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The two young men looked to be in their early twenties and Thomas saw that, while they were well dressed their hands looked to have been working amongst things that had left them smudged with ingrained compounds. Thomas also noticed that Westley Richards was missing the top half of his forefinger.
"Welcome home Mister Marking." Began James Purdy, "We have been waiting to make your acquaintance for some time. In fact ever since we read the first report in the Times. If you will forgive my impertinence, I must say I was expecting to see a person of some considerable stature as the Times had made you out to be. Although I am much more glad to see that you are really human and not the great giant they would have had us believe."
"Thank you Mister Purdy and there is no offence taken at your words."
"Well you two, how did it go for your final exams?" Mister Percy asked the two young men.
"Both good and bad Uncle. Mister Joseph and Mister John were delighted with our apprentice pieces as far as workmanship and presentation went, but both downgraded our mark for what they saw as superfluous items and of no real value to the trade. I think they were also not happy that we both worked together on the one piece instead of providing one each." James Purdy replied.
"Well young fellow, they may be the best gun makers in all of England, but they don't know a damn about the needs of the average man. I think at times they are too concerned with providing what the gentry want for sporting guns. So did you bring your apprentice piece for us to look at?"
"Yes Uncle, it is over there on the sideboard. Perhaps after dinner we can look it over and you can give us your opinion on whether they could be useful or have some practical application somewhere?"
Before Mister Percy could reply, there came a soft knock at the door and it was quickly opened to reveal a steward carrying a large silver tray with a bottle and glasses on it. Mister Percy pointed to the sideboard and said, "Just leave it there please Tomms, we will serve ourselves. Would you please inform the kitchen that we will be ready to dine in one hour?"
"Yes Colonel, I will tell them such."
After the steward had left them alone Carmelo took it upon himself to fill the glasses with a fine brandy and pass them around to the others. The five new friends took one of the thick plush leather arm chairs placed around a central fire to sip and talk. At the far end of the room was set a large round oaken table set with fine silverware and white linen.
"So Mister Marking," began Purdy.
"Please just call me Thomas. I am getting a little tired of all the Mistering and Sirring that goes on here at home."
"Then you must call me James and the silent one is Westley. As you can tell I seem to do most of the talking, Westley is of the opinion I talk enough for both of us. So tell me Thomas, the reports say you carry a pair of small pocket pistols, is this true?"
"Yes James, those and my Manton's that the General gave to me."
"Manton's, you have a pair of Manton's Thomas?"
"Well yes, why?"
"My, my, Mister Joseph would be so proud if he knew."
"Why Joseph Manton, the finest gun maker in all of England, and Europe if he had any say in it. He is the man we were both apprenticed too. He is an old man now and his son John will probably take over the smithy, that is why we want to go out and form our own company."
"So you both want to be gun makers James?" Thomas asked.
"Yes, that is why we spent the last nine years as apprentices to Mister Manton, although we will have to wait a good while before we can start our own enterprise. It takes far more coin than we have just now."
"What were you going to produce?"
"Why we will make the finest sporting guns in the world if we get the chance, but for now it's someway off in the future."
"What would it cost for you to start your own smithy?"
"Well it could run into the thousands of guineas just to set up, and then there is the time it takes to produce the finest of weapons. It can take up to a full year to produce just one fine fowling piece; the engraving alone can take several months."
"What's a fowling piece?"
"It was a creation of Mister Joseph. Primarily it is two musket barrels joined side by side, instead of the normal ball it fires a measure of fine lead shot, makes it more practical to shoot birds while they are still on the wing."
"Two barrels? Like they can both be fired at the same time?"
"Not quite, you fire one after the other. There are two triggers, after you pull the first one you release it and pull the second if the shot is needed for a missed bird."
"Oh that sounds handy. Tell me James, could it be used for a real musket, like having two barrels instead of one?"
"Now that's an idea! we had never thought of using it in a military situation. There is one thing though."
"What would that be?"
"The weight, they are a damnedably heavy gun and a soldier would get quickly tired having to hold it for long periods."
"Is there any way they could be made lighter?"
"I suppose it is possible but it would take some work and deep thinking before we could say it was safe for use. Why do you ask Thomas?"
"It is just something that has occurred to me. Would you give me some time to think it out and perhaps we can continue with this conversation later. Perhaps tomorrow or the day following if you would drop by the barracks to see me then?"
Unbeknown to the two young men, there was a second silent conversation going on between the relaxed, portly and short figure of their uncle and the two young Officers. Before much more could be said, there was a light tap at the door and the steward walked in.
"Colonel, the kitchen reports that your dinner is now ready; shall we begin to serve Sir?"
