Copyright © 2016
Tattoo, Part 2
Percy left Thomas to himself and made his way slowly through the camp towards where he had left his coach. Even with his mind working on the twists and turns of what he did, Percy still had the time to look around the camp and notice the difference in the feeling of those in it. Whether it was the younger ones or the older hands, the general feeling in the camp was one of almost contentment unlike so many of the other camps in the army.
Gone were the subtle whispers of discontent to be replaced with laughter and a certain amount of boyish rough housing. Percy still got the feeling that this small band of misfits knew the dangers of what they were doing day in and day out but there was a sense of rightness to it all. Percy only hoped it was true as the time that they had all feared and hoped would never arrive, was now almost upon them. Percy prayed the boy was ready for what lay ahead.
Percy saw his coach waiting where he had left it. His driver Benson, sat on the driver's seat patiently waiting for the short rotund man he called his boss. The two men could not have been less alike and yet for those who knew them, they were almost inseparable. Percy was short, rotund and always seemed to be smiling. Benson was large, tall and taciturn, his huge frame towered over the smaller man when the two stood side by side. Percy was always seen wandering along seemingly aimlessly, his short legs moving with a casual ease of one who knows where he is going.
Benson moved like a sailor on a rolling ship's deck, his long strides looked ungainly on solid land and yet he seemed to make not the slightest noise when walking. They were indeed a strange pair and over the years there had been much speculation about them, some of which was even agreed upon when people saw a younger version of Benson was also working for the little man.
Benson watched his boss walk to the side of the coach and then look up at him.
"Is Kevin ready Benson?"
"Aye Mister Percy. Is it that time Sir?"
"Aye Benson, it's that time. When we get back to the tavern I want you to give Kevin his signet then come to my rooms, I will have the eleven letters of Marque ready for you. It would appear we have little time left, those damn fools at high command have forced our hand."
"Mores' the pity Mister Percy, will the lad be alright do you think?"
"We can but pray Benson, now then get me back to the tavern, we have much to do and not much time."
Benson flicked his hand up to his brow as though touching a nonexistent forelock, waited for Percy to be well seated inside the coach them slapped the reins to get the coach moving forward. From somewhere deep inside Benson came a roiling feeling as the first pangs of anger began to fill his thoughts, there was going to be hell to play and no mistake.
Percy sat at his desk and, even though there was no sound from outside his door, he knew that Benson was almost ready to knock and so called out.
"Come on in Benson I have everything ready."
Benson walked into the room not even fazed in the slightest that he had been heard by Percy even though others would not have been aware of his presence. Benson and Percy had known each other for more years than they cared to remember. Benson entered the room and stood close beside the desk as Percy sealed the last envelope. Percy had checked each and every letter to make sure all was right and there could be no mistakes or interpretations by those who read them.
The message was simple and direct. Drawn on the centre of the paper was a black skull with two red eyes; below was written a simple short sentence.
Oporto April 16th
And thirteen shall be seated at the table.
Percy sealed the last letter and looked up at the towering figure beside him.
"Is Kevin ready?"
"Aye Mister Percy. Squealed he did but a good clip shut him up."
"Good. Here are the letters of Marque. Deliver these three first as they may be able to help you find the others in good time. I think this time you had better take an extra brace of pistols and this purse should contain enough coin for the journey. There is a fast packet leaving on tonight's tide so you should have time to make it. Is there anything else you need?"
"Just need to get my extra pistols and I'll be away. Mayhap see you afore the time has come. If not then it will be at the meeting place all going well Mister Percy."
"Thank you Benson and God speed. I only hope the boy will stay safe until then."
"Don't you worry none Mister Percy, you know the devil looks after his own."
"Aye and Davy Jones watches over the rest."
Percy watched as Benson left his rooms, after a moment's thought Percy called for Benson's son Kevin. Within seconds the younger man of about 22 years arrived silently at Percy's door and stood patiently waiting for his orders. Percy looked up at the young man who would now be his driver until the boy's father returned from his important mission.
Kevin was almost the spitting image of Benson although younger, he had the same tall figure with broad shoulders that boded copious strength and he moved almost as silently as the older man. The main difference between the two was that as yet Kevin did not have the broken nose or scarred knuckles of his father, but his intimidating size would make most men want to back away from a fight.
"Do you have it all in hand Kevin?"
"Aye Mister Percy. Da told me my duties."
"Good lad, how is the ear?"
"Bit tender like Mister Percy, but not as bad as when me Da stuck that hot needle through it."
Percy looked at Kevin's left ear lobe where a brand new gold ring had been inserted. It had two small gold links at the end of which hung a good sized black pearl. Percy smiled at Kevin before continuing, "As long as you live up to the trust he has in you young Kevin, then we will all be pleased. Now then I want you to hitch my second pair to the coach. I'm going to the mess for dinner. I need to change out of this uniform and into something comfortable so you have ten minutes to get ready."
"Yes Mister Percy, your coach will be ready at your command." Percy nodded and then turned back into his room to change from his uniform. For some reason, even though he was well known by most older Officers, the fact he dressed often in civilian clothes seemed to disarm most others. It was a tactic he often used to his own advantage.
