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Pursuing the French

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Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Sun Sep 06, 2009 1:26 am

The 1st Hussars KGL were the last troops to leave Oporto that afternoon, and Rittmeister v Lossow was none too happy about that. The incessant rain had turned the road into an almost impracticable track.

At least they had an official native guide now, employed by the army in the corps of guides. v Lossow planned to find out as much as he could from the man, regarding where to find water, shelter and the state of the roads.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 7:51 am

Peter was happy. It was pouring with rain, the roads were muddy, with some ruts almost knee deep in standing water, and he had been told to 'Get out of the way' a dozen or more times, with a wide variety of profanities. He thought he would take notes, and send the list to Simon. It might come in useful on the Terpsichore. He had learned though to step quickly off the road. Non-combatants were there under sufferance, and should not impede the progress of the official army, whether the infantry, or the artillery, or even the surgeons' wagons. He thought he had seen Dr Maturin, in conversation with one of the other surgeons, but although he had half raised a hand in greeting, he had not liked to interfere.

He stepped off the road again, at the sound of horses' hooves squelching through the mud, and looked up to see the green uniform of the German cavalry, that he had seen on the quay. The horses were already streaming with water, mud across chest and flanks, and were kicking up more as they passed. A hoof in a hollow sent a stream of unspeakably thick water over him, and he wiped his face clear, taking another step back.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 8:48 am

Lt. Jaeger was already several miles out of Oporto. The riflemen were leading this march, but he was not overly worried about getting in contact with the French. As he was visiting with their wounded yesterday, cavalryhad clattered past on the road to Vallongo, trying to close the gap on the retreating French.

His mind was still swirling with the mornings news, and he was unprepared for the sight that greeted him as he rounded a bend in the road.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 9:41 am

There had been peasants by the roadside before, cheering them and rushing out to offer a flask of wine, or a handful of olives. Willi Stubenrauch had accepted a drink of the wine, passing it on to Hans Mommsen, his partner, and eaten the olives, and thought well of the Portuguese, who knew what a man needed. But this group, huddled under the spreading branches of a roadside tree looked up fearfully, as if they expected to be attacked. There was something wrapped in sacking at the foot of the tree - the men had probably been looting some poor French straggler, and were about to carry off their booty in the rickety old cart that canted over on the road, where the ditch ran swift and muddy down towards the Douro.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 9:57 am

Waidmann craned his neck to look over Mommsens shoulder to find out what made him stop so suddenly.

"What are they doing?"

"You are an idiot." Waidmann's partner, Meister, informed him. He had already moved off the road, closer to the huddled group.

"They are putting a body on that cart. OH, lord..."

Two men had lifted the wrapped body, but something had gone wrong, and putrefying body parts now littered the sodden ground around the wicker cart. The smell was overwhelming.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 10:05 am

Stubenrauch switched his rifle to this left hand, and removing his shako, crossed himself, murmuring a prayer. Mommsen glanced at him and then back at the lieutenant, who had come up behind them. "He's been dead some time, Sir," he murmured. "I don't fancy giving them a hand... " He regretted his words immediately, watching one of the peasants, face set in distaste, pick up a forearm and putting it reverendly onto the cart.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 9:30 pm

Lt. Jaeger nodded to Mommsen and stepped closer. He tried to look unthreatening, not a very hard feat in his case, and held his hands well away from his weapons. Doing his best to keep his eyes off the gruesome sight on the ground, he tried to find out what was going on, using his scant knowledge of Portuguese.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 10:12 pm

Two of the Portuguese were returning to the tree, but the one closest to the cart stopped, turning at the young lieutenant's words. He had been scared at first - if they had spoken in English he would have worried less, but the language and the intonation were strange to him... But the officer spoke gently, and now he could see that they were not French, but indeed in the British Army - the first of those who would chase the French out of Portugal. The youngster's Portuguese was halting, but at least he tried, and the man laid his hand on the body in the cart. "This is our priest - Father Umberto, and the Mayor Senhor Caldeira - they were hanged, after the Ordenança killed the French soldiers near here...."

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 10:34 pm

The 95th were on the left flank, spread out down the slope, but keeping a close eye on the other side of the valley, where they could see the men of the 5/60th doing the same thing, keeping level and taking their pace as far as possible from the officer and men covering the road and the bottom of the valley. They were not relaxed - there was always the possibility of a French soldier lying in wait with a musket - but the general expectation was that they would not run into any major concentration today at least.

There was a hold up. As far as Harris could see, Mr Jaeger and his section had stopped on the road. He signalled to Carty to pass the message up the hill to take a rest, and ran lightly down. If there was information to be gathered, they might need him ....

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 07, 2009 11:06 pm

Noticing an odd movement on the slope, Waidmann tightened the hold on his rifle. Meister picked up the tension in his partner and became alert, too.

