Chapter 1: Going Private

October 25, 1854, Crimea, Russian Empire

Captain James Weston Tremayne reined in his horse and his look swept over the men of his troop. Nothing to complain about, he decided. The men were as ready to fight as he could wish. Spurring his horse, he closed to his squadron leader, Major Pryce, who was scanning the enemy lines with his brass telescope.

"Heavy metal, Tremayne! That's 24-pounders, no cover and almost two miles of open field. What in hell is Lucan thinking?"

"It'll look good in the papers, Sir," Jim Tremayne replied cynically.

Pryce was a Berkshire man like Jim, practically a neighbour, and they spoke openly most of the time. This was a sore point with the junior officers. The presence of news writers on the war theatre was one of the new things about this war on the Crimean Peninsula. They wrote about what they perceived as the heroism of British soldiery, each of them trying to surpass his fellow writers with their gruesome depiction of the battles they witnessed.

The unwanted side effect of this was that some commanding officers ordered reckless actions, for the sole purpose of seeing their names in the newspaper reports. It was just like the Earl of Cardigan to order another reckless charge against a fortified artillery position.

"Return to your men, Jim! We'll get the signal any moment," Pryce said through his teeth.

Jim Tremayne wheeled his horse and had it trot back to his troop. For a moment, his hand clutched the medallion that hung around his neck. It contained a miniature of his fiancé, Priscilla Bywater. If he came out of this campaign alive, he could bid for a major's commission, allowing him to finally marry her. Major Penniworth was due to retire, in fact he had stayed with the depot troops at regimental headquarters when the 13th Light Dragoons were shipped to the Crimea. Jim Tremayne was the second son of a Berkshire landowner. Without the higher rank, he could not hope to maintain a wife such as Priscilla in the style she could expect.

He ordered readiness, and his men formed two credible lines. A cornet signal sounded from the centre of their Brigade and Colonel Payden could be heard.

"The 13th will advance!"

With Jim in the lead, flanked by Cornet Chamberlayne and Lance-Sergeant Malone, the troop broke into a trot, advancing on the Russian lines. The Russian heavy guns were firing canister at them, and they had not proceeded for more than a few hundred yards when they came under heavy fire. Men and horses started to drop left and right, Jim could see.

A new cornet signal sounded. Lord Cardigan, in the lead, changed into a canter, and the Brigade followed suit. Jim saw the 17th Lancers to their left, their lances still held upright, like knights of old.

They were only two hundred yards away from the Russian artillery when Cardigan's Cornet blew the charge. Cornet Chamberlayne rose in his stirrups while he repeated the charge signal for the troop. Decimated they were, but they charged the Russian lines like a tidal wave. Sword in hand, the dragoons wreaked havoc among the hapless artillery soldiers, silencing the big guns for lack of handlers.

Cardigan wanted more, though. A new signal sounded, and they were off against a Russian lancer regiment. Dragoons always had a hard time against lancers, but the 13th were in fighting spirit. Jim parried and hacked with his sword, more than once avoiding lance points by the breadth of a hair. Whenever he had a chance, he tried to rally his men, and each time, there were fewer of them to heed the cornet signal.

To his left, he heard screams. Turning, he saw Major Pryce, a lance point protruding from his chest. Jim Tremayne could read the dying man's lips. "Siobhan!" he cried.

Jim Tremayne nearly fainted - he knew Siobhan Pryce, had even witnessed their wedding. Then his weakness turned into fighting rage.

"Charge!" he screamed. "Charge!"

Like a man possessed, he stabbed and hacked at the hapless lancer who had killed Pryce. His lance point still stuck in Pryce's chest, the lancer was defenceless, and he fell from multiple wounds. Pryce was barely living, and with his blood-smeared hand, he pressed his sword into Jim's hand.

