The Drummer Boy
"Hey, what ‘bout me?" yelled Tracy, feeling left out as the boys began their play.
"Aw go 'ome, yelled back William, who was both the biggest and eldest at the age of fifteen.
"Yeah, go 'ome," put in Richard, who was Tracy's step brother. "Why don't ya just go 'ome an' 'elp Mum in the kitchen?"
Tracy could do nothing but watch dejectedly as the older boys played as soldiers.
“I could show them I'm just as good as they at sword play, and once, before Uncle John went off to war with his regiment, he let me fire his musket,” thought Tracy, as the youth sat on the stone wall surrounding the pasture while fuming. “I bet I'm the only one here who's ever done that!”
It was Late September of 1811. Most of Europe was at war and William hoped the war would last long enough for him to serve in it, and so did Richard but he was a year and a half younger than William.
"The war would practically 'ave to go on forever for you to serve in it," teased the older boy on more than one occasion.
Tracy didn't even dare to voice an opinion. There was no need to put up with the laughter and humiliation that such an opinion would elicit.
Still, the weather was dry for the north west of England where the town of Warrington was located. As usual, whenever the weather was good one could see the younger boys out practicing their soldierly skills against their imaginary French enemy most evenings between the time their chores were finished and when their Mums called them back home for supper.
The war on the Spanish peninsula was going well and it seemed that almost every week, the Lord Wellesly had achieved yet another victory. The navy too was wrecking havoc on the French shipping, but all of the boys were glad they were too young to be dragged off by the press gangs.
Whenever the navy's officers and men roamed the streets, it was time to close one's shutters and door, and woe to the poor souls caught in the pubs. More than once, the boys could hear the cries and shouts of men being taken away to serve on board Her Majesty's ships.
It was one thing to serve in the army where one's feet were solidly planted on the ground fighting the French. It was quite another to be on a ship away from land for months at a time. The iron discipline and its floggings were well known to all.
The army was always looking for recruits also, but at least with them there was more of a chance for adventure and the pillaging rights when a city or town is taken not to mention the glory and chance of becoming a hero. It was these things that the boys of Warrington dreamed of while they played.
All that changed one day when a few soldiers came back from the campaigns in Portugal and Spain. One was missing a leg, another an arm, while the third had lost his hand, most of his teeth and an eye as well!
"Tell me, do ya know what it's like to kill anotha' man?" asked the one eyed veteran, when he spied William with his wooden sword.
"Well I'll tell ya laddie. The way tha' 'e stairs at ya when 'e knows 'e's abou' ta die stays wit' ya an' eats at yer guts until ya can't sleep at night. An' just when ya can't stands it no more, it's yer turn if yer lucky an' if yer not, then ya goes 'ome half da man ya was when ya left!"
William stared wide eyed as the soldier held up the stump at the end of his arm.
The soldier let out a raspy laugh as the fifteen year old dropped his toy sword and ran with Richard on his heels.
"Ya better run laddies," yelled the soldier with the missing leg, after them. "'an hope ya can spend all yer days 'ere an' never have ta leave England."
That was the end of the boys' dream of finding adventure in the army, but not for Tracy. Unlike the two older boys, the youngster stood fast, and stared back at the one eyed soldier.
"What about you? Ain't ya gonna run too laddie?" asked the one legged soldier.
"Well don't I frighten ya boy?" asked the soldier with one eye.
Tracy swallowed hard, but didn't step back.
"Well don't I?"
"Well what then?" asked the man, who was missing an arm.
"I think it to be an honor to fight for England."
"For God an' Queen eh?"
Suddenly the soldier stood up crying out, "Jus' look what God an' Queen 'as gotten me boy!"
"Aw leave 'im be now George," said the man with one leg. "It ain’t 'is fault 'e's like that."
"Like what?" growled the man with one eye.
"Young an' stupid. Leave 'im be. 'E'll learn soon 'nough on 'is own."
