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Cromwell Marking tightened his grip on the single crutch that allowed him to move with only one leg under him. It was pension day and like other pension days he allowed himself the one luxury of a single mug of ale. The rest of his small pension had to go towards their living costs and rent for the rat hole they lived in.
As he limped his way to the local tavern, Cromwell fingered the four shillings he had left after paying the other four for the monthly rent.
Cromwell did not take any notice of the strange looks he was getting from some of the people that he passed. It was nothing unusual for people to look at an invalid from the wars that way.
Cromwell made it to the door of the tavern. To his ears there seemed to be a lot more noise and laughter going on for that time of day.
Cromwell pushed open the door and hobbled to the bar. The publican, a short thickset man with the arms of a dock worker, looked up at Cromwell. Suddenly a broad smile swept over the man's face as he saw who is next customer was.
"Lookee here lads. It's the man hiself. Welcome Cromwell Marking. Today your money is no good. You must be right proud o that boy a yours."
Cromwell looked at the landlord as though he was mad or having a joke.
"Don't know what you mean Tom. What about my lad?"
"Don't you go reading them fancy newspapers?"
"Not on my pension Tom. Can't afford no newspapers and pay my rent as well."
The landlord, Tom, turned his head after filling a mug with ale for Cromwell.
"Missus, bring me that there Times newspaper from the table. Mister Marking aint seen it yet."
Cromwell began to feel something strange as he heard Tom call him Mister Marking. What in the hell had his boy done now? He knew the Regiment had gone overseas and was probably now in the fighting in Spain but the way Tom was talking, the boy had got himself into something.
Cromwell did take note of the fact that the tavern was nearly full and it wasn't even midday yet. Everyone was smiling at him and nodding their heads in his direction. Tom's wife appeared from the back of the tavern carrying the two sheets that made up the Times newspaper.
Tom laid the paper on the bar and stepped back while Cromwell slowly read it a word at a time. Some of which he did not understand. Like his son, Cromwell had not had any education but had learned to read during his service in India.
The first thing Cromwell saw was the sketch of what appeared to be a boy holding a flag while facing a number of soldiers. The boy had a pistol in one hand and what looked to be a bayonet or short sword in the other. The caption read:
Below the sketch was nearly a half page of the story. Cromwell took a sip of ale as he began to read slowly.
A report on the battle of Rolica by Sebastian Haversham. Official Times correspondent to the army of King George the 3rd in Portugal.
In my duty as a correspondent for the Times news paper, and after having followed many battles for the army of King George, today this correspondent was fortunate enough to see firsthand a feat of valour never before seen on a field of battle.
On this day, the 17th of August in the year of our Lord 1808, a small and innocent 12 year old drummer boy stood alone against fearful odds to defend the King's colours.
Volunteer Thomas Marking, a drummer boy of the 33rd Yorkshire regiment, stood alone and lightly armed only with a brace of pocket pistols and a dagger, repelled a force of hardened French soldiers attempting to take the colours while the battle of Rolica raged around them.
Drummer boy Marking had seen the colour guard felled by canister shot and without regard for his own safety and with only two small pocket pistols and a small dagger, went to the aid of the last member of the colour guard. When the Sergeant fell dead from his grievous wounds, Drummer Marking stood alone with only his small weapons and repelled a troop of French soldier's intent on securing the colours.
Drummer Marking resisted with a strength belying his tender years and even though wounded, continued to hold his ground and protect those colours with every breath he had. When finally relieved by other troops who had come to his aid, Drummer Marking had accounted for at least seven well trained and hardened veterans of the French army.
At the end of his valorous defence, drummer Marking personally carried the colours while escorted by an honour guard, into the hands of Lieutenant General Wellesley. After the transfer of colours, drummer Marking was taken to the infirmary so his wounds could be tended.
Not only was this the first battle for the young drummer boy but it has come to the notice of this correspondent that he is also the only son of another hero at the battle of Assaye in the year of 1803 on the Indian continent. It had been thought that his father, one Private Cromwell Marking had died after saving the lives of over one hundred men after they were ambushed by heathens before the battle but he survived and is living out the remainder of his life on a pension.
This correspondent can only make comment that in all my years as a correspondent for the Times, this is the first time I could truly believe in the words 'Like Father, Like Son'. What I was witness to today has restored my faith in the men and boys of our nation.
Should others come forward to stand beside a true hero of England, then our Empire can only be the better for it. To the men of England I make this challenge: Can you stand beside Drummer Marking and defend our colours against all adversaries or will you stand idly by while Bonaparte takes your homes from under your feet?
Tomorrow the 18th of August 1808, Lt General Wellesley has called a parade of hero's to recognise the valour of our young hero. May God protect him and King George.
Cromwell sighed as he took another sip of his ale. It had stood forgotten as he read the story. The first thought that came into his head was, "What the hell were you thinking boy" but the answer was right there before him. His little boy had done his duty. Right or wrong the boy had stood to the colours.
A sense of pride enveloped Cromwell as he took another sip from his mug. His boy had done good. All he could hope for now was that Thomas would in future not be so rash and would one day come home to him.
Cromwell looked up as Tom placed two glasses on the bar in front of him. Reaching under the bar, Tom pulled up an expensive looking bottle of scotch whiskey. Pouring a large measure into each glass, Tom smiled at Cromwell.
"My private bottle. Your lad deserves a toast."
Cromwell looked at the full measure and took up the glass just as Tom called for quiet in the tavern.
"Gentlemen, and I say that loosely, ye be upstanding for a toast to our boy Thomas Marking and his father Cromwell who stands here with us today. Thomas and Cromwell and God save the King."
