Reynaud rode hard through the night; it was imperative for him to make the meeting place on time or he would lose his most senior spy; he could not afford to do that.
Unknown to Reynaud; the pace he set was far too fast for his following Chasseurs; by midnight they had the need to stop and rest. By the time the Chasseur were back on the road they would be some six hours behind Reynaud; it was to prove a fatal decision for the Captain and his men.
Twice Reynaud nearly fell from his horse as the early morning hours passed by; the strain on his body and the need for sleep made his urgent ride even harder.
Reynaud stopped only once as the sun rose, to eat and drink a light breakfast; within an hour he was back on his horse and riding hard; he still had at least ten miles to cover and only a few hours left to make it; find the rendezvous and settle with the rebel.
The sun was almost at its zenith when he saw the field that he knew was the one for the meeting. At the far end of the field and close to a wooded area, stood two people; one an adult holding the red and gold colours of El Toro and another who looked to be no more than a child.
Reynaud glanced behind him to make sure the two figures could not see that he was being trailed by the Chasseurs; a half hour gap should be enough to make sure the rebels would not see them coming.
Reynaud pulled his horse to a stop some twenty paces from the pair waiting for him. The adult was a man of about twenty three or four; he was dressed like a Spaniard in comfortable clothes that fit a little loosely. The boy stood to the side with his hands behind his back and was dressed in far better clothes than the adult.
Reynaud watched the two for a minute and then stepped from his horse; in truth he was glad to be off the animal; it had been a long and hard night and his eyes were bleary with the lack of sleep. Reynaud took a deep breath; if this was El Toro he would need to keep his wits about him.
Reynaud saw that the man appeared to be unarmed. Following suit he left his horse pistols in the holsters on his saddle. Next removed his sword and hung it also on the saddle; to all appearances he was unarmed, the small pocket pistol in a sleeve holster would remain out of sight until the Chasseur's arrived.
Before he could walk towards the two; Reynaud saw movement in the deep dark shadows of the woods. From the shadows stepped four younger boys carrying what appeared to be a folding table and two folding chairs. Reynaud waited for the boys to set up the table and chairs before going forward.
The young man with the banner gestured for Reynaud to sit and; after planting the banner staff into the soft soil; took the chair on the opposite side of the small table. The young boy stood behind him still with his hands behind his back as though he was on a parade ground.
Reynaud had once been a soldier and knew the signs although for the last ten years he had been the head of Napoleon Bonaparte's spies; his military knowledge had not regressed in the slightest.
Reynaud waited for the young man to speak first; it was the best way to get information without divulging anything about oneself.
"Mister Reynaud; my name is Ellis. I am here to represent the Patron."
Reynaud was surprised when he heard the man's accent; it was not the refined accent of the officers but that of a common soldier. Could this young man really be El Toro?
"Then the rebel is not going to show his face to me, Mister Ellis?"
"He is watching us all the time Mister Reynaud."
"I would like to meet him in person, Mister Ellis; it is not my habit to talk with other peoples minions."
"Do not worry Mister Reynaud; I have full authority to make our proposal and hopefully you will agree to our terms. The alternative would not be nice for anyone; especially your troops and spies."
"Is that a threat Mister Ellis; if so you should be aware that we French have more than enough troops to hunt you down and destroy your little party."
"I make no threat Mister Reynaud it is just a warning. To give a small indication, I will tell you that your Chasseurs are still three hours behind you and will arrive far too late to help you. Now as to your man Bertrand; you may have him back with one small condition."
"And that is?"
"You take your thirty five spies and leave Portugal; we have eyes and ears in every camp, village and town that is occupied by the French. If you fail to remove your spies then we will return Mister Bertrand to you piece by piece."
"That is a bold offer Mister Ellis considering our armies can scour the country and eventually find you all."
"Perhaps Mister Reynaud but I ask you this. How well have you done so far? Have you had any man woman or child take your reward yet much less offer any information. No Mister Reynaud; as far as you are concerned, the man you are hunting could be right under your nose this very minute and you would not know it. Now do you agree to remove all your spies from Portugal?"
"It would take me time but I have to think it over. The options of one man for all the work the others do is not to be taken lightly."
"That is fair Mister Reynaud we will give you one hour; I am sure you are hungry and thirsty from your ride, I will have some lunch brought to you while you consider your position."
The young man, Ellis rose and walked away with the young boy at his heels. Reynaud was about to rise and go to look at the banner when he saw three boys come from the shadows of the woods. One was carrying a large covered platter, another had a bottle of wine and a goblet. The third boy carried a small leather bag.
When all three items were placed on the table in front of Reynaud; the three boys gave him a smile that could quite easily have been a smirk and left him to his meal.
Reynaud lifted the platter and was pleasantly surprised at his lunch. He poured himself a wine; which he noticed was also French and set about eating and thinking. As Reynaud ate, he tipped out the leather bag; it held Bertrand's ring, wallet and the gold chain and cross he wore around his neck; it was proof that he was being held by the rebels.
Reynaud knew he would have to sacrifice Bertrand; he could not withdraw his other men just at the whim of some low class rebel that was too scared to even show his face. Reynaud ate and drank slowly; the more time he used, the closer his Chasseurs would get.
Thomas watched the man from the deep shadows of the woods; he knew the type of man he was dealing with and had little doubt he would sacrifice the man, Bertrand so as to be able to continue to hunt Thomas and his boys. Thomas almost prayed the man would not do it; but the style of the French he had so far met told him otherwise.