"Yes thank you Tomms, I think it is well time we should sit to table. Gentlemen, if you could be seated, my stomach is beginning to rumble and that could bode ill for those close to me."
Mister Percy laughed as he heaved himself from the large leather chair and led the others to the round table. After they were all seated and Tomms served the first of what was to be a number of bottles of fine wine, other waiters began to arrive with their meal on silver covered platters. The talk over dinner was lighter and of a more general topic. Try as they might, the two young gents could not get much from Thomas about his exploits. When certain details of a particular battle were needed, it was either Carmelo or Mister Percy that gave them. For Thomas, it was just too embarrassing to speak up on his own behalf.
Dinner stretched out to several hours and a number of bottles of wine. When the last food had been eaten and a large wooden platter of cheeses had been placed on the table, all of them took out pipes except for Percy. He made use of a small thin smoke that he told Thomas were called cigars, the smell was far stronger than his plain pipe tobacco but somehow more relaxing as the aroma mixed with that of the pipes.
From a cupboard in the sideboard, Tomms produced one of the dark rich wines from Oporto. It was going to be a long night.
"So James," Mister Percy began, "are you going to show our young friend here your apprentice piece?"
"Yes certainly Uncle, that is Thomas, if you wished to see it?"
"You have me very interested James."
James left the table and went to the sideboard, from the top he took a large highly polished Walnut case and carried it back to the table close to where Thomas sat. Opening the lid, James turned the box around so Thomas could get a better view of what was inside.
When Thomas saw what was inside, his eyes lit up and a rush of possibilities ran through his mind. What he could do with more pistols like these was endless. He determined that he had to find out more about the beautiful looking pistols sitting in the large case.
While the case itself was a piece of immaculate woodwork, the two double barrelled pistols sitting on the blue velvet base were even more so. Thomas could see at first glance these pistols were like nothing ever made before. The two barrels sat side by side and were six sided. The smaller than normal hammers were not on the side but mounted at the centre of the grip. The wood looked to be Walnut and was highly polished and the grip was cross hatched with fine carving so the hand would not slip.
Along the barrels and both hammers there was fine silver engraving with the scene depicting trees and miniature birds in flight. A small bead of brass was fixed at the centre between the barrels. Thomas also noticed one thing that he had never seen before, the two triggers had no finger guard.
Thomas looked up at the smiling James.
"James, Westley, these are the most beautiful pistols I have ever seen. I could think of a dozen situations where these would be a real asset for a fighting man, although perhaps not as fancy but the principle of them is very good."
"You would use them for war Thomas?"
"Of course, it would take a few changes but with two barrels instead of one it would make you twice as safe. In a battle the worst thing is to not have your pieces loaded or be too slow to reload them. With the extra barrel it would give you just a fraction more time."
Thomas looked at the two young friends as they thought over his words.
"Can you tell me James, if these were made plainly just as double barrel pistols without all the fine fancy work you have gone to, how long would it take to make them in quantity?"
"I'm not sure Thomas. We would have to look at how to cut down on time and what would be needed instead of the fine work. But I would hazard a guess we could produce a large number in a relatively short time if we had the foundry and people to do the work. Unfortunately we do not and it would take months to set a foundry up and a great deal of cost as well which neither of us have."
"What if all that could be taken care of? How long to actually mass produce these in say a bulk lot of five hundred and at what cost?"
"Again Thomas, we would have to work on that, it's not something we have even given any thought to."
"Perhaps then you could both work on it tonight after we leave. I will be in barracks the day after tomorrow, perhaps you can come and see me there and discuss it then?"
James turned to Mister Percy with a smile.
"Well Uncle, you did say he was inclined to act rather quickly and on the spur of the moment."
"Yes young man, and now you know what I was talking about. So can you do it for him?"
"We will certainly try Uncle, but there is still the matter of a foundry if Thomas wanted to proceed with it all."
"Leave that too us James. You and Westley just concentrate on what Thomas has suggested, the rest will take care of itself. Now then gentlemen, the hour is late and I'm getting old and need my rest. Thomas, will you and young Carmelo be able to find your way back to barracks? Perhaps you can all walk together for some distance, I have a room here at the club."
It did not take long for the four younger men to shake hands and say their goodbyes. Minutes later they were all outside in the dark cold night and wending their way to their respective homes. It had been a very long and stressful day for Thomas and the fine wine was having a little effect on his footwork but Carmelo kept his steps on the straight and narrow as they made their way to the far off barracks.
When Thomas awoke the next morning, the last thing he wanted to do was open his eyes to another day. Thomas's head felt like a heavy weight was bearing down on him and his mouth was full of straw. It was only the strong smell of his morning cafe that gave Thomas some hope of living through the day.
