South Barrule, Isle of Man, is the setting for one of the early scenes in An Unwilling Alliance which is due out in April 2018. It is one of the most prominent of the southern hills and its name derives from Wardfell, the hill of the ward or watch where men were stationed to watch for invading ships. In Manx folklore it is said to be the stronghold of the sea-god, Manannan Beg Mac y Lir. It is the site of an ancient hill-fort which was excavated in the 1960s.
View from South Barrule
In the following excerpt, Captain Hugh Kelly has persuaded Miss Roseen Crellin to climb to the top of the hill with him. The couple have only recently met, and Roseen’s father is keen to make a match between them. Hugh is looking for a wife and is definitely interested but Roseen is resisting the idea of being pushed into any marriage with a man she hardly knows, especially since she is pining for a young Englishman who has recently left the island. At the same time, she actually quite likes Hugh, or would do if he would stop trying to flirt with her…
There was a well marked path and although the going was steep, it was not a particularly difficult climb. Hugh kept a cautious eye on his companion but after ten minutes he relaxed. Miss Roseen Crellin, for all her dainty appearance, was as strong as a young pony and strode up the slope without struggling at all, hampered a little by her skirts. The hem was quickly muddied in some of the boggier areas but it did not seem to bother her. Hugh offered a hand on some of the rockier sections of the path and she accepted it although he suspected she did not really need it.
The breeze picked up as they climbed higher. Around them the slopes were covered with heather, the plants massing together to form a thick, bushy carpet, almost a foot tall in places, tough and strong and made to withstand the dry winds across the hills. Already it was beginning to bloom in swathes of mauve and purple and bright pink. It was springy under their feet and there was a familiarity to the feeling which made Hugh smile, remembering hours of scrambling over these hills with Isaac and other friends of his childhood. A scrabbling made him turn and his companion stopped and put her hand on his arm to still him. They watched as half a dozen rabbits, disturbed by the unexpected human presence, scrambled inelegantly for their burrows, their short tails vanishing below ground in a flurry of panic. Above, silhouetted against blue sky and scudding white clouds, birds soared and dipped. The air was fresh and clean and Hugh felt an unexpected rush of sheer happiness at being here on these hills, breathing this air and hearing the sounds of home around him. “Do you miss it – when you’re at sea?” Hugh turned with the startled sense that she had read his mind. “Yes. Oh God, yes. All the time. I love being at sea – been there most of my adult life. A ship is home to me in ways you can’t imagine. But still I miss this. The smell of earth instead of salt and the solid ground beneath my feet. The sense of something real that I can touch and own. A ship can’t give you that. Even the wind smells different here. This is home. This is Mann. Have you travelled off island much?” “Twice only. My father’s youngest sister married a Manchester cotton spinner and lives just outside the town. I didn’t like it much.” Hugh smiled at her expression. “Not even the shops and the theatres?” “I enjoyed the opera,” Roseen said, after a moment’s consideration. “Shops are shops. Once you have what you need, I’d rather go home.” Hugh laughed aloud. “You’re an unusual girl, Miss Crellin. Here, give me your hand. Almost there.” At the top they stood for a moment, catching their breath, drinking in the beauty of the landscape which stretched out before them. The wind buffeted them, cooler up here than the gentle breeze at the foot of the hill, and Hugh studied his companion. The exercise had brought colour to her face and the wind had tugged her hair loose from it’s confining pins so that part of it blew free. She did not seem conscious of it at all. Her eyes were on the silver surface of the sea, over beyond Derbyhaven. The odd T shape of the Langness Peninsula jutted out into the sea and a ship bobbed at anchor in the bay. Further out they could see, once again, a flotilla of small boats; the fishing fleet busy about its work. “It’s so beautiful,” Roseen breathed. “Thank you for bringing me up here, Captain. I’d no idea you could see so far.” “We’ve picked the right day, it’s very clear. I’ve been up here and barely been able to see to the bottom of the hill for the mist,” Hugh said. “Have you? Why make the climb?” “Playing truant from school. Nobody was going to come searching for me up here, and if you duck down behind the old rampart over there it’s very sheltered, you can hardly feel the wind.” “I’m glad you said that, I wasn’t looking forward to picnicking in a gale.” Hugh grinned. She was shading her eyes against the bright sunlight, looking around her. Over to the north-west a huddle of white houses and red roofs marked the location of Peel, although it was not possible to make out the distinctive shape of the castle from here. On the opposite side of the island was the larger town of Douglas, growing fast with it’s new shops and some elegant houses built by men making themselves wealthy in trade. To the south-east lay Castletown, just beyond the peninsula, and here he could see the soft grey stone of the castle very clearly.
The storming of Ciudad Rodrigo is the opening scene of book 4 of the Peninsular War Saga, A Redoubtable Citadeland took place in January 1812.
The light division had been instructed to storm the lesser breach, while Picton’s third division had been given the greater breach on the northwest. Paul walked up to meet his commander and found the two commanders of the other brigades already with him. Both men were relatively new in post although both had commanded brigades before. Colonel George Drummond had died of fever the previous September and Colonel Sydney Beckwith had been invalided home in August which placed Paul in the strange position of being the longest serving of the three brigade commanders albeit the youngest. It had cemented his position in the division. He was known to be close to both Wellington and Craufurd, and while Beckwith and Drummond had tended to look upon him as something of a young upstart at times, he found relations with Vandeleur and Barnard, who had not been present when he was surprisingly raised to command a brigade at the age of thirty, far easier. Robert Craufurd glared at Paul as he saluted. “There you are! What the devil was that racket about earlier, I thought you were going over to the French!” “Thought about it,” Paul said. “But I remembered in time how badly they tend to overdo the garlic in their cooking. I was retrieving one of my ensigns from an ill-judged attempt to join one of the forlorn hopes.” Craufurd gave a crack of laughter. “He looking for early promotion, Paul?” “He was looking to avoid gambling debts to some Highland major who’s been fleecing him at the headquarters mess,” Paul said grimly. “I don’t know who, but I’ll find out.” “It’ll be Brodie,” Barnard said. “He’s known for it. Cards and swordplay. He’s a devil with a blade and he keeps up his lifestyle by challenging men to a friendly bout and betting on it. A couple of very promising young officers have had to sell out to meet their obligations, I’ve heard.” Both Craufurd and Paul were staring at him. “Does Wellington know?” Craufurd demanded. “He can’t, or Brodie would be up to his neck in it,” Paul said briefly. “Don’t worry, sir, I’ll deal with him after this mess is over. Trust me it’ll be the last time he tries to make money out of one of my junior officers. And if he kicks off about it, he can try challenging me to a friendly bout and having a bet on it.” Craufurd gave a bark of laughter and the other two men smiled politely. “I admire your confidence, Colonel,” General Vandeleur said. “I believe he’s very good.” “I’ll be surprised if he’s good enough to beat this arrogant young bastard,” Craufurd said dispassionately. “I’ve seen Colonel van Daan fight and he’s almost as good as he thinks he is. We’ll talk about it when this is over, Paul. I don’t mind you kicking his arse but I don’t want Lord Wellington on my back over it. For now, we’re going in over the lesser breach. Call them in around the San Francisco convent, I’d like a word with them before we go in. Vandeleur, your lads will lead us over, Barnard to follow. Colonel van Daan will bring his lads up behind to correct all of our mistakes.” Barnard shot Paul a startled glance and seemed relieved to see him laughing. Neither of the other commanders had completely got to grips with Craufurd’s acerbic tongue and were not always sure when he was being genuinely offensive or when he was joking. “It’s what I do best, sir,” Paul said. “You got any orders you particularly want me to ignore today or shall we just see how it goes?” “You disobey an order of mine today, Colonel and I will shoot you in the head!” Craufurd said explosively. “No you won’t, sir, you’re too fond of my wife,” Paul said with a grin. “I’ll bring them up. You going to make a stirring speech? I might make notes.” “You should, Colonel,” Craufurd said shortly. “Then you can make another one telling them the best wine shops to loot when they get in there!” Paul laughed aloud, aware of the shocked expressions of the other two men. “I would, sir, but I don’t know them, not been to Ciudad Rodrigo before.” “Well for those in doubt, follow the 110th, they’ll find them! Get going!” Paul was amused as he stood at the head of his brigade, listening to Craufurd’s speech. He was aware that not all the men would hear it all but the words would be passed among them and probably embellished. Craufurd was disliked by many of his officers but adored by his men despite his reputation as a strict disciplinarian, and his speech was unashamedly aimed at them, sentimental at times but guaranteed to touch their hearts. “Soldiers,” he said finally, his voice carrying through the crisp cold evening air. “The eyes of your country are upon you. Be steady. Be cool. Be firm in the assault. The town must be yours this night. Once masters of the wall let your first duty be to clear the ramparts and in doing this, keep together!” They cheered him with riotous enthusiasm and he smiled down at them, black browed and stocky, a man at home in his command and knowing himself loved. “Now lads, for the breach!” They stirred, checking their arms, ready to move, and Paul stepped forward and stilled his brigade with a yell which surpassed anything his commanding officer had managed. “Third brigade halt!” The men froze and snapped to attention. Paul stepped up onto a chunk of broken masonry and looked down over them. “Wine, ale, liquor – I don’t give a damn, providing you bring some back for me and I’m picky so make it good!” he said, and there was a gust of laughter through the brigade. “But if I catch any one of you looting houses or hurting the locals and I swear to God you’ll wish you’d died in that breach. As for the women – every single one of you bastards knows my views on rape and you touch a lassie against her will I will personally cut off your balls and nail your prick to the doorpost! You have been warned. Officers and NCOs make sure everybody heard that message, will you?” “That’s all right, sir,” RSM Carter said pleasantly. “I’m fairly sure they heard that message in London at Horse Guards.”
Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors. It’s New Year’s Day on the Isle of Man, and it’s raining, windy and freezing cold. In some ways this is a relief because if it had been a nice day I would have felt obliged to go out for a walk and I don’t feel like it.
It’s been a very different and very busy Christmas this year, with Richard’s family with us for the whole of the holidays, and then entertaining friends to dinner last night. I’ve had no time to write, research or do anything else and in some ways that’s been quite hard.
I think it has probably done me good, however. Time away from the current book has given me the chance to think through what I’d like to do with it and I feel a lot clearer about where it is going. I’m very happy with the few chapters I’ve written and research is going well so I’m looking forward to getting on with it. I think my head may have needed the break.
It’s made me think a bit more about how I schedule my writing time going forward. I’m very privileged that I don’t have to hold down a full time job at the same time as writing, but I do have a very busy life with a family, my dogs, a big house to maintain and accounts and admin to be done for Richard’s business. I’m aware that it’s very easy to let things slide when I’m in the middle of a book, but I realise that I need to be better organised both with the various tasks through the day and with time off to relax.
This year I’ve edited and published seven existing novels, with all the associated marketing and publicity, I’ve written an eighth book from scratch and published it and I’ve started a ninth. I’ve handed my Irish dance school over to my two lovely teachers to run, I’ve supported son and daughter through GCSEs and AS levels, my old fella Toby through an operation at the age of 13 and I’ve had a major foot operation myself. I’ve toured the battlefields of Spain and Portugal where some of my books are set and I went to Berlin, Killarney, London, Hertfordshire, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool. I lost a very dear old family friend and went to his funeral. And I’ve gained some amazing new friends, some of whom I’ve not even met yet, although I’m hoping to this year. I’ve set up a website and an author page, joined Twitter and Instagram and I genuinely feel I can now call myself an author, something I had doubts about in one of my first posts on this website.
It has been an amazing year and I’m so grateful for all the help and support I’ve received. I’ve not won any awards, although I’ve had one or two reviews which have felt like getting an Oscar. Still, I’d like to do the thank you speech, because it’s the end of my first year as a published author and I owe so many people thanks for that.
I’m starting with the man I married, who has been absolutely incredible throughout this. He set up my website and taught me how to use it, and has always been there to answer any questions about technology. He spent hours designing the new covers for the Peninsular War Saga and he also took the photographs which are gorgeous. He drove me through Spain and Portugal, scrambled over battlefields and listened to me endlessly lecturing with more patience than I could have imagined. He has celebrated my good reviews and sympathised over the bad ones. He’s been completely amazing this year – thank you, Richard. You are the best.
My son is studying for A levels at home and shares the study with me. That’s not always easy, as during research I tend to spread out from my desk into the surrounding area, onto his table and onto the floor. He has become expert at negotiating his way through piles of history books. He is also a brilliant cook and will unfailingly provide dinner at the point when it becomes obvious I am too far gone in the nineteenth century to have remembered that we need to eat. Thanks, Jon.
My daughter is my fellow historian and brings me joy every day. She mocks my devotion to Lord Wellington ruthlessly, puts up with my stories, lets me whinge to her and makes me laugh all the time. She drags me away from my desk to go for hot chocolate and to watch the sun go down, watches cheesy TV with me, helps me put up the Christmas decorations and corrects my fashion sense. Thank you, bambino.
