The scenes of the Battle of Waterloo in Imperial Scandal were some of the most exciting, challenging, and sad I have ever written. I was in the first trimester of pregnancy when I did the revisions, and I remember working on these, my cats curled up in my lap, and being an emotional wreck.
Here, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, 18 June 1815, are a sampling of those scenes.
Harry held his restive horse in check and ran his gaze over Malcolm Rannoch as they waited in the street for the duke’s staff to assemble. The duke and his aides had been breakfasting by the time Rannoch returned to Waterloo, so they’d had no chance for private conversation until now. “Well?” Harry asked Rannoch.
“For God’s sake, Rannoch, this isn’t my first engagement. I won’t be distracted. But if I’m going to die, I’d like to have as many pieces of the puzzle as possible in my possession.”
“I confess I feel much the same.” Rannoch told him about Tony Chase’s duel with Will Flemming.
Harry shook his head. “Damned fools. So our obvious suspect has an alibi.”
“He could still have set up the ambush.”
“But much of the evidence against him and against George is explained away.”
“There’s still Billy.” Rannoch’s gaze drifted down the street. The Prince of Orange was conferring with March and Rebecque.
Harry noted the concern in Rannoch’s eyes. Concern and, beneath it, fear. “You’re fond of him,” he said.
Rannoch’s mouth tightened. “He isn’t the first murder suspect I’ve been fond of.”
<TXT>Malcolm was far from the only civilian to ride out with the Duke of Wellington. In addition to his staff, the Prince of Orange, and Lord Uxbridge, Wellington was accompanied by a diplomatic corps including Pozzo di Borgo, who was Corsican but represented Tsar Alexander of Russia, Spanish General Alava, the Austrian representative Baron Vincent, and Prussian Baron Müffling. Wellington, in white buckskin breeches and tasseled top boots, the gold knotted sash of a Spanish field marshal showing beneath his blue coat, might have been setting out on a fox hunt. Malcolm, who knew the value of costume and disguise, could appreciate that everything from Wellington’s polished, casual dress to his easy manner was part of his campaign tactics.
As they rode toward the troops, two men on horseback approached them. “Good God,” murmured Alexander Gordon, who was riding beside Malcolm. “It’s Richmond.”
It was indeed his grace the Duke of Richmond, whom Malcolm had last seen in his study at the ball, poring over the map as Wellington pointed at the village of Waterloo. Beside the duke rode his fifteen-year-old son, Lord William, his arm in a sling and a sticking plaster on his head. Malcolm recalled Uxbridge toasting William and the other junior officers at the Richmond ball.
“William has come to present himself for duty,” Richmond informed Wellington.
Wellington cast a glance at the young lieutenant. “Nonsense. William, you ought to be in bed. Duke, you have no business here.”
Richmond’s reply was carried away on the wind, but he appeared to be arguing with his friend Wellington. He and William continued to ride alongside Wellington’s cortège, and when they did move off it was toward General Picton’s division rather than back to Brussels.
Malcolm turned his head to see a tall figure in the short-tailed blue jacket and red-plumed shako of the light dragoons riding toward him. Even before the rider was close enough for Malcolm to make out his features or his captain’s insignia, his posture was unmistakable. Malcolm’s throat tightened, and he breathed a small sigh of relief. He hadn’t consciously let himself think it, but he’d been dreading the prospect that he might never see his brother again.
“Malcolm.” Edgar reined in beside him. “I was hoping I could find you.”
“You knew I’d be here?”
“I know you, brother mine.” A shadow crossed Edgar’s normally sunny face. Since their mother’s death, they didn’t know each other as well as they once had. Then he gave one of his careless grins. “Have a care, will you? You’re the only brother I’ve got.”
Malcolm felt his own face relax into a smile. “I could say the same to you. And I’m only observing.”
“Ha. You may be able to run intellectual rings round me, Malcolm, but I’m not quite so naïve.” Edgar glanced toward Picton’s division. “Couldn’t believe it when I saw Richmond and young William.”
“Family honor,” Malcolm said.
Edgar turned his gaze back to him. “At least if anything happens to either of us we know it won’t affect Father overmuch.” He said it matter-of-factly, because matter-of-fact was what they’d come to be when it came to their father, out of sheer survival instinct.
“Quite,” Malcolm said. For a moment, the name of their mother, who would have cared, hung between them, tightening the air with past questions and past guilt.
Edgar gathered up his reins. “Give my love to Suzanne and Colin if I don’t come back. And to Gelly.”
“Likewise,” Malcolm said. Gisèle was their seventeen-year-old-sister, home in England with Aline’s mother. He looked into Edgar’s eyes, the eyes of his boyhood confidant and first friend, and for a moment understood precisely why George Chase hadn’t turned Tony in. His throat went tight with all the things he couldn’t say. He clapped his brother on the arm. “Go carefully, Edgar.”
Edgar’s gloved fingers closed over Malcolm’s own. “You too.”
Malcolm watched his brother ride out of view. Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them.
“Waste of ammunition,” Davenport said to Malcolm. “It’s going to be a long day.”
