The Day After

The Day After is my first contribution to the Historical Writers’ Forum Summer Blog Hop in 2020 and is published on the 205th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It doesn’t tell the story of the battle, that day will come later in the Peninsular War Saga. Instead, it tells the story of the day after Waterloo for a fortunate survivor. It is hard to convey the carnage of the field at Waterloo on 19th June 1815, especially in a short story, as I didn’t want this to be nothing more than a catalogue of horrors. Instead, it is a story of one man on that day.

For those of you who have read the books, Captain James Harker is briefly introduced at the beginning of A Redoubtable Citadel, and he, Dodd and Sofia are the main characters in my Halloween ghost story, The Quartermaster, which is free on this website. A lovely reader called Janet recently messaged me to ask what happened to Harker next and she gave me the idea of introducing him into my Waterloo story. I’m dedicating this to Janet, along with all the amazing readers who make my day when they contact me. 

 

The Day After: a story of the Battle of Waterloo

Captain Andrew Dodd could hear nothing.

That was not entirely true. As he lay there, on his back in the mud, Dodd realised there was a sound, a persistent dull ringing noise. It seemed to be coming from inside his head rather than around him, and it was irritating, making him want to shake his head to clear it, but Dodd could not move. Consciousness was returning slowly, and his body took time to catch up with his brain, but the lack of movement was very real and very frightening. It felt as if a weight was pushing him down into the earth and his breathing was laboured and difficult.

There was also pain. This was not the first time Dodd had been wounded. He could remember little of being injured at Albuera, but he had been told that he had been unconscious when they lifted him from the field, where he had been cut down after a furious fight against three French infantrymen to defend his wounded captain. The pain had come later, lying in an army hospital. This time he was still on the field and the pain, burning through his left arm and hand, was impossible to ignore.

Sergeant Dodd had earned his first commission on that day, along with a transfer to the quartermaster’s department in Ciudad Rodrigo, where he would be less of an embarrassment to the officers and gentlemen of the mess, who could not be expected to sit at table with a man raised from the ranks. His next two promotions had been purchased after his marriage to a wealthy young Spanish widow whom he had met in the course of his work.

It was the thought of Sofia and their infant son that roused Dodd to the realisation that he must find a way to move. It was dark, and the sounds of battle had faded. Instead, there were the sounds of death; groans and cries and laboured breathing. Somewhere a horse was screaming. The sound horrified Dodd, and he would have given anything to be able to get to the animal and put it out of its misery. Dodd could smell blood, and something else, the stench of human excrement, alongside the smoke that still lingered in the air.

There was movement around him. A few feet away, Dodd could see a figure, faintly illuminated by a lantern. It might be help, but Dodd was not reassured. As darkness enveloped a battlefield, especially a field as bloody as this one, human vultures were more to be feared than the crows and the vermin and Dodd knew that scavengers, both army and civilian, would take what they could from the dead or the living, and might not hesitate to deal a death blow to a man resisting.

Dodd lay still. He had little of value on him other than his clothing. A poor childhood on the Anglo-Scottish borders had taught him never to assume anybody honest, and he had left his valuables with his wife who was staying in Brussels. Still, the night was damp and chilly and he was clearly wounded, although he did not know to what extent yet, and Dodd had no mind to allow himself to be stripped by some passing looter.

The lantern came closer, two voices speaking softly, both male, both speaking French. Dodd had never learned French, but he did not care what language they were speaking, their intention was obvious. One bent, rolling over a body beside Dodd, searching through pockets, breathing hard. Something moved above Dodd, and the weight on his chest lifted, confirming what he had already suspected, that he was lying under at least one dead man, possibly two.

With the movement came pain. Dodd had wondered about playing dead, but the shooting agony up his arm convulsed his entire body, and both looters fell back with a startled cry. Free to move, Dodd rolled over and felt frantically around him for a weapon. It occurred to him too late that he must have dropped his sword, but his hand closed over the familiar smoothness of a bayonet and he grasped it with one hand and rolled over, horrified at his own weakness but prepared to defend himself to the death.

“Get away from him, you bloody vultures!”

The voice was English, and Dodd fell back, weak with relief. The looters fled, stumbling over bodies, and Dodd summoned what remained of his strength and pushed himself up on one elbow, peering through the darkness.

“Over here.”

Another lantern shone a far brighter light, and Dodd blinked painfully. Two others bobbed further away.

“This one’s dead, sir.”

“Know him?”

“Preston, sir. Harker’s company.”

“Make a note, Benson.”

The lantern was raised above Dodd and a face he knew broke into a broad grin. “Captain Dodd. Bloody good to see you alive, sir. Can you walk?”

Dodd recognised the smoke-blackened face and felt tears of relief in his eyes. “Sergeant O’Keeffe. What the hell are you doing out here? And thank God you are. Does this mean we won?”

“Reckon so, sir. Is it your arm?”

The bandmaster of the 110th was looking at Dodd’s injured limb and Dodd looked down and felt immediately sick. The limb lay across his body, a mass of blood, and he realised he could not move it at all.

“You’ll have to hold it with the other hand, sir, we’ve no dressings here. But there’s a wagon on the track up there. Let’s get you up and we’ll get you to the surgeon.”

