While the realisation that his parents were now so close and the pleasure of meeting his new brother for the first time; Thomas felt a little better settled. Thomas still had his duties and the thought of what had to yet be done to get his new recruits ready for the Peninsular now had to take first place in his mind.
For Thomas it was still comforting to know his parents were so close and it gave him a new strength that drove him onward. The days were getting so short that part of their training was done almost in the dark; either of the morning or early evening. The cargo left in the hands of Peter Morgan were sold and the items he wanted to keep were carried out to him by wagon; he was surprised at the sum of money he got from the selling off of his goods. It would all be a good surprise for his family.
As Christmas day rolled around, which Thomas almost forgot about until reminded by Carmelo; there was a new sense of pride in the many street boys and men, they were becoming a tight knit group as they watched over and worked closely with each other.
Equipment was still high on Thomas's list of things to do. He had his new muskets and pistols now being made under the sharp eyes of James Purdy and Westley Richards and he had found the knife makers in Sheffield who were also now busy with their order of new blades with horn handles. The Master Gunner Croxley was a force to be reckoned with. It was not unusual for Thomas to watch as the Master Gunner had every man or boy roped to the ten guns and pulling them by hand through the snow to the top of the slight rise behind the barn.
Everyone was becoming harder and tougher as the constant training regime continued unabated. Even at the end of the day they were not allowed to rest as there was then two hours of language training after they had eaten and before they could go to their beds. Even Thomas had to admit to himself he was pushing them all very hard but the spectre of his lost friends at Talavera only went to spur him onward. Thomas wanted to give these new recruits the best chance he could to walk away from any fight they got into with the French.
It was a surprise for Thomas to awaken to the fact it was Christmas day. The usual aches and pains made his body seem as though it had been stretched in all the wrong places but his morning Cafe; now strengthened with a little extra brandy, soon had him out of his warm bed to the smell of freshly baked bread and other goods. It had been Sergio, along with the help of Snot that had found one of the kitchen hands was the son of a baker; he was quickly put to work in helping to prepare a special Christmas dinner.
Thomas suddenly remembered he had his parents close by and so sent a message with one of the young teens for them to join him for this special occasion. The feasting began just after the middle of the day and, even though there was a heavy snow fall outside, the large cottage was as warm and comfortable as a family could make it.
In the barns there was also a fine celebration going on as more hot food than any of the new recruits had ever seen was laid on long tables for them to enjoy. Today there would be no training and it was not long before songs began to break out from the barn as everyone got into the spirit of the day.
Thomas had now finally found a use for part of his loot from the ship; he presented his mother with a full set of fine cutlery and a full setting of the good china service, their table would look a treat and Thomas was proud of the fact he had finally been able to do something for them. For his father, Thomas gave over the twenty four bottles of French wine and a cask of brandy, his father could only look and smile as he watched his boy become a man.
Once the festivities had been done, Thomas had his recruits back at training. All conversations were now held in Spanish as the recruits became more familiar with the language; those who were a little slow were helped along by their friends. It was the third week of January and close to Thomas's thirteenth birthday when he saw two large wagons forcing their way through the ankle deep snow of the lane.
Sitting high on the front wagon was the bundled up figure of James Purdy. Thomas sighed as he realised this was to be the first delivery of his weapons, the recruits could now start to train for real, although Thomas could not understand why James himself had come with the delivery.
Thomas was smiling as James jumped from the wagon and reached out his hand to shake in greeting.
"What brings you here James?" Thomas asked his new friend.
"We had to make some changes to the muskets so I thought I would come along with the first delivery to explain it to you."
"Then we had better get inside out of this wind so you can explain it for me. How many pieces do you have with you?"
"I've brought one hundred muskets and two hundred pistols but, next time there will be more. It has taken some time for the two of us to work out the error with the muskets."
Thomas led James inside the cottage where there was soon a hot drink ready for him and his guest. As the two sat at the table with Carmelo watching closely nearby, James began to explain the problem with the musket and why they could not use the same system of hammers and pins for firing the muskets.
"It was an error we should have seen at the beginning. The poor man who was the first to test the new musket nearly lost an eye. As you now well know, with the pistol it is fired usually from arms length so the discharge from the powder in the pan does not affect the shooter. However, when you look at a musket it is held close to the face for aiming and firing so the system does not work. When the charge is fired, the resulting shot sends burnt powder and smoke directly into the shooters eyes and face. To counter this we had to return to placing the two hammers back on each side. There is one advantage that has come from it though; you can now cock both barrels before firing but charging the pan is slower than with the pin fire."
"But the muskets work with both barrels?"
"Oh yes and we have redesigned them as well. Knowing that you have a large number of smaller boys and teens, we have cut some barrels to twenty four inches and others are now thirty inches. We have also redesigned the muskets to be lighter by making a thin metal frame work inside the stock and then covering it with thinner lathes of wood with a brass plate at the end. Under the barrels there is now a shorter wooden stock and we have made the bore smaller but the chamber end of the barrel thicker to take double loads. The balls we also have changed, they are no longer just round balls but are shaped like the tip of your finger. The new design seems to give added accuracy and a little more distance. The barrels we designed after your Portuguese rifle, instead of the normal straight tube we have used the same octagonal steel, it gives it more strength and should be less inclined to blow up in the shooters face like the old muskets."