There are so many other people I should thank. Heather, for always being there and for offering to proof-read; Sheri McGathy for my great book covers; Suzy and Sarah for their support and encouragement.
Then there are the many, many people online who have helped me with research queries, answered beginners questions about publishing and shared my sense of the ridiculous more than I could have believed possible. There are a few of you out there but I’m singling out Jacqueline Reiter, Kristine Hughes Patrone and Catherine Curzon in particular. I’m hoping to meet you all in person in 2018 and to share many more hours of Wellington and Chatham on Twitter, Archduke Charles dressed as a penguin and the mysterious purpose of Lady Greville’s dodgy hat. A special mention also goes to M. J. Logue who writes the brilliant Uncivil War series, and who is my online partner-in-crime in considering new ways for the mavericks of the army to annoy those in charge and laughing out loud at how funny we find ourselves.
The new book is called An Unwilling Alliance and is the first book to be set partly on the Isle of Man, where I live. The hero, a Royal Navy captain by the name of Hugh Kelly is a Manxman who joined the navy at sixteen and has returned to the island after Trafalgar with enough prize money to buy an estate, invest in local business and find himself a wife while his new ship is being refitted. It’s a tight timescale, but Hugh is used to getting things his own way and is expecting no trouble with Roseen Crellin, the daughter of his new business partner. Her father approves, she is from the right background and the fact that she’s very pretty is something of a bonus. It hasn’t occurred to Hugh that the lady might not see things the same way…
The title obviously refers to the somewhat rocky start to Hugh and Roseen’s relationship, but it has other meanings as well. The book moves on to the 1807 British campaign in Denmark and the bombardment of Copenhagen, in which Captain Kelly is involved. The Danes were unwilling to accept British terms for the surrender of their fleet to avoid it falling into the hands of the French and as an alliance proved impossible, the British resorted to force.
In addition, there was something of an unwilling alliance between the two branches of the British armed forces taking part in the Copenhagen campaign. There is a history of difficulties between the Army and the Navy during this period, and given that the Danish campaign required the two to work together, there is an interesting conflict over the best way to conduct the campaign.
The naval commander during this campaign was Admiral James Gambier while the army was commanded by Lord Cathcart. While Captain Hugh Kelly served under Gambier in the British fleet, a division of the army under Cathcart was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Brigadier General Stewart and consisted of battalions from the 43rd, 52nd, 95th and 92nd – the nucleus of the future Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s Peninsular army. In An Unconventional Officer, we learn that the expedition is to be joined by the first battalion of the 110th infantry under the command of the newly promoted Major Paul van Daan and An Unwilling Alliance looks at the campaign from both the army and naval perspective, filling in part of Paul’s story which is not covered in the series.
I am hoping that the book will be published at the beginning of April 2018 and it will be followed by book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, covering the Salamanca campaign and the retreat from Burgos some time in the summer. After that I will either get on with the sequel to A Respectable Woman which follows the lives of the children of Kit and Philippa Clevedon or the third book in the Light Division series, set after Waterloo.
We’re hoping to go back to Portugal and Spain this year for further photography and battlefield mayhem. I’ve got some new ideas for the website and will be publishing several more short stories through the year. My first research trip is in a couple of weeks time when I’ll be visiting Portsmouth and the Victory, the National Maritime Museum and possibly the Imperial War Museum if I don’t run out of time. And the Tower of London for no reason at all apart from the fact that Wellington used to enjoy bossing people around there.
My final thanks go to the real stars of Writing with Labradors. Toby, my old fella, is thirteen now and survived a major operation this year far better than I did. Joey is eleven and needs to lose some weight. They are my friends, my babies and my constant companions and I can’t imagine life without either of them although I know that day is going to come. Thank you to my dogs who are with me all the time I’m working and who make every day happier.
Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and supporters. Looking forward to 2018.
In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.
At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi. Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.
The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.
There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity. In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books. The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.
The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me. Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient. Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book.
They are also easier to give away, and this year I want to celebrate my own version of the Jolabokaflod with my readers, by giving away the e-book versions of some of my books on kindle for two days, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It is two years since I first made the decision to independently publish my historical novels, and it has gone better than I ever expected. This is my way of saying thank you to all my readers and hello to any new readers out there.
Visit my Amazon page to download the following books free, tomorrow and the following day:
A Respectable Woman – The daughter of a nineteenth century missionary is torn between love and propriety
A Marcher Lord – Divided loyalties on the Anglo-Scottish borders in Tudor times
As we’ve a rare snowy day on the Isle of Man, I thought I’d share a wintery excerpt from An Unconventional Officer although snow in Yorkshire is a bit more common…
Major Paul van Daan of the 110th infantry is in temporary charge of the 115th Yorkshire foot, a regiment in chaos. His attempts to impose some discipline haven’t been popular resulting in one of the men throwing a rock at his head and causing him to be thrown in a blizzard. In addition, he hasn’t had any breakfast…
He arrived in barracks over an hour later, having given Rufus an easy ride, careful of his legs in the snow. The horse was surprisingly well for his night’s ordeal, and acting on instinct Paul followed his hoof prints in the snow to find out where he had been. The results were interesting. He rode into the stable and dismounted, handing the reins to a groom with a pleasant nod. There was no sign of life out on the pure white snow of the parade ground. Paul walked over and tested the depth. It was a pleasing eight or nine inches with an underlying layer of ice. He walked over to the stores, nodded to the elderly sergeant who acted as store master, and walked through to the back. He was aware of the old man’s puzzled regard as he lifted a rifle down from the rack, and checked it, then collected some ammunition. Standing in the doorway he loaded swiftly, observing the surprised expression on the store master’s face at the speed. Carter or any one of his rifles would have considered it slow, but for an officer who did not practice regularly it was impressive. Nodding again, he walked out of the store and across to the mess. It was warm inside. Paul leaned the rifle up against the inside of the door and surveyed his officers benignly. There were seven of them. Lieutenant Carlyon was not present, presumably at home still suffering from the after effects of having a tooth drawn. Paul was glad, as it absolved him of any possible hint of favouritism. Captain Moore was lounging closest to the fire, with his boots on the fender. Beside him sat Lieutenants Bagnall, Walsh and Hendry. A pack of cards was strewn across the table before them. The three young ensigns were sitting further away from the fire. As Paul entered, all heads turned. “Don’t get up,” he said gently, and every man scrambled reluctantly to his feet, Moore taking the longest. Paul waved them to their seats. Ensign Franklin’s eyes widened. “What happened to your head, sir?” he asked. “An accident on my way here yesterday.” “Were you caught in that storm?” Moore said casually. “In a manner of speaking. Somebody threw a rock at my head on my way here and I ended up decorating the road with a twisted knee and no horse. I rather imagined that Rufus would have made his way back here, but I’m guessing not. Or you’d have sent somebody out to look for me.” Walsh looked at the others. “No, sir. Was he…did you get him back?” “Oh yes. He must have been running loose all night in that storm, and then made his way back to find me. Fortunately I found a shepherd’s hut to spend the night in, because I couldn’t have walked that far in that weather.” “Thank God for that, sir,” Bagnall said heartily. Paul looked around at the seven men, noticing the obvious discomfort of the three ensigns. “No drill this morning?” Paul asked, still pleasantly. “No, sir. Parade ground snowed under.” “Ah, yes. Never mind.” Paul allowed his eyes to wander from one face to another. Ensign Franklin, who seemed to be the most perceptive, was looking terrified. “I expect it won’t take too long to clear.” They stared at him owlishly, and Paul smiled. He picked up the rifle. “Anyone load one of these?” he enquired. “I know how, sir,” Hendry said. “Not often had to do it.” “I’ve found it useful to learn. Keeps the men on their toes. I’ve half a dozen riflemen in the light company, and they’d laugh themselves silly at how slow I am. Nevertheless, I think I can probably engage to reload fast enough to put a ball through every one of you fucking liars before any of you could get out of the room. Who wants to go first?” He lifted the rifle and aimed it squarely at Walsh’s knee. Walsh gave a nervous laugh. “Shouldn’t wave that thing around in here, sir. I mean I know it’s not loaded, but…” Paul lowered the rifle slightly and fired. The shot hit the floor between Walsh’s feet and the man yelled and leaped backwards, almost stumbling into the fire in his haste. Paul reloaded. Nobody else moved. “Rufus’ saddle and tack were bone dry this morning when he turned up looking for me,” he said quietly. “So I followed his tracks. Of course the ones he made yesterday would have been covered up. But this morning they led all the way from his stable. He turned up here yesterday, just as I thought, and you all decided to have a jolly good laugh about me getting thrown on the road, and stuck out in that storm. And if I’d frozen to death in a ditch, you’d have shaken your heads and silently thanked God that there was nobody here to kick your lazy, useless arses into action any further! And you know what? That is not what has pissed me off! What has really made me fucking angry is that this morning you saddled my horse and sent him off on his own to God knows where, in weather likely to cause him to break his legs just so that I wouldn’t be able to work out what you’d done! You are so bloody lucky that he’s got more brain than you have and managed to get to me in one piece, because if I’d had to shoot him with a broken leg, I’d have shot you as well! You take it out on me and I can hit back and we’re even! But when you turn on my animals, I am going to make your lives a bloody misery from now until they either post me somewhere else or you sell out!” He turned, opened the door, and roared: “Sergeant!” There was a scramble in the nearest barracks and Sergeant Holland appeared, stuffing his feet into his boots and pulling up his trousers. “Sir?” he said, sounding incredulous. “Battalion on the parade ground, Sergeant. Now!” The sergeant stared out at the pure white expanse. “But sir…” “Ten minutes, Sergeant! And you ought to be able to do it in five! You’re a bloody disgrace!” Holland saluted. “Yes, sir.” He jogged off. Paul turned to find a private standing before him, obviously dressed for sentry duty. He saluted and handed Paul a letter. “This just came for you, sir.” “Thank you.” Paul gave a brief smile, and opened the letter. He scanned it and gave an appreciative grin. It was a very civil note from Lady Howard, thanking him for his assistance in getting her step-daughter to shelter during the storm and inviting him to dine before the ball on Thursday. He looked up. “Will you wait a moment, Private? I’d like to reply immediately, and you can send one of the grooms with it.” “Yes, sir.” Paul looked back at his officers. They were still frozen to the spot, staring at him. “I want that parade ground cleared,” he said. “From barracks wall to barracks wall. And when you get to the bottom of the snow, I want the ice chipped away as well. It will be fit for use by tomorrow, I imagine, and you’ll all be nice and warm by then.” “Sir?” Bagnall stammered. “Yes, Lieutenant. You. Each and every one of you. Set your men a good example for once in your lives, go and get a spade each and get digging alongside them. And if I see you stop for anything longer than a piss, I’m going to shoot you for mutiny. And before you open your mouth, Walsh, I know your father is high up at Horse Guards, and if he turns up here whining about it, I’ll shoot him as well! Don’t worry, I can make it look like a training accident. I’ve done it before!” He surveyed the seven men with merciless blue eyes. “The reason you’ve got four companies of lazy useless gobshites is because they’re led by lazy useless gobshites! I intend to amend that, starting from now. Get moving!”
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…
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.”
This excerpt from A Respectable Woman describes Philippa Maclay’s first Christmas in the East End as a teacher at Wentworth’s School for Girls, a charitable foundation. Daughter of a missionary who was murdered by slavers, she is obliged to support herself but is finding her post more congenial than she expected.
Wentworth’s School is directly based on Raines Foundation School, now in Bethnal Green but previously in Arbour Square in Stepney which is the school I went to back in the 1970s.
