Copyright © 2016
It was the 23rd of August as Cromwell Marking sat at his table waiting for his wife to finish cooking their meagre dinner. Today was the one day of the week that they could afford a little meat in their otherwise sparse diet.
As Cromwell sat thinking of what might have been had he not gone up that hill in India. There came a soft knock on the only door in the small run down flat.
Groaning as he got to his feet he reached for his crutch. Cromwell made his way slowly to the door. On opening the door Cromwell saw the small figure of the tavern owner's son. In the boy's hand was another newspaper.
"Scuse me Mister Marking. Me Da said I should bring this to ye."
The boy held out the newspaper then turned and ran off before Cromwell could say a word. Looking at the front page, Cromwell saw a large sketch fully covering a third of the page. Below was a commentary on the above sketch. Again the correspondent was the man Haversham.
Cromwell limped back to the table and laid the newspaper open ready for reading. He glanced up at his wife as she gave him an enquiring look. Before Cromwell could say a word, another and much louder knock resounded in the small cold room.
Once again Cromwell had to get slowly to his feet to answer the door. What he saw gave him pause. His mind flashed back to the date of the newspaper. It had been 18th August, five days previous. Cromwell also knew the army had been in another battle at a place called Vimeiro. Were the three men at his door bringing him bad news?
Of the three men, the one in a fancy black suit and carrying a red box case worried Cromwell the most. The fact that the other two were in uniform and wore the stripes of Sergeants, also increased Cromwell's worries.
The well dressed gentleman looked at Cromwell and was the only one to speak.
"Mister Cromwell Marking?"
"May we come in? I have something of importance to speak to you about. It is perhaps better not discussed on your doorstep."
"Is it me boy? Has something happened to him?"
"No Mister Marking, to my knowledge your boy is in good health. This is an entirely different matter."
"Well you are welcome but it is not much to look at. An old soldier's pension is not a lot to live on."
The two soldiers and the gentleman entered the small one room flat without looking around. While the two soldiers took a station on either side of the single door, Cromwell ushered the gentleman to one of the two wooden chairs set at the table.
"Mister Marking. My name is Caruthers. I am here on behalf of the Department for War. It has come to their attention that there may have been a considerable error as to your true standing in their records."
Cromwell stayed silent as the man paused to consider his words.
"The department has received correspondence from Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley and some other Officers, that your present situation was a mistake that has been overlooked by their records people. I am here to correct the oversight."
The man placed the red case on the table and opened it with the contents facing himself.
"Mister Marking, I have here some papers that we would require your signature on but before we get to that I would like to offer my congratulations for raising such a valorous young boy. He has become the talk of London town and even up to the members of the House of Lords. Now that said, this is about yourself and your situation. After consultation with my superiors, they have come to the decision to repair the damage done to you and your family because of the error in the records."
Cromwell was now becoming a little uncertain at what this gentleman was really getting at. It was now plainly obvious to the man that he had better get on with the news as well. After taking a sheet of paper from the box, he slid it across to Cromwell.
"Mister Marking, I am under orders to present an offer to you in the hope that we can settle some outstanding problems. This is a letter that confirms your promotion to the rank of Sergeant, effective from the date of 24th September 1803, the day after the battle and your selfless act of heroism."
Mister Caruthers drew out another paper and slid that across the small table.
"This is an accounting of what we feel is owed to you in back wages and pension as a Sergeant of His Majesties Army. It details what is now owed to you and I have been authorised to make recompense to that effect. There is also the normal reward for special acts of valour. To this end I have here the service ribbons detailing the campaigns in which you served as well as the Cross of Valour which was at first awarded posthumously but can now be placed in your hand."
Caruthers took a small red velvet box from the case and slid that across to Cromwell who was now sitting speechless as the man continued. Taking a leather wallet from the box, he added that to the rest of the things sitting on the table.
"As a Sergeant of His Majesties army, you were entitled to a pension of fifteen pounds a year. Being that you have only been receiving a Privates pension of five pounds a year; the Department has assessed that you are due a further payment of fifty pounds as back payments for the five year period. Now then, the department has also decided to offer you a further fifteen pounds as a settlement for their oversight of your true status. If these arrangements are suitable to you, we would ask that you sign this document absolving the department from any further claims that may arise in the future.
Caruthers slid the last paper towards Cromwell and took a small ink bottle and quill from his case.
"If this meets with your understanding, I would ask that you place your signature to this document to certify that you are in full agreement with the offer made to you."
"Does this mean I will be getting fifteen pounds a year from now on?"
"That is correct Sergeant Marking. Does this meet with your satisfaction?'
"Yes...yes it's even more than I would have thought had I known better."
"Then you have your very brave son to thank. Had he not been as valiant as he is, the error may have gone unnoticed."
Cromwell reached for the quill, dipped it in the bottle of ink and signed the paper. He had to smile as he did so. It was not often a government department admitted an error so openly and even then went to the trouble to correct that error. Cromwell signed the document readily and slid it back to Caruthers.
Caruthers placed the signed document in the case and stood up, after offering his hand, he said.
"Thank you Sergeant Marking, I sincerely hope this will give you a chance to live out your life in better circumstances. Now then I must leave you and return to the department. Good luck Sergeant."
Caruthers stood and exited along with the two soldiers, both of which gave Cromwell a nod and smile as they left. Cromwell turned to his silently waiting wife.
"Well that's a bit of a start. What do you think Matty? Should we finally look for a small cottage out in the country? Lord, sixty five pounds all in one place. Never dreamed a day like this would come."
