Copyright © 2016
A Duel and a Reunion
Thomas did not dare to take his eyes off the large group of unruly men to see who the voice belonged to. It was not until he saw the rough looking men quickly straighten up and look to the voice that Thomas turned slightly to see who their saviour was.
Thomas was relieved to see the figure of Craven standing just outside the door of the tavern with a well used belaying pin off a ship, gripped firmly in his hand. The look on their friends face brooked no nonsense from the gathered gang around the two boys.
Thomas and Carmelo stayed silent as Craven turned to the vernacular of the docks.
"Ye be begging the pardon of the lad and his friend, he be under the rights of 'The Shepherd' and has the freedom to walk the docks at his pleasure. This be Thomas Marking, a footpad of Limehouse wot stood the colours of His Majesty the King. When ye see him walking ye shall watch his back or by God the Shepherd will know the why of it."
Thomas watched as the faces of the hard-bitten gang changed to one of wonder and awe, to a man they began to put away their weapons and then each stepped up to Thomas, bowed their head and touched their forelock as a sign of subservience before asking Thomas and Carmelo.
"Beg pardon Master Thomas, we be afeared for our actions, our oath ye be safe from this day on."
Thomas nodded to each man in acceptance of their apology; he had seen far worse in Portugal and now he really wanted to meet this man they called 'The Shepherd', if he had such sway over some of the hardest men on the docks then he was indeed an interesting man.
To reconcile his knowledge of the streets in front of these hard men, Thomas turned to Craven and used the same vernacular of the streets.
"Wotawayoo Master of the guns?"
"Mm kooshoo Master Thomas, wotawayoo?"
"Mm kooshoo Master of the guns, wot be the day?"
"The day be fine, would ye take rum at near tavern?"
"Aye an good it will be Master of the guns."
With honour satisfied and the gang of men now fully accepting that Thomas was indeed one of them, the two boys accompanied by Craven entered the tavern. The tavern inside was a surprise. When looking at the outside it seemed to be much the same as others down on the docks. The whitewashed walls were a little grimy and the thick round panes of glass hid most of what went in inside, however inside it was larger than indicated by the outer walls.
At one end of the long room was a wide fireplace with a roaring fire putting out heat to the rest of the barroom. There were a few small round tables and rough stools in the centre and against one wall a number of narrow booths. To one side of the large fire place was another small booth that was partially hidden in deep shadow; Thomas got the impression that a single person was sitting well out of the light cast by the lamps of the bar.
It was the figure behind the bar that really caught Thomas's attention. The man was like nothing he had ever seen or even imagined. Before he could look closer at the strange barman, Thomas was alerted to Craven's presence once more.
"Mister Marking, if you would wait here I will go up and see his Nibs, he will be wanting to meet with you."
"Thank you Master Gunner."
Craven left Thomas and Carmelo standing near the bar. As he looked around, Thomas caught movement in the shadowed booth. The appearance of two white hands onto the table caught his attention. The rest of the person was still hidden by the deep shadows.
As he watched the aged looking hands, Thomas realised he was seeing a familiar movement by the fingers. Whoever it was, knew the silent language Thomas had been taught by Mister Percy.
Thomas took a moment to glance behind him to see who the shadowy man was silently talking to, it was the strange large man behind the bar. Thomas now had the time to look closely at the barman. He was not as dark skinned as any slave Thomas had ever seen but he was definitely not a white man. The man's skin was more of a dark caramel and his body was thick and muscular even though he appeared to be of some age. The man's size was not what really caught Thomas's attention, it was his face.
The barman's hair was showing more grey than black and was tied back into a bun behind his head instead of the normal queue like everyone else wore in that time. Even though this was strange, it was the man's face that really caught his attention. With the hair being pulled back so severely it revealed his forehead and it was here that Thomas's eyes were caught.
Above the barman's eyebrows were two thick black tattooed lines, they followed the line over his eyes and met at the centre of the aquiline nose and ran down to the flared nostrils where they then swirled into a complex circle on the nostrils. It gave the barman a fearsome look and instantly brought a person's eyes to those of the dark skinned man.
Thomas could almost feel a shiver run through him as he looked into those dark eyes that seemed never to blink. The barman's fingers were speaking to the hidden man in the booth and yet his eyes never left Thomas's face.
Because he was so taken by the unusual appearance of the barman, Thomas missed most of the silent conversation and his reverie was soon broken by the sound of Craven returning.
"Well Mister Marking, his Nibs would have the pleasure of your company if there is nothing further down here to amuse you."
Thomas had to gulp to get his attention back to why he was here in the first place. Tearing his eyes away from the mesmerising gaze of the barman, Thomas turned with Carmelo and followed Craven up the narrow stairs to the floor above the bar room.
Thomas was surprised by the size of the room, it seemed to cover as much space as the barroom below. The ceiling was higher than he thought it would be and the bare hand hewn beams stood out from the white washed panels. Around the room the lower part of the walls were covered with thick wood panels lit by small sconces set high on the walls. The floor was of heavy and thick planks and only a single large rug sat at the centre for any form of covering.
At the far end of the room was another wide open fireplace, its logs bright with flames as small sparks jumped out onto the stone surround. At the other end, in front of a wide window that showed the dull light of winter, sat a large carved and worn desk. Behind the desk sat the man Thomas hoped was the one he had come to see. The man was well into his middle years and had the look of a seaman about him. His face was weather worn but showed strength and character as his sharp brown eyes looked at his small young guest.
When the man stood for the introductions, Thomas saw he was taller and wider shouldered than he had at first thought. The man stretched out a large calloused hand towards his guest and his mouth opened in a wide smile.
"Well bless me, Thomas Marking himself. Well met young Thomas, I am Peter Morgan, is there something I can get to warm your blood?"
"Good day Mister Morgan, perhaps a small brandy if there is no trouble."
Thomas watched as Peter took up a familiar looking black cane with a silver top and rapped sharply on the wooden floor. In what seemed no more than seconds a young boy close to Thomas's age appeared at the door."
"Snot, go and get Mister Thomas a brandy and you can bring four tots for us others. Jump to it boy, no time for lolly gagging."
