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To Do and Die

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      To Do and Die
Patrick Mercer

The historical fiction debut from former soldier, BBC defence correspondent and MP Patrick Mercer is a thrilling military actioner set during the Crimean War.1854. Newspapers report that war is imminent in 'the East' as the Western powers quarrel with Russia over fragments of the crumbling Ottoman empire. Wanting to prove himself to a father who will not let him forget about his own self-proclaimed military glories, Officer Tony Morgan is keen to set sail. Meanwhile, the Morgan's chambermaid, Mary, whom Tony loves but cannot marry, has wedded another officer in his company and will be accompanying the regiment to the front as a nurse.Arriving at Sebastapol in the Crimea, the company's first engagement with the Russians fill the company with a short-lived confidence. Morgan is eager to prove himself a worthy leader, but in the face of several bloody engagements which decimate the company, he finds himself shaken to the core by the brutality of war. He also has to quell potential mutiny against the cowardly subaltern Carmichael, whose first instincts are always to save his own skin. His romantic longings for Mary are revived after her husband is severely injured and she nevertheless proves herself a noble and brave addition to the company. Facing dire conflict on the battlefield and off, within his company and within himself, Morgan is going to be tested to the limits…In his fiction debut, Mercer’s twenty years of military service is all there on the page. His mastery of both the broad sweep and the finer details of military engagement is superb and bound to make an impact with military action fans. His characterisation of the regiment is wholly persuasive and he nails soldier psychology, slang and the interactions up and down the chain of command with deceptive ease. This is probably the closest any of us will get to being there.

PATRICK MERCER

To Do and Die

To Do and Die is dedicated to “The Pack”

Table of Contents

Chapter One - The Battle of the River Alma (#u9cc454d9-bb06-57a7-be12-836648040656)

Chapter Two - Glassdrumman (#u49f04670-9c27-5d0c-a765-a303e57c7adb)

Chapter Three - Weedon Barracks (#ub0a8d0c2-8244-58ed-8940-15ae6cba9ff9)

Chapter Four - Bulganak (#ua94781a0-8c76-5db8-95d7-a061f4b7c14c)

Chapter Five - Alma to Balaklava (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Six - Balaklava (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Seven - Little Inkermann (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Eight - Eve of Inkermann (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Nine - Dawn at Inkermann (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Ten - The Sandbag Battery (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Eleven - Wounded (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Twelve - The Raid (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Thirteen - Out of the Line (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Fourteen - The Quarries (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Fifteen - Victory (#litres_trial_promo)

Glossary (#litres_trial_promo)

Historical Note (#litres_trial_promo)

Author Note (#litres_trial_promo)

Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

ONE The Battle of the River Alma (#u1ef249af-83c1-5598-a839-eda893982948)

The chaffing and laughter stopped abruptly: shallow jokes were choked off as the troops listened intently. Every bristle-chinned man in the long, snaking ranks sweated gently into his scarlet coat, shoulders bowed under his load of kit and ammunition, hands cupped around his rifle as he strained to hear the order that would start the killing. The warm, late September breeze carried the snapping and popping of the burning village of Bourliouk to their front clearly now as every voice was stilled, then the captains stumbled over the furrows of the vineyards clutching at swords and haversacks, rushing to be first to give the order to their men. The soldierly form of Captain Eddington, their company (#litres_trial_promo) commander, stood before them, trim, athletic, just a slight flush on his face betraying the excitement of imminent action. The run had left him almost out of breath: he fought hard to steady his voice.

‘With ball cartridge … load!’

Eddington was crisp, exact, almost elegant compared with the brass-lunged non-commissioned officers who repeated his orders. Young Anthony Morgan did his best to conquer his suddenly dry throat, to stop himself sounding too Irish and utter the same command that, if truth were known, he had never really expected to say on the field of battle. Here he was, twenty-three and the junior subaltern of the 95th Foot's Grenadier Company, about to see war for the first time and acting as if he'd never heard the words of the drill manual before.

Almost as one, the troops spat out the cartridge paper, then the line sang as ramrods forced home the bullets that were about as big as the end of your thumb. Rifles were pulled sharply back to the order before a gulp swept down the lines – there could be no turning back now. With all forty rounds untied and ready for use in their pouches and hands sticky with sweat on the stocks of their weapons, every man knew that the browny-grey blocks of Russian infantry looking down at them on the other bank of the sluggish Alma had to be faced.

‘Officers, to me,’ Eddington shouted. Both of his subalterns, Richard Carmichael and Anthony Morgan ran from their places by their men to the front of the company.

