An Impossible Attachment – a Peninsular War Love Story

With Valentine’s Day coming up next week, I thought I’d post an extra freebie.  An Impossible Attachment is a short story about a French prisoner-of-war in Portugal in 1812.  It’s a story in its own right although those of you who have read the Peninsular War Saga and in particular A Redoubtable Citadel, will recognise at least one of the characters and some of the background.  Please feel free to share it.

Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody…  

River Tagus, near Santarem, Portugal

British Prison Camp, Near Santarem, Portugal, 1812

He first became aware of the smell.

Second-Lieutenant Damien Cavel had served now for fourteen years since his conscription at eighteen and he was entirely accustomed to the filthy conditions of living in an army camp.  Raised in a comfortable farmhouse close to Cambrai he had loathed the army at the start but had become accustomed and then attached and had finally embraced his profession with the enthusiasm of a boy who had never wanted the legal career set out for him by his parents.  He had learned to adjust to his circumstances in whatever billet was available and living in close proximity with the men of his various companies he had ceased to notice the everyday smell of sweat and unwashed clothing.  But the stench of the British army prison camp on the edge of the Tagus surpassed everything.

He had been taken, along with most of his company, on the field of Arapiles outside Salamanca, a battle which had happened for many of the French so quickly that they were bewildered.  A bitter disappointment to Damien Cavel, newly promoted after years as a sergeant.  It was the second time in a year that he had been a prisoner of the British but the experience was very different.  The first occasion had ended in him being sent back to his army with a letter of warm recommendation from the English colonel whose wife he had saved and another from Lord Wellington.  It had led to his promotion and Damien was only just beginning to savour his new responsibilities in a company of the line before Salamanca left him wounded and then captured for a second time.  This time there was no hope of repatriation and he was sent, thrown around in a wagon because of his injuries, to this holding camp north of Lisbon, waiting for transportation to England.

He remembered nothing of the ensuing weeks, tossing and turning with pain, burning with fever and lying in cramped, damp conditions in a disused grain store.  Around him men died and were removed and replaced by others.  Damien lived although he suspected, when he was finally conscious, that there had been moments when he wished he had not.  Around him men groaned in pain or muttered with fever and there was an overpowering stench of excrement and stale urine and decaying flesh.  It made him want to gag.

“This one’s awake over here, sir,” a voice said, a harsh English voice belonging to an orderly in shabby uniform with blood staining the front of his shirt.  Footsteps sounded and then a man knelt beside Damien.

“Welcome back,” the man said.  “I thought we’d lost you.”

Damien tried to speak and nothing came out.  His mouth was dry and tasted foul.  The doctor, a tired looking man with thinning hair and red-rimmed blue eyes reached out and felt his forehead.

“Fever’s gone,” he said.  “Shelby, bring him some water.”

The orderly approached with a cup and the doctor held it while Damien drank, draining the cup.  The blue eyes were studying him.

“Do you speak any English?” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” Damien said.  English had been compulsory at the good school his father had sent him to before the war, when his parents had hoped for a career in the law, possibly leading to government service.  He had practised when he was able through the years of the war, speaking to English prisoners and occasionally to other soldiers during days of informal truce.  He remembered such a moment at Talavera when he had talked across the stream to men filling their water bottles.  But the biggest improvement had come when his company, escorting a supply column up towards Badajoz, had captured the young wife of an English colonel and he had walked beside her for more than two weeks.  There were aspects of that time that Damien could not bear to remember, but the girl herself would never leave him.  Her French needed no practice, she was fluent, but she had taken it upon herself to improve his English.  It had been a distraction from the horror of her ordeal.

“Good,” the English doctor said.  “My French is terrible.  I’ll leave you here for now…is it Lieutenant?”

“Lieutenant Cavel,” Damien said.  “My coat?”

“If you had one, it’s gone,” the doctor said.  “Let me have a look at that wound.  It was infected but we used maggots and it seems to have done the job.”

Damien lay back and the doctor drew back the thin army blanket and carefully peeled the dressing from a long wound across his midriff.  The doctor pressed gently and Damien winced and looked down.  He was slightly shocked at the length of the gash, red raw and untidily stitched but there was no smell of decay although Damien wondered if he would have been able to smell it anyway in this foul atmosphere.

“My arm?” he asked, aware of the pain.

“Shoulder wound.  Very deep, you’ll have a weakness there for a while.  Perhaps always.  You use your right or left hand?”

“Right.”

“You’re lucky then.  Cavalry sabre, I’d guess, cut you down and then slashed you across the stomach.  Ought to have killed you but he didn’t bend low enough.  I think you’ll mend.  I’ll get them to give you some food and plenty of water, you need rest.”

“What then?”

“Prison transport,” the doctor said in matter-of-fact tones.  “Back to England and then if you’ll give your parole you’ll be treated as an officer and a gentleman.  Better than most of these lads.”

“Thank you,” Damien said.  “Do you know how long?”

“Couple of weeks, maybe.  Once the transports have arrived they’ll probably take you by barge down river.  You’ll be well enough by then.  Eat and get some rest.”

“Thank you,” Damien said again.  “May I know your name?”

“Dr Bishop.  I’ll send someone up with some food.”

Two weeks was long in the prison hospital.  More men died.  Others were moved, once they were deemed well enough, to the two barns which housed the bulk of the prisoners.  Damien had no idea how much time had passed while he had been ill and was astonished to find that two months had passed since he had fallen at Salamanca and autumn had arrived.  Already the days were cooler and once he was well enough to step outside and take the air he could see that the land was turning greener after the heat of the summer months.  Vineyards were ripe and heavy with the new harvest, the peasants were busy in the olive groves and the prisoners’ bland and boring diet was supplemented a little with local chestnuts, almonds and walnuts along with oranges and apples. 

He was moved away from the fetid hospital into a small house, set aside for the officers, and given a new coat, presumably taken from a dead man and a shabby cloak against the colder evenings.  His fellow officers, all bearing the same faint sense of depression, played cards and drank wine when it was available and speculated on their chance of exchange, on conditions in England and on when, if ever, they might see their wives and families again. 

Transports arrived and the transport board sent an escort of Portuguese militia to take the prisoners by river on wide, flat bottomed barges to join the ships.  Damien went to find Dr Bishop to thank him again and the Englishman saluted and then offered his hand.

“Good luck, Lieutenant Cavel, I hope it’s a smooth voyage and an easy imprisonment.”

“You have been very kind, Doctor.  Thank you.”  Damien looked out the door at the weather.  “I do not think it will be a pleasant trip on the river.”

“No, I’m afraid not.  Probably fast though with the rain we’ve had for the past few days, the river is very high.”

It took time to load the prisoners into the boats and standing shivering on the banks watching the laborious process, Damien wondered how many of them would be ill again before they reached the transports.  He had no hat, it had been lost on the battlefield, probably looted with his coat and he pulled the thin cloak around him and waited his turn.  There were five hundred officers and men, some from Salamanca and others brought in from smaller skirmishes or just picked up in small parties.  The Portuguese militia watched them carefully.  There was none of the laughter or banter or small kindnesses that the British medical staff had shown and Damien understood why.  These men had lived under French occupation, had watched their homes burn, their food stolen and far too often their women raped.  They had no sense of kinship with the French troops and he wondered if the small contingent of British infantrymen were there to guard the prisoners or to protect them.

Huddled finally in the barge, Damien looked back as the current swirled them out with the crew steering a course to follow those already gone.  The rain was so heavy it was difficult to see the shore or indeed the other boats and he peered through the curtain of water.

“Bloody country,” Captain Bisset said beside him.  “Either it rains or it’s baking, there’s no halfway.  Perhaps England will be better.”

“Have you ever been?” Damien asked.

“I have,” an older man said.  “Spent some time there as a boy.  I liked it but the food was terrible.”

“It can’t be any worse than here,” Bisset said and there was laughter.  A Portuguese oarsman turned to glare at them and then looked back quickly at a shout from the pilot.  Damien understood no Portuguese and had never troubled to learn although he could make himself understood in Spanish.

They were moving quickly on the current, the shore no longer visible, and Damien hoped that there would be a chance to dry out before they were herded aboard the prison transports.  Ahead of him he could hear Lieutenant Giroux coughing and he wondered if the man would make it to England alive. 

The crash happened without any warning, the barge spinning in a sudden surge of water and hitting an object at great speed.  Damien had no idea what it was but there was an ominous crack of splitting wood, and a yell and then water rushed up towards him.  The barge had broken across the centre with both sides tilting crazily into the water and he could hear the cries of terror and pain of the men around him as they were pulled in to the grey torrent of the water.

Damien struggled out of the cloak, stood up on the edge of the wooden plank seat, peered through the water and then dived.  Something struck his arm hard as he hit the cold water, sending a jolt of pain through the already injured limb but he made himself ignore it and struck out strongly.  If he did not get away from the smashed wreckage of the barge quickly he was at risk of being pulled under either by the huge chunks of wood being tossed around in the water or by one of the men, struggling for their lives in the midst.  He saw, as he struggled past, what looked like the shape of an enormous tree trunk in the centre of the chaos and he supposed it had come down in the storm and been carried along in the fast current.

They were screaming some of them, helpless in the maelstrom of swirling grey water, broken barge and thrashing arms and legs.  Damien did not look back; he could do nothing to help them.  Some of them might survive if they could swim or were lucky enough to be able to catch hold of a makeshift float.  Already he could hear shouts from the barge behind following up, it’s crew trying desperately to avoid either striking the wreck and being wrecked themselves or hitting the men floundering in the water.  Above them the rain continued to fall and Damien swam, following the current at an angle towards the shore.

He had learned to swim as a boy, through long summers with his grandparents on their farm.  A river had wound its way across their land and every year one or two venturesome children were lost to drowning.  His grandfather had been determined it should not happen to him and by the time he joined the army he was a powerful swimmer.  It was not easy in this torrent, weighed down by his clothing, but if he stopped to try to remove his jacket or his boots he was afraid it would be too late.  So he relied on the strength lent to him by sheer desperation to keep himself afloat and fought his way towards the shore.

He was thrown, finally, in a muddy swirl onto a stony bank.  Steep sides rose above him and Damien, who could never remember feeling more exhausted in his life, dragged himself up and crawled on hands and knees up the bank.  Finally, the rain seemed to be easing a little and was more of a fine mist although visibility was terrible.  More than anything he wanted to lie down and give in but he knew that if the water rose again he was at risk of drowning while he was unconscious.  He used bushes, trees and rocks to scramble up the bank, feeling his way, his hands cut and bleeding on sharp edges and thorns.  And then he was there, muddy grass under him but solid ground, and he collapsed and lay still.

Damien awoke some time later.  The rain had stopped but the land was covered by a thick fog.  There was no sound now but the quiet rush of the river below.  He was soaked and shivering so much he could hardly stand, and he pushed himself up, conscious of a terrifying weakness.  Whatever had happened to the men in the water had long passed, the sky was darkening through the mist and it was evening.  If he lay where he was he would probably be dead of cold by morning.

Stumbling like a drunken man he began to make his way inland.  He had no idea where he was or how far from the British army camp but he was unlikely to be able to find his way back there in this weather.  He needed shelter; warmth was unlikely in this appalling weather but even a dry barn would be better than this.  Food would help but he could not go to some farmhouse and beg for help.  The French were so hated here that he was more likely to get his throat cut than a place by the fire. 

Damien thought that he must have been staggering for about twenty minutes although it was impossible to be sure, he had lost all sense of time, when he saw the light.  It was dim, glowing yellow through the haze.  He paused, trying to clear his head which was throbbing.  Approaching the farm was a huge risk, but if he could remain undetected he might be able to steal some food and find shelter in an outbuilding.  With rest he would be able to think more clearly and decide what to do next.

Close up, he could see a small house, whitewashed with a slate roof, crouching in the midst of a muddy farmyard.  There were several buildings nearby, a barn and what looked like a henhouse.  Damien moved forward very cautiously.  No sensible householder would be out in this weather and night was falling rapidly, but he was suspicious of every sound.

He was almost at the door of the dark barn when disaster struck.  Unsteady on his feet and in the darkness he had failed to see the long wooden shape of a broken hoe until he stepped on it.  His feet shot from under him and he uttered a cry, quickly cut off but too loud in the darkness.

It could have been heard in the house and with a lamp lit there was clearly someone at home.  Damien scrambled to his feet and made for the nearest building, a brick built structure which proved to be a tool shed.  He ducked inside and stood very still, peering out through the broken door as the door to the house opened and a figure stood silhouetted against the light.

“Cristiano, is that you?” a voice called and a shock ran through him as he realised that the voice was that of a woman and that bizarrely it was speaking English.  “Cristiano? Maria?”

There was silence in the enveloping fog and Damien’s brain, numbed by cold and pain, sprang suddenly into life.  The voice was tremulous and afraid and he knew suddenly, with complete certainty that this woman was alone here.  He stood very still, listening.  Nobody replied.  She was calling for people she knew but they were not coming and the silence made her afraid.

It changed everything.  Inside the cottage was light and probably warmth and food.  It was still a risk.  The unknown Cristiano and Maria might be close at hand, but once he was inside with this lone female it would be easier to deal with attack.  Damien closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to steady his shaking limbs and find some strength.  Then he stepped out of the shed and ran to the door of the house.

