Thomas watched as the Marshal lifted his head and then straightened up to his full and imposing height. Marshal Beresford showed the body of a man who was used to having his own way; he also showed that he had never been short of a meal unlike many others of the rank and file in the King's army. Thomas immediately felt the hostility of the man that looked down his nose at the rough looking boy before him.
"So Captain, if that's who you really are...what replacements have you brought me?"
"Replacements Sir?... we are not replacements Sir, we are the 1st Battalion of His Majesties Drums and Auxiliaries. We have been sent by the Viscount Wellington to assist you against Marshal Soult."
"What! What's this? The last thing I need is drummers; damn it boy I need real fighting men not a horde of unkempt drummers running around the place. We have a war to fight boy; don't you realise that?"
"Sir I am under orders from Viscount Wellington to assist you against Marshal Soult, we are not here as drummers but as a fighting Battalion. If you would like to give me the order of battle then I can get my men ready to meet the enemy Sir."
"Are you trying to tell me that a rag tag army of bloody drummers can face off against Soult's best. Captain...and I say that loosely; your drummers are no match for Marshal Soult and his men. I feel it would be better to split you all up and send you to replace those already lost to illness and disease. For the life of me I cannot see what the Viscount was thinking in sending boys to do what men must."
"Sir I must say again that we are here under the express orders of Viscount Wellington to assist in the fighting, not to replace those you may have lost. My men and I fight together better as a Battalion. I must insist Sir that we are allowed to fight in the way we always have and as a single unit."
"What! What's this, are you presuming to give me orders...Captain. I will have you know boy that you are flying close to the wind. I am in charge here not you boy; if it is my wish to have you sent to replace the men I have lost then that is what will happen. If you refuse to do as I ask then I can break you back to the ranks where you all belong. Now Captain how many replacements do you have with you."
There was a sudden fire in Thomas's stomach; he had had enough of this pompous man and the only thing keeping his temper in check was the knowledge that he could in all sincerity not refuse a lawful order. The thing that finally decided Thomas on what answer to give was the need to keep his Battalion together at all costs.
"Sir I have no replacements available. If you wish I can have the few men that are with me organised to move into bivouac until more arrive, if it be your pleasure Sir?"
"What's this Captain; you come here and say you have been sent by the Viscount and now tell me there are only a few of you. What in blue blazes is going on here Captain; you are either replacements or you are not. Which is it Captain?"
"We are not replacements Sir. If it be your pleasure I can have my men go out to watch the enemy's movements until there is something more positive for us to do Sir."
"Do...positive...Boy you are pushing my tolerance a little too far; either you can replace my lost men or not; if not then there is little for a few drummer boy's to do in this man's army. I told you boy; I need fighting men not bloody boys." By this time the Marshal was almost spluttering in his indignation.
At this stage the Major spoke up although his voice did not convey any friendship either but at least Thomas got what he felt was a small break from the browbeating of the Marshal.
"Sir, may I suggest something that may fix this small problem?"
"What is it Major; I don't really have time for all this nonsense?"
"Well Sir, if the young Captain really wants to help us, we do need a redoubt out on the plains to forewarn us of Marshal Soult's approach. Perhaps we can send him and his boys out there to act as a vanguard; they could set up a small fort and delay the French long enough for us to ready our defences; even if for just a few hours."
"You may have something there Major but I really think that they would not be able to hold back Soult's men for very long."
"That may be true sir but any time would give us a better chance of defeating him."
"A redoubt you say; never really thought about that; very well Major, take the boy and show him on the map where he can set a redoubt but don't hold much hope that they will slow the French; damn drummers are just a bloody nuisance as far as I'm concerned and; as to their fighting skills... well Major the less said about that the better. Right Captain, the Major will tell you where to go and frankly I think it's a waste of time. Major you will have to send a few engineers to help construct the redoubt; it won't have to be much but at least we will know well in advance when the French come."
Thomas's stomach was roiling as he heard the dismissive tone of the Marshal's voice; if it was a desire to see the last of Thomas and his men then Thomas was only too glad to oblige; as for being trapped in a small redoubt? It would be the last thing Thomas was going to do; orders or not. Thomas "accidently" forgot to salute the Marshal as he and his friends followed the Major from the tent; if they were going to be written off so easily then Thomas would now put into practice the plans he had worked out previously and they did not include a redoubt.
Thomas and his friends were led to a large tent next to the Marshal's; it looked as though it had been set up as something of a war room. There were large scale maps laid out on long trestle tables as well as some standing on separate easels. At the centre of the tent was a large sand table with the immediate area around Albuera formed on it with red and blue paper flags set in different positions to denote each army and their probable place in the upcoming battle.
The Major led Thomas to an easel with a rough map set on it; one look and Thomas saw how much better Smithson's maps were; not only in detail but also in scale. Thomas knew which maps he would rely on. The Major pointed to an obscure point on the map; it appeared to be between two ridges and would be in the direct line of march of the French advance. There was no way a small redoubt in that position would stand against a full French army of 27,000 men; Thomas was now glad of the plans they had made earlier.
"This, Captain is where you will build a redoubt; you will hold the ground for as long as you and your men last; there is to be no retreat until you receive direct orders from the Marshal and that will be once the main army has set its lines."
"Sir, are you ordering us to stand to the last man against an army of 27,000?"
"Who said there were 27,000 French? The report I have says there will be less than 16,000; even drummers should be able to hold them for an hour or so. I do hope your boys know how to use a musket as well as they can play a drum."
"We will do our best Sir. Now Sir what about the engineers to build the redoubt as the Marshal said?"
"Where are your men camped Captain?"
"For the moment Sir we are camped at Elvas but can move as soon as needed."
"Elvas, well I suppose it's not too bad, you will have to move your men to Olivenca; we are expecting Marshal Soult to come through the plains bordering the River Guadiana; Olivenca will give you a position to intercept him."
"Sir most of that area is open plains with little chance of stopping such a large force with the few I have; perhaps it would be better for us to use our normal tactics of stealth and surprise as they move north in column?"