Thomas looked around the small band that had stayed with him for the talks. Most of his boys were now miles away and watching the only place the Chasseur could cross the river; their ambush had been planned well and Reynaud would never see his Chasseurs arrive at the field.
When the hour was up Thomas followed the colour guard Ellis, back to the table where Reynaud waited for them. The look in the man's eye told Thomas that his intuition had been right. Reynaud was not about to give up his entire spy network for one man.
While Thomas was disappointed he knew that Carlito would be more than happy; the young gypsy had a really bad streak in his soul when it came to the French. Ellis continued with the talks as though nothing had happened.
"Well Mister Reynaud; what have you decided. Do we return Mister Bertrand to you in one piece or many?"
"Mister Ellis, you may inform your rebel friend that I must decline his offer. While I regret having to sacrifice such a good man as Bertrand; I cannot and will not take my men out of Portugal. My Emperor has given me orders and I intend to carry them out. Now Mister Ellis one last warning for you and the Rebel. I will hunt you down; all of you and you will all meet the guillotine. That Mister Ellis I promise you; even the little boy beside you will see his fate come crashing down on his neck before much more time has passed."
Reynaud made to reach into his sleeve for his hidden pistol; he would get one easy shot at Ellis as a reminder and it would also alert his Chasseurs where he was. As he reached for the hidden pistol; Reynaud readied his feet to make a fast getaway to his horse, he would be well out of range before any of them knew what had happened.
Reynaud was fast; he had used the tactic before to great success. As he withdrew the pistol from his sleeve, he looked up at the smiling face of Ellis. Reynaud knew he had won this round; that is until he found himself looking down the two barrels of a pair of pistols the young boy had taken from behind his back.
Had Reynaud not been the sort of man he was he may well have shivered at the look of deadly intent in the blue eyes of the boy; instead Reynaud could only smile and shrug his shoulders helplessly as he placed the small pistol on the table. Reynaud looked at the cold blue eyes and said.
"Well young man; one must try; yes?"
Much to Reynaud's surprise; the boy replied in the same rough English as Ellis had spoken in.
"Yes Monsieur Reynaud; one must try."
Reynaud was suddenly thrown back as one of the pistols fired right in front of him; he felt the heavy ball strike him high in the shoulder and then he was sitting on the ground with blood dripping from the wound; the shocked look on his face would have been comical if the situation had not been so serious.
"And now Monsieur Reynaud you know that all things are not what they seem. Farewell Monsieur Reynaud; I am sure we will meet again."
Thomas picked up the small pistol from the table; turned from the injured man and walked with Ellis back into the woods. As soon as they were well hidden from the Frenchman. Thomas had his boys mount the cavalry horses that had been left for them and turned deeper into the woods; they had to hurry if they wanted to be at the ambush before the Chasseurs arrived.
As the boys disappeared into the woods Reynaud worked on stopping the bleeding. He knew it was not a death wound but the pain tried to tell him otherwise. After stopping the bleeding Reynaud had time to really think over the parting words of the young English boy.
Reynaud mounted his horse for the return to Abrantes; it was going to be a long and painful ride. Reynaud's thoughts turned to the young boy; as he wondered about the need for one so young to be at the table; the many reports from early battles in Portugal came to his mind.
There had been no indication of this rebel El Toro before a few months ago; so where did he come from? The boy he had seen had; even at such a young age; an air of authority about him. It would not have been obvious to many, but Reynaud had seen stranger things in his time.
The report on Rolica came to mind as he tried to stay up on his horse. There had been a report of a young drummer boy who had turned into some sort of animal and saved the English colours; could this have been that boy?
Next was the battle at a place called Vimeiro where again, a young drummer boy had held the line against seasoned French troops with nothing but a line of young drummer boys. Was it again a co-incidence? The last report was from the evacuation of La Coruna; it was the first time that the rebel had shown his colours and yet he had not actually taken part in the battle.
It was said in some quarters that the mere sight of his army had stopped an assault on the heights of Elvira; there was only a footnote on this but it did mention that the ones on the ridge of Elvira had looked to be no more than boys and they were all drummers.
Reynaud sighed and then winced as his wound jarred when the horse missed a step. Reynaud had never believed in co-incidence; a slow dawning of realisation showed on Reynaud's face; the report they had all thought to be unbelievable must be true.
They had been hunting for a tall well built man, but now Reynaud was sure he had just seen and talked to the one they were calling the 'Patron El Toro'. The difficulty in seeing or catching El Toro could now easily be explained; it was a young English Drummer Boy all the time.
Reynaud swore loudly as the pain of his wound shot through him again; now he knew what he was looking for it would be so much easier to trap the boy and destroy the myth once and for all.
Reynaud made sure his horse was turned towards Abrantes; he had work to do and with luck he would run into his Chasseurs on the way back. They would have to cross the river Alagon halfway between Abrantes and Villavelha where it was shallow enough to ford but he was sure they would all meet up somewhere along the road.
Reynaud would like to have increased his speed now he had some real theories to work on; however the pace had to be kept to a walk for the sake of his wound or he could collapse along the road and never be able to capture the Rebel.
Thomas and the others rode hard to make the site of the crossing; he knew they were cutting it fine but he wanted to be there to see it through with his little army.