‘Right, you two, the plan's simple …’ Eddington turned and pointed across the river towards the Great Redoubt (#litres_trial_promo), the earthwork (#litres_trial_promo) at the centre of the Russian position, howitzer barrels just visible, pointing menacingly towards the waiting, British ranks. ‘The French will turn the right of the Russian position whilst we go straight at them here, across the river Alma, to take that Redoubt. The Light Division (#litres_trial_promo) are on our left, Adams's Brigade (#litres_trial_promo) on our right; Cambridge's Guards are to the rear, in reserve. Once the firing starts it'll be all smoke and chaos, I guess, so if you get confused, just look to the centre of the Regiment (#litres_trial_promo) where the Colours (#litres_trial_promo) are. Any questions?’ Despite the invitation, Eddington – quite evidently – felt that everything was as clear as it needed to be.

Neither subalterns dared ask anything, merely shaking their heads in reply.

‘Right…’ Eddington shook both of his officers' hands quickly. ‘Back to your men, remember how much they'll depend on you.’ Then, less stiffly, ‘Good luck,’ before both young men strode back to their places at either end of the Grenadier Company.

The river twisted and coiled between low banks on the northern side and higher ones to the south, then a little shelf gave way to a short, steep climb before the land sloped gently, smoothly up to the enemy positions. The Russian commander – Menschikoff – had given his divisional and regimental officers, in this part of the field at least, all the freedom they needed to plan this position and Morgan could see that they had been thorough. When they had paused at Scutari on their way to the Crimea, they'd visited their own artillery and been told that the most lethal range for guns against infantry was about six hundred paces. He looked up to the brass muzzles that peeped down through the embrasures over clear slopes where no vines grew and the only trees were a dotted line of scrawny poplars along the course of the river: they were about six hundred paces away.

Morgan was just able to make out the far-off rattle of drums before the first shot rasped overhead – he'd never heard that sound before: now his guts and arse tightened – just as the veterans had said. Judging by the way that the whole company ducked, there were another eighty-odd spincters doing just the same and he fought with himself to look the men in the face and not to turn and stare at the guns whose smoke now roiled across the hillside. The round shot had still to find their mark when the commanding officer cantered forward, his own nervousness carrying to his horse – the animal pecked and sidestepped as the balls shivered through the air.

‘Ninety-Fifth will advance … by the centre, quick march!’ Colonel Webber-Smith's words were echoed down the companies and the regiment billowed forward.

But this certainty was to be short lived – they stuttered to a halt no more than three hundred yards further on.

‘Bloody Seventh, just a bunch o' bairns.’ Colour-Sergeant McGucken was one of the few Scots in the regiment. He'd transferred from the 36th a few years ago and, at six-foot and as hard as a Glasgow winter he'd soon found himself in his new regiment's hand-picked Grenadiers. Now, he damned the battalion (#litres_trial_promo) to their left whose cursing ranks had first collided with their own and then caused them to pause and have to be untangled.

They'd never made friends with the “Old 7th” as they called themselves, for these boys had seen no more active service than the 95th, but they would never stop bragging about their lineage and history. The 7th Fusiliers came from the Light Division – the left assault division – and there had been friction between the two regiments ever since the pause at Varna; now an uneasy file of them tramped past, all downy, half-grown beards and haphazard firewood sticking out of their blanket packs. They looked just a little too fixedly ahead, their stares pleading their innocence for this officer-botch that made them seem so clumsy in front of a “young” regiment. Then the earth spurted momentarily just ahead of them and half a dozen sprawled on the ground, as if felled by some mighty scythe. A brightly-painted drum bounced, a rifle now bent like a hairpin cartwheeled away and one of the 7th sagged, his clothes, belts and blanket awry.

Morgan saw how the jagged iron shards had caught the lad, for a furrow the length of a man's finger had been opened below his ear, yet he felt nothing more than curiosity. Bruised, dark-purple ribbons of chopped flesh laced his neck as black, arterial blood soaked his collar and cross-belts, dripping into the soft earth next to his dead face.

A further soldier sat plucking dumbly at gouges on his wrists and hands. Coins from another's pocket had been hit and hurled by a ball as lethally as any shrapnel, slashing and scoring the man like meat on a butcher's slab.

The gunners now had the range. The smoke from blazing Bourliok helped to hide them a little, but in almost perfect unison shells (#litres_trial_promo) burst above them and the 55th to their right, hurling jagged iron and shrapnel balls into the redcoated ranks below. From all around came screams and moans as the men fell with ugly punctures to their shoulders and heads whilst splinters bounced off rifles, wrenching them from fear-damp hands.