As he sipped the hot, strong cafe, Thomas was almost ready to swear off any further drinking of strong wine or liquor. Even now his stomach roiled with discontent at the thought of his breakfast waiting for him.
It was Carmelo and the two other boys that finally lifted Thomas from the feeling that the world had come to an end. How Carmelo could look and act so brightly after the previous evening was beyond Thomas's understanding.
With the slow movements of one who thought he would die, Thomas began to dress for the Colour Parade. He still had his duties to perform. Once dressed in his best uniform, the black flat crowned hat firmly in place, Thomas checked his weapons out of natural habit. It took a few seconds before he realised he had little to fear on home soil. Thomas returned most of his weapons to the sideboard, all except his two pocket pistols and his sword.
It was time to leave for the Parade and much to Thomas's happiness, there was a surprise waiting outside his door. When he left the quarters assigned to him, Thomas saw old friends and faces waiting for him. Thomas stepped from his quarters with Carmelo in full dress uniform by his side, standing at attention in front of his quarters were the four red coated Colour Guard of his own Corps and next to them stood four of the original drummer boys all in their Spanish uniforms and holding their drums on their hips and at the ready.
The Colours of the Drum Corps were covered with the usual canvas protective covers and the four guardsmen stood silently but with smiles on their faces as the four originals gave a long drum roll amid their own smiles.
"How did you lot get here then?" Thomas asked the smiling Perrin.
"Fast packet boat Mister Marking. We arrived late last night and told to be here first thing to greet you." Perrin told Thomas.
Before Thomas could reply to Perrin, a Junior Officer appeared seemingly from nowhere. The young Subaltern came to attention and saluted Thomas before saying.
"Sir, I have been sent to escort you and the Colours to the Parade ground."
"Thank you Lieutenant but I know where the Parade ground for the 33rd is, I was trained here."
"Sir, begging your pardon but the Colour Parade is to be held in the square outside Whitehall. Do you wish me to show you the way Sir?"
Thomas looked at the earnest face of the young Lieutenant, it looked as though he had been given a job that was not entirely to his liking but was trying to remain civil to a Superior Officer, even if that same Officer was a good four years younger than himself.
"Yes, thank you Lieutenant; will it take long?"
"I have carriages waiting outside the gates for you Sir, Colonel's order Sir."
Thomas and his boys followed the young Lieutenant to the gate where four open carriages waited with their drivers. Once everyone was aboard, the carriages began to quickly head towards the square in front of Whitehall, it was a journey of minutes and they were soon disembarking just short of the square. On the way, the young Lieutenant had explained what was going to happen and when but Thomas still got a surprise when he saw the waiting people and troops in the Square.
The day was not the typical English winter day. The skies had cleared and the usual murky drizzle and light snow fall had abated. The square before them had been swept clean and even the sun was showing a watery light down on the waiting parade.
Three sides of the square were lined with ranks of soldiers. The red coats of the infantry down one side, along another were the red jacketed and kilt wearing Highlanders and, on the third side, much to Thomas's surprise were Naval Marines. At the top end was the Officer's dais on which stood so much shiny gold braid that Thomas thought he would have to shade his eyes.
Massed behind all the troops were hundreds if not thousands of civilians all wanting to get a sight of the young boy who had saved the King's Colours and had become a hero of the people for his exploits. Thomas did not miss the sight of a number of newspaper correspondents standing below the dais as they wrote furiously in their small note books.
Thomas's small group was still outside the large square where he would prepare his boys for the entrance and presentation of the Colours, the young Lieutenant had explained to him what the Officers wanted him to do.
As a sudden hush came over the massed crowd of troops and civilians, a young Officer's voice could be heard as it echoed in the quiet stillness that now pervaded the surrounding square.
"Sergeant Major of the Colours, call the Parade."
The Sergeant Major of the King's Colours saluted then turned to face the troops on parade, in a voice that Thomas was sure would awaken the dead, the Sergeant Major bellowed out.
"PARADE! ATTENNNN...SHUN! OFFICERS OF THE 1ST BATTALION OF DRUMS AND AUXILLERY'S WILL PARADE THE COLOURS!"
Thomas nodded to his boys and the four Colour guard. At his signal the four Colour Guard uncovered the four flags and unfurled them so they were now out in the open. Thomas formed his small guard up. With Carmelo by his side, Thomas took station at the front, behind him was the large red and gold flag with the black bulls head. Thomas now noticed there had been some additions to the flag that he had not seen before but there was too much to do to look into it further.