Thomas and the others arrived just in time to see a faint dust cloud on the other side of the river Alagon. The ford here was about belly deep for horses and was an ideal place for an ambush. From the river's edge on this side there was an open stretch of land leading uphill to where his boys were hidden in the brush and rocks. The distance was about three hundred paces.
The boys of his army had set up just as they had discussed; there were two ranks of his normal boys and they were flanked by three of the newly arrived Portuguese boys at each flank. Beyond the Portuguese boys were the two small cannon; with round shot they could easily reach the centre of the river.
The six new boys were a very good addition to his small army. They had been Cadets in the Portuguese Military Academy in Lisbon and had been training as Sharpshooters and carried a new experimental rifle. The six Cadets had been told not to let the French capture the new rifles; while they were not perfect, they were far better than any musket on the battle field at that time.
Thomas and his boys had been fascinated by the new rifles and the way they were so different from anything they had seen so far.
The oldest of the boys and the senior to the others in rank had taken the time to show Thomas and all those interested in the rifles; and the many differences that they had to the old muskets.
The rifles were longer than a musket by three inches giving them an overall barrel length of thirty six inches. The bore had the new rifling and the barrel was an octagonal shape and thicker than the normal musket.
At the end that the boys called 'The Breach' it was even thicker still and the wooden stock was cut down lighter to suit the Cadets. The loading was what was really new and the powder they used was even better.
The powder was held in a paper cylinder which was twisted at each end. Its diameter was just smaller than the barrel and would slide down to the breach without hindrance. The ball was about one inch long and oval at one end but concave at the other.
The ball was inserted after the powder charge and rammed down as it was a tight fit and the rifling made grooves in the lead ball. When fired it was a totally different system. When loading, the hammer was half cocked; this brought a small pin out from the side of the breach which was attached to the hammer by a fine spring steel clip.
The powder was dropped down the barrel and then the ball followed; once ready, the hammer was taken back to full cock. Just before firing the small thin needle was released and pierced the paper of the charge inside the breach. The powder was so fine it would leave a small amount to fall into the flash pan where the flint would ignite it and fire the rifle.
With the better form of powder the Cadets used; they said it would hit a target at over four hundred paces if the user was trained properly. The sighting was also new. On the end of the barrel was a short stubby brass pin with a minute ball on top. At the breach end the sight was a thin plate with a small round hole in the centre. Below the rear sight was a thin, triangular strip of metal that was notched up one side.
It was explained to Thomas and his boys that each notch represented one hundred paces; there were four notches. The new rifles could not be speed loaded like Thomas boys used; but they were far better for long range sharpshooting and that was what the six Cadets did.
The powder was hand made by the six boys and the paper cylinders were made well before hand one at a time. The powder was the normal powder but the boys would add something they called 'Guano' to it after they ground the white powder fine enough to be a mist; that and re-grinding the normal powder gave it more fire power when ignited.
Thomas looked over at the six cadets, three at each end of his two ranks. The Cadets would wait until the Chasseurs were in the middle of the river before they would open fire; they promised Thomas they would not miss.
They had decided to fire one at a time; this way they would be able to keep up a sustained fire so those who shot first would have the time to reload before the sixth Cadet fired.
It was estimated the small brass cannon would be able to fire no more than three or four round shot before the Chasseur were across the river; they would then load Grape shot and help the two ranks if the Chasseur made it in any number across the river.
At last he saw the first of the Chasseur come into view; they were in two columns one on each side of the narrow road. Thomas wanted them to be in an open formation that they used for a charge or there would be too much chance of many escaping when the front ones went down.
Thomas looked over at the Senior Cadet; he did not want them to fire just yet. Thomas then looked up at the two small brass cannon; Estaban had been given charge of those as he had worked with Sergeant O'Rourke and Mister Grey on learning how to fire them.
Thomas made a gesture with his hands pointing one finger up at the sky and then making a curving gesture in a loop; Estaban smiled and nodded his understanding he then set about raising the barrels of the two small cannon as high as he could. It was hoped the solid shot would go past the river and land in or near the Chasseurs; with luck the Chasseur would then know they were under attack and reline themselves for a charge on a wider front.
Thomas held up two fingers, being the signal for only two shots to be fired as far behind or into the rear ranks of riders; if it failed then they were in for a long fight. Even though they had a good escape route planned they did not want to get into a hand to hand battle with Chasseurs for any reason.
Thomas watched as the Chasseurs stopped to look at the ford; the river was not fast flowing so their hesitation was only seconds before the first one ventured into the river. Thomas dropped his hand as the signal for Estaban.
It was plain to see the surprise on the faces of the Chasseurs as the sound of the two cannon filled the quiet afternoon silence. The two round shot landed nearly three quarters of the way down the columns. The first landed on the side of the road and knocked one horse and rider off; the second landed in their midst and three Chasseur were thrown to the ground and never tried to get back up.
Thomas signalled again for Estaban to lower the guns just a little and fire two more shots. As Estaban was setting his two small guns; the Chasseur did what Thomas had hoped for. Whether it was instinct or their natural need to attack anything that fired on them; the Chasseur immediately began to form two lines for the frontal charge. They would storm the crossing and take the two guns on the rise above the river.
With their lines reformed and ready their bugler sounded the charge. Thomas watched as the first rank hit the far side of the river; the depth must have deceived the Chasseur as they were in up to the horse bellies in no time. Thomas gave the signal for his six cadets to start firing.