"What is it?" He asked in a low voice.

By then Waidmann had recognised the newcomer.

"One of the 95th... the redhead who was a teacher."

They watched the rifleman approach their floundering Lt. and start talking rapidly to the peasants.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 8:17 am

The other two peasants were returning, bearing another sacking bundle, as Harris, shako in hand, asked gentle questions in serviceable Portuguese. This time they had been more careful in wrapping the body and they loaded it into the cart, with the help of Harris. All three spoke with force and gestures, and Harris nodded, asked for more information and returned to Lieutenant Jaeger.

The men were their priest and their alcalde, he explained, hanged by the French about a month ago, following an attack on a French patrol that killed a young lieutenant outright and his escort brutalised and killed. "They didn't have anything to do with it," he said, "but theirs is the nearest village, just beyond that rise...."

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 8:43 am

"Thank you, rifleman. Will you please give them my condolences?"

Jaeger was rather glad that the rifleman had translated. He had understood that it was a priest and the mayor, but what actually happened was bejond his understanding. He considered the state of the bodies.

"They were left hanging for a month?"

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 8:54 am

"Yes, Sir. The Ordenança ambushed them here, and ... the French would have punished the whole village if the bodies were buried. It is rather like Sophocles' play, where Antigone disobeys her uncle the King to carry out funeral rites for her brother...." Harris stopped, then said, more prosaically: "They had a troop of cavalry garrisoned on them, to stop it happening again. They left two days ago, when the French abandoned Oporto. But the villagers were afraid to do anything until now. They saw more cavalry passing yesterday, but did not know who they were."

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:06 am

"Yesterday? Must have been ours. There is cavalry ahead of us..."

Jaeger forced himslef back to the problem at hand.

"Well, let's make a good impression..." he raised his voice, "I need some volunteers! Stubenrauch! Pye! And you Harris, they'll need someone to translate."

Jaeger pulled a battered notebook out of his sabretache ans scribbled a pass for the riflemen. He handed the paper to Harris.

"You are in charge. See to it that you catch up without undue delay, you hear?"

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:26 am

"Sir." Harris took the paper and slipped it into his pouch, and then lifted one corner of his mouth. "Mr Sharpe'll understand, anyway - he's always prepared for me to translate for other officers..." Mr Sharpe seemed to take credit for having an educated rifleman, Harris sometimes thought. Although he did speak Spanish himself, in a fashion....

The peasants were using a two wheeled cart, with wicker sides and solid wooden wheels that threatened to get stuck in the ruts left by the passage of the French. Stubenrauch - the older heavier Rifleman - had put his shoulder to the back of the cart, with an expression of complete distaste as this brought his face and nose closer to the source of the smell of decay. Two of the peasants had taken hold of shafts, and with a jerk they managed to start it moving along the road.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Zachary Pye on Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:30 am

"The officer's calling you."

Pye was quick to come alongside Stubenrauch and Harris, holding his rifle slung over one shoulder. He saluted, straightened and waited in silence curious why the man of the 95th was there.

Volunteers of course were very rarely those who stepped forward to take the task, but he enjoyed a bit of change, and was more surprised that his name was even called up.

With the orders and papers exchanged he was left to follow after the large German, his gaze faltering on the cargo of the the most distinct smell, one of death, rot and decay. By the looks of it, it didn't look any better than it smelled.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:41 am

Lieutenant Jaeger and the other riflemen moved past them, and on the hill Harris saw Carty wave down to him before turning up to where the burly form of Sergeant Harper could be seen. The forward screen advanced, and Harris twitched what might have been a smile. "Come and give a hand on the shafts, Pye." He himself moved forward to take a grip on the left hand one. "We'll help them bury their dead, and - You're not a Catholic, are you?"

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Zachary Pye on Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:56 am

He took a hold of a shaft on the right hand side. He caught a glimpse of the 95th's youngest rifleman and grinned. He could even recognize the other man. A sergeant, Harper was his name, and he was strong enough to carry trunks of wood in his arms. He'd done away easily with the chunks of wood back at the seminary.

"Catholic, si..uh..?" He looked anxiously at the man. Would it be a bad thing if he were? " I don't know." He answered adjusting his grip some and dropping his gaze.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:02 am

"Then I take it you aren't... But these gentlemen are, and we respect that, of course."

Stubenrauch gave another heave to straighten the cart, which seemed likely to collapse sideways at any moment. "I am Catholisch," he said. "If they pray, just stand quiet, be respectful...."

"The French," Harris resumed, "are traditionally thought of as being Roman Catholic, but their behaviour in those countries they have conquered cast doubts on whether they can even be considered Christian."

