An Uncommon Campaign (Book 3 in the Peninsular War Saga)
Teresa Cortez was cold.
The temperature in the army prison in Pero Negro appeared to be unpleasant at any time of day or night. It was located in an old stable block in the village, attached to a stone house which housed a number of different administrative departments of Wellington’s army, including the provost marshal’s office, and it was swelteringly hot during the day and freezing at night. Wearing only a thin muslin dress and without even the covering of a shawl, Teresa had barely slept since she had been there.
She had been there for six days. At first she had been unconcerned, calmly awaiting the release that she knew was coming. Once the news of her arrest reached Colonel van Daan and his wife she had no doubt that they would ensure that she was released. As days passed, however, she was becoming anxious and more afraid. There had been plenty of time, and there was no word. Teresa knew that somebody would come for her, but it was taking longer than she had expected and she had been told that she would come up before the general court martial tomorrow. Teresa had not expected it to get this far and she was trying not to think about what would happen if the release did not come in time.
Conditions in the prison were unpleasant but not terrible. It was not the first time in her twenty two years that Teresa had been cold and hungry and uncomfortable and she could not believe anything could be as bad as the first French invasion. Spain and Portugal were countries at war, and her story, she knew, could be repeated in villages and towns and cities throughout the two countries since Napoleon Bonaparte had first invaded four years earlier.
Teresa had been orphaned young, and placed as a novice in one of the many elaborate convents, not far from Salamanca. Growing up within walls she had accepted her lot, not happily but with resignation. However much she might have doubted her vocation she knew that at least she was safe and cared for and it might well be better than the arranged marriage, which would have been her fate outside the walls.
She was eighteen when the French came, battering down doors and dragging the nuns from their prayers like wild animals. Even now Teresa shied away from remembering those few days of horror. They had slaughtered the older nuns and shared the younger ones around, looting the church and getting drunk on the contents of the wine cellar, and their officers had stood and laughed at the screams of the girls. Two of them had not survived it.
Teresa had survived. Bloody and broken, she watched them march out, hating them as she had never thought she could hate. They had cleared out the food and wine and she and the few surviving nuns had staggered to the nearest village only to find that it too had suffered, and that there were women there too, shocked and bleeding and crying.
She had understood quickly that she needed to survive, and when the remains of the Portuguese armies came through, fleeing ahead of the French, she attached herself to them, finding them little different to the French except that they paid her or fed her, and did not hit her as much unless they were drunk. Arriving in Lisbon she was horrified to realise that the French were close by, and that her survival might depend on her ability to please the army who had made a prostitute of her in the first place.
Their occupation did not last for long. The English came and with two swift and effective battles, Sir Arthur Wellesley had made the English masters of Lisbon. As the tides of war moved away again, Teresa found work in the laundry of an army hospital, sleeping on the kitchen floor and working for little more than her food and a warm space and freedom from selling her body to strangers although with English troops pouring into Lisbon she was aware that she could have made more money if she had chosen to.
It seemed a long time ago and so much had changed for her now. Leaning back against the cold stone wall, with nothing but her thoughts to occupy her, Teresa remembered the day she had first seen the Englishwoman in the hospital. She had heard some of the men, surgeons and orderlies, laughing about the madness of Dr Adam Norris who was not only allowing some new officers’ wife to help with the nursing, but was actually teaching her basic surgical skills. Teresa was occasionally called upon to act as a nurse when the hospital was busy, and she was called to the surgery to find herself threading surgical needles for a tall slender girl in a dark dress and white apron, who turned to smile at her revealing the loveliest face Teresa had ever seen.
“You must be Teresa. Thank you for helping, I hope you don’t mind. I’m tired of shouting at the orderlies, they think it’s fun to ignore me. Eventually I’ll take a brick to one of them, perhaps that will improve their manners!”
She was like a breath of fresh air in the filthy, fetid hospital wards, a woman who talked to the enlisted men with the same easy familiarity as she did to their officers, and who laughed readily at the most vulgar of their jokes. Teresa, who had believed herself hardened to any attempt to charm her, was won over by Anne Carlyon within a week and when the girl had asked her if she would consider taking employment as her maid, she had agreed without hesitation. It had been the beginning of a new life, a life which had kept her busy and interested, and more alive than she could ever have imagined during her quiet convent days. A life which included Sergeant Danny Carter of the 110th infantry, who had asked her, very recently, to be his wife.
“Fraulein, you are shivering. Come closer.”
