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  • Published: 3 July 2017
  • ISBN: 9780143782391
  • Imprint: Bantam Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $32.99

Eureka Run

Extract

Carrick House, London, April 1853

‘Spring is by far the most beautiful time of year. Would you agree, Captain?’

‘I would indeed, Nurse Chalmers,’ John Farrington called. He didn’t bother turning in his chair to greet her. He could hear the clip of her highly polished black brogues approach­ing as he sat on the wooden verandah outside his room. Nurse Chalmers arrived each morning at precisely nine o’clock and invariably remarked on the state of the weather. The banter that always ensued had become their standing joke. ‘As I’m being discharged from your care today, I would say today is probably one of the most beautiful days of the year. Would you agree, Nurse Chalmers?’

‘I would indeed, Captain Farrington,’ she replied with a smile. ‘In fact, because your convalescence here at Carrick House is complete and you’re being discharged from my care, I would go so far as to say it is the most beautiful day of the year. Gainsay me not, sir.’

Gainsay me not?’ Farrington smiled. ‘My dear Chalmers, you never cease to delight me!’

Gwyneth Chalmers, a handsome woman closer to fifty than forty, laughed girlishly. Oh, how I wish you would delight me, Captain, she thought. Then, immediately shocked by her indelicacy, she blushed. Stop it, Gwyneth! You’re old enough to be his mother.

‘I gleaned the phrase from a book of poetry given to me by my aunt Felicity,’ she answered. ‘The poems are by the Reverend Lancelot Pringle, a Wesleyan minister from Wales, and, in my humble opinion, an uncompromising exponent of the art of appalling verse.’

‘Oh dear, a poetaster!’ John exclaimed. ‘God save us all from inferior poets.’

‘Not inferior; inferior suggests a level of ability, be it howsoever low. Lancelot Pringle has no ability whatsoever, well, for poetry at least, which leaves one to contemplate what he does to the word of God. I can’t help but imagine Our Lord sitting on his cloud every Sunday morning, reduced to tears.’

‘Stop, stop!’ John laughed and clutched his chest wincing. ‘Damn it, Chalmers, will I never be rid of this ache?’

‘You were shot in the back, Captain. The bullet passed through your right lung. You’re lucky to have survived. Mind you,’ she patted his shoulder, ‘if it weren’t for Surgeon Fraser’s decision to get you straight to Guy’s Hospital you would have succumbed to infection. Army barracks are notoriously unsanitary places.’ She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

‘Yes, I’m very grateful to Major Fraser, but it’s been three months since I was shot and I still can’t walk fifty yards without the need to rest.’ He looked at her and she could see the fear in his eyes. ‘Will I be able to return to the regiment and resume my duties?’

Oh, my God! He doesn’t know. A shiver ran through her. ‘A duel of all things!’ Her voice was shrill as she forced a change of subject. ‘Only men would behave in such a fashion.’

‘An officer in my regiment insulted my family’s honour by inferring my father reneged on a land sale. When he did no such thing.’

‘Oh!’ she responded, exasperated. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones.’

‘It was a matter of honour!’ John snapped.

‘Honour! Anyone who fights a duel cannot possibly explain the word honour!’ She wagged her index finger before his nose.

‘Now, steady on, Chalmers.’

‘This man you challenged to a duel, Captain,’ she went on, ‘did he have a family?’

‘Yes,’ he replied evenly. ‘But he cast aspersions upon my father’s honour.’

‘Be that as it may, if you had killed him, you would have destroyed their lives too, and the lives of his wider family, not to mention your own family had you died. I ask you, sir, where is the honour in such behaviour?’

‘But he besmirched the good name of my family! Had I not challenged him . . .’

‘You foolish boy.’ She looked down into his beautiful young face and all the fight suddenly went out of her. God, he looks all of ten, she thought.

‘. . . I would have been branded a coward, Chalmers,’ he finished.

She shook her head and smiled at him. ‘Not by a woman, Captain Farrington.’ She reached out and stroked his cheek with the back of her hand. ‘Never by a woman.’

