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Vittoria, Spain, 21 June 1813
With victory won, the army plundered the baggage train abandoned by the French in their hasty flight. Elijah had never dreamed of such wealth all in one place. It wasn't only the supplies and the paymasters' wagons, but Joseph Bonaparte's royal treasury, too, now that the British were hounding the emperor's brother back to France.
Elijah supposed that in a perfect world, all this treasure would be carefully guarded until the British army and government in their wisdom decided to dole it out as prize money. Lord Wellington would get the biggest share, with smaller fortunes to the divisional generals and colonels, on down to the lowliest privates, who'd get just enough to drink and eat better than usual for a few weeks.
But he didn't yet live in a perfect world. That was heaven, and there'd be no war there. Here on earth he was too practical to be a saint and take no share at all. A comfortable sense of his own virtue wouldn't keep him fed or shod. So he coolly filled his haversack with silver francs from an overturned paymaster's wagon, all the while keeping one eye on his men to make sure their plundering didn't put them in danger.
A few French soldiers still wandered about, doing their share of looting before hurrying off to rejoin their own regiments. Elijah didn't begrudge them a few coins or even a golden goblet or two. Who knew when they'd get paid again, poor devils, now that they were on the run. But when one of them started to dispute with George Yonge over possession of a silken dress, Elijah stepped closer and put on his most menacing battle face. Private Yonge was a thorn in his side, but if Elijah limited himself to looking out for the men in his company he liked, he wouldn't be much of an NCO. And if corporal was the highest rank a man like him would ever be allowed to hold, then, by God, he meant to be the best damn corporal in all the army.
Upon beholding him, the Frenchman fled. Elijah had that effect on people, though away from the battlefield he tried to tamp it down. There weren't many men in the army as big as he was, and even fewer as black.
Yonge nodded a grudging acknowledgement as he bundled up the bright blue silk. "Thanks."
Elijah shrugged. He didn't need thanks for merely doing his duty. "What on earth do you mean to do with a dress?" he asked.
Yonge rolled his eyes. "Find a woman to give it to, what else? Not all of us can get them onto their backs just because they want to see if the color is the same all the way down."
"That happened once." Elijah sighed out his annoyance and returned to the pay wagon. He should've known better than to stop to chat with Yonge. Some of the men were never going to have much respect for a man of his race. As long as they weren't openly insubordinate against the small authority his corporal's stripes gave him, it wasn't worth trying to change their minds.
But the dress was such an odd choice he hadn't been able to help remarking on it. If a man meant to loot, money was better than jewels or silks. Coins were anonymous, they could be spent little by little as he had need of them, and there was nothing surprising in a corporal having a fewthough not quite the full haversack he was amassing.