The Spanish Brideby Georgette Heyer
Based on the true story of Brigade-Major Harry Smith and the very young Spanish noblewoman he met and married during the Peninsular Wars, when the Duke of Wellington's forces fought Napoleon's army in Spain and Portugal. See more details below
Based on the true story of Brigade-Major Harry Smith and the very young Spanish noblewoman he met and married during the Peninsular Wars, when the Duke of Wellington's forces fought Napoleon's army in Spain and Portugal.
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The Spanish BrideA NOVEL IN WHICH BRIGADE-MAJOR HARRY SMITH UNEXPECTEDLY AND IMPULSIVELY ACQUIRES A BRIDE ...
By Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks LandmarkCopyright © 1940 Georgette Heyer
All right reserved.
There was a place on the right bank of the Guadiana where hares ran strong. It was near a large rabbit-warren, quite a celebrated spot, which the officers of the army besieging Badajos had soon discovered. Sport had been out of the question during the first part of the siege, when the torrential rain had fallen day after day, flooding the river, sweeping away the pontoon-bridges that formed part of the communication-lines from Badajos to headquarters at Elvas, turning all the ground round the town into a clay swamp through which the blaspheming troops struggled from their sodden camp to the trenches.
Having broken ground on St Patrick's Day, the army, which boasted a large proportion of Irishmen in its ranks, was confident that this third siege of Badajos would be successful. But the drenching rain, which persisted for a week, threatened to upset all Lord Wellington's plans. From the moment of opening the first parallel, the most appalling weather had set in. Trenches became flooded; the mud in the gabions ran off in a yellow slime; and men worked in water that rose to their waists. It was harder to bear than the firing from the walls of the town, for it was disheartening work, and good infantrymen hated it. They called it grave-digging, labour for sappers, not for crack troops. There was, unfortunately, a dearth of sappers in the army. 'Ah, may the divil fly away with old Hookey! Didn't we take Rodrigo, and is ut not the time for others to ingage on a thrifle of work?' demanded Rifleman O'Brien.
On the 24th March the rain stopped, and fine weather set in. The digging of the parallels went on quickly, in spite of the difficulty of working in heavy, saturated clay, and in spite of the vicious fire from Badajos. The Portuguese gunners, bombarding the bastions of Santa Maria and La Trinidad, fell into the way of posting a man on the look-out to declare the nature of each missile that was fired from the walls. 'Bomba!' he would shout; or 'Balla!' and the gunners would duck till the shot had passed. Sometimes the look-out man would see a discharge from all arms, and, according to Johnny Kincaid, fling himself down, screaming: 'Jesús, todos, todos!'
With the better weather, thoughts turned to sport. A partridge or a hare made a welcome addition to any soup-kettle. It was Brigade-Major Harry Smith's boast that there was not an officers' mess in the 2nd brigade of the Light division which he did not keep supplied with hares. In infantry regiments, in the general way, it was only possible for Staff-officers, with a couple of good remounts, to indulge in hunting or coursing, nor was it by any means every Staff-officer who owned a string of greyhounds. But Brigade-Major Smith was sporting-mad, and wherever he went a stud of horses and a string of Spanish greyhounds went too. If he had a few hours off duty, he would come into camp from the trenches, shout for a bite of food, swallow it standing, and set off on a fresh horse, and with any friend who could be induced to forgo a much-needed rest for the sake of joining him in an arduous chase.
But however heavy the going the sport was good, hares being plentiful, and Harry's greyhounds, despised by those who obstinately upheld the superior speed and intelligence of English hounds, generally successful.
The Brigade-Major was a wiry young man, rising twenty-five, with a dark, mobile countenance, a body hardened by seven years' service in the 95th Rifles, a store of inexhaustible energy, and a degree of luck in escaping death that was almost uncanny. If he had not been such an efficient officer, he would have been damned as a harum-scarum youth, and had indeed often been sworn at for a madman by his friends, and his various Brigadiers.
His restless energy made his friends groan. 'Oh, to hell with you, Harry, can't you be still?' complained Charlie Eeles, haled from his tent to the chase. 'Oh, very well, I'll come! Who goes with us?'
