Victors and Lordsby V. A. Stuart
Unfairly forced out of the army for insubordination, Alexander Sheridan leaves Britain and his former life behind to command a unit of the East India Company. Despised by the aristocratic generals of the regular army, Sheridan and his corps of volunteers must face both the rigors of combat and the treachery of men who should be allies in the heat of the deadly
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Unfairly forced out of the army for insubordination, Alexander Sheridan leaves Britain and his former life behind to command a unit of the East India Company. Despised by the aristocratic generals of the regular army, Sheridan and his corps of volunteers must face both the rigors of combat and the treachery of men who should be allies in the heat of the deadly battles of the Crimean War.
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Victors & Lords
The Alexander Sheridan Adventures, No. 1
By V. A. Stuart
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1964 V.A. Stuart
All rights reserved.
THE SUN was setting in a blaze of crimson splendor when a small band of horsemen numbering, with pack animals, about sixty, made their way at a steady jog-trot along the Bulgarian bank of the River Danube. Behind them the shell-scarred walls and battered redoubts of the fortress city of Silistria faded into the distance and were swiftly lost to sight in the gathering darkness.
The little force rode cautiously and in silence, with scouts spread out ahead and on either flank, for this had lately been hostile country and Cossack patrols had been reported in the area, despite the Russian retreat. It was the first week of July in the year 1854 and the siege of Silistria — aptly called the Citadel of the Danube — had been raised ten days before, amid scenes of terrible carnage. Leaving an estimated thirty thousand dead behind them and with Prince Menschikoff, their commander-in-chief, severely wounded the Russians, under General Luders, were in full flight across the river. The stubborn Turkish defense had thwarted their attempt to capture the city which, had it succeeded, might well have been the prelude to an advance through the Balkans and a threat to Constantinople itself.
The silent horsemen had all played a part in the raising of the siege. All save two of them were Turkish irregulars dressed in the barbaric motley of Bashi-Bazouk costume and armed with scimitars, pistols and flintlock carbines — the latter of ancient pattern, but set in silver and even at long range, of surprising accuracy.
The Bashi-Bazouks kept a respectful horse's length behind their two leaders, who were British officers clad, less resplendently, in Indian army uniforms. The younger of the two was a slim, fair-haired man in his early thirties, whose insignia proclaimed him a captain. His sensitive, high-boned face was deeply tanned and clean shaven, except for a pair of side-whiskers and a moustache, trimmed more closely than the fashion of the day dictated. In repose, his face wore an expression of almost forbidding aloofness, which was only dispelled when his rare smile revealed the humour that lay hidden behind the habitually grave, defensive façade.
One of several Indian army volunteers in the garrison of Silistria, his uniform was the French grey and silver of the East India Company's native light cavalry, over which he had donned a heavy, dark blue cloak. Both the cloak and the silver-laced jacket beneath it showed signs of wear, and the cloak bore the mark of a sabre cut across the left shoulder, which had been roughly and inexpertly mended — mute evidence of the ferocity of the fighting in which its owner had recently taken part.
During the siege, the tall captain had acquitted himself well and had acquired a reputation for courage and sound judgement among the Turkish leaders. The rank and file, always adept at assessing the qualities of a fighting man, had put him down as a skilled professional soldier, who took his profession seriously and cared for little else. In this estimate they were not far wrong, for Alex Sheridan had changed a great deal in the eight years he had spent in India.
He himself was aware of most of the changes and did not regret them. His life as an officer in the East India Company's service had been both eventful and rewarding and had taught him much about himself and his fellow men. His brother officers in the two regiments in which he had served — if they were aware of the circumstances which had caused him to sell his commission in the British army — had displayed no curiosity but had simply accepted him as one of themselves. With them and with the native sowars he had led, Alex had found a comradeship that, under Lord Cardigan's command, had been wholly lacking in the 11th Hussars.