"Yes Cromwell, I think we should look to the country. We should be able to get a nice little cottage somewhere for that. What with all the young men going to war, there must be something we can find."
For the first time in five years, Cromwell reached for his long suffering wife and drew her into the first real hug in years. At the same time, Cromwell knew that it was all because of their son and silently sent up a prayer for the boy's safety.
Cromwell then noticed the newspaper still sitting open on the table. Cromwell began to look more closely at the finely drawn sketch. It was a scene of a very large parade ground. All the sides were filled with standing troops and the mounted divisions were arraigned at the far end.
In front of a large rostrum were the flags and colours of the army and, standing plainly for all to see was a very good drawing and likeness of young Thomas. Cromwell looked closely at the sketch and had difficulty in reconciling the sketched uniform with the ones he had seen in India during his own service.
Cromwell looked to the caption below the sketch.
Matty Marking suddenly drew in a breath as she looked over Cromwell's shoulder at the sketch. Like many in those times, Matty could not read.
"Bless my soul. What are they doing to that poor wee boy? Why have they got him standing there all alone in the middle of all those soldier?"
Before Cromwell could tell her the reason for the sketch, Matty drew in a breath which sounded more like a gasp and said.
"My, my. That boy looks much like our Thomas. What is this Cromwell?"
"It's our boy Matty. They give him a ribbon for something he did."
It was then that Cromwell realised he had not said a word to Matty about the other report he had read at the tavern. It was time to tell all.
"What in the good lords creation would he do to get an award, Cromwell?"
Cromwell knew it was time to come clean. He had not wanted to worry Matty until this arrived. She had enough to contend with as it was.
"He stood and defended the colours against some Frenchies at a place called Rolica out in the Portuguese lands."
"My sainted aunt. You mean he was fighting in a battle? But Cromwell, you told me he was just going to be a drummer boy. Drummer boys don't fight battles, he could have been killed. Oh bless me, that poor boy."
"Hush now Matty. He had to do his duty and he did. He was very brave and is right fine. Nothing really bad happened to him and I'm sure they will not let him do that again."
"I should hope not. He's just a little boy. He shouldn't be fighting like grown men. It's not his job."
"No Matty, it's not his job but he does have to do his duty to the colours. You well know that."
"Yes...yes I do...but...oh my...Thomas."
Matty turned back to her stew to hide the few tears that threatened to fall and to prepare to serve up Cromwell's dinner before it spoiled. It would not do to spoil their one day of meat.
Rolica; Iberian Peninsula Portugal. 18th August 1808.
Thomas and Carmelo had made it back to the tent. There was still no sign of the new drummers so Thomas showed Carmelo inside the tent where his new friend could put down the large leather roll he had carried over his shoulder. It turned out to be his bedding and a few small personal items when he opened it for Thomas to see.
Carmelo looked around the tent and then pointed to the place at the end of Thomas cot.
"There I will sleep so I can be guard for you Patron."
"Oh... your English is very good."
"Oh Si...my Padre is fine English Officer. The Papa O'Rourke told him I was coming to work with you."
"Wait, your Papa is O'Rourke?"
"Si, he is my Papa but not my Padre."
"Wait...wait, you're not making sense. How can O'Rourke be your Papa and not your Padre...uhm father?"
"Ah I see you are confused. I have two fathers. One is my true father, a very brave officer. He is like El Toro...how you say?"
Carmelo raised his hands and placed his two forefingers on his head like horns.
"Oh a bull?'
"Si, he is brave like the bull. He has killed many French puta's. The O'Rourke he is...ahm...how you say, a father who is not a father?"
"Ah yes I understand now. He is your god father."
"Si, god father. It is good, no?"
"Yes it is very good. What about your mother? She must be very worried about you coming to the war?"
Thomas saw for the first time, what could be a sad look on his new friends face.
"The French, they took her away."
"I'm really sorry Carmelo. That's really a bad thing. Perhaps she will be alright and can be found again?"
"No, never again. Those French ...."
Thomas did not understand the Spanish words but he understood the venom with which they were said. He remembered that O'Rourke had said that Carmelo would turn to his own language when he cursed so he had to use his own imagination.
When Carmelo had finished his torrent of Spanish, he changed back to English.
"I am sorry Patron, I should not have said those words to you. It is the French I have anger for. I will save it for them when I cut their bellies open for the crows."
Uhm...Carmelo, can I ask what happened to your mother? If it is too painful then I don't need to know."
"You are now my Patron. I will tell you of the evil of the French. It was the last year. I had gone to the fields to look for birds eggs. A long time later I returned to my home. It was in flames and my mother was lying in the dirt of the yard. Those French..."
Again Carmelo went into a stream of Spanish before he recovered and continued.
"The French had done terrible things to my mother before they used their knives to end her pain. For this alone I will kill many. It was the O'Rourke that came along near dark. He saw what had happened. Ah Patron, to see the O'Rourke in anger is a terrible thing. He brought me here to Portugal where my Padre was. Since then I have been back and forth but now I have my own Patron. You and I, we will do great things to those French pigs."
Thomas could not resist wiping the tears from his eyes as Carmelo finished his story. As Carmelo unrolled his bedding and set his few belongings in one of the small draws in the little cabinet, Thomas removed his jacket and helmet. It was time to take a rest while they waited for the new drummers.
Thomas looked at his trusty weapons. They still had to be cleaned. Thomas asked Carmelo to bring the little folding stool outside where they could have a pipe and get some fresh air while Thomas cleaned his kit.
