This is the first alternative ending I wrote for The Patriot... As a historian specialising in this period, who had been tipped off by one of the historical advisers about the level of (in)accuracy when visiting the locations during filming in 1999, I needed some outlet to prevent me climbing the walls as I watched the film in a cinema full of US tourists who cheered whenever our guys got hit...
With acknowledgements to scriptwriter Robert Rodat for the characters from The Patriot (dir. Roland Emmerich, 2000), and the main thread of the plot. This story owes something to ending of the film version of The Wizard of Oz, with a small nod to Mel Gibson's pre-eminent starring rôle of the summer of 2000... in Chicken Run. It's an attempt to reconcile the fictional and real-world histories of the characters... After all, what rational explanation could there be for the British Legion being depicted in wrongly coloured uniforms, the wonky chronology, & c...???? And I thought it would've been more fun if Charlotte had been a Loyalist, anyway!
It begins as the battered and bayoneted (but beauteous) William Tavington keels over on the field at Cowpens...
HOW GREEN WAS MY DRAGOON
"And naithing can catch our modern Sparks,
But well-tocher'd Lasses or joynter'd Widows."
"A Lass with a Lump of Land", Orpheus Caledonius, 1733
At the moment Will expected to hit the ground, it disintegrated, and he pitched backwards through a void. Above him he thought he saw the tall, fair woman, her voice harsher than before, frantic: "For God's sake, Benjamin, hold him down!"
And the older man with the icy blue eyes - the man who had killed him - clucked like a demented chicken and, with his whole weight, pinned him by the shoulders.
"...No maggots in January! - Mind, you'd only eat them, wouldn't you, Ben?!"
Still he fell...
He realised he was on the floor of a burning building. The heat of the flames seared him. Villagers, alive yet with their clothes alight, crowded around, cursing at him. A young brunette, a star-shaped pendant gleaming at her smoke-blackened throat, seized his wrist in her charred fingers: "Cold! - I think he's dead!"
And then, sure enough, he was hovering over his own bayoneted corpse on the battlefield, protesting vainly to God, the General or anyone who was listening: "It can't be me... The uniform's wrong... Green - not red! Green, not red..."
The wounded man turned restlessly in the bed. His face, framed by a tangle of dark hair, was drawn and ashen. "...Green, not red. Green, not... - Cough! - Oh, damn it...! If I'm dead anyway, what does it matter?!"
A girl's voice, strangely familiar, jolted him back to reality: "Captain? Can you hear me?"
Captain? He could have sworn he was a Colonel... At the touch of a cool sponge on his brow, Will's eyes blinked open. A jewelled pendant, shaped like a star, sparkled before them. As he began to focus on its wearer, he realised with a start that she was the girl in the fire.
"You...? You were burned... My fault... Torches... the church..."
She smiled, shaking her pretty head. "It's you who were afire, Captain. You lost a lot of blood, and then took a fever from your wounds. With that and the laudanum, you've been burning up and raving these ten days. My Aunt, Mistress Selton, has been tending you."
He studied her features, fumbling for a name: "You are Anne, aren't you?"
"Miss Howard," she primly reprimanded. "But yes, you would have heard my Aunt call me by my given name. I'm glad you remember something! You were conscious when you were put to bed, but kept slipping away from us. Several times Aunt and I thought you wouldn't come back! And when the fever broke, I feared -" She broke off, seeing him wince and sink back as he tried to lever himself up on the pillows: "If you're still in pain, don't talk or move too much. You need to rest."
"I'll tell Aunt that you're awake. She's been so busy - The surgeon brought the worst cases inside the house, and not all of them lived... You were lucky, Captain!" She squeezed his hand, and almost skipped out of the bedroom.
Captain... always Captain. Blast! Will thought: the only time he had been able to gain rank was in a fever-dream! But being a somewhat intense young man whose ambitions exceeded his income, it was hardly the first time he had been disillusioned in his profession.
His head throbbed from the drug, his body from his many wounds. That battle at the Cowpens had been real enough, then... Two bayonet-thrusts - one under his right collarbone and another in his flank just above the waist - had come within a hair's-breadth of killing him. A pistol ball had torn through the muscle of his left arm, and his right breast was slashed by a knife. Across his left side, a stitched gash from an earlier skirmish still ached beneath the bandages about his battered ribs.