"That all sound great and I can't wait to try them out. What of the pistols?"
"We kept the same design so it was easier to set up the foundry to produce them, that's why you have two hundred of them. The foundry Master hired more than a hundred extra workers to produce your needs as fast as he could so you should have your full order by the middle of February, I hope that is soon enough for you; I know you wanted them sooner but the muskets caused us some delay as I told you."
"I will have to ask Mister Percy if our departure can be delayed a little. I have no idea what the situation in Portugal is at the moment."
"Oh I can tell you a little from the newspaper reports I have seen."
"Well the Spanish army under General Cuesta was crushed at both Ocana and later at Alba de Tormes. Viscount Wellington is building a great defensive system at a place called Torres Verdras in the hope of slowing the French and stopping them from going into Lisbon. I have heard there will be little action for some time as the French are having a great deal of trouble from rebels in the country side and are yet to replace the troops lost at Talavera."
"That indeed is good news; if I can get in contact with Mister Percy then I should be able to stay for a little longer. Are you sure I can have all of my weapons by mid February, I don't want to wait after that, I have other troops waiting in Portugal for me to return?"
"I will assure you Thomas; you will have all your weapons by the second week of February, even if I have to make each one by myself."
"Thank you James, well I better go and find some men to unload those wagons. By the way, I don't suppose you know a good boot maker by any chance?"
"Well there is my own boot maker. What were you wanting? Your boots look fine to me."
"Well mine are a little tight, I think they have shrunk with all the snow and being wet a lot but, it was for my recruits. The boots they are wearing now are just plain cavalry boots; I need someone to make boots the way ours are made."
"Yours look no different than those I have seen on your recruits."
"They are very different. In the toe is a steel plate as there is on the heel and each boot has a blade hidden in it. They are what we wear for fighting in Portugal and I would like the same for these new troops so you would be looking at a boot maker that could produce two hundred and twenty pairs in the time remaining and of a quality that will suit our needs."
"Well I can think of one maker in Campden; he produces good solid boots for many uses and has the staff to make the numbers you need in a hurry but you would have to go and see him for yourself. I will send his address out as soon as I return to the city, how will that do you?"
"Thank you James that will be good. Well time to get the recruits working and unload those muskets."
It took a full hour before the two wagons were unloaded, while there were not enough muskets for each recruit to have one; there were plenty of pistols so at least every man was armed in one fashion or another.
As there were only twenty of the short barrelled muskets, Thomas could only arm a few younger boys, with the longer barrels he had nearly half of his footmen armed. The Master Gunner, now Corporal Croxley, was happy to have his gunner trainees carry just a pistol for now. Thomas's order of special knives were due to arrive on the last week of January; he hoped they would be up to the standard of the fine Toledo ones his Originals carried.
As promised by James Purdy, Thomas received and then sent off a message to the boot-maker. He was only twenty miles away and Thomas knew he would have to take every recruit there for a fitting if the man agreed to make the new boots in time.
It was to be three days before Thomas got a reply in the positive from the boot-maker; he would set out the very next day on a forced march with all his recruits to be fitted and measured. Thomas's thirteenth birthday was a very subdued affair with only his closest friends and family there for the lavish dinner at the large cottage. The only surprise guest was none other than Mister Percy. Mister Percy arrived late in the afternoon in his unmarked black coach; he not only carried news and orders but also a small gift for the newly turned teenager.
As the small group sat at the table, Thomas groaned a little as he also sat, it did not go un-noticed by the adults present. With a faint smile on his thin lips; Mister Percy asked.
"What is it Thomas, are you feeling your age already?"
"I'm not sure Mister Percy; it just seems that every bone in my body aches these days. I thought it might be because of the winter weather as Portugal was so much warmer but it happens even when trying to sleep."
Mister Percy smiled as he looked across the table at Cromwell then said with apparent amusement in his voice.
"This Mister Marking I think is a father's job and best not left to outsiders."
Cromwell looked at Thomas and then smiled at Mister Percy; after giving the rotund man a short nod he turned to Thomas.
"Well Lad, you are growing up. It's the time when a boy starts changing into a man. Have you noticed your clothes are too small or too tight? If so then it is the sign of what is called by many as 'Puberty' the time when a boy becomes a man. That's what is happening to you now but, have no fear, it only last for two or three years."
Cromwell chuckled at the startled look on his son's face at this piece of news. Was he now going to have feet that did not want to work as they should when he needs them the most for the battles ahead? The thought did not do Thomas's confidence any good at all. Cromwell continued while his good wife tried to not hear what was going on and concentrated on the small child in her arms.
"There will be other changes as well but it would not be proper to discuss them in front of your mother but I'm sure you will know what I am saying if you think about it. Now then, look at this fine table, let's celebrate your coming of age and no more mans talk while we have a lady at table."
As the small party finished their fine meal and sat sipping some of the rich red wine from Oporto, Mister Percy took up his small parcel from where he had placed it with his cloak. Mister Percy smiled at Thomas and then said.
"This is a small gift from someone you know; he asks that you carry it with you wherever you go so as to remember him."
Mister Percy gave the small paper wrapped parcel to Thomas and watched as the newly turned thirteen year old opened it and looked at its contents. Thomas looked up in wonder at the smiling face of Mister Percy. Sitting in Thomas's hand was an Officer's swagger stick. It was made from a single piece of heavy black wood and at one end was a sharp looking brass point, the other was even more of a surprise for Thomas; it was a silver slave head with two red gem stone eyes; just as he had seen the other three men carry on their canes.