'Stewart. Bustle about, man! I must be back by six o'clock at latest.'
Grumbling, cursing, Lieutenant Eeles turned out, for although he had been on duty for six hours in the trenches, and was tired and cold, it was always much more amusing to go with Harry than to stay in camp. By the time he was in the saddle, Captain the Honourable James Stewart had joined them, mounted on a blood-mare, and demanding to know what was keeping Harry.
The Light and 4th divisions being encamped on the southern side of Badajos, near the Albuera road, the three young men had not far to ride before crossing the Guadiana river. The weather, though dry, was dull, and the sky looked sullen. Badajos, crouching on rising ground in the middle of a gray plain, lay to their right, as they rode towards the river. A Castle, poised upon a hundred-foot rock, dominated the eastern side of the town, and overlooked the confluence of the Guadiana with the smaller Rivillas river. On this side of Badajos, Sir Thomas Picton's Fighting 3rd division was encamped, and the parallels had been first cut. The French, defending the town, had built up the bridge that crossed the Rivillas near the San Roque gate, south of the Castle, and had strengthened the two weakest bastions of the town – those of San Pedro and La Trinidad – by damming the Rivillas into a broad pool, guarded by the San Roque lunette. This inundation stretched from the bastion of San Pedro to La Trinidad, its overflow seeping into cunettes dug immediately below the walls of the town. An attempt to blow up the dam had failed, on the 2nd April, and the inundation remained, blocking the approach from the first and second parallels, and covering all the ground from the walls of Badajos to the Seville road.
Beyond the inundation, an outwork, known as the Picurina fort, had been carried by a storming-party from the 3rd division, under Major-General Kempt, on the 26th March. West of La Picurina, and due south of the town, a strong out-fort, the Pardeleras, was still in French hands; and on the right bank of the river, north of the town, the San Cristobal fort, standing on a hill that overlooked the Castle, and the old Roman bridge that spanned the Guadiana, towered over all. In previous sieges, the attacks had been directed against San Cristobal, and had failed; but in this chill spring of 1812, Lord Wellington, fresh from the conquest of Ciudad Rodrigo, had marched his troops south through Portalegre and Elvas, on the Portuguese border, to invest Badajos on the south and east sides. Everyone knew that the assault was to be made on the weaker bastions of Santa Maria and La Trinidad, for these, and the curtain between them, were being relentlessly bombarded; and everyone knew that time was a more than usually important factor in these operations. Marmont, his headquarters at Valladolid, might be contained by a covering force of Spaniards to the north; but there was news that Soult, with the French army of the South, had broken up from before Cadiz, and was moving to the relief of Badajos.
The bad weather had delayed the siege-work; there had been the usual trouble over transports; and a hundred and one checks and annoyances. The Engineers' Park was stocked with cutting-tools sent up from Lisbon, but the senior Engineer, Colonel Fletcher, had had the misfortune to be wounded in the groin during the early days of the investment, and was compelled to direct the operations of his subordinates from a bed in his tent. Admiral Berkeley, in command of the squadron at Lisbon, sent, instead of the British guns he had been requested to lend to the army, twenty Russian guns which were of different calibre from the British 18-pounder, and would not take its shot; while a Portuguese artillery officer, anxious to be helpful, added to Colonel Dickson's worries by unearthing from a store in Elvas some iron and brass guns of startling antiquity.
The siege-operations were under the general command of Sir Thomas Picton, whose division divided the trench-duty with the Light and 4th divisions.
The Light division, which was composed of the 95th Rifles, the 52nd and 43rd regiments, with the 1st and 3rd Portuguese Caçadores, was at present led by Colonel Andrew Barnard, who held the command until some senior officer should be appointed to relieve him of it. He was filling the place of that great, and rather terrible little man, General Craufurd, killed in the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo. Though the Light division had not suffered as severely as had the 3rd in that assault, it had sustained several serious losses. Craufurd was dead; Vandeleur, commanding the 2nd brigade, had been badly wounded; Colonel Colborne, of the 52nd, had a ball in his shoulder which would send him home to England; Major Napier had lost an arm; Captain Uniacke of the 95th had been killed by the explosion of a French mine at the great breach.
