Copyright © 2016
Homeward Bound to England
The Paymaster's tent was located close to the main Quartermaster's area as it was a supplementary corps to that branch of the service.
The Major in charge of the Paymasters Corps had his own personal tent located at the rear of the smaller 8'x8' tent used to pay the soldiers from.
Major Shortly was a plumply built man and career Officer and had used his families influence to get this prized position where he would never have to be on the firing line in any battle. The Major was also aware of the possibilities for more lucrative endeavours without getting shot at by the French.
Major Shortly had surrounded himself with like minded inferiors and they, for a small recompense, would keep their mouths shut. The fact they also were exempt from the firing line made them even more amenable to his designs.
For five years, the Major had increased his hidden wealth by any means he could find. If using the dead to keep the coins rolling in, then he was not above that at all.
The Paymaster and Quartermaster's was set near the centre of the camp in one of the wider lines that worked as road-ways for the military men and made an easy access to the Officer's lines.
It was late in the day and the sun was only moments from sinking below the horizon to end another day. Many of the soldiers were at rest after preparing as much of their kit for the move next day. Most were sitting around smoking their pipes and waiting for the call to the mess tents where they would eat their last meal of the day.
Many heads raised as they heard what sounded like an altercation further along the wide tent line. When the resting men looked up, it was too see two young boys wearing the red and gold sash that seemed common among the Drummer Boys of the new Auxiliary Corps.
The two boys were very loud as they apparently argued in Spanish, a language that many still did not know but recognized.
The two boys were very loud and had got to the stage of pushing each other in what was apparently quite a serious manner and it looked as though it could come to serious blows.
The altercation soon had many of the relaxing soldiers looking at the two, it was easily seen that the boys must have been brothers as they looked much the same although there was perhaps a year or two between them.
Much to the surprise of those watching, the younger of the two lashed out with a wide punch that connected with the older one. It was only seconds before the two antagonists were rolling around on the ground in an all out brawl.
As the two boys fought with wide thrown punches and vicious looking kicks, the watching men began to laugh as they gathered in a wide circle around the two fighters. It was not long before bets began to be made as to whom would win the fracas.
The loud calls and yells of the watching men caused even more of the soldiers to gather at the large circle. The two combatants were now raising the dust and the young boys voices were raised in grunts and words that could only have been curses as they pounded at each other.
It was not long before the four soldiers charged with watching over the pay tent also joined to watch the entertainment supplied by the youngsters. It was the loud catcalls and yells of the soldiers that caught Major Shortly's attention as he worked on one of his ledgers.
The Major quickly closed the large ledger and, after making sure it was well locked away in one of his large chests for safe keeping, the Major left the tent to investigate the disturbance to his normally quite time of day.
What met the Major's eyes did not in the least impress him, the sight of two boys fighting in the lines close to his sanctum only gave more venom to his loud roar as he forced his large bulk through the raucous soldiers. As the Major roared and shoved the tightly packed soldiers, he eventually made it to the middle of the circle. With little forethought, the Major grabbed both boys by the scruff of the neck and pulled them apart.
Not one of the watchers nor the Major noticed there was very little damage to the two boys although there were those who wished they had been able to see the end of the fight, there had been some heavy betting on the outcome.
As the bellicose Major railed at the two young ruffians, behind his tent two older boys quickly pulled two of the pegs holding the bottom of the tent. They then lifted the loose edge and two other very small boys went to their bellies and wormed their way under and inside the tent.
As the Major berated the two fighters, from the now darkening place behind the tents came a loud whistle. As though hit by a stone, the two fighters looked up with smiles and the older one suddenly kicked the Major in the shins and the two boys fled into the darkness.
Flushed with both anger and pain, the Major forced his way back to his tent as the watching soldiers grinned behind their hands. It had been an entertaining evening and it was time to go to the mess for dinner. The fight became the talking point among the rank and file as they ate their rations.
Thomas waited patiently for the return of his friends. As darkness shrouded the camp in deep shadows the soft glow of small fires began to be seen outside all the small tents as the men relaxed after their meal. Pipes were lit and the events of the day discussed as the quiet began to settle over the mass of soldiery.
Thomas was pleased to see six figures coming out of the darkness as he also sat with his special pipe and puffed contentedly. Everything had been made ready for his Corps to move out separate from the rest of the army, there were only the tents to be taken down and packed away in the morning.
Thomas looked up at the six smiling faces as they sat down around the table. Carlito held out a large piece of white paper with a rough sketch on it in charcoal. As always with the Drum Corps, everything that was said was in Spanish or Portuguese.
"And what do you have here Carlito?" Thomas asked with a smile.
"Patron, this is the drawing of the inside of the fat man's tent. If I may Patron, I will point out the ones of interest to us?"
Thomas nodded his head in agreement as he looked at the other five smiling faces, it did not go unnoticed that Pablo and Thomasino looked a little the worse for wear.
Thomas listened as Carlito pointed out the various square boxes drawn on the paper and told Thomas what he and Sergio had seen and guessed. One by one the items were pointed out and Thomas listened intently to Carlito's assumption of what the many boxes may hold by their size or bindings.
The Major's tent was far larger than normal, even for an officer. At the far end was the image of a bed and, under the bed were four small boxes bound with metal Carlito had told him. Next were the other items in the tent, Tables, chests and even what appeared to be a folding wardrobe for the Major's uniforms.