In action against the Sikhs, prior to the conquest and annexation of the Punjab, he had proved himself a soldier, in their eyes and in his own. He had earned commendations for gallantry at Chilianwala. and Gujerat and his brevet captaincy, awarded at the end of the year-long campaign, had set the seal of success on his career in the Company's army. His Indian service had brought him, as a welcome addition, the friendship of the man who now rode at the head of this small cavalcade beside him.
Alex smiled to himself in the darkness, as he glanced at his companion. Colonel William Fergusson Beatson was a Scotsman from Fife, the youngest of four brothers. He was a big man of magnificent physique, upon whom his fifty years sat lightly, although he had packed into them more fighting and greater experience of war than most men of his age. He had come to Turkey at the invitation of another distinguished Indian army veteran, General Cannon, who, as Behram Pasha, had been appointed to a command in the Ottoman army soon after the Turkish declaration of war.
William Beatson had come with a considerable reputation. A soldier since the age of sixteen, when he had been commissioned as an ensign in the East India Company's 2/25th Native Infantry, he had fought under Cannon's command in the Carlist War in Spain in 1836, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. On his return to India he had successively commanded Shah Shuja's Contingent, the Bundelkhand Legion and the Nizam of Hyderabad's Cavalry as well as the Company's 65th Native Infantry.
The Turks had not been slow to recognize his merit. Omar Pasha, the Turkish commander-in-chief, had appointed him a brigadier-general and put him in over-all command of the untrained Bashi-Bazouk cavalry, with which he had already performed so many feats of valor and daring that he had become something of a legend in Turkish military circles. He was held in such high esteem by the fierce Moslem horsemen he commanded that he had managed to instill into them a remarkable measure of discipline to which, as a race, they were not usually amenable. It was said that they would follow him anywhere and William Beatson had given proof of this when he had fought his way into Silistria at the head of a small body of Bashi-Bazouks, against appalling odds, thus opening the way for the city's relief by the infantry, under General Cannon. The final desperate battle had been fought on 22nd June and the Russian withdrawal had begun two days later.
Alex had been overjoyed to meet the older man again. He had originally volunteered for service in Turkey at the Bashi-Bazouk leader's behest, intending to join him in his present command, but the speed and suddenness of the Russian advance had wrought havoc with his original plans. He had gone instead to Silistria, with a number of other Indian army officers who had assisted in its defense, and it had been almost three months before the fortunes of war had reunited him, within the walls of the beleaguered fortress, with the man he had come to seek. Since then the two had remained together and Alex had been well satisfied with his change of service until, with news of the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force in Bulgaria, a strange restlessness had seized him, born of the knowledge that his old regiment formed part of the Light Cavalry Brigade.
With the raising of the siege, the opportunity to rejoin the British army had presented itself and Colonel Beatson had persuaded him to seek leave of absence from the Turks and accompany him to Varna, where Lord Raglan had established his headquarters and the Cavalry Division was based. Both men were hopeful of obtaining useful employment under the British command, if for no other reason than by virtue of the experience each had gained in action against the Russians. But Beatson, in addition, intended to offer Lord Raglan the services of his Bashi-Bazouk cavalry, backed by a recommendation from the Duke of Newcastle. He had obtained permission from the Turkish High Command to enlist and train as many irregular regiments as might be required, in order to make good the known British deficiency in this arm.
He, at least, Alex was confident, could count on being given a British command or, failing this, a staff appointment. Of his own chances he was much less hopeful, for he was aware that the Earl of Cardigan was now a brigadier-general, in command of the Light Cavalry Brigade. They had parted on the worst possible terms eight years ago and Lord Cardigan was reputed to possess a long memory ... he expelled his breath in a brief sigh. From time to time, he had had news of Cardigan, in letters from Phillip Mowbray and other friends in his old regiment and, from these, it did not seem likely that the passing of the years had mellowed or softened his onetime commanding officer. That bridge, however, could be crossed when he came to it. The part he had played — together with Nasmyth and Bullard and poor young James Butler, his fellow Indian army volunteers — in the defense of Silistria, had gained him the notice of Omar Pasha. He carried a letter in his pocket, which contained the Turkish commander-in-chief's estimate of the value of the work he had done.