And it had yet to properly begin. A breeze gusted over what would be the battlefield, stirring the corn, cutting through the curtain of mist. Wellington had taken up a position before the small village of Mont-Saint-Jean. Fitzroy had said that the duke would have preferred the position across the field at the inn of La Belle Alliance, which Bonaparte occupied, but the Allied position had its advantages. Wellington had seen the ground when he was in Brussels the previous year. Malcolm remembered the duke mentioning the slope of the land to the north, which would allow him to keep most of his troops out of sight of an enemy across the field.
To the left stood the fortified farm La Haye Sainte, with whitewashed walls and a blue-tiled roof that gleamed where the sunlight broke the mist, and still farther to the left the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye. To the right, in a small valley hidden by cornfields, was Hougoumont, a pretty, walled château surrounded by a wood and a hedged orchard. Both Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte had been garrisoned with Allied soldiers.
The ground before them sloped down to a valley, through which the road to Charleroi ran, then rose to the ridge on which stood La Belle Alliance. On this ridge, the French army had begun to deploy. An elegant, masterful pageant. Malcolm lifted his spyglass. Lancers with white-plumed shapkas on their heads, chasseurs with plumes of scarlet and green, hussars, dragoons, cuirassiers, and carabiniers, and the Imperial Guard in their scarlet-faced blue coats. Gunners adjusted the positions of their weapons. Pennants snapped in the breeze and gold eagles caught the sun as it battled the mist.
“Sweet Jesus,” Davenport murmured.
“Bonaparte understands the value of theatre,” Malcolm said.
“Unless he’s also a master of illusion, there are a bloody lot of them. I hope to God the Prussians get here.”
Malcolm cast a glance along the Allied lines. “We happy few.”
“Shakespeare was a genius, but he’d never been on a battlefield. Do you know what you’re in for, Rannoch?”
“I’ve seen battles before,” Malcolm said, scenes from the Peninsula fresh in his mind. “But I don’t think any of us has seen anything like what’s about to unfold.”
Cheers went up among the French troops as a figure on a gray horse galloped into their midst.
“Boney,” Davenport said. “Odd to think I’ve never seen him before.”
Malcolm handed his spyglass to Davenport. Bonaparte wore the undress uniform of a colonel in the Imperial Guard and a bicorne hat without cockades. Wellington, too, wore casual dress for battle, though his buckskins and blue coat were more in the style of a gentleman out for a morning’s ride. He wore four cockades on his own bicorne, for Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands.
Even without a spyglass, the cheers of the French troops for Bonaparte were evident. In response Wellington rode among his own troops, at a sedate trot rather than Bonaparte’s gallop. The duke was greeted with respectful nods but no cheering.
Alexander Gordon pulled up beside Malcolm and Davenport. “Uxbridge has ordered sherry for his staff so they can toast today’s fox.”
“Fox hunting always struck me as a bloody business,” Davenport said. “And a damned waste. My sympathies go to the fox.”
Gordon shot an amused glance at him and held out a paper. “Well, while you’re feeling sympathetic toward Boney, you can take this to Picton. Wellington’s orders.”
Davenport wheeled his horse round but turned back to Malcolm before he rode off. “I don’t say this often, but it’s been a pleasure working with you, Malcolm.”
Malcolm reached between the horses to clasp the other man’s hand. “Likewise, Harry.”
Gordon cast a glance after Davenport as he galloped off. “Odd devil. But a brave one.” He turned his gaze to Malcolm. “We all right, Rannoch?”
“Really, Gordon. Arranging a duel in the middle of a ball?”
Gordon flushed. “Flemming’s one of my oldest friends. One doesn’t refuse such a request from a friend. Besides, no one was badly hurt. If Will hadn’t been drinking he wouldn’t have winged Tony Chase at all.” His gaze moved to the field stretching before them and the French on the opposite ridge. “Seems like child’s play compared to today.”
“It gives both Chase brothers an alibi.”
Gordon met his gaze, a soldier not shirking rebuke. “I couldn’t tell you, Malcolm. It was a confidence.”
Malcolm reached out and gripped his friend’s arm. “It’s all right, Sandy. I do understand.”
Gordon’s face relaxed, though doubt still lurked in his eyes. “If–”
As Gordon spoke, the roar of guns cracked open the summer morning.
It had begun.
Raoul O’Roarke reined in his restive horse, sweat dripping from his forehead, and muttered a curse. The damned assault on Hougoumont, intended as a diversion, had sucked up far too many French troops. They should have taken the château within the first hour. It was now almost half past one, nearly two hours since the assault on Hougoumont had begun. Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s youngest brother, was leading a ferocious fight, but he was pulling precious resources away from the rest of the battle.
Raoul had spent the time supervising the placement of a battery of guns–twelve-pounders and eight-pounders and horse artillery–in front of d’Erlon’s infantry divisions. Now, with a crashing rumble, a renewed cannonade thundered across the valley. The cannonballs should have ricocheted over the crest of the opposite ridge and reached the Allied soldiers sheltering behind it, but they fell into the mud. The poor Dutch-Belgian devils at the front of the Allied lines were cut to pieces, but most of the Allied army remained safely behind the reverse slope of the ridge or the thick hedges that bordered it.
