That evening the newly returned William Hanley sat with Pringle in the small room allocated to the officers of the Grenadier Company. Williams was out checking that the men and their families were settled, had received and consumed their rations, and were neither being mistreated by nor themselves abusing their hosts. Major MacAndrews insisted that his officers visit the men’s quarters twice a day. More often would have given the soldiers no rest. Less would have made it much harder to maintain an acceptable standard of discipline. He knew that other regiments were less strict, but saw that as no reason to change his own regulation. Anyway, standards of internal order appeared to be generally good in the Reserve Division. The grenadiers were in the houses at the far end of the hamlet’s single street. No one seemed to know what it was called, but the entire regiment had somehow been crammed into the forty or so buildings, with the officers allotted space in the only big house in the place, a crumbing villa owned by an obscure member of a very minor aristocratic family.
Only a single servant remained in the place, and he left the barest pause after knocking before opening the door and peering in, apparently in the expectation of catching the two officers mistreating his master’s property. This would not have been easy. Two low stools and a table with one leg markedly shorter than the other three were the only furnishings left in the badly swept room. The British officers had themselves obtained a meagre supply of straw to spread over the cold flagstones. The candle on the table was also their own.
Much to the man’s surprise, Hanley greeted him in Spanish, and listened politely to his praise of Don Carlos, and his confidence that the latter would wish him to extend every hospitality to the English while they visited his home. It was clear from his tone that as far as he was concerned his employer was far too generous for his own good, and that it would have done them all no harm at all if the officers had slept in the snow. Briefly he showed interest when asking whether Hanley was Spanish. Although tall, Hanley’s already dark complexion had tanned strongly during his years living in Spain. If the man was disappointed by the confession that Hanley was in fact English, his demeanour suggested that by habit he both expected and embraced disappointment. The man left, crossing himself absentmindedly.
‘Another warm welcome,’ said Pringle sourly. ‘Sometimes I wonder why I am putting up with such inconveniences to free their country.’
‘The Spanish doubt that they need us. They made a French army surrender at Bailen before we won in Portugal. As far as they are concerned we’re turning up late to join in as they chase the last remnants over the Pyrenees. Anyway,’ he conceded, ‘they are none too fond of soldiers, even their own.’
‘And me so personable! And with this pretty red cockade.’ All of the British troops marching into Spain had been ordered to add a red Spanish cockade to the black one of the House of Hanover which all wore in their hats. Pringle poured some brandy into two pewter cups which formed part of his travelling canteen. ‘So what is the news?’
‘Oh, I forgot.’ Hanley rummaged in his valise and produced a folded and rather battered newspaper which he tossed to his friend. Pringle saw that it was The Times. ‘It was among the effects of a French staff officer. He rode into a village near Segovia and started ordering people about in an offhand way, so they killed him. Well, as I said, the Spanish aren’t too fond of soldiers. It’s from the start of November.’
Pringle was impressed. ‘I would guess that this is the most recent English paper anywhere in the army.’ He frowned. ‘I suspect there is a moral there somewhere.’
‘Most of it is about Cintra. By the sound of it your fellow has been exercising himself:
Here folly dash’d to earth the victor’s plume,
For chiefs like ours in vain may laurels bloom.
He must have sobered up for long enough to get angry.’ They had conflicting opinions of Lord Byron’s merits as a poet.
‘I don’t think Wellesley was to blame,’ ventured Pringle, scanning the pages as well as he could in the poor light. Sir Arthur Wellesley had won the Battle of Vimeiro, but before the day was out had been replaced by an older, more senior general, Sir Harry Burrard. The next day an even more exalted commander had arrived in the shape of Sir Hew Dalrymple. Neither had seen much to be gained by farther attacks on the enemy, and had welcomed a French deputation which had arrived under a flag of truce. Negotiation had led to an agreement to end the hostilities. General Junot’s French army was to be returned to France in British ships and was awarded all the honours of war, keeping their guns, colours and personal possessions, including a good deal of loot. Wellesley had signed the Convention of Cintra, but it was widely held that he had been ordered to do so by his seniors and did not deserve the blame associated with it.