Every man in the tavern raised their mugs and called out the toast. Once done everyone returned to their business as Cromwell took a final long sip of the fiery liquid. As it coursed down his throat, Cromwell managed to stop a tear from falling. He then remembered that today was the 20th, his boy would already be on the move with the army. He could only hope he would stay safe and come home in one piece.
August 17th on the plains at Rolica.
As he carried the colours towards where a large group of high ranking Officers were waiting, one of the soldiers close to Thomas edged closer and whispered as they marched.
"Do ye know what to do lad?"
"Right then, listen up and I'll tell you so you don't go making no mistakes in front of the toffs. When you's gets to the Officers, come to attention and keep your eyes on his nibs. When he asks you, you tell him that you is returning his colours so he can keep them safe. Now lad, you must call him, Sir. Do that and you's be Ok. When we get's there, you wait till we take two steps back. You keep your place. This'll put you out front on your tod. Don't worry about it, you'll be good"
"No need for thanks youngun. You done real good. Your daddy will be right proud of you. It aint no mean feat what you did and we all be thankful to you."
Thomas kept his eyes on the large group of Senior Officers as they watched him approach with the colours. At the very front was the tall stern figure of Lt General Wellesley but it was not the General that caught his eye. Thomas for some reason took a great deal of notice of a youngish and rough looking Subaltern standing a little apart from the others. His green uniform stood out from the others in its plainness.
All the Senior Officers were dressed in their best uniforms. Pounds of gold braid sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight and in most cases their portly figures showed they did not have it as hard as the ordinary soldier in the ranks. Thomas could feel the first signs a tension building in his body.
When the honour guard arrived in front of the assembled Officers, the Corporal in charge called out orders.
"Escort will turn to the left." When this was done he called again. "Escort will step two paces to the rear. March."
Thomas very quickly found himself standing alone in front of Lt General Wellesley. Taking a deep gulp of air, Thomas came to attention in his best manner and in a voice that wanted to betray him at every turn, said:
"Sir I return the King's colours to your care and protection."
Thomas held out the staff but the Lt General did not take them. Instead he called out loudly so that all could hear him.
"Officers of His Majesties Armies, Salute."
Thomas could not believe his eyes or ears as all of the Officers came to attention and saluted him and the flag. He was left speechless as he didn't know what to do. Fortunately he was quickly saved by the Lt General.
"Thank you Drummer Marking. The King is pleased that you are able to return his colours to us."
As the Lt General finished speaking, a cordon of twenty men from one of the other Regiments appeared in order and marched in front of Thomas. The Colour Sergeant stepped smartly in front of Thomas and held out his hands for the flag. Thomas hesitated before handing the colours over to the Sergeant but was then lost as to what he should do. Again it was the Lt General that saved him.
Thomas saw an older man coming from the back of the Officers. It was patently obvious he was the surgeon as his once white coat was now splattered with the blood of the injured. Stepping up beside the Lt General, the surgeon said;
"Colonel Wright, I am placing Drummer Marking into your personal care. See to his wounds and then have some of those lackeys of yours draw him a hot bath. Once that is done get him properly fed. The boy is skin and bones. Next get him a tent by himself so he can rest. Have him ready to return to the 33rd's lines by 8 of the clock tomorrow morning where he will be looked after so he is ready for the parade tomorrow. Also, make sure he has two guards on his tent at all times; I do not want his rest disturbed."
The surgeon held out his hand to Thomas and then led him away to the infirmary. Thomas did not hear the rest of the conversation by the Officers although he did notice the strange young Subaltern watching him as he walked away with the surgeon.
Lt General Wellesley turned to the rest of the Officers.
"Captain Lewis, will you please see that Colonel Mathers is at my tent in five minutes, also track down the correspondent. I want words with him also. Major General Ackland, if you please join me in my tent, I want to go over the orders for the parade tomorrow."
Wellesley turned and left with Major General Ackland of the 8th Brigade at his heels. Captain Lewis took off to carry out his orders. Being the Adjutant to Wellesley was never an easy task at best.
When the Major General left Wellesley's tent, Colonel Mathers was shown in.
"Colonel, here is a list of what I want for that boy. See that it is ready and waiting for him when he returns to the 33rd tomorrow morning before the parade. If needs be make those men of yours work through the night. Any questions?"
"No Sir, we shall get it done."
Next to appear was the Times correspondent.
"Please take a chair Sir." said Wellesley.
"Thank you Sir. I'm Sebastian Haversham at your service, General."
"Thank you Mister Haversham. Now I saw you taking notes during our recent battle. Did you by any chance catch the actions of the young drummer boy?"
"Indeed I did, General. I saw it in full."
"And what would be your impressions Mister Haversham?"
"General, what I saw leaves me speechless. I am sure that if England had a thousand like him, we would be marching on Paris this minute."
"My sentiments exactly Mister Haversham. Would you be prepared to write it up in your newspaper. As you well know we are having trouble recruiting to the colours. If you were to write favourably about this, I am sure I can offer you some opportunities that other correspondents will not get."
"It would be nothing short of a great pleasure, General. An act of valour such as I witnessed today should not be kept from the people back home. If I may say, General Wellesley, if that boy lives through this campaign then there are going to be historic stories written about his exploits."
"I am in agreement with you Mister Haversham. Now do you need assistance to get your report to London in haste?"
"No My Lord, I have my own pigeons; with luck the report will be in print by tomorrow afternoon."
"Then you have my thanks Mister Haversham. If I see something worth your while I will get Captain Lewis to get it to you. Thank you again for your assistance on this matter and, if I may suggest, it may behove you to be close to the rostrum for tomorrows parade. The other correspondents will be kept outside the grounds for the duration but I am sure I can make you welcome."
"Thank you again General. I will make sure not to be late."
