Copyright © 2016
A Prize Ship and Thomas Forces a Duel
For the first three days, Thomas was happy to relax and sometimes watch Scully train his gunners. The large man Craven turned out to have once been a master gunner on another ship. With his help Lieutenant Scully soon had a full gun crew. The six new men that were recruited by Craven were also old hands at the guns and soon proved they knew their way around the middeck and were happy to follow orders from their very young Officer.
Scully broke up his own younger gunners so all crews had at least one of the older and stronger men in it. This gave them the extra muscle needed to work the heavy Naval guns in the narrow confines of the tween decks.
Thomas and his three friends spent most of that third day out on deck watching how the men worked the ship. For Thomas to be able to watch and learn something new was a welcome relief from being under pressure all the time like he had been in Portugal.
It was in the early dawn hours of the fourth day when Thomas heard the call from far above his head, it was the man positioned high up in the rigging on a small platform the crew called 'The Crows Nest'.
"Ahoy the deck, sail ten points to port."
Thomas watched as men seemed to appear from every nook and cranny of the ship and the Captain almost ran from his cabin and up onto the poop deck. Looking up to where the single man stood by the mast, the Captain called, "Can you make his set?"
"Aye Sir, Lanteen sails, looks like a French Merchant Captain."
Thomas was standing near the gunnel as he watched and listened.
"What's his speed and direction?"
"Bearing south by south east and crossing our bow, I would say five knots and he looks to be running for the coast of France."
"Can we catch him?"
"Aye Sir if we have full sail, the wind is in our favour Sir."
"Mister Mate, all hands to sails, I want every stitch of canvas you can put up there."
"Aye Sir, full sail it is Sir."
Thomas found himself pushed to the side as men ran for the rigging and began to climb into the heights to release all the sails. For Thomas it was somewhat of a wonderful sight when the last sail had been set. Above his head it looked like a sea of white clouds and he also felt the ship give a lurch as the wind caught and the ship began to quickly overhaul the now plainly visible fat Merchant ship ahead of them.
As most of the men returned to the deck, the Captain called out again, "Prepare all guns, Officers to their stations. Mister Mate the heading is across the ships stern. I want to be inside his course to stop him from making landfall. Port guns will have first station on my command."
Thomas looked a little like a lost child as the seamen around him went to action stations. The sound of guns being run out and the padding of the small bare feet of the young powder monkeys was such a new sound to his inexperienced ears. A loud call from above soon had his attention.
"Mister Marking, it may behove you to find somewhere safer. Perhaps your cabin, we have work to do."
Thomas turned to look up at the Captain as his stern face watched every move of his seamen.
"Thank you Sir, but if it please you I would like to stay and watch."
"Very well Mister Marking, but it is upon your own head if we take fire."
"Thank you Sir, I will try to stay out of the way."
Thomas turned just in time to see his three friends appear at the companion way loaded down with his weapons and wearing their own. Thomas, with the help of Carmelo, quickly had his weapons attached in their right place and the three stepped back against the main mast to watch.
When Thomas compared the speed of the new Frigate to that of the heavy Merchantman, it seemed they were racing across the waves with little effort and the fat prize was standing still. Within the hour, the fat Merchantman was overhauled and quickly coming under the massed guns of the frigate. There was little space between the two now and Thomas could plainly see the enemy trying to get more speed out of their hulk.
There was little hope for the Merchantman as it was plainly outgunned and lacked the speed to escape from the much faster and larger war ship. As the ships drew closer until they were only yards apart, Thomas heard the Captain call out in what he thought was very good French.
"Heave-to and haul your colours or we will fire on you."
For Thomas it was a surprise when he heard the voice of the other Captain reply to the order. Somehow he recognised the language and it took him a few seconds to realise the ship was not crewed by Frenchmen but by Portuguese but they were flying the French flag.
It was plain to Thomas that the Captain did not understand the language being spoken to him and the frustration was plain on his face as he called again.
"Heave-to or we will open fire."
Thomas thought quickly and then called to the Captain.
"Sir, I think I can help, they are not French but Portuguese under a French flag. Their Captain does not understand you but I can help you if it be your pleasure Sir?"
"Then go ahead Mister Marking."
Thomas saw that the Frigate was now within twenty yards of the smaller ship; it was like a David and Goliath on the open sea. Thomas cupped his hands and called out in Portuguese.
"Kapitan, you are asked to stop and lower your colours or the Captain will fire on you."
The Captain of the smaller ship called back with a certain amount of surprise in his voice.
"Who are you, English, that you know our language?"
"Stop your ship before you are damaged and then we can talk."
The other Captain called out to his small crew to drop the two lanteen sails and lower the French flag. Thomas could easily see that not all of the crew were happy with the orders but carried them out as the Frigate went alongside and threw heavy hooks attached to ropes to pull them in close. It did not take long before a small detachment of Naval Marines were leaping across and herding the crew into the centre of the main deck under their muskets.
Thomas turned to his Captain and asked, "Perhaps Sir, I could go over there and talk to the Captain?"
"As you speak the language Mister Marking, I think it would be a good idea. See what you can find out about them and why they fly the French colours. You can also inform them they are now a prize of war and their ship will be taken to England."