The Christmas holidays arrived, and more than half of the Wentworth’s pupils went home to their families for the celebration. The others, orphans or those whose families were unable to house them, like Joan Carter, remained at the school. There were some ten girls left, including Carter, who was still very weak, but just beginning to get out of bed for part of each day, and Phillips, Miss Chadwick’s prize pupil, whose aristocratic relatives clearly had no place for her in their festive celebrations. Christmas at Kola had always been primarily a religious festival, and Philippa had no experience of the more secular joys of the season. Both Miss Grafton and Miss Bentley had family with whom they would spend the holiday, and without their disapproving presence, Wentworth’s seemed to relax. The Board of Trustees had approved extra provisions for the celebrations, and Miss Chadwick, who seemed to have the ability to stretch money beyond belief, was planning a gala dinner on Christmas Day. Philippa was looking forward to the holiday. Without her more censorious staff, Amelia relaxed, and included her junior in the holiday plans as if by right. Philippa had dreaded spending the season alone, but found that there was no question of that. Amelia was determined to give her remaining charges a proper holiday, and Philippa found her services called upon to plan and organise the day. The school seemed quiet with most of its pupils gone, and although the girls still had their domestic duties, and scripture lessons continued, there was a holiday air. Every morning the girls set off for a walk after breakfast. Domestic tasks occupied the rest of the morning, and after luncheon, they were busy with needlework, learning their catechism or practicing their skills as parlour maid. But they were allowed more levity and more recreation time, and occasional lapses of behaviour were treated with leniency. On Christmas Eve, they received a visit from a number of the Board of Trustees with their wives and families. The Board consisted of around twenty-five local men, mostly businessmen, with a sprinkling of solicitors, doctors and clergymen. Standing slightly to one side of the group, Philippa noticed Mr Duncan, the local vicar, with his wife, and Dr Marshall. Prayers were held in the hall, and then the girls were called up one at a time to receive a small book from Mr Wentworth, who was Chairman of the Board. Prayer books, Philippa guessed, or some other religious tract. The Chairman then made a lengthy speech about the history and traditions of the school, and how fortunate were the girls who received their education there. Although Philippa deplored his pompous, condescending style of oratory, she reflected, looking at the scrubbed shiny faces looking up at him, that he was probably right. For the girls who made it through their time at the school and who took advantage of the opportunities it gave them, this was indeed fortunate. At the end of Mr Wentworth’s speech, there was another prayer, and then the girls were dismissed in the charge of Mary Phillips, to wash and prepare for evening service. Most of the Board left, to go to their own Christmas Eve services, but Mr Wentworth, along with Mr Simmonds, his deputy, and his wife, accompanied Miss Chadwick to the mistresses’ parlour. Philippa, following a sign from Miss Chadwick, joined them, as did the Duncans and Dr Marshall. Sherry and glasses had been set out on the table, and Miss Chadwick smilingly poured, while Philippa handed out the glasses. A toast was solemnly drunk. Wentworth’s eyes were moving around the room, assessing its contents. “Miss Chadwick, surely that bookshelf is new! And those books! I have not seen them before!” “They were provided by Miss Maclay, sir,” Amelia said composedly. “They belonged to her late father and she has kindly placed them at the disposal of our teachers.” Wentworth stalked across the room, his eye running over the titles. “They seem educational enough,” he said grudgingly. “The sherry is excellent,” Mr Simmonds said, as if not wishing to be outdone in suspicion. “Not purchased with school funds, I hope?” “The sherry was a gift from Dr Marshall, sir,” Miss Chadwick said, still pleasantly. Philippa shot a covert glance at that gentleman, and saw from the gleam in his eye that he was enjoying the scene just as much as she was. “I did not see Carter at prayers, Miss Chadwick,” Mrs Simmonds said. “She was not well enough to come down,” Miss Chadwick said. “But I hope she will be able to attend service tomorrow.” “I should hope so too!” Mr Simmonds said, sententiously. “Sickness should not be used as an excuse for idleness!” “I shall see that it does not,” Miss Chadwick agreed demurely. “I read your report on the accident,” Mr Wentworth said. “It seemed brief.” “I gave you all the information I had,” Miss Chadwick said. “Carter remembers very little of the event, and nothing at all of arriving back at school.” “How can you be sure that she is not deceiving you?” Mrs Simmonds said. Philippa looked at her assessingly. She did not like Mr or Mrs Simmonds. Wentworth was pompous, self important, but basically well meaning, she decided. He might quibble about money and expenses, but he trusted Miss Chadwick to take care of the girls, and to make the right decision. Mrs Simmonds on the other hand, she was sure, would make trouble if she could. She did not know that there was anything suspicious about Carter’s illness. She just assumed the worst. Dr Marshall spoke quietly: “Carter was not deceiving anybody about the extent of her injuries. I was not sure that I would be able to save her. The injuries were consistent with being struck by a carriage of some kind. To be honest, I assume that the driver recognised her dress as a Wentworth’s girl and brought her home. I don’t think she could have got here by herself.” “Then why did he not give an account of himself?” Wentworth said, peevishly. Philippa suspected he was thinking longingly of his hearth, his dinner and his cigar. “Because he was afraid of the consequences,” Dr Marshall said casually. “Especially if he had been drinking, it would have been hard to explain how he came to run down a schoolgirl on her way back from visiting her sick father.” “But she is on the mend now?” Mr Duncan said. “She is much better,” Dr Marshall said. “We must thank God that it ended so well,” the clergyman said, and Miss Chadwick, with demurely lowered eyes, murmured a devout ‘amen’. It was not long before the visitors took their leave. Only Dr Marshall remained. When Philippa returned from escorting them to the door, she found him sprawled in one of the chairs while Amelia poured more sherry for all of them. “Where did this come from, Amelia?” Dr Marshall asked. “It really is very good!” “You didn’t buy it?” Philippa said, startled. “Good Lord, no. Never heard of it until this afternoon.” “It was a gift from Jenson’s father,” Amelia said. “He’s a stevedore at the docks and he’s always sending us gifts. I suspect the origin of most of them, which is why I kept quiet. Philippa drink up!” Philippa smiled. “I am not accustomed to wine,” she said. “Any more and I’ll be drunk.” “I should like to see that,” Dr Marshall said, laughing. “Dr Marshall – you aren’t going to.” “Call me Tony. All my friends do.” “Tony. And will you call me Philippa?” “Certainly. Although only when we are not on duty.” He raised his glass with a lazy smile. “Will you come to church with us, Tony?” Amelia asked, getting to her feet. “Why not? You should have an escort, in this neighbourhood.” Amelia glanced at her assistant and grinned. “Oh, I’d say Philippa is a match for most local drunks in a fight. Did I tell you how she dealt with Joan Carter?” It was dark when they set out, a neat crocodile of trimly dressed creatures, their thick winter cloaks wrapped around them, their blue bonnets bobbing along beside the two mistresses and the doctor as they made their way along the dark streets. It was a bitterly cold, clear night and the stars were miniature beacons in the sky. Looking up at them, Philippa was reminded suddenly of the African night, crisp and cold and beautiful, like the night she had met Kit Clevedon. To her horror she felt tears start behind her eyes. She was homesick. Ridiculous to feel it now, in the grey filth of the East End streets, filled with the stink of poverty and wretchedness. There was nothing here to make her think of Kola. But hurrying past the seaman’s taverns, the public houses, the brothels and the overcrowded, teeming tenements and lodging houses, she could smell the fresh clear air, could hear the gentle lowing of the oxen and the occasional whinny of the horses. She missed it. She missed her father, with a different ache of pain, but she was becoming accustomed to that loss. She had expected it, prepared for it, and was living with it. What she had not been ready for, was this overpowering longing to see wide, open spaces instead of dirty streets, to hear the musical tones of the Mashona instead of the harsh cockney of most of her pupils. She missed her friends, the black children with whom she had grown up. She missed the girls, who had taught her to weave and the boys who had taught her to fight, and to climb trees and to use a hunting knife without hesitation or mercy, a skill which had very certainly saved her life. In the midst of this busy city she was suddenly bitterly lonely. “Are you all right?” Through her tears, Philippa looked up into the kind grey eyes of Tony Marshall. He had moved to walk beside her and had unobtrusively taken her arm. “Yes, I’m sorry.” She fumbled for her handkerchief and mopped her eyes. “Don’t ask my why, but I was suddenly homesick.” Tony glanced around him. Opposite, two sailors staggered out of a brilliantly lit doorway, their arms around two woman, raddled creatures of indeterminate age, dressed in shabby satin, shivering in the cold. Further along the road, a drunk was vomiting into the gutter. None of the girls even looked up. They had all seen such sights before. “It’s probably the contrast,” he said wryly, and Philippa laughed. “Probably. Do you think any of those noble gentlemen know what these girls walk past every time they go to church?” “Oh, some of them. Does it upset you, Philippa? The sights you see here?” “It upsets me because it’s what man has done to his own,” Philippa said. “I’ve seen the Mashona people dying of hunger when their cattle were hit by plague or when their crops failed. But those are acts of nature. These people live this way because their fellow man allows it. Expects it. I think I am very naïve in many ways.” “I think you have lived a very different life to any other English girl I have met,” Tony said. “It makes you unusual.” “That’s a nice way of putting it.” He laughed. “I don’t know what else to say. Philippa, you dress the same as every other woman of your station in life. But when you walk along a London street, people turn to stare at you, because you don’t walk the same. You walk as if your skirts are a hindrance and the buildings are crowding you. And your eyes look as if they are used to a wider horizon than this.” Philippa was silent for a moment. “I see. I didn’t realise I was so obvious.” “It isn’t something you do, it’s who you are. There are probably dozens of missionaries’ daughters who are nothing like you. But for all your appearance and your speech and your education, you aren’t really English. Not like me, or Amelia, or any of these girls. Africa was not just somewhere you lived, it was your home. Of course you miss it.” Philippa gave his arm a little squeeze. “That makes me feel a little less like a freak. Thank you, Tony. No more tears.” The church, bathed in flickering candlelight, was crowded that Christmas Eve. As the girls filed into their pews, Philippa looked around at the congregation. Most of the people looked reasonably prosperous. Some were very obviously middle class, the businessmen and professional men with their wives and families. Others were probably small tradesmen, butchers and bakers, managers of factories, and some of the skilled dockworkers, like stevedores, coopers and rope makers. The poor were absent. There were no ragged clothes or bare feet in the church that Christmas Eve, and none seemed surprised at their absence. Philippa supposed they would celebrate their Christmas in the public houses, and she was not sure that she blamed them. Would prayer and thanks to God keep out the cold, and the hunger and the worry about unpaid rent and unreliable work nearly as well as three penny worth of gin or port? Back at the school there was supper, a merry affair with at least twice as much food as usual, and no rules about talking at table, no solemn scripture reading. When it was over and prayers were said, the children were packed off to bed, and Amelia turned to her cousin. “Where did you put them?” “In your study. I take it you’ll want my help?” “If you expect me to climb a stepladder you must be all about in your head!” Amelia said bluntly. “Come along Philippa, there’s work to be done.” Curious, Philippa followed them to Amelia’s study. To her astonishment she found it piled high with boxes of greenery. There was holly and ivy and mistletoe, great boughs of fir tree, still decked with pinecones. “What on earth is all this?” she asked, bewildered. “To decorate the refectory and the schoolroom, of course. For Christmas.” Amelia’s voice was muffled behind the box she had picked up. “Didn’t you do that in Africa?” “The Mashona didn’t really know that much about English Christmas customs,” Philippa said sardonically. “Neither do you, it appears,” Tony said, holding out a box. “Prepare to be educated, then.” “I wanted a Christmas tree,” Amelia said, as they set down their burdens in the schoolroom. “But they were too expensive, and as Tony paid for this, I couldn’t insist.” “A Christmas tree?” Philippa was baffled. “It’s a new idea. The Prince brought it from Germany. They set up a fir tree in the house and decorate it with baubles and candles. I saw one last year when I visited the Wentworths on Boxing Day, but I don’t suppose any of the girls have ever heard of one.” “Then they won’t miss it,” Tony said firmly. “Stop talking and start working, Amelia. I do not plan on being here until midnight.” But it was not far off midnight when Philippa finally fell into bed, after an evening of hanging Christmas greenery, and laughter, and conversation and wine. She had never known an evening like that. Perhaps, after all, there was something to be said for having friends of her own race and her own culture. She had never felt the lack before, having been content with her father and her African friends. But she found that although she had not enjoyed the stilted, formal social manners of many of the English visitors to the mission, or of the people she had met on her one visit to England, she did enjoy the laughter and banter of Amelia and her cousin. Kit Clevedon had been like that, she thought, as she turned over in bed. She had often wondered about the nature of her liking for Clevedon. Having reached the age of sixteen without much interest or awareness of any of the young men she had met, she had thought that perhaps she was a little infatuated with the handsome young officer. But it had not been his looks or his charm that she had valued, she realised now. It had been his quick wit and his ready laughter, the companionship of a like-minded person for which, without realising it, she had hungered. Christmas day passed in a whirl of activity at the school. Breakfast over, the girls walked to morning service at St George in the East again, then hurried back through the frosty streets to help prepare the Christmas dinner. Amelia had worked magic with her limited resources, although Philippa suspected that there had been additions from her cousin to swell the feast. There was roast goose with all the