Thomas estimated they were facing about sixty Chasseurs; the second rank was eager to follow the first as they closed up to keep within the boundary of the ford; the cadets began their slaughter. Thomas watched as after each shot another Chasseur fell into the water never to rise again; the Cadets had been true to their word.
Estaban kept lowering the barrels of the small cannon as he forced the Chasseurs forward; even with the balls landing behind the line of riders they still did damage to those not wanting to face the devastating fire from the other bank.
As the riders fell to the sharpshooters; their horse, now freed from their riders; reared and turned away from the sound of the guns causing more mayhem with the men trying to cross.
The river crossing was about fifty paces wide but the Chasseurs could only move at a slow walking pace as the current and depth of water slowed them more than they thought it would; Thomas now thought it was time to add a little more pressure.
Thomas held up his arm and called for the drums. The massed drummers stood up and began to beat out the Della Guerra while the soldier who was the colour guard, raised the banner on top of the ridge; now the Chasseurs knew who they were facing.
The boys on the ridge could almost see the two lines pause as the air was filled with the dreaded sound that they had been told about by the few survivors of other meetings with El Toro; a new fear slowly began to instil itself in the ranks of the charging attackers.
The boys watched as the once straight lines of the Chasseurs began to crumble; it was becoming a case of survival as more and more of their number fell to the impossible shooting of the sharpshooters hidden in the rocks.
The Della Guerra continued on as the Chasseurs tried to make the far bank that would give them a chance to turn the tables and have open ground to ride down the attackers.
The losses mounted for the Chasseurs as more and more fell which caused others to be unsaddled into the deep water and drown under the hooves of their fellow Chasseurs.
When the first of the riders finally made it to the bank of the river there was little let up as those behind tried for the safety of solid ground; less than half their number made it but now they had only one way to go and that was forward.
The Officer called for the charge and then suddenly pitched off his horses and fell under the hooves of those still climbing out of the river.
Estaban loaded his two small cannon with grape; he would only get one shot off and then would have to pack his two cannon out of the line on the backs of his mules while Thomas used his own drummers to fire into the thinning ranks of those who would be left.
Of the sixty Chasseur who had tried to cross the river; there were now only twenty four left; they formed up into two lines for the final charge but even as they did so the sharpshooters never gave up and two more men fell before the lines were complete.
Thomas called for the drums to be put aside and the boys to ready muskets and fire by volley on his command. The sudden silencing of the drums seemed to again unnerve the Chasseurs but they carried on with forming their charge.
As they thundered over the open ground they were hit with grape shot and more fell while others still went down to the sharpshooters.
When the surviving Chasseurs were within range Thomas gave the order for volleys; only two riders made it to the first rocks that gave cover to the boys. The two riders looked down into the massed musket barrels of sixty boys and dropped their weapons; they both had a tear in their eyes as they dismounted and put their hands in the air.
Thomas had the two riders hands tied behind their backs and; as none of his boys could speak French he made signs for the two to sit and not move. He left two boys to watch over them.
Estaban arrived with his four mules; the two barrels were slung on each side of the first, followed by the second and third mule carrying a gun carriage each and then the powder and shot on the fourth.
"Aah...Patron, a good day to greet the French Puta; what do you wish now?"
"Take the guns home; we will get sorted here and follow shortly. I think we will need to stay hidden for a little while that spy master is no fool and will be scouring the country side for us soon enough.
"Si Patron, it will be done."
The two captives may not have spoken Spanish or Portuguese but they did understand one word; and that word was Patron. They had all been told about the name and they could only watch with amazement at the young boy who had been addressed as 'Patron'; they both dearly hoped they would walk away from here and be able to relate this new finding.
Estaban got his little cavalcade moving off; they would take three days to make Vimeiro and needed to go unseen for the whole trip. Thomas looked at the two captives; he could hear the cries of the wounded down on the open area.
Thomas felt they had spilt enough blood for one day and tried to indicate to his prisoners that they would be released to help their wounded once his young army was on the move. It was Carlito that reminded Thomas of one last act that had to be played out.
Thomas nodded to Carlito's request and then set about getting his drummers on the move while Carlito went back into the woods behind them and led out Bertrand on a horse. The making of a noose took Carlito little time and; as Carlito slapped the flanks of the horse and then turned to the two prisoners with a smile that made their bones shiver; took out a large knife and moved in their direction.
There was only the sound of the creaking rope in the still air as Carlito bent down and cut the bindings on the two captives; he then made the gesture for them to go and help their wounded as he turned with a speed that left the two men with nothing to do but watch where he had been only a second before.
Before the two captives could get to their feet Carlito had disappeared; they were left with a stranger hanging in the tree and the cries of their own wounded in their ears. Of the army of El Toro there was no sight or sound they had disappeared just as silently as they had appeared.
Reynaud had been almost sleeping as he tried to retain his grip on the reins; the sudden far off sound of what he at first thought was thunder brought him upright once again at the cost of a little more pain.
It was not long before he could hear the faint crackle of musket fire interspersed with the louder blast of small cannon that Reynaud knew his Chasseurs were in trouble. Reynaud knew there was little he could do; he could not increase his speed because of the pain and he was sure that one more man would be of little use by the sound of gun fire coming from ahead.
