Author: Constance Savery
Publication: Bethlehem Books, paperback, 1999 (originally published in 1961)
Genre: Juvenile historical
Setting: 18th century EnglandDescription: The Reb is young Randal Everard Baltimore, an American prisoner of war, who encounters the Redcoats, the four Darringtons, children of a British officer fighting in the War of American Independence. When Old Harry, the erstwhile gardener at Thorndale Hall, returns from fighting, he brings news of their father and gifts for all, including a beautiful doll for Charlotte Darrington. When she realizes it was purloined from a rebel home in Virginia, she is distressed but her mother says to take care of the doll in case they can figure out a way to return it to its rightful owner.
The Darringtons’ uncle, Captain Laurence Templeton, who also recently returned from fighting in America where he was wounded, is now withdrawn and bitter, when the family travels 15 miles for an extended stay. The children learn he is devastated because his closest friend, Major John André, was executed by the Americans as a spy, not treated as an officer. This makes him uncharitable to the young prisoner of war he has been asked to guard. Randal “Reb” is just 15 but has broken free from prison several times and smuggled information to the French, to the chagrin of his captors. He won’t give his parole not to escape because he feels responsible for a weaker friend. It turns out the doll belonged to Randal’s sister Patty, one of several coincidences that advance the plot. The children’s friendship helps Randal cope with imprisonment and leads to a better understanding with Laurence, although as soldiers on opposite sides, the reader then has to worry they will meet on the battlefield at Yorktown when they resume their duties.
My Impression: This is a charming story I would have enjoyed even more at 10. Charlotte is a young but appealing heroine, braver than her brothers and mature beyond her years. It is odd to see the American Revolution from the other side, where they fear our naval hero, John Paul Jones:
“The bravest mamma in the world might be afraid of meeting Captain Paul Jones! Think how it would be if he took away all our silver, as he did the Countess of Selkirk’s!”Drums Along the Mohawk were pretty horrendous). The Reb and the Redcoats does not achieve the brilliance of Elizabeth Marie Pope’s work but it is still enjoyable and I am glad Bethlehem Books reissued it with other gems such as They Loved to Laugh and The Lark in the Morn. Both Randal and Charlotte are much too young for a romance (he has to finish the war and attend Princeton while she has to grow up) but there are hints that they are destined for each other. It’s a big commitment to go live on a Virginia plantation, far from your family in England, Charlotte! Not to mention the other complications of that lifestyle!
Thorndale Hall was in a lonely part of the east coast of England, a likely spot for one of the famous American naval captain’s sudden raids. Like all English and Scottish children at that time, Charlotte dreaded his name.
Readers or viewers of Poldark will recall that series begins in 1783 when Ross Poldark returns from the ignominious defeat in America to find his father is dead, his home falling apart, no money, and his fiancée engaged to his cousin. Uncle Laurence was wounded and lost a close friend but has a fond family (who see his faults) and seemingly no financial worries. I notice he is always humming the military ballad, The World Turned Upside Down, which was played when Cornwallis surrendered in 1781, long before Lin-Manuel Miranda repurposed it for Hamilton.
This is my tenth book in the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader.
About the Author: Thank you to Ellen Ruffin for suggesting I read some books by Constance Savery (1897-1999). I knew the title of this book but nothing else about it, and I always like reading books written by or about people with my name. Savery was the eldest of five sisters, daughter of a minister, born in Wiltshire, but grew up in Birmingham and attended Somerville College, as did many of those we admire. She went on to write 50 books, nearly all for children, although the last book she completed was a continuation of Charlotte Bronte's book Emma. The Independent's obituary states:
Still writing shortly before her death at the age of 101, she was the last of a distinguished line of maiden lady authors, the most outstanding of whom were Rosemary Sutcliff and Cynthia Harnett, who wrote history and general stories for children which combined accuracy of detail with a lively sense of adventure.