That night, Tracy laid on the hard dirt floor of his family's tiny cottage, and thought about all that was said. The sight of the three soldiers was frightening enough, but not enough to stop the desire to become one. It was certainly enough for William though, and also for Richard but not for Tracy.
"Did ya wash the pots?"
"An' feed da animals?"
"You mean ya dit all yer chores already?"
It was the same everyday. Tracy did nearly all the work around the house which was quite a heavy load for one not quite thirteen years old. Richard had some chores too since he was the eldest, and their father had passed on. Sarah was a widow with two children now. Tracy's father had married her, and with his kind heart he'd taken on her son Richard as if the boy was his own, but his own child, Tracy, whose mother had died at birth never got along with Sarah. She always made the youth feel as an outsider, and when her second husband died, she made his child's life miserable until Tracy couldn't take it anymore, and sought some way to escape.
It wasn't so much the beatings, or even the constant barrage of insults as it was the loneliness and the irritation felt when none of the boys bothered to include Tracy in their play except only on very rare occasions.
One evening it all came to a head, and not seeing any other way to improve life, Tracy realized a change had to made before winding up in Magdalin, the insane asylum in Kent.
There was only an hour before the evening chores had to be started, and it was during that cold, December evening when the rat-a-tat-tat of a drum was heard floating through the air in the distance.
"That's the answer," said Tracy, softly thinking out loud.
Unfortunately, the drumming stopped before its source could be discovered, and it took three days of careful listening and plotting before Tracy could, out of sheer desperation, steal the drum that had broken the quiet air that December evening.
A hiding place had already been planned as well as a place in the woods to practice it where no one would hear, and that is exactly what Tracy did at every opportunity. By listening carefully whenever any drumming was to be heard, Tracy had learned an assortment of well sounding steady beats, and was quite proficient by the beginning of March.
It was later that month when the 1st battalion of the 38th foot regiment came marching through Warrington on their way to Liverpool. They had been ordered to rejoin the Army of Portugal and Spain under the now, Duke of Wellington, and that was Tracy's long awaited chance. The youth left early in the morning, forgetting about all the chores and other duties that had been laid out the previous night.
The regiment was to march through the streets at 10 o'clock in the morning, and Tracy's plan was to simply fall in with them while playing the little drum the best that it could possibly be played.
Captain Fenton had served during the campaign in Portugal, and after being wounded he was returned to England, and was now returning to the Army of Portugal and Spain with the 1st battalion of the 38th foot, and as they marched through Warrington, Tracy fell into Captain Fenton's company beside the other drummer boys sounding the quick time as steadily and as loudly as it could be played on the small drum.
Captain Fenton heard the additional drum instantly, and looking back he saw the drummer boy beating out the rhythm and grinned. The small drum wasn't as loud and was higher pitched than the regulation drums of the regiment, but decided to let him stay for the moment. Not only was the beat perfect, but it was good for the moral of the troops as well as the civilians that lined the streets.
The experience was unlike anything else Tracy had ever been through, and raveled in all the attention. There were a few scowls from a couple of the other drummer boys, but compared to what the youth had been through before that was nothing, and he easily ignored them while continuing to pound out the beat on the little drum.
The test would come when they finally reached the place they were to make camp on their way to Liverpool. Tracy already knew the arguments that would come, and had carefully chosen what words that needed to be said.
"'Eh you there lad. It's time for ya ta be off now," said a burly corporal, motioning with his thumb over his shoulder. "Yer Mum must be getin' pretty worried abou' ya by now."
"I 'ave no Mum ta worry abou' me, nor any other family," answered Tracy, looking down at his feet. Me Granmum I was livin' with took sick an' died three days ago."
"Well ya can't stay 'ere with us. We're goin' off ta war ya know an' yer a bit young for it yet."
"I'm every bit o' fourteen years old now, " lied Tracy, defensively.
"Ya looks ta be a bit puny for a lad o' fourteen."
"Awe come on now Corp. Let the lad stay. 'E's not botherin' anyone. Besides, 'e plays a good drum," said a thin, lanky soldier who was sitting nearby.