Movement was agony, but Dodd looked out over the crumpled bodies of men and horses that littered the dark field around him and decided that he was one of the lucky ones. Several other bandsmen were scouring the area, giving a shout every now and then to indicate that a live man had been found. The moon had emerged from behind a cloud,  flooding the field with pale light and Dodd tried to ignore the horrors it illuminated and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Every movement was agony, but he was alive and somewhere close by was Brussels and a hotel room where Sofia waited for news. By now she must be frantic.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Don’t know, sir. Two, maybe three. The fighting was over hours ago, but it’s dark, everybody’s all over the place and it’s hard to find anybody.”

“How’s our losses?”

“The army or the 110th?”

“Us.”

O’Keeffe did not reply immediately and Dodd felt his heart plummet. “Sergeant, for God’s sake…”

“I can’t say, sir, because we don’t know. We won’t know for a while.”

“Sir Paul?”

“About an hour ago a message came from the medical board to say that Dr Daniels hadn’t applied for permission to set up his surgery in the Chateau Sainte-Marguerite, sir, it wasn’t on their list. I heard the general explaining how much he didn’t care. I think he’s all right.”

Dodd felt his spirits lift a little. “Is that where we’re going?”

“Yes, sir. About a mile to the east, it’s not far. The family moved out ahead of the battle but Lady van Daan got friendly with them these past weeks in Brussels, she got permission to use it as a field hospital and the battalion is mustering in the gardens. Still a lot to come in, they’re probably lost in the dark.”

“Or dead,” Dodd said.

The Chateau Sainte-Marguerite was enormous, looming against a sky which was beginning to show signs of growing lighter as Dodd eased his way out of the wagon. Most of the other wounded men could not walk, but four stretchers awaited them. Dodd walked through into an immense stone paved courtyard which was filled with wounded men, sitting or lying, waiting for their turn to see the surgeon.

“Captain Dodd. This way, please.”

Dodd followed the assistant surgeon through to a chamber which had been cleared of all furniture other than some tables and several chairs. Two young hospital mates were both occupied with binding up relatively minor wounds. “Where’s Dr Daniels?”

“We’ve set up a surgery through there, sir. It’s a new system, Lady van Daan introduced it, I think some of the other surgeons are trying it as well. Called triage. It’s French.”

“French?” Dodd said, distracted from the pain by the doctor’s revolted tone.

“Bonaparte’s surgeon Larrey uses it to sort out the wounded, she read a paper about it. She’s always reading papers, I don’t know where she gets the time. Privilege of being an amateur, I suppose. Let me look.”

Dodd did so reluctantly. He knew it was going to be bad, but the jolt of agony as Dr Garrett eased his arm away from his body made him cry out, hastily suppressed. “Sorry,” he grunted. “Wasn’t ready.”

Dodd closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as Garrett examined the arm. “What’s triage?” he asked, to try to distract himself from the pain.

“This. Every patient gets examined as he comes in, then the most urgent cases get treated first.”

“I don’t think this is so bad,” Dodd croaked.

“It’s a bit of a mess, Captain,” Garrett said frankly. “I think the bone might be broken, and two of your fingers are…well, anyway. We could amputate it or I can strap it up and you can wait for Dr Daniels to look. Might be a while, there’s a lot waiting.”

“I’ll wait,” Dodd said. His body had gone cold at the mention of amputation, although he knew it might be the only solution, but he could sense doubt in the young surgeon. Garrett had been with the regiment for years as orderly and hospital mate, but had only recently qualified as a surgeon in London, and Dodd was willing to risk the wait.

“I’ll bind it up then, sir, and you can go through to the officers’ ward.”

“We’ve got wards?”

“I think it was a drawing room. She’s put the men in the ballroom, never seen anything like it in my life, mirrors everywhere. Right then, sir, hold still, I’ll put a dressing on…”

“Clean it!”

Garrett visibly jumped at the woman’s tone and Dodd turned his head. She was standing in the doorway to the surgery wearing a dark gown that was stained with blood, a scarf tied over her hair. Dodd thought that she looked like a Belgian peasant woman, albeit a very attractive one, but she was not, and he got up, supporting the arm while trying not to yell with pain, and bowed.

“Sorry, ma’am, no water,” Garrett said.

“There’s a well in the courtyard and two men from Captain Barry’s company with nothing better to do than draw water for the rest of the night. I don’t care what they taught you in London, Dr Garrett, you’re on Dr Daniels’ staff now and if I see you dressing one more wound without washing it properly tonight, you’re going head first down that well.” Lady van Daan turned her gaze to Dodd and her smile still managed to dazzle him in the lamplight. “I’m glad you’re safe, Captain Dodd. Rest, and we’ll get to you. I’m optimistic, looking at that. Can you hear properly yet?”

“I can hear you, ma’am. Ears still ringing a bit, though.”

“So are mine, but that’s because of Sir Paul yelling earlier, they probably heard him in Brussels. When that’s dressed, go and find some food and wine.”

She was gone, and Dodd endured the agony of having his arm washed and bound up, thinking about all the officers and men through five years of war who must have drawn courage from Anne van Daan’s relentless positivity. He thanked Garrett, and followed directions through to the long room, crowded with wounded officers, where two army wives were distributing wine and hard cheese and tack biscuit to those who could eat. Dodd took his share, wondering if Anne van Daan had raided the chateau wine cellar for her patients. He would not have put it past her. The food was dry and tasteless, but Dodd forced it down, and let the wine warm his exhausted, abused body.