But what the hell had happened otherwise? Violent and vengeful phantasies had tormented him, and he could not yet separate them from reality.
Under the stains of mud and blood, his torn jacket, which hung around the back of the chair beside the bed, was the same deep green it always had been - not the unnaturally bright scarlet of nightmare. That, at least, was reassuring. If he could remember which colour uniform he was wearing on each occasion, he should be able to differentiate between memories and mere hallucinations, he reasoned. The only trouble was, he could recall pitching from his horse in both...
His musings were interrupted by the rustle of skirts as Anne led in her aunt. He had half-expected some middle-aged dowdy or bespectacled crone: instead, he saw a tall, elegant lady about his own age. Her blonde hair, dressed fashionably high under a muslin cap, contrasted starkly with her black damask gown. Her white lawn apron was spattered with blood. Yet she too was someone he thought already knew. He had seen her consorting with the enemy, and imagined burning her house... He had envisaged her in girlishly pale gowns, hair unbound, with a décolletage scarce suited to a respectable widow; mentally even undressed her to her stays and petticoats, but... It was undoubtedly the same young woman. Strange, the tricks one's mind could play! he thought, vaguely embarrassed at his hectic fancies.
"Captain Tavington, this is splendid!" Mrs. Selton smiled. "Nan, you're right, he looks much better!"
She placed a lavender-scented hand on his brow to gauge his temperature, and then felt his pulse. "Yes... I think the fever's gone for good, sir!"
"Madam... many thanks..." he whispered. "Please... I don't know what happened or no... My head is confused..."
"You were brought here in a baggage-wagon," she said matter-of-factly. "The surgeon laid you out on the dining table before supper was cleared! There are a few others left downstairs: a couple of them dying. To be honest, I despaired of your life, but your Colonel was insistent we try - which is why Nan gave up her bed for you."
"Colonel Tarleton is a very charming and persuasive young gentleman, who nearly turned my niece's head - didn't he?" - Anne blushed at this. "Also, he said you were a valuable officer and should be given every care."
His eyes widened: "What?!"
She sat down on the edge of the bed. "He told me that just a morning or two before the battle you led a reconnaissance party; that you were wounded repelling a surprise attack by the militia" - and she lightly touched his dressings over the place where the musket-ball had ripped along the length of his rib. "He was impressed that you refused to let it to hinder you at the Cowpens; that you fought indomitably, even after you were thrown from your mount. You are in favour, I think."
Favour. Galling as it was to Will's pride to serve under a boy with a fraction of his own length of service, the Colonel's good opinion might mean promotion, if he got himself back on duty soon...
Yet still he pictured vividly a man's face glaring down at him - older than himself, lined, with cold blue eyes - ready to strike. And other, more troubling images also surfaced. "Who was it...?"
"God knows - Back Water brigands, as far as I've heard. More militia. The vermin who brought down Major Ferguson in October, damn them."
He was surprised to hear this refined-looking creature curse, although - having fought at Monck's Corner, alongside the 'Bulldog''s American Volunteers, and ridden in the Legion's attempt, tragically 3 days too late, to relieve him - he shared her sentiments. "But I thought... Was it one of their commanders? A man called... Benjamin Martin?"
The ladies stifled giggles. Anne nudged her aunt and whispered something to her. "I think you should explain!" said Mrs. Selton.
The girl tried hard to keep a straight face: "Ben Martin a Rebel commander?! - He's a simpleton - 'Chicken Ben'! He minds the hen-house! He can't speak, but he makes a noise like a chicken!" - and she demonstrated with a squawking, clucking sound. "But he's strong, and helped us hold you down when you were raving!"
For a moment Will stared, open-mouthed, while the truth sank in: "You mean I've been hag-ridden about the village idiot?!" He tried to laugh, but the effort hurt, and he found himself gasping instead.