As they got outside, Clement and Perrin joined them for a pipe. The three boys sat in their white trews and waist coats. It was a balmy night and the sounds of the camp settling down was almost peaceful.
Thomas had finished cleaning his two pocket pistols and pushed them into his waist band behind his back to keep them out of the way while he worked on the small dirk. He had nearly got the dirk clean when he heard lots of tired voices calling for the drummer's lines.
It was Clements who called for the group approaching them to come to them. Thomas sat and finished his cleaning as twelve drummer boys walked up to the small group. The boy whom looked to be the oldest, glanced at the four boys and then puffed his chest out and glared at them, especially the youngest, Thomas.
"Right, where's our tents then?"
Thomas looked at the boy and placed the dirk back in the scabbard in his spats.
"Who is you lot?"
The older boy took over once again.
"None 'O your business shrimp, but you better get our tents set. We bin marchin all day and is tired. Sides, where's the corporal at? They's said he would be here to sort it all out?"
Thomas looked up at the boy. He also noticed some movement in the shadows on the other side of the tent line. The burley figure of Corporal Creasy was easy to define.
"What's your name, drummer?"
"Go suck your mother's tit shrimp. You got no say about me."
Thomas had decided enough was enough. With a speed that astounded everyone watching, including the dim figure of Corporal Creasy, Thomas jumped to his feet and drew both pistols. The fact they were not loaded had completely missed Thomas attention.
Thomas quickly had both pistols jammed up tight under the larger boy's chin. He could feel the close presence of Clement and Perrin on one side and a very alert Carmelo on the other. Before more could be said, one of the other boys watching from the twelve, gasped and cried out.
"Prattly don't. It's im, the one that got the colours."
The newly named Prattly now had a very scared look on his face as he tried to turn to the other boy.
"How you know that Simpkin?"
"The pistols you bloody fool. The story said he has a brace of 'Peter Pistols' take a look you daft bastard. You want your head all over the ground?"
Prattly very quickly deflated as he tried to look down at the pair of pistols. His voice was now shaking just like his knees as he began to realise what he had just done. Taking a deep gulp of fresh air, Prattly stepped back and bowed his head while he muttered very quietly, the fact the pistols were still aimed right at his head also had a lot to do with it.
"I'm sorry Drum Corporal. I's unnerstan you have to report me."
With honour satisfied, Thomas lowered the empty pistols. It was time to set some rules before anything like it happened again. It was also a good chance to cement a few friends among the new boys.
In his best small boy voice, Thomas began to give orders.
"Drummers, attention. Form ranks for inspection."
Thomas watched as the obedience of the army training took over and the twelve new boys formed up in two ranks.
"Drummers, I am Drum Corporal Marking. You are now part of the best Regiment in the Kings Forces. This is Lead drummer Clement and Lead drummer Perrin. Until further notice they will lead a rank each. The unfortunate event this evening, DID NOT take place BUT if it happens again, I will personally pull the bloody triggers. AGREED?"
The loud response to the affirmative was enough for Thomas.
"Right, front rank will follow Lead Drummer Clement, second rank will follow Lead Drummer Perrin. Get some rest. We are moving to battle in the morning. Good night Drummers."
All the drummer boys straightened up even more as they all called back.
"Good night Drum Corporal."
Thomas sat back on the stool as Clement and Perrin led the new boys away to their tents. From the dark on the other side of the tent line, Thomas heard the voice of Corporal Creasy.
"Well corporal, not the way I would have handled it but just as effective."
"How would you have done it Corporal?"
"Why corporal, pulled the bloody trigger oh course."
"Couldn't do that, Mister Creasy."
"Still a bit queasy are you lad?"
"No Mister Creasy, my pistols are not loaded."
The loud burst of laughter filled the night air as Corporal Creasy thumped his knees and gasped for breath.
"Well I suppose that would make it difficult to shoot the little toe-rag. You do like taking chances lad."
"Not really Mister Creasy. I just forgot they was empty before I shoved them in his face."
Another bout of laughter filled the night air as Creasy walked away into the darkness.
Finally the long day was over and Thomas was only too ready for his new bed. Carmelo was still outside doing something but Thomas was far too tired to care anymore. With a heavy sigh he finished undressing and got into his bed. His eyes were closed in seconds.
There was only the faintest shimmer of dawn light when Thomas was awoken by a number of young Spanish voices outside his tent. Shaking the sleep from his eyes, he quietly called out for Carmelo.
Within seconds the fully alert Carmelo walked into the tent with a ceramic mug in his hands. It had a wisp of steam rising from it. Carmelo placed it on the small chest of draws by his bedside.
"So Patron, you are awake before the crows eat your eyes."
"What is in that mug, Carmelo? It smells good?"
"It is a special drink from way south and over the sea. It is called cafe, very strong, good for waking up. Wait I will make it even better."
Carmelo took out a small cotton bag and dropped four white cubes into the hot drink. It was soon followed by a tawny coloured liquid from a small flask he had in his back pocket. Once he was finished, Carmelo stirred it and handed it to Thomas.
"This, Patron, is for fighting men such as yourself."
Thomas took a sip of the hot liquid and nearly choked as the extra spirits Carmelo had put in caught in his throat but apart from that, Thomas liked the drink. He was already feeling ready for the day.
"So who are those boys outside Carmelo?"
"Oh, Si Patron, they are...how you say? Helpers. Boys who have lost all to the French....." Thomas almost laughed as Carmelo spat out the curse words in Spanish.