There were others besides Cardigan who might find a use for his services — Lord Lucan, the cavalry divisional commander, perhaps, or General Scarlett of the Heavy Brigade. Or Sir Colin Campbell, that fine Indian campaigner, who was at the head of the Highland Brigade and might remember him, for they had fought together at Chillianwalla. It was foolish to allow himself to become despondent. One of these surely would find a place for him so that he might once again fight with men of his own race and creed and blood beside him ... he sighed again and this time Colonel Beatson heard it.
"Alex ..." he turned in his saddle, breaking the silence they had maintained since leaving the fort. "You are very pensive, are you not?" His deep voice sounded amused. "Could it be that your thoughts are following the same trend as my own? Are you planning our next campaign, with British soldiers under our command?"
Alex permitted himself a wry smile. "No, not exactly, sir. I was weighing up our chances of being given any sort of command in the British Expeditionary Force ... and finding them, I am afraid, somewhat slight. Lord Raglan —"
"Ah!" The colonel shrugged. "I, too, have been thinking about our coming audience with his lordship, on which, for both of us, so much depends. Tell me, Alex my friend ... you have met the commander-in-chief, have you not? I seem to remember your telling me once that you had done so."
Alex hesitated and his smile faded. It was many years since he had allowed his mind to dwell on the memory of that last interview with the then military secretary who, two years ago, had been created Baron Raglan. "If, sir," he answered reluctantly, "you consider that a summons to attend his lordship at the Horse Guards, in order to receive a severe official reprimand, constitutes meeting him, then ... yes. I have met him. But I retain no very pleasant recollections of the occasion, since it resulted in the termination of my service with the 11th Hussars."
It had also led, in the fullness of time, to his parting from Charlotte Mowbray, Alex recalled, feeling the old, familiar ache in his throat when he thought of her. It had led to his parting from Charlotte, of whose subsequent betrothal — to an officer of the 11th, who had been one of his closest friends — he had learned from a year-old copy of The Times, when waiting to go into action against the Sikh guns at Chilianwala. Emmy O'Shaughnessy had sent him the newspaper. Her handwriting had been on the wrapper, so that it must have been she who had despatched it to him ... but her letters had told him nothing and, soon afterwards, without explanation, they had ceased.
Looking back, he wondered, as he had wondered often in the past, whether the shock of reading that announcement had been responsible for the foolhardy recklessness he had displayed during the disastrous battle. He was not by nature reckless but that day, he knew, he had counted his life of little value and had wanted to lose it, if he could do so honorably. Ironically he had not only lived, he had distinguished himself, and had earned the gratitude of William Beatson for saving the life of a young cousin of his, who had been cut off and his horse shot under him, when the ill-fated cavalry charge had been routed.
Now, for Beatson's sake, he had enlisted in the Turkish service and was on his way to Varna. The wheel would turn full circle, perhaps, when he met the officers of his old regiment in their camp at Devna and shook the hand of Arthur Cassell to whom, by this time, Charlotte must be married....
Alex drew himself up, suddenly aware that Colonel Beatson's eyes, alert and shrewd, were fixed on his face, searching it in the dim light, as if seeking the answer to a question he had not voiced.
He waited and the colonel said thoughtfully, "It was, I suppose, as a consequence of the duel you fought with the Earl of Cardigan that you were summoned to the Horse Guards?"
"I did not actually fight a duel with Lord Cardigan, sir," Alex corrected and saw a swift smile flit across the colonel's bearded lip.
"But you issued a challenge — you called him out, did you not? Or have I been misinformed in the matter?"