"It's from a certain elderly gentleman that resides at the Kings Gate; he said you deserved it because of your gentle nature and honest endeavours. I am sure you know who I mean. There is one thing about that that you should know. If at any time you are in a port with English shipping at anchor and find yourself in need of assistance, make sure you carry that with you. There are those who will know what to do to help you."
Thomas looked at the black swagger stick with the unusual silver top; he could not quite understand why the old man Henry would give him such a thing but, as a special gift Thomas determined to carry it with him at all times in the memory of the nice elderly sailor.
"Now Thomas." Continued Mister Percy. "I have new orders for you. There has been a little delay in preparing the ship that will take you and your recruits back to Portugal. It seems you will not be able to sail before the first week of March. I know the delay may upset some of your plans but it is the best the Admiralty can do with a war on. Your stores and other equipment are being gathered now and will be in the warehouse ready for loading as soon as the ship leaves the dry docks. You will be accompanied by ten other ships taking reinforcements and supplies to the Peninsular for Viscount Wellington. I sincerely hope you do not mind the delay."
"No mister Percy, in fact it serves my purposes very well as I was going to ask if we could set back the departure date a few weeks as it was."
"Then it has worked out for the best. Is there anything else you may need before I take my leave?"
"Yes Mister Percy, what is the name of the ship so I can find it when we get to the dock?"
"Oh I'm sure you will recognise it when you see it. Let's say it is a little surprise for you. Now then if there is nothing more, I need to get back to London, there are things afoot that I need to attend to. Oh, Thomas, one more thing before I forget. Could you send one of your servants to my coach, if he asks my coachman he will be given something for you; just another little surprise for your birthday."
Snot arrived back carrying a small chest just as Mister Percy called for his coach to leave. When Thomas opened the small wooden chest, he saw inside a number of small leather bags and a roll of parchment; it did not take long for him to find out the bags contained his money paid in full from the duel and the parchment was a well written apology from Captain Selwynn. Although it was short and a little terse, it was however a full apology for the Captain's actions. Thomas was never told that the good Captain was transferred to the battle front in Portugal within a day of writing the apology.
With the small celebrations over and the new day dawning bright and clear for a change; Thomas formed up his entire force and took them on a long march to the small city where the boot-maker was in practice. With the promise of putting on extra workers, the boot-maker said he would have all the boots finished to Thomas's satisfaction by the end of February, including the extra stitching inside the right hand boot top for the soon to be delivered knives.
Training continued unabated as the first rains of spring began to turn every field and road into a quagmire. Thomas began to think that his return to the drier lands of Portugal could not come soon enough. He had made it a practice to have Sunday dinner, along with Carmelo, with his parents; he knew that soon he would be gone again and he wanted to have as many fond memories as he could when he once again looked into the eyes of the French.
It had become a mantra when all the recruits were finally armed with the new muskets and pistols. The training had taken on a different turn than what would have been in the normal army. It soon kept the black crows at bay when two hundred and twenty recruits called out loudly in Spanish as they dry loaded their new weapons.
"Bite, pour, spit, thump, aim and fire."
The instructions were repeated time and again until each recruit could reload his musket in his sleep. When they finally came to firing live, the country side echoed with the mantra in Spanish and the practice range sounded like a war was being fought right on the doors of London Town. It was only a matter of days and the recruits were firing volleys at six rounds per minute even with having to load two barrels instead of one.
It was the 2nd of March when he got the final orders that the ship was ready; everything he had asked for was now being loaded onto the ships and all he had to do was get his men there in time to board. There was only one thing that the new recruits did not have and Thomas had decided they would not receive it until they arrived at Vimeiro and their hidden camp. The red and gold sash to his mind was the symbol of El Toro's army and would not be given to any man unless he was on Portuguese soil and ready to fight in the war.
At home only those who had come with Thomas from the Peninsular still wore the sash, they were the Originals and he wanted to keep it that way. To wear the colours that had become so important to his small band, one had to earn them.
The final day at the estate was spent cleaning the barns and cottage; he was not going to leave a mess for others to clean up. When the recruits were assembled early the next morning, they were wearing their old boots; the special ones were tied tightly onto the top of their black leather packs with the drummers having their drums tied to the back as they had been shown.
In the early hours of the morning they were to leave, a contingent of artillery troopers arrived to take back the loaned guns; for Croxley it was a welcome relief that he did not have to watch over them through the journey on the mud laden roads.
Their old boots were best used as the roads were a sea of mud and they could, if the recruits wanted to, be left behind when they boarded ship and were wearing their new boots. Each recruit was now armed with their new muskets and their pistols were now carried in a similar style as Thomas now wore his. The making of the harness for the pistols had also fallen to the boot-maker and a good supply was added for those waiting at Vimeiro. The extra work on the harnesses as an added income for having the boots ready on time.
With everyone at the ready, Thomas, Carmelo and the other Originals led the way out of the estate; it was noticed by all that Thomas's parents were standing by the road side to see them all off to war once again.
It was late afternoon when the small army arrived back at the barracks of the 33rd , they were however a much more cohesive unit than the one that had left more than two months ago and were immediately noticed by the other new recruits who were in training at the barracks.