"Give ... Siobhan ... Tell her ... Love..." were his last words, and he fell from his saddle, already dead. Jim stuck the sword into his saddle mounted sheath and turned. In the senseless fury of the fighting, he had completely missed the retreat signal, but Lance-Sergeant Malone rode up to him and yelled into his ear.

"Signal to retreat, Sir! The 17th are already turning!"

Malone was covered in blood, from head to toe, and Jim realised that he must look the same.

"Cornet! Sound the retreat!" Jim yelled at Chamberlayne.

They had to fight their way through the Russian infantry who were closing in from the sides, but it seemed as if they could make it. Their numbers were frightfully down, but there was an open stretch on the right flank.

Raising in his stirrups, Jim half turned and yelled at his remaining men.

"To the right, to the right! Go for it, you men!"

The musket balls hit him like blows from a sledge hammer. He swooned for a few moments and almost fell off his horse, had it not been for Lance-Sergeant Malone. Malone had his horse shot from under him, but he was at Jim's side in a heart beat, seating behind Jim and holding him upright. The pain and the blood loss soon made him pass out, and his last conscious thought was of Priscilla Bywater, his fiancé.

When Jim Tremayne woke he was sure to have landed in hell. Cries of pain sounded around him, and his own body was on fire with pain. He moved his head and tried to see in the weak light of what he recognised as lazaretto. The cries came from a table where a surgeon was sawing away at a human leg while five burly men held down the struggling, screaming victim of his efforts.

Jim looked down at his own body. With relief he noted that all his limbs were still attached, but his chest and midsection burned like hell fire. He remembered. He had been gut shot. Not a good thing, he realised.

Suddenly, he hallucinated. He saw a woman bend over his cot, and her sweet voice came straight from heaven.

"Are you awake, Captain? Doctor Donovan will look at you presently."

"Where am I?" Jim croaked.

"In Scutari, in the infirmary. I am Nurse Thurmond, Captain."

She left Jim in a daze. How had he come to Scutari, close to Constantinople? And what was a nurse? A few moments later, a surgeon wearing a long, surprisingly clean shirt, showed at his side.

"I am Doctor Donovan, Captain. I have treated you since you arrived here, three days ago. You were shot, do you remember?"

"Yes, Doctor, I do," Jim said unsteadily. "That was in the Crimea, though. How did I get here?"

"By steamship, Captain. All the severely wounded were evacuated. I had to extract a musket ball from your abdomen. It had not penetrated far; it must have been deflected from your saddle horn. It seems, no internal organs were damaged too badly. Another shot went through your chest, far to the right, without hurting the lungs. Your ribs will take a while to mend, I suppose."

Jim nodded. This would explain the pain when he talked and breathed.

"Since you're improving, I shall see to it that you will get on the first transport to England."

"But ... my regiment?"

"They will have to make do without you. It'll likely be a year before you can ride again, if at all. Lie back, and let your body heal, Captain. That's all you can do."

Jim Tremayne had to follow the Doctor's advice as there was nothing else he could do. After spending another two weeks in the infirmary, tended by the female nurses led by the 'Lady with the Lamp', Florence Nightingale, he recovered sufficiently to be carried by stretcher on board a steam ship headed for England. There were over two-hundred wounded and disabled men on board, many of them far worse off than Jim.

Wonders over wonders, somebody had saved his sword, as well as Major Pryce's, but the rest of his possessions were still at their regiment's quarters, near Sevastopol. A grey wool coat of unclear provenance had been given to him, along with a coarse shirt and shapeless trousers. He still had his uniform coat, torn but cleaned, but that was all. Once on board the steamer Andes, he received some more clothing items, a shaving kit, and more shirts. His cabin, located far aft, was infernally loud from the ship's screws, and he could barely find sleep.

Those of the returning officers and men who could walk, and Jim soon recovered enough to walk short distances, would sit on the sunlit deck as the ship ploughed through the quiet waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Past the Strait of Gibraltar, there was no sun, just clouds and rough sea. Still, Jim Tremayne spent the days on deck, staring ahead.