"Aye," agreed another. "I'd say 'e plays it a might better than the others we go' 'ere."
"Besides," said a third, "Bein' 'es so small, it's not like 'e'll eat very much."
The others around laughed, and the corporal was about to admonish them when he was interrupted by their sergeant.
"Attention!" cried the big man with the three stripes that marked him as the company's senior noncommissioned officer, as the captain and two of his leftenants walked over to the group.
"What are you men carrying on about?" asked the officer, with a keen, practiced eye.
"Sir! Why we was just talkin' 'bout the prospects o' our new drummer boy 'ere sir," replied the thin soldier who'd first spoken, while standing rigidly at attention among the others.
"Come here lad, and lets have a look at you."
Tracy knew this was not a time to be timid, and boldly walked up to the captain and taking his cue from the others, he also stood rigidly at attention before this refined officer who held the youth's fate in his hands.
"Why you're a bit small to be going off to war don't you think?"
Unlike before, the other men would not come to his rescue this time. It was one thing to speak up to a corporal who'd been one of them until only a few weeks ago, but quite another to speak out of turn to an officer who could cut a man's rations or have a soldier flogged if he didn't like what was said, and seeing how the others stood as if turned to stone Tracy knew everything depended on what words he was going to say next.
"Please sir, I would like to join the regiment. I'm good with the drum, I'm of legal age, and I ain’t afraid of anything."
"Only a fool is not afraid of anything," replied the captain, looking directly into the youth's eyes. "Hold out your hands."
Tracy held out his hands before the officer, and grasping them firmly, Captain Fenton flipped them over to look at both sides of them.
"Your fingers are kind of small, but you have calluses from practicing, and your drumming was good," and dropping his hands, the captain stared into the youth's eye once more as he sized the boy up.
Tracy stared back without flinching, and with as much confidence as he could muster.
The captain did not fail to see the almost defiant look in the youth's eyes and asked, "How long can you hold a beat boy?"
"As long as you need me to sir," came the quick answer.
Turning to the sergeant and lieutenants who were with him, he said, "I like his spunk, and he did hold a good beat during the march here."
"Didn't miss a single stroke sir," put in the sergeant, with his hands behind his back and rising up on his toes.
"Where are your parents?"
"Go get him a real drum, and let's hear what he can do."
The sergeant nodded to the corporal who immediately went off to commandeer one of the regimental drums from another boy.
"Here lad. Take this and let's hear what you can do."
Tracy took the drum and slung the wide white leather strap over his shoulder, and quickly adjusted it until the drum was at the right height for him to play.
"Quick time ... march!" ordered the sergeant.
Rat-a-tat-tat came the immediate answer as Tracy beat out the exact rhythm required.
"Double time ... march!" came the next command which was answered by the correct beat from the drum.
"Charge!" ordered the sergeant, suddenly.
Tracy just as suddenly sounded out the correct beat without the slightest hesitation in the rhythm.
Again, Tracy changed the rhythm, sounding the correct beat.
This was followed with assembly, mark time and half time with the same results, but when the sergeant called for retreat, Tracy did hesitate.
"What's the matter with you lad? Don't you know the beat?" asked the captain.
"No sir," came the answer, but as the men began to look doubtfully at one another, Tracy interrupted their thoughts saying, "If you please sir, if I could but hear it once, I'll play it."
Captain Fenton gave him a sidelong glance, and Tracy could see the disbelief in the man's eyes.
"Please sir. Just once."
The captain nodded his head, and the corporal went to get one of the other drummer boys who gave Tracy a disdainful look when he was told what he was to do.
"Sound retreat!" ordered the sergeant, and the drummer boy immediately pounded out the beat, but was cut off by the sergeant only after a few moments.
"Well? Can you do it?" asked the captain.
"Half a minute if you please sir."
The leftenants exchanged grins, and the sergeant gave a displeased grunt but Captain Fenton stood still as stone as he stared expectantly at the youth.
Tracy played the beat over again in his mind, and after closing his eyes once more he looked directly into the captain's eyes and nodded his head.
