The Spanish Bride
by Georgette Heyer
The victor of Badajos was not the Wellington whose blistering tongue caused quite senior officers to come away from an interview with him chalk-white and stuttering, and with knees trembling so much that they could scarcely walk. The Wellington who stood exchanging reminiscences with Juana's sister was a cheerful, rather loud-voiced gentleman, very plainly but neatly dressed in a blue coat, and biscuit-coloured pantaloons; a gentleman whose frequent laugh showed him to be in excellent spirits, and who was no more unapproachable now that he was a peer than he had been when he was merely Sir Arthur Wellesley. A most unaffected creature, Viscount Wellington of Talavera (but they would make him an Earl after his brilliant successes at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajos); none of the airs of your consciously great man about him. He could be a little stiff sometimes, to be sure; and he had a way of looking down his high-boned nose which made strong men shake in their shoes; but if nothing had occurred to make him irritable he was excellent company: very easy and natural, no airs and graces at all, in fact; and hugely enjoying a good joke.
Brigade-Major Smith's lightning courtship made him laugh. If he disapproved of a promising young officer's tying himself up in matrimony, he did not say so. The baggage-train of the army was already clogged and hampered by wives and camp-followers; it is possible that his lordship, a realist, thought that one more would make little difference to an already existing nuisance. He said that Smith was a damned lucky young fellow; and at the end of twenty minutes' bantering conversation with Juana, announced that he would give the bride away himself. It was evident that he had taken a great fancy to the sparkling little creature: quite fatherly, of course, or perhaps avuncular. A shocking flirt, his lordship, but not the man to poach on a junior officer's preserves.
He seemed genuinely distressed to hear of the sister's predicament, but the elder's condemnation of the sack of Badajos merely drew from him a cool. "War is always a terrible business, señora. The town ought not to have held out against us once the breaches were practicable." He turned to Juana, adding in a softer voice: "But Smith will take care of you, my dear. Report him to me if he doesn't!"
He quite saw the need for Smith to marry Juana. "One of the best families," he told him. "Fallen on hard times, have they? Ah - h'm! You'll have to get a priest. Probably devilish strict."
But Harry had already arranged that. The priest attached to the 88th Connaught Rangers had been engaged to perform the ceremony. Harry and Juana were going to have a drumhead wedding.
"Very well," said his lordship. "But you'd
better get it
done quickly. We shall break up from camp in a day or two."