The most interesting was the large Iron bound chest close to the Major's bed. Thomas knew the largest chest had to be the one used to hold the wages for the army, it would be far too large and heavy for even two men to carry it, not that it was Thomas's intention to do so.
For another half an hour the six boys made their plans. It took little effort to find two more larger boys to help with the final plan, some of which even Thomas was not told of by Estaban or Carmelo, what he did not know could not hurt him.
Major Shortly looked around his tent as he sipped the last glass of port wine. He had now imbibed just enough to give him that light fuzzy feeling he liked before he went to his bed. Both sets of ledgers were now fully up to date, the pay chest was double locked and the four smaller chests concealed under his bed had their padlocks checked. Major Shortly was now ready for the move next morning, he could now sleep well in the knowledge that his plans for life after the service were almost complete.
The Major had only two more years of service to complete, the last five had been very kind to him and he now had enough tucked away in his four chests to purchase a nice manor house and land back in England where he could live with ease for the rest of his life.
Thomas was awoken to the fresh smell of his usual morning cafe. Around him he could hear the sounds of his camp being struck as the boys readied for their early move from the encampment. The wounded had been watched over by the young aide Jervis and he was now supervising those who would need to be carried in the wagons.
Before even the first light of the new day could be seen over the eastern horizon, His Majesties Drum Corps Auxiliary was on the move, even the pickets of the main camp barely heard them move out in the distance.
General Wellesley was woken by the sound of Colonel Lewis's voice at the doorway of his tent. With a soft groan at the start of another day, the General called for Colonel Lewis to enter as he looked for his clothes, his batman was there as usual to help his General to dress.
"What brings you here at this ungodly hour Colonel?"
"Sir, I just awoke a few minutes ago and found these on my table."
Colonel Lewis laid four large ledgers on the table that was covered in maps and other papers.
"What the devil are they Colonel?"
"I'm not sure Sir, but they do look like ledgers from the Paymaster's office."
"How the devil did you get those Colonel?"
"They were just sitting on my table Sir. I think we can assume they are a gift from a certain young Officer."
"I would be inclined to agree with you Colonel, but why, that is the question?"
"Perhaps we should take a look and see why that certain young Officer placed them with us Sir?"
The general nodded as he looked at the title written on the crown of the first ledger, it said 'Other Ranks'. The General opened the first ledger to the last entries. The first thing he noticed was that a large number of the names were written in red ink while the rest were in black. These ledgers appeared to be nothing like the ones he had inspected earlier.
The oddity soon had the General's interest and he began to inspect all the ledgers. Each one was titled in a different way. When he got to the one marked as Drummers, he began to take far more notice and a newly written passage in on the edge of the page took his interest.
Written in a fine hand of someone who was obviously well educated, were the words 'red notations are deceased'. For some time the General just looked at the ledgers, it was plain to see the young Lieutenant had passed these on for a good reason that was not immediately apparent.
"Colonel, please go to Major Shortly's tent and ask him to report within the hour and to bring all his pay ledgers. Do not take no for an answer Colonel."
"Yes Sir. Sir, what if these are his ledgers as they seem to be?"
"Then he will tell us about them if they have been lost from his office but, don't mention them until he does."
"Yes Sir." The Colonel turned and left to find the Paymaster, it was a strange start to their day.
Major Shortly was not amused to woken from his sleep at such and early hour, but one did not ignore a Superior Officer if he wanted to keep his head on his shoulders, even if that head was still a little fuzzy from last night's extra port wine.
Major Shortly was still dressing and Colonel Lewis entered his tent with his orders.
"Major Shortly, the General wishes to see you at your earliest convenience, he also asks that you bring all your ledgers for a final inspection before we move out to our new location."
"Ledgers Colonel? Why would the General want to see my ledgers, he has never asked for them before. Is my reputation under scrutiny for some reason?"
"That I do not know Major, like yourself I just follow the orders of the General. Can I tell him you will appear soon?"
"Yes, yes of course. I will just need a little time to dress and gather my ledgers and will appear within the half hour Colonel."
"That will be fine Major, I will leave you to attend to your business."
Colonel Lewis left the tent as Major Shortly tried to work out why he had been called, had he made an error somewhere and been found out. Major Shortly pushed that thought away, he had spent the last five years being very careful and felt there was nothing more to it than the General clearing his desk before the withdrawal to a safer place.
Major Shortly went to his desk, unlocked it and took out his ledgers, his second set would remain well hidden in his locked box beside the bed. After quickly checking to see that nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen, Major Shortly left the tent with his arm load of ledgers.
When the Major entered the Generals tent, there was an instant feeling that sent chills up his spine, something was drastically wrong but he was not sure what.
"Major." Said General Wellesley with a distinct iciness in his voice. "I'm glad you could join us. I have a few things I would like clarified before we decamp. It has come to my attention that there are some of our soldiers not receiving their full dues for their service, can you please explain this for me?"
"I don't know how that could be General, I have here all my ledgers that will show all members of the service have been paid in full."
"I see, and you are sure there is no chance of any errors being made?"
"None Sir, every man signs for his dues and every payment is recorded by either myself or one of my subordinates."
"And do you ever have any monies arrive late for pay call?"
"None Sir, the War Office always sends enough coin for three months wages. The chest is held under guard in my own tent Sir."
General Wellesley looked at the Officer sitting opposite him with steely eyes, turning to the waiting Colonel Lewis, he said, "Colonel, if you will?"
