Seventeen months later they marched him back through the length of England—outwardly a made soldier—and shipped him on a transport for Gibraltar. In the meanwhile he had found two friends, the only two real ones he ever found in his life. They were Dave McInnes and Teddy Butson, privates of the 4th Regiment of Foot, 2nd Battalion, C Company. Dave McInnes came from somewhere to the west of Perth and drank like a fish when he had the chance. Teddy Butson came from the Lord knew where, with a tongue that wagged about everything except his own past. It did indeed wag about that, but told nothing but lies which were understood and accepted for lies and by consequence didn’t count. These two had christened Nat Ellery “Spuds.” He had no secret from them but one.
He was the cleverest of the three, and they admired him for it. He admired them in return for possessing something he lacked. It seemed to him the most important, almost the only important, thing in the world.
For (this was his secret) he believed himself to be a coward. He was not really a coward, though he carried about in his heart the liveliest fear of death and wounds. He was always asking himself how he would behave under fire, and somehow he found the odds heavy against his behaving well. He put roundabout questions to Dave and Teddy with the aim of discovering what they felt about it. They answered in a careless, matter-of-fact way, as men to whom it had never occurred to have any doubt about themselves. Nat was desperately afraid they might guess his reason for asking. Just here, when their friendship might have been helpful, it failed altogether. He felt angry with them for not understanding, while he prayed that they might not understand. He took to observing other men in the regiment, and found them equally cheerful, concerned only with the moment. He became secretly religious after a fashion. He felt that he was the one and only coward in the King’s Own, and prayed and planned his behaviour day and night to avoid being found out.
In this state of mind he landed at Gibraltar. When the order came for the 4th to move up to the front, he cheered with the rest, watching their faces.
At ten o’clock on the night of April 6th, 1812, our troops were to assault Badajos. It was now a few minutes past nine.
The night had closed in without rain, but cloudy and thick, with river fog. The moon would not rise for another hour or more. After the day’s furious bombardment silence had fallen on besieged and besiegers; but now and then a light flitted upon the ramparts, and at intervals the British in the trenches could hear the call of a sentinel proclaiming that all was well in Badajos.
In the trenches a low continuous murmur mingled with the voices of running water. On the right by the Guadiana waited Picton’s Third Division, breathing hard as the time drew nearer. Kempt commanded these for the moment. Picton was in camp attending to a hurt, but his men knew that before ten o’clock he would arrive to lead across the Rivillas by the narrow bridge and up to the walls of the Castle frowning over the river at the city’s north-east corner.