Thomas made it to the command tent in good time. He had seen many soldiers still putting up their tents as they had straggled into the camp well behind their Regiments.
Thomas was starting to feel good about his idea; all of the 33rd had arrived together and had been encamped long before most others arrived; they had also even passed two other Regiments in fine style and step.
The guards now knew Thomas and sent for the Captain as soon as they saw him coming towards the tent. Captain Lewis smiled as he saw Thomas waiting for him.
"Good evening Drum Corporal, how did your experiment go?"
"Very well Sir; we all arrived together and even passed two other Regiments as the pace was steady for all troops."
"Good to hear it; now do you have the General's report ready?"
Thomas handed the written report to the Captain.
"Good, Drum Corporal; I will ask you to wait; the General may have questions for you."
Ten minutes later and the Captain returned to Thomas.
"The General would like to see you Drum Corporal. Come this way."
Thomas followed the Captain into the tent; much to his surprise, Lt General Wellesley was alone and sitting behind a large folding table; it was covered with maps and papers. The General had a glass of wine near his elbow with a plate of food nearby.
"Ah, our little inventor; Captain Lewis; will you find a chair for our Drum Corporal?"
When the folding chair arrived; the General intimated for Thomas to sit.
"I've looked over your report Drum Corporal; firstly, congratulations on your experiment, I will be issuing orders for it to become the order of march from this day on. Now then; where did you get the idea from?"
"Cannon balls and canister shot, Sir."
"What! How do they make for better marching Corporal?"
"Well Sir; when I was watching the battle I saw that the cannon balls would hit things but only do damage in a small place but, when the canister was fired; it was a small blast in the centre but did great damage over a wider area. Now the drummers spread out singularly have only a small effect. If they are altogether the sound is stronger and can be heard further away."
"Hmmm...an ingenious thought; I don't suppose you have given any thought to it in the battle sense?"
"Well Sir, I was giving it a little thought as we marched today."
"I somehow thought you may have; let's hear what you think?"
"Well Sir; I noticed at Rolica, that the troops when they have formed ranks and are given the cadence to advance; usually become a little broken in their lines; I was wondering if; in the noise of battle they again could not hear the cadence of the drums. When I thought that may be the reason for it, I thought perhaps we should put all the drummers together behind the ranks. There are possibly two advantages, Sir. One, the troops will keep better lines; two, we would lose far less drummers. I know the Frenchies do not target drummer boys by intent but they are often first in line so we lose many. If they were already behind the line of advance; they would be safer and better able to do their duty."
"Hmm... sound reasoning young man; do you want to test your theory?"
"Theory? Sir, sorry Sir I don't know that word."
"It means to try something you have only thought about."
"I would like to try Sir. At Rolica I lost almost all my friends in the first few minutes."
"Right then, I will get Captain Lewis to draw up the orders for you to use tomorrow; can you get your drummers ready by the start of battle at 10 of the clock?"
"They will be ready Sir."
"Good; right then Drum Corporal; you get on your way and the good Captain will have your orders in the commander's hands before battle."
Thomas stood and saluted before turning and marching out of the tent; once clear he ran the rest of the way to the camp. It had been another long day and he had a battle to be part of tomorrow; his stomach was also in need.
When Thomas returned to his tent he saw that Carmelo and the band of three had already got his dinner ready to serve. The smells were unbelievable and he could not wait to eat.
First he went into the tent and stripped off his weapons, helmet and jacket; by the time he returned outside the food was on the table; not wanting to eat alone he said.
"Carmelo, come eat with me."
"Patron, it would not be right; servants do not eat with their Patron."
Thomas stopped and thought for a minute; once he had things worked out in his head, he said.
"Carmelo; if I am your Patron, then is it not the duty of a good servant to do as the Patron asks?"
Carmelo stood thinking and the smile on his face gave a good indication as to what he had decided.
"That is very true Patron; as a servant I cannot disobey my Patron; I will eat with you."
"Good; it is to be this way from now on; there is one more thing I ask."
"That you teach me the Spanish language; if I am here for some time then it may be useful."
"That is little of a burden Patron; it will pleasure me greatly to help you."
"Good then let's eat."
Just as they were about to begin a voice came from the darkness.
"Will you look at that O'Rourke? Appears our Corporal is a toff after all; servants, private kitchen; foreign lackeys bowing and scraping to him. What the hell has this man's army come to?"
"Aye Mister Grey; such a thing is hard on the eyes; you would think a rogue like a Corporal with so many bowing and scraping to him would invite an officer to dinner and; of course his Sergeant should be there for the officer's protection."
"Aye that is the right of it O'Rourke."
Thomas jumped up as did Carmelo; Thomas did not see the frown Mister Grey gave to Carmelo but the boy just called.
"Papa you have come to see the great El Toro; scourge of the French."
Thomas looked at Carmelo with wonder; who the hell was he talking about; had Carmelo gone and found more boys to join the little army of Thomas.
"And who would this El Toro be; young man?" asked O'Rourke.
"Why Papa, who else but the great Patron of the English army; my Patron; El Toro, hero of Rolica; feared by all French whores and motherless sons."
"Watch your mouth in front of an Officer you rapscallion." Said O'Rourke with a large smile on his face.
Thomas looked at the pair as they stood casually looking at the food on the table.
"Mister Grey." Said Thomas. "Would you join us for dinner?"
"And what about me lad?" Asked O'Rourke.