Colonel Lewis lifted the other four ledgers from where he had placed them out of sight and laid them on the table in front of the white faced Major as the General continued, "Perhaps then Major, you could explain these for me. It would appear to be a second set of ledgers much like those in front of you?"
The Major's face showed firstly fear and then confusion as he looked down at his second and private set of ledgers. General Wellesley did not wait for a reply as he called loudly, "Sergeant of the guard!"
The Duty Sergeant who had been waiting outside entered the tent immediately with two privates.
"You will place the Major under close arrest. He is to be kept incommunicado until the field courts martial to be held at the end of this days march. Sergeant you will also send others to arrest all of the paymasters assistants and they are to be held until further notice."
The Sergeant and his guards seemed little bothered about manhandling a superior Officer as they grasped the Major by the arms and hustled him out of the General's tent.
General Wellesley sighed deeply as the ramifications of his actions took full hold. The only saving grace for his own personal feelings was the fact the Major had brought his own dishonour upon himself, although it was little comfort knowing what the long term effect would be to the man's reputation and family.
"Well Colonel, it would appear our young friend was right. I want you to have all of these ledgers inspected and the necessary restitution made."
"Yes Sir. Sir, what about the drummers, they left early this morning and must be owed a considerable sum if they have not been paid since enlisting?"
"Yes there is that, well there is little we can do until we meet up with Lieutenant Marking again. Make sure any monies meant for them is put aside in a safe place until we can sort it all out."
"Oh, Colonel, one more thing."
"Make sure Lieutenant Marking has all he needs on his return from England. There is to be no interference by any Officer with the organisation of his new Corps or the supplies he deems necessary for its success."
General Wellesley turned back to tidying his table before his orderlies came to pack everything for the move back into Portugal.
Thomas's Corps was moving fast as they always did. The seven who had been wounded and were unable to walk were in one of the wagons watched over by the young man Thomas had been able to coerce from the infirmary. Had he not been on good terms with Colonel Wright he would not have been able to convince him of the importance of having Private Jervis in his small command.
Thomas had set a target for the days march and they met that in the middle of the afternoon. Not a single boy waited for orders but immediately set about raising camp. The next day would be more of the same and so, they wasted little time at their tasks.
Thomas knew they would take a good five days to make it all the way back to their old haunt of Vimeiro but for some reason, deep inside he felt as though he was going home again.
Thomas had his boys moving fast and at no time did they see any sign of the great army far behind them. The first sight of the small town of Vimeiro was almost a pleasure as the forced march had stretched even their prodigious abilities and all of the boys were looking forward to a long rest while their young Officer was away in England, they should have known better.
When they first came in sight of Vimeiro, Thomas stopped his Corps and told them to rest for ten minutes. As they did so, Thomas pulled a small spy glass from his pack that he had taken from a French Officer at Talavera.
With the small glass to his eye he looked up at the town on the rise, as before, he saw the red and gold flag flying above the church. Thomas smiled as he got a thought, it would be nice for his boys to recognize the people who had befriended him so easily all those long months ago.
As the small Corps of Drummers and friends rose to continue to their hideaway, Thomas called for attention.
"There will be a new order of march. Colour Guard, clear the colours, our battle flag will lead the way with the others behind and in close attendance. All Drummers will look to their drums and form ranks of four along with the fifes. The guns will be placed at the centre and the wagons at the rear along with all of our mounts under the orders of Lieutenant Colosio."
Thomas watched as the new order of march took form. With everyone formed up and in their place, Thomas pulled his own drum onto his hip and raised his pair of drum sticks to his lips in the signal for the others that he was about to begin to play.
The first long drum roll that began the Della Guerra rolled out over the peaceful looking plain before them. As the small Corps began to march in step towards the town on the rise of Vimeiro, the rest of the drums and fifes began to play their battle tune.
The Corps was a good two miles from the town as they began. The sound of the drums even drowned out the boys boots as they stepped in time towards what they all perceived as their home away from home.
It took little time for those in the leading ranks to see the far away figures of the towns people suddenly being to amass at the top of the rise to watch the boys they considered part of their families coming towards them. The drums and fifes echoed over the plain where once so much blood had been spilt.
As the Corps drew closer, the marching boys saw that the people were now waving red and gold colours in the air and the smaller children were all running towards them like a horde as they yelled and cheered.
Thomas did not stop at the entrance into the town. Instead he kept his boys in step and took the long train right into the centre where he had them all form up as the last notes of the battle tune echoed in the silence.
The people had all gone quiet as they saw their little army form ranks in front of the church where the large flag with the black bulls head flew in the light breeze.
Even the many young children seemed to recognise the importance of the time and grew very quiet as Thomas called for the salute and then, much to everyone's surprise; Thomas called the boys to present arms.
Once the drums had been pushed behind the boy's hip and they had their mixed rifles and muskets at the ready, Thomas called for a full gun salute to honour the people of Vimeiro and the battle flag that they all flew so proudly.
The salute of the guns was still echoing over the once quiet valley as the towns people answered with a resounding cheer. For Thomas it was to be the last steps they took for the day, the townspeople would not hear of them going on to their valley. A great party was soon being organised and the boys were told to stay and rest, there was plenty of time to go to their valley the next day.
It was mid afternoon before Thomas' Corps arrived at their old home valley. The familiarity of their surroundings soon had the originals feeling well pleased with being back. The camp was soon being set up and Thomas, along with his Lieutenants and other senior ranks, were soon sitting around the large table and making plans.