"What are they doing here, Carmelo?'
"They have come to work for you. A great Toreador such as yourself must have good servants to take care of the small things in life."
"But Carmelo, I am not rich. I don't have a lot of money to pay them."
"You not worry Patron. We will feed them and perhaps the French will pay them for their work. All of them have nothing, parents, homes all gone to the French."
Thomas finished his cafe. Carmelo was right, he felt ready to work or fight. Dressing without his jacket or helmet, he went with Carmelo to meet the boys.
Outside, Thomas was surprised at the condition of the three boys. They all looked thin and underfed. They were dressed in rags and wore only open leather sandals. As he came around the tent, the three boys looked at him and then Carmelo. With nothing said the three boys bowed low to Thomas, and said in unison.
"Bueno Dias Patron."
Thomas looked at Carmelo for help.
"They say greetings Patron."
"Huh, well hello boys." Thomas felt silly calling them boys as he was one himself even though lately he was feeling older than his nearly twelve years.
Carmelo took over talking to the boys in rapid fire Spanish before turning back to Thomas.
"Patron, this one is called Carlito; he is ...uhm, how you say...gypsy. Many talents, you will see."
Thomas looked at the thin boy as he bowed to Thomas in respect. His eyes were flashing and bright, Thomas thought the boy was smarter than most would think.
"Now this one Patron, he is from Seville and is called by the name of Marcelo. He has very quick; how you say...?"
Carmelo wriggled his fingers and Thomas told him what they were called.
"Ah yes, fingers. He is very fast fingers. Now this one is the sleeping boy, always he is sleeping but when the meat is not to find, he is the best. His name is Sergio from Catalan. He is great hunter, you will see."
"Uhm, how will we find a sleeping place for them?"
"Oh they will be happy to sleep in the cart. They can watch over the burro."
"Burro? What is a burro?"
"For pulling cart, like small horse."
"Do you mean a donkey? You know...hee haw, hee haw?"
"Si Patron, eet is burro."
"I don't have money for a...ah...burro."
"Money, no, no. There is no money for burro. It is here waiting to pull your cart."
"Where did it come from?"
"Sergio said he found it when the French were not watching them. He thought his Patron deserved such a fine beast more than the Putana French."
"So he stole it from the French?"
"Si Patron, do not worry. They have plenty more, they will not miss one alone burro."
Thomas could not hold his laughter any longer, giggling wildly at the thought of taking something from the French just struck him as right. He walked up to Sergio and patted the smaller boy on the shoulder and smiled at the grinning boy.
"Very good Sergio."
Carmelo spoke rapidly to the boys and they all began to work around the fire. When Thomas turned around to go and get dressed, he saw Perrin standing outside his tent.
"Do you need anything Corporal?"
"No thank you Perrin. It appears I have my own little army. You spend the time getting your kit ready to move out. You can put it on the cart with mine. Tell Clement he can do the same but the new boys have to put theirs with the baggage train."
Perrin nodded and went back inside the tent he shared with Clement. When he was finally dressed, Thomas went outside just as Carmelo walked into the tent. Taking the folding table and stool, Carmelo took them outside and set them up under the flap of the tent.
Thomas could only stop and watch as a tin plate, spoon and small knife were set on the table, next a large platter was set on the table with steaming hot meat and nearly a dozen small bird's eggs. A round loaf of bread was still steaming from the fire and a quarter of a cheese round was sitting next to it with a bunch of small red tomatoes. A glass bottle held a thick golden coloured olive oil. Thomas had never seen such a feast and it was only breakfast.
"Where did all this come from Carmelo?"
"Oh from many donations here and there. The eggs were collected by Carlito and the rest was Sergio and Marcelo. This English army has many fine things and the French are so forgetful about their stores."
Thomas could not believe his eyes. This was so far away from the tea and hard tack biscuits they usually had for their breakfast. Unknown to Thomas, his dinner was going to be even better.
Even Carmelo would not join him to eat. As he explained, it was for the Patron. If there was a little left over then the boys would eat. Thomas shook his head in wonder and ate what he could although it was strange to be served a tin goblet of wine for breakfast but he drank it anyway.
As Thomas finished what he could eat, he stood up and reached for his helmet, placing it firmly on his head and making sure the strap was secure. He smiled as he thought about not having to wear the damned choker anymore.
Thomas looked along the line of tents that housed the drummer boys. As he stepped out into the middle of the lane between the massed tents of the 33rd, he saw Carmelo and the boys finishing off the breakfast hurriedly. It was not long before all the food had disappeared into the hungry stomachs of the boys and they were already starting to break the camp down and place it on the cart. Carlito had been given the job of washing the plates and clearing the remains of the food.
When he was in the middle of the road, Thomas took a deep breath and shouted as loud as his small lungs would allow.
"Drummers, on parade."
There was a scurrying and grumbling in the tent line as the new boys, who had slept later than they should have, tried to get dressed and get on parade. They all knew there was a penalty to pay for being late.
Thomas waited longer than he should have. Clement and Perrin were standing at attention beside him as the new boys stumbled out and formed up in two ranks.
Around the drummer troop, others were forming up as the baggage train workers began to take down the tents and prepare to move forward to their new camp site.
Thomas looked over the new boys with a critical eye. It was not his problem that some were not ready. If he did not perform his duties properly, he would be the one getting punished. It was the way of the army.