The black uniforms stood out amongst the red coated men of the barracks and, although Thomas's recruits were now wearing the small round pillbox hat, they would soon be replaced once in Portugal with the more commonly worn flat crowed Spanish hat. Just after dinner that evening Thomas received a message from Mister Percy; it said he would meet them on the docks at the Admiralty Wharf at 10 of the clock for boarding. Thomas still did not know which ships his men would be on, only that they were refits and he would know them when he saw them.
The next morning dawned overcast as though it was a forewarning of what was waiting in Portugal. They had been in barracks for two days while they waited for word on their boarding date but now the day had arrived; Thomas was thankful to be returning to Portugal and his many friends.
It was later talked about by the people of London as the day that thunder arrived in the streets of the city. Thomas had formed his recruits up in four platoons with a senior NCO at their head. Thomas, along with Carmelo stood at the head of the four full platoons with the two boys Sergio and Carlito beside them. Next in line was one of the colour guard but with the colours furled and covered.
The other members of the colour guard took a place at the centre between the four platoons along with the younger drummers although the drummers had their drums tied to their black leather packs. At the rear came the newly promoted Corporal Croxley and his gunners along with the boys who had been detailed for kitchen duties even though those same boys still had to train and carry arms like any of the others.
The difference in uniforms was noticed by some of the early risers that had come to see the troops leave for the Peninsular. Twelve of the men and boys wore flat crowned black hats, red and gold sashes and their trousers were flared at the bottoms and outside their black shiny boots, they also wore on their chests a single black leather bandolier with a small square leather box attached.
The rest of the troops also wore black but they had small pill box hats with red and gold braid around the base. Their trousers were tucked into the top of their shiny black boots and the horn handle of a large knife would be seen protruding from the right hand boot. Every man wore a black leather pack and had a strange looking double barrelled musket on their shoulder like everyone carried. Across the chest of each trooper were two black leather bandoliers which had the same leather boxes attached and a number of younger boys carried a drum strapped to the back of the pack.
What really confused the onlookers were the mode of orders, everything was in a foreign language that no one could understand; had it not been for some of the watchers recognising a few of the new recruits they would have thought the men were all foreign.
Thomas called the troops to attention; there was a loud crashing of steel heeled boots on the stone roadway. Thomas called for the troops to move out at the march, the steel heeled boots resounded through the early morning silence as the two hundred and twenty men and boys stepped out all in unison.
Once the Company was clear of the gates of the 33rd barracks; Thomas called out for the next part of his little plan to make sure those in London knew who his men were; his voice now breaking made it difficult at times to sound like an Officer but he tried his best as he called in Spanish while the men marched in perfect step.
"TROOPS WILL TRAIL ARMS; DOUBLE TIME; MARCH."
The growing crowd watched in awe as two hundred and twenty men and boys slipped the strange muskets from their shoulders and held them at the trail as they also increased the pace to double time and in perfect unison. The steel heels sounded so loud on the stone paved streets that some though it was a thunderstorm until they got sight of the four platoons of black clad soldiers in perfect order moving towards the Admiralty Docks.
As they moved at the double through the streets, Thomas saw many young men and boys wearing what looked like used but good conditioned black boots; his recruits had found a use for their old boots after all.
As they double timed onto the docks, Thomas could hear the cheers of many of the men working there, they had friends among those troopers and others even had sons now dressed in black and heading off to war.
Like Mister Percy had said, it did not take Thomas much to recognise their ship although it had changed a lot since he had last seen it but the figure standing at the head of the gangway was instantly recognisable. Dressed in a freshly tailored uniform, the newly promoted Second Lieutenant Scully was smiling as he turned to a man beside him.
"Bosun you will pipe the Patron aboard if you please."
"Sir" the Bosun said as he put his whistle to his mouth and began to blow the notes to welcome the new arrivals.
Thomas looked at the ship; he almost did not recognise the old Portuguese merchantman. It had been altered and almost rebuilt into a better and larger ship; not only was it newly painted but it was better armed and now sported two large masts with a square sail rig. There were other additions as well. The ship now had two ten pound stern chasers and the same at the bow. The poop deck had been lowered from the normal high Portuguese one and there were nine gun ports along each side. The main feature that caught Thomas's eye was the ship seemed to be longer than he remembered it from before; it was one more thing he would have to ask his friend Scully about.
"Welcome aboard the HMS Bull Fighter Captain Marking. I should mention that you are now standing on top of a seagoing bomb just in case you wish to change ships."
Scully was smiling as he told Thomas this latest piece of news
Once on the deck, Thomas looked around after he saluted and then clasped hands as he greeted his old friend Scully. Orders were soon given that half the troops would board the next ship in line while the others would stay on this one.
Scully and the men that had been in Portugal with him were the only ones to be sporting the red and gold sash; as much as it was against Navy regulations. The rest of the crew were also not dressed like other Jack Tars, instead of the usual blue striped jersey, the crew of the ship wore jerseys with red stripes and the same white canvas knee length trousers.
The crew had been all lined up along the gunnels to welcome their guests aboard. With the formalities quickly over, Scully invited Thomas and his friends to his cabin while the rest of the men were boarded in readiness to catch the high tide in one hour. With over one hundred extra bodies being put on board it would be a tight squeeze for the six or seven days it would take to make Lisbon but there was little else they could do.