She had seen his movement and she was very quick, closing the door with a faint sound of alarm.  But desperation lent him strength and speed and he had his foot in the door before she managed it.  She wrestled with it briefly and Damien shoved hard.  The woman fell back with a cry of pain and he was inside, slamming the door behind him.  There was a wooden bar which would not hold off an army but might well keep Cristiano and Maria out for a while and Damien pushed it into place and turned, leaning his back against the door to keep himself upright and surveyed the candlelit room and his prisoner who was scrambling to her feet, her eyes on his face.

It was a shock to find that she was younger than he had expected, probably in her twenties, dressed in black.  Her hair was loose around her shoulders, long and straight and a bright red gold.  Her eyes were cat green with flecks of gold in them, wide with terror, and her skin was pale with a dusting of freckles. 

“Who are you?” she asked, but he could see her eyes on the soaked blue of his jacket and she knew the answer.  “What are you doing here?”

“Seeking shelter,” Damien said.  “Are you alone?”

She shook her head quickly.  “No.  No.  My husband is upstairs asleep but he has a pistol.  And my servants are close by…”

It was a brave try and he applauded her but the expression in her eyes showed it a lie and Damien pushed himself off the door.

“You lie to me and I will cut your throat,” he said quietly.  “I am a French prisoner – escaped, I suppose – and I am in need of food and warmth.  Do as you are told and I will not touch you.  Try to get help and I will and you will not enjoy it.  Which is it to be, Mademoiselle?”

She did not seem to be able to speak for a moment but she nodded.  Damien gave a faint smile, trying to hide his relief.  He was reasonably sure if he had tried to attack her she could have fought him off with ease and probably killed him.

“Are you alone?” he asked again.

“Yes.”  She had found her voice.

“No husband or servants?”

She shook her head.  “No.  The farmer and his wife went to Lisbon, to market.  They were going to stay with her sister.  I thought when I heard you…”

“And the husband?”

“Is dead,” she said, and this time he knew she spoke the truth.  The black velvet of her gown, trimmed at the hem and neckline with silver grey embroidery made it obvious.  It might also explain the mystery of a young Englishwoman alone in Portugal. 

“Anybody else?” he asked.

“No.  Truthfully.”  The girl’s eyes were studying him.  Suddenly she said:

“You are ill.”

Damien nodded.  “Yes.  I have been wounded and then tonight in the river…”

He broke off and stood regarding her for a moment.  Then she moved.

“Sit down, I will build up the fire.”

She moved to the fireplace, reaching for a stack of wood on the hearth and Damien moved to a wooden bench and sat down closing his eyes.  He realised he was shaking violently with reaction; partly relief at being inside in the warmth and the dry and partly a sense of shame at having threatened a frightened woman.  He knew that many of his countrymen would have seen it as a gift to find a young and attractive female alone in the cottage. Damien wished he could reassure her that she was safe.

The new heat from the fire reached him.  He heard her move across the room and opened his eyes, turning.  “Where are you going?”

She regarded him.  “There is wine in the kitchen.  And some food.”

“I will come with you.”

“You do not look as though you will make it that far…is it Captain?”

“Lieutenant Damien Cavel, Madame.”

She nodded then indicated the room with a sweep of her hand.  “You were right, I’m alone,” she said.  “In the dark and in this weather – where would I go?  May I trust you?”

“Yes,” Damien said.  “Madame, I am sorry.  I am desperate…”

She nodded.  “Wait there.”

He sat quietly, his eyes closed, savouring the warmth of the fire.  She seemed to take a long time and he wondered if, after all, she had fled.  He had no idea if there was a horse on the premises but suddenly he found it hard to care.

“Here.”

He opened his eyes, startled, and realised that he had fallen asleep.  She stood before him, holding out not, as he had expected, a plate of food but instead a bundle of clothing.

“Madame…”

“My husband’s.  You will make yourself ill if you sit around in those clothes.  I will be in the kitchen.  It is warm there, there is food.”

“Madame…”  Damien was appalled.  “I cannot use these…”

“He has no use for them now.”

She left and Damien shook out the clothing.  He stripped off his soaked clothes, dropping them in a heap on the floor and pulled on the shirt and trousers feeling almost childish pleasure in the sense of clean dry clothing.  His boots were still soaked and after a moment’s consideration he set them before the fire and draped his wet clothing over the chair then ran his hands through his dark hair and padded through to the back of the house in bare feet.

It was a typical farm kitchen, wooden beams with bundles of herbs drying, a huge fireplace with spit and a brace holding an iron pot over the flames and a long wooden table with benches either side.  Damien paused and the woman turned and indicated the table. 

“Sit,” she said.

He obeyed and she spooned stew into a bowl and brought it to him.  There was bread and a crock of butter and it smelled good; better than anything he had eaten since he had been captured at Salamanca.  He tried not to snatch at the food but he was too hungry to be delicate.  The woman watched him eat and then brought a bottle to the table and poured wine into a glass.

When the edge was taken off his hunger, Damien looked up.  “Will you sit?” he asked.  “I feel like a boor eating and drinking while you stand.”

She moved forward and collected a second glass, poured wine and sat.  “I thought you were going to cut my throat,” she said, and Damien found a smile, to his surprise.

“I was not very convincing,” he said apologetically and was astonished when she laughed.

“You were.  I was very frightened for a while.  I may be wrong, Lieutenant, but you do not look like a man who is going to hurt me.  But I do not understand how you are here.”

Damien studied the distinctive face.  “I also, Madame,” he said.  “Because you are English, are you not?”

The woman sipped the wine, watching him finish his meal.  “I am.  My name is Wentworth.  Elizabeth Wentworth.  I came out to see my husband.  He was an officer, a Captain.  Wounded at Badajoz.  He died four weeks ago of his wounds.  It took a long time.”

Damien was filled with immense sadness.  “I am so sorry, Madame.  To come so far.  But forgive me, surely you did not travel alone?”

“I had nobody to come with me,” the girl said.  “His commanding officer wrote to me.  He was very ill, too badly hurt to be moved far.  They do not usually keep officers in the hospital you know, alongside the men.  He was billeted at this farm and Maria – the farmer’s wife – had been caring for him.  I came to nurse him but it was only a few weeks…”

Damien set down his spoon and pushed the bowl away.  “Thank you,” he said quietly.  “That was so good.”

The green eyes studied him.  “I have told you why I am here.  You said you are an escaped prisoner?”

Damien smiled tiredly.  “By accident,” he said.  “It is not a very exciting story.”

“Tell me anyway,” Elizabeth Wentworth said.

Damien did so, beginning briefly with his wounding and capture at Salamanca.  She listened quietly, the green-gold eyes on his face as he told it.

When it was done he sat silent and exhausted, sipping his wine.  Eventually she said:

“What will you do now?”

“I do not know,” Damien admitted.  “I could find my way back to the prison camp.  Some of the men must have survived the river, they were probably taken there.  Another wait for transports to England.  Or I could try to make my way north to find the French army again.  Hundreds of miles through country where my army is hated and the partisans wish to kill me – probably very slowly.  And I have no news – I do not even know where we are.  The British won at Arapiles – they may have taken Madrid by now.”

“A fool’s errand,” the woman said.

“The farmer and his wife…?”

“They will want you gone,” Mrs Wentworth said.  “They hate the French.  But they took their harvest to market.  I am not expecting them back for a week at least.”

Damien was silent, studying her.  “You should not be here alone, Madame,” he said finally, quietly.  “It is too far from the town.  While your husband lived, I understand.  But now, you should find accommodation in Lisbon until you can…”

“I have no money for accommodation in Lisbon, Lieutenant,” the woman said, and suddenly she looked very young and very tired.  “What I had, I spent on the journey and caring for Charles.  The army will arrange my passage home when there are transports – they will send an escort, they have said.  This is cheaper than a room in Lisbon.”

“And when you reach England?”

“I have an aunt I can stay with for a while.  I have been living with her while Charles was out here.  Eventually, I am told there will be a small pension.  I thought I might seek a position as a governess or companion.”

“Your parents?  Or his?  Can they not…”

“My parents died some years ago.  Charles married me against his parents’ wishes, they have never accepted me.  It sounds far worse than it is, Lieutenant Cavel, I shall not starve.  But when Maria said I might remain here until I have passage home it seemed to make sense.”

“Until this evening when you might have been raped and murdered by an escaped French prisoner!” Damien said.  He felt angry that she should have been placed in that position.  “One might think this commanding officer of whom you speak would have…”

“He knows nothing of it, sir.  The regiment is in the field with Lord Wellington, I have not written of my small troubles and I shall not; I’m not a beggar.  He has written to Horse Guards about my pension and has assured me he will see that it is paid.  Beyond that, I am not his concern.”  The surprising green eyes softened slightly.  “But don’t think that I do not realise I have been lucky this evening.  Are you all right, you are shivering again?”

He had been aware of it for a while, reached for the wine and drank more.  “A fever.  I was ill for some weeks, have been better, but I think the soaking….”

Cautiously he tried to move his left arm and realised that it was agony to do so.  Elizabeth Wentworth got up.

“You are in pain,” she said.  “Come, I’ll show you where you may sleep.”

“Madame, I can sleep here.”

She did not reply, merely picked up a candle and waited.  Damien rose and followed her.  The stairs of the small farmhouse were narrow and dark and he had to stoop his tall frame to avoid hitting his head.  She did not have the same problem, she was small and slight and he thought suddenly of that other delicate-looking Englishwoman who had proved to have the strength of a lioness and found himself smiling.

There were two rooms above and she pushed open one of the doors.  “This is where Maria and Cristiano sleep.  They will know nothing about this.  Go.”

It was a bedframe, roughly made from local oak, with straps supporting a straw filled mattress and blankets and pillows neatly folded so that the bed could air.  Damien stared at it, trying to remember the last time he had slept in a bed.  He turned to see her setting the candle on a wooden chest.

“I know the French are taught to live off the land and these people – and I – are your enemies,” she said.  “Please don’t steal from them.  There is enough food and when you are ready to go you may take what you like from my husband’s clothing, he has no need of it now and he was much of a height with you.  Rest and if you need me I am sleeping in the next room.”

Damien was studying the pale face in the candlelight.  “You are not my enemy and I do not know anything of these people.  Thank you, Madame.  I hope I will be better tomorrow.  You have probably saved my life tonight.”

She gave a very slight smile.  “You have definitely spared mine, sir.”

She turned to go and Damien moved to the bed.  A blanket in his hand, he turned. 

“Do you miss him very much?”

Elizabeth Wentworth stood framed in the crooked doorframe.  “No,” she said, surprising him.  “Although I could only admit that to a complete stranger such as yourself.  How can I miss a man I barely knew?  I was seventeen when we eloped and I had known him for two months then.  He was handsome and dashing and I thought I loved him.  He was also about to join his regiment to sail to Portugal with Sir John Moore.  I was settled in lodgings and I waved him off proudly.  That was four years ago.  I have not seen him since.  He wrote me a total of ten letters during that time.  He sent me money occasionally but not enough, I have survived teaching music and drawing and running errands for wealthy widows.  And on the occasional gift from my poor aunt who can ill afford it herself.  His family do not receive me and would not even lend me money to travel here when I had word that he was so badly wounded.  And when I arrived to nurse him, he was delirious and barely recognised me.  He was also riddled with the pox, so I imagine that he had not missed me either.”

“Oh no,” Damien said softly, his own misery forgotten.  “Oh cherie, I am so sorry.  To come so far and for that.  He did not deserve you.”

His compassion seemed to startle her.  “You don’t know me, Lieutenant.  How do you know what I deserve?”

“No woman deserves that, Madame Wentworth.  Thank you.  Goodnight.”

Farm of Cristiano and Maria Guedes, Portugal, 1812

The bedrooms were cold compared to the heat of the rooms below. Elizabeth went down to bank the kitchen fire and extinguish lamps and candles, taking one up to the tiny box room which she had occupied since coming to Santarem.  She removed the black mourning gown and took off her stays then wrapped a thick robe around her and got into the narrow bed.  Four weeks ago Charles had breathed his last in this bed and she had stripped and washed the linen herself, not wanting to make more work for Maria who had been kind enough already.  She sensed that they wanted her gone once her husband had been buried but they were too good to say so.  Their trip to Lisbon had been a regular necessity to sell the produce of the small farm but she suspected they would remain with their family for as long as they could.  She had been told that a passage would be available for her within the month and the Lisbon quartermaster would send one of his men with a cart to escort her to the ship with her small trunk. 

Elizabeth had not liked being left alone at the farm, but it had also been a relief.  She had grown up in the country and had willingly agreed to feed the few animals and take care of the house.  It was the least she could do to repay their kindness since their last farmhand had left to join the Portuguese army eight months ago and there was no other help locally.  Feeding the goats and milk cow and chickens occupied little of her time.  She wrote letters, one to her aunt accepting her generous offer of a bed in her own small house until she might make other arrangements and another to Charles Wentworth’s family, telling them of his death and his burial.  They would probably not respond but Elizabeth would have known she had done the right thing.

There was a small sum of money, raised through auctioning Captain Wentworth’s personal possessions, and a one-armed Major of the cavalry had ridden out to give her the money.  She had seen his eyes brighten at finding the widow young and personable and she suspected that if she had given him the slightest encouragement he would have ridden out again but she did not.  Four years of marriage to a soldier had convinced Elizabeth that if she did ever marry again it would not be to a man in a red coat.