When Reynaud finally made it to the open area in front of the ford; the first thing he saw was the hanging body of Bertrand. He barely took notice as he had expected the rebel to keep his word. Next he saw two Chasseur tending to some wounded; there were not many men left from a patrol of sixty men.
Of the six wounded there were two who would not make it through to nightfall; the others would have to be mounted once the two unhurt Chasseur could round up enough horses to carry them all.
It was late in the evening when a sorry looking group arrived in Abrantes. Six were Chasseurs of which only two were unwounded, and one was a civilian who was also wounded. None of them looked happy at their predicament.
Thomas had given their horses to the six cadets, they would ride ahead to meet Estaban while Thomas and his drummers would go on foot at their usual unbeatable pace.
Twice during the next three days, Thomas had to find a place to hide as large French patrols scoured the country side but finally, in the late afternoon of the third day they made it into the safety of their hidden valley outside Vimeiro; they were all home safe and sound for now.
Thomas kept his boys at home for the next four weeks except for the small wagon going into the town for firewood and other essentials. Most of the time; the Spanish boys were out in the country side watching the patrols and gleaning information to be used at a later date.
The six Cadets also came in handy for this work as they were readily accepted by their own countrymen and were able to get information that others would not pass onto the Spanish boys.
It was almost the last day of March when Thomas and his drummers had visitors that were more than welcome, even if the news they brought was not the best. Mister Grey and O'Rourke arrived as usual, just in time for dinner.
They looked as though they had been living off the country the same as Thomas's boys. That evening, after dinner; the four of them sat around the table to talk; Carmelo was an accepted part of all discussions. Much to Thomas's surprise he was starting to have strange feelings for Carmelo.
He was not sure what they were; it was something that seemed to be creeping up on him more each day and he often felt lonely when Carmelo was away doing other things. Thomas's anxiety seemed to build if the boy was late getting back to the camp. These were new and strange feelings for Thomas.
The large table was full this night. The Cadets had formally elected the eldest to be their field Officer; Lorenco was a little embarrassed but he had done most of the work to form the boys up for the ambush.
There were also the usual group of Carmelo, Estaban, Thomas, Perrin, Clement and the two older soldiers; Grey and O'Rourke.
The discussion was mainly on the last ambush of the Chasseurs; even Mister Grey said he could not have improved on it and the results had stirred up the country far more than the French would have liked.
When the long meal was finished; Thomas showed Mister Grey and O'Rourke what they had come up with to speed up their musket loading.
It was a similar cartridge as used by the Portuguese cadets only suited to their muskets. The paper they used was a little thicker and some boys even dipped theirs in animal fats to keep the water out.
At the tip was a small twist of fine powder for the flash pan. Once the flash pan was charged, they bit off the next twist and poured the heavier powder into the barrel and then dropped the ball in last; one tap of the butt and they could fire. If they needed to patch their load they just left the paper around the ball before ramming it. It was far faster and meant the boys did not have to search for their powder flasks, ramrods and ball pouches.
Both older soldiers nodded in agreement; they could see the practicality in the new idea. When the conversation finally got around to why the two men were once again in camp; Mister Grey told them the latest news.
"Well lad; it looks like General Wellesley is about to return; he has been cleared on the affair at Sintra and has now been put in full charge of all allied forces in Portugal. He's going to bring 60,000 men with him and has even ordered that a number of Brigades be armed with the new rifled muskets. He will land at Oporto and hopes to push Marshal Soult out of Portugal for good. His orders are for you and others like you to cause as much trouble behind the French lines as you can. When he secures Oporto; he will send a rider to let you know when he wishes to meet with you."
Thomas nodded his understanding of the new orders and was already working on plans for the disruption of the French forces that may go to stop Wellesley. O'Rourke smiled at Thomas as he reached into the leather bag he carried over his shoulder at all times.
"I've got something for you; thought you might like to keep a copy so you don't get careless."
O'Malley brought out a large poster; it was all written in French and had a sketch of a young boy at the centre. It might have been Thomas but, it also could have been any young boy in Portugal; only the sword on the boy's hip gave any real indication.
Thomas could not read French and had to ask Mister Grey for a translation; the words did not really surprise him as much as the amount of the reward did.
"Well lad, it reads like this.
A reward of 10,000 ducats for information or the proven death of the rebel El Toro; also known as The Patron or Sergeant Major Thomas Marking. Thomas Marking is believed to be an English Drummer Boy of about 13 years. Payment will be made on proof of capture or death.
Colonel Marchant Reynaud
"So what do you think of that, Lad? Want to make yourself rich and turn yourself into the Froggies?"
Thomas looked again at the poster; it was a lot of gold but he thought if it was such a lot then he must be doing something good to upset the French. His determination just stirred to new heights to carry out his orders from General Wellesley.
Everyone around the table made light of the poster and even added some comments that were definitely derogatory to the French and their ability to catch one small drummer boy.
The night wore on until they were all ready for their beds. Grey and O'Rourke were to leave before sun rise the next morning as they had other groups of Guerrillas to meet and relay orders to.
The next day found the camp at Vimeiro a hive of activity. There were cartridges to be made in quantity; food to be sourced along with firewood and plans for annoying the French as much as they could.
The three youngest Spanish boys now spent a lot of time out of the camp one at a time. It was far easier for them to move around undetected by the French than someone older which the French seemed to take a liking to for stopping and questioning at any time. The younger boys seemed to be mainly ignored by the patrols.