Death was too common an occurrence in the Peninsula for a man's friends to grieve long over his loss, nor was Brigade-Major Smith a young gentleman who indulged much in melancholy reflections; but Uniacke had been a close friend of his, and it would be a long time before he would be able to remember, without an uncomfortable tightening of the throat muscles, his last supper with Uniacke, immediately before the storm of Rodrigo. 'Harry, you'll be a Captain before morning!' Uniacke had prophesied. He had been in great spirits; he had not known that it would be his own death that would give Harry a company.
Harry had naturally volunteered for the forlorn hope, but General Craufurd had refused to let him lead it. 'You, a Major of Brigade, a senior lieutenant! No, I must give it to a younger man.'
He had given it to Gurwood, of the 52nd, no friend of Harry's: a sharp fellow, who had made the most of his own gallantry, Harry thought. However, Harry had managed to take a lively part in the main attack, seizing one Captain Duffy's company, much to that gentleman's wrath, and leading the men in a rush upon the French flank behind the line of works, and enfilading it. With his usual luck, he had only been knocked over and scorched by the explosion of the mine which had killed Uniacke, and so many others. He had lost his cocked-hat, had borrowed a catskin-forage-cap from a Sergeant of the 52nd, and had ended an eventful night by being mistaken, on account of the fur-cap and his dark uniform, for a French soldier, by a gigantic private of the 88th Connaught Rangers, who had seized him by the throat, and had then made ready to thrust his bayonet through him. Fortunately, Harry had had breath enough left to enable him to damn the man's eyes, which had quite cleared up that little misunderstanding.
He had got his company in February, but because it had been Uniacke's he said very little about it (which was unlike him), and received the congratulations of his friends with less than his usual vivacity.
'Harry is the luckiest devil going,' Stewart said lazily. 'Except in his horses. Where did you get that clumsy brute, Harry?'
'I bought him from poor old Vandeleur.'
'I'll sell you a real horse,' offered Stewart coaxingly.
'You won't! I've got your Tiny already.'
'Well, don't go into action on that brute,' Stewart said. 'I don't wonder Vandeleur sold him.'
'Talking of going into action,' said Eeles, 'when is it to be? Speaking for myself, I've had enough of this siege.'
'God, so have I!' Harry replied. 'The men say it's the turn of some of the other divisions to do trench-work. Damn it, did we take Rodrigo, or did I dream it?'
'I seem to remember that we did,' said Stewart. 'I must own, though, that I did catch sight of some of Picton's fellows.'
'Oh, damn Picton's fellows!' said Eeles, with all a Rifleman's cheerful contempt for the rest of the army. 'I hope his lordship leaves this business to us. Picton's lot had all the honour and glory of the Picurina affair.'
'Oh no, they didn't!' Harry retorted, his expressive eyes sparkling. 'I told off one of our working-parties to fetch the scaling-ladders from the Engineers' Park. When they brought 'em up, Kempt ordered them to be planted, and the boys of the 3rd told our fellows to stand out of the way while they went up. That didn't suit our men's notions at all! They said: "Damn your eyes, do you think we Light Bobs fetch ladders for such chaps as you to climb up? Follow us!"'
His companions shouted with joy at this story, but Stewart said: 'Harry, you liar!'
'No, upon my word! It's true as death! One of the Sergeants told me – Brotherton.'
Eeles remarked that Brotherton was a good fellow, but Stewart only laughed. Harry was still defending the story when they reached the vicinity of the rabbit-warren, for his energy led him into vehement argument as easily as it led him into impetuous action. A hare, getting up suddenly, put an end to the discussion; sport drove sieges and assaults temporarily out of mind. An unusually strong hare was presently found; Harry, always agog to demonstrate the speed of his dogs, gave her twenty yards law before hallooing the hounds out of the slips. She twice gave them the go-by, and although the dogs fetched round a dozen times, she kept on working her way towards the warren.