His mind was in turmoil. He was being sent home as an invalid, and this would seriously affect any chances of promotion. He and Priscilla had been engaged for two years already, and he yearned to be married to the tall blonde girl. However, without the promotion to Major, there was no way her father would consent to a wedding.

A letter had been sent ahead to his family on his behalf. When the ship made fast in Plymouth harbour, Jim Tremayne could see his brother Edward in the mass of waiting people. They had never been close to each other. Edward was five years Jim's senior, after all. However, when Jim limped over the gangway onto the quay, Edward rushed forward to hug his younger brother, and his cracking voice conveyed his emotions.

"You're back, Jimbo! You are really back! You scared us terribly. It's so good to see you!"

Embarrassed, Jim mumbled a few words. When Edward spoke next, there was sympathy in his voice.

"I'm so sorry about Priscilla!"

Jim felt the blood drain from his face. Had something happened to his fiancé? Edward noted his expression and paled himself.

"Didn't you receive her letter?"

Her letter? That meant she must be alive. Why was Edward sorry?

"What letter? I was laid up in an infirmary in Constantinople. My mail probably went to the regiment, in the Crimea."

"She ... Damn, this is no news for me to break! Anyway, Priscilla broke your engagement in favour of Lucius Marsden-Smith."

Jim stared at his brother. This could not be! His last thoughts before he thought he'd die had been of Priscilla. Her image before his eyes had sustained him through the months of hardship and danger. In favour of Marsden-Smith? A dam burst inside James Tremayne, and anger washed over him.

Lucius Marsden-Smith was a fellow-officer in the 13th, a captain like Jim, but not his friend. Still, how could he woo Priscilla when Jim was at war while Lucius stayed back at the regimental headquarters with the depot troops? And how could Priscilla do this to him?

"You know his father, Jim. He bought Penniworth's commission for Lucius. Not two weeks later, Pricilla informed us that she had broken the engagement. Father was so angry, we feared for his health."

Jim became pale. Instinctively, he reached for his sword hilt. Marsden-Smith's behaviour was a violation of the accepted code of conduct, a code they all abided with. Edward's hand touched his arm.

"You have to recuperate first before you can challenge him. I swear, I'll be at your side. That man has to be taught manners. You'll have to be careful though. He's your superior in rank now; you cannot just challenge him."

Edward's words sunk in. Marsden-Smith held a major's commission. To challenge him would be grounds for a court-martial. Yet, to serve under him, in the 13th Light Dragoons, would be unbearable. It would be unbearable anyway, once his comrades returned, since they all knew of his engagement to Priscilla. In a moment, his decision was made. He had no future in the regiment. The one opening was now taken by an officer who had stayed at home, effectively nullifying Jim's chances for promotion. Major Pryce had fallen at Balaclava, but that rank would be filled by now, by one of the captains who were still serving in the Crimea.

"Father wants to purchase a commission in another regiment for you," Edward offered.

That was something to think about, Jim allowed. Yet, the story how Marsden-Smith had stolen his fiancé would make the rounds, making Jim the butt of jokes and innuendos for life. He also knew that the purchase of a patent would tax his father's means. Jim slowly shook his head.

"Let us go home, Edward. I don't know what to do right now."

"Certainly. Come this way and let Jameson take your dunnage."

Jameson was the coach driver of their family who saluted stiffly to Jim before he took Jim's valise.

The coach ride to Berkshire took two days, and it taxed Jim's strength to the breaking point. Although the road was in decent shape, the movements of the coach caused him great pain, and he looked pale and drawn when he alighted from the coach at his father's house. Robert Tremayne took one look at his son before he rushed forward to welcome him. Jim could not see his father's face as he hugged him, but his voice conveyed the anguish the older man felt.

"'Tis no way for a brave soldier to return to home! That girl should be standing here now, to give you welcome, to weep over your wounds and suffering. By God, if there is justice, her life will be miserable!"