‘All the Spaniards I have met think that it was a good settlement,’ said Hanley.
‘Well, they weren’t the ones who had been robbed and murdered by this particular group of Frenchmen. It got the campaign over quickly, I’ll allow, but you know as well as I do that the Portuguese were none too impressed. Maria gave me hell over it.’
‘I dare say her mood recovered in time.’
‘Oh, indeed yes,’ Pringle smiled at the memory. He thought for a moment. ‘She really is extremely good at what she does.’
For once Pringle was startled. ‘You do? So, it seems I cannot even trust my friends.’ There was no trace of any annoyance in his voice. ‘At least Bills is too pure of heart. However, she was talking of going to visit Truscott in the hospital. Be rough if after surviving the loss of his arm he succumbed to pleasure!’
‘Does he indulge in such pleasures?’
‘Don’t we all? Well, excepting Bills probably. Truscott is a Cambridge man, though, so you never can tell.’ Pringle had attended Oxford. ‘You know he says that he must have been there at the same time as Wickham, but does not recall ever meeting him.’
‘Have you heard from him?’ asked Hanley.
‘No, not since you left us. The fellow is probably too busy enjoying himself to write to his friends.’ Pringle went back to the paper, skimming quickly through the sheet. ‘I cannot see any mention of the Russians.’
Hanley shook his head. A squadron of Russian warships had been sheltering in the Tagus off Lisbon when the British Army arrived. Russia was allied to France, but not actually in a state of war against England until a few weeks later. By that time, they were included in the Convention and allowed to return to their home ports.
‘The Navy wasn’t about to let the fleet sail away, and Admiral Cotton put up quite a stink.’
‘So what happened?’ asked Pringle.
‘Well, we are English.’
‘So I have been told.’
‘And so there was a compromise. The ships stay, and the Royal Navy will keep them until six months after Russia ends hostilities. All the sailors have already been sent home.’
‘Good riddance,’ said Pringle. He had nothing against Russians in general, but at the height of the summer’s campaign, Maria had ensnared him and the others in a deadly race against a Russian officer and his soldiers. She wanted to beat them to the hiding place of treasure left by her former lover, an aristocrat who had fled to South America. The Russian count had been ruthless and clever, and they were lucky to win in the end. Williams and Dobson had done most of the killing on their side. The old veteran had taken the Russian’s sword and given it to Williams. He had also taken the gold from the man’s purse and shared it with the officers. Pringle had bought the horse with his share, and Williams the basic accoutrements of an officer. Hanley was sad to think that he had gambled away most of his own portion. Truscott was probably using his as they spoke, for the army did not make allowance for provisions for convalescing officers.
Pringle laid down the paper. ‘So what, apart from the life of London nearly two months ago, is going on in this wide world?’
‘Well, I do not really know all that much, and suspect I understand even less,’ began Hanley. The last was quite probably true. Born of an indiscretion between a man of business and an actress, Hanley had never known either of his parents, having been raised by his maternal grandmother. His father paid for an education, even allowing him in later years to travel abroad and pursue his artistic dreams. He had also secured him an ensign’s commission at the age of ten, before such abuses had been stopped. It gave him an officer’s salary without any obligation to earn it. Only when his father had died and his half-brothers cut off his allowance had Hanley been forced to return to England and take up this only opportunity for employment. Half a year later, and he still felt himself very much a civilian. His ignorance of many military matters continued to astound his friends. They trusted his courage, for he had proved that in Portugal, and had schooled him so that there was a better than even chance that his uniform was fit to be seen for longer than the first five minutes after he had dressed. Yet in many ways he remained an astounding griffin.