Thomas went along the two ranks and inspected everything, from buttons to buckles, dirt spots and badly worn kits. Two of the boys had lined up without their drums. Thomas stopped in front of the boys and tried to give them a serious glare.
"Carter" one said. "Smith" said the other.
"Carter and Smith, what are our duties in His Majesties Army?"
"We is Drummers Corporal."
"How can you be drummers without drums, Carter?"
"Well we was tired from marching yesterday Corporal. We forgot."
"Carter, Smith, when we get to our new camp tonight, you will both present yourself outside my tent for extra duties. You will be in full kit, with your drums and you will appear before dinner. Is that clear Drummer Carter, Drummer Smith?"
"Right you all have ten minutes to eat. If the parade is called before you finish then it's your own fault."
Thomas was not being as hard as some would have been and he knew that the parade would not be called for another hour. The boys would have plenty of time to eat and prepare for the long march that day.
Thomas watched as the boys rushed away to eat. When he turned around he saw his tent had disappeared and in its place stood a small donkey attached to the hand cart and four smiling faces waiting for his orders.
Carmelo walked over to him and looked him up and down. Much to Thomas surprise, Carmelo began to tut-tut as he looked Thomas up and down, front and back.
"Patron, tonight we will fix your weapons. They are no good to you as you have them."
Thomas could only nod his head as he didn't really know what Carmelo was talking about. His dirk was in the same place in his spats and he had his two pocket pistols in the two inside pockets of his jacket. As far as he could tell, no one could see any of them. His new weapons from the officers were stored in the cart somewhere by Carmelo.
"Patron, where do you camp tonight?"
"I'm not sure Carmelo but it would be about half way to Vimeiro. The General wants us to be there by tomorrow afternoon so he will probably push us hard today."
"That is good Patron. The boys will go ahead with the cart and find a good place for your tent and will meet us there. I will walk with you."
"Uhm, Carmelo, they might not let you march with the army."
"And who would stop a lone boy from walking along the same road as the army?"
The smile on Carmelo's face told Thomas he would not win this one. The boy had a way about him.
"Ok, but keep watch. Some of the men are not good people, even on a marching day."
"You worry too much about Carmelo Patron. Never fear I will be like a shadow."
At that moment, Thomas heard the call to fall in. It was time for his boys to get to work. Thomas called his boys out and got them into the two ranks. Once that was done, he detailed who would lead which company. With that done, Thomas set the beat with his new drum as he led the boys to the front of the assembled regiment.
The Sergeant Major was waiting for them as they lined up in front of him.
"Drum Corporal, have you detailed your drummers to their positions in the line of march?"
"Yes Sergeant Major."
"Right Corporal, send them off, you will take the lead of 1st company and the Regimental Colours."
"Yes Sergeant Major"
"Carry on Drum Corporal."
Thomas turned back to face the drummer boys.
"Drummers to their places. Drums will follow my cadence. Move."
The boys broke up and ran for their places in the line of march. A minute later and Thomas was standing at attention at the front of the Regiment. At a loud bellow from the Sergeant Major, Thomas began the cadence for the march. It was always a stirring time for any soldier as the drums filled the air with the cadence.
After an hour the Drummers had set the cadence and everyone was moving as expected. At this time the drummers settled into the routine of one player at a time taking the cadence while the other two rested their aching fingers. They would change over each hour to take turns.
For Thomas there was no such break, as Drum Corporal he was expected to keep the cadence for the entire march so the others could follow him.
At Midday they stopped for a cold meal of hard tack and water. Surprisingly for Thomas, Carmelo popped up out of nowhere and produced a large water melon from out of empty air for Thomas. He was smiling widely as he sliced it into huge pieces. There were a lot of envious looks from the troops around them.
Thomas being the boy he was, took only one slice, he then said to Carmelo.
"Cut the slices thinner and hand them out to the drummer boys. You and I cannot eat all this and we should not waste it."
Carmelo made a big performance of bowing low and saying louder than was needed.
"Si, Patron, it will be done."
Thomas tried not to smile at the twinkle in Carmelo's eyes as the boy sliced the water melon thinner and began to give them out to the other boys. At the end he still had a few slices left. Looking at Thomas with a cocked eyebrow he gestured minutely towards the NCO's sitting close by. Thomas nodded and got up from where he was sitting and went to the NCO's.
"Sergeant Major, my servant has a little water melon left over. Could you be interested? It would be such a shame to waste it now."
The Sergeant Major looked up at Thomas with a twinkle in his eye.
"Thank you Drum Corporal. We will look after it as long as there is one for me. The rest of these miscreants can fight for what's left."
Thomas tried not to laugh as he turned back to Carmelo and nodded. He then returned to his drummer boys and sat with Clement and Perrin. The talk was light even though their feet were hot and sore. There was still a way to go before they could rest for the day and tomorrow was going to be just as hard.
Thomas was surprised when each of the drummer boys made the effort to come up to him and thank him for the surprise. They all knew it was sorely needed.
As he ate, Thomas had watched the last of the men come in. It appeared that the fourth company always had stragglers whenever there was a long march. Some said it was because the fourth was where the lazy or bad soldiers were placed but Thomas thought there may be another reason. He would have to find out. It would give him something to think on.
The afternoon march was hard as the sun rose higher and the air around the long column of marching men got more dusty and hotter. When the army finally got in sight of the night stop, there was almost an audible sigh as the first of the 30,000 troops began to hunt for their respective lines.