She wondered if the French officer was married.  Once the initial terror had eased, she had found nothing threatening in the tall, slender dark haired man with steady grey eyes.  Any fear of him harming her had vanished very quickly.  Four years alone had accustomed Elizabeth to all manner of impertinences from men who very clearly believed that a woman whose husband had been away for so long must welcome their attentions and she had grown very good at sensing danger.  She sensed no threat from the exhausted Frenchman with the surprisingly good grasp of English and in practical terms his presence here for a few days might keep her safe.  It was improper for her to be staying in a deserted cottage unchaperoned with him sleeping in the next room but since nobody would ever know of it, it could hardly hurt her reputation.

She slept finally, waking as the dawn filtered through the badly fitting shutters at the small window and rose to dress.  The black velvet gown was the only mourning she possessed, saved from the death of her mother several years earlier and she would not wear it about the farm.  Instead she donned the practical green wool and the sturdy boots and bundled her hair up into a knot then went down to build up the fire in the kitchen before going outside into a fresh dry dawn with the promise of a sunny day to begin the chores of the farm.

When she came back inside later, hungry and ready for breakfast she was faintly surprised not to see the French officer already down.  She had moved his jacket and boots into the kitchen to dry properly and bundled up the soaked, filthy linen to be laundered.  Now she took off her cloak and went up to her room.  There was a box under the bed which contained the remains of her husband’s clothing and she unpacked it, piling it up neatly folded.  She had not given the clothing to be sold with the rest of Charles’ effects.  It had little value and she had thought she might give it to Cristiano when she left as thanks for his hospitality.  Now she carried the small pile, a couple of shirts, some underclothing, woollen stockings and a spare pair of serviceable grey trousers to the other door and knocked. 

There was no reply.  Elizabeth knocked again and then pushed the door open very cautiously.

“Lieutenant Cavel?  Are you awake?  I have brought…”

The sight of him on the bed froze the words.  He had thrown off the blankets in the night and lay uncovered still dressed in the shirt and trousers she had given him.  They were soaked with sweat and his face was flushed and burning.  He did not appear conscious and Elizabeth dropped the clothing onto the chest and ran forward.

“Oh lord,” she said, feeling the burning damp of his forehead.  “Lieutenant?  Mr Cavel, can you hear me?”

The eyes opened, staring at her in confusion and he spoke in French.  Elizabeth spoke enough of the language to be able to teach children the basics but his rapid words made no sense to her.  It did not matter.  He was ill and it was clear that after four weeks of exhausting nursing, she was going to have to go through the process again.  She felt a stab of resentment at the thought and then she sighed and turned to find the discarded bedclothes.  She could hardly leave him like this.

The routine was familiar by now and resigned, she fell quickly into the pattern of caring for a fever patient; washing him, changing the bed sheets, changing his clothing and patiently spooning water and other liquids between his dry cracked lips.  The fever burned fiercely for three days and Elizabeth wondered if, like Charles, he had already been weakened too much by his wounds and his previous illness to survive.  But unlike Charles he was clearly a fit and healthy man in all other ways and on the fourth day he slept more easily, his body no longer racked by violent shivering and his brow cool and dry. 

Elizabeth sat beside the bed, watching him.  Like this he appeared younger than she had first thought, probably no more than thirty or so although his contained manner had made him seem older.  She was twenty-two herself and had been told often that she seemed older than her years, which was less flattering to a woman than a man.  Once again she wondered if he had a wife waiting for him back in France.  She suspected that the answer was yes, there had been a name he had mentioned more than once in his fevered ramblings and she hoped that Anne, whoever she was, appreciated this unassuming man.

He awoke properly late into the evening.  Elizabeth had brought the lamp from the kitchen into his room and settled herself to mend one of the shirts she had washed.  She was wrapped in her shawl; the heat from the kitchen barely filtered up to the bedrooms.  Seeing him stir she looked up and into bewildered grey eyes.

“Madame Wentworth.  What in God’s name are you doing here?”

Elizabeth smiled and got up, putting down her sewing.  “You’re awake.  That’s good.  And you have also remembered your English which is even better because you have made me realise how rusty my French has become these past days.  Wait there, I will bring you a warm drink now that you can taste it properly.”

She left him and when she returned he had managed to pull himself into a sitting position.  Elizabeth handed him the cup of milk with honey and a little brandy and watched him sip it.

“This is very good, thank you.  My throat is so dry.  How long have I been ill?”

“This is the fourth day.”

His eyes widened in surprise.  “I’ve been here four days?  I need to leave tomorrow, the farmer and his wife are going to be back…”

“No, they are not,” Elizabeth said calmly.  “I received a message from Maria yesterday to tell me they will be at least another week.  Her sister has just given birth and they are staying to help and for the baptism.  Senor Dias, who has a farm eight miles further up river stopped by on his way back from Lisbon to tell me.”

“Leaving you here alone?”

“I think they are making the most of a holiday.  They farm this place alone, you know, they must seldom have the opportunity to leave it because of the animals.  All their farmhands left to join the army or the militia.  I suppose that with the harvest brought in and taken to market there is little to do here.  And I am happy to help them, they were very good to me when Charles was dying.  In a few weeks I shall be gone but I will always remember how kind to me the people of Portugal were.  Do you feel able to eat some broth?”

“Thank you.  I am not sure they would be so kind if they knew you were harbouring an escaped French prisoner.”

“They have no need to know.  And you have no need to leave until you are a little stronger.  I’ll bring the broth.”

She returned with it and found him holding the half mended shirt.  “You are mending my clothes.”

“It was badly torn.”

“And you have also changed them.  I was not wearing this nightshirt when I got into bed that night.”

Elizabeth flushed slightly and dropped her eyes.  “I could not leave you as you were, you were shivering.  I am sorry…”

“Do not apologise, Madame, you have probably saved my life.  Again.  I am sorry to have been such a charge on you.  I will leave as soon as I am able.”

“You have been less trouble than my husband, sir.  Are you…do you have a wife at home?”

He smiled.  “No.  I was young when I joined, have been in the army all my adult life.  No time to marry.”

“I wondered.  There was a name you mentioned when you were ill.  Who is Anne?”

She saw his eyes flicker in surprise.  “Anne?  Oh.  I must have been dreaming, I suppose.”

“An old love or a current sweetheart?” Elizabeth said lightly, teasing, but he did not smile, shook his head as if trying to clear it.

“Neither.  A woman I liked very much.”

“I am sorry, I have no right to pry.”

“No, it is not that.  I am ashamed to tell you the story; it reflects so badly on some of my countrymen.  But then you must know, I am sure, if you have talked to your hosts, that the French are hated for a reason.”

Elizabeth nodded, studying him.  She wondered if she wanted to know.  After a moment he said:

“I was still a sergeant, posted to a troop escorting supplies.  Dull and often dangerous but essential.  We had a new commander – a colonel of cavalry, Colonel Dupres.  It was odd for a man of his rank to be given such a lowly posting and we all assumed it was a punishment of some kind.”

“And was it?”

“Yes.  He had behaved very rashly, more than once, putting his men at risk without need because he felt some sense of rivalry with an English colonel of light infantry.  They had clashed several times on the field and Dupres had lost and men had died.  During the months I served under him I came to loathe him.  He was a thief, looting houses and churches.  He was a brute to local people in Portugal and Spain.  Not just taking food and supplies; we all do that.  But he would kill for sport and torture for fun.  And he was a rapist.  Any local girl he came across.”

“Oh no,” Elizabeth said softly.

“He was in command and many of the men followed him willingly.  War makes beasts of so many, Madame.  But there was a skirmish with a group of Spanish partisans and a small English escort, taking supplies up from Lisbon.  We captured the English and killed many of the Spanish.  The others fled.  There was a woman with them – a young Englishwoman.  She gave him her name, thinking she would be released as an officer’s wife.  She was married to the colonel he hated.”

Elizabeth watched the shuttered expression on his face and wished she had not asked.  “You don’t have to tell me any more.”

Damien gave a tight smile.  “You will have guessed, I imagine.  He slaughtered the remains of her escort in front of her and he took her with us on the march.  For two weeks I watched him brutalise her.  You do not want the details.  Some of us tried to help her as much as we could and tried desperately to think of a way to get her free.”

“Did he kill her?” Elizabeth whispered.  She was cold with horror, her own vulnerability out here suddenly real all over again.  He shook his head.

“No, although eventually I think he would have.  He was…he became obsessed with her.  Would not release her.  But the partisans had taken word back to the Allied lines and we were attacked one night by half a battalion of light infantry.  They went through our men as if we were raw recruits.  Dupres survived the battle but her husband challenged him when he realised what had been done to her and killed him.”

“Is that how you were taken prisoner?”

“No.  She spoke for us, my captain and I, to Lord Wellington.  The rest were sent to be transported but we were released to go back to the French lines with a letter of thanks and recommendation for what we had done for her.  I was promoted and so was he.  Then I fought at a battle just outside Salamanca and was wounded and taken again.”

“I am sorry, Lieutenant.  Was she all right?”

He gave a little smile.  “I think so.  Hard for any woman to endure what she did, but she was unusual.  And so was he.  I have seen many men in love before but I do not think I have ever seen a man so enamoured as he.  I hope they did well.  I have seen death and horror.  And rape, since many of our troops see nothing wrong with it.  But that stayed with me.  I got to know her and I don’t think I could ever close my eyes to it again after that.”

He had finished the broth almost without noticing it and she took the bowl from him gently.  “I think you are a good man, Lieutenant.  Try to sleep again now.  No need to dream horrors about her, she sounds very well taken care of.  But you have reminded me of how lucky I have been.  Goodnight.”

Elizabeth was surprised at how quickly the Frenchman seemed to recover from his fever.  He was up within two days, moving slowly around the house, washing himself and dressing and doing what he could to help her.  After four days he was outside with her in the crisp autumn air, carrying the feed bucket and hunting for eggs.  She found, to her surprise, that she enjoyed the company.  He did not talk a great deal but his silences were restful and she felt comfortable with them.

During the evenings they would sit in the kitchen to save lighting two fires and she finished mending his clothing and watched, with some surprise, as he expertly patched the soles of his boots.  She quickly realised that life on a farm was as familiar to him as it was to her, and he began, without asking, to effect small repairs about the place as if he, like her, felt a sense of obligation to the absent farmer and his wife whose hospitality was keeping him warm and fed.

He did not speak again of leaving and at the end of another week, Elizabeth felt the need to raise it.  Autumn would soon move into winter and the farmer and his wife would return.  She was daily expecting a message about her own passage home and was somewhat shocked to realise how little she wanted to go. 

They had finished their evening meal and he got up to wash the pottery bowls and stack them to dry.  Elizabeth was amused at the action.  She suspected that Charles would never have thought to do it; he had remained a gentleman by instinct, waiting for a servant to clear up after him.  His occasional letters had been full of grumbles about the lack of good orderlies and servants.  Her own years of near poverty had taught her to manage most things alone, with a local woman coming in daily to do the heavy cleaning and she was an excellent cook.

“You cook very well, Madame, I am being ruined for army fare,” the Frenchman said, echoing her thoughts.  Elizabeth smiled.

“I enjoy cooking.  Lieutenant Cavel, have you decided yet what you are going to do?  I do not mean to hurry you, but…”

Damien collected a bottle of wine and seated himself again.  He poured for both of them.  “I am telling myself that my work around the farm will make up for my free use of my unwilling host’s wine cellar,” he said.  “It is very good; does he make it himself?”

“It is made in the village.  They all contribute the grapes and share out the wine.  Is this not what you call living off the land, Lieutenant?”

“It is too comfortable for that,” Damien said, laughing.  “And in answer to your question, Madame, yes, I have decided.  I am going to make my way back over the river and east towards Cadiz.  I have no idea where I’ll find Marshal Soult’s army – or if I will – but I think it is the best choice.”

“Or you could surrender and go to England,” Elizabeth said suddenly.  She had not meant to say it, but his words conjured up the reality; hundreds of miles of lonely marching without a weapon or an ally, through hostile countryside with no sure knowledge of where he might find his compatriots.  “If the partisans catch you, they’ll kill you.  And even the British might shoot you as a spy.  It is a mad idea, Lieutenant, and I do not want you to do it!”

He smiled then, one of his rare broad smiles which made his face that of a boy again.  “Madame, I am sorry.  But I am a French soldier – I have been for fourteen years – and it is my duty to get myself back and fight for my emperor.  As your husband would have done if he could.  But thank you for your concern.”

Elizabeth got up.  She was fighting back tears.  “You will get yourself killed!” she said furiously, walking over to the fire.  “And I do not want to know about it!  Go if you must.  I will remain here until Cristiano and Maria return and then…”

She heard him move and did not look around.  Unexpectedly she felt his hands on her shoulders.  “Stop it,” he said firmly.  “I am not leaving until I am sure they are back.  Or until a man in a red coat arrives to take you to the ship.  I am not leaving you alone here.”

“It is not your problem, Lieutenant.”

“My name is Damien, cherie.  We probably only have another few days here and nobody will hear you use it.  Please.”

