Copyright © 2016
An Officer and a Gentleman
Thomas took a last look around the Navy camp. It was orderly and neat, something his new drummers would have to learn about in the future.
"Is there anything you need from us before we leave for our new camp?"
"Well Sir, there is the matter of placements for our guns. Perhaps we can show you in the morning and you will understand better. I have been told you have to meet the General at the Officers Mess today and there is little time left."
"Yes I do have to go soon. I will tell my drummers to break camp tomorrow morning and if it pleases you, perhaps you could do the same and re-camp closer to my own house. It is at the far end of the village. You can't miss it. We will be flying our colours. Once there we can then go over everything you may still need. For now I have to go and get my new Drummers armed."
"Very good Sir. I will see you in the morning."
"You won't be coming to the Officers Mess, Mister Scully?"
"Not as yet Mister Marking. Us midshipmen are not yet full Officers. Our rank stands somewhere between the ordinary ranks and that of a Junior Officer. What you might call a cadet Officer Mister Marking."
"Well we'll soon change that once we are back at our camp and away from all this hooha."
Midshipman Scully could not help the short bark of laughter that came from his mouth at the irreverent words of the young Subaltern.
Thomas hurried away to find his new Drummers at the armoury. He still needed to get back to his cottage to change for the Officers Mess. While he did not really want to go, a Junior Officer never refused the directions of a General. He only hoped there would be some familiar faces there.
When Thomas arrived at the armoury, he was pleased to see the same Sergeant still in charge as he had been the last time Thomas needed weapons.
Handing the orders to the Sergeant, Thomas began to tell him what he wanted for the new recruits. Once the orders had been given, Thomas knew the sergeant would carry them out to the letter. Thomas needed to get back to the cottage and change for his meeting in the Officers Mess.
Thomas left orders with the newly made Corporal Trent to take the Drummers back to camp and then to make sure they were moved close to his cottage in the morning. The field out the back of the cottage would be large enough to have space for all the newcomers and the Navy gunners.
On his return to the cottage, Thomas saw that Estaban had raised the red and gold of their colours. As was needed, the Union Jack flew alongside. Not many noticed that the red and gold flew just six inches higher than the other flag. It was Estaban's way of giving title to Thomas over that of the English.
In the small bedroom that had been set aside for Thomas's use, he saw that there were in fact two uniforms laid out on the bed. This now created a little confusion as to which one he was meant to wear for the Mess. Thomas had never really taken notice of Officers uniforms and so he had little knowledge to help him; he was finally saved by a gruff but familiar voice behind him.
"Well lad, I hear you joined the toffs. I would lay me silver you are real happy about that."
"Not at all Mister Sharpe. I was quite happy before they started all this. What do I do now and why do I have two uniforms? Seems a bit of a waste to me Mister Sharpe."
"Well lad, the coat with the tails is your everyday one. The other short one is for formal dress like in the Mess. Do you want some help? I've nothing to do but wait to escort you to the Mess."
"You are taking me, Mister Sharpe?"
"Yes lad, or should I say Lieutenant now, was the Generals orders just to make sure you didn't forget."
"Well I suppose I could do with the help." Mister Sharpe smiled at Thomas as the boy looked at the two new uniforms.
The one for everyday wear was the normal long tailed jacket with white trousers, black boots, pillbox hat and white shirt and waistcoat. Its lapels were trimmed in a gold colour cloth and it had the usual array of gold braid for a 2nd Lieutenant or Subaltern as they were more often called.
The other uniform was made up with a familiar Bolero style short jacket with long sleeves, black trousers with a dark maroon stripe down the legs, black shoes that many called 'pumps' and a red sash for the waist. There was no hat so Thomas knew he just wore the same pillbox as the daily uniform.
The only addition was a canvas sash that had been bleached as white as snow. It went over his shoulder and had been sown to take his sword scabbard. Thomas looked at everything and decided he was going to make a few changes whether the Officers liked it or not.
There was one thing that caught Thomas's eye. At the centre of the white sash for his sword was a bright brass medallion. It was quite plain except for the letters engraved into it.
The medallion had the small letters d and c, one each side of a capital A. In the centre of the A was the numbers 1st. Thomas stood looking at it for a moment before asking Mister Sharpe about it.
"The General thought you should have your own badge of service lad. It stands for the 1st Drum Corps Auxiliary. Now that you have a full company of men the General felt you should have your own badge of recognition. If you look closely at your epaulets you will see a small version on them as well."
Thomas looked closer at the epaulets on the two jackets. Below the braid on the daily wear jacket he saw the same small badge and on the epaulet board of the Mess jacket it also had the badge just above the single braid fringe on the left shoulder.
Thomas now understood a little better. The single epaulet denoted him as a Subaltern, or 2nd lieutenant. If he ever reached the rank of 1st Lieutenant he would have braid or fringed epaulets on both shoulders.
Thomas began to change clothes. His old and well worn Sergeants uniform would have to be returned to the Quartermasters stores. The Officers uniform would always remain his as it would come out of his pay of which he had not yet received a penny for all the time he had now served. Nothing unusual for the army.
Thomas did not really need to worry about money. The boys in his little band kept all they could scour from their defeats of the French. Thomas had now got past his aversion to loot. Had he not he would have been in dire straits for money by now.
