Saturday, June 19, 2021

Into the Forest


Sergeant Major Jacobs didn't agree with what Major Jenkins, his commanding officer, was doing. He stood there, hands on his hips, as he surveyed the French prisoners. They had captured forty-three of them on the field of battle. The Mohicans had pursued the survivors who had fled into the forest, they brought back five men, all of whom had been roughly handled. One of them had died in the night from his wounds.

"Forty-seven of 'em Sarn't Major. I don't give 'em much of a chance out there in the wilderness. It's a long walk to Montréal." Sergeant Rutland shook his head, it seemed inhuman to release these men and subject them to the mercies of the wilderness and the natives. He wagered that less than a dozen might survive the trek.

"Orders, Rutland."

Rutland shook his head, "I know Sarn't Major but..."

"I already pled their case to the Major. He's reluctant to send these men back to Rumford under guard. Which he has a point, that would require thirty to forty men of ours, and we can't afford that reduction in strength. Particularly now that Leftenant Jefferson has gone off in a snit with his Mohicans." Jacobs looked to where the Major was instructing Captain Manderson on the changes he wanted to make to the fort to accommodate the increased garrison.

Rutland turned to one of the two surviving French sergeants, a man with the odd (yet fitting) name of Malheur¹, "Nous avons nos ordres Sergent, vous devez quitter cet endroit immédiatement. Vous ne serez pas autorisé à entrer dans le fort.²"

Sergent Malheur simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "Je comprends, c'est la guerre, que faire?³"

Jacobs looked in amazement at Rutland, "You speak French like a bloody Frog!"

Rutland grinned and said, "I actually spent some time in France. That idyll came to an end when the lady's parents objected to my presence. So I left in rather a hurry, wound up here in the New World."

"You're a man of many surprises, Rutland." Jacobs shook his head as he said that, the man was educated, that much was plain to see.

Alain told the men near him, "Stay with me, I know the forest. My brothers will be there and will help get us to freedom."

Sergent Bernard gave Alain a nasty look, "You men will stay with your company and not wander off. You are still soldiers of the Compagnies franches de la marine and will obey orders."

Alain just looked at the man, "Bon chance Sergent. I truly hope you might find your way home, but I fear that your scalp will adorn a warrior's lodge before you have traveled two days."

"Cochon! How dare you..."

They were interrupted by a party of English soldiers, all with bayonets fixed to their firelocks. "Up you dogs, time to move. Allez, allez!" Which was all the French they knew.

Five of the men went with Alain. Before entering the forest, he bade them take off their greyish-white coats, the blue of their waistcoats wouldn't stand out as much in the shadows of the forest.

"What if the night is cold Alain?" one of them asked.

"Then you huddle with your mates, that white coat is like a bright beacon in the wilderness, it cries out to the Mohicans, 'Come, come and take my scalp!'" Alain told the man, a very young soldier named Louis.

The men followed Alain willingly enough, they knew that to stay with the others was to die. The sergeants had insisted the men march in a column, bunched together. Alain knew that most of them would die in the forest, the lucky ones. The unlucky would be taken to an Indian camp and slowly tortured to death. It was the way of many of the tribes.

Within an hour of entering the forest, one of the men with Alain stopped and groaned, "Mon Dieu, we are dead men."

For there, just up the trail, stood two of the natives of this savage land.

Little Wolf's face broke into a broad grin when he recognized Alain among les français staggering through the woods, only Alain would move with such confidence in the forest, his feet making almost no mark on the forest floor.

"Ça va mon frere?" Little Wolf called down to the man he knew as a brother.

Alain looked up, he thought he had recognized Little Wolf, but he was surprised to see Jacques with him, he had feared that his brother had been killed. The last he had seen him, he had been fighting hand to hand with a large Mohican warrior.

"Brother, you yet live?" Alain called out.

"The Mohican has not been born who could kill a Gaudry, my brother. Who are these children you bring with you?" Jacques called in a laughing tone, in Abenaki so that the other Frenchmen wouldn't understand.

"Survivors my brother, like you and me. We need to be away from here. One of les anglais left the fort with a number of Mohican scouts, I fear his plan is to kill the captives who were released this morning."

"Released? To go where?" Jacques asked in astonishment, knowing full well that the soldiers he knew wouldn't last a day in the wild on their own.

"Supposedly to return to New France, but you and I know that is ridiculous, the bastard anglais sentenced them to a slow death. It would have been better for them to have just bayoneted us on the spot." Alain answered, anger and sadness mixed in his voice.

Little Wolf looked at the French and said, "We have lingered too long. We must be away and quickly, tell your friends that if they cannot keep up, they will most surely die at the hands of the Mohican."

Alain did so, two of the soldiers looked as if they would sit down and cry, until Alain told them of the sort of death they could expect from the Indians.

The party was off and moving briskly in no time. Little Wolf went ahead, both to scout a path and also to stay away from the Frenchmen, who were making more noise than a wounded bear. If they survived the night, he would be amazed.

¹ Malheur translates to bad luck or misfortune.
² We have our orders, Sergeant, you must leave this place immediately. You will not be allowed to enter the fort.
³ I understand, it is war, what can one to do?

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Out of the frying pan... Old Guns

  2. As Victor Davis Hanson has noted, the choices in war are rarely between "and and good" but more usually between "bad and worse". Gotta love the Gallic shrug remark about fairness in war. Hope that guy is with Alain.
    Boat Guy

    1. D'oh! Malheur is one of the Sergeants! So not with Alain.
      Still, points for style.

    2. VDH is a true student of reality, enjoy his work.

      I just had to throw in the classic Gallic shrug, it's in my blood.

    3. Malheur might be the only thing those other Frenchmen have going for them to stay alive. He's a tough cookie.

  3. And such is the way of the non-officer. An officer might still be worth a ransom, depending on family. But a lowly soldier? Not so much.

    Best would have been to keep them as prisoner-labor until such time as a large enough 'English' were available to escort them to a colonial prison, but, well, that would have also been a fate worse than death, considering what the English often did for prison camps (hulks, demasted ships, were their very popular means of securing prisoners, as most couldn't swim, and those that could were so undernourished within a few weeks that they also couldn't swim.)

    So, a choice of death in the woods or death in a prison hulk or death on a plantation in the Caribbean or some other death... Not a lot of choice amongst prisoners back then, if one's parents weren't rich and/or powerful.

    Rutland continues to surprise us. Does he continue to surprise you?

    1. The prison hulks didn't really start up until the Revolution, they were needed because of the number of prisoners taken. Ransom wasn't a thing anymore as it was in medieval times, often the prisoners would be paroled, sworn to not take up arms again for a specified period. In the wars on the frontier, being a prisoner of the Indians was often "not good." After the fall of Fort William-Henry (a real thing, shown in the movie Last of the Mohicans with some accuracy), many of the prisoners were taken to Canada and held for ransom. Not just the officers but everybody taken, to include civilians.

      Only the Indians would be enslaved, which included shipping them to the Caribbean. Something which many people are either unaware of or don't care about. We're human beings, a species with a very long history of cruelty to each other.

  4. Beans beat me - given the rate of survival in prison camps, letting them go maybe have been the possibly more survivable option. Maybe.

    The smart ones listen to the locals. The fools live in the New World as if it were the Old.

    1. Bad idea to treat the New as if it were the Old.

      Still is...

  5. Outstanding effort Sarge- Educational and riveting - I have read and reread several times and still discover interesting cubby holes of knowledge and fascinating perspective.

    1. I'm learning as I go as well, a fascinating period in our history.



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