Thomas, Carmelo, Sergio and Carlito followed Scully to the Captain's Cabin at the stern as the sound of booted feet rattled on the decks above as the men found a place to stay for their journey. It had not gone unnoticed that the newly arrived Captain of the troops was carrying a black swagger stick with a silver slave head and it became a talking point later in the men's mess.
Once the friends were seated around the Captains table, Thomas asked Scully about the ship; it did not go unnoticed by Scully that Thomas was carrying a black swagger stick and what it meant.
"So my friend, what have they done to this ship? It looks like a totally different beast."
"Well Thomas, you may not believe it but they cut it in half and added length. She came out of the dock only last week and so far she has proved to be a good ship. With the new masts and rigging we can now make almost eight knots, still not a speedster but well enough to be able to fight her and I now have eighteen guns to use as well as my two stern chaser and two bow chasers. Any Frenchy that wants to tussle with us will get more of a surprise than he might think."
"Cut her in half? How the devil did they do that?"
"Like I said, they stripped the old poop deck and then literally cut her in two and then added fifteen feet to the centre. The Admiralty had over four hundred men swarming over her to get her done in time for this sailing. After they had given her more length they stepped two new masts and square rigged her. Her hold just now has all your powder and shot along with some cases of muskets and pistols, that's all we are carrying. I really don't know why you need so much powder but I would rather not ask knowing you and your penchant for getting into French trouble. All your other supplies are on the other ship; we will be joining the convoy outside the heads and then making for Lisbon. I have set aside the Junior Officers cabin for your use; its right next to this one, I hope you can all fit inside it."
"We'll be fine. Is there anything we should know before you leave the dock?"
"No we have it all under control, my orders are to get you and your men safely to Lisbon and then carry on with the supply runs; Viscount Wellington is waiting for reinforcements and supplies so we have this little convoy system that will sail back and forth until we can free up a port on the French coast once he moves to the attack in the north."
"It sounds like you have found your place. How did you manage to get the ship named the Bull Fighter?"
"Funny that, I think your Mister Percy might have had something to do with it, the fact you helped to hold her when those French crewmen tried to take her back had a little to do with it. When she came out of the dock, the Admiralty said I could rename her if I wanted too. The old Captain sold her to the Navy on condition they would see him and his son get back to Portugal safely. The old man said he would rather not go to sea until the French had been taken care of so he sold her to us."
From above their heads came the call for Scully to go on deck as they slipped their moorings and prepared to sail with the high tide. Thomas and his friends stayed where they were so they were out of the sailor's way as the rebuilt ship began to make way through the port closely followed by the other ship; it was a matter of only an hour before they rode through the heads and joined up with the other ten ships waiting to get underway for Portugal.
Over the next few days, Thomas found that Scully had been correct; while the ship was still wide bellied, the extra length and added sails had her running well and most of the roll it had shown on his first voyage had been eliminated. The ship carved its way through the slightly heavy seas like a new born, the crew looked to be well trained and there seemed to be a happy feeling about the ship as the crew went about their duties.
It took just six days to make sight of Lisbon, they were lucky as it looked as though a large storm was brewing just as they made the sighting. Once at the docks in Lisbon, Thomas shook hands with his good friend as he prepared to step ashore; had he known it would be the last time he would see the energetic Scully, he may have taken more time or even had dinner with the young man. It took the best part of a week to unload the line of ten ships but Thomas was happy to be back on what he thought of as his second homeland.
Being as it was now mid March 1810, the weather in Portugal was almost like the summer he remembered before going home. The weather had changed drastically in the time he had been away. It was soon noticeable that the new heat and humidity had caught his new recruits by surprise and so he spent time getting them accustomed to their new surroundings with early morning marches with full packs and muskets.
When the last of his ordered supplies had been unloaded it was time for Thomas to find wagons to transport them all the way to Vimeiro where his old friends were waiting for his return so they could strike at the French once again. It did not surprise Thomas to get an order to meet with the Viscount only days after arriving back in the country.
It was soon discovered that the Viscount now had a large hacienda set aside as his headquarters just outside Lisbon. The construction of his defences required him to be close to where he could recruit men for the construction and also close to his supply lines.
Thomas and Carmelo dressed in their best uniforms which Thomas soon found to be far too tight and short but he had little time to make changes; even his boots were now pinching his toes. Carmelo looked at his Patron as he tried to squeeze into his ill fitting clothes; with a smile he said to Thomas.
"Patron, it is time for new clothes, tomorrow we will go and find a good tailor or the people will think the Patron cannot afford clothes and will feel deep pity for him."
Thomas looked at the smile on his friends face and just nodded as he tried to force his trousers to button properly; his friend was right again, he needed new clothes or he would die from lack of breath.
The two boys hired a small carriage to take them to headquarters as the distance was a little more than he wanted to march in the ill fitting clothes. As always when in Portugal, Thomas and Carmelo went fully armed; they did not concern themselves that the other Officer's of the army went without weapons when so far behind the lines; for Thomas and Carmelo it was habitual and they did not want to start getting sloppy now they were so close to the front lines and the French.