"Now then Mister Marking, you will need to take a few coins with you if you have any. It is the custom for a newly promoted Officer to pay for the Mess bill for the evening. Do you have a few coins to take?"
"Yes Mister Sharpe. The boys have always looked after me in that regard."
Thomas went to his small bag and took out a leather purse that looked to be quite full. Searching inside, he finally extracted ten gold ducats and slipped them into a tiny pocket inside the jacket.
Mister Sharpe had frowned when Thomas had fitted his underarm holsters and pistols before donning the jacket but the man said nothing. It was obviously the boy's habit and was better left alone. Next Sharpe watched as Thomas put on his normal Spanish boots instead of the accepted light shoes.
Lying on the bed was a new Officer's sabre. Thomas took up his shorter sword that he was far more familiar with and slipped it into the white bandolier as he settled it over his shoulder. Thomas took up the unfamiliar pillbox hat. It was then he noticed it also carried the new badge. Settling it on his head he looked up for Mister Sharpe's approval.
"You will need to put your waist sash on lad."
Thomas looked at the plain red sash. He ignored it and instead took up his slightly worn red and gold sash and began to place it once again around his waist. There were two noticeable, small, dark splotches near the centre. Mister Sharpe just shook his head as he watched Thomas replace the official sash with his own.
"Only one thing more Mister Marking. Those trousers should not be inside your boots. They have to be worn on the outside. Better fix that up."
"But Mister Sharpe, I won't be able to get to my..."
"You won't need them lad, the sharpest thing in the Officers Mess is their tongues and you will have to give up your weapons at the door to the Mess. Its regulations."
"Give them up, Mister Sharpe. All of them?"
"Well yes lad, all of the ones that can be seen anyhow." Sharpe smiled at Thomas. He himself never went unarmed in any situation so did not press the point. If they were ever found out it could be put down to the fact that they were only raised from the ranks, so what would you expect from the lower classes.
Sharpe hoped that Thomas would be able to keep his temper in the Mess. The lad had grown up fast in the last few months and many of the new Officers that were now in the army had not been there during Thomas acts of heroism. Only one or two of the old guard were still with the General for this new invasion.
"Well you look as ready as you ever will be lad. Have you been practicing the sign language we taught you?"
"Yes Mister Sharpe. All the boys can use it now and all of them are very good at Spanish as well. Most of the talk in the camp now uses Spanish all the time. It's sort of second nature with all the Spanish boys around. Some are even learning the Portuguese language from the new Cadets."
"That's good, now if you feel threatened by any of the new Officers, use our sign language to talk to me. You and I will be the only ones who know it. Well unless Percy is there. He's the one who taught us years ago. Now you ready for the Lion's den?"
"Can't be any worse than the French Mister Sharpe."
"I wouldn't put my life on that Mister Marking. Just keep your head and let me do the talking if it gets a little out of hand. Some of those young Officers are a bit above themselves at times."
Thomas nodded as he once again checked himself over. He was all ready to make his first appearance with the toffs of the new army.
As they were about to leave, Mister Sharpe stopped and looked at Thomas one more time and then said.
"Where's your bar and ribbon lad?"
"Oh them, I don't wear it Mister Sharpe. I think they are in my bag somewhere."
"Better get them out lad. Not the done thing to go into the mess without your fancy ribbon."
Sharpe tried to ignore the muttering of swear words that came from Thomas as he went to his bag and began the search. When he finally found the ribbon with the single silver bar that had the name 'Rolica' engraved on it, Thomas turned back to Mister Sharpe.
Sharpe took one look at the ribbon and reached into his jacket pocket.
"You got a couple of more bars to put on there lad."
Sharpe took out two more silver bars. One had the name 'Vimeiro' and the other had 'La Coruna'. Mister Sharpe attached them below the original one and stepped back to look at his charge after he pinned the ribbon on the left breast of the boy's jacket.
"Now then, it's all done' let's get to it. Don't want to keep the toffs waiting."
As they walked to where the Officers Mess was located, Thomas felt partially naked without his brace of Manton pistols. The Mess Jacket was just too short to hide them from view but he took comfort in having his pocket pistols under his arms and he still had the two knives in his boots if he needed them.
His arm sheaths also had to be left behind as the long sleeves of the Mess Jacket were too tight to be able to get to them. Thomas now knew he would have to hand in his sword at the door of the Mess. The pistols were out of sight so he might be able to keep them.
The Officers Mess was located beside the largest building in the town. It had been the Mayor's home but now was converted into the Officers quarters. To the left was an enormous marquee that held the Officers Mess where they came together to drink and eat.
Thomas noted that the dirt under the marquee had been covered with duckboards and then a thick carpet had been overlaid on top.
At the door of the marquee stood four Privates in their best kit and a Sergeant Major. They were the guard detail to stop any unwanted soldiers from trying to enter the sanctum of the Officers.
The Sergeant Major and the Privates saluted the two as they arrived at the opening into the tent. The Sergeant Major then asked for their weapons to be laid on a nearby table where many more were set.
Thomas removed his sword as did Mister Sharpe. Thinking he was going to be able to keep his pistols, Thomas made no attempt to pull them out. A soft whisper from Mister Sharpe soon told him different.