Though the assault of the guns was less effective than it should have been, the French infantry began to advance in columns. Save that instead of the narrow columns that Raoul had seen prove ruinously ineffective against British infantry, d’Erlon spread his men into shallower, wider columns that were closer to line formation yet still deeper than the Allied lines they faced. “Clever,” Raoul murmured to Flahaut, who had pulled up beside him. “The British muskets cut our columns to pieces in the Peninsula.”
Drumbeats and voices raised in “The Marseillaise” echoed across the valley. Flahaut scanned the mass of advancing French. “They look as though they’re going to sweep right over the British and Dutch-Belgians.”
Raoul frowned at the Allied ridge. It wasn’t like Wellington to sit this quietly and let the enemy overwhelm him. “I wouldn’t cry victory yet. ‘That island of England breeds very valiant creatures,’ ” he added in English rather than the French they’d been speaking.
“Must you start quoting now of all times, O’Roarke?”
“It’s rather apt. Wellington’s sure to have a counter-measure up his sleeve.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Flahaut gathered up the reins, then looked back over his shoulder. “O’Roarke,” he said, over the roar of cannon fire and blare of martial music.
Raoul looked into the younger man’s eyes, dark with fear and uncertainty. “If I live through this and you don’t, of course I’ll tell Hortense. Not that she doesn’t know already.”
“Thank you.” A smile crossed Flahaut’s smoke-blackened, blood-smeared face. He regarded Raoul for a moment, eyes narrowed against the smoke and the glare of the sun. “What about Suzanne?”
Raoul drew a breath. His neckcloth seemed to have tightened round his throat. “Tell her that I have every confidence she’ll make the right decisions.”
Flahaut looked at him a moment longer, then saluted and rode off. Raoul turned his gaze to the opposite ridge. Quiot’s left brigade had success at the walled farm of La Haye Sainte, driving back the King’s German Legion troops in the orchard. His right brigade drove Prince Bernhard’s Saxe-Weimar brigade from the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye and pushed the 95th from the sandpit opposite La Haye Sainte. A Dutch-Belgian light brigade either withdrew or fled.
But Wellington had indeed had a counter-measure up his sleeve. Squadron after squadron of Allied heavy cavalry charged down the slope. The French cavalry met them near La Haye Sainte. The French cuirassiers should have been able to hold them, but the Allied cavalry were fresh and ready for blood after missing the fighting at Quatre Bras. The French cavalry broke in confusion before the Allied charge. Much of the infantry followed suit in a tangle of fallen men and blood-spattered ground.
Raoul spurred his horse forward from his station at the gun battery, calling to the retreating soldiers to rally and re-form. His cries fell on deaf ears. Formations dissolved, men ran away, others stood their ground and hacked wildly at the onrushing Allied soldiers only to be mowed down by the tide. The Eagles of the 45th and 105th glittered in the hands of Allied soldiers, drunk on their success.
Raoul waited for the British cavalry to rally and draw back. But the Scots Greys instead pounded on across the valley. Good God, the madmen. They would be slaughtered.
The thunder of hooves shook the ground. Cries of “92nd” and “Scotland forever” carried on the breeze over the screams and groans and neighing of horses as the Allied cavalry fell beneath the blows of the French cuirassiers and lancers who had been sent up as reinforcements. For a moment Raoul could almost smell the salt breeze off Dunmykel Bay in Perthshire.
More Allied cavalry pounded after. Life Guards and King’s Dragoons judging by the helmets and crests. They slammed against Travers’s cuirassiers, British swords smashing against French breastplates. Raoul drew in his breath. Dear heaven, was that Lord Uxbridge leading the Household Cavalry? Why the devil hadn’t the cavalry commander remained behind to direct the reserves?
The breeze carried the sickly-sweet smell of fresh blood. Buglers sounded the rally, but by then the British cavalry were tired, scattered, and deep in enemy lines. Raoul drew his sword as the British swept over the French guns. Instinct took over, honed through the Revolution, the United Irish Uprising, the Peninsular War. He cut, parried, slashed, dispatching soldier after soldier.
He ran his sword through the throat of a dragoon, pulled it clear, and wheeled his horse round to parry an attack from a hussar lieutenant. He dispatched the hussar with a cut to the chest, then nearly fell from the saddle as his horse stumbled. He looked down to see that his horse had tripped over the body of a French private. He found himself staring into the dead blue eyes of Philippe Valery.
Later, when the numbness wore off, he would feel grief. If he survived.
Someone touched his arm. He spun round in the saddle, sword raised.
“O’Roarke.” Flahaut grabbed him by the arm. “Pull back. The British are trapped.”
French lancers and hussars filled the valley, cutting the British cavalry off from their lines. The British cavalry circled in disarray. One colonel, both his arms shot off, gripped his horse’s reins between his teeth. French swords and lances hacked and stabbed those who tried to ride back to their own lines. Raoul saw Sir William Ponsonby, with whom he had shared a glass of champagne at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, fall to a lance thrust.
“Christ,” Flahaut said. “Only a handful of them can have survived.”
Raoul wiped his hand across his face and realized he’d smeared blood over his forehead. “They took two eagles. And more than a dozen of our guns are disabled.”