His mother was more composed, more rational.

"She was wrong for you, Jimmy, wrong from the start. I know how you adored her, but think how bad it would have been to be married to an unfaithful woman. Best be rid of her now!"

That was an entirely new perspective, Jim had to concede. He was not sure whether he could subscribe to his mother's views, but they were worth consideration.

In fact, over the next weeks, while his body recuperated and his wounds healed, Jim convinced himself that he was better off without Priscilla, without any woman in fact. Women were false, traitorous beings, unable to return the love men invested in them. In his disappointment, he attributed Priscilla's character flaws to every woman, and several neighbours' daughters, invited by his mother to lighten his mood, found him a brooding and cold man, unwilling to enter into conversation and downright hostile to their modest advances.

Once his wounds were closed, he took up fencing in his father's barn. Edward and sometimes their neighbour Mr. Wilson practised with him. The exercise caused him much pain at first, but he continued with dogged determination.

He sought the solitude of the forests, too, walking hours by himself and finding solace in the beauty of the winter landscape. In his lonesome walks, he also pondered his future. First however, he had to pay a visit, one he dreaded.

Siobhan Pryce, he had learned, was living with her parents again, and thus Jim had to take his father's coach to Woodbridge Manor, the seat of Lord Lambert. Lord Lambert was in London, but Lady Lambert received him, wearing black.

"Milady, I came to call on your daughter, Mrs. Pryce. I was with Major Pryce in his last moments, and I brought home his sword and his last greetings."

"That is very kind of you, Captain. With all the heart ache you must suffer, you still came? I shall call Siobhan."

The deep sadness of Siobhan Pryce cut through Jim's heart when she entered the tea room where he waited.

"James, Mother says you were with Reginald when..." she had to stop, her voice failing.

"Yes. I was close by. His..." Now Jim's own voice faltered. He cleared his throat and shook his head to master the powerful emotions. "His last thoughts and words were of you, and he charged me to bring his sword and his love, as his last greeting. I'm sorry, I could not do more."

He laid the sword on the table. He had spent hours on board the Andes cleaning it, and there was no blood left on either hilt or blade.

Siobhan put her hand on his arm.

"I heard you were wounded?"

"Yes, two musket balls, but I'm healing," he responded.

"And then you returned and had to hear about Cilla."

It was not a question, just a statement, full of disgust, even hatred. Jim was surprised. Siobhan and Priscilla had been friends since their girlhood. He nodded, still unable to speak about the topic.

"Rest assured this will not be forgotten!" Siobhan hissed, her mourning making way for burning anger. "That cowardly man will rue the day he proposed to her! They even had the gall to show at Reginald's memorial service!"

Jim took a deep breath.

"Yes, she showed at my parents' house after ... when the news of Balaclava broke. I hope to never see her again!"

"Will you let this stand, then?"

Here, a grim smile showed on Jim's features.

"Hardly, I have a few things to settle first, but Lucius Marsden-Smith will have to face me, man to man."

"You are a good man, a brave man, James. I will pray for you and I wish you the happiness you deserve."

"I heard you gave birth to a son, Siobhan?"

"Yes, he is my sole consolation. He'll never be a soldier, if I have a say."

Jim nodded. He could understand. He told her a few more thing, details that never found their way back to England, and he answered her questions. He was emotionally drained when he left her to return to Hamden Gardens, but in the hallway, he found himself face to face with Siobhan's grandfather, Sir Anthony Carter GCB, Admiral of White. Sir Anthony was a legend, a hero larger than life, and Jim had never seen him from up close. He was in his mid-seventies, Jim knew, a tall man with lively blue eyes that belied his age and his white hair.

"You're Robert Tremayne's boy, aren't you?"

"Yes, Sir Anthony. I came to bring Major Pryce' sword to his widow, Sir. I was at his side when he died."