trimmings followed by plum pudding and mince pies. Tony was spending Christmas day with friends, although Amelia was expecting him that evening. After luncheon, Amelia brought out a large basket of brightly wrapped gifts, and handed one to each girl. There were no religious tracts or prayer books, and the children were visibly delighted with the bright ribbons and lace handkerchief, which their mistress had provided for them. In the afternoon there were games of hunt the slipper and Blind Man’s Buff and Charades. By the time the children went to bed after evening prayers, both they and their mistresses were exhausted. Amelia and Philippa retired to Amelia’s parlour, where Philippa was surprised to find Tony awaiting them and a cold supper set out on the table. “Who did this?” Philippa asked, sinking gratefully into a chair. “My housekeeper and cook,” Tony said. “I think the cab driver thought I was going to entertain my mistress until we pulled up here. Now he just thinks I’m donating my leftover Christmas dinner to the deserving poor.” “You are,” his cousin informed him, rapidly filling a plate. “I certainly can’t afford lobster patties. Is that burgundy you’ve brought? Will you open it, please?” Philippa smilingly accepted a glass from Tony and allowed him to fill a plate with food. She was not in a talkative mood, and was happy to sit back and listen to the cousins as they squabbled over the food and talked about the day. “How were the Paisleys?” Amelia asked. “All well. They asked about you. Wanted to know if you were married yet.” Amelia laughed. “They would. I think I enjoyed myself here just as much as I would have at some dull dinner party. Sadly, tomorrow won’t be as enjoyable.” “Where are you going tomorrow?” Philippa asked. “My traditional boxing day dinner with the Wentworths.” Amelia sighed. “Never mind, it is only once a year. That reminds me, Philippa. Miss Grafton and Miss Bentley will be back here by eleven tomorrow, and after that you are on holiday, if you please, until Monday when school commences again. Do not, while I am out, allow them to bully you into helping them.” “I may as well. I don’t have any plans.” “Well make some,” Amelia told her severely. “They take advantage whenever they can, and it isn’t good for them.” Philippa did not argue, although she was at a loss to know what plans she might be expected to make. However, the matter was taken out of her hands the following morning, at eleven o’clock sharp, when she found Tony Marshall awaiting her in the hallway. “So you are off duty now.” Philippa laughed. “Did Amelia send you to check up on me?” “No, I have taken that office upon myself. If you have no plans, I thought you might like to come and see how I spend the rest of my time.” Philippa regarded him thoughtfully, her head on one side. “I would,” she said finally. “But on Boxing Day, Dr Marshall, don’t you have any other engagements?” “If I choose to spend my time with you, Miss Maclay, that is an engagement,” he said gravely. Philippa went to put on her outdoor shoes, bonnet and cloak, and joined him in the hallway. It felt strange to be leaving the building on an expedition of her own. In the four months she had been at Wentworths, she had left the school only in company with the pupils, always on school business. She had little money for cabs or omnibuses, and besides which it was hard for a female to go about unaccompanied. In the environs of the school the danger was real and tangible, and Philippa was not foolish enough to risk it. Even in Africa she had travelled with a gun or a knife, and since she could hardly do that here, she was restricted in her movements. There was another consideration, too. In all her years at Kola she had never given a thought to impropriety or to her reputation. Her father was not a worldly man, and it had never occurred to him that in allowing his daughter all the freedom of a boy, he might be damaging her in the eyes of the world. But with his death, Philippa had been made aware of the fact that her independence and freedom of speech and movement were frowned upon by the narrow confines of the society in which she was now expected to move. She knew she was different. It had not needed Tony Marshall to tell her that. She walked, in the heavy skirts and cloaks that propriety demanded, with difficulty, always longing for the light cotton skirts or breeches in which she strode about the mission. She did not always understand the rules by which she must now live, but knew that she was expected to be modest and demure, to walk in the street, if she walked at all, with lowered gaze and little speech. She was lucky to have found two friends, in Amelia and Tony, who could value her for herself, and who could allow her to be herself, but she did not deceive herself into thinking that they were average. She could not take herself off on expeditions of pleasure because she had no acquaintance and no chaperone, and to do it alone would be to expose her to criticism and censure, which she could ill afford. So she enjoyed her walk, through the silence of Boxing Day, with Tony Marshall’s easy steps at her side. They turned right onto the Commercial Road, and walked past shops and lodging houses, past tall business premises and small, shady public houses, now silent after the night’s revelry. There was a faint scent of spices on the breeze from the warehouses, almost overlaid by the smell of human beings crowded together into too little space. Presently Tony led her across the wide street and down Sutton Street towards the Ratcliffe Highway. Philippa, who was beginning to know a little about the area, glanced at him. “Are you by any chance luring me into a den of vice?” she asked. He grinned. “Something like that. Down here.” They turned into a narrow lane, lined on either side with gloomy, decaying two storied houses. Away from the wider streets the smell was worse, a combination of human waste, cooking, cheap gin and sweat. Philippa wrinkled her nose slightly, and then smiled. Attending one of the tribal ceremonies of the Mashona ought to have deadened any sensibilities she might have had about bad odours. There was a rotting pile of refuse in the middle of the street and two mangy dogs were rummaging about in it. Tony stopped before one of the larger houses about half way down the lane. He knocked, and presently a middle-aged woman, respectably dressed in grey, opened the door. “Dr Marshall. What a pleasant surprise. Do come in.” Philippa followed them through into the main kitchen, which was a big, square room, furnished with an old fashioned range, and several tables with wooden benches beside them. About ten women, ranging in age from about fifteen to about thirty were scattered about the room. One was stirring something on the range and one or two others were chopping vegetables at one of the tables. Some had sewing on their laps, and at least two were nursing small babies. The room was bare, but surprisingly clean and orderly. Tony turned to Philippa. “Miss Maclay, may I present Miss Ellis, who runs the Lyons Refuge. Miss Ellis, this is Miss Philippa Maclay, who now assists my cousin at Wentworth’s. While I am here, I would like to see Carrie again. How has she been?” Miss Ellis shook her head. “Very quiet, sir, not like herself at all. I don’t know what to think. The bruises are coming out nicely, and she bears the pain well, but she doesn’t say a word. I expect she’s ashamed of herself, and so she might be, with the trouble she’s caused us, but still, I don’t like the look of her.” “I’ll go up to her now.” Tony smiled at Philippa. “Perhaps you could show Miss Maclay around.” Miss Ellis smiled at his retreating back. “I’ll gladly do that, miss, but there’s not much to see. We do our best, but it’s not like the school. We’ve no money, you see, save what the mission can send us, and that’s little enough.” “How many women do you have living here?” Philippa asked. “Oh, anything between ten and thirty,” Miss Ellis said readily. “They don’t stay for more than a few nights, miss, not generally. They come from their husbands or their keepers, who beat them, or they’ve run away from the workhouse, or they’re sick and can’t work for a while. Most of them lead very irregular lives, Miss, if you take my meaning.” “You mean they’re prostitutes?” Philippa asked. The older woman nodded. “Yes, miss. We don’t ask and we don’t judge. We take them in, feed them and patch them up, and then one day they’re gone, and we don’t know where. Some come back, others we never see again. We never turn any away. Some bad winters, we have two to a bed and some sleeping on the floor, even here in the kitchen.” “Do any of them find other work?” Philippa asked. “Some. The younger ones, mostly, who were forced into this by hunger or need. Or the respectable ones, who were seduced by them who should know better, servants and the like. Kathleen over there is one of those. She’s been with us for a whole month, after her master took to her, as you might say, and then threw her out. It’s lucky that she fell in with us. We should be able to find work for her. But most of the others don’t want it. They’re not educated, Miss – only fit for a maid of all work, or for manual labour, and even this life is often better than that. Not like your girls at the school.” Philippa was silent as they toured the overcrowded little house. Nearly all the rooms were converted into dormitories; with iron bedsteads so close together that she wondered where there was space for the women who sometimes slept on the floor. Compared to this, Wentworth’s was the height of luxury. No wonder Joan Carter had risked her life to remain there rather than sink to this. “Who runs the place?” she asked Tony when they were outside once more. “One of the missions rents the house and gives a little money for food. A local Jewish business organisation contributes, as does the Parish church occasionally. Miss Ellis and the other workers are all volunteers. The women do their own cooking, washing, cleaning etc, and they sometimes take in sewing for money, like the school. Naturally we don’t tell the good ladies who give us work that prostitutes hem their linen. They think that respectable old ladies at the mission do the work.” “Is there something I can do?” Philippa asked. He glanced down at her. “Are you addicted to good works, Philippa?” She laughed and shook her head. “Oh, no. Just to being busy – and useful. And it would give me something to do on my days off.” “What do you do at present?” Tony asked curiously. “Mostly, I stay home and read.” “If you’re sure, I’ll speak to Miss Ellis. I should think she’d be delighted. Now, then – shall I shock you further with a tour of some of our local haunts? Would you like to see the docks?” “Yes, I should,” Philippa said serenely. “This is very kind of you, Dr Marshall.” “It is my pleasure, Miss Maclay,” he said seriously, and offered her his arm.
This excerpt from A Marcher Lordis set at Christmas in 1547. It is the time of theBorder Reivers and the wars between England and Scotland, and the Scots are still recovering from the slaughter at Pinkie Cleugh a few months earlier. William Scott, Lord Crawleigh, a Scottish baron loyal to the crown has returned to his border stronghold to hold for the Queen, and is acting as gaoler to a young Englishwoman he found riding over the border in suspicious circumstances, and who has refused to tell him her full name or where she came from…
Christmas came in a flurry of excitement and a steady fall of snow which began two days before the festivities began and by Christmas morning lay in a thick, heavy blanket of white across the hills and moors around Crawleigh, enchanting Jane with it’s sparkling beauty. The children were set to clear pathways and courtyard so that those neighbours brave enough to fight their way through the snow might at least find a clear path for their mount on Crawleigh ground. They came, to Jane’s surprise, a succession of local lairds and landowners, from the surrounding country, to bring greetings to Crawleigh and to join in the feasting and merrymaking of the ‘daft days’ as her host scathingly called the twelve days of the Christmas season. None brought wives or daughters with them this year, although Kat informed Jane that in years gone by whole families would travel to visit their neighbours at this time. The weather and the war led men to leave their women safe in tower and keep. Jane was relieved at this. Women were curious, and she dreaded the wearisome task of fending off their questions. The men did not question, although it became clear to Jane, long accustomed to read men’s faces, that all were speculating. She imagined that their conclusions would reflect poorly on her reputation. Her relationship with her captor was too easy and informal and she realised that they assumed that she was his mistress. Jane did not care. A lifetime in the army’s tail had prevented any possibility of her being easily offended. Her parents had never seen the need to formally wed, although she had never told her uncle that, and their relationship had always seemed good to her – better than many whose union was sanctioned by the church. There was little religion at Crawleigh, as Jane had long discovered, but a priest had been invited and mass was said, although on the whole the people of Crawleigh seemed more enthused by their chosen ‘Abbot of Unreason” which was the local term for the Lord of Misrule. Adam Johnstone had been elected for this role, capering through the season like some manic demon conjuring up wilder and wilder dances and pranks for his delighted minions. The full celebration of Christmas was new to Jane, who had, in her time, spent Christmases in many different places. Last Christmas had been her first at Etterdale, and she had still been deep in her grief for her father, still shocked by the violent temper of her uncle and the sad condition of her aunt and cousin. How would Christmas be this year, she wondered? Was Sir Thomas even home from the wars? And if he was, would he spend the twelve days, as he had last year, dangerously drunk so that his family and servants tiptoed around him. At Crawleigh Castle, Christmas was a shared pleasure. Preparations had been going on for weeks, and on Christmas Eve every child in castle and village was set to cutting boughs and branches to decorate the hall. Jane enjoyed the greenery draped around the hall, the air of holiday, which even in the midst of wartime pervaded the castle. For the twelve days none was turned away from the gates, and there was a steady stream of desperate villagers from the surrounding countryside to whom food and drink were given, and when possible, shelter. Jane remained on hand with her supply of herbal preparations, ready to dose a cough or bind a wound. They asked no questions, these people. Shocked, often near starvation with frostbitten hands and wasted faces, they camped outside the gates, sheltered from the worst of the weather by the crag itself, and Crawleigh ordered firewood to be given to them so that they could be warm at night. “What will happen to them?” Jane asked. “Those who can will rebuild. I’ve given them leave to build huts around the castle when the weather breaks. All will dine with us on Christmas and Hogmanay. Some will move on to family when they can. Others will make their way to Hawick and Jedburgh to try to find work. And some will take to outlawry, perhaps join one of the reiver bands – and become part of the problem. I hate the English, Jenny – with one notable exception, of course!” “I hate what they’ve done here,” Jane said soberly. “There are children out there, my lord.” “I know. But they’ll be fed and kept warm for the season, and it’ll make them stronger to start again. When the snow starts to thaw, which won’t be long, they’ll start to move on. Some won’t make it – but many will. We’re a strong breed