On their arrival at the large hacienda, Thomas was taken aback by the sheer number of Officers walking around, it did not go unnoticed that many were looking sharply at the two very young and fully armed Officers that dismounted from the carriage. As was their way, Thomas and Carmelo ignored the looks sent their way as they walked towards the wide steps leading up to the house.
It did not take long for Colonel Lewis to make himself known and then lead the two boys to the rear of the house where the Viscount had his main office. Thomas and Carmelo were quickly admitted to the office where they saw the Viscount attending to the business of war. After giving a smart salute the two boys were shown to hard backed chairs in front of the wide desk. The Viscount looked up and then gave the faintest of smiles at the arrival of his special young Officers.
"Well Captain Marking, it's good to see you are still in one piece and you have made it back to us. You are just in time to make the French lives miserable. Mister Grey has been giving the French a very hard time and I hope you can continue along that same vein. How long will it take you to get your new forces to Vimeiro and then into action?"
"I have yet to find enough wagons for my supplies My Lord but I think we can make it in a week."
"See Colonel Lewis, he will requisition any wagons you may need. Now the next thing, you have under your command over five hundred men and drummers, you will need more Officers to carry the load for you. Who do you have of Officer rank now?"
"Apart from myself My Lord, there is Lieutenant Grey and Lieutenant Colosio."
"Then you are going to need more Officers, I have one that can join your force but he has little or no experience, you will have to take him in hand. He has previously held higher rank but is now a Lieutenant and needs a lot more time in battle but he is all I can spare. You have your orders to promote those you want to so make use of it when you get back to Vimeiro. I would suggest you make a Lieutenant for each Company as well as a Sergeant and a couple of Corporals so with eight platoons you will need to enlarge your Officer and NCO Corps."
"Yes My Lord. My Lord, may I ask who the new Officer is that you recommend?"
"Certainly Captain, I understand from reports you have already met, it is Lieutenant Selwynn, he was once a Captain like yourself but he made the mistake of creating a situation he was unfit to control and so was dropped a rank and sent out here; I do hope you can make a man of him Captain."
The wry smile on the Viscount's face told Thomas he was quite enjoying the new situation his young Officer was now in.
"Yes My Lord, I will try to do my best."
"I'm sure your best will be good enough Captain. Now then, is there anything else before I give you your last orders?"
"It was only the wagons, My Lord."
"Good, Colonel Lewis will see to those for you. Now then I want you to have your men out in the country side, it is imperative that you cause as much trouble behind the French lines as you can and as far north and east as you can do safely and without getting yourself killed in the process. My army is almost finished with building the defensive line but; unless we can keep the French worrying about their rear, they will be able to use their larger numbers to break through. Captain, I am relying on you to not let that happen. Your orders are the same as those I gave Colonel Grey; the gloves are off, you may use any means you deem fitting to pull the French troop's way from my lines."
"Yes My Lord, we will try our best."
"Good, then there is little else to say Captain; good luck and may the lord watch over you."
"Thank you My Lord."
Thomas and Carmelo stood, saluted and left the large office accompanied my Colonel Lewis; it was another hour before the two boys were back with their men and trying to rest after the long days at sea and the hurried meeting with the Viscount.
The following morning saw the new recruits paraded in front of the tent line. Thomas and Carmelo were going along the lines and checking each recruits kit to make sure they were ready to travel.
As the two young Officers returned to the front of the ranks, Carmelo nudged Thomas and looked to his left. Thomas turned around and instantly recognised the figure striding towards them. Lieutenant Selwynn had finally arrived at the camp; the look on his face was not a happy one, especially when he saw whom he had been assigned to. His orders from the Viscount had only been that he would be assigned to a company behind the lines; he was not told nor understood it would be behind the French lines. Lieutenant Selwynn was not a happy man as he saw his young nemesis standing at the front of rough looking ranks of men and boys.
Once he was standing in front of Thomas and with the bare minimum of correctness. Lieutenant Selwynn saluted Thomas as the Senior Officer and then began to make his demands; after all, this boy was not a real Officer and Selwynn had been a full Captain himself.
"Lieutenant Selwynn reporting for duty...Sir. I will need some men to bring in my baggage and stow it safely for travel...Captain."
The obvious sound of his superiority flowed from Selwynn's mouth as though he was still in command of the situation. Thomas looked up at the onetime Captain, he was actually surprised he did not have to look as high as he thought he would and found he was almost as tall as many of the others around him. The first realisation that he was growing was now evident; Thomas straightened up and glared at the older Officer before saying in as stern a voice as he could manage.
"Lieutenant, it is not the duty of these men to look after your wants; if you have baggage then I suggest you look to it yourself, you may make use of one of the wagons after it has been loaded. Also Lieutenant, you are out of uniform for His Majesties Battalion of Drums and Auxiliaries. I will expect you to be properly attired at tomorrow's parade, in the mean time Lieutenant, you are dismissed to see to your personal needs; we will expect to see you at table for dinner. Dismissed Lieutenant."
Thomas could plainly see the rising anger in the man's face but there was little Selwynn could do about it, every order had been a legitimate order by a Superior Officer and he was not about to push his luck just yet, not when they were so close to the Viscounts Offices; there would be time later to settle his account with the young ranker boy from the slums.
Selwynn gave a very abrupt and perfunctory salute before turning away and leaving the parade area; he had need to finding a way to have his baggage transported and he did not want to be openly seen among rank and file by other Officers.