The small boy ran off down the stairs and Thomas was ushered to a thickly padded chair close to the fire. Craven sat in another chair and his two friends from earlier in the day sat on a thickly padded divan. Peter Morgan returned to his own chair which looked more like a throne with its high back and padded arm rests, it also was heavily carved from a dark reddish looking wood.
"So Thomas Marking, you have come to visit. Craven tells me your are an honourable young man that deserves my ear?"
"The Master Gunner has been very kind and also helpful Mister Morgan."
Peter Morgan looked at Craven with an eyebrow raised.
"Master Gunner is it, and just when were you going to tell me of your promotion lad?"
"Sorry Da I forgot."
"Forgot to tell me you have finally started to make something of yourself? And I suppose the fact a snip of a boy nearly took your head off your shoulders also slipped your mind?"
Thomas watched as Craven turned to look at his two older companions, the fact Craven was Mister Morgan's son did not get past him. Morgan must have seen the look on Thomas's face as he smiled at the young boy.
"Aye ye be right young Thomas, eight of them I have and not a wench among them. This here is my third, the others are aboard the King's ships except for the two oldest. One runs a sugar plantation in the Caribbean and the other turns the sugar into good dark rum for the King's Navy." Just before more could be said, the young boy came into the room carrying a wooden tray with two bottles and seven glasses.
"Now Thomas, this here little toe rag is my youngest. His name be Jonathon but we all calls him Snot. Tell him why lad?"
The boy grinned wildly and seemed to be very proud of his odd name.
"Cause I's not good fer nuffink." The boy broke into giggles as he set the tray down on top of the old desk and then began to pour out two brandy's and four rums, Thomas did not miss the fact the boy poured an extra brandy for himself before running to the divan and squeezing in between the two older men.
"I know you have met the other two gents young Thomas. The one on the left is called Smithy and the one on the right is called Smithy." Thomas looked at Mister Morgan as though he was making a joke at his expense.
"No Thomas, I'm not lying. They are really both called Smithy just don't go asking them the way of it or we will be here for days. Now then I have heard you might need our help?"
"Well Mister Morgan."
"Peter please young Thomas, we are going to be friends I am sure."
"Thank you Mister Peter. Well the Master Gunner said if I was needing something I should look for a man called 'The Shepherd' is that you Mister Peter?"
"Lord above no. The Shepherd is far more man than I could ever be. I'm just an old sea dog that has put ashore for the last few years of his life. Nowadays I just run a small business here and there. What was it that has you worried?"
"I'm not sure how to put this all Mister Peter."
"Well Thomas, my old Da used to say spit it out first and fights the devil later."
"Well Mister Peter, it's like this. The Army has asked me to make my own Battalion of drummers and soldiers but really I am at a loss of what to do. There is so much I need and I don't think the army can get it for me in the time they gave me before I have to go back to Portugal. Even if I do get it all I have no certain way of getting it all to my men."
"Well young Thomas, you do have a quandary. Why don't you tell me what's your thinking and let me see what comes of it?"
"Well Mister Peter, I have met two young men that have the talent for gun making. They have said they could make some special guns for me but do not have the foundry's, manpower or coin to do it. There is also the need for me to find another place to train the new recruits when I get them. The barracks are too restricted for our kind of training. Lastly I need to find a way to get everything and the new recruits back to Portugal altogether, as well as more supplies I need for those already there."
"Indeed you have a quandary young Thomas. However I may have a way to help you but I need a little time to organise things. Perhaps you could go and sit in the tavern for a little. George will look out for you and I can call you as soon as I have something ready."
"George? Mister Peter."
"Aye, George is the barman, he owns the Kings Gate and lets me have a little space up here for my own wants and needs. Snot, take our Mister Thomas down and get him settled, see that he has something to eat and is close to the fire."
"And no more drink for you lad, I don't want to be carrying the likes of you to your bed again."
The young boy smiled widely as he nodded his head and got to his feet. Thomas and Carmelo also stood and followed the dishevelled boy down the stairs to the barroom. Thomas saw the bar had filled a little while they had been upstairs but most of the drinkers sat alone or only in pairs. There was a subdued feeling of comradeship in the air even though few were conversing with each other.
Snot led the two boys to a small table near the fire place. After sitting down the boy ran off to the back of the tavern and disappeared only to reappear with a bottle and two glasses a few moments later. After setting the bottle and glasses on the table, the boy took off again into the back rooms of the bar.
As Thomas and Carmelo sat with their brandy, they surveyed the large barroom. Many of the drinkers were silent or quietly whispering to each other. Thomas noticed a few took quick glances their way and then turned back to their friends to once again whisper to each other.
As they sipped their brandy and waited to be called back to see Mister Peter, Thomas became aware of a small shuffling sound behind them. It was coming from the man hidden in the dark shadow of the fireside booth. The voice that spoke to them sounded old and a little unsteady.
"Aye youngun, would ye see a copper for an old sea dogs tankard to be filled?"
Thomas turned around to look into the deep shadow and saw the old man sitting back from the light of the lamps hanging from the low ceiling. The man looked as though he had stepped out of an old fairy tale. He was old, of that there was little doubt. He wore an old style frock coat that must have seen more than fifty years, on his head was also a very old fashioned three cornered hat that was weather beaten and under which his long white hair hung down to his collar. The hat even had a small round hole in the brim.
The old man's face was lined with both age and weather, the single eye that could be seen was still bright and the patch that covered the other was a small circle of black leather. Around the old man's throat was an old grey scarf of wool and his waist coat was of the same age as his other clothes.
Not wishing to be impolite in a strange place, Thomas stood and walked the few steps to where the old man sat alone, Carmelo stayed sitting but watching his Patrons back in this strange place.
"It would please me greatly Sir, but perhaps a shilling would be of more benefit for one who has served on the seas."
"A shilling youngun, my that's a fare bit of coin for one so young and you would place it upon my table for drink?"
"Yes Sir, with pleasure."
"Then young Master, perhaps you would sit with me for a while. It is not often an old sea dog gets such company."