Mrs. Selton put her arm around his bandaged waist, and held him until his breathing steadied... Then she plumped the pillows so that he could sit up. When his gaze fixed on her own, she glanced away, blushing slightly: "I'm sorry! We should have been more mindful of your wounds..." Then, brusquely changing the subject: "I expect you could eat some soup, couldn't you? We managed to make you take a little gruel when you were ill, but it was a struggle!" She smiled fleetingly but warmly. "I'll wager you could eat a horse! - Not that that's what's in the soup, I must add, though they say there were enough left on the field to feed an army!"
Will had a fleeting vision of an animal impaled on a Rebel flag. "My horse..."
"- Is with your regiment. The rifle-ball only grazed him, and the Colonel told me he was alive and well, less a piece of one ear. Wilkins caught him after losing his own mount, and has the charge of him. - Dragoons! I daresay you think more of these beasts than you do of your wives!"
"I have no wife."
Mrs. Selton smoothed back a lock of long hair which had fallen forward over his brow. "That's just as well: these past few days would have broke her heart..." Then, putting up her guard again: "- Anyway, Captain, you're much better now than some of those other poor fellows downstairs. After you've had something to eat, we'll see about making you a little more... soigné."
And they did. Will, although by now fully awake and feeling more like himself after a bowl of warm soup, had not the strength to do other than let the ladies fuss over him. Their attentions would have been pleasant, he reflected, but for the general feeling of pain and languor throughout his body. Anne was sent out of the room for propriety's sake while her aunt and Abigail, evidently the most senior house-slave, washed him and changed the bedlinen. Mrs. Selton herself tenderly bathed and dressed all his wounds. She assured him that, after days of poulticing, they had at last drained clear, and were beginning to mend. He half-hoped her perfumed hands would linger, or stray: she was extremely attractive, and it seemed a while since he had known a woman's touch... But then, everything before his illness seemed long ago. He hoped in vain.
Presently, he was as well-groomed as circumstances allowed: in a freshly-laundered nightshirt, clean-shaven (Mrs. Selton was surprisingly efficient with the razor, inflicting only a couple of minor cuts), his hair combed and loosely tied with ribbon. Standing back, young Anne nodded approvingly, but muttered that she still thought his Colonel the handsomest fellow she had ever seen.
Her aunt gave an enigmatic smile. The Captain was assuredly not the handsomest she had seen, yet neither was he irredeemably plain. His features were strong, perhaps inclined to harshness from some angles, but not uncomely. His eyes were a striking grey-green, like pale Chinese jade. When she had first seen him on the table below her husband's portrait - pale from bleeding, his hair loose, refusing to cry out as the peg-legged old surgeon cut away his sodden shirt - her heart had leapt for the first time in nine years. She had asked his Colonel who he was.
"Tavington? He's a reliable fellow. Quick-thinking, brave... A decent sort. I suspect he thinks he should be in my boots, but I daresay, were I his age and stuck at his rank, I'd think the same!" the youth - he seemed a mere youth, for all his extraordinary reputation - had replied. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, if these wounded men are going to be a burden on my household for at least a few days, more probably weeks, I'd rather not look on them as strangers."
"Make sure he lasts that long, then, madam! We can't afford to lose experienced men like him."
She had looked forward to making the Captain's acquaintance. But his wounds became inflamed, and fever set in... As he lay raving she had sworn she would not lose him as she had lost before. He was a man in his prime, not a sickly boy, and she would make him fight... And this time she had won.
In the evening, after she had finished helping tend the other casualties in the house, Mrs. Selton brought in a supper tray - a little boiled chicken, chopped small, with corn grits, and calves' foot jelly: bland 'invalid food', but Will was still hungry enough for it to seem the tastiest of feasts. She sat by his bed for a while afterwards, darning his torn jacket with green wool. She was quite beautiful by candlelight, he realised. A veritable sparkler, besides the soul of kindness...
"A strange business, that delirium of yours, Captain!" she remarked. "Did you really take poor old Chicken Ben for a 'Gamecock', or 'Swamp Fox'?"
"I thought - or I dreamed - I had killed his sons... It all became confused with that skirmish before the battle... I ran through a fellow who'd shot me... I played dead - my left side was torn - until I caught him off-guard as he reached to scalp me..."
"I'm glad he didn't," she said, admiring the raven's-wing darkness of his hair against the white face and white pillow.