“Are you saying the fight went to them?”
Raoul tugged a handkerchief from his pocket and dragged it across his forehead. “I’m saying it was a damned waste.”
An odd quiet had come over the battlefield. At least it was quiet compared to the chaos of the cavalry charge. Shots still sounded to the right from Hougoumont and to the left from La Haye Sainte, on which the French had begun a determined assault. Malcolm swung down from Perdita and ran to help one of the stretcher parties carrying the wounded to makeshift hospitals behind the lines. Across the valley, the French were doing the same.
Eye-stinging black smoke hung over the field. Soldiers marched prisoners behind the lines, put bullets through the heads of horses too wounded too walk, rounded up riderless horses galloping among the injured or cropping the grass with fine disregard for the chaos. Malcolm paused to yell at an infantry sergeant pulling a watch from the pocket of a dead lieutenant. Then he knelt beside a dragoon with blood dripping from his mouth and the light fading from his eyes and took a letter and ring the young man begged him to send to his wife and son. Closer to the lines Malcolm closed the eyes of a lance corporal with whom he remembered sharing a flask of wine before the battle of Toulouse.
“If we lose La Haye Sainte the French will smash right through our center,” Fitzroy said when Malcolm returned to the elm tree that served as Wellington’s command post.
Malcolm glanced to the right. “I still see flames from Hougoumont.”
“They’re managing to hold out. The duke’s told them to hold on as long as they can but not endanger their lives from falling timbers.”
“Wellington looks calm.” Malcolm had spotted the duke riding among the troops on his chestnut horse Copenhagen.
“Looks. He must have taken his cloak on and off two dozen times. Sure sign of disquiet. Good God. The madman.” Fitzroy’s gaze went across the valley to the French ridge. “Ney’s going to send his cavalry at us without infantry support.”
“Perhaps he thought it only sporting to even up the score when we were so reckless with our own cavalry,” Malcolm said.
Shouts of “prepare to receive cavalry” echoed along the Allied line. The infantry began to form into squares. French cuirassiers pounded across the valley and up the hill. Division after division of heavy and light cavalry joined them. Wave upon wave, with no supporting infantry or horse artillery. They met a checkerboard of Allied infantry squares, four men deep, the front lines kneeling with bayonet-tipped muskets pointed, the rear lines holding muskets ready to fire. Confronted with the bayonets, horses reared up and dashed to the side.
With no supporting infantry to batter the squares, the French cavalry wheeled and slashed, retreated, re-formed, charged again. And again and again. The squares held steady. When a soldier fell, his fellows pulled him into the center of the square and closed ranks.
“Oh, Rannoch, good.” Wellington thrust a paper at Malcolm as shots whistled by. “Take this to Maitland. I’ve lost too damned many aides-de-camp.”
Malcolm tucked the paper into his coat and galloped toward General Maitland, by instinct as much as sight. Guns thundered. Bullets hammered against metal breastplates, sabres rang against bayonets. Cannon smoke choked the air. Men screamed, horses flailed, blood spurted, piles of dead and dying men and animals littered the ground.
He delivered the message to Maitland and made his way back to Wellington, who was moving among the squares, pausing to exhort the soldiers and offer encouragement. Wellington thrust another message at him, and he galloped on again in the choking inferno, this time to the Prince of Orange. Sweat soaked through his shirt. Smoke stripped his throat raw.
“We tried to save La Haye Sainte,” Billy said when Malcolm reached him, eyes fever bright in his pale face. “Alten ordered two battalions of the King’s German Legion to attack in line. Ompteda objected, but I told him– It should have worked.”
“It’s done, sir.” March laid a hand on Billy’s arm. “You can’t refine upon it.”
Malcolm held out the dispatch. “Remember, sir. One moment at a time.”
March, his face set in harsh lines, rode part of the way off with Malcolm. “When Billy insisted Ompteda follow Alten’s order to form line, Ompteda stared at him as though he’d received a death sentence. After a moment he said that then he would try to save the lives of his two nephews. Fourteen and fifteen.”
“Did they survive?”
“Yes, but Ompteda and dozens of others didn’t. And God knows how many were taken prisoner.”
“Try to keep him steady, March. It’s all you can do.”
March nodded. “The others?”
He meant the rest of the “family,” Wellington’s staff from the Peninsula. “Fitzroy’s fine,” Malcolm said. “I just saw him with the duke. I saw Gordon about an hour ago rallying some Hanoverians and Canning half an hour or so before that. I saw Freemantle and Davenport some time after the cavalry charge. The time starts to blur.”
March gave a brief nod.
“Your brothers?” Malcolm asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen George since the start of the battle.” George Lennox was also an aide-de-camp to Wellington.
“I haven’t, either. I can only hope Father and William have the wit to keep out of fire. Edgar?”
“I haven’t seen him since this morning.”
On the way to deliver another message to Sir Colin Halkett, Malcolm turned his head to see a French cuirassier galloping straight at him. He dashed into a nearby square, which opened to receive him, then quickly drew closed. The ranks were thinned, scarcely two deep now. Inside, red-coated men lay on the ground, some twisted in an agony of death, some groaning with wounds. A man in his shirtsleeves bent over them.