The six Cadet Sharpshooters now came into their own. Carmelo had made them each a fine pair of panniers to carry on the backs of the six cavalry horses they were to use. Each pannier would carry food for five or six days as well as spare powder and shot.
The Cadets would go out on their own and cause as much trouble as they could by ambushing infantry or cavalry patrols and then disappear before they could be caught. With the far superior range of their experimental rifles; they were able to ravage the patrols almost at will and then disappear only to do the same far away.
The Cadets were proud of the fact they were able to hit four or five patrols in one day but in very different locations. The confusion they sewed in the French ranks was very effective; it also allowed Thomas to mount larger and more damaging attacks on French camps and supply lines.
It took only a week for the boys to notice the sudden increase in French numbers and patrols; their tactics were doing just as Wellesley had asked and they were pulling much needed troops from other areas. Thomas dearly hoped that Wellesley would land before he started to lose some of his boys; the French were now irate that the rebel El Toro was in fact nothing more than a small young English drummer boy.
The long period of hit and run attacks continued well into May. It was on the 15th of May that the guards at the entrance to their camp in Vimeiro let through a tired rider dressed in the blue of the English cavalry.
Immediately Thomas came from his tent where he had been resting for the first time in four days; like the others in camp the constant fighting against the French patrols had now taken a toll on their reserves; it was time to take a break for a few days.
Thomas asked the Cavalryman into his tent; Carmelo appeared with cold food and some wine for the rider as he sat at the small folding table Thomas used for planning.
The surprised look on the young riders face when he saw that the man he had been sent to collect was only a young boy made him doubt he was in the right place or with the right person; he had expected an older and well seasoned fighting man.
"Aah...Sergeant Major Marking?"
"Oh... sorry Sergeant Major; I was expecting someone a little older."
"They all say that. Now what do you have for me?"
"Yes...well the Generals compliments Sergeant Major. He would like to meet with you on the 20th at Moncorvo near the River Douro. He asks that if you have any special requests for equipment that you make a list and I will take it back with me so it can be prepared for when you arrive at Moncorvo."
"Thank you. When do you wish to start back?"
"Before nightfall Sergeant Major."
"Then take your time and rest, I'll get the list ready before you go and tell the General I will meet him on time."
Thomas turned and left the tent while the rider set about eating and drinking. Thomas had a lot to do and called his closest friends to a meeting. An hour later and they had their list; it was not so much a list of needs but more a few suggestions as to how the boys could do more damage to the French if they had certain things to help them.
The rider left well before dark; he had been given one of the cavalry horses taken from the French as a spare horse as he did not want to leave his own horse in the camp.
When Sergio returned from his three day trip out in the country gathering information; he told Thomas that the French forces were on the move. He had heard a story that the English and Portuguese forces had won a great victory at Oporto and the French Marshal had run in retreat back into Spain.
In preparation for the ride to Moncorvo Thomas put the camp in the hands of Carmelo, Perrin and Clement while he was gone. Thomas would take Estaban and his three boys along with the six Cadets and the four mules to carry anything back from his meeting; Estaban was to carry their colours.
The plan was for Carmelo and the two Corporals to continue to cause trouble for the French as they retreated back into Spain. Thomas made sure that they understood they were not to stand and fight but continue as they had been with hit and run attacks.
The eleven boys would ride to Moncorvo so they would be in time for the meeting; they also knew they may have to hide from any French patrols they came across. It was plain that they could not afford to be taken captive at this stage of the new invasion.
Much to Thomas's surprise their ride to Moncorvo was without trouble; the few patrols they saw were more interested in getting back to Spain than chasing the invisible rebel El Toro.
Thomas and his friends arrived in the town of Moncorvo in the evening of the 19th ; it did not take long before he found the tent of General Wellesley. Thomas was also thankful to see the familiar face of Captain Lewis whom he immediately noticed was now a Major.
Major Lewis smiled at Thomas and his friends as they rode into the small town looking a little the worse for wear after the long ride and having to stay away from the French patrols.
Major Lewis showed Thomas where they could put their mounts and then took them to a small house that had been put aside for them to rest; his appointment with the General was for early tomorrow morning and he and his friends needed a good rest before that happened.
Thomas appeared good and early for his meeting with the General; the other ten boys were by his side when Major Lewis appeared from the Generals tent to usher them inside.
Thomas had carried his Drummer uniform with him for this meeting; he wanted to appear in the correct dress for his General.
When he got inside, the General was talking to three other Officers. Thomas came to attention and saluted the Officers then waited for his orders.General Wellesley dismissed the three officers and turned to Thomas with a smile.
"Well Drum Sergeant Major; I see you have managed to survive in good health. I must thank you for all you have done for us; without your boys and others like them, our task would have been greater but as it is we have the French on the run back to Spain. Very soon we will go after them and push them right out of the country. I need you to continue with your attacks behind their lines. Shortly Mister Percy will want to talk with you but before then I have something for you so that you know we have been watching your small force for some time and the results you have brought us."
The General looked over his table until he found what he was looking for; lifting the paper up he read it out aloud for Thomas.
"This is the order for your field promotion to the rank of Lieutenant; when you return to your drummers you will have to select new Sergeants and Corporals. You will need a Sergeant Major, two Sergeants and four Corporals. There are more young troops for you to take back with you to enlarge your force and cause even more harm to the French in the coming months."