in these parts.” “I hate this part of war,” Jane said. “I know. But you’ve done your part, Jenny. There are people out there who’ll sleep easier because of your knowledge. Take heart from that. We do what we can.” There was another side to the celebrations too. The guests who arrived would often spend time closeted with Scott of Crawleigh, who remained determinedly sober throughout the merrymaking, and managed to ensure that at least some of his retainers remained fit to ward off the English should they make surprise attack. “They’ve been raiding Liddesdale,” Johnnie Croser informed Crawleigh during one such meeting in his chamber. “Probably to remind the Armstrongs and Elliotts whose money they’re taking just now. But on the whole I think they’ve stayed quiet over the season. God knows what will happen in the New Year. But I think we’ll celebrate Hogmanay in peace at least.” “Not with Johnstone in charge,” Crawleigh said with a resigned grin. “No peace here. And while Liddesdale is under attack it’ll keep the occupants from attacking us. D’you think Somerset knows that when it suits them the Liddesdale men will switch sides again? Halfway through a battle if necessary.” “If he doesn’t know it, Wharton does. Not much that old buzzard doesn’t know about these parts. Which may explain his timely reminders.” “The more dead and burned out Armstrongs the better, whatever his motive. What news from Maxwell?” “None yet.” Croser cocked a bloodshot eye at his neighbour. “Talking of news, what’s this I hear of a pretty hostage gracing your festive board this year?” Crawleigh laughed. “News travels fast, Johnnie. Alan Robson, I imagine?” “He could hardly keep a tale like that to himself, lad,” Croser said reasonably. “D’you know who she is?” “No, other than she’s English and new to the borders. To tell you the truth, Johnnie, I was hoping that one of my guests might recognise her and put a name to her, but none have.” “Is she from these parts?” “God knows. I’m guessing she’s from the borders somewhere, but I’ve no way of knowing how far she’d travelled when I picked her up. If she’d been from just across, surely we’d have heard talk by now!” “And you suspect her of being a spy? Have ye told the Queen Dowager?” “Aye, I’ve written to her and to Arran. But to tell you the truth I doubt there’s any harm in Jenny. What I’d dearly like to know is whom she’s protecting with her silence.” “A father? A brother? Or a lover?” “There’s no father, that I know. A brother? Who knows? But what brother would let his kin take that kind of risk? A lover? Perhaps. But if it was, Johnnie, then he’s left her to take the consequences alone.” Croser eyed his neighbour thoughtfully. “I’m finding a great desire to see the lassie myself, Will. Jenny, you say?” “It was a childhood name, apparently and the only one she’ll give me. And while this war is on there’s no hope of sending word across the border to find her kin. So she’s here with me, at least until I get word from the Queen Dowager.” “And an honoured guest so I’m told? No dungeon cell?” Crawleigh got up. “Come and meet her, Johnnie and then tell me if you could find it in you to lock her in a dungeon cell.” They made their way down to the hall which was packed with Crawleigh’s people. Those who were not needed to guard the stock and to keep a lookout were all within and the dinner hour was not far off. There was laughter coming from a group before the fire, and the sound of a woman singing. Crawleigh led Croser towards the group and paused at the sight of his prisoner, standing demurely before the group, singing. He had not heard her sing before. There were musicians for the celebrations, and there had been dancing. Laughingly she had allowed them to teach her some of the old dances. She had joined in too, with the carols, although many of them were new to her. She had a clear sweet voice, not powerful but true. The ballad she was singing was an old French one, a troubadour’s lament, and she sang it well. The noisy group fell silent. Most of them would not know the language, but the sadness in the song told its own tale. Crawleigh had heard it many times at court, sung by professional musicians, but it had never held such poignancy. Spellbound they listened to the end, and paid her the compliment of a brief silence before breaking into spontaneous applause. Jane laughed, blushing and curtseying. Beside her, seated on a low stool, Crawleigh saw Bangtail Stewart, her inevitable shadow. Jane smiled down at him, and Stewart grinned back. “Is this a celebration or a wake, lass?” he teased, and she laughed, and shot him a glance of pure mischief, before breaking into another song. There was a howl of glee as her audience picked up the tune – a bawdy jig which was popular at soldiers’ campfires on both sides of the border. The girl could not have learned it in a respectable hall. The fiddlers lifted their instruments and took up the tune, and Jane’s audience clapped along, and joined in with the chorus enthusiastically. As she finished the last verse they erupted into cheers, but Jane had seen Crawleigh, and she laughed and warded off their pleas for more and went forward to meet him. “I’m sorry, my lord – that was not a proper song for a respectable hearth!” “I’ve seldom heard it sung so sweet, mistress!” Johnnie Croser said, taking Jane’s hand and lifting it to his lips. “John Croser of Martindale at your service.” “Ah, you’ll be Jock’s cousin?” Jane said composedly. She caught his sharp look and laughed. “I’m learning more about my Scottish neighbours from Bangtail.” “Stewart? Och, don’t believe half of what that sumph tells you. Mistress Jenny – whoever you may be – your voice is as lovely as your face.” Jane curtseyed slightly. “Thank you, sir.” She glanced at Crawleigh, and amused, he said: “Master Croser will be staying to dine, Jenny, and will spend the night.” “I’ll speak to Janet.” Jane smiled at Croser. “They’ll be setting the boards for dinner shortly, sir. Will you have some mead?” Crawleigh watched in amusement as she led his guest closer to the fire, finding him a stool and asking him about the journey from Martindale. Beside him, Bangtail Stewart said: “Aye, it’s a rare entertainment to see her managing your household, master. Does it like she’s born to it. But have you thought about how this will be reported back to court?” Crawleigh glanced sharply at him. “Should I care?” he asked, shortly. Stewart sighed. “Nay, lad – not a whit. Only it’s making my life a lot harder with two of you to worry about, and neither of you with the least grain of sense in the world!” Crawleigh grinned. “A little extra exercise for your wits, Bangtail. Get me a drink will you – and not the mead, for God’s sake! Tonight I’m in the mood for a decent French wine!” Bangtail brought the goblet, and handed it to him. They were both watching Jane. Suddenly Crawleigh said: “She sang that song remarkably well, Bangtail.” “Which one.” “The French one.” His childhood friend grinned and lifted his tankard of mead in a silent toast. “You noticed, eh? And the second song is something you might hear in France too – around the campfire.” “Harry of England was campaigning in France for years before he died and went to hell. But one of his officers would not have taken a daughter with him.” “True. But she speaks French like a native. And there are mercenary bands all over France, not necessarily with the English.” “All over Europe. A mercenary’s daughter. It makes some sense, although she’s well bred.” “There’s more than one runaway gentleman sold his sword, my lord. Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want his daughter well educated.” There was silence between them. Then Crawleigh said: “None of this helps at all. Because she didn’t come from France with that letter. She came from England.” “Aye. So what we need to know is where she went after her parents died.” “And who she met there,” Crawleigh said. “Christ, Bangtail, if I could get my hands on the man who let her ride out alone that day…..” “If we’re lucky,” Bangtail said cheerfully, “we’ll run into him one day.” Crawleigh stood drinking the wine and watching and listening to Jane talking to Croser. Wherever she had come from, she had learned the rare gift of being able to talk to anybody. Croser was charmed, telling her stories, becoming expansive under the influence of the mead. For a while he had forgotten that his pretty hostess was a hostage, a prisoner suspected of spying for England. At times Crawleigh knew that he forgot it too.
A Regimental Christmas is a short story based in Lisbon during the winter of 1810-11 while Wellington’s army occupied the Lines of Torres Vedras against Massena’s French army and the Portuguese civilians who had fled behind the lines suffered and starved in the cause of scorching the land and driving the French out. For readers of the Peninsular War Saga, this fits into book two, An Irregular Regiment, while Paul and Anne are based in Lisbon for the winter.
A Regimental Christmas
After two weeks of miserably damp weather, two days before Christmas dawned exceptionally bright, with wispy clouds decorating a brilliant blue sky. It was cold, not with the freezing weather of England but certainly much colder than was usual for Portugal, and as Colonel Paul van Daan watched his wife emerge from the officers’ block to watch early drill, he could see her breath in the chill air.
There were twelve companies on the parade ground. To the fore, neatly turned out and moving through the drill with immaculate timing was the light company of the 110th infantry under the temporary command of Lieutenant Michael O’Reilly. At the sight of Anne, the Irishman saluted but did not pause in his work. Anne stood watching, shivering slightly, and Paul looked around and saw one of her maids just coming out of the block.
“Captain Corrigan, take over, please,” he said. “Keren, do me a favour and get my wife’s cloak, would you? She’s going to freeze out here like this.”
“Yes, sir.” Anne’s maid disappeared into the block and Paul took his wife’s hands between his.
“Gloves?” he enquired and Anne laughed.
“I do own some.”
“In order to work, they need to be on your hands. You’re hopeless, Nan.”
“I am.” Anne was watching the drill. “They’re looking better,” she commented.
Colonel van Daan turned, running an experienced eye over the companies. In addition to his light company there was a company of new recruits, recently arrived from the second battalion, eight companies of the 112th infantry which had been in complete disarray when they arrived in Lisbon and the seventh and eighth company of the 110th who were serving directly under him for the first time.
“Better,” he admitted. “They still need some work.”
Anne laughed, accepting her cloak from her maid with a smile of thanks. “Paul, they are never going to be good enough for you.”
“They will when they look as good as my light company, girl of my heart. What are your plans for the day?”
“Breakfast. Then I’m riding into Lisbon with Caroline, I’ve some last minute shopping to do. After that…”
“Take an escort.”
“Keren and Teresa are coming with us, Paul. I…”
“Take an escort. Don’t look at me like that, Nan. I know Lisbon is usually very safe. But just at the moment there are refugees dying in the streets. It’s not a good place to be.”
Anne looked at him soberly. “I know,” she said. “I hate it, Paul. Those poor people.”
Paul nodded, without speaking. Retreating south after his victory at Bussaco, Lord Wellington had instructed the Portuguese population to go with him, leaving the land scorched so that Marshal Massena’s French army would have nothing to live on. The success of this had been very mixed. Some people had refused to go, believing they would be able to hide from the advancing French troops. Others had fled as instructed, crowding behind Wellington’s defensive Lines of Torres Vedras, but too many of them had left food hidden, hoping to be able to find it when they were finally able to return to their farms and villages. The French had become experts in discovering caches and it had enabled them to remain outside the lines for far longer than Wellington had thought possible.
Paul had expected to remain with his battalion up at the lines or possibly outside them patrolling the border along with General Robert Craufurd’s light division. His battalion was still there under the temporary and very competent command of Captain Johnny Wheeler and Captain Carl Swanson but in the aftermath of Bussaco, Lord Wellington had given Paul the glad news of his promotion to colonel in charge of the 110th, a command that Paul had wanted, but not expected to achieve so young.
He had also given him a temporary posting for winter quarters which had been less welcome. In preparation for the next campaigning season, Wellington wanted to ensure that his army was properly supplied with sufficient transport and instead of protecting the border with Craufurd, Paul found himself in Lisbon struggling with requisitions and orders and the knotty problem of the 112th infantry, a battalion which had been sent out under two very young and inexperienced officers. The 112th had proved a bigger headache than the commissariat and the quartermaster’s department combined. Many of them were ill with fever after their time in the Indies, discipline and training were appalling and there were only two officers to staff eight companies. At times during the past few months, buried in paperwork and working insane hours to try to prepare the 112th for combat, Paul had contemplated shooting his chief.
Paul looked over at his wife, who was watching drill. They had been married now for less than six months although he had known her for two years before that, but this would be their first Christmas as a married couple. He was aware of a sense of guilt about his dead wife along with a sense of pure joy at spending the season with Anne. Christmas on campaign often passed without more than a passing acknowledgement but this year was different. They were away from the war zone and there was time to enjoy the season. And he was with Anne.
“Is there anything I need to do, bonny lass? I’ve a feeling this is the easiest Christmas since I joined the army.”
Anne turned, smiling. “You’re all right, Colonel. Get on with training. Just remember we have this ball at Dom Alfonso’s tonight.”
“I’m trying to forget,” Paul said and she laughed and stood on tiptoe to kiss him.
Paul moved back towards his men, aware of covert smiles from some of them. There were men of his light company who had been with him since he had first joined eight years ago and they had followed the difficult progress of his love affair with the lovely young wife of Captain Robert Carlyon with considerable sympathy. Anne was not the only officer’s wife to have accompanied her husband to war, and not the only one to have found herself stranded in the middle of a difficult retreat, but in Paul’s experience she was the only one to have made herself quite so beloved by the enlisted men. She had marched with his wounded and his light company through the difficult weeks of the retreat from Talavera and by the time she had been returned to her undeserving spouse in Lisbon, the 110th had adopted her as their own.
A voice from the far side of the training ground interrupted his thoughts. “Sergeant Williams! Get them back into line, we’ll do that again, I’ve seen a flock of sheep with more precision! Move it, you slovenly bastards, unless you want to spend the rest of Christmas practicing short order drills out here with me!”
Paul grinned and moved to stand beside Lieutenant O’Reilly of the light company. “Mr Manson’s in good voice this morning,” he said softly.
“Mr Manson isn’t giving that lot an inch,” O’Reilly said, equally quietly. “It’s working, too, they’re looking bloody good. In fact, I might give them an outside chance against our seventh and eighth companies just now.”