Thomas gave a heavy sigh as he reached into his jacket and took out his two small pistols. Laying them on the table he saw the surprised look on the face of the Sergeant Major and even felt a little pleasure at the older man's look.
The two, now supposedly unarmed, entered the large marquee to the sound of laughter and boistress play of the Officers Mess. There was the thick heady smell of tobacco from the new cigars that were beginning to become popular by the officers.
It did not take Thomas long to realise there were certain cliques among the Officers. A small group of more senior Officers were standing to one side. As he glanced their way, Thomas received some nods and smiles of recognition. They were the old brigade and knew all about him. Many even raised their glasses to him.
The rest were all new faces and had gathered in their own cliques. The junior Officers were in one place, the more Senior Officers were standing in a group in another place, and the most Senior Officers of the new arrivals were in another group.
Thomas watched as each group moved around. It was always up to a more Senior Officer to move into a group of lesser ones and not the other way around. Thomas found it much like the pecking order with chickens.
As Thomas and Mister Sharpe walked into the mess, there was a sudden silence as the Officers looked at the pair. It was obvious they were a bit of a show with Mister Sharpe being a Major and Thomas a newly raised ranker as well as being a very young boy although there were many times he felt far older than his nearly twelve and a half years.
After a few seconds, Thomas heard the subdued voices begin to talk about the pair. Mister Sharpe just ignored them and walked to the bar for drinks while Thomas watched and listened. Thomas began to hear remarks that started his blood to warm up but thinking on Mister Sharpe's words, he tried hard to keep his feelings out of it. A difficult task for a young soon to be teen that had his emotions running wild at the strangest of times.
Thomas watched as two young Subalterns walked towards where he stood alone. Thomas was not afraid of them but he did think they might be up to no good as they both wore the faintest of sneers on their young faces. Both young Officers looked to be no more than nineteen or twenty years old and the newness of their uniforms told Thomas they had not had their commissions for very long.
The two young Officers stopped in front of Thomas and looked him up and down. After taking a sip of their liquor, they smirked at Thomas before one said.
"You do realise that you are in the Officers Mess and not a school room, don't you old chap?"
Thomas looked at the pair and instinctively knew he was being baited like some fighting dog. Before he could answer, the second one said.
"Do you know you are out of uniform laddy?"
"And how would that be?" Thomas replied with a touch of bitterness in his voice.
"See Chalmers, just like I said, a ranker. They shouldn't let them in here with real Officers, don't you think?"
"Exactly Webster, the army is going downhill fast. Look the boy has the wrong sash and not only that but it's not even clean. Shame really. Lowers the whole standard, next thing they will be promoting goats to the Mess."
Thomas's emotions were now running wild even though he tried to keep them under tight control, but the last remark about his sash was the final straw. It was time to fire a few shots of his own. His life in Limehouse came to the fore.
"It appears gentlemen, and I use that term very loosely, that they have already done that."
The jibe was not missed by either young Officer and the one called Chalmers was the first to reply with a certain amount of venom in his young voice.
"I say, that's not on Ranker. How dare you call us names in our Mess. Damn lackeys getting above his station Webster. We should take him outside and thrash him to teach him a lesson, don't you think old man?"
"Yes Chalmers, damn Rankers should watch their tongues in this man's army."
Before Thomas could take more of an issue with the two young Subalterns, he felt a strong hand on his shoulder and the squeeze that told Thomas his friend Mister Sharpe had returned.
The two young Subalterns looked at Mister Sharpe's rank and jumped to attention as he glared at them.
"Do you gentlemen have an issue with Lieutenant Marking?"
"Arh...erm...no Major. Just getting acquainted with the newest member of the Mess." Chalmers said in a stiff voice.
"Then I suggest gentlemen that you find somewhere else to drink or you may find you have bitten off far more than you can chew."
The two Subalterns nodded and turned away but Thomas could still hear the comments as they walked away about boys who were far too young to be in the company of Officers.
Mister Sharpe smiled down at Thomas before saying.
"Well you handled that just about right. It'll get their tongues wagging for the rest of the night. Don't be surprised if you get a few more visitors. Most want to find out who you are so the Officers will get more senior as they get answers. Keep a lid on your temper. I don't want to have to pull you out of the brig."
Thomas looked up at Mister Sharpe and tried to smile. He had to remind himself he was not fighting the French at the moment.
The two watched as the Subalterns returned to the group of friends. It was only minutes before a 1st lieutenant joined their group and chatted for a few minutes before walking away to join others of the same rank.
Thomas watched the performance. It continued in the same vein. All the Officers were now ignoring Thomas and Mister Sharpe while the new information went from one Officer level to the next.
Thomas wondered why he had not seen the General as yet. He was the General's guest and so he stayed with Mister Sharpe and just sipped the small brandy he held as he watched the others.
The Lieutenants passed on their information to a young looking Captain who at one stage looked over at the pair standing alone and off to the side of the bar area. The old guard kept to themselves and did not join in with the general chatter of the newcomers.
Thomas watched as the Captain reported to three Majors who after a few minutes sent one of their number to a nearby group of Colonels. The pair waited and watched as the Colonels talked amongst themselves for a few minutes before one of them, a large portly Colonel began to make his way slowly in their direction.
"You are about to get the final broadside lad." Mister Sharpe whispered to Thomas.