When Percy arrived at the Officer's Mess it appeared quite a number had spent the best part of the afternoon imbibing as the loud laughter and raucous jokes could be heard from the doorway. Percy shook his head as he told Kevin to bring the coach back in three hours, until then the lad could have the time to himself.
Percy grasped the black cane in his usual manner and wandered seemingly aimlessly into the main bar of the mess. It seemed that almost every officer from this afternoon's event was present and most were well into their cups. Percy wandered through the large noisy crowd until he reached the bar where he called for a large brandy and then looked around. It was not long before he found himself a little amusement.
A large group of officers newly arrived with the reinforcements were standing not far away and well within arm's reach of the bar. Their right hands holding a full glass of whiskey. The loudest voice belonged to an Artillery Major and he was holding court with his peers which included a few other Major's and Captains. Percy moved a fraction closer, his normal pleasant visage showing little sign that he was listening intently to the Major with the very prominent nose that was now red from the drink he had consumed.
"I'm telling you gentlemen, it was a travesty to let those boys pretend to be soldiers. Utter nonsense all of it. I don't know for the life of me why the Viscount would allow such disrespect to the real soldiers of His Majesty's forces. If I had my way the lot of them would be put to the lash and no mistake. Why most of them looked foreign and certainly had no right to be doing such things. As for that young boy the Viscount called Captain, why the boy should still be attached to his mother's titty don't you think?"
The Major let out a loud braying laugh at his own joke as those cronies around him nodded their heads sagely in agreement. The Major was correct, to have young drummer's pretending to fight like real men was beyond the pale and even disrespectful to the real men who had fallen along the way.
Percy had heard enough, it was time to have a little fun even if it was just to straighten out the newly arrived Officers. Percy took a few steps closer to the group and smiled up at the Major who was a good bit taller than him.
"Good evening Gentlemen, my apologies but I could not help overhearing your comments about this afternoons Tattoo. Do you really feel that those boys did wrong?"
The Major turned and looked down his nose at the tubby figure of the man who had spoken. He was obviously a civilian and even worse, most probably one of those damn correspondents the newspapers were sending out to war nowadays. He answered the smaller man with total distain in his voice.
"And who are you Sir, another of those damn newspaper people?"
"No Major, but I am interested in your opinions of this afternoon. It would seem you may have the right of it. Tell me Major are you about to go to the lines? I'm sure the Viscount would appreciate your knowledge and experience against the French."
"Well Sir it is truly none of your business. This mess is for officers not civilians; if you have nothing further I would ask you to leave immediately."
"Oh I don't think I am ready to leave just yet Major. They do serve a fine table here you know, it would be a shame to miss it. Now then Major I am still interested in your opinions on those boys today."
"Sir I am an Officer in His Majesty's forces, it is not my place to discuss military matters with civilians. Now Sir if you have nothing else then I suggest you leave us."
"Oh I don't think so Major. Oh and I seem to have forgotten my manners. The name is Cruikshank... Colonel Cruikshank."
Percy hid his smile at the sudden reddening of the other Officer's faces as they tried to jump to attention without spilling their drinks. It was now time for Percy to turn the screws a little tighter.
"So Major tell me about your ideas for those boys today?"
"Well... ahm... Sir... err... well it was a bit over the top, what! I mean really Sir, boys trying to fight like real soldiers and most of them being foreigners to boot. Not good Sir, not good at all."
"In what way Major did you think it was not a good look for the army?"
Percy suspected that, had the Major been fully sober and not so far into his cups he may have taken heed of Percy's tone of voice.
"Well Sir, that business with the boy holding the flag against those French scum and even winning, really Colonel it does go a little beyond belief, and as to those names of the fallen, well Colonel we always lose a few drummers in battle. It's nothing new Sir."
"I see Major, and that is truly your belief?"
"Well of course Sir, all utter nonsense if you ask me. No drummer boy could hold out against well trained soldiers."
"Do you read the newspapers Major?"
"Of course Colonel. One must keep abreast of the war news and the markets, wouldn't do to lapse when it comes to the Pater's money now would it?"
"Certainly not Major. Well then you would have seen the article about the boy who saved not only the colours at Rolica but a lot of senior reputations to boot?"
"Well Yes Colonel but really I think it was all a put up job to gain volunteers for the campaign. Couldn't really happen as they wrote it Colonel, besides we all know how those correspondents work."
"I see Major. Tell me Major, did you happen to notice the young Captain dressed all in black and wearing a blue sash in the pavilion?"
"Well yes indeed Colonel, twas quite a concern for those of us of more senior rank to see a lowly Captain up there while we had our place below in the stands. There was also the point that he was foreign. Not a good show at all Colonel."
"Then you will be pleased to know he was the very drummer boy that saved the colours. Of course there is also the fact that he was born in Limehouse and is not foreign at all. Captain Marking also holds high rank in the Spanish forces should he wish to accept them, General I am told. Of course that pales when you consider his titles but then, as you say Major, it could not have happened. And a boy, especially one so lowly raised, could not have the honour needed to save the King's Colours or the reputations of the most Senior Officers of the King's forces, could he Major?"
Percy smiled warmly as he turned his back to the sound of splutters. It had been a fun time after all and he could now look forward to a good dinner at the Viscount's table. Percy knew it annoyed the Viscount when Percy decided to sit at his table but like many other senior men in the forces, none dared refute Percy's privilege to sit where he wished or in any mess he wished.