Thomas, along with Carmelo and the other two younger boys clambered over the gunnel and across to the smaller ship. Once on board, Thomas looked for the Captain of the Merchantman. He was a tough looking man and his crew were no less intimidating as the smaller figure of Thomas walked up to stand in front of him. There were about twenty men in the crew but the Marines had them all well covered with their muskets.
"Sir, the Captain would like to know why you fly the French colours. He has also told me to inform you that you, your men and the ship are a prize of war and will be taken under guard to England."
"Who are you young man, your Portuguese is good but your accent is terrible?"
"I am Lieutenant Thomas Marking of His Majesty's Forces in Portugal. Will you surrender your ship Sir?"
"It would appear Lieutenant that I have little option while under so many guns. Tell your Captain I surrender my ship and crew to him."
"Thank you Sir, I will go and inform him of your decision."
Thomas turned and left to return to the other ship to report, as he did so he heard Carmelo speak quietly in rapid Portuguese to the Captain. Thomas did not hear the reply but there was a sudden silence from the crew of the small ship as Thomas jumped back aboard the Frigate to report.
"Thank you for your help Mister Marking. Would you mind going back and telling the Captain that I accept his surrender and I will put a crew aboard to sail her back to England, perhaps, as you can speak the language, could you see your way clear to remain aboard in case of trouble with the language?"
"Yes Sir, I can do that."
"Thank you Mister Marking. Now if you will excuse me, I have to find a young Officer to take charge of her. Perhaps your friend Mister Scully would like the challenge."
"I'm sure he would Sir."
Thomas returned to the ship and told the Captain what was about to happen. There seemed to be a new look of respect on the Captains face as Thomas told him of what was to happen. Thomas brushed his thoughts aside as the Marines began to usher the crew below decks where they would be held in the small brig until arrival in England, the Captain was asked for his parole to not try to escape and was allowed to stay in his own small cabin but under guard.
It was not long before Lieutenant Scully jumped aboard with most of his own boys close to his heels. After looking around at the six small guns on the Merchantman, Scully called back to ask for two more guns to be sent over. At least that way he would have a pair of twenty pounders to help protect his first command.
The changes took nearly two hours before the small ship was ready to make way and head for England. Lieutenant Scully had been told by his Captain to head for the nearest English port which would be Portsmouth. There the ship would be unloaded and its cargo would be valued before the crew of the Frigate would get their shares of the plunder.
The Frigate would stay well out of sight of them as they were slower. The Frigate would take station over the horizon but within a safe distance to be able to come to their aid if they got into trouble.
Lieutenant Scully had the two extra twenty pounders set amidships with a smaller ten pounder on each side, the other two ten's would be positioned up in the bow as extra forward facing guns. Below decks there was little space once the old crew were locked away. Scully's boys would be sleeping on deck when not on duty as the only other cabin on the ship apart from the Captains was a single Officers cabin. Scully gave it to Thomas and his three friends as he would be mostly on duty sailing the ship for the next three days it would take to make Portsmouth.
As they finally got underway and watched as the Frigate slowly receded into the background, Thomas watched as the others set about getting both sails up. The Captain also asked that his cabin boy, who turned out to be his own son and the cook were allowed to stay free. Once the two extras had given their word not to try anything, they were allowed to carry on with their own duties to the Captain without a guard.
It was not long before Scully had the ship under sail and making a good four knots as they turned away towards England. It would be at least a three day voyage as long as they did not have any trouble along the way or meet with any French Navy ships. By going to the nearest port there was a good chance they would avoid any trouble from the French as they did not have to travel the channel where most of the French liked to raid.
Along with Scully's crew, there were also ten Marines aboard to watch the prisoners and to keep some sort of order below decks. As yet the cargo had not been inspected as getting the ship underway took all their time. Thomas and his three friends stayed well out of the way as Scully worked the ship and his small crew.
That first day was mainly spent learning about the small ship and the old lanteen sails. It was different from what the English sailors were used to but the Captain became helpful as it was in his own interest to keep his ship safe from sinking under the new hands of what he saw as mostly young boys who now crewed it.
Like always, Thomas and his friends had carried their weapons with them when they first sighted the small ship. Most of their own possessions were still being held in the cabin on the Frigate. Thomas smiled when he remembered the Captain of the Frigate giving Scully a funny look as he took his boys onto the Merchantman carrying the weapons they had used in Portugal, but the Captain said nothing and went back to other business.
Thomas thought the smaller ship was more wallowing rather than sailing as it sat low in the water and the speed made it roll more than the finer cut of the Frigate which ploughed through the sea with ease. It took Thomas a little while to get used to the more mobile actions of the smaller ship and there were a couple of times he had to sit to regain his stomach; his three friends seemed unaffected.
The next day and there was no sight of the Frigate even though they knew it was somewhere south of them but over the horizon. The morning dawned as another calm and bright day. There had been no trouble from below decks and the small young crew was finding its feet on the strange ship and how it sailed.
As they drew closer to England, Lieutenant Scully decided to let a small number of the captured crew to come up on deck for an hour or so until they had all been allowed to get some fresh air. The trouble did not start until the last six men came on deck. From the moment Thomas, who was standing on the main deck with Carmelo and his two friends, saw the six men he got a feeling of trouble.
There was something about the six men that did not quite fit into the rest of the crew. Thomas, along with Carmelo was suddenly on their guard as the six men looked about them as though hunting for something, it did not take long for that something to become real.