"...But I thought he was your chicken-man's son... I was wishing every person in the whole colony burning in Hell along with my pain, and so I saw it happen... civilians, the wounded... Even your niece. Except she wasn't your niece. And you - you were not yourself, but -" Discretion - and diplomacy - being the better part of valour, he decided it would be kinder not to tell her with whom he had thought she was involved... "It was all a great foolishness, anyway!"
She sighed, and shook her head as if to herself. "It was your illness, that's all. One's fears can take strange forms in such a case."
"Fears? - I'm no coward, madam!"
"I know that best of any, and that's not what I meant: you've endured much! But your fever and the laudanum the surgeon gave you conjured morbid fancies - I've seen it before: when my poor husband... - But it's over now, and you're safe." She reached out, as if to rest her hand on his shoulder, but drew back, thinking better of it, and began to sew more quickly. She clearly thought he would not notice.
But he did. "I'm most grateful, madam," he answered coolly.
"I think, given our enforced intimacy in the past few days, we may dispense with formalities," she said. "My name is Charlotte."
He smiled. "I know. And mine's William."
She talked on, more relaxed. He listened attentively, drinking in every detail of her appearance, every nuance of her voice. She confided pleasantries, gossip, her past, talking fondly of the husband she had buried years before: "'Twas like the song: 'My bonnie lad is young, but he's growing yet'... But after five years of consumption... He was twenty-three, I six-and-twenty when he died."
"So that's how you learned your nursing? And how to shave a man without slicing his head off?"
She nodded. "My poor Gabriel..."
"Yes. He was very young, very fair.... His portrait's in the dining room. I had to warn the surgeon not to splash blood on it..."
Another piece fell into place. A painting glimpsed through half-closed eyes while the surgeon excavated scraps of his uniform from his flesh had become the man who had shot him a few days before. That, the women tending him, fragments of conversation... Drugged and delirious, Will had conjured them all into a nightmarish landscape in which he was their nemesis, and the chicken-man his.
"Still, it's nearly nine years, now..." Charlotte sighed. "I've had other offers, from gentleman planters - but I'm glad I refused. It was the estate which interested them. And most of them turned Rebel."
"Then it might have been politic for you to accept..."
"I've no intention of staying," she said. "I see which way the wind blows. Since the French and Spaniards came into the war... I won't see everything I value destroyed..."
"What will you do?"
"Go to Charlestown as soon as I can; try for a ship for New York - then perhaps Nova Scotia, or England: I still have family there. I'll take Nan and my house-servants. I've looked after Nan since she was orphaned: she's my older sister's child. These are dangerous times - too dangerous to set a young girl adrift alone with no protector, or Abby and her people... - And what of your prospects?"
"What prospects?! I'm past thirty, and a younger son: all my father left us were debts. I thought to make my fortune by soldiering, but I can't afford another commission, even in this provincial Legion... In the regular horse I was stuck at Lieutenant for more years than a man's pride can easily bear - and then Captain-Lieutenant, which is neither fish nor fowl! The best I can hope for is a brevet - I certainly can't afford to lie around being an invalid..."
"There's a Major downstairs with a gangrene," she observed drily. "Perhaps there's hope for you yet!"
"Perhaps there's hope for both of us."
The words were out before he had time to think what he was saying. Hope for both of them? - Momentarily, she stared in astonishment: but then they recognised something in each other's eyes which was more than a convenient conjunction of means with ambition...
Charlotte broke the silence with a laugh: "You dragoons! Isn't it better to reconnoitre before charging in, your imagination at a gallop?!"
"I didn't mean - At least, I meant, perhaps in time - My imagination's barely at a walk - at least until I'm healed. I intended no discourtesy -"
"Hush! - But I wondered, are you not confusing" - she hesitated over the next word, for it seemed premature to use the one she instinctively sought - "friendship with gratitude?"
"Are you confusing it with pity?"
She slipped her hand over his on the quilt."I trust not... If anything, I admire, not pity... - Besides, we have time to get properly acquaint, don't we?" she said gently. "There's no particular hurry; you need to get strong again."
"Walking pace, then?"
She drew the quilt up over his shoulders, and, before she left the room, lightly kissed him goodnight. He blew out the candle and, wincing, settled himself as well as he could to sleep.
No more nightmares.