For a while, Dodd wandered the room, stopping to speak to men he knew. Not all the officers were from the 110th, but many were. There was a smaller chamber at the far end of the ward, and Dodd peered in, than backed away quietly. A dozen men were laid out in neat rows, and the regimental chaplain sat beside one, holding his hand and praying softly with him.

There was a face missing. Dodd had not been conscious that he had been searching, but once he realised it, he needed to know. He asked for directions then made his way across the crowded courtyard to the west wing of the chateau where the uninjured fficers of the battalion occupied a billiard room and a series of reception rooms which led from one into the other. His arm was tightly bound and held against his chest in a sling and although it was still very painful, it was bearable.

“Dodd. Bloody good to see you, old boy. Dodgy arm?”

“Bit of a mess,” Dodd agreed. “Have any of you seen Captain Harker? He’s not on the ward or in the surgery, I’ve asked.”

“Not seen him, old man,” Captain Trent said soberly. “There’s a lot missing out there. The bandsmen and a few of the lads have been out all night searching, and they’re still coming in. Have you asked his men?”

“No, where are they?”

“They’ll be out back somewhere. The general was out there earlier, doing the rounds, but I think he’s ridden over to headquarters to see Wellington. One or two of the staff didn’t make it, I’ve heard.”

The spreading lawns of the chateau were crowded with men. Many of them were lying on the damp grass in an exhausted sleep. Others sat in small groups, talking quietly. Somewhere close by, a man was weeping, and the desolate sobs wrenched at Dodd’s heart. Some of these men were veterans of the long years of war in the Peninsula, but some were new troops and Dodd wondered what a battle this bloody would do to a man unaccustomed to war.

Dodd found his company, sitting or lying on the grass. Cooking fires had been lit and Dodd’s stomach rumbled at the smell of slightly burned meat. Two men huddled around the nearest fire and as Dodd approached, both rose and saluted.

“Good to see you, Captain. Murtaugh, cut off a few slices of that venison for the captain.”

“Venison?” Dodd said. He could feel himself salivating. “The officers in there are living off mouldy cheese and tack biscuits.”

“Not all of ‘em, sir. Sensible ones are out here with us.” Sergeant Donaldson indicated a stocky figure who was supervising a makeshift spit which looked as though it was made of several French lances. “Sergeant Kelly’s been looting the deer park with the help of the 95th. Lady van Daan says she’ll apologise and pay for them when the family finds out. Best eat now, they’ll be mustering to march before dawn, I reckon.”

Dodd accepted the advice and the venison which tasted heavenly. Between mouthfuls he said:

“I’m looking for Captain Harker. Any of his company here?”

Donaldson’s face was sombre in the firelight. “Over there, sir. But there’s not many of them. They got badly hit. Sorry, sir, I think the captain’s dead. I know you were friends.”

Dodd felt as though he had been punched in the stomach. Suddenly, he had no further interest in food. “I need to speak to them.”

There were no more than thirty men from the seventy eight of Harker’s company. Many of them were lying down, trying to sleep, but three were congregated around a fire smoking foul smelling pipes and they stood up to greet Dodd.

“I’m looking for Captain Harker, and I’m told it’s bad news,” Dodd said without preamble. “Do any of you know for sure?”

“He was shot, sir. Saw him fall myself. We got badly cut up, a lot of dead or wounded. Lieutenant Talbot was right in front of me, got his head blown off. Right off. Worst thing I ever saw.”

There were beads of sweat on the soldier’s face and his hands were shaking. Dodd put his good hand on the man’s shoulder although he was not sure comfort was possible tonight. His mind was full of James Harker, who had accepted him when few other officers would, who had stood as groomsman at his wedding to Sofia and who had moved, these past two years, from pleasant acquaintance to close and valued friend. He could not bear the thought of Harker lying out there, stripped naked by plunderers and left to rot until it was possible to throw his body into a mass grave. There might be nothing much left of James Harker, but Dodd needed to find him and see him buried properly, even if he could do nothing for those of his men who had died with him.

“I’m going to look for the captain,” he said. “I’ll need some help. Someone to show me where he fell and to get his body out of there for burial.”

“Can’t, sir. Sorry. We’re under orders not to go off looting or looking for our mates, or they’ll never get us back together for the march.”

Dodd bit back the oath he had been about to utter. It was not the fault of these men, and he understood miserably, that the pursuit of the French must come before taking care of the dead and wounded, but he was furious anyway. “Well I won’t be marching anywhere like this,” he said shortly, indicating the sling. “I’ll go by myself.”

“You can’t do that, sir. It’s like hell out there, you can’t walk without falling over a dead or dying man or horse. And if some of these looters see you, they’ll hit you on the bloody head for that coat you’re wearing and you can’t stop them. The Prussians are the worst, they’ll kill their mates for a gold coin.”

“The Prussians saved our bloody necks out there yesterday, Corporal.”

“They might have done, sir, but that won’t stop them finishing off a lone, wounded officer for a profit. Anyway, you won’t find him.”