"Stealth, surprise; what the devil are you talking about Captain; we are His Majesty's Army, we do not go skulking around like common brigands and footpads. We are soldiers Captain not low life street urchins. I fear you have not been brought up to appreciate the true value of the honour of an Officer in His Majesty's forces. You have been given your orders Captain; you have but to carry them out as ordered. Now then you will stay in camp for the night and then show the Engineers to your bivouac on the morrow. If you wish you may present yourself along with your...ahem...Officers at the mess for dinner at seven of the clock Captain."
Thomas watched as the Major turned his back and strode from the tent leaving them alone; had it not been for their need to eat and wait for the Engineers, Thomas would have taken his friends out of the camp right then; he was not looking forward to having to mix with the type of Officers that seemed to inhabit the Marshal's camp but he had little option.
As none of Thomas's friends had thought to bring their dress uniforms, they had to do with their normal field uniforms; it became the first problem they were to have in entering the mess. The ten man escort that had followed them everywhere were sent to find food and a tent for the night as the young Officers went to find the mess.
Just before the hour of seven; Thomas and his friends found themselves at the large marquee that was being used as the Officer's mess. At the entrance to the marquee stood the usual young Subaltern along with a small guard of lower ranks; as Thomas and his friends approached they received a stern look from the young Officer.
The 2nd Lieutenant had never seen the type of uniform being worn by the young men who approached him; there was no obvious sign of rank and the youngest one looked to be not much more than a boy; the young Lieutenant held up his hand to stop the small group before they could enter the exalted halls of the Officers.
"What are you boys doing here? This is the Officer's mess and not the place for your sort; the rankers mess is down that way."
The young Lieutenant pointed away towards the centre of the camp as Thomas and his Friends looked the young Officer up and down. For Thomas it seemed that it was normal to feel superior if you were one of the Marshals Officers; he was not going to put up with it any longer; he outranked this young man and was now going to use it to his best advantage.
Thomas turned to the others and spoke in Spanish to confuse the young Lieutenant further; from now on he was going to play dumb and make the Officers think he did not understand them; Carmelo was detailed to do the translations for all of them.
Thomas used his voice as though he had been born into the Officer ranks; it was plainly obvious to the young Lieutenant by the tone of Thomas's voice that the young man was not happy even though the words were foreign; Carmelo took up the translation immediately.
"Lieutenant, Don Thomasino is a General in the armed forces of the Cortes of Spain; I must demand you show him the full respect his rank demands; any refusal will force Don Thomasino to make a report to your superiors and the results will be upon your own head."
Carmelo had formed his features into a look of anger and distain as he glared at the young English Officer; only his friends knew how hard it was for Carmelo to keep the smile off his face as the young Lieutenant jumped to attention and saluted the small group of foreign Officers, the fear in the young man's face almost made the small group burst into laughter but Carmelo's words had had the desired effect.
The friends removed their hats and placed their swords on the table just outside the entrance to the marquee; they purposely forgot to remove their many pistols from their hiding places and Thomas kept his baton in his left hand as they all walked into the main part of the mess. Looking around, Thomas spied who he thought was the Senior Officer in the mess and once again spoke to Carmelo in Spanish as he was well aware they had all become the centre of attraction and the Officers in the mess had become silent on their entrance. Thomas was glad there was as yet no sign of either the Marshal or his adjutant the Major.
Thomas and his friends drew together and made their way to where the Senior Officer was standing with a number of others. Once in front of the Officer the boys snapped to attention and Thomas spoke to Carmelo as he looked the other General in the eye with an unwavering stare; it was almost as though Thomas was daring the General to refute what he was about to hear.
"General." Carmelo began. "The Patron Don Thomasino and his entrage requests permission to join the mess of the English Officers."
Major General Hoghton looked at the small group of very young Officers standing at attention in front of him; just when he thought the army was getting to grips with the problems in this accursed land he had to be confronted by these damn foreigners and; by their mode of dress, they had little respect for the niceties of mess etiquette. Major General Hoghton took a deep breath; he would have to put up with it for now as he knew the English could not afford to lose the support of the foreign armies at this juncture in their effort to send the French back where they belonged.
The Major General looked down his nose at the young men standing before him; he may have to accept them in the mess but he did not have to cow tow to their sort.
"And who are you Sir?"
"I General am Colonel Carmelo Grey, second in command of the Patron's forces and his translator as he is not good with the English language."
Major General Hoghton looked at the youngsters; there was no real obvious sign of their ranks apart from a few touches of silver braid on their shoulders so he had no way of knowing if the young man was telling the truth or not but; he could not afford to take the chance if he wanted the English to stay on the right side of their foreign allies.
"Very well Colonel, the ahh...Patron has our permission to join the mess; now if that is all you may go and enjoy yourselves; the bar will need some coin paid in advance for your drinks and dinner."
"Thank you General, the Patron thanks you for your kindness."
Major General Hoghton barely heard the reply as he turned his back on the small group and went back to talking with his friends now that his duty was done he had no further interest in the rag tag group. It was soon noticeable by Thomas and his friends that the rest of the Officers in the mess had turned their backs on them as though Thomas and his friends were dismissed from their thoughts and were no longer of interest to real Officers.
Thomas led the way to the long tables that had been set up as a bar; in the back half of the marquee were the long trestle tables set for dinner. At the bar Carmelo took over so they could keep up the pretence that Thomas could not understand English.
The men behind the bar were all dressed in smart white coats and most showed the stripes of NCO's as they filled empty glasses and carried trays of drinks to the more Senior Officers; Carmelo called one of the men over.
"Don Thomasino wishes to know if you have a good Cognac in the mess?"
"Yes Sir but it is mighty expensive; normally reserved for the Generals Sir."
"Good then you can find us a bottle and glasses please and ask for a table to be set aside for us at dinner, Sergeant."
The Sergeant reached to the large shelf behind the bar and took down one of the good bottles of Cognac, placing it on the bar he reached for enough glasses for the small group in front of him before asking Carmelo.
"That be a guinea Sir and dinner for seven will be another guinea Sir."