The French guns were their first priority. They had to find boys who were really interested in becoming gunners, and then how Lieutenant Scully would train them.
Evening found all the boys settling into their old home. Those who were new to the area were soon being told the story of how the valley was made home for them by the good people of Vimeiro.
The next day was given as a day of rest for the Corps. It was as Thomas sat with his now familiar mug of cafe in the morning that Carmelo and Estaban came and sat with him, the boys carried a wooden chest that was bound with thin strips of metal.
"What do you have there, Carmelo?"
"It is what you call it? The payment for your soldiers."
Thomas looked at the locked chest sitting on the table before him. He knew there had to be more to the story but was not quite sure he wanted to ask. Finally his curiosity got the better of him.
"Uhm...so where did it come from?"
"Oh this came from the good Major; he said it was for all the fighting boys of the Patron El Toro."
"He did? Are you sure he said it was for them?"
"Oh yes Patron. When we returned to the Major's tent to get the big books, Carlito told us of the four boxes of coins under his bed. Now we all know that the Patron is an honest man and would not want us to do anything that would make trouble for him. As the Major was sleeping, Carlito asked him with great respect if we could take the coins for the fighting boys. The Major agreed... well Patron, he sort of grunted that it would be a good idea. When Carlito had his agreement he slipped the small boxes from under the Major's bed so we could carry them back where they belonged and so they are all here for you to watch over."
"So my friend, you are telling me that the Major told you to take his chests?"
"Patron, would Carmelo make lies to you?"
Thomas found it difficult to keep the smile off his face, he was far too aware of Carmelo's penchant for telling tall tales when it suited him.
"Well then, I suppose we will have to find out what is owed to our soldiers and have them paid."
"The Corporal Jones has made the list, perhaps it would be wise to talk with him."
Thomas looked up from the table and surveyed the camp until he finally saw Corporal Jones sitting outside his tent smoking his pipe.
"I need your help."
Jones stood and walked over to the table and stood in front of Thomas.
"I need you to find that list of wages for the boys, if you would also look into all the others that have joined us and make your list to cover all their time as well. When you have your list complete, I need you to go and tell everyone that there will be a pay parade after lunch."
Thomas watched the wide smile come over the young teens face as he saluted and ran off to get his list ready, it was going to be a good day for all of them.
As he watched Jones run to tell the others they would now receive their wages as promised by the army, a sudden thought crossed Thomas's mind. Turning to Carmelo, he asked, "What do you mean by 'the boxes'? Are there more than one?"
"Oh yes Patron, there are four small boxes, did I not say so?"
"No you did not. Is this the army's coin?"
"No Patron, it is the small boxes that the Major kept for himself. The coins for the army are in a large box."
"So, how do we get this one open, I do not have a key for the padlock?"
"It is nothing Patron, Carlito is very good with opening the locks, we will ask him."
Thomas decided he did not want to know any more, what he already knew was far more than he wanted just now. The camp was a buzz of noise as the word went around that everyone would be paid their dues, when Jones returned to Thomas with his list of wages, Thomas asked him to sit and explain it all for him.
At the end of the explanation, Thomas then asked Jones to come up with an idea for the boys themselves to be able to keep track of their wages, it would stop any further theft from his boys in the future.
Corporal Jones said he would think on it and tell Thomas once he had found a way for the boys to watch over their own payments and, as they all knew, most boys could not read or write so it had to be something easy for them to look after.
The pay parade took until early in the afternoon, once completed there were a lot of very happy drummers in the camp even though they did not have anywhere to spend their new wealth.
The next day was the beginning of the gun training. It took a short while to find boys not only old enough but strong enough to handle the heavy guns. The rest of the Corps continued with normal training while those chosen went for their first lessons on the guns.
A few days had passed when Carmelo came up with another idea. When he told Thomas of it, Thomas could only smile and agree. It would also give the boys something to spend their money on and give a little cash business to the town that had always watched over them.
Carmelo's idea was for the Corps to have its own uniform, it would be based on the original one that the older boys wore but contain a few new additions to make it stand out. For the making of the uniforms, Thomas and Carmelo took a trip down to the town to look for the women and to ask for a price and approval on the rough design they had come up with the previous evening.
In addition to the new uniforms, there was also the matter of new boots and knives for those who had joined them after the originals had moved to Guarda. There was going to be a lot of business for the small town on the ridge.
It did not take long for the two boys to find a number of the women who would be only too glad to work on the new uniforms. They would source the material easily enough as it was a common colour and used for most of the Portuguese and Spanish clothing of the day. It would only be the extras that may take a little more trouble.
It was finally agreed that they would send ten boys at a time to the town for measuring and fitting. The women said they would have the uniforms done at a rate of twenty per week but the extra ones would take longer for the officers.
With everything agreed to, the two boys left to return to the camp. They would send the first ten boys in later that day for the women to begin. The officer's uniforms would be sewn last.
On their return to camp, and after Thomas had selected the first ten boys to go into the town, he was joined by Corporal Jones. The young teen had thought of a way to help the boys keep track of their wages.
For the next hour, Thomas sat with Jones and went over every item of the new pay system and how it should work. The biggest problem had been for the boys to be able to sign for their coin when they could not read or write. Jones had come up with an idea he had heard his father talking about a long time ago.
It was an invention used by the people of the far Eastern land. The item was a short piece of stick that was carved on one end with a symbol that represented the name of the person. They then only had to stamp it into soft wax or perhaps even use ink for it to leave and impression of the person's name.
Thomas liked the idea and each boy could keep the small item in their pack, it would now be a matter for them to find a carver in the town to do the work in making them.
As Thomas sat with his fancy pipe at the end of the day and watched the sun sink below the horizon, he had a satisfied feeling that so much had been accomplished for his little Corps of drummers and their friends.
As the days passed, Thomas became aware of just how much work it took for him to ready his Corps for the coming fighting in the north. There were not only the new uniforms but they also had a small problem with the guns, or more precisely, the ammunition.
British guns were of a different size and there was very little chance they could get much from the French. The solid shot was still unused but their stock of canister was very low. It was fortunate for Thomas that Scully was still there with them as he came up with the solution.
Estaban took Scully to the town to introduce him and help him explain to the blacksmith what they need and how to make it. They had more than enough powder at the camp as well as shot so that side of things was easily fixed.
After some trial and error over a number of days, the blacksmith finally had what he needed and the casting of the canisters was soon under way with Scully staying in the town to help fill the finished items with the powder and shot that made up the shrapnel loads.
It was now late in September and the boys would soon have to leave to meet the ship for England. Thomas had told the women of Vimeiro that there would be many more joining his Corps when he returned from England and that they would need more uniforms before they left for the North.
The training was now well established and all the boys were fit and far healthier than they would ever have been if they were still in England. Sergio and Carlito now had a number of extra boys to help with the cooking each day. The drummers and others had worked out their own roster for the small kitchen duty and there was always help available for the two boys now that they had lost their friend Marcelo.
In early November, Thomas and Scully had to start thinking about the move to the ship. The boys on the guns were now like a well drilled group and, with a little help from Estaban, had become competent horsemen and could ride the guns into place with speed and precision.
Lieutenant Scully would be taking all his own boys back to the ship and Thomas had decided to take Carmelo, Sergio and Carlito with him. Estaban would stay as the Officer in charge while the others were away.
It was the 18th of November when the group arrived on the docks in Lisbon and caught site of their ship. The HMS Hermes lay at the wharf loading stores as the boys walked up to the gang plank where two red coated marines stood guard.
"What do you lads want?" asked the older of the two guards.
"I am Third Lieutenant Scully and have been ordered to report to this ship. This is First Lieutenant Marking and Second Lieutenant Sharpe; they are to travel back to England with their two servants on the Hermes."
The older guard came to attention and saluted the three Officers, even though two of them looked to be foreign in their black uniforms.
Thomas had decided he would now only dress in the new uniforms that were to be the dress of the new Drummer Corps. Scully and his boys had changed back into their normal naval uniforms but had insisted on saving their Spanish dress to remind them in years to come of the time they had spent with Thomas and his Corps.
The new uniforms were fashioned after the original black clothes they had changed into when they had turned to guerrilla fighting.
For the Officers the uniform was the usual black polished boots, black trousers but with a narrow black band of braid running down the side and were flared at the bottom with a long slit so they could get their boot knives if needed. The sash was the same but had an added gold tassel added to each end.
The white shirt was now embroidered with very small filigree work in gold thread. The short Bolero jacket now had silver braid epaulets and was again embroidered on both front panels with black thread.
The flat crowned hat was still worn but there had been a thin strip of braided cord added which also became the strap to hold the hat on and the different colours denoted the boy's position in the Corps. The three Officers braid was silver, for the drummers and fife players the braid on the hat was red, the gunners were green and for Estaban's horsemen it was gold.
The women of Vimeiro had worked hard and their creation of the new uniforms was testament to their skill with needle and thread.
The red coated guards stepped aside and let the small group walk up onto the deck of the HMS Hermes where they were once again stopped by the young Officer of the day.
Lieutenant Scully told his boys to wait amidships while he took Thomas and his friends to report to the Captain. Scully led Thomas and his friends aft to the Captain's cabin. There they found the Captain and his Second Officer waiting for them.
"Sir, Third Lieutenant Scully reporting as ordered."
"It's good to meet you Lieutenant, the Viscount's message said good things about you and your men."
"The Viscount Sir?"
"Yes Mister Scully, Viscount Wellington was full of praise for your efforts ashore."
"I'm sorry Sir, I don't think I ever met the Viscount. I don't know how he would know of me."
"Of course you have met him Mister Scully. General Sir Arthur Wellesley has just been gazetted as Viscount Wellington of Talavera."
"Oh I see Sir, we have been out of touch with the main forces for over two months, it's the first we have heard of it."
"Well Mister Scully, now you know, and who is this?"
"Sorry Sir, this is First Lieutenant Marking and Second Lieutenant Sharpe, the two younger ones are Mister Marking's servants."
"Ah, at last we meet Lieutenant Marking. I must say you have become the talk of London town. I have set aside the Second Lieutenants cabin for your use during our voyage, he will bunk in with Mister Scully. Now then, Mister Scully, by all reports you have made a name for yourself with the guns."
"Thank you Sir."
"Well don't thank me too soon. I would like you to take command of the larboard side guns on the tween decks when called to battle stations."
"Yes Sir. Sir may I keep my gunners with me? We have worked well together and I feel they would perform better if they were allowed to stay with me."
"How many guns can you man with them Mister Scully?"
"Then you will need to organise two more crews, we carry eight guns a side on each deck Mister Scully. I will leave it up to you to find your extra crews."
"Thank you Sir. Which watch will I be taking Sir?"
"As a Third Lieutenant which watch do you think you should take?"
"I think it will be the devils watch Sir."
"You have guessed right Mister Scully. Now if that's all, you can escort Mister Marking to his cabin, it is the one next to yours. I will expect to see you both at dinner which will be served once we are at sea."
"Thank you Sir."
"Right Lieutenant, carry on and Mister Marking?"
"I will look forward to hearing about your exploits. His Lordship is highly taken with you."
"Thank you Sir, but I was only doing my duty Sir."
"Very good Mister Marking. Well I have a ship to ready for sea, until dinner gentlemen."
The two boys and Carmelo saluted the Captain before leaving the cabin where Scully took them down the narrow passage and showed them the small cabin set aside for them. Thomas saw that it would be a tight squeeze for the four of them but the two smaller boys seemed to have little trouble finding a narrow place on the floor while Thomas and Carmelo would have the two bunks one above the other.
As previously, Thomas soon felt the roll of the sea, his stomach also once again complained about the pitch and roll but all three of his friends seemed totally unaffected.
Thomas was not quite sure when they were expected at the Captains table and so was pleasantly surprised when Scully knocked on his door to tell him they were expected at the table for dinner.
The ship had been at sea for just on two hours when dinner was called. As much as Thomas did not like to think of food, he was still expected to appear.
When he and Carmelo arrived in the small Officers mess, all but the duty Officer were there to greet him. The Captain took one look at Thomas and turned to an older Officer standing beside him.
"Surgeon White, perhaps you could arrange to give our young landlubber something for his stomach?"
"Yes Sir, I will go and get something now."
"Now Mister Marking, while we wait for the Surgeons return, perhaps you will take a small tot of rum. Dinner will be served in a few minutes. Mister Scully! Are you well settled?"
"Yes Sir, thank you Sir."
"Good, ah...here is our esteemed Surgeon."
The Surgeon arrived back and then gave Thomas what looked like a small twirl of paper, when Thomas opened it he saw a white powder and looked up at the older man.
"I would suggest Lieutenant that you take it then quickly make use of your tot of rum. I know it tastes like something out of a cow's rear end but the rum will help it to go down and you should not have any more trouble finding your sea legs."
Thomas looked dubiously at the white powder but the way he was feeling it could only make things better. With his face slightly screwed up, Thomas tipped the powder onto his tongue and then quickly followed it with a good gulp of the thick dark rum. The Surgeon was right, it tasted like something out of an animal's rear end but the rum soon hid the taste. It also settled his stomach far faster than he thought it would.
Two young stewards began to set the table as the Officers talked about their day, Thomas stayed quiet as he listened to the talk around him. Thomas saw that there were four Senior Officers as well as Scully and another four young men he was told were Midshipmen although two of them looked to be well into their twenties.
After the full introductions were made, the Captain called them to the table where he took the seat at the top of the table and the Surgeon took the one at the other end. The rest of the Officers and Midshipmen were settled along both sides with Thomas and Carmelo sitting close to the end nearest the Captain.
After the rich red wine was poured, the Captain called for the toast to the King and then the stewards served the first course of soup. As they ate, The Captain turned to Thomas and said, "Mister Marking, we would be pleased if you could regale us with your exploits at Talavera. By all reports it was a bloody battle and both sides lost more than they bargained for."
"Yes Sir, it was a bloody day for all but we played only a small part on the last day."
"That is not what I have read in the Times Newspaper, Mister Marking."
"Well Sir, I would not know what the Newspapers would say as I have never read them."
"Well Mister Marking, by all reports you played a very vital role in deterring the French from taking his Lordships left flank, no small venture I would say."
"It was our duty Sir."
"Nonsense Mister Marking, from Haversham's report you practically saved the day for us. Mister Scully as you were there perhaps you would fulfil our curiosity?"
"Well Sir it was all very confusing, after all I was just in charge of the guns, the plan was Mister Markings."
"Gentlemen I get the distinct feeling you are both trying to avoid the subject, is there a reason for this?"
"Senor Kapitan, perhaps I can be of some help?" Carmelo said with a gleam in his eye. Thomas saw the look on his friends face and glanced at Scully both lifted their eyes to the cabin roof in silent prayer before settling back in their chairs and staying as quiet as they could. Carmelo was in one of his story moods.
"By all means Mister Sharpe, we would be most interested."
"Thank you Kapitan." Both Thomas and Scully noticed that Carmelo had broadened his Spanish accent so the others had to lean slightly forward to listen to him more clearly. It was an old trick that Carmelo had made use of before.
"Well Kapitan, as you and these other fine Officer's are probably aware, my Patron, El Toro is a man who does not like to speak of himself and so I feel it is my place to speak for him in this instant. While the Patron is a brave and excellent fighter and slayer of the French Puta, it was your Mister Scully, the one we call El Tigre that saved the day."
At the mention of a new name, both boys looked at Carmelo with a lifted eyebrow. El Tigre was a new one on them and they sat back without saying a word to see where Carmelo would take this new story.
"Mister Scully you say?"
"Yes Kapitan, the one we call El Tigre... how you say? The Tiger. He is like the avenging angel when he looks at the French whores and their minions. Ah Kapitan, if you could have seen how El Tigre tore those French Puta into small pieces with his mighty guns. It is said that he made the big guns speak like thunder that never stops and the French were laid low like the crops being cut. It was a magnificent sight Kapitan, your Mister Scully was like the hand of god. The French were in such fear that many soiled their trousers when they saw the guns of El Tigre fire without stop. My Patron was standing at his shoulder and even he is said to have spoken about the great valour and fighting skill of El Tigre, for you to now have him at your guns will put fear into any French that sail near."