The voice broke through her reverie, and Teresa sighed. There was no separate prison for females. It was unusual for any woman to be kept in prison for more than a night or so, and Teresa had found herself sharing the space with a dozen men imprisoned for various offences. On the first evening there had been a barrage of comments and invitations and she had been temporarily frightened. But the gaoler, a big Irishman, had stomped into the gaol and silenced them with a yell.
“Leave the lass alone, you miserable bastards! Look at her! Does she look like she should be in here?”
“Well why is she then, Sarge?”
“Because she tried to stop the provost marshals men dragging wounded men from their beds and sending them back to the lines when they weren’t fit! And when they ignored her, she belted one of them with a water jug and gave him a headache!”
There was a roar of laughter. “Well done, lass!” somebody yelled.
“And they put you in here for that?” another said, indignantly. “Which regiment you attached to, lass? You married?”
“Betrothed,” Teresa said. Her engagement was so recent that it still felt odd to say it, but the word gave her unexpected strength. “The regiment had already marched north with Wellington. They made the injured men march out. I hope they all made it, one or two were very ill.”
“Bloody provost! Does your man know?”
“He does. He was going to the colonel to ask him to intervene. And he will, I’m his wife’s maid.” Despite herself Teresa smiled. “Danny was furious, but I did not want him arrested, if he’d hit the provost they might have hanged him.”
“Which colonel is it, lass? Is his wife good to you? I hope you’re right about them because they’re going to flog you for assaulting the provost.”
“She is very good to me.” Teresa did not attempt to explain her relationship with Anne van Daan who was more like a friend than an employer. “He is Colonel Paul van Daan of the 110th.”
There was a short respectful silence. The gaoler grinned.
“Right then. I take it I won’t have to come in here again to protect the lassie’s virtue. Because if I do I’m taking names. And giving them to Colonel van Daan. Clear?”
“We’re not that stupid, Sarge. I wouldn’t want to be in that provost’s shoes, mind, when Colonel van Daan finds out he’s locked her up. A water jug on the head will be the least of his worries!”
The young German had only been brought in yesterday. Teresa had noticed him because of his youth and wondered in passing what he had done. He had given her a curious look and a smile but had not troubled her. She looked over at him.
“I am not interested,” she said quietly.
“Fraulein, I am not asking for anything. I am offering you my coat.”
Startled Teresa got up and went over to him. He had removed the heavy dark greatcoat he had been wearing and was holding it out to her. Teresa smiled.
“I’m so sorry. You were being kind, and I was rude.”
He laughed. “I understand. This must be very frightening for you. Take the coat. I am warm enough in my uniform.”
“Thank you,” Teresa said. She draped the heavy coat around her. It was still warm from his body and she felt an unexpected longing for Danny, who often draped his coat around her shoulders as they sat late into the night talking. She sat down at a safe distance and studied the man thoughtfully.
“Why are you here?”
“Out of camp without permission.”
“Deserting?” she asked.
He laughed. “No. I had not gone very far. And I was not alone. A flogging, possibly, but not a hanging, I think.”
“Probably not. Have you been flogged before?”
He shook his head. “No. I am usually much more careful.”
“She must have been very pretty,” Teresa said, and he laughed again.
“She was. The corporal thought so, he let her go. But I don’t understand why you are here. You’re not a camp follower!”
“No. I lost my temper and hit the provost marshal when he invaded our regimental hospital.”
“You should be rewarded for that! What about your husband?”
“Betrothed. They threatened to arrest him too. And somebody needed to take care of our wounded. I have been hoping the colonel would send a message for my release. And worrying that he has and it has got lost.”
There was a noise in the corridor, and a voice Teresa did not know called out. One of the other men groaned.
“Oh bloody hell, Lowther is on duty! That’s all I need. Thank God it’s the court martial tomorrow, I can get flogged and get away from him.”
“Stop talking in there, you mangy bastards!” the voice roared. “Private Collins, open this door and let’s see what we’ve got.”
He was a short man, overweight with stringy dark hair and a pair of narrow dark eyes. Teresa sat very still and quiet, clutching the German’s coat around her. Sergeant Lowther walked slowly up the row of stalls with the thin private stalking behind him. He stopped before each man, barking a question or hurling an insult, and twice she heard a gasp of pain as he kicked an ankle or a leg.
When he got to the end he stood staring down at Teresa and the young German. “KGL?” he asked.
“Yes,” the boy said.
“I don’t like Germans. Going to put in a very bad report on your behaviour, sonny, make sure they throw in a dozen extra lashes. You won’t look so pretty then.” His eyes shifted to Teresa. “Or maybe not, since I see you’ve brought me a present. Get up, girl.”
