Sure and may the Holy Saints preserve us! Archival research has proven that our Barrett is an Irishman! The ne'er-do-well cousin of a country innkeeper, "Barrett of Lahardane" volunteered to join Humbert's French army on the night of 26-27 August, 1798, and served throughout the campaign. Issued a French uniform and befriended by the fantassins, Volunteer Barrett was able to pass for a Frenchman and thus survived the massacre at Ballinamuck. "Repatriated" to France, he brought along into the Grande Armée an Irish thirst for beer, and a touch of resentment toward the perfidious English.
Occasionally, in the course of human affairs, there comes a great moment, a pivotal event, around which turns the fate of nations, which profoundly alters the lives of folk for generations after. This, however, is not about such a moment. Rather, this was a routine sort of moment, much like the one that just went by, and doubtless quite similar to the one just up ahead. Hardly worth the bother, really, but life is usually filled with such moments, so what does that tell you? But, I digress.
However, for the French officer (who shall remain nameless in the interests of modesty, but who, I can tell you, now commands TWO cannon in His Imperial Majesty's strangely Polish Corps), this was going to be an exciting day, at least after his fashion.
The day had started out pleasantly enough. Blue sky, a few puffy clouds out looking for their mothers, a gentle warm breeze tickling the waist-high grain-fields, that sort of day. The Duty Sergeant had obligingly laid out a nice patchwork blanket on a gentle spot, (where assuredly none of the rye would be hurt), and upon his august Leader's command, had unloaded a bit of cheese and a spot of paté from the "ammo" caisson, the one kept at the rear of the troop under 24 hour guard, with straw-wrapped ice at the bottom. (One of the few flogging offenses in the French army, to touch that box without orders, I can assure you!) A few nice bottles of vin de Bourgogne were popped open, and some junior officers rounded up to share a few verses of home-made poetry.
Quality pieces, like:
There once was a lad from Paris
Who loved the Highlanders t'harass.
He'd lift their kilt,
Their demeanor'd wilt,
And we'd all have a laugh at their bare ass.
Ah yes, how those newbies would chortle, clearly appreciating their Colonel's fine display of wit, and wine.
A bee hummed cheerfully along; a fox snickered past, coming to rest somewhere to the party's rear. And so the happy day meandered along most pleasantly.
Then all of a sudden, with a great "Bally-hoooo!" and with horns a-tooting and much forceful grunting, a veritable horde of over-dressed and generally over-weight gentlemen, admittedly mounted on fine bays, roans, palfries and a donkey or two, came streaming through the valley beneath our two French cannon. 'Twas a fox-hunt, in full gallumph. Dozens of them, cheerfully waving hats and sticks, yelling like schoolboys at recess. There they all were, Harris, Muddy, Holland, Travers, Hamilton and more, with a bevy of minions to boot. Completely oblivious (as is their wont) of our presence on the ridgeline.
And all under my guns.
What a pickle. It would hardly be sporting to pepper 'em with grape, yet there they were, intruding upon our fine afternoon. There was nothing for it. So, I had the lads stand to, and fired a shot over the heads of the bewildered aristos. They reared up all in a froth, clearly perturbed to have been so masterfully outmaneuvered, and with naught to be done about it. They knew instantly (to their credit) that the gig was up. Smiling (in recognition of His Imperial Majesty's greater glory, of course), I sent a Captain off to discuss terms.
Well, it wasn't long before the whole crew came moping up, looking quite sheepish. They'd have surrendered their swords, save they weren't properly armed, and had none to give me (or so they assured me). Like shooting pickles in a barrel, t'was. Well, courtesy dictated that I invite the lot to sit and join us, though it was with some chagrin I noticed that not a few of our erstwhile foes tucked into our paté and wine with a gusto more properly reserved for, say, a steak-and-kidney pie and ale. They have no proper sense of dining, I am convinced, and only use a fork because it helps kill their food. Regardless, with a good grace we brought out our provisions, and their gratitude was manifest that they had had the good fortune to be seized by an officer of our particular calibre and foresight. I have always maintained that no unit is truly prepared if a chef is not within shouting distance, for emergencies just such as this. I keep two on half-pay, in case of injury to one.
And thus the afternoon crept past, with many a tale being shared of the glorious days we'd each seen in Spain; they spoke of Moore's retreat, slogging through the mud, running, always running from our pursuing cavalry; and I, for my part, reminiscing upon the excellent fruits and fine vintages so readily at hand in those warm, friendly lands. Happy days, those. Burp just thinking about it.
And then, in a moment of glory unparalleled in all my days, from over the hill rode the most splendid cavalcade. Where the English had been noisy, bumptious and smelly in all their meandering mischief, here approached grace and élan [note to self: When admitted to Valhalla and allowed choice of buxom ever-virgin Valkyries, choose twins named "Grace" and "Ellen"] personified, a full panoply of colour, in greatness and glory. Generals, Marshals, the Guard cavalry, all with colourful cloaks, feathers, inlaid snuff-boxes, the whole bit, and then....
out of their midst, Himself, on Marengo.
Naturally, I prostrated myself on the ground (but not too close to the
horse). He dismounted and approached me; He told me to rise. I did. He looked about
with great approval at the beastly horde of misbegotten English-types,
lurking, slinking from His beatific gaze, like squirmy bats zapped of a
sudden by a sunburst. He smiled at me, benign radiance circling His head
like starshine, clearly amazed at my feat of capture. With a look of
fatherly approval, He took his cordon of the Legion of Honour from about His
own neck, and placed it around mine.
"Would that I had more officers such as this one", He said aloud to the gathered approving assemblage. "If I had but two, I could conquer the moon". Oh, frapturous day! "You will want to look to your backpack, my son" He said, "something is resting for you there, this day". Oh blissful joy! And then, then, He reached up, smiling, and with a gentle, benevolent pinch, He TWEAKED MY EAR. Oh, I could have melted into cheese at this point.
But instead, I woke! Damn!. It was just that accursed fox nipping some paté off my
ear, beastly little critter. Whole damn thing had been a dream. Well, I told
myself, the good news is, at least the cheese wasn't pillaged by
those cretins after all, and the burgundy will hold up to fight another day.
Things could be worse.
Even so, though, for a moment, for just a whimsical moment .... ahhh, what a day!