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The whole Maguilla business was absurd. A few of the Royals’ squadrons become over-excited, press on too far for their own good and get a fraction cut up, and Wellington says that all his cavalry are fit for is drilling on Wimbledon Common! What a confounded insult! What a—’ Yet another spasm contorted his face, and a string of expletives followed. ‘And now Slade tries to curb all vigour in his subordinates, and hangs the arse at any price rather than risk another of Wellington’s scoldings. ’ ‘It has certainly made him cautious,’ Lankester agreed, with a greater disposition towards discretion.

Indeed, Hervey’s zeal was tempered by the enlightened attitude which characterized the Sixth, where not a man had been flogged in a decade, but there were other concerns now than simply that of good order and military discipline. He raised himself unsteadily on an elbow. ‘Serjeant Armstrong, what in the name of heaven did you think you were doing today? ’ ‘Well, that would have decided matters! ’ Hervey sighed. ‘Serjeant Armstrong, I don’t seem to be making my meaning clear, do I? ’ ‘Oh ay, Strange has had at me right enough.

He cried, ramming the telescope into its saddle holster and digging his spurs into his mare’s flanks. His troopers took off after him as eager as greyhounds springing a hare, but Hervey would not check his pace for the sake of dressing: he was a dozen lengths clear of the front rank by the time they were halfway to the battery, only his covering-corporal within challenging distance. The French, who had seen them the instant they crested the ridge, were now frantically ramming charges down the barrels of the eight-pounders, the limbers racing back whence they had come.

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