They ran. They ran without a fight. Perhaps no man wanted to die after the previous day’s carnage. There was little glory in defeating this cavalry pursuit, no man would win his Legion of Honour medal today, and so the French turned, spurred eastwards, and the British Dragoons chased them, swore at them to fight, but there was no fight in the French cavalry. They would run to fight another day.
The German Heavy Dragoons saw the French run, saw their chance of a fight fading, and so the trumpet put them into the canter. The notes of the call sounded close to Sharpe and then they were drowned by the sound he had been dreading, the sound of an infantry volley. The nearest faces of the squares disappeared in smoke, the leading German squadrons tumbled in dust, falling horses, and cartwheeling swords. Men died beneath their horses, crushed, men screamed. The ambush had worked.
There was no need to warn them now. The French squares had turned one squadron into a shambles, hurt two more, and the other Germans must know they were beaten. Suddenly they had found infantry, well formed infantry, and cavalry cannot break well-formed squares.
The black bicorne hats turned left, the cavalry saw the squares with horror, and the trumpets pealed above the defeated charge. Sharpe knew the squadrons were being called away, called off, that they would ride away from the squares. He looked at Harper and grinned ruefully. “No cavalry charge today, Patrick.”
The Irishman did not reply. He slammed his heels back, whooped with mad joy, and Sharpe jerked his head back to the Germans. They were pulling at their reins, but not to ride away. They were turning towards the squares, were charging them, and the trumpets were pushing them on. It was madness.
Sharpe pulled at his reins, kicked back, and let the horse ride with the others. The sword felt good in his hand. He saw the French infantry reloading, calm and professional, and he knew this charge was doomed.
The German squadrons were still at the canter. They wheeled left, they aligned their ranks, and the madness came on them. The trumpets threw them on.
Lossow, his men, Sharpe and Harper, came up behind the Heavy Squadrons as they began the final charge. Sharpe knew this was madness, knew this was doomed, but it was irresistible. The sword was long in his hand, his blood sang with the trumpet’s challenge, and they went on; galloping into the impossible charge.
The German Heavy Dragoons were jealous. The day before the British Heavy Cavalry had charged to glory, had bloodied their swords to the hilts against French infantry that had not had time to form square. The Germans did not like the British having all the glory.
The Germans were also disciplined, the most disciplined of all Wellington’s cavalry. Not for them the British habit of charging once and then going berserk in a mad chase that left the horses blown and their riders vulnerable to the enemy’s reserves. The Germans were coolly efficient about war. But not now. Now they were suddenly enraged, enough to attempt the impossible. Four hundred and fifty men, less those who had already died, were charging fifteen hundred well formed infantry. The trumpet hurled them into the gallop.
They had no chance, Sharpe knew, but the madness was driving sense out of his head. Artillery could break a square, infantry could break a square, but cavalry could not. There was a mathematical logic that proved it. A man on horseback needed some four feet of width in which to charge. Facing him, in four ranks, were eight men. An infantryman only needed two feet, slightly less, and so the horseman was charging down a narrow corridor at the end of which waited eight bullets and eight bayonets. And even if the infantry were unloaded, if they only had their bayonets, then the charge would still fail. A horse would not charge home that solid wall of men and steel. It would go so far, then swerve, and Sharpe had stood in squares often enough to know how safe they were. This was an impossible charge.
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