Carmelo dropped three golden guineas on the bar and smiled at the look on the Sergeants face; it was obvious the man was not used to being paid in solid coin in an Officer's mess where most Officers had accounts that were paid at the end of each month. The Sergeant looked flustered as he tried to work out what to do with real coin but was finally able to take the three coins and place them in an empty glass at the back of the bar; it was not to be the last time he was surprised that night.
The seven friends moved away from the bar and then each held a glass while Estaban filled them with the French Cognac; it was plainly obvious they were not wanted in any of the groups of Officers in the bar although they all felt the many surreptitious looks that were sent their way. The group of friends decided to try and ignore the glances and set about relaxing with the good cognac and kept their conversation to Spanish.
In another part of the marquee which was more towards the rear and out of the way of the Senior Officers, those of a lesser rank stood in a large crowd and looked at the small group of black uniformed foreigners; it was too much of a temptation not to take advantage of a situation for young lieutenants.
"Well old boy, do you accept the challenge? You only have to make their acquaintance and get them to offer you a drink to win."
"Why me Crofton, I have little interest in foreigners as you know?"
"For the same reason it is always you Oliver old man; seniority."
"Seniority! Oh come now Crofton it's only three weeks."
"Three weeks is three weeks old son and I have a title to boot; now what do you say? A guinea for the winner?"
The young 1st Lieutenant looked at the others around him; he knew it was meant to be a little bit of a set up as most of their fun always was but; as the most Junior of the 1st Lieutenants present he could not really refuse and he could not really afford to lose a guinea; he would have to do his best and hope the foreigners were not too shy.
"Very well Crofton; an introduction and a drink for a guinea; I hope you have the coin in your pocket old man because this is another one I am going to win come hell or high water."
"Well old chap, we will have to see in time; now off you go and do your best. Just think of England old chap."
The smattering of chuckles brought a blush to the young Lieutenants face as he turned towards the small group of foreign Officers on the far side of the marquee; Oliver reminded himself of what his benefactor used to always say. ' The first step is always the most dangerous.'
Thomas and his friends were standing in a loose circle with Estaban in charge of the bottle of cognac; it would not go very far with seven of them drinking. As Thomas listened to the chatter he suddenly became aware that Perrin was suddenly looking very pale and his hand holding the glass was shaking with some of the cognac spilling over his fingers unnoticed. Thomas was about to ask Perrin if he was alright when a shaking voice sounded behind him.
"Excuse me Sirs!"
Without thought Thomas turned around to see a young 1st Lieutenant standing and staring at something now behind Thomas. The young man almost looked vaguely familiar but Thomas replied without thinking about their plan to stay with Spanish.
The young Officer was taller than Thomas and a little pale which told Thomas he had not been on the peninsular for very long. The features reminded him of someone he should know but the thin moustache and burgeoning side burns changed the young man's face a little. Thomas watched as the Lieutenant tried to pull his eyes away from something behind Thomas and look back at the person who had just spoken to him.
"Uhm...ooh...ahh sorry Sirs. I am 1st Lieutenant Oliver Perrin; B company of His Majesties 29th Regiment of Foot. I...ahh...am here to welcome you to the mess."
Thomas stood stunned as he looked at the young twenty something Lieutenant; now he could see the resemblance under the growing whiskers. Thomas turned to look at his own Perrin and saw the redness filling his friends face.
Not bothering to disguise the fact he was not Spanish, Thomas continued in his native English which was still tinted with the twang of Limehouse.
"Well Mister Perrin; I am Captain Thomas Marking; perhaps you would like to join us for a drink as we seem to have one of your own with us?"
This latest revelation had Oliver Perrin speechless as he heard who the youngest of the group really was. Oliver had a sudden thought and a smile broke out on his young face as he snapped to attention and saluted Thomas.
"Sir it would indeed be a great pleasure to join you and, if I may Sir; perhaps I can have a few minutes with my young brother at some time?"
"You are most welcome Lieutenant and time with our Perrin will be no problem at all; in fact we are all rather intrigued at this stage. Carmelo can you find another glass for Mister Perrin; I'm sure there is a lot he would like to know and that can be thirsty work."
Carmelo smiled widely and went off to the bar to find another glass. While Carmelo was away at the bar, Oliver Perrin; still blushing after seeing his younger brother in the midst of the famous Marking Company; asked Thomas.
"Sir, may I ask you another favour?"
"Go ahead Mister Perrin; you're among friends here."
"Well Sir, I have a friend who would really like to make your acquaintance, he has been writing about the campaign on the peninsular ever since your stand at Rolica; I am sure he would like to ask you some questions if you permitted. May I ask him to join us Sir?"
"Certainly Mister Perrin; perhaps you would do us the honour of joining our table for dinner?"
"Why thank you Sir; it would indeed be a great honour and privilege to sit with you and your Officers. If you will excuse me for a few minutes I will go and find my friend."
Thomas nodded and then turned back to look at Perrin as he tried to hide behind Jones.
"OK, Tommy; what was that all about; you never mentioned a brother in the forces?"
"I didn't know Thomas; he left home when I was young and we never heard from him again. I didn't know what happened to him."
"Well we have all night for you to find out. Estaban pour more cognac, it's going to be a long night. Carmelo why don't you go and sort out some wine for dinner; let's make this a night to remember."
Carmelo smiled as he once again turned back to the bar as he took a small leather purse from his inside pocket; he was happy that his brother was going to relax and forget about the war for one night.
Back at the larger group of Officers, Oliver looked for his friend Conrad Wainright. They had bought their commissions together and been good friends since that day even though they were in different Regiments. Oliver Knew it would be a problem to talk his friend into joining him with Captain Marking's group without giving the famous drummers name to the others present.
Finally Oliver saw Conrad hiding at the rear of the large crowd of young Officers; it was where he could normally be found; Oliver went over to Conrad.
"Conrad, I have someone you should meet, come on let's go back to the Officers over there."
Oliver pointed aimlessly behind him where Thomas and his friends stood waiting.
"Come on Oliver; you know it's not my sort of thing. I'm not really that good with strangers and especially foreign ones."
"Oh I don't know; you may like these ones. Come on Conrad, when have I ever let you down; we've been friends since the beginning; don't you trust me anymore?"