“Geoff.” Malcolm swung down from Perdita.
Geoffrey Blackwell’s gaze skimmed over Malcolm as he finished tying a bandage round the arm of a young private. “Are you–”
“Unhurt.” Malcolm dropped down beside Blackwell. “Just delivering messages.”
“A lot of Wellington’s message deliverers have lost their lives today.” Blackwell cast a glance round the square. “I’d give a great deal to have Suzanne here.”
“So would I.” Malcolm shook his head. “Odd. A man should want to protect his wife from this.”
“Not a man who knows his wife as well as you do.” Blackwell crawled over to an ensign who was curled on his side, his ribs exposed. “Let’s have a look at you, lad.”
“Shall I stay?” Malcolm asked.
“Get your message delivered. I’ll manage.”
A quarter hour later, Malcolm drew up beside Wellington and Fitzroy. “Billy ordered another line attack. Or rather Alten ordered it, but Billy backed him up.”
Wellington grimaced. “Ney’s going to come straight at our center now La Haye Sainte has fallen. And we don’t have the heavy cavalry left to oppose him. If–”
A hail of sniper fire came from La Haye Sainte. “A bit hot,” Wellington murmured. And then, in a different tone, “Fitzroy?”
Fitzroy was clutching his right arm. Malcolm grabbed his friend as he swayed in the saddle. “I’ll be all right, sir,” Fitzroy murmured, face drained of color, blood spurting from his arm.
“So you will when you’ve seen a surgeon,” Wellington said. “Get him behind the lines, Malcolm.”
Malcolm returned from taking Fitzroy behind the lines only to be dispatched by the duke with a message for Lord Edward Somerset, Fitzroy’s elder brother, whose brigade had played a prominent role in the cavalry charge. He found Lord Edward by the side of the road with only two squadrons. “Pressed into service, Rannoch?” he asked, lifting his hand to shield his eyes against the slanting rays of the sun.
“Wellington’s running short of aides-de-camp,” Malcolm said. “Fitzroy took a bad shot to the arm. But he was conscious and in good spirits when I got him off the field.”
Edward drew in and released his breath. “Thanks.”
Malcolm held out his message. “Where’s your brigade?”
Edward glanced at the few men surrounding him. “Here,” he replied.
Malcolm returned to Wellington to find him riding among the Brunswickers, attempting to rally the younger troops. Cannon and pistol smoke choked the air and bullets whistled by. Alexander Gordon had pulled his horse up beside the duke. “For God’s sake, sir, you’re an open target. This isn’t fit for you.”
Wellington wheeled Copenhagen round. “It’s work that needs to be done, Gordon. Oh, Malcolm, good, I need you–”
The sound of a ball connecting with flesh interrupted him. Gordon tumbled from the saddle. Malcolm flung himself down beside his friend. Gordon’s leg was a mess of blood and torn flesh.
Gordon seemed to have lost consciousness, but as Malcolm slid his arm beneath his shoulders he opened his eyes. “Glad you know about Stuart’s ball at least. Wouldn’t want us to part enemies.”
“Don’t be a damned fool,” Malcolm said, lifting Gordon in his arms.
Two men with a stretcher arrived to take Gordon from the field. Wellington looked after his aide-de-camp for a moment with drawn brows, then thrust a paper into Malcolm’s hand. “For the Prince of Orange.”
Malcolm nodded and turned Perdita. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannon rumbled. Beneath his coat, his sweat-soaked shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown-off limbs had become monotonous reality. His own wounds from the past few days were a dull throbbing on the edge of his consciousness. He steered Perdita round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off. Perdita was breathing hard, her sides damp with sweat, but she pressed on, surefooted and remarkably calm in the chaos. Malcolm patted her neck. With the part of his mind that could still think beyond the moment, he felt a flash of regret that he hadn’t left her in Brussels and ridden a borrowed horse.
At last he caught sight of March through the smoke.
“Malcolm! Glad you’re still alive.”
“Gordon took a hellish shot to the leg.” Malcolm said. “And I think Fitzroy’s going to lose his arm.”
March squeezed his eyes shut. His face was bone pale and smeared with blood.
“Where’s Slender Billy?” Malcolm asked. “I have a message from the duke.”
March jerked his head to the right. Then his gaze fastened on a lone rider approaching down the line. “I think that’s Canning.” He raised a hand in greeting.
Malcolm turned his gaze in the direction March was looking. Canning saw them and lifted his hand in acknowledgment. A moment later, grapeshot hit him in the stomach, and he fell from the saddle.
Malcolm and March touched their heels to their horses. Canning pushed himself up on one elbow as they swung down beside him. Pain glazed his eyes and blood seeped through his coat. His mouth twisted with the effort at speech. “The duke,” he said in a choked voice. “Is he safe?”
“Unhurt. I just saw him.” Malcolm slid an arm beneath Canning’s shoulders.
“God bless him,” Canning gasped. He turned his head toward March, who was kneeling at his other side, and reached for his hand, then looked between March and Malcolm. “God bless you both,” he murmured, and went still, the light gone from his eyes.