"You don't have to ask O'Rourke; you're welcome at any time."
"Thank you lad; you have good taste in Sergeants; now where is that blasted wine; Carmelo, me mug is empty."
"And don't forget Mister Grey."
"No one would forget the great Mister Grey Papa."
"Stop your blarney boy and get us a drink."
Lieutenant Grey turned to Thomas as Carmelo went looking for wine; it did not take long for a new bottle to appear and two extra mugs. Grey looked at the tin goblet beside Thomas.
"I would ask a question of you lad?"
"Yes Mister Grey?"
"How did you get a hold of my goblet?"
"Your goblet Mister Grey?"
"My goblet lad."
"I did not know it was yours Mister Grey; I was told it was found on the side of the road."
"In that case lad; you may keep it but, I would advise you not to believe everything a certain Spaniard tells you; even if he does have the best damn cooks in this man's army."
Thomas could see Carmelo looking skyward in an attempt to look completely innocent of anything.
The small party of four ate and drank late into the night; the knowledge that they would be in another bloody battle tomorrow gave rise to wanting friends around you just in case some were not there when the sun died on the field of blood.
It was late and the two visitors were ready to leave; as they stood, Lieutenant Grey said to Thomas.
"Would you walk with us a little Corporal to settle the food and good wine?"
"Yes Mister Grey; thank you."
Thomas joined the two as they slowly strolled through the tent camp; it was a few minutes later when Lieutenant Grey started to speak.
"As you know, tomorrow we go into battle once more; there are 60,000 French and Spanish soldiers out there waiting for us. Now I know for a fact that Carmelo has something for you when you return to your tent; make sure you listen to him carefully and do as he says; it may save your life. Now make sure you carry all your arms tomorrow; I know you are going to be in a new formation behind the ranks but, the way things are looking; you may need to defend yourself. If I were you; I would ask around your drummers and see who can fire a musket or use a sword or bayonet. Do you remember how to speed load your musket how Cooper and Jones showed you?"
"Yes Mister Grey."
"Now another thing; keep an eye on Carmelo; if he sees or suggest something; I would be inclined to listen to him. He has training and knowledge of things far outside military tactics. The boy really thinks a lot of you so listen to him; he is trying to keep you safe; perhaps for his own ends or some other reason; only he knows."
"Yes Mister Grey."
"Well that's all I have to say lad; good luck tomorrow; and good luck with your new formation; I sincerely hope it works out well. This bloody man's army could do with a shake up."
"Will I see you on the field tomorrow Mister Grey?"
"Probably not lad; his nibs is sending us elsewhere; we may get back in time to fix a Frenchy or two but we don't know; you just be careful and don't go taking any silly risks; Carmelo and his other little scoundrels are relying on you to feed them."
"Yes Mister Grey."
"Well lad, good luck."
The two older men held out their hands to shake and then disappeared silently into the night. Thomas made his way back to his tent and saw a waiting Carmelo with an arm load of strange leather strapping's.
"Ah Patron; we have enough of the time to see if I am a good leather worker."
Thomas followed Carmelo into the tent; once there he was told to stand still while Carmelo fitted the new belts to him and explained what they were for;
When Carmelo was finished; he stepped back and looked at his handiwork. Thomas tried to look down to see how they looked, next he asked Carmelo.
"So what do I do with all these Carmelo?"
"This one is for your big pistola."
Thomas looked down at the belt around his waist; it was wide at the back and sides but showed only two thin leather ties at the front. Although he could not see them; he knew there were two open pockets sewn into the back of the belt for each of his fine Manton pistols. On the right of the belt at about the hip; there was a square shot box and beside that a leather powder flask.
Thomas indicated for Carmelo to get his Manton pistols; once he had them Carmelo tucked each one into the open pockets; they fit perfectly; one placed facing each way. Thomas could get one with his left and the other with his right hand; they would also be well hidden behind his back and out of sight.
The next contraption was again for his pistols, but this time it was for the two smaller ones. The straps went over his shoulders and were sewn where a chest belt went around. The pocket for the pistols was under each arm; again they would be hidden from sight apart from the belt across his chest and that was hidden by his jacket.
Next Carmelo had him take off his shirt; he then strapped a knife sheath to each forearm and slid two new looking 8" bladed stiletto's into them.
Thomas could not believe all the weapons he was carrying, all of them were not strictly legal in King's Regulations; Thomas was in for another shock.
Carmelo stepped outside the tent for a second; when he returned he was carrying a pair of shiny new boots. Nothing like the boots of the King's Army; these looked more like cavalry boots.
"These Patron are special Spanish boots; those English boots make you slow and they do not fit well; these will make for you to run like a rabbit and they have their own secrets. Try them on; I think Marcelo found the right size."
Thomas took off his spats and boots; when he slipped his feet into the shiny boots; they seemed to fit like a glove. On the outside of each boot was a small metal ring. Once they were tightly fitted on his feet; Thomas realised straight away that they were lighter and fit far better than the issue boots of the army.
"Now Patron; if you would place each forefinger in the rings, then pull; you will see the first secret of such fine boots."
Thomas did as he was asked; much to his surprise; two long sharp knives slid from the side of the boots. He looked at them in wonder and then glanced up at Carmelo.
"They are special knives of the Spanish; tonight I will teach you how to use them. For now I would ask you look under the boots."