“I’ll keep looking until I do,” Dodd said stubbornly, and turned away.

“I’ll go, sir,” a voice said, and Dodd turned and surveyed the young private. It was difficult to tell what the man looked like, as his entire head was covered in dried, sticky blood. A rough bandage had been applied over his left ear, and it was brown with blood and dirt. Only a pair of bright blue eyes were clear in the mess.

“Name?”

“Private Hook, sir. Surgeon said I can’t march with this. I know where the captain went down.”

“Why aren’t you on the ward, Hook?”

“Can’t stand it up there, sir, they’re dying around me. Better out here. There’s a few of us can walk, but can’t march, we’ll help.”

Dodd waited while Hook mustered his troops. There were four of them, two with injured arms, one with a patch over his eye and a savage gash down one cheek and one with bandages swathing his chest under his red coat, who assured Dodd that the musket ball had done nothing more than broken a rib or two. Dodd rejected a fifth, who was limping badly and could not manage without an improvised crutch.

Dodd led his men to the edge of the field. It was light enough to see properly now, and Dodd paused, surveying the carnage. It had been bad enough in the dark, but the moonlight had concealed some of the horrors. The brightness of dawn spreading across the sky revealed a charnel house, with dead and dying men and horses sprawled indiscriminately over the few square miles where Wellington’s allied army had fought for its life on the previous day. The ground was soaked with blood, and in places, particularly in front of some of the artillery batteries, the corpses were piled high. The air was full of the sound of suffering men and horses, and there was movement over the field as wounded animals thrashed about and injured men dragged themselves to their feet where they could, and staggered towards the road in search of help.

Already the field was busy with fatigue parties, sent out to search for the wounded. There were also looters. Many of these were from the local villages, and Dodd was appalled to see women and children among them, scrambling over piles of dead, removing anything of value, and then systematically depriving the bodies of their clothing as well. Not all the looters were civilians. Dodd’s party passed three Prussians. One was hoisting a French cavalry sword, while his companion was seated on a pile of dead Frenchmen, trying on boots taken from a corpse as nonchalently as if he was in a shoe shop.

In the dark, Dodd had not recognised where he was, but in daylight it was easier to see the layout of the field. The 110th had fought on the right of Wellington’s position and Dodd picked his way over the field, trying not to see or hear the horrors around him, since he could do nothing about them. It was difficult to walk with one arm strapped to his chest, and several times Dodd stumbled over some piece of debris, and would have fallen if one of his companions had not caught him. The pain was excruciating, but Dodd made himself ignore it. Later, once he had found Harker, he would go back to the chateau and let them do what had to be done.

Dodd and his men passed increasing numbers of wounded, limping or being carried towards the farm of Mont St Jean where a field hospital had been set up. Dodd wondered about conditions there, given the number of wounded men. It was bad enough at the chateau.

“Sir. This is it. One of ours.”

Dodd stopped and looked down. The man lay face down in the mud, and the hole in his back was enormous, the shredded red coat covered with black powder, blood and shattered bone. Dodd supposed that was why the looters had left the coat, because they had taken every other stitch of clothing and the man was bare from the waist down. One thrown out arm showed the silver grey facings of the 110th at the cuff and Dodd closed his eyes. Suddenly, bizarrely, he was back there, bellowing orders to his men through the thick clouds of black smoke, hearing their screams as they fell, the shrieking of cavalry horses cut down by musket fire and over it all the incessant booming of the guns, which made the earth shake beneath his feet as he urged his men on, frantically filling in gaps in the square, dragging wounded men into the centre to give them some protection and praying desperately for relief.

“You all right, sir?”

Hook’s voice seemed to come from a long way off. Dodd fought off dizziness with a supreme effort. He could not collapse here, among his dead or dying comrades, or he might find himself left behind as though he had never made it off the field the first time. Dodd appreciated the help of Harker’s men, but he was not naive enough to assume that they would heroically carry him from the field should he pass out. They may have felt some sense of loyalty to their dead captain, but they had also stopped frequently to search bodies in passing for anything of value, and Dodd suspected that if he lay unconscious they would rob him without compunction, although they might then call for a hospital wagon if he was lucky.

“I’m fine, Private. Yes, we’re about right here. I’m looking for Captain Harker, lads, but while we’re here, we should see who else we can identify. I’ve my note tablets here, if you see a dead man you recognise, yell his name and company and I’ll make a note.”

“What about the live ones, sir?”

“If we can get them up to the road and keep them together, we’ll get a couple of wagons out to them.”

It was an agonising process. Even this soon, the bodies were beginning to putrefy and the smell was appalling. Some of the corpses were already naked, although not very many; it was clear that looting in earnest had not yet reached this part of the field. There were some living. Names were called out, some that Dodd knew, others he did not.  Dodd found a broken gun carriage and rested his tablets on one of the rough planks, scribbling industriously.

“Barlow, sir, Zouch’s company. Dead.”

“Simmonds, sir. Elliott’s company. Dead.”

“Taylor, sir. Fenwick’s company. Alive.”

“Can you get him up?”

“No, sir. He’s got no legs.”