Elizabeth turned into his arms.  “Did she teach you your English?” she asked, fighting the completely irrational sense of jealousy.

Damien laughed.  “I already knew some, but she taught me a lot more.  I think it helped to take the mind off the pain.  Do not look so cross, Elizabeth Wentworth.  She would be very happy to see me practising it on you.  May I kiss you?”

Elizabeth’s cheeks were wet with tears.  She reached up to cup his face with one hand and found that it too was damp.  “I do wish you would,” she said.

They spoke little afterwards, having said all that they could.  There was no way that she could persuade him and she understood it.  If he were a man to take the safe and easy way, he would not be the man he was.

***

Damien had not meant it to end this way although he quickly realised, with rueful tenderness that on this occasion it was not going to be his decision alone.  She moved around the room as she always did at the end of the evening, blowing out candles with housewifely care as he banked the fire and checked the door and shutters.  It was a still, cold night and he followed her up the stairs and was startled as she turned not left into her own little room but right into the main bedroom where he had been sleeping.  She set the candle down on the chest and turned to him, the green-gold of her eyes bright on his.

“We have so little time left,” she said.  “And this may be all we ever have.  I am not wasting it on propriety and morality.”

Damien looked at her for a long time.  “And if you bear a child?” he asked.

“Then I will tell them it was my husband’s.  A last and joyous gift.  Nobody but I need know that he could not have done so.”

It quashed the last of his scruples although he was amused, as he moved to take her into his arms, to realise that she had thought of that well before this moment.  He had been neatly ambushed by an English force and not for the first time.  On this occasion there was no thought of fighting back and he let her draw him to the bed, into her arms and into joy without a moment of regret.

They lived the next three days in each other’s arms, leaving the bedroom only to eat and to perform the necessary chores of living.  If this was to be all they had, he understood her need to savour it, simply to hold him.  They talked, when they were not making love, telling details of their lives and families, of their history.  He whispered endearments to her in French and taught her their meaning and she made him laugh when she used them back to him.  They slept little, waking wrapped together in the big bed, not feeling the cold of approaching winter in each other’s arms.  It was as though they had known each other for many years; as though these past weeks had been just the culmination of a growing attachment instead of the madness it really was.  He had not wanted to fall in love with her and he had prayed that she would not fall in love with him; it could bring only pain to both of them, but it was far too late for such careful common sense.

Halfway through the third day he awoke to an unfamiliar sound and realised suddenly that it was the approach of a horse.  He was abruptly alert again after days of simple happiness but she was quicker even than he, scrambling out of bed, wrapping a blanket about her and running to the window.

“Is it the farmer back?”

“No, it is Major Callen.  I imagine with news of the transport.  Stay here.”

She scrambled into her black dress, frantically combing out her hair and then went down to open the door with the red gold mass loose about her shoulders.  Damien dressed quickly and quietly, hoping that the major was not a perceptive man.  His love looked very different to the thin, sad widow he had encountered three weeks ago on a foggy evening.

When he was dressed he moved quietly to the door.  Both voices were clearly audible in the tiny cottage.

“We’ll send a gig, ma’am, can borrow it from the commissariat, easier to bring your boxes that way.”

“I don’t have much, Major, but thank you, it is kind.”

“Won’t be until the day after tomorrow but it’ll give you plenty of time to make the transport.  It’s a fast boat, sailing into Portsmouth, and there will be two other ladies on board, wives going home, so you’ll have female company.  Once you’re there, I understand a carriage has been arranged to take you to your family.”

“My aunt lives in Winchester, sir, it’s not that far.  Did you arrange this?”

“No, ma’am.  Although I would have.  I understand it was your husband’s brigade commander.  He has also been on about your pension, hurrying them along.”

“In the middle of a campaign that is so good of him, Major.”

“He’ll have had some time, ma’am.  Light division have been in Madrid for a couple of months, I understand.  And he’s got a good reputation for taking care of his officers and men.”

“I am grateful.  I’ll write to him when I am home to thank him.  Major, thank you.  I am a little worried about the farm – I’ve been taking care of the animals while the farmer is in Lisbon.”

“No need, ma’am.  I’ll leave one of my lads here until they get back.  Don’t worry, he’ll behave himself.”

“Thank you.  I’ll make sure I’m ready.”

Damien was amused, through his sadness, at the major’s evident reluctance to leave.  He did so finally and when the horse was out of sight, Damien put on his boots and went downstairs.  She turned to look at him and he saw that she was crying.

“Oh ma mie.  Come here.”

She flew into his arms and he held her close, murmuring endearments as she cried.  There was little that either of them could say that had not already been said.

He moved through the next day like a ghost, helping her to pack and making sure the farm was secure and the animals in good condition.  She had his clothing neatly washed and mended and had fashioned a bag out of old flour sacks for him to carry spares and food, slung across his back like a satchel.  It was surprisingly effective and probably more comfortable than the worn out pack he had been used to.

They spent the night wakeful in each other’s arms and he thought, holding her close after making love, that if he never saw her again this moment would stay with him forever; the moment he knew without the slightest doubt that he loved her.

“Elizabeth?”

“Yes, love?”

“Your aunt lives in Winchester, does she not?”

“Yes.  I will probably look for lodgings nearby.  She is the only family I have.”

“What is her direction?”

She twisted her head to look at him.  “Her direction?  She lives close to the Cathedral; my uncle was a cleric there.  I can give you details…but why, Damien?”

Damien kissed her very gently.  “I may not survive this war,” he said.  “I may not even survive the next month.  But if I do…one day I would like to come back to you, cherie.  If you think…?”

Her mouth stopped his, the kiss leaving him breathless.  “Yes,” she said.  “I know it will probably never happen.  But Damien – I won’t stop hoping.  If I have a child…what were your parents’ names?”

“My father was Damien also.  My mother was Colette.”

“Thank you.  Both very good names.”

He wondered if this much heartache had ever killed a man and then laughed at his own melodrama.  It was not like him and no man had ever died of a broken heart.  But he had never realised before how much it hurt.  “I love you,” he said, very softly.

“I love you too, Damien Cavel.  Never forget it, will you?”

“Never.  Take care of yourself, Elizabeth Wentworth.  And our child, if there is one.  If I live, I will see you again one day.”

He left early, not wanting to risk being caught by the arrival of her military escort.  She remained upstairs, watching him from the bedroom window.  At the edge of the big barn, on his way down towards the river and the ford, he turned and saw her standing there, already dressed in her mourning black.  She looked beautiful in it, the warm colour of her hair framing her pale face.  This far away he could not see her tears but he knew they were there, reached up to touch his own wet cheeks.  Then he turned and walked on into the bright sunlit morning.

Freneida, Portugal, January 1813

“Letters, sir.”

Colonel Paul van Daan gave a theatrical groan as his orderly limped into the room and deposited a large pile of mail onto the table.  “Take them away!” he ordered.  “I spend half my bloody time either reading or replying to letters, none of which is helping us win this war.  I need a secretary!”

His wife looked up from the small table on the far side of the room where she was running through a list of medical supplies and fixed him with an arctic glare.  “I beg your pardon?”

Paul grinned.  “Sorry, love, I know you’re better than any clerk.  But honestly, look at this lot.”

Anne van Daan got up, stepped around the basket where her newest child dozed in a patch of winter sunlight like a well-fed cat, and went to sort through the pile.  “Major Breakspear can deal with half of these,” she said.  “This is from your father, hopefully giving us a date for his arrival.  Those are for some of the other officers – Jenson, can you drop them over please.  And this…I’ve no idea.”

Her blank tone made him look up again.  “For me?”

“For me,” Anne said.  He watched as she opened the somewhat grubby folded sheet.  There was another letter enclosed, folded and sealed.  Anne scanned the missive and the expression on her face made him smile.

“Well clearly that’s not just another delay in the uniform order,” he said.  “What is it, love?”

Anne looked up.  “It is from Damien Cavel,” she said blankly.

Paul raised his eyebrows.  “Cavel?  Sergeant Cavel?”

“Captain Cavel apparently.  Currently serving in Marshal Soult’s army although he doesn’t say where.”

“Well he wouldn’t, would he?” Paul said.  “May I see?  Is it personal?”

“Not to me,” Anne said.  She handed him the letter, looking down at the other one in her hand.  “He is asking me to convey this letter to an Englishwoman living in Winchester.”

Paul read the letter twice and then looked at Anne.  “He says he wants her to know that he is safe.  A love affair?”

“I’m guessing so although don’t ask me how!  Paul, what in God’s name are we going to do?”

Paul met her eyes and shook his head regretfully.  “We can’t, bonny lass, although I’d like to.  You know how grateful I am for what he and his captain did for you last year.  But we’ve no idea what this contains.  I’m sorry, but it’s for the intelligence service.”

Anne studied him for a long time.  “All right,” she said finally.  “Give it to George Scovell.  He can do what he likes with any information in it, but we can trust him to be discreet about it; we can’t have this poor woman’s name shared with half the army.”

“If Cavel has been as careful in her letter as he is in this one there won’t be anything useful anyway.  But this could be some kind of cipher, George will have to see it.”

“Will you take it up to him or shall I?”

“I’ll do it; I need to ride over to see Lord Wellington later anyway.  Where’s Manson?”

“Practicing dry firing with the light company I think.”

“He can come with me.”

Paul made to tuck the letter into his pocket and his wife said:

“Will you do something for me, Paul?”

Paul studied her with some misgiving.  “What?”

“Leave that on the desk and go and find Leo yourself, will you?”

“Nan.  You can’t…”

“I’m not going to copy it directly.  I’m going to see what it says and write to her myself.”

“You think this is genuine?”

“Yes,” Anne said.  “I know Damien Cavel, Paul.  He’s not an intelligencer, he doesn’t have the temperament any more than you do.  If he’s managed to get a letter to me about this girl it’s because it means everything to him.  And I owe him my life.”

After a moment, Paul nodded.  “You’ve got half an hour.  Seal it again properly, will you?”

His wife smiled sweetly.  “Do you think I would not?”

“No.  You do have the temperament to be an intelligencer.  Oh – what’s the girl’s name, it doesn’t say it here?”

“Wentworth.  Mrs Elizabeth Wentworth, a Winchester address.”

Paul blinked in surprise.  “Wentworth.  I know who that is.  She’s the widow of Captain Charles Wentworth – he used to be with the 43rd but transferred over to the 112th just before Fuentes d’Onoro.  He was badly wounded at Badajoz, sent back to Lisbon but died of his wounds.  I didn’t know him that well but I’d heard his widow came out to nurse him.  I wrote a few letters, chased up her pension and helped with transport home.”

“Pretty?” Anne asked.  Paul laughed.

“No idea, bonny lass, I’ve never set eyes on her.  It rather sounds as though Cavel has, though.  She’s a real person and she was definitely out here which makes this unlikely romance a bit more plausible.  Get it done and I know nothing about it.”

He left the room and stood outside for a moment, then looked back in.  She had unsealed the second letter and was reading it.  He saw her lips curve in a smile and he found himself smiling as well.  After a moment she sat down, reached for her pen and drew a sheet of paper towards her to send the good tidings to a woman she did not know.

 

 

 

 

The Peninsular War Saga

Beginning in 1802, the Peninsular War Saga tells the story of the men and women of the 110th Infantry during the wars against Napoleon, and in particular the story of Paul van Daan who joins the regiment as a young officer and rises through the ranks in Wellington’s army.

In a linked series, the Light Division romances, we follow the fortunes of some of the men of the 110th into peacetime.  Two books have been published so far, A Regrettable Reputation and The Reluctant Debutante

A second linked series, about a Manx naval officer, begins with An Unwilling Alliance, due to be published in April 2018 and tells the story of Captain Hugh Kelly of HMS Iris, Major Paul van Daan of the 110th infantry and the Copenhagen campaign of 1807.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer (Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga: 1802 – 1810)

It is 1802, and two new officers arrive at the Leicestershire barracks of the 110th infantry just in time to go to India.  Sergeant Michael O’Reilly and Lieutenant Johnny Wheeler have seen officers come and go and are ready to be unimpressed.  Neither of them have come across an officer like Lieutenant Paul van Daan.

Arrogant, ambitious and talented, Paul van Daan is a man who inspires loyalty, admiration and hatred in equal measure.  His unconventional approach to army life is about to change the 110th into a regiment like no other.

The novel follows Paul’s progress through the ranks of the 110th from the bloody field of Assaye into Portugal and Spain as Sir Arthur Wellesley takes command of the Anglo-Portuguese forces against Napoleon.  There are many women in Paul’s life but only two who touch his heart.

Rowena Summers, a shy young governess who brings him peace, stability and lasting affection.

Anne Carlyon, the wife of a fellow officer who changes everything Paul has ever believed about women.

As Europe explodes into war, an unforgettable love story unfolds which spans the continent and the years of the Peninsular War and changes the lives of everyone it touches.

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment ( Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga: September 1810 – April 1811 )

It is 1810 and Major Paul van Daan and the 110th prepare to meet the French on the ridge of Bussaco in Portugal. Back on the battlefield only two weeks after his scandalous marriage to the young widow of Captain Robert Carlyon, Paul is ready for the challenge of the invading French army.