The six men stayed close by the foremast and most of the talking was done in quiet whispers. There were only two Marines above deck and they were relaxed as everything had gone on with little trouble. When the six men made their move to retake the ship, the Marines were caught off guard and very nearly paid the ultimate price for their lack of attention to the six men.
Had it not been for Carmelo's better hearing and Thomas's alertness, the six men might very well have succeeded. It was a single word that alerted Carmelo and Thomas to something that was not right and it was Carmelo that recognised the word that was spoken by one of the men. The six men were not Portuguese as the rest of the crew were; they were in fact French Naval Ratings.
They had been placed on the ship as a guard to make sure the cargo got to France but at the time of their attempt to retake the ship, none of the English boys knew. For them it was just a matter of the single word spoken in French that gave Thomas and the three friend's time enough to prepare.
The shouted word was the signal for the six men to make for a small wooden locker attached to the foremast. Pulling it open, the men quickly armed themselves with pistols and cutlass and started towards the two Marines with the intention of killing them quickly.
Carmelo and Thomas were the first to react. With practiced ease, both boys reached for their own pistols and took aim. At the sound of the three pistol shots, Scully looked up from where he had been studying a chart, the sight of three men falling to the deck with blood gushing from their chests soon had his attention.
At the sound of the shots, the other three men turned towards Thomas and Carmelo, just as Thomas dropped his Manton's and reached for his two pocket pistols, even he knew he could be too late as the three men brought their own pistols to bear on the two boys. Just as they were about to fire, a large, rough hand grasped Thomas and pushed him aside; the shot zipped past Thomas missing him only by mere inches but the sound of a grunt told Thomas it had still found a target.
As he rolled up onto his knees, Thomas took aim with his small pistols and fired both of them at one of the men as Carmelo rushed forward with his sabre in his hand. The two friends Sergio and Carlito were already making for the two survivors with knives in hand.
It did not come to a fight of sword on sword as the two Marines had recovered from their surprise and fired almost point blank at the last two men. The fight was over and done in less than a minute but for the protagonists it had seemed like a life time.
Thomas turned and looked at the large figure of the Captain now down on the deck with blood coming from a shoulder wound. Thomas spoke to him in Portuguese.
"Thank you Kapitan, you saved my life."
"It is nothing Patron, your friend told me about your saving of Abrantes; it is where my wife and other children live so it is I who should be thanking you."
"Thank you Kapitan, let me get someone to see to your wound."
"It is nothing, the ball has gone through and it is just a scratch. Those French pigs have paid for their treachery. Patron, if I may suggest something?"
"Of course Kapitan." Thomas said through the blush he could feel heating his cheeks
"Let my men come up on deck, they will help to sail the ship to your port. We have no love of the French but were powerless to refuse them taking our ship for their own use. When the men know that the Patron El Toro is with us they will work hard to make it safely to England, you have my word on that."
"Very good Kapitan, I will speak to Mister Scully as he is the one in charge."
When the Captain had nodded his assent, Thomas turned to go and speak to Scully just as the cook appeared with a white cotton bandage for the Captain's wound. The Captain's son was hovering close by and looked a little shook up at seeing his father wounded.
It took no time at all for Scully to agree to free the remaining crew; they were all loyal to the Captain and would do anything he asked of them. Thomas was only too glad that they had all escaped from the fast attack by the French sailors. With the help of the original crew, the small Merchantman was slowly making its way into Portsmouth harbour two days later. Behind it was the now much closer towering shape of the Frigate.
The Merchantman was directed to the Navy dock by the Harbourmaster and the Frigate dropped anchor not far from their position as Thomas looked over the side at the mass of people waiting on the dockside. Much too his surprise, Thomas saw the familiar rotund figure of Percy waiting on the dock for him. The heavy set man had a wide smile on his face as he waved at the younger boy.
"So you made it safe I see. Well done young Thomas." Percy called up to him.
"Thank you Mister Percy. How did you know we would be coming here?" Thomas called back.
"Ah young Thomas, that is one of the mysteries of my vocation. Why don't you come ashore? We have much to discuss and it will take time to get your luggage from the Frigate. You and your friends can join me for a meal while we wait."
"Thank you Mister Percy, we'll be right there."
Thomas turned to Scully and they shook hands like brothers and good friends before Thomas and his three friends made their way to the gang plank that had now been lowered to the dock.
As they stepped ashore, three navy men went on board. They would check the cargo and assess the value so that each of the men involved in its capture would receive a share of the booty as was normal for the Navy.
After shaking hands with Percy, Thomas and the others followed the portly man to the nearest and safest looking inn for a meal. The docks were not always the most peaceful place to be in times of war.
After asking for food and a tankard of ale, Percy turned to Thomas and asked, "So did you have a good trip, it must have been exciting taking a vessel on your first voyage home?"
"It was indeed Mister Percy, most unexpected to say the least."
When asked why, Thomas began to relay the story of the six French sailors who had tried to take back the ship just days out of harbour. When he had finished, Percy asked him.
"So, you helped defend the ship?"
"Well it was them or us Mister Percy."
"In that case you will be entitled to a share of the booty, I will have to see what it is and have your share sent on to you."
"Sent to me Mister Percy?"
"Well yes young Thomas. You were meant to be left in London Town not dropped here in Portsmouth. As soon as your luggage is ashore I will have a coach ready for you to take you to London. There is much for you to do before you can go and see your parents."