This time, it was Captain Fenton who quietly gave the command, and Tracy immediately played retreat on the drum and never broke his gaze from the captain's face.
"Well, it looks like we go' us a new drummer boy!" exclaimed the sergeant, reading the look on the captain's face. "We'll have ta keep on eye on such a pretty lad, but now we can finally get rid o' that Miller boy. 'E can't hold a good beat for more than five minutes and 'e's a pain in the arse besides!"
Seeing the drummer boy in question wasn't nearby, the Sergeant called the corporal over and ordered, "Go rouse that Miller lad and get 'is drum," and looking Tracy up and down, he said, "Me thinks they're 'bout the same size. Get 'is uniforms too, and then we'll be done with 'im. We can make any adjustments on them in Liverpool before we leave."
The boy had truly been more trouble than he was worth, and the corporal saluted with relish before turning to carry out the orders.
Calling one of the leftenants over to him, Captain Fenton instructed him saying, "Make arrangements to return the miller boy to his home."
The next morning saw Tracy marching down the dusty road, steadily beating the quick time out on the drum. Though his new uniform was awfully loose in place, and the trousers had to be turned up at the bottom, it didn't look too bad on him, and the burly Sergeant looked pleased, and for the first time in a very long time the youth felt truly happy while tapping out the beat for the regiment on his new drum.
That evening while sitting around eating supper with the men, the sergeant filled Tracy in on some of the history of the battalion and regiment.
"Yer lucky ta be in the oldest battalion of the regiment. The 38th foot 'as the honor o' endurin' the longest overseas tour in the history o' the army. We was first formed in 1705 and was sent to the West Indies in 1707. Ya know, they stayed there 'til 1764!
When the uniforms wore out, they used the local sugar sacks ta make new ones. That be why ya 'ave that patch o' sack cloth behind yer regimental badge. Aye lad, yer lucky ta be in the first battalion o' the Staffordshire Foot Regiment!"
There was so much pride in the Sergeant's voice that Tracy felt much honored to actually be part of such a unit and knew he'd made the right decision.
The battalion stayed in Liverpool for four days, and during that time Tracy's uniforms were adjusted to fit the smaller frame of the drummer boy. By then, some of the men had come to know the boy a little better, and a few even admired him for his steadfast drumming while on the march. It seemed the boy never missed a beat no matter how long he had to keep at it.
"'E may be a bit small yet, but 'e can 'old the beat with the best o' 'em," said a husky grenadier named Bill.
"Aye, but wait 'till we see what 'e can do when we get ta Spain," replied an older soldier named John. "Once the lead shots start flyin' abou', then we'll see what kind o' mettle the boy's made o'!"
Tracy's eyes were big while looking about the port of Liverpool. It was so much bigger than Warrington, and except for the small craft on the river he'd never really seen a big boat before, and the large naval vessels that were docked along the wharves simply amazed him. Even so, his spirits were quickly dampened as the rolling decks of the transport caused his stomach to flip flop, and Tracy spent much of the time heaving up its contents.
He wasn't alone however, and no one ridiculed him as he had many of the largest and bravest soldiers along side of him at the rail while the sailors laughed and enjoyed the spectacle while they went about their duties.
Never in his young life was Tracy more happy than when they finally landed in Portugal and he was finally able to step back down upon solid ground again. Still, there was little time for him to think about it nor the interesting sights and sounds of the strange country for he was quickly called upon to sound assembly as the battalion scrambled to form up.
"'Urry up there lads! Old Hawk Nose is ready ta advance inta Spain an' needs are help," barked the sergeant, as the men scrambled.
"'Ho's Old Hawk Nose?" asked Tracy, as he beat out the call to assemble.
"The Duke o' Wellington o' course," whispered back one of the older boys. "'e's the commander o' the Army o' Portugal an' Spain."
Even Tracy had heard of Lord Wellesly, the hero who'd finally defeated one of Napoleon's armies.
