top of page
DSCN4126.JPG
  • Writer's pictureHabranthus

Cardigan

Updated: Jun 20, 2023


Robert W. Chambers


1901

A. L. Burt Company, New York


513 thick and hearty pages that you will need to set time aside for.




Overview

An action-packed, coming-of-age romantic adventure set in the year leading up to the American Revolution.






Summary

It's the summer of 1774 and trouble has been brewing in the English colonies as residents become increasingly divided into ‘rebels’ and ‘loyalists’.

Michael Cardigan is a sixteen-year-old youth living in Johnstown, New York under the guardianship of Sir William Johnson, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Crown of England. Due to Michael’s obstinate resistance to schooling, Sir William releases him from his studies and assigns him as a new officer in his regiment. Felicity Warren, known as ‘Silver Heals’, also lives in the household as a ward of Sir William. Michael and Silver Heals are childhood playmates who tease and pick on one another at every opportunity. In the ensuing events, they discover their deep love for one another.


By his appointment as Commissioner, Sir William’s allegiance is to the King, thus Michael’s also, but his heart is with his colonist neighbors and the Indian tribes with whom he has strong connections. Captain Walter Butler is an officer and the secretary or Sir William. He is a staunch loyalist, and becomes the nemesis of Michael Cardigan.


Michael’s boyhood ends abruptly when he is called upon to act as an agent for Sir William, who’s primary concern is to keep the Indians of the Six Nations neutral in the conflict between England and the Colonies. Michael’s expertise as a woodsman and knowledge of Native American culture allow him to travel secretly and swiftly to deliver an urgent message to Colonel Cresap stationed along the Ohio river. He is also to speak to the Cayuga Chief Council, who are in conflict with settlers protected by Cresap's regiment. Along the way he meets Jack Mount, a notorious highwayman who steals from rich aristocrats. Mount becomes a trusted friend and companion.


Michael’s quest leads him to Pittsburg to face Lord Dunmore, and eventually to Albany and Boston at the heart of the conflict. Through his long travels and dangerous adventures, he becomes progressively disenchanted with the English King he once adored, and increasingly allied with the American Rebels.


Review

‘Drop the trail of this book’ the author warns the reader who may think to learn anything historical from this novel, yet from beginning to end the story is laid on a foundation of historically real supporting characters and events. Though he takes his share of poetic license and calls his book a ‘romance’, it is very much an action-adventure and historical novel.


For the most part, the story is quite engaging, with classic characters, clever descriptions, and a fine mix of dialogue and narrative. It's well done in revealing the sentiment of the colonists, the attitude of ‘the crown’, and the sad predicament the Native Americans must endure. The story paints a picture, not so much of working-class colonists, but of that group caught squarely in the middle: the native-born sons of America serving duty in regiments of the British Army, i.e., our hero Michael.

The first few pages set clearly that Michael is no scholar, but a man of the woods and a man of his wits. He is the hero who embodies the spirit of the American Colonies - Self-reliance and fierce determination. Through his own personal transformation from loyalist to rebel, we see the whole Colonies transform from subjugated to independent.

The romance portion of the story is nicely integrated, without over-powering the narrative. It is the impetus that drives our hero into action, blending love of fair maiden with love of country.

The author does a wonderful job using language and customs that are antiquated to the modern reader, thus setting a historical mood that feels believable and appropriate. Be warned, though, that the story is somewhat complex and drawn out, and best appreciated if read through steadily. This is not a book to put down and read at intervals.

The story itself ends at the juncture between a plea for justice and a cry for independence, and though 250 years later we know the outcome of events, it is still an exciting and gripping tale.


To the Author's Credit:

He must have done a tremendous amount of study, as he was writing 125 years after the fact. Easy enough for the general characters and events, but his detail of dress, manner, weaponry, artifacts, etc. is remarkable. And moreover, on three fronts: Englishmen, Colonists and Native Americans. He also has a fairly good command of woodsmanship. It all adds to render the novel authentic and intriguing.


To the Author's Discredit:

The story is too drawn out for many modern readers, especially towards the end when it feels like it should be over after getting through two chapters of prison scenes, but no, there’s still a quarter of the book to go. Excuse the reiteration, but, again, this book was written in an era when reading was on the short list of what to do in your spare time. I imagine the publisher telling Mr. Chambers “We need 200 more pages. Add something!”


Best Line:

I know not what fierce, resistless passion it may be that sets my nostril quivering like a pointer's when I chase wild things - what savage craving drives me on, on, on! til the flash of the gun and the innocent death leave me standing sad and staring.


Honorable Mentions:

- a laugh that never reached his eyes -


...a man's first duty is to protect the weaker sex, and his second duty is to endure from them all taunts, caprice, and torments without revenge.


I presented an ignorance which should have shamed a lad of ten, but did not mortify me in the least.


And in a low voice I bade him go to the devil at his convenience.


...staring into the fire with the grave, absent air of a cat on a wintery night.


two hours past candlelight


...the sun a red ball sinking through saffron mist...


;old faiths fall when hearts question...


Lord Dunmore was tricked out like a painted actor.


...the oldest mask in the world - a smile.


But still every human being knows that, in the midnight wilderness, strange things do pass which no man can explain.


...the raw heart of all tragedy - man's inhumanity to man.


...that ghost of happiness which men call hope...


...Boston, where the poor were starving and the rich went hungering because the King of England had been angered to hear men prate of human rights.




Personal Note: I dare say I was puffed up with pride after reading this book. What a bold and daring thing to stand up against the most powerful army on the planet! Of course, no other outcome was possible, as after two and three generations of native-born Americans, we were not English anymore. We were pioneers, colonists, hardworking people living a life that the weak did not survive, and bred into our culture was self-reliance and that fierce defense of what we had gained by the sweat of our brow.






59 views0 comments

Comentarios


a shout out to writers long gone

Antique Book Review

bottom of page