"Of course I do Oliver but, well you know how I am with strangers."
"Look, I promise you that it is well worth it; trust me."
"I do Oliver but; Ohh well I suppose so but I'm only going to say hello then leaving."
"Good for you Conrad, I promise you that it is very important. Now then only one more thing to do; Crofton you owe me a guinea, care to pay up now?"
"I haven't seen you with a drink yet old Boy; the wagers not yet won."
"I can do better than that Crofton; I am invited to join them for dinner and my drink is waiting as we speak. Pay up...Old Man."
Oliver tucked the guinea in his pants pocket as he escorted Conrad back to meet the young men in black; he could not believe he had been so lucky and the winning of the wager just made it all the more fulfilling.
When 1st Lieutenant Perrin returned, he had with him a slightly older Lieutenant who was a little taller and sported a well grown set of whiskers in the fashion of most young Officers of the day; Thomas prepared for the introduction.
The newcomer stood beside Oliver and looked rather nervous as he surveyed the foreign looking Officers in front of him; why Oliver had dragged him over to meet them was beyond his understanding. He had never been one of the more sociable Officers and much preferred his note books to the usual carousing that the others were wont to get up to.
"Sir, may I present 1st Lieutenant Wainright of the 2nd Battalion 28th Regiment of Foot. Conrad this is Captain Thomas Marking of His Majesties 1st Battalion Drums and Axillaries."
Thomas was surprised as the new Lieutenant snapped into a perfect position of Attention and saluted smartly as he stared at the young Captain standing before him; Conrad could now see why Oliver had been persistent in his asking him to join the small group of foreigners. Here at last he had the one person who could fill in many of the details of his research that had been eluding him for so long.
"Welcome Lieutenant, won't you join us for a drink and sit with us for dinner. Lieutenant Perrin has said you have an interest in the history of this war on the peninsula. I am afraid I don't know that much but will help you where I can."
"Thank you Sir. I never thought I would get the opportunity to actually meet the hero of Rolica and the person who held the left at Talavera. Sir this is indeed a great honour for me. Sir. Do none of the Officers present know how you are?"
"Ah well lieutenant we may have just sort of forgotten to tell them. We don't want them to make a fuss if you know what I mean?"
"Yes Sir I think I do. Uhm, Sir; what will I tell the others if they ask?"
"Well Lieutenant Wainright, a good Officer has to make sure he has his timing right; perhaps after we have left the camp you may let it slip?"
There was wide smile that was as much conspirational as merriment from the newly arrived Lieutenant as he nodded his head in acceptance that he would keep the secret until Thomas and his friends had left the camp. The enlarged group had just refilled their glasses when the Officer of the Mess called everyone to table. There was a shuffling of feet as the Officers went about finding their places at the three long tables.
Thomas and his friends saw that an extra shorter table had been set for them at the end of the three lines; it was also noted that the table cloths and napkins were of basic cotton and not the fine linen used for the others. There was also a miss mash of chairs and very few of the glasses on the table were matching but Thomas and his friends ignored it; there were far more interesting things to enjoy than worrying about the lack of nicety of these Officers.
Thomas saw Oliver Perrin blush as he saw the table setting and noticed how the new arrival began to turn red as he tried to keep his temper from erupting and causing a scene in the mess. The slight intended for the young Officers was plain to see and it was only the softly whispered words from Thomas that made Oliver relax and take a breath to calm his anger.
"Don't worry about it Mister Perrin; we are used to this sort of pettiness. Just ignore it all and let's have a good time as I am sure Carmelo has made sure we will not go thirsty. Now Mister Wainright; would you do me the honour of sitting on my left and perhaps Mister Perrin you will take the right; I'm sure you will both enjoy our form of fun."
The talking in the mess quietened as the Officer of the Mess tapped a silver spoon on the side of a glass in front of him. Once silence was achieved, The Officer raised his own glass and called out.
"Gentlemen please charge your glasses for the royal toast."
There was a short pause as those with empty glasses refilled them before the Officer once again tapped the glass on the table.
"Gentlemen please raise your glasses to His Majesty the King; may he reign long and true."
Everyone in the mess repeated the toast before taking a sip and sitting back down.
"His Majesty the King; may he reign long and true."
Once everyone was re-seated the murmuring broke out once again while they waited for the first course of dinner to be placed before them; at the same time other mess attendants began to fill glasses with wine; for Thomas and his friends Carmelo told the attendants with the wine that they had already selected their own and would see to their own needs during the meal.
It was only seconds later when the Mess Sergeant from the bar arrived with two others carrying a large basket filled with straw that had more than a dozen bottles of wine and three bottles of the Portuguese Oporto wine resting on it. Jervis was immediately tasked with opening the bottles and placing them on the table within easy reach of the others.
Oliver and Conrad had never seen so much wine on a table before; the custom of the mess was that those who could afford to buy the wine would do so and share it with their immediate friends; it all had to be paid for at the end of the month when the accounts were sent and yet here was more wine on one table than most saw in a whole month for Junior Officers. Thomas saw the looks on the faces of the two new friends and smiled; if the two men only knew that it was all being paid for by the French they may have thought differently.
"We don't stand on ceremony here Gentlemen; just help yourself when you feel like; there's plenty more where that came from I can assure you."
"Thank you Captain; it's far more wine than we usually see in a month; are you sure it is no inconvenience for you and your Officers?"
"I'll let your brother answer that Mister Perrin." Thomas replied.
"Well Buttons, what have you to say then?" Oliver asked his now embarrassed brother as the others at the table looked at Tommy and all said at the same time.
Tommy Perrin dropped his head as his face turned bright red before he glared at his brother across the table. Thomas suddenly felt a sense of happiness as he heard the nick name for his friend Perrin. With a devilish look in his eyes, Thomas looked at Oliver with one eyebrow raised in question.
"Sorry Captain Marking it's what we used to call him when he was small."
"I see a good story here Mister Perrin, would you care to share it with us; your brother very rarely gives us a reason to make him blush." The chuckle in Thomas's voice was easily heard much to the increasing embarrassment of Tommy Perrin.