But after a successful battle, Lord Wellington has another posting for his most unorthodox officer and Paul and Anne find themselves back in Lisbon dealing with a whole new set of challenges with army supplies, new recruits and a young officer who seems to represent everything Paul despises in the army’s views on discipline and punishment. Anne is getting used to life as the wife of a newly promoted regimental colonel as two other women join the regiment under very different circumstances. And an old adversary appears in the shape of Captain Vincent Longford whose resentment at serving under Paul is as strong as ever.

It’s a relief to return to the field but Paul finds himself serving under the worst General in the army in a situation which could endanger his career, his regiment and his life.  Given a brief by Wellington which requires Paul to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is waiting for Wellington’s most headstrong colonel to fail dismally at last…

 

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro
An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro

An Uncommon Campaign (Book 3 of the Peninsular War Saga: April – June 1811)

Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida. As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is becoming accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and managing the resentment of other officers at his promotion over older and longer serving men. His young wife is carrying their first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities. And if that was not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during the days of the battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally, with potentially lethal consequences for the 110th and the rest of the third brigade of the light division.

A Redoubtable Citadel (Book of the Peninsular War Saga: January – June 1812)

In the freezing January of 1812, Lord Wellington pushes his army on to the fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo and a bloody siege with tragic consequences. Colonel Paul van Daan and his wife Anne have a baby son and in the aftermath of the storming, take a brief trip to Lisbon to allow Paul’s family to take little William back to England. With his career flourishing and his marriage happy, Paul has never felt so secure. But his world is shattered when his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a personal grudge against Paul. As Wellington’s army begins the siege of Badajoz, the other great Spanish border fortress, his scouts and agents conduct a frantic search for the colonel’s wife. Meanwhile Anne van Daan is in the worst danger of her life and needs to call on all her considerable resources to survive, with no idea if help is on the way.

An Untrustworthy Army (Book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga: June – November 1812)

Back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the Third Brigade of the Light Division. Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the Light Division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos. But the end of the campaigning season is not going as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat. At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, will Colonel van Daan’s legendary brigade manage to hold together and get themselves back to safety? (To be published in July 2018)

An Unrelenting Enmity (Book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga:  December 1812 – April 1813)

Wellington’s army is in winter quarters, licking it’s wounds after the retreat from Burgos. In the 110th and the rest of the Third Brigade, however, morale is high. Anne van Daan has successfully given birth to her second child and there is time for a trip to Lisbon to see the rest of the children. Things take a turn for the worse when a new commander is appointed to the 115th serving under Paul, a man who represents everything that Wellington’s most unconventional brigade commander despises. In addition, the new Major has a history with Sergeant Jamie Hammond which looks likely to set off a major explosion in the 110th. (To be published in December 2018)

An Uncivilised Storming (Book 7 of the Peninsular War Saga:  May- October 1813)

Lord Wellington leads his army into northern Spain. With a better supply train and a new determination the Anglo-Portuguese army are about to make a push to cross the Pyrenees and invade France. Wellington’s army, including Colonel Paul van Daan and the Third Brigade of the Light Division face the French at Vitoria win a comprehensive victory. There follows an exhausting series of battles as Marshal Soult tries desperately to rally his forces and push the English back. Weary of battle, Paul is appalled when he arrives in time to witness the sacking of San Sebastian by the Allied troops, an atrocity which makes him question his place in the British army. (To be published in April 2019)

An Inexorable Invasion (Book 8 of the Peninsular War Saga:  October 1813 – February 1814)

Wellington’s army is invading France. After almost five years of advancing and retreating across Portugal and Spain, Colonel Paul van Daan and his brigade are about to set foot on French soil, the first time many of them have ever done so. At the battles of the Bidassoa and the Nivelle, the men of the light division are at the forefront of the action as Wellington ruthlessly presses home his advantage. But behind the scenes, the European powers are negotiating for Bonaparte’s abdication and the end of hostilities and the disappearance of Sir Henry Grainger, British diplomat and intelligence agent sends Captain Michael O’Reilly and Sergeant Jamie Hammond with a small force into hostile country on a mission which could lead to peace – or cost them their lives. (To be published in August 2019)

An Improbable Abdication (Book 9 of the Peninsular War Saga:  March 1814 – January 1815)

Wellington’s army is in France, marching inexorably towards victory. An inconclusive engagement at Toulouse is cut unexpectedly short when the news comes in that Napoleon Bonaparte has abdicated and that France has surrendered. With war finally over, Colonel Paul van Daan and his battered and exhausted men are bound for England and a round of celebrations and gaiety which Colonel van Daan could do without.  While the crowned heads of Europe are feted in London, honours and promotions abound and Anne and Paul find themselves learning how to live a normal life again with their children around them. The light division is broken up with it’s various regiments sent to other duties and Lord Wellington, now a Duke, is despatched to Vienna to represent Britain in the complex peace negotiations which threaten to try his patience almost as much as Marshal Massena. But the early months of 1815 bring shocking news… (To be published in December 2019)

An Unmerciful Engagement (Book 10 of the Peninsular War Saga:  Waterloo 1815)

For Paul and Anne van Daan, domestic bliss has been interrupted long before they had grown used to it. Bonaparte is loose and with the light division disbanded and many of it’s crack regiments dispersed to other theatres of war around the globe, Wellington needs to pull together an army from the allied nations of Europe. His Peninsular army no longer exists but he still has Paul van Daan and the 110th. Promoted to General, Paul is on his way to Brussels and to a battle far worse than anything he has yet experienced. (To be published in June 2020)

An Amicable Occupation (Book 11 of the Peninsular War Saga:  1815 – 1818 the Army of Occupation)

With the horrors of Waterloo behind him, Paul van Daan is in France commanding a division of the Army of Occupation under Wellington. It is a whole new experience for the officers and men of the 110th, learning to live beside the men they fought against for six long and painful years.

A Civil Insurrection (Book 12 of the Peninsular War Saga: Yorkshire 1819)

Back in England finally, the 110th have settled back into barracks and are enjoying a rare spell of peace when trouble in the industrial towns of the North sends them to Thorndale, Anne’s home city where her father and other mill owners are under threat from what looks like a revival of the Luddite movement. After many years of fighting the French the men of the 110th are faced with a new challenge which might see them pitted against their own countrymen. (To be published in December 2020)

Christmas in Viseu, Portugal, 1809 – An Excerpt from An Unconventional Officer

Viseu
Viseu

Christmas in Viseu, Portugal, in 1809 must have been greeted with a sigh of relief.  While Wellington’s engineers frantically worked on the Lines of Torres Vedras, Craufurd and his light division prowled the border and the rest of the army took a breath and recovered from the horror of Talavera.  And in an Unconventional Officer, the first book of the Peninsular War Saga, Anne Carlyon is the toast of headquarters and the object of admiration from a number of officers, some of them more senior than others…

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

Paul watched as Anne Carlyon danced her way through the headquarters festivities over Christmas and the sight of her tried his resolve almost to breaking point. It was impossible to keep his distance. Her popularity with Lord Wellington made her a guaranteed guest at every party and he watched her laughing and flirting with an ache in his heart. Her husband trod behind her, his eyes following her around every room. Paul, who had come to loathe Carlyon, could almost pity him. He could remember the days when Robert had spent all his time and money at cards and had seemed indifferent to the whereabouts of his lovely young wife. Two years later, he seemed unable to take his eyes from her but was no more comfortable in her presence than he had ever been. His fellow officers spoke behind his back with open amusement about his obsession with her and her flirtatiousness with other men, and Paul was aware of a certain reserve in their comments around him which told him that gossip was linking his name to Anne’s.

Anne’s close friendship with Rowena made it impossible for him to avoid spending time around her even if he had wished to, but he did not. He tried hard not to make life difficult for her with her husband although he was aware of Carlyon’s simmering resentment. It threatened to spill over at the ball hosted by the Highlanders during Christmas. He had danced with Anne and they had remained beside each other when it ended, watching the Highlanders demonstrate a complicated reel. Paul was watching her laughing face, the long graceful line of neck and shoulders and the swell of her breasts above the silver gauze of her gown. At moments like this, despite all the complications of their relationship, he could not help feeling a surge of simple happiness that she was beside him, their arms touching. He had not noticed Carlyon’s presence until he spoke.
“Move away from my wife, Major.”
Paul turned, startled. He was not sure if Carlyon was drunk but he was looking belligerent. Anne had turned too. “I am just watching the dancing, Robert,” she said quietly and something in her voice told Paul that she spent a good deal of her time soothing her husband’s jealousy.
“You may have been, but that’s not where Major van Daan was looking.”
Paul felt an unexpected rush of anger. “Surprised you noticed from the card room, Mr Carlyon. Run through her monthly allowance yet, have you? Don’t worry, she can come and eat with us if she finds herself short again.”
Anne was horrified. “Paul, for God’s sake!”
“How he spends your money is not one of the best kept secrets of the army, Nan. But keep at it, Rob, we all know that’s what you married her for!”
“It’s none of your bloody business, Major!” Robert said harshly. “Get away from him, Nan – now!”
“Stay where you are, Nan,” Paul said softly, his eyes on Robert’s face. “I think he’s drunk, and I’d rather you weren’t around him in this state, not sure he’s in control of himself and I don’t want you hurt.” He placed his hand very deliberately on Anne’s shoulder. Carlyon’s face flushed scarlet.
“Get away from my bloody wife, Major…”
“That will do!”
Anne turned with relief at the sound of Lord Wellington’s voice. People had begun to stare and she had no idea how to stop either of them. Wellington looked at Carlyon and then at Paul and the expression on his face was not encouraging.
“I have no idea if either of you are drunk, but you will separate now and remain apart. Major van Daan, you have a wife. Kindly join her. Mr Carlyon, remove yourself and calm down. Ma’am, will you join me for a stroll?”
Anne took his arm. “Gladly, sir,” she said, and allowed him to lead her away. Neither of them spoke as he drew her through the crowd, and out onto the broad terrace at the end. It was deserted and Wellington took her to the stone balustrade, which looked out over the town.
“Take a moment, ma’am. I think you are upset.”
Anne glanced at him. “Thank you for intervening, my lord. I suspect by now they are both feeling rather stupid.”
“Certainly I imagine Major van Daan is. While his feelings are moderately obvious he usually manages to keep them under better control.” Wellington paused. “As for your husband, we are all aware that he finds it increasingly hard to control himself. I am sorry. It must be very difficult for you.”
Anne turned to look at him, startled. “Does everybody at headquarters know, sir?” she asked.
“Everybody speculates, ma’am. Your husband’s level of jealousy is unusual and attracts comment. As for Major van Daan, there is always gossip about him, much of it nonsense. But since you came to Portugal it has become very obvious that he has no interest in any other woman.”
Anne shook her head. “Lord Wellington…”
“Ma’am, I don’t judge you. You must be very lonely at times, I think,” he said quietly. “I am too. Neither of us is happy in our marriage. It cannot be a surprise to you when I tell you how very attractive I have always found you. And if circumstances were different, I think I would be suggesting rather more than a stroll on the terrace, so I can hardly pass judgement on Major van Daan.”
“Sir…”
“I am not going to embarrass you, my dear. Our situations are not the same. And while I do not think I would have any scruples about Mr Carlyon’s wife, I could not reconcile my conscience with trying to seduce Major van Daan’s mistress. I consider him a friend.”
“I’m not his mistress, sir.”
“No. But he would very much like you to be.”
Anne smiled. “He cares too much about Rowena. And so do I.”
“I know.” Wellington returned her smile. “I don’t always find it easy to make idle conversation, ma’am. But I find you very easy to talk to. I hope that nothing I have said this evening means that you…”
“No.” Anne turned quickly to him. “Oh no. I am honestly flattered. And you are right. Sometimes I am lonely.” She smiled suddenly. “I can understand why Paul likes you so much.”
Wellington laughed aloud. “I am honoured,” he said drily. “He often has little patience for his senior officers. We should go in, Mrs Carlyon; before somebody notices that either of us is missing. But before we do, would you be very offended…?”
Anne met his eyes steadily. His unexpected understanding had touched a chord in her. “No,” she said, shocking herself.
He came closer and placed one hand under her chin, tilting her head back. Gently his lips met hers. Anne closed her eyes and let him kiss her, and then she was conscious of his arm about her, drawing her closer. His body was hard and she reached up and placed her hand on the back of his neck. Very delicately he parted her lips and suddenly his kiss was no longer tentative and she was conscious of a surprising shiver of pleasure. He held her against him, and she was kissing him back without restraint.
It lasted a long time. Almost Anne wanted it to continue. She was slightly shocked to realise that if it were not for Paul she would possibly have been interested in the commander-in-chief’s tentative offer. She had never felt this way with any man other than Paul and she was in love with him. But there was something attractively straightforward about Wellington’s kiss and she rather imagined he would demonstrate the same direct enjoyment in bed.
Eventually she drew back, and looked up at him, smiling slightly. “I don’t think we had better do that again, my lord,” she said quietly.
The hooded eyes were amused. “Neither do I,” he said. “I don’t know which of them would be more likely to murder me. But I am glad that I did. It suddenly makes the exasperating behaviour of two of my officers much easier to understand. I just hope they don’t end by killing each other.”
“I’ll try to make sure that they don’t.”
“Thank you, my dear. I feel obscurely flattered. Although I think I must allow you to go back inside without me. I am going to need a few moments alone, where it is dark.”
Colour scorched her face, but she was laughing. “I am sorry, sir.”
“Don’t be. I spend a good deal of my time doing things I don’t enjoy. It is very pleasant now and again to do something I do.”
There was a movement at the door and Anne turned quickly. Paul van Daan came out onto the terrace and she felt herself blush again, thankful of the darkness. He came forward his eyes on her face, taking her hands in his. “Are you all right?”
“Major van Daan, you are beginning to try my patience,” Wellington said sharply and Paul looked at him.
“I just came to apologise, sir, to you and to Nan. I’m going to take Rowena home, she’s tired. I’ve apologised to Carlyon and he has accepted. Stupid of me. Perhaps I’ve drunk more than I realised.”
“I doubt it, Major, but that is certainly the excuse we will be accepting,” Wellington said. He came forward and Anne looked up at him and saw her own amusement mirrored in his hooded blue eyes. “Your apology is accepted. Please don’t let it happen again.”
Paul lifted her hand to his lips then released her. “I won’t, sir.” He turned to go. At the door he looked back. “Mind, I’m not sure he’ll be all that happy about you kissing her on the terrace either, sir,” he said, and met Anne’s eyes. She was momentarily appalled and then saw that he was laughing.
“Paul…”
“Christ, lass, I don’t blame you. Between the two of us I’m surprised you’re not driven mad. It would serve both of us right if you did find somebody else.” He glanced at his chief and smiled slightly. “But don’t make a habit of it, sir. I don’t know how he’d feel about it, but just at the moment I’d like to punch you. Good night.”