Behind their El Toro flag were the three flags of the countries. On the left was the flag of Portugal at the centre was the Union Jack of England and on the right was the Spanish flag. All three stood in a line behind the flag now know as the Battalion battle flag. Behind the four flags was Perrin with three other of the originals. All four wore their drums and at Thomas's signal Perrin began the long drum roll that lead into the Della Guerra.
Thomas had decided on his own that they would march with their own Colours lowered onto the parade ground to the sound of the drums. He had not told anyone else but his own people about it. The drums were to be a memorial for those boys already lost in Portugal. No one else needed to know, this was something private for only those who were a part of them.
The drums echoed around the silent square as the small troop slow marched with their heads held high and to the sound of their own music. The drums reverberated around the square and bounced off the tall buildings to make it sound as though a hundred drums were playing. For Thomas it was a fitting tribute to those friend he had already lost.
As they marched into the centre of the square, the stentorian voice of the Sergeant Major rose even above the drums.
"PARADE WILL SALUTE THE COLOURS...SALUTE."
There came a crashing of heavy boots and the slapping of hard hands on muskets as all the troops crashed their boots on the stones of the roadway and brought their muskets to the position of salute.
Thomas led his small troop to the centre and then performed a smart left wheel to face the dais with all the Senior Officers watching him. When Thomas and his boys were about ten paces from the dais, Thomas called for them to halt where they stood erect until the last notes of the Della Guerra were played out. When Perrin gave the last short drum roll for the end of the tune, Thomas called out in his youngish voice that was nowadays betraying him at every turn.
"Sir, Captain Marking would present the Colours of His Majesties 1st Battalion of Drums and Auxiliaries for dedication to His Majesties Forces."
Viscount Chelsea took the front of the dais and looked down at the boy who he had high hopes in, the fact the boy had ignored protocol and had his battle flag lead the others onto the parade ground had not been missed by the Viscount but, this was not the place to bring it up.
"Captain Marking you will advance the Colours to the dais where they will be dedicated by the Bishop of England under the orders of His Majesty King George."
Thomas saluted the Viscount and then led his four flag bearers to just below the dais. After what Thomas considered a long winded sermon by the Bishop, the Viscount left the dais and then tied four long ribbons onto the silver eagle at the top of the black flag staff that held the battle flag. There was a blue ribbon for Portugal, gold for Spain and red for England, the black ribbon was for the colours of El Toro although very few knew this.
When the final part of the parade was over, the Viscount stepped back and along with everyone, saluted the new Colours. Once it was all done, the Viscount said to Thomas, "Well Captain, I hope you will be ready at 7 of the clock, my carriage will be waiting to bring you to the mess for dinner."
"Yes My Lord, and thank you for the invitation."
"Think nothing of it Captain, like you we all have our duties to do. Until this evening Captain."
The Viscount stepped back up onto the dais and called out loudly.
"Captain Marking, you will escort the Colour Guard of the 1st Battalion of Drums and Auxiliaries to their barracks. Protect the Colours at the cost of your life Captain. Colour Guard will retire to barracks. Sergeant Major of the King's Colours, you may dismiss the parade."
It was only minutes later and Thomas, along with his friends were making their way back to his quarters in the supplied carriages, behind them they could still hear the loud cheers of the people and another episode was over. Thomas hoped they would have a little peace before much more happened to them.
Back at the barracks, Thomas invited all his friends into the small cottage that was supplied to Officers. It was not a large cottage but had a small sitting room that also acted as his office space, a main bedroom with a smaller one off to the side for his batman or in his case servants and a little alcove for cooking.
Just as they were all relaxing with their jackets now off and pipes out and lit, a loud knock came at the door. Sergio ran and opened the door to find the Sergeant of the guard standing there and looking very stern.
"Where's the Captain Lad?"
Sergio smiled at the soldier and shrugged his shoulders before turning to Thomas and spoke rapidly in Spanish.
"Patron a soldier is here for you."
Thomas rose from his chair and went to the door to see the Sergeant waiting with a perplexed look on his weather beaten face. Thomas could only put it down to the fact he had understood every word Sergio had said while to the Sergeant it had all sounded like gibberish.
"Hello Sergeant, what can I do for you?"
"Captain Marking Sir, there's a wagon with three Jack Tars at the gate and they is asking after you."
"Did they give their names Sergeant?"
"Well Sir, the ugly one done called himself Craven Sir. Do you wish to see em?"
"Yes thank you Sergeant, will you direct them here, did they say why they were looking for me?"
"Something about the rest of your baggage Sir."
Thomas was the one that was now perplexed. They had brought all their baggage from the ship with them in the coach. Why was Craven of all people saying there was more, Thomas would have to see him and find out then what it was all about.