Paul glanced over at the seventh. “Where’s Longford?” he asked.
“No idea, sir. Still in bed?”
“Even he’s not that stupid.” Paul raised his voice. “Mr Fenwick, where’s Captain Longford?”
“He’s in Lisbon, sir. Was invited to dinner with the captain of the Berwick. He sent a message just now with apologies, he was taken ill but will be back later.”
“Just in time to accompany his wife to this ball and with no time to do any bloody work!” Paul snapped. “All right, Mr Fenwick, carry on. See if you can run that again a bit faster, will you? The French are surprisingly quick you’ll find.”
“Yes, sir,” Fenwick said woodenly. He moved back to his company, yelling an order and Paul went back to O’Reilly who was grinning.
“He does not like to be told,” he said.
“No, he doesn’t. But he’s getting better. He’s a very good officer, it’s not his fault he’s been stuck with Longford all these years. He knows they’re not as good as they should be and it pisses him off, but he’s a worker.”
“Unlike his captain. You should leave him in charge of barracks tonight, serve him right.”
“It would. It wouldn’t be fair on Caroline, though and she can hardly attend without him. I’m leaving Sergeant Carter in charge of barracks. I know officially there ought to be a duty officer, but sod it, it’s Christmas and the French aren’t going to invade. If there’s a crisis, Carter knows where to find us.”
Paul had hired a carriage for his wife’s use while they were in Lisbon, although she seldom used it other than to attend evening parties. The local Portuguese grandees were very hospitable to the English officers in Lisbon. There were not many of them; most of Wellington’s troops were up at the lines, but there were a number of officers of the quartermaster’s department based in Lisbon along with a collection who were recovering from illness or injury. In addition, there was a battalion of one of the Borders regiments who had recently arrived to replace their existing battalion, and a dozen or more officers who had been granted leave during winter quarters.
Dom Alfonso’s house was in the upper part of Lisbon, not far from the villa which Paul rented, an elegant white building with graceful arched windows and a red tiled roof. Dona Juana had opened up the whole of the ground floor, with an orchestra playing in the largest salon for dancing and drinks and refreshments set out in several other rooms. For Anne’s sake, Paul had invited Captain Vincent Longford and his wife to accompany them in the carriage. His dislike of Longford did not extend to the man’s wife. Although she had only been with them for a few weeks, Paul liked what he had seen of Caroline Longford and he knew that his wife was enjoying her company. Anne did not make friends easily among the officers’ wives, many of whom tended to look down their noses at her unconventionality and to whisper behind their hands about past scandals, but if Caroline Longford had heard any of the gossip she gave no sign of it.
Paul glanced at his wife as they entered the brilliantly lit rooms to be greeted by their hostess. Anne was dressed in white, trimmed with black embroidery and a black sash. The gown was not new but the trimming was and he wondered whose idea it had been and who had done the embroidery, which was very effective. It was definitely not Anne, who regarded household sewing and fine embroidery with equal disdain. She wore her dark hair in smooth coils on her head pinned with one white silk rose and Paul was aware of male heads turning as they made their way into the room.
He led her first onto the dance floor, enjoying dancing with her, remembering the first time he had done so at her coming out ball in Yorkshire more than three years ago. She had been seventeen and he had been on temporary secondment to the 115th Yorkshire, a man already married with two young children, who should not have been flirting with the lovely daughter of Sir Matthew Howard. He met her eyes and she smiled at him.
“You’re a good dancer, Colonel.”
“So are you, Mrs van Daan. I can feel them watching me here. Once I let you go, I am not going to get anywhere near you for the rest of the evening.”
“Better make the most of me now then, Colonel.”
He grinned and raised her hand to his lips. “You look very lovely, lass, I can’t say I blame them.”
The music ended and he surrendered her to his officers and went to join Captain Corrigan, watching as she danced her way through the evening. He danced with Caroline Longford and with several Portuguese ladies and reclaimed his wife finally as the supper bell rang, neatly removing her from three disappointed ensigns of the Royal Marines.
“They’ll be crying into their wine,” he said, leading her to a table. “Wait there, I’ll get you some food. And if I find anybody else sitting there when I get back I’m going to challenge him.”
“You’re so dramatic, Paul,” his wife said, arranging her skirts elegantly. Paul collected food and champagne and seated himself opposite her.
“Caroline is proving very popular,” Anne said, watching her friend who was seated at a table surrounded by a collection of young officers who were falling over themselves to provide her with supper.
“She is. I don’t see her husband fighting them off, mind. It’ll serve him right if she finds herself some pretty young officer of the line who will treat her properly.”
“I quite agree,” Anne said serenely, tucking in to cold chicken. “After all, I did.”
Paul choked on his wine. “Are you calling me pretty?” he demanded.
Anne put her head on one side and surveyed him thoughtfully. “I don’t know that I’d go that far,” she said. “But you’re definitely easy on the eye, Colonel, especially in dress uniform.”
Paul was laughing. “Make the most of it, girl of my heart, in a few weeks’ time you’ll have forgotten I was ever this clean.”
“Clean,” Anne said thoughtfully. “Now that reminds me of something.”
“What?” Paul asked, faintly suspicious and his wife gave him a smile sweet enough to chill him.
“Nothing you need to worry about, love. Do you still have that meeting in the morning with the Lisbon Council?”
“I do. I’m trying to get them to set up a more organised system for supplying the refugees. There is food coming in from England but it’s not getting to where it’s needed.”
She was smiling, sipping her champagne. “It’s not really your problem, Colonel.”
“No. And in a few weeks’ time I’ll have to leave it alone. But at the moment…”
He broke off, slightly sheepishly and she laughed. “Well I’m busy tomorrow. But if you want me to come to a meeting with you after Christmas, Paul, let me know.”
“I wonder what they would say?” he asked.
“Oh they’d be appalled. A woman applying herself to men’s business? Shocking. But that won’t stop me if you’d let me.”
Paul studied her for a moment. He was thinking of his gentle sister-in-law, Patience, who was rearing his children and taking care of his father and brother and who had probably never once stepped out of her domestic sphere. Anne’s willingness to become involved had surprised him when she had first arrived in Portugal with her first husband but he had become accustomed to it by now.
“Yes, why not?” he said. “You’ll shock the hell out of them, but that might do them some good. Come and dance with me, if you’re finished. I’ve just remembered how much I love you.”
They left under a soft new moon. Paul handed both women into the carriage and climbed in. The streets were very dark and quiet under a midnight hush, and he reached for his wife’s hand in the folds of her cape and held it, feeling very content. There had been times when he had railed against Lord Wellington for sending him on this posting, so far from what action there was, but tonight he felt a sense of gratitude to his commander for giving him this first Christmas with Anne beside him. He knew that the idea would not have occurred to his chief, who had thought only of the job he wanted done, but it had given Paul a brief spell of normality with his new wife before the war overtook them again.
There was a squeal of carriage brakes, and the vehicle lurched suddenly as one of the two horses reared up, whinnying in fright. Paul caught Caroline Longford who had been thrown forward and would have ended up on the floor. His own wife had managed to steady herself without aid.
“What the bloody hell was that?” Captain Longford demanded. “Sorry, ma’am, forgot myself.”
“Don’t worry about it, Captain. Paul…”
“I’ll see,” Paul said, his hand already on the carriage door. He jumped down onto the cobbled street and saw his coachman, lantern in hand, peering into the darkness. “What happened, Jose?”
“Your pardon, Colonel. Are the ladies injured?”
“No, they’re fine. What is it?”
“Beggars, sir.” Jose waved his whip in the direction of a huddled form by the side of the road. “Stupid fool almost got herself killed. Be off with you!”
The form shifted and began to move, hunched and shapeless in the darkness, and Paul hesitated, torn between a desire to find out if the woman was hurt and the wish to get his wife away from a dark street where anybody might be lurking. Lisbon was generally very safe, but he was not naive enough to believe that some of the refugees might not be desperate enough to snatch what they could. As he dithered, a sound emerged from the woman, a keening wail of distress. The woman spoke quickly, trying to quiet the noise, and behind him Paul heard the carriage door open.
“Paul, what was that?”
“I’ll find out. Get back inside, Nan.”
She had already jumped down and the lantern light picked out the gleam of pearls at her neck. “I’ll be fine,” she said.
“Nan, get back in the damned carriage, I’m not armed and you’re wearing a small fortune around your neck and in your ears. I’ll…”
His wife shot him a look which he could only partially see in the darkness. He suspected he should be grateful for that. “That was a child’s cry,” she said, and turned to the woman. “Wait,” she called, in Portuguese. “Are you hurt? Let me see.”
The woman turned. Paul could see nothing of her in the enveloping cloak apart from a flash of white face and enormous frightened eyes. His wife moved forward quickly and Paul bit back his urge to yell at her and followed.
“I am sorry, Senora,” the woman whispered. Anne had reached her and Paul saw her kneel down on the cobbles.
“Your children?” she asked.
“My sister and brother,” the woman said. Her voice was hoarse, but Paul realised that she was younger than he had first realised. “We are not hurt. Your coachman was quick…”
“Let me see her,” Anne said, gently but firmly, and the woman allowed her to draw the folds of the cloak back. “She’s ill.”
“Not fever, Senora, I promise you. Just hungry.”
Anne placed her hand on the forehead of the child in her arms, and then reached down and took one of the hands of the boy. He was probably five or six, Paul guessed, thin and shivering in a ragged jacket and bare feet. He wondered suddenly how tall his own son had grown now and felt unexpectedly sick at the thought that Francis might be the same age as this skeletal child.
“I’m not leaving them here,” Anne said.
There was a challenge in her voice. Paul heard it and felt himself smile.
“No. But lass, we can’t be sure there’s no sickness here, it’s rife in the refugee camps and I’m fairly sure that’s where these have come from.”
“I’m not afraid of fever, Paul, I’m never ill.”
“I know you’re not, but Caroline might be.”
“Then I’ll walk back with them.”
“You bloody won’t. God knows who could be lurking in some of these alleyways.” Paul looked around, and saw Caroline Longford looking out of the window. “Ma’am, don’t get out. Look, I’ll stay with them. Longford, get the ladies back to barracks, will you, and send the carriage back for me, it’s only ten minutes away.”
“I’ll wait with you,” Anne said.
Paul wanted to protest, but even a short time living with Anne had taught him the meaning of that particular tone of voice. He sighed.
“Get Caroline home, Longford,” he said. “Jose, come back as quickly as you can.”
It was silent in the dark street once the carriage had rattled away. Paul looked round at his wife. The woman had sat down on the cobbles. She was shivering violently, whether from cold or fear or some other cause that Paul could not see, he had no idea. Anne crouched beside the boy.
“What is your name?” she asked.
The child’s teeth were chattering. Paul saw Anne reach for the clasp of her cape and stopped her with a gentle hand.
“That gown wasn’t designed for a night under the stars, bonny lass. Here.”
He took off his red coat and draped it around the boy who looked up at him from startled dark eyes. Paul smiled slightly and crouched beside Anne.
“How old are you, Alfredo?” he asked in careful Portuguese.
“I have a son a little younger than you. And your sister?”
“Maria is two. Francisca is fifteen.”
He was startled, realising that the older girl was no more than a child herself. His wife was bending over the smallest child, talking gently to her sister, and after a moment the girl relinquished the child into Anne’s arms. Paul watched as she shifted the burden onto her shoulder, wrapping the velvet cape around her. He suspected that all three of them were filthy and probably crawling with lice but he had observed before how little such matters seemed to bother his wife. Something about the sight of her, murmuring softly to the child, touched his heart and he wondered if he might one day watch her with their own child in her arms. She had been married to her first husband for two years and had never conceived, while Paul had three older children, but there was no reason to suppose that she could not.
The sound of carriage wheels interrupted his thoughts and he rose and turned to the boy. “That sounds like our transport. Up you come, lad.”
He scooped the boy up and lifted him into the carriage then helped Anne and the older girl to climb in. They were silent on the short drive back to barracks.
Both his wife’s maids awaited their arrival having clearly been warned by Caroline Longford. Paul stepped back and watched as she gave instructions for the care and accommodation of the refugees. He knew that she would not relax until she had made sure that they were settled, so he took himself up to their rooms and poured a brandy, stoking up the fire. She joined him around half an hour later, looking tired, and he observed that the white of her gown was muddy from kneeling in the street. She saw his gaze and looked down, then up again, smiling ruefully.
“It might come out.”
“I don’t care if it doesn’t, love. Come to bed, you look completely shattered.”
“I am. No early bugle, thank God.”
Anne slept later than usual the following day and joined him as he was finishing breakfast. She was dressed in one of the plain dark gowns she wore when working in the hospital and had the abstracted air of a woman with plans for the day. Paul, his mind on the approaching meeting, kissed her and left, riding the short distance into Lisbon at an easy pace. The air was warmer than it had been and it was a pleasant ride along roads lined with trees.