Teresa got to her feet. “I’m not a camp follower,” she said. “I am…”
“I don’t give a shit what you’re calling yourself, girl, you’re in my gaol and they don’t put decent women in here. Outside. Make it worth my while, and I’ll even pay you for it.”
He reached for Teresa, and she pulled back, suddenly terrified. Lowther took her wrist in an iron grip and began to drag her towards the door. Teresa fought furiously, kicking out at him. He released her, turned, and hit her hard, backhanded across the face.
“Spanish bitch. You don’t want to cooperate, that’s fine with me. I’ll just do it here in the straw. You must be used to that.”
He took hold of her hair and Teresa gave a cry of pain as he forced her down to the floor. Around her she could hear the men shouting in protest, yelling at him to stop. She knew that none of them would intervene. Physically attacking a sergeant would certainly bring a hefty punishment, maybe even a hanging depending on their other offences.
“Collins, get hold of her arms and hold her down, she’s like a bloody wildcat! You can have your turn when I’ve done with her. Bloody bitch, I hope they take the skin off that pretty back tomorrow!”
He broke off with a yell of pain, and Teresa felt his weight lifted off her. There was the crack of a fist on a jaw, and the sergeant swore violently. Teresa sat up, staring, and realised that the young German was on his feet, fists up. Lowther was straightening up, his face suffused with fury.
“You are dead you German bastard!”
“And you are not raping anybody tonight!” The German moved suddenly and kicked, powerfully with the flat of his foot, straight into Lowther’s crotch. The gaoler screamed once, and fell to the ground sobbing in pain. The German looked past him to Collins. “You come close to her and I will do the same to you!” he said.
Collins looked down at his sergeant and then up at the German. Then he turned and ran to the door, yelling for help. Teresa looked over at the boy. He was white, the blue eyes blazing with anger.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said.
“Ja, I should.”
She could hear running footsteps, hear Collins shouting explanations and then four soldiers ran into the room and straight for the German. Teresa stepped back, horrified, as he disappeared under a hail of kicks and blows, while two others got Sergeant Lowther to his feet.
“You all right, Sarge? Christ, he’ll wish he hadn’t done that tomorrow, he’ll be lucky if he doesn’t hang.”
“If he survives this,” another said, watching the beating dispassionately.
Teresa could not bear it. She ran forward furiously, beating at the back of one of the soldiers. “Stop it! Stop it! You’re going to kill him!”
Surprise made him turn. “And who the bloody hell are you?” he demanded.
“She’s his whore! Deserves a few kicks herself!” Lowther said viciously.
Anger had driven away Teresa’s terror. “I am not!” she spat, furiously. “My name is Teresa Cortez, I am maid to Mrs van Daan, who is the wife of Colonel Paul van Daan of the 110th! And my fiancé is Regimental Sergeant Major Danny Carter who is going to kill every single one of you for this!”
The private stared at her in some astonishment. Then he shouted:
“Davies, Sanderson, get off him! He’s had enough!”
The men backed off and Teresa pushed past them. The German was bloodied and bruised, his long fair hair soaked in his own blood. She reached for his neck and found a pulse, but he did not stir. Teresa looked up.
“He needs a doctor.”
“Not one in the village. All up with the troops.” The soldier was studying her. “Was that true? What you just said.”
“Every word, Private, so you had better hope they find you another job before Colonel van Daan gets here.”
“And what makes you think he’s coming for you?” Lowther said with heavy sarcasm.
“Because I know him,” Teresa said quietly.
She sat through the night, the German’s head pillowed in her lap. She could find no obvious broken bones but she was horribly afraid that the kicks to his head had done some serious damage. Occasionally he stirred and murmured, but it was getting light before he finally opened his swollen eyes and looked at her.
“Are you all right?” he said.
“Yes. Thanks to you. I’m so sorry this happened to you. They are animals!”
“Not all of us,” the boy said, trying to smile, and she felt tears come to her eyes.
“They can’t try you like this,” she said.
“They will,” he said quietly. “I attacked an NCO. They’ll have me out there if they have to carry me.”
Teresa did not answer, knowing it was probably true. Light was filtering in through the open slots at the top of the stable walls. He shifted and pushed himself cautiously up, wincing. “I think I might have a broken rib.”
“I was worried they’d cracked your skull,” Teresa said. “Private, what is your name?”
“Private Kuhn, Fraulein. Theo Kuhn. First company, tenth battalion.” He smiled. “And yours?”