Thomas looked back at Carmelo and nodded his head so his friend could also sit and talk to the old man. While the man's look was one of age there was also something about the man that caught Thomas's attention. When he saw it he could only marvel at the coincidence.
Once they were seated opposite the old man, he asked them, "Wot be ye names then lad?"
"I'm Thomas Marking Sir, and this is my best friend Carmelo Grey."
"Marking you say? Well now I used to know that name many years ago now. Twas a road agent by that name long ago, my how he led those revenue men for a chase. Caught him up at Norfolk they tells me. Stretched his neck fare and square outside the old town. Now then where be my manners. Folks here about call me 'Enry', used to be captain of my own ship I was until them French privateers turned right nasty."
"Pleased to meet you Mister Henry, do you spend all your days here?"
"Aye lad, not much else for an old dog to do nowadays. Sit and sip I do. Some of my old crew still drop by, those that still be alive, but times is a changing and seamen soon forget those who led the way to new seas."
"You must have seen much in your travels Mister Henry?"
"Oh aye, I could tell you stories until you was an old man, young Thomas Marking. But I'm sure a young man with a life to live is no interested in old man's ramblings."
"Not at all Mister Henry, perhaps you could explain a few things for me?"
"What be they young Thomas?"
"That man behind the bar, where is he from? I have never seen the likes before."
"Ah yes, George be his name, right savage he be. Don't you be taking his silence for weakness, many have done that and been his supper they have."
"He...he's a cannibal Mister Henry?"
"Oh aye he once was that and all, but now he is more mellow and only takes a head when it is French."
Thomas could hear the suggestion of a chuckle in the old man's voice.
"Where is he from Mister Henry?"
"Let me fill me tankard and I be telling you a tale of big seas and wild savages."
Old Henry lifted the item Thomas had seen earlier. It was another black cane with a silver slave head and red stone eyes, just like the one Percy and his new friend Peter used. Henry saw the look on Thomas's face as he rapped the cane once on the table to get the attention of the large dark barman.
"Does ye like me cane then young Thomas Marking?"
"I have seen its like before Mister Henry."
"And where that be lad?"
"I have a friend in the service that has one just the same."
"Oh do ye now, and what be the gents name then young Thomas Marking?"
"His name is Mister Percy Cruickshank. He is a Colonel in the forces and he's helped me a lot."
Just then George silently poured Henry a full tankard of ale. Before he could leave, Henry said to him, "Do ye hear that George? Sounds like Rat done got himself a good place after all. Never thought the day would come when that little scupper rat would make something of hiself, and a Colonel no less."
"You know Mister Percy then Mister Henry?"
"Oh aye lad, sailed under my colours when only a snip of a lad he did. My I could tell tales of that one and all but we was talking about this here savage."
Thomas waited patiently while Henry took a sip from his pewter tankard before continuing.
"Well now young Thomas Marking, this here all started near forty year ago be best guess. I was sailing my ship to the far side o' world where there be tales of great riches on the Portuguese and Dutch ships. We had been asea for many months when I called for port at the place they call the Hell Hole of the Mir Pacifica. This here port was at the top of a large Island more than twenty days south east of Van Diemen's Land. Now it was only the bravest or most stupid that went this far into the wild seas, sealers and whalers were more the sort way down there. The French had a post on the Island for some time but there was little law but what they made. We was all looking ashore for food and water and it took great care to keep my crew from jumping ship. We had been to tavern and was making our way back to ship when we was stopped by a great disturbance in middle of street."
Thomas watched as Henry took another swallow of his ale, the old man's single eye looked to be far away as old memories came back to him.
"Well now, where was I...Oh yes, so young Thomas Marking, here we was watching this here slip of a savage attacking six French sailors all on his tod. He had that there wooden spear in one hand and the big stone club in t'other." Henry pointed to the back of the bar where two strange weapons hung on the wall.
"Seems them sailors took liking to the lads sister or something, he tried to stop it and them Frenchies had enough drink and vinegar to want him out of way. Well the lad stood his ground and had four of them dead as mackerel afore they dropped him. The Officer came along and wanted to take lads life but the men wanted more. While the boy was out of this land they done opened his mouth and cut out his tongue then beat him something fierce. Left him for dead they did. Now as it being none of our business, we turned away and made for our ship but that there Rat was not going to have it. Now Master Thomas Marking, you got to look at Rat in them days. While the lad looked to be no more than young boy of tender years, he swore a footpad's oath he was of eleven years when I took him on. That there Rat was small for any boy's size but he had guts like a great bull. Rat on his own mind, took ahold of the boy that was bleeding like cut lump of horse meat and dragged him single handed back to ship and took him aboard much to dislike of other crew. They didn't want no French navy guns looking down our throats so I called for sails and got right out of there."
Henry stopped again to sip his ale and collect his thoughts.
"Now you got to understand my ship, she was 90' and sleek as they come, we mounted twenty eight guns and enough sail to make her fly across the sea. Now in such a ship there is not space for hiding, yet Rat hid that near dead savage and no one could find him try as they might. Well it come to pass that some of the crew was men of the Black Hand, them sort was all through ships of the time. We was at sea for a week and making for the Spice Islands when one of the Black Hand posted paper on the main mast. The Paper had picture of a Rat and in centre was the Black Spot, a sure sign of a death sentence for young Rat. Now try as they might, them rogues could not lay a hand on the boy if he did not wish it to be. For two weeks they chased him and tried their best to corral him, but no success until late one day some three weeks later. The six men of the Black Hand finally got Rat cornered near anchor locker. Had him fare and square they did. Now you got to remember, Rat was a little tyke but fast as they come and slippery to boot, but he was well caught and no hope he would see sundown that day. From below there came this here savage, fire in his eyes there was and them two weapons in his hands. Not being able to speak words, the savage went to work on Rat's captors. Five good fighting men I lost that day afore we could stop yon savage but he never backed down. Had Rat hidden behind him and daring any man to come take him he was. Now those two like skin they be, more than brothers and just as dangerous."
"And that was Mister Percy?"
"You look at him today young Thomas Marking and mayhap think not, but that there Rat was some other type of boy and this here savage is another just like him. If'n George be liken you he will put his blood afore his life to watch over you. If not then he will be eating from your skull in no time."
