger. "You cannot possibly imagine that we are going to leave our family home to those vultures? Why don't we all just surrender right now?" Tavington rose calmly from the sofa, eyes locked with hers. She glared at him resentfully, "I know not how the King's cause may fare, but Arcadia certainly has already lost the war."
Tavington glanced at Julia, who was staring terrified at her sister. Miss Wilde, following his gaze, pulled her sister close.
"Don't be frightened, darling. We're not going anywhere. This is our home, and the dirty Rebels won't drive us out, even if Colonel Tavington is afraid of them!"
Tavington refused to be angry with an overwrought young woman, and refrained from rolling his eyes.
"Indeed, Madam, I am offering you my protection, not because we fear the Rebels, but because we shall not be here in another two hours. By your own account, sooner or later you will endure another visit. Do you think it will be better—or worse? And how do you think your sisters will enjoy it?" He saw that he had hit her harder with that than he had anticipated. He gave a small, reassuring smile to little Julia, who was looking to him to make everything all right. Miss Wilde stood with eyes cast down, plainly trying to find another solution.
Finally, she sank back into her chair, head in her hands. She made a soft sigh of distress that Tavington found somehow more poignant than a sob. The other officers stood close by, looking at the girl in silent compassion. Julia put her arms around her, her small face hidden in her sister's hair.
Miss Wilde looked up at Tavington, eyes huge and red. "I thank you, sir, for your offer; and it is certain that we must accept it. But," she continued bitterly, "it is plain to me that you have no home of your own, or you could not so blithely bid me leave my own behind."
"You mistake me, Madam, if you think I do not know what it is to lose one's home." Her gaze softened, and swallowing, she nodded in acceptance. He continued more gently, "If you have a wagon, you can take what you can pack in it in the time allotted. I shall detail some of my men to assist you."
"I have a wagon, but no team to draw it."
Tavington paused to think. "Who is your nearest neighbor?"
"The Stubblefields are two miles north. But the Crawfords," she snarled, "are three miles east of here, on this side of the river, and I know they have some of our stock."
"How many men?"
"Very likely none, other than Pengelly, the overseer, and the slaves. Charles, Francis, and their father are apparently chasing about the landscape with their heroic rebel friends. When they were here four nights ago, there was talk of them heading southeast for some sort of meeting with another militia group." Tavington looked significantly at Bordon, who nodded. Miss Wilde narrowed her eyes, "I'd rather you went there. I have no quarrel with the Stubblefields, and they don't have much to begin with. But the Crawfords will certainly have either cart horses or mules enough for a decent team." She added tartly, "especially since some of them are ours."
"Take your troop," Tavington said to Bordon. He frowned, thinking. "And be prudent. If you meet with any resistance, withdraw immediately. Send a message, and we shall set out and deal with them in force. If all goes well, requisition what animals we need, burn the house, tell the slaves they are free to go, and return at once." He smiled winningly at Miss Wilde. "I trust that is satisfactory?"
She smiled back a little uncertainly. Smoothing Julia's hair, she took a deep breath, and nodded. "I shall begin packing immediately. Excuse us." She stopped on her way out of the library, and turned to Bordon. "And if you see a grey mare, fourteen hands high, with a white star, and dark grey markings on the left hindquarter---she's mine!"