For Thomas and the drummer boys, it was far easier. On a small rise to one side of the main lines stood Thomas tent. It was already set up and an old stick with Carmelo's black and gold waist sash was flying above it. Around Thomas's erected tent were the bundles of the other drummer's tents. Like all troops, their tents were only carried by the baggage handlers but not erected. Thomas could now really start to appreciate his little crew of misfits.
What was more surprising for Thomas was the small fire going and a large pan already cooking. The smell was something unlike he had never smelt before. His four boys were standing around the small fire grinning with pride.
It was a tired and dusty troop of drummer boys that settled into their area. While the other boys set about getting their tents up, Thomas was sitting back on his stool with his pipe in hand and the tin goblet filled with very cold water. How the boys had done it, he had no idea. The water was so cold it tasted like it had come from a block of ice.
Thomas was never to find out how the boys had 'accidentally' found the officer's box filled with ice. If asked Marcelo would not have told. There were advantages to not speaking English.
Thomas sat and sipped his cold water. As he did so he saw that many of the soldiers were still getting into camp, even though it was nearly full dark and there were many more still on the road. When Thomas saw the last members of the 33rd finally make it to the camp lines.
As the man walked close by the drum line, Thomas stood up and called to the soldier.
"Excuse me Sir."
The tired and thirsty soldier spun on his tired feet and was about to bellow at the boy in front of him, when he saw the stripes on Thomas arm. He took a deep breath and stood wavering slightly from the exhaustion of the forced march.
"Yes Corporal." The soldier well knew whom he was talking to. The fame of the boy hero was not new in any part of the army.
"May I ask you a question Sir?"
"Sorry Corporal, but really I need to get a drink and get my bivie set up."
"I can fix that for you Mister?"
"Yes thank you Mister Samson. If you would like to join me for a little I will get Carmelo to get some cold water for you. If you need it I can ask one of my lads to help you with your tent later."
"Yes, thank you Corporal. I can spend the time for you."
Thomas led Mister Samson to his tent and called for Carmelo to find another cold mug of water for the man. When Carmelo had the very cold water in the man's hand, Thomas began to ask him questions. As the answers came, Thomas saw some possibilities to what he had been thinking about.
Thomas was amused by the look on the Samson's face when he took a large gulp of the water, he looked at Thomas and said.
"Corporal, I won't even ask how you got this water so cold. Some things are best not known."
Thomas smiled as he asked his first question.
"Mister Samson, do you know why so many men come in late on a long march?"
"I never really thought about it Corporal but now you ask, I think it's the drums."
Thomas asked with surprise. Everyone knew that it was the drums that kept everyone in step and at the same pace. By the right of things, everyone should arrive at the same time.
"Well it's like this Corporal." Samson paused for another drink. "See us lot at the rear of the last company can't hear the drum cadence. We sort of get out of pace with the others and the harder we tries to catch up, the more tired we get until we slip behind."
"So you think if you could hear the drum cadence you would keep up with the other men and then arrive all together?"
"That's the right of it I'm guessing. Corporal, any chance of another of those there waters?"
Thomas nodded and smiled before calling for Carmelo to bring another drink for the soldier. Once Samson had it Thomas thought about what had been said. Slowly an idea came into his head.
As Samson said his thanks and left for his tent line, a familiar Irish brogue broke the silence around Thomas tent.
"Well lad, so how was it to be the big man for your first day?"
"Mister O'Rourke, would you like some water?"
"Water lad? You do know I'm Irish, right?"
At that moment Carmelo came up to O'Rourke and hugged him as he said.
"Ah Papa, you have found me a good Patron. He even took in my strays."
"Carmelo, did you bring those bloody scoundrels with you?"
"Oh Papa, they needed a new Patron as well. How can I refuse them?"
"You're as bad as they are. Now get your scrawny Spanish ass over there and find me something to drink. If you bring me any of that poison water, I'll tan your hide.'
The smiling Carmelo took just enough time to poke his tongue at O'Rourke before disappearing into Thomas tent. He returned quickly with a new bottle of red wine and a tin cup.
"Now Corporal, that's how to treat any good honest Irishman. See these Spanish heathen can be trained to do even the easiest of task if you've a mind."
Thomas laughed as Carmelo poked his tongue out again and ran back into the tent only to return with the goblet for Thomas. O'Rourke looked at the goblet and frowned.
"You watch this rapscallion Corporal. He will turn you into a drunk before your time and then rob you blind he will. Carmelo! Does Mister Grey know you stole his goblet?"
"Oh Papa; I would not steal from the Mister Grey. I found this one lying on the side of the road, now I thought about the French taking it for themselves so I thought it best to save it for my Patron. You well know Papa I would never steal from the soldiers of the great country of England."
"Cow dung. Really Corporal, and you think that the Irish talk the blarney. You mark my words, this one will get your neck stretched before you're much older."
"Would you like to stay for dinner Mister O'Rourke?"
"That's right kindly of you Corporal. What has you got in your pot?"
"I don't have a clue Mister O'Rourke."
"Aye that would be right. Those three little thugs will end up poisoning you one day."
The smell coming from Thomas fire told a different story.
"What brings you this way Mister O'Rourke?"
"Ah, our Mister Grey had to go and see the powers that be. Thought I might check up on those Spanish thieves before they took everything not nailed down. So how was your first day as a Corporal? Any trouble?"
"Not really Mister O'Rourke. Once I threatened to fill one of the boys head with lead, they all thought it was a good idea to play nice."
"You surprise me lad. Would you have been able to pull the trigger if needs be?"