Thomas sat on his stool and lifted each foot one at a time. It did not take much for him to see a thick band of steel inset into each heel; when he placed his booted feet back on the ground; Carmelo suddenly stamped hard on the squared toes. Thomas jumped and then realised he felt nothing; again he looked at Carmelo for an answer.
"Inside the boot it is also steel; very good for kicking the French where they make babies, yes?'
Carmelo laughed at the look on Thomas face.
"Tomorrow the French pigs will cower at the sight of El Toro."
Carmelo laughed as Thomas; his Patron, stood back up and stamped his feet and walked around to get used to the lighter boots. The last item was his small dirk. It was tied with a long leather thong; Carmelo reached up and tied it around Thomas neck and then turned it until the dirk was hidden behind his back; the thong looked as though it was a rough necklace. Thomas checked with his right hand and found he could easily reach the small knife if needed.
After Thomas had checked the drummer lines and found that seven of the older drummers could use a musket; Thomas went out into the dark with Carmelo and the other three young boys; it was two hours before he returned and was ready for bed; even as the sweat was drying on his exhausted body; Thomas only wanted to lay down and sleep.
The sound of Reveille echoed throughout the camp as Thomas tried to open his tired eyes; the smell of Carmelo's favourite cafe soon had him sitting on the side of the cot. His uniform was clean and laid out for him and his new boots once again shone in the early morning light. All his weapons were laid side by side ready for him to fit them away in their new hiding places.
Thomas finished his cafe and began to dress; when he was finished he could already smell the breakfast waiting for him; it was time to get moving.
Thomas finished his breakfast; much to the envy of many that were close to his tent, he then called for the drummer boys to assemble for parade.
After his inspection; Thomas told them of the new parade ranks for the advance. Thomas would position himself at the centre with Clement at one end and Perrin at the other, even though the boy could still not play his drum but he could yell orders.
At 9 of the clock; the massive army of 30,000 began to form up in their Regimental ranks facing the slopes of Vimeiro; opposite them stood the 60,000 French troops and the Spanish Irregulars.
It was normal for one army to advance in line until about thirty paces from the enemy lines; there they would begin firing in volley. As they advanced; the enemy cannon would fire into the ranks with ball and canister in an attempt to break the lines.
The plain below Vimeiro was wide and open; it was also sloping up towards the small town where the French had set their lines of defence but, they fully intended to be the first to attack and quickly gain an advantage. From the start everyone knew it was going to be a day of blood and loss. The French General Junot was known for his cunning in battle.
The trumpets began to play the advance; it was taken up by the drums and soon the thousands of foot soldiers began to form their squares to defend their position from the oncoming forces.
Cannon were soon showering the plain with ball and canister; the screams of the dying and wounded soon filled the air as the big guns took more and more of a toll but the ranks of the French kept moving forward.
Thomas kept his boys in line behind the 33rd . The Regiment was in formation and awaiting in perfect order as their young drummers beat the cadence.
In other regiments it could already be seen that some lines were crooked and even starting to lag behind as they went to form Squares; it was not a great deal but it was noticeable by those Officers above to notice.
Thomas heard a scream from one of his drummers but the boy got back on his feet as blood dripped from a cut in his forehead; the result of shrapnel from an overhead canister shot.
Thomas held his drummers in place keeping the louder drums beating in time. It was normal for the drummers to retire when the enemy got within fifty paces; by then it was almost impossible to hear anything over the din of battle.
Thomas gave the drum signal for his boys to retire to below the command station; he almost cried as he saw the other drummers from other Regiments also start to retire through the front ranks of the troops; there were very few of them on their feet.
The battle had now become a bloodletting even larger than the one he had seen at Rolica. Thomas looked around; all his boys were there even though two of them now sported the bloody marks of battle. As he watched; he saw the few drummers of the other regiments looking around as though lost.
Thomas called for Clement; the boy could run like the wind. Thomas sent Cement out to bring the disoriented boys to their line below the officers.
Once they had all the boys that were left; Thomas looked them over; he now had a total of thirty drummers around him; two would have to go to the infirmary for their injuries.
Thomas reformed his lines and began the beat of advance; surprising most officers as the louder sound rang out over the battle field; they were even sure the troops could hear the massed drums.
Thomas kept his boys at it for a long time; the main battle was back and forth but eventually began moving slowly up the slopes of Vimeiro but the defence of the hill and the town was bitterly contested by the French troops and the Spanish Irregulars.
Lt General Wellesley then had to send in all of his Hussars to attack the guns; it would break up the destruction of his foot soldiers. A short time later; his three reserve battalions were sent to the left to stop a French attack on his flank. The bloody battle for the centre was now even worse; the General had no option but to send in his Dragoons to ease the pressure on his front.
Sometime later; with the left being held only by the dogmatic defence of the three battalions and; at the intervention of the Dragoons the centre was now making better progress now that the guns had come under attack by the Hussars; Wellesley took a deep breath; it appeared they may take the day if they could keep the advance going.
As Wellesley looked out over the battle field; he saw something he was not expecting; before he could voice his thoughts, Major General Burrard called to him.
"General Wellesley, what the hell is that civilian doing on our field and why are the drummers scattering?"
Wellesley looked down to where his drummers should have been; what he saw made him pause before answering. Looking closer he saw the small Drum Corporal, accompanied by a young Spanish boy; running up towards where the Officers stood.