Thomas shook the last of the sleep from his eyes; today was the last day of the Tattoo and he still had no idea of what was too come. Fairley had his good uniform ready and his hot cafe was on the small table by his cot. Having to return to living in a tent had not really bothered Thomas nor the other boys. They had slept in or on far worse in their time on the peninsula.
When Thomas was dressed he called for Fairly before leaving to get his breakfast. When the boy arrived Thomas asked him, "Fairley could you please find Mister Smithson and ask him to come and see me after breakfast?"
Fairley disappeared and Thomas left the tent for the temporary mess they had set up. The normal heavy breakfast was hot and ready when he found a seat among the men and boys of Perrin's Company. It had become the norm now for Thomas to sit with a different group each day and they now knew they could say whatever was on their mind even with him present.
Thomas would often join in with the conversation and it was a good way for him to find out if anything was wrong or if his men had any problems he could look into; there were very few.
With breakfast over and Thomas was back in his tent, Smithson arrived and saluted before asking what Thomas required.
"I have a job for you Mister Smithson. It will entail you leaving the Battalion and going out on your own. Well not exactly on your own, I'll be sending a couple of the others with you. I was told you are very capable at navigation and are also able to draw a chart Mister Smithson?"
"Well yes Sir, it really was my passion but my father said that the work of an artist would never be profitable and so sent me to the navy. But my first passion is drawing and painting Sir."
"Good then you are just the man I am looking for. Tell me Mister Smithson, could you make some detailed maps for me if it were needed?"
"I could Sir but I have no instruments for measuring correctly and it would take time if the maps were to be in detail and to scale."
"How much time?"
Well Sir, that would depend on how large the area is to be mapped."
"Let's say a tract of land about twenty miles long by five miles wide."
"Oh that's a lot of work Sir, perhaps two months or even a little more if you wanted fine details."
"If I gave you three months could you do it?"
"Well yes Sir, but I would need instruments for accuracy."
"Good then it is set. Go and find Carlito and Sergio. You know my two servants, they should not be too hard to find. When you have them come back here and I will tell you my plan."
Smithson saluted and left the tent only to return a few minutes later with Sergio and Carlito in tow.
"They was sitting not far away Sir, now what is it you would like us to do?"
Thomas changed to Spanish so his two boys would be a part of the conversation.
"In about four months time we will be asked to stand against a large force of the French in a place called Albuera. I would like you to go with these two and make as detailed maps of the area to the south and north as you can. Before you go there, I want you to return to Vimeiro and in the back room of my house you will find all of Mister Scully's instruments; use them for your maps. Is there anything else you will need?"
It was Carlito who spoke first.
"Patron, we will need more than two to watch over Mister Smithson. I would ask Maketja and perhaps Juan to come with us. Albuera is in Seville and there will be many French to watch for."
"Yes Carlito you may well be correct. Oh, and while you are looking for them, ask Don Estaban if he can give you five of his best horses. You will also need panniers to carry your supplies and Mister Smithson's equipment."
Carlito gave Thomas a little bow and left in a hurry as Thomas turned back to Smithson.
"Now Mister Smithson, what else do you need?"
"Well Sir, I will have to find parchment suitable for maps and a small ledger for the measurements and calculations."
"Right then. Sergio would you take Mister Smithson into Lisbon town and find him a shop to fill what he needs?" Thomas reached under his cot and opened a small chest, from it he took a small leather purse and gave it to Smithson.
"There should be enough in there for anything you need. Keep what is left for your journey, you will be away for a while and will need it for food and supplies. If you think of anything else before you leave then come and tell me. When you have completed your maps then meet us at Elvas before the end of April. If I am not there then wait for our arrival but do not be anywhere near Albuera from late April onward."
Smithson saluted and said "Yes Sir." Then left with Sergio by his side. Thomas only hoped he was doing the right thing and not sending the five boys to their deaths at the hands of the French who would soon be massing in the very area he had sent the boys to.
When it was time to leave for the last day of the Tattoo, Thomas saw that all his officer's as well as every man or boy of the Battalion was lined up ready to move. All that is except for fifteen of the guns. Croxley had selected only one gun crew although it was made up of sixteen men and a single powder monkey.
The last day was set aside for the show of arms and abilities of the men of His Majesty's forces and would be in the form of competition. There was also the fact that now a little coin could be made by those who wanted it.
After arriving en-mass at the grounds, Thomas was once again called to the pavilion by the Viscount along with those officers not involved on the field itself. Again, Thomas saw that his visit to the pavilion was not well received by those junior officers that had to wait below but he was well past caring about other's feelings after what Mister Percy had told him.
Thomas was almost surprised to see the Spanish Prince with a few officers standing with the Viscount. On his arrival Thomas was soon joined by General Cuesta and General Livorno both of whom totally ignored any other officers in the pavilion as they set about chatting with Thomas and his other young officers. It was not long before the Prince himself joined them with a warm smile and a little laughter.