"What's a broadside Mister Sharpe?"
"Navy talk. It means they are going to fire all their big guns along one side of the ship. It's meant to blow the enemy ship out of the water."
"So this Colonel is going to try to fire all the guns at me then?"
"Yup. You got it right. Now watch what you say but at the same time, don't let him think he has the best of you. It's called tact but with a dangerous message. Most of these toffs are a spiteful bunch."
Thomas watched from the corner of his eye as the portly Colonel meandered through the crowd of Officers in an attempt to disguise his main intent. For Thomas it was almost amusing the see the man try not to look his way as he moved closer.
When the Colonel finally got within talking distance, he ignored Thomas and spoke to Mister Sharpe in a voice just loud enough to be heard by most of the other Officers in the Mess.
"Well Sharpe, I see you have another ranker to keep you company?"
"What? I'm a Colonel Sharpe."
"And I'm a Major Colonel. I will thank you for using my rank in the Mess as is customary."
"What? Well yes... so, who is this boy, bit young for you what?"
"What are you insinuating Colonel?"
"Nothing old boy. Just asking a civil question. I suppose you people from the ranks are not too bright when it comes to senior ranks."
"Colonel, if it were not against regulations for Officers to duel, you would be speaking to my second right now. Now then, if you have a reasonable request then we may answer it. If not Colonel, then I would suggest it be in your best interest to find some other amusement until the General appears."
"Are you threatening me Major? Dash it all man, this is the Officers Mess and not some lower ranks whore house. I remind you to mind your tongue Major."
"In that case Colonel, I bid you a good day. Your friends seem to be awaiting your report."
Thomas had stayed silent the whole time and it was not difficult for him to pick up the coldness of Mister Sharpe's words or meaning. It was not hard for Thomas to realise the Colonel was a fool and had come over just to start trouble in the hope his rank would protect him.
The Colonel gave Mister Sharpe a withering look and sneered at Thomas as he turned and moved back to his cronies. Thomas could see the barely concealed grin on Mister Sharpe's face.
"Well that went well, don't you think Lad?"
"So what happens now?"
"Now lad, they will talk amongst themselves until one finds the courage to come back in the hope of gaining more information on you. You would think the fools would take notice of your ribbon and bars. It would then tell them exactly who you may be. Still this is good sport, don't you think?"
Mister Sharpe had a wide smile on his lips as he looked down at Thomas.
"In a funny way I think it is Mister Sharpe. But what now?"
"Well going on past performances of these types. I would say the next one will fire his guns at you and try to ignore me this time. As a newly promoted 2nd Lieutenant you would be fair game as you do not have the seniority to fight back. Now this part is where you send a little message of your own. That is lad, if you have the stomach for a fight?"
"A fight Mister Sharpe?"
"A fight with words lad. Do you know the old game of cat and mouse?"
"Oh yes Mister Sharpe. We played it all the time in Limehouse."
"Good this is the fight you have to play now. Tell them nothing but lies and see if they can find them. Were you any good at the game Lad?"
"I won more than I lost Mister Sharpe."
"Good. Just play these toffs the same way. They rely on their rank to win. You just have to use your wits and mislead them a bit. Ok looks as though they have sent the one that got the short straw. Ready all your guns lad. We have boarders approaching."
Thomas smiled as he heard the laughter in Mister Sharpe's voice.
The new Colonel arrived to stand in front of Thomas. He was a tall man with a very severe look on his thin face. He had a long high bridged nose and seemed to be looking down it at Thomas.
"Well lad, what are you doing in the Officer's Mess?"
"Lieutenant...Sir." Thomas had decided to take a page from Mister Sharpe's book but added the longer pause for the man's rank to inject a little feeling into his reply.
"I'm a Lieutenant...Sir. I have been informed that it is customary to use an Officers rank in the Mess...Sir."
The man glared at Thomas and spluttered a little before continuing.
"Dashed young whelp. Do you know who I am...Lieutenant?"
"Damn it boy, I'm a Colonel in his Majesties Army. You will address me as your superior."
"Yes Superior Colonel Sir."
"Do you mock me boy? I will have you broken back to the ranks boy. Now tell me who you are and I hope you have the coin to pay for the Mess bill tonight or don't you know that particular custom yet?"
"Yes Sir, I am aware of the custom of a new Officer to the Mess and have with me a few pennies for the bill. Now Sir as to who I am..."
Thomas was interrupted by another voice that sounded as cold as iron and carried with it an authority that was not ignored by any Officers in the Mess.
"Colonel Wainwright, what is the meaning of this? You will apologise to the Lieutenant immediately or leave the Mess."
Every eye turned to the doorway of the Mess and saw General Wellesley along with three other Generals standing in the opening and watching the confrontation.
All the Officers in the Mess came to attention and the silence that ensued also suddenly felt very frigid.
The Colonel looked at Thomas and tried to keep the sneer out of his voice.
"My apologies Lieutenant." It was all the Colonel was prepared to say and it looked to Thomas as though the man had swallowed something distasteful as he said the words.
"That will be all Colonel." Thomas watched as the Colonel stood to attention and then turned about and went back to his friends in the far corner.
"Well young man, you seem to have survived your first broadsides unscathed. Well done. Now you know my guests, General Livorno, General Martino and this gentleman here is General Cuesta."