Carmelo was translating for Estaban and Lorenco was the others talked in English; the broad smile on the faces of the two told that they understood what was going on.
"Well Captain, before I had to leave home and Tommy was quite little; our Da was working in the mines. He was not a good man Captain and spent most of his coin on drink and then would come home and make trouble for both of us. To keep the roof over our head, our Mam would do sewing for those who needed cloths or repairs. Tommy was an active lad and even at a tender age could get into all sorts of trouble so Mam gave him the job or sorting buttons for the clothes she made; over time we just called him Buttons."
"A simple explanation Mister Perrin so I must ask how it is that you have not seen each other for so long; if you will forgive my forwardness?"
"Not at all Captain; it is only fair as we are sharing your table and this fine wine. Well Sir as I said; our Da was a violent man when in his cups. I was just turned twelve when he came home one night and was far worse than I had ever seen him. He gave me a beating like never before; I thought I was about to die and so ran from the house into the night. I found my way to London over the next few weeks and; after a time on the streets was taken in by a wealthy Gentleman who shall have to remain nameless for his own safety. The Gentleman was kind to me and saw to my schooling in the basics and; when I turned fifteen he had found another young boy to watch over and so let me stay in the gate house until I completed my education. When I turned sixteen he offered to pay for my Commission in the army and here I am. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would ever see my brother again but now I'm glad he is here and healthy. For a long time it played on my mind if he was safe from my Da but I dared not go back there to find out. I'm sorry Buttons; I know I really should not have left you behind and that I should have come for you but I just could not see any way to do so."
"It's alright Oliver; as it turned out he was killed in a mine collapse the very next day after you left; Mam found it hard when we did not see you return but now there was only the two of us and she had to keep up with her sewing to keep a roof over us. When I was eleven she caught the flux and died in a couple of days, it was then I made my way to the gates of the Shropshire's and signed papers as a drummer boy. When we came over here I met Thomas at Rolica; there were only the three of us left after the battle so we sort of stuck together ever since. I don't blame you Oliver; Da was a nasty piece of work at the best of times; that night you left I was more worried you would die out in the cold that night. I'm really glad you made it and to see you here."
By the time the two brothers had finally finished their tales the boys were all working on the main course of their dinner and the wine was disappearing at a good rate; if there had been any tensions before the dinner started, they were now well and truly drowned as the mood lightened and the wine flowed with abandon. With the main meal done and finished, the mess attendants placed large trays of fruit and cheese on the table; it was not long before Jervis was given the task of breaking the seals on the Oporto wines.
Thomas and his friends had ignored the rest of the mess as well as the many strange looks they received during the meal; most of them were sneers of contempt at the audacity of the foreigners throwing around so much gold coin on wine with little care in the world or for those more senior than they.
Oliver and Conrad had been taken with the strange group of black clad young soldiers; if they were aware of the hostility towards the boys that was pervading the mess, they ignored it; they both had never had such an enjoyable night since purchasing their Commissions and the company of the young Officers was refreshing and at the same time exciting, especially for Conrad who now had the one person that could answer so many of his questions.
As the Oporto wine flowed; Conrad became more and more involved with Thomas and how the young drummer had done what he had done. It was a little disconcerting to Conrad when he found out Thomas had no real idea how most things had come about. Most he put down to just plain luck and being in the right place and making what he thought was the right decision for the things he had to do at the time.
It was late in the evening and none of the boys had made any intention to leave the mess even though the raucous play of some of the Junior Officers in the mess made a lot of noise; for Thomas and his friends the arrival of another six bottles of Oporto wine just got them more comfortable. Thomas found the two new friends fun to be with and the night flew by as everyone was relaxed and happy in their fun.
No one had any idea of the time when they finally noticed they were the last ones in the mess. There were a few of the Officers asleep on the floor but all the others had left for their tents when Thomas thought it a good idea to find a place to sleep for what remained of the night; they wanted to be away early in the morning and so he called a halt to the festivities.
As they left the large marquee, Thomas saw the ten man escort waiting outside for them. Just as he was about to ask them why they had stayed up so late to wait for him; Oliver Perrin asked Thomas.
"Captain, I notice you all speak the language; was it difficult to learn?"
"To be honest Mister Perrin, I didn't really think about it; we've all spent so much time with our Spanish and Portuguese friends that it's normal for us to hold all our conversations in their language. As you may realise; it also helps to stop others from knowing our business. If you would like to learn I can help you; or more likely Carmelo can if you have a wish?"
"I think I would Sir and I know Conrad would like to as it would help with his research. How would I go about it Captain?"
"Excuse me a moment while I speak with the others."
Oliver Perrin nodded his agreement and stood waiting while Thomas spoke to the others in Spanish; it was Estaban that came up with a good idea and then let Carmelo take over while Thomas explained to Perrin.
"Well Mister Perrin, Carmelo and Estaban have decided you should both go with them now; they will take you to the Spanish lines and introduce you. They will find someone there to help you with the language. You will find them a good and honest people if you give them a chance. If you have the language you will find many doors open to you that the other Officers will never get. It will be all up to you Mister Perrin."
"Thank you Sir, we both appreciate you assistance and your fine table Sir. Again our thanks; we will forever be in your debt Sir."
"Think nothing of it Mister Perrin, your brother has more than paid any debt you may perceive you owe; believe me when I say that without your brother we would all have had a harder time than we have; we all owe him a special debt of our own."
It did not surprise Thomas that the midnight hour had passed as they all walked away from the mess with unsteady steps; it had been a long but good night and all of them felt a little more relaxed.
Thomas was awoken by Carmelo in what seemed to be only minutes since taking to his cot. Carmelo stood over Thomas with his usual bright smile while Thomas once again had a head that felt as though the world had collapsed on him. Carmelo was holding a small glass of murky liquid and there was no sign of his usual morning cafe, they had not expected to have to stay in the camp overnight.
"What the hell is that Carmelo?" Thomas asked through the pounding in his head.
"A small tonic Patron, something that will clear away the clouds in your head; I take it every morning after the big night."