"Uhm...Mister Percy, why are you really here?"
"Ah, I see Mister Grey has been teaching you things. Well young Thomas, it appears their Lordships at the War Office would like to make your acquaintance. Some of them are not quite sure about you, and others want to make you a Lord or some such rubbish. Once I get the coach for you, it will be two days before we make London. Time enough for us to chat about a few things that need to be done in Portugal. Tell me Thomas, how old are you now?"
"I'll be thirteen in a few months Mister Percy."
"Thirteen, my how time flies. Well Thomas, you are without doubt the youngest ever Officer in the army, I hope and pray that you will live long enough for it to be of some use to you in later life."
"So do I Mister Percy, but for now I just want to see my parents and know they are doing good, it has not been easy for them."
"Well Thomas, I can guarantee that they are being well looked after now. Did you not know that the Army has made good its error about your father?"
"No Mister Percy, I have not heard from them since signing articles, that's almost two years now."
"Well then I won't spoil the surprise."
"What surprise Mister Percy?"
"Like I just said Thomas, I don't want to spoil it. Just leave it as said for now. Ah...here comes our meal, let's eat and drink up. Your luggage should be the first off the Frigate then we can get underway for London."
It was fully two hours before the last of their baggage was unloaded onto the dock. The coach was waiting for them to place the final pieces aboard before it would leave for London. Percy had secured it solely for their use and would accompany them on the journey; he said there was a lot to discuss as they travelled.
The journey to London was slow at this time of year. The poor condition of the roads meant they had to often stop to let the coach be freed from the muddy road. They stayed in a roadside Inn for the night and the boys were just happy to go to their beds right after dinner. The bouncing around in the coach had tired them more than they thought it would.
Thomas was the first to notice that their surroundings were becoming familiar as they rode further into London. Looking at the smug smile on Percy's face made Thomas ask him, "Mister Percy, where are we going?"
"Well young Thomas, I thought you would recognise the road to the 33rd's barracks, after all it was where you started your great adventure."
"It's become a little more than an adventure, Mister Percy."
"Yes there is that Thomas. Now then an explanation is in order I do suppose. When you saved the colours at Rolica, their Lordships at Whitehall decided to stop all press gang recruitment. Nowadays there are only volunteers joining and due to your actions at said Rolica, there has been no shortage of volunteers. The 33rd is now on its way back to Portugal to reinforce Wellesley's army so their barracks are only held with a few old soldiers close to their time. They are being used to recruit and train the new volunteers. It is hoped that you will find the extra men you need at the training barracks."
"So where are we going after that Mister Percy?"
"Well nowhere Thomas. They have made ready one of the Officer's quarters for you and your friends. This will be your base to work from while you are home. Anything you need then, just call on those old soldiers that still live here."
"Thank you Mister Percy. So what do I do after we have found my new recruits and how much time will I have?"
"Well tomorrow you have an appointment with a Senior Officer at Whitehall; he will issue your orders and see that you get everything you need for your Corps. You will be here in England for about two months so it should give you time to get your new men up to some sort of standard to meet the rigors of Portugal. You should also have enough time to make a visit to your parents, I'm sure they will want to see you again soon."
"Yes thank you Mister Percy, it's been over a year, well almost two since I last saw them."
Percy just nodded as the coach came to a halt at the gates of the 33rd's barracks. Waiting at the gate was the figure of a familiar Sergeant, as the coach halted; the Sergeant came to attention and waited for the passengers to get out.
Thomas watched as first Mister Percy stepped from the coach and then turned and nodded for Thomas and Carmelo to follow him; Sergio and Carlito were right behind them. The Sergeant snapped out a parade ground perfect salute before letting the full force of his voice echo over the barracks.
"CORPORAL, TURN OUT THE GUARD, OFFICER ON PARADE."
Thomas watched in awe as six young soldiers, who were obviously new recruits, were quickly ushered into a smart line by an older Corporal. The six privates stood stiffly at attention as the Corporal turned and saluted Thomas before returning to his place at the front of the guard line.
The Sergeant turned to Thomas with another salute before saying, "Sir the guard is present and correct. Do you wish to inspect Sir?"
"Thank you Sergeant but they look fine from here, perhaps you can show us our accommodations? It's been a long journey from Portsmouth."
"Yes Sir. Corporal you will escort Mister Marking to his accommodations, the guard can see to his baggage. Will there be anything else Mister Marking?"
"No thank you Sergeant, perhaps later you could call so we can catch up on old times. Say at about sundown?"
"Very good Sir, thank you Sir, sundown it is."
Thomas was only too glad to get away and find a place to rest, the last two days being shaken around in the coach had tired him more than he had first thought and there was still all the unpacking to do.
Thomas soon learnt that there were very few Officers now at the barracks, this left him and his three friends plenty of time to rest and try to sort out the baggage before the sun set and they had other duties in the Officers mess. Like any other time on a first day in a new place, the new Officer was expected to appear in the Officers mess to meet those he would be working with. It was both tradition and formality required of all Officers.
It did not surprise Thomas to feel a sort of homecoming as he looked around the familiar barracks although he had never made it to the august setting of the Officers quarters he still had memories of when he had arrived as a small and somewhat shaking eleven year old volunteer Drummer Boy. It all seemed so long ago now that he had returned.
