After a long time and a lot of effort, the dogged Captain Murray of the 42nd (Highland) Foot has nearly succeeded in bringing Fanny Flower, and her sister, Phemie, to Climax, a hard to reach settlement on the southern borders of the Saindoux Valley. Little Beaver Creek must be forded, after the forest on its approaches has been negotiated, and Climax will be reached! But while the 42nd have been spending the past days fighting with the Huron in the woods, Lieutenant Clouzeau of the Compagnie Franches de la Marine de Vindail has stolen a march and come to Climax first. The unexpected intrusion of the dastardly Frenchman’s has already given the Widow Gotobed an untimely awakening; will the over-eager French shoot too soon, or will Murray’s Highlanders be taken unawares? Read on . . .
An old campaigner, Murray has a nose for a Frenchman, and who could mistake the garlic reek coming from the Widow Gotobed’s farm? Suspicious, he moves up with the greater part of his men on the east bank of Little Beaver Creek, approaching the fork of the river. Lieutenant Mill, the redoubtable veteran of Flanders has a smaller detachment on the other bank, with Fanny and Phemie in tow, much to his annoyance and Phemie’s evident delight. Fanny casts longing looks across the creek at Murray, who cuts a fine figure marching proudly at the head of his men.
News of the capture of the dashing Lieutenant Quintin Kennedy (recounted here) has reached that officer’s blood-brothers amongst the Mohawk (look, this isn’t far-fetched romantic nonsense, Kennedy really had lived amongst the Mohawk), and a small party of those warriors under a savage known to the British as Captain Cutlass protects Murray’s right flank.
Save for the steady tramp of highland feet over the leafy forest floor, all is deathly hush. Murray sees the river and the boundary of the Widow Gotobed’s farm beyond. Seeing no Frenchmen, he pushes on fast, ordering both pips and drum to play a rousing tune composed by Captain Reid himself (seriously, Reid was an internationally renowned flautist and composer, look him up if you don’t believe me).
But as the highlanders come clear of the trees, the villain Clouzeau springs his trap! He has hidden his men along the line of the Widow Gotobed’s fence. With typically knavish Gallic cunning, they have lain down and covered themselves with freshly cut grass. Clouzeau leaps up, uttering the immortal words ‘Levez-vous et ayez-les, mes enfants! C’est maintenant votre temps!’
His men rise as one, present and volley at close range – the highlanders a mere stone’s throw across the river. However the cut grass must have made many of the men sneeze as the volley, although startling in its unexpectedness, is less effective than Clouzeau might have hoped. Only three highlanders fall. Clouzeau must trust in his men’s musket-handling and hope Enseigne Maudit and his Huron allies play their parts.
Davey Mill, trying to ignore the squeals of admiration and dismay coming from Phemie and Fanny respectively, brings his men steadily forward to a position where the can see Clouzeau’s firing line through the trees. Meanwhile the Huron are stealing through the woods towards Captain Cutlass’ Mohawks. The Huron have twice the numbers of their blood-enemies and are behind Murray’s flank. Will Cutlass be able to cut it?
Clouzeau’s line reload and present while, unperturbed, Sergeant M’Andrews dresses the ranks, waiting for Murray to give the order to present and fire, which that officer does after coolly assessing the Frenchmen’s speed of reloading, pausing deliberately to tell Piper M’Intyre to play a tune to make the French hop.
The skirl of the pipes and Murray’s droll humour stiffens the resolve of the highlanders and they bring up their muskets bravely. The volley rings out, the pipes sounding above even that fierce roar! Six Frenchmen fall and Clozeau curses savagely.
Lieutenant Maudit’s small group of Troupes de la Marine emerge from the swamp where they have been hiding and fire on Captain Cutlass’ Mohawks, killing one warrior.
The Huron begin to close in, firing without accuracy but unnerving their Iroquois foe.
Maudit’s men kill another Mohawk and Cutlass gives ground, not liking the odds one bit.
On the other flank, Mill starts his men volleying into Clouzeau’s line, killing two more men. Clouzeau’s reply sees two more of Murray’s men stricken but the highlanders aren’t showing much sign of being cowed by the fire. The Scots have twice as many muskets firing as Clouzeau’s line can now muster and Clouzeau can be heard exhorting, ‘Trois coups d’une minute, pour l’amour de la baise!’.
Murray’s crisp, ‘Reload. Present.’ may focus French minds.
All now hinges on whether Maudit and the Huron can move fast enough to take Murray in the rear because another volley from Murray’s boys has Clouzeau’s line on the verge of faltering. The French Lieutenant’s foul-mouthed exhortations spur his men to remember they are no longer the sweepings of Parisian gutters but proud sons of New France and they manage another, almost despairing volley.
Just as Clouzeau’s line finally begins to give ground in the face of the determined volleys of the highlanders, Maudit begins to fire into the line’s flank and rear. The Scots hold firm, for the moment.
Yet another volley from Murray, who steadfastly ignores the threat to his flank and rear, forces Clouzeau to give more ground; the French Lieutenant’s men are nearly down to half their original strength and on the verge of breaking. Clouzeau takes a ball in the shoulder but somehow manages to conceal the wound from his men.
Now though, the tide may be turning. Murray has distained the threat from Maudit and the Huron, but the steady firing into their rear from some of the Huron is demoralising the Scots, who give ground in confusion as Clouzeau somehow holds his men together as they retreat inch by dogged inch across the Widow Gotobed’s fields.
The Widow Gotobed, distracted by the fight she has been watching from her front porch, has burnt her buns, and worse, set her chimney on fire!
Davey Mill saves the day with a well-timed crashing volley that sends half of Clouzeau’s line running and demoralises the rest. Maudit and the Huron fade into the forest and the Highlanders tend their many wounded.
‘A damnably close rubber, but Mill came up trumps.’ – James Murray, Capt. 42nd Foot.