At dawn he found himself on the ramparts by the Trinidad breach, peering curiously among the slain. Across the top of the breach stretched a heavy beam studded with sword blades, and all the bodies on this side of it were French. Right beneath it lay one red-coat whose skull had been battered out of shape as he attempted to wriggle through. All the upper blades were stained, and on one fluttered a strip of flannel shirt. Powder blackened every inch of the rampart hereabouts, and as Nat passed over he saw the bodies piled in scores on the glacis below—some hideously scorched—–among beams, gabions, burnt out fire-pots, and the wreckage of ladders. A horrible smell of singed flesh rose on the morning air; and, beyond the stench and the sullen smoke, birds sang in dewy fields, and the Guadiana flowed between grey olives and green promise of harvest.
Below, a single British officer, wrapped in a dark cape, picked his way among the corpses. Behind, intermittent shots and outcries told of the sack in progress. Save for Nat and the dead, the Trinidad was a desert. Yet he talked incessantly, and, stooping to pat the shoulder of the red-coat beneath the chevaux de frise, spoke to Dave McInnes and Teddy Butson to come and look. He never doubted they were beside him. “Pretty mess they’ve made of this chap.” He touched the man’s collar: “48th, a corporal! Ugh, let’s get out of this!” In imagination he linked arms with two men already stiffening, one at the foot and the other on the summit of the San Vincent’s bastion. “King’s Own—all friends in the King’s Own!” he babbled as he retraced his way into the town.
He had a firelock in his hands ... he was fumbling with it, very clumsily, by reason of his shattered fingers. He had wandered down a narrow street, and was groping at an iron-studded door. “Won’t open,” he told the ghosts beside him. “Must try the patent key.” He put the muzzle against the lock and fired, flung himself against the door, and as it broke before him, stood swaying, staring across a whisp of smoke into a mean room, where a priest knelt in one corner by a straw pallet, and a girl rose from beside him and slowly confronted the intruder. As she rose she caught at the edge of a deal table, and across the smoke she too seemed to be swaying.
Seventeen years later Nat Ellery walked down the hill into Gantick village, and entered the King of the Bells.
“I’ve come,” said he, “to inquire about a chest I left here, one time back along.” And he told his name and the date.
The landlord, Joshua Martin—son of old Joshua, who had kept the inn in 1806—rubbed his double chin. “So you be Nat Ellery? I can just mind’ee as a lad. As for the chest—come to think, father sent it back to Trethake Water. Reckon it went in the sale.”
“Why, don’t ’ee know? When Reub sold up. That would be about five years after the old folks died. The mill didn’ pay after the war, so Reub sold up and emigrated.”