Thomas snapped to attention and bowed his head at the three Generals in acknowledgement. Much to Thomas's surprise, General Livorno clasped him by both shoulders and bent down to kiss him on both cheeks before saying to the now blushing boy in his own language.
"At last we meet again Patron El Toro. I see you are now an Officer. If you were in my army you would already be a General. On behalf of the people of Portugal I thank you for what you have done to the French, If there is anything I can ever do for you just call for me."
While Thomas was still learning Portuguese it was enough to understand and reply to the General in the same language.
"Thank you General Livorno. I will do my best to keep my friends safe from the French."
General Livorno broke into a wide smile as Thomas spoke to him in his own Language, even though it was a little broken. He was impressed that the boy had tried to learn. General Livorno patted Thomas on the shoulder as he smiled at him. The interchange was not missed by all those in the Mess.
Next it was the turn of General Martino who followed General Livorno with the kiss on each cheek. While the General did speak English he decided to use his own native language this time. He was already impressed with Thomas's use of Portuguese and wanted to know if the boy had also done the same with Spanish as he had many Spanish boys in his little army.
"So the famous Patron is coming up in the world of war. I must also add my congratulations. Your General Sir Arthur has told me many good things you have done to get rid of the French invaders. I hope you can do much more before we throw them out of our countries."
Again Thomas replied, but this time in fluent Spanish.
"My sincere thanks to you General Martino. Without the boys of Spain I would not have been able to do my duty. It is to them I owe all of my successes."
"You are too modest Patron. Your fame and fighting skill have given many of my own men a stronger back bone. We have much to thank you for. Your willingness to take those who have lost family and would have succumbed to hunger long ago is truly commendable and will not be forgotten by any of us in the future."
Thomas now felt his face was aflame as he heard the compliments. He was surprised when the new General spoke up also in Spanish.
"So young man, you are the famous Patron El Toro. I thought he would be a larger man as the French seem to think he is and yet your heart is that of a giant. I am suitably impressed. Perhaps one day we can sit and talk. I would be interested in your views on this new form of fighting you have been doing. What do you call it? Guerrilla fighting?"
"Yes General Cuesta. It was suggested to me by one of General Wellesley's friends before the retreat at La Coruna."
The General nodded in understanding and stepped back as General Wellesley stepped forward.
"A quiet word with you Lieutenant."
The General led Thomas outside the Mess and gestured for the door guards to step away to give them talking space.
"Well Mister Marking, do you think you can have your new recruits ready to fight within two months?"
"Yes Sir, if that is what you require, then I will have them ready when you need us. There is one thing more Sir."
"What's that Mister marking?"
"There is still a detachment of French in Abrantes. I would like to get them out of there before too much longer."
"Then do as you think fit mister Marking. I will need you in July to cause some trouble for the French but I will give you more on that when everything is finalised."
"Yes Sir, I will have my boys ready on time."
"I'm sure you will. Now is there anything you need for your little army?"
"There is one thing that has crossed my mind Sir."
"Well tell me so I can see what can be done."
"It is the new recruits Sir. Those who have been with me at the start may feel a little let down by the addition of so many new faces. I was wondering if I could have a badge struck for them to wear as the members of the original troop. A sort of badge of honour Sir."
"Damn good idea young man. You go ahead and do it. Just let Major Lewis know what you have come up with and I will get it through the war office. There is nothing like a good morale boost to make men fight harder. Now is there anything else you need before we go back into the vipers pit?"
"No Sir, not at this stage."
"Good, then I will see you in my tent at 10 of the clock tomorrow for your final orders. Now let's get back in there before they decide to mutiny."
Thomas followed the General back into the Officers Mess just in time to see them all lining up around the long table for dinner. It was pointedly obvious he was more than he seemed as General Wellesley pointed him to the chair on the Generals left at the top of the table. Thomas noticed a number of senior Officers raised their eyebrows at the new seating arrangements.
During the serving and eating of dinner, it became a muted affair. Little was said except for the main toasts to the King and the regiments although Thomas was kept company by the three new Generals and chatted quietly with them in both Spanish and Portuguese, much to the chagrin of those new Officers that did not understand the languages.
At the end of the dinner, General Livorno asked if he could produce the final wine of the evening which was normally when the Officers of the Mess could relax. Many loosened their cravats and opened a few buttons on their shirts as they were by now a little the worse for drink.
It was customary at this point in the Mess that rank was no longer a concern although order was still to be kept as best they could. Not always easy with so many young and high spirited Junior Officers with a belly full of strong wine.
The General produced a number of bottles of special wine from the city of Oporto; the wine took its name from the region and was simply called Port. It was to become a tradition in all the Officers Mess for years to come.
As the Port flowed the noise grew until the younger Officers began to feel especially brave and boisterous. It was just before the Generals were to leave that a young 1st Lieutenant called down the long table to Thomas.
"So new boy, what do we call you then. How come you made it to this table with the real Officers?"
The young Lieutenant was clearly in his cups and not thinking clearly. Before Thomas, who had kept his intake of wine to the bare minimum, could reply General Wellesley once again stepped in for him.