Wellesley stood and shook hands with Haversham before escorting him out of the tent. When the correspondent was out of sight, Wellesley returned and began the long work of recording the battle and it's results. The list of the dead was far longer than he wished and it would take some time for his clerks to notify the families. It was a most unpleasant task but one that had to be done.
Thomas found himself in a sectioned off part of the infirmary. It still did not stop the cries and screams of what was going on elsewhere in the large hospital tent but at least he was not there to see what was happening.
The surgeon helped him to strip naked and to sit and then lay down on a cold wooden table. Only now did he start to feel the pain of his fight. He watched as the surgeon carefully began his inspection among many tuts and tisch's as he saw the condition of the boy.
After some time he looked down at Thomas and tried to smile a little for the boy.
"Well lad, you certainly did a job on yourself. You have two cracked ribs, looks like the toe of a boot got you. You'll need five stitches in the cut on your shoulder, the large bruise on your leg doesn't look as though it has broken anything but it's going to be sore for a while. The burn mark on your hip will heal quickly. Another quarter inch and you would have a hole in you. The musket ball was as close as it gets without actually hitting you. The rest is just scrapes and bruising. You'll be a bit tender for some time but nothing to stop you from going back on duty tomorrow. Now lad let me get to work on you and we will get you in a bath in no time then there will be food for you and lots of rest."
It was only as the surgeon went from one injury to the other that Thomas realised how close he had come to never breathing again. Soon he was finally finished with the surgeon and was led to where a hot bath was waiting. A real luxury in a time of war for the rank and file.
By the time he was ready for bed, Thomas could hardly keep his eyes open. It seemed that almost every part of him ached, even after the hot bath had eased his muscles some. The feeling of real clean bedding was a luxury that he did not have time to enjoy as his eyes closed before his head hit the plump pillow.
When the light of morning finally made its way to Thomas eyes and he began to awaken, there came a soft cough from the end of his cot. Looking up, Thomas saw the figure of the surgeon watching him.
"Well lad, how do you feel this morning?"
"Yes, well that is what happens when you take on seven Frenchmen in a tussle. Now are you ready for some breakfast? You have two hours to get back to bivouac and dress for the parade."
"Yes Sir, but where are my clothes, Sir?'
"Ah yes, wait here and I will get them for you. I've had a corpsman repair them for you."
Thomas waited until the surgeon returned and then dressed in his old uniform. The corpsman had tried to get them as clean as he could, but Thomas knew he was going to look a mess for the parade in the torn jacket and blood stained waist coat and trews.
Once dressed, Thomas waited a few minutes for the surgeon to return and then followed the older man out of the infirmary and towards where the 33rd was camped.
As they walked into the lines of the 33rd, Thomas saw the Sergeant Major standing near a small round four man tent. The surgeon led Thomas to the Sergeant Major and received the Sergeants salute before saying.
"Sergeant Major, here is your charge. I do hope the Regiment will take all care with the lads health and see to his needs."
"Aye Sir. We take care of our own Sir. He'll be watched over right well I can assure the Colonel."
"Thank you Sergeant Major. Well lad, you're back home now. Good luck and please try to stay away from French trouble. There's not much left of you for them to want."
Thomas could see the smile on the surgeons face and so knew he was being joshed.
"Thank you Sir."
The surgeon turned and walked away humming to himself as he left the lines of the 33rd. Thomas peace was broken by the voice of the Sergeant Major.
"Now then volunteer Marking, let's have a look at ye?"
The Sergeant Major walked around Thomas in inspection before saying.
"You look a right mess Marking. You gonna parade in them clothes and for God's sake where is your Shako?"
"It's all I have Sergeant Major and I lost my Shako during the fight Sergeant Major."
"Well that won't do now will it. Better get yourself into your tent and change into something more presentable for the Officers. Well what is you waiting for Marking?"
"Uhm...err... I don't know where my tent is at Sergeant Major."
"You be standing right in front of it Marking. Those froggies make you blind, did they?"
"This tent Sergeant Major?"
Thomas asked as he looked at the large four man tent. Beside it were a number of the smaller two man tents arranged in a line that were the usual tents for drummer boys.
"That tent Marking, now let's see where those other scoundrels is at. DRUMMERS ON PARADE."
The roar made Thomas jump as the Sergeant Major bellowed loud enough to be heard in the far away Spanish capital city. Within seconds the two surviving drummer boys appeared from the nearby two man tent. Thomas immediately recognised Perrin and Clement. Perrin had his left arm in a sling and a smudge of dry blood showed on his upper arm. He would not be playing a drum for a few months.
"Drummer Clement where in Satan's pocket is your drum, you horrible little boy. You knows better than to appear on parade without your drum, boy."
"Uhm...it's in the tent Sergeant Major."
"And how in blue blazes do you plan to play it while it's in the tent, drummer Clement?"
"I...I don't know Sergeant Major."
"God save me from gutter snipes. Well leave it for now but after parade you will report to me on the square WITH your drum, for extra duties. Is that clear drummer Clement?"
"Yes sergeant Major."
"Right then, now Perrin, you got yourself all shot up so this time I will forget about your drum. Now you been given task to watch out for Volunteer Marking's kit, right?"
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"And is everything ready for him?"
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"All buttons polished bright like the sun?"
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"All whites clean and pressed?"
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"His new headwear polished and brushed?"
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"Jacket clean and braid polished right?"
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"Right then, go with Volunteer Marking and help him change. Times wasting and the Officer's don't like gutter snipes keeping them waiting."
Thomas was now in a daze. Whatever was going on was beyond his understanding. With nothing else to do he followed Perrin into the large round tent. What he was to see shocked him more than the bloody battle had.
Thomas looked at the inside of the tent. At the rear was a solid looking cot with clean blankets and a straw pallet. Next to the cot was a wooden stand with a very fancy red jacket set on it. Below the jacket were a new pair of black boots and black leather spats. On the cot were laid out a new white shirt and under clothes as well as a new white waist coat and cravat.