"Thank you Sergeant let them come on in and I can see what he's up to."
Thomas returned to his chair to wait, it was not long before he heard the sound of a wagon drawing up outside the door. Rising once again he made his way to the open door and looked out at the three sailors sitting on a middle sized wagon. Craven was smiling as he looked at Thomas in his partial uniform.
"Morning Sir, Mister Scully thought as we was coming to London to see family, we mayhap drop off your share of the booty from that Merchantman, where would you like it put Mister Marking Sir?'
"Uhm...I'm not sure I understand, what booty?"
"Why the booty you got from the Merchantman Mister Marking. You helped capture the ship so you get's to have a share, ships rules Mister Marking."
The man was smiling widely as he got down from the wagon while the other two men with him, who Thomas recognised as two of the older gunners, began to remove the canvas from the top of the wagon box.
"What exactly do you have there Master Gunner?"
"Well Mister Marking, let me see what your share was. There be ten small casks of fine French Brandy, twenty four bottles of fine French wine, two bales of tobacco, one bale of cotton, one chest of silverware for the Captain's table and three crates of fine glassware also for your table. The Captains compliments Mister Marking and he thanks you for coming to our aid when them damn Frenchies tried to take back the ship. Now Sir, where about would you like us to put it all?"
"I'm not sure Master Gunner I don't really have space here."
"Well mister Marking if'n you don't mind me making a suggestion for you?"
"Certainly Master Gunner anything would help just now, this is most unexpected."
"Well Mister Marking, see I knows a man who has some space down at the docks, does business with warehouses and such. I can ask him to store it for you until you can find a place of your own. It will be safe as houses I assure you Mister Marking and you can call on it anytime."
"Well thank you Master Gunner, how do I find this man if needs be?"
"You just walk down the docks Mister Marking, look for the tavern called 'The Kings Gate' ask for 'The Shepherd' everyone knows him down there, all this here booty will be right safe in his hands Mister Marking."
"Thank you Master Gunner, there is so much going on just now I can't seem to get any time to think."
"Don't you worry Mister Marking. I'll take care of everything, us footpads got to stay together like. Mister Marking, if I may, if there ever be anything you was wanting and such, you mayhap like to come down the docks and talk to the Shepherd. The man has a way of getting things done that others can't like."
Thomas almost laughed as Craven signalled the other two men to get back on the wagon. With a touch to his forelock and a wide smile, Craven turned the wagon and headed back outside the gates, for Thomas it was only the start of another busy day.
Sergio and Carlito had served lunch in the normal Spanish fashion, everything was placed on the only table and each helped themselves to whatever they wanted. Thomas would never know how the two boys found half of the food they had set out, it was one of those secrets better not known when those two were concerned.
The small cottage would have seemed to be overflowing had the friends not been used to the living conditions in Portugal, for them it was normal to be in close contact with those they trusted. As they were about to eat, there came another knock on the door, Thomas waved the others to the table as he himself went to answer it.
The Sergeant stood there again with a rather red face. To him it seemed the young Captain was forever going to have people looking for him.
"Mister Marking, there's two young civvies at the gate, says their names be Purdy and Richards they are looking to see you Sir."
"That's Ok Sergeant, they are friends would you be so kind as to show them here?"
"Right away Sir."
Only a few minutes later and Thomas was shaking hands with the two young gun makers. Thomas did not miss the fact that Westley was carrying the large gun case. It was a further five minutes before all the introductions were complete and the two new members were invited to lunch.
With the lunch over, Thomas asked the two friends what they had for him on the matter of his supply of the interesting double barrel pistols.
"Well Thomas." James began. "We gave it great thought last night and have come up with a figure for five hundred pistols which would be pared down to fit your needs. The final figure, that is if we could find a foundry capable of producing them and if there were enough hands to assemble them, would have to be about two guineas a piece."
"So it is one thousand guineas altogether?"
"That's correct Thomas. It would be for a very basic pistol but each would be of the best quality we could make and would not let you down in a time of emergency. There is one other thing Thomas."
"Yes James and what would that be?"
"We both agree that we would like you to have this pair that we made for our apprentice piece. We feel it would be a shame to have them sitting on a shelf and never used. Besides, you might even get to use them on the French and that would serve our purpose even more."
"You are giving me your special apprentice piece? But James, Westley they are your special piece. I can't even think of taking them. As you know I'm not one of the gentry and those two pistols are made for better men than me."
"Nonsense Thomas, if there was anyone more capable of owning those two pistols then I would like to meet them. Until then we both want you to take them. We may never fight the French so you can say it is our way of being there to help you."