The old man's story was interrupted by the arrival of Snot.
"Da says to come back for talks Mister Marking Sir."
"Thank you Snot. Thank you Mister Henry, I shall never forget your tale and any time you are short of a shilling I would ask that you call upon me."
"Never to be lost I am Master Thomas Marking, I thankee for such kind offering."
Thomas rose and was followed by Carmelo as they once again made their way back up the narrow stair case where Peter was waiting for them.
"Well Thomas, it seems you have been listening to the tales of the old man, I hear?"
"Yes Mister Peter and a nice old gent he is. It's a real shame men like him are put aside and forgotten when they grow old."
"Aye, he is a character and no mistake. Now then, I have some news for you."
Peter Morgan took up some papers and pushed them across the old desk for Thomas to take.
"This here is the papers your friends will need, they go to Essex and find the foundry of Mister Mitchell. He will put the full foundry at their disposal along with all his men to produce your guns and anything else they may need. This here paper is for you, it gives you right to call on any men or boys you want for your new Battalion. All of them are from the streets and the best fighting men and boys you could find, we don't want none of them soft toffs in your Battalion. This final paper is for a Mister Barclay of Sheffield, I'm told you have special needs when it comes to knives and swords. Barclay will get them done for you with the best English steel he can produce."
As Peter paused they both heard three knocks from the floor below, Peter looked at Snot.
"Go see what the old man wants and get back here sharp like."
Snot left at a run and disappeared down the stairs, a minute later and he was back. Snot went to bend close to Peter's ear and whispered something quickly before going back to sit between the two older sailors on the divan.
"Well Master Thomas, seems you made quite the impression on the old one. You said you was looking for a new place to train your recruits? Seems the old man has a small holding outside London, says you have full use if it's what you want. It be far from town and there is only one small house close by with a man and his wife and new child living close by. They have five acres just beside the lands. The only others are workers on the estate but they will not interfere with your workings. There is a small cottage for yourself and two large barns for your recruits, not the time of year to be sleeping in tents."
"Do you mean Mister Henry? He has land I can use?"
"Oh yes old Henry has land to spare, close to one thousand acres I believe."
"But how could that be Mister Peter, he did not even have a copper for a tankard of ale?"
"Well Thomas, I am going to tell you something that, if the authorities were to hear of it, it would cause more trouble than any man could handle. Do I have your oath as a footpad of Limehouse that you will not repeat what I am going to tell you?"
"Yes Mister Peter, my oath as one of the boys of Limehouse and bound by my family's blood."
"Good enough. Well young Master Thomas, the man you talked with downstairs is called 'The Shepherd'. He was also once known by another name and is my father and grandfather to my eight boys. You may have heard of him as Captain Henry Morgan."
"But that can't be Mister Peter. Captain Henry Morgan died many years ago."
"Aye that be true young Thomas, die he did but the old man is his grandson from his youngest god son and has title to the older ones lands and fortune. Old Henry was not what you would call a buccaneer as his ancestor was but he did have his ways a long time ago and some should not be repeated in certain company."
"There are many things in this new world that are looked upon as not being in the interests of the King, the Shepherd is one of them so you must keep a tight lip about it all."
"You have my word Mister Peter."
"Aye I do that young Thomas. Now then young Thomas; you have much to do and so do I. You should have a few volunteers appear at your barracks come the morning so you better start back now before the darkness comes. I am sure we will meet again young Thomas. Good luck with your venture."
"If I may Mister Peter, there is one small thing I need attended to?"
"Ask away my young friend."
"The Master Gunner took care of some goods for me. I will not be in England long enough to make full use of them and wondered if there was a way for me to sell them off. I would like to find my parents so the coin maybe of help to them if a sale could be made."
"Well now, the boy did tell me about your cargo. Perhaps I can help you with some of it. What would you like to sell and what would you like to keep?"
"I think I would like to keep the table settings for my mother and a small quantity of the tobacco for myself and my men. The bottles of wine I will gift to my Da and one cask of brandy for me but the rest can be sold off if you find a buyer."
"You just leave it to me. I'll get word to you when I find something. Have no fear young Thomas, I will see you treated fairly."
"I have little doubt about that Mister Peter and my sincere thanks for your kindnesses."
"Think nothing of it. Now then we both have a lot to do so I will say good bye. If there is ever anything you need just call or talk to my boy."
The two boys rose and shook the man's hand before taking their leave. Thomas stopped in the tavern to thank the older man as he sat in his booth alone once again before exiting the tavern for the barracks.
Thomas and Carmelo left the docklands with a far better image of the people than they had arrived with. Thomas also took notice of the many men and women that gave them either a nod or touched their forelocks as the two boys passed, it appeared the word had been spread.
The two boys returned to find the others waiting for them. As soon as they were all back inside the small cottage, Thomas began to tell them all about his day and what the results were. His first order of business would be to get the letter to Purdy and Richards. They would need to make a start as soon as they could. The next order was to organize his boys for the incoming volunteers and make ready for the issues of equipment. It was at a time like this that Thomas wished he had thought to bring Jones with him. Thomas gave a shudder at the thought of all the paper work he would have to now do if he was to be successful with this new venture.
When Thomas awoke to a loud knocking on his door, he went to find the gate Sergeant waiting with a strange look on his careworn face.
"Good morning Sergeant, what can I do for you?"
"Sir, there be a mass of men and boys waiting at the gate to make your acquaintance. Sir if I was you I would be extra careful like, most looks like the scum of the earth and more villain than good citizen."
"Thank you Sergeant, I will be along shortly."
"Very good Sir, but I would keep me pistols right handy if I was you Sir."
"Thank you Sergeant."
Thomas went back inside to call for Carmelo and the others but they were already dressed and waiting. Sergio had his morning cafe ready and waiting while outside the ground was covered in the thick coating of freshly fallen snow and the sky was dull and overcast which boded more of the same to come.