The list went on. Three subalterns were found, two dead, one alive, a boy of eighteen, his arm a bloody pulp but his eyes bright with tears of gratitude and Dodd watched Hook and Private Benson help him over to join the small group of survivors beside the road, talking reassuringly and thought that after all, he trusted these men not to leave him to die on the field. Looters they might be, but there was also compassion and kindness.

Private Edwards, now sweating with the pain of his broken ribs, was dispatched with a message to the chateau, and Dodd kept on making his notes. He felt sick with apprehension, waiting for the name he was dreading, the man he had come here to find.

“Sir, two more officers.”

“Who is it, Bryan?”

“Captain Fenwick.”

“Oh God, no.” The paper blurred before Dodd’s eyes and he wiped his eyes on his sleeve, realising that he was crying and had been so for several minutes. Picking up the notes he pushed them with the pencil into his pocket and made his way to where Bryan and Hook were bending over a supine body. Fenwick had lost his hat and the fair hair, usually so elegantly styled, was filthy and matted with blood. Blood soaked the grey trousers from what looked like a wound in the hip, and there was another gash across Fenwick’s chest. His face was filthy with powder and mud but surprisingly unmarked, and Dodd thought how young he looked. He had not always felt comfortable with Giles Fenwick, whose aristocratic background was a long way from Dodd’s childhood in a two-roomed border cottage, but Fenwick was always unfailingly pleasant to Dodd.

Fenwick and his company had gone down fighting. There was a tangle of bodies around him, many English but far more French. Dodd surveyed the men, trying to bring his tears under control. He was exhausted, and if he did not find Harker soon he realised he was going to have to give up the search and return to the chateau before he collapsed.

There was a spluttering sound, and a violent coughing and then a groan of agony and it took Dodd almost a minute to realise that they came from the man at his feet.

“He’s alive,” he breathed, and dropped to his knees, fumbling for his canteen of water. “Fenwick. Captain Fenwick. Giles, can you hear me?”

“Dodd?” Blue eyes opened and rested on Dodd in some surprise. “I should have known they couldn’t kill you.”

Dodd held the canteen to Fenwick’s lips. “Don’t move. We’ve sent a man for wagons, they’ll be up in a bit.”

“My officers. My lieutenants. Are they…did they?”

“Mr Gordon is alive, I’ve seen him.”

“Tom? Tom Oakley.”

“I don’t know, Giles. We’ll find out.”

Fenwick’s eyes closed for a moment then opened again. “You’re wounded. What the bloody hell are you doing out here in this state, Dodd?”

“Harker. James Harker. I’m trying to find his body. They told me he went down. You’ve not seen him?”

Fenwick shook his head exhaustedly and closed his eyes once more. Dodd got up, which was difficult in his present condition. Two of the men were bending over a figure a few feet away and the coat was that of an officer. Dodd went forward, feeling sick, but as he got there he could see it was not Harker.

“Should we tell Captain Fenwick, sir?”

Dodd looked down at the body, feeling tears welling up again. “Not yet,” he said softly. “Let’s get him out of here first.”

There were more dead, their names unknown. Dodd made a note of numbers, and searched pockets for anything that might identify them. Harker was not here and Dodd knew he could go no further. There were bodies strewn about that could not be identified, blown apart by guns, their clothing stripped from them and any valuables gone. Any one of them might be Harker, and Dodd felt suddenly hopeless.

“Sir, there’s more alive over here.”

Dodd went to join Hook who was supervising the removal of five men. Two could walk, and were able to help carry the others, and Dodd felt a little lift as he recognised one of his sergeants, bloody and limping, but looking steady on his feet.

“Good to see you, sir.”

“You too, Sergeant Carling. Bloody awful, wasn’t it?”

“Totally shit, sir. Hoping they’ll invalid me out after this, I’ve had enough.”

“I’m selling out,” Dodd said. It felt odd to say it, although it was the conversation he had held before the battle with Sofia. “I’ve done my duty, Sergeant, I’ve got a wife and a son and I’m going home to Spain where I’m going to live a very happy, very boring life.”

“Good for you, sir, you’ve earned it. You’ll be missed, though. Best captain I’ve served under.”

Dodd shot him an astonished look. “Thank you, Sergeant. Didn’t expect that, but it’s good of you.”

Carling grinned. “They say you don’t make a good officer if you come up from the ranks. Bollocks, if you ask me. Who understands us better?”

“General Sir Paul van Daan?”

Carling started to laugh. It turned into a cough, and he was red faced and wheezing as Dodd fumbled for the remains of his water and gave it to him.

“Sorry, sir. Too much smoke. General Sir Paul van Daan was born to be hanged, don’t know how he’s still here. Did I ever tell you about the time he got into a shouting match with Craufurd at the Coa?”

The story took some time, and they sat at the side of the road, watching injured men hobble past in search of help. Carling was a good raconteur, and Dodd found himself laughing. Some of the wounded men around him joined in. Dodd thought that it should have seemed wrong to share a joke amidst the death and horror, but instead he felt better. He wished Harker was here to laugh with him, and the thought that they would never laugh together again hurt, but he felt that Harker would understand and approve.