“I am Teresa Cortez. I work for Mrs van Daan. Colonel van Daan’s wife, the 110th…”
“I have heard of them,” Kuhn said. He sounded impressed. “I have not been here long, we came in from fighting in Austria only recently. But I have heard that the 110th are very good. I hope they come for you soon, Fraulein.”
“Up! Up, you scurvy bastards! Time for your day in court. Line up!”
Teresa felt her stomach lurch in fear. She glanced at Kuhn. “Can you stand?”
“I will stand if it kills me, Fraulein,” he said gravely, pulling himself to his feet. Something about him made her feel stronger. She thought suddenly of her mistress, who had survived two years of brutality from her first husband with such panache that nobody but Teresa had known how much she was suffering. If Anne van Daan could live through that with her head held high, her Spanish maid could endure a flogging. She got up and reached for Kuhn’s coat.
“Keep it,” he said quietly and she smiled and shook her head.
“No. They’ll charge you for the loss and you don’t get paid enough for that.”
“Fraulein, I’ve not been paid at all for five months. But thank you.” He shrugged himself into the coat and moved to join the line, limping heavily.
“You – German boy! To the front! Want to make sure they’ve got time to flog you today while I’m still around!” Lowther said. “Or who knows, when they see what you did to my face, they might decide to hang you.”
Private Collins shoved the German forward. Lowther looked at Teresa. “Collins, keep her here until he’s been before the court,” he said. “I don’t want her mouthing off…”
“You pig!” Teresa said clearly, and Collins lifted his hand. His sergeant gave a yell.
“Don’t hit her! You mark her too much and they’ll want to know why!”
She watched the men marched away in furious impotence. She could not believe they would hang the young German given that he seemed to have a clean service record so far, but she was well aware that it would depend on who was on the court.
“Won’t be long now,” Collins said softly, watching her. “I wonder if he’ll scream. They usually do after a while.” He smiled, showing a row of yellow, broken teeth. “I wonder if they’ll strip you when they flog you. Wouldn’t mind if they do….”
Teresa spat accurately, and he swore, and caught her arm, twisting it hard until she cried out. “Don’t get clever with me, girl, I don’t have to hit your pretty face to hurt you. You know what they do with camp followers like you? They flog them and then they throw them out of camp. And we’ll be waiting for you, me and the sergeant, to finish what we started.”
Teresa did not respond. The threat did not frighten her as much as it might have. The minute she was free, she had every intention of running straight to headquarters. Most of the staff were up with Wellington and the army, but she was such a familiar sight around headquarters, accompanying her mistress, that she was sure somebody there would recognise her and give her help until a message could be sent to the lines of the 110th. She wanted Danny desperately, his arms about her, making her feel safe and loved as nothing else ever had.
There were sounds from the parade ground and Collins grinned. “Right, sounds like a flogging for him. I bet it’s a good one as well. Let’s get you into court and with any luck you’ll be out there waiting your turn round about the time he starts to yell.”
The prisoner before her was accused of stealing from a local farmer. He had been caught fair and square, the stolen chicken in his hands, it’s neck already wrung when the sergeant came across him. A skinny lad, probably no more than twenty, his expression was resigned as he stood before the court martial. The chair of the court, a solid Major from the guards was quick and short in his questioning, and the boy offered little in the way of defence. The verdict of the court could not be in doubt and the sentence was flogging. The man was led away and there was a brief respite while the officers of the court refreshed themselves and the assistant provost marshal prepared the next case.
“Case of a camp follower, Teresa Cortez, accused of assaulting the provost marshal’s deputies.”
There was a rustle of interest around the court. Women were often brought up, usually on charges of looting or drunkenness. Wives and camp followers were subject to military discipline and Teresa knew that for battlefield looting they were often worse than their menfolk. But she was aware that she did not look like a typical camp follower even after a week in the prison. Her gown was a gift from Anne, good quality blue muslin, and she had done her best while waiting to tidy her hair.
The deputy provost marshal was reading out the charges. Teresa listened with immense contempt as the deputy told how she had intervened when her lover had been sent back from his malingering in hospital to fight with his regiment, and struck the deputy with a china jug of water, injuring him. She had then bit and scratched several other deputies in the execution of their duty.
The deputy went on to engage in a long and rambling diatribe about the behaviour of the camp followers in the army, of their drunkenness and violence and of Lord Wellington’s determination that they be controlled. Teresa was distracted by the sounds of the flogging from outside. It was still Private Kuhn and she wondered with horror how many he had been given.