When they finally got to arrive at the gateway, Thomas could not believe his eyes. There had to be over one hundred and fifty men and boys standing huddled in warm cloaks or rough woollen garb and trying to stay warm in the frigid morning air. At the front of the mass of people stood six older men. All six were in their late twenties with wide strong shoulders, rough worn hands and had a ruggedness about them of those who had seen more than their fair share of fighting and hard times.
It was to these older men that Thomas talked to first.
"Good morning gentlemen, I'm Captain Marking. You appear a little older than most others, why would you want to join up for seven years now?"
The one that took the leader's role touched his forelock before speaking for the others.
"Morning Captain, we been told by Mister Peter that you may need good gunners. He says you got a need for men who knows what they's doin and we wants a chance at them Frenchies afore there be no war left."
"And you know about guns?"
"Aye Sir, each of us done six years afore the mast, myself and Proctor here be Master Gunners and them other four is as good as gunner's mates. You give us a gun and we can make them Frenchies pay right dearly."
"And your name Master Gunner?"
"Croxley Sir, Master Gunner Croxley."
"Right Master Gunner Croxley, tell me what you want and how many men you need. I have ten French field pieces, two small carriage guns and six Carronades. Some of my men in Portugal do know how to work them but they need leadership by someone who can lead with knowledge and authority. Is that who you are Master Gunner Croxley?"
"Aye Sir, if that be what you want then you will have it."
"Thank you Master Gunner, if you will step aside with your men we will get to signing articles after I have seen the rest of these volunteers."
Again Croxley bowed his head and touched his forelock before leading the other to the side. Next in Thomas sight was a familiar face that had a wide smile on it and he was surrounded by a large number of rough and tough looking teens of all ages but, one thing stood out among all of them. They all looked as though they had the need of a good bath and warm clothing and the determined set on their young faces told Thomas they were ready for anything that could improve what little they had.
"And what are you doing here Snot?"
"Da says I gots to come. Says it's time for my growing up and he didn't want me on ship so here I is Mister Thomas."
Thomas looked at the youngster. He was not much older than when Thomas himself had joined up. Thomas looked around at the large crowed, he was going to need a lot of help feeding them all and he knew just the ones to take care of it.
"Right Snot, you see those two boys over there. They are my servants but look after all the cooking. You find me ten other younger boys and you can all go and help them. They don't speak English so for now you will have to be patient and just do as they ask. Before we leave for Portugal, all of you will be speaking Spanish, it's part of being in our Battalion."
"Right you are Mister Thomas. Uhm...what do I call them?"
"One is Sergio and the other is Carlito. They will watch over you and teach you all you will need to know."
Snot touched his forelock and then set about naming ten of his street friends to go stand beside him with the two Spanish boys. The rest Thomas looked over before shrugging his shoulders, he could not in all honesty turn any of them away. Turning to the waiting Sergeant at the gate, Thomas asked him.
"Sergeant, do we have four barracks free and close for my new men?"
"Yes Sir, right beside your own cottage, those four is free and empty if they please you Sir."
The rest of the day was busy and Thomas had little time to himself as he went through the long procedure of getting all the volunteers to sign articles and then there was the long job of getting kit issued. Much of which did not fit and would have to be altered to the needs of the younger and less fed street teens and men.
The language barrier with Sergio and Carlito did raise some interesting situations but Carmelo stayed close by to make sure all finally went smoothly and everyone got fed by the time night fell. The next two days were more of the same, by the end of the third day Thomas had just over two hundred volunteers and he was ready to move to their new training ground.
It was early on the morning of the fourth day that Mister Percy showed up at Thomas's door. There was a thinning mist covering the ground and the cold dampness of another overcast day was settling in.
Thomas was just sipping his cafe when Mister Percy arrived and was soon holding his own mug of the steaming liquid. Thomas looked at the smiling face and asked.
"So Mister Percy, what brings you at this hour?"
"Have you forgotten Thomas?"
"Forgotten what Mister Percy?"
"Why the good Captain's duel. Today is the day that has been set aside for honour to be satisfied."
"Darn, I forgot all about that. Did his seconds agree to all our rules?"
"Oh yes they seemed quite delighted by them."
"And where do we meet?"
"I have my coach waiting at the gate. It will take us to Doctors Commons where the good Captain should appear. Everything has been arranged and it needs only the participation of the two principles. So you Thomas, are you ready to defend your honour?"
"Thomas smiled at the man he also now knew was called Rat in certain circles, and then turned to take up his pistols. The new leather rig for his Purdy and Richards pistols felt heavier than his older rig as he slipped the double barrelled pistols into their place under his jacket. Thomas's Manton's were in their usual place and he smiled as he drank the last of his hot cafe before reaching for his heavy cloak.
Carmelo followed close behind as the pair left the warm cottage. From the barracks came the sounds of his recruits beginning to awaken to another new day. The coach was waiting just as Mister Percy had said. The three quickly got inside and the coach moved off almost before the step had been folded back in place.
The trip was less than a half hour and the three were stepping out onto the dew covered grass of Doctors Commons where a small group of young Officers were standing wrapped in thick dark cloaks around a trestle table. Some twenty paces away were two large white painted targets in the shape of half a man.
Mister Percy led Thomas and Carmelo up to the waiting group. The Captain had his back turned as was normal and his second and another Officer who was to be the second witness, watched as the three newcomers stopped close by. Mister Percy was the first to speak.
"Good morning gentlemen. We are here as arranged and agreed upon. I am Colonel Percy Cruickshank, Second of Captain Marking and this is his second witness Lieutenant Carmelo Grey. We have all agreed that this duel is to be one of speed and marksmanship and that at no time will blood be drawn. We have also agreed that the loser will pay in full all wagers and offer a full apology in writing to the one declared the winner. Do you Gentlemen still agree to those terms and conditions?"
Thomas watched as the others nodded in agreement before Mister Percy continued, "Then we are fully agreed that the duel will take place. The conditions as follows are to be adhered to by both parties. Each party will fire six shots at yonder targets. The party to fire off all six shots and scoring hits with each one and in the shortest time will be declared the winner and the loser will offer such payment as has been agreed upon."