The General paused as he thought about something then continued.
"When we are finished here you may go to the Quartermasters and he will have your new uniform ready for you as well as a few things you requested. Unfortunately there will also be a reporter from the Times who wants to speak with you about what you have been doing while awaiting our return. You can tell him most things about the past but nothing of what we are planning in the future. You will have to move your men to a new camping position. Your present one is a bit far away now that we are going into Spain. I would like you to find somewhere safe in or around Almeida or Guarda; there should be good hiding places up in the Estrella. Major Grey has a place in that area; perhaps he can help you he will be here this afternoon. Now then Lieutenant if you will excuse me; both of us have a lot to do. Your new drummers will be on the other side of town for you to inspect when ready."
Thomas had not said a word; he saluted, took the copy of his orders and; along with the other boys left the tent to find the Quartermasters stores. Thomas did not know it at the time but it would take him four days before he was ready to leave the small town of Moncorvo; the outfitting of his new drummers and the need to get as much information from Mister Grey held him there longer than he would have liked.
Thomas arrived at the Quartermasters store and saw that the Sergeant in charge was a new man; he was thankful he would not have to deal with the one from before.
When Thomas gave the Quartermaster his copy of the requisition orders the Sergeant looked up at him from his desk and smiled before saying.
"Well bless me, it's true. When I saw the Generals orders I had me doubts about your age. So Lieutenant; are you ready for your new uniform?"
Thomas smiled at the friendly words and attitude of the Sergeant and nodded his head. The Sergeant went to a shelf and took down a pile of clothing and a pair of black boots; there was also a small pillbox hat with a chin strap. Thomas much preferred his flat crowned Spanish hat.
"Well Lieutenant they say you were raised from the ranks like that there Captain Grey was. If you would pardon me for saying so; I would watch me back with the other Officers. They all paid for their commissions and can be a bit picky when it comes to someone from the ranks being raised."
"Thank you Sergeant, but it's none of my doing; the General did it so I have to follow orders like everyone else."
"I can understand that Sir; but just be ready for them is all I say."
"Thank you I will try to keep my nose clean around them."
"They may not give you the chance Sir; many of those Officers paid good money for their commissions and they think it is a liberty for someone from the ranks to get it for free."
"Well there's nothing I can do about that Sergeant; I'll just stay out of their way as long as they stay out of mine."
"If I may say so one more time Sir. It is normal for new young Officers to be invited to the mess one evening so they can be introduced. If you get an invitation I would be inclined to carry some coin with you. The officers will expect you to pay the mess bill for drinks. Now begging your pardon Sir, but some of them Officers are more fish than man when it comes to the drink; if you get what I mean; Sir."
"Again my thanks Sergeant. Now I'm told I have some new recruits to find; I will need some new stores for them as well, do you mind if I take a look around your stores?"
"You are an Officer now you go right ahead and look all you want. If you have some idea of what you will want for your new recruits I could perhaps start to get it ready?"
Thomas was glad of the Sergeants help as he related the needs he would have for the new boys. As he walked through the large stores tents, he saw something that struck a chord in his mind. Stacked to one side of a tent were large wooden boxes. The top box was open and Thomas stopped to look inside; what he saw made him smile as he turned to the Sergeant.
"Sergeant those boxes of new muskets; I see they are wrapped in a waxy paper."
"Aye Sir; the paper is to stop the rust from getting on the barrels. Mind you the damn paper is a nuisance; have to burn it once the muskets are issued out; no damn use for it seems a waste to me though."
"If I could make use of it, would you have it collected for me?"
"Well there is a lot of it and we was going to have a fire tonight; we just unpacked four hundred muskets this morning. You're welcome to it if that's what you want."
"Thank you again Sergeant; I'll take everything you have and can you keep it aside until I have a wagon for it?"
"Yes Sir, I'll have the men pack it in bundles to make it easier to handle. May I ask why you want it Sir?"
"It is something we are trying out for loading our muskets. There is one more thing Sergeant."
"Those large black belts with the pouch on the front; what are they?"
"Those Sir; well they are bandoliers for the 7th Hussars cavalry Sir. They keep their powder and shot for their pistols in them. Why do you ask, Sir?"
"They would be just what we have been looking for. Do you have about one hundred and twenty to spare?"
"Now that Sir I am afraid I cannot do. See those are all for the Cavalry and you can well imagine what they would do if they saw someone else wearing them; what with their own badge being affixed on the front of the pouch."
"Oh well it was just a thought I will have to look for something else then."
"Is it real important to you Sir?"
"It would make our work just that much easier Sergeant."
"Well Sir it has just come to mind that there were some discrepancies in their delivery now I come to think on it. Seems two crates were lost when the ship docked; perhaps they got missed in the loading. Some one hundred and twenty if my memory serves me right. Still they would be no good for anyone, the badges would give them away were they to be used."
Thomas almost laughed at the twinkle in the Sergeants eyes as he replied.
"Well Sergeant perhaps I should keep my eyes open in case they turn up; I suppose it would not take much for the badges to fall off if you were not careful?"
"You may have the right of it Sir; I will keep my own eyes open for them as well. Now Sir how will you be wanting to move your equipment?"
"I have my mules with me but with the new recruits I would need another two wagons; there is powder and shot to collect from the armoury yet."
"Well Sir I did hear tell of a couple of wagons laying around the infirmary that were not in use; perhaps they will fill your needs."