“Well, girl, have you anything to say in your defence?” the Major said finally.
Teresa looked at him. “I was doing my job,” she said evenly. “He was dragging a wounded man from his bed. I tried to stop him.”
She could see that her response was unexpected. Her English was excellent with a Spanish accent.
“The man being your lover?”
“No. I did not know him well. But he was too badly hurt to be moved.”
“But your lover was present. A….let me see…a sergeant, is he not?”
“He was there but he was not involved. He is Regimental Sergeant Major Daniel Carter of the 110th.” Teresa moved her eyes over the five men on the court. “He serves under Colonel Paul van Daan. I am Mrs van Daan’s maid.”
There was a shocked rumble around the room. Two of the court members began to converse furiously in low tones and the Major looked across at the deputy.
“Is this true, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir, I believe so. At least, that’s what the girl told us.”
At one end of the table sat a Captain of around thirty whom Teresa did not recognise. He was dark and intense looking, and was studying her with an expression which suggested that he was unsure about the proceedings. Teresa wondered if he was a new arrival. He appeared to be listening to the murmur of voices around the room. “I’m missing something,” he said to his neighbour, a Captain from the Irish Brigade. The man laughed.
“I forgot you’re new, Graham. I want to know if this is true, because if this girl is Mrs van Daan’s maidservant, I do not want to be on the court that sends her for thirty lashes. And neither do you.”
“Why?” the man said, looking puzzled.
“Because if she’s genuinely under Paul van Daan’s protection, he is going to go bloody mad when he finds out about this, and trust me, you don’t want to be in the firing line.”
Graham got up and walked towards Teresa. She watched him come with steady gaze.
“What happened to your face?” he said quietly. “This incident took place over a week ago. That bruise looks more recent.”
“It happened at the gaol.”
“The sergeant of the guards. He was angry with me because I bit him.”
Graham looked as though he wanted to laugh. “Why?” he asked.
“I did not like what he was trying to do to me, Captain.”
Graham studied her for a long moment. “Did he hurt you?” he asked, very quietly.
The girl met his eyes. “Yes,” she said.
Graham turned back to the court and looked at the Major. “This isn’t right,” he said. “I propose we adjourn the court until we’ve looked into this further. Sir…”
“Enough! I’m not backing down just because Van Daan is involved!” The Major was more animated than Teresa had yet seen him. “She’s not denying what she did. She’s guilty.”
“We need a majority. Three votes.” The Major looked along the table. “Or are you all too frightened of Wellington’s mastiff?”
The atmosphere in the room was tense and uncomfortable. Captain Graham looked at Teresa and then back at the Major.
“I have no idea what the hell you are talking about, sir, being new here!” he said. “But I’m not convinced that we have all the information here and I’m not sure this woman has been treated as she ought. At the very least we should postpone the verdict until…”
“Crewe, are you with me?”
“I am. High time somebody brought some discipline into that bloody rabble he commands! If Wellington won’t do it, we should!”
“One more, gentlemen!”
The Irish captain held up his hands. “Like Captain Graham here, I want to know more. If this lassie is really attached to the 110th and employed by the Colonel’s lady…”
“Lady?” The final officer on the court gave a short laugh. “She’s not a lady. I vote with the majority. The girl is guilty.”
“Thank you, Cartwright. The sentence of the court is that the woman be given thirty lashes and thrown out of the camp. Take her away.”
“Sir, I protest at this verdict!” Graham said vehemently. “I have literally no idea what is going on here, but…”
“At some point I will enlighten you,” a voice said. “I can understand your present confusion, however.”
The voice came from the door of the room. Teresa turned feeling her terror drain away from her at the sound of his voice.
The newcomer came forward. He was above average height and well-built, dressed in uniform with the insignia of a colonel, his red coat sporting silver grey facings which were very familiar to Teresa. His hair was fair and cut shorter than was fashionable and his eyes were a deep and intense blue. They were resting on the Major and then they moved along the table to the Captain called Cartwright.
“Hello Davy. Interesting to hear your views on my wife. How’s yours, by the way?” the man said, and there was a rustle of shocked comment around the room. Cartwright did not reply. He looked furious. Teresa did not move or speak, and then Paul van Daan looked at her and held out his hand.
“I’m sorry, lass,” he said quietly. “Lord Wellington sent a message for your release well over a week ago. Christ knows what went wrong but when he finds out, somebody’s balls are going to be decorating his doorway. Come here. What the bloody hell happened to your face?”