(From An Unconventional Officer by Lynn Bryant)

 

Sir Arthur Wellesley aka The Duke of Wellington

Lord Wellington

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On this day in 1852, the Duke of Wellington, the former Sir Arthur Wellesley died at Walmer Castle.  He was 83 years old, had been Prime Minister twice and was probably considered one of Britain’s finest generals.  In honour of the occasion, I am revising this post from earlier this year.

Since I decided to write a series of books set in the Peninsular War, I have spent an inordinate amount of my time reading about Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Lord Wellington, who led the Anglo-Portuguese army during it’s five year struggle against Napoleon’s forces in Portugal and Spain. I started knowing very little about Wellington and I have ended up by feeling surprisingly attached to him.

My knowledge of Wellington, to be honest, came from my schooldays when I studied nineteenth century politics in history. He was Prime Minister twice, not very successfully, pushed through Catholic emancipation and fought strenuously and unsuccessfully against the Reform Bill, and in my mind he was always a slightly grumpy and very superior elder statesman who looked down his nose at the young Queen Victoria and disliked change and modernisation.

For my Napoleonic fiction books set during the Peninsular War I have had to go right back to the early days of Wellesley’s career. When he is introduced to the young Lieutenant Paul van Daan in 1802 he is a relatively young and inexperienced general with his greatest victories in the future. He had not yet made his disastrous marriage to Kitty Pakenham and the battle of Assaye, which brought him his knighthood and some public attention, was a year away. He was ambitious, single minded and determined, a moderate drinker for the time, a serious student of military affairs and a man who enjoyed the company of women. Even then, he struggled to delegate, and preferred his officers not to show any initiative or to take matters into their own hands.

As I began to read more about Wellington’s character it became obvious that I had accidentally stumbled on the perfect foil for the flamboyant, unpredictable bad boy of the 110th infantry, Lieutenant Paul van Daan who is the Unconventional Officer of the title of the first book.   On paper, Paul is everything Wellington likes to see in a young officer; he’s dedicated, intelligent and courageous. In reality, Wellington the control-freak is about to come up against a force of nature and their disagreements are frequent and explosive.

Wellesley was born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family as The Hon. Arthur Wesley, the third of five surviving sons to Anne and Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington.  He spent most of his childhood in Ireland and London and went to Eton, which he apparently hated.  Arthur was not a promising child, and showed little talent in any particular area.  His mother described him as her ‘awkward son Arthur’ and it was not until he attended military school in Angers in his early twenties that he began to show signs of improvement.

In 1787 Arthur obtained his first commission in the army.  His promotion, through purchase, was fairly rapid and he held a series of posts in Ireland with mainly social duties.  He was elected at MP for Trim in the Irish House of Commons while continuing to serve in the army.

During this time he began his courtship of Kitty Pakenham, the daughter of Edward Pakenham, 2nd Baron Longford.  He asked for her hand in marriage in 1793 but was turned down by her family due to his poor prospects.  Wellesley took it badly but made the decision to pour his frustrated energies into a serious military career.  Borrowing money from his brother he purchased up to lieutenant colonel in the 33rd at the age of 26.

In 1793, the Duke of York was sent to Flanders in command of the British contingent of an allied force destined for the invasion of France. In June 1794, Wellesley with the 33rd regiment set sail from Cork bound for Ostend but they arrived too late and joined the Duke of York as he was pulling back towards the Netherlands. On 15 September 1794, at the Battle of Boxtel Wellington, in temporary command of his brigade, had his first experience of battle. During General Abercromby’s withdrawal in the face of superior French forces, the 33rd held off enemy cavalry, allowing neighbouring units to retreat safely. During the winter that followed, Wellesley and his regiment formed part of an allied force holding the defence line along the Waal River. The army suffered heavy losses from sickness and exposure and Wellesley was ill.  The campaign ended badly with the British driven out but Wellesley learned a lot, including why things had gone so badly wrong.  The young and inexperienced colonel appeared to have a rare ability to learn from other people’s mistakes which was to prove useful later in life.

Wellesley’s next campaign was in India as full colonel in charge of the 33rd.  He spent some time in the Philippines and then fought in the Anglo-Mysore War.  It was a campaign of mixed fortunes for Wellesley, but he learned a good deal about logistics and planning which was invaluable in future campaigns.

As war broke out against the Maratha’s, Wellesley, now Major General, made a series of bold decisions to avoid a long defensive war which would have decimated his army.  The campaign culminated in the bloody victory at Assaye in 1803 which first marked him out as a commander to watch in the future.

It was in the run up to Assaye that Sir Arthur Wellesley, still plain General Wellesley at this point, in my fictional saga, first encounters the young Lieutenant Paul van Daan, an officer already unpopular among the establishment because of his informal relations with his enlisted men and his casual attitude to army regulations.  Sir Arthur Wellesley was as big a snob as any other man in the army and never shared Paul’s egalitarian views, but he did recognise talent and from then onwards, Paul’s fortunes are firmly linked to Wellesley’s.  Through India, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and France, and finally on the bloody field of Waterloo the older General and the unorthodox young officer fought the Maratha and the French and argued ferociously about Paul’s flexible interpretation of orders and about Wellington’s obsession with controlling every aspect of army life.

Wellington did not have a close relationship with either his staff or his officers. He had little regard for creature comforts.  He always rose early and even when he returned to civilian life after 1815, he slept in a camp bed which remains on display in Walmer Castle.  General Miguel de Álava later remarked that Wellington said so often that the army would march “at daybreak” and dine on “cold meat”, that he began to dread those two phrases. While on campaign, he seldom ate anything between breakfast and dinner and he was unsympathetic to staff members would would have preferred a more comfortable lifestyle at headquarters.  He was, however, a wine snob and insisted on good quality although he drank moderately for his time.

Wellington rarely showed emotion in public, and often appeared condescending to those less competent or less well-born than himself, although paradoxically some of his favourite junior officers came from the middle classes and rose through the ranks by sheer talent, Harry Smith of the rifles being a good example.  His relationship with his wife Kitty, whom he eventually married, was not good.  She found him cold and distant and very impatient and he found her irritating and somewhat silly.  His relationships with other women were a source of speculation throughout his life.  Although it was clear that he enjoyed sexual relations with a variety of different women, he was also noted for his friendships with the opposite sex, in particular with the attractive and very intelligent Harriet Arbuthnot, the wife of a friend and colleague who acted as his unofficial hostess and social secretary during his political career.

Wellington was renowned for being a stern disciplinarian who disapproved of soldiers cheering as “too nearly an expression of opinion.”  Nevertheless he often put the welfare of his men ahead of military advantage.  He was not talked of with affection but with huge respect and the enlisted men preferred him in command ahead of other generals as they trusted his judgement.  Occasionally the scale of loss and death caused him to break down after a battle, at Assaye, Badajoz and Waterloo.  Wellington has often been portrayed as a defensive general, although  his most famous battles were offensive: Argaum, Assaye, Oporto, Salamanca, Vitoria and Toulouse).  He always felt undervalued in London and enjoyed a somewhat prickly relationship with the army establishment at Horse Guards.

Wellington died at his favourite home at Walmer Castle, probably after a stroke.  During his life he hated travelling by train, probably after witnessing the death of William Huskisson, one of the first railway accident casualties but his body was then taken by train to London, where he was given a state funeral – one of only a handful of British subjects to be honoured in that way along with Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill – on 18 November 1852.  There was barely standing room at the funeral as the Duke was buried in a sarcophagus of luxulyanite in St Paul’s Cathedral next to Lord Nelson.  A bronze memorial was sculpted by Alfred Stevens, and features two intricate supports: “Truth tearing the tongue out of the mouth of False-hood”, and “Valour trampling Cowardice underfoot”.  Wellington’s casket was decorated with banners which were made for his funeral procession.  Originally, there was one from Prussia, which was removed during World War I and never reinstated.  I have a feeling that Wellington, who always took both a practical and humane view of post-war settlements would have disapproved of that.

In my fictional series about the Peninsular Wars, Paul van Daan’s love story is at the heart of the books.  His relationship with his commander-in-chief is almost as important, however, as it gives the reason both for his spectacular rise to command and his frequent explosive arguments with the man who could tolerate no opposition.  Increasingly through the years of war, Lord Wellington felt isolated and under siege from political influences in London and worn down by lack of money, men and resources and the limited pool of talented officers available to him on the ground. It increased his tendency to control every aspect of his campaign and the running of the army himself and anybody who reads the volumes of his letters and despatches will quickly begin to realise how involved he was in the detail of administration.

There were few men in his army that Wellington felt comfortable with, but his friendship with the young officer he had first singled out on a hillside in India endures the storms of war and politics. It was a source of envy and resentment among some of the other officers but it was very much understood by Paul’s wife Anne, who has her own surprisingly close relationship with the commander in chief which foreshadows his later friendship with Mrs Arbuthnot, another attractive, intelligent brunette.

When I set out to write these novels, Lord Wellington was supposed to be a subsidiary character with little to do apart from to issue orders and look grumpy.  As so often happens with subsidiary characters, he developed a mind of his own and began to intrude into the action in the most unsuitable manner. As he is a general, I thought it best to let him have his way.

The Battle of Talavera, 1809

Lord Wellington

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The Battle of Talavera was fought on this day in 1809 near the town of Talavera de la Reina in Spain.  Sir Arthur Wellesley, fresh from his highly efficient victory at Oporto took 20,000 British troops into Spain to join General Cuesta’s 33,000 Spanish troops.  They marched up the Tagus valley to meet a French army some 46,000 strong, officially commanded by Joseph Bonaparte but actually under the command of Marshal Victor and General Sebastiani.

Wellesley did not do well in his attempts to cooperate with Cuesta.  Not for the first time, the British army found that their Spanish allies were unable to come up with the supplies and transport they had promised.  It is not clear whether this was negligence, inefficiency or simply that the supplies were not available, but it left Wellesley’s army in a difficult position with food running out.  In his negotiations with Cuesta, there was a language difficulty as Wellesley did not speak Spanish and Cuesta spoke little English and refused to speak French.  It is possible there was also a simple clash of culture as Wellesley fumed at what he perceived as inactivity and poor planning on the part of the Spanish.

Nevertheless, some agreement was reached and after days of delay and misunderstanding there was a clash between the French and British armies on 27th July which led to 400 casualties in Donkin’s brigade.  To add to Wellesley’s mistrust of his Spanish allies there was a farcical episode during the evening of the 27th when Cuesta’s men fired a volley without orders at some French dragoons.  Little damage was done to the French but four Spanish battalions dropped their weapons and fled in panic.  Afterwards Wellesley wrote:

“Nearly 2,000 ran off on the evening of the 27th…(not 100 yards from where I was standing) who were neither attacked, nor threatened with an attack, and who were frightened by the noise of their own fire; they left their arms and accoutrements on the ground, their officers went with them, and they… plundered the baggage of the British army which had been sent to the rear.”

Cuesta, deeply embarrassed, sent cavalry to bring the troops back but it did nothing to improve relations between the British and the Spanish.

During the night, Marshal Victor sent three regiments up the hill known as the Cerro de Medellin.  Two of them got lost in the dark but the third managed to surprise a brigade of the King’s German Legion which had gone to sleep, apparently believing that they were the second line instead of the first.  In a chaotic action in the darkness on the hilltop, General Rowland Hill sent in Stewart’s brigade from the second division to recapture the ground and the French retreated.

At dawn the French artillery began firing, and Wellesley was obliged to pull his men back into cover to avoid major casualties.  Ruffin’s division attacked the Cerro de Medellin again in column but the British emerged from cover in line and the French were broken by musket volleys and ran.