"He was a fine fellow. Lucan's tomfooleries cost us the flower of our young men." He shook his head in disgust. "If only the Duke had been alive and in command, but that's idle thinking. Are you at least recovering from your wounds?"

"Yes, Sir Anthony, I'm almost as good as new."

"I heard of your fiancé, we all did. A shame that and an infamy on the part of Marsden-Smith. Will you do something about it?"

Jim took a deep breath under the watching blue eyes of the old admiral.

"Yes, Sir Anthony. Once I am recovered fully, he shall hear my opinion. I suspect that will be followed by another rendezvous."

"Quite so, young Mr. Tremayne. If you need seconds, call upon me. I am somewhat knowledgeable in such affairs."

Jim swallowed. He had a brief vision of the old admiral in the full splendour of his uniform, standing in as "friend" for a small captain of dragoons.

"I would consider it an honour and a boost for my confidence, Sir Anthony."

"Well then, practice with vigour, Captain. I shall hold myself in readiness."

It was late January when he asked his father for the coach to travel to the regimental quarters, claiming it his duty to report back as convalescent. He was received by the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the depot troops. The man eyed him with a mix of sympathy and bad conscience.

"It's good to see you recovered, Tremayne," he said. "There's not much to do here. Why don't you go home to your father's house? I can send word to you when we need you again."

Jim was sympathetic to the Lieutenant Colonel's wish to preserve the peace, but he had made up his mind.

"Sir, I came to resign my patent. I find it impossible to serve under an officer who grossly violated the regimental honour code by pursuing a comrade-in-arm's affianced bride."

Lieutenant Colonel Caldwell looked embarrassed and even guilty.

"This is quite a drastic step, don't you think, Captain?"

"Perhaps, Sir. It is my decision nonetheless."

"Very well, then. Do you have a buyer for your commission?"

"No, Sir. I would ask you to find an adequate officer."

"My nephew has been lieutenant for three years. I shall buy your commission for him. Will the usual £3,500 be adequate?"

"Yes, Sir. That sounds like a handy solution. Please have that money returned to my father."

"Quite. Well, what about a decent farewell for a veteran officer? I have only twenty men here, but they could give you a farewell salute?"

"Thank you, Sir, but you had better not. Since Major Marsden-Smith would be part of that ceremony. That might prove awkward."

The Lieutenant-Colonel blushed again.

"Well, Mister Tremayne, then I can only wish you good luck with your future endeavours."

Nodding silently, Jim turned on his heel and left. For seven years, it had been his ambition be a part and to rise in the ranks of his regiment. Now he had nothing to live for, nothing but revenge. From the Caldwell's office, he strode across the courtyard and to the mess hall. True enough, there was Marsden-Smith, sitting with two Lieutenants and talking big as usual. He saw Jim and stood quickly, looking at his rival with a mixture of triumph and fear.

"Well, Captain?" he asked.

Jim had practised his words for a few days. They came out just as he had planned.

"Major, I have the honour to inform you that you are a coward, a traitor and unworthy of being a Queen's officer."

The two subaltern officers looked at Jim, mouth agape, but Marsden-Smith grinned maliciously.

"I'll see you court-martialed for this, Tremayne. You have just insulted a superior officer."

Jim gave him a cold smile.

"As always, you are a little behind the events, Marsden-Smith. I resigned from the regiment. Consequently, you are not my superior. I'm afraid that, much as you dislike putting yourself in harm's way, you will have to settle this matter in person. Do I have to expect a friend, or do you accept my assessment of your character?"

Marsden-Smith showed a mixture of emotions, fear and glee chief among them.

"Very well, then. I shall send a friend."

"I'm at my father's place, but Admiral Sir Anthony Carter will act for me. Good day, gentlemen," he added for the benefit of the two lieutenants.