The first competition was one of musketry. Those who wished to take part could do so in Company formation and would consist of moving forward while taking firing positions and trying to hit a number of large targets at the far end of the field. It would also incorporate a competition to see who could fire the most volleys in a given time from when the first volley was fired until they were ten paces from the target. If there was a case when two or more Companies had the same number of volleys then it would come down to the number of hits on the large targets.
Lieutenant Perrin had been given the honour of taking part for the Battalion and as could be expected, they were told that they would be last to fire which meant they would have to stand and wait until all the others had had their time. The heat of the sun was meant to sap their strength or so the organising officer thought. He could not take the chance that the young upstarts might just be as good as real soldiers.
The next competition was to be one of accuracy where the troops would fire at much smaller targets until they could no longer make the shot and the targets were too far out of range for accuracy. Lieutenant Lorenco and his Sharpshooters had been given this task. There was one complication in this competition... Colonel Sharpe had his men there also and there were a few ribald remarks amongst them and Thomas's boys as they waited on the side lines for the other soldiers to shoot first. Each Company could field six shooters and as one missed he would be illiminated until only one was left.
The third competition was of riding skills by the cavalry. For this, Estaban was given the honour with his fine Andalucian mounts and very capable riders. What Estaban had planned for this no one knew. All the training had been done well away from camp and only his riders knew their place and what was expected from them.
The final competition of the day was what was to become known as "Running the Guns". No one knew the origins of this competition and it was some months later when Thomas found out it was the idea of Mister Percy in his attempt to prove a few points to some rather uppity Artillery Officers he had met in the mess the previous evening. Although he must have had the idea for some time when the course was set out for all to see.
The first call for musketry was soon underway and the first Company was one from the Guards regiment. The Guards arrived in two ranks with their muskets held at the shoulder with both hands as they would when advancing in battle formation. Stopping forty paces from the targets and in two ranks, the accompanying officer called the orders.
"Company, halt. Front rank present arms. Aim. Fire."
There was a thunderous noise and a great cloud of powder smoke as the first rank fired and then stood as the second rank moved forward.
"Second rank present arms. Aim. Fire."
Again the muskets echoed in the still morning air and the young officer's voice could be heard afterwards.
"Reload." There was a long pause as the ranks reloaded and then received their next orders.
"Company will advance three paces."
When the ranks had taken the three steps the same fire order rang out again. The rules had stated that no shots were to be fired once the Company had come within ten paces of the targets. By the time the Guards had got to ten paces they had fired off ten volleys for each rank and then they came to a halt as many of the spectators cheered their efforts.
While all the cheering had been going on, a number of soldiers appeared and began to count the shots on target and note them on a sheet of paper. Once done they then pasted a new paper cover over the target and went back to their place well away from the shooting area.
Next came a Company of Highlanders. It turned out to be almost a repetition of the Guards and they also had ten volleys for each rank at the ten paces mark. Company after Company followed and it looked as though it was going to be a massive tie with most of them shooting ten volleys before halting. It was evident that the English had been well trained in their form of warfare.
When it finally came time for the last Company, that of Thomas's Company, Thomas heard the voice of the Viscount calling him from a group of older Officers that had been on the peninsular since the beginning. Many of them recognising Thomas, and sending small smiles or nods his way.
"Yes My Lord?"
"How will your boys go this day?"
"As well as they can My Lord but they are up against fine competition."
Thomas's voice was almost flat and without feeling as he replied, the words of Mister Percy still clear in his head.
"Then would you suggest I place a wager on them Captain?"
"If it be your Lordships pleasure but I fear there may be those who would take advantage of your generosity My Lord."
"Well we shall see Captain. I have yet to underestimate you or your men and I have a feeling now is not the time to think otherwise."
Thomas did not reply but instead turned to the more junior officers below in the open stand as he heard a voice call up to him.
"Would you not wager on your own men Captain?"
"I would Major but who would have one hundred guineas to cover my wager?"
There was sudden silence from the stands below Thomas, he had set the price and it was now up to those who thought they could win. It was a goodly sum although not even a small fraction of what he could call on. Thomas was no fool and knew there were enough newly arrived officers that many would not know his men's reputation. Thomas waited silently. He had put out the figure he would consider a good wager and it was now up to the officers to find the means to meet it.
It was not long before Thomas was getting offers of taking part of his wager and he was soon over his first amount as he could not find any way to stop accepting them. Unknown to Thomas there were a large number of the older officers at the rear of the pavilion also placing wagers on Thomas's boys. They had seen this before and knew that the young Captain always had something up his sleeve when it came to a competition.
It did not go unnoticed to Thomas that many of his boys were also spread out among the other spectators that stood around the field to watch. His men were well spread out among the rank and file and doing a furious trade in coins as they waited for the last Company to take their positions on the field. Thomas looked at the other officers with him and covered the smile on his face with his free hand while they just lifted their eyes to the heavens. All of them knew that their Patron was no longer averse to a little larceny.
A halt came to the wagering when Perrin led his men onto the field. Lieutenant Perrin formed his men up in three ranks just below the pavilion and a full two hundred yards from the targets. The fact he used three ranks and not the usual two was soon picked up by those watching.
Perrin's voice echoed out over the now silent field as the watchers waited to see what was coming from this most unlikely group of youngsters.
"B Company, 1st Battalion will advance at Battle pace on my command. March."
