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Guns and Horses
"Something is not right, and has not been right for some time," thought Jack as he ploughed his lonely furrow across the quarterdeck watching Mahon quietly sink below the horizon. He had spoken to Stephen of course, who had given him that look, that damned look that made you feel you were a squeaker again and prescribed exercise and a black draft that had Jack rising from his cot five times a night.

The exercise had Jack reflected probably been necessary, the swimming around the ship, the bouts of singlestick with the crew, the climbing, every day, six times! No wonder the fat was falling from him, his breeches threatened to embarrass him regularly, were it not for Kilick's needle and thread. Old friends greeted him now with a "My God Jack have you been ill?" and more quietly "Not the pox surely, never the pox Jack?" But it was not the pox, although Jack almost wished it was, it was something far more serious, more shameful.

Jack had always been a good horseman, horses might be bad tempered brutes towards him, but his seat and bearing, or at least the considerable bearing down on them, kept them obedient, but it was not just that he missed the horses he realised, it was the whole thing, the whole damned terrible thing, and he had to face up to it, admit it to himself. Jack let out a sigh and thought of the sabres, the tunics, the impressive hats, and then there was no avoiding it... he accepted that he dearly, desperately yearned to join the cavalry.

Stephen had given himself time to marshal his arguments and entered the great cabin only to come upon Jack whistling "If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!" through his teeth. His friend shuddered "That's another thing" he said "you must consider what passes for music among horse soldiers. I believe it's all heavy metal with the Life Guards these days and tow, row, row, row, row, row, with the British Grenadiers.

These wild, romantic notions of chivalry and armoured knights – are you imagining yourself another Bayard? Another Roland at Roncevalles? I hardly need to point out to you, Jack, that those heroes of antiquity never had to face a cannon ball. And, despite what the romances tell us, there is little poetry in the heart of a cavalryman, no lyric impulse stirs the soul of the heavy dragoon. You will be out of luck if you are looking for a Mowett or a Rowan in the Guards. And there's the expense of the charger, the uniforms, the sabres, the helmets".

I have told myself all these things, Stephen, but, anent the poetry, there's a line that keeps running through my head –" half a league, half a league, half a league onward...." I'm sure there are horse soldiers in that. Besides, the helmets kick ass.

Jack stepped out upon the quarterdeck, resplendent in his new red coat, gleaming brass helmet adorned by a fine equine head at the front and a pair of kicking ass' feet at the back, and a delightfully novel calvary sword, sharp and ready, on his belt. He cast an eye over his crew, each similarly attired, with considerable satisfaction. Only Stephen remained in a plain black coat, looking pinched and slightly disapproving.

Next Jack contemplated the French two-decker, standing confidently in the weather gage, two cable's length away, topsails backed, guns run out, match-smoke drifting towards him, wondering what on earth the Surprise was about. A huddle of figures on her poop was conferring and gesticulating energetically.

"Surprises," roared Jack. A pause. "Mount up!" as he stepped over the leeward side and dropped into the ocean.

Quickly the boarding party followed him in an elegant, orderly cascade of red and brass arcing into the blue water, splashing white into the sea, sinking down, down, with serene composed faces until each landed, each perfectly placed, in the sealskin saddle of his own dolphin-charger. The dolphins plunged under the keel of the Surprise and shot out of the water on the windward side, churning furiously for the Frenchman. The clash and clang of the drawing of two score of sabres rang across the water. The French captain said

to the signal midshipman "Run up 'We have chickenpox on board'. That will delay their capers while our marine hussars mount their porpoises".

Meanwhile, gazing thoughtfully down on a dismal plain outside Brussels Maréchal Ney was wondering why the British Grenadiers, poor hardfooly foot guards that they were, were pretending to be a cavalry regiment. Probably they liked the uniform - the Empereur himself had admired the helmets - but the hobby horses and the coconuts were fooling no one.

"They are the complete fops these Grenadiers" murmured his aide "not quite the thing. I was reading in The Sun that there has been some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules, of Hector and ...DUCK!"

A magnificent flight of birds was swooping overhead, their wings creaking; powerful, heavy, swift-flying duck in file after file. Ney could make out birds by the hundred as they darkened the sky. His ears rang with their mighty quacks.

"What is it that they maintain in their webbed feet?" asked his aide, in frank terror.

Their diversion over, the Grenadiers packed away their coconuts, chuckling, and sat back on their hobby horses to watch the show. "This should settle Boney's hash," said a hard-bitten corporal, as he picked his nails with a sabre.

"Name of the sacred warthog!" cried Ney. "It cannot be. They are dropping

like flies!" he said, brushing some flies' droppings from a lapel and impatiently adjusting his hat .
The skein dipped to follow the lead bird, a spotless white duck (way hey, thought the Marshal), as it dived toward the smouldering ruins of a farmhouse, where the few French soldiers who had survived the conflagration were frantically gathering chestnuts from among the remains of their fallen comrades to use as ammunition.
"Alors," said Ney, "She swoops to conkers!"
The men watched as each duck released its burden above the smoking ground to settle in the bony ash. Observing the distant grenadiers reacting in amazement, with many antic gestures, Ney nudged his hat a couple of points to windward and then nodded at the Duc de l'Orange, known privately as the Peeking Duc for his famously roving eye. The Duc encouraged his mount, which uttered a martial neigh and set off down the slope at a measured pace, while Ney absently murmured STAMP and go, STAMP and go under his breath. The Duc halted, cambered his torso imposingly and speared one of the objects at swordpoint. Returning at a rather faster clip (Belle comme une frégate Française et pavoisée, muttered Ney) he gravely offered it to the commander. A baguette, it appeared, but stodgy... unevenly baked... English. The roll was broken open, revealing a tube of paper. Ney scanned the page. Neologisms... infelicities... a curious admixture of French and English... but the message was plain. Ney closed his eyes, and immediately saw the sensual curve of the swell, rode the rise of fall of the deck, smelled salt and tar and smoke... What is wrong with me? he thought.
"What does it say, mon Maréchal?" blubbed the aide.
Ney wrenched his hat firmly athwart and read aloud:


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