Again Thomas watched as the other Two Officers nodded their ascent. Mister Percy continued just as Thomas caught sight of a large number of covered coaches arrive off to one side. The occupants stayed inside the coaches where they could not be seen but Thomas could plainly see that every coach had a coat of arms painted on their doors. He turned back to his business.
"It has been agreed that, as I am the Senior Officer present, I will call the parties to arms, any interference will be deemed to be in breach of the Officer's code of duel and the parties concerned will be held accountable for their actions. Gentlemen, turn and face the table. On my command you may turn and fire at will, the table may be used for reloading should you require it."
There was a short pause as Mister Percy stepped out of the line of fire, Thomas unbuttoned his coat. Unlike the Captain, Thomas had not taken out his Manton's in preparation whereas the captain was already holding a large pair of Dragoon Pistols by his side.
Thomas reached inside his coat and took out his Manton's and lifted them up shoulder high with the barrels facing skyward just as the Captain had now done. Neither Officer looked at the other.
"Gentlemen you may fire at will."
Both Captains turned together but Thomas's speed and experience had him fire his two shots just a fraction before the other Captain. He also scored direct hits at the heart of the target whereas the Captain's shots were wide spread. Thomas turned back to the trestle and quickly blew away any stray embers before taking out two of his paper cartridges. Biting off the top of the first one, he charged the flash pan of the first pistol then followed quickly by the second. Thomas then placed both empty pistols on the trestle table and the two cartridges in his jacket pocket then turned back to the targets.
The Captain was reloading as fast as he knew how. Just as he primed the flash pan of the second pistol, from the corner of his eye he saw the young Officer's two pistols sitting on the table. Thinking he had the advantage he speedily began loading his second pistol in readiness to fire and beat the young upstart. The two empty pistols on the table lent extra speed to the Captains loading. Just as he rammed home the wadding he heard something that he would never forget.
Thomas had waited and watched until the Captain had nearly finished loading his second pistol before taking out his Purdy and Richards double barrel pistols. He was thankful that Westley Richards had taken the time to ease the pressure on his hammers so his smaller and weaker thumbs could cock the weapons with ease.
When Thomas was sure the Captain was ready to turn and fire, he cocked each pistols right hammer, aimed down the centre bead and fired. Less than a second later he also cocked and fired his left hand barrels. All four shots hitting the head of the target, the Captain was yet to fire his next shot as Thomas turned, blew the residue smoke from all four barrels and replaced the pistols back in the newly made holsters under his coat.
The captain looked at the young lad and a sneer crossed his face as he called out loudly.
"You cheat Sir. I demand you withdraw in shame for your blatant disregard of the rules of the duel. You are a Cad Sir and I should have expected nothing less from your likes."
Mister Percy stepped in quickly before it went any further, he was well aware the Captain had two loaded pistols and Thomas had emptied all of his.
"Captain, Mister Marking did not breach the rules of the duel. At no stage did your second demand the use of the same pistols for the duel. Mister Marking made use of what he had available, had you given thought to the rules agreed upon, you too could have used extra pistols instead of reloading those already fired."
Mister Percy turned to the Captains second.
"Is this not true?"
The second looked embarrassed but he had to agree, there had been no mention of having to use the same pistols for every shot fired. Ashamedly he nodded in agreement, after all, it was his place to know what the rules had been. He had little option but to acknowledge that Thomas had not broken the rules as laid down by both parties.
"Yes Colonel, your principle has followed the rules as set by us both."
Before much more could be said, and much against the normal rules of engagement in an Officer's duel, Thomas spoke up.
"Captain, I feel that you may feel aggrieved, it is not my intention to leave here with you thinking that I was taking unfair advantage. This being the case I am prepared to allow you to have another chance. If your seconds agree I will allow you to fire your third and fourth shots. Once done you may, as I have done, charge your frisson then place your empty pistols on the table as mine are. With the word of your own second we will both take up our pistols, load them and fire again, the eventual winner being the one to complete the loading and firing before the other. Do you agree Sir?"
The Captain now saw his advantage and there was no doubt that he was being given a chance of placing the boy on the losing end of the duel. The Captain had all his wadding, ball, powder flask and ramrod already prepared on the table. The boy would have to reach inside his coat for them as he had not prepared any of them beforehand as the Captain had.
The Captain looked at his second and gave a curt nod before taking place and firing his next two shots, both hitting more central than his earlier two. The Captain turned and recharged his frissons before placing the pistols on the table and stepping back one pace like Thomas had done.
For the first time the Captain took notice of the boy's two pistols, had he done so earlier it may have unnerved him even further for, sitting on the table were a matched pair of Manton duelling pistols. Well used but still in perfect condition. They were the sort of pistols only a very few men could either afford or have access too. For some reason a shiver went through the Captains spines as he looked at those two pistols.
Mister Percy caught the slightest of nods from the Captains second before he called.
"Charge and fire Gentlemen."
The Captain had already made the table while Thomas was seemingly caught flat footed, with the speed of youth he stepped up to the table, took the two ready paper cartridges from his pocket while taking up the two pistols by their barrels in his left hand. With the first ball in his mouth, he tipped the powder charge into the barrel and spat the ball in and then quickly followed suit with the second.
The captain had yet to place his wadding in when he saw from the corner of his eye, the boy turning and a second later the sound of two shots being fired, the Captain had yet to finish loading his first pistol as Thomas turned back to the table and was already blowing clear his frisson and beginning the reload for a second time. He was not going to be caught with empty pistols now.
The Captain had not yet moved as Thomas spat the ball into the second barrel, it had all happened so fast the Captain could not get his head around it. The sound of Mister Percy's voice filled the morning chill as the last swirls of mist cleared and the watery sunlight began to fill the Commons.
"Gentlemen, Captain Marking has gone beyond the required needs of the duel and has won fairly, we will be expecting the apology and all wagers to be settled before the going down of the sun this day. Good morning Gentlemen."
Mister Percy turned after signalling Thomas that they were leaving. The Captains friends could only watch in awe as the three left the field of the duel, the Captain still holding his first pistol while his second was still on the table empty. No one noticed the line of black coaches leaving from the edge of the common as Mister Percy and the two boys climbed into their own coach and drove away.