There was silence as the spectators watched the young men move forward. At thirty paces they changed to double march and then again back to normal pace as they came up on the seventy paces mark when Perrin's voice was heard once again.
"Company will prepare to fire on the advance. 1st rank kneel, 1st rank by volley. FIRE."
At the sound of Perrin's orders there was a gasp around the field that could be heard audibly. Everyone knew it was pointless to fire outside forty paces but the thunderous sound of the muskets soon drowned out any doubts as those watching saw splinters flying off the far off targets. They were to get an even bigger surprise when the same muskets fired again before the front rank stood up and let the other two move through them with the second rank taking a knee as the first rank began their speed loading.
For those watching it was as though the ranks rolled one on top of the other as a continuous firing filled the air. There was hardly a pause as one rank moved forward through the next and the sound of the muskets began to echo like thunder as there was no pause or let up in the torrent of shot smashing the far off targets. When Perrin's Company finally made it to the ten paces mark and ceased fire there was little doubt as to whom had won.
The Viscount's voice could be plainly heard in the sudden silence that now surrounded the field.
"Well done Captain, I lost my count at twenty volleys. Gentlemen pay your wagers if you please."
Thomas could hear a number of grumbles as the officers below him moved forward to pay their lost wagers to the young Captain in the hope that they could recoup their losses as the day moved on.
For the competition of accuracy the number of shooters was limited to six. Each group would take their place and fire at the targets that were no larger than a man's head and the starting place was thirty paces. After each round the shooters would step back five paces and fire again. As each man missed they would leave the mark and only those left could then move back to the next mark.
When the shooters finally got to the forty five paces there were only two groups left, Lorenco's men and Colonel Sharpes and it was close from then on as both used double loads and had the experience to meet the needs of such long range shooting.
When it finally got to the eighty paces there were only Lorenco with Jones and Cooper of Sharpe's command standing on the mark. For those watching it was an unusual sight as Cooper leant over to Lorenco and said something to the younger man. Without firing another shot, all three shouldered their muskets and marched off the mark. They had agreed to call it a draw rather than make one of them lose face from a miss. It was not what the spectators were hoping for but for the shooters it was a matter of respect.
The last competition before there would be a break for a late lunch and preparations could be made for the final event of the day were the cavalry events. They started off with a troop of Light Hussars which entered the field with sabres drawn and began to show off their skills at various paces. They rode in pairs and then smoothly formed into fours and even sixes as they moved back and forth around the field. When they had finished with their skills display they smoothly formed into three ranks of advance and galloped towards the end of the field where stakes held what appeared to be melons of some type. With sabres flashing in the sunlight, the Hussars sliced the melons as though they were French heads. Turning after their charge the Hussars rode back in triumph to the loud cheers of the watching crowd.
Next were the Heavy Cavalry, these men did a similar performance but also used horse pistols as well as their much heavier sabres and finished in much the same style, and to the same loud cheers as the Hussars had received. The last group once again was Estaban's men. When they entered the field there were no fancy skills, instead Estaban led in with his three cousins in line behind him.
There was no sight of the rest of the company as Estaban and the three brothers came to a halt just below the pavilion and sat their pure white horses facing down the field where the staked targets were placed. There was silence from the large crowd as the four Spanish boys sat their horses until Estaban lifted one hand high in the air and his young voice could be plainly heard as he called orders in Spanish which few spectators understood.
"1st Battalion will advance."
From both sides of the pavilion came the riders which, as they passed by the end of the pavilion formed into three ranks that spread across the width of the field and lined up just in front the four main riders. Estaban looked along the lines and then called out.
"Front rank will advance."
Diego left his place behind Estaban, drew his sabre and took a place at the head of the front rank as they began to walk their horse towards the far off targets. He then took over from Estaban and called the next order in his youthful voice just as he kicked his horse into a trot.
The straight rank of trotting riders took their muskets from their shoulders with an unusual flourish and at the same time released their hold on their reins as Diego called out above the sound of the hooves.
With a yell from all the riders that echoed over the open field, they rose in their saddles until they were standing tall. The horses seemed to know what to do as none of the riders were holding the reins as they broke into the gallop towards the far off small targets.
As they rode at a very fast gallop towards the fast nearing targets the riders lifted their muskets to their shoulder and sighted at the targets over the heads of their horses. Once inside what they thought was their range, the front rank fired the first barrel which was quickly followed by the second.
Diego Then lifted his sabre high in the air and circled it above his head just as the fast moving horse neared the end of the field. As though all the riders were attached by a single rope, they suddenly began to split apart at the centre and turned, half to the left and the other half to the right and galloped down each side of the field while reloading their muskets.
Once again, as they closed on where the others sat waiting, the riders sat back in their saddles and rested their reloaded muskets on their right knee and rode out of the field with Diego rejoining Estaban. Estaban then called out the next order as the riders of the first rank disappeared.
"Second rank will advance."
The middle brother Thomasino called the orders just as his younger brother had done and the second rank began their trot then gallop at what was left of the far off targets. Once the charge was over there was little left of the targets but it did not stop Estaban calling for the last rank under the orders of Pablo to make their charge as well.