'By God, I'll have to head her off !' exclaimed Harry, seeing to-morrow's dinner escaping from his clutches.
'No, don't!' said Eeles, intent only upon the sport. 'Damn it, you can't do that!'
'Oh, can't I, by thunder!' Harry flung over his shoulder.
'You fool, 'ware rabbit-holes!' shouted Stewart, seeing Harry clap spurs to his horse's flanks, and career away at a gallop in the direction of the warren.
Harry, however, was off in his headlong way, trusting to his horse, his whole attention concentrated on the hare. Irish Paddy put a hoof in a rabbit-hole, and came down heavily, and rolled over Harry.
Stewart was up with him in a flash, and had leaped out of the saddle, all thought of the hare forgotten. 'Oh you fool, you damned fool!' he said, on his knees beside Harry's inanimate body.
'Is he dead?' Eeles asked anxiously.
'No – yes – I don't know!' replied Stewart, ripping open Harry's tight green jacket. 'No, I can feel his heart beating! Harry! Come on, old fellow, wake up! Open your eyes, now!'
It was soon seen that such adjurations were of no avail. When they raised him, Harry's head lolled alarmingly; and although Eeles, who boasted a rough knowledge of surgery, pronounced that no bones were broken, no amount of coaxing, of chafing of hands, of slapping of cheeks, produced any sign of returning consciousness.
'It's no use: we shall have to bleed him,' said Stewart.
'Try some brandy!' urged Eeles, pulling a flask out of his pocket.
The brandy ran out of the corners of Harry's mouth. 'Oh, Harry, why will you be such a careless devil?' Eeles said distractedly. 'It all comes of trying to head the hare! Damned unsportsmanlike! I told him not to!'
'Never mind talking! You hold him, while I bleed him!' said Stewart.
Eeles made a knee for Harry's slight, wiry frame, while Stewart pulled his jacket off. A whip-thong made a serviceable tourniquet about one limp arm, and Stewart had just opened a blunt-looking pocket-knife, and had made a slight incision with it in the flesh, when Harry's head, which was resting on Eeles's shoulder, moved, and Eeles, eyeing Stewart's preparations with some misgiving, cried: 'Stop! Wait a minute, he's coming round!'
A drop or two of blood welled up from the scratch on Harry's arm; his eyes opened, blurred and dazed for a few instants, but regaining brightness and clarity in surprisingly little time. They blinked up into Stewart's anxious face, travelled to the knife in his hand, and widened. The next instant, Harry had leaped to his feet, rather shaky still, but in full possession of his faculties. 'Keep off, you villain!' he exclaimed, swaying on his feet. 'What the devil –?' He became aware of the thong bound round his upper arm, and plucked at it, weakly laughing. 'God save me from my friends! Why, you old murderer! Oh, look! If I'm not bleeding to death! Where's Moro?'
In the agitation of the moment, his friends had forgotten both hare and hounds, but at this enquiry they looked round involuntarily, to find that the sagacious hound, Moro, had killed the hare without any assistance from his master. Relief made them scold, but Harry, dabbing at the scratch on his arm with his handkerchief, was quite unrepentant, and merely abused the clumsiness of his horse.
Paddy, having picked himself up, was quietly grazing a few yards away. While agreeing that he was the clumsiest brute alive, Stewart told Harry that he deserved to be dead. But Harry was making much of Moro, and paid no attention to him. It was evident that he had sustained no serious injury, for though dizzy at first, he soon declared himself to be well enough to mount, and ride back to camp.
'What made you buy a stupid brute like this?' demanded Stewart, leading Paddy up to him. 'What's wrong with Tiny? He'd not let you down like that!'
'Strained a tendon,' replied Harry, hoisting himself into the saddle.
Stewart cast his eyes up to heaven. 'Ridden him to death, I suppose!'
Excerpted from The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer Copyright © 1940 by Georgette Heyer. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks Landmark. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Georgette Heyer, who wrote over fifty novels died in 1974.
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