"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."
.... There is more of this story ...