"Thank you again Sergeant I will look into it. Now the last thing is for the new recruits; I will need to outfit them before we leave for our camp, will tomorrow morning be a good time for you Sergeant?"
"We'll be ready and waiting Sir; just bring the scoundrels over and we will get them kitted to your satisfaction."
"Thank you again Sergeant I will see you tomorrow morning."
Thomas left the friendly Quartermaster to his stores and; accompanied by his patiently waiting Cadets went to find the new recruits that were somewhere in the large camp.
It was as he was looking for the recruits that he decided to send Pablo back to Vimeiro for the others and so sent Estaban with the message back to the small house they were using. A meeting place was arranged where he would meet up with them all at Guarda and they would then decide where they would go to make a new camp.
The recruits were found in a field just outside the town; Thomas was not impressed at first sight of the temporary camp. The recruits were sitting around with nothing to do and their tents were placed in a haphazard way with little order to them.
As he approached a group of four drummers that seemed to be friends; he heard the strong lilt of the welsh coming from their throats. The boys were large for their age and had a toughness about them. One of the four looked up as Thomas drew nearer.
The boy suddenly showed a look of recognition as Thomas was almost upon them; jumping to his feet his welsh lilt echoed through the camp of drummers.
"It's him boys; I told you he would be coming; get out here and form ranks you bloody heathens."
Thomas was taken aback by the sudden flurry of activity; it seemed this Welsh boy had the confidence of the others as they ran to form ranks.
"Sergeant Major Marking, we've been waiting for you; what do you want us to do now?"
"First, what is your name Drummer?"
"Volunteer Drummer Trent Sergeant Major. We are all volunteers Sergeant Major; well except for those Jack Tars over yonder. When we saw all the news about you in the papers some months ago we all volunteered to come here; we hoped to be put with you and the others so we can fight and not just beat these confounded drums all the time."
"Well it's fighting you'll get if I take you with me Volunteer Trent. Now first thing; you seem to have the other's respect, as of this moment you are promoted to acting Corporal. I want you to take these others to the armoury and wait for me there. You can leave your drums in your tents for now."
"Yes Sergeant Major. Alright you lot; you heard the Sergeant Major. In columns of three, quick march."
As the recruits began to march out of the small camp; Thomas pulled Trent to the side for a moment.
"Corporal it's actually Lieutenant now, I just haven't had time to change. Now make sure you hold those recruits in order until I get there."
"Yes Sir, Mister Marking they'll be waiting in order Sir."
The new Corporal saluted as he would any Officer and followed his recruits towards the armoury. Thomas turned towards the separated tents of the navy personnel. There were fifteen young teens and boys waiting in a group for him to arrive. It was easy to pick out those of rank and those without.
While Thomas had no knowledge of the Navy or its ways he was astute enough to realise what he knew and what he did not know; it was time to learn something new.
When he came up to the group one of them, a teen of about fifteen; called for the others to form rank for inspection. Thomas watched as they all lined up; it was now easier to see who was senior to whom.
The first six boys all wore waist length blue jackets over white shirts with white knee length trousers and white hose. Their footwear was a pair of black low shoes with a brass buckle on the toe. On the teens heads they wore a round black hat made of stiff leather that had a dark blue ribbon attached; each of them wore a cutlass at their side and a single pistol on their wide black leather belts.
Next to them were six boys who wore a blue and white striped jerkin; their hat was made from a fine cane with the same ribbon as the others. Their trousers were made from a heavy canvas and were cut off at the knee; their shoes were also black but only had a tin buckle; their weapons were the same as the first six but not of the same high quality.
The last four were only young boys; perhaps no more than ten or eleven years old. They wore a stocking cap; white shirt and the same white knee length trousers; they were also bare footed and carried only a small knife on their rope belt.
Thomas stopped in front of the one that looked to be the senior of the teens.
"I'm Lieutenant Marking; I didn't know we were having any Navy personnel here."
Thomas saw the teen looking him up and down; again he had forgotten he was still wearing his old uniform.
"I'm sorry; I just got my promotion and haven't had time to change."
"Oh I see, very well Sir; I'm Midshipman Scully. From what I have heard Sir; your General asked the Admiral for volunteers to man the guns for you; we have all volunteered from different ships. If you would like to meet them all Sir?"
Thomas nodded and went down the line with the Midshipman as he introduced the others. Thomas found out that he was now in charge of six Midshipmen; six Gunners Mates and four powder monkeys as the smaller and younger boys were called on the ships.
"I see Mister Scully that you have the men but I don't have enough guns for you; I have only two small cannon and I think you may have too many men for those."
"Don't worry about that Mister Marking Sir, we brought our own guns; they are stored in those two ox wagons behind the tents."
Thomas looked behind the line of tents and saw two wagons standing with thick canvas covers stretched over them; nearby were four large oxen grazing.
It looked as though he was now in for a real war with all the new recruits and weapons he was being given; he hoped he would be able to live up to what the General wanted him to do. The weight on Thomas's shoulders just seemed to get heavier.
Thomas looked at the fresh faces of the Navy boys; he wondered if they really knew what they were getting into. It would not be like being on one of their great ships and they would need good land legs to keep up with his boys. Another thought crossed his mind; they would have to get rid of the oxen as they would be far too slow for Thomas's style of movements. It was just one more thing he would have to tend to.
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