This is the twenty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 818 words.
The early spring of 1815 brought worrying news along with the emerging daffodils. Bonaparte had escaped from his island prison, and had landed in France. Joined by his former followers and army commanders, he looked set to resume his previous plans to conquer Europe. The preparations were in hand to send a vast army to defeat him. Aided by the Prussians, Russians, and the Austrians, they would do their best to defeat the hated republican, and his much feared Grand Army.
For the Dakin family, this was dire news indeed. Henry and Abraham were serving with cavalry regiments, and despite their ages, would of course be expected to go to the continent to fight. Richard, as a captain of infantry, had received orders to go. Only George was not yet serving, and despite his pleas, he was not allowed to enlist. Abraham was now a major in the Scots Greys, and Henry a regimental colonel in the heavy cavalry. There was no time for family farewells, as orders were given for the massive movement of troops by ship to the continent. The Duke of Wellington was to take command of the British forces, and that cheered the spirits of all involved.
Now almost twenty years old, Spencer had wasted no time getting to grips with the management of the estates, and family business. He had become Oscar’s right hand man in all things, and that had pleased the head of the family no end. Aileen still ran the household with complete precision, and care for the staff, and her economies had greatly pleased Oscar, who had come to love her as a sister.
On the eve of the seventeenth of June that year, all three members of the Dakin family still serving the colours found themselves in a rain-soaked camp in Belgium. It was around one mile from the village of Waterloo, and Wellington had decided that this was the place where he would stop the French advance. He had chosen the ground well, with the French disadvantaged by both terrain, and mud. The battle was expected to start soon after first light, and nobody was left in any doubt that it might well decide the fate of Europe for years to come.
Henry was aware of Abraham being nearby with the Scots Greys. But neither of them knew that Richard was also there with his regiment. When the French artillery began firing in the early afternoon, their attack delayed by sodden ground, they had no alternative but to sit and wait on their horses, on the flank of the main army. The Prussians had not arrived, and even the lowliest infantryman knew full well that they were outnumbered.
Richard and his company had been assigned to the defence of the fortified farm, known as Hougoumont. When the French artillery began its bombardment of the lines, it was all he could do to hold his water in his fear. Not long after, elite French infantry appeared, and the fight for the farm was on. Despite his terror, Richard fought fuelled by adrenaline. When he broke his sword against that of a French officer, he grabbed a fallen musket and skewered the man with its bayonet, screaming like a wild man from the hills. Then he took up the Frenchman’s sword, and rallied his company like a man posessed. The fight for the farm continued long after the sun began to set, with Frenchmen scaling the walls, and being shot down in scores when they reached the courtyard.
Richard finally got to slake his thirst, drinking the acrid water from the canteen of a dead sergeant. He was covered in the blood of his enemies, and that from many wounds on his own arms and face. But the regiment held the position, though suffering considerable losses. When no more Frenchmen appeared, he collapsed exhausted onto the damp earth. He had never felt so tired in his life, and his breathing was laboured by the smoke from the burning roof, and the gunpowder hanging over the battlefied like a fog.
When the Scots Greys were ordered foward against the French artillery, the middle-aged Abraham took part in the most exhilarating moment of his life. With infantry clutching their stirrups, they advanced in a famous and unstoppable charge. But Bonarparte had seen their courage, and sent his Polish Lancers aganst them, from the rear. Abraham didn’t even see the slim lance that entered his back, as he was so excited by the thrill of the attack he was engaged in.
The lancer skilfully withdrew his lance, and looked for another target, as Abraham Dakin slipped slowly from his saddle onto the churned-up mud of that Belgian field, He was dead before his body hit the ground, killed in his one and only battle.
Richard and Henry had fared better. They lived to celebrate the victory, and the end of Napoleon.