‘Napoleon is here in person,’ said Hanley, confirming the rumour that had been circulating throughout the army in recent days. Many had repeated the story, but on questioning their ‘certain information’ invariably proved to have come from someone else, who in turn had been told by a friend or simply a passer-by. The army knew very little of the wider war beyond what they saw day to day as they marched with their regiment.
Major Alastair MacAndrews could not now recall when first he had been told of the emperor’s presence in Spain. For some reason he had always believed it. The French army had been beaten, first by the Spanish and then by the British in Portugal, and with the rest of continental Europe now forced to submit to his will, it seemed only reasonable for him to come in person to avenge the defeats in the Iberian peninsula. An overlord made by war could not permit any crack in the illusion of his infallible power. He was bound to come, and it seemed equally reasonable that he would bring with him regiments greater in number and older in war than the young conscripts whom he had sent a year ago to overrun Spain and Portugal.
Such matters had only a general concern for MacAndrews, for he had no say in such great matters and no one was likely to ask him how the campaign should be conducted. Forty-eight was very elderly for a major still to be on active service with a regiment. In the spring, he had been a fractionally less old captain, with no apparent prospect of promotion, for he lacked both money and influence. The 106th was the most junior regiment of the line, lacking any battle honours or the slightest prestige. Lieutenant Colonel Moss had purchased the command of the battalion, and his relentless pressure had finally been rewarded when they were added to an expeditionary force. MacAndrews succeeded to his majority following the sudden death through alcohol and rage of the 106th’s senior major.
Moss had died in the first attack at Roliça – privately MacAndrews felt he was recklessly dangerous as a battalion commander. Of the two majors, Toye was senior, but he had been wounded and captured at the same time, and that had left MacAndrews in command of the 106th for the remainder of the campaign. They were mentioned in Wellesley’s dispatch for Roliça, and more than played their part at Vimeiro. Toye was released from captivity after Cintra, and as the senior man naturally became the new lieutenant colonel. Custom dictated that vacancies created by battlefield casualties were filled in accordance with seniority.
Toye commanded the 106th, but his wound from Roliça proved a bad one, and his recovery, and indeed his life, was placed in jeopardy by a savage bout of fever. After several weeks the doctors no longer despaired of his life, but it was feared that his health was permanently broken. With Toye unable to attempt his duties, MacAndrews continued to lead the battalion, and had taken them north to the border fortress of Almeida. Their task was to ensure that the terms of the Convention were enforced, and the French garrison permitted to leave. In a few places there had been difficulties, when the local Portuguese troops showed an understandable reluctance to let the French escape so easily. The sight of redcoats, as a reminder of their goodwill towards their ally, had sometimes proved necessary. In the event, matters had already been decided peacefully before they arrived, and instead they had begun a quiet spell reinforcing the garrison of the spacious fortress.
‘I think we have done well,’ said Brotherton, interrupting his commander’s thoughts. ‘The Reserve Division appears a fine formation, and General Paget and his staff know their business. It would be nice to think that our attachment was a tribute to our conduct in August.’ The two men had claimed a room with a table as the battalion office and worked long into the night. They had almost finished and had dismissed the clerks, leaving them a moment to settle any more private matters.
‘Aye, perhaps,’ said MacAndrews, registering sufficient Caledonian doubt that even a man who knew him far less well than the adjutant would have realised his scepticism. ‘Although it does appear to be true that we have been summoned to replace the Sixtieth, on account of their misconduct.’ The 5/60th were greenjackets, armed with rifles rather than the inaccurate smooth-bore muskets of the line infantry. Officially the Royal Americans, most of the recruits these days were Germans, and the battalion had enlisted a large number of men who claimed to be German or Swiss from those prisoners taken in August who were reluctant to return to the French army. The same men were equally reluctant to accept British discipline, and on advancing into Spain had plundered and used violence against the inhabitants to such an extent that Sir John Moore had ordered them back to Portugal.