"I don't know what to say...I mean they are guns made for the gentry not the likes of me."
"They were made to be used by someone who had need of them and we have both decided that person is you. They are of a larger calibre than your pocket pistols so should give you more protection. We both insist Thomas, the guns are now yours."
Thomas could only blush, for someone like him from the back streets of Limehouse, the pair of pistols were something he may never have been able to either afford to purchase or have the chance to do so. Thomas could only nod his head in gratitude as another small tear fell from the corner of his eyes. There were so many good people doing things for him that he had never thought possible for a boy from the slums of London town.
Thomas lifted one of the pistols from the box. Much to his surprise it felt well balanced, even in his smaller hands. There was much he wanted to ask the two young men about the pistol as there changes he had never seen before.
"Why is there no trigger guard James?"
James laughed and Thomas caught an embarrassed look on Westley's face at the mention of the trigger guard.
"It is the reason my good friend has lost the tip of his finger. When we made the first prototype, we were not aware that both barrels would fire at the same time, even though the second barrel was not cocked. Westley fired it and the second barrel caught at the same time, the power of both barrels firing together forced the pistol out of his hand and his finger was trapped in the guard and was mangled beyond saving, it was then we decided to do away with the guard."
After inspecting the two triggers which sat side by side, Thomas looked at the firing mechanism on top of the pistol.
"I also notice the locks are placed at the centre... there is no frisson for the powder to fire?"
"That is simple; when you cock the pistol it pulls this small pin back to open the rear of the barrel. A small amount of powder drops through to load the pan and then when you fire the pin stays back and you have to push it forward with your thumb before reloading. This way the second barrel cannot fire until you have cocked the second barrel. You just have to make sure you do not cock both barrels at the same time."
Thomas nodded as he tried it himself for the first time. Thomas noticed right away that the flint lock only need a single cocking and not a double like other systems. The small pin was easily pushed back into the hole at the rear of the barrel for reloading, he was immediately taken by the system as he placed the pistol back in the well made box.
"What is the brass bead for?"
"That is to aid in your sighting of your opponent. You see with both barrels in the normal position, you would have to re-sight each time you fired a barrel. With the bead as a centre point you only need to keep it lined up on your target. When we made the first one, we found that the rear of the barrel had to be heavier than the front for safety sake as the rear took more explosive force upon firing. This made the barrels too wide spread for easy use and so we angled them at the front. We have made it so the barrels are aimed at the same point at twenty paces as the front of the barrel is angled inwards from the rear."
"Very inventive James. It must have taken deep thought to overcome such unusual manufacture?"
"Not at all, it is the same system used by Mister Manton for his fowling pieces we just copied it on a smaller scale although the lock mechanism is our creation as the fowling pieces still use the outer settings for their locks."
"Speaking of fowling pieces, did you manage to find a way to lighten a two barrelled musket for the use of troops?"
"There are a few ideas we have but we would have to experiment further before we could give you an answer. If what we have discussed is viable then we could come to you with something in another day or two. Would you like us to continue along that line?"
"Yes I really would. I have to make use of everything I can to keep my boys safe on the battle field even if it means using something experimental."
"Good then we will look into it further and let you know. Well Thomas, it has been a delight and a pleasure to spend this time with you but we should be leaving now. We both have a lot to think over before we meet again."
"Thank you both for coming and thank you very much for the beautiful pistols. I'll take good care of them and treasure them for the rest of my life."
"You are very welcome Thomas, we feel it is the least we can do for someone who has put his life at risk for the Empire."
After shaking hands with the two young men, Thomas watched them walk away into the darkening sky. He would soon have to think about this evenings call on the Officer's mess and what that would entail. While he could appreciate the invitation, Thomas was getting a little tired of being the centre of attention with older Officers and the carefully hidden mistrust and ire of the Junior Officers he was likely to see in the Mess, especially here at home where the efforts of those fighting overseas were often completely unknown.
Thomas and Carmelo, both dressed in their best Spanish uniform of their newly acclaimed Battalion, were standing at the gate of the barracks at exactly 7 of the clock. Seconds later and a black painted coach bearing the coat of arms of the Viscount pulled up beside them. On the box sat the driver wrapped in a warm coat and, from the rear of the coach where they had been standing, jumped two very smartly dressed footmen. While one of the footmen opened the door, the other folded down a small step for the two boys to enter the coach. No sooner were they seated than the coach started off at a quick trot. Thomas and Carmelo looked at the plush interior of the coach and could only marvel at the opulence of the wealthy.