March drew a breath that shuddered with grief and rage. When he lifted his gaze to Malcolm, tears glistened in the blood and dirt on his face. “Curzon died in much the same way. Only a few– God, I can’t say how many hours ago it was. Damn this day.”
The ground shook with the pounding of horse hoofs. The Prince of Orange flung himself down beside them. “Malcolm. March. Who– Oh God.” He put his fingers to Canning’s face. For a moment, they were all back in the Peninsula, laughing heedlessly over a flask of wine, danger quickening their blood but death still impossible to imagine.
“He’s gone, sir.” Malcolm touched the prince’s arm. “We have to go.”
Billy turned toward him. “We can’t just–”
A bullet whistled through the air. Malcolm grabbed the prince but not quite quickly enough. Billy collapsed against him, blooding spurting from his shoulder.
“Sir,” Malcolm said. “Billy? Can you hear me?”
“Yes, of course.” The prince struggled to sit up, then fell against Malcolm again, his breath quick and uneven. “I shall be quite all right in a moment.”
“I’ll get someone to carry you off the field, sir.” March released Canning’s hand, hesitated a moment, then plucked the Orange cockade from Billy’s hat. “Wouldn’t do to have you recognized.”
Billy gave a weak smile. Blood dripped from his shoulder but not so quickly an artery had been struck.
March looked toward the trees from which the shot had come. “What the devil were the French doing shooting from there?”
Malcolm glanced at the trees, now still. “I don’t think it was the French.”
Harry Davenport pulled his horse up beside Wellington. “The 5th division is reduced from four thousand to closer to four hundred, sir. They have little chance of keeping their post.”
Wellington cast a glance toward La Haye Sainte, from which the French were now peppering the Allies with musket balls. “We have no reinforcements to send. Will they stand?”
“I think so.”
Wellington shot him a brief smile. “Never one to exaggerate, are you, Davenport? Tell them I shall stand with them until the last man.” The duke tugged his watch from his pocket and cast a glance at the sky. “It’s night or Blücher,” he muttered. Then he thrust a paper at Davenport. “All right, off with you. This is for Maitland. Bonaparte’s about to send in the Guard.”
At least Maitland was still alive and might make it home to pretty Sarah Lennox. Three generals had been killed and five carried from the field that Harry knew of. He had begun to ask, “Who commands here?” whenever he rode up to a brigade with a message.
As he bent over Claudius’s neck, he heard a stirring along the Allied line. A glance across the field made the reason plain. As Wellington had said, Bonaparte was at last sending in the Imperial Guard. The legendary elite troops, never defeated in battle, marched forward to the beating of drums, gleaming bayonets fixed. They moved over the undulating ground through a rippling curtain of cannon smoke, hidden for moments by the ground or the smoke only to emerge seemingly stronger and more implacable than ever.
By the time Harry had delivered his message to General Maitland, chaos engulfed the field again. The Allied infantry waited for the French columns in line, some of them, such as Maitland’s men, lying flat on the ground to conceal their presence. Cannon thundered on both sides. Shells whistled through the air, exploded, or lay spitting and hissing on the muddy, bloody ground.
The French closed to within forty feet. “Now, Maitland!” Wellington’s voice rang out over the cacophony of drums and shots. “Now is your time! Up, Guards! Make ready! Fire!”
Maitland’s men sprang up from the ground and fired. Drumbeats, musket fire, and screams choked the air. Caught up in the confusion, Harry saw a familiar face in the smoky mêlée. “Ashton.” He edged Claudius toward his brother-in-law. “What are you doing among the infantry?”
“Sent with a message. We’re running short of staff officers.” Ashton’s voice sagged with exhaustion. Blood and dirt crusted his coat and his face glistened with sweat. “Glad you’re alive, Davenport.”
“It isn’t over yet.”
“I’m glad–” Ashton hesitated. “I know if I fall you’ll help Cordelia look after Robbie. Thank you.”
But Ashton had already ridden off. Through the smoke, Harry saw a musket shot wing his brother-in-law’s horse, saw Ashton tumble from the saddle and roll downhill. Harry urged Claudius forward in time to see a French grenadier rip through the cannon smoke, bearing down on Ashton with a bayonet. Harry fired off a shot, but he was at an awkward angle and it only grazed the grenadier’s cheek. As Harry fought his way forward, knowing he was too far to save Julia’s husband, a French infantry officer hurled himself forward and took the bayonet thrust. Ashton fired his pistol from the ground, bringing down the grenadier.
It was only when Harry flung himself down beside Ashton that he recognized the soldier on the ground beside him who had taken the bayonet thrust. Anthony Chase. In a blue coat. There was blue on both sides today, but that coat was unmistakably a French uniform.
“What the devil–” Ashton pushed himself up on his knees and bent over his childhood friend.
“Ask Davenport and Rannoch,” Tony gasped. Blood dripped from his mouth and his eyes were already clouding. “No time to explain. Listen, Ashton. Look after Violet.”
“She wants you. She always has. And I think you want her.”