"I see, and how was the victory accomplished Mister Sharpe?"
"Well Kapitan, after El Tigre cut the French Puta down to little more than a few soiled soldiers, my Patron took his drummers and began with the muskets, they were like a fire in dry grass as they made the French pay for every ill they had done to my people. Although it cost us dearly and many good friends now lay on that same field, the Patron never faltered even when the French were within arm's length and he had to fight them with nothing but his pistol and sword. Still the French feared him, his name instils fear whenever the French come close to his person."
The Captain turned to look at Thomas and Scully.
"Well gentlemen it would seem you have an avid fan and follower, if even half of it is true then it should be an interesting journey back to England. We have been given orders to take any French ship we see on the way so you may have a chance to live up to this young man's story yet."
"We would much prefer not to Captain." Replied Thomas as he gave a look at the smiling Carmelo. "Captain, what kind of ship is the Hermes?" Thomas asked in the hope of changing the subject as the next course of meat and vegetables was placed on the table.
"Ah yes Mister Marking, she is one of the latest of fast, thirty two gun Frigates. We can sail at 13 knots with a good wind and the French have little to touch us in speed and manoeuvrability. I hope we get a chance to prove it to you before we make England, there are said to be good pickings in the channel these days."
The rest of the dinner went with small talk and it was the middle of the night before they all broke away to their respective beds. Scully was the unfortunate one as he had duty from midnight until four in the morning, the period that was called The Devils Watch.
On return to his own cabin, Thomas asked his two younger boys if they had eaten well and was satisfied with their answer. It became difficult for Thomas to get to sleep as the rocking and movement of the ship was so foreign to him.
When Thomas heard Scully leave for his tour of duty, he slipped from his bunk, dressed in his normal way and made for the deck, he was sure that his friend Scully would like the company for a little while.
Thomas found Scully standing at the rail of the poop deck and looking through a strange instrument at the stars. Behind the two boys stood a man who was beside another who was holding the large wooden wheel that steered the ship. Thomas waited and watched as Scully took note of something on the instrument. Once he was happy he turned to the man beside the wheel and said.
"Two points to port please Mister Mate."
"Two points to port, aye Sir. Helmsman, two points to port."
"Two points to port, aye Sir."
Thomas watched as the man at the large wheel spun it one way then back another as he felt the ship turn slightly and then Scully called.
"Wheel amidships Mister Mate."
"Wheel amidships, aye Sir. Wheel amidships helmsman."
"Wheel amidships, aye Sir."
Thomas could not work out why they had to repeat everything but it seemed that they all understood so he stayed quiet. As he watched the stars above and then leaned over to watch the water glide by the side of the ship, it was almost a peaceful scene.
The two friends stood at the rail in companionable silence. The silence of the night was a welcome relief from the torrid war footing they had lived by for months on end. As they stood watching ahead of the ship, a small sound from the below foredeck caught Thomas attention.
Thomas looked at Scully to see if he had heard the same thing, the alert look on Scully's face told Thomas that he had. Without waiting for anything more, Scully moved to the wooden steps that led to the main deck. Thomas was right beside him as they both slid down the steps and hurried to where they thought they had heard the strange sound.
As the two boys made their way towards the sound, Thomas saw another dark shadow break away from near the entrance to the lower cabins where Thomas's was situated, it soon developed into the figure of Carmelo.
The three boys hurried forward and, as they came around the foremast the sight that met them had their blood boiling and their hands reaching for weapons.
The sight that met them was one that may have been nothing unusual on a ship but for the three boys it was something they were not going to put aside for the sake of some obscure tradition.
Four men were surrounding two very young boys. Two of the men were holding the boys by their arms which were stretched out over a water barrel, the other two men were in the process of pulling the canvas pants off the boys. It was plainly obvious where this was going and the three boys never paused as they rounded the mast.
As Thomas reached inside his jacket for his two small pistols, he felt Carmelo's hands clasp the two Manton's in the holders at his back. Scully had drawn his short sword as he confronted the four men.
"What's going on here?"
"Nunya business, this here is foredeck business."
"Release those boys immediately or you will be up on charges."
"Wotya think you gonna do boy, get outta here afore I gut ya."
The man's threats were suddenly cut short with the sound of four hammers being set at full cock, as he looked at Thomas and Carmelo, the man sneered and reached behind his back for the knife all sailors carried.
"I would stop right there if I were you." Thomas said in his strong but boyish voice.
"Damn not another snot nose little toff, you wanna put that there Peter Pistol away and try it like a man, boy?"
Thomas found it hard to understand why the man was so ignorant. He must have known that his actions and threats could get him hung. The sudden heavy smell of rum hit Thomas's nose as the wind shifted slightly. Thomas now had his reason for the man's behaviour.
"You don't want to go in that direction."
"Why not boy, Wotya gonna do abahtit?"
The words now told Thomas the man was drunk, the accent also told him something else about the man that many others would not have picked up on unless they had been raised on the same streets as Thomas.
"You let the two boys come over here and I will put up my pistols then we can play your game."
"Wot? Ye gonna dance with me boy?"
The man waved the knife in front of him in a threatening manner. Thomas just nodded and then said again, "Let the boys come over here and I'll dance with you and without my pistols."