Ten minutes later they arrived at the Officer's Mess. It was not what either boy expected. Gone were the large tents and rough conditions, this mess was a large building of three stories with a large and wide portico covering the entranceway. At the doors into the building stood two smartly dressed Sergeants at attention, they both saluted Thomas and Carmelo as they stepped from the coach and one turned and opened the large wooden doors for them to enter.
As Thomas and Carmelo took off their cloaks and gave them to a waiting Sergeant just inside the door, a young Captain appeared and told them he would take them to where the Viscount was waiting for them. The two boys followed closely as they were taken along the wide hallway to finally be presented at a set of double doors. The Captain opened the doors and led the two boys inside.
Everywhere the two looked there were Officers of every rank, there was more gold braid in this single room than either had ever seen. The Captain led them through the mass of Officers to where the Viscount stood with five of his most senior Officers.
Thomas and Carmelo snapped to attention and saluted the august group of the most Senior Officers in the English army.
"My Lord, Captain Marking and Lieutenant Grey request permission to join the Mess." Thomas said loudly, even though his voice was forever changing at the worst moments.
"Welcome Captain Marking, you have our permission. Now then what would you like to drink? This evening is on my account Captain."
"Perhaps a small brandy for Lieutenant Grey and myself My Lord."
The Viscount turned his head and gave a small nod at a waiting orderly, it took less than a minute for both boys to be holding a large glass of Brandy in their hands.
"It has come to my attention Captain, that there has been a challenge to duel made by certain Officers under my command. Tell me Captain, do you know anything about it?"
"Ahh...Yes My Lord, it concerns myself and one other Officer."
"I see, you do know that duelling among Officers is forbidden in the King's Services and that it can lead to very severe consequences?"
"Yes My Lord, but I can assure My Lord that there will not be a single drop of blood shed by either of those concerned. My second has deemed it to be a duel of skill and ability and not one of blood My Lord."
"Well I hope he is right Captain, I am not in the mood to lose one or more valued Officers while Napoleon is making such inroads on the Peninsular."
For the rest of their time in the mess and even during dinner, the conversation stayed well away from matters pertaining to any form of duelling. For most parts Thomas found it a little boring as the younger Officers seemed to be taken with either gambling or how they planned to make a conquest of some young debutante. The Viscount spent a lot of time with Thomas and Carmelo and was very interested in how Thomas planned to find and train his new recruits and when he felt he would start on that plan.
For the most part, Thomas said very little and gave away even less, it was a delicate balancing act as he did not want to offend the most powerful man in the military but he also did not want others to know what he was doing. The long period in Portugal had made Thomas and all his friends keep their cards close to their young chests. Any hint of a plan that got out could endanger those under his command. Just because he was now back in England it did not change the way they had been living for almost two years.
Thomas and Carmelo left the Officers Mess before the midnight hour, it had been a very long day and they were ready for the bed. On arriving back at the small cottage that was now their home, the two boys saw that Sergio and Carlito had built up the fire and the front room was as warm as toast but both young boys had gone to their own beds.
The eight others of Thomas's troop had been accommodated in one of the barracks close by and would now be staying in England to assist Thomas in forming the new recruits into something resembling what they needed in Portugal.
As was their habit in the mornings, Carmelo was already up and had Thomas's hot cafe waiting for him. It was always a mystery to Thomas how Carmelo could rise so early even though he may have had a long night just like Thomas, it also amazed Thomas that his friend, who now even slept in the same bed, could move without waking Thomas from his sleep.
With his ablutions done and the cafe almost finished, Thomas watched as Sergio and Carlito laid the small table for breakfast. They had just placed the last dish on the table when a quiet knock came on the door. Sergio answered the door and quickly stepped back to let Mister Percy enter.
"Well good morning you two, I see I am once again just in time to sup."
"Good morning Mister Percy, yes please join us and then you can tell us why such an early call."
"All in good time Thomas, all in good time. Now let me get some breakfast and we can get to the reason I am here so early."
The three sat at the table and began to eat in silence, both boys knew it was hopeless to try and get anything out of Mister Percy before he was ready to tell. Finally, with breakfast over and the table cleared, the three sat back with a second cafe to let their meal settle, as Mister Percy lit one of his small cigars and the boys lit their pipes Mister Percy smiled at Thomas before speaking.
"Well young man, I have talked to the good Captain's second and we have come to an arrangement. As we discussed I left out certain things about the duel but he has the broader outline of what will happen. The time was settled on as being for four days from today and in the morning at 8 of the clock and the place is agreed upon just like you wanted. Now is there anything else we may have overlooked?"
