‘We’ll retire by column of half companies!’ Dunnett, convinced that the enemy would not risk closing the gap, planned to turn his back on them and simply march away. ‘Captain Murray? Your men first, if you please.’
But before Murray could give an order, the new Lieutenant’s voice called in urgent warning,’
‘Ware cavalry behind!’
‘They’re ours, you fool!’ Dunnett’s distaste for the Quartermaster could not be disguised.
‘Oh, Christ!’ Murray had turned to look up the road along which the four companies must retreat. ‘Rear rank! About turn! Major Dunnett! They’re crapauds!’
God alone knew how, but a new enemy had appeared behind. There was no time to wonder where they had come from, only to turn and face the three fresh squadrons of Dragoons. The French cavalry rode with open cloaks which revealed their pink-faced green coats. They carried drawn swords. They were led, curiously, by a chasseur; an officer in the red coat, scarlet pelisse and black fur hat of the Emperor’s Imperial Guard. Alongside him, mounted on a big roan, was an equally strange figure; a man dressed in a black riding coat and boots that were gleaming white.
Dunnett gaped at the new enemy. Riflemen frantically reloaded empty weapons. The Quartermaster knelt, braced his rifle by looping its sling about his left elbow, and fired at the chasseur.
He missed. Rifleman Harper jeered.
A trumpet sounded from the enemy. There was death in its shrill note.
The chasseur’s sabre was raised. Beside him the man in the civilian coat drew a long slim sword. The cavalry broke into the trot and the new Lieutenant could hear the hooves on the frozen ground. The Regiment of Dragoons still rode in squadrons that could be distinguished by the colour of their horses. The first squadron was on black horses, the second on bays, and the third on chestnuts; it was an arrangement common in peacetime, but rare in battle that swiftly diluted the pattern with remounts. The trumpeters were on greys, as were the three men who carried the guidons on their long staffs. The small flags were bright against the low clouds. The Dragoons’ long swords were even brighter, like blades of pale ice.
Major Dunnett realized his Riflemen were in danger of annihilation. ‘Rally square! Rally! Rally!’