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Zachary Pye on Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:18 am

Pye nodded in affirmative, his face brightening a little. Silent was an easy thing to do, no talking and standing in place if the people looked as if they were to pray. And if he wasn't sure, he could always just look at the red haired rifleman or the German speaking fellow. Following never lead a man astray, not unless the leader called for mutiny.

"Silent!" He spoke quickly and quietly giving a short nod to confirm he understood and would remember.

He listened to Harris with grave attention, while he helped with the shafts.The French were Roman Catholic, but they didn't act as those, which meant that the Catholics would act anything but like the French. He was satisfied with his conclusion. Still he looked curiously at Harris, hopeful that he would continue.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Tue Sep 08, 2009 12:28 pm

Harris saw the look Pye gave him, and explained: "They target the priests as leaders of the communities whenever there is any trouble. We saw it when Soult came south in the winter. " He blinked, remembering the burning village and the priest nailed to the door of his church. "They are the heirs to the worst excessives of the Terror... And they gave Reason a bad name."

The peasant sharing the shaft with him murmured, and Harris looked even more grim. "They fled the village after the hangings, he - he's taken over some of the alcalde's role - hopes the people will return soon."

Ahead, the brickbuilt wall, with the gateway standing above it, marked the entrance to the village graveyard. The slope up put Stubenrauch to the test, and Harris and Pye had to join them. Half a dozen peasants stood round two graves, the rain falling splashing within them.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Zachary Pye on Tue Sep 08, 2009 7:47 pm

~They are the heirs to the worst excessives of the Terror... And they gave Reason a bad name.~

He thought he understood everything up to that point, but the last sentence had words he didn't know and he nodded uncertainly. Alcalde was another word that bemused the youth, though he tried to make guesses as to what it could be. Wasn't a priest, but a leader of some sort, he thought, that people would listen to and follow. Maybe he had a ranking in the village like,.. like an officer would.

Maybe he could ask the rifleman to be sure? Later! When they were going back.

He hurried to join Stubenrauch to help the cart up the last obstacle. They were approaching the graveyard, and the cart needed a stronger shove as the slope increased. It was heavy and the road was in a terrible state with all the rain that had made it soggy and slippery.

"Now we quiet?" He asked in a strained whisper. The graves looked to have some water gathering at the bottom and seeping through the wet earth. It would take more work and effort to put the bodies in, but it was almost done. The people looked somber, like puppets that played in a morbid play, with the rain adding to the mood.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Wed Sep 09, 2009 3:00 am

The men who had come with the cart were joined by others as they raised the first of the bundles - the alcalde, Harris heard - and carried it to the graveside, before, with the help of one man actually standing in the grave, they lowered it. Meanwhile two others were making a more acceptable bundle of the remains of the dead priest, so that his body could be carried to the grave without the distraction of falling parts.

Then they returned to lift the priest, and Harris stepped back to stand with Pye, while Stubenrauch joined them, murmuring prayers in Latin. There was no priest present, and the prayers were brief, followed by silence.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Zachary Pye on Wed Sep 09, 2009 9:01 am

The men no longer talked, neither in one or the other language that he did not understand. Silence was what he understood to be shared and so respectfully he stood there, hands slack at his sides and when they could not stand the position no more, holding each other at the front. He glanced at Harris. Would the silence be long. He bowed his head a little. There, the respect for it and for the dead ones, who'd died in the terrible circumstances.

Stubenrauch was large enough that one could stand in his shadow, though with the sun so conveniently hidden, that theory could not be proven.

The rain went on, falling down on the faces of men, their hair and their clothes and onto the bundles that contained bodies, already inside of the graves, freshly dug.

Pye lifted his gaze to look at the people, still by the graves. Still he kept his tongue, lifting his hand only to brush water from his brow.

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Re: Pursuing the French

Post  Guest on Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:29 am

The figures round the grave stood for a long moment in silent prayer, and then the first moved, straightening up and crossed himself, genuflecting. The others did the same, and then the group broke up. Two of them took shovels from the pile of damp earth, and the one Harris thought of as their spokesman crossed back, followed by the German rifleman, who ran a hand over his wet hair, and tipped his shako, before putting it back on his head.

The man thanked them for their courtesy, and for their help. "We have sent to the mountains for a priest, to say the Mass," he said, gesturing to the north. "But Father Umberto - and Senhor Caldeira - could not wait longer. May the men who slew them unjustly rot in the fires of Hell!"

Harris murmured suitable words of agreement, and farewell, and turned to leave, the sound of wet earth falling onto wet earth behind them.

Outside the graveyard the road was being churned again by the gaitered feet of redcoats, and Harris realised that more time than he had expected had passed. "Come on," he said and keeping to the slippery verge, just avoiding the ditch, led the other two riflemen forward.

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