‘So we are considered an improvement over a pack of thieves, which I suppose is still a compliment of sorts.’ Brotherton was only in his late twenties, but had an older demeanour, reinforced by the baldness that had by this time claimed all of the top of his head as its own. He had a good attention to detail, as well as sufficient knowledge of bribery, bullying and contagious enthusiasm to be very good at turning the battalion commander’s wishes into actions. He and MacAndrews worked well together.
‘Let us sincerely hope that we can maintain such a good opinion,’ said MacAndrews.
‘I’ll keep an eye on the lads. Doubt there is much to steal here anyway.’
‘There is always something.’ MacAndrews nodded in satisfaction. ‘You are right, though. I believe we are well placed. There was talk of putting us with Bentinck. That would probably be well enough, but on balance we may well be better off here. How do you find the administration of the division?’
‘Good. In fact, on the whole, remarkably good, except for the …’
‘Commissaries.’ MacAndrews echoed the expected complaint with a wry smile. The civilian commissariat department had recruited many new officials to oversee the supply of the expedition. Almost none of them had any experience.
‘Not very much we can do about that.’ The 106th had joined the army just two days ago. Although summoned to replace the 5/60th, they had been tasked with escorting an ammunition convoy, and so spent weeks toiling over atrocious roads with the slow-moving ox-carts. Fortunately a few companies from the Buffs had been sent to take the empty wagons back to Portugal, so that MacAndrews’ battalion was left at comfortably over six hundred men. ‘I believe that the army is to have a day or two to rest, before we advance again. It is clear that the general expects a major action before very long.’
‘Happier now that we are led by a Scotsman?’ suggested the adjutant.
‘Aye, well enough.’ MacAndrews deliberately broadened his soft accent again. ‘Sir John has a fine reputation, although I have never had the honour of serving under him.’
‘He behaved most handsomely to me earlier, when he rode past with his staff. Stopped and bade me good day, and then asked about the condition of the regiment. Seemed pleased with our turnout after a fatiguing march through foul weather to get here.’
MacAndrews had rarely seen the habitually cynical Brotherton so openly enthusiastic. He guessed that his adjutant had been burning to tell the story, so listened with patience. It was flattering to hear such a high opinion of the 106th, and remarkable how quickly the general had won the utter devotion of one of his officers.
‘A long day,’ the major said at the end of the story. ‘And no doubt longer ones are to come, so I believe we have a duty to rest. We shall parade the battalion at eight thirty tomorrow morning. After the inspection, I think an hour of battalion drill and then the same by company. They can have the afternoon to rest and look more fully to their equipment. Good night, Jack.’
‘Good night, sir.’
The room opened on to the corridor, but on the far side was another room which had been allocated as quarters to the major’s family. It worried MacAndrews to have his wife and daughter with the army. They had always followed him to garrisons around the world, but he had hoped to prevent their coming to Portugal and then following him to Spain. His wife’s determined ingenuity had thwarted that hope, when she managed to find passage and follow the army. He was afraid for them both, and especially that Jane might see things no girl of her age should see, let alone that worse might happen to her. Those last thoughts he tried to force from his mind, without much success.
Yet for all those fears, it was a deep pleasure to have them with him. His hair was white, his career perhaps unlikely to advance, for Brotherton had received a letter from one of the wounded officers left in Madrid which said that he believed Toye would sell out and retire from the army. That meant a new lieutenant colonel would soon buy his way to command of the 106th. Well, that was the future. For the moment MacAndrews led the battalion and had the deep satisfaction of regulating it according to his own theories. He was proud of the result, and confident that they would do well. All of that pleasure was redoubled by the knowledge that he would each day see a daughter of whom he was even more proud, and a wife whose willingness to be with him still caused him the greatest wonder in all the wide world.
It was with a warm sense of joy that he knocked and then entered their room. Smiles greeted him, at least for a short moment.
‘You can take off those damned boots or clean ’em, MacAndrews! Jane and I have not toiled these long hours to have you spreading filth across the floor!’
Alastair MacAndrews was a very happy man.