Beside the cot on a small box with two drawers in it sat a new drum. It looked to be better made and even had silver tassels and one gold one fixed to the rim. Beside the drum were three sets of new drum sticks. Unlike the boy's normal sticks, these were polished and had the emblem of the 33rd embossed into the tops.
The last piece of new kit was even a bigger surprise. Sitting on the top of a small folding table at the centre pole of the tent was a new helmet. Gone was the old Shako. This was a very fancy helmet that looked more like the mitre a bishop would wear. At the centre in the front was a thin brass plate that was highly polished and was embossed with the crest of the 33rd.
The rest of the helmet was covered in a black fur that Thomas later found out was bear skin. A thin leather strap ran below to place under his chin to keep the new helmet secure. There was also braid on the helmet; it was a thin string that ran across the top above the brass plate and again, on one side was a silver tassel and the other was of gold.
Thomas could not believe it was all meant for him. The jacket was nothing like his old one. It was still blood red but was cut longer than their old short waist jacket. The sleeves were festooned with silver braid and there was a fronting of black cloth that ran around the front edge.
As he looked at the jacket he also saw that the tails at the rear were also festooned with multiple silver buttons and the front was cut away for easy marching. On the bed, Thomas saw that his weapons had been returned to him from the infirmary. They lay on the bed but needed a good cleaning. Even the French bayonet was there. He would have to take care of them later.
Perrin began to help Thomas to change. The feel of new fresh cloths made Thomas feel much better. The need to relearn how to dress in the new uniform made them take a little more time than they should have. Before Thomas knew what was going on, the loud voice of the Sergeant Major was roaring for the men to fall in for the parade.
Thomas put on his new sash and hooked his drum on. He could feel that the drum was a little heavier than his old one but he would soon get used to it. Feeling ready to meet the day Thomas, followed closely by Perrin, stepped from the tent right in front of the scowling Sergeant Major.
"Right then Volunteer Marking, let's be looking at you."
The Sergeant Major walked around Thomas with a critical eye. When he was back in front of Thomas, the Sergeant Major looked down at him.
"Now then Marking, firstly you can get rid of that choker. You won't be needing that no more. Next, it has come to my attention that you have a habit of carrying illicit weapons on your person, to whit a brace of pistols and an illegal dirk. Is this true Volunteer Marking or have my ears deceived me?"
Thomas was almost shaking as he looked up into the eyes of the Sergeant Major. What he saw there made him pause before answering. The twinkle in the man's eyes told Thomas there was an easy way out of the question.
"No Sergeant Major; I am not carrying any weapons."
"Good lad. We can't have drummer boys going around shooting Officers now can we?"
"No Sergeant Major."
"Good. Perrin, I believe you have some of Volunteer Marking's kit to clean yet. Better get on with it."
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"Now then, Volunteer Marking, drummer Clement, take your place at the head of 1st company. As you is the only drummer boys we got left you will play for the Regiment."
When all was ready and all four companies of the Regiment were assembled, the Sergeant Major gave the orders to march. The Officers, or those who still lived, rode their horses at the head of the Regiment with the flag bearers close behind. Thomas and Clement were next in the column and beat out the march for the massed troops behind them.
Thomas was surprised when he came in sight of the large open area that had been set aside for the parade ground. It was a huge space and he saw that many of the other Regiments were already lined up around a central square. At the far end were the mounted troops of the Hussars and the Dragoons and then down each side were all the foot soldiers.
At the bottom end was a large covered rostrum. In front were all the colours of the Brigades arranged in a large display. Thomas was finally surprised when the Sergeant Major marched the men of the 33rd to the closest end of the parade ground nearest to where all the Officers stood waiting.
Thomas got a further surprise when he saw that there were also Officers from both the Spanish and Portuguese armies present on the rostrum. He also noticed a number a important looking men in civilian clothes and one that appeared to be a correspondent who was busy taking notes in a small book.
When they were all standing at attention and facing the centre of the parade ground, Thomas saw one of the Officers come to the front of the rostrum and bark out.
"Sergeant Major of the Colours, take charge of the parade."
A large Sergeant Major from in front of the rostrum Marched forward until he was standing about five paces out in front of the massed flags. The Sergeant Major performed a perfect stance at attention and faced the parade. His uniform was like nothing Thomas had seen before. It seemed that at every place possible on the uniform there was gold braid. In his hand he carried a long thick black staff with a brass lion on the top.
In a voice that seemed even louder than his own Sergeant Major, the man bellowed loudly.
"PARADE ATTENTION. VOLUNTEER DRUMMER THOMAS MARKING WILL MARCH TO THE FRONT AND PRESENT HIMSELF TO THE COLOURS. FORWARD MARCH."
Thomas had been taken totally by surprise but fortunately for him, the ingrained obedience took over and he straightened up and marched in his best manner to the centre of the parade ground, performed a smart left turn and marched forward until he was two paces from the towering figure of the Sergeant Major.
Thomas head barely came up to the man's chest. He stood firmly in place while the Sergeant Major looked over his head. Again the stentorian voice echoed out over the parade ground once again.
"PARADE WILL SALUTE THE COLOURS. SALUTE."
When the formality was over, Thomas watched as the Lt General took centre stage on the rostrum.
"Soldiers of the Empire, today we parade to honour one of our own. As I am well sure, you have all now heard of the great and valorous defence of the King's Colours by Volunteer Drummer Thomas Marking. We have assembled here today to repay his heroism."
Thomas watched as the Lt General stepped off the rostrum and strode towards where he stood alone on the parade ground. He was followed closely by a young Captain who carried a small velvet box in his hand. When Wellesley stood in front of Thomas, he smiled at him and then in a louder voice, continued.