As it was now winter in England, Thomas was wearing a thick cloak over his uniform when the Sergeant appeared. Thomas was standing outside with his pipe while the other three were inside the almost empty Officer's quarters unpacking, something the other three would not allow him to do for himself.
Thomas looked up at the approach of the familiar Sergeant.
"Good to see you again Sergeant, so tell me what's been going on while I was away?"
"Thank you Mister Marking, well not a lot Sir, but I must say you are a sight for sore eyes if ever there was one. We've been watching your exploits through that News Paper. Right proud you made us feel Mister Marking."
"Thank you Sergeant. So tell me, where is the Sergeant Major, I would have thought he would be the one in charge now that the 33rd has gone back overseas?"
"Ah, the Sergeant Major decided to retire Mister Marking."
"Retire? Funny, I thought he would be here till the day he died Sergeant."
"Well Mister Marking Sir, he sort of had to retire."
"Sergeant, we are old friends even if it was just in the early stages. If it had not been for you and the others, I may well not be here today so you can drop the Sir and Mister all the time. Now what happened to our Sergeant Major?"
"Well Mister Marking, it would not be proper for me to call an Officer by first name so perhaps I can just stay with Mister Marking like, if it please you."
"Fine then Sergeant, so what's the gossip, you know it won't go further. I'm still a 33rd drummer boy at heart."
"That you are Mister Marking that you are. Well it's like this Mister Marking. Do you remember that when you signed articles, the Sergeant Major paid your Da a gold sovereign?"
"Yes I remember that."
"Well it would seem that the Sergeant Major was inclined to keep a little for himself when it came time for your kit to be issued. You see it was like this. If you had looked close like at your kit, you would have seen it was not new but used kit. Well this being so, it was probably paid for a number of times so the cost of your kit would have only been a few silvers, the Sergeant Major had an arrangement with the Quartermaster to keep the rest between them. He decided to retire rather than face courts martial."
"Ah I see, I would never have thought that of him Sergeant."
"Nor did many others Mister Marking, was not until they gave the orders to stop the press gangs that it came out. Now Mister Marking, I see you have a real nice pipe there, don't see many like that around these parts?"
Thomas held up his stone pipe, after a few seconds he handed it to the Sergeant to look at. The first thing the Sergeant saw was the small engraved silver band around the stem. After looking it over the Sergeant handed the pipe back and then said, "So how did you come by this then Mister Marking?"
The two had slowly made their way to the main gate where a good fire was burning in an iron brazier to keep the two guards warm in the cold evening air. As the two came close, the two guards snapped to attention as they recognised the small figure with the black flat crowned hat as the young Officer they had seen earlier in the day. When Thomas and the Sergeant came up to stand by the brazier, the two guards held their position. Thomas suddenly realized it was he who had to give the order for them to relax.
After letting the two guards relax and enjoy the heat of the fire, Thomas continued smoking his pipe as he asked the Sergeant, "So Sergeant, what of the other Officer's still here, how many are they?"
"Well Mister Marking, there only be six Officer's here now, being as how we only do recruiting and basic training. Once that's all done we send the new men off to other Brigades and such. I've been told you are to have the pick of any new recruits we have here, is that true Mister Marking?"
"So I'm told Sergeant, perhaps you can help me decide who I may want?"
"You just got to call Mister Marking, be my pleasure it would. You be taking them back to the Peninsula with you then?"
"I'm told that's the plan Sergeant, only time will tell."
As the two stood by the warmth of the fire and smoked their pipes, the sound of a bugle was heard from deeper in the barracks.
"That's the call to stand down Mister Marking. Perhaps you would like me to escort you back to your quarters to dress for the mess?"
"Thank you Sergeant I would like that very much, it's meant a lot to me to see old faces again and thank you for bringing me up to date."
"My pleasure Mister Marking, anything you be wanting you just call. We're not in the habit of forgetting those who did good for the 33rd. Officer or not Mister Marking, you're still one of the family of the 33rd."
"Thank you Sergeant, that means more to me than you could know."
The two made their way back to where Thomas's new lodgings were. Waiting for him was Carmelo and the other two who had got out his special dress uniform made by the Widows of Vimeiro for when he had something important to go to. Thomas thanked the Sergeant one more time before going inside to dress for the mess. Carmelo as an Officer would go with him, both dressed in their best for the occasion.
Thomas by now knew what he had to do when entering a new mess. Both left their swords at the door and then entered the main room where the other six Officers waited with a glass of something in their hand. As they stepped through the door, Thomas and Carmelo came to attention and Thomas asked in a steady voice as he looked at the senior most Officer, a Major of some advanced years, "Sir, First Lieutenant Marking and Second Lieutenant Grey request permission to join the mess."
The aged Major looked the two youngsters up and down before giving the faintest of smiles and saying.
"You have permission to join the mess Lieutenants. I do so hope you are carrying enough coin as the bar is on your tab."
"Yes Sir and thank you Sir."
From that moment on it was a few glasses of liquor and the usual round of introductions to the other aging Officers as they all waited for the mess stewards to set the table for dinner. While the Officers were all older and looked to be ready to also retire, they did keep the two young boys included in their talk, most of which was to ask about the campaign in Portugal and how it was going. Thomas had been warned by Mister Percy to keep it as short and unrevealing as he could without seeming to be excluding the older Officers.