Their long march to rejoin the army at Cuidad Rodrigo was a long and arduous one, but young Tracy kept the beat every step of the way when he was required to, though his arms felt as if they were of lead, and had become stiff with the demand placed on them.
Naturally, he and the other drummer boys switched off, but it was Tracy's drum that maintained the beat the longest, and he was greatly elevated in the eyes of the men behind him as well as the officers who marched along with the colors in front.
It was May by the time they'd joined the rest of the army encamped at Cuidad Rodrigo inside the Spanish border but their stay was short for Wellington soon had the entire army on the march. The Portuguese often marched with them, and on occasion so did the Spanish guerrillas who fought against the French.
Tracy only heard about the skirmishes that had been fought against Marshal Marmont's French army that shadowed them to the east. The two armies were relatively equal in size, but like the others who marched for Wellington, soldiers like Bill and John were confident they could beat the French, and their enthusiasm was infectious. Still, Tracy kept his silence for the most part. He'd learned early on that his opinion was not welcomed by the others, and faced ridicule whenever he gave voice to one.
"Aw what do ya knows ‘bou' it?" asked one of the men, the first time he'd ventured a remark about the coming battle. "Most o' us were fightin' the French while you was still suckling from your Mum's teat!"
Being ever near the Captain, Tracy was privy to many of the conversations among the officers, and one day when they were near the town of Salamanca, he heard the colonel telling Captain Fenton, "The Duke is just biding his time. Eventually, one of us is going to make a mistake, and then we'll be in it," and looking around the colonel licked his dry lips and added, "I just hope it will be the French who makes the first mistake."
The next day General Picton, who always refused to wear a uniform came by on his horse to look over the men.
As part of the third division, he was in command of them, and Tracy once asked Bill, "If he doesn't wear a uniform, then how can we tell if he's the general?"
The big man laughed and said, "'E's easy 'nough to spot 'cause 'e's the only one 'ho's not wearin' one!"
Picton rode down the line and stopped just in front of the drummer boys, and while staring directly at Tracy, he said, "If the French take the bait, we'll be in it soon so be ready and come quickly when I call for you. Don't lose courage, and if we keep at it we'll end this little dance with the French and send them all to Hell!"
The young drummer boy felt as if the general was talking directly to him and his small chest swelled with pride, and he was determined to do his part to fulfill the general's words.
They arrived at Salamanca later that day. It was the 21st of July and it had been quite hot, and they all looked forward to resting in the small city where so much more would be available to them than out in the open plains.
Early the next morning, it appeared that the Duke was preparing the army to retreat back towards Portugal and the men were pretty upset about it.
"All this walkin' 'bout for nothin'," grumbled Bill.
"Aye, an' we didn't even 'ave a chance to give the French a good thrashin' yet an' already we're givin' up," complained John.
"Shut up an just move yer arses!" yelled the corporal, as Tracy and the other boys beat out assembly on their drums.
They had just begun their march when suddenly, they heard the sounds of battle just to the west, and a dragoon from the 4th came riding up to them with a message from General Picton.
The colonel gave the order, and Captain Fenton turned his columns towards the fighting.
The sound of musket fire steadily grew louder as they advanced over the flat ground roundabout Salamanca, and soon they could see French soldiers on the end of a large knoll to their front. They were facing a smaller knoll further to the east as cannon fire erupted all around the large rise where the French stood.
The heavy cavalry was being sent against them, and the French quickly formed into squares to repel the cavalry charge, and while the horse soldiers kept their enemy distracted the men of the 38th foot continued to advance without being noticed.
Adrenaline flowed in Tracy's veins as the order, "Sound double time!" was given.
The cavalry suddenly peeled away, and rode around behind the attacking foot soldiers, and soon lead shot from the French muskets whizzed all about the men of the 38th.
The Staffordshire regiment fell upon the unprepared French as they tried to break their square to receive the charging English infantry. The 38th were formed into two lines deep, and young Tracy steadily banged out the attack rhythm on his drum as they madly fought their way through the disorganized French soldiers.