"By the power vested in myself as the commander of His Majesties Forces in Spain, we award Volunteer Drummer Thomas Marking with the ribbon and bar for Valour. Further to this award and in agreement with the War Office, Volunteer Drummer Thomas Marking is hereby promoted to the rank of Drum Corporal and all benefits as being accrued with said rank."
The Lt General then pinned a maroon coloured ribbon on his jacket that had a silver bar attached to it and then stepped back and saluted before turning back to the rostrum.
Thomas now finally understood the new uniform and the larger tent. When Wellesley had returned to the rostrum, the Sergeant Major turned back to the parade.
"PARADE WILL SALUTE THE COLOURS. SALUTE." When the salute was completed, the Sergeant Major had one more thing to say.
"PARADE; THREE HUZZAHS FOR CORPORAL MARKING. HIP-HIP."
The resounding bellow of all the troops rang over the plains as they all called out "HUZZAH". Three times the Sergeant Major called out and the resounding echo rang around for everyone to hear. When the cheering was finished, Thomas saw the Captain coming towards him.
When the Captain was close, he stopped and smiled at Thomas.
"General Wellesley's compliments Drum Corporal Marking. He would like you to join him in the Officer's mess to toast your accomplishment, if it please you Drum Corporal."
"Captain Lewis, can I ask you a question, Sir?"
"Of course Drum Corporal. What do you wish to know?"
"Why me? I mean Sir, others were fighting that day. I just did my duty."
"Your duty Drum Corporal was to stand by your drum, yet you never hesitated to leave it and guard the King's Colours when needed. One day perhaps you will really understand what you did but for now, do you accept General's invitation?'
"To the Officer's Mess Captain?"
"Yes Drum Corporal."
"Well if you think I should Sir."
"I definitely think you should Drum Corporal."
"Then thank you Sir, I would like that very much."
"Right then, this way and I will escort you to them."
Thomas followed the Captain to a large marquee away from the rest of the camp but situated among the Officers tents. He could hear the sound of many voices as the Officers inside laughed and talked. When they got to the front of the large Marquee, they were met by a Junior Officer.
"The General is over there Captain and asks you both to join him." The young Officer pointed in the direction where the General was standing with a number of foreign Officers near where a bar had been set.
When they approached, Wellesley turned and smiled at Thomas and the Captain.
"Ah here is our Hero. Gentlemen, fill your glasses and welcome our young hero to our mess with a toast. To Drum Corporal Marking and His Majesty the King."
The marquee was filled with loud voices as they all repeated the toast. Once that was over, General Wellesley turned to the two foreign officers.
"Gentlemen, may I present the hero of Rolica and the saviour of the King's colours, Drum Corporal Marking. Drum Corporal, may I present General Martino of the Spanish armies and General Livorno of the Portuguese armies."
Thomas jumped to attention as the two fancily dressed Generals smiled and lifted their glasses to him in salute. Thomas also noticed the strange youngish Subaltern was standing alone at the back of the crowd. He was talking quietly with a gentleman in a civilian suit but his eyes were boring into those of Thomas.
The Lt General turned to a Sergeant dressed in a very white and clean uniform.
"Sergeant, will you be so kind as to get the Drum Corporal a good tot; perhaps with a little warm water and I will have another large dram to warm my blood."
"Yes Sir, won't be a moment."
Not long after, Thomas had a fine cut crystal glass placed in his hand with a dark liquid in it. As the General lifted his own glass he smiled at Thomas.
"Is there anything you would like, Drum Corporal?"
"Well Sir, if I may be so bold; I would like a bigger pistol."
Thomas could not believe his ears as the General burst into loud laughter and then turned to all the other Officers as they quietened down on hearing his laughter.
"Gentlemen, our valorous Drum Corporal has requested a larger pistol. It appears we may have opened a Pandora's box. What do you say gentlemen, should we endanger more Frenchies by giving him a larger pistol?"
A resounding cheer went up as Captain Lewis stepped forward with a large polished wooden box and handed it to the General.
"Well Drum Corporal, ask and you shall receive."
The General handed over the box after opening the lid. Thomas eyes bulged when he saw the pair of fine pistols in the box; there was also a powder flash and a tool for making lead balls. Thomas had no idea how much money they had cost but they were the most beautiful pistols he had ever seen.
"There we go Drum Corporal, a good pair of Manton pistols. If they don't keep you safe then nothing will. Now I believe General Martino has also got something to keep you safe for any of your future adventures. General Martino?"
"Senor Corporal, old soldiers such as we, see many battles and many brave events but in all my years I have never heard of one such as you to perform such an act. It is my great pleasure to present you with this."
The General reached behind himself and one of his Junior Officers placed something into his hand. When he turned back to Thomas he has holding a very nice sword. It was a little shorter than most he had seen and he wondered why. The General saw the look on Thomas face and smiled.
"This sword is made from the finest Toledo steel. It was made for cutting down Frenchmen with one stroke. As you see it is a little shorter than most. That is because it is made for our young Midshipmen in our navy. I hope it will serve you well."
Thomas took the sword and could only stare at its beauty. Before he could think more, the General continued.
"Now Drum Corporal, General Livorno also has a little something for you. General?"
The General began to chatter in a language Thomas could not understand but he was smiling as he presented a short musket to Thomas. Wellesley took up the task of explaining to Thomas the Generals words.
"The General wishes you to know that the musket is better than a pocket pistol. It is of a new design and is called a Rifle. As yet only a special few of our people have them, I am sure I can find someone to teach you about it and how to use it."
Thomas was now lost for words. Without thinking he lifted the glass and drank it down. The resulting coughing fit nearly brought him to his knees. As he tried to regain his breath the sound of chuckling in the mess did not make it any easier.