True to his word, Marsden-Smith sent his friends the very next day. Jim and Edward were later summoned to High Matcham, the seat of Sir Anthony Carter. The old admiral had a grim smile on his lips.

"Marsden-Smith's side insists on the sabre. I told them you were still recuperating from battle wounds. They hemmed and hawed, and they were both properly embarrassed but adamant. We'll make this known!"

"I shan't complain, Sir Anthony. I anticipated this, after all. I hope you did not advertise the fact that I practiced fencing regularly for weeks?"

"Of course not. Do you aim to kill him?"

Jim thought about that. In the end, he just shrugged. Perhaps, he would kill Marsden-Smith, perhaps he would not. An idea was germinating in his head which had its merits, as it might allow him a dual revenge.

Later that day, after returning to Hamden Gardens, Jim was alerted by a commotion in the entrance hall. Curiously, he went downstairs to investigate. He came to a stop, halfway down the stairs, for in the hall stood Priscilla Bywater, his erstwhile fiancé. His father faced her, ordering her to leave, and she refused, demanding to see Jim.

She spotted him on the stairs and, dodging his father, ran to meet him.

"Let it be, father, please," Jim said quietly. He walked down the last steps and faced Priscilla, his eyes conveying nothing but cold disdain.

"Well, Miss Bywater?"

"I heard that you challenged Lucius?" she started hesitantly.

"Yes, indeed. What of it?"

"This cannot change anything between us. You know that, don't you?"

She sounded saddened. To his surprise, Jim managed a genuine laugh.

"You thought that I aim to win you back? Whatever would I do with an unfaithful ... Trollop?" Priscilla staggered back under the insult, her cheeks blushing a deep red. "What would I do with a woman who cannot stay true for even a few months? You did me a favour. Better now than to have you cheat on me after our marriage.

"If you have need to know, your fiancé has violated our regimental code of conduct by poaching on a comrade-in-arm's bride. That breach of our code is my sole reason. Personally, Miss Bywater, you are irrelevant to me. Please leave now! I may be indifferent to your presence, but my father is dying to take a riding crop to your back."

"I thought better of you, James Tremayne," Priscilla retorted, deeply hurt, her anger rising. "I never thought you'd be a sore loser. You cannot stand it that I left you for a better man!"

"A better man?" Jim taunted her. "And here I thought you were promised to Lucius! You already cheated on him, too?"

She actually stamped her foot in anger and she gave her famous temper free rein.

"You will understand if I will abstain from attending your funeral," she spat.

In his present mood, Jim would not leave her the last word.

"That would not be your decision anyway. I do not anticipate my father allowing tarts at his son's funeral."

He watched as her face once again lost its colour. Priscilla stood undecided for a few heart beats but then she stormed out of the house without another word. Edward emerged from the tea room, a young woman at his heels.

"Well, Brother, you certainly kept the upper hand."

He motioned to his left, and Jim noticed the woman at Edward's side. He could not place her.

"Penny, this is my brother James. Jim, this is Penelope Prendergast, my ... good friend and hopefully more, soon."

Penelope was a pretty girl, not beautiful like Priscilla, but with an endearing, open smile.

"It is a real pleasure to meet you, Captain Tremayne," she said earnestly. "Ed has told me so much of you. I hope we can be good friends."

Something about her words and friendly smile touched a chord in Jim, in spite of the calluses he had build around his heart. He gave her a halfway friendly smile in return.

"I certainly hope we can, Miss Prendergast. I regret that you had to witness this spectacle. Unfortunately, my former fiancé has a penchant for dramatic scenes."

"And a woeful lack of wit!" Penelope laughed. "You certainly kept up your side in the exchange, Captain. I am confident that a fine gentleman like you will find a woman more deserving of his attention. If I had a sister ... well, alas, I have not, so let us drop this. I wish you good luck in your trials, Captain."