But as Ashton spoke, Tony’s gaze froze, and his head flopped to the side. Ashton stared down at him for a long moment, then lifted a hand and closed his former friend’s eyes. “Why in God’s name–”
Harry touched his shoulder. “Explanations if we survive this, Ashton.” Musket fire sounded on either side of them. They seemed to be in a gap between the French attack on the Allied right and another attack farther to the east. Ashton’s horse had galloped down the hill toward them. Harry caught its bridle. The animal had a graze in its side but was otherwise unhurt. “Get back in the saddle before you’re trampled.” Harry pulled Ashton to his feet and swung back up onto Claudius. No possibility of moving Tony’s body in the chaos.
Allied soldiers were advancing down the slope. Harry lost sight of Ashton as Allied and French soldiers spilled in from either side. Shouts of “Vive l’empereur,” “Form up,” and “Oranje boven” cut the air. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw a flicker of movement in the smoke to his left. Pain exploded in his chest. He tumbled from his horse and gasped Cordelia’s name into the mud.
The Imperial Guard had broken. Cries of “la Garde recule” sounded from the French ranks. Allied cavalry thundered down the ridge. Allied infantry followed. Malcolm, who had just delivered a message to Sir John Colborne, watched the Allied army, which had fought a defensive battle most of the day, at last advance. Three hussars galloped past him. A gust of wind stirred the smoke, and he caught sight of a muddy form in a dark blue coat sprawled on the slope below. A staff officer. A familiar-looking brown horse nuzzled the fallen man’s arm. Malcolm urged Perdita forward. Brown hair. Something mocking and instantly recognizable about the small bit of profile showing. Malcolm swung down from Perdita, reached for Harry Davenport’s wrist, and felt a faint pulse.
He turned Davenport over. Blood streamed from a wound in his chest. He gave a groan, then seemed to lose consciousness. Malcolm lifted him as carefully as he could.
Boots thudded against the ground. Malcolm looked up to see a chasseur leveling a musket at him.
They had lost. Raoul O’Roarke had known that even before he rode in the Guard’s advance at Marshal Ney’s side. They had seen troops approaching from the east. On Napoleon’s orders, la Bédoyère had shouted that it was Grouchy bringing French reinforcements, but Raoul had been sure from the first that it was the Prussians, come at last to reinforce Wellington.
Still he fought, even now the seemingly invincible Guard had been pushed back. He heard shouts of “nous sommes trahis” from French soldiers who had realized the Prussians were at hand. Ney, his fifth horse shot from under him, wielded his sword with grim determination. For Raoul, the world had shrunk down to the few feet of ground in front of him. He slashed at a British hussar and saw a man in a brown civilian coat kneeling on the ground a few feet away. He held a fallen comrade in the dark blue coat of one of Wellington’s staff officers. Good God. A chill went through Raoul. It was Malcolm Rannoch. And Raoul wasn’t the only one who had seen him. A chasseur moved toward Malcolm, musket leveled.
Raoul didn’t hesitate. He lifted his pistol and shot the chasseur in the back.
Georgiana and Sarah returned home in the still warm evening air, escorted by the footman who had come with them from the Rue de la Blanchisserie. Suzanne helped David and Simon settle a Prussian private they’d brought back from the road to Waterloo, gave some laudanum to Henri Rivaux, who was tossing restlessly, assisted Cordelia with changing Angus’s bandages. She went upstairs to look in on the children. They were all sharing a room tonight, as they’d seemed comforted by being together. She found Colin stirring fretfully, his blankets pushed down round his feet. She straightened the covers and stroked his hair until he flopped against the pillows. She touched her fingers to Livia’s and Robbie’s hair, surprised at how steadied she felt.
When she stepped into the passage raised voices assailed her from the hall below. She hurried to the stair head, pulse quickened. The light of the chandelier and lamps and candles flickered over the scene below. Christophe and two of the other wounded men were on their feet, cheering and slapping hands with the footmen. Aline was hugging Rachel. Addison was embracing Blanca. Cordelia, hair falling from its pins, had her arms round David and Simon.
“Wonderful news.” David caught sight of Suzanne and moved to the base of the stairs, a surprisingly youthful grin splitting his face. “The French are in retreat. We’ve won.”
Such simple words. And it was over. The fighting, the struggle, the betrayals. All so she could stand at the head of a flight of mahogany stairs and hear the end of everything she had fought for pronounced by her husband’s grinning best friend.
Suzanne ran down the stairs and flung her arms round David, burying her face in his shoulder. He swung her round in an exuberant circle. By the time he set her back on her feet, she had recovered her self-command. “Tell me. Where did you hear?”
“Stuart just sent word round. He had the news from Alten.”
Suzanne shook her head. She could still not make sense of it. “I thought General Alten had been brought in wounded.”
“He ordered one of his aides-de-camp to send word to him as soon as the battle was decided,” Simon said.
Suzanne hugged Simon, holding on a little tighter than usual. “What else have you learned?”
“Nothing about anyone we know.”
She nodded and reached out to hug Cordelia and then Aline. Rachel had dropped back down beside Henri, who was sitting up against the pillows, a smile creasing his face.
Simon and Cordelia opened champagne and handed it round in a variety of drinking vessels. Suzanne sipped champagne from a teacup, laughed, grinned, said and did everything that seemed appropriate.
Cordelia caught her eye. “I know. Such amazing news, and it won’t mean anything to me if they don’t come back.”