"Keep going lads!" yelled the big sergeant. "Don't give 'em room ta breathe!"
Suddenly the drummer boy named Charles who was next to Tracy took a lead shot through his forehead and fell dead.
Never in Tracy's young life had he been more scared, but the men around him kept firing and moving forward so he kept banging out the attack rhythm on his drum while steadily moving forward with them. They'd already broken through the first enemy square, and were nearly upon the second when he saw a French soldier take aim and fire his musket towards him. The round shot off Tracy's cap, and only then did he miss a beat, but he quickly picked it up again as the regiment continued forward.
Captain Fenton fired his pistol, killing the Frenchman as they pushed their way through the second square, and Tracy found he was the only drummer boy still on his feet beating out the attack on the regimental drum. Two others had been shot, and the rest had fallen behind or had run away from the fighting.
Behind them, the heavy cavalry charged, and were slaughtering the unorganized French, and when it was over the carnage that remained was very great, and though Tracy was badly shaken he still sounded out recall when the order was given. Eventually, a couple of the other drummer boys from different companies joined him, and thus the battle was ended.
"Did ya see tha'!" exclaimed John to the other men around him. "Never 'ad I seen a braver drummer boy than ar Tracy 'ere!"
Bill, being a grenadier was among the first to engage the French, and the youth was glad to see the big man making his way back towards the others.
The adrenaline was gone from Tracy's veins by then, and it had left him badly shaken. Bill had already heard the story of how their drummer boy had kept up the beat even through a hail of musket fire, and clapping the boy on his back he said, "'Ere, drink this. Ya deserve it," and with a knowing voice, he said, "Believe me, ya can use it 'bout now. It'll 'elp ta calm yer nerves."
The fiery liquid burned its way down Tracy's throat and made his head swim, but he was glad for it. He was one of them now. He'd proven himself, and he was never happier in his life though his arms were stiff and sore from the hard beating he'd done upon the drum. The strong drink also helped to blur the terrible sight of all the dead and horribly injured men from both sides lying about them.
Once the threat of the French army was removed, they went on to liberate Madrid, and then on to the fortress town of Burgos where they laid siege to it. Unfortunately, by then the French had been reinforced, and rather than risking a massacre the Duke was forced to withdraw all the long way back to Cuidad Rodrigo.
The retreat was the most miserable time in Tracy's life. The men about him were despondent and tired beyond belief. Many fell from sheer exhaustion, and were left to the French or robbers who followed the army, stealing everything the soldiers owned, and murdering those who were found still alive.
Still, Tracy steadily beat the slow rhythm on his regimental drum. Things were desperate, but everyone knew Wellington was saving the army, and those who made it would survive to fight another day.
It was during that long horrible retreat when Tracy was assaulted. The terrible incident began while he was sleeping, and suddenly woke when he felt a dirty, clammy hand clapping hard over his mouth while the other grabbed his hands before he could struggle.
"Such a pretty lad," breathed a man, as he began pressing himself down on the boy. "Struggle and yer dead body will be decoratin' a dich come mornin'. No one will ever think anythin' o' it either as they march past ya. You'll just be another one 'ho 'as fallen along the way."
It was dark, and Tracy couldn't remember the man's voice or what little of the face he could make out.
"There ain't no women 'round, but I suppose in a pinch, a pretty boy like yerself will do jus' fine."
Tracy was wide eyed as he heard the man throw his strappings down and began unbuttoning his trousers, and pulling out a knife he said, "Turn 'round an' drop yer pants. If ya makes a sound, it'll be yer last boy!"
Tracy's mind reeled with fear, but he'd been through too much already to have it all end like that, and as he turned about and began to undo the buttons of his trousers, he saw it.
"Please ... please sir ... be gentle," he pleaded, while a plan formed in his mind.
The man laughed cruelly saying, "You'll take whatever I gives ya, gentle or not!"
Tracy suddenly lurched forward, reaching for the bayonet loosely laid in the strapping the soldier had thrown down.