The next morning, Lieutenant Selwynn arrived with his Baggage in a coach; Thomas took one look at it and then said to the new Lieutenant.
"You will do best to send most of that to storage; you will have no need for most of it and it will only slow us down. The wagons will move out in one hour and we will follow an hour later, I suggest you make good use of the time."
Lieutenant Selwynn looked at his four large travelling trunks and two smaller leather cases before he replied.
"Captain, I am an English Officer, everything in those trunks is vital to my needs as an Officer."
"Then you will have to watch over it on your own Lieutenant, my men have other duties and we will be travelling fast and without rest until we are back at Vimeiro. The responsibility for your baggage is on your own shoulders. Now Lieutenant, I also distinctly said yesterday that you were to change into our uniforms. I can forgive you for dinner last night as you had little time but your evening could have been spent acquiring what was need for travel today."
"Sir, as I said, I am an English Officer, my uniform is that worn by all my fellow Officers in the forces. In all honesty and according to regulations I do not need to wear the clothing of foreigners to fight for the King and, as far as wearing one of those packs? Sir it is unbecoming of an Officer to appear as one of the rank and file."
Thomas looked at the red faced man as he blustered and demanded his rights; Thomas refrained from taking it further. The Lieutenant was carrying only a single pistol and sword and his uniform would have done any Officer proud had he been in the Officers Mess or parading around the camp for others to see. Thomas thought of the tough journey before them and hid the smile he wanted to give the Lieutenant; if this was the way Selwynn wanted it then so be it.
Thomas turned away from Selwynn and called for Carmelo to show Selwynn where to put his baggage, he could then tell the wagons to proceed and they would meet up with them along the way.
Thomas watched the wagons file out of the grounds in Lisbon; he then went to check that each soldier had his needs for the entire day and that all weapons were loaded and ready if the need arose. It was noticeable that Lieutenant Selwynn stayed well out of the way and tried to ignore all those around him.
When the time came for them to leave and follow the wagons, Lieutenant Selwynn stepped up to Thomas and asked.
"Sir, where is my horse?"
"We don't use horses for travel Lieutenant unless it is a special circumstance; this is not one of those times. We travel to Vimeiro the same way the Battalion always travels, I sincerely hope you can keep up, if not you will have a long and tiring day Lieutenant."
"Sir I must protest, an Officer is entitled to have a horse under him when travelling such distances; it is unseemly Sir for an Officer to march on foot like an ordinary soldier."
"Lieutenant, I will repeat myself one last time, if you fail to understand how our Battalion works then I would suggest you return to the Viscount and ask for some other assignment."
The sudden steel in the young boy's voice stopped Selwynn from trying to take it further; he had to keep reminding himself he was dealing with a ranker and a small child from the slums. In time he would have his chance to show this rag tag army what a real Officer was all about.
It was one hour before the middle day when Thomas called for ranks to be formed and the three day march to their home at Vimeiro began; the solid sound of steel shod boots were noticed by every man in the camp as the youngish looking soldiers dressed in their black uniforms left for parts unknown. There were hushed comments about the single Officer dressed in red but few knew much about him or why he was marching with the others.
It took less than an hour for Lieutenant Selwynn to drop back and Thomas called for Sergio and Carlito to drop back and watch out for the man. The recruits had not stopped for lunch and would continue at the usual pace of Thomas's Army until late afternoon where they would rest and eat then push on into the dark.
Thomas almost felt a smile come to his lips as he thought of the uppity Lieutenant trying to find something to eat as he had no pack to carry anything and the recruits had only enough rations for themselves during the journey.
Thomas was not surprised to see the Lieutenant arrive at the resting place just as he was going to call for the recruits to start out again. Selwynn looked totally beaten and it was not helped by the laughing chatter of the two boys trying to help him catch up.
A haggard and tired Lieutenant Selwynn collapsed on the ground near where Thomas stood. The heat of Portugal had taken its toll and the man looked to be thoroughly beaten, he was not going to be happy to find out there was no mess of tavern for him to eat and rest in and that the recruits were just about to move out again.
As Thomas looked at the new Lieutenant, he felt glad he had had the time to get his new uniforms made; he had been surprised when the tailor had told him he was now standing at five foot six inches and could expect to grow another inch or two over the next few years. Thomas still had trouble at times to make his feet go where he wanted them and the occasional stumble was met with chuckles from his closest friends.
Thomas was not a bad person and he well knew it. Looking at Selwynn he took pity and offered the beaten man a little bread and cheese with his small flask of water, he would delay their departure for a little while more and let the new Lieutenant catch his breath before continuing at the same pace even though they would be moving through the dark of night. There would be no stop until midnight and then they would be underway as soon as the sun began to rise in the morning.
When they stopped to bed down in the middle of the night where the wagons had made a small open camp, there was still no sign of Lieutenant Selwynn but Thomas did not worry; he knew his two boys would keep the man going long enough to make the camping place. Selwynn would not have the same amount of rest as the others but that was not Thomas's concern; his recruits and the need to get to Vimeiro were far more important.
The next morning, Thomas watched as his recruits refilled their water flasks and added food to their packs before sending the wagons on ahead; they would all meet up again at the assigned camp site for that days travel. Thomas noticed that Lieutenant Selwynn this time found a water flask and carried a small leather bag over his shoulder for food. The man was not going to be caught out again. The evidence of the hard days travel the previous day were still plain on Selwynn's face that morning; his gate was a little unsteady and he did not look as though he was enjoying the fresh morning air as the first faint rays of dawn broke over the hills to the east.