"It looks bloody horrible and I can smell it from here."
"Patron would I give you something that is bad for you?"
"Yes you bloody would."
"Ah Patron, you are so untrusting of your kind brother. Here drink this quickly and you will be a strong man again."
"Do you really think I want that gunk down my throat?"
"It is better than dying slowly Patron. Now then just close your eyes; hold your nose and swallow all in one gulp, you will feel like a mighty bull very soon."
"By the look of that disgusting slop I will be dead very soon."
"Oh Patron, you wound me so deeply, now drink it before a call Estaban to help me pour it down your skinny neck, Oh great Patron."
"Shut up Carmelo; here give me the damn glass; if I die I'm coming back to haunt all your remaining days."
The pounding behind Thomas's temple had only increased as he debated the point with Carmelo, in a last desperate move to avoid spilling what remained of his dinner on the floor of the tent; Thomas took the glass, closed his eyes and pinched his nose before throwing the small glass of brownish gunk down his throat.
The reaction for Thomas only brought a happy laughter from Carmelo as his young friend began to splutter and cough. Thomas had no idea what was in the tonic but his mouth was still on fire and his stomach was churning as he tried to keep the mixture from erupting back up again. As he felt the effects of the tonic; Thomas also realised he was already feeling better and the pounding in his head was receding even as his throat burnt with the fire of the spices.
Thomas coughed a few more times and had to swallow deeply to keep his stomach under control but, he was starting to feel better; the only thing that really got to Thomas was the sound of Carmelo's giggles as he watched Thomas struggle to catch his breath.
"You Mister bloody Grey are going to pay dearly for that; now why the hell have you woken me at this ungodly hour?"
"It is time to return to Elvas Patron; we have to find the engineers and be away before the sun rises; besides you have had five hours sleep; far too much for young Officers when there is a war on."
"Shut up Carmelo and bring me a damn Cafe."
"Oh I am sorry Patron, there is no cafe in this camp; we will have to return to Elvas and hope your servant has one ready for you."
"Damn it Carmelo, we will be on the road until at least midday and without cafe; it's bloody cruel."
"Yes Patron, now how are you feeling; the others are already up and waiting to leave."
"Are you telling me they also drank that gunk?"
"No Patron, they were far more careful of what they drank at dinner."
Thomas looked at Carmelo as he pulled his boots on; for the life of him he could not think of an appropriate swear word to give Carmelo so stayed silent and only glared at his closest and dearest friend.
When Thomas left his tent he found all of his friends and the ten guards waiting for him; there was a smile on everyone's lips and Thomas had a funny feeling they had heard every word said inside and the resulting fit that followed the tonic; he blushed and then put on his Officers face as he saw the Marshals Adjutant approaching from the darkness of the early morning.
It was the young Officer with the Adjutant that caught Thomas's attention as the Major stopped in front of the young men.
"Captain Marking I am sure you know Lieutenant Perrin; he will accompany you along with a full Company of the 29th Regiment as a guard for the engineers. There is one more thing Captain. It has come to the attention of Marshal Beresford that you have in your Battalion a number of heavy guns. The marshal would like them sent here to join his own artillery."
"Heavy guns Major? I am not sure I understand you; I do have a number of swivel guns, six I think but the Marshal may have them if he wishes."
Thomas tried to keep his face immobile as he told his blatant lie; there was no way he was going to surrender his guns to these men; superiors or not. He felt he owed it to Croxley to keep them altogether.
"Swivel guns Captain? Just what are you saying captain? Are you telling me the report is false and that you only have a few swivel guns in your Battalion?"
"Yes Sir, to the best of my knowledge I have no heavy guns in the Battalion."
"To the best of your knowledge; is that all you can say Captain?"
"And how did you acquire your swivel guns Captain?"
"They were left behind by a Naval battery before Talavera Major; we use them when in close quarters or from ambush when the occasion arises."
"Close quarters! Ambush! Really Captain you should make more attempt at becoming a real Officer and not skulking around the country like some band of brigands. Well if that is all you have then I see no reason for further discussion; you may keep your naval rejects and I will pass on my report to the Marshal that you do not have any heavies with you. Good day Captain, I don't think we will meet again."
Thomas kept his face immobile as he watched the major disappear into the slowly dawning light; he was only too glad to see the back of the man. Thomas turned to look at Oliver Perrin.
"How did you get caught in this Mister Perrin?"
"It would appear Captain, that certain Officers in the mess last night were not happy that my friend Conrad and I joined you for dinner. As yet I don't know what action they have taken against Conrad but I fear it will not be gentle although he does have a title that may keep him safe for some time."
"Well we will try to get the redoubt built as quickly as possible so you can return in safety."
"That won't be the case Captain. My orders are to man the redoubt along with your troops and hold the French for as long as we can or until we receive orders to withdraw. I fear Captain that we are both being thrown to the lions."
"That Mister Perrin will not happen I can assure you of that fact. Are you prepared to follow my orders Lieutenant Perrin?"
"Sir, as you are the ranking Officer I can do no less than obey a lawful order from a superior."
"What of you men Mister Perrin?"
"In all honesty Sir, they are the best Company in the Regiment even though they are also the most troublesome but when needed they will fight to the finish."
"Then we have a good start. Do you know how we move on the march Mister Perrin?"
"I have heard rumours Captain but they are not clear although they say you and your men move faster than any army ever has."
"It is quite true Mister Perrin, as an example my men can leave here now and be back in Elvas before the middle hour. Do you think you men can make Elvas before it is time for lunch Mister Perrin?"
"If those are your Orders Captain, then they will give it the devil of a try or die before stopping to rest."
"Good then they will do nicely. Where are they and the engineers?"
"They are all waiting at the edge of the camp for you Sir."
"Right let's get over there and away from this damn place; I'm missing my morning Cafe."
"A drink we all take in the morning Mister Perrin; I'm sure you will get to like it as it's all we drink apart from water, wine or brandy."
"It sounds as though you have little regard for Military niceties Captain."
"No time for niceties the way we fight Mister Perrin as you will undoubtedly see when the French arrive."
