His Lucky Charm - Cover

His Lucky Charm

Copyright© 2012 by Argon

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."

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