"I dare say General, we are about to find out. Colour Guard; let the Corporal pass when he gets here."
Thomas finally made it up the rise and saluted the Officers before trying to catch his breath. Wellesley was known for his sharp eyes and did not miss the fancy boots the boy was wearing; but this was not the time to talk about boots.
"You have a report, Drum Corporal?"
"Sir, my servant..."
"Your servant; tell me Drum Corporal; since when did a Corporal of His Majesties Armies have a servant?"
"They sort of attached themselves to me Sir."
"Them? You have more than one? Never mind we will go into that later. Now what have you to report?"
"Sir, my servant has reported that the French have sent two companies along the ravine on your right flank; they will be here in thirty minutes."
"God damn Frenchies. Captain Lewis what do we have left to hold the right?"
"Nothing Sir; I fear we may be undone unless we can call for the wounded to try to hold."
"Yes Drum Corporal?"
"If it please you Sir, my drummers will hold the right until you can get reinforcements to us."
From behind the General; Thomas heard a couple of laughs from other Senior Officers.
"You scally lad; you will hold two French companies with bloody drummer boys?"
"Wait General." Wellesley said in a stern voice. "Let's hear what the Drum Corporal has in mind. Drum Corporal?"
"Sir, I have some boys who can use a musket and others who could load for us. If we make use of that stone wall down yonder as a barricade, we can hold them for a while until you get us some reinforcements."
"Do you think your boys will hold the line Drum Corporal; they are going to be facing hardened soldiers and I really don't know when we will have troops to relieve you."
"We will take that chance Sir; there is little else we can do if we want to stop and hold the right."
"Very well then Drum Corporal; do what you can; even if it is only to delay them but; if it looks like you cannot hold then get your boys out of there."
Thomas saluted and turned at the run to get back to the drummer boys. All of the older boys were now weighed down with muskets and the younger ones were festooned with powder flasks and shot pouches taken from the dead or wounded; their drums bouncing on their butts as they tried to run. As Wellesley watched the boys running to the right flank; he turned towards the guards standing at the colours.
"How many do you have in your troop?"
"Send eight of them to the Drum Corporal; they will be under his orders, is that quite clear Colour Sergeant?"
"At your command, Sir."
Wellesley watched as eight of the younger troops broke away from the Colour Party and began to run over to the right where Thomas was getting ready. As he watched, Wellesley saw that the boy was first talking and then showing the boys how to load their muskets and who would be on the firing line and who would be loaders.
As the group of boys began to break up and get things ready, Wellesley saw a strange event. The wall in front of the boys was a good four feet in height; it would make a good barricade for the shorter boys; he also saw, way out in the open field in front of the wall; three young Spanish boys strolling across the field; at that moment Major General Burrard called out loudly again.
"General Wellesley; what the devil are those civilians doing out there; don't they know there is a battle going on?"
Wellesley watched and then called for his glass. Taking his time he looked over the whole set up below him to the right. After a little time, the assembled Officers heard a chuckle coming from the usually taciturn commander.
"The devil is on the side of that boy; I do swear."
"What do you see Wellesley?" Asked Burrard.
"Those three boys out there are placing range flags but; for the life of me I do not see why they are out at 70 paces; the fifty paces I understand but 70 is way too far for a musket."
As he watched, Wellesley got another shock; the three young boys out in the field finished with the job and turned to run back to the stone wall; once they had clambered over; they sat with their backs to the wall but close by the Drum Corporal. Wellesley now had no idea what was going on and could only shake his head as he watched.
When it appeared the drummer boys were ready and the eight young troops of the colour guard had been given their place; Wellesley saw the Drum Corporal talk to the boys and then step ten paces to the rear of the wall; there he dug his heel in the ground and said something to the little troop of boys.
As they watched; the Officers stared hard at what was happening. At the place where he had dug his heel in; the boy he said was his servant began to pile stones and dig a small hole. Next he unwound his yellow and red sash and tied it to a long pole given to him by one of the small Spanish boys.
The officers watched as the rough banner was raised on the spot; what happened next brought a few grumpy snorts of derision. Around the crude flag pole the drummer boys set their drums one atop the other in an orderly fashion; next they removed their chokers and shako's and placed them on top of the drums. The eight colour guard added their shako's to the strange display.
"General Wellesley, what the devil is that boy doing; we can't have half dressed soldiers fighting under the King's Colours."
"General Burrard; do you not see what he has done?"
"All I can see is he's making a mockery of King's Regulations; it's a damn insult, Sir."
"No General; he has made his last line of defence; he plans to hold there and retreat no further; I fear General that if we cannot find reinforcements they will all be cut down. Captain Lewis?"
"Send a rider to the Dragoons; we have great need of their assistance as soon as they can break away."
Wellesley watched as the Drum Corporal set his few boys in place. When he thought it over it was in fact quite plain the boy was going to fight with everything he had. Along the wall at evenly spaced places there stood an older drummer; beside him and against the wall were three loaded muskets. Behind the shooters were an even number of younger boys with powder flasks and shot pouches at the ready.
At the left end of the line stood the corporal; his head barely rising above the wall; next to him were the four young Spanish boys. The eight colour guard knelt in line two paces behind the wall; in their present position they would be unseen by any attacking force.
The last thing he noticed was that every boy had a bayonet tucked into his belt. Thomas stood with the new rifle in his hands; he had had to modify the system of speed loading to suit the strange shape of the balls but the way they were wrapped in paper along with the powder made them easy to load without having to look for flask or pouch; All he had to do was use his teeth to tear off the top paper twist and pour it all into the barrel.