Once back at the barracks, Thomas found himself immediately immersed in the business of getting his recruits kitted and sorted out. Of the duel there was not another word, he had done what was needed and so it was now behind him, there were far more important things to take care of.
There was a strange sort of urgent madness about the whole event of preparing his new recruits. By making use of soldier's wives he was able to get all the uniforms altered and new boots made or bought for the many shoeless men he now had. He had scoured the quartermasters store for everything he wanted, much of it coming from other Corps supplies so that his new volunteers were now also dressed in clothes similar to his black Spanish ones.
It was noted by other cadets that were not involved with Thomas's group, that all his men did not wear chokers and all had fancy looking boots instead of the normal heavy boots with spats. There were going to be some very disappointed cavalry troopers around when they found out their boots were now adorning the feet of foot soldiers.
For the rest of that week, Thomas had the new arrivals performing the normal drills during the day, even in a full snow fall they were out on the parade ground working hard. In the evenings, every man or teen was taught Spanish as soon as they had eaten their evening meal, it lasted two hours and the recruits were sent to their beds with their heads spinning.
Thomas had managed to talk the Quartermaster into letting him borrow ten pieces of artillery for practice purposes. They would not be allowed to take them back to Portugal but at least he had them for the time he was to train his men. Croxley proved to be as good as his word and soon had the guns being run with speed and precision.
Thomas was now very grateful for his new arrivals from Portugal. Perrin and the drummers soon had another twenty new recruits practising to replace those lost at Talavera while the four Colour Guard made good trainers on the parade ground, it was all starting to come together. All Thomas needed now as for Purdy and Richards to come up with their weapons and for Thomas to find a way to go to Sheffield and see about the knives for all his new recruits. These he determined were an essential part of the army of El Toro and made them stand out from other Battalions or armies.
It was the end of the first week of December by the time Thomas had the new recruits working well. The morning was started an hour before breakfast with the strange exercises he had learnt so long ago. Rain, hail or shine the recruits were outside until it was time for breakfast. Once the first meal of the day was over they were all taken on one of Thomas's long Gavottes which tested many of the recruits but slowly they got used to the hard grind of becoming one of the Patrons men at arms.
At the start of the second week of December, Thomas had the news he had been waiting for. His new weapons were now under construction and would be available shortly. It was time to move to the new place for the rest of the training, he only hoped there would be enough space to bed his new recruits in some solid barns and out of the freezing cold weather of an English winter.
The morning of the move to their new training ground arrived to the sound of the Della Guerra being played by the new drummers and his four old friends. It was still dark and cold outside as the recruits mustered for their move. Every piece of equipment was double checked and the lines formed ready for the long march. It would be done at the same pace that all of Thomas's boys moved at and would be the first real long test of the fitness he had tried to get into the recruits from the start.
The Master Gunner was given the charge of getting the borrowed guns to the new location. He was not really happy with having the added responsibility of the many horses needed to tow the guns but he had to learn as did all the others who were now part of what would become Thomas's artillery in Portugal.
Those recruits that had been trained as foot soldiers now wore two crossed bandoliers whereas the drummers still wore only one along with their drum sash. All carried the now familiar black leather pack which held all they now owned, for some it was more than they had ever had in their short lives.
It was a cold dim morning when the gate Sergeant saw the long ranks of black clad teens and men leave the barracks for the last time. The sound of the drums beating out the strange notes as the ranks were lead by the four Colours of the new Regiment to places unknown.
The day was not easy as more light snow fell onto the shoulders of the new recruits. Thomas kept up the pace until they were well clear of the city. Once in the more open countryside, Thomas stopped the drums and rested the recruits for ten minutes before calling them back to their task.
An overcast midday stop was also cut short as the recruits wanted only to find a warm dry place to lie down. There were even very quietly whispered comments on what some thought about their very young Officer but none dared to stop when called to march on.
It was an hour before dusk when they finally came in sight of the place Thomas had been told to use for his training home. The narrow lane was now muddy and the first drifts of the night mist was beginning to make itself known at the edges of the bare trees that bordered the fields to the left and right of the now tired recruits.
Thomas looked ahead and to the left where he saw the arched stone gateway that would lead him to the small cottage and barns they were to use as their new home. To the right hand side of the lane, Thomas saw a small holding that must have been the five acre farm he had been told about. As he looked into the dimming light of dusk at the cottage to his right, he thought he could faintly hear the sounds of a baby crying and a sudden flash of an old memory hit him just before a voice called his name from the front of the column.
"Captain...is this here the gateway Sir?"
Thomas caught himself as he heard his name called, looking up at the teen who had been at the vanguard of the column. Thomas nodded and then called back.
"Yes that's the one Private, open the gates and lead the men to the barns. Master Gunner, have your men set the guns to the right of the first barn, they will be in the lee there and safe from the wind and snow for now."
Thomas for some reason turned back to take a last look at the small farm cottage on his right as it faded with the light into the dimness of the early evening. He felt a strange sense of nostalgia even though he had never been on the land as a farmer before.
The cottage he had been told about turned out to be far more than a small stone place. To Thomas's eyes it was almost like a mansion. There would be plenty of space for all his core people and he was to find it had been freshly stocked with meat and game for his use.
The barns were also well tended. At the doors of the first barn stood four farm hands waiting to take over the care of the horses used to pull the guns. The Master Gunner was only too happy to hand over the responsibility to those who knew more about the animals while he took his own men to the second barn to find a sleeping space.
The second barn had been well cleaned even though the heady smell of farm animals still pervaded the air but there were clean floors and fresh hay ready to be made into beds. It was a tight squeeze to get all the recruits into the barn but the weary bones only wanted to find a place to rest.
Sergio called for his ten boys and set about making a hot meal for the recruits while Carlito went to the kitchen in the large cottage to look after his Patron. The day had been such a hard slog that even the toughness of Thomas and his friends felt the need for their beds as soon as they had eaten that quickly prepared meal. The memories of having to push their way through muddy roads or small drifts of snow only made their warm beds feel even better.