Teresa ran, speechless, into his arms and he held her close, looking up over her head at the court. “There is an order for Miss Cortez’s immediate release from Lord Wellington,” he said quietly. “I have a copy of it here, but when I’ve nothing better to do I’m going to find out what happened to the original because I’m damned sure it was delivered to somebody. Is Major Courtney here today?”
There was complete silence around the room. Paul smiled slightly. “Never mind. I’ll find him. Don’t let me interrupt you any further. I’ll have a chat later.”
The blue eyes moved to the Irish captain. “Sean, you’re keeping the nastiest company these days. Come and find me for a drink later, I’m back at our billet just for tonight. Michael is with me, although I’ve left Nan in camp which is lucky for some of you.” The blue eyes shifted to Graham. “I don’t know the new lad, but bring him with you, I’d like to be properly introduced.”
He turned to the door, the girl held close against him. Major Nairn surged to his feet.
“How dare you, sir? You are interfering with the legitimate business of this court and…”
Teresa had known Colonel van Daan for over a year and she was not surprised at the sudden tension in his body. He put her from him very gently and then turned back.
“I have Lord Wellington’s orders here, Major, and they’ll be placed on the court records, have no fear. Along with my own formal complaint at the provost marshals dragging injured men from their beds and sending them on a six-day march which could have killed them because they don’t like the way I manage discipline in my regiment. If you want to take this up with Lord Wellington I really suggest you do it in person, I’ll escort you myself tomorrow. Or you could keep your head down and hope that the repercussions of this don’t blight what is left of your miserable career in this army. Now piss off and let me do my job, or I will take these orders, knowing that I can obtain a copy of them at any time, and stick them so far up your arse that they will see daylight out the back of your throat. Good afternoon, sir!”
He turned back to Teresa. “Come and find Danny, lass, he’s been frantic about you.”
“Yes. But Colonel – the man being flogged out there! It’s too many, all he did was got caught with a girl out of camp and it’s a first offence.”
He caught on as quickly as she had known he would and spun back to the court. “How many?” he barked.
“Two hundred.” It was the newcomer, Graham who answered, his eyes on Paul’s face. “Not just for the original offence, sir. He attacked the gaol sergeant, beat him fairly badly…”
“Because he was attacking me!” Teresa said, looking at Paul. “And four of them came in, kicking him and punching him unconscious. He was already badly beaten when this started…”
She heard him utter a soft oath and then he was gone, erupting out of the door, yelling in a voice, which he had trained to be heard through the noise of a battle. It stilled the parade ground and the corporal wielding the lash froze.
“Put that bloody thing down before I strangle you with it!” Paul bellowed. “To attention!”
The Corporal sprang to attention, and the blue eyes swept the assembled company. It was small. Most of the troops were at the lines and Teresa realised that the colonel was the most senior officer present. Paul appeared to see what he was looking for.
“RSM Carter, take care of your lass. If anybody you don’t like the look of goes anywhere near her, kill him, I don’t care what rank he is! Mr O’Reilly, Mr Manson, get this man down and get him out of here until we can get him seen to. One of you stand guard, I don’t want anybody near him. And where the fuck is the provost marshal?”
The terrified corporal saluted. It must have been the third time he had done so since the tirade began. “Sir, I think he’s in his office, sir. Over…”
“I know where it is, Corporal!” Paul strode across the parade ground, as his two lieutenants ran to lift Private Kuhn from the wooden frame. The door to the provost marshal’s office was closed firmly but Paul did not bother to open it. He kicked it hard with the flat of his foot and it flew open with a crash, breaking the latch.
“Courtney!” he bellowed. “Get yourself down here right now, I know you’re in there! Don’t make me come after you!”
Teresa was looking around, scanning the men. She saw finally what she had been looking for and began to run towards the tall rangy figure. RSM Carter scooped her into his arms and lifted her off her feet, kissing her and Teresa clung to him, feeling the warmth and strength of him.
“Danny,” she said, feeling tears start to her eyes.
“Teresa. I’m so sorry, lass, I’ve been going mad! If Wellington hadn’t given him permission to come and find you I’d have deserted. Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”
“No, but they would have. In the prison.” Teresa felt herself shiver at the memory. “They were going to rape me. Sergeant Lowther, his name was, and Private Collins. Danny that poor German lad, he risked his life to stop them…”
“We’ll look after him, lass, don’t worry. Come here. You are not leaving my side until I get you back with our people.” Carter placed his hand under her chin and lifted her face up, kissing her very gently. “Take a deep breath and tell me what happened.”