Edward would be a lucky man to snare this girl, Jim thought while he finished his will that evening and sorted his documents. Penelope was the daughter of a retired Navy captain who had become their neighbour a year ago. She had gone to school until recently and had only come to live with her father, a widower, a few weeks ago. Jim hoped they would be happy. Personally, he could not see himself as ever trusting a woman again.

It was a poorly chosen place for a duel, but again, Marsden-Smith had insisted on a location close to his father's house. The winter sun was just rising over the naked trees, lighting a small clearing, covered by loose sand. It was surrounded by dead wood, broken branches, and tree trunks.

Jim was beginning to get cold, but he could not wear a coat, let alone a great coat when fighting for his life. Marsden-Smith was shivering, too, he noticed.

"It's damned cold, let us start," Edward said.

The opponents faced off against each other and Admiral Carter spoke up.

"I will remind you gentlemen of the rules agreed upon. The aggrieved has chosen the sabre as weapon, and no other weapon will be permitted. The fight is restricted to the sandy patch. Leaving the sandy ground is not permitted. The fight will continue until one party is incapacitated by his wounds. Are those rules understood?"

Jim nodded, Marsden-Smith, too.

"Very well, then. Gentlemen, en garde!"

They crossed their sabres. Jim was briefly distracted when Sir Anthony lifted the blade of a magnificent, old Toledo sword. It came down hard on the crossed blades, and the duel was on.

Fighting with a dragoon's sabre requires physical strength as well as dexterity. Marsden-Smith had bulk enough to look strong, but with the regiment away, he had led an easy life, leaving most of the tasks to his sergeant. Furthermore, he expected Jim Tremayne to be weak of limbs, after months of convalescence. Thus, he was woefully unprepared for the onslaught Jim unleashed.

From the start, Marsden-Smith was forced into the defensive, desperately trying to fend off the hailstorm of blows, coming from every quarter. Panic set in on him. More and more, he retreated under Jim's attacks, each step backwards bringing him closer to the fringe of the clearing. When his left foot tangled in a root, the seconds interfered for the first time.

"I must remind you, Major, to stay within the permitted area," Sir Anthony admonished him, disdain in his voice. "Cross your blades, Gentlemen! Go!"

Again, Jim Tremayne's relentless attacks began. Marsden-Smith had been able to catch his breath during the short interruption, but that helped him only briefly, for Jim, too, had been able to rest for a few precious seconds. Time and again, the heavy sabre crashed into Marsden-Smith's guard, with shattering, numbing force, and in the end, forced him to retreat again. This time, while stumbling back, his foot stepped on a mossy tree stump, slipping to the side and spraining the ankle. Pain lanced through the joint, and he sunk to his knees, moaning.

Immediately, Jim checked his attacks and stood still, panting heavily. The seconds stepped forward. One of Marsden-Smith's seconds prodded the ankle here and there, each time eliciting a cry of pain. It was clear that the Major was unable to continue.

The seconds conferred for over ten minutes before they apparently reached an agreement. With a face of stone, Sir Anthony announced their conclusion.

"We have agreed that you, Major, have violated the terms of this duel twice, by stepping out of bounds. Therefore, you have not sufficiently refuted Captain Tremayne's accusations. Since the affair is unresolved, there will be need for a second rendezvous once you have recovered, unless you and Captain Tremayne can reach some other settlement."

The other seconds nodded gravely. In effect, Lucius Marsden-Smith's honour was in limbo until a second duel would resolve the matter. It was a highly embarrassing outcome. It meant that Marsden-Smith could not act as a gentleman, and his officer's patent would be suspended. This was even better than Jim had anticipated. His rival would never be able to live this down!

Edward Tremayne stepped up to Jim and wrapped a wool greatcoat around him, to protect his overheated body against the cold. Then he steered him towards their coach. They ignored Marsden-Smith as dictated by etiquette, and it was not until they sat in the coach that Edward spoke.

"By Jove! You ruined the man, Jim! He will never be able to show his face again!"