"No thank you Mister Percy, I think we have it all covered. I had a visit from your two Nephews yesterday and they gave me the gift of their pistols, I think I will use them as well as my Manton's just to make a point. I am sure I can do the reloads at a suitable speed without the new pistols but I think it will add a little fun to the meeting."
Thomas smiled at the chuckling Mister Percy as the thought of the upcoming duel and how it would be conducted ran through his mind once more.
"Well I must say Thomas, you still have a little of the devil in you, it should be an interesting morning. Now then what have you planned for today?"
"Nothing really, the Sergeant here said there would be a new intake of recruits at the end of this week and I could look them over then, I also though perhaps I should take a walk in the town and see if there are others who would want to join us. The only other thing I have a problem with is finding a way for your Nephews to make the new guns I want for my boys."
"What do you need for those two scallywags?"
"I was hoping we could find some way of producing some new guns that the two have come up with but I need foundries and such to make them and I don't have a clue where to start looking."
"Well now perhaps I can help you. A long time ago, when I was very young and a little silly, I took passage on a ship for a few years and met a man who might be able to help you. Do you know the docks area?"
"A little but I have not spent a lot of time down there. Those of Limehouse did not always get on with the Dockers."
"Well I think you should go and meet this man, he is an old shipmate of mine and has a little sway on the docks."
"How do I find him?"
"You go to the docks and ask someone where the inn called 'The Kings Gate' is situated, ask for Mister Peter Morgan. If anyone can help you he can."
"The Kings Gate, you're the second person who has mentioned that inn."
"Really? Well then perhaps it's meant to be. Why don't you use today to go and visit. When you find Peter, tell him I sent you, it may help a little."
"Thank you Mister Percy, we'll do that today."
"Think nothing of it Thomas, glad I could help, now then I have to get back to the office before they find I am missing, got to keep the wolves from the door if you want a peaceful life."
The three friends shook hands and Mister Percy walked away from the barracks, Thomas and Carmelo now had something to fill in another day but, for the life of him, Thomas could not see how a sailor or dock worker could help with his problem of gun manufacture.
Thomas and Carmelo changed back into their everyday Spanish garb, they both made sure to remove any signs of their rank as the docks were not the sort of place you advertised that sort of thing. The memories of press gangs were still too fresh in the mind of many dock workers.
The docks were only about a half hour from the barracks and the two boys strolled along and were in no hurry, they had all day with nothing else to do so there was no urgency to their little mission.
The time was midmorning and the docks were a bustle of noise and movement as the many large ships at the wharves were being either loaded or unloaded of their many cargoes or refurbishing of supplies for another voyage. The streets were jammed with carts and wagons as they hauled cargo from one place to another. In the many warehouses there was shouting and noise as goods were unloaded.
In many of the small corner taverns were the sounds of early morning drinkers and, even at that early hour there were those who were already in their cups and trouble was never far away. For Thomas and Carmelo it was fortunate that they did not have to traverse through the notorious docklands of Billingsgate. This area was one of the roughest and the many fishmongers were very quick with a knife if they thought they had been insulted.
The two boys eventually came to the sea front and could see ahead of them a sign swinging in the early morning breeze. It was a small square sign, the background was painted a fading blue and at the centre was a roughly painted design that looked much like a wrought iron gate which had a small crown above it. On the lintel above the closed wooden door were the words 'The Kings Gate Tavern'. Thomas and Carmelo had found their inn.
The two young boys in their strange dress had not gone unnoticed, before they could get to their objective, a large group of very surly looking men began to hem them into a small space, close to the wall of the inn. The sudden sight of bare knives gave Thomas and Carmelo pause for thought and both reached under their Spanish jackets for their hidden pistols. If they had to fight them they were going to make it costly for anyone getting too close.
The men were burley and obviously not afraid of a fight; there was the look of seamen about them and they meant to have the two small boys one way or another. Most carried only the small knives common on seamen but three also carried heavy cudgels. Those would have to be the targets of the boy's pistols. One strike from them and the boys would be done for.
Thomas stood beside Carmelo with both pocket pistols in his hand. Carmelo had his single pistol and one of his sleeve knives and both boys had their backs tightly to the wall behind them. Their attackers could only get to them from directly in front. The boys got ready to fight what many would consider a hopeless fight.
The rough looking men had now formed a semi circle around the two boys and were starting to advance towards them. There was little doubt as to what they had in mind for these young strangers on their docks.
From behind the men and much to everyone's surprise, a deep sounding voice called loudly, so there would be no mistaking his words.
"AHOY THERE, BELAY THAT THOUGHT AND STEP BACK OR BY THE GODS I WILL HAVE EVERY ONE OF YOU DANGLING FROM A GIBBET."
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