Thomas mounted his horse that was being held by Estaban and the young 1st Lieutenant followed along on foot as they made their way to the edge of the camp to meet up with the 29th Foot and the engineers.
Before they left the campsite, Thomas looked over the men of the 29th ; there were a few young faces among them but most were of middle years and a few older but all looked like hardened fighting men and in good physical condition; the fast march to Elvas would soon see if they were. The eight engineers were mounted on a single wagon with the tools of their trade; there was a very young looking 2nd Lieutenant in charge of them.
Thomas and his friends moved to the front of the small column and set the pace; if those behind thought it was going to be an easy days march to Elvas they were soon to find out how El Toro's army of drummers really moved. As promised, Thomas and his friends along with the wagon of engineers arrived at the bivouac just before lunch. Lieutenant Perrin's Company of hardened troops were not too far behind but looking decidedly haggard as they tried to keep up and arrived within a half hour of the others.
Lieutenant Perrin looked around the large bivouac, he had not realised the young Captain had so many men under him; the rumours he had heard were that they were only a small group of not much more than four hundred; he could see there were definitely more than that present; he also spotted the large number of artillery pieces to one side of the tent lines.
Thomas was waiting for Oliver Perrin with a large mug in each hand as his other officers sat around a large ornate table piled high with hot steaming food.
"Well done Mister Perrin. Your men may be able to keep up after all. Now here try this, it is the cafe I promised you then you can sit and join us for lunch. If you wish to send your men down there they will see the mess tent set up if they wish to join my men for lunch; there's little hurry now that we are here."
"Thank you Sir. Ah...Captain?"
"Yes Mister Perrin?"
"I noticed Sir that you have eight batteries of guns in camp, I thought you said you had none?"
"I said I have no heavy guns Mister Perrin; let me call our gunnery Officer, perhaps he can explain for you. Mister Croxley! Do you have a minute?"
"Aye Captain, what do you wish Sir?"
"This is Mister Oliver Perrin, he was asking after our heavy guns. It seems someone told the Marshal we had some and he wanted them to join his own artillery."
"Mister Perrin is it; yes I can see the likeness now Captain. Well Mister Perrin; we don't have none of those heavy guns like. You see Mister Perrin, if you was on the HMS Victory then you would see heavy guns; forty two pounders they is Mister Perrin, takes a full gun crew of eight to manage they do; now they are heavy guns. These here French guns are nothing but tiny tots; why they barely make a dent they do Mister Perrin. Light I would call them Sir, light as a feather but definitely not heavy guns Sir; no not heavy atall."
"Well Mister Perrin as you can see my gunnery Officer thinks them to be only light guns so I was not telling lies to a Superior Officer now was I?"
The glint in Thomas's eye told Oliver all he wanted to know. Oliver Perrin smiled as he looked at his new Commanding Officer.
"No Sir your were not lying, they are definitely light guns Sir."
Thomas turned to the young fresh faced engineering Officer.
"I don't have your name Lieutenant?"
"Carterton Sir, 2nd Lieutenant Carterton of the 32nd Engineers."
"Well Mister Carterton, what misdemeanour got you sent out here with us?"
"Not sure Sir but I was bottom of my class and I must confess I have a habit of making small errors when under dire pressure Sir."
"Hmmm...sounds a little like someone is clearing house; what do you think Mister Perrin?"
"Probably not far from the truth Sir."
"Well Mister Carterton, would you care to join us for lunch; there is little to be done today and the men need the rest. Later this afternoon we will have a planning session and sort out what we will do to delay the French and get away with our skins intact."
Thomas saw the young Lieutenant gulp at the sound of the French and the upcoming attack; the young man was not looking forward to what was to come. Thomas turned and led the two newcomers to the table where extra chairs had been found for them; there were many amused looks on the faces of Thomas's friend as they watched the two new Officers arrive to sit down.
Once everyone had food and wine in front of them, Thomas spoke to the newcomers.
"When we are at table there are no ranks; I know Mister Perrin's name so what is yours Mister Carterton?"
"Right Bertram now you can drop the rank; My Name is Thomas and this lot here are not only fellow Officers but my closest friends as well; I hope you will also become included in my friends list Bertram. I'll let the others introduce themselves to you as we eat. When we are finished it is the fashion of the Spanish to take a small rest and let the food settle; afterwards we will have a meeting and set out our own plans for the French."
"Uhm...Sir, I was given a set of plans for the redoubt by my Superior Officer before I left, will they not be enough for what I have to do?"
"Probably Bertram and we will build your redoubt but; what are your orders once it is done?"
"There were none Sir."
"It's Thomas at the table Bertram, not Sir. So you have no orders to return as soon as you are done?"
"No...ahm...Thomas, they just told me to come here and build the redoubt and that you would give me orders once it was complete."
Thomas looked at the others at the table and then smiled.
"It would seem that my thoughts were close to being right; the Senior Officers are clearing house. Well Bertram I can tell you that we have need of your skills for our own plan to succeed. Do you have the plan for the redoubt with you?"
"It's in the wagon with my instruments Thomas; do you wish to see it now?"
"No it can wait until after lunch then we can go over it and see what they have in mind; can you give me a quick description without seeing the drawings?"
"Yes, it is a very basic walled redoubt in the shape of a square about twenty feet to a side with a ten man tent at the centre."
"And they think we would stand behind a stone wall and be picked off by French guns. Somehow Bertram, I don't think nine hundred men would fit inside your redoubt but, fortunately we have other plans. Now then enough of this, let's eat and rest then get down to the real business that we are here for."
It was three hours later when all the young Officers came together in Thomas's tent. The large table had been carried inside and all of Smithson's maps had been organised in order and number. Fairley was kept busy handing out a cold drink for all of them while from outside came the laughter of many of the others in the camp as they relaxed and waited for their next adventure.
Thomas watched the two newcomers as Smithson opened his hand drawn maps for all of them too see; he was not disappointed by their reactions to the details that were shown. After opening the normal military map it was obvious that Smithson's were far superior and the detail was so fine that it was as though they were looking at the very ground itself.