Wagons rumbled along the road towards Mont St Jean and Brussels, and then one slowed and stopped. Dodd got up with an effort. He had almost forgotten the pain of his arm in the relief of finding at least some living among the many dead, and in swapping battle stories. Another wagon pulled up behind, and then a large, elegant travelling carriage stopped. Dodd recognised it with a sinking feeling and braced himself. The door opened, and Anne van Daan jumped down lightly without waiting for the groom to lower the steps. Dark eyes fixed on him ominously.

“Captain Dodd. It is seldom that I fail to make myself understood so spectacularly. Was there any way that I could have said “Wait to be treated” more clearly for you?”

“Sorry, ma’am. I was searching for Captain Harker’s body, I heard he’d been killed.”

“Did you find him?” Anne enquired sympathetically.

“No, ma’am. But we’ve found a lot of wounded men, including Captain Fenwick. And I’ve made a list of the men we were able to identify out there. The dead.”

Anne studied him for a moment, then her expression softened. “Thank you, Captain, that was very helpful. I brought my carriage. Why don’t you get in and rest while I supervise loading the rest of the wounded into the hospital wagons. When we get back to the chateau, I will look at your arm myself.”

“Thank you, ma’am. And I am sorry.”

“I expect you’re going to be, Captain.”

Dodd pondered the odd phrasing as he climbed awkwardly up the steps of the carriage, with the help of Anne’s groom. The door closed and Dodd sank gratefully into the seat and looked at the man sitting opposite him.

“If you were still my ensign, you irresponsible idiot, I would kick your sorry arse all the way to Brussels and back. What made you think it was a good idea to go haring off on some half-baked rescue mission in search of my dead body without bothering to check with the duty officer if I’d reported in since the end of the battle?”

Dodd’s mouth was hanging open. He stared into Harker’s dark eyes in complete astonishment. “I asked in the officers’ quarters,” he stammered. “And then I went and found your company and they told me you’d fallen.”

“If there was a man out there who kept his feet the entire day, I’d be bloody amazed,” Harker said scathingly. “Just because I got a shot in the shoulder, doesn’t mean I am lying in a pile of dead bodies. I’m in considerably better condition than you, look at the state of that arm. Does it hurt?”

“Like hell,” Dodd said honestly. He was crying, the tears making streaks in his filthy face, and he wiped them with his good hand. “I thought you were dead. It’s bloody good to see you, James.”

“It’s good to see you too, Captain Dodd. I’ve been worried sick about you, I couldn’t find anybody to tell me where you’d gone when I got back. Thank God you sent a message for the wagons. How bad is Fenwick?”

“He looked bloody awful, I thought he was dead.”

“That’s not saying much, you thought I was dead, and you’d not even seen me.”

Dodd began to laugh. “I am such an arsehole,” he said. “I didn’t even think to ask who was duty officer and if they’d done a roll call. But where were you?”

“I was bloody well looking for you. Lean back, shut your eyes and rest. It’s over, Sandy, your war is done.”

“My army career is done,” Dodd said drowsily.  The sheer relief of finding Harker alive had drained all the tension from his body leaving him weak and exhausted. “I’m going home, James.”

***

At the Chateau Sainte-Marguerite, James Harker climbed down from the carriage, watching as his general’s wife organised the removal of the wounded. Captain Giles Fenwick was unconscious and was carried directly into the surgery. Harker, who liked Fenwick, said a quick prayer, then turned to his own particular responsibility.

Andrew Dodd slept in an untidy tangle of limbs in the corner of the carriage. Harker spent the short journey admiring his friend’s ability to fall asleep in the most unpromising circumstances. He had always been able to do so. The sling which bound his arm across his chest was dark with blood, and Harker was both furious and moved at Dodd’s irrational determination to go in search of a friend’s body rather than see to his own injuries. Ironically, Dodd’s quest had brought back many wounded men from the 110th and identified a lot of the dead. Harker hoped passionately that Dodd’s rashness had not made the injury much worse.

Harker reached out and shook Dodd very gently. Dodd came awake with a whimper of pain, quickly suppressed, and Harker took his free hand.

“Let’s get you down and get that arm looked at.”

Dobb allowed himself to be helped down from the carriage. He was completely white, his face ashen under the shock of red hair, his green eyes dull with pain. “I’m going to lose my arm, James.”

“Not necessarily.”

“I am. Garrett thought so last night, he’d have done it then if I’d have let him. It’s all right. It’s my left arm, it could be worse. I don’t think it will upset Sofia too much, she’s a brave girl, and there’ll be a lot I can still do…”

“Jesus, Sandy, stop being such a pessimist. This way, Lady van Daan wants to look at it herself. Try not to swear.”

“Don’t be an arsehole, James, she lives with the general, she must hear worse every day.”

Anne van Daan was waiting in a small chamber away from the main surgery and Harker silently blessed her for the thought. He stood close by as she stripped off the dressings and bathed the bloody wounds on Dodd’s arm and hand.

Anne studied the damaged limb thoughtfully. Dodd stared at the wall and said nothing and Harker watched her face. He had spent a good deal of time around army surgeons, but this unqualified but very experienced young woman gave him a surprising sense of confidence. In the midst of bloody chaos, she behaved as though she had all the time in the world.

“Captain Harker , can you find me some splints, please? There is a woodpile outside. I want a long flat piece for the arm and several small pieces for the hand. And ask one of the orderlies to bring through some bandages. A lot of bandages. If we are running short, let me know, and I will cut up some of my husband’s shirts.”