The man quickly jumped after him, and grabbing the boy by the ankle, he jerked the youth back, but only to feel the sharp steel of the bayonet plunge deep into his gut!
Tracy quickly crawled backwards on his hands and feet, his eyes wide with fear, and his mind wondering how he could explain stabbing another soldier and if anyone would believe him.
The man growled with both anger and pain as he reached down and grabbed at the butt end of the weapon sticking in him.
In the next moment, another hulking soldier seemed to suddenly appear out of the dark, and grabbing the other by his hair he jerked the head back and cleanly cut his throat with a long, sharp knife.
"Are ya alright Tracy?" asked the familiar voice of Bill. "I always said you was too pretty a boy ta get mixed up in all this, but it's good ta see ye'r capable of takin' car o' yerself anyway."
"Aye. I'm O.K.. He didn't do anythin' ta me yet."
Even in the dark, Tracy could tell the man was visibly relieved, and could hear it in his voice as well.
"Now come on an' 'elp me drag this bastard inta tha' ditch over there. We'll put 'im face down an' the others will jus' think 'e's another one that didn't wake up."
Tracy picked up the man's strappings while Bill found his pack, and grabbing the man by his feet, they dragged him over to the ditch where they rolled him over onto his stomach and arranged his belongings next to him.
"'E's not even from ar’ division," whispered Bill, with distaste. "Well anyways, the scum won't be botherin' no one else." Then leaning towards Tracy, and looking into the youth's eyes, he added, "This'll 'ave ta be ar’ secret. Understand?"
Tracy nodded his head, and the incident was never mentioned by either of them again.
They first marched to Salamanca, and then to the fortress of Cuido Rodrigo where they remained until reinforcements arrived. Their campaign was not for nothing however for they proved that the French could be beaten, and liberating Madrid was an important political victory as well, and it proved to be the turning point of the war.
There wasn't much for them to do during their winter stay at the fortress, but they were all glad they were there instead of out in the open during the cold winter rains. It was during that time when Bill showed Tracy how to fire the muskets and the other drills the fighting men had to do.
"Yer still awfully puny so you'll never make a grenadier like me, but you'll make a fine soldier for the 38th when ya come o' age."
Tracy was beaming in the man's praise, but said nothing himself and only looked down at his feet.
Late one evening, John and another soldier named Dunkin came into the large room that quartered the drummer boys, and roused Tracy from a sound sleep.
"Come on, get up," urged John while Dunkin looked on with a wide grin on his face. "We're goin' on a fun filled special mission an' want ya ta go with us."
It was easy to see the man was half drunk, but there was no malice in his voice, and since Tracy had grown to know him quite well he grabbed his breaches, and after buttoning them up he threw on his shirt and followed the men out of the barracks.
"Where are we going?" asked the youth, excitedly.
"You'll see soon 'nough," replied Dunkin, while trying to suppress a laugh.
"An' you'll be a thankin' us for the rest o' yer life!" added John, jovially.
Tracy had no idea where the men were taking him, but he was as curious as he was excited. Given the men's condition, whatever they had in mind promised to be a lot of fun, or at the very least, adventurous. After their long stay at the fortress, just about anything would be a welcome distraction for the youth.
"'Ow old are ya anyway boy?" asked John, rather suddenly.
"'E's lyin'," said Dunkin, matter of factly.
"'Ow old are ya really Tracy," asked John again. "Ya know yer secret is safe with us so tell us the truth."
"Thirteen," replied the boy, a little sheepishly.
"A little young yet, but believe me, ya deserve it."
Now Tracy had grown really curious, and when they came to a small hut, John grabbed him by the shoulders, and looking into his eyes the man asked, "Tell me. Ave ya ever been with a woman boy?"
Tracy suddenly became frightened, but did his best not show it while shaking his head no.
"Well then!" exclaimed Dunkin happily. "I guess ‘tis time for ya ta find out what yer little willy's for ‘sides peein'!"