The meeting was less pleasant. Paul was quietly seething by mid-afternoon when he set off to ride back to the barracks. He knew that he needed to step back and let it go. It had not been part of his brief from Wellington to get involved with the problem of Lisbon’s refugees and back with his regiment he would have no time or opportunity for further involvement but seeing the misery every time he rode into town made it impossible for him to ignore.
Riding through the archway which led into the Sir John Moore barracks, Paul reined in, aware of unexpected activity. He sat his horse, looking around him, and the sight drove the refugees from his mind.
On the far side of the yard, two men were seated on upturned crates, while a barber worked on each of them with scissors and razor, bowls of soapy water beside them. One, he recognised as Garner from the light company who had been a barber before joining up; the other was young and dark and probably Portuguese from one of the shops in town. A queue of men stood patiently waiting, and Paul was astonished to realise that each one of them had damp hair and the air of men who had recently bathed.
Further around he saw Charlton, one of several cobblers in his ranks, working industriously at his last. Outside one of the barracks blocks, somebody had set up two long tables and there were piles of new kit laid out. Behind it sat Corporal Hammond of his light company with Captain Corrigan, his temporary quartermaster beside him, checking off a list as Sergeant Carter and Sergeant Williams inspected the kit of each man queueing up. These were the men who had already been washed and shorn and Paul, staring at them in complete astonishment, realised that he had probably never seen his men this clean all at the same time.
“You’re back nice and early, sir,” a voice said beside him, and Paul turned to see Private Jenson, his orderly, limping towards him. “Shall I take him for you?”
Paul dismounted, unable to take his eyes from the neat lines. “Jenson, what in God’s name is going on?” he demanded.
“Annual bath and kit replenishment, apparently, sir.”
“Is that…I mean does that happen? I don’t seem to remember it happening before.”
“No, sir, nor do I. But then you weren’t married to Mrs van Daan before. She lined them up the minute you were out of here and had the officers and NCOs march them down to the river to bathe. They bloody hated it, it was freezing, but who’s going to argue with her? Nearly done now, sir, these are the last few.”
Paul could feel himself beginning to smile. “What a bloody brilliant idea,” he said softly.
“Yes, sir. Women and children too. She’s bought half a dozen bolts of material from the warehouse in town for new clothing for them. A couple of them were crying like babies.”
“I suspect they’ll be busy sewing for the next week or two. Christ, they’ll wonder what’s happened when we get back to Pere Negro. I wonder if she’ll try and do this to my entire regiment next year.”
“I wouldn’t put it past her, sir,” Jenson said placidly. “Corporal Hammond is keeping a record of what gets taken from the stores…”
“Good. Do me a favour and make sure the lads know it doesn’t come out of their pay. I’ll make up the difference as a Christmas gift. Although if they’ve lost half of it by Easter I will bleed the bastards dry for it!”
Jenson laughed. “Yes, sir. I’ll get him rubbed down and bring up hot water for you in a bit.”
“Thanks, Jenson.” Paul looked around. “Freddie?”
“I was going to save this until tomorrow, but actually I’d rather do it now when it’s just us.”
He put his hand into his coat pocket and drew out a small item which he handed to Jenson. “There’s a bottle of rum from my wife as well. This is from me. Happy Christmas, Corporal.”
Jenson looked down at the cloth in his hand and then up. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “Go and find your wife before she gets any more bright ideas. Mind you, barracks will smell better than normal this Christmas.”
The weather had turned again the following morning. Paul awoke early as usual, and slid quietly from the bed so as not to disturb Anne. He went through to their sitting room to dress and then went to the window and was surprised in the early light to find the rosy glow of sunrise falling over a world turned white with a rare frost. Lisbon could get cold at times but he had never seen it this bad and it made him smile, thinking of Christmas at home. He missed his children at moments like this, and thinking of his last Christmas with them, when snow had fallen in Dublin, he missed suddenly, with an ache of loss, his pretty gentle first wife, Rowena, who had died giving birth to her namesake. She had worn a fur trimmed cape that cold December and he had walked to church holding her hand and thought how lucky he was. Going to the door of the bedroom he looked at Anne, asleep in a tangle of long limbs and black hair and wondered how one man could be that fortunate twice.
He went down to the mess and stood still in the doorway, looking about him in some surprise.
“You’re up early, sir. Merry Christmas.”
Paul turned with a smile at his mess sergeant who was approaching with a mug of tea. “Merry Christmas, George. Who did all this?”
George Kelly looked around at the greenery which decked the long dining room and grinned. “Mr Manson and Mr Grey with a few of the lads did it yesterday after dinner, sir.”
“I’d a feeling they were up to something. How are our guests, any idea?”
“Doing well, sir. Not much wrong with them apart from half starved. Mrs van Daan went shopping for clothes for the children and she’s found a dress for the lassie. She’s settled them in the infirmary for now, sir, she said it would be warmer.”
Paul nodded and set off across the frosty parade ground and between several of the barracks blocks to the infirmary. He found Teresa, his wife’s Spanish maid already there and she was accompanied, to his surprise, by Sergeant Carter of his light company.
“Morning, sir. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Danny. What the devil are you doing up at this hour? Even I’m not calling early drill on Christmas morning.”
“I wouldn’t put it past you, sir. Came down to see if Teresa needed any help. We thought our refugees might like to come and have breakfast with the lads, sir.”
Paul surveyed the refugees in some amusement. All three of them had clearly been bathed. The boy was dressed in dark trousers and a rough woollen jacket which was a little too big for him and black slippers which looked a fairly good fit. His younger sister was dressed in an embroidered linen dress like those sold in the markets in Lisbon with a warm woollen shawl about her shoulders. She was seated on the lap of the older girl who wore a plain dark gown which Paul suspected was one of Anne’s winter dresses.
Paul looked at the older girl and summoned his Portuguese, wishing that he had studied harder or had Anne’s easy ability to pick up languages.
“It is Francisca, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you. Your lady was so kind. The children were starving.”
He could see, in the cold light of morning, that she had been starving herself. Her wrists were stick thin and the bones on her face were too prominent, her face gaunt. For all that, it was a face of some distinction, her hair newly washed, falling in red gold waves over the blue wool of the shawl Anne had found for her. Her eyes were an unusual shade of green and she was small and delicately made. He rather thought, that with a few weeks of good food and enough rest, she might prove to be a very pretty girl.
“You’re safe,” he said quietly. “We’ll take care of you now, and when you’re all well enough we’ll make sure you’ve somewhere to stay and some work to keep you. Where are you from?”
“Coimbra, sir, a farm about six miles from the town.”
“And your parents?”
“My mother died when Maria was born. My father and another sister died this winter. We had no food, sir, and they got sick.”
“I am sorry,” Paul said gently. “Rest and keep warm. We will take care of you.”
His wife joined him in the mess for breakfast, dressed warmly in green velvet, and he kissed her. “Merry Christmas, bonny lass.”
“Our first,” she said. “I’ve been thinking of Rowena, today, we had Christmas dinner with you last year. Are you all right, Paul?”
He thought how like her it was. “I’ve been thinking of her too,” he admitted. “I can’t believe it was only a year ago. And I can’t believe how good it feels to be here with you and how bad I feel that she’s not with me. Very confusing.”
Anne took his hand. “I miss her too,” she said gently. “But she’d have wanted this, Paul.”
“I know she would. Come and eat, love.”
They ate and then she went to speak to his officers to wish them happy Christmas. Paul sat for a while, watching her move along the table and thought how easily she had fitted into his life and that of his regiment.
She stopped beside Lieutenant Manson, talking to him, and Paul saw him smile. Manson did not smile enough. After a difficult start in the regiment, he had begun to settle down and had seemed much happier but the arrival of Captain Longford had caused him to withdraw back into his shell. Longford was unpopular with all the officers of the 110th but he had taken a particular dislike to Manson and Paul was very aware that he took every opportunity to make the boy’s life difficult. Glancing over at Longford, Paul smiled at the expression on his face. Anne’s obvious liking for his youngest officer did not help matters; Longford was patently jealous.
With no English church nearby, Paul had managed to find a German minister who had agreed to give a Christmas service in English. He had not made attendance compulsory for his men but he was faintly touched when they crowded into the empty barrack block where he had planned to hold the service. Eventually Anne went to speak to Mr Gruber and his wife and some time was spent moving the proceedings out onto the parade ground where all the men could attend. There was little organised religion in Wellington’s army, but Paul supposed that on this one day the familiar ritual reminded some of them of home.
Christmas dinner was served in the mess with a good deal of wine and a lot of hilarity. Over in the barracks the men would be eating their own meal, followed by dancing and probably a good deal more drinking through the evening. It was good to be able to let them celebrate for once, without having to worry too much about sentries and the possibility of attack.
Aware that he was neglecting his social duties, Paul turned with a smile to Caroline Longford who was seated beside him, but realised she was looking beyond him down the room and he followed her gaze and saw, to his considerable surprise, Sergeant Carter in the doorway. He got up.
Paul moved forward. “All right, Sergeant.” He looked over at Anne. “Carry on,” he said, and she nodded. Paul went out into the hallway.
“What’s going on, Carter. Don’t tell me the French have been sighted?”
“Not that I know of, sir. If they’ve made it past our lads and the light division, I’ll be very surprised.”
“Sir – it’s the lassie. The girl you brought in from town.”
Paul shook his head to clear it of the wine he had drunk. “Francisca? What is it, Carter, is she ill?”
“No, sir. We brought them through to the barracks, sir – for dinner. The women are in there with us eating. Didn’t want to leave them alone. Didn’t realise straight away – we’ve all had a few drinks, sir.”
“You and me both, Carter. It’s bloody Christmas. What’s happened?”
“She’d gone, sir. Maggie Bennett offered to settle the little one with her boy, they were both exhausted. The lad has taken a liking to Private Terry, following him around. So none of us noticed for a while. When we realised, Hammond took off after her. He was worried, like. Didn’t think she’d abandon the children. Easy enough to follow her tracks, it’s been raining again.”
“Did he find her?”
“Yes, sir. Not just her, though.” Carter took a deep breath. “She’d made off with some food. Not that much – Christ, nothing we can’t spare. There’s a camp, sir, just across the river. No idea they were there. We always use the widest part for water and bathing. We were all down there yesterday, they must have heard us freezing our arses off in that water…a refugee camp, sir. She was taking them food, it’s where she came from.”
Paul stood looking at him. “How many?”
“About thirty or so. Men women, about eight or nine children. Looking at the state of them, I’d say they’ve lost a few.”
“Starvation, sir. And cold. They’ve tried to make shelters out of blankets. Sitting huddled together under the trees, shivering, soaked. Waiting to die, I reckon.”
Paul took a deep breath. His mind was suddenly clear, as if he were about to go into battle. “Do you think they can walk, Sergeant?”
“Not the old ones, sir.”
“All right. You have enough sober men to hitch up a couple of wagons and get them up here.”
“We’ll sober them up, sir.”
“Do it. We’ll find blankets for them from the stores. This Christmas is going to cost me a bloody fortune. I’ll get my wife to organise opening up one of the empty barracks blocks and we’ll put a couple of braziers in there to warm it up.”
He turned back into the room and saw Anne coming towards him, her eyebrows raised. “What is it?”
“Bit of a refugee crisis, love.”
He explained quickly and then left her to it, hearing her issuing crisp instructions to his junior officers. Going outside he found his men pulling out two of the supply wagons, clumsy in places from too much wine and food. Turning, he found Jenson leading out Rufus and his own horse.
“Thought you might want to ride down and see for yourself, sir.”
“I do. Thank you, Jenson.”
It was less than ten minutes ride down to the camp, splashing through the ford and up a slope, slippery with soaked vegetation, to the pitiful enclave under the trees. Paul dismounted and moved forward, finding the girl crouching beside an elderly woman with iron grey straggling hair, her black skirts soaked and her body shivering violently.
Paul looked at her. “Did you go into town to try to find food for her?”
“To earn it if I could.”
He understood with sharp distress. “The children.”
“I can’t leave them here; they might wander off. She isn’t well enough. Alfredo will look after Maria while I…it doesn’t take long.”
“I wish you’d told us, lass,” he said. “Come on, let’s get her up. The wagons can make it to the top of the bank but we’ll have to get them up there.”
He carried the old woman up the slippery bank, appalled at how light she was in his arms and then returned to help some of the others up. They were silent and bewildered, blank eyed and gaunt, no longer trusting in the goodwill of others and Paul was silently furious, fighting back tears as he lifted emaciated bodies up to his men on the wagons and then rode ahead of them back to the barracks where his wife waited in the doorway of an empty block with towels and blankets and the calm practicality which always seemed to him to be at war with the delicate beauty which would have made her the toast of London had she cared to return there.