Thomas awoke to a misty morning and the smell of fresh cafe. Where Carmelo had been sleeping was now a cold patch of bed. Thomas stretched and then groaned as his joints ached like never before. It had been happening more and more of late and he thought it may be the damp of winter until he took note that his clothes did not quite fit as well as before. His pants seemed a little shorter than they should have been and his shirts sleeves were now almost short enough to show his narrow wrists.
With those points and the added aches and pains, Thomas was not sure if he was becoming ill from the cold winter. Thomas stretched again and let a small groan come from his pursed lips as he recognised the other thing that had been occurring more and more each morning. Only this morning there was a definite wet spot where there had never been one before.
Thomas looked around for a dry cloth. He felt the need to dry himself before one of his friends saw what had happened, and he did not want the embarrassment of trying to explain something he knew nothing about or why it had happened.
After trying to clean up the strange mess he had awoken to, Thomas sat on the side of the bed and drank his welcome cafe. At least some things never changed and the hot liquid slipped down his dry throat to warm his belly and get some circulation back into his aching bones.
While his so called "Servants" were getting the first meal of the day ready for the recruits and himself, Thomas decided they would have the day off. It would give the recruits time to tend their kit and repair anything that needed it after the forced march to their new camp.
As he stood outside the cottage in the early dawn light, Thomas looked down the lane to the farmer's cottage not far away. He would have to go and introduce himself and tell them what was going to happen. Even though their weapons had not yet arrived, there would come a time when they would need to practice and it would be better if the farmer knew what was to happen in the future.
Thomas sipped the last of his cafe and returned inside to put his warm cloak on before going down to the other cottage. Carmelo saw Thomas reach for his cloak and stood up and took down his own. Where his Patron and friend went, so did Carmelo, it was his duty after all.
Thomas and Carmelo walked down the dim lane, the faint morning mist swirling around their ankles as they moved. At the wooden gate leading into the other cottage grounds, Thomas saw the first candle light in the windows of the cottage. At least he would not be wakening them up too soon.
The two boys walked up to the door of the cottage. After a short pause and a check to make sure they were properly dressed, Thomas knocked on the wooden door and stepped back to wait. From inside the cottage Thomas heard a faint cough then an unusual sound came to him as someone came towards the door. It was like nothing Thomas had ever heard before, something between a shuffle and a stomp.
From the back of the cottage, Thomas heard the first faint cries of a baby wanting to be watched over. Thomas heard the drawing of a wooden latch as the farmer unsecured his door. When the door opened, Thomas was looking down and saw the farmer had at some time been injured. His right leg was now balanced on a thick wooden peg that allowed him to move around almost as normal. From above Thomas came a rough voice that somehow seemed vaguely familiar. Thomas raised his eyes to the farmer and then broke into tears as he saw the man's face.
"Thomas? What the devil are you doing here my lad? Come in...come in, who is your friend. MATTY we have a visitor, better get the pot on for a hot drink. Sit lad, how...where...what?"
Thomas's mother ran into the room carrying a small bundle. When she saw her visitor she stopped short and almost dropped her precious baby. After starring wide eyed at the young man sitting at her table, Matty Marking broke into tears. Cromwell having to take the baby from her arms before she let the little one fall to the floor and be injured.
Thomas suddenly found himself smothered in the arms of his mother. Her familiar and safe scent filled his nostrils as tears ran freely from his eyes. How could this happen? Somehow he had come to the very place he really wanted to be, but how had it come to pass?
It was nearly a half hour before calm was restored and Thomas's mother was at the fire warming up a thick soup for them to have. After introducing Carmelo to his mother and father, Thomas began to tell them how he had arrived on their doorstep. When he had finished with his story, Thomas saw his father's face glow with pride but he had a lot of questions yet to be answered.
"Are you telling me that they made you a Captain of your own Battalion?"
"Well, yes Da. I don't know why but they seem to think I can do things I don't even know I can do myself."
"And you are telling me that you left the barracks of the 33rd only yesterday morning and arrived last night?"
"Yes Da, it was a bit slower than we normally can make it but the roads were in a bad way."
"Thomas, it's all of thirty miles from the barracks to here. How the devil could you do that in this weather, and all in one single day?"
"Training Da, we do a lot of training."
In the background Thomas could still hear faint sniffles from his mother as she worked on their breakfast, the baby was settled in a small crib close to the fire beside her. When the hot soup and fresh bread had been placed on the table, Thomas set about telling his father all about his travels but he kept his part in the battles out of the conversation. He knew what his mother would say or think.
Cromwell Marking looked at the young man that was his son. Gone was the bloom of a young boy and it was now replaced with a very young man with the eyes of someone who had seen and done things that few others would ever experience in their life time. His little boy Thomas had now grown up into a young man with the experiences of much older men. There was a faint look of the wild in his boy's eyes. Cromwell knew that look, it was one that he had seen far too much for one so young.
Doubt about his decision to let Thomas go into the services now began to raise questions in Cromwell's mind. The innocense of his first son was now long gone and it was replaced with a young man who had seen far too much blood for his tender years. Cromwell could also now see those years he had served and what it had done to him before he met Matty and settled down. Was his little boy going to turn into a man like he had once been?
Thomas, without realizing what he was doing, could read the doubts in his own father's face. He had to reassure his father that he was doing what had to be done and that it was finally his own decision as to how he would continue forward.
It was nearly midday before all that had to be said was said and the fears of both his parents were finally laid to rest although somewhat tentively. The realisation that he now had a little brother calmed Thomas's fears that there may be no one to hold his parents together should something happen to him while overseas. His new little brother now made Thomas feel far more settled.
Lunch was a happy affair as the talking turned to how Cromwell and Matty had found the small farmlet that they now owned and worked. When Thomas found out his father had bought the small holding from a man named Peter Morgan, other things settled into place. There were things afoot that were outside of Thomas's control and he had a funny feeling that Mister Percy had far more to do with it than he would ever admit.
Although Thomas would have easily spent the next six weeks happily sitting at the table of his parents, he knew he had other responsibilities, the least of which were over two hundred new recruits waiting for him back at the estate. It was time to take his leave and look to his duties. There would now be plenty of time to have with his small family before he had to return to Portugal.
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