Dinner was a happy one and there was little to no animosity directed at either Thomas or Carmelo. Thomas almost thought the older Officers were glad to have some young blood around for a change. It seemed to Thomas that the older men were just glad to have real news of the war in Portugal and Spain instead of what was relayed by the News Papers.
The Commanding Officer, Major Curruthers seemed to be well informed of Thomas's exploits and was glad to have him there to answer questions. He also made sure the other Officers did not get too carried away with other things that went on in the mess well away from prying eyes.
Thomas was amazed as he watched Carmelo take some of the other Officers aside and begin to regale them with stories of his Patron. Of course he never named the person and the Officers never thought to ask. Just the fact that the young Lieutenant seemed to be such an exotic young man and his endearing accent enthralled them as he told his stories. It was not difficult for Carmelo to become the centre of attention, Thomas immediately understood what his friend was doing; he was trying to keep the pressure off his Patron so he could have a little peace.
It was reasonably early when they both left the mess after paying the tab for the drinks. Thomas also left a little extra for the stewards to keep the drink flowing after he had left, it never did any harm to leave a good impression just in case he needed them at some future time. Carmelo's thinking was rubbing off on Thomas.
It was 8 of the clock the next morning when Mister Percy arrived to take Thomas and Carmelo into Whitehall for their meeting with the powers that be of the English army. There he would receive his written orders and be able to begin to put together his extra forces. It was to be a meeting he would not forget in a hurry.
Mister Percy had told Thomas it would be an all day affair and that evening Mister Percy would take him to his own club for dinner as a special treat. Thomas found that, unlike his easy access to General Wellesley, the War Office kept its own form of time. For more than two hours the three had to wait for their appointment but Mister Percy kept them from going mad with the eternal waiting.
One hour before lunch time, a Junior Officer finally arrived to take them to see the man who was to give Thomas his orders. The sign on the door gave Thomas pause for thought, surely there was some mistake, why would this man want to see him? A boy from Limehouse who had none of the airs or graces of the gentry and was of what was called, 'lowly birth'.
The title alone that was written in gold leaf on the large Oak door was enough to scare Thomas. There for all to see was the man that could make or destroy any mans future and he wanted to talk to Thomas. The door script read:
Field Marshal the Earl of Cadogan
CIC His Majesties Forces
Thomas could not believe his eyes as the Junior Officer knocked lightly on the large doors. From inside a gruff voice called out, "Enter."
The Junior Officer waved for Thomas and the others to wait while he went in to tell the Viscount they had arrived. Minutes later the Junior Officer appeared and directed them to follow him inside the sanctuary of the most powerful man in the English military.
The man Thomas saw sitting behind a desk that was larger than any he had ever seen before, was a surprise to say the least. The Viscount was tall and lean, he had a full head of white hair that was swept back from his high forehead and showed piercing blue eyes on each side of a long prominent nose. The mouth was a firm straight line and his narrow chin was firm and would brook no nonsense. Thomas was immediately impressed by the man whom many had heard about but never got to see.
"Your Lordship, may I introduce First Lieutenant Marking and Second Lieutenant Grey. Colonel Cruikshank I am sure has already made your acquaintance Sir."
Thomas was now really surprised to find out that Mister Percy was in actual fact an Officer, just one more mystery to be resolved one day.
The Viscount's voice followed his demeanour. It was curt and abrupt and would not take fools lightly, already Thomas was again impressed.
"Please sit down gentlemen. Colonel you have the papers I require?"
"Yes Your Lordship."
Mister Percy gave a handful of papers to the Junior Officer who immediately laid them on the desk in front of the Viscount. The Viscount read each paper thoroughly but with surprising speed, as he placed the last page on the table in front of himself he looked over at Thomas like an Eagle searching for prey.
"So Colonel, do you really think this young man can pull it off if we go ahead with the plan?"
"Yes Your Lordship, as long as he can have everything he needs to make it happen."
The Viscount sat back in his large chair with his fingers steepled as he looked over both Thomas and Carmelo with those piercing eyes. After a short time he nodded slightly to himself then turned to Thomas.
"Lieutenant Marking, first let me say that this is not only a pleasure but also an honour to finally meet the young man who stood alone in defence of His Majesty's Colours at Rolica. What you accomplished that day was far beyond what could have been asked of any man let alone a young Drummer Boy. Lieutenant, had you not shown such courage and determination that day, we would all have lost not only the King's Colours but possibly the battle. There are those that, until their dying day will never be able to repay you. Now that said Lieutenant, I am about to ask you to do something no right minded person should even consider, however I am going to ask anyway. The situation on the peninsular is at a knife edge. Viscount Wellington is the only man we have that is capable of holding Portugal but he will be under a great deal of pressure from Napoleon. What we want you to consider is to go out alone with your men and harass the French until they have half their army chasing you. This will relieve the pressure on Viscount Wellington's front and gain us time to reinforce and finally with the grace of God, push the French right back to Paris and a final defeat."
The Viscount paused to consider his words before continuing.
"Lieutenant, this is not an easy task. If the French can, they will try to either kill or capture every man jack of you and your future will not be a good one. That is 'if' you take this on. Once you get into their ranks, you will be on your own. We will not be able to come to your aid but if you do decide to attempt this, it could very well mean the end of French domination on the Peninsular. Now the Colonel has stated that you should have free rein to form your Corps in any manner you wish. This is something new to us and it is not without its own complications. However, the Colonel seems to have total and complete faith in your abilities so I must follow his suggestions."