None of the thousands watching had ever seen such an effective cavalry charge. Of the targets there was little left apart from a few torn stakes. With the last rank riding from the field, Estaban was rejoined by the three brothers who took up their place just behind him once again.
For those watching it had left them in stunned silence. It was not to last long as a number of hidden drums began the Della Guerra from behind the pavilion. At the first sound of the drums, Estaban and the three brothers began to ride in a fashion never before seen. It was to be a display that eventually brought every soldier, whether officer of ranker to their feet and the applause was so loud there was no chance to hear a man speak.
The four riders turned their horses towards the pavilion and, with a gesture from nothing more than their right knee that only the riders knew, the horses extended their right foreleg and bent their left to end up in what could only be described as a bow.
The horse's chests were almost on the ground as they stayed in position. Estaban then led his three friends in drawing their sabres and stepping off their horses to stand at attention and present themselves before the Officers with a salute before remounting.
Once remounted, the four riders sat their horses as the mounts regained the four legs. For those watching they were about to see one of the finest shows of horsemanship ever seen.
With the hidden drums playing and the four riders now sitting stiffly in their saddles and without touching the reins, the horses began to step in time to the beat of the drums as though dancing. The four riders were now sitting erect, their left hand placed on the sword sheaths at their left hip and the sabre held in their right with their elbow tucked tightly into their waist and the sabre tip resting on their shoulder.
The horses suddenly reared up and spun on their back legs to face down the field. As they regained their four legs they began to move in ever more difficult formations all keeping in time and side by side.
Firstly they moved forward as though on parade and then began to high-step their way across the field on the diagonal. Which then turned into line one behind the other as they kept in perfect step and time with the riders seemingly just sitting immobile on their backs. It would have taken a very sharp-eyed person to see the fine subtle gestures of the rider's legs as they guided the horses through the complex patterns of the demonstration.
It was fully twenty minutes before the four riders finally ended up once again at the front of the pavilion just as the far off drums finished. The four boys gave a final salute before sheathing their sabres, taking up their reins once more and leaving the field side by side. For the full duration of the demonstration there had hardly been a sound from the thousands watching, but when the riders rode out of the field there was a sudden eruption of cheers and shouts. It was a performance very few of those present ever forgot.
With the field cleared, the Viscount called out amid the loud applause.
"Gentlemen, after such a telling performance I think we should break for a late lunch while the engineers prepare the field for the last event of the Tattoo. If you will follow me we can retire to the mess until everything is ready for the running of the guns. Shall we say, two hours?"
The assembled officers were not about to refute any requests from the Viscount, so all agreed. Thomas was ignored by the others and turned to his friends to signal they should find their own for lunch and return when the final event was ready to start. It was the intervention of the Prince that changed Thomas's mind.
"Don Thomasino, perhaps you and your officers would care to join me for lunch? I find it rather tiresome to have to eat with the English Officers and would much prefer your company."
"Thank you Your Highness, we would be pleased to join you. Shall we go to the Officers Mess Sire?"
"Certainly not Don Thomasino. You and your friends shall join me at my Hacienda. It's much more enjoyable if we don't have to think about those buffoons."
Thomas could only smile and agree. He never did feel comfortable in the Officers Mess and the Princes idea was much more to his liking. It was not long before there were extra carriages ordered to take them all to the private quarters of the Prince of Anglona. It would be much better and a more relaxing lunch than what would have been on offer at the mess.
When the large group walked into the dining room of the hacienda, Thomas saw it was already set for company and a number of servants were standing around the walls waiting for the guests to be seated before producing the food. The table was long enough to seat at least twenty people and Thomas marvelled at the opulence of the room.
The Prince gestured to the top end of the table and said, "Don Thomasino, perhaps you will join me at the head of the table along with Don Carmelo and Don Estaban."
The Prince led them to the top end of the table and all waited until the prince was seated before following themselves. As they got comfortable, the Prince looked at Estaban and smiled as he spoke to the young officer.
"Don Estaban, a very good showing. Were you and the other boys trained professionally?"
"No Sire, my cousins and I were taught by our uncle. He was the Horse Master at the Escuela de Equitacion Espanol."
"Was he indeed? And his Name Don Estaban?"
"Horse Master Francisco Caliente, Your Highness."
"Ah yes I seem to remember the name. It is a pity the French threatened the school but at least the best of our horses were saved, even though they are now out of the country. Well Don Estaban, if you see your uncle again tell him I said you did well and he should be proud of both you and his sons."
"Thank you Your Highness. Were he still alive I would pass it on but unfortunately it is just one more thing the French have to pay for."
"I see, well my sincere condolences Don Estaban and I can only pray you will make them pay dearly for what they have done."
"Of that you can be assured Your Highness."
The rest of the lunch went smoothly and the conversation was relaxed and little was mentioned about the war or any other things that may have been political. By the time they were due to leave for the field once more for the final event, the group were relaxed and feeling much better. For Thomas it was one of the small marvels he would never get used to but still enjoyed none the less.
When the group arrived back at the scene of the Tattoo, Thomas noticed a number of officers looking their way. The absence of the Prince at lunch had been noted, but to see his Highness arriving with the young rankers just did not sit well, although no one would ever speak of it out in the open for others to hear.