“Drink some more champagne.”
With the giddy atmosphere in the hall, it was a moment before Suzanne realized the door had opened. She turned round to see her husband standing just inside the door. She ran to him and flung her arms round him with the force of everything coursing through her.
Malcolm hugged her to him hard, but he spoke over her shoulder to David, Simon, and Addison. “Davenport’s in the cart outside, badly wounded. I’m going to need help getting him in.”
Suzanne drew back to see that Cordelia had taken two steps forward, parchment pale but all questions suppressed.
“It’s serious,” Malcolm said, meeting Cordelia’s gaze. “But not beyond hope.”
Cordelia gave a quick nod and snatched up a lamp. “Put him in my room.”
Malcolm, David, and Simon carried Harry Davenport upstairs, while Addison saw to Perdita and Claudius, who had somehow survived the battle. Cordelia held the lamp to light the way. Suzanne set about gathering up lint, brandy, and clean cloths. Aline brought a bowl of warm water from the kitchen.
By the time they came into Cordelia’s room, the men had got Harry’s boots and coat off. He was moaning and twisting his head against the pillows but seemed unconscious of his surroundings.
“Bless you for the water.” Cordelia dampened a cloth and sponged her husband’s mud-caked face.
“He fell facedown,” Malcolm said. “And it was some time before I got to him. I fear at least one horse trampled him. Blackwell says he has two broken ribs, but it’s the wound in his chest that’s really concerning. Blackwell said to tell you to change the dressing.”
Suzanne pushed back the remnants of Harry’s shirt, which had already been sliced neatly in two, probably by Geoffrey Blackwell. She peeled back the dressing. Cordelia sucked in her breath. The wound was deep and perilously close to Harry’s heart. But at least it was leaking clean blood. She cleaned it with brandy and applied a fresh dressing. He twitched but didn’t waken from his feverish state. Cordelia held him steady, as Rachel had done earlier with Henri.
Suzanne bent over Cordelia and put her arms round her shoulders. “I’ll have some tea sent up, and I’ll be just downstairs should you need me. I’ve seen men much farther gone make a complete recovery.”
Cordelia squeezed Suzanne’s fingers. She didn’t ask how many men in a similar state Suzanne had seen die, though the question lurked in her eyes.
Suzanne slipped out into the passage. Malcolm followed and pulled the door to behind him. For the first time since he’d come into the house, Suzanne looked properly at him. In the light from the candle sconces, she saw that his face was mud spattered and covered with a day’s stubble. There was a red- brown smear just below his jaw. She put her hand up to it.
“I’m all right.” He curled his fingers round her own. “I don’t think it’s mine.”
“We heard the battle’s won,” she said, carefully calibrating a note of bright cheerfulness tempered by the horrors all round them.
Malcolm’s mouth twisted. “At an intolerable cost.”
The candlelight bounced off his eyes, revealing a hell starker than all the horrors of their years in the Peninsula. “Who?” she asked.
He swallowed. “Easier to ask who survived. Canning died of a stomach wound. De Lancey fell and last I heard no one had found him. Gordon lost his leg. He’s in Wellington’s bedchamber at Headquarters, and I doubt he’ll last the night.”
She sucked in her breath as though she’d received a blow to the gut. Gordon’s infectious laughter echoed in her ears. She saw Canning’s smile, heard Gordon’s ironic voice, had a clear image of De Lancey bending over his young wife’s hand. “Fitzroy?” she asked, holding her breath for the answer.
“He lost his arm. But Blackwell thinks he’ll recover.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. “March?”
“He was alive last I saw. He got Slender Billy off the field.”
“The prince was wounded? Is he–”
“Alive at last report. He took a shoulder wound from a sniper. Who I think was aiming for me.”
“So I suspect. Though I think any number of people would have quite cheerfully put a bullet through Billy in the course of the day. The damn fool ordered his men to form line instead of square again. It was like giving them a death sentence. The number who fell–”
“Malcolm.” She tightened her fingers round his own. “Harry was right last night. Billy’s failures shouldn’t be on your conscience.”
“Countless pointless deaths. If I’d been truly brave I’d have bashed him over the head and dragged him from the field.” He caught her other hand in his, so tight she could feel the pressure of bone on bone. “The road from Waterloo is clogged with dead and dying men. Some were crushed under overturned wagons. Some are lying among the trees on the side of the road, unlikely ever to emerge. The number I passed without stopping–”
“Darling.” She pulled her fingers free of his grip and took his face between her hands. “You can’t save everyone.”
“Of course not. It would be hubris to think so. Not to mention idiocy.”
“But you still feel guilty when you can’t.”
He shook his head. “Wellington came through unscathed. But Blackwell told me Uxbridge had his leg shattered just at the end of the battle, when his horse was scarce more than a hand’s breadth from Wellington’s. He’ll lose his leg.” He drew a breath. “I was almost done for myself. When I was rescuing Davenport. A chasseur was coming straight at me.”
A chill shot through her. “What happened?”
“Someone shot him in the back. Whoever it was, I’ll be forever grateful to him.”
She wrapped her arms round him and pressed her face into the hollow of his throat. “So will I.”
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.