"That comment is out of order Lieutenant but being as there is so much interest in our newest Officer, I will tell you all you need to know. I would not want him to have to defend his honour and then have to lose a number of Officers to his skills."
The General looked down the length of the long table as he thought over what he was going to tell them all. His oldest Officers, the ones that had been with him when they all saw Thomas's feats of arms, sat back with sage looks on their faces as they waited for the newer Officers to be brought down a peg or two.
"Gentlemen, as I look down this table, I see that many of the newer Officers wear Service Ribbons yet not one of you wears a Campaign Ribbon. Had you taken the time to look more closely you would have seen that our newest young Officer wears a Campaign Ribbon. Not only that but he also wears three bars. Gentlemen I will ask you to all be upstanding and raise your glasses to Lieutenant Thomas Marking, defender of the Colours at Rolica, defender of our right flank at Vimeiro and holder of the high ground at La Coruna. Had Lieutenant Marking not held his ground at La Coruna, our army would not have been able to evacuate in good order. After La Coruna, Lieutenant Marking then stayed behind to fight the French alone and unaided behind their lines. Gentlemen, Lieutenant Thomas Marking."
General Wellesley raised his glass and sipped the last of his Port. Thomas had been gestured to stay sitting during the toast so he had time to watch the faces of the new Officers. As the General ran through his deeds, Thomas blushed beet red but also watched the faces of the Officers. He almost smiled as he saw the dawning of recognition on the faces of the new Officers.
The General stayed standing as he made a last speech.
"Gentlemen, I am now retiring. I would seriously suggest that you consider your positions if you wish to confront Mister Marking any further. If you do it will be on your own head. Thank you Gentlemen, I leave the Mess in your hands. Sergeant Major of the Mess?"
The Sergeant Major in charge of the Mess stepped from the back of the huge marquee and stood to attention.
"Lieutenant Marking will accept your bill at this time. All drinks from now on are at the expense of the Officer concerned. Goodnight Gentlemen."
As the Generals left the Mess, the Sergeant Major produced a bill for the dinner. Without batting an eyelid, Thomas reached into his pocket and produced ten gold ducats, giving them to the Sergeant Major. He waved away any returning of the excess coins.
Thomas was surprised when the Sergeant Major stood to attention and then saluted him. It was a funny feeling for Thomas but he had to accept it for now. Thomas looked down the table where Mister Sharpe was seated among the Majors. He got a small nod from his friend to let him know they could leave whenever Thomas was ready.
Thomas decided he had had enough for one night and was about to rise when a drunken voice came from further down the table where the younger Lieutenants sat.
"So it's the hero Marking is it? Sorry old boy but you don't look much like a hero from here."
Thomas glanced down to where Mister Sharpe sat. He received the slightest of nods as though to say 'it's all in your hand lad' Thomas looked at the young Officer. He was not much older than eighteen and was fresh faced and a little drunk. Thomas decided he'd had enough for one day.
"Well I don't think I'm a hero either although I would like to test your skill if you have any?"
"Why you cad. Do you really think you are better than real officers?"
"I don't really know many real officers so it is hard to say."
"You are getting a little above your station Ranker. There's nothing you can do against a real Officer."
"Perhaps you would consider a small wager then?"
"What? I am a real Officer. What makes you think you can best me in any part of the military drills?"
The young man was now really feeling his drink. Even though a few of his friends tried to make him sit back down and stay quite, for Thomas it had gone on long enough.
"Sir, I have been told that Officers cannot take up arms against another Officer. That being so I then offer you a challenge and a wager, if you feel so strongly?"
"Anything you can do I will surpass. Make your challenge and wager, Sir."
"Very well then, tomorrow morning at 7 of the clock, we each select nine men as well as ourselves and go for a ten mile march in full pack and arms. The first troop back is the winner."
"Men. Don't you mean boys in your case Sir?"
"If it please you Sir."
"Done. And the wager?" asked the young Officer
"The troop that loses must pay one shilling per man per minute until the last man crosses the line."
"Is that all? That hardly seems much of a wager Sir. Perhaps you do not have the stomach for a real wager?"
"What do you have in mind? A small side wager for just you and I?"
"That's what I'm saying Sir."
"Then name your wager Sir."
"Well Sir, I saw you have already had to part with ten gold ducats. I assume you would not have much left in your purse so I will make a wager of ten gold guineas. If you can raise that much?"
"The ducats are of no concern Sir. They were part of the reward for my head from the French so they paid the bill tonight. Now for your wager, perhaps a better wager would be fifty Guineas. It's a much better number?"
"Fifty...uhm...done Sir. I am sure I will enjoy drinking to your demise for some time to come on your losses."
Thomas could see the look in the young Officers face. Fifty guineas was a lot of money for any man let alone a young Officer. Thomas hoped the man could pay. Thomas stood up and looked down the table at Mister Sharpe to let him know he was ready to leave. He wanted the time to get his boys ready for the morning.
As the two walked back to Thomas's cottage, Mister Sharpe was all smiles as he said to Thomas.
"Well that went well. I was worried you would want to spit him on one of your knives."
"I had no intention of doing that Mister Sharpe but I think a good gavotte for the boys in the morning will do just fine." Thomas could not help the giggle that came from his lips.
"Yes that was an evil little plan you set up. You better make it a good one, I have ten guineas on you with four other Officers and I don't have that much dosh in my purse. Do you have the fifty just in case?"