Thomas looked down at the field and saw the changes. The Engineers had in two hours, transformed the field into a difficult course that included a large deep chasm halfway down by the means of building two mounds about ten feet apart. On both sides lying on the ground were a set of what Thomas now recognised as sheer legs. They were joined at the top by a long thick rope attached to a metal fitting where the two legs met. There was another rope lying on the ground on the legs closest to the pavilion end.
The other set of legs were lying on the opposite side and looked to have a number of ropes attached and tied off to stakes driven into the ground behind them. At the far end of the field stood three troops of gunners mounted on their horses with a gun and caisson attached at the rear.
Using his small spy glass, Thomas looked at the far off setting and it did not take him long to see that the two Artillery troops were sporting smaller guns than the one used by his men. The Artillery troops were recognisable as one being from the 1st Brigade RFA and the other from the 1st Troop of the RHA.
There was another difference that Thomas did not quite understand as he looked at the three troops waiting for the start of what was evidently a race. The two Artillery troops were in splendid uniforms and each gun had six horses with a rider on each of the right side mounts. The rest of the troop were sitting on the small caissons and others were standing in ranks to the left and right.
Croxley's men were all bare to the waist and wore only their black boots, black pants and their red and gold sashes. It did not go unnoticed by the other officers present and comments of rough necks were common in the pavilion. There was another difference and that was that Croxley's men had not only eight horses but everyone was mounted by a rider and only six men were afoot. Two carried what appeared to be thick ropes over their shoulders as did a number of the mounted men and the other four had a mixture of large mallets and long metal pins.
The difference in the guns was also easily seen. The two Artillery troops towed small six pound guns while Croxley had his larger French gun which they, being mostly naval ratings, referred to as twenty pounders. Although they were in fact French 125 millimetre guns or about equivalent to a twelve pounder in English guns.
It did not go unnoticed by the officers watching that the bare chested crew had the far heavier gun to handle and the sudden surge in wagers grew quickly. For Thomas and his friends it was one of those moments they hoped they had not made a mistake. Even the Prince wanted to take part in the wagers with so much coin being freely thrown around, most of it on the Artillery gunners.
"Well Don Thomasino, should we back you men once again?" Asked the prince.
"I have to your Highness, it would be unseemly for me to wager against them."
"In that case Don Thomasino I can do no less."
There then came a flurry of wagers accepted by the foreigners as the English Officers saw a chance to get even for earlier losses. The rules of the competition had been laid down and it would be the first troop to get their gun across the chasm and fire two shots first. It was expected that the Artillery would be successful as they had the smaller and lighter guns; needless to say, Croxley was written off with his much heavier gun.
The competition was for the guns to race to below the pavilion, unlimber their guns and caissons and one of the riders would take the horses off the field. Once the guns were free the men would attach ropes and pull the guns to the start of the chasm. Theyu would erect the sheer legs and swing the guns across to the other side. When all the men were also over, they would fire the guns twice to prove they had all the parts there and could be effective if needed.
At the far end of the field, a young officer stepped up and raised his pistol in the air. As the shot echoed in the stillness there was a sudden cheer from all sides as the horses began the race to the pavilion. Croxley took the right side and, with his heavier gun forced the other two to take the left. His eight large horse's made light work of the racing gun as they galloped past the end of the artificial chasm and raced for all they were worth towards the pavilion.
The gun of the 1st RFA arrived first with Croxley very close behind. The gun of the RHA troop had been pushed back and came in seconds later but the others were already unlimbering and had gained seconds on them in what could be a close race. While the guns were begin run to the other end of the field, those men afoot had run around the chasm and were starting to set up the sheer legs on this side. It was not hard for Thomas to see that Croxley's men were far better prepared at this task than the others.
Once the guns were unlimbered they had to run them to where the sheer legs were waiting. Again Croxley was far ahead in that his men had thick ropes ready with a heavy hook on one end. With practised ease, the rest of the men with Croxley giving them a good hurry up, attached the two thick ropes, lined up along them and began to literally run the gun to the where the sheer legs would be erected. For the other two teams it quickly became a problem as they had not thought of how they would move their lighter guns once unlimbered.
At the place of the sheer legs, the men with the mallets and long metal pins set to work with a will while the Artillery troops stood trying to work out what to do. It seemed no time at all and Croxley's men were ready to erect the long sheer legs as their competitors still tried to work out the basics of getting their guns into place.
Croxley's men had attached two of the ropes to the top of where the legs were joined together by a metal cap to stop the legs from dividing. There was a thick metal ring on the top that had the long rope leading to the other side attached by means of a spliced eye. With their own ropes attached, Croxley's gunners began to haul on the single long rope leading to the other side which would also pull up the far side leg as the front one rose.
It was now evident that Croxley's gunners had done this sort of thing before as the two sets of legs rose until they were fully upright. As the bulk of the gunners held the rope tight, those with the mallets had driven their own spikes deep into the ground and were now pulling two of their ropes to a ring so they stretched from the top of the legs to the spikes.
On each spike was set a tackle block and the ropes were quickly threaded through and tightened until they took the weight from the others that had held the legs upright. Thomas glanced at the other two troops and saw that they were trying to follow his gunners but had not thought out what would be needed. Thomas had the sudden urge to hide his smile as he watched the ineffective events of the other two troops.