She did so, quietly, finally able to admit now that it was over how terrified she had been. As she finished her story, Major Courtney emerged from his billet, scarlet faced, pulling on his coat over an untucked shirt. What was left of his hair was standing on end. He had clearly just scrambled out of bed. He did not speak. Paul stared at him for a long moment as though he was unable to believe his eyes.
“You are a bloody disgrace, Major, and when Lord Wellington gets my report on this, you are going to wish you’d sold out months ago! Mr Manson!”
“Yes, sir.” Lieutenant Manson came forward, shooting a faint smile at Teresa. “Glad you’re all right, Teresa, Nan has been going mad.”
“Mr Manson, will you and Mr O’Reilly go to the gaol and bring back Sergeant….what’s his name, Teresa?”
“Sergeant Lowther. And Private Collins. He was…”
“Don’t bother, sir,” Carter said. Teresa glanced at him and he smiled slightly and kissed her very gently. “Be back in a minute,” he said, and then he was gone, striding across the square towards the gaol block. Teresa watched him, her heart in her mouth. After a moment Lieutenant Manson came forward and put his arm about her shoulders.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t look so worried, you’re safe.”
“I am not worried about myself, Lieutenant,” Teresa said and then there was a scream of pain. She turned.
Sergeant Lowther was stumbling backwards out of the gaol block. His face was bloody, one hand clutching his nose. Carter was moving towards him, his tall frame menacing. There was no sign of the injury which had sent him back from battle a month ago.
“You’ve gone very quiet, Sergeant,” he said. “You lost your voice or something? Because I’m fairly sure you were bloody full of it in there yesterday when you threatened my girl. Want to share your views with me?”
Lowther tripped and fell backwards onto the cobbled street and Carter moved forward. Major Courtney gave an exclamation and stepped forward as Carter lifted his foot and stamped very hard onto Lowther’s genitals. Lowther screamed, a high pitched sound, which must have been heard at the other end of the village. Courtney took another step and Paul stepped forward into his path.
“You take one more step and I’ll do the same to you!” he said. “You sent her to that. Look at her. You knew bloody well she was my wife’s maid and not a camp follower. You put her in that gaol because you’re a spiteful bastard and you don’t like me, and if they’d got their hands on her she’d have been raped! And you are so bloody lucky that didn’t happen. Before I leave in the morning, you’ll have a written witness statement about what they tried to do to Miss Cortez Arrest them and deal with them. If I have to come back here to make sure you’ve done your job, I’ll hang you from the nearest stairwell without benefit of a trial with one of them each side of you! And while we’re about it, you come anywhere near any man of my regiment again, especially if they are wounded, and I will personally cut off your balls if I am able to locate them and stuff them in your mouth before I display your bloody corpse on the front steps of your office as a warning to any other arsehole who comes after my men! Are we clear?”
Major Courtney made no response. Paul smiled grimly. “I’m going to take that as a yes. This is a copy of Lord Wellington’s original letter telling you to release that girl as she’d done nothing wrong. You lose that one, and you’d better start running. I rather suspect that your career would be over if you lost any more letters pertaining to this case. I don’t have time to hang about otherwise I’d go in search of Dr Cradock as well, but when you see him, will you let him know that both Lord Wellington and the Surgeon General want a chat with him about that little incident? And I’d advise him not to go anywhere near my wife especially when she has a scalpel in her hand! By the way, I’m taking the German lad with me, my wife can take care of him. I don’t trust him with you.”
Courtney seemed to have finally found his voice. “You have no right to interfere with the legitimate decisions of the court…”
“Piss off, Major,” Paul said simply. “I’m going to find a wagon for that lad and if I don’t find those two locked in a cell by the time I get back I’m going to put you in one and throw the keys into the latrines! Bet it would be a while before anybody bothered to let you out, you useless gobshite!”
He turned and surveyed Lowther who was curled up in agony on the ground. “Where’s the other one?”
“Hiding in the gaol,” Carter said unemotionally. He raised his voice. “Collins, if you don’t get your sorry arse out here in thirty seconds I’m loading my rifle and you’re dead!”
Private Collins emerged cautiously from the doorway of the gaol block and Carter walked towards him, looking him over. “You’re very young for this, lad. And I’d let you off if it weren’t for what you said to her just before you took her to the courtroom. What was it you said – you’d come after her and finish what you started?”
Collins did not speak. His eyes were wide with terror and he was completely white. Carter stepped forward and grasped hold of his genitals, twisting hard. The man screamed. Carter released him.
