November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises. However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning.
“I did wonder whether the Colonel’s final words had any connexion to his valor on the field at Waterloo.” I looked at the Lieutenant rather than my hostess’s rigid form. “I have heard him described as a Hero. Would it trouble you to speak of him—or might I persuade you to recount his actions on that glorious day?”
There was the briefest pause.
“James?” Miss MacFarland queried in a lowered tone, her gaze fixed on the glowing coals.
“My dear,” he replied.
“Will it distress you?”
“Naturally. But as I expect to be hearing of Waterloo for the rest of my life, I had as well become accustomed.” The Lieutenant’s aspect was light, but his voice betrayed his distaste. “I should not use the word glory, however, to describe it. Carnage is more apt.”
“No,” Miss MacFarland protested. She turned impulsively to face us. “It shall always be a day of glory to me, because you and Ewan were spared! I cannot tell you how incomprehensible it is, Miss Austen, that my brother survived that battle—only to end in the fashionable desert of Carlton House. Incomprehensible!”
“The Colonel belonged to the Scots Greys, I believe?”
“He began military life in an hussar regiment, and saw years of active service in the Peninsula; but being better suited to heavy dragoon work, exchanged two years ago into the Greys. That is how we came to be acquainted with Lieutenant Dunross—James served in the regiment under my brother.”
The gentleman forced himself heavily to his feet, and crossed with the aid of his cane to the draped window. He pulled aside the dark blue curtain and leaned into the casement, staring expressionlessly down at Keppel Street.“Are you at all familiar with the course of the battle?” Miss MacFarland asked.
Battle of Waterloo 1815 – William Sadler [Wikipedia]
“What little I learned from published accounts.”
“Then you will know that the cavalry was commanded by Lord Uxbridge.”
As who did not? Uxbridge had cut a dash among the Great for most of his life: He was an earl as well as a general; head of the Paget family; a darling of the ton; and Wellington’s reputed enemy. A few years since, Uxbridge ran off with the Duke’s sister-in-law, and embarrassed all their acquaintance. Divorce and outrage are nothing new to people of Fashion, however; and tho’ Uxbridge and Wellington might not sit down to whist together, once battle was joined with Napoleon, one was in command of the other’s cavalry. Some ten brigades, in fact.
“In the early afternoon of that wearing day, Wellington’s left was under serious attack from the French batteries,” Miss MacFarland said. I collected from her unvaried tone that she had told this story—or heard it told by her brother—many times. “General Picton was killed, and shells were exploding with horrific effect all along the British line. Our troops were giving way under the assault of d’Erlon’s columns. Uxbridge saw it as Wellington could not, being far down the right. The Earl threw Lord Edward Somerset and the Household Brigade into the thick of the fight, then galloped off to the Union Brigade. This is composed, as perhaps you may know, of three regiments: the English, or Royals; the Scots Greys; and the Irish, or Inniskillings.”
“Ah,” I managed. I had never thought to consider which regiments comprised the Union Brigade.
“Sir William Ponsonby was in command.”
Another man of Fashion. The Ponsonbys had spawned Lady Caroline Lamb, one of most outrageous ladies I have ever encountered.
“And above Ponsonby was Uxbridge,” I said encouragingly, having got it all straight. “So Somerset and Ponsonby and Uxbridge—who might normally have met peaceably in a ballroom—charged off together on horseback to slaughter the French.”
“Indeed. Or at least, their gun batteries.” Miss MacFarland glanced almost unwillingly at Lieutenant Dunross, but the silent figure by the parlour window gave no sign that he was attending to our conversation.
“The Greys were supposed to be held in reserve,” she continued. “But in fact they attacked the longest—well after the Royals and the Inniskillings had given up.”
“Of their own volition? –Without waiting for the command to charge?”
“No Scotsmen would be left in the rear while the English and Irish attack,” Miss MacFarland said proudly. “And indeed, the Union Brigade succeeded in their object so well that the French were turned.”
“For a little while, perhaps,” James Dunross tossed over his shoulder. “A half hour, even. But as is so often true in the smoke and confusion of battle, the hunters became the hunted.”
“I am sure that Ewan regarded that charge as having won the day,” Miss MacFarland argued.
“So he may have done! But he was wrong, Georgie. The battle was won by Blücher and his Prussians, not the Scots Greys.” He turned abruptly from the window and stumped back to us on his cane, his countenance alight with anger. “You must apprehend, Miss Austen, that most of our commanders and cavalrymen know nothing of military science. Excellent fellows, to be sure—Uxbridge was an hussar in his youth, and could not be called green—but we are gentlemen first and soldiers a distant second. What we know of cavalry manoeuvres was learnt on the hunting field. We are apt to get carried away by our own daring, as tho’ a confrontation with the French were a day’s hunting with the Quorn. Which is rather what happened at Waterloo.”
I stared at him frowningly. “You were distracted by a fox?”
“In our enthusiasm to have at Buonaparte, we charged too far,” Dunross explained, “and then could not get back again to the British lines. Most of us had never been in battle before. Ponsonby was unhorsed—he’d left his best charger in the rear because he could not bear to expose so expensive a mount to enemy fire. When the hack he rode into battle failed him, he was shot dead where he stood. The French cavalry counterattacked with Lancers. Do you know of them?”
I shook my head.
“Quite a new thing in military circles, but utterly terrifying. They carry something like a jousting stick and can stab anything on two or four legs to death. One of them stabbed me as I lay on the ground, unhorsed after that celebrated charge.”
“The hunters became the hunted, as you say?”
He smiled thinly. “Our cavalry were broken up, cut off, surrounded, and destroyed.”
I glanced at Miss MacFarland. Her expression was grim, as tho’ it were physical pain to hear Dunross speak.
“You will admit, James, that the Greys showed the most dramatic charge of all, in the midst of a sunken lane between hedges, where they sabered the French to pieces?” she cried. “You will admit that they seized one of Napoleon’s Eagles–the most dreadful shame a Frenchman may know?”
“Certainly,” he returned. “And then the French threw themselves down and pretended to surrender to us. Being honourless rogues, however, they stood up and fired on us as we approached to disarm them.”
She threw up her hands. “I wonder you regard even my brother as worthy of your respect, James,” she cried.
“I must,” he returned. “I owe him my life. Such as it is.”
“Barron deftly imitates Austen’s voice, wit, and occasional melancholy while spinning a well-researched plot that will please historical mystery readers and Janeites everywhere. Jane Austen died two years after the events of Waterloo; one hopes that Barron conjures a few more adventures for her beloved protagonist before historical fact suspends her fiction.”
Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.