Why had he not been told? The question made her angry. John Farrington was a fine young man, a credit to his family and most certainly to his regiment. Gwyneth had read his Record of Service, which had arrived at Carrick House Sanatorium six weeks previously. He had returned from the North- West Frontier of India, where he’d been involved in the Anglo- Sikh Wars. He’d fought in the disastrous Battles of Ramnagar and Chillianwala, and then the magnificent victory at the Battle of Gujrat. His service record revealed he had been Mentioned- in- Dispatches an incredible five times for acts of gallantry and promoted in the field to brevet major by General Sir Hugh Gough, Commander- in- Chief, India. Upon his return to England he’d been congratulated personally by none other than the Queen herself. Gwyneth had read of it in The Times; Captain John Farrington, the Hero of the Punjab, the paper had called him, was summoned to Buckingham Palace for a private audience. It was also rumoured he’d been rewarded for his gallantry by Her Majesty’s husband, Prince Albert, with a personal gift. It really was the stuff of dreams.

Until this had happened. She sighed. It’s just not fair. But it’s not my place to tell him.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a clack of boots on the verandah and she turned to see two army officers striding towards her. She recognised young Lieutenant Bellamy and the handsome, moustachioed Regimental Sergeant- Major Wilson. The same two men had brought Captain Farrington to Carrick House for convalescence six weeks before.

‘Ah, my escort back to the barracks has arrived.’ John rose to greet them, smiling warmly. ‘Bellamy, Sar’nt- Major.’ He shook hands with both. ‘How good it is to see you both. I’m entirely sick of convalescence. My bag is packed,’ he indicated the door to his room, ‘and I’m ready to depart.’ Before the visitors could reply, John continued excitedly. ‘Oh, Harry, I can’t tell you what it’s been like cooped up in this zoo for the infirm! No offence meant to you, Chalmers.’ He beamed at her. ‘You’ve been wonderful all the way through my night­mare, but,’ he turned back to his friend, ‘I must say, Harry, I can’t wait to get back to duty with the regiment. Then I can –’

‘For God’s sake, will one of you tell him!’ It was Gwyn­eth’s voice.

‘Tell me what?’ John’s smile faded. He looked at Bellamy and Wilson in turn. ‘What am I supposed to know, chaps?’

‘You’ve been discharged from the army,’ Bellamy said. ‘That was three weeks ago. I thought you knew.’

‘Is this some sort of joke, Harry?’ John sat abruptly in his chair.

‘Allow me to explain.’ RSM Wilson stepped closer to John. ‘There was a Board of Inquiry, Mister Farrington.’

Mister Farrington?

‘It was conducted by Royal Order.’

‘The Queen?’ John was completely dumbfounded.

‘When Her Majesty heard there had been a duel fought practically on her front doorstep, in St James’s Park, she was furious.’

‘Apparently she detests duelling,’ Harry Bellamy added. ‘She won’t tolerate duelling in any form among either civil­ians or the military.’

‘Surely someone in the regiment must have been aware of this. Had I known I would never have entered into the duel.’

‘Major Bingham knew, sir.’

‘What?’ John rose and stared at Wilson. ‘Bingham knew? Why in damnation did he not say something? He must have realised his fate would be the same as mine.’ Another silence followed. ‘His fate was the same as mine, was it not?’

‘He was transferred to the Far East,’ Wilson said. ‘A dreadful outpost in China called Hong Kong. The Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston, described it as “a barren rock with nary a house upon it”, which sounds like just the place for Major Bingham.’

‘Actually, his circumstances are considerably worse, RSM,’ Bellamy chimed in. ‘He’s stationed in China itself at Canton International Settlement on the Pearl River. He’s been appointed British Army Liaison Officer to the Viceroy of Canton. It’s the worst posting a man could be given.’

‘Still, a better fate than mine, wouldn’t you say, Harry?’

‘I suppose so,’ Harry conceded. ‘But his family has great influence, John, and they wielded it. Half of them are in the House of Lords, including his father, Rupert Bingham. And his maternal uncle is Sir Horace Bolitho, Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.’

‘And let’s not forget his mother, Lady Catherine,’ Nurse Chalmers added. ‘A more vindictive woman you’re never likely to meet.’

‘So,’ John said softly, ‘Bingham gets transferred and I get cashiered.’

‘Not likely, old boy!’ Harry Bellamy exclaimed.

‘That may have been the order from the Board of Inquiry,’ the RSM continued, ‘but the officers of the regiment informed the colonel of their intention to refuse any order to parade as witnesses to your cashiering.’

‘Really?’ John was surprised. ‘They refused to fall in?’

‘To a man, John,’ Harry added. ‘If we were ordered to fall in on parade to watch you be cashiered, we officers agreed to remain on the edge of the square and turn our backs.’

‘The Lieutenant’s right. The officers were determined not to see you humiliated. The whole matter has been kept hush- hush of course,’ the RSM added. ‘For the sake of the regiment, you understand, Mister Farrington?’