Then Pegg was pitched heavily onto his face by a crack and angry burst of smoke above them, drumsticks, belts and shako anywhere. At seventeen, Drummer Pegg was the youngest man in the company – now he was their first casualty.

‘You two, help Pegg. One of you get his drum and sticks, sharp now.’ Colour-Sergeant McGucken saw the lad being dashed down, but before the others could get to him, Pegg was on his feet, ashen but gingerly feeling himself for wounds.

‘You all right, son?’

‘Fucked if I know, Colour-Sar'nt, I think so.’ Pegg continued to investigate himself bemusedly.

‘You're a right lucky little bugger, yous: get your kit and stop sitting down on the job, then.’ A shaky grin played over Pegg's face as he chased his drum, oblivious to the great gash in the blanket strapped to his back.

As the fire intensified so the dense smoke from the village blew straight across the face of the company. Order began to be lost as the men looked for solid cover in the lee of farm walls and byres, eyes stinging and coughing as they did so. Morgan just didn't know whether he should try to restore some form of regularity to the ranks or continue to let the men find their own shelter as they had been taught in the new style of skirmishing. But he had little choice, as the jarring noise of the shells joined with the swirling smoke to make close-order impossible.

Then, emerging from behind a low farm wall came the senior subaltern of the Grenadiers, Richard Carmichael, but he was not his usual poised Harrovian self. Whilst his scarlet coat and great, bullion shoulder wings (#litres_trial_promo), even his rolled blanket, haversack and water-bottle still hung like a tailor's plate, there was an unusual distraction about him. He darted hunted looks everywhere, he was pallid, he licked his lips, his self-assured serenity seemed to have been scraped away by the first shot.

‘Carmichael, where's Eddington?’ bellowed Morgan, but only on the third time of asking did Carmichael reply.

‘I … I don't know. The company's all to blazes, I shall go and find him.’ He shrank back behind a protective piece (#litres_trial_promo) of brickwork.

To their front, the Light Company was fleetingly visible, thrown out in skirmish line to screen the rest of the Regiment. Morgan now realized the popping that he'd heard amidst the artillery was their rifles replying to bangs and puffs of smoke that came from the scatter of buildings and bushes that marked the outskirts of the burning village. The Russians would certainly have their own sharpshooters (#litres_trial_promo) this side of the river, hidden, he supposed, amidst the scrub and huts, but none was to be seen.

A scrawny little corporal – a Dublin enlistment whose name Morgan had never managed to learn – emerged with another Light Company man from the smoke. Both had thrown off their tall black shakoes and folded down the collars of their coatees: now their rifles were half in the shoulder whilst they peered intently into a tangle of walls and vines as if a rabbit were about to bolt. He couldn't make out what they were calling to one another above the din of the guns, but suddenly both rifles fired almost together and uncertain grins showed that they'd found a mark.

The corporal, peering through the reek, recognized the wings at Morgan's shoulder as those of an officer and sent the private to report to him. This was another lad whom he knew but couldn't name; even as he stumbled through the smoke and over the loose earth of the vineyard he reached behind his hip to get a fresh cartridge. The nameless soldier's lips were smeared with powder sticking to his stubble showing, Morgan noticed enviously, that he'd already been plying his trade and there was a slight swagger about the man, his manner as unlike the parade ground as his once-white belts were grimy.

‘Sir, Corporal McElver says to say that we got a couple on 'em, but there's still Russ in the buildings and what do you want us to do now?’ How like the men to ask the first officer they saw for orders.

Just as he was groping for something useful to say, the soldier staggered, his head jerking sharply – his weapon fell as he sat down heavily at Morgan's feet, clutching at his mouth. Blood welled between his fingers from a hole in his cheek whilst into his palm he spat a wad of pulp and broken teeth. It was all that Morgan could do to stop himself from dropping down to help the man – but the wounded would be dealt with by medical orderlies – his job was to lead the troops forward to find the enemy.

A gout of smoke and a flicker of movement, though, showed where the Russian sharpshooter had fired from above a wall no more than twenty yards away. All that Morgan wanted to do was to sink into the damp soil beside the casualty, but the unspoken challenges of his men were too strong. Trying to hold his equipment steady with one hand, he gripped the hilt of his sword as he stumbled over the broken ground whilst, he was sure, a hundred judgemental eyes bore (#litres_trial_promo) into him.
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