"No Mister O'Rourke, wouldn't a helped a bit."
"Why is that lad? You get inta a situation like that you got to be ready to go through with it."
"Couldn't do that Mister O'Rourke. I forgot to load my pistols after cleaning them."
"Bloody hell boy. You trying to get yourself killed."
"Well the boy didn't know they was empty either."
O'Rourke laughed as he looked at Thomas with a new respect.
"You are a right cool one lad but next time make sure you are loaded. Someone just might try to force your hand next time. Now where's that boy, I'm getting hungry and a hungry Irishman is as bad as a drunk one. CARMELO, WHERE'S ME BLOODY DINNER?"
"I should bloody well think so and find another bottle of wine. Might as well drink like toffs as eat like them."
Just as Carmelo was setting up the small folding table, there were two sets of boots coming together at attention. Thomas looked up and saw the two boys he had told to report to him. The older of the two said.
"Smith and Carter reporting as ordered Drum Corporal."
"Right drummers. So you don't forget your drums again, you will go to the cook's tent and get your dinner. When you have your plates you will go to the tent of Lead drummer Perrin and Lead drummer Clement. There you will hand them your plates and wait until they have finished eating them. Once done you will return your plates to the cook's tent and double time back here. If I am still at dinner you will wait at attention until I decide what you will do next. Do you understand drummer Smith, drummer Carter?"
"Yes Drum Corporal."
"Then get a move on. Perrin and Clement need their extra food."
O'Rourke looked at Thomas and smiled.
"Well Corporal, I do hope I don't get on your bad side. Having to go without eating after a long march is not much fun."
"Oh they will get fed. I'll ask Carmelo to keep some of ours aside for them later."
"Now now lad, I was starting to like you and then you go all soft on me."
"Not really Mister O'Rourke. I have another reason for my actions, it will all pay off in the long run."
"I just bet it does. Now where is that blasted boy with our dinner."
Carmelo had the table set up and very shortly afterwards there was a very large round pan in the middle. On another plate was what looked like roasted rabbit, or more correctly, five roasted rabbits. The usual bread and cheese were set on the table with a new bottle of wine.
Thomas and his guest tucked in with a gusto. When they had finally finished they both sat back and loudly burped in satisfaction. Thomas saw that there was still plenty of food left. His boys would not go hungry.
Thomas asked Carmelo to make up two plates and keep them safe before he lit his pipe and sat back in companionable silence with O'Rourke. There was no need for talk. Each of them were happy with the way they were for now.
The silence gave Thomas more time to think over what had been on his mind all day. Finally thinking he had worked things out, Thomas looked at O'Rourke and then asked the older man.
"Listen lad, the way we getting close you can just call me O'Rourke. You can cut the Mister right here and now. Now then what is it in that devious mind of yours?"
"If I had what I think is a good idea, how would I go about getting the Officers to listen to me with a good chance of being successful."
"Well lad, without knowing what you was up to, I would suggest you find an Officer that you think will listen to your idea. If he thinks it's a goodun then he might take it to the nobs up top. You got someone like that?"
"Well I think Captain Lewis might listen."
"You shooting your musket pretty high there lad. You really think he will listen to your idea?"
"I really don't know O'Rourke but I have to try."
"Well ifin you're sure then go for what you believe in. Never let any man tell you you're wrong if you know better."
"Thank you O'Rourke. I'll try my best."
"I'm sure you will lad, now then time for me to go find Mister Grey. He'll probably have some shit work for us poor old Irishmen to do. Good night to you lad, keep your powder dry and your pistols loaded.'
O'Rourke stood and left Thomas to his thoughts as his laughter faded into the darkness. It was not long after when the two drummers returned and looked very hungry. Even better to Thomas eyes, they looked totally chastised.
"Carmelo, bring me those two plates, please."
When Carmelo arrived with the two plates, Thomas indicated the two drummers and then said.
"I would not ask any man to march all day on an empty stomach. When you finish those plates you get them good and clean and return them to Carmelo. If you break another standing order again I will make sure you do go hungry until you are skin and bones. Do you understand Drummers?"
They both looked relieved at being told they would eat after all and both said in unison.
"Yes Drum Corporal."
"Right get out of here and go eat. Be on time for parade, with your drums, in the morning."
The two boys ran off with their plates. It was far better fare than the army would have fed them. They were learning to keep on the good side of the very young Drum Corporal.
When Thomas went into his tent, he found Carmelo waiting for him with a length of string in his hands. Carmelo indicated he should stand straight and put his arms out wide. For the next few minutes; Carmelo measured him with the string and wrote things down on a small piece of parchment.
When Carmelo had finished he asked Thomas.
"Patron, this person must ask for one each of your pistols and the little knife; I will have them returned to you in the morning."
"What are you up to Carmelo?"
"It is a special surprise for my Patron. A...what you call...gifting."
"Well Ok you can have them then."
Thomas handed over one each of his pistols and his dirk. It was time for bed it had been another long day.
Early the next morning, Thomas took the bull by the horns while most were still in their beds. Carmelo had the new cafe drink ready for him. Once he had finished his cafe, Thomas got fully dressed in his uniform, checked that all the brass and silver was properly polished and for a change, slung the new rifle over his right shoulder and placed his new sword over his left hip. He was ready to meet Captain Lewis.
Thomas made his way through the camp. It was still dark when he came close to the large Officer's tent of which three of them still showed light inside.
From the darkness close to the largest tent, came a deep voice.
"Who goes there."