Tracy began backing away when John grabbed his arm, and half dragged him to the hut saying, "Ya 'ave the courage o' any two men an' we decided its past time ya was treated like one!"
"Now go on in there an' enjoy yerself an' when ya come out, you'll know why the good lord made women the way he did," laughed Dunkin.
Tracy had no choice but to go into the hut where a beautiful Portuguese woman was waiting. She spoke terrible English, but taking the youth by the arm, she attempted to sooth him by pressing his head into her nearly exposed bosom.
Tracy tried to break away, but the girl, taking his nervousness to be a product of his youth enveloped him in her arms, and before he could break free she reached up inside his undershirt and ran her hand over his chest.
It was then when she suddenly stopped, and jerking the shirt up she saw the terrible secret Tracy had been keeping since the beginning.
The youth backed away, and pulling the shirt back down over her small breasts she turned and half ran out of the small hut and into the two startled men.
"Ho! Ho! What 'appened in there? Did she scare ya away did she?" laughed John.
"Mahap she was a bit too excitin' for 'im an' he finished early!" laughed the other.
The woman came to the door, and began yelling at the men for making a fool of her, and seeing the bewildered look on their faces, she said, "Ya don't know?"
"Know what?" answered Dunkin, who was now becoming angry.
"Ta boy is a girl o' course!" How can ya be so blind tha' ya can't see it yerselfs?"
The two men suddenly backed away from Tracy as if she'd suddenly developed leprosy.
"Is it true?" asked John, incredulously. "Are ya really a girl?"
Tracy didn't have an answer. They saw it in her face, and they suddenly realized why everyone thought she was such a pretty boy.
"Please, ya can't tell anyone," begged Tracy, when she finally found her voice.
Neither man said anything, and by the time they'd returned to the barracks neither John nor Dunkin had still not spoken a word despite all of Tracy's pleading.
It was too much to expect for two drunken soldiers to keep a secret for very long even if they wanted to, and by mid morning the next day, everyone had heard that Tracy was really a girl.
By noon, she was standing before the captain with the sergeant beside her.
"Is it true?" he asked, without showing any emotion in his voice. "Are you a girl?"
At first Tracy didn't answer, and after the sergeant gave her a nudge, the captain said, "You might as well tell me the truth. If you don't, I'll have you stripped, and then we'll all know anyway so save yourself the embarrassment and tell me. Are you a girl?"
Tracy couldn't find her voice in that awful situation, and could only nod her head.
Captain Fenton let out a heavy sigh, and turning to the sergeant, said, "Find her some suitable clothes, and get her out of that uniform. I'll have Leftenant Crieghton make the necessary arrangements to return her to England on the first available ship out of Lisbon."
"No!" protested the girl.
The captain looked at her sympathetically and said, "I have no choice. It's too bad too for you are the best drummer we've ever had."
"But what's ta become o' me? I can't go back to Warrington now."
"I suppose not," answered the captain, thoughtfully. "Perhaps you can join the follow on noncombatants in the trains."
"And do what? Laundry?"
"No, I suppose that wouldn't be very appropriate after all you've been through with the regiment," mused the captain, while rubbing his chin.
The silence had steadily grown until it became quite uncomfortable for them when the captain suddenly broke the heavy stillness by saying, "You must go back to England. I'm going to send you with a letter to my father, Lord Fenton of Tamworth in Staffordshire. You will be able to stay with them."
Tracy was about to protest, but Captain Fenton cut her off saying, "They will take good care of you. You have at least earned that much."
The sergeant called the corporal over and passed along the captain's orders about finding more suitable clothing, and after they had gone the big man looked at the captain and said, "Such a shame sir. She was a damned good drummer, and promised ta be an even better soldier. What do ya think will become o' 'er now?"
"She has great courage and a good spirit, and she'll also have the guidance of my family to help her along the way," answered the captain, and after a moment of thought, he added. "I'm sure in the end she'll become whatever she wants to be ... except a soldier."
"Still it's a shame to lose such a good drummer ... a ... girl," replied the sergeant, with a shake of his head.