‘Yes, of course, RSM, for the sake of the regiment.’ John looked at Nurse Chalmers, whose sad smile did nothing to help his situation. How did it come to this? he wondered. What will I do without the army? The regiment was my home, my family, my friends. What on earth do I do now?

‘Anyway, fortunately it’s not relevant anymore,’ Harry said, ‘because someone with a great deal of authority inter­vened on your behalf and new instructions came down ordering that you be honourably discharged.’

‘Really.’ John was surprised. ‘Who was it, do you know?’

‘No.’ Harry shook his head emphatically. ‘No- one’s got the slightest idea. And all efforts of investigation have met with stone walls. All I can say is, old boy, you were damned lucky.’

‘Lucky?’ John snorted. ‘It’s not the word I’d choose to describe it.’

‘With all due respect, Mister Farrington,’ the RSM said evenly. ‘Have you ever witnessed an officer cashiered?’

‘No, never.’

‘Well I have. Cashiering is the most degrading and humili­ating experience a soldier can ever know. He is paraded in front of the assembled troops, his epaulettes are ripped from his shoulders, his badges and insignia are stripped, his sword is broken, his cap is knocked away and his medals are torn off and dashed upon the ground. Then, as the entire regiment watches in silence, he walks in disgrace from the parade ground, out of the gates and out of the army.’

‘An honourable discharge means you can sell- out, John,’ Harry added. ‘You can sell your commission and get your money back.’

‘Never mind the money – my life is lost.’

‘Oh come now, my dear fellow,’ Harry chided.

‘The regiment has been my life since I was seventeen.’ The desperation in his voice was apparent as he looked into the stern face of RSM Wilson. ‘I know nothing but soldiering.’

‘You can’t return to the regiment, Mister Farrington.’ The RSM gravely shook his head. ‘Colonel’s orders are you can’t set foot in the place.’

‘That’s very kind of him,’ John sneered.

‘He means no offence, Mister Farrington. The colonel’s on your side in this matter. However, he’s suggested you get out of London before any of Bingham’s relatives, of which there are many, attempt to avenge his humiliation.’

His humiliation,’ John scoffed. ‘That’s a bit rich, wouldn’t you say?’

‘Believe you me, John,’ Harry said, ‘even now, three months after the event, rumours of the duel are still being discussed and those few in the know are on your side. It’s become a scandal for the Bingham clan.’

‘It’s a miscarriage of justice, is what it is!’ Nurse Chalmers announced with force.

John looked at her gratefully, and then at his friends. ‘I think that may be a signal for us to depart, gentlemen.’

RSM Wilson handed John a small leather folder. ‘Regi­mental papers and discharge certificate, Mister Farrington.’

John could only nod as he took the folder.

‘We’ll take you to Euston Railway Station.’

‘Euston, eh? I take it I’m being shipped home to Warwickshire?’

‘The colonel, mindful of your situation, purchased a ticket for you.’ He passed John a bright blue ticket. On it were the words London & North Western Railway – London to Coventry One Way. The Farrington family estate was situated halfway between Coventry and Rugby.

John chuckled humourlessly. ‘First I’m discharged and now I’m being sent to Coventry. What next, Sar’nt- Major, transportation to Van Diemen’s Land?’

RSM Wilson picked up John’s bag and he and Harry Bellamy started off along the verandah. Gwyneth grabbed John by the arm and held him back.

‘Get out of London as your colonel suggests, John.’ The sense of urgency in her voice was palpable. ‘The Binghams are a ruthless lot, especially the matriarch, Catherine Bingham, she’s evil. There’s nothing but misery for you here. Go and live your life to the fullest and enjoy whatever it may hold in store. And find a good woman, one who will teach you the real meaning of honour.’

‘I loved a good woman once, but I lost her.’

‘Then go and find her again.’

John took her hands in his and kissed them both. ‘You’re a good woman, Gwyneth,’ he murmured suggestively, trying to make light of the conversation.

‘I am indeed,’ she laughed, reading his tone, ‘but unfortu­nately far too old for you, more’s the pity.’ Then her smile faded. She pointed to the exit and looked him in the eye. ‘There’s a good woman waiting out there somewhere in the wide world, John. You’ll find her.’ 


Eureka Run Bruce Venables

From a foggy London park to the streets of boom-time Melbourne; from the war-torn states of Southern China, to the overwhelming sights and sounds of the Victorian goldfields, this is a thrilling historical adventure set against the backdrop of the Eureka Stockade.

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