“Well when you feel up to it, boy, you come and try it and I’ll fucking cut them off!”
He turned back to Lowther who was struggling to his feet. Carter stepped forward and grasped him by the front of his coat. He propelled him with considerable force back against the brick wall of the provost marshal’s house. “They’re going to take the skin off your back for this, lad, and I only wish I could be here to watch, but I’ll be off fighting the French. That’s what soldiers do. You, on the other hand, are a pathetic piece of shit who bullies the prisoners and preys on helpless girls, and if you saw a French dragoon coming towards you, you’d piss yourself. Before I go, let me just help you to remember what you can and can’t do in that gaol.” Carter drew back his fist and punched Lowther in the stomach, so hard that even Teresa flinched. “That’s for what you tried to do to my girl.” He punched again and Lowther let out a groan of pain. “That’s for the German lad.” On the third punch he released Lowther who collapsed to the ground. “And that’s for every other prisoner you’ve abused in some way. Think yourself lucky I don’t have more time, or I’d come up with a few more!”
He turned back to Teresa and gathered her into his arms. She rested there, feeling the tension in his body, and understood how terrified he must have been for her. Despite the shock of his sudden outburst it warmed her. At times, Danny Carter could appear very unemotional but she knew better. He had waited for over a year for her to make the decision to allow him into her life and into her bed and looking back, his patience astonished her because she knew that plenty of other girls would have been very happy to console him. His choice made, he had proved a gentle and considerate lover and Teresa was only just beginning to appreciate what she had found. She wrapped her arm around him tightly.
“Danny, I love you.”
He looked down at her in some surprise then smiled. “I love you too, Teresa. Just starting to realise how much. Come on, let’s get you out of here. You need me, sir?”
Paul shook his head. “No. Major Courtney is about to demonstrate that he does have some use in the world by getting these two locked up. I’m just going to speak to the court, I’ll be back in a minute. Take care of her, Carter.”
Paul walked back to the courtroom and found that the last prisoner had been taken out and the judges were standing in a group, conferring. Paul looked at Captain Devlin. “You coming, Sean?”
“On my way, sir.” Devlin grinned, saluted the other judges and went outside. Paul looked over at Captain Graham.
“We’ve not formally been introduced, Captain, but I know who you are. Lord Wellington asked me to look out for you if you’d arrived and escort you up to headquarters. You’re his new staff member, aren’t you?”
Graham saluted. “Yes, sir.”
“Welcome to Portugal. Surprisingly it’s not always this dramatic. Are you billeted nearby?”
“Just across the square, sir.”
“Well can I suggest you get your kit and come back with us tonight for a meal and to sleep? We’ll be off early in the morning, Wellington is hoping to give battle soon and wants me back. This was something of a favour for my wife, she’s been frantic about Teresa.”
“Turns out she was right to be, sir.”
“Yes. I’m impressed with your impartiality, Captain. Can you be ready fairly quickly?”
“About twenty minutes, sir.”
For the first time since arriving, Paul smiled. “Good lad, you’ll be popular with Wellington. Get going, I’ll meet you back here.”
He watched as Graham left and then turned to survey the final three members of the court, his eyes coming to rest on Captain David Cartwright.
“I’m surprised at you, Davy,” he said quietly. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d let how you feel about me cause you to send an innocent girl to be flogged. You ought to be ashamed.”
He turned, ignoring the other members. As he reached the door, Cartwright said:
“I’d no reason to think she wasn’t guilty, sir. We all know the rules don’t apply to your regiment. Or it’s officers.”
Paul turned and looked back at him. He wanted to respond, but he was aware of something avid in the other two judges, listening in. Studying Cartwright he realised that the man did not look well.
“This isn’t really the time or place for that conversation, is it, Captain?” he said quietly. “But think about it, will you? And Davy…?”
“We really need some way of getting that German lad out of here, I don’t think he’s going to be up to either marching or riding. You’re a quartermaster…”
“I can get you a cart if you can drive it yourselves.”
“Carter can drive it, he’s like a sack of potatoes on a horse anyway. I appreciate it, thank you.”
He turned away but Cartwright’s voice arrested him. “Sir?”
“Is she all right?”
Paul turned back to study the other man. “Yes, fortunately. But if that German lad hadn’t intervened she’d have been held down and raped by two men. Our own men, Captain, not the French. That thought makes me feel a bit sick. And it ought to make you three feel sick too. Good afternoon.”
Want to read more? Buy the book on Amazon kindle here.