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Little Gibraltar

1. The Colonel of Artillery
Toulon: December 1793

It was a hard night’s work. The coalition of Englishmen, Spaniard, Piedmontese and Neapolitans, and the Royalist traitors who had invited them to invade France, had prepared their positions well. Only one point remained weak and he had been the only man with the perception to see it. Why was he surrounded by such fools and incompetents? He had fought to get his plan understood and accepted, fought hard against Carteaux and Doppet. Only with the arrival of Dugommier had he managed to persuade his superiors of the need to take Little Gibraltar, every day wasted allowing the enemy to reinforce their position.

At last the enemy had seen the effect his artillery could have on the city and the harbour. The English had panicked at the threat to their fleet and sent a force that managed to capture the Convention battery. The counter attack that he and Dugommier had led was successful and led to the capture of the English general O’Hara and his own promotion to Colonel. The terms of the surrender O’Hara had negotiated with Augustin Robespierre left some of the enemy batteries disarmed and allowed him to continue with his plan.

The assault on Little Gibraltar, the position the English thought to be an impregnable rock, had started at midnight. To give them their due the enemy had fought like devils. This was no artillery duel at a distance but desperate hand to hand fighting. Still it continued, the red coats of the English soldiers marking them in the light from the fires. Also among the defenders were Italians, mostly Neapolitans, and some blue coated officers who commanded men who wore no uniform and knew nothing of the arts of war as taught in the military colleges of Europe. What they knew was how to fight and this they did with all the low cunning of a gutter brawl. He saw one of these men, surely a pugilist when otherwise engaged, fell a French sergeant with a punch to the jaw. Now his men were flooding into Little Gibraltar and the fighting became fiercer yet. A great bear of a man blocked his path, musket and bayonet in hand. They fought briefly then came a sudden pain in the leg. He looked down to see the Englishman’s bayonet embedded in his thigh. The Englishman did the same then withdrew the bayonet and went looking for somebody else to use it on. The only man capable of recapturing Toulon for the Convention sank down and watched the dark stain spread down his leg. He had done enough; now the enemy were retiring and Little Gibraltar had fallen to his attack.

He was placed on a litter and carried back to the headquarters, past cheering artillerymen moving up to bring their guns to bear on the city of Toulon. All the way he wondered about the Englishman who had wounded him. One day their paths might cross again and he would teach one English sailor to stay in his ship where he belonged.

2. The Surgeon
Nice: December 1793

“My colleague Hernandez has done his job well,” said the surgeon. “The wound is healing and there is no sign of mortification.”

“Good,” said the citizen General. “In the confusion of the fight one of the Englishmen managed to bayonet me. I did not see who it was at first. I told somebody that it was one of their sergeants, a fearful breed of men, but now I am not too sure. It might have been one of those devilish sailors, perhaps even an officer.”

“He nearly cost you the leg. “

“I was not destined to become a cripple. I have need of this leg for greater things. Our attack succeeded even as I fell, and with it Toulon became untenable for the English fleet. It secured the revolution in that area.”

“Yes,” said the surgeon, turning a cold reptilian glare on the general. “I heard how the revolution was secured. Thousands killed, butchered as you might say, after surrendering to the army you brought into the city.”

The general shrugged his shoulders. “I was not there but I would have done the same. They were traitors to the revolution and to France; waste no tears on them. Toulon is ours again and I have already moved on, a general at twenty-four years old. You seem a good surgeon. Come with me. I have a place for a strong-willed surgeon to patch me up and keep me going while I save France,”

“Thank you but no,” said the surgeon. “I am going to return to my people and do what I can to help them. Perhaps we will need a revolution of our own but I hope it may not end like yours.”

“Brave words to a man who has the ear of Barras and the Robespierre’s. Begone to your Catalans then and regret that you turned down the chance to become the personal surgeon to Napoleon Buonaparte.”

3. The Lieutenant
Toulon: May 1803

“Was you ever here before?” asked Christy-Palliere as a servant from the inn poured wine for the captain and his guests.

“I’ve polished Cape Sicie as often as anyone in the service,” said Jack Aubrey. “Don’t spread the word but I was ashore here ten years ago.” Everybody counted back on their fingers and nodded as they realised he referred to the siege of Toulon. “The Admiral sent detachments ashore to strengthen the defence of Little Gibraltar. As a very young lieutenant I organised a party from the fleet and led them off to Little Gibraltar where we had the infernal luck to arrive the night that the French attacked. No time to get into proper positions of course so we just joined the maul and tried to do for as many Frenchmen as we could."

Jack drank some of his wine. “Excellent stuff. What did you say it was? Haut Brion. I soon found that my flimsy old sword was no use, especially when everybody who came towards me carried at the least a musket with a damnably sharp bayonet on the end of it. I decided that a musket and bayonet would make a better weapon and grabbed one from a poor fellow that had no further use for his.”

“I felt safer with a decent weapon to use and did what I could to keep them out but it was too late. I got into a fight with a French colonel and more by luck than anything else managed to stick my bayonet into him. I often wonder what became of him.”

Christy-Palliere smiled. “No doubt he wonders about you too. May I give you a piece of advice? Should you ever chance to meet General Bonaparte, do not tell him the tale you have just told us. He might find it hard to see the funny side of it.”

© 2006 Martinus Scriblerus