"You have not been misinformed, sir," Alex admitted. "Although" — he eyed his senior inquiringly — "I do not know from what source you obtained your information."
Colonel Beatson grunted. He replied, with studied casualness, "I met some of the officers of your old regiment at Scutari and heard the story from one of them, who seemed very pleased and interested, when I told him that you were in Silistria. A young major in the 11th Hussars who, it seems, has lost touch with you ... he recently succeeded to his father's title as Earl of Dunloy."
"You met Phillip Dunloy?" Alex made an almost visible effort to control his excitement at this news. It was a long time since he had last heard of or from Phillip. ... "He's still with the regiment, then?"
"Indeed, yes. And he had his wife and sister with him — they were both guests of the British ambassador, Lord Stratford de Redcliff, I believe. Two exceptionally charming young ladies and in great demand socially ... but of course you must know them?"
"Yes," Alex agreed tonelessly. "Although Dunloy was not married when I was with the 11th." He hesitated, pale and suddenly tense. "His sister, sir ... did you speak to her, can you tell me her name? Phillip has three sisters, you see, and I was ... that is, I knew one of them rather well. Also his stepsister, Emma O'Shaughnessy, who was a child of about fourteen the last time I saw her."
"Alas, no, Alex, I can't help you." William Beatson spoke with genuine regret. "I was only in Scutari for a few days and the British advance parties had been there for little longer. The bulk of the transports were still unloading when I left. But" — his tone became dry — "there was a great deal of social activity going on. Embassy receptions and the like. It was at one of these that I met your friend Lord Dunloy and talked to him. He pointed the two ladies out to me but I did not stay long enough for him to introduce me to them. There was talk of all the ladies who accompanied the army making their headquarters at the Hotel d'Angleterre at Therapia for the duration of the war. The ambassador has his summer residence there ... it is a pleasant spot, I understand. Only one or two went on to Varna, or so I heard ... and they did so contrary to official orders."
"I see." Alex's momentary excitement died. Even if Charlotte was in Turkey, even if she had braved the official ban and gone to Varna with the army, she would have done so on her husband's account. In any case, that part of his life was over — a closed book, never again to be reopened. He had no desire for it to be reopened, he told himself, and forced a note of indifference into his voice as he said, "I did not realize that you had been to Scutari, sir. Or, indeed, that you had made any previous contact with the British Expeditionary Force."
"Oh, yes, I was there, Alex. To tell you the truth ..." Colonel Beatson sighed. "I went there on Omar Pasha's account, in the hope of arranging an early conference with the British High Command. But I found those concerned were more interested in wining and dining with the French than in making plans for the conduct of the war. Lord Raglan was too occupied with other matters to see me and had, in any event, only just arrived. The other British generals seemed disposed to make plans for a military parade in the Sultan's honor but that was all to which I was able to commit them. So" — he shrugged his massive shoulders —" I returned to Shumla, where I have been of some use, perhaps. Certainly of more than I should have been had I remained any longer in Constantinople, escorting parties of delectable young English ladies on trips up the Bosphorus!" His voice held the contempt of the fighting man for such unmilitary diversions and it was again dry as he went on, "The British army has brought its womenfolk with it in unprecedented numbers, you know ... and not only the rank and file. Half the aristocracy in the country seem to be serving in the Guards or the Cavalry. None has had any experience of war and most of them have permitted their wives to accompany them. It is fantastic!"
Excerpted from Victors & Lords by V. A. Stuart. Copyright © 1964 V.A. Stuart. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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Meet the Author
V. A. Stuart wrote several series of military fiction and numerous other novels under various pseudonyms. Her settings span history and the globe, from the Napoleonic wars of Europe to India under the British Raj. Born in 1914, she was in Burma with the British Fourteenth Army, became a lieutenant, and was decorated with the Burma Star and the Pacific Star.
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Although this is victorian in its presentation, it is excellent reading. The characters come alive and the historical accuratcy is amazing.