Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Before the Storm

Google Maps
After tossing another pebble into the stream, Guy Charron sighed and scrabbled in the dirt for another rock. Picket duty was intensely boring in the quiet countryside outside Philippeville.

As he grasped another stone, he heard a footstep behind him. Hurriedly getting to his feet, he remembered his shako at the last minute, as he reached down for it, he heard his sergeant say,

"Forgotten something mon enfant?"

"Non sergent, I mean yes, I mean..."

"Relax Guy, we're all a little nervous. Weren't you with the Emperor at Arcis-sur-Aube?"

"Yes. But I was captured before I could fight!" Guy spoke angrily, and with all the passion of ignorant youth.

Sergent Meunier chuckled and slapped the youngster on the shoulder.

"Patience boy, the Prussians and the English with their Belgian flunkies are out there. Waiting just for you. You will see plenty of fighting before you're done. Provided of course, you live long enough."

Though the day was hot, Guy felt a shiver run down his spine. He had been in the army for only a brief time in 1814, then he was captured, then the Emperor abdicated. Then it was back to the farm. Where he labored like a slave for his uncle.

The uncle was the only family he had left. His father had died in Italy, fighting for Napoléon, his mother had died when he was 12. While the uncle did put a roof over his head, even if it was a barn, and food in his belly, he ran off and joined the army in 1814. Old Pierre's one arm notwithstanding, his father's old comrade's stories had bedazzled him as a child. Guy also knew that his father's old comrade had left more than his arm in Russia. But he didn't speak of that.

Always it was about la Gloire, and marching with the Emperor. All glory, no gore.

Now, all of 17 years old, he shouldered his Charleville and looked to the north. Wondering if the enemy was out there. Waiting for them...

(Source)
Watering his horse at the edge of the Sambre River, the young Prussian cavalryman lit his pipe, then settled his lance more firmly. He'd dropped it on maneuvers back in October and his sergeant had given him holy hell for doing so. As punishment he had spent the remainder of maneuvers walking. As the sergeant told him, "You have to be smarter than your horse Adalwolf. Perhaps we can find you a stupid horse!"

Since that day he had worked hard to learn his trade. His father and grandfather before him had ridden with the cavalry. His grandfather with the great von Seydlitz, his father with the great von Blücher himself, now a field marshal, Alte Vorwärts had been but  a captain when his father served with him.

His mother had told him that riding for the Fatherland was in his blood. He never did ask what had become of his grandfather and father, only knowing that they had died doing their duty. He had not participated in the campaigns in France. All he knew of the French is that they stole whatever wasn't nailed down and molested any good Prussian woman who wouldn't run away.

Young Adalwolf Eckstein hated the French. He could not wait to kill them.

(Source)
On a small farm near Saint-Gilles in the newly created country of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, but which the French-speaking farmers of Saint-Gilles still called Wallonie, a small detachment of His Britannic Majesty's 92nd Regiment of Foot was garrisoned. Awaiting the pleasure of the Duke of Wellington and His Imperial Frogginess Bonaparte, as their captain liked to say.

The locals were much bemused by these rough and tumble Scotsmen in their feather bonnets and kilts. For the 92nd was a Highland regiment. Old Gaston, who was seldom sober, always referred to them as les femmes de guerre, the war ladies. The Scots didn't mind Gaston, none of them, save their captain Angus McTeague, said to be a bastard son of Gordon himself, could speak a word of French. Truth be told, many of them couldn't even speak English! Their word of command was in the old language, na Gàidhlig, the Gaelic.

As they waited for Boney to make his move, they ate the farmers' food and flirted with their daughters. One lad had thought to have his way with the mayor's daughter, the colonel had him flogged for that. The Duke might have even hanged him to placate the locals. Needless to say, the Scotsmen behaved themselves around the local females after that.

Now they waited. It was the middle of June, 1815. Rumors were everywhere, they would march into France, Boney was coming to take Brussels. For now, relax when you could, savor the local strong drink and keep in the sergeant's good graces.

The flicker of lightning out on the horizon at night seemed to hint at what lay in store for these men. So far from the Highlands.

At dusk they heard their pipe-major playing a tune which many of them would hear for the very last time, on the slopes of a ridge not far from where they slept. Near the small hamlet of Mont-Saint-Jean, on the road to Waterloo.




16 comments:

  1. You NEED to start that book that's in your head. It'll be great!

    Just DO it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll second that, Chris. You write with great feeling and clarity. You have a gift that you should share with the rest of us poor schlubs who struggle with words. Seriously, my friend, you have more than one book locked inside. Humor me, and get to writing!

      Delete
    2. Thanks lads. I just need to find the time to do it.

      Delete
  2. Scots infantry, advancing behind the skirling pipes, bayonets gleaming, had to put the fear of God into anyone opposing them. Ladies from Hell, indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They were tough fighters. In WWI when many units of the British Army were content to "live and let live" in the trenches, the Guards and Highland regiments were always deadly serious about their work. They were there to fight, and fight they did.

      Delete
  3. Too bad Blücher's name has been forever ruined by this gag...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, but it was a FUNNY gag! As was the entire movie.

      Delete
  4. Ken Follet and Bernard Cornwell have nothing on you.
    Just string a few more sentences together and you'll be on a book tour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I dunno about that, but thanks for the compliment.

      I'll make sure the book tour hits your part of California. :)

      Delete
  5. Most of us modern folk look at history through a peculiar lens. We're modern, sophisticated, civilized. Our world will never be like that of the olden days.

    In 1815 the world lived close to the bone, and slaughter lurked 'round every corner.

    In 2017 much has changed, perhaps nothing more than the lies we tell ourselves. Slaughter still lurks round every corner, and we all know the lurking murderers, rapists and thieves. Hell on earth can arrive at any moment, and if/when it does, millions of self-deluded humans will be aghast at the things they do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Violence is no further away than the other side of that thin membrane we call civilization. And that membrane is starting to tear.

      Delete
    2. Roger that!

      Paul L. Quandt

      Delete
    3. Apparently it's as close as your nearest baseball diamond.

      Delete
    4. Yes. Too close to home for my tastes!

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)