The fine details had been enhanced by light washes of colour produced by water paint. Thomas asked for the map that Carterton had so they could mark the place for the redoubt. Thomas had little problem with the building of the rough redoubt; with more than nine hundred men available they would put it up in only days and then have time for their own plans to be completed.
The discussions went on late into the afternoon and it was almost dusk before the final plans were set. The redoubt would be built as ordered and in the place where it was meant to be but the orders had not said how or if it should be manned; that was Thomas's out.
The positioning of the redoubt was at the side of the only roadway to Albuera and out on an open plain; the French would not even have to take it but just march around and leave the defenders alone or they could use their guns from a distant range and pound the redoubt into rubble, which Thomas thought was the most likely event. It took the Battalion three days of hard and fast marching to get to where the redoubt was to be erected and they did not bother setting up a more permanent camp as the weather was in their favour and most slept on the open ground except for Thomas's large ten man tent which was used more as an office than accommodation.
The next morning was to be the start of the construction but Thomas suggested a few alterations to the original plan. Instead of a six foot wall formed into a square; the men talked over the idea of setting a little trap and using the wall to pull the French forward without having any men in danger.
Many suggestions came from the group as to what should be attempted and how the suggestions could be put into practice. After more than two hours the plan was set in place. Instead of the high walls formed into a square, they would instead build a lower wall of only four feet but construct it in a single long line as far across the flat plain as they could build in the time they had.
The wall would stretch across the roadway and out into the open plain on each side. Once the wall plan had been made, Thomas asked for ideas to slow the French advance using the lower wall as a focal point that the French could not ignore. With almost every man and boy working hard and as fast as they could and with the plentiful supply of rocks and stones lying on the ground; it took only two days to make a rough four foot wall that stretched one hundred yards on either side of the road.
While most of the men worked on the wall; those who had carpentry skills were set to work making strange looking frames from the timber of the wagon that had been used to carry most of their spare muskets; it was the only way they could get the timber needed for their plan and the muskets they were going to use had been sitting idle in their home valley at Vimeiro for some time; now was the time to use them.
When the wall was finally finished enough to look like a real threat to the French advance and a single tent had been placed to the rear as though it was an Officers tent, Thomas added a single flag pole beside the tent and had asked for one of their spare Spanish flags to be raised above the empty redoubt; their plans for the French were far different.
While most of the Battalion had been set to erecting the redoubt wall under the eye of Smithson and aided by his few engineers; Thomas sent Estaban and his riders to the south so they could find and reconnoitre the French column, they would send riders back with information once they had made contact with the enemy.
With so many helping to build the very basic stone wall it took only two days and it was now time to set the rest of their own plans into motion. The first report from Estaban had arrived and the French appeared to be just leaving their lines after the disaster they had suffered at Barrosa at the beginning of March; Thomas estimated that, at the speed of such a large force the French would not be close to them much before the 14th or 15th of May; they now had a little over ten days to finalise their own plans for the column.
The finishing touches for the wall were put into effect with the addition of the strange wooden frames which were secured along the wall in a great number; behind the frames was a short pole with a cross piece that was just above the level of the wall
It was during the latter part of their planning that Lieutenant Croxley came up with a new weapon for them to use. He had been training his men on them for some time and now he was ready to reveal it to his Captain and the rest of the men.
Croxley led Thomas to the field where he had prepared his surprise. At first Thomas could not grasp what the man was talking about and; when he saw the new weapon he wondered how it could possibly do any damage to the thousands now headed their way through the high passes, narrow gorges and wide open plains that stood between Thomas and the French.
Once at the cleared area where Croxley had taken him, Thomas looked at the strange items laid out on the ground; it did not seem very threatening. What Thomas saw looked to be no more than a few metal struts and pipes apart from the canvas pack that had four pockets that held three foot long tubes of cane that were about three inches in diameter and had an extra stick about two feet long attached. Thomas could not make out what they could ever be used for.
"Well Mister Croxley what the devil have you got here?"
"Rockets Captain, they are used for signalling on the ships and it is said they were used for war in the China lands for centuries; we have just adapted them for our use."
"But what do they do Mister Croxley?"
"Apart from scaring the pants of the Frenchies Captain, they can also be used to set fires in their camps and cause confusion in their ranks. I admit they do not do as much damage as a good gun but they have their uses when fired at the packed ranks of troops or fired at night when the enemy is in bivouac."
"So how do they work?"
Croxley called out and three of his gunners appeared with smiles on their faces. As Thomas watched the three men quickly assembled the strange metals parts into an erect triangle then fitted the two small tubes on the top. The lower metal parts turned into a T at the base with a metal spike on each of the three ends being driven into the ground for stability.
Next the last remaining parts were pulled up to form an erect triangle with the two pipes fitted securely. While one of the men lined the strange frame to face out towards the far off ridge the other two men took one of the cane pipes each and slid the thin stick attached to the sides of each one into each pipe. Once he was happy with his direction the third man lit his slow match and then turned to look at Mister Croxley to wait orders.
"Fire when ready Johnson; let's show the Captain what we got here."
Thomas watched as Johnson touched his slow match to the base of the tubes one after the other; with the sudden loud whoosh the two rockets took off one after the other but with only a bare second between them. Thomas watched in awe as the strange weapons took off far into the air and towards the far off ridge top.
When they had been flying for a short time the flame at the back started to die and; as the far off rocket tilted towards the earth at the end of its journey; there was a sudden loud explosion and what seemed like hundreds of small sparks flew out into the air and burnt with a bright flame as they descended towards the plain. Thomas found it was a very impressive display; he could now quite understand how the new rockets might cause dismay in the French ranks.
"Very impressive Mister Croxley; what sort of range do they have and how accurate are they?"
"Well Captain, they are not as good as the guns as I can get about 1200 yards from the guns at a full two degrees but these here rockets are good for about nine hundred or so but I must admit they are not very accurate but in numbers they can get the job done."
"Thank you Mister Croxley, let's go back to camp where we can talk over how to make best use of them."
Thomas led the way back as his mind went into overdrive; how could he best make use of Croxley's little surprise against the approaching French.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]