"Oh yes I think I have that much in the chest. If not I will just have to make them run harder."
The two laughed loudly as they came to the door of the cottage.
"Well lad I will leave you here. See you at the start line in the morning. Good luck."
"Thank you Mister Sharpe. I really feel your purse is safe."
"Yes lad, I know it is. Good night."
"Good night Mister Sharpe." Thomas went inside to tell the boys about the march in the morning. When he told them all about the Officers Mess and the Wager they all clapped their hands and laughed. They all said they would do better than their best for him in the morning.
At 7am Thomas and his nine boys; Estaban and the two brothers Sergio and Thomasino, along with the six Cadets; were lined up with full packs and their muskets as they waited for the young Officer and his men to arrive. They had all now dressed in their usual Spanish clothes in which they were far more comfortable; Thomas had his rifle over his shoulder as he waited.
They arrived a little late and Thomas could plainly see the young Officer had kept drinking until late after Thomas had left. His men had their packs and muskets and the young Officer had only a light pack, his sword and a pistol. Thomas saw it as a weak attempt to push the boundaries of the wager but ignored it; instead he decided to put a little more pressure on the young Officer but disguise it as a weakness on his part.
"Well Sir, I see you have honoured the wager. I have given a lot of thought overnight to our conditions and believe I may have been a little harsh."
"So Sir, you wish to pull out of the wager?"
"Oh no, not that. I was considering that I should give you and your men a five minute head start. You see we are far younger than your men and it would please me to make this small wager as fair as possible."
The young Officer perked up at being given an unasked for advantage; he did just as Thomas had hoped he would.
"Then Sir, I accept your new conditions; I would be a fool not to. I don't suppose you would consider an increase in the wager under these circumstances?"
"What were you thinking of Sir?"
"Say a hundred guineas, would that be too much for your purse?"
Thomas uhmed and ahhed to make it look like he was unsure about the amount. Finally after a few minutes he nodded his head and said.
"Agreed. Mister Sharpe will keep the time and you may wish to ask one of your friends to stand with him to verify. If you are happy then start when ready and we will follow after five minutes."
Mister Sharpe then stepped forward with two small red flags on a short stick; he gave one to each of them and then said.
"I have one of my men at the five mile mark; you will hand him the flag as you pass so there can be no one to not make the full distance. If you are ready Gentlemen?"
The young Officer called to one of his friends to stand with Mister Sharpe to keep the time and then formed his men at the line in the road after he had taken the small red flag from Mister Sharpe. At a word from Mister Sharpe the Officer set off with his men at a good solid marching pace of four mile to the hour.
At the five minute mark, Mister Sharpe gave the nod for Thomas and his boys to start. They all set the same marching pace as the others and kept to it until they were out of sight of those on the start line. Once they were hidden by the hedge rows and the bend in the road, Thomas called for the pace to be increased and they started at their normal pace for the gavotte.
As they came around the second bend in the road, Thomas saw the Officer's men not far ahead. He gave the order for one more double time and then slowed to normal pace as he led his boys past the older men. Once in the lead he set the pace back to double time and much to the surprise and worry of the young Officer, Thomas led his boys out of sight before the Officer could react.
The young Officer was even more surprised when what seemed to be only a few minutes later, although it was much longer, he saw the returning boys as they came down the road at double time and then slowed to marching pace as they passed the still outward bound men.
As Thomas and his boys rounded the last bend into the town, he saw ahead of him a large crowd had gathered to see the end of what should have been the young upstart getting his comeuppance.
Thomas was not surprised at the shocked looks on the faces of the many watching Officers as he and his boys double timed to the finish line and were breathing only slightly more than normal. Thomas led the boys to the side of the road and they all sat and took food from their packs to eat while they waited.
Thomas went and checked with Mister Sharpe on their time. It was not bad but not as good as they would normally have done back at the camp. For Thomas and his boys, one hour and twenty minutes was a good time; it had taken them an extra ten minutes this morning but there was still no sign of the young Officer or his men.
Thomas returned to his young friends and sat to eat while waiting for the end of the race. As they sat, Estaban whispered to Sergio. The younger boy ran off but was soon back with a wicker basket filled with straw.
Sergio sat the basket on the ground close to Estaban; the older boy looked at Thomas and smiled.
"It is a little something for our victory Patron; we will drink to the winners and losers with a new wine."
Thomas smiled at the teen and settled back. He hoped the others would return before he had to meet the General at 10 of the clock. The time moved slowly as they waited. It was fifteen minutes after the mark of 9 that the first of the returning troops showed up.
It looked as though they had been pushing hard but were still nearly forty minutes behind Thomas's boys and there were still more of them not yet in sight. As the three soldiers crossed the line, Mister Sharpe called out loudly.
"Three at forty one minutes."
Everyone stood waiting for the next to appear. It was a solitary figure who showed up next; the butt of his musket was being dragged on the ground and the shaking knees showed his exhaustion.
"One at fifty two minutes." Came the loud voice of Mister Sharp. And so they came in one at a time until there were now only two to cross the line, a soldier and the young Officer.
Thomas had partially relied on the fact that most Officers rode their horse most places and would not be used to running such distances. His assumption proved correct as the young Officer finally staggered over the line one step behind the last soldier.