When he finally got his breath back, the General turned to the strange Subaltern that had been standing in the background.
"Mister Sharpe, may I impose on you to escort our hero to his lines? I fear too much more of the rum and he may think we are all Frenchmen."
Thomas was surprised by the rough and course voice of the man called Sharpe. He did not sound like other Officers but more like one of the rank and file of the army. Thomas also saw what could have been the faintest of smiles on the rough looking Subaltern.
"This way Corporal."
The man sounded curt and was definitely not to be trifled with as he led the way through the mass of Officers while Thomas tried to carry all the weapons in his smaller hands. Once outside the man called Sharpe, turned to Thomas.
"Right lad, now you made the toffs worry about their skins, let's get your kit sorted."
Lieutenant Sharpe stopped and took the rifle from his hand and slung it over Thomas shoulder. Next he showed him how to settle the scabbard of the sword over the other shoulder so it sat near his left hip. Taking the large box with the pistols he secured the clasp on the lid and handed it back to Thomas.
"Now you look more like a bloody soldier. Right lad, let's get you back to lines. I think we should go the long way around. You never know we might even run into a friend of mine who knows something about this new fangled rifle."
The two began to walk but not directly towards the 33rd's lines. Instead they walked out into the surrounding country. It was some time before Thomas realised there was a thick set man walking about ten paces in front of them. He appeared to be smoking a pipe and looking around the countryside.
It was the man's clothes that really caught Thomas eye. The man was wearing what looked like thick and strong peasant trousers but his jacket was the same kind that Lieutenant Sharpe wore. On his back was a very strange looking musket. It appeared to have five barrels and a wicked looking long knife was worn at his side. The man seemed to be taking no notice of the two following him.
Lieutenant Sharpe led Thomas to a short stone wall and indicated he should sit and rest a little. Thomas was glad of the rest. The rum, even thought it had been watered down was still stronger than he thought it would be and he felt a little light headed.
As the other man sat down beside him, Thomas looked over at him.
"Why are they doing all this for me? I mean, I'm only a drummer boy."
"Cause you got all those toffs running scared, lad."
"Running scared Lieutenant, why?"
"First off stop calling me bloody Lieutenant. It's annoying as hell. My names Sharpe and that's what you call me unless one of them toffs is about. Next, you really don't know what you did, do you?"
"No Mister Sharpe, I just did what I thought was my duty."
"Yes right, duty. Listen lad, if they had lost the King's colours, everyone of those toffs would have had to resign their commissions, not only that but they would have been disgraced along with their families for about ten generations. Do you know what it means to lose the King's colours in battle? Not a one of them would have been able to hold up their heads again. Their whole lives would have been ruined. What you did was save them from a fate worse than death. They are now in your debt, and for them, that's a serious place to be in. Some O them may even be praying you don't get to go home like."
Thomas looked up at Sharpe as he tried to fully understand the position he was now in. Sharpe could see the boy's brain working and decided it was time to get off the subject.
"O'Malley you misbegotten bog jumping Irishman. Get your fat ass back here. The lad needs some of your cockeyed advice. I've got things to do so you can watch over him until he gets back to his lines."
Thomas was surprised when he looked around and saw the stranger leaning against the stone fence no more than ten yards away. He was still smoking his pipe as he looked over at the pair sitting under the wall.
O'Malley ambled over and squatted down beside Thomas, looking at Sharpe he said, "Ye know Mister Sharpe, a man could get awful thirsty in this hot weather. Perhaps a small tipple may not go astray while I chat to this here hero and tell him about all the nasties in the world today."
Much to Thomas surprise, Sharpe took a small silver flask from his pocket and gave it to O'Malley.
"If you empty that flask you bull headed Irishman, I'll have the skin off your back."
O'Malley smiled at Sharpe as he tipped the flask and took a hefty sip.
"Sure you will Mister Sharpe and the Frenchies will pave the road with gold."
"Enough of your lip O'Malley. Now just make sure the lad knows what he needs to before he gets to his lines and where the hell are those other two miscreants?"
"Cooper is down a ways and Jones is reading his blasted bible up in the tree line."
"Get them both down here to help you. There won't be no Frenchies around now. The lads scared em all off."
Lieutenant Sharpe stood up and without another word, headed back towards the Officers quarters. O'Malley looked at Thomas and smiled at him as his Irish brogue seemed to become stronger.
"So lad, you up and scared the Frenchies. Did you hear they got twenty gold crowns for your capture?"
"No Mister O'Malley, everything has been sorta confused since I got outta the infirmary."
"Well lad, the Frenchies have now got you as a marked man. Twenty gold crowns would keep a soldier in clover for life. You watch your back from now on and keep your powder dry."
O'Malley turned his head and whistled loudly towards some far off trees. From somewhere in the depths of the shadows two men appeared. Both were dressed as Lieutenant Sharpe had been and were carrying long muskets on their shoulder. One looked to be reading from a book as he ambled down the rise to where the two sat.
"Jones, put that blasted protestant book away. We got no time for your lolly gagging."
"The good Lord will take your Catholic ass and bury it in pig shit one of these days Sergeant O'Malley."
"Well, we will have to see about that you Welsh heathen. Now get here with the lad and show him about this new fangled rifle. Don't forget to show him how to speed load neither. There's twenty gold crowns on the lads head and we don't want no Frenchies taking advantage of him."
Thomas finally got a chance to speak up.
"Uhm...Mister O'Malley? What part of the army are you all in? Seems to me you are all not like the other Regiments."
O'Malley turned and smiled at Thomas.
"Us Lad, well some call us Rangers, some call us Sharpshooters. Us! well we call us Sharpe's Men. See lad, we do all the things no one else will or can do. Now while I sit here and smoke me pipe, I want you to pay close attention to Jones and Cooper. They got things to show you that may keep that young head on your shoulders for a few more months."
