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One of Lord Wellington’s observing-officers was concealed nearby and witnessed the whole affair. It seems the French were intent on harassing our flank but were discouraged into thinking we held there stronger than we did! ’ ‘Well, Cornet Hervey did us deuced fine service. That battery would have wrought a pretty destruction had it come into action. ’ The fortunes of war could still take Edmonds by surprise in spite of his long years in the king’s service. An observing-officer, gone to ground on his way back from behind the enemy’s lines no doubt – by heavens, this was opportune, a most capital turn of events!

Shortening the rein and completing his circle, he looked about angrily for the man who had nearly ridden him down. Anger then turned to astonishment as he recognized him to be one of Slade’s aides-de-camp, and he wondered what in heaven’s name he was doing on this flank. Then two staff dragoons galloped on to the ridge as Hervey’s own men caught him up. But his own anger was nothing to that which he was about to face. ’ bellowed the ADC as he bore down from the opposite direction, having himself circled right, though nothing like as tightly as Hervey and his mare had managed.

Slade, the French are giving way! ’ Sir Stapleton Cotton, lieutenant-general, sixth baronet of Combermere, and Uxbridge’s successor – there was little doubt that his birth had recommended him to Wellington, but there was such a close physical similarity between the two men that Edmonds could not but ponder on the tendency of commanders to select subordinates in their own image. There were the same dark curls, the long face, the hooked nose, and hardly a year between them, too. What was Wellington now, forty-four?

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A Close Run Thing by allan mallison


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