Imperial Scandal

Wellington’s staff officers were some of my favorite real historical characters in Imperial Scandal. Here’s a glimpse of them interacting with Malcolm Rannoch and the other fictional characters on the night of 17 June 1815, the night before the Battle of Waterloo.

“Malcolm. Davenport.” Fitzroy Somerset, as usual, was bent over a pile of paperwork by the light of a single, guttering candle in the inn at Waterloo that served as Wellington’s temporary Headquarters. “Have you brought food?”

“And wine.” Malcolm pulled a bottle out from under his sodden greatcoat and set it on the gateleg table. Davenport did likewise. “Where’s the duke?”

“Asleep. I hope. I’m to call him between two and three so he can write letters. He’s been waiting all evening for news from Blücher.”

“Still nothing?” Davenport asked.

Fitzroy shook his head. “But Müffling continues to insist Blücher can and will support us tomorrow. So much depends on it.” A rare frown creased Fitzroy’s face.

“Have a glass of wine.” Malcolm, having extracted the cork from one of the bottles, splashed wine into a glass and held it out to Fitzroy. “For once you almost look worried. Which is enough to send your friends into a panic.”

Fitzroy grinned and accepted the glass.

Malcolm stripped off his greatcoat. “I sent your message on to Harriet in Antwerp. Suzette had seen the Duchess of Richmond, who had word that Harriet’s well, as is the baby.”

Fitzroy smiled. “Thanks.” He took a sip of wine. “The duke’s marked out a position at Mont-Saint-Jean. He would have preferred the ground on the opposite ridge at La Belle Alliance, but De Lancey thought it too extended. The emperor’s taken up the ground at La Belle Alliance. Boney had his batteries fire off some shots to try to smoke out our position, and some of our lads had the bad sense to fire back and give themselves away.”

“And so the duke’s in a temper?” Davenport picked up a glass of wine.

“He was. He’s calmed down a bit. Or he’s so busy he’s forgot he was angry.”

“You back, Malcolm?” Canning strolled into the room, yawning. “Still don’t have the wit to see when you’re well out of it?”

Malcolm took a sip of wine. “Can’t stand the thought of you lot having all the fun.”

“Ha. You don’t believe that for a moment. I’ve heard you talk about war. Poor me a glass of that wine, will you? The beds are too damned hard for sleeping.”

Alexander Gordon followed Canning into the room. “Is that wine? Always said you were a good man, Malcolm. For a diplomat.” He spoke in a cheerful voice. Their quarrel over why he had left Stuart’s ball might never have been. He moved to the table and accepted a glass of wine from Malcolm. “Lord, will the rain never let up? This is going to be the slowest battle ever, with all of us slogging through the mud.”

Fitzroy looked up from his paperwork. “There’s still time for it to dry out.”

Gordon dropped into a chair with his glass of wine. “You’re a damned optimist, Somerset.”

“If by that you mean I’m not given to exaggerated flights of fancy, I’ll concede the point.” Fitzroy held a lump of red sealing wax over his candle.

“You wrote to Harriet that we and the Prussians had repulsed the French.”

Fitzroy dripped the melting wax onto his folded letter. “The French didn’t overrun us.”

“What would you call our retreat today?” Gordon asked. “Advancing backward?”

Fitzroy pressed a seal into the wax. “When you’re married, Gordon, you’ll understand.”

“Malcolm is married.” Canning looked up from his wine to come to Gordon’s defense. “You wouldn’t catch him telling such a farrago to Suzanne.”

Gordon snorted. “Suzanne wouldn’t believe it.”

“Suzanne’s lived through battles before,” Fitzroy said. “Though she always had nerves of steel as I recall,” he added, looking at Malcolm. “Even when you first brought her to Lisbon.”

“She’d already been through a great deal,” Malcolm said. Even more, he had learned last autumn in Vienna, than he had at first supposed.

Gordon stretched his feet out toward the fire. “I miss Spain. Battle seemed friendlier in Spain.”

“By the way,” Canning said, “I saw Harry Smith earlier. With Lambert’s brigade from Ghent and not long before that from America.”

“Is Juana with him?” Malcolm asked. Juana Smith, like Suzanne, was a Spanish war bride.

“Yes, though he’s sending her to Brussels in the morning.”

Davenport, who had been leaning against the wall, moved toward Fitzroy. “Could I beg a sheet of writing paper?”

“Certainly. Ink as well.”

Davenport took the paper and ink and retired to a chair in the corner by the fireplace.

The door opened again, letting in a gust of wind, a hail of raindrops, and Geoffrey Blackwell. “Damnable weather. It’s all I can do to keep my instruments clean.”

“Sit down by the fire.” Canning got up to offer Blackwell his chair.

“No, no.” Blackwell waved a hand. “I may have nearly thirty years on you, Canning, but I’m not quite decrepit. Besides, have to get back to my patients. I have a good half dozen who’ll pull through if we can stave off wound fever. Only came to see if Malcolm was back.”

“Allie’s holding up well,” Malcolm said.

Blackwell met his gaze and colored slightly. “Thank you.”

“David and Simon are in Brussels. They and Suzanne and Allie and Cordelia have the house full of wounded soldiers. You trained Suzette and Allie well.”

Blackwell gave a crisp nod. “Glad to hear it. God knows there must be need enough of nursing in Brussels.”

Davenport crossed to Malcolm and held out a folded piece of paper. “Would you mind keeping this and giving it to Cordelia? In the event I don’t return.”

Malcolm met his gaze for a moment. Davenport’s expression was as armored as ever, but his blue eyes looked as though they could be smashed with a word. “Of course,” Malcolm said, and tucked the letter into his pocket.

“Thank you.” Davenport was silent for a moment. “It’s a damnable thing to find, on the eve of what’s probably going to be the worst battle in which one’s ever participated, that on the whole one would prefer not to die.”

“I can think of another Harry who couldn’t sleep before a battle against the French. He came through well enough.”

Davenport grinned. “ ’Fraid I’m not up to a St. Crispin’s Day speech.”

“I don’t think it’s much Wellington’s style, either.”

By the fireplace, Gordon let out a laugh.

“You’re impossible,” Canning said. “I don’t know why your friends put up with you.”

“My fellow staff officers don’t have any choice.”

“You have friends outside the staff. In fact, it’s disgusting how many friends you have.”

“Most of them don’t have any choice, either. Campbell and Flemming grew up with me–”

“Will Flemming?” Malcolm asked.

For a moment Gordon went still. Then he gave a deliberate smile, a trifle too broad. “Yes, he and Jack Campbell and I grew up on neighboring estates. Those are the friends one can never get rid of, don’t you know.”

“Quite.” Malcolm stared at Gordon. Between them Gordon and Canning had given him a new piece of the puzzle. He reached for his greatcoat–still damp, but at least it would keep the rain off the rest of his clothes–and moved to the door.

“Where are you off to?” Davenport asked.

“To have a talk with George Chase.”

Excerpted from Imperial Scandal by TERESA GRANT Copyright © 2012 by Tracy Grant. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.