"Drum Corporal Marking requesting a meeting with Captain Lewis."
"Advance and be recognised, Drum Corporal."
Thomas stepped into the dim light of the large tent.
"If you would wait 'ere a minute Drum Corporal, I'll go see if the Captain will see you."
Thomas stood patiently and waited. It turned out to be a short wait. Only minutes later and the familiar figure of Captain Lewis walked out of the tent.
"Drum Corporal, it's a bit early for you to come calling. How may I help you?"
"Captain Lewis, I don't know if it's proper but I think I have a way to stop the soldiers lagging behind the column."
"Really? And what made you think of that?"
"Well I was watching a lot of the men coming in late. I talked to one of them and I thought I might have a way to keep them altogether. You see Sir, when they's late they don't get enough rest before they's got to march again. What one told me was they couldn't hear the cadence of the drums and slipped behind."
"And what solution did you come up with Drum Corporal and why are you telling me this?"
"Well Sir, I think I come up with a way to keep them altogether and... well Sir, I thought mayhap you could have a word with the Officers about it. I think Sir that the men would be better rested and so would fight better after a long march, Sir."
"Hmm...you may have something there. Wait here a minute and I will see what I can do for you."
Thomas saluted the Captain and stepped back to wait. Ten minutes went by before he saw the Captain coming out again. The first hint of dawn was just starting to show. Soon the camp would be beginning to stir for the day's march to Vimeiro.
"It seems Drum Corporal that the General is interested in your idea. Would you come this way please?"
Thomas was led into the interior of the tent. Standing in the tent were a number of very Senior Officers and the General himself. Lt General Wellesley looked at Thomas with his sharp stern eyes as Thomas came to attention and saluted all the Officer's.
"So Drum Corporal, Captain Lewis tells me you may be able to solve one of our most irksome problems of late arrivals on the march?"
"Well Sir, it's only an idea. I haven't had time to try it but I think it may work to keep the men together when on the march Sir."
"Well Drum Corporal, spit it out. We do still have a war to fight."
"Well Sir, if I may have some paper and a quill, perhaps it may be easier to describe what I'm thinking."
"Captain Lewis, get our Drum Corporal some sheets of paper and a quill."
For the next ten minutes Thomas nervously drew his idea on the paper. Finally, when he was done, all the Officers looked at the rough drawings. Some were nodding and others seemed to either not grasp Thomas idea or just ignored it altogether.
Lt General Wellesley looked it over once more and then turned to Thomas.
"Personally Drum Corporal, I think it may be a good idea but the war office won't clear the idea for use without physical proof. Do you think you could provide that for me?"
"If it be your pleasure Sir."
"Right then, Captain Lewis, get an order written up for our Drum Corporal, detailing to his commanding officer that the Drum Corporal is cleared by us to try his experiment with the drummers as he has detailed in this plan of his. Drum Corporal, I will expect a full report in your hand writing at the end of travel today on what was done and your results. You will be experimenting only on the 33rd. If it proves your idea right then we will look at it again. Would that satisfy you Drum Corporal?"
"Thank you Sir. I will return to my lines and get it started immediately."
Thomas saluted the Officers and just as he was about to turn and march out of the tent the General called to him.
"Damn good work Drum Corporal. I sincerely hope your idea works. For all our sakes."
"Thank you Sir."
Thomas turned about and left the tent to wait outside for the orders from Captain Lewis. When finally he had the written orders in his hand, he almost ran back to his lines. Once there he looked for the Sergeant Major. He would be the best one to get the orders to his commanding officer.
Thomas found the Sergeant Major just walking out of his large tent. Sergeants got a six man tent all to themselves. When Thomas called the Sergeant Major stopped and looked at the young boy.
"Drum Corporal, you are up early this morning. What have you been up to? Hunting for more water melons? if so don't forget us old soldiers."
Thomas giggled and then told the man why he was there. After handing over the orders, the Sergeant Major looked them over with raised eyebrows.
"Well you have been busy Corporal. I'll see that these get to command and you can go and sort out your drummers. The idea sounds good to me if we can get our men to camp all in one piece would make it best for all of us. I hope your experiment works out for all of us."
"Thank you Sergeant Major. I'll go get started."
Thomas left the Sergeant Major and arrived back at his tent just in time to see his breakfast being put on the small table. Carmelo was all smiles as he sat doing some sewing with leather straps.
Thomas sat and ate what he could. The rest he knew would be eaten by the four boys. When he was finished, Thomas got ready for another long day. He would have to get his drummers up early to tell them about the changes and what he expected to do.
An hour later and Thomas had all the drummer boy's ready for the new formation. When the drummers were called for the march, Thomas settled all twelve of them in the middle between the 2nd and 3rd companies.
When it was time to start too march it was noticed by all the soldiers how much louder the drums were being grouped in the centre, in good order and fashion they strode out to the sound of their drums.
By the end of the day, the only Regiment to have a full complement of its soldiers was the 33rd. They had all marched in together and not a single straggler. The old soldiers among them laughed and joked at the late comers of all the other Regiments. They had been in camp for far longer than any others and would have far more rest.
For Thomas the day ended well and he was excited by the success of his idea. Writing out a report for the General was something else and it took him far longer than he expected. It was just full dark when he finished and set off for the Officer's tent. He would be glad to have this day over. It was now the 20th of August. Tomorrow they would meet the French on the slopes of Vimeiro. It was to be a battle few would ever forget.
If you are enjoying this story, let Arthur know what you think of it: firstname.lastname@example.org