Thomas settled next to the two new men and watched as they began to tell him things he had never heard of before. Everything they showed him seemed to be the opposite of what the army taught and yet, they all made perfect sense when they showed him and explained it all in their strange way.
The one thing that caught his attention was when Jones took one of the pistols and had it loaded and ready to fire in only about ten seconds. Thomas had never seen anything like it. Jones then proceeded to show him how it was done. Thomas could only smile at how easy it really was. The only thing he had to remember was not to face the barrel at the ground as the ball would roll out without the patch that was normally used to keep the ball tight in the barrel.
Jones repeated the same thing with the new rifle. He spent a little time with Thomas on showing him the difference between the new rifle and the old muskets and explained that the new way of adding curves inside the barrel made the ball go further and straighter.
For the next hour, Thomas was shown many things that he would never forget. When it was Cooper's turn, Thomas learned how to use the sword and what to do for his smaller size to make the enemy more easily defeated. Another hour passed before they were ready to take him back to the lines. It was now late in the afternoon and Thomas was ready for some rest.
The other two men returned towards the woods as O'Malley escorted Thomas back to the lines. Very little was said as the two walked along until they were close to where Thomas tent was standing. He was pleased to see the familiar figure of Corporal Creasy standing outside his tent waiting for Thomas.
O'Malley looked at Corporal Creasy and gave him a curt nod. Before he departed he looked at Thomas new tent.
"I see they looking after you lad. You know now that you got all this, you should have yourself a servant to watch over it and help with the making and packing. I might know just the boy for it if you be interested."
"Thank you Mister O'Malley but I think on a shilling a month I can't pay for a servant."
Thomas was startled when O'Malley started laughing loudly.
"A shilling a month? Lad you're a Drum Corporal now. With that and you wearing that there fancy medal as well as being the lad that saved the colours, you will be getting more than that. If of course the paymaster ever gets around to paying you. Corporal, you haven't told him his pay yet?"
"No, not yet. We aint seen much of him today to tell him about it all."
"Tell you what lad, I'll go get the boy and you can think it over but believe me, you'll be able to look after him no matter what."
O'Malley was laughing as he turned and walked away, the perennial pipe clasped in his teeth as he puffed smoke in time with his pace.
"So Drum Corporal, you've had a big day it would seem." Corporal Creasy said with a smile.
"Yes Corporal, too big.
"You don't have to call me Corporal now lad. Names Creasy. We're Corporals together now. From now you eat with us NCO's in our mess. You're one of us now. You will find a hand cart out back of your tent. That's to carry your tent and kit. O'Malley's idea of a young servant boy is not a bad one. You'll have the coin now to pay for one."
"I will? How come?"
"Well, as a Drum Corporal you will now get five shillings a month, added to that is the award money for the medal you wear. That's another shilling a month then there's the special payment for someone who saved the colours. That's another two shillings a month. So lad you will now get a total of eight shillings a month. I think you can afford a servant if he is cheap enough. Now tell me how you met that man O'Malley. Those types are not the sort you want to be befriending. Some of them is headed for the gallows one day."
"They helped me to learn some things and they seemed real nice."
"Well that depends on who you talk to. Now I see you've got some new kit. Well the men wanted to do something for you cause they feel you did good for the whole Regiment so we got you a little something to call your own."
Creasy handed Thomas a paper wrapped parcel tied with a piece of string. Thomas took the parcel and opened it. Inside he saw a really nice pipe, a cloth bag with tobacco and a flint striker. he had never seen a pipe like it. Most pipes he had seen were made from clay. This one was made of some type of white stone and had a nice polished wooden stem. Around the stem was a silver band with the crest of the 33rd Regiment engraved on it.
"They's made by the Dutchies from some special stone. I think they's call them mershims or something. Quartermaster told me they was special."
"Thank you and the men Mister Creasy. I'll never forget this."
"You is welcome lad, enjoy it. Now I got some news. The army is moving out for a place called Vimeiro. The powers that be say there is reinforcements coming tonight. As you have only got one drummer boy that can work, the General himself said they have to send you twelve new drummers. Clement and Perrin are promoted to Lead Drummers under your orders as Drum Corporal. It'll be up to you to get the new boys settled and sorted. They should be here just after dark. You should have enough tents for them to get some rest. The army moves out at 10 of the clock tomorrow morning. Now I got things to see to. Don't forget you eat with us NCO's tonight. I'll see you then Drum Corporal."
Creasy walked away to do other things as Thomas made his way into his new tent. Perrin had everything neat and tidy as he undressed and began to put away all the new things he had been given. It was only a few minutes later when he heard Clements asking to enter. When he came in he was accompanied by Perrin. As the two boys looked at the pile of new weapons on the bed.
"You planning on starting your own war Corporal?"
Thomas was surprised by the sound of respect in the older boy's voice as Clement smiled at him.
"Not really, just all this stuff seems over the top for a drummer boy."
"You earned it all Corporal. You don't go worrying none. We will watch your back. After all, if it weren't for you we wouldn't be lead drummers now. Gets us two shillings a month now."
"Do we have enough tents for the new boys tonight?"
"Yes Corporal, we got extra put up before you come back."
"Right well nothing more to do. Let me get out of this uniform and we can go and try this fancy pipe."
The three boys were sitting outside Thomas tent as it was just getting dark. Each had his pipe lit as they sat in their shirts and pants in the warm evening air. It would soon be time to go to the NCO's mess for his dinner but Thomas wanted a few minutes of peace from all the events of the day.
It was dark when he decided it was time to eat. Just as he was about get up to dress for the mess, he heard a call from the dark. The thick brogue left him in little doubt as to whom it was.