After an informal truce when dead and wounded were removed and the French leaders consulted Joseph Bonaparte, a frontal attack was launched against the British 1st and 4th divisions, once again in column.  They were routed by the Guards brigade but the Guards pursued too far and ran into the French second line, losing 500 men to artillery fire.  Wellesley realised that his centre was broken and brought up the 48th foot to fill the gap in his lines.  Mackenzie’s brigade joined them and the French attack was pushed back again, with Lapisse mortally wounded.

In the fictional version of the battle, described in An Unconventional Officer, Major Paul van Daan’s battalion of the 110th fought as part of Hill’s division and were involved in the night battle on the Cerro de Medellin and then in the centre battle.  Several field hospitals were set up in and around the town of Talavera, some of them using convents and monasteries and it is in one of these that Anne Carlyon worked as a volunteer alongside Dr Adam Norris as the wounded were brought in.

With his main attack defeated, Victor sent Ruffin’s men into the valley between the Medellin and the Segurilla.  Anson’s cavalry brigade was sent to push them back but an undisciplined charge by the 23rd light dragoons ended in disaster in a hidden ravine.  The French had formed squares and fought off those cavalry which had managed to negotiate the hazard with considerable losses among the British and Germans.

It was the last French attack of the day.  Joseph and Jourdan chose not to send in their reserve and during the night the French melted away leaving behind 7389 dead, wounded and captured soldiers.  Allied losses were worse over the two days with the British losing 6268 dead and wounded and the Spanish 1200.  Wellesley lost approximately 25% of his forces and in a final horror, wounded men from both sides burned to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught fire.

Meanwhile, Marshal Soult was moving south, in an attempt to cut Wellesley off from Portugal. Wellesley initially believed that Soult’s had only 15,000 men and moved east to block it but Spanish guerrillas intercepted a message from Soult to Joseph confirming that Soult had 30,000 men.  Fearing that his line of retreat was about to be cut by a larger French force, Wellesley sent the newly arrived Light Brigade on a mad dash for the bridge at Almaraz.  Craufurd’s men arrived just ahead of Soult and Wellesley withdrew his army across the mountains and organised his defence of Portugal.  His hard fought victory brought him the title of Viscount Wellington of Talavera.

Historians disagree about Wellesley’s problems with the Spanish.  Some consider the campaign a failure despite the victory and cite the failure of the Spanish to supply Wellesley’s army as the reason.  Wellesley certainly believed that the Spanish made promises which they failed to keep.  However, the condition of Spain at that time may well have made it impossible to provide the necessary food and transport and the personal difficulties between Cuesta and Wellesley certainly did not help.  There were also political rumblings, with suggestions that Wellesley might be given control of the Spanish army and Cuesta was undoubtedly upset by the idea although it does not seem that it originated from Wellesley himself.  Wellesley was cautious from the start about his Spanish adventure, citing the fate of Sir John Moore’s army during the campaign of 1808 and his determination not to allow his route back to Portugal to be cut off made him cautious.

On the whole, it was probably not the time for an all out invasion of French-controlled Spain.  Wellesley’s original brief had been to defend Portugal but his army was not yet the formidable fighting force which he later led to victory at Salamanca and Vitoria.  The severity of his losses made his retreat a sensible choice and the time he spent consolidating in Portugal put him in a far better position to resume the campaign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General Robert Craufurd – you couldn’t make him up…

General Robert Craufurd fought the battle of the Coa on this bridge

Researching for the Peninsular War saga, I’ve met a few characters along the way and other than Lord Wellington, one of my absolute favourites has to be General Robert Craufurd, known to the army as Black Bob, the irascible genius who commanded the Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s army.

When I first created Lieutenant Paul van Daan who marched into the barracks of the 110th foot in 1802 ready to take over, my research into Wellington’s army was only just beginning.  I wasn’t sure how he was going to fit in.  I had thought, early on, that he might turn out to be one of Wellington’s exploring officers, a bit of a lone wolf, since he wasn’t really much like the other officers.  That idea was quickly abandoned.  Mr van Daan, it turned out, was better at the army than I thought he might be.  Besides which, extensive reading made it really clear to me that there was only one natural place for an over-confident individualist with a perfectionist attitude to training and a liking for eccentric characters.  Paul van Daan, although he didn’t know it yet, was clearly destined for Wellington’s Light Division under the grumpy, over-sensitive genius, General Robert Craufurd.

Craufurd was from a Scottish family and joined the army at fifteen.  He has a surprising amount in common with my fictional character, Paul van Daan.  Like Paul, he took the army seriously, studying at a military school in Berlin and travelling all over Europe and to South America and India on various postings.  Like Paul, he had varying success with his commanding officers.  He gained the reputation of being difficult, rude and bad-tempered.  More than once he seriously considered giving up the army, so disgusted was he with how poorly it was run in places.

Like Paul, Robert Craufurd married for love and was devoted to his young wife.  Mary Holland was a granddaughter of Lancelot Capability Brown the landscape designer and Craufurd was thirty-six when they married.  He fell in love relatively late but he fell hard and it was a source of exasperation to his future commanders, particularly Lord Wellington, that he frequently requested furlough home to see his love.  When Craufurd was in the Peninsular, Mary spent some time in Lisbon to be close to him and he returned to England, incurring the wrath of Wellington, for several months during 1811, arriving back literally on the battlefield in time to save the day at Fuentes de Onoro.  He had four children, three boys and a girl.

In 1808, Craufurd sailed for Corunna in Spain to reinforce Sir John Moore’s army.  Under Moore’s reorganisation, General Robert Craufurd was given command of what was called the 1st Flank Brigade which comprised the first battalions of the 43rd and 52nd and the second battalion of the 95th rifles, all light infantry.  The 2nd Flank Brigade, interestingly was commanded by Brigadier Charles von Alten who was to become Craufurd’s successor in command of the light division.  When Moore realised he was at risk of being cut off he began a brutal retreat to the coast.  The two flank brigades marched separately towards Orense.  Men died of cold and starvation and illness although unlike Moore’s main force they were not pursued by the French.  The retreat became famous for Craufurd’s brutal discipline, although surprisingly the enlisted men did not seem to resent this.  They considered that their safe arrival was due to their commander’s iron control of his brigade.  At the coast they awaited stragglers before returning to England, emaciated, sick and in rags.

Craufurd’s brigade, by now, known as the Light Brigade, returned to Portugal in May 1809, but poor weather delayed their sailing and despite a forced march which covered 45 miles in 26 hours they just missed the battle of Talavera.  Nevertheless, it is clear that despite numerous personal differences, Lord Wellington knew the worth of his most difficult commander and the Light Brigade was increased in number to become the Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s army.  Trained skirmishers, they could move fast and travel light and the French learned to fear them.

Craufurd was one of the few men that Wellington the control freak, trusted out of his sight.  The only generals with whom Wellington would ever enter into explanation and discussion were Hill, Beresford and Craufurd – the rest were simply given their orders and expected to obey them.  During that difficult winter Craufurd was sent with his division to hold the Allied outposts, patrolling the border and engaging in constant skirmishing with the French while other divisions rested.  By the time Wellington was ready to advance his army to the border, chasing Massena out of Portugal, Craufurd’s light division was legendary, a force of tough individualists led by the man often described as the rudest man in the army.

General Robert Craufurd had an unusually good relationship with his enlisted men despite being a harsh disciplinarian, very willing to use flogging.  This was because despite his strict reputation, he was also known to care for the welfare of his men in a way that few generals did, working hard to ensure that they were fed and well-equipped.  He seemed often to be more comfortable with the men than their officers.  With a few notable exceptions, the officers of the light division did not like Craufurd.  He had an uneven temper and thought nothing of yelling at officers in exactly the same way as he did the men.  They considered him rude, sarcastic and a bully.

In 1810 Craufurd was keen to show that the confidence which Wellington placed in him was not undeserved.  A sensitive man, he could not forget that he was four years older than Beresford, five years older than Wellington, eight years older than Hill, but still a junior brigadier-general in charge of a division.  He was older and had been in the army longer than most of Wellington’s other commanders but promotion was slow in coming, possibly because of his somewhat abrasive personality.

The Light Division was moved up to the Spanish frontier, and settled in the villages around the fortress town of Almeida with its outposts pushed forward to the line of the River Agueda. From March to July 1810 Craufurd accomplished the extraordinary feat of guarding a front of 40 miles against an active enemy with six times more men.  Not once did the French split his line or find out any information about Wellington’s gathering forces at his rear.  He was in constant and daily touch with Ney’s corps, but was never surprised, and seldom pushed back; he never lost a detachment or sent his commander false intelligence.  General Robert Craufurd’s activity on the border that year gave Wellington everything he needed for the coming campaign.

There were four bridges and around fifteen fords between Ciudad Rodrigo and the mouth of the Agueda, all of which were practicable in dry weather and some even after a day or two of rain. Craufurd insisted on reports being made on the state of the fords every morning.  Beacons were set up on the heights so as to communicate information about the French movements and it took less than ten minutes for his division to get under arms in the middle of the night, and a quarter of an hour, night or day, to bring it in to full order of battle with baggage loaded and assembled.

One of the light division’s most famous skirmishes during this period came at the old Roman bridge at Barba del Puerco.  Ferey sent six companies of voltigeurs, the French light skirmishers, to take the bridge before dawn.  He was able to bayonet the sentries on the bridge before they could get off a shot and was halfway up the slope towards the village of Puerto Seguro, but Craufurd’s system was foolproof and within ten minutes Sydney Beckwith’s detachment of rifles were upon him.  They drove him down the slope and back across the river at speed with the loss of almost fifty men, while Beckwith lost only four men killed and ten wounded.

Occasionally, Craufurd’s daring got the better of him.  At the combat of the Coa in July 1810 he took his men across the river in direct contravention of Wellington’s orders and escaped annihilation by the skin of his teeth.  Wellington was furious but quickly forgave the man he considered essential to his success in keeping the French at bay.  He later wrote:

“I cannot accuse a man who I believe has meant well, and whose error was one of judgement, not of intention.”

At this point, in my novels, Paul van Daan’s battalion of the 110th is still operating independently under Wellington’s command.  Increasingly, however, Wellington is sending Paul into action with the Light Division.  Initially the Captain of the 110th light company, Paul is now beginning to train his entire battalion as skirmishers and it is clear where he wants to be.  His relationship with Craufurd is surprisingly good, although with the frequent explosions to be expected of two determined individualists.  Their relationship might not have survived their very public disagreement at the Coa when Paul disobeys Craufurd’s direct order so that his men can cover the retreat.  It is Anne, newly married, who persuades Paul that as the junior of the two it is Paul’s job to apologise.  From this point on, no matter what their differences, Craufurd and Paul present a united front, something which must have surprised many people.  As with many other relationships in the army, Paul’s path is smoothed by his lovely, clever wife’s diplomatic skills and she and Craufurd are firm friends.

Craufurd’s Command Post at Bussaco

At Bussaco later that year, Craufurd more than redeemed himself, and Wellington was annoyed when his general insisted on returning to England for the winter to see Mary and recover from some health problems.  He threatened half heartedly to give Craufurd’s division to another to command, but the disaster of Sir William Erskine’s temporary command of the light division made it unlikely he would ever carry through on that threat.  In May, Craufurd reappeared on the field at Fuentes d’Onoro to the loud cheers of his men, a typically theatrical entrance.  He then proceeded, within twenty-four hours, to demonstrate just how it was done when he saved the 7th division and the whole of Wellington’s right flank by making a textbook fighting withdrawal.  By now, Paul is in charge of the third brigade, finally part of the light division, and takes an important part in the battle.  Robert Craufurd was promoted to Major-General on 4 June 1811.

Seven months later in January 1812, Black Bob Craufurd was shot down in the lesser breach during the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo at the age of 48.  Typically, he was high up, shouting orders to his men and did not seem to have realised how exposed his position had become, standing in two fire lines.  Typically, in my story at least, it was the youngest and most awkward of his brigade commanders who helps carry him from the field and is with him to the end.  The men of his light division were devastated.  Craufurd took four days to die, the bullet having passed through his lung and lodged against his spine, and he was buried with honour in the breach where he had fallen.  Wellington mourned him deeply and must have frequently wished, through the rest of the war, that his most difficult but talented commander had survived to make the journey with him.

Craufurd and Wellington were not close friends although in some ways they were very alike.  Both were brilliant commanders, clever and well-educated in military matters.  Both could be demanding, meticulous and found it hard to tolerate anything but perfection.  Both struggled at times with managing their officers although Craufurd was better than Wellington with his enlisted men, something he shares with his fictional junior.  The two men had an enormous respect for one another.  Craufurd was a sensitive man, considering his own rudeness at times, and Wellington frequently offended him but always made sure to put it right by complimenting Craufurd’s many talents soon afterwards.  He deeply mourned his difficult, irascible commander and on his deathbed, Craufurd apologised for the many occasions he had been less than supportive of his commander in chief.

The next commander of the Light Division was a surprise to many.  General Charles von Alten was German, very correct, very likely to obey orders, very different to Black Bob Craufurd.  Military historians have not all been kind to Von Alten, although he seems to have commanded the division very competently through the rest of the war.  He appeared to lack the zest and panache of his somewhat eccentric predecessor.

In my novels, there is a reason for Wellington’s choice, and it is summed up very succinctly by Anne van Daan, speaking of Von Alten.

