L’Enfant Chéri de la Victoire, Marshal Masséna’s bold plan to turn Wellington’s left flank by pushing the 69e Ligne over the Río de la Cocina Laga and into Cerro Manteca has foundered at the outset. Serious reverses at Fuexu and the Viñedo Tripa de Pudrición had left the French seriously short of food – a state of affairs remedied by a descent upon Hueco Soñoliento, though at some cost in men and matériel.
Even fortified by good beef and pork, Capitaine Pépin is reluctant to try and force his way to the bridge at Fuexu again because the 1/3rd Guards are reported to now be there in some strength; however a patrol of Polish Lancers under the stolid but dependable Sierżant Iwo Lacowicz has revealed way via a ford usually only practical in the summer months, but now unseasonably low. Mustering the men of the 4e Compagnie and, taking in tow some Voltigeurs under the experienced but morally dubious Sergent Serin, Pépin makes a dash for the ford.
As Pépin’s column nears the ford, he and his men are delighted to meet a rather dishevelled Lieutenant de Rière, who has just escaped from the clutches of the notorious guerilla, known only as El Hombre Sin Nombre. However, Pépin is considerably less delighted to discover that de Rière is hotly pursued. Drums beating, the 4e Compagnie race for the river.
Lieutenant de Rière, recently lacking one of his ears and now thirsting for revenge leads the voltigeurs across the river.
Lieutenant Connard, leading the main column is hot on his heels.
Of a sudden, a motley group of ruffians, led by an Amazonian figure resplendent in a (slightly bloody) uniform of a French officer of hussars, burst from the nearest windmill and fire into the voltigeurs! It is La Señora Adora Heras, the subject of many lurid and frightful imaginings amongst the men of the 69e Ligne.
And the drum beats the pas de charge!
The bold pressing by Sergent Serin has already denied the Rifles an excellent firing position from the high windows of the Vinery (Chosen Man Grundy had had the opportunity to take that position but his men were too busy looking for wine).
As Captain the Honourable Tom Blunt is fond of saying, ‘In the nick of time will do nicely,’ and so he is. He directs some well-aimed shots at Serin’s little band, wounding the sergent and bringing down two other men. ‘Merde Alors!’ is the shout.
The rest of the French column arrives. Can they press on to victory?
Meanwhile, de Rière begins to surround the windmill. La Señora Adora Heras abuses him from the doorway, promising to remove more than an ear when he is captured again . . .
Old Nosey’s snarling and biting forces Grundy’s men from their ransacking and into position to flank the column, which is quite an impressive sight.
Another volley from Blunt’s men sees Serin scuttle for the river.
Lieutenant Connard presses on and Serin’s men wade up to their necks to get back to the other side.
Second Lieutenant Valentine Moon, annoyed not to find Grundy there already, gets some men into action from the high windows of the Vinery.
A Frenchman falls and there is some confusion at the head of the column.
Sergent-Major Froussard sorts things out with a stentorian bellow from the rear and Lieutenant Connard moves his column inexorably onwards.
De Rière continues the stand off at the windmill but sends some of his men to interrogate Enrique, the mild-mannered potato peddler who denies all knowledge of El Hombre Sin Nombre, but offers to sell some potatoes at very reasonable prices.
Serin’s men are routed by shots from Grundy’s riflemen and it is a very sorry and bedraggled bunch of voltigeurs struggle from the river and run.
Voltigeurs secure the road. El Hombre Sin Nombre must retire and surely La Señora Adora Heras is trapped!
Blunt’s men advance into the copse of trees and fire on Connard’s column, which is beginning to deploy, but is it too little, too late? Where is Sergeant Fiddler? What has become of El Hombre Sin Nombre?
La Señora Adora Heras tells her men that she at least will not die like a rabbit in a trap, and so of course their honour as Spaniards compels them to follow her. They fall with knives and, in the case of Adora, sabre upon De Rière’s men.
The struggle is brief and furious. Both leaders are wounded – something that is happening to the unfortunate French lieutenant with monotonous regularity – but it is the voltigeurs who give way.
In a raging fury, La Señora whirls about and charges the remainder of the voltigeurs who, unprepared, facing the wrong way, attempt to flee, but they are caught.
The fight is horribly one-sided and the French do not die well.
The lone survivor throws himself on La Señora’s mercy. He is kept alive to provide some evening entertainment. Poor fellow.
Now both French columns press on relentlessly. British rifle fire is, for once, proving surprisingly ineffective and Sergeant ‘Kid’ Fiddler is nowhere to be found. Blunt orders Bugler Tooting to sound ‘Retreat’.
The French finally succeed in getting across the river! Poor Lieutenant de Rière must now surely be the most wounded man in the entire French army. Adora Heras performs heroics and lives to fight another day. The rapist Serin and his accomplices receive just deserts. A poor day for the Rifles though.
The Butcher’s Bill
- No Casualties
- Dead – 7 Voltigeurs, 1 Fusilier
- Wounded – Lieutenant de Rière, Sergent Serin, 4 Voltigeurs, 1 Fusiliers
- Captured – 1 Voltigeur
- Recovering from Wounds – 2 Guerillas