Dodd made a strangled sound, hastily suppressed as Anne gave him a look. “You are allowed to complain about the pain, Captain Dodd, not about my choice of dressings.”

Harker found the woodpile, and an orderly wielding a saw and a small axe attended to his requirements. Returning to the room, he found Anne very gently lifting Dodd’s arm onto a table to steady it. Dodd was breathing heavily, and Harker could see the effort it was costing him not to cry out. He was very proud of his friend, but not surprised. When they had first worked together in a tedious administrative posting in Ciudad Rodrigo, Harker had thought that Dodd was the laziest and most insubordinate junior officer he had every had to deal with and had wondered how the man would ever rouse himself to fight a battle. Harker had found out at Vitoria, and had never since questioned either Dodd’s courage or his commitment.

“I’m not going to ask the surgeon to amputate,” Anne said, still examining the arm. “That bone is broken, but I’ve felt it, and I don’t think it’s smashed. I’m going to set it, which will hurt a lot. I’m also going to set your fingers as well as I can, but before I do, I need to go through those wounds and make sure there is nothing left in them, because infection is your worst risk, especially after clumping around all over a battlefield with it. Do you know how this happened?”

“Musket fire, I think, ma’am. Not sure.”

“You’re probably right, although I cannot imagine how…”

Anne broke off at the sound of a bugle. Both Harker and Dodd turned their heads, listening. Outside the window in the chateau gardens there was a stirring, and then a shouted order. More followed.”

“Orders to march,” Anne said. “Don’t move, Captain Harker. You’re doing better than Captain Dodd, but if you open up that wound, you’ll be sent back here on a stretcher, and I will then have words to say. You are on the sick list.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll need some help holding him. I can get one of the orderlies to come through…”

“I can do it, ma’am.”

It helped Harker to have something to do, but it was a long and painful process and Dodd’s stoicism could not hide his agony. Anne showed Harker how to hold the patient across his upper arm and chest to keep him still, which meant that Harker could feel him physically flinch, his body jerking as Anne probed each tear in the flesh for any foreign objects or splinters of bone. There were several. Harker was sure he had never seen an army surgeon take such painstaking care. When she was done, Anne sluiced the wounds with cold water, examined them again, and said:

“I’m going to set this bone and then I’ll deal with the fingers. Hold him very still, Captain Harker, he will jump.”

Dodd’s face was covered with a sheen of sweat. “Ma’am, are you sure I shouldn’t wait for the surgeon? I don’t doubt your skill, but it sometimes takes a man’s strength to…”

Dodd broke off with a yell of pain, his entire body convulsing in Harker’s arms. Anne loosened her grip on the arm, but held it still to stop Dodd trying to move it. “I think that should do it,” she said conversationally. “Keep still, Captain, while I look at those fingers.”

Dodd did not speak or move again. Harker watched in fascinated admiration as Anne neatly splinted two of the damaged fingers, then wound soaked linen firmly around Dodd’s arm to keep it in place. When it was done, she tied a sling, adjusted it to her satisfaction and stood back.

“Excellent. I think that will do for now. Usually, I would leave that on for a while, but I’ll need to check it after a few days to ensure that the wounds are clean. Once the roads are a little clear, we are transporting our wounded officers back to Brussels, we’ll find space for you all at our hired house there.”

“We’ve a hotel room, ma’am, we’ve no need…”

“I want you under my eye, Captain Dodd, and your wife and son will be very much more comfortable as our guests, I assure you. Captain Harker, will you take care of him, please?”

“Yes, ma’am. And thank you.”

“Aye, thank you,” Dodd said, flushing slightly. “Will you excuse me, though, ma’am – are you not going to bleed me?”

“No.”

“It’s usual with a wound like this.”

“It isn’t necessary.”

Dodd’s face wore a stubborn expression which Harker knew very well. “Will you ask Dr Daniels?”

“I will not. He is busy amputating the arm of a nineteen year old recruit from Chester, and I need to get back in there to tie up the blood vessels for him. If you are worried about a lack of bloodletting, allow me to reassure you.” Anne picked up the basin, and both Dodd and Harker stared at the revolting mess it contained. Anne set it down again. “Plenty of nice red blood, and it’s all yours. Let’s leave it to the French to spill your blood, Captain Dodd, they’ve done a fine job. Take him away, Captain Harker.”

***

Dodd and Harker stood outside the chateau watching as the 110th formed up in preparation for the march south towards the French border. Other troops were already on the way, and fatigue parties had been hastily put together to clear the road of the debris of battle. Dead and wounded still lay out on the field, and Dodd felt sick, thinking of the men from both armies dying out there as the medical services struggled to bring them in. Some attempts were being made to bury the bodies, but Dodd suspected that given the hot weather, both men and horses would have to be burned. He had seen it before at Albuera and it nauseated him.

The dead of the 110th, or as many as could be collected, would be buried in a huge grave pit which was being dug to the south of the chateau. Four wagons, with teams of local men, were toiling on the field under the supervision of some of the walking wounded, bringing the dead men in. The enthusiasm of the Belgians for their task surprised Dodd until Harker told him that Sir Paul van Daan was paying for their labour very generously from his own pocket.