The Viscount turned to the Junior Officer.
"Fotheringham, you have the orders made ready?"
"Yes My Lord."
"Then put them on the desk damn it man, the Lieutenant does not have all day."
The Junior Officer seemed completely inured to the Viscounts tone of voice or his acerbic words and placed a large stack of papers on the desk.
Thomas still had not said a word and sat along with the other two for more than a half hour as the Viscount went over each paper until he had placed a wax seal and signature to each and every one of them. Once all the papers had been signed and sealed, the Viscount looked back up at Thomas and his other guests.
"Well Lieutenant, have you made your decision?"
Thomas gulped as he looked at the stern faced Viscount, with a blush and a gulp he replied, "Yes Sir, I will do what is needed to carry out my duties My Lord."
"You do realise Lieutenant that I may be asking you to go to your death with little hope of support from the army?"
"Yes My Lord."
The Viscount turned to Mister Percy.
"It looks like you were right Colonel. He's the one we need."
The Viscount turned back to Thomas as he took up the first paper.
"Lieutenant, this is the orders for you to increase your force to five hundred and twenty men. As this is the number that would make your force of Battalion size, you are hereby promoted to the rank of Captain and will be the Commanding Officer of the force to be now known as His Majesty's 1st Battalion of Drums and Auxiliaries. This order will be gazetted on the morrow."
The Viscount placed the paper on the table and before he lifted the next one, he turned to Fotheringham.
"If you please Mister Fotheringham?"
The Junior Officer placed a small worn box in the Viscounts hand.
"Captain Marking, these were the Captains pins my father gave to me when I was rising in the ranks. I would deem it a pleasure and an honour if you would wear them on your own uniform when appropriate."
Thomas's mouth dropped open and he could only stare at the Viscount and the small box which was now open and showed a pair of gold bars with the three pips of a Captains rank. With a very shaky hand he reached for them and, in a voice that tried to betray him at every word, said, "Thank you Your Lordship, I will try to wear them with honour."
"I'm sure you will have little trouble doing that Captain. Now the next thing, this is the orders and authorities you will need to outfit your men. It is also signed by their Lordships of the Admiralty just in case you need a ship. It authorises you to demand any and all supplies you may need for this venture and includes the orders for you to promote or demote any man of your command up to and including the rank of First Lieutenant and that any stores or provisions you deem fitting to be handed over to you from anywhere and in any barracks of His Majesties forces. Next, this is the authorities for you to collect monies you deem fitting to pay your men in full and on time. You will need to keep exact records of all transactions and make full reports for this office. I must ask Captain, if you can both read and write? I do not mean this in a bad spirited way but there is much paper work that needs to be done to maintain a Battalion."
"Yes Your Lordship, I can read but my letters are not the best, but I do have one of my men that has been keeping most records for me and is very competent."
"Good, then I suggest you give him rank and keep him close and make sure the reports are accurate at all times. Next, this is the orders for your new Battalion Colours, I have taken the liberty of having your battle flags returned to England by fast Packet and they are even now on their way here under escort. Tomorrow at 10 of the clock you will present yourself along with Lieutenant Grey to receive and dedicate your Colours in the King's name."
"Yes Your Lordship."
"Now then, next, this is the orders and authorities for you to use any civilian manufacturing to fulfil your needs if the Army cannot do so. I am aware that you have certain needs that are far outside the norm for the army, this is to make sure you have all you need to at least have a chance to live through the next few years of the campaign. And yes Captain, it will take a few more years to defeat Napoleon. Whatever you need, get it done. The Colonel has told me there is no one else that could do this, so we want you to have the best chance of succeeding that we can give you. Now Captain, is there anything I have forgotten that you may need?"
"Uhm...no Your lordship, nothing that comes to mind."
"Good, then we can assume you will try to hold those damn French at bay for as long as you can?"
"We will try our best Your lordship."
"Good, now I believe the Colonel has already taken up your time this evening, as this is the case I would ask you to present yourselves at the Senior Officers Mess at Sandringham tomorrow after the dedication ceremony of your Colours, you will be my personal guests so I would ask that you dress appropriately for the occasion Captain."
"Yes My Lord, at what time should we appear My Lord?"
"I will send my Carriage to your barracks at 7 of the clock in the evening, it's the least I can do for what we are asking you to do for us and the country."
The Viscount then stood up and offered his hand to Thomas. The meeting was over and it was time to take stock of what he now had to do. After taking the Viscounts hand, Thomas and the others were led out of the office by the Junior Officer and left to make their way out of the halls of power that were known as Whitehall.
Much to Thomas Surprise, when they got outside it was to see the sun was lower in the sky than he thought it would be. It appeared they had been inside the offices for more than four hours, possibly as much as five hours. There was not much of the day left. Mister Percy then directed them along the well kept streets of London until they came to what appeared to be a reasonably new building.
On the front step there was a small brass plate and the building looked to be at least three stories high and faced in a brilliant white stone, the sign read:
Members and guests only
All three of them were wearing thick winter capes. For Thomas and Carmelo they were black on the outside with the gold and red of Spain as a liner. For Mister Percy it was a rather plain looking brown plaid. Mister Percy pushed open the large wooden door and ushered the two boys inside and out of the cold winter afternoon air.