They carried the remains of the Christmas feast from both barracks and officers mess and the refugees received roast pork and duck and George Kelly’s pudding as if they had never seen such riches. Paul watched his wife supervising to ensure that they only ate a little at a time.
She sat, finally, on the bunk beside one of the men, a white haired man who could have been forty or eighty; it was hard to tell from his gaunt face.
“Senora, we are so grateful.”
“Hush. You’re safe and we’ll make sure you’re warm and fed. Rest tonight, you’ve nothing more to care about. Tomorrow I’ll tend to any sickness.”
“God has sent you to us, Senora.”
Anne smiled and to Paul’s amusement, lifted the gaunt hand and kissed it. “It’s Christmas,” she said. “Perhaps he sent you to us.”
She joined him finally as the officers and men congregated around the fires which had been lit on the parade ground. Private Flanagan was tuning his fiddle, and Paul took his wife’s hand. “All right, bonny lass?”
“Yes. I hope they’ll be all right. I’m a bit worried about one or two of the older ones, but we’ll see in a few days if they improve with food and warmth. Oh Paul, they were ten minutes away from us and we didn’t know it.”
“I know. Christ, what a bloody mess. I hope Wellington has got this right.”
“Paul, he’s doing the best he can. We all are.”
The music began, an Irish jig, and Paul watched, holding her hand as his men and their women began to dance. It warmed them in the cold night air, and shortly he saw Michael O’Reilly approaching.
“Ma’am, are you too tired…?”
“No, but she’s dancing with me first. Piss off and find yourself a pretty Portuguese lass, I notice a few of them from the village have turned up. Dance with me, girl of my heart.”
“You put it so nicely, Colonel.”
He took her hand and drew her into the circle by the firelight. “Best make the most of this, lass. God only knows where we’ll be this time next year.”
He left the thought unfinished, but she picked it up as he had known she would. “And who will have survived the year? Make sure you do, will you, Paul? I’ve got very attached.”
“So have I, bonny lass. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Colonel,” Anne said, and in a swirl of black hair, she spun away from him and was caught up in the dance and the firelight and the temporary joy of the cold Christmas night.
Riding down from the villa he arrived through the arched gate of the barracks. The place was teeming with men. Two companies were executing a tight drill in squares on the parade ground, and Paul reined in to admire their work. They were almost as good as his men, and he nodded approval to a grinning captain as he rode on past. In the distance he could hear the clicks of muskets as a company of infantry practiced dry firing out at the range. And ahead of him there was a tangle of wagons as two Portuguese carters delivering food and bedding locked wheels and began to shout loudly at each other, gesticulating wildly. An English voice bellowed at the two men and Paul grinned, recognising the dulcet cockney tones of Private Danny Carter, formerly of the rifles and now permanently part of his light company. Like Paul’s other skirmishers from the rifles Carter flatly refused to change uniform and Paul did not try to make them. He still wore the white armband that Carter’s men had given him after his first battle, and he retained an immense fondness for the independent, obstreperous riflemen. Carter’s voice rose above the two Portuguese. “Jesus bloody Christ if ever I saw such a pig’s ear! Stop whipping the horses you silly bugger and hold still or you’ll have the winter feed for the officers’ horses used as carpet for the bloody Connaught rangers to dance on!” Carter had run to the centre to try to disentangle the two locked wheels. Paul stopped to admire the chaos, but before he could ride forward to intervene there was a peal of laughter and a woman’s voice called out to Carter. “You’re making a worse mull of it than they are! Hold still and I’ll come down and help!” She had called from an upstairs window of the officer’s block and Paul would have recognised her voice anywhere. In a moment she had arrived through the door and went quickly to the head of one of the frightened horses. “Here, ma’am, you’re going to get hurt!” Carter said in a panic, worried, Paul knew, about whether he could somehow be held responsible for the injury to some officer’s mad wife. But the girl took the bridle of the frightened beast and spoke quietly to him. The carter lifted his whip and she held up an imperious hand to stop him. “Stop that! It will frighten him. Stop and wait!” The sense of her words if not the content was clear and the driver lowered his whip. Anne beckoned to Carter. “Come here and hold him. Gently, now.” “Yes, ma’am.” Carter had clearly just seen the girl properly for the first time, and Paul did not blame him for the expression on his face. She wore a white shirt, like a man’s, open at the throat, and a dark riding skirt, which emphasised the small waist and gentle curve of her hip. She had obviously run down without finishing her toilette because her hair was still loose about her shoulders and Paul remembered the feel of it under his hands and felt a stab of longing. Carter took the bridle and Anne went to the other horse. Talking soothingly to him, she carefully backed him up, and Carter led the other horse to one side, separating the carts. The two drivers both burst into voluble thanks in Portuguese and Anne smiled at them impartially. One of them, the younger of the two, took a flower from the buttonhole of his dark jacket and leaned down to give it to Anne. “Obrigada, señor,” Anne said, and the carter, who had the benefit of knowing that he would be gone before the lady’s husband reappeared, placed his fingers to his lips and blew her a dramatic kiss before driving off. Anne stood twirling the flower between long elegant fingers. The other driver moved away and Private Carter came forward uncertainly. “Thank you, ma’am.” Anne turned to look at him. Then she pointed at the retreating carter. “It’s all very well scattering flowers around to passing females,” she said, “but if he doesn’t improve his driving skills the next person he comes across is likely to be a fat choleric colonel with a riding crop and a bad attitude.” She tapped the flower onto Carter’s chest to emphasise her point and turned at the sound of an approaching horse. Shading her eyes against the sun she looked up at Paul. “And I notice that you kept well out of reach until the work was done.” Paul was conscious of poor Carter, unable to take his eyes from the vivid laughing face. He swung down from Rufus. “I was admiring your technique,” he said. “With the horses or the drivers?” Anne enquired going to Rufus’ head. “Hello, boy, how are you again?” “Both,” Paul said. “Rufus is pleased to see you. He knows a woman who keeps carrot tops in her pocket.” “He’s out of luck, I left my jacket upstairs,” Anne said. “How are you, Paul?” “You know I do think we may have to find you a billet out of the barracks,” Paul said. “Now that I have seen you in action, I realise that it is a matter of keeping my men safe. Close your mouth, Carter.” “Yes, sir,” Carter said. “You know the lady, sir?” “To my cost. This is Mrs Anne Carlyon. Lieutenant Carlyon is on Sir Arthur Wellesley’s staff. I met Mrs Carlyon on my trip to Yorkshire last year. At the time she was still choosing between her many suitors.” “Welcome to Portugal, ma’am.” “Thank you, Private Carter. You have much better manners than your commanding officer.” “We’ve tried to teach him, ma’am.” Anne shot him a startled glance and then burst out laughing. She had heard Paul talking with affection about his men, but she had not fully realised the level of informality that reigned within the light company. “Keep trying, Carter, he may improve,” she said. “I have come with messages from Rowena. Is it possible that you could stop flirting with the enlisted men and invite me in for a drink?” “Unchaperoned?” Anne looked up at him from under long lashes. “Is that the right thing to do here? I need Rowena to tell me how to behave.” “You actually do,” Paul said, laughing. “Robert has all my sympathy. He is never going to be able to control you.” “And what makes you think you’d do any better?” Anne said lightly. “I’d never make the attempt; I know my limitations.” Paul was very aware of Carter’s interested regard. “Excuse me, sir, but this has just come for you.” Paul turned at the melodious Irish tones of his sergeant. “Good morning, Sergeant O’Reilly. Thank you. Carter, would you take Rufus to the stables and deliver him to the groom, who should have been here to take him if he were not probably flirting with the cook’s daughter.” “How do you know the cook has a pretty daughter, sir?” “I notice these things,” Paul said, scanning the message quickly. “This is an invitation to something that I have no intention of attending. Lose it, Sergeant.” “Just as you say, sir.” Michael O’Reilly had noticed Anne. He gave her a friendly nod, and then looked again, and hard. Carter had moved away with the horse, still watching Anne. Paul glanced from one to another. “I think perhaps introductions are in order,” he said. “Sergeant…” “Sir, the lady may not wish to be introduced to an NCO,” Michael said warningly. At times he found himself wondering if his commanding officer had ever been taught the rules of society. But the girl with the lovely dark eyes was smiling. Paul smiled back at her and continued as though Michael had not spoken. “Sergeant O’Reilly, this is Mrs Anne Carlyon, who is married to Lieutenant Robert Carlyon on Sir Arthur’s staff. Nan, this is Michael O’Reilly, my sergeant, without whom the light company would not function. Michael is here to remind me of my duty, and Nan is here to flirt with Danny Carter and two Portuguese drivers.” Michael was looking at the girl’s face. He remembered her as he had last seen her, a gallant little figure in a blue cloak who refused to cry. He wondered if she had any idea who he was. And then she smiled again, a smile of warmth and recognition and genuine interest and to his complete astonishment held out her hand. “I remember you,” she said. “I saw you in the carriage that morning in Thorndale.” Michael felt a jolt of surprise, not at her recollection but at her willingness to acknowledge it. “You’ve a good memory for a passing face, ma’am.” Paul looked at her. “I didn’t know you’d seen him,” he said quietly. “Nan…” “Don’t look so worried, Paul. If you trust him, then so do I. I am glad to have met you properly, though, Sergeant. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Michael was studying her. He was very aware of her startling beauty, but there was something more about this girl that he found immensely appealing. Her frank acknowledgment of her relationship with his commanding officer was both surprising and impressive and he glanced at Paul and was shocked at the unguarded expression on his face. It was clear that the passage of time and her marriage had not affected Major van Daan’s feelings about Anne Carlyon. “It’s good to meet you too, ma’am,” he said gently. “I’ll be getting on.” Michael looked at his commanding officer. “Are you coming, sir?” “Yes, I’ll be with you in a moment.” Paul turned back to Anne. “Are you attending this ghastly reception this evening?” She nodded. “Yes. Was that the invitation that you were just trying to get your sergeant to lose?” “It was. But if you’ll be there, I’ll come. We’re only going to be here for a week or so. Wellesley wants to take Oporto back and he’s in a hurry. I don’t know if he’ll want Robert with us or if he’ll leave him here, but I’m concerned about you living in barracks without him here.” “You mean without you here,” Anne said. “Yes, I do.” Paul ran his eyes over her with a rueful smile. “Look at you. Poor Carter nearly passed out when he got a good eyeful, and he won’t be the only one. I don’t know how much your husband cares. I only know how much I do. I’ll talk to you later, I have to go.” He lifted her hand to his lips and turned to catch up with his sergeant. Neither of them spoke for a while. They walked up towards the training field. Finally Paul said: “If you’ve anything to say, Michael, better get it over with now.” “Yes, sir. Something of a surprise, and that’s for sure. Did you know she was coming?” “No. They were on their way to the Cape and Hookey intercepted them. He needed a good administrator. And Carlyon is one, whatever else he is. She, of course, thought we’d gone to South America.” “And what about your wife, sir?” “She’s met my wife already, Sergeant,” Paul said with grim humour. “They like each other.” “God love you, sir, only you could get yourself into this one! Does anybody but me…?” “No. I’ve told nobody and I won’t. She was a lass I met in Yorkshire and now she’s Carlyon’s wife and Rowena’s friend. That’s all.” “Well, you’d better get bloody better at it than that, then, sir, because you just looked at her as though she’s a gift you never expected to get.” “She is,” Paul said quietly. Michael turned to study his commander’s face. Paul had an unusually expressive countenance and Michael had learned to read him very well. It made for an effective working relationship and an easy friendship which his sergeant had come to take for granted but he had never seen his friend like this. “Jesus Christ, Paul, how in God’s name after sleeping with half the women in England did you come to fall in love with a girl that young and that out of reach?” he said softly. “I swear to God I thought you immune.” “So did I,” Paul said. He glanced sideways at his sergeant. “I never intended it, Michael, but I’ve never met a woman remotely like her. I know what you see, lad, and that’s what the rest of the army are going to see as they trip over their own feet every time she walks past. But I’m telling you, there’s a lot more to this girl than the way she looks.” Michael could not help smiling. “I get that, sir. But you need to be careful, not just for Rowena’s sake but for hers too, she’s newly married and very young and you know what the headquarters gossips are like with a reputation.” “Michael, she’s here, when I never expected to see her again. And I will get better at it, and I’m not going to hurt Rowena. But don’t ask me to lie to you and pretend that I’m not bloody happy. Because I am. And next week I’m going to fight the French, which believe it or not is what I came here for.”
“Absolutely brilliant. For 40 years I’ve been fascinated by this period of history, and have read everything I could get my hands on, history, biography, memoirs and fiction. This series is the best fiction I’ve ever read – fantastically well researched and historically accurate, with wonderfully drawn characters and relationships. They give a brilliant idea of what war was like then, as well as a moving love story and brilliant relationships between the male characters.” 5 out of 5 * on Amazon.co.uk