Sir Anthony chuckled with grim satisfaction.

"That sprained ankle was a lifesaver for the fellow. That was some fair sabre fencing you showed, Tremayne. How are your wounds?"

"Hurting a little, Sir, but the overall feeling is too good," Jim grinned.

"Well then, you upheld your family's honour. It was a pleasure to serve you."

"Thank you, Sir Anthony. You are being too kind."

"I shall leave you and your brother now. I have been charged to inform my granddaughter of the outcome. We'll have the next rendezvous in a more adequate location where he can't run away again."

When Sir Anthony had climbed into his coach, Jim turned sober. "Ed, I have arranged for my future. With the back pay I'm entitled to, I shall leave England. I'll take passage to Boston in ten days. I don't know yet what I'll do, but I need to get away."

Edward was shocked.

"Jim, you are not serious, are you?" he asked. "Think of Father and Mother!"

"If Malone hadn't dragged me back to our lines, I wouldn't be here anyway. I can't stay. After today, the elder Marsden-Smith will be my mortal enemy. I have heard good things about America, too. You can get land for free, in the western territories. There are wide plains and deep forests. A man can live there."

"That's a rather drastic step, Jim. I beg you to reconsider. Damn, I'll split the lands with you if you stay."

Jim shook his head.

"You know that I could never accept that. You need more than the lands we have to marry Penelope. She is a good girl, and I'll never stand in your way. As a matter of fact, I want you to take the proceeds from the sale of my commission and buy more land. At least one of us should be happy and prosperous, and I can't see myself as ever trusting a woman again."

"What if Priscilla reconsiders? After today, she cannot believe that Lucius is a fitting husband."

Jim smiled evilly.

"I want her to marry him, I want her married to a disgraced man. That will be my revenge on her. She's engaged to him. If she breaks another engagement, she'll never find another man, not with Lucius' father as her enemy."

Edward whistled softly.

"If you leave, Lucius will never be able to clear his name. He'll have to resign. You have to offer him another chance, though. He'll claim you evaded him, else."

Jim nodded.

"Offer him another duel a week hence. Tell him I'll leave the country after that. It's his only chance."

Marsden-Smith claimed his sprained ankle disabled him. When Sir Anthony warned that Jim would be unavailable at a later date, the Major still did not see fit to renew his challenge. His own seconds then relinquished their office in protest. Together with Sir Anthony Carter, they reported Marsden-Smith's refusal to the regimental quarters, and Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell saw no other choice than to suspend Major Marsden-Smith's patent.

This brought old Marsden-Smith into action. He visited the Tremaynes to find a way out of the impasse. It was too late. James Tremayne was gone. No blame attached to him, as he had forewarned his adversary of his impending departure, as witnessed by all four seconds.

When the 13th Light Dragoons returned from the Crimea, the situation became untenable for the Marsden-Smiths. Colonel Payden was livid over the situation he found, and ordered an investigation. Lt.-Col. Caldwell chose to retire, and Marsden-Smith felt the unforgiving ire of his fellow officers. They resented his very presence, the presence of a man who had poached on the bride of a fellow officer. Marsden-Smith was ostracised and shortly after, he was forced to offer his commission for purchase. To heap injury on disgrace, there were no bidders, and Marsden-Smith had to resign with a loss of almost £5,000.

Officially, Marsden-Smith 'went private', but the true story spread rapidly. With his father's help, Marsden-Smith was able to secure a position with the East India Company, in one of their native regiments. He was even able to maintain major's rank. He left England in a cloud, nevertheless.

Edward Tremayne became engaged to Penelope Prendergast, and they were married in August 1855. No letters or news had come from James Tremayne, and his family learned nothing of his fate or whereabouts for years, in spite of their attempts through the British consulate in Boston. Jim Tremayne had vanished in the vastness of the American continent.

Editing and local color by Spike CO

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Story tagged with:
Romance / Historical / Western / Military /