The ropes were pulled tighter and tighter until the single heavy rope across the artificial chasm looked almost ready to break. With the legs secure and the ropes tied off tightly, Croxley called all his men to the gun. What happened next was a revelation to every soldier watching. Never again would they think less of naval ratings.
The four heavily muscled men that had raised the sheer legs now went to the gun and were quickly joined by a number of others. The young powder monkey produced from the canvas bag slung over his shoulder a small blacksmiths hammer and a thick metal pin. It was almost awe inspiring to watch the gunners perform their tasks under the ever watchful eyes of Croxley.
The powder monkey quickly knocked out the pins holding the gun to the carriage and the four largest men hooked a rope under the front of the barrel and then another through the hole at the rear that was normally used to anchor the gun. With a mighty heave the men lifted the barrel from the carriage and set it on the ground to the side. Next the men went back to the carriage and with the help of two more of the older and stronger men, got ready to lift the carriage bodily from the ground.
The powder monkey once again took out his hammer and pin and knocked clear the two axel pins and placed them in his canvas bag with the others. There was a sudden loud yell from Croxley and the six men around the carriage lifted it high enough for two more well built gunners to pull off the two wheels. Once the wheels were clear, the two men got their shoulders under them and lifted them just high enough to be able to take them under the sheer legs and hold them in place.
Two other gunners appeared with what was known as a split block. With long practice they set the block on the main rope across the chasm, placed a strange piece of iron to it and stepped back. The iron fitting was a length of pole with a cross bar at the end. The two wheelmen placed a foot on each side of the bar with the wheel still on their shoulders while the men on the ground gave them a push from behind and then kept track of the smaller thin rope being played out as the two wheels flew across the chasm.
Once the men stepped off the other side and placed the wheels on the ground to roll them clear for the next part. The two men with the thinner rope quickly pulled back the rolling block and got set for the next part. Thomas let his eyes move to the other two troops. While the RHA troop had their sheer legs set, it was apparent that the rope across the chasm was nowhere near as tight as the one used by his own gunners. The third troops looked as though they had given up as they mostly now just stood and watched the expertise of Croxley's gunners.
The strange pole was removed and replaced with a thick and heavy hook. The gun carriage was now being fitted with two more ropes that went from corner to corner and the hooks were set on ring bolts at each corner. The carriage was bodily carried beneath the sheer legs and lifted high enough for the rope to be placed in the hook. Four men jumped onto the bare carriage and were pushed smartly so they crossed the chasm very quickly. Once on the other side, the carriage was met by the two men already over there and all six men unhooked the carriage so the block could once again be pulled back ready for the next part.
The heavy barrel was next. With four men on the ropes it took little time to have it attached to the hook and ready to be swung across. Much to Thomas's surprise and to many others watching, the powder monkey jumped up onto the barrel with his canvas bag over his shoulder and carrying the guns ramrod in one hand, the other being used to hold onto one of the ropes. With a good push the barrel and powder monkey were sent at speed across the chasm and into the waiting hands of the six men on the other side.
The barrel was quickly removed after the young powder monkey had jumped clear and the block was once again pulled back and made ready for the caisson. The caisson was not stripped down but being lighter, it was far easier to handle. With the caisson attached the rest of the men jumped on and gave a push with their legs to set it flying across the wide gap.
Once on the other side it was then only a matter of a few minutes and gun was reassembled and ready to fire. For the other competitors it was a lost cause. The troops of the RHA had tried to send their gun across without stripping. Its heavy weight had made the looser rope sag and the gun hit the ground in the middle of the chasm. They could only watch in utter frustration as Croxley ordered his gunners to fire. It was a complete and utter victory to the men who everyone thought of as no better than street thugs. For the troops of the RFA it was a disaster which was close to ignominy. They would find it hard to ever recoup their reputation in the face of their defeat.
There was little cheering as Croxley called for his horses and removed his gun in triumph. He was proud of his men and the absence of any accolades for such a comprehensive performance did not detract from the pride he felt as they took their gun off the field. That his men had outperformed the best in the English army was enough of a victory for him.
Thomas could only stand and smile as Croxley took his men from the field, once again the men and boys of the streets had proved beyond doubt that they deserved their reputation and toughness. Thomas was surprised by a hard slap on his shoulder and turned to see the Prince smiling widely as one of his aides went to collect his winnings.
"Masterful Don Thomasino, a well thought out event and it is even more obvious I and the Cortes made the right decision to ask you to join us when the time was right. I am only glad that we are not on the receiving end of your gunners."
"Thank you Your Highness but it was all Mister Croxley's work."
"No doubt Don Thomasino but I can see why the French want you so badly. If I had men facing the sort of troops you now have, I too would be worried. Well Don Thomasino, I must leave you, perhaps we will meet again when this damnable war is over and we can sit a laugh together."
"Thank you Your Highness, I too look forward to such a time."
The Prince left Thomas and went to say his farewells to the Viscount. Thomas was only too glad to leave the pavilion silently along with his other officers. There was much to do and he did not want to get tied down in a place he knew he was not really wanted.
Thomas had rejoined his men back at camp only minutes before a rider arrived with a message from the Viscount, it was time for the final meeting before he took his men to harass Massena in Spain.
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