"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
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.
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.
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
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!"
"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
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