"Tenth man at one hour and sixteen minutes. Gentlemen, the race is won by Lieutenant Marking and his men; i would ask all wagers to be settled by sundown as is custom."
It was as Mister Sharpe finished the Thomas saw Estaban reach into the basket. From the basket his pulled what appeared to be a number of small red cups and one black one. After giving each boy a red cup, Estaban handed Thomas the single black one.
They were newly made and were over a thin ceramic that would hold about two mouthfuls of drink. Estaban then took out a bottle of red wine; Thomas could see a homemade label stuck on the front. It almost brought tears of laughter to his eyes as he saw what the boys had done.
The bottle was opened and Thomas could not get over the sense of fun Estaban had created, with all the onlookers watching, Estaban filled the ten coloured cups. The handmade label on the bottle had been painted gold and there was a black bulls head in the centre. Above the picture of the bulls head was the word 'Sangre' and underneath it said 'De Toro' Estaban smiled as he filled Thomas's black cup.
I the loudest voice he could muster, Estaban called out.
"Viva El Patron. Viva El Toro." They all lifted their cups and drank deeply until there were only a few drops of wine left. As the boys took the cups from their lips, they dashed them onto the stones of the roadway; Thomas was indicated to throw his black one in the centre of the others.
When looked at, it appeared to be a gold circle of crockery splinters with a black dot in the middle. Estaban was not finished; with a cunning look on his face, he walked to the Officer that had lost the race and gave him the rest of the bottle.
In broken English which he must have been practicing the words of, Estaban said.
"A gift to you from the Patron, El Toro. May your blood be as strong as his."
Thomas knew he could not be late for his appointment with the General if he did not leave immediately. Telling Estaban to take the boys back to the cottage and wait for him there, Thomas turned to go and meet the General.
Much to his surprise, as Thomas turned he almost bumped into the General standing close by and watching the results of the race.
Thomas jumped to attention and saluted; the General smiled as he tucked a bulging purse into his waist band before saying.
"Come along Lieutenant. Let's talk as we go; less ears to hear what I have to say this way."
"Now Lieutenant, I am planning to invade Spain in July at a place called Talavera. Mister Sharpe and his men will be raiding the French to the north of us to pull away some of the troops of the French. I would like you to work to the south around the area of Arzobispo and Toledo. Try to cause as much disruption as you can without being caught. I have given you enough men to form a miniature army all of your own so I expect you to make full use of them. It leaves you about two months to ready your company and get the new ones settled in. Can you do it for me?"
"It will be done Sir; just tell me when you wish us to start. I will try to have the problem at Abrantes fixed well before then."
"Good, now is there anything else you need?"
"No Sir, I have everything that I need for now except the badges for the originals."
"Get together with Major Lewis; he knows about it and will get it done for you before you head back to your camp. Did you send word for your men to move to the Estrella?"
"Yes Sir, they will be there waiting for our return."
"Right then Lieutenant, if that's all then I need to get back and count my winnings. You would really think that an Officer would know that the men who have fought in a campaign would be better than those who are yet to see a musket fired in anger. Still I will not complain; it was far better than trying to explain the death of a young Officer to his parents. Especially as his parent sits in Parliament. Good day to you Lieutenant; I am trusting you to keep the French off my neck at Talavera."
"We will Sir, or die trying."
"Yes I know you will."
Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley marched away smiling as he silently whistled to himself. Like before, he had never doubted the young drummer boy, and his predictions had come true better than he thought they would.
Thomas got back to his cottage just as the new Corporal Trent marched his boys into the field behind the cottage; he was followed closely by the two wagons of Midshipman Scully and four wagons pulled by their own mules from the Quartermasters store and the armoury.
For the next two days, Thomas set out the rules for the new arrivals; each morning was started with their usual ten mile run in full battle kit as well as their drums. It had been how Thomas and the originals had learnt and he saw no reason to change the tactic.
On the morning of the third day, Major Lewis arrived with a small wooden box. It was the badges for the originals; they had been stuck by the men of the armoury in double quick time for their favourite Lieutenant.
This was also the day when the Sergeant of the Armoury arrived with the six stands his men had made for the small guns of the Sailors. The guns were called Carronades; Thomas had never seen anything like them. They were a small cannon like gun that, as Midshipman Scully told him, Mounted on the gunnels of a ship to either use when boarding another ship or to repel those trying to board yours.
The stands made for them by the Armoury had to be portable and so they had made them with two cross pieces of thick timber bound in brass. There was a ring fitted to the end of each timber where a spike would be driven into the ground to stop the gun from falling over when fired.
The two timbers fitted together at the centre by means of a hole drilled through the mortis joint and held by a thick pipe that went through both timbers. The carronade's swivel with its short stubby shaft was fitted into the pipe and fired from there by a single gunner.
There was of course more to it than the simple explanation given to Thomas by Midshipman Scully. Scully liked to call them Swivel Guns and they were small enough to be carried by one man although the smaller Midshipman needed the help of the Gunners Mates when mounting them.
Finally, with the badges now in his hands, Thomas told the recruits they would be moving out before sun rise the next morning; he told them he expected them to cover forty miles a day until they came to the new camp somewhere around Guarda or the mountains close by.
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