"Well there boyo, I see you are looking comfy. Corporal stripes agree with you do they?"
The laughter in O'Malley's voice felt good to Thomas. The big man was turning out to be more like a big happy bear than someone who killed for his living.
"I was just trying out my new pipe the men got for me. I was about to go and eat but it can wait."
"Good idea lad. I've got better food here in me pack. We can eat like the Spanish does. Now this here lad with me is called Carmelo and a right little toe rag he is, but he is honest as the day is long and loyal to a fault. I told him about you and he says he thinks you would make a good Patron. He speaks not bad English when he wants to and has some other talents that you may find handy some time. Why don't you get your jacket and come along with us. Might be just a little bit of an idea to pack your little secrets along as well. Never can tell when there might be a bandit or two around at night."
Thomas went back in his tent and redressed. Placing his small pistols in the two inside pockets of his new jacket, he then slid the dirk into the top of his new leather spats. Feeling ready he went back out and joined the ever smoking O'Malley.
It was the first time he had to get a good look at the boy with O'Malley as he had moved into the light of a nearby fire. The boy was only a few years older than himself; he had the usual tawny skin colour of the Latin's but there was a light in the boy's eyes that told of mischief in the making.
Carmelo was dressed like most Spanish and Portuguese boys of the era except his clothes seemed of better quality than others Thomas had seen as they marched through the countryside. Carmelo was dressed in striped trousers and shiny calf length black boots. Around his waist was a gold and red coloured sash and he had on a white shirt with voluminous sleeves and a small waist length bolero jacket. Around Carmelo's head was wound a colourful scarf and he wore a gold earring in his left lobe.
Thomas also took time to note that Carmelo had sparkling white teeth which seemed to be showing all the time as he smiled at everything around him.
Thomas joined the two and was led away into the dark. After a little time, Thomas found himself standing before a small fire that had been burning for sometime with the soft breeze and the ever present sound of crickets. O'Malley gestured for Thomas to sit close to the fire while he opened his bag to take out a thick crusty loaf of fresh bread, a large piece of cheese and some fresh tomatoes. A bottle of red wine soon joined the feast and the three settled down to eat and drink. Where the three glasses came from was anyone's guess but the wine soon had Thomas feeling a lot better.
There was silence as the three ate, once they had eaten all they wanted, O'Malley and Thomas took out their pipes and lit them from the fire. There was a feeling of peace around them. The darkness hiding the sins of the battle further away.
As Thomas and O'Malley sat watching the fire, Carmelo started chattering in Spanish. Thomas watched as O'Malley would occasionally nod his head or answer in the same language. Thomas was completely in the dark.
The conversation went on for some time until finally Carmelo ran out of words. O'Malley sighed and then gave Carmelo a light slap on the head and laughed as the boy poked his tongue out at him before ducking again and sipping his wine.
"Sorry about that lad but he wanted to say a few things before we set the rules. As I said before, he does speak the King's English, but only when he wants to. If he starts speaking his lingo then you know he's cursing and he does that a lot so clip him over the ear when he does it."
"Uhm... Mister O'Malley...uhm...how much do I have to pay him?"
"Well what he wants and what he gets are two different things. I told him he aint getting more'n four sou a week and that's that, so don't you go feeling sorry for him and pay him more."
"Four sou; how much is that?"
"About tuppence a week lad, plenty for his needs. Besides he knows how to pick a few extra coin after a battle as we all do. The paymaster aint always regular with your pay so a few extra coins in your purse helps. That's a free lesson for you lad and don't think you will be the only one doin it."
The smile in O'Malley's voice made the comment seem not so bad. While the army frowned on looting, it was almost a normal thing for the large number of underpaid soldiers. Although if caught they could face a whipping. Many Officers were inclined to turn a blind eye to it as long as it was not too obvious.
Thomas sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the night until Carmelo started to chatter in Spanish again. Once he had finished, O'Malley turned to Thomas again.
"Well he says he wants to see how good you are with those 'Peter Pistols' says they are too hard to get from your pocket and that dinky little dirk will get you killed if you keep it in your boot."
"What do you mean? I can't keep them anywhere else and the dagger is fine where it is."
"Want to bet your life on that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well you stand up by the fire. When I say go, I want you to reach down and get that dinky little dirk of yours out and try to stab Carmelo."
"Are you serious Mister O'Malley? He's unarmed, I might hurt him."
"Try it and see."
"Well ok, but I'm not happy about all this."
"Ok lad, you ready?"
A fast as he could, Thomas ducked his hand towards his thigh as he lifted his leg to bring the dirk up to him. Before his hand even got close he felt the cold hard steel resting on his neck. Looking up Thomas saw the smiling face of Carmelo behind a very wicked looking long blade.
O'Malley said something to Carmelo and the young Spaniard laughed as he lifted the knife away from Thomas throat. Carmelo then lifted his left arm and showed Thomas the long open slit in the sleeve of his voluminous shirt. Inside the shirt sleeve, Thomas caught sight of what looked like a leather scabbard. Carmelo showed him how he slipped the knife back into his shirt sleeve and it disappeared from sight.
"So Lad, what do you think?"
"Very tricky Mister O'Malley."
"He is that Corporal. Just be thankful he likes you and is on your side. There are others who have not been so lucky. Now Carmelo has promised to make you some things for your weapons and show you how to use them. Take good note, he's really good at what he does."
Thomas smiled at the grinning boy before O'Malley said.
"Well we got it all sorted lad, time to get back. Your new drummers should be close by and you don't want to be late to greet the little rapscallions."
Thomas joined with Carmelo to help clean up from the night time picnic. On the walk back he had a lot to think about but the idea of having Carmelo as a friend was more enticing to him than as a servant. He only hoped he had enough time to enjoy the laughing boy's company.
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