The second day of travel continued much like the first, with luck and fortitude Thomas would have his men within sight of Vimeiro just after midday on the morrow; once there he would then have only another few hours before making their hidden camp up on the ridge.
By the end of the second day Lieutenant Selwynn looked to be in no better shape as he staggered painfully into the night camp with Sergio and Carlito watching over him but, neither boy gave physical help. They had offered earlier in the day and been abruptly rejected and so paced along chatting happily together and ignoring the English rudeness as the man struggled with every step, his once immaculate red uniform was now looking worn and very dusty.
The camp was awoken two hours before daylight to the sound of the wagons leaving on their last day of the long journey, there would be time for the recruits to eat well and check for the last time that they had everything needed for the day. There was a new feeling in the camp as the recruits were told they were soon to be at the birthplace of the army of the Patron El Toro.
Even Thomas felt the relief at being back where he considered his second home was; the familiar feeling of the countryside around them and the knowledge he was only hours away from seeing old friends put the long hurried journey back into the recesses of his mind. Gone were the long tiring days of fast marching, gone were his embarrassed stumbles as his growing body and feet tried to trip him at every turn; Thomas was back where he belonged, if he had his way they would be after the French within the week.
Thomas called all his two Officers and the Senior NCO's to his side, even the tired and beaten looking Lieutenant Selwynn showed his face as much as he looked as though a bed would have suited him far better. Thomas, once all his men were assembled, detailed the line of march. As it was only another twenty miles he called for a halt just two miles short of the village of Vimeiro where he would reform his recruits for the march into the town.
It was noticeable that Lieutenant Selwynn did not look too happy about more walking but had little say in the matter; he felt that his day would eventually come when he could show this rag tag play army what real Officers were about.
The wagons had gone on well ahead of the main force; they would be in and through Vimeiro before Thomas brought the recruits to the town. It was an hour before midday when Thomas called for a halt to reorganize his men; of the Lieutenant there was once again no sight but Thomas now had the time to wait for him to catch up before their entry into the town.
At midday there was still no sign of Lieutenant Selwynn, in disgust Thomas sent Estaban with a spare horse to find the man and bring him in. Thomas had little time left to waste; he wanted his new recruits to be in their valley camp well before sundown.
It took only twenty minutes for Estaban to find and return the red coated Lieutenant to the others. For those close enough to see, the new Lieutenants boots were almost past use as one heel was obviously missing and the toe of the other boot was flapping as he walked. The two boys, Sergio and Carlito were still relaxed and chatting aimlessly as they trotted alongside the horse.
With his Senior men around him, Thomas began to give the orders for their entry into the town up on the ridge.
"Colour Sergeant, you will unfurl the Colours. Sergeant Major Perrin have all drummers ready to play the Della Guerra, they are to be at the head of the march with the colours just behind. Corporal Croxley will have his men at the centre and the sculleries will be at the tail. All muskets are to be carried at the trail and the pace of march will be double time. Get everyone ready, this is our home away from home and the People here have supported us even against the French. We will show the People of Vimeiro the respect they are due."
The men turned away from the meeting to get things ready; Thomas turned to Lieutenant Selwynn.
"Lieutenant I expect you to keep up; it is only two miles and we will arrive all together. You have a desire to show what an English Officer is capable of then this is your chance."
Lieutenant Selwynn felt his face fill with blood at the implied threat; did the boy not know he had set an impossible pace just to watch Selwynn fall behind and be embarrassed by a group of misfits and street urchins. Selwynn's day of revenge would certainly be sweet when the time came.
Even from a distance, Thomas could see the people of Vimeiro were ready and waiting for them; the fact the wagons had gone on ahead had warned them of his arrival was self eveident. Thomas also noticed that someone had improved the large mural of the bull that had adorned the wall of the village. It was now almost twice the size and many details had been added to make it look even more fierce than before.
The details had made the mural look almost lifelike except for the red eyes and large drips of blood coming from the sharply pointed horns; there was little doubt this was the village of the Patron El Toro. The people's cheers rang out over the once violent plain as they saw Thomas's new recruit's double time towards them. the four flags flew and the steady thump of boots hitting the hard ground all in unison and stirring up dust was a welcome sight to those who had stood by the young boy who had defended then against the heavy hand of the French invaders.
Thomas slowed the march as they entered the small town amid the loud cheering. After the usual performance at the centre of the town square to show their support and respect for the people, Thomas let the recruits break ranks and take a little time to themselves and too look around the small village before they would once again leave for the final march to the camp up in the hills behind the town.
It was an hour before dusk when Thomas saw the guarded opening to the camp; from deep inside he could hear the massed drums beating out the Della Guerra as a welcome home. The sound echoed in the falling light and he could barely make out the first reflective glimmers of fire light deeper in the canyon as the camp got ready for the coming night.
For Lieutenant Selwynn the sight of his new home could not come fast enough. His feet were now sore and his uniform and good London boots were a mess; even he did not know how he had kept up for the last few miles to their final camp. For now all he wanted was a soft bed and a few days to sleep, any thought of revenge on the boy for the way he had been treated could wait for another day.
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