“Once they’ve marched out, and the burials are done, Lady van Daan is going to start moving the wounded back to Brussels,” Harker said. “Officers and medical staff will stay at the Palais de Saint-Jean and the men in the Saint-Jean Convent close by. The medical supervisor there is Dr Norris, who is an old friend of Lady van Daan.”

“Does that mean he’ll do exactly as she tells him?” Dodd said morosely. It was still bothering him that in twenty-four hours, he had not been bled. There was no sign of fever and the broken arm was far less painful now that it was properly splinted, but Dodd felt cheated.

“If he’s got any sense,” Harker said with a grin.

A carriage turned off the road, making its way ponderously up the drive towards the chateau. Its progress was slow because of the troops making their way to the muster point, and Dodd could see the Belgian driver becoming exasperated, waving his riding whip and yelling at the men. The soldiers ignored him, and the carriage stopped for a third time.

“I hope their business isn’t urgent,” Harker said.

“It’d be quicker to get out and walk. Oh Christ, there’s a supply wagon coming the opposite way now, I don’t think there’s even room to pass on that road.”

Abruptly the carriage door swung open. The driver turned, calling back what was probably a warning, but his passenger ignored it and jumped down from the high step. It was a woman, and Dodd’s heart leaped. Sofia had never abandoned her traditional Spanish gowns for the high-waisted fashions of England and France, and in public she always wore a lace mantilla, which partly concealed her face. The scar she had received from her brutal first husband had faded over the past three years, and Sofia had gained in confidence, but she was still shy with strangers.

Sofia closed the carriage door and began to run towards the house, lifting her skirts to prevent her tripping. Dodd was not sure if she had seen him, and he could not run without risk of falling, but he began to walk quickly to meet her. He knew the moment that she saw him, because she stopped, her eyes on his face. Dodd continued walking, not seeing the men around him, seeing only her. After a moment she began to walk too, her face alight with joy. When she reached him, they both paused, studying each other. It had been only four days since he had left her in Brussels but it felt like a lifetime.

“I did not expect to find you out of your bed,” Sofia said. “They said you might lose your arm.”

“I hope not,” Dodd said. “I could do with both to hold my wife.”

“One will suffice for now.”

She moved then, and Dodd caught her with his good arm and kissed her for a long time. He had thought of her, waiting for the guns to start, and her memory sustained him through the long day of battle and the hours lying out on the field in agony, surrounded by death and misery. Being in her arms was everything he had longed for and Dodd did not want to let her go.

The sound puzzled Dodd at first, and then he realised it was cheering. His hearing was finally back to normal and the yelling of the men around him was loud enough to disturb even his absorption in his wife. Dodd raised his head and looked around, wondering if the Duke of Wellington was approaching, since he could not imagine who else warranted such a welcome. Instead, he found that they were looking at him and Sofia, laughing and clapping and shouting their approval. The cheers echoed from further back, although Dodd doubted they could even see why they were applauding. Two young officers on horseback were looking over the heads of the men, and one of them caught Dodd’s eye and gave an ear-splitting whistle, while the other clapped his hands.

“Good show, Captain Dodd! All the best to you, sir.”

Dodd opened his mouth to give them a piece of his mind, and then realised that he did not want to. He was smiling, grinning like an idiot, and his usually shy wife was both laughing and blushing. She looked radiant, and Dodd decided to ignore the audience and kiss her again. The cheers redoubled, and he could feel Sofia shaking with laughter in his embrace.

“I have come to take you back to Brussels, Andrew, but I see you have many friends here.”

“I can live without every one of them if I have you, querida.” Dodd took her hand and raised it to his lips. “Brussels it is then, but only until this has mended and I’ve time to send in my papers.”

They turned towards the chateau, walking arm in arm between cheering, clapping men. The noise died gradually as officers and NCOs called their men to order, hurrying them into marching lines. On the steps of the chateau, Dodd turned to watch their departure, bayonets gleaming above shabby, stained red coats. At the end of the drive the battalion halted, then at a shouted order, made their way out onto the road. Dodd could see his commanding officer now, mounted on his favourite roan gelding, watching his men march past. For a moment, Dodd felt an ache of sadness that he was not there with them.

A bugle sounded in the distance, setting the marching pace, and Dodd could hear drums from some of the other regiments. He had lived his life to these sounds since he was a boy of seventeen and it was difficult to imagine a future without them. Dodd looked down at Sofia and saw that she was looking up at him, a little worried furrow on her brow. Dodd smiled, bent and kissed it away.

“You will miss it.”

“Not as much as I miss you.” Dodd touched his sling, meeting her anxious dark eyes. “I think there’ll be a part of me that listens for that bugle every morning for the rest of my life. But when I open my eyes and see you beside me, I won’t regret that. I’ve done my duty, Sofia, all my life, and this is the second time it’s almost killed me. It’s enough.”

Sofia put both her arms about him, careful not to hurt his arm, and kissed him. The bugle sounded again, a haunting note above the crunching of marching feet and the rumble of gun carriages on the rutted road, but this time Dodd felt no sadness, only gratitude and the sense of coming home.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not check out the rest of the Historical Writers Forum June Blog Hop posts, with more to come in July…

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail