What happened to the volatile Moscow Mother-in-Law Battalion?...We will never know, as both diaries are missing the next few pages. Following established patterns, they probably scattered to their daughters' homes, there to kvetch for hours about the schmucks the daughters had married. Let us leave them to it, and on with the battle, then.
General Hendersonov had just arrived back on the field from hospital. His legs felt shaky and his head was still spinning. He turned to Col. Nelmski. "Tell the men to take precautions", he said grimly. "The effect of Eugène's perfume at anything up to 2000 yards is deadly!"
Some time later within the French lines a strange sight unfolded to the French High Command. Across the ridge to their front Russian soldiers appeared. Instead of the usual shako, each man wore a leather bucket on his head. The French advance wavered and stopped. What new devilry could this mean?
"General," said Col. Nelmski, "the men are bumping into one another. They can't see a thing with those buckets on their heads! Some of our own Guard have attacked the redoubt and captured their own cannon....."
"This is excellent!" smiled the wily Hendersonov. "With such confusion in our own ranks, the French will be unable to understand our strategy and will doubtless make critical errors from now on." He turned green again and steadied himself against the after-affects of the potent Eau de Cologne de Paris. "Tell our Guard to launch an assault against Gorki. That will really give the French cause for concern!"
Col. Nelmski sighed and prepared to lead the Russian Guard towards the rear. He placed a leather bucket over his head....
"What do you make of that then, Eugene???...Eugene ????...EUGENE!!!! Will you put that cookbook away for just 5 minutes and look at what the Russians are doing?? You have always got your nose in one book or another these days."
Eugene looked up and across the battlefield. He stood next to Marshal Bardon, who seemed a bit worried about this latest trick by the Russians.
"Ah yes, I have read about this, the old bucket-on-the-head trick. It was last tried by the Barthaginians, an offshoot of the Carthaginians, in the first Punic War, 264-241 BC, against the Romans. Their King got them all to line up put their helmets on back to front and then had them march at the Romans. Well, it did have the Romans thinking for a little while....about 5 seconds if I remember rightly."
"Yes? What happened then?" asked Marshal Bardon.
"Well, the Romans at long last stopped laughing at the sight of the Barthaginian archers firing arrows all over the place (but none on-target), the slingers getting their slings all entangled with one another, and the infantry walking around like men that had been drinking all night. They then walked down the hill and killed ALL of them, to a man. That was the only battle the Barthaginians ever fought. The Romans wiped them out, marched on their city and burnt it down. That's why you will not read about the Barthaginians after that battle. They were all dead. So, this should be fun..."
Eugene went back to his cookbook...
The French troops looked around as Marshal Bardon roared with laughter, on and on until his eyes streamed and he swayed perilously in the saddle. All must be well if the Marshal is in such good humor! was the thought on every mind. They looked to their front again and smiles broke out all along the French lines.
The leather buckets created a frightful confusion, with men charging hither and yon. At last, the Russians were marshalled into some semblance of disorder, but with their new headgear they were rendered utterly deaf. So, it was somewhat of a shock when the French cavalry, that had been idly watching the ruckus, suddenly turned into line and charged in and amongst the bewildered enemy.
The shock was truly profound. Several high-ranking Russian generals were so in awe of the French mastery and skill with the horse that they immediately requested riding lessons. Murat, feeling gracious, agreed that Platov should at least learn to ride if he was to retain his title of General of Cavalry.
General Hendersonov was angry as he watched the French cavalry. He turned very red, and then a deep shade of blue. His staff cowered beneath his horse. The horse tried to pretend it wasn't there.
"WHO ORDERED MY INFANTRY THERE?????" he bellowed!
"You did, Sir!" squeaked Col. Nelmski.
"Just as I was saying", said the general. "A magnificent but necessary sacrifice. The infantry were in just the right place."
"They could not see the approaching cavalry because of the buckets on their heads," ventured the good colonel.
"OF COURSE NOT! WHO ORDERED THAT??????" screamed Hendersonov.
"You did, Sir!" said Nelmski, and pulled his bucket further over his face.
"An excellent piece of tactical manoeuver", said Hendersonov. "The buckets have prevented our men from running away.....order the counterattack!"
"You have sent the reserves to attack Gorki, which is behind our lines, Sir!" mumbled Col. Nelmski from under his bucket.
"Quite right, too." said the general. He turned his telescope to the rear and surveyed Gorki, which was burning brightly.
"I feel the battle is progressing nicely!" he said with satisfaction...
Colonel Nelmski rose from the ground and dusted himself off carefully. General Hendersonov, in his excitement at seeing the cavalry charge, had stood up in the stirrups, which of course had caused his horse to jump right on top of Nelmski. Only when he explained to the good General that those were French cavalry charging did the General sit back in the saddle. He appeared to be in a bit of a funk, and Colonel Nelmski did not think it was because the General was feeling sorry about trampling his adjutant. Time to do something to lift the General's spirits. He signaled his aide and issued the orders.
The French cavalry on the Utitza Mound were feeling smug about their charge when they noticed a new unit arriving on the scene. Magnificent specimens of men, brightly uniformed, wearing plumes fit to make even Eugène jealous, they cantered proudly onto the field. Then, as they came closer, the Frenchmen broke into uncontrollable laughter on seeing that these incredible examples of Russian manhood were mounted on Shetland ponies. Many of the French actually fell off their horses, and most dropped their sabers to clutch at their bellies which hurt from laughing so hard. Now, Colonel Nelmski ordered the regular cavalry into the fray!
Still revelling in the glory of the charge, The French cavalry commander stood up in his stirrups to gather armloads of enemy colors as trophies for le Tondu. Such was the clamor of so many troopers shouting, "Vive l'Empereur!", that for some reason none noticed several thousand Russian dragoons trotting into sight....
[Hmmm, this does not look good for our heroes.]
The Russian flank cavalry was confused. They had been sent to attack Gorki by the wily General Hendersonov, yet suddenly they were vaguely aware of strange blue uniforms....and, what appeared to be some of Eugene's supply wagons.....
The centre cavalry thought they had been sent to launch a surprise offensive against a peasant hut in the vicinity of Moscow. Then they heard shouting, unmistakably in French.....
The Cavalry commanders longed to take off their buckets and see where they were. But, they knew too well the fate that awaited them at the hands of the General if they were to disobey orders. They set their noses to the cold metal of the inside of their buckets and rode on........
The Russian Dragoons were salivating at the prospect of riding down the audacious French horse and plundering the captured supply wagons. That is, until there commander turned to them and yelled, "Those are our own supply wagons you are trying to capture, you bunch of clodhoppers, and the Cossacks will get there first to boot!" The excitement died down until the men realized that they still had a chance to ride down the French horse and capture splendid new plumes for their buckets.
L'Empereur was seen to shrug his shoulders and sigh audibly at the misfortune that befell the brave Westphalian hussars. Couriers were dispatched to Junot, commanding the VIII Corps. As the orders were called out, their countrymen, both saddened and angry, sprang into action (actually they'd been marching for the better part of an hour, but it's dusty and the men get tired). Some marched in grim resignation, knowing full well what awaits them at the top of the hill. Others simply clutched their muskets and rifles a bit tighter in anticipation of their use. All knew this work would be costly.
The destination, the Great Redoubt and the village of Gorki.
Seeing the fate that befell their mounted fellows, some of the more inexperienced line commanders held a short discussion:
"Did you see the ferocity with which the Russians attacked, sabering men, horses and even the defenseless woodland creatures as they went?"
"Oui, they did not even spare the small furry creatures--the cute and fuzzy bunnies, the happy squirrels, the quick brown foxes jumping over the lazy dogs, groundhogs, beavers, baby deer, gophers, piglets, owls, and a bear named Winnie the Pooh."
"Sacré bleu! Mon Dieu! These Russians, they must pay, and pay dearly!"
Colonel Nelmski and General Hendersonov sat contentedly munching some roast meat. The HQ cook stood over his cookstove, silently praying that the hungry officers would not ask from whence the meat had come. But he had seen no need to waste a perfectly good bear roast, even if the creature had been hauled from the woods (where he had lived under the name of Sanders) with his paw strangely stuck in a honey jar.
After their lovely picnic, the Russians danced and sang in the hundred-acre wood. Balalaika music played, and they thought of the yummy things they could have for tea.
"What jolly fun this battle is!" chuckled Hendersonov to Nelmski.
The French sat back and watched as the Russians drank their tea and danced in the wood. It soon become apparent that in their haste to destroy the little woodland creatures, one had escaped. Not a large fierce creature, oh no, just a terribly small and timid one.
The Marshals looked at each other. "Oh. Look, they missed one. Shall we?"
And with that the artillery was redeployed...
It was at this point that an Aide-de-Camp took the wrong road and landed up in the Russian camp with a message from Eugène to Marshal Bardon...... [sent to the wrong e-mail address...DOH!!!!] The message read....
"Jeff, two more moves and I will be over the river in the middle. :o)))))))
No combat from me this turn."
Marshal Bardon, using the code name for him for this battle (Jeff) had replied....
Excellent! So long as the children's-book-character-icidal, hundred-acre-wood defiling, wannabe pillaging, part-time amateur rapacious vermin don't catch wind of our fiendishly clever plan. That would be terrible."
Colonel Nelmski stared in wonder at General Hendersonov. None of the other staff were present to see the display, so he knew that no one would believe the story if he ever told it, but there were actual mini-fireworks shooting out of General Hendersonov's ears, and his face was the color of the finest beets, the kind reserved for the Tsar's borscht. Apparently he was not taking the recent losses well.
General Hendersonov turned and yelled at Colonel Nelsmki, "That blasted Eugène! We must do something about him, and you know what I mean, Colonel." Nelmski replied, "But Sir, that is only a weapon of last resort, and we really don't know if it will work for us or against us."
"Damn it, Colonel, I want that special company deployed right now. Look at that dandy over there, watching at us through his spyglass with that big insolent grin on his face. Do it I say, and do it NOW!!!"
Colonel Nelmski strode over to the copse of woods where the rest of the staff stood. Seeking the shade they said, but it looked more like cowering. Colonel Nelsmki issued the orders that the General had given. Several of the officers were seen making the sign of the cross and kissing their crucifixes upon hearing, but dutifully, one Lt. Colonel rode off with the orders.
Shortly the tramping of feet could be heard as a body of fresh Russian troops marched up to the front The sound got louder and louder, and then finally the troops crested the hill and marched smartly up to the line. For a moment the rest of the Russian forces stopped firing, so awestruck were they by the appearance of this élite company, until the screaming of their officers, even a good swift kick in some cases, got them back to the business at hand. But still they could not help but make occasional glances in that direction and wonder just what would result from this deployment.
Captain Liberacevich eyed his company with pride. Every manjack of them was outfitted in the most opulent, outrageous uniform that the world had ever seen. Ermine trim, bright pink and white frocks with sequins sewn in throughout. The turquoise tunics with the red breeches set the whole ensemble off. Of course they were also wearing capes, mink capes with even more ermine trim and even more sequins. When the sun hit them just so it pained the eyes to even look at them, for the reflections were almost too bright for the human eye to endure. But it was the hats that did it. Every man had enough plumage to be the envy of any peacock. Plumage from every bird known to man was spread out amongst the troops. Agents of the Tsar had wandered the globe searching for the most exotic, rare, and brightly colored feathers known to man, and some that probably weren't, given the reaches that the Tsar's men went to. Several of the bird species would probably never be seen again, such had been the zeal of the collectors.
Colonel Nelmski had been watching Eugene through his spyglass the whole time the company marched up. What would be the effect on that dashing French officer? General Hendersonov paced nervously next to the Colonel, turning every lap to ask if there was any reaction yet. He knew that there would be some reaction, but what? Would it drive Eugène crazy with envy, looking at the gorgeous uniforms and plumage that he couldn't quite match, and leave him so distracted or despondent he couldn't function, or would it drive him to unprecedented fury in his zeal to capture just one of those hats? The tension was building in the General like a lava dome in a volcano; something had to happen or he was going to explode!
Colonel Nelmski finally motioned to the General to take a look for himself....for something was happening. The General put his eye to the telescope and examined Eugène. There stood the enemy in all his splendor, trembling like a leaf in the wind, with a little stream of spittle coursing from his mouth. It was obvious that he had his glass trained on the special company....but what was he going to do?
"Eugène......EUGENE...you are drooling, man! Stop it; the men might see!" exclaimed Marshal Bardon to his sartorially-challenged sidekick.
"Can you see them? They are wonderful, nay magnificent! Have you ever seen so many wonderful colored feathers in your life, and mink....do you think those are real mink capes .....I want them!!" Eugene started to hop from one foot to the other like a school boy begging a sweet from his mother. "Order the Guard forward! Get them for me!"....BANG!!!......
After an indeterminate time spent admiring glorious fields of stars and the merry chiming of a thousand village bells, Eugène awoke to find himself looking up at the underside of Marshal Bardon's horse. With as much dignity as he could muster, he picked himself up from where he had landed after Marshal Bardon had hit him upside his head.
"Are you feeling better now, Eugène?"
"Yes. Thanks, I needed that. Don't know what came over me just then. I think it was the feathers."
Eugene gazed hungrily across the battlefield through his spyglass, then whipped out his drawing book and pens, furiously sketching the uniforms of the troops across the battlefield. No mean feat, when one is peering through a spyglass held in one hand and trying to draw with the other, fiddling with muticolored inks, a dozen pens, and a hundred sheets of paper.
Marshal Bardon rolled his eyes and looked away.
"Well, Colonel Nelmski, does our special company seem to be having any effect on Eugène?"
"So far I have seen him dance like some organ grinder's monkey, then prostrate himself on the ground for several minutes, and now he seems to be juggling."
"Yes Sir, it appears to be pens and his spyglass with one hand while trying to write with the other. Maybe we have driven the man insane with jealousy."
"Well, we shall have to see what the rest of the day brings, won't we," muttered General Hendersonov while stroking his chin. "A good start, though."
"It's no good!" groaned Eugène in agony, throwing his pens and paper in the air.
"What is it now, Eugène?" asked Marshal Bardon with concern, fearing Eugène had been hit.
"It's the turquoise tunics, I just can't get the right shade with these inks. What is an artist to do, how can I do proper work with cannon balls buzzing about like bumblebees on a hot summer's day? Tell me how!!!" Eugène threw up his arms and gave the papers lying around a mighty kick with his red leather boots.
"OH NO !!!!!!! Now look....."
"What?" said Marshal Bardon, again looking around and taking his eyes off the battle.
"I have scuffed my new boots!" said Eugène, pointing down.
Captain Liberacevich stamped his elegant little feet in frustration! What was wrong with Eugène? Why hadn't the man ordered the masses of French cavalry to charge for a chance to capture these uniforms? The effect was starting to wear off. Some of the men were getting hot and dropping their capes and coats, which were getting all dirty, and the wind was playing havoc with the plumage on their hats. Couldn't the man recognize that these were the finest uniforms in all of Europe, nay the world? Was their carefully-laid trap going for naught? Those beastly animal trainers were going to be very unhappy if his uniforms didn't provoke the expected charge....
Picking up his pens and paper with renewed determination, Eugène drew like a madman. At last, Eugène stopped his wild scribbling. Proudly, he turned to his assembled AdC's to show them his sketches. Despite the abundant use of stick figures and coloring outside the lines, there was something magnetic about the images.
The young officers milled about discussing the designs. Yves, Jean-Paul, Karl, and Giorgio all nodded approvingly. Eugène at last spoke, "Listen and you will learn, and perhaps someday, when we have proven ourselves over these barbarians, you will be able to return to your honorable jobs as tailors. But, remember the lessons I will teach you. You see, the Russians have merely attempted to copy fashion from Paris, much like a child copies his letters. Yet, the copy cannot compare to the original. It is Autumn. Pink boas are a Spring accessory. Now, see how in my sketch I have exchanged them for black and brown scarves? Much better. And the fabric, my goodness, ermine and velvet? Tsk, tsk, major no-no. For this outfit, I think, muted tones and leather. While those outré hats are truly chic, the ensemble as a whole is just wrong. OK, children?"
The aides nodded, awed by the power of Eugène's aesthetic wisdom. Yet another Russian trick had gone for naught, but at least the world at last knew what had become of the last of the two-headed eagles, sacrificed for their feathers.
Colonel Nelmski sighed, a sigh of despair. Another plan had failed to come to fruition. Slowly he turned and nodded to the signalman, who quickly waved his flags in response. As he turned back to the action he saw Captain Liberacevich stamping his feet in anger and shedding petulant tears before ordering his men to march off. Then, quietly, almost unnoticed amidst the clamor of battle, several men in what appeared to circus uniforms crept from the woods flanking Captain Liberacevich's position. They whistled, and suddenly several hundred gopher heads popped out of the ground. Quietly, unnoticed, the Russians had been training gophers. Hundreds of holes dotted the terrain in front of the now-vacant position once held by Captain Liberacevich's company. Oh, if only Eugene had launched an impetuous cavalry charge in pursuit of those uniforms! French horse by the score would have been lying in front of the Russian position, suffering from broken legs. The tide of battle would have been turned, and the two Russian officers would have been able to enjoy a fine feast that night. Strange habits those visiting British officers had, and the one with the taste for horseflesh was perhaps more eccentric than the rest. The Imperial Russian Army was suffering extraordinary losses of Ensigns, but it was a small price to pay.
"Look, Eugène.....if you can tear yourself away from your drawings for a minute. It's the old
Trained Gophers Trick. You have to admire these Russians, they do put a lot effort into the training of animals. Now, if they were to train their men half so well, we would indeed have a battle on our hands. Of course, the average Mujik is a tad less intelligent than a gopher, and harder to train. Maybe that is what they were trying with the buckets on their heads earlier....What are you drawing now??" asked Marshal Bardon. Once again, Eugène was scribbling in his notebook.
"I have a idea for an arch in Moscow. A big bugger-off thing. So we can march under it and hang a big bugger-off flag from the top. With roads leading to it from all over the city. What do you think?"
[The next page is missing, so we will never know what Marshal Bardon said to Eugène about that idea. The fact that no arch was built in Moscow, and that Eugène never dared to mention that project in his otherwise prolix memoirs, speaks volumes.]
"Almost Noon, and the Goddess of Victory has not yet crowned you with laurels. You must be losing your edge!" said Marshal Bardon to Eugène.
"I forgot to tell you, Marshal Bardon....I ordered the Guard to attack earlier. Did anybody stop them?"
"They've toiled long and hard, Eugène. Besides, as your stepfather repeatedly stressed, over a thousand leagues from France is not the place to use one's last reserve. It was with the greatest dificulty that I persuaded le Tondu to release them to my charge. With them spearheading the advance, we may yet make that luncheon in Gorki."
Amidst the awesome cacophony of battle and the dysphonic chorus of the oompah band, the rising beat of a thousand drums could be heard, as rank upon serried rank of bearskin kolbaks descended from the plateau.
General Hendersonov sat clucking his tongue as he watched the French troops deploy. Slowly he turned to Lt. Col. Nelmski, "Well, it's time to unveil our next secret weapon."
Lt. Col. Nelmski looked frantically through his pouches, but found nothing. Worriedly, he turned to his General and replied, "Just what secret weapon would that be, Sir?"
"Oh, you know, there must be several we haven't used yet."
"I don't know, Sir, I'll check with the staff and see what they have."
"The worried frown deepened on the good General's face as he watched the approach of the Guard.
Inevitably, the Russian cavalrymen became bored watching their bucket-bedecked infantry fall over and not get up. Finally, a couple of them began to bat a ball back and forth with their sabers. Soon others began to join in and before long they were making a game of it. As they played Lt. Col. Nelmski, still chafing over his sudden demotion, noticed that some of the French were beginning to watch the game being played by the cavalry instead of watching the Russian infantry fall down and not get up. Quietly he trotted over (that is, the horse trotted, and Nelmski rode: No horse-coddling in this man's Imperial Russian Army!), and whispered a few words in the Cavalry commander's ear. He in turn whispered into the ears of his staff, excepting poor Major Smirnoff, who had lost his ears to frostbite while passed out in a drunken stupor one night. He merely whispered into the hole in the side of his head. Soon the word was passed and the game began to inch its way to the front lines. Eventually it worked its way right across into the French side of the battle-line. Without anyone noticing anything amiss, the Russian players would occasionally "accidentally" whack a French spectator upside the head with their sabers. After a time, the French realized that many of their heads were hurting, reducing their enjoyment of the game, and that the Russian horse was amongst them and had totally disrupted their lines.
Letter to the Russian Commanders from Les Ducs.
Very interesting game, but if you insist on continuing we shall have to pursue legal action against your commander. Clearly, your men are attempting a poor imitation of one of our French folkloric past-times, la danse des sabres sur les têtes (performed à cheval).
Quickly the Russian horsemen looked about for a Referee to call timeout, but alas, none were to be found, so the game perforce was continued.
It was at this point that the French, reverting to conventional tactics at last, launched a mass cavalry change into the Russian flank...
Marshal Bardon climbed up on top of Eugène's coach to watch as the mass of cavalry charged forward, sweeping all before it. His eyes widened as the first wave washed over the Russian skirmishers and raced on to Russian cavalry and guns beyond. Swords flashed in the sunlight, cutting down again and again in a killing frenzy. Another wave of cavalry joined the first, and then another.
"Go men go, on to Moscow!" Marshal Bardon roared from the top of the coach.
Cuirassiers and Chevaux-Légers cut through the Russian infantry like hot knives through butter. The Russian cavalry, still recovering from their exhausting game, were caught winded and had difficulty reforming their ranks. The Russian officers could only look on with growing horror as the mass ranks of the French cavalry bore down upon them. Gunners ran to and fro trying to get their guns limbered and away, but it was too late, too late....all the while, Marshal Bardon screamed out in his excitement to his men to go on, on!!
It was at this point that Eugène poked his head up and looked out from his coach, where he had been taking a small nap, and saw Marshal Bardon dancing like a Dervish on top of his coach.
"Well, Marshal Bardon, what do you think?"
Bardon, his eyes aflame with the ecstasy of battle, exclaimed, "Wonderful! Magnificent! Never seen anything better!"
Eugène shook his head in puzzlement. "But, Marshal Bardon, you have not even looked at them yet."
Marshal Bardon tore his eyes away from the battle and looked down at Eugène. "What????" he asked.
"I was just thinking about adding some new feathers to my hat. Do you think they should be blue or white?" asked Eugène.
The look of shocked incredulity that came over Marshal Bardon's face will be remembered for all time by the AdC's and staff around him that day. "I.....I.....I.....both, use both, yes, use both Eugène. If you don't mind, I have a battle to win and an Empire to save, here. There are some things more important than FASHION!!" sputtered Marshal Bardon, pointing away to the cavalry battle.Eugène glanced over to where Marshal Bardon was pointing "Oh, yes. Jolly good show. Are they our cavalry? So, you are saying use both, then? The blue and the white feathers? Mais oui! And a spray of red ones as well, for that patriotic tricolore effect. My friend, you are a genius!" Marshal Bardon put his hands over his face, shook his head violently, and turned his attention to the battle, as Eugène settled back into his coach, laughing merrily.
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