The inside of the club looked new and also plush as Thomas and Carmelo stepped onto black and white squares of stone tiles that the hallway was floored with. The wood work on the walls was polished and made from Oak. The club looked to be one of the very expensive ones. Mister Percy had surprised the boys once again.
As they stepped into the large foyer, Thomas saw an older man in the uniform of a Captain of the Guards Regiment. The Captain was just about to place a large cloak over his shoulders when he looked up to view the new arrivals. Thomas did not take long to see that the Captain was already in his cups, the blushed red of the man's cheeks and his slightly unsteady stance told Thomas everything.
Mister Percy had taken a new stance. He had brought his cane to the front and rested both hands on the silver top. For the first time, Thomas noticed that the eyes of the small silver slave head were made with tiny red rubies. It looked strange in the short man's hands. Mister Percy's face remained impassive and relaxed but his eyes were like dark stones as his fingers worked nervously on top of the cane.
Thomas watched the fingers and almost smiled as he read the message they were portraying. He crossed his own hands in front of himself and began to reply and ask questions as the Captain watched on. For the uninitiated the finger movements would have looked like nervousness. The Captain fell for the ruse.
"So Cruikshank, what's this then? Got yourself a couple of street scamps for a bit of buggery have you?"
"I would ask you to hold your tongue Captain Selwynn, remember I am your Superior Officer and the club is not the place for that kind of talk."
"Balderdash Cruikshank, we both know your rank is not a real one. Just because you managed to find enough boots in Whitehall to keep clean does not make you a real Officer and as for these street urchins, may I remind you about the club rules Sir?"
"I am well aware of the rules Captain and so should you be. Now then I suggest you apologise to my guests and leave before you say something that cannot be taken back."
"Apologise? Are you insane Colonel? They are boys and their rights in here are at best, minimal and very suspect. I will not apologise to such as they and that's my final word Sir."
"Then Captain, it is out of my hands, I will let the Captain decide for himself if he has just cause to challenge your accusations."
"Captain! What Captain?"
"Oh dear me, Captain Selwynn, did I omit to introduce you to my guests? How remiss of me. Captain Selwynn, may I introduce Captain Thomas Marking and Lieutenant Grey. I am sure you have heard of the young Captain, even in your backwater. You do read the Times don't you?"
"Marking, do you mean that damn Drummer Boy from Rolica? Balderdash Sir, even if this is that boy, he also is no real officer and nothing but a ranker to boot. Do you seriously expect me to apologise to rankers and their ilk. Damn you man, you will get no such from my lips."
"Then it is out of my hands Captain Selwynn. Captain Marking do you have anything you would wish to venture?"
Thomas watched as Mister Percy finished his finger conversation on how to tackle the rest of the meeting and turned to the now irate Captain as he placed his cloak around his shoulders in preparation for leaving.
Thomas straightened his shoulders and threw back his own cloak to reveal his dress uniform and the award ribbons he had received, including the two new ones from Portugal and Spain.
"Captain Selwynn, you have besmirched my name and made accusations on my honour and character. I would ask you to retract them and apologise or make your challenge to vindicate your words."
"Very well Boy. I challenge you to a duel of honour. Even though you are not a real Officer I shall stand by my words that you are little less than a catamite. Do your damnedest and see if I care."
"Captain I accept your challenge. Mister Percy, will you stand as my Second?"
"Gladly Captain Marking. Captain Selwynn, I would ask that you have your Second contact me on the morrow for the conditions, weapons, time and place so that Captain Marking can gain his satisfaction. Good-day Sir, I will await your Second."
Mister Percy then turned his back as did Thomas and Carmelo to allow Captain Selwynn to leave without further words. The die was cast and Thomas only hoped the advice he had been given by the secret language of spies did not get him killed or Courts Martialled.
When the Captain had left the building, Mister Percy turned to Thomas and smiled widely.
"Well that went better than I expected. The committee has been trying to get rid of the good Captain for some time. The club does not like boors and charlatans. Now then Thomas, I have some people you should meet so let's get a move on."
Mister Percy took them to the long heavy wooden reception desk at the far end of the foyer. Behind the desk was an aging man dressed very smartly in a tan uniform, as the small group arrived he looked at Mister Percy and smiled.
"Good evening Colonel will you sign in your guests? We have your private dining room ready and your other guests are waiting for your arrival."
"Thank you Sterling, is everything prepared in the kitchens?"
"Just as you ordered Colonel."
"Thank you Sterling, we can find our own way. If you could have the steward bring some good brandy I would appreciate it."
"Certainly Colonel. Enjoy your evening gentlemen."
Mister Percy led the two boys up a wide staircase to the first floor of the large building. After walking a short distance, Mister Percy opened a door into a small dining room, there were two young men waiting for them as they entered.
Mister Percy saw the two young men and smiled at them as they both straightened up to receive the newcomers. One of the young men called happily, "Hello Uncle Percy, are these the two you mentioned?"
"As I promised James. Let me introduce you both to the young man that will make your fortune if you are really good enough. Gentlemen, Captain Thomas Marking and Lieutenant Grey, delivered fresh and feisty as promised. Captain Marking, Lieutenant Grey, may I introduce my two adopted nephews, James Purdy and Westley Richards. Both are soon to be the best gun-makers in all of England, or so they tell me"
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