“He’s not as staid as you’d think.  They’ll disagree at times, but Von Alten is a very clever man, Johnny.  He knows what he’s good at, but he also knows his limitations, and he’s going to use Paul to fill that gap.  In some ways it will work better than General Craufurd did.  Craufurd was every bit as brilliant an improviser as Paul.  They loved working together but it was overkill.  Von Alten is a far better fit.  He’ll bring the stability and the organisational skills and Paul will provide the flashes of brilliance.  And this – this is what they share.  The work ethic to be up at dawn when the rest of the army is still resting and recovering, training the new recruits.  Von Alten is genuinely keen to learn how this works, and Paul loves the fact that he’s down here listening and watching instead of being up at headquarters being nice to Wellington.” (An Uncommon Campaign)

Although the third brigade and its flamboyant commander are a figment of my imagination, perhaps there is something in this.  Wikipedia gives this brief description of an action from the Battle of the Nivelle:

Statue of General Colborne outside Winchester Barracks

While the 43rd and 95th were dealing with the French on the Rhune, there still remained one very strong star-shaped fort below on the Mouiz plateau which reached out towards the coast. This was attacked by Colborne’s 52nd, supported by riflemen from the 95th. Once again, the French were surprised and the British succeeded. They had, in the French eyes, appeared from the ground at which point, in danger of being cut off, the French soldiers quickly fled leaving Colborne in possession of the fort and other trenches without loss of a single fatal casualty.

It sounds like the kind of action at which Robert Craufurd would have excelled.  Perhaps after his death Wellington realized that the officers and men he had trained had turned into independent skirmishers to such a degree that a Charles von Alten was needed to rein them in.  Perhaps it was true that while he had men like Colborne and Vandeleur and Barnard, he did not need another Robert Craufurd.

Whatever the truth of it, I love Craufurd, a brilliant, flawed and very human man who believed in God, loved his children and adored his wife.

Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to sign up to my e-mail list for articles about history, travel, book reviews, the occasional fiction giveaway or simply Writing with Labradors, join here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unconventional Officer – the first in a major new series about the Peninsular War.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

Introducing An Unconventional Officer, the first in a major new series about the Peninsular War which spans the years from 1802 to 1810.

Melton Barracks, Leicestershire, 1802….

“Sergeant, what is going on out on the parade ground?”

Michael had been vaguely aware of the rising noise. “Bayonet training, sir. Mr van Daan is supposed to be running it.”

He got up to go to the door. The men had been paired off and were running through the basic movements using wooden bayonets. He had looked out earlier and it had been going smoothly. The young lieutenant had obviously paid good attention to his lessons on the south coast. He had paired up each new man with an experienced soldier and he, Lieutenant Swanson and Sergeant Stewart had been doing the rounds of the men, commenting and correcting. By now O’Reilly was fairly sure that the light company had found its new officers. It was still early days, but they were workers. There had not been a single morning when he had arrived for early drill on the parade ground and found either of them absent or late.

But something had gone badly wrong now. Rory Stewart had been demonstrating a drill using a real weapon. The Van Daan lad was still holding the wooden replica he had been using earlier. What had happened, Michael had no idea, but Stewart was steadily advancing on the younger man, his face grim and set, and Van Daan was backing up, parrying quickly. Around them the men had all stopped to stare. Carl Swanson called out to Stewart to stop, and the Scot ignored him. Michael stared in horror for a moment, as Lieutenant Wheeler yelled an order to Stewart. The sergeant did not appear to even hear him.

“What the bloody hell is he doing?” Wheeler demanded, spinning round in search of a weapon. “Has he gone stark staring mad?”

“Sally Crane,” Michael whispered. He was temporarily frozen to the spot. “Oh dear Christ, this is my fault. Stewart is going to kill him.”

“Not on my bloody parade ground he’s not!” Wheeler said. He had located his pistol and was loading it fast. Michael ran out onto the parade ground, shouting again at Stewart. The Scot did not even look round. He lunged suddenly and Michael was nowhere near close enough to reach him and the point thrust directly at the boy’s throat and Michael closed his eyes in horror. And then there was an agonised yell, and he opened them again because it had been the broad Scots of Stewart’s voice that shouted.

Paul van Daan and the Scot were both on the ground. As O’Reilly watched, Paul got up. Stewart lay there, clutching both shins in agony. Van Daan tossed aside the wooden training tool and picked up Stewart’s bayonet, which he had dropped. Astonished, O’Reilly realised that the boy had waited until Stewart was close enough to reach him, and then dropped onto the ground and hit him across the legs with the wooden bayonet. He must have used considerable force, as Stewart seemed unable to get up. Paul van Daan stood over the Scot and pointed the bayonet directly at his throat and O’Reilly caught his breath. There was a completely new expression on his face and he no longer looked anything like the laughing boy from the tavern.       (From An Unconventional Officer by Lynn Bryant)

Welcome to the 110th Infantry. A new regiment and not that well regarded, it is being sent not to Europe to fight Napoleon, but to India, under a young and relatively inexperienced General called Arthur Wellesley. For months the 110th has been trying to attract new officers without success. It lacks the prestige, the history and the social standing of other regiments and commissions are cheap.

All that is about to change.

Paul van Daan is an officer with a mission and isn’t much interested in letting anybody stand in his way. From the bloody battlefield of Assaye through Europe and into Portugal and Spain, An Unconventional Officer follows the men and women of the 110th as they prepare to take a stand against the might of Napoleon’s French Empire.

With the 110th travel two very different women.

Rowena Summers, the shy young governess whose steady affection brings stability and peace to Paul’s life.

Anne Howard, lovely strong-willed and intelligent, who changes everything Paul thought he knew about women.

As Europe explodes into war, an unforgettable love story unfolds which spans the continent and the years of the Peninsular War and changes the lives of everyone it touches.

Welcome to the Peninsular War Saga book 1 – An Unconventional Officer

Published May 30th 2017.  Available on Kindle or as a paperback.

Why not head over and read the whole of the first chapter here.

An Unconventional Officer – Revision Time…

Lord Wellington
An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The battle of Talavera is officially over and revision time on An Unconventional Officer is getting easier.

After weeks of agonising over rewriting this blasted battle, the thing just happened, falling seamlessly into place with the rest of the book. I finally did this with pneumonia, spiking a temperature and with a blinding headache. It’s probably the reason describing an unpleasant battle experience in the middle of a scorching Spanish summer came so easily in the end.

The word in this house is now officially revision. AS level revision, GCSE revision and revising the final draft of this book for mistakes and inconsistencies. It’s a long and tedious process but at least I know what I’m doing with it.

This is a long book in comparison with the other three I’ve published. I struggled with the length for a while and finally decided to stop trying to prune it any further. I can’t tell this particular story any other way because it needs to fit around actual historical events so I’m just going with the flow.

The first chapter of ‘An Unconventional Officer’ is available to read for free elsewhere on this website.

I’m looking forward to publication on May 30th.

A Moment of Calm: time management for authors

Quill pen

References to calm and time management for authors generally raise a snigger around here.  In case you hand’t guessed, the title of this post is ironic.  I thought I’d get that out of the way first because I don’t want anybody to read this and think it’s going to be at all zen.  I’d like it to be, trust me, but it’s not happening.  I keep looking at this photograph of me at Bussaco on our recent trip and wondering when I will feel this calm again.  It’s sort of soothing just looking at it, though…

View from the Bussaco Palace Hotel, site of the old convent

I’m sitting here, dodging the battle of Talavera because it’s the first day of the new term of my dance school, we have about a billion new starters and I am surrounded by reams of paper covered in fee notes, terms and conditions, welcome letters and codes of conduct.  I have literally no idea if anybody is actually going to read any of this, but it’s good that they’ll have it.  I’m wondering if I should also give out a free chapter of one of my books as well…

I’ve often wondered if other writers live in the sort of chaos I seem to be surrounded by.  There are days when I have so much stuff on my desk and on the floor surrounding it that I can’t move.  I can’t get to the stuff on the floor (an atlas of the peninsular war, by the way) because there’s a snoring labrador on top of it, neatly hiding a map of the Estremadura.  Yesterday evening I was rampaging about the house searching for a book about the battle of Talavera which I knew I’d had only hours earlier and accusing my family of having moved it.  The response was predictable.

Husband:  Not seen it.

Daughter:  Mum, if I’d found it I’d probably have set fire to it, you have way too many books about Wellington, it’s not healthy.

Son’s girlfriend:  Do you know, I don’t think I even own a book that I could lose.

Son: Try the bathroom

It was in the bathroom.  Don’t even begin to ask why, I can’t tell you.

Perhaps my life would feel less chaotic if I had a normal job where I went out of the house at eight thirty and came back at five thirty to do normal things.  I’ve read a lot about how important it is when working at home to separate out working time from family time, but my family are entirely used to me reading history books or making notes in front of the TV and holding long conversations with Irish dance teachers while trying to do the ironing.  It’s not easy.

Still, I think this suits me.  I did the traditional thing for years and then I was a stay at home Mum.  I’m not sure I was ever that well organised at home, although my desk at work was always a masterpiece of neatness.  Perhaps it’s just in my own environment that I create havoc.  Or perhaps it’s just the way my brain works.

I’m giving Talavera a break today to concentrate on Manx Trinity, but I’ll be back to it tomorrow.  If I can find the book again.

In the meantime, look out for some free promotions coming up over the next few weeks in the run up to the publication of ‘An Unconditional Officer’.  It’s not looking good for the ironing pile…

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.

The Battle of Talavera – the problem of a battle

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

The battle of Talavera has been causing me a good deal of trouble while revising An Unconventional Officer.

Talavera, 1809

 Paul had just rallied his men after their encounter with the left column, keeping a wary eye on the French and trying to assess the extent of the damage. The first company had taken the worst punishing. He had no way of knowing how many were dead and how many lay wounded on the field, but more than half of them were missing including all of the officers. His own light company was battered and bloody and there were faces he searched for and could not find.
     “Sergeant, where’s Grogan?”
     O’Reilly shook his head exhaustedly. He was sporting a bloody arm where it had been grazed by a musket ball. “Down, sir,” he said quietly.
     “Wounded?”
     “Dead. No doubt.”
      Paul nodded. The green-jacketed rifleman was one of the oldest in his company and had been with him since India. “Poor bastard. Isn’t his wife expecting again?”

I mentioned a few days ago that I am already tired of the battle of Talavera.  Home again after spending the Easter weekend with friends I am contemplating another go at it.  I’ve been whinging about Talavera but in some ways it illustrates the general problems of writing about battles.

In writing a series of books about the Peninsular War, it’s hard to avoid the odd battle.  They occur with increasing regularity, interrupting the daily life of my characters and causing death and mayhem all over the place and they are impossible to ignore.

Researching battles is actually quite fun.  There are a lot of first hand published accounts of this war as well as a fair few histories stuffed with maps and diagrams and other useful tools.  In addition, some people have written modern guides to the battlefields for people wanting to tour them.

We weren’t able to get to Talavera during our recent trip around battle sites.  It was too far off our route and I had read that a motorway recently built makes it difficult to get much sense of how the country would have looked.  I found it incredibly helpful to visit the sites of some of the other battles I’m writing about.  My fictional regiment, the 110th took part in Talavera, Sobral, Massena’s retreat and Sabugal, and then the fighting along the border the following year leading up to Salamanca and I made it to most of these places, but the two major battles in the first book were left out so I’m doing Talavera from books and maps and photos.

The problem of battles is how to write them.  Battles weren’t particularly neat and tidy, they weren’t always well organised and they often took place over ground covering several miles.  Things didn’t happen in neat chronological order, so the battle could be going well in one part of the field while disaster struck on the other.  And the most crucial problem from an author’s point of view is that for whole sections of the time the men involved had no idea what was going on.

That leaves the choice of whether to write from the point of view of the individuals involved or whether to take a more general view so as to tell the reader what is happening all over the field.  There is also, in my case, the action off the field since what is happening in the surgeons tents is of some importance to the plot.  With so much going on there is a danger of flitting from one place to another leaving the reader completely bewildered.  I suspect my first draft of Talavera was guilty of this since the man I married informed me he had no idea what was going on when he read it.

The other problem is how long to spend describing battles.  Book one of the series begins with Paul joining the 110th and describes his early days with the regiment including the battle of Assaye.  At this stage he has not met either of the two women in his life and the focus is very much on the action on the field and it’s aftermath.

By the time we reach Talavera there is some conflict.  Not only do I have to work out where the 110th is fighting and what happens to the main characters in the regiment as the day unfolds, but I need to keep an eye on my female character who has her own role to play for the first time.  It’s a delicate balance between turning the thing into a military history rather than a novel or giving the impression that the battle is a mere backdrop to the personal lives of the characters.  I’m working on how to get that right.  Time will tell.

Having said all of that, I like a good battle.  It enables me to to bring out the best in some of my characters – and on occasion, the worst.  It highlights personality traits and gives opportunities to move the plot along very quickly.  There are opportunities for some light-hearted moments but far more opportunities for tragedy.  At the end of a battle nothing is ever quite the same.

I’m rather looking forward to getting on with Talavera and I’m hoping it will be the last big section of rewriting I need to do on the first book before it’s ready to publish.  I wonder if I’ll still be as cheerful about it by the end of next week…..