The only problem was he had to rap the butt of the rifle twice on the ground to get the ball tightly down the barrel whereas the muskets only need one hard tap but he was now quite good at it after all his practice.
All four pistols were charged and ready and he did a final check for his four hidden daggers; Thomas was as ready as he was ever going to be.
Carmelo stood by his side with a musket and the other three younger boys sat behind the wall with wicked looking knives in their hands and ready for any Frenchman that showed his head above the wall.
Thomas took a last look down his thin line of drummer boys and the backup line of red coated colour guard; they were ready to repel the attackers.
Thomas stood tall as he surveyed the field in front of them; in his right hand he held the new sword and his rifle he had placed against the wall close to hand.
It was not long before he saw movement in the tree line that bordered the ravine. Slowly he saw the French appear and begin to form their lines ready for their advance towards what looked like an undefended headquarters. The only thing the French could see was a lone boy's head above the wall; they ignored him as he looked like a civilian as only his head was showing and he wore no shako.
Thomas turned to look along his line of boys crouching below the top of the wall; in a voice just loud enough to be heard by those near him; he said.
"Prattly; you better be as good a shot as you boast; you just concentrate on their Officers, let the others take care of the rank and file."
"Yes Drum Corporal; you'll see; my Da taught me good."
"Good Prattly; we are all relying on you. Get ready boys; they are forming up; when I call they will be at the 70 paces; loaders don't forget to double charge the muskets until I tell you different. Colour Guard; keep your heads down until they get to the 30 paces mark; I'll call when you are needed. Everyone ready."
Thomas had fifteen boys on the firing line with the other fifteen being loaders; if it came to a close in fight, they would all have to use whatever they had to defend their position.
Thomas watched as the French neared the 70 pace markers; the front rank of the first company was just level when he called out loudly.
For the French what had seemed an easy run to the English headquarters was suddenly blocked by the line of young troops with not much more than their heads above the stone wall in front of them. It was common knowledge in every army that the shooting could not start before at least forty or thirty paces or else there was too much chance of missed shots.
A smooth bore musket did not have the range to hit accurately over a longer distance; it was with a great deal of surprise that they saw the boys behind the fence begin to shoot way before they were within range. The French troops were almost ready to burst out laughing at the stupidity of young boys; that was until the men in the front rank began to fall; an officer mounted on his horse as he urged his men forward, suddenly toppled from his horse and a dark red spot appeared on his chest.
The French did not have time to wonder more as another volley arrived to knock down more men. The French did not have time to wonder how the boys had reloaded so quickly; it seemed one volley was almost right on top of the last as more men fell to the withering fire from the wall.
Wellesley watched with his mouth slightly agape as volley followed volley and French soldiers were falling far outside the range of muskets. Raising his glass he watched closely as the younger boys were reloading. After a few minutes of watching he began to chuckle at the ingenuity of his young Drum Corporal.
"What is it Sir?" asked Captain Lewis.
"I swear Captain; that boy has the devil inside him. He is double charging his muskets to get the extra range; quite ingenious if you ask me, but the French are still advancing; the Corporal will have a hard time of it when the French get within range, but for now he is making their lives very difficult. What do you have on the Dragoons?"
"At least a half hour My Lord; maybe more; they are in the thick of it and finding it difficult to break away."
"Then Captain; if you know some good prayers; the Corporal may need them."
The stentorian voice of General Burrard could suddenly be heard above the fast volleying boys on their right.
"General? I have just counted; those boys are firing at six rounds a minute; that's impossible; a trained soldier can only fire at three."
"Perhaps General you should pay closer attention. For a start, they are not patching their loads, second they are also not ramming them and thirdly, they are double charging the muskets for the extra range; quite ingenious don't you think?"
"Foolhardy I would call it Sir; a musket can blow up in your face doing that sort of stupid thing."
"Yes General; but for now it seems to be working."
Slowly the French advanced and the toll of the withering volleys was now more noticeable as their dead lay in rows behind them. The observers watched as the French finally got within forty paces and stopped to fire off a volley. Wellesley then noticed that the French seemed to have a great lacking in Officers and it was now only NCO's that were giving fire orders.
As the French line stopped to take aim; Wellesley saw the boys suddenly duck behind the wall and wait for the volley; as soon as it had been fired; the boys and the colour guard stood up and returned fire.
The colour guard had watched and learnt as they too used the speed load idea but they could not put fire down range as fast as the boys who had three muskets to use. Before the French could organise another volley; the boys had fired off three and then ducked again just as the French balls screamed overhead or hit the stone wall with no effect.
Even at this greater distance; Wellesley could see the French were rattled; the more that the boys fired volleys into them; the more nervous the French became and their loading and aim suffered and still the boys fired volley after volley at the exposed French.
The French had now worked their way to within twenty paces of the wall. Wellesley heard the high pitched voice of the Corporal.
"FIX BAYONETS, PREPARE TO REPEL ATTACKERS."
Wellesley watched as the boys loaded their last rounds and fixed their bayonets; only the head of the Drum Corporal showed above the wall as the others crouched waiting for his next order. The troops of the colour guard had now moved in beside the boys under the wall as had the boys who had been loading.