"Toff, ye gonna be nothing but guts on the deck afore I finish with ye."
"Then send the boys over."
The man turned to the others and gave a nod. Once the two young boys had scurried over to stand behind Scully, as they pulled up their torn canvas pants and tied them with the rope belt, the man suddenly leaned to the right and grasped a heavy looking pin that was on the mast.
Thomas, true to his word, gave his pistols to Scully, the man should have taken notice that the young Officer did not even try to stop the other boy disarm himself.
"Ye for it now toff boy."
The man moved faster than Thomas though he could in his condition but, even then Thomas was ready. His long months of training were now going to be tested in the worst way possible.
As the man lunged forward, Thomas went into a tight roll, his smaller stature giving him a distinct advantage as he rolled under the man's attack. The man had swung high with the heavy wooden pin and at the same time swung low with his knife.
Thomas rolled under the attack and his hands flashed towards his boot tops, with a finger in each ring; he quickly freed both knives from his boot top, spun them on his fingers and grasped the handles in a backwards hold.
As Thomas rolled past the man he slashed with one of his knives leaving a deep gash in the man's forearm. The man let out a loud yell as the knife tumbled to the deck but Thomas had not finished with him yet.
As he came up into a crouch, Thomas lashed out with the steel capped toe of his boot and caught the man behind the knee. As the man went to his hands and knees he dropped the heavy pin, before he could recover, Thomas was on him with a knee in his back and both knives crossed over the man's throat.
Thomas knew the man would realise he was in a bad situation and it was soon made even worse when he heard the young voice right beside his ear, it was not the sound of a toffy little snot nose.
"You's got the wrong of it, give us the footpad's promise to leave the boys alone and ye can walk with ya noggin fixed onya neck."
"Wha? You's not a toff, wot away ya bin?"
"Limehouse and ya be of the dock road."
"Truth it be, then ye have the footpads promise from me own lips."
"Good enough, so ye give me the pads name?"
"This pad's called Craven, ye have me word that ye have me blood oath. I asks wot pad holds my name?"
"Thomas Marking and I'll hold ye to your name."
"Done it is Mister Thomas of Limehouse."
Thomas rose and let the heavy set man back on his feet as he slipped both knives back into his boot tops, Craven watched every move with interest, as he was about to speak there was a loud voice from the poop deck.
"Mister Scully, what goes on the foredeck?"
Scully turned to Thomas with a raised eyebrow and Thomas looked at the man called Craven and then whispered quickly.
"Ye agree with his words and you walk away free and clear as do your friends."
Craven silently nodded his agreement and without saying a word Scully turned to the aft deck where the Captain was standing alongside the Second Mate.
"Nothing Captain, I was just questioning these men about standing to my guns. I have two powder monkeys but need these men to make up my numbers Sir."
"Then why in damnation is the man bleeding on my deck Mister Scully?"
Thomas watched as his friend Scully worked quickly to come up with an answer, how the Captain could even see the blood in the dark was beyond Thomas's understanding.
"Sir, Mister Marking was explaining some of the ways the Spanish fight, I am sorry Sir but he slipped and accidently cut Craven as he fell."
"Well damn it Mister Scully, get the man to the surgeon and get my deck cleaned up. I want a full report, is that clear Mister Scully?"
"Yes Sir, I will have it for you first thing in the morning Sir."
"See that you do and Mister Marking?"
"Please try to be more careful with my crew if you are going to play games on my deck in the middle of the night."
"Yes Sir, sorry Sir it won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't Mister Marking."
Scully turned to Craven as one of his friends wrapped a piece of cloth around his forearm to stop the bleeding.
"Craven, will you stand to my guns along with your friends; I need two more crews to fill my deck?"
"Aye Sir, you will have your crew pon my word you will and the best of them they will be."
"Thank you Craven, I will see you and the crews at four bells of the fore noon for practice. Oh and Craven?"
"I will ask you to watch over these two boys, they are now my Powder Monkey's, see that they are kept safe and no harm comes to them."
"Pon my word it be Sir."
"Thank you Craven, I will see you at the guns and on time if you please."
Thomas, Carmelo and Scully walked back to the poop deck as Craven went in search of the surgeon, the two young boys were now under the guard of the other three men. Even though it had been a tough time, Thomas felt good that they had been able to save the boys from the attentions of the bigger and rougher men.
When the Captain returned to the main cabin, his Second Officer was waiting for him.
"What was the disturbance Sir?"
"Well Mister Crawford, damned strangest thing I have ever seen. It would appear that there is far more to Mister Marking than even the Newspapers know of. It would appear that, that damn bully Craven decided to test our young man and was found wanting. I should hang the damn man for what he was up to but he's the best damn gunner I have. We will wait and see how he turns out for our new Officer Mister Scully. Perhaps this lesson will settle his manner somewhat, if things turn bad I can always hang him at another time."
"Aye Sir, and is that what you would like in the Log?"
"Of course not Crawford, just enter that Craven had a training accident and leave it at that for now."
"Very good Sir. Is there anything else before you sign off the daily Log Sir?"
"No thank you Mister Crawford, that will be all."
"Yes Sir, good night Sir."
"Good night Mister Crawford."
The ship soon turned quiet once more as the night watch settled down to their duties; for Thomas and Carmelo it was also time to return to their beds, the excitement of the evening had given them a need for their new beds.
If you are enjoying this story let Arthur know what you think of it: firstname.lastname@example.org