Wellesley saw the Drum Corporal sheath his sword and draw two pistols from behind his back as he waited for the French to charge the wall; the French would be at a disadvantage as they would have to try to clamber over the wall while those below would have open targets to their bellies.
The French were now down to less than half their number and had as yet not injured a single defender but; close quarter fighting was going to test the boys far greater than firing volleys at a distance.
Wellesley saw that every boy had two muskets; the one in their hands did not have a bayonet but the second one leaning against the wall did. Wellesley saw that; as the senior French NCO was about to call for the charge; he heard the voice of the Corporal once again.
"DRUMMERS, BY VOLLEY FIRE."
The boys and men popped up and let fire with a devastating volley; immediately they threw the musket behind them and took up the second one; again the high voice filled the scene.
"BY VOLLEY; FIRE. PREPARE BAYONETS."
Wellesley saw the Drum Corporal drop his pistols and reach back inside his jacket only to bring out his small pocket pistols as the others again crouched below the wall.
The French had paused as they saw their comrades fall to the fire of boys; Wellesley then realised the last volley had been double charged again; some balls had gone through two men and had made the French pause in their impending charge.
With the NCO's urging their men to charge, the boys grasped their empty muskets and got ready to fight hand to hand with their bayonets. The charge came with venom; the French had taken a real beating at the hands of nothing more than a handful of drummer boys and a few grown men; the ignominy was not lost on them and they wanted their revenge.
The charge came on hard but the four foot wall slowed them more than they thought; as they tried to scramble over the wall; they were met with a forest of bayonets.
Slowly the French began to gain ground and some managed to get over the wall but two of them were cut down by two small pistols. Thomas then drew his sword and began to lay about himself with the four Spanish boys covering his flanks and rear.
As more managed to get over the wall; Thomas called.
"TO THE COLOURS; FORM RANKS."
The French paused as the boys suddenly disappeared back to where the crude banner flew and the drums were piled. Wellesley could not believe his eyes as he watched the drummer boys reloading their muskets on the run. As they came up to the banner; the boys formed three ranks and stood in a semi circle.
The front rank were the youngest; the second rank the older boys and the remaining four colour guard made up the third rank.
Thomas had also now recharged his pocket pistols.
The French had thought they had routed the boys but; when they saw them stop at the pile of drums and form ranks they took a minute before they realised the boys were going to defend the strange crude banner. It was almost like a gentlemen's agreement as the boys waited for the French to reform for a final charge; even though the protagonists were now only ten paces apart.
Before the French could think to reload their own muskets, they heard the voice of the damn boy again.
"FRONT RANK; FIRE. SECOND RANK; FIRE. THIRD RANK; FIRE. READY BAYONETS"
At the range of ten paces the fire was again devastating; the French were now rattled and their numbers were not much more than what the boys had. As the French got ready to finally lay the defenders in their graves with a final charge; from their rear came a withering fire and they began to drop like stones.
The last French NCO had the intelligence to know he was beaten; with a loud call; he ordered his remaining men to lay down their arms; their attack on the right flank had been thwarted by a troop of drummer boys; the shame would never leave them.
Thomas looked behind the French soldiers and saw the smiling faces of O'Rourke, Lieutenant Grey and another dozen sharp shooters as they casually walked towards the young defenders. When the new arrivals got to the wall; Thomas saw Cooper and Jones take out their pipes; they both nodded to Thomas as they filled their pipes and lit them.
The drummer boys stood firmly as the French soldiers raised their hands in defeat; while the boys were so tired they could have quite easily lay down right then and there and slept; instead they kept a sharp eye on the Frenchmen as the newly arriving Sharpshooters clambered over the wall and took guard on the prisoners.
Thomas looked around but could see no sign of his four friends; checking the ground around the wall he could see no sign of them yet they had been at his side right through everything; where could they have gone so quickly?
As Grey's men rounded up the prisoners and got them moving to the rear where they would be held; O'Rourke and Grey walked over to Thomas.
"Well Corporal; what's this I hear about you starting your own little war; and you did not even invite us. Not very good form for a Corporal."
"Yes Mister Grey, but I had to do something."
"That you did lad."
From far off they heard the loud voice of Lieutenant General Wellesley.
"Lieutenant Grey; I am waiting for your report and; will you tell Drum Corporal Marking I will expect a full report on his actions, and why he thought it was a good idea to double charge His Majesties muskets?'
Grey looked up the rise and saluted before he called back.
"I am on my way Sir and I will inform the Corporal of your instructions."
Thomas had to hide the giggle that was trying to get out as Mister Grey looked up at the sky and sighed heavily.
"Right Drum Corporal; you heard his nibs; better get your boys sorted and start on that report; we may see you for dinner if it be your pleasure?"
"It is indeed Mister Grey although I don't know where the boys have got to so it may be hard tack tonight."
Just as he finished everyone heard a loud yell roll out over the battle field. The army had made the heights of Vimeiro and the French were in full retreat; it had been a victory but few would know the cost until much later.
"Well that was a day that the crows will covert. We will see you at table Corporal; go check on your boys, this bloody day is done for now."
Lieutenant Grey and Sergeant O'Rourke turned and walked up the rise towards where the Officers were looking out over the torn battle field where the screams of the wounded could still be heard.
Thomas looked back at the wall; compared to the numbers they had faced; his boys had got off relatively lightly. There were four of the colour guard lying dead near the wall and he saw one of the younger boys and two of the older ones also dead but it appeared they had died together; it was as though they had been back to back when they fell.
A tear fell from his eye as he saw the small tableau near the wall. The three boys had been the only losses by the drummers; there were others who had cuts or bruises but mostly they had acquitted themselves well against such seasoned soldiers and larger numbers.
Thomas was brought back by Prattly calling for him.
"Drum Corporal; what do we do with all these muskets?"
"Take what you can back to our lines; if the Regiment asks for them then hand them over; if they don't well...I guess you got yourself a musket. Everyone get your kit together and make it back to camp. I am leaving now as soon as I find my pistols; if some of you thought to look through the dead's pockets and I don't see it then I can't report it."
Thomas smiled as he turned back to the wall to find his good Manton pistols; his pocket pistols were back resting under his arms.
Thomas got back to his tent just as the four Spanish boys arrived back; Carmelo gave him a cheery wave as he talked to the other three; immediately the three boys set about starting a fire and then preparing a pot of hot water so their Patron could clean up.
Thomas sat down on his stool and started to ease off his new boots. His jacket was splattered in the blood of Frenchmen and smudged with powder smoke. Carmelo arrived with his small folding table and set it up beside Thomas.
Thomas pulled out his pistols and began to clean and reload them as Carmelo went to help the other boys in preparing dinner for four.
Thomas watched as the other drummers returned to their tents; they all still carried a musket except Prattly; he had one over each shoulder and a wide smile on his lips as he passed Thomas.
"A good days work Drum Corporal."
"Tell me Prattly; how did your shooting go?"
"Very well Drum Corporal; five officers; three sergeants and a Bombardier."
"Your father would be proud of you today Prattly."
"Aye Drum Corporal; as would yours."
"Go and see that the others get fed and ask Clements to see me when he can."
"Clement is in the infirmary Drum Corporal; dumb bastard forgot to duck on that last volley; got one in the shoulder for his troubles. He should be back tonight Drum Corporal."
"Right then, well it can wait until tomorrow. Good night Prattly."
"Good night Drum Corporal."
Thomas watched the older drummer walk towards his own tent; he still had to get a report ready for the officers; a task he was not in the least looking forward to.
As he sat trying to think what to put in his report and listened to the sound of the boys cooking at the fire; Carmelo arrived with a dish of hot water in one hand and a cloth bag in the other.
Placing the dish of water on the table and laying a cloth and soap close to it for Thomas to use for washing; Carmelo smiled at Thomas and dropped the cloth bag on the table with a clinking sound.
"What's this Carmelo?"
"The French have sent you a gift; they are horrified by the fighting skills of the great El Toro and wish to make offerings to stop El Toro from costing them so much blood; Patron."
"You are lying through your teeth Carmelo and you know it; now what is this?"
"Like Carmelo says Patron; a gift from the French;"
Thomas looked at Carmelo and sighed; lifting the bag he felt it was heavier than he thought it would be. Thomas opened the bag and tipped its contents onto the table.
Thomas gasped as he saw the contents. There were gold and silver coins, gold rings and even a few silver and gold necklaces; how much was there he had no idea but even for a boy from the slums of London; he knew it was a lot.
"Where did this come from Carmelo...did you...did the boys...the dead French?"
"Si Patron; it is the spoils of war; a very acceptable gift after such a big fighting."
"But what am I going to do with this; the army does not like looting."
"Looting Patron; this is not looting; this is a gift from your very humble and thankful servants that you protected with such zeal and fury."
From the dark came a familiar voice with a heavy brogue.
"Now mister Grey; what did I tell you; them damn guttersnipes was out shopping the moment the shooting stopped. Such a shame to see the waste there is nowadays."
"Aye Sergeant; you would think a battle hardened Corporal would know better than to flash his gains about."
Thomas looked up into the smiling faces of the two men he had come to think of as friends; he also saw the quick glance of Mister Grey in Carmelo's direction. Carmelo jumped at O'Rourke and hugged him as he said.
"Papa; you should have seen the Patron; like a great Toro he lay waste to many French Putana; Ah Papa, how he made their blood flow; Those French pigs will know of the great deeds of El Toro before the sun rises and they will walk in fear of his name."
"God save me from blathering fools and thieving Spaniards. I'm thirsty you rapscallion; get off me and see to your duties or I will have your 'Patron' whip you for a day and a night."
Carmelo was almost laughing as he let go of O'Rourke and ran off saying.
"My Patron is a good man; he would not listen to an old drunken Irishman."
O'Rourke shouted back into the dark where Carmelo was last seen.
"I'm not drunk yet you little scouse and I want to know why."
A light giggle came from the darkness on the other side of the fire.
"That was quite some feat you pulled off today lad." Said Lieutenant Grey. "You got half the nobs on the hill scratching their heads on how you did it. Oh and by the way; the General says he would rather have your report from your own mouth in the morning. You don't have to worry about writing it all down; mind you he did say it was easier to listen to you than trying to make heads or tails of your writing skills."
"Thank you Mister Grey."
Carmelo arrived with; of all things; three real glasses and a strange bottle of something Thomas had never seen before. Thomas smiled when he saw the look on O'Rourke's face.
"Well begorrah; you scallywag; you went and raided the Frenchies tents, now this is more like a man's drink; pour it out boy, don't stand there like some street whore; me mouth is as dry as a Frenchman's peter."
"O'Rourke, what is it?" Asked Thomas.
"Ah lad, that there is the finest of the Frenchman's brandy; put real hair on your chest it will; come on boy get it poured, you'll have me dying of old age you will."
Carmelo never stopped smiling as he filled the three glasses to the brim and then went back to the fire. The mood was quiet as the three enjoyed the brandy; there was time for talk later after dinner.
The night sounds of Spain began to awaken as the three sat at the small table; around them the camp was settling although the cries of some of the wounded could still be heard as they were attended to in the far off infirmary.
Another large dinner arrived on the table; it appeared to be six plump pigeons with an assortment of vegetables, herbs and spices of which Thomas knew nothing about but the two older men seemed to look forward to. It was to be Thomas first introduction to chilli peppers; something he would not forget in a hurry.
When the meal was over; Carmelo told the other three boys to finish the large platter and then clean up. While they ate, Thomas asked Mister Grey.
"What should I do about the loot?"
"You have to change your outlook lad. How long have you been in the King's army? How long since you have been paid your dues; ask the other drummer boys if they have yet been paid. When you have answered those questions then look again at what your four little scoundrels have done for you."
Thomas thought about the words; he had now been in the army for close to three months and had not yet been paid a single penny. As he thought; he saw Prattly sitting outside his tent having a pipe; Thomas called him over and the two older men sat back without saying a word.
"Yes Drum Corporal?"
"How long have you been in the army and when were you last paid?"
"Seven months I been in Drum Corporal; not been paid a penny yet; paymaster keeps telling us they got no money for drummer boys as they got to pay the soldiers first and then there's little left for us. Some gets a few coins now and again but not regular like."
"Thank you Prattly; you can go back to your pipe."
Prattly nodded and turned back to his own tent. Lieutenant Grey looked at Thomas and said.
"Well lad, there's your answer; if you don't watch out for yourself then no one else will. Now then; what would I do with the dosh; I would divide it up with your 'servants'; keeps them happy and your table will always be full if you do that. Talk to Carmelo after we have gone and work it out. I know that the regulations is all about not looting but; if they not going to keep their word on your wages then you have to feed yourself some other way. Don't you worry lad; its common practice and most Officers know that and turn a blind eye. You aint doing nothing most others aren't doing; accept it and live a good life; you never know when your arse will be hanging out of your britches."
The two friends left Thomas to his thoughts as they moved off into the dark; Thomas felt a sudden chill as the first signs of winter made themselves felt; they would soon be in the midst of winter storms and lashing rains.
Thomas knew that not all of Portugal was covered in snow like England was in winter but it did not stop terrible storms from ravaging the countryside at that time of the seasons.
Thomas called Carmelo back to the table; he had divided the pile of loot into four; he could not as yet reconcile taking any for himself; the King's regulations were still too fresh in his mind.
"Carmelo, call the boys; they are to each have one stack and the other is for you; without your help I would have been much worse off."
Carmelo looked at the four piles of loot and then back up at Thomas.
"Patron; you take nothing for yourself; it is not the way; most should go to your hand; what is left is then going to the servants; it is the Spanish way and the way of all Patron."
"Not this time Carmelo; it does not sit right with me; perhaps one day it might but; for today, no. Give it to the boys; they have worked hard and honestly for me; it is theirs by right."
"Ah Patron; you would see yourself a beggar just to help other unworthy; truly you are a great man Patron; it will not be forgotten."
Carmelo called the three younger boys over. After some considerable chatter amongst all four; Carmelo took out a small leather purse and; as each boy took two gold coins from their stack; he placed it in the purse; for himself, Carmelo put in a large gold ring with a bright red stone and a thick silver necklace chain that had a beautiful Catholic cross on it.
"What is that for Carmelo?" asked Thomas as he indicated the purse.
"It is the... how you say...Banco."
"Banco? What is Banco?"
"The place you put a little and then a little more and it gets in time a lot."
Thomas thought and could only come up with thinking of a bank; his interpretation would have to do as it was the only thing he could think of; he nodded his head and looked back at Carmelo in askance.
"This purse Patron; is your Banco; today you do not need it but; tomorrow is another day; we will keep it safe for you until it is needed."
"Then if you are insisting I should have some I would like you to remove that Papist cross; it is not my belief; if you would hand it to me I know what to do with it."
Carmelo obediently removed the cross from the heavy chain and gave it to Thomas. Thomas well knew that both the Spanish and the French were Papists and so knew he would not be insulting the person he was giving the cross to.
Thomas turned to Marcelo and gave him the cross; as the small boy took it he looked up at Thomas in wonder as he tried to understand why the Patron would give him such a gift. Thomas looked at the expression on the boys face; with a smile he said.
"For the excellent boots."
Carmelo translated his words and Thomas saw a tear fill the boy's eye as he first kissed the cross and then reached for Thomas hand and did the same. Quickly Marcelo placed the cross on a chain and hung it around his neck; all the while chattering to Carmelo.
"Patron; Marcelo says to thank you for such a gift; it reminds him of the one his mother wore before the French Putana killed all his family; he will wear it with honour and pray for you each and every night."
Thomas was not sure if it was a good idea to have Papists praying for him; but then perhaps in a time of war, any prayers were better than none.
It was late and the rest of the camp had quietened down except for occasional groans or cries from the wounded. Thomas